Labor-state Gov. rejects 'no-vote' unionism

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle today announced that she will veto a bill that would eliminate a worker’s right to a secret ballot election when deciding whether or not to have union representation in the workplace. The vetoed measure will be sent to the Legislature tomorrow. HB2974 HD2, commonly referred to as the “card check” bill, would change the union certification process by eliminating the secret ballot election and mandate timeliness for facilitating the initial collective bargaining agreement between an employer and the new collective bargaining representative.

Under current law, a secret ballot process is used to determine whether a majority of employees desire collective representation. This process provides employees anonymity and the opportunity to consider and weigh individual choices after having had the time to be fully informed by both the labor organization and employer of the advantages and disadvantages of being collectively represented.

This bill replaces that process with one in which organizers would only need to gather signatures from a majority of employees indicating they were in favor of forming a union. The bill does not specify how or when signatures can be obtained and, as a result, there is no way to determine whether a worker’s signature was given freely, without pressure, coercion or intimidation from fellow employees or labor representatives.

“I support the rights of workers to form or join labor organizations and have collective bargaining representation, but this bill would deny workers their privacy and right to a confidential vote when making that decision,” said Governor Lingle. “Maintaining the secret ballot is the best way to protect workers’ privacy and to ensure workers have the ability to vote their conscience without fear of repercussion or retaliation. There is no compelling justification for replacing a fair, democratic process with one that has the potential to erode a worker’s existing rights and protections under the law.”

HB2974 HD2 has the potential to impact employees of most agriculture businesses in the state; non-retail businesses with less than $50,000 in annual sales; retail businesses including restaurants with less than $500,000 in annual sales; many small, non-profit organizations; day care centers with less than $250,000 in gross annual revenues; hotels, motels apartments and condominiums with less than $500,000 in annual revenues; taxicab companies with less than $500,000 in total annual revenues; law firms and legal aid programs with less than $250,000 in gross annual revenues; art museums with less than $1 million in gross annual revenues; colleges, universities and secondary schools with less than $1 million in annual revenues; and newspapers with less than $200,000 in annual revenues.


Why no 'sign-out' card-check?

Sen. Kennedy says the Employee Free Choice Act gives workers a real choice, and doesn't take anything away. To be fair, the act should also allow a majority of workers to decertify a union with sign-out cards. Majority sign-out is also a fair and simple alternative. Why isn't it in the bill?

- Don Devine, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Sen. Kennedy misses a salient point. If secret ballot use in union organization elections were outlawed, any intimidation that might occur could just as likely come from fellow employees as employers. The pro/con union feelings run strong at the employee level and one's personal sympathies should be a private matter.

- Ronald E. Jarvi, Richmond, Calif.


Worker-choice plan panics labor-state unions

Business and labor leaders spent last week sparring over proposed changes to the state constitution, and despite the intervention of Gov. Bill Ritter, the battle may get nastier. Wednesday, a group called A Better Colorado filed 133,000 petitions with the secretary of state. Its goal is to add an amendment to the state constitution that would prohibit collective bargaining agreements, which require that workers be union members or pay union dues. They call their proposal the Colorado Right to Work Amendment.

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry has endorsed the measure; the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce has not yet taken a position.

Supporters argue that making workers join "union shops" violates workers' freedom. They also point to a study by a libertarian-leaning think tank that indicates employment in the 22 states with right-to-work laws has increased faster than in the 28 states without.

Unions oppose the measure and cite government statistics indicating that employees in right-to-work states earn less and have higher rates of workplace injury.

Though only 8 percent of Colorado workers are unionized, the Democratic hold on state government has led some in the business community to believe they must act now.

"Political change in this state has shifted in such a way that the rights of workers may be affected," said Kelley Harp, a spokesman for A Better Colorado. "Given the present political climate, it's important to bring it this year."

In response, the state's largest labor union has filed five initiatives of its own.

The United Food and Commercial Workers hopes voters will approve measures requiring employers to give workers an annual cost-of-living increase and mandate that companies with 20 or more employees provide medical insurance.

It is also asking that injured employees be able to sue employers outside of the workers' compensation system, that property taxes on businesses be raised and that corporations that move jobs from Colorado to foreign countries be prohibited from collecting tax credits.

The potential for a nasty fight in the fall as both sides campaign for their initiatives has led to Ritter's involvement. He met with supporters of the right-to-work initiative last week, but he was unable to persuade them to stand down.

