Insider account of SEIU's violent thuggery

A few people have asked for the real deal on the disruption at the Labor Notes conference by a group of SEIU officials and members. Here it is, for those interested...

SEIU Officials Have a Blast

It was a weird scene: busloads of SEIU officials and members trying to bust into a conference of labor progressives -- bullying, punching and chanting in a scene that gave me flashbacks to the Teamster officialdom of yesteryear.

Video: "RNs Condemn Violent SEIU Attack at Conference"

I had heard that SEIU officials would storm the Labor Notes conference at its Saturday evening banquet, which would be packed, long sold-out. It was also the big fundraising event for Labor Notes, something that the organizers were no doubt quite concerned about. The SEIU picked that time because Rose Ann DeMoro, head of C.N.A. had been slated to speak at the banquet.

I told a few friends, including a Labor Notes staffer, that the reports were probably exaggerated. But the Labor Notes staff took it seriously, and made a statement at the Saturday morning session, before Anita Chan and Baldemar Velásquez spoke, that there could be problems, and appealed to all to debate and discuss contentious issues, but that no disruptions would be tolerated.

I knew there were about 13 SEIU officials who arrived as a group on Friday and registered. Two friends of mine had experienced in workshops the obnoxious participation of these folks. One co-worker told me they were rude disrespectful, but not at the level of real disruption. I figured if they disrupted the banquet, the crowd would spontaneously holler ‘respect’ or ‘let her speak’ and they would be embarrassed and subdued. Was I wrong.

When the invasion occurred, I was far from the action. I was peacefully eating my salad with 900 others (there were 1100 at the conference but the banquet hall couldn’t hold all of them so they didn’t sell banquets past the limit.) I was near the podium and far from the doors where the confrontation took place.

My reports below are based on hearing from careful observers on the spot; where they conflict with press releases, consider the source. At least 3 buses of SEIU officials and members arrived, either all or mostly from 1199 Ohio. Some SEIU reps and organizers were recognized by participants. A few in the advance line, at the point of confrontation, wore bandana masks to avoid ID or pictures, but in at least one case, an LN participant pulled the mask off the SEIU official. There were 200 at most. The C.N.A press release said 500, and the SEIU press release said 800; so the C N A exaggerated, and the SEIU (they surely knew the number) simply multiplied by four.

They arrived at exterior glass hotel doors near the banquet hall. They beat on the glass and chanted while hotel staff eyed them from inside, a bit removed from Labor Notes participants, who were in the banquet room or still streaming into it.

One of their inside people slipped past the hotel staff and opened the door from the inside, and they flooded in.

The delay there gave some participants time to organize a thin line of defense across the three sets of double doors leading into the banquet hall. The doors were closed and volunteer participants stood guard at them, some with locked arms. The Labor Notes staff had recruited a number of these people, including several long time Teamsters who have seen duty with Teamster thugs.

The advance line of SEIU staffers led the chanting group forward and pushed and punched and tried to break in, and almost did. My friend Dan Campbell had his glasses broken from a glancing punch.

Several Teamsters and others who remember "BLAST," the "Brotherhood of Loyal Americans and Strong Teamsters" of the mid-1980s, inevitably discussed the scene by way of compare-and-contrast with that Teamster goon squad.

Campbell told me that they were a light-weight version of BLAST. The conference volunteers managed to hold their ground, although they were vastly outnumbered.

Jim West, now a professional photographer and formerly a Labor Notes editor, said they were determined to break in and disrupt, and almost succeeded.

Several Labor Notes participants were assaulted or injured. One was Dianne Feeley, a retired Detroit auto worker. She was assaulted and knocked down, leaving her face covered in blood. She was taken to the ER, but was able to come back to the conference the next day.

She seems an unlikely target for SEIU officials chanting about union busters, since Dianne had helped organize a couple hundred participants to go to the American Axle strike line earlier that day. She retired from American Axle a few years ago and has been on their picket line regularly over the past 7 weeks.

Another BLAST parallel was the composition of the SEIU force. It was led by officials, but many behind them were rank and file members who had been "mobilized." A friend talked to some of them and found out they didn’t know that they were brought to invade a national (and international) labor event. One said they were told it was a meeting of union busters. A few had children with them, so they were hardly prepared for a confrontation. Minus the children, this was generally the BLAST composition: the well-organized union staff up front, and behind were rank and filers who may or may not know who or why they were attacking.

