Teamster corruption earns workers' anger

Members of Teamsters Local 631 complain their union is colluding with major convention center contractors to wean them of union labor, a suspicion that has spurred efforts to replace local Teamster leadership with a slate of insurgent candidates. Among the members’ complaints: that the union is reducing their work hours — and then helping contractors hire cheaper, nonunion laborers whose work can be billed at union-wage prices to convention exhibitors.

In essence, members say the union has set up a lucrative nonunion employment agency within the union hall, at the expense of members whose hours are being cut. They complain that as they wait for work, the union hall dispatcher gives the jobs to nonunion workers who have paid $60 to be on the union work list.

In exchange for getting sweetheart deals from the union, the convention contractors are performing favors for union leadership, including providing work for family members, according to some union members. The wife of Local 631 President Tommy Blitsch, for example, works for the Freeman Cos., a giant in the convention services business.

The union’s ambivalence toward — if not downright encouragement of — the company’s hiring of nonunion workers is fundamentally undermining the use of organized labor in the convention industry, a cornerstone of Nevada’s tourism-based economy, critics of union leadership say.

Blitsch didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. His personal attorney called the Sun and said his client did not authorize him to comment.

The allegations have drawn the notice of the oldest internal Teamsters reform movement, Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which is working with members to overthrow the union leadership when they stand for reelection in the fall.

The general complaint: that the local is too chummy with the big convention hall contractors at the expense of its own members.

“There’s a lot of (leadership) heads being turned the other direction. The way they manipulate and work with the company, it’s not a union,” said Tony Milone, an 18-year veteran of Local 631.

Milone said he was told one day last month by a union dispatcher that Freeman had no work for him that weekend — only to learn from co-workers later that Freeman had hired nonunion workers. Freeman’s union contract allows for a blended hiring of union and nonunion workers, according to Teamsters members.

Freeman did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Union focus of anger

Milone’s anger is directed primarily at his union. “Here I am, sitting home, my dues are paid, I’m a member in good standing and they’re telling me they can’t work me,” Milone said.

Other Local 631 members, who contacted the Sun in response to an article last month detailing member dissatisfaction with union leadership, tell similar stories. (The article included comments from Blitsch, who later told a general membership meeting he never spoke to the Sun. Audio clips of the interview are posted with the earlier story at www.lasvegassun.com.)

The Sun interviewed 11 Teamster convention workers who requested anonymity because they fear losing more hours. They said their complaints to union stewards and business agents had fallen on deaf ears, leaving many to suspect the worst.

Hiring hall protocol

Unions that serve the construction industry commonly provide hiring halls where workers — union and nonunion alike — often pay a fee to be placed on hiring lists. The union then dispatches workers in a prescribed ratio, generally outlined in a collective bargaining agreement between the union and an employer.

Members of Local 631 say that with the union’s cooperation, contractors are disproportionately hiring from among an overabundance of nonunion workers. The typically unskilled nonunion laborers are paid at a cheaper rate by the contractors, who nonetheless charge exhibitors the same flat labor rate, according to Candace Adams, an industry consultant who has run trade shows, been an exhibitor and written extensively about the industry.

In other words, according to the complaining union members as well as industry analysts such as Adams, companies such as Freeman are increasing their profit by passing over members of Local 631 and hiring less costly nonunion workers from the same hall.

Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said hiring halls can be a powerful tool because they allow unions to monopolize the labor pool in a given industry. At the same time, because unions control the dispatching, such halls are vulnerable to corruption, he said. Moreover, although many unions use hiring halls to recruit members, Local 631 leadership isn’t doing so and is thus squandering an opportunity to strengthen the union against future threats, union members say.

This is not the local’s first flirtation with nonunion labor.

In 2000, international President James Hoffa, citing “severe mismanagement,” sent his special assistant, Dane Passo, to Las Vegas to oversee the local’s rebuilding. Within months, the Independent Review Board, a federal watchdog of the Teamsters, found that Passo had engineered a deal with a Chicago friend, William Hogan, to steer hundreds of convention center jobs to nonunion workers employed by a temporary labor company where Hogan’s brother was a top executive.

Local contracts criticized

Members of Local 631 complain that local contracts are inferior to those earned by Teamsters locals with strong convention memberships

After particularly tumultuous talks and picketing, a 2004 contract with Freeman and GES Exposition Services led to a $1-per-hour raise — just 29 cents of which was devoted to wages, with the rest going to health care and other benefits.

Last year, the union signed contracts that provided more generous raises — $5 an hour over the course of the four-year agreements — but created a new labor classification for qualified nonunion workers, allowing them to compete against union members. Since the contract was signed, members say, hours have been cut, nullifying the raise.

As a result of the contract, convention contractors are shaping an increasingly nonunion workforce, which could undermine the union’s future, members say.

Union workers also are nervous at hearing that Freeman plans to open a nonunion warehouse in Mojave Valley, Ariz., with wages that start at $7.50 an hour. “Each move eliminates one more of us,” a Teamster convention worker said. “Each move is one more nail in the coffin.”

Despite the frustrations of members over cuts in their hours, they face a paradox: Convention exhibitors complain about the lack of qualified labor.

Adams, the trade show expert, said, “When someone says ‘Las Vegas’ I grimace because of the shallow labor pool of the Teamsters there.”

The Strip construction projects draw the best skilled labor, and the union doesn’t do enough to develop talent, she said.

Second-tier convention cities are on the rise because of their cheaper, more abundant labor and fewer headaches than those associated with places such as the Las Vegas Convention Center, where drug use, theft and workplace injuries are far too common, Adams said.

