Stern's top-down style crushes SEIU democracy

The SEIU is being cast as a union that turns its back on democracy by internal foes of union president Andy Stern who is fighting for his post as head of the union. One of the many myths of unionism holds that the very concept of a union is the ultimate democratic exercise. It is, so it’s claimed, the very model of the workers controlling the organization. This idea, however, is something that SEIU president Andy Stern has turned on its head. Stern’s style of leadership has been to implement a far more top down style of running the union.

Under Stern’s direction, as the union has grown to one of the biggest unions in the country the locals are directed by the larger state and even national offices as opposed to at the local level. In other words, the locals no longer have the power to enter into negotiations with their employers at the local level.

This top down style is being opposed by many who claim that the union drifted away from its membership. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, the secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis local 2000, Tony Condra, is not too happy with Stern’s leadership.
“One thing I think the top leadership forgot is the members are the CEOs, not us,” says Tony Condra, secretary-treasurer of Local 2000 in St. Louis. “That’s how we look at it in Missouri — the members are the title-holders of the whole structure.”

Condra, of University City, is helping lead an effort to reverse some actions of the union’s Washington-based leadership. He says the failure to listen to workers’ voices prompted some local members to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
Condra isn’t the only one upset at Stern’s ploicies.
Paula Jones, a member of Local 2000 who works at a nursing home in Florissant, says that contracts negotiated between senior union officials and management at local nursing homes have compromised workers’ ability to advocate for resources and supplies for their patients.

“Workers had lost their voice” because of deals Stern supporters made several years ago with management “behind our back without discussing it with union members,” says Jones, a certified medical technician.
Of course, Stern has the wild growth he’s helped realize for the union. So, will his success win over the membership, or will his heavy handed leadership sink him?

The main question the union is dealing with is this: is a union best run by a centralized leadership out of Washington or should union locals have as much power to deal with their individual needs as possible?

In any case, there is no doubt that union chief Stern is leading the effort to take power away from the local unions and instilling that power in the national offices. This is most certainly an anti-democratic policy and it is not surprising that the locals resent losing so much power.

Now, I have a question of my own. What makes Andy Stern any different than the so-called “fat cats” in the corporations that he opposes? Unions have made hay on the fact that corporate heads are evil for running their businesses with an iron fist, from the top down. Unions always cavil against businesses as un-democratic. Yet, here is SEIU president Andy Stern actually putting in place policies that would invest all power in the top office of the union, stripping the members of all power. How is Stern any different from the model of power hungry corporate head that unions use as a boogeyman?

Your guess is as good as mine, but it does seem that many of the SEIU membership agrees with me there!


State workers to receive union dues refund

A federal judge has ordered California State Employees Association union officials to offer rebates to up to 28,000 state employees who are not union members. Imposing a “special assessment” in addition to mandatory dues, union officials seized an additional 25% of forced union dues to wage their campaign against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s modest reform measures on the 2005 ballot.

The ruling stems from a class-action civil rights complaint, filed by nine state government employees (union members and nonmembers) with free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The complaint sought a ruling that would require union officials to give employees due process, including proper financial disclosure, a formal notice that they may reclaim the special assessment spent for electioneering, and rebates, plus interest, to all who request them.

CSEA union officials had imposed on government employees a so-called “Emergency Temporary Assessment to Build a Political Fight-Back Fund” for a broad range of political activities. Union officials openly admitted that the “Fund will not be used for regular costs of the union,” but for political advertising, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote activities.

By levying this mid-year “special assessment,” CSEA officials illegally jacked up and spent employees’ mandatory payments by between 25-36% without even allowing those employees who were not union members to opt out of paying for such activities. Union officials raised over $12 million through the special assessment and spent many millions more using regular dues. Approximately $3 million of this was taken from nonmembers.

Morrison C. England Jr., a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of California, noted that “a contrary decision from the one reached today would allow unions to run roughshod over dissenting nonmembers...”
CSEA union officials must now provide the nonunion state employees with a financial disclosure, notice that they may object to the use of these forced union dues for political activities, and refunds to all who object in response to the new disclosure.

“Although this is an encouraging victory for these employees, this ruling underscores the gross injustice of forced unionism that exists in California,” stated National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Stefan Gleason. “Only a Right to Work law banning forced union dues altogether will give Golden State employees meaningful protection from similar abuses of their constitutional rights.”

In the Foundation-won U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, the High Court ruled that public employees have due process rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to be notified of how their forced union dues are spent, and how to prevent the spending of their dues for union political activities. However, CSEA union officials did not give public employees any opportunity to object to the special assessment.


Barack promises to offend non-union workers

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made a direct appeal for the support of organized labor, telling hundreds of union activists today that he's "ready to go on the offense" for them. "It's time we have a president who doesn't choke saying the word union," Obama, the junior United State senator from Illinois told members of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO who gathered here this week for their 38th annual constitutional convention.

"It's time we have a Democratic nominee who doesn't just talk about unions during a primary. It's time for we have a president who knows it's the Department of Labor, not the Department of Management."

Obama also put a shot over the bow of rival Hillary Clinton, who compared herself to hometown hero Rocky Balboa during an appearance before union activists here yesterday and vowed to stay in the race.

"I know there's been some talk about Rocky Balboa over the last couple of days," Obama said. "We all love Rocky. But the last time I checked, I was the underdog in this state."

Obama also reminded the crowd that the scrappy boxer embodied by actor Sylvester Stallone was fictional, and "so is the idea that someone can fight for the underdog and still embrace the broken system in Washington."

Of the two candidates, Clinton has a larger number of unions on her side: 12 AFL-CIO member unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the International Association of Machinists and the United Farm Workers.

Obama has the support of Change to Win's Teamsters, SEIU, UNITE HERE and the United Food and Commercial Workers, as well as the Change to Win organization and five smaller AFL-CIO unions. Obama picked up the endorsement Tuesday from the 10,000-member Laborers District Council of Metro Philadelphia.

The national AFL-CIO has not endorsed either candidate. It instead has chosen to focus on criticizing presumptive Republican nominee John McCain of Arizona. The labor federation has challenged McCain to talk about the economy during April campaign stops in Maryland, Arizona and Florida.

For Democrats, the support of organized labor is crucial because union members play a critical role in getting out the vote on Election Day.


Only 22 states have Right To Work laws

What started as a schoolyard fight between trade unions and business in Colorado has escalated into a political arms race reminiscent of the "mutually assured destruction" of the Cold War.

