Dems hobble NLRB for political purposes

In the fight between President Bush and Senate Democrats over government appointments, the Federal Election Commission is the agency that has been most obviously affected—but the National Labor Relations Board also is suffering. The Federal Election Commission has too few members to achieve a quorum, rendering it unable to make rulings in the middle of an election year. The NLRB, meanwhile, is having to address its docket with only two of its five members.

NLRB Chairman Robert Battista’s term ended in mid-December, while those of Peter Kirsanow and Dennis Walsh expired in January. Wilma Liebman and Peter Schaumber, who were appointed by Democratic and Republican presidents, respectively, remain on the board.

President Bush has renominated Battista and Walsh, who is a Democrat. He also wants to appoint Gerald Morales, an Arizona lawyer. Those nominations are stalled, along with nearly 200 others, as Bush negotiates with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to break an impasse.

Democrats accuse Bush of running roughshod over the Senate’s constitutional role in approving nominations by appointing many officials during congressional recesses. Bush asserts that Senate Democrats are playing political games.

Meanwhile, the NLRB continues to function. Liebman and Schaumber have issued 54 decisions since the beginning of the year. But they are sticking to cases in which board precedent can be applied.

The overall pace of work is sure to slow, and more difficult cases will be put off while the board awaits its full complement.

“I’m very surprised how long it’s been going on,” said Charles Craver, professor of law at George Washington University. “The rights of employers, unions and employees are going unresolved.”

Willis Goldsmith, a partner at Jones Day in New York, said that it is too early to tell how vacancies are affecting the NLRB.

Operating with two members could create legal problems and “has the potential to seriously undermine the board’s credibility as well as its effectiveness,” Goldsmith said.

Democrats assert that the NLRB doesn’t work, even at full capacity, with its recent Republican majority. A joint House-Senate hearing in December examined recent rulings that Democrats say undermine unions.

Democrats are particularly upset with Battista, who defended himself by citing increases in back-pay collections and elections conducted and a decrease in the case backlog during his five-year tenure.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called Battista’s renomination an example of the Bush administration’s “hostility to fairness and justice in the workplace.”

In a March 6 press conference, Reid indicated that no nominee was off limits for negotiations with the White House.

“We’re going to try to move as many as we can,” he said.

Getting the NLRB back to full strength quickly will be good for employers and unions, Craver said. In a labor dispute, a timely NLRB decision is important.

The losing side can blame the board and appeal to a court, which curtails endless finger-pointing.

“They want an answer so they can get on with their relationship,” Craver said.


Leftists defend union racketeering

Is it illegal for an activist group or union to criticize a company's business practices? Is it a "conspiracy" if advocates call for boycotts, organize rallies, or press for resolutions from elected bodies? Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of pork products in the world, is hoping so, after a lawsuit it filed last October passed an initial court challenge.

The suit aims to halt the United Food and Commercial Workers' campaign to unionize 4,600 workers in its Tar Heel, North Carolina, slaughterhouse. The company is using a 1970 statute originally designed to battle gangsters' extortion schemes -- the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

"This is a terrible menace to rights of free speech and protest, and constitutional rights and freedom of expression," said Lance Compa, Cornell University labor relations professor and an expert on the meatpacking industry. "It's a really dangerous new offensive that employers have seized on to try to snuff out legitimate protest about abusive employer conduct."

Jobs with Justice, which is named as a defendant in the suit, is launching a campaign against corporations' use of the RICO act, which has surfaced intermittently as one legal tactic among an arsenal to silence corporate critics. The act has been used to file suits in recent months against campaigns by the Service Employees (SEIU) at the Wackenhut security firm, and the UFCW at an Arizona-based grocery chain.

JWJ expects to work with unions, central labor councils, and city councils to pass fresh resolutions condemning the lawsuit.

"Our goal is to protect the right of not only unions to engage in these activities, but everybody fighting corporate abuses," said Russ Davis, director of Massachusetts JWJ. "Hopefully we can deter corporations from going down this road. But if these things occur again we want to be ready."


Smithfield sees a wide array of plotters conspiring against it, naming UFCW, JWJ, Research Associates of America, and Change To Win, the labor federation to which the UFCW belongs. Also named are eight individuals, including UFCW President Joe Hansen, the union's Smithfield campaign director Gene Bruskin, and Andy Stern, SEIU president.

The defendants' supposed crime? They employed strategies long used by unions and social movements to educate the public, garner support, and pressure corporations.

Since the UFCW's Justice at Smithfield campaign began in June 2006, the union has asked city councils to pass resolutions and boycott Smithfield products, demonstrated at stockholder meetings, and filed health and safety complaints with OSHA. Stores in Massachusetts pulled Smithfield products from their shelves.

All these actions the company cites in its lawsuit as evidence of "formation of the conspiracy," "delivery of the threat," and "publication of false, misleading, baseless, negative and/or damaging information on the Internet and in the newspapers."

"Whatever economic consequences flow, they are not considered in the law sufficient to deprive people of free speech," said Joan Bertin, director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, a member of the anti-RICO coalition.

The union said it had to turn to an aggressive campaign for consumer and community support because Smithfield repeatedly violated laws that are supposed to allow workers to organize.

The UFCW has lost two National Labor Relations Board elections at the plant, both of which were overturned after reams of unfair labor practice charges were sustained against the company. Smithfield's violations include firing workers for talking about the union, and attempts to spy on and intimidate them.


"They're trying to box us into a slow, NLRB process, because it doesn't punish them for violations -- all (workers) get is back-pay and reinstatement," said Renee Bowser, UFCW's assistant general counsel.

Court-watchers doubt the suit will survive. A similar RICO suit brought by Detroit's newspapers last decade against striking newspaper workers ultimately failed.

