Proximity and Power

Why do the headquarters of state teachers’ unions tend to be so close to state capitol buildings?

If you stand on the steps of a state capitol building and throw a rock (with a really strong arm), the first building you can hit has a good chance of being the headquarters of the state teachers’ union. For interest groups, proximity to the capitol is a way of displaying power and influence. The teachers’ union strives to be the closest. It wants to remind everyone that it is the most powerful interest group of all.

To see who has the most powerful digs, we actually bothered to measure just how close interest group offices are to state capitol buildings. We started with a list of the 25 most influential interest groups, as compiled by Fortune magazine. We then used Google Maps to plot the location of the state offices of those 25 interest groups and measured the distance to the capitol building.

The results are illuminating. Of the 25 most influential interest groups, the teachers’ union is the closest in 14 of the 50 states. By comparison, the AFL-CIO is the closest in seven states. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Federation of Independent Business are the closest in five states, each. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) - the leading organization of U.S. trial lawyers, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, or ATLA - is the closest in four states.

The teachers’ union is among the four closest interest groups in 27 states. Meanwhile, the AAJ is among the four closest in 22 states, the AARP in 20 states, and the AFL-CIO in 19 states.

In Nebraska, the state teachers’ union office is only 210 feet from the capitol building. In Pennsylvania, it is only 312 feet away. In Alabama, Delaware, and South Dakota, the teachers’ union headquarters is about 500 feet away.

If we gave four points for being closest, three for being the second closest, two for being the third closest, and one for being the fourth closest, teachers’ unions would have a total of 85 points. No other group would have more than 60 points. Only four of the 25 groups would have above 40 points, with the AAJ, the AARP, and the AFL-CIO joining the teachers’ unions in this elite group. But even among this well-heeled crowd, the teachers’ unions are way ahead.

The teachers’ unions don’t strive to be the closest because of the extra time it takes to walk or drive a few more blocks. They strive to be the closest because it is a visible display of their power and influence. It is a symbol of the connections and resources they can devote to something as trivial as having the closest office, just like the status obtained from having the best seats at a concert or a sporting event.

But much of the power of interest groups is little more than bluff. It is to their advantage to exaggerate their power and influence precisely because doing so enhances the power and influence they actually have. Yet despite all of the fear and trembling among politicos about the consequences of crossing the teachers’ unions, they can be beaten.

In fact, it is striking how often the teachers’ unions lose even with all of their resources and displays of power; in the face of union opposition, there are now 21 voucher or tax credit programs in 13 states sending students to private schools at public expense. There are more than one million students attending charter schools in the 40 states that have charter programs. Merit pay for teachers is being tried in New York, Florida, Texas, and Nashville; in addition, several new school districts are experimenting with the idea under a federal pilot program.

The teachers’ unions don’t want people to think they can lose. They want to impress folks with their prime real estate and well-heeled lobbyists. But eventually it is hard to sustain really bad ideas in public policy - and the teachers’ unions have embraced some really bad ideas. Eventually the “puffery” of well-placed offices succumbs to the substantive pursuit of good policy. In the end, the power of the teachers’ unions may be, in the words of Chairman Mao, little more than a paper tiger—or a well-placed building.

- Jay P. Greene is the Endowed Professor of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, where Jonathan Butcher is a research associate.


Card-check: One part of the forced-labor agenda

Anti-democratic, 'no-vote' unionism makes headlines

For all the commentary, exhortations and denunciations involving the Employee Free Choice Act, the "card-check" legislation that would eliminate the secret ballot in the workplace, we doubt the broad public is aware of the issue. To be sure, it's a regular topic in the labor/activist/left wing blosophere and press, and Democratic superdelegates and unions cite the legislation when endorsing candidates. Meanwhile, some free-market and pro-business bloggers write about it ... a lot.

But it seems like the issue is starting to gain a little bit more notice. US News columnist Matt Bandyk just wrote about card check, soliciting input from small business owners on the effects of forced unionization -- our term -- on the workplaces. His piece was prompted by a news release from the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the free-enterprise group, which announced it would include state card-check measures in judging a state's business environment.

