Using politics to secure union-dues

It's no secret that organized labor has seen a steep erosion of its involvement in the private economy and that it has shifted its emphasis to public employees in California and other states to maintain union membership.

There is, however, another wrinkle to labor's struggle to survive as the economy continues to undergo vast structural change – exerting political influence to coalesce independent service workers into public or private employment, thus making unionization more likely.

The first large-scale example of this phenomenon in California occurred nearly a decade ago when newly elected Democratic Gov. Gray Davis signed union-sponsored legislation that, in effect, converted workers who provide assistance to the aged and infirm in their homes from private contractors chosen by their clients to employees of county-level agencies. It was a big coup for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and brought thousands of new employees onto union rolls.

By happenstance, two new similar drives are being mounted in California now in new tests of unions' ability to use political clout to expand membership.

One battle is under way at the twin seaports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which are under pressure from local residents and air quality regulators to clean up diesel engine emissions from both ships and the thousands of trucks, many of them operated by immigrants under contracts with shipping lines and shippers, that haul cargo containers in and out of the ports.

Highways in and around the ports teem with these fast-moving trucks, whose owner-operators are often paid by the load. The city governments of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which own the ports, have agreed to impose fees on containers and provide grants to the truckers to buy newer and cleaner rigs.

There is, however, a big hitch. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has close ties to unions, is insisting that the independent truckers become employees of large trucking firms, contending it's needed to create financial stability for the truck replacement program. Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a former utility executive, declares that proviso to be "unacceptable" political interference in private economic matters.

The thinly veiled conflict has to do with the unionization of the truckers. As independents, they cannot be organized as a union, but as employees, the Teamsters Union would quickly sign them up as members and gain a long-sought foothold into the region's rapidly expanding port trade.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces a new drive by the SEIU to replicate its success on home care workers by nudging home child caregivers who receive public funds under the state welfare program into becoming employees of "provider organizations," which then could be unionized.

Schwarzenegger has vetoed similar legislation in the past, citing its impact on a deficit-ridden state budget. Another SEIU-sponsored bill was placed on his desk this week by the state Senate. This time, he may be induced to sign it by his political debt to SEIU's aggressive leader, Andy Stern, who provided the governor with some much-needed union support for his unsuccessful health care plan.

Given the fragmented nature of child care, it's entirely possible under the legislation, Senate Bill 867, that a grandmother taking care of her daughter's children would become a union worker, or at least be required to pay some kind of fee to the union as a condition of employment.

The cost of unionizing baby sitters has been tagged by legislative analyst at around $60 million a year, but given the state's precarious financial situation, that would mean either taking funds from other services or reducing the overall availability of child care.


Leftist union front-group loses Progressive icon

The Working Families Party team sent out a smart message on Thursday afternoon. "What Could Have Been/What Can Still Be - Reflections on Spitzer." Check it out below. It puts this extraordinary week's charged developments in perspective -- and lays out the unfinished progressive agenda for New York state. The WFP and its allies are working hard to build a more just, fair and democratic state--one in which all have a chance to lead lives of dignity, with access to real opportunity. The inauguration this Monday of Governor David Paterson gives progressives a second chance to rally forces and strength in their good fight to fulfill the state's unfinished agenda--and to set an example not just for our state but for the rest of this country.

FROM THE WFP TEAM: What made Eliot Spitzer a great Attorney General was his fearlessness in taking on the big money crowd.

He believed that everyone was equal before the law, and he was unafraid of the Lords of Wall Street. He tapped into an unspoken dismay in our society about the obscene inequality that characterizes American life -- "the malefactors of great wealth," as Teddy Roosevelt called them -- and that's what sent him to the Governor's Mansion with a record-setting level of support.

He didn't need much help to win the election, and he thought -- wrongly -- that he didn't need anyone, inside or outside of Albany, to help govern. We thought we were getting someone who would lead the tough fights for ordinary working families, but it didn't turn out that way.

Instead, we got a leader who thought his main fight was with the legislature, with SEIU 1199, even with the WFP from time to time. The anti-corporate crusader departed. We were left with an energetic but not always thoughtful leader who was too angry at too many people and institutions to be effective. His administration will be remembered as a squandered opportunity.

We should also keep his resignation in perspective. It's not earth-shaking, even as it's a terribly sad time for his family and staff, many of whom are terrific public servants. But we should remember what a real scandal is -- for instance, when a President dishonestly launches a pre-emptive war and thousands and thousands of people die as a result. We need to tell the difference between appallingly bad behavior and appallingly bad policies.

Needless to say, Governor Spitzer's resignation leaves an unfinished agenda. The WFP and its allies -- community organizations and unions and environmental groups and business and student groups and civil rights organizations and the blogosphere and everyone else who still believes in equality and democracy -- will, of course, continue on.

We will look to our new Governor, David Paterson, and to progressives in the Assembly and Senate to pick up the ball that Spitzer dropped. It means being both pragmatic and visionary. We need to fight for paid family leave and publicly financed elections, for preserving affordable housing and for a foreclosure moratorium, for subsidy reform to save taxpayer money and for green jobs/clean energy policies to save the planet , for reducing taxes on working families while asking the wealthy to pay their fair share, for adequate investment in education and health care and transportation.

Fundamentally, we still want our state to be a place where one's life chances are not determined at birth. That's our hope for the Paterson administration.

At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, the fundamental problem facing our State Government is this:

For the last 30 years, excessive tax cuts for the wealthiest New Yorkers have starved the state of billions in revenue and forced communities across the state to raise property taxes . Working families are choking on these property taxes. But the state still needs money to properly fund crucial services.

