Vulnerable Dem whacked over card-check

Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"
Related article: "Rep. Tim Walz, Minnesota DINO"

Walz position is 'simply un-American'

After taking a thumping in 2006 and facing the prospect of Democratic control of Congress and the presidency next year, several top Republican leaders engaged in some public political soul-searching on the last day of the party's two-day state convention.

They offered different explanations for why the party's political fortunes have sagged. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, considered on a short-list of vice-presidential candidates, argued that Republicans have a higher burden to meet, especially when Democrats are giving away what he called "free stuff."

Pawlenty, in a speech before the convention, acknowledged that the party still battles the perception that "Republicans aren't for the working person." "Now, you know that not to be true. But that shows you the perception we've got to get over. We've got to have our ideals connect and be meaningful with people," Pawlenty said.

If there was a consensus on what Republicans need to do to restore their political footing, it was the view that Republicans have to not only talk like Republicans, but they have to behave like Republicans.

Karl Rove, the architect behind President George W. Bush's two presidential election triumphs, spoke at the close of the two-day convention held in Rochester. He urged delegates to speak boldly about what the party stands for, including free markets, low taxes and limited government.

"Now is not the time to take our colors and roll them up and put them in the closet," Rove said.

"We believe that there ought to be a limit on what government can take from any one individual, because if government can take anything from anyone, it can take everything from everyone," Rove said.

The staying power of those principles will likely be tested in the 1st Congressional District, where the party's endorsed candidate, Brian Davis, is challenging U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Mankato Democrat, on an unabashedly conservative platform.

Davis opposes embryonic stem-cell research, is against civil unions for gay people, and believes the country must focus on developing domestic oil reserves, including drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve.

He rejects out of hand the notion that the globe is warming due to human activity.

"Let me be clear: I totally reject the man-made global warming religion," Davis said to loud applause on Saturday.

Davis, a Mayo Clinic physician, must still survive a primary challenge by state Sen. Dick Day of Owatonna. But Davis has already made clear that if he does prevail, he plans to pursue a campaign of sharp contrasts with Walz, whom he calls a liberal in moderate clothing.

He says Walz has done little to bring down gas prices with his opposition to drilling in ANWR. He says the first-term Democrat consistently votes for measures that would expand government and that, according to one ranking, is 394th out of 435th in Congress in terms of taxing and spending.

He also chides Walz for supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier for workers to join unions, but that Davis calls "simply un-American," because it would deprive workers of a secret ballot.

"In 2006, Tim Walz ran against George Bush and the Iraq war. In 2008, he's going to have to run on his record, and if I were him, I would run from it," Davis said.

Chris Schmitter, a spokesman for Walz, said it was sad and unfortunate the Republicans in general resort to attacks on Walz. He said voters rejected those negative tactics in 2006 and expressed confidence that they would do so again this year.

"The Congressman is busy serving the people of southern Minnesota, and he's running a positive campaign, talking about his agenda and the change he's bringing to Washington: Fighting to strengthen the economy, lower gas prices, reduce the cost of health care and provide for our nation's veterans. And he's doing that in a way that's exciting people," Schmitter said.


Strike-bound labor-state eyes worker-choice

Union leaders invited to hear 'tough talk'

I never imagined I would turn to the philosopher Simon Cowell, of "American Idol" fame, for words of wisdom. But as the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual Mackinac Policy Conference ground on and on last week in search of solutions for Michigan's myriad woes, the frustration was palpable by Friday. So I went to Google in search of quotable quotes about frustration.

And up popped Cowell, the disparaging curmudgeon of the "Idol" judging panel, quoted as saying: "The object of this competition is not to be mean to the losers but to find a winner. The process makes you mean because you get frustrated. Kids turn up unrehearsed, wearing the wrong clothes, singing out of tune and you can either say, 'Good job' and patronize them or tell them the truth."

In place of "kids," think Big Four, as in the Detroit region's hapless crew of political leaders who subjected Mackinac attendees Friday to 90 minutes of verbal jousting:

• Detroit's wounded Mayor Kwame "This is what I was born to do" Kilpatrick.

• And the Oakland and Wayne county executives, L. Brooks Patterson and Robert Ficano, doing their best Abbott & Costello "Who's on First?" imitation with an incomprehensible back-and-forth exchange about Cobo Center expansion.

• Macomb County commission chairman William Crouchman, who was nigh invisible.

The painful Big Four session wasn't the week's only dud. Chrysler LLC Chairman Robert Nardelli, the only auto industry honcho on the Mackinac program, was a no-show due to a bad back. Celebrity ex-CEO Carly Fiorina gave a decent speech that should have been 20 minutes shorter. Even Gov. Jennifer Granholm seemed low on her usual oratorical flair, getting her biggest reaction from a bit of self-deprecating humor about her recent bowel surgery.

So what's next for the power brokers of beleaguered Michigan?

Another big policy conference, this one staged by business groups in west Michigan, will take place Sept. 18-19 at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Grand Rapids.

It will happen in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- the annual frustration that so much talk at the Detroit chamber's Mackinac shindig spawns so little action as the state's economy and image sink lower and lower.

"Michigan as a whole is at a critical crossroads. West Michigan wants a voice of its own," Jeanne Engelhart, president of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, told me in a recent interview.

The West Michigan Regional Policy Conference will include columnist George Will as a speaker, and the CEOs of the region's Big Three office furniture makers -- Steelcase, Haworth and Herman Miller -- will participate in a panel discussion. Education, workforce skills and other staples of the Mackinac agenda also will be on the bill in Grand Rapids.

