No-vote unionism vital for the economy

Heading into another election early next month, 6th U.S. Congressional District candidate Don Cazayoux told more than 150 state AFL-CIO members Monday that he would support federal legislation to protect unions. Cazayoux, a state representative, said he believes a strong union movement is vital for a strong economy.

He promised to support the so-called Employee Free Choice Act of 2007, which backers say would amend the National Labor Relations Act to enable employees to form, join or assist labor organizations more efficiently and provide harsher penalties for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts. Opponents point out that the law would ban secret-ballot voting in unionization campaigns.

The act passed through the U.S. House and is awaiting discussion in the U.S. Senate.

The state AFL-CIO endorsed Cazayoux, D-New Roads, early on in his bid for the congressional seat.

Louis Reine, president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, said the state AFL-CIO stands with candidates who represent the interests that the union represents — decent wages for employees, protected pensions, affordable health care and quality education.

Cazayoux “had the best interest for working people at heart and could take that to Washington,” Reine said.

At the AFL-CIO’s annual conference Monday, Cazayoux also touched on continuing job training programs in the state, including the expansion of union apprenticeship and community college programs.

Cazayoux got his hands dirty earlier in the week, shelling crawfish with about 60 members of the state International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at their annual crawfish boil on Sunday.

“He’s for working families and that’s what we’re all about,” said Mike Clary, business manager of the IBEW Local Union 995 in Baton Rouge.

The IBEW invited lawyers and legislators to its weekend conference to discuss industry changes and what would be coming up in the state and federal government, said Keith Brand, a third generation IBEW member.

“We don’t have a whole bunch of money but we have votes,” Brand said.

Cazayoux said Sunday that the issues he hears from union members are the same that he hears from people around the district.

“People are working harder than ever, struggling to meet the demands of life,” Cazayoux said.

Cazayoux said he would continue to push for the expansion of the State Child Health Insurance Program, which covers some 111,000 children in Louisiana working families today.

The program would be a quick solution to help working families but there also has to be more universal solutions as well, he said.

“We need to focus, instead of talking about it and pointing fingers,” Cazayoux said.

Cazayoux and fellow state Rep. Michael Jackson, D-New Orleans, beat out three other Democrats in the primary election March 8. The two will meet in a runoff election April 5.

Woody Jenkins and Laurinda Calongne — the top two vote-getters in the Republican primary, will also be in a runoff election.

The general election is May 3.


Using green-mail to curb non-union labor

The Victorville 2 hybrid power plant near Southern California Logistics Airport has become a battleground over which is more efficient, cost-effective and fair: union or non-union labor. According to Jackie Nutting, government affairs director for the non-union Associated Builders and Contractors, the city is being pressured to enter into a project labor agreement guaranteeing all work on the project is done with union labor.

City Manager Jon Roberts said this is not quite accurate.

“She’s representing a certain group of contractors,” Roberts said. He said the city is free to use either union or non-union labor, and is looking at candidates equally.

But Nutting said the city is a victim of “green-mail” from an organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy, or CURE. She describes CURE as a San Francisco law firm hired by unions to block projects that have an environmental connection until cities agree to use only union labor.

“That’s a lie,” said Marc Joseph, an attorney with CURE. “CURE is not pressuring anybody to do anything.”

Joseph said CURE is working collaboratively with the city and participating in the public review process, hoping to ensure that the power plant will be both an economic and an environmental benefit to the city.

But Nutting said project labor agreements take away a fair opportunity for everyone to bid on the plant. She said workers end up joining unions just so they can work on a single project and contractors can end up with an unknown work force, which can be a dangerous situation.

She also said project labor agreements end up increasing project costs by an average of 20 percent, with contractors double-paying medical benefits, pensions and more.

“The city ends up paying for all of that.”

Nutting said this is why President Bush will not allow any project that receives a dollar of federal funding to use project labor agreements. “The idea that building it union raises costs is factually wrong,” Joseph said.

He said that of the 42 major power plants that have been built in California, 40 were built with union labor. He said the two that were not both came in over cost and behind schedule. “If it cost more to build projects with union labor, why would 40 out of 42 have chosen to do it that way?” he asked.

Roberts backed up this statement, saying power plants are so big and complicated that union labor tends to take over. “Virtually every power plant in California has been built by union contractors,” Roberts said.

