Lawsuit claims unions are corrupt organizations

Cintas Corporation filed today a lawsuit under the federal and state Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Statutes (RICO) against the labor unions UNITE HERE, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Change to Win, alleging extortion related to the unions’ continued attacks that are part of a nationwide organizing drive that is now entering its sixth year. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and consolidates a related defamation lawsuit that Cintas filed in 2004 and which was proceeding in an Ohio state court.

Cintas alleges that, for the last five years, UNITE HERE and the other labor organizations have carried on a campaign of negative, untrue and unlawful attacks against Cintas in an effort to extort concessions from the company that would enable UNITE HERE and the Teamsters to become the official bargaining representatives for Cintas employees without those employees ever being able to freely decide whether they want a union and if so, which union. The company has long maintained that such rights belong to each individual employee, and has continually reiterated its commitments to protect its employees’ rights.

The RICO complaint further alleges that UNITE HERE’s and the other labor organizations’ conduct is and continues to be, a campaign of extortion which includes interference with Cintas’s existing and prospective business relationships, deliberate attacks to artificially depress the value of Cintas’s stock, and other unlawful conduct.

The New York lawsuit also includes several claims against UNITE HERE for violation of Cintas’s trademark rights, including improper use of Cintas’s trade name and trademark in various websites designed to further the unions’ extortion and reputation-destruction campaign.

The defamation claim details a 2004 news release issued by UNITE HERE – which was intentionally made to appear to have been issued by the U.S. government – accusing the company of “widespread and major” labor law violations. The union later acknowledged that the NLRB played no role in the issuance of the press release.


ESP would curb pilfering by union officials

At a time of soaring food and fuel prices, the last thing public workers in Colorado need is a paycheck deduction that funds the special interest lobbying causes chosen by union bosses. In November, voters will have a chance to end these automatic deductions by voting for an Ethical Standards for Public Payroll Systems Amendment to the Colorado Constitution. Call it ESP.

Back in 2001, then-Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, issued an executive order to provide for what's sometimes referred to as "paycheck protection." The order ended a union-friendly practice in which cities, counties, states, school districts and other government entities automatically collect union dues from their employees' paychecks, giving them limited and difficult options to opt out. The order caused unions to justify their dues - to sell membership and its costs to employees, convincing them of the value.

Under the order, the Colorado Association of Public Employees union saw a two-thirds drop in membership. That means given a choice to opt in, rather than an option to opt out, most government employees decided the dues were not worthwhile. In most cases, employees who asked questions learned that a good portion of the dues went for lobbying efforts that didn't improve their lives, and in many cases offended them. They chose putting food on the table over paying to fund special interests that often opposed their own interests and values.

Other states with paycheck protection have seen similar trends. In Utah, the income of government employee unions dropped by 85 percent when a 2002 law prohibited government employers from automatically collecting money from paychecks for special interests. A court struck down Utah's protection law on a First Amendment technicality, but Colorado's proposed amendment was written to avoid that conflict.

Several attempts to end the automatic deductions in past years failed, including ballot initiatives and legislation, because unions campaigned against them. The executive order issued by Owens was negated a year ago when Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, issued his own order that reauthorized the automatic deductions. An amendment offers more lasting protection.

Union membership can be a fine thing for some public employees. Law should never prohibit employees from giving to special interest lobbying causes. If an employee chooses to give an entire annual wage to a cause, so be it. But it needs to be a fair relationship between the union and each employee, without government acting as dues collector.

Though special interest wage raids exploit public employees, they're also unfair to the majority of people who don't work in government. Why should the wages of public employees, provided by taxpayers, be eroded to pay for the promotion of a few pet causes of union leaders?

We're thankful that in the wake of Ritter's executive order a growing number of lawmakers throughout Colorado are seeing the light. County commissioners in El Paso and seven other counties, for example, have already adopted ethical payroll standards to protect county employees from automatic special interest withholdings.

The proposed amendment would allow governments to withhold only those payments required by law, such as: tax withholdings, Social Security and Medicare, judicial liens and garnishments, health benefits, pension and retirement payments, and charitable deductions, such as United Way contributions, pre-authorized by the employee.

