Union-backed Gov. flabbergasts supporters

Canton Democrat Robert N. Wells Jr. was listening to a Canadian radio broadcast Monday afternoon when he heard Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer had been tied to a prostitution ring. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing," said Mr. Wells, a former Canton mayor and retired St. Lawrence University government professor. "He had so much to gain and so much to give. This may destroy a career."

North country Democrats expressed similar shock at allegations that Mr. Spitzer had made arrangements for prostitution services during a Washington, D.C., trip on Feb. 13. The accusation was contained within an affidavit filed in federal court in relation to the arrest of four people Thursday on charges of running an online prostitution ring known as Emperor's Club VIP.

"I'm flabbergasted and deeply disappointed that a man with his stature, an attorney general and a governor elected by a landslide, would involve himself in something like that," said Ernest J. LaBaff, Potsdam, president emeritus of the Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers International Union.

"Certainly he's always, in my mind, appeared to be a family man. That's what made it more shocking," said Jefferson County Legislator Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa. "It's sad for all of us. When you have your governor implicated in all of this, I don't think anyone is reveling in the idea that we're going to have our governor resign."

Frederick J. Carter, president of Teamsters Local 687, Potsdam, said he was "terribly sick" upon hearing the news.

"I feel bad for the people of the state of New York that put their trust in Gov. Spitzer," said Mr. Carter, Ogdensburg. "If it's true, he should probably resign."

Legislator James D. St. Croix, D-Watertown, said he was not only disappointed in Mr. Spitzer, but also "for our party, which looked like it was going to make a terrific comeback. It's a disaster."

Mrs. Russell said the allegation "distracts from the good work and all the good things that all Democrats across the state have accomplished."

"I think there is a sense of purity of purpose that's been sullied," added Ezra S. "Ted" Ford, a former Jefferson County Democratic chairman.

Mr. Ford, LaFargeville, authors the politically-orientated "Danger Democrat" blog. A post about the allegations elicited 25 comments in its first three hours.

"The sense is people are very disappointed from our party," he said. "The people who sympathize with the other side are close to elated."

Party faithful do not believe Mr. Spitzer's actions will tarnish other prominent Democrats such as June F. O'Neill, Morley, who is state Democratic Party chairwoman and Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, Cape Vincent.

"Policy is one thing, but the lifestyle choices that one person makes you can't tie to another person," said Mrs. Russell.

"This is an individual action that doesn't involve anyone except the perp and the other person," added Mr. Ford. "I don't see any ripple effect."

Mr. Wells said the allegations will elicit strong reactions from voters, especially since Mr. Spitzer promised to "clean up" Albany when he ran for governor in 2006.

"There are some people in political offices that we don't expect high conduct from and then there are others who set a very high standard," he said. "What happens when they go astray is really terrible. I wish it never happened and I'm sure he wishes it never happened."


Calif. nurses union OKs massive strike

Thousands of registered nurses at 10 Bay Area hospitals — including two on the Peninsula — announced Monday that they are going ahead with a 10-day strike later this month. The walkout, scheduled to begin March 21, will affect 4,000 nurses at 10 health care centers affiliated with Sutter Health, a network of hospitals.

In San Mateo County, up to 700 nurses represented by the California Nurses Association union are expected to be part of the walkout. Locally, the nurses have approved the strike at Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame and Mills Health Center in San Mateo.

The nurses voted overwhelmingly last week to give their union the OK to call a strike. On Monday, the union gave the 10 hospital facilities a required 10-day notice of the strike.

Officials at Mills Peninsula Health Services, which operates Peninsula Medical Center and Mills Health Center, said it will be business as usual at the health care facilities during the strike.

We anticipate running operations as usual," said Dolores Gomez, chief nursing executive at Mills Peninsula Health Services. "We'll get some of the same replacement nurses back."

Union and management have been unable to reach an agreement since contract negotiations began last May. The result has been two previous strikes, each lasting two days, in October and December. No new negotiations are scheduled.

Gomez said she did not know the cost of keeping the hospitals open with replacement workers. It depends on how many CNA nurses cross the picket lines and come to work, she noted. Nearly 40 percent crossed the lines in the last strike, Gomez said. CNA officials said it was under 10 percent.

The nurses and their union representatives say the dispute is about issues of patient care, staffing and their own health and retirement benefits. Salaries are not an issue.

The nurses complain that they don't have enough staffing to help cover their meal and regular breaks. They also say that there is not enough help to lift patients so nurses can avoid back injuries.

