Out-of-state union cash colors Penn. ballot

"He couldn't answer tough questions in the debate," Hillary Clinton's latest TV ad says of Barack Obama, finishing with an announcer warning, "There are more and more questions about Barack Obama. Maybe instead of attacking, he should answer them." Yes, folks, it's officially garbage time.

For the first 5 1/2 weeks of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary campaign, candidates ran ads with positive messages. Then 12 days ago Clinton tiptoed into attack mode with a radio spot hitting Obama on oil industry contributions and energy policy.

Clinton followed with a TV ad, Obama responded, and now both campaigns are finishing the campaign with negative spots and mutual accusations of unfair and misleading attacks.

And an organization of Clinton supporters that's allowed to raise money in amounts exceeding legal limits for the candidates themselves has spent $428,000 on the Pennsylvania race.

The American Leadership Project, registered to a San Francisco address in February, takes advantage of a seam in election law to raise money in large amounts for advertising that in this case mentions candidates by name, but doesn't expressly advocate a vote.

An ALP ad that aired in recent days attacked Obama's health-care plan and praised Clinton. Obama then responded with an ad attacking Clinton's plan, which the Clinton campaign responded to with another ad attacking Obama's plan.

The largest contributors to the ALP are the public employee union AFSCME, which gave $200,000, and the machinists union, which contributed $100,000.

The group's ad ends with a phone number, urging viewers to "call Barack Obama and tell him to support health care for all Americans."


SEIU thug Stern due in court May 1

Related story: "Stern-ordered SEIU violence caught on video"
Related video: "SEIU's violent eruption up-close, on-scene"

Poor Andy Stern. For more than a year, the head of the powerful Service Employees International Union has been running a political campaign against private equity firms to allow him to organize workers at the companies they own. Mr. Stern's problem is that even his fellow labor leaders seem to think this is a bad idea.

This month in California, the SEIU suffered a major setback when a bill that would have restricted state pension fund allocations to sovereign wealth-backed private equity firms was shelved by lawmakers. The measure was Mr. Stern's brainchild, and its ostensible purpose was to target sovereign wealth funds in countries with spotty human rights records.

The real impetus for the bill, however, was to help the SEIU organize employees of ManorCare, a nursing home chain owned by the Carlyle Group private equity firm. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, another private equity outfit and owner of the Hospital Corporation of America, has also been a major target of Mr. Stern's campaign.

The SEIU wanted to ratchet up the pressure on Carlyle and others by cutting off two gigantic sources of private equity capital: the California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (Calstrs), which manage $240 billion and $167 billion of assets, respectively.

Mr. Stern figured that by obscuring his real motives with lofty human rights concerns, the bill would surely pass the ultra-liberal state Assembly. But a list of human rights violators that included Singapore and Abu Dhabi but not China raised eyebrows. It turned out that Mr. Stern included Singapore and Abu Dhabi because they invest with Carlyle. China got a pass because its sovereign wealth fund invests with the Blackstone Group private equity firm, and the SEIU has negotiated janitorial agreements with Blackstone real-estate companies.

In other words, human rights were at best an afterthought for Mr. Stern, whose real goal was expanding his own political clout. Mr. Stern's campaign against private equity is typically expressed in moral terms on behalf of "working families," but in Mr. Stern's moral universe all is forgiven if you play ball with his union. And once this became clear he began losing political support.

Mr. Stern also didn't count on opposition from the state pension funds, whose lobbyists stopped the bill in committee before it ever came to a vote. "You cannot close off one of the main sources of high returns and think that it's not going to impact California's teachers' retirement," said a spokesman for Calstrs, whose board voted last month to oppose the legislation. The chief investment officer of Calpers, which is the nation's largest public pension fund and has about $40 billion committed to private equity firms, told state lawmakers that the bill would also have a negative impact on his fund.

Calstrs and Calpers estimated that their funds would lose a combined $7.5 billion in the first five years alone under Mr. Stern's bill. "If you're denied access, by law, to the best performing investment players," said Calstrs CEO Jack Ehnes, "by definition you're going to start putting your money in mediocre investments."