With a recession looming and a $5 billion budget hole to fill, we now face a choice: cut needed public investment in everything from schools to subways, or shift the tax burden off of property taxes and back to those who can most afford to pay by repealing excessive income tax cuts for the rich.

Spitzer or Paterson, the fight for a progressive and decent New York goes on.

That's it. Read the papers, pay your dues, and ... organize.

- Sam Williams, Bertha Lewis, Bob Master WFP Co-chairs
- Dan Cantor WFP Executive Director


Labor leader did not plead guilty to 42 acts

In a half-empty federal courtroom in downtown Manhattan, former union heavyweight and Queens state assemblyman, Brian McLaughlin, declared in a clear voice that he was guilty of one count each of racketeering and perjury. “I took funds illegally,” he said under oath, before U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan.

Those funds included political campaign funds, union funds, and funds from employers around the electrical industry, whose workers he represented through his union responsibilities, he said. With a group of co-conspirators, he and others “acted together to take funds for personal use.”

Despite “differences in opinion” on how to use the grifted funds, he said, “I take full responsibility.”

The plea agreement reduces McLaughlin’s sentence to eight to 10 years in federal prison. The maximum penalties for the two counts to which he pleaded — racketeering and falsification of a loan application to a federally-backed institution — are 20 and 30 years, respectively, and can command fines of over $1 million.

The plea agreement does not determine how much McLaughlin will have to pay in fines, or how much restitution is owed from the estimated $2.2 million he has confessed to having stolen. Exact amounts will be determined at sentencing in September.

In addition to the 50-year sentence he could have faced if convicted at trial, McLaughlin could also have met with punishment for 42 separate counts not conceded in the plea bargain.

The last minute plea, to which feds had hinted at since June, effectively closed the book on a corruption case that over the last year has reverberated from the halls of power in Albany to the Little League diamonds of Flushing.

Based in Flushing, McLaughlin, 55, spent his life elevating himself from a humble electrician to the highest echelons of New York labor and politics, where he exercised his power and influence for over a decade.

Starting in 1995, he was president of the New York City Central Labor Council, the local office of the AFL-CIO. From 1990, he was the highest ranking official of the J Division of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Local Union 3, which installs and maintains city street and traffic lights.

From 1993 to 2006, he served as a state assemblyman for the 25th District in central Queens, which represents Flushing, Richmond Hill, Whitestone, Fresh Meadows and parts of Briarwood.

The racketeering count to which McLaughlin pleaded comprises 23 separate acts — which, taken together, depict a complex and far-reaching enterprise of corruption that seemed to permeate every aspect of his affairs, both public and private. He pleaded guilty to 21 of the 23, all of which were for mail fraud, wire fraud and violations of the Taft-Hartley federal labor law.

Those 21 admissions included:

• Siphoning at least $97,000 from J Division accounts to service his boat in Tuckerton, N.J., and to make payments for his car, to a country club and to a female “friend.”

• Defrauding the Electchester Athletic Association, which primarily ran a Little League baseball program in Flushing, of over $95,000 to give money to his wife and pay rent on his Albany apartment.

• Redirecting tens of thousands of dollars of campaign finance donations to pay for renovation work on a sprawling second home in Nissequogue, L.I., for his daughter-in-law’s wedding expenses and for a $24,400 country club initiation fee.

• Negotiating with employers to hire fewer J Division workers in exchange for personal cash kickbacks.

• Creating phony staff positions at his state Assembly office in order to redirect part of the salary to himself.

•Installing an associate as director of the Commission on the Dignity of Immigrants, a task force created by the CLC to advocate for immigration issues, on the understanding that “the job would not require any substantial investment of time.” McLaughlin helped make the position the third-highest-paying job at the CLC, whose salary was paid in part from funds donated by the United Way. McLaughlin then rerouted much of that salary to himself so as to pay off credit cards, mortgage payments at Nissequogue and to pay country club dues, among other personal expenses.

As McLaughlin spoke, the litany of his thefts, and the personal uses to which he put them, went on and on. Sullivan interrupted to tell McLaughlin he could pause for a drink of water, if he so desired.

McLaughlin respectfully declined, and resumed — a task which, in the end, took about an hour.

Still, charges to which he did not plead guilty comprised no fewer than 42 other counts of conspiracy, embezzlement and money laundering, along with additional mail and wire fraud charges and Taft-Hartley violations.

Reaction around the city was largely one of relief and of sympathy for the McLaughlin family.

“Brian McLaughlin’s guilty plea closes a very painful chapter for our community and our city,” said Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who succeeded McLaughlin in office. “I hope the conclusion of this case likewise brings some closure to Brian’s family.”

Others who knew McLaughlin professionally expressed shock, but also dismay.

Julia Harrison of Flushing, a former member of the City Council and former state assemblywoman worked closely with McLaughlin for several years.

“He wanted to rise in the ranks of the political system, but he hadn’t really determined how to get there,” she said, characterizing McLaughlin during the time when she knew him.

“I was really shocked to read what he pled guilty to,” she said. “He just went off the deep end as far as I can see.”

Others close to McLaughlin seemed largely unwilling to comment. Even the victims of his crimes appeared to have had enough of the negativity that has surrounded his downfall.

The Central Labor Council — whose coffers McLaughlin defrauded of roughly $185,000 — expressed a need to move on.

“Union members throughout this city can be assured that the Central Labor Council acted quickly to ensure a strong and accountable labor movement,” the council said in a statement issued just after news of the plea surfaced.

