Democrats' Risky Alliance with Big Labor

Barack Obama addressed the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO today. Both have a lot at stake. The AFL-CIO and other unions clearly see 2008 as their year. The AFL-CIO just announced a $53 million ad campaign aimed at attacking John McCain. Yes, Obama doesn’t accept special interest money. But he’s happy to benefit from union help, all the same.

Among Big Labor’s key objectives in recent years has been passage of the Orwellian-sounding Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). That measure would replace secret ballot union elections with so-called “card checks” whereby cards signed by a majority of workers in the presence of union officials would be sufficient to unionize a workplace.

Conservatives have long argued that such a measure would open up workers to union intimidation. Nevertheless, this remains a pet project for Big Labor, Congressional Democrats (who failed to pass it in 2007), and both Democratic presidential contenders. (Not surpringly, Obama plugged the EFCA in his AFL-CIO talk today.)

Now comes some evidence that Democrats do the bidding of Big Labor at their political peril. McLaughlin & Associates, a well-regarded GOP polling group, has conducted a survey for a business group, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine. The results (according to the press release) show that large majorities of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%), and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Moreover, voters in Minnesota and Colorado would be less likely to support Democratic senate candidates who support the EFCA.

(Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates Mark Udall (44%) and Al Franken (41%) if they support this legislation.) To boot, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be retained for union elections.

This is one more instance in which Democrats have confused the interests of union power brokers with the interests of working-class voters. Unions may want to do away with workplace democracy, but real workers do not. Similarly, teachers’ unions hate school choice measures, but working-class voters whose kids are trapped in underperforming public schools like them.

Will this slow down Big Labor or give Democratic politicians reason to reconsider their position? Probably not. But it’s an opening Republicans should exploit, now that they have some evidence to indicate it’s a smart strategy.

# 1
Dellis Says:
April 2nd, 2008 at 10:37 AM

I find it odd that Obama loves to attack the vaguely defined “special interests”, but somehow Big Labor is not included within this definition. This explains Obama’s opposition to free trade, his support for this act, and his support for the strangely named Patriot Employer Act. This is possibly a point for McCain to make in the Fall.


City of Secretive Brotherly Thugs

A coalition of city and state officials urged a federal judge yesterday to throw out a lawsuit seeking to withhold details of $2.4 million spent on politics last year by the city of Philadelphia's electricians union. The political-action committee set up by the union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is fighting a request from the city Board of Ethics for documentation of its spending.

A provision of state election law requires political-action committees to keep detailed records of any expenditures over $25 and make them available to anyone upon request.

But after the Board of Ethics began looking into the union's political activity, the union PAC filed a federal lawsuit in February contending that the disclosure requirement is unconstitutionally broad, a violation of its First Amendment right to free speech.

In responses filed yesterday, the Board of Ethics was joined by the state attorney general and the Pennsylvania Department of State, asking Chief U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III to dismiss the case.

"Local 98's PAC wants to keep some of its expenditures hidden from the public, to pick and choose what they'll show and what they'll hide," said the Ethics Board's executive director, Shane Creamer Jr. "It wants the benefits of being a political action committee, its tax-exempt status and the benefits of giving donations, without any of the responsibilities to show how it's spending the money."

The focus of the Board of Ethics inquiry is not known. Much of its investigative work to date has involved efforts to skirt the city's campaign contribution limits - last year $20,000 for mayoral candidates and $10,000 for others. The union's business manager, John Dougherty, had joined a separate unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the city's right to set contribution limits.

Dougherty is running to replace state Sen. Vincent Fumo.


Nurses condemn violent attack by SEIU

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee tonight condemned a brutal assault by busloads of purple cloaked staff of the Service Employees International Union who smashed into a conference of union members Saturday night in Dearborn, Mi. and physically assaulted women and union members who stood in their path.

"I am deeply concerned about this heightened attack on women and nurses, directed by SEIU President Andrew Stern," said CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro, who was scheduled to speak about the campaign for genuine healthcare reform at the banquet.

