Teamsters threaten labor-state lawmakers

The Teamsters union warned state legislators in February that there would be a price to pay to pay if they voted against casinos. The union is following up on that threat, sending many of those state legislators a sharply worded letter that warns it will solicit candidates to run against them in this fall's election.

Sean M. O'Brien, president of Teamsters Local Union No. 25 in Boston, told state legislators he was "writing to express my total displeasure" with their vote against Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal for three casinos.

"Although we may not be 100 percent successful, I believe we will win some of the seats and make the rest spend money to protect their seats," Mr. O'Brien wrote in a letter to legislators dated March 25.

Mr. O'Brien did not return a call requesting information on whether the union would try to field candidates in Southeastern Massachusetts. Candidates have until April 29 to turn in their nomination papers for this year's elections.

The Teamsters letter was also sent to House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who led the 108 to 46 House defeat of the casino bill last month.

Jane Lane, a spokeswoman for Rep. DiMasi's political committee, responded in a written statement.

"For many years, members of the House of Representatives have championed the causes of union and working families," she said.

She noted the House's support for film tax credits, an increase in the minimum wage and parental leave legislation.

"We have worked to protect the rights of labor and will continue to focus on issues that will have a truly positive impact on unions and working families throughout the commonwealth," Ms. Lane said. "As we continue to stand with organized labor on meaningful initiatives, we will call on labor to stand with the members of the House."

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO has made casinos one of the criteria for endorsements, but not the only factor.

Rep. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, who opposed casinos from the start, has worked as a committee chair on many labor issues. He did not receive the letter.

"I can't think of anyone who has been more friendly to labor over my 12 years in office than the Massachusetts Legislature," Rep. Rodrigues said. "It's a typical 'What have you done for me lately?' "

Labor unions fought hard for Gov. Patrick's proposal, even rallying with the governor on Boston Common the day of the vote.

"Teamsters Local 25 will always believe that the governor's plan would have benefited our membership," Mr. O'Brien wrote.

"There are fewer and fewer job opportunities in the commonwealth of Massachusetts that do not require a college education. We believe casinos would have helped to address this economic problem."


Socialists convince UAW to expand AAM strike

General Motors Corp. faces the possibility of strikes at five plants in Michigan, Ohio and Texas as early as April 13 if the automaker is unable to reach local contract agreements at those UAW locals within 10 days.

"The UAW has notified GM that they intend on issuing a five-day strike notice in five days at our Arlington, Texas; Parma, Ohio; Warren Transmission; Lansing Delta Township and Flint Assembly plants," GM spokesman Dan Flores said. "We remain committed to continuing to bargain in good faith toward reaching a tentative local labor agreement as soon as possible."

Video: "Socialists call to expand UAW-AAM strike"

The notices, called five-before-five letters, mean that those five plants could go on strike as early as 10 days from the issue of their letters, the first of which went out Thursday.

The threat could further slow vehicle production at GM, where a shortage of parts from striking supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings has affected operations at 30 facilities, including full shutdowns at 10 assembly, engine and transmission plants.

It was unclear specifically what issues in local negotiations caused the unions to issue the strike notices.

Dan Smith, the shop chairman at Local 1005 in Parma, Ohio, posted a notice on the union local Web site Friday morning that said the strike notification letters were issued because the union committee had reached an impasse in local contract negotiations with plant management. He did not specify what that impasse was.

"We're not going to discuss the issues," Flores said. "We're committed to resolving the issues at the bargaining table."

Calls to a spokesman at UAW headquarters in Detroit were not returned.

GM and many of its UAW locals continue to negotiate local contracts. Under the UAW system, the national union bargains for pay and economic benefits while union locals hammer out work rules.

But the matter of which jobs would be classified as lower-paying, so-called noncore positions is not the sticking point in local negotiations, according to GM.

Jim Robinson, an electrician in Arlington, said workers at his plant believed the strike threat was issued to demonstrate support for American Axle workers and was unpopular. Following the issuance of temporary layoff notices in Arlington on Friday, he believes a strike there is unlikely right away. GM distributed notices to Arlington workers on Friday saying that they would be laid off for three weeks beginning April 14, Robinson said.

"When people heard about that five-day letter they were mad," Robinson said. "But I doubt we will go out now, if we're going on a layoff. That wouldn't make any sense."


