Unions fight against A Better Colorado

Jonathan Coors, a fifth-generation member of the conservative brewing family, registered the Internet domain name in November for the group pushing the right-to-work ballot initiative. The group, A Better Colorado, launched its website Wednesday shortly after it submitted more than 133,000 signatures to the state in an effort to get the measure on the ballot this fall.

Attorney Mario Nicolais, fresh off a stint as a senior research analyst with Rudy Giuliani's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, filed the group's registration papers with the state in February.

And while Coors is publicly attached to the initiative, political consultant Alan Philp has been working behind the scenes in recent weeks with chambers and others in the business community to gather support for the measure.

Philp is a former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Bill Owens and one-time executive director of the Colorado Republican Party.

The measure's supporters include officials with Greenwood Village-based Ciber, the West Chamber in Jefferson County and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, among others. Several business owners were listed as supporters on the group's website, including Colorado Springs developer Steve Schuck.

"We just want it to be the workers' right to decide to join the union or not, and if they pay dues or not," said Amy Sherman, president of the West Chamber. Sherman said the West Chamber board hasn't voted to support the measure.

Labor unions tried to cast suspicion on the ballot initiative.

"Based on what's come to our attention, we believe the backers of the initiative submitted today engaged in broad misrepresentation and fraud to gather their signatures," said Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future.

Unions are backing initiatives that would require employers to give workers annual cost-of-living increases, mandate health-insurance coverage for businesses with 20 or more employees and require businesses to pay more in property taxes, among other measures.

Many of the proponents of the right-to-work measure, including Mark Latimer, president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, said Philp contacted them in recent weeks.

"Right to work is neither anti-union nor pro-union; it is pro-freedom," Latimer said in a statement posted on the group's website.

Among the groups Philp wasn't able to sway was the Jefferson County Business Lobby.

"We're in a wait-and-see mode," said R.J. Hicks, a lobbyist for the group, which represents Jefferson County economic development officials and the Arvada and Golden chambers of commerce.


Worker threatened by union fights back

Joel Tibbetts is alleging unfair labor practices and has enlisted the help of The National Labor Relations Board to prosecute International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. Tibbetts, an employee of Minteq International Inc., which has an office in Portage (MI), says he was threatened with losing his job after he refused union membership last year. Tibbets filed federal charges against the local on Oct. 1.

According to the complaint, union officials threatened Tibbetts' job, failed to notify him of his rights to refrain from full union membership, failed to provide him with an audit of the union's financial expenditures, and failed to allow him to withhold forced dues unrelated to collective bargaining.

"They threatened to fire me and threatened to get a bunch of us fired because we weren't union members," Tibbetts said.

He added the union, whose representative, vice president Jim Sweeney, did not return repeated calls from The Times for comment, cited expired law to try to force the employees to become full members.

"They keep bringing up a dead law from 1947 that was overturned by the Supreme Court, and most of the employees don't know this and don't know they don't have to join. In fact, it is the law that the union has to tell people that they don't have to join ... " Tibbetts said.

The Supreme Court decision, Communications Workers v. Beck, determined that union officials cannot require formal membership or the payment of dues unrelated to collective bargaining as a condition of employment.

The decision also requires union officials to provide verified financial disclosure of union expenditures, a provision that allows employees to refuse to pay for activities unrelated to work place representation.

Tibbetts said he felt so threatened over possibly losing his job that he considered joining, but the union raised membership dues for him as a form of punishment.

"I signed what they wanted, but I wrote as part of my signature block that I wrote it under protest. They refused my application and they wanted to charge me twice as much as other union members," he says.

Justin Hakes, legal information director for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an arm of the NLRB, said its attorneys agreed to prosecute the union and a hearing will take place on June 17 in Indianapolis.

"The union tried to threaten his job several times in retaliation for his not joining the union. And when they told him he would have to pay an inflated rate of union dues, that was adding insult to injury," said Hakes.

Hakes said his agency has prosecuted a number of similar cases around the country.

"We have just shy of 300 cases like this and represent over 1,000 employees that are forced to affiliate with a labor union they don't want to be a part of," he added.


Socialists mobilize for UAW-AAM strikers

Now in the seventh week of the American Axle strike, more than 3,600 workers and their supporters at five plants in Michigan and New York are still holding strong. As of April 6, at least 30 GM plants have shut down due to the bosses’ greed. Donations, provisions and resolutions continue to pour into the locals’ union halls.

