Unlimited union budget protects labor-state

Labor unions have raised $1.58 million to push a pair of ballot initiatives that would hold executives criminally liable for company wrongdoings and require businesses to provide reasons for firing workers. The Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters union and other labor groups provided nearly all of the money collected by Protect Colorado's Future, records filed Thursday with the secretary of state's office show.

Meanwhile, the group conducting the business-backed right-to-work campaign has raised $200,250, with $200,000 coming from Golden-based CoorsTek.

Protect Colorado's Future already has spent much of its money on grassroots voter organization. But $900,000 is available to fund the collection of signatures to get the labor-backed measures on the ballot and to fight the right-to-work initiative, the group said.

In addition to contributions from labor unions, Protect Colorado's Future had hundreds of individual donors who, for the most part, contributed less than $50 each. "We're humbled by the support that we've gotten from a lot of folks," said Jess Knox, executive director of the pro-labor group.

The right-to-work initiative has collected enough signatures and will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 47. The campaign, which seeks to ban mandatory union membership in Colorado, will probably cost millions of dollars.

A Better Colorado is the name of the organization backing right-to-work. It has spent $185,960. That does not include money spent by a separate group to collect signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.

A $200,000 contribution to A Better Colorado from Colorado Citizens for Change was funded by CoorsTek, said Jonathan Coors, the company's director of government relations. Coors Tek is a high-tech manufacturing spinoff of the brewing company and is run by Jonathan's father, John Coors.

The only other cash donation came from Ronald Martinez, a retired Colorado Springs resident. American Furniture Warehouse has donated office furniture valued at $2,817, records show.

American Furniture, owned by Jake Jabs, also contributed money to the group that collected signatures for the right-to-work campaign.

A Better Colorado spokesman blasted the union's initiative efforts.

"Their report shows that almost 100 percent of their contributions came from big labor-union interests, money that was taken from their hardworking members' paychecks," Kelley Harp said.


Engineers routed in tribal Casino War battle

For the second time in less than a year, a contingent of workers took to the polls at Foxwoods Resort Casino. But this time the outcome was different. Of the workers from the engineering department who cast ballots Thursday, 215 voted against union representation by the International Union of Operating Engineers, while 67 voted in favor, according to a release issued by Foxwoods Thursday evening.

”I believe in my heart that the people voted with the heads,” said Paul Bychowsky, who has worked as an engineering technician for 14 years at Foxwoods.“This is what it's all about, people coming together and letting their vote be known. Why change something that works?”

A representative from the union could not be reached to comment Thursday evening.

The election results were hailed as a major victory by Foxwoods, which has recently received intense pressure as several unions have filed petitions seeking to unionize workers at the casino.

”We are very pleased with the vote of confidence that employees have given Foxwoods management today,” said Foxwoods President Barry Cregan in the release issued shortly after 7 p.m. “Those team members displayed outstanding professionalism through the entire process and clearly agreed that having an intermediary come between us wasn't necessary.”

The results were announced by the casino just after 7 p.m.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30 filed its petition with the National Labor Relations Board in Hartford on March 7, stating it had the support of a substantial amount of workers in the proposed bargaining unit. The workers in the unit include skilled maintenance workers like electricians, plumbers, painters and HVAC workers within the engineering department.

William Lynn, the lead organizer for the IUOE Local 30, at that time, said workers approached the union because they were unhappy with work atmosphere, benefits and wages.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods, responded to the petition by questioning whether the NLRB and the National Labor Relations Act, citing its sovereign immunity.

The tribe made similar arguments last year when a union election was held among table game and poker dealers. The dealers voted in favor of representation by the United Auto Workers union, but the tribe contested the results, questioning why ballots were not translated and alleged misconduct by union organizers.

The tribe also raised objections about the NLRB's jurisdiction over the sovereign nation - but that objection was tossed out.

In February of 2007, a federal appeals court ruled that labor laws do apply to the nation's Indian tribes.

An administrative law judge heard seven days of testimony relating to the objections relating to the Nov. 24 election and ruled in March that the election should be certified.

The tribe and its attorneys have pledged to appeal that decision.

Since the IUOE filed its petition, three others have been filed, seeking to unionize workers at Foxwoods.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is seeking to unionize slot technicians in early April. The UAW then filed a petition the following week, seeking to organize the same set of workers.

The UAW then filed another petition shortly thereafter seeking to unionize a group of 40 or so racebook writers and dual-rate racebook writers, employees that work in the off-track betting section of the casino.

NLRB Regional Director Peter B. Hoffman is expected to issue a decision as to whether an election should be held among racebook writers in the coming weeks.


Ban on secret-ballot union elections stumbles

Two bills supported by labor groups but opposed by Hawaii businesses are dead this legislative session. House Bill 2974, the so-called "card check" bill, was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle on April 14. Legislators had until Thursday to override the veto. HB 2974 was supported by unions, who wanted to waive a state law requiring a secret ballot election if 30 percent of workers signed authorization cards.

Business groups argued the card process is undemocratic and placed undue pressure on workers.

House Bill 1745, the so-called "successor employer" bill, would have required new owners of companies with more than 100 employees to keep all rank-and-file workers.

Though it had strong support from House Democrats, the Senate tabled the measure in conference committee on April 15.

The Hawaii Legislature concludes its 2008 session Thursday.


