Where does Andy Stern want to take America?

SEIU's heavy-handedness, sweetheart secret deals, physical assaults

TURNS OUT that the man hailed as the savior of the U.S. labor movement for the 21st century is an old-school labor bureaucrat after all. As the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) convention began May 31 in Puerto Rico, union President Andrew Stern faces opposition for his methods, including making secret deals with employers that curtail union rights, forcing mergers of union locals to create huge and unaccountable bureaucratic entities, and intimidating critics inside and outside the union--even resorting using physical force to do so.

All this may come as a shock to liberals who greeted Stern's and SEIU's success in organizing new members--the union now claims 1.9 million members--as a sign of labor's renewal after decades of decline. Stern's leadership of the Change to Win coalition, a 2005 breakaway from the AFL-CIO, was often seen as the kind of bold move necessary to turn the movement around.

Three years later, there's mounting evidence of sweetheart deals with employers and heavy handed treatment of critics, including threats to take over opposition union locals and a physical assault by SEIU members on the recent Labor Notes conference that was to have featured a speaker from the California Nurses Association, which competes with SEIU in organizing RNs.

THIS ISN'T the story of a high-minded liberal leader succumbing to the temptations of power. Rather, it is the logical outcome of Stern's pursuit of partnership with employers and his efforts to build a hyper-centralized union machine to maximize the union's organizational and political clout.

It was only a matter of time before the contradictions of Stern's approach burst out into the open--even beyond the control of SEIU's smooth PR professionals, who have proven adept at arranging puff pieces on Stern in the mainstream media outlets like the New York Times Magazine and Forbes.

In reality, Stern's vision of a "new" trade unionism has its roots in the so-called welfare capitalism of the 1920s, when unions adapted to employers' anti-union drive by trying to prove their worth as collaborators in the pursuit of profit.

In that era, more sophisticated employers decided to follow up the aggressive anti-union "open shop" drive of the early 1920s with "employee representation programs" that they hoped would pre-empt genuine unions by giving workers the illusion of a voice at work.

R.W. Dunne, a militant in the Communist-initiated Trade Union Educational League, explained why bosses initiated such plans. "With all this elaborate machinery, what can the [employee] association do? It can go through the motions of collective bargaining, the company knowing, of course, that the association has neither economic nor political power, and no desire to do anything but conform to the mother company's wishes," Dunne wrote in the 1927 book The Americanization of Labor.

In the face of this pressure, the old American Federation of Labor "shifted from militancy to respectability," wrote historian Irving Bernstein in his landmark book The Lean Years. "With business supreme, the AFL sought to sell itself as a necessary auxiliary of business."

That description fits the SEIU of 2008 as well. As the Wall Street Journal reported May 10, SEIU made a secret agreement--along with UNITE HERE--to organize workers at employers Sodexho and the Compass Group, two multinational corporations that are leading providers of laundry, housekeeping and food services.

"The agreements, which expire at the end of 2008, stipulate the number of employees that the unions can try to organize: 11,000 Sodexho workers and 20,000 Compass workers," the Journal reported. In exchange, the union gave up the right to strike. According to a confidential summary of the agreement obtained by the Journal, "local unions are not free to engage in organizing activities at any Compass or Sodexho locations unless the sites have been designated."

The secret deal between the unions and employers confirmed what SEIU dissidents have been arguing for years: that Stern's efforts to "organize" members through agreements with employers are unavoidably detrimental to the interests of the rank and file. Essentially, the SEIU spares management the time and expense of combating a union drive in exchange for assurances that the union will contain worker militancy.

IT WAS these methods that sparked the battle inside SEIU that will be fought out this week at the convention.

The merged California-based affiliate, the 140,000-member United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW), challenged a deal between the SEIU and California nursing homes in which employers recognized the unions in exchange for severe restrictions on union rights. The terms included a gag order on union members speaking out about patients' conditions, minimal pay increases and contractual limitations on union activities that one UHW staffer described as "the world's longest management rights contract."

The nursing home deal sparked a rebellion and petition campaign in UHW that forced the cancellation of the partnership arrangement. In the aftermath, UHW President Sal Rosselli resigned last year from the SEIU executive board, claiming that the international union was negotiating with UHW employers over his head.

Meanwhile, a group of SEIU rank-and-file members launched SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today (SMART) to both challenge Stern's partnership strategy and use the SEIU convention to push for greater democracy in the union, including the right of members to directly elect the union's top officers. In this effort, SMART is collaborating with a Rosselli-aligned group, SEIU Voice.