Convention contractors and unions met here in March at a national conference to discuss the issues facing the convention industry, including worker drug use — higher than national workplace averages — and the need for better customer service.

The Teamsters failed to send a representative.


Did Barack or didn't Barack?

Barack Obama Monday said he told the Teamsters while seeking their endorsement that he would consider ending federal oversight of the union - but insisted he made no commitments.

"What I've said is that I would examine what is going on in terms of the federal oversight that's been taking place ... it's been in place for many years, the union has done a terrific job cleaning house, and the question is whether they're going to be able to get treated just like every other union," Obama told ABC.

"Whether that time has come," he added, "that's something that I'll absolutely examine when I'm President."

The Wall Street Journal, however, reported Monday that Obama had told the Teamsters he supported ending the oversight - a top priority of union boss James Hoffa.

The labor group has been closely monitored by a federal panel for more than a decade - an effort to eliminate the influence of organized crime in the union.

Hillary Clinton's team accused Obama of changing his story.

"What I find troubling is a statement in a newspaper and then a candidate going on television and saying something different," said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. Jen Psaki, an aide to Obama, insisted his position has been "entirely consistent" and that he believes the federal oversight has "run its course," though the Justice Department should make the final determination.

The Journal reported that Clinton had made no promises on the matter. But she did tell union chiefs they have "done a tremendous job."


Voters doubt Barack's patriotism

Related story: "Barack's patriotism questioned"

Barack Obama, Questioning the Patriotism of Others

Tom Maguire notices Barack Obama declaring, "I have never challenged other people's patriotism" on Meet the Press and asks about the flag pin. I have another objection:

Sherrod Brown, talking to The Nation:
I've talked to Barack a lot about his Patriot Corporation Act, which is not trade per se, but it's certainly part of the economic package around globalization. The Patriot Corporation Act has not gotten the attention that I would hope it would. But, basically it says that if you play by the rules, if you pay decent wages, health benefits, pension; do your production here; don't resist unionization on neutral card check, then you will be designated a "Patriot Corporation" and you will get tax advantages and some [preference] on government contracts.
Not only has Obama declared some patriotic and some not, he wants to make it the federal government's job to decide and declare which companies are patriotic and which aren't.

UPDATE: A poll released last week by the Pew Research Center showed that 61 percent of voters viewed Obama as patriotic, compared with 76 percent for Clinton and 90 percent for McCain.

Is this fair? Well, most Americans don't know somebody who tried to blow up a women's room in the Pentagon, like William Ayers, or the nine-year-old son of a judge, like the Weathermen. Most Americans don't think of their country as "just downright mean," as Michelle described it. Most Americans cannot imagine having a mentor argue that this country and al-Qaeda are committing the same acts under different color flags.

Barack Obama presumably loves his country, but he's surrounded by people who have tried to commit acts of violence against it, or who trash it in front of audiences, or who accuse it of heinous acts. At the end of the day, a lot of Americans probably just won't relate to someone who does.


Are union dues a legitimate public purpose?

A building contractors' association is suing the city of Juneau over the way it doles out construction contracts. The Associated Builders and Contractors of Alaska contends the city's method is unfair. The issue centers on the city's project labor agreement for an estimated $14 million in renovations planned for Harborview Elementary School.

Bids are due Wednesday and require that contractors agree to certain labor practices, including hiring only union tradesmen.

According to court records filed last week, such labor agreements serve no legitimate public purpose and they favor union contractors over nonunion contractors.


Voter-blockers provided by union front-group

Ken McKoy, a veteran political activist and African-American pastor, would never dream of adding his name to a petition seeking to curb affirmative action in Missouri. But that's exactly what he nearly did when approached recently by a signature gatherer in the Delmar Loop, who pitched the proposal as a push to end discrimination.

"He looked like a progressive — he had tattoos, he had an earring, he may have had a mohawk," McKoy said of the petitioner. "He seemed like a left-wing hippie type guy. And he almost got me."

Welcome to Missouri's wild and largely unregulated petition gathering season, which culminates Sunday as more than two dozen groups are due to submit signatures to the state on issues ranging from gambling limits to eminent domain.

With petitions having become an increasingly popular way to get issues before voters, the practice has been met by critics who say the process favors groups with deep pockets and is ripe for abuse.

Signature collectors sometimes present voters with two or three petitions at a time, making it confusing for voters to know which one they are signing. Even the names can be potentially deceiving — an effort to rescind the spending limits at casinos mentions schools, but not gambling.

Though conceived as a grass-roots way for citizens to take issues directly to voters, collecting signatures on some measures has also become a big business. Well-funded organizations can contract with firms who, for a hefty fee, will guarantee ballot access. Individual signature gatherers are sometimes paid $1 or more for a name.

States elsewhere have sought to crack down on petition circulators, either by limiting the time organizers have to collect names or making it illegal to pay by the signature. Now, some say, it's time to clean up the process in Missouri.

"The ballot initiative goes to the heart of the democratic process — we need to make sure it is not being abused," said state Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis.


About half of the states in the United States allow citizens to petition for ballot access. In Missouri, to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot requires at least 130,000 signatures, which must be spread from throughout the state.

This year, the secretary of state approved 25 initiative petitions for signature collection, up from 11 in 2004. The petition process has its roots in Progressive Era populism, and there are still issues — such as the push in Missouri for a ballot item encouraging renewable energy — that are largely volunteer-driven.

For other interest groups, the petition has emerged as a way to bypass the Legislature.

The state's casinos, for instance, have paid over $195,000 to a Michigan firm — National Petition Management Inc. — to collect signatures that would rescind the state's $500 loss limit.

