Anti-democratic, no-vote unionization advances

After stalling in June 2007, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) might have gained new traction on April 2, 2008, when the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education held a hearing to examine the fairness of union elections in the workplace. The legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to change the way workers choose how to become part of a union. The proposed measure would end secret-ballot workplace elections and would allow union representation to be decided through a “card-check process.

Although the hearing was not scheduled to be a direct examination of the Senate version of the EFCA (S. 1041), it became clear from the outset that the hearing would focus on the legislation. During his opening remarks, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chair of the subcommittee, mentioned the EFCA and stated that he was a “strong supporter” of the measure.

“In order to rebuild the economic security for the middle class of America, we have to rebuild strong and vibrant unions,” Harkin said. “And to build stronger unions, we must reduce the unfair barriers to organizing.”

The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill (H.R. 800) in March 2007. A series of cloture votes on the measure held by the Senate three months later failed to curtail debate and advance the legislation—in effect, tabling the bill.

Harkin decided to schedule a subcommittee hearing after receiving a request from the subcommittee’s ranking minority member, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Specter stated that he made the request out of his concern that the processes for approving union representation were no longer working and were unfair.

The panel of witnesses testifying before the subcommittee included the two members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). By law, the NLRB is supposed to have five members; however, three positions on the board are vacant—a situation noted by Specter in his opening statement.

“In reviewing the work of the NLRB, I am concerned about a number of factors, principally the long delays in protecting the rights and interests of employees and employers,” Specter said.

Peter Schaumber, chair of the NLRB, started off the hearing testimony by saying it was the policy of NLRB members to not comment directly on pending legislation. However, he said that he would discuss the recent activities of the NLRB and his assessment of how union elections overseen by the board were working.

NLRB Functional?

He told the subcommittee that even with three board vacancies, the NLRB was functioning well. He said that he and fellow NLRB member Wilma Liebman were responding to the pending caseload and that the board had been able to schedule union ratification elections in a timely manner.

“By any definition, the NLRB is successfully carrying out its statutory mission to administer the representation procedures authorized under the National Labor Relations Act,” said Schaumber. “The board has established as one of its overarching goals to conduct elections within a median of 42 days of petition filings. We exceeded that goal in fiscal year 2007 with a median timeframe from petition to election of 39 days—and 93 percent of all elections were conducted within 56 days.”

However, Liebman disagreed. She told the Senate panel that she believed that the National Labor Relations Act was in need of reform, citing recent research that concluded that U.S. labor laws had “ossified.”

She mentioned several articles that she had published over the past few years, plus her testimony before the House of Representatives in February 2007 on the EFCA.

“There, I observed that the National Labor Relations Act, by virtually all measures, is in decline. I cited the board’s plummeting case intake, noting that labor unions have turned away from the board, and especially from its representation procedures,” she said. “Consistent with my previously-expressed views—but without recommending any particular statutory changes or commenting on pending legislation—I would welcome comprehensive re-examination of a law that has not been substantially revised for more than 60 years.”

Liebman said she had been a frequent dissenter on many of the board decisions made during the past two years and that she understood why labor unions and workers would be disillusioned with the board.

“If employees and labor unions turn away from the board because they lack confidence in it, then the board’s effectiveness is diminished. Even if I am not in a position to suggest what should be done, I fully understand why the subcommittee and the Congress would be concerned,” she said.

While the hearing could reignite some debate on the EFCA, the legislation is unlikely to move this year, according to sources familiar with the issue. Organized labor has made passage of the bill its top legislative priority, and the issue could become a hot topic for presidential and congressional candidates as they seek support from workers and labor unions.

However, the bill won’t move in Congress until after the elections, says John Raudabaugh, a partner and chair of the labor and employee relations practice for the law firm of Baker & McKenzie.

“You won’t see EFCA move until sometime next year, and if the Democrats win the White House and make more gains in Congress, then there is a chance it will be enacted,” said Raudabaugh, who is a former member of the NLRB and a witness at the Senate subcommittee hearing.

According to Raudabaugh and other political observers, the EFCA will face a tough time passing the Senate because supporters don’t have the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and thwart any filibusters of the measure.

“Still, employers need to be aware of what’s happening and be ready to respond to any efforts to pass this bill,” he said.