On April 5 in Hamtramck, Mich., a crowd of strikers and their labor and community allies marched from the center of town to the Local 235 and Local 262 union halls. The United Auto Worker International and the local’s bargaining teams will return to the bargaining table April 9.

Mobilizing is ongoing for an April 18 UAW rally at Hart Plaza in Detroit to support the American Axle workers. For more information: 313-926-5312 or www.uawaam.org.


Labor-state lawmaker, AFSCME lobbyist cozy-up

When the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 10 last year, the sweeping ethics bill tightened rules governing lobbyists’ interactions with lawmakers. The measure banned entertainment, reclassified meals as gifts, reduced gift limits and required much more disclosure (see “Ethics Bomb,” WW, Dec. 19, 2007). That’s obviously complicated professional relationships between lawmakers and the lobby, as in the case of newly-divorced Rep. Larry Galizio (D-Tigard). He is dating Janice O’Malley, a lobbyist for AFSCME — one of Oregon’s three most powerful public employee unions.

Galizio confirmed that he’s in a relationship with O’Malley, who runs AFSCME’s endorsement process. But he refused to say how SB 10’s many limits, disclosure requirements or bans affect him and O’Malley. “I’d be glad to discuss the substantive issues that affect my district but otherwise, I’m entitled to a private life,” Galizio says.


Do unions really speak for workers?

Let's just put the skunk on the table. America's economy is in real trouble. We didn't get into this economic crisis overnight. We need real, long-term solutions to our deep-rooted economic problems — not the status quo and a $300 BandAid. More than ever, we're living our daily lives in an economy that puts corporate profits over real people. You can see it in our lopsided trade policies, the outrageous expense of health care, mounting personal debt and in our crumbling bridges, roads and schools. Thanks to Bushonomics, this is the America the next president will inherit.

How did we get to this point? Before the 1970s, our economy was growing strong, which meant rising wages for the vast majority of America's workers.

More money in our pockets meant more spending capacity — and so we spent. That spending encouraged companies to invest more, and a cycle of prosperity was born.

It was good while it lasted, but for the last three decades, workers' productivity has continued to go up, up and away — while wages have stagnated. There are many reasons, including the deregulation of the airline, telecommunications and trucking industries, which drove wages down for those workers. Unfair international trade policies (like NAFTA) also played a significant role, providing incentives to send jobs overseas.

But that's not the whole story. Another key reason workers aren't seeing wages that match their productivity is the sustained attack against workers' freedom to form unions to bargain for better deals.

The Employee Free Choice Act is a piece of national legislation that would level the playing field for America's workers — mitigating corporate greed and repairing the broken labor-law system that has stripped away the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.

Joining a union has become far more difficult than it should be. Employers routinely harass, coerce and fire people who try to form unions. Studies show that a quarter of all employers illegally fire workers for supporting a union, and union activists stand a one-in-five chance of getting fired during organizing campaigns.

More than 30,000 workers were discriminated against by their employer while trying to form a union in 2005. And a whopping 75 percent of employers get themselves a team of expensive hired guns to teach them how to prevent their workers from organizing a union.

About 60 million of America's working men and women say they would join a union today if they could. And it's no surprise. A union card is every worker's ticket into the middle class.

Union members earn 30 percent more than workers who don't have a union — that's $200 a week, or more than $10,000 per year. Union members are also more likely to have health care and pension benefits.

Without the counterbalance of worker power in the economy, the relationship between wages and productivity unravels. Wages stagnate while living expenses rise. When that happens, workers become overreliant on borrowing in order to make ends meet or get ahead. That's why the average American household owes $8,000 of their future income to a credit card company — up from $3,000 in 1990. And that's why Americans are so vulnerable to predatory lending in the housing industry.

But now, debt-driven consumer spending has reached its limit. Some of us are losing our homes because we can't afford to pay higher interest rates on our mortgages. The rest of us are tightening our belts because we no longer have equity in our homes against which we can borrow. In our consumption-based economy, when people stop spending, we're in real trouble.

Demand goes down, the values of our homes go down, and it's the average American left holding the IOU.

- Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO, and James Leaman is president of the Virginia AFL-CIO. They wrote this for the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.


Unions may lose a labor-state

A right-to-work ballot measure cleared another obstacle Wednesday as backers turned in almost twice as many signatures as needed to put the controversial issue on the ballot in November. Delivering nearly two dozen boxes of petitions a day ahead of schedule, supporters of the initiative sent a clear signal they intend to press ahead with their campaign to outlaw arrangements that require nonunion workers to pay union fees if they are covered by collective-bargaining agreements.

