Congressional Rx: 'No-vote' unionization

Big business is taking steps to fend off an expected flood of unionizing drives if Congress approves legislation making it easier for workers to organize. In a trend being followed closely in Las Vegas and other strong union communities, businesses across the country are moving to improve relations with workers in anticipation of the Democrat-supported Employee Free Choice Act. It would for the first time in 60 years allow workers to organize without putting the issue to a secret-ballot vote.

The legislation has a chance of winning approval if Democrats increase their clout in Congress and voters elect a Democratic president in November. Both Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to sign the legislation.

The law would also stiffen penalties for employers who commit unfair labor practices during an organizing drive and impose binding arbitration in bargaining cases in which the sides cannot agree.

Taken together, the changes would shake the foundations of modern labor law and likely usher in the largest unionization drive since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.

Related video: "Coalition for a Democratic Workplace"

Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw LLP, a leading labor relations law firm, held a Web seminar last month outlining the implications of the bill for management. As Amanda Sonneborn, a lawyer with the firm, put it: “When you’re an employer, you read it and weep.”

Most significantly, card check would allow unions to circumvent a secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. Instead, unions would need only to collect signed cards from a majority of employees over a period of time.

Unions have long derided the election process as stacked in favor of employers, who have the right to campaign against the union in the run-up to an election. Labor advocates say companies use mandatory informational meetings, among other tools, to threaten and intimidate workers.

To illustrate card check’s cascading effect, Sonneborn pointed to Illinois.

The state passed mandatory card check in 2003. As a result, union density soared, she said. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, for instance, doubled its number of bargaining units in four years, Sonneborn said.

In Las Vegas, the Culinary Union has tripled its membership over the past 20 years primarily through negotiating voluntary card check agreements with casino companies. The union added 10,000 members from 2002 to 2005 alone — and will add another 6,000 when MGM Mirage’s CityCenter opens in 2009.

In Canada, the effect also has been striking. Thirty-two percent of the country’s workers belong to a union, a density not seen in the United States since the American labor movement’s pinnacle in 1955. Only 12 percent of American workers today belong to a union. Labor benefits from mandatory card check laws in some Canadian provinces. Alberta sports the lowest union density of those places — a whopping 24 percent.

“There will be no opportunity for you to run a campaign,” said Bob Smith, another lawyer with Seyfarth Shaw. “You’ve got a union before you had any opportunity to get out of the gate. So the campaigning begins now and lasts every single day.”

Under the card check bill, employers would face fines for unfair labor practices of up to $20,000 per violation.

Employers would also lose their right to “bargain to an impasse” in contract negotiations. Although unions win roughly half of all NLRB elections, they failed to win a contract in 44 percent of bargaining cases in 2004, Sonneborn said.

Successful negotiations last a year on average. But under the proposed law, parties must begin bargaining within 10 days of card check certification. Then, if a settlement hasn’t been reached after 90 days, the union can request federal mediation. The sides then have another 30 days to negotiate a voluntary agreement. Failing that, a third-party arbitrator would impose a binding contract.

If the legislation is passed, “employers are headed for a big hurt,” Smith said.

Employers, he said, should mobilize the business community. “Tell them how awful life could be if this thing gets written into law,” Smith said.

Businesses also should publicly politicize the issue by painting the legislation as anti-democratic. A business-backed group, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, is doing just that. It launched a Web site and began airing an ad last month featuring Sopranos cable-TV mobster Johnny Sac.

The law firm also encouraged employers to “harden” their workplaces against possible organizing. Companies should educate management on the early warning signs of a unionization drive and conduct focus groups with employees to gauge their concerns, the advisers said.

Unionization drives generally emerge from issues of dignity and respect, lawyer Mark Ross said. “Unions don’t organize employers,” he said. “Bad supervisors organize employers.”

Sonneborn suggested developing a “strategic response team” and reviewing hiring practices, including the use of temporary workers. Employers should strengthen their “preventative policies,” including those governing employee bulletin board use, company e-mail and building access.

“Inoculate your workforce,” Sonneborn said. “You don’t want to be the lowest hanging fruit.”

The warnings come even as the card check legislation faces significant challenges in Washington. Although the legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House last year, it went down in the Senate, 51-48, largely along party lines. Democrats need 60 votes to advance the measure in that body, which means its prospects hinge on the Nov. 4 election.

Democrats have a very slim chance of picking up the nine seats needed to reach 60.

But a stronger Democratic majority, combined with the potential crossover of moderate Republicans such as Sen. Arlen Specter, is enough to make big business nervous.

Even without the new law, if a Democrat becomes president, labor is all but certain to gain an important strategic advantage: control of the federal Labor Relations Board. The five-member board has three vacancies, and Democrats have vowed to block any more appointments by President Bush.

A Democratic president would likely appoint members who are more sympathetic to labor. The upshot: The board will ultimately determine the rules governing card check and prescribe remedies for employer violations, if the bill passes.

“We either get ready now or we invoke what I call the ‘Dorothy Defense,’” attorney Jim Baird said. “You just close your eyes, click your heels three times and say, ‘There’s no place for the Employee Free Choice Act.’”


'They need to kill it in Colorado'

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Ballot fight brews below the border

On the National Right to Work Web site, Colorado is identified as a "forced unionism state." This means it is not one of the 22 states that have adopted right-to-work laws. A move is on to change that situation through a right-to-work ballot initiative in the November general election. Voters will be asked to change the Colorado constitution to say that workers cannot be required to join a union or pay union dues.

Right-to-work supporters began planning the initiative in earnest late last year after Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter signed an executive order to create a bargaining partnership with state workers, a move strongly opposed by businesses and Republicans, according to published reports.

This should be a dandy big-ticket fight. Initiative supporters, including Jonathan Coors of the brewery family and American Furniture Warehouse, are expected to spend millions of dollars to sell the amendment to Colorado voters.

The unions are fighting back through a labor-sponsored coalition that is raising money from labor unions and individuals to defeat the right-to-work amendment.

Wyoming, meanwhile, has been a right-to-work state since 1963, when the Legislature adopted the law on a vote along party lines with the Republicans for and most Democrats opposed.

Emotions were running so high that Gov. Cliff Hansen asked the National Guard to stand by during the debate.

