Anti-democratic pledge causes Dem unease

Related story: "Jeff Merkley, Oregon DINO"

Dems expect a free-pass from pro-union press

A worker-choice group run out of a Washington, D.C., lobbyist’s office 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 unions are formed.

The ads in The Register-Guard and The Oregonian on Thursday argue against the “card-check” method of winning employee approval for unionizing private workplaces. [N.B. Card-check is a replacement for the secret-ballot election method.]

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.”


Feds bust more union officials for embezzlement

Local law enforcement powerless v. union corruption

Four members of Thilmany Papers United Steelworkers Union Local 20, Kaukauna (WI), have been indicted in U.S. District Court on embezzlement charges. Federal prosecutors say the four, all union officials, charged the union lost wages for doing union business while still getting paid by their employer.

Named in the indictment were:

- Tim Giles, president of Local 20 between April 1, 2003, and May 31, 2006, who claimed lost wages totaling $3,364.

- Randy Sanders, executive vice president of Local 20 between Dec. 1, 2002, and Sept. 30, 2006, who claimed lost wages totaling $3,288.

- Mary Schaeuble, insurance committee member for Local 20 between Dec. 1, 2002, and Sept. 30, 2006, who claimed lost wages totaling $3,379.

- Eugene Huss, vice president of Local 20 between Jan. 1, 2005, and Sept. 30, 2006, who claimed lost wages totaling $1,617.

The indictments do not identify the four by age or address.

All four are scheduled for an arraignment June 6 in U.S. District Court in Green Bay.


'An absolutely inexcusable mistake'

Related story: "The Definition of a Scab"

State bigwig calls striker-replacements 'scabs'

Wisconsin lieutenant governor Barbara Lawton is apologizing for using the word 'scabs' to describe replacement workers at Kewaunee Fabrication. Lawton used the word a couple of times while visiting striking union workers outside the Kewaunee plant earlier this week.

Boilermakers Local 487 has been on strike since May 12 over wages and benefits. The company has been operating with temporary workers since May 19.

Some replacement workers say they're offended by Lawton's use of the term. But, Boilermakers say they appreciate Lawton's blunt words.

Lawton said Wednesday her use of the word 'scab' was "an absolutely inexcusable mistake."


Unions go to court to block worker-choice vote

P.R. stunt gives pro-union media a story-line

A group challenging the right-to-work ballot initiative has filed a lawsuit against its backers, as well as the secretary of state, alleging a “pattern of massive fraud” that should keep the issue from going to voters.

The group, called Protect Colorado’s Future, says thousands of signatures collected for the initiative were duplicates, came from unregistered voters or had false addresses. In sum, the group argues, the invalid signatures put the initiative below the threshold for the ballot.

“The goal here is to challenge the secretary of state’s process and highlight the pervasive fraud at every step of the (signature-gathering) process,” said Jess Knox, director of Protect Colorado’s Future.

The right-to-work measure, to be known as Amendment 47, would change the state Constitution by doing away with the current process that allows employees to vote on whether they want to set up an all-union shop. Such arrangements require all workers covered by collective-bargaining contracts to contribute financially in return for being represented by a union.

The secretary of state’s office certified the measure in late April by using the process specified by law, sampling 5 percent of the signatures. The secretary of state’s office determined that 69 percent of the signatures in the sample were valid. The secretary of state’s office applied that percentage to the 136,608 signatures in the petitions and then presumed that 94,546 were valid. That put the measure 18,499 above the minimum necessary.

Labor-backed Protect Colorado’s Future argues that the sampling procedures should be trumped by what they found by examining all the signatures on all the petitions.

The group also alleges two violations of ballot-initiative law. It claims that some of the people who certified the petitions as notaries public were not actually notaries and that the petitions were not numbered before the signatures were collected. While these issues may sound minor, Knox said, the requirements are essential to the initiative process.

“If any of the claims are true, what the lawsuit purports to show is clearly not up to par with the high standards of this campaign,” A Better Colorado spokesman Kelley Harp said in a prepared statement. “The proper people will look into this and an appropriate judgment will be made.

