Labor union revival conjures Prog Era

Backbone of Successful Electoral Struggle in 2008

With growing excitement, involvement, and independence, the labor movement could have its biggest impact on national elections in 2008 than it has had since the 1930s, said Communist Party Labor Commission Chair Scott Marshall in a teleconference with activists last week.

Marshall stressed that the greater independence of labor in this cycle has been developing over the last few years. "The labor movement has been moving consistently in the direction of greater political involvement and greater political independence over the last five or six election cycles, really since the change in leadership in 1995," Marshall noted.

That new found independence and activism includes a new relationship with the Democratic Party, Marshall emphasized. "It's not just more of the same," he said.

"Unions have taken over independently. Much of the electoral work of labor unions is being done out of union halls, quite independent of the Democratic Party, although very much in cooperation with the Democratic Party," he said. "But it's not a question anymore, and it hasn't been for a long time, of just giving money to candidates and putting their stamp of approval on candidates."

"It has been a very activist, hands-on involvement by the labor movement, in their own name and increasingly with their own structures," Marshall stated. "I don't think there has been this kind of development since the 1930s."

The new found independence and the upsurge of voters against the Bush administration have given labor an important role in driving the agenda of the Democratic Party and the voter upsurge that surrounds it, said Marshall.

"Labor's agenda is driving the overall agenda and having a huge influence on the Democratic Party and on the candidates," Marshal maintained.

On the issues, labor has a broad agenda, but is specifically looking to win at least two important national goals as a result of this election: universal health care and passage of the employee free choice act, he noted.

In addition to these, Marshall continued, labor rights in general, the bad economy, and increasingly linking the war to the bad economy, trade and manufacturing, and immigration reform are integral parts of labor's program.

Marshall also highlighted some key activities the labor movement is involved with: mobilizing hundreds of thousands of labor activists in labor walks and the John McCain Revealed Campaign. He asserted that election work is rebuilding the unity of the labor movement itself, hinting that it is only a matter of time before the Change to Win federation re-merges with the AFL-CIO. But most importantly, Marshall concluded, labor is playing a decisive role in forging the unity of the ground and electoral forces that will be needed to defeat John McCain and the Republicans on November 4th.

You can follow the activities of the labor commission by checking out its blog at laborupfront.blogspot.com.


Is Barack too cozy with Hoffa?

Related video: "Hoffa: This is all about power"

Obama Pledge to Teamsters Raises Questions

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that last summer, Illinois Senator Barack Obama told officials in the Teamsters union that he favored ending the Independent Review Board (IRB) that was created in 1989 by the federal government to rid the union of organized crime. Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama, confirmed the story, saying that the candidate believed that the IRB had "run its course" because "organized crime influence in the union has drastically declined." The Teamsters subsequently endorsed Obama for president, in late February.

Obama and the Teamsters bristled at suggestions that any deal was made. The Obama campaign also circulated a tape of a speech that Senator Hillary Clinton made last March to the Teamsters saying "at some point the past has to be opened," but Clinton's statement, like those made by Senator John Kerry in 2004, stopped well short of committing her to end oversight of the Teamsters. Based on the statements the newspaper quoted, it is fair to assume that The Wall Street Journal got the details right.

There are two reasons to be concerned about Obama's actions here. The first is procedural. Obama's promise to close down the IRB suggests a Bush-like contempt for the customary relationship between government and the judicial process. The president himself can't shut down the IRB. He can only recommend to his attorney general that he recommend to the U.S. Attorney in New York that it be shut down. But in these kind of touchy matters, presidents usually defer to the judgment of their attorney generals. By coming close to promising a shutdown, Obama was putting politics above judicial procedure - which is just the kind of "Washington" behavior that he likes to criticize his opponents for doing.

The second reason for concern is more substantive. Labor leaders have made plausible arguments for shutting down the IRB, but a Chicago politician should be extremely wary of acceding to them. If there is continuing mob influence in the Teamsters, it is probably centered in the Chicago area. And in the last decade, the Teamsters in Chicago have shown little enthusiasm for rooting out corruption in their ranks. As a veteran Chicago politician surrounded by a veteran Chicago campaign staff, Obama had to have known this - and that makes his warm words to the Teamsters all the more disturbing.

The IRB achieved some success in policing the Teamsters. In its first decade, it suspended or ousted more than 500 individual Teamsters and recommended that the union place 27 locals under "trusteeship," which consists of replacing the local's leadership with outsiders appointed by the international. It also instituted democratic elections of the top officers in the union, and ordered the ouster of former Teamster president Ron Carey for accepting illegal campaign donations in his 1996 election defeat of James P. Hoffa, who succeeded Carey three years later, and continues to lead the union today.

But Hoffa and the Teamster leadership have chafed under government supervision. To build an argument for getting rid of the IRB, Hoffa set up his own internal oversight group. It was called RISE (or Respect, Integrity, Strength, and Ethics) and was run by a former federal prosecutor and organized crime expert Ed Stier. In August 2001, Hoffa said, "It's time for the government to move out. We've created programs where the union is clean, and it's time for us to get from under government supervision." And Hoffa, President Bush and Representative Peter Hoekstra, a conservative Republican who chaired a key House subcommittee, began an elaborate courtship aimed on Hoffa's part at disbanding the IRB.

