AFL-CIO does Hugo Chavez' bidding for Dems

President Bush next week will send Congress a trade agreement forcing Democrats there to make an unpleasant choice. Will they follow the bidding of organized labor and reject a pact negotiated more than a year and a half ago with the country's strongest ally and best customer in South America?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not want to make her members cast votes on the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. It is unconditionally opposed by the AFL-CIO, which is uninterested in negotiating changes. But to forget about a vote this year as Pelosi wants would be akin to an outright rejection in its international implications. It would humiliate Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a free-trader and a bulwark against the spreading influence in Latin America of Venezuela's leftist strongman President Hugo Chavez.

The difficulty in getting only about 30 House Democrats to provide the needed margin of victory reflects the Democratic Party's abandonment of free trade over the past half-century. Less obvious, labor's intense opposition shows that the AFL-CIO no longer leads the way against the far left throughout the world, as it did under George Meany and Lane Kirkland in bygone years. Their successors are not concerned with the prospect of Chavez, allied with communist Cuba, dominating the Western Hemisphere.

Colombia has fought a long, successful battle against leftist guerillas supported and financed by Chavez. As a faithful U.S. ally, Uribe has been astounded by the fate of the trade agreement. Since it was signed in November 2006, not one congressional hearing has been held. To please Democrats, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab has gone back to Bogota and won changes on labor and environmental issues. Even now, she is willing to add trade adjustment subsidies for displaced workers in quest of a bipartisan deal. But nothing budges labor.

Schwab's pleas to Democrats are about bread and butter. The agreement removes a $200,000 tariff on Caterpillar off-road tractors going into Colombia, producing thousands of jobs for Americans. Under the Andean Trade Preference Act recently extended by Congress, Colombia has nearly total duty-free access into the United States, but the AFL-CIO insists it cannot approve the agreement because of the way Colombian unions are persecuted.

A rare insight into what the Uribe regime really thinks is going on was provided me by Vice President Francisco Santos on one of the many trips to Washington by senior Colombian officials to court congressional support. Santos told me Chavez's controlled labor unions in Venezuela are in close touch with Colombia's leftist unions, who in turn influence the AFL-CIO. Thus, the labor intransigence in Washington can be traced to Caracas.

An AFL-CIO delegation to Colombia in mid-February headed by Linda Chavez-Thompson met with Uribe, who promised to deal with alleged violence against Colombian labor leaders. But the Americans spent most of their time with their Colombian compatriots, who recited horror stories of persecution. After the visit, the AFL-CIO Executive Council announced on March 4, "Should it come up for a vote this year, we will mobilize the unions and the resources of the federation to defeat it."

Rep. Sander Levin, a longtime labor stalwart from Michigan who has become the vicar of protectionism as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Trade, has called Bush's decision to send the trade agreement to Congress "a step backward." That implies a step away from a bipartisan accord, but what the Democratic leadership wants is no action at all.

This attitude cannot be removed from the contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over who hates most the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At a Johnstown, Pa., town meeting last weekend, a questioner blamed NAFTA for local jobs outsourced to India. Obama had to politely remind the questioner that the treaty concerned Mexico and Canada, not India, before getting in his licks against NAFTA.

There are enough Democratic politicians embarrassed by protectionist sloganeering that they would be inclined to support the Colombian agreement -- were it not for labor's intervention. How many Democrats in Congress will qualify for a profile in courage by not heeding the AFL-CIO's dictates on the Colombian Free Trade Agreement?


The $1 billion forced-labor union agenda

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama visited the House of Labor this week, and Labor can't wait to invite one back. Which one? Who cares. To read the press coverage, unions are as split as the rest of the country over a Democratic nominee. The giant AFL-CIO has yet to endorse, its member unions hopelessly divided. Locals fight it out state-to-state, squaring off into their candidates' corners. The upcoming Pennsylvania primary has devolved into a slugfest over a huge union vote, one reason why both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama planned their weeks around speeches to an AFL-CIO convention in Philly.