DeMoro cancelled her appearance at the event to coordinate support for CNA/NNOC leaders in California after Stern and SEIU began sending roving bands of staff to the homes of CNA/NNOC RN board members in California Thursday and Friday, stalking and harassing them.

"There is an ugly pattern here of physical abuse and tactics of intimidation that have no place in either our labor movement or a civilized society," DeMoro said.

In Dearborn Saturday night, at least seven busloads, carrying up to 500 SEIU staff in purple jackets and T-shirts drove up to the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the banquet was being hosted by the magazine Labor Notes culminating a weekend conference on topics including union democracy, health care reform, and encouraging the resurgent growth of labor.

Upon unloading from the buses, the hundreds of picket-sign wielding staff stormed the hotel and pushed their way through doors to break into the ballroom where the event was being held.

While breaking in the building, the SEIU staff, now joined by SEIU staff inside the building, physically assaulted a group of union members and activists at the door.

At least one woman, a retired auto worker and former business manager for Labor Notes, was injured and went to the hospital after being pushed to the floor and hitting her head on a table.

As the SEIU staff broke into the hall, some three dozen CNA/NNOC nurses and leaders, there to attend the conference, including Malinda Markowitz, RN, a member of CNA/NNOC's Council of Presidents, who was scheduled to speak in DeMoro's place, were whisked out the back of the hall for their safety, leaving in vans. The atmosphere was so tense that hotel cooks tried to climb into the vans to join them for fear of their own safety.

The evening assault at Labor Notes followed a day of disruption by SEIU staff at workshops throughout the day at which various CNA/NNOC members were on panels or participants.

"I am disgusted with the tactics of SEIU and their total disrespect for what was going on here -- members from multiple unions who were discussing an agenda to fight the increased corporate attacks on working people," said Markowitz. "It's clear their only agenda here was to disrupt and try to divide labor and workers. Physical violence is absolutely unacceptable."

"I am absolutely appalled, to have a union coming in here with tons of people ramming down doors. If they have these kind of resources, why aren't they using them to help people in the trenches rather than attacking nurses and other working people," said Danielle Magana, RN, an NNOC member from San Antonio, Tex.

"If I were a nurse here I would not join such an aggressive union," said Prudencia Mweemba, an RN from Zambia who is a PhD candidate at Kent State who was attending the conference. "What they did today showed me they are irresponsible. I don't see how they can represent people with such an attitude."

"Had I not seen this with my own eyes I would not have believed it," said Kimberly Helmick, an Ohio RN. "SEIU did a big injustice to all the labor movement people who were here."

DeMoro noted that irony of the attack on a conference, in which union democracy was a major topic, coinciding with growing efforts by Stern and SEIU International to suppress dissent in his own union and signing contracts with employers that limit the voice of SEIU members at the workplace.

SEIU contracts with nursing home chains, for example, have limited the ability of caregivers to protest and report unsafe conditions. Within SEIU, Stern has been engaged in targeting dissenters and seeking to limit participation at his international convention in June.

Another example, she noted, was SEIU's pact with a Catholic hospital chain in Ohio where SEIU had the employer file for an election to impose SEIU as its handpicked union for RNs and other staff. The deal also barred employees from discussing the election or the union. Ultimately, Stern and the employer cancelled the election when the deal was exposed in part because of CNA/NNOC criticism of the deal, the pretext of the Michigan attack Saturday night.

For more information about SEIU's efforts on behalf of employers, see www.ServingEmployersInsteadofUs.org.


SEIU reformers steamed-up against Stern

On the heels of a public fight over the Service Employees (SEIU) International's move toward labor-management partnership deals and hyper-centralization, members are joining a newly founded national reform group. Several pockets of reform already exist in the union, but the largest is the SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today (SMART), founded in California in January. The group already claims members in 11 other states and Canada.