Stern, for his part, is headed in the opposite direction. SEIU leaders are proposing convention resolutions in which grievances with employers would be handled by centralized union call centers rather than shop stewards or union representatives. The result would be to greatly weaken, if not eliminate, union strength on the shop floor, the basis of union power.

To Stern, though, that's a non-issue. "We have a 1930s teletype model of representation in the 21st century world," Stern said. "You can Google almost anything. But then you call your local union office, and you have to push 1 or 2, and then you can't find someone who speaks the language you speak."

This quote is revealing. In any workplace, a union's effectiveness isn't measured only by its ability to deliver decent wages and benefits, but by its ability to stand up for workers who face arbitrary and unfair pressure from management.

Contacting an anonymous SEIU rep in a call center far away is no substitute for a shop steward who can go toe-to-toe with an abusive supervisor, or who can turn a handful of individual grievances into a coordinated shop-floor campaign to force management to back down.

Of course, if the union's central concern is collaboration and partnership--as is the case with Stern--the call center is an excellent way to smooth out the rough-and-tumble of collective bargaining.

The essence of Stern's argument is this: If union bodies are bigger and more centralized, they'll be able to pressure employers more effectively while freeing resources for new organizing. To that end, Stern is pushing convention resolutions that would give constitutional blessing to his modus operandi--for example, creating national strategy councils to further consolidate control of organizing and bargaining.

Tellingly, though, Stern also seeks new powers to discipline rebel leaders like Rosselli and divide or merge union locals if they oppose the international's policies.

In Stern's view, workers' power is something to be held in trust by officials far removed from the shop floor--by people who believe that they know what's best for the workers, rather than the workers themselves. Anyone with the temerity to get in the way will be dealt with--severely.

The dissidents in SEIU Voice and SMART are under no illusion they will win the reform proposals that they're seeking. But in standing up to Stern, they've already shattered the image of the SEIU monolith and exposed Stern for the authoritarian bureaucrat he is.

In so doing, they've initiated a genuine debate on the way forward for labor--not only in the SEIU, but for the entire labor movement.


Labor-state Dem Gov. told to cross AFSCME

Civic leaders show naïveté about union politics

Business and taxpayer groups, anxious that Illinois has made little headway in reducing more than $90 billion in unfunded debt, are pressing Gov. Blagojevich to extract concessions from union workers on pension benefits and health care. The organizations sent a letter to the governor saying negotiations with state government's major unions provide the opportunity to scale back pension increases and order new employer contributions for health insurance.

They also said Blagojevich needs to move quickly to reduce the state's pension gap, estimated at $44 billion beyond what it can pay. Experts say the actual pension deficit probably is higher than that because of declines in the stock market.

Any estimate of pension liabilities contains assumptions about investment performance. The $44 billion figure is based on data published June 30, 2007. Since then, the leading index of the broad stock market, the Standard & Poor's 500, is down about 7 percent.

"Illinois needs to reform and reduce the costs of its pension and retiree health care programs, and it needs to fund these costs on a current basis -- rather than passing them on to the future generations of taxpayers," said the letter, which also was sent to leaders of the Illinois House and Senate.

Signing the letter were the top executives of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Business Roundtable, the Civic Federation and the Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois.

They recommended "fair and practical" changes to pensions and health care that bring benefits "more closely in line with benefits available to the ordinary taxpayers who pay the state's bills."

Its points are an outgrowth of a 2006 report the Civic Committee issued that placed the state's debt at $106 billion and warned that "Illinois is headed toward financial implosion."

The report was a detailed attack on an ingrained Springfield practice of incurring costs now and putting off payment to some other time. It contained recommendations to deal with the crisis, including one that was bold for a report from a business-oriented group: a call for an increase in state income taxes.

Estimates of state debt levels have declined since the report was issued, to a current $92 billion. R. Eden Martin, president of the Civic Committee, said that's not because of any real progress.

Instead, he said the state produced a lower reckoning of retiree health care bills. It places the cost at $24 billion, whereas the Civic Committee, without access to confidential data on state employees, checked historical numbers from other states to estimate $48 billion. Illinois' actuaries also used lower estimates of growth in health care costs.

"Their guess is certainly within the range of what's reasonable," Martin said. "But in the end, I think our figure will be closer to reality."

Regardless, the state's debt is alarming, he said. "It's up from $20 billion just 10 years ago," Martin said.
State payroll down 19%

The state is negotiating new contracts with unions representing more than 40,000 workers. Easily the largest is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with almost 38,000 on the payroll.

Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME's Council 31, said Blagojevich's team is pushing hard for concessions on pensions and health care. But he said it's unfair to make workers pay the costs when the state has skipped required contributions to the pension funds.