"It's pay to play," said Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University who has studied the effect of initiative petitions.

The process also can be easily manipulated by those who peddle the petitions, Donovan says. One trick: Using a clipboard to cover the part of the petition that tells voters what they are actually endorsing.

"There are professionals out there who know how to play the game," Donovan said. "Even when they are doing things legally, they have a song and dance."


In the absence of strict regulations, those on both sides of contentious ballot issues in Missouri have taken to policing each other's tactics.

The result: a rhetorical battle playing out in front of voters at popular signature-gathering spots such as post offices, libraries and government buildings.

This spring, the fiercest battles erupted over a measure to ban affirmative action.

A group of volunteers and paid canvassers have mobilized against the initiative, which is similar to ones in other states that have generated complaints about deceptive petition tactics.

Critics here say even the initiative's name — the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative — is misleading and may fool some people who don't realize it would ban affirmative action programs backed by the state and local government.

The liberal-leaning group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, has deployed crews of workers at $8 an hour to make sure people know what they are signing, even if it means being assertive about spreading their view.

"I like to call it being pleasantly persistent," said ACORN organizer Jackie Tyler.

Tyler said her workers were educating voters. The opposition has another name for them: "blockers."

Last week, Tyler and a crew of about 20 ACORN workers dispersed through the region, responding to a hot line where people can call to report sightings of signature gatherers.

One of those tips led her to the Maryland Heights Post Office, where she saw a petition gatherer juggling about six yellow and blue clipboards attracting a small crowd.

Armed with a pile of yellow fliers that say "Think before you ink!" Tyler tried to approach voters, warning the affirmative action petition would harm women and minorities.

The signature collector, David Ulmo, a furniture salesman from Kansas City, had a yellow flier of his own to counter Tyler's.

"Please ignore these paid 'blockers' who use thug tactics and intimidation to stop you from signing," his flier read. "Don't be bullied into walking away."

Later, Tyler laughed at Ulmo's flyer. It will make it onto a dartboard back at the office, she said.


Tim Asher, who is leading the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, said critics who accused them of deceptive practices lacked evidence to back their claims. "I've never heard anyone misrepresent the issue," he said.

The local and national offices for National Ballot Access — the Georgia company hired to collect signatures for the anti-affirmative action drive — did not return numerous phone calls.

The affirmative action petition, however, is not the only effort generating complaints in Missouri.

Dave Maus, a retired salesman from Oakville, said a young woman approached him about two weeks ago with the casinos petition. He recalled her saying the measure would raise $105 million for schools.

It wasn't until he got home that he realized the initiative would also do away with wagering caps and limit the number of casinos in the state.

"I know we should always read a petition, and that's nobody's fault but my own," he said.

According to the Missouri secretary of state's office, 15 voters have submitted an affidavit asking that their names be removed from a petition — 14 on the affirmative-action push, and one on the casino petition.

Anne Marie Moy, a spokeswoman for the casino effort, defended the title of the ballot campaign — "Yes for Schools First" — as accurate. The proposal would raise the amount of casino taxes — to 21 percent from 20 percent — dedicated for education. "I don't think it's deceptive," Moy said. "I think it very clearly states the most important thing that the initiative is going to accomplish."

The secretary of state's office will hold special weekend hours Sunday to accept all of the petition signatures due by 5 p.m. The group backing the casino measure says it has already handed in needed signatures.

If signatures on the various measures are approved as valid, the issues will go before voters on Nov. 4.

At the Capitol, though, there is a move to further regulate signature gathering in the state. Storch has authored a bill that would prohibit signature companies from paying by the name, a law in effect in Wyoming, North Dakota and Oregon.

"I think that the last few election cycles have demonstrated that this business of initiative petitions has become a serious one," Storch said.

One person who hopes the state does not curb signature gathering is Paul Lashley, a freelance petitioner who has collected names on issues from animal cruelty to billboard regulations over the last dozen years.

Does he misrepresent an issue? Never, he claims. Does he put his own spin on it to help signatures? Maybe.

"I never say a lie," Lashley said. "Of course, you put a light on things."

Lashley, 53, said that he didn't necessarily believe in every issue he pushed, but that he did think they deserved a place on the ballot.

Said Lashley: "I believe in the democratic process."


Union 'stalkers, thugs' protect racial preferences

A leader of a ballot initiative that would have ended state-based affirmative action programs lashed out at opponents on Monday and vowed to revive the issue in 2010, after failing to meet a weekend deadline to turn in signatures. "So those who are gleeful right now about being able to bully us, you better enjoy your last laugh because it won't last very long," said Ward Connerly, a California businessman who helped spearhead the initiative in Missouri and four other states this year.

Connerly, in a telephone interview, said he believes he would have gathered enough signatures to make the November ballot if organizers had two more weeks. He mostly blamed a long court battle with the Missouri secretary of state's office over the ballot language that delayed signature gathering until January.

But he also pointed fingers at the "despicable" tactics of his opponents, whom he called "stalkers" and "thugs."

Connerly said hordes of adversaries would descend on one petition circulator, call the person a racist, and yell and scream. In some cases, he said, "little old ladies" were harassed.

"We've never encountered anything like that" in any of the other states , he said in a phone interview. "This was a very well orchestrated campaign of harassment and intimidation."

A coalition of labor unions and worker advocates called Working to Empower Community Action Now began organizing last year against the initiative.

They trained more than 100 volunteers and paid workers from Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now to search for petition circulators and then hand out fliers to voters.

Leaders said the work was necessary because petition gatherers sometimes used deceptive practices to get signatures by not fully explaining the petition .

Critics say even the initiative's name — the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative — could have fooled people into thinking it supported affirmative action programs.