"This form of coalition building, holding demonstrations -- all of these are classic forms of freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly," Compa said. "Ultimately the case won't hold up. In the meantime it's a terrible distraction."


Nevada gov't-unions face big dues hit

Layoffs may be coming to Nevada state government. Monday could be remembered as Black Monday in state employee annals, as Gov. Jim Gibbons will outline another round of budget cuts -- perhaps as high as 6 percent, according to some estimates -- because the faltering state economy has left government with an $800 million budget shortfall.

Dennis Mallory, chief of staff for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041, said Tuesday there is no way Gibbons can avoid layoffs since state agencies have already had to absorb $565 million in cuts he imposed in January.

"If there are any staff reductions in prisons there would be an imminent threat to the community," said Mallory, who heads the union formerly known as the State of Nevada Employees Association. "Who's to stop prisoners from jumping over the walls?"

He added that if Nevada Highway Patrol officers are laid off, and drivers don't see a trooper for 100 miles to 200 miles, then who is to stop them from putting the pedal to the metal?

But Ben Kieckhefer, Gibbons' press secretary, said the administration still has not made a final decision on where cuts will be made.

"I don't know how anyone can say with certainty there will be layoffs," Kieckhefer said. "The governor will try to avoid layoffs at all costs."

Mallory admitted he doesn't know yet where the cuts will be made, or how many people will be laid off. But he said he's certain Gibbons has no choice but to order layoffs.

The agency most affected, according to Mallory, will be the state's largest -- the Department of Health and Human Services. That department has come under fire in recent weeks because its Bureau of Licensure and Certification did not regularly inspect Las Vegas medical clinics where careless medical practices might have exposed 40,000 people to potentially fatal blood-borne illnesses.

The economic crisis gripping state government is the worst since 1992, when Gov. Bob Miller cut spending by $173 million and laid off 236 people. The state budget then was less than one-third of today's.

Gibbons will hold a briefing Monday to explain what actions he might take to balance the state's $6.8 billion two-year budget at a time when gaming and sales tax revenues -- the two largest revenue sources -- continue to fall below last year's figures.

The governor and legislators built the two-year budget expecting revenues from all tax sources would permit $1 billion in spending increases. It now appears actual growth will be about $200 million -- or less than 2 percent a year.

At the same time, the Consumer Price Index has risen by 4 percent over the last year and a state population estimate due later this week will show Nevada's population increased by 3.6 percent.

Budget Director Andrew Clinger said Tuesday that no decisions have been made yet on where to cut.

Monday's briefing will feature a presentation on many areas that the administration could cut to cover the deficit, he said. Key legislators have been invited to the briefing.

Clinger, who made no mention of potential layoffs, would not say whether the governor has decided on across-the-board cuts to state agencies.

But if such cuts were approved, Clinger said it would require steeper reductions than the 4.5 percent cuts Gibbons imposed in January.

When he made the cuts in January, Gibbons timed them to take place over the last year and a half of the state's two-year budget. However, almost all of the $180 million to $240 million in additional cuts being looked at now would be made during the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Nevada government is operating under a budget that ends on June 30, 2009.

Additional reductions in state funding also may lead to reductions in personnel or services in the Clark County School District. The district has already identified $17.04 million in cuts for fiscal 2008. That's the lion's share of the $22.4 million 2008 reduction to Nevada K-12 education brought on by Gibbons' call for cuts in state spending.

The cuts are accounted for mainly by deferred spending on full-day kindergarten, empowerment schools, remediation and special programs. In Clark County, spending on new technology has been postponed and the replacement of school buses has been delayed.

Superintendent Walt Rulffes did not want to speculate on where future cuts would fall, but said that it's getting increasingly difficult to keep them from directly affecting education programs.

"Clearly, we're getting into staffing issues," said Rulffes, who met with Gibbons on Tuesday. "I honestly don't see how this can not impact services."

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said Democratic leaders are looking for options for the governor to consider before making new cuts. He said they want the state to postpone already approved building projects.

"I hope we don't end up in a position where we have to lay off people," Oceguera added.

Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, said Gibbons faces a simple choice: cut services or increase taxes.

"It does not make sense to kick the populace when it is down by increasing taxes," he added. "We would all rather have times of plenty, but that is not the case."

Layoffs are a clear possibility, according to Beers, although he has not discussed it with Gibbons.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, favors across-the-board cuts because otherwise some agencies would face excessive spending reductions.

"It is going to be more difficult this time," she said. "There are times you have to make do with less."

Gansert added she would oppose tax increases because it would be an increased burden on businesses and residents dealing with a sluggish economy.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, will oppose any move by Gibbons to cut state spending further unless the governor receives the consent of the Legislature's Interim Finance Commission. Coffin has maintained that state law required Gibbons to get consent from the Legislature for any cuts.

Legislators, however, declined to file a legal challenge to Gibbons' budget cuts in January.

Coffin said Gibbons should realize it would make sense politically to involve the Legislature in these decisions. The governor would not have to take the wrath alone from special interest groups if their projects are dropped or state employees are laid off, he said.

Much of the state's economic decline has been blamed on plummeting home sales in Nevada.

Gibbons ordered state agencies in January to cut spending by 4.5 percent to cover about half of what then was estimated as a $565 million deficit. He also postponed about $20 million in building projects, kept 800 state positions vacant and capped the enrollment in child health care and other programs to cover another $40 million of the shortfall.

And he pledged to seek legislative permission next February to take $232 million out of the state's $267 million rainy day fund to cover the remainder.

But the state economy, particularly the gaming industry, has not rebounded since January, and Gibbons on Monday might have to cut an additional $240 million or more in state spending.

Gaming revenues have fallen dramatically over the past three months. Since the beginning of the fiscal year, on July 1, the state has received $518 million in gaming taxes, or $19 million less than the same period a year earlier.

