Unions keep Barack on a short leash

Obama - The Unionizer-in-Chief

Noted economist and University of Maryland scholar John Lott says the election of Barack Obama as president would benefit labor unions even more than eight years of a Bill Clinton White House did.

As senior research scientist at the University of Maryland, Lott is examining the pro-union policies supported by Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois. "Even Bill Clinton wasn't near this strongly in the unions' pocket, so to speak, as you have with Barack Obama," the economist contends.

Lott notes Obama's opposition to education vouchers, votes against trade deals with U.S. allies, and desire to renegotiate NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). But the best evidence, Lott says, of Obama's hyper-union stance is his support for the questionably-named "Employee Free Choice Act" - a proposal that would eliminate secret ballots by employees when unions are trying to enter a workplace.

"I think if you were going to go and tell people that we were going to stop having secret ballots, they would think you were joking," he suggests. "And that's because we think that there are very strong reasons to have secret ballots. Many people may wear lapel buttons for their candidate or put up yard signs, but a lot of people feel uncomfortable being public and outspoken about that. You may have issues of intimidation. You may also have issues of vote-buying," Lott explains.

Unions project they could add millions of members if they could eliminate secret ballots. But Lott believes many employees, out of fear, may reluctantly sign a public statement calling for a union.

"Right now, a worker may feel pressure from others to go and vote for the union, but not believe that it's in his interest to do it. [But with a secret ballot option] he can go and sign the public statement saying that he's for a union vote, but then vote differently once he's in the safety of the voting booth. That would no longer be an option for people because how they would vote would be public knowledge," Lott points out.

Currently, according to Lott, a union election is called for when more than 50 percent of employees sign a public petition supporting the idea. He says many workers realize that the higher wages that unions demand come at the expense of employees who lose their jobs as employers move to reduce their costs.


Worker-choice would dry up union-dues

Forced-labor unionism gains attention

Half of Colorado's United Food and Commercial Workers would stop paying union dues if they could, according to the group's local president. In a May 1 letter to members, Ernest Duran warns that the right-to-work initiative headed for Colorado's November ballot would decimate his ranks of dues-paying members.

"If this amendment passes, we will enter all future negotiations divided," Duran wrote. "In my opinion, we will enter with less than 50 percent of the workers as union members."

If Amendment 47 passes, no one could be forced to pay union dues. Under current state law, those working at union-organized companies may have to pay union dues whether they like it or not.

Sounds like plenty of Rocky Mountain region grocery workers don't like it. In the right-to-work state of Wyoming, for example, the UFCW counts less than 40 percent of workers at companies where it has organized, Duran laments.

"Before we start to negotiate, we are divided," Duran wrote. "Unity is the workers' greatest strength. Less than 40 percent simply cannot fight effectively for 100 percent of the workers."

Duran was unavailable for comment on his call-to-action missive. But UFCW spokesman Manny Gonzales confirmed Duran's fears of mass defections.

Amendment 47 "basically creates a freeloader system," Gonzales said, "so that people can opt out of union membership, but they still can benefit from the same union services that members can."

Clearly this is not fair, but no matter how the labor laws are written, somebody gets shafted.

Under Colorado's long-standing Labor Peace Act, it's those workers who loathe unions but have to pay for them anyway because they work in union shops.

If right to work passes, it will be unions that are forced to negotiate on behalf of people who refuse to pay their dues. To Duran's point, that's unfair too.

In any case, unions represent only 8 percent of Colorado workers. And to hear Duran tell it, many of those workers are being held against their will.

"This letter tells me Colorado workers want the freedom to choose," said Kelley Harp, a spokesman for A Better Colorado, the group that is backing Amendment 47. It "blows the lid off all the reasons the unions give for opposing right to work."

The UFCW also is backing a series of proposals that would make Colorado employers pay and pay.

They would mandate cost-of-living raises from all employers; allow injured workers to sue outside of the state's "unjust" workers' compensation system; require employers with more than 20 workers to provide health-care coverage; and raise property taxes on corporations and lower them for homeowners.

Nothing like sticking it to the man, but you can't expect halfhearted union members to do this for free.

"We will need to gather over 100,000 valid signatures on all four petitions," Duran wrote. "You will be paid $2 for every valid signature you secure ... I urge you to get involved. This is your Union."