"That's kind of like blaming the victim," Bayer said. He said the administration's contract proposals would cut the net pay of its employees.

A Blagojevich spokeswoman wouldn't discuss the administration's contract offers. "When it comes to contract negotiations, we're going to do what's in the best interest of the state, and that means not negotiating these issues through the media," spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said.

The governor has cited several examples of progress on long-term debt and budget controls. In the last six years, the size of the state payroll has fallen 19 percent, to 55,800, as Blagojevich has declined to fill most jobs vacated by early retirements.

John Filan, the governor's top adviser for budgets, said that in the last two years, overall indebtedness except for pensions has fallen by $1 billion to $11.7 billion, the first such decline ever.

But that exception -- pensions -- is big. In 2003, the Legislature approved Blagojevich's proposal to borrow $10 billion against pension receipts and invest the money for theoretically a higher return.

The governor wanted a similar $16 billion pension bond in this year's budget. The Senate passed it, but the House balked.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, said the bonds are a reckless way to address pension costs. If investment returns fall below borrowing costs, the state can face a larger hole, he said.

He recalled that when the Legislature voted bailout money for the CTA, it first demanded pension reforms. "Now, lawmakers should take their advice and enact reforms for the state," Msall said.
'Dumbest idea'

Other states struggling to balance budgets also are resorting to pension bonds. Lawmakers touted the idea in New Jersey, leading Gov. Jon Corzine, a former chairman of the investment bank Goldman, Sachs & Co., to tell Bloomberg News, "It's the dumbest idea I ever heard."

Blagojevich spokeswoman Quinn argued that without the pension borrowings, the state's situation would be much worse. The $16 billion bond issue would increase the pension funding level to 75 percent from 61 percent, she said.

Challenging business groups to support the bond issue, Quinn said, "That reform would save $56 billion by doing a refinancing similar to ones that businesses pursue as a regular part of their operations."

Ideas for cutting the state's debt

Business groups and taxpayer advocates in Illinois back these proposals for the state's new contracts with unionized workers. The Blagojevich administration is negotiating four-year deals to start July 1.

For new employees, raise the retirement age to 67 from 65. Allow early retirements at 62, same as Social Security.

For new employees, limit cost-of-living pension adjustments to the lesser of the Consumer Price Index or 2 percent, replacing the 3 percent guarantee.

Increase what employees must contribute to their own pensions.

Create a Retiree Health Care Trust Fund with mandatory annual money from the state.

Require retirees to pay part of their health insurance premiums.

Other ideas

Proposals from the Civic Committee's 2006 report included a list of do's and don'ts for improving the state's finances:


Raise the individual income tax to 4 percent from 3 percent, adding a family tax credit to assist low-income wage earners; apply the tax to retirement income over $75,000 a year (currently Illinois doesn't tax any pension income). Estimated annual gain: $2.5 billion.

Raise the corporate income tax rate to 6.4 percent from 4.8 percent. With the effect of other corporate taxes, it brings the total tax load on companies to 8.9 percent. Estimated annual gain: $500 million.

Expand application of the state sales tax, which currently applies only to purchases of goods, with food a notable exception. Include purchases of services and entertainment. Estimated annual gain: $2 billion.

Redirect funding toward poor school districts, and, to encourage competition in education, lift the legislative cap on charter school licenses. Chicago has assigned all 30 of its allotted charters.

Save money by outsourcing selected state services.


Enact any of the above without trimming pension and health care benefits going forward. Estimated annual savings: $1 billion.

Add to school funding without ensuring that school performance is clearly and publicly reported.

Sign off on a "tax swap," cutting local property taxes in exchange for higher state taxes. Property taxes are a more stable source of school funding, less susceptible to changes in the economy.

Raise taxes to fund new programs. New money should go only to the unfunded obligations.


Pro-union Dem Gov.: I would lie under oath

Related story: "Gov. Rendell exposed as Teamster thug"

Federal inquiry exposes Dem bigwig's arrogance

Gov. Ed Rendell (D) said in a federal deposition on Jan. 2, 2002 that if asked under oath about a hypothetical instance of adultery on his part, he might not answer honestly, The Bulletin has learned.

Mr. Rendell was then a gubernatorial candidate responding to lawyers for Don and Teri Adams about events that transpired on Oct. 2, 1998, when the brother and sister protested a Philadelphia visit by Bill Clinton in anticipation of the president's impeachment. Members of the Teamsters union assaulted the two that evening.

Mr. and Miss Adams received civil recompense for the actions of the Teamsters in March. Mr. Rendell was initially named as a defendant in the Adams' lawsuit; they alleged that, as mayor at the time, he encouraged Teamsters Local 115 to have two of its female members press assault charges against Mr. Adams. On July 8, 1999, Mr. Adams was found not guilty.