The statement never referred directly to McLaughlin’s crimes, but wished “the McLaughlin family well at this difficult time.” When pressed, Carolyn Daly, a spokeswoman for the council would not comment on specifics

At Local 3, the woman who answered the phone in President John Marchell’s office said she resented being asked questions and hung up the phone.

Outside the courtroom, McLaughlin was asked by a reporter if he had anything to say to union members he had defrauded. “No comment,” was his answer, citing the advice of his lawyer.

McLaughlin is free on $250,000 bail, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 12. Sullivan reminded the courtroom that he was not bound by the plea agreement and that ultimate sentencing powers resided with him.


Socialists encourage weary UAW strikers

The strike by 3,650 workers at American Axle & Manufacturing at several plants in Michigan and New York, which began more than two weeks ago, raises important political questions about how the working class can oppose the corporate assault on jobs and living standards.

Earlier this week a reporting team from the World Socialist Web Site spoke with workers at the company’s main production facility in Detroit, where more than half the strikers are employed. The WSWS team passed out the statement, “Reject UAW plans to sabotage American Axle strike!”

The statement provoked widespread discussion. While a handful of workers—perhaps those closest to the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 235 leadership—attempted to defend the union’s actions, the majority of strikers were anxious to engage in discussion about the pattern of wage-cutting agreements accepted by the UAW throughout the auto industry. There was intense and lively discussion about the strategy that was needed to oppose this betrayal.

Many of the workers are in their 30s, 40s and 50s and hired into the plant in 1994, when American Axle was founded by a group of private investors, led by former General Motors and Chrysler executive Richard Dauch. During their working lives they have witnessed nothing but an unchecked offensive by the corporations and a shameless accumulation of riches by auto company executives and Wall Street investors.

They now face an impossible situation in which the company is demanding a two-thirds reduction in their wages and benefits. This demand is coming from a profitable company, with a CEO who pocketed $9 million in salary, bonuses and stock options in 2006. Fed up with demands for more sacrifice, American Axle workers know full well they’re not responsible for the crisis in the auto industry.

The prospect of a “buyout”—which the UAW has negotiated to help parts maker Delphi, as well as GM, Ford and Chrysler rid themselves of tens of thousands of workers—is also unappealing. Too young to retire, where are these workers going to find decent paying jobs in the present economic environment? They recognize that a stand has to be taken now.

This reporter spoke with one worker who has 14 years at American Axle. He described himself as coming from a “strong union family” of steelworkers from the Pittsburgh area. He told me, “The company won’t put out money to improve efficiency or repair things like leaky air hoses that are costing the company thousands of dollars. All they want to do is lay off workers and cut our wages because they’re looking for the quickest profit and to please Wall Street. They have a one- to five-year-plan to make as much money as possible and don’t give a damn about our 25-year plan to make a decent living.

“According to Forbes, the top three American Axle executives made more than more than a dozen top Toyota executives,” he said, in a remark noteworthy because it reflects a weakening of the anti-Japanese chauvinism pushed by the UAW for decades.

He continued, “When I got here in 1994-95 this place rallied around Dauch as the new owner. He used to come down to the factory floor to talk to us. He would know our names and what jobs we did. But all that changed and now he has built up his empire of 30 factories in Brazil, Poland, Mexico and other countries. Now he is trying to take everything away from people in the original five plants who built this company.”

This worker and others tend to see Dauch as a corporate leader who has betrayed their trust and his supposed commitment to American workers.

Supporting Dauch’s takeover of GM’s axle and driveline plants in 1994, the UAW cultivated an image of Dauch as a different sort of corporate boss, one who would give workers a “voice” in decision-making. In fact he was nothing more than a front man for General Motors, which sought to use his close relations with the UAW to impose a sharp reduction in the cost of producing parts for the Big Three automakers.

After his experience as a Chrysler executive during the 1980 bailout, Dauch clearly concluded that making use of the UAW rather than getting rid of it was a far more effective way of lowering wages, eliminating jobs, speeding up production and tearing up years of shop floor protections.

In his 1993 autobiography, Passion for Manufacturing, Dauch candidly revealed that his brand of shop floor “democracy” was little more than a gimmick: “Workers are more likely to develop anger at an unseen power than at someone whom they have seen and, perhaps, spoken to. At the least, workers must know there is some accessibility to an authority figure—even the illusion of accessibility makes them feel they are worthy individuals, that they are part of the action.”

I had the following conversation with the worker who had talked about ‘rallying’ around Dauch in 1994-95:

“Under capitalism, workers have no say in the corporate decisions that affect the lives of millions of people,” I said.

The worker acknowledged this, replying, “This decision was made twenty years ago in some GM corporate boardroom. They decided to give these plants to Dauch in order to cut costs and the union supported it.”

He went on: “Big business had a long-term plan to weaken the unions. They gave the union leaders appointed jobs and then everything changed when [former UAW International President] Doug Fraser joined the board of directors at Chrysler. The last contract they called a one-and-a-half day strike—which did nothing to American Axle—and then handed us a two-page booklet of contract ‘highlights’ before the vote in order to push through concessions.”

I pointed out, “In the contracts with GM, Ford and Chrysler, the UAW handed over the gains of generations of workers. In return the union bureaucracy took control of a $55 billion retiree health care trust fund, one of the largest private investment funds in America.”

“Is the union anything but a business out to protect itself?” he asked rhetorically. Referring to the union’s control of the health care trust fund, he argued, “Within ten years there won’t be any health care benefits for retirees, not with everyone’s hand in the cookie jar.”

Disgust with the UAW is widespread among American Axle workers. Willie, a worker with 13 years, observed, “The UAW wasn’t created to side with the companies. They are supposed to be for the members and fight for our rights against management. But the UAW has become a corporation. Now they have a $55 billion. They will be working for the banks and big investors, not the people.