He also said he doesn’t believe the issue of Victorville becoming a charter city — which can allow them to avoid taking the lowest bid or to pay prevailing wages on a public project — will affect their decision to use union or non-union labor.

Aside from increased costs, Nutting said CURE’s push for union labor is also holding up the power plant’s approval. She said CURE has registered themselves as an intervener with the California Energy Commission and that they are holding up licensing.

She said that since further development at SCL is dependent upon the power plant’s ability to generate energy for new consumers, the group is using the plant as a way to hold up all development.

Joseph again refuted these claims. He said CURE has not held up anything. He said the group has raised concerns over air quality issues, as often comes up with most power plants. “The shortage of valid emission offsets in the Mojave Desert Air District is a continuing problem,” he said. “It’s not unique to this project.”

He said construction workers have a direct economic stake in ensuring that the environment can sustain continuing development, or they will one day be out of jobs.

Joseph said the air quality concerns are still unresolved.


SEIU uses legal force against its captives

A three-day federal labor hearing concluded last week between O'Connor Woods and the union representing roughly half the Stockton (CA) retirement community's workers to determine if a November decertification election was conducted fairly. The outcome of that hearing won't be known for several weeks, since both sides have been given 10 days to file briefs. The administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board will then need time to review the hearing transcript and the briefs before making a recommendation, according to board spokesman Michael Leong.

If either side files exceptions to the judge's recommendation, the case will be referred to the labor board in Washington.

The case revolves around whether the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West should continue to represent more than 200 certified nurse assistants, supply clerks, dining service workers, janitors, housekeepers, groundskeepers, maintenance and other workers, which it was authorized to do in a 101-90 vote in late 2005.

Since then, no labor agreement has been reached between the union and O'Connor Woods management. The primary issues are wages and health benefits.

In November, the workers voted again. This time, the purpose was to decertify the union, saying employees no longer wanted the union to represent them. The vote tally was 105 to 102 in favor of decertification.

The union filed 13 objections to the election, nine of which were tossed out after an investigation by Region 32 acting director William Baudler. He recommended that four objections raised enough questions that they deserved a hearing. That's the case that was aired last week.

The remaining union objections claim O'Connor Woods management engaged in the following practices to affect the outcome of the election:

- Threatened employees with the loss of existing benefits if the union won the election.

- Interrogated eligible voters regarding their union sentiments.

- Threatened eligible voters with loss of their jobs and layoff if the union won the election.

- Polled eligible voters for grievances and issues to influence the outcome of the election.

Once the labor board judge issues his ruling, either side has the option either to accept the decision or to file exceptions to the judge's recommendations, according to Leong. At that point, the case would go before the full panel this spring in Washington.


Indicted Chicago Teamsters were well-paid

The U.S. Attorney here handed down a 14 count indictment against former Teamster Local 743 presidents Robert Walston and Richard Lopez and former Teamsters Local 743 employees Cassandra Davis Mosley, David Rodriguez and Thaddeus ‘Teddie’ Bania, March 6. Robert Walston joins his immediate successor Richard Lopez in indictment for participation in a criminal conspiracy to rob hundreds of Teamsters members of their right to vote in two elections, one occurring in October 2004 and the other in December 2004.

Several of the indictments focus on the second rerun election which was called when it was evident that reform candidate Richard Berg and the 743 New Leadership Slate would win. Berg and the New Leadership Slate won the 2007 election, which was supervised by the Department of Labor.

The charge further states that Walston and Lopez shall forfeit “approximately $2,364,533 in authorized salary, expenses and benefits ... for the period of January 2005 to December 2007.”

“That chapter of Teamsters 743 is almost over and a new one is beginning,” said current 743 president Richard Berg. “We will move forward with the task of making this a real union again. Members can now participate freely.”


AFSCME gets local tax hike, delays dues hit

The DeKalb (IL) City Council voted on its initial acceptance to increase the city’s sales tax and create a gas tax after a lengthy, and at times heated, series of public comments. During the March 10 regular meeting, council members voted unanimously to create a two cents per gallon motor fuel tax.

Voting on the increase in sales tax, from 7.5 percent to 8 percent, was more divisive. Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker voted against the ordinance after his proposal for a more modest increase of .25 percent failed to gain support from other council members.

Baker’s comments reflected the worries DeKalb citizens and business owners and managers expressed before the vote took place.