Unions bash trade, threaten global economy

The following is a statement from Change to Win executive director Greg Tarpinian calling on Sen. Clinton to sever all ties with Mark Penn after media reports revealed he is still participating in campaign strategy calls, conducting polling, dispensing advice and managing Clinton's direct-mail operation, despite being stripped of his "chief campaign strategist" title. Change to Win launched an online campaign today calling on Sen. Hillary Clinton to sever all ties with her campaign strategist Mark Penn.

"We must break from the politics of the past. High-priced consultants like Mark Penn who shape our laws to suit their clients are poisoning our political system and robbing voters of their faith in our democratic process. Triangulation has been the strangulation of the hopes and dreams of American workers. Mixing the people's work with corporate work might be 'good for business,' but there is no question it's bad for America's workers.

"Consultants whose firms counsel and countenance corporations or countries that deny the basic human rights of workers should have no place in any campaign seeking the support of America's workers. Mark Penn, while serving as an advisor to the Clinton campaign contracted to advocate for a job killing trade agreement with a nation that is the most dangerous place in the world for trade unionists. To make matters worse, his firm also advocates for a corporation notorious for aggressively suppressing the rights of workers. There is no place at the table for union-busters.

"These back room dealings remind us yet again of the choice voters have in this election: bringing people together to change this broken system and forge new solutions that help restore the American Dream for America's workers or the status quo where Washington insiders buy their way into the policies they want."

About Change to Win

Seven unions and six million workers united in Change to Win to build a new movement of working people equipped to meet the challenges of the global economy and restore the American Dream in the 21st century: a paycheck that can support a family, affordable health care, a secure retirement and dignity on the job. The seven partner unions are: International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers' International Union of North America, Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, United Farm Workers of America, and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.


Ending forced-labor unionism in Colorado

Labor unions are playing chicken with Colorado's economy. In a bald-faced attempt to intimidate supporters of a right-to-work ballot initiative in 2008, unions are threatening to introduce a barrage of their own initiatives if the right-to-work campaign isn't aborted.

The difference between the two camps is that right-to-work measures, while controversial, are perfectly reasonable. They simply protect the rights of individual workers by not forcing them to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Such laws are already on the books in 22 states. Conversely, the threatened union proposals are economic suicide.

One would require all employers in the state to give indexed cost-of-living increases to every worker each year, over and above regular pay increases, regardless of the economic health of the company. In the past, cost-of-living adjustments during periods of high inflation were negotiated between individual companies and their labor unions, often to the ultimate detriment of both.

Such policies, based on the false assumption that businesses can pass their costs on to customers without consequence, did irreparable damage to the auto and steel industries.

This is idiotic, especially in today's highly competitive global economy. To impose such a requirement on all Colorado employers would be insane. No such radical legislation exists anywhere in this country. It's a formula for mass layoffs, business failures and an exodus of capital and jobs from our state. Think Detroit.

Another of labor's poison pills would require any business with 20 or more employees to pay the full cost of health insurance for workers and 50 percent of the cost for all of an employee's dependents. So, every worker in the state who now pays a share of his employer-provided group health insurance would pay nothing at all. How nice, but unless your boss is Santa Claus, this is an economic impossibility and a business and job killer.

Gov. Bill Ritter and Sen. Ken Salazar have intervened to "mediate" the dispute. They've called on business leaders to kill the right-to- work initiative in exchange for the unions dropping their proposals. But this so-called compromise isn't a compromise at all. It's exactly the capitulation intended by the union ploy. I have faith that most Coloradans wouldn't be so foolish as to vote for the unions' preposterous initiatives. If the unions actually went ahead with their threat and put these proposals on the ballot, the backlash by a majority of rational voters might propel the right-to-work proposal to victory.

This is all symptomatic of a bigger problem. In Britain, the left-center party calls itself, straightforwardly, the Labour Party. We also have a left-center party in this country beholden to labor unions, its most powerful organized constituent. It's called the Democratic Party. With Democrats controlling both houses of the state legislature and the governor's office, unions in the state are flexing their muscles, expecting payback for all the money they've invested in the party for years.

They've had success leveraging the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Denver to win concessions from private sector and government employers. They're on a roll and they're cocky. Democratic union activists on the Denver City Council recently appeared to exceed their authority by meddling, behind closed doors, in negotiations over a new parking contract at DIA. The unions' bare-knuckled assault on the right- to-work initiative is just the latest example.

