Union thuggery threatens Dems, Progs

Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern has made SEIU the nation's largest, fastest-growing union. Stern's SEIU has also become a bitter AFL-CIO rival on the national political stage. Stern's "Change to Win" breakaway unions first backed Edwards, and now Barack, while old-line AFL-CIO operatives have backed Hillary all along.


SEIU's display of fascist-style thuggery against the AFL-CIO backed California Nurses Association at the Labor Notes conference April 12 in suburban Detroit has shocked the political Left. Although subject to MSM blackout (see "Media silence weakens labor's cause"), videos and commentary are hot on the internet.

Keen political observers are paying close attention to the mounting inter-union terror tactics. They realize that organized labor is the 'backbone' of the Progressive movement. They know that unwitting 'fellow-travelers' and 'useful idiots' could become turned-off to union-backed Democrat candidates in November as a result of escalating, violent dues fights.

These stories are from The Union News blog in the last few days:

Big Labor split explains violent thuggery

• Video: "How CNA saved Ohio nurses from SEIU"

Threatening SEIU organizers frighten nurses
Nurses decertify CNA, SEIU lies in wait
Nurses stuck in SEIU-CNA crossfire
Stern's illusion and democracy's nightmare
SEIU: 'No-vote' unionism is more democratic
Nurses rip Stern
Nurses union violence getting out of hand
SEIU's Stern fritters away Progressive goodwill
Nader rips Stern
Media silence weakens labor's cause

For all the SEIU stories from The Union News, click: here.


Unions try to quash vote on worker-choice

The fight over Right to Work is under way. Dozens of Amendment 47 opponents spent Tuesday going through enormous stacks of signatures at a union house in Denver.

"We believe that, with a more careful or more extensive examination of each record, that we will be able to provide the secretary of state with substantial evidence of fraud and potential criminal activity," said Jess Knox, spokesman for Protect Colorado's Future.

Supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment learned Monday that Secretary of State Mike Coffman had certified their petitions, giving them a spot on the Nov. 4 ballot.

That success was quickly met with claims that errors were committed during the petition drive.

"To me it's a clear indication that the unions will do everything they can to keep Amendment 47 off the ballot because they know as well as we do that voters will pass it in November," said Kelley Harp of A Better Colorado, suporters of 47.

Harp said Jonathan Coors and others wanted to move now to prevent lawmakers, where Democrats hold the legislature and the governor's mansion, from creating union-friendly laws.

"The political climate is such in Colorado that basic worker rights might be in danger in the near and prolonged future," said Harp. "We're concerned about the erosion of basic worker rights. We've seen indications that the current situation in Colorado is under attack."

Amendment 47 would prohibit mandatory union membership and payment of dues.

Harp said Colorado currently has a hybrid version of Right to Work laws that can be used to prevent those practices but that an amendment to the state constitution would guarentee those protections.

"This is just part of the corporate agenda. It's a corporate agenda that allows Exxon to make $11 billion in one quarter while we're struggling to pay $3 a gallon of gas," said Ernest Duran, president of the Food Workers Union.

He called it the Right to Work For Less initiative.

Duran points to our neighbor to the north in Wyoming where laws similar to Amendment 47 are already in effect.

Duran said he represents grocery workers there who make less than counterparts in Colorado.

"Same work, same corporation, the workers there make over $3 an hour less," Duran said.

Duran said his union alone, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, has decided to spend plenty on advertising and voter outreach.

"They have allocated over $16 million to this fight," Duran said.

He also believes five pro-labor initiatives are in the process of being sent to the secretary of state for inclusion on the ballot

Opponents of 47 say they will spend three days going through the signatures before deciding on a next course of action.

"What we're very happy to report is the support to defeat this very divisive measure is extensive. They come from all walks of life, all sorts of different organizations. It pits neighbor against neighbor and communities against each other," said Knox.

Knox said by May 28 he expects to have enough information to take the issue to challenge it in a Denver courtroom.

Harp, with A Better Colorado, said that's what supporters expected and that they'll be ready.


Forced-labor unionists muddy Colorado waters

Colorado's business community has formed two separate political-issue committees to fight an onslaught of potential labor-backed ballot initiatives. Both groups plan to launch "no" campaigns against all of the proposed labor measures. The primary difference between the two organizations, however, is the position that key members have taken on the business-backed right-to-work measure, which sparked the labor proposals.

Defend Our Economy includes among its supporters the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, which is a prominent proponent of the right-to-work initiative.

Coloradans for Responsible Reform, or CFRR, is led by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which hasn't taken a stance on right-to-work, the effort to ban mandatory union membership in the state.

"CFRR is the first step toward a full-fledged campaign against the 12 anti-business initiatives filed this year," said Joe Blake, president of the Denver Metro Chamber.

Jess Knox, executive director of pro-labor group Protect Colorado's Future, countered: "We believe that right-to-work is a divisive issue not only for Colorado, but clearly it's divided the business community too."

Protect Colorado's Future is pushing two labor initiatives.

Knox said he filed petitions Tuesday with the secretary of state's office for clearance to begin collecting signatures for the group's initiatives. He hopes to start collecting signatures next week.

The group's measures aim to hold corporate chief executives criminally responsible for their companies' wrongdoings and require businesses to provide a reason for firing an employee.

Other potential labor measures would mandate health-insurance coverage for businesses with 20 or more employees and require employers to give workers annual cost-of-living increases.

Blake said CFRR has been used before in previous years to fight other measures and is being revived specifically to fight the possible labor initiatives.

