Secret deals divide union organizers, workers

Unions' Secret Deals to Get Foot in Door at Companies Stir Controversy

Sal Rosselli was bargaining with a company that provides food service workers to a small California hospital several years ago when he threatened to picket on their behalf. To his surprise, officials from Compass USA told Rosselli that his union, the Service Employees International Union, had a secret deal that barred him from picketing.

More than ever unions are making secret deals as a way to get their foot in the door at companies because without such deals they would not make much organizing headway. Boosting their membership numbers, they add, is a matter of survival.

But such backdoor deals are causing an uproar within the unions themselves. Some unionists believe that the pacts take away workers' rights to strike, picket or even exercise their freedom of speech and doubt that unions can grow when their hands are tied. "The fundamental dispute is about some leaders making top down, secret deals that affect workers' future," said Rosselli, head of a 150,000-member SEIU local, which is embroiled in a bitter squabble with the leadership of the 1.7-million national union.

That this dispute is taking place within the SEIU has some special irony. The SEIU has acted as organized labor's maverick, criticizing others for falling behind the times while boasting about its ability to sign up members. It led the drive that broke the AFL-CIO into two federations.

Labor experts and veteran union organizers say secret contracts are becoming more common as unions have seen little, if any, gain from strikes or long-term legal battles. The biggest question unions have to ask themselves, they suggest, is what price they are willing to pay for such accommodations.

"You never want to eliminate the chance that the workers could self-organize," said a veteran union organizer, who asked not to be named. A union drive can quickly evaporate if workers do not feel committed, he added.

Yet some unions seem to have benefited from such pacts. Thanks to a neutrality agreement reached with AT&T Inc. a decade ago the Communications Workers of America have added over 40,000 workers, CWA officials said.

Winning a neutrality agreement is a major victory for a union since it mutes any opposition from the company to its organizing.

So, too, Unite Here's hotel workers division has reached neutrality agreements at certain hotels within the Hilton and Starwood chains that have added union members, said Rick Hurd, a labor expert at Cornell University.

While the CWA is public about its neutrality agreement, officials at the hotel workers union declined to comment.

SEIU in recent years has signed confidential agreements with janitorial firms in Houston and with the California Nursing Home Alliance, said union spokesman Andrew McDonald. Usually companies want the deals kept secret, he explained, out of fear that it will "put them in a competitive disadvantage with anti-union firms."

Hurd added that unions also like to keep a lid on such agreements to avoid embarrassment if they don't succeed. Plus, they are concerned that other unions might want to join the bandwagon if they learn that the company has signed on to a neutrality agreement. And they want to avoid lawsuits from right-to-work groups challenging the agreements, he added.

"These agreements are the proven model for how workers gain a voice," McDonald declared. "There is no other model."

In 2005 the SEIU and the 465,000-member Unite Here reached confidential deals with Sodexho Inc., Compass Group USA, and the Aramark Corp., allowing the unions to organize a limited number of food service, housekeeping and laundry workers. The agreement with Aramark collapsed late last year, union officials said.

In the Sodexho and Compass deals, both the unions and companies made sacrifices, according to a union outline of the agreement obtained by the Tribune. The unions agreed to drop any "comprehensive" campaigns or organizing efforts outside their deal and to block any strikes or public actions until the unions and companies dealt with the issues.

The companies won the right to say where the unions could organize, and the unions also agreed to bargain from one job site to another. That meant wages could vary for similar jobs across the same company.

In Chicago, for example, the starting wage for a food service worker at a Sodexho facility at DePaul University is $8.50 an hour. The same worker at a Sodexho facility at Northwestern University earns $7.40 an hour, according to a copy of the contracts obtained by the Tribune. (The median wage for Chicago area food service workers, from the lowest to the highest paying job, is $8.37 an hour, government figures show.)

As their part of the deal the firms agreed to allow a certain number of workers to join the new union through so-called card checks, a process where workers can join a union if a majority signs the cards. The other option is to take part in a secret election.

The agreement called for up to 11,000 workers at Sodexho and more than 12,500 at Compass to become union members. The unions now have about 15,000 members divided evenly among the three companies, though they no longer have a deal with Aramark, union officials said.

Andrew Kramer, a management attorney in Washington, D.C., said such agreements "raise questions about employees' rights." The union is almost assured an election victory if the company vows not to oppose the union and accepts a card check, he said.

What's important about such deals, said Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, is that "thousands of low-wage workers are getting unions and they are winning substantially reduced health-care costs. ... They are winning defined benefit plans in almost 100 percent of the contracts."

But officials at United Healthcare West - the local headed by Rosselli - disagree.

A starting food service worker in Californa under the special agreement with Sodexho gets $8.30 an hour, compared with union members who earn between $12 and $13.50 in contracts with hospital chains, according to UHW officials.

Such deals lock workers "into a second class" and becomes an incentive for a business to outsource work to one of the large service companies that signed the deal with the unions, said John Borsos, a vice president with UHW. But the SEIU's McDonald said were it not for their deal with Sodexho those workers would not have a union.

"The real secret deal that needs to be exposed is the deal that union leaders have made not to organize, and to allow non-union workers for the same employer just to protect a business relationship," he said.

Zeev Kvitky, president of SEIU Local 2007, is one of those with complaints about how Service Workers United, the new organization created for workers at the three companies by the two unions, has helped workers.

About 100 food service workers at Santa Clara and Stanford Universities were moved two years ago from an SEIU local to the new Service Workers United, Kvitky said. They were not given the chance to vote on the move, and later didn't know whom to go to for help, he said.

They were told to call an 800 number that would connect them to an official at the new organization's offices back east, he said. "But they didn't get any calls returned," he said, adding that he decided to begin helping them. SEIU officials said that the workers should have been able to rely on one of the locals.

Kvitky disagrees. "I don't like saying it, but they weren't represented."

That's not a problem for Sodexho's food service workers at Northwestern University's Evanston campus, said Rafael Marquez, a shop steward with the Service Workers United local and a cook. The union's telephone number is an option if the workers can't reach him or another union official, he said.

As for his own livelihood, the union contract with Sodexho brought seniority to the job, and has allowed him to move from an $8.50 an hour job to an $11.40 an hour position, the highest paying job for the workers.