Colorado government unions beef up

Pro-union Gov. Bill Ritter leads the way

More than 21,000 state employees, from prison guards to secretaries, will soon vote whether to unionize because of Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order giving public workers collective-bargaining rights. A coalition of labor groups calling itself Colorado WINS has spent months since the November order courting workers through seminars, mailers and personal contact.

Now five of the state's seven eligible employee categories — representing more than two-thirds of eligible workers — are participating in a mail-in vote that began when ballots were mailed Wednesday, said Dawn Le, spokeswoman for Colorado WINS.

"We're very happy . . . more than 21,000 state employees are in the process of making this choice," said Le, whose group formed in the weeks after Ritter's order.

Results should be in by June 10, and if Le's group succeeds, the election will more than quadruple the unions' 6,000-person membership.

Republicans have criticized the governor's order as a way to beef up union rolls and pad the campaign coffers of Democrats, who typically benefit from union money. For example, 17 of the 20 biggest contributors to Ritter's 2006 campaign had ties to labor groups, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonprofit watchdog.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, this year sponsored an ill-fated bill that would have dismantled the collective-bargaining provisions. "This is about union dues, union power and skimming state employee paychecks for union dues and political contributions," Mitchell said. "And since state employees have constitutionally protected employment, it raises the question why they need union protection."

Lawmakers did pass legislation that prohibits state employees from striking.

Ritter has said that allowing collective bargaining would open dialogue with state workers and promote efficiencies in state government.

Colorado WINS represents the American Federation of Teachers; the Colorado Association of Public Employees-Service Employees International Union; and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The five state employee groups that will hold union elections are:

• The 6,538-member enforcement and protective-service workers.

• The 3,694-member health-care services workers.

• The 5,403-member labor, trades and craft workers.

• The 4,830-member administrative-support workers.

• The 2,007-member physical science and engineering workers.


Congress: Farm-aid means 'union-only'

The Farm Bill's Davis-Bacon Provisions

Oh, that's right. More from ABC here, including reference to the CBO estimate that the Davis-Bacon Act “already costs taxpayers more than $9.5 billion over the 2002 to 2011 period relative to the 2001 appropriations and $10.5 billion relative to 2001 appropriations adjusted for inflation. A more recent estimate, from the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in January, suggests Davis-Bacon costs taxpayers $8.6 billion per year.”

From a news release last Friday from the Associated Builders and Contractors:
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) today urged President George W. Bush to keep his promise to veto the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007 (H.R. 2419) over the expansion of the Davis-Bacon Act, among other issues. The legislation would expand Davis-Bacon from federal construction contracts to the bio-refinery loan guarantee program and subject local entities and private employers to federal micromanagement.

“The Davis-Bacon provision in the Farm Bill is a desperate attempt by Congress to keep alive a Depression-era law that has no place in the 21st century,” said ABC President and CEO Kirk Pickerel. “Besides being discriminatory towards minority contractors; open to waste, fraud and abuse; and violating state’s rights; it unnecessarily drives up the cost of a construction project that ultimately has to be paid by the taxpayer.”

The Davis-Bacon Act is a 1931 federal law that establishes wage rates and other conditions on construction projects involving more than $2,000 in federal funds. The law is named after co-authors Sen. James Davis and Rep. Robert Bacon.

“Eliminating the Davis-Bacon Act’s requirements would reduce unnecessary federal spending and guarantee more construction for the dollar,” said Pickerel. “In turn, more money would be available for important public projects such as schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and low-income housing.”

'I am a victim of a teachers union.'

Forced-labor unionism panned

Dear Editor: Your reports on political pushes for unionization remind me how little the public knows about the civil rights consequences of forced unionization. I am the victim of a teachers union. Unlike my union's supporters, I and others must relinquish one set of civil rights to defend another. If we don't support the union's political activities, we pay fees instead of dues. Our fees cover all the union's representational expenses, yet we are denied the right to vote on labor contracts and union leaders.

We only get to vote if we are willing to subsidize someone else's political views. When I asked my union local to give us the vote, they wanted to know my political preferences and they assured me that I ought not to feel deprived because they were "listening" to me. I'm ashamed that a Congressional majority would deprive workers of such fundamental freedoms.

Sue Holt, Santa Cruz, Calif.


Rep. Tim Walz, Minnesota DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

CWA Minnesota State Council President Tim Lovaasen and CWA Local 7203 President Jerry Finn had a 30-minute meeting with Congressman Tim Walz. They discussed the need for healthcare reform so CWA members could continue to receive healthcare benefits at their current levels without the fear of paying higher premium or co-pays.