"Sutter cannot expect RNs to sit idly by and watch the ongoing problems with patient care and safety at our hospitals," said Sharon Tobin, a registered nurse at Peninsula Medical Center. "When there are not enough nurses, patients are put at risk, period."

Tobin said the nurses don't want a strike, but added that their "ethical obligation as patient advocates demands it."

Hospital management maintains that the real issue is not over patient care and staffing, but over union organizing rights and a master contract that would allow the nurses association to talk with nurses at Sutter's nonunion facilities and let them vote on whether they want to be in a union.

"(The CNA) is using issues like staffing, patient care and lifting, but it really wants to push organizing rights and a master contract," Gomez said. Those organizing and master contract issues are subjects an employer is not required to bargain on in negotiations, and, therefore, cannot be the basis of a strike.

Officials at Sutter affiliates have long viewed the nurses association's mission as growing union membership.

Genel Morgan, a nurse at Peninsula Medical Center, emphasized that the strike isn't just about organizing rights. Though she admitted organizing rights are important, she held firm that the key is patient care, staffing and improving retirement and health benefits.

"We're doing what is necessary to get them back to the table to really negotiate," Morgan said. She added that management has "maintained a rigid line" in the two negotiating sessions since the last strike in December.

Gomez said she also wants to get back to negotiations.

The best scenario is getting back to the table," she said. "We have an excellent mediator."


Gov't-unions blast public pension reforms

No one was left guessing yesterday how representatives of New Hampshire's public employees feel about a proposed retirement system overhaul. "It doesn't do anything to change the fiscal state of the retirement system, and it's pretty much political theater and much ado about nothing," said Gary Smith, president of the State Employees' Association of New Hampshire. "All it's going to do is hurt recruitment and retention efforts."

The plan in question would make several changes to the system, including freezing the annual 8 percent increase in medical subsidies for some retired state workers. The bill would also establish a fund for cost-of-living increases: Employees would pay 2 percent of their income into the fund, which would help pay for increases.

Supporters of the overhaul say retirement alterations have been pushed off for too long, leaving the system underfunded and "in crisis," according to Rep. Dan Eaton, a Stoddard Democrat and the legislation's sponsor. Changes are needed, they say, in order to stabilize the system, preserving benefits for future retirees and making sure that certain funds remain healthy.

"The problems with the system have been known for at least 10 years but have been pushed off by prior leadership so as not to step on the third rail, all the while watching the system bleed fund to a level that is not sustainable," Eaton said in an e-mail. "Not fixing the system punishes existing retirees by ensuring that COLAs and medical benefits will not be available."

Yesterday's gathering of public employees laid plain their opposition to the plan.

Representatives from numerous employees unions have banded together to oppose the overhaul, saying that the plan would harm employee recruitment and morale and that it would imperil "retirement security." Officials in the group, called the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition, said the coalition represented more than 70,000 active and retired public employees. At yesterday's press conference, public employees filled the lobby of the state Legislative Office Building.

"The message is simple: Stand with us," said David Lang, president of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire. "Each and every day, the firefighters and paramedics in this community stand with you."

The coalition is made up of the SEA; the New Hampshire chapters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the American Federation of Teachers; the National Education Association; the AFL-CIO; the New Hampshire Retired Educators Association; and law enforcement and firefighters associations.

The state retirement system has about 53,000 active state and local employees paying into the system - including firefighters, police officers and teachers - as well as about 20,000 retirees or beneficiaries.

Union officials offered few specifics yesterday about changes they'd like to see in the legislation, instead focusing on criticisms of the plan. In order to close the system shortfall, Lang suggested "just sending a bill to the employers" as a possible solution.

In a press release, the coalition said the bill failed "to address the misguided practice of lowering the appropriate contribution rate necessary from employers to fund the core of the pension, the medical subsidy and cost-of-living adjustments."

Union officials also opposed the bill's treatment of new employees, saying that it would create a "two-tiered system." The bill would change the payouts for new workers, including increasing the number of years police officers and firefighters must serve and raising the retirement age requirements for those employees.

The challenge, said Rep. Anne-Marie Irwin, is to balance taxpayers' concerns with the needs of public employees. The pension plan "is the basic promise that we made to employees," said Irwin, chairwoman of the legislative committee on retirement and a Peterborough Democrat. But the costs of other benefits - such as paying for cost-of-living increases and medical subsidies - were never supposed to fall to taxpayers, she said.

If those costs do fall to employers, and thus taxpayers, the state could face a lawsuit.


