Labor researcher checks Barack's roots

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Who "sent" Obama?

In Chicago politics a key question has always been, who "sent" you? The classic phrase is "We don't want nobody that nobody sent" - from an anecdote of Abner Mikva's, the former White House Counsel (Pres. Clinton) and now retired federal judge. (And someone I campaigned for while in high school when he ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress in the early 70s.)

As a young student, Mikva wanted to help out the his local Democratic Party machine on the south side of Chicago. In 1948, he walked into the local committeman's office to volunteer for Adlai Stevenson and Paul Douglas and was immediately asked: "Who sent you?" Mikva replied, "nobody sent me." And the retort came back from the cigar chomping pol: "Well, we don't want nobody that nobody sent."

So it is reasonable to ask, who "sent" Barack Obama? In other words, how can his meteoric rise to political prominence be explained? And, of course, in an answer to that question might lie a better understanding of his essential world view. When I started looking at this question a few weeks ago I quickly grew more concerned about the kinds of people that seem to have been very important in Obama's ascendancy in Chicago area politics. It is the connection of some of these people to authoritarian politics that has me particularly concerned. And a key concern of this blog has been the rise of authoritarian tendencies in the global labor movement.

The people linked to Senator Obama grew to political maturity in the extreme wings of the late 60s student and antiwar movements. They adopted some of the worst forms of sectarian and authoritarian politics. They helped undermine the emergence of a healthy relationship between students and others in American society who were becoming interested in alternative views of social, political and economic organization. In fact, at the time, some far more constructive activists had a hard time comprehending gorups like the Weather Underground. Their tactics were so damaging that some on the left thought that government or right wing elements helped create them. There is some evidence, in fact, that that was true (for example, the Cointelpro effort of the federal government.)

Today, however, many of these individuals continue to hold political views that hardened in that period. Many of them have joined up with other wings of the late 60s and 70s movements, in particular the pro-China maoists elements of that era and are now playing a role in the labor movement and elsewhere. And yet this question of Obama's links to people from this milieu has not been thoroughly explored by any of the many thousands of journalists, bloggers and political operatives looking so closely at Obama.

The most recent effort was by Jonathan Kaufman in the Wall Street Journal who argued that a critical connection for Obama was his links to some in the wealthy and prominent Jewish community in Chicago. This article contains some important insights and is well worth reading. But, I think Kaufman gets it wrong.

So, who did “send” Obama? The key I think is his ties not to well connected uber lawyer Newton Minow, as Kaufman suggests, but more likely to the family of (in)famous former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers – not just Bill Ayers, but also Bill’s father Tom Ayers and his brother John as well. Obama was a community organizer from about 1985 to 1988, when he left Chicago for Harvard Law School. During that time a critical issue in Chicago politics was the ongoing crisis in the public schools. A movement was underway from two angles: below in black, latino and other communities for more local control of schools and from above by business interests who wanted to cut costs. (For a fascinating account and analysis see Dorothy Shipps, The Invisible Hand: Big Business and Chicago School Reform, Teachers College Record, Vol. 99, #1, Fall 1997, pp. 73-116 or her later excellent book on the subject: School Reform, Corporate Style: Chicago, 1880-2000 (Kansas 2006.))

A 1987 teachers’ strike brought those two sides together to push for a reform act passed by the Illinois legislature in 1988 that created "Local School Councils" (LSC) to be elected by residents in a particular school area. According to Shipps, the strike "enrag[ed] parents and provid[ed] the catalyst for a coalition between community groups and Chicago United [the business lobby] that was forged in the ensuing year." (The full story of this complicated process is provided by Shipps in her book.)

The LSC’s were to be made up by a majority of parents and have the power to hire and fire principals thus creating a new power center in the school system against what both reform groups viewed as the bureaucratic and expensive school board, on the one hand, and, on the other, the teachers union. In my view these types of councils are reminiscent of the manipulative "community" bodies set up in regimes like those of Hugo Chavez and the Sandinistas - used to control genuine democratic movements such as trade unions. Dorothy Shipps argues, as I will suggest below, that there is an alternative approach that is genuinely democratic and possibly more effective in improving outcomes for students.

Active in the local control from below, on the "community" side of this effort, was Bill Ayers who had returned to Chicago in 1987 as an assistant professor of education at the University of Illinois' Chicago Circle campus, after surfacing from the underground and earning his Ph.D. at Columbia. Another ally in this battle at the same time was Barack Obama’s Developing Communities Project (DCP), as Obama notes briefly in his Dreams From My Father. (See also, "Meeting on School Reform Halted," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 19, 1988 at 3; and "Black Parents" A letter to the Chi. Trib. on Aug. 23, 1988 from a DCP member defending the 1988 local control reform bill) The DCP had its origins in the "radical" movement started by Saul Alinsky. (It should be remembered Alinsky's world view was one that is and was often in tension with many in the trade union movement - for example, Alinksy was an almost uncritical admirer and biographer of trade union bureaucrat par excellence John L. Lewis. For one independent approach that urges re-examination of the Alinsky view of unions today in light of rise to power of SEIU's Andy Stern, see Staughton Lynd, Commentary: Another World is Possible, Working America, March 2008).

Ayers, of course, had long held what the left once knew, broadly, as “maoist” politics – a view of the world that was opposed to Russian style bureaucratic communism from above, instead advocates of this approach supported sending revolutionary cadre to “swim among the masses like fish in the sea” or attempting to establish guerilla foco as romantically theorized by Regis Debray and carried out with disastrous results by Che Guevara.

Today one of the approaches used by these types is the "long march" through the (presumably "bourgeois") institutions. (See this discussion of it by "Progressives for Obama" supporter, Fidelista and former SDS leader Carl Davidson.) Of course, the "long march" referred to is that taken by Mao and the Red Army in 1934. Now, Davidson et. al apply the concept to the tactics of the "left" inside various "reform movements" such as the anti-war movement. Davidson was one of the organizers of the 2002 anti war rally at which Obama first spoke out against the war.

Here is how Ayers in 2006 described his approach to "electoral politics" in an interview with the left wing Chicago magazine, In These Times:

ITT: [A]ren’t progressives putting high hopes in November? Even leading Republicans admit that the Dems are likely to recapture at least one house of Congress.

"So what? That’s not the point, Ayers says. Electoral politics is a tool to connect causes, like gay rights, disability rights, voting rights, human rights. 'That’s how you use electoral politics. Not as an end in itself, but as an organizing mechanism. Our deepest belief, I think, is that we need to connect all these good projects and build the movement. …we should always be positioning ourselves, thinking, okay, if I’m involved in this next election, how am I positioned to help contribute to building a movement, raising consciousness, making the connections, and that’s a real tricky business.'"

Bill Ayers appears to be attempting to lead a similar "long march" in the education world. Ayers is a vigorous advocate of local control along with a related concept called “small schools,” most likely because he believes it gives him the potential to build a political base from which to operate. He has discussed these ideas in speeches and writings on his blog. As he said in a speech he gave in front of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in late 2006: "Teaching invites transformations, it urges revolutions small and large. La educacion es revolucion!"

Bill raised money to start the Small Schools Workshop in the early 90s and eventually hired another former maoist from the 60s (and actually someone who was a bitter opponent of Ayers as SDS disintegrated) named Mike Klonsky to head it up. [Bill's brother John later got in on the small schools approach also, raising money in part from the Annenberg Challenge program started by Bill and chaired by Obama (see School Leadership in Times of Urban Reform edited by Bizar and Barr).]

