Union seeks to change hearts, minds

The AFL-CIO today launched a major new campaign to expose Sen. John McCain’s economic record and his plans to continue the failed economic agenda of George W. Bush. The “McCain Revealed” campaign will reach more than 13 million voters in 23 battleground states, the federation’s political director Karen Ackerman said. The effort is a key component of the AFL-CIO’s $53.4 million mobilization, its largest in history.

“Our economy is in crisis after years of failed Bush Administration policies that Sen. McCain supports and has adopted as his own,” Ackerman said. “Sen. McCain’s record shows he’s in lockstep with President Bush on economic issues. He’s voted repeatedly for trade deals that ship our jobs overseas, he’s voted against protecting overtime pay, he’s voted against health insurance for children and he supports the Bush Social Security privatization plan. McCain is Bush No. 3.”

“McCain Revealed” will educate voters on his record and call on Sen. McCain to support working families’ concerns through a variety of communications tactics, focused heavily on person-to-person contact. In the coming weeks the AFL-CIO will communicate with union voters at the workplace, doorstep, by phone, online and through direct mail.

The AFL-CIO also launched a website, www.mccainrevealed.org, which conveys the McCain record to the public and the labor movement’s urging that Sen. McCain turn the page and stand up for working families.

“It’s clear that John McCain hopes to conduct his campaign without ever having to explain his economic priorities to working people,” Ackerman said. “Public opinion polls show the economy is the top concern of voters, yet Sen. McCain has said very little about his economic positions and, as a result, working families know very little about where he stands on pocketbook concerns. That all changes today.”

Ackerman detailed the elements of the campaign:

* The five top-tier priority states for the campaign are Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota;
* The AFL-CIO will reach more than 13 million union voters in battleground states, including more than 6.7 million in the five priority states;
* Everywhere John McCain goes in the coming months, union activists will be there to confront him on economic issues and demand that he speak to working families’ concerns. In the past two weeks, union members have held actions at McCain events in Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and New Hampshire;
* In the next two weeks, more than 100,000 worksite leaflets on the McCain record will be distributed to union members. By the end of April, that number will be 425,000 worksite leaflets;
* On May 17 the AFL-CIO will hold a national canvass in which union volunteers will knock on 400,000 union voters’ doors, in one day, with information on John McCain’s economic record;
* The McCain Revealed campaign will employ the most sophisticated voter communication strategies including microtargeting to ensure union households are receiving the information they want on John McCain.

“The AFL-CIO intends to lead the way in the coming months to turn our country in a new direction,” Ackerman said.


Unions to gain power in N.Y. transition

As New York's de facto governor, David Paterson, readies himself to take the reins of a vast state government, he and his aides are scrambling to assemble a policy agenda out of the ruins of the Spitzer administration. Spitzer officials say the lieutenant governor shares many of the same positions advanced by Mr. Spitzer — they both support legalizing gay marriage and enacting an abortion rights bill that has infuriated the Catholic Church — but they caution that the overlap goes only so far.

"David will clearly put his own stamp on many policy initiatives," a Spitzer aide said.

Hours after Mr. Spitzer resigned in disgrace yesterday, Mr. Paterson's staff put together a small packet of policy memos and press releases that they said would illuminate his governing priorities.

The packet, obtained by The New York Sun, sketched Mr. Paterson's position on investing in clean energy — "the state must look to build and expand all aspects of clean energy infrastructure," it stated — expanding stem cell research, and reducing domestic violence.

Omitted were Mr. Paterson's stances on health care, education, taxes, and almost every other issue central to state government, a sign of how little impact he had on those areas while serving under Mr. Spitzer.

A spokesman for Mr. Paterson said the lieutenant governor would begin to fill in the gaps today when he holds his first press conference since Mr. Spitzer became embroiled in a sex scandal on Monday.

The most immediate expected change will be a shake-up of top-level executive chamber personnel.

Many of Mr. Spitzer's top aides are expected to follow Mr. Spitzer's exit. Among those said to be departing are the secretary to the governor, Richard Baum; the director of policy, Peter Pope, and the governor's counsel, David Nocenti. A senior adviser to Mr. Spitzer, Lloyd Constantine, has already submitted his resignation.

Mr. Paterson, 53, has asked Mr. Spitzer's director of operations, Paul Francis, to stay. Another top aide, Sean Patrick Maloney, will also remain in the executive chamber.

Mr. Paterson's second-in-command will be Charles O'Byrne, a former Jesuit priest and Columbia Law School graduate who officiated at the wedding and funeral of John F. Kennedy Jr. Mr. O'Byrne, who is gay, has written extensively on sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.

Mr. Paterson will assume the state's highest office without a campaign for the job and without winning a single vote cast for the office, giving him a greater flexibility in molding his policies than Mr. Spitzer had.

