Smacked-down SEIU must repay non-members

A federal judge has ordered the state's largest public employee union to repay as many as 28,000 non-union state workers who were not given a chance to challenge a 2005 dues increase to fight initiatives backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Judge Morrison England, in a decision Thursday, ordered Service Employees International Union Local 1000 to send notices to the workers who opted out of union membership. The union must issue refunds, with interest, to those non-union members who object to the special assessment.

The rebate would amount to $135 plus interest for a worker who made $4,500 a month in 2005. The special fee raised $12 million to fight Schwarzenegger's agenda, about a quarter of which was paid by state workers who chose not to join the union.

One Schwarzenegger-backed initiative would have required public employee unions to get written permission from members to use dues for political purposes. Another would have given governors broad budget-cutting powers.

"This is an opportunity for the state employees to reclaim the special assessment money that was taken from them unlawfully and used to advocate political causes they might disagree with," said Justin Hakes, spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Virginia, which provided legal advice to the state workers who sued.

Jon Jumper, a tax auditor for the state Employment Development Department in Anaheim, said he signed onto the lawsuit when he found out about the special assessment from a co-worker.

"I'm tickled," he said. "I can't stand the union." He said the union does little to help state workers, while bolstering its own budget with dues.

Jim Zamora, a spokesman for SEIU Local 1000, said the union representing 92,500 state workers was "very disappointed" with the decision.

"We don't know exactly how much this may cost us," he said.

The union has not yet decided whether to appeal, he said.

"We feel it's a bad decision," Zamora said. "It really hurts free speech" and the union's ability to respond to issues that affect its membership.

Federal case law has established that workers who opt out of union membership have a constitutional right to block the union from spending their dues to contribute to candidates or express political views.

In 2005, the union issued an annual notice describing how union dues would be spent in the coming year and giving non-union employees the chance to challenge being charged for activities not related to the union's costs of representing them in collective bargaining.

The notice did not mention the special assessment. But in July, the union proposed a fee of 0.25 percent, on top of the normal 1 percent of salary, to pay for television and radio advertising, direct mail and other actions to defeat the Schwarzenegger-backed initiatives. The fee was called "an Emergency Temporary Assessment to Build a Political Fight-Back Fund."

The union also said that it would use the extra money to fight an expected attack on public employee pensions in 2006 and to elect a governor and legislators who supported them.

One worker called the union's Sacramento office to object, and was told that he would have to pay because "we are in the fight of our lives," according to England's decision. He was eventually joined by eight other workers in the suit against the union.

The state controller began deducting the special fee from paychecks in September 2005. For a worker making $4,500 a month, the fee meant an additional $11.25 in dues.

England at first issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the deductions. But in November 2005, days before the election, he decided not to issue a preliminary injunction, which would have barred the special assessment until the lawsuit was resolved.

The union now has two months to send out a proper notification of the 2005 assessment. Workers who are not members of the union will then have 45 days to object to the fee and get refunds.


Union dues deductions for politics threatened

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether Idaho has the power to ban local governments from allowing payroll deductions for political activity. The court agreed Monday to hear the case this fall. The justices will look at a narrow free speech question, said Clay Smith, the deputy Idaho attorney general who has been working on the case for the state.

"The real issue is whether the First Amendment imposes a bar - whether it prevents the state Legislature from adopting a statewide policy," he said.

The case mainly concerns employee unions that ask their members to donate money for political activity, through payroll deductions.

The case has no bearing on payroll deductions for union dues, just political activity. Many government employees who belong to unions, such as teachers, firefighters and cops, voluntarily contribute to union political action funds that help pay for their union's political activities. That includes supporting legislation or even political campaigns.

In 2003, then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne signed a bill that prohibits cities, counties and school districts from making the payroll deductions. Unions sued, calling the law unconstitutional.

The state government shouldn't be allowed to limit what sort of payroll deductions public employees choose to make, especially when it comes to political speech, said Dave Whaley, president of the Idaho State AFL-CIO.

"If a person so chooses, why should the government step in and interfere?" Whaley said.

The state labor group is one of the original parties to a lawsuit challenging the law. The others include the Pocatello Education Association, the Idaho Education Association, Professional Firefighters of Idaho Inc. and Service Employees International Union Local 687.

The case will have no effect on state employees. Courts have already determined that the Legislature can pass laws limiting political payroll deductions for its own employees. Local governments can pass ordinances that limit such deductions, too.

But lower courts have held in this case that the state cannot force local governments to prohibit payroll deductions for political speech.

Unions argue that the state's aim has been to shut down political speech by the influential teachers, firefighters and police unions.

"What they're trying to do is dampen the political speech of public employee unions. That is clear, that is their goal," said John Greenfield, a Boise lawyer who has worked on the case for the Idaho AFL-CIO. "We don't think that's constitutional."

The court is expected to hear the case sometime in November.