A leading figure in the Chicago business groups that were lobbying for cost cutting and "efficiency" in the Chicago schools in the 1980's was Bill Ayers' father, Thomas Ayers. Tom Ayers, of course, was a very prominent Chicago business man, a retired head of Commonwealth Edison, a lifelong liberal, and a supporter of open housing campaigns (in which my parents participated when I grew up in Chicago in the 60s) as well as Martin Luther King. According to Dorothy Shipps, Tom Ayers co-authored a report of a joint public-private task force on school reform and was later nominated to head up Chicago United, a business backed school reform group, by Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, but was opposed successfully by black community activists.

When the 1988 Reform Act was passed a group called Leadership for Quality Education (LQE) was formed, according to Shipps, by the elite business lobby that was in part behind the new reforms, to train the newly elected local school council members. Some 6000 LSC members were elected. And they became a huge thorn in the side of school administration in Chicago.

Interestingly, one LSC member was John Ayers, son of Tom and brother of Bill. In 1993, John was made head of the LQE - which, by then, according to Shipps, was caught in the middle of the battle emerging to re-centralize control of the schools in the hands of the mayor.

In the fall of 1988, however, Obama left the city to go off to law school. My best guess, though, is that it was in that 86-88 time frame that Obama likely met up with the Ayers family. I will explain why I believe that in a minute. Interestingly, after his first year in law school Obama returned in the summer of 1989 to work as a summer associate at the prestigious Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin. This in and of itself is a bit unusual. Very few top tier law students work for big law firms during their first summer. The big law firms discourage it because if you work for them in the first summer you are likely to work for a second firm the following year and then the firms have to compete to get you.

So, why or how did Obama - at that point not yet the prominent first black president of the Harvard Law Review (that would happen the following year) - end up at Sidley?

Sidley had been long time outside counsel to Commonwealth Edison. The senior Sidley partner who was Comm Ed's key outside counsel, Howard Trienens, was a member of the board of trustees of Northwestern alongside Tom Ayers (and Sidley partner Newton Minow, too). It turns out, Bernardine Dohrn worked at Sidley also. She was hired there in the late 80s, many contend, because of the intervention of her father-in-law Tom Ayers, even though she was (and is) not a member of any state bar. She was not admitted in either NY or Illinois because of her past jail time for refusing to testify about the murderous 1981 Brinks robbery in which her former Weather Underground (now recast as the "Revolutionary Armed Task Force") "comrades," including Kathy Boudin (biological mother of Chesa Boudin, who was raised by Ayers and Dohrn) participated. She was finally paroled after serving 22 years of a plea bargained single 20-to-life sentence for her role in the robbery where a guard was shot and killed and two police officers were killed. The father of Chesa Boudin, David Gilbert, was sentenced to 75-to-life, with no chance of parole, after a trial in which he refused to participate. Chesa is the co-author of a recent apologia for the regime of Venezuelan "left" strong man, Hugo Chavez.

I can only speculate, but it is possible that Tom Ayers introduced Obama to Sidley. That might have happened if Obama had met up with Bill and Tom and John Ayers prior to attending law school when Obama's DCP group was supporting the reform act passed in 1988. Or it might have been Dohrn who introduced Obama to the law firm. Dohrn's CV indicates that she left Sidley sometime in 1988 for public interest work prior to starting a position at Northwestern (again, hired there by some accounts because of the influence of Tom Ayers and his Sidley counsel Howard Trienens). Obama and Dohrn would likely not have been at the firm at the same time, although if Obama and Dohrn met before Obama left to attend Harvard Law School, she might have discussed the firm with him and introduced him to lawyers there.

My best guess, though, is that it would have been Tom Ayers who introduced Obama to Sidley and that would have helped him get the attention of someone like Newton Minow. And that would have come in very handy later in Obama's career as Kaufman suggests.

In any case the summer of 1989 was eventful for Obama as he did meet his future wife, Michelle, there, already a lawyer and working as a Sidley associate. Michelle was Obama's first supervisor or mentor there. Obama went back to Harvard in the fall of 1989 where, of course, he became president of the law review in the spring of 1990. After graduation in 1991 he went back to Chicago to run a voter registration campaign (which would turn out to be an important step in his career).

Then Obama joined a tiny, little known (outside Chicago, at least) public interest law firm called Davis Miner Barnhill. The partner who hired him was Judson Miner. Miner was a well known left wing lawyer in Chicago who had been counsel to the progressive black mayor in the 80s, Harold Washington. But Miner possibly also had ties to the Ayers family. He was law school classmates with Bernardine Dohrn at the University of Chicago (both Class of 1967). He formed a lawyers group against the war after graduation and organized a left wing alternative to the local Chicago bar association.

Then, in late 1994 or early 1995, Obama made what I think was probably the key move in his early career. He was named Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a $50 million grant program to funnel money into reform efforts at Chicago schools. It turns out that the architect of the Annenberg Challenge was Bill Ayers, who designed the grant proposal and sheparded it to success. The purpose of the program was to defend the clearly failing local schools council effort that had been put in place back in 1988. The first Executive Director of the Challenge was Ken Rolling, who came there from the much discussed Woods Fund (where he had been a program officer) and where Obama and Ayers would later sit side by side on the board of directors.

A report authored by Dorothy Shipps on the first three years of the Annenberg Challenge program, when Obama was its Board chair, concluded: "The Challenge sought to build on the momentum of the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act which had radically decentralized governance of the Chicago Public Schools."

While apparently several hundred school principals had been fired by the LSC’s, kids were still doing poorly in schools and there was chaos of a sorts in the system. (See Shipps, Invisible Hand, for a summary of the problems.) Interestingly, Shipps concludes that the local control movement in Chicago, though backed by radicals like Ayers, gave "business the clearest voice in systemwide reform." She argues that a district level democracy effort such as an "Education Assembly" is required rather than the parochial local control approach:

"A large districtwide elected group intended to serve as a legislative body, such an assembly would have both the staff and structure of one. This alternative vision of democracy rests on citizenship and stewardship even as it builds on the private interests and knowledge of concerned parents and neighbors. As an example of a different form of democratic governance, it serves to remind ordinary Chicagoans that they now have no systemwide forum through which to debate broad issues of equity, standards, and accountability."

This represents a very different vision than that of Ayers & co. (not to mention of the charter school business group approach now in vogue). In fact, in retrospect the Ayers/Ayers (business from above, local activism from below) joint campaign against both the Chicago School District bureaucracy and the Teachers Union is reminiscent of the kinds of alliances one finds in neo-stalinist regimes like that of Cuba, China or Sandinista-run Nicaragua. In the Chinese Cultural Revolution, for example, Mao appealed to local activists to attack the party bureaucracy. These authoritarian movements often try to build their power against democratic institutions like unions. Well-intentioned liberals even from the business community are often willing to support such efforts because they view the traditional labor movement as even more of a threat than the neo-stalinist authoritarians like Castro, Chavez or Ortega. While many on the left try to portray such movements as a new form of democracy, they are anything but.

One educational policy analyst called the early 90s Chicago school system "dysfunctional." The former business allies of Bill Ayers and the local control advocates broke away from their support of the LSC's in favor of recentralization of power in the hands of Chicago's new Mayor Daley. According to Shipps,

"for six years, LQE [led by John Ayers until he later joined up with the charter school movement] remained a strong advocate of the 1988 reform. But in 1993 Club [ Commercial Club of Chicago ] members decided the LQE's support for community organizing and voter turnout campaigns was not producing better schools, resurfacing their initial skepticism about political decentralization as a reform strategy. Moreover, they determined that the role of outside agitator might suit community groups, but was ill suited to corporate leadership. It was creating a rift between Club leaders and the central administrators whom they hoped to influence. Club leaders were increasingly convinced that central office accountability was a necessary component of results. As the fundamental divisions between the business view of administrative decentralization and the political version held by community activists reemerged, activists felt betrayed. They protested the 'pull-back' loudly, but succeeded only in becoming less central actors in future reform efforts."