As a candidate, Mr. Spitzer pledged that he would not raise taxes. Administration officials say that Mr. Paterson, who advocated for a more progressive tax code as a state senator, has made no such pledge and say he's not beholden to Mr. Spitzer's policy.

Mr. Paterson will face his first test on the tax issue immediately after his swearing-in ceremony on Monday.

Assembly Democrats are aggressively pushing for a 12% personal income tax hike on millionaires to reduce the state's roughly $5 billion deficit. Republicans have rejected the idea — as well as the majority of fee increases and tax loophole closures proposed by Mr. Spitzer — and instead want to pass a constitutional amendment that would prevent annual spending increases of more than 4%.

Lawmakers say they have no idea whether Mr. Paterson will push to enact the governor's budget proposal or adopt one of the legislative alternatives.

Many of Mr. Spitzer's marquee initiatives may be left without a caretaker. Mr. Paterson in coming weeks will also have to decide whether to preserve Mr. Spitzer's plan to lease off the state lottery to create a $4 billion endowment for public higher education and Mr. Spitzer's effort to overhaul Medicaid by steering more money to outpatient and primary care and away from institutionalized care.

In a two-page resignation letter to Mr. Paterson, Mr. Constantine, who advised the governor on higher education policy, expressed a hope that the next governor would carry on the administration's work in that area. "I know you have worked towards the advancement of the Administration's higher education proposals and trust that you will continue to do so with all of the force of your intellect and high office," he wrote.

As a state senator of Harlem for 21 years and minority leader for four years, Mr. Paterson, who is African-American and legally blind, hewed to a largely liberal line, frequently championing legislation that sought to strengthen the rights of minorities and urban tenants.

He inveighed against the state's Rockefeller drug sentencing laws and commissioned a study to show that they unfairly targeted minorities. One ideological exception was his position on school choice. In the Senate Democratic conference, Mr. Paterson stood out for his forceful support for charter schools.

While New York's labor community clashed with Mr. Spitzer over his tax policy and health care funding, Mr. Paterson's history with labor unions has been free of conflict. In 2004, when Columbia graduate student teaching assistants went on strike, he tried to intervene on their behalf and urged President Lee Bollinger to recognize their union.

What the legislative record says about Mr. Paterson is an open question, however. When aides to Mr. Spitzer interviewed Mr. Paterson while they were considering him as a running mate in 2006, Mr. Paterson assured them that some of his more liberal positions represented the view of the wider conference rather than himself, a Spitzer source said.

Mr. Paterson's father Basil Paterson, a former secretary of state in New York who is advising his son on his transition, has strong ties to some of New York's most powerful labor unions, a link that may pose a conflict of interest for the administration when it negotiates contracts.

In 2006, the elder Mr. Paterson represented the Transport Workers Union on a three-member arbitration panel convened in the wake of a three-day transit strike. Basil Paterson, an attorney, also negotiates contracts on behalf of 1199 SEIU, which represents health care employees, the United Federation of Teachers, and Teamsters Local 237.

In interviews, Democrats and Republicans spoke glowingly of David Paterson's collegiality and his history of reaching across partisan divides and embracing compromise, qualities they had found lacking in his disgraced predecessor.

As governor, Mr. Spitzer marshaled his donor base and the state Democratic Party apparatus against Republicans, whom he viewed as an adversary that needed to be eliminated. Senate Republicans said they were confident that Mr. Paterson would steer a more diplomatic course.

"We are going to partner with the lieutenant governor when he becomes governor," the Republican majority leader of the Senate, Joseph Bruno, said at a press conference. "And David has always been very open with me, very forthright. I look forward to a positive, productive relationship as soon as possible."

Yet, as lawmakers note from their experience with Mr. Spitzer, relationships with the governor can head south quickly. On January 3 2007, two days after Mr. Spitzer took office, Mr. Bruno offered the governor a similarly worded invocation.

"I've got to tell you, this is a partner that we look forward to working with. He has said all the right things … all of the right things, all of the right priorities," he said then before the news cameras.

"The job does a funny thing to people," a Republican senator of Brooklyn, Martin Golden, said of the governorship.


Police union organizer indicted

A former Fraternal Order of Police president and Nashville (TN) police lieutenant has been accused of bribery and misusing money. Calvin Hullett was indicted by a federal grand jury on allegations of conspiracy, embezzlement and unlawful interstate commerce. The indictment stems from a well-publicized break-in last summer at the Fraternal Order of Police Camp located in Wilson County. The FOP and the Teamsters had been engaged in a public battle over who should represent Metro police officers at the time.

The indictment provided more details on why Hullett, who represented the Teamsters at the time, may have been trying to break into the camp.

