Lion of Senate sidelined, union agenda stalls

Kennedy’s Absence Delays Bargaining Over Pro-Union Bills

The prospects for action on several pieces of legislation dimmed Monday as it became apparent that Edward M. Kennedy ’s hospitalization will prevent him from returning before the Memorial Day recess.

Kennedy’s unexpected absence from the Senate has extinguished hopes of passing a bill that would extend collective-bargaining rights to public safety employees (HR 980) and of resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of a major higher education overhaul (HR 4137, S 1642) before the weeklong break that begins May 23.

As chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Kennedy was a hands-on negotiator on those bills and others.

“He’s an important part of closing deals,” said a former Kennedy aide. “So if they weren’t closed, then they might have to wait for his return.”

The 76-year-old Massachusetts Democrat was admitted to a Boston hospital May 17 after having a seizure at his Cape Cod home.

Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., had hoped that Kennedy and the committee’s ranking Republican, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, could agree on a limited number of amendments to the collective-bargaining bill and allow the chamber to pass the measure this week.

But by Monday, with Kennedy still in the hospital, negotiators were looking for more time.

“Staff-level negotiations will continue, but any serious movement will take place after the Memorial Day recess,” said a senior Democratic aide. “Now we have a little more time to iron out the differences ... and reach an agreement.”

Reid suspended action on the bill May 15 after it became apparent that Republican objections would prevent the measure from garnering the 60 votes required to cut off debate.

The bill, which drew fire from Enzi and other Republicans because Reid bypassed the committee process to bring it to the floor, would give state and local public safety officials, including police and firefighters, the right to unionize in any municipality with a population that exceeds 5,000.

It was unclear late Monday exactly when Kennedy would be back to work, but an aide seemed to foreclose the possibility that it would be this week, saying Kennedy would likely remain in the hospital for several days and would then “take a few days off at home before returning to the Senate.”

Doctors are still trying to determine the cause of Kennedy’s seizure, but said May 17 that he was “not in any immediate danger” and that preliminary tests indicated that he had not suffered a stroke.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, declined to comment Monday on whether Reid and other Senate leaders would defer to Kennedy or delegate responsibilities to other senators until his return.

Reid said Monday that he has spoken several times with Kennedy’s wife, Victoria, and was optimistic that Kennedy’s health would not sideline him for too long.

“Anyone who knows Ted Kennedy and his work ethic realizes that no one is more eager to get back to work than him,” Reid said.

Legislation On Hold

Even before Kennedy’s weekend health troubles, the outlook for a quick deal on the long-term renewal of the Higher Education Act was uncertain, though Kennedy and the lead House negotiator, Rep. George Miller , D-Calif., had hoped to clear a final bill before the Memorial Day recess. (Story, p. 9)

With Kennedy out of the picture, that outlook was downgraded to virtually impossible.

Differences still to be worked out, according to those close to the debate, include textbook costs and new penalties for states that diminish their contributions to higher education.

Negotiations on a Kennedy bill to increase the use of information technology in health care (S 1693) also could languish in the chairman’s absence.

The bill overcame a major hurdle last week, when Kennedy and Enzi, his chief co-sponsor, agreed to accept an amendment by Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy , D-Vt., that Leahy believes will strengthen privacy protections in the legislation.

The bill would provide grants and loans to health providers to buy the technology to share medical records electronically, and would encourage the health care industry to settle on software and hardware standards for electronic medical records.

However, aides noted that the legislation was not going to be ready for the floor until sometime in June.

A Senate GOP aide said the revised bill, with Leahy’s language, was being circulated among Senate offices this week to determine whether there was any remaining opposition to the measure.


Obama Rx: Less union democracy, more union dues

The End of Secret Ballots in Union Elections

How would you like elections without secret ballots? To most people, the notion of getting rid of secret ballots is absurd. This is modern-day America. Such an idea could not be seriously considered, right?

People support secret balloting for very obvious reasons. Politics frequently generates hot tempers. People can put up yard signs or wear political buttons if they want. But not everyone feels comfortable making his or her political positions public. Many would rather vote without fearing that their choice will offend or anger someone else.

Secret balloting has solved another potential problem: vote buying, which they essentially ended in U.S. elections. After all, why pay people if you couldn't be sure how they voted?

But if Barack Obama becomes president, secret ballots seem destined to end for at least one type of election: union certifications.

Currently, when 50 percent of workers in a company sign statements to unionize, that merely sets up a second stage, where workers vote by secret ballot to determine if the company would be unionized. Under the new proposal, using a system called “Card Check,” unionization would occur as soon as half the workers had signed cards stating that they favor union representation.

In other words, up until now, a worker could placate union supporters and sign a statement saying that he wanted a union and then vote against the union when he was protected by the secrecy of the voting booth.

While the Bush administration promised to veto the so-called “Employee Free Choice Act,” Obama has made his feelings about the legislation very clear. Last year, Obama promised, “We will pass the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s not a matter of 'if'; it’s a matter of 'when.' We may have to wait for the next president to sign it, but we will get this thing done.”