“When I first hired in, I thought the union was for us. But over the years I came to realize that management was only able to get away with what it did because the union was on their side.”

He then asked, “How do we win this strike?”

That led to the following exchange, as I attempted to answer his question:

— First the isolation of this struggle must be broken and workers should organize rank-and-file committees, independent of the union, to expand the strike to all other auto workers. This is not a struggle against just one employer, however. The working class is in a struggle against the entire capitalist system and the two big business parties that defend it. For that a political movement of the working class has to be built.

— What do you mean by a political struggle? Do you go to the floor of Congress and try to change the minds of the people who hold the power?

— Appeals to the Democrats—like Clinton and Obama—or the Republicans are fruitless because they answer to the same corporations attacking the working class. Workers have no political voice through these two big business parties. Did we have a chance to vote on going to war in Iraq? Do workers get to vote on the destruction of their jobs?

— No, of course not. But what kind of political movement do you mean? How do you build it?

— That is the most important question. You have to unite working people on the basis of a common program that defends their interests. The aim of such a movement must be to fight for political power—so the priorities of society are set by working people, instead of by the wealthy elite.

— But what about NAFTA? Aren’t we going through all of this because of the trade agreement with Mexico?

— It is true that companies are moving to Mexico and other low-wage countries. But outsourcing to lower-wage regions began before NAFTA was passed in 1994. As early as the 1960s auto parts production was being shifted to non-union plants in the southern US.

The response of the UAW to the attacks of the global auto companies is not to fight for the unity of auto workers around the world, but join with the American auto bosses to denounce “foreign workers” and “unfair trade,” and at the same time to impose ever lower wages on workers in the US in the name of being “competitive.” The irony is that many European companies like Volkswagen are now relocating to the US because they can pay an American worker $10 an hour less than a German auto worker.

Workers in every country have to unite in common struggle against the global auto companies.

* * *

In the course of this discussion and others our explanation of a socialist alternative to capitalism provoked thoughtful responses. There were, as one might expect, workers still held back by the anti-communist propaganda of the UAW, the media and big business politicians. However, the experiences of the past decade—from the corporate criminality at Enron and the sub-prime mortgage crisis to the war in Iraq and the staggering accumulation of wealth at the top of American society—have had their impact in discrediting capitalism.

We posed this to workers on the picket line: Why should these vast industrial assets—built up by generations of workers—be the personal property of Dauch and others who are only concerned with enriching themselves? The auto industry should be put under public ownership and be run for the common good, not private profit.

Such an idea seemed logical to a number of the picketers. There was something terribly wrong, it seemed to them, about the fact that such irresponsible individuals should have the power to make life-and-death decisions affecting millions. The tragic consequences of this are all too apparent to workers in Detroit, the “Motor City,” which has been decimated by the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the last three decades.

Now their employer—who makes $179,000 a week—is telling them he can’t afford to pay them more than a poverty wage.

The views expressed by American Axle workers point to the growing mood of opposition in the working class. There is skepticism towards all the institutions that uphold the social order: the corporate and political establishment, the media and the trade unions.

There are still a great many political questions to be clarified. The problems of consciousness created by decades of betrayals by the union bureaucracy cannot be overcome by spontaneous struggles, no matter how militant. The bitter experiences over the last decade and a half are moving workers to the left. There will be future shocks, and these, along with the conscious intervention of socialists, will create the conditions for the development of a powerful new political movement of the working class.


Labor-state cancels privatization savings

More than two years after Josephine County (OR) workers went on strike, union officials say the county is still not fulfilling its obligations following a January 2006 strike. At that time the county privatized its mental health program and eliminated about 100 employees. The State Employee Relations Board ordered the county pay back union dues and benefits, which the county estimates total about $95,000.

"I think the biggest story out of this is we privatized mental health and the vast majority of the employees who were privatized are doing as well or better than they were when they were working for the county," says Josephine County Commissioner Dave Toler.

"We estimate at a minimum amount they owe the employees $300,000, and the bulk of that is in retirement payments," says American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Union Representative Dan Burdis.

County officials say they've paid all that was ordered by the ERB. Burdis says the union appealing the state board for more. Meanwhile, an appeals court is considering whether the county needs to rehire the privatized workers.


State twists meaning of worker-choice

The fact that the deceptively named legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act Resolution will ultimately pass the Minnesota House of Representatives is bad news for every single working man and woman in the state. The House Commerce and Labor Committee recently expressed its support for the resolution. This resolution supports a federal bill that will strip workers of the right to a federally supervised private ballot election when deciding whether to join a union and replace it with a system where workers have to choose in public. Talk about an invitation for coercion and intimidation!

Our lawmakers should be ashamed. It is an American tradition. They are elected with a secret ballot, and we wouldn’t dream of forcing voters to publicly declare their vote.

And not one of them can defend it. All they will say is that union membership is low, and they need to find some way to increase it.

It is disappointing to see our state representatives wasting valuable time in St. Paul by supporting federal bills that kowtow to union bosses and strip our rights. We will remember this November!

Phil Raines, Director of Government Affairs, Associated Builders and Contractors of Minnesota, Eden Prairie, Minn.


