Voters oppose ending secret-ballot union elections

With union special interests making support for the mis-named Employee Free Choice Act, or "card check" bill, a litmus test for candidate support, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW) today announced a new public awareness campaign aimed at educating voters about this anti-worker legislation.

Related video: "Coalition for a Democratic Workplace"

As part of its multi-faceted campaign, CDW will today release a new television ad designed to engage and connect voters to the issue. The ad, developed by nationally known media strategist Mike Murphy, uses a widely recognized character who will be easily identifiable to voters and will use humor to reinforce the need to protect private ballots for workers. The ad will begin airing on national cable news channels on Friday, April 25. The script of the ad is attached.

"Worker privacy is at stake in the upcoming elections and our goal is to educate voters about this important issue," said Brian Worth with the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. "If this anti-worker legislation passes, workers will lose their right to a private ballot. Our polling indicates that support for card check is a potential liability for candidates on Election Day," added Worth.

Recent polls in Colorado, Minnesota and Maine conducted by CDW suggest widespread voter opposition to Big Labor's card-check scheme. Nearly two-thirds of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%) and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Conversely, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be kept for union elections.

As the leading, broad-based coalition fighting the anti-worker "card check" scheme, CDW has been actively working this issue since early 2007. The coalition ran TV and radio ads in states and Congressional districts last year urging members of Congress to support private ballots for workers and oppose the Employee Free Choice Act.

In an effort to fight declining union membership, the labor lobby has aggressively sought passage of the mis-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Under the EFCA, workers would lose their right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. The private ballot would be replaced with a "card-check" scheme where a union is organized if a majority of workers simply sign a card; the workers' signatures are made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers.

About the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace is made up of more than 500 associations and organizations from every state across the nation that have joined together to protect a worker's right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. For more information and a listing of our membership, please visit www.MyPrivateBallot.com.


Obamanation: U.S. lurching leftward

Nine months from now, the 44th president will be inaugurated. Looking at the debates, votes cast and money raised in this year's presidential primary races, the next president may not only be a Democrat, but Barack Obama, the most liberal of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

Add the announced retirement of six Republican senators and 29 Republican House members (compared with just seven House Democrats) and the Democrats are likely to control both the House and the Senate with much bigger majorities than they do today.

So both the next president and the new congressional majorities will be much more liberal than the officeholders they have replaced, and that will result in a broad-reaching, socialist-leaning, greatly expanded American government.

* * *

Four significant public policy changes are certain: the size, scope and spending of the federal government will substantially expand; income taxes will go up; protectionism will replace free trade; and a commitment to global internationalism will saddle America with a broad Kyoto global warming agreement that, according to the U.N. Climate Treaty Secretariat, should exempt China and India.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have proposed increasing annual federal spending, respectively, by $226 billion and $303 billion – the Obama total being about a 10% increase. Neither of them as president would likely limit any spending – not entitlements, not earmarks, not farm subsidies.

In the past four years, income tax cuts have been good for the American economy, raising government tax revenues by $785 billion, reducing the deficit, and helping to create more than eight million new jobs and 52 consecutive months of job growth prior to the slowdown at the beginning of this year. A Democratic administration's tax increases are likely to be substantial: Mr. Obama proposes raising top income tax rates to 39.6% from 35%, capital gains tax rates to perhaps 28% from the current 15%, dividend tax to 39.6% from 15%, and top estate tax rates back up to 55%. And he wants to raise substantially or abolish the $102,000 cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax. "He is indeed a redistributionist," said blogger and Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan after watching Mr. Obama's answer to a tax question in last week's presidential debate.

Protectionism will replace free trade as American policy, even though trade creates domestic jobs. Foreign-owned companies operating in the U.S. employ five million people (think Honda's 16,000 or Nokia's 6,000), and America's exports of goods and services employs another 11 million. But earlier this month Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked a vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement by suspending the requirement that Congress vote up or down for such a treaty. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama want to repeal or significantly modify Nafta, which Mr. Obama says has never "been good for America." Their protectionist America would limit international trade agreements, likely leading to anti-American protectionism by other nations.

Of course higher taxes and broad protectionism are not new ideas, they were tried by Herbert Hoover and led to the Great Depression.

* * *

Then will come dramatic public policy changes in the areas of labor law, free speech, election laws and national energy policy.

Significant labor law changes will likely start with the elimination of secret ballots for union organizing elections, so that unions can verbally "ask" workers if they would like to join (read: intimidate them into saying yes). Then may come repeal of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act provision that allows states to enact "right to work" laws – 22 of them have done so – that allow workers to take jobs even if they decide not to join a union.

Next would come some free-speech changes, like the reinstitution of the "fairness doctrine" that requires broadcast radio and television stations to give equal time to both sides of any public policy on-air discussions. There was such a Federal Communications Commission rule that was abandoned 20 years ago, but liberals want it back in order to stifle conservative talk radio. Such a return of government regulation of free speech would create a very different First Amendment America.

* * *

Finally would come a vast energy and global-warming-oriented policy that would begin limiting the energy resources America needs to prosper. U.S. domestic crude oil field production has fallen by nearly half since 1970, but additional offshore oil and gas drilling would continue to be prohibited, for Mr. Obama even opposes existing Gulf of Mexico oil drilling. Off the east and west coasts there is a 19-year supply of natural gas and enough oil to replace our oil imports for 25 years, but access to it will not be permitted. No new nuclear power plants have been approved since the 1970s, and liberalism's antinuclear sentiment bodes ill for any significant new ones.