I became aware of what was happening when I saw the from across the hall the doors closed, but one came open and SEIU signs and a loud commotion were at the opening. Simultaneously one of their insiders sneaked on the podium and grabbed the mike and started yelling about union busters. A retired Teamster, Gary Brooks, who films for Labor Beat, was up front and I heard him startle her by saying put down his personal mike "before you break it." Two Labor Notes staffers escorted her off the stage. The hotel wait staff passed the "assemble" signal and abruptly left the hall, retreating to the kitchen area to avoid any potential violence.

It was clear that they intended to muscle their way into the crowded room and disrupt by marching, chanting, encircling, taking over the podium, etc. In that, they failed. Within minutes they left, chanting "We’ll be back"

The SEIU press release on this disgraceful disruption was other-worldly. Has Leebove gone back to work for them? It states that "Open debate serves an important role as we work to strengthen our movement. The Labor Notes Conference is the right time and place to discuss our differences." Say what?

Were they bussing in confused (a.k.a. "mobilized") members led by staffers to bust into a full banquet, to "discuss and debate?"

They easily could have "discussed and debated," and their inside group did just that, though apparently not in a way designed to convince, more to show how verbally tough they are. The SEIU International could have asked to lead a workshop or send a speaker.

The Teamster BLAST squad, which in 1983 did break into a TDU convention and disrupt and delay it, also issued a press release from Leebove saying they were there to debate.

Here’s who they were going to disrupt and silence, had they succeeded:

First, De Moro wasn’t there. She didn’t show, apparently anticipating some kind of problem. The Labor Notes staff showed a 4-5 minute video of her giving greetings to the event. The SEIU officials knew this long in advance, as it was announced in the morning session, presumably with their inside force listening.

The speakers that evening were assembled next to the podium at the time of the disruption. They were

* A disabled (due to lung disease) building trades unionist, a 9-11 rescue volunteer, who has devoted himself to winning benefits and recognition for the 9-11 rescue workers and those in other disasters.
* The Local 235 American Axle & Manufacturing strikers. Three strike leaders and activists took the stage for a short and rousing speech.
* The workers at the Baltimore Camden Yards who are part of United Workers of Baltimore. who won a living wage for the stadium cleaners.
* Three members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

If only those "mobilized" SEIU rank and filers could have heard these folks, they might have found they had a whole lot in common with the speakers and the conference attendees.

I thought the conference was terrific. I wasn’t there most of Friday, but attended all three main sessions and three excellent workshop sessions and was able to meet and make contacts with some impressive people.

I know almost nothing of the flash point of the C.N.A – SEIU dispute in Ohio. I certainly know the unions have been at odds off and on for years. Whatever the merits of the SEIU International’s viewpoint, sending a squad to disrupt a labor conference for the "crime" of having the head of C.N.A speak there was a disgusting move, and a dangerous one if it continues to happen.

I can’t help but think there was something about the gathering itself that seemed threatening to the SEIU International. I think De Moro is on the AFLCIO Executive Council, but I doubt the SEIU will be disrupting there chanting that John Sweeney is a union buster for sitting with De Moro. The C.N.A. is on good terms with the Teamster leadership in Northern California. Will the SEIU International be busting up any meetings they may hold with De Moro present?

Their press release was headed "SEIU Members Stand Up for the Future of the Labor Movement." Doesn’t seem like a future that I’m interested in. I saw it in the past, and would like to keep it there.

- Ken Paff, National Organizer with the TDU (Teamsters for a Democratic Union)


No-vote unionization law vetoed in Hawaii

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a bill Monday that would replace secret ballot elections for union representation with a simple petition. The so-called "card-check" bill would replace a current law that requires an election by secret ballot when workers attempt to organize.

House Bill 2974 requires that union organizers only need to gather signatures from a majority of employees that favor forming a union.

The legislation is modeled after the Employee Free Choice Act, currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress.

HB 2974 has the support of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO, the ILWU Local 142, the Hawaii Government Employees Association and other labor groups.