Also discussed was rebuilding of the middle class in the United States and that the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act into law is necessary to accomplish that goal. Unions helped build the middle class, but they have been under attack by the right wing element in this country which has made it almost impossible to organize and get the first contract. Representative Walz understands this and has been a strong support of the EFCA.

Speed Matters was also discussed and Representative Walz told us to keep him informed of what the needs of CWA members are concerning this issue.

The meeting ended with Representative Tim Walz getting a check from Tim and Jerry from our CWA-COPE fund for $1,500. This brought our total CWA contributions for the year to Representative Walz to $5,000 which is the maximum we can give. Representative Walz is a true friend of CWA and our members.


UFCW pharmacists authorize strike

Related video: "Get to know RWDSU/UFCW Local 338"

Ninety Waldbaum’s pharmacists in 35 New York-area stores have authorized a strike after the company’s parent said it wants to pull the plug on their pension benefits. The union said it feared that A&P, which owns Waldbaum’s, was using negotiations with the pharmacists as a test for future negotiations with Local 338’s 6,000 grocery workers.

The contract with the pharmacists expired three weeks ago and A&P wants to move the employees to the company’s own benefits package, which includes a company-sponsored 401(k) plan.

That’s a non-starter for the pharmacists, said John DeMartino, secretary-treasurer of the Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW union, who called a strike a last resort.

DeMartino said that wage negotiations have yet to take place and wouldn’t until the pension debate is settled. He added that the union’s retirement fund is in sound financial shape and that the pharmacists have been vocal in their commitment to staying in that plan.

DeMartino also said that no one is asking A&P to make additional contributions to the union pension plan.

A&P officials said they wouldn’t comment on continuing negotiations.

Dan Rizzi, deputy practice group leader for the labor and employment group at Nixon Peabody’s Jericho office, said he is not surprised by the tone of the negotiations.

He said many companies, such as A&P, want to move employees into their own plans. Obviously, he said, unions oppose it.

“Employers like to have great flexibility and certain pension entitlements,” Rizzi said. “They want employees to participate in their plans rather than multi-employer plans.”

But Rizzi said unions need members to stick with their plans to help them maintain financial stability.

“When employers start pulling out, they are placing in jeopardy the viability of the union pension fund,” Rizzi said.

DeMartino said pharmacists are concerned that other Local 338 union members would be hurt if they’re forced out of their benefits package. He added that pharmacists typically make more money than other grocery workers, who depend heavily on the union pension.

DeMartino added that he was prepared to sit down and strike a deal with A&P.

“Hopefully we can come to some agreement,” he said.


State saddled with forced-labor union agenda

Punishing employers won't help create jobs

There's a right way and a wrong way to encourage investment and the hiring of local workers. The Michigan House of Representatives, with the passage of legislation this week, has chosen the wrong way. Christopher Ilitch, head of Ilitch Holdings and chairman of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, by contrast, got it right.

The Michigan House passed a "Hire Michigan First" package of bills requiring companies with state contracts or seeking economic development incentives to hire Michigan workers first.

The package also penalizes employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. And it imposes requirements on local governments with state projects.

The problem with this approach is that it imposes a lot of what economists call "transaction costs" on firms seeking to do business with the state or use tax incentives to invest or grow. The legislation imposes reporting requirements and penalties on firms and exposes them to the risk of financial penalties.

In the case of illegal immigrants, we already have federal agents tasked with enforcing immigration laws.

In general, the House proposal increases the "hassle factor" of doing business with the state.

Michigan already has enough of that with its other laws, from environmental regulations to its prevailing wage rules, which require that contractors on state and school projects essentially pay union wages -- an expensive subsidy for construction unions.

Added to this, the House has just passed legislation that would empower a state commission to meddle in private-sector wages to try to equalize pay between men and women not based on whether they are doing the same work, but on whether their jobs require, in the opinion of the commission, "comparable" skills -- another formula for huge hassles.

The first test for any state contractor should be whether the taxpayers are getting the biggest bang for their bucks. State government shouldn't be more expensive than it has to be.

Ilitch, in seeking more convention business for Detroit, has used persuasion and example, moving more of his firm's meetings to Detroit and lining up additional voluntary support from other major firms to do the same.

In addition, Gov. Jennifer Granholm already has programs in place to encourage the use of state firms. Her "Buy Michigan First" program is a voluntary effort to encourage state firms to bid on contracts.