The strange case of SEIU

If numbers were all that mattered, Andrew Stern would be America’s most successful labor leader, hands down. For over two decades, he’s led the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — first as president John Sweeney’s chief strategist, and since 1996 as Sweeney’s successor. Under Stern, SEIU’s membership has nearly doubled to around 1.9 million, a feat all the more remarkable given that most unions during that period shrank or held steady. Union members held nearly a third of all non-farm private-sector jobs between 1950 and 1965; now they hold about 12 percent, and a mere 7.5 percent of private-sector jobs.

SEIU’s dramatic increase has persuaded Stern that he’s found a model for organized labor to regain its clout at the bargaining table and in the corridors of power — what he calls a progressive business model, a rough hybrid of Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs. By working with rather than against employers, Stern believes, unions can regain their long-declining share of the U.S. workforce.

A focus on organizing rather than political activism is the key, Stern argues from his Washington, D.C., headquarters. Lobbying and public advocacy are mostly futile, as long as unions lack the numbers to cause fear at the ballot box. Stern’s strength-through-numbers evangelism led him to break, very publicly, with his former mentor Sweeney, now president of the AFL-CIO. He and a half-dozen other labor leaders, including James P. Hoffa of the Teamsters and Terence O’Sullivan of the Laborers, announced in the summer of 2005 that their unions would split from the AFL-CIO and form their own federation, Change to Win. At the group’s kickoff conference in St. Louis that September, Stern declared: “We pledge to devote the vast majority of our resources to uniting the strength in modern, growing, strong, powerful organizing unions.”

Stern has his critics, some within his own union. The most prominent is Sal Rosselli, leader of a major SEIU affiliate in California representing health-care workers. His battle with Stern and his allies has all the hallmarks of a looming civil war, one that could get ugly at the union’s annual convention in Puerto Rico later this spring. The conflict underscores the weakening of American unionism’s bargaining power created by Third World mass immigration, legal or otherwise.

To understand the Rosselli-Stern split, some context is necessary. The SEIU is not like Carpenters, Plumbers or other craft unions. Aside from a sizable contingent of nurses, the SEIU overwhelmingly represents unskilled workers — hospital attendants, security guards, janitors, hotel chamber maids and home-health-care workers. Squarely in the lower half of the modern service-economy labor force, these jobs offer relatively little in the way of wages, benefits or career advancement.

These are the jobs our current presidential candidates are fond of telling us that “Americans won’t do.” All things being equal, any employer would rather pay someone $10 rather than $15 an hour. And immigrant workers with low educational attainment and limited English ability are happy to take $10 an hour, at least in the short run — it beats what they’d be making back home doing the same thing. When such workers can’t easily be replaced, unions are in a position to negotiate effectively on their behalf. But today’s high levels of immigration, legal and otherwise, make it almost certain that these workers can be easily replaced — which makes Stern’s endorsement of illegal-immigrant amnesty seem, well, oblivious to economic reality.

Service-economy unions think they can turn open borders to their advantage. The SEIU is willing to cut sweetheart deals — lowering the labor costs even of employers whom they regard as exploiters — because doing so allows them to organize more recruits. SEIU owes much of its growth — in numbers more than in power — to Third World immigration, especially from Mexico. The SEIU estimates that one-quarter of its members are Hispanic immigrants, a proportion higher than any other union in this country, save perhaps the now nearly irrelevant United Farm Workers. And the SEIU is willing to do political grunt work for the Mexican government and U.S. ethnic-grievance groups like La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund: it was SEIU Local 1877 that provided security for L.A.’s massive pro-amnesty marches two years ago.

Who are the losers in all this? The American people, at least those paying taxes to support education, health, welfare, housing, and other programs used heavily by first- and second-generation immigrants. According to a report issued by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, called “Breaking the Piggy Bank,” K-12 education for illegal immigrants alone cost the states a combined nearly $12 billion in 2004; including children born here to illegal parents raises the total to $28.6 billion. California accounted for $7.7 billion of the latter figure. Assuming this figure has risen over the ensuing four years— a safe bet — educating the children of illegals accounts for at least half of the state’s latest estimated budget deficit of $16 billion. Governor Schwarzenegger is finding out firsthand that there are fewer things as expensive as “cheap labor.”

The aforementioned Sal Rosselli, president of the Oakland, Calif.-based United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) might well be as clueless as Andrew Stern when it comes to immigration policy. But he has seen the consequences of the employer-union chumminess now driving health-care-worker contracts in his state, and he’s not happy with Stern.