“But the facts are this. More than 136,000 people signed the petition, well more than the 76,047 required. The secretary of state’s Office has already qualified Amendment 47, and we remain very confident Amendment 47 will be on the ballot in November.”

Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit, saying the office’s attorney had not seen it.

The statistical sampling procedures are part of state law, he said. “It’s a process we follow, and the courts handle the protest,” he said.


Book Review: Solidarity Divided

American socialists chart a course to domination

Provoked by the continuing crisis of organized labor after the departure of the Change to Win coalition of unions from the AFL-CIO in 2005, Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Fernando Gapasin have produced a new book, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and A New Path toward Social Justice. Hopefully the text will inspire debate, both within the labor movement and the Left.

Solidarity Divided compliments Kim Moody's US Labor in Trouble and Transition, also produced after the split. But the two books focus on different aspects. Moody delineates the features of the current US industrial structure to highlight where labor might organize most effectively. On the other hand, Fletcher and Gapasin highlight the politics of the unions to raise questions about the fundamental purpose of labor unions. Ultimately, they outline an alternative labor movement that would possess only the most limited family relation to the current national union federations.

They foreground a number of problems with the current union movement -- its lack of democracy and space for debate; the inertia of its structures, which tend to swallow reform efforts; and the limited horizon of its political vision. All of these are related. American unions, in a tradition dating back to Samuel Gompers, imagine themselves, for the most part, as fighting for the wellbeing of their members, rather than the working class. The narrowness of this perspective has led unions to accommodate themselves to racism and sexism, rather than to undo them, and to swim with the (permanent) Cold War tide that structures politics in the US, thus participating in regular purges of the Left. Until recently the unions had a wholly uncritical relationship to US foreign policy, and that has changed in only the most limited ways.

In the past few years, US unions no longer aided and abetted right-wing union movements abroad (for the most part), but they still remain mute about the role of the US in the wider world. Fletcher and Gapasin identify a number of moments when a political leadership could have effectively intervened -- for example, the national union movement did successfully back the unjustly persecuted Charleston 5, but then did nothing to learn from the victory or use it to energize a largely demoralized movement.

Another example is the Los Angeles Manufacturing Project (LAMAP). This effort attempted to combine the strengths of unions, ethnic communities, and universities to organize workers in the strategic Alameda Corridor, the primary access point for Pacific Rim goods and the site of about 300,000 manufacturing jobs. The unions ultimately offered only limit support, because this was seen as an initiative from "outside." Yet it was difficult to see how the inspiration for bringing together the varied coalition envisioned could have come from within the unions. Katrina is another example: a political union movement might have intervened to shape the debate about aid, reconstruction, etc. But contemporary unions mostly react to such disasters through depoliticized volunteer efforts.

Fletcher and Gapasin discuss the rise of John Sweeney and the departure of the Change to Win coalition in considerable detail. They are slightly more sympathetic to Sweeney than to Andy Stern (the leader of SEIU, who led the charge of Change to Win out of the AFL-CIO), but they write with great frustration about both (they also note that failures of leadership are rarely simply the fault of "misleaders" but often are rooted in the material bases of their power, though they don't really use this to illuminate the leaders of the unions, beyond noting the way they are often prisoners of the bureaucratic traditions they embody).

They see Sweeney as a genuine reformer, and offer some praise for his educational initiatives and his willingness to move the unions into a little more combative stance, epitomized by his speech about globalization at the anti-racism conference in Durban. Yet Sweeney's politics were also limited -- in that same speech, he carefully avoided any reference to US foreign policy.

As a political figure, Sweeney was unable to control the narrative unfolding during his tenure. For example, those who would later leave the AFL-CIO on the grounds that it was not committed to organizing had earlier attacked Sweeney's efforts to devote national resources to organizing on the grounds that it was wasteful. The authors seem to be less sympathetic to Stern -- at one point, they suggest the push for "consolidation" among the Change to Win federation is an effort to preserve the leadership as a domain of white male privilege.