Unions go all-out to protect labor-state

One of the Colorado's biggest unions has filed five new ballot initiatives, including a measure that would require Colorado employers to give workers cost-of-living increases so that wages can keep up with inflation. The move by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 follows last week's endorsement of a "right-to-work" initiative by the statewide business chamber known as the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.

"These are issues we feel will protect working families in full, especially if the right-to-work initiative were to pass," said Manny Gonzales, spokesman for UFCW Local 7. "It's something that would protect workers in areas that would suffer under the right-to-work effort."

A labor-backed coalition already filed a handful of other ballot measures they hope to put to a statewide vote this fall.

"Clearly, they had been loading their gun for some time," said Dan Pilcher, senior vice president for CACI, whose board endorsed the right-to-work proposal after labor groups began promoting their own ballot measures.

"No one in the business community can say these things are good."

The UFCW's Gonzales said the right-to-work measure seeks to destroy unions and working families. The measure would outlaw arrangements requiring all employees to pay fees for union representation, whether they are members or not.

A key proponent of the right-to-work ballot proposal has said he supports the measure because he opposes forcing workers to join unions. Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier has also rejected assertions that the measure would hurt working families.

"If I thought for once it would hurt working families, I wouldn't support the measure," Frazier said.

Labor's agenda

The latest labor-backed initiatives, if approved by voters, would:

* Require employers to provide cost-of-living increases to keep pace with inflation. The amount would come on top of any other increases the company provides by practice, policy or collective bargaining.

* Provide for safe workplaces, holding employers liable for failing to comply in addition to any rights the employee may have under a worker's compensation plan.

* Ban tax credits for companies moving operations overseas.

* Force companies with 20 or more employees to provide major medical coverage for employees and dependents. Employees choosing not to provide coverage would pay premiums to a state-run insurance authority.

* Increase in the assessment of nonresidential real property to 34 percent from 29 percent of its actual value. The increased revenues could be used for health care and education.


AFL-CIO asked to referee nasty union fight

A California-based nurses union is seeking to exploit a national rift in the country’s largest and fastest-growing union by poaching nurses at three Las Vegas (NV) - area St. Rose Dominican hospitals, according to state labor leaders and national experts. The California Nurses Association last week submitted several hundred signatures of nurses at St. Rose who want to ditch their current union, the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU is fighting back with a complaint to the AFL–CIO accusing the CNA of violating the labor federation’s anti-raiding rules.

The federal labor board is reviewing the CNA’s filing. Elections are usually held within 38 days of a petition being filed.

CNA leaders say it’s likely only the beginning of a campaign to win over nurses at Nevada hospitals.

“This seems like a nasty vendetta that will have repercussions for health care workers across the country,” said Janice Fine, a professor of labor relations at Rutgers University.

“There are some instances where having competition in the labor movement is a good thing. This is not one of them.”

The showdown comes amid a public fight between the SEIU’s international president, Andy Stern, and the leader of one of its largest locals, Sal Rosselli of California.

The leaders are battling over how to best grow the union. Rosselli has accused Stern of promoting a “growth at any cost” strategy, which he says has included backroom deals with companies at the expense of higher contract standards. Stern and his allies counter that short-term sacrifices at the bargaining table will yield membership gains — and more clout in the long run.

As the debate rages on the national stage, so have the CNA’s battles with the SEIU, both in Nevada and elsewhere.

“CNA is making hay out of this,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The timing of CNA’s efforts is no coincidence, experts say.

“I think CNA is positioning itself as the savior,” Fine said.

In December the CNA bested the SEIU in a battle to represent 500 unorganized nurses at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno. And last month the CNA sent organizers into eight Catholic hospitals in Ohio to undercut a deal that SEIU leaders had struck with hospital managers to allow the SEIU to organize without interference.

The CNA, regarded as a somewhat militant labor organization, is taking a similar tack here, sending California nurses dressed in scrubs into cafeterias and lobbies of St. Rose hospitals to organize nurses. CNA leaders say the recent criticism of Stern from within his own union shows the need for an alternative.

The attempt here is more pitched, however, because the nurses already have representation.

That’s an important distinction, said Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO.

The CNA is essentially trying to piggyback on the SEIU’s work, Thompson said. “That was a long, hard-fought battle to get those (hospital) contracts,” he said. “We are going to do everything in our power to stand behind the SEIU.”

The move here surprised labor experts, given that the CNA last year joined the national AFL-CIO, which has taken strong stances against raiding and forged some state alliances with the rival labor federation Change to Win. The CNA, they said, should concentrate its organizing efforts on nurses elsewhere in the vastly nonunion health care industry.

Some nurses, however, thought the SEIU, despite winning strong contracts, had failed to represent them and enforce those contracts in the workplace. As a result, nurses said they reached out to the CNA.

“I have felt for over a year that our current union is going in a different direction,” said Toni Walsh, former chief nursing steward at St. Rose and a current ICU nurse at the Siena campus. “CNA is a professional union that will address the issues in the way we need them addressed.”