According to a news release, between March and July 2007, Hullett befriended a Davidson County inmate who was at the camp as part of a work release program. The release claims it was through that relationship that Hullett, his girlfriend and at least one other person were able to get on the property and plant hidden video equipment that the Teamsters were hoping might provide evidence of drinking and other inappropriate activities going on at the camp.

According to the indictment, Hullett may not have acted alone. It seems as if one other member of the Teamsters went along with the idea and is accused of helping Hullett divert more than $8,000 out of the Teamsters account to pay for the equipment.


Labor-state in union-dues crisis

Union membership in Massachusetts last year dropped to its lowest level in almost two decades as one of the country's most steadfast collective-bargaining states continues to replace old-line jobs in manufacturing with salaried occupations in technology and professional services.

The number of workers in the Commonwealth who belonged to a union declined last year by 35,000 to hit a 19-year-low of 379,000, according to data released yesterday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, union membership nationwide was relatively flat, rising by 311,000 workers to nearly 15.7 million.

The percentage of Massachusetts workers who are in unions - a more important measure because it adjusts for a state's job losses or gains - fell to 13.2 percent of the state's workers, down from 14.5 percent in 2006.

Last year's numbers for the state are the lowest since the government began collecting union membership data in 1989, but Massachusetts is still ahead of more than three-quarters of the states. Nationwide, union members made up 12.1 percent of employed wage and salary workers, essentially unchanged from the prior year's 12 percent.

"The Northeast has traditionally been a stronghold for union membership," said Walter Marshall, a regional economist at the labor statistics agency. "It could be part of the cultural business climate, and it could be a combination of the industries and occupations."

Labor economists say Massachusetts' decline is due in part to the larger disappearance of manufacturing jobs and slower gain in construction jobs. Other government data show manufacturing accounted for 9 percent of the state's jobs last year, compared to 10.1 percent of the country's jobs during the same period; construction amounted to 4.2 percent of the state's jobs last year, compared to 5.5 percent nationwide. Still, this state's situation isn't drastically different from those of others. Union membership has been eroding nationwide since 1990 as service jobs - in finance, information technology, and other knowledge-based industries that usually are not unionized - have proliferated.

The state's concentration of teaching and healthcare jobs, however, helped offset a larger decline in union membership last year and may continue to do so in the next few years. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the largest union in the state, continued its four-year growth streak by gaining 3,349 members last year to a total of 107,510 members in June. "Our membership is still going up at this point," said the union's president, Anne Wass.

And 22,000 of the state's home-care workers voted in November to join the Service Employees International Union Local 1199, which now has 34,000 members. More sign-ups may soon stream in from Boston's major teaching hospitals, where organizing efforts have been stirring for the past year. "There's a major movement afoot with Boston hospital workers, of which about 60,000 are nonunion right now, to join 1199 SEIU," said Jeff Hall, spokesman for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

Julie Pinkham, executive director of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said efforts to unionize healthcare workers are probably increasing because they hold longer-term payoffs.

"It's a more stable industry to focus your organizing efforts on," Pinkham said. "Whereas you see manufacturing jobs moving out of the country, it's a lot harder to move healthcare jobs out of the country."


State labor commissioner gets promotion

Oregon's labor commissioner announced his resignation Wednesday to take a job with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union in Washington, D.C. Dan Gardner, 49, a Democrat, was an electrician when he was elected to the Oregon House from a Portland district in 1996. He was in the House three terms, including a stint as Democratic minority leader in 2000 and 2001, before he was elected commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries in 2002.

He was unopposed for re-election in 2006. The position was made nonpartisan in 1995.

Gardner was the House Democratic leader during an infamous 2001 walkout, when minority Democrats stayed out of the House chamber for five days to deny majority Republicans the required number of members to conduct business in the House. The protest was over a Republican plan to redraw legislative districts; Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber ended up vetoing the plan.

Gardner was one of the sponsors of a 2002 ballot initiative that voters approved to link future increases in Oregon's minimum wage to the consumer price index. Oregon is among the states with the highest minimum wage, which is praised by some and criticized by others.

The commissioner enforces civil-rights laws, wage and hour laws, and oversees apprenticeship programs. During the 2007 session, the Legislature expanded Oregon's unpaid family-leave law and allowed workers to tap sick pay but shelved a bill to create paid leave.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski is expected to name an interim commissioner today, said Anna Richter Taylor, his spokeswoman.

If that appointee wants to hold the job for the balance of Gardner's term, the filing deadline for the Nov. 4 election is Aug. 26. Others may file by that deadline as well.

Gardner is the eighth person to hold the position since it was created in 1903. It got its current name in 1979.

Gardner had considered a run for the open 5th District congressional seat. He lived a few blocks outside its boundaries, but the only federal requirement is for a representative to live in the state. He decided against it, saying he wanted to spend more time with his children.