Meanwhile, state sales tax receipts for that period are $490 million, or about $17 million less than the same period a year earlier.


Socialists speak up for teachers union

Superintendent Chris Steinhauser of the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) is trying to capitalize on California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's manufactured crisis by declaring a fiscal freeze. Steinhauser used the budget crisis to cajole union teachers into backing off their non-salary demands as part of negotiations over a contract reopener. Many union members felt they might lose a 4.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment and pay raises retroactive to July 1.

So the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB) bargaining team dropped about three dozen proposals, such as installing air filters in classrooms, which are badly needed in a region dominated by heavy industry. The proposal was ratified by 98 percent of members who voted.

Despite the fact that the district is expected to end the year with a $100 million surplus, LBUSD has used the idea of a looming crisis to freeze all discretionary accounts and scuttle autonomy at individual school sites.

After years of fighting for true Site-based Decision Making (detailed and encouraged by the California Education Code), district officials are reserving for themselves the right to veto spending.

The TALB leadership, which is involved in a consuming fight over the direction of the union, has struggled to direct its attention to the district's new offensive. Progressive forces in the union have had to expend a great deal of energy staving off a desperate and destructive bid by the "go-along-to-get-along" union bureaucracy, which has been on the defensive for the last three years.

Since last June, these officials have organized a complete disruption of the union's ability to function. First, nine of 16 board members fired Executive Director Scott McVarish, who had led much of the substantive change in the union.

When the representative council overrode them and put McVarish back on the job, the same nine members of the board began a scorched-earth campaign, suing their opponents for slander and spending $27,000 of the union's money investigating embezzlement that didn't exist.

While the battle raged, officials from the California Teachers Association (CTA) jumped into the fray, professing that their neutrality could help settle the standoff. But the CTA's real interest is to insure that the TALB, which pays $3 million in dues annually to the CTA, doesn't disaffiliate, an idea which some on the progressive side had considered as a response to the CTA's support of McVarish's firing.

Former CTA president Barbara Kerr came out of retirement to inject the CTA into the Long Beach debate. Kerr began by limiting the powers of the board of directors, the representative council and the membership--and she headed off a campaign to increase union democracy by giving the old guard control over rewriting the union's bylaws.

The internal audit has cleared McVarish of intentional wrongdoing, but he has since resigned. The most significant battle yet will take place through upcoming board elections, in which six of the nine old-guard board members are up for reelection.

A progressive slate is running fgor each of those six seats (including this writer as treasurer), and only one of the three progressive board members up for re-election is being opposed.

It's a good sign that many union members are responding to this threat from the old guard by organizing to drive them out of office.


NLRB smacks down News Union

The owner of the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune and dozens of other newspapers in the Bay Area acted legally when it withdrew recognition of the Newspaper Guild as the bargaining agent for newsroom employees following a consolidation of news operations, an official with a federal agency said.

An executive with California Newspapers Partnership, the three-company group that owns the papers, said he was pleased with the ruling from a division of the National Labor Relations Board.

A Newspaper Guild official said the union would forge ahead with efforts to organize newsroom employees and that the NLRB ruling could eventually help the labor group.

The NLRB recommendation came in response to charges from the union that Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc. and its partners acted illegally when it ceased to recognize the union. The newspaper owners withdrew recognition of the Newspaper Guild in August because the newly consolidated newsroom operations consisted of more non-union members than union members. After the consolidation, about 130 of the 300-plus newsroom employees were unionized workers.

"The employer did not violate the (National Labor Relations) Act because the historical bargaining unit ceased to be an appropriate unit after the employer consolidated unit employees into a larger group of other employees," Barry Kearney, an associate general counsel in the NLRB's advice division, wrote in a March 19 memo to the NLRB's regional director.

The non-union employees in the consolidated newsroom operation were primarily from the Contra Costa Times and other papers that were part of Contra Costa Newspapers. The union employees were primarily from the Oakland Tribune and other papers that had been part of Alameda Newspaper Group.

"In particular, we agree with the (NLRB Bay Area regional office) that the changes made by the employer were entrepreneurial in nature," Kearney wrote. "The employer did not violate the (labor) act by withdrawing recognition from the union."

The NLRB official also said the photography, sports, features, business, regional news and online content departments of the newspapers in the East Bay and San Mateo have been fully consolidated and integrated into an organization called Bay Area News Group-East Bay.

"Our goal all along was to organize a larger unit, the BANG-East Bay unit," said Carl Hall, a local representative for the Newspaper Guild. "I don't know what the practical effect of this ruling will be."

Hall said language in the NLRB memo may help define the appropriate scope for a bargaining unit.

The NLRB ruling will be helpful for the company, said John Armstrong, president and publisher of Bay Area News Group-East Bay.

"This decision allows us to continue to move forward to produce the best newspapers within our capacity," Armstrong said.


No-vote unionization would cost jobs

Hawaii State Rep. Sylvia Luke should be ashamed for sponsoring HB 2974. All Representatives and Senators who vote for this bill on the floor or in Committee should be ashamed for pushing minorities into the drivers seat for Hawaii job creation and retention. Make no mistake; HB2974 will cost Hawaii jobs.

Please read last year's Wall Street Journal editorial reprinted below and note how the personal liberty of workers and employers will evaporate if lawmakers succeed in getting HB 2974 to apply to Hawaii.

Since when does the minority rule?

Since when does the majority have to pay union dues just because the minority decides to sign a union membership card while attending some union party or beer bust?

Since when should consumers of Hawaii be stuck with higher prices due to higher costs because legislators keep employers from relying on market forces to set wages?

Legislators already set a minimum wage why now set union membership as a "state requirement" too?

Since when do elected representatives think it is wise to give monopoly power to one small group i.e. unions

Since when do elected representatives think that they create jobs? Bills like HB2974 will kill and export jobs!

