Big George and Andy Stern dust other 527s

For all the money and competitive zeal of this year's presidential contest, Democrats and Republicans are having difficulty financing and organizing the independent groups that supplied so much outside muscle in recent presidential campaigns.

A few independent groups already are active: Ads portraying Barack Obama as weak on terrorism are circulating over the Internet. And messages from organized groups questioning John McCain's commitment to veterans and government reform are posted on their Web sites.

But, hindered by tougher regulatory enforcement, a drawn-out primary campaign and cease-and-desist signals from those two front-running candidates, the so-called 527 groups, named after a tax-code provision, have been slow to coalesce.

Members of Obama's finance team earlier this month urged his donors not to finance the 527 groups, and called on them to instead work with his campaign directly. The message has left many donors and group organizers seeking clarity from the campaign.

Not enthusiastic

On the Republican side, many big-dollar donors are not particularly enthusiastic about pouring millions of dollars into outside groups to help McCain, who has been a longtime critic of 527 organizations.

Cleta Mitchell, a campaign finance lawyer who advises such outside groups, said conservatives are not showing much interest in the presidential race, focusing instead on congressional contests and state judicial races.

"To be quite honest, these are grassroot activists and they're not all that enamored with McCain," she said. "This is what they say: 'We need to have as many conservatives as we can scrounge together in every other office because whoever is in the White House, we'll probably be fighting with them on a lot of issues.'"

Among Democrats, groups and donors are unwilling to publicly criticize Obama. But they stress that independent organizations need money to carry out their message, not just at the presidential campaign level, but down the ballot as well. They worry that Obama may freeze the resources of Democratic-leaning 527 groups and other nonprofit organizations in the political arena.

A change election

"This is a change election and there needs to be change agents elected in congressional races and in the White House," said David Donnelly, director of Campaign Money Watch, a 527 group that has accused McCain of backing away from his longtime advocacy of legislation limiting the influence of money in politics. "We will be trying to raise and spend money for paid media in races where candidates' positions on reform can be an issue."

Obama aides said they are not trying to cut out groups that are not involved in the presidential contest. But, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said, "We've been clear, if folks want to help out our campaign, they should do it through our campaign."

Some liberal and labor groups, such as MoveOn.org and the Service Employees International Union, are already airing anti-McCain ads paid for through their political action committees. But neither Obama nor McCain has aimed criticism at PACs because they operate under stricter fundraising and reporting regulations than 527 groups do. PACs, for instance, cannot receive unlimited donations from wealthy contributors and can't get money from corporations or unions.

FEC fines

What 527 groups ultimately do depends on how lawyers advising these groups interpret a series of Federal Election Commission rulings over the past two years that heavily fined 527 organizations that participated in the 2004 presidential election.

Among those fined was the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which raised unsubstantiated allegations about John Kerry's Vietnam War record. The FEC has since adopted rules that say groups can air "issue ads" but can't criticize the character of a candidate.

"We can't do in 2008 what we did in 2004," said Chris LaCivita, a Republican operative who worked on the Swift Boat ad campaign.

Donors on either side also have not focused on the general election yet, given that the Democratic contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton is still under way. Republican donors, if not ambivalent about McCain's candidacy, have wanted to wait to make sure who the Democratic opponent would be.


SEIU through the looking glass, darkly

In early June, will hold its quadrennial convention in Puerto Rico where delegates will set the union’s direction for the next four years. In advance of the convention, SEIU leaders are distributing their proposed plan for the coming years, which they have given the high-minded title "Justice for All".

An initial review of the "Justice for All" plan reveals that like many other of SEIU’s recent public relations efforts, it masks a process and a product that are virtually the opposite of what they purport to be.

Read the full discussion paper (PDF)
Read the Executive Summary (PDF)
Read the Flyer (PDF)


Kucinich motivates AFL-CIO operatives

Kucinich urges unions to go all out vs. GOP

Warning of grave danger to the rights and living standards of working people, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) urged a meeting of 100 union activists here to go all out to defeat Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate for president in next November’s election.

“Everything we have been doing for years,” Kucinich said, “has to be funneled into the 2008 elections. Our entire way of life is under attack.”

Speaking to the North Coast AFL-CIO Political Training Meeting April 25 at the Steelworkers union hall, Kucinich said labor must unite behind the Democratic Party candidate, whether it is Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton.