Feds to impose police, fire unions nationwide

One size harms all?

Shelbyville may soon join forces with other Tennessee municipalities to lobby against a bill requiring union representation for public service employees. City manager Ed Craig explained that a bill has made its way through Congress and is now in the Senate that would require states to have mandatory collective bargaining for fire and police. The bill, S2123, is titled the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007, and was introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire.

"If you do not meet the federal standards, if you do not in your state, have labor standards that require mandatory collective bargaining with fire and police, then the federal standards would be imposed on the states," if the bill became law, Craig explained.

Craig called the bill "a matter of concern."

The bill would not only put a burden on the city, but also on public service personnel like fire and police officials, because "they do not have a choice. It's a closed shop. They have to be in the union," Craig said.

The city would lose their management rights and the public service officials would lose their rights to meet with management, which would not only include Craig, but the police and fire chief as well.

"They would have to meet through the union shop steward," Craig said.

The city have dealt with unionization effort for firefighters in Tennessee before, Craig said and the Tennessee Municipal League (TML) has opposed the efforts, which Craig termed "a bad bill" that would have "taken away the rights of employees."

The city of Maryville is leading an effort along with other municipalities across the state to lobby against the bill. The National Organization of Cities is also moving against the bill, Craig said.

Currently, there are 30 co-sponsors for the bill in the Senate and it will take 60 to get the unionization bill to a vote. Senators Alexander and Corker are against it, Craig said.

"But they are not enough (to defeat the bill) ... and 17 states are still right to work states. But a lot of senators already have unionized public safety officers and they support the bill because they don't want to lose any votes," Craig explained.

The lobbying effort will take place over the next two and a half months, which Craig termed "a critical period." The contractor is paid $7,500 a month and Maryville is trying to get as many cities to join with them as they can. So far, 15 municipalities have agreed.

The cost to Shelbyville for the lobbying would be about $1,200 and if more cities join the effort, the cost could fall to about $500, Craig stated.


Unions finance ongoing Dem bloodbath

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have aggressively courted organized labor, but unions are divided between the Democratic candidates. Clinton and Obama frequently address issues that hit home for unions -- wages, protection of the right to form unions, health insurance, cutting taxes for the middle class and reworking trade agreements that some union members blame for job loss. A union's endorsement can give a candidate's campaign a significant boost because union members often act as ground troops to canvass neighborhoods and work the phones.

Speaking in Portage, Indiana, Clinton on Wednesday told workers "the American labor movement built the middle class."

"I will fight with you and for you. And no state needs a president more who understands the importance of manufacturing and the significance of the labor union movement than Indiana," she said in her speech at Duneland Falls Steel Workers Local Union Hall.

Obama last month told union members in Pennsylvania he's "ready to play offense for organized labor."

"It's time we had a president who didn't choke saying the word 'union.' It's time we had a Democratic nominee who doesn't just talk about unions in the primary," he said.

"We need a president who knows it's the Department of Labor and not the Department of Management. A president who strengthens our unions by letting them do what they do best -- organize our workers." Video Watch how the candidates are campaigning in the Midwest »

Clinton has the support of many public sector unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union, the American Federation of Teachers and the United Farm Workers.

Obama has the support of the Service Employees International Union, Teamsters and Unite Here, which represents hotel and restaurant workers.

Unite Here's leader, Bruce Raynor, said he does not trust Clinton when she says she will rework the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We have a big problem with believing that the Clintons are committed to free trade policies that would protect American jobs. That worries us," he said. "Sen. Obama, on the other hand, us been with us from day one."

Clinton has faced skepticism because her husband, former President Bill Clinton, supports a free trade agreement with Colombia. Clinton insists she staunchly opposes it.

"I don't think any married couple I know agrees on everything, and we disagree on this," she said last month.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has argued that his plan to lower taxes should benefit all workers. Video Watch how McCain is courting blue-collar voters »

The AFL-CIO, the umbrella group for many major unions, has not endorsed a candidate, but the group has launched an aggressive attack against McCain.

The $53 million effort, called "McCain Revealed," aims to educate voters on the Arizona Republican senator's record, which the labor group says has been consistently anti-working families.

A Republican National Committee spokesman called on Obama and Clinton to denounce the AFL-CIO's efforts, saying it would be consistent with both senators' denunciations of special interest groups.

"The AFL-CIO's campaign against John McCain clearly demonstrates their priorities lie in attack politics as opposed to focusing on American families," RNC spokesman Alex Conant said.

"Voters looking for something new will find it in John McCain's campaign to help working families -- not the AFL-CIO's partisan attacks."


Group to defend Colorado economy from unions

The push to get pro-business or pro-labor issues on the ballot is picking up steam. So is the push to block them. Several business leaders are banding together in a group called ‘Defend Our Economy.’ Their mission is to defeat several union-backed measures which they say will harm the economic climate in Colorado.

Among the measures they’re targeting are initiatives to increase liability for businesses, prohibit firing without just cause, raise property taxes and mandate cost of living increases.

“If you have a CPI (Consumer Price Index cost of living) there and it can’t go down with a decrease in revenue during an economic downturn, then you’re going to see layoffs,” said Timothy Wolfe of the Sheraton Denver West.

“Our mission is to champion a healthy business climate all across Colorado,” said Dan Pilcher, vice president of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, whose board voted unanimously to back ‘Defend Our Economy.’