Perhaps the best example of the new energy liberalism is its attitude toward coal. Kansas needs additional electricity, but the state government recently banned the construction of two new electricity generators in an existing coal fired plant, the reason being the additional greenhouse gasses the plant would emit. The state Legislature overrode the ban, but Gov. Kathleen Sibelius, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, thereby validating America's first substantial step to stop the use of the coal-based power that supplies about half of our electricity.

So America's energy policy in the new administration may be no additional nuclear, coal, or oil and natural gas power generation, which leaves us with only windmill, solar, biomass, and geothermal for additional power needs. Those sources combined provide about 2.4% of our electrical generation sources.

* * *

With such policies, we would be a far more regulated, far less prosperous nation offering far less opportunity. The 23% of Americans who identify themselves as liberals may applaud, but for the rest of us it would be an unfortunate outcome.


UPS wedded to Hoffa, no choice for workers

An overwhelming majority of about 100 workers at UPS Freight (formerly Overnite Transportation) terminals in Alabama, California, Mississippi and Oregon have signed authorization cards to become Teamsters, bringing the total number of drivers and dockworkers who have signed cards to 10,200 since January 16, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa announced.

The workers will be joining the following Locals: In California, Local 137 in Redding and Local 890 in Salinas; Local 402 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama which covers the Decatur terminal; Local 667 in Memphis which covers the Tupelo, Mississippi terminal; and Local 670 in Salem, Oregon, which covers the Hermiston terminal.

"We continue to see victories in all areas of the country, which shows that UPS Freight workers are completely united in their determination to become Teamsters," said Teamsters Package Division Director Ken Hall. "Their determination will be rewarded with a strong contract."

"A contract will mean the difference between night and day for the Tupelo workers," said Henry Perry, President of Local 667, and an International Trustee. "These workers will see better benefits and working conditions and it will be a real change of life for them."

"We were really pleased that the UPS Freight workers understood the importance of what the Teamsters can do for them," said Diana Franken, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 670.

"The UPS Freight workers were thrilled to join the Teamsters and look forward to being a part of a strong union," said Dave Hawley, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 137.

"It's really exciting to see that there are a lot of UPS Freight workers all across the country who are joining the Teamsters," said Oscar Rios, Business Agent for Local 890.

"The UPS Freight workers here want good wages and benefits and a secure future, and being Teamsters will guarantee that for them," said Joe Gronek, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 402.

Earlier this month, more than 89 percent of UPS Freight workers who are already Teamster members ratified a new contract, which improves wages, benefits and working conditions.

A majority of UPS Freight workers in 36 states have submitted cards: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Victories have come in numerous large cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis, Nashville, Oakland, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.


WGA witch hunt draws fire

The WGA has posted the names of 28 writers who crossed picket lines during the WGA Strike on their website. Most of them went to work on soap operas. The union also posted an open letter ridiculing them for breaking the strike. All these writers still have "financial core" status in which they pay union dues and are still represented by the Guild. They can't, however, participate in guild elections (either with votes or holding an office) or union activities.

The Association of Motion Picture and Television denounced this move accusing the WGA of violating labor law by "seeking to deny employment to these writers in the future."

Something as hot-button as a strike always has its divisive elements. With the strike over, this whole situation sounds childish. U.S. labor says that the striking members can still be protected by the Union. If the WGA doesn't like that, they should try to change the law rather than posting "witch hunt" letters on their website.


Nurses union violence getting out of hand

Well, it was funny seeing the SEIU and the CNA squaring off for a battle royale, but now things are really getting serious and at this point even a staunch anti-unionist has to say that things are getting out of hand.

The folks over at LaborNotes.org brings us the story of SEIU members being bussed in six, count them SIX, busses to invade and disrupt a conference being attended by California Nurses Association members in Dearborn, Michigan last weekend. Reports are that people were injured as the hundreds of bussed in SEIU members forcibly broke into the conference to disrupt the proceedings.

The ridiculous thing is that the conference was supposed to be about "democracy" in unions put on by Labor Notes Magazine.

This escalation of violence by SEIU members is a disturbing trend that really does make the lie to the claim that SEIU prez Andy Stern is interested in legitimate representation, but is more interested in coercion and intimidation.

Rose Ann DeMoro , president of the CNA told reporters that, "There is an ugly pattern here of physical abuse and tactics of intimidation that have no place in either our labor movement or a civilized society." She has a point, too.

Deborah Burger of the Huffington Post has a longer report on this unabashed thuggery by the SEIU.

It looks like the SEIU is turning into the lowdown sort of actors that we are used to seeing from union thugs everywhere.

Well, here is the question: will Service Employee International Union president Andy Stern come out and forcefully denounce the violence perpetrated in Michigan in the name of the SEIU? Will Stern denounce the hundreds of SEIU members who were bussed in to disrupt the Labor Notes Magazine conference last week? Apparently, even the AFL-CIO has denounced this violence, but will the SEIU president be man enough to crack down on this nonsense?

One cannot help to be skeptical even if he does, however. The thing is, this was a huge, organized attack on the Labor Notes conference. 6 busses were rented, hundreds of SEIU members were contacted and brought together to get into those 6 busses. This was not just an "accident." It was planned from the start to be a violent affair.

Obviously Stern has passed from mere political leader to insurrectionist thug here. How far will it go before the SEIU tosses him out on his rear end?

