UHW slaps SEIU with First Amendment lawsuit

Several healthcare workers who are members of United Healthcare Workers-West are suing their Washington-based parent organization, Service Employees International Union, alleging violations of their federal rights to speak freely and to participate in union activities.

Video: "UHW slaps SEIU with First Amendment lawsuit"


Another survey pans unions' #1 agenda item

American Solutions for Winning the Future -- the Newt Gingrich-led group -- has released a new survey that shows the public overwhelmingly in support of secret ballot elections in determining whether to organize a workplace, a right that the Employee Free Choice Act would destroy. From the polling memo:
Democracy in the Workplace: Americans Fiercely Defend the Right to Secret Ballot Elections.

Survey respondents were clear in their belief of keeping private U.S. workers’ decisions about whether or not to unionize: 79% agreed that “federally supervised secret ballot elections” were a right all workers should have. As the nearby chart shows, nearly half of them (48%) felt so strongly.

By comparison, just 12% denied the importance of this traditional method of organizing. This means that those in favor of secret ballot outnumbered those opposed by 6.5-to-1.
The survey was conducted by polling company™, inc./WomanTrend, headed by the well-regarded Kellyanne Conway. American Solutions has put the polling data, including crosstabs, up on its website here. (Always more receptive to a survey's credibility when the data are made readily available.)

Coming on top of the recent Coalition for a Democratic Workplace survey on the Employee Free Choice Act's potential impact on three Senate races (Maine, Minnesota and Colorado), the American Solutions survey makes it very clear that the candidates who sign on with organized labor's demands on card check are making a pact with their own demise. (Hah. Thought we'd say "pact with the devil," didn't you?) They gain campaign contributions and grassroots workers, but only at the cost of alienating the public.

And in the end, isn't winning elections about winning over the public?


UPS, Hoffa: So happy together

Teamsters President Jim Hoffa announced Monday that nearly 10,000 new union members at UPS Freight have ratified a new contract that will improve wages, benefits and working conditions. The contract will expire in July 2013. "This is the largest organizing victory in the freight industry in 25 years," Hoffa said. "We were amazed that at the 90-day mark of our national campaign, 9,900 workers had signed cards. This shows the workers' commitment in joining a union that will give them a strong voice in the workplace."

The workers at UPS Freight, previously called Overnite Transportation, ratified the agreement by more than 89 percent of their votes.

Teamsters Package Division Director Ken Hall, who is also president of Teamsters Local 175 in South Charleston, attributed the organizing success to the card-check agreement the Teamsters won from UPS in December 2007.

Under a card-check agreement, workers sign cards to join a union at each local, rather than going through a voting process. A majority of workers in a bargaining unit must sign cards, which are then certified before the company recognizes the union.

UPS Freight has 73 employees and four terminals in West Virginia, located in Nitro, Parkersburg, Bluefield and Fairmont, Hall said.

"The national contract covers them also," Hall said on Monday. "More than 80 percent of them voted on the contract and 90 percent of those people voted in favor of the contract."

"The 89 percent approval rate in the national vote is the highest acceptance rate I can ever recall during my time with the Teamsters," he said. "There were a lot of people who were skeptical. But the fact we organized almost 10,000 workers in 90 days is proof it was a good strategy.

As many as 3,600 UPS Freight workers, in addition to the 9,900 who already joined, could become Teamsters in the near future, Hall said.

"Since we made the announcement this morning, several employees, from several areas in the country, who have not joined called us and said they want to talk with the Teamsters," he said. "I would expect to see most, if not all of them, join the Teamsters in the next 90 days."

Provisions of the new contract include:

- Wage increases of $4.35 per hour over the life of the contract.

- An improved health care plan with lower employee premium costs and no increases in employee premiums over the life of the contract.

- Overtime pay for all hours worked over eight hours a day or over 40 hours a week.

- UPS Freight employees lock in current pension benefits.

- The cost of health insurance for most retirees is reduced substantially, with no premium increases over the life of the contract.