Ever since the SEIU broke from the AFL-CIO three years ago, its ability to prosper has depended on growing the union. Sometimes the union's efforts to expand have even led it afoul of the law.

Last week, a court in Oakland issued a restraining order against Mr. Stern and the SEIU over allegations that SEIU members stalked, harassed and physically assaulted members of the California Nurses Association, a competing health care union. Mr. Stern has to show up in Alameda County Superior Court on May 1.

Like the nurses, Calpers and Calstrs have had the sense and wherewithal to push back against the SEIU's bullying. As they see it, Andy Stern's war on private equity would kill the goose that lays golden eggs for their retirees. His bill would have prevented them from maximizing their returns, which happens to be their fiduciary duty. It's also what's best for working families.


UAW strikers help GM cope with slow-down

Strikes continued at American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. and General Motors Corp. plants on Sunday -- and a union leader told American Axle strikers to prepare for a long haul, dampening hopes of progress in ending the nearly eight-week long walkout.

Members of United Auto Workers Local 235, which represents American Axle workers in Detroit, were told in a meeting Sunday that negotiators were making progress on small issues, such as safety and skilled trades classifications. However, the company and the union remain far apart on wages and benefits -- the issues that sparked the walkout on Feb. 26.

Weekend bargaining also didn't resolve labor disputes at four GM plants that are either on strike or threatening to strike as early as Tuesday.

In each case, however, both the company and the union have agreed to continue negotiating.

"We're not going to characterize the negotiations," GM spokesman Dan Flores said on Sunday. "But it's encouraging that discussions continue."

The cancellation of a major UAW rally last week and Sunday's meeting with American Axle union members were seen by some as signs of progress in those negotiations, but movement has apparently slowed.

"We need to keep our members informed so they are prepared for the battle we are facing," said UAW Local 235 President Adrian King.King said he will ask UAW leadership to reschedule Friday's canceled rally. Many leaving Sunday's meeting said more strikers than normal plan to congregate at American Axle's headquarters Thursday, the day of the company's annual meeting.

American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said she thinks some progress has been made. GM, which is American Axle's largest customer, has not gotten involved with those negotiations but is now battling labor problems of its own.

The Delta Township strike has halted production of the company's popular crossover vehicles.

And the Chevrolet Malibu, one of GM's most critical vehicles, is threatened by a strike at the Kansas City, Kan., factory where it is built. A Grand Rapids metal stamping plant that issued a strike threat last week could exercise that option on Friday. Negotiations continue at a Warren transmission factory.

The UAW has agreed to give GM at least 12 hours before a strike.


Gov't unions underwrite Dem fratricide

When she answered her doorbell, Head Start teacher Diane Klein knew she had seen the man wearing the Hillary Clinton T-shirt before: It was her union president, Jerry Jordan, and Klein was impressed that the head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had given up a sunny weekend to make an in-person appeal for the New York senator.

And Jordan wasn't alone at the undecided voter's door at a rowhouse in central Philadelphia. He had brought along Randi Weingarten, the powerful president of New York City's United Federation of Teachers, to make the case for Clinton ahead of Pennsylvania's presidential primary tomorrow.

Clinton is leading in opinion polls in Pennsylvania, but Barack Obama has narrowed the gap in recent weeks. Labor unions are divided between Clinton and Obama; the votes cast by union members like Klein could be a crucial factor in the outcome.

"I'm voting. I haven't decided whom I'm voting for, but I'm voting," Klein, 59, told the union chiefs, adding that she liked the "energy" Obama has brought to the race. "I've always liked Hillary, but I don't like the way she's been running the campaign," Klein added.

Weingarten persisted. "Her feistiness and her smarts help," Weingarten said, in getting things done in Washington. She handed Klein some pro-Clinton literature before heading to the next union household.

In Pennsylvania, teachers are among Clinton's most devoted and relentless supporters: the American Federation of Teachers, which has brought volunteers in from as far away as Alaska and Louisiana to knock on doors and call voters, urging them to vote for Clinton, who has the AFT's endorsement.

Despite the discouraging political math indicating that Clinton won't win a majority of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, the teachers say they are not giving up hope that superdelegates will make Clinton the nominee.