Now the business groups backed re-centralization through a 1995 bill that gutted the power of the LSC’s.

But the Annenberg Challenge money came through anyway due to the efforts of Bill Ayers, among others, and since it had to be matched 2 to 1 by corporate and foundation money, the Board Chairmanship would have allowed Obama to be in touch with the powerful money interests in Chicago, such as the Pritzkers (Penny Pritzker is now head of Obama's fund raising efforts) and others that Kaufman mentions in his story.

Thus, we have one possible answer to the question: Who "sent" Obama? It was the Ayers family, including Tom, John, Bill and Bernardine Dohrn.

It is highly unlikely that a 30-something second year lawyer would have been plucked from relative obscurity out of a left wing law firm to head up something as visible and important in Chicago as the Annenberg Challenge by Bill Ayers if Ayers had not already known Obama very well. One possibility is that Obama proved himself to the Ayers's in the battle for local school control when he was at the DCP in the 80s.

One guess as to why Obama does not play up his educational experience more thoroughly now – it certainly could be of use to him one would think in beefing up his “I have the experience to be President” argument – is that it would lead to a renewed discussion of the Ayers connection, which is clearly toxic for Obama. This likely explains why Obama tried a kind of head fake when asked about Ayers by George Stephanopoulos in the TV debate with Clinton prior to the Pennsylvania primary. Obama said Ayers was a "professor of english." Yet, Obama chaired the Annenberg Challenge for three years and served on its board for another three years, working closely with Ayers on grants to Chicago schools. And he did not know that Ayers was a professor of education? That strains credulity.

Perhaps this would be of just historical interest if it could be firmly established that Bill Ayers no longer has any role in the Obama campaign. But that is not something we know for sure yet. In a recent television interview with Greta Van Susteren (granted, it was on Fox), John Murtagh, a Republican town council member from Yonkers, New York, said that Ayers is currently an "advisor" to Obama. Murtagh has a particular and understandable sensitivity to the Ayers-Obama connection besides his Republican politics: his father was a New York Supreme Court (in NY the Supreme Court is a trial court) judge who presided over a trial of the "Black Panther 21" in 1970-71.

Murtagh was 9 years old at the time. During the trial Murtagh's home was fire bombed and Murtagh claims the Weather Underground was responsible for that bombing along with several others in "solidarity" with the Panthers. He charges, specifically, that Bill Ayers' wife Bernardine Dohrn later took credit (apparently on behalf of the entire WU group) for the bombing. Accounts sympathetic to the Panthers confirm the role of the Weather Underground. (See David Barber, "Leading the Vanguard: White New Leftists School the Panthers on Black Revolution" in In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, edited by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams (Duke 2006).) The Panther 21 were acquitted of the bombing-related charges made against them, after a lengthy trial.

Certainly Ayers' politics remain unapologetically authoritarian. He recently traveled to Venezuela - only the most recent of several such trips - and delivered a speech in front of Hugo Chavez in which he spoke of education as the "motor force of revolution" and his interest in "overcom[ing] the failings of capitalist education" and said he thought Chavez was creating "something truly new and deeply humane." He closed his speech by mouthing typical slogans of the authoritarian left: "Viva Mission Sucre! Viva Presidente Chavez! Viva La Revolucion Bolivariana! Hasta La Victoria Siempre!"

As it turns out, there are other ex-SDS types around the Obama campaign as well, including Marilyn Katz, a public relations professional, who was head of security for the SDS during the disaster in the streets of Chicago in 1968. She is close (politically) to Carl Davidson, a former vice president of SDS and longtime Fidelista, who is webmaster for a group called Progressives for Obama, that is headlined by other former 60s radicals like Tom Hayden and the maoist Bill Fletcher. Davidson and Katz were key organizers of the 2002 anti-war demonstration where Obama made public his opposition to the Iraq war that has been so critical to his successful presidential campaign. Davidson apparently moved into the maoist movements of the 70s after the disintegration of SDS.

Now that we have some idea of who "sent" Obama, the left and labor movement deserve to know more about how the exhausted ideas of the authoritarian side of 60's politics may still be influencing the thinking of a potential U.S. president. Maybe Andy Stern's endorsement of Obama makes more sense, now.

In any case, imho, if either Hillary or Obama wins they will keep our troops in Iraq for at least three years and possibly longer....makes you want to run into the arms of Ralph!

- Steve Diamond is a law professor on the faculty of Santa Clara University School of Law in Santa Clara, California.


State legislature urges national card-check

Democrats spread 'no-vote' unionism

For Oregon workers at all rungs of the income ladder, especially those at the bottom, joining a union provides a leg up. That is the conclusion of a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy. The study found that unionization increases the pay of a typical low-wage worker in Oregon by about 21 percent.

In dollar terms, an Oregon worker earning an hourly wage at or just above the state's 2007 minimum wage of $7.80 could expect to gain $1.67 per hour by joining a union, according to CEPR. That translates into about $3,500 a year in additional income for a full-time worker.

The study also found wage boosts for middle- and higher-income workers in Oregon, though not as large in percentage terms as that enjoyed by the lowest-paid workers. "Making it easier for workers to join unions is one of the best ways to help Oregon rebuild an economy of shared prosperity," said Michael Leachman, policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy, who reviewed the CEPR study.

Over the past three decades, the wages of Oregonians have stagnated as union membership has steadily declined, according to Leachman. He said that from 1983 to 2007, union membership in Oregon fell from 22 percent of all workers to 14.3 percent.

Unionization's effect on Oregon wages follows the national pattern, according to The Union Advantage for Low-Wage Workers study. In all states, including the District of Columbia, CEPR found that the union premium was substantially larger for low-wage workers than it was for middle- or high-wage workers.

Unionization brings benefits in addition to higher wages, according to Leachman. He said that unionized workers are more likely than non-unionized workers to have employer-provided health insurance, paid leave and pension plans.

"Removing barriers to unionization will help Oregon build good jobs for the future," said Leachman.

He praised the 2007 Oregon Legislative Assembly for passing a "majority sign-up" law, which allows public sector workers to form a union when a majority of workers have signed cards saying they want to do so.

"A similar law covering private sector workers should be enacted by our leaders in Washington," said Leachman, calling on Oregon's congressional delegation to support legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act.

Oregon could further encourage unionization by prohibiting the use of public funds to campaign for or against unionization, protecting workers who choose not to attend closed-door, anti-union meetings held by their employers, and supporting a healthy public sector with privatization and contracting held to high standards for wages and benefits, according to Leachman.

"Healthy public sector unions help ensure that more workers benefit from the union advantage," Leachman noted. "And when public dollars flow to private contractors providing public services, such as health care and janitorial services, they shouldn't go to private entities that fight unionization or undermine wages."

Previous studies have shown that joining a union boosts the wages of the average worker, but the CEPR study is one of the first to examine the impact of unionization on workers at the bottom of the pay scale on a state-by-state basis. The report analyzed data on 16- to 64-year-old workers from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey for the years 2003 through 2007, the most recent years available. The study controlled for factors of race, gender, age, industry and education.


News Union gags on Big Print dues cuts

Labor-state news room rocked

The union representing some 1,200 newsroom and other employees at the Minneapolis (MN) Star Tribune says the newspaper's owners are looking for $20 million in annual budget cuts. About a tenth of that hit would come in the Star Tribune's newsroom, which has lost about 100 journalists in the past few years. Graydon Royce is a leader with the Newspaper Guild union at the paper, which is already in contract talks.