Dems organized for SEIU improperly

A recent management/labor dispute at Behavioral Health Resources in Olympia (WA) sucked in Democrat lawmakers who have no one to blame but themselves for their tarnished images. During the height of contract negotiations last year, a member of the Service Employees International Union circulated a letter, critical of management, at a fund-raising event. Lawmakers should have stayed out of the fray. But 30 of them signed the letter and as a result a handful of legislators were investigated by the Legislative Ethics Board.

In January, the ethics board said because three senators used state letterhead, it was a close call on whether they used their office to advocate for one side in a labor dispute. The board said similar future use of state resources in that manner would be considered a violation of the ethics act.

Three House members escaped censure by the ethics committee because the letter they signed did not use state letterhead.

The ethics board has dismissed the complaints against the lawmakers, but the message should be loud and clear: stay out of labor disputes, even if you're pressured to sign a letter by a union member.


New idea offered to improve teachers

A worker-choice group is inviting the public to name the nation's worst "union-protected" teachers. It's part of a campaign to show the adverse impact that the powerful teachers' unions -- especially the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers -- have on children, schools, and politics, the Center for Union Facts said.

"Most teachers are doing a wonderful job under difficult circumstances," the group said on its Web site. "The overall effect of teachers unions on public education, however -- when lawmakers and voters leave their power unchecked -- is far from positive."

The Center for Union Facts argues that teachers' unions oppose education reform, protect bad teachers, and misuse teachers' money, while their union contracts "wrap school districts in red tape."

Because of "union-defended" labor laws, however, it can be impossible to fire a bad teacher, the Center says. Therefore, the group plans to accept nominations for the "ten worst union-protected teachers in America." It will offer to pay them $10,000 apiece to get out of the classroom for good.

"Dedicated, professional teachers have nothing to fear from this contest," the Center for Union Facts said, adding it intends to "showcase the worst of the worst."

The group's Web site is now accepting nominations. "All submissions will be screened for approval and edited to protect privacy before they will be posted," the Center said.

The Center for Union Facts is run by Rick Berman, a former labor lawyer who says he opposes union corruption and intimidation. Berman also runs the Center for Consumer Freedom, a group that represents the interests of the food and restaurant industry.

Edward J. McElroy, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), blasted Berman's "anti-union front group" for launching an "assault" on teachers.

McElroy, on the AFT Web site, calls Berman "an ethically challenged attack dog" and "a shameless lobbyist who has shilled for pesticide, alochol and tobacco companies."

According to McElroy, "Berman uses "hidden funders to attack groups that contribute a great deal to society. Now he is coming after teachers at a time when most Americans support education and want to make improving education a top national priority. Teachers and the public deserve to know which businesses are bankrolling Berman's despicable tactics, but he is too much of a coward to reveal the source of his funding," McElroy said.

McElroy describes the AFT as a longtime advocated for "sound, commonsense public education policies, including high academic and conduct standards for students, and greater professionalism for teachers and school staff. He said the union does back education reforms -- "when they are done in a way that improves teaching and learning."

As part of its new project, the Center for Union Facts said it filed freedom of information requests with dozens of major school districts. "From the stacks of paperwork that ensued, we have calculated a variety of statistics that document how teachers unions -- and the laws and policies they defend -- keep bad teachers in classrooms."

The group examined 22 school districts, all listed on its Web site. It calculated how many "contract teachers" are employed -- and how many of those teachers were fired over a four-year period. In all cases, a very low percentage of teachers were fired, prompting the Center for Union Facts to conclude that unions "have made it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers."


Former assemblyman-labor boss pleads guilty

Brian M. McLaughlin, a former New York State Assemblyman and labor leader pleaded guilty Friday to a federal racketeering charge and admitted making false statements in a loan application to a federally-insured financial institution. McLaughlin, 55, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan.

McLaughlin functioned as the highest ranking official of the J Division of Local 3 of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which represents electrical workers in New York City. Members of the J Division typically install and maintain street lights and traffic signals in New York City.

Prosecutors say McLaughlin stole money from a J Division bank account; accepted payments from union contractors; secretly maintained an interest in a company doing business with union employers and used his position as a union official to advance that company’s, and thus his own, financial interests by pressuring contractors to buy certain products in order to perform City contracts; and directed the activities of J Division members for his own personal gain and profit.

McLauglin misappropriated well over $100,000 dollars from a J Division account that was maintained for the benefit of the J Division and its membership. The account was funded largely by deductions from union members’ paychecks, as well as by contributions from contractors to support the union. Prosecutors say McLaughlin used these union funds to pay his personal credit card bills and his country club dues, among other uses. McLaughlin also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from contractors that employed J Division union members, along with vehicles and other personal benefits. In one instance, according to the indictment, McLaughlin permitted a contractor to employ fewer union members in exchange for these payments.

