Union cash floods Pennsylvania

Barack Obama is closing steadily in polls in Pennsylvania, where he hopes to finally knock out Hillary Clinton from the Democratic race. A Quinnipiac University poll out yesterday had Clinton leading 50 percent to 44 percent, but that 6-point edge is down from 9 percentage points last week and 12 points in mid-March in the same survey. The new poll, conducted Thursday through Sunday among 1,340 likely Democratic voters, had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

Obama is being buoyed leading up to the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania by a barrage of TV ads; as of Sunday, the senator from Illinois had spent $3.6 million in the state to Clinton's $1.3 million, according to data compiled by TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group. Obama is currently spending an unprecedented $2.2 million per week on television, said Democratic media consultant Neil Oxman, who is not working for a candidate. "That's unbelievable," Oxman said.

Obama is also being helped by nearly $1 million worth of door-to-door canvassing from the Service Employees International Union and a local healthcare union.

With her lead in the polls dwindling, Clinton is flooding the state's airwaves with new TV ads.

The five ads include glowing praise from her highest-profile supporters in the state, Governor Ed Rendell and Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia. Rendell predicts the senator from New York will be a "spectacular president." "It's going to take a fighter to get us out of the mess this country's in," he says, citing her proposals on jobs and healthcare. "When she believes something has to be done, she just won't quit."

Another ad is a sepia-tone ode to Clinton's family ties to Scranton, where she says she was raised "on pinochle and the American dream." There is also a Spanish-language spot and another, which has aired in earlier-voting states, that emphasizes economic populism.

"Clinton, no doubt with the new ads, is going to start to turn up the volume in Pennsylvania," said Evan Tracey, head of TNS Media.

As of Sunday, Obama was running three statewide ads and had a Spanish-language ad in Philadelphia. Yesterday, he introduced four more spots, including one featuring his wife, Michelle, his half sister, and his grandmother.

As her ads went up, the Clinton campaign sent out a fund-raising appeal.

"Don't let a sea of Obama ads overwhelm our powerful message in Pennsylvania," an e-mail to supporters says. "Contribute now."


UPS welcomes Teamsters to Palmetto State

Workers won broader representation by unions in South Carolina this week, adding to gains made last year. About 450 freight workers at the United Parcel Service hub in West Columbia will be represented under a Teamsters contract ratified by workers nationwide, a union spokeswoman said Tuesday.

“That’s a significant number of people and a significant organizing victory there,” said Donna De La Cruz, spokeswoman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Washington.

The contract includes a wage increase of $4.35 per hour over the contract’s five years. The contract covers workers for UPS Freight, which handles large cargo.

Jack Holmes, president of UPS Freight said in statements, the contract “is good for our people, good for our customers and good for the company.”

Union representation in South Carolina jumped last year.

In 2006, about 74,000 S.C. workers, or 4.2 percent of the work force, were represented by unions — the nation’s second-lowest rate behind North Carolina, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last year, unions represented 111,000 S.C. workers, a 5.9 percent rate that is higher than North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Texas.

Not all S.C. union workers pay dues, which is not required by the state’s right-to-work laws. About three-quarters of members paid dues over the past two years.

The UPS freight workers will be part of Teamsters Local 509 based in Columbia, which has 4,066 members and represents drivers and other workers for UPS, Roadway, Yellow Freight, Pet Dairy, USF Holland and other companies, said L.D. Fletcher, president of the local union.

Last year, the local gained representation for 570 school bus drivers in Charleston and Beaufort counties, Fletcher said. The local has been trying to organize drivers who carry shipping containers from the Port of Charleston for years, he said.


Big Oil in plot to curb non-union labor

Fairbanks leaders offered generally optimistic reaction Tuesday to two oil companies’ joint plan to work toward building a natural gas pipeline. Fairbanks (AK) North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker expressed cautious support. He noted similar projects have been discussed for decades without succeeding.

“We’ve seen lots of ideas and proposals come and go during that time. If this one finally gets a project built that’s in the state and the community’s best interests, we’ll be very supportive,” he said.

The companies, BP and ConocoPhillips, said Tuesday they would operate their exploratory Denali — The Alaska Gas Pipeline project from offices in Anchorage. Whitaker said he had already — prior to the announcement — told company executives that Fairbanks leaders are “most interested” in seeing them base either construction or long-term operational headquarters in Fairbanks.

“It makes logistical and economic sense that the headquarters for a project would be based in Fairbanks,” he said.

Executives for BP and ConocoPhillips told the Daily News-Miner on Tuesday they are open to the possibility of running part of a pipeline project from Fairbanks-based offices.

Fairbanks city Mayor Terry Strle took word of the effort as a cue to start thinking about how the massive project — it would be the largest private construction effort ever in North America, according to the companies — could impact local economies, roads and the demand for municipal services.

Pipeline communities and the state used a Municipal Advisory Group three years ago to discuss the issue when former Gov. Frank Murkowski and a trio of oil producers were drafting plans for a pipeline.

“I would think we would want to join with other communities” again in the discussion, Strle said, adding that Fairbanks learned “valuable lessons” about pipeline projects’ impact on cities during work on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s. “I would suspect, and certainly hope, that the oil companies would want to work with the communities as well to meet our needs.”

North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson said he was “delighted” with the companies’ announcement. He said he hoped they include the option of finding an in-state use for natural gas-based liquids, compounds used as petrochemical feedstocks and for some heating fuels, in the discussion.