Backing right-to-work laws were the Wyoming Farm Bureau, Associated General Contractors, the Wyoming Trucking Association, the Wyoming Stock Growers, the Wyoming Retail Merchants Association and the Wyoming Grange.

Wyoming was the 20th state to adopt the laws. Florida was the first in 1943. Ten more states followed suit in 1947 and four more in the 1950s. In the last 20 years, only three states have gone with right-to-work, suggesting the movement has lost momentum.

The last state to pass the law was Oklahoma in 2001. Idaho is trying to get a right-to-work repealer on the ballot, said Kim Floyd, executive director of the Wyoming AFL-CIO.

In Wyoming, the adoption of right-to-work laws was a bitter pill that union supporters have never wholly digested. For years afterward the Democrats tried to get the law repealed with no luck.

"They need to kill it in Colorado, let me tell you," Floyd said. "It drives down wages. It does just the opposite of what they claim."

The title "right-to-work," he said, is a misnomer because everyone has the right to work.

"It says that if you go to work on a property with a local union that represents employees, you can receive all the benefits the union negotiates, like pay raises," he added.

"You receive all that free and if you have a problem on the job site they have to represent you or you can sue them," Floyd said. "They make free riders."

The Wyoming Legislature has not even considered repeal since the late Sen. John Vinich, a Fremont County Democrat, made repeated attempts. A bill that would have required employees who share in union-negotiated benefits to pay their fair share of dues went nowhere, Floyd said.

As an argument in favor of the "fair share" bill, he said the stock growers and wool growers must pay for brand inspections or they cannot raise cattle or sheep in the state.

Union membership in the state, meanwhile, increased by about 4,000 in the current energy boom.

"When the boom's over a lot will travel out," he said, referring to the plumbers, pipe fitters and electricians in the building trades.


'The end game of the New Labor cult'

Voters sent Prime Minister Gordon Brown a stark message when they delivered his Labour Party its worst local election beating in 40 years: Fix the credit crunch gripping Britain or they'll turn out his party, remaking the political landscape it has dominated for more than a decade.

In what was the crowning blow to Mr. Brown, London elected Conservative Boris Johnson as mayor, tossing out Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone and giving the Tories a high-profile platform to goad the government. Mr. Johnson, who has combined life as a media personality with a political career, had been written off as a likable clown when he announced his candidacy in September. He delighted in calling his opponent, "Mayor Leaving-soon" during the campaign.

Labour won 24% of votes cast Thursday in elections for city, town and village councils in parts of England and Wales, putting it in third place behind the Conservatives with 44% and the Liberal Democrats, a party with little power in a country dominated by the two major parties, with 25%, according to polling firm Ipsos MORI.

"Labour voters wanted to give Gordon Brown a kick up the pants," said Margaret Alexander, the Labour leader of the Vale of Glamorgan council in the traditional Labour stronghold of South Wales, which was won by the Conservatives. Ms. Alexander, who kept her seat, said local Labour politicians feel bitter towards Mr. Brown for his "ineptitude."

Mr. Brown, just 10 months after taking over as prime minister from Tony Blair, is in a tight spot. He needs to shore up the United Kingdom's slowing economy to win back voters as the U.K. has been hard hit by the credit crunch, something Mr. Brown has blamed for much of his troubles. The Conservatives have been attacking Mr. Brown's economic record and wooing the banking community, which had been mainly supportive of the Labour government for the past decade. The global financial turmoil is of particular concern in the U.K. where the financial sector accounts for more than one-fifth of all jobs, compared with only 6% of jobs in the U.S., and bank layoffs have begun and are expected to worsen.

The local elections do not affect Mr. Brown's majority in Parliament, and the prime minister has until early 2010 before he must call an election.

But the resounding nature of the defeat will add to the sense of a government in trouble, both within and outside of the Labour Party. Mr. Brown, who is not expected to face a challenge to his leadership at this stage, will want to avoid the fate of former Prime Minister John Major, whose Conservative Party split apart as it lurched from crisis to crisis before being dumped out of power in 1997 by Mr. Blair and the more centrist vision he dubbed New Labour. Now the Conservatives have landed a public-relations coup for a party that had seemed unelectable for a decade, adding to their momentum.

"I think what we are seeing here is the end game of the New Labour cult," exulted Andrew Cumpsty, a Conservative councilor in Reading, west of London, where the Conservatives made gains.

Having always championed himself as the architect of Britain's successful economy as chancellor of the exchequer under Mr. Blair, Mr. Brown now has to guide it through a tricky patch, convincing, among other things, banks to free up capital for the country's businesses and home buyers again. A thaw in mortgages would help prop up house prices.

British banks have been cutting back on lending as they nurse wounds inflicted by the world-wide financial crisis brought on by the subprime-mortgage mess in the U.S. This trickled down to voters as banks stopped giving consumers mortgages and tightened their standards for credit cards. U.K. consumers are the most indebted of any in a developed country.

Mr. Brown has been meeting regularly with banks and is under heightened pressure to find ways to jump start their lending. He has so far been reluctant to spend taxpayer money on efforts to bail out banks, particularly at a time when he faces a growing budget deficit that could put Britain at odds with European Union fiscal rules. But after Labour's trouncing in the polls, a populist approach could be more palatable to Mr. Brown.

He faces tests elsewhere, including extricating the U.K. from the unpopular Iraq war and stemming a tide of immigration which rival politicians have said is uncontrolled. Mr. Brown is also staring down the threat of his first defeat in the House of Commons since taking over as prime minister last June amid widespread opposition among Labour politicians to his plans to detain terror suspects without charge for up to 42 days.

He also needs to persuade voters that he can not only guide the country through a tough economic patch but can give people a sense of what might be coming on the other side of the horizon with a longer-term vision, something he has so far failed to do, said John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University.

The margin of Labour's loss is similar to losses by Mr. Major, the last Conservative prime minister, in council elections in 1995, two years before he was ejected from Downing Street in a landslide by Mr. Blair.

"We went into it knowing it was never going to be a good night for us, but never considering it was going to be as bad" as it was, said Wayne Campbell, who led the Labour Party at the Bury council in northwestern England, which Conservatives won control of Friday. Bury was one of the high-profile losses for Labour in northern England, its traditional heartland.