We join Gov. Bill Ritter in urging both business and labor to scrap the measures they're preparing for the November ballot and get back to doing what they do best: working together to build a better Colorado.

Ritter's call for reason was prompted by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union filing paperwork for five ballot measures that, if adopted by Colorado voters, would cripple business. The union admitted its anti-business onslaught was a riposte to a "right to work" initiative promoted by a few business leaders.

The Post would be supportive of "right to work" if it's on the ballot, but we think the better answer is for both sides to call a truce.

The initiative has been endorsed by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, but most business groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business and the Metro Denver and Southwest Metro Chambers of Commerce, have been trying to head off a confrontation with labor over what is mostly a symbolic issue.

We're sympathetic to the "right to work" principle, which allows states to prohibit requiring workers to join a union or pay "agency fees" to unions as a condition of employment. But the fact is that Colorado's 65-year-old Labor Peace Act makes the issue almost moot in this state.

Twenty-two states have right-to- work laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

Twenty-seven other states are "free bargaining" states, where a union can ask the employer for a union shop. If an employer agrees, it must be approved by a majority of the union members voting on the contract.

Colorado is unique in requiring a second election — open to all workers, not just union members — to institute a union shop. A union must be approved by a majority of all workers, not just those voting, or 75 percent of those voting, whichever is larger.

In practice, this requirement is so restrictive that there are very few union shops in Colorado. That led organized labor to launch a surprise attack in the 2007 legislative session to scrap the requirement for a second election. That boon to union organizers passed the legislature but was vetoed by Ritter. Some business leaders then began touting their right-to- work initiative to punish unions for trying to upset Colorado's long-standing truce on this issue.

History aside, Ritter is right: business and labor need to get past this and renew their past productive partnerships, including such notable projects as as Denver International Airport and RTD's FasTracks.


Coloradans oppose unions' #1 agenda item

In the wake of recent news reports indicating that labor unions have spent millions on independent expenditures on behalf of the presidential campaigns of Senators Clinton and Obama and millions more on Senate and Congressional races, new survey research findings warn that support for Big Labor's agenda, including their number 1 priority -- the mis-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) -- could spell trouble for candidates in close races on Election Day.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW) today released results from a series of surveys in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado and Maine conducted by McLaughlin & Associates. The results for Colorado are below.

Please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Secret and private ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be kept for union elections."

Coloradans agree, by 82%-9%. "Union households" agree by 90%-5%.

If an election were held to decide whether workers would organize a union, which one of the following types of elections is the best way to protect the individual rights of workers? Having a process where a union is organized if a majority of workers simply sign a card and the workers' signatures are made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers. Or, having a federally supervised secret and private ballot election where workers privately vote yes or no on whether to authorize union representation.

Coloradans support secret-ballot elections over no-vote unionism by 72%-17%.

Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for Mark Udall for US Senate if you knew that he supported legislation to take away a worker's right to have a federally supervised secret and private ballot election when deciding whether to organize a union and replace that secret and private ballot system with a card check system that would make public how each worker voted to both union leaders and his or her employer? If it would make no difference, just say so.

More likely: 13%, Less likey: 44%, No difference: 27%

Should federal laws be changed by Congress to make it much easier for unions to hold elections in non-union work places to organize more workers into unions or should the laws be left the way they are now?

Make easier: 30%, Left the way they are: 56%


Complaints arise from union shop monopoly

Fran Madigan is a third-generation contractor whose firm, F.W. Madigan Co., has been in Worcester (MA) for 71 years. He employs 30 people and pays taxes on two buildings. His workers are licensed and well-trained. “I would like an opportunity to bid on public construction projects,” said the soft-spoken Mr. Madigan, 50. “I think I deserve it.”

Likewise, Jim Grasseschi runs the plumbing and heating business founded by his grandfather 68 years ago in a Plantation Street basement. Last week, he laid off three employees. He is not as soft-spoken.

“Everything for me in Worcester seems to be a battle,” he said. “Everywhere we turn, we see closed doors.”

These men and others are victims of pro-union politics, in which elected officials bar qualified merit shops from construction projects by imposing restrictions that favor organized labor. We’ve seen them with Project Labor Agreements, which require that all workers on taxpayer-funded construction be union members. And we see it now with the so-called Responsible Employer Ordinance, which deters open-shop contractors from bidding for public work.

“People aren’t being treated fairly, but the unions do a masterful job framing the argument in a way Joe Lunchbox doesn’t understand,” said Ronald N. Cogliano, executive director of the Merit Construction Alliance. “For a small and vocal minority, they wield enormous influence.”

The issue is dry at first glance, and involves an REO provision requiring contractors to maintain “bona fide” apprenticeship programs. Union-only contractors can do that simply by being signatories to programs operated by the various trades. Consequently, open shops are barred.

The issue came to a boil after City Councilor-at-Large Michael J. Germain angered nonunion workers by implying at a recent council meeting that they’re incompetent.

“If I was building my own home, I don’t want an electrician to come in that was getting coffee for the last 8,000 hours and then had a lucky Saturday and passed the test,” he said, adding that he wants someone with “hands-on training” so that his house “doesn’t burn down on Monday after they built it on Friday.”

Yesterday, Mr. Germain insisted that he was simply expressing pro-union sentiment and wasn’t targeting nonunion employees, but it’s hard to conclude otherwise. Mr. Cogliano is demanding an apology, and said he won’t rest until he gets one.

“He’s going to be a tired man,” said Mr. Germain, a staunch union supporter. “They’re blowing this out of proportion.”

The other victim of the REO is the taxpayer. As noted in a recent report by The Research Bureau, the REO drives up public construction costs because it results in fewer bidders for projects. (A whopping 85 percent of state construction workers are not unionized.) And despite the Research Bureau’s well-considered recommendation that the City Council rescind the REO, Council Vice Chairman Rick Rushton said he won’t even hold a hearing on the report.

Mr. Rushton, also a union supporter, is chairman of the council’s Municipal Operations subcommittee. In other words, the deck is stacked for a special-interest minority that delivers money and votes for elected officials, who pander to unions at the expense of hardworking men and women in the city.

“They’ve been clear that they see the unions as their constituency and they have to go to the mat for them,” said Roberta Schaefer, executive director of The Research Bureau, whose report has been called “biased” by pro-union councilors. “The bureau’s role is to look at what’s in the best interest of the public, not one constituency.”

