Labor unions poised for explosive dues-growth

Unionism offers change you can believe in

Labor unions view this year's presidential elections as a golden opportunity to reverse a decades-long decline in union membership as both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton have vowed to pass a law that would drastically tilt the balance of labor relations in favor of unions.

The so-called Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would grant unions certification as soon as they had collected signature cards from half the workers, effectively stripping workers of their right to vote in a secret ballot. Political activism between now and November is expected to be at the top of the agenda at next month's Service Employees International Union's (SEIU) convention, where opponents of EFCA will certainly be targeted for defeat.

EFCA would also impose substantial fines for innocent employers' mistakes, as well as force first contracts determined by a third party arbitrator, even if the employer and the union might disagree to the terms of the contract.

"The landscape of workplace law would be changed dramatically. Employers need to prepare to combat increasingly energized union organization across all industries, and the negative impact on operations that this will bring," says Michael J. Lotito, a recognized workplace law expert and partner at the national employment law firm, Jackson Lewis LLP.

"Imposing the rights of administrators to enforce contracts fundamentally changes American jurisprudence by enforcing parties to perform, even if there is not mutual consent."

Setting the stage for the election battle over labor will be the SEIU's quadrennial convention taking place from June 2 - 4 inSan Juan, Puerto Rico. Both the SEIU and the AFL-CIO have vowed to spend tens of millions of dollars in the election to secure passage of the EFCA.

"This act would not only take away the long-standing right of workers to vote by secret ballot on unionization in government monitored elections, it would actually reduce worker choice by opening the process to coercion and intimidation and other abuses that secret ballots were designed to remedy in the first place," Mr. Lotito states.

The SEIU convention will also deal with a number of contentious issues, such as internal political issues over Andy Stern, the president of SEIU, whose leadership is being challenged by Sal Roselli, president of United Health Care Workers-West.

"The way the SEIU resolves these internal disputes over leadership should have enormous implications for employers," Mr. Lotito stated.


Union label: A 20-foot inflatable rodent

Notorious LIUNA creates a brand

From Hollywood picket lines in Los Angeles to nonunion construction sites in Chicago and New York, a 20-foot inflatable rat has become one of the most recognized symbols of the labor movement.

At 20 feet tall, the rat was hard to miss.

Looming over Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y., the inflatable rodent’s red eyes and toothy grimace were directed at the construction site where a 37-story condominium building was quickly rising.

Beneath the rat’s claws stood Anthony Williams, an organizer with Local 79 of the Construction and General Building Laborers Union.

“The rat is a symbol,” explained Williams. “What we’re saying is the contractor is being unfair. The boss is being a rat. You don’t provide benefits and fair wages, that implies a rat.”

Williams said the union had learned the contractor was hiring nonunion workers and paying them below the market rate, with no benefits.

Attempts to negotiate fell through, he said, so the union brought out the rat to support a handful of picketers.

“We’re trying to bring them back to the table using any means necessary,” said Williams, as a passing truck driver honked in support.

The “union rat” has become a popular labor tactic in recent years, appearing everywhere from Brooklyn construction sites to a California auto dealership.

Recently, it showed up among the celebrities who turned out to support the striking television and movie writers, a message from the Writers Guild of America that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was a bunch of rats.

Union organizers swear by the rat.

“It’s our strongest tool,” said Local 79 member Stanley Brunson.

Employers, on the other hand, dread the rat’s presence, and they have developed tactics of their own to combat it.

“Unions have been using street theater for centuries,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.

She cited the 1912 “Bread and Roses Strike” at a textile mill in Massachusetts, when female workers wrapped themselves in the American flag to show that they were not un-American.

The workers won the public relations battle, along with higher wages.

“It’s a way to get people’s attention,” Bronfenbrenner said.

“Then they’ll come and read your leaflets.”

The union rat is the creation of Mike O’Connor, co-owner, with his wife Peggy, of Big Sky Balloons, an outdoor advertising company in Plainfield, Ill.

Around 1990, Don Newton, an organizer for a Chicago bricklayers union, said he went to O’Connor because he needed something big to get the attention of nonunion employers.

“We wanted a higher profile,” explained Newton, who now works for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers in Washington, D.C.

“You’d be standing on a sidewalk with a picket sign and everybody would be walking around you.”

O’Connor showed Newton a sketch of a rat.

“But he said, ‘Can you make it meaner?’’’ O'Connor said.

So O'Connor added festering nipples, bloodshot eyes, fangs and claws.

"We called it Scabby the Rat," O'Connor said.

"He loved it.

So we built that one, and then it multiplied, like rats do.”

“It was just marvelous,” said Newton.

“Here’s a nice big rat with a 10-foot tail!”