Engelhart doesn't trash the Mackinac conference; she has attended in past years and found it useful. But she does suggest that west Michiganders might be more willing than Detroiters to push hard for government spending cuts and discuss controversial topics like right-to-work legislation, which would ban compulsory labor union membership.

Michael Jandernoa, a director and former CEO of store-brand drugmaker Perrigo Inc. of Allegan was more direct.

"Our image, our brand as a state is so tainted," Jandernoa said, leaving no doubt that the blame lies in southeast Michigan.

"What gets headlines from Michigan is that American Axle strike," he said. "That message is a terrible message, that our state is a bad place to invest."

Dick Haworth, chairman of Holland-based Haworth Inc., believes a serious discussion of right-to-work status for Michigan is worth pursuing. "The union environment," he said, "does not allow you to adapt quickly, or at all, to the world we live in."

It's not just about wages and benefits; it's more about flexibility, Haworth said. "In a lot of cases, we're not using world-class methods and processes. We need to be better students of what world-class is."

Executives of the Detroit Regional Chamber say other groups have tried to replicate, or improve upon the Mackinac conference, but have backed away after discovering how much work it is.

In a recent trip to west Michigan, however, I found the frustration level with the state of our state extremely high, from a policy perspective. The business folks there are itching to deliver some tough talk, and they've invited Granholm and labor union leaders, among others, to attend.

It will be interesting to see if they can shake up Michigan's political and business culture to spur action. Or whether frustration prevails.


AFT smack-down in Oklahoma continues

Teachers are resigning from the union

A 30-year teaching veteran at John Marshall High School is among the teachers from the school to resign her union membership in the last few weeks, frustrated over what they see as a pattern of protection of unqualified educators. Leaders with the Oklahoma City School District and the local union, the American Federation of Teachers, say they're talking about a plan that addresses the concern.

"I had issues with the AFT using money to protect teachers that shouldn't be teaching,” teacher Denise Caton said. "I believe in unions and I know some good teachers that have been helped by the union, so I don't have a problem with unions, but the reason I did it was to send a message ... to the AFT that we are passionate about teaching and we want our kids to have good teachers,” she said.

Caton said about a dozen teachers talked of resigning. Oklahoma City AFT President Ed Allen said four teachers from the school have done so.

Problem and solution

Teachers who administrators realize are having problems are put on plans for improvement meant to give them help and mentoring.

"Right now it is, ‘Read chapter 10, go visit Mrs. Smith's class and figure it out.' It's sink or swim,” Allen said.

Caton said she'd like to see earlier union involvement — proof that the union looks to help teachers improve instead of to help teachers simply keep their jobs.

The AFT has advocated something similar to the Toledo Plan since Bill Weitzel was superintendent from 2000 to 2003, Allen said.

The Toledo Plan might work something like this, he said: A dozen highly qualified, veteran teachers would remain district employees but work out of the union office, and would be called in to provide intensive help to struggling teachers.

And if the struggling teachers still aren't successful, Allen said he thinks they would be more willing to bow out after receiving that kind of help.

Allen said he spoke to acting Superintendent Sandra Park recently and that she expressed genuine interest in the idea.

"It has some great possibilities in it,” said Park, who emphasized that she spoke as the acting and not a permanent superintendent.

"What I asked him to do was get me the names of three or four districts that have gone through the Toledo Plan successfully, and let's look at how those partnerships work and let's look at the long-term effects of that,” she said.


SEIU convention: Stern quashes union democracy

'We can never trust management'

The largest union in the U.S., the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), begins its national convention the weekend of May 31, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Convention goers will have a very different experience from the well orchestrated ceremonies of past years. As delegate Sirlena Perry from SEIU Local 73 in Chicago put it, “There’s going to be big debate about how Andy has been doing things,” referring to the pro-business methods of SEIU’s president, Andy Stern.

A growing movement for reform has developed; rank-and-file delegates from various locals - and one well-known dissident local president - have come together in a reform movement. They will present a platform for change to challenge the officers in Washington D.C. that are concentrating power in their hands. Their slogan is “One member, one vote.” This means members voting for contracts, contract proposals, international officers and even agreements between the union and companies about how elections for union representation will take place.

The movement includes the SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today (SMART). SMART grew out of a network of members, staff and local officers in California. These unionists first found common cause as they resisted the forced mergers of locals over the last several years.

SMART and the reform movement got further momentum last year when Stern was exposed in the media for making secret deals with nursing home owners in California and Washington state. These deals included allowing the companies to dictate which homes could be unionized and the union having to agree not to publish criticisms of the companies - for three, or even ten, years! In exchange for some of the employees being allowed into the union and contracts at those companies which included small gains for the workers involved, the union also committed its political muscle to support legislation supported by the companies.

In the media eye has been Sal Rosselli, president of California’s United Healthcare Workers-West. This 150,000 member local is the third largest in SEIU. Rosselli refused to keep quiet about Stern’s terrible deals. Stern has responded with threats to put UHW into trusteeship and to take away 65,000 members from UHW. UHW has the most successful record of organizing new workers of any local in SEIU. Stern has been the main spokesperson in the union movement for organizing the unorganized. It is ironic that he is punishing this model local.

Partnership with Employers in Exchange for Membership in SEIU

The convention debates revolve around the different approaches to the union movement. Stern’s view is business unionism, where the company and the union make common cause. Class struggle unionism is the other approach, recognizing that the working class and the capitalist class have opposite interests. What brings workers and owners together is the profit motive of the employer, and the workers’ need for a job. The bosses want as much labor for as little money as possible. Workers, especially in the service industry, have to fight desperately to earn enough money to keep their heads above water. The real relationship of workers and bosses is one of constant conflict.