But Colorado isn't a union state. Union membership is concentrated among public employees, 15 percent of the state's work force accounting for 44 percent of the state's union members. Yes, most of them are Democrats, but of the 85 percent of Coloradans who work in the private sector, only 5 percent are union members. If the unions and their Democratic enablers continue to overplay their hand, we might well see voters restore Republicans to power.

- Mike Rosen's radio show airs daily from 9 a.m. to noon on 850 KOA. He can be reached by e-mail at mikerosen@850koa.com.


Intense SEIU infighting escalates

As the California Nurses Association escalates shameful and recently violent efforts to raid nurse members from SEIU, SEIU local union United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW-W) still refuses to join other SEIU local unions in taking action to stop the CNA's union-busting tactics. UHW-W is refusing to act while circulating carefully worded flyers designed to give the impression that UHW-W is distancing itself from CNA.

"Actions speak louder than words when it comes to making a stand against the shameful union-busting of the CNA," said Sue Weinstein, RN, Executive Director of SEIU Local 121RN. "It is time for UHW-W to publicly and unconditionally condemn the CNA and join the rest of SEIU healthcare workers in our effort to put an end once and for all to the CNA's tactics. UHW-W's refusal to participate in our efforts to stop CNA union-busting undermines the efforts of SEIU healthcare workers to build a stronger union."

UHW-W continues to refuse to take concrete actions in solidarity with other SEIU local unions against CNA's union-busting:

-- This week SEIU local unions suspended per capita payments[1] to AFL-CIO Central Labor Councils (CLCs) to protest the raids of AFL-CIO affiliate CNA on SEIU until the AFL-CIO takes action to stop the CNA's shameful actions. UHW-W was the only SEIU local union to refuse to put their money where their mouth is and continues to make payments to the CLCs.

-- UHW-W is refusing to contribute organizers and money to the united effort of other SEIU healthcare local unions to reach out to CNA members and ask them to tell their leadership to stop raiding SEIU and other unions.

-- Instead of sending members and staff to a Los Angeles meeting this week of SEIU healthcare members and organizers from other healthcare local unions to discuss concerns about the CNA union-busting tactics, UHW staff and leader Jorge Rodriguez disrupted the meeting unannounced, handing out leaflets, and chanting.

-- UHW-W recently circulated a flyer about their history with the CNA, saying the "resources and power of 'our union SEIU' will be focused on trying to counter attacks in SEIU RN locals," but the flyer has no mention of any concrete action that UHW itself will take to assist the efforts of their brothers and sisters in SEIU.

Background on CNA and UHW-W:

- This week CNA initiated a raid against SEIU Local 721, the union of hospital employees who work for Los Angeles County. The President of Local 721, Annelle Grajeda, was voted President of SEIU California State Council in December, replacing UHW-W President Sal Rosselli.

UHW-W's flyer says they "deplore" CNA's activity in two specific instances - Ohio and Nevada. The flyer fails to mention the raids begun this week on SEIU nurses throughout California, who are members of SEIU Locals 721, 1021, 521, and 121RN.

- UHW leaders continue to meet and participate with CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro in public appearances, such as this weekend's Labor Notes conference http://www.labornotes.org/conference/program in Michigan.

- The San Francisco Business Times on April 7 reported that "Rose Ann DeMoro, longtime executive director of SEIU rival CNA, picked sides in the SEIU conflict [with UHW-W]." While denying that she conspired with Rosselli to merge their unions, DeMoro criticized SEIU, echoing arguments made by UHW-W, "It is not surprising, that (SEIU President Andy Stern) views a worker-controlled SEIU local union as inconsistent with his objective of absolute and complete consolidated power."

- In March, UHW President Sal Rosselli and his lieutenant John Borsos were in San Diego with CNA President Rose Ann DeMoro at an Executive Council meeting of the AFL-CIO. When Rosselli, Borsos and DeMoro were meeting, CNA had organizers in Nevada raiding SEIU, attempting to convince nurses to leave SEIU.

- Just days after the San Diego meetings with Rosselli, DeMoro sent CNA organizers to Ohio where non-union workers were about to vote to join SEIU. The CNA's materials in Ohio referred people to a website (http://www.reformseiu.org/) co-sponsored by leaders of UHW that has anti-SEIU propaganda. The result of the CNA interference in Ohio (http://www.shameoncna.org/) was that the union vote had to be called off and more than 8,000 Ohio healthcare workers were denied a voice at work and a chance to improve their lives.