Please vote no on this bill and insure that Hawaii keeps jobs and stays competitive in the world market place.


Walter Reuther's Ghost: Democrats vote to bar secret union ballots

Thursday, March 1, 2007 12:01 a.m.

The House of Representatives has scheduled a vote as early as today on a bill that strips 140 million U.S. workers of the right to decide in private whether to unionize. Naturally, it's called the Employee Free Choice Act.

Big Labor has been agitating to ease union-formation requirements for more than a decade. And prior to last year's election, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and their allies made it clear to Democrats that this vote would be the most important return they expected on their investment in a Nancy Pelosi Speakership. This is payback day.

The union claim is that employers are engaging in rampant unfair labor practices to prevent employees from exercising their right to organize. But data from the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees union elections, show no rise in such activities. The reality is that union membership has been in decline for decades, and labor leaders are desperate to rig the rules in order to reverse the trend. In the 1950s, 35% of private-sector workers were unionized. By the early 1980s the number had fallen to 20%, and today it stands at just 7.4%.

The reason for this decline isn't illegal management meddling in organizing efforts. The problem is that unions haven't been able to persuade the workers themselves. Our own, longstanding position is that when a company is organized it is almost always the company's fault. But workers of all classes and skills can also read the news and understand that unions no longer provide job security, if they ever did. The most heavily unionized industries--such as airlines and Detroit carmakers--are typically those that are financially beleaguered and shedding jobs. Workers know that unions often provide short-term wage gains at the cost of longer-term job insecurity.

All of which explains the drive to rewrite the rules and do away with secret-ballot elections administered by the NLRB, a procedure in place since the 1935 Wagner Act. Under current rules, once 30% of employees at a workplace express interest in unionizing by signing an authorization card, organizers can go to management and demand voluntary "card-check" recognition. The employer then has the option of recognizing the union or demanding an election.

It shouldn't be surprising that many workers who sign these cards later have second thoughts after getting the employer's side of the story. Workers sign cards for all kinds of reasons, including peer pressure and intimidation. It's not uncommon for an organizer to approach an employer with cards that show 90% of the workforce wants to unionize, only to have the percentage plummet once employees hear about the downside of a union shop and have a chance to vote by secret ballot. So Big Labor wants to dispense with these petty elections and make union recognition mandatory as soon as a simple majority of workers sign a card.

Notably, nearly every American business group is united in opposing this affront to worker freedom. They understand this will make organizing that much easier, thus making their own businesses that much less competitive. One business response would surely be to hire fewer workers--the opposite of what the unions claim to want.

The bill nonetheless has 234 co-sponsors, including seven Republicans, mostly from blue Northeast states such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Because the Senate is expected to filibuster the bill and the White House is threatening a veto, these Republicans may figure they can have it both ways: Score points with the unions by supporting a measure that isn't going anywhere. But Members who go on record opposing secret-ballot elections will also have some explaining to do the next time they ask for business support.

So far this Congress, Democrats have been trying to present themselves as "moderates" who won't return to their bad special-interest selves pre-1994. But this union-enabling bill strips away that mask and exposes an anti-business animus out of the 1970s, if not the 1930s. Even if it fails this Congress, this week's vote is a warning about what could become law if Democrats and their union backers hold all the levers of power after 2008.


AFSCME official: Union keeps your taxes low

Regarding the nefarious remarks made recently during the debate on collective bargaining in Iowa: It was mentioned over and over again that changing Chapter 20 and allowing public-sector unions the ability to negotiate on a broader number of subjects was going to raise taxes.

These statements are nothing more than a scare tactic aimed at intelligent Iowa taxpayers in a time of economic distress. The people making these statements would have us believe that unions are incapable of conducting negations in a fiscally responsible manner.

How soon they forget the concessions made by state employees to delay wage increases so the state Legislature would not have to raise taxes.

They forget that members of AFSCME Local 1868 Polk County Area Employees voluntarily took a two-year wage and hiring freeze so the Polk County Board of Supervisors would not have to raise taxes in order to stabilize its budget.

As a result of the employees' sacrifices, Polk County has an AAA bond rating - and it didn't cost taxpayers a dime.

- Dan Riley, president, AFSCME Local 1868, Des Moines


UAW-American Axle strike, week 5

The longest automotive strike in a decade turns 1 month old today, leaving American Axle losing millions, striking workers scrimping on $200 weekly strike pay -- and no end in sight. But while both American Axle and the United Auto Workers are suffering, each side says they have much more to lose if they give in. The company and its workers aren't the only ones losing, either: A new report estimates the strike has put as many as 40,000 out of work at related companies and is hampering the U.S. economy.

"Both sides are standing incredibly strong," said John Henke, auto analyst and president of Planning Perspectives Inc. "One side will have to come up with something unique to have a breakthrough."

The strike's issues are emblematic of the auto industry's current state: Executives at American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. say the company can't stay profitable if it continues to pay workers twice as much as some of its unionized rivals. Workers say they won't accept a 50 percent pay cut from a company that clearly was profitable last year. They say their house payments, children's college education and other bills will be out of reach if wages are cut from $28.15 to $14.50 an hour.

American Axle's largest customer is General Motors Corp., which has 29 plants at least partially shut down. GM is the so-far silent elephant in the negotiating room. High inventories and slow sales of the trucks and SUVs that use American Axle parts are keeping GM on the sideline and off the back of American Axle CEO Richard Dauch, Henke said.

"If GM was hurting, they'd push Dauch to the table," he said.
UAW wants job security

The lack of pressure from GM, combined with high stakes for both parties, has led to this now-historic stalemate. A 52-day walkout at two Flint GM plants in 1998 was the last time a UAW strike lasted more than a month.

Long strikes have become rare, said Mike Smith, director of the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University.