The United Parcel Service bought Overnite Transportation in 2005 from Union Pacific Railroad and renamed the company UPS Freight. Hall was already the lead negotiator for UPS contracts.

Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million people in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.


Fi-Core status makes headlines for Clooney

George Clooney has quietly withdrawn from the Writers Guild of America after the union rejected his request for a writing credit on his new film "Leatherheads," Daily Variety reported in its Friday edition. Clooney opted to become a "financial core status" nonmember last fall, which means that he is still covered by the basic contract, the trade paper said.

But he loses his voting rights, and cannot run for office or attend membership meetings, according to the WGA's constitution. He must continue to pay his dues, but gets a break on "non-germane" WGA activities, such as political and lobbying efforts. His decision is also irrevocable.

Clooney, 46, directed, produced and stars in "Leatherheads," a screwball period football comedy that opens across North America on Friday via General Electric Co's Universal Pictures. Despite mixed reviews, it is expected to be the top draw at the weekend box office.

He had sought to receive a writing credit alongside Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, claiming that he personally gave the duo's languishing 17-year old project a major overhaul.

Clooney, who received an Oscar nomination two years ago for co-writing "Good Night, and Good Luck," told Daily Variety that he felt he had written all but two of the scenes for "Leatherheads." His request for credit was voted down 2-1 at an arbitration hearing.

"When your own union doesn't back what you've done, the only honorable thing to do is not participate," the paper quoted Clooney as saying.

He said he would have resigned from the union altogether -- a revocable move -- but that would have prevented him from working on all WGA-covered productions. He kept quiet about his move, because the union was about to go on strike for the first time in almost two decades, and he did not want to provide an unwelcome distraction. Clooney was a keen supporter of the 100-day strike, which ended almost two months ago.

The WGA did not comment for the Daily Variety story, and a union spokesman did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking verification of the report.


Starbucks says 'Yes We Can'

Laissez-faire. It's a policy that made Starbucks vastly successful. But don't try to put that phrase on a customized Starbucks Card. The cards are supposed be personalized to reflect customers' tastes and uniqueness. They are available in a range of colors, often given as gifts and used by regular customers who prefer to prepay for their java.

But when my friend Roger Ream, president of the Fund for American Studies, received a Starbucks gift card for Christmas, he found there was a limit to how personalized a card could be. His card required him to customize it on the company's Web site. So he went to the site and requested that the phrase "Laissez Faire" be printed on his card. A few days later he was informed that the company couldn't issue such a card because the wording violated company policy.

Starbucks's company policy is this: "We review each Card before printing it to make sure it meets our personalization policy. We accept most personalization requests, but we can't honor every one. Some requests may contain trademarks that we don't have the right to use. Others may contain material that we consider inappropriate (such as threatening remarks, derogatory terms, or overtly political commentary) or wouldn't want to see on Starbucks-branded products."

Is the phrase "laissez-faire" threatening? Only to officious bureaucracy, I would think. So, it must be that the phrase is considered to be "inappropriate" by corporate Starbucks.

But why should it be considered inappropriate? The phrase itself is an imperative. It's French for "leave us alone," more or less. And it comes to us through history as advice offered to Jean Baptiste Colbert, finance minister under the French King Louis XIV in the 17th century. Colbert is best known for his statement: "The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing." When Colbert asked a group of merchants, "What do you want from us?," the answer was, "laisser nous faire." "Laissez-faire" is, then, an old piece of economic advice with an impeccable French heritage.

Maybe Starbucks considers the phrase inappropriate because it's "overtly political commentary"? Certainly my friend regards it as a firm statement of political philosophy.

And so, at my suggestion, my friend went back to the Web site and asked that his card be issued with the phrase "People Not Profits." Bingo! Starbucks had no problem with that phrase, and the card arrived in a few days.

I wondered just what the company's standards were. If "laissez-faire" is unacceptably political, how could the socialist slogan "people not profits" be acceptable?