But Hoffa's efforts were derailed by a sensational IRB report that appeared late that year detailing the efforts of Chicago Teamsters, working with a Chicago labor broker, Richard Simon, whom Stier would later describe as "having ties to organized crime," to undermine a Teamster local in Las Vegas by negotiating non-union, low-wage agreements to service the city's numerous business conventions. (I wrote an article, "Dirty Deal," about this investigation in The New Republic on April 1, 2002.) The arrangement was a clear breach of the union's commitment under the National Labor Relations Act to offer "fair representation" to its members. Yet Hoffa and his top leadership initially aided the scheme by firing Las Vegas Teamster officials who objected. Finally, the IRB expelled William Hogan, the President of local 714, the most powerful Teamster in Chicago, and forced the Teamsters to put a stop to the collusion between the Chicago officials and Simon in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Stier did feel that he was making progress in his first years on the job, and it was not out of the question to imagine that RISE could not merely supplement, but supplant the IRB. In 2002, Teamster Spokesman Bret Caldwell told me that once the IRB was shut down, RISE will "ensure that corruption is fully eliminated from the union." For Stier, however, those hopes were dashed the next year when he began investigating Chicago-area Teamster locals for corruption. As he later detailed in a report, Stier discovered "multiple issues related to organized crime [and] corruption" in Local 714, and similar issues in five other area locals. The report concluded, "Issues related to organized crime infiltration and associated corruption in the Chicago area are numerous and cut across jurisdictional lines." But in the fall of 2003, as Stier was still in the midst of his investigation, the Teamster leadership began objecting vociferously to it, and in February 2004, Hoffa shut it down.

That April, Stier and 20 other investigators and lawyers involved with RISE resigned in protest. In the report that Stier subsequently issued, he put the blame for his departure on Hoffa's Executive Assistant and on the president of Chicago Joint Council 25 of the Teamsters. He accused them of bowing to present from "the Chicago organized crime family - known as the Chicago 'Outfit' - [which] concluded that its interests in Teamster matters were threatened by IBT investigative activities and had ordered those activities shut down."

Hoffa and the Teamsters released a report of their own in 2005 dismissing Stier's charges. And that's where matters would have stood - except for the IRB. Last October, the IRB recommended that the Teamsters remove the leadership of the main target of Stier's probe, Local 714, and place the union in trusteeship. It detailed numerous abuses by the union's leadership. Stier told the Chicago Tribune, "I'm glad to see that the IRB is pursuing these corruption issues in Chicago. I think there is more to do." The IRB's actions, taken in the wake of Stier's resignation and the end of RISE, made a pretty good case that the IRB was still needed.

All of this may be new information for people who don't live in Chicago, but it can't have been unknown to Obama and the Chicagoans who run his campaign. Stier's resignation and the IRB investigation, and the charges of corruption and organized crime have been covered over the years by Chicago Tribune reporter Stephen Franklin and other local journalists. Yet the taint of corruption and of ties to organized crime seemed not to ruffle Obama and his campaign. According to the Journal report, the Obama campaign brokered the candidate's promise to end the IRB with John Coli, the Chicago-area chairman of Joint Council 25, whom Stier identified in his report as one of the people responsible for shutting down his investigation. (Obama's Federal Election Commission records also show a hefty contribution to his senatorial and presidential races from the same Richard Simon who hatched the Vegas scheme to undercut local union workers and who, according to Stier, has mob ties.)

Voters, of course, understand that in order to get endorsements, politicians often turn a blind eye to corruption. They employ lobbyists who have worked for nefarious domestic or foreign clients or whose private activities contradict the politicians' public pronouncements. But if Barack Obama wants to run as the candidate of good government and higher morality, the place to start may not be Washington, but his home town of Chicago.

- John B. Judis


Union payoffs by lawyers must be reported

Court Upholds Reporting Requirements on Employer Payments to Unions

On May 5, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed a challenge to the U.S. Department of Labor's authority to require reports from attorneys who make payments to unions or union officials. The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) requires employers to file reports if, among other things, they provide money or other things of value to a union or a union officer or employee.

In this case, Warshauer v. Chao, an attorney who had been appointed as a designated legal counsel by the United Transportation Union (UTU) sued to enjoin the secretary of labor from requiring him to file a Form LM-10 (Employer Report). Designated legal counsel are lawyers recommended by a union to its members for representation in workers' compensation, personal injury or other matters.

The attorney challenged certain Web site advisories that the department's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) had issued in 2005 and 2006 to provide guidance on Form LM-10 reporting requirements. These included advisories stating that designated legal counsel who make certain payments must file Form LM-10 reporting the payments. The advisories also provided guidance that payments of $250 or less need not be reported.

The Web site advisory followed an OLMS investigation of corruption in the UTU that resulted in the felony conviction of four union officials. These officials pled guilty to conspiring with others to violate federal mail and wire fraud statutes, among others, by using their positions of authority to solicit and collect cash payments and other things of value from attorneys doing business or seeking to do business as designated legal counsels of the UTU.

The Web site advisory made plain that designated legal counsel must file a Form LM-10 reporting payments from the lawyer to the union or its officials because union members have a right to evaluate whether a lawyer's presence on a list of designated legal counsel is based on merit rather than a financial relationship between the lawyer and union officials.

The court held that the Web site advisories were interpretative guidance not subject to the notice and comment rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act as the plaintiff had argued. The court also found that the evidence presented by the plaintiff failed to support a determination that the advisories departed from previously established official policy concerning Form LM-10.