"They have approached us and indicated they have been ordered to cut their newsroom budget by $2.5 million," Royce said. "That is a point of negotiation right now. No decisions have been made. We feel this is all under negotiation. We don't necessarily accept any of the proposals that have been put forward right now."

The Star Tribune said it had no comment about budget cuts, saying it wanted to honor what it said is the confidentiality of the bargaining process.

Earlier this month the Star Tribune hired a private equity firm to advise it. But the company disputed a published report that said it's "on the brink of bankruptcy."

Like most big city newspapers, the Star Tribune has been struggling with declining circulation and falling advertising revenues.


Voters approve mini Davis-Bacon Act suspension

Cost savings a concern at annual town meeting

Chatham (MA) oters gave the final go-ahead to a new, $16.6 million police station and town hall annex building during Monday night’s annual town meeting.

The meeting concluded action on the 36-article warrant during the four-and-a-half-hour session, approving a $31 million town operating budget, $1.7 million in capital expenditures, almost half a million dollars in community preservation projects, and funds to rebuild the runway at Chatham Municipal Airport and dredge the mouth of Mill Creek.

Voters decided not to spend $300,000 on a half-acre lot off Barn Hill Road, and failed to approve a suite of zoning bylaw amendments designed to encourage construction of affordable housing (see separate story).

Last May, voters at first rejected a combined police department-annex building at the current site of the annex on George Ryder Road. The proposal was reconsidered, however, and passed with the caveat that the design of the structure be reviewed. In the subsequent months, a design review task force came up with three recommendations, according to vice chairman Donald Poyant. Because a large connector between the two wings of the building was seen as a reason for its initial defeat, it was eliminated and the project split into two separate buildings to house functions that are essentially unrelated Parking, which was at the front of the parcel, was moved to the rear. And the size of the buildings was reduced by 3,613 square feet over the combined design.

He noted that the current police station, which is nearly 50 years old, is in “deplorable condition.” The annex buildings are also in poor condition and overcrowded.

“Both facilities have been neglected for extended periods of time,” he said. “The committee strongly believes these buildings as designed are appropriate at this time.”

The difference in cost between the original single-building design and the two building plan is approximately $100,000, Poyant said. The one-year delay added $700,000 to the original $15.5 million price tag for the complex. Citing Harwich’s recent experience in obtaining bids for a new police station that were $1 million below estimates, he said the timing is right to pursue this project.

Voters turned back an amendment offered by Earl Hubbard to delete the annex portion of the project. Selectman candidate Michael Onnembo criticized the size of the buildings as “excessive,” and said the designs are “not in keeping with the uniqueness and character of Chatham.”

“I believe we should start from scratch,” he said.

But voters clearly were not buying that line of reasoning. Resident Robert Dubis, who served on a building committee in the 1970s that expanded the current police station on Depot Road, said the structure is no longer adequate. “The time has come for a new building,” he said. John Bain echoed Poyant’s remarks about the current construction climate and urged officials to put the project out to bid as soon as possible.

Voters approved three articles related to the project. The first accepted the new design. The second appropriated an additional $1,140,051 above the $15.5 million authorized last year, which includes the higher costs due to the delay, as well as relocation costs for the annex offices during the construction period. Finally, the third article included an additional $276,000, primarily for high-density filing systems for the buildings, Poyant said. All three passed on voice votes.

The two appropriation are contingent on Proposition 2½ debt exclusion ballot questions voters will act on in today’s annual town meeting.

Final designs and construction documents must now be prepared prior to putting the project out to bid. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2009.

The $31,418,512 operating budget, a 3.38 percent increase over current spending, includes only three new initiatives due to increased fixed costs, such as employee insurance, and uncertainty about the economy, said Town Manager William Hinchey. The new initiatives are $55,000 for increased staffing at the community center, $20,000 for an emergency notification system, and $10,000 for next year’s Maritime Festival. The budget maintains all town service at current levels and does not require a Proposition 2½ override, he added.

The Maritime Festival funding drew opposition from the finance committee, as did the level-funded contribution to the chamber of commerce. Member Coleman Yeaw moved to cut chamber funding by more than half, from $64,000 to $30,000. Other towns on the Cape do not make such substantial contributions to their chambers of commerce, he said.

“Why should we spend $64,000 when other towns spend a lot less?” he said.

“The reason we do it in Chatham is because we’re Chatham,” said Chamber board member Scott Hamilton. The funding pays for staffing at the downtown information booth and the Bassett House, and accounts for a third of the chamber’s budget. The motel tax brings in between $800,000 to $1 million annually to town coffers, he added.

“That money is coming into the town because of tourists coming to Chatham,” Hamilton said. “Doesn’t it make sense to take a small amount of money to make sure it continues?” Chamber president Robert Franz noted the agency fielded 26,000 inquiries and visits at the information centers last year. Without the information booths, staff at town hall would likely be fielding those questions. “We believe the chamber provides the most cost-effective service possible,” he said.

While the chamber has had a rocky time during the past few months, this is not the time to cut its funding, said Dan Meservey, because of the uncertain economy. “If there’s any year to support the business community, it’s this year,” he said.

Yeaw’s amendment failed, and voters approved the full operating budget, including the Maritime Festival funds.

Voters also approved the $1.7 million capital budget that for the first time included school department capital expenditures, a $2.8 million water department operating budget, and $250,000 for cost of living increases for town employees.

Dredging the mouth of Mill Creek received an affirmative vote from the meeting. The $125,000 appropriation is subject to approval of a capital exemption question on Thursday’s ballot.

A request for $180,000 to pay the town’s share of the $3.6 million reconstruction of the runway at Chatham Municipal Airport was approved, but not without opposition from several residents who questioned using taxpayers money to fund work that only benefited the few people who use the facility. Airport commission chairman Richard Hunter acknowledged that perhaps half of the 36 planes kept year-round at the airport belong to Chatham residents, but said the facility is responsible for generating substantial economic activity in town.

“These people flying into Chatham in many cases are staying here. They’re spending money here just like someone who drives into town,” he said.

Voters rejected a $125,000 request from the land bank and open space committee to use land bank funds to buy a half-acre buildable lot off Barn Hill Road. Committee member Jack Farrell said the land would serve as a gateway to the so-called Valley Farm Estates property, six parcels to the east purchased for open space by the town in 2006. The proposal called for the town to contribute $250,000 to the purchase, through land bank and community preservation funds, with the Chatham Conservation Foundation kicking in the additional $50,000 to meet the $300,000 asking price.

Several people cited the price for the land as too high, especially if the land is to be used for parking so people can access the adjacent land.

“Why do we have to access this property?” said Meservey. “Why can’t we leave it for whatever’s there now?”

Community preservation fund expenditures approved included $35,000 to digitize historical documents, including past issues of The Chronicle, at the Eldredge Public Library; $45,450 so the historical commission can continue its survey of historical properties in town; and $25,000 for administration costs. Voters also approved CPA funds for technical assistance for affordable accessory apartments and for the town’s affordable housing trust (see separate story).

A light moment came when one resident urged voters to approve $54,000 in community preservation funds for an emergency generator at the congregate housing facility on Crowell Road. His 90-year-old mother-in-law lives at the facility and has a bedroom on the second floor. When the power goes out, many of the elderly residents panic.

“Please keep my mother-in-law living there, and not with me,” he said. Voters complied, approving the expenditure.

Voters also authorized officials to submit special legislation to exempt private groups from prevailing wage laws for work at the MCI-Marconi Wireless Receiving Station.

A general bylaw allowing the outdoor display of goods by special permit along Main Street narrowly passed. Antique store owner Cynthia Demos stressed the importance of displaying merchandise outside for shops set back from the sidewalk. Merchants depend on the character of the town to draw people here, and won’t abuse the privilege, she said. Spencer Gray warned that the measure “has the real potential to change the way Main Street looks today.”

