Davis-Bacon: Jim Crow's Last Stand

Shameful law prevents non-union blacks from working

The ugliest and most disturbing events in American history have usually been linked with state- sponsored or sanctioned racism: Incidents of police brutality, symbolized by the Rodney King trials. Slavery. The Dred Scott decision. The post-Civil War Jim Crow laws. School segregation.

Today, however, most people like to believe that their government fairly represents the interests of everyone, regardless of race. Unfortunately, the states and the federal government still discriminate against blacks, but this state-sponsored racism has taken on more subtle forms. Thus while great strides have been made since the Jim Crow era, some relics remain. One of them is the Davis-Bacon Act.

What is the Davis-Bacon Act?

Davis-Bacon, passed in 1931, requires private contractors to pay “prevailing wages” to employees on all construction projects receiving more than $2,000 in federal funding. The Secretary of Labor is charged with conducting surveys of a region’s wages and setting rates for up to 100 various classifications of workers. Most often, the “prevailing wage” corresponds to the union wage, especially in urban areas, where union membership tends to be higher. The Davis-Bacon Act covers approximately 20 percent of all construction projects in the United States and affects more than 25 percent of all construction workers in the nation at any given time.

The Act was passed in order to prevent non-unionized black and immigrant laborers from competing with unionized white workers. The discriminatory effects continue, as even today minorities tend to be vastly under-represented in highly unionized skilled trades, and over-represented in the pool of unskilled workers.

Davis-Bacon restricts the economic opportunities of low-income individuals in a number of ways. Minority contracting firms are often small and non-unionized, and cannot afford to pay the “prevailing wage.” The Act also requires contractors to pay unskilled laborers the prevailing wage for any job they perform, essentially forcing contractors to hire skilled tradesmen, selecting workers from a pool dominated by whites.

Thus, the Davis-Bacon Act constitutes a formidable barrier to entry into the construction industry for unskilled or low-skilled workers. This is especially harmful to minorities because work in the construction industry pays extraordinarily well compared to that for other entry-level positions, and could otherwise provide plentiful opportunities for low-income individuals to enter the economic mainstream.

In November 1993, the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C., based public-interest law firm, filed suit challenging Davis-Bacon constitutionality, as part of the Institute’s litigation program to help restore judicial protection of “economic liberty” the basic right to pursue a business or profession free from arbitrary government regulation.

The History of the Davis-Bacon Act

Prior to the enactment of the Davis-Bacon Act, the construction industry afforded tremendous opportunities to blacks, especially in the South. In at least six southern cities, more than 80 percent of unskilled construction workers were black. Blacks also represented a disproportionate number of unskilled construction workers in the North, and constituted a sizable portion of the skilled labor force in both parts of the country.

This was so despite the fact that most of the major construction unions excluded blacks, and that blacks faced widespread discrimination in occupational licensing and vocational training. These unions felt seriously threatened by competition from blacks, and favored any attempt to restrict it.[1]

The co-author of the Act, Representative Robert Bacon, represented Long Island. Bacon was a racist who was concerned lest immigration upset the nation’s “racial status quo.” In 1927, he introduced H.R. 17069, “A Bill to Require Contractors and Subcontractors Engaged on Public Works of the United States to Comply With State Laws Relating to Hours of Labor and Wages of Employees on State Public Works.” This action was a response to the building of a Veterans’ Bureau Hospital in Bacon’s district by an Alabama contractor which employed only black laborers.

Representative William Upshaw, understanding the racial implications of Bacon’s proposal, stated: “You will not think that a southern man is more than human if he smiles over the fact of your reaction to that real problem you are confronted with in any community with a superabundance or large aggregation of negro labor.”[2] Over the next four years, Bacon submitted 13 more bills to regulate labor on federal public works contracts. Finally, the bill submitted by Bacon and Senator James Davis was passed in 1931, at the height of the depression, with the support of the American Federation of Labor. The Act required that contractors working on federally funded projects over $5,000 pay their employees the “prevailing wage.” The law was amended in 1935, reducing the minimum to $2,000 and delegating the power of determining the “prevailing wage” to the Department of Labor. The Department’s regulations governing the determination of wages, remained basically unchanged for five decades and equated the prevailing wage with the union wage in any area that was at least 30 percent unionized. In practice, the “prevailing wage” was almost universally determined to be the same as the union wage.

The debate over Bacon’s bills betrayed the racial animus that motivated passage of the law. Representative John Cochran stated, “I have received numerous complaints in recent months about southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South.”[3] Representative Clayton Algood similarly complained, “That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.”[4] Other derogatory comments were made about the use of “cheap labor,” “cheap, imported labor,” “transient labor,” and “unattached migratory workmen.”[5] While supporters of the Act intended to disadvantage immigrant workers of all races, they were particularly concerned with inhibiting black employment.

Supporters of Davis-Bacon were also full of anti-capitalist rhetoric. Representative McCormack said of Davis-Bacon, “It will force the contractor who heretofore has used cheap, imported labor to submit bids based upon the ‘prevailing wage scale’ to those employed. It compels the unfair competitor to enter into the field of fair competition.”[6]This rhetoric of “fairness” dominates much of the contemporary debate over Davis-Bacon, as well.

Two important modifications have recently been made in the way that the Davis-Bacon Act is enforced. In 1982, the Department of Labor altered the basis for determining the prevailing wage, deciding to equate the union wage with the “prevailing wage” only in places where the construction industry was 50 percent unionized. This change has had little effect on minority-owned firms’ ability to secure contracts because union membership tends to be much higher in urban areas, where large minority populations reside.

The Department of Labor has also attempted to alter its regulations to allow contractors to hire a limited number of unskilled “helpers” to work on Davis-Bacon projects for less than the prevailing wage. This change, which was to go into effect on February 4, 1991, would help to diminish some of the discriminatory effects of the Act, but Congress has so far prevented the Department from enforcing it. Moreover, labor unions are now pressuring Congress and the Clinton Administration to repeal the changes. Similarly, while President Bush suspended the Act in South Florida, coastal Louisiana, and Hawaii in October of 1992 following Hurricanes An drew and Iniki, President Clinton reversed course upon entering office.

Last year Senator Hank Brown (R-Col.) sponsored legislation to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act. A similar bill was introduced in the House by Representative Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Both proposals have attracted congressional co-sponsors, but, not surprisingly, have failed to attain majority support.

Effects of the Davis-Bacon Act

The Davis-Bacon Act imposes tremendous economic and social costs—at least $1 billion in extra federal construction costs and $100 million in administrative expenses each year. Industry compliance costs total nearly $190 million per year. Repeal of the Act would also create an estimated 31,000 new construction jobs, most of which would go to members of minority groups.

Davis-Bacon’s impact on the ability of minorities to find work in the construction industry has been particularly devastating. The Department of Labor’s initial set of regulations did not recognize categories of unskilled workers except for union apprentices. As a result, contractors had to pay an unskilled worker who was not part of a union apprenticeship program as much as a skilled laborer, which almost completely excluded blacks from working on Davis-Bacon projects.[7]This effectively foreclosed the only means by which unskilled blacks could learn the necessary skills to become skilled workers.