“A major strategy of CACI is to oppose legislation and ballot initiatives that would increase the cost of doing business in Colorado by placing costly unwarranted mandates on companies,” Pilcher added.

The group said it is not taking a stance on ‘Amendment 47,’ the right to work proposal which has gained enough signatures to be placed on the ballot.

It’s because of Amendment 47 that union supporters have filed their own measures.

“They’re saying, ‘We’re tired of the corporation’s agenda. We’re tired of workers falling farther and farther behind,’” said Ernest Duran, president of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 7. “So if you’re going to start legislation through the constitution, workers are saying, ‘we can legislate through the constitution as well.’

But Rep. Mike May, R-House Minority Leader, said that attitude can only harm the state.

“Now you’re looking at mutually assured destruction. Let’s just all shoot at each other and see what happens,” May said. “That is a failure of leadership from our Governor.”

May said there were 60-years of labor peace in Colorado, until Governor Bill Ritter issued an executive order allowing state employees to unionize.

He said, since then, the Governor has tried to get both sides to iron out their differences, but it hasn’t worked.

He said that fighting will translate into lost jobs, higher prices and fewer choices.

He added, “The combination of all these initiatives is just horrendous for Colorado.”


Employer group backs worker-choice

The Colorado Association of Home Builders, which represents about 4,000 member companies, today endorsed the controversial right-to-work measure. Delta-based Colorado Timber Industry Association, whose members employ about 2,500 people, also endorsed right-to-work, the effort to ban mandatory union membership in Colorado.

The initiative, Amendment 47, has been cleared by the secretary of state's office for November's ballot.

"Passing Amendment 47 will help strengthen Colorado's economy and make this state more competitive in this struggling economy," said Tom Taylor, president of the Colorado Association of Home Builders, in a statement.

Other proponents of the measure include the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.


Harbinger of conflict ahead of SEIU convention

Mounting conflicts within the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have spilled into the delegate election process for the union’s convention, scheduled for June 1-4 in Puerto Rico. SEIU opposition activists, particularly from several large locals on the West Coast, are crying foul—denouncing what they say are coordinated interventions by International staff and appointed leaders in the delegate election process.

The tussle over delegate elections is the latest chapter in the high-profile challenge to SEIU’s current direction, led by the Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW), the third-largest local inside the union. UHW leaders claim that members are being shut out of meaningful decision-making in the union.

Rank-and-file dissent has spread well beyond UHW, sparking the creation of a reform caucus inside the union, SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today (SMART). Both UHW leaders and SMART activists are backing a series of democratic reforms to the SEIU constitution at the June convention, including direct election of international officers, the right for members to elect bargaining committees and approve contract proposals, and a requirement that future mergers be approved by a majority of the members affected.


One high-profile effort to contain the influence of UHW and its president Sal Rosselli occurred in the recent delegate race inside SEIU Local 1021, a public sector local in the Bay Area created last year from the merger of 10 existing locals.

According to a complaint filed with the local’s election committee in mid-April, senior staff in the local worked secretly with the appointed local president, Damita Davis-Howard, to “design and develop her entire campaign (everything from talking points to field strategy).” The election complaint cites email exchanges between Davis-Howard and top staffers at the local which first came to light in an April 2 exposé in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Calling themselves the “salsa team,” Davis-Howard and her top staffers coordinated strategy, exchanged anti-Rosselli talking points, and worked to identify potential delegates sympathetic to the agenda of SEIU International President Andy Stern.

The provisional bylaws for Local 1021 require staff to remain neutral in local elections, a point repeatedly stressed to lower-level staff during the election, according to the leaked emails.

“This was about controlling the outcome of the election,” said Roxanne Sanchez, a top vote-getter in the delegate race and one of 15 members who filed the election complaint. “They wanted to make sure they could pick the delegation through this manipulation, and through their influence.

“This is the frightening thing about having a staff-driven union,” she added. “They start making decisions for you. They got involved because they thought they should have control of the outcome.”

Brian Cruz, another top delegate vote-getter (and a signer of the complaint), described this election as a dry run for the current leadership. “They needed Damita to win, and win big, because it wouldn’t look good for her otherwise,” he said. “She was appointed to her position and has never run for office before. They were trying to make sure she could win the race for president in a year or two.”


In addition to coordinating with top staff in the local, both the election complaint and the email trail link Davis-Howard to Josie Mooney, a special assistant to Stern and former executive director of SEIU Local 790, one of the locals that merged into 1021 last year.

Helping elect pro-Stern delegates in her old local, however, was not Mooney’s only role in containing the pre-convention discord emerging inside SEIU. According to Thomas Dewar, former communications staff for Local 1021, he was invited by Mooney in early March to join a “skunk team” designed to tarnish Rosselli’s image and quell the pro-democracy movement building in advance of the convention.

“Maybe I was naïve, but I suggested that we appropriate his platform,” Dewar said. “It seemed like pretty reasonable stuff, but they didn’t want to have the debate with the UHW. It was all about shutting Sal down.”

Dewar reports that Mooney’s “skunk team” was personally sanctioned by Stern, and included International Vice President Tom DeBruin, along with San Francisco consultant Mark Mosher, whose firm has represented both the UHW and Sutter Health, a hospital chain.


