UAW-AAM striker: 'It's a nightmare'

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

Workers say deal tough to swallow

Union workers at American Axle & Manufacturing Inc., who were on strike for more than 11 weeks, reacted with anger and reluctant acceptance Sunday after hearing the details of the tentative deal the two sides reached late Friday.

This week, about 3,650 UAW members have either a few hours or a few days to decide whether or not they will accept a contract that would slash their wages by as much as $10 an hour.

For many, it's a choice of accepting a salary that could put them in painful financial difficulties, or continue to fight a company that has a manufacturing plant in Mexico and has said it can move the work to other countries.

"I feel like I'm done, but I have no choice," said Tod Rippe, 43, of Dearborn. He said he plans to accept a buyout and may move out of Michigan. "It's a nightmare. It really is."

Mike Ulicne, 39, of Trenton said the contract would be tough to accept.

"I'm relieved, but not happy or satisfied," Ulicne said.

Adrian King, president of UAW Local 235, said the deal was the best that the union could negotiate. Ultimately, he said, workers will have to consider their own situations before deciding how to vote.

"It's a very tough pill to swallow for the membership," said King.

A ratification vote that was tentatively scheduled for today was moved to Thursday after workers vented their frustrations about voting Monday during an informational meeting Sunday at King High School in Detroit.

Local and international union officials, including UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, were at that meeting to answer questions.

At one point, toward the end of the meeting, workers began to chant, "Vote no! Vote no!"

Terasiena Cunningham, 36, of West Bloomfield started a similar chant for workers gathered outside the school.

Cunningham said she feels workers gained little, if anything, by going on strike.

"We can get better than this," she said. Cunningham also said she wished the two sides had extended the contract that expired Feb. 26, allowing workers to stay at their jobs as negotiations continued.

Former Local 235 UAW Vice President Erik Webb, 39, of Detroit said a much calmer meeting was held Sunday afternoon at the Local 235's union hall in Hamtramck, and predicted the contract would pass.

"Everybody who has been out on the picket line has been frustrated. People are ready to go back to work," Webb said. "We didn't really get what we wanted to get, but something is better than nothing."

Sweetened deal still divides

The tentative agreement reached between the UAW and American Axle came together Friday after the company's largest customer, General Motors Corp., kicked in an additional $18 million to help out its key supplier in the last hours of talks.

King said the $18 million made the agreement palatable enough to put in front of union members because the extra money ensured that layoff pay could be part of the deal.

If the contract is ratified, the $18 million would be on top of $200 million already offered by GM that would help American Axle pay for buy-downs, early retirement offers and buyouts.

Many of the UAW members who attended Sunday's meeting at King High said they would reluctantly vote for the contract and predicted it would pass, but many others said they would vote against it.

"I'm hoping we turn it down. I really don't like this," said Willie Foster, who has worked for the company for more than 13 years. "I've got a son, 16, getting ready for college. This won't help."

Under the proposed deal, most workers wages would be cut from about $28 an hour to a range of $14.35 to $18.50, according to a summary of the proposed agreement handed out at the high school.

But with only $200 a week in strike pay, many workers said they need to return, even if they think there might be a better contract that could be negotiated.

"Most of us are at a point where, financially, we are so ruined that this contract beats being homeless," said Michael Dudun, 46, of St. Clair Shores.

Some workers worried Sunday that if the contract was rejected, American Axle would bring in replacement workers.

Gary Chaison, professor of labor studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said that while UAW members are frustrated, most recognize that the North American automotive industry is going through a period of serious and painful changes.

"I think it will have a good chance of getting ratified," Chaison said of the contract.


Socialists: Secret 'no-vote' deals stiff workers

Backroom deals by US service unions strip workers of rights

The recently disclosed secret deal between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in partnership with UNITE HERE and two large employer groups exposes the reality behind the much-touted organizing success of Andrew Stern, leader of the 1.8-million-member service union.

In exchange for a noninterference agreement at selected work locations, the two unions gave up the right to strike, to criticize management or to conduct informational picketing at work sites. The unions also surrendered the right to conduct organizing activity at work locations not specifically pre-approved by management.

The two employers involved, Sodexho and the Compass Group USA, provide contract workers to clients such as hospitals and universities. The agreement with the unions stipulated the number of workers at each company and the specific worksites that could be organized. An agreement with a third employer, Aramark, is being renegotiated.