"This is an exciting day for Colorado," brewery heir Jonathan Coors, a key proponent, said in a statement. "This amendment will give Colorado workers the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to join a union and protect the rights of all employees in the state."

Labor proponents note that Colorado law already requires workers to vote on whether they approve of the types of arrangements that the right-to-work measure seeks to eliminate.

A spokesman for Gov. Bill Ritter said there is still time for groups pitching various initiatives to back down ahead of the fall election.

"There are still opportunities to de-escalate this and get to a place where none of these measures appear on the ballot," said Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer. "The governor will continue the conversations he's been having and will talk with the business community and labor organizations and try to get there."

The right-to-work initiative's backers can withdraw at any time up until 33 days before the Nov. 4 election, according to secretary of state spokesman Rich Coolidge.

A group calling itself A Better Colorado brought the petitions to the secretary of state's office. Workers there began the process of stamping each of the petitions as they were unloaded from cardboard boxes. A random sampling to verify the signatures also will occur.

Campaign spokesman Kelley Harp said the group collected 133,000 signatures, more than the roughly 75,000 required to put the measure on the November ballot.

Accompanied by Republican lawmakers who have tried to pass similar legislation in the past decade, campaign workers arrived to oversee the handoff of 22 boxes of signed petitions.

"This day has been a long time coming," said state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.

Harvey tried unsuccessfully seven times to pass a law that would have made Colorado a right-to- work state.

Absent were backers such as Coors, a fifth-generation member of the brewery dynasty. The group has launched a Web site, abettercolorado.com, with a list of business leaders endorsing the effort.

Among those throwing support behind the measure: CIBER Inc. CEO Mac Slingerlend, Colorado Springs real estate developer Steve Schuck, and Amy Sherman, president & CEO of the West Chamber in Jefferson County.

The Web site registration form reveals Jonathan Coors' involvement as far back as November, when he registered the site under the name Jonathan David, 123 Main St., AnyTown, Calif. 12345. He included an e-mail address that contained his first two initials and his full last name.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 entered the fray last week with five ballot proposals. They range from imposing annual cost-of-living increases for all workers to requiring employers to offer health coverage to all their workers. Another labor coalition called Protect Colorado's Future has proposed two other worker-friendly measures, including one that would make it harder for companies to fire workers without "just cause."

The coalition said it will continue to push for an investigation into the signature-gathering process of the right-to-work measure in Colorado.

"From what we've seen, we believe there is an extensive pattern of fraud," said Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future.

Among the group's concerns is the indirect involvement of a signature-collection firm called National Ballot Access, which handled the collection of ballot signatures for the anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives here and in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma measure was withdrawn last week after the secretary of state's office there reportedly found a large number of duplicate signatures. But the key supporter of that "preferential treatment" initiative, Ward Connerly, said campaigns always produce duplicate signatures and blamed a lack of time for the inadequate number.

National Ballot Access acknowledged there were signature gatherers who worked on the anti-affirmative action and the "right-to- work" campaign in Colorado.

"It's common . . . to share," said Heidi Verougstraete, who has worked in Colorado for National Ballot Access.

Verougstraete said Lamm Consulting has been the lead signature-gathering firm for right-to- work petitions.

The firm is led by Scott Lamm, son of former three-term Gov. Dick Lamm. Scott Lamm did not return three phone calls seeking comment on his role in the campaign.

All in the political family

A member of another prominent Colorado family has emerged as part of the campaign to push for a right-to-work initiative on the November ballot.

Scott Lamm, son of former three-term Gov. Dick Lamm, and his consulting company worked as the lead firm to gather the signatures required to the put the issue to a vote this fall.

Jonathan Coors, a fifth-generation member of the brewery dynasty, is a key backer of the initiative.


Hawaii robs workers of secret-ballot elections

On March 25, 2008, the Hawaii Senate approved HB 2974, a House bill which will enable a union to become the bargaining representative of agricultural workers when it obtains authorization cards from a majority of unit employees, without a secret ballot election. Now that the bill has been approved by both the House and the Senate, it will be sent to the Governor for her signature or veto. If it is vetoed by the Governor, the Legislature may attempt to override the veto during the regular legislative session which ends on May 1, 2008.