The CNA challenge is the most recent sign of dissension in the local. Some members have raised concerns about a lack of internal union democracy. Among other examples, they point to the overturning of an election in which several candidates opposed to SEIU Nevada Executive Director Jane McAlevey won, leading to a second contest in which McAlevey and her top lieutenants — whose job it is to represent all members — actively campaigned for favored candidates.

CNA supporters also point to what they call contract failings, including a recent increase in health care premiums for some St. Rose nurses as a result of changes negotiated by an SEIU local in California.

But the California local represents only ancillary staff such as housekeepers, technicians and dietary aides. Thus the SEIU’s contract with St. Rose, which is owned by Catholic Healthcare West, essentially forced an agreement between ancillary staff and Catholic hospitals in California on registered nurses at St. Rose.

“The nurses are furious about it,” said Jill Furillo, director of CNA’s Catholic health care division. She said nurses at St. Rose also are upset that staffing ratios in some units aren’t being enforced.

But McAlevey said the SEIU is fighting hard on both issues.

When the premiums increased, McAlevey said the SEIU organized a petition campaign and marched on management to display its dissatisfaction. The union is renegotiating the health plan in its current contract talks with St. Rose, she said.

McAlevey emphasized that since 2004 the SEIU has won enforceable staffing ratios, a fully employer-paid health plan option and retiree health care benefits in contracts with St. Rose.

The contracts, she said, set the standard for private hospitals in right-to-work states.

She called the CNA petition drive a sideshow and said she was confident the SEIU would triumph in an election — if it comes to that. McAlevey says that, if anything, the union has become more democratic as a result of her actions, noting that she has empowered the union by dramatically increasing the size of its negotiating teams and scrapping management-favored gag rules during bargaining.

As for the national debate in the SEIU, McAlevey says the Nevada local, which represents 17,500 health care and public-sector workers, is an example of how the union can achieve both growth and higher standards.

“I reject the entire debate,” she said. “There’s a lot of white, a lot of black and I see a lot of gray.”


Government unions reject belt-tightening

“Touching the third rail of politics” used to mean any attempt to reform the cost of entitlements, especially Social Security. Despite the fact that all realistic estimates show all levels of government -- federal, state and local -- barreling toward insolvency, there is still little or no effort to solve that problem.

While one political taboo remains, another -- one that may prove equally damaging -- has grown. What no legislator dares say outright is that the only pot of money big enough to solve the problem is the one that can be wrung from the waste and inefficiency in America’s public sector at both state and federal levels. And that requires taking on a powerful and expanding special interest group: the public employee unions.

In 2005, a New York Times investigation found that as much as 40% of the Empire State’s $45 billion annual Medicaid budget was frittered away through fraud, mismanagement, abuse and the indifference of Albany lawmakers. Two years earlier, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy did a study for the October/November issue of the American Enterprise that showed that if all 47.6 million U.S. public school children were educated with the same efficiency as private and parochial schools, the cumulative savings annually would be greater than all the state budget deficits combined.

Tantalizing examples of what can be extracted from reorganizing government abound. Public universities, which have already suffered declining taxpayer support over the last two decades, have actually improved their productivity to around 2.5% annually -- approximately the same rate as private American industry. Declining government support led to the elimination of needless bureaucratic overhead, the substitution of adjunct and part-time instructors for tenure-track faculty, and the redesign of courses to make better use of online technology.

New Zealand, which in 1984 initiated a sweeping privatization of national and regional services to forestall national bankruptcy, provides endless examples of how streamlining government to bring expenses in line with revenues actually improves the overall quality of services. Employees in transportation were reduced from 5,600 to 53, in forest services from 17,000 to 17, and in the national Ministry of Works from 28,000 to one -- all with no loss of service or safety to the public.

The problem, of course, is that importing such savings to America will not go down well with public employee unions, which have grown accustomed to extracting generous benefits from politicians. August 2006 data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show that the average federal civilian worker earns $106,579 a year in total compensation -- twice the $53,289 in wages and benefits for the typical private employee. Since 2000, federal pay has risen 38% -- double the pay increases for workers in manufacturing, retail, finance, private healthcare and construction.

At the state level, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, government workers have been collecting nearly 50% more in total compensation than the average private sector employee, with taxpayers subsidizing 128% more than private employers to fund healthcare benefits and 162% more on retirement benefits.

When budget pressures have occasionally forced politicians to make modest demands for increased productivity, the response from public employees has been less than generous -- witness the 2005 holiday transit strike in New York City and repeated threats of illegal walkouts by nurses throughout the University of California system.

More worrisome is the ease with which disgruntled union members have resorted to violence, the intimidation of co-workers and life-threatening negligence to get their way. An investigation by the Connecticut attorney general into a strike against state-funded nursing homes found that picketers had removed identification bracelets from Alzheimer’s patients, fed chocolate to diabetics and loosened bolts on lifts used to support elderly patients.