Like many open-shop contractors, Mr. Madigan said he is not anti-union and subcontracts work to union and nonunion workers. He’s not asking for special favors, but expects fairness.

He should get it. The job of elected leaders is to ensure such equity, not erect stumbling blocks that hurt the taxpayer.

“It’s an unlevel playing field right now,” said Mr. Madigan. “It’s disheartening that I’m certified to do work in Massachusetts, but not in the city where I pay taxes.”


Labor-state district bucks union, privatizes

Nearly 150 Birmingham (MI) Public Schools custodial and transportation employees will be out of jobs next year following the school board’s decision to cut costs by privatizing the district’s custodial and transportation services.

BPS Director of Community Relations Marcia Wilkinson said the move to privatization was done in response to the ongoing budget deficit the district faces — which officials said would only increase until the state revises the school funding formula. BPS projects a $3.2 million deficit for the 2008-2009 school year, a $4.3 million deficit for the 2009-2010 school year, and a close to $5 million deficit the year after.

If the budget were left untouched, officials say the deficit would expand to $15 million in just four years — the equivalent of the district’s entire fund balance.

To help cope with the growing deficit, BPS has cut expenses by $15.8 million since the 2002-2003 school year, through reductions to programs and services.

On April 1 at around midnight, the board unanimously voted to privatize school services. The switch will save the district nearly $3 million, officials say.

When Trustee Geri Rinschler was first elected, she said she never dreamed that the board would be in this situation.

“Somewhere along the line I thought someone was going to come and save us — which hasn’t occurred,” she said.

Board President Michael Fenberg said the district’s rapidly increasing deficit is a long-term problem that’s not going away anytime soon. He said it would be “almost impossible” for the board, which has been “agonizing” over the decision, to turn their backs on the savings that privatization would allow.

“It’s not going to be something that we can throw a little bit of fund equity at and make disappear for a year or two and think we’re going to have a solution to this. We’re going to have a long-term reduction in this district,” he said.

Approximately 26 full-time equivalent positions — such as teachers, instructional facilitators, office assistants, supervisor and teacher consultants, and other staff — were also planned to be cut under one option presented to the board in the 2008-2009 Budget Deficit Reduction Plan, but the district will be able to restore 15 positions with the money saved by privatization.

“There’s nothing that brings us any pleasure about having to make this vote, but if we can delay for another year, keeping these cuts out of the classroom, I think we all have to realize that and buy that year,” Fenberg said.

Trustee Robert Lawrence, who made the motion to privatize, said he also wanted to keep reductions as far away from the classroom as possible.

“In talking to parents about this, nobody’s happy about it — and I’m not either. But at the same time, when they look and they see that we can keep $3 million from the classroom, I don’t know how you can’t do it,” he said.

Trustee Lori Soifer called the decision to privatize “very painful.”

“I would much prefer to have our own employees, but I’m also one of several board members committed to keeping cuts as far away from the classrooms as possible. The painful reality is these numbers are impossible to ignore,” she said.

Representatives of the district’s custodial and transportation staff, teachers, parents and students spoke out against privatization during public comment.

Bus driver Sophia Shattuck — whose two children attend BPS schools — said she was so depressed about the possibly of losing her job that she laid on the couch and cried during spring break. She said she was “extremely ashamed” of the Board of Education.

“It’s not only my job, I have a personal stake in this, because if I lose my job, I’m out of this district. We will not be able to live here. None of you know the sacrifices that my family has made to stay in this district,” she said.

Her son Rocky Shattuck, a junior at Groves High School, said that by privatizing, BPS would lose more than it would gain.

Parent William McKenzie, who said that he was “adamantly against” privatization, threatened to form a committee to fight against the school board if it approved the measure that night.

Teacher Maureen Martin, who is also president of the Birmingham Education Association teacher’s union, presented the board with a petition signed by more than half of the district’s 600 staff members — all of whom she said were opposed to privatization. She said the district’s bus drivers and custodians have demonstrated a dedication to the school district and it’s students that can’t be duplicated with private, contracted employees.

“We are losing one of the greatest values to this district and that’s a family community relationship,” Martin said. “We’re not firing custodians and bus drivers … we’re firing our family, and it’s not right.”


Unions press Casino War at Foxwoods

The National Labor Relations Board again asserted its authority over Foxwoods Resort Casino Wednesday, allowing a vote by 310 engineering department employees on whether they favor representation by the International Union of Operating Engineers. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods, argued that because it is a sovereign nation the NLRB does not have such jurisdiction. Peter B. Hoffman, the regional director of the NLRB in Hartford, rejected that argument in his decision.

Hoffman cited precedent set in the case of San Manuel Indian Casino v. the NLRB, which was decided on Feb. 9 in the U.S. Court of Appeals' District of Columbia Circuit and involved a much smaller tribal casino.

A union election will most likely be held within 30 days.

William Lynn, the lead organizer with the IUOE Local 30, said he was very happy with Hoffman's decision.

“This is a victory for the workers of the engineering department,” Lynn said. “I congratulate them.”

The IUOE filed a petition with the NLRB last month stating that it has the support of a “substantial number” of Foxwoods employees who are in favor of union representation.

The bargaining unit includes approximately 310 full-time and regular part-time employees in the engineering, facilities, projects, interior landscaping and engineering apprenticeship departments at Foxwoods.

In his decision, Hoffman disagreed with the tribe's argument that unionization at Foxwoods would threaten the Mashantuckets' political or economic security. And his decision came as no surprise to the tribe, according to a statement released Wednesday.

“We were already aware of the Region's position on jurisdiction, but it is necessary to continue to take these legal steps so that any subsequent appeal can address the significant jurisdictional issues at the core of tribal sovereignty,” said Jackson T. King, general counsel of the tribe, in a prepared statement.

The tribe has the opportunity to request a review of Hoffman's decision by the NLRB in Washington.

Richard B. Hankins, an attorney representing the tribe, said the tribe will file a request for review. The deadline for the board in Washington to receive the tribe's request is April 15.

Hoffman issued a similar decision in a case relating to Foxwoods and the United Auto Workers Union. An election was held in November and a majority of poker and table-game dealers voted in favor of union representation by the UAW.

The tribe contested the result of that election, citing a variety of objections including jurisdiction, the lack of translated ballots and the conduct of union representatives.

An administrative law judge ruled last month that the election results should be certified, thus overruling the tribe's objections.

The tribe has appealed that decision and may take that case to federal court.

