Unions blamed for Golden State budget woes

The state has an $8 billion hole in next year’s $141 billion budget, which does not include the $2 billion we overspent this past year. The state needs to find an additional $10 billion just to balance the budget. Fixing budgets is very easy. All you have to do is increase your revenue or lower your expenses. The Democratic legislators think the problem is a lack of taxes Californians pay.

The Republicans think it is overspending. Most of the problems occur when certain programs have an automatic 7.5% increase, yet the tax revenue only increases by 3%.

Another part of the overspending is self inflicted by the voters of California who pass any bond measure that has a good 30-second commercial.

While digging into the state debt load recently, I was surprised to see that we are still paying back 1970 bonds that were authorized when I was in the sixth grade.

California has a total of more than $42 billion in general obligation bonds outstanding and another $61 billion that were already approved by the voters, but not yet issued, for a total of $103 billion in bond debt.

The payments on the issued debt are more than $6 billion a year and growing at 12.2% per year. That means before we pay $1 for anything we must first pay $6 billion for bond debt.

The largest part of the state budget is personnel. In that category the Sacramento Bee did a great service this month for the taxpayers and compiled a database of salaries by name and job title of all 367,680 full- or part-time employees who cash a state paycheck. www.sacbee.com/statepay.

This database includes every UC Irvine professor, state trooper, highway worker and clerk.

Needless to say, many state employees have blown a gasket that these public records, which were always available upon request, are now on a searchable database accessible to all Californians.

Did you know the 186 staff psychiatrists we have in the prison system make a base salary of $258,708 per year and that the 22 chief psychiatrists we have make $282,792?

We have 257 employees of the state Senate and Assembly who make more than $100,000 with the top earners breaking $200,000. That’s more than the legislators they work for get paid.

Our own UCI had 157 employees who made more than $150,000 base pay, with 28 making $200,000. You will note that I am talking only about base pay.

When you add in overtime, bonuses and grants; five UC employees made more than $1 million. In fact, 91 UC employees took home more than $500,000 gross pay. These numbers do not include healthcare benefits and lifetime pensions.

A really disturbing part of searching the database is to see how many state workers make more than $200,000 per year. Just four years ago there were 36, today there are almost 1,000. One in 14 state employees make more than $100,000 per year.

According to the Bee, the highest paid 10% of state workers had their pay jump almost 25% in the 38 months from November of 2003 to January of 2007. It is impossible to balance a state budget with those types of increases.

Now, clearly all state workers are not overpaid, and some actually earn every dime they make. But when you figure in the overly generous pension plans and lifetime heath benefits, plus the fact that it is almost impossible to be fired; it is not a bad gig.

The state budget has been growing out of control for years. Besides the lack of adult supervision in Sacramento we have also made a mess with so-called campaign finance reforms.

All that these laws have done is restrict the speech of Californians by limiting what a person can give to a candidate for state office and at the same time allow public employee unions to use mandatory union dues for political campaigns with no limits on what they can spend.

Organizations like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Assn., who fight to keep taxes down, have a hard time competing with unions that electronically take union dues out of each state worker’s paycheck, under the guise of union dues, and spend most of it on political campaigns without the worker’s permission.

In 1998, I and two other Orange County residents, Mark Bucher and current Mission Viejo City Councilman Frank Ury, put an initiative on the ballot to stop the practice (Proposition 226).

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put a similar one on the ballot in 2005 (Proposition 75). Both times it was defeated by state labor unions using those same workers’ dues to fight it.

California will never get its financial house in order as long as the state employee labor unions decide who is going to be in office.

There is an old saying, “You dance with the one that brought you.” In California, the state labor unions brought most of our legislators to the dance, and we have a $10 billion budget deficit to prove it.


UPS welcomes Teamsters to Alabama

Workers at UPS Freight terminals in Mobile, Birmingham, Dothan and Phenix City have signed cards to join the Teamsters, the union said. In 2006, Atlanta-based UPS agreed to allow the Teamsters to organize individual terminals if a majority of workers at a terminal signed authorization cards, instead of having a formal union election.

UPS Freight was formed when UPS bought trucking firm Overnite Corp. in 2005 for $1.25 billion. The Teamsters already represent workers at UPS' package service.

Teamsters officials said they have organized more than 9,600 of the roughly 12,000 UPS Freight workers during a 90-day blitz.

"These workers will now have a voice on the job, and this will move them toward a more secure future with the Teamsters," said Jim Gookins, secretary-treasurer of Mobile-based Local 991. The Mobile terminal is on Anton Street, near the Prichard-Mobile border.