The article squeaked by on a voice vote, 108 to 100.

With no discussion, the meeting approved reauthorization of the Pleasant Bay Resource Management Plan, changes to the waterways bylaw to address concerns about how boatyards control moorings, and revised sewer regulations.

Voters supported a petition article for $80,000 to treat phosphorus pollution in Stillwater Pond. The capital budget includes $100,000 to carry out a consultant’s recommendation for alum treatment of Lovers Lake and Stillwater Pond. But because some 30 percent of the phosphorus in Stillwater Pond comes from Lovers Lake, leading the consultant to recommend treating that water body first and monitoring Stillwater Pond for a few years to determine if its water quality improves. But neighborhood residents felt both ponds should be treated concurrently, and waiting would only cost more and leave Stillwater Pond polluted. The ponds host the town’s only herring run, and treatment would improve conditions for the fish, few of which have returned this year, said Herring Warden Donald St. Pierre. The petition article passed on a voice vote.

Finally, voters stood and applauded at the close of the meeting in tribute to retiring Selectman Douglas Ann Bohman. Twenty-five years ago, “a lady golfer with a funny name took a seat on the finance committee,” Jack Farrell said, and has since served the town with distinction.

“She’s one of the finest public servants this community has benefited from,” Farrell said.


Project Labor Agreement misrepresented

The Akron (OH) Public Schools (APS) Board of Education decided May 12 to use a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on its construction of the new Leggett Community Learning Center (CLC) in the North cluster. The PLA will set union-like standards for the project, including a living wage, benefits and working conditions. The project will not require workers to join a union.

Despite that fact, the PLA has been the subject of controversy and lobbying from union and nonunion groups. “We’ve heard the calls for and against the PLA,” said Board President Linda Omobien. “We have built 10 buildings, with eight more under construction, using the ‘fair and responsible bidder’ process.

“This is one building,” she added. “We will learn from this, and our experience will determine whether we will go forth with the PLA on additional buildings or not. We will see how much it costs, and we’ll see if we have a higher quality structure than what we have now.”

Before the unanimous vote, proponents of both sides stated their cases.

“The PLA will bring together the contractors and the crafts,” said Ron Macala, of the Tri-County Building Council. “This will create uniform conditions, wages and rules to govern the project.

“We pledge to meet your goals of 50 percent of the workers from Akron, 20 percent minorities and 7 percent females,” he added. “That is as important to us as it is to you. If you’ve heard that nonunion workers can’t participate, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Rebecca Burwell spoke in opposition to the PLA on behalf of the Coalition of Taxpayers Rights.

“The PLA is bad public policy,” she said. “It eliminates competition, inflates costs, caters to special interests and limits the pool of workers.”

She said the PLA would create a mountain of bureaucracy.

“You would need to review collective bargaining agreements, benefits and jurisdiction to ensure a level playing field,” she added. “Then you must give these documents to all of their bidders and answer their questions.”

Several members of the school board expressed reservations about using the PLA, but the vote was unanimous to try the option on the Leggett building.

“My heart is against the PLA,” said board member the Rev. Curtis Walker, “but this is one project, and we’ll see if it lives up to what they say.”

“It’s one building out of 46,” said board member James Hardy, “and a PLA is not a union-only contract. Our goals are to keep the costs comparable and meet our work force goals. If those goals are not met, I will never vote for a PLA again.”

In other action, the school board made its change of superintendents official. The board accepted the resignation of Superintendent Sylvester Small and hired David James to replace him Aug. 1. James signed a three-year contract, starting at $165,000 and increasing by $5,000 in each of the following two years.

“We tried to be fair considering the resources we have,” said Omobien. “The superintendent in Cincinnati makes $197,000, and Cleveland’s makes $260,000.”

Before the meeting, the Joint Board of Review met to discuss the school reconstruction project. The board approved the bids for the National Inventors Hall of Fame School — Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Downtown Akron. The total cost of the project is $13.2 million.

The contractors for the project include Summit Construction Co., of Akron; Continental Office Furniture, of Columbus; Komar Plumbing Co., of Youngstown; The K Co., of Akron (mechanical/heating, ventilating and air conditioning); Simplex Grinnell LP, of Strongsville (sprinklers); Entertech Electric, of Lowellville; Mid-West Telephone Service, of Girard; and Windstream Communications, of Hudson.

William Considine, president of Akron Children’s Hospital, is leading a campaign to raise $3 million toward the cost of the project.

The joint board also approved the construction documents for the Leggett CLC, which will cost $10 million.

The joint board also awarded the contract for concrete and masonry for the Barber CLC in East Akron to The Knoch Corp., of North Canton. The firm will perform the work for $4.8 million. Also at the Barber building, Southeast Security Corp., of Sharon Center, will do technology and data work for $497,400.

Both Barber bids are replacements for previous winning bidders who did not meet the joint board’s requirements.

Due to the Memorial Day holiday, the next APS Board of Education meeting is set for Tuesday, May 27, at 5:30 p.m. at Kent Middle School, 1445 Hammel St. The Joint Board of Review will meet at 4 p.m. that day at the administration building, 70 N. Broadway.


Vallejo goes bankrupt, union contracts in doubt

74% of town budget goes to union wages

Vallejo has become the first city of its size in California to seek bankruptcy protection. The decision to file for bankruptcy came in a unanimous vote by the city council Tuesday night as hundreds of residents watched. The dramatic vote came despite a last-minute appeal by state Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, and an aide for Assemblywoman Noreen Evans for the city to avoid bankruptcy.

Mayor Osby Davis said he had "turned over every rock he could find to find a solution" but none came and there is no longer an ability for the city to pay its debts.

Vallejo has been slammed by increasing costs of its public safety contracts, the housing crisis and lower property values.

The city faces a $16 million deficit in the 2008-09 fiscal year that starts July 1. Tuesday night's vote came after months of fruitless talks between city and labor representatives.

Chapter 9 bankruptcy will allow Vallejo to gain temporary protection from creditors and enable the city to continue to offer citizens necessary services.

The bankruptcy process will cost $750,000 to $2 million just in legal fees, city officials said.

Vallejo bankruptcy attorneys had recommended the city approve any bankruptcy filing at least a month before city coffers run dry, which could happen as early as June 30.


Labor-state's union operatives gather in Denver

Colorado Springs prepares for influx

El Paso County: Brace yourself. About 10,000 Democrats will converge this weekend in Colorado Springs for what is being billed as the largest gathering of Democrats in state history. "It is kind of indescribable," said Pat Waak, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party. The party is holding its assembly and state convention in the heart of Republican territory.

Conventioneers will elect the final delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.

And assemblygoers will nominate candidates, including Mark Udall for the U.S. Senate.

Udall is running uncontested, so there's no drama in the Senate race like there was in 2004 when underdog Mike Miles bested Ken Salazar to get the top ballot position.

The focus at this gathering will be the record turnout of Democrats - many of them first-timers to the caucus and convention process - to throw their support for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to be their party's nominee for president.

At the convention Saturday, about 1,500 people are running for 12 delegate and two alternate slots to the DNC.

"I love the enthusiasm and the excitement," Waak said. "Colorado is a battleground state. When is the last time that happened?"

Three congressional districts are holding their assembly/conventions today at the Doubletree Hotel. They will nominate state Senate and district attorney candidates, and pick delegates to the DNC.

Saturday's events - including Udall's nomination - will be at the World Arena.

"This is really exciting for a lot of Democrats," said Mike Schnobrich of Penrose, chairman of the 5th Congressional District event. "But it's also a lot of work."

The record turnout has created stress on organizers ever since Feb. 5, when nearly 121,000 Democrats showed up for their precinct caucuses.

