Vengeful unions inflict pain on Coloradans

Trial lawyers in Colorado have apparently reached a truce with some of their critics: a former state treasurer won't try to qualify a ballot measure limiting contingency fees, and CTLA won't try to qualify nine (9!) separate counter-measures which sought to inflict pain on realtors, doctors and other nonlawyer groups.

That skirmish having calmed down, however, there remains a ballot war very much in progress between organized labor and some of its critics. Amendment 47 would add Colorado to the ranks of states with a "right to work" law preventing unions from negotiating contracts that require the dismissal of nonmembers. A Better Colorado, the group promoting that initiative, has thus far been backed mostly by CoorsTek, which is related to the large brewing interest.

As revenge, a group called Protect Colorado's Future, whose biggest support has come from the politically active Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is pushing two business-bashing ballot measures, one to allow lawsuits over firings without "good cause", and the other to menace company executives with lawsuits if they so much as know about legal infractions at their firms, even if they do not themselves participate.

The New York Times showcased the executive-criminal-liability measure in a lengthy and overall quite flattering April 1 report, but omitted any discussion of the revenge initiative aspects or of the union backing, describing Protect Colorado's Future merely as "a coalition of advocacy groups that supports the initiative".


Teamsters smacked down by Cook County judge

The Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center is "dangerously understaffed" and must hire private security guards to help make it safe again. That ruling came Thursday from a federal judge, who rejected complaints from the Teamsters union representing detention center guards that bringing in private guards would be unfair to employees. But center director Earl Dunlap said about 200 of his 500 positions are either vacant or filled by those repeatedly taking sick time or already on extended medical leave.

With this ruling, he said private guards will start two weeks of training on Monday.

"We're going to move expeditiously, but smartly," Dunlap said. "I'm a little concerned about potential backlash."

He said he wants to meet with union leaders soon "to reach some understanding," as most employees are willing to "get the job done," though "there are some out-of-control members here who muck it up for everybody."

"Somewhere along the line, they've got to have their feathers plucked, and that isn't going to bother me a bit," Dunlap said.

He came in last year after years of complaints of abuse, filthy conditions and political patronage at the center.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, whose office controls hiring, declined to comment on the ruling, but has defended the hiring process - even complaining that Dunlap hasn't delivered names of qualified candidates to put into jobs.


Scott Kleeb, Nebraska DINO

Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"

Candidate wants to end secret-ballot union elections

With the presidential primary fight now behind us, activists can focus their attention on Congressional races to expand the Democratic majority. On May 13th, Nebraska will hold a statewide primary for a U.S. Senate seat currently held by a Republican. And Democrat Scott Kleeb, a 32-year-old rancher, is running an Obama-like campaign for change.

His opponent, Tony Raimondo, is a manufacturing executive who switched parties because the Republican establishment rallied behind another candidate. Like Obama, Kleeb’s campaign has been fueled by small online donations – and has grassroots appeal that has energized the Democratic Party. If 2008 is going to be the year of change like many are predicting, Kleeb should do better than expected.

“I’m running for the Senate because I want to be a part of this moment in history,” said Kleeb. “It’s happening at the presidential level, and will affect the future of our country. I know that I have something to contribute on a number of issues, including energy conservation. I want to be part of this overwhelming call that people have for engaging in politics, and inspire people to get involved. It’s a year of change because people are re-engaging and re-enlivening our democracy.”

After getting his PhD in history at Yale, Scott Kleeb moved back to Nebraska in 2006 and ran for Congress in the state’s most Republican district. He got 45% of the vote – in a district where John Kerry only got 22% just two years earlier. He got married after the election, had his first child and took a teaching job at Hastings College. When Senator Chuck Hagel announced his retirement at the end of his term, Kleeb entered the race to replace him – giving Nebraska its first competitive Democratic primary in decades.

Nebraska’s a solid red state – but with Obama at the top of the ticket, Democrats sense an opportunity to expand the map. A Survey-USA poll from early March showed John McCain winning Nebraska in a match-up with Obama, but only by a three-point margin. Nebraska awards its electoral votes by Congressional district – so Obama could win a few there, and his campaign could help elect more Democrats to the House and Senate.