"Before the union came, it never seemed possible to sit down with the bigwigs," Marquez said. "And if we talked to managers, they pretty much told us 'we'll see.' "


AFSCME embroiled in campaign finance probe

For the first time in Torrance (CA) history, misdemeanor charges alleging campaign finance violations have been brought against three people involved in a city election. One is Kenny Evans, a city clerk candidate in 2006 and a municipal water technician represented by AFSCME - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The two others were officers with his campaign as well as a committee that sought to recall then-Councilman Frank Scotto.

The treasurer and co-treasurer of both committees were David Gould and Michelle Moore Sanders. Gould was chief consultant of Los Angeles political consulting firm the David L. Gould Co., while Moore Sanders was an employee there.

The City Prosecutor's Office alleges the pair transferred about $1,900 from a group called Homeowners to Recall Frank Scotto to Kenny Evans' campaign committee.

That's a violation of the Municipal Code, which has a $1,000 cap on campaign contributions from a person or group.

None of the three have yet been arraigned on the charges.

Fred Woocher, the attorney representing the trio, said arraignment was postponed until he can have a "hopefully intelligent discussion about the nature of the charges and how they might be disposed."

Woocher implied the charges had political overtones involving an "inadvertent transfer of funds" and were "absurd."

"It applied to a transfer of funds from a defunct committee to another committee after the election had occurred," he said. "The transaction was immediately rescinded after it was pointed out to them.

"It's quite curious that the parties involved who had apparently pushed for the prosecution is the city clerk, whose (former) opponent is one of the people who is charged, and the mayor, whose opposition recall committee was one of the other entities charged."

City Clerk Sue Herbers, Evans' opponent, could not confirm Woocher's version of the transactions between the committees, but denied that from her perspective the charges were politically motivated.

"I have absolutely nothing to do with it," she said.

Scotto, who has made campaign finance reform a centerpiece of his first term in office, said the criminal charges were appropriate.

"It's sad, but we have ordinances in place about election abuses," he said. "We would obviously be foolish not to pursue those violations. Sadly for Mr. Evans, he will be the first person taken to task on this. There are rules and if you break them you need to pay the penalty."

Violation of a misdemeanor in Torrance is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Evans declined to comment.

It's not the first time city officials have been accused of retaliating against an AFSCME-affiliated city worker. The city has long had a rocky relationship with that union.

Late last year, an administrative law judge ruled city officials "retaliated" against the president of the AFSCME local representing hundreds of city workers in a dispute over how much work time she was allowed to devote to union activities.

Gould has been fined by the state before for campaign finance irregularities.

In 2002, he was fined $8,000 for violations of the state's Political Reform Act, including failing to disclose and itemize more than $130,000 in expenses and $41.3 million in payments to vendors.


Gov't-unions living it up in Florida

Hey, unions: What part of 'budget cut' don't you understand?

There are two levels of whining: legitimate and just plain dumb. The former is worthwhile, based on facts, supported by evidence. The latter is emotion-based, irrational, irritating - the kind that could make my head explode.

Let's take the guy driving a hybrid, moped or a 35 miles-per-gallon subcompact who chafes at paying $4 a gallon for regular gas while motorists in Saudi Arabia are paying 64 cents a gallon and investing the leftover in more profit-pumping oil wells.

That would qualify as reasonable whining.

But then let's take the fellow I saw Friday driving a Taj Mahal-model RV, all sleek and shiny and pulling an SUV behind it as the get-around car.

If that guy complains about $4 gas, my head would explode on the spot.

Government raises raise my hackles

Another head-busting trend right now features local government employees who whine about their raises, or lack thereof, at a time when many around them are being laid off or given involuntary buyouts.

The Stuart police union, for one, has been asking the city to give its employees their regular annual raises, based on a percentage of their salaries, on top of a cost-of-living adjustment.

I certainly can't blame them for trying, given the raises that governments on the Treasure Coast have been handing out in recent years in the face of dwindling revenue and tightened tax rates.

But Stuart city commissioners got tough, if you can call it that. They voted to impose a contract that will provide only 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustments, plus bonuses of $750 to $1,500, to officers who receive satisfactory or outstanding annual reviews.

Even employees with unsatisfactory reviews were awarded the 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

I'm sorry, but a raise is a raise, even it's just to keep up with the cost of living. Only government would consider it necessary to reward those who perform unsatisfactorily.

I can feel the pressure building between my ears.

Gravy train has derailed

And then there's the Martin County Teamsters union, which represents about 300 employees and believes they each deserve an 8.5 percent raise.

The logic? That's what other employees have been getting in recent years.

But have you looked around lately? Sure, county firefighters managed to get 10 percent raises locked in last year for a three-year run, but that was because Martin County commissioners suffered an all-too-common bout of temporary insanity. Can't you see that the governmental gravy train is no longer merrily chugging down the track?

Apparently not.

Word is spreading that the Teamsters are going to show up at the county commission meeting Tuesday and protest the county's reluctance to put up that much dough, at the same time it's trying to find $26 million to cut from next year's budget.

Anyone got any aspirin?

Jobless rates have hit a four-year high. Businesses are suffering, as are residents footing ridiculous utility, food and transportation bills, not to mention insane insurance premiums. Foreclosures are hitting the roof; St. Lucie had the ninth-highest foreclosure rate in the country last month.

No one is being spared the impacts.

And here are government workers demanding 8.5 percent raises or getting 2.5 percent salary bumps for doing a poor job.

Do me a favor and stop your whining.

Please give my pounding head a break, before it's too late.


Ugly identity politics spawned by labor studies

Political polls and the pundits who preach them say working-class whites are uncomfortable with Democrat Barack Obama. That means “beer Democrats” as opposed to “wine Democrats,” correct? It means the young woman at the QuikTrip counter, maybe? Or that voting bloc formerly known as “NASCAR dads,” who don’t see eye to eye with soccer moms and wouldn’t so much as pass a cup of latte to the liberal elite.

The simpler answer: Working-class whites encompass about half of the electorate.

That’s how the numbers break down under one widely-used definition — white people of voting age who haven’t completed college (thus including billionaire Bill Gates).

Not all experts see a college degree as the defining factor. But by any measure, working-class whites are likely to tip the balance in any election.

In an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll taken in April, 53 percent of white voters without a college degree voiced “unfavorable” views of Obama, who has all but secured his party’s nod for the presidential nomination.