The UHW, formed out of a merger between SEIU Locals 250 (Northern California) and 399 (Southern California), has 140,000 members. But those numbers haven’t translated into bargaining strength. In a secret 2003 agreement with California nursing-home chains — according to Bay Area alternative newspaper SF Weekly — the SEIU committed to: discouraging patients and their families from suing for negligence; and supporting a four-year, $2 billion increase in MediCal subsidies to nursing homes. In return for supporting these industry-backed measures, the union retained the right to organize other nursing homes. Some bargain.

UHW members may have fumed, but they saw a weak deal as better than none at all. Rosselli, less inhibited, saw a gigantic sellout. “California nursing homes are sweatshops, and a terrible place to live,” he told the website of Labor Notes magazine, decrying the agreement as “pre-negotiated contracts that severely limit workers’ bargaining rights and voice.” He resigned from the SEIU executive committee in protest, and wrote Andrew Stern a pungent letter explaining his action. “Over the past two years, a stark difference has evolved between SEIU’s projected image and its real-world practices,” noted Rosselli. “An overly zealous focus on growth — growth at any cost — apparently has eclipsed SEIU’s commitment to its members.” He appeared on the far-left TV program Democracy Now! to denounce SEIU’s “centralizing control and power.”

Stern ally Dave Regan — president of SEIU District 1199, which represents health care workers in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia — responded in kind on the same broadcast. “I thought Sal Rosselli was a trade unionist. This is the absolute most despicable kind of behavior. . . . Sal is willing, through his actions, on this program, in California and other places, to weaken the strength of members of my local union.”

It’s ironic that Andrew Stern is now cast as a shill for big business. The SEIU has long stood with the far Left. Some 20 years ago, it was Stern and Sweeney who hatched the SEIU’s ongoing street-agitprop movement, “Justice for Janitors,” to conduct aggressive, ear-splitting organizing demonstrations in cities across the country. And this February, the union formally endorsed the nation’s most liberal senator, Barack Obama, for president.

UHW West may wind up disaffiliating from the SEIU. Whether or not it does, the central dilemma remains: Mass immigration from Mexico and other developing nations undermines union bargaining power. More than ever, America’s immigrant-driven unskilled labor force consists of people with little formal education, poor command of English, and a lack of ability (and often willingness) to assimilate. Union membership will avail these workers little, so long as employers can draw heavily from the next wave of unskilled workers, underpay them, and send the rest of the bill to taxpayers. The consequences of unions obsessing over institutional growth at the expense of the national interest are that, in the end, they won’t be able to defend even their own interests.

— Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project at the National Legal and Policy Center in Falls Church, Virginia.


Right To Work law boosts Mount Rushmore State

For the fifth straight year, the Pollina Report has named South Dakota as one of the nation's top 10 pro-business states. South Dakota was named the sixth best pro-business state by the Pollina Report, increasing from a No. 7 ranking in 2007, according to Richard Benda, secretary of the Department of Tourism and State Development.

Pollina Corporate Top 10 Pro-Business States is a comparative evaluation of job creation and retention efforts of all 50 state governments and the federal government.

The Pollina study evaluates and ranks states based on 29 factors including taxes, human resources, right-to-work legislation, energy costs, infrastructure spending, workers' compensation legislation and jobs lost or gained. The evaluation also considers state government-controlled factors based on incentive programs and state economic development departments.

The list is published annually by Chicago-based Pollina Corporate Real Estate, one of the nation's leaders in providing site selection and corporate relocation services.


Labor-state panicked by worker-choice petition

They're all in on this, it seems. First Gov. Bill Ritter and now Sen. Ken Salazar are advising business and labor interests to cool it - stop threatening competing November ballot issues that collectively would cause great damage to Colorado's economic and political well-being.

On the right is a "right to work" petition that would outlaw forced union dues, or agency fees in lieu of dues, on non-union workers. On the left are five union ballot proposals that have state business leaders shaking in their boots.

How do unions get rid of "right to work?" They threaten far worse measures in reprisal.

The fact that Gov. Ritter and Sen. Salazar are calling for a cease-fire in this brewing election battle is not surprising. They are Democrats and most "right to work" anti-union dues adherents are Republicans.

The Right to Work Committee has been trying for decades to make Colorado a right to work state.

Normally, right to work threats are a minor inconvenience to unions because they don't lead anywhere. But this year, the influential Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry has endorsed this ballot initiative. This time, the unions have decided to fight fire with fire.