Republicans are gleeful about these divides, but the guys grinning widest are union bosses. They understood long ago what even today the GOP and the business community have yet to grasp. This election is their best shot in a half-century of making over Washington. Not everyone is thrilled with a Clinton or an Obama, but this matters little next to the big prize. As Gerald McEntee, the savvy head of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, succinctly put it, Big Labor is looking for a "trifecta" – the Oval Office, the House and a filibuster-proof Senate. And after that, the biggest rewrite of labor law in modern America.

"This is an all-in bet for them in 2008," says Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, a group that fights down in the trenches against coercive union power. "As market cycles go, they're in their peak, we're in our trough, and they're looking for a clear two-year run" in an all-Democrat Washington.

How bad does Big Labor want this? Consider history. George W. Bush has been eight years of anticorruption probes and more union financial disclosure. Bill Clinton's tenure was defined by an antiunion GOP majority, with Nafta as a bitter pill. George H.W. Bush codified the Beck decision, allowing workers to withhold political dues. Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union. Even Jimmy Carter was tightfisted with gifts. The unions' last political heyday arguably ended with the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, which regulated internal union affairs.

How bad does Big Labor want this? Consider the desperation. A global economy has meant higher-paying, more flexible jobs, and a U.S. workforce that sees little value in unions. Union membership has been in a free-fall for years, with private-sector membership now at just 7.4% of the labor force. Fights over how to stop this bleeding have fractured the movement. Labor leaders worry that if they don't reverse the trend soon, they'll be out of a job.

This is their shot. Unions are confident the House will be Democratic and pliant. By holding off on big endorsements, they've forced both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama to pander to their demands, creating some of the most pro-union presidential candidates in recent history. In the Senate, labor bosses see a chance to add three to seven seats, enough, when combined with wobbly Republicans, to do away with filibusters. They're already out spending in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Alaska and Maine.

How bad does Big Labor want this? Consider the money and manpower so far. The AFL-CIO has approved a record political budget of $53 million to help fund 200,000 union workers on the street. Its affiliated national and international unions have pledged another $200 million. The National Education Association will throw $40 million to $50 million at races. The Service Employees International Union has marked off $100 million for politics, and intends to pay 2,000 union members the equivalent of their salaries to work on Democratic campaigns. Add in union money for federal or state political action committees, for 527s, and for local and state races, and some astute members of the business community – those who have seen this coming "tsunami" (as one puts it) – estimate union political spending may top $1 billion in 2008.

How bad does Big Labor want this? Consider what it will get if that money pays off. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have already pledged a rewrite of Nafta and an end to more trade deals. Both promise to throw government money at new union-only jobs, to boost unemployment insurance, to penalize companies that hire overseas, and to take a run at "universal" health care.

To this, unions will add passage of "card check," which would outlaw secret ballots in union organizing elections. Alongside will be legislation to make union officials the exclusive bargaining agents of most police, fire and rescue personnel. Then there's the biggie – so big that most officials don't talk about it publicly. Tucked into the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act is a provision called 14(b), which allows for "right to work" states. Big Labor last took a run at deleting this section, and forcing more unionization, in the Johnson administration. With a filibuster-proof Senate, they'd have a far better shot.

Unions want a Department of Labor that will sit on corruption cases, water down financial disclosure rules, and turn a blind eye to the use of pension funds to influence boardroom decisions. The National Labor Relations Board has three vacancies, which Senate Democrats will refuse to fill this year. Big Labor's own slate would include people favorable to proposals to allow "mini-unions" within corporate workplaces, or to rework job definitions to bring more positions under the union umbrella.

The biggest obstacle to all this would normally be the business community. But with Democrats strongly positioned to win, companies are reluctant to upset the political masters. The corporate world's list of political problems has also grown so large – trade, paid leave, healthcare, environmental issues – that it has barely been able to focus on the union threat.

To the extent companies have stepped up, it's been on single issues, like card check. And therein lies the unions' biggest risk: overreach. Good as the overall political environment is, most Americans don't agree with specific union proposals. A recent poll released by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which is fighting against card check, found that two-thirds of voters in key Senate election states oppose getting rid of secret union ballots.

The tactic of pro-union Democrats in the past has been to avoid talking specifics. If Republicans want a shot at winning some political races, they'll need to. Painting the picture of a union-dominated America might help focus minds.