“Our jobs are on the line, health care is on the line, Social Security, pensions, trade agreements are on the line, peace is on the line, our kids’ future is on the line, education, housing, everything. America is on the line.”

Kucinich warned that McCain must not be underestimated and currently enjoys widespread support. In fact, Ohio AFL-CIO President Joe Rugola, who opened the meeting, reported that McCain had a 57 percent approval rating among union members, “the highest of any Republican in history.”

But, Kucinich said, although workers may respect McCain as a former prisoner of war, “You must know him. Arizona is a right-to-work state. There is no question that on the economy, he is an extension of the Bush administration.”

“We must challenge the economic system that is accelerating wealth upwards,” Kucinich said. The Bush-McCain policies use trade, profiteering, health care and energy policies to do this, he said.

“This is about economic survival. If there is another Republican president, it will be hard to rebuild the labor movement.”

But, he said, “The power of the working class is tremendous and I am confident you will save the day. You are the vanguard of the effort to recreate America, to change the direction of history.”

To loud cheers Kucinich recounted the measures he supports in Congress to address the key problems of working people, including the Conyers-Kucinich Medicare-for-All Bill (HR 676), the Kucinich-LaTourette infrastructure rebuilding bill, a proposal for a “Works Green Administration” to develop green energy, and measures to end the war in Iraq.

“We here all know about class warfare,” he said. “Well, this war is about class warfare. The war will cost $2-3 trillion that is needed to solve our problems at home. The war is an economic issue.”

Kucinich said he would introduce a new bill for a windfall profits tax on oil companies “to stop the blatant gouging of consumers by companies like Exxon that last year had $40 billion in profits.”

“Our country is run by the oil companies,” Kucinich said. “That’s what caused the war in Iraq and the threat of war in Iran. It is terrible but that is why our young people are being sent to die. Bush’s entire international policy is about oil. That is why they are trying to encircle Russia.”

“If labor is instrumental in electing the next president, labor will have major influence over our national policy. It’s not rocket science. This is what we have to do.”

The training session, one of six held around Ohio, focused on new computerized methods for union activists to educate and mobilize members in the elections.

“The world will be watching Ohio just as in 2004 when Ohio was the key battleground state,” said Ben Waxman, an AFL-CIO national political coordinator. Union members, he said, are voting in record numbers. In the March Ohio primary union members and their families cast 34 percent of the votes, the highest in history.

In the past year the economy has become the most important issue to voters, he said, followed by the war.

Rugola said labor needed to focus on other electoral battles as well, including three congressional seats that could switch from Republican to Democrat and 12 seats in the state legislature.

“Together with Working America and the United Auto Workers, we will be talking to two million households in the state,” he said.

- Rick Nagin


Builders rip Davis-Bacon expansion

ABC Urges President Bush to Keep Promise to Veto Farm Bill

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) today urged President George W. Bush to keep his promise to veto the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007 (H.R. 2419) over the expansion of the Davis-Bacon Act, among other issues. The legislation would expand Davis-Bacon from federal construction contracts to the bio-refinery loan guarantee program and subject local entities and private employers to federal micromanagement.

“The Davis-Bacon provision in the Farm Bill is a desperate attempt by Congress to keep alive a Depression-era law that has no place in the 21st century,” said ABC President and CEO Kirk Pickerel.

“Besides being discriminatory towards minority contractors; open to waste, fraud and abuse; and violating state’s rights; it unnecessarily drives up the cost of a construction project that ultimately has to be paid by the taxpayer.”

The Davis-Bacon Act is a 1931 federal law that establishes wage rates and other conditions on construction projects involving more than $2,000 in federal funds. The law is named after co-authors Sen. James Davis and Rep. Robert Bacon.

“Eliminating the Davis-Bacon Act’s requirements would reduce unnecessary federal spending and guarantee more construction for the dollar,” said Pickerel. “In turn, more money would be available for important public projects such as schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and low-income housing.”


High Court boosts union fees

The Supreme Court has declared as legal the collection of union dues from non-union members who are included in the benefits negotiated by the union from management through a collective bargaining agreement.

The high tribunal’s ruling came as it ordered the management of the Del Pilar Academy in Imus, Cavite to deduct the agency fees assessed by the union from non-members who are recipients of the benefits.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura, the Third Division upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals, saying the collection of agency fees in an amount equivalent to union dues and fees is sanctioned by Article 248 of the Labor Code.