Five teamsters, meanwhile, pled guilty to charges of assault and received probation for their aggression against the Adamses.

Larry Klayman, an attorney from the D.C.-based nonprofit Judicial Watch, began asking the future governor about the nature of the perjury allegation against President Clinton in 1998 in order to contend that any visit by a president likely to face impeachment charges would raise security risks. The deposition took place at Esquire Deposition Services in Philadelphia.

Mr. Rendell registered his view that the "impeachment was a joke. I thought it was probably the biggest taint of the American constitutional history that we've had."

"Well, quite - quite apart from the impeachment was the fact that the President lied under oath," Mr. Klayman replied. "Did you consider that to be a joke?"

"Gosh, probably as a prosecutor," Mr. Rendell answered, "I'm used to people lying under oath. And, you know, if - if I cheated on my wife and was asked about it under oath, I might lie about it too."

"What others kinds of things warrant lying under oath besides cheating on your wife?" Mr. Klayman then asked.

Mr. Rendell's attorney Peter Winebrake objected. "It's irrelevant," he said. "Don't answer it."

Such was not the only moment of note during Mr. Rendell's testimony. At a continuation of it on Jun. 15, 2002, Miss Adams recalls the former mayor was perceptibly angry because he was, by her understanding, forced to return early from a fundraising trip in California.

"He came into the room displaying a temper," she said, "banging on the conference table and complaining to Mr. Klayman that this lawsuit was a waste of his time, saying, 'Let's go or I'm walking out.'"

She describes Mr. Rendell's demeanor oscillating "from one of anger to one of laughter, as he and his legal cohorts began mocking Mr. Klayman and our suit in general."

"If this had happened to you and your wife, you wouldn't think it so funny," she recalled Mr. Adams saying to the ex-mayor at that point.

She said Mr. Rendell responded by raising his arm, clenching his fist and proceeding to lunge at him, at which point Mr. Winebrake stepped between them to prevent physical contact.

Mr. Rendell's office did not choose to comment.


Teacher unions kill no-strike bill

Bill is 'stuck' in committee

Legislation to ban teacher strikes in Pennsylvania is stuck in committee, but supporters still hope to see it become law. House Bill 1369 would prohibit strikes and impose significant penalties on teachers who incite or participate in a strike. The measure would also set specific steps to facilitate negotiations and provide ways to keep the public abreast of contract talks.

Brandywine Heights School Board member Ken Heffner said he likes the bill for two reasons.

"One, no disruptions (in school), and two, the transparency on contract negotiations," he said. "It allows the public to participate and know what’s going on."

Heffner, who was elected last year and has championed controlling costs, asked the Brandywine Heights board to endorse a letter of support for the bill at the May 5 meeting. The measure was approved 5-4.

State Rep. Todd Rock, the primary sponsor of the bill, said he has received a lot of support from school board members in Pennsylvania districts worried about a strike.

The Franklin County Republican, a former teacher, said he has no agenda against teachers. He said he sponsored the bill because strikes put children in the middle of contract disputes and they hurt the image of teachers.


About StopTeacherStrikes.org

Dad declares war on teachers union

In 1950s England, Simon Campbell's electrician grandfather publicly ripped up his union card. In the same decade, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dissolved the power of trade unions in the United Kingdom. Campbell, who grew up in northwest England and is now a resident of Lower Makefield, said his grandfather was making a public statement against strikes.

“He wanted to go to work and provide for his family. When the strike happened, he was one of the few to cross the picket line,'' Campbell said.

Now Campbell, 40, is taking a page from his grandfather's book and going one step further: Over the past three years, he's raised a grassroots movement to pass legislation making teacher strikes illegal in Pennsylvania. As a father of three elementary school children in Pennsbury, he said he was appalled by the 21-day teacher strike in 2005 and blamed “the power of the union” for disrupting the school year.

Three years after Campbell started protesting union rules and teacher strikes in Pennsbury, he has become a controversial figure in the local community.

In early April, Campbell linked to a list of teacher salaries on StopTeacherStrikes.org, the volunteer organization he started after the 2005 strike. Pennsbury teachers union leaders downplayed the publicity he generated, saying that the information already was publicly available.

While Campbell was not the first to make salaries public or claim that teachers are paid too much, he did stir up the issue.

“We are doing this to galvanize the public,” he said.

He hopes the public will eventually pressure the state Legislature into passing the Strike-Free Education Act, House Bill 1369. It would make Pennsylvania the 38th state to make teacher strikes illegal. Campbell contributed ideas for the bill, which chief sponsor and author state Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin, unveiled in early June 2007.