And the Obama campaign has energized Nebraska Democrats. “We’re seeing people coming into our campaign offices,” said Kleeb, “and it’s enlivened people to become involved. What I learned in 2006 is that people don’t get involved in a campaign because of you. They get involved because of them. And we’re seeing that impact across Nebraska.”

At this point, the Kleeb campaign has recruited about 2,500 volunteers – and has raised about half a million dollars (mostly in small donations.)

That’s how much his primary opponent, Tony Raimondo, has raised by cutting himself a check – and who’s now outspending Kleeb 3-1 on television. A millionaire industrialist who was George Bush’s first choice as manufacturing czar, Raimondo had planned to run for the Senate seat this year as a Republican. But once the GOP establishment rallied around ex-Governor Mike Johanns, he saw no chance of winning the nomination and switched parties to run as a Democrat.

Raimondo was recruited to run by Senator Ben Nelson, the most conservative Democrat in the U.S. Senate – and Nebraska’s only statewide elected Democrat. For years, Nelson has built a political career in Nebraska by running against his own party – and campaigns with photos of himself hugging George Bush. It’s helped him get re-elected in a deep red state, but does nothing to build the Democratic Party or push progressive causes.

Kleeb believes that to be competitive in Nebraska, Democrats must invest in the state party’s infrastructure – and field candidates for local and county office. “If you grow up in a town and there’s only one church,” he said, “what denomination do you think you’ll end up joining? Well if you want to get involved in Nebraska politics, you end up being a Republican. Democracy demands conversation. When we don’t build parties, we don’t build that conversation. We need to engage people who’ve never met a Democrat.”

Kleeb’s campaign has energized Nebraska Democrats – many of whom resent that Raimondo is running in their primary. The state AFL-CIO has endorsed Kleeb because he supports the Employee Free Choice Act, and probably because of Raimondo’s labor record. “Unions have been a strong force for the middle class in stopping stagnant wages,” said Kleeb, “pushing for retirement health, and a strong voice for education.”

As a college professor and an Ivy League graduate, Kleeb has endured predictable right-wing attacks of being elitist. Raimondo has even shot a TV commercial calling him an “academic.” But Kleeb doesn’t shy away from that target. “Education is a strength,” he said. “When we talk about health care, when we talk about energy, we’re ultimately talking about education. It’s the silver bullet that touches on each of these things, and is something that we should celebrate. Let’s not run from education.”

Loyal readers may recall my prior conversation with Scott Kleeb in August at the Yearly Kos Convention, where we had some disagreements on how to get out of Iraq. It’s an issue that should give progressives pause, because Kleeb would not be replacing just any Republican in the Senate – but Chuck Hagel, the most vocal and consistent Republican critic of the War.

But Kleeb assured me that his position on Iraq is no different from Hagel. “There is no military solution in Iraq,” he said. “We must signal right away to the Iraqis that we won’t be there forever, and that their future is ultimately up to them. We will start reducing our troop presence, and we must use our diplomatic levers. Any future funding must be tied to political and economic benchmarks. The War has made us weaker, not stronger – but the real question now is how do we get out responsibly.”

On Iran, Kleeb echoed Barack Obama in saying that we must be willing to meet with foreign enemies. “We have a lot of leverage with Iran – diplomatically, economically and politically,” he said. “JFK said that we should never negotiate from fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. We can recognize and achieve a common cause that is beneficial to the United States – without always turning to military strength. Diplomacy, if done right, is a great tool.”

It will be a tough battle for Kleeb to win the primary on Tuesday, and it will be an even greater challenge in November against Mike Johanns – the popular former Governor of Nebraska, and George Bush’s former Secretary of Agriculture. Right now, the Nebraska Senate race is not on the radar of most political observers – as conventional wisdom says that Republicans will keep the seat handily.