McLaughlin also served as the president of the New York City Central Labor Council, a chartered affiliate of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). McLaughlin misappropriated approximately $185,000 from the CLC. He caused the CLC to hire one person as both a consultant and an employee who did little or no substantial work, and then funneled income from the CLC back to McLaughlin. He then used the proceeds of this scheme to pay for his personal expenses, including rental payments for a residence that he maintained in Queens; payments for a car driven by one of his children; and mortgage payments for a new home in Nissequogue, Long Island.

As a former New York State Assemblyman, McLaughlin represented the 25th Assembly District in Queens. In that capacity, he misappropriated over $35,000 from the State of New York. Prosecutors say McLaughlin created fictitious positions on his legislative staff and pocketed a share of the salary for one of the purported employees, and he also submitted false claims for reimbursement of his daily expenses.

He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the racketeering charge when he is sentenced on Sept. 12 and an additional maximum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment on the charge of making a false statement in a loan application. In addition, as part of his guilty, McLaughlin admitted to forfeiture allegations in connection with these counts that seek forfeiture of $2.2 million in illicit proceeds from McLaughlin’s crimes, as well as a residence located in Nissequogue and other assets.


UFCW announces strike v. care facility

Union officials have notified Good Shepherd Home Executive Director Chris Widman the UFCW Local 911 will begin a work stoppage at 2 p.m. March 15. Widman said he and the board of trustees will be meeting with union officials Tuesday to try to come to an agreement and avert the strike at the Fostoria, OH care facility.

“The board of trustees are very comfortable with the fact that they’ve presented a fair and equitable package. We’re approaching the meeting with an open mind, and we’re optimistic and hopeful we can reach an agreement,” Widman said.

Widman said workers have been working without a contract since Jan. 15. He said at that point the contract was extended 10 days. Widman said administration and union officials last met Jan. 23 and at that time had arranged the March 11 meeting.

He said he was somewhat caught off guard by the notification.

“We haven’t met since January; for them to give us the message before the meeting was a bit awkward,” Widman said.

UFCW Local 911 President Jeff Stephens said talks regarding a new contract have been going on for about three months. Stephens said the primary issues in the contract dispute are over wages and insurance. He said administration and the board of trustees have not offered an acceptable deal.

“They just have not been able to get their employer to put a package on the table that would satisfy them for the next three years. The wages they’re paid are not competitive, and what is offered to them makes it tougher for them to survive and get by,” Stephens said.

Stephens said the union employees have made concessions in the past but he said it has come to the point where they can’t budge any further.

He said those who plan to strike are doing so as a last resort.

“They are just so dedicated to the patients so they didn’t take action in the past. This time it’s come to a head, and they’ve had enough,” Stephens said.

Despite the potential strike, preparations are being undertaken to ensure patients at Good Shepherd Home do not suffer any drop in quality of care.

Widman said the facility has begun to implement its work stoppage intervention plan. Widman said it’s a comprehensive plan to keep the facility running at the same level as before the strike and one of the main procedures is to bring in workers to continue caring for patients.

“We’re working at getting them in place so they’re ready to go,” Widman said.

Widman said he does not know of any time in the past where the work stoppage intervention plan has had to be put into action.

“To my knowledge they’ve never had to use the plan before and never in the nine years I’ve been here,” Widman said.

Widman said by law, unions that cover workers in health care facilities such as Good Shepherd Home must notify administration of a potential strike a minimum of 10 days in advance. This must be done to allow for work stoppage plans such as theirs to be put into place.

Widman said not all workers may end up striking. He said the law allows individual workers to choose whether to participate in a strike.

“We have received indication that many have decided not to participate,” Widman said


UAW's illegal strike leaders punished

Pounding the pavement in a two-month tour of cities throughout the Midwest and West Coast, four fired United Auto Workers members have been busy speaking to supporters in a quest to get their jobs back. The workers are members of the "Freightliner Five" (also called the "Cleveland Five"), who sat on UAW Local 3520's bargaining committee and were fired by truck manufacturer Freightliner last April after leading a strike against givebacks at their plant in Cleveland, North Carolina (see Labor Notes December 2007).

Questions about the effect concessionary bargaining and shortcut neutrality agreements may have on the future of new member organizing in the South are frequently raised at their meetings. And while the tale of their firing grabs the most attention, the less-told story of how they became union members in the first place reveals important challenges for today's unions.