SEIU prez Stern has stacked locals with his own guys and required loyalty oaths. And his supporters have even resorted to stalking and harassing opponents in the CNA.

So, how much undemocratic, unAmerican thuggery can one union take and still claim to be interested in legitimately representing the people they claim as members? And, if the members themselves end up being revealed as supporting this sort on violence, what does that say about them? Are they any different than al Qaeda at that point?

(More info at Jamie Court's blog at the Huffington Post)


U.S. House genuflects to labor unions

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) chatted this afternoon with a group of bloggers about the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Act and the House leadership's decision to prevent an up-and-down vote on the agreement. The Senator traveled to Colombia in March, where he found a country more peaceful than in years past, growing economically, and embracing progress.

Many of his additional points will be familiar to readers of this blog: Alvaro Uribe is an impressive leader, an ally, and a man working to protect union leaders. The opportunities for U.S. exports to Colombia are impressive. And the Colombia FTA is a great deal for the United States, since Colombia already exports to the U.S. duty free under the Andean Trade Preference Act.

Corker expressed strong sentiments about the politics that have disrupted the agreement's consideration in Congress, the unions demanding allegiance just as they did with the Employee Free Choice Act, or card check. Corker:
Let me just say bottom line, I’ve never seen anything that’s just so brazenly a genuflect, if you will, by House leadership to unions. Card check, to me, it’s hard for me to believe that people really believe in this country that card check is a good thing, where basically union leaders go out and one on one should pick people off to bring a union into existence in companies. I’ve experienced first hand some of those types of tactics. Years ago, as a young man, I was a card-carrying union member. And again, it’s hard for me to see…it’s hard for me understand the tremendous tilt that this leadership has toward the unions. But this Colombia free trade agreement is absolutely inflicting pain on the very people that are being represented.

Today, per the Andean free trade preference agreement, Colombia can ship goods into our country tariff-free, for the most part. Very few things have tariffs on them. This agreement would allow us, our employees, our companies, our workers here in America to ship goods to Colombia tariff-free.

This is solely, solely bowing to union pressure. To me it’s an embarrassment to our country. This president has been our friend; Colombia as a country has been our friend in a part of the world where we need friends, where we need people who care about democracy, who care about freedom, who care about commerce, who want to be stable contributors, if you will, to the world. He has done that, and here we are, holding him hostage, holding their country hostage, holding our workers in this country hostage to the fact that the AFL-CIO and other unions are trying to lever this to some other end. I really mean it. I have never seen anything so blatant, so blatant of nothing, if you will, of kowtowing to union officials in our country
If the House members are allowed to vote their conscience, Corker said, he's convinced the measure would pass by a large margin, just as it would in the Senate.


L.A. mayor promises union-only jobs

Broadening efforts to create more higher-paying jobs, Los Angeles city officials put a new policy into place Wednesday that requires any project receiving funds from the Community Redevelopment Agency to agree to hire union workers. At a rally with more than 100 union members, clergy and activists outside City Hall, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he will sign the measure.

"I promised to create 100,000 new jobs by 2010," Villaraigosa said. "This will help us make sure that a lot of those jobs are good-paying jobs held by residents of Los Angeles."

Under the policy, any project that receives $1 million or more from the CRA will be required to have a project labor agreement and guarantee that 30 percent of all construction jobs go to residents within a three-mile radius of the development.

In addition, 10 percent of all the jobs must be filled by workers involved in apprentice programs.

CRA Administrator Cecilia Estolano estimated the program will create 5,000 new jobs over the next three years and potentially as many as 15,000 jobs in five years.

The CRA invests millions each year in a variety of projects, she said - such as its $24 million contribution to the $2.2 billion Grand Avenue project that will be required to abide by the labor agreements.

"We have to recommit to good wages and good jobs," Councilman Richard Alarc n said. "Henry Ford said, `What good is it to mass-produce all these cars if the workers who make them can't afford to buy them?'

"If more people make more money, they will invest it locally, and all of us will benefit."

The city has had a project labor agreement requirement in effect for a year for contracts issued by the Board of Public Works.

In that time, officials said they have awarded seven construction contracts and seen the number of hours worked by Los Angeles residents increase from 194,000 to 384,000.

Project labor agreements also have been used at Los Angeles International Airport, with its multibillion-dollar LAX remodeling program, as well as at the l.a. live project now under construction downtown.


Writers union suffers under vindictive leaders

It's been a little more than two months since the Writers Guild of America signed a new contract with the studios, ending a 100-day walkout that cost the local economy an estimated $2 billion. The studios have moved on to the final round of negotiations, seeking new contracts with the actors unions. Yet the emotional intensity that sustained the writers strike evidently hasn't dimmed, at least not among the union's leadership.

On Friday, the presidents of the guild's two branches sent a letter to its members, lashing out at the "puny few" who "consciously and selfishly decided to place their own narrow interests over the greater good." They listed 28 writers who switched from membership to "financial core" status, enabling them to go back to work without being penalized by the guild. The tartly worded missive -- whose recipients included TV supervisors with the power to hire and fire writers -- called for the 28 to be "held at arm's length by the rest of us," a not-so-subtle suggestion that they be blackballed. As the presidents put it, "Those who went financial core did not share in the adversity; and should not share in our victory."

We don't know what led those writers, many of whom worked on soap operas, to drop out of the strike. Perhaps their motives were the same as those of Jay Leno, a writer who went back to work during the strike, worried about sidelined crew members with no access to guild strike funds. And if their reasons weren'tso noble, they'll have to make peace with colleagues who stayed out on strike regardless of the personal sacrifice.