The unions have said the card-check process is simply "streamlining" the present system and making it less "coercive" by toning down the rhetoric on both sides that typically accompanies such elections.

But the bill is opposed by the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association and the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, who say the bill undermines workers' rights because it removes the anonymity of the election process.

"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," Lingle, a Republican, said in a statement. "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."

The Legislature has until May 1 to override the governor's veto. A two-thirds majority in both chambers is required.


Union slaps SEIU with RICO lawsuit over raids

Allied International Union has filed a civil complaint under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which charges Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ and others with racketeering, extortion, fraud and other illegal activities. Unlike a number of recent employer-initiated RICO cases against SEIU, this lawsuit is brought by a labor union to end unlawful SEIU conduct.

Filed in United States District Court, Southern District of New York, the lawsuit calls for a jury to hear charges that for more than two years, SEIU officials at the local and international level have engaged in and continue to engage in an illegal conspiracy to destroy the Allied International Union (AIU) and to illegally manipulate its 6,800 members as part of an attempt by SEIU to raid AIU’s membership. The AIU represents security professionals in New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and California.

“The RICO Act contains specific legal remedies for private parties that have been harmed by illegal racketeering,” said Dennis Devaney, attorney for the AIU. In its complaint the AIU asserts that the SEIU has knowingly and repeatedly violated federal racketeering laws in a long campaign to drive the Allied International Union out of existence.

The AIU complaint charges that SEIU and related parties are extorting AIU and its members by, among other things, using SEIU member dues to conduct smear campaigns against AIU officers, paying for puppet candidates to run in AIU elections, and coercing agencies that hire AIU members to take damaging economic actions against AIU.

The consequences of a civil RICO claim are severe. Plaintiffs can recover attorney fees and treble damages for injuries proved to have been caused by the defendants. In addition to SEIU Local 32BJ, the suit also names SEIU Local 1877 (Los Angeles) and SEIU International as defendants, along with SEIU officials Michael Fishman, Neil Diaz and Andrew Friedman.

The case number for the complaint is 08-cv-3357, and the lawsuit is before U.S. District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein.

The Allied International Union is dedicated to serving its members who protect the public, building owners, universities, state and municipal agencies, and airports in the New York City metropolitan area, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, California. The union represents only security professionals. With more than 6,800 members in numerous states, the Allied International Union has worked for more than 35 years to represent its members effectively on wages, benefits, safety and health issues, and job security.

Contact: For a copy of the complaint and supporting materials contact AIU’s attorney, Dennis Devaney, at 248.205.2766. Visit our website at www.alliedinternationalunion.com.


Gov. hot to preserve forced-labor unionism

In an effort to defuse a ballot confrontation between business and labor, Gov. Bill Ritter reportedly is offering to use his veto pen to maintain peace in exchange for withdrawal of several contentious ballot initiatives.

Ritter has proposed to veto any future legislation that would change Colorado's existing labor laws, if supporters of business- and labor-backed workplace measures agree to withdraw them from the November ballot, according to a South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce executive familiar with the Ritter offer.

The deal calls for removal from the ballot of the "right to work" initiative that would impose restrictions on union organizing, as well as a series of union-backed measures that would increase worker benefits and protections.

If both sides withdraw their initiatives, Ritter would agree to veto any legislation that would change the Labor Peace Act, a 65-year-old series of laws that governs the way unions can organize Colorado workers.

Business groups and unions could end up spending millions of dollars to support their respective proposals and to fight their opponents if the measures make the ballot.

The Ritter offer appears to be crafted to appeal to some business groups that favor a keep-the-peace approach to business and labor relations.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has previously said he would focus his efforts on urging voters to defeat all the proposals backed by business groups and unions.

The South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce has taken a "vote no" position on each of the business and labor ballot proposals.

"Why do we need 'right to work' and why do we need the labor initiatives?" said John Brackney, president of the group, which represents 1,600 businesses with 100,000 employees in south metro Denver.

If accepted, Ritter's proposal would be "a huge victory for allowing us to fight the other fights we need to address in Colorado — education, transportation, renewable energy and the state of the economy," Brackney said.

According to Brackney, Ritter chief of staff Jim Carpenter briefed Brackney on the peacekeeping proposal last week.