AMFA: Teamsters are masters of hype

Teamster President James Hoffa is staging a press appearance with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom at City Hall on March 5 to allegedly talk about airline maintenance outsourcing. Why is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom being duped into standing with a union official who represents few aircraft mechanics at SFO? Why now? Obviously he is not aware of the real facts at UAL.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) Local 9 President Joseph Prisco says, "The Teamsters are masters of hype. The press conference is nothing more than a grandstanding news event to falsely present to the public that the Teamsters are fighting for mechanics at United Airlines and other carriers. The 'news event' takes place now because of a raid by Teamsters at United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAUA) between the present union AMFA and the Teamsters. AMFA represents most of the unionized mechanics at SFO."

The Teamsters are suddenly talking tough on airline maintenance outsourcing but they don't "walk the talk" at their represented airlines. Take for example, the work performed by Teamster maintenance workers at Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL), a group they have represented for over 10 years. According to a 2006 Bureau of Transportation Statistics report, Continental Airlines outsources over 48% of its maintenance. Their contract contains no outsourcing limits, compared with the contractual limit at UAL of 20%.

"It's important to realize that the Teamsters' contract at Continental allows work to be done overseas in locations such as Brazil, Spain, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Making an issue of UAL sending a few planes to China and Korea in exchange for engine overhauls and other work sent to the U.S. by those same countries to be worked by AMFA mechanics at San Francisco is the height of hypocrisy and ignorance," Prisco added.

AMFA at United Airlines, in contrast, negotiated an independent annual audit during bankruptcy in 2005 that measures compliance with a contractual outsourcing limit of 20%. The audit revealed that United Airlines exceeded the outsourcing limit by $196 million in 2005 and $280 million in 2006. "The Teamsters have done nothing at the carriers they already represent," Prisco said.

AMFA's grievance on UAL's excessive outsourcing is currently in arbitration to return this work to its members.

Prisco points out, "The Teamsters' attempt to talk tough on airline maintenance outsourcing at United Airlines would mean more if their actions at Continental squared with their hollow and meaningless words. They don't. Continental Mechanics ask why the Teamsters protest at UAL when the same union allowed overseas outsourcing for years at Continental yet never protested at Continental--even once!"

Finally, with regard to the potential sale of United's San Francisco maintenance base, Prisco observed, "We covered this issue many times, and the Teamsters don't get it. There is no threat to sell without the union's permission. UAL has acknowledged that the union has a veto over any sale." Prisco concluded, "AMFA has stated many times, if any transfer of control or proposed sale is not good for the mechanics and other UAL employees then our response is simple: we just say no."

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association represents Mechanics and Related staff at Alaska Airlines, American Trans Air, Horizon Airlines, Mesaba Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines. AMFA Local 9, based in San Francisco, is AMFA's largest Local. AMFA commits to the traveling public to ensure the safety of the air transport industry through ceaseless vigilance.


Union front-group advances in Oregon

No one filed in the Republican primary in Oregon to run for Attorney General. This is especially good news for Oregon’s Working Families Party. The Oregon WFP is ballot-qualified, but since its registration is quite small, it will go off the ballot if it doesn’t run anyone for one of the statewide offices. WFP hates to injure Democratic nominees, generally. But in the Attorney General’s race, the WFP can now run its own candidate without worrying that it will injure the Democratic nominee.


Strike threat pays off for nurses union

Contra Costa (CA) County has averted a nurses strike at its regional medical center in Martinez and also at its clinics. The approximately 500 nurses represented by the Oakland-based California Nurses Association were originally set to stage a strike from March 21 to 24 in conjunction with one organized by the union at Sutter Health affiliate hospitals. Instead, the nurses and the county reached a deal late Wednesday night to avoid the strike, and will continue negotiations.

"Registered nurses from Contra Costa Regional Medical Center have withdrawn their notice to strike the facility," the nurses said in a prepared statement. "The facility's RNs decided to do this as a result of significant progress at the bargaining table, specifically the withdrawal by County officials of their proposals for cutbacks on nurse retirement and health care benefits."

The strike might have been a bigger headache for the county also if any of its 9,000 employees also facing the same cutbacks had staged sympathy strikes through their labor representatives at Public Employees Union, Local 1, the American of State County and Municipal Employees and Service Employees International Union.

"In our experience, some year-plus ago when they did have a one-day strike with certain labor organizations, other non-related organizations also elected to join in by not crossing the picket line," said John Cullen, who is the Contra Costa County administrator. "That is something you can expect to happen." Still, he added that he received no notice of this.

County health officials previously predicted that the strike would have cost the safety net hospital and clinics between $1 million and $1.5 million in expenses to cover costs such as replacement workers, plus loss of revenues.

Cullen said that one of the issues at hand is the growing cost of health care for active county employees and retirees.

"It is the issue we are trying to work with all of our employee organizations," Cullen said. "Our group, CNA and the county have agreed to put together a work group to aggressively address health care cost containment ideas and options."

He said that the union and the county would continue to discuss issues related to patient care -- such as ratios, training and work conditions -- as well as compensation and how to contain costs to provide health care to the nurses and retirees. The next bargaining session is scheduled for March 17.

Contra Costa County's nurses have been at the bargaining table about five weeks.

A strike at Bay Area Sutter Health hospitals is set for March 21.


AFT encourages teacher strike threat in N.H.

Leading up to today's mediation session with the school board, the teachers union has been taking steps to prepare for a prolonged work stoppage. Teachers have been polled about their willingness to participate in a strike and have been offered interest-free loans through the American Federation of Teachers to supplement lost pay.

Bob Sherman, president of the union, confirmed the union recently polled its membership, asking what they would do in the case of a strike. Teachers were asked whether they would take part in the strike or whether they would cross the picket line, he said.

Sherman would not release the results of the survey, saying only, "We know there's strong support for our negotiating team."

At a union meeting last month, teachers voted to give their union leaders authority to call a strike or job action, which is prohibited by state law.