“I think that’s the right step. We need to move forward,” Isaacson said of the overall proposal. “(But) I’m afraid that our liquids are going to be gone.”

Labor force

BP Alaska president Doug Suttles and ConocoPhillips Alaska president Jim Bowles said Tuesday they will team up to assess exactly what type and size of work force would be needed for the proposed multibillion-dollar project. The assessment will be part of $30 million in studies focusing on roads and infrastructure and at training and labor needs, they said.

Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said unions’ pre-pipeline training strategies will remain unchanged following word of the companies’ proposal. He said labor groups will push for a project labor agreement aimed at ensuring jobs go to qualified state workers, adding that he senses a willingness from oil executives to offer union leaders “stability” as they keep the workforce ready for a project.

“We want to make sure they’re committed to doing a project labor agreement similar to ones done for the (Fort Greely Army post) ground-based missile defense system and similar to the one done with the trans-Alaska pipeline,” he said.

Suttles said the two companies have spoken with state officials about options for helping prepare the state’s workforce for a project.

“We want to make sure we position Alaska well for those jobs,” Suttles said. The two companies have a good track record of hiring state residents, he said. “I hope that gives the public confidence with this project. We’re your neighbors.

“We want a well-qualified, capable workforce to prepare this project on time,” he said.

The companies are aiming to host an open season by the end of 2010 and, following that, could expect another three years of engineering and design work to precede construction, the executives said.


NFL union boss paid $4 million/yr

Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA executive director, issued a strong challenge amid reports that Ravens player rep Matt Stover is leading a movement to overthrow him. He insisted repeatedly that he is not going anywhere.

"All I can tell you is I'm here and I will be here," Upshaw told the Daily News Tuesday night. "I've already told the player reps that I will not leave until this (collective bargaining) deal is done, whether it is 2010, 2011 or 2012."

Stover, the 40-year-old kicker, sent an e-mail to player reps on Monday outlining a six-step plan to have a new head of the union selected by the executive committee and elected by the player reps at the NFLPA annual meeting in March of 2009, according to the document obtained by ESPN. Upshaw's contract, reportedly for $4 million per year, does not expire until Dec. 31, 2010.

Upshaw claims his job status never came up at the recent union meeting in Hawaii. He believes it is only an issue because he will be 65 on Aug. 15, 2010, which he set as the mandatory retirement age for NFLPA employees but which he said could easily be rescinded for himself and others.

NFL owners, upset that the 2006 collective bargaining agreement is costing them too much, plan to exercise an opt-out clause in November and reopen negotiations. If a deal is not reached, 2009 would be the final year of the salary cap, and 2010, as an uncapped year, would be the final year of the CBA. That could lead to a management lockout or a union decertification - the tactic Upshaw used after the 1987 strike that led to free agency through the courts in 1993. Meanwhile, the potential of a 2011 work stoppage hangs over the league.

Asked about a player uprising, Upshaw told The News, "The only uprising I am concerned about is the owners. You would have to be in a hole somewhere not to realize what we are facing over the next several years. I will not leave my position until we have a deal and I am satisfied we have done the right thing."

Upshaw revealed he met with some owners on Monday but would not give any specifics.

In his e-mail, Stover referred to a conference call of player reps on April 4 and wrote, "I believe that the NFLPA is ready to begin a national search process to find a new Executive Director. As you are completely aware of our election process, Gene's contractual situation, and our looming battles against the owners in the coming years, I feel that the Board must begin to prepare for a change in leadership immediately. I was on that conference call and I am not the only rep who listened and felt that it is time for a change."


Big Business favors forced-labor unions

Some of Colorado's biggest companies are staying out of the fight between unions and business over work initiatives they're vying to put on the November ballot. The state's biggest economic-development plum in years — ConocoPhillips, which plans to build a huge corporate campus in Louisville — also said it has no plans to enter the fray.

"If you're looking for ConocoPhillips to get exercised about this, we're not," said spokesman Bill Tanner of the Houston-based company. "I don't think we're going to play in these ballot issues. We're committed to our project in Colorado, and we're going to abide by whatever the law is or what the voters decide."

Other firms staying on the sidelines, so far, include Coors Brewing, Qwest and Xcel Energy. Qwest and Xcel have thousands of union workers in Colorado; Coors has a few dozen.

Jonathan Coors, a director at Golden manufacturer CoorsTek and a descendant of brewery founder Adolph Coors, is one of the backers of the "right to work" ballot proposal that would prohibit workers from being forced to become union members or pay union dues.

But the namesake brewery is not endorsing the initiative, nor is it taking a position on a series of union-backed initiatives that would offer benefits and protections to workers.

"Colorado reached a workable compromise on these issues decades ago through the Labor Peace Act, and Coors Brewing Co. supports the current law," the company said in a statement.

The Labor Peace Act requires employees to approve, in two separate elections, establishment of a union shop.

"We're not going to take any position on initiatives that aren't on the ballot yet," said Ethnie Groves, an Xcel spokeswoman.

Qwest spokeswoman Jennifer Barton said the firm hasn't "articulated" a position yet.

The labor-backed initiatives would require employers to give workers annual cost-of-living increases, mandate health-insurance coverage for businesses with 20 or more employees, require businesses to pay more in property taxes and prevent employers from firing workers without "just cause," among other measures.

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, a business-advocacy group, has endorsed the right-to- work initiative. Jonathan Coors is a CACI board member.

The Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on any of the proposed initiatives.

In a poll by the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, 59 percent of the 750 businesses responding said they support right-to-work.

But the NFIB is wary of opposing a union-backed initiative requiring businesses to offer health insurance.

"Health care is the No. 1 concern of NFIB members," said Tony Gagliardo, Colorado director of the group. "We don't want to see this current rift between labor and business create an impediment. The issue can be addressed only if we have all parties at the table."

Gov. Bill Ritter has been talking to both sides to broker a compromise on the dispute.

The deadline is Thursday for submitting signatures to get right-to- work on the ballot.


Virginia lawmakers protect worker-choice

Concealed beneath the clamor over the Virginia state budget and bills covering such issues as gun rights, mental health and puppy farms were bids targeting the commonwealth's right-to-work law. Left-leaning lawmakers sought to allow collective bargaining for public workers and, in the words of Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, "begin an irreversible trend towards compulsory organizing of employees."

Thankfully, both initiatives died in the Republican-led House of Delegates. Still, it is worth noting the import of maintaining the state's status as one of the best in which to do business, an honor accorded Virginia two years running by Forbes Magazine. While Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania limp along in the shadows of their former industrial glory, places such as Virginia and Texas manage to advance even amid the current economic tumult in large part because employers know they can function here without the threat of a debilitating strike.

Texas, for example, has added 36,000 manufacturing jobs since 2004 and recorded $168 billion in exports last year. Ohio conversely lost 10,400 jobs over the last decade. Its population shrank by 362,000 during that time while Texas' swelled by more than three-fourths that amount. The trends put the lie to the notion that the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Democratic candidates say they despise, adversely affects American workers. Which state in the union would figure to be more impacted by NAFTA than Texas?

Saxman and others on his side of the aisle are right to fight assaults on the right-to-work law. Those who would like a glimpse of life without it need only look to that trio of Northern states where prosperity is a relic of a thriving industrial heritage driven to ruin by manufacturer mismanagement and union greed. Organized labor's day has passed into night; the same has happened to those states still in unions' grip.


Feds bust Buffalo-area union officials

Federal agents this morning arrested 12 officers and members of Operating Engineers Local 17, following a lengthy investigation into alleged labor racketeering and extortion at one of the region's largest construction unions. Authorities said the president of the Lakeview-based local, Mark N. Kirsch, was one of those arrested in a roundup that began when agents started going to the homes of the suspects at 5:30 a.m.

Law enforcement officials likened the case to a recent investigation that led to prison terms for several of the top officials of Laborers Local 91 in Niagara Falls.

"Some of the criminal allegations in this [Local 17] case go back as far as 10 years. At this point, I can't say anything more than that," U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn said this morning.

Kirsch was unavailable for comment, and a secretary at Local 17's offices on Versailles Road in Lakeview said she couldn't comment and could not recommend a spokesperson to comment.

Agents from the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department have been investigating alleged acts of violence, threatened violence and extortion involving Local 17 for more than a year, law enforcement officials said. They declined to discuss specifics until court papers in the case are unsealed at federal court.

A participant in many of the region's major construction projects, Local 17 has 2,100 members in Western New York, according to its web site. The local is part of an international union with 400,000 members.

Local 17 said its members run equipment repair shops, stationary plants, gravel yards and ready-mix concrete plants at construction sites. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Charles B. Wydysh and Anthony M. Bruce are prosecuting the case, authorities said. Both prosecutors have worked for decades on organized crime and labor racketeering cases in the region. Flynn scheduled a press conference for 11:30 a.m. today, and The Buffalo News will have further details about the case in Wednesday's editions.

A Local 17 strike delayed for two and a half months the Main Street renovation near the UB South Campus three years years ago.

The Local 17 headquarters is located in Versailles Road in Lakeview.

The local's Web site says that its jurisdiction includes Erie, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Orleans, Wyoming, and western Genesee Counties, except for Batavia) and that the Local has been in existence since Jan. 11, 1900.

The local's members who work in many different phases of industry, including equipment repair shops, stationary plants, gravel yards, ready-mix plants, and construction sites across our region.


IBEW steps up in tribal Casino War

A third union has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to unionize workers at Foxwoods Resort Casino. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers filed a petition with the labor board on Tuesday, according to John Cotter, assistant regional director for the NLRB in Hartford.

While the filing was confirmed, the petition was not made available Tuesday. It remains unclear what departments and how many workers will be included in the potential bargaining unit.

Cotter said the petition would be released today.

The Day was unsuccessful in trying to reach IBEW officials late Tuesday.

Attorneys representing the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates the casino, have “not been notified and have not received anything to that effect,” according to Arthur Henick, a tribal spokesman.

This filing is part of a recent surge in union activity at Foxwoods, which began with the United Auto Workers last year and continued in March when the International Union of Operating Engineers filed a similar petition, stating it has substantial support from workers in the engineering department who favor union representation.

Poker and table game dealers voted in late November in favor of union representation by the UAW.

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

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

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

The Mashantuckets have suggested that both the UAW and the IUOE form a union under tribal laws.

And despite the tribe's claim that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over the tribe and therefore the casino, another union election will take place at Foxwoods next month.

William Lynn, the lead organizer with the IUOE Local 30, said Tuesday that an election date of May 1 has been set.