"This decision is a victory for America's working men and women, helping them learn who is making payments to their unions and union leaders, and is part of the department's continuing efforts to ensure transparency and accountability required by LMRDA from employers as well as labor organizations," said Gregory F. Jacob, solicitor of labor.

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

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


All-Dem Gov't A Union 'Nightmare'

Union-GOP marriage of convenience exposed

In an interview with The Capitol (the sister publication of City Hall news), CSEA President Danny Donohue sought to explain labor's longstanding alliance with the Senate Republicans - a situation that would be considered unusual outside New York, where unions are considered more of a Democratic partner.

Divided government suits the public employee unions' needs, Donohue said, (not to mention that of many other special interests), enabling them to play one side against the other to get their agenda accomplished.
"If there were three that were very effective, I’d say keep all three,” he said. “The nightmare is if you have a governor who is the same party as the Assembly and the Senate.”
CSEA, of course, endorsed Democrat Eliot Spitzer for governor, but since he was far and away the frontrunner, so did most everyone else.

In 1998, CSEA, the largest state workers' union in New York, endorsed Republican Gov. George Pataki for re-election, but then abandoned him four years later in favor of his Democratic opponent, then-state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.

Others in the labor movement - generally those who represent workers in the private sector - disagree with Donohue's assessment.
"If you’ve already agreed in advance that automatically, we’re going to endorse you, then you end up, as we did before Spitzer, with a workers compensation benefit that ranked 49th in the country,” CWA legislative and political director Bob Master (also the co-chair of the labor-backed Working Families Party, a Democratic ally) told The Capitol.

“It was ridiculous that you had the most unionized state in the country with the largest union involvement and literally the worst workers compensation law in the country.”
The union-Republican marriage is arguably the brainchild of veteran consultant Norman Adler, under whose tutelage a whole generation of political minds was spawned, including SEIU/1199 lobbyists John Cordo and Jennifer Cunningham.

Adler, who got his start with DC37 and AFSCME, worked for former Assembly Speaker Mel Miller, as well as Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo and Mayor Robert Wagner (fixed).

He went on to co-found a lobbying/consulting firm with Miller, Bolton-St. John's, and now most of his political work is on GOP Senate campaigns.


Small business amps-up card-check watch

'No-vote' unionism harms business climate

Today, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council) warned state lawmakers across the nation that passing state-level versions of a labor union "card-check" bill would raise costs for businesses, and be a negative for their states' competitiveness and economies. This will be reflected in the forthcoming 2008 edition of SBE Council's "Small Business Survival Index."

Specifically, if states pass a "card-check" bill it will be counted as a negative on the 2008 edition of the "Small Business Survival Index." The Index, which is an annual report compiled by SBE Council, ranks the states according to their public policy climates for entrepreneurship and small business.

SBE Council President & CEO Karen Kerrigan explains: "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."

At the federal level, the U.S. Congress is debating the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act," H.R. 800, which not only replaces the employee's right to a private vote with the card-check scheme, but also imposes binding arbitration on small firms. If a small business owner cannot agree to contract terms within a 90-day window with their employees' new union representatives, government will be called in to help fashion the agreement - or, dictate the terms of the contract. The agreement would be binding for two years, which ties the business owners' hands regarding cost and other operational decisions. Of course, business owners need flexibility and control in making critical decisions in the fast-moving and uncertain global economy. (H.R. 800 passed the U.S. House in mid 2007, but is tied up in the U.S. Senate.)

SBE Council chief economist Raymond J. Keating added: "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."

The "Small Business Survival Index" is perhaps the most comprehensive gauge available of how state and local policymakers treat entrepreneurs and small businesses. The measurements covered include taxes, various regulatory costs, government spending, property rights, health care and energy costs, and much more. The 2007 Index considered 31 major government-imposed or government-related costs affecting small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Some governors have had the opportunity to act on state card-check bills involving private employers, and the outcome has been generally positive for small business.

"California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle deserve credit for their vetoes of state-level versions of the labor union ‘card-check' bill. Both these Governors understand what the bill would do to harm worker privacy and their states' competitiveness," said Kerrigan.

She also noted that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty wisely vetoed a state legislative resolution urging Congress to pass the ‘Employee Free Choice Act.'

SBE Council can be contacted at 703-242-5840. SBE Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit small business advocacy and research organization. The organization has worked to protect small business and promote entrepreneurship for fourteen years. For more information, please visit http://www.sbecouncil.org/.


Rep. Nick Lampson, Texas DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Last week Nick Lampson had the chance to vote with the wishes of his conservative constituents in CD 22 and failed! Repaying organized labor for their support in the November election, Democrat Nick Lampson voted with other liberals to deny workers their right to secret ballots during labor organizing elections. HR 800 would strip away workers rights to a federally supervised private ballot election during union organizing drives and make their vote public, thus open to intimidation from union representatives.

The right to a private ballot is a cornerstone of our democracy. If union bosses watch workers while they vote the workers will feel pressured to vote for the union. Personal choice will disappear. Lampson has abandoned workers and business owners in favor of union bosses.

Texas is a right-to-work state. Unions represent only a small portion of employees in Texas and Texans want to keep it that way.

During the House debate on HR 800, Lampson pulled a John Kerry, and flip-flopped on his promise to CD 22 voters. Lampson first voted to deny illegal immigrants union membership but then abandoned this position and voted with Nancy Pelosi and the liberals for passage of the bill.