The question for workers in SEIU is what is traded off when partnership with an employer is sought in exchange for membership growth. For example, how can a union fight the way it needs to when there is an agreement to not criticize the employer?

SEIU’s convention documents admit that it’s getting harder and more expensive to organize workers and successfully represent the members. This also shows that the class struggle is getting fiercer and continues after unionization.

SEIU has been enormously successful in gaining new members, adding almost one million to the union over the last decade and a half. It is also true that joining the union has meant progress for these workers. While the gains haven’t been spectacular, it’s a general rule that first contracts for newly organized workers aren’t perfect and don’t include giant wage gains. Unionization brings advances over the course of years.

But at the same time, there is an intensified class struggle growing within work places, including public sector employers that are already organized. SEIU has a strategy with one overarching aim: gains for workers by increasing new membership. There is no strategy for the fights by a majority of the workers - the current members in the union - to defend gains made in the past.

The international officers have charged that the publicity over the controversy is hurting the union. Tom Burke, a former executive board member of Local 73, responded to this. “Secret deals - with more in them for management than for workers - lead to public debates.” Burke enthusiastically defended the debates. “This is the first real contest over ideas in the history of SEIU conventions. Let it rip.”

Will the Stern program of exchanging ‘partnership for membership’ lead to continued and real gains for workers? Or will workers make more gains by building a fighting workers movement? The test of which approach is better will be in practice over the years to come. Shirley McIntosh, a retiree from Local 73 that will be attending the San Juan convention, already has her opinion: “From my experience, we can never trust management. We just have to organize to fight.”


News organ plays the labor-state game

Unions' influence exposed only after the election

Organized labor - public employee unions in particular - spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and uncounted volunteer hours on Oregon's May 20 primary elections. It all paid off. Most candidates with union backing won. Candidates in union doghouses lost. The net result was a monster victory for labor groups that helped solidify their role as one of the state's top power brokers.

Unions played key roles in statewide victories for secretary of state candidate Kate Brown, attorney general candidate John Kroger and U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Merkley. But they also got involved locally, helping Sam Adams win the Portland mayoral contest, Democrat Michael Dembrow win the House District 45 primary in Northeast Portland, and Dennis Doyle oust Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake.

The outcome left Republicans grumbling about the increasing influence of unions in state government. And it left little doubt that labor's agenda will get red-carpet treatment when the 2009 Legislature meets in January.

"They've been extremely successful," said state Sen. Rick Metsger of Welches, who came in second in the three-way Democratic secretary of state race. The winner of the race, Brown, a state senator from Portland, got heavy backing from the two biggest public employee unions, Oregon Education Association and Service Employees International Union.

So what do the unions want for their investment?

Union organizers said they would continue to press for better health coverage, especially for children, for better staffing levels at adult foster care centers, for state programs that add union jobs to the economy and for more bargaining and organizing rights.

Labor officials downplayed their influence as a group, however. Voters didn't select candidates based on union ties, said Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, but supported those who "embraced a working family agenda." The results have less to do with union influence than exasperation over rising gas prices, health care costs and disappearing jobs, he said. "When you hit $4 a gallon for gas, people know there has to be a change in this country."

Yet in a recent newsletter to members, AFL-CIO leaders boasted about "the most aggressive pro-union election effort in any Oregon primary election. . . . One hundred percent of our endorsed candidates celebrated victory."

Republicans, who have seen their stock in Oregon politics plunge to historic lows, say labor has become the dominant force in Democratic politics.

"It's disturbing how powerful the public employee unions have become in recent years," said Vance Day, chairman of the state Republican Party. "Here's a group that literally rolls over every opposition candidate within a certain party."

Day said his party supports union workers -- just not their leadership. They're one more interest group that tries to buy its way to power, he said.

The stand-out example of union influence in the primary was the state attorney general race between Democrats John Kroger, a law professor at Lewis & Clark College, and state Rep. Greg Macpherson of Lake Oswego. SEIU contributed $317,371 to Kroger's campaign -- more than one of every three dollars he raised.

The OEA, which represents teachers, kicked in $50,000. The donations clearly helped Kroger, a newcomer to state politics, compete with the better-known and more experienced Macpherson.

Cash wasn't the only aid unions provided. Thousands of members volunteered for phone banks. Thousands more knocked on doors and passed out literature. Arthur Towers, chief lobbyist for SEIU Local 503, said members were motivated in part by the presidential race but also by the Oregon races.

"When we have a high degree of involvement, that's a fairly good indicator of what the results are going to be," Towers said. "Our candidates' winning made it even sweeter."

Macpherson's supporters saw the unions' aid to Kroger as payback for Macpherson's close involvement with the 2005 reforms of the Public Employee Retirement System. The changes led to reductions in retirement benefits for a large number of public employees.

Among those bothered by the SEIU's action is Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who backed Macpherson and led the PERS reform effort. Kulongoski had a similar experience when, in his 2006 re-election primary bid, his campaign was snubbed by public employee unions.

"We would always hope that our political system rewards elected officials for making tough decisions," Kulongoski said in a statement to The Oregonian. "We, unfortunately, many times do just the opposite. We allow interest groups to punish elected officials for making tough decisions."

Kulongoski was referring to more than simply union influence, his spokeswoman, Anna Richter Taylor, said.

Towers says the union sided with Kroger not to punish Macpherson but because members were excited by Kroger's background as a federal prosecutor. The union, which represents 50,000 mostly blue-collar workers, focuses on pocketbook issues, such as workplace staffing levels, wages and price gouging, whether for gas, medication or interest rates, Towers said.