In Washington State, the federation of state employees demanded that Olympia legislators fire 800 government workers who would not join the union. Further South, the National Labor Relations Board actually had to overturn an organizing campaign by the notoriously bellicose California Nurses Association because members threatened health workers who opposed the union, telling one his “little kittens would look good in a frying pan.”

Most politicians have kept their mouths shut about changes they know are needed: more competition in K-12 education, a reliance on cost-conscious insurance companies to manage government-funded healthcare, and a sweeping privatization of many other government services. But by the end of the next President’s first term, lawmakers will have no choice but to extend the productivity revolution, which began in corporate America under Reagan, to the sprawling public sector.

Public employee wages and benefits will also have to be brought in line with private industry. Anticipating these changes, the Government Accounting Standards Board, the national association of public finance officers, has already told states and cities to reserve for any post-employment worker benefits (GASB statement 45) and is developing performance measures for social programs.

Government unions will resist serious reform with demonstrations, radio and television ads funded by member dues and the threat of violence. Already, public employees are engaged in a furious effort to fortify their numbers by organizing a new class of employee: childcare providers, home health aides and others who are not employed directly by government but whose salaries are reimbursed through entitlements.

But as time goes on, union leaders will discover that their leverage is not strong enough to prevent needed streamlining of the public sector. There may once have been a time when low wages and few benefits gave government workers the right to voter sympathy, but today we live in a world where, according to the National Compensation Survey, school teachers make more in wages and benefits than private-sector engineers, architects and computer scientists -- at the same time keeping their 10 weeks of summer vacation.

Neither will the public be happy to learn that the price tag for previous concessions to labor will be much higher than even the official estimates. According to a December 2007 study by the PEW Center on the States, the underfunding of public employee retirement benefits is “about $731 billion.” In some states, including Connecticut, Delaware and Hawaii, the per capita liability already exceeds $5,000.

Limit Extortion

Government employees will also find that the march of technical innovation has greatly reduced their ability to extort concessions by shutting down vital public services.

In America’s seventh largest city, San Diego, Calif., provides an ominous example of what public employees can expect if they fail to provide voters with more value for their tax dollar. When the dark clouds of bankruptcy appeared in 2005, this Democrat-dominated city elected a Republican mayor who refused to impose new taxes. Instead, he immediately pushed laws to require voter approval for any pension benefit increases and to allow landscapers, mechanics and contractors in the private sector to bid for municipal business.

And something else happened, which could further persuade labor leaders to make needed productivity concessions. Discovering evidence for criminal collusion between previous administrations and the public unions, City Attorney Michael Aguirre, a self-described “liberal Democrat,” brought suit in federal court to have worker benefits granted since 1996 rolled back on grounds that they violate conflict-of-interest laws. If successful, this action could create a legal precedent for challenging public employee contracts in every jurisdiction where the dominant political party is unduly influenced by government unions.

Elected officials may not yet be ready to touch the new “third rail” of politics, but the looming fiscal crisis makes a showdown between government workers and other voters inevitable. But if Americans will not suffer the tyranny of an English king, they will certainly not become the economic slaves of their public servants.

- Lewis M. Andrews, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy at Trinity College.


ILWU asks Council to hammer non-union firm

Union supporters will go to the Sacramento City Council this evening hoping to unlock a labor stalemate at Blue Diamond Growers. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 17, has since late 2004 attempted to organize the roughly 500 production and maintenance workers at the Blue Diamond plant at 17th and C streets in Sacramento.

Organizers have yet to call for workers to vote on unionization, uneasy about their chances if the election is held according to federal labor law – a secret ballot on company premises.

So they are looking to the City Council, hoping to apply civic pressure on Blue Diamond to allow a vote on more union-friendly terms. They have won support from other local leaders, including state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Though the council approved a resolution in support of Blue Diamond workers in 2006, the city has no authority to address a labor dispute at a private firm. But some council members say Blue Diamond opened itself to public scrutiny when it accepted a multimillion-dollar incentive package from the city in 1995.

"It's more a question of political persuasion, if you will," said Councilman Steve Cohn.

Cohn has introduced a proposal on tonight's agenda to create an ad hoc committee of council members that would attempt to meet with Blue Diamond management.

Cohn and union organizers want the company to allow the the unionization vote to be held at a neutral site and to provide a list of workers and their contact information to aid in organizing efforts.

The council is scheduled to discuss the issue at its evening session, beginning at 6 p.m. Cohn said Monday he felt confident of at least three votes from his eight colleagues on the council.

Blue Diamond has indicated it is not interested in talking with the city about labor issues, regardless of whether Cohn's measure passes.

"The City Council has no jurisdiction over the matter," said Blue Diamond spokeswoman Susan Brauner in an e-mail message. "There would be nothing to negotiate with anyone."