Jumbo gov't-union enjoys sick-time payoffs

Andover (MA) leaders may go cap-in-hand to the taxpayers, begging them for a Proposition 2-1/2 override of something around $4 million to balance the books for the coming year. Taxpayers should treat this request with the utmost skepticism unless town leaders end, right now, the ludicrous practice of throwing buckets of their money at town employees in payment for unused sick time.

Andover public employees — police, fire and members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME — have contracts that allow them to earn sick time over the course of a year and accumulate it year to year.

When those workers retire, they are owed "terminal leave pay," that is, they are paid again for days they did not call in sick. Police, for example, can accrue up to 200 days of sick time. AFSCME employees — public works, plant and facilities workers — have no limits on their sick time accumulation.

Reporter Courtney Paquette found that terminal leave pay has cost Andover $1.2 million over the past three years — $511,012 in the past fiscal year alone.

Sick time is a benefit that is meant to pay people should they have the misfortune to fall ill a few days a year. It isn't meant to be accumulated into a retirement windfall. At many private companies, employees get five, 10 or maybe 15 sick days a year. If they don't need them, they're gone at the end of the year.

Yet Andover leaders crow that they've found a solution to the high cost of terminal leave pay — they pay workers to cash in their sick days earlier. Once an employee has accumulated a minimum number of sick days, he or she can sell a portion of them back to the town. This saves money, according to police Chief Brian Pattullo, because they are selling them back at current pay rates, not the higher rates they'd be earning at retirement.

Sick time buy-backs have cost Andover about $600,000 over the past three years. That's a total of $1.8 million paid to town workers for not taking sick time.

How about this: Every worker gets 15 sick days a year. And at the end of the year, they're gone.

That would end the ridiculous practice of paying healthy people bonuses for nothing more than showing up to work as they should be expected to.


SEIU protests disclosure of public information

The Sacramento Bee's decision to publish the names and salaries of every state employee, their worksite, and provide access to the database has caused quite a stir in the Capitol city. Howls of protest from state workers -- who say the information can lead to identity theft and provides "peeping Tom" viewing for neighbors and other community members -- continues to build in a community where about 12 percent of the workforce is state employees.

The Bee's public editor pretty much told the state employees to stuff it after receiving an avalanche of criticism. So that may be why SEIU Local 1000 plans a protest at 4 pm today at Bee headquarters at 24th and Q Street.

Following the demonstration, they will deliver more than 3000 petitions to the Bee, demanding the names of all state employees be removed from this database.

I see some cancelled subscriptions in the future.


Pilots use secret-ballot vote against ALPA

In just a few days, pilots for US Airways begin a vote which will determine whether they continue a 57-year tradition of representation by the Air Line Pilots Association, or break with ALPA and go with the newly-formed US Airline Pilots Association. The impetus for the vote was the combination of American West and US Airways workforces in the 2005 merger between the companies, and ALPA's backing of a seniority list which pilots of the old US Airways believe treated them unfairly.

As ANN reported last May, the union signed off on the plan, imposed by an arbitrator, which assigned long-time US Airways pilots lower seniority than some American West pilots with much less service. In the merger, the US Airways name was the one retained... but the old US Airways was essentially bankrupt, and American West was in the driver's seat. ALPA was caught in the middle, since it had represented pilots of both airlines when they were still separate.

Now, instead of becoming a cohesive team, the two groups of pilots remain at odds. Those who worked for the old US Airways call themselves the "east," and the former American West pilots call themselves the "west." The east pilots initiated the vote for a new union, believing ALPA had sold them out in not fighting the arbitrator's ruling.

TheStreet.com reports that about 5,300 union members are eligible to vote in the certification election, and what once appeared a slam-dunk for changing representation appears to have become a tighter race. In order for ALPA to hold on, about 1,000 of the disgruntled east pilots will have to vote against changing unions.

Jack Stephan, who was re-elected last week to a second two-year term as chairman of the US Airways ALPA chapter, believes many east pilots will get past their emotions and make what he says is the logical decision to stay with ALPA.

"Pilots have been trained to make ice cold, calculating decisions," Stephan said. "If an engine conks out, you first come out with a bunch of expletives. But then you remove the emotion and methodically follow the checklist. And you make a decision that may not be what your gut tells you to do, but what you feel you have to do."

Management of the new USAPA simply point to the math. Over 3,000 pilots, mostly from the east group, signed petitions to force the certification vote. If they follow through and vote to change unions, ALPA will be decertified at a major US airline for the first time in over four decades.

USAPA chairman Stephen Bradford predicts a win, saying ALPA representation of US Airways pilots is tied to failed national policies. "I believe we are going to prevail, although I don't think it will be a landslide," Bradford said.