Michigan Department of Management and Budget spokesman Edward Woods III notes that in the 2007 fiscal year, 92 percent of state contracts went to state firms, up from 87 percent in the prior year. State contracts, he says, are worth a total of about $19 billion.

The governor's program deals with state firms, while the legislation applies to state residents, but the effects of the programs are similar. Granholm's effort, like that of Christopher Ilitch, is based on outreach and voluntary commitment.

That's a better way to go than regulations and threats.


SEIU striker arrested in San Jose

Picket-line violence v. scabs was expected

From the police blotter: at 3800 block of Zanker Road, 8 p.m. May 21 - A member of the South Bay Service Employees International Union was arrested after the tires of a vehicle belonging to a substitute janitorial service were stabbed during a protest.


SEIU strikes Stanford University

Almost 100 janitors who work at Stanford University went on strike Wednesday after a stalemate in negotiations for a new contract, the Stanford Daily reported. The janitors are employed by ABM Janitorial Services, a contractor that provides services to the university. The janitors are members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 717, which is negotiating with ABM for a new contract.

Demonstrating workers marched on the campus office of ABM Wednesday afternoon, briefly blocking traffic near Bonair Siding, the Stanford Daily reported.

The contract between SEIU and ABM expired April 30.


Privatization yields school savings

Outsourcing custodians approved

The Swansea (MA) School Committee unanimously approved the privatization of the custodial and maintenance staff that will allow the final step of contracting out all services once occupied by 19 full-time employees. Superintendent Stephan Flanagan said that the school has received two bids to outsource custodial and maintenance services, offering significant savings over current costs.

Flanagan reported a proposed fiscal 2009 savings of $152,000 on health care costs that the town will no longer have to pay for the contracted workers come July 1.

The lowest of the two bids, by M & M Contracting Cleaning Inc. of Brockton, came back with an additional savings of $258,352 from current custodial/maintenance salaries.

But the M & M proposal includes a custodial staff of seven full-time and seven part-time staff, far less than the 16 full-time positions in the schools now, though that number has dropped by three over the last year with the positions not being refilled. The proposed contract will allow a full-time custodian for each school in addition to the school administration building and seven part-timers that will share various schools and nightly duties. Included in that mix will be one full-time manager and one part-time manager. As part of the bid, the school will provide the contractor with a 60-day written notice on anything the schools feel is not being done up to par and 30-days notice if they wish to terminate the contract, Flanagan said.

The three-year contract calls for the custodial staff to be paid $16 an hour for the first two years and $17 a hour for the third year, with maintenance staff starting at $22 an hour and $23 an hour in the third year.

Flanagan said he will be talking to the contractor on Friday to discuss the possibility of keeping the three maintenance workers on the school’s payroll instead of contracting that part out. If the maintenance workers are taken out of the contract, it would drop the contract price by $137,280 each year, and decrease the town’s $258,352 salary savings by $37,280.

“One of our options would be in separating the two,” said Flanagan. “Due to the nature of the contract, the School Committee can cherry pick the parts they want.”

Flanagan said M & M would give consideration to the current custodians during the application process. When the bus drivers were outsourced a few years ago, 70 percent of the bus drivers were rehired, but without health insurance. Flanagan said the custodial union had rejected the school’s final contract proposal that would have seen a 12 percent pay raise over a three year period and an increase in shift differential, but the school sought the power in determining when custodians can return to work after an injury, something the union balked at.

Twenty-year Hoyle School Custodian Robert J. Silva said the custodians didn’t reject the contract and only wanted clarity on the article but no further negotiations have taken place between the schools and the union since.

“We hear it doesn’t look promising and that we will be done soon,” said Silva. “We’ve heard nothing definite yet.”

Silva appeared before the School Committee two weeks ago making a plea for his and his colleagues jobs.

He told the School Committee that the Hoyle school, the youngest of the six in the town, was in deplorable conditions, that parts of the school were “just falling apart” and that outsourcing would make matters much worse.

Last Friday, School Committee Chairwoman Dawn Freitas and Vice Chairwoman Ellen Furtado took a tour of the school, asking the teachers if there were any major issues with the school building and walked the facility with Silva to see any major problems he alluded to at their meeting for themselves. Furtado said Silva complained about classroom tiles that seemed to have missed a coat of wax this past summer, along with faucet and gym door issues.