Justices Consuelo Ynares Santiago, Ma. Alicia Austria Martinez, Minita Chico Nazario, and Ruben Reyes concurred with the decision.

“An employee’s acceptance of benefits resulting from the CBA justifies the deduction of agency fees from his pay and the union’s entitlement [to it],” the court said.

The court added that the legal basis for approving the union’s right to collect the fees was derived “from the established principle that non-union employees may not unjustly enrich themselves by benefiting from employment conditions negotiated by the bargaining union.”

“By this jurisprudential yardstick, this court finds that the CA did not err in upholding the union’s right to collect agency fees,” the ruling said.

On Sept. 15, 1994, the teaching and non-teaching personnel through the Del Pilar Academy Employees Union entered into a CBA with the school’s management for the grant of salary increases and other benefits.

The union then assessed the fees from non-union employees and asked the school management to deduct these from their wages, but the request was rejected.

The school administration claimed that the non-union employees were not agreeable to the fees and that there was no written authorization from the non-union members to deduct the fees.

Because of this, the union charged the school, represented by Eduardo Espejo and Eliseo Ocampo Jr., with unfair labor practice.

The labor arbiter ruled in favor of the union and declared that non-union members are duty bound to pay agency fees which may be lawfully deducted without individual check-off authorization.

On appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission affirmed the arbiter’s findings on the fees but said the school was not guilty of unfair labor practices.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the commission’s ruling, forcing the school to elevate the issue to the Supreme Court.


Mayor: "I'm done negotiating"

Quits Negotiating with Unions, Turns to Voters

San Diego voters could be asked to approve changes in the municipal pension plan that has caused financial problems for the city, Mayor Jerry Sanders said Friday. Sanders said he is through talking with the city's labor unions and will ask the City Council to put a measure on the November ballot that seeks to revamp the municipal pension plan for new hires. "I'm done negotiating," Sanders said. "I will ask the council to join in my reform efforts."

Talks broke down late last week between the mayor's negotiators and representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 127, San Diego Municipal Employees Association and the Deputy City Attorney's Association.

At the center of the dispute is Sanders' objection to raises in the coming fiscal year and his proposal to overhaul the pension plan offered to new, non-public safety workers.

Sanders said the city has not returned to the bargaining table with the unions because "further discussions would be futile."

The three unions seeking a new contract represent the bulk of the city's thousands of blue-collar employees, who range from garbage collectors to park maintenance workers.

On Monday, Sanders called on the City Council to impose a one-year contract on the unions that included his proposal to change the pension system, refuse raises and consolidate employee health care plans.

After a more than eight-hour hearing, the City Council denied the mayor's request in a split 4-4 vote.

The stalemate prompted the mayor to deliver an ultimatum -- either the unions agree to the contract, or he would go directly to San Diego voters to get the pension plan changed.

"We presently have a pension system that our city cannot continue to afford for future, general employees," Sanders said today. "We need change and we need it now."

Council President Scott Peters said he will schedule a public hearing on the mayor's proposal for July 7.

"I will commit to holding a public hearing to allow my council colleagues to consider the mayor's request to place a pension reform measure on the November ballot," Peters said.

"I had hoped the mayor would reach an agreement with employee groups without triggering a ballot measure, which has the potential to cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars," he added.

In the meantime, Peters urged the mayor and the employee groups to return to the negotiating table.

The council has until Aug. 8 to submit a measure to the Registrar of Voters for the November ballot.

Any effort to change San Diego's pension system legally would have to go through what's known as the "meet-and-confer" process with the unions in conjunction with labor negotiations.

Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, said that requirement means the mayor has to engage in talks with the employee unions.

"He has to go back to the table on a ballot initiative," Gonzalez said. "He can't take it to the City Council without a meet-and-confer on the ballot initiative."

Sanders' dispute with the city's labor unions comes just two weeks before he is up for reelection.

The mayor's chief rival, businessman Steve Francis, said Sanders' hard line with the unions is "all about politics."

"He wants to pound his chest and look like a tough guy," Francis said. "It's all about his reelection."

Francis said the mayor needs to resume talks with the unions.

"I think he needs to go back to the negotiating first and see what he can do," Francis said. "That's leadership. Being a bully is not leadership."