Pro-union Dems boost GOP chances

Iowa Republicans have been handed a gift by Democrats in the Legislature who want Gov. Chet Culver to sign a bill expanding the collective bargaining power of public employee unions. Democratic leaders rammed the legislation through while Culver was on spring break with his family in Florida on the presumption that he would quietly sign it. Instead, he's turned a spotlight on the somewhat shady process and handed Republicans a campaign issue that might help them regain control of the Iowa House in November.

The issue is House File 2645, which would strengthen the hand of public employee unions at the bargaining table by widening the scope of issues that are likely to go to arbitration to include work rules, disciplinary actions and other issues that previously received little consideration at bargaining sessions.

It would be the first significant change to Iowa's public employee bargaining law since it was passed in 1974 by a bipartisan Legislature and approved by Republican Gov. Robert Ray. That law allows public employees to join unions and bargain for wages and benefits, but they cannot strike. Impasses are resolved through binding arbitration.

From a union standpoint, the 1974 law was a weak effort. But it's one that most Iowans have been comfortable with for the past 34 years.

Now, union members believe that they helped provide the votes in 2006 to put Democrats in charge of both houses of the Legislature and the executive branch for the first time since 1966. They also believe they deserve something in return, and House File 2645 is it.

There are several ways to look at this situation, and they all amount to a no-lose deal for Republican candidates for the Legislature in a state where only about 10 percent of workers belong to unions.

A friend asked whether we might be seeing a resurgence in labor power in Iowa, given that House File 2645 sailed through the Iowa House and Senate in a scant six days.

More likely, we're seeing a last-gasp effort.

The quick action came near the end of the session when a lot of strange stuff happens. And it happened when the governor, who is raising a ruckus now, was on vacation.

The Iowa House is the key chamber for this or any other piece of labor legislation, because Democrats hold a slimmer 53-47 lead there, while in the Senate they have a 10-vote edge.

Last year, the House killed the so-called "fair share" labor bill that would have let unions collect money from the paychecks of nonunion members to cover certain union expenses.

Like the measures contained in House File 2645, fair share was barely mentioned during the 2006 campaign. Nonetheless, fair share was on track early in last year's session to pass both houses with the expectation that Culver would sign it, until the heat became too much and a handful of House Democrats bailed out. Leaders knew they couldn't get the 51 votes they needed, so they never brought it to the House floor.

After fair share, Democratic leaders apparently decided to wait this year until the end of the session to push through the public employees work-rules bill.

It passed the House with one vote to spare, 52-47. It passed the Senate on a vote of 27-23 a few days later.

Culver wants the bill to go back for reconsideration because there was no public input. That's a highly unusual move for a bill that's already passed both houses.

If that happens, though, officials say the bill would probably get fewer than 51 votes and fail.

Today, Culver is the only thing keeping the bill from becoming law.

He's between a rock and a hard place, and Republicans love it.

If you're a GOP strategist, it probably doesn't matter what Culver does, because once the law passes even one house, it's fair game for the fall campaign.

Now that the governor has stood up against the bill, Republicans can use his words against his party's candidates in the fall election.

If he signs it, so much the better. Republicans would call him a hypocrite.

The thing that has a lot of people scratching their heads is why Democrats in the Legislature went ahead and passed the bill without getting a sign-off from their own governor.

There's two ways to look at that. Either they got a sign-off and Culver reneged, or they didn't tell him what they were up to and just assumed he'd go along. After all, he was on board last year for fair share.

Judging by Culver's reaction, they didn't tell him.

That was clearly a strategic mistake.

My initial reaction to the larger issue is: Why not give unions the same bargaining powers for work rules, disciplinary actions and other issues that unions in the private sector have? If you're going to have collective bargaining, make it fair.

People opposed to the change worry that an arbitrator will put a city or county or school district in an untenable financial bind by siding with labor on an issue that will bankrupt public treasuries.

The pro-union people - like Dick Dearden, the Des Moines Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee - say that won't happen, because no arbitrator would ever knowingly put a city or school board in financial peril.

Not knowingly. But what about a city council or school board that is too naive to see what's at stake and point out the key financial issues to the arbitrator?

If they are that naive, and some boards and administrators are, then maybe their community deserves what it gets.

That's the argument I presented to Peter Pashler, who practices public-sector law and was the first director of the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board, back in the 1970s.

Pashler did not agree with my survival-of-the fittest theory of local governments.

He said that what bothered him, and what bothers a lot of other people, including the governor, is a legislative process that didn't allow for any public input.

"A reasoned approach would have identified areas of the law that could have been improved," Pashler said. But what the Legislature did was an end run of the whole process, he said.