Kroger "could be the guy who goes after oil companies," Towers said. "He's got that mentality."

Towers and Chamberlain said they would continue to press for improvements for their members when lawmakers return to Salem next year. At the top of their agenda is health insurance. They will back plans to lower the cost of care and prescription drugs, to lower insurance premiums and to reduce the number of uninsured children in the state.

Worker rights, bargaining rights, job creation and the ability to organize more workers add to the list. A particular area of concern to SEIU, whose members include 10,000 caregivers for elderly and disabled people, is the level of staffing at foster care homes and group homes.

"Everyone who cares about those issues is better off because of the election that was held," Towers said.


Casino War: Foxwoods workers reject UAW

Nearly 40 workers at Foxwoods Resort Casino's race book have voted against joining the United Auto Workers union. The employees voted 23-13 against unionizing on Friday. It was the third union vote at the casino within the past year. Table game dealers have voted to join the UAW, while operating engineers including electricians and plumbers rejected a plan to join the International Union of Operating Engineers.

The Mashantucket Pequots, who own Foxwoods, are appealing the table game dealer's vote to the National Labor Relations Board.

Two unions are vying to represent a fourth group of Foxwoods employees, slot technicians, while the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has begun talks with beverage, cleaning and food workers.

Foxwoods President Barry Cregan says he is pleased that a second group of workers has rejected joining a union and is showing faith in Foxwoods' management.


SEIU sees dues bonanza in Montana

But voters may curb union political donations

One of the region's more active labor unions is pushing a ballot measure that could expand in-home care for the elderly and disabled in Montana - and allow the union to organize a new pool of in-home care workers. Initiative 159, whose supporters are trying to qualify it for the November ballot, aims to direct state/federal health care money away from nursing-home care to in-home care, says Ted Dick, political coordinator for Service Employees International Union in Montana.

“People like being in their homes, they do better in their homes,” he says. “That's not to say there's no need for nursing homes, but the nursing home hey-day is behind us.”

Yet a consumer group representing the elderly and a lobby for nursing homes and in-home care businesses are not supporting I-159, saying it unnecessarily revamps how in-home workers are employed, could ring up huge bills for the state and may not improve care.

“It is mainly an effort to increase union membership in SEIU, disguised as an effort to improve in-home care in this state,” says Rose Hughes, executive director of the Montana Health Care Association.

AARP Montana, a consumer group with 162,000 members 50 and older, says

I-159 may hold a “false promise” to expand in-home services and could end up eroding the funding for other services to the elderly.

AARP and the Health Care Association say language in I-159 could require the state to provide in-home care to 1,000 people on waiting lists, thus imposing new annual costs for the state of $27 million by 2010 and $47 million by 2013.

Dick says the language merely makes serving “underserved” consumers a priority, including those on the waiting lists.

Using volunteers and paid workers, SEIU began gathering signatures about three weeks ago to attempt to place I-159 on the November ballot. The initiative needs the signatures of 22,308 registered voters statewide and at least

5 percent of voters in at least 34 state House districts.

Ballot-measure organizers have until June 20 to turn in their signatures to county election officials.

Dick says signature-gatherers for I-159 will be outside polling places on the primary election on Tuesday - along with signature-gatherers for other, unrelated measures trying to make it on the November ballot.

I-159 would add a significant new wrinkle to how Montana manages and provides in-home care for 8,100 elderly and disabled people, paid for by Medicaid, the state-federal program that pays medical bills for the poor.

Under current law, nearly 9,000 in-home care workers are employed by private companies, some of which are nonprofit. They provide care wherever the companies offer their services.

Under I-159, in-home workers can be independent, private contractors employed by the people for whom they provide care. They also can choose to be organized by SEIU, which already has organized about 500 in-home care workers employed by companies.

Medicaid would still pay the self-employed in-home workers, and the state would train and certify them.

Dick says this type of set-up has worked in several other states, including Washington, Oregon and California, and will lead to more in-home workers in under-served, rural areas.

Montana and the nation is facing a “tsunami” of aging babyboomers who will need health care assistance, and it's far better - and cheaper - to have this help in-home rather than in nursing homes, he says.

“It diverts money away from institutionalized care and puts more into home and community-based services,” he says. “Allowing people to stay in their home instead of institutionalized care saves the state money in the long run.”

The Montana Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and businesses that employ in-home workers now, says it agrees that in-home care should be expanded in Montana.

But I-159 is not the way to do it, says Hughes, the association's executive director.

Montana already has a good in-home care system developed with collaboration from providers, advocates for the elderly and the state, and I-159 drastically changes the system, with unknown consequences, she says.

The “fiscal note” for the measure says it would cost the state $2.6 million during its first year in 2009 and increase to $7 million by 2013, as the state must train, certify and supervise more in-home workers.

Yet Hughes and AARP say the costs could be much higher, because of the language in I-159 that says people on in-home care waiting lists should be served.

“If this initiative is adopted by voters, we fear it will create a significant unfunded mandate that will jeopardize the department's funding of existing critical programs,” AARP said in a statement.

Voters will likely face signature-gatherers for 6 initiatives

HELENA - When voters go to the polls for Tuesday's primary election, they may see signature-gatherers for several initiatives attempting to qualify for the November ballot.

Here's a summary of the proposals you may be asked to sign:

Children's health care: Initiative 155 would expand two state-federal programs, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, to provide health coverage for an additional 30,000 children in Montana.

Home health care: I-159 would create a potentially unionized work force of in-home care workers, who would be trained by the state but act as independent contractors who take care of the elderly and disabled who need assistance at home.