Peter B. Hoffman, the regional director of the NLRB in Hartford, ruled earlier this month that the approximately 310 workers in the engineering department have the right to vote on whether they support union representation.

Attorneys representing the tribe said they will file a request for review of Hoffman's decision with the NLRB in Washington. The deadline to file the review is April 15.


Out-of-state union raids AFSCME in Texas

For five decades, the same union has represented the nurses and other employees at the Harris County Hospital District. Now a rival is trying to muscle in on the action and union officials are none too pleased. The California Nurses Association, which scored a big win last month by successfully organizing the only private hospital in Texas, is quietly signing up registered district nurses who traditionally have joined the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Since public hospital employees don't have collective bargaining rights, the CNA is signing up individual members for $30 a year, said David Monkawa, regional organizing director for CNA in Houston.

He won't reveal how many members have joined but said it's a "sizable" number.

When the union reaches a certain critical mass, it will ask the hospital district to negotiate on specific hot-button issues such as mandatory overtime, he said. An agreement would only cover the nurses who are members.

However, that's not making AFSCME, which has been representing registered nurses and other hospital district employees for 50 years, very happy.

"I'd love to be out there supporting them but that's very hard to do when they are raiding my local at the Harris County Hospital District," said Sharon Hill, business manager for AFSCME Local 1550, which represents more than 1,000 hospital district employees.

Hill said she doesn't understand why the California Nurses Association is going after a group that's already represented by a union.

But to CNA officials, what they're doing isn't raiding.

"They're claiming a territory, but there's no bargaining unit there," said Ed Bruno, organizing coordinator for the union's National Nurses Organizing Committee in Tampa, Fla. Besides, he said, the registered nurses should be in their own organization rather than joining a union that represents a variety of health care workers.

Bruno chalks up the dispute to bruised egos.

"They're probably still mad SEIU kicked them around," he said, referring to the battle between the Service Employees International Union and AFSCME over which union would represent 13,000 city of Houston workers.

'From the outside'

AFSCME had spent years lobbying the Legislature for municipal worker collective bargaining rights and were stunned that when its efforts paid off, SEIU organizers suddenly appeared. The two unions eventually drew up a truce and formed the Houston Organization of Public Employees.

Officially, the hospital district doesn't want to get involved in the current dispute, said spokesman Bryan McLeod.

But one of the hospital district's board members is E. Dale Wortham, who also happens to be president of the AFL-CIO in Harris County. He's none too pleased about the encroachment on AFSCME's turf.

Both unions are in the AFL-CIO and Wortham said he will help the CNA anywhere — except at the hospital district.

"Maybe something can be worked out but I'm having a hard enough time holding together what we already have than having someone from the outside coming in," said Wortham.

Wortham is especially angry because he said Bruno assured him in a meeting last fall that the CNA was not targeting the hospital district.

"I knew better because I had a brochure from CNA for the nurses in my pocket," said Wortham, who said that Bruno didn't tell him the truth.

"I can guarantee you this: Most of the other board members defer labor problems to me," said Wortham, referring to the expertise of each board member. And Wortham said he doesn't mind telling them that the "only two experiences I had (with CNA) were not good."

Hospital district

Bruno said the California Nurses Association tries to sign up all nurses, regardless of where they work. Despite its name, the group represents 80,000 nurses nationwide. And by the time he met with Wortham, Bruno said, it was a well-known fact that the California Nurses Association was recruiting nurses at the hospital district.

Bruno said he never lied to Wortham.

The meeting was to smooth things over between the two unions and included a discussion — which didn't go very far, according to Bruno — of whether they should join forces at public health facilities in Texas.

"As far as I know, we're getting along well," said Bruno.


SEIU official softpedals dissent

The following is a statement of SEIU spokesperson Andrew McDonald: "Debate makes our union strong and is central to the health and vitality of any democratic organization. For the last several years, SEIU members and leaders have engaged in an open and full debate over the future of our union. For the past two months in particular, SEIU's strategies and ideas have been the subject of an even more vigorous debate -- in union halls, living rooms, in the media, and among academics and bloggers.

"The debate within SEIU has led to a growing consensus around the proposed 'Justice for All' plan that is the most ambitious and far-reaching proposal to change America any union has ever considered. It continues SEIU's focus on the priorities that are important to all working people -- fixing our broken healthcare system, giving workers a strong voice in the changing global economy, and restoring economic balance in America.

"The Justice for All proposals were unanimously adopted March 31 by the elected leaders of the union's Executive Committee. In addition, local union leaders representing more than 80 percent of SEIU's 1.9 million members have joined in affirming SEIU's commitment to changing America and to democratic and free debate.

"The debate continues about how best to take advantage of the enormous opportunity for change in our country. In the weeks ahead and at our convention in June, SEIU members will continue to discuss and decide how to best implement our strategies and win justice for all working people in America."


Jumbo gov't union meltdown

By nearly every measure, the Service Employees International Union has become a juggernaut. As the rest of organized labor has seen its share of the American workforce continue to dwindle, SEIU has brought in some 800,000 new dues-paying members in recent years. With the Democratic Party taking over Congress in 2006, the 1.9 million-member organization, rich with campaign funds, wields enormous political clout, and it will only become more formidable if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama wins the White House in November.

But all is not well inside the labor giant. Andy Stern, the union's president, has pushed hard for merging and consolidating local chapters into larger operations — and many SEIU members, especially here on the West Coast, say that's turning the union into a top-down autocracy in which Stern loyalists wield undue influence and meddling officials from Washington, DC squelch dissent.