In relation to both the UAW and the IUOE, the Mashantuckets have suggested that both groups form a union under tribal laws. They reiterated that opinion again on Wednesday.

“The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation respects the rights of all employees and continues to urge them to take advantage of Tribal labor relations law with respect to unionization issues,” King said in the statement. “There is a system in place that respects due process and individual rights.”


Hillary's darkness typically unionist

It almost always comes when the audience least expects it: the moment Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton brings a roaring crowd to a hush with a heart-rending anecdote. "I remember listening to a story about a young woman in a small town along the Ohio River, in Meigs County, who worked in a pizza parlor," the Democratic presidential candidate said during a stop in Cleveland, beginning a particularly grim tale.

"She got pregnant, she started having problems. There's no hospital left in Meigs County, so she had to go to a neighboring county. She showed up, and the hospital said, 'You know, you've got to give us $100 before we can see you.' She didn't have $100," Clinton said.

"So the young woman went back home," she continued. "The next time she went back, she was in an ambulance. It turned out she lost the baby. She was airlifted to Columbus."

She paused before concluding: "And after heroic efforts at the medical center, she died." The audience, as always, gasped.

The story has become a staple of Clinton's stump speech, a prime example of how, in a campaign year in which lofty phrases have taken center stage, she has rejected sweeping oratory -- "just words," as her campaign likes to accuse Democratic rival Barack Obama of offering -- in favor of a dramatic speaking style all her own.

In hushed tones, sometimes with palpable sadness in her voice, Clinton tells dark, difficult anecdotes picked up on the campaign trail. They often relate to health matters, culled from her conversations with voters, and are designed to illustrate a policy point.

Presidential candidates across the decades, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, have honed the art of picking out stories to bolster a policy position in particularly human terms. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.), who left the Democratic race this year, often cited the stories of people he defended as a trial lawyer. For all of his grandeur, Obama can turn serious as well; at least once, in an effort to demonstrate how fleeting life can be, he detoured from his speech to tell the story of a woman he had recently met who, moments later, found out that her child had been killed in a car accident.

For Clinton, the approach seems to bring together her best skills, especially her ability to listen to voters she meets. In speeches that sometimes wear on and sometimes derail into deadening policy, sharing bleak stories can focus the audience's attention.

It also allows Clinton, who has only recently grown more comfortable talking about herself, to show that she understands how people live and how her policies would affect them. The story of the pregnant woman, which the candidate heard from a deputy sheriff in Ohio, provides a chance for her to talk about health care. At a town-hall meeting in Hanging Rock, Ohio, where the story drew audible gulps of horror, she ended by saying: "It's a real indictment of our health-care system. That shouldn't happen in America."

To emphasize her work on mental-health care for veterans, Clinton regularly describes meeting an Iraq war veteran whose wedding ring melted into his hand during an attack, and who also suffered a brain injury that forced him to rely on his wife for basic directions.

She routinely quotes the young man as asking: "Where do I go to get my brain back?"

"He said, 'You know, I went to West Point. Nobody had to take care of me before,'" Clinton said as she told the tale in Huntington, W.Va., on March 19. " 'Now every morning my wife has to give me a list about where I'm supposed to go and what I'm supposed to do.' "

In another story, retold recently in Youngstown, Ohio, she describes a "young woman who lost her husband in Iraq, a lovely young woman who had a daughter."

"Here's what happened to her," Clinton said. "She was given $6,000. She was told to leave the [military] base within 90 days. She was told her daughter was no longer eligible for Army medical care. She was basically on her own. So I said, 'That's not right.' So we began to work to change what was really cruel -- you lose your husband, you lose your wife, you lose your mom or your dad, and you're out, and nobody seemed to care."

Shortly before the Texas primary, Clinton spoke of a mother whose daughter collapsed in the crowd at a Houston rally and who, upon receiving a bottle of water from the candidate, whispered in her ear that she could not get her daughter medical treatment.

"She said, 'I don't have any health insurance -- I can't take her anywhere,'" Clinton recalled a few stops later. She said it was people like that who need for her to be president. "I'm not asking you to vote for me so much as I'm asking you to vote for yourselves," she said.

Perhaps the most shocking story Clinton has conveyed in recent months happened on Feb. 22, when a Dallas police officer was killed in an accident while escorting her motorcade. Late that night, in front of a riled-up crowd in Toledo that seemed only vaguely aware of what had happened, she described an "accident that resulted in his death, and it was just an incredibly sad loss, not only for his family -- he was a wonderful man; I visited the hospital and got a chance to express my sympathy to his family -- but to the police department."

Even though it was past 10:30 on a Friday night, she seemed determined to hush the crowd with a solemn message, saying: "It was really a reminder of the extraordinary work that our law enforcement officials do for us."

But it is the story of the pregnant pizza worker to which Clinton comes back repeatedly. At a Democratic dinner on March 2, she recounted it in full. She told it at a late-night rally in Cleveland just two days before the Ohio primary March 4, bringing the noisy audience to near-silence. She told it again in Charleston, W.Va, last month. Even her daughter, Chelsea, who was with her mother in Ohio when she heard the story, repeated it at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania last week. Clinton was told the story by Bryan Holman, the Meigs County deputy sheriff, who said the deceased woman was Trina Bachtel, whom campaign officials had been unable to identify.

Bachtel, Holman said, had been turned away from the hospital not only for lack of $100 but also because she had unpaid bills -- a detail that Clinton has not mentioned. Public records show that Bachtel of Pomeroy, Ohio, died on Aug. 15, 2007, at age 35. She previously had thousands of dollars in hospital debt, but it was paid off by 2005.

"It was a really terrible story," said Holman, who said he voted for Clinton in the Ohio primary. He said he is grateful that she has taken Bachtel's story to heart. "That is what we wanted."


Discouraging non-union construction in PA

With as much as $150 million in construction work at stake, Bucks County (PA) will convene a study group to examine whether to adopt a contractor responsibility ordinance opponents say would give union firms an inside track.

The Bucks County Board of Commissioners is split on the the issue, with Democrat Diane Marseglia generally in favor, Republican Charley Martin opposed and Chairman Jim Cawley undecided.

Martin said he opposes even the idea of convening the study group.

''It's going to be a big spin your wheels thing,'' Martin said. ''We know what the issue is, let's just vote on it.''

The county is in the midst of planning a courthouse expansion that has been estimated at $120 million, and is looking into the possibility of a prison expansion that has been estimated at as much as $55 million.