Property tax revision: Constitutional Initiative 99 would amend the state constitution to limit residential property-tax increases and allow an “acquisition value” system of appraising residential property for tax purposes. Such a system would reappraise property only when it's sold, at the sales price.

Abortion: C-I 100 would amend the state constitution to define a life and a legal “person” as beginning at the moment of fertilization of a human egg. Supporters hope its passage would lead to outlawing abortion.

Hunting/fishing access: CI-101 would amend the constitution to say the “opportunity” to harvest wild fish and game is a heritage that shall be preserved. I-157 would allow nonprofit corporations to conduct a lottery to raise money to acquire or enhance access to land or wildlife. I-158 would prohibit anyone from limiting public access to fish or game by trading or selling access to land.

Political contribution restrictions: I-156 would prohibit labor unions and other groups that have contracts with government from making any political contributions in Montana.


SEIU: Andy Stern is the issue

'It's David and Goliath'

Sal Rosselli had been hardened by nearly three decades of front-line unionism. Time and again he staged insurgent organizing drives and do-or-die strikes, staring down major corporations. Now he blinked away tears as he huddled with supporters in his Oakland headquarters, a sooty-windowed, bunker-like building strewn with leaflets and picket signs, a place suddenly under siege.

Rosselli was describing his latest battle, his toughest ever: a face-off against a comrade in struggle, Andrew Stern, whom many view as the most powerful labor leader in America.

The two are locked in a nasty, often personal fight over how to make the nation's fastest-growing union -- 1.9 million members -- even bigger. Stern, its president, has sought more common ground with employers as a means to unionize entire industries. Rosselli believes building membership first requires getting the best deal for workers already under labor's tent.

"If you stick your head up, if you question what he's doing, you'll get whacked," said Rosselli, 58, head of the second-largest California chapter of Stern's union.

Wiping his eyes, he insisted that Stern, through a trusteeship, is determined to oust him from his elected post as part of a long push to centralize authority.

Stern and his allies in the Service Employees International Union dismiss the allegations and downplay the significance of the rift.

"It's not open warfare, it's a debate," said Pennsylvania union official Thomas De Bruin.

"It's David and Goliath," Rosselli said.

Much could be at stake for the union's 703,000 California members and for the millions of people who depend on them for healthcare, social services, road repairs, college instruction and cafeteria meals.

The union is a huge presence in hospitals and nursing homes, and in state and local government offices. It represents home-care workers, Los Angeles Unified School District support staff and thousands of private-sector janitors and security guards. The California State University's faculty association is an affiliate.

Covering more than a quarter of organized labor in California, the union's contracts frequently set broad standards for pay and benefits, including those for nonunion workers. And its clout as a get-out-the-vote machine is keenly felt in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as in the Democratic presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Among employee groups in the United States, it is second in size only to the 3.2-million-member National Education Assn.

So the Stern-Rosselli split has shaken many in the labor movement. The feud has been inflamed by charges of lawbreaking and wallet lining, as well as the dredging up of purported anti-gay innuendo against Rosselli from the 1980s.

The hostilities are being waged in courthouses, on the Web, over the phone, through the mail and in the media. They have been as pitched as a street brawl, as might be expected of a clash between veteran rabble-rousers who are accustomed to winning, in an era when labor has reeled from losses.

Rosselli is the decided underdog, a role that keeps him on the job for marathon days, pacing the stained carpet in his office. He takes comfort from a newspaper article adorning one wall, headlined "Union Power," which chronicles a winning strike in 1992.

A product of community college, Rosselli is all but cornered in his renegade redoubt, outgunned by the money, lawyers and political connections that the Ivy League-bred Stern commands at the union's Washington nerve center.

Stern, 57, has been heralded as a forward thinker whose snowy-haired charisma fueled the union's expansion. He engineered a lobbying and electioneering program that has few rivals in labor. He also spearheaded a revolt that took seven unions out of the AFL-CIO and was instrumental in a public-relations assault on Wal-Mart's employment practices.

As passionate as Rosselli, and perhaps more polished, Stern speaks and writes about the demand to transform unions in an age of corporate globalism.

Rosselli's world is smaller; he eats and breathes the local. The intense, goateed gym rat says he sleeps about four hours a night, then braces himself with a predawn workout.

"Sleep is a waste of time," he said.

"The e-mails, the multiple phone calls -- it's getting much more intense," he said, behind the wheel of his grimy Ford Explorer on a recent afternoon, heading for a rally-the-faithful tour of San Francisco hospitals and nursing homes, where the local is strong. "This is an unprecedented use of [union] resources to attack a local."

But Rosselli appears to have just enough Bay Area backing -- not to mention a staff of 400 -- to make a real contest of it. He says the union has spent $2 million on the bid to vanquish him: "We're taking multiple hits, constantly."

Among them is the accusation that Rosselli and a number of his officers at United Healthcare Workers-West violated federal and state laws by establishing an education nonprofit with $3 million from the local. The parent union characterizes the nonprofit as a vehicle to fund Rosselli's ambition to undermine Stern.

Lies and more lies, Rosselli says. One of his sharpest rejoinders to Stern is that the boss improperly pocketed a $175,000 advance, minus ghostwriter and agent fees, as the author of a book that the union fact-checked, publicized and bought in bulk.

Rosselli hammers Stern further for allowing some officials to enrich themselves by taking a second salary, typically about $30,000, for serving on the union board. A handful were paid more than $200,000 in total compensation in 2007, a sum that includes expenses. Rosselli, who had declined the board stipends, collected $140,000 last year.