Within a few years, Big Sky Balloons began getting requests for rats from unions in New York City, New Jersey, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

O’Connor estimates that the company has made about 400 rats since the original Scabby.

The rats, which are usually between 6 and 30 feet tall, cost between $3,900 and $8,000 and come with motorized blowers so they can inflate in minutes.

Big Sky Balloons has added an entire cast of characters, including a skunk, a cockroach, a “greedy pig,” and even a “corporate fat cat” with a diamond ring on its pinky finger.

Inflatable cockroaches have already been spotted in New York City.

Local 79, which prefers to stick with the classic gray rat, has six to eight set up around the city at any given time, according to organizer Chaz Rynkiewicz.

With its ubiquity the rat has lost some its power, said Bronfenbrenner, the Cornell professor.

“People get numb to it,” she said.

“It becomes the scenery of New York.” Still, when a rat appears in front of a construction site or an office, “everybody knows that’s an employer to watch out for.

Other unions won’t cross the picket line.”

Employers and anti-union lobbyists insist that the rat is ineffective, but sometimes they join in with their own inflatable animals.

In 2005, New York’s Radio City Music Hall inflated a large cat above its marquee, overlooking the rat set up by its musicians union.

When it first opened in 2006, the anti-union Center for Union Facts inflated a 12-foot-tall triceratops in front of the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“We think a dinosaur is pretty fair,” said J.

Justin Wilson, a senior analyst at the Center for Union Facts.

“Unions are outdated and outmoded.

They’re going to be extinct in 10 years.” The dinosaur, which prominently displayed the organization’s Web address, had its desired effect, Wilson said.

“As we were inflating it, everyone was looking out their windows.

After we got back to the office, we could see all these hits on our Web site from the AFL-CIO’s servers.”

Stewart Acuff, the AFL-CIO’s National Organizing Director, called the center’s attacks “a feeble attempt to undermine the country's most powerful counterweight to runaway corporate greed and power.” As for the dinosaur, Acuff said, “I don’t remember any creature in front of our building.”

In Brooklyn, the rat stayed up for two days before the contractor’s parent-company, BFC Partners, launched a counteroffensive.

A few days after the Chinese New Year, a big blue banner appeared on a light post next to the construction site.

It read “BFC Partners Celebrates the Chinese Lunar New Year: 2008–The Year of the Rat.”

It was not enough to deter Local 79, however.

Anthony Williams kept the rat up for more than a week until a deal was negotiated with the contractor.

Officials at BFC Partners did not want to comment, but Williams sees the outcome as a triumph.

“We were able to put union laborers to work,” Williams said.

That’s why the rat was named “Victoria,” explained Local 79 organizer Stanley Kosiec.

“Because if it stays here, we win!”


Andy Stern - Nation's new pet union chief

$150 million is a lot of money

Which is why it's strange that almost three weeks after the Service Employees International Union announced that they'd spend precisely that amount both to swing the elections they're targeting and to support a massive mobilization to push for health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act in the first 100 days of the new administration, not a single major news organization has written about that decision. In fact, nobody's really written about it all, unless Labor Law Weekly's decision to reprint the press release counts.

I'm not entirely shocked that such a big number has slipped between the waves. As David Simon and others have pointed out, the labor beat frequent falls on the non-essential list, unless you live in a city like New Haven, where labor is still an essential element of the political system. I do some labor reporting, and can testify to the fact that even in Washington, it's not a crowded beat. And in an election where even vaster fundraising numbers are getting tossed around on a daily basis, I can see a lot of scenarios where a lot of folks decided this particular $150 million wasn't newsworthy.

But it matters not least because SEIU is one of the first organizations to explicitly lay out a post-election plan. I've written elsewhere that this election is one to watch because many unions, not just SEIU, are trying to develop strategies that will keep their members mobilized, and will help boost organizing drives and win contract fights.

Two elements of SEIU's plan caught my eye: the commitment to involve a million members, 200,000 of whom would have leadership positions, and the development of round-the-clock activism centers, operating in multiple languages, to serve those members. Those centers, if they're advertised effectively, and depending on what resources they have, could play a huge role in activating communities of folks who rely on public libraries for internet access, and who may not have access to good non-English language newspapers. And the commitment to engage that many members speaks to an ambitious internal organizing plan. It's worth watching--and writing about.


Union agenda advances ahead of elections

Congress tests the 10th Amendment

The U.S. Congress shouldn't be meddling with the decisions that city and town leaders must make regarding local government salaries. Yet that is exactly what Congress is trying to do with legislation that would require all cities and towns of more than 5,000 population to bargain collectively with the leading union that represents public-safety officers -- police, firefighters and emergency-service workers.

The bill was moving toward Senate approval last week when Republicans suddenly stopped supporting it. Senate leaders now say they will try to work out a compromise and bring the bill back to the floor.