Colorado union officials also said they have been informed of the Ritter plan.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer would not confirm details of the proposal but said Monday that "there are a number of discussions underway about how to get all of these measures off the November ballot. One of the things Gov. Ritter has talked about conceptually is preserving the Colorado Labor Peace Act."

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has taken no official position on any of the ballot initiatives. But chamber president Joe Blake and other officials of the group have been lobbying to get all the measures off the ballot.

Colorado's Labor Peace Act requires two separate votes by employees to create all-union workplaces. That requirement has resulted in a relatively small number of union shops in the state.

"If you could preserve the Labor Peace Act, if that could be the whole outcome of this rattling of sabers, that would be the best outcome," Blake said in a recent interview.

The chief backer of the right-to-work initiative, a group calling itself A Better Colorado, would not comment on the Ritter plan.

"Negotiations that have taken place or that will take place are private," said spokesman Kelley Harp. "At this point, the campaign is moving forward."


Cowardly Stern ducks rank-and-file dissidents

This morning, more than a dozen rank-and-file UHW members traveled to SEIU local 1021's headquarters in San Francisco. We were there in an effort to meet Andy Stern as he was addressing 1021's executive board. Our intentions were peaceful. We did not want to disrupt the E-board's meeting. We merely wanted two minutes of Andy Stern's time to discuss our rank-and-file's request to discuss our Platform for Change within SEIU. It's a discussion that we've asked to have for months, without any commitment from President Stern.

We arrived at the 1021 office and were told by staff that we were not welcome, and that we could not enter. The door was closed on us. Later, however, the staff person informed us that the E-board had been notified that we were in the lobby and would be coming out to speak with us.

During that time, one of our rank-and-file members, Ernest Gonzales, saw Andy Stern leaving in an SUV. He had apparently snuck out the back entrance of 1021's offices. Ernest waved for Andy to stop and speak to us, but he drove off instead.

We did get a response from 1021's E-board, and were told that they would not be able to give us two minutes of the E-board's time. There was an E-board member outside who told us that not even their union members get to address the E-board, unless they ask for time days in advance. We were finally told that we would be granted some time on next month's E-board agenda, and would be informed of the time and location.

We were very respectful, and were puzzled with why the president of our International union would refuse to meet with rank-and-file union members. The invitation still stands: Andy you need to meet with the rank-and-file of UHW. We'll even buy the lunch.


Here's how it happened...

By Ernest Gonzales, Materials Management Technician, St. Louise Regional Hospital, Gilroy, CA

This afternoon I was visiting local 1021 with other rank-and-file members of UHW. I was by the rear entrance of the building, and I turned to see Andy Stern jumping into the back of a white SUV with tinted windows. The SUV was double parked and waiting for him. He was being escorted by a staff member of local 1021. He was accompanied by a woman who I did not recognize.

When I saw him jump into the car, I ran to the side of the SUV facing the sidewalk, where it was double parked. I waved my hands in the air to try to get him to stop. I got up to Stern's window, but the car just took off.

I was right there - I know that he saw me. I was hoping to invite Andy to come talk to us rank-and-file members of UHW. The invitation still stands, and we are still waiting.


Andy Stern's ironic, violent SEIU thugs

Read the latest SEIU stories: here.

A national union of nurses has accused members of the Service Employees International Union of physically assaulting some of its members at a labor conference in Michigan this past weekend. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, an 80,000-member group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, also charged SEIU members with stalking and harassing its members in recent weeks. On Saturday night, union officials said, about 800 SEIU members converged at a Dearborn, Mich., hotel and pushed their way into a conference organized by a labor magazine, Labor Notes.

Video: "RNs Condemn Violent SEIU Attack at Conference"

"It's disgraceful," a spokesman for the union of nurses, Charles Idelson, said. "That is just unconscionable and inexcusable."

According to witnesses, several hundred SEIU members forced their way into the hotel, shoving conference attendees. Witnesses said a 68-year-old woman, Dianne Feeley, was thrown to the ground and was taken to a local hospital to be treated for a cut on her head. "It was a scary situation," the editor of Labor Notes, Chris Kutalik, whose arm was bruised during the skirmish, said. "It just seems ironic. The whole point of the conference was to promote unity."