That was up 12 percentage points from six months earlier, but it’s not much worse than how those voters viewed his rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Among all white college-grad voters, Obama trails the GOP’s John McCain by eight percentage points, the survey showed. Among “working-class whites,” Obama lags by a 22-point margin.

But trying to draw any class conclusions from surveys and exit polls, experts say, goes back to the spongy definition of “working-class whites.”

The Obama camp shrugs off suggestions that the Illinois senator will have trouble appealing to working-class whites because he is African-American or because of links to his fiery ex-pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Indeed, white Americans with no more than a high school diploma have drifted to Republican presidential contenders since 1980.

Robust turnout in this year’s Democratic primaries suggests millions might return to the party fold and support Obama, his strategists argue.

In Pennsylvania primary exit polls, however, one in five voters who hadn’t completed college called race was an important factor in picking a candidate — about double white college grads.

Eight in 10 of those working-class whites voted for Clinton over Obama. Only about half said they’d go for Obama over McCain in a general election.

Leon Panetta, who served as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, told The Washington Times: “If that continues, there is no way the Democrats can win in November.”

Who are those guys?

“There’s a big debate about what’s happening with the white working class, including how to define them,” says Karlyn Bowman, who studies polls for the American Enterprise Institute. Aspects of the debate:

• Do older Democrats who belong to the white working class — grayer than white college graduates as a whole — blanch at Obama’s skin color or at his age, 46? Do women favor Clinton because she’s white or because she’s a she?

• And what of the many Latinos who qualify as working-class whites?

If Obama has yet to win over that amorphous crowd, “it’s because he hasn’t discussed specifically enough the economic issues that directly affect them, and in which they tend to be very knowledgeable,” said Judy Ancel, at the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

• Though labor groups consider the term to apply to voters struggling to hang on to manufacturing jobs, Ancel suspects a portion of the public, and perhaps the media, view working-class whites as “a euphemism for redneck.”

• Michael Zweig, author of TheWorking Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret, argues the demographic is much broader, encapsulating the “fears and concerns of white workers” regardless of their level of education:

“Basically, we’re talking about people who don’t have much power where they work … home health-care workers, security guards, police officers, white-collar bank tellers … the many working people in this country who are hurting.

“These issues of class are coming more to the fore,” displacing some issues of race, Zweig says.

“Are there racists in the white working class? Sure.” But a lot of African-Americans are working class and feel the same economic pressures, “and a lot of whites in the upper echelon are racist.”

• Working-class whites in the last presidential contest were steadfastly Republican.

Among non-college-educated white voters with $30,000 to $50,000 in household income in 2004, Democrat John Kerry lost to President Bush by 24 points. Among non-college-educated white voters earning $50,000 to $75,000, the gap was even wider — 41 points, a Brookings Institution report found.

All sides agree that working-class whites are a shrinking demographic, as the pool of college graduates — especially among white people — swells.

And all issues of race aside, pollsters and pundits might wish to fix their gaze on another group, says Bowman of the conservative American Enterprise Institute:

“They don’t go by a sexy name, but the most important group is some college education” regardless of race.

They’re a third of the electorate, she says, and in picking winners, “they have a perfect voting record in every presidential election since 1968.”

Clinton - Obama
All Democratic voters 45% - 47%
White Democrats 54% - 38%
Black Democrats 11% - 80%
Whites with some college 44% - 49%
Whites without college 65% - 25%


Project Labor Agreements denounced

The Long Beach City Council last week asked City Manager Pat West to provide an update on the proposed Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the Los Angeles and Orange County Building Trades Council. The Chamber strongly opposes the negotiations and the creation of any PLA.

The proposed PLA would harm small businesses and minority-owned businesses. Such an agreement would require city management to accept bids that require that all employees on the construction project be represented by a union. A contractor in Long Beach who does not bargain with unions and wishes to be awarded a construction project under a PLA must jump through a number of union hoops to comply.

The contractor is often then forced to reduce their workforce to a handful of employees, hire new workers from the union, pay representation dues for all non-unionized employees, pay into union health and retirement funds, and agree to obey union work rules. Private contractors take a gamble when bidding under a PLA because, if granted the project, they must work with unfamiliar employees and adopt different labor practices from those which have made them successful in the past.

Such rules would vastly increase the cost of public construction in Long Beach. Most new city construction would cost 20 percent more than current practices. At a time when the city can't afford to pay for its public safety requirements, it is an extremely poor time to add to such costs.

PLAs are bad for job creation. PLAs involve public or private entities contracting with a union to provide exclusive construction labor on one or more projects. PLAs would disrupt Long Beach non-union contractors' competitive business practices and restrict their ability to hire the skilled workers that they have enjoyed a past employment history with unless these workers choose to become signatory to a union.

PLAs reduce the number of bidders and dramatically increase the cost of a project and by implementing a PLA the City Council will eliminate the right of local residents and businesses from working in their own city.

The Beacon Hill Institute (BHI) at Suffolk University in Boston recently completed an extensive statistical analysis of the effects of PLAs on bid and final costs of school construction projects in Connecticut for the period from 1996 through 2003. The study found that PLAs raise the cost of building schools by 18 percent. BHI concluded, "Our key finding is that PLA projects cost more than non-PLA projects, holding the effects of project size and type constant."

Finally, PLAs will not attract local workers. Union seniority rules require that the union halls send people by order of seniority.

Project Labor Agreements are a bad idea. The city must carefully consider the cost increases of projects, the likelihood of labor disruptions, the number of trades and crafts involved in the project, the size and complexity of the project, and the urgency of completion. After examining these considerations, we believe it is impossible for the City Council to come up with other written findings that clearly demonstrate how a PLA will benefit the project and the interests of the public and the city with regard to cost, efficiency, quality, safety, and timeliness.

- Matt Kinley is chairman of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.


Casino War: UAW crashes MGM opening party

Union Stages MGM Casino Protest

The United Auto Workers gathered near the new MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Ledyard on Saturday to kick off the first of two days of protests against what the union calls an unfair tipping policy and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's refusal to bargain.

Union members were doing a "visibility" protest, trying to make sure casino customers and others are aware of what they say are unfair labor practices. "We're trying to let them know what's going on," protest organizer Peggy Shorey said. The object, she said, was to obtain recognition for the union and the issues its members are facing with MGM Grand.

Shorey said many dealers were joining the demonstration before and after their shifts.