Although President Bush has promised to veto the bill, it's entirely possible that there is enough support in Congress to override that veto.

At the very least, an override vote will be close because, for a pro-union measure, the bill has had a good deal of Republican support. (North Carolina's two senators, Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, and 5th District Rep. Virginia Foxx have opposed the bill as it has moved through Congress.)

Even if a Bush veto is upheld in Congress, this is not likely to be an issue that will go away. But it should.

The bill is offensive for a number of reasons.

The first and foremost is that it is probably unconstitutional. That annoying 10th Amendment, the one that reserves for the states all powers not explicitly enumerated for the federal government, is still on the books. There's nothing in the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress the authority to mandate collective bargaining.

In the past, the amendment has been used as the constitutional basis for a lot of bogus arguments -- mostly to oppose the civil-rights movement -- but this is not such a case. Setting salaries for government workers is a state and local matter.

In North Carolina, public employees do not have the right to bargain collectively. The N.C. State Employees Association has just affiliated itself with a union, but that doesn't mean it has the right to hold negotiations with the governor and legislators over salaries and benefits. Congress should not come along and decide that it will change the labor structure in this state.

With HR 980, the Congress is also passing a huge unfunded mandate for cities and towns. Collective bargaining would put upward pressure on salaries, and the federal government would not help with them at all. If Congress wants to do something to raise safety officers' salaries, it should send some money to cities and towns for that purpose.

Congress is meddling here, involving itself in an issue that is best handled by towns, cities and states.

Let's hope there are enough votes to sustain a Bush veto if the bill passes the Senate. This is an idea best forgotten.


Congress to require local-gov't unions

Skids greased for the mother of all unfunded mandates

The Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF) condemned the recent Senate cloture vote to proceed to consider HR 980, the so-called “Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007.” This bill will mandate that states engage in forced bargaining with public-safety unions. A push that AWF executive director Brian Johnson says will result in state budget bankruptcies and the forced reduction of volunteer firefighter programs.

“Collective bargaining is nothing more than a vehicle used by the union-bosses to hold state budgets hostage. And worst of all, it is now being forced upon the states by an overbearing federal government pandering to union contributors. As evident from the recent bankruptcy filling by Vallejo, CA because they could not afford the public safety union workers salaries which made up 74 percent of the city budget – everyone loses” says Johnson.

Those who voted to proceed to consider a bill that will cripple state budgets are:

Akaka (D-HI) Chambliss (R-GA) Gregg (R-NH) Leahy (D-VT) Nelson (D-NE) Stabenow (D-MI) Baucus (D-MT) Clinton (D-NY) Hagel (R-NE) Levin (D-MI) Obama (D-IL) Stevens (R-AK) Bayh (D-IN) Coleman (R-MN) Harkin (D-IA) Lieberman (ID-CT) Pryor (D-AR) Sununu (R-NH) Biden (D-DE) Collins (R-ME) Hatch (R-UT) Lincoln (D-AR) Reed (D-RI) Tester (D-MT) Bingaman (D-NM) Conrad (D-ND) Inouye (D-HI) Martinez (R-FL) Reid (D-NV) Thune (R-SD) Boxer (D-CA) Dodd (D-CT) Johnson (D-SD) McCaskill (D-MO) Rockefeller (D-WV) Voinovich (R-OH) Brown (D-OH) Domenici (R-NM) Kennedy (D-MA) McConnell (R-KY) Salazar (D-CO) Webb (D-VA) Byrd (D-WV) Dorgan (D-ND) Kerry (D-MA) Menendez (D-NJ) Sanders (I-VT) Whitehouse (D-RI) Cantwell (D-WA) Durbin (D-IL) Klobuchar (D-MN) Murray (D-WA) Schumer (D-NY) Wyden (D-OR) Cardin (D-MD) Feingold (D-WI) Kohl (D-WI) Mikulski (D-MD) Smith (R-OR) Carper (D-DE) Feinstein (D-CA) Landrieu (D-LA) Murkowski (R-AK) Snowe (R-ME) Casey (D-PA) Grassley (R-IA) Lautenberg (D-NJ) Nelson (D-FL) Specter (R-PA)

- Alliance for Worker Freedom special project of Americans for Tax Reform dedicated to the protection of workers rights.


Barack, Hoffa march hand-in-hand

Business as usual for Teamsters

Following decades of corruption and criminal activity under the leadership of Jimmy Hoffa and his minions, our federal government did the right thing: it flexed muscle and ordered the Teamsters to submit to governmental oversight. Now, Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States, suggests that federal oversight of Teamster activity may no longer be needed.

Voters will decide for themselves whether Obama genuinely believes that Teamsters now walk the path of righteousness, or whether he simply is under the influence of Teamster money. But, regardless of what Obama thinks of Teamsters, and regardless of what voters think of Obama, he is wrong. The Teamsters have not changed.