The amendment would bring all government entities in line with the growing number of county governments that are choosing to protect the wages of their employees from the autopilfering of special interests. We hope Colorado voters spread the word and pass the ESP Amendment in November. It's just plain fairness and common sense for all.


UAW-American Axle strike shuts 29 GM plants

As negotiations between American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. and the United Auto Workers union spill into the weekend, it's increasingly likely General Motors Corp. will need to step in to end the 11-day long strike, industry watchers say. GM, American Axle's largest customer, is poised to idle or partially shutdown 29 factories Monday - a move that impacts nearly half of its hourly manufacturing work force.

Despite the massive disruption to its operations, GM has at least publicly stayed on the sidelines of the dispute. That's likely to change as the strike drags into a third week, said Erich Merkle, automotive analyst at IRN Inc.

The growing number of plants down "increases the urgency to get something done," he said. "Eventually GM will have to jump in and mediate the situation; and when GM mediates, they have to bring their pocket book."

It's likely that GM will financially assist American Axle in paying for buyouts and bonuses to workers, Merkle said.

The UAW and American Axle were to resume negotiations at 9 a.m. today, said company spokeswoman Renee Rogers.

American Axle is seeking deep cuts in wages and benefits to make salaries competitive with its domestic counterparts. A source close to the negotiations said American Axle is seeking to slash hourly wages for production workers from $28.15 to $14.50 and cut 1,000 plant jobs. The Detroit-based company also is offering workers $80,000 to $110,000 buyout packages.

The UAW has said it hasn't seen financial data to back up the company's proposed wage cuts, which the union contends are based on what other companies pay and not American Axle's cost structure or profitability.

As talks continue, GM announced more factory closures Friday, including partial shutdowns of Willow Run Transmission, Ypsilanti Transmission, Flint Stamping and Grand Rapids Stamping starting Monday.

Not all workers at the plants will be laid off, but those who are will get most of their pay and benefits under their GM contract.

A stockpile of the trucks for which American Axle supplies parts, has allowed GM to weather the strike well, so far. Merkle said it was likely that at least some of the assembly and component plants would have to temporarily shut in the near future, even without a strike, so demand could catch up with supply.

Some on the picket lines are becoming frustrated with what they hear from the talks.

American Axle worker Robyn Hudgins said its "a slap in the face" that management is asking workers to accept lower wages while not even talking about committing to future work at the plant. She and other strikers are also frustrated that union leaders have said they are open to wage buydown bonuses -- which ultimately results in lower pay.

"It's maddening," she said. "I don't understand why we are talking about buydowns for a company that made $37 million last year. GM, Ford, Chrysler workers all got to maintain their wages, and those companies lost billions."


Jumbo gov't union fights to preserve secrecy

In a state that is renowned for political corruption, insider deals, and pay-to-play politics, we can see no reason not to provide the public with as much information as possible regarding the inner workings of state government. Legislation proposed by Illinois state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, would put information such as the names, positions and salaries of state employees on a public Web site.

“This is all public information that’s supposed to be accessible to the public,” Tryon said.

We could not agree more. And we are pleased that Woodstock Democrat Jack Franks is co-sponsoring the bill, making this a bipartisan McHenry County effort.

The legislation has run into substantial opposition from unions. Specifically, the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have stated that they oppose the proposed legislation. Union officials have argued that putting such information on the Internet would constitute an invasion of privacy and that it would be an unnecessary intrusion.

We disagree.

First, these are public employees, whose salaries are paid with tax dollars. The information already is public. Tryon’s proposal simply would make it much more accessible. We fail to see how allowing the public to better access public information amounts to an invasion of privacy.

Also, if the employees are concerned about privacy, then they should not be working for the state government. They should get a job in private industry where such information truly is private.

Franks said he could sympathize with the need to protect employees with low salaries and suggested that a threshold of about $25,000 be established. We do not believe such a threshold is necessary.

We hope that the legislation moves forward and becomes law.


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Connecticut

The Labor Education Center at the University of Connecticut was established in 1961 to serve the educational needs of Connecticut's workers in accordance with its land-grant philosophy.