- In a January letter to the New York State Public Employees Federation, DeMoro repeated the false and misleading claims by UHW-W that SEIU made a "secret" deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger around California health care reform legislation.

For more information visit www.ShameonCNA.org and www.SEIUFactchecker.org.

[1] Per Capita payments go to fund the general expenses and administration of the CLCs. The SEIU local unions who suspended per capita payments to CLCs continue to contribute funds to the united political action work of CLCs in order to ensure the success of ongoing work to elect a pro-worker Congress and President in 2008.


Wackenhut slaps SEIU with $5 million claim

Related story: RICO lawsuit stuns SEIU

The Wackenhut Corporation today filed a civil action against the Service Employees International Union Local 1 responding to the union's entry into and maintenance of an illegal agreement with the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago (BOMA/Chicago). The lawsuit, which is based on the agreement in effect from April 26, 2004 through April 29, 2007, seeks damages in excess of $5 million.

"SEIU's illegal agreement not only violated the labor laws, but also injured customers of security services in Chicago by eliminating competition for security services in Downtown Chicago office buildings. As a result, customers were denied a choice and paid artificially more for security guard services," said Daniel Murphy, Corporate Counsel of The Wackenhut Corporation.

According to the suit, Wackenhut suffered damages as a result of SEIU's illegal agreement with BOMA/Chicago by being denied the opportunity to bid on contracts and lost bids as a result of a "hot cargo" agreement. The agreement required all security companies that wanted to do business with BOMA/Chicago members to be affiliated with SEIU Local 1, to agree to minimum wages and benefits mandated by the SEIU, and to contribute to SEIU Local 1's pension fund.

Additionally, beyond private security contractors, the illegal agreement caused harm to customers, who paid more for security services or paid the same price for inferior security services than they would have absent SEIU Local 1's illegal agreement.

In a major labor ruling on December 21, 2007, a National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge held that "hot cargo" agreements violated Section 8(e) of the National Labor Relations Act.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the lawsuit alleges violations of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. Sections 1, 2, and Sections 8(e), 8(b)(4) and 303 of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. Sections 158(e), 158(b)(4), 187, and seeks treble compensatory damages and costs from defendant SEIU Local 1.

About Wackenhut

The Wackenhut Corporation is the leading provider of security and security-related services in the U.S. With operations across the country, Wackenhut has the expertise and the resources to meet its customers' requirements for quality security, training, consulting and investigative services. Wackenhut is the employer of choice to more than 38,000 men and women, many of whom have proudly served in the military or have had law enforcement careers. Additional information about Wackenhut is available on its Web site at http://www.wackenhut.com/.


Union front-group: Punish the wealthy

Most New York lawmakers are defending the state budget that is being approved today, saying they tried to limit spending in the face of the state’s economic woes. “The 2008-09 State budget presented us with many challenges,” said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. “The challenges of our long term economic health, the challenges of educating our children, and the challenges of ensuring access to health care. These are challenges that all New Yorkers face every day. The budget we enacted addresses those challenges in a way that achieves a balance between spending and taxes.”

Others, though, said the budget — which had to close a roughly $5 billion budget gap — spends too much.

Assemblyman Joel Miller, R-Poughkeepsie, said he’s voting against the budget today.

“This is the worst year financially for the state that I can remember and it continues to get worse,” he said. “Yet with revenue increases of about $1 billion in taxes and fees, we’re planning to spend about $5 billion more this year.”

Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco said, “New Yorkers caught in a crushing ‘middle class squeeze’ of high taxes, tolls, food and fuel costs were counting on us. This budget, along with the broken process through which it was crafted and passed, let them down.”

Corrected: The Working Families Party said the state needs to tax the rich, “Next year, we simply won’t be able to reduce the property tax burden that’s squeezing middle class families and make badly needed public investments in healthcare, education, and public transportation if we don’t repeal part of the excessive tax giveaways that New York’s super-rich have enjoyed for the last 15 years. This isn’t about punishing the wealthy. It’s a question of fairness and priorities.”