Stern is portrayed as something of a neo-Gompersian figure who cravenly seeks only to expand his union, while simply accommodating himself to all reactionary political currents swirling about him. They are dismissive of Change to Win's emphasis on workers who are less directly affected by globalization than industrial workers, regarding this as basically illusory (although one could point to similar tensions in the union movements of other countries, on which an analysis of how union leaders embody larger dynamics, rather than simply "mislead," might have been usefully brought to bear).

Perhaps their greatest frustration is that the crisis that triggered John Sweeney's ascension, and later the split, did not produce a meaningful, inclusive debate about the direction of the labor movement. Virtually all the discussions were held among the top leaders, and even those discussions were inadequate. They include as an appendix a proposal that circulated about how to create a productive discussion within the labor movement, but this proposal was ignored. Thousands of comments from union members on a message board were not meaningfully integrated into the discussion or used as the basis for a deeper debate. The split itself was announced as a fait accompli before the AFL-CIO convention when more grassroots members might have been able to offer their opinions. And so the labor movement has been divided, but a rich discussion about its purpose and future has been tabled.

As a way forward, Fletcher and Gapasin advocate "social justice unionism." This envisions unions joining together with other working-class organizations to fight for the broad interests of the working class, locally, nationally, and internationally. Union membership and contract negotiation would be considered but one element of the picture. This movement would also enter into the fray on such questions as health care, the uses of urban space (affordable housing, parks, etc.), transportation, the creation of a sustainable economy and society, structural unemployment, and so forth. Unions would both reach out to oppressed racial and ethnic communities as a solidarity resource in struggle and join the fight against racism and sexism as the path towards a more inclusive and just society. The authors see some hope in labor-community alliances that have formed but argue for a much broader purpose for these alliances than the single-issue campaigns and support work they have typically pursued. They believe these alliances can be remade into "workers' assemblies" which can struggle for "consistent democracy" in all aspects of American life. They see the municipal level as more amenable to this sort of organizing than the national unions or federations. Thus a revitalization of the Central Labor Councils is crucial.

While heartening, this agenda begs questions of agency. Although there is more room to maneuver at the local level, union locals are by no means autonomous from the nationals, and they would likely be reined in if they departed too radically from the traditional practices of trade unionism. Furthermore, the community organizations unions might seek as allies are, for the most part, not vital, grassroots social movements. In practice, they are primarily non-profits and religious institutions, which, not unlike unions, bureaucratically advocate for members' interests and are often ambivalent about triggering mobilizations and constrained by funding considerations in the language they use (the challenges of creating combative social movements in this context was well discussed in The Revolution Will Not be Funded). Fletcher and Gasparin call on the Left to intervene to make the transformation they desire, but they themselves concede that the Left is extremely weak, fragmented, and amorphous and that leftists acting individually are more likely to get sucked into the status quo practices of organizations than remake them.

I want to end by making a couple of suggestions about how the Left can constitute itself as a more assertive force within the US, thus perhaps creating the context to begin to transform the current union federations into a labor movement of the sort Fletcher and Gasparin advocate for. A broader Left could offer support to its members as they sought to build workers' assemblies and could help them share nationally what is working and not working. One step would be for the remaining anti-capitalist/socialist groupings to enter into some sort of umbrella organization. This might include (but is not necessarily limited to) the Communist Party, the ISO, Solidarity, Freedom Road, and the Green Party (there are a few socialist organizations which remain entirely unreformed in their commitment to sectarian intervention and almost cult-like in their internal organization; their participation would not be so welcome).

Although important political questions divide these groups, creating a space for some engagement and debate should not be so difficult (at the municipal level, some of these groups already work together). Regardless of how they feel about working with the Democrats on electoral campaigns (for example), these groups are much closer to each other in terms of political vision than to any other tendencies in American political life. Surely none seriously believe that, alone, they can constitute a vanguard or even a viable third party. An umbrella organization would immediately expand the networks of all involved, increase the capacity of the socialist Left to make an impact, and make the socialist Left more attractive to unaffiliated leftists hesitant about adhering to a narrow sect. It would likely also improve the quality of debate all around. A second potential site of American Left renewal is the US Social Forum (surprisingly absent from Fletcher and Gapasin's analysis). In terms of the network of groups who mobilized for it last year in Atlanta, it resembles those the authors see as constituting workers' assemblies (community organizations, unions, workers' centers, etc.).