Many are predicting Democrats will increase their current majorities, but even if they keep them as they are now, there is already substantial support in Congress. In votes last year, almost exclusively along party lines, Democrats in the House easily passed the bill by 241 to 185. The Senate support was closer, with 51 senators supporting it and 48 opposing, but Democrats are predicting that they will gain enough seats to withstand a filibuster.

Why have unions placed this at the top of their legislative agenda? Changing the rules would only make a difference if workers were unwilling to vote in private for unionization, but apparently there are a lot of companies where unions think that this change will make a difference. After all, the AFL-CIO calls the “Employee Free Choice Act” its million-member mobilization.

Unions are making an all-out push to get this passed, planning to spend $360 million on the 2008 election, $200 million more than in 2004 general election. Just one union alone, the Service Employees International Union, plans on spending $75 million this year, much of it to help the Democratic presidential nominee. Compare that to the $83 million that John McCain will be able to spend during the fall general election.

That's not all. The Service Employees International Union is already committed to making 10 million telephone calls early next year to congressmen to ensure this bill gets enacted.

Unions are understandably desperate to increase membership, as membership has been declining for decades, the share of private-sector workers who are union members falling from around 35 percent in the 1950s to 8.2 percent in 2007. Public-sector union membership has declined, but much more slowly, still representing 36 percent of government workers in 2007. The decline has continued under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Obama has promised in many ways to help unions and protect their workers from competition. He wants to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement signed under President Clinton. He opposes free trade agreements with such strong American allies as Colombia. He has long been opposed to educational vouchers, something teachers’ unions also strongly oppose. But despite all his troubles with working-class voters, it is hard to think of much else that Obama could promise unions.

Obama claims that strengthening unions is good because unions will “lift up the middle-class in this country once more.” But protecting teachers unions from competition comes at the expense of students. Protecting workers from trade competition comes at the expense of customers and even other workers (e.g., if you protect steel workers from competition, the prices of American-made cars rise relative to foreign-made ones).

Unionization virtually always raises some workers' salaries at the expense of other workers. If unions insist on increasing worker pay by threatening strikes that shut down companies, firms reduce the number of workers they hire. Some workers gain higher wages, but only at the expense of causing other workers to lose their jobs. Possibly this last point explains why unions want to scrape secret ballots.

It is hard to believe that Obama and Democrats really think that eliminating secret ballots is a good idea. Surely, they are not going to start proposing we start getting rid of secret ballots all together and let voters simply sign cards? But their desire to impose unionization, whether workers really want it, is overriding their common sense. Their proposal will make the country and most workers poorer.

- John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics and a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.


Accountability to members eludes labor unions

Feds Seek More Union Disclosure

The U.S. Department of Labor wants unions to disclose more details about their internal finances. Last week, the DOL published proposed changes to the LM-2 financial disclosure form that is filed annually by 4,600 unions under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. In addition to asking for more financial details, the DOL has proposed stricter rules for small unions (with incomes under $250,000) that violate filing rules -- requiring them to file the long LM-2 form instead of the abbreviated version they now use.

"The proposed rule builds on the administration's continuing commitment to transparency and accountability for corporations, pension funds and labor unions," says Don Todd, deputy assistant secretary for the DOL's Office of Labor-Management Standards.

The OLMS is responsible for the financial integrity and accountability of union funds, including investigating possible misuse or fraud. Since 2001, the agency has issued 840 indictments and seen 800 convictions for embezzlement or misappropriation of union funds.

Union officials have objected to the proposed changes -- which include itemization of benefits and indirect remuneration -- saying the new requirements are unjustified and yet another anti-union move by the Republican administration.

"They haven't even cited any reasons for this. The principal reason [for the changes] is to tie unions in red tape so they spend time and money they would spend unionizing on these requirements," says Patrick Szymanski, general counsel for the Change to Win labor coalition based in Washington.

"Most serious," he says, "is the back-door way of putting a significant burden on small union organizations. ... They claim increased transparency is good, but there's no evidence this is going to make a difference."

These are some of the major changes published in the Federal Register:

* Union officials and certain employees must itemize individual benefits -- such as life insurance, pensions and deferred compensation -- which are now disclosed as one number.

* The union must disclose indirect reimbursements, such as travel expenses, when the money is reimbursed indirectly to a vendor rather than the union employee.

* The union must itemize certain receipts of $5,000 or more, and disclose the identity of the purchaser or seller in transactions involving union assets worth more than $5,000; at present the form only requires disclosure of the sale.

The DOL is also asking for comments on whether to limit or remove confidentiality exceptions from the LM-2 form. At present, confidentiality is granted when information would identify individuals paid by the union to organize workers in a non-union facility; would expose the union's organizing strategy; would give a tactical advantage to parties involved in contract negotiations or would endanger the health or safety of an individual.

Union officials are especially critical of DOL's plan to implement a provision of the labor disclosure act that penalizes small unions that file late or violate filing rules, by making them fill out the longer, more complicated form.

"These are often ... smaller unions where for some reason, inadvertently, the accountant can't get it done and they don't file the LM-3 [short form] on time," Szymanski says. "For years, the DOL has sent several follow-up letters; usually what happens is they file an audit.