Workers blast Andy Stern

DATE: April 10, 2008
TO: Andrew Stern, SEIU International
RE: Stop the slander! Recognize the vital role UHW’s plays in supporting our fight to form a Union of Security Officers at Kaiser Permanente

Mr. Stern,

Your website, seiufactchecker.org, contains a number of malicious claims about UHW regarding our struggle to form a union for Security Officers at Kaiser Permanente. The nature of these claims are so outrageous that we had to respond to set the record straight.

We, the Security Officers at Kaiser San Francisco, started the struggle to form a Union—we were the first shop to organize. In November of 2005, it was UHW who advised us how to organize for power and pushback against the disrespect we were subjected to by Intercon, the subcontractor hired by Kaiser. Our boss, unfairly and without notice changed our schedules. Per UHW’s instruction, we passed a petition immediately signed by almost every officer.

When we marched on our boss to deliver the petition, UHW led the charge. When Intercon suspended indefinitely three of our coworkers in direct retaliation for our actions, it was UHW who went to Kaiser management and demanded justice. It was only because of UHW’s strength and support that all three were immediately brought back to work and made whole.

Read the Full Letter [PDF]

It was UHW who taught us that it is important to organize by industry, and that because we from time to time are assigned to work at places other than Kaiser, that we would be best served by joining UHW’s sister union Local 247, even though we want to be represented by UHW. It was UHW who arranged for us to have space at the hospital to meet with Local 247. It was UHW who demanded a meeting to discuss our issues with management, and showed their overwhelming support for us by filling the room and out numbering us ten fold. It was only because of UHW that management was forced to address our issues and respect us. When our employer finally recognizes our union, it will only happen through UHW’s support.

Your slandering UHW is shamefully shocking. We demand that you immediately correct the record, remove the lies posted on seiufactchecker.org about UHW, and issue an apology.

Most importantly we also demand that you as the International President endorse UHW’s Platform for Change that grants every member a vote, that requires members have a say in their contract, and ensures member democracy.

[see PDF for signatures]


No collective bargaining unit is too small

Two small local construction companies are fending off unionization efforts, raising questions of intimidation tactics. Karges Contracting of Ayr is fighting a bid by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Local 785 to unionize its four workers. Rempel Concrete Pumping of Breslau, meanwhile, is fighting efforts by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793, which has already received provincial approval to certify Rempel's seven workers.

In each case, the company owners accuse the unions of using underhanded techniques and intimidation to bully workers into signing union cards. Both unions deny using such tactics and suggest it's the company owners who are threatening their own workers.

Greg Karges, who has owned Karges Contracting for 12 years, was once a minority partner with Breslau-based XDG Contracting, a unionized company. The brotherhood of carpenters union claims Karges bought out a chunk of XDG and is, therefore, still subject to the same collective agreement.

Karges said he began his business from scratch and has not crossed paths with his old company since leaving on friendly terms more than a decade ago.

"It was a backdoor way to get me unionized," he said. "Potentially, I could lose everything that I've ever worked for."

Karges doesn't think his workers want a union as he said he pays them competitive wages and offers them bonuses and perks they couldn't get from a union.

Like Rempel, Karges bids on non-union work, usually smaller contracts. If his company is unionized, he believes the higher rates he would have to pay would make him uncompetitive and will force him to shut down.

The union said it will drop its claims for 12 years' worth of dues if Karges drops his objections to a union certification.

Sean O'Dwyer, the carpenter union's senior local business representative, said his union is only responding to the will of the workers.

"If the conditions aren't what the workers feel they should be, they decide they should go with a union," he said.

He denied his union uses any strong-arm tactics.

He said when a company unionizes, it is then eligible to bid on lucrative union work that it otherwise cannot compete for.

Unionized contracts involve bigger jobs since the unions and unionized companies are often national in scope.

Rempel Concrete's owner Scott Rempel claims the operating engineers union hasn't successfully convinced a majority of his seven workers to sign union cards. He also questions how the union approached his crew.

Like Karges, Rempel said joining the union will make him uncompetitive. He also knows some workers want no part of a union, including Adrian Bradbury, who wants to decertify the company. Bradbury, who has worked for Rempel for a year, is not convinced he'll make more in a union because he thinks Rempel will price itself out of the market for the smaller jobs it now does.

He also fears that he would be low on a union seniority list, which would mean less work for him.