A new policy that went into effect Saturday restructures the way tips are distributed among dealers, which the union says will decrease their earnings.

Shorey said the tipping policy is just one example of the casino refusing to bargain with the union, and another reason the dealers want to have union contracts.

The union won an election last fall to represent table game dealers at Foxwoods. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns the casino, has challenged the union election several times, saying federal labor law doesn't apply to a casino on tribal land.

A spokesman for the tribe criticized Saturday's protest.

"What you're looking at is a lack of respect for tribal law and a publicity stunt," said Bruce MacDonald, the spokesman.

He said the dealers could have bargained under the federal Tribal Labor Relations Act, which has its own standards of fair labor practices, instead of joining the UAW. The dealers could be bargaining now instead of protesting, MacDonald said.

The union will begin today's protest with a morning rally from 9:30 to 10:30, and is expecting Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state legislators, union leaders, game dealers and other union members to attend.


Knoxville brand gets run into the ground

Put through the mill

Day or night, the White Lily flour mill on Depot Street never closed. One shift would follow another as the mill worked to keep up with heavy demand for its products, remembers Mike Cruze, who spent 32 years at the plant, 15 of them monitoring the milling operation from a control room. "The bottom line is, those machines were not to stop for any reason, except lack of product or for maintenance," Cruze said.

But by June 30, the 125-year-old mill will shut down for good and its 72 employees will be out of work.

In March, parent company C.H. Guenther & Son Inc. announced the closure of White Lily Food Co., with 39 employees to be laid off May 1 and the rest on June 30. The reason given in a press release was that the company had lost a "co-packing agreement" with J.M. Smucker Co., which bought the White Lily name in 2006.

C.H. Guenther President and CEO Dale W. Tremblay said in the release that Smucker had notified him that it was ending its supply agreement with his company and would be moving production of White Lily products into one of its own plants.

So, it is possible that Southern baking name brands White Lily flour, Three Rivers cornmeal and other products will remain on grocery shelves, but they won't be produced in downtown Knoxville. Steve Phillips, spokesman with C.H. Guenther & Son Inc., did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

With the closing of the White Lily mill, Knoxville will lose another economic icon. White Lily joins the ranks of name brands and large employers like Standard Knitting Mills, Swan Baking Co., Lay Packing, Levi Strauss & Co. and others that either no longer exist or have moved out of Knoxville.

What eventually would become White Lily got its start when J. Allen Smith came to Knoxville from Elberton, Ga., in 1878 and opened a grain business - J. Allen Smith & Co. - near McGhee Avenue downtown in 1882. Soon, it was producing 100 barrels of flour and 200 bushels of cornmeal a day, and by 1884, Smith had moved it to its present location on Depot Avenue at Central Street.

Over the years, the company built a reputation throughout the South for producing flour that was second to none. In a 1979 article in the Milling and Baking News trade publication, then-White Lily President Ted Pedas described how the company milled flour to an "extra fine" degree, trapping air in the mix to give it a light, fluffy quality. Besides flour and cornmeal, White Lily produces pancake, biscuit and muffin mixes.

But another key was the right wheat, said J. Charles Smiddy, former vice president of sales for White Lily.

"What made White Lily flour so exceptional is that it was 100 percent soft wheat, which lends itself better to making cakes, pies and such as that than hard wheat," he said.

Smiddy, who joined the company in 1952 as a route salesman and retired in 1996, said he got to watch it grow to reach its heyday.

"I would say 1980 to 1995 was the growth era. That's when it really spread out," he said.

He served the company under several owners. In 1968, J. Allen Smith & Co. was bought by Great Western United Corp. Then in 1972, the Dixie-Portland Flour mills acquired the business. Under Dixie-Portland, the mill went through a major modernization program in 1975.

As a frenzy of corporate mergers took hold in the 1980s, White Lily went through about five owners in six years. San-Antonio-based Guenther became owner in 1995.

During the 1980s, White Lily was competing within a market that was shrinking as families spent less time baking, but it was a dominant player in that market.

"When I left, we had a 67 percent share of the market in Atlanta, and Atlanta is the major market in the Southeast," Smiddy said.

In 1988, the company held 68.5 percent of the retail market in Knoxville and nationally was the fourth-largest-selling brand of flour.

"It was one of the finest products that you could buy anywhere in the food business," Smiddy said.

Besides top-notch products, Smiddy believes the integrity of the original owners and the dedication of those who worked there made White Lily so successful. There was always resistance to any suggestion of cheapening the product, and with most of the mill's owners, that was never an issue, Smiddy said.

"Usually, when they saw how well we were doing, they just left us alone," he said.

The company went through turbulent labor-management relations in recent years. On July 24, 2003, White Lily locked out 68 employees after labor negotiations broke down. During 14 weeks of the standoff, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the company. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in the company's favor, but not before the company had a union representative arrested for criminal trespassing, claiming he was harassing a security guard.

When a contract was finally signed and workers returned in November 2003, they learned that 15 workers were being laid off because two product lines were being discontinued.

Tailor-made success

The closing of White Lily Foods means the loss of another established downtown business, yet even within a block or so of White Lily, companies like John H. Daniel clothing company, Regas restaurant and Lay's Market are either thriving or transforming to meet a new business climate.

John H. Daniel, at 120 W. Jackson Ave., has been a Knoxville-based maker of men's suits since 1928. According to the company Web site, John H. Daniel employs more than 200 master tailors from 17 nations and tailors clothing for more than 600 private labels throughout the United States, England and Europe.

The company has gained international recognition for making suits for Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly. which he wears on his "The O'Reilly Factor" program. John H. Daniel gets a wardrobe credit at the end of each program.

"This has been huge for us," said Benton Bryan, John H. Daniel CEO. "We get calls from all over, e-mails; it's been very positive," he said.

The company has picked up other high-profile clients as well, including Vice President Dick Cheney and retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded coalition forces during the 1991 Gulf War.

"You would be surprised at the celebrities we make suits for," Bryan said. "We have a coat in the works now for Tiger Woods."

In fact, the company makes the traditional green jackets given out each year to winners of the Masters Tournament, the most prestigious and high-profile Professional Golf Association tournament. It also tailors the uniforms that new captains receive when they take command of U.S. Navy Aegis missile cruisers.