Members' grievances against SEIU officials have been mounting after President Andy Stern merged many locals into mega-locals, removed elected leaders, and appointed his own agents in their place. SMART's formation mirrors a conflict between Stern and Sal Rosselli, head of the 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers -- West local, over the international's consolidation of authority.

"The union is now a corporate-style organization where members and their issues are ignored. Members are furious," said Joel Solis, a registered nurse and steward at the Department of Mental Health in Los Angeles County, now in Local 721.

Catherine Alexander, a member of Local 521 and SMART, is the former chief steward at the Santa Clara County Libraries, located south of San Jose, California.

"The new local has meetings but they don't publicize them," she said. "We can't even get copies of the minutes. They want member-leaders and staff to sign 'loyalty oaths' saying they will only promote the views of top SEIU officials who were appointed by Stern."

Zev Kvitky, president of Local 2007, which represents service workers, technicians, and other workers at Stanford University, said he joined SMART because the union's lofty goals have mutated.

"We agree with President Stern that we need to organize the unorganized," he said. "But the way the International is organizing new workers, it is weakening our union. Their top-down deals with employers, the exclusion of members, the erosion of democracy and free speech undermine our power."

Dan Mariscal, a steward in Local 347 representing Los Angeles city workers, said his local is so strongly opposed to over-centralization that they filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against SEIU with the city's employee relations board to stop their local's forced merger.

Growing Efforts

SMART members and other SEIU reformers held a California-wide reform conference in Berkeley on March 22. Discussion ranged from how to regain freedom of speech in the union, re-establish election of leaders, and ensure membership involvement in contract negotiations and the life of the union, to how to prepare a reform delegation to attend the SEIU convention in May.

The clamor for democracy in SEIU is springing up across the country. Dave Peter, a steward with SEIU Local 1107 in Nevada and a member of Members for Union Democracy, said the Stern-appointed leader of their local, Jane McAlevey, has been abusive to members, and growing numbers are calling for her dismissal.

Bruce Boccardy, chief steward of Local 888 in Massachusetts and a member of Bring Back Our Union, said Local 888's appointed head officer, Susanna Segat, has driven 3,000 members at the University of Massachusetts out of their union and into the Massachusetts Teachers Association.


SEIU's loyalty oath: Rhetoric v. reality

On its face, SEIU’s democracy pledge appears to be thoughtful and fair-minded. SEIU appears to embrace a number of noble values and model organizational practices, such as constructive discussion, democratic decision-making and member participation. However, because it fails to recognize the stark difference between SEIU’s rhetoric and the reality of its practices, the pledge is better seen as a Loyalty Oath designed to paper over serious organizational divisions. Read the pledge and our response to the pledge here:

Read the SEIU democracy pledge [PDF]
Read UHW's response [PDF]

The SEIU Loyalty Oath:
What’s Wrong With That?

On its face, SEIU’s democracy pledge appears to be thoughtful and fair-minded. SEIU appears to embrace a number of noble values and model organizational practices, such as constructive discussion, democratic decision-making and member participation. Who could be against that?

However, because it fails to recognize the stark difference between SEIU’s rhetoric and the reality of its practices, the pledge is better seen as a Loyalty Oath designed to paper over serious organizational divisions. These differences deserve focused debate, not platitudes. A quick review of recent SEIU history offers evidence of the issues SEIU members are face every day which the pledge completely ignores.

#1 The Loyalty Oath Embraces “Respect for democracy”

What's the reality in SEIU?
• Tenet Unity Council: In 2007, SEIU officers tried manipulate votes in the Tenet Unity Council in an unsuccessful attempt to force workers to accept a seven-year contract without the right to strike.
• California State Council: In 2007, SEIU officers manipulated voting procedures to depose the democratically elected president of the California State Council to be replaced by a Stern-appointed local union leader.
• Merger Votes: SEIU conducts votes for mergers by pooling votes among voting locals, without letting each local union vote on its own to approve or reject a merger. For example, if a 5,000 member local and a 25,000 member local were merged, every one of the members of the 5,000 member local could vote against the merger and it would still pass if 5001 people in the 25,000 member local voted to approve.