Also, John Lott Jr. -- an economist known widely for his statistical work on crime and gun ownership -- had a column published at the Fox News website, "Secret Ballots May End in Union Elections If Obama Becomes President." A statement of the obvious to those who follow the issue -- Senator Obama is a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act -- but the Lott column represents a good introduction to the issue for a mass audience.

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.

Lott's column certainly drew attention from the leftie proponents of the bill in the form of a failed rebuttal at the Daily Kos.

Ultimately, as Lott's column demonstrates, it will probably take the fall election and the willingness of candidates to campaign on card check for the issue to impinge on the public's consciousness. Despite all the union spending, opposition to this profoundly anti-democratic measure is a political winner. As public opinion surveys in key Senate races (Oregon, Maine and Minnesota) show, support for the Employee Free Choice Act drives potential voters away from candidates.

P.S. This is callous. Columnist Jo-Ann Mort at the Democratic-supporting Talking Points Memo blog suggests that Sen. Hillary Clinton assume Sen. Ted Kennedy's role as the labor's leading Senate advocate, helping a new President Obama enact the Employee Free Choice Act.


Jumbo government unions ordered to bulk up

Colorado unions organize ahead of DNC convention

About 21,000 state workers will decide in the next few days whether to join a coalition of the unions that pushed the hardest for Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order granting them a larger voice in state government. An e-mail sent to all state employees Wednesday said the ballots were mailed.

The unions, which had fewer than 6,000 dues-paying state workers on their rolls before the Nov. 2 order, could soon represent the vast majority of the state's 32,000 qualifying workers.

The Colorado Association of Public Employees (a division of SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the American Federation of Teachers formed a coalition called Colorado WINS four days after Ritter's order and launched a furious recruitment campaign.

They submitted to the state Department of Labor signed "cards of support" from at least 30 percent of workers in five of state employees' seven worker categories.

Opponents of the executive order say Ritter has unnecessarily opened the door to future wage disputes and, ultimately, higher taxes.

Ritter has emphasized that his order bans strikes, prohibits binding arbitration and bars unions from charging dues to nonmembers. Last week he signed a state worker strike ban into law.


Organized Labor: Beyond Compare

When Workers Collectivize, Individual Rights Conflict

Coming from a state where police and fire employees have had collective bargaining since the 1980s, I can certify the anticipated results from federal legislation granting such bargaining rights nationwide as predicted in your May 12 editorial "The Union Police." Ohio has arguably one of the most pro-labor public sector bargaining laws in the country, and a tax burden to prove it.

Ohio's system places the critical financial resources of local governments into the hands of a state-appointed "neutral" conciliator, who steps in at impasse and issues binding agreements upon the parties, overriding the will of local elected officials. Furthermore, state policy bars any comparison of public employee pay or benefits to comparable positions in the private sector - placing these employees in a protective bubble that prevents any rational alignment between public and private sector compensation schemes.

Though the dedicated men and women serving in these safety forces deserve competitive pay and benefits, Ohio law has handed over to them a blank check and tipped the scales enormously against governing bodies. Be assured that a federal law will not only nationalize and perpetuate this system, but will serve to escalate the cost of public employment across the board.

David Collinsworth, City Manager, Westerville, Ohio


Jo-Ann Mort: Can Hillary take over for Teddy?

Lion of Senate drove labor agenda

If the tremendous - and deserved - outpouring for Senator Ted Kennedy's well-being shows anything, it shows the power of a savvy legislator who has a clear agenda and keeps at it for decades. As one of his congressional colleagues noted in the NYTimes today, not only has he stuck with his vision and has been one of the most successful - if not most successful - legislator in our time, but he's also hired excellent staff who have aided not only his efforts, but the broader progressive cause for decades.

Now, labor's lion, Senator Kennedy, is going through a critical personal struggle, just at a time when the union movement will need his stature to assist a President Obama to pass a progressive agenda for this nation.

Obama, if elected, will need a smart and effective senator as partner to garner support for key union issues like Employee Free Choice Act and health care reform.