That's putting it mildly. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, based in Denver, is threatening to bring a bazooka into this war if CACI and other business leaders don't back off. How to get management's attention? Take out ballot petitions to:

Mandate that all employers give cost-of-living raises every year regardless of the wages provided by collective bargaining contract. That's all employers, not just larger businesses that can pass along the cost to customers or, in the case of government, to the taxpayers.

Mandate all companies with 20 or more employees provide major medical health insurance.

Allow employees to sue if they're injured on the job regardless of what they can get from worker's compensation.

Prohibit state tax credits for corporations that relocate operations outside the United States.

Increase the property tax rate on business and commercial properties to 34 percent of value. This would out-Gallagher the Gallagher Amendment of the Colorado Constitution, which currently sets business property taxes at 29 percent - roughly three times the residential rate.

Talk about running business out of Colorado!

You might speculate that the unions cannot possibly be serious, potentially killing the goose (employers) that lays the golden egg (good jobs).

To many people not tied to organized labor, coercing union dues from unwilling non-union members is simply undemocratic and even un-American. This is especially true when unions use the dough to support political campaigns that conflict with the individual worker's view.

On the other hand, Colorado has failed to enact a right to work law despite all attempts in the past. Why not wait a little longer, until the political smoke clears?

As Gov. Ritter and Sen. Salazar suggest, both sides can withdraw from battle before a real shot is fired. Perhaps business leaders will decide that discretion is the better part of valor.


UFCW strikers slapped with TRO

Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort has filed a temporary restraining order against the union workers who are striking outside of the casino. The scene on the picket line in Chester (WV) was different on Friday night than in the past in that there were only six picketers allowed at each gate. Before Friday, there were no limits set.

Mountaineer has issued a temporary restraining order limiting the number of strikers, the noise level on site, and making a safety zone, which puts regulations near the exits and entrances.

Mountaineer released video to NEWS9, which showed striking workers walking out in the middle of the entrance and approaching cars.

Mountaineer released a statement to NEWS9 that stated the order was sought by Mountaineer out of concern for the safety of patrons, employees, suppliers and those on the picket line.

Meanwhile NEWS9 headed back to the picket line on Friday to hear what strikers think of the order.

"So far, everybody has respected the injunction,” said Elaine Kuhar, an organizer of the strike with Local 23. “And we're all respectfully following it."

While the union members told NEWS9 they will comply, they are fighting one part of the order, which states they can't use a bullhorn on the line.

“It’s a matter of free speech,” said Kuhar. “It’s an effective way of getting it out to the community and to the public, of what's going on, what the issues are.”

Many strikers told NEWS9 they'll stay outside, rain or shine, regardless of the judge's order.

"No, it hasn't affected us,” said Dorothy Heffner, a cashier at Mountaineer. “We're still going strong.”

A union spokesman told NEWS9 that he plans to fight the bullhorn issue in court next week.

The judge's order only lasts for 10 days, so Mountaineer will also return to court next week to address that issue.


NYT cites Financial Core Status membership

George Clooney, a staunch supporter of the Writers Guild of America during its recent strike, quietly withdrew from the union last fall after it rejected his request for a writing credit on his film “Leatherheads,” Reuters reported, citing Variety. Mr. Clooney switched to “financial core status,” which means that he is still covered by the basic guild contract but loses his voting rights and cannot run for office or attend union meetings.

Mr. Clooney, who directed, produced and stars in “Leatherheads,” a comedy about football in the 1920s, said he had sought a writing credit on the film alongside Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly because he had overhauled their 17-year-old script. His request was denied by a 2-to-1 vote at an arbitration hearing. “When your own union doesn’t back what you’ve done, the only honorable thing to do is not participate,” Mr. Clooney said, according to Variety.


AFSCME defends fired prison guards

Nine correctional officers at a medium-security prison in Hagerstown were fired yesterday amid allegations that they assaulted an inmate last month, according to a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The nine officers, who worked at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, plan to appeal the decision, according to the union representing correctional officers in the state of Maryland.

"These mass firings are a reckless rush to judgment on the state's part," said Joe Lawrence, spokesman for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"We've noted numerous inaccuracies in the charging documents," he said.

"There is far more investigating that needs to be done, but instead, these officers have been first declared guilty, robbed of their livelihood and forced to prove their innocence."

Lawrence did not elaborate on the nature of the inaccuracies in the charging documents. "We're going to fight to ensure that due process is followed," he said.