We'll have to wait about a month to see who will be proven correct. Voting begins March 20, and will take four weeks.


Right To Work law boosts Louisiana

In the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) first economic ranking of all 50 states, Louisiana was ranked 21st, better than the national average, thanks to a mix of mostly good and some bad economic policies. The report, RICH STATES, POOR STATES ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index, was a collaborative effort from authors Dr. Arthur Laffer, nationally recognized economist, and Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal.

Contributing to the state’s positive economic outlook were low personal income, business, and property taxes, the lack of an estate tax or minimum wage, and the state’s right-to-work status. On the down side, Louisiana ’s economy suffers from high sales taxes, high worker’s compensation costs, and one of the worst tort liability systems in the nation.

The authors identify 16 policy variables with a proven impact on the migration of human and investment capital in and out if states. According to their findings, a record eight million Americans moved from one state to another last year, revealing which states have the most dynamic and desirable economies, and which are "has-been" states. The winners in this contest are generally the states with the lowest tax, spending and regulatory burdens. The biggest losers are California , the Northeast, and the Midwest .

“The historical evidence is clear: States that keep spending and taxes low exhibit the best economic results, while states that follow the tax-and-spend path lag far behind. Today, many states stand at a crossroads, and it will soon become apparent if lawmakers choose to use history as a guide for their actions. No state has ever taxed its way into prosperity. This is not about Republican versus Democrat, or left versus right. It is simply a choice between economic vitality and economic malaise,” said Jonathan P. Williams, Director of ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force.

The complete book is available online at www.alec.org; each state can be downloaded individually. Also available is a link to the C-SPAN video presentation by the authors.


Publicly-funded union activism in NYC

Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies

Empire State College offers an opportunity to work towards a degree through studies that focuses on work, workers and the “working-class presence”- social, cultural, and institutional in an historical and a contemporary context. Labor Studies is an interdisciplinary inquiry into the working-class presence and its forms that draws upon both the social sciences and the humanities.

Labor Studies students are largely union members, staff, or officers, as well as human resource professionals, managers, and those with an interest in labor/management relations in both the public and the private sectors. The emerging sub-field of “working-class studies” has also drawn increasing numbers of students interested in the working-class experience, broadly defined, and in the popular arts.


Students can pursue degrees in five areas: labor studies; cultural studies; social theory, social structure and social change; historical studies; and interdisciplinary studies.

* Associate of Arts
* Associate of Science
* Bachelor of Arts
* Bachelor of Science
* Bachelor of Professional Studies
* Master of Arts
* A certificate program in labor studies is also available

The Van Arsdale Center also provides degree completion opportunities for wage earners and union members in their chosen field, whether electrical construction, paraeducation, or anything in between.

Onsite and Online Options

You can plan undergraduate degrees in labor studies through our Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies (325 Hudson Street, Sixth Floor New York, NY) which includes one-to-one work with a faculty mentor and group study, or take advantage of flexible online learning through the Center for Distance Learning.

The Master of Arts in Labor and Policy Studies is designed for unionists, human resource professionals, arbitrators, educators, journalists, political activists, lawyers, and those involved in government for private industry. The primary concentration for this program is on current problems and policies generated by changes in the global economy, technology, the workforce and the workplace.This degree is only offered through our Center for Graduate Programs and requires a combination of online study, weekend residencies, and one-to-one work with a faculty mentor.


News union in for dues hit at Washington Post

The Washington Post released terms of previously announced employee buyouts yesterday, and new publisher Katharine Weymouth said that if enough of the staff did not participate, layoffs were possible. The paper said last month it would offer buyouts, or "voluntary early retirement incentive programs," to Post employees to reduce costs. The plan released yesterday is for employees who aren't eligible to be members of the Newspaper Guild -- typically editors and other managers. A similar plan for guild-covered staff members, including reporters, has been promised soon.

The Post offered buyouts in 2003 and 2006. To qualify in the previous round, employees had to be at least 54 years old and have 10 years of service with the paper. This time, all that is required is to be 50 years old and have five years of Post service. Well more than 100 of The Post's approximately 785 newsroom employees will be eligible, management has said.

However, buyout offers will not be extended to everyone with the right age and service, Weymouth wrote in her e-mail to the staff today. "Although we would like to be able to offer the [buyouts] to all who might be interested, they are being offered only in areas where positions do not need to be replaced or where we can otherwise achieve cost savings," she wrote.

Those taking the buyout will receive enhancements to their Post pension and health insurance coverage, as well.

Faced with declining circulation and ad revenue, the newspaper industry has been in rapid contraction. The New York Times recently offered buyouts to cut 100 newsroom positions, saying if the number were not met, layoffs would be considered. The paper extended the deadline for accepting the offer because it has not gotten 100 takers.