Rep. Dave Steil, R-31, who supports the bill, said Campbell is the only one “on the forefront” of the push for anti-strike legislation.

“He's had the temerity to follow through. It's a real uphill battle in this state,” said Steil. “Ultimately legislation passes when there is a massive groundswell of public support.”

In February, Tim Allwein, assistant executive director of the state school boards association, said he thought it would take at least five more years for public pressure to mount high enough to change state law.

The bill is under consideration in the House labor relations committee and has 28 co-sponsors. Still, Campbell doesn't anticipate a vote anytime soon — he believes that Robert Belfanti, the committee chairman, would be antagonistic to the bill because his campaigns have been funded in part by union money.

Campbell is guardedly optimistic about Senate interest in the future, and as for interest from Gov. Ed Rendell, Campbell thinks it could go either way.

“You never know with Rendell. He's made some noises on the issue. Of course he's taken a truckload of money from teachers unions. But you never know.”


Campbell travels two to three times a month to connect with others about StopTeacherStrikes.

“I get invited to speak to other groups, and I network with other taxpayer groups. Activity happens through networking and talking to others,” he said.

Juggling his work, his volunteer activities with StopTeacherStrikes.com and being a parent of three young children, doesn't leave him much time for hobbies, said Campbell.

“Mostly when I get down time, I like to read, travel and spend time with family and friends. I used to play a lot of squash but hurt my back so I can't anymore.”

In the mornings, he's an independent futures trader who works out of his simply appointed home office, with its sunny yellow walls, beige curtains and cream and wood furniture. The rest of the day he usually devotes to his cause and taking care of his three daughters, who attend Quarry Hill Elementary. He met his American wife at the University of Hull when she attended a year of college in England. She is an executive search consultant.

When the strike happened, Campbell said his family was “horrified.” Prior to settling in the U.S., the family had lived in Switzerland, where his eldest had attended two years of public school in a system that didn't allow teachers to strike.

“The contrast was quite stark,” he said. “It is unconscionable and immoral to me that innocent children can be pushed out of school.”

But what pressed Campbell to action was what happened on the final day of the strike.

“As sure as I stand here, the war is not over, but the battle is done,” Nyla Houser, then union president, told about 600 striking teachers that day. At the time, some teachers believed that she was trying to keep up their spirits and stand in solidarity with them.

For Campbell, her words comparing the situation to a “battle” incensed him and were the trigger for rousing public opposition to teacher strikes and union rules, he said. It pushed him over the line from angry parent to activist.

“Had she not said those words, I might not have been inspired to StopTeacherStrikes,” said Campbell.

Whenever Campbell talks about his mission, his speech gets more heightened as he gets wound up. The volume increases, the eyes frown and the nostrils flare in a tidal wave of fervor for his cause. If there is one thing Simon Campbell is not, it is hesitant. And he's not afraid to voice his opinions, even if it means being politically incorrect.

As an invited speaker at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in April, Campbell described unions as “Teletubbies” and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association as “Pretty Silly Blindingly Awful.” Later, Campbell explained the analogy.

“Teletubbies are kids' characters, strange creatures that jump up and down making incoherent noises. But I'm being flippant. My sense of humor is an acquired taste.”

He went on to say at StopTeacherStrikes, “we don't care about political correctness; we just cause a lot of trouble for the teachers union.”

Campbell tends to stir up emotions among those who agree and disagree with him. Many community members say they enjoy what he stands for but privately dislike his aggressive style.

House Bill 1369 co-sponsor Steil can appreciate Campbell's confrontational methods.

“He once said to me confrontation works. We disagreed somewhat and we probably still do,” said Steil. But he added that Campbell's brand of strong action keeps public attention focused on the issues.

In his children's own school district, Campbell's work to keep the public's attention includes speaking up during the public comment portion of Pennsbury school board meetings.

School board President Gregory Lucidi said that Campbell's approach can be forceful, but effective.

“He is doing a good job raising public awareness about teacher strikes and is getting a very positive response from members of the public. He has a very aggressive style, maybe too aggressive for some people's taste, but he is effective,” said Lucidi, who has worked with Campbell to promote House Bill 1369. He believes Campbell's input on the bill has garnered statewide attention.


Some local critics say that Campbell goes beyond strongly preaching his views.

Ronald Smith, a Lower Makefield supervisor and criminal defense lawyer, said he dislikes his behavior.

“I'm of the opinion that he's nothing but a cancer. Although some of his positions may be laudable, he attempts to present his position by confrontation, intimidation and disparaging remarks to all those who may disagree with him,” Smith said. “They're afraid to say this but I'm not afraid. If you don't agree with Campbell, you are his archenemy. His position is — if you don't agree with me, I'll destroy you.”