Evan Dreyer, the governor's spokesman, said Ritter plans to stay involved and attempt to persuade both sides to back off.

"Keeping the conversation alive and open is vital to his ultimate goal of keeping (the initiatives) off the ballot," Dreyer said.

Though the campaigns to pass the pro-labor initiatives are still in the planning stages, two initiatives filed by Protect Colorado's Future, a coalition of progressive groups and unions, are moving ahead. They are unconnected with the food and commercial workers' proposals.

One would require that employers provide workers with reasons for their termination. Currently, workers can be fired at an employer's will, though Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future, said most businesses do give workers reasons.

"All we're doing is codifying something that's happening," he said.

The second would allow executives to be sued for damages if their company committed fraud. It would also hold them criminally responsible if they knew their company was failing to perform a task that is mandated by law.

Protect Colorado's Future is ready to start gathering signatures. Polls show that about 70 percent of the public supports the first proposed amendment and nearly 80 percent supports the second, Knox said.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce is fighting the proposals. It believes the just-cause initiative would require employers to enter into binding arbitration with workers and that the corporatefraud initiative will lead to "endless litigation," spokeswoman Kate Horle said.

The proposals are now before the Colorado Supreme Court, which must approve the wording. The Secretary of State's Office has already approved the ballot language.


SEIU stalks, harasses nurses at home

Roving bands of Service Employee International Union staff showed up on the home doorsteps of leaders of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Association Thursday, harassing and verbally threatening them in a disgraceful escalation of SEIU International's campaign against CNA/NNOC.

Video: "Ohio SEIU organizers visit CNA Board Member"

Notably, the attacks focused on women leaders forced to confront squads of shouting, screaming people in an obvious attempt to intimidate and coerce our leaders into stopping our critique of the increasingly pro-corporate bent of SEIU International and its President Andrew Stern.

SEIU and its well paid army of defenders have gone to great lengths to present itself as a "progressive" union. Stern personally has been embraced by the corporate media and CEOs as the new face of a modern labor movement.

But in what world is stalking women in their homes and at nursing stations where they work a hallmark of a "progressive" union?

For that matter, how do you characterize deals with big employers that compromise public protections and patient safety standards and undermine your own union members' rights, as "progressive" or a laudable new direction for labor?

Thursday afternoon, CNA/NNOC Board member Margie Keenan, RN was home alone when she peered out her window to see four SEIU staff. When they saw her they started "screaming and trying to scare me" Kennan explained. She later learned that SEIU staff had first gone to her nursing unit in a Long Beach, Ca. hospital trying to find her.

A second CNA/NNOC Board member Debbie Cuaresma, RN found five young SEIU staff show up at her house taunting and yelling first at her, then at her daughter. "I am appalled that five bullies would come to my house with cameras and hurl abuse at my daughter. I believe this to be nothing less than a violation of my family's privacy," she says.

Even where two unions have some well chronicled differences, is this acceptable or moral behavior? Stern should immediately renounce the actions of his staff and cease and desist these despicable attacks against anyone who speaks out against his pro-corporate agenda.

These attacks continue a pattern of SEIU's paternalistic attitude toward a predominantly female workforce, and actions that portray women as chattel in deals he has signed, as SEIU's property because the union spent millions of dollars on a corporate campaign.

In Ohio, the subject of much debate, CNA/NNOC opposed a backroom deal SEIU signed with a Catholic hospital chain, after one such corporate campaign, under which the employer filed for an election without a single signed union card from RNs or other employees and even barring the employees from discussing the vote. The employer and SEIU cancelled the election when their shoddy deal was exposed and it was apparent they had only minimal support from those employees SEIU was purporting to represent.

What nearly occurred in Ohio was a shotgun wedding arranged by a paternalistic employer and a paternalistic union in which women are objects of trade rather than having a full and equal voice in their self-determination.

CNA/NNOC will not stand by while Stern and company threaten our leaders or staff, we will not allow them to force registered nurses into their union, and we will continue to speak out against their practices of discarding patient safety all so they can boost their bragging rights about how many members they've unionized.

There are numerous examples of such behavior. One of the most egregious is deals SEIU International has signed with corporate nursing home chains in California and Washington state.