Even if the Senate and House gain more Democratic seats, as is likely, the labor movement will need someone to pull their support together, to be on the stump and to be play the type of role that Senator Kennedy has played for decades. Senator Clinton could take all the support she gathered in this primary season and play a pivotal role in the Senate and could offer hope to all the working class Americans that she has been hawking on the campaign trail. There is no better response that she can offer her union and non-union supporters than returning to the Senate to legislate a pro-worker agenda. Think Roosevelt and Wagner.

- Jo-Ann Mort


House: 'Clean Energy' means 'Union Only'

More veto bait set as union agenda advances

The House passed a tax bill Wednesday that would provide $20 billion in credits for renewable energy projects and other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the administration threatened to veto the measure. The extenders package, which also includes a popular research and development tax credit, has been lobbied heavily by groups representing a variety of industries, most especially by wind and solar power companies that would get production and investment tax credits.

But the administration said it rejects the “pay-fors” in the bill. The proposal would raise $55 billion over 10 years by taxing hedge fund managers and delaying the implementation of rule change relating to how multinational corporations account for interest expenses.

“Overall, the administration does not believe that efforts to avoid tax increases on Americans need to be coupled with provisions to raise revenue,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

The bill would also give tax breaks to electric utilities that use geothermal power, “biomass” facilities and other renewable energy efforts.

The breaks include $2 billion worth of “clean energy bonds,” an issue that also creates a potential conflict with the White House.

The House bill applied Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements to projects financed with the bonds, which the White House called “unacceptable” in its statement of administration policy.

The bill also provides credits for energy efficiency projects and would give coal producers $1.5 billion worth of tax credits to develop carbon sequestration and other projects designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Senate tax writers like Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) are reportedly receptive to the offsets identified by the House but have yet to produce a final version of the tax extenders bill. Senate Republicans have rejected offsets in earlier versions of the bill.

A House-passed bill to raise taxes on the oil and gas industry could not win sufficient support in the Senate to reach the president’s desk.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that it welcomed some parts of the bill, such as the research and development tax credit and breaks targeted at restaurant owners and railroads.

But the Chamber joined the administration in opposing the tax offsets in the bill, a break provided to attorneys and the Davis-Bacon language.


Rep. Steve Kagen, Wisconsin DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Reference: The Employee Free Choice Act; Bill H.R. 800; vote number 2007-118 on March 1, 2007. Representative Steve Kagen (D-WI-8) voted YES on restricting employer interference in union organizing. [N.B. The main feature of the bill is replacing secret-ballot union recognition elections with "card-check".]

To enable employees to form & join labor organizations, and to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts. Requires investigation that an employer:

- 1. discharged or discriminated against an employee to discourage membership in a labor organization;
- 2. threatened to discharge employees in the exercise of guaranteed collective bargaining rights; and
- 3. adds to remedies for such violations: back pay plus liquidated damages; and additional civil penalties.

Proponents support voting YES because:

The principle at stake here is the freedom that all workers should have to organize for better working conditions & fair wages. There are many employers around the country who honor this freedom. Unfortunately, there are also many employers who do not. These employers attempt to prevent workers from unionizing by using tactics that amount to harassment, if not outright firing. In fact, one in five people who try to organize unions are fired. These tactics are already illegal, but the penalties are so minor, they are not effective deterrents.

Opponents support voting NO because:

Democracy itself is placed at risk by this bill. The sanctity of the secret ballot is the backbone of our democratic process. Not one voter signed a card to send us here to Congress. None of us sent our campaign workers out to voters' houses armed with candidate information & a stack of authorization cards. No. We trusted democracy. We trusted the voters to cast their ballots like adults, freely, openly, without intimidation, and we live with the results. But here we are, poised to advance legislation to kill a secret ballot process.

Let's be clear. Every American has the right to organize. No one is debating that. This is a right we believe in so strongly we have codified it and made it possible for workers to do so through a secret ballot.


UFCW flirts with RICO violations in anti-decert fight

Workers petitioned UFCW to go away, but union goes on attack

Shoppers here at Woodman's food market on Madison's west side may be receiving more than just store coupons. This pamphlet was sent out to households across south central Wisconsin. The letter is from a local union called UFCW that represents Woodman's employees.