"Say a child in your class has been failing all year. Are you going to give up? As a schoolteacher, you fight all year," Weingarten said. While Clinton has been struggling to stay competitive in the waning weeks of the campaign, teachers are determined to help deliver not just a win in Pennsylvania, she said, but "a great showing" that political specialists say Clinton needs to stay in contention for the nomination.

Clinton and Obama criss-crossed the state yesterday in frenzied, last-minute campaigning that has become increasingly testy. Clinton is widely favored to win tomorrow's contest here, but Obama has narrowed the gap in polls, challenging Clinton's argument to superdelegates that she is more capable of besting McCain in bigger, post-industrial states.

Union voters are crucial in Pennsylvania, where more than 15 percent of salaried and hourly workers belong to a union, compared with a national average of 12.1 percent. The organizational help that union workers bring to a candidate - mailing literature, canvassing and running phone-banks - are often more important than the sheer numbers of union voters.

But the workers' groups are also divided in the state. While Clinton has secured the backing of the AFT and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Obama has captured the endorsement of Change to Win, an umbrella group that includes such powerful unions as the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters. And while AFSCME has heartily backed Clinton, the chief of one of its affiliated unions, Hospital Workers Local 1999, has endorsed Obama.

Clinton started with an institutional advantage, since many union members have an affection for former President Clinton, and were inclined to support another Clinton, said Jeffrey Lerner, national political field director for Change to Win. But he said the more Obama has campaigned in the state - and the more union leaders give him the stamp of approval - the more the Illinois senator has been able to chip away at Clinton's lead in polls, which was once more than 20 points.

"In many cases, it's been the unions introducing Obama to their members for the first time. That's a great validator for him," Lerner said.

Union members for both candidates have been out in full force in recent days: Change to Win had 500 volunteers knocking on doors yesterday, and will have 800 on the ground on Election Day, said Eileen Connelly, executive director of the Pennsylvania SEIU state council.

The umbrella union group has sent out some 600,000 mailings to voters for Obama. The AFT, for its part, has spent $329,000 on independent expenditures backing Clinton in Pennsylvania. Retired teachers alone have made more than 12,000 phone calls for her, and by Election Day, AFT members will have been contacted three times by the union with entreaties to vote for Clinton.

The difficulty in wooing members, union supporters for both campaigns say, is that there isn't much difference between the two Democrats on policy affecting labor unions.

Both Clinton and Obama support rules reinforcing the right to join unions, and while both have had their anti-NAFTA credentials questioned, Clinton and Obama have each declared their intentions to fix the North American Free Trade Agreement to protect workers and the environment. Both have comprehensive healthcare plans, and back proposals to discourage the export of jobs overseas.

Like many voters, union members are choosing between the rivals' competing campaign messages. Clinton voters said they value her experience and are excited about having a female president, while many Obama supporters explained that they want a change in Washington and dislike what they call the negative tone of Clinton's campaign.

"If she's the candidate, I'll vote for her" in November, but tomorrow "I'm voting for Obama. I don't like some of the things she's saying," a man in downtown Philadelphia told AFT canvassers. But the Clinton T-shirts also elicited cheers from others. "That's my girl!" said an older woman as she watched the union members leave Clinton fliers at the door.

The turnout by members of both sets of unions is expected to have a big impact on tomorrow's results; Change to Win estimates that its members represent 30 to 35 percent of the Obama vote in Pennsylvania. But leaders in both union groups say their primary disagreement will end when there is a Democratic nominee - and that all the unions will rally around that candidate.

Everybody likes both of these candidates," said Wendell Young, president of local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has endorsed Obama. "There's no animosity."


Non-employees want to unionize, bargain

One of the principles of the trade union movement is the right to organize. The Unpaid Staff Organization at KPFA represents the majority of the volunteer staff at the station who do more than 60% of the programming.

Unfortunately, the management of KPFA including Interim Manager Lemlem Rijio and Interim Program Director Sasha Lilley have opposed the recognition of the unpaid staff organization. This is despite the fact that the KPFA Local Station Board along with the Pacifica National Board have both called on the station management to recognize UPSO.