Under a 2003 pact in California, SEIU agreed to oppose legislation requiring nursing homes to provide enough staff to keep patients safe and healthy, and to not report health care violations to state regulators except in extreme cases when required by law.

Five years later, according to a report cited in the Los Angeles Times this week, despite increased state funding for nursing homes, the direct result of SEIU lobbying, nursing homes are spending less in California on direct patient care, and reports of patient mistreatment have shot up.

Similarly, in partnership with hospital corporations, SEIU lobbied in California against the RN-to-patient minimum ratio law, and worked to erode the law after it was enacted.

In New York, SEIU joined with the Greater New York Hospital Association in supporting the closure of more than a dozen hospitals and nursing homes, proudly issuing a joint statement that "We are surely the only hospital association and health-care workers union in the history of the United States to support a process that could lead to the downsizing of our own industry."

For more information about SEIU’s efforts on behalf of employers, see our new website, www.ServingEmployersInsteadofUs.org.


Stern's thugs seize center stage at conference

When you are trying to put the movement back into the labor movement, you’re going to meet resistance. Labor Notes supporters are no strangers to heated debate—and the SEIU International is not the first union to protest at our conference. During the 1980s, for example, we saw opponents of the New Directions Movement inside the United Auto Workers put up picket lines outside our conference hotel and had BLAST—the Brotherhood of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters—try to intimidate Teamster reformers attending our events.

People are going to disagree and that is fine. There is no idea that can’t be discussed at a Labor Notes conference. We welcome debate on any and all issues facing the labor movement, including the heated dispute between the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) and the leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) over the best way to build power for health care workers. But that debate must take place with respect and free from intimidation. Despite being welcomed to the conference earlier in the day—and given space to debate supporters of the CNA/NNOC about neutrality organizing agreements—SEIU staff and members shouted down speakers at workshops and panels throughout the event.

At our Saturday night banquet hundreds of SEIU protesters stormed into our conference and confronted our volunteers and supporters. In 29 years we have never had a group of protesters attack our conference or the brothers and sisters who attend it. Violence has no place within our labor movement, and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it.


Socialists describe SEIU fascism

The Service Employees International Union turned their dispute with the California Nurses Association violent by attacking a labor conference April 12, injuring several and sending an American Axle striker to the hospital. A recently retired member of United Auto Workers Local 235, Dianne Feeley, suffered a head wound after being knocked to the ground by SEIU International staff and local members. Other conference-goers—members of the Teamsters, UAW, UNITE HERE, International Longshoremen’s Association, and SEIU itself — were punched, kicked, shoved, and pushed to the floor. Dearborn police responded and evicted the three bus loads of SEIU International staff and members of local and regional health care unions. No arrests were made.

The assault took place at the Labor Notes conference, a biennial gathering of 1,100 union members and leaders who met to discuss strategies to rebuild the labor movement.

David Cohen, an international representative of the United Electrical Workers, asked protesters why they came. He said one responded, “they told us just to get on the bus.” The protesters included several members with young children, who had to be ushered away when SEIU tried to force their way into the conference banquet hall. Protesters were targeting Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the AFL-CIO-affiliated CNA. DeMoro was scheduled to speak but declined to appear after threats were made against her union’s leadership.

Despite being welcomed to the conference earlier in the day—and given space to debate supporters of the CNA and the National Nurses Organizing Committee about neutrality organizing agreements—SEIU international and regional staff shouted down speakers at workshops and panels throughout the event.

“Labor Notes has always been a space for open debate, but when a union decides to engage in violence against their brothers and sisters, we draw a line,” said Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes. “Violence within the labor movement is unacceptable and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it.”


Kennedy false: No-vote means no-choice

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy writes (Letters, April 10) "It's not that the bill 'would outlaw secret ballots in union organizing elections.'" Instead, "... it gives workers -- not employers -- the choice about how to choose union representation: either by having an election or by using employee-signed cards, known as majority sign-up."

Yet, the AFL-CIO summary of the proposed bill states clearly that it: "Provides for certification of a union as the bargaining representative if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finds that a majority of employees in an appropriate unit has signed authorizations designating the union as its bargaining representative. Requires the board to develop model authorization language and procedures for establishing the validity of signed authorizations."

In other words, if only 50% of employees, plus one, sign cards -- not vote -- all employees are bound without a vote, without a campaign and without employer participation.

-Royal S. Dellinger, Rockville, Md.