While Mr. Brown is pinning his salvation on steering the U.K. away from the worst of the global slowdown, economists say his hands are tied. After many years of increasing public spending when he headed the Treasury under Mr. Blair, the prime minister doesn't have the money to provide a stimulus. Friday, he was guarded about what he would do, saying only that he would show the necessary "courage and conviction."

A tired-looking Mr. Brown said at a news conference Friday it had been a "bad" and "disappointing" night for the party in the local elections and pledged to "learn the lessons." He isn't likely, though, to take the route of shuffling his cabinet in response to the losses, a Downing Street source said.

Of course, Mr. Brown need look no further than his predecessor to see that the results needn't be a death knell: Mr. Blair got a drubbing in local council elections in 2004 as voters expressed their anger at the war in Iraq, yet he went on to win in the 2005 parliamentary election.

The election was a coming out party for David Cameron, the head of the Conservatives, and his resurgent party. At a victory parade around Bury, Mr. Cameron told cheering supporters, "What happened was not just a vote against the Labour prime minister and against the Labour government. I think it was a vote of confidence in the modern Conservative Party.

"People are looking at our party and saying it's changed for the better. They're looking at our party and saying it's unified."

In turning more Conservative, Britain follows shifts across Europe as countries such as France and Italy with the recent election of Silvio Berlusconi have all moved away from the left.

For the Conservatives, it was their first big win since they met their own economic Waterloo in 1992 when they withdrew the pound from a European currency peg and Britain went into recession. And the last time Labour fared this badly in local elections was in the late 1960s when the U.K. economy was in trouble under a Labour administration.

On Friday, data from HBOS PLC showed that house prices suffered their biggest annual fall in 15 years in April. A recent survey showed consumer confidence at its weakest since the economic slump of 1992.

In London, the race was as much about personalities as records. Mr. Livingstone, once known by the nickname "Red Ken" for his leftist views, has called President Bush "the greatest threat to life on this planet" and referred to the U.S. ambassador as "a chiseling little crook" because the American embassy refused to pay the daily congestion charge he instituted for cars driving through central London in a bid to reduce traffic and pollution. Yet he has combined his left-wing principles with pragmatic support of key industries like finance in his eight years as mayor.

Mr. Johnson, who once starred on a comedy TV show called "Have I Got News for You" and was fired as a newspaper reporter for making up a quotation, now provides the Conservatives with a post in the heart of the U.K.'s financial, government and media capital.

Speaking in London's modern helmet-shaped town hall on the banks of the Thames, Mr. Johnson, said that: "London has not been transformed overnight into a Conservative city" but he hoped to show "the Conservative party has changed into a party that can be trusted."

Damien McElvanna, 27, who works in banking, was a first-time London voter and voted for Mr. Johnson. "Ken's done a reasonable job, but people just fancy a change sometimes," he said.


Hoffa gets Chicago-style political payback

Related video: "Hoffa: This is all about power"

Obama Says Teamsters Need Less Oversight
Campaign Talks On Issue Preceded Union's Backing

Sen. Barack Obama won the endorsement of the Teamsters earlier this year after privately telling the union he supported ending the strict federal oversight imposed to root out corruption, according to officials from the union and the Obama campaign. It's an unusual stance for a presidential candidate. Policy makers have largely treated monitoring of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as a legal matter left to the Justice Department since an independent review board was set up in 1992 to eliminate mob influence in the union.


Sen. Obama's rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, has declined to take a stance on Teamsters oversight. During his eight years in office, President Bill Clinton took no action to end the special board. Democratic presidential nominees in 2000 and 2004 -- Al Gore and John Kerry -- didn't address the issue, according to Teamsters officials.

Neither Sen. Obama nor Teamsters President James P. Hoffa has spoken publicly about easing up federal oversight, a top priority for Mr. Hoffa since he became union president in 1999. On the campaign trail, Mr. Hoffa stresses Sen. Obama's criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement as the big factor in winning the 1.4-million member union's support.

But John Coli, vice president for the Teamsters central region, who brokered the Teamsters endorsement, said Sen. Obama was "pretty definitive that the time had come to start the beginning of the end" of the three-member independent review board that investigates suspect activity in the union. Mr. Coli said that Sen. Obama conveyed that view in a series of phone conversations and meetings with Teamsters officials last year.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed the candidate's position in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, saying that Sen. Obama believes that the board "has run its course," because "organized crime influence in the union has drastically declined." Mr. Vietor said Sen. Obama took that position last year.

'More Wishy-Washy'

Sen. Clinton was "more wishy-washy" than Sen. Obama in discussions on the issue, said Mr. Coli. "Sen. Clinton is making no promises about lifting the consent decree," said her spokesman, Phil Singer.

Officials at the Obama campaign and the Teamsters say there was no quid pro quo between the union endorsement and Sen. Obama's position on ending federal oversight.

Bret Caldwell, a Teamsters spokesman, said the union's endorsement was "predicated in no way, shape or form" on the consent decree. Mr. Caldwell said that only a court can do away with the oversight, not the president. "The only way that this is going to be resolved is through the court system, there can't be a political solution," he said.

But Mr. Caldwell said the president could appoint people to the Justice Department and courts who also favored ending the consent decree.

"It certainly wouldn't hurt to have a president who came out and said that they would support getting the oversight out of our union," Mr. Caldwell said.
[James Hoffa]

Mr. Obama decided to support the Teamsters' position in July or August 2007, according to Mr. Vietor. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards also agreed with the union, according to the Teamsters' Mr. Coli. Eric Schultz, spokesman for Sen. Edward's presidential campaign, when contacted last week, said he was unable to confirm that or reach staffers he said would be able to. When Mr. Edwards dropped out of the race in January, the union endorsed Sen. Obama in February.

Sen. Obama was able to win the Teamsters' endorsement while maintaining his disagreements with them on other issues, his spokesman, Mr. Vietor, said. The Illinois senator opposes the expanded drilling for oil in Alaska that the union backs. He backs, over the Teamsters' objections, broad immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. And while he generally shares the union's skepticism on free trade, he does back some smaller agreements the Teamsters oppose.