The existence of the sweetheart deal came to light in an article published in the May 10 edition of the Wall Street Journal. The piece reported that, “since 2005, when the SEIU and Unite Here created a partnership to represent workers that provide food, laundry and housekeeping service on an outsourced basis, they have organized about 15,000 workers at Aramark, Compass and Sodexho, which collectively employ more than 300,000 people in North America.”

The Journal report is based on internal union documents. A summary report notes: “Local unions are not free to engage in organizing activities at any Compass or Sodexho locations unless the sites have been designated.” It advises that all information regarding union-employer collusion be kept secret from workers, saying it is important “that we honor the confidentiality and not publicly disclose the existence of these agreements.”

The SEIU led a breakaway from the AFL-CIO in 2005 after precipitating a bitter and unprincipled organizational dispute. Seven unions—SEIU, UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers, carpenters, laborers and Teamsters—formed the Change to Win Coalition, promising a new dynamic approach to organizing. However, this has nothing to do with defending or improving conditions, but involves colluding with employers to impose union membership on low-paid workers, who are denied the right to vote on union certification and in some case don’t even realize they are joining a union.

The exposure of the attempt by the SEIU to set itself up as a kind of labor contractor has come to light in the midst of a bitter factional battle within the SEIU. One of Stern’s internal opponents, Sal Rosselli, who heads a large SEIU local in California, has recently criticized Stern for practices similar to those outlined in the Wall Street Journal article. He and fellow local officers are currently facing a drive by Stern and the national SEIU leadership to put their unit under trusteeship.

Rosselli came into conflict with Stern over renewal of a secret pact the SEIU set up in 2003 with a group of California nursing home chains. The deal swapped a noninterference agreement for a pledge by the SEIU to support higher state funding for their operations and an employer-sponsored “tort reform” law that would limit patients’ rights to sue for negligence. The SEIU also agreed to oppose any legislation on staffing levels that did not meet employer approval.

A report in the April 11, 2007, issue of the San Francisco Weekly based on internal union documents, exposed how the SEIU agreements with nursing home operators essentially codified an employer dictatorship. It explained that under the 2003 pact, workers entering the union would fall under “template agreements.” These stipulated that nursing home staff would be barred from reporting health and safety violations to regulators, public officials or the news media except where obliged to by law because of their egregious nature.

Further, the SEIU agreed that workers would have no input regarding hours, vacations, pay, layoffs, staffing levels or any other matter concerning their jobs. The article continued, “The employers may outsource work performed by union members, and speed up, reassign, or eliminate jobs at will. The employer may eliminate vacations, or any time off, as the employer sees fit.

“The agreement also guarantees that workers’ wages will not put an employer at an ‘economic disadvantage,’ either through employee pay, benefits, or through staff-per-patient rations.”

In other words, under the terms imposed by the SEIU, workers had far fewer rights than if they had no union. As one blogger noted, by pushing these kinds of deals, the union has become little more than “a dues collection agency much like a Mafia Protection Operation.”

The SEIU went on to use this arrangement as a model for organizing workers in Washington state and New Jersey. It also copied much of this model in its agreement with Compass and Sodexho.

The thoroughly undemocratic methods being employed by SEIU/UNITE HERE are not an isolated case. According to a report in the April 23 issue of the New Republic titled “Love’s Labor Lost,” other unions in the Change to win Coalition such as the UFCW and Teamsters are copying these tactics, noting, “Stern’s ideas have a wider laboratory than ever before.”

The United Auto Workers (UAW) negotiated a secret sweetheart agreement promising an inferior contract in exchange for employer non-interference at a Freightliner plant in Cleveland, North Carolina, in 2003. When the local leadership carried out a strike against the concessions contained in the deal, five officials were fired with the full support of the UAW.

The opponents of Stern within the SEIU do not disagree in principle with the policy of union-management collaboration, they merely favor it be carried out in a less naked and obvious manner. For example, Rosselli supported the initial sweetheart pact with California nursing home operators, only raising objections when confronted with widespread anger among his membership.