The Center has delivered labor education services to the state's unions, employee organizations and their leaders and members since 1946. University of Connecticut students and faculty, federal, state and municipal government officials, and members of the general public have also benefited from its educational programs.

The Center offers programs year-round, at multiple Connecticut locations, including:

* credit courses,
* non-credit courses,
* conferences,
* workshops,
* seminars,
* residential institutes and
* special programs

Credit courses in labor-related subjects are taught by Center faculty in University programs and in cooperation with other educational institutions in the state. The Center also works closely with a Labor Advisory Committee composed of labor and University representatives.

Other services provided by the Labor Education Center include:

* consultation on the development of educational and research programs and
* providing information, data and technical services in response to inquiries and requests.


SEIU gets judge to halt hospital hiring

A federal judge has ordered Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to stop hiring nurses for a new inpatient psychiatric facility scheduled to open in Harrisburg (PA) in three weeks. The new facility is a collaboration between the Hershey Medical Center and PinnacleHealth System. Called the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, it would have 74 beds and be located at the former Polyclinic Hospital.

Officials said it will be nonunion, although nurses at Hershey Medical Center and Pinnacle are invited to apply. Most Pinnacle nurses are nonunion. The temporary restraining order followed a request from the Service Employees International Union, which represents nurses at Hershey Medical Center. The union has lodged a challenge in federal court, arguing the new facility is a "successor" to the unionized one, and must abide by contract terms.

Chief Judge Yvette Kane of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania called that argument "sufficiently meritorious" in her temporary restraining order.

Kane scheduled a hearing on the SEIU's request for a preliminary injunction at 9:30 a.m. March 17 in Harrisburg. If the injunction is granted, the new facility wouldn't be allowed to open until the dispute is resolved.

Kane said the Hershey Medical Center nurses will suffer irreversible harm if the new facility is staffed before the dispute can be settled through arbitration. The SEIU nurses previously asked Hershey Medical Center to allow an arbitrator to settle the matter.

Dan Bodie, the CEO of the new Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, on Friday said Kane's temporary order applies only to Hershey Medical Center.

He said the new psychiatric facility will continue hiring nurses from Pinnacle and outside applicants, but not from Hershey Medical Center. He said enough nurses have applied to staff the facility without using SEIU-represented nurses.

Stephanie Haynes of the SEIU said psychiatric nurses are in short supply, and the ones working at the Hershey Medical Center are highly experienced.

Nurses are concerned that, without staffing levels required by their contract, they won't be able to provide adequate care in the new facility, she said.

Sean Young, a spokesman for Hershey Medical Center, said he expects the facility to open April 1, and is needed to address a local shortage of beds for people with severe mental illness.

"We deeply regret the impact SEIU's actions will have on Penn State Hershey nurses who have already made verbal commitments to positions within the institute and who will now not receive formal letters of offer," he said in an e-mail.


County workers vote to decertify SEIU

Nearly 300 court-related and court-appointed Westmoreland County (PA) employees overwhelmingly voted to leave their long-time bargaining unit and form a new labor union. The workers, who include deputy sheriffs, court staff and office workers in many court-related departments at the courthouse, will form an independent organization called the Westmoreland County Court-Related Employees Association.

Workers voted Thursday to withdraw from the Service Employees International Union Local 668, which represented them during the last round of labor talks over the previous two years. Of the 243 votes cast, 196 workers chose to form the new union. Forty-five employees opted to remain with the SEIU. Two wanted to have no representation.

Sam Ickes, a representation coordinator with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, said the new union will be certified in five days if no objections to the vote are filed.

"What's next is that we negotiate a new contract," said Jackie Lucchetti, an office worker for Greensburg District Judge James Albert who helped to organize the move to change unions.

Chuck Dominick, the county's human resources director, said he has not received official notification from the state about the certification vote and could not comment about the status of negotiations.

The court workers, prohibited by law from striking, have worked without a contract since 2006.

An arbitrator's ruling for a new contract, which called for raises, was put on hold and could be nullified as a result of the shift away from the SEIU.