In past presidential years, 15,000 to 25,000 Democrats participated.

There aren't enough parking spaces at the World Arena for everyone scheduled to show up, said Waak. Delegates are being asked to take hotel shuttles to the World Arena.

"That's part of the price you pay for success," Waak said.


Rep. Joe Donnelly, Indiana DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Is the Employee Free Choice Act on your political radar? If it is not, it better be. It has the potential to be one of the most damaging pieces of legislation for employers and employees that has been seen in decades.

What is the Employee Free Choice Act?

* It provides that a union could be certified to represent your employees with a simple majority of your employees signing an authorization card, therefore the slang term for this legislation, "card check." This requirement for employees to publicly sign a union card to join a union would do away with the current practice of private ballot elections in organizing efforts. At issue is whether or not workers should continue to have the right to vote in privacy like we do in every other election in this county. Because there is no private ballot, the way each worker votes is made known not only to their co-workers but also to union organizers and their employer. This atmosphere would be ripe for extreme peer pressure, harassment and intimidation. This is wrong. Workers deserve the continued right I to make these important personal decisions in private, without fear of coercion or reprisal from union organizers, their employer, or both. The right to a private ballot is a cornerstone of our democracy The voting booth is so private that couples who have been married for years will not disclose to each other whom they voted for in the last government election. Yet, can you believe this fundamental right is under assault in the U.S. Congress? It gets worse.

* If an employer and a union are engaged in bargaining for the first time and are unable to reach an agreement, arbitration will be forced and the result binding for two years.

* It increases the amount an employer is required to pay when an employee is discharged or discriminated against during on organizing campaign to three times back pay. Additionally, there are civil fines up to $20,000 per violation against employers found to be willfully violating employees' rights during an organizing campaign.

On the record. This proposed legislation called H.R. 800 has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives 241 to 185. A companion bill in the U.S. Senate (S. 1041) is currently under consideration. The Indiana members of the U.S. House of Representatives have recorded their votes on this issue. Representatives Julia Carson, Joe Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth, Baron Hill and Pete Visclosky all voted in favor of this legislation. Standing up for worker rights and voting to protect private ballots were representatives Dan Burton, Steve Buyer, Mike Pence and Mark Souder.

President Bush has promised a veto. But however this issue turns out this session, it is not going away What if there is not a presidential veto threat after 2008?

This legislation is organized labor's highest legislative priority today and will continue to be. This is their litmus test for members of Congress that they support. Unions seek to reverse the decline in union membership by facilitating the organizing of workplaces through legalized coercion and intimidation.

Call to action. Whether you are an employee or employer, make your voice heard. If you need assistance with how to do that, visit www.myprivateballot.com. Indiana organizations that have declared their public opposition to this "card check" legislation include the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Manufactures Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, Indiana Retail Council, Indiana Petroleum Council, Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association, Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association, and Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

Remember. Your vote. In America it's as sacred as the Constitution. And it is to be cast in private. A right that belongs only to you. Don't let your Congressman, who was elected by secret ballot, take away your right. What could be next??

- J.R. Gaylor is president and CEO of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Indiana Inc. He also serves on the board of directors of the Indiana Construction Roundtable and on the board of trustees for Vincennes University.


Union embezzlers kept Feds busy in April

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) today announced its criminal enforcement data for April 2008. During the month, OLMS obtained seven convictions, nine indictments and court orders of restitution totaling $225,615. The office's totals for fiscal year 2008 (which began on Oct. 1, 2007) now stand at 59 convictions and 76 indictments. The bulk of the cases involved the embezzlement of union funds.

"OLMS investigations continue to result in indictments and successful prosecutions of individuals who abuse their union positions," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor-Management Standards Don Todd. "We remain fully committed to protecting union members against the criminal behavior of a small minority and to ensuring democratic elections and financial integrity and transparency within labor unions."

OLMS is the federal law enforcement agency responsible for administering most provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The agency's criminal enforcement program includes investigations of embezzlement from labor organizations, extortionate picketing, deprivation of union members' rights by force or violence, and fraud in union officer elections. The agency's civil program receives and publicly discloses unions' annual financial reports, conducts compliance audits of labor unions and seeks civil remedies for violations of officer election procedures. In certain cases, OLMS also conducts joint investigations with other Labor Department agencies, including the Employee Benefits Security Administration and the Office of Inspector General, as well as other law enforcement agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

OLMS's public disclosure Web site at www.unionreports.gov contains union annual financial reports and additional reports required to be filed under the LMRDA as well as copies of collective bargaining agreements. Other information, including synopses of OLMS enforcement actions, is available at www.olms.dol.gov.

Editor's Notes: A listing of selected OLMS enforcement actions during April 2008 accompanies this release. An indictment is the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity. As in all criminal cases, each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal charges and indictments noted in these materials are accusations only.

Selected Enforcement Actions in April 2008

Office of Labor-Management Standards
U.S. Department of Labor


Former Union Local Treasurer Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $71,000 in Union Funds

On April 7, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Michael Rutowski, former treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2913 (located in Blaine, Wash.) was sentenced to one day in jail and two years supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution for embezzling union funds in the amount of $71,295.75, and making a false statement and representation of a material fact, knowing it to be false, on the local's annual financial report. On Jan. 18, 2008, Rutowski pled guilty to one count of making a false and fraudulent representation to a federal agency. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Seattle District Office.

Former Union Employee Sentenced for Making False Entries

On April 9, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Linda Leonard, former office secretary of Laborers Local 216 (located in Dayton, Ohio), was sentenced to two years supervised probation for making false entries in union records. Leonard also was ordered to pay $5,213 in restitution. On Jan. 16, 2008, Leonard pled guilty to one count of making false entries in union records. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Cincinnati District Office.

Former Union Officer Sentenced for Falsifying Union Records

On April 11, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Kathleen Drake, former secretary-treasurer for Machinists Lodge 2339-C (located in Cleveland, Ohio), was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to make full restitution in the amount of $17,035. On Jan. 8, 2008, Drake pled guilty to one count of falsification of union records. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

Former Union Officer Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $10,000 in Union Funds

On April 14, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fredrick W. Jones, former vice president of Glass Molders and Plastics Union Local 285 (located in Fort Wayne, Ind.), was sentenced to six months home confinement and one year probation, and ordered to pay a $100 special assessment fee. Also, Jones must submit to drug testing during his period of probation. On Jan. 16, 2008, Jones pled guilty to embezzlement of union funds in the same approximate amount. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Chicago District Office.

Former Union Officer Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $97,000 in Union Funds

On April 21, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, Stephen Priest, former financial-secretary of United Auto Workers Local 516 (located in Middletown, Del.), was sentenced to 24 months probation and $100 special assessment. He previously made restitution to the union totaling $97,899.19. On Dec. 21, 2007, Priest pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the same amount.

Former Union Employee Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $17,000 in Union Funds

On April 29, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Mary Hartsock, former office manager of Laborers Local 1358 (located in Elmira Heights, N.Y.), was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $17,958. On Oct. 29, 2007, Hartsock pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the same amount. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Buffalo District Office

Former Union Officer Sentenced for Falsifying Records

On April 30, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Sandra Gorman, former treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 11's Ohio Department of Transportation Assembly (located in Columbus, Ohio), was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to make full restitution in the amount of $4,642. On Oct. 17, 2007, Gorman pled guilty to one count of falsification of union records. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

Guilty Pleas

Former Union Officer Pleads Guilty to Theft

On April 1, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Michelle A. Meek, former treasurer for AFGE Local 3435 (located in Columbus, Ohio), pled guilty to one count of theft within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. The guilty plea follows a joint investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office and the Departments of Labor and Housing and Urban Development Offices of Inspector General.