Sherman said it is important to know where teachers stand, in the case that the union calls for a strike. He again indicated that such an action would only be done as a last resort.

Teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract for 18 months, and have not received raises in that time.

The union has been working with national representatives from the American Federation of Teachers for the past month. The Nashua Teachers Union is an AFT affiliate.

Earlier this week the union also offered a workshop to let teachers know about an interest-free loan program in the case of a work stoppage.

According to the union's Web site, the program would be implemented at the beginning of a stoppage and members would be eligible to receive funds after their first missed paycheck.

Applications forms will be made available in every school, through e-mail and on the union's Web site.

Sherman said Tuesday that teachers need to be able to maintain their finances if their primary source of income is cut off.

"There are programs that the national (AFT) have that would help our teachers address those personal financial situations," he said.

Last week, the school board's negotiating committee and representatives from the union took part in a mediation session. Each group met independently with mediator Bruce Fraser to talk about the issues.

The next mediation session is scheduled for today. Sherman described today's session as critical.

"If something positive doesn't come out of this, I'm worried about where we are headed," he said.

Sherman also confirmed that some teachers have started removing their personal belongings and educational items they purchased with their own money from their classrooms.

Ed Hendry, associate superintendent, said cases of teachers taking their personal belongings out of their classrooms appeared limited.

"Right now, it doesn't appear to be a significant issue around the district," he said. "It's spotted."

Hendry said it's common for teachers to purchase items for their classrooms. He said that principals have asked teachers to let them know whether the items being removed are essential to instruction.

In those cases, the district would try to replace those items, Hendry said.


USW takes dues hit as members decertify

By a mere 14 votes, the upstart Covington Paperworkers Union has apparently won the right to represent about 972 union members at the MeadWestvaco paper mill in Covington. On the losing end of Wednesday's vote was United Steelworkers International. The National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw voting Wednesday inside the mill, will take about a week to certify the results. USW officials said they are not yet ready to concede defeat.

If certified, CPU Local 675 will have defeated efforts by United Steelworkers International, which claims 850,000 members, to continue as the Covington members' bargaining representative.

The vote count of Wednesday's secret ballot election was 465 votes for CPU and 451 votes for USW. Three people voted "neither."

"Obviously, we are very disappointed," said Luis Mendoza, a staff representative for USW International.

In turn, Roy Hall, president of CPU Local 675 and former president of USW Local 8-675 in Covington, said the new local is pleased by the vote and eager to move forward with contract negotiations with MeadWestvaco.

"The vote was a little closer than we anticipated," Hall said. "Nevertheless, eventually it did go in favor of the CPU, which we expected."

The union members' earlier contract with MeadWestvaco expired in December 2006, and negotiations since then have failed to produce an agreement acceptable to both sides.

Contentious issues have included health care coverage, pension contributions, wages and company proposals to make boundaries between maintenance trades more porous.

Union members have continued working under the terms of the expired contract.

Becky Johnson, a spokeswoman for MeadWestvaco in Covington, said Thursday that the company will wait until the labor board certifies the vote before it formally declares its intent to negotiate with CPU. She said it is premature to speculate about when negotiations might resume.

Mendoza said USW has concerns about how the election campaign unfolded in recent months. He would not cite specifics.

"There have been some accusations of misconduct that we are going to look into and definitely need to investigate," Mendoza said.

Hall and other officers and members from USW Local 8-675 broke away from the Steelworkers union in October to found CPU Local 675. They claimed that USW International negotiators had not adequately represented the Covington workers during contract talks with MeadWestvaco.

On Thursday, Hall scoffed at Mendoza's suggestion that CPU might have strayed from appropriate campaigning.

"I don't think there's any validity to any claims that anything was done improperly," he said.

Hall said CPU hopes USW will "honor these vote results and let us move forward."

He said healing between the factions has begun already.

"We're seeing people who were supporters of the USW coming in today and expressing their congratulations and their intent to join us as we work together to negotiate a contract that's good for the workers and their families," Hall said.

MeadWestvaco is the largest taxpayer and employer for the city of Covington and Alleghany County. It employs about 1,400 people.


Firefighters weigh alternative to Teamsters

The paid-on-call firefighters of the Bartlett (IL) Fire Protection District have backed off an earlier push to unionize. Last month, 29 out of the district's 40 paid-on-call personnel petitioned Teamsters Local 330 for union representation -- more than the required 50 percent. But last week, the Elgin-based union got another notice signed by 19 of the same people withdrawing their names from the petition. "There are other ways we feel we can solve our concerns," wrote the paid-on-call firefighters to the Teamsters. "At this point it's not the right time."

Compensation, job security and favoritism among the district leaders were the main motives behind wanting to unionize, according to Teamsters Local 330 President Dominic Romanazzi.

Bartlett, a fully volunteer-based fire department as recently as 15 years ago, has since shifted its focus to full-time hires and now boasts 34 on its payroll.

It plans to hire 12 more this year alone, Chief Kevin Heine said, after a 2006 tax hike and a recent federal grant worth nearly $1 million.

Many of Bartlett's paid-on-call firefighters are worried they'll be phased out as a result.

Unionizing may have secured Bartlett's paid-on-call program, but for whatever reason -- no one will say for sure -- the campaign fizzled.

Romanazzi said he was told by some paid-on-calls that management used scare tactics -- an accusation Heine flatly denies.

"There's nothing to that at all. No fallout, no retaliation, no retribution," Heine said. "If they went union, they're welcome to do that."

Fire district Trustee Art Pierscionek said some paid-on-call firefighters may have felt pressured by the veterans to sign. Heine thinks some of the newer people didn't realize what they were signing.