Big Entertainment preps for another strike

The industry-crippling writers' strike may have only ended less than two months ago, yet the word that now makes us cringe is rearing its ugly head once again in Hollywood. Members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) want a better deal than the WGA got from the AMPTP and have made it clear that they're going to fight tooth and nail to get what they deserve.

This weekend, the Joint Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists National Wages and Working Conditions Committee are meeting to approve a contract proposal so that the negotiation process can get underway with the AMPTP.

With a June 30 deadline looming, the AMPTP has requested both sides get to the bargaining table as early as next week in hopes of avoiding another extremely unpleasant situation that has already cost the industry upwards of $2 billion. Since most television series go into production in the summer, a strike could delay the fall television season indefinitely.

Fasten your seat belts folks; this could be a very bumpy ride.


SEIU makes example of radical leftist

Despite reviewing the file of Sara Jane Olson multiple times since December, prison administrators and clerks failed to catch the miscalculation that led to the premature release of the former 1970s radical, officials said. Olson, 61, was paroled March 17, a year before her sentence was to end. She was re-arrested five days later after the error was caught.

The corrections department has launched an internal review into what went wrong. Three rank-and-file workers who calculate inmate release dates and two supervisors are under investigation.

The union representing prison clerks released information indicating that correction department supervisors reviewed Olson's case last December and periodically this year. The last review was 10 days before her parole from the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.

At one point, a clerk spent 90 minutes going over the complicated case with a supervisor, who agreed with the clerk's parole calculation, the union said.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents 15,000 civilian employees in the state prison system, released the information because it fears some of its members will be blamed for the mix up, union spokesman Jim Zamora said.

"If a piece of paper is missing from that file, a mistake can be made," he said. "One of our members may or may not have made a clerical error, but they had extensive review."

Officials involved with state prison matters say the mistake illustrates the complexity of California's multilayered criminal sentencing laws.

Olson's premature release was discovered after reporters and Sacramento County prosecutors questioned whether the former Symbionese Liberation Army member had served her full sentence. The subsequent review by corrections officials found that she still had a year to serve.

"There's no doubt about it, there were layers of review," said Seth Unger, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "This is a very unique case in which you're applying sentencing laws that were in place three decades ago to a case today. There were certainly opportunities along the way for mistakes to be made."

Olson was serving a 14-year sentence after pleading guilty to the attempted bombing of Los Angeles police cars in the 1970s and a 1975 bank robbery in a Sacramento suburb that left a customer dead.

An error led officials to believe Olson was serving a 12-year sentence instead. Prisoners typically serve half their sentence, leading to Olson's release earlier this month after serving six years.

Corrections officials say her actual release date is in March 2009.

The Symbionese Liberation Army, started in 1973, was a group of mostly middle class college students who hoped to foment a violent social revolution. It was best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and a 1974 shootout with Los Angeles police in which six SLA members were killed.

Olson, then named Kathleen Soliah, became a fugitive and fled to St. Paul, Minn., where she married a doctor and raised three children. She was recaptured in 1999 and negotiated plea agreements in the California cases.


UAW flush, but dues in free-fall

Membership in the United Auto Workers dropped sharply last year to a new post-World War II low, reflecting a dramatic retrenchment of the U.S. auto industry and widespread buyouts at Detroit's Big Three automakers and suppliers. The Detroit-based union's membership declined by 13.7 percent to 464,910, a loss of 73,538 members compared with 2006, according to the union's annual report filed Friday with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The UAW has lost 237,000 members since the end of 2001 as Detroit automakers and suppliers have cut jobs and closed factories to become more competitive with lower-cost rivals.

"The UAW may finally have stemmed the bleeding," said Harley Shaiken, a professor of labor studies at the University of California at Berkeley. "But clearly no union was going to be able to withstand the implosion of the domestic auto industry without heavy losses in membership."

The 2007 membership tally is the lowest since 1941, when the UAW was 5 years old and had 460,791 members. Membership peaked in 1979 at 1.5 million.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson declined to comment Friday on the report.

The union has long argued that a 12-month average membership count is more accurate than the figure reported to the government, which is membership as of Dec. 31, 2007. By that count, the UAW's membership declined from 576,131 in 2006 to 512,560 in 2007, according to the union.

The UAW has vowed to reverse the declines, although it has been unsuccessful at organizing new U.S. auto plants opened by foreign automakers.
Union works to extend reach

The union has made some small gains among suppliers -- notably organizing 2,000 members at Toledo-based Dana Corp. -- and has more than 100,000 members in its technical, office and professional unit who aren't connected to the auto industry.