Officials at the Teamsters oversight board share Sen. Obama's assessment that mob influence has dramatically fallen. But they say the union would have trouble continuing the anticorruption effort without the board. "When we have a case involving a member of organized crime and we send that to the union, the union automatically sends that back to us because they can't handle it," said John Cronin, who has been the administrator for the review board since it was created.

And, board members say, it would be extraordinary for a president to try to alter the oversight. "Presidents very rarely try to tell the Justice Department what is the right thing to do in matters of judicial administration," said William Webster, a member of the board since 1992 and a former director of both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Teamsters' backing has been particularly important for Sen. Obama, who is struggling to win over the white working-class voters who dominate the union's core membership of truckers and warehouse and port workers.

Mr. Hoffa has spent much of the past month campaigning for Sen. Obama in Pennsylvania and Indiana, which holds its primary Tuesday. Mr. Hoffa has toured the state in a noisy brigade of 18-wheel trucks, stopping at warehouses and distribution centers along the way to praise Sen. Obama.

Political Force

While the union says it has cleaned up its act, its reputation remains tarnished among detractors by a history of mafia ties, and the mysterious 1975 disappearance of former union President Jimmy Hoffa, the current president's father.

As the nation's fourth-largest labor union, the Teamsters are a powerful political force. Since 1990, the Teamsters' political action committee has spent $25 million on political elections. That puts them No. 12 on the list of top campaign spenders in recent years, $4 million shy of investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc., according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Since endorsing Sen. Obama on Feb. 20, Mr. Hoffa has sought to be an ambassador for the candidate to his membership, which is 81% male and 76% white. He often talks to Sen. Obama, offering advice and tactics. He's sent out rounds of automated phone calls to Teamsters members for Sen. Obama in key states. In April, he joined an Obama teleconference with reporters when the campaign needed someone to tout the senator's record on trade.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Hoffa fits right in with his members. He greets fellow Teamsters as "brothers" with handshakes and bear hugs.

Shortly before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, Mr. Hoffa visited a York Peppermint Pattie plant in Reading that is slated to be closed. He blamed free-trade agreements negotiated by Sen. Clinton's husband when he was president. Mr. Hoffa tells workers that trade agreements enacted recently have made is easier for companies to move jobs to Mexico and China.

Sombrero Posters

"What they're saying is they're going to take this thing and put a sombrero on it," he told workers, pointing to their Peppermint Pattie plant. Mr. Hoffa handed out giant posters of a bright yellow sombrero and told workers at the Teamsters-organized plant to hang them up inside the plant. "This is the kind of crap they're doing," he told one worker as he signed his sombrero poster.

Just before the Peppermint Pattie stop, Sen. Obama called Mr. Hoffa, as the union leader sat at a diner eating eggs sunny-side-up and toast. Mr. Hoffa says he told Sen. Obama about the plant and suggested he include it in his stump speech.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Hoffa (left) stresses Sen. Obama's criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Later that day, Sen. Obama issued a statement saying that working families can't wait "while the same old Washington players play the same old Washington game, while factories like the York Peppermint Pattie plant in Reading move to Mexico in search of cheap labor."

Getting rid of the federal oversight on the union has been a top priority of Mr. Hoffa's tenure as general president of the union.

Shortly after the union's founding a century ago, ties emerged to organized crime. "The Teamsters are in the kind of industries that the mob would be," such as transportation and garbage hauling, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, a labor expert at Cornell University. By the 1950s, the union had begun diverting assets of its pension plans to help organized-crime members fund development of Las Vegas, and the AFL-CIO expelled the union. U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy aggressively investigated Mr. Hoffa's father, who was convicted of witness tampering in 1964.

As corruption allegations continued, the Teamsters agreed to federal oversight in 1989, signing a consent decree to settle a racketeering lawsuit brought by the Justice Department.

The consent decree required the direct election of the union president and other officers by rank and file members, in an election overseen by a court-appointed election officer. (Before, the president was elected by delegates.) It also set up a three-member independent review board to investigate corruption within the union. These elements of the decree are in effect today, while others, like oversight of union finances, have ended.

Teamsters officials say that over the past 16 years, the influence of organized crime has been largely eliminated from the union, and the consent decree is now an unnecessary burden. The union says it spends $6 million a year to comply with the decree.

The review board's caseload has dropped significantly over the years, to eight cases in 2007, from 70 in 1992. In 2006, one union member was permanently barred from the union for associating with a known member of organized crime.

The independent board's mission "has shifted from preventing mob influence to a focus on matters that other government agencies should handle," Mr. Vietor, the Obama spokesman, said in his statement. "This holds the Teamsters to a different standard than other unions that has nothing to do with organized crime."

But the Teamsters still face skeptics. In 1999, Mr. Hoffa hired Edwin Stier, a lawyer with experience fighting union corruption, to create an internal program to root out mob ties and help end the consent decree. Mr. Stier quit in 2004, saying Mr. Hoffa wouldn't fully support his efforts. "I haven't seen anything that the union has done internally that comes close to self-policing," Mr. Stier said in a recent interview.

A Teamsters spokesman says the union doesn't want to duplicate efforts of the oversight board. But if the board were no longer in place, he says the union would handle such matters itself.

Negotiations With Justice

To formally end the consent decree, the Teamsters and the Justice Department would have to file a joint application with a judge in the Southern District of New York. The union entered into negotiations earlier this decade with the U.S. attorney's office about ending the consent decree, but no deal was reached, according to people familiar with the matter. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

Sen. Obama wasn't always the Teamsters favorite. When he ran for Senate in 2004, Mr. Coli and many Teamsters locals endorsed one of his opponents in the Democratic primary. When Sen. Obama prevailed, the Teamsters endorsed Sen. Obama in the general election. Mr. Coli met with Sen. Obama to smooth things over. Mr. Hoffa met Sen. Obama for the first time in late 2006, as Sen. Obama was preparing to launch his presidential campaign.

At the outset of the 2008 race, the Teamsters declined to endorse any of the Democratic candidates as internal factions prevented the union from forming a solid majority for any candidate. Teamsters officials in New York lobbied for the union to endorse Sen. Clinton. Officials in North Carolina pulled for that state's former senator, Mr. Edwards. Mr. Coli led the effort for Sen. Obama.