"We have more readers now, and more far flung readers, than we have ever had," Weymouth wrote. "And on-line revenues are growing. But, as you know, they are not yet growing fast enough to offset the declines we are seeing in print revenues."

Last year, Post online revenue totaled $114 million, up 11 percent from 2006. Ad revenue from the print version of The Post was $496 million, down 13 percent from 2006.

Weymouth was appointed publisher of The Post and chief executive of Washington Post Media last month, taking over for Post Publisher Boisfeuillet Jones Jr.


UAW-Volvo strikers distrust pact details

A day after Volvo Trucks North America announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers on a new three-year contract, Wendell Allison and more than two dozen of his union peers continued to picket outside the Dublin truck plant. "I think we have to stay out here until we get what we want," said Allison, noting that UAW Local 2069 members had yet to learn the details of the proposed contract. "If it ain't good, we'll just stay out here until we get what we want."

Tim Barnes, vice president of UAW Local 2069, said the union planned to hold two informational meetings about the agreement Saturday in New River Community College's Edwards Hall.

Following presentations from the union's bargaining committee, Barnes said members could return to the UAW Local 2069 union hall between 1 and 8 p.m. Saturday to vote on whether to ratify the contract.

If the agreement is ratified, Barnes said it could be just a couple of days before the union's roughly 2,600 members left the picket line and returned to work.

That's welcome news for strikers such as Maria Dobbs, a Pulaski mother who has started to feel the financial pinch.

"$200 a week strike pay is not enough," Dobbs said about three hours into her four-hour shift on strike duty.

"I have kids I need to support and it's hard ... everybody's ready to go back."

Mike Hopkins, a truck repairman who has worked at Volvo for nine years, agreed.

"All any of us want is to work in a safe environment and build the best trucks we can," he said. "None of us wanted this strike, but we were able to stand up together for what we believe in."

UAW Local 2069 went on strike Feb. 1, idling for more than three weeks one of the region's largest employers and Volvo's only heavy-duty truck plant in North America.

In an early letter detailing the union's reasons for striking, UAW Local 2069 President Lester Hancock said members were upset by "unreasonable proposals that would erode the wages and benefits that we've fought so many years to achieve and protect."

Throughout the strike, union members have also said Volvo was looking to dismantle recall rights and health and safety protections.

Volvo, however, has denied assertions regarding recall rights and health and safety issues and expressed confusion about the union's decision to strike.

Barnes said Wednesday that he could not give any details about how disagreements between Volvo and the union had been resolved, or about the tentative agreement that had been proposed.

Yet in a letter announcing a return to bargaining March 5, Per Carlsson, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Trucks North America, highlighted three issues that seemed likely to play a key role in talks: "increased health care cost sharing," "the exceptionally high degree of manpower movement and higher-than-average absenteeism in the factory."

"Everybody wants it over, but everybody wants their issues resolved," Hopkins said.

Until that happens, however, union members said they would continue to picket.

And "they've been upbeat the whole time," Barnes said.

In fact, added union member James Hagerman, "41 days of being together actually made us stronger than before."


Writers strike inspired actors union

The final epilogue to the tumultuous writers strike has been written, but Hollywood is bracing for a possible - a sequel to the costly walkout — this one starring film and television actors. While the TV industry has rushed to bring derailed shows back on the air since screenwriters returned to work three weeks ago, the threat of renewed labor unrest by actors in the months ahead has put movie studios in a tenuous situation.

Assuming a typical 60-day movie shoot, plus extra time for days off, possible overruns and re-shoots that might be necessary, that means few if any big-studio movies will start filming after the end of this month, industry experts say. “The studios for the most part are not greenlighting any movies that would have to be in production after that (June 30) deadline,” said an insider at one leading talent agency who was not authorized to speak publicly about client issues. Labor jitters have even prompted Hollywood’s leading insurance carrier, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co, to offer a first-of-its-kind “strike expense” policy for studios.

The policy covers the costs of a strike-related production shutdown in the event that an actor’s illness, equipment damage or other unexpected loss pushes the shooting schedule of a movie past SAG’s June 30 contract deadline. To qualify, a film must be scheduled to finish shooting by June 15 and already be covered by a so-called completion bond, which insures a movie’s financial backers against the cost of failing to finish a picture on time and on budget.

SAG itself sought to assist smaller, independent producers having trouble getting bonded by offering special waivers that permit them to employ union actors in the event of a strike. The producers in turn must accept the terms of any interim contract SAG may offer and any final settlement reached with the major studios, which are ineligible for a waiver. SAG already has signed several producers to one of its “guaranteed completion contracts,” and several more applications are pending, union sources said.