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Hoffa keeps Barack on track

Organized labor is working overtime to get a Democrat elected president, flexing its once dominant muscles to try and get trade deals rewritten or canceled and secure passage of a proposal to boost membership. Some unions -- like the United Auto Workers, steelworkers and mine workers -- are waiting for the dust to settle before endorsing Illinois Sen. Barack Obama or New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. But Teamsters President James P. Hoffa isn't sitting on the sidelines.

Video: "Hoffa plugs Barack"

He interrupted breakfast one day last week at O'Grady's Family Restaurant in Reading to take a quick call. Obama wanted to know how things were going on the campaign trail.

Obama quizzed Hoffa, head of the 1.4-million member union, on how his weeklong tour of Pennsylvania to drum up support among the Keystone State's 83,000 Teamsters was going, six weeks after he endorsed Obama.

"The polls are going good, (Obama) said. We're closing," Hoffa said, recounting the brief chat he had with Obama about the Democratic presidential race with Clinton. Organized labor's clout has diminished as its ranks have thinned, but it still carries significant weight in the Democratic primaries, and Hoffa is doing all he can to make that count. He's stumping for Obama at every opportunity and trying to rally the union's members. On April 6, he met with 100 Michigan Teamsters stewards in Detroit to tout Obama.

"We've got to be a player," Hoffa said, explaining the union's Obama endorsement. "We're going to be a player for Obama."

Harry Katz, dean of the school of industrial relations at Cornell University, said unions still have "noticeable influence in elections" with financial resources and get-out-the-vote efforts.

"Members tend to vote in a strong majority direction consistent with what the official union position is," Katz said, adding that overall union membership has declined nationally to 12.1 percent of workers, reducing union clout.

Labor unions don't always have a great track record of picking winning candidates early, he said. The Teamsters endorsed former U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri in 2004.

"Strategically, it clearly helps them to declare a position if they guess right," Katz said. "But if they endorse the loser, it works against them."

In Pennsylvania, 13.6 percent of workers belong to unions. In Michigan, it's 19.6 percent, the sixth-highest in the nation. A survey said about 27 million votes came from union households in the 2004 presidential election, or about 22.3 percent of all votes.

The Teamsters endorsed Obama in February, after previously pledging to stay neutral in the campaign.

During his tour of Pennsylvania, Hoffa visited Teamsters at three work sites, including outside a Hershey candy plant that's closing in Reading at year's end, with production of York Peppermint Patties being shifted to Mexico. He rallied for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he reminded everyone was pushed through by former President Clinton.

But based on interviews with more than a dozen Teamsters members at three work sites in southwest Pennsylvania, Hoffa may have a rough road. Nearly all said they were undecided, while others voiced support for Clinton or Republican rival John McCain. Only a couple said they supported Obama.

"I really want to see what (Obama) has to say about the economy. I want a future for my two kids," said Danielle Simmers, 35, a receiver at a food warehouse in Pine Grove, Pa., where Hoffa spoke to more than 100 Teamsters.

Pennsylvania Teamsters also got recorded phone calls from Hoffa.

"Barack Obama is the man who can change America," Hoffa told a dozen truck drivers at the New Penn Terminal in Reading. "I looked in this guy's eyes. I believe him. I believe he can change this country."

Hoffa said Obama will renegotiate NAFTA. He will "sit down with the Mexicans and Canada and say, 'Hey, there has to be a new deal. We're losing jobs to you and this was never the intention.' "

Hoffa and other major union leaders want Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, a law that would make it easier for unions to organize new members. Business groups argue it unfairly tilts the table toward unions and could coerce workers into joining.

Some unions aren't jumping in.

The UAW has declined to make an endorsement, but UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has said the 475,000-member union would back the Democrat who wins the primary.

"The question: Where's the UAW? Just floating around out there. What do they intend to do? They could have a big impact," Hoffa said.

Clinton has sought to bolster her affiliations with unions and has visited two General Motors Corp. assembly plants this year.

"I drove here today in a car built by union members from steel made by union members, over roads laid by union members," Clinton told the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO on April 1. Obama visited a GM plant in Wisconsin.

Both candidates are working hard to court the union vote.

In an interview aboard a Teamsters semitrailer last week, Hoffa said the race was close.

"The longer it goes, the nastier it gets," he said. "It's like a big dead heat. It's like two guys in double, triple overtime just keep playing and playing and playing."