Since the late 1970s, the UAW's focus has shifted from gaining benefits and protections to securing jobs, he said. As part of that effort, union negotiators exchanged givebacks on wages for jobs.

The union has consented to wage givebacks, in bankruptcy court, for money-losing suppliers Delphi Corp. and Dana Corp. Last year, the union agreed to allow automakers to pay new hires less.

But the UAW knows that if American Axle wins concessions, other successful suppliers will want the same, Henke said.

"For American Axle, it's not about losing money this month or this year; it's a strategic play to get labor cost in line three to five years from now," he said. "For the workers, they don't want to accept less pay, but if they don't, will they have a job in five years?"

Experts say the UAW will resist wage cuts without offers of bonuses and buyouts to soften the blow to workers, pointing out that just such bonuses were cornerstones of the Delphi and Dana deals.
Strike's effect widens

Workers such as Eric Holland say they have little incentive to cut a deal and get back to work.

He said his daughter, a freshman at Saginaw Valley State University, urged him to go back, so he could help with tuition bills.

"I had to tell her if I accept a $10-an-hour wage cut, I won't be able to help out much more than I can on strike pay," said Holland, a Roseville resident.

While many workers said the strike would be short at the outset, now they have dug in.

"I think it could go at least another month," John Grunwald said. As winds whipped against his picket sign, he added: "We're not willing to go back for nothing."

The company and the union are holding occasional talks, American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said. "We have reached understandings on some key issues. Bargaining is moving ahead, slowly."

After turning a $200 million loss in 2006 into a profit last year, the company risks slipping into the red if the strike is not resolved.

"Depending how long the strike goes on, they will lose revenues that are not likely to be made up, considering the current vehicle market," said Standard & Poor's analyst Robert Schulz. But so far, he said, the impact has been minimal.

Still, the strike's effect has widened beyond American Axle and General Motors.

Global Insight Inc. estimates that as many as 40,000 workers are laid off as a result of the strike, as dozens of suppliers to GM idle their lines. The lost revenue from vehicle sales will result in a 0.3 percent decline in annual U.S. economic output for the first quarter, deepening a projected fall, said Brian Bethun, Global Insight's chief U.S. financial economist.

"Given that economy is not growing much," he said, "it's a pretty significant impact."


Security guards go out on strike

A juvenile delinquent centre in Joliette and a military recruit training facility in Farnham were the first places hit in a series of rotating strikes launched yesterday by Quebec's 14,000 unionized security guards in search of a new and better contract. The next two targets could hit closer to Montreal today, suggested the local co-ordinator for the United Steelworkers, which represents the guards. "There's a strong possibility the (strikes) will be in Montreal," Robert Bernier said.

He explained there will be a pair of 24-hour walkouts daily until Friday, "when we will have a meeting to see about our strategy for next week."

The pressure tactic was initiated after the guards last week rejected the latest contract offer from their employers' group, the Association provinciale des agences de sécurité.

It threatens to affect the protection of private, public and commercial properties - including financial institutions and hospitals, where the guards are assigned to psychiatric wings and emergency wards.

A spokesperson for the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal indicated there is a contingency plan in case the rotating strikes hit the Hôtel Dieu, Notre Dame or St. Luc hospitals it operates.

Chantal Huot said CHUM management will fill in and have been assured by Garda World Security Corp. that the security firm will assist if its guards go on strike.

Garda is one of the many companies that make up the employers' group.

Other major firms include Securitas Quebec, Sécurité Kolossal and the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires.

Association brass declined to comment on the situation yesterday.


Residential garbage fee hiked to pay Teamsters

Toledo City Council, after hours of wrangling, last night approved a general fund operating budget for 2008 that includes an increase from $5.50 to $7 a month for the city’s trash collection fee.

However, those who recycle will see their rate drop a dollar, from $3 to $2 a month.

The 8-4 vote came after a debate that became so testy that Councilman Betty Shultz motioned to adjourn the meeting, although no other council members supported the move.

The trash fee, which raises about $4.8 million a year and would have expired April 30 had it not been approved by council, will increase again on May 1, 2009, to $8.50 a month for those who don’t recycle and drop to $1 for those who do.

Beginning May 1, 2010, the fee will increase again to $10 a month for those who don’t recycle, and drop to zero for those who participate in recycling.

The current fee is $5.50 a month, or $3 for those who pledge to participate in curbside recycling.

Councilmen Joe McNamara and D. Michael Collins crafted the new proposal aimed at encouraging more Toledoans to recycle.

Voting to approve the fee were Councilmen McNamara, Collins, Mike Craig, George Sarantou, Mrs. Shultz, Mark Sobczak, Tom Waniewski, and Wilma Brown.

“We are moving to killing the refuse fee by 2010,” Mr. McNamara said.

Voting no were Councilmen Phil Copeland, Frank Szollosi, Lindsay Webb, and Michael Ashford.

Mr. Sarantou previously introduced a trash fee schedule that would have continued the current fee until May 1, 2009, at which time it would have increased to $8.50 a month for those who recycle and $1 a month for those who don’t.

His plan also had the fee raised to $10 for those who don’t recycle, and drop to zero for those who participate in recycling by 2010.

That measure was tabled by an 8-4 vote after Mr. McNamara requested the vote.

Mr. Copeland, Mr. Sarantou, Mrs. Shultz, and Mr. Sobczak voted against tabling that amendment.

The vote on the trash fee came after city Law Director John Madigan announced that Mr. Sobczak, vice president of Teamsters Local 20, which represents refuse collection employees, would not have to abstain from the vote.

It’s not clear how many Toledoans will opt for the recycling discount.

When the current fee went into effect, the Finkbeiner administration predicted the rate of recycling would increase from 17 percent to about 40 percent because of the $2.50 monthly savings. Instead, the recycling level only increased to about 26 percent.