On the outside, the letter says: "Your friends and neighbors working at Woodman's are under attack." Inside are quotes from two supposed employees. One saying - "I support the union. So I've had my schedule changed constantly, I've been harassed - I have even been moved to the register nearest to management, so that they can keep an eye on me." The other saying - "People are scared. And I don't blame them, the way the company's acting, threatening everybody who's for the union."

Woodman's Store Vice President Clint Woodman says those accusations are false.

"They are not being harassed, threatened or intimidated like the union says that they are ... it's just a bunch of lies."

The pamphlet is in response to the companies decision to no longer recognize union contracts of employees in their Madison, Janesville and Beloit stores.

Woodman says the decision was made because that's what the employees want.

More than half of the employees put it in writing - signing a petition - saying they no longer want to be union members.

"We are just trying to support our employees, it was totally up to them whether they want to be union or not. They decided that they don't want to be," Woodman says.

The union pamphlet asks shoppers to boycott Woodman's store.

Woodman says that sends the wrong message.

"They're telling everyone not to shop at Woodman's what do you think that's going to do to their employees? It's going to make them lose their jobs," Woodman says.

After several attempts, we were unable to get in contact with the union who sent out the pamphlets.

The Woodman's company has no plans to retaliate against the letters.

Woodman's employees pay up to 40 dollars a month to be in the union - and some say - it's not worth it.

The national labor relations board will decide if the petition is valid and the union should be dissolved.


Unions' tribal Casino War causes anxiety

The second union election this month at Foxwoods Resort Casino will take place on May 30, when approximately 40 employees in the off-track betting area of the casino will vote for or against representation by the United Auto Workers union. The National Labor Relations Board will administer and oversee the election, the third of its kind to take place at Foxwoods since November of last year.

The potential bargaining unit includes racebook writers and dual-rate racebook writers.

Janet Barragan, a racebook writer, said she's optimistic about the election's outcome and will vote in favor of representation in an effort to preserve what benefits she currents receives from Foxwoods, which is owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe.

”For me, I would like better pay, I'd like to maintain our benefits and our annual bonuses,” said Barragan who has worked as a racebook writer for five years. “I think we need the security of a union contract for these things.”

Barragan has volunteered her time on the UAW's organizing committee during the lead-up to the election.

Poker and table game dealers voted in favor of union representation by the UAW in November.

The tribe is currently appealing an administrative law judge's ruling, delivered in March, that stated the results from the election should be certified.

Employees from the engineering department took to the polls on May 1 and voted against representation from the International Union of Operating Engineers.

With each petition that is filed to the NLRB (a total of five have been filed) seeking to unionize workers at Foxwoods, the tribe has urged unions to organize workers under tribal law, not federal law, because of the sovereign status of the tribe.

Tuesday was no different.

”The racebook writers are intelligent and independent thinkers, and we believe that they will make up their own minds,” said Bruce MacDonald, tribal spokesman. “We support workers' rights, and continue to believe that the organizing of workers on the reservation (should be done) under tribal law.”

The racebook writers represent a small unit when compared to the dealers, which totaled more than 2,000 workers, but Barragan, while she said she can't speak for all of her co-workers, said she knows some of her fellow workers are in favor of union representation.

”We're anxious to see how things work out,” she said.


SEIU organizers OK hi-tech strike expansion

Picket-line violence is business-as-usual for union

Tension flared on picket lines Wednesday as a Silicon Valley janitors strike moved into its second day with about 800 janitors off the job at about 20 South Bay sites, including Applied Materials, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo. Service Employees International Union Local 1877, which represents about 6,000 Bay Area janitors whose contract with cleaning firms expired April 30, said it expected the strike to widen Wednesday night to include work sites in Oakland.

The union said a picketing janitor was injured by a car Wednesday morning at Yahoo in Sunnyvale, but Yahoo disputed that account. According to the SEIU, picketer Alicia Chavez, 54, was taken to Stanford Hospital and later released. But Yahoo said security footage of the car, which was driven by an employee, "demonstrates there was no contact with the protester."

After investigating the incident, Sunnyvale Police Capt. Doug Moretto confirmed Yahoo's account, concluding no collision occurred. A criminal citation was issued against Chavez for filing a false police report, Moretto said, and the case was referred to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

San Jose police said officers were dispatched to Cisco's campus for possible crowd control during picketing Wednesday morning. Cisco had no comment.