The great danger of social forums is that they simply turn into a pleasant retreat for those on the Left, rather than a spur to more effective forms of organizing. But in part because it is much less well endowed financially than the unions, and lacks a full-fledged bureaucracy, the question of what the social forum can be is still an open one. If the social forum were to act as something of a popular university, it could help to revitalize the Left in the US. I envision it being the site of pulling together diverse (in terms of racial composition, geography, economic sector, etc.) networks into working groups to examine questions like the role of unions or the relation of social movements to elected officials (some similar work is taking place in contexts related to the World Social Forum). The social forum itself would provide a readymade public to debate the findings, so that they would not simply disappear into the endless pile of proposals and published books. To transform the union federations into a working-class movement, we do not need a sectarian Left supremely confident in its "scientific" ability to offer answers to all political questions; but we do need a national network of like-minded people with the means to debate and support each other.


Prevailing Wage Law proves too expensive

Union protection law forces disinvestment

The Atascadero (CA) City Council has decided not to invest public money in the Colony Square project, a commercial development proposed for downtown. Putting taxpayers’ money into Atascadero’s long-awaited retail center would likely add millions of dollars to the cost of the planned development, a consultant hired to study the proposed loan told the City Council on Tuesday.

Tim Kelly of Keyser Marston Associates recommended against the investment, citing concerns about California regulations that would require prevailing wages to be paid to construction and other trade workers if the city invested public funds in the private project.

Paying the prevailing wage would cost an additional $10 million to $15 million to complete the project at El Camino Real and Morro Road, making it infeasible, according to Kelly, who was hired by the city to study investment options for Colony Square.

The City Council voted unanimously late Tuesday not to invest. The council members acted in their role as the board of the city’s Redevelopment Agency. City officials said they counted on developers Jim Harrison of Pismo Beach and Peter Hilf of Santa Barbara to find money to complete the project.

“The solution is now in their hands,” City Manager Wade McKinney said. “This is a very important project, and it has been generally considered to be a key to the downtown’s success. We just haven’t been able to structure an appropriate market- rate loan that meets the needs of the owners of the project.”

City leaders said they remain optimistic that the planned 210,000-square-foot retail and residential hub will be a key to jump-starting Atascadero’s largely dormant retail sector — once it finds the financing to move forward.

Atascadero Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanne Main urged the council to reconsider the decision not to invest.

“Atascadero seems to always find a way of stalling, stalling, stalling,” Main said. “Please don’t close the door on this. I urge you to work with them.”

Last year, Harrison requested that the Redevelopment Agency consider investing up to $1 million in the project, which has struggled against tight lending standards and has had difficulty attracting tenants.

Kelly, the city’s consultant, recommended Tuesday that Harrison and Hilf consider other funding alternatives, such as:

• acquiring a new partner to bring more capital to the project;

• investing more cash by leveraging assets or other properties; and

• finding another loan greater than the $10 million one already secured.

The developers need about $2 million more to complete the first phase of the project, which includes the roads, sidewalks, a public square and a 10- screen movie theater, according to Kelly’s report.

They have secured a $10 million construction loan from Community West Bank of Santa Maria and also have a $5.7 million in cash and existing loans dedicated to the project.

At the City Council meeting, Harrison did not specify how he would pursue the additional $2 million but assured the council that he wanted to move forward as soon as possible.

Improvements such as sidewalks have already been made, and an operator has been found for the theater. The developer has told city officials that work is expected to begin as early as next month.

Harrison could not be reached for additional comment Wednesday.

“Projects like this are catalyst projects,” Harrison said at Tuesday’s meeting. “The city needs the impetus to start changing.”

A handful of people there expressed support for the city’s decision not to invest in the project, calling it too risky.

Harrison has cautioned that one way to make the project more affordable would be to scale back the elaborate architectural elements of the Italian- Renaissance design.

But McKinney said he is not concerned about the quality of the project deteriorating as the developers search for ways to move forward without the city’s financial help.

“I think that Harrison has been really committed to a quality project and it is also a legacy project for him,” McKinney said.