Labor-state inclusion means union-only

The Commission on Economic Inclusion, a coalition of Northeast Ohio employers committed to making the region's diversity a source of economic strength, has recognized six of its member companies as "Best in Class" for their progress in building and maintaining diverse organizations. The awards were presented at the Commission's 2008 Annual Meeting held May 8 at Corporate College East in Warrensville Heights, Ohio.

In 2007, the Commission's membership increased from 100 to 108 employers. "It's a powerful statement about the Northeast Ohio business community that a growing number of employers recognize the importance of workplace diversity and its relationship to successfully competing in the 21st century global economy," said co-chair of the Commission on Economic Inclusion, Christopher M. Connor, chairman and chief executive officer of The Sherwin-Williams Company.

The employers honored were selected based on preliminary results of the 2007 Greater Cleveland Employers Survey on Diversity', as well as follow-up interviews by the Commission staff. Two organizations'one nonprofit/government organization and one for-profit company'were selected in each of four categories. For the first time since the awards were introduced in 2003, two organizations won in two categories. The 2007 Best-in-Class organizations are:

Board Diversity: Kaiser Permanente and KeyCorp; Senior Management Diversity: NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field and Eaton Corporation; Workforce Diversity: Cuyahoga Community College and Time Warner Cable of Northeast Ohio; and Supplier Diversity: Kaiser Permanente and KeyCorp.

The Commission also presented its first Economic Impact Award to University Hospitals, the City of Cleveland and a coalition of Cleveland building and trade unions for their ground-breaking project-labor agreement (PLA) for all of the UH Vision 2010 construction projects. 'This is an important step toward ensuring equitable participation by minorities in the construction industry in University Hospitals' major expansion projects,' said Commission Co-chair Brian E. Hall, chairman and chief executive officer of Industrial Transport, Inc. He noted that provisions of the PLA include adoption of the City of Cleveland's minority participation goals and ensuring that all participating minority firms are from Northeast Ohio.

In addition to its role as an advocate for the Vision 2010 PLA, the Commission is working to ensure positive outcomes between Northeast Ohio majority and minority businesses in a variety of industries. According to Commission Executive Director Andrew Jackson: 'the key ingredient for success is focused collaboration'between majority companies that can provide access and opportunities'and minority-owned businesses with the capability and capacity to deliver quality goods and services, on time, on schedule, and on budget.'

Ralph Alvarez, president and chief operating officer of McDonald's Corporation, was the Commission Annual Meeting keynote speaker. 'Diversity is about more than numbers. We compete better when we translate the diversity of ideas, experience, and backgrounds into solutions that meet or exceed our customers' expectations," Alvarez said in his remarks.

Preliminary Results: 2007 Employers Survey on Diversity':

Results of the preliminary analysis of the 2007 Greater Cleveland Employers Survey on Diversity' also were announced. These are based on data provided by 95 organizations that employ a total of 545,618 individuals, including 185,372 in Northeast Ohio. Responses from nine additional surveys, to be submitted, will be included in the final survey analysis that will be completed in June 2008.

The results below compare preliminary findings from 2007 against 2006 for the aggregate groups'the responses of the 95 organizations that participated in 2007, compared to the 100 organizations included in the 2006 preliminary analysis. Results also show responses for the year-to-year group, which is composed of the 85 organizations that participated both years. Highlights include:

Board Diversity: Minority representation

* Aggregate: Increased from 17 percent to 18.2 percent
* Year-to-year: Increased from 18.5 percent to 19 percent

Senior Management Diversity: Minority representation

* Aggregate: 10 percent (no change)
* Year-to-year: Decreased from 10.9 percent to 10 percent

Policies and Practices: Organizations with diversity management goals and objectives in business or strategic plan

* Aggregate: Increased from 65 percent to 67 percent
* Year-to-year: Increased from 72 percent to 77 percent

Supplier Diversity: Regional minority spend

* Aggregate: Decreased from $436 million to $181 million
* Year-to-year: Decreased from $250 million to $123 million

Supplier Diversity: Total minority spend

* Aggregate: Increased from $2 billion to $2.4 billion
* Year-to-year: Decreased from $1.9 billion to $1.2 billion

About the Commission

The Commission on Economic Inclusion is a program of the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP). Its mission is "to significantly improve the level of inclusion-the meaningful involvement of minority businesses and individuals-in the economic engines that drive Northeast Ohio." The GCP mobilizes private-sector leadership, expertise and resources to create jobs and wealth and improve the economic vitality of the region. www.commission-inclusion.com.