The janitors' labor contract is negotiated with Bay Area Maintenance Contractors, which the union says represents 16 firms that provide cleaning services to companies including a number of Silicon Valley's high-tech giants.

Union leaders hold the high-tech companies ultimately responsible for janitors' wages and benefits, based on how much they agree to pay the cleaning contractors. Mike Garcia, president of Local 1877, contends the contractors work on "razor-thin profit margins" and will not reach a settlement with the union without assurances of more revenue from their clients.

Garcia said at the start of the strike that the contractors offered an average pay increase of 40 cents an hour in a four-year deal, and that the union was seeking better health benefits for employees and their families. Jim Beard, chief negotiator for the cleaning contractors, said contractors offered a 20 percent overall increase, combining wages and benefits, for the four-year period.

Garcia and a small group of janitors demonstrated Wednesday morning outside of Intel's annual stockholders meeting at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. One handmade banner, displayed for passing traffic, said, "Health, rent, food - which would you choose?"

Among the demonstrators was San Jose resident Maria Jimenez, an $11-an-hour striking janitor who has three children and is pregnant. She and her husband, a roofer, lack the money for babysitters, she said, so the oldest child, a 15-year-old daughter, gets pressed into service minding her 12-year-old brother and 4-year-old sister.

"I don't want to lose my job," said Jimenez, who works at Cisco and fears retaliation from the contracting firms. "But we have the union. Our life is very difficult all the time."

Intel allowed Garcia and Jimenez to enter the meeting at the Computer History Museum, and they participated in the question-and-answer session.


UFCW goes out on strike in labor-state

Strike Continues At Hillside Acres In Willard

Some members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 911 are picketing at the Hillside Acres Liberty Nursing Center in Willard. The union began its strike on May 16 at 6 a.m. Hillside Acres and UFCW Local 911 have been bargaining since July 2007 in an attempt to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, which has not been reached. No further bargaining meetings are scheduled at this time.

Local 911 Chief Steward Sandy Grossman says at issue is healthcare benefits and employee wages. Hillside Acres issued a press release saying it has a full staff working at the facility and assures residents and families it will continue to provide excellent health service.

Hillside Acres operates a 99 bed skilled and intermediate care nursing facility at 370 East Howard Street in Willard. UFCW Local 911 represents 29 nursing, laundry and dietary aids employed at the facility. The union notified the company that 10 union members have resigned from the union.

The company stated that they are interviewing temporary workers for employment during the strike, although the facility remains fully staffed at all times.


UAW-AAM strikers swallow bitter pill

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

Strike pay did not make ends meet

Gerald Dotson has been to his home in Redford Township only three times since January. The 52-year-old electrician at American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. has taken a series of temporary jobs in four states to bring home a paycheck higher than the $200 a week he'd get while walking the picket line during the UAW's 12-week strike against the Detroit auto supplier.

Still, Dotson, like so many on strike, scrimped to get by. And now, he and more than 3,600 of his coworkers face a future of lower wages and life-changing decisions.

So far, four of five UAW locals, representing 1,650 workers, have voted to ratify the tentative deal. Today, UAW Local 235, representing 2,000 workers, is scheduled to vote.

Striking workers are contemplating crucial choices about whether to stay with the company at a lower wage with a cash payment to soften the reduction, or take a buyout and move on. And some -- like Dotson, whose plant is scheduled to close -- face more uncertainty as they try to predict if they will have a future at the company.

"Where do you go at this point?" asked Dotson, a Local 262 member who voted in favor of the contract Monday. "In the middle of your life, we should be taking vacations and preparing for retirement."

If the contract is approved, some workers could be back inside American Axle's plants as soon as this weekend to set up machinery, and production could start as soon as Tuesday.

That schedule probably would keep Dotson in town. If the deal isn't ratified, he would head back to a temporary job in West Virginia.