My assistant and I tried to get the company to explain its policy. We started by trying to purchase a card with the phrase "Laissez Faire," and were rejected as my friend had been. We then asked a company spokesperson why. He suggested that it might be because "laissez-faire" is a foreign phrase. That seemed possible and a reasonable precaution.

So we tried another foreign phrase – "Si Se Puede," or "Yes we can." It's the United Farm Workers slogan, now adopted by Barack Obama's presidential campaign. That sailed right through. The senator's political campaign slogan was acceptable.

We called again. Several spokespeople at Starbucks and at Arroweye, the company that actually creates personalized cards for Starbucks and other retailers, said that they couldn't be sure, but that the phrase was probably rejected because it is political. They explained that they would not allow a customer to print "McCain for President" or "Support the Democratic Party" on a Starbucks card. And they noted that they had rejected a request for "My coffee is a weapon." But fewer than 1% of card requests are rejected.

They had no explanation as to how "People Not Profits" and "Si Se Puede" could be regarded as less political than "Laissez Faire."

I'm still hoping that it was all a computer glitch, and that some day my latte-drinking, non-tax-hiking friends will be able to get their very own customized Starbucks gift card with "Laissez Faire" emblazoned on it – even if it does risk a sneer from the barista.

Starbucks has prospered mightily in a free economy. For the most recent fiscal year, the company earned $672.6 million on revenue of $9.4 billion, a very healthy profit. And these days, in the wake of a California Superior Court judge's order that the company repay $100 million in back tips that were shared by shift supervisors, Starbucks honchos just might like a little less government intervention in their affairs and a little more laissez-faire.

- Mr. Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and the author of "The Politics of Freedom" (Cato Institute, 2008).


Why did Kohler mistreat UAW scabs?

See related article, "UAW boasts: 'We got all the scabs removed."

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Kohler Corporation by 100 replacement workers who were fired when the company settled a year-old strike with United Auto Workers Local 1000. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court, Eastern District, Western Division, under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and Arkansas common law “to redress wrongful terminations, fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of contract and civil conspiracy.” The case has been assigned to Judge Susan Webber Wright.

“Kohler used these employees for a year to keep their business open,” said Scott Lancaster, the attorney representing the fired employees. “They profited from the employees’ hard work, just outright lied to them and told them they were part of the Kohler family, and they threw them away at the end of that time.”

Lancaster said the fired employees are at least due 60 days pay.

“WARN requires 60 days notice and they didn’t give them six minutes notice,” Lancaster said. “They just called them in and fired them.”

For breach of contract and fraud, the fired workers are due compensation for damages, Lancaster said.

“They promised these employees in writing that they were a permanent part of the Kohler family and specifically told them the settlement of this strike would not affect their status as Kohler employees,” Lancaster said. “They settled the strike and fired them contrary to what they had been promising them for a year.”

During the year of the strike, the replacement employees made financial decisions based on Kohler’s promises, Lancaster said.

“Many of them gave up other jobs,” Lancaster said. “They went out and bought cars. They went out and bought homes. Many of them are left in a position of extreme hardship now.”

The union strike began Dec. 9, 2006 and 140 replacement workers were fired March 6, 2008.

According to the complaint, the replacement workers “incurred significant risk in crossing the picket line, subjecting themselves to constant harassment, mistreatment, insult and physical violence at the hands of the union workers” and have lost insurance coverage or are being required to pay over 10 times the previous premium, now that they have been fired.

The replacement workers allowed Kohler to avoid “serious jeopardy” at its plant and “prevent a shutdown,” the complaint states.

According to the complaint, plant manager Jerry Stone circulated a memo that said, “Kohler Co. is taking the position that all of you have the status of permanent replacement workers because the strike called by the UAW is an economic strike. What this means is that if and when this economic strike comes to an end, the company will not release you from employment in order to create job openings for the strikers to return to.”

On Nov. 5, 2007 Stone sent an e-mail that told supervisors, “Make sure and reinforce with your associates that they are permanent Kohler associates and any strike settlement would not affect that,” according to the complaint.