Former Union Official Pleads Guilty to Embezzling More Than $75,000 in Union Funds

On April 4, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Zona Albritton, former manager of general services for AFSCME, pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $75,446. On March 17, 2008, a criminal information was filed charging Albritton with one count of embezzlement of union funds in the same amount. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Washington District Office.

Former Union Officer Pleads Guilty to Embezzling More Than $70,000 in Union Funds

On April 4, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, a criminal information was filed charging Darrell Pendergrass, former president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 699 (located in Bristol, Va.), with one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $70,336 and one count of willfully evading the payment of taxes. Subsequently, Pendergrass pled guilty to both counts. The criminal information and plea follow an investigation by the OLMS Washington District Office and the Internal Revenue Service.

Former Union Officer Pleads Guilty to Embezzling More Than $85,412 in Union Funds

On April 4, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Karimah Bailey, former treasurer of AFGE Local 3197 (located in Seattle, Wash.), pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the amount of $85,412, and making a false statement and representation of a material fact, knowing it to be false, on the local's annual financial report. The guilty plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Seattle District Office.

Former Union Bookkeeper Pleads Guilty to Embezzling $140,000 in Union Funds

On April 7, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Heather Lott, former bookkeeper of Teamsters Local 19 (located in Houston, Texas), pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $140,000. Lott also was ordered to make full restitution. On Oct. 18, 2007, Lott was charged with one count of embezzling union funds in the same amount. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS New Orleans District Office.

Former Union Officer Pleads Guilty to Bank Fraud

On April 14, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Brian Dolney, former president of Machinists Lodge 2333 (located in Dayton, Ohio), pled guilty to bank fraud in the amount of $11,565. On Feb. 7, 2008 an information was filed charging Dolney with one count of bank fraud in the same amount. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Cincinnati District Office.

Former Union Officer Pleads Guilty to Embezzling More Than $11,000 in Union Funds

On April 16, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Kim M. Van Handel, former president and acting treasurer of Steelworkers Local 1980 (located in Appleton, Wis.), pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the amount of $11,500. On Jan. 15, 2008, Van Handel was charged with one count of embezzling union funds in the same amount. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Milwaukee District Office.

Former Union Officer Pleads Guilty to Embezzling More Than $31,000 in Union Funds

On April 30, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Amy J. Cross, former secretary/treasurer of Utility Workers Local 308 (located in Lima, Ohio), pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the amount of $31,887. On April 7, 2008, an information was filed charging Cross with one count of embezzlement in the same amount. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

Criminal Charges and Indictments*

Former Union Employee Charged with Embezzling More Than $51,000 in Union Funds

On April 3, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Louella M. Zieman, former office secretary of Ironworkers Local 709 (located in Port Wentworth, Ga.), was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $51,684 and on one count of making false entries in the union's financial records. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Atlanta District Office.

Former Union Officer Charged with Theft

On April 9, 2008, in the County Court for Lorain, Ohio, Gary Smink, former president of Steelworkers Local 1-962 (located in Elyria, Ohio), was indicted on one count of theft totaling $770. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

Former Union Employee Indicted for Embezzling More Than $17,000 in Union Funds

On April 16, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Sheila Rushing, former office secretary for Bakery, Tobacco & Grain Local 482 (located in Jacksonville, Fla.), was indicted on one count of embezzling union assets in the amount of $17,133.01, and destruction of union records and making false entries in required union records. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Tampa Resident Investigator Office.

Former Union Officer Charged with Embezzling More Than $43,000 in Union Funds

On April 24, 2008, in the Cambria County Court, Pennsylvania, Richard J. Vincent, former treasurer of AFGE Local 3951 (located in Altoona, Pa.), was charged in a criminal complaint with two counts of embezzling union funds in the amount of $43,694.85. The charges follow a joint investigation by the OLMS Pittsburgh District Office and the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General.

Former Union Officer Charged with Theft of Funds

On April 29, 2008, in the County Court of St. Louis County, Minnesota, Kathleen Kordish, former financial secretary of Steelworkers Local 9349 (located in Hibbing, Minn.), was charged with one count of theft of funds by false representation in excess of $2,500. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS Minneapolis Resident Investigator Office.

Enforcement Actions and Civil Complaints

Department of Labor Wins Lawsuit Seeking New Election

On April 1, 2008, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon granted the department's motion for summary judgment adopting in its entirety the magistrate's decision concerning Plumbers Local 290's Jan. 3, 2006, election for president and business manager. The magistrate found that the union failed to take reasonable efforts to update its mailing list resulting in ballots not being sent to eligible members; allowed owner members who were not eligible to vote under the union's constitution to vote; and improperly used union funds to disseminate a letter disparaging a candidate. Based on the court's order, OLMS will supervise new nominations and a new election for president and business manager. The judgment follows an investigation by the OLMS Seattle District Office.

Union Enters into Voluntary Compliance Agreement with OLMS

On April 22, 2008, the department entered into a voluntary compliance agreement with Operating Engineers Local 547 (located in Detroit, Mich.) concerning the challenged election of officers conducted on Aug. 31, 2007. In that election, some candidates were not notified that they could identify and list themselves as a slate on the election ballot. The local has agreed to conduct new nominations, if necessary, and a new election under OLMS supervision for the offices of business manager, vice president, recording secretary, financial secretary, treasurer, three trustees and three auditors. The agreement follows an investigation by the OLMS Detroit District Office.

Union Enters into Voluntary Compliance Agreement with OLMS

The department has entered into a voluntary settlement agreement with American Postal Workers Union Local 732 (located in Dallas, Texas) concerning the challenged election of officers conducted on May 19, 2007. OLMS investigators found that, in that election, the union discriminated against other candidates by using union funds to support incumbent candidates for re-election. Also, the investigators found that the use of union mailing lists was limited to incumbent candidates. The parties agreed that the Department of Labor will supervise a new election for the officer and delegate positions of president, executive vice president, sergeant-at-arms, trustee (one position only), director-human resources, clerk craft assistant director, clerk craft business agent #4, clerk craft delegates (13 of the 29 positions), maintenance craft business agent #2, maintenance craft delegates (three of the six positions), and motor vehicle service craft delegates (two of the three positions). The agreement follows an investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office.

Indictments and informations are the methods by which people are charged with criminal activity. As in all criminal cases, each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal charges and indictments noted in these materials are accusations only.

SOURCE U.S. Department of Labor


Socialists rip Barack over UAW-AAM strike

Empty rhetoric from Obama on American Axle strike

During a campaign speech in suburban Detroit Wednesday, Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidate for the US presidential nomination, made several comments about the strike by 3,650 workers at American Axle & Manufacturing.

“Not too far from here, at American Axle, UAW members have gone on strike to fight for good wages and good benefits, and a decent standard of living,” he told the audience at a town hall meeting at Macomb County Community College. “These are things that all hardworking families should expect and that UAW members deserve, and we stand in solidarity with the folks on the picket lines, and the families impacted by this strike.”

He continued by saying that the strike at AAM was part of a broader struggle “to ensure that we have good manufacturing jobs so American workers can raise a family, have health care when they need it, put their children through college, and retire with dignity and security.”

These were the first public remarks by Obama about the strike, although workers have been walking the picket lines for nearly three months. The American Axle strike is one of the longest strikes in the auto industry in decades.

Obama did not propose any assistance to the strikers—many of whom are losing their homes and being forced to live on hand-outs from soup kitchens with nothing but $200 a week in strike benefits.

Nor did he condemn or propose anything to stop CEO Richard Dauch, who has threatened to close the plants and shift production to Mexico if strikers do not accept a 50 percent wage cut.