"CFRR is going to be the group we're going to rally about," he said.

The National Federation of Independent Business and the Colorado Hospital Association are also members of CFRR.

Among supporters of Defend Our Economy are the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, the Colorado Restaurant Association and the Mountain States Employers Council, committee spokeswoman Jan Rigg said.

"The goal is to preserve a friendly business environment in Colorado and protect the economy," she said.


Project Labor Agreement requires public subsidy

Chanting “construction jobs now” and waving “put us to work” signs, hundreds of construction officials and union members rallied at the Capitol on Tuesday in support of the long-anticipated $2.1 billion expansion of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Mall officials say the expansion – which calls for 5 million square feet of new shops, restaurants and other attractions – would create 7,000 construction jobs and $800 million in construction wages, as well as $100 million in construction taxes and labor income taxes.

It’s a payoff that would – in their view – justify public assistance for the 40-month project, which could begin this fall.

A House bill and a provision in the Senate tax bill seek funding mechanisms to help pay for a parking ramp and other infrastructure improvements related to the expansion. Among other things, the measures would authorize the city of Bloomington to impose sales, lodging, food and recreation taxes for the construction.

David Ybarra, a business manager with the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades, said the project would provide a much-needed spark to a local construction industry that’s smarting.

The unemployment rate for construction workers is 16 percent statewide, he noted, and many others in the industry are working less than full time.

One of those unemployed workers is Ron Larson, a union electrician and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 292.

“We have 25 percent of our members unemployed now, which is unheard of,” Larson said in an interview. “We are running out of our unemployment benefits. ... We need the jobs. Our families are disintegrating; our children are looking at us like, ‘Why are you home all day now?’

“I have been in [the industry] for 30 years. I have never seen anything like this.”

Don Kuplic, an IBEW 292 electrician who has been in the industry for 20 years, nodded in agreement. “This is the third downturn I’ve seen in our market, and it’s twice as bad as the worst one I have seen up until now,” said Kuplic, who has been out of work for a year.

“People say there is no recession in this country. I tell people it depends on where you are looking. ... Overall, this country is hurting, and our metro area is especially hit hard. I think it’s time to put some people to work. Quite frankly, I don’t need the unemployment. I need a job.”

The “Phase II” project has been part of the grand plan for Mall of America since the mammoth shopping center was first conceived in the 1980s.

Mall of America’s website dubs Phase II as the “largest commercial real estate investment in state history,” adding that it would generate more than 7,000 permanent jobs (in addition to the construction jobs) and put $80 million per year in tax coffers by 2015.

Put another way, it’s three times as large as the entire $700 million 2008 bonding bill, noted Tim Worke, director of the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota’s highway division.

“Our guys are very much behind it,” Worke said. “A lot of them would be working a long time on that.”

At the rally, Worke said, “We need to get this done this year. We can make this the Year of Construction in Minnesota.”

But not everyone in the local construction industry is on board with the project.

Like the original mall, it would be built under a “project labor agreement” or PLA, meaning most of the work would go to union contractors.

PLAs are designed to prevent work stoppages in exchange for a promise to honor collectively bargained union agreements for things like fringe benefits during the course of the project.

It’s a provision that raises the hackles of merit shop contractors and their representatives, including Phil Raines, legislative director of the Minnesota Associated Builders and Contractors.

Raines said the expansion project probably wouldn’t need any government subsidies if the mall scrapped the PLA provision. ABC officials have long maintained that PLAs discourage bids from nonunion contractors and thereby add to the cost of a project.

“It’s not shocking that a project that is under a PLA is completely overpriced and the only way they can make it work is by getting government to subsidize it,” Raines said.

Mall officials are going to “lock people out, but they want our people and our families to shop there,” Raines added. “Many of our guys are in Bloomington. They are going to have to pay higher taxes as a result of this ... and they are not even given a fair shot to compete on it.

“That is absolutely obscene.”

Ybarra and mall officials defended the PLA provision.

“I look at it from the perspective that the construction industry, whether it’s organized or unorganized, is in a recession now,” Ybarra said. “Any work is going to be good for the industry.

“The competition is such now that people are just cutting prices and driving the profit margins down to near nothing. This is an opportunity where we are going to create some work and contractors will be able to make some money, regardless of whether they are union or nonunion.”

Speaking on behalf of the mall, local attorney William Griffith said the PLA provision is important to the project because it “essentially guarantees” that “the workforce is going to be there for the project.”

“Nobody is shut out,” said Griffith, of the Larkin Hoffman law firm. “But we have a project labor agreement that has worked [for the mall] for 20 years and we are not going to screw up that formula.

“But if there is excess capacity and we use up some percentage of that, then those people waiting behind to get the next job will have a job.”

Other critics say the government shouldn’t subsidize private businesses such as the Mall of America.

During an April 22 House Taxes Committee hearing, Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, distinguished the Phase II project from other construction efforts that have received public dollars.

“The bonding bill and the transportation bill are public money for public core government services,” she said, as quoted in Session Weekly, a publication of the nonpartisan House Research. “This proposal is public money for a private company.”

But mall officials and other project supporters emphasize that the project includes $1.8 million in private investment, and that the construction phase will create opportunities for hundreds of companies of all sizes.

Terry Brickman, a senior project manager with PCL Construction, said the project would benefit at least 200 subcontractors and 300 suppliers.

“This is a spark that can get us going again in this economy,” he said. “What an opportunity we have to spark the economy.”


County adds days-off to buy labor peace

The Woodbury County (Iowa) Board of Supervisors on Tuesday broadened the number of county employees who have another personal day in their arsenal of employee benefits.