Cawley, a Republican, said the study group, the composition of which has yet to be determined, would be charged with examining not only the pros and cons, but also laying out the county's options.

''I do not have what I consider to be enough information to make an intelligent assessment,'' Cawley said. ''This would be a major policy change.''

Marseglia, who supports the idea and voted for a similar ordinance in Middletown Township, said the study group won't just be giving a thumbs up or down.

''There are different grades of what you can adopt,'' she said.

Many contractor responsibility ordinances require contractors to maintain apprenticeship programs or provide health insurance and verify workers' citizenship.

Unions typically support the agreements, saying they guarantee a well-trained workforce and quality construction, while non-union contractors and their trade groups oppose them, saying they are tilted against non-union shops.

Geoffrey Zeh, president of the Southeast Pennsylvania chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a non-union contractor advocacy group, said the ordinances sound great, but are simply designed to exclude ''open shop'' contractors.

''It sounds great, but what a lot of people don't know is they preclude anybody but union contractors from bidding on public work,'' Zeh said.

They do that by requiring apprenticeship programs in the mold of the programs maintained by local building-trades unions, he said. The lack of non-union bidders drives up costs, he said.

But Brett Helfrich, business representative for Local 375 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said there's a good reason to require the union apprenticeship model: It works.

Helfrich says union apprenticeship programs are more rigorous than those maintained by ABC or non-union shops, and provide superior trained craftsmen and workers who produce higher quality work and safer working conditions.

It is not the first time the county has contemplated implementing contractor requirements that have been opposed by non-union firms.

The county authorized construction management firm Joseph Jingoli & Son Inc. of Lawrenceville, N.J., to study whether it should use a ''project labor agreement'' on the courthouse project.

That has been placed on hold. Zeh said his group also weighed in heavily against the project labor agreement, which he said is very similar to a contractor responsibility ordinance now under consideration.

''This is the new project labor agreement,'' Zeh said.

In other labor-related news, the commissioners approved new contracts with seven employee unions and associations whose contracts had expired at the end of 2007.

Four of the agreements, with units of the Pennsylvania Social Services Union that represent mostly professional employees and supervisors, run for four years and include annual pay increases of 3 percent.

The county inked a five-year pact with the Bucks County Rangers Benevolent Association, representing park rangers, and a four-year pact with prison supervisors that also provides for 3 percent annual increases.

All the employees will be required to chip in between 0.75 percent and 1.5 percent of their annual salary to pay for preferred provider health coverage, depending on the size of their family. HMO coverage will remain free to employees in the groups.

An arbitrator awarded county detectives a four-year contract calling for pay increases of 4 percent in 2007, 3.5 percent in 2008 and 2009 and 4 percent in 2010.

The county is contesting a provision of the arbitrator's ruling regarding retirement benefits.


Have teacher-unions overpriced U.S. schools?

If there were a John Stossel School of Journalism, reporters-in-training would be taught a simple template for any story: Free markets are good. Unions are bad. When consumers get to “choose,” everyone wins; if governments try to regulate, everyone loses. No matter what the assignment, a Stossel-trained reporter would be instructed to merely plug in a few relevant factoids to back up the propositions and—perhaps more importantly—to exclude any that undermine the predetermined conclusion.

As subtle as its title, Stossel’s January 13 report on public schools, “Stupid in America,” hewed completely to that template. The one-hour special served up everything one has come to expect from ABC’s 20/20 anchor: anecdotes presented as fact, lopsided sourcing, constant editorializing and the exclusion of information that would challenge its premise—namely, that public schools are resounding failures, that complaints about inadequate funding are bogus, that teachers’ unions are the most significant barrier to school improvement, and that school privatization (in the form of vouchers) presents the best if not only hope for American children.

Evidence, Stossel-style

With a touchy argument like “U.S. kids are stupid,” you might imagine Stossel would start with his best evidence. But the program’s opening sequence actually consists of clips from Hollywood movies, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, along with Stossel’s comments:

Stossel: “Stupid in America.” That’s a nasty title. But some nasty things are going on in America’s public schools and it’s about time we face up to them. We see so many movies showing us wild kids. [Movie clip.] Kids arriving in school doped up. [Movie clip.] The movies tell us kids are stupid. [Movie clip.] And the teachers boring. [Movie clip.]

Are real teachers that dull? Students told us, yes.

Unidentified female student: Some teachers are very boring, so everybody falls asleep.

Stossel: Is school as bad as the movie suggests?

Unidentified male student: You see kids all the time walking into school smoking weed. You know, it’s a normal thing here.

Remarkably, this is how much of the program proceeds: uncontextualized, one-line comments from unidentified students and parents, interspliced with Stossel’s off-camera commentary. Viewers are required to take the host at his word when he attests that a single soundbite reflects what “students tell us.” And the presentation of movies as journalistic “evidence” is par for the course: Stossel goes on to cite segments from The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (to demonstrate the stupidity of U.S. kids) and a sketch from Saturday Night Live (as “a good description of monopoly service”). To illustrate his claim that “when monopolies rule, little gets done,” Stossel dusted off old tape of himself documenting the frustrations of Soviet life: “In this Moscow restaurant, I waited endlessly while waiters sat or talked to each other. Because with no competition, there is no incentive to wait on me.”

Tripled, doubled, whatever

Stossel’s paean to privatization entails a special contempt for the idea that U.S. public schools are underfunded. The program cited a charter school principal, Ben Chavis, calling that “the biggest lie in America.” That assertion was seconded by Jay Greene, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute (but identified only as author of a book on education reform), who was brought on to say, “We doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years, and yet schools aren’t better.” Stossel, unsurprisingly, agreed: “Here’s a graph of the increased spending; the line goes straight up. But student achievement, flat. Graduation rates, flat. The extra money didn’t help the kids.”

In a previous attack on public schools (11/12/99), Stossel claimed such spending had tripled; he doesn’t clarify why he doesn’t re-use that particular factoid here. In any event, now as then, there are education scholars, like Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute (American Prospect, 3/21/93), who have long pointed out that much of the increase in school funding is directed to things like special education, nutrition and transportation—essential services, but not directly related to improving performance. Rather than focus on that context, Stossel illustrated supposed extravagance by showing how schools in Kansas City “built this Olympic-sized swimming pool, state of the art gyms with indoor tracks. These computer labs and more.”