As a result, while black and white unemployment rates were similar prior to passage of the Davis-Bacon Act, they began to diverge afterwards. This problem persists today. In the first quarter of 1992, the black unemployment rate was 14.2 percent, even though the overall national rate was only 7.9 percent.

The racial difference in unemployment rates is especially pronounced in the construction industry. According to a recent study by the National Urban League, in the fourth quarter of 1992, 26.8 percent of all blacks involved in the construction industry were jobless compared to only 12.6 percent of white construction workers.[8]

Despite recent racial progress, Davis-Bacon continues to inhibit minority economic progress in several ways. For instance, union apprenticeship programs, even if they no longer discriminate, still strictly limit the number of enrollees and impose arbitrary educational requirements on potential applicants, thereby excluding the most disadvantaged workers.[9]

Moreover, unskilled workers must be paid the same wage as a skilled worker, forcing the contractor to pay laborers considerably more than the market value of their work. For example, in Philadelphia, electricians working on projects covered by the Davis-Bacon Act must be paid $37.97 per hour in wages and fringe benefits. The average wage of electricians working for private contractors on non-Davis-Bacon projects is $15.76 per hour, with some laborers working for as little as $10.50 per hour.

Thus, even minority, open-shop contractors have no incentive to hire unskilled workers. Ralph C. Thomas, former executive director of the National Association of Minority Contractors, stated that a minority contractor who acquires a Davis-Bacon contract has “no choice but to hire skilled tradesmen, the majority of which are of the majority.” As a result, Thomas said, “Davis-Bacon closes the door in such activity in an industry most capable of employing the largest numbers of minorities.”[10]

The paperwork a contractor must fill out pursuant to Davis-Bacon contracts also discriminates against small, minority-owned firms. Many do not have personnel with the necessary expertise to complete the myriad forms and reports required.

As a result of all these factors, the Davis-Bacon Act prevents rural and inner-city laborers and contractors from working on projects in their own communities. Ironically this is one problem Davis-Bacon was intended to prevent. Bacon said during debate over the Act, “Members of Congress have been flooded with protests from all over the country that certain Federal con tractors on current jobs are bringing into local communities outside labor,” and “that the government is in league with contract practices that make it possible to further demoralize local labor conditions.”[11]

Such a claim could easily be made today by inner-city and rural contractors. Yale Brozen, an economist at the University of Chicago, found that the “prevailing wage” for the Appalachian region of western Pennsylvania is set at the same level as that of Pittsburgh, despite the fact that the wages normally paid by the rural contractors are only half the levels of union contractors in Pittsburgh. The same is true of inner cities, where small, minority-owned, open-shop firms are forced to pay union wages when working on Davis-Bacon projects, because of the high concentration of unionized workers in other parts of the city.

As a result, rural and inner-city contractors are deterred from seeking Davis-Bacon contracts because they cannot afford to pay the higher wages to their employees and larger and more highly unionized firms are encouraged to seek out such contracts. The result makes it clear that the government is in fact “in league with contract practices” that “demoralize local labor conditions,” only now at the expense of minorities rather than whites.

The results of this practice were clearly demonstrated in Los Angeles. In the parts of the city where the riots occurred, the rate of unemployment for black workers is 27.6 percent. Despite an ample supply of local labor to help rebuild the city, Davis-Bacon has and continues to freeze out local unskilled minority workers from those available jobs. In contrast is the situation in South Florida and coastal Louisiana, where the suspension of Davis-Bacon created 5,000 to 11,000 jobs.

In addition to this statistical evidence, individuals involved in the construction and renovation of low-cost public housing have testified as to the disastrous effects of the Act. When Ralph L. Jones, president of a company that manages housing projects for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, gained control of a pair of dilapidated 200-unit buildings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he intended to hire many of the building’s unemployed residents to help restore the property. But the Davis-Bacon Act required him to pay everyone working on the project union wages, forcing him to hire only skilled laborers, very few of whom were minorities.

Mary Nelson, director of Bethel New Life, Inc., a social service organization located in Chicago, has found that Davis-Bacon adds up to 25 percent to her total costs and frequently prevents her from hiring unskilled, low-income workers to work on projects renovating the public housing that they themselves live in. Elzie Higgin-bottom, builder of low-income housing in Chicago’s South Side, has had similar problems. Davis-Bacon requires him to pay carpenters (defined by the Act as someone who hammers in a nail) $23 per hour. As a result, he complained, “I’ve got to start out a guy at $16 per hour to find out if he knows how to dig a hole. I can’t do that.”[12]


The constitutional challenge to Davis-Bacon is a cornerstone of the Institute for Justice’s program to restore economic liberty as a fundamental civil right. The Institute is challenging Davis-Bacon on the grounds that it is racially discriminatory, since it was passed to discriminate against blacks and immigrants, and as a result, violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment. The courts need only look to the legislative and administrative history of the law to determine that racial discrimination was among its purposes. The courts could also void the Davis-Bacon Act for impinging on the right of individuals to pursue employment opportunities, thereby violating the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. The Institute for Justice has brought together a unique coalition of plaintiffs to challenge the law. Complainants range from individual minority contractors, who have either lost opportunities to successfully acquire government contracts or who have gone out of business altogether because of the application of Davis-Bacon, to resident-management corporations who because of the law have been unsuccessful in their attempts to involve public-housing residents in rebuilding programs at their own developments.

Borne of racial animus, the Davis-Bacon Act has undermined the efforts of economic outsiders to find employment in the construction industry for more than six de-cades. Given the influence of organized labor over Congress and the extent to which the Clinton administration’s support of NAFTA alienated this key constituency, it is highly unlikely that either branch will risk further undermining union support by pursuing reform or repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act. Thus, the only avenue that remains open is the judiciary. The courts should bury this relic of the Jim Crow era. []

This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in the Freeman, Vol.44 No. 2 (February 1994).

1. Johnson, “Negro Workers and the Unions,” The Survey, April 15, 1928.

2. Ibid., p. 3.

3. Employment of Labor on Federal Construction Work, Hearings on H.R. 7995 and H.R. 9232 Before the House Committee on Labor, 71st Congress, 2nd Session, March 6, 1930, p. 26- 27.

4. Rates of Wages for Laborers and Mechanics on Public Buildings of the United States, 74 Congressional Record 6504, 6513, (1931).

5. Ibid., pp. 6515-6520.

6. Employment of Labor on Federal Construction Work, p. 6516.

7. Ibid., p. 4.

8. National Urban League, Quarterly Economic Report on the African American Worker, Fourth Quarter, 1992, Table 7 (presently unpublished).

9. John Gould and George Billingmayer, The Economics of the Davis-Bacon Act, (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1980), p. 62.

10. Testimony by National Association of Minority Contractors before House Subcommittee on Labor Standards of the Committee on Education and Labor, Sept. 30, 1986, p. 3.

11. Employment of Labor on Federal Construction Work, p. 6511.

12. Patrick Barry, “Congress’s Deconstruction Theory,” The Washington Monthly, January, 1990, p. 11.

About The Author

John Frantz is a law student at Harvard University in Cambrifge, Massachusetts.The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), one of the oldest free-market organizations in the United States, was founded in 1946 by Leonard E. Read to study and advance the freedom philosophy. FEE's mission is to offer the most consistent case for the "first principles" of freedom: the sanctity of private property, individual liberty, the rule of law, the free market, and the moral superiority of individual choice and responsibility over coercion.