It is indicative of the moribund state of the trade unions that some of the harshest criticisms of these methods, which amount to little more than company unionism, come from the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

These kind of secret union-employer deals point to the continued and deepening corporatist degeneration of the unions. The policies of the trade unions based on nationalism and unbridled labor-management collaboration are leading to outright company unionism. As the above cited examples indicate, the labor bureaucracy is assuming more and more the role of labor contractors, winning the right to extract dues from workers in exchange for serving as enforcers of labor discipline over a low-wage workforce stripped of elementary rights.


Ugly underbelly of union organizing exposed

Union organizing tactics test limits, even for workers

A campaign to organize MGM Mirage security guards has turned ugly, with the union’s lead organizer comparing casino executives to terrorists and threatening to bring homeless people and prostitutes to the picket line to make things unpleasant for the company’s customers.

The hardball tactics come as no surprise to anyone who knows the organizer, Steve Maritas. He was convicted in San Diego of stalking his former girlfriend, who he says tricked him into violating a court order to keep his distance. And he says he learned a lot about the union business from his father, a former president of a 30,000-member carpenters district council in New York City who was indicted on racketeering charges.

Maritas’ efforts to organize guards has evoked a bit of a grin among MGM Mirage executives because they think his hard-charging tactics are so over-the-top for Las Vegas that he’ll discredit himself among the very guards he is trying to enlist.

MGM Mirage is telling employees at mandatory meetings that the best relationship between labor and management is a direct one that doesn’t involve a third-party union, and is calling Maritas’ tactics “strikingly offensive.”

Maritas says his tactics, on behalf of the International Union of Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, are appropriate and that management “only understands one thing: disrupting their business.”

He acknowledges that his self-described street tactics backfired in Las Vegas when he put a picture of Osama bin Laden next to a picture of Mandalay Bay President Bill Hornbuckle on the union’s Web site. “They’re both terrorists,” he told the Sun. Maritas also highlighted MGM Mirage’s partnership with Dubai World, the Persian Gulf holding company — and linked it to the war in Iraq, complete with a counter of American war dead. “It was no disrespect,” he said.

“The whole point is that Americans are dying in Iraq for our freedom and (MGM Mirage) won’t let our guys have their freedom to join a union.”

Security guards, some of whom served in the military, were outraged and told Maritas to take the pictures down and apologize, which he did.

“Maybe it was a low move,” Maritas said. “But that’s the way (labor) war is ... I’m from the street. If I have to get down and dirty, I’ll do it.”

He contended that the guards’ initial disgust triggered solidarity among the bargaining unit and that employees have begun taking ownership of the organizing effort.

Maritas says his tactics are born out of frustration. Although he’s been collecting union cards at casinos up and down the Strip, his flagship campaign against MGM Mirage has stalled.

Days before a union election at the Luxor last month, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging management had threatened to withhold scheduled pay raises and other benefits if workers vote for the union. The election at the property is on hold while the federal labor board investigates the charge.

Then, when the union filed for an election at Mandalay Bay, MGM Mirage challenged the size of the bargaining unit, seeking to exclude a quarter of the union’s 300 targeted security officers. The labor board has yet to make a decision or set an election date.

“Getting the cards is the easy part. But you file for an election and look at what happens,” Maritas said. “You can’t beat them at their own game. You can’t take them on head to head. The only way you can take them on is in the street.”

The union has dubbed security guards at Mandalay Bay the “300 Spartans” (the sacrificial army in Greek history) and plans a massive protest outside the property and other MGM Mirage casinos Memorial Day weekend — complete with a busload of homeless people, “the smellier the better,” Maritas said. “Ten dollars a head. I’ve done it on many occasions.” He said he may deliver prostitutes to the scene, too.

Maritas’ efforts to hold organizing elections goes against the grain of unions such as the Service Employees International Union and Unite Here, which work outside the federal election system. Instead, they make certain concessions to management in exchange for its neutrality so they can organize through less contentious card checks.

And labor experts say the security guards union in Las Vegas, by paying people to picket, risk sending a message of weak support to MGM Mirage and the public.

None of this concerns Maritas, though.

“They threw me in the corner. Now I got 300 guys I have to protect,” he said. “We’re strong. We’re going after them. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”

He said he learned those tactics in part from his father, Theodore Maritas, who headed the New York District Council of Carpenters.

Theodore, along with a cadre of mobsters, was indicted in 1981 on racketeering charges. He reportedly disobeyed mob orders and refused to plead guilty. The trial ended in a hung jury, but before Theodore could be retried, he disappeared.

