Firefighters Union subdues Senate GOP caucus

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday agreed to consider bipartisan legislation to extend collective bargaining rights to police and firefighters in states that do not currently offer such labor protections. By 69-29, senators agreed to invoke cloture, and thus limit debate, on a motion to proceed to consideration of the measure, which the House passed last summer by 314-97.

In both chambers, there was unusual Republican support for a bill backed by labor unions and their Democratic allies; 98 House Republicans voted for the bill in that chamber, and 18 Senate Republicans joined in the vote to limit debate and call up the measure.

The vote suggests that there will be sufficient support to pass the measure, possibly by enough votes to surmount a threatened presidential veto. The measure would give police and fire fighters the right to unionize — but not strike — in any municipality with a population of more than 5,000.

“Collective bargaining is good for our national security and it’s good for public safety officers,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy , D-Mass. “These heroic men and women deserve more than just our gratitude and respect. They deserve the right to be treated fairly on the job.”

The White House leveled a veto threat against the bill in a statement of administration policy, and also questioned whether it is constitutional.

Of the 11 Republican cosponsors, five are up for re-election in 2008, and another four face contests in 2010. Many received low ratings from the AFL-CIO in its most recent scoring of lawmakers’ voting record on labor-related issues.

But while certain senators may be courting support from police and fire unions, which strongly back the bill, mayors and other local leaders in the affected states oppose the measure, saying it could impose runaway costs on local governments.

“I think many of them were led to believe that this was a free vote,” said Neil Bomberg, chief legislative counsel for the National League of Cities, which opposes the bill.


Stern, Burger lick their chops

Andy Stern Spreads Wings, SEIU Ruffles Feathers

Two thousand members of the Service Employees International Union are preparing to convene in Puerto Rico next month to set the group’s next four years of strategy and policy. But senior SEIU officials are applying most of their effort these days trying to press their influence on another big convention this summer, the Democratic gathering in Denver. Anna Burger, the hard-charging head of the union’s political operations, is managing a $75 million fund to help Barack Obama win the presidency and the Democrats expand their majorities in Congress.

Electioneering is just part of the union’s Washington agenda, however. Burger’s boss, Andy Stern, announced this month that the SEIU executive board had approved Stern’s 10-10-50 campaign — a post-election push for an overhaul of the nation’s health insurance system that provides universal coverage. The first number represents $10 million the union plans to spend pressuring reluctant members of Congress with advertising and lobbying. The next refers to the 10 million telephone calls the union plans to place encouraging like-minded voters to pressure their own House members and senators. The third figure represents the goal that 50 percent of the union staff become directly involved, by lobbying Congress or by advocating elsewhere in the political sphere.

Such ambitious plans reflect the determination of the SEIU — which represents 1.9 million public employees, nurses, hospital and nursing home workers, custodians and security guards — to be the premier source of labor advocacy in the nation’s capital. It’s the next logical move for a union that dramatically elevated its power profile three years ago when it took a leading role in engineering the departure of seven unions from the AFL-CIO to form a new coalition called Change to Win.

The consortium, claiming 5.9 million members at the start, sought to define a new mandate of growth and outreach for the labor movement, as union membership had plunged to 12.5 percent of the population from 35 percent in the 1950s. One leading reason union leaders cited for bolting the AFL-CIO was that president John J. Sweeney was spending too much money and staff time in lobbying and campaign efforts. Stern and Burger are mindful that they could be courting a certain boomerang effect should their political efforts come up short this fall — a worry that deepens as some SEIU members have lately complained that SEIU leaders are taking shortcuts in such basic tasks as organizing efforts and recruitment drives in order to bulk up their resumes as Democratic power players.

‘Too Cute by Half’

For now, the SEIU officials say there’s no conflict between their political work and such union-building enterprises. If anything, Burger argues, putting a firm union stamp on national health care would be an organizing boon as well as an end in itself. “We’ve been working on health care for years, advocating around it. We’ve been on the air and on the phones,” Burger said. “We think this is the time to get it done.”