"The fact is, [the DOL] is proposing to change what's been done ... for the last 50 years. Talk about a tremendous burden on these people who are least able to comply with this. They're going to wipe out small union organizations. That's what this is aimed at."

Lane Windham, a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO, concurs: "The Bush administration has consistently made labor organization financial recordkeeping and reporting requirements more burdensome. The recent proposal to revoke the ability of smaller unions to file a simplified financial disclosure form is just the latest of these attempts, in line with its failure to enforce basic worker protections."

As for employers, the proposed DOL changes shouldn't affect them -- unless they get drawn in by a particularly "astute DOL employee," says Bill Adams, a labor management consultant in Fort Wright, Kentucky.

"This won't have much bearing on an employer," Adams says. "One thing, an unintended consequence to the employer, [is if], because of the increased attention by DOL, some clerk may say, 'Look. This company gave a union official $10,000.' "

Under the Taft-Hartley Act, employers are prohibited from giving any money to the unions other than union dues they have collected; money collected for the union pension fund; or money they have been ordered to pay by the courts, explains Don Lee, a management-side labor attorney with Ford & Harrison in Atlanta.

"Because of the [proposed] increased disclosure, somebody could find a transaction and find money otherwise they wouldn't have seen," Lee says. The situation would most likely be "inadvertent," he adds.

"For example, if the company sells a union official a Lincoln Town Car for $5,000 and the blue-book value is $10,000. The employer didn't have a sinister motive, [he wasn't] in cahoots, but he gave something of value. That might be one example."

The proposed regulations were issued on May 12 and could be finalized in 45 days.


Davis-Bacon Act adored in labor-state

Prevailing wage law is a free lunch

It is a policy that places value on a highly skilled and productive workforce. It is a policy that promotes safe, high-quality construction projects. It is a policy that promotes the use of local contractors and local workers. Prevailing Wage does all this while making sure the state doesn't pay more than the typical rate on construction projects.

The principle behind Prevailing Wage is simple: On public construction projects, workers must be paid the "prevailing rate" for their work. By law, the "prevailing rate" matches the local rate – the market rate already being paid in the community where the work is being done. The prevailing rate is the most common wage that a carpenter, or laborer, or ironworker, or plumber, or electrician makes in that community.

In Minnesota, Prevailing Wage applies to all construction projects paid for by state taxpayers. Some cities, counties and school districts have similar local policies. On federal projects, Prevailing Wage is required by the Davis-Bacon Act, which Congress passed in 1931.

Prevailing Wage creates a uniform "specification" for labor in the competitive bidding process. By creating a standard "spec" for labor, Prevailing Wage requires contractors to compete for public projects on factors such as skill, productivity, innovation, and management abilities – not on who can scrape up the cheapest workforce. It does this by simply requiring that employers who bid on state work pay the same rates being paid on private construction work – no more, no less.

This month, KARE 11's Rick Kupchella ran an extensive report that questioned the value of Minnesota's Prevailing Wage laws. In that report, opponents attacked how Minnesota determines Prevailing Wage rates. They conveniently ignored that it's a relatively simple system that has worked well in Minnesota for more than 30 years. They also ignored that the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor says there are "no superior alternatives" to the state's current methods.

Opponents argued that unions set an artificially high rate. They ignored the fact that Prevailing Wage is not a union or nonunion issue. It's a matter of community standards, and of taxpayers being able to hold contractors accountable for the wages and benefits they provide.

The fact is, Minnesota bases its prevailing wage determinations on both union and nonunion construction. The fact is, in Minnesota, a union rate prevails in only about 50 percent of the job classes covered by prevailing wage. Nationally, the union rate prevails only about 28 percent of the time.

Opponents claimed over and over that Prevailing Wage costs taxpayers more. But they ignored the Legislative Auditor's conclusion that the claim is not true. The best studies with the highest level of credibility "found that prevailing wage laws do not have a statistically significant impact on overall construction costs," the OLA report said.

Opponents also ignore other key benefits of Prevailing Wage, including higher levels of worker productivity and training.

Worker productivity has a huge impact on project costs. A wage rate tells you how much you'll pay per hour. It doesn't tell you how many hours you'll pay for.

Because Prevailing Wage recognizes the value of a highly skilled and productive workforce, taxpayers get more for their money. Prevailing Wage helps the state hire contractors who get the project right the first time, thereby avoiding unanticipated costs and delays. What seems like the cheapest labor upfront isn't always the best deal in the long run.

Prevailing Wage also promotes the worker training programs that support higher levels of productivity. In states with Prevailing Wage requirements, like Minnesota, enrollment in apprenticeship training programs is 82 percent higher. In those same states, the graduation rate for apprentices is twice as high as in states without Prevailing Wage.

States that have Prevailing Wage enjoy other benefits that are not so obvious. For example, injury rates on construction sites have risen as much as 14 percent in states that repealed their Prevailing Wage laws. In those same states, 79 percent of construction workers lost access to health insurance once Prevailing Wage was abolished.