#2 The Loyalty Oath Embraces “Increased member participation to create a union in which “more workers, lead, participate and decide”

What's the reality in SEIU?
• Barring SEIU Members from the Bargaining Table: In 2007, SEIU officers prohibited rank-and-file leaders from Locals 121RN and UHW from participating in negotiations with Tenet Healthcare. In these secret negotiations, SEIU officers gave Tenet the right to subcontract out up to 12% of the bargaining unit, without the consent of the members.
• Abolishing the CHW Unity Council: Just before bargaining was scheduled to begin in 2008, SEIU President Andy Stern unilaterally abolished the rank-and-file decision-making body that was democratically established by the International Executive Board and tried unsuccessfully to name an outside consultant to lead negotiations.
• Top-Down Deals with Employers: SEIU leaders have reached a number of top-down deals including the Washington Nursing Home Alliance Agreement and agreements with large multinational subcontractors Aramark, Compass and Sodexho without worker input and which severely restrict workers’ rights on the job.

#3 The Loyalty Oath Embraces “Constructive discussion”

What's the reality in SEIU?
Undemocratic Organizational Culture: Rather than encouraging open discussion, alternative opinions are met with hostility.
• Creation of “Skunk Team”: In order to stifle opposition, media reports confirm that SEIU officers have created a “skunk team” in order to attack political opposition and ensure that only supporters of the Stern team are elected as delegates to the International Convention.

#4 The Loyalty Oath Embraces A “responsibility to respect decisions made by democratic majority”

What's the reality in SEIU?
• Majority of International Executive Board Members are Stern Appointees or Staff: Out of 67 members of the International Executive Board, well over half are either SEIU International Union staff, or local leaders who were originally appointed into their leadership position in their local by Stern, rather than being elected by their members.
• Opposition to Direct Election of International Officers: Stern opposes allowing every member to vote on who the leaders of their international union should be.
• Use of Trusteeship: Since he was first elected president of SEIU, Stern has placed approximately 60 local unions in trusteeship, about 30% of all SEIU local unions.


USW in labor-state strike threat

Lansing, Mich.-area Comprehensive Logistics Inc. workers on Saturday voted down a new contract offered by the company. The Lansing State Journal reported that a 79-38 vote authorized a strike if necessary, United Steelworkers Local 2-921 President Joe Crum said. A strike authorization does not mean a walkout is imminent, but gives the union permission to call one.

The local is asking the company, based in Austintown, to negotiate further, he said.

When to pay time-and-a-half overtime rates was one sticking point of negotiations, Crum said. Workers currently get overtime pay after working 42.5 hours instead of 40, he said.

Comprehensive Logistics hauls parts for Detroit carmaker General Motors Corp.’s operations, including the Lansing Grand River assembly plant, and for Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co., Crum said. The Lansing Grand River plant makes the Cadillac CTS, STS and SRX.


Double-dipping epidemic in labor-state

The ranks of highly paid double dippers — government employees with two or more public jobs that paid more than $100,000 together — swelled by 20 percent last year, despite calls to end the practice, Gannett New Jersey has found.

A review of pension enrollment data found that:

A total of 853 highly paid double dippers were in the state's largest public employee retirement fund last year, an increase of 20 percent from 2006 to 2007.

Those same multiple-job holders had a collective salary of $107.8 million, also up 20 percent from 2006. They held an average of 2.8 jobs each and had an average pay of $126,000 in 2007. All totaled, there were 6,271 multiple-job holders — including one woman with 12 jobs — pulling down $354 million in salaries.

Although the total number of government jobs — municipal, county, state, school, police and fire department — held steady at 464,000 from 2006 to 2007, the total base salaries rose 3.7 percent to $22.8 billion — equal to nearly half of all state and local tax money collected last year.