Support causes you disagree with

Prefers forced-labor unions over worker-choice

Unionist: Collectivism aids business climate

Well-funded special interest groups continue to use Michigan's sluggish economy and the serious taxation, education, health care and business growth issues we face as a pretext for assaults on working families and labor unions.

Undeniably, having Michigan become a "right-to-work" state would be bad for workers, helping dismantle freely negotiated wage standards and benefits, as well as worker protections, in many industries. In right-to-work states, nonunion members can opt out of paying union dues, even though they receive all the guarantees and protections of the existing union contract under which they work.

The net effect is to weaken the value of labor, not just in unionized segments but also across the broader range of occupations and professions that make up a modern economy.

Worse, "right-to-work" status would hurt Michigan businesses and communities in a number of ways. Lower wage scales, less worker contribution to advanced training programs, less stringent job site safety and fewer families with secure health care translate into compromised state and local tax bases and greater strains on public services and education. Overall, we create an environment less favorable to business success.

The reality is that "right-to-work" is not just a union issue. Our modern Michigan economy is in many ways "indivisible." For example, the strength and quality of our outstanding Michigan health care sector relies on the earned health care benefits of workers across many employment sectors, union or nonunion, skilled trade or service worker, blue collar or white.

Similarly, pension funds (whether defined benefit programs negotiated by labor unions in both the public and private sectors, 401(k) and similar plans provided by private employers or individual retirement accounts) are invested directly in our community, while their management supports the financial services sector of our Michigan economy.

A 2006 study by Jeff Vincent, research director of the Indiana University Division of Labor Studies' Institute for the Study of Labor in Society, revealed a substantial penalty in "right-to-work" states compared with union states with respect to the average weekly wage, median family income, average state gross product and basic living standards. Those above the poverty level, those with health insurance coverage and those with a high school education or above all were higher in union shop states as opposed to "right-to-work" states.

At the same time, "right-to-work" advocates fail to present a coherent economic development scheme that will grow the new technologies and industries that we all seek, while advancing community prosperity and stability.

To repeat, legitimate business suffers under reduced wage bases and public policy that fosters an "underground" economy. These conditions inevitably translate into inequitable taxation, depressed property values, a smaller pool of highly trained and motivated workers from which to recruit, and other disincentives to entrepreneurship and new investment. A lower standard of living means just that -- less income to be spent with local businesses and professional services.

The Michigan economy faces many challenges, including infrastructure and transportation issues, maturation of industries, global competition and national policy making. All of us, including a well-trained, fairly paid and motivated work force, must work together to help grow the Michigan businesses of today and tomorrow.

- Douglas C. Buckler is executive secretary/treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters & Millwrights.


Another endorsement for Right To Work

Key small business group OK's worker-choice scheme

Colorado's National Federation of Independent Business has endorsed Amendment 47, the so-called right-to-work ballot initiative that would prohibit unions from collecting mandatory dues in workplaces that engage in collective bargaining.

As a national organization, NFIB supports the right-to-work concept, said Tony Gagliardi, director of Colorado NFIB.

He said 59 percent of the local chapter supported Amendment 47, which the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry also backs.

Other right-to-work supporters include the Western Colorado Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, and the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs.

Despite NFIB's endorsement, Gagliardi said the group won't give financial support to the right-to-work campaign since the organization plans to focus its resources on opposing several ballot initiatives supported by organized labor.

This month, Colorado NFIB announced that it's joined Coloradans for Responsible Reform in an effort to fight an impending flood of ballot initiatives supported by labor unions.

Launched by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Coloradans for Responsible Reform is a political-issue group committed to opposing those initiatives. The organization will collect campaign contributions from business interests

If voter include the initiatives, employers would be required to give workers annual cost-of-living increases and provide major health care benefits, and companies would be prohibited from firing employees without just cause.

Union spokesmen say the counter initiatives are intended to protect Colorado workers in case voters approve the right-to-work proposal.


Rep. Christopher Carney, 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


Project Labor Agreement means 'union-only'

Join the union or you may not work

I have read the article of May 15 [APS Board agrees to try PLA on Leggett] by Jeff Gorman and would like to clarify the following items for your publication.