And now, the Guardian has learned, Stern operatives are using their money and organizing clout in a hard-hitting campaign — not to force an employer to the table or to toss out an anti-union politician, but to discredit another labor leader.

The campaign is part of a bruising power struggle between Stern and dissident local leader Sal Rosselli, who runs the Oakland-based SEIU affiliate United Health Care Workers West. In the past few months, union insiders say, SEIU officials, including a senior assistant to Stern, set up what one leader called a "skunk team" to undermine Rosselli's efforts at winning key union delegate elections. At one point, the team — which involved a political consulting firm linked to big downtown businesses — discussed an opposition research file compiled on Rosselli by a health-care giant his union was fighting

And leading up to the delegate elections last month, SEIU staffers worked to promote Stern-supporting candidates, possibly in violation of union rules, while actively discouraging other union employees from campaigning. That's led to a formal complaint alleging improper involvement by Stern's staff in a local union election.


In 2005, Thomas Dewar went to work as a press secretary at Local 790, formerly SEIU's biggest San Francisco outlet, which represented approximately 30,000 workers, most of them public employees. Local 790 was among the most politically progressive union shops in the country, supporting left-leaning candidates for office and progressive causes like public power. In early 2007, Andy Stern initiated a merger of 790 with nine other regional locals. The move was part of a larger consolidation in the state that saw the number of California union affiliates reduced by nearly half.

The new Northern California superlocal was dubbed 1021, as in "10 to one." Local 1021 has continued 790's liberal activism. But right after the merger was finalized, Dewar and other sources told the Guardian, the atmosphere around the union changed for the worse.

"A lot of members had anxiety," Dewar recounted. Most troubling, he said, was the insertion of Stern appointees into leadership positions, including current president Damita Davis-Howard. "Members were upset. They saw co-workers whom they had elected unilaterally removed by a guy in DC and replaced by his handpicked appointments."

Ed Kinchley, a Local 1021 member who was appointed by Stern to the local's executive board after the consolidation, shared Dewar's memory of the tensions. "You had 10 different locals with 10 different ways of doing things. It's difficult to merge all of that. A lot of people who had been elected to leadership positions were removed."

Dewar told us he struggled to adjust to his new working environment. But after his initial misgivings, he said he devoted himself to backing Stern's vision for the combined local: "We were told over and over that change is hard. So I decided to give it an honest shot." Dewar said he worked to get good press for 1021 and to build Davis-Howard's profile.

But early this year, tensions between Rosselli and Stern flared — and according to Dewar, top staffers at 1021 began to focus more and more of their attention on the feud.

"They were freaking out about Sal," he said.

Enraged at what he considered International meddling in the affairs of his Oakland-based local, United Healthcare Workers West, Rosselli resigned from SEIU's executive committee in early February. He also began championing a "Platform for Change" to be voted on at the upcoming SEIU convention in June. Among other things, the Rosselli-backed slate of reforms would give local union outlets more say in proposed mergers and collective bargaining agreements. The platform, if approved, would also scrap the current delegate system for electing International officials and replace it with a one-member, one-vote structure.

According to Dewar's account and to evidence obtained by the Guardian, top SEIU officials have been working overtime to counter Rosselli — even pushing the boundaries of the union's own rules and colluding with political consultants who have often opposed organized labor.


In early March, Dewar said that in early March, Josie Mooney, a former Local 790 president who is now a top assistant to Stern, approached him about joining what she characterized as a "skunk team that Andy and I are putting together." Dewar recalls Mooney telling him that the purpose of the team was to counter Rosselli's increasing popularity with the rank and file, and to sink Rosselli's platform for the convention.

Dewar told us that Mooney asked him to join the skunk team during a brunch meeting at the Fog City Diner in early March. An e-mail exchange he shared with us shows that he and Mooney discussed having brunch at the diner on March 1.

Mooney did not return numerous calls for comment and, through an SEIU spokesperson, she declined to speak for this article. But Dewar told us Mooney promised him at the brunch that his assistance in her efforts would win him positive attention from Stern. The team, she reportedly told him, was directly authorized by Stern and "that resources would not be a problem."

Dewar said he vacillated about joining the team, torn about aiding what he considered to be an internal union smear squad. "In 1021, we're conditioned to think that Sal Rosselli is the anti-Christ," Dewar told us. "But even still, he was still a part of the same union." A March 4 e-mail from Mooney's SEIU e-mail account to Dewar shows her urging Dewar to make up his mind: "You have to give me your commitment. I am (as we speak) selling you at the highest levels. Don't blow that :)."

Dewar eventually agreed to join Mooney, Tom DeBruin — an elected vice president of SEIU International — and someone Dewar said Mooney referred to as the team's "silent partner" for a dinner meeting.

E-mails from Mooney and other attendees show that the meeting took place March 10 at Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland.

Mooney's "silent partner" turned out to be Mark Mosher, of the enormously successful San Francisco consulting firm, Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter, and Partners (BMWL). John Whitehurst, another of the firm's partners, also attended the dinner.

BMWL has worked for the SEIU since 2001. But its client roster also included Sutter Health and the Committee on Jobs. Both organizations have less-than-stellar reputations among organized labor. Nurses at 10 Bay Area Sutter hospitals recently walked off the job for a 10-day strike. The Committee on Jobs is one of the largest lobbying organizations for downtown San Francisco business interests and has fought against numerous union causes. Mosher told the Guardian by phone that, as of November of last year, the Committee is no longer a BMWL client.