There’s another reason SEIU leaders are feeling acute pressure to deliver on a political agenda this year: The surge in union membership that Change to Win set out to achieve hasn’t happened. The rolls of dues-paying members to the seven unions in the coalition have grown only about 3 percent in the two years after the split, to about 6 million, according to membership filings with the Labor Department. But nearly all of that growth is attributable to the biggest two unions in the group, the SEIU and the Teamsters. The AFL-CIO remains far ahead in membership, although its growth was even slower in the year after losing SEIU and the other Change to Win unions — 1.5 percent, to about 10 million members.

Stern and Co. have packaged some catchy campaigns. They worked with Democrats last year on an unsuccessful lobbying push, which the SEIU termed “Behind the Buyouts,” to increase taxes on private equity managers. And they created a political group called “They Work for Us” to go after a handful of Democrats in Congress seen as too friendly to business: The group worked heavily for the primary defeat in February of Maryland’s Albert R. Wynn .

Still, the SEIU is slowly picking up a reputation as a dilatory force in the lobbying and advocacy world, more interested in style than substance. “Stern is creative and smart but maybe too cute by half,” said Steven Law, the general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which regularly spars with the union. Law argues that Stern has created buzz for his union on Capitol Hill but failed to win any substantial victories there.

Rancor and File

Critics of Burger and Stern will likely make much the same argument in San Juan next month, as union delegates try to officiate a contentious showdown between SEIU leaders and local members. The main opponent of the Burger-Stern strategy is Sal Rosselli, the president of United Healthcare Workers-West, SEIU’s second-largest local, with 150,000 members. Rosselli says Stern cut sweetheart deals with nursing homes on the West Coast, under which the union was allowed to organize as long as it stayed mum on health and safety violations in the facilities. Rosselli also says SEIU leaders agreed to lobby jointly with nursing home managers to get the California Legislature to limit lawsuits by patients.

“Under Stern, it’s become a growth-at-all-costs model, leaving out participation of members,” Rosselli said. But the arrangements SEIU leaders have struck with their management counterparts undercut the union’s very reason for being, he argues: “The primary purpose of a union is for workers to gain a voice.”
SEIU Spreads Its Wings, Ruffles Some Feathers

Rosselli and Stern have launched dueling Web sites to spread their points of view in the debate, and the blizzard of charges and countercharges has now spawned dueling lawsuits. Last month, five members of United Healthcare Workers-West filed a claim in federal court in San Francisco, alleging that Stern had suppressed their free-speech rights. And last month, Stern filed a suit accusing Rosselli of setting up a slush fund to spend union dues without proper oversight. Rosselli labels that claim “a hoax” and says the SEIU has become so unhinged from its moorings that it might be better if it rejoined the AFL-CIO.

The AFL-CIO and the service union are also clashing over efforts to organize Midwestern health care workers. In March, the California Nurses Association — an AFL-CIO member — sent representatives to Ohio to disrupt an SEIU organizing drive at nine hospitals. The nurses’ union organizers allege that the SEIU struck a deal with management that excluded other unions, among them the California group, from vying to represent the hospitals’ employees. SEIU abandoned its drive but later sought to disrupt a speech by the head of the California Nurses, Rose Ann DeMoro, the nurses association said. It also says SEIU members have been harassing its board members at their California homes.

SEIU leaders contend that such charges are just sour grapes on the part of an old-guard union establishment. The nurses group is just “jealous of our unionizing,” Burger said.

Pressure and Patience

Given its growing troubles at the membership level, it would appear the SEIU cannot afford to slight its traditional organizing mandate even as it focuses more attention on the big political and legislative fights in Washington. Hence the frequent refrain from union officials that their political drive feeds into their organizing mandate. And once they are both humming along, Stern likes to say, unions will build “density,” a critical mass of workers in different industries. From that, real gains — both in salaries and benefits — will flow, along with increased political power, Stern argues.

To test that theory, the union will also be pressed to reverse its recent legislative setbacks — even in a Democratic Congress far more sympathetic to union issues than its recent GOP predecessors. Take last year’s promotion of legislation that would have increased the tax rate applied to the income of investment managers. Momentum for the proposal, which seemed strong in the summer, sputtered out when some Democratic senators objected to using the tax hike as a way to offset a reduction in the reach of the alternative minimum tax.