But for the guild's leadership to invite reprisals by the entire membership against a minuscule cadre that didn't honor the picket line is vindictive and ugly. The leadership seems to resent the fact that the 28 continue to receive the pay, pensions and health benefits called for by the guild's contract. But that's because the guild has turned scripted entertainment in Hollywood into a closed shop. You can't write for a sitcom, drama or feature film financed by the studios unless you're covered by the contract. And if you disagree with the guild's decisions or policies, your only choice (short of writing for reality TV) is to switch to financial core status -- which, by the way, means you'll pay about 1.4% of your gross income in dues, instead of the usual 1.5%.

Unions can't force-march their membership to victory over management. Their negotiating power relies on the leadership's ability to rally members behind goals that are both important and shared. By that measure, this leadership was remarkably successful when it set its contract priorities and demands. Of the more than 10,500 guild members, less than one-half of 1% switched to financial core during the strike. The guild should be touting that unity, not flailing at the handful of writers who broke ranks.


SEIU's Stern fritters away Progressive goodwill

No American union today exercises more influence than the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a leader in both organizing and political action. And no union leader gets more -- or more favorable -- press coverage than its president, Andy Stern.

As a result, a political fight now developing within SEIU has broad implications for the labor movement and progressive politics. And the decisions the union makes at its June convention in Puerto Rico are likely to intensify debate over how the labor movement can grow on a grand scale -- both in numbers and power.

The infighting pits United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) -- a 150,000-member California healthcare local union -- and its president, Sal Rosselli, against the international union's leadership. Simmering for several years, the disagreements boiled over in February when Rosselli resigned from the international union executive committee. Then, in late March, Stern took the first step toward implementing a trusteeship that would allow him to oust UHW leaders and take control of the local.

A complex web of grievances caused the dispute. But Rosselli charges that Stern has pursued growth in numbers by centralizing power and resources, and by granting concessions to corporations. SEIU's growth, he claims, has come at the expense of workers' power. Rosselli believes the union needs to rely more on comprehensive pressure campaigns involving workers to neutralize employer opposition to unionization.

"I want a movement of workers governed by workers for workers," who are fully empowered, Rosselli says, "to be in control of their relationship with their employer, to be in control of the political direction of their union."

But SEIU international leaders say Rosselli is unwilling to support national union strategies because he is narrowly focused on the interests of his local. They maintain that the union needs more national coordination of resources and activity to better confront national and, increasingly, global employers.

"Fundamentally," says SEIU spokesman Andy McDonald, "the issue is that there's a disagreement about the fact that there are democratic decision-making procedures in SEIU that [Rosselli] has withdrawn from, and he disagrees with strategies he supported previously [when they benefited him] and that other local leaders support."

The fight has deep roots. In 1988, Rosselli, a former nursing home worker, won an insurgent campaign to lead what was then Local 250 in the Bay Area. He rebuilt the union by emphasizing democratic decision-making and worker militancy.

In 1996, Rosselli supported Stern's candidacy for SEIU president and his plan to strengthen local and national organizing. Rosselli implemented a highly successful organizing drive that used strikes and negotiations with employers to secure the right for workers to organize with little interference. He also cooperated with other locals and the international to win neutrality from hospitals, especially the big Catholic Health Care West chain. The local also organized nursing homes, and was the country's first union to organize homecare workers, which is now the main area of SEIU growth nationally.

In 2005, Local 250 merged with southern California healthcare workers (Local 399) to form UHW. From 2001 to 2006, UHW added 65,000 members -- more than any other SEIU local -- although recent gains have slowed as UHW builds several long-term hospital organizing campaigns. UHW also supplied organizers and funds to help hospital workers organize around the country.

Organizing nursing homes proved more difficult. In 2003, Local 250 and another local of long-term care workers signed on to an experimental organizing agreement that SEIU International had negotiated with the Nursing Home Alliance, a group of nursing home operators. Alliance companies agreed that if SEIU successfully lobbied for higher state reimbursements to operators, they would be neutral when the union organized selected facilities.

But in 2007, when the agreement came up for renewal, UHW criticized many of its components. The deal had pushed for "template" contracts that barred strikes and limited collective bargaining rights. The pact also gave Alliance operators control over which facilities could be organized, limited economic gains to a fixed share of what the union won politically, prohibited employee criticisms of nursing home operations (except when they were legally obliged) and required the union to back the industry's plan for tort reform -- thus going against the union's community and patients' rights allies.

SEIU International and Tyrone Freeman -- who heads what is now United Long Term Care Workers, Local 6434 -- wanted to extend the agreement, for as long as even 20 years. But opposition from Rosselli and UHW ultimately nixed its renewal. SEIU leaders blamed Rosselli for providing information for a San Francisco Weekly article about the Alliance contract, though both he and the reporter deny his involvement.

SEIU went on to establish similar agreements in Washington and New Jersey, and reportedly adopted much of the Alliance model in new neutrality agreements with multi-service companies, such as Sodexho.

The split over the Alliance model symbolized and deepened the division that had already been building.

Rosselli supported consolidation on the condition that each local voted individually (as in UHW's merger), rather than in a pooled vote proposed by Stern, which privileged big locals merging with smaller ones. Rosselli also supported the idea of one statewide healthcare local covering hospital, nursing home and home care workers, as SEIU is organized in several states. The international, on the other hand, favored putting all nursing home and home care workers in Tyrone Freeman's local.