Stossel complained early on that “it’s hard to get our cameras into schools. . . . We were turned down in state after state.” The implication was that schools were ashamed of their boring teachers and their stupid, doped-up kids. But another reason might be the fact that Stossel angered some parents after convening interviews with school kids for his 2001 anti-environmentalist “Tampering With Nature” special. The parents claimed they were misled about Stossel’s involvement, and that the host asked the children leading questions in order to elicit answers that fit with his show’s thesis (New York Times, 6/27/01).

In any event, Stossel didn’t allow the lack of access to keep him from drawing bold conclusions, one of which is that parents who think their children’s schools are okay are deluded. “The people in the suburbs say, ‘Our schools are great,’” Stossel said, but, in fact, “American schools on the whole just aren’t that good.”

As proof on this point, Stossel said, “We gave parts of an international test to some high school students in Belgium and in New Jersey,” with the result that “the Belgian kids cleaned their clocks.” (Belgian student: “The test was so easy, I think if the kids in America couldn’t do this, they’re really stupid.”)

Such international testing comparisons, while popular fodder for pundits, are fraught with complications, often failing to account for vast differences in the educational systems in other countries. (See The Manufactured Crisis, David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle.) A more evenhanded report would at least allow that the results are far from clear. The education journal Phi Delta Kappan reported (5/1/05), for example, that U.S. performance on a wide range of such tests does not bolster the impression that the United States is woefully behind its international counterparts: “Based on our review of the results of six international achievement surveys conducted from 1991 to 2001, we conclude that U.S. students have generally performed above average in comparisons with students in other industrialized nations.” Of course, they’re no Jay Leno.

But there’s something else going on here: When he’s making the “everyone’s stupid” point, Stossel states categorically that U.S. schools, even the good ones, are failing students. But later, when he wants to argue that vouchers are necessary to address inequities in schools, suddenly there are good public schools, and the problem is that not everyone has access to them: “If you’re a parent with money, you have choices. You can pay for a private school, or buy into a neighborhood that has a better public school.” This was illustrated with a sequence about parents who “cheat” to get their kids into, for example, Fremont Union schools in San Jose, California, which are “so much better than neighboring schools.”

Likewise, when he was discussing Kansas City, Stossel scoffed at spending on things like indoor tracks and computer labs. Minutes later, when he was illustrating the superiority of a Belgian school, “extras, like cooking, more sports programs, furniture building [and] electronics,” were good things, evidence that these schools care more about children.

The real problem—unions

Public schools supply Stossel with one of his favorite targets: organized workers. “The school system isn’t calcified just because it’s a government monopoly. There is another stumbling block,” Stossel told viewers. “It’s a union-dominated monopoly.”

Of course, the problem is not just with teachers: “Everywhere, unions resist the practice that made GE and other organizations successful—weed out the bad. The rules must stand, say unions everywhere.”

To show just how bad the teachers union really is, Stossel took viewers to something known as the “rubber room,” a building where teachers accused of incompetence or worse bide their time while claims against them are processed. Stossel and New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein agree that union contracts make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers—even those accused of serious infractions. “And what do they do with those teachers? Well, they put them in the rubber room,” Stossel explained, implying that this was the union’s idea, or something the union supports: “Today, the city pays $20 million a year to house teachers in rubber rooms. Insane as that is, at the union rally, teachers told me they support the firing rules.”

Were Stossel interested in fairness, viewers would have been told that the New York City teachers’ union put forward a plan to more swiftly dismiss incompetent teachers and do away with the “rubber room” system—as the New York Times reported (1/15/04).

The marketplace solution

For all this stupidity and delusion and whining about funding, Stossel’s solution was, unsurprisingly, vouchers. Charter schools, he declared, have more academic success while operating with smaller budgets than their mainstream public school counterparts. Again, the reporting relies on a few anecdotes, specific charter schools that are thriving in places like Oakland, California and South Carolina.

Here the anecdotal approach would seem to be a necessity, since more extensive and representative studies of public and private schools frankly undermine Stossel’s thesis. A major research project sponsored by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois, recently addressed the achievement of students from similar backgrounds in conventional public schools, charter schools and private schools. The researchers found that fourth-graders attending public schools scored higher than students attending either private or charter schools on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a standard measurement for evaluating student progress (New York Times, 1/28/06).

How did Stossel handle the problem? By not mentioning that research. According to one report (State School News Service, 1/26/06), ABC went to the trouble of getting the data, but chose not to include it.

Stossel did cite some voucher research approvingly. After stating that “competition makes everything better,” Stossel turned to Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby, who has researched voucher programs in Milwaukee. Hoxby is unequivocal, claiming: “No one lost in Milwaukee. Everyone did better. The kids at the regular public schools did better, and the kids who went to the voucher schools did better.” Stossel’s response: “Of course they did. That’s what competition does.”

But viewers surely deserved to know that Hoxby’s research has come under intense criticism (Wall Street Journal, 10/24/05; Economic Policy Institute, 4/15/05) for, among other things, failing to control for demographic differences (like race) when comparing schools. And a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (6/12/05) suggested that the research on the benefits of vouchers was mostly a mixed bag. Stossel navigated around these controversies by pretending they didn’t exist.

Stossel’s sunny view of school choice steers clear of almost any dissenting views. As noted by Media Matters for America’s tally (1/19/06), Stossel featured eight sources who were either pro-voucher or supportive of Stossel’s line on privatization, with just two sources arguing in support of public schools.

Such selectivity left out those who note, as the American Federation of Teachers pointed out in a response to Stossel (2/06), that charter schools in Milwaukee and California have been exposed for misusing public funds. For Stossel, the schools, like one in Washington D.C., are paragons of virtue: “At the charter school, there is order. The kids are on task and doing better.” Clearly, to Stossel, the whole matter is simple—given money and choice, students will steer themselves to good schools.

“We hope this starts a debate,” Stossel claimed in the program’s close. But there already is a debate over the privatization of public schools; you’d just never know it, or understand it, from watching stacked-deck reports like this one.

Unsurprisingly, Stossel’s one-sided harangue didn’t sit well with public school teachers, who took to the streets outside ABC’s headquarters. That led Stossel to do a follow-up report (3/10/06) in which he noted that some teachers suggested he give teaching a try. “It sounds good to me,” Stossel concluded. “So maybe I will teach for a week.” Hopefully it won’t be a journalism class.