Nerves are still raw from a 14-week strike by 10,500 writers that shut down much of the television industry and derailed numerous film projects, idling thousands of production workers and costing the local economy some $3 billion. The walkout ended February 12 after the two sides reached agreement on a deal giving writers more money for work distributed over the Internet. The contract was formally ratified by the Writers Guild of America membership last week.

The Screen Actors Guild shares many of the same contract demands. But SAG also faces issues unique to its 120,000 members, such as forced commercial endorsements through product placement in TV shows and movies. Many in Hollywood believe strike fatigue is running too high for another work stoppage to materialise. But with tens of millions of dollars at stake when a film production is disrupted, movie studios are playing it safe. Some of the industry’s biggest names are caught up in the uncertainty.

Steven Spielberg has called off the April start to a DreamWorks film about the trial of the 1968 anti-war activists, the Chicago Seven, according to Daily Variety newspaper Michael Bay, director of the 2007 summer action blockbuster Transformers, is keeping his fingers crossed as he and DreamWorks stick to an early June start date for a sequel to the movie.

“If there is a strike, we shut down. But shutting down isn’t that big a deal,” Bay told Variety, explaining that he hoped to mitigate the cost of a potential disruption by working out special deals in advance with equipment vendors and sound stages where he would shoot. Independent producers who rely on third-party financing lack such flexibility because investors require completion bonds, which insurance companies are unwilling to issue for any film that cannot be finished by June 15. SAG’s offer of guaranteed completion contracts is designed to help independent filmmakers overcome that hurdle.

Meanwhile, SAG leaders have come under mounting pressure to open contract talks with the major studios as soon as possible, leading to tensions between the guild and its sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

SAG President Alan Rosenberg, who campaigned on a promise to take an aggressive stance at the bargaining table, has insisted the guild will not be ready to begin official talks before early April. Some leaders of AFTRA and SAG’s New York wing have agitated for talks to begin sooner, as have several high-profile actors, including George Clooney and Tom Hanks, who met with Rosenberg over dinner last month. They and other stars also took out full-page ads in Hollywood trade papers calling for immediate negotiations.

And over 1,000 SAG members recently presented Rosenberg with a petition urging the union to limit any voting on a new contract or strike authorisation to those members who have worked a specified number of days during the past six years. Rosenberg said he opposes the idea but would take it to SAG’s governing board at its next meeting in April.

Rosenberg and SAG executive director Doug Allen recently suggested that informal talks like those that led to contracts with the WGA and the Directors Guild of America, were already under way. “We will certainly continue to meet with the CEOs of the major networks and studios as we prepare for formal negotiations,” they wrote in a February 28 memo to members.


Curbing non-union labor in Minnesota

The proposed expansion of the Mall of America would create 7,000 union construction jobs for three years and, when completed, would yield a $1 billion increase in state sales tax revenues over 20 years, proponents say. For these reasons, they add, the state Legislature should act to approve public financing for the parking ramp proposed as part of the Mall of America's Phase II.

"The top legislative priority for the Carpenters and several other trades, as well as ... the Building Trades Council, is the Mall of America expansion," said Kyle Makarios, political director for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.

Phase II of the Mall of America would more than double the size of the mall, adding 5.6 million square feet to the mall's current 4.2 million square feet. The expansion would connect to the current mall on all four levels and would include retail, hotels, entertainment venues, and a NHL-size hockey arena.

Private investors would invest $1.8 billion in the expansion, said Dan Jasper, Mall of America's public relations director.

The state will be asked to fund about $200 million in public infrastructure improvements, the bulk of the money going to build a new parking structure.

The precedent: the City of Bloomington financed and owns the mall's current parking ramps.

While Bloomington invested in infrastructure for the mall, the state did not, Jasper noted. Yet in the 15 years since the mall opened in 1992, he said, it has generated $800 million in tax revenues for the State of Minnesota.

In the 20 years following the proposed expansion, the mall says, Phase II sales taxes would generate more than $1 billion in new revenue for the state.

Last year, the tax bill passed by both the Minnesota House and Senate included funding the Phase II parking structure by temporarily diverting part of the tax stream generated by the mall for that purpose. Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed the entire tax bill, however, and the Phase II parking ramp funding died with the veto.

This year, Phase II proponents have not yet settled on a infrastructure funding mechanism to propose, Jasper and Makarios said.

Skeptics might question why, during an economic downturn, the state should be asked to finance a new Mall of America parking ramp.

"At a time when job creation is at an all-time low ... we need this project," said Makarios. He noted that in addition to creating 7,000 construction jobs, Phase II would create 7,000 permanent jobs. "It couldn't come at a better time," he said.

Last year, before the Governor's veto, the Building Trades staged an outdoor rally at the State Capitol in support of Phase II and announced that the Mall of America had signed a Project Labor Agreement to use 100 percent union labor on the job — the largest PLA in the state's history.