Brandon Davis, a Working to Empower Community Action Now spokesman and political director for the Service Employees International Union, rejected Connerly's depiction of their efforts.

"Our voter educators were simply that — voter educators," he said. "Ward Connerly should accept what Missourians said and he should stop with the sore loser talk."

Davis said the failure of the initiative to make it onto the November ballot shows that Missourians believe affirmative action programs based on race and gender are still needed.

"I think Missourians spoke loudly and clearly and rejected this initiative — and rejected the politics that it represents," he said. "And I think this taught us that real grass-roots efforts can yield results even in the face of well-financed, monied interest."

According to campaign finance reports filed by April 15, Connerly's group gave nearly $160,000 to support the initiative. Working to Empower Community Action Now, in turn, had about $77,500 on hand.

The ballot initiative's backers did not pull the plug until the 11th hour, continuing to collect signatures through Saturday.

Tim Asher, who led the Missouri effort while being advised by Connerly, said organizers ended up with more than 170,000 signatures. While they only needed 140,000 to 150,000 valid signatures, Asher said organizers wanted to reach the 200,000 mark because they knew some of those signatures would be thrown out, as always happens with petition drives.

Asher said he was confident the effort would have been successful had the ballot language not been tied up in the courts from July until January. He took a shot at Secretary of State Robin Carnahan for writing ballot language they felt was unfair. A judge agreed and rewrote the wording. Carnahan's appeal is still pending.

In a statement, Carnahan's office said it continues to stand by its wording as accurate and fair.

Despite the initiative's failure, Asher said he was pleased so many Missourians signed their names — a response that will propel efforts in 2010.

"There's too much support in the state to walk away," he said.

Davis said he and his coalition aren't going away either.

"We're here and we'll be preparing," he said.


'Lying to our union brothers and sisters'

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) campaign worked to portray Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) as elitist and out of touch as Indiana and North Carolina voters heard the campaigns’ closing arguments in the final hours before Tuesday’s vote. The Clinton campaign also pushed a new Obama controversy on Monday, suggesting he had been both secretive and a flip-flopper in his dealings with a union that backed his bid.

A Wall Street Journal story, seized on by both the Clinton camp and the Republican National Committee (RNC), said Obama won the Teamsters Union’s endorsement after he privately assured them he was in favor of curtailing an independent review board set up in 1992 “to eliminate Mob influence in the union.”

According to the Journal, Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, confirmed that Obama did make that commitment.

Clinton advisers said on a Monday conference call that the issue was not about Obama’s pledge to the union but about the confusion on what Obama does support after the Illinois senator said on “Good Morning America” that he “wouldn’t make any blanket commitments” to the union.

“I am confused about what Sen. Obama’s position is,” Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman, said. “He told the Teamsters in private that he is for lifting the decree and his campaign confirmed that position in today’s [Wall Street Journal]. But then he went on ‘GMA’ and said he made no blanket commitments. What is his position?”

Vietor told The Hill there is no controversy, and that Clinton also left the union with the impression that she was in favor of lifting the consent decree that gave the board its authority.

“Sen. Obama’s position is clear on the issue,” Vietor said. “Sen. Clinton led the Teamsters to believe she supported their position, and now she claims she doesn’t.”

Vietor pointed to audio from the meeting that surfaced Monday where Clinton does seem to be making that endorsement.

On the Monday call, Clinton advisers said she was open to reviewing the board. But Singer said Clinton “has made no promises about lifting the consent decree.”

“This is an attempt to get to the bottom of what Sen. Obama’s position is on the consent decree,” Singer said in an e-mail.

The dust-up over the Teamsters meeting came as the two campaigns continued to battle over the gas tax moratorium that Clinton supports and Obama does not.

The issue has become a flashpoint in the run-up to Tuesday’s contests as Clinton pushed to make her case that Obama is out of touch with Americans who are struggling in the face of record-shattering gas prices.

Vietor said the Clinton campaign’s efforts to blow out the Teamsters issue was “just another attempt to distract voters from her pandering on the gas tax.”

A number of high-profile Clinton supporters and most economists have said publicly that Clinton’s plan, which is similar but not identical to a proposal put forward by presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), is flawed on several levels.

Obama has repeatedly called Clinton’s plan a “Washington gimmick,” even as Clinton has said she does not share the “elite” opinions of the economists.

The labor fight also spilled into two other union camps in Indiana as Change to Win, which is supporting Obama, accused the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which supports Clinton, of failing to identify itself as the producer of fliers being circulated in the Hoosier State.

The fliers say only that they are from “your union,” according to Change to Win.

“It’s a shame that the discourse of the Democratic presidential primary campaign has sunk to the point of lying to our union brothers and sisters on the eve of the Indiana primary election,” Greg Tarpinian, Change to Win’s executive director, said in a statement. “We expect these types of deplorable tactics from the McCain campaign, not AFSCME.”

The Clinton campaign continued to try to manage expectations heading into Tuesday’s contests as most polls showed the New York senator with a narrow lead in Indiana and having somewhat closed the gap in North Carolina.

Howard Wolfson and Geoff Garin, Clinton’s two senior advisers, said Monday that Clinton enjoyed momentum in both states despite being outspent by Obama.

“What we expect is a result that looks a heck of a lot better than things looked for us a month ago in each of these states,” Garin said. “We believe that we’ve got things moving in the right direction in both states.”

The Clinton campaign said that Obama outspent the New York senator by about $2.4 million in Indiana and about $1.3 million in North Carolina.

The Obama campaign said that Clinton needs to win Tuesday to make any effort to cut into his lead in delegates, adding that by their count Obama needs only 276 more delegates to win the nomination.