Meanwhile, Mr. Coli was talking with Sen. Obama and his campaign about reducing the union's federal oversight. Mr. Coli lobbied Sen. Obama and his staff on the issue in a series of phone calls and face-to-face meetings over the course of more than a year, according to Teamsters officials.

"I think it was an educational process," Mr. Coli said in an interview. Mr. Hoffa wasn't involved in the discussions.


Andy Stern: Enough is enough

Does the UAW-AAM strike still make sense?

There’s little arguing that American Axle’s initial demand that its union workers take a 50% pay cut is harsh, maybe even excessive. That $14 an hour wage would be less than union workers at some rival parts makers earn. And given the fact that American Axle is pretty healthy and has a nice flow of business from General Motors, undercutting some other parts wages might not be needed.

But here’s the problem facing the United Auto Workers. They have very little leverage. About 80% of the company’s business comes from GM. The auto maker ‘s dealers have plenty of pickups and suvs despite the fact that the two-month strike has idled or reduced production at 10 GM assembly plants, most of which make trucks.

Now the UAW has even less leverage because GM’s move to cut a shift at four truck plants means they don’t need the truck axles that the striking UAW members aren’t making. In fact, an American Axle plant in Mexico can make enough parts to give GM what it needs so long as those shifts are cancelled. Sure, the strike is hurting American Axle. But the company has plenty of cash. And GM won’t intervene to help solve the strike. Unless truck sales take a sharp and very unexpected turn upward, GM won’t need to get involved. And so the picketers will march on, but for what?


Flood of SEIU cash changes elections

Political interest groups working outside the traditional confines of campaign finance laws spent more than $4.3 million in two Maryland congressional races during this year's primary, according to newly released campaign finance reports, and their success in defeating two incumbents here could portend an expensive and aggressive effort nationwide to target other swing districts in the coming months.

Liberal groups have gone after Rep. Albert R. Wynn before, and conservative activists have long tried to unseat Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest. But this year they were finally successful, defeating two long-serving politicians in what, due to quirks of the national primary calendar, were some of the first congressional primaries in the nation.

Although the presidential primaries are almost complete, all but six states have yet to hold congressional primaries. That made the races in Maryland's 1st and 4th Congressional Districts test cases for how vulnerable incumbents might be in a year when voters appear profoundly dissatisfied with Congress and intent on change.

The lesson interest groups took is that this year, their money could be well spent. Groups that spent money in Maryland say they are eyeing races in Arizona, California, Iowa and Kentucky and are limited only by the ability to find viable candidates to challenge incumbents.

"This is going to put people on notice," said Michael J.G. Cain, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College of Maryland. "The days of independent congressional voting, if this is any indication, are numbered. Outside groups are going to amass a lot of money and come after you in the primaries."

Political activists, many of whom hail from other states, went after Wynn because of his initial support for the Iraq war and votes for a GOP-backed bankruptcy bill and a repeal of the estate tax. For Gilchrest, it was his opposition to the war, backing for detente with Iran and other issues. The outside groups took advantage of laws that exempt them from the usual contribution and expenditure limits that apply to political campaigns so long as they do not coordinate their efforts with candidates.

Matt Stoller, who runs the liberal blog OpenLeft, played a leading role in fundraising and in generating online support for Donna Edwards, who defeated Wynn. With the help of the "net roots," Edwards raised $400,000 for the primary from more than 8,000 donors, nearly half of the total funds she received from individual contributions.

Stoller said he and others are closely watching races in Iowa and Kentucky, although they aren't nearly as certain they will meet with success, partly because not all challengers are as strong as Edwards. She came within a few thousand votes of defeating Wynn in 2006 as a relative unknown.

In the 1st Congressional District, the Club For Growth, an anti-tax, anti-spending advocacy group, raised or spent a total of nearly $1.2 million to help state Sen. Andy Harris, who unseated Gilchrest despite having to compete against a well-known colleague, state Sen. E.J. Pipkin.

Pat Toomey, the president and chief executive officer of the Club For Growth, who ran unsuccessfully against Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter in 2004, said the group is now focused on several races in California and Arizona and has supported a pair of primary candidates in Pennsylvania, one of whom was successful.

"When incumbents see that even with the establishment behind them and all the senior party types and the huge financial advantage that incumbents almost always have, when they nevertheless lose, it sends a powerful message that you shouldn't lose touch with the voters," he said.

Advocates for campaign finance reform say that outside spending and fundraising practices, while legal, can make winning candidates beholden to special interests.

"We think candidates should be free to vote in the interests of their district and their conscience," said Nick Nyhart, president and chief executive officer of Public Campaign, which has been highly critical of the spending of special interests on elections. "But when this kind of spending takes place, it makes candidates aware of the threat and possibly too worried about crossing them when they have to make a difficult vote."

But leaders of the groups that spent money say their contribution was the ultimate form of democracy, helping voters oust entrenched politicians that had grown to ignore the core values of their districts.

"All of that money just means opposing points of view are being heard," Toomey said.

One of the biggest spenders in national politics is the Service Employees International Union, which got involved in both major Maryland races, funneling about $200,000 to help Gilchrest and $1.1 million for Edwards.

Terry Cavanagh, executive director of the SEIU Maryland-DC State Council, said the labor union's spending was important because of the early primary. He said he hoped their support of Donna Edwards sent a message not just to members of Congress and potential national candidates, but also to Maryland legislators.

The union will certainly continue to spend a lot of money on political races, he said, much of which is raised from rank-and-file members who contribute small amounts voluntarily. But money alone doesn't win races, Cavanagh said.

"There are a number of Democrats we're not too happy with nationally, mostly Democrats who have drifted away from the interests of working families, but you need somebody to beat somebody," he said. "You can't win with a nobody. Donna Edwards was a somebody."


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A job for life, thanks to powerful gov't-unions

Unless you are one of a handful of mayoral appointments or an elected official, if you are drawing a paycheck from the city of Dunkirk (NY) you can count on that continuing for as long as you like. If you belong to one of the city’s four unions and do not run afoul of the law or work rules, you can plan ahead.

And there are programs set up to help employees who do have problems, giving the city a chance to help a trained employee keep his or her job.

With the clauses having been added to the contracts prior to the new ones, the city is limited in reducing its staffing levels.