In December 2006, the council voted 6-3 to urge the company to allow what's known as a "card check" vote, whereby organizers solicit votes from individual workers. Both sides say that resolution did not sway the company.

Despite the company's refusal to change the election rules, Blue Diamond workers say they have made some progress, pointing to a series of raises in the last three years.

"We would never have gotten that if it wasn't for the union," said Benjamin Monarque, a fork lift operator.

Blue Diamond's Brauner said the raises were planned well before the organizing drive began.

The company's response in early 2005 to the union campaign violated a number of labor laws, a federal judge ruled in April 2006. The judge determined that Blue Diamond had fired two employees illegally and was misrepresenting the consequences of unionization, telling workers they were likely to lose pension and other benefits, and that the Blue Diamond plant might close altogether. The company was forced to rehire the two workers.

Blue Diamond has been nonunion throughout its 98-year history. Employees voted against unionization in a 1990 secret ballot by more than a 2-1 margin.

Blue Diamond handles almonds for about 3,000 California farmers and reported 2007 sales of $658 million. The company has reported that shipments of the most recent almond crop are on a record-breaking pace.


National Labor College boosts union activism

The National Labor College (NLC) is located on a beautiful 47-acre campus in Silver Spring, Maryland. It began with the vision of George Meany that labor have its own college - a national center that would provide continuous labor education for all union activists.

At NLC you can take classes that enable you to be an integral part of building your union; those same union-building classes can start you on the path to finishing the bachelor's degree you have always yearned for.

Union Skills Courses

During the 2006-2007 academic year, NLC offered more than seventy week-long labor education classes in areas such as arbitration, organizing, negotiations, safety & health, union building and leadership development. Specialized certificates are available.

Undergraduate and Graduate Programs

NLC offers a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in various areas of labor studies and a Bachelor of Technical/Professional Studies degree. Masters degree programs in Public Administration and Legal and Ethical Studies are delivered by the University of Baltimore at the NLC George Meany campus. There are also other graduate degree opportunities.

Conference Facilities

NLC offers meeting rooms, overnight accommodations and dining facilities, which are ideally suited for your union conferences, workshops and staff retreats.


Teachers go on strike in labor-state

Northwest (PA) Area teachers union and school board believe Monday’s three-hour talk was positive. However, the two sides did not get close enough to a resolution to keep teachers from the picket lines today.

“I won’t say there wasn’t progress. It was a friendly meeting. I think our new negotiator (the teachers’ Pennsylvania State Education Association representative Matt Gruenloh) is an asset to both sides. But as far as reaching an agreement, no, we did not do that,” school board member Daryl Morgan said.

He said the board plans to “aggressively pursue” a contract settlement. The union feels the same way.

“While the discussion was cordial, we didn’t exactly get much closer to a settlement. However, just talking was a step in the right direction,” Gruenloh said. “Realistically, we still have a way to go.”

Board member Albert Gordon said PSEA spokesman Paul Shemansky received inaccurate information when he stated the teachers and board are approximately $12,000 apart in their proposals. The difference between the district’s proposal and the teachers’ is closer to $500,000, Gordon said.

“If we gave the teachers what they wanted, just the retro(active) pay would cost us $1 million,” Morgan said.

The strike would likely be short, Shemansky said. The state Department of Education will calculate the maximum length for the strike, which must allow for 180 days of instruction by June 15.

The contract situation is taking its toll on students, who are unhappy about missing field trips and after-school activities. On Monday, about 75 high school students staged a walkout after seventh period.

“We’re frustrated and confused, and we don’t know what’s going on,” sophomore Brittany Shillington said.

Veronica Banyar, also a sophomore, said students spread the word Sunday night via cell phone text message. They planned the walkout because they didn’t feel they could have their say without getting in trouble, she said.

“We stood up for our rights,” Banyar said. “We wanted to voice our opinion. We didn’t mean any harm by it.”

When the administration got wind of plans, an announcement was made that students who walked out would face disciplinary action, Superintendent Nancy Tkatch said.

“Everybody sent texts to each other, and we were all going to do it, but then on the announcement they said if we walk out, we’ll get detention and we won’t get to do any sports,” Shillington said. “So we went to the auditorium instead.”

The administration understands students feel very strongly about the contract issue and want their voices heard, Tkatch said. So administrators held a forum to explain about Act 88 and collective bargaining, and to let students speak out. They also wrote letters to the board and union.

“We actually turned it into a bit of a learning experience,” Tkatch said.

Banyar says she realizes school is not a democracy.

“Some of the best protests, you have to suffer the consequences in the end,” she said.

But, she added, “It just takes one person to stand up for what they believe in.”


Labor-state News Union wants to strike

A union at the Superior (WI) Daily Telegram wants its national headquarters to allow them to authorize a strike. This comes less than a week after they turned down what management called “its best and final offer”. The Communication Workers Union contract represents 16 people in the Telegram’s news, advertising and graphics department. Communication Workers of American Local 163 Union President Stan Loisel says 85% of its membership voted against the latest offer.