Or consider the SEIU’s Divided We Fail campaign of last year, which touted a new alliance with traditional management foes in the Business Roundtable to advance health care legislation. It, too, has yielded few specific gains, while earning Stern more attacks from some union leaders for collaborating with longtime anti-union CEOs such as Lee Scott of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. But Burger says that looking for legislative victories is only one way of measuring a campaign’s success. She contends that SEIU’s work with Wal-Mart and private equity firms has helped focus a critical light of public attention on issues that hadn’t previously taken center stage.

As for legislative victories, Burger again counsels patience. “We’re laying the groundwork for change. Our goal wasn’t to set legislative records,” she said. Wait, she suggests, until the first 100 days of the next president’s administration. “Elections are important,” she added. “But what’s really important happens after the election.”


Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas DINO

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

Senator wants to end secret-ballot union elections

In a rare clash with the state's business establishment, Sen. Mark Pryor on Wednesday said the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce has "probably exaggerated" claims about the impact of a controversial labor union bill to the state economy. Pryor, D-Ark., supports a measure to allow workers to form unions without secret ballot elections. The state chamber has made opposition to the pending "card check" bill one of its top priorities. Workers could sign authorization cards to join unions, thus making it much easier to unionize, employers maintain.

Pryor said the state group is taking its marching orders from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with its vocal assault on the bill.

The chamber overstates concerns that the bill, if approved, would stunt job growth in the Arkansas, he said.

"I think they're probably exaggerated, and I think the get a lot of this from the national organization," Pryor said. "I think the people in Arkansas are very common-sense. They're very hard-working. They expect when they work in a place to be treated fairly. Arkansas is a very good place to have a business."

The chamber leaned on Arkansas lawmakers to oppose the bill during a presentation at the chamber's 49th annual congressional dinner on Monday.

The card check bill is one of three major legislative issues championed by the chamber, said Kenny Hall, executive vice president of the group. It puts the union-endorsed measure beside health care and education as key priorities.

"What we really fear is that every small business in Arkansas would wind up unionized, and I don't see how that does not have an impact on the state economy," Hall said.

Card check likely will not come up for a vote in Congress this year. The bill cleared the House on a party-line vote in March 2007, but died in the Senate.

Pryor supported the bill last year. Like last year, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., remains uncommitted.

"I continue to hear from constituents on both sides and want to give supporters and opponents of the legislation an opportunity to weigh in as I consider the best approach to the issue," Lincoln said in a statement.

Pryor was the target of an anti-card check advertising blitz a year ago, funded by a national coalition that lists the state chamber and the Arkansas Hospitality Association among its membership.

"I think the national people are trying to rev up a lot of their local chambers all over the country on this issue," Pryor said on Wednesday.

Employers say they fear labor organizers may intimidate workers into joining unions without secret ballot elections.

Card-check supporters maintain that the intimidation comes from employers, who they say coerce their employees into voting against union membership.

Rep. John Boozman, R-Rogers, stands with the chamber on the issue. Both he and Hall said it is unfair to owners of medium-sized and small businesses for unions to organize in that manner.

"All it would take is six out of 10 employees to sign a card. That's a low bar for union organizers to cross," Hall said.

Pryor has said the bill is a first step toward modernizing American labor law.


Iowa could become nation's 29th labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

"Failed by the narrowest of margins this year"

The law passed by the 2007 Iowa Legislature that exempts casinos from a statewide smoking ban is at the top of Rep. Steve Lukan's "ugly" list. Lukan, R-New Vienna, believes the casino exemption is in the same category as the $900 million increase in state spending over the past two years, depletion of the tobacco trust fund and expanding public employees' bargaining rights (pending Gov. Chet Culver's signing).

They are among Lukan's ideas of worst legislative accomplishments as included in his list of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" offered during his end-of-2008-session media tour.

While the smoking ban exempted casinos that thousands of people frequent daily, a welder Lukan knows won't be able to smoke in his own shop, he said.

"I don't know how we could have been any more hypocritical," Lukan said.