Although the union's hearing officers ultimately kept Rosselli's jurisdiction largely intact, tensions continued to escalate. Rosselli says that he was increasingly excluded from meetings that affected his local's members, and maintains that international union representatives interfered with negotiations with major employers.

"The red thread that runs through this is that a growing [SEIU] approach is to ask the employer, 'We want to represent your employees. What is it that you want?' " says UHW policy director Paul Kumar.

Rosselli says the union will be stronger if it involves members in a fight to raise standards at work while winning organizing rights for non-union workers. But for the international union, he says, "growth trumps standards. The most important thing is growth."

Indeed, SEIU has grown, and its claim to leadership in the labor movement rests on that success. The union claims it had about 1 million members in 1996 when Stern was elected, and 1.9 million today.

But nearly 200,000 of the 900,000 new members came through a 1998 merger with the old 1199 hospital union based in New York. Another 200,000 counted as new recruits are not actually members, but pay legally required agency fees. And 35,000 are retirees. As a result, the union reported to the Labor Department that it had 1.66 million members -- including non-voting retirees -- at the end of 2007, a year when it added 116,490 members.

Almost 500,000 of them are home care, home childcare and similar quasi-public workers previously treated as independent contractors. While winning representation for them is a big step -- and an attractive way to boost membership -- it involves a different type of organizing than recruiting members at a workplace under a private, typically hostile employer.

Like many unions, SEIU tries to persuade employers to be neutral when it organizes, and it often mounts ambitious campaigns, at times actively engaging members -- as in its successful Justice for Janitors campaign. But the difficulties of organizing have made the union rely more on external campaigns against employers (at times with little worker organizing) and on forging neutrality agreements -- such as with the Nursing Home Alliance -- that deny workers a fully functioning union.

Out of their growing frustration at realizing large-scale organizing success, SEIU's leaders have sought new approaches, says Jerome Brown, who recently retired as president of the SEIU 1199-New England local and as an international executive board member. Brown says the international increasingly tries to win neutrality agreements by becoming the company's partner.

"When you look at how the international uses these things, you have to unfortunately say, 'No, this is not the right way to build a union,'" he says. "The international has centralized power to get the boss to defang himself, but the international is also defanging the members. They're selling workers' ability to self-determination."

Now the union's leaders are proposing centralized organizing plans for each major union division. The new 20-year plan will replace local union strategies and shift more dues money to the international. The organizing strategy, which will be presented at the June convention, calls for expanding proven models and developing new models, including expanding the union's innovative work challenging private equity companies. It also proposes recruiting more member-organizers and temporary organizers from social justice movements, expanding global organizing, and committing to more political work, including passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would institutionalize "card check" (allowing unions to be certified when a majority of workers sign union cards).

In a memo to the international, the UHW executive board worried that this centralization will come "at the expense of proven local organizing efforts." It also questioned whether the international's track record justifies further concentrating resources and strategy.

Both sides claim the democratic high ground. The international argues that local union leaders will be involved in formulating the national strategy, which they will then implement. Rosselli argues that the members must have a voice and vote in organizing and collective bargaining strategies, not simply out of principle but because such participation strengthens the union. He questions how open the debate will be among national leaders, when Stern appointed two-thirds of the executive board (some of who, including Rosselli, were then elected by members).

"[The international leaders] don't know what they're doing because they have a lack of trust and appreciation of workers," Rosselli says. "They really believe that they're smarter than workers, better than workers. The battle going on is between those who believe the collective power ... can be better used by a few people in Washington, D.C., as opposed to those who believe in bottom-up democracy."

The international union claims that Rosselli has withdrawn from the union's democratic process, but Rosselli says he resigned after he was increasingly excluded from key positions and meetings. In his resignation letter, Rosselli criticized Stern for eliminating the Catholic Healthcare West Unity Council and appointing a union consultant to replace Rosselli as the negotiating lead on the eve of crucial hospital talks. He also accused the international union of negotiating behind his back with the California Nursing Home Alliance and barring UHW members and staff from direct negotiations with the employers, even though they represent three-fourths of Alliance union employees.

Last November, Stern also reorganized SEIU's California state council to oust Rosselli. As council president, Rosselli had opposed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's health insurance plan, which Stern supported. Then in January, the international announced new hearings on reorganization of California's healthcare locals that would remove the 65,000 nursing home and home care workers from UHW. UHW countered with a vote supervised by an outside mediator firm in which 40 percent of home care and 70 percent of nursing home workers voted and nearly unanimously chose to stay with UHW.

New controversy erupted in mid-March, when the California Nurses Association (CNA) leafleted against SEIU days before an election slated for nine Catholic Healthcare Partners hospitals in Ohio. Over a three-year period, SEIU had worked for a neutrality agreement that reportedly barred both workers and management from talking about the union at the hospitals.

"I think CNA's actions are despicable," says Rosselli. He describes his "rollercoaster" ride of alternating conflict and cooperation with CNA. "We've seen this happen with our Catholic Healthcare West and our Tenet [Health Corp.] campaigns. It's unprincipled, a huge mistake."

But the international claims that Rosselli met with CNA president Rose Ann DeMoro days before the Ohio vote. UHW administrative vice president John Borsos says there was no meeting, aside from both leaders being at the same AFL-CIO reception in southern California.

Stern cited the CNA clash among other "allegations" of impropriety in a March 24 letter designed to set the stage for a possible trusteeship of UHW. Borsos describes the charges as "bogus," a "political" move with no legal foundation.