Investing in Minnesota's infrastructure is an investment in Minnesota's economy. Prevailing Wage strengthens that investment by strengthening our local employers, and improving our workforce. It does all this while providing the accountability that makes sure taxpayers get the best results for their money.


Enabling abusive union organizing tactics

Congress prepared to appease Big Labor

If you have a real thing for wonky Beltway policy debates, then you know about the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill hailed by the left as an essential step to rolling back poverty and decried by the right as an affront to healthy capitalism. The bill passed in the House but stalled in the Senate last summer, but now people outside Washington are going to hear more about this issue as states are going to consider passing their own version. The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council recently announced that any state that enacts something like the Free Choice Act will get negative points in the SBE Council's yearly index of how healthy the climate in certain states is for small businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive.

The Employee Free Choice Act would allow employees to vote on whether or not to unionize with an open system of signing cards, as opposed to the secret-ballot process that is the status quo. It sounds arcane, but the basic debate when it comes to small business is this: Is a process that would effectively increase union members a good thing? The SBE Council gives some reasons to think not:
Card-check, which eviscerates the current right employees have to cast a private vote regarding whether they want union representation or not, enables abusive organizing tactics. This mandated approach to union organizing—where everyone in the workplace would know how each individual feels about union representation—will only serve to establish an environment that is ripe for harassment and underhanded tactics. This unfair, turn-key approach to forced unionization will be especially burdensome and costly for small businesses.... The 'card-check' bill would boost the level of unionization, increase costs, and restrain productivity. That, of course, means that businesses become less competitive. Of course, in the long run, both business owners and employees would suffer.
A problem with considering just how much something like the Employee Free Choice Act affects small business is that the subject of union membership in small businesses seems like a critically understudied issue. I gave the Bureau of Labor Statistics a call, and it said it doesn't collect any data on whether or not union members work for small businesses, and if they don't do it, probably no one else does, either. If we can't know that, it seems equally hard to predict just what would change if card-check was allowed.

Maybe the only answer is to see what the actual people on the ground think. Any small-business people out there, what are your thoughts on unionization? Do the proposals in this bill worry you?


Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

IBEW Local 1837 is working with the national AFL-CIO to help pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) as it moves to the United States Senate. In Maine, Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are being asked by union members to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill. In New Hampshire, we are asking Sen. John E. Sununu to do the same.

As it stands now, the cards are stacked against unions in favor of the employers during any campaign to organize workers into a bargaining unit so that they may enjoy the benefits of union representation. Workers who try to exercise their legal right to organize in the workplace are often threatened, harassed, intimidated—even fired!

The Employee Free Choice Act would help to restore workers’ rights by doing the following:

· Establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights.
· Provide mediation and arbitration to help ensure a first contract and thwart employer refusal to bargain in good faith.
· Allow employees to form unions by signing authorization cards with "majority sign-up" to help avoid anti-democratic employer coercion.

The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800) passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 241-185. Reps. Thomas Allen and Michael Michaud of Maine, Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire have all signed on as sponsors and voted in favor of the measure.

In response, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other anti-union organizations have sought to portray the legislation as a violation of workers’ rights. Their claims that unions are determined to end secret ballot elections are a smokescreen for their true goal: To continue the current unfair and anti-democratic election process which gives highly-paid union-buster consultants an opportunity to do their dirty work! (Remember, the former Soviet Union used to have secret ballot elections, too.)

The Employee Free Choice Act faces an uphill battle in the Senate. It is vital that we contact our U.S. Senators today to let them know that the survival of the middle class depends in no small part on America’s labor unions.


Clinton fixation puts AFSCME members in hock

The independent political arm of the nation's largest government workers union has taken out a $1 million loan to replenish its coffers after spending millions of dollars backing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and criticizing her rival, Sen. Barack Obama, according to campaign records. Despite the union's endorsement of Mrs. Clinton, state chapters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Illinois and Oregon have broken with the national leadership in recent months and thrown their support behind Mr. Obama.

Filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show that the union's political group, AFSCME People, took out a $1 million loan on Feb. 25 from Amalgamated Bank in New York while spending more than $2 million to sway the Democratic contest. The expenditures included more than $200,000 in negative mailers against Mr. Obama in New Hampshire, Iowa and Ohio.

Several AFSCME vice presidents worry that the move could hurt the union if Mr. Obama secures the Democratic nomination.

Officials from AFSCME's independent political committee did not return numerous phone messages.

Gerald McEntee, AFSCME president and a prominent backer of former President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton, yesterday stood by the decision to back the senator from New York, saying "she can rebuild the country, strengthen the middle class and bring back good jobs."

"When we endorse a candidate, we back it up with everything we've got," he said. "That's what we've been doing. And that's exactly what we're going to do for the November election."

But Ken Allen, executive director of Oregon AFSCME Council 75, has said the national union ignored requests from his state chapter to refrain from campaigning for Mrs. Clinton in Oregon, which holds its primary today.

"President McEntee has ignored our requests and sent a mail piece on behalf of Sen. Clinton, phoned our members, moved staff to Oregon to assist the Clinton campaign and now is sending off another mailer," Mr. Allen wrote in a May 7 letter to state union members, which is posted on the state chapter's Web site, www.oregonafscme.com.