Celeste Cullivan, manager of Lowe’s Home Improvement in DeKalb, was one of the residents who spoke against the increase, saying the higher tax increase would turn shoppers away from DeKalb businesses, lessening any increase in revenue the city hopes to see.

“My major competitor is in Sycamore,” Cullivan said. “You’re asking your local businesses to take on the burden.”

Other councilmen, including Bertrand Simpson (Ward 1) and Kris Povlsen (Ward 2), responded to public concerns by stating their dislike of any tax increase. However, Povlsen repeated the hopes he expressed at an earlier meeting, saying he thinks the city has a good plan to stay within the budget created.

Simpson responded to citizen comments accusing the city of “crisis budgeting” made by Herb Rubin, who supports the tax raise but expressed concern over the budgeting process.

“I’ll accept the need for more taxes,” Rubin said, adding that problems such as “crisis budgeting” needed solutions.

Simpson, citing flooding in fall 2007 and higher-than-expected snowfall this year, said if DeKalb does not manage crises when necessary, the town would be unable to function. Accepting the tax increase does not mean he is pleased about it.

“Let’s be clear on this folks,” Simpson said “No one on this dais embraced this tax increase.”

The two taxes voted on are part of the city’s response, including a hiring freeze and five-day furloughs for all city employees, to ongoing budget woes that led to threats of layoffs. A strong, persistent American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) presence over the past two months at council meetings led the city to further negotiations with AFSCME, scrapping of the 20 planned layoffs after five workers voluntarily retired and five open positions were eliminated through attrition.

A second reading of the tax-increase ordinance will take place during the March 24 council meeting.


SEIU strikers serve up a neigborhood nuisance

It's been man versus machine throughout this Bronx (NY) nursing home strike, and the prizes have been summonses. With no progress in contract talks since a month-long strike began, neighbors of the Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Center on Cannon Place have been complaining about noisy demonstrations by strikers, while city inspectors have slapped the center with summonses for several noisy generators powering auxiliary outside lighting overnight.

Phil McDonnell, head of the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association, said the strikers from SEIU 1199 were more responsive to the community than the nursing home.

After neighbors complained about strikers banging pots on the picket line, for example, the union switched to chants and songs, he said.

McDonnell, who says he supports the striking workers, claims that the nursing home's management has been less cooperative, setting up ultra-bright spotlights at night - presumably to deter vandalism - powered by a number of noisy portable generators.

The all-night roar of the generators, measured by McDonnell at 90 decibels, prompted the Department of Environmental Protection to issue multiple violations in the early days of the strike.

McDonnell complained that DEP stopped sending inspectors after the first week, but a department spokesman said that's because the nursing home has been taking "appropriate steps" to mitigate the noise. "They put some foam around the units, and I understand they're building plywood frames around them, too," DEP spokesman Michael Saucier said.

Central to the labor dispute is employee health coverage, which nursing home owner Helen Sieger cut off last year.

Kingsbridge Heights management did not return a call for comment.


Fi-core WGA member earns promotion

Soap Opera Network is reporting that Maria Arena Bell has been named the new head writer for The Young and the Restless, and interim head writer Josh Griffith will now act solely as exec-producer. Bell had been Y&R's co-head writer during the writers' strike (she declared financial core status, meaning she worked during the strike while suspending some of her Writers Guild of America member privileges).

Bell's other daytime writing stint was with The Bold and The Beautiful in the late '80s and early '90s.


SEIU threatens to turn Bronx into Naples

Tenants in 500 Bronx (NY) apartment buildings could find themselves stuck without workers to take out the garbage and maintain their buildings if last-ditch strike talks fail this week. Both sides were reported far apart after stopping the clock last Friday. Talks between Service Employees International Union's Local 32BJ, representing 4,000 Bronx workers, and the Bronx Realty Advisory Board, representing landlords, were scheduled to resume Wednesday, again with a midnight deadline.

Bronx Realty Advisory Board President Michael Laub was optimistic about prospects for an agreement last week before last Friday's deadline, but his tone was less confident this week.

"I'll tell you the truth, we really are still very far apart," Laub said. "This is the first time since I started handling these negotiations in 1992 that it's gotten to this point and I'm not as optimistic as I've been in the past."

Central to the impasse is SEIU's determination to close the gap between its Bronx members and building workers throughout the city.

Bronx building workers have long negotiated a separate contract, mainly because rents - and landlord income - tend to be lower in the borough.