“The question for Sen. Clinton is can she make serious inroads in the delegate race tomorrow,” Vietor said in an e-mail. “To do that, she needs to win big in both states.”


Unionist politics threaten jobs, investment

City Council begged to not take sides on pro-union federal legislation

Noting two out-of-town companies' current interest in Marion as the site for a call center, Pam Hall begged City Council not to take sides on a resolution of support for pro-union federal legislation. Council's jobs and economic development committee sent to council the resolution, which if approved would state council's support for the Employee Free Choice Act proposed by the Mid-Ohio AFL-CIO Labor Council.

At council's meeting Monday night, Hall, president of the Marion Area Chamber of Commerce, asked council members to consider that approval of the resolution could eliminate Marion from consideration for as many as 500 jobs that one of the call centers could create. The two companies identified Marion as a possible site for a call center because they are aware that Kable Fulfillment Services Inc., which once employed approximately 280 people, is closing by July, she said.

Reading from a letter she addressed to council members, Hall said she didn't want to debate the philosophical differences between supporters and opponents of the legislation. She asked council members to consider whether a resolution of support for or against federal legislation has any impact on those who vote on the legislation at the federal level. She said if they determined a local resolution of support had little effect to "give due consideration to the significant damage that could result to economic development efforts under way within our community."

After Councilman Ayers Ratliff made a motion to send the resolution back to the jobs and economic development committee, Councilman Mike Thomas said Hall's comments were the typical response to pro-union legislation that he has seen since he joined council in 1995. He called for a first reading of the resolution.

The Employee Free Choice Act would make it easier for workers to form unions by allowing them to sign cards in support of the union, rather than the current National Labor Relations Act, which requires a majority of employees to vote in a union election. Thomas, former president of the Mid-Ohio AFL-CIO, said the current law leads to intimidation of employees by employers.

Ivan Stithem, current president of the Mid-Ohio AFL-CIO, said the labor organization believes the NLRA "should be changed to make it a little bit easier for organized labor to come in and organize." He said a resolution of support by council is important. “Unions don’t hurt companies. They improve the work environment.”

Kable Fulfillment Services Inc., a subsidiary of Kable Media Services Inc., provides magazine subscription services and product and merchandise fulfillment for publishers and direct marketers. Kable Media Services Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of AMREP Corp., a major landholder and a leading developer of real estate in New Mexico. AMREP Corp. was organized in 1961.

Also addressing council Monday was Joe Hatcher, an employee of Kable Fulfillment Services, who said he hadn’t heard of the Employee Free Choice Act until earlier Monday.

“I won’t have a job in four months,” he told council members. He asked council to consider the employment fortunes of Kable employees when deciding whether to approve the resolution stating support for the federal legislation. Describing his motives as a “little selfish,” he said, “Any chance we have to get jobs in the community ... would be nice.”

Marion resident Ralph Hill said, “I think politics should stay with politics and labor with labor.”

Hall said both pro-union philosophies and anti-union philosophies are needed “to create a vibrant community ..., but I beg you, as a governing and elected body, please do not join together and side with one or the other of those philosophies. Allow Marion to be open to dialogue with all prospective companies, whether they be unionized or not. Let us not eliminate our citizens from employment opportunities by labeling our community with any label other than that we are a community that works together for our citizens and the success of our businesses.”


SEIU v. CNA in AFL-CIO desert showdown

The reputation of one of Nevada’s largest unions is on the line as 1,100 registered nurses at three St. Rose Dominican hospitals vote today and Wednesday on whether to retain the Service Employees International Union as their bargaining representative — or join a rival union.

The election also threatens to widen a fissure between the SEIU, the country’s largest union, and the AFL-CIO, its largest labor federation.

For the past few months, the rival California Nurses Association has sent organizers into the Las Vegas Valley hospitals to woo registered nurses away from the SEIU, which represents 17,500 health care and public sector employees in Nevada. A win in this week’s election would embolden the CNA to encroach further on SEIU territory.

The CNA claims there is strength in a nurses-only union. It also says it brings unprecedented bargaining power because it represents 10,500 nurses employed by Catholic Healthcare West, owner of the St. Rose Dominican hospitals.

Some CNA supporters at St. Rose say that despite winning strong contracts, the SEIU has failed to enforce the contracts in the workplace. They also complain about a recent increase in health care premiums for some St. Rose nurses as a result of changes negotiated by an SEIU local in California.

The SEIU counters that “wall-to-wall” representation in hospitals is best for workers and patient care. It also says the contract it negotiated with St. Rose is one of the best hospital contracts in the country, complete with enforceable staffing ratios.

Both sides are now at the bargaining table, and the SEIU says it is fighting to extend those enforceable ratios to ancillary staff. Also on the service union’s wish list are a 6 percent raise and resolving the health insurance dispute.

SEIU leaders say switching unions could be a risky proposition for nurses, especially as they find themselves fighting management at the bargaining table over a series of givebacks, including changes in attendance and staffing policies. If the CNA wins, the existing SEIU contract would remain in effect up to a year while the California nurses negotiate their own pact with management. The new union, however, would be starting from scratch, SEIU leaders say.

For the SEIU, much is at stake. Members have complained about a lack of internal union democracy. The Labor Department is investigating a disputed 2007 officer election.

The battle has intensified over the past week, with the CNA catering meals for nurses and the SEIU dispatching former CNA President Helen Miramontes to hospitals to speak out against her former union.

In an interview with the Sun on Monday, Miramontes said CNA’s actions in Las Vegas were more befitting a “union-busting outfit” than a labor organization.