Divisiveness looms over SEIU convention

Competing leaders divide jumbo union

Three years ago, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern fomented an uprising against the AFL-CIO. Decrying the decline of membership and lack of focus on organizing, Stern marched a dissident coalition out of the 50th anniversary of the largest labor group in the United States.

This week, a faction of Stern's union plans its own uprising, not to secede, but to take a stand against Stern at the group's 24th quadrennial convention, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Its charges: In Stern's quest to build the ranks of a movement that has dwindled to less than 8 percent of U.S. private-sector workers, he has crossed the line from leader to autocrat and consolidated power in Washington away from the local chapters.

According to his critics, Stern has made deals behind closed doors with corporations, keeping members in the dark about the trade-offs he has agreed to.

He has quashed dissenting locals by merging them or effectively taking control of them by placing them into trusteeship, they say. He has also made it difficult for locals to file grievances, critics say, effectively stifling the most powerful tool union members have: their voices.

Stern does not deny making the confidential agreements with employers, and he referred questions to his spokesman.

"A million workers have been united in our union since 1996, which may be the biggest organizing success in the American labor union in decades," said SEIU spokesman Andrew MacDonald. "It is these kind of agreements that help a large number of workers win a voice on the job . . . especially low-paid people in the service areas of the economy. We don't think those people should be left out of having the opportunity to have a union just because it's hard to make it happen."

But Stern's antagonists want to draw the line on his methods, which they say highlight a fundamental philosophical difference over how unions should work and how they should serve workers who already belong and those they are trying to attract.

"Corporate unionism is the term we use to describe what [Stern] is doing," said Sal Rosselli, who heads SEIU's third-largest local -- the 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers West in California -- and who is leading a push at the meeting to change the way SEIU leaders are chosen by members and how they represent their interests. "It's like a corporation where a few make decisions for an entire company. We believe in social unionism, which is a bottom-up movement."

The opposition to Stern heated up this month after the Wall Street Journal reported on meetings that Stern's leadership held with Sodexo, the Compass Group USA and Aramark during which they mapped out terms allowing food, laundry and housekeeping workers to unionize. The SEIU has since had a falling out with Aramark.

The agreements spelled out the number of workers who would be eligible and at which locations they would be permitted to organize. Although union experts said it was unusual for companies to have a say in such organizing details, Stern has said that the confidential terms of the agreement, which were leaked to the media, were justified because they would create local unions where none exist now and would boost overall membership.

But the animosity between Stern and Rosselli, whom Stern once appointed to the SEIU's executive committee, has grown since Stern spoiled the AFL-CIO's party three years ago. This year, Stern sent a letter to Rosselli, alleging various kinds of misconduct, such as interfering with members' collective bargaining rights, unethical conduct and fiduciary irresponsibility. Rosselli said the accusations are a move to take over his UHW and appoint Stern's own leaders to the local.

Rosselli resigned from the SEIU executive committee and set up SEIUvoice.org, a Web site with largely anti-Stern content. Stern launched his own: SEIUfactchecker.org.

This week, Rosselli brings one of the largest contingents of SEIU members to Puerto Rico, where they will propose a series of reforms designed to return control of the union to its members. Among them: eliminating the delegate system of electing SEIU leadership and instead allowing members to vote directly for president. The group also wants to give locals a greater say when national leaders try to merge them.

Rosselli has modest expectations for the challenge he will mount at the convention but greater optimism beyond.

"We don't expect to win any votes on our proposed changes to the [SEIU] constitution," Rosselli said. "Our definition of victory is to come out of Puerto Rico with more support from more unions across the country than we have going into it. We're looking at San Juan being day one of the new phase of reform within the union movement."

Richard Hurd, a labor studies professor at Cornell University, said Stern's push to strengthen union leadership while boosting membership reflected a national trend among unions to restructure locals along industry lines. The theory is, with employers becoming increasingly globalized, combining workers under larger industry umbrellas gives them greater leverage.

"It's fair to ask, 'Are these agreements good enough?' " Hurd said. "But it's not as simple as it seems. It's a struggle between two powerful leaders over who's going to get their way. Both of their reasons make sense to someone on the outside."


Philly home-boy Andy Stern sells out

SEIU either cuts sweetheart deals or runs away

Two Philadelphia companies and one of the nation's largest labor unions - led by a former Philadelphian - are at the heart of fiery debate about union tactics. The union is the purple-shirted, 1.7-million-member Service Employees International Union, led by Andy Stern, a dynamic University of Pennsylvania graduate who got his start in organized labor by heading a social workers' union local in Philadelphia.

The two companies are national giants - the food-service monolith Aramark Inc., with its Center City office tower, and one of the nation's largest providers of security guards, AlliedBarton Security Services L.P., of King of Prussia.

The debate centers on whether it's a sellout for unions to agree, sometimes secretly, with big employers to limit their recruitment drives in some locations in return for more access elsewhere, or whether those deals are simple pragmatism at a time of declining union enrollment and continuing corporate opposition to unions.

Consider, for a moment, two Service Employees' efforts to organize security guards in Philadelphia.

Last week, with the Liberty Bell as a backdrop and the requisite politicians and posters, the SEIU announced a national push to organize Wackenhut Corp. guards, including those at Independence Hall.

By contrast, the same union, in a move that stunned local labor activists, pulled out of an active campaign to organize area AlliedBarton guards at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University.

"It almost killed our campaign," said Thomas Robinson, a Penn security guard.

SEIU had cut a deal with AlliedBarton. In return for exiting Philadelphia in 2006, the union said it was able to unionize 8,000 security guards in Boston, Los Angeles, Washington and Seattle.

These kinds of deals - called neutrality agreements - are increasingly common. The trade-off is labor peace for the companies in return for their allowing access to union organizers.

But what has come to light lately - largely through publicity generated by Stern's opposition within his union - are some of the terms negotiated as part of "labor peace."

Among the most controversial are confidentiality provisions, particularly about the union's willingness to restrict its organizing efforts.

In these agreements, unions and companies skip the National Labor Relations Board election process in favor of simply allowing workers to sign cards if they want a union.

"Thousands of workers have won a voice in a short period of time, which is a success story," said SEIU spokesman Andrew McDonald, defending the deals.

"The story is about workers in hard-to-organize businesses who are going up against the largest multinationals in the world," he said.

Indeed, unions struggle to organize security guards and food-service workers. That's because they work in high turnover jobs, in scattered geographic locations, and in subcontracted situations, where any increase in pay may cost the contractor business.

"We've had 30 years of unsuccessful organizing in the private sector," said Jeffrey Keefe, a Rutgers University professor of labor and employment relations.

"Militancy hasn't really worked. It's not as if labor hasn't tried a number of strategies, but none of them have been particularly successful."

In 2005, the SEIU began an effort to organize AlliedBarton security guards, embarking on its typical creative and strategic approach.

Like any start-up on the business side, the SEIU carefully researched the industry, market conditions, major employers, potential allies, government pressure points, and the workforce demographics.

All that came into play in May 2005, when the SEIU worked with the local activist group Jobs With Justice and student organizations to hold a hip-hop open-mike night in a city club designed to attract young African American guards like Robinson.