Hyo Chol Lim worked for Hilltop Services, a company owned by Universal Studios in California. The Teamsters represent roughly 2,500 employees working for California motion picture studios, and the union's contract with the studios requires all employees to join the Teamsters. But, Lim did not want to be a Teamster, so he exercised his right under a U.S. Supreme Court case, Communications Workers of America v. Beck, to opt out of Teamster membership.

(Beck says that an employee can refuse to join a union so long as he or she agrees to pay a fair share of the expenses actually incurred by the union for representing the employee in management negotiations. While Beck is a step in the right direction, it does not fully restore our right to free association, as guaranteed by the Constitution. People such as Lim do not want to be affiliated with unions in any manner. They prefer to ask for their own pay raises, work for their own promotions and demonstrate their own worth. Forcing Lim to pay union dues, even at a reduced rate, makes him associate with people against his will).

The Teamsters responded to Lim's withdrawal from the union by assessing him for representation. But, the union overcharged for its services. At the same time that the Teamsters were collecting dues from people such as Lim, it also was generating revenue by settling arbitration claims that it filed against the studios. The union did not give employees monetary credit for the funds collected from arbitration. Instead, the Teamsters used the extra money to make political donations.

Lim objected. He thought the Teamsters should have used the arbitration funds for the benefit of the employees. Had the Teamsters used the funds for the employees that it claimed to care about, then Lim's monthly assessment would have decreased. The Teamsters did not seek approval from Lim to make political contributions.

May 12, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rendered its opinion in National Labor Relations Board v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Court agreed with Lim that the Teamsters were wrong.

The amount of money involved in Lim's case was not large. Some people might argue that the case is no big deal. I disagree. If an organization will siphon small change from a working man whose best interests it claims to represent, then imagine how that organization will conduct itself when the amount at stake is large.

- Bill Clifton is a management employment lawyer in Macon with the national labor firm of Constangy Brooks & Smith.


Voters urged to curb pro-union favoritism

Getting out from under prevailing wage law

Victorville was incorporated on September 21, 1962, as a General Law city and has operated under that system ever since. Now, through Measure P on the June 3 ballot, the city wants to change the system and join the other 20 percent of California incorporated cities who rule themselves in that fashion.

There are a number of ways Measure P won’t change the city’s way of doing business. It will still be able to enact local police, sanitary and other ordinances and regulations as long as they are not in conflict with state law. Its taxing power won’t change; it may only impose taxes authorized by the legislature. It will retain the power of eminent domain; it will retain the authority to provide light, water, power and transportation; and it will be able to provide services as permitted by state law (Parks and recreation, police and fire protection, waste management and the like).

What will change, if voters give the go-ahead, is the city’s ability to adopt ordinances that may avoid mandated state programs that influence municipal affairs.

As a General Law city, Victorville is subject to the legislative process in Sacramento, most important of which is that the city’s revenue fluctuates up and down depending on what state government does.

Chief among the drawbacks of General Law cities, in our view, is the one that mandates that any public works project of the city is subject to the state’s “prevailing wage” law. The prevailing wage is, of course, a creature of the unions, and means that if Victorville contracts for building an overpass (Does Nisqualli come to mind here?), the contractor must pay its employees what essentially are union wages. And what that means is that the Nisqualli project, under General Law rules, would cost Victorville taxpayers about 20 percent more than if the city were able to award the contract to a bidder who didn’t have to pay union wages.

There are other differences, of course, but it seems to us that the real advantage of adopting a City Charter would be that Victorville would then become a “home rule” city. Which means that elected officials of the city would have a far greater degree of flexibility in meeting the needs and desires of residents. And that means that under a City Charter — essentially, a constitution — city officials would be much more directly responsible to residents for the city’s operations.

We like that, which is why we think a Yes on P is a good idea.


Height of labor-state union-only trickery

Nobody does it better than New York

The new law, folded into a budget bill, allows local governments and schools to opt out of the Wicks Law by signing a so-called Project Labor Agreement. But over long standing objections from business groups, lawmakers mandated that PLA's must be with contractors employing union workers and agreeing to a union based apprenticeship program.

One contractors group says its members will suffer dearly. “Many of them will go out of business, particularly the ones who do the majority of their work in public works. They won't be able to work on these projects, not because anything says that they can't, but because under a PLA they can't use their own workers and, for most of them, that's going to mean they won't bid the project,” said Rebecca Meinking, President of the Associated Builders and Contractors.

In the long run, she claims, the reforms will make public projects even more costly.

Labor leaders call the complaints and warnings from non union contractors baseless. They say no one is blocked from the bidding process by the changes and that no one is forced to abandon the use of non-union workers already on their payrolls.