“He showed me that there was a faucet that was leaking and I asked him if he had the tools to fix it and he said he wasn’t a plumber,” said Furtado. “When we stopped in and asked the teachers about anything falling down in the school, they said their only complaint was that the floors always looked scuffed.”

“All I saw there was normal wear and tear,” said Freitas. “I was not overly concerned about anything I saw there.”


Gettelfinger shouted down by UAW strikers

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

Workers speak out against union betrayal

American Axle workers at the company’s largest facility—Detroit Gear & Axle—voted Thursday on the tentative agreement signed by the United Auto Workers union, which imposes unprecedented wage cuts on the company’s 3,650 workers in Michigan and western New York. Press reports late Thursday indicated that the contract had passed at the Detroit local, though no vote count had been released.

The vote at UAW Local 235 had originally been scheduled for Monday but was delayed until Thursday. The change followed an explosive meeting on Sunday, during which workers shouted down UAW International President Ron Gettelfinger and other union officials for selling them out.

Fearing that a large “no” vote by the 1,900-member local might tip the majority against the contract, UAW bureaucracy scheduled ratification votes at smaller factories first. These included three plants—Buffalo and Tonawanda, New York, and the Detroit Forge—that the union agreed to allow the company to close.

Faced with the imminent loss of their jobs and knowing full well that the union would do nothing to fight if they voted to remain on strike, the majority of workers ratified the agreement and opted to take buyouts to leave the company.

Under the agreement, 2,000 workers, including 900 at the Detroit Gear & Axle plant, are expected to lose their jobs. Those who remain will see their wages cut from $28 an hour to $18.50 and as low as $14.35 for so-called “factory support” jobs. New hires will be brought in at $11.50 an hour, with substandard benefits.

The UAW negotiated and the company’s former owner General Motors financed a “buy-down” that would cover a portion of the lost wages. But the subsidy—anywhere from $55,000 to $105,000—would be subject to taxes and the deduction of union dues and would be paid over three years. After that the full wage cut will take effect, undoubtedly leading to a further exodus of workers.

The vote took place as the Big Three automakers announced a series of production cutbacks of slow-selling pickups and SUV’s, which will lead to a new round of mass layoffs. The concessions at AAM will set a precedent for new takeaway demands throughout the industry.

In addition to the national agreement, Detroit workers were told to vote on a local contract that contained additional concessions, including the tearing up of work rules and a new punitive attendance policy.

These were contained in a new “Innovative Operating Agreement” signed between UAW Local 235 and Detroit Gear & Axle, which stated that, “both Parties realize that in order to effectively compete and win in this global economy, significant and immediate company specific solutions must be implemented in all parts of AAM’s business.”

To achieve this the union agreed to allow the company to reopen the contract at will and impose even further concessions. It noted that the local union and management could also request “additional innovative changes or waivers” to provisions in the national agreement which may “hinder the efforts of the Local Parties to achieve market competitiveness.”

Workers speak out

The WSWS spoke to many workers at the Detroit plant on Thursday who voiced their bitter anger at the company and at the UAW. Supporters distributed statements calling for a rejection of the contract and the mobilization of the entire working class on a new organizational and political basis. (See, “Reject UAW sellout at American Axle! Mobilize auto workers against attacks on jobs and wages!”)

A veteran worker who originally worked at GM’s Pontiac truck plant, told the WSWS, “They can reopen this contract at any time to be ‘market competitive.’ If I were American Axle I would open up a plant and pay $5 an hour—because then I could reopen the contract here to demand competitive wage cuts.

“When I hired into GM 25 years ago I was proud to be a UAW member. Then after 10 years I found out that the union’s real function is to control the workforce for management. It’s no honor to be a UAW member.

“Gettelfinger got American Axle to recognize the union at his non-union plants. But I don’t need to pay union dues to cut my wages. If there was no union in this plant and we went out for three months to fight this company the outcome would have been different. If the company had to deal with the people, not the UAW, it would have been a lot better.

“By taking a buyout you sever all connections with the company,” he said. “If I leave and later discover that I got asbestos poisoning from the plant I won’t be able to sue the company because I’ve released all ties to American Axle.”

Another worker said, “We confronted greed from both sides—Dauch and the top union leaders. All we can do is move on and try to find other jobs but there is nothing else. I’ve got a job in Alabama but how long is that going to last.

“The companies have the courts and the police behind them and they control all the presidential candidates, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They say we live in a democratic society but the ones with the money have all the power.”

Another worker, Jerome, added, “The company and the union had this contract worked out from the beginning. They just waited 12 weeks to spring it on us.