Nick Lampson and the liberal Democrats have trampled on the rights of American workers and employers, and must be held accountable.


Bogus collective bargaining exposed

Chinese unionist rips Stern's China policy

In a speech to SEIU-UHW Executive Board on March 8th, prominent Chinese labor activist Dongfang Han, founder of China Labour Bulletin, asks if Chinese workers really benefit from the overnight setup of unions at Wal-Mart in China.

"There's no roots in those workers and in those stores, it's just putting some labels there." The setup of such unions without significant organizing or real elections, in Mr. Han's view, doesn't help Chinese workers because it lacks real collective bargaining involving the members.


AFSCME, SEIU mum on labor-state dues hit

The mood was “gloomy” Tuesday at the Bon Secours Campus of Altoona (PA) Regional Health System after the hospital announced layoffs and other staff reductions to help offset a $1.8 million operating deficit, said licensed practical nurse Corinne Nevling. “Very uncertain,” said Nevling, who could get bumped from her job on a medical-surgical floor.

The health system has laid off the full-time equivalent of 49 workers; reduced hours of other full- and part-time workers, eliminated 19 vacant positions, cut back on overtime and reduced agency, per diem and casual hours — for a total shrinkage equivalent of 95 full-time jobs, the hospital said Tuesday.

People who have worked at the hospital for many years, some in their 50s, are getting displaced, Nevling said.

She has been at Bon Secours for five years, but bumping has jarred her peace of mind before.

About five years ago, elimination of the maternity department gave birth to a flurry of bumping that knocked her from medical-surgical to geriatric mental health, Nevling said. It was stressful, although she came back to medical-surgical after a month.

“We all like to be in our little comfort zones,” she said.

It could take a long time for bumping from the current layoffs to shake out, so it’s hard to say who and how many will end up unemployed, Nevling and hospital spokesman Dave Cuzzolina said.

The hospital estimates about 40, after those who get bumped get a chance to apply for currently vacant positions. There are 76 empty posts.

Uncertainty has plagued Bon Secours since the hospital merged with its bigger rival Altoona Hospital to form the health system in 2004, Nevling said.

Ultimately, she expects the health system to eliminate the smaller campus.

That eventuality may be closer to reality with the approval this week by the health system board of a consolidation plan.

The target date for realizing the plan is 2012, Cuzzolina wrote.

It calls for bringing all acute care to the Altoona Hospital Campus, expanding outpatient surgery at the freestanding outpatient surgery center on that campus, transferring many — even most — other outpatient services from the outpatient center in the main complex at Altoona to Station Medical Center; and construction of a freestanding imaging center at Station Medical.

The Station Medical additions will occur within a year and a half and must happen before acute-care consolidation begins, Cuzzolina wrote.

It’s too early to predict what will happen to the Bon Secours Campus, Cuzzolina wrote.

Messages left with officials of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents licensed practical nurses, techs and service employees and the Service Employees International Union, which represents resgistered nurses, were not returned.


Philly IBEW boss guilty of stealing from union

The name Dougherty is in the news again, this time for a federal indictment. Donald "Gus" Dougherty, Jr., president of Dougherty Electric in Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to charges he embezzled thousands of dollars from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 98, in federal court yesterday.

Don Dougherty admitted to providing more than $100,000 in free repairs to the home of union leader John Dougherty (no relation), between 2002 and 2005.

According to Assistant District Attorney Anita Eve, Don Dougherty was involved in a cash payroll scheme, including supplementing his own income and the income of his employees.

"When you pay them in cash, you're depriving the union of its due benefits," Ms. Eve said.

U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan announced the plea came one month after Don Dougherty's April 15 guilty plea to 98 criminal counts that included operating an illegal cash payroll, stealing from a union benefits plan and bribing a bank official.

The indictment alleges Mr. Dougherty performed renovations to John Dougherty's personal South Philadelphia residence, including telecommunications repairs, installation, design and cable and fiber optics restorations. By failing to report the supplemental income, Don Dougherty allegedly stole from Local 98's pension fund, deferred income fund, vacation fund and health and welfare fund. He also evaded payment of federal, state and local payroll taxes. Federal law prohibits an employer from offering money or a thing of value to an officer of a labor organization that represents that employer's workers. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 has employees of Dougherty Electric. Employees of a labor organization are only permitted to engage in financial transactions with the union if the transaction is "at prevailing market price in the regular course of business."

"Donald Dougherty did what he believed was in his and his family's best interests," said Frank Keel, spokesman for John Dougherty.

"His plea agreement validates what we've been saying all along - that John Dougherty did nothing wrong and had no knowledge of Donald Dougherty's plans or activities... John never agreed or intended that he would get a deal or not pay anything other than fair market value for this job."

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Mr. Dougherty faces 41 to 51 months in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 15.


Ugly NFL labor war looms

League pulls out of labor contract

The NFL owners fired the first salvo in a potentially ugly labor war Tuesday, opting out of the league's current collective bargaining agreement. The owners voted unanimously to end the agreement with the NFL Players' Association in 2011, shortening the deal by two years.

Although the decision opened the possibility of a work stoppage in 2011, it will have minimal impact on the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

"The only message is that we're guaranteed three more years of football," commissioner Roger Goodell said during a news conference. "It is our responsibility to work out the issues.

"That is what we are going to try to do. We are not in dire straits."

The NFL said in a statement it will continue negotiating with the players' union and emphatically stated that football will be played "without threat of interruption for at least the next three seasons."