Bradbury said Rempel was planning to offer workers raises this spring to bring their pay within a $1 an hour of a unionized wage. In Karges' case, he says his workers can get more work than if they were in a union, which helps them earn just as much money.

Bradbury said there's confusion over the number of union cards Rempel Pumping workers signed.

"Nobody will tell us straight up what's going on, which is why it's so frustrating," he said. "If we could have a straight-up vote, I'd shut up but I don't think that will be the case."

Gary O'Neill, president of the operating engineers local 793, said his union does not use intimidation tactics in approaching workers.

"I can tell you unequivocally that no one was bullied into signing a union card," he said.

He also said there should be no debate over how many union cards were signed by Rempel employees.

If the union did not get the majority of Rempel workers signed, it would not have received provincial permission to unionize the company, O'Neill said.

O'Neill said Waterloo Region's construction scene has an "active non-union element" which could explain why some companies have fought unionization efforts so fiercely.

However, he said a company also stands to "open a huge door" to new business opportunities by joining the operating engineers.

There are a number of large union projects that Rempel will now qualify for if it is part of a union, he added.

Rempel and Karges both say their businesses are far too small to compete on the larger union contracts.

"I'm just fighting for my life," Karges said. "I just want to get back to work."


NFL players union looking to oust Upshaw

Related story: "NFL union boss paid $4 million/yr"

With 25 years as executive director of the NFL Players Association, Gene Upshaw is the longest-tenured labor leader in sports. The Hall of Fame guard has outlasted two NFL commissioners, all of the players and coaches and all but five owners. The 62-year-old has endured strikes, lockouts and a decertification of the union, but he has never seen a threat to his leadership like the battle that has erupted over his succession.

A group of NFLPA leaders led by Baltimore Ravens player representative Matt Stover want Upshaw, who's supposed to become a lame duck in March and retire a year later, to name a successor.

That was supposed to be Troy Vincent, who just stepped down as NFLPA president. Instead, Vincent, whose playing career ended in 2006, is out of a job at NFLPA headquarters. Upshaw responded to the uprising by naming Clark Gaines, seen by some as a figurehead, as his No. 2. The new NFLPA president, Tennessee center Kevin Mawae, also isn't seen as a threat to Upshaw's imperial rule like predecessors Vincent, Trace Armstrong and Mike Kenn might have been.

"No one is looking to oust Gene," a longtime NFL player said. "A lot of players just want someone to be there to learn the job. Gene said in 2006 that he wouldn't be around for the next [collective bargaining agreement] extension, but now he's sounding entitled. Gene's disregarding his reps. That has upset a lot of players. There's serious unhappiness with how Gene has handled some things like the retired players' issue. He has a lot to do to dig himself out of this one."

The anonymous player believes that seven of the 10 members of the NFLPA executive board and a third of the reps are in Stover's camp with just two board members and a third of the reps behind Upshaw. The other board member and a third of the reps are undecided.

That dissension is a radical change for the NFLPA, which has remained in near-lockstep since Upshaw negotiated free agency with then commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 1993, six years after many players had crossed the picket line to play in management's replacement games during the last labor stoppage.

Instead of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell trying to keep his multimillionaire owners — some of whom have blasted the 2006 CBA extension — in line, it's Upshaw who's suddenly dealing with a rebellion in the ranks. That's somewhat fitting considering Upshaw obtained his job by leading a virtual coup against predecessor Ed Garvey in 1983, not long after he retired from the Oakland Raiders.


AFSCME prison-guards reinstated

The state prison system has reinstated two correctional officers fired as part of a crackdown stemming from abuse allegations, officials said yesterday. The probe, one of the most extensive in years of Maryland's penal system, has about two dozen officers fired or on leave as investigators attempt to determine whether they beat inmates at two Western Maryland prisons. The reversal of two of the firings prompted a labor union to describe the terminations as "a rush to judgment."

The two reinstated officers had been fired from their jobs at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, according to the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"These reinstatements have exposed these mass firings to be a rush to judgment on the state's part, as AFSCME has maintained all along," the union said in a statement. "These mass firings have been an injustice and an insult to Maryland correctional officers. AFSCME will continue to fight to win reinstatement for officers caught up in these mass firings."

Mark Vernarelli, a state prison spokesman, said that during the course of the investigation into the incidents, "information came out exonerating these two officers."