The [Akron Public Schools Board of Education] members kept referring to a “living wage” without saying what a living wage is. Is it $7/hour, $15/hour, $30/hour or simply the “union” wage? The board cannot claim ignorance of what all the workers on their projects receive in wages. Their construction manager receives and collects wage reports from not only all of the prime contractors, but their subcontractors as well.

The statement was quoted in your article, “If you’ve heard that nonunion workers can’t participate, nothing could be further from the truth.” The Project Labor Agreement (PLA) states unequivocally, “The Contractors recognize the Unions as the sole and exclusive bargaining representatives of all craft employees within their respective jurisdictions working on the Project within the scope of this Agreement” (Article III, Section 1). True, the agreement may not require workers to join a union. Their choice is to either join one of the unions or not work on this project at all. For all intents and purposes, the board is granting an old-fashioned monopoly to the Tri-County Building Council to provide workers for this project.

The board stated that 18 projects so far have been contracted using the “fair” process. Now they want to keep the process “fair” by excluding the workers that by their own published reports are doing 59 percent of the work so far.

The board stated they want to experiment with one PLA to find out how much it will cost. That is an extremely disingenuous statement given the fact they refused the suggestion to accept alternate bids that would identify exactly what the PLA would cost if implemented. If a case could be made that a PLA provides a benefit to the taxpayers, or students, wouldn’t the board be remiss in their fiduciary duties not to at least find out if there actually is a cost differential, and make a rational decision on a cost/benefit analysis?

Ron Macala stated one of the benefits of a PLA is uniform wages. Under a PLA, everyone working in any particular trade will get the same wages (union wage) regardless of experience, ability or productivity. What he did not say is that every worker will have to pay into the unions’ health, welfare and pension funds. The carpenters, for example, require working at least 200 hours per year for five consecutive years to become vested. So even if they did allow previously nonunion workers to work, they would reap a substantial windfall by virtue of never having to pay that money out.

One of the arguments for a PLA is to create a “level playing field.” The field may be “level,” but it will certainly be at a higher level. Not only will the bids of the merit shop contractors, of necessity, increase, but the union shops’ bids will go up as well because the unions will no longer provide wage rebates to their contractor members, nor offer to have their members work at lower “market recovery rates.” Why should they when the board signs the PLA?

John Hitchcock, vice president, C.T. Taylor Co. Inc., Hudson, OH


NJ prison union takes to the airwaves

Unions say privatizing prisons leads to escapes

When a halfway house resident was arrested in Bridgeton two weeks ago for soliciting prostitution, some viewed it simply as odd news. State corrections officers viewed it as a sign of a larger problem, that of privatizing prisons, and Thursday they unleashed a radio campaign hammering on just that.

"Every year in New Jersey, hundreds of escaped state prisoners are roaming the streets and neighborhoods they previously victimized, committing new crimes," the ad on 97.3 FM in southern New Jersey begins.

Unions representing the state's sergeants and captains bankrolled the $25,000 ad campaign, which so far is limited to radio.

The ad focuses on what union leaders describe as a gradual but clear move toward the privatization of prisons.

It targets New Jersey's privately run halfway houses, which saw their number of escapes nearly double from 2006 to 2007, according to the state Department of Corrections, but it also criticizes state plans for a privately run Trenton facility to house violent sex offenders and the creation of residential assessment centers to evaluate parole offenders rather than simply sending them back to prison.

The campaign comes just a month before the state budget is to be passed and shortly after multiple studies have pointed out the high cost of prisons.

A recent Pew Center on the States report found one of every 100 Americans is imprisoned, a rate far higher than that of other developed countries.

This week, the Drug Policy Alliance, a critic of government drug policies, released a study finding that New Jersey spent $331 million a year jailing nonviolent drug offenders.

The State Parole Board pushed the idea of residential assessment centers in part because of statistics like that, Parole Board spokesman Neal Buccino said. The facilities would effectively serve as triage units, where parole officers could determine how best to deal with people who violate their parole after gaining early release from prison.

The goal, Buccino said, is to focus on parole violators who don't break any laws but simply break the terms of their parole in what are called "technical violations." For example, perhaps they missed an appointment with a parole officer or fail a drug test.