But by August 2006, the SEIU had pulled out. "No one returned a phone call," said Robinson, the security guard.

SEIU's move shocked local labor activists. It seemed almost counter to the DNA of union organizing. If a union has eager and committed workers, outside support, and dialogue with the company, why quit?

"It felt like they pulled the rug out from under us," said union carpenter John Prisk, a Temple engineering major and campaign activist.

Unions have "represented our guards forever," said AlliedBarton chairman and chief executive officer Bill Whitmore, citing collective-bargaining agreements in several cities. He said SEIU's drive never gained traction here.

As the local AlliedBarton deal played out, Jobs With Justice coordinator Fabricio Rodriguez struggled to come to terms with what happened.

"At first I thought it was pragmatic - a union making sacrifices for a bigger thing that's going on," said Rodriguez, who had worked on the SEIU-led campaign and is now mobilizing community and student pressure to win gains in wages and working conditions for the guards.

"But our worker-leaders faced consequences that were more than our little community group could handle. Activists got moved off contracts, got their hours cut, and the company found ways to get them fired" - allegations the company denied.

"Now it's harder to cut that math," Rodriguez said. "I just don't see how fair it was."

The SEIU withdrawal in Philadelphia is the kind of story likely to come up next month at the SEIU's convention in Puerto Rico - bad publicity at a time when the union and Stern are poised to be major players in the forthcoming presidential election.

"I don't think any union leader should have the authority to limit the workers to cut that kind of deal," said Sal Rosselli, an outspoken critic who runs a large SEIU affiliate, United Health Care Workers West, in California.

"It's wrong," he said.

In 2005, Aramark entered into a neutrality agreement with SEIU and UniteHere, another union, Aramark spokeswoman Kristine Grow said.

Aramark, which provides food service at colleges, ballparks, companies and schools, would remain neutral in union-organizing drives, if their clients agreed.

In 2006, Aramark decided to terminate the neutrality agreement, which expired last summer. Since then, SEIU has applied hard pressure to the company. An SEIU Web site, www. aramarkstrikesout.info, solicits complaints about ballpark food.

"We fully respect and recognize our employees' right to choose a union," Aramark's Grow said. But the SEIU's current campaign "has nothing to do with the quality of our services or our workplace practices. It's all about getting the company to agree to their demands."

Meanwhile, as summer tourists throng to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, Wackenhut security guard Charlie Wilson hopes SEIU's drive will succeed.

The Florida company said 25 percent of its guards were union members.

"We have no sick days," Wilson complained, and the money the company gives him for health benefits does not cover the cost of the insurance he must pay as a diabetic.

"SEIU won't be bullied around by Wackenhut," Wilson said. "They are a strong union. They have our backs if anything does happen."


UPS rewards Hoffa without a say from workers

Card-check at UPS swells Teamsters dues

In four months, more than 11,000 UPS Freight drivers and dockworkers in 40 states have signed cards to become Teamsters, the largest organizing victory in the freight industry in 25 years.

More than 9,900 of these workers have already ratified a new contract which improves wages, benefits and working conditions. The Teamsters won card-check agreement from UPS in December 2007, and began collecting cards from UPS Freight (formerly Overnite Transportation) workers on January 16, 2008.

“The determination and dedication of these workers to join the Teamsters is tremendous,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “We are proud to represent them and we are closer to our goal of representing 12,600 UPS Freight workers.”

“To have organized more than 11,000 workers in such a short amount of time continues to amaze me,” said Teamsters Package Division Director Ken Hall. “These employees work tirelessly for UPS Freight and they should be rewarded with good wages and benefits.”

In the latest victories, workers will be joining: Local 624 in Santa Rosa, California; Local 512 in Jacksonville, Florida; Local 983 in Pocatello, Idaho and Local 483 in Boise, Idaho which includes the Twin Falls terminal; Local 279 in Decatur, Illinois; Local 568 in Shreveport, Louisiana; Local 891 in Jackson, Mississippi, and; Local 492 in Albuquerque, New Mexico which includes the Farmington and Albuquerque terminals.

“These workers can now look forward to better job protection and better workplace conditions, and we welcome them,” said Walter Maestas, Secretary-Treasurer for Local 492.

“This proves that workers who want to join a union can come together and organize to get the job done,” said Jerry Conner, President of Local 279.

“The UPS Freight employees worked long and hard to get representation and it’s a relief for them to finally be Teamsters,” said Jim Shurling, President of Local 512.

“The Teamsters will match the commitment and drive the UPS Freight workers showed us to get the benefits and wages they deserve,” said Ralph Miranda, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 624.

“Being a Teamster brings you respect on the job, and a voice. These workers deserve that,” said Robert Watts, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 568.

“These workers now can look forward to a new future that includes a secure retirement,” said Willie Smith, President of Local 891.

“We welcome these workers to the Teamsters and we will represent them tirelessly,” said Robert Lee, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 983.

A majority of UPS Freight workers in 40 states have submitted cards: Alabama, Arizona,

Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Victories have come in numerous large cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis, Nashville, Oakland, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Jose, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

Source: Teamsters


Unions push hard for binding arbitration

Arbitration measure isn't about fairness

To borrow a quote from Yogi Berra, "It is déjà vu all over again!" Do you recall? In 2006, a "special election" was held to allow binding arbitration between the city and the police union? Remember? The September 2006 ballot measure could have appeared on the November ballot, but the supporters of this measure were counting on a lower voter turnout at a special election. It's easier to pass a measure when the voters might not be truly motivated to vote or even be aware that a vote is taking place.

Remember? The City Council voted to give an average 4 percent raise to our city employees. Our goal was to match industry standards regarding benefits and compensation. The average salary for a city employee is more than $58,000, plus generous benefits.

Remember? In 2006, paid signature gatherers were telling you that by signing the petition, there would be more police on the street?

Remember? The 2006 special election cost taxpayers more than $100,000 and was soundly defeated by a 2-1 spread.

Well, as much as things change, they remain the same.

Flash forward to 2008.

This week, you will receive a mail-in ballot with language that calls for unionization of our city workers and binding arbitration.

The ballot measure could have been placed on the November ballot at no additional cost to you. Instead, at more than $100,000, this special election is counting on low turnout and an uninformed public.

Paid signature gatherers have once again distorted the language to entice you to sign the petition. I was told by one, "The City Council really wants this on the ballot, but they can't place it there themselves; they want you to help them by signing." Considering that I'm a member of City Council, I can assure you: That signature gatherer was lying.

Here's why the entire City Council is unanimously against this measure:

When binding arbitration is used, an outsider is brought in to arbitrate between parties. It's very important that you understand an arbitrator is not a referee or a mediator. That person passes judgment, and the parties have to live with it. This unelected outside attorney will be making budget priority decisions for the city. Those decisions will ripple through the entire city budget.

The city of Fort Collins pays competitive salaries and offers generous benefits to employees.

The measure has nothing to do with fairness or more police on the street, as the paid signature collectors fabricated. It is most certainly not something desired by the City Council. Read the text of the proposed ballot measure, and you will see that it's about changing the existing collective bargaining provisions that are already in the City Code so that they require binding arbitration between city government and the unions and putting that revised version in the City Charter.