To view salaries for all employees, and a searchable list of multiple-job holders, visit www.DataUniverse.com and click on "What's New." DataUniverse is the Asbury Park Press' public records site on the Web.

Gannett New Jersey has found numerous examples over the years of independent contractors, mostly lawyers, receiving far better government pension benefits than full-time government employees. By cobbling together multiple part-time posts, some multiple-job holders can amass an annual public salary that eclipses the amount New Jersey governors are entitled to under state law.

And with higher salaries come higher pension payments upon retirement.

Take Damian G. Murray, the highest paid multiple-job holder in the state last year, according to pension records. He also keeps a private law office.

A municipal court judge for eight Ocean County municipalities, his total taxpayer-funded pay was $301,826. The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is paid $212,100.

When Murray, 59, retires from government service, his final pension will be based on the average of his highest three salaries. That could qualify him for a pension of about $150,000 a year, according to the pension payment formula.

Murray did not return calls for comment, but he has said in the past that he works around the clock, and is always on call to set bail for suspects and review warrants.
Examining pay, benefits

Double dipping is a practice that is increasingly drawing the attention of state lawmakers.

"That's ridiculous — it really is," said state Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, of Murray's eight part-time jobs. "Honestly, it's a way of getting away with pensions for part-time employees. We need to look at: Is it really right for part-time workers to be in the pension system?"

Sweeney, the Senate majority leader, said he believes that lawmakers this year will closely examine government employee pay and benefits.

"I think you are going to see a lot of legislators starting to step forward and talking about this kind of stuff," Sweeney said. "It's a much more crowded platform of people who want to talk about this, Republicans and Democrats."

Gov. Corzine has cut state workers by 2,000 since taking office in 2006, and he wants to reduce the 68,000 state workers by another 3,000 in his proposed 2008-09 budget.

In February, Corzine asked members of the public to submit ideas on how to cut the cost of state government. But, based on the responses of more than 1,500 residents who e-mailed the governor, the public feels he hasn't gone far enough.

Many wrote that they felt government pay and benefits remain excessive.

"Most importantly . . . CUT, CUT, CUT, CUT GOVERNMENT SPENDING AND THE DOUBLE & TRIPLE DIPPING OF PENSIONS!!" wrote Matthew J. Guiro, a 35-year-old mortgage banker from Brick.

In Stafford, one of the eight municipalities where Murray presides, his contract requires him to hold court a minimum of 43 days a year. At a 2007 salary of $41,728, that's just under $1,000 a day.

"I can see people saying, can you hold eight part-time jobs?" said Carl W. Block, himself a multiple-job holder as Stafford mayor and Ocean County clerk. "That's a fair point, and Damian is going to have to answer that question."

Gerard J. Meara, executive director of the AFSCME Council 73, which represents 11,000 government workers in New Jersey, said he opposed judges and others who accrue such high pensions based on many part-time jobs.

"That type of person really isn't an employee; they jump from one municipality to the other," he said. "With the pension being underfunded, as it is, any negative impact such as that is a concern to our members."

The government employee with the most jobs in the pension systems is Mary E. Bakey, who held a dozen positions with school boards in Camden and Burlington counties last year. Her total reported base pay last year was $64,235.

Bakey specializes in the niche position of "Treasurer of School Funds," which, under state law dating to at least 1903, all school boards must have.

The job is to double-check what, in nearly all cases, the school business office has already done: reconcile the district's bank accounts. The law predates school business administrators, electronic funds transfers and book-balancing computer software.

"It's another set of eyes looking over your books," said Joanne Clement, the school business administrator for the Clementon Board of Education in Camden County. Clementon hired Bakey two years ago, and paid her $1,750 in 2007.

Bakey could not be reached for comment.

To reduce school costs, Assemblyman Declan J. O'Scanlon Jr., R-Monmouth, has proposed a bill that would make the treasurer's job optional. Both the New Jersey School Boards Association and the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials support the bill.