The younger firefighters also may have reconsidered because they're looking to catch on with Bartlett or somewhere else full time.

Bob Davis, a paid-on-call firefighter with Bartlett, signed the petition and did not renege.

"I signed with mixed feelings," said Davis, a physical education teacher in Lombard. "For a lot of people, (unionizing) is a matter of job security for a department that's in quite a bit of flux."

Romanazzi said there are numerous reasons paid-on-call firefighters would want to unionize.

"Right now they can be fired at will and there's no recourse," he said. "They'd have protection and rights. We'd work for benefits and to increase wages."

Like their name suggests, paid-on-call firefighters are paid every time they respond to an emergency call. Many fire departments are finding them obsolete.

But Heine says it's a great program, one he doesn't see disappearing anytime soon. Paid-on-calls provide flexibility with manning and additional staff at both stations, he said. They keep costs down and don't get benefits.

There are downsides, too.

The days of getting paged while watching TV are dying. Most paid-on-calls work full time, and the state has implemented increasingly strict, time-consuming training. Bartlett also requires them to work a minimum of two 12-hour shifts each month. High turnover rates can result.

Wood Dale in July eliminated its 70-year-old paid-on-call program. According to the chief, it was a struggle for the part-time staff to meet training standards.

And Wheaton's program finally fell victim to a tough economy and changing times in 2003.


Union squabble shifts to Clintons' state

Bill George can't believe his luck. Suddenly, the head of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO labor union federation finds himself courted by both Democratic presidential candidates' campaigns. Ultimately, he says, the winner is working class Americans, and he's in no hurry to endorse either Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama, as long as they are both talking about health care, trade policy and other issues of his members' concern.

"I'm holding them to the fire trying to get them to have more discussions about the resolve of those issues," said George, a Democratic Party superdelegate whose organization has 900,000 members in the state.

Pennsylvania's political power players, who watched in many past presidential elections as early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire typically got much of the attention from candidates and the media, are suddenly in the spotlight -- at least on the Democratic side.

The state is the next big battleground because on April 22 it will apportion 158 delegates, the biggest remaining prize, among candidates based on their relative support.

As the two candidates crisscross the state for the next six weeks, there are a number of players to watch who could make a difference behind the scenes and in front of the camera leading up to election. They include:

- Gov. Ed Rendell, the outspoken former Philadelphia mayor who later served as DNC chairman, is aggressively campaigning for Clinton. Popular in Philadelphia, where he was credited with the city's renaissance in the '90s, he could help Clinton snag votes in the state's populated southeast and with fundraising.

- Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, elected on a promise to reform city hall, has endorsed Clinton as a pledged delegate to the national nominating convention this summer. Elected last year, he isn't as established as Rendell. Yet Nutter, who is black, could help Clinton among black voters in the city of about 1.5 million people.

- U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, also from Philadelphia, is the only black member of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation. He's backing Obama and could help solidify his support among black voters.

- One key Philadelphia endorsement up for grabs is that of Rep. Robert Brady, chairman of Philadelphia's Democratic committee. The once powerful machine is not what it used to be, but still has some influence. On Friday, after hearing arguments from former President Clinton on behalf of his wife and from Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, on Obama's behalf, ward leaders on the committee said they wanted to hear directly from each candidate before making a decision. Brady said he'll back the candidate the committee endorses. A decision will be made before the primary.

- In suburban Philadelphia, Clinton is backed by Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the only woman to represent the state in Congress, and Rep. Joe Sestak, a former Navy vice admiral. Murphy, who represents a Philadelphia and suburban district, has endorsed Obama. The three could help with fundraising and in attracting some voters.

- In western Pennsylvania, a key endorsement would be that of Rep. John Murtha. Murtha, a leading critic of the Iraq war and a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is a prolific fundraiser and his endorsement could help attract anti-war voters. Murtha has said he has not decided whether he will endorse before the primary.

- In the Pittsburgh area, the endorsement of Don Onorato, the chief executive of Allegheny County, population 1.2 million, could have impact among the region's urban and suburban voters. Onorato, a moderate Democrat mentioned as a future gubernatorial candidate, has not endorsed a candidate, nor has he made up his mind whether he will.

- The two candidates have also sought the endorsement of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who at 28 is the youngest chief executive of a major U.S. city. He has not endorsed a candidate. Last year, he was elected to finish out the two-year term of the late Bob O'Connor, whom he was appointed to replace in 2006. While Ravenstahl's endorsement could help some, he has not had much time to establish himself.

- Sen. Bob Casey has said he won't endorse a candidate before the primary because he's worried about party unity. But the son of the late former governor could have pull behind the scenes. Both Clinton and Obama campaigned for him in his successful 2006 race against Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.

- State Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney has endorsed Clinton.

In fundraising circles, Obama has the support of Peter Buttenweiser, an investment banking heir in Philadelphia who is one of the nation's biggest contributors to Democratic candidates. He's also helped by Mark Alderman, a Philadelphia lawyer and fundraiser. Alan Kessler and Mark Aronchick are both Philadelphia lawyers and fundraisers for Clinton.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, who represents Pittsburgh, is popular in his district, and could have some influence if he decided to endorse before the primary. That's true also of Rep. Tim Holden in south-central Pennsylvania.

Doyle said he's remaining uncommitted, at least for now, because he wants to be able to help unite the party and bring the factions together when it's all said and done.

"It's not going to be the Barack and Hillary people who bring the factions together," Doyle said. "It's going to be those of us who are still seen as neutral and have some standing in the party."