Earlier this year, county employees who are part of the Communications Workers of America and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees bargaining groups moved up from one to two personal days off per year. That action came with new contracts the unions bargained, effective July 1, 2008.

In an item brought before the board by Woodbury County human resources director J.D. Pellersels, the board by 5-0 vote approved adding a second personal day to several nonunion county employees, who are also called wage-plan employees.


City Council hypes 'no-vote' unionism

A resolution stating Marion City Council's support for the Employee Free Choice Act dominated discussion at the governmental body's meeting Monday night. Council gave the resolution a first reading, after a motion to send it back to committee failed by a vote of 6 to 2. Council's jobs and economic development committee had sent the resolution to full council.

Receiving council approval were ordinances that:

- authorize allowing the owner of 163 E. Center St. to build a wheelchair ramp in the city right-of-way in the 100 block of South State Street;

- authorize advertising for bids for janitorial services at City Hall;

- make additional appropriations in the general fund for this year.

Council also gave a first reading to an ordinance that would authorize applying for Community Development Block Grant small cities funding.


SEIU paramedics, EMTs on strike v. AMR

The first strike in American Medical Response's 16-year history began with more than 300 employees picketing Monday. The emergency medical technicians -- who respond to 9-1-1 calls from Temple City to Diamond Bar -- say they are underpaid and disrespected by management.

They have been working without a contract since May, according to Victor Ordorica, president of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics, a unit of SEIU.

AMR, which contracts with agencies throughout Los Angeles County, says the EMTs earn total compensation that is among the highest of private ambulance providers and they are committed to reaching an agreement.

"Compared to other providers we are not the lowest in terms of salary," said Jason Sorrick, spokesman for AMR. "We hope to reach an agreement with the union soon. A strike benefits no one."

But strikers said the proposed raise was lower than the cost-of-living increase.

"It shows management places very little value on its employees." said Mitch Scaff, an EMT.

AMR workers are also striking in Lancaster. They respond to emergency calls throughout the Antelope Valley.

In the most recent offer, employees would have received a 20 percent raise over the next four years and have 75 percent of their medical coverage paid for, Sorrick said. The offer was rejected last week.

"We feel we made a significant offer considering the state of the economy," Sorrick said.

But employees, many of whom say they make less than $10 a hour, say that offer is not enough. One woman said in a two-week period she makes about $800.

Instead, the union is asking for a 23 percent raise over the next three years and for a clause to be taken out of the contract. The clause allows AMR to change insurance providers and increase co-pays and deductibles without bargaining with the union first, according to Ordorica.

AMR is utilizing its EMTs and supervisors from across the state and country to fill vacancies, according to Sorrick. AMR says it will continue to provide the same service they have been.

On Monday, the scene was chaotic with striking workers in front of AMR on Vincent Avenue making it difficult for temporary EMTs to cross the picket line.

Workers marched back and forth with signs in hand that read, "We Can't Afford to Get Sick,""Fair wages now" and "Save your life for $9.50 an hour."

Employees were also scattered nearby at the intersection of Arrow Highway and Vincent Avenue. Truck drivers and passers-by honked horns and waved in support.

Union employees are willing to strike for as long as it takes to reach an agreement, officials said.

Members of Trans-Aid, a competing ambulance service, were present at the strike in search of recruits. Former AMR employees, who left the company for more money, were also present to show their support.

"They should have (struck) a long time ago," said Dennis Medina, former AMR employee. "They (management) need to finally decide to pay them a decent wage."


SEIU pickets disabled care center for higher pay

More than 200 employees at a regional care center for the developmentally disabled will picket for higher pay today in a union-backed demonstration. The informational protest planned from noon to 1 p. m. at all six Tri-Counties Regional Center branches will come as the nonprofit group faces potentially deep cuts in the state funding on which it relies.

Service Employees International Union Local 721—which represents about 220 of the center’s workers in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — has asked managers for cost-of-living raises beyond the 1.4 percent increase the union said has been proposed.

Wage negotiations between SEIU chapter leaders and center managers have gone on for more than six months. Tri-Counties operates two facilities for the developmentally disabled in San Luis Obispo County: one at 3450 Broad St. in San Luis Obispo and another at 5905 Capistrano Ave. in Atascadero.

The union recently filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Tri- Counties, claiming administrators retaliated against employees who displayed pro-union signs in an Oxnard office.

Michael Nagel, human resources director for Tri-Counties, disputed the union’s claims. He said about half of the center’s 270 employees can expect raises between 3 percent and 5 percent, despite a potential cut in state funding.

In 2006, the most recent year for which data was available, the nonprofit group relied on the state for all but $248,000 of the $146 million it received in contributions. It was unclear, Nagel said, how much the state would contribute in the coming year.

As for unfair labor complaints, Nagel said, the Oxnard employees violated a contract agreement that he said prevented them from displaying large SEIU signs or placards in the office.

“Tri-Counties Regional Center is disappointed…that some employees have chosen to picket about the current wage reopener negotiations,” he said.

But the prolonged negotiations have exacerbated already excessive employee turnover in the center, SEIU chapter President Alice Forsythe said. Management and union leaders hope to continue bargaining Friday.

“We have to stand up for the people that need our services,” Forsythe said. “High turnover of senior case workers hurts them.”

However, Nagel said, turnover at the center averages between 10 percent and 15 percent a year, a figure he said was “extremely low” for the field.