Stern did not receive the second salary -- his total compensation was $280,000 in 2007, not counting any book payments -- and says he deserves credit for phasing out the perk this year. As for the book, a treatise on economic justice and the future of unions, he says that he didn't take royalties from any sales to the union and that the board acted independently to promote the publication and urge locals to buy it.

"It was completely transparent," said Stern, speaking by phone from Washington, where he is in his 12th year as president. He also denies that he wants to remove Rosselli by placing the local in trusteeship, a tactic the union has employed numerous times against affiliates it had deemed malfeasant. "If we wanted to trustee the local, we had plenty of reasons we could have used," Stern said.

Workers at California Pacific Medical Center, one of Rosselli's stops, weren't convinced. They gave him a near-hero's welcome -- in the lobby, in the cafeteria, by the elevators.

"Why should I ditch my union?" said kitchen staffer and local shop steward Michael Padia, after he hugged Rosselli.

"What could we be doing better?" Rosselli asked.

"Get rid of Andy Stern," Padia said. Rosselli laughed.

'Trying to divide us'

Stern's backers say that much of the conflict comes down to Rosselli's desire to preserve his West Coast fiefdom. Rosselli is balking at a proposal to shift about 65,000 of his 150,000 members to a Los Angeles-based local.

The merger would dramatically diminish Rosselli's influence, including in Sacramento, where he has helped steer healthcare legislation.

"Local leaders are not barons," said Stern assistant Steve Lerner.

Meanwhile, in a letter from Stern that begins "Dear Brother Rosselli" but reads like an indictment, Rosselli is accused of pursuing a "secret plan" to take the local out of the international and possibly hook up with a California nurses union.

"Everything we wrote about in that letter is true," said Stern, his tone coolly confident.

"It's all made up," Rosselli sighed in response.

Stern's camp has highlighted its charges in slick mailers to Rosselli's members, in addition to e-mail blasts and "robo-calls." The local is calling members of other affiliates to condemn Stern.

Rosselli contends that Stern aims to crush those who advocate democratic reforms, such as direct election of the union president by the rank and file, and has countenanced "sweetheart" contracts with companies to inflate membership, at the expense of better wages and benefits.

"They're trying to divide us," Rosselli told a dozen members who filled a break room at the stately Jewish Home in San Francisco.

He had greeted them with smiles and handshakes -- "How are you? Is everything OK?" -- and they surrounded him at a lunch table, listening raptly as he enjoined them to stay united behind the local.

A few workers asked about the mailers and phone calls, but others were in the dark about the dispute.

Nursing assistant Rita Manubag said Rosselli has done well by her simply because she is paid $15 an hour.

"As long as I have a good salary, no problem," she said.

Broadening its reach

The union's resolve to organize across industries has seen it grant concessions, sometimes behind closed doors, to employers that agree not to resist the crusade to enlist workers. Stern acknowledges that this approach might have gone too far on occasion but says its core goal is sound: to broaden the union's reach.

"People who have no union have no rights," he said.

Rosselli maintains that Stern's initiatives tend to coddle corporations and give the union's Washington brass too much sway over local contract negotiations.

"People are getting squashed," said Rosselli, back in his Oakland conference room, his voice rising.

His tenor can betray an edge of personal animosity in the standoff with Stern. Rosselli says he suspects Stern condoned a mailer allegedly sent to members in 1988 that emphasized Rosselli's homosexuality. A copy Rosselli provided has a headline that refers to the local's "lavender contingent" -- code for gay.

He says the headline was cut from one newspaper article and pasted over another featured in the mailer. At the time, Rosselli was running for local president, a race he won. He says his opponent had been championed by Stern, who was then the union's organizing director.

"It was a gay smear," Rosselli said.

Stern spokesman Andrew McDonald said there are "doubts the mailer even exists." Stern denied that he had anything to do with the election, let alone such a mailer, saying Rosselli is "crazy about that. . . . I find that offensive."

Different profiles

In 2005, Stern led his union out of the AFL-CIO after concluding that the umbrella organization had become a slave to stale strategies that had yielded a steady shrinkage in labor's census. The union and six others formed the Change to Win federation, and the revolt sent Stern's profile soaring.

The jacket cover of his 2006 book, "A Country That Works," proclaims the University of Pennsylvania alum "one of the most visionary leaders in America."

By contrast, Rosselli is not well-known outside the Bay Area, despite his own record of boosting membership. He became a labor activist while toiling as a janitor in the late 1970s, after volunteering for the Catholic Worker in his native New York, drifting west on a motorcycle and dreaming of medical school.

Since winning office, he has had no serious opposition for reelection. He lives with his partner, a graphic artist, in San Francisco.

Even Stern followers concede that Rosselli is a popular local president who has excelled at organizing. Stern himself said: "I've had a lot of respect for the work that Sal has done in building, I'd say, a very successful union."

But Rosselli says Stern is scheming to pursue a trusteeship to unseat him and the local's other elected officers sometime after the union's quadrennial convention this week in Puerto Rico.

The local has introduced convention propositions that target Stern's administration, including the direct-election measure. Convention delegates now select the president, which is common in labor. The Stern team says a direct election would force candidates to spend millions, leaving grass-roots hopefuls at a disadvantage.

"I don't think that direct elections have produced more democracy," Stern said.

He also said the quarrel with Rosselli would not damage the union's get-out-the-vote program for the Democrats in November: "There's a lot of unity around politics."

Rosselli said the in-house falling-out has been a "distraction" for members eager to work on the Obama campaign.

"It's stressful, seven days a week," he said, driving along bumpy Mission Street in San Francisco, on his way to another buck-up session for his members. "It's like being on strike. . . . It is worse."