On Friday, the UAW praised the signing of legislation granting collective bargaining rights to research assistants, teaching assistants and others at Washington State University.

UAW membership includes thousands of casino workers in Detroit and elsewhere, Wayne County assistant prosecutors and more than 25,000 teaching assistants in Washington, California and Massachusetts. The UAW represents 22,000 workers in Michigan government as well.

The ranks of the UAW fell even as overall union membership in the country climbed slightly last year, with 7.5 percent of private sector workers belonging to a union. In Michigan, 842,000 workers in the public and private sector belonged to a union last year -- 19.6 percent of all workers -- up from 819,000 in 2006. Michigan has the fourth-highest number of union workers in the United States.

The UAW's decline mirrors that of the entire auto and auto parts industry. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that auto and auto parts employment had dropped 12.9 percent over the last year to 946,700 jobs nationwide in February, down from 1.02 million.

Automakers and suppliers continue to shed jobs amid worries that 2008 could be the worst year for auto sales in a decade.

In recent weeks, General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC have rolled out more buyout and early retirement offers to encourage veteran workers to leave who could be replaced with lower-paid new hires under new labor contracts negotiated with the UAW last year.

At the same time, some of the recruiting challenges facing the union are evident in the situation at Detroit-based supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. Last month, more than 3,600 UAW-represented workers went on strike at American Axle, shutting down plants in Michigan and New York.

"They aren't helping themselves with recruiting efforts with the American Axle strike," said Gerald Meyers, a University of Michigan business professor and former chairman of American Motors. But a labor deal that cuts workers' wages in half "could also ruin their organizing effort," he said.

Meyers said the UAW needs a two-tier recruiting strategy that targets workers at U.S. auto plants run by foreign automakers, known as transplants, and non-automotive membership.

"They have to go after the transplants with a new approach -- a new formula," Meyers said. "The transplants are aging. The people are getting older and the transplants are trying to cut down on wages and benefits. The more they go after cost reductions the more vulnerable they become to organizing."

Meyers said the union also needs to focus on industries where it has made progress, such as government workers and casino workers.

Shaiken said the UAW may have more success with one of its top priorities, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, if a Democrat is elected president this fall.

The UAW says the act makes it easier for workers to form unions and prevents anti-organizing activities by employers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the bill would unfairly tip the balance in favor of unions and "impose unreasonable contracts on employers."

"The UAW has a real chance to make inroads with suppliers and in other fields beyond the auto industry," Shaiken said.

Union lists $1.25B in assets

Despite the drop in membership, the UAW remains a potent political force -- it represents 500,000 retirees in addition to working members -- and a financial powerhouse.

The union will become one of the single largest providers of health care in the United States when it takes responsibility for retiree health care from the Big Three starting in 2010. At GM alone, the UAW will take on $46.7 billion in retiree health care costs through a trust that will be largely funded by the automaker.

The union's finances remain relatively stable, according to the annual report. The union earned $75 million in interest on its investments last year, up from $59 million in 2006, and ended the year with $1.25 billion in assets, down slightly from $1.27 billion at the end of 2006.

The UAW paid out $330.4 million last year -- $2.8 million more than the $327.6 million it collected -- but cut its spending on political activities to $6.9 million from $9.6 million in 2006. It spent $105,000 on an advertising campaign to influence energy legislation that called for raising fuel economy standards.

The UAW has moved to cut costs, shutting smaller local unions near factories that have closed. In 2006, the union closed about 25 local union halls and preliminary reports show at least 20 of the UAW's approximately 800 locals closed in 2007. The union sold $20.4 million in assets last year, including four union halls in Alabama, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger was awarded a 4 percent pay hike in 2007, to $150,763.


UFCW out on strike in labor-state

Labor negotiations between Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort and UFCW Local 23 broke down late Friday and a strike is imminent, according to a union representative. “We are still far apart as far as wages and benefits are concerned,” United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 23 Public Affairs Director Kevin Kilroy said in a telephone interview Friday night. “You will see us on the picket line at 12:01 a.m. (Saturday),” Kilroy said.

A committee of union workers stood steadfast with the union negotiation team during talks Friday, but the two sides walked away from the negotiation table still without a deal.

“Our numbers are very adamant their position right now,” Kilroy said.

Some 206 workers at Mountaineer are part of Local 23, and Kilroy said Mountaineer wages and benefit packages — like health care premium coverages — are not comparable to other resorts in the area.