Privatization enrages leftists

The city council in Upper Arlington, OH had planned a quick union-busting decision to privatize waste collection, a sweet-heart deal with non-union Texas-based Inland Waste Service. They figured to give the swift boot to the Teamsters Local 284 workers who’d done that work in UA for over 50 years. What they clearly didn’t plan on was the huge angry crowd of UA residents that demonstrated and packed the council meeting at the end of last month.

Over 300 residents and unionists showed up on that frigid night, disrupting the best laid union-busting plans of the arrogant council leadership. Many of the UA residents carried petitions, which were quickly filled, calling for recall of the council members who’d voted to contract out this work.

“We’ve got the best waste collection workers in the entire nation,” committee leader Michael Schadek told the crowd. “As UA and American citizens, we’ve demanded the right to vote on this. They know how people would vote and, like dictators always do, they are denying our democratic right to vote. We will have the last say, however!”

The cheering crowd responded with chants of “Let Us Vote” and “Recall!” Signs in the crowd read: “Contract out council, not our workers,” “Fire council, not our workers,” “Let us vote,” “Send council to Texas” and “We’ll not be denied!”

When the council meeting began, Schadek, speaking for the residents, demanded that council listen to the voices of the people they are supposed to represent and allow a vote on the waste collection decision. That brought forth cheers from the packed room, and council President Don Leach tried to adjourn the meeting. The audience responded with deafening chants of “Recall, recall.”

This behavior was Leach’s regular modus operandi (MO). He had cut off discussion on this issue at the previous council meeting, pushing the privatization through as an “emergency” measure.

Leach ignored pleas that the privatization will put special burdens upon seniors and disabled residents since it will cut off back door service, a service that had so endeared union workers to the residents. He also ignored a two-year long study by the city that had determined contracting out service would not be in the city’s interest.

Leach stated that the privatization was “a done deal.” The residents’ committee is planning to take the issue to a referendum vote, as well as a recall drive on the council members.

The protest was supported by Columbus area Jobs with Justice coalition and the AFL-CIO. “We’ll be back,” said JwJ leader Jim Tackett, “and we’ll be here whenever the residents and the union ask us to help.”

Upper Arlington previously had been known as a bastion of fairly well-to-do conservative, Republican politics. However, in recent years more progressive trends have been more prominent. This is the first time in memory that a rally was held with residents and unionists in UA. It’s clear, however, that it won’t be the last time!


Worker-rights subjugated to union authority

Labour groups reacted with outrage Wednesday after Saskatchewan's new government introduced legislation that makes sweeping changes to the province's labour laws. One is a bill that would force employers and unions to establish an essential services agreement 90 days before contracts expire. The other is an amendment to the Trade Union Act that would require 45 per cent written support for an application of certification or decertification - up from the current 25 per cent - and would make it a mandatory secret ballot.

"It appears that this legislation, at least in my opinion, is the worst legislation for workers in the country," said Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich. "It isn't competitive by any stretch of the imagination. It is the bottom of the barrel. Both pieces."

Hubich said the essential services legislation "opens the door wide up ... to sweeping in every worker in the province."

According to the government, the Public Service Essential Services Act will balance the rights of workers with the need to maintain essential services during a labour dispute to ensure public safety.

The act does not specifically list which public sector workers will be affected.

Labour Minister Rob Norris said it will be based on four criteria: danger to life, health or safety, the destruction of property, serious environmental damage and the disruption of any court.

Norris insisted it would not include teachers.

"This legislation is really premised on weighing the rights of workers and public safety and that's the intention, that's why we're moving forward with this," said Norris.

He said letters were sent Wednesday to key stakeholders inviting consultation and feedback - which the government has been criticized for not seeking out before drafting the bill.

Opposition NDP Leader Lorne Calvert admitted he hadn't read the bills yet but blasted the Saskatchewan Party government for introducing essential services legislation.

Calvert called it "the proof of the lie" that the Saskatchewan Party mislead voters before the election.

He noted that the Saskatchewan Party's election platform did not use the term essential services legislation and several party members had repeatedly said it would not be needed.