"That PLA is still intact," said David Ybarra, business manager for the Minneapolis Building & Construction Trades Council. Given the changed economic climate, Ybarra emphasized, he's thrilled that the Mall of America wants to proceed with Phase II as planned.

"The mall owners are willing to invest $1.8 billion in Minnesota," he emphasized. "That's a significant boost to the economy."

"We have unions who have unemployment we haven't seen in 20 years," Ybarra reported. "We need to work."

"One way you get out of recession is to put people back to work," Ybarra noted.

"Most people don't remember, but when the Mall of America was originally built, we were in a recession," said the mall's Jasper.

Ybarra remembers well. In 1991, Ybarra was a first-year apprentice newly-accepted into Sprinkler Fitters Local 417. Work was underway to complete Phase I of the Mall of America and, he recalled, 106 out of 240 members of Sprinkler Fitters Local 417 were then working on the project. "I probably would not have gotten into the trade if it wasn't for the Mall of America," Ybarra said.

"We have a 20-year relationship [with the Building Trades] that's ongoing," Jasper said. "We think it's been good for labor and it's been good for us."

And good for Minnesota, Jasper added, as the mall's tax revenues show.

The mall currently attracts 40 million visitors yearly — a number that would grow by another 20 million with Phase II completion, Jasper said. "One half of the dollars spent at the Mall of America come from tourists — from people beyond Minnesota. They bring their money."

For more information on the economic impact of the Mall of America and the mall's proposed Phase II expansion, visit www.mallofamericaphase2.com.


Retired pol still in labor's back-pocket

Labor turmoil, Let’s avert; No more treating, Folks like dirt. The handwriting on the wall remains a bit faint, but mean-spirited employers now have an ever-harder time ignoring it. These days disquieting news stories regularly report that the decades-long erosion of labor unions has finally stopped. They’re growing again. It’s enough to spur Xanax sales on Wall Street.

And even though the new administration won’t take office for a year yet, the National Labor Relations Board has already become a tad more even-handed. No, workers seeking to organize still aren’t getting a fair shake, but a few more cases have been going their way.

Immigration crackdowns have been helping workers, too. America’s highest profile dispute is surely the giant Smithfield meat-packing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., a hotbed of abuse for undocumented foreigners. Ever since the packers moved their plants out of Chicago and broke the unions, slaughterhouses have reverted to their medieval pay and conditions of a century ago. But the raids on Smithfield chased many of those abused immigrants away and forced the company to raise wages to attract local employees. Hallelujah! A union may be next!

But a packing plant at least falls within the American tradition of organized industrial work. A different battle rages on less traditional fronts. How about hospitals, nursing homes, cleaning crews, blackjack dealers, lettuce pickers, hotel maids and other parts of our new “service” economy? Many of its employers seem directly descended from Ebenezer Scrooge. Further, both the NLRB and state labor departments have long been happy to turn a blind eye.

Mostly they still are, but the permafrost is melting. Recently the dealers at Connecticut’s Foxwoods casino, largest in the nation, were granted the right to unionize. Again, card dealing ain’t meat-packing, but worthy precedents were established. The example of a very large union victory, even against the reasonably humane Indian bosses, set an important tone to begin undermining the clout of the packers, nursing home chains, agribusiness, and similar less responsible employers.

Part of our difficulty as a society in grasping the severity of this labor crisis is that we don’t much work in factories anymore. Long ago, when we joined most of our neighbors each morning going off to work with a lunch pail, it was easier to spot colleagues and to plan action. Now instead we tend to wear white or pink collars, live in scattered locations, and look upon ourselves as being above unions.

Worse, janitors, health aides, landscapers, and the like both live and work outside our normal view. They often suffer from limited English and/or education, and commonly aren’t white. Who cares about them? Well, some people do, especially unions, but it’s a hard population to organize. Most of us scarcely even notice the Fed Ex guy who comes to our door, the cleaning staff that shows up as we’re leaving for the day, or the workers at auntie’s nursing home.

And as free trade has pushed the United States to become less of a manufacturing bastion and more of a service sector economy, those workers have multiplied but come up grievously short in their pay envelopes. Income disparity between rich and poor is still growing and even the union movement has split apart over how to deal with it.

Not so the public. It hardly cares at all. Political campaigns no longer even mention workers’ rights. Polls don’t turn up much interest, and Congress seems disinclined to take on such sticky issues, save a long overdue increase in the minimum wage. Aside from some Internet campaigns, Americans nowadays seem a bit too absorbed in their own affairs to worry about what impact the shabby treatment of poor workers may be having on our own society. Ironically, the recession could help us figure all that out.

- William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut


1199 SEIU on strike

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