Cowboys Re-Sign Pair

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman has cashed in on his career season. Running back Marion Barber also received some serious cash.

The Cowboys secured the long-term services of Newman and Barber on Tuesday, re-signing both star players to lengthy contracts.

Newman agreed to terms on a six-year contract extension wort $50.2 million while Barber signed a seven-year contract for $45 million, including a $12 million signing bonus.

Rams Not for Sale: Owner

St. Louis Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom admitted Tuesday he has been approached regarding a possible sale of the team.

But Rosenbloom also claimed in a written statement his family has "every intention" of keeping the team in St. Louis.

Rosenbloom and his sister Lucia Rodriguez assumed control of the franchise when their mother, Georgia Frontiere, died in January.

A recent report from Yahoo! Sports claimed the Rams were on the market for $900 million -- a rumour Rosenbloom denied.


The Atlanta Falcons agreed to a six-year contract with quarterback Matt Ryan, the third selection in the 2008 draft. ESPN said the deal guarantees Ryan $34.75 million and could be worth as much as $72 million, . . . Super Bowl XLVI will be held in Indianapolis, the NFL announced Tuesday. The game will be played on Feb. 5, 2012 at the Lucas Oil Stadium, which is scheduled to open this season.


SEIU forgets reason for being

Union should stay out of national politics

Editor, the Record: In the coming days you might read that the union (SEIU Healthcare) that represents the people working in Pocono Medical Center is endorsing one of the candidates running for the presidency, when in fact most of the union members do not endorse this person.

I objected to this miscarriage of position and was informed that the union asked the candidates to apply to the union on their positions about health care and etc. Only one did.

They further stated that this individual has a plan. Please. No one can plan that far ahead. Only when in office, and you are aware of all the nuances, funding availability and intricacies, might you even begin to take such a momentous task. Stating that you are ahead of the curve is a downright lie or delusional.

The union should stick to its reason for being, and not involve itself with politics. Especially so because union officials have no substantial knowledge of the political arena and might only be looking for an edge into the Oval Office. This being so, they might advocate themselves beyond their original proprieties into a more powerful element.

I was told by the union representative that the individual was asked many questions and required to walk in the shoes of a hospital employee. Yeah right. Follow a nurse or a phlebotomist for eight to 10 hours. Baloney. The contender might have taken a walk-through, but experience a full day's activity within the hospital? What makes me think otherwise?

Unions are okay, if they attend to their business at hand and not spend time and money elsewhere. One just has to look at the Teamsters Union and the funds that turned into smoke in the past. Leave the election up to the voter, don't try to influence them with pretentiousness.

- Charles Barzydlo, East Stroudsburg, PA


Stern-style democracy questioned

SEIU: How Democratic?

For the first time in a generation or more, SEIU is facing a substantial movement by internal dissidents seeking to push through democratic reforms. This push has a two-fold character.

One prong is the very public resignation by Sal Roselli, the head of United Healthcare Workers -- West (UHW), the third largest local in SEIU, from his position on SEIU's national Executive Committee. When he resigned, and since, he raised issues about the course that is being pursued by national SEIU. With the backing of the UHW executive board, the local has created a highly visible web site, paid for an ad in the New York Times and ads on prominent blogs, and is putting the issue of democracy on the agenda for the SEIU convention. The other prong is SMART (SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today), a rank-and-file movement with the potential to create an on-going TDU-like internal opposition in SEIU.

National SEIU leaders insist that they too "are committed to unity, strength, and respect for democracy in our union." A letter, signed by 70 local leaders who together represent more than 80 percent of all SEIU members, insists:
Constructive discussion about how to strengthen our union is absolutely essential. But it also carries with it a very serious responsibility to respect decisions made by democratic majority, whether they have to do with strategy, resources, structure, or local union jurisdiction. No local union leader, no matter what their individual objectives may be, should try to jeopardize the strategies developed and democratically approved.
"Democracy," however, can be a slippery concept. Employers insist that the only "democratic" way to bring in a union is through an NLRB election -- one where union organizers are forbidden to set foot on the premises, employers force members to attend captive audience meetings, supervisors interrogate employees, and pro-union activists often get fired. Union activists regard these elections as a totally undemocratic sham, and SEIU has pioneered alternatives to the NLRB election.

Union democracy can be a similarly contested concept. It's worth considering some of the national SEIU practices that trouble dissidents. Central to the debate is the many ways the national SEIU leadership can intervene in the activities of an existing local, together with the creation of mega-locals. Everyone agrees that if a local is outright corrupt, or mob dominated, the national union needs to intervene to clean up the mess and restore democracy.

However, national SEIU leaders intervene in union locals for many other reasons. If a local is ineffective, and fails to organize new members, it might be put into trusteeship. If nearby locals have overlapping jurisdictions, with each local containing both building service and hospital workers, new locals may be created to bring together all the hospital workers in one local and all the building service workers in another local. In practice, however, both the criteria for such actions and the ways they should be carried out are neither clear nor straightforward. What workers have a community of interest? When does it make sense to move workers from one local to another? Which locals are ineffective, and by what criteria? To what extent do the answers to those questions depend on an assessment of the local leadership -- and in making that assessment, is it possible to separate out considerations of the extent to which the local leaders support national SEIU leaders' policies?