Kohler’s determination to return striking workers to their jobs was not made by the National Labor Relations Board, the complaint states.

No hearings or court dates have been scheduled for the case yet, and Kohler has until April 14 to respond. Kohler officials did not respond by press time to calls and e-mails concerning this article.


Union-repressed Catholic teachers to protest

When Pope Benedict arrives in New York City next week, he could be met by a picket line of Catholic school teachers. The Archdiocese of New York is facing potential embarrassment over a battle for new contracts with lay faculty at its 216 metro-area Catholic schools.

The archdiocese and the unions are battling over wages, health care and pensions. The unions 3,500 members serve about 100,000 students in the New York area.

The Lay Faculty Association has threatened to go on strike during the pope's 3-day visit to New York City. A union spokesman says teachers may set up an informational picket line in front of St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. It's on the pope's schedule to visit.


UAW strike during sales slump aids GM

The United Auto Workers union is said to have put three GM assembly plants and two component plants on five-day strike warning, claiming that negotiations to finalise local operating agreements under the national contract have languished. One plant is scheduled to be idled by GM for a month anyway, but one makes GM's strong-selling mid-size crossover models (CUVs) whose loss would be a blow.

Analyst Aaron Bragman of Global Insight wrote in a note distributed yesterday, “The question arises: is the UAW really airing grievances with the threat of a strike, or is it a tactic to draw GM into the stalled six-week-long strike negotiations between the union and American Axle Manufacturing?"

He continues, "The news of the possible strike at the five GM facilities came just as GM announced that it had finally reached an agreement with the UAW on the classification of jobs in the new tiered wage system.

"GM has thus far successfully stayed out of the battle between the UAW and American Axle, and for good reason. By capitulating to the union's demands to become involved to help settle the strike (likely by opening its wallet to help offset some of the guarantees and demands made by the striking membership), GM would open itself to risk from all of its major suppliers that are union-represented. It has set something of a precedent at Delphi, where it has taken upon itself a significant amount of worker compensation and even rehired some employees into the GM fold; but GM is still heavily invested in Delphi. American Axle has been independent of GM almost entirely for several years, and the automaker is trying to keep it at arm's length.

"The heads of American Axle and the UAW were scheduled to meet yesterday (7 April) to discuss the ongoing strike and presumably try and come to some new negotiation, but as the strike creaks along, GM has proven thus far that it can weather the downturn in the market for full-size pick-ups and SUVs just fine, much to the union's consternation."


Striking LIUNA may force jobs to U.S.

A nine-day-old strike at Prestressed Systems Inc. may force the owner to close the plant and shift operations to the U.S. unless the company can win concessions at the bargaining table, says a spokesman for the company.

"There's a very real possibility that the company will cease operations here because it can't compete with the strong Canadian dollar, a sluggish economy and non-union wages on both sides of the border which are as much as $10 an hour less than our workers earn," lawyer Claudio Martini said.

Bill Moreland, a business representative for Local 625 of the Labourers' International Union of North America, which represents workers at the plant, didn't discount the possibility the plant could close.

"The company has indicated as much to us in a roundabout way at the table, but who knows whether it's simply posturing or if it's a real possibility," Moreland said.

"It's unfortunate because this company has made its bread and butter in this community for almost 40 years and it's shameful to me that they're considering shutting it down."

The plant has been shut down since 55 members of Local 625 walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. March 31, after rejecting the company's last offer by an overwhelming margin of 98 per cent.

Prestressed, a locally owned company at 4955 Walker Road, manufactures structural systems and composite concrete components for the construction industry across Ontario and the U.S. midwest.

Moreland said the company is demanding significant wage concessions and language rollbacks relating to hours of work.

Moreland declined to say how much the full-time employees earn. "I'd prefer not to negotiate in the media and I wouldn't want to prejudice future discussions by laying out any details of what has been on the table," he said.