Forging a New Union

Local 3520 drew its name from the street address of the Methodist church union supporters where met at twice week during the plant organizing campaign seven years ago. It was a hopeful start for a local built out of a hard-fought struggle to unionize in right-to-work North Carolina. Four of the Freightliner Five, Allen Bradley, Glenna Swinford, Franklin Torrence, and Robert Whiteside, were members of the volunteer organizing committee that helped unionize the plant with the UAW. (The fifth, David Crisco, joined the union later.)

After organizing a nearby Freightliner plant in Mt. Holly, North Carolina, in 1990, the UAW attempted to recruit workers in the Cleveland plant throughout the 1990s. At first workers weren't receptive. According to Whiteside, Freightliner pegged wages at the plant to the Mt. Holly factory's pay scale to tamp down support for the UAW.

It wasn't until Freightliner cut wages and made workers pay out of pocket for health care in 2002 that many at the Cleveland plant felt a change of heart. "We'd just taken a $1.15-an-hour pay cut but Mt. Holly didn't have to, even with the market downturn," Bradley said. "The UAW held an organizing meeting three months later and people attended. We could see the difference between union and non-union plants."

The 1998 merger between Chrysler and Freightliner's parent company Daimler added what should have been a boost to organizing. Freightliner now came under neutrality agreements the UAW had brokered with Chrysler.

Soon after, the union lost a National Labor Relations Board election at the Gastonia, North Carolina, Freightliner parts plant by a slim margin of 24 votes. The case for card-check organizing at Cleveland -- where a union is recognized when a majority sign authorization cards -- must have seemed certain to the UAW. After the Gastonia defeat, UAW officials told the volunteer organizing committee that they had won a neutrality agreement for the Cleveland plant.

Choosing a Shortcut

For workers at Freightliner, the card-check neutrality agreement the company and the union reached was a double-edged sword. While it gave the organizing committee a guarantee that their work would not be in vain, it came at a big cost -- pre-arranged concessions.

Because their plant was larger and more profitable, Bradley thought they could get a better contract than workers at Mt. Holly. But members of the local's first bargaining committee said they didn't know the neutrality agreement that helped win them a union also guaranteed they would be locked into standards beneath that of other unionized Freightliner workers.

"Once we got to the bargaining table, there was no profit sharing, no cost-of-living raises, no restrictions on overtime," Swinford said. "The company had an unfair advantage because they knew we'd be spinning our wheels."

Bradley and Swinford still believe, though, that card check helped them avoid the intimidation that hopeful union supporters face when holding NLRB elections.

"We support card check 100 percent; it's a great tool for organizing," Torrence said. "We're just opposed to the sweetheart deals that unions are making with corporations because it takes away the power of the local union."

The impact of the pre-conditions continues. When the local bargaining committee began to negotiate the next contract last spring, the terms of the years-old neutrality agreement still applied. When local officers tried to improve the contract for their members, they found the neutrality agreement pre-conditions holding them back.

Union, Yes, But How?

In organizing Freightliner, the UAW was able to overcome obstacles that often plague unions when organizing in the South. But as the UAW looks to expand below the Mason-Dixon line, everything from concessions accepted by unions in the North to wages in non-unionized plants can hamper organizing.

After the UAW reached concessionary agreements with Detroit's Big 3 auto manufacturers last fall that cut wages for new hires in half, the Five said they grew even more concerned about how their union could continue organizing in Southern states and at companies outside of pattern agreements, like Freightliner.

"Why would anybody working in a factory in the South already making $14 an hour agree to a union and pay dues?" asked Swinford. "Workers in the South have typically been paid dollars less than the rest of the auto industry. We see the Big 3 companies paying $14 an hour, and wonder if we'd have to drop to $12 or less if we kept that gap."

While the Freightliner Five await UAW arbitration to see if they can keep their positions in the union, they remain hopeful that union organizing in the South can succeed, even after the raft of challenges they've faced.

"I want to see the South organized because we need representation, fair contracts, better health and safety, and pensions," Whiteside said. "We hope the UAW will be a large part of that. The UAW will have to look at its style of organizing and the last 15 years of concessionary negotiations."

And no better place to start, Bradley said, than Cleveland, North Carolina. "If the UAW is successful in resolving this problem of five local officers terminated during bargaining, that'll be a hell of a win for organizing in the South," he said.

Local Officers Out of Work, Out of a Union

On February 16, the Freightliner Five's quest became an even more uphill battle when they were forcibly removed from a monthly membership meeting.

Allen Bradley, Glenna Swinford, Franklin Torrence, and Robert Whiteside were attending the UAW 3520 membership meeting when President George Drexel called police to escort them out on grounds that they were no longer members of the local. Bradley was arrested on trespassing charges after lingering to take a picture of a fellow member, an off-duty police officer, discussing the situation with on-duty officers.