Buccino said most technical violations of parole are drug-related, and simply sending them back to prison may not be the most cost-effective - or individual-effective - scenario.

"A lot of these behaviors are consistent with a person's addiction," Buccino said.

Supporters think these triage units could help ex-convicts re-enter society, find jobs and deal with addiction problems. They would spend 14 to 30 days in these facilities being evaluated by parole staff to determine how best to deal with them, whether by imprisonment, increased supervision or simply a chastisement.

The corrections unions, however, are wary of the trend toward privatization.

The failure of halfway houses, despite their entrenched nature, particularly raises their ire.

In 2006, 126 inmates walked away from halfway houses, residential facilities that house offenders who work part time and who are nearing the end of their prison terms. In 2007, the number of inmates who walked away jumped to 247, according to DOC spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer. Some escapes were simply late returns home, Fedkenheuer said. Most are brought back into custody.

In comparison, state prisons saw less than 10 escapes in each of the last two years.

"Now what we see is these halfway houses taking over the function of correctional facilities, and they're failing miserably because there are escapes every single day," said Steve Brzdek, head of the sergeants union.

Brzdek said government officers can do the same job that private companies do, but they would provide better results.

The unions' ad also points to the potential corrupting influence of political contributions by major corrections companies. Brzdek tallied political contributions by Community Corrections Corp., also known as Community Education Centers, its chief executive and one of its lobbyists. He counted $598,100 raised between 1997 and 2007.

Whether the ad campaign will have a significant effect remains to be seen.

But it had at least one result, though the significance of it might be disputed. The ad criticizes two northern New Jersey assemblymen for offering a bill proposing to give parole to every state inmate six months before their release. They withdrew the bill Thursday after the first ads ran, claiming the bill was an erroneous version of what they planned to introduce.


News unionists political donations OK'd

Pro-union writers free to put money where mouth is

An arbitrator has ruled that a Detroit Free Press ethics policy that bans all political donations by editorial employees violates the newspaper's union contract, a lawyer said Thursday. Duane Ice, a Royal Oak attorney representing the Newspaper Guild of Detroit, said arbitrator Paul Glendon ruled the Free Press can't ban such donations without evidence the donations compromise the newspaper or the reporter's work. The newspaper's blanket ban, instituted in 2007, differed from the union contract language, which only banned outside activity that compromised the newspaper's integrity. Caesar Andrews, executive editor of the Free Press, said he had not yet seen the ruling and could not comment.

• No verdict yet: Jurors in the criminal trial of Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger went home Thursday without reaching a verdict after two days of deliberations. Fieger, 57, and his law partner, Ven Johnson, 46, were indicted last year on conspiracy and illegal campaign contribution charges, accused of illegally reimbursing more than $100,000 in political donations made by employees, employee relatives and law firm vendors to the 2004 presidential campaign of Democrat John Edwards. Fieger is also charged with obstruction of justice, a 10-year felony.

• Veto likely : Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has until the end of today to veto all or parts of the city council's changes to his $3 billion budget approved this week. Kilpatrick plans to at least veto plans to borrow nearly $78 million in short-term loans to, in part, fill the gap created when the council voted against approving a deal to sell Detroit's half of the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel. Spokesman James Canning said Kilpatrick doesn't think borrowing is "a smart business decision."


• Border bust: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers confiscated 23.9 kilograms of ecstasy and five kilograms of methamphetamine in a spare tire of a car Wednesday at the Ambassador Bridge, authorities said. The car was driven by a 35-year-old Canadian man, who was arrested and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

• DPS subpoena power advocated: Detroit Public Schools board member Marie Thornton on Thursday urged her colleagues to exercise their subpoena power after learning that former Superintendent William Coleman III pleaded guilty Wednesday in a Dallas federal court to attempting to influence a grand jury. Coleman, who was fired by Detroit Public Schools last year, was accused by a grand jury of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes when he worked in Dallas in exchange for steering technology contracts to a Houston businessman. Thornton said the board should use its subpoena power to bring Coleman to testify about the recent discovery of an account where the district paid millions of dollars in salaries and benefits for teacher positions that weren't budgeted.