The company got some national recognition for its business model through a Wall Street Journal story. The April 15, 2005, article by Michael M. Phillips described how in an era in which U.S. garment companies are either closing or moving operations overseas because of low-wage competition, the John H. Daniel Co. has found success by reversing that strategy. Rather than relocate production, the company has searched abroad for master tailors and relocated them and their families to Knoxville.

"Everything is done right here, on site," Bryan said.

Ironically, another factor that has contributed to the success of John H. Daniel lately has been the worsening economy, Bryan said.

"As the economy tightens up, men tend to reach for a suit," he said. "Men look for any advantage they can get, and a suit has traditionally always been one."

Still cutting it

In 2000, the family that had operated Lay Packing Co., known for its Three Little Pigs trademark of meats, sold the plant it had operated on Jackson Avenue for 80 years to Hamilton Fairfield Inc. of Portland, Maine. Hamilton Fairfield later filed for bankruptcy and closed the plant in 2002, putting 95 employees out of work.

That didn't spell the end of the family business, however. The Lay family held on to the adjacent Lay's Market, the original family business opened in 1907.

"We are now in our 101st year of operation," said Lay's Market President Edwin Lay Jr., whose great-grandfather, T.L. Lay, founded the company.

Lay's Market, at 622 E. Jackson Ave., sells beef, pork, cheese and a full line of food service items including canned and frozen vegetables to both wholesale and retail customers.

"If you want a special cut, you can call ahead and we'll have it ready for you, or you can just show up and order a cut," Lay said.

Lay's not only sells U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected meat, it has a U.S.D.A. office on site, Lay said.

The company seems to have a modest but stable customer base, with a lot of customer loyalty, he noted.

"We did a survey of our customers, and I recall the average length of loyalty was about 15 years. We have multi-generations of people coming to shop," he said.

The company's business is about 75 percent wholesale and 25 percent retail, but Lay has noticed the retail end growing.

"It may indicate more people willing to shop downtown," he said.

JFG Coffee Co. maintained a roasting facility on Jackson Avenue from 1945 until 2005. Reily Foods Co. of New Orleans, parent company of JFG since 1965, temporarily moved its headquarters to Knoxville after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It has since moved back to New Orleans but in the meantime built a $12 million roasting facility off Sutherland Avenue and moved the JFG operation there.

However, the six-story former JFG building at 129 W. Jackson will not be sitting idle, at least not for long, according to David Dewhirst, a downtown developer and new owner of the building. He plans a $7.5 million renovation project that would result in office/retail space on the ground floor and about 54 apartment units.

Dewhirst has already received some help from city and county governments in the form of tax increment financing to help offset the cost. In December 2006, the Metropolitan Planning Commission approved historic overlay zoning for the site. The building dates to 1889 and housed about 10 different companies before JFG acquired it.

A magical place

It's too early to say what will happen to the White Lily facility after it is closed or what will become of the workers, but Cruze guesses many of them will retire. Turnover was never high at White Lily, he said.

"As the place modernized, they didn't need to hire as many people, so you've got guys who have been there 30 and 40 years. Some joined right out of high school," he said.

A lot of the work at the mill is just hard physical labor, but Cruze said he was fortunate to have one of the jobs that was more mental than physical. He sat in a control room overlooking the other floors and used computers to control the self-rising flour operation.

"From there, every conveyor in the packing department was operated by computer by me," he said. "I had four monitor screens plus six or seven other screens going to different areas of the plant so I could see if I needed to check on something or go change something. It really keeps you on your toes," he said.

Quality control was a paramount concern at White Lily, so even though Cruze had equipment to monitor the quality of each product batch, that wasn't enough.

"You would have to go take samples to make sure the blends were correct. We would mix corn with cornmeal and it's all done by machine, but you would have to go and physically get a sample and send that to the lab to make sure the integrity (of the mix) remained," he said.

Cruze would place the sample in a metal chute that carried it to the lab White Lily maintained on site.

"Sometimes, you would have to get a sample by hand every five minutes, and there goes your lunch break," he said.

Cruze started with some of the more menial jobs at White Lily and in his three decades there watched the plant change.

"When I hired in with White Lily, everything was belt-driven," he said. "Motors drove big leather belts that turned pulleys. They had gotten away from steam and were converting to gas and about 20 years ago, or 25, they started modernizing and moving everything through the mill with blowers through pipes," he said.

He also watched the workers change. They were a rough, independent bunch when everyone was young, but they have mellowed into a more close-knit group, especially in recent years when they have had to deal with labor battles, layoffs and now face the closing of the mill, Cruze said.

"These were some of the hardest men I have ever seen in my life, but I've seen these hardened guys walk around with tears in their eyes," he said.

Cruze has mixed feelings about his years with White Lily Foods Co. He described himself as sort of an on-again, off-again employee. He has his own business, Cruze Naturescape Landscape Consulting, and when White Lily needed to trim staff, he volunteered to be laid off so men who needed to support families could keep working. While not retired, Cruze currently is not working at White Lily.

The work could be demanding, requiring constant attention to the processes and sometimes 80-hour weeks. The atmosphere at work, especially during the labor disputes, could be harsh. Cruze believes that closing the Knoxville operation and moving production to another plant is at least in part an attempt by the company to get away from using union workers.

"Efficiency-wise, they took down one of the best models in the business. I don't know why they did that," he said.

On the other hand, Cruze said company management was very accommodating when he launched his landscaping business 15 years ago.

"The management actually respected what I was doing. Normally, a company doesn't look too favorably on an employee doing outside work," he said.

Even the period in which workers were locked out of the plant gave him a chance to take classes in landscaping. And White Lily provided him with years of steady work and good pay, Cruze said.

"That's how I put my kids through college and bought a home and all," he said.

Just as some downtown businesses have had to evolve, Cruze said he plans to commit fully now to the business he built from the vision that grew in his mind during the years he stared at monitors up in a glass box among pipes and conveyors inside a windowless building.

"Even when I worked at White Lily, I've always been a gardener at heart. I always had a vision of building a rooftop garden at that place," he said. "I would go up on the roof at night and look down on Knoxville. It was just a magical place."


6,000 SEIU janitors authorize Bay Area strike

Janitors in Silicon Valley voted Saturday to allow a strike, while their colleagues in Los Angeles and Orange counties ratified a new contract that will provide a pay raise and better health care for about 6,700 workers. In the Bay Area, the SEIU union prepared for a walkout - possibly within days - by 6,000 janitors in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

About 1,000 members met Saturday and were virtually unanimous in voting to authorize a strike, union President Mike Garcia said.