Dems look to Golden State for cash

In back-to-back stops, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are returning to a popular financial wellhead, raising money in California to help finance a heavy stretch of spending in April.

Both Obama and Clinton are expected to report less money raised in March than they did in their banner fundraising performances in February. With their race for the Democratic nomination showing no signs of ending, tapping donors for more cash has new urgency.

Obama, expected to report raising between $30 million and $35 million in March, has scheduled fundraisers at the homes of four different financial backers Sunday afternoon and evening in northern California.

Clinton, with a March total expected at about $20 million, attended one fundraiser Wednesday in Silicon Valley, and had three planned Thursday -- in San Francisco, Pasadena and Los Angeles.

Most of the events are for donors giving the $2,300 maximum allowed by law.

Obama raised a record $55 million in February; Clinton raised $34.5 million. Their March fundraising reports won't be filed with the government until April 20 and the campaigns declined to make their figures public; the totals cited are based on estimates from advisers.

The only presidential nominating contest this month is in Pennsylvania, and its outcome will be closely scrutinized for signs of strength and weakness by the two Democratic senators. Clinton has had a public opinion poll lead in the state, but Obama has closed it to single digits.

Obama, the fundraising leader in the presidential contest, is already outspending her in advertising. Clinton, seeking to draw attention back to her, launched a new commercial in the state Wednesday that is a sequel to the "3 a.m." national security ad she ran against Obama in Texas last month. This time she takes on Republican John McCain's economic policies.

Clinton aides said Wednesday that they anticipate Obama will outspend her by 2-to-1 in Pennsylvania. In the first round of campaign ads, Obama spent about $2 million to Clinton's $450,000, according to data compiled by TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ads. Obama is also already airing ads in Indiana and North Carolina, which won't hold primaries until next month.

"We don't expect to match Senator Obama ad for ad," Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson told reporters during a conference call Wednesday. "We will have significant resources to compete and be resourceful, but we know that Senator Obama will outspend us significantly."

Clinton entered March with $11.5 million to spend in the primary compared to $30.5 million for Obama. Moreover, Clinton owed $8.7 million to several campaign vendors at the end of February. A spot check by The Associated Press of several vendors found many were paid last month, after the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas. The cost of those two contests, together with efforts to reduce campaign debt, have kept fundraising a priority for her campaign.

Though the New York senator trails Obama in delegates needed for the nomination, Clinton advisers and fundraisers said her donors remain enthusiastic.

"A big boon to the fundraising has been these appeals for her to withdraw," said Larry Stone, a Clinton fundraiser in Silicon Valley who also is the Santa Clara County assessor. "It makes supporters angry, especially women."

While the money is financing their own intramural Democratic contest, both Obama and Clinton have begun to target McCain. Democratic party leaders have voiced concern lately that the ongoing Democratic race was leaving McCain unscathed.

Obama and Clinton also want to draw sharp contrasts with McCain to influence polling that weighs the two Democrats' relative strengths against McCain. That is especially important to Clinton, who is trying to sell herself as the most electable candidate to the Democratic superdelegates, the party and elected officials who can support whomever they choose, regardless of the election outcomes in the states.

Lately, Obama has been linking McCain to Bush's policies in Iraq. In her new ad, Clinton portrays McCain as unwilling to tackle the nation's housing crisis.

The ad is a policy sequel to her highly publicized "3 a.m." ad against Obama in which she cast herself as better able to handle national security crises.

In this ad, a phone rings as children sleep and grown-ups pore over paperwork in their homes.

"It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep, but there's a phone ringing in the White House and this time the crisis is economic," an announcer says. "Home foreclosures mounting, markets teetering. John McCain just said the government shouldn't take any real action on the housing crisis, he'd let the phone keep ringing."

McCain opposes aggressive intervention by the government to solve the mortgage crisis and the market upheaval it spawned, saying he prefers only limited intervention and letting market forces play out.

McCain's campaign mocked the Clinton criticism.

"With ads like that it's most likely that the call she gets at 3 a.m. is, `Senator, you just lost another superdelegate,'" said McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt.

By Wednesday night, McCain's campaign released a response commercial that used the same video as Clinton's ad. It was unclear how widely McCain's ad would air or whether it would simply appear on the campaign's Web site.

"Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama just said they'd solve the problem by raising your taxes. More money out of your pocket," the ad says. "John McCain has a better plan. Grow jobs, grow our economy -- not grow Washington. It's 3 a.m., time for a president who is ready."


Corrupt Teamsters local put in trusteeship

Charlie Byrnes sees himself as a doctor of sorts who is prescribing some tough medicine for Teamsters Local 377. “This local is sick and needs to be fixed,” said Byrnes, a Pittsburgh union official who was named trustee of the Youngstown-based local, which represents about 3,700 workers in four counties.

In December, a Teamsters panel threw out the results of an October election and suspended men who won the top two posts. In February, Byrnes was appointed to restore order to a local that he said had been plagued with political fights for more than two years.

He said the leadership feud had become so bad that the local’s business agents had been filing grievances only for those members who are on “their side.”

“It was all about egos and the desire for power and authority,” Byrnes said.

He has installed new policies on how members will be represented, installed procedures to control expenses, filed a police report over missing computers and instructed business agents to do a better job representing members.

“The only reason for unions is to protect the guy who’s paying the bill. When business agents lose sight of that fact, you end up with a local in trusteeship,” Byrnes said.

His first goal — establishing new procedures — is on its way to being accomplished, he said. Several new policies have been adopted and will be monitored by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to make sure they are not weakened over time, he said.

“If they take away any of these policies, I’ll be back,” he said.

His second goal — restoring the trust of members — is much harder, he said. Business agents will have to show that they care about the members, instead of focusing on their own political future within the union, he said.

In the past, leadership has not provided adequate training for shop stewards at area companies because business agents have been concerned that shop stewards would run against them, Byrnes said. He has started training sessions each month before general membership meetings.

Byrnes, who was appointed in February, said he expects the trusteeship to last between eight and 12 months. Before he leaves, an election will be held.

In the past, the local has elected six business agents, including the president and secretary-treasurer, who was the top official in the union.

Byrnes said he will recommend the local have only five business agents, in order to cut expenses. The local has $180,000 in savings but should have more than $250,000 in order to pay for arbitration expenses and building maintenance, he said. A smaller fund makes the local seem weak to companies in negotiations, he said.

While the election results from October were thrown out, Byrnes has retained four business agents who won those positions. All of them are new to the job and are being trained on negotiations, arbitration and grievances, he said.