While workers point out that Bronx property values are starting to catch up to elsewhere in the city, BRAB counters that Bronx residents' average income - which more directly determines actual rent levels - still lags.

The Bronx workers are seeking a hike in the minimum-wage rate under the contract, now $10 an hour, and a pension increase.

The average hourly wage for building workers in other boroughs is $18.69, according to the union, but the average for Bronx workers is lower.

As the new deadline looms, what may have seemed like brinksmanship before negotiations broke down last Friday now sounds more ominous.

"We don't want to, but if they push us, we're ready to strike," said porter German Rochez, 40.

A union spokesperson said that Bronx elected officials, including Borough President Adolfo Carrión, and Assemblymembers Jose Rivera and Naomi Rivera, have expressed concern over the prospect of uncertified replacement workers assuming boiler maintenance.

Carrión has written to the Bronx Realty Advisory Board and the Riveras to the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development asking for a plan to limit the dangers should a strike sideline qualified personnel, the spokesperson said.


Canada workers suck it up for UAW strikers

A strike by workers at American Axle in the United States has forced more layoffs in Ontario's auto sector. Formet Industries in St. Thomas, Ont., which is owned by auto-parts giant Magna International and produces frames for General Motors pick-up trucks and utility vehicles, laid off 1,200 workers yesterday due to the strike. "We're very concerned about it," said Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove. "It's a tough situation."

GM already has shut down a truck plant in Oshawa and has laid off 500 people at an engine factory in St. Catharines, Ont., Hargrove said. The union has been told a car factory in Oshawa could see cutbacks later this month if the strike continues.

Full bargaining teams for the United Auto Workers and American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. haven't met for a week, a strong sign that a three-week strike likely will grow even longer, a labour expert says.

The dispute over wages and benefits already has forced GM to close all or part of 28 plants.

The strike has also forced a review of GM by Standard & Poor's for a possible debt-rating downgrade.

GM currently is rated B, or five steps below investment grade.


News union concerned about Big Print cuts

The Seattle Times Co. put its Maine newspapers up for sale Monday, saying it needs cash to help its flagship paper survive an industrywide drop in advertising revenue that shows no signs of reversing. But industry observers predicted the company won't get nearly as much for the three dailies and one weekly as it paid for them a decade ago.

"This is a terrible time to be selling newspapers," said John Morton, a newspaper analyst in Silver Spring, Md. "They [The Times] must really need the money."

Times Vice President Jill Mackie said sale of the Maine papers would allow the company to focus on its Washington papers, which also include the Yakima Herald-Republic and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Declining print revenues are affecting the company's papers on both coasts, she said, "and it doesn't make sense to continue to starve both.

"We're a relatively small company, and there just are not enormous reserves of resources out there."

The Maine papers include the Portland Press Herald, (Augusta) Kennebec Journal and (Waterville) Morning Sentinel — all dailies — and the weekly (Bath) Coastal Journal. The dailies have a combined circulation of about 101,000 on weekdays and 137,000 on Sundays.

Mackie said money from a sale would be used mostly to reduce debt. She acknowledged that most of what the privately held company owes was borrowed to buy the Maine papers.

But she said the decision to sell was not forced by lenders and was made "reluctantly" by the Blethen family, which holds a majority interest in The Times.

The company said it hopes to find a buyer within the year.

Monday's announcement "does not mean that we are out of the woods," Times President Carolyn Kelly said in an e-mail to Seattle employees. "We hope it buys us some breathing room as we transform ourselves."

The Times borrowed about $213 million to purchase the Maine newspapers in 1998, an internal company document indicates. That was during the industry's heyday, before print revenues — and newspaper market values — began to slide as advertisers and readers migrated to the Internet.

Last year, McClatchy sold the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for about half the price it paid for the paper in 1998. Morton said The Times might lose a similar amount on the Maine papers.


Fewer companies are buying now, he said, and most of them want smaller papers.

Plus there are lots of newspapers for sale right now, said Larry Grimes, a newspaper broker in Gaithersburg, Md.

Landmark Communications, whose holdings include the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, is for sale. So is News Corp.'s Ottaway Community Newspaper unit, with 15 dailies in seven states.

The Maine papers are "nice properties" with strong positions in their markets, Grimes said, and The Times will find a buyer for them. "But they're going to be selling at a distressed price," he added.

The Times knows its timing isn't ideal, Mackie responded: "Getting through a difficult moment in time, sometimes you have to make tough choices."