Accompanied by House Minority Whip Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, Lukan evaluated the session's work in an interview with the TH last week, noting the session was not without its accomplishments.

"Some good things happened this year, in particular the health care legislation that covers young adults," Lukan said.

The health care bill also addresses electronic records and tax credits, and Medicaid providers received a 1 percent increase. Other high points, he said, included adjusting the Iowa Power Fund to allow for more technologies like nuclear power, finding new funding for the Veterans Trust Fund and funding to expand county veterans office hours.

To Lukan's relief, a union-backed effort to require nonunion workers to pay for negotiations made on their behalf was not successful, but he said maintaining Iowa's current right-to-work law still could be an issue next year. The change failed by the narrowest of margins this year, Lukan said, and if Democrats increase their 53-47 majority this November, he has no doubt it will be passed.

Although Iowa saw record revenue levels this year, Lukan said, he was disappointed that nothing was done to provide property tax relief.

Lukan's list of "bad" legislation included voting to build a new prison at Fort Madison using interest-only bonds, taking money from the general fund to put into the infrastructure budget and renewing the Iowa Power Fund even though a year after it was created there have yet to be any projects approved.


Unions strike a pose to run up Dem registration

A hard-fought Democratic primary campaign that has split many of the party’s key constituencies has left organized labor divided and with little to show for its anguish. Even as the contest between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) appears to wind down, conflict continues to roil union ranks.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is reported to be planning to continue to spend heavily on ads for Clinton in the remaining primary states.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the Service Employees International Union held a conference call with reporters to discuss plans to more actively support Obama now that the union believes he is the “presumptive nominee.”

But while the battle continues, the spoils may be meager. While SEIU might find itself on the winning side of this fight, the fact that it did not endorse Obama until mid-February — more than a month after his watershed victory in Iowa — could diminish the political payoff that comes from being with a candidate before it’s both fashionable and safe. In this cycle, there is no union that can boast of having boosted Obama the way the International Association of Firefighters did for John F. Kerry in 2003, when his candidacy looked dead.

“There’s no huge winner among unions,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

With at least three serious contenders for the Democratic nomination when the race began, many unions waited until the last possible minute to endorse, so as to avoid picking a loser.

For instance, the 600,000-member American Federation of Government Employees announced on May 9 that it was endorsing Obama, months after most states had already voted.

SEIU endorsed Obama in mid-February, after creating much confusion by initially failing to endorse because no candidate achieved the needed supermajority of its board — and because some SEIU leaders were drawn to the populist views of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

“A lot of key people in those unions were hoping Edwards would do well enough in Iowa or New Hampshire to endorse him,” explained Richard Hurd, a professor of labor studies at Cornell University.

Other unions backed second-tier candidates because of their years of loyalty. For instance, the International Association of Fire Fighters endorsed Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and has not made another endorsement since Dodd dropped out. Other political observers suggested the firefighters group went with Dodd to avoid angering Clinton or Obama.

It’s difficult to characterize the union split between Obama and Clinton, but it falls largely along the divide of Old Labor and New Labor. The older industrial and government employee unions that are in the AFL-CIO, such as the International Association of Machinists and the National Association of Letter Carriers, were more likely to support Clinton. Thirteen AFL-CIO affiliates have endorsed Clinton, as opposed to six for Obama.

New Labor, on the other hand, as embodied by SEIU and the unions that split from the AFL-CIO to join SEIU in founding the Change to Win coalition, was more sympathetic to Obama.

The first big Change to Win union to endorse Obama was UNITE-HERE (which represents garment workers and hotel and restaurant employees) between the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses. On February 21, a week after SEIU endorsed Obama, Change to Win itself, which represents 6 million members, did so.

“Obama fits the Change to Win unions’ image: New Labor, new ideas, open to change,” said Hurd.

Since many AFL-CIO affiliates had already endorsed Clinton, the Change to Win unions saw more potential upside to joining Obama’s camp. “Change to Win saw they had more of a chance to have influence with Obama than Clinton,” said Hurd. “Traditional unions that had been critical of them for splitting were already close to Clinton. Seeing the opportunity to gain access had some effect.”