There are a variety of ways in which elected local leaders can be replaced by "interim" leaders appointed by the national SEIU leadership. The most straightforward is if the local is placed into trusteeship. According to the provisions of the Landrum-Griffin Act, when a local is placed in trusteeship there must be an election within 18 months. However, if there is a more thoroughgoing reorganization, with substantially new locals created, then the appointed interim leader may stay in office for three years prior to holding an election. And if the local is simply merged out of existence, it may be that no new leadership election is necessary.

Consider the difficulties faced by rank-and-file workers who want to run for office against the newly appointed interim leader. In any election, donations may only be made by SEIU members, but they can be made by SEIU members anywhere in the country. In most SEIU locals, appointed staff have the option of becoming SEIU members, and most do so. This means that the rank-and-file workers are likely to be pitting their ability to raise funds within the local against a national network of staff and appointed leaders. Staff members around the country could, at the urging of their supervisors, write checks for $100 each.

That financial inequality is magnified by SEIU's move to huge mega-locals including workers from many different worksites. Large locals by themselves need not be anti-democratic: the Ford River Rouge plant of the 1940s and 1950s had some of the most vibrant union democracy in the labor movement, but all 80,000 workers were at one location, making it comparatively easy to reach them. In contrast, when SEIU created Local 888 in Massachusetts, although there were less than 13,000 members, they were in 223 different units.

The appointed leader of such a mega-local controls the extent to which people from many different work sites are brought together. In the 888 case the appointed interim leader, Susana Segat, held no local-wide meetings for either members or leaders, and when others made efforts to bring different groups together Segat intervened to prevent this. A rank-and-file opposition ran against Segat, but found it difficult to know to whom to connect at the many constituent units, much less to actively make those connections.

If staff were simply staff they would be forbidden to campaign for one side or the other. But SEIU permits appointed staff to be members, so they can campaign for a candidate. This problematic arrangement creates a potentially strong network for the appointed leader; as a newly created local, the appointed head of 888 had almost three years in office prior to the election. In the post-election complaint filed by the rank-and-file slate, they charged that the campaign timeline allowed candidates less than 10 days to campaign for office, much of the insurgent slate literature did not arrive at members' homes until after they had cast their ballots even though the local had provided membership lists to the American Arbitration Association weeks earlier, the union newsletter with candidate statements did not arrive until after many members had cast their ballots, and the local website did not post candidate information until nearly a week after the ballots had reached member homes.

If two locals are merged, the rules are if anything more undemocratic. Suppose a 10,000 member local has been a thorn in the national leadership's side. If the national leadership proposes merging that 10,000 member local into a 50,000 member local, the vote on whether to do so pools the results from all 60,000 members. If every member of the 10,000 person local votes against the merger, it could still go through with a large majority, and the "small" local would have been merged out of existence. Similar rules make it possible to move one unit of a local into another local -- so a rebellious local could have a large fraction of its membership moved elsewhere. The national SEIU leadership has put in place a process that might lead to this result for the rebellious UHW local; one of UHW's proposed convention resolutions is that mergers not take place unless approved by a majority of both the unit being moved and the unit receiving the transfer.

A reasonable response to this might be: Well, as possibilities these sound potentially troubling, but how frequently does the issue arise? If it is rare indeed for leaders to enter office as a result of being appointed by the national leadership, all this may be a non-issue. Unless trusteeships, mergers, and re-organization become routine events, and unless the appointed leaders end up staying in office past their interim periods, then there is no sense getting too concerned.

Recognizing that there is room to contest how to classify particular cases, the UHW website claims that a majority of the members of the national SEIU Executive Board are either staff or people who initially came to office through appointment. Thus when 70 local leaders who together represent more than 80 percent of all SEIU members call on dissidents "to respect decisions made by democratic majority," and ask that "no local union leader . . . jeopardize the strategies developed and democratically approved," these calls need to be read with an understanding about the extent to which the Executive Board is itself controlled from the top.

In conclusion I want to note that democracy in unions is not the only issue, and the national SEIU leadership is absolutely right to insist on "Justice for All" in preference to "just us" unionism. They are right that if the labor movement does not dramatically increase its membership and power it won't be able to advance workers' interests -- a point I also made in my 2003 book, The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements, a book with high praise for many SEIU initiatives. (And a point that UHW endorses -- they proclaim themselves the fastest growing local in SEIU.) My own union is hyper-democratic at the state-wide level, and our 105,000 members make us roughly equivalent to an SEIU mega-local -- but we are complacent, ineffective, oriented to servicing and defensive battles instead of advancing our own vision or building our strength and alliances. I agree as well that many of the SEIU appointed leaders are people of color, and a large majority of the appointees are highly capable people totally devoted to advancing the interests of workers.

But most of these leaders did not come out of the local they represent, and may never have worked a day in their life at any of the jobs that members hold. These appointed leaders owe their loyalty to those above them, not to those who (ultimately) elect them. Something important is lost if "the union" is smart people appointed from above. As the great American labor leader Eugene Debs said: "Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. He has not come; he never will come. I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your minds that there is nothing you cannot do for yourselves." These are the issues that SEIU members will be debating at the convention and beyond.

- Dan Clawson is the author of The Next Upsurge: Labor and the New Social Movements


City pols protect union dues

An attempt to cut prevailing-wage requirements from city-funded projects in Fresno died Tuesday when the Fresno City Council decided to wait until a court case involving the issue is resolved. Council Member Jerry Duncan, a candidate for mayor, had wanted the city attorney to study whether Fresno's charter allows the council to pay less than union-scale wages on projects that are funded entirely with city dollars.