Although he later voted to approve the $7/$2 trash fee, Mr. Sobczak labeled it as “unconscionable” because renters may not get the option to pay the recycling rate.

That brought a retort from Mr. Collins, who noted that the fee didn’t exist at all last year until it was enacted, with Mr. Sobczak’s support.

After the trash fee debacle was settled, council spent three hours on what appeared to be last-minute adjustments to the operating budget.

Mr. Szollosi pushed for votes on a number of changes to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s proposed $254.2 million budget, which is a 2.7 percent increase over the 2007 spending level.

Mr. Sobczak said Mr. Szollosi was calling for last-minute changes.

“That was a gross mischaracterization,” Mr. Szollosi said.

Council approved three additional cuts to the budget, totalling $424,000, which gave them money to move up the city’s next police class. The cuts were achieved by:

• Eliminating $100,000 through a hiring freeze and not filling vacancies.

• Cutting $400,000 from the fund that covers the city’s fleet of vehicles — taking that fund from $11.1 million to $10.7 million.

• Taking back $24,000 from the municipal court personal services fund.

Mr. Szollosi said he intended for those cuts to be used as a way to completely kill the trash fee.

“Once it became clear that the votes were there to continue the trash fee, I could have put up a fight or I could use the savings to accelerate the police and fire classes,” he said.

Council unanimously approved Ms. Webb’s suggestion that the new police class begin Oct. 1 and firefighters on Dec. 1, at a cost of about $290,000, instead of both classes starting on Dec. 1.

That left the city with a surplus of $134,000.

Mr. Collins said starting the police class in December would have resulted in fewer than 630 officers in the city at the start of 2009 because 30 officers are expected to retire at the end of this year.

Council also voted 10-2 to allocate $75,000 toward the salary of a director of economic development and $25,000 to the publicly funded Lucas County Improvement Corp.

Mayor Finkbeiner is the city’s director of economic development. Mr. Craig and Mr. Ashford voted no.

The vote to approve the budget, after the revisions, was 9-3. Voting against were Mr. Collins, Mr. Szollosi, and Mr. Ashford.

After the meeting, Mr. Szollosi said: “I felt as though we could realize greater savings and I feel as though the extension of the garbage tax is unfair to the citizens.”


Union circles back to Delta for dues

Delta Air Lines Inc. flight attendants will vote in April to decide whether to join the Association of Flight Attendants union. Atlanta, Ga.-based Delta said the vote period has beet set for April 23 to June 3. The National Mediation Board (NMB) told Delta in March it had authorized a union election among Delta flight attendants, but at that time the NMB did not specify dates for the voting period.

"Delta flight attendants will make one of the most important decisions of their careers over the coming months as they choose between a direct relationship with Delta's management team or the cost and risk of a third-party representative," said Joanne Smith, senior vice president of in-flight service and global product development for Delta. "Our flight attendants have long been successful at speaking for themselves and we continually demonstrate our willingness to respond quickly and directly to their individual and collective feedback. I'm asking all of our flight attendants to make an educated choice, based on fact."

Smith said Delta flight attendants have higher rates of pay, a better profit sharing program and a better performance rewards program than unionized flight attendants at other airlines.

"In contrast, the AFA's track record at other network carriers is not a good one," she said. "The AFA has demonstrated that its members have not been protected from pay cuts, job loss, pension termination or any other changes affecting the airline industry. And flight attendants at those other airlines also must pay hundreds of dollars per year in union dues."

AFA argues union membership has its advantages.

"Delta flight attendants know that their colleagues at AFA-CWA represented airlines not only have experience in the fluctuations of the airline industry, but have learned how to negotiate programs and policies that offer real solutions," said Patricia Friend, AFA-CWA International president. "For example, when Northwest flight attendants negotiated an early out program, more that $16 million of cost savings generated from the plan went directly back into the pockets of the remaining flight attendants."

Over the past 18 months, Delta flight attendants have run a grass roots campaign to unionize, AFA noted.

"We need a voice -- more so than at any other time -- to be able to negotiate for our own future, and to have a say in how a merger, or a layoff might affect us," said Toni Weinfurtner, Delta flight attendant and AFA-CWA activist. "We will have that voice when we join the tens of thousands of our fellow flight attendants across the country at the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA."

Delta flight attendants overwhelmingly rejected unionization in February 2002. This latest vote marks the first time since 2002 that the flight attendants have attempted to organize their nearly 14,000-strong workforce.


Left-wing front groups want sick-or-not pay

At her last job, Suely Hernandez’s employer wouldn’t let her off sick unless she had a doctor’s note. As a single mother of two young children, she sometimes had to work sick, with unpleasant consequences. “I had to leave the sales floor to throw up, and my boss still made me stay there,” said Hernandez, a Hartford resident and member of the city’s chapter of social justice group ACORN. In February, she appeared before the state Senate’s labor committee to testify about the state’s need for the paid sick days bill along with other members of ACORN.

For its proponents, the sick leave bill is a necessary measure that workers have a clear and present need for. The bill would require state employers with 25 or more employees to provide employees with paid sick leave at a rate of one hour for 40 hours worked. According to everybodybenefits.org, a Web site established by ACORN to promote the bill, 40 percent of workers in Connecticut don’t receive any paid sick days.

“It’s one of those issues that the more it gets out there and talked about the better its chances become. It’s such a commonsensical idea,” said Jon Green, executive director for Connecticut’s Working Families Party.

The bill’s opponents believe it would unfairly burden the state’s business owners, who they say already do a fair job of providing workers with sick leave without a legislative directive.

“The more you mandate, the less you give businesses flexibility,” Connecticut Business and Industry Association spokesperson Kia Murrell said. According to a March survey of CBIA members, 87 percent of those businesses said government-mandated paid sick leave would harm their bottom line.