UFCW fights to prevent members' escape

“Just let us vote.” That’s the sentiment of hundreds of Woodman’s Food Market employees who say that United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 1473 has worn out its welcome as the bargaining unit for the grocer’s 950 workers at stores in Janesville, Beloit and Madison (WI). Earlier this year, more than one-third of the stores’ employees signed a petition to decertify Local 1473.

That petition, plus charges and countercharges of unfair labor practices, is in the hands of the National Labor Relations Board, which will decide whether the petition was valid and a decertification election should be scheduled.

Penny Lundgren, who has worked at Woodman’s in Janesville for more than 29 years, said employees don’t get much in exchange for their union dues. In fact, she said, the union is fighting to keep longtime dues-paying members from signing petitions or voting on decertification.

“Originally, the union was very strong and it served its purpose, but times have changed and Woodman’s has changed,” Lundgren said Thursday.

“We’re not anti-union people. We have a lot of respect for GM workers and their union and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). It’s just that our union is not representing us in the manner we should be served.”


Violator of mini Davis-Bacon Act pays up

A Wrentham (MA) construction firm agreed to pay nearly $110,000 to settle accusations that it failed to pay the prevailing wage and overtime on several public projects in the region. Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office began its probe into Air Safe Contracting Co. to follow up on a complaint from an Air Safe employee who did carpentry work at the Harborview Apartments, a Cohasset Housing Authority property. Coakley’s office said Air Safe submitted payroll records indicating that an employee was paid $38.50 an hour for the carpentry work, but an investigation found that the employee was only paid $19 an hour.

Coakley’s office said wage violations by the company were also found at public projects in Bourne, Brockton, Framingham, Pembroke and Leominster.

Air Safe is owned by Kathryn Earls, 44, of Wrentham. A message left on the company’s answering machine Friday was not returned.

The probe began in February when Coakley’s office received the complaint about payments for work in September and October 2007 at the Harborview Apartments. Investigators reviewed payroll records that Air Safe submitted to the Cohasset Housing Authority that stated the employee had been paid $38.50 an hour. The prevailing wage rate for carpenters was $49.27 an hour at the time.

As part of the settlement, the company agreed to pay more than $81,000 in restitution to nine employees who did not receive the prevailing wage on public projects, and $11,000 to six employees who did not receive proper overtime pay, Coakley’s office said. Air Safe also agreed to pay $17,000 in fines to resolve alleged violations of state wage laws.

Air Safe also agreed not to bid on public projects for a year. The prevailing wage law applies to all public building projects in Massachusetts.


SEIU-UHW praises California Supreme Court

The following statement was issued today by SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West on the California Supreme Court decision to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage: SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) applauds the California Supreme Court's historic decision that declares the ban on same-sex marriage unjust and unconstitutional. The ruling sends a loud and clear message that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated by the state.

This decision strengthens gay and lesbian families throughout California who no longer will be excluded from the legal protections granted through marriage.

We congratulate the courageous couples who brought this case to court and thank San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and City Attorney Dennis Herrera for their tremendous leadership.

"Today's California Supreme Court decision is a historic step forward in the struggle for equal civil rights," said Maya Morris, surgical coordinator at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco. "Any committed relationship, between two adults, should be recognized as valid. This ruling confirms that ALL couples should be granted the privileges and respect that's awarded through legal marriage."

Unfortunately, the opponents of equal rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual couples are already working to overturn this decision through a divisive ballot initiative that may go before California voters in November. But today, our focus is on this significant victory for the gay and lesbian community and for everyone who believes in justice, respect, and equality.

"We will organize against any initiative that attempts to roll back our right to marry. The people of California understand it's only fair for gay and lesbian couples to have the same right to marry and establish a family as anyone else," said Michael Torres, a respiratory therapist at USC University Hospital and Chair of the UHW Lavender Caucus.

The 150,000-member SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West is the largest hospital and fastest growing healthcare union in the western United States and represents every type of healthcare worker, including nurses, professional, technical and service classifications. Our mission is to achieve high-quality healthcare for all.