AFSCME AFL-CIO Local 912 represents the city’s non-uniformed workers and has made sure its workers stayed on the job under Article 18 of the contract.

“The City of Dunkirk agrees that during the term of this Collective Bargaining Agreement it shall not lay off any member of the bargaining unit, excluding retirements, voluntary quits, and/or discharges for cause.”

The city’s contract with the City of Dunkirk Police Benevolent Association requires the city to “maintain 33 or greater officer positions, including one captain, four lieutenants, and three road sergeants in the Police Department.”

Article 35 of the contract addresses any future changes, requiring the Dunkirk PBA to be included in, “any discussion of any kind with regard to the consolidation, merger, accretion, subcontracting or any other change in the delivery or takeover of police related services by any other department or agency. Any such plan will include provisions for the continued job security and maintenance of the collective bargaining agreement in existence at the time of the consolidation, merger, accretion, subcontracting or any other change in the delivery or takeover of police related services.”

Section 16.06 of the city’s agreement with the Dunkirk Professional Firefighters’ Association Local 616 covers staffing.

“During the term of this Agreement, the city shall maintain existing Fire Department staff levels at not less than 26 full-time members ... contingent upon the creation of the Captain’s position.”

The creation of that captain position is covered under Section 15.03 and will be done under Civil Service promotional regulations.

The fire chief must also make every effort to bring in off-duty firefighters before requesting mutual aid from outside departments.

While it may seem to some the city played giveaway, City Attorney Dan Gard said that was not the case.

“There are a bunch of issues where we got a lot of give from the unions,” he said. “The unions, without going through all my negotiations notes from all the contracts I couldn’t be very specific, but what I can tell you is all of the unions were reasonable.

“If you’re going to get something you’re going to give something too, otherwise it’s not a negotiation, it’s a stickup. ... These four unions all accepted a raise that did not even cover the cost of living increase. And I think that speaks very well of the reasonableness of both the unions and the negotiation power of the administration. I think any time you can make a statement like that, I think you’ve done a good job.”

Part of that job was dealing with the provisions in the existing contracts, and part of it was working with a Common Council that changed due to elections.

“Something that people should know is that yes, there was some discussion of a charter provision that says the council has a right to have two members sit at the table during the negotiation, that is a very old provision. Councilman (James) Muscato came to me at the very beginning of negotiation and said ‘you know what, I think that we should consider having a couple of council members in the negotiations at the table,” Gard said. “Obviously they can’t say anything, they can’t do anything. It’s not like they get a vote right there. They don’t negotiate but they can sit and listen.”

While Gard would have had less explaining of the contracts to do if council members sat in on negotiations, there was a drawback.

“There is some case law that is much more recent than that provision in the charter, and what that says is that a councilman, or a member of the legislative body who has the final approval of the contract, who sits in on the negotiation until you reach a memorandum of agreement, cannot then vote against the agreement in their legislative function,” Gard explained. “And this is not something that is an obscure provision that unions aren’t aware of. This is something that the union attorneys discussed with me when that discussion came up. ... And Jim (Muscato), and I think wisely so, made the decision not to go to the negotiations to preserve his right to vote against the contracts if he didn’t feel it was in the best interests of the city of Dunkirk. I know that he had taken some heat. You should have done this, you should have demanded this, we have the right to do this.

“It was an educated decision, it was an educated call not to do it and I agree with it. It would have made my life easier to have them there but in the end I think it would have been robbing them of the function that they’re for, for the final approval of the contracts.

“Part of the blowback is going to be certain people never having this experience before think that you can just throw out the contract that you’ve got and start over again, and these are my demands.They don’t want to negotiate, they want it to be a stickup on our end. You can’t do it that way, you’ve got that nasty Taylor Law to contend with.

“I think there’s some confusion and I chalk that up to having new people who don’t know what the process is. It’s good they have questions but there’s also got to be some understanding there.”


Pro-union Gov. helps boost dues income

Rep. Rob Witwer and Sen. Josh Penry got a surprising offer from the Ritter administration just days before this legislative session began. The Democratic governor liked the Republicans' ideas for Colorado education reform and wanted to adopt a version as the centerpiece of his agenda.

Witwer and Penry - who had left their ideas for dead after Democrats panned them the year before - jumped on board. The resulting bill passed the House on a 60-4 vote and is expected to pass the Senate.

As the session winds down this week, that reform bill stands as a symbol of Gov. Bill Ritter's leadership style.

"This is a very important bill and there's no way it would have happened this year without the governor's leadership," Witwer said.

Ritter speaks in terms of "we" and talks a lot about bipartisanship. He is credited for continued progress on environmental issues and for kick-starting a "new energy economy" in Colorado. Yet Ritter was elected in 2006 on the strength of a campaign of big ideas for funding universal health care, higher education and transportation at levels that dwarf his modest gains so far.

Many Republican lawmakers say Ritter has squandered an opportunity to make giant strides toward those goals during his first two legislative sessions as governor. They say new governors such as Ritter, whose parties control both houses of the legislature, should come out of the gate pushing big agendas early.

But instead of leading boldly, they say the governor caved in to union pressure. They blame his November executive order giving unions a bigger role in state government for the brewing ballot fight between proponents of a right-to-work initiative and those who support a slate of pro-labor measures.

"This governor needs to decide why he's governor and what he wants to do," said Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany. "If there's something he wants to do for Colorado besides strengthen unions and promote solar energy, then he needs to put an agenda together and go out and push for it."

Ritter and the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House say they are making steady progress on a bold, visionary agenda, and that partisan sniping just goes with being in charge.

"Our approach is we have a vision and it involves some fairly big ideas," Ritter said. "There are a lot of things you could say just for political premium that you're going to do in a two-year period and call it quits, but something like education, like health care, like transportation - they're not that way."

As for the executive order, Ritter says it prevented a disruptive, partisan floor fight over collective bargaining for state workers.

An achievable agenda

During his first year in office, Ritter oversaw blue ribbon commissions on transportation, health care and education. Those groups came up with proposed solutions and outlined their costs.

Ritter also set to work building what he called a "new energy economy" based on clean energy initiatives.