SEIU 1199 takes dues hit in Ohio

Forum Health officials confirmed Tuesday that due to fewer patients, a medical surgical unit will close at 3 p.m. today at Northside Medical Center. Lowell Johnson, president and CEO of Western Reserve Care Corp. and Forum Health System, explained that fluctuations in intake sometimes cause seasonal reductions. "Every hospital in the United States has a busier season from October to mid-March," said Johnson. "And every hospital has lighter seasons." Johnson noted that the cuts applied to members of the Service Employees International Union District 1199 and the Ohio Nurses Association.

A Forum spokeswoman said there was a regularly scheduled trustee meeting Tuesday, but she was not certain whether the closing was part of the agenda.

The closing will affect 15 full-time equivalents within the SEIU District 1199 bargaining unit, according to Erin Kramer, coordinator with the hospital division of the union, which represents professional workers as well as technical and service employees at the hospital.

‘‘We’re obviously disappointed with the decision to reduce capacity at Northside,’’ said Kramer.

‘‘We don’t believe management has the right to implement changes unilaterally.’’

Kramer added that non-bargaining unit reductions also could be made, making it difficult to estimate the total number of employees affected.

Eric Williams, president of the Ohio Nurses Association / Youngstown General Duty Nurses Association, declined to comment.

Johnson stressed the seasonal nature of the decision.

‘‘It certainly is our hope that as fall comes we will absolutely need to reopen that unit,’’ said Johnson. ‘‘I would open it tomorrow if we had more patients.’’

Johnson said the hospital had held a series of meetings with the affiliated unions and that such meetings would continue.

Forum Health spokesperson Trish Hrina maintained the closing of the unit would not disrupt daily operations.

‘‘Medical patients will go to a medical floor and surgical patients will go to a surgical floor,’’ said Hrina.

The hospital added that the unit closing would not affect its ability to perform surgeries, nor would the closing affect previously scheduled procedures.

‘‘The goal is that this isn’t going to affect daily business operations,’’ said Hrina. ‘‘Just that particular unit is being closed.’’

Kramer expressed the union’s frustration at the timing of the cuts.

‘‘We’re obviously headed into a set of contract negotiations, and one could be cynical about this,’’ said Kramer.

‘‘Our bigger concern is that the hospital is quick to cut, but has no clear plan to grow health care in the community.’’

Kramer added that, in her experience, she had never seen a unit close temporarily, only to reopen later.

‘‘Management has indicated that (the unit could reopen), and we would like to believe that that is true,’’ said Kramer.


Rosselli rips Stern

Statement by UHW President Sal Rosselli

In recent months United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) and its allies inside SEIU have launched a campaign, in the face of constant threats and retaliation, to reform our International Union.

The most recent act of retaliation is their announcement today of plans to sue UHW leaders. UHW’s elected executive board members created the education fund in question in full compliance with the law, and appropriately released all of the details of its actions. Last week, the fund’s board decided to dissolve the fund and return its resources to UHW. UHW notified SEIU yesterday of this action.

Even so, SEIU scheduled a press conference, talked to reporters and distributed copies of the suit publicly, all before notifying UHW. The dissolution of the fund, the remedy sought by SEIU’s lawsuit, is already underway, making it frivolous.

The lawsuit and the PR circus surrounding it are a hoax being perpetrated on the press and, most shamefully, upon SEIU members, in order to smear us and shut down the Stern team's political opposition. That, if anything, is an inappropriate use of members' dues.

SEIU’s use of selective enforcement is astounding. Rather than going after officers and staff of UHW on trumped-up charges, SEIU should be launching an internal investigation of the Labor Department’s recent charges resulting from Vice President Dave Regan’s financial improprieties and interference in internal union elections in Nevada. SEIU also should investigate charges against Vice President Tom DeBruin and Assistant to the President Josie Mooney for interference and possible labor law violations in delegate elections in California.

Their purpose is to again stifle our dissent, and we won't be silenced.


NYT backs Stern over Rosselli

The Service Employees International Union filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles, accusing the president and nine other leaders of its giant health care local in California of breaching their fiduciary duties. The lawsuit accused them of setting up an educational fund that the parent union said was used to spend money for internal political purposes off the books and without proper accountability.

The lawsuit comes as Sal Rosselli, the president of the California local, United Healthcare Workers-West, has accused Andrew L. Stern, the S.E.I.U.’s president, of being undemocratic. Jonathan Siegel, a lawyer for the local, said its board had approved the creation of the fund and dissolved it last week and returned all the money, some of which was used to educate the local’s nearly 150,000 members about the push for universal health coverage in California.


Rosselli shows remorse for sellout to Stern

In February, Sal Rosselli, leader of the Service Employees International Union's local healthcare affiliate, roiled the U.S. labor movement by going public with his misgivings about a lobbying pact his union made with private nursing home chains, calling it "corporate unionism versus social unionism."

Rosselli needs to take the next step and urge Democrats in the state Legislature to undo the worst aspects of this SEIU sellout, which filled the pockets of nursing home owners while allowing them to worsen quality of care for patients.

Rosselli's February remorse came just in time: Earlier this month, a team of UC San Francisco researchers reported that the SEIU-nursing home industry lobbying alliance's main product — a 2004 bill supposedly aimed at improving patient care by increasing government subsidies to nursing home companies — was a disaster. In exchange for pushing the bill, SEIU was able to add hundreds of union members in selected nursing homes. Rather than using the subsidies to provide better patient care, the UCSF report said, nursing home owners and administrators pocketed the money.

"I thought they would have done more, especially on wages and benefits and some of the staffing," said the study's lead author, Charlene Harrington, director of UCSF's Health Policy in Nursing doctoral program. "But I was disappointed."