Meinking says the Wicks Law changes were expected to be dealt with in separate legislation, not as part of the budget and that many lawmakers were unaware of the changes.

In the past, the contractors have relied on republicans in the State Senate to block this provision, but now that it is part of a budget bill already passed, they'll need approval by both the Senate and Assembly to repeal any provision. And it's unlikely the assembly democrats are willing to go along with the change.

“Are they going to do what's right for their constituents, or are they going to do what Shelly Silver and the people who support their campaigns tell them to do? It's their choice,” Meinking said.

Meinking says she expects to see a repeal bill emerge soon.

The new rules are due to take effect on the 1st of July. The state labor department has not said if it would consider any delays in implementation.


Rep. Jason Altmire, Pennsylvania DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

What is at stake in passing the historic legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act, bill H.R. 800 in the House of Representatives and S. 1041 in the Senate, is nothing less than the survival of the middle class. With its passage, the positive effect to our struggling working class and dwindling union membership would be felt far and wide.

According to AFL-CIO statistics nearly 60 million workers have said they would form a union if given the chance. In addition, nearly 77 percent of Americans say they support the strong laws that give workers the freedom to make their own choice about union representation.

The Employee Free Choice Act puts the power of “real” choice back into the hands of workers. Its provisions would remove the undue influence employers have and eliminate the all-out assault waged on workers while organizing. When a majority of workers sign authorization cards in support of a union and are certified, they have union representation. This method of union certification is known as “card-check”.

First contract mediation and arbitration would be mandated under the new act. If after 90 days of bargaining, either the workers or the employer can request the intervention of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). If the FMCS is unable to bring the parties to an agreement after 30 days of mediation, then the dispute may be referred to binding arbitration and the results of the arbitration will be binding on the parties for two years. In addition, EFCA would stipulate stronger penalties for employer violations while workers are attempting to organize or are seeking a first contract.

EFCA legislation, in contrast to current labor law, would no longer allow employers to draw out the certification process. Currently, workers are subject to prolonged abuse and relentless anti-union propaganda during working hours. By the time workers have the ability to cast a vote employers have in many cases intimidated workers into submission. Even those who are lucky enough to certify a union many employers refuse to bargain in good faith and refuse to settle first contracts.

The hypocrisy of corporate America is that contracts spelling out pay, health and retirement benefits are good for CEOs and top executives but not their employees. Workers are psychologically assaulted and intimidated into thinking they should reject the notion of forming a union and that collective bargaining would somehow yield them less than what they currently have.

For workers fortunate enough to enjoy union membership and contracts that provide industry leading wage and benefit packages, the stakes are very high. Without the security a union contract offers, many of us would fall into a devastating financial downward spiral. Loss of healthcare, retirement and job security would be the norm. Labor laws that work for corporations instead of workers have a direct effect on our ability to bargain good and fair contracts for our existing members and newly organized members alike. Looking long-term current labor law’s negative effects have the real potential to be devastating to our way of life.

The United States at one time was the world leader with respect to workers rights and bargaining rights. We have sadly lost our leadership post with fewer than 8 percent of private sector workers represented by unions. Non-union workers face an unrelenting barrage of intimidation and harassment from their employers. Many of these workers pay the ultimate price, being fired illegally, simply for supporting their union.

Labor Unions have been working hard to make EFCA legislation a reality for millions of workers across America. Strong support from newly elected officials in Congress on March 1, 2007 finally passed the legislation in the House of Representatives by a (241) yes to (185) no vote. Of the 19 members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, 11 of 11 Democrats and only 1 of 8 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation. (See Pennsylvania’s Roll Call vote on page 6). As a result, late last month the Employee Fee Choice Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate – with support from 47 Senators, including Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania as a primary co-sponsor.

Our members can make a real difference in this important fight for worker rights. There are 53 remaining Senators that we need to tell to get on board with this important and historic legislation. Arlen Specter R-PA has not yet signed on to the bill. He needs to hear the reasons why he should directly from you. You can call him directly at (1-800-774-8941) to tell him The Employee Free Choice Act would put workers on a more level playing field with their employers. Tell Senator Specter to get serious about bringing labor law into the 21st Century – and bring more of working America into the middle class.

If we are successful in our efforts we could put a stop to vanishing jobs, health care benefits and the continued erosion of retiree security. Increased union membership has historically correlated to better and more secure jobs, increased pay, increased access to pension plans and health benefits. With the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act we have the ability to restore the respect and dignity to workingmen and women of America.