Teamsters face dues hit in labor-state

Marvel Industries is planning to close its Richmond (IN) plant by Oct. 31, Richmond Mayor Sally Hutton said on Friday. Hutton said she received a letter from the company, which said it would anticipate closing the plant between Oct. 17 and Oct. 31. The company's plant is located at 233 Industries Parkway on Richmond's east side. She also confirmed the first round of layoffs would occur between July 21 and Aug. 4.

A little more than two weeks ago the company told its employees it would close its Richmond plant to consolidate operations in Greenville, Mich., where its parent North American company, Northland Industries, is located.

The move means 130 employees will lose their jobs. Marvel, which produces high-end, under-the-counter refrigerators, moved to Richmond in 1977 from Kentucky.

"It's very sad because Marvel has been with us for many, many years and they have been a good company for our community," Hutton said.

"They decided to move to Michigan and we can't talk them out of it. Now we have to get busy and make sure those workers can find other jobs."

Hutton along with other local and state officials launched an unsuccessful bid to keep Marvel and consolidate its operations in Richmond.

A $2.074 million package loaded with incentives and tax abatements was rejected by Marvel.

Brad Stauffer, senior vice president of operations, said this week the company is still negotiating with the Local Union No. 135 Chauffeurs, Teamsters, Warehousemen and Helpers about the workers and their futures.

He declined further comment but said more details would be available early next week.

New Paris, Ohio, resident, Harold McGough said employees were notified earlier in the week regarding the plant's closing.

McGough, who has worked at Marvel for six years, places insulation units in the back of the refrigerators.

He said that he has not heard anything regarding negotiations between the company and the union.

"Right at first, it was kind of more like a disbelief type of feel. It was more or less like you had the rug pulled out from underneath you," McGough said of the company's announcement.

"I think now it's starting to settle in there and people are starting to realize (the plant) is going to be closing."

McGough said that a few of his co-workers have began searching for new jobs.

He said the factory is slowing production, which is normal for this time year.

"Right now, it's more or less our slump time anyways. It's during this time of year where they have layoffs, so it's kind of slow anyways," he said.

"And if it was a regular year (where the plant was not going to close), it would have been slow anyways."


UAW to present deal to AAM strikers

UAW, American Axle reach deal that may end strike

About 3,600 workers at American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. will find out soon whether a new contract was worth 80 days without a company paycheck. Bargainers for the United Auto Workers reached a tentative agreement with the company on Friday that could end a bitter strike against the auto parts maker that crippled dozens of General Motors Corp. factories in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Renee Rogers, spokeswoman for American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc., confirmed Friday night that both sides had agreed on a deal, but said she could not provide details.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in a statement Friday night that the American Axle bargaining committee voted to recommend the agreement to members.

The union said details of the deal would be presented to members in Detroit on Sunday. Times and locations of meetings for workers at plants in New York and Three Rivers, Mich., were still being arranged, the statement said.

It was unclear when votes would take place or when the workers could return to their jobs. About 3,600 UAW members at five factories have been on strike since Feb. 26 over the company's demand for reduced wages.

"This has been an extremely difficult struggle for our members and their families," UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said in a statement. "By standing strong during this strike, UAW members gave our bargaining committee the strength to face the challenges at the negotiating table."

The work stoppage affected more than 30 GM plants and decreased production by 230,000 vehicles through April. GM also said the strike cost the company $800 million in the first quarter.

Workers on the picket lines in Detroit have been hoping for a settlement since GM's surprise announcement on May 8 that it would throw in $200 million to help end the walkout. The offer was contingent on a quick resolution of the dispute, but the deal didn't come for more than a week as both sides haggled over health care costs and supplemental unemployment benefits.

On May 1, workers said they were told by a union official that both sides were negotiating a settlement that included the closure of American Axle's Detroit and Tonawanda, N.Y., forge operations. At that time, the deal also included wage cuts for production workers to $17 an hour from about $28.

Workers also were told that skilled trades employees such as electricians would see their wages cut to $25.50 an hour from roughly $32.

The company would pay workers $90,000 "buydowns" over three years to ease the transition to lower wages, and it would offer $140,000 over two years for workers to sever all ties with the company, workers said they were told.

GM said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange commission that its money would go for temporary payments to buffer reduced wages for the workers, as well as employee buyout and early retirement packages.

American Axle makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars mainly for large GM sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

GM was fortunate because during the strike, high gasoline prices and a sluggish economy stopped people from buying larger vehicles. The strike helped the company cut down its inventory of pickups and SUVs.