In the UAW constitution, membership can be called into question six months after a member is fired. That deadline arrived in October for the Five, who were careful to keep their membership in good standing throughout the fall and winter by attending every membership and executive board meeting. The local's financial secretary, Shane Brown, assured members that their continued presence at meetings and verbal requests to remain members was sufficient to stay on the rolls.

Making Exceptions

But the UAW suddenly dropped them from the rolls in early February, claiming they didn't properly signal to the financial secretary their intent to remain members. According to their lawyer (and Labor Notes staff member) Ellis Boal, other members of the local were not subject to this reading of the union's constitution.

"Had there been a real lapse of their good standing, it should have occurred on the last day of October," Boal said. "But at the union trial in November, Brown testified the Five were in good standing. Indeed they must have been in good standing to even be allowed a trial."

Boal said the Five would fight the decision in a union adjudication. What started as a request that their union help get their jobs back has become a campaign to keep them in the union they helped to build.


Out-of-state union interferes with Ohio SEIU

A California-based union is urging Mercy Health Partners hospital employees to vote against unionizing, calling the upcoming election a "sham." The National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association on Monday, March 10, blasted the upcoming election. The vote would compromise "the democratic rights of the nurses and other employees and even endanger public safety standards in the hospitals," according to the group's statement.

More than 4,200 employees of Mercy Health Partners hospitals — including the Fairfield (OH) facility — are scheduled to vote Friday, March 14, to determine if they will be represented by the Service Employees International Union.

The vote involves nurses, technical workers, maintenance staff and clerical workers.

SEIU officials described the California-based nurses organization's allegations as false and outrages.

"It's the most blatantly outrages material I have ever seen in the labor movement," said Joyce Moscato, a spokeswoman for the SEIU. "We are just stunned by this."

Moscato said the NNOC/CNA is known for "interfering" with the SEIU and other unions in hopes of encouraging workers to join their group.

She said SEIU and hospital staff worked for three years to organize a "democratic'' election process that would allow workers to vote for the first time without the influence of Mercy or the SEIU.

"It's despicable," Moscato said. "We have worked so long to make the process neutral and fair and it's being destroyed."

The election comes about 10 years after Mercy Clermont employees voted against unionizing, and about two years after the SEIU filed a class action lawsuit against Catholic Healthcare Partners, of which Mercy is a part, claiming the company "shortchanged" employees.

NNOC/CNA has 80,000 members in all 50 states.

The organization claims the hospitals have a secret deal with the SEIU and "hand picked" the organization to represent its nurses and other employees.

"The labor movement should unify in protecting the sanctity of democratic unionism and stop the top down deals...," said NNOC/CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro.

Jill Furillo, director of NNOC/CNA's Catholic hospital division, called the election "undemocratic."

Greg Ossman, a spokesman for Mercy Fairfield, declined to address the nurses' organization's allegations. But said the election will be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.


UFCW digs in against decert

As hearings continue over the future of union representation for Woodman’s employees, allegations that the Janesville, Wisconsin-based grocery store chain hired a “union-buster” to instigate the process are wrong, the grocer’s consultant said Friday. Earlier this year, an employee at a Woodman’s store in Madison circulated a petition to decertify United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 as the bargaining unit for the 900 employees at the Madison, Janesville and Beloit stores.

A similar petition later was filed with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of Woodman’s workers in Onalaska.

The NLRB will determine—possibly in April—whether union workers can vote to keep Local 1473 as its union. Hearings are under way to determine whether 120 employees who signed the petition are eligible to vote.

The union is claiming those people are supervisors, and therefore could not sign the original petition or vote in an upcoming decertification election. Under NLRB rules, supervisors are not eligible to vote, sign or file petitions.

The NLRB could declare the petition invalid if the employees who started the petitions are found to be supervisors. If the petition is found to be valid, a vote to decertify will follow.

“These 120 people have been union members as long as the union was collecting their dues, but are now apparently supervisors and not eligible to vote,” said Fred Grubb of Grubb Quist & Associates, the consulting firm hired by Woodman’s to represent it before the NLRB.

In the meantime, negotiations will begin on a new contract to replace the one that expires Sunday, March 16.

People commenting on previous Woodman’s stories on The Janesville Gazette Web site have said the movement to decertify Local 1473 is management-driven.

John Eiden, president of Local 1473, said he’s certain chain president Phil Woodman and Grubb’s firm instigated the effort.