With so many voters in this primary identifying strongly with one of the candidates, a union’s ability to deliver votes has been weak. For instance, UNITE-HERE endorsed Obama shortly before the Nevada caucuses but found that many of its largely female and Latino members caucused for Clinton anyway.

So if Obama is indeed the nominee, which unions will benefit and which could suffer?

The Winner:

• UNITE-HERE. By endorsing Obama immediately after the New Hampshire primary, the union gave him a key vote of confidence when the race was still very much up in the air.

UNITE-HERE’s top priority is said to be passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make union organizing much easier. Although both Obama and Clinton support the proposal, UNITE-HERE may have endorsed Obama because the group hoped he would be more likely to fight for it. “To get the Employee Free Choice Act passed is going to be a titanic struggle,” said Lichtenstein. “Will Clinton or Obama make this high on the agenda? Bill Clinton didn’t do it. Maybe Obama will, after health care.”

The Quasi-Winners:

• The other big Change to Win unions, such as SEIU and the Teamsters. By putting some money into helping Obama in the general before anyone else, they will be earning some credit.

Hurd said Obama will need all the union support he can get in the general election. “For Obama to win the general, he needs the entire union apparatus working the field, so I don’t see him playing favorites. He needs to develop the strong relationship with AFL-CIO unions that he already has with the Change to Win unions.”

But, should there be an Obama administration, Hurd notes, “When Obama makes appointments where labor has an interest, Change to Win has a bit more of an inside track.”

The Losers:

• The American Federation of Teachers. It endorsed Clinton, a longtime ally, in October 2007. Instead, it may now get in Obama a Democrat who is somewhat nontraditional on education issues. He has made sympathetic noises about individual-merit-based teacher pay and charter schools, both unpopular with the union.

• AFSCME. With 1.4 million members, this government employees union, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, has some clout. But its October 2007 endorsement of Clinton and aggressive support for her — the union ran ads attacking Obama’s health care plan in early-primary states and is continuing to spend on Clinton’s behalf — won’t help it at all if Obama accepts the nomination this August.


Teamsters strike ready mix, Ironworkers help

Local union workers picketed at Twin City ready mix concrete plants on Tuesday. Bloomington’s Teamsters Local 26 went on strike against Modahl & Scott in Bloomington and Twin Cities Ready Mix in Normal on Tuesday morning over wage and other contractual terms, said Teamsters President Pat Gleason.

Meanwhile, union workers with Ironworkers Local 112 also held an informational picket at Modahl & Scott, 917 E. Grove St. Workers began to picket at about 6:30 a.m. because Modahl & Scott has hired a non-union contractor that’s getting ready to erect steel, said Johnnie Short, business manager for the East Peoria-based union.

Representatives for both companies declined comment.

The Teamsters union has historically had an agreement with Modahl & Scott that is substandard compared to its contract with Bloomington’s McLean County Asphalt & Concrete, Gleason said.

“We’re just trying to reach parity with the two groups,” Gleason said. “One ready mix driver shouldn’t be making a dollar and half less than another.”

The issue has come up before, and Modahl & Scott has told the union it agreed parity should exist, but nothing has changed, Gleason said. Drivers for Modahl & Scott earn $18.60 an hour while McLean County Asphalt & Concrete drivers make $20.10 an hour.

“We’ve lived with this for well over 20 years. It’s time for it to cease,” Gleason said.

The union also wants to work out some health and welfare issues, he said.

The Teamsters also set up camp at Twin Cities Ready Mix, 1324 Fort Jesse Road. Drivers just organized as a union at the Normal company in February and have striked over a wide range of issues, also including salary, health and welfare, Gleason said.

Drivers there start at about $9 an hour and make up to $19 an hour with the bulk of drivers earning about $11, Gleason said. That’s not acceptable when a typical driver earns more than $19 an hour, he said.

Union workers also do not have a retirement fund, and the company took away vacation time from employees in January, he said.

The number of workers who walked off the job was not immediately known.

Meanwhile, ironworkers held their informational picket as a means of notifying the public that union workers should have the steel jobs at the plant, Short said.