But Kleeb could benefit from a “perfect storm” of this year’s political dynamic. Voters are demanding change, Obama’s campaign will make Nebraska competitive for local Democrats, and Kleeb fits the bill of the young idealistic candidate who is popular at the grass-roots level. I predicted in January that 2008 will be the year of change – which creates the perfect opportunity for Kleeb to run for the Senate.

- Paul Hogarth (The author has made donations to Scott Kleeb’s campaign.)


Jerry Flint: Auto Worker unions not winning

I am starting to wonder whether Detroit - General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler - would be better off today without the auto workers union. The same goes for the current members of the UAW. The foreign-owned part of the U.S. industry, Toyota Motor, Honda Motor, Nissan, Mercedes, BMW and Hyundai, run non-union plants and are prospering. The public does not seem to care. Americans are buying more cars made by foreigners and non-union U.S. workers than vehicles built by UAW cardholders. General Motors and a key parts maker, American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings, are taking strikes, where in the past they would have quickly given in to union demands.

The unions are not winning. I am not saying that our Detroit auto companies will try to break the UAW and run non-union like the foreign companies. It will not happen now. But in some future year, as the number of union workers shrink, it is a possibility.

First, understand that the UAW is not to blame for the domestic industry’s troubles. The contracts are costly, but Detroit’s biggest problem is that American buyers like the foreign brands better--and that’s largely the fault of management, not the union. Nevertheless, all signs indicate that the public does not admire unions as it once did, and that union power is fading.

American Axle has 3,600 people on strike since the last week of February. GM created this company 15 years ago by the spin-off of its axle and forging plants; its former subsidiary is a key supplier of components for its pickup trucks and big SUVs.

American Axle has been stuck with GM-type labor costs, but now wants to cut pay--from $28 an hour to as low as half that amount. It may be a matter of survival. The UAW previously made big concessions to Dana, a competitor that was in serious trouble. American Axle is not in trouble now, but demanded concessions like the union gave Dana in order to keep its costs competitive.

General Motors is giving American Axle up to $200 million to settle the strike. But considering the potential of similar problems--General Motors is spending billions of dollars trying to help its former parts maker, Delphi (other-otc: DPHI - news - people ), which went bankrupt--and the ever-shrinking GM horde of cash, it’s a dangerous policy.

GM said the strike cost it $800 million in the first quarter, but sales of those big GM trucks are down and inventories are high. Frankly, it is hard to see how GM lost money because of the strike. It cut production at some plants, but that was inevitable, given the slowdown in the market. Plus American Axle has kept supplies flowing from Mexico.

The strike could be settled soon, but the talk is that two striking plants, in Detroit and New York State, might shut permanently. The workers will do fairly well when it ends. Some will be retired with buyouts, maybe as high as six figures. Others will get payments to accept lower wages. This is what American Axle will likely do with the $200 million from General Motors.

The way I see it, the union is losing this strike because in the end more plants may be closed permanently or more jobs lost or shifted to Mexico or elsewhere. These jobs will not be here for anyone’s children.

There are two strikes at GM assembly plants. One factory, outside Lansing, Mich., has been down three weeks and makes new crossover sport utility vehicles--the Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia. Then on Monday, May 5, the union struck the Kansas City plant that makes the new Chevy Malibu sedan.

These two strikes are local disputes, over local contract matters, but they do not occur unless union headquarters approve. The vehicles at these plants are among the few really popular models GM makes. Most GM plants have not settled their local contracts, but the union targeted only these two. Why?

Some think that the UAW authorized these two local strikes to try to pressure GM to force a settlement in the strike at American Axle. The other option is that it is a show of union muscle and that the union figured that GM would surrender anything rather than lose production of some of its hottest models.

In either case, the union, in effect, is saying it does not care how badly it hurts GM in its time of peril - just when the company needs any help it could get.

GM likes to pretend that the company and the union are partners, on a team, and the UAW did make concessions in last year’s negotiations. These two local strikes tell me that teamwork does not exist. This kind of antagonistic attitude also helps explain why the non-union plants of the foreign companies are not likely to join the UAW as long as there are free secret elections. The workers, mostly in Southern plants, are doing quite well and do not pay union dues.