The commissions came to conclusions over the fall and winter. Transportation needed between $500 million and $1.5 billion more a year. Universal health care would cost more than $1 billion a year. It was estimated that the state's colleges and universities needed another $750 million annually just to reach national averages for funding.

Expectations were high that Ritter would tackle at least one of the problems head-on. But he didn't touch those big-ticket items in his second State of the State address in January.

Instead, he lowered his sights and laid out an achievable agenda for the upcoming session that included bipartisan, centerpiece ideas.

He floated an idea for a $100 car registration fee increase to help fund transportation. No lawmaker carried it as a bill.

Ritter announced he had brokered a compromise between environmental and higher education interests to boost funding for both with a severance tax increase on the oil and gas industry. But he didn't endorse that approach.

A few weeks later, he backed a revised plan that would funnel increased tax revenue from oil and gas into college scholarships instead of university operating budgets.

And he would do it through a citizens' initiative, rather than seek the support of two-thirds of the legislature needed to refer the measure to the ballot.

Ritter said he circumvented the legislature because he knew Republican lawmakers were ready to pounce on his plan with "cynicism and quips," when in fact it had a lot of Republican support outside the Capitol.

Bipartisan tactics

The governor said he looks at this legislative session as a success, and the Democratic leadership agree that they got a lot done in lock step with his office.

They approved a bill to provide 55,000 more kids with health care over three years. They passed an ambitious economic development package.

They pushed through a plan by House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, and State Treasurer Cary Kennedy that will allow the state to borrow nearly $1 billion to fix crumbling schools.

They approved a plan by Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, to allow school districts to apply more innovative approaches to education.

They are on the verge of passing the bipartisan bill that Witwer and Penry helped conceive to overhaul content standards for K-12 education.

They approved a budget that earmarks more money than ever for higher education operating costs. And they approved bipartisan legislation that will funnel money from federal mineral leases on land the state owns into higher education building projects.

"These are things that make real differences in people's lives, and the governor has helped move these packages through the process in a bipartisan way," Groff said.

During the two legislative sessions remaining in his term, Ritter said he will keep pushing for economic development. He also will push to reform the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

On health care, Ritter will try to reform a broken system as he waits to see who is elected president this November. After the election, he said the state's role in developing a health care plan should become clearer. As for transportation, Ritter said Coloradans need to be better educated about the "quiet crisis" brewing with its deteriorating roads and bridges.

What they're saying

Lawmakers have a range of opinions about Gov. Bill Ritter's performance so far:

* "This completely calculated, what's-in-it-for-me, how-will-it- look-in-the-press that every minority party adopts is sort of a new thing for him. Here you have a set of people whose job it is to make you look foolish and disagree with you at every turn. It takes some getting used to."

House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder

* "He's a very nice man in a Jimmy Carter kind of way. "

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker

* "I think we made a great deal of progress on health care, higher education and transportation. "

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver

* "I think this governor is a great human being. He's a delight to be around socially. He's a huge disappointment as far as leadership, simply because there hasn't been any. The only thing he's been decisive on is strengthening unions in Colorado."

Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs

What's next?

* End of session: By law, the Colorado General Assembly must adjourn 120 days after convening. The clock runs out on the 2008 session at midnight Wednesday.

* What's left? Among other issues, lawmakers are still working on a bill needed to keep the Public Utilities Commission in business. Also, the Senate Appropriations Committee will consider creating an insurance ombudsman's office to help Coloradans with everything from resolving claims problems to shopping for a policy.


Labor-state Republicans fear worker-choice

The Porter and Lake county (Indiana) Republican committees held a joint conference Saturday to defend their incumbent state representative candidates against recent mailings. Allegations made in the mailings against Ed Soliday of Porter County and Don Lehe of Lake County are either lies or distortions, the committees' chairmen said.

And on Monday, they're going to the Porter County prosecutor and the election division of Indiana's Attorney General.

They're also considering pursuing the group behind it for mail fraud.

"We believe these are all shadow groups of the Right to Work Committee, and these people are going after Republican candidates that don't kowtow their line," Porter County Republican Chairman Chuck Williams said.

The mailings began arriving about nine days ago in Porter County, with similar ones arriving a few days ago in Lake.

The Porter ones accuse Soliday, who's running for the District 4 seat, of being anti-Second Amendment, Will-iams said. He is an NRA member.

The mailings also make accusations of the candidates voting for a gas tax hike, a sales tax hike and a wheel tax that never existed, he said.

Lake County Chairman John Curley said that mailings also make accusations about bipartisan work.

Those mailings, which appear to target registered Republicans, ask the recipients to send money.

Williams said he's already heard from elderly people who've given money.

"They're outside groups -- some of them from Virginia, some of them from Indianapolis and some of them have been created in the last few days," Williams said.

The National Gun Owners Alliance was created in Indiana on April 22 and operates out of a UPS box in Indianapolis. It files no financial disclosure statements, Williams said.

"I can't find the accountability of these guys," he said.

Shawn Olson, running against Soliday in the primary, has disavowed the mailings.


Union political-front group exposed

An organization that some consider a cult -- and was in line for a state grant -- was missing from the Assembly member item list unveiled Friday. Although Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, planned to give a $4,000 member item to the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, the item was put on "hold," an unusual occurrence. New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office could not provide details. The Times Union disclosed the planned grant last month, also noting some former ARF members consider it a cult.

Ortiz had said the money would allow the group to offer new activities at senior centers in his district. Both he and a senior center director said they were unaware of the allegations involving ARF, including that it tries to recruit elderly people. He did not return a call about why he yanked the item.

Devorah Tarrow, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said about the assertions: "That's nuts ... we are not recruiting."

Majority privileges Speaking of member items, a breakdown of the Senate list shows -- surprise -- being in the majority really helps.

A review by New York Public Interest Group found GOP Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno at the top with $4.2 million, followed by all 32 Republicans, then the Democrats. Minority Leader Malcolm Smith got $657,000. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, drew about $2.2 million. Place your bets After helping Democrats in some high-profile Senate contests, the influential 1199/SEIU health care union has decided to bet on Republicans, who still hold a 32-30 majority in the chamber, according to a person close to the union.

The union will provide resources exclusively to the GOP this fall, the person said.

Union leaders, joined by key health care industry figures, met Friday with Sen. Bruno to discuss how to help the GOP hold control.