SEIU officials presented a different account, saying protesters were mostly women and children who gathered to demonstrate peacefully. Officials denied any physical assault on conference attendees.

The two sides disagree on the basis for the dispute. According to a spokeswoman for SEIU, Linda Tran, the California Nurses Association interfered with a labor vote in Ohio last month, ultimately preventing nurses from joining SEIU. She also said the union of nurses has a history of building its membership by "raiding" other unions.

Mr. Idelson said SEIU has wrongfully partnered with employers, making decisions that are not always in the best interest of its members.


Nurses still have time to opt-out of new union

Altoona (PA) Regional Health System registered nurse Kim Stultz, who works in the dialysis unit, said some nurses favored and some opposed representation by the Service Employees International Union.

But in the aftermath of the nurses’ ratification of their first-ever contract last week, no one was upset with anyone else in dialysis.

‘‘We all just want to get back to our routine and our jobs,’’ said Stultz, who’s thankful administration negotiated a difficult ‘‘opt-out’’ clause allowing those who don’t join the union to avoid representation fees in lieu of dues.

Nurses who want to stay clear of the union will need to notify SEIU with a letter postmarked within the opt-out period, which ends Wednesday, hospital spokesman Dave Cuzzolina wrote in an e-mail.

The hospital ‘‘is neither encouraging nor discouraging nurses regarding union membership,’’ he wrote. ‘‘We simply want them to know they have a choice.’’

Opt-out is a common compromise when parties are ‘‘apart on union security,’’ said Jerry Kobell, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board.

Nurses who signed union cards — even if only to vote on the contract or a proposal they rejected March 18 — can change their minds.

Newly hired nurses, however, will need to join or pay representation fees, at least until a second weeklong opt-out period near the end of the contract, which expires Dec. 31, 2010.

This can be a critical provision, Kobell said, because otherwise, ratification of new contracts before expiration of existing ones could keep anyone who joined from ever changing his or her mind.

The law doesn’t allow contracts to mandate union membership, although it allows them to mandate representation payments as reimbursement for the union’s obligatory representation of all workers in the bargaining unit for wages, benefits, grievances and arbitration.

The parties are free to negotiate other union security arrangements that could change the rules for the next contract, including elimination of opt-out, Kobell said.

While nurses can’t get out of the union except during opt-out, they can join at any time. Without union membership, they are shut out from union meetings, union votes, the right to run for office and the annual picnic, Kobell said.

Phone messages left with two nurses who led the unionization drive were not returned.


Union organizers fight for Foxwoods dues

Lately there has been an influx of unionization efforts at Foxwoods Resort Casino. And for the most part, each of those efforts has stuck to the same pattern. But on Monday, the United Auto Workers union shook things up a bit. The UAW filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board in Hartford Monday afternoon seeking to unionize slot technicians at the casino — technicians who are also being courted by another union.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which filed paperwork last week, and the UAW have each filed petitions with the labor board seeking to unionize slot technicians, electronic bench technicians, field service technicians and senior field service technicians. Both stated in their petitions that at least 30 percent of workers in the prospective bargaining unit support their union's efforts.

The only difference between the two petitions is that the UAW included workers at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, which is scheduled to open May 17.

“It's beginning to look like a feeding frenzy, with the unions fighting among themselves for who will try to collect the dues and initiation fees from Foxwoods employees,” said Steve Heise, vice president of human resources at Foxwoods, in a prepared statement. “This suggests that the unions may be more interested helping the unions' treasuries than in helping employees.”

The UAW also filed a second petition Monday, seeking to unionize racebook writers and dual-rate racebook writers in the casino's off-track betting area. That petition is the fifth to be filed at Foxwoods seeking to unionize workers.

The UAW filed its first petition last year seeking to unionize table-game and poker dealers. An election was held in late November in which dealers voted in favor of union representation.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods, is currently appealing an administrative law judge's ruling, delivered in March, that stated that the results from the election should be certified.

The International Union of Operating Engineers was up next, and an election date has been set for May 1.

The IBEW followed, filing its petition last week.

And finally, the UAW filed its two petitions on Monday.