Smith has accused Campbell of creating a rift between teachers and the school board. As a result, Smith says he's worried that Pennsbury teacher contract renegotiations next year will be more difficult.

Campbell is quick to point out that he's not against teachers.

“We're anti-strike, not anti-teacher. All my kids' teachers are great.” He blames the unions for a number of ills in the district and state.

What vexes Campbell about unions, he said, is that non-union members have to pay a union fee in Pennsbury.

“There's a difference between what a union member pays and what a non-union member pays, but why should they be forced to pay anything? It's coercion. They're like captive passengers.”

George Miller, president of Pennsbury's teachers union, countered that the fees contribute to the cost of collective bargaining and contract management.

“No one is forced to join the union under any circumstances,” he said. However, he did not return phone calls and e-mails asking for further explanation.

Campbell also blames unions for contributing dues money toward political action.

“They shouldn't be collecting money for private organizations to give for political actions. This money can pay for lobbying, political action committees, and be used to directly influence elections.”

Union leaders said that the money is used for more innocuous reasons. It goes toward petitioning for political actions that would benefit students, like paying representatives to petition for reforms on its behalf. Because teachers can't go to Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., said a union leader, political leaders have to take action for them on concerns like No Child Left Behind.

As far as strikes go, Wythe Keever, spokesman for the state education association, said they evolved out of a feeling of helplessness in the late '60s. At that time, Keever said, teacher salaries were low and public employees didn't have collective bargaining rights.

He said growing advocacy at the state level led to the use of strikes as a bargaining chip.

“Striking is the only leverage that teachers have when bargaining fails to produce what they consider to be fair settlement. The general feeling is that strikes should be a last resort, but a legal last resort.”


Campbell recently put a survey for state representatives on his StopTeacherStrikes Web site.

It asks whether they support strike-free legislation and union practices like taking a fee from all teachers, whether they are part of the union or not.

Campbell said he wants the public to know where legislators stand. He said StopTeacherStrikes is “all about educating the public, trying to get people to look at the big picture.”

He looks to his grandfather's example when confronted with opposition.

“It wasn't that he was teaching me to be anti-union but that I should stand up for what I believe in.”

Campbell said his role model is the former prime minister of the United Kingdom,

“In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher liberated the UK from the stranglehold of corrupting union power and socialism. She was a conviction politician. People either loved her or they hated her. I loved her.”


Socialists advance anti-privatization agenda

WHEN DID you become aware of the problem of privatization?

IN OAKLAND in 2003, the state took over public schools, because we were theoretically in debt. It was actually a big scam. The state took over, and they put in a loud and domineering state administrator named Randolph Ward, who immediately ran up debt and doubled it. And then they started changing the model of education.

The school that I teach in right now is one of the only three schools not in program improvement. We send kids to college at a rate of 90 percent, and they're trying to close us down. They claim that our building doesn't match the earthquake requirements. But they tell everyone, "The building is safe, don't worry."

And funny thing--now we have charter schools, which in California can claim any empty property, coming around saying, "This might be a really nice place for us to be next year," even as they're trying to kick us out. They're taking a decent school for poor people and moving its location up into the hills.

The school that I teach in only offers Spanish, we have no counselor, we have no nurse, no psychologist. The school that I used to teach in offered Latin, German and French to the same so-called "ghetto" kids. We had counselors, we had nurses, we had a clinic. All of that has been eliminated. So everything the corporate privatizers do reduces the quality of education.

And now we're in a contract situation. Our union contract is up on July 1 in Oakland, and they want to have all-day kindergarten so the kids can take standardized tests. The kids don't get naps, they freak out, they get hysterical. Teachers can't trust the kindergartners to bubble in the tests, so they have to do it on their own time. So instead of the teachers providing an engaging lesson, they're constantly doing this kind of paperwork, over and over.

YOU'VE PROBABLY followed the situation with Green Dot Charter Schools here in Los Angeles--what they try to do is appropriate the language of the civil rights movement. They point to the disaster in public education and say, "That's why parents should get behind this charter." How do you convince parents that a charter school isn't the way to go?

What else to read

Many of the issues discussed at the Trinational Conference and in these interviews are taken up in a paper written by Steve Miller and Jack Gerson, "The Corporate Surge Against Public Schools."

For a more general look at the imposition of neoliberal economic policies, read Naomi Klein's most recent book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Jonathan Kozol has written numerous books exposing unequal conditions in U.S. schools, including Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools and The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.