The Times bought the Maine papers in part because family patriarch Alden J. Blethen came to Seattle from Maine. Knight Ridder, which owned a minority interest in The Times until 2006, criticized the deal, saying the Blethens had overpaid.

The Blethens don't regret the purchase, Mackie said. "At the time it was a good decision. A lot has changed in the last 10 years," she said.

The marketing of the Maine papers is part of an industry trend, said Rick Edmonds, media-business analyst with the Poynter Institute, a Florida journalism think tank.

More newspaper companies are shedding other investments to generate cash for their primary properties, he said. Copley Newspapers, for instance, recently sold all its dailies except its flagship San Diego Union-Tribune.

But "the Portland paper is just superb" journalistically, Edmonds said. "I would hate to see a scenario where some new owner comes in and says, 'You don't need this big a staff,' or 'You don't need to go all over Maine.' "

The Portland paper, like The Seattle Times newspaper, has laid off employees recently. C.J. Betit, administrative officer of the Newspaper Guild local that represents workers at the Portland and Waterville papers, said employees are concerned a new owner could impose deeper cuts.

The Guild probably will explore the feasibility of employee ownership, he said.

Monday's announcement "wasn't completely unexpected, given what's going on in the industry and what's going on in Seattle," Betit said.


Mounting collateral damage from writers strike

Metropolitan Talent Agency is laying off the majority of its staff and might close its doors. The recent WGA strike is being blamed. The Los Angeles-based company, which counts as clients such actors and writers as Peter Fonda, Michael York, Debbie Reynolds, Parker Stevenson and Levar Burton, is negotiating the exit of eight employees, who will leave by week's end.

It is understood that company founder Christopher Barrett and talent agent Sara Schedeen, who is Barrett's sister-in-law, are staying on, though it is not known whether the pared-down entity will be an agency or a management company.

Sources said that Metropolitan had a tough time weathering the writers strike and that the upsurge in work -- be it in acting or writing -- that was expected when scribes returned has not materialized.

"The strike has taken out a viable company," one insider said.

Sources said that Barrett told the staff the news Friday night. Barrett did not return calls by press time Monday.

For years, Metropolitan had been plagued with rumors about its uncertain future. The agency suffered a blow a few years ago when agents Gabrielle Krengel, Melisa Spamer and Joe Vance left to help form Domain. Since the beginning of the year, three other agents -- Alan Ellsweig, Christina King and Jennifer Good -- also have departed.


Union-only is not always better

Chills went up my spine when I read that the Southern Nevada Water Authority had approved an expansion of the project labor agreement covering a planned pipeline from rural counties to Las Vegas (March 10 Review-Journal). Why am I concerned? Because of the famous "Big Dig," that travesty of a public works construction project in Boston, the one that was supposed to cost $2.5 billion and ended up costing nearly $15 billion. A project that also signed a project labor agreement, which meant that it had to be built mostly by "union craftsmen."

One of the reasons cited by the project managers of the Big Dig in defense of the absurd cost overruns was being forced to pay union wages and putting up with rigid job rules and regulations. They said they were stuck and had no choice.

The Las Vegas Monorail, which is a complete financial disaster, supposedly will not hurt taxpayers because the county and state refused to put taxpayer monies into its construction. Can Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy guarantee the same for her $3.5 billion water project?

In case you didn't know it, the Big Dig is completed but still leaking like a sieve, and is being repaired by ... yes, union craftsmen.

Norman Petz, Henderson, Nevada


Costly unions force nursing home closures

My father-in-law, Tyson, is 93 years old. He is almost totally blind, and he is hard of hearing. He spends most of his time in his wheelchair, and some days he sleeps much of the day. Although he has dementia, he can sing every word of “Let me call you sweetheart.” For the past two years, he has lived at Good Shepherd Care Center in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of Saint Paul (MN). In spite of everything, Tyson has been very happy at Good Shepherd.

Good Shepherd’s closing was announced February 19, at a meeting for family members of the 90-some seniors living there. Families were told that the closing is due to two factors: the cost to maintain and upgrade the 45-year-old building, and the state reimbursement system. Good Shepherd is managed by Benedictine Health Care System, of Duluth, and is owned by the non-profit Living Services Foundation.