The Roll Call Vote From the Congressional Delegation of Pennsylvania on the Employee Free Choice Act

A YES Vote is the Right Vote for our Members
A NO Vote is the Wrong Vote for our Members


Jason Altmire – D
Robert Brady – D
Christopher Carney – D
Mike Doyle – D
Chaka Fattah – D
Tim Holden – D
Paul Kanjorski – D
Patrick Murphy – D
John Murtha – D
Allyson Schwartz – D
Joe Sestak – D
Timothy Murphy – R

Charles Dent – R
Philip English – R
Jim Gerlach – R
John Peterson – R
Joseph Pitts – R
Todd Platts – R
Bill Shuster – R


SEIU plays the prayer-vigil card in Nashville

Union organizers adapt to local preferences

Nearly 50 district employees and community members gathered in front of the Metro Nashville Public Schools central office entrance for a prayer vigil Tuesday evening, as school board members walked past to enter the board’s regular meeting.

The vigil was organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 205 to remind MNPS of the value of its educational assistants, custodians, secretaries and other employees.

These workers have not been extended cost-of-living wage increases in the proposed MNPS operating budget for the next school year.

“The budget process has to be shifted, has to be changed,” said Doug Collier, president of SEIU, at the vigil. “Do not separate out the certificated employees from the service employees. … When you do that, it further tears this community apart.”

The vigil also had the support of the local Steelworkers union and AFL-CIO, Collier said.

SEIU organizers and workers know that this is a tight budget year for Metro, according to MauraLee Albert of the SEIU and Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice. MNPS service employees have fared about the same as other employees throughout Metro, Albert said.

But with Mayor Karl Dean fully funding Metro schools, it’s the stance of the SEIU that service employees should be “remembered” in the budget. The proposed operating budget for the next school year includes no cost-of-living increases for MNPS’s approximately 3,000 service employees, Albert said.

“The administration clearly left out this group of workers,” Albert said. “Don’t just give [allotted funds] to programs. Give it to people as well.”

MNPS’s proposed operating budget for next year includes a step increase for all eligible workers — typically, those who have been with the district less than 12 to 15 years — that is equal to an average of about 5- to 10-cents per hour. A number of MNPS service employees have not had cost-of-living increases in several years.

Service workers are not teachers, Albert said, but they provide an atmosphere that allows students to be educated.

Teresa West, a food service worker and union steward, said in a statement yesterday that the SEIU wants Nashville’s Board of Education to understand the “value” provided by service workers.

“The mayor has proposed an increase of millions of dollars in the Metro schools budget for next year, but not one dime is set aside to help support workers keep up with the cost of living,” West said.

“We seem to have plenty of money for new buildings, updated books, and the teachers’ annual raises,” she added, “but what about the people who drive the buses, serve the food, and clean the school buildings?”

MNPS is currently working on its proposed operating budget, which will be reviewed by the state Department of Education and by the Metro Council in June. Metro Council must approve all budgets for Metro departments by the first day of July.

A spokesperson for MNPS had no comment on Tuesday.

Among the faces in the crowd were MNPS school board candidates Paul Brenner and Alan Coverstone, both running for the District 9 seat.


SEIU used dues-threat against nurses

Feds to consider case against SEIU

The National Labor Relations Board office of appeals in Washington, D.C., has granted an appeal involving an unfair labor practices case filed by a nurse at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center against the union representing registered nurses, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation announced Tuesday.

Officials with the NLRB's office of appeals reversed the decision of its Region 21 director and determined the case should go before an administrative judge, said NLRB attorney William Pate. The board will try to reach a settlement in the case with the parties involved. If that fails, a formal complaint will be issued, Pate said.

Nurse Carole Jeane Baderscher first filed a complaint with the NLRB in October with assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Virginia-based anti-union organization.

In the complaint, Baderscher said the Service Employees International Union Local 121RN, which represents about 1,000 registered nurses at the hospital, put out information that threatened nurses who crossed picket lines during a strike planned for the end of the year. The strike was averted after the union and the hospital reached an agreement.

The complaint said the union put out a flier that said the union would seek dues not paid during the strike and threatened them with jail time if they crossed the picket line. Members of the union said at the time the information was meant for hospital administrators and had been posted on the union's Web site.


AFSCME takes coldblooded dues hit in Tuscon

The Tucson Unified School District has laid off at least 15 bus monitors, a move that union officials say shocked some employees, though district officials say there was ample warning. Bus monitors assist students with special needs and keep an eye on other children and teens to stop misbehavior.

While the district still employs at least 140 bus monitors, TUSD officials said the cuts — made Thursday — are part of the district's larger attempt to balance a projected budget deficit for the upcoming school year. The layoffs are expected to save at least $200,000 as officials continue to search for several million dollars in savings.

Bruce Slabaugh, president of TUSD's blue-collar union, said he was informed of the layoffs around 7:30 a.m. on May 22.