The text of HB2974 is at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2008/bills/HB2974_HD1_.htm

Although HB 2974 will largely affect only agricultural workers, it establishes a harmful precedent for employers in general. To organize a company, unions obtain authorization cards in which an employee signs a card designating the union as the employee’s collective bargaining representative. In many cases, authorization cards are obtained through the use of peer pressure or other coercive methods, and employees often do not understand the purpose or effect of the signed authorization card. Currently, state law allows agricultural employers to request a secret ballot election even when a union has presented the employer with authorization cards from a majority of employees. The secret ballot election procedure facilitates a vote which reflects the true desires of employees.

HB 2974 will allow unions to organize agricultural workers without a secret ballot election. Moreover, the bill contains an expedited procedure for initial contract negotiations which are intended to pressure employers into agreeing to union demands. If the parties in negotiation for a first contact do not reach agreement within 90 days after bargaining starts, either party may request conciliation, and if conciliation is ineffective, an arbitration panel selected by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board shall establish the terms of the parties initial agreement (which will be effective for 2 years). Thus HB 2974 takes the unprecedented step of having an arbitration panel write the contract terms for the parties.

Even though HB 2974 will only affect agricultural workers (and other private employers outside the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act), it sets the stage for further incursions by unions into the rights of both employers and employees. Interested employers should write to Governor Lingle to ask for a veto of HB 2974, and should also write to their legislators to express their opposition to HB 2974.


Jumbo gov't-union slugfest in Pennsylvania

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vie for voters in Pennsylvania's presidential primary, another rivalry is playing out between two of the state's largest unions. In Clinton's corner is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the third-biggest U.S. union, with about 95,000 active members in Pennsylvania and 1.4 million nationwide. Obama has the support of the Service Employees International Union, the second-largest in the U.S., which represents 1.9 million janitors, security guards and nurses, and has 68,000 active members in the state.

"It's the gunfight at the O.K. Corral," said Gerald McEntee, president of AFSCME, the largest member of the AFL-CIO federation.

The showdown between the unions is more bitter than the contest between Clinton and Obama. McEntee and SEIU President Andrew Stern, onetime allies who in recent years have been locked in turf wars and arguments over the future of organized labor, each began their union careers in Pennsylvania, and the battle has become personal.

Ohio Win

"We kicked Andy's ass from one end of Ohio to the other, and in Texas, too," McEntee, 73, told an AFL-CIO executive committee meeting in San Diego on March 5, the day after New York Senator Clinton, 60, revived her candidacy by beating Illinois Senator Obama, 46, in the Ohio and Texas primaries.

Stern, 57, declined to comment on McEntee's remarks. "It's beneath him," said SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette.

The rivalry between the two unions is playing out on the ground in Pennsylvania, the fourth-largest labor state, as both sides mobilize to get voters to the polls for the April 22 primary.

"The union support in the state is kind of split down the middle," Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat who endorsed Obama last month, said in an interview.

"It's one thing to get people to show up for a rally or an event. It's another thing to say 'every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I'll be in a room making phone calls and every Saturday I'll be knocking on doors,'" Casey said. "Whatever union is able to commit that kind of time by their membership will have that much more impact."


SEIU, the country's fastest-growing union, has spent at least $1.2 million in Pennsylvania, with most of that money funding door-to-door efforts, according to Federal Election Commission filings. AFSCME has spent at least $329,000 in the state, records show. Both unions declined to comment on spending.

SEIU plans to knock on 100,000 doors throughout the state, according to Eileen Connelly, executive director of the union's Pennsylvania State Council.

Get-out-the-vote efforts for both Clinton and Obama drew between 150 and 200 volunteers this past weekend and both AFSCME and SEIU said they expect as many as 1,000 members to help in the days before the primary.

Along with SEIU, Obama has endorsements from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Unite Here, representing hotel, restaurant and textile workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

AFSCME is working for Clinton alongside the American Federation of Teachers, the Machinists union and the National Association of Letter Carriers.

AFSCME Divisions

AFSCME and SEIU have similar demographics: Both are about 60 percent female and 16 percent black. Yet SEIU may be more united than its larger rival; Obama last week won the backing of an AFSCME affiliate, the Philadelphia district of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees.

SEIU, however, does have some weaknesses in the state, according to AFSCME, mainly because its membership is concentrated around Philadelphia.

"They don't have the kind of staff we do throughout the entire state," said David Fillman, executive director of AFSCME's district council office in Harrisburg.

AFSCME officials also said SEIU and other Obama backers failed to organize early, which explains why their candidate didn't win in union-heavy Ohio.

"SEIU was very late in endorsing," said Cathy Scott, president of AFSCME district council 47 in Philadelphia. "AFSCME endorsed Senator Clinton way before the Iowa caucuses" on Jan. 3.