Unless the foreign manufacturers start laying off workers because of poor sales, I doubt that the union will find much support from these workers. Instead, executives of Detroit automakers might weigh the risks of a fight to break a strike, as new workers replace the old union loyalists at their plants. That day is still way off, but it is closer than it was

- Jerry Flint


Steelworkers quit strike, get locked out

Workers from Latrobe Specialty Steel voted last night to end their eight-day old strike and make an offer to management to return to work. Today, however, management informed the workers that the company rejected the offer and had decided, instead, to lock out the employees.

Members of United Steelworkers Local 1537 had decided to end their strike in a good faith effort to bargain a new labor agreement and last evening took down picket lines at plant gates in a show of good faith. The picket lines will now return in protest of the lockout.

USW Local 1537 President Kevin Caruso said, "We've made this offer to return to work and show we are willing to try to settle differences with the company. Management has rejected this offer, which shows that they care little about their customers and instead appear to be intent on picking a fight with this union and punishing its employees. Our members understand, and management should also understand, that the Steelworkers will continue its struggle until we are able to bargain a fair agreement."

The 360-member local union called a strike at the plant May 1 when the previous labor agreement expired. Significant issues included hourly pay rates, pension and insurance benefits, and union efforts to maintain equal standards for newly hired workers. Management withdrew its final offer shortly after the strike began and has yet to present a new offer for the workers' consideration.


News Union takes big dues hit in Seattle

Following up on vows to bring spending in line with its shrinking revenues, The Seattle Times Co. sliced the staff at its flagship newspaper by 125 employees this week. Of the total, 73 were laid off and 52 left voluntarily, with 51 accepting buyout offers, spokeswoman Corey Digiacinto said.

The Times announced a month ago that, to help save $15 million, it would freeze 60 unfilled positions and lay off up to 131 employees. Voluntary departures trimmed the number of layoffs needed by more than 40 percent, Digiacinto said.

Before this week's cuts, The Times had 1,845 full-time and part-time employees.

In the newsroom, 19 workers accepted buyouts. They included classical-music critic Melinda Bargreen and nightlife writer Tom Scanlon.

Executive Editor David Boardman said the newspaper recognizes classical music and nightlife are important parts of the community, and plans to continue covering both beats.

"We have yet to figure out exactly who and how," he said.

Fifteen newsroom employees were laid off, including most suburban reporters. The Times has closed its news bureaus in Bellevue and Lynnwood and stopped publishing zoned editions for the Eastside and Snohomish County.

Some reporters will work out of a new bureau at the newspaper's production plant in Bothell, Boardman said.

Digiacinto would not provide a breakdown of layoffs and buyouts for other departments.

But the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, the largest union at the paper, said 49 of its members were laid off — 24 in circulation, eight in advertising and two in operations, in addition to the 15 in news.

In addition to the latest cuts, The Times announced earlier this year that it would lay off 17 employees, mostly in circulation.

Advertising revenues at The Times and most other metropolitan newspapers have declined in recent years, at least in part because readers and classified advertising have migrated to the Internet.


Hospital security guards strike in California

Hospital security guards went on strike statewide Thursday, citing poor working conditions and lack of health coverage. About 200 Southern California employees of Inter-Con Security, which is contracted by Kaiser Permanente to provide security guards, joined their Northern California counterparts who have been on strike since Tuesday, Service Employees International Union officials said.

The company said in a statement that despite the picketing, the affected hospitals were fully staffed.

"The SEIU has not provided any legal showing that it represents Inter-Con Security officers, nor has the union asked for an election," the statement said.

The company added that it believes the strike is illegal, and it has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

SEIU officials countered the claim, saying they have approached both Inter-Con and Kaiser and have not had a satisfactory response.

"They left us no choice but to go on strike," said Jennifer Kelly, union spokeswoman.

About 20 workers picketed outside the Baldwin Park Kaiser Permante on Thursday, chanting slogans and carrying signs that read "Our community supports security officers" and "Justice for Inter-Con Security officers," while cheering and waving at drivers who honked in support.