The union ruffled feathers in February when it was revealed it had donated more than $250,000 to the Working Families Party in less than two months. The WFP has made the Democrats' takeover of the Senate a priority this year. The union, according to the Long Island-based newspaper Newsday, also bought a table at a fundraiser earlier this year for Sen. Craig Johnson, D-Port Washington. SEIU had backed Johnson's opponent in a special election last year.

Big league bills The average cost of educating a public school student in New York is $18,768 a year, according to the state Education Department, but a new report from the Empire Center for New York State Policy finds some districts have costs far surpassing an Ivy League tuition.

Those include some small Long Island districts like Island Park, which spends $42,369 per student; East Quoque, at $44,298; and Amagansett, at $67,102.

On the other end of the scale, Mohonansen in Rotterdam was the second-lowest in the state, spending $12,708 per student. At the bottom was General Brown in Jefferson County at $12,141.


Turmoil Racks D.C. Teachers Union

National Group Intervenes Amid Officers' Battle, Recall Drive

The Washington Teachers' Union is facing a management crisis involving infighting between the president and vice president, an intervention by its parent organization and a recall drive targeting all the officers.

Five years after being placed in receivership by the American Federation of Teachers, after the embezzlement of millions of dollars in teachers' dues by then-President Barbara Bullock, the union is grappling with a host of internal and external pressures that threaten the viability of the organization, leaders say. Last week, at the request of the union's board, the national union dispatched a representative to work full time in the office to assess the operation and then devise and help implement a plan for fixing the problems.

Turmoil in the 4,200-member Washington union is surfacing at a pivotal time: The organization is grappling with the coming displacement of hundreds of teachers through Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's plans to close 23 schools and reorganize 27 others as well as her efforts to weaken long-standing job protections under a contract being negotiated. Meanwhile, membership has been eroding steadily, with fewer teachers needed to accommodate a rapidly shrinking enrollment.

"We're in a state of chaos. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better," said Candi Peterson, a special-education social worker at four schools who serves on the union's board of trustees, adding that she thinks the troubles will put the union at a disadvantage during the contract talks.

"I welcome the support of the AFT," she said. "They will help us emerge as a stronger union."

The union's self-governance was restored in 2005, after the election of George Parker as president and Nathan Saunders as general vice president, both of whom ran on a platform to introduce financial and management reforms aimed at restoring confidence.

But tensions between the two, which have been simmering for months, came to a head last month when Saunders filed suit against Parker. The suit asserts that Parker violated Saunders's free speech rights by introducing a policy forbidding anyone other than Parker from speaking on behalf of the union. Parker also exhibited poor leadership, which led to management and financial problems, Saunders alleges. Parker denies the allegations.

The dispute between Parker and Saunders, who were reelected last year, centers on philosophical differences over the union's approach to dealing with the school administration. Parker supports a "collaborative" approach with Rhee aimed at giving teachers a voice in decisions, while Saunders favors confrontational tactics to protest policies deemed anti-teacher.

Parker said the union's problems stem from members who are unwilling to face the new reality of the D.C. education landscape: The school system no longer has a monopoly on public school students, with public charter schools luring thousands of students every year. To save teaching jobs, the union will need to become more proactive in improving the schools rather than serving as an obstacle to reform, he said.

"We have lost 1,500 members in 10 years, all because of charter schools. Our very survival is dependent on having students remain in [traditional] public schools," Parker said. "If we don't get on the ball in terms of improving our schools, the charters will have the majority of our students."

Rhee is a big fan of Parker's.

"I believe that George Parker is one of the most progressive and bold union leaders in this country," Rhee said. "Anytime you have someone who is that much of a reformer and is going to be part of the transformation of this district, you're going to get a lot of push back. I think it's important for teachers and the community to rally around this guy who is trying to break the mold."

But Saunders and others say the union has become dysfunctional under Parker: Teacher grievances have languished. Board members and building representatives have not received necessary training. The union has not produced a strategy on dealing with Rhee's plans to close and reorganize schools, as was required by the national union.

Rhee's plans "are weighty decisions," and teachers have "not had any union training this year," Saunders said. "That's a problem when you've got one of the most comprehensive paradigm changes [affecting teachers] in the country."

The national union dispatched representative George Bordenave last week to work with the union for about a year. The four-page agreement signed by Parker and the national union calls for Bordenave to "provide direct supervisory support and oversight over WTU's day-to-day operation." He will conduct a "full-scale evaluation" of the union and develop and implement a strategy for improving operations.

Bordenave is "going to look at the various areas of the union's performance," said David J. Strom, general counsel for the national union, including "negotiating a contract and dealing with the superintendent, mayor and council."

Meanwhile, some teachers have launched a recall campaign. The petition in circulation seeks to "remove the present president, vice president, executive board and board of trustees" and to "initiate and complete an election process that will result in the election of new officers."

"I'm totally frustrated with what's going on in the union," said Benita Nicholson, a librarian at Mildred Green Elementary in Southeast who is circulating the petition. "I think the infighting damages the union."

"The fighting has got to stop," said Nicholson, who served on the executive board when Bullock was president. "A house divided against itself will fall."


Free lunch conflicts with collective bargaining

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.


Local 1: There is no other

The Contra Costa Times frequently prints articles regarding the Contra Costa County budget crises, reporting results of the supervisors' Tuesday meetings. Most of these reports mention comments/actions by Rollie Katz of Public Employees Union Local 1. Occasionally, Katz writes a commentary for the Times on the positions of Local 1. There are other unions in Contra Costa, such as the large clerical union Local 2700, from which the public never hears anything from it. Only Katz is quoted with an opinion, so one can surmise he is the only representative speaking in favor of the unions. He seems to be standing alone.

I wonder why there are never opinions/comments from Octavia Brazille, president of Local 2700, or Jo Bates, business manager for 2700, at the supervisors' meetings or in the Times.

Local 2700 collects dues of 1 percent from the base salary of each union member monthly. Some of this money is invested in food for union meetings.

Where are the rest of the dues being applied? Why aren't the president and business manager speaking out for their membership?

I wager if the membership of 2700, en masse, refused to pay union dues unless there is major representation, there would be immediate action.

- Judi Rigney, Concord, CA


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