"It was the last day of school. They didn't tell those people until they got back in the afternoon from their last run," Slabaugh said. "Totally coldblooded, totally heartless."

Beatriz Rendon, TUSD's chief executive officer, said the possibility of layoffs was consistently mentioned during discussions with union leaders.

"All the proposed cuts the board saw, the union leadership saw," she said.
Slabaugh said there was no two-week notice for the employees, as is required as part of TUSD's contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union local 449.

TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander did not know if written notices went out beforehand; TUSD Director of Transportation Tom Mulligan did not return phone calls Tuesday.

Governing Board President Alex Rodriguez said there were communication problems.
"It's not an issue of whether it was a surprise or not, but how the bus monitors were informed," he said. "We need to make improvements in the way the district communicates decisions."

Five days after the announcement, it remains unclear exactly how many employees were fired. Slabaugh, Rendon and Lander all provided different figures — between 15 and 20.
The cost for TUSD's bus monitors amounts to slightly more than 23 percent, or $5.2 million, of the transportation department's $21.9 million budget from the last school year, according to a district audit conducted by MGT of America Inc.

Auditors estimated TUSD could save nearly $500,000 annually if it reduced bus monitors by 10 percent and installed digital cameras on buses without monitors. On May 16, TUSD's Governing Board voted to limit the use of bus monitors.

Slabaugh said the layoffs prompted representatives of AFSCME to withdraw from the district's labor-management committee. It also could result in the loss of blue-collar support for TUSD's budget override, scheduled for the November election.

"Why should we spend one more minute for a district that treats us this way?" he asked. "This is the district balancing its budget on employees instead of looking at programs."

A total of 34 bus-monitor positions have been eliminated this year, Rendon said, and 16 employees had lay-off protection, meaning they were placed in other district jobs.
The projected deficit for the upcoming school year, Rendon said, has been whittled to less than $3 million, not including expected cost savings from a recently announced shared principal program, in which seven principals will run two schools each. In late January, the projected deficit was an estimated $15 million.


Minnesota A.G. fires AFSCME lawyer-organizer

Whitewash clears path to wrongful termination

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson fired a staff attorney Tuesday after an investigation ordered by Swanson said that the attorney's charges of unprofessional conduct in the filing of two lawsuits were unfounded.

Swanson dismissed Amy Lawler after the results of the investigation by Thomas Mengler, dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School, were released. In his report, Mengler said he found "no evidence of any unprofessional conduct" by Swanson or her staff in the filing of the suits against mortgage foreclosure assistance companies. The report said other charges by Lawler were based on hearsay and could not be corroborated.

Mengler said Swanson did not ask him to address broader concerns raised by Lawler on office morale and attempts by staff attorneys in the attorney general's office to form a union, efforts in which Lawler participated.

Mengler's 19-page report comes as the legislative auditor is conducting a separate probe into the attorney general's office. Lawler's charges had heightened controversy facing Swanson, who assumed office last year and has drawn criticism over her management style.

Lawler did not return phone messages Tuesday.

Swanson released a statement saying that news coverage of Lawler's allegations earlier this year "ignored the fact that with only 90 days experience in the office, the attorney was in a questionable position to judge the procedures utilized by the office."

Brian Bergson, a spokesman for Swanson, said Lawler was terminated based on the report's findings and because of "other issues" that he did not identify.

Bergson added that Lawler had declined to give Mengler the names of staff attorneys from whom she had heard some allegations. Bergson also said that at one point Lawler told Mengler that his request to interview the other attorneys was in the hands of a union organizing committee. "So, again, proof that it was all about [union] organizing," Bergson said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, which has been attempting to organize the attorneys in Swanson's office, sharply criticized the firing. Said Eliot Seide, Council 5's executive director: "In her termination letter Attorney General Swanson gave no reason for firing Amy Lawler. Bad bosses routinely fire ethical workers for union organizing and whistle blowing."

Unflattering picture

Lawler, who began working in Swanson's office late last year, had created an unflattering profile of the office by voicing concern that, although the two lawsuits against the mortgage foreclosure consultants had merit, they might have been part of an effort to gain publicity for Swanson on consumer-protection cases.

Lawler also alleged that, in other instances, supervisors pressured attorneys to falsify information in a consumer's affidavit, pushed a staff attorney to take action against a company without reasonable cause and tried to get an attorney to provide unsound legal advice to a state agency.

But Mengler's report said that Lawler had firsthand knowledge only of the episode involving the lawsuits and that she said she learned of the others by "listening to other current and former office attorneys telling stories over drinks at bars."

In addition, his report said, Lawler violated a rule of professional conduct by making her allegations to the media without going to her supervisors or making her concerns known to the state Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.