Labor-state pols negotiate union-only pact

A labor pact that Long Beach (CA) officials say will create more local construction jobs is close to completion, the City Council was told Tuesday. The proposed project labor agreement would require all contractors doing business with the city to follow union rules, even those whose workers are non-union, and that companies use a certain number of local workers.

The city is negotiating the agreement with the Building Trades Council, which represents more than 100,000 Los Angeles County and Orange County union workers, staff and officers who build roads, hospitals and schools. That organization must sign off on the agreement before the City Council approves it.

"I think that very shortly we'll be able to come back to you with an agreement," said Larry Triech, manager of the city's Business Relations Bureau, who indicated the time frame could be no more than a few weeks.

Under the agreement, public works projects worth a certain amount would be performed by skilled and certified workers, mainly those that are unionized.

In many cases, non-union contractors can still bid on projects, but they must fill positions with workers from the union halls or pay into the union trust fund if they use non-union workers.

The council approved the labor agreement's creation in June 2005, but the proposal has met resistance from builders and business groups.

Opponents of the agreement say it could cause construction costs
to rise by an average of 15 to 20 percent, making it difficult for businesses to afford union wages and benefits. It also would force non-union contractors to send a majority of their work forces through a union hiring hall.

Matt Kinley, chairman of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, told the council Tuesday that the agreement would hurt small businesses, decrease the number of local bids on city projects and actually limit the number of local workers because of union seniority rules.

"The Chamber believes that any (project labor agreement) which contains a union mandate would hurt employers, would hurt employees and ultimately would hurt this city," Kinley said.

However, Triech said the agreement will benefit Long Beach workers and the community by allowing non-unionized workers to get access to union apprenticeship programs.

The agreement also would help the city achieve mandates set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Whenever HUD funds are used, 10 percent of all construction money must go to "emerging businesses," while 30 percent of all new hires must be local, low-income workers, Triech said.

The city already has moved beyond HUD-funded construction to strive for those goals in other non-HUD funded projects costing $130 million, he said.

Furthermore, the city could benefit because such labor agreements usually ensure that there will be no work stoppages or strikes during construction.

Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal said she disagreed with Kinley's reasons for opposing the agreement.

"Having a project labor agreement will guarantee that individuals can become apprentices and learn a trade that is skilled that will guarantee a quality labor force," Lowenthal said. "We don't need people working at minimum wage on projects that are millions of dollars."

Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga said the agreement is long overdue. She noted that before the council approved the agreement's creation almost three years ago, it had been discussed for a couple of years in committee and approved.

Seeing the proposal finally come to fruition is "a little embarrassing because it's been so many years and nothing has happened," Uranga said.

She blamed the slow progress not on the council, but on a "lack of will on city staff's part to really move it forward."

Uranga also raised a concern that the agreement might be limited only to city street projects, but Triech said it will include other construction as well.

"We were talking about simply street work at one time, and I want you to know that's off the table," Triech said. "We're talking much more broadly than that now."


UAW lobs another labor-state strike notice at GM

The UAW local that represents workers at a General Motors Corp. stamping plant near Mansfield, Ohio, have threatened to go on strike at 10 a.m. Thursday, GM spokesman Dan Flores said today. The workers at UAW Local 549 in Ontario, Ohio, have been working under threat of strike for several weeks, while a local contract with GM is negotiated.

UAW local contracts regulate such things as job selection and work rules.

The four other UAW locals that issued strike threat notices at the same time as Mansfield have now either reached tentative contract agreements or gone on strike.

The UAW local that represents Lansing Delta Township Assembly went on strike April 17. The UAW local that represents Fairfax Assembly in Kansas City, Kan., walked out on strike on May 5.

Like Mansfield, those locals say they have been unable to reach contract agreements with GM after months of negotiations.

The local contract negotiations come on the heels of a controversial new national contract last fall that lowered the wage and benefits levels new workers will get, made it difficult for longtime GM workers to move into less physically demanding jobs, created a strict absentee policy and shifted GM’s UAW retiree health-care liabilities to a union-run account.

Talks between GM and the union locals in Mansfield, Delta Township and Kansas City continue, Flores said.