Last month, eight of the officers were placed on administrative leave, and a ninth officer was suspended without pay, prison authorities said.

No criminal charges have been filed, but state police are investigating.

The inmate was hospitalized with nonlife-threatening injuries after the March 8 incident and has been released, according to prison authorities.

A source familiar with the Roxbury incident told The Sun at the time that a beating followed a confrontation between an inmate and a guard that night.

The fired guards include at least one lieutenant and a number of lower-ranking officers, according to a union spokesman.

Lawrence would not disclose their identities.

State prison officials are continuing to investigate allegations in a separate case in which eight correctional officers assaulted several inmates March 6 at the North Branch Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Cumberland.

Those officers remain on administrative leave and face possible termination, according to prison officials.

The investigation at North Branch began while prison authorities and the state police were investigating the case at RCI.

Prisons spokesman Mark A. Vernarelli has said that investigators believe the two incidents are not related and that the inmate at RCI was not connected with the several inmates who complained of being assaulted at North Branch.

"The important thing is not to paint all correctional officers with a broad brush," Vernarelli said.

"It would be unfair to punish them for the alleged actions of a few."

Four officers within the Division of Correction have been fired over the past five years for using excessive force, according to Vernarelli.

"Fortunately, it is not a huge problem," he said. "The vast majority are good officers. It is demoralizing to all of them when these allegations happen."


Teachers defend right-to-strike in labor-state

John Busher has no problem with having his salary posted on a Web site that tracks pay and credentials of teachers from all 501 school districts in Pennsylvania. After all, the information is public record, the president of the Hazleton Area Education Association acknowledges. But the union president questions the motives of some of those behind StopTeacherStrikes Inc., a nonprofit organization that launched www.stopteacherstrikes.org.

In a posting listed on the site, StopTeacherStrikes President Simon Campbell, Bucks County, and Ryan Mellinger, a Susquehanna Township teacher, said they formed the group in 2006 following a teacher strike in Pennsbury School District.

The goal, they wrote, “is to guarantee all public school children in Pennsylvania the legal right to a strike-free education.”

According to the Web site, the organization is focused on repealing state Act 195 of 1970, which gives collective bargaining ability and the power to strike to public school employees in Pennsylvania. State Act 88 of 1992 curtailed the length of strikes so that students can finish a school year.

Although the organization labels itself as an “independent” outfit that “supports no political party or candidate,” Busher questioned the motives and experience of Campbell and Mellinger.

“They claim to be unbiased, but if you look at the different aspects of the Web site, what they’re really attempting to do in my opinion is put the teachers’ union in a bad light,” Busher said.

“I don’t know if their intention is to cast some kind of negative light on teachers in general for what they earn or what they do, but basically, they’re not going to get an apology out of me for what I do and what my co-workers do,” he continued.

The Web site has a link to a teachers’ salary database compiled by The Asbury Park Press and Gannett Co. and others that address “forced unionism” and “strike potential” among public schools.

Mellinger describes himself in a brief biography as a “forced unionism victim” because his employment hinges on a condition that he pay union dues.

The salary database could be used to compare 2006-07 teacher pay scales in Pennsylvania to those in New Jersey.

Although Busher said he realizes unions “cost money to run” he said he’s not going to apologize for representing public teachers.

“There are very few other public organizations doing it,” he said. “Before the 1980s, teachers’ rights were few and far between.”

In his nine years as union president, there has not been a strike in Hazleton Area schools, Busher noted.

“We’re not perfect, but we try to do as much as we can to try and keep the schools running properly,” he said. “We work with the school board to try and keep taxes down as well as we can.”

The union and school board Negotiations Committee recently wrapped up a five-year contract effective through 2010.

As of last year, the average Hazleton Area teaching salary ranged between $48,000 and $50,000. In 2007-08, the starting teachers’ salary with a bachelor’s degree is $36,314. Pay varies based on credits and years of service, with the top Hazleton Area salary logged at $69,321.

“If you consider the quality of the education of our children to be worth anything, then salaries do mean something,” he added. “Do you want good people who are well-trained and educated, or do you take what you can get?”


SEIU faces big dues hit in California

Maggie Canela and her co-workers in the attendance office say they are called "haters" by the students they serve at Edison High School. Their job, after all, is to phone parents and inform on students who haven't been showing up for class.

But every now and then, a student has an epiphany.

"I'm here graduating because of you," a grateful female student told Canela near the end of last school year.