Clooney opted for FiCore union membership

Aside from bringing back pro football's formative days, "Leatherheads" might be remembered as the film that permanently drove a wedge between George Clooney and the Writers Guild of America. Clooney went financial core last fall, after the WGA decided 2-1 in a credit arbitration vote that only Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly deserved screen credit on the picture that Universal opens today.

Going fi-core means a member is still technically a member of the WGA, but has limited rights within the guild. Fi-core members have to pay dues and are covered by the health and pension plans. Once you elect to go fi-core, the decision is irreversible.

"When your own union doesn't back what you've done, the only honorable thing to do is not participate," said Clooney, who stressed he made no attempt to exclude Brantley and Reilly.

Clooney says he would have quit the WGA altogether if he could, but that would have prevented him from working on all WGA-covered productions. He says he wanted nothing more to do with the WGA but didn't want to be hampered in his ability in writing scripts.

As for "Leatherheads," Clooney took a languishing 17-year old project and got a greenlight after personally giving the script a major overhaul that transformed it into a screwball comedy. He says he felt he'd written all but two of the film's scenes.

While he agreed that Brantley and Reilly deserved first position credit for hatching the idea and characters, he was incensed enough by the WGA arbitration process to go financial core, which rendered him a dues-paying non-voting member.

The WGA had no comment about Clooney's decision.

Clooney didn't appeal the WGA ruling, and kept his action quiet because the WGA was gearing up for a strike at the time. He didn't want the filing seen as him having split ranks with the union over the labor dispute.

Clooney has been a vocal advocate for urging studios and unions to resolve their differences as soon as possible; he joined Tom Hanks, Sally Field and others at a testy February meeting with SAG leaders in order to urge the guild to start bargaining ASAP.

To Grant Heslov, who partners with Clooney in the production shingle Smoke House, and who was a producer with Clooney on "Leatherheads," the fi-core move was simply a reaction to a bad WGA decision.

"This script that Duncan and Rick wrote sat languid until after we finished 'Good Night, and Good Luck' and George wanted to do something lighter," Heslov said. "George liked 'Leatherheads,' but said it never felt quite right. He took it to Italy with him, and I remember when he called to say he thought he'd solved it. One thing that you clearly see, if you read the original, the subsequent drafts and then his draft, is that he wrote the majority of the film. When I got the call about the decision that he wasn't getting credit, I was shocked. We both thought Duncan and Rick would get first position credit, which they deserved. But this wasn't right."

WGA requires directors who seek writing credit to be responsible for 50% of the script. Heslov said Clooney kept his displeasure quiet because he didn't want to be viewed as a credit hog since, after all, he is the star, director and a producer of "Leatherheads." But Clooney confirmed his exit to Daily Variety.

More than one option

Heslov said this wasn't about ego, pointing out that when Universal sent a notice that the film would bear the credit "A George Clooney Film," Clooney nixed it. And while Clooney and Heslov shared an Oscar nomination for original screenplay on "Good Night, and Good Luck," Clooney and ex-partner Steven Soderbergh removed their names from the producer roster, leaving Heslov the sole nominee when the Clooney-directed pic became a best picture candidate.

"He doesn't take possessory credit because he believes this is a collaborative business and he's not a guy who needs credit," Heslov said. "Financial core was his form of protest, but when he did it, he didn't want it public. We're both big union guys. Between us, we belong to 12 unions. I think they made the wrong decision, and he was within his rights to respond by going financial core."

By going fi-core, writers withhold the portion of dues spent by the WGA on non-contract activities -- while still being able to write scripts. Fi-core writers pay dues that are 1.9% less than regular members; they also can't vote on contracts or in any WGA election.

Under WGA rules, if the director or producer of a film is proposed for final credit, an automatic arbitration is triggered.


Minnesotans reject Franken's #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 Minnesota 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."

Minnesotans agree, by 82%-10%. "Union households" agree by 82%-13%.

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.

Minnesotans support secret-ballot elections over no-vote unionism by 72%-16%.

Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for Al Franken 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: 11%, Less likey: 41%, No difference: 25%

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: 50%


Unions display ignorant, ugly anti-semitism

A high-ranking Jewish American unionist accused two powerful Australian trade unions of anti-Semitism. Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Jewish Labor Committee and of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, last week accused the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia of "anti-Semitism cloaked under the veil of anti-Zionism" following their endorsement last month of a newspaper ad accusing Israel of "ethnic cleansing."

In an op-ed published in last week’s Forward newspaper, Appelbaum slammed the unions for their "diatribes against Israel."

The ad in The Australian March 12 -- the day the parliament passed a bipartisan motion congratulating Israel on its 60th anniversary -- was endorsed by a number of Jews.

It said, "We as informed and concerned Australians choose to dissociate ourselves from the celebration of the triumph of racism and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al-Nakba [the catastrophe] of 1948."

Under the headline “American labor can help right anti-Israel left,” Appelbaum in the Forward said the Australian unions had adopted “instinct over intellect."

But Andrew Ferguson, the CFMEU’s general secretary, defended his union’s endorsement of the ad.

"I do not accept that being critical of policies of the Israeli state makes us anti-Semitic, just as being critical of the policies of George Bush does not make us anti-American," he told The Australian.

Other union officials disagreed. Paul Howes, the secretary of the Australian Workers Union, accused the CFMEU and the MUA of "lining up with Hamas."


Workers lose big-time in UAW strike v. AAM

Married couple Tim and Teri Anthony of Flint are struggling to stay on top of their bills. The day after American Axle went on strike, Tim Anthony, 56, was laid off from his job at General Motors Truck and Bus Assembly in Pontiac. No axles, no work for Anthony.

"It has been very tough," said Teri Anthony, 54. "My husband has been looking at our bills, deciding who we can pay and who we can't.

"We've had to use credit cards to buy groceries. Fortunately, we haven't had to borrow yet."

About 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York left their jobs for the picket lines Feb. 26.

The resulting parts shortage has forced GM to close all or part of 30 plants, affecting more than 39,000 hourly workers.

At issue is everything from pensions and health care to profit-sharing for American Axle workers.

The two sides met Tuesday and both sides have said they hope the strike will end soon.

The strike hasn't been all bad for the Anthonys.

At a meeting for GM employees earlier this week, Tim Anthony found out he will be able to retire July 1 after 30 years, as planned.

"That is a real blessing," Teri Anthony said. "We were worried the time he's been laid off wouldn't count toward his retirement."

Another plus: "With gas prices being what they are, it has helped not having to drive 500 miles a week back and forth to work," she said.

Production at an unknown number of auto suppliers also has halted, forcing companies to issue temporary layoffs.

GM supplier Lear Corp. has shut down four plants, including one in Fenton. The company supplies GM with seats for the Chevy Silverado pickup truck.

For now, no one is answering the phone at Lear in Fenton. A voice on the company's personnel department voice mail states simply, "We are currently laid off."

Misty Herrara, 29, who grew up in Genesee Township, was laid off in March from her job making Silverados and Sierras for General Motors in Ft. Wayne, Ind.

She's taking a break this week, staying at her uncle's cabin on Houghton Lake, but is due to return to work Monday -- for at least one week.

"We were told we got 8,000 axles -- I guess we're getting our parts from Mexico now," said the mother of three.

Herrera said the layoff makes her feels financially insecure, but she supports the American Axle strikers.

"They are fighting to keep our jobs here in America," she said.


Socialists call to expand UAW-AAM strike

Newhouse rag hypes bogus pro-strike poll

Union workers have gained majority support in an online poll about the strike at American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. Voting is now in the final day. Fifty-four percent of participants in the Business First survey say that the United Auto Workers union is taking the more sensible position in the strike, while 37 percent back management. (Totals were as of 7 a.m. Thursday.)

Five percent say that both sides are about the same, and the other four percent have no opinion.

Voting will continue until 7 a.m. Friday. The online ballot can be accessed at buffalo.bizjournals.com/buffalo/poll/index.html?poll_id=5335.

The Business First survey is not scientific, but is designed to solicit views on topics of current interest.

Readers are given the option of submitting anonymous comments along with their votes.