SPEEA slapped with decert petition, vote set

Organizers of an effort to decertify the professional and technical union at Spirit AeroSystems have filed a petition asking for a vote. The petition to decertify the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace's professional and technical unit was filed with the National Labor Relations Board in Overland Park (KS). "We feel like we're professionals and we do not need a third party, especially a labor union, between us and the company we work for," said organizer Nate Adams, a Spirit supply base analyst. He called the union "an impediment to both productivity and profitability."

SPEEA Midwest director Bob Brewer called the decertification effort disappointing and a disruption to the union's efforts to negotiate with the company. SPEEA's contract with Spirit doesn't expire until July 2011, but it calls for the renegotiation of wages and benefits this year.

"But we'll go through it, and we'll get to the other side," Brewer said. "And I expect SPEEA will still be in place."

NLRB regional director Daniel Hubbel said a vote likely would happen in June.

To file the petition, organizers had to obtain signatures from at least 30 percent of the work force represented by the unit before Monday afternoon's deadline.

Thirty to 50 percent of the approximately 2,400 represented workers signed the petition, Adams said. He declined to be more specific.

However, Brewer said the union is challenging some of the signatures because it thinks some contractors signed the petition.

Workers will be eligible to vote as long as they are represented in the unit, Hubbel said. They do not have to be dues-paying members.

SPEEA's professional and technical unit at Boeing Wichita was decertified last year. Boeing employees had rejected decertification and reaffirmed the union in 2004.

Spirit engineers are represented by another SPEEA unit and are not affected by the decertification effort.


UAW tips into unpermitted Casino War territory

Accusing the casino of“union busting,” the United Auto Workers announced plans Tuesday to expand its protest at the opening weekend of MGM Grand at Foxwoods, despite lacking the permits to do so. Union members are upset because MGM Grand will have a separate tip pool from Foxwoods, which may penalize longtime dealers if higher-stakes games move to the new casino, organizers said. Union region director Bob Madore described the practice as “basically union busting.”

The UAW won the right to represent table-game and poker dealers after an election in November. The tribe has questioned the results of the election and whether the National Labor Relations Act should apply to the sovereign nation.

Union organizers held a press conference Tuesday to announce that their special-event permit request - filed with the Connecticut State Police, the Town of Ledyard and the state Department of Transportation - was denied via e-mail by the DOT early Tuesday.

”We will be there, no matter what,” Madore said.

But the DOT said the e-mail was misleading and that the union's request is still under review.

“We have not denied a permit to the UAW,” DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said.“No final decision has been made.”

The UAW is planning a rally from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday on Route 2 near the entrance to MGM Grand in addition to the already-scheduled daylong demonstration Saturday. The union said its organizers, members and supporters will gather at each of four entrances to Foxwoods Resort Casino along Route 2 to hand information to passersby.

”This is not a strike,” Madore said.

MGM Grand's celebrity-filled opening will be held Saturday. The new casino at Foxwoods opens to the public at midnight Sunday.

Foxwoods is owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe.

Madore said the demonstrations are intended to provide useful information to casino patrons.

The UAW's permit request asked for enough space at each of the four planned picketing locations for a picnic table, grill and portable toilet. The union also requested closing one lane of Route 2 on either side of the MGM Grand entrance during the rally Sunday.

The union plans to bus participants from both its Norwich office and from the Wheeler High School parking lot in North Stonington.

”We are prepared to welcome visitors whether they support the union or not,” Mashantucket Tribal spokesman Bruce MacDonald said in a statement Tuesday.“However, we are also prepared to enforce tribal law. Just how we would react to an uninvited person entering tribal land in order to make a statement would depend on what they did, which we cannot predict at this time.”


Teamster history not lost on AFSCME

Certainly welcome was the editorial calling for an end to U.S. government oversight of the Teamsters ("Teamsters have earned their freedom," May 9). This was my position expressed in this newspaper in 1993. Also welcome was the recent report that Sen. Barack Obama believes government oversight of the Teamsters has "run its course." It is disappointing the senator has since backtracked on his position, however, and The News takes out of context Sen. Hillary Clinton's response to Obama's reversal.