Responding on Mooney’s behalf, International spokesperson Andrew McDonald denied any wrongdoing. “There is no hit squad, no skunk team, they don’t exist, period,” said McDonald. “Dewar is circulating a sensational account of a dinner meeting where leaders were talking about how to best get SEIU’s message out.”

Within her old local Mooney’s efforts to rally the pro-Stern forces haven’t been ignored. An initial report from the Local 1021 elections committee exonerated Mooney, the local’s top staff, and Davis-Howard, ruling that the local’s “bylaws provide that staff can be members, and as staff named in the complaint are members of the union, they are therefore eligible to campaign in support of candidates.”

For Cruz, this outcome was not surprising. “The election committee was appointed by Damita. They saw our complaint and threw it in the trash.”

According to Local 1021 executive board member Ed Kinchley, also a signer of the complaint, the election committee’s report did not put the issue to rest. The question of staff involvement in the delegate races occupied center stage at the local’s executive board meeting on April 21, where, Kinchley reports, Mooney was stripped of her membership in the local.

Reached via email, Mooney insists she is still a retired member in good standing in the local.


The International has also turned its attention to delegate election irregularities, although not inside Local 1021. On April 15, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger ruled that the recent delegate elections inside UHW—where the local restricted eligibility to elected shop stewards—was a violation of the SEIU constitution. McDonald condemned UHW’s delegate election plan as a “conscious decision to exclude 97 percent of the members of the union.”

Roughly two-thirds of the 146 person UHW convention delegation is composed of their rank-and-file executive board. The delegate election was designed to identify the remaining one-third of UHW’s delegates.

According to Mel Garcia, a medical assistant for Kaiser hospital in Hayward, California, and member of the UHW’s election committee, the UHW executive board approved the requirement after legal counsel assured that it was constitutional. “It’s disheartening that we made a mistake like this,” Garcia said. “But we’re taking responsibility for it and moving to correct it as quickly as we can.”

At issue now is whether the newly elected delegates will actually be permitted to attend the convention, since the new election will fall outside of the timetable established by the union’s convention call.


For Sanchez, the delegate election issues in Local 1021 are a microcosm of the broader problems inside SEIU. “Right now we have staff leaders trying to run everything,” Sanchez said. “Workers have no have control over their organization.”

“Going into the convention, the whole issue is democracy, it’s about voice for the workers,” Sanchez said. “Andy Stern feels like the quickest way to move his program is to remove rank-and-file leaders and put staff in their place. It’s not going to work.”


Dear Andy: 100 unionists blast Stern, SEIU

100 Scholars: An Open Letter of Concern To Andy Stern About United Healthcare Workers-West

Dear Andy:

We are writing to you as journalists, authors, political activists, and educators who are committed to organized labor because of its important role in social justice struggles in the U.S. Some of us have longstanding ties to SEIU and have done research, writing, or labor education work involving its members, organizers, and local leaders. Those of us who deal with graduate students or undergraduates have encouraged younger people to pursue internships or full-time job opportunities with SEIU and other Change To Win or AFL-CIO unions. A number of us belong to unions ourselves. Many of us have been part of community-labor coalitions or campus-based groups like Scholars, Artists, and Writers for Social Justice (when it was still active) because we support organizing and bargaining by janitors, cafeteria workers, and other service sector employees.

Download the letter [PDF]

We are writing to express our deep concern about SEIU's threatened trusteeship over its third largest local, United Healthcare Workers (UHW). We believe that there must always be room within organized labor for legitimate and principled dissent, if our movement is to survive and grow.

Putting UHW under trusteeship would send a very troubling message and be viewed, by many, as a sign that internal democracy is not valued or tolerated within SEIU. In our view, this would have negative consequences for the workers directly affected, the SEIU itself, and the labor movement as a whole. We strongly urge you to avoid such a tragedy.