Although he said they’re not ready to strike, he’d like that option in case the ownership takes similar action. “The union feels that that has been their intent all along -- to just make a ridiculous offer, have us not except it and then vote on it and then either impose it or lock us out. We don’t feel that’s negotiation. That’s dictation.” The next negotiation session is set for April 16.

Telegram Executive Editor Ron Brochu said the paper’s new owner, Forum Communication, wants to get concessions to keep the Telegram financially healthy. “Owners and management of the company have some items they feel are necessary to remain a vital company,” he said. “For any folks who have read the newspapers lately, there are some very serious financial challenges in the newspaper industry.”

Brochu said in 14 months of negotiations “We have explained our views, they’ve explained their views and unfortunately there’s still some space in-between. The next step, I don’t have a crystal ball. I hope the next step, whatever it is, works out for the best of everyone.” Loisel said both sides are still far apart. “We’re completely on opposite ends of the spectrum here. Still looking at rolling the starting wage for new employees and this will be a two platform wage. There will be a wage for the existing employees and there’d be a second stage wage for new hires.”

Forum Communications purchased the Telegram and Duluth News Tribune newspaper group two years ago. The Lake Superior Newspaper Guild at the News Tribune has been negotiating since its contract expired the end of last year. Lake Superior Newspaper Guild President Peter Passi says since the newspapers share the same owner, they’re watching the Telegram talks closely. The Lake Superior Newspaper Guild represents more than 130 members and had its last negotiation session March 24. Passi says they’re “watching for signs about what might be coming to us”.


Right To Work law boosts Tennessee

Kentucky's lagging performance relative to Tennessee "jumps out" when Kentucky population and economic figures are expressed as a percentage of Tennessee values. For example, in 1966 Kentucky aggregate personal income was 86 percent of Tennessee's but is now only 64 percent. Kentucky's per capita income was 98 percent of Tennessee's and is now 92 percent. Kentucky's population was 82 percent of Tennessee's but is now 70 percent.

Over three times as many people moved to Tennessee as moved to Kentucky between 2000 and 2005. Most of the Kentucky counties that border Tennessee lost population to Tennessee. The three largest population outflows were between Christian County, Ky., and Montgomery County, Tenn. (1,458), Allen County, Ky., and Macon County, Tenn. (206), and Calloway County, Ky., and Henry County, Tenn. (164).

Why is Tennessee growing more than Kentucky? Both are similar in terms of history, geography, climate, educational attainment, interstate highways and in many other respects. We must look elsewhere for an explanation.

The major differences lie in labor law and taxation. Tennessee is a right-to-work state; Kentucky is not. Tennessee has no "broad-based" income tax; Kentucky depends heavily on the individual income tax and Kentucky local governments rely heavily on the occupational license tax.

In per capita tax, both Kentucky and Tennessee look like low tax states, but, as I showed in a 1974 Wall Street Journal piece, comparing states in this way is misleading. Some states — Kentucky, for example — that appear as low-tax in terms of taxes per capita can, in fact, have above-average family tax burdens.

The following examples focus on the "big-three" taxes — property, income and sales. A hypothetical couple in Louisville with $200,000 income ($180,000 from wages and $20,000 from interest/dividends) a $300,000 house and itemized deductions of $20,000 would pay about $18,000 in state and local property, sales and income taxes. The same couple in Nashville would pay about $7,000. Kentucky's income tax and Louisville's occupational license tax for this family amount to about $14,000, whereas Tennessee's income tax, which applies only to dividends and interest, is only $1,050. The $11,000 tax gap remains even though property and sales taxes are higher in Tennessee. Part of the higher Kentucky tax burden would be offset by lower federal income tax, assuming the couple itemizes deductions.

Next, consider a couple with $50,000 income, all from wages and salary, a $100,000 house and (for Kentucky income tax purposes) itemized deductions of $6,500. The Louisville couple pays about $5,000 in state and local property, sales and income taxes. The same couple in Nashville pays about $2,500. Because a family with this income level is not likely to itemize (for federal income tax purposes), the higher Kentucky tax burden does not result in lower federal income tax. The higher sales and property taxes for the Nashville couple are more than offset by $3,400 of state and local (occupational license) tax paid by the Louisville couple, leaving a net tax gap of about $2,500.

These comparisons omit business taxes but families bear about the same amount of business taxes, regardless of where they live, because most of what they buy is produced out of state. Some other minor taxes are omitted, but no one can plausibly argue that the higher Kentucky taxes shown here are substantially offset by higher Tennessee excise taxes on gasoline, cigarettes, or by any other tax levied in Tennessee.

A recent story in Hopkinsville's Kentucky New Era reports that "when soldiers are sent to Fort Campbell and briefed on the communities surrounding the military post, more than eight of 10 choose to turn right and live in Tennessee where there is no state or Clarksville city income tax." Other factors also likely play a role.