Rosselli says he has no plans to challenge Stern for president at the convention, but UHW will offer resolutions to strengthen union democracy and coordination between locals and the international. Despite signs of dissatisfaction, a fledgling opposition movement is still weak. Few local leaders have criticized the international union, which has organized an extensive campaign against Rosselli, according to an ex-SEIU official who requested anonymity. The UHW may do well simply to hold on to what it has now in the face of the international's full-bore attack.

The issues in the debate are hardly limited to SEIU. Many unions struggle to strike a proper balance between local initiative and national strategy. Pervasive tensions exist between how union democracy is practiced and the labor movement's claims that workers should have a stronger voice. The best unions struggle with how to increase both their numbers and their power.

And even if Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act, unions will still need to fight for employer neutrality. While unions may have to make trade-offs for such agreements, highly restrictive deals with employers are no substitute for organizing and educating workers.

A renewed labor movement needs imaginative leaders, smart strategies, coordinated efforts and progressive values. But the future of SEIU and the labor movement ultimately requires keeping faith with its members.

"We shouldn't start the debate with how do we centralize power," says Jerome Brown. "The central issue ought to be how do we build a 21st century union with members having the democratic right to run it, to strike or not to strike. Members have a right to make decisions. They may be right or wrong, crazy or brilliant. But that isn't the test. It's their decision, their job and their union."


Judge frees SEIU, Stern from TRO

A California Superior court today dismissed a temporary restraining order against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and President Andy Stern filed last week as a publicity stunt by the California Nurses Association (CNA). The decision comes after the court had an opportunity to review video footage submitted by SEIU yesterday of the incidents that CNA falsely claimed to be "stalking," and on the heels of an anti-Strategic Lawsuit to Prevent Public Participation motion, also filed yesterday by SEIU, against the CNA to prevent CNA from further efforts to silence critics of its divisive tactics.

"For months, CNA leaders have made inaccurate and exaggerated claims trying to cover up their own anti-union tactics in Ohio and other states. They have produced doctored 'evidence,' they have made phony allegations and they have cried wolf," said Andy Stern, SEIU International President. "Today's court decision shows the public what the CNA is really about, but that's little comfort for the thousands of Ohio nurses and hospital workers who saw their dreams of forming a union destroyed by the CNA. It's time Rose Ann DeMoro and the CNA wake up and apologize to the workers they hurt."

The Alameda County Superior Court ordered the temporary restraining order be thrown out this afternoon after reviewing affidavits and other information- including video footage showing what the CNA called "5 male staffers harassing CNA Board members" was actually a 54 year-old registered nurse and a 61 year- old respiratory therapist going door-to-door to try to speak to CNA leadership (available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGw2QJTgw4I). Information submitted by SEIU showed SEIU members, staff, and workers employed by Catholic Healthcare Partners were exercising their First Amendment rights in their peaceful appeals to CNA leadership in California. The temporary restraining order-obtained by the CNA on April 15 without any notice to SEIU-was found unlawful under California labor code.

Since its "vote no" campaign at Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) hospitals in Ohio sabotaged a three-year effort by nurses and hospital workers to win a fair process to freely choose whether to form a union with SEIU, the CNA has consistently spread untruths and misinformation in Ohio, California, Nevada, and elsewhere. In particular, the California-based union has inaccurately characterized efforts by CHP workers and supporters to engage with CNA leadership over the union's anti-union tactics as "harassment."

"I'm a mom and a grandmom and I've spent my life caring for patients -- the last thing I thought anyone would ever call me is intimidating or scary," said Michaela Silver a respiratory therapist with Catholic Healthcare Partners in Springfield, OH who spent a week door-knocking alongside one of her coworkers to try to reach CNA board-members. "We just want the CNA's leaders to explain what they did in Ohio and stop their union-busting."

On Monday, SEIU filed a motion against the CNA under California's Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 425.16, a statute intended to prevent organizations from using a Strategic Lawsuit to Prevent Public Participation or "SLAPP" suit to suppress free speech from critics or opponents. Damages including attorney fees and costs from SEIU having to vacate the improper restraining order are expected.

"The CNA's injunction against SEIU was nothing short of a media stunt meant to chill free speech by SEIU members and supporters," said Stephen Berzon, a partner at Altshuler Berzon LLP, the San Francisco-based law firm handling the case. "This kind of abuse of the law is exactly what California's anti-SLAPP statute is intended to stop."

The CNA filing of the temporary restraining order last week is only the latest tactic in the union's misinformation campaign. Last week, the CNA posted widely an exaggerated and distorted depiction of a protest at an April 12 Labor Notes Conference in Dearborn, MI featuring photos and video of SEIU members and staff injured by conference security as "evidence of violence by protesters." Despite outcry from Rachael Holland, the SEIU organizer in the images, the CNA has failed to admit its misrepresentation of actual events. The CNA has even created a video featuring Rachael's photo as "evidence" (available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiMH20aJiXg).

For more information visit http://www.shameoncna.org/.


Nader rips Stern

Andy Stern, the president of the 1.9 million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is embroiled in the politics of accepting sweetheart union contract deals and, ironically is being condemned by the Wall Street Journal. What gives here?

It seems that Stern wants to put heat on the private equity funds that have bought hospitals, nursing home chains and other firms whose employees he wants to organize. He lost a clumsy attempt to get a bill through the California legislature to restrict state pension funds from investing in private equity firms. The bill was backed by some foreign countries’ sovereign investment funds.