Adding to this travesty is that the Concerned Listeners CL grouping labor representatives on the Local Station Board including labor educator Warren Marr and his wife Alameda Central Labor Council staffer Susan McDonough along with Dianne Enriquez, a staffer for Young Workers United have also opposed the recognition of the staff organization and supported these union busting tactics

At a past meeting, Rijio justified her refusal to recognize the UPSO because of "personality differences". This is what every boss would say if they could use that as an excuse not to recognize a union. Alameda Central Labor Council Secretary Sharon Cornu was also involved in getting the endorsement of this same Concerned Listeners grouping without allowing all the KPFA board candidates the right to be interviewed by the Alameda Labor Council Executive Board and membership.

This kind of bureaucratic and undemocratic tactics is weakening the labor movement and is part and parcel of the battle now going on in the SEIU against corporate unionism and "labor-management partnerships".

It also coincides with the successful efforts of Sharon Cornu and here supporters to demand that Green Party Oakland candidate Rebecca Kaplan change her registration to the Democratic Party before the Labor Council would support and endorse her.
Cornu also sought to prevent the ILWU Local 10 from having a speaker at a past anti-war protest because she disagreed with their more militant trade unionism and for labor action against the war. Her main political activity is supporting the Democratic Party and in fact she is on the Democratic Party Central Committee in the East Bay.

These coercive and reactionary tactics have no place in the labor movement and the silence of Cornu and the Alameda CLC leadership about the union busting at KPFA must be challenged by all trade unionists and workers who want a democratic KPFA and a democratic labor movement.


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Big Labor dominates Pennsylvania voters

Fresh from a multiday bus tour of Pennsylvania on behalf of Barack Obama, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa was enthused last week about the prospects of his presidential candidate. Pushing just as hard for Hillary Clinton was Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He campaigned over the weekend in Pennsylvania, where nearly 100,000 AFSCME members make it the state's biggest union.

The two labor leaders exemplify the nationwide division among union members in the Democratic presidential race, and Tuesday's primary outcome in union-rich Pennsylvania will depend in part on which one proves more persuasive. The state's 900,000 union members have long been a key swing vote.

Union members in Pennsylvania are not only numerous, they are "very enthusiastic right now" and will play a major role Tuesday, says Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College and founder of the Keystone Poll, Pennsylvania's oldest survey.

"I think labor is marshaling its forces for the election," Madonna said Friday. "They are a major part of the infrastructure of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, and they organizationally still have the ability to deliver votes. This is an election they consider one of the most important in many years."

Hoffa and McEntee are two of the toughest, most unyielding leaders in the American labor movement.

Each oversees a mega-union of 1.4 million members. Hoffa bears the legacy of a muscular union and of his namesake father, while the intense McEntee long has led labor's political program. In a time of declining labor membership, each has managed to expand his union.

And each is unaccustomed to losing.


Most observers expect Clinton, who is leading in the polls, to win Pennsylvania, but the size of that victory may prove critical — which is where labor votes could prove decisive.

If Obama comes within 6 percentage points or so, it will be seen as a so-so showing for Clinton, who would face renewed pressure to leave the race so Obama can focus on presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

But if Clinton wins handily, it will reinforce the idea that despite his multiple wins in small states, Obama can't close the deal in large states that look like America. It also will reflect his continuing weakness — and her strength — among blue-collar conservatives or 'Reagan Democrats,' who have proven decisive in swing states in recent elections.

Madonna said last week that Clinton is ahead of Obama 44-33 percent among the state's union households. That's down by 23 points from a few weeks earlier, Madonna said, with the gain largely reflecting Obama's recent presence in Pennsylvania.

The state's labor vote has geographic overtones, notes Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Bill George. Obama is holding even with Clinton among union members in southeastern Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, where members tend to be younger, more educated, more diverse and more liberal. But in industrial western Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh, where workers are older, have more traditional views and earn less, "she'll do 60-40, if not higher," he predicted.