Both Kentucky and Tennessee are relatively poor states with relatively low economic bases, and for these reasons policy makers face difficult choices. They can emphasize income taxes out of equity concerns, but the Kentucky experience shows that doing so results in lagging economic growth. Or policy makers can emphasize less visible consumption taxes and businesses taxes as Tennessee does. Not only are such taxes less visible, they are also more likely to be exported to tourists and other nonresidents.

The tax comparisons presented here are suggestive. In a comprehensive statistical study matching similar states (such as Kentucky and Tennessee) and taking into account a variety of influences on growth, including education and physical capital, Western Kentucky University colleagues and I find that nearly half of the 10 percent growth advantage enjoyed by Tennessee from 1997 to 2006 can be attributed to Kentucky's higher tax burden, with labor law also contributing. Until tax policy and labor law change, Kentucky's economy will likely continue to lag Tennessee's and the majority of soldiers at Fort Campbell will make "right turns."

- Stephen E. Lile is professor of economics at Western Kentucky University and a past president of the Kentucky Economic Association.


Nurses strike ends with a whimper

Nurses at Fremont-Rideout Medical Group are set to begin trickling back to their hospitals today, more than a week after their third strike in less than a year. The nurses walked out for 24 hours on March 21, but had not been able to return after Fremont-Rideout hired replacements for 10-day terms — a step nurses described as a lockout.

Some strikers will return to the group's Marysville and Yuba City hospitals today, with more to follow Wednesday, according to Heather Avalos, a nurse at Rideout Memorial Hospital's intensive-care unit.

Strikers allied with the nurses' union worked picket lines at Fremont and Rideout hospitals and staged a rally in the latest bid to force the hospital group back to the bargaining table. However, management reported that 147 nurses crossed the picket lines during the strike.

While many strikers found temporary nursing jobs at other hospitals, nurses and their backers conceded the enforced idling has put some union members under strain.

"For some of them, it was a big financial hardship," Avalos said Monday. "The hospital intended it to be such a hardship that nurses wouldn't go on strike. Some of them crossed the picket line because they absolutely could not afford to take those 10 days off."

"I think the lockout was meant to be punitive, to intimidate the nurses," said Dan Lawson, a nurses' union representative. "A 10-day lockout for a one-day strike is unheard of."

According to Tresha Moreland, Fremont-Rideout's human resources vice president, the extended terms were needed to compete for temporary nurses with the Sutter Health hospitals in the Bay Area, where nurses also struck March 21. Those stoppages ended Monday, with about 4,000 nurses returning to work. Despite the strikes, Fremont-Rideout leadership is leaving its previous offer on the table if negotiations resume, said Tresha Moreland, the hospital group's vice president of human resources.

"We won't change our last offer; (the terms) are what they are," said Moreland. "The only thing we've discussed is if there's another strike, we'll continue to take care of our patients."

With no new contract talks in sight, returning nurses need to keep up the pressure on Fremont-Rideout despite the fallout from work stoppages, said Avalos.

"The nurses have worked too hard to give up on it," she said. "Definitely, another strike is not out of the question."


Corrupt Hoffa crony ousted from Teamsters

Don Hahs of Brecksville (OH) has been ousted as the head of a Teamsters-affiliated railroad union based in Cleveland for misusing up to $58,000 in union money on travel, Cleveland Cavaliers tickets and other personal benefits, Teamsters International President James Hoffa announced. Hahs, 65, is appealing.

Hoffa adopted recommendations from a union-authorized independent review board March 25, dismissing Hahs as president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. Hahs was unreachable in Florida on Monday, his grandson said.

BLET First Vice President Edward Rodzwicz assumed Hahs' position.

The review board's inquiry last year led to internal embezzlement charges against Hahs, accusing him of misspending money on fishing trips, travel charges for his wife, basketball tickets and other unauthorized outlays. A three-member Teamsters-BLET tribunal declined this month to uphold the embezzlement charges, but found Hahs abused his fiduciary duty.

The panel suspended Hahs from the union, barred any contact with members, and fined him $44,963. Hahs has not been charged criminally.

He has served as BLET president since 2001 and, with Hoffa, engineered the BLET-Teamsters merger in 2003.


Racketeering on Cesar Chavez Day

An ongoing dispute between the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99 and Bashas' attracted more than 100 protesters at the grocery chain's warehouse in Chandler on Monday. The demonstration was tied to Cesar Chavez Day, a statewide celebration honoring the late Yuma native who formed the United Farm Workers Union.

VIDEO: Protesters picket at Basha's in Chandler Monday

"My grandfather would be proud of this movement," said Alejandro Chavez, 30, a protester and the grandson of the UFW founder.