Harrington's research team found that, despite a $1.1 billion increase in government payments to nursing homes in California, conditions for patients actually declined from 2004 to 2006. Nurse staffing levels increased slightly, but because pay lagged behind the health industry, turnover worsened, with seven out of 10 nurses quitting each year. With the arrival of new staff, substantiated complaints about conditions leapt 41 percent. The average operating profit margin of nursing homes, meanwhile, increased 747 percent.

The facts on the ground have vindicated Rosselli, who has risked his career by repudiating the lobbying pact. By denouncing it as a sellout, he was attacking a corporate collaboration strategy the union's leadership cites as a recipe for long-term membership growth.

In retaliation, the union's national boss, Andy Stern, has hurled charges of corruption, election violations, and other alleged misdeeds at Rosselli that many see as a prelude to a local coup. Rosselli and other officials describe the accusations and counteraccusations as open warfare.

Presumably, Harrington's report might serve as key evidence boosting Rosselli's cause. But while Rosselli is engaged in a public struggle to regain this moral high ground, his chief lobbyist, Richard Thomason, seems to be quietly running in the opposite direction in California.

Thomason has publicly dismissed the report's conclusions as premature, and has described the 2003 union-industry pact in misleadingly positive terms as a "consensus" among health-care advocates. Most unusually, Thomason says he is pushing for an extension of the increased subsidies that the UCSF report suggests short-changed workers, patients, and taxpayers.

"At this point, we're talking about a one-year extension to give more time for us to see how it's played out," he said in an interview last week. "We'd like to get more results as to how it's been working." The UCSF study, he said, "hasn't produced significant results for improving quality. But it's still early to make any kind of judgment."

Until now, I've taken Rosselli's public misgivings about the nursing home alliance at face value. But Thomason's statements raise the question of whether his lobbying arm is pushing to maintain the status quo.

To the union's credit, Rosselli lieutenant John Vellardita, director of UHW-West's nursing home division, told me that he understands the union's lobbying strategy differently. Rather than saying nursing home corporations needed more time to stop pocketing public subsidies intended for patient care, Vellardita said they need more regulation.

"We will not support [the bill's] renewal without fundamental changes that guarantee better care in the form of beefed-up staffing to achieve a ratio of patients to staff of 4.1 to one," he said. "The problem is, there's nothing in the [California state] budget to beef up enforcement. So the starting point in any discussion has to be that they have enforcement. We want to see even greater improvement. And we want to see discussion to take place to hold the industry accountable."

For credibility's sake, Vellardita and Rosselli should make sure Thomason follows through on this promise.

Unmentioned in the UCSF study was the degree to which the SEIU was complicit in enabling nursing home companies to suck up public dollars without improving care. Rosselli has so far focused his dissident turn on the idea that the nursing home agreement gave his members a lousy payoff. That's indisputable: New union members were added, but only under an agreement that stymied the union's right to complain about bad conditions.

If what SEIU got out of the bargain was bad, what it gave in return was horrid.

In exchange for increased membership, the SEIU promised to use its clout with Sacramento Democrats to advance nursing home industry interests. This meant steamrolling the nursing home industry's traditional political enemies — including AARP and health advocates for disabled and elderly residents. Patients' advocates rankled healthcare executives by demanding that any increases in government subsidies be linked to specific requirements similar to a patients' bill of rights by increasing oversight and accountability, expanding and training staff, and taking better care of patients. They insisted that without these kinds of safeguards, the nursing home company owners and administrators would simply keep the money. It was this standoff the SEIU helped break.

Once the alliance deal was inked in 2004, the SEIU went to work sponsoring a bill — in defiance of patients' groups — that increased government subsidies by more than $1 billion. Notably, it did not include the accountability measures favored by AARP and others. "Without mandated staff-to-resident ratios and no increased staff training requirements, the bill does not foster increased quality of care," the bill's Assembly analysis summarized opponents' concerns at the time.

When I spoke with Thomason last week, he seemed committed to rewriting this history, painting a misleading picture of the SEIU lobbying agreement. He also mouthed nursing home industry criticisms of the new UCSF study, and attempted to downplay his own involvement in the 2004 bill. Before taking his current job as chief lobbyist for UHW-West, he was a health policy consultant for Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer, author of the 2004 bill. "There was a whole coalition that involved the nursing home industry and SEIU and senior advocates," Thomason said. "It had a lot of support right out of the gate."

Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, recalls it differently. "It's absolute bullshit to pretend they had wide consensus among seniors' groups," he said. "The people it was going to affect in the first place were adamantly opposed to the bill going forward without accountability and quality of care standards being included. For him to say that there was consensus, he simply knows that that is not accurate."

When I spoke with Vellardita, he backed Thomason's claim that the new UCSF study is premature: "Studies suggest the verdict is not in," he said.

The study's lead author begs to differ. "The industry is claiming it's too early to tell, but they got the money, and they spent the money," Harrington retorted. "It's quite a bit of money, and they made decisions about what to do with it."

It's now up to UHW-West to retake the moral high ground and lobby for some fundamental changes that guarantee better care. "Our position is that changes have to occur," Vellardita said after I spoke with Thomason.

Let's hope so.


AFSCME uses forced-dues for political donations

Pendleton (Oregon) City Council candidate Bryan Branstetter responded Monday to campaign finance accusations fellow candidate Connie Wright made in a letter to the Secretary of State's office Friday. Wright did not specifically direct most of her accusations at Branstetter, but more toward possible union contributions to his campaign. Wright alleged union contributions came from treasuries that members dues filled, something Wright - a former union official herself - believes was illegal.