Ohio Lesson

SEIU officials said there would be no repeat of Ohio in Pennsylvania.

"We learned we needed to do more on educating voters and go further into the suburbs," said Anna Burger, SEIU secretary- treasurer and head of Change to Win, a federation representing about 6 million workers that Stern helped form after SEIU and other unions left the AFL-CIO in 2005.

Two of Pennsylvania's most influential unions -- the United Steelworkers and the United Mineworkers -- haven't endorsed a candidate.

For now, Clinton is favored to win in Pennsylvania. Regardless of the outcome, however, the personal animosity between the union leaders may have consequences in the general election, even though both Stern and McEntee have vowed to unite behind the Democratic nominee.

"McEntee's comments are not helpful, either for Hillary Clinton or for the Democratic nominee in the fall," said Greg Tarpinian, executive director of Change to Win.

For now, McEntee is showing no sign of letting up.

"All the good things Andy Stern does and knows, I taught him," McEntee said. "The other things, I stay away from."


UPS, Hoffa make sweet music

An overwhelming majority of about 290 workers at the UPS Freight (formerly Overnite Transportation) terminals in Missouri, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin have signed authorization cards to become Teamsters, bringing the total number of drivers and dockworkers who have signed cards to 10,000 since January 16, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa announced.

On Monday, Hoffa and Teamsters Package Division Director Ken Hall announced that more than 89 percent of UPS Freight workers who are already Teamster members ratified a new contract, which improves wages, benefits and working conditions.

The workers at the Richmond, Virginia location, which has been certified, will be joining Local 592. In addition, workers have also signed cards in Buffalo, New York; Youngtown, Ohio; Appleton, Wisconsin, and; Rolla, Missouri. The workers will join Local 375 in Buffalo, Local 377 in Youngstown, Local 662 which covers the Appleton and Green Bay area in Wisconsin, and Local 682 in St. Louis.

"Our continued success to organize UPS Freight workers is a great victory," Hoffa said. "The workers have shown us they are committed to joining the Teamsters and we are proud to have them among our ranks."

"We have organized 10,000 workers in less than 100 days, thanks to the continued efforts of UPS Freight workers to join the Teamsters," Hall said. "These workers now have a strong voice in their workplace, backed up by the strongest union."

"This is an historic moment for these workers, especially since they work in Richmond, where UPS Freight is based," said Jim Smith, President of Local 592. "It's a great victory."

"Our organizers worked hard to get this done and we couldn't be prouder to have the UPS Freight workers join us," said Joe Sorrento, President of Local 375.

"Yellow Freight workers were instrumental in helping us with our victory," said Gary Cossarini, President of Local 682. "We ended up getting 100 percent of our cards signed."

"This has been a hard fought battle and the victory means roughly 50 families in our area will see improved benefits, wages and a better quality of life," said David Reardon, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 662. "We could not be happier to have these workers as members."

"The UPS Freight workers will now be represented by a strong union that will get them a great contract," said Charlie Burns, the Trustee for Local 377.

A majority of UPS Freight workers in 33 states have submitted cards: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Victories have come in numerous large cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis, Nashville, Oakland, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

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


Workers reject union again in RTW state

Austal workers voted decidedly against unionization Wednesday during Sheetmetal Workers International Association Local 441's second attempt to organize employees at the Mobile (AL) shipyard. Seventy-six percent of the 699 people who voted said "no" to the union, while 171 voted in favor, according to Austal and Local 441. The election is a "re-run" of a failed vote that took place nearly six years ago. A March 2007 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board upheld a judge's 2003 finding that Austal broke federal labor laws related to that election, and ordered a new vote.

The union accused Austal of firing 10 pro-union workers, threatening to close the plant and threatening to cut jobs, charges upheld by the NLRB.

Since the first vote, the shipyard has transformed itself from a newcomer with 130 employees and a slim order book to one of Mobile's largest private employers with 1,140 workers and bullish expansion plans.

Bob Browning, Austal's CEO, said late Wednesday that the company was pleased with the outcome. "This is a clear demonstration of the kind of relationship that exists between management and the workforce," he said. "It is a relationship we intend to continue to strengthen...to the benefit of employees, the company and customers."

Tommy Fisher, a representative for Local 441, said he and up to 100 of his members kept vigil at the shipyard throughout the day Wednesday, starting at about 3:30 a.m.

After the vote, Fisher said organizers will decide within a few days whether to raise the union question again.