Depending on employee classification, Kilroy said that some workers at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa. — which is also owned by Mountaineer’s parent company, MTR Gaming — already make more, even though that facility has only been open about a year

Local 23 workers at Wheeling Island Racetrack, which is not owned by MTR Gaming, make $2 an hour more than their counterparts at Mountaineer, Kilroy said.

Another point of contention is the health care offered, which Kilroy said 25 percent of their members do not take advantage of because they can not afford it.

He added that some workers pay as much as 31 percent of health care costs, while management only pays 17 to 18 percent.

Marshall Berman, the attorney representing Mountaineer in the negotiations, said in a prior interview that wages are set by local management and that it is hardly surprising if wages differ in geographical areas.

Berman said that Mountaineer will cover the striking workers with supervisors, managers, and other Mountaineer employees, adding that the UFCW Local 23 workers represent less than 10 percent of Mountaineer’s work force.

All departments at Mountaineer should remain open.

“For our customers, it will be business as usual,” Berman said.


Labor-state teachers issue strike notice

Northwest Area (PA) School District students will get at least a few days off beginning Tuesday, thanks to a teacher strike, unless the teachers union and the district can hammer out a tentative agreement before then.

While the teachers had made the unprecedented offer to pay part of their insurance premiums, it was too little and the accompanying salary increases were too high for the board to accept, officials said. The board’s counteroffer was “regressive,” according to union officials.

Neither side is saying what exactly the offers were, but The Times Leader has learned details of the union’s premium-sharing proposal and the pay raises sought.

The union made that offer March 10 and insisted on a response by Thursday night’s school board meeting. Many members on the board wanted to vote in public on the offer, but solicitor and district lead negotiator Richard Galtman tamped that idea down, advising the board to discuss the matter fully behind closed doors after the meeting.

The board went into executive session and came out with a counterproposal for the union, which Galtman discussed that evening with union lead negotiator Matt Gruenloh. Both men had expressed cautious optimism that the union’s new stance opened a door for productive bargaining.

But Friday morning, the union gave notice a strike would begin Tuesday. Superintendent Nancy Tkatch said both sides are still talking in hopes of reaching a tentative agreement and avoiding the strike.

The contract expired in August 2005, and state law required negotiations to start the January before that, so the talks have gone on for three years, long enough for both sides to replace some people on the negotiating teams. Pennsylvania State Education Association Uniserv representative Jane Brubaker was replaced recently as lead negotiator by Matt Gruenloh, and last year Galtman took over as lead negotiator for the board.

Through it all, premium sharing was big sticking point, so when the union offered to include it in the contract, hopes rose. But several board members made it clear Thursday that the offer was too small to matter. Board member Daryl Morgan stressed that the union had also sought higher pay increases to compensate for the premium sharing, and board member Albert Gordon said the premium sharing offer was barely 1 percent and would have to be renegotiated when the contract expired in 2010.

“It’s going to break the district,” Gordon said.

The Times Leader learned teachers offered to pay $6 for individual coverage per pay period in 2008-09 and $8 in 2009-10. The contribution goes up $2 for an employee and one dependent and another $2 for family coverage. The teachers also asked for 3.6 percent raises the first two years of the contract, which would be retroactive to 2005-06, and 3.8 percent the next three.

In contrast, the district’s December 2007 offer had sought 2 percent of the premium the first two years, climbing by 1 percent each year after. The union’s latest salary proposal was only slightly higher than what was sought in December, when teachers asked for 3.3 percent the first two years and 3.8 percent after that. At that time, the district had offered 2.4 percent the first two year, 2.5 the next two, and 2.75 the final year.

The district had made a “settlement offer” after the December proposal was rejected, which means it was intended as a “take it or leave it” deal rather than a basis for further negotiations. Board member Charles Brace Jr. said Thursday he felt that was a very fair deal because, even with the premium sharing, many teachers would get net annual raises as high as $2,000.

No details of the board’s offer made Friday evening were provided, but Gruenloh called it “regressive” and said the board had increased the amount it wants teachers to pay toward insurance higher than was proposed in the settlement offer. Coupled with rejection of the union’s proposal for premium sharing, the union negotiating team felt a strike was the only appropriate response.

“We have extended the olive branch to the school board and built a bridge for a contract compromise,” Union President Gary Hasinus said in a press release, “but they continue to be regressive with their counter proposal.

“I understand the concerns of the taxpayers since we’re also taxpayers living in the district, but our proposal is reasonable and affordable to the district,” Hasinus added, repeating the union’s contention that its offer would not result in a tax increase, something many board members insist is untrue.