He said the Vermont-based Grubb appeared on the scene shortly after “Phil came back from a union-avoidance seminar put on by Grubb.”

Eiden told the South Central Federation of Labor’s Union Labor News last month that workers can make decisions for themselves.

“However, we will not stand for coordinated efforts to manipulate and interfere with employee-based decisions,” Eiden said. “If unfair labor practices are taking place, we will do what we have to do to uncover them to protect our union brothers and sisters.”

Grubb would not say when his firm was hired or how much it is being paid.

“The union has couched this as big bad Phil Woodman and Fred Grubb out to decimate the union,” Grubb said. “The fact is, we had nothing to do with this; doing so would be totally against the law.

“The employees put the petition out and have said all they want is a vote. Phil has said he’ll abide by that.”

When asked about the “union-busting” label, Grubb said his firm is a consulting firm that specializes in labor relations. The firm typically represents management in three areas:

-- Elections to either form or decertify a union

-- NLRB hearings on representation or charges of unfair labor practices

-- Union negotiations

“In this situation with Woodman’s, we’re three for three,” he said.

Because Woodman’s is employee-owned, some employees have questioned whether they are paying the bills to decertify the union that represents them.

They certainly are, Grubb said.

“Management needs representation solely because the union is contesting the petition filed by the employees,” he said. “If the union let the employees vote, then the company would not have had to spend any money for the representation hearing.”

Grubb said the union is spending the dues it has collected to keep the vote from happening.

Woodman’s has 11 stores with a 12th set to open this spring in Oak Creek. With the opening of that store, half of the 12 stores will be unionized.


Newspaper unionists prevail

A judge for the National Labor Relations Board has found the Hawaii Tribune-Herald newspaper guilty of violations of federal labor law in the firing of a longtime reporter in 2005, and another in 2006. The 41-page ruling by administrative Judge John J. McCarrick found the Tribune-Herald management illegally suspended and fired reporters Dave Smith and Hunter Bishop, and illegally suspended reporter Peter Sur for engaging in union activism protected under federal law.

Bishop was the Hawaii Newspaper Guild's Hilo unit chairman from 2000 to 2004, was a member of the union's bargaining committee, and was a shop steward until he was fired in 2005.

Smith was a union steward from 2004 until he was fired in 2006, and was also a member of the Guild bargaining committee.

The company alleged Bishop was fired for insubordination and low productivity, and Smith was fired for secretly tape recording a meeting with Tribune-Herald Editor David Bock.

McCarrick rejected those arguments, and found both reporters were suspended and fired for legally protected union activities.

McCarrick also found the newspaper discriminated against unionized employees by banning workers from wearing armbands or buttons in support of the two fired employees.

The ruling found the company was also guilty of unfair labor practices for interfering with employees' collective bargaining rights by interrogating workers about their union-related activities.

The March 6 ruling orders Newspaper owner Stephens Media LLC to offer both Bishop and Smith their jobs back, and to "make them whole" for any loss of earnings and other benefits.

The order also requires the newspaper to stop "warning, suspending and terminating its employees for engaging in union and other protected/concerted activity."


AFSCME complaint fails to count fringe benefits

AFSCME union members gathered steps from the Maryland Statehouse Monday evening making noise over what they say are disproportionate salaries for state workers. A recent report from the Department of Budget and Management found state employees make 7 percent less than their competitors.

Earl Tindle is a mechanic at BWI Thurgood Marshall airport. He says his co-workers are going fast. They're down to just 5 mechanics from 10. “Because people on the outside are offering them more money and less stressful jobs it's getting to be a dangerous thing out there," he says.

Andre Powell helps families go from welfare to work. Councilors like him are among the lowest paid in the nation. He says they deserve competitive wages despite the state's financial problems. “The workers themselves are dealing with a budget shortfall our salaries have not kept up with the cost of living,” says Powell.

Joyce foster works for the division and correction and argues, “We're tired of budgeting on our backs they have some money somewhere look in that kitty bank and give us some money."

"Save our state services," they say, because they're in crisis mode. Union Director Patrick Moran explains, “That crisis is a lack of staff to safely and effectively deliver services to public." Delegate Keith Haynes says the union has his support but since a Senate Committee recently approved more than 300 million dollars in budget cuts, the delegate will most likely face an uphill battle.


Efficiency, productivity concern Teamsters

Toledo, Ohio's top leaders are considering sweeping changes to the city's garbage collection system that includes a pilot program to test automated trucks and switching pickup days for some residents. The bottom line is to save money, and to do so, the city wants to reduce its trash routes and eventually the number of refuse collectors, said Robert Reinbolt, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's chief of staff.