He said that since the campaign began, Austal has promised better pay and working conditions since the union campaign began, and if they follow through on those promises, the union will have accomplished its goal despite the loss. "If they are a better employer today than they were yesterday, we have done our job," he said.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Fisher and his colleagues passed out literature and met with employees outside of work.

Agents from the National Labor Relations Board counted the votes by hand from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Austal, Fisher said.


How to ditch unwanted unions

The National Labor Relations Board administers the National Labor Relations Act, which covers most private businesses where materials, products or services cross state lines. Agricultural employees are specifically excluded from the act's coverage. The act gives employees a statutory right to select and bargain with their employer through representatives of their own choosing, usually unions, to engage in other concerted activities for their mutual benefit, or to refrain from such conduct.

One of the NLRB's functions is to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by employers, unions, or their agents who interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of those rights.

Another NLRB function is to conduct elections among employees in appropriate bargaining units to protect their rights to full freedom of association, self organization and designation of representatives of their own choosing. The most common types of election are these:

- An "RC" petition is one that is supported by at least 30 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit. The petition triggers an election in which the employees vote to be represented by a union, or not.

If a majority of the employees vote in favor of the union, the employer will be required to collectively bargain with that union over wages, hours and working conditions. A petition for such an election may be filed by a union, a group of employees, an individual or an employer.

- In an "RD" case, also known as a decertification petition, the results of the election will determine whether a certified or currently recognized union still represents a majority of the employees.

A petition for this type of election may be filed by a union, a group of employees or an individual and must be supported by at least 30 percent of the employees in the unit. An employer may have no input whatsoever regarding a decertification election.

- In a "UD" election, also known as a de-authorization petition, the employees vote on whether to remove a union's authority to have a union shop agreement.

A petition for such an election may be filed by a group of employees representing at least 30 percent of those covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

- There is also an "RM" petition, which may be filed by an employer when there is no certified or recognized incumbent union and one or more individuals or unions present a claim to be recognized.

An RM petition may also be filed to test the continuing majority status of an incumbent union provided that the petition is accompanied by a statement explaining the objective reasons for believing that the union has lost its majority.


Pols line up against worker-choice

Organizers of a ballot initiative to make Colorado a right-to-work state filed signatures Wednesday to put the issue before voters in November despite pleas from Gov. Bill Ritter and others to stand down.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said that he now believed it was too late to stop a showdown between business and labor at the ballot box in November and that he would focus his efforts on urging voters to defeat all the proposals backed by business groups and unions.

"A couple of times we were quite close to getting everyone to put down their weapons and back off, but obviously that time has passed," Hickenlooper said. "The next step will be to get people to just say no to all the initiatives."

The initiative, which is backed by a group called A Better Colorado, would ask voters to amend the state constitution to say that union membership and the payment of union dues or fees could not be mandatory. Unions have opposed the measure and have filed their own ballot proposals.

Backers had until today to submit the signatures of 76,000 registered voters to get their initiative placed on the ballot, and they filed 133,000 signatures in Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office Wednesday. Coffman's office has 30 days to certify the signatures. Once the measure is certified for the ballot, backers would have until Oct. 2 to withdraw it, according to Coffman's office.

Jonathan Coors, a descendant of Coors Brewing Co. founder Adolph Coors, is a key supporter of the group pushing the initiative.

"This is an exciting day for Colorado," Coors, director of CoorsTek, said in a statement. "This amendment will give Colorado workers the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to join a union and protect the rights of all employees in the state."

Manny Gonzales, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7, pointed out that current law allows workers to decide whether to unionize.

Colorado's Labor Peace Act requires two votes to create all-union workplaces, making Colorado one of the most difficult states in which to organize, he said.

"Electing to organize a shop is a democratic process that big business would prefer to eradicate altogether, and undermining that process is what the 'right-to-work-for-less' initiative aims to do," Gonzales said.

The union is working on competing initiatives that would require employers to give workers annual cost-of-living increases, mandate health-insurance coverage for businesses with 20 or more employees, and require businesses to pay more in property taxes, among other measures.

Ritter not giving up

Right-to-work supporters filed the signatures despite Ritter's personal pleas to get them to withdraw the initiative. The Democratic governor also is asking unions to withdraw their ballot proposals.

The governor's spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said Ritter wasn't giving up.

"There are still opportunities to de-escalate this situation and avoid a bitter, ugly battle in November," Dreyer said. "We will continue to communicate with all the stakeholders. Gov. Ritter feels very strongly about doing what is best for the entire state of Colorado and that means trying to clear all these measures off the ballot."