"Even though they work at hospitals, they can't get health care when they need it," Kelly said. "They're the only Kaiser workers who don't have a union."

The guards said they want a union, but have endured intimidation by Inter-Con in pursuing the goal.

Workers also said they are under-paid, earning only $9.05 an hour without raises, even for longtime employees. They said they are denied sick pay and bereavement leave.

Salvador Recendez, Jr., a striking employee, said his grandfather in Puerto Rico died a month ago and he was not able to go to the funeral because he was not provided bereavement pay.

Others said they are not compensated for the work they do.

"We are the first to respond to anything and we are not even armed," said Toni Piechowski, an officer for three years. "We are putting our lives on the line."

Security guards have little legal recourse when they are denied the right to organize, an SEIU attorney said. A loophole in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 gives security guards only one method of forming a union.

While most employees have the option of holding an election to bring in a union, security guards can only organize if their employers agree to recognize the union, said attorney Orrin Baird.

"It's sort of out-dated," Baird said. "If they were not guards they could file a petition with the (National Labor Relations Board) and then they would have to have an election."

A Kaiser spokeswoman said security has not been compromised by the strike at any of the Kaiser sites.


UFCW blocks workers' decertification effort

Jack Bandemer refers to his co-workers at the Woodman’s Food Market in Janesville as family. But there’s trouble in the family, he says. For that, Bandemer lays the blame on the family’s patriarch, Phil Woodman, and his “union-busting interloper.”

The pair is working hard to rid the Woodman’s stores in Janesville, Beloit and Madison of union representation, Bandemer and others said Thursday at a rally in Janesville. Speakers included lawmakers, union reps and workers, and all drew enthusiastic support from the 200 or so in attendance.

Earlier this year, more than a third of the 950 employees at the stores signed a petition to decertify United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 1473. The petition moved to the National Labor Relations Board for a decision on whether the petition was valid and whether a decertification election should be scheduled. The case has resulted in weeks of testimony, thousands of pages of transcripts and hundreds of exhibits.

It’s also resulted in a volley of charges of unfair labor practices between Woodman’s and the union. Most accuse the other side of unfair tampering and tainting of employees.

Last week, more than 500 Woodman’s employees signed a petition that called for Woodman’s to immediately pull its recognition of Local 1473 as the employees’ bargaining unit.

The union subsequently asked the NLRB to petition a federal court for an injunction that would force Woodman’s to recognize the union. The NLRB still is sorting through the charges and countercharges.

Area lawmakers and members of other unions joined Woodman’s employees and retirees Thursday in calling for an end to Woodman’s “assault on family-supporting jobs.”

Bandemer, who has worked at the Janesville store for 18 years, said that even though employees started the drive to remove the union, it’s been driven by Woodman’s management and its consultant, Fred Grubb, who has “sewn seeds of dissent” in the workforce.

Woodman’s has 12 stores in Wisconsin and Illinois, half of which are represented by unions.

Bandemer acknowledged that wages and benefits are about the same at the union and non-union stores.

But that’s just a Woodman’s tactic to make the union appear ineffective, he said, adding that if Woodman is successful in removing the union, wages and benefits will fall at all stores.

Kim Kutz has been an employee at the Janesville store for 20 years and a union steward for 17. Union-management relations always have been good, she said.

“But now Woodman’s is fighting to get rid of the union.”

Randy Knox worked for Woodman’s for more than 13 years before he was fired a couple of months ago for what he says was his vocal support of the union.

“I always thought that if I came to work on schedule and did my job, I would have job security at the employee-owned Woodman’s,” said Knox, who started as a bagger, worked in the meat department and then drove trucks between Woodman’s stores.

David Newby, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said the workers’ fight is one “against the forces of greed that are trying to turn family-supporting jobs into Wal-Mart jobs.”

Mike Sheridan, president of United Auto Workers Local 95, said the Woodman’s empire started in Janesville and was built on union wages from General Motors and several other union companies.

Sheridan presented Local 1473 with petitions signed by GM workers in support of Woodman’s employees.