"All of this is being driven by the fact that we are trying to reduce costs and provide the best service for citizens," Mr. Reinbolt said yesterday.

Beginning in May, the trash pickup day for about 7,000 homes in three pockets of the city will be changed, the number of routes will be cut from 33 to 27, and the city will start a 10,000-home pilot program for automated garbage trucks.


Beginning in May:

• The trash pickup day for about 7,000 homes in three pockets of the city will be changed

• The number of routes will be cut from 33 to 27

• A 10,000-home pilot program for automated garbage trucks will start. The city’s goal is to have trash pickup completely automated by May, 2010, with the exception of a few streets that are too narrow for the trucks.
The city's goal is to have trash pickup completely automated by May, 2010, with the excep-tion of just a few streets that are too narrow for the automated trucks.

By doing so, Toledo would join more than 100 cities nationwide that have turned to automation.

Chuck Collinson, business representative for Teamsters Local 20, which represents the refuse collectors, said he's concerned about the workforce reduction.

After the route adjustments this year, the city would be left with 59 collectors and 36 drivers - down from 111 refuse collectors and drivers. The cuts would save the city about $460,000 from May 1 to Dec. 31.

Automated pickup planned for 2010 would only require 11 collectors and 44 drivers.

"I don't know how it can all be done through attrition," Mr. Collinson said. "But we have guarantees that none of our guys will be out on layoff and instead would be moved into other city departments."

Last week, Toledo city voters approved a 0.75 percent income tax renewal that generates $57.7 million annually for services such as police, fire, and garbage collection.

Moving to full garbage automation could save about $5.5 million in salary costs annually, but $2.5 million a year would be used to pay down the capital cost of equipment and containers, said Bill Franklin, the city's director of public service.

The city is also expecting fewer worker compensation claims since the truck would do the heavy lifting while the city employee sits behind the wheel.

"The temporary pool of workers would go first, and we are trying to find positions for them in other city departments," Mr. Franklin said. "There wouldn't be any layoffs this year, and that's why we are phasing it in over three years - we are hoping we can do it through attrition."

The city had 54 trash routes in the 1970s, and that number has been reduced over the years to reflect the city's declining population, Mr. Franklin noted.

Reducing the number of routes would also increase the number of hours each refuse collector works a day - from sometimes just four to a full eight-hour workday.

Mr. Reinbolt said the change in pickup days and limitations on what can be placed at the curb would likely be difficult for residents to accept.

Mayor Finkbeiner has repeatedly said Toledo has a "Cadillac" of trash collection, compared with other large Ohio cities, but indicated that the city can't afford it any longer.

A controversial $5.50 monthly trash fee was enacted last year as part of the 2007 general operating fund budget.

It will expire April 30 unless council renews it. Residents get a $2.50 discount if they pledge to recycle.

Some city council members have suggested alternatives to the trash fee, including an idea from Councilman D. Michael Collins to charge Toledo residents who don't recycle $10 and nothing for those who do recycle at the curb side.

Mr. Reinbolt said limiting people to just two cans in an automated system would encourage recycling since they would be more judicious with the space.

The automated pilot program will include homes throughout the city.

The trucks would not collect large items, brush and tree branch, and extra bags. This could effectively limit the city's current unlimited amount of trash residents can place at the curb for pickup.

Mr. Reinbolt stressed that the pilot program would not cost anything for the city. Several companies vying to sell Toledo its automated trucks and the needed rectangular containers will be providing the equipment free.

"If we decide we don't like the pilot program, if it doesn't work out for Toledoans, we are not out anything," Mr. Reinbolt said.

The cost of a base model automated garbage truck is about $200,000, while traditional garbage trucks costs about $180,000 apiece, said Julian Highsmith, the city's commissioner of solid waste.

Mr. Franklin said the city's fleet of garbage trucks is aging and needs to be replaced anyway.

"So we either go with automation like the trend is nationwide, or we buy the regular trucks," he said.

Each resident in the pilot program would get at least two free containers, and they could buy more.

Bowling Green, Akron, Dayton, and Columbus have full automation while Cleveland started a pilot program in November.

City Council President Mark Sobczak, who is also vice president of Teamsters Local 20, declined to comment on the plan to change the routes, number of collectors, or the move toward automation.

Mr. Collins said automation is a "no-brainer."

He followed, though, by saying: "My first question is can it work for the entire city?"

Councilman Frank Szollosi, a fervent opponent of the trash fee, said automation "can't happen fast enough."

"It's efficiency and productivity in savings," Mr. Szollosi said.


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