The legal counsel for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Jason Weyand, disagreed, saying campaign donating with dues dollars is legal in Oregon.

"AFSCME Local 3361 has not engaged in any conduct that violates applicable election laws," Weyand said in an e-mail to the East Oregonian, "because Oregon does not prohibit local unions from using dues money to contribute to political campaigns."

The AFSCME Web site, in a question-and-answer section, deals with the issue - "Do my dues pay for contributions to political candidates?"

The Web site answer says, "No. Under federal law, and many state laws, union dues cannot be used directly to fund political candidates, although they may be used to support some state-level candidates."

"While that may be the case for federal campaigns, it's not the case for local campaigns," Weyand said.

Weyand said this applies to national campaigns, but because Branstetter's race is local, only local and state laws apply.

"In general, there's different rules for federal campaigns versus state campaigns," he said. "Local city council and county elections are governed by Oregon laws - when we can and cannot make contributions."

Branstetter said he had nothing to hide.

"I have open books," he said. "If the Secretary of State wants to come look at them, I'm all in favor of it because I've got nothing to hide from no one."

Branstetter's committee to elect, along with a list of contributions and expenditures, are listed with Oregon's elections database, ORESTAR.

His total contributions amount to about $2,675. A list of who donated and the amount is available at the state elections Web site.

"Anything I've either got a bill for, received a contribution from, such as in-kind, is on ORESTAR," Branstetter said.

He said he would welcome anyone looking at his accounts.

Branstetter said there are more important issues.

"My deal is you need to focus on the issues of the city," he said. "It needs to be a positive campaign. ...I put my name in the hat to run for city council because I believe in the city."


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The labor union industry includes 15,000 organizations; the largest unions have annual revenue between $100 and $300 million. Major organizations include the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the National Education Association, the Service Employees International Union Committee, and the National Association of Letter Carriers.


Business and job growth drive demand. The profitability of individual organizations depends on ability to grow membership. Large unions have stronger bargaining power and advantages in marketing and finance. Small unions can serve a local market or individuals in specialized industries or professions.


The majority of revenue comes from member dues, including fees from individual workers and other unions. Unions may also generate revenue from investment income. Industry sectors with strong union participation include government and education, training, library, and protective services.

National unions may have local, state, regional, or international chapters, also known as affiliates or delegates. Unions may belong to larger unions, such as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). An individual union's membership can vary: local chapters may have less than 100 members while national organizations claim millions.

Unions represent groups of workers within common industries or professions. Closed shop employers require union membership of workers, but union membership is optional in open shop employers. Some states have Right-To-Work (RTW) laws, and prohibit union membership as a condition of employment.


AFSCME blasts Atlanta privatization

Atlanta is scheduled to accept bids Wednesday from companies that want to run the city's parking ticket and meter collection operation, now done by the Public Works Department. As the city grapples with a $140 million projected shortfall for the fiscal year that starts July 1, some officials say Atlanta should privatize some services.

Leonard Gilroy, director of government reform for the Reason Foundation, a California-based nonprofit group that supports free markets, believes privatization is cost-effective.

He thinks Atlanta should invite companies to compete against city departments to run services such as trash collection and maintaining city-owned vehicles. Other cities, such as Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix and San Diego, outsource some services under a concept called "managed competition."

"If managed competition were applied in a comprehensive, enterprisewide manner, Atlanta would likely be able to completely close its current budget gap," argued Gilroy, adjunct scholar at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an Atlanta-based think tank.

Nancy Lenk, a leader of one of the city's largest unions, disagrees. She says union leaders in other cities have seen businesses frequently make low bids to provide government services and later increase their rates well past how much it cost government workers to do the job.

"Over time, [privatizing] is a bad idea," said Lenk, assistant director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 1644, which says it represents about 2,000 Atlanta employees.

City officials say Atlanta spends about $1.3 million a year on parking enforcement and collects about $3 million annually from fines and the meters. Public Works spokeswoman Tenee Hawkins said the city expects to collect more money from privatizing the service and will consider any ideas the winning company may have to expand the parking program. The city has not decided how long the contract would be for or any revenue-sharing agreement with the company it hires. The City Council must approve the contract.

Twenty-six city employees work in parking enforcement. A draft of proposed policy changes, purportedly from City Hall, said those positions will be eliminated in the city budget for the new fiscal year. Mayor Shirley Franklin is scheduled to release the proposed budget to City Council members Thursday. The mayor has declined to discuss most details, such as how many jobs she wants to cut.

Some city officials are trying to forget Atlanta's last foray into privatization.

In 1999, the city hired United Water to run its water system. By 2003, Franklin and the City Council severed Atlanta's contract with the company largely because United Water collected less money than the city expected. City leaders also complained United Water was slow to repair leaks and water main breaks. The company said it could not keep up because the city's system was crumbling and the workload was overwhelming.

"That was an apocalyptic example of a good idea gone bad," said Councilman Howard Shook, chairman of the council's finance/executive committee.

Councilwoman Cleta Winslow said the United Water experience "left a bad taste in my mouth" and suggests Atlanta should proceed cautiously before privatizing again.

"You've got to find the right answer and not just an answer to a problem, so I think it's something you have to look [carefully] at," said Winslow, who visited Paris, Versailles and Great Britain in the late 1990s to see first-hand how privatization works.

Councilwoman Anne Fauver said the United Water contract failed because it didn't impose penalties for delays on doing such work as repairing water mains.