In 2007, when it was first proposed, several high-profile politicians, including Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Attorney. Gen. Richard Blumenthal turned out in support of the bill. It was passed in the state Senate 23-13, but was never brought up on the house floor.

“Last year, to be frank, it went further than we thought it would go. It’s a big issue. It’s not a minor technical kind of change,” Green said. “It’s uncommon, and a testament to the overall appeal of the issue itself.”

Green said getting the bill through the legislature will be difficult despite its momentum because of this year’s short legislative session.

The CBIA is urging lawmakers not to pass the bill — on its Web site, they’ve tracked its progress and enumerated their criticisms of the bill’s intent. Their March 20 government affairs report decried the bill as a “‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to mandating paid sick leave that will increase business costs, cause workplace disruptions and potentially hurt employees instead of help them.”

While similar measures have been passed in other states and Washington D.C., the Connecticut version of the bill is more far-reaching than others. However, Green emphasized that in a global context, the bill is a necessary corrective.

“The reality is that almost every nation has a policy like this at a federal level. The ones that don’t aren’t countries we should be in the same category as,” Green said. “We joke about how even Kazakhstan has a better sick day [policy] than ours. Borat can get paid sick days, but not us.”


Anti-democratic unionization vote ban touted

Al Franken, the satirist turned U.S. Senate candidate, launched an offensive here Tuesday in a State Capitol rally — with U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., launching his re-election bid today. “We’re going to hold Norm Coleman accountable for what he’s done in the U.S. Senate,” Franken said before several hundred supporters, some showing union signs. “Because while he’s been in Washington, the people of Minnesota have indeed been brought together. George W. Bush and Norm Coleman have taken this country in the wrong direction — and they’ve taken all of us with them.”

Coleman kicks off his campaign today, with the theme “Bringing Minnesota Together Tour,” starting in St. Paul. The Republican will do a four-day swing through Minnesota, visiting congressional district GOP conventions and cities across the state.

He’s not scheduled to campaign in Bemidji, but will be in Hibbing on Saturday, his only northern stop outside of Duluth today.

Franken, whose competitors for the DFL nomination include University of St. Thomas Professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, picked up key endorsements Tuesday from House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis — bringing to 65 the endorsements he has from legislators — and from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Endorsements also came from House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, and Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virgina.

Also, union endorsements came from electrical workers and transportation workers.

“Instead of just thinking about the next quarter, we can think about the next quarter century,” Franken said. “We can end the Bush War on Science, and make permanent the research and development tax credit, so that the next great idea comes from right here in Minnesota. We can invest in early childhood education, to give every child a fair chance to succeed in this new century. And we can replace our cowboy foreign policy with one that engages our allies and addresses global challenges, instead of just responding to threats.”

Among campaign promises, Franken said he would call for a freeze on home mortgage foreclosures, fully fund the Veterans Administration “so that every vet can have access to full physical, mental and long-term care for life,” support a new G.I. Bill for education, raise the minimum wage and support the Employee Free Choice Act and end the war in Iraq “quickly and responsibly, and bring our troops home.”

His cornerstone, Franken said, is universal health care. “Instead of being last in the industrialized world in preventive health care, instead of bankrupting our families and our nation with escalating health care costs, we can have universal health care and join the community of nations that covers every citizen,” he said.

Franken set the stage for a battle with Coleman by saying the Republican has been lockstep with the Bush administration until only recently, calling Coleman a “rubber stamp” for Bush.

He recalled a Coleman statement six months after Sen. Paul Wellstone’s death in which he said he was a “99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone.” Coleman later apologized, saying he meant he was a 99 percent improvement over Wellstone “in terms of supporting the White House.”

And Franken said Coleman has followed the administration in being “a cheerleader” for the war in Iraq, support for Bush’s economic plan “of irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy,” serving as an “attack dog” for Bush during the 2004 presidential race, and voting to not allow negotiations for drug prices in the new Medicare Part D.

Franken quoted Wellstone, who held the seat before Coleman, that “the future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard.” Franken said he is “so passionate about what we can achieve together.”


Pilots move to reject Teamster extortion

The “Strong Union” leaders that helped form IBT Local 1108 to organize fractional pilots in 2004 resigned from the local last week in the wake of “a resurgent decertification movement” being led by a group called NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots.

A decertification effort was defeated in 2004 when the NetJets pilots were allowed to switch from Local 284 to form their own local (1108), but NetJets pilot and outgoing IBT 1108 president Bill Olsen said the new effort is being driven by “complaints that are structural in nature.

Topping this list is the fact that 25 percent of union dues–a sum estimated at nearly $1.5 million this year and expected to exceed $2.5 million per year by 2013–goes to the IBT. “The pilot group’s perception is that representation by an independent union…is a better use of dues monies than continuing the current representation structure,” Olsen said in his resignation letter to IBT president James Hoffa.

Meanwhile, Flight Options master executive council chairman Mat Slinghoff has been appointed 1108’s executive board trustee to ensure that the local can continue to represent Flight Options pilots.


Unions in stunt v. worker-choice advocate

A man filed a lawsuit against City Councilman Ryan Frazier on Tuesday in Arapahoe County District Court, saying Frazier did not respond to his open-records request. Foster Hines is seeking documents concerning Frazier's campaign contributions.

Hines says board members of Carollo Engineers donated about $1,500 to Frazier's campaign on the same day last year that the City Council approved a contract for Carollo for the city's Prairie Waters Project.

Frazier, who has supported a right-to-work ballot initiative, said Hines is being backed by a pro-labor group out to attack him.

City Attorney Charlie Richardson called the suit a "political stunt."


Dem power-grab shames Right To Work state

Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald once said he didn't have to even try to be funny during Watergate. He just wrote what President Nixon said and people laughed. It's too bad Buchwald isn't alive to see what's going on with the Democrats these days.