American Axle workers should take Obama’s pronouncement of support for what it is: a phony and insincere effort to fool them and maintain the illusion that the Democratic Party speaks for working people. Presuming he is the Democratic Party nominee, Obama will continue to posture as a candidate for working people, even as he defends the basic interests of the corporations and Wall Street.

Obama did not come to Michigan to support the struggles of American Axle workers and other auto workers. Rather his purpose was to strengthen his ties to the auto executives and the United Auto Workers bureaucracy in order to further his campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Before the town hall meeting he visited Grand Rapids, where he picked up the endorsement of former North Carolina senator and rival candidate for president, John Edwards, another Democrat who postures as a friend of the working class.

He also got the backing of two previously uncommitted superdelegates and visited a Chrysler stamping plant in Sterling Heights where he met with Chrysler executives and local UAW officials.

Much of his time was directed at mending fences with the auto industry and the UAW for a speech last year at the Detroit Economic Club, where he criticized the auto companies for producing gas-guzzling vehicles and falling behind their foreign competitors in hybrid technologies and leaving the US dependent on oil imports. The remarks soured relations with the industry and the UAW, both of which oppose increased fuel economy standards.

Reassuring the auto corporations of his support, Obama told a local newspaper reporter Wednesday, “I was honest with people. But Detroit won’t find a better partner than me in the White House.”

While offering nothing to American Axle strikers—or any serious relief for the hundreds of thousands of other working people in Michigan facing job losses, home foreclosures and rising living expenses—Obama said as president he would provide billions more in government subsidies and tax cuts to aid the auto manufacturers. This would include a 10-year $150 billion federal investment to provide incentives for fuel-efficient cars, as well as billions more for plant conversions and research and development.

Obama gushed, “American automakers have been showing leadership in recent years” and had made strides against Toyota and other foreign competitors. “So we’re certainly taking steps in the right direction.”

On the one hand, Obama claims he supports the struggle of American Axle workers to defend good wages and good benefits. On the other, he praises the auto companies for taking the right steps to improve their global position.

But the automakers have improved their competitive position precisely by cutting the jobs, wages and living standards of US auto workers. American Axle is only the latest in a long list of companies—from Delphi, to Dana, to GM, Ford, and Chrysler—which, in the name of dumping “uncompetitive labor costs,” have moved to replace higher-paid workers with a cheap labor workforce.

Meanwhile, the UAW, which in the end will support whichever Democratic Party candidate is nominated, is searching for a way to impose major concessions on the workers it claims to represent.

Like the UAW bureaucracy, Obama promotes the myth that the interests of auto workers can be reconciled with the interests of the corporate executives and Wall Street investors, who have enriched themselves at the expense of masses of working people. What flows from his call to arms to “fight” Detroit’s foreign competitors are only new demands that workers sacrifice.

Obama represents a party that has presided over the economic decimation of Detroit. After decades of plant closings, mass layoffs and cuts in social services, Detroit is one of the poorest big cities in America, with massive poverty and an enormous housing crisis.

The Democrats, like the Republicans, are beholden to America’s corporate and financial elite. The Illinois senator has raised nearly a quarter of billion dollars for his presidential run, including from wealthy executives at Ford, GM, Chrysler, Visteon and other auto companies. The Wall Street banks have given more money to the Democrats than the Republicans this election cycle.

Obama’s backers include Paul Volcker, who as chairman of the Federal Reserve under the Democratic Carter administration in the late 1970s drove interest rates up to double-digit levels in order to deliberately trigger the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The plant closings and mass unemployment that followed were used by Chrysler and the other Big Three automakers to wrench billions in wage cuts and other concessions from workers and to begin the spiral of corporate downsizing and union-busting—carried out under Democratic and Republican administrations—that has resulted in the destruction of nearly four million manufacturing jobs since 1979.

Other Obama supporters include billionaire investors George Soros and Warren Buffett, who have made fortunes from this process of deindustrialization and the explosive growth of financial speculation that followed.

After years of openly pro-big business policies by the Bush administration and the enormous growth of social inequality, powerful figures within America’s economic and political establishment are concerned the social anger building in the working class could coalesce into a mass movement of opposition to the profit system.

They are looking to Obama—a well-tested defender of the capitalist system—to use populist rhetoric to dissipate social opposition and corral it within the Democratic Party once again.


Iowa Gov.'s veto stuns state's unions

Union-friendly, pro-labor tilt was expected

Gov. Chet Culver turned Iowa's partisan landscape on its ear this week with his veto of a bill that would have given public-employee unions greater power in contract negotiations. The governor is being praised by Republicans and raked by many of his fellow Democrats. Both sides agree on at least one thing: The veto has changed the playing field for the 2008 legislative elections and the 2010 election for governor.

Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, was stunned by the veto, which was announced on Wednesday. He viewed the bill as a minor change that would have put public-employee unions on a level playing field with employers. "I think we heard in fairly deafening terms yesterday where we lie in the big picture of things," he said.

The measure would have expanded the scope of topics that can be part of contract negotiations, allowing unions to bargain on issues like uniforms and class size.

Sagar said the veto underscores his nagging feeling that elected Democrats have not done enough to help workers over the last two years. This is despite Democrats holding control of the governor's office and both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since the mid-1960s.

"Clearly, I don't have an explanation for why we haven't been able to move working people's agenda forward," Sagar said.

Culver was forced to choose between the interests of unions and the interests of public employers. And some of those public employers are also Democrats, such as Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba.

"The governor showed a lot of courage, leadership and statesmanship in vetoing that bill," Gluba said.

"He showed he's the governor, and AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) is not running the state of Iowa, contrary to what they think, nor do the teachers," he said.

He thinks union leaders made a mistake by trying to ram the bill through the Legislature, rather than working on a compromise that local governments could live with.

Gluba was one of many local government officials who warned Culver the bill may lead to big increases in labor costs, which may lead to higher property taxes. Culver cited that concern as one of the reasons for the veto.

Now with the veto, Gluba hopes labor leaders and Democratic elected officials can overcome hard feelings and work together on other issues. For instance, he said he hopes the Legislature will one day pass fair share, a proposal that would let unions negotiate for the right to charge a fee for representing non-union workers.

The bottom line, Gluba said, is that organized labor and the Democratic Party need each other and agree on nearly every issue.

Republicans greeted the veto with a level of praise that might make observers forget Culver is a Democrat. GOP leaders say Culver will be more difficult to beat in 2010 because he has now insulated himself from the charge that he is controlled by his party's interest groups.

"The cynic in me may ask how much of this is smoke and mirrors," said Bob Vander Plaats of Sioux City, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006 and a possible candidate for governor in 2010.

Vander Plaats thinks Culver did the right thing, but he also suspects the veto was a political calculation, intended to improve the governor's standing with moderate voters.

"I believe it is to set him up for a 2010 run, to say, 'Hey, I'm not that bad,'" Vander Plaats said.

But Culver's veto may cause him plenty of headaches before the 2010 election. He has angered legislative leaders from his own party, and he needs the help of those leaders to pass his agenda over the next two years.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, one of the top legislators on labor issues, said he won't let his disappointment about the veto affect his thinking on other issues. He hopes his fellow Democrats agree.

"I believe you shouldn't let the outcome on one bill affect another bill," he said.

One added wrinkle from the situation is how the veto will affect this year's legislative elections. Nearly all House and Senate Democrats voted for the collective bargaining bill, and now they will have to defend themselves against the charge that they supported a bill that a governor from their own party refused to sign.

Gluba, a former state legislator, said ramifications for legislative races are one of the most unfortunate aspects of what happened. He said legislative leaders are to blame for debating the bill before they knew if the governor would support it.

"I'd say they blew it," Gluba said.

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