Leading 'Hoffa's working class convoy for change' in Pennsylvania, the Teamsters president focused on smaller cities like Scranton and Reading as well as rural areas in the middle of the state, where Clinton is strongest and he felt he could help Obama cut into her lead.

He also made 'robo calls' to all 83,000 Teamsters in the state and visited work sites. A major issue is the state's loss of thousands of jobs, including at well-known plants that produced the York Peppermint Pattie, Gold Toe men's socks and one that since 1795 had made the No. 2 pencil. Foreign trade deals are blamed by many.

"A lot of people said they wanted to know what the union had to say," Hoffa says. His message to his fellow Teamsters was that Obama will "change America, with regard to trade, the Employee Free Choice Act and, most of all, he's going to be able to win in November."

Hoffa bases that on Obama's success thus far, his large donor base and his ability to "fill a basketball arena that seats 30,000. People come out at 3 in the morning to get a seat, and they're thrilled."

Hoffa says it would be a "scandal" if the superdelegates "overturn the will of the people" by not voting for Obama.


McEntee, whose career with AFSCME began 50 years ago, was in Pennsylvania through Sunday talking to union members and helping get-out-the-vote efforts. Aides say the effort "is personal to him," given his Pennsylvania roots and long involvement with the Clintons dating from his early backing of Bill Clinton's presidential bid in 1992.

McEntee says Obama has built his lead by winning southern and western states the Democrats are unlikely to capture in the fall. Meanwhile, he says, Clinton has scored victories in battleground states key to Democratic chances in the general election, because of her positions on jobs and the economy.

"He is losing the strong base of the Democratic Party," McEntee says. "Now, he is carrying African-Americans by about 90-10, but he is losing white middle-class to lower-class voters. He's losing women. He's losing many trade-union voters."

McEntee expects Clinton to win Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia, while facing a "tough road" in North Carolina. At the end, he argues, "I think it'll be so close in the popular vote that it won't be an issue of the superdelegates overturning the popular vote" if they decide Clinton would be a stronger general election candidate.

Exercising independent judgment is why the superdelegates were created, McEntee says, adding that if they merely "rubber stamp" prior decisions, they are irrelevant and serve no function.


AT&T denies workers a secret-ballot election

Employees at the new AT&T Customer Care Center in Davenport (IA) have voted to be represented by the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, the union president said Friday. Francis Giunta, the president of CWA Local 7110, said a majority of the call center employees agreed to unionize in a card-check drive that began Monday. In the first six hours of the union drive, CWA had received the required 50 percent plus one vote necessary for the workplace to have union representation. “It was almost unprecedented,” he said of the quick approval. In a card-check drive, employees vote “yes” or “no” for union representation on a union registration card.

He said the vote “tells me people understand the value of a union, the value of healthcare benefits and the value of a voice at work. And it tells me the labor unions are not a thing of the past.”

Giunta did not know how many of the center’s employees had voted in favor, but once the union is in place all the employees will be represented by the bargaining unit whether they do or do not join the union.

The AT&T employees will become part of Local 7110 and will be covered by an existing contract, which expires Feb. 7, 2009.

Across the nation, CWA and AT&T have a voluntary card-check and neutrality agreement.

“AT&T has a long-standing agreement with its unions that allows them to organize bargaining units wherever and whenever employees choose to join one of the unions,” Bob Beasley, AT&T spokesman, said.

The new $19.3 million call center at 5348 Elmore Circle eventually plans to employ between 500 and 600 employees. Giunta estimated the current employment at about 130. The center opened with 60 employees in January.

He said the next step is to have the American Arbitration Association certify the election results. He expects the authorization to be completed in about two weeks.

Local 7110 represents about 175 union members across Scott, Clinton, Dubuque and Jackson counties, including other AT&T facilities. Formerly a telecommunications union exclusively, Giunta said the union has branched out to include employees in the public sector, education and printing.

Locally, it represents AT&T technicians at a downtown Davenport facility, staff at the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency and area printing shops. It also represents AT&T employees in the retail stores that formerly owned Cingular.

While waiting for final authorization, he said CWA will be helping to educate the employees about benefit changes as well as training employees to be union stewards and leaders.