Duncan, with backing from Mayor Alan Autry and the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce, said eliminating prevailing-wage requirements would let the city complete projects that are on hold, and would save taxpayers between $88 million and $175 million on current and proposed projects.

But unions opposed the idea, saying the benefits of using unionized labor offset the higher costs.

The city of Vista in San Diego County tried to eliminate the prevailing-wage provision and was challenged in court. The case is pending. Council Member Brian Calhoun suggested that Fresno wait until the case is resolved.

"It seems to me we're putting the proverbial cart before the horse," Calhoun said. "It's a legitimate discussion, but I want to wait and see what happens with the Vista case."

Duncan had argued that the city had many projects that wouldn't be built because labor costs were too high.

"Right now we have $130 million worth of critically needed projects we can't move forward because we can't afford to pay prevailing wage on the work," Duncan said. "Over the next several years we'll have $300 million worth of projects with the same problem."

Duncan's proposal was strongly opposed by union representatives. Bill Jenkins, a member of Carpenter's Local 701, said Duncan's plan was rooted in "the simplistic view that higher wages translate directly into higher construction costs."

"The reality is that higher construction wages usually are offset by other employer savings," Jenkins said. "Higher wages help fund training, safety and health and pension benefits."

City Attorney James Sanchez said that while the Vista case is in the courts, the state of the law governing prevailing-wage provisions is uncertain. The city, Sanchez said, has the right to set aside prevailing-wage ordinances.

"The question is left open as to whether it's a local or state issue," Sanchez said.

Duncan made a motion to direct Sanchez to study repealing the prevailing-wage ordinance, but the issue died without a second, and there was no vote. Acting Council President Cynthia Sterling was absent.


School board angers Teamsters

Is privatization a safety issue for kids?

Angry Teamsters gathered outside an Osceola County (FL) School Board meeting Tuesday in protest of the possibility their jobs as bus drivers, custodians, and mechanics might eventually go to private contractors. School Board member Jay Wheeler said by using private contractors, the School District could save up to 20 percent, but union workers said it could put student safety in jeopardy.

"Shame on us if we're not looking at it, the position that we're in," Wheeler said.

While school officials said the decision was far from being finalized, it was a decision union workers said should not even be considered at all.

"There's no telling who they're going to hire," said one concerned teamster.

The School Board has formed a committee to explore the option, but Wheeler said members would not discuss turning to private contractors until other, more important issues -- including hiring a new superintendent -- were finalized.


Angry labor-state Teamster nurses hurl Hoffa

Angry nurses weren't throwing sticks and stones at Genesys Regional Medical Center adminstrators during an outdoor protest rally today in Grand Blanc Township (MI). But they did hurl a mighty big rock, in the form of International Brotherhood of Teamsters president James P. Hoffa. Hundreds gathered in the parking lot at Trillium Theater to hear Hoffa speak, just down the road from the hospital. "Let's see if they can hear us down the road," shouted Hoffa, holding high the hand of original UAW Sit-Downer Olen Ham, 90 as he led the crowd in a chant of "We want a contract! We want a contract!"

Hoffa spoke for a few minutes during the rally.

"This whole situation feels like David and Goliath. But we don't need more slingshots - we need bigger rocks. James P. Hoffa is our really big rock," Teamsters Local 332 President Nina Bugbee said shortly before the rally to support about 1,000 Genesys nurses embroiled in contract negotiations since Feb. 21.

Country music blared from a tent overflowing with crowds of union sympathizers waving a sea of protest signs as rain poured down in the parking lot at Trillium Theater.

Hoffa was joined on the makeshift stage by Democratic union supporters Lt. Gov. John Cherry and Sen John Gleason, as well as UAW Region 1-C Director Duane Zuckschwerdt.

"This is bigger than what's going on at Genesys. This is about an attack on workers in every industry," said Bugbee. "Mr. Hoffa is here to lock arms with all unions to expose corporate greed and to help hang on to the American Dream of middle-class America."

Union and management negotiators agreed to a 30-day contract extension on May 9 to continue negotiations but members have been meeting with union leaders to discuss the possibility of a strike vote in the coming days or weeks.

"What I've seen here today tells me Flint is still the strongest bastion of union belief and power in America," Hoffa said at the rally's end.

"This is the cradle of unionism and the reason why the Genesys nurses will be successful. And the International Teamsters are in it with them all the way."


Pilots picket Alaska Air for higher pay

'We can make it happen.'

More than 300 uniformed pilots lined both sides of East Marginal Way South on Tuesday afternoon, threatening a strike if Alaska Air Group does not offer them a better contract. But inside the Museum of Flight, where the Seattle-based company was holding its annual meeting, executives presented a somber overview of an airline that could not afford a richer contract because rising fuel prices are forcing it to keep its costs in check.

Among the statistics that Alaska Air Group Chief Executive Bill Ayer cited: Every $1 increase in the per barrel price of oil adds roughly $10 million to the company's annual operating costs. Thus, during the first quarter of the year, the company's fuel costs rose nearly 46 percent to $283 million, up from $194 million in the first quarter of 2007. (Operating revenue for the period was about $840 million.)

Ayer outlined a number of measures taken to cut costs. Both of Alaska Air Group's airlines -- Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air -- are transitioning to the use of only one, more fuel-efficient model of airplane. In order to demonstrate the shift, the new standard planes -- a Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 and an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 -- were parked outside of the museum.