By law, the strike must end in time for the students to complete 180 days of school by June 15. Tkatch said that if the strike occurs, there will be no attempt to keep seniors in class so they can graduate on June 11 as scheduled, something Lake-Lehman School District did last year.

At Friday’s meeting, the board bumped the last day of school to Wednesday, June 11, one day later than originally expected, to make up a snow day. While the state ultimately calculates when teachers must return, a quick look at the calendar suggests teachers could be ordered back to work only two days after hitting the picket line. Teachers can legally strike twice in one school year, with the second strike ending in time to complete 180 days by June 30, but the law usually requires non-binding arbitration between the two strikes.


Keystone State manages teacher strikes

As teachers in Cumberland Valley (PA) School District threatened to walk out earlier this week, a midstate lawmaker braced himself for a flurry of phone calls and e-mails demanding action on his bill that makes teacher strikes illegal.

When Downingtown teachers in Chester County walked out of the classroom last month, Rep. Todd Rock, R-Waynesboro, said he received some calls. He avoided a flood of calls this week when Cumberland Valley and its teachers reached a tentative deal.

But Rock said every strike renews public interest in his legislation.

"People say it's not fair that my kids are put out of school. ... Why are they using my child as a bargaining chip to settle a contract? That is not the way to do it. I agree with that 100 percent," said Rock, a former teacher.

Unfortunately, he said the public interest hasn't translated into legislative support for his proposal.

His bill allows for more transparency and forced meetings during the bargaining process until a settlement is reached. It also imposes penalties on teachers who participate in a walkout.

Pennsylvania is one of 13 states where teacher strikes are legal.

Pennsylvania teachers almost every year stage more walkouts than in any other state.

Districts entered this school year with 216 labor contracts expiring or having expired within the previous four years, according to Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

As of Wednesday, four of them experienced strikes this school year, affecting nearly 23,000 students.

Sen. Robert Mellow, D-Lackawanna, also has legislation pending to ban strikes, proposing an eight-month timeline for negotiations.

If the two sides do not resolve their differences, each would submit its last best offer to a county judge who would make a final determination that would be binding.

Neither Mellow's bill nor Rock's proposal has the support of the state's largest teachers union.

Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Wythe Keever said Cumberland Valley's strike would have been the fifth strike this school year out of the 200-plus school employee groups who are bargaining.

Efforts to repeal the state law -- enacted 38 years ago -- that gave teachers the right to strike are unlikely to become law, the school boards association said.

Instead, the school boards' group wants to improve the current law that limits lengths of strikes to ensure a 180-day school year is completed by June 30, said Tim Allwein, an association spokesman.

One idea would require all offers to be aired publicly and reviewed by an independent financial analyst to determine the financial impact.

"A lot of the reasons why these things take so long is initial offers are so far apart. If there were a process by which both sides knew initial offers would be scrutinized by an independent party, both sides might be a little closer," Allwein said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ed Rendell signaled that a fresh look at the teacher's right to strike law might be in order.

Rock said he is convinced the time is right, even without hearing from Cumberland Valley parents.

"Teachers get a bad rap because they go on strike," he said. "They lose the support of the community and they are looked at as greedy and selfish. I don't want that to happen. I don't think it's fair. But teachers are afraid to let go of the right to strike and lose that leverage."


Firm stands against union thuggery

Nashville, Tenn.-based hotel operator Gaylord Entertainment said the company is more than willing to hire union workers to build its 1,500-room hotel and convention center at the Chula Vista (CA) Bay Front, but would never sign a project labor agreement, which stipulates who can bid on the product and sets prevailing wages and benefits paid by subcontractors.

The unions, represented by the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and San Diego Building Trades Council, say by ducking the PLA, the developer is refusing to commit to hiring local workers.

Supporters say the agreement is the only way to ensure that Gaylord hires local workers; opponents counter it shuts out competition.

Labor unions like to use PLAs on projects involving public money — in this case the $308 million subsidy by the city of Chula Vista to build out roads and infrastructure such as electricity and plumbing as well as the convention center space.

“They’re very controversial,” said Mike Caples, publisher of Contractor News, a newsletter in Escondido. “They’ve been around for quite some time. They were originally started to ensure on big projects adequate manpower.”

In a PLA, for instance, contractors may agree not to strike and owners would agree that outside influences wouldn’t affect the project, he said.

“The original intent was to ensure projects are done on time,” he added.

The downtown Petco Park ballpark used a PLA, which the anti-union group Associated Builders and Contractors says resulted in the developer having to go outside the county for workers to finish the job.

Supporters of the Gaylord project say the builder has enough regulatory hoops to jump through to get the project approved without union obstruction.