"McEntee's actions are disrespectful to our Oregon leaders, members and a waste of money," he added. "Given the status of the race at this time his efforts are probably meaningless."

In a letter to Mr. Allen distributed to Oregon chapter members, Mr. McEntee said the national union's executive board voted 23-10 to back Mrs. Clinton and that officials "fully intend to educate our members about why Senator Clinton earned our endorsement."

"To do otherwise would be irresponsible of the International Union and unfair to AFSCME's Oregon members," Mr. McEntee wrote.

Because of the drawn-out nomination fight between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, AFSCME and other union political action groups are spending more during this campaign season compared with previous presidential races, according to FEC filings.

In contrast to AFSCME, the political arm of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), known as the Committee on Political Education (COPE), has backed Mr. Obama, spending more than $10 million on the presidential race, including $1.5 million attacking presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, according to the FEC.

SEIU-COPE reported spending less than $1 million through the first three months of 2004 heading into the general election between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

AFSCME People and SEIU-COPE are two of the largest independent political action committees that have doled out money in the presidential race. Independent PACs can advocate for or against candidates, but they cannot consult with the campaigns.

"We do have more resources than we have had in any previous election to get our message out," said SEIU-COPE spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller, adding that the prolonged nomination fight probably has helped rather than hurt the group's fundraising.

"We don't think it's had a negative impact," she said. "If anything, it's helped us lay the groundwork for what we're going to be doing in the general election with much more intensity."

Overall, the records show, unions and other independent political action committees have poured more than $24.9 million into the presidential race. Mr. Obama has criticized the flow of outside money from independent PACs.

According to the FEC, outside groups — led by the SEIU — have spent more than $11.5 million on Mr. Obama's behalf. By contrast, independent political committees have spent $5.5 million to help elect Mrs. Clinton and less than $25,000 on behalf of Mr. McCain.

Mrs. Clinton also has won the backing of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), but Mr. Obama has been picking up more union support, including the endorsement of the United Steelworkers this week. It remains to be seen whether the sharp divisions among some labor unions such as AFSCME and SEIU during the nomination fight will heal in the general election.

"To some extent, it's the same question that surrounded the whole Democratic nomination: Is the party going to come around to Obama?" said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. "I think the unions will coalesce around the nominee, and it's going to be pretty clear that Democratic nominee will have views more in concert with the view of the Republicans.

"The Obama campaign is going to welcome supporters whenever they get on board," he said. "Certainly, the individuals and organizations that were on board before Iowa will probably have some aura that those who joined the campaign aren't going to have."


CNA bid for Vegas nurses' dues drags on

SEIU organizers buy time in desert dispute

The Service Employees International Union is challenging the results of a recent union election in which the rival California Nurses Association fell just short of the majority vote needed to take over representation of more than 1,000 nurses at three St. Rose Dominican hospitals here. The practical effect of the objection to the election — which could delay another election for months — could be good for the SEIU.

First, it gives the SEIU time to try to persuade nurses to stick with their current union. More important, it might also give the SEIU enough time to negotiate an improved contract for St. Rose workers — a union’s best weapon.

The stakes already are high for SEIU Nevada, which has suffered a number of recent setbacks, including a Labor Department investigation of a contested union officer election last year and a defeat in a race against the CNA to represent 500 nurses at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno.

The most recent blow came this month, when registered nurses at St. Rose’s three Southern Nevada hospitals voted in greater numbers to join the CNA rather than retain the SEIU. Neither union won, however, because a small number of nurses voted for neither union and another six votes were contested. That prevented either side from reaching more than 50 percent, the threshold set by federal labor law.

Assuming the contested votes don’t sway the results, the two unions likely would have faced off again soon in a runoff election, this time without the “no union” option on the ballot.

But the SEIU’s objection, filed late last week, will probably prevent another election from taking place soon. Labor experts say such objections usually take several months to resolve and can be drawn out for more than a year.

Among other allegations, the objection says Catholic Healthcare West, owner of the St. Rose chain, gave the CNA preferential access to break rooms and bulletin boards. CNA officials called the objection a stall tactic and the accusations baseless, and St. Rose officials insist they created a fair and impartial environment for both unions.

Though a ruling in favor of the SEIU might give it some ammunition against its competition, it won’t change the process much. Another election will occur regardless of the objection’s outcome, the only difference being whether the “no union” option will again appear on the ballot; it will if the protest is upheld.

The delay itself — not the outcome — could be a boon for the SEIU, especially if it can hash out a better contract with St. Rose before facing the CNA again.

“This gives them a chance to campaign and push those people who might be on the fence, but it also gives them a chance to negotiate a good contract,” said David Hames, an associate professor of management at UNLV who specializes in labor relations. “It might be a campaign tactic and a very successful one.”

The SEIU and management at St. Rose had started negotiating a new contract when the CNA petitioned the federal labor board for an election. Those negotiations were put on hold pending the election, with the exception of one negotiating session just after the election.