“If (Phil Woodman) follows through with this, we will put a hurt on his business not only in Janesville but all over,” Sheridan said.

Grubb, the Woodman’s consultant, was not at the rally.

When asked for a comment on Thursday’s rally, he said: “More than 500 employees signed the most recent petition, and we’re just respecting their wishes.”


SEIU desert organizers: Sore losers

With the outcome of an election held May 6 and 7 among 1,000 nurses over union representation at three Las Vegas hospitals yet to be determined, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) nurses are renewing their call for an end to the divisive actions of the California Nurses Association.

The CNA's months-long campaign of lies and false promises failed to capture enough votes to lure nurses away from SEIU. With 400 votes for CNA, 377 for SEIU, and 26 for no union, neither organization obtained the 50 percent of all votes required to win. The National Labor Relations Board must review the six challenged ballots and will likely set a date for a runoff election.

"Nurses in Las Vegas have no use for CNA's destructive tactics," said Sandi Naugle, RN at Catholic Healthcare West's (CHW) St. Rose de Lima hospital, where SEIU nurses and healthcare workers have been negotiating their third union contract since forming a union with SEIU in 2004. "We want to move forward - and negotiate the best possible contract so we can deliver the best possible care."

SEIU leaders are hoping the indeterminate election results will put an end to the in-fighting and institutional rivalries that are dividing the labor movement at the worst possible time.

"We have an opportunity to elect a pro-worker president, bring health care coverage to the 50 million people who don't have it, and change the laws to guarantee all workers the freedom to form a union," said SEIU President Andy Stern. "When unions waste time and resources on efforts to re-organize the already organized, unorganized workers lose, the labor movement loses, and progressive causes lose most of all."

"We will sign a mutual no-raid agreement with the CNA and its allied organizations anytime and anywhere," Stern added. "It's time to work together to unite the 85% of registered nurses who don't have a union, instead of fighting over the 15% who do."

Over the past several months, the RNs at CHW's St. Rose Dominican hospitals say they were inundated with a series of distortions and untruthful statements from the CNA. When the CNA filed for an election in March, they overstated their support among the nurses by including 40 RNs who had previously revoked their signatures on CNA cards. The CNA routinely and intentionally misled nurses, and there are reports that many nurses received intimidating phone calls that included anonymous threats against RNs who were not voting for the CNA.

In addition to "raiding" in Las Vegas, the CNA is actively engaged in efforts to decertify SEIU nurses throughout California and other states. In March, the CNA waged an aggressive "vote no" campaign in Ohio, forcing the cancellation of union elections for 8,300 nurses and hospital workers in nine hospitals. In recent years the CNA also has raided other unions or intervened in other unions' organizing drives in Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and other states.

"CNA's behavior in attempting to destroy our union at St. Rose is shameful," said Shauna Hamel, RN at St. Rose Siena and SEIU Nevada member. "Hundreds of thousands of nurses and healthcare workers across the country struggle to provide quality patient care without the protection of a union. Instead of helping them, CNA sought to divide St. Rose nurses and staff while we were actively bargaining to once again raise healthcare standards in Nevada."

For more information, visit www.ShameOnCNA.org .

SOURCE Service Employees International Union


Celtics barred NBA union rep from locker room

The NBA players' union said it planned to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board after one of its officials was denied access to the Celtics locker room before Game 2 of the Boston-Cleveland series Thursday night.

Union spokesman Dan Wasserman said the union was initially told that no one from the organization would be allowed in the Celtics' locker room. After calls of protest were made to the Celtics and to the league office, the team agreed to allow union director Billy Hunter into the locker room prior to tip-off.

Another union official, attorney Hal Biagas, was told he could have access to the locker room after the game, but not before.

"The Celtics are the only team in the league that believes they have the right to keep union personnel from the locker room, and as a result we're filing a complaint with the NLRB," Wasserman said, explaining that a basic tenet of labor law calls for union representatives to have access to employees inside the workplace. Biagas said he had never before been denied pregame access to a locker room.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank declined comment.