Michael Albert, Author, co-founder South End Press and Z Magazine*
Richard P. Appelbaum, Professor of Sociology, University of California-Santa Barbara
Stanley Aronowitz, Professor of Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center
Sara Abraham, Sociology, University of Toronto
Frank Bardacke, Author and Educator
Jennifer Berkshire, Journalist and Editor
Elaine Bernard, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School
Fred Block, Sociology Department, University of California-Davis
Edna Bonacich, UC-Riverside
Eileen Boris, Women's Studies Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
Joanna Brenner, Portland State University
Robert Brenner, Professor of History, UCLA
Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell ILR School
Dan Brook, Sociology, San Jose State University
Michael Jacoby Brown, Founder, Jewish Organizing Initiative
Anita Chan, Australian National University
Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus), MIT
Levon Chorbajian, Sociology, U-Mass, Lowell
Dan Clawson, Sociology Professor, U-Mass Amherst
Bruce Cohen, Associate History Professor, Worcester State College
Tim Costello, Labor Researcher and Author
Mike Davis, Author and Professor, UC-Irvine
Ellen David-Friedman, Founder, Vermont Workers Center and former VEA Staff Member
Michael Denning, Professor of American Studies and Director, Initiative on Labor and Culture, Yale
G.William Domhoff, Sociology Professor, UC Santa Cruz
Jill Esbenshade, San Diego State University
Tess Ewing, U-Mass Boston Labor Center
Rick Fantasia, Sociology Dept., Smith College
Leon Fink, Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago
Richard Flacks, UC Santa Barbara
Bill Fletcher, Jr. Co-founder, Center for Labor Renewal & Exec. Editor, Blackcommentator.com
John Bellamy Foster, Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon
Harris Freeman, U-Mass Amherst Labor Center
Yoshie Furuhashi, MRZine
Bill Gallegos, Communities for a Better Environment
William A. Gamson, Professor of Sociology, Boston College and former American Sociological Association president
Zelda Gamson, Senior Associate, New England Resource Center for Higher Education
Dan Georgianna, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Sam Gindin, Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University, former CAW Research Director
George Gonos, Sociology, SUNY Potsdam
Suzanne Gordon, Journalist & Author
Jim Green, Professor of History and Labor Studies, U-Mass Boston
Brian Greenberg, Department of History and Anthropology, Monmouth University
Michael Honey, University of Washington
Thandabantu Iverson, Assistant Professor in Labor Studies, Indiana University
Robin D.G.Kelley, Professor of History, USC
Howard Kimeldorf, University of Michigan
Jennifer Klein, Department of History, Yale
Kitty Krupat, City University of New York
Nelson Lichtenstein, Professor of History, UC Santa Barbara
Stephanie Luce, Associate Professor, Labor Center, U-Mass-Amherst
Biju Mathew, Assistant Professor of Business, Rider University
Dale Melcher, U-Mass Labor Extension
Tom Mertes, UCLA Center for Social Theory
Jack Metzger, Emeritus Professor of Humanities, Roosevelt University
Nancy McLean, Professor of History, Northwestern University
James Monsonis, Professor Emeritus, Simon's Rock College
David Montgomery, Professor Emeritus, Yale
Carolina Bank Munoz, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Brooklyn College-CUNY
Ruth Needleman, Professor of Labor Studies, Indiana University
Manny Ness, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Frances Fox Piven, CUNY Graduate Center
Vijay Prashad, Trinity College
Peter Rachleff, History Dept., Macalester College
Marcus Rediker, History, Univ. of Pittsburgh
Adolph Reed, Professor of Political Science, Univ. of Pennsylvania
Thomas Reifer, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Ethnic Studies, University of San Diego
Christopher Rhomberg, Yale University
Corey Robin, Associate Professor, Political Science, Brooklyn College
Ian Robinson, University of Michigan
Carlos Rosado, Chicago-Kent College of Law
Lucy Rosenblatt, Psychotherapist, Health Workers for People Over Profits
Andrew Ross, New York University
Robert J. S. Ross, Sociology Professor, Clark University
Daisy Rooks, Rutgers University
Jay Schaffner, Author and Moderator, Portside
Michael Schwartz, SUNY Stony Brook
Robert Schwartz, Author and Attorney
Kim Scipes, Professor of Sociology, Purdue
Dennis Serrette, President, United Association for
Labor Education
Rae Sovereign, Labor Studies Program, Indiana University-South Bend
Chris Spannos, ZNet and Z Communications
Judith Stepan-Norris, UC-Irvine
Alan Wald, Professor, University of Michigan
Richard Walker, Geography Dept., UC-Berkeley
Immanual Wallerstein, Professor of Sociology, Yale University
Victor Wallis, Berklee College of Music
Andrea S. Walsh, Lecturer, MIT
Dorian Warren, Columbia University
Eve Weinbaum, U-Mass Amherst
David Wellman, Sociology Dept., UC-Santa Cruz
Suzi Weissman, St.Mary’s College of CA
Cal Winslow, Fellow, Environmental Politics, UC Berkeley
Steffie Woolhandler & David Himmelstein, Harvard School of Public Health and PNHP
John Womack,History Professor, Harvard
Michael D. Yates, Professor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Quentin Young, PNHP
Maurice Zeitlin, Dept. of Sociology, UCLA
Howard Zinn, Author, Playwright, and Professor Emeritus, Boston University
Michael Zweig, SUNY at Stony Brook

*Partial list. All institutional connections noted for identification purposes only. (Labor Donated)


SEIU responders serve labor-state strike notice

SEIU Local 200 United members voted to strike Thursday night, once more rejecting a contract proposal from WCA Services. For now, area emergency responders will continue to provide services to the Jamestown, NY area. However, once union officials deliver the official strike notice to WCA Services, management will have 10 days to come up with a different contract to take to the bargaining table.

In what chief steward Ray Austin called an ‘‘exceptionally good turnout,’’ the union overwhelmingly shot down the last contract offer. Scott Phillipson, assistant to the president of Local 200United, said the union would soon be issuing a 10-day strike notice to WCA Services.

During those 10 days, WCA Services will have the opportunity to present what the union describes as a ‘‘more reasonable contract.’’

‘‘It’s fair to say we never wanted to be here,’’ Austin said. ‘‘We’ve done everything in our power to avoid this situation, and our employer has thus far refused to bargain in good faith in respect to where we are now.’’

The offer from WCA Services was a training rate for Critical Care Technicians of $9.50 an hour and a pay rate for standard EMTs of $8.07 an hour. However, once a new hire has passed through the training stage, which can range anywhere from a few days to multiple weeks depending on a person’s job and prior experience, a CCT earns $10 an hour and a basic EMT earns $8.49.