Her question (Will he end the oversight or won't he?) was not to imply oversight of the Teamsters should continue. Clinton was simply making the legitimate point that on a vital question he had prompted himself, Obama wants it both ways.

The next president could help end government oversight of the Teamsters. But the decision is up to U.S. District Court in New York, which put the union into receivership per the prosecution filed in 1988 by the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan (whom the Teamsters had ironically endorsed in two presidential elections and whom Obama has vowed to emulate should he become president).

There is another irony regarding government oversight of the Teamsters. When the Teamsters needed friends in 1988, the union pleaded for readmission to the AFL-CIO. Rather than turn its back on a union under siege, the AFL-CIO readmitted the Teamsters.

And how did the union show its gratitude? The Teamsters joined a walk-out at the AFL-CIO Convention in 2005 to create a rival federation.

John O'Neill, Member, AFSCME Local 3309, Allen Park


Colorado's anti-crime unions forced indoors

A labor-backed coalition called Protect Colorado's Future will begin collecting signatures downtown just after noon today in an attempt to get two initiatives on the ballot this fall. The group, which has received more than $1.5 million in campaign funding from large unions and individuals, is pushing a measure aimed at curbing corporate fraud and another that would require employers to prove they have reasonable "cause" for firing workers. The coalition said its own polls have shown overwhelming support among voters for both measures.

"Coming on the heels of the recent court decision to reverse a high-profile corporate fraud case against five former Qwest executives, the corporate fraud ballot initiative would make Colorado the toughest state in the country for corporate criminals," Protect Colorado's Future said in a statement.

The coalition also has been working to craft a strategy for fighting a competing ballot measure that already has enough signatures to qualify for November's ballot. Known as the "right-to-work" initiative, it would outlaw all-union agreements between companies and workers. Current state law allows workers to vote on whether they want all employees to pay for union representation.

Protect Colorado's Future said it planned to start its signature drive across the street from 1600 Broadway. The building houses the offices of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, a key supporter of making Colorado the 23rd "right-to-work" state. But stormy weather might force the signature launch event to be held inside at the State Capitol in House Committee Room 112.


Newhouse sheet gives cover to Colo. unions

A signature drive was formally kicked off Tuesday to collect enough support to place two union-backed initiatives on Colorado's November ballot. One initiative would hold top executives personally liable for fraud that occurs at their companies. The other would require employers to show "just cause" for firing employees. Proponents must gather 76,000 signatures for each initiative by Aug. 6 to get them on the November ballot.

Lew Ellingson, a retired Qwest executive who has been promoting the corporate fraud ballot initiative, was the first to sign the petition.

"We need to say 'no' to any more Nacchios, Countrywides or Enrons," Ellingson said in a speech before dozens of union members in a committee room at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

Joe Nacchio, the former CEO of Denver-based Qwest, was convicted of insider trading last year, but an appeals court in March overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial.

Angelo Mozilo, CEO of Calabasas, Calif.-based Countrywide Financial Corp., is under scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission over the timing of his stock sales.

Enron is a former Houston-based energy company that imploded in 2001 into one of the largest and most complicated bankruptcy cases in U.S. history. Its CEO, Ken Lay, was convicted of securities fraud in 2006, but died of a heart attack before his sentencing.

It's widely assumed that Colorado's corporate fraud and "just cause" measures were filed in response to a "right-to-work" initiative proposed by opponents of organized labor.

But Jess Knox, campaign manager for Protect Colorado's Future, the coalition supporting the pro-worker initiatives, suggested that both initiatives might continue to move forward even if the right-to-work initiative were pulled off the table.

"They are not necessarily dependent on each other," Knox said.

Nevertheless, he indicated that Protect Colorado's Future was willing to talk with "right to work" supporters. Although not in active negotiations as of Tuesday, Knox said, if the other side wants to talk, "We're open to that."

Ellingson also suggested that the corporate fraud initiative might proceed even if "right to work" were tabled.

"I don't see why it wouldn't," Ellingson said. "It's a common-sense initiative."

"These are two good ballot initiatives, which have a lot of support from working families," said Mike Cerbo, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO.


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