"We're making our strike signs," Garcia said. "It's going to hit next week."

The strike authorization vote had been expected since cleaning contractors submitted a final offer Friday that Garcia said fell "way short" of the deal offered to janitors in other parts of the state.

In Southern California, an "overwhelming majority" of about 1,000 voters approved a tentative contract for members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1877, organizer Raphael Lieb said.

Garcia said the single contract is a step toward closing a "wage gap" between Los Angeles County janitors and their lower-paid Orange County colleagues.

The deal with cleaning contractors and building owners was tentatively approved by union leaders May 12. It would boost wages nearly $1,000 a year over the life of the contract. Lieb also said the contract will, for the first time, provide janitors with coverage for vision care.

A call to Jim Beard, chief negotiator for the cleaning contractors, was not immediately returned.


UAW's ugly bargain for American Axle strikers

Related American Axle stories: here.
More UAW stories: here.

American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings boosted its wage offer and increased the payments it will give workers to take a wage cut as part of a tentative agreement that could settle an 11-week strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, a person briefed on the deal said Saturday.

American Axle had been offering a pay cut from $28 to $17 an hour for production workers, with a $90,000 wage "buy down" over three years to help workers make the transition to lower pay.

The deal could end a strike that has dragged on since Feb. 26, disrupting production at about 30 General Motors assembly plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and causing thousands of layoffs at other parts-supply companies.

The person, who asked not to be identified, said the agreement reached Friday includes pay of $18.50 an hour and increases the size of the buy down.

Noncore workers, those who aren't involved in manufacturing, would be paid $14.55 an hour, the person said, while skilled-trades workers would get $26 an hour.

American Axle confirmed both sides had agreed on a deal, but details weren't released. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said the American Axle bargaining committee voted to recommend the agreement to members, who would get details starting today.

The agreement, which must be voted on by about 3,600 workers at five plants in New York and Michigan, includes the closure of American Axle's Detroit and Tonawanda, N.Y., forge operations.

UAW workers are feeling the pinch of living on strike pay of $200 a week, nonproduction worker Leo McGucki said.

It took an offer of a $200 million infusion from GM this month to increase the offer to help reach the agreement.

UAW Local 235 President Adrian King said the deal was the best the union could do amid company threats to move work to other countries.

"We did all we could to keep the work here," King said Saturday. "It's not a pretty agreement," he said, adding that it has no guarantees against layoffs if the economy continues to worsen.

He also said he was grateful for help from the UAW's GM department.

Two GM factories that make the company's hottest-selling products went on strike during the American Axle walkout, and industry analysts said the strikes were an effort to draw GM into the American Axle dispute. Union officials denied the strikes were related, and said they were over local contract disputes at the factories in Delta Township near Lansing and Kansas City, Kan.

Detroit-based American Axle makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars mainly for large GM sport-utility vehicles and pickups.

GM accounts for 80 percent of business at American Axle, which was formed from parts plants sold by GM in 1994.


UFCW v. Agriprocessors business-as-usual

Related Agriprocessors stories: here.

The Jewish community seems to be taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Agriprocessors, the world’s largest producer of kosher meat, whose plant in Postville, Iowa, was raided by federal agents on Monday.

Authorities charged that the factory employed hundreds of illegal workers and cited claims that illegal narcotics production took place at the plant. Agents arrested 390 workers Monday in what Immigration and Customs Enforcement called the largest raid of its kind in U.S. history.

The plant reopened on Tuesday and its management expects operations to continue, but the large blow to its workforce could result in a slowdown of production, which could cause shortages and/or drive up prices. According to the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which oversees the supervision of the majority of the county’s kosher restaurants, all of the meat restaurants under its watch use products from Agriprocessors.

Local restaurateurs did not seem worried, though.

Noam Sokolow, owner of Noah’s Ark deli in Teaneck and New York, said that his restaurant relies on Agriprocessors for 10 percent to 20 percent of its meat. The rest comes from a combination of eight different vendors, including Alle Processing, 999, and Westside Foods.

If buying Agriprocessors meat would become problematic, he said, there would be little difficulty in making up the deficit.

"We’ll find a different supplier," he said. "While we’re not very happy to hear what’s going on over there, we know the company and we know the people in the company and we wish them well."

No decision would be made to phase out Agriprocessors based on the company’s legal troubles until there is a clearer picture of what transpired and why, Sokolow said.

"We’ll wait to hear what really happened," he said.

Similarly, Jonathan Speiser, owner of the Dougies Bar-B-Que franchise in Teaneck, said his restaurant relies on Agriprocessors for only 10 percent of its meat.

Any fluctuations in supply would have "no effect on us whatsoever," he said.

"There are many sources out there for meat. I’m not concerned," said Elie Katz, co-owner of Chopstix, which has locations in Teaneck and West Orange. The Chinese take-out orders specific ingredients on occasion, but not enough to make a difference if it has to switch, he said.

Chickies Chicken & French Fry Bar in Teaneck is an exception among RCBC restaurants as it uses no Agriprocessors products in its kitchen. Co-owner Nir Hason said the restaurant used Agriprocessors chicken during its first week in business last year but switched to other companies because of high costs and issues with freshness.

Menachem Lubinsky, founder and president of Lubicom Marketing, a leading analyst of the kosher industry and creator of the annual Kosherfest in Manhattan, said that it is unlikely that Monday’s raid will have a major effect on the supply of kosher meat. Agriprocessors has enough inventory and other plants that could step up production if necessary.

As of Wednesday, Lubinsky said that production at the plant had already increased from when it reopened on Tuesday, and he expected it to be up to full capacity again soon.

As for whether the charges would affect the cost of kosher meat, he said a price increase was already on the way for the entire meat industry.

Also, he said, the average kosher consumer is unlikely to change his or her purchasing habits.

"Some people are pretty disgusted by the whole thing," he said. "Many people are taking the approach [that Agriprocessors has] become a convenient punching bag for many."

For a number of kosher consumers, Lubinsky said, Agriprocessors represents the only choice for kosher meat because other brands are not carried in certain parts of the country.

Other kosher companies will not be able to capitalize on Agriprocessors’ woes by marketing their products as safer or more ethical. The market still feels that Agriprocessors produces a quality product, he said.