“He was never convicted of anything,” Maritas said. “I can’t change my past, who I am and what I was born into. I’m proud of who I am, what my father stood for, and I’ll defend that until the day I die.”


How local gov't action can boost union dues

A project labor agreement could be costly to taxpayers, not to mention unfair.

Unless there are five Long Beach City Council members willing to stop it, a PLA is coming to town. It could be expensive. A PLA (project labor agreement) is reminiscent of another gift council members almost made to a union several months ago, then reneged. That was a planned hotel "labor peace agreement," which would have forced hotels on city property to unionize, whether employees wanted to or not.

A PLA also is a gift, in this case to the Building Trades Council, which represents about 100,000 union workers in L.A. County and Orange County who build roads, hospitals and schools. The City Council has directed city staff members to negotiate with the Trades Council on a PLA.

Such an agreement would mean that any contractor who wants to bid on a city project would either have to be unionized or hire its workers through a union hall and pay into the union's benefit fund.

Why, you might ask, is City Hall negotiating for a union deal like that? Ask several council members, all of whom have received contributions from the Trades Council.

Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, who is running for Assembly District 54, already has decided she wants the agreement even before the details have been spelled out. In fact, she says it's embarrassing that it hasn't already been done. (The council approved pursuing a PLA three years ago.)

Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, who also is running for Assembly District 54, says, "We don't need people working at minimum wage on projects that are millions of dollars."

Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, who refers derisively to opponents of PLAs as "the contractor class," also is eager to put one in place.

But wouldn't this end up costing the city more for PLA projects? Oh, no, say proponents, pointing to studies that support their opinions. But studies by the Beacon Hill Institute, which analyzed dozens of construction projects in Massachusetts and New York, say the opposite, that costs will be inflated by 12 to 20 percent.

Common sense would tell you that. It also would tell you that fewer contractors would bid on PLA projects. Almost 93 percent of nongovernment employees nationally are nonunion, while probably 80 percent of workers in the construction trades are nonunion. Why would those companies want to turn over their hiring to a union hall rather than rely on their own loyal workers?

There is another interested party in this little drama. The Black Contractors Association wants to know why City Hall would be negotiating exclusively with the Building Trades Council. A PLA agreement would be discriminatory, the association said, because it would freeze out black contractors, who often own small and sometimes struggling companies that employ nonunion ethnic minorities.

Good question. In fact, the push for a PLA raises many good questions about fairness, as well as prudence in handling taxpayers' money at a time when city spending already far exceeds revenues and nobody has figured out how to balance the books.

A PLA makes about as much sense as the now-defunct idea of a hotel "peace agreement." It deserves the same fate.


Spilling bad blood over nurses union-dues

Nurses Unions Square Off Over Workers

Two of the nation's biggest nurses' unions are engaged in a slugfest over workers, seeking to spoil each others' organizing drives with tactics normally used against employers, including ad campaigns, lawsuits and infiltrating job sites.

The fight between the giant Service Employees International Union and a smaller union, the California Nurses Association, began in Ohio and has spread in recent weeks to Texas, Nevada and New York. Last week, SEIU filed suit against CNA in Iowa District Court in Johnson County, alleging that CNA illegally acquired a confidential mailing list of SEIU members it used to send flyers critical of SEIU.


• The Race: The giant Service Employees International Union and smaller California Nurses Association are battling for nurses to join their membership.
• The Sell: A nurses-only union is best, says CNA. SEIU says nurses do best in a bigger union.
• The Salvo: SEIU alleged that CNA illegally acquired a list of SEIU members.

Both unions are trying to boost membership in a fast-growing sector of the economy. Last year, 7.5% of the private-sector work force belonged to unions, down from 17% 25 years ago, according to the Labor Department.

CNA says nurses would be better represented by a registered-nurses-only union that could focus on issues including nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. The union represents 80,000 registered nurses, mostly in California, but also in Maine, Illinois and Nevada.

SEIU, which represents 85,000 registered nurses out of its 1.7 million members, says nurses are better off in a bigger union that would also fight for other hospital workers and improve hospital-wide standards.

In Ohio, SEIU spent three years trying to organize 8,000 nurses at a Catholic health-care system and was hoping to use the Ohio union as a springboard to organize Catholic hospitals in other states. Before a mid-March SEIU vote, CNA sent representatives to Ohio hospitals to distribute flyers saying SEIU had reached a back-door deal with the employer.