Now the SEIU is eager to return to the bargaining table.

“The goal for the workers and hospitals is absolutely a standard-setting contract,” said Hilary Haycock, spokeswoman for SEIU Nevada.

The SEIU, which represents 17,500 health care and public sector workers in Nevada, has announced an aggressive agenda that includes higher wages, enforceable staffing ratios for ancillary staff, elimination of last-minute shift cancellations and the resolution of a health insurance dispute. The CNA also has used some of those issues, particularly the insurance dispute, as rallying points in its campaign.

The union could play hardball on those issues, especially with representation of roughly 1,100 nurses on the line.

St. Rose officials aren’t saying whether they plan to return to the table amid the labor turmoil.

“I think that’s a conversation we will have to have with the SEIU,” said Andy North, a St. Rose spokesman.


Leftist rips Dem Gov. over bargaining veto

Why did Culver betray Democrats?

Question: If you are the governor of Iowa and you make a bad choice, how do you know for sure that you screwed up? Answer: House Minority Leader Christopher Rants supports your decision. And so it comes as no surprise that Rants, who is no friend of working people who are willing to stand up for their rights, agrees with Gov. Culver’s decision last week to veto an expansion of collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. It was not only a slap in the face to labor leaders and rank-and-file workers trying to level the playing field in negotiations, but also to his fellow Democrats in the House and Senate who championed the cause.

The bill, Senate File 2645, would have expanded the scope of topics that can be a part of contract negotiations for public employee unions. For example, if teachers wanted to request smaller classes or police wanted bullet-proof vests they could make those items a part of the negotiations. The bill would not have required that every request be granted but simply that public employees would have an opportunity to ask, to bring the aforementioned items into the discussion. What’s wrong with that? Under current law, public employers can insist that negotiations only cover salary or benefits. The bill would have been a minor change that has worked in 27 other states where similar rules are in place.

Culver’s reasons for vetoing the collective bargaining expansion were anything but clear other than to say the bill is deeply flawed. “It is vaguely written, with the potential for far-reaching, unintended consequences that could obligate the citizens for substantial new public expenditures,” he said. The only thing that was vague was Culver’s explanation for not signing the bill. He did not explain what the “far-reaching, unintended consequences” or “substantial new public expenditures” might be.

The governor also made reference to his warning to legislative Democrats to slow things down after they initially tried to pass the bill in the House in one day and pass it in the Senate the following day. If anything, the Democrats were simply taking a page out of the Republican playbook after watching the GOP pass bills the same way for the previous four decades while they were in the majority. The Republicans used stall tactics to draw the debate out for several more days and then acted like they had never seen anyone attempt to pass a bill with such haste. Give me a break.

The fact is that Gov. Culver ended up having an opportunity to meet privately with legislative leaders for weeks to modify the bill. When they didn’t cave in to his demands, the governor took his toys and went home in the style of Minority Leader Rants when he doesn’t get his way.

Linda Nelson, president of the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, perhaps put it best when she said she feels let down by Culver. “He missed a great opportunity to recognize educators as true professional and full partners in education decision-making,” she said.

You would think that Culver, himself a former teacher, would know better. Some have called the governor’s veto courageous. From where I sit, it looks more like cowardice.

- Paul Guggenheimer is a free-lance writer and radio and TV personality in Sioux City.


Worker-choice law boosts Utah business climate

Utah Ranked Number One in Two Economic Competitiveness Reports

Utah is the most competitive State in the nation according to two economic development reports issued this week. The Becon Hill Institute’s State Competitiveness Report for 2007 and the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index listed Utah in the top position. The reports are based on quantifying indexes and variables that include fiscal policy, security, infrastructure, business incubation, state minimum wage, tax policy and education freedom.

“These top competitive rankings certainly recognize our work ethic, creativity and strong economic engine driven by entrepreneurs who are taking us in the right direction,” said Governor Jon Huntsman. “This is an exciting addition to the Kauffman Foundation’s top ranking as the most dynamic State in the nation earlier this year.”

Utah ranked second in Government and Fiscal Policy as well as Infrastructure and Business Incubation according to the Becon Hill Report. Last year’s report ranked Utah second in Competiveness.

The ALEC-Laffer report “Rich States Poor States” ranked Utah number one in Economic Competitiveness. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been in existence since 1973 and is the nation’s largest individual membership organization of state legislators with more than 2,400 members. This economic development report was the first of its kind for the group.

Utah also ranked number one in Estate/Inheritance Tax as well as State Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work according to the ALEC-Laffer report.


Pro-union study rips worker-choice

But forced-labor union dues fall on those who can least afford it

Union advocates often point out that the presence of organized labor boosts the wages of nonunion workers in a community as well. But the Center for Economic and Policy Research has taken that notion a step further and found that the workers who get the most benefit from unionization are those who are paid the least in the economy.

From 2003 to 2007, unionization raised the average wage of the lowest-paid U.S. worker by 20.6 percent, according to center’s study. By comparison, the average U.S. worker saw his or her wages rise by 13.7 percent during the same period due to organized labor. The highest-paid typical U.S. worker received a premium boost of 6.1 percent due to union labor.