Union supporters charge that American Axle is trying to reduce its workers' salaries to an unrealistically low level.

"This company action is part of a countrywide effort to bring labor to its knees," writes one. "Big business is determined to stop paying a living wage to its employees, while distributing the profits among the company heads. We are rapidly approaching third-world status, and the sooner the average person realizes what is happening, the better."

And another writes: "How do these rich guys think the people who do the real work are supposed to live? Wages go down and everything else goes up. The economic landscape stinks. We cannot compete with people making China wages."

But supporters of management counter that America needs to get more in line with the international wage scale.

"The UAW needs to wake up and smell the kung-pow chicken," says one.

And another writes: "American Axle workers are paid a salary (not to mention the benefits) that are far in excess of what higher-educated and skilled workers receive."

The UAW launched a strike on Feb. 26 against American Axle's operations, including its Tonawanda forge plant and Cheektowaga machining facility.

The union previously had filed an unfair labor practices complaint, alleging that the company did not share key financial information in six months of talks preceding the strike.

The strike has affected American Axle's five U.S. plants in New York and Michigan and idled production at 30 plants operated by General Motors, the supplier's largest customer and former owner.

American Axle, which ceased production at its Buffalo plant last December, has said its hourly labor costs average more than $70, about three times higher than competitors. The union disputes those figures.

The company has threatened to close its U.S. plants unless the union agrees to steep wage cuts. The UAW has said no.


Care workers vote out SEIU in labor-state

The union that once represented Sunrise Nursing Home in Oswego (NY) is no more. Current employees voted to decertify the union. They petitioned the National Labor Relations Board and requested a decertification election.

The election also allowed them to vote for continued representation from 1199 SEIU. The election took place just over one year after Sunrise Management and 1199 Leadership settled a 15-month labor strike.

The strike resulted in the union making an unconditional offer to return to work.


SEIU security guards go on strike today

Security guards who work through contractors at two Bay Area Kaiser Permanente facilities will strike for 24-hours starting Friday morning to demand better working conditions from their employers.

The guards have been threatened and in some cases followed by their contracting company, Inter-Con Security Inc., to scare them out of forming a union, according to Elizabeth Buchanan, spokeswoman from Service Employees International Union.

The guards want better health coverage, paid sick days and better wages, said Buchanan.

Officials at Inter-Con were not available for comment.

Strikes are planned for Kaiser Permanente facilities in Hayward, Fremont and Sacramento, but Kaiser spokeswoman Debora Lambert said Inter-Con hired replacement workers for Friday's strike and patient care will not be affected.

Lambert also said Kaiser has nothing to do with the strike.

Buchanan estimated about 100 security guards who get paid about $10 an hour will strike. She said they perform tasks such as dealing with out-of-control patients in psychiatric wards and checking parking garages.


Labor-state picket line failing

Mountaineer Racetrack, Casino and Gaming Resort (WV) says 28 union workers, previously on strike, have returned to their jobs. Just more than 200 workers went out on strike last Saturday upset over pay and health care. A track spokeswoman told MetroNews Thursday evening the number of striking workers returning to their jobs is increasing daily.

The track says it's "eager, ready and willing" to resume the negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union without any conditions.

A federal mediator has yet to schedule those talks.

The casino has not slowed since the strike started. Managers have assumed the duties of the striking cashiers, floor workers and video lottery machine employees.


Unions cancel each other out

The Pennsylvania primary is more than a contest between Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. It's a showdown between two rival factions in organized labor and whether they can deliver for their presidential candidate.

With by far the largest bloc of union voters remaining on the campaign calendar — 830,000 workers, the April 22 primary could demonstrate whether Clinton has expanded her edge over Obama among working-class voters and emerged as labor's decisive favorite for president. Or whether Obama has whittled her support to a virtual draw in a state where unemployment is at its highest in more than two years.

Each Democrat has the backing of a well-financed coalition of unions determined to produce a crucial victory for its preferred candidate — and in the process earn the enduring gratitude of the person it hopes will be the next president.

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 and the International Association of Machinists — and one Change to Win union, the United Farm Workers.