The state pension funds—CalSTRS and CalPERS—defeated the bill and received the approval of the Wall St. Journal’s right wing editorial writers—a rare plaudit indeed. The Journal even praised the California Nurses Association for obtaining a restraining order from a California court against SEIU harassing, assaulting and stalking members of this union, which is embroiled in disputes with SEIU for what the nurses’ union says are blatant sweetheart contracts that SEIU dangles before large employers.

Are you confused?

The California Nurses Association (CNA) is a fast growing union that fights for patient rights, for adequate nurse-patient ratios and bargains for strong contracts with hospital chains. SEIU, by contrast wants membership growth even if the cost is a weaker contract for the newly organized workers.

In Ohio, the CNA exposed a SEIU deal with nine hospitals owned by Catholic Healthcare Partners. SEIU let the employer pick SEIU as its chosen union without a single signed union card. The company-union collaboration scheduled elections.

CNA sent representatives to Ohio and sounded the alarm about a top-down agreement sealed by a mutually imposed code of silence.

SEIU and the hospital chain owner postponed the election after the employees became aware of this sweetheart deal.

CNA’s actions threw SEIU into a rage. Buses of SEIU people from Ohio were sent by Mr. Stern to break up an annual meeting of 1000 labor activists sponsored by the magazine, Labor Notes, in Dearborn, Michigan. CNA’s Executive Director, RoseAnn DeMoro was scheduled to speak to the assemblage.

Shouting, scuffling, overturned chairs and the arrival of the Dearborn Police to impose order led A.F.L.-C.I.O. president John J. Sweeney, to denounce what he called “a violent attack” orchestrated by SEIU.

SEIU split from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in 2005. SEIU aggressively raids other unions, such as the Allied International Union (AIU).

AIU fled a RICO law suit in New York against Stern’s alleged racketeering behavior and tactics to replace AIU leadership and take control of its members.

In addition, the Department of Labor is investigating a Las Vegas local of SEIU regarding possible misuse of employer funds to advance certain candidates in a local election.

All these struggles and outside charges against Andy Stern are not keeping him from moving to remove rebellious leaders of locals and consolidate power at the top. The biggest battle is in San Francisco. Dissident, Sal Rosselli, head of SEIU-United Health Care Workers West, will propose democratic changes to the autocratic way Stern runs the union at their national convention in June.

Rosselli is pushing to give local unions of SEIU more authority in contract bargaining and more voice in proposed union mergers.

Some labor observers believe Andy Stern is biting off more than he can chew. His assurance to the Democratic Party of over $50 million for the upcoming election exposes him to critics who believe he should be spending the money on and pay far more attention to getting more for his members from the large corporations he massages.

- Ralph Nader is running for president as an independent.


Gov't-unions dominate labor-state politics

A new report by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance found four labor unions accounted for nearly all the independent campaign expenditures made in 2007. The money was spent to support candidates in four special state Senate elections, three state House contests and local elections in Boston and Lynn. It is not subject to the same limits as direct campaign donations.

A total of $99,704 was spent, a fraction of the nearly $4 million spent in 2006 during gubernatorial and state Senate and House races.

The top spending union was the Service Employees International Union, followed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Lynn School Employees Local.


Hoffa links Hollywood, anti-trade radicals

More than 5,000 union activists and supporters rallied at the harbor in Los Angeles, April 17, roaring their approval of an assertive, one-for-all and all-for-one strategy to change the national and local direction this year. Under the slogan of “the fight for good jobs,” workers from every walk of life, every racial, ethnic, age and gender group and every area neighborhood joined in a 28-mile, three-day march through the heart of Los Angeles — “From Hollywood to the Docks” — that culminated in the rally at the port.

Related video: "H2D Hollywood to the Docks Opening Day"

“This is a once in a life time opportunity” for working people to give national leadership “if we all get out and vote,” Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. told the rally. “We will send George Bush home” and also reject “Mr. McCain … McBush, who we don’t want either,” he added.

Unite Here national leader John Wilhelm told the crowd that the united march showed “they will never more divide us by color, language or country we are from. We can win a better tomorrow by recapturing Congress and the White House.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, “This is a march for the unions, families and communities of our nation.”

The 800,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor organized the march to kick off its bold plan to unite contract, organizing and electoral struggles by labor and its allies into one powerful campaign for good jobs. This year in Los Angeles County, 350,000 union workers in 30 unions are in contract negotiations, another 30,000 and more are fighting for union recognition, and all have a stake in what is considered the most important election cycle since the Depression of the 1930s.

Two major Hollywood unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, are now in negotiations for what could be the highest-profile labor struggles in the nation.

In the ports, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is also in negotiations, along with a major organizing drive of port truckers by the Teamsters. The Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor has over $700 billion in goods flowing through it each year. If port workers are strong, united and organized they can be a key leverage point for labor — local, national and international — in confronting global corporations. The ports represented by the ILWU on the West Coast handle 40 percent of the nation’s imports.

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of the L.A. labor federation, opening the march at the La Brea Tar Pits near downtown Los Angeles, said the action was in the tradition of Cesar Chavez and Gandhi, who spurred thousands to galvanize many times more, ultimately mobilizing millions.

The Los Angeles labor federation has been a national leader in the past decade in building unity and developing coalitions to win elections, organizing drives, strikes and contract struggles. Landmark victories have been won for janitors, hospitality workers, home health care workers and recently, security guards. In addition, fighters for working families have won election to local, state and congressional seats. The march drew on these experiences to raise labor’s activity to a higher level.