"The department took immediate action to bring the officers back, and they have been reinstated with no loss of state service time," he said in a written statement.

Gary D. Maynard, the state secretary of public safety and correctional services, said in an interview Wednesday that of the 8,000 correctional officers guarding 23,000 inmates in Maryland, nearly all of them "are hard-working and dedicated, and follow policy and state law."

Local and state law enforcement bodies are working together in an investigation of several encounters between inmates and officers early last month at Roxbury and at the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland. Fifteen officers from RCI have been fired - not including the two that were later reinstated - and eight from North Branch are on paid administrative leave.


Raising union-only construction to new heights

For decades, former Onondaga County (NY) Executive Nicholas Pirro lobbied state lawmakers to reform the Wicks Law because it increased the cost of public construction contracts. Thursday, after the Legislature surprised lobbyists by amending the law in the final hours of the state budget process, Pirro and others said the changes will have little benefit.

The Wicks Law is never likely to be a subject that becomes the talk of neighborhood barber shops. But it does affect the cost of municipal construction projects, and that, in turn, affects how much taxes each person pays.

Unchanged since 1964, the Wicks Law required local governments in Upstate to break apart construction contracts worth more than $50,000 into smaller contracts and seek separate bids for each part — general construction, plumbing, electrical, and heating and ventilation work.

For years, critics said the law cost government money because of duplication among contractors.

In 2007, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and legislative leaders struck a deal to exempt more contracts from the law, raising the threshold on Upstate contracts from $50,000 to $500,000. The Assembly approved the change, but the Senate did not.

Pirro said Thursday the $500,000 threshold for exemption from the Wicks Law needs to be 10 times higher to have any real benefit. Pirro said he couldn’t think of a significant public works project during his last term that cost less than $500,000.

Another provision of the reform upset some for another reason. Municipal contracts of any size can now be exempt from the Wicks Law if the municipality requires the contractor to sign a project labor agreement.

A project labor agreement makes a labor union the collective bargaining representative for all workers on the job.

Rebecca Meinking, president of the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors, which represents non-union contractors, said the provision means “the only contractors that will be able to bid for public construction will be union,” meaning higher costs for municipal contracts.

Deborah Warner, director of government relations for the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the “pro-labor requirements” will increase costs. “The point was to decrease costs,” she said.

Officials with the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council — which represents unions — declined to comment.


UAW-American Axle strike ends week 7

American Axle & Manufacturing has presented a new contract proposal to the United Auto Workers after turning down an offer made by the union. The company was not making public details of the proposal, said American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers. Negotiations are expected to continue through the weekend, she said.

The Detroit-based auto parts supplier had rejected a union proposal this week, calling it “disappointing.” The company contended the “all-in” labor costs proposed by the UAW were “still approximately 200 percent of the market rate of [American Axle’s] competitors in the United States automotive supply industry.”

American Axle did not disclose specifics of the union’s offer, which was presented this week after the two sides resumed talks with full bargaining teams. A UAW spokesman did not return a message to comment.

American Axle repeated previous assertions that it needs substantial changes in the labor cost structure at its “original” plants, which includes its plants in the Town of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga. And it reiterated the risk it says those plants face absent such an agreement.

“If the UAW continues to refuse to make realistic economic proposals, [American Axle] will be forced to consider closing these facilities,” the company stated. It already idled a production plant in Buffalo late last year.

American Axle has previously said that it wants to reduce its labor costs sharply, to bring them in line with competitors like Delphi Corp. and Dana Corp. The company again said it has “no desire” to close the U.S. plants, preferring to reach a deal with the UAW.

American Axle says if the union consents to the type of labor structure the company wants, the U.S. plants will be able to bid competitively for new business and attract new investment.

The strike is in its seventh week. The UAW is gearing up for a rally in support of striking American Axle workers in Detroit next Friday. UAW Local 846, which represents workers at the Town of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga plants, invited members and supporters to sign up to travel to the rally aboard chartered buses.

“This rally will be used as the focal point of the current labor struggle in America today,” UAW Local 846 leaders said in a letter to members.

Meanwhile, Detroit newspapers reported American Axle has begun testing applicants in Michigan who responded to the company’s recent advertisements for jobs. American Axle says it ran the ads primarily to create a pool of candidates, because it expects many workers to leave via buyouts or retirement packages after a new deal is in place. But it has left open the possibility of using new hires as replacement workers.