Closing also hits workers hard

As difficult as the closing is for the residents and their families, it also means that all of the workers will be out of a job, including some who have worked there for more than 30 years. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local Union 789 (UFCW) which represents 86 of the workers at Good Shepherd, including nursing assistants, dietary assistants housekeeping/ laundry workers, and maintenance workers. Other employees, including nurses, are represented by the American Federation of State County and municipal Employees (AFSCME.)

UFCW business representative Mike Dreyer says he was not surprised to hear of the closing, saying that “all of the nursing homes are at risk” of potentially shutting down, due to current state policies.

Local 789 is assisting the workers in finding new jobs, and is connecting them with the AFL-CIO Employee Liaison for the state’s Dislocated Workers Program. A job fair was also scheduled. Even with this assistance, workers face an uphill struggle to find new work. Although they may be given credit for experience, they will lose all of their seniority, and have to start all over And those workers who currently have the most seniority and are staying until the last patient leaves, will be the last to look for jobs if, indeed, there are any left.

Under state law, nursing homes must notify patients 60 days before the intended closing date. The time frame has families scrambling to find another place to care for their loved ones, not an easy task when you consider the number of nursing homes and care centers that have closed in recent years. For our family, this is the second time around. Two years ago, Tyson had to move when Saint Paul’s Church Home, also in Saint Paul, was forced to close for the same reasons.

Nursing home closings are a developing trend in Minnesota. Jeff Bostic, Director of Data Analysis for the Minnesota Health and Housing Alliance (MHHA), says that nursing home closings were not tracked until 2000, which was the first time a number of facilities were closed in the state. Over the past eight years, 48 nursing homes have closed in Minnesota, five of those (not including Good Shepherd) in Saint Paul, and a total of 29 in the metro area. The closings represent a little more than 10% of Minnesota’s 400 nursing homes.

It is easier to close facilities in the metro area than in a small town,” Bostic says, “because the small town will object.” While there is not much access to other facilities in small towns and rural areas, usually residents can find another facility somewhere in the metro area.

Bostic says the decline in the number of nursing homes is due in part to a general shift in the attitude of the consumers who are looking to alternatives to the traditional nursing home, such as assisted living or forms of in-home care.

The problem for more fragile nursing home residents is that these types of living arrangements do not have as many of the services that they need.

Some residents at Good Shepherd have lived there for as long as ten years, and have considered it their home. Good Shepherd held a “facility fair ”for families to assist them in choosing another place. With fewer nursing homes in Saint Paul and the close-in suburbs, some families are having to look to places in the outlying areas, which will make it more difficult for them to visit their loved ones.

Reimbursement for Low-Income Residents

At least some of the nursing home closures are related to state reimbursement changes. The state of Minnesota requires that nursing homes charge the same amount for private pay residents and those receiving government assistance. (A few exceptions apply – private rooms, for example, can be charged at a higher rate than semi-private.) The state pays nursing homes only for low-income residents eligible for Medicaid.

Until the mid to late 1990s, the state reimbursed nursing homes for actual costs. That is no longer true. After a three-year freeze on reimbursement levels from 2002 to 2005, nursing home representatives now must request a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) every year.

MHHA’s Bostic says that since that since the old system was phased out, “closures have become more of an issue.”

In recent years the COLA has been increased by a very small percentage. Last year’s COLA for nursing home reimbursement was 1.87%. In contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index increased by 2.85% in 2007 on top of a 3.24% increase in 2006. With the nearly $1 billion state budget shortfall, Dreyer predicts there will be no increase in the COLA for nursing homes this year.


Do union political endorsements matter?

Most candidates work almost as hard for endorsements as they do for votes. North Carolina’s gubernatorial candidates are trying to get the support of labor organizations and even former governors. State Senator Fred Smith has the backing of nearly 60 Republican members of the General Assembly. Bob Orr has former governor Jim Martin and the black political caucus in his corner. The 5,000-member labor union UNITE HERE recently endorsed Richard Moore for governor.

"What Richard represents to us is a candidate who brings a level of expertise and a new form of politics,” said the union’s International Vice President Harris Raynor.

But so far, Lt. Governor Bev Perdue has racked up the most endorsements -- 11 in all --ranging from law enforcement associations to women's fundraising groups to the largest teachers association with 70,000 current and retired educators.

"We worked with her [Perdue] on lots of issues [such as] raising teacher salaries and dealing with working conditions," said NCAE President Eddie Davis.

But beyond influencing their memberships, Peace College Political Scientist David McLennan says endorsements have little impact on voters.