Kozol's interview in the International Socialist Review, "Change can't come without protest," takes up the issues in his books, plus the question of education activism.

THAT'S A tricky question, because there's a wide variety of things going on in charter schools. Some are led by visionary teachers and parents who got together. So in Oakland, we find that condemning all charter schools is not the way to go.

We do want to point out that they are being used against public schools in a myriad of ways to destroy the system. That's not necessarily the fault of those who are involved with charter schools. We feel that we have to make that distinction.

But most charter schools are run by corporations. They're run for a profit, and not just because they're a plucky startup. When have corporations ever provided quality anything? Gas is now $4 a gallon in this state. Food is hitting the roof and shows signs of going higher. Is Disney quality? And just because Green Dot says they're going to do something today doesn't mean that we have any control over them doing it in the future.

WHAT ABOUT an entity like Green Dot that is officially a non-profit? Do you think there's a significant difference there?

NON-PROFITS are allowed a certain percent of profit, like 3 or 4 percent. Then they can fiddle with how much they're reinvesting, so that's not "profit"--but it's excess money that they generated.

Their bigger goal is to use these things to undercut and destroy a system of public control over the schools. Once the public no longer has control over the schools--which we actually still have, to some degree--the corporations are going to run wild.

Look at public control over electricity in this state, where we were raped by Enron for $40 billion. The public control was given up, and that's what happened. In the banking industry, we're in crisis because the system was deregulated.

So they want to deregulate schools. But it's a big problem, because in every community, people are under the impression that they control their schools. So it has to be a long-term project for them, and they're not stupid--they're going step by step, and they have experience in a lot of different areas of gradually changing the debate. Bit by bit, they take a little more, and a little more.

HOW WOULD you respond to some of the young participants at this conference who say, "I'm just fed up with public education," and they decide to find five teachers and some parents, and start their own school?

FIRST OF all, I share their frustration, and where they're coming from. They're trying to find a way to establish quality education. And the question is--can we do it individually?

It's really the same question that comes up with food prices going through the roof--can everybody get their own little plot of land and raise their own food? It's just not going to work like that. So we have to have a system where we begin to work in a cooperative way, and we have to take back and expand what the public runs.

WE'RE TALKING about large forces that have a vision and a plan. You quote the book The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein, in your article, which makes this case. What do you think it would take to successfully take on some of these forces?

IT REALLY begins with a different vision of what kind of society we want. A privatized society is a dog-eat-dog world, where every individual is against every other individual. We have to have a vision of a collective and cooperative society, where all of us make it together, and there's no such thing as people who can't get health care, who go hungry, who are denied education or a place to sleep. These are fundamental human rights.

If we can destroy Iraq to the tune of $3 billion a week, we can do anything. They've demolished their own argument. We need a different vision, and I think that that comes before--and infuses all of--the different battles and issues of reform that are different in every community.

YOU TALK in your article about the New York teachers' union supporting merit pay, and how in Oakland in 2003, there was very little fightback. Why do you think this is?

MOST OF the unions, including the teacher unions, developed in an era when they could cooperate with the powers that be, and win some tiny victories for their members. So they bought into a model of cooperation and collaboration, and are completely tied to the politicking of the Democratic Party.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) has hundreds of millions of dollars all tied into promises and deals with the Democratic Party, and they don't want to rock the boat. This is true with pretty much every union.

IS THIS what motivated you to start writing about these issues?

YES, BECAUSE we were being sold out by the Oakland Education Association and the CTA. I haven't had a pay raise since 2001--in fact, we've had a pay cut, not to mention inflation.

I figured that at the very least, I was going to tell the story. I wasn't going to lie, and I wasn't going to remain quiet. When I stated teaching 23 years ago, I said to the kids, "I'm not going to lie to you."

CAN YOU talk about the slogan "Quality Education is a Civil Right"?

WELL, FIRST of all, nobody can win any battle by being against something. They have to be for something. Even in the civil rights movement, people were for civil rights rather than against segregation. Of course, they were against segregation, but people just don't rally to a negative image.

So we were raising the slogan of "Quality Education is a Civil Right" because we want to fighting for a better quality of education. We got the slogan from Bob Moses.

Public education is being reduced back to what it was the 1890s, where the talented tenth gets by, and everybody else be damned. It's because the wealth of this country is polarizing faster than ever in history, and they don't intend to have systems to support poor people.

That's a waste of money in a country where the government has been virtually privatized by corporations. So they're going to reduce the quality of education down to the bottom.