Curbing non-union labor in Minnesota

Thousands of construction jobs will be needed for copper, nickel and other metal mining on the Iron Range if those projects come to pass, representatives of three of the companies told a meeting of the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota in Duluth on Thursday.

Three companies — Franconia Minerals Corp., Duluth Metals and PolyMet Mining — will need more than 2,200 construction workers if they go ahead with full-scale production of copper, nickel, platinum, cobalt, silver, gold and palladium, speakers said at a lunchtime presentation at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Northeastern Minnesota includes what’s considered the largest undeveloped base and precious metal mining district in North America near Babbitt and Ely, as well as in Carlton County. At least half a dozen companies are hoping to set up mining operations in the area.

“We cannot get there without your help,” Rick Sandri, Duluth Metals president and CEO, told a room full of construction contractors.

The largest investment is expected to be made by Duluth Metals, which expects to pay $800 million to get up and running, most of it for construction, Sandri said.

His company expects to produce 100.2 million pounds of copper and 23.8 million pounds of nickel annually as well as substantial amounts of the other metals. The mine has a potential life of 74 years, he said.

Duluth Metals, which will mine underground, still is in the exploration stage.

Franconia Minerals also is exploring for many of the same minerals under Birch Lake and expected originally to realize 100 million tons of metals from development of an underground mine there, said Bill Brice, Franconia’s director of government and community relations. However, now it appears it is going to be “substantially more than that,” he said. The company also owns two other potential mining sites nearby, but probably won’t develop them in the next few years.

Capital costs for developing the first two mines and a hydrometallurgical plant, concentrator and other portions of the project are expected to be more than $600 million. Brice estimated the project will need 1,000 construction workers and 550 permanent employees.

Part of the Birch Lake property is on state School Trust Fund land, which the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has estimated will yield $1.4 billion over the next 20 to 25 years to be invested for public schools, Brice said after the presentation. However, “It will take longer than that for all this to happen,” he added.

PolyMet is further ahead than the other two projects and, if developed, will be a two-and-a-half-mile-long open pit mine called NorthMet. It is in the midst of the permitting process and if the environmental impact statement is completed by the end of June, permits could be in place to begin construction in January 2009, said Joe Scipioni, president and CEO of PolyMet.

Because it has bought the plant and tailings basin from the former LTV Steel Mining Co., it will rebuild much of the equipment there, including locomotives, hoppers, concentrators and crushers, Scipioni said.

PolyMet’s technology will require half the energy of other processing methods, he said. The small amount of sulfur taken from the ground, which in some mining operations has created environmental disasters, will be neutralized and made into synthetic gypsum board, he said.

Even without new construction for every aspect of the operation, the company expects to spend $380 million on construction and need 250 construction workers for two years, he said. The company already has a project labor agreement and will use union labor, Scipioni said. PolyMet would employ 400 permanent workers.

At least three other companies, Encampment Resources, Kennecott Exploration and Teck Cominco, also are exploring for nonferrous metals in Northeastern Minnesota.


Curbing non-union labor in Oregon

Many people didn't need a microphone tonight to offer public comment about a proposed tribal casino in the Columbia River Gorge. Conversations started spontaneously in a long line waiting for seats at a Portland hearing about the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs' plan for a casino and resort in Cascade Locks. "I'm for off-reservation casinos," Scott Crabtree of Southeast Portland told Carol Yoshida of West Linn and Armon Collman of Portland. "But I'm against putting them in natural areas."

A casino in Cascade Locks would be an economic boost for the area and for the tribe, Collman countered. The tribe deserves the opportunity, Yoshida agreed.

The 250 seats at the fourth of five public hearings on the proposed casino filled quickly. More than 100 people waited outside the ballroom at the DoubleTree Hotel Lloyd Center, hoping for an open seat.

Before the hearing began, lobbyists for friends and foes of the proposed casino traded arguments over the distance Warm Springs tribal members would commute to work in Cascade Locks.

Until this week, casino backers described the Cascade Locks site as 37 miles from the Warm Springs reservation. While true, the distance was measured from the city in a straight line, through Mount Hood, to the northwest tip of reservation land.

Most tribal members, traveling from in and around the town of Warm Springs, would commute much further. The round-trip total would be closer to nearly 220 miles, said Dan Lavey of the Coalition for Oregon's Future.

Before the hearing, Lavey announced that 4,000 opponents had submitted comments -- many on prepared cards -- to his anti-casino group.

Len Bergstein, a Portland lobbyist who represents the Warm Springs tribe on the casino proposal, said the travel distance is a nonissue.

Lengthy commutes are common in central Oregon, Bergstein said, and two shuttles are planned to transport tribal members to jobs. Also, he said, Bureau of Indian Affairs officials knew about the commuting issue and allowed the project to advance in the planning process.

A representative of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz testified that their members commute 150 miles round-trip from their reservation to the Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City.

It's more important, Bergstein said, that the Oregon AFL-CIO on Thursday endorsed the Cascade Locks project.

"The $400 million project will be built entirely with union labor under a project labor agreement with the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council, creating 690 new skilled construction jobs," Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, wrote in support of the endorsement.

As a senior policy adviser for Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2005, Chamberlain helped negotiate the compact for the project between Oregon and the Warm Springs tribe. Chamberlain also praised plans calling for sustainable building practices.

Some speakers scolded the project for the environmental damage it might cause.

"People have pointed to the dams, the barges, the highway, and said .¤.¤. that these are not environmentally sensitive," said Angie Moore of Beaverton. "I cannot change what has gone before, but neither can I stay silent when I see plans that will severely impact what many, including the Warm Springs, consider to be sacred."


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