"The main issue if I want to buy a kosher product is not ‘Am I buying an ethical product,’" he said. "In real terms it’s not how consumers behave. They [buy] on price and quality. They don’t care if the owner of a company does this or that. As long as it’s safe and good, they’ll buy."

Rabbi Menachem Genack, the head of the Orthodox Union’s kosher supervision department — the largest kosher certification organization in the Agriprocessors’ plants — said that other companies had assured him that they could make up for any shortfall from the Postville plant.

Genack, religious leader of Shomrei Emunah in Englewood, reiterated the O.U.’s policy of leaving matters of immigration and labor standards to the government.

"No one else has the resources to do what the federal government can do," he said.

If Agriprocessors turns out to be criminally liable, Genack said, that could be grounds for withdrawing its kosher certification.

The raid was the result of a six-month investigation by more than a dozen federal agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the departments of labor and agriculture.

According to an affidavit filed as part of a 60-page application for a search warrant, a former plant supervisor — identified only as Source #1 — told investigators that some 80 percent of the workforce was illegal.

Source #1 also claimed to have discovered active production of the drug methamphetamine at the plant and reported incidents of weapons being carried there.

Agriprocessors employees told investigators that sometimes they were required to work nighttime shifts of 12 hours or more.

According to the affidavit, 697 Agriprocessors employees are believed to have violated federal laws.

Genack said he was told by the plant’s supervising rabbi that two foreign rabbis working at the plant had failed to renew their work permits when they expired a few weeks ago. He described the issue as a "technical" violation and insisted the two rabbis had not been detained.

According to the affidavit, the government has probable cause to believe that an Agriprocessors supervisor assisted workers in acquiring fake documents in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.

Federal investigators provided documentation for a former Agriprocessors employee, identified in the affidavit as Source #7, for the purpose of gaining employment at the plant. Once hired, the source reported on rabbis who allegedly insulted the workers and threw meat at them.

In one alleged instance, a "chasidic Jew" [sic] duct-taped a worker’s eyes and then hit him with a meat hook, "apparently not causing serious injuries."

Agriprocessors said in a statement on Tuesday that the company’s sympathies were with the families of those arrested and it would investigate the circumstances that led to the raid.

"We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families whose lives were disrupted and wish them the best." Agriprocessors "takes the immigration laws seriously," the statement said. The company would "continue to cooperate with the government in its investigation" and "inquire further into the circumstances" that led to the raid.

Agriprocessors has long been a target among animal and workers rights groups. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has released several reports on the plant, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the largest union in the country representing food industry employees, has created a campaign to force Agriprocessors to unionize its plants.

The union set up the Website eyeonagriprocessors.com and frequently issues reports on health and safety violations in the plant. After Monday’s incident, UFCW spokesman Scott Frotman said the union would continue its efforts and he hopes the company will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

"It’s just another example of the Rubashkins’ flagrant violation of the law," said Frotman. "It’s unconscionable that the Rubashkins would exploit children for their own personal profit. Meat-packing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world and to have children working in the plant is just reprehensible."

In an interview with the Standard in March, Agriprocessors vice president Sholom Rubashkin dismissed the UFCW’s charges and accused the union of carrying out a vendetta against the company because it refused to unionize.

"The workers are quite happy and have not signed any papers to unionize. That’s the whole point," he said.

A letter from Rubashkin on the company’s Website reads: "Agriprocessors, Inc. is a viable company that is committed to maintaining the quality of its product both in full compliance with existing rules and regulations of the USDA and in full compliance with the rules of kashruth. Over the past couple of years the employees of Agriprocessors, Inc. in Iowa have resisted attempts by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) to become their collective bargaining agent."

"I’ve noticed a tendency to blame the workers," said Rosalind Spigel, interim director of the Jewish Labor Committee in Washington. "An undocumented worker is an undocumented worker and undocumented workers need to be brought into compliance with the law. Over the years there have been several opportunities for Agriprocessors to correct" the situation.

The JLC has been a critic of Agriprocessors for many years and helped the Conservative movement create its heksher tzedek, an additional seal to certify that workers and animals involved in the kosher food production were treated ethically.


UFCW organizers put on hold by ICE raid

This time, when authorities raided a meatpacking plant, they found mostly Guatemalans working the production lines. If they'd gone into a packing plant 10 years ago, they probably would have found more Mexicans or Bosnians. Thirty years ago, they probably would have found Vietnamese and Laotians. A century ago, it would have been Lithuanians and Poles.

Why? Listen to Erik Sarazua explain an immigrant's thoughts on the industry.

Sarazua, 30, came to the United States because he wanted to escape grinding poverty in Guatemala. He came to Postville because an uncle told him jobs were plentiful at the Agriprocessors Inc. packing plant.

Sarazua said he spent long days slicing and packaging beef at Agriprocessors, starting at $6.25 an hour and working his way up to $7.75 after seven years. It was hard, unpleasant work, but it became a routine and it was the best he could find without proper immigration papers. He said he appreciates the foothold the company gave him in America.

But he and other Guatemalan parents are determined that their children never will follow them into a packing plant.

"With all the suffering we do to work there, we wouldn't want them to suffer like that," he said in Spanish. Another Guatemalan father, standing nearby, nodded in agreement.

Plant's workers once mostly Mexican

Experts who follow the meatpacking industry say that is a classic attitude, and it is a major reason why the plants cycle through new immigrant groups.

Sarazua spoke last week outside St. Bridget's Catholic Church, where a few hundred immigrants sought refuge after Monday's raid at Agriprocessors. Authorities said 295 of the 389 workers they arrested were from Guatemala. The people who later gathered at the church avoided the dragnet, but many remained afraid that they would be swept up.

Paul Rael, who runs a Hispanic ministry for the Dubuque Catholic Archdiocese, said the plant's work force has changed from a few years ago, when it was overwhelmingly Mexican.

"It's not that the Mexicans have left here," he said. "They've just moved on to better jobs."

Those jobs, including construction and farm work, tend to pay more and have more pleasant conditions, he said.

Rael said the Guatemalan immigrants apparently heard about Postville from relatives or friends. He said he's seen no evidence of an organized effort by Agriprocessors to recruit workers in Central America.

A union leader and critic of the company said first-generation immigrants have historically filled the needs of low-wage plants.