Demonstrators, including members of the East Valley NAACP and Somos America, a Hispanic organization, carried signs reading "Hungry for Respect," "Workers United Will Never Be Divided" and "No Harassment."

Among other issues, the union says Bashas' is disregarding worker concerns about safety and health.

Protesters recited the phrase commonly used by Chavez and the UFW: "S Puede," or "Yes We Can."

Kristy Nied, communications director for Bashas', called the two-hour gathering another example of the UFCW's attempt to organize all of the chain's 13,000 employees.

"This is also another example by the UFCW to discredit our company," Nied said.

The demonstration was confined to about 100 feet along the south side of the Bashas' Distribution Center. 200 S. 56th St., after the company parked two semi-tractor trailers along the curb, thus limiting the gathering space, according to an employee.

In a letter by the UFCW to Mike Proulx, CEO of Bashas', and distributed at the gathering, the union demanded the company, Arizona's largest family-owned grocer formed in 1932 with more than 150 locations, to "stop violating workers' rights."

It also called for the reinstatement of 29 workers in the baler operations at the distribution center who, the union contends, lost their jobs when the company outsourced the unloading of trailers.The union also demanded that the company allow workers to form a health and safety committee.

One of the former employees, Robert Smith, 38, of Mesa, said he was laid off after he tried to form a safety committee.

Last August, workers at the distribution center, including Smith, circulated a petition asking for improved workplace safety measures.The petition, which is being challenged by Bashas' in federal court, contends the company had an injury rate of more than twice the national average for the warehouse and storage industry in 2006.

A.C. Span, 40, of Mesa, another laid-off Bashas' employee at the demonstration, said his job was outsourced after he complained about working conditions.

"Every time I spoke out, I was intimidated," said Span."Twenty percent of the employees who signed the petition to establish a committee to deal with health and safety issues, rather than discuss them with employees individually, were outsourced, including me."

Nied said hiring a private company to handle unloading at the distribution center had been under consideration for some time before it was completed last January.The change affected less than 1 percent of the employees at the center, the spokesman said.


GM workers in RTW state unaffected by strike

General Motors continues to operate the Arlington (TX) truck-assembly plant at full production despite the impact of a strike at a key parts manufacturer. GM spokeswoman Wendi Sabo said production at normal rates should continue for the foreseeable future, although changes have been made in the models being produced. Numerous GM plants have been forced to halt or cut production as a result of the United Auto Workers strike against American Axle. About 3,650 UAW workers struck American Axle's five U.S. plants Feb. 26.

The Arlington plant produces GM's full-size sport utility vehicles, including the Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade models.

"We're good with parts almost indefinitely," Sabo said, although the plant has stopped producing some models - 63/47-ton Tahoes and Yukons and 2-wheel-drive versions of the Escalade.

How's production?
GM had previously cut back production at its Janesville, Wis., plant, which also builds the Yukon and Tahoe.

The Arlington plant has been working two nine-hour shifts, five days a week for the last month, producing about 1,000 full-size SUVs per day. As planned, the plant will revert to previously scheduled eight-hour shifts after Tuesday.

The Arlington plant has about 2,900 workers.

GM halted production at its Toledo, Ohio, transmission plant Monday for the second time in four weeks. GM has been forced to stop or slow production at 30 manufacturing and assembly plants that employ 43,911 workers, according to a company Web site.

Looking ahead

Not all employees have been laid off at closed plants. Workers sometimes return for maintenance or training.

Most cutbacks caused by the strike have been at plants that make pickups and SUVs, vehicles GM already has in abundant supply, analysts said. Still, GM's production losses may reach 80,000 units this month on vehicles costing an average of $25,000, said Aaron Bragman, an analyst at Global Insight Inc.

"We're looking at how this might affect GM's first-quarter statement," Bragman told Bloomberg News. "It could lower revenue potentially by at least $2 billion."


SEIU sets pickets v. Kaiser facilities

Sacramento employees of Inter-Con, a Pasadena-based security firm, plan to take to the picket lines today and Friday, the first public step in a two-year fight to become unionized, organizers announced Monday. The protests, set for 2:30 p.m. at Kaiser South Sacramento Medical Center, and again at 6 a.m. Friday, join demonstrations at Kaiser Permanente facilities in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Some 1,500 Inter-Con employees, including 25 in Sacramento, provide security at Kaiser Permanente sites in California.

The employees are attempting to join Service Employees International Union's Local 24/7, which represents about 5,000 security personnel in Northern California.

Security workers voted Saturday to picket Kaiser facilities in Fremont, Hayward, Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento, said Jennifer Kelly, an SEIU spokeswoman.

Inter-Con officials reached in Pasadena declined to comment.

In a statement issued Monday, Kaiser officials said they have been alerted to the planned pickets, but remain neutral in the labor dispute.

The demonstrations are to set the stage for a Friday afternoon protest at Kaiser Permanente's Oakland headquarters, Kelly said.


Socialists on the UAW-AAM picket line

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