Some 173 “core marchers” participated in the entire march. They came from more than 30 unions and at least a dozen community organizations, and included leaders, staff, stewards and rank and file stalwarts.

Along the 28-mile route they held rallies at commercial centers, construction sites, immigrant communities targeted for gentrification, inner city schools, met with African American-led organizations for economic and social justice and joined a picket line outside a Wal-Mart store. Meal and lunch breaks were hosted by union and community groups. On the evening of April 16, after a barbecue meal served by union firefighters, marchers did phone banking for a labor candidate for L.A. county supervisor, state Sen Mark Ridley-Thomas, who marched many of the miles himself.

At every stop the core marchers were joined by hundreds of others, to learn of the plight and struggles of workers in key industries and neighborhoods, and to enjoy some of the area’s cultural richness as well.

The march starting point, the La Brea Tar Pits, was, a century ago, one of the major oil finds in the oil “rush” which fueled the Los Angeles area’s growth into a major national and global economic center. The area’s corporate oligarchy, partially portrayed in the movie “There Will be Blood,” used the oil profits to develop Los Angeles as a union-free environment. The major tactic of domination was dividing white, Black, Brown and Asian Pacific workers.

Unity was the key theme of this march. Labor-community efforts to win back jobs for African Americans in construction, reopening a comprehensive King Hospital in the African American/Latino community of South Los Angeles, and support for organizing of jornaleros (day laborers) and “carwasheros” were highlighted.

“This march is a demonstration of the best that we are, part of our history and our future,” Ridley-Thomas told a morning rally at Harbor General Hospital on April 17.


Labor-state curbs non-union school construction

Construction of the new Ironton Middle School and the new Ironton Elementary School is on schedule and the two buildings, side by side on Delaware Street in North Ironton, West Virginia are expected to be under roof by the end of summer, said Ironton Superintendent Dean Nance. The two schools, both 136,000 square feet and two stories tall, are scheduled to be finished next year and open for the 2009-10 school year.

Meanwhile, bids are scheduled to be opened at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 24, at the board office for construction of a new high school building on South 7th Street. The front entrance of the school that first opened in 1922 has been preserved and will be part of the new high school, Nance said Tuesday.

Construction on the new high school could begin in June and be ready for students in two years, he said.

The $48 million construction project at the three schools is requiring students to be housed in several different schools until the new schools are ready. High school students are going to the old middle school building on Delaware Street. That building will be torn down when the new high school is ready, Nance said.

“It’s going up fast,” Travis Shope, an Ironton High School senior, said of the new middle school and elementary school. “Two weeks ago, the concrete blocks were only a couple of feet up.”

Nance, too, is amazed at the progress made by the union craftsmen working on the project as part of a project labor agreement with the Tri-State Buildings and Trade Council. “We set an aggressive schedule and they’re meeting it,” he said.

The middle school and elementary school will share a cafeteria, a clinic and nurse’s offices, Nance said. There will be an educational courtyard between the two school buildings, he said. The elementary school will be closest to Delaware Street.

Each of the 900-foot classrooms in the new schools will have 24 electrical outlets compared to one in many of the existing classrooms, he said.

The two gymnasiums will be side by side and there will be two football fields, a softball field and a baseball field adjacent to the Norfolk and Southern railroad tracks, he said. There also will be outdoor basketball courts for recess, he said.

About 70 people were working on the project Tuesday, said James C. Farmer, on-site superintendent for BBL Construction of Columbus which is overseeing the project. Construction started in November and there will be more than 100 people working on the project this summer, he said.

There will be a separate kindergarten wing in the elementary school and a kindergarten playground, Nance said.

“We’ll have a school bus drop-off and separate, two-lane roads, for the elementary school and the middle school,” he said.


UAW strikers' fight against decert drags on

Two years ago this month, union workers at Conn-Selmer's Vincent Bach musical plant in Elkhart, Indiana walked off the job. Workers still inside the plant voted to decertify the union five months ago. The National Labor Relations Board is deciding if that vote should stand.

Striking workers rallied for support Wednesday. They've been to the bargaining table several times, but have not come back with a new contract. They hope the rally might make a difference.

Workers met outside the plant for about two hours Wednesday morning, many thinking the strike wouldn't have lasted this long.

"Personally I didn't feel they would be going on for now two years; I knew they were having a lot of problems in there before I left, but I didn't think it would go on for two years,” said Robert Scott, an employee at the plant for 41 years.

“Most of the people I'd say figured it wouldn't last even longer than a couple of months, three months,” said 40-year employee Steve Hoogenboom.

That's why they're hoping a rally might get things back on track.

"I hope it's positive, I hope it helps. Whether the strike is over, whether we go back in or get a contract we can work with,” said Kathy Harris, who has worked at the plant for 33 years. “It’s time for people to move on with their lives."

For now, workers are waiting to see which way a recent union decertification vote will go.

“We've had our decertification vote and that decision is in Washington,” explained Bo Coody, an employee for 20 years. “It was close so we're waiting on the NLRB to answer with that, so we might be here for another year."

In a show of solidarity, several UAW workers on strike at the American Axle plant in Three Rivers, Mich. were on hand to show their support.

"We've been out for two months now and we're fighting for the same thing that they're fighting for — fair wages, job security, a decent living, for the American worker,” said striking American Axle worker Andy Thomasma.

Many of those still on strike are getting by on $200 a week in union strike benefits.


Coalition for a Democratic Workplace

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