Dewar claims Sal Rosselli was the central topic of conversation at the dinner. At one point, he says, the participants discussed an "oppo research" file on Rosselli compiled by Sutter Health. The hospital giant has clashed repeatedly with Rosselli and apparently had sought to dig up dirt on him.

Whitehurst worked for Sutter in the 1990s. His efforts for the hospital chain during a ballot campaign in 1997 earned him a place on the California Labor Federation's "do not patronize" list.

Mosher confirmed by phone that Rosselli's file at Sutter did in fact come up at Oliveto that evening. But he said Dewar "baited" him and Whitehurst into discussing it. Furthermore, he said, Whitehurst reported that Rosselli's file was "clean."

In fact, a March 12, 2008 e-mail from Dewar to Mosher suggests that the team focus on Rosselli's "hypocrisy" and states, "Have we approached anyone at Sutter re: dirt on Sal? Have we been able to peek into their oppo file?"

Later that day Mosher replied, "John Whitehurst read Sutter's whole oppo file on Sal in 1997." In a follow-up message, Mosher writes that the file "really supports the idea that he's not motivated by money."

DeBruin did not return calls for comment. Kami Lloyd, communications coordinator for Sutter, disputed whether the oppo file even existed: "To my knowledge," she told us, "no such file exists at Sutter Health."

Reached for comment, Rosselli reacted angrily to news of the alleged "skunk team" and the fact that a research file on him, compiled by a corporation perceived to be anti-union, was being discussed among SEIU officials. "It's shocking. It's treasonous. For Andy Stern to be using our members' dues money to finance [a smear] campaign against his own members in United Healthcare Workers, it's fundamentally anti-union."

Mosher defended his firm's involvement with SEIU. He told us that he and Whitehurst were "not brought on board to do negative things against Sal Rosselli." Instead, he said their mission has been to help tout the union's accomplishments as it prepares to hold its convention from June 1-4 in Puerto Rico.

SEIU spokesman Andy McDonald echoed Mosher's description of the firm's duties. Both Mosher and McDonald brought up the fact that Whitehurst has also worked for Rosselli's UHW union.

UHW's Paul Kumar confirmed that Whitehurst is currently "on our payroll" to assist in a dispute against Sutter Health — the very company Whitehurst worked for in the 1990s and the same source that provided him with access to Rosselli's research file. "These guys [BMWL] claim they are trying to reinvent themselves," Kumar said. "But to be on our payroll and to engage directly in executing a dirty tricks program ... is about the most blatant violation of professional ethics I can imagine."

Whitehurst did not return calls for comment.

Dewar claimed he urged Mooney and the other attendees of the March 10 dinner to consider "appropriating" Rosselli's democratic reforms. "The members would all wildly support it. And that way, if the International co-opted Rosselli's ideas, then [the internal conflict] really would be about this clash of personalities, Rosselli versus Stern, instead of ideas." According to Dewar, Mosher and Whitehurst were receptive to the proposal to co-opt Rosselli's initiatives, but that "Josie nixed it."

When we asked Mosher if he remembered this exchange from the meeting, he said his memory was "hazy" and that "a lot was being discussed that night."

Although Dewar was, by his own account, an active participant in the skunk team, he says he started to have second thoughts. The dinner at Oliveto, Dewar said, and the discussion of Sutter's file on Rosselli, "made me want to take a shower ... the cynicism I was exposed to was toxic."

One week later, he sent Mooney an e-mail informing her that, "Today's my last day at SEIU ... the circular firing squads that are now forming in the local and in SEIU nationally have left me jaded, stressed out, and depressed."

SEIU's McDonald denied that the skunk team exists, or ever existed. He added that "the meeting [at Oliveto] was about talking about how [Mosher] could help SEIU communicate our message ... within the context of the misinformation campaign being spread by Sal Rosselli and UHW's leaders."


The rancor between Rosselli and Stern has reached a boiling point in recent weeks. In compiling this story, we had to wade through reams of documents and endure long expatiations from officials and press flaks about the sins of the other side. Both factions have constructed slick, professional-looking Web sites to question the probity of their rivals, and both have coined kitschy names for their respective policy initiatives. The SEIU has countered Rosselli's "Platform for Change" with what union leaders call a "Justice for All" platform.

But the internecine struggle may have driven Josie Mooney and other high-level SEIU staffers to do much more than vent about Rosselli or seek dirt on him from political consultants. E-mails obtained by the Guardian suggest that she and other SEIU officials worked to influence an important local delegate election last month — possibly in violation of union rules — and, some union members now allege, in violation of federal law.

Delegates selected in the election will attend the union's international convention in June and will decide between the Rosselli's "Change" and Stern's "Justice" platforms. The outcome of that vote, and others like it, will shape the mammoth labor organization's future for years to come. And the e-mails appear to show a concerted effort by Mooney and Stern loyalists to ensure that Rosselli's dissidents don't stack the convention and push through their set of reforms.

Referring to themselves in the e-mails as the "Salsa Team," SEIU staffers discussed strategy and coordinated campaign activity for the delegate election with high-ranking union officials like Mooney and Damita Davis-Howard, the president of Local 1021, the e-mails show. In a formal complaint, some members charge that these activities violated Local 1021's Election Rules and Procedures — specifically Rule 18, which states that "while in the performance of their duties, union staff shall remain uninvolved and neutral in relation to candidate endorsements and all election activities."