Clinton's lead has shrunk in Pennsylvania, with one poll putting her up 46 percent to 42 percent. Some have suggested Obama is closing the gap.

In Michigan, the race is up in the air. Obama hasn't campaigned in the state because of state Democrats' decision to move up the primary and his decision to pull his name off the ballot. Clinton, who was the only major candidate on Michigan's January ballot, won the Democratic primary.

Obama's tough criticism of Detroit's Big Three automakers made in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club in May 2007 could be an issue.

"That's not a good message," Hoffa said. "Probably doesn't help him in Michigan."


Teachers union tantrum rewarded

Little kids throw themselves on the floor in the supermarket. They scream and holler until mom buys them the sugar-doodle cereal. Ah! They get up and smile. They got what they wanted. They won. What a good feeling, knowing a temper tantrum really works. The Nashua (NH) Teachers' Union had a tantrum. Most people aren't sure if they won or not, since the tantrum has gone on for so long that most eyes glaze over when the subject comes up.

It was a good civics lesson for the students. Strikes are illegal but if you threaten to strike, break the law, and hold the whole city hostage, you can win.

The aldermen justify breaking the Right-to-Know Law by calling a meeting a non-meeting as they sat in on union negotiations where they had no legal business.

The mayor who wanted to do the right thing knowingly broke the open meeting law because of the dire consequences of not breaking the law.

The lesson learned?

The end justifies the means.

So, when a student may be late for class, let's not be too hard on him or her for speeding.

- Lucille Lapinskas, Nashua


Catholic teachers prep strike for Pope

It seems likely the Archdiocese of New York Lay Faculty Association will go on strike Tuesday morning if an agreement for a new contract isn't reached today. The Lay Faculty Association is a union representing lay teachers at 10 Roman Catholic high schools in the state, including Our Lady of Lourdes in Dutchess County. A spokesman for the archdiocese said Sunday it has no intention of changing its proposal.

"We have made an excellent offer to the union," spokesman Joseph Zwilling said. "I believe the Lay Faculty Association should accept the deal, and going on strike will not cause us to improve the offer that we've already made."

Lourdes, on Boardman Road in the Town of Poughkeepsie, had about 900 students as of 2007.

Harm to studies feared

Poughkeepsie resident Jim Noonan is a parent with a freshman and a senior attending Lourdes. He said a strike would be too big a disruption to students as they prepare for graduation and state examinations.

"I don't know all of the details, but I think there are some good points from both sides," Noonan said. "I just hope for a quick resolution so the kids can get back to school."

Henry Kielkucki, a spokes-man for the union, said his group submitted a new proposal to a mediator but declined to comment on its contents.

If an agreement isn't reached, the strike could coincide with Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the area. The pope is scheduled to visit Friday through Sunday. In honor of his visit, all Catholic schools in the archdiocese will be closed Thursday and Friday.

"The pope won't know we're on strike," Kielkucki said. "We chose it because so many people from the Catholic community are going to be there and we want them to know."

The union represents about 450 teachers at 10 schools from Poughkeepsie to Staten Island. Their contract expired Aug. 31.

Strife between the archdiocese and two teachers unions - the Lay Faculty Association and the larger Federation of Catholic Teachers - has grown in recent weeks. The archdiocese and faculty have argued over wages, health care and pensions.

Zwilling announced Friday a tentative four-year deal with the Federation of Catholic Teachers.

"We did not alter our offer for the first three years but agreed to add a fourth year to the deal," Zwilling said Sunday.

The union still must ratify the pact. The federation represents 3,000 teachers at 206 schools.


The most powerful union in New York

The New York State United Teachers, one of the state’s most powerful unions, got almost everything it wanted in this year’s budget. The union, with more than a half-million members, was able to defeat proposals to reduce the amount of foundation aid to local school districts, cut BOCES aid, and won passage of a measure prohibiting school districts from denying tenure to a teacher based on student test results.

NYSUT aggressively pursues its agenda in Albany. Since 2007, it spent more than $2.1 million on lobbying, including more than $500,000 on 12 full- and part-time lobbyists, and more than $700,000 in campaign contributions. That was enough to rank NYSUT as the top spender in 2007-08 of all lobbying groups in the state, according to the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying.