In addition, the company is redeploying planes from underperforming markets. Alaska Airlines on Tuesday announced new flights between Seattle and Minneapolis, and Seattle and Kona, Hawaii, as well as a new flight between Anchorage and Maui, Hawaii. At the same time, though, the company said it was cutting service between Portland and Orlando, Fla., as well as between San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C. Some flights to Mexico also will be eliminated.

For passengers, the cost-cutting means that starting Wednesday they will have to pay a number of additional fees for services, such as transporting pets in the cabin and overweight luggage.

When asked during a media briefing if ticket prices would be higher in a year, Ayer said:

"Ticket prices have to go up in this current environment."

Ayer said the moves would ensure that the company was "prepared and positioned to weather the storm." In addition, he said, the company had been hedging its fuel costs, and its major markets on the West Coast were holding up in a slowing economy.

"We've outperformed the industry, no doubt about that," he said, pointing to a graph showing the company's profit and losses compared with the industry overall. However, he said, "We're subject to the same market forces as the entire industry."

Alaska Airlines pilots use Ayer's view that the company is in better shape than its peers to back their belief that Alaska Air Group can afford to pay them more.

"We're not average pilots at an average airline; we will not agree to average pay," said Bill Shivers, a captain and chairman of the Alaska Airlines Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association, during the question and answer portion of Tuesday's annual meeting.

But Ayer countered:

"We need to maintain the costs where they are. It doesn't work to have costs go up, especially in an environment like this."

The existing Alaska Airlines contract became open for negotiation in May 2007, although bargaining began 16 months ago. Last week, Alaska Air Group made a formal proposal.

The proposed contract, which would last five years, includes a pay increase but also would switch new-hire pilots to a 401(k) plan instead of the existing pension system and would increase pilots' health insurance contributions.

The pilots' union says the offer is unacceptable.

Three years ago, an arbitrator reduced the wages of some Alaska Airlines pilots by as much as 35 percent, and the pilots contend that Alaska Air Group's proposed pay increase is "meager."

The protest outside the Museum of Flight was meticulously planned.

Earlier in the day, pilots, many accompanied by their families, rallied at the Marriott hotel in SeaTac.

The proposal is "far worse than I expected," Shivers told the crowd. "Management has no intention of reaching an agreement without a fight."

"They try to hide behind fuel prices, the economy," he said. "They're looking for anyone else to blame."

Mike Donatelli, the national chairman of the Air Line Pilot Association's strategic planning and strike committee, repeatedly called out, "We can," to roars from the crowd of "Make it happen."

The pilots and their families were then driven in charter buses to the Museum of Flight, where pilots stood along the street holding signs, with messages such as, "I am an asset, not a liability," and "Strike?" while family members visited the museum. They were later bused back to the hotel, where hors d'oeuvres were served.

While the pilots say they will strike if they cannot reach an acceptable contract, Caroline Boren, an Alaska Airlines spokeswoman, said that a strike would not be imminent. First, negotiations would have to go to a federal mediator, and only if the mediator could not settle the dispute would the pilots eventually be allowed to strike.

She added that in the industry, it typically takes 17 to 18 months from the time a contract is open for negotiation until a deal is reached.


Gov't-unions retain Oregon A.G. office

John Kroger, a law school professor and former federal prosecutor, will almost certainly be Oregon's next attorney general, after beating out a veteran state legislator in the state's Democratic primary Tuesday. With no Republican running to replace retiring Attorney General Hardy Myers, 42-year-old Kroger is widely expected to coast to election in November, barring a successful challenger from a write-in candidate.

Shortly after winning the primary, Kroger told Legal Newsline that he is not taking the primary win for granted, and will begin to plan his general election strategy Wednesday.

"We're going to fight very hard to wrap this up in November," he told LNL, adding that "a thousand" volunteers made his victory possible.

With 61 percent of the vote counted, Kroger led fellow Democrat Greg Macpherson 55 percent to 44 percent.

Kroger, who was backed heavily by the state's largest union groups, out fundraised Macpherson, a three-term state representative from Lake Oswego.

According to recent state campaign finance filings, Kroger raked in $709,532, compared to Macpherson's $433,009. Macpherson made a $40,000 loan to his campaign.

Throughout the campaign, Kroger touted his law enforcement bona fides as a former federal prosecutor, vowing to pursue corporate scofflaws, environmental polluters, drug dealers and flimflam artists who prey on Oregonians.

"We have been very, very specific about our priorities from the first day of the campaign," Kroger said in an interview. "The things we ran on are the things that we intend to do."

As a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kroger said during the campaign that he prosecuted mafia bosses, helped put drug kingpins behind bars and worked on the U.S. Justice Department's Enron Task Force.

Macpherson, meanwhile, ran as a seasoned state legislator who told voters that as attorney general he can build on his successes in the Legislature.

Macpherson criticized Kroger frequently -- and publicly-- for not passing the Oregon State Bar until last year, and for never representing a client in an Oregon state courtroom.

Endorsed by Myers, 57-year-old Macpherson, an employee benefits attorney at the Portland firm of Stoel Rives LLP, said his time in the state Legislature would give him a unique advantage over his opponent.

But Oregon voters didn't agree.

Kroger, who teaches criminal law and jurisprudence at Portland's Lewis & Clark Law School, was backed by the state's largest unions, including the powerful Oregon Education Association, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union Locals 503 and 49.

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