Dreyer also rejected suggestions that a Monday meeting between the governor and business interests pushing the initiative was a failure.

"The fact that there was a meeting where people were willing to sit down and discuss these issues was an important step," he said, adding that the next step is "to continue to reach out to the to stakeholders, talk with labor, talk to the business community devise a plan moving forward."

Dreyer, though, said he didn't know of any future meetings scheduled with business leaders, saying "that doesn't preclude meetings in an impromptu fashion."

Trying to defuse the standoff

Political observers don't have high hopes that the situation will improve.

"If (Ritter's) goal is trying to get business to back off right-to-work, I don't think he has the credibility to do it," said Katy Atkinson, a Republican political strategist, pointing out that he is seen as pro-labor.

Atkinson said right-to-work bills in the legislature never got off the ground in the past — even under Republicans — because businesses never really saw organized labor as a threat in Colorado.

But that view changed, she said, after the passage of an amendment in 2006 to increase the minimum wage with a yearly cost-of-living index, efforts to get a bill passed last year to make it easier to unionize workplaces and Ritter's executive order in November allowing a form of collective bargaining for state employees.

Pollster and political analyst Floyd Cirulli mostly agreed, except he said it appears that at least some of the business community is not behind the right-to-work initiative.

The governor "definitely signaled, along with the Democratic legislature, that we're beginning to tilt toward the union side," he said. "Now does that justify right-to-work and will all the business side go along with it? I don't know."

Ritter's efforts to mediate the feud have been ineffectual, he said.

"Clearly, he has not been able to convince this business group that they should not go forward," Cirulli said. "I think that is a tremendous problem for the Democrats. What they want is labor peace."

So does Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar. Cody Wertz, a spokesman, said the senator had spoken to William K. "Bill" Coors and others on the issue and would continue to look for a way to defuse the standoff.

"Spending millions in a political nuclear war is wrong," Wertz said, "and is not good for the people of Colorado."

Proposed ballot initiatives

Business-backed measures would:

- Make Colorado a right-to-work state by prohibiting union membership or the payment of fees to unions as a condition of employment.
- Prohibit mandatory deduction of union dues or fees from state employees' paychecks.

Initiatives backed by unions would:

- Require employers to give annual cost-of-living raises.
- Require employers with more than 20 employees to provide health insurance.
- Deny tax breaks and incentives to businesses that send Colorado jobs to foreign countries.
- Raise property taxes on businesses.
- Allow injured workers to sue outside the workers' compensation system.
- Impose criminal and civil penalties on corporate executives who allow fraud to occur.
- Make it harder to fire workers without "just cause."


UAW-American Axle strike, week 7

The effects of the more than six-week-old American Axle strike are extending beyond the workers and the company's automotive customers: Hamtramck, which counts American Axle as one of its biggest employers, is feeling the squeeze as well. Hamtramck officials say the city is losing between $8,000 and $9,000 in income tax each week because of the strike. The city charges an income tax to residents and nonresidents who work at the plant. The city's finance director, Nevrus Nazarko, said the situation is dire.

"We are in a survival mode," Nazarko said, noting that city finances had appeared to be heading in a positive direction before the strike. Just last year, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed an executive order officially lifting the financial emergency status that had limited local control over city finances since 2000.

Nazarko and other officials predicted cuts to services, although Nazarko said it's too early to say how much.

City Councilmen Scott Klein and Shahab Ahmed said the city's beautification efforts and public safety services could be among the areas affected.

"It's not anything any one of us are going to want to do," Klein said.

City officials say they have not taken sides in the dispute. American Axle employs about 1,900 hourly workers locally.

Both sides in the labor dispute said they were sympathetic to the city's issues. Negotiating teams returned to the bargaining table Wednesday.

Renee Rogers, a spokeswoman for American Axle, said the company has been supportive of Hamtramck and Detroit. Local operations straddle both cities.

"We participate in the cities that we have our facilities in, and we try to be a good neighbor," she said.

She declined to offer a timetable for negotiations.

UAW Local 235 Vice President Bill Alford Jr. said the drop in tax revenue for Hamtramck is unfortunate.

"As far as I could tell, no one's making any money right now," he said.


Post Office union gets political

US Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama on Wednesday won the endorsement of the country's largest postal workers union in a fresh boost to his 2008 nomination race against rival Hillary Clinton. "Senator Obama's message is one of hope and change," American Postal Workers Union (APWU) president William Burrus said in a statement.