But Canela, 43, may not be around much longer. She is one of 42 workers filling clerical, instructional assistant or custodial jobs - classified positions, in educational terminology - who may soon be laid off as Stockton Unified School District works to slash $10 million from next year's budget.

The cuts are in response to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to cut $4.8 billion in education spending as California deals with its budget crisis.

But officials from the California School Employees Association say the classified employees they represent are unfairly taking the brunt of proposed cuts in Stockton Unified and in Lincoln Unified school districts.

Lincoln is considering a $2 million cut in spending, and its school board will vote Wednesday on a resolution to send layoff notices to 28 of its 461 classified workers.

The dialogue over this issue is particularly harsh in Stockton Unified, where district spokesman Rick Brewer confirmed that layoffs could affect less than one-third of 1 percent of teachers, but nearly 3 percent of classified staff.

Labor relations representative Dan Morris accused the district's chief financial officer, Paul Disario, of exacting a toll on classified workers because the union withheld its endorsement of Stockton Unified's successful school bond measure two months ago.

Disario responded: "The governor has proposed that districts cut their budgets 10 percent. These cuts were not initiated by the district. Stockton Unified has been forced to cut its budget by $10 million. The district has proposed reductions of both certificated and classified positions to achieve these cuts."

Morris complained that the district has been "creative" in protecting the jobs of 19 assistant principals by proposing to change how those positions are funded, but has not explored similar measures to protect classified workers.

Budget cuts must come from "unrestricted" money - public funds that can be spent at a district's discretion. Assistant principals are paid with unrestricted money, but the district has proposed altering their job descriptions so they would be allowed to be paid with "categorical" money, for which spending rules are narrower.

Disario said he would meet with Morris but it would be difficult to alter all job descriptions so that all classified workers would qualify to be paid with restricted money.

Lodi, Manteca and Tracy school districts have yet to send any layoff notices, and some of them may not need to.

But Lincoln Unified is another story. The district has sent out 12 layoff notices to its 490 full- and part-time teachers (2.4 percent), Superintendent Steve Lowder said.

The 28 proposed classified layoffs would represent 6.1 percent of the district's classified workers.

"I don't think they've fairly dealt with this," said Dorsey McCowan, president of union's Lincoln chapter. "I think they should be cutting out consultants, travel, attending conferences, field trips. There are a whole lot of things they could have done prior to cutting people."

Lowder said items such as travel are paid from categorical funds, which does not need to be reduced for budget purposes.

Lowder said the classified employees who may receive notices are paid from unrestricted funds, but he added that he's still holding out hope of finding ways to reduce the number of layoff notices.

Back at Edison, Canela became teary-eyed when discussing the possibility of losing the job she has held for two years. She has two sons who attend Edison, and said she watched many of the school's students grow up while working at her previous job at Hazelton Elementary School.

"To me it's really frustrating," Canela said. "I love being here."


Labor-state petition-blockers amp-up

Labor unions Friday filed a complaint with Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office accusing organizers of a right-to-work ballot initiative of fraud in collecting signatures. The complaint, which included copies of audio recordings of purported exchanges with signature collectors, alleges petition organizers in two instances told people they did not have to be a current registered voter to sign the right-to-work petition.

In another exchange, a petition circulator reportedly tells a person they can sign the petition again even though they had already signed it somewhere else.

"These audio recordings offer evidence to what we believe is a significant pattern of fraud," said Jess Knox , a spokesman for Protect Colorado's Future, the coalition of unions and advocates for the poor that filed the complaint.

Rich Coolidge , a spokesman for Coffman, said the office would do investigate the complaint and likely forward its findings to an administrative law judge. The judge could dismiss the complaint or impose fines of up to $500 and jail time up to six months on organizers.

The judge also could throw out the petition and make organizers start all over.

Kelley Harp , a spokesman for A Better Colorado, the group promoting the right-to-work initiative, said organizers believed any investigation would show they had followed the law.

"We have collected more than 130,000 signatures to date, far exceeding the number needed to qualify," Harp said. "The secretary of state will look into this (complaint), and we are confident that he will conclude that our signature-gathering process was conducted in strict accordance with the campaign laws of the state.

Coffman's office also was asked to investigate fraud accusations in a separate case involving a ballot initiative that would ask voters to ban affirmative action programs in state hiring, contracting and education. Opponents of the ballot initiative allege a number of those who signed the petitions were duped into believing it would preserve affirmative action.


ILWU plans May Day port strike

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