Here we are, again, in cash-strapped times, being asked to pay for another special election when the ballot measure could have easily been placed on the November ballot at no additional cost to taxpayers. This is tough to swallow; paying for this special election twice is reprehensible.

Yes, it is "déjà vu all over again." As in 2006, let's make sure the vote and the results remain the same.

Please vote "no" on your mail-in ballot.

- Diggs Brown is a Fort Collins City Council member representing District 3.


Back to the card check

Anti-democratic Democrat opposes secret-ballot

Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor recently disagreed with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce over what always has struck me as one terrible piece of proposed legislation. It seems that he, in contrast to the state and national chambers of commerce and others, supports pending “card check” legislation. The bill would allow organizers to form labor unions inside businesses by convincing a majority of employees to sign a form rather than voting by traditional secret ballot.

The measure caters to labor unions even though it is unnecessary and makes no sense except as a convoluted way to coerce workers into forming a union. The card-check tactic would readily identify reluctant employees who might yet require additional persuasion to sign up.

Pryor, who supported the legislation last year, even went so far to say in the news account I read that the Arkansas chamber probably echoed exaggerated claims expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Pryor’s office tells me that the Democratic senator supports chambers of commerce and never accused the state chamber itself of exaggerating the card-check issue.

Pryor also was quoted as saying that the national chamber is working hard to get state chambers more involved in the issue and that he sees the card-check legislation as a first step toward modernizing American labor law.

“I think [the state chamber’s concerns are] probably exaggerated,” Pryor told Aaron Sadler of The Morning News. “And I think they get a lot of this from the national organization. I think the people in Arkansas are very common-sense.They’re very hard-working. They expect when they work in a place to be treated fairly. Arkansas is a very good place to have a business.”

I’ll gladly agree with Pryor on those points. We Arkansans do have common sense and a strong work ethic, and expect fair treatment. Heck, we have to work hard to try and cover all the sales, gasoline, personal property, property, income and FICA taxes, plus fees, monthly utilitybills and surcharges, a.k.a. hidden taxes.

Arkansas does have a relatively good business climate in some areas, especially here in the northwest region. But the business climate everywhere is changing dramatically and rapidly with the ongoing fuel and food price hikes. I’m equally certain that the state chamber identifies with the U.S. chamber. But so what?

None of this alters the fact that the historic voting tradition whereby unions are organized by secret ballot has served our nation and its workers just fine. The secret ballot preserves the vital need to keep one’s vote private rather than allowing union organizers to know who has yet to board their dinghy. Possessing that kind of knowledge, we of common sense and fair play have seen through history, has led to some ugly and unfair consequences.

I’m not necessarily saying that those who decline to sign an organizing card would be intimidated or strong-armed. But this bill needlessly opens that door and serves only the interests of those seeking toestablish unions while making big political contributions and endorsements.

The rich irony here is that the process for disenfranchising a union once it’s formed is through the secret ballot. Is this more modern labor law? If so, then why don’t all Americans get thoroughly modernized and abandon the secret ballot for this year’s general election?

In his recent news story, Sadler writes that the card-check issue ranks with health care and education among the state chamber’s priorities. The bill did pass the U.S. House along party lines in March 2007, but it failed to pass in the Senate. It is likely to return to Congress for Round 2 within two years.

Kenny Hall, senior vice president for governmental affairs at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, said in Sadler’s story that the fear is that even smaller Arkansas businesses and the economy will suffer if they wind up unionized as a result of this legislation.

I must assume that Hall also is modern, hard-working and not prone to exaggeration, and has sufficient common sense to know when a pending bill is beneficial or a potential land mine for businesses.

Although I may lack common sense and occasionally exaggerate for effect, I continue to see this as an outstanding bill only for unions and a piece of extremely bad, even un-American, legislation for workers who do not want to join a union but may feel pressured into doing so simply because their ballot was not secret.

“I continue to hear from constituents on both sides, and I want to give supporters and opponents of the legislation an opportunity to weigh in as I consider the best approach to the issue,” Arkansas’ other Democratic U.S. senator, BlancheLincoln, was quoted saying in a statement. At least Lincoln appears to be weighing the potentially dire consequences of this legislation. We shall see.

Third District Congressman John Boozman, a Republican, flatly opposes thebill, calling it unnecessary and unfair.

In closing, for transparency’s sake I should tell readers that my wife Laurie works as a hourly, part-time events coordinator for Associated Builders and Contractors in Northwest Arkansas. That group, along with others, opposes the card-check legislation. I can assure you that her limited job without benefits has no bearing on my feelings on the issue. However, she does work hard and have loads of common sense, and also occasionally exaggerates.

- Mike Masterson


Authorizing unions without elections

Union dues matter more than worker-rights

An worker-rights group in Washington, D.C. has taken out full-page ads in Oregon’s two biggest daily newspapers questioning Senate candidate Jeff Merkley’s support for a change in how labor unions are formed. The ads in The Register-Guard and The Oregonian on Thursday describe Merkley's support for the “card-check” method of winning employee approval for unionizing private workplaces as a substitute for secret-ballot elections.

Merkley, a Democrat, supports federal legislation allowing the card-check approach, while the Republican senator he is challenging, Gordon Smith, has opposed it.

The ads were taken out by a group called The Employee Freedom Action Committee, which is run out of the office of lobbyist Rick Berman.

“Jeff Merkley won the Democratic primary Tuesday through a mailed private ballot by Oregon Citizens,” the ad states. “Yet he supports eliminating the right to a private vote when unions are enlisting new members. Hard to believe?”

Merkley spokesman Matt Canter called the ad a distortion meant to mask the anti-worker sentiments of the “shadowy organization” behind it.

“Unfortunately, Oregonians are going to see a lot of distortions from the powerful special interests that are supporting Gordon Smith’s candidacy,” he said.

Tim Miller, a spokesman for The Employee Freedom Action Committee, said his group gets a majority of its financing from businesses that oppose the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress.

It passed the House and had support from a majority in the Senate.

But enough Republicans, including Smith, voted last year to prevent it from coming up for a vote.

Miller said his group is concerned that, if voters elect a Democratic president and more Democratic senators, such a law could pass.

Currently, employers can decide whether workers can use the card-check approach or conduct an election in forming a union.

Under the card-check approach, organizers pass out cards to workers, meeting with them outside the workplace to ask for their support in forming a union. If more than 50 percent of workers sign the cards, a union would be formed.

If an employer chooses not to recognize these cards, then labor organizers must convince enough union-eligible workers to sign cards calling for a campaign on whether to unionize. Then an election is held, with the union and the employer conducting campaigns and private ballots determining the outcome.

Rebekah Orr, spokeswoman for the Oregon AFL-CIO, said employers often go with the election approach, calling it “the method that allows them the most opportunity to scare people, intimidate people and make the workplace hostile enough that people won’t vote to join a union,” she said.

Rather than make the case to the public that the card-check method is bad for employers who want to keep unions out, the Employee Freedom Action Committee is arguing that the law would be bad for workers.

“Our organization looks out for the rights of the employees. It’s the employees who are going to have their right to privacy, their right for a private vote, taken away,” Miller said. He contended that because the cards would be accessible by other workers and employers, coercion or intimidation could influence workers’ decisions in ways not possible with a private ballot.