"Recent study suggests maybe 2 or 3 percent of the electorate is affected in some way by endorsements. That means 90 some percent aren't paying attention," McLennan said.

So why bother?

Answer: It gives the candidate credibility in terms of fundraising.

"If I can show you my list of 25 endorsing organizations compared to your list of 10, I can say there's something in my favor and I can say you should support me in my fundraising," McLennan said.

McLennan suggests endorsements will have the biggest impact two or three weeks before the primary as candidates look to one-up each other and capture some name recognition.


Leftists sponsor foreign unionist tour

A trade union leader will speak in Minneapolis and Rochester this week about the efforts by workers to organize in Colombia, the most dangerous country in the world to be a union member Edgar Paez, a leader with SINALTRAINAL, the National Food Industry Workers Union in Colombia, will speak Wednesday, March 19, at the Minneapolis Labor Center, 312 Central Ave., and Thursday, March 20, at Christ United Methodist Church, 400 5th St. SW in Rochester. Both programs start at 6 p.m.; in Rochester there will be coffee and snacks starting at 5 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public. Sponsors include Witness for Peace, the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition and Fight Back America: United Steelworkers Associate Member Program.

Gerardo Cajamarca, a former Colombian union activist now on the staff of the United Steelworkers, will join Paez at both programs. Dan Kovalik, associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers, will be part of the Minneapolis program and Tara Widner, staff representative for the United Steelworkers, will be part of the Rochester program.

Paez has been active in organizing workers and connecting social struggles in Colombia and other countries. He and the other panelists will discuss current conditions for union organizers in Colombia and how a free trade agreement with the United States would affect workers, families and human rights in Colombia.

Since 1991, a total of 2,283 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered and many more have been subject to violence and death threats, according to the International Labor Organization.


News Guild hypes union in member dispute

On his first day on the job as the executive director of the union representing nearly 20,000 Puget Sound-area Boeing engineers and technical workers, Ray Goforth paid a courtesy call on Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group President Scott Carson and his human resources lieutenant, Doug Kight. If what Goforth says they told him is more than just posturing, Boeing and one of its biggest unions, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, could have a tough go this fall as they try to negotiate a new contract.

“Before I took this job, I’d been told that relations with SPEEA and Boeing were pretty darned strained, and I had hoped that could be fixed,” said Goforth, now just six weeks into his tenure as SPEEA’s chief administrator. “But I learned that isn’t likely going to happen easily.”

Those strained relations come at critical times both for Boeing and its engineering and technical workers’ union. Boeing is red-faced from repeated delays in the delivery date of the first of its revolutionary 787 Dreamliners, and at the same time the company is still shell-shocked from its loss to a consortium of Northrop Grumman and Airbus parent EADS of a $35 billion contract to build 179 Air Force aerial refueling tankers.

The union itself is still in recovery from months of turmoil that began with the ouster of Goforth’s predecessor, Charles Bofferding, from the post he had held for 16 years. Bofferding’s removal led to board recall elections and a power struggle within the union’s hierarchy.

Goforth came to his new job after 10 years as a union representative with a sister engineering local to SPEEA, IFPTE Local 17.

Goforth, along with the union’s board and negotiating team faces the job of healing wounds within the union and presenting a united front to Boeing in formal negotiations set to begin in October.

Goforth recently talked with The News Tribune about his job, Boeing and his plans for the next year.

You say Boeing is hostile to SPEEA. Give me some examples.

Boeing corporate has launched a decertification campaign against SPEEA. In Wichita last year, a company campaign stripped 900 members of SPEEA representation. And in Utah they launched a similar campaign. That backfired and ended up doubling the size of the unit. In retaliation, Boeing is trying to strip those Utah workers out of the Puget Sound contract. Boeing corporate has also launched a drive to decertify the unit in Palmdale, Calif.

What happened when you met with Boeing’s Carson and Kight?

Mr. Carson explained that he wanted to get rid of all unions at Boeing and that he intended to continue to support the efforts to bust the bargaining units where they could. It was disappointing. I appreciated the candor. It did supply some clarity on these problems. I went into this hoping that we could partner to solve these problems, but the answer was “no.”

What did they tell you about their immediate goals for this year’s negotiations?

They shared their plans to eliminate the pension plan for all new hires and to make negative changes to the medical plan that will drastically shift costs onto the employees. They seemed to be setting us up for what could be a cataclysmic conflict this fall.