Labor unions seize Dem power

Clintons yield to radical leftists

The vote of the Democratic rules committee not to seat the entire Michigan and Florida delegations — as Hillary had wanted — signals the end of the domination of the Democratic Party by Bill and Hillary Clinton. It began when Bill won the California primary in 1992 and ended this past weekend, on May 31, 2008. During this period, nothing moved unless the Clintons OKed it. Now the Party has declared its independence, shaking off their family fiefdom.

There is a lot more involved than just the fact that Hillary lost the primaries to Obama and trails him among elected and super delegates. Obama will now have an easy glide path to the nomination which he should wrap up by June 4th.

But the power in the party has moved from the Clinton family to a combination of institutional Democrats, labor unions, and strong left wing groups. The massive grass roots structure, built up by Move On.org and amplified by Obama’s online campaign has become the dominant force in the party. But they do not rule alone. The Clinton defeats have liberated the unions and state democratic parties, once under the Clintons’ thumb, to become independent power centers working in coalitions with each other and with the radical left. The Democratic Party is now up for grabs. If Obama is elected, he will impose his own vision on it. But if McCain wins, this weekends vote sets up a power struggle that should be interesting.


Hottest stories last week

Get the RSS feed. (What is RSS?)

Hot on the feed - last 7 days.

Hottest on the blog right now.

Rep. John Hall, New York DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Rep. John Hall (D, NY-19), a Progresssive Democrats of America-endorsed candidate who defeated an incumbent Republican in the 2006 midterm election, has joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). PDA works closely with the CPC, the largest caucus in Congress with 71 members, including six members of our Advisory Board.

We congratulate the Congressman for joining the caucus and co-sponsoring HR746, “The Safe and Orderly Withdrawal from Iraq Act” and other end-the-war legislation. We look forward to working with him during his term on our priority issues – ending the occupation of Iraq, providing healthcare for all, expanding economic justice through the Employee Free Choice Act and rejection of unfair trade treaties, protecting the integrity of our elections, and developing renewable energy and stopping global warming.

Before his election to Congress, John Hall was known as a respected environmental and consumer rights activist and dedicated local elected official – as well as being a singer/songwriter and leading member of the rock band Orleans.


Being in the right place at the right time

SEIU catches up with Hillary in Puerto Rico

Because of various circumstances I ended up about 15-20 feet from Hillary Clinton as she gave her victory speech after winning the Puerto Rico primary. I am here for the SEIU convention, and learned that her event was across a bridge from the hotel I was at for a meeting with SEIU officials. (More on that in another post.) So I took a walk (man, it is humid here) and was able to enter as a member of the press.

As a member of the press I was able to enter the ballroom before the event. This was not a victory party where supporters are celebrating and then the candidate shows up to speak. This was more like a TV set where the candidate gives a speech to cameras. There were bleachers behind the podium, and room for a few people in front of the candidate. But this was entirely about setting up the speech for national TV. I am not saying this is good or bad, it just was what it was.

That said, it was secondarily an even for campaign workers to see the candidate and be part of the speech. First they filled the bleachers behind the podium. I can testify that this was not a carefully selected crowd, with demographics set up to look good -- because someone asked ME if I wanted to be up there! So this was not about photogenic, or looking like a special demographic. It might have been about making babies cry and serious viewers vow never to watch TV again.

I'm out of time now, will write more later. Hillary doesn't appear to be leaving the race by ANY means. Lots of energy and enthusiasm at this event. A very good speech making good points.


Labor-state union chief opposes worker-choice

Backs forced-labor unionism in Michigan

Rocky Marsh said there are many misconceptions about unions, but perhaps the most common is what people think of union presidents.

Have you ever led a strike?

"I haven't been on strike with Kellogg Co."

With other companies, have you?

"When we negotiated out first contract with Kellogg Community Federal Credit Union, we had a strike there on our first contract about eight years ago. ... That's the most difficult decision anybody has to make."

Do you think an employee should be required to join a union, like in Michigan?

"We believe that our members are better off and have better collective bargaining agreements because they belong to a union. So we think it's been good for the members to have to belong to the union, so we've always opposed a right-to-work state."

Is it difficult to get members involved in their union?

"It's like any organization; you have to really work at educating your members so that they know what's important and that they can share their voice. You want people to share their voice. One of the things about unions is it's one of the most democratic institutions that there is left here in America. ... The membership is the highest authority over me. They give me directions on what they want me to do."

What do you find most challenging about your job?

"Put it a different way for me. My job, I believe that I am kind of a servant. And if I always remember that I'm serving the members, that's when I'm doing my best job. ... My own challenge is to make myself available to the members."

What drew you to this kind of work?

"That is a question that surprises a lot of people with me, because originally I wanted to get involved in ministry. And I became very involved in our church, and I even at one time thought about going into the ministry permanently. ... So