"They lied to the people of Saskatchewan," said Calvert.

"Obviously they knew what they were going to do and obviously they lied to the people of Saskatchewan."

Labour groups throughout the province have been angry since Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall announced earlier this month that the legislation would be tabled.

They were upset further Wednesday after seeing the wording of the bill.

It states that if employers and unions can't hammer out an essential services agreement, then employers can dictate who is essential.

If a union disagreed, it would have to take its case to the Labour Relations Board. The board would have 14 days to decide the issue but in the meantime, the employers' essential services list would stand.

"It leaves the door open to failure to bargain on behalf of an employer and take it to the point of a dispute and then just designate everybody as being essential," said Hubich.

"We see it as being very anti-democratic," he said.

"There has been absolutely zero input from working people who will be predominantly affected by this legislation."

Business groups welcomed both pieces of legislation.

Marilyn Braun-Pollon with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said "the scales have been tipped for far too long in favour of unions" and the legislation will ensure a balanced labour environment.

Norris also brushed aside suggestions that the legislation is anti-labour.

"They're actually very moderate bills," said Norris. "In most other places in Canada they're already in place."


Ohio Steelworkers strike for higher pay

About 180 workers at Brentwood Originals in Youngstown (OH) walked off the job Friday in a dispute over pay and medical benefits. United Steelworkers of America Local 1-598 called the strike after granting a one-month extension to its last contract, which expired Feb. 6. The North Meridian Road plant makes decorative pillows.

The company offered raises of up to 95 cents an hour over four years, but workers were not satisfied.

“We’re very low on wages,” said Jeanie Kihm, local vice president.

“Eventually, you have to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Candace Mauck, plant human resources manager, said new workers start at $9.15 an hour, but the company offered to raise that by 75 cents an hour during a four-year contract.

Kihm said wages do not go up fast enough. She said she is making $9.50 after 15 years.

The top wage for union workers is $10.62.

Hattie Wilkins, local president, said the other major issue is health care.

The company pays the full premium for medical insurance, but the annual deductible has risen from $250 to $750.

Wilkins said that amount is too high for the wages that are paid.

She said company officials have said they would make improvements but haven’t put anything specific in writing.

The health care plan covers the workers only, not their families.

Mauck said she didn’t want to go into specifics of the bargaining.

She added, however, that the company is willing to bargain when it is called to the table with a mediator.

The two sides have had nine bargaining sessions since Jan. 28, including two with a mediator, she said.

The company operates four plants across the U.S. and is based in Carson, Calif. Brentwood is owned by Bomaine Corp., which also is based in Carson. Bomaine manufactures household furnishings and packing supplies.


Texas Steelworkers quit strike

Firestone Polymer union officials called off a strike after they hammered out enough of an agreement to continue negotiations for the next few days, said Bobbie Shelton, Local No. 13-386 president. The union's contract ended at midnight Friday. "We're very close on pay," Shelton said, adding that other issues left to finalize include pension and operations.

"I feel sure we'll be able to work it out," he added.

The existing contract has been extended on a day-to-day basis until the final agreement is signed, Shelton said.

The union, part of the United Steel Workers of America, represents 155 employees, according to The Enterprise archives.

Firestone Polymers produces synthetic rubber used in tires and other consumer products, according to the archives.

The union had put up a picket shack in February. Then, plant officials wanted to replace about 20 union workers with contract employees, according to the archives.


Santa Barbara newspaper's labor trouble

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has upped the ante in its ruling against the Santa Barbara News-Press. Since the News-Press seeks to appeal the decision by NLRB Administrative Judge William G. Kocol ordering the reinstatement and payment of back pay of the eight employees fired in January, 2007, the NLRB has deemed it necessary to file an action against the paper at the United States District Court for the Central District of California in hopes of having the previous order enforced immediately.

“Sometimes unfair labor practices are so egregious that if you waited until the administrative process was completed, the damage to the employees would be too severe,” said Ira Gottlieb, the attorney representing the International Brotherhood of Teamsters—the union representing News-Press employees. “They could potentially be sitting there waiting for years.”