Merkley’s spokesman, Canter, disagreed.

“This is one of many ways to allow working men and women to thrive, to assure good quality jobs with health care and child care benefits,” he said.

Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said the senator’s opposition to the card-check approach wasn’t a reflection of his position on labor organizing but on privacy rights.

“Sen. Smith believes that workers should have the right to form a union,” Hammond said. “He wants individual workers to make their decision in private — just like every voter does when they drop their ballot in the mail.”


Rep. Heath Shuler - North Carolina DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

After the House passes the Employee Free Choice Act, everything becomes a matter of hard work, said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's Legislative Director in an interview after the federation’s post-election press conference on Nov. 8. Still, Samuel admitted, “It will be nice to be playing offense for the first time in my career.”

Samuel and other union legislative representatives will get the chance “to play offense” after the nation’s voters ousted the GOP-run House in favor of a 230-196 Democratic majority there, with nine seats still too close to call. The House had been 230-201 GOP, with one Democratic-leading independent and three vacancies.

And Democrats went from trailing 55-44 in the Senate, with a Democratic-leaning independent, to a 51-49 edge, including two pro-Democratic independents. The margin came from the last, closest race: James Webb (D) beat Sen. George Allen (R-Va.).

“I think it’s clearly a mandate for a union agenda, and for addressing the amount of frustration we found” among unionists and other voters on the campaign trail, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said of the election returns.

“They’re holding the politicians accountable on these issues as well as on the war” in Iraq. Sweeney repeated the federation’s demand for “rapid” withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Many of the new House Democrats are from normally Republican districts in states such as Kansas and North Carolina. Those Democrats are expected to be “Blue Dogs,” more conservative than Democratic leaders who come from union-heavy areas. Samuel says the equation is not so simple.

“I think there’s a mistaken impression about the ‘Blue Dogs,’ that they’re conservative on all matters,” he said. They may be more conservative than their colleagues on national security and on issues such as abortion, but not on economic issues, he stated.

“They all signed on to the EFCA, for example,” he said, citing Rep.-elect Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), who beat a longtime incumbent in western North Carolina’s mountains.

EFCA had 215 co-sponsors, including seven Republicans, in the departing GOP House.

Shuler himself made clear that at least on workers’ issues, he was with labor. In a Nov. 8 telephone press conference with the Steel Workers, Shuler declared he would oppose any so-called “free trade” agreements that cost his constituents jobs. Shuler’s district includes a large unionized paper mill.

It used to have unionized textile mills, too, but “North Carolina lost 78 percent of our textile jobs to unfair trade agreements, and trade was a hot button issue in every single county. (GOP Rep. Charles) Taylor walked on CAFTA and did not cast a vote.”

Samuel predicted the new House would easily pass EFCA, which would help level the playing field between workers and management in union drives. Among other things, EFCA outlaws anti-union “captive audience” meetings, writes card-check recognition of unions into law--some GOPers wanted to outlaw card check--increases labor law fines and mandates arbitration should the sides not agree on a first contract.

The prime House sponsor of the law--originally drafted by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.)--is Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who will chair the House Educa-tion and the Workforce Committee. The prime Senate sponsor is veteran Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) who will chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Miller and Kennedy easily won re-election on Nov. 7.

But the Senate is the problem for EFCA, Samuel explained. That’s because the GOP would still have enough votes, 49, to filibuster the legislation to death.

“You need 60 votes in the Senate, and we lost one moderate Republican there, Lincoln Chafee” of Rhode Island, beaten by former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse (D), Samuel admitted.

Still, with the GOP in the minority, and bearing in mind the election results, other Republicans in both the House and the Senate “may be reading the tea leaves” on EFCA and other workers’ issues, Samuel said. That includes the minimum wage.

The AFL-CIO’s goal there was emblazoned in a large poster on the wall at the post-election press conference: A $2.10 hourly increase in the wage, which has been stuck at $5.15 for a decade.

As for filibusters against EFCA, "We’ll face up to that issue when we come to it,” Sweeney noted.

“We also don’t have the high public profile on EFCA that we have on raising the minimum wage, for example. And we hope to build it,” Samuel concluded.


Pawtucket demands too much from AFSCME

A union representing municipal employees in Pawtucket (RI) is balking at the city's proposals to balance the budget. AFSCME local president Augie Venice says negotiators have told him they need 60 layoffs, a two-year wage freeze, a 20 percent employee health plan contribution and 12 unpaid furlough days per worker to overcome the city's financial crisis. Venice calls those demands unacceptable.

He says the union might be willing to consider some concessions if the city council ratifies the three-year contract negotiated by the administration of Mayor James Doyle, but rejected by the council last year.

Harvey Goulet, Doyle's director of administration, says the concessions are only necessary if there are no tax increases.

The city has proposed a $108.8-million budget with a 2.9-percent tax increase.


Labor's Big Loser

To misquote Oscar Wilde, you would have to have a heart of stone not to smile at the slow political death of Gordon Brown. For over a decade he waged a war of attrition against Tony Blair, based on a bitter, resentful anger that he should have been the occupant of 10 Downing Street. He undermined Mr. Blair at every opportunity, ruining any chance that the then-prime minister could introduce full-on reform of the British public sector.

And now, within a year of taking over, Mr. Brown is almost universally written off, revealed as a lightweight posing in a heavyweight's clothing. He suffers scornful political obituaries that make John Major's demise seem almost pleasant in comparison.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

Last week's Labour defeat in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election has made a bad situation far, far worse. At the beginning of May, Labour experienced catastrophic losses in local elections. Its share of the vote fell to 24%, the party's lowest level since the 1960s. But having just removed Mr. Blair, Labour was reluctant to face up to the full implication of the result and get rid of another prime minister. Rather, MPs bit their tongues and adopted what has been called the "Travolta Micawber" strategy: Staying alive and hoping something will turn up.

The party had hoped last week's by-election would turn out to be that something. Instead, a safe Labour constituency turned Conservative after a 17.8% swing, the first time in 30 years that the Conservatives had managed to take a by-election seat from Labour. Even the most cautious analysts now proclaim that it is a matter of when, not if, Conservative leader David Cameron becomes prime minister.

But nothing is ever certain in politics. We have been here before, not that long ago, and the result was very different.

In March 1990, the Conservatives were defeated in the Mid-Staffordshire by-election after a 21% swing to Labour. Margaret Thatcher's government was enduring abysmal opinion poll ratings as public anger at the poll tax raged. The Conservatives hovered around 30%, with Labour regularly hitting over 50%. Just as commentators today describe a Conservative victory as certain, so in 1990 a Labour victory was taken as read.

Yet just two years later, the Conservatives won with 42% of the vote to Labour's 34%. So much for inevitability.

What changed, of course, was that the governing party ditched its leader and started afresh. Baroness Thatcher was replaced with the barely known and thus untainted John Major. More specifically, the new leader exemplified the opposite of everything the voters had grown to dislike about Margaret Thatcher. Where she hectored, he chatted. Where she seemed messianic about policy, he came across more as a bank manager recommending a product.

The change of leadership worked. In policy terms almost nothing was new, apart from the ditching of the poll tax. In fact, in many ways John Major took Thatcherism to a new level, including his privatizing the railways.