Susan Horne, 48 years old, a registered nurse in Cincinnati, said CNA organizers posed as Pizza Hut delivery workers to gain access to her nurse's unit. Ms. Horne, an SEIU supporter, said, "I told them, 'You have not been here for three years yet you come here five days before the election and try to sabotage our vote.' "

CNA's interference incensed SEIU, and the vote was canceled. "Their distortions and holier-than-thou statements are nothing more than a flimsy cover for out-and-out union busting," said SEIU President Andy Stern.

Orest Holubec, spokesman for Catholic Healthcare Partners, said management agreed to the election and a two-week period without pressure from SEIU or management so that employees could choose whether they wanted to join the union. He said CNA organizers entered restricted areas in hospitals and "engaged in the exact type of tactics we were trying to avoid." He said the health-care system, which employs 37,000 people in Ohio and four other states, won't agree to another vote "until the unions work out their turf wars."

Rose Ann DeMoro, the head of CNA, argues that while SEIU and the employer reached an agreement to hold the election, nurses didn't widely support SEIU. "Nurses didn't really have a choice," she said. She called allegations that CNA organizers posed as delivery workers "outrageous lies."

A month after the Ohio election was scuttled, SEIU sent six busloads of organizers to a labor conference where Ms. DeMoro was scheduled to speak. A scuffle broke out. An SEIU protester had a heart attack on the scene and later died. Another attendee went to the hospital for stitches. The action was broadly criticized within the labor movement. CNA has since boosted security at its headquarters, Ms. DeMoro said, installing security cameras and posting guards.

Mr. Stern has urged John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, to condemn CNA, which belongs to the federation, saying it is flouting AFL-CIO antiraiding rules.

Instead Mr. Sweeney asked Mr. Stern and Ms. DeMoro to resolve their dispute through mediation, to avoid damaging labor's influence during the presidential campaign. Unions "simply cannot afford to see their political, legislative and policy agendas derailed by the escalation of these disputes," Mr. Sweeney wrote to Mr. Stern recently.

Both unions have run ads attacking each other on progressive sites such as Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo. CNA sent mailers to SEIU members, which included a form to decertify the SEIU, while SEIU hired a company to poll CNA members. In an audio recording of a 13-minute call reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the person conducting the poll asks a CNA member to respond to statements, including CNA is "wasting members' dues" and "acting like CEO union-busters."

Meanwhile, health-care employers and their consultants are watching from the sidelines. "We love it," says Bill Adams, a labor-relations consultant in Fort Wright, Ky., who works with hospitals but isn't involved in the Ohio dispute. "You're guided by the principle, 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend.' "


Rep. Jerry McNerney, California DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Congressman Jerry McNerney, state Senator Darrell Steinberg and several other elected officials joined more than a hundred nursing home caregivers at a rally in Sacramento on César Chávez Day to show support for workers' organizing rights by signing a letter that urges nursing home operator SnF Management, parent company of the Windsor chain, not to interfere with employees' efforts to organize a union.

"We want you to organize," said Rep. McNerney, who unseated Republican Richard Pombo in a come-from-behind victory last November that was strongly supported by UHW caregivers. "We insist that people in this country have the right to organize, and we just proved that several weeks ago with the approval of the Employee Free Choice Act."

Sen. Steinberg promised to stand behind caregivers' unionizing effort.

"You care for people during the most difficult and vulnerable times of their lives," Steinberg said. "You deserve not only dignity but respect and admiration for the work you do. Frontline caregivers like yourselves need to be able to form a union."

The caregivers work at homes that the Helios Corporation recently sold to Windsor, which operates more than a dozen convalescent facilities in the state. Though Windsor recently agreed to recognize the union at four of the former Helios homes, the company has not yet recognized the right of non-union workers at their other homes to organize.

"Having a union at our facility means caregivers are able to be involved in improving resident care," said Eleanor Smithey, who works at The Ridge Rehabilitation Center in Salinas. "We want to make sure that healthy relationship continues when the new company takes over. We want caregivers to be able to stay working at our facility without having to worry about looking for a better job in order to provide for their families."