Striking bus drivers get little sympathy

'I don't know why the union is on strike'

Short Line is planning to bring in out-of-state bus drivers later this week to restart its commuter service between Rockland and New York City, which has been crippled by a 10-day-old drivers' strike.

There's no indication the strike between Short Line's parent company, Hudson Transit Lines, and Transport Workers of America Local 225, the union representing 240 drivers, mechanics and ticket agents, will be settled anytime soon. A federal mediator has been brought in to direct negotiations.

The strike has hit about 3,500 commuters from Rockland, Orange and northern New Jersey particularly hard. Riders have had to scramble to find other means to get into New York City. In Rockland, about 750 commuters use Short Line's express service from the Exit 14 park-and-ride lot in Nanuet, and another 250 or so catch Short Line buses from Suffern to midtown and downtown.

Christine Falzone, Short Line's director of sales and marketing, said the company was working toward chartering more buses and hiring drivers to come in and provide additional commuter service if the strike continues. Service could begin by late this week. It would not resume to normal levels, but would offer commuters a familiar option during rush hour.

Initial plans call for providing eight trips in the morning and in the evening on the Exit 14 express service. Prior to the strike, there were 20 trips in the morning to Manhattan and 17 that brought riders to Rockland in the evening.

In Suffern, there would be 10 trips in the morning and 10 in the evening. The buses, which also serve northern New Jersey, would not run during off-peak hours. Pre-strike, Short Line offered 15 trips from 5 to 8:30 a.m. and 17 return trips from 3:45 to 7 p.m.

"We're trying to go forward as best we can," Falzone said Friday.

Falzone said the buses would be scheduled early in the morning so commuters would have the option of catching another bus or train if all of the seats were filled.

Rockland riders were advised to check Short Line's Web site (www.coachusa/shortline) during the next few days for updates. They can also call 800-631-8405.

Drivers have been hired to resume a few popular routes in Orange County, starting tomorrow.

The drivers work for charter companies that are part of Coach USA, which owns Hudson Transit Lines. Some are coming from as far away as Milwaukee, Buffalo and southern states, Falzone said.

Barbara Bermack, a 12-year Short Line rider, wasn't sure if she would return to the buses if they used "scab" drivers. She was concerned about picket lines and/or angry confrontations.

"It's very difficult to have sympathy for the union when I don't know why the union is on strike," said Bermack, a Manhattan travel agent who lives in Spring Valley.

Union members went on strike on May 23 after defeating a proposed contract for a second time.

Several calls placed this week to the union were not returned. Union leaders have not publicly discussed what benefits they are seeking in a new contract.

George Grieve, general manager of Coach USA's northern district, has said the bus company has offered pay increases of 4 percent for the next three years. He did not respond to calls last week.

Bermack has been using Rockland Coach's Red and Tan line, which is honoring Short Line tickets. She criticized Short Line management for not providing riders with daily updates on its Web site about the progress of negotiations or how long the strike might last.

"We get no communication from this company at all, and it's been this way ever since I started riding with Short Line," she said.

It's standing room only on the Red and Tan buses these days. Short Line riders are debating whether to buy monthly Red and Tan passes since they don't know if the tickets will be honored on Short Line once the strike ends.

Bruce Mattaway, another Short Line rider, said his commute has gotten longer and more expensive because of the strike. He used to have a one-seat ride from Nanuet that dropped him off a few blocks from his lower Manhattan office.

Now he takes the bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, catches a subway and then walks 15 minutes from the station. It also costs him about $8 extra a day.

Mattaway, a bond analyst from Bardonia, also said the union and bus company have combined to do a poor job of informing riders.

"I don't know why it should be so difficult to provide information to the people who want it," he said.

Bermack found one bright side. As a result of getting off at the Port Authority, she now walks a mile and a half to her job.

"If this strike lasts another couple of weeks," Bermack said, "I could be down to a size four."


Pro-union Gov. in hot water over emails

Corzine misused Open Records Act

A judge today ruled against Gov. Jon Corzine's bid to keep secret the e-mail traffic between the governor and state-worker union leader Carla Katz, his ex-girlfriend, over the first 18 months of his administration. The Attorney General's office said it would appeal the decision.

A day shy of the one-year anniversary of the filing of a Republican lawsuit against the governor, state Superior Court Judge Paul Innes ruled that hundreds of e-mails must be released because they are not merely the private correspondence between two people who once had a relationship.

In a clear and strongly worded ruling issued this afternoon, the judge said the e-mails are public documents under the state's Open Public Records Act.

"The relationship created a clear potential for conflict," Innes wrote. "These types of communications would be the sort of communications the Supreme Court felt the public had the right of access to understand and evaluate the reasonableness of the public body's actions."

"The public," Innes wrote, "has a right to know whether the relationship between the governor and Ms. Katz had any improper influence on the governor's paramount obligation to serve the interest of the citizens of New Jersey first."

Attorney General Anne Milgram said at a news conference later this afternoon, "We are disappointed by the decision. ... We intend to appeal." She said her team would go to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Milgram said the administration disagrees with Innes' narrow interpretation of the executive privilege, which allows governors to have candid discussions with his advisers. Corzine's chief counsel, Ed McBride, issued a statement saying the governor has to be able to "communicate freely - and privately, if he or she chooses - with people inside and outside of government, including those who may be viewed as adversaries, in furtherance of the state's business."

Corzine's former romance with Katz is the governor's most persistent political problem. It first caused him headaches during his 2005 campaign.