“This builder wants to build a project, if they can get their lease agreement, environmental agreement and financial approvals, they want to build the project,” said Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox. “These are construction jobs. It’s far more jobs than we’re left with without a construction project. One hundred percent of zero is zero.”

The disagreement has left both sides charging the other with misrepresentation. Gaylord, which threatened to walk away from the project back in July, returned to the table after business and community leaders assured the company it would be fairly represented.

“They both have very strong opinions,” said Caples. “The unions are obviously trying keep workers and contractors working. They’re very resourceful in trying to get that to happen. The merit shop guys they want to compete and not get locked out of a project.”

The unions meanwhile have vowed to push for concessions through various grassroots campaigns.


Stern fires back at California dissidents

SEIU Spokesperson Andrew McDonald said: "Instead of wasting members' resources, UHW-W leaders should focus on helping 70,000 UHW-W members win good contracts this year. UHW-W members deserve better than to have their contracts put at risk by a distracted UHW-W leadership."


Labor-state union officials dog GOP Senator

As U.S. Senator Norm Coleman kicked off his re-election campaign Wednesday, labor leaders in two cities spoke out to criticize his record on working family issues. "Minnesotans are struggling with the realities of the Bush-Coleman economy," said Laura Askelin, president of the Southeastern Minnesota Area Labor Council in Rochester. "We can't continue on this path of putting the needs of a few over the needs of many, and unfortunately, Coleman is only concerned with the needs of a few corporate special interests."

Workers in Rochester held a news conference and rally focused on the Coleman record, while later in the day union leaders held a news conference in Duluth.

"The fact of the matter is that whoever is at the helm of this country now, whether it's President Bush or Norm Coleman, what they are doing isn't working for working people," said Al Netland, president of the Duluth AFL-CIO Central Labor Body. "Norm Coleman has spent the last five years protecting special corporate interests at the expense of Minnesotans. We need honest leadership to move our country forward, and Norm Coleman represents nothing but the same."

Among the misplaced priorities cited at the news conferences:

• Coleman has received $206,100 in contributions from the oil and gas industry, $327,621 from the pharmaceutical industry, and $500,908 from the banking and credit industries. [Center for Responsive Politics, Accessed 3/26/08; 3/26/08; 3/26/08, 3/26/08]

• Coleman supports making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent and says Bush's economic policies "have had an incredible effect, producing 44 straight months of job growth, more than 7.8 million new jobs since August, 2003 and today's historically low unemployment rate of 4.5%." [Coleman for Senate Website, accessed 3/26/08]

• Coleman voted for legislation to keep a $5 billion tax break for big oil companies. [Republican Policy Committee, 2/7/06; Washington Post, 4/26/06; Joint Tax Committee, 5/9/06; Vote #118, 5/11/06]

• Coleman voted for legislation making it illegal for Medicare bargain over price with drug companies, which will add an additional $139 billion to corporate profits. The bill also blocked the re-importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. [Vote #459, 11/25/03; In These Times, 1/5/04; New York Times, 2/3/04; The Hill, 11/19/03]

A number of unions have endorsed Al Franken, who hopes to win the DFL Party endorsement to oppose Coleman, a Republican, in the November election.


Unions, Dems pick a fight in Hawkeye State

I write to share my concerns about the rhetoric being cast about in the press and Statehouse regarding the expansion of the scope of bargaining for public-employee unions in Iowa. The conclusion that this bill will increase property taxes has been reached using flawed logic. This conclusion is based on two premises: First, that unions are so greedy that they will "ask for the moon" and second, that anything unions win as a result of this bill will cost the government so much money that property taxes will increase as the inevitable result.

There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the first premise is correct. Public-employee unions in Iowa already can "ask for the moon" at the bargaining table, because wages and salaries are already a permissive topic of bargaining. Indeed, several years ago, many public-employee unions in Iowa gave back pay raises they had already won in order to prevent tax increases.

For example, the faculty union at the University of Northern Iowa agreed to return a large part of the pay raise already written into its contract, because the university was so short of funds. Other public unions in Iowa did the same thing that year.

The second premise is not totally correct. Yes, some of the new topics for mandatory bargaining could cost government money, but some might not and others could result in cost savings for government. For example, some have cited the possibility that police officers might win new bulletproof vests as a result of the bill. If the new bulletproof vests save the life of just one police officer, then much of the money spent on all of the new vests will be recovered in cost savings (training of the replacement officer, liability lawsuits, etc.).

Public-union bargaining in Iowa is so restrictive now that many governmental units in the state find it difficult to recruit and retain good workers. This bill will not only improve the working conditions of public employees, but it may very well result in a reduction of property and state taxes, not an increase.