U.C. slaps AFSCME strikers with TRO

The University of California has filed a restraining order against all patient care and service employees in a strategic attempt to bar the UC workers’ systemwide strike set for June 4. Last week, 20,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees voted in favor of a two-day strike at all UC medical centers and campuses. Yesterday UC officials counteracted the decision by requesting a temporary restraining order against AFSCME from the Public Employment Relations Board.

UC spokesperson Nicole Savickas said if the university’s appeal for a legal injunction were approved, the measure would effectively block AFSCME members from going on strike.

“The UC has filed an unfair labor practice charge as well as requested a temporary restraining order,” Savickas said. “If it were granted, it would restrain the union from calling the strike, legally banning AFSCME from striking.”

The strike and subsequent legal blockade arose from over 10 months of failed wage negations between the university and its patient care and service employees.

Howard Pripas, executive director of UC Labor Relations, said the restraining order arose out of the necessity of ensuring public health and safety throughout the UC system.

“The university continues to be available for any further discussion to achieve an acceptable compromise,” Pripas said in a press release. “However, we are obligated to take action to protect our patients and communities that rely on UC medical centers for vital services.”

According to Savickas, the UC will receive a decision from the PERB confirming or denying the university’s request by Thursday morning.


Big AFSCME strike set for next week

To: UC Santa Cruz Faculty and Staff
From: David S. Kliger, Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Re: AFSCME strike on June 4-5

This is to advise you that AFSCME, the union representing Service and Patient Care Technical employees, has announced its intention to conduct a UC systemwide strike on Wednesday and Thursday, June 4-5. I am hopeful that contract negotiations will be resolved soon. In the meantime, I ask for your cooperation to ensure we maintain our commitments to our students and the campus community in the event of a strike. I am sending out this message well in advance of the planned strike dates, so that you can plan accordingly.

It is important that all employees understand their rights, and the rights of the University, when participating in a strike or honoring a picket line. The right of employees to strike must be balanced with the right of the University to maintain its operations and the rights of students and other recipients of University services to pursue their activities without hindrance.

The University of California expects all faculty, staff, academic and student employees to meet their normal obligations to the University in the event of a strike. The University requires that during a strike, campus offices remain open, instruction continue, and the campus provide essential services. Therefore, employees are expected to come to work and faculty members are expected to conduct classes.

We can expect there may be other employees and some students who will choose to join the strike or refuse to cross the picket line. Those who do not report to work will not be paid unless prior approval for a legitimate absence has been granted. Those who call in sick on the day of a strike are required to provide documentation from a health care provider to receive approval for the absence.

TAPS will operate all available campus transit vehicles to accommodate the anticipated demand for shuttle services as the Santa Cruz Metro (SCMTD) buses will not travel onto campus during a labor action. As in the past, Metro routes serving the campus (10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 20 and 27X) will load and unload passengers at transit stops adjacent to the Main Entrance on Bay and High Streets, and passengers will walk onto the campus to board Day Shuttles. You may wish to allow for additional transportation time.

As many of you know, contracts with our unions are negotiated through the UC President’s Office. In this case, the parties were not able to reach agreement during recent negotiations, which included the impasse procedure. The following web site has the most complete information from UCOP regarding negotiations:

During a strike, the campus’s Public Information Office (459-2495) will handle inquiries from the media. Informational updates from that office will be available on the following web site:

Strike-day information will also be available on the campus’ communication hotline (459-INFO), and will be forwarded to KZSC Radio (88.1 FM) for broadcast.

If you have any questions, please contact the campus Labor Relations Office at 459-2017.


Is AFSCME ashamed?

AFSCME's Montana Mailer: Brought To You By "Your Union"

Not long ago we brought you word of a new mailer that Hillary-backer AFSCME had dropped in Indiana.

The piece didn't have the acronym "AFSCME" anywhere on it and didn't identify the source of the mailing beyond saying that it was "brought to you by your union." In theory this could be misleading if it fell into the hands of a member of a non-Hillary-backing union.

Now AFSCME has sent out another mailer in Montana which, similarly, says that it's "brought to you by your union."

In the case of the first mailer, an AFSCME official told us that this was a justifiable way of identifying the sender because it wasn't a mass mailing. The current, piece, however, was mailed out. So what gives?

AFSCME has now offered a clearer explanation for this practice. According to AFSCME director of public affairs Ethan Rome, the union has been sending out pieces like this in tandem with other unions supporting Hillary. The piece is identified in this way because it makes it possible to use the same mailer in different states, where there might be different unions AFSCME wants to collaborate with.

"It's from a number of unions that are united to support Hillary for president," Rome says. "The constellation of unions isn't the same in every state."

Rome added that the mailer is sent only to the homes of members of participating unions. "It's either mailed to people's homes or distributed at the workplace," he said. "I don't think it's very likely that it would make it to an unintended audience."

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