But isn’t it their job to cut costs and improve the company’s bottom line?

Their stance on the pension plan came after the news that Boeing’s pension plan is overfunded by $5 billion, and they are enjoying very healthy profits so this is not like the auto industry where they’re facing some tough problems that call for some creative solutions. These aren’t things that they needed to keep the business healthy. These are things that they simply want.

You’ve been meeting with your members at lunchtime where they work. What are they telling you about the company and its latest problems?

If I wanted to synthesize it, I’d have to say it is bewilderment that the company that in many ways that they love – that the people who run the company are intent on running it into a ditch and won’t listen to the people that really do the work. My members are telling me we’re going to have even more delays.

And what do your members see as the main problem?

Within Boeing management there’s an almost religious belief right now that this offshoring is good, and when you point out the problems, it’s seen almost as a challenge to the fundamental belief tenant rather than a discrete problem to be fixed.

What’s your hope for the upcoming negotiations?

Hopefully we will find solutions to these problems that are peaceful and quiet and professional. Thus far, Boeing corporate has found no interest in finding solutions, so we’ve begun to prepare our membership for very tough negotiations and possible adverse labor actions.


Pro-union Progs problem multiplies

With his predecessor's term doomed by a sex scandal, brand-new Gov. David Paterson tried to come clean about his own skeletons just hours after assuming office by acknowledging a years-old affair. Paterson was sworn in almost exactly a week after allegations first surfaced that former Gov. Eliot Spitzer was "Client 9" of a high-priced call girl service. Responding to rumors circulating in Albany, Paterson and his wife, Michelle, told the Daily News of New York City that both had affairs during a rough patch in their marriage several years ago.

"This was a marriage that appeared to be going sour at one point," Paterson told the Daily News. "But I went to counseling and we decided we wanted to make it work. Michelle is well aware of what went on."

Paterson told the newspaper that he maintained a relationship with another woman from 1999 until 2001. He and his wife, Michelle, eventually sought counseling and repaired their relationship. The couple did not go into details.

Paterson and the other woman sometimes stayed at a Days Inn on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the governor said, adding that his Albany staff sometimes stayed there as well when they were in the city. Paterson said he did not use government or campaign funds to pay for the romantic encounters.

A spokesman for the governor did not immediately reply to requests for comment about Paterson's interview, which came hours after the governor assumed office with a message of unity. He became the state's first black chief executive and the nation's second legally blind governor.

"We move forward. Today is Monday. There is work to be done," Paterson said. "There was an oath to be taken. There's trust that needs to be restored. There are issues that need to be addressed."

Spitzer, according to ex-aides, was at his Columbia County farmhouse at the time of Paterson's swearing-in.

Where Spitzer's 14-month tenure was marked by partisan sniping, Paterson, a fellow Democrat, reached across the aisle in his remarks from the ornate Assembly chamber. The crowd gave the new governor a two-minute standing ovation and chanted "David! David! David!"

"What we are going to do from now on is what we always should have done all along," the former state senator said. "We're going to work together."

Legislators gave Paterson hearty applause when he called for cooperation, and laughs when he made playful jabs at Republican leaders.

He said of a dinner invitation from Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno, probably Spitzer's most bitter rival: "I'll go. I'm going to take my taster with me."

He teased Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, whom Spitzer famously and profanely said he would steamroll, that he would teach him how to play basketball. Tedisco, an upstate Republican, was a basketball star at Union College.

Paterson, 53, who becomes New York's 55th governor, has said he will get right to work. The Legislature faces an April 1 deadline to pass an estimated $124 billion budget, and Paterson also said that health care, education, jobs and problems facing "the single mother with two jobs" need immediate attention.

Before reluctantly accepting Spitzer's offer to run with him as lieutenant governor, Paterson was a Democratic state senator for more than two decades, representing parts of Harlem and Manhattan's Upper West Side.

His wife had tears in her eyes for most of the ceremony.

"Every time I hear David speak, I want to cry," she said afterward. "I'm just very happy I was able to live to see this day."

Politicians past and present, including presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and governors from three neighboring states, attended the ceremony.

Federal prosecutors must still decide whether to pursue charges against Spitzer. The married father of three teenage girls was accused of spending tens of thousands of dollars on prostitutes — including a call girl in Washington the night before Valentine's Day.


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