“All of these corporations are global now with operations in Asia and elsewhere. A strike is not the way to get things done anymore. Everything is going to the super-elite.”

Rick, a machine builder with 14 years at the company, said, “You can see that GM and Ford are starting production cutbacks and layoffs now. What they have done to us is going to happen all across the industry.

“Dauch gave this speech in New York where he said only the strong are going to survive and the weak are going to perish. What he meant is only the rich are going to survive. But we are going find a way to survive.

“They always threaten us with the loss of jobs because there is nothing out here. What are you going to do, live on a McDonald’s wage? Guys facing retirement are worried they are going to lose their pensions.

Rick complained about the $200 a week strike pay given to workers, even though the union has a strike fund of over $750 million. “If the union gave us more strike benefits we could have lasted longer. But I can’t help thinking they are in cahoots with management. Gettelfinger and Dauch must be buddies. One worker asked Gettelfinger how much of his salary he was going to sacrifice, but he wouldn’t say.

“Wall Street drove down the company’s share value after the agreement—that made me happy. Dauch didn’t get all that he wanted—but he got mighty close. Look what they made workers in Three Rivers accept—$10 an hour. That puts a chill down my spine. That whole town depends on GM and American Axle.”

Anthony, a skilled worker with eight years, said, “They forced us to say ‘yes’ to a contract that we didn’t want. I feel like packing up and moving from Michigan. I was hired in at a wage, which had been negotiated before, and eight years later Dauch says I have to take a $7-$8 an hour wage cut.

“It’s corporate greed, like the gas and oil tycoons who are making billions. They don’t look at what the employees are getting. We are the ones who gave Dauch the opportunity to build his factories in China and around the world, to build his new corporate headquarters, that big glass house,” he said, referring to the elaborate structure adjacent to the Detroit plants.

“If I had more money I would stay on strike, but I used up all my savings. Twenty or thirty years ago the unions wouldn’t have let the corporations get away with this. But the union we pay union dues to was only giving us $200 a week in strike benefits. That’s ridiculous.

“I wish the government would step in—but it won’t. Look what Enron did and nothing changed. Each company sees what the others can get away with and they do the same.”

Another worker said, “Everybody has to come together, all the workers in the US have to come together for anything to happen. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We’re all headed for Third World wages. Who’s going to pay to buy the stuff [that American Axle makes]?

“Food prices are going up, gas prices are going way up. It makes you think back to Roman times, they way it’s headed—that’s capitalism. In any major city, there are beautiful parts, and then you get outside of those and it’s a big ghetto.

“George W. Bush and his cronies have screwed up this country so bad. The union and this company are in collusion—84 days on strike and we lose $10 an hour on wages! They’re trying to eliminate the middle class here.”

Jack Webb said, “Workers look to unions and our government to help, but they’re against us. They’re looking for ways to make more profits, seeking Third World wages.

“With $4 gas, this company might not even be in business in a year. Only a small section of the population can afford SUVs now. Layoffs are coming. It’s a way to oppress the people. The only way to get rich is to step on other people’s toes.”

Nate Mitchell, a worker with 9 years seniority, said, “The strategy of the union has been the strategy of the company. Even that they could bring us this contract tells me that they are not for us. This is about corporate greed, and corporate-UAW greed. The union officials are not working for our benefit. We are just sacrificial lambs.

“I’m not even proud to be a part of this union anymore. It’s a farce. The union is like a clique, and they always keep their hands in the cookie jar.”

A couple that said they voted against the contract but asked not to be named said they strongly opposed the agreement. “It was very disappointing,” said one. “We stood on the picket line for three months, at $200 a week, and this is the best they can do? They only came to an agreement after GM threw them some money.

“This contract is geared toward getting people to leave. Now it is not costing Dauch a penny to get rid of the older workforce.”

His female companion was equally angry. “If this is the best they can get, what is next? It’s like what happened in the Detroit News strike. In the future they will simply hire scabs and get rid of us.”

She continued, “Nothing was done to win this strike. Before the strike began we had a union meeting where the international reps came to the local explaining how we could make noise and carry out various tactics on the picket line, but during the strike nothing was done.”

Alietha Shaffer said many workers were extremely angry at the contract. “The union meeting called on Sunday was absolute chaos. There was an incredible amount of bitterness and anger directed especially at Gettelfinger.