Two other education advocacy groups — United University Professions, a labor union representing 34,000 public college and university employees, and the United Federation of Teachers, another lobbying group — ranked second and third on the list, respectively.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY — a nonpartisan organization that advocates for clean elections and ethical standards for elected officials — said it’s not unusual for teachers’ unions to be active players in the political scene.

“There are people that would argue, ‘they’re in [government] pitching for the kids’ and there are other people who would argue that ‘they’re in there pitching for their members,’ ” she said.

Lerner believes there is too much of a “pay to play” atmosphere in state government, where money yields favors and influence. But that’s true of both business and labor, and of both political parties, she said. Common Cause advocates for public funding of campaigns and restrictions on campaign contributions made by lobbyists during the legislative season.

Terry Weiner, professor of political science at Union College and a Niskayuna School Board member, said one of the reasons why the union has such influence it that has so many members and they are distributed in each county in the state. “They constitute a political force that has to be reckoned with and that has an enormous impact on state politics,” he said.

Weiner said the union’s influence has grown dramatically since the 1950s and 1960s when it sought to improve wages for teachers relative to New York professionals. Instead of just focusing on working conditions, however, the union has taken the lead in other educational policy initiatives such as reducing class size and raising standards.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi defended the number of lobbyists on the payroll.

“We have a really solid core of probably a thousand local leaders, who know how to pick up the phone and [stay] in touch with our legislators and [let] them know what is important,” he said.

He noted that the more than $6 million raised for lobbying all came from voluntary contributions from members, not from union dues.

The union was not able to accomplish all of its goals in this budget session; higher education funding is less than last year’s level, which Iannuzzi said was “totally unacceptable.”

Some critics have accused the union of being an obstacle to education reform initiatives, such as merit pay for teachers. Iannuzzi said the union is not totally opposed to some form of performance pay, but he is not sure what criteria people would use to decide that some teachers are meritorious. Also, the union opposes use of test scores to determine tenure or merit pay.

“There is no connection between a student performance exam and what you would be looking for to define a quality teacher,” he said. “It’s simply not a instrument that was designed to evaluate a teacher’s performance. It’s like using a vehicle emissions test to decide whether or not the brakes work on a car.”

Contrary to being an obstacle of change, Iannuzzi said the union has probably been more of an agent of reform than anyone else.

“I would point to all of the work that NYSUT has done itself on addressing the achievement gap,” he said. The union has invested massive amounts of time, energy and resources into this initiative to help raise the education level of students in low-income areas to match those of wealthier communities, Iannuzzi said. In the fall, the union held a conference on the topic as part of its effort.

“Very often the simplistic response, especially from the School Boards Association, is that the union is in the way, and that response is generally their way of rolling up their sleeves and coming to the table to work collaboratively to make things happen,” he said.

David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, said most of the time NYSUT and his organization are on the same side of the issues.

“We’re both looking to improve instruction, get higher graduation rates, advance public education in general,” he said.

Both also oppose tax caps. One issue where they disagree is teacher tenure. The School Boards Association believes that the local school boards should have discretion in deciding who gets tenure and be able to take into account factors like whether the teachers are involved with extracurricular activities after school or provide mentoring.

The School Boards Association believes the “one size fits all approach” of having the Board of Regents establish a statewide criteria for tenure will not work. The association also wants schools to be able to use student test scores as a criteria. “We don’t think that testing should be the sole criteria for granting tenure, but we think that school boards ought to have the ability to use that as one of the criteria,” he said.

Kajal Lahira, distinguished professor of economics at the University at Albany, said tenure is an important issue. Since teacher salaries are relatively low, minimizing the risk that teachers would be let go is important.

Lahira said the union has worked aggressively to restrict efforts to impose tax caps.

“It hurts schools since the school’s major expenses is teacher salary,” he said.


Labor-state trickery curbs non-union labor

New York lawmakers have changed a decades-old law that critics maintain inflates costs of public construction projects. But the reform is not sufficient enough to have much benefit upstate, business leaders and school officials said. The state Legislature, in the final hours of the budget process, changed the Wicks Law, which required the hiring of four separate contractors on public projects, including ones done by school districts, if the value of the project is more than $50,000.

While the law was originally intended to prevent subcontractors from billing fraud, critics have argued the law has outlived its usefulness and drives up construction costs, which are, in turn, passed on to taxpayers.