Obama is backed by some politically powerful unions as well: Change to Win's Teamsters, SEIU, UNITE HERE and 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 AFL-CIO has not endorsed either candidate, focusing instead on criticism of Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain. The labor federation challenged McCain to talk with its workers about the economy during his April stops in Maryland, Arizona and Florida.

A divided outcome is certainly possible, but there's a mystery that could tip the balance: Two large unions that once backed departed candidate John Edwards — the steelworkers and mine workers — haven't decided whether to endorse Obama or Clinton.

Pennsylvania has the fourth highest total of union workers in the nation, and they will have a strong say in how more than 4.1 million Pennsylvania Democrats, a record registration, vote to allocate 158 delegates to the Democratic national convention.

In the American Federation of Teachers' basement call center in downtown Philadelphia last week, Elizabeth Jackson wore a Clinton T-shirt, a warm Phillies hat and a toothy grin as she made her pitch in a phone call to an Obama supporter. She chatted amicably, her smile getting wider by the second. After hanging up, she triumphantly placed a checkmark on her notepad and announced, "She said they're for Clinton," and grinned for a second before dialing a new person.

All around Pennsylvania, union members like Jackson are working their friends, families and complete strangers to secure votes for Clinton or Obama. The unions have a lot of prestige and bragging rights tied up in their endorsements — and perhaps better access to the next president. More AFL-CIO unions are on Clinton's side; the majority of rival Change To Win's unions are on Obama's.

In an appeal Tuesday to the AFL-CIO convention here, Clinton boasted about her work alongside labor on issues from extending unemployment insurance to collective bargaining rights. "I'll keep standing with you, fighting with you and speaking out for you every single day as president of the United States," Clinton told the meeting.

Obama was scheduled to address the convention on Wednesday.

"Whoever wins those primaries is going to have closer ties and working relationships with the unions that are on their side," said Richard Hurd, professor of labor studies at Cornell University.

That's why Jason Claybrook and Ralph Sharper, both purple-shirted Service Employee International Union members, were knocking on doors for Obama a few blocks south of Temple University more than four weeks before the election.

The two men originally worked voter registration drives, but when registration closed March 24, they began knocking on doors for Obama. They're looking for non-committed voters, but, if they run across Republicans or even Clinton supporters, they'll work on them too, the men said.

"People are really enthused. Some people who haven't voted in years, they want to get out here and vote," said Claybrook, a 37-year-old nursing home cook. "It's more of a movement, I feel. Seeing as how I'm younger and still in touch with the streets and what people are talking about, I can tell everyone's really excited."

It would take an extraordinary showing from Claybrook and other Obama supporters in urban areas like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for Obama to win the state, election observers say.

Clinton holds a double-digit lead in polls and they point to Ohio, where Clinton won by 10 percentage points, as a harbinger of what could happen in Pennsylvania. Both states are home to many older voters and white, blue-collar workers with little or no college, the heart of Clinton's support.

Clinton already has won five of the eight states with the largest union populations: California (2,474,000), her home state of New York (2,055,000), the disputed primary in Michigan (819,000), New Jersey (748,000) and Ohio (730,000).

Obama won two, his home state of Illinois (842,000) and Washington state (579,000).

Labor has a rich history in Pennsylvania, where the AFL has roots in Pittsburgh dating to 1881 and the CIO since 1928. The Steelworkers remain strong in western Pennsylvania, the United Mine Workers in the mountains and the Teamsters, SEIU and the teachers dominate the urban centers. The power rests with Pennsylvania's AFL-CIO, which claims 900,000 workers and retirees and at least one AFL-CIO member in each of the state's 67 counties.

Union endorsements are powerful in Pennsylvania, where January's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.8 percent, the highest since December 2005.

Teamster Lenny Young, wrapped up warmly at work in a refrigerated Quaker Valley Foods, Inc. warehouse, is basing his decision to vote for Obama largely on the Teamster endorsement.

"Whoever the union endorses, I've got to be behind it, because they look out for the working man," Young said. "You've got these other people, they don't care about the little man. If the Teamsters tell you that's it, then that's the way to go. If they're telling me they're going to support this candidate, I'm pretty sure they're not going to support someone who is going to take our jobs and run overseas."