During the American Axle strike, workers at two key General Motors Corp. factories went on strike over local issues, and industry analysts said the strikes were moves by the UAW to draw GM into the dispute with the supplier. Union leaders denied the strikes were connected to American Axle.

As the strike dragged on from winter to spring, workers accused the company of being greedy, making millions while trying to cut their pay in half. The company said it needed a contract with labor costs that are competitive with other U.S. auto parts suppliers.

Several times company officials, including Chairman and CEO Richard Dauch, threatened to move production from the U.S. factories to plants in other countries.

American Axle, formed from parts plants sold by GM in 1994, says its hourly manufacturing labor cost is now $73.48 in wages and benefits, three times the rate at its U.S. competitors. The company said it wanted to cut that by $20 to $30 an hour, which would be similar to what will be paid to some new hires under agreements reached between the UAW and the in-house axle-making operations at Ford and Chrysler.

Local union officials say workers make far less than $73.48 per hour, and that the figure includes retiree health care and other costs that shouldn't be added in.


NFL players union girds for battle

NFL owners could opt out of CBA with union Tuesday

NFL owners might opt out of the existing labor agreement as soon as Tuesday when they hold their next meetings in Atlanta, according to league sources. One management source called it a "high likelihood" that the owners will exercise their option to terminate the agreement, which will trigger a number of alternatives, including a potential work stoppage by 2011. Another source said "be prepared" for the action, although it was "not a 100 percent proposition yet."

An NFL Players Association source said, "We expect it to happen."

A league spokesman said the NFL had no comment.

The decision to exercise the option is not expected to have any significant impact on the next two seasons, 2008 and 2009.

However, by opting out of the agreement that was struck on March 9, 2006, the NFL would play 2010 without a salary cap, unrestricted free agency for players would be increased from four years to six years and the orderly selection of college players in the annual draft would not exist after 2011. These "poison pills" are designed to motivate both the owners and the union to work toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

When the current CBA was agreed upon amid much acrimony between high- and low-revenue clubs, the deal included options for both the owners and players' union to terminate the terms early in either 2008 or 2009. The deadline for opting out this year is Nov. 8 but league sources say many owners want to pull the trigger now.

Three owners contacted by ESPN.com declined to comment, with one joking, "The fine is so high for speaking a word about this that you would have to buy my children's shoes."

The players' association will not be caught off guard by an early opt out.

NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw had his first official meeting with NFL management leaders two weeks ago as a "feeling out" session. Upshaw made it clear to league officials that the union is not about to "give back" what it has gained in collective bargaining.

During the NFLPA's annual meeting in mid-March, much of the union's agenda was spent discussing the options of a looming labor battle. Upshaw warned of the possibility of an owners' lockout in 2011.

The NFL has not had a work stoppage since 1987, when an ill-fated union strike resulted in three regular-season games being played by "replacement players" before the union broke ranks.

Upshaw took over as the NFLPA executive director and decertified the union, which led to an anti-trust lawsuit that the players won in federal court. That ultimately led to the breakthrough 1993 labor agreement which led to unrestricted free agency for players and a salary cap.

Upshaw has told his player ranks that decertification is again a possibility, along with other options, although the union is not inclined to strike because football careers are relatively brief.


Editors cite Iowa Gov.'s courage

For elected public officials, leadership sometimes involves having the political courage to do what you know is right, even though it's at odds with what those around you want.

That's our view of Iowa Gov. Chet Culver's decision to veto a bill that would have expanded collective bargaining rights for public employee unions in the state. The pressure on Culver to sign the bill from within his party and organized labor was intense, we are sure. He deserves credit for resisting what would have been a politically expedient step for him.

What is anything but an insignificant piece of legislation, this bill - the first proposed change to Iowa's collective bargaining law in more than 30 years - was rushed through to passage by Democratic leaders without full, proper public vetting in order to please one of their party's key constituencies.

Its veto wasn't something out of the clear, blue sky. Two months ago, Culver asked the Legislature to slow down in order to allow sufficient time for the public to understand and offer input on the bill. Perhaps confident he would side with his party in the end, Democrats ignored him and proceeded with their ill-advised plans. After the bill's passage, Culver warned he might not sign it.