The Mashantuckets have questioned the NLRB's jurisdiction as each petition has been filed, and has continued to question the applicability of the National Labor Relations Act to the tribe and its casino.

As for the overlapping petition in relation to slot technicians, the UAW released a statement Monday evening in which a poker dealer said “another union jumped into Foxwoods at the last minute.”

“These things happen from time to time and there are AFL-CIO procedures to sort this out,” said Steve Peloso, a 16-year dealer at Foxwoods, in a prepared statement released by the UAW. “We're sure that, in the end, the slot techs will be part of our great union effort.”

But John Shalvey, lead organizer for the IBEW Local 99, said the UAW began collecting union authorization cards from workers in this particular unit at the same time that it was collecting cards from dealers.

When a petition was filed on behalf of the dealers, but not the slot technicians, those workers felt like they had been “left at the altar,” said Shalvey. So workers sought out the IBEW.

“From what I understand, we have overwhelming support,” Shalvey said, adding that the IBEW has support of 70 percent of the workers in the potential bargaining unit.

A hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday in Hartford. Attorneys for the tribe and the IBEW will discuss any issues they have about the bargaining unit or holding a union election.

Both unions are affiliates of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a voluntary federation of 56 national and international labor unions, and it is possible that the group may step in and ask one of the unions to withdraw its petition.

Michael Cass, a supervisory examiner with the NLRB in Hartford, said there is a procedure set up to handle a situation such as this when a dispute arises between two AFL-CIO unions in which the group can step in and act as a mediator. If that happens, then the hearing could be delayed up to 40 days, he said.

“The whole basis of this is trying to avoid extra work for our agency, the unions or the employer,” said Cass. “So there's usually an attempt to resolve that situation before we move forward with the hearing.”

Representatives from the UAW would not comment on whether they would reach out to the AFL-CIO.

Shalvey said he is unsure whether the AFL-CIO will intervene, or if the union will simply move forward and see what the labor board decides after hearing testimony from both unions.


AFSCME picketed illegally v. privatization

Police quickly broke up a local custodian union's protest outside Dover (NH) City Hall Monday because the group did not secure a permit for the demonstration. About 10 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2932, Dover Custodial and Grounds, had gathered with signs and fliers to protest the School District's decision to privatize custodial services in the district's middle school and three elementary schools.

But police arrived shortly after the protest began at 4 p.m. and informed union members they needed a permit if they wanted to continue the demonstration.

Ken Hall, president of the AFSCME Local 2932, said he and another union member attempted to secure a permit after they were confronted by police, but the City Clerk's office was already closed for the day.

The City Clerk's office closes at 4 p.m. on Mondays.

"We only get a short time to talk during meetings and these other (private custodial service) companies get all this time with big presentations, and we barely got a chance at the labor board hearing," Hall said. "Now you're telling me we can't be out here talking to the public about it?"

Dover Police Sgt. Jeff Mutter said city ordinance mandates groups who intend to picket or protest to obtain a permit before the demonstration.

"Anytime any group or organization that wants to hold any kind of public gathering or protest of a particular issue would need to apply for a permit through the City Clerk's office," Mutter said.

Mutter said the union members disbanded peacefully and no tickets were issued.

Hall said the union will hold another, all-day, demonstration outside City Hall next Monday with the necessary permit.

"We'll be back at City Hall tomorrow to get a permit," Hall said.

The union protest is part of what a union representative called a "sustained campaign" to include the public in a dialogue about the School District's recent decision to award the private, Massachusetts-based UNICCO a contract to supply custodial services beginning in the 2008-09 school year.

Five union members, still wearing T-shirts bearing the name of the union, attended and sat silently during the School Board's regular meeting Monday night.


Teachers protest v. Pope, schools shut

A number of Catholic high schools in New York City and Westchester may be forced to close today after about 300 teachers vowed to picket over a contract dispute, a teacher's union spokesman said yesterday. The Lay Faculty Association said the strike is expected to last from today through the U.S. visit of Pope Benedict XVI, which begins Friday and ends Sunday, union spokesman Henry Kielkucki said.

The union, which represents 450 teachers in 10 schools in the city and in Westchester County, said a mediator made a counteroffer yesterday to the New York archdiocese that included a three-year contract.