"I don't think it is a good comparison of how [privatization] could be," she said.

Other cities say they've fared much better privatizing some services. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders thinks his city is saving $50 million a year through managed competition for services such as waste disposal and maintenance of storm drains, traffic signals, streets and sidewalks, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. However, that city council's budget analyst released a report in September saying managed competition there was moving too slowly.

Privatization proponents say governments don't have to spend as much money on pensions. Critics argue managed competition can lead to corruption by companies "paying to play" with elected officials through campaign contributions or back-room deals.

Despite the potential pitfalls, Gilroy thinks Atlanta should consider the idea.

"The sooner that city leaders realize that business as usual is not going to work, the better," he said. "This is one of those moments you need to step back and look at how the city does business."


Teamster sickout forces privatization

The city of Toledo was forced to hire private trash haulers yesterday to help collect residents' garbage because of an apparent "sick-out" among refuse workers. Twenty-three out of nearly 100 refuse collectors were out yesterday - one day after the city began distributing to some 10,000 households the 96-gallon containers for an automated trash-pickup pilot program.

When the city begins the pilot program on Monday, the trash pickup day for about 7,000 homes in three pockets of the city will be changed and the number of routes will be cut from 33 to 27.

Julian Highsmith, the city's commissioner of solid waste, said he hired two trucks each yesterday from Allied Waste Services and Waste Management at a cost of $140 an hour per truck.

Mr. Highsmith said officials from Teamsters Local 20, which represents the refuse collectors, denied sanctioning a sick-out.

"The first thing I did was ask the people we had if anyone wanted to work overtime," Mr. Highsmith said. "After that, I had to go and get the private companies and their trucks."

He could not say last night what the total cost in overtime and hiring the two private trash haulers would be to the city.

Toledo City Council President Mark Sobczak, who is also vice president of Teamsters Local 20, declined to comment.

Mr. Highsmith said there would be no job reductions because of the pilot program.

When asked to speculate on the reason so many workers had called off, Mr. Highsmith said it could be the route reduction.

"That's going to make them work longer days," he said. "Right now, they are averaging four to five hours, and with these longer routes, they will probably be working six to seven hours a day."

Earlier this year, city officials said after the route adjustments, Toledo would be left with 59 collectors and 36 drivers - down from 111 refuse collectors and drivers. The cuts would save the city about $460,000 from May 1 to Dec. 31.

Brian Schwartz, spokesman for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, said city officials have noticed a pattern of highest call-offs during the heavy trash collection days.

Toledo's goal is to have trash and recycling pickups completely automated by May, 2010, with the exception of some streets that are too narrow for the trucks equipped with automated arms on the side.

Citywide automated pickup planned for 2010 would require only 11 collectors and 44 drivers.

Also on Monday, the city's trash collection fee will increase from $5.50 a month to $7 a month for those who don't recycle and decrease from $3 to $2 a month for those who do.

It will increase again on May 1, 2009, to $8.50 a month for those who don't recycle and drop to $1 for those who do. Beginning on May 1, 2010, the fee jumps to $10 a month for those who don't recycle, and drops to zero for those who participate in curbside recycling.

City officials asked residents to leave their garbage out yesterday and said it would be picked up.

"The city of Toledo will not tolerate employees not doing the jobs," Mr. Schwartz said in a statement.


Union dues trump environmentalism

It took nearly six hours of debate, discussion and a few emotional outbursts for the largest economic development project in Waterloo's history to win local approval. Waterloo City Council members voted 6-1 Monday to annex 347 acres of land on the city's northeast side and approved the first of three required ordinance readings to zone 260 of those acres for the proposed Elk Run Energy Station. Councilman Quentin Hart, who represents Ward 4 where the power plant would locate, voted against both measures, citing public health concerns.

Councilman Steve Schmitt joined Hart in voting against suspending normal rules and rushing the project through --- forcing the second and potentially third readings of the zoning change to return to the council agenda next week.

Supporters of the planned $1.5 billion, 750-megawatt

coal-burning electric generating facility said the city needs the jobs and the region needs the power, opponents said it comes at too high a price --- namely, dangers to the health of area residents.

Project supporters in green T-shirts or wearing suits with buttons of support waited in line with opponents and their "No Coal Plant" buttons and shirts to get one of the 150 seats in the meeting room. Others were forced to watch on closed-circuit monitors in the lobby.

The public hearing drew many more supporters than an April 2007 hearing when council members approved the annexation and zoning change only to see it overturned by the state City Development Board. The current annexation configuration does not require that board's approval.

"We've gone above and beyond what is required in the zoning ordinance," said Mark Milburn, director of project development for Elk Run Energy Associates. "Our proposal is well thought out. We are here to build what will be a tremendous project for Waterloo, Black Hawk County and the entire region."

Among the new supporters were members of a municipal utilities coalition hoping to buy power from the plant.

"We are concerned about Iowa's aging fleet of coal-powered units," said Kris Stubbs, of Resale Power Group of Iowa, which represents 29 municipal utilities. "This new generation will greatly affect the economic vitality of our member communities."

Jared Bauch of Traer, an RPGI member, said that city can no longer secure long-term contracts and reasonable rates for power, and is banking on the Waterloo project to increase competition in the market.

Brian Rushing, manager of power origin for Elk Run Energy Associates' parent company, LS Power, said the company has letters of intent, primarily from municipal utilities, to use up to 500 megawatts of the plant's capacity. Renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, is not stable enough to meet baseline power needs for the area, he added.