State Republican Chairman Tom Wilson sued for the e-mails, saying the public needs to have the right to judge whether the Corzine-Katz relationship "is inappropriately influencing him as governor," particularly in regard to last year's contract negotiations with the Communications Workers of America. Katz is president of CWA Local 1034.

In a news conference on the Statehouse steps following the ruling, Wilson called on Corzine to give up the fight and release the documents. "With the legal issues now settled, the only thing standing between Jon Corzine and accountability is Jon Corzine," Wilson said. "He doesn't have the law to hide behind anymore. Let people decide for themselves whether or not he acted appropriately or inappropriately."

An earlier review of some of the e-mails by the governor's Ethics Advisory Panel determined "no actual conflict of interest arising from the governor's personal relationship with Ms. Katz infected the bargaining process." But the two-member committee did say the governor and Katz engaged in "inadvisable . . . personal conversations" early in the negotiations, and warned such interaction could create an "appearance of a conflict of interest."

After the Republicans sued the governor, Katz intervened in the lawsuit disagreeing with the governor's arguments that the e-mails were private communications and protected by executive privilege. She argued that the e-mails were confidential for a different reason: that they were part of the union negotiations. That position led to a nasty public split between Katz and the national leadership of CWA, which told the court that Katz had no right to conduct "back-channel" conversations with the governor while union negotiators were at the bargaining table.

The judge rebuffed Katz's arguments entirely and agreed to keep a fraction of the e-mails private because of executive privilege. But he ordered the rest must be released.

Katz's attorney, Sidney Lehmann, said she also would appeal the ruling. He issued a statement saying: "This entire lawsuit has always been motivated by the Republican Party's and Tom Wilson's desire to misuse the court system to embarrass the governor for political gain. We continue to believe that these emails, sent with the expectation of privacy, should rightfully remain private."


Voters reject school budget boost

School unions now face dues hit

Wakefield (MA) schools are facing potentially steep cuts after voters soundly rejected the school budget previously authorized by Town Meeting. By a vote of 2,307 to 1,605, residents in a referendum Tuesday rescinded the April Town Meeting vote to provide the schools with $27,437,670, or an 8.2 percent increase over the current year.

Residents opposed to the size of the school budget had successfully petitioned for the ballot vote. The outcome means that barring any further action by a Special Town Meeting, the school budget starting July 1 will be set each month at one-twelfth the amount of the $25,980,430 fiscal 2008 school budget.

"I'm ecstatic, because the average homeowner and the senior citizen got what they deserved," said Selectwoman Phyllis Hull, who led the petition drive. "They deserved not to have" to pay for the amount of increased school spending sought by the district.

"The people I talked to said, 'Listen, I have to live within my means, I have to cut my own budget, and they have to learn how to do it, too,' " she said.

School Committee member Christopher Callanan said he was disappointed, though not surprised, at the outcome, attributing it to the financial pressures that voters are facing. Just under 24 percent of the town's 16,393 eligible voters cast ballots.

"I think in today's economic times, people are feeling totally squeezed with the high prices of gasoline, home heating oil, and food. They are just concerned about what money they are going to have to spend," he said.

The referendum outcome has a direct bearing on the effort by town officials to address a projected fiscal 2009 budget deficit. The deficit had been pegged at $2.3 million, but the referendum vote has pared that figure to about $850,000 due to the reduction in the school budget, according to Thomas Butler, interviewed prior to his retirement Friday as town administrator.

Representatives of the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee, and the School Committee this past Thursday were set to continue discussions of possible solutions to the deficit. Officials have said options include budget cuts, a Proposition 2 1/2 override proposal, or some combination of those two. Butler said he expected a Special Town Meeting would be held before the end of the month to take up whatever plan is proposed.

The school budget proposed by the district and approved at the Annual Town Meeting in April was $2 million more than requested by the Finance Committee. The panel had asked the schools to reduce spending by 2.15 percent, or $558,000 in fiscal 2009 in light of the town's overall tight budget. Nonschool departments were collectively cut 2.2 percent.

But school officials warned before Town Meeting that they would have to make severe cuts to reach the Finance Committee's figure. The district identified a list of $1.79 million in reductions it said it could make without collective bargaining. Included was eliminating 41.9 full-time staff positions, among them 8.4 teaching positions, the director of technology, two assistant principals, two adjustment counselors, and three elementary school librarians.

Town Meeting agreed to the School Committee's budget figure, and also restored spending cuts that had been made in four other departments. Those actions and some smaller spending approvals left the budget in deficit when Town Meeting ended.

Callanan said it is premature to say whether the School Committee, which next meets on June 10, might opt to make a renewed push for its original budget figure.

Hull, who campaigned in support of a "No" vote at the referendum with fellow members of the group, Wakefieldians Opposed to Excessive Spending, said she hopes that the School Department and the other departments that received additional funding at Town Meeting will now reduce their budgets back to the levels requested by the Finance Committee.

"Everyone has to live within their budget," said Hull, who vowed to fight any override proposal.

School officials are already preparing for the possibility that the Town Meeting will set the district's budget at the $25.4 million level requested by the Finance Committee, which they call a worst-case scenario - the Finance Committee figure is $558,000 below what the district's budget would be if held to this year's spending level.

According to Peter DeRoeve, assistant school superintendent for personnel and finance, in the week preceding the referendum, the district mailed letters to employees in jeopardy of being laid off or bumped to other positions advising them of that risk.

DeRoeve, who did not have a figure for the number of employees notified, said the selection was based on the level of cuts that will be needed if the school budget is set at the Finance Committee level.

DeRoeve said the district had "a duty to the professional people in the system" to advise those of them whose jobs might be affected if the cuts go forward.


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