Dotson knows what it's like to wonder when he'll return to the plant. He was laid off from American Axle in December. Since then he has been roaming, living in Georgetown, Ky.; Portsmouth, Ohio; Cumberland City, Tenn., and most recently Charleston, W.Va. Dotson has been working as an electrician, mainly on construction sites. He usually stays at a local motel, or sometimes in a camper.

This week, he was home for only a few days to vote on the contract, see the results and cross items off his honey-do list, such as fixing the washing machine and staining the porch.

When the strike started in late February, Dotson thought he should return home to join his coworkers on the picket line. But for him and his wife, Sandy, the choice was obvious.

"How can you make a $1,000 house payment? How can you make a $500 electric bill? To fill up my truck, it costs $120. How can you do all of that on $200 a week?" he asked. "You can't."

Short-term boost

Assuming the contract is ratified, workers would see a short-term boost.

When they return to work, they'll be paid at their old wage levels from before the strike -- but only for up to 90 days.

The money will help pay down some bills, said Doug Elliott, 49, of Warren.

To survive on $200 a week, Elliott, for the first time, turned to those checks that come in the mail with credit-card statements.

"In the past, I always thought they were a scam, but this time they're a crutch," he said.

While the short-term boost in pay will help, Elliott said he's not sure how to adjust his life in the long-term to a $10-an-hour wage cut, while having to pay new health care premiums and trying to contribute to a 401(k) once his pension is frozen.

"What this contract basically says to me is I've got three years to go out and try to find a new job," Elliott said.

Impact on communities

The strike alone tested families and their communities that don't see as much money spent at local stores. In Three Rivers, for instance, workers were canceling dentist appointments because the UAW's insurance did not cover dental care. As workers adjust to earning less pay, the 12-week strike was only the beginning.

"This is crucially important to the communities where the facilities are located," said Comerica Bank chief economist Dana Johnson. "It will have a very considerable impact. It already has a considerable impact on those communities."

Still, Johnson said, it's essential for Detroit's auto industry to establish a lower wage structure so it has a chance against international competitors, or in American Axle's case, restructured competitors such as Toledo's Dana Holding Corp.
A push for some

This strike has given some the push they need to start moving on.

Christina Lane, a saw operator at a plant in Detroit that will close, decided on Sunday -- when she saw the details of the contract -- to go to school part-time to become a mortician, something she has wanted to do for years.

"When I saw the proposal that was put out I knew that this is serious. I need to make a move," Lane said. She expects the degree to take four years.

But some workers are moving faster.

Chris Monterosso, 41, of Warren doesn't want to return to work at American Axle.

"As the strike went on and I found out what the company was offering, I just decided I didn't want to be a part of it anymore," said Monterosso, who spent 13 years at the company, most recently on the assembly line.

Next month, he expects to start taking classes at Macomb Community College to become a physical therapist.

"I'm through being mad," Monterosso said. "I just want to move on."


IBEW trounced in Indiana

Sheriff's department rejects bid to unionize

Allen County (IN) Sheriff’s Department employees easily defeated a measure Tuesday that would have unionized the department. More than 300 of the 342 eligible sheriff’s department employees cast a vote to determine whether the department’s civilian staff and sworn officers should organize. A “yes” vote would have allowed the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to represent them in collective bargaining with the county.

Employees rejected the measure 245 to 58, said Bruce Getts, business manager for the IBEW, Local 723.

“I think there was a certain contingent of people that have been a part of this from the beginning, and I think the remainder was dedicated to the sheriff and his command,” Getts said. “You have to appreciate that loyalty and dedication in a police department.”

Getts said there is no plan to pursue the issue further; the law allows members of the department to vote again on a union in two years.

Sheriff Ken Fries said he was pleased with the results and saw it as recognition by employees that he has produced on promises made during his campaign.

“I think the employees realize that I am looking out for their best interest and that I will always value them,” Fries said. “They are the greatest asset we have, … and being on the department as long as I have, I realize what is important to us as employees.”

No problems were reported with the paper-ballot voting.

Voting began at 5 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. Employees could vote at the Kidder Building on Lima Road, where most detectives and patrol officers work, at the Allen County Courthouse and the Allen County Jail.

A few confinement officers stopped inside the jail commander’s reception area Tuesday afternoon to vote before going home for the day. Barry Butcher was one of them.