Scott Smith, of Solon, was one of numerous members of the Iowa Building Trades Council AFL-CIO to speak in support of the project.

"In another 10 years the lights will start going dim," he said. "Where are you going to plug in your cell phone? �¿� Where are you going to plug in your hybrid vehicle?"

But the most passionate arguments of the evening came from plant opponents, many affiliated with Community Energy Solutions. They expressed concerns about negative health effects from power plant emissions.

"As a citizen of Waterloo I'm deeply concerned about the bleak and deadly future Waterloo would have with a coal-fired power plant," said Renata Sack.

Dr. Linda Huss, a physician, cited a study by University of Northern Iowa professor William Stigliani which detailed health risks caused by fine particulate matter emitted from such plants, even at current Environment Protection Agency standards.

"You are charged with protecting the public health," Huss told council members. "This facility will cause deaths in the community."

Nine-year-old Michaela Fishback, an Irving Elementary School fourth-grader, brought a purple stuffed animal to the podium when she delivered her remarks.

"I'm worried about my mom's asthma," she said. "I really personally think there should be a law against coal-fired power plants."

The Rev. Mary Robinson, a member of the county Board of Health that commissioned Stigliani's study, noted the plant was being located nearest to a large concentration of African-Americans, who are 2.5 times more likely than whites in the county to be hospitalized for respiratory ailments and 40 percent more likely than the state average.

"It may be economically unpopular to do what is morally right," Robinson said.

The local chapter of the NAACP also opposed the project.

Cathy DeSoto, of Waterloo, who has conducted research on the link between childhood autism rates and mercury released from coal plants, chastised city officials and others who suggested the council should not consider health issues when dealing with the annexation and land use matters.

Hugh Field, a Waterloo attorney, is a member of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Waterloo Industrial Development Association, which both endorsed the plant.

He said concerns about air quality should be left up to the EPA and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which must approve an emissions permit for the plant to operate.

"I don't know that any of you are engineers, scientists or physicists," Field told council members. "There will be people who will look at this, and I urge you to rely on them."

David Wilson, an environmental engineer for LS Power, said the DNR will stringently enforce air quality issues.

"The air emissions from the plant will be safe to public health and the environment," he said. "We'll use the top technology available for mercury removal."

Other concerns raised by opponents of the power plant included potential delays from coal trains, hazardous run-off from the plant site, dumping of fly ash at a quarry in the southern half of the county and carbon by-products that contribute to global warming.

Engineers hired by the company testified train delays would not exceed 10 minutes at crossings, while runoff from the city would be reduced. Wilson said the DNR will monitor the dumping of coal combustion by-products at the quarry.

In the end, economic development issues ruled the evening.

"Working people in Waterloo deserve the right to work," said Mike Mallaro, of Progress Cedar Valley, which supports the project. "There is no outcry in Cedar Falls over these two power plants that have operated for decades."

The plant is expected to have a $270 million economic impact and employ up to 1,200 workers during its four-year construction phase. It is projected to have a $25 million annual impact and 100 full-time jobs once it starts operations.

It will also pay an estimated $3.15 million in taxes, including $800,000 to the city of Waterloo.

Steve Dust, president of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance, said the plant will help encourage confidence from other companies considering the Cedar Valley or the city's northeast industrial area, which includes the John Deere Donald Street plant, Tyson Fresh Meats and Eagle Ottawa Tannery, all directly west of the power plant site.

"Elk Run is a logical next step in the growth of this heavy industrial area," he said. "Economic development and community growth require energy."

Banker Joe Vich added, "We had a hiccup with the Monsanto project, and it really gave us a black eye in the community and the state. We cannot allow that to happen again."

Nearly a dozen representatives of the Building Trades Council took to the podium to support the project. LS Power has signed a project labor agreement to utilize union workers for a large portion of the construction.

Ritchie Kurtenbach, president of the Waterloo Building Trades Council, said Waterloo members worked on a similar plant in Council Bluffs.

"Now we have the opportunity to build this power plant in Waterloo," he said. "It would be an enormous loss to let it slip away."

In addition to the annexation and zoning votes, the council voted 6-1 --- Hart again with the lone dissent --- to reapprove a development agreement adopted during the zoning process last year.

In it, Elk Run Energy Associates agrees to pay for reconstructing Newell Road to serve the plant, extending utilities at its own cost, not to seek tax abatements and to make a number of community donations: $400,000 to the Highway 63 Gateway Community Development Corp.; $100,000 for a technical scholarship fund; and $150,000 for construction of a recreational trail on the city's east side.

The company has also agreed, outside of the development pact, to donated $100,000 to KBBG Radio and more than $400,000 to UNI for the study of renewable energy sources.

Plant opponent Ron Spears called those donations "bribes."

Mayor Tim Hurley has not masked his support for the project over the past year. But he delivered his first public statement on the matter before the vote.

"I believe we as a city government have done what we're supposed to do," he said, adding the plant has been "the most thoroughly discussed and dissected project" to come before the council in many years.

Hurley also defended council members who have been verbally attacked and had their character questioned during the process, referring to some comments as "loathsome."

He also said public health concerns are also economic.

"A strong economy creates jobs, which creates wealth" and allows residents to have decent shelter and nutritious food, he said. The power plant will help provide those jobs.

Assuming council members give final approval to the zoning change in coming weeks, Elk Run Energy Associates will still need the DNR permit, which will include another local public hearing. The Iowa Utilities Board must also approve the project before construction could begin.

LS Power's Milburn said the company hopes to begin construction in 2009 and be operational in 2013.

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