* * *

As the emergence of John Major showed, replacing a hated prime minister can transform a party's fortunes. This is precisely why Gordon Brown's initial poll ratings were so good when he took over last July: Labour was scoring around 42%, at least 10 points higher than the Conservatives. Tony Blair's departure was like a boil being lanced, and the public greeted his successor with open arms. It was almost irrelevant that it was Mr. Brown who took over; the electorate would have greeted almost any successor similarly. But once the initial sense of relief had passed, the results started to reflect the true regard in which Mr. Brown was held.

As Gordon Brown's sudden collapse also shows, it's not changing leaders per se that is the secret; it's changing to the sort of leader who suits the public's mood. Through most of the 1980s that was Margaret Thatcher. By 1990, a new leader in the Thatcher style would have been disastrous; the mood required a Major. And even though Britons were tired of Tony Blair by last year, the change they sought was not to a man such as Brown: domineering, arrogant, robotic, brooding. They wanted a leader who, like Mr. Blair, was at ease with himself -- just without the foreign-policy baggage. They wanted someone with whom they could identify. Mr. Brown is as far from that ideal as it is possible to be.

Yes, there have been policy mistakes, such as the abolition of the lower 10% tax rate, which hit the poor hardest. But these errors are not why Labour support has collapsed. It's about personality, not policy.

That is why the removal of Mr. Brown is a prerequisite to a Labour revival. If Conservative support is built on Labour's being led by Gordon Brown, then the picture would be very different if he were replaced by a leader who can match David Cameron's appeal. That means Labour's best chance of recovery rests not with the most widely touted names: David Miliband, the 43-year-old foreign secretary who comes across as a political geek; and Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who has been in the Cabinet since Labour took power in 1997 and would hardly mark a fresh start. Labour needs to repeat the Conservatives' trick in 1990 and give voters the impression that the new leader represents effectively a change of government. The man who leaps out is Alan Johnson, the current health secretary, who is eloquent and capable.

Although a new leader is a necessity, it is not a guarantee of success. After 11 years in power, Labour seems to have run out of ideas. The interesting policy work today is all coming from the right. The unpopularity of the Iraq war has poisoned memories of Tony Blair and caused people to forget what a towering political genius he was. He took a party that was unelectable, having lost four successive times, and led it to three landslide victories. It created the unthinking assumption that Labour was the natural party of government, and that the Tories were forever doomed. But without Mr. Blair, British politics may now be returning to normal with two viable parties of government, and elections that are won by the party that is most convincing as an occupant of the center ground.

David Cameron realized from the outset that this center ground was his target. Labour under Brown has seemed not to have bothered competing. If a new Labour leader can change that attitude, the next election is up for grabs. If not, Mr. Cameron can start planning his first cabinet.


NY Times neocon pimps Stern for veep

My first thought on the running mate question is that to balance his ticket, Barack Obama should pick a really old white general. Therefore, he should pick Dwight Eisenhower. John McCain, on the other hand, needs to pick someone younger than himself. Therefore, he also should pick Dwight Eisenhower.

My second thought is that most of the commentary on vice president picks is completely backward. Most discussion focuses on what state or constituency this or that running mate could help carry in the fall. But, as a rule, recent vice presidential nominees haven’t had any effect on key states or constituencies. They haven’t had much effect on elections at all, except occasionally as hapless distractions.

A vice president can, however, have a gigantic impact on an administration once in office (see: Cheney, Richard). Therefore, a sensible presidential candidate shouldn’t be selecting a mate on the basis of who can help him get elected. He should be thinking about who can help him govern successfully so he can get re-elected.

That means asking: What circumstances will I face when I take office? What tasks will I need my chief subordinate to perform to help me face those circumstances?

If Barack Obama is elected, his chief challenge will be that he hopes to usher in a new style of politics, but he has no real strategy for how to do that.

He will find himself surrounded by highly partisan Democratic politicians, committee chairmen and interest groups thrilled to finally seize power. Some of them might have enjoyed his lofty rhetoric about change, but in practice, these organization types have no interest in changing politics. They just want to take the money and patronage that has been going to Republican special interests and give it to Democratic special interests.

These entrenched Democrats are more experienced than Obama. They know how to play the game better. The effect of their efforts will be to turn his into a Potemkin administration filled with great speeches but without great accomplishments or influence over legislation.

Obama will need a vice president who knows the millions of ways that power is exercised and subverted in Washington. He’ll need someone who can be a senior, authoritative presence in a cabinet that may range from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to the labor leader Andy Stern. He’ll need someone who can supervise his young reformers and build transpartisan coalitions more effectively than Obama has as senator.

Sam Nunn and Tom Daschle seem to fit the bill. Nunn is one of those senior Democrats (like David Boren and Bob Kerrey) who left the Senate lamenting the dumbed-down nature of modern politics. Daschle was more partisan as majority leader, but he is still widely trusted and universally liked. As experienced legislators, both could take Obama’s lofty hopes and translate them into nitty-gritty action.

If John McCain is elected, he’ll face a political culture threatening to split at the seams. In defeat, Democrats will be enraged at everything and everybody. The Republican Party will still be exhausted and divided. McCain will find it hard to staff the administration since so many Republican advisers were exhausted over the previous eight years.

Amid these centrifugal forces, McCain will need somebody who radiates calm. He’ll need somebody who can provide structure and organization. He’ll need somebody who enjoys working with budgets.

With the Democrats controlling Congress, McCain will have no chance of winning big, ideological fights. He will need someone who can help him de-ideologize the climate, who can emphasize making things work rather than fighting philosophical battles.

McCain seems to be looking at business leaders like Meg Whitman. But among politicos, the shining stars would seem to be Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty. Portman is an Ohioan with the mind of a budget director and a mild temperament that is a credit to his Midwestern roots. His résumé is ideal: He directed legislative affairs for the first President Bush, served in Congress for more than a decade and managed the Office of Management and Budget under Bush the younger. He excelled in every role.

Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, is one of the G.O.P.’s leading and most likable modernizers. The son of a truck driver (his mother died when he was 16), he is the godfather of Sam’s Club conservatism, the effort to reconnect the party to the needs of the working class. Pawlenty could help McCain play the Theodore Roosevelt-style role — reforming the nation’s institutions to fit a new century and epoch.

Both presidential candidates are surrounded by campaign advisers, campaign coverage and campaign frenzy. But the vice presidential pick is not really a campaign decision. It’s the first governing decision — and a way to see who is thinking seriously about how to succeed in the White House.

- David Brooks


Socialists: ICE acted against union organizers

Related Agriprocessors stories: here.

Did Feds use Immigration instead of NLRB?

Questions: Where in this world do tax dollars pay government agents to park near preschool centers and watch parents drop off or pick up their babies? In what type of land do government agents stalk busloads of 5-year-old school children and the staff who teach them? Where do government agents smash in a front door and tear a nursing infant from the arms of her mother?

Answer: In Postville, Iowa, where employers want to stop a union organizing drive at Agriprocessors Inc., the nation’s biggest kosher beef slaughtering plant.

The largest single immigration raid in history at that plant, May 12, tore families apart and turned children with loving parents into orphans, immigrant rights and labor activists testified to Congress on May 20.