He voted against the move to unionize because he didn’t believe the IBEW was the right group to represent sheriff’s employees, Butcher said.

Court security employee Dan Hudson voted during his shift Tuesday afternoon. Although he declined to say how he voted, he could see positives regardless of which way the election turned out, Hudson said.

He likes the idea of both sides having a say in working conditions and benefits. But he also understands that paying union dues could be a burden for some employees, Hudson said.

Union dues seemed to be a sticking point for some employees in the lead-up to the election, Getts said.

Employees could opt not to pay dues and wouldn’t be required to join the union. Rules regarding who would pay dues could be included in the first contract, which all employees could vote on, Getts said.

The Local 723 sets its dues based on wage rates. Had the employees supported the union move, the sheriff’s employees would have paid between $40 and $55 a month depending on how much they earn, Getts said.

Issues union representatives believed they could help the staff address included pay disparity between the sheriff’s department and the Fort Wayne Police Department and safety inside the jail.

They also had hoped to improve the county’s grievance procedures.

“They just really don’t have a meaningful voice in the workplace,” Getts had said previously.

But Fries has contended that he has made significant improvements since he took office in 2007 and that union representation isn’t needed.

Confinement officers have new stab vests and stun guns available to use in the jail. He also touted the pay increases he helped persuade the County Council to give jailers, dispatchers and sworn officers.

Fries has pledged to ask for additional pay increases again this budget season to help keep par with increased cost of living and their counterparts at the city.


McEntee calls Barack 'lame'

At a time when many Democrats are anxious for the party to come together, Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, is continuing to raise doubts about Barack Obama. In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, McEntee said there is no question in his mind that over the past few months, Clinton has been the superior candidate and that Obama's losses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky could haunt the party in November.

"Are we going to pick a candidate that will literally walk almost lame into the Democratic National Convention?" he asked.

McEntee said Republican John McCain will be a formidable opponent, one who is "distancing himself from [President] Bush every day" and whose status as a war hero and patriot will make him attractive to many of the voters Democrats need to win in November.

Obama, on the other hand, cannot seem to get over his problem with working-class voters. "I think he has a problem with the blue-collar worker and relating to that worker."

He went on to say that Obama appears to have significant problems in the heart of Reagan Democrat country and that many of the states where Obama has done well in the primaries will be solidly red in November.

"We're not going to carry Utah," he said. "We're not going to carry Idaho. We're not going to carry Wyoming. We're not going to carry Kansas. We're not going to carry those states that Barack carried."

McEntee said that Obama can win if he becomes the nominee, but not without changes to his campaign and strong support from Clinton. He also said his union would work energetically for Obama. But he left the impression that his doubts remain serious.


Andy Stern - On the Waterfront

When an internal fight at a trade union erupts into the news, American culture has a ready frame. It's Marlon Brando versus Lee J. Cobb in "On the Waterfront" once again, perhaps updated by a recent episode of "The Wire," set among the corrupt and gritty longshoremen of the Baltimore docks. Or it's a modern-day retelling of the Jimmy Hoffa/Teamsters story, destined to end in another mysterious gangland murder.

But there are no shiny suits or pinkie rings in the conflict at the Service Employees International Union, the big, fast-growing organization of janitors, hospital workers and public employees that has more than 650,000 members in California alone. All the dramatis personae are idealists who came out of the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and although turf battles and dues money are certainly on the agenda, the real question they are debating is the road forward for the American trade union movement.

Leading the cast is Andy Stern, the SEIU's national president since 1996. A Pennsylvania SEIU activist in the 1970s, Stern was put in charge of union organizing efforts in the 1980s, just as President Reagan and other resurgent Republicans helped stiffen corporate management's hostility to trade unionism. The SEIU was one of the few unions that continued to grow in those difficult times, sparked by militant organizing campaigns such as the Justice for Janitors movement, which had its epicenter in Los Angeles.

Stern, now 57, has been a bold, impatient leader, which has earned him a spot on the cover of almost every mass circulation magazine, including Business Week under the query "Can This Man Save Labor?"