UAW on strke v. General Dynamics

Related General Dynamics stories: here

Hundreds of union workers at a Marion, Va., defense contracting plant went on strike Friday in reaction to a benefits package offered by the company. Gary Blevins, president of United Auto Workers Local 2850, said the union had been negotiating with General Dynamics, which employs more than 500 people in Marion, for about four weeks and workers decided to strike after the company planned to lay off senior workers, double health insurance premiums and cut the pensions of new hires.

"It’s the beginning of the end of our pension," he said. "... They’ve more than doubled our health-care premiums. All we want is a fair and equitable contract to stay afloat. We don’t want to go backwards."

Blevins said strikers formed five picket stations at the plant around 9 p.m. Friday. The workers were on a schedule to man the picket lines throughout the weekend and into next week, he said.

"We’ve notified the company that we’re on strike, but we haven’t heard anything," he said.

General Dynamics spokeswoman Gail Warner declined to comment on the strike, but released a prepared statement from company Vice President Jim Losse.

"The United Auto Workers – United Defense Workers of America Local 2850 ... are on strike at our Marion facility. Our site has over 350 employees who are currently on strike and over 175 who are not. The site remains open for business and will continue operations to meet customer needs," it read.


UAW strike notices in pile-up at GM

Another Michigan United Auto Workers local is threatening to strike General Motors Corp., the automaker said Saturday. The UAW warned GM that it may strike the automaker's Grand Rapids metal stamping plant. If progress isn't made in bargaining a local contract within five days, the union says it will issue an official five-day strike notice, which is required before a walkout.

Three factories, in Flint, Lansing and Warren, issued five-day strike notices last week warning GM the union will strike if local contracts aren't soon reached.

GM is in the midst of plant-level bargaining under way since last fall.

The automaker has contracts in place only in a handful of about 70 UAW locals throughout the United States.

A plant in Parma, Ohio, threatened a strike last week, but then reached a tentative deal with the automaker.


UAW serves labor-state strike notice to GM

The United Auto Workers union is threatening strikes against three General Motors Corp. plants in Michigan. GM said the UAW sent strike notices to the company Thursday for plants in Flint, Warren and Delta Township near Lansing. The notices give a five-day warning for a possible strike.


Secretive, union-only power-grab

Gov. David A. Paterson and the Legislature managed to sneak through under the cover of secrecy legislation that failed to pass last year in a more open process. As details of the secretly negotiated budget emerge, New Yorkers were surprised to learn that Albany had enacted the first major reforms of the Wicks Law in more than 40 years.

Municipalities and school districts have long argued for revisions in the law's requirement to break down construction projects exceeding $50,000 into separate contracts for general construction, heating, plumbing and electrical work. The original law dates from 1912, but the threshold triggering the mandates has not been updated since the 1960s.

Public agencies subject to the law say it raises costs unnecessarily since it requires them to draft four separate bidding documents and specifications for each prime contractor. They then have to oversee the work themselves or hire someone to coordinate the multiple contractors, when it could be done through a single general contractor who subcontracts for the other work.

Last year, then-Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer had proposed changes that would eliminate some 70 percent of the projects covered by the Wicks Law to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The plan failed, but what did not pass public scrutiny suddenly appeared again, without prior public discussion or awareness, as part of the just-enacted state budget.

Under the changes, the law will be effective in New York City for projects exceeding $3 million, $1.5 million for downstate suburbs and $500,000 for the rest of the state. The different levels are meant to reflect differing construction costs.

While they are the same as proposed last year, the change also includes another provision that waives the law for municipal contracts that contain a project labor agreement. They have been used in the north country, but not without controversy since they mandate the use of union labor. Nonunion contractors object to the restrictions, which they say shuts them out of the bidding and can drive up construction costs.

The Wicks Law was in need of change, but the revisions will have very limited impact in Northern New York. Just take a look at all the school construction or other public building projects that far exceed the $500,000 threshold that will still require four separate contracts.

But there was no opportunity for opponents to register their objections or press the Legislature for more meaningful change in Albany's secrecy.


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