In the U.S., the lowest-paid nonunion workers averaged $7.60 an hour. The center, a Washington, think tank, found that $1.57 of that hourly wage was created by organized labor’s existence.

“Unions give the biggest boost to low-wage workers because these are the workers that have the least bargaining power in the labor market,” said John Schmitt, senior economist with the center and the study’s author. “Unionization has a large and measurable impact on bargaining power, and therefore the wages, of low-wage workers.”

The effect on low-wage workers in Missouri is similar to the national average, with union labor providing those employees with a 19.6 percent premium. In dollar terms, the typical low-wage Missouri worker earns $7.43 an hour, of which $1.45 is created by the union effect, according to Schmitt’s study.

In Kansas, a right-to-work state, the effect on the lowest-paid workers is even greater. They get a 27.2 percent premium due to organized labor’s presence. That translates to $7.43 an hour, with $2.02 of that figure attributed to unionization.

Schmitt said several factors could contribute to the higher-than-average impact the union premium has in Kansas, including the types of industries located there. With work forces generally smaller in the rural and Plains states, one successful organizing drive in a low-wage sector could boost the pay for all nonunion workers in low-paying jobs, he said.

For the AFL-CIO, the study was an affirmation of the importance organized labor continues to play in the economy.

“For millions of workers who work hard and take home less to show for it, being part of a union that provides a say on the job is all the more important,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in a statement. “This study proves that for workers on the bottom rungs of the pay scale, bargaining power is the best, and often only, means to gain a leg up to the middle class.”


News Union takes another dues hit

Worker buyouts may force dues hikes

The Times Union, the largest daily newspaper in the Albany, N.Y., area, is offering voluntary buyout packages to all employees. Mark Aldam, publisher of the Times Union, said the Hearst Corp.-owned newspaper is hoping to trim 30 jobs, in any of the newspaper's departments. This represents about 6 percent of its workforce of 485 people.

"Every employee is eligible," he said. "This is a graceful way for employees who are considering a career change to transition out of the paper."

Aldam said that if enough people do not accept the buyouts, which he described as "lucrative," the paper may have to resort to layoffs.

"We will try to avoid that," he said. "We have been able to for the past several years."

The goal, Aldam said, is to lower the operating costs of the Times Union's core business while it invests in becoming a multi-media company. Revenue for these "new media" businesses, including online, is "growing robustly" while revenue from core operations--the publishing of the traditional print edition--is down. He did not provide figures.

"Of course, the core business is the biggest percentage of our operation," Aldam said.

Like many daily newspapers, The Times Union has seen its readership decline in recent years. While weekend readership rose slightly, average daily circulation fell 3.3 percent, to 89,256, for the six-month period ended March 31, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Buy-outs are becoming increasingly common among newspapers hit by a down economy and increased competition for advertising dollars. Newspaper companies to offer buyouts in the past year include The Capital in Annapolis, Md; The Miami Herald, the Sacramento Bee; The Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press and The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.


NLRB hands Foxwoods workers over to UAW

Either way, AFL-CIO would tap new dues source

Think of it as a dispute between two siblings: two unions under the same umbrella, vying to represent one group of workers at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Since both unions are AFL-CIO affiliates, the decision as to who should move forward in the organizing process was handled behind closed doors and moderated by an AFL-CIO arbitrator.

In the end, the United Auto Workers union beat out the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and has the exclusive right (among AFL-CIO affiliates) to seek representation of slot technicians at the tribally owned casino for the next two years, according to the arbitrator's decision, which was obtained by The Day.

The arbitrator cited the UAW's successful campaign to organize poker and table-game dealers at Foxwoods in November and said that momentum may benefit the union in this bid to unionize between 80 and 120 workers at both Foxwoods and the newly opened MGM Grand at Foxwoods.

”The union is well-positioned to build on this work to successfully organize and represent the other gaming employees, including the slot technicians, as it has at other casinos,” wrote Duane Woerth, the impartial umpire, in his decision, which was addressed to the presidents of the UAW and IBEW on May 9.

A spokesman for the IBEW said the union will abide by the arbitrator's decision.

”We gave it an honest shot, we put our case forward (and) the arbitrator made his decision,” said Jim Spellane, spokesman for the IBEW's international office, located in Washington.

The IBEW was the first to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on April 8, stating it had the support of a substantial number of slot technicians at Foxwoods.

The UAW filed its petition the following week.

Only the UAW petition specifically included workers at MGM Grand at Foxwoods, which opened this past weekend.

”We believe gaming employees will be strongest when we come together in one big union,” said Bonnie Forman, on behalf of the UAW. She has worked at Foxwoods as a table-game dealer for over seven years.“Slot techs have been mistreated, just like we have. With the UAW we have the experience and resources to get a contract.”

According to the IBEW, slot technicians sought out the union after the UAW began collecting union authorization cards from workers at the same time it was collecting cards from dealers last year.

When a petition was filed seeking to unionize the dealers, but not the slot technicians, workers felt as though they had been left out.