The archdiocese's four-year offer, which was rejected, called for members to pay 10 percent of health benefits in the final year of the contract. Members "don't want to pay" it, Kielkucki said.

Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling didn't return calls yesterday.

No Catholic schools on Long Island would be affected.

The larger of the two teachers' unions, the Federation of Catholic Teachers agreed Friday to a four-year contract.

Federation spokeswoman Mary-Ann Perry said the settlement is not what teachers had sought, but called it "decent."

Kielkucki said the federation folded under archdiocese pressure and undermined the Lay Faculty Association, taking away any leverage.

"When they settle, it forces us to take the same settlement," he said.

Perry choose not to respond to Kielkucki's comments, saying only, "I am supportive of them," referring to the smaller union.

Teacher salary comparison

Most recent available estimated annual salaries for New York public and Catholic high school teachers:

Catholic teachers. $45,000

New York City public teachers. $52,947

New York teachers statewide. $55,665

Sources: New York State Department of Education 2004-2005 and Federation of Catholic Teachers


Gov't-unions kill state spending limit

After weeks of protest from county and city leaders a controversial plan to cap Florida state government spending has failed. The Tax Payer Bill of Rights would have limited how much taxes could be raised. While the plan sounded good opponents say it would have ruined the economy.

A powerful commission has voted against a so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, after opponents, like John Ratliff of SEIU Local 1991, argued the plan would cut money for police, fire, roads and schools.

“It sounds very nice - Taxpayer Bill Of Rights, the problem is what it really can do to our state.”

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission meets every 20 years. It’s made up of 25 appointed commissioners and has the authority to put tax issues on the November ballot. When opponents thought the vote would go against them, they attacked the commissioners.

Opponents of the plan are furious commissioners, not elected lawmakers, have the final say.

Doug Martin of AFSCME Florida Council 79, the public employees union, wasn’t happy.

“This isn’t about Florida; this is about the unelected millionaires. They don’t care about anybody, but about their money and it’s disgusting.”

Commissioner Mike Hogan sponsored the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

“Even the ones that are against it, they struggled with what they saw, how the government spent unrestrained.”

Ultimately he wasn’t able to convince enough commissioners to have his plan put on Novembers Ballot, which has local and even some state officials breathing easier.

A similar plan was passed in Colorado in 1992. People there voted to postpone the plan after city and county officials complained about failing schools and deteriorating roads.


School unions face big dues hit

The number of jobs that Manatee County (FL) school administrators now project are in jeopardy is roughly double an earlier estimate. Administrators informed the school board and the public in a meeting Monday night that the Manatee County school district could lose between 300 and 400 school-level positions in their effort to trim the 2008-09 operating budget.

Superintendent Roger Dearing also announced administrators will take a higher paycut - 1.5 times more than the proposed paycuts faced by other district employees.

"The leadership will take the cuts first," he said.

Districtwide, employees face a cutback to their 2006-07 salaries, he said. But all that hinges on the outcome of the negotiations with local labor unions.

To date, administrators say the two local unions, the Manatee Education Association and the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, have yet to set up bargaining dates.

"It's imperative to go into bargaining very soon to start these conversations with our unions so that our employees will know their employment status before the school year ends," Dearing said Monday.

By April 28, Dearing said, he would like to give the board a proposal on what the salary cuts will look like.

Also, the board scheduled a special meeting May 21 to talk about whether the district and the unions have reached an agreement on salaries and whether there will be layoffs.

Dearing said he was not in favor of layoffs.

"It does no good for the community to lay 300 to 400 people off work. It's no good for the local economy," he said.

Since only 16 percent of the operating budget goes to the district's support staff and 84 percent goes to schools, "we will not be able to shield schools from a cut this large," Dearing said.

"I want to reassure the public that I will do everything for anybody to go without a job," said School Board Chairwoman Barbara Harvey. "It may not be the job they want, but it's still a job."

Already, the district has informed many first- to third-year teachers on annual contracts that they would not be renewed for next year because the district has over-allocated positions at several schools in the past.

In the event of layoffs, teachers on annual contracts will go first, and some tenured teachers may have to be reassigned to other schools because of a seniority rule, Dearing said.