Strikers get a discouraging slap in the face

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

Failed UAW strike - from the inside

I have written tons of letters and blogs the past few months but I have been so overwhelmed with this that I really wasn’t sure of my thoughts. I have been quite vocal and supportive of my husband and the union employees. I have written probably a hundred letters to anybody I can think of and some influential people many times. I have gone to every rally. The wrath of Dauch [American Axle CEO Dick Dauch] can be explained as demoralizing, heartbreaking, and has put a never-ending stress on everyone associated with it.

It is discouraging to receive such a “slap in the face” after 13 weeks on strike.

I never thought that we would be in the situation that we are in right now. Fourteen years ago I felt blessed when my husband (then boyfriend) started at AAM [American Axle Manufacturing]. He was a fourth-generation employee with many uncles, cousins, aunts and even friends there. Most of them retired from this plant successfully. I thought this was the place that would always supply us with a roof over our heads, the ability to support a family and raise our girls all the way through college.

This contract is an insult. However, I believe if the men and women of AAM don’t accept it they will never see another dime. He [Dauch] has us between a rock and a hard place.

Now, on paper, we will not be able to pay all our bills. With this new contract, Dauch has taken the equivalent of one and a half house payments from us monthly. We also have to pay for benefits, further reducing our income. The buydown or buyout only compensates for three years. What do we do after that? I really don’t know what we are going to do yet. We talk about it every day and find there just isn’t enough.

What good is talking dollar amounts when we can become just another statistic and lose our home? The fact is that my husband’s pension is frozen, even if he does return. It isn’t enough for the 14 years of dedicated and backbreaking service my husband gave. When I say backbreaking I mean it. My husband has injured his back a few times. The first time was three days before our wedding when he had to be taken out of work on a stretcher. The AAM doctor has said if he does it again it will require surgery. This makes it difficult to find another job too.

I truly can’t understand how Dauch can offer these insulting buydowns and buyouts while continuing to sleep at night. How can a man that had so much compassion and good words for the American worker turn into such a heartless and vengeful man?

I find it hard to stomach that he can look at himself in the mirror every day knowing that there are more than 3,600 families fighting to stay alive out here all because of his greed and lust for power. Ideally, I would love for my husband to take the buyout and kiss AAM goodbye. I don’t want my husband to work for a man who has no compassion for his employees or their families. I don’t want to live every day wondering whether my husband is still going to have a job and at what wage. Will anything like this happen again in four years? Do we want to be around to find out? These past 13 weeks have been the most trying thing we have gone through together, and no matter what happens it is going to be a long time before we are able to get past this financial and emotional mess he has thrown us into.

I would like to say I was overwhelmed and thankful for all the support people have given to my husband and the union employees of AAM. I have seen much generosity from many UAW locals. They supplied food, money, and I even saw words of encouragement on their signs as I drove past union halls. I have had friends offer to help us financially, bring dinner over and just send e-mails or call making sure we were OK. I even received words of encouragement from strangers when they would see or hear my husband was an AAM employee. This just shows that there are still people out there who care and who have compassion. Knowing that they are there helps us along the way.

J.G., Belleville, Mich. (The writer is the wife of an American Axle striker who was on the picket line for three months.)


Public employees protest pay in Illinois

AFSCME will 'do whatever it takes'

Aiming to raise public awareness of the essential services they provide and calling on the governor to settle a fair contract with their union, thousands of state employees will take to informational picket lines at 40 sites across Illinois Thursday, May 29.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 represents more than 35,000 frontline state workers. The union has been in contract negotiations with the state for six months.

'Every Illinois resident relies on the public services AFSCME members provide,' union executive director Henry Bayer said. 'Whether in our state parks or human services, prisons or child protection or elsewhere, AFSCME state employees make Illinois happen.'

Bayer continued: 'State workers aren't asking for a lot—decent wages, affordable health care and a secure retirement. And they'll do whatever it takes, bargain as long it takes, picket as much as it takes, to achieve a fair contract.'


Next Missouri Gov. thanks AFL-CIO

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