Martini said the company is asking for a $1.50-an-hour rollback in wages and a 44-hour work week before overtime kicks in, instead of the current 371/2 hours, because it can't afford to pay overtime on a Saturday when the company has to make up for time lost during the week due to rain.

"It's an unfortunate situation and both sides have put in a lot of effort to solve this, but plans to move work to the U.S. are being discussed as we speak," said Martini. "The workers have spoken and the company is exploring its options."

Moreland said the employees made a number of suggestions during the last bargaining session which they felt would help the company. "Because we recognize the economic times we're operating in, but clearly they haven't been enough."

The company, which was established in 1975 by Valentino Collavino and son Loris, also has an office in Detroit and a production plant in Fairfield, Ohio, operating under the name Hollowcore Midwest LLC.

The company also operates Total Precast Solutions, which performs erection and patching operations for customers in its U.S. markets.

Martini said the company is also planning on opening another production plant in the U.S. but declined to say where.

Moreland said he was awaiting word from the company about the resumption of negotiations but added he's prepared to call the company within the next day or so, because the two sides need to get back to the table.

"I like to say there are 55 families on strike, because any work stoppage affects more than just the striking employees," said Moreland.

The two sides had been using the services of a provincial conciliator before the strike began.

LIUNA represents more than 80,000 workers in 650 locals in 50 different industries across North America.


Hollywood strike re-run in production

With the next round of Hollywood labor talks a week away, the major studios on Monday urged actors to avoid renewed strife by embracing the framework of deals already reached with directors and striking screenwriters. The message implicit in the open letter from the studios' bargaining arm, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, appeared to be that union demands going much beyond terms already ratified by two other major Hollywood guilds are out of the question.

"If our industry relies on this new framework, we can all avoid more harmful and unnecessary strikes," the AMPTP concluded in its six-paragraph statement. It left open the door for "reasonable compromises that are necessary."

There was no immediate response from the Screen Actors Guild, which opens negotiations with the studios on April 15 for a new three-year contract covering 120,000 film and television performers.

SAG leaders have said they would seek to improve on the labor settlements reached earlier this year by the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America.
Those deals, including the one in February ending a bitter 100-day writers strike that crippled much of Hollywood's film and TV industry, hinged on key provisions giving union members more money for work distributed over the Internet.

But their letter suggested the studios see little room for major additional concessions.

"They said in a press release what they could have said in a sentence, which is: "We're not giving any more in new media than we already gave,'" said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with ties to both sides in the labor talks.

Besides seeking a larger share of entertainment dollars generated on the Internet, SAG leaders say they want to increase the residual fees actors earn for films and TV shows sold on DVDs -- a demand writers were forced to abandon.

The actors union also wants its members to earn a cut of advertising revenues from commercial endorsements they are forced to make through the growing use of product placement in TV shows and movies.

The last SAG film and TV contract took just two weeks to negotiate. But the union is now controlled by a more militant wing that opposed the terms of the previous deal and has pledged to take a tougher stance at the bargaining table.

SAG's leaders, staunch allies of the Writers Guild during its strike, have sought to downplay the potential for further work stoppages.

Prospects for an expeditious round of talks seemed to be bolstered when SAG's smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), decided recently to open contract talks on its own on April 28, rather than negotiate jointly with SAG as it has in the past.

Handel said that arrangement undermines SAG's leverage.

AFTRA, which represents about 70,000 performers, more than half of whom also hold SAG cards, declined comment on the studio letter.

With labor jitters still running high in Hollywood, the studios are for the most part refusing to launch any new film production they cannot be sure to finish before the actors' contract expires June 30. That date is being treated as a de facto strike deadline.


Right To Work cited in labor-state

No matter what happens, Brian Wilson can't seem to stay away from Baltimore for long. From 1984 to 1988, he was among the most popular radio personalities in town. Tomorrow, seemingly a dozen jobs and just as many addresses later, he returns to Charm City's airwaves, as the afternoon voice of WHFS-FM.