While Rule 18 does not specifically spell out when union staff can advocate for candidates, other than proscribing such activities "while in performance of their duties," the e-mails in our possession are date- and time-stamped, and at least one was sent during normal business hours. Furthermore, the Guardian has obtained an internal memo from Local 1021 official (and apparent Salsa Team member) Patti Tamura in which she warned union staffers that the phrase "<0x2009>'performance of their duties' goes beyond [Monday through Friday] and 9-5p."

One Local 1021 official who asked not to be identified told us that Tamura's memo appeared to be a clear message that staff should stay completely out of the election. "They made it perfectly clear to the lower staff that your employment doesn't stop [after hours]; you're still staff. That means you don't get involved. But now it turns out they themselves were doing it. That's a double standard ... it's certainly not right."

The messages between Salsa Team members show them actively working to recruit potential delegates sympathetic to Stern's platform and to aid Davis-Howard in her bid to represent the union at the June convention. One missive, dated Feb. 18, which appears to come from the personal e-mail account of Local 1021 employee Jano Oscherwitz and was sent to what appear to be the personal accounts of Tamura and Mooney, requests that a "message for Damita" be drafted.

A forwarded e-mail from that same day, from Oscherwitz to what appear to be personal e-mail accounts for Tamura, fellow 1021 staffer Gilda Valdez, and "Damita" includes a "Draft Message" with bulleted talking points, apparently for Davis-Howard to use as she "Collect[s] Signatures on Commitment Cards."

"Commitment cards" refers to pledges from union members to support certain delegates.

The e-mails go beyond merely aiding Davis-Howard and other Stern-backed candidates. They also include detailed strategy for opposing Rosselli and countering his message. A March 5 Salsa Team message includes an attached document with several talking points critical of the dissident leader. In the body of the e-mail, SEIU staffer Gilda Valdez advises Davis-Howard, Mooney, 1021 Chief of Staff Marion Steeg, and others to "Memorize the points in talking to folks." Valdez goes on to say in the e-mail that she "will be calling ... about your assignments."

Reached for comment, Davis-Howard confirmed that the AOL e-mail account listed as "Damita" was hers. But she claimed no knowledge of the Salsa Team or the messages sent to her. "If you're saying those e-mails went to my home computer, who knows if I ever even got them?"

Davis-Howard bristled at the suggestion that the Salsa Team's activities violated union rules. "Are you trying to tell me that I can never campaign? Does it [Rule 18] say that I have to be neutral and uninvolved 24 hours a day?"

Calls to Mooney, Oscherwitz, Valdez, and Tamura were not returned. Through an SEIU spokesman, Mooney declined to comment.


On April 4, three days after the Guardian first reported on the Salsa Team e-mails on our Web site, Sanchez and several other 1021 officials filed a formal complaint with the union's election committee. In the complaint, they accuse Davis-Howard and the other team members of violating Rules 10 and 18 of the union's election codes. Rule 10 forbids "the use of union and employer funds ... to support any candidate."

Local 1021 executive board member and Stern appointee Ed Kinchley authored part of the complaint. According to the text, which was obtained by the Guardian, Kinchley wrote, "While telling other staff that they may be fired for any intervention in this election, Ms. Davis-Howard and the others involved secretly did exactly what they told other staff they were forbidden from doing."

The complaint was signed by 16 Local 1021 officials, including numerous members of the local's executive board. It called on the election committee to remove Davis-Howard "from the elected Delegate list" and to bar Salsa Team members from attending the convention in June.

The issue also has landed in federal court, where UHW was expected to file against Stern and other SEIU officials, alleging interference in delegate elections.

More cynical sources both inside and outside SEIU told us they believe the Rosselli-Stern feud boils down to one thing: power — either holding onto or expanding it. But labor scholar and former Local 790 member Paul Johnston had a more nuanced perspective.

Johnston, who taught at Yale and, until recently, worked for the Monterey Bay Labor Council, told us he admired both leaders and the work each has done on behalf of the larger union. Calling the current strife "a huge can of worms," he added, "These are questions of principle and there are good ideas on both sides."

Stern's push to increase the union's bargaining and political clout through more consolidation, Johnston went on, "has some very positive aspects to it.... In the old days, many of these kind of mergers were done for purely political power. The mergers being conducted today [at Stern's direction] are primarily strategic, though. But there are some power issues that inevitably arise." On the other hand, he said, Rosselli's UHW, "is a dynamic organizing union that has [its] own issues."


Hollywood unions hunger for residuals

A bill that aims to put an end to alleged sweetheart deals between studios and their parent companies has passed the California Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB1765 was introduced in February by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles), a former child star, as a result of years of litigating so-called "vertical integration" lawsuits filed by profit participants, including actors, directors and writers. The lawsuits usually claim that the studios fail to get the fair market value on TV programs when dealing with their parent networks.

Most recently, "Will & Grace" creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan sued NBC over profits from the Emmy-winning series. The case went to trial last year and eventually was dismissed following a confidential settlement.

"Studios should not be allowed to undervalue their products in sweetheart deals with their own parent company and cost creative talent and crewmembers their rightful share in residuals and contributions to health and welfare funds," Kuehl said.

The WGA West and Teamsters back the bill.