According to SEIU Local 200, however, Trans Am Ambulance, the provider for Cattaraugus County EMTs, offers a starting rate of $8.25 an hour, while Rural Metro and Twin City Ambulance offer $9.70 and $10 an hour, respectively. WCA Services offered to eliminate the training salary and paying employees a field certified wage immediately.

‘‘Obviously our concern through this whole process has been the community,’’ Phillipson said. ‘‘This is an employer that has the funds, and they’ve forced our hand at the last bargaining session. They said they felt we weren’t going to strike and therefore didn’t feel the need to increase our proposal — obviously they were wrong.’’

Phillipson said he hopes after issuing the notice, WCA Services will return to the bargaining table and a strike will be avoided. However, he assured if no changes were made, members were ready to move forward. In the meantime, he said, it is ‘‘business as usual’’ for the dozens of EMTs, CCTs and paramedics in the union.

‘‘We told them from the beginning we wouldn’t go away, and we’re doing what we said we would do,’’ Austin said.

Prior to the union’s announcement, David Thomas, senior account executive for WCA Services, told The Post-Journal in the event the union decides to go on strike, there were contingency plans in place to provide emergency services to Jamestown residents.

‘‘We don’t want to see a strike, but in the event (it happens) management will take all necessary means to minimize disruptions,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘Calls in downtown Jamestown and Dunkirk will be our top priorities. We have different layers of management, so not everybody in our company is in a union, so we do have the means to get things done.’’

Union members will work as normal until after the 10-day notice expires.

‘‘They know what they need to do to get this deal done,’’ Phillipson said.


UAW-AAM strike, week 10

For related American Axle stories, click: here.
For UAW stories, click: here.

Striking workers at American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc., on the picket lines since February, likely will have to wait longer to go back to work. A deal between the Detroit-based parts supplier and the United Auto Workers union is beginning to take shape, but a resolution is not imminent, sources familiar with the negotiations said Thursday. Hopes were high among workers and on Wall Street that the labor conflict will soon end, as details of a potential deal surfaced. Part of the plan would be to close American Axle forge operations in Detroit and Tonawanda, N.Y.

About 300 people work at the forge operations in Detroit.

American Axle's stock price shot up $2.57, or 13 percent, on the news. Shares closed at $22.71.

The latest offer from American Axle to the UAW calls for wage cuts for production workers from about $28 per hour to $17.

UAW Local 235 President Adrian King confirmed the numbers and said the union is evaluating the proposal.

American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said Thursday talks are moving forward, but she would not comment on specifics.

"We've made good progress," she said.

Workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York have been on strike since Feb. 26.

Talks were held up Thursday by officer elections at UAW Local 235, which kept key negotiators away from the bargaining table. In the vote, King lost the president post to local Vice President Bill Alford Jr.

The buzz around a potential agreement came as General Motors Corp., American Axle's largest customer, reported a 16 percent U.S. sales decline for April that included 15,000 lost fleet vehicle sales as a result of the strike.

That lost sales cost GM about 1.5 points of market share, Mike DiGiovanni, GM's sales analyst, said. GM's fleet sales are down 30 percent more than the automaker planned for the year because of the parts shortage created by the walkout, he said. More than two dozen of GM's North American factories are either idled or partially shut down due to the strike.

GM said earlier this week that the dispute cost the company $800 million in the first quarter. The automaker also lost 100,000 units of production, though many analysts say a cut would have been necessary anyway because of sluggish U.S. auto sales.

Axle primarily produces parts for GM's slow-selling full-size trucks and SUVs, though some passenger car production also has been affected.

The automaker this week announced plans to produce 140,000 fewer trucks and SUVs in the year's second half because of weak demand, a cut that's bound to trickle down to American Axle.

Wendy Thompson, a former president of American Axle's Local 235, said the company's is using GM's production cuts to further its case for closing the Detroit and New York factories.


UAW-GM workers learn that strike doesn't pay

Related story: "UAW-GM striker: 'None of us know why we're here'"

United Auto Workers union members are still striking at GM's Delta Township Plant. They've been walking the picket lines for two weeks and that's putting a financial strain on many of them. Some are taking extreme steps to make ends meet. With their signs in hand day after day, workers at the GM Delta Township Plant walk the picket line. After two weeks without work or pay, workers like James Thelen are walking a thin line. James Thelen, GM worker: "It's hard to make ends meet."

Thelen says he made about $800 a week to support his wife and 8 year old daughter. Now, he's down to $200 a week in strike pay.

Thelen: "A lot of people are hurting, some are hurting more than others. I am the only one that works right now because my wife lost her job a year and a half ago."

So Thelen and his wife decided to go through their home finding anything they don't want or need. It's all now on sale lined up on tables. Everything from his daughter's board games to his car parts, ranging in price from 25 cents to a $100.

Thelen: "You don't want to sell it so cheap, but we need the money so we got to price it to sell."

Selling memories at a bargain because he worries about what the future holds if he can't pay his bills.

Thelen: "Don't really want to ruin credit by losing our car, truck. We have to make our house payment first because you have to have some place to live."

Thelen says if the strike continues, he may have to do a yard sale all over again.

Thelen: "Clean up more stuff. Other than that, we don't know."

Tough choices some workers are being forced to make with the picket line cutting into their bottom line. The yard sale will continue Friday and Saturday at the couple's home on Ferrol Avenue in Lansing.