Stern's ambition is to transform and revive American unionism. In 2005, he led several big unions, including the SEIU, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers, out of the AFL-CIO. In their new coalition, known as Change to Win, Stern pushed each of the unions to devote a qualitatively large proportion of their resources to organizing, even if it meant reducing the number of staff who "serviced" existing members. He insisted that unless unions such as the SEIU achieved a far higher degree of "density" in specific industries, such as healthcare, they wouldn't be strong enough to raise wages and working conditions for everyone.

Stern also has made it clear that he sees the U.S. economy as a single integrated system in which the status of labor is closely related to the structure of capitalism. This has led the SEIU to take great interest in issues that once would have been considered irrelevant to what went on at the bargaining table, such as how to regulate private equity firms, which now control companies that employ more than a million workers in industries the SEIU seeks to organize. Stern has sought to strike deals, or at least open negotiations, on a variety of employment-related issues with politicians and businessmen, including Wal-Mart's H. Lee Scott and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who have often been hostile to unionism.

But Stern's ambitions have not been universally applauded. For instance, the California Nurses Assn., the union representing 80,000 registered nurses across the country, has been a highly vocal critic of and competitor to the SEIU, denouncing what it sees as Stern's willingness to trade away nurse staffing ratios and other labor standards for organizing agreements with hospital chains that are viewed as anti-union.

In recent months, the CNA and the SEIU have competed for the allegiance of nurses not only in California but in Las Vegas hospitals and in medical facilities throughout Ohio. The clash has been bitter, with the SEIU charging that the nurses organization is a "union buster" at the same time the CNA claims that SEIU organizing tactics pave the way for management-dominated "company unionism."

Within the SEIU itself, Stern is facing a revolt by United Healthcare Workers West, the 150,000-member California local that is led by Sal Rosselli, a former nursing home worker who has been a union leader since 1988, when he won an insurgent campaign to rebuild what was then Local 250 in the Bay Area. In the years since, Rosselli has been a pioneering militant, organizing nursing homes, hospitals and home-care workers throughout California.

Rosselli once worked cooperatively with Stern, but tensions have arisen in recent years over what the UHW considers an SEIU effort to sideline local leaders in hospital and nursing home contract negotiations. Rosselli and others at the UHW are just as sophisticated as Stern, but they take a darker view of their business and political adversaries.

Thus Rosselli objected to Stern's endorsement of Schwarzenegger's proposed health insurance plan, which the UHW chief, like many other unionists in California, considered far too friendly to insurance company interests. The plan was never enacted.

Stern and Rosselli are playing familiar roles in our labor history. When American corporations became giant institutions more than a century ago, trade unions were soon forced to mirror their centralized structure in order to bargain for better wages and benefits. But centralizing union authority in Pittsburgh, Detroit or Washington came at a price. United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther, for instance, who was every bit as ambitious and imaginative as Stern, faced a constant rumble of discontent from the big auto locals in Flint, Fremont and Dearborn. Local unionists insisted that regardless of the success Reuther enjoyed bargaining with Henry Ford II or planning the Great Society with LBJ, the union's first and most essential duty was to make sure that dignity and safety did not vanish from their arduous, if well-compensated, life on the assembly line.

Similarly, Rosselli and his supporters (not all of whom are in the UHW) argue that the very meaning of unionism will be bleached out of the SEIU unless local voices are once again made potent. "I want a movement of workers governed by workers for workers," said Rosselli, "to be in control of their relationship with their employer, to be in control of the political direction of their union."

But Stern and his allies within the SEIU believe that with a Democratic Party landslide in the offing this November, unions are on the verge of an historic breakthrough. This is not the time for what they label "Just Us" unionism devoted to the advancement of the wages and working conditions of those already enrolled in a labor organization.

All this will be fought out next week at the SEIU national convention in Puerto Rico. Rosselli and his UHW supporters will put forward resolutions calling for more local control of contract negotiations, organizing and finances, as well as direct, union-wide election of national SEIU officers (rather than selection by convention action). They are unlikely to win any votes there, but if the issues they have raised become part of the general discussion within the labor movement and the larger progressive community, these rebels will have shown that union democracy and union growth are not incompatible.

- Nelson Lichtenstein is a professor of history at UC Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy.

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