After 17 days of testimony last fall, Kocol found on December 26, 2007, that the News-Press had perpetrated “flagrant” illegal anti-union acts in the firing of the eight workers, and in the way that it had disciplined others. Citing discriminatory evaluations, unlawful disciplinary threats, surveillance of employees and demands that they not wear pro-union buttons, he wrote that their acts against their employees showed a “widespread, general disregard for the fundamental rights of the employees.” He ruled that the eight fired employees—Melinda Burns, Anna Davidson, Tom Schultz, Dawn Hobbs, Melissa Evans, John Zant, Barney McManigal, and Rob Kuznia—be immediately reinstated and paid all back pay. Furthermore, Kocol ruled that Scott Steepleton—the News-Press’s chief witness and one who had participated in many of the actions in question—was a non-credible witness.

The News-Press countered that their actions were not related to employees’ union affiliation, and refused to reinstate or pay the employees, citing a desire to appeal the decision. Barry Capello—representing the News-Press in the proceedings—stated that they were “properly terminated for acts of disloyalty.” Paper owner Wendy McCaw and some of her managers had testified that two of the employees were fired due to biased reporting, and the other six for hanging a banner from a pedestrian bridge over the freeway reading, “Cancel Your Newspaper Today!”

The controversy all started in July of 2006, when a slew of top editors walked off the job, complaining that McCaw was trying to exert undue interference in news coverage. McCaw claimed that she was removing bias, and that the editors quit because she had stopped them from inserting their personal opinions into the paper. The result was that the employees in the newsroom voted to unionize. The employees’ representation by the Teamsters’ Union was certified by the NLRB, but McCaw has fought the decision bitterly since it was made.

Today, facing the dragging heals of the News-Press in the reinstatement and financial restitution of the eight terminated employees, the NLRB sought interim relief for them. According to Gottlieb, the Federal District Court judge—an Article III presidential appointee—has more weight to throw into getting News-Press leadership to comply with the earlier ruling. A hearing is scheduled at the Federal Court in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon, but the outcome is uncertain. “I don’t know what the judge is going to do,” said Gottlieb. “He could say yes, he could say no, or he could continue it to a later date. Technically, the union is not a participant in this, but the judge ordered all parties to show up.”

Capello was unavailable for comment.


News unionism, jounalistic ethics examined

Documentary filmmaker Sam Tyler didn't have to go far to find the subject of his next movie. 'Citizen McCaw,' which will debut Friday at a theater in Santa Barbara, chronicles the newsroom turmoil at the Santa Barbara News-Press. Wendy McCaw is the owner of the daily newspaper.

Tyler and several other local residents whittled down more than 80 hours of interviews for the movie that raises questions about journalistic ethics and media ownership.

'The message is really important about who owns the newspapers, and if those people adhere to the standards,' Tyler said.

The News-Press has been embroiled in controversy since July 2006, when a dispute between McCaw and staff spilled into public view as nearly every top editor quit to protest what they said was the owner's interference with coverage.

McCaw fired back with a front-page note to readers saying those who quit were upset they could no longer inject their personal opinions into the newspaper.

Newsroom employees voted to form a union, sparking an ongoing fight over the legitimacy of the vote certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

Among those who were interviewed and appear in the film are former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and Ronald Reagan biographer Lou Cannon.

Tyler said the film cost about $190,000. He hopes it can make its way onto public television or cable.


SEIU officials at odds

A rare public spat has broken out between leaders at Service Employees International Union on the eve of high-stakes contract negotiations over the wages and working conditions of almost 100,000 California workers.

First up at the bargaining table is Catholic Healthcare West, parent company of local Mercy hospitals. Collective bargaining on behalf of more than 15,000 workers -- including almost 2,700 in Greater Sacramento -- started Feb. 28. The contract expires April 30.

Next up are more than 100 nursing homes and 15 hospitals affiliated with Sutter Health, and a Kaiser Permanente contract that runs through 2010 could be revised this fall.

A nasty leadership fight between Sal Rosselli, president of California's 140,000-member SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, and SEIU national president Andy Stern is evidence of the stakes this year in the Golden State.


UFCW strike threat pays off

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