Curbing non-union school construction in Ohio

The Akron (Ohio) Public Schools (APS) District Board of Education met at the new Jennings Community Learning Center (CLC) in North Akron April 28. The school board discussed the use of a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on its next building project, the new Leggett CLC. This PLA issue was the subject of much union vs. non-union controversy last year.

The PLA would require all contractors on a project to meet certain union-like standards. It also would require them to adhere to the school board’s goals for minority, Akron and female worker participation.

“Each union representative would work with our construction monitor, Robert Fischer,” said David James, executive director of business affairs for APS and incoming district superintendent. “The workers would also be subject to stricter training guidelines that would hopefully address some quality-of-work issues.”

Board member the Rev. Curtis Walker said he worried about the effect a PLA would have on the pool of workers on a school project.

“I think we’re going from a more open, diverse group of workers to a more select, closed group,” said Walker. “I wonder why we are bothering with a system that is working.”

In other news:

* The board announced the new name of the National Inventors Hall of Fame School — Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
“This will allow the school to be eligible for state and federal STEM dollars,” Omobien said.
* Board members approved the 2008-09 board members for the Akron Digital Academy. They are Laraine Duncan, Connie Hathorn, Gerald Holland, James, Ellen McWilliams, Neil Quirk and Fred Tolbert.
* Omobien said she attended the 50th anniversary celebration of Hatton Elementary School, which has had only five principals in its history. She said the school’s stability might have led to its 10-of-10 report card score and 96.3 Annual Yearly Progress score.
* Omobien also talked about a recent City Club speech by Gerry House, the president of the Institute for Student Achievement.
“She talked about different ways schools can make progress,” Omobien said, “such as shared vision, smaller classrooms and consistent curriculum.”
* The board also began to discuss a policy that would impose stricter certification for bus and van drivers.
* Board Vice President James Hardy said he wanted to explore the idea of a Day of Diversity to “bridge gender, racial and ethnic divisions.”

The Joint Board of Review met earlier in the day at the Administration Building to discuss the school reconstruction project. The joint board accepted a proposal from Mark Elliott Co., of Hudson, to install the cooling tower system at the Central Learning Center at 400 W. Market St.

The next board meeting is set for May 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway. The Joint Board of Review will meet at 4 p.m.


County pleads for union give-backs

In a bid to secure millions of dollars in concessions, Macomb County, Michigan officials have stepped up their negotiations with the employee unions four months after most labor contracts expired. With both sides jockeying for position, some critics say the Board of Commissioners and top administrators should have stepped forward and set an example by accepting concessions in their own health care and pension benefits. But the commissioners are quick to respond that they have accepted a 2-year pay freeze, and wages for all nonunion employees are frozen this year.

"Everybody wants someone else to go first," said county board Chairman Bill Crouchman. "Why haven't they (the unions) gone for a pay freeze? It goes both ways."

With the county facing a budget deficit of perhaps $12 million next year, securing several million dollars worth of concessions is a key component of the board's bid to balance the budget. With rapidly rising health care costs exceeding $16,000 per family and the county's contribution to the pension system topping $16 million a year, the actions at the bargaining table are key.

The county's 21 unionized bargaining units have accepted the need for give-backs, with their top priority resting on avoiding worker layoffs. The assumption, at this point, is that negotiated concessions for the 2,031 full-time unionized employees will be matched by the county's 450 nonunion employees.

Though negotiations got off to a slow start, with few bargaining sessions held before the Dec. 31 expiration of contracts, the tone has changed in recent days. The board's Personnel Committee scheduled a special session last week to meet behind closed doors to discuss bargaining and a second special meeting is slated for this morning.

"We seem to be making some progress. We hope to have agreements as soon as possible but these things have a life of their own," Crouchman said. "We want to settle everything soon because every month that we don't costs us a ton in health care alone."

Typically, county contact negotiations have dragged on for months or years. But this year commissioners have placed a major emphasis on reducing benefits as a means of dealing with chronic budget shortfalls.

Though the nonunion employees didn't accept concessions first, the leader of county government's largest employee union said that the ongoing process allows the unions to set the pace.

"I prefer to see the glass as half full," said Donna Cangemi, president of the 900-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

On the county board's agenda are changes in health care premiums, co-pays and deductibles. If the commissioners get their way, the employees' only option will be insurance coverage offered by HMOs.

Talk of converting from a traditional pension plan to a 401(k) plan is on the back burner for now, but the commissioners hope to trim down the cash-strapped county's generous "70-point plan" for retirement compensation.

Under that plan, any employee with a combined age and years of service that add up to 70 can retire with a full pension and lifetime health care benefits for themselves and a spouse. As a result, employees can retire at 50 years old.

County employees accepted health insurance concessions two years ago in mid-contract givebacks that were supposed to save the county $2.5 million a year.

Under those revised agreements, workers faced higher co-pays, severe restrictions on traditional Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance, and new limitations on health care coverage for retirees.

A county consultant who predicted big savings was proven wrong last spring when officials reported that the concessions which took effect January 2006 had saved only about $500,000 for the first year.

Now, some commissioners say privately that the unions have every incentive to delay labor agreements so that they can avoid the financial hit of concessions. Labor leaders counter that they have been bargaining in good faith and proceeding at a reasonable pace.