- Hans Isakson, Cedar Falls.

Where has the Register's gatekeeping ability gone? The March 26 story, "Group: Bill's Scope Widest in U.S.," quotes the president of Stop Teacher Strikes, which is simply described as a "nonprofit group." However, a not-so-intensive Internet query would have turned up the fact that this organization is shamelessly dedicated to stamping out the hard-earned collective-bargaining rights won by teachers in Pennsylvania.

The organization has ties to individuals who write for the Allegheny Institute, a right-wing think tank, and contribute screeds to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. That right-leaning newspaper, owned by notorious Bill Clinton-enemy Richard Mellon Scaife, gained new life as a union buster during a strike by staff of the mainstream Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1992.

When assessing whether to give our state's public employees the same collective-bargaining scope as their private-sector colleagues, Iowans need facts, not propaganda in news clothing.

- Ira Lacher, Des Moines.


Curbing non-union construction labor in Iowa

Elk Run Energy Associates Thursday afternoon pledged to use the Waterloo Building Trades Council AFL-CIO as the primary source of manpower for construction of its proposed 750-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Waterloo (IA). The project labor agreement comes just five days prior to Tuesday's Waterloo Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission hearing that could determine the fate of the plant.

LS Power, parent company of Elk Run Energy Associates, will require the project's construction contractor to enter into an agreement with the trades council that will include stipulations for wages, hours, benefits and safety regulations for workers should the $1.3 billion project come to fruition.

A similar deal was struck by Alliant Energy in December for its proposed coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown. Prior to the construction of the Isle Hotel and Casino in Waterloo the trades council forged a labor agreement with Isle of Capri officials.

"Since Elk Run Energy and LS power first came to the Cedar Valley looking to site a coal-fired power plant to provide energy for the region, we acknowledged at that point the broad and experienced work force that existed here in the Cedar Valley," said Mark Milburn, project development manager for Elk Run Energy, a subsidiary of LS Power. "And that was one of the things that drew us to this location."

At the peak of its construction process, the plant is expected to require 1,200 workers. The council, which represents 18 construction unions, said it will utilize both union and nonunion workers by recruiting workers through industrial development forums.

"This is a huge project, and it is obvious to me that there is plenty of work to go around," said Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley. "The support of the trades council will be very convincing to a lot of people who may be on the sidelines with regards to this project."

Buttons pledging support for the project were being handed out to workers from the labor unions represented by the trades council. Milburn recognized the importance of having the backing of the council, but said the timing with respect to Tuesday's Planning, Programming and Zoning hearing was coincidental.

"It wasn't planned that way, but it certainly is a nice benefit," said Milburn.

The project has drawn the ire of many community members, leading to the formation of an opposition group called Community Energy Solutions. Trades council President Ritchie Kurtenbach said the organization respects the opinions of its members, but he believes a large percentage will support the project.

"This was probably just about packing the room (with support) for future meetings," said Mark Kresowick, organizer for the Sierra Club National Coal Campaign in Iowa, a group that opposes the project, "but I don't think it will work."

Tuesday's zoning hearing will mark the second time the city has attempted to annex and rezone land for the project. Almost exactly one year ago, the commission narrowly approved LS Power's request to have the site annexed and rezoned, and the Waterloo City Council confirmed the commission's recommendation. But in October, the state's City Development Board rejected LS Power's request because owners of the land did not agree to the annexation.

This time around, approval of the City Development Board is not needed because LS Power holds an option on the land in question.


AFSCME invades Land of Enchantment

Two unions are battling for the hearts of Albuquerque’s bus drivers and some are claiming that tactics taken in the war have crossed the line. Currently, the New Mexico Transportation Union represents the city’s bus drivers. At the end of April, the drivers will vote on whether they want to retain the NMTU or become members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

“They’re calling our drivers at home continually,” says Frederick Garcia chairman of the NMTU. “After repeatedly telling them, ‘I’m not interested in you,’ they still continue to call them.”

AFSCME denies that it’s membership campaign is crossing any lines: “We are not coercing anybody to sign,” says Ron Medina, president of AFSCME Council 18. “They called us to come to us.”

One woman claims she was even fired because of her advocacy on behalf of AFSCME.

“I was at the Alvarado transportation system, talking to some coworkers about AFSCME, about a new union, and two days later I was fired,” says Josephine Felder.

A city official said that Felder’s dismissal had nothing to due with the union war, that Felder had been on probation and wasn’t working out.


Striking SEIU security guards arrested

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