Becausethere are so many rumors worrying district employees, school board member Jane Pfeilsticker suggested that the district set up a hotline to quell the fears.

District employees aren't the only ones worried about how the cuts will affect schools and programs.

A group of Southeast High Future Farmers of America students appealed to the board to not transfer their agricultural science teacher to another school, as that would disband the program at the school.

"Please spare our chapter," Adam Shealy pleaded.

Dearing said he could not tell the board when the legislature will approve a budget since the state House and Senate have not agreed on one yet.


AFSCME defends tax-hike as pro-worker

The tax stands. An effort to increase citizen input led aldermen to reconsider the sales and motor fuel increases passed in March. At Monday night’s city council meeting, DeKalb (IL) 7th Ward Alderman Brent Keller and 1st Ward Alderman Bertrand Simpson joined 6th Ward Alderman Dave Baker in voting against the tax increase this time. However, their four fellow aldermen voted to keep it in place. This leaves the city’s sales tax rate at eight percent and keeps the two-cent motor fuel tax.

“Given that we have no alternative plan, it would be irresponsible of me [to vote against the tax],” said 4th Ward Alderwoman Donna Gorski.

All council members except Baker echoed Gorski’s sentiment.

Baker said the tax will put already suffering business owners at a disadvantage by sending consumer dollars to other, lower-taxed communities.

The reconsideration came in response to numerous citizens contacting aldermen over the increase, which many felt was brought to vote with too little input from the community and too little time to discuss alternatives.

“When you’re in a crisis, you have to pull out all the stops,” said DeKalb resident Lynn Fazekas during the citizen comment period. She added, however, the tax was passed “really fast” and she wants the council “to look for more cuts.”

Mike Taylor, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local 813, said the increases were done in response to a city-wide crisis. If the tax increases did not go into effect as planned, it would punish workers.

“AFSCME labor is not responsible for this crisis,” Taylor said, adding if the planned layoffs had gone through, the effect on city services would have been felt immediately.

Herb Rubin, a constant supporter of the increases in the interest of avoiding layoffs of city workers, said the time given for public input was insufficient. He asked the council to consider the 2009 budget and look for areas to cut before voting to rescind the tax increases.


Editor betrays intimidation by News Union

This is absolutely the wrong time for Colorado to enter into an acrimonious and extended labor/business dispute. Putting a right-to-work amendment on the fall ballot, even though it might win, is not a good idea during a time when business, industry and employees are feeling the pinch of an economic slowdown. And, there’s the issue of a retaliatory response from unions.

The rapidly growing dispute does not cast Colorado in a favorable light to companies that might be contemplating a move here. Nor does it help that union proposals, some of which would have a very negative effect on business, might also win voter approval.

The union proposals include requiring employers to grant annual cost of living increases, forcing businesses with more than 20 employees to provide health insurance and requiring companies to pay more property taxes.

Such constitutional meddling in private business would likely result in fewer people being hired because of sharply higher operating costs. It’s a given that this would have a chilling effect on business growth and development.

As business and labor square off, someone needs to remind the two sides that it’s rank and file Coloradans who will pay the price for this battle, regardless of who wins.

Gov. Bill Ritter, who has stirred the labor/business pot since being elected, has tried without success so far to stifle this dispute.


Pro-union journalism disguises front-groups

I was disappointed to see the Families USA report presented so uncritically as an unbiased "news" story, with little, if any, examination of the group behind this alarmist report ("Uninsured Utahns at risk of dying young," Salt Lake Tribune, April 9).

Families USA is headed by a variety of the usual labor union and left-wing activists. Ron Pollack, the founding executive director, was a Clinton administration official and has long advocated single-payer health care. Other directors include a Service Employees International Union official, a former official of a National Organization of Women affiliate and a consultant and advocate for TennCare (the failed Tennessee single-payer system).

Although Families USA claims to be "nonpartisan," it is, in fact, highly partisan to the left. What methodology was used in the report and how were its conclusions reached? Compliant newspapers, like The Tribune, essentially reprinted its press release with a few additions to give it a local flavor. Some enterprising reporter should uncover how a story with unsubstantiated background information and no fact-checking made it into the paper.

Chris Stern, American Fork, UT


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