"It's like this elasticized umbilical cord," he says from the WSPD studios in Toledo, Ohio, where he'll continue to hold down the afternoon drive-time slot he's had since 2005. "I got out of town after '88, then snapped back in the early '90s, then left for New York, then boom, back to Baltimore. Then I'm out here, and Baltimore calls again. Maybe the fates are trying to tell me something."

For much of the 1980s, Wilson was half of Baltimore's most popular morning radio show on WBSB-FM (B-104). In the 1990s, after time in New York, he returned for a brief stint at WOCT-FM and became the most hated man in Dundalk, thanks to wisecracks that didn't exactly endear him to the local citizenry. In the early years of this decade, he was the regular fill-in when folks at WBAL-AM went on vacation.

Tomorrow, Wilson and his avowedly Libertarian views return to Baltimore's airwaves for the first time since 2004, when an effort to recapture the magic of the 1980s-era Brian & O'Brien Show fizzled on WQSR-FM. He'll be on WHFS-FM (105.7) from noon to 3 p.m., clearing the way for Ed Norris to shift his top-rated show into the more popular afternoon drive-time slot, 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Even though his base will remain in Ohio, Wilson's new boss is confident his thoughts will have no trouble re-acclimating themselves to Charm City.

"Brian Wilson is a man who knows Baltimore as good as anybody," says Dave Labrozzi, vice president of programming for CBS Radio's five Baltimore stations, including WHFS. "Once you're a Baltimore guy, you're always a Baltimore guy. He knows what's going on."

Wilson says he's ready. If Baltimore is.

"I don't think anything has really changed in Baltimore," Wilson says. "You've got O'Malley - he's gone from mayor to governor, but he's still O'Malley. Maybe he's a little more liberal, a little more egocentric, a little bit more whatever he thinks he is.

"But the issues that Baltimore faces as a city, and the issues that Maryland faces as a state, aren't really all that different from most other states. They all have issues; it's just a matter of finding out which pot is boiling at any given time."

Wilson certainly sounds like a man anxious to get back on the radar screens of Baltimore's talk-radio fans. Just get him to start talking about taxes.

"You're going to see businesses leaving and people leaving ... if these taxes continue the way they do," he says. "There are right-to-work states that are blossoming and doing magnificently well. Why would you want to stay in a state like Maryland that's going to tax everything, from your haircuts to your computer services, when you can go someplace where they don't, and enjoy a higher standard of living and a better quality of life?"

Wilson, 59, will be in Baltimore this week for his inaugural broadcasts. He'll return to Toledo this weekend and continue doing his shows from Ohio. But he insists it shouldn't take anytime at all for him and his Baltimore listeners to get reacquainted.

"I don't think it's going to take all that long," he says. "I'll be flying in Wednesday morning, and I'll be doing the show from there Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is going to be the re-acquainting of myself with the market and the audience. ... I'll have an opportunity to actually sit and yap and have a beer and play catch up."


Democrat Gov. opposes worker-choice

Gov. Bill Ritter says he hopes to convince business leaders not to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to make Colorado a "right-to-work" state. The measure would prohibit mandatory union membership or mandatory union dues for Colorado workers.

Ritter said Monday he also wants to meet with labor leaders to convince them not to run competing initiatives that would require employers to give workers annual cost-of-living increases and provide health insurance.

The governor says he opposes the initiatives because he believes they don't belong in the constitution.


Dem Gov. taps unions for reelection bid

The big blue biodiesel-powered bus pulled into the Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 3 about 30 minutes behind schedule Monday — not bad for the fifth stop on the official launch day of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s re-election campaign.

The governor, who had made stops in her hometown of Auburn and in Tacoma earlier in the day, emerged in a black coat, smiling. She stood in front of one of the tapered, white, 120-foot-long wind turbine blades that pass through the port on their way from the factory in Denmark to wind farms in the Columbia River Gorge and beyond. She spoke to a small group of longshoremen who huddled together in a cold wind.