The change, approved by lawmakers, increases the thresholds for triggering the Wicks Law to $3 million in New York City, $1.5 million in downstate suburbs, and $500,000 in upstate. It's the first time the law has been adjusted for inflation since the 1960s.

The reforms "prove that when we work together, we can get real results for the people of New York," Gov. David A. Paterson said. The change will cut New York City's long-term construction costs by more than $200 million and save upstate governments millions as well, supporters said.

But upstate officials were far less enthusiastic, saying the change is heavily weighted toward downstate and will have only limited impact upstate.

The impact will be limited because the threshold for upstate remains too low, said Catherine Glover, president and CEO of the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce. "Upstate is being shortchanged," she said. "Anything other than a free and open bidding process fails the public."

Kenneth Adams, president of the Business Council of New York State, also said the threshold is too low, and the changes are not significant enough to create savings upstate.

While several school districts in the Southern Tier will be undertaking construction projects to upgrade their buildings over the next few years, most of these projects are multimillion-dollar ones, far exceeding the new threshold.

"When schools do projects they are generally more than $500,000," said John Mauro, business manager in the Johnson City Central School District. Johnson City, for example, is now planning a $12 million project, he said.

"In today's dollars, $500,000 doesn't get you a lot of work," said Tom Keenan, director of facilities and operations for the Binghamton City School District.

Lawmakers from the Southern Tier also were less than thrilled. While the change is a step toward reforming the Wicks Law, the disparity between upstate, downstate and New York City remains too high, said Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo, D-Endwell.

The Legislature's reform also includes a provision that 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 that requires the use of union labor.

The provision upsets some business officials because, they said, it will force all contractors to pay union-level wage rates, driving up labor costs and shutting out non-union contractors.

The process of changing the law left something to be desired, said Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton. Instead of rushing change as part of the budget bill, the Legislature should have debated changes in the Wicks Law separately and more openly.


UAW serves another strike-notice on GM

UAW workers at GM's Wyoming plant sent the message they want a contract sooner than later. Paperwork has been filed and talks about a possible strike if both sides don't get to the bargaining table. The union put the plant on notice Friday, giving them five days to propose a new agreement. If nothing happens, another five day notice will go out, and after that, it could be strike time.

The union's main issue is the plant trying to bring outsiders in, even though skilled trade workers are already on staff.

But those employees will cost more than new employees.

The UAW and GM came to terms on a national contract last fall, but some local contracts remain up in the air.

Negotiations have been on and off since last July, but both sides will be back to the table Monday.


AFSCME: Barack blasphemed PA voters

Drivers on Sixth Avenue in Altoona honked Sunday morning at a small group holding signs declaring, “I am not bitter,” “Hillary will fight for us” and “Obama snubs Pennsylvania.” A group of eight union members and supporters of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton demonstrated outside opponent Sen. Barack Obama’s Altoona office at 3961 Sixth Ave. in response to his comments last week that small-town Pennsylvanians facing hard economic times are bitter.

Clinton responded that Obama is out of touch with voters and that she has found Pennsylvania voters “resilient” and “optimistic.”

“We’re out here to illustrate the fact that Barack Obama blasphemed central Pennsylvania,” Ted Manna said from underneath a large Penn State umbrella in the morning drizzle.

“He’s just totally out of touch with voters in Pennsylvania, said Manna, staff representative of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Manna said the nation needs a leader like Clinton, particularly her health care support.

“It definitely has to identify Obama as not the candidate that the numbers showed earlier,” he said of polls showing Obama gaining on Clinton’s Pennsylvania lead. “This clearly identifies Hillary as a more valuable and sensitive person that we would need.”

Even out-of-state Clinton supporters brought the campaign to Pennsylvania, such as Michelle Pancoe of Buffalo, N.Y., a teacher and member of the American Federation of Teachers.

Pancoe campaigned in Ohio and came to volunteer in Pennsylvania while on spring break.

“I’m absolutely shocked he would characterize an entire state based on maybe a few Pennsylvanians he met,” she said. “I think we saw what he truly felt.”

Laura Peters, a volunteer from Iowa who will remain here until after the April 22 primary, called Obama’s comment “very bothersome” and said she doesn’t think he has the experience to be president.

Obama’s campaign Sunday released a letter in response to the criticism signed by community leaders and elected officials across the state.

The letter states that Obama was correct and that communities believe Washington has ignored them as jobs ship overseas and costs rise.


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