WGA West president Patric Verrone said SB1765 is "good public policy because it ends a long-standing Hollywood accounting technique that has cost the talent community, both above and below the line."

Added Teamsters California legislative director Barry Broad, "Our members, who are truck drivers, animal trainers, location managers and casting directors in the film and television industry, depend on residual payments for their health and welfare benefits."

Not everybody is behind the bill. Obvious challengers are the studios, led by the MPAA and its president, Dan Glickman, who wrote Tuesday in an op-ed piece in the Sacramento Bee that the bill undermines the deal that ended the writers strike. Glickman's piece ran before the judiciary committee vote.

"After shaking hands on an agreement that gave neither side everything it wanted, but that allows our economy and our industry to move forward, the Writers Guild leadership apparently turned immediately to Sacramento seeking permission to renege on its side of the bargain," Glickman wrote.

In a statement released after the vote, the MPAA said the law, if passed, "would set a dangerous precedent for future labor negotiations."

Eventually, the state senate and assembly will vote on the bill. If passed by both houses, the bill would end up on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk later this year.


UAW still on strike in Paris

An Illinois company responds to striking employees. The workers at the ZF Boge plant in Paris have been on strike for the last several days. Union members say they're upset over wages and healthcare.

The company has issued a statement to News 10 saying quote "We are very disappointed at the decision to strike." They go on to say "our hope was to expand the Paris plant and add jobs here, but i don't know what impact this strike could have on that decision." End quote.

The two sides are expected to meet later this week. The Paris ZF Boge plant makes rubber parts and other components for cars.


Dem Gov. goes over workers' heads

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter met with business leaders on Monday in hopes of convincing them to drop a proposed right-to-work ballot initiative. Ritter's spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor talked to "several members" of Colorado's business community for about an hour Monday afternoon. Dreyer declined to say who the governor met with.

"They have all agreed that it would be best not to discuss the specifics of their conversation," Dreyer said. "These are obviously important and sensitive discussions and it's best if they occur away from the glare of the spotlight, at their pace and in their own way."

However, news reports say that Chuck Berry, president of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (which endorsed the right-to-work proposal), Jonathan Coors, a director of CoorsTek Inc. (who also supports the initiative) and former University of Denver Chancellor Dan Ritchie were among those present.

Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president Joe Blake was also seen entering the Capitol on Monday morning. Blake confirmed that he was meeting with governor but said he would not talk about the content of the meeting unless Ritter told him otherwise.

Unions oppose the right-to-work initiatives, which would severely curb union power to collect dues from employees in union workplaces.

In response, the unions have fired off their own measures, which they say strengthen workers rights. But business leaders say the union-backed initiatives would cripple the state's economy if they were approved by voters in the November election.

One union-backed proposal would require state employers to give cost-of-living increases that reflect the Consumer Price Index. Another would require companies with 20 or more workers to offer health insurance benefits.

Other proposed measures would prohibit companies from firing employees without just cause or prohibit Colorado companies that rely on overseas labor from receiving tax credits.

Business observers fear that companies could spend millions of dollars fighting the union-backed initiatives, which some say could devastate the state's economy if they were approved by voters.

Despite pleas from Ritter and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., proponents of the right-to-work and anti-business initiatives so far have not backed away from their proposals.

A spokesman for the right-to-work campaign said that supporters have gathered more than the 76,000 signatures needed to place the initiative on the November ballot and plan to submit petitions to the Colorado Secretary of State's office on Thursday.


Worker-choice backers fear union reprisals

Organizers of a "right to work" ballot proposal haven't been reporting the money they're receiving or spending to put the issue before voters, unions alleged Tuesday.

A complaint filed with Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office states that a group called the Colorado Right-to-Work Committee didn't register by required deadlines, has reported only meager contributions and has reported no expenditures.

That's despite the fact that the committee has been operating for nearly six months, the complaint alleged.

"Something about this committee just doesn't look right," said Mike Cerbo, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO and the filer of the complaint. "What are they hiding? Where are they getting the funds to run this campaign?"

John Berry, a Denver lawyer listed as the committee's registered agent, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The committee, which registered with Coffman's office Nov. 19, led efforts to get the initiative measure approved for circulation before the formation of A Better Colorado, the coalition of businesses now heading the right-to-work campaign.

The initiative would prohibit union membership or the paying of fees to unions as a condition of employment.

Kelley Harp , a spokesman for A Better Colorado, said organizers have collected the signatures of about 133,000 registered voters.

They need 76,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

The deadline for submitting the signatures is Thursday.

Harp said organizers are confident the initiative will make it to the ballot.

"This is another indication that the unions will do anything possible to keep the right-to-work initiative off the ballot," Harp said of the unions' complaint, "because they know that it provides workers with the freedom to decide for themselves."

The complaint Tuesday alleges that, under state law, the Colorado Right-to-Work Committee should have registered no later than Oct. 10, seven days after the Title Setting Review Board approved the initiative for circulation.

The complaint also alleges the committee did not report any expenditures from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, "even though it had been active for almost six months" and had drafted and defended several versions of the initiative.

And the committee did not report any contributions for the same period except a $1,000 donation made in December by a group called Protect Colorado Jobs.

Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for Coffman, said the complaint probably would be forwarded to an administrative law judge.

It was the latest salvo in a battle between labor and business over the right-to-work proposal.

Unions last week filed complaints with Coffman alleging fraud in signature gathering by right-to-work proponents.


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