The non-union Windsor homes previously owned by Helios include: El Camino Care Center in Carmichael; Chico Care Center and Chico Creek Care and Rehabilitation Center; Elk Grove Care and Rehabilitation Center; Rosewood Care Center in Pleasant Hill; Redding Care Center; and Elmhaven Care Center and Hampton Care Center in Stockton. The company has also purchased four unionized Helios homes: Country Drive Care Center in Fremont; Monterey Care Center; and Skyline Care Center and The Ridge Care and Rehabilitation Center in Salinas.

Other elected leaders who joined to show their support and signed a pledge endorsing the organizing effort included Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento); Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson; Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada; Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty; and Grantland Johnson, former secretary of California's Department of Health Services.

Community allies at the event included Gary Passmore of the Congress of California Seniors; Joan Lee and Arnie Godmitz of the Grey Panthers; Bill Powers of the California Alliance for Retired Americans; Frances Gracechild from Resources for Independent Living; and Ethan Evans of the Sacramento Housing Alliance.

Later that morning, UHW caregivers joined the César Chávez Day march and rally through the streets of Sacramento, adding a generous supply of purple to the large crowd. The daylong event celebrated the birth of the famed labor leader who founded the United Farm Workers.


Gettelfinger: Let us not kid anybody here

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

UAW - American Axle deal goes to vote

The United Auto Workers union and American Axle & Manufacturing have reached a tentative agreement to end a protracted strike which should see 3,650 workers at five plants in Michigan and New York return to work, the Financial Times reports. The deal is subject to members' ratification. The workers will commence voting on 19 May, with the deal expected to be signed later this week.

The agreement includes deep cuts in wages and benefits, and will result in the closure of two plants. For instance, production workers' pay will be cut to US$18.50 an hour from US$28. The UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, however, does not believe that the deal will be easily ratified.

"Let us not kid anybody here. No matter what we do as a result of these negotiations, it is going to be difficult to get ratified," Gettelfinger is quoted by the business daily as saying to a Detroit radio station.

There will, however, be lump-sum payments over three years. Workers will be offered pay-offs of up to US$140,000 each.

"It is a tough pill to swallow for the membership. But I think it is the best deal we could get from this company," Adrian King, president of UAW Local 235, which represents workers in Detroit, is quoted by Bloomberg as saying.

Although the UAW has, in the past, made allowances for concessions at certain loss-making components suppliers, it would not consider AAM under the same category. AAM posted profits of US$37m in 2007, with sales totalling US$3.3bn.

"I do not think it is going to pass," the newswire quotes Patricia Karnuth, a factory worker as saying, following a briefing on the contract. "People are not happy with the deal."

This strike at AAM, which has disrupted production at around 30 General Motors plants, saw the OEM lose production of 302,000 vehicles in the first quarter. This resulted in GM incurring a loss of nearly US$800m for the period, the report says.

GM has recently offered to help the supplier out with US$218m to assist with the pay-offs, Reuters has said. GM is the biggest customer, and accounts for 80% of AAM's revenues.


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Are forced-labor unions good for workers?

Union membership raises the wages of low- and middle-income workers in Colorado and across the nation, according to a national study released last week by a local policy think tank.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, along with the Bell Policy Center, said workers in the middle of the pay scale will see wage increases of up to 6.1 percent by becoming a member of a union. Those at the bottom of the economic scale could see wage improvements of up to 16.5 percent, according to the study.

“The data clearly shows the value of unions in our economy,” said Wade Buchanan, president of the Bell Policy Center. “Unions help low-income families achieve self-sufficiency, and they help middle-income families hold on to the American Dream.”

For workers at the bottom of the pay scale, union membership could translate to an additional $1.32 per hour, or about $2,745 annually, said Buchanan. Those in the middle pay range could see an additional $1.03 per hour, or about $2,412 per year, he said.

“Unions have proven to be a major gateway to opportunity for thousands of Colorado families, Buchanan said.

Choice important

Those backing a ballot initiative to make Colorado a right-to-work state said they understand unions can have economic benefits for typical blue-collar workers, but said Coloradans should have the right to choose if they want to join a union or not. Amendment 47 — viewed by many as an anti-union measure — seeks to prevent the mandatory payment of union dues as a condition of employment. The initiative has qualified for the November ballot.

“Amendment 47 does not in any way take away a workers’ right to join a union,” said Kelley Harp, spokesman for A Better Colorado, the organization spearheading the ballot initiative. “If an employee feels that a union has been beneficial … employees should feel free to join a union.”