Militant gov't-union members jeer Council

More than 315 boisterous Montgomery County (MD) employees packed a County Council hearing room to protest a proposal to cut their cost-of-living raises by 2 percent or to lay off or furlough workers. Workers clapped in rhythm before the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee meeting and some booed when Councilman Philip M. Andrews spoke. Andrews (D-Dist. 1) of Gaithersburg has opposed the salary increases as unaffordable during the county's budget shortfall.

The meeting grew heated at times with catcalls from workers interrupting Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda, chairwoman of the committee.

The room burst into cheers for Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring, who criticized the other two members of the committee for saying $40 million should be cut from the employee budget.

"When I listen to my colleagues on this dias say you need to feel pain I challenge them on that premise," Ervin said. "We don't need to balance this budget on the backs of the working people."

Gino Renne, president of UFCW Local 1994, said the council staff should not make recommendations that interfere with the collective bargaining process.

With 8,500 county government workers, Local 1994 is the largest government employee union in the county.

"Your role is clear to either vote up or vote down the labor negotiations that come up before you," Renne said. "‘We're ready to prove that point in a court of law."

"I hope Mr. Renne doesn't waste his union's money on lawyers for that one," said Mike Fadden, council staff attorney.

"I'll decided what we spend our union's money on," Renne fired back.


Newhouse sheet dumps on worker-choice

A ballot initiative that would ask voters to transform Colorado into a right-to-work state has created concern for the leader of the union that represents the majority of hourly production workers at Miller Brewing Co.'s Milwaukee brewery.

The initiative is being backed by Jonathan Coors, a descendant of the Coors brewing family. Miller and Golden, Colo.-based Coors Brewing Co. are planning to form a joint venture under a definitive agreement signed by their respective parent companies, SABMiller plc, London, and Molson Coors Brewing Co., Denver.

The joint venture is awaiting approval from federal regulators.

"There is definitely some concern," said Harry Shayhorn, president of Brewery Workers Local 9, which represents about 500 of the approximately 900 workers at Miller's West State Street brewery in Milwaukee. In all, Miller has about 1,700 employees at its brewery and corporate headquarters in Milwaukee.

The union is "well aware" of the Coors family's involvement in right-to-work legislation, he said.

"There is concern about the joint venture," Shayhorn said. "We aren't sure what the future holds. Coors is nonunion and all of Miller's plants are unionized."

A ballot initiative that would ask voters to turn Colorado into a right-to-work state received a "statement of sufficiency" from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office April 28. Backers of the ballot initiative calling for a right-to-work constitutional amendment have gathered enough signatures in Colorado to put the matter before voters in November.

"When voters pass right to work in November, it will guarantee that all workers in Colorado have the freedom to choose for themselves whether or not to join a union," said Jonathan Coors, the 28-year-old nephew of Molson Coors executive Pete Coors. "It will constitutionally guarantee the basic rights that all Coloradans deserve."

Jonathan Coors, government relations director for CoorsTek, a Golden, Colo.-based ceramics manufacturing spinoff of the brewing company, is expected to play a key role in voter education and public outreach for the right-to-work proposal.

Organized labor strongly opposes the right-to-work initiative, which bars unions from collecting mandatory dues in collective bargaining workplaces.

Unions are working on their own ballot initiatives, including measures that require employers to give employees annual cost-of-living wage increases and provide major medical coverage to all workers. Union leaders say the initiatives would be necessary for Coloradans, particularly if voters approve a right-to-work initiative.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., both are urging right-to-work supporters and union leaders to drop their competing proposals.

Milwaukee-area governmental and business leaders have been touting Milwaukee as the preferred site over the Denver area for a corporate headquarters for the joint venture. Other cities, including Dallas and Chicago, also are believed to be under consideration.

Regardless of where the joint venture headquarters is located, workers at the various breweries in the Miller system just want to be sure they are treated fairly by their employer, something that likely will remain a cause for concern with a member of the Coors family leading the charge for the right-to-work legislation in Colorado, Shayhorn said.

"Miller has been a fair employer to deal with," he said. "We hope that the joint venture is fair to deal with."


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