The agents are expected to be at job sites more frequently, he said.

A police report was filed over two laptop computers and two printers that are missing. Byrnes said business agents are provided computers and printers but record-keeping was not good enough in the past to trace the missing equipment.

Byrnes is secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 926 in Pittsburgh and is overseeing both locals. This is the third time he has been appointed a trustee for a local in trouble. He is being assisted in Youngstown by Doug Norris, an international representative..

The Local 377 officials who were suspended were Ray DePasquale, who defeated Bob Bernat for secretary-treasurer, and Chris Colello, who was re-elected president.

Union charges against DePasquale said he handed out phony cards for safety certification, called a strike without proper approval, improperly removed a membership roster from the union hall and improperly shredded or removed a variety of other documents. Charges against Colello involved the strike and the membership roster.


Tribe curbs non-union construction

The Mohegan Tribe announced Tuesday that a project labor agreement has been signed among the tribe, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and the New London-Norwich Building and Construction Trades Council.

This is the first such agreement to be signed relating to a project on sovereign land in the state.

“It's really a historic agreement,” said Jeff Hartmann, chief operating officer of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority. “I think it says in the spirit of negotiation and cooperation, these types of agreements can be forged.”

While the signed agreement was not made public Tuesday, most project labor agreements, or PLAs, stipulate that only union labor be used on a specific project, in this case Mohegan Sun's $925 million expansion project, in exchange for a no-strike agreement. The agreements are most commonly seen in relation to large, complex construction projects.

The tribe has always used union labor in its various construction projects but had never signed a PLA before.

And while a PLA is not required, the tribe entered into the agreement anyway.

“It's no secret they didn't have to do it,” said Chuck Appleby, legislative and political director for the trades council. “This shows the respect they have for us to put their names on the dotted line.”

Tribal Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum said the agreement had been a work in progress for about a year, but many of the details were hammered out in the last six months.

Bozsum said one of the reasons why the agreement was made was to ensure that Project Horizon will “always have enough hands on deck.” The project will add a 922-room hotel, 115,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and the 64,000-square-foot Casino of the Wind.

The casino is scheduled to open at the end of August, the hotel in October 2010.

Tribal and labor representatives, gathered in a posh hotel suite on the 35th floor, mentioned repeatedly the “mutual respect” each side had for the other and that the deal is a product of communication and understanding.

Even though the tribe has entered into this agreement with the trades council — a coalition of 16 local unions representing labors and craft workers — the tribe's sovereignty will not be affected and tribal laws will be observed.

“We have always respected their sovereignty. That's their existence. Who are we to question it?” said Appleby.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal hailed Tuesday's announcement as a “powerfully positive sign of constructive and promising relationships between the tribal nation” and the building trade workers.

“This development is extraordinarily welcome because project labor agreements are designed to preserve and enhance labor-management peace and cooperation in workplaces,” Blumenthal said. “I am very impressed that the tribe and the unions have taken this huge step forward.”

Blumenthal said PLAs, in general, have a “pretty positive record” in avoiding workplace disputes. “It makes for a higher likelihood for peaceful and cooperative relationships because it settles a lot of potential pitfalls,” he said.

Also included in the agreement are Skanska, a construction firm, and The Keating Group.

Mike Rosario, a union representative for the plumbers and pipefitters union Local 777, said a panel will be set up to listen to and resolve any potential disputes and resolve those matters, avoiding strikes and walkouts.

“It's a win-win for everyone,” Rosario said. “You don't win when you walk off the job.”

Across the Thames River, a spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said the tribe always uses members of the trade council in its construction projects but has never entered into a formal agreement.

“We have nothing but the highest respect of the professionalism and the work product that they can produce,” said Bruce MacDonald, tribal spokesman.


Dems bow down to Pennsylvania union leaders

On a day Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama continued a hard-fought campaign in Pennsylvania, likely Republican nominee Sen. John McCain announced he is in the "embryonic stages" of selecting a vice presidential running mate.

McCain said he hopes to unveil his choice before the Republican National Convention to avoid the type of problems that plagued Dan Quayle's debut two decades ago.

"It's every name imaginable," he said Wednesday of his list-in-the-making, about 20 in all.

He disclosed none of them and declined to identify the individuals he has approached to supervise the vetting that will winnow the field.

In expressing his hope to announce his choice before the convention opens in September, McCain added, "I'm aware of enhanced importance of this issue because of my age." He is 71 and, if he wins, would be the oldest president elected to a first term in office.

McCain's comments seemed to startle his top aides, who have scripted an elaborate weeklong series of events designed to introduce the Republican to a wider audience of voters and emphasize his long military history.

The day's itinerary included stops at the Naval Academy, where McCain graduated in 1958, and Pensacola, Fla., where he took his flight training.

In Philadelphia, Obama took the stage at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Convention Wednesday, one day after Clinton promised the group she would bring manufacturing jobs back to American shores.

Henry Nicholas, the president of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, announced his union's endorsement of Obama while giving the candidate's introduction.

"I took this position today because justice tells me it was the right position to take," Nicholas said.

In a speech heavy on hope and inspiration, Obama urged the crowd to pull together for change.

"Brothers and sisters, the system is broken," Obama said. "Change does not happen from the top down. It comes from the bottom up. ... There's nothing we can't do if we're unified. That's what the labor movement is all about."

From establishing universal health care to creating millions of jobs through infrastructure projects, Obama's speech in many ways mirrored that of Clinton, who spoke to the group of about 1,000 union members a day earlier.

Obama called for a middle-class tax cut, vowed to extend unemployment insurance, proposed tuition credits for college students, and promised to establish universal health care.

Obama also pledged to establish a green-energy sector and spend $150 billion to create 5 million jobs over the next 10 years.

Ending the war in Iraq and bringing the troops home would free up the money to make his plans happen, Obama implied.

"If we are spending $10 billion a month in Baghdad, I know we can spend the money in America."

Roxanne Hoag, a member of the Service Employees International Union from Wallingford, Pa., said she felt "all fired up" after Obama's speech.

"I'm very taken by him," Hoag said. "He knows what the working-class people need. And I love the fact that none of the lobbyists own him."

In Pittsburgh, Clinton proposed eliminating tax breaks for companies that move jobs to other countries and using the savings to persuade companies to keep jobs in the U.S. Her plan would also offer new tax benefits for research and job development.


SEIU tells members to shut up

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