A dozen union ballot measures have been suggested for the November ballot. The initiatives run the gamut, including one that would require all businesses with 10 or more employees to provide annual cost-of-living raises to their employees. Another initiative would require all companies with 20 or more employees to provide medical insurance.

Unions are also collecting signatures for initiatives that would allow employees to sue companies for claims beyond the state’s current workers compensation program. A separate initiative would allow Coloradans to sue chief executives if their company broke the law or was found liable in a civil suit.

Another initiative would make it illegal for employers to fire employees without “just cause.” Businesses would need to explain why the employee was fired.

A coalition of business executives is mobilizing to fight the initiatives. Coloradans for Responsible Reform says the “onslaught of ballot measures” will only scare businesses away from Colorado at a time when the state is trying to attract businesses to establish or move their headquarters’ here.

Hurting worker’s families?

But those in the pro-union camp say unions should be allowed to continue to operate as they currently do in Colorado. Buchanan said initiatives like that being pushed by A Better Colorado will directly hurt the state’s working families.

“Changing the rules by which unions operate in Colorado could have a real and detrimental impact on the livelihoods of working families in our state,” he said.


Dem. Gov. smacks down collective bargaining

The governor says ‘no’

Governors are given the veto power so they can prevent unwise bills approved by legislators from becoming bad laws and eliminate from appropriations bills spending that is frivolous or in some other respect wrongheaded.

Gov. Chet Culver put his veto pen to good use last week. Culver used the line-item veto to eliminate from the state’s Salaries and Standing Appropriations bill a huge pay raise for statewide elective officials. Rushed through the Legislature in the session’s closing days by Democrats, that raise would have boosted the governor’s own pay by nearly 10 percent and paychecks of other elected statewide officeholders by just short of 24 percent.

"I believe it is wrong to say to the people of Iowa that you have to tighten your belts, but elected officials don’t," Culver said in his veto message.

The Messenger heartily agrees.

Additionally, however, the manner in which Democrats moved this pay hike through the Legislature with little opportunity for public discussion was nothing short of shameful. The governor had little to say about the secretive process used by his fellow Democrats to put these unjustifiable pay hikes in the appropriations bill. That’s something voters should not overlook when they go to the polls in November.

Culver also vetoed legislation that would have vastly increased the collective bargaining power of government employees.

Those changes would have expanded the power of teachers unions and other unions representing public employees to bring to the bargaining table issues that previously were solely the province of school boards, city councils and other elected governing bodies. If this legislation had become law, subjects such as work shifts and schedules, discipline provisions, staffing levels, selection of insurance carriers, school class size and assorted other matters would have become issues that could be included in contract negotiations.

The end result could have been higher taxes forced upon the public as a result of contracts much more wide ranging than any Iowans have seen previously. The ramifications of this law were enormous, but it also was speeded through the Legislature with little opportunity for careful discussion or input from the citizens who would have been asked to pay the higher taxes that could have been its legacy.

Culver cautioned Democratic lawmakers that the impact of bill they were determined to pass — at the urging of the state’s labor unions — required more careful consideration than it was being given. They ignored his warning. His veto is his final word on this subject — for now. It seems certain to be revisited in the next session unless voters weigh-in forcefully against changing the existing law.

Governors don’t often veto legislative actions supported by the overwhelming majority of the members of their own party. Culver has shown that when Democrats in the Legislature disregard the public good, he is willing to oppose them. These vetoes won’t define his governorship, but they are a positive sign that Democrats should pay closer attention to his views in the months ahead.


AFSCME of interest in campaign crime probe

Three face charges in SoCal campaign violations

Three people face misdemeanor charges in connection with alleged campaign finance violations in a Torrance, California recall election. City prosecutors said Kenny Evans, a city clerk candidate in 2006, and two others who were associated with his campaign, were involved in an attempt to recall then-Councilman Frank Scotto.

Prosecutors claim David Gould and Michelle Moore Sanders transferred about $1,900 from a group that sought Scotto's recall to Evans' campaign committee.

The alleged transfer violated the city's municipal code that has a $1,000 cap on campaign contributions from a person or group.

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

Attorney Fred Woocher, who represents the trio, called the charges absurd and said the transaction was rescinded after it was discovered.