They had invited her to have a look at the green jobs created by the 2005 voter-approved renewable energy initiative.

“She’s done a lot for organized labor,” said Cager Clabaugh, president of Local 4 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The union has gained 60 new members with the wind power boom, he said.

“I wanted to make sure she came down to see what we do.”

Bart Phillips, executive director of the Columbia River Economic Development Commission, praised the governor for backing the expansion of SEH America, Washington State University Vancouver and other local projects.

“Three years ago, the governor came and held a roundtable to find out what she could do to bring jobs to Southwest Washington,” Phillips said. Clark County is now reaping the benefits, he added.

In a brief version of her stump speech touting the state’s economic progress, Gregoire noted that three years ago, Washington was tied with Oregon for the highest unemployment rate in the nation. “We’ve gone to the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the state of Washington,” she said.

While Michigan and Ohio together have lost 600,000 jobs, she said, Washington has created 225,000 new jobs in the past three years. International trade in Washington has doubled, from $33 billion to $67 billion, since she took office. And Washington now ranks fifth in wind power.

Her only regret, she said, is that Washington isn’t manufacturing the giant wind turbines.

A short time later and only a mile away, about 250 exuberant Democrats crowded into the Firefighters’ Hall on Fruit Valley Road to throw the governor an old-fashioned rally.

Mark Johnston, president of the Vancouver Firefighters Union, thanked Gregoire for her work on behalf of public safety both as governor and during her three terms as attorney general. He noted that she recently signed a landmark pension bill for public employees — and remarked that she is the only governor to have passed the Wildland Physical Agility Test given to firefighters.

Gregoire beamed at the crowd and accepted a bouquet. “I am truly proud and humble to be your governor,” she said. “I’d like to do it for four more years.”

Her job’s not finished yet

In the full-blown version of her stump speech, she painted a picture of a state that was struggling under a $2.2 billion deficit and facing huge transportation challenges, spiraling unemployment and overflowing prisons when she took office in 2005. She touted the state’s progress in providing health insurance to 84,000 children, addressing a huge transportation backlog through the passage of two state gas-tax increases, and taking the lead in climate change legislation and early childhood education.

“I’m here because we’re not done,” she said. ”I don’t want us to move backward.”

Gregoire did not mention by name her all-but-certain opponent, Republican Dino Rossi, whom she beat by a hair in 2004. The closest she came was when she asked the partisan crowd whether the state wants a governor who brings a message of hope “or someone who is critical and fear-mongering to the people of Washington.”

“Do we want a governor who’s willing to take on the tough challenges … or do we want someone who’s indecisive and puts up their finger to see how the wind is blowing?”

Later, the governor posed for photos and took time to speak with several people in the crowd. One was Donna Hammond of Hazel Dell, who wanted to know more about the governor’s early childhood education initiative. Over the noise, Gregoire explained the basics.

Hammond, a member of Local 48 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers , said she hadn’t taken much interest in politics until she went to hear Gregoire speak at a union dinner recently.

“This is my next governor,” she said. “What I am most impressed with is, she is so innovative. I am proud to say she is my governor and I live in the state of Washington. She has to stay in office.”


News Union to take dues hit in Seattle

The Seattle Times Co. said Monday that it will eliminate about 190 positions by next month because of continuing revenue declines. In a memo to employees, which was posted on the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild Web site, Times Publisher Frank Blethen and Times Co. President Carolyn Kelly said the changes will be part of about $15 million in budget reductions during the next two months.

"We had hoped the expense reductions made at the beginning of the year would prevent the need for further downsizing, but that is not the case," the memo said.

"The only responsible action to take is to better align our expenses to the reduced revenue we now anticipate."

The company had 1,845 full-time and part-time employees as of March 31, said spokeswoman Jill Mackie.

A second memo, issued later Monday, said 70 percent of the 191 positions set to be cut will be eliminated through layoffs, while the remaining jobs will go unfilled, though the precise number of cuts may change.