Woerth acknowledged that if the UAW wants to win the support of slot technicians at Foxwoods and MGM Grand at Foxwoods, it has to reach out to those workers in particular.

”The UAW has work to do in restoring support among the slot technicians,” Woerth wrote.“But I am confident the UAW can win back their support, given the resources and commitment the UAW continues to devote to this campaign, and given the UAW's track record of success among slot technicians at other casinos.”

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods, has continually requested that unions seeking to organize workers at the casino to do so under tribal law, which forbids striking.

”Maybe the UAW leadership wouldn't have to go through all of this trouble if they sought to organize under tribal law,” said Bruce MacDonald, a tribal spokesman.

Attorneys representing the tribe and the UAW will discuss issues relating to the prospective bargaining unit and the union's petition at a hearing before an NLRB hearing officer in Hartford next month.


Union racism ignored by Louisiana leftist

The growing economic crisis has pointed to significant flaws in the theory and functioning of the US economy. After years of an ideological barrage from the political Right insisting that there is no need for social safety nets to protect those at the bottom, we are discovering that those at the bottom are increasing in number and that there is nothing 'trickling down' from on high to save them. We are watching increasing numbers of people lose their health insurance, if they ever had it, and increasing numbers of people relying on insufficient food stamps in order to eat.

A significant section of the population of the USA bought into compelling myths about an economy benefiting us all. And while these myths were being propagated, our living standards were dropping. Yet not everyone's living standard has been dropping; only the bottom 80% of the population.

To put it in stark terms, unless you are a millionaire or approaching millionaire status, your income and 'wealth' have been either stagnating or dropping. Since the mid 1970s wealth and income in the USA have been polarizing very dramatically. Stark figures, such as the top 1 percent of the population controlling 35 percent of the wealth, are no longer viewed, even in the mainstream media, as doubtful. The entire notion of a fair distribution of society's wealth has been challenged by years of Reagan, Bush, Clinton (yes, even Clinton!!), and the younger Bush. And while this has been happening, misery has spread, and along with that a significant amount of despair.

There are two points about this that need to be made. The first, which is not the main subject of this commentary, is that Senator Obama was correct when he spoke about encountering bitterness among much of the White working class. This is so obvious that it was shocking that it could be seen as controversial. This anger has been growing among White workers and White farmers going back to the mid1980s, a point that Rev. Jesse Jackson observed and spoke to in both his '84 and '88 campaigns.

What has not been said is that Black workers have been bitter for a lot longer. The replacement of Black workers by more and more sophisticated technology, as well as the relocation of jobs from the major cities into more distant suburbs (and in some cases rural areas), has made the possibility of making a decent living less possible.

The other point that arises when looking at the evolution of the wealth and income disparity between the lower 80% and the upper 20% is that as organizations of working class people weaken-including but not limited to labor unions-it has become much more difficult to fight for wealth and income fairness. It is actually very straight forward. The upper 20 percent want to ensure that they not only control the process of work, but that they secure the lion's share of the wealth produced by those who work.

Black workers have, particularly since the 1930s, been especially loyal to and involved with labor unions. We recognized during the Great Depression that unions were the most successful means of demanding that wealth and income be divided on a fair basis. As a result Black workers have played a key role in building and sustaining unions through the years. When the economy started to shift, however, many of the key industries where there were significant numbers of unionized Black workers (e.g., auto, steel) vanished or relocated. While a considerable number of Black workers remain unionized (approximately 16%) the disappearance of these unionized jobs has contributed to a hollowing of our communities.

If we are going to challenge income and wealth inequality we must join and build unions where Black workers can play an influential, if not leading, role.

The Service Employees International Union, for instance, has played an important role in a major organizing effort targeted at security guards, a sector that has a very large Black component. While this is important, we will need to go further. Retail, warehouses, not to mention public sector jobs in the South, are all places where Black workers can be found in large numbers, and the union movement needs to move on them, and in doing so must have our support.

Those in the upper 20% have, by and large, little interest in sharing the wealth. So be it. Now the time has arrived for us to stop blaming ourselves and demand redistribution. Labor unions can be part of the answer, particularly if Black workers have a major stake in leading them.

- Bill Fletcher Jr., NNPA Columnist


Teamsters, others to back striking SEIU janitors

Silicon Valley janitors who are poised to walk off the job this week received the support of more than 300 Bay Area unions Monday. Unions representing sanitation workers, delivery drivers, operating engineers, building and construction trades, window cleaners and others vow not to cross the picket lines of SEIU Local 1877. The Teamsters also said it would not cross the picket lines.

“The Teamsters are behind the janitors 110%,” said Larry Daugherty of the Teamsters Local 305 in a morning press conference outside Applied Materials in the Silicon Valley. “Teamsters won’t cross janitors’ picket lines and that means no trash will be coming out, no deliveries will be going in, period.”

Janitors who clean Silicon Valley’s high-tech and bio-tech corporate campuses—including Apple, Applied Materials, Cisco Systems, Intel, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Yahoo and other facilities—voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to authorize a strike.

Management officials have been unavailable for comment.


UAW-AAM striker: 'We deserve better than this.'

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