Each union is also battling for votes online, with competing Web sites featuring testimonials from Las Vegas nurses.

Although both sides are reluctant to make predictions or characterize their level of support, the SEIU has released a campaign poster with 400-plus head shots of supporters. For its part, the CNA gathered at least 300 signatures for its election petition in March.

Although the SEIU has the backing of the Nevada AFL-CIO and local labor leaders, its leaders say pleas to the national labor federation have been unsuccessful. SEIU Nevada Executive Director Jane McAlevey said the union’s petition for an anti-raiding hearing in Washington, D.C., was denied.

Richard Hurd, a labor relations expert at Cornell University, said that decision and the battle at St. Rose could further the divide between the SEIU and the AFL-CIO on the national stage.

The SEIU and four other unions broke off from the AFL-CIO in 2005 because of disagreement over how best to increase union membership. Since then, the CNA has joined the AFL-CIO.

In recent months, the long-running feud between the SEIU and the CNA has become more intense. The CNA disrupted the SEIU’s attempt to organize eight hospitals in Ohio in March. Then a labor conference in Michigan last month turned into a melee after the SEIU sent busloads of members to protest a speech by CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro.

This week’s election at St. Rose is even more pitched, because the CNA is seeking to poach existing SEIU members. As a result, the SEIU has threatened to withdraw its locals from state AFL-CIO affiliates if the labor federation’s president, John Sweeney, doesn’t intervene to prevent CNA raids, Hurd said.

That puts Sweeney in a tough position. Despite the split on the national level, many SEIU locals — including SEIU Nevada — have forged alliances with state AFL-CIOs. If the service workers’ locals pulled out, it would further the national divide and could mean diminished clout and financial reserves for the AFL-CIO, Hurd said.

“If CNA wins and the AFL-CIO doesn’t get involved, then it is likely SEIU will follow through on its threat,” Hurd said.


Andy Stern has a crush on Obama

In the final days before the Indiana primary, Senator Barack Obama is getting some help from his friends at the Service Employees International Union, the politically powerful union that is engaging in a major get-out-the-vote campaign on his behalf. Filings with the Federal Election Commission show that the union, which has been working on Mr. Obama’s behalf throughout the Democratic primary, has spent $1.1 million in the last five days on television advertisements, phone banks and direct mail in Indiana – in addition to sending out union members knocking on the doors of Hoosier voters.

The Obama television spot, which made its debut last week, is called “New Building.” It focuses on money being spent to rebuild the infrastructure in Iraq, rather than in the United States, and emphasizes Mr. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war. It ends with the statement “Barack Obama, Putting America First.”

“The ad is part of an extensive campaign that S.E.I.U. members are waging to get out the vote for Obama,’’ the union said in a release on its Web site. “S.E.I.U. members are stepping up their efforts” on Mr. Obama’s behalf.

The union led a similar effort to aid Mr. Obama in Pennsylvania and other primary states. It is perhaps the best friend a candidate could have. Not only does the union represent 1.9 million workers throughout the country, it is one of the savviest and wealthiest unions as measured by political activism.

Since endorsing Mr. Obama last year, the S.E.I.U.’s political arm, the Committee on Political Education, has spent $8 million to promote his candidacy. This is more than any other single group has spent on behalf of any candidate, Republican or Democrat, in the primary.

The next largest expenditure by an outside group in this primary was the $2.3 million that the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees has spent on behalf of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. In addition, Mrs. Clinton has been aided by the American Leadership Project, a 527 group that has spent around $1 million on her behalf to date - an effort that has been soundly criticized by the Obama campaign.

When it comes to the S.E.I.U., however, there is a lot more money waiting in the wings for Mr. Obama. The COPE political action committee has, with $26 million in cash on hand, the biggest war chest of any other PAC, union or not. Besides focusing on helping Mr. Obama, COPE has been dipping into that cash to attack Senator John McCain.

Last week, in a preview of campaign wars to come, the S.E.I.U. started to broadcast its first general election television advertisement. It is the kickoff of what the union says will be “an unprecedented campaign to build a new American health care system” and takes sharp aim at Mr. McCain. The spot, broadcast in Ohio and Washington D.C., features health care workers and says that Mr. McCain “won’t stop rising health care costs” and that he joined with President Bush to “oppose health care for children.”

In addition, the S.E.I.U. is sponsoring a bus tour “Road to Health Care” that will travel through battleground states between now and the two political conventions. The union said that bus tour will stop “in communities small and large to highlight real people who are struggling to afford health care.”


Powerful Philly IBEW in corruption probe

In a new court filing, prosecutors investigating John J. Dougherty's extensive home renovations disclose what they say is the labor leader's explanation for how he paid for some of the work: His father-in-law provided $200,000. But in the same court filing, entered late Wednesday, prosecutors say the chief financial officer for the contractor has no record of any $200,000 payment. Sources said authorities had been told by parties involved that the $200,000 was delivered in cash.

The document was filed in preparation for the May 19 trial of the contractor, Donald "Gus" Dougherty Jr., who is accused of doing much of the work free in violation of a law that prohibits contractors from providing gifts to leaders of unions doing related work.

John Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, remains under investigation but has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He says he has done nothing wrong.

The documents added detail to the allegations about a close financial tie between the Doughertys, who are not related but who have been friends since childhood in South Philadelphia. They include:

That Gus Dougherty gave John Dougherty a $5,533 ladies' Cartier watch that the union leader, in turn, gave to a "personal friend" as a birthday gift in 2004.

That Gus Dougherty improperly collected $900,000 from a special union fund even as he failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars into a separate union health and welfare account. Prosecutors say this is additional evidence that the contractor had a motive to do free work for John Dougherty.

Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., who represents John Dougherty, declined to comment. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anita Eve and Paul Gray would not elaborate on their filing.

Gus Dougherty's lawyer, Eric Sitarchuk, declined to comment on the $200,000 issue, but he said he would vigorously oppose the government's motion to allow the jury to hear about the watch and the alleged payment of nearly $900,000.

Eve and Gray argue that the new allegations buttress their case that Gus Dougherty violated the federal Taft-Hartley Act. The act prohibits the payment of money or other gifts to an officer or employee of a labor organization that represents a contractor's employees. Union officers and employees are also barred from accepting such payments, though fair-market transactions are permitted.

IBEW Local 98 lawyer George Bochetto said the local, its officers, and the vast majority of its members were "victims of the acts" of Gus Dougherty, and that "aggressive legal action" was being pursued to hold Gus Dougherty financially responsible for his actions.

"There has never been a scintilla of evidence produced or even alleged that the union in any way countenanced or, for that matter, at the time, even knew about the activities of Gus Dougherty," Bochetto wrote in a letter to The Inquirer yesterday.

Gus Dougherty pleaded guilty last month to 98 federal charges. He admitted paying himself and employees in cash to avoid paying $2.6 million in taxes and about $1 million in required contributions to the union's employee benefit plan. He also pleaded guilty to bribing a bank official who helped him obtain $4.7 million in loans despite his poor credit rating.

Gus Dougherty is contesting the two counts alleging the illegal payments to John Dougherty, who just lost a primary race for the Democratic nomination to replace State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo.

Gus Dougherty's trial will focus on allegations of illegal payments to John Dougherty - through the sale of a Shore house for $24,000 less than market value, and the performance of $115,000 of electrical work on the labor leader's house during the renovation.

The total renovation cost exceeded $400,000, with other work given to another contractor.

In their new filing, prosecutors say Gus Dougherty's firm, Dougherty Electric, got $892,000 between 2001 and 2005 from a special fund intended to subsidize contractors who hired union workers to help them compete against nonunion shops.

He withdrew most of this money as cash, and spent it on such items as a $40,000 entertainment system for his Shore home, prosecutors say in the documents.

The government says he should have been ineligible for the help from the fund because he failed to make $869,000 in required payments to a separate union health and welfare fund.

The government's filing also cites a May 2006 letter from another lawyer for John Dougherty that cited his father-in-law as the source of $200,000, with $52,000 more added by John Dougherty.

Federal authorities are suspicious of John Dougherty's explanation of how he paid for the renovations.

Prosecutors said in their filing that the payment was not documented for more than a year and not until after the people involved realized they were under federal investigation.

John Dougherty's father-in-law, Joseph Conroy of South Philadelphia, declined to comment yesterday on the reported $200,000 payment. Conroy, 68, who formerly worked in the trucking industry, recently was a court aide, earning about $39,000 a year.


SEIU security guards strike Bay Area hospitals

Security workers at Kaiser medical centers in Fremont, Union City and elsewhere around the Bay planned to strike today to protest alleged unfair labor practices, a union group said. About 400 Inter-Con Security Systems officers across the state were set to walk off their jobs this morning, said Jennifer Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union.

Locally, the officers planned to attend a rally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at Kaiser Oakland and to picket at their workplaces during the three-day strike, she said.

"Many of them don't have family health care," she said. "They don't have paid sick days."

Some workers also don't qualify for individual health coverage if Inter-Con classifies them as "on call" employees, Kelly said, even if they put in 40 hours a week. She said some earn as little as $9 an hour.

The security officers have been trying to join SEIU Local 24/7 for about three years, while Pasadena-based Inter-Con has "threatened, intimidated and spied on" them, Kelly said.

She said there was an increase in worker harassment after a one-day strike on April 4 in Fremont and at other sites, prompting the employees to schedule this week's protest against what they called "unfair labor practices."

Kaiser facilities in Hayward, Napa, San Francisco and elsewhere were set to be affected by the strike, Kelly said.


News Union picks a president

Early returns in the first contested Newspaper Guild presidential election since 1995 indicate a possible change at the top with challenger Bernie Lunzer ahead of incumbent Linda Foley. Andy Zipser of The Guild Reporter, the union's monthly newspaper, declined to offer specific voting data. But he said his tabulations of a majority of votes show Lunzer, the union's secretary-treasurer, ahead. "It is leaning toward Lunzer," said Zipser.

Voting among the 28,000 eligible members of the guild occurred between April 24 and April 29. But final returns have been delayed somewhat due to one unidentified local failing to administer its voting in time.

Tracy Simmons, chair of the Sector Election and Referendum Committee, which oversees the election, said that 80-person guild unit voted later and its balloting will occur until May 15, when the election is certified. She said her committee has overseen that voting.

"If it is not in by May 15, it will not be counted," she said of the late votes.

Zipser said voter turnout is only about 23%, a figure Simmons considered low, but not surprising. "I think for the vast majority of the rank and file, it is an election once-removed," said Simmons, who is also administrative officer of the Denver Newspaper Guild. "Even in locals with paid staff, if you get into your membership at large, the vast majority have never met either candidate and may not even know there is an election."

While Zipser declined to give specific voting returns, he said the turnout has varied among local units with some seeing 60% to 70% turnout, and others with as low as 10%. "Once you see the results, you will see that the locals that supported Linda were bigger, but had a smaller turnout and the locals that supported Bernie were smaller, but had a higher turnout," he said.