"We believe he will be a president who will strongly represent the interests of working Americans," he added.

The union represents more than 300,000 postal employees and retirees.

The support follows last week's endorsement of Obama by the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees.

The Illinois senator also enjoys the support of the five-million-member Change to Win, a national affiliation of seven unions including the powerful Teamsters Union and the Service Employees International Union.

Last year New York Senator Clinton earned the first endorsement by a top labor union -- the United Transportation Union.

Clinton and Obama are next set to square off in the state of Pennsylvania, where their party primary is scheduled for April 22.

Pennsylvania has some 745,000 union members, most of them Democrats, and their vote is seen as key to the outcome of the primary.

Union endorsements are prized by candidates in the Democratic nominating race, where labor blocs remain influential, and in the general election when their vast organizational network can help get out the vote.


Big Oil open to union thuggery

Fairbanks (AK) leaders offered generally optimistic reaction Tuesday to two oil companies’ joint plan to work toward building a natural gas pipeline. Fairbanks 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 affect 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 work force 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 work force 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 work force 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.


UFCW organizers join Foxwoods Casino War

A day after a third union filed a petition to organize workers at Foxwoods Resort Casino, representatives from a fourth handed out fliers and blank union membership cards in front of three off-site employee parking lots. Union activity at Foxwoods has continued to gain momentum since an administrative law judge ruled last month that an election in which table game and poker dealers voted in favor of representation by the United Auto Workers should be certified.

On Wednesday at noon, the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union mobilized organizers and union members at Foxwoods employee parking lots in Norwich, holding signs that read: “Union Yes.”

This fourth potential union is hoping to organize about 1,250 food and beverage workers at the casino, said Local 371 President Brian A. Petronella.

“We have been working on this since January,” Petronella said. But the union will probably not file a petition with the NLRB until the fall, he said.

Because the potential bargaining unit is

so large, Petronella said, he wants to make sure the union has a “solid majority” of workers on board, before it moves forward.

Since dealers voted in favor of union representation, the International Union of Operating Engineers filed a petition to organize approximately 310 workers in the engineering department and is waiting for an official election date to be set.

On Tuesday, the International Brother of Electrical Workers filed a similar petition, stating it has substantial support for union representation among slot technicians, electronic bench technicians, field service technicians and senior field service technicians. This potential bargaining unit would include about 80 employees, according to the petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board in Hartford.

John Shalvey, an organizer with IBEW Local 99 in Cranston, R.I., did not return calls seeking comment.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods, said its attorneys received the IBEW's petition and were reviewing it and that “the tribal nation will consider all options,” according to tribal spokesman Arthur Henick.

A hearing to discuss any issues that either the IBEW or Foxwoods may have about the petition has been scheduled for April 18 in Hartford.

On Wednesday, the Norwich Police Department received a call stating that those gathered outside of one of the parking lots on Route 2 had created a human chain. No one was arrested, but a patrol car was parked across the street, monitoring activity.

Those who stood outside Wednesday afternoon said they received a warm reception from passers-by, who waved and beeped, as well as from casino employees coming and going from the parking lot.

“Usually, it's overwhelmingly positive, a lot of good waves and hand gestures,” said Josh Gilbert, a UAW organizer in Norwich.


Gov't-unions storm labor-state capitol for cash

Higher education employees from throughout Illinois came to Springfield Wednesday to urge legislators to reverse policies of neglect and, instead, invest in public colleges and universities.

"A strong higher education system is an absolute necessity if our state is to remain economically healthy. Illinois literally cannot afford to continue ignoring its colleges and universities," said Jeff Beaulieu, Chair of the Illinois Education Association's (IEA) Higher Education Council.

In the last six years, funding for Illinois higher education has declined steadily. The resulting astronomical increases in tuition and fees have made higher education unaffordable for increasing numbers of families. Funding shortfalls also are forcing many higher education employees to work for low pay and few, if any, benefits. Many college and university employees receive no insurance benefits.

"It's time for the political lip service about the importance of education to be turned into action. The legislature needs to invest in all of public education, including pre-kindergarten, colleges and universities and all elementary and secondary schools in-between," said IEA President Ken Swanson.

IEA is urging lawmakers to pass SB 2288, which would increase funding for all public education by increasing the income tax. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), would pump $300 million into Illinois higher education

IEA is the largest education employees union in Illinois and a member of the Higher Education Legislative Coalition. The coalition includes the University Professionals of Illinois, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the State Universities Annuitants Association and other organizations and institutions.

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