The military-style commando raid by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) stopped a union organizing drive at the plant dead in its tracks, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers, the union spearheading the drive.

“This raid and abusive detention signifies union busting,” Rafael Espinoza, an organizer with UFCW Local 789 in Iowa, told the World. Even though the UFCW was not yet organized at the plant, workers in conflict with company officials have been receiving advice and support from the union.

Espinoza noted that ICE raids have also taken place at numerous other plants during organizing drives by his union.

Nationally, the United Food and Commercial Workers union condemned the raid in statements including one that it sent to Congress. The union says the raid not only disrupted the organizing drive, but interfered with an ongoing child labor investigation.

Iowa officials have cited the plant for numerous health and safety and wage and hour violations. A group of workers is suing the company in federal court for unpaid wages for the time they spend putting on and taking off protective equipment.

Tearing children away from their parents has been a feature of ICE raids for well over a year now. Since the start of 2007 almost 5,000 people have been arrested in workplace raids, 45 times as many as in 2001.

“They have a pattern that featured, in this case, parking by the Head Start center in a Latino neighborhood as parents dropped off or picked up their kids,” Janet Murguia, CEO of the National Council of La Raza, told the congressional committee. “They followed school buses full of 5-year-olds and they tailed immigrant Head Start staffers,” she said.

Reached by phone, Murguia said, “We are also aware of cases where ICE broke into private homes and entered school buildings to remove children. For example, in October 2007, a Honduran immigrant mother was in her Ohio home breastfeeding her 9-month-old when ICE agents entered and took her into custody. Her other children, all born in the United States, like the baby, were pulled out of school.” Since that time, Murguia said, the government has released no information about either the arrested mother or her children.

In Iowa, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Dubuque issued a statement saying the raids had created a “state of terror” among families in Postville.

“The actions taken by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Postville on May 12 highlight once again the need for comprehensive immigration reform,” Archbishop Jerome Hanus said. “Families have been disrupted; parents and children are filled with fear. Many are uncertain whether their loved ones will be arrested, imprisoned indefinitely or deported.

“This state of terror for families is evidence that our political system has not adequately addressed the demand for labor, the inadequacies of our present immigration policies and practices, and the broader economic challenges. Some of the weakest members among us are bearing the brunt of the suffering, while legislators and other leaders, as well as many of us in the general public, have failed to give this issue the priority it deserves.”

The superintendent of the Postville schools told the East Iowa Gazette that large numbers of the district’s Latino students were staying home from school out of fear. One of the top high school seniors, set to graduate this term, was in hiding with his family, the superintendent said.

Lutheran Bishop Steven Ullestad, whose diocese includes Postville, told the congressional committee, “Children wonder whether they will see their arrested parent or parents. Even children of U.S. citizens are having nightmares about their own parents being taken away from them and they are creating drawings with the words, ‘Don’t take my friends away’.”


Century-old law crushes non-union contractors

Public works law comes under fire

A new measure that was supposed to reform an expensive, union-backed law for public works projects was crafted in a way that now appears will block hundreds of non-union companies from bidding on government projects, critics say. As a result, the recently passed measure will cost jobs, especially upstate, and drive up construction expenses for school districts, municipalities and the state, private industry claims. “It’s a real can of worms,” said Heather Briccetti of the Business Council of New York State.

“It’s basically going to shut us out of projects. It’s going to put us all out of business and all of our employees, too. It’s just an outrageous situation,” said Tom Ballard, president of Cloverbank Construction, a small Buffalo general contracting firm that bids exclusively on public works projects.

“I can’t believe they put it through. It makes you wonder who our legislators are. If they’re not watching out for what gets through, who is?” he added.

Union leaders say opponents are worried about non-union companies losing more profits from public works projects, companies they say hire lower-skilled workers so they can pay them less.

“You would expect people who want to exploit their workers to have this point of view,” said Denis Hughes, president of the state AFL-CIO.

Business groups are now trying to persuade the Legislature, before its 2008 session ends next month, to either undo or at least postpone what was slipped into the thousands of pages of the state’s budget bill in early April.

The provision, they say, will disproportionately affect upstate construction companies compared with those in New York City, where most are unionized. They warn minority-and women-owned firms, which are generally smaller and non-unionized, will be especially harmed.

At issue is the Wicks Law, which requires state and local governments to use multiple construction contracts for public works projects. The law has been blamed by municipalities for driving up construction costs of projects such as new schools by more than 20 percent.

The changes, which start July 1, raise the threshold for the Wicks union labor requirements from the current $50,000 per project to $500,000 upstate and $3 million in New York City.

But the new law also includes an escape hatch that governments can use to avoid the Wicks requirements: They can enter into a project labor agreement with local unions that all but guarantees union construction workers will be the major, if not only, workers on the jobs.

And there are other poison pills, detractors say. A company wanting to bid on a public project must agree, according to state Labor Department officials, to participate with an apprenticeship program that is offered almost exclusively by unions or unionized companies. Critics say the requirement comes at a time when the state has put a moratorium on new apprenticeship programs, making it impossible for nonunion companies to comply.

“This is public work, and the taxpayers are best served by more competition, and these provisions will arbitrarily restrict who can do public construction. When you limit competition, you raise costs,” said John Faso, a lobbyist for a trade group of non-union construction- related companies and the 2006 GOP gubernatorial nominee.

Faso added that the new Wicks bill includes another troublesome provision: Municipalities can set up prequalification lists of companies that can work on public construction projects. That puts a new political element — allowing mayors to reward allies more easily with lucrative work — into the public works process.

“It simply makes no sense for taxpayers because this is going to increase the cost for public works at school districts and municipalities throughout New York,” said Faso, who represents the New York chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. He added it also works against the interests of construction workers, 70 percent of whom are not part of a union.

The Paterson administration’s Labor Department declined to comment on the effort to delay the July 1 effective date.

But Christopher Alund, director of the department’s Bureau of Public Work, said project labor agreements have been a part of government construction projects for years. He noted the big Buffalo school building program has one. And he said the agreements with labor have to demonstrate cost savings. For instance, unions entering into a project labor pact often agree to lower wage rates and give up their right to strike to help lower costs.

The Legislature isn’t budging yet to the appeals.

“Where were they a year ago?” said John McArdle, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno.

He said the Senate did not act for a year on the Wicks Law measure that the Assembly and former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer agreed to, in part, because of concerns that the threshold levels were too low. He said businesses did not previously raise these new complaints.

Hughes, the ALF-CIO president, called the opponents’ attempt to stop the law from kicking in “a blatant attempt” to drive more money to their companies.

“They’re trying to get more in profits and pay less in wages, which is really not good for the economy of the upstate area,” Hughes said.

The critics say they are hoping to persuade Albany to rethink the bill it just passed — an uphill challenge, especially in an election year when lawmakers rely on unions for support.

“The Legislature passed this hidden in 10,000 pages of the budget as part of an overall package. The provisions are far more negative than positive for upstate, and the way it was passed is an embarrassment. It was buried by three men in a room at the eleventh hour. Nobody knew it was there,” said Andrew Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

“Literally, it’s going to put people out of business. That’s the bottom line,” said Tricia Nowak, who owns a Lancaster general contracting firm. She said lawmakers she has talked to insisted they didn’t know the provision was in the budget bill.


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