“A man went onto the platform into Gettelfinger’s face,” she continued, “and a woman was also there and cursed him out, right there in front of everybody. At that point I called my husband on the phone, held it up and told him to listen to it. That’s when I decided to leave.

“I voted no,” Alietha continued, “but it is really divided. I would say that it is half for and half against. There are so many people who are bitter, especially the high seniority people. Most of them feel they have put so much into this and now they are losing it all.”


Denver Post sets smoke screen for labor unions

Pro-union sheet campaigns against worker-choice

Union interests plan to file a formal complaint alleging that proponents of the right-to-work initiative committed fraud while collecting signatures to place the measure on November's ballot. The challenge will probably be filed Wednesday in Denver District Court, said Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future, the labor-backed group fighting the measure.

Based on a sampling of the 133,000 signatures submitted, the secretary of state's office last month certified the right-to-work measure for the ballot. The initiative, which seeks to ban compulsory union membership in Colorado, is slated to appear as Amendment 47.

Dozens of people working for Protect Colorado's Future pored over all the signatures after they were certified. The group may claim that false addresses were provided for the signatures or challenge the validity of the notaries.

Knox said specifics will be disclosed in the complaint.

"We'll most likely present evidence of the extensive pattern of fraud and potential criminal activity involved in the collection of signatures by Jonathan Coors and the other folks supporting Amendment 47," Knox said.

Coors is director of government relations for Golden-based CoorsTek, which has provided the bulk of funding to A Better Colorado, the group behind the right-to-work initiative.

"This is nothing more than a smoke screen," said Kelley Harp, spokesman for A Better Colorado. "It's clear the unions will do everything in their power to keep Amendment 47 off the ballot because they know it will pass in November."

In a May 1 letter obtained by The Denver Post, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 president Ernest Duran told members to expect to see the measure on the ballot.UFCW is a major financial backer of Protect Colorado's Future.


Labor-state nurses look to union for help

The question of whether nurses at Chino Valley (CA) Medical Center will form a union will go to a vote today and Friday. Some nurses at the center have expressed an interest in unionizing, citing the need to improve staffing and provide better patient care through more time with patients. Sandy Reynolds, a registered nurse at the hospital who supports a nurses union there, said she hopes union representation will help alleviate understaffing.

A national nursing shortage has caused problems in attracting and retaining nurses at hospitals throughout the country.

"With a union, we will be able to collaborate with management to attract and retain more nurses so that every night and every day we have consistent staffing, and we are never short of nurses on the floor," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said unionizing would give nurses the ability to negotiate a contract to allow for benefits that would help in attracting more nurses to the hospital. Currently, Reynolds said the nurses at Chino Valley do not have a retirement plan.

Hospital administrators, who are against the formation of a nurses union, disagree with union supporters over the quality of care at the hospital, citing good customer feedback on quality service and the inability to predict staffing in the emergency room given the unpredictable nature of patient intake.

Dr. James Lally, president and chief medical officer of the Chino Valley Medical Center, said he and the hospital administration support the process but voiced hope that the nurses will vote "no."

"I have the lowest turnover rate of nurses in the Inland Empire," Lally said. "We have the highest retention rate in the Inland Empire. The turnover on registered nurses is minuscule."

In order to unionize, a group of nurses filed paperwork last month with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election. The election will use secret ballots to poll about 200 nurses as to whether they want to join the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals.

More than 50 percent of the vote is needed to win the election. A tie goes to the employer.

A vote tally will be announced after the election ends Friday.

If a union vote succeeds, the NLRB will issue a certification of representative about 14 days after the election. If the union vote fails, there cannot be another election for a year.

The UNAC/UHCP represents more than 15,000 nurses in Southern California.


Big Labor Sell-Out in Fog City

Lennar Deal Stinks

Details of a back room deal between Miami-based Lennar Corporation (LEN) and the San Francisco Labor Council (Big Labor), ACORN, and SFOP were finally released Tuesday in the San Francisco Chronicle. Top Big Labor Boss, Tim Paulson lauded the deal saying, “We negotiated extremely aggressively to make sure this deal provides the greatest amount of affordable housing in the history of San Francisco if not the state.”

But the details of Lennar’s latest promises does not bring much, if any, added value and the political implications of the deal could spell disaster for San Francisco’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Lennar certainly got what they want out of the smoke-filled room — headlines lauding their “historic” levels of “affordability” and political support from some big time political players. But what did the people of San Francisco and Bayview Hunters Point receive?