In announcing his veto decision on Wednesday, Culver called the bill "vaguely written" and "not in the interests of the taxpayers of Iowa." He said it had the potential to create "far-reaching, unintended consequences that could obligate citizens of Iowa for substantial new public expenditures." We share those concerns.

In response to the veto, Linda Nelson, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said Culver "missed a great opportunity to recognize educators as true professionals and full partners in educational decision-making."

Please. We haven't always agreed with his positions on education, but Culver - himself a former teacher - need make no apologies to the ISEA for his efforts on behalf of teachers and schools since he became governor.

Also today, we applaud Culver for his planned line-item veto of a package of pay raises of between 10 and 23.6 percent for top elected officials in the state. Those raises were exorbitant, poorly timed and pushed through in the middle of the final night of the session with no public discussion or debate.

"I believe it's wrong," Culver said, "to say to the people of Iowa that you have to tighten your belts, while elected officials don't."

We do, too.


Denver Post chides Teamsters

Union's stance is fool's gold

Frontier Airlines chief executive Sean Menke recently gave himself a 20 percent pay cut. Now he's making $260,000. Menke had stock options, too, but those are worthless now that his airline is in bankruptcy. At least he's got what the Teamsters call "a golden parachute."

If Frontier cannot reorganize under Chapter 11 and has to shut down, Menke and his management team will receive six to maybe nine months' worth of pay, the Teamsters complain.

For Menke, I'm guessing this could be worth maybe $195,000 — an amount CEOs involved in major airline bankruptcies could spill at the concourse Starbucks.

The Teamsters are enraged.

"Management greed jeopardizing future of airline," the headline on their press release screams.

"Golden parachutes for management are a deal-breaker," said Matthew Fazakas, president of the Teamsters Local 961.

The Teamsters, who represent about 425 of Frontier's 6,000 employees, had agreed to more than $1 million worth of temporary pay cuts, Fazakas said. But they don't want this dough going to their bosses if the airline shuts down.

"If they file for liquidation, the money that we gave is going to be given to management's golden parachutes," Fazakas said. "And we're going to get nothing."

All told, Frontier employees have tentatively agreed to more than $10 million in temporary pay cuts. Frontier is also ending its match to employees' 401(k)s.

Laudably, Frontier's management took pay cuts, too. In a memo, Menke told employees these cuts were needed to secure debtor-in-possession financing.

"The company . . . must show potential investors and the creditor's committee a viable business plan," Menke said.

Evergreen Aviation analyst Mike Boyd said the golden-parachutes spat will only get customers to jump to other airlines.

"The union wanted to take a swing at management. Fine. But they took a swing at their own airline and job security," Boyd said.

The fight also exposes the frightening truth that there isn't much to cut at Frontier. These aren't golden parachutes. They're not even corrugated-tin parachutes.

Additionally, the $10 million Frontier employees reportedly agreed to give up stands against a $75 million demand for more collateral that Frontier's credit-card processor, First Data, made, forcing the airline into bankruptcy in the first place. Meanwhile, oil has soared from $107 to $125 a barrel since last month, piling up another $75 million in annualized costs.

And now there's a line on the tarmac over a few million bucks?

Teamsters want severance plans for everybody or nobody. I get it. That's what they do.

Conversely, managers argue that severance is standard fare. Without it, too many key executives would leave.

The airline has already suffered several defections, including its chief financial officer and general counsel before the bankruptcy.

Fazakas said Frontier's management has walked away from the bargaining table. "We're ready, willing and able to meet, and they have not called," he said.

Maybe they're lined up at the United Airlines counter trying to catch the next flight out of here.


State allows UAW protest to go forward

The United Auto Workers says it has brokered a deal with the state of Connecticut that it will allow members to protest outside this weekend's grand opening of the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. The state Department of Transportation had denied permit applications for protests that would have shut down part of Route 2 in the area of the hotel and casino. The union says the agreement will allow it to protest along Route 2 on Saturday between noon and 11 p.m. and hold a rally Sunday between 9 a.m. and noon.

The union plans to protest a tipping policy that it says will cut dealers' earnings by 20 percent, by creating separate pools for employees at the Foxwoods Resort Casino and the MGM Grand.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods, issued a statement Tuesday saying it is prepared to enforce tribal law, but would not predict how it would handle protesters if they try to come onto tribal land.


Unhappy SEIU Vegas RNs

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