James Carville, pal-in-chief to the Clintons, took a few moments during Holy Week to compare New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to Judas after Richardson endorsed Barack Obama. The "act of betrayal" pushed Carville over the edge, and he started jabbering about "30 pieces of silver."

Bill Clinton was talking up Hillary's candidacy in North Carolina the other day and said: "I think it would be a great thing if we had an election between two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interests of the country and people could actually ask themselves who is right on the issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics."

The two people he was talking about - the ones who love the country - are John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Apparently not Obama.

Talk about being pushed over the edge. Gordon Fischer, a Des Moines lawyer, former head of the Iowa Democratic Party and an Obama supporter, wrote in his blog:

"B. Clinton questions Obama's patriotism. In repsonse (sic), an Obama aide compared B. Clinton to Joe McCarthy. This is patently unfair. To McCarthy.

"When Joe McCarthy questioned others' patriotism, McCarthy (1) actually believed, at least aparently (sic), the questions were genuine, and (2) he did so in order to build up, not tear down, his own party, the GOP. Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping - instead he is hurting - his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica's blue dress."

All hell broke loose when this showed up on ABC political reporter Jake Tapper's blog Monday. Obama press flack Tommy Vietor said Fischer's comments were terrible, simply unacceptable. It was a written statement, so there was no way to know if Vietor was smiling when he expressed his disgust.

Anyway, Fischer backed off big time, taking down the original posting, then writing: "On my individual blog, I made a stupid comment. I sincerely apologize for a tasteless and gratituous (sic) comment I made here about President Clinton. It was unnecessary and wrong. I have since deleted the comment, and again apologize for making it. It will not happen again. I hope my readers will accept my apology and we can move on to the very important issues facing our state and country. Thank you."

Apparently it wasn't enough. Four hours later, Fischer wrote, "To be absolutely clear, my apology ... extends [mostly and especially] to all of the Clintons' supporters, staff, and to the Clintons themselves. Again, I am very sorry - especially to them - for stupid, tasteless, and insensitive remarks. I hope they will consider accepting my apology, and perhaps even forgiving my transgression."

Fischer shouldn't beat himself up too much. After all, Carville is sticking with his "Judas" remark.

This thing is ugly, and a lot of Democrats are going to stay permanently ticked at one another.

I had a talk with a friend last week who is a big Obama supporter. Same with his wife. I asked what they would do in November if Hillary ends up with the Democratic nomination.

"Vote for McCain," he said. "No way would we vote for Hillary. Either one of us. Not after what the Clintons have done. The only way they could get it is if they stole it. So it'd be McCain. Or we'd stay home."

I told a Republican friend about this, a guy who does a little dance every day watching the Democrats trying to destroy themselves. He said he talked to a Hillary supporter in his rural Iowa community and got pretty much the same thing in reverse.

"She's basically said it's Hillary or nothing," he told me.

Finally, we have the Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature in a snippy little fight with the Democrat in the governor's office. Gov. Chet Culver begged his party's senators to actually give Iowans some time to consider the sweeping legislation - already ramrodded through the House - that would strip local governments and school boards of some of their powers.

Opponents say the bill would raise everybody's taxes and is a power grab by labor unions that write fat checks to Democrats. That makes Culver and local elected officials very nervous. Senate Democrats passed the bill anyway Monday, basically telling Culver and most of the rest of us to get lost.

Culver said Tuesday that he might just veto the bill. Hours earlier, Senate President Jack Kibbie, an Emmetsburg Democrat, said the governor wouldn't dare.


"Because of his future," Kibbie said. "He's running on the Democratic ticket, I presume."

This would be a great time for the governor to get mad and give Iowa Senate Democrats an old-fashioned, John Culver-style, red-faced, table-pounding butt-chewing.

He'd make his old man proud. And the rest of us too.


GM uses UAW supplier-strike to pare losses

A labor strike at a supplier may force General Motors’ Lordstown complex to cut production and lay off workers. Workers could be laid off later this week or early next week, leaders of United Auto Workers Local 1112 said in a flier Tuesday. The plant is running short of a brake spindle that is forged by American Axle, a Detroit-based supplier that was hit by a UAW strike Feb. 26. About 3,600 American Axle workers are off the job at plants in Michigan and New York in a contract dispute.

The flier doesn’t make it clear how much of the Lordstown complex could be shut down. Union officials could not be reached to comment.

Dan Flores, a GM spokesman, said he can’t comment on potential effects of the supplier strike.

So far, however, the strike has shut down GM plants that produce pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles and component plants that produce metal stampings and engines for those plants.

Production at 29 GM plants has either been totally or partially shutdown. Most of the partial shutdowns are at engine and stamping plants that are continuing to produce parts for assembly plants that are running. Also, a Hummer plant operated by AM General has been partially closed.

When production stops at an assembly plant, salaried workers continue to report as do some hourly workers who are needed for maintenance and other duties, GM says on a Web site about the strike’s effects.

It said it isn’t releasing the number of employees who are laid off because it changes daily.

In Lordstown, GM has an assembly plant that produces the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 with about 2,400 hourly employees and a metal fabricating plant with about 1,000 hourly employees.

Union officials said in the flier they think laid-off workers would receive unemployment compensation and supplemental benefits provided in the union contract. The two benefits provide more than 90 percent of a worker’s take-home pay for a 40-hour week.

The flier said management has not announced any scheduled changes and more information would be released when it is known.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that talks in the American Axle strike are continuing. The company is proposing lower pay and benefits.

The flier also said talks on a new local labor contract for Local 1112 are going well. Management and union officials are meeting daily in hopes of reaching an agreement before the GM board of directors meets in June.

GM has told the union it is slated to receive a new model in 2009 and another one in 2010, but it needs to have a new local labor contract first.

The board of directors must approve any investments in preparing the local complex for the new models.

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