The Caveat

Before answering, it should be noted that, as of the posting of this article, there is no legally binding agreement between Lennar and the San Francisco Labor Council; only a statement of principles and a non-binding commitment between the parties to work toward a community benefits agreement “as soon as possible” — a wink and a nod, if you will.

Given that the development has received no approvals, Big Labor’s deal with Lennar is not enforceable and would have to be ratified at several levels of government. In fact, the mechanism used in Proposition F may be the only way to make specific community benefits enforceable at this point.

It Really Does Stink

Let’s take a look at the terms of the “deal.” While Lennar is now “committing” that 31.86 percent of the units they build will be “affordable”, only 15.66 percent would be rental units affordable to households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), even though most Bayview Hunters Point residents earn much less than this amount. This percentage includes the 256 replacement units at Alice Griffith Public Housing. 3.45 percent will be for-sale units affordable to households earning 80-100 percent AMI. 4.25 percent of the units will be “affordable” to an average AMI percentage of 120 percent, and another 4.25 percent at 140 percent AMI. The last 4.25 percent would be “affordable” to households up to 160 percent of AMI.

These “affordable” units would sell for a half-million dollars and would be available to households (families of four) earning over $150,000!

Interestingly, 160 percent AMI is very close to market rate in the Bayview. A quick search for new condos in the Bayview yields a 3 bedroom, 2-bath condo in the Bayview listed at $539,000. (Fun random factoid — former Planning liaison to the Board of Supervisor, Jean-Paul Samaha, is the listing agent.)

The Conceptual Framework for development that Lennar agreed to with the City in 2007 pledged to build upto 25 percent of the 8500 to 10,000 total housing units to be affordable in addition to replacement units at Alice Griffith. While no affordability levels were set in the document, Lennar and administration officials indicated that the units would be offered at an average of 80 percent of AMI.

If one assumes 10,000 new housing units in the development (as now seems to be the case), the Conceptual Framework would provide 2,756 affordable units. Lennar’s deal with Big Labor would net only 1,911 units affordable to households below median income. That means Big Labor negotiated for 845 fewer truly affordable units! The other 1,275 “affordable” units would be for households with incomes between 120 and 160 percent of AMI.

We’ve Dealt With This Already

The City’s inclusionary ordinance defines affordable housing as rental units targeted to households at 60 percent of San Francisco Median Income (SFMI) and ownership units at 100 percent of SFMI. (SFMI is less than AMI.)

Calling housing at 160 percent AMI “affordable” is outrageous, and the San Francisco Labor Council, ACORN, and SFOP should know better. Back in 2004, when Gavin Newsom and the Chamber of Commerce placed their “workforce” housing measure for downtown and the central waterfront on the ballot, Progressive and neighborhood organizations were joined by Labor (before they sold out) to defeat it. Even Supervisor Sophie Maxwell panned the proposal to create housing in her district at 120 percent AMI.

“When I think of workforce housing, I think of bus drivers and schoolteachers,” Maxwell said. “This initiative does not get to them.”

Great quote, Sophie, but 160 percent is even higher than 120 percent the last time I checked.

More Promises

Big Labor has also touted the $35.5 million community benefits package that they negotiated for job training and home purchase assistance for Bayview residents. Sounds pretty good until you consider Lennar’s original promise of a $30 million “Legacy Fund” related to their development of just the Shipyard (which they later reduced to $14 million for Parcel A.)

So what gives with Big Labor?

The answer may lie in the card check agreement that will facilitate labor union organizing at new restaurants, grocery stores and retail shops. While card check has consistently been a labor priority, this provision would most certainly have been included in any agreement passed at the Board of Supervisors. The ultimate irony is that because of Big Labor’s deal, far fewer of the workers in the new development will be able to afford to actually live in the new development.

Trinity is Better

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Gavin Newsom and Lennar have been trashing me for calling the Development Agreement at Trinity Plaza “historic.” They claim that only 15 percent of the housing at the new Trinity will be “affordable.” However, they fail to mention that the reason I called the Trinity agreement historic was because it is the only development in California’s history to include one-to-one replacement of rent-controlled units.

Interestingly, if you add the standard affordable units to the replacement rent-control units, you get 591 units — over 31 percent of the entire project. And this is being done without gifting huge swaths of public land and without the benefit of public funds or tax increment financing.

The San Francisco Labor Council has been hoodwinked. Vote NO on Proposition G, YES on Proposition F.

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