Forced-labor dues 'absolutely wrong' for Iowa

It is absolutely wrong of the state to take the SILO funds (school infrastructure local-option sales tax) and replace them with an additional state sales tax. Those SILO taxes were approved to allow the counties to fund projects as they see fit, not for the state to take the funds and redistribute them.

If you want to help out the poorer districts, try getting rid of some pork in other areas. Quit wasting time and money on expanding the nanny state (smoking ban, etc.) Get rid of the absolutely wrong proposal to force anyone to pay union dues.

Help the economy grow with freedom and deregulation instead of suppressing it with more taxes and regulations.

- Matthew Nelson, North Liberty, Iowa


Non-union construction blocked in Mass.

In the spirit of inclusiveness, the city of Springfield (MA) Finance Control Board yesterday announced the appointment of a 37-member community advisory panel to assist in the search for a new superintendent of schools. Approximately 20 candidates are vying for the superintendent position, and the list will soon be pared down to three or four finalists by a hired consultant, control board Chairman Christopher F. Gabrieli said during a board meeting at City Hall.

The community panel is larger than first expected, but reflects the large, diverse group that is invested in the educational system, Gabrieli said. The group includes parents, youths, educators, clergy, business and labor representatives, and others.

"I am confident that our process will move smoothly and will allow for all of the committee members to have input," Gabrieli said.

Gabrieli also discussed the city's state loan. Gabrieli said he believes Springfield should be granted a 20-year period to pay back a $52 million, interest-free state loan, as sought by local officials. The city received the loan in 2004, and by law must pay it back in full over the next five years, unless an extension is granted.

"I think that the work Springfield has done at some real sacrifice to citizens living here shows tremendous fiscal discipline (and evidence) Springfield can pay it back," Gabrieli said. "I think the reward should be not this sort of onerous level of payback."

Gov. Deval L. Patrick is considering submitting legislation to extend the loan repayment.

The board chose not to extend the contract of Superintendent of Schools Joseph P. Burke. Burke's latest one-year contract expires June 30, and the control board is hoping his successor will be ready to start July 1.

The candidates thus far are both local and from around the country, Gabrieli said.

Burke said on Tuesday that he would not fight to keep his job. He asked four School Committee members to halt efforts to extend his contract, saying his wish was to prevent unnecessary chaos and disruption for the school system.

The newly appointed community advisory panel, along with the School Committee and control board, will separately interview the finalists, expected to take place by the first week of May, Gabrieli said.

The community panel includes: the presidents of Western New England College, American International College, and Springfield Technical Community College; Springfield's retired assistant schools superintendent Teresa E. Regina; Mayoral Chief of Staff Denise R. Jordan; City Councilor Jose F. Tosado; and Springfield Education Association President Timothy T. Collins.

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno praised the diversity of the community panel, and also said he commends Burke for not fighting the board's decision to seek a new superintendent.

The control board also voted to authorize a study to evaluate the proposed use of project labor agreements at two future school construction projects. The city plans to build a new Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical High School and eventually a new Forest Park Middle School.

Under a project labor agreement, a city enters into agreements with contractors and unions to ensure that the job's workers get fair wages and benefits and safety training, that a percentage of jobs go to minorities, that apprenticeship programs train young people in building trades, and that the job will be completed on time and on budget.


Curbing non-union labor in Duluth

Thumbs up to Dan Russell and everyone else involved in planning the expansion at the Duluth (MN) Entertainment and Convention Center. Not only will this new arena be a tremendous asset to Duluth — possibly drawing events like the state’s single-A hockey tournament or a future NCAA Midwest regional event for men’s hockey — they’re taking steps to make sure that the benefits go beyond the ice. Like making sure the project doesn’t go over-budget, by hiring a “construction manager at-risk,” who will make sure the project comes in at-or-under $78 million. They’ve also guaranteed the construction jobs will all go to union workers, in return for a no-strike guarantee, by signing a project labor agreement with the local building trades, said Russell, who is the executive director at the DECC.

Russell added that the goal is to have at least 90 percent of the expected 300 site jobs go to local people. In this time of decreased residential construction, that promise will mean a lot to local families.


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