"They always land in the slaughterhouses. It's always been that way," said Mark Lauritsen, a vice president for the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Lauritsen pointed to Upton Sinclair's 1906 book "The Jungle," which shocked Americans by describing conditions inside a Chicago packing plant. "That meatpacker was exploiting Lithuanians," Lauritsen said. "This meatpacker is exploiting Guatemalans."

The UFCW is trying to organize workers at the Postville plant, and Lauritsen said some companies have improved conditions to the point where they no longer have to cycle through waves of new immigrants. But he said bad companies will continue to rely on the world's most desperate people.

Agriprocessors President Sholom Rubashkin declined an interview request.

Donald Stull, a University of Kansas anthropology professor who has studied the meatpacking industry, noted that some plants now employ large numbers of African refugees, from war-ravaged countries such as Somalia and Sudan.

"Packers look for populations that will serve their needs, and they look for reservoirs of unemployment to help fill those needs," he said.

Guatemala fits the bill.

Still recovering from civil war

The country, which is the most populous in Central America, is a mountainous place where only 13 percent of land is fit for agriculture, according to statistics kept by the U.S. government.

Guatemala is still recovering from a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Average income there is only 12 percent of income in the United States, and 43 percent of the average income in neighboring Mexico. Income inequality is starker in Guatemala, with the richest 10 percent of people controlling 43 percent of the wealth, compared with 37 percent in Mexico and 30 percent in the United States.

That is why so many poor Guatemalans risk robbery, arrest and heat exhaustion to make the trek to the United States.

Emilsa Monzon Gutierrez, a Guatemalan immigrant who worked at the Postville plant, made the journey last winter.

Monzon is the daughter of a farmhand in rural Guatemala. She is a soft-spoken woman who wears braces and looks younger than her 21 years. She sat at a picnic table outside the Postville church on Friday and described her homeland and her life.

She said her hometown is a place of tiny wooden houses with metal roofs and dirt floors. Food costs are rising, she said, and jobs are scarce. Violence, which is tied to the drug trade, keeps getting worse.

Monzon's family borrowed money so she could try to make it to the United States. She took a bus for nearly a thousand miles from her hometown in southern Guatemala to the U.S. border. Most of the trip was through Mexico, where she saw people with nicer clothes and better houses than most Guatemalans she knew. The roads were in much better condition, she said, and more people had cars.

Despite being better off than Guatemala, Mexico is a poor place with few opportunities. So after reaching northern Mexico, Monzon walked across a desert border area with four other people and made it into the United States. Then she took buses for more than 1,300 miles to Postville, where she joined her brother. The total journey took 27 days.

12-hour shift, 30-minute break

Monzon said she had no trouble landing a job at Agriprocessors, where she worked from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., with a half hour break for lunch. She spent her nights in a cold, refrigerated room, always rushing to cut feathers off chickens and slap labels on them. She said the work was more grueling than she expected, but it was the only job available.

She hoped to save her $7.50-per-hour wages to start a hair and nail salon in Guatemala. She said she sees no future at the plant, and her parents want her to return home. She probably will go, she said.

Consuelo Lux, 33, and her husband, Julio Ravaric, 38, emigrated from Guatemala last year. They left their three children, ages 9 to 15, with her sister.

The couple said that in Guatemala, up to a dozen people live in a house the size of a U.S. garage. Their home is near a volcano, and the soil is sandy. They struggled to raise one crop of corn per year. It wasn't enough to support their family, they said, so they had to find another way to earn a living. When they left, they said goodbye to relatives as if they might never return, because the trip is so dangerous.

The couple said they borrowed about $6,000 each to pay for the journey, which was accomplished on foot, by bus and by car. Like Monzon, they walked across the desert to cross the U.S. border. Then they went to Postville, which Ravaric's brother had told them was a good, safe place.

Before the raid, they had decided to return home by the end of the year because their children miss them, Lux said. Now, they are unsure what they will do.

Even those who want to go home said they would not volunteer to be deported, because the deportation would remain on their records and could harm them in the future.

Erik Sarazua, who was one of the first Guatemalans in Postville when he arrived seven years ago, said his wife and their two young children probably will go live with relatives in Guatemala. But he cannot afford to go with them, he said, because there is little work there. The best job he could hope to find in Guatemala would pay about $45 a week, which is not enough to support a family, he said.

He probably will leave Postville and look for a job elsewhere in the United States.

Sarazua said he feels sorriest for many recent immigrants who were swept up in last week's raid and now face probable deportation. He said most of those people borrowed thousands of dollars to pay for their trips north. Many put up houses or land as collateral, which they now will lose because they have no way of repaying the loans.

Raid hurts families in Guatemala

The raid also will devastate hundred of families back home who were supported by wages their relatives made at Agriprocessors, Sarazua said. Workers would pick up their weekly paychecks, then line up at Postville's Western Union office, where they could send money to Guatemala.

"People back home are expecting that money every Friday," he said.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank, Guatemalan workers in the United States sent $3.6 billion home in 2006. The bank estimates that 600,000 Guatemalans are working out of the country, mainly in the United States. The money they send home accounts for 9 percent of Guatemala's economy.

In Iowa, the bank estimated that immigrant workers from all Latin American countries are sending home $167 million per year.

The Guatemalans outside the Postville church shook their heads when told some Iowans predict that any Agriprocessors workers who are deported will be back in a few weeks.

"That's crazy," Ravaric said in Spanish. The journey is much too expensive and dangerous to be undertaken lightly, he said.

Caitlin Didier, an anthropologist from Ohio who has studied the situation in Postville, returned last week to help the people sheltered in the church. Didier said she expected many of the immigrants to return to Guatemala and stay there.

"It's a long way home, and it's not a very nice place to live," she said. "But a lot of them are saying they'd rather live there than live in fear here."


Labor-state Steelworker strike looms

Union workers at Cascade Steel Rolling Mills in McMinnville, Oregon have rejected the latest offer on a proposed three-year contract with Schnitzer Steel Industries. United Steelworkers Local 8378 represents more than 400 workers at Cascade Steel. Union President Joe Munger says the vote this week was overwhelmingly against the contract offer.

Union members also reaffirmed their strike authorization for the union negotiating committee, if it comes to a showdown. Schnitzer officials have requested a meeting with union leaders and a federal mediator next week.


AFL-CIO operatives organize Oregon vote

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