AFSCME president Gerald McEntee plans to go all-out for Clinton with appearances, ads, leafleting and phone banks. AFSCME has spent more than $5 million on Clinton's behalf since December, including in the Ohio primary and plans the same effort for Pennsylvania.

"Listen, brother, we're on the move," McEntee said.

But whatever Clinton's union supporters do, Obama's labor supporters are likely to match. For example, SEIU and its affiliates also have spent more than $5 million to help Obama.

"I think that the efforts of the labor movement could cancel either other out," said Paul Clark, head of the labor studies and employment relations department at Penn State University.

But the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers unions could affect the outcome. Both are strong in Pennsylvania's western and Appalachian regions; both have been neutral since Edwards dropped out.

The Steelworkers asked the Democratic candidates and McCain this month for their positions on the nation's trade policies, and Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard said the answers "will be especially important" in helping their 175,000 members and retirees decide how to vote in the primary.


Costly UFCW decert hearing continues

The hearings are complete, but it likely will be several more weeks before the National Labor Relations Board decides whether Woodman’s employees can vote on the future of their union. That’s because weeks of testimony that concluded in the middle of March produced more than 3,400 pages of transcripts and hundreds of exhibits that will need to be considered before the NLRB rules whether Woodman’s employees in Janesville, Madison and Beloit can vote to decertify United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 as their bargaining unit.

Post-hearing briefs are due Friday, April 18.

“It will take some time, especially in a case this size,” said Irv Gottschalk regional director of the NLRB in Milwaukee.

NLRB staff members will “take a fresh look at everything and do the research” before making a recommendation on a decision, which ultimately will be made in Gottschalk’s name.

Earlier this year, an employee at a Woodman’s store in Madison circulated a petition to decertify Local 1473 as the bargaining unit for the 900 employees at the Janesville, Madison and Beloit stores.

A similar petition later was filed with the NLRB on behalf of Woodman’s workers in Onalaska. But after three days of hearings in mid-March, the Onalaska employee withdrew her petition.

Ultimately, the NLRB will determine whether union workers can vote to keep Local 1473 as its union. After the decision is made, either side will have two weeks to appeal it to the NLRB in Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, negotiations are under way on a new contract to replace the one that expired March 16.

Woodman’s in Wisconsin and Illinois has 12 stores, half of which are unionized.


UAW threatens strike in Texas

United Auto Workers union officials have notified the management of the General Motors Arlington truck-assembly plant that they are prepared to strike unless an agreement is reached soon on a new local contract.

Leaders of UAW Local 276 have sent a letter to the plant threatening a strike, but a union official said late Thursday that contract talks with management are continuing.

"We've got intense negotiations going on," said Dwayne Humphries, shop chairman of the local.

GM spokesman Dan Flores confirmed that plant management received the letter, which starts the clock ticking for a possible strike that could come as early as the end of next week.

"We are committed to continue bargaining in good faith toward reaching a tentative local labor-relations agreement at Arlington as soon as possible," Flores said.

What's at stake

Flores said GM is still in negotiations with union locals at most of its plants on local agreements.

Humphries declined to identify specific unresolved issues. Flores said the letter sent to GM management was not specific, either.

The letter threatening a strike is "pretty much standard procedure," Humphries said. "We're hoping for a positive outcome."

Making progress

One issue that apparently has been resolved is the number of jobs that GM can, under terms of the national agreement negotiated with the UAW last year, convert to "non-core" positions under a new two-tier wage scale.

The national agreement allows GM to replace significant numbers of retiring workers with positions paying about half the standard $28-an-hour average wage. The company and the union had to agree to the number of jobs.

In a recent posting on the Local 276 Web site, Humphries said that the national contract allows for 296 non-core jobs at Arlington but that GM had identified 411 positions.

Looking ahead

Flores said GM's contract with the UAW calls for the union to take specific steps before it can call a strike. The process requires the union to give the company five days' notice that it is contemplating a strike action, which is followed by a second notice warning the company that a strike could be called in five days.

The union has the flexibility to determine whether the deadlines are consecutive days or working days.


Refuse to strike, pay the price

Related Posts with Thumbnails