The election has pitted incumbent Foley against former running made Lunzer for her first challenge since 1995. The vote also comes at a time when the industry is in the throes of cutbacks, buyouts and layoffs, and an unclear future.

Guild members speculate that a Lunzer victory would likely be the result of both tough times for the guild, which has seen membership dwindle and faced some of its toughest contract fights in recent years, and an early organized opposition by Lunzer, who launched his campaign in early 2007.

Neither Lunzer nor Foley immediately responded to requests for comment Monday.

In the three previous elections since 1995, Foley and Lunzer were the only nominees at the annual sector conference, for president and secretary-treasurer, so a member vote was not even taken.

The guild presidency, which includes a three-year term, pays about $140,000 annually, while secretary-treasurer has a salary of about $119,000, according to Lunzer.

With Lunzer choosing not to run again for secretary-treasurer, and Foley facing the prospect of losing her seat, one of the two will be out of the guild leadership after the vote is counted.

Foley's running mates are Scott Stephens for secretary-treasurer and Lois Kirkup for international chair, while Lunzer is running with secretary-treasurer nominee Carol Rothman and international chair candidate Connie Knox.


UAW strikes v. GM adding up

Members of a United Auto Workers union local went on strike Monday at General Motors' Fairfax facility — a plant that churns out GM's popular Malibu sedan. Employees at the plant, which has more than 2,500 UAW members, began streaming out around 9 a.m. to picket in the median of the road.

The strike hits a key GM product — the Malibu, a medium-sized sedan that was named "Car of the Year" at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit — at a time when the company can ill afford it. This past week, GM announced that it lost $3.3 billion in the first quarter due largely to one-time charges and North American losses that offset gains in the rest of the world.

With truck and sport-utility vehicle sales dropping, the redesigned 2008 Malibu built at Fairfax has been a bright spot for GM.

From January through April, GM had sold 58,126 Malibus, up 32 percent from the same period last year. Sales were up 55 percent in April.

A strike will crimp production and could hurt GM's profits, although the company makes the Malibu at another factory in Orion Township, Mich., where workers have approved a local contract.

GM spokesman Dan Flores in Detroit said the company is disappointed that the union chose to walk out and said GM will look at boosting Malibu production at the Orion plant

"As a result of the strike we will be looking at all of our options, but our main focus is to continue the bargaining and reach an agreement as soon as we can," he said.

Jeff Manning, president of the local, said the issue at Fairfax is that GM wanted to place workers in jobs on the line regardless of seniority.

"We will not go back without a seniority agreement," Manning said.

A GM plant at Delta Township near Lansing that makes strong-selling crossover vehicles went on strike April 17, and other UAW locals in Wyoming and Warren, Mich., and Mansfield, Ohio, are negotiating. They say the will give GM 12-hour notice if they plan to strike.

Industry analysts have speculated that the UAW is trying to pressure GM to coax American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. into ending a bitter nine-week strike. GM accounts for 80 percent of American Axle's business. About 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle plants have been on strike since Feb. 26.

But UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said disputes with GM are about local issues, not American Axle.

Chester Massbenburg, of Lenexa, Kan., has worked at the Fairfax plant for 31 years and said he was frustrated that the plant stood alone in the strike and that "we have to stand up for our rights. This is a good company, but sometimes you have to go through these things to get what you deserve."


Mob-aware Hoffa has all Dem bases covered

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has released tapes of its interviews with presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to support its position that its endorsement of Obama was not contingent on a quid pro quo that he would end a court consent decree designed to end mob influence.

The tapes were released in response to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal that suggests Obama won the endorsement of the 1.4 million-member union after privately indicating he would work to end the 1989 court decree.

During separate interviews with the Teamsters leadership taped on the same day in March last year, both candidates agreed that the court decree should be reviewed by the next administration.

Obama praised the current president of the union, James Hoffa, for his leadership. “I think that the union has been transformed,’’ Obama said. “I think that’s the assessment generally, and the problem is that you have an administration that hasn’t been particularly friendly to unions here and this union in particular. I think if you’ve got someone in the White House who you know, who you trust and who you have a history with, then you’re going to see a change in terms of how we evaluate with these consent decrees.’’

Obama added that there would be “legal aspects’’ to ending the decree, so he wouldn’t want to act as if it would “suddenly happen.’’ Listen to Obama here:

Clinton, in her interview, also praised the union. “I am of the opinion that based on what I have seen over years of observation, you know, this union has really done a tremendous job,’’ she said.

But Clinton did not offer as optimistic a prediction what might ultimately happen to the consent decrees should she become the next president. “I would be very open to looking into that and saying, ‘What are we trying to accomplish here any longer’ and see what the answer is,’’ she told the union leaders. Listen to her here:

Appearing this morning on “Good Morning America,’’ Obama distanced himself from the Journal story, which also referred to private conversations he’s had with a Midwest leader of the Teamsters union.

“I wouldn’t make any blanket commitments,’’ Obama said. “What I’ve said is, that we should take a look at what’s been happening over at the Teamsters and at all unions, to make sure that in fact organized labor is able to represent its membership and engage in collective bargaining.’’

When the Teamsters announced their endorsement in late February, union President James Hoffa said it was done after taking a poll of his membership. Hoffa at the time declined to provide details of the poll, but said in a conference call with reporters that it showed Obama would match up better against Republican John McCain.

Teamsters spokesman Brett Caldwell reiterated the role of the poll in a statement released earlier today, adding that the union “endorsed Senator Obama because of his support of fair trade, the Employee Free Choice Act, the creation of a striker replacement law as well as his sponsorship of legislation on the misclassification of workers and the Employer Patriot Act – among many, many other issues.’’


Today's Teamsters

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