"It applied to a transfer of funds from a defunct committee to another committee after the election had occurred," Woocher 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."

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


Needs time out from collective bargaining

As doctors try to determine what caused Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to suffer a seizure Saturday, his distraught wife is keeping vigil at his hospital bedside, worried his unrelenting hours on the job may have taken a toll on his health, family said. “She was concerned. She said, ‘He works too hard. He works too long,’” Edmund Reggie, father of Kennedy’s wife, Victoria, told the Herald in a phone interview.

Kennedy, 76, was resting comfortably at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston yesterday as doctors ran a new battery of tests to determine what prompted his “strokelike” symptoms later deemed a seizure.

The upbeat senior statesman took in a Red Sox game and rented movies in between taking calls from well-wishers such as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd.

According to an aide, Kennedy had shouldered his usual packed schedule before the episode Saturday, putting in long hours on Capitol Hill Thursday to push through a bill that coincidentally would give emergency first responders collective bargaining rights.

The eight-term senator, in office since 1962, hustled up to the Bay State on Friday, speaking at an event in New Bedford in the afternoon. The long hours weren’t unusual for Kennedy, the second-longest serving member of the Senate, said staffers and close friends.

“He’s one of the hardest working men I’ve ever met. He’s not the type of guy who is going to slow down,” said a close friend.

Despite her concerns, Victoria Kennedy told her father the liberal lion was his usual spitfire within hours of the emergency.

“He wanted to go sailing (Saturday) afternoon. He kept telling Vicki he wanted to go sailing, and the doctor said, ‘No, you have to rest,’ ” Reggie, 81, told the Herald, adding his daughter has been devoted to him as he heals.

“They have a great love affair . . . she cares for him,” Reggie said.

Kennedy had just taken his beloved dogs for a walk and was about to make breakfast Saturday morning when the seizure hit, Reggie said. He was conscious and coherent when emergency officials arrived, sources said.

Emergency officials responded to Kennedy’s Hyannisport home at 8:19 a.m., and he was later airlifted to MGH in Boston.

The concern for his health comes seven months after he had surgery at MGH to clear a blocked artery in his neck. The procedure is often performed on patients at risk of having a stroke. There was no word yesterday as to when Kennedy might be released from the hospital. Aides said he would stay at least until today.

Dr. Larry Ronan, his primary care physician, said Saturday night he was not in any “immediate danger.”

Family members continued to visit Kennedy yesterday, including his daughter, stepdaughters and sister Joan Kennedy Smith, according to aides. Joseph P. Kennedy II gave a thumbs up and confirmed his uncle’s well-being when he visited yesterday afternoon.

While Reggie believes the seizure was a “fluke,” he still thinks doctors need to get to the bottom of it.

“Nobody takes this seizure business lightly. You want to be concerned about that,” Reggie said.


Political front-group reveals union agenda

Days before a New York state commission unveils its recommendations for imposing a cap on local property tax increases, Assembly Democrats are lining up behind another plan that would distribute money from the state's wealthiest residents to middle-class homeowners in the form of a property tax cut. Under a plan advanced by the labor-backed Working Families Party, the wealthiest New Yorkers would see their state personal income taxes more than double.

Marginal income between $500,000 and $1 million would be taxed at a rate of 9.35%. Between $1 million and $5 million, the rate would go up to 10.35%. From $5 million to $10 million, the rate would be 11.85%. Income above $10 million would be taxed at $13.85%, which is more than double the current rate of 6.85%.

Party officials said the tax hike would generate $6.5 billion a year for the state and would apply to just fewer than 100,000 filers.

The money would be used to pay for a property tax break for households with up to $250,000 in gross adjusted income. The plan would give rebates to homeowners when their taxes consume a certain percentage of their income. The rebate would cover 70% of the taxes owed above the percentage cap, which would range between 5% and 9% of income.

The speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who supports a tax increase on the state's wealthiest residents, has not taken a position on the Working Families Party plan. Several Assembly Democrats have indicated their support for the labor party's proposal.

Senate Republicans have said they would oppose increasing the personal income tax.

A special state commission led by the Nassau County executive, Thomas Suozzi, is expected this week to recommend a property tax cap that would prevent school districts from raising taxes by more than 3% to 4% a year.


Socialists denounce UAW sellout to AAM

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