Rogers said she did not know if the applicant testing was under way yet in the Buffalo area.

About 580 American Axle workers in the Buffalo area, including some who had been on layoff from the Buffalo plant, are on strike.


Bakers union still on strike, month 5

Five months after they hit the picket lines Redco workers are still striking. In that time there have been several attempts by both sides to come to terms, with the most recent coming Thursday. However, both sides say they are still way off. Days have gone by and still no contract or agreement between either side, and according to Redco workers and the union that represents them there probably wont be anytime soon.

Five months after the strike started, the fires are still burning strong on the cold days. A few changes since they started: the signs are now up letting everyone, who didn't before, now know they are still without a contract.

Also, the strike started November 1 from just outside the factory, but since then, company officials have posted that property - forcing striking workers to other side of the street.

The strike started November 1, 2007 - 4 months after their contract ran out. Workers say they were looking for medical coverage, a better 401k plan, and some sort of pension plan.

A short time after - just before Christmas - union employees provided some sort of relief for the striking workers, providing some Christmas meals.

After the turn of the year, 75 days after the strike started, there was still no contract, but the company started moving forward - hiring new employees to fill the vacant positions.

Today, those new employees or "scabs" as the strikers refer to them as, walk right past their picket to go into work.

Attempts to talk with Redco Foods officials were unsuccessful Friday.

Union representatives say they don't know when the next time the two sides will be at the table together to negotiate a contract.


Steelworkers strike, week 13

Freezing rain and then a dumping of snow didn't dampen the spirits of striking Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada employees Friday. "Out here in Val Caron, we have a really good group of women - there are six of us," said Linda Denton, a CIBC employee for 22 years. "We have our burning barrel, we cook over our fire, we try and talk to every customer coming into the bank to get their support."

Union leaders and members joined striking CIBC employees at the bank's Val Caron branch Friday for a barbecue.

It's been no picnic for the 66 employees entering their 14th week on the picket lines.

No talks are scheduled between the United Steelworkers of America and CIBC. The company said it's willing to meet with the union, but only to clarify its last offer.

"I never believed it would go on this long, but CIBC has proven their arrogance," said Denton.

"They just won't talk to us. They're trying to break the union, break the women."

Sixty-five of the 66 striking employees are women.

"We're not asking for the moon," said Denton.

"We're asking for a dollar an hour (raise) ... They've offered us a total of 50 cents."


Carole Blanchette, a teller at the Val Caron branch for six years, said their demands are reasonable.

"We're not going back to 50 cents after being out for 13 weeks," said Blanchette.

"We want everyone to get a raise. (The company's) waging system inhibits some workers from getting a raise and others from getting a little more. They have to realize that if you've worked the year, you're entitled to a raise. We're not asking for $5 or $10 an hour. I'd be happy with a $1 raise."

Val Caron residents have been supportive of the employees, said the women.

Blanchette works part time and said she's losing a couple hundred dollars a week. Fortunately, her husband works full time, but they've had to cut back on a lot of things .

Sudbury District Labour Council president John Closs thinks CIBC could settle the labour dispute in a minute if they came to the table with a "decent offer."

"I'm sure these strikers would be happy to get back to work as soon as possible, back to serving their customers," said Closs.

"There are seniors who need their services in Sudbury. It's just a matter of this company coming to its senses and coming to the table with a good offer."

The 66 employees who work at the five Greater Sudbury CIBC branches have been on strike since Jan. 14. In mid-March, the employees voted on a second offer by the bank that featured five to 15 cents per hour increases for the majority of the workers. That was on top of the terms of the original offer made to the workers, which they narrowly rejected.

A spokesperson for CIBC maintains the last offer was fair, competitive and addressed many concerns which arose in the previous two bargaining meetings.

"We're certainly available to discuss and explore options with the union," said Rod Cumming.

"One observation we have is we continue to see evidence in the media that suggests some of the details of our most recent offer weren't clearly understood in the last vote."

Cumming said the second wage offer made was an increase "over and above" the first.

He said the company was willing to meet with the union to clarify its last offer.

Earlier this week, staff representative Jim Kmit of the United Steelworkers denied there was ever a misunderstanding among union members.


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