The newsroom will be hardest hit, losing 49 positions, the memo said. Another 47 positions in circulation and 40.5 in advertising are affected, along with 18 in information technology, 14 in operations, seven in marketing, 6.5 in finance, five in new media and four in human resources.

Seventy-eight of the positions affected are represented by the Guild, said administrative officer Liz Brown. The Guild's blog lists some of the job titles affected.

"Hopefully this will be enough to ensure the company's survival," said Yoko Kuramoto-Eidsmoe, a Times features copy editor on the Seattle Times staff for 11 years.

Some employees learned of the layoffs Monday morning, but the last layoff notices will be made between April 15 and April 21. May 5 will be the final day worked for most laid-off employees.

Applications for voluntary separation are being considered. The company is providing severance packages to union and non-union workers.

Mackie said revenue from print ads has continued to decline, and online ad growth has slowed. She wouldn't say what other measures the company might take to achieve the $15 million in cuts.

"Some will affect readers and advertisers," she said.

The Times reported Monday that the paper will eliminate zoned suburban editions. Mackie confirmed that "there will be changes related to zoning. ... We expect impacts to both readers and advertisers and will do all that we can to mitigate the impacts."

In late December, Blethen painted a dark picture of the newspaper's near-term future in a memo to staffers. The next month, the paper said it would lay off 17 workers and cut 69 other positions by attrition.

Last month, the Times Co. said it would sell four newspapers and a Web site it owns in Maine, in order to better focus on its Washington papers.

Seattle P-I Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby on Monday lamented news of the Times layoffs, at the same time calling them predictable.

"I hate to see this happen, but ... it's a correct decision given the difficult financial circumstances in the newspaper industry right now," he said.

He said the cuts will affect workers handling circulation and ad sales for the P-I, because of the joint operating agreement that governs the business relationship between the Times and the P-I. But, he said, "I think it will have a minimal, negligible impact on the (P-I) customer."

Under the JOA, the Times performs key business functions for the P-I in exchange for a larger share of the joint profits.

At meetings earlier this year, P-I staffers were told they will not receive merit-based pay increases in 2008. The Seattle P-I has lost more than $30 million in the past eight years, Managing Editor David McCumber said at one of those meetings. He added that 2008's results are expected to be the "worst loss ever."

To offset losses, Oglesby said the P-I has been cutting its expenses "for quite a while" and has slowed its own hiring during the past year, bringing in new employees "only when it's absolutely necessary to fill some very specific need."

Despite those measures, Oglesby said he wouldn't rule out future layoffs among the 200 employees of the P-I.

"We don't have any plan for layoffs right now, but that's not to say it couldn't happen sometime," he said. "I don't know at what point you'd have to do something more extreme."

American newspapers have suffered economically in recent years. In 2007, ad revenue fell by an average of more than 5 percent, according a 2008 report by the Washington, D.C.-based Project for Excellence in Journalism. Classified ads were hit the hardest, and within those, job ads suffered most, declining by 20 percent.

Newspaper companies' share prices fell 42 percent in 2007, following years in which they fell 11 percent and 20 percent, respectively.


SEIU gambles member-dues in Pennsylvania

Barack Obama trails Hillary Clinton in most polls in Pennsylvania, but the Service Employees International Union is doing its best to close the gap. The SEIU, which has endorsed Obama, is spending nearly $740,000 in the state "on staff and literature for a massive canvass of Pennsylvania," reports Politico's Ben Smith. (Per Smith, here are some details.)

Obama's fundraising advantage has allowed the Illinois senator to significantly outspend Clinton in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. On NBC's "Meet The Press" Sunday, Clinton supporter and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell suggested that the former first lady is being significantly outspent in his state – but will still win.

"Anytime you're outspent 3-to-1, you can't be overconfident," Rendell said, echoing an analyist's finding last week that Clinton had been outspent by that margin on television ads in Pennsylvania.

"I'm saying that we will win this state, but we'll win it somewhere between ... 5 and 10 percentage points," Rendell added.


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