At the same time, an ongoing issue is the fact that nonunion administrators and department heads - and particularly commissioners - will feel the economic impact of whatever concessions are negotiated.

Critics wonder if commissioners who will suffer the impact of cutbacks may be reluctant to make reductions in benefits.

The 26 commissioners serve part-time but earn a salary of $34,000 plus a full benefits package worth more than $10,000. Not all commissioners tap into the health care insurance but several are already eligible for pensions, which makes retirement pay a keen issue for board veterans.

Privately, some commissioners concede that their colleagues have been asking questions in executive sessions, closed to the public, about how proposed concessions would affect them.

When contracts come up for approval in public session, Crouchman said, commissioners who judge the proposed pact on its personal impact, rather than its overall benefit to the county, will do so at their own peril.

"The first time a commissioner would say that," said the St. Clair Shores Democrat, "would be the last time they would be in office."

Cangemi acknowledges that some of the internal sessions among the coalition of unions sometimes veer off into personal particulars, rather than the overriding goal of a fair contract for all employees.

"I think we've even seen that in some of our discussions," she said. "You've got to think about the whole group, not just about individualistic needs."


Newsroom Teamsters take a dues hit

May Day Massacre at News-Press

A lightning round of layoffs took place at Wendy McCaw's News-Press on Thursday morning with as many as 16 employees of the troubled paper receiving pink slips. The most recognizable names of those getting the axe are sports editor Barry Punzal, an employee of 20 plus years, and Life section editor, Mindy Spar.

The layoffs are believed to have begun shortly after 10 am Thursday when a number of employees from the downstairs departments in the paper's De la Guerra Plaza headquarters were told to gather their things and were escorted out of the building. Once outside they were told they were being let go and were asked to turn in their key cards to the building.

Among the employees was Elena Villenueva from the retail advertising staff. She was told that her position was being eliminated. Also let go was Bob Klinger from the camera department (not to be confused with the photo department.)

A memo from co-publishers McCaw and Arthur von Wiesenberger was circulated to employees citing the need to down-size and consolidate. In what is believed to be the first public acknowledgment of the toll that the newsroom unrest and rancor has had on the paper's bottom line the memo mentioned both conditions in the newspaper industry generally and the unionization fight as reasons for the layoffs. A portion of the memo read:
"Here at the News-Press management has struggled with this national trend as well as with the onslaught of tactics used by the Teamsters Union which represents the newsroom unit of the paper. Between calling for subscribers to cancel the paper, which thousands did, and embroiling us in incessant litigation with unfounded charges, the News-Press has expended significant economic resources. Understand, we will never give up our defense of the right of the ownership of the paper to control the content of its newspaper."
The memo characterized what happened as a "company wide reorganization" It never mentioned the term "layoffs." It concluded:
"While we make no promises, if we continue to work as a cohesive team and matters stabilize, no additional layoffs need occur."

Left-wing union front-group advances

A narrow, bipartisan Connecticut state Senate majority approved a measure Thursday requiring businesses to provide workers with free sick leave, to the delight of workers' rights advocates and the chagrin of business lobbyists. The Senate voted 20-16 to approve the sick-leave bill late Thursday, with five members of the Democratic majority opposing the bill, and two Republicans in support.

The vote was a victory for the bill's chief proponent, Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, who had introduced it a night earlier, before senators had to halt debate to rewrite sections to avert a conflict with Connecticut's collective bargaining laws.

Despite protests from business groups, including the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Prague contended the bill would actually help employers and their workers.

Under the bill, which moves to the House of Representatives with less than a week remaining before Wednesday's deadline to adjourn the regular session, workers would earn an hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 52 hours per year.

The resulting 6.5 days of paid sick leave could be used at any time through a calendar year. Unused sick time could be carried over into the next calendar year - to be used in the early months, for instance, before an employee had accrued any new sick time - with the proviso that no more than 6.5 sick days could be redeemed in any calendar year.

The bill applies only to employers with 50 or more employees.

According to proud advocates of the legislation, including Senate Democratic leaders and the Working Families Party, Connecticut would become the first state in the nation to mandate that employers provide sick leave to their workers.

If it becomes law, the proposal would enable workers who lack sick time in their jobs to take better care of themselves, and by extension, their coworkers, Prague said.

But opponents in the Senate and in the corridors outside were critical of the proposal, saying it would add new costs to businesses who can ill afford them in the current, declining economy, and who are already looking for a reason to bolt high-cost states like Connecticut.

”If I thought it would grow jobs, I'd vote for it in a heartbeat,” said Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury.

”We send a message every single year in this chamber and this building that we are unfriendly to businesses large and small,” Cappiello said moments later.

But supporters of the legislation dismissed such worries, saying they had heard similar complaints at every attempt to regulate businesses or provide better benefits for workers.

”There were probably people who were saying the world would come to an end when the 40-hour work-week was established, or when the minimum wage was established,” Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said in a brief meeting with reporters and Prague after the vote.“In comparison, the step we have taken today is a small step.”

Prague was confident of her bill's chances in the lower chamber, saying Working Families party officials had said they have a commitment from House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, to run the bill if they have enough votes to pass it.

At an estimate of 80 supporters, Prague's margin is slim for the 151-member House; a bill requires 76 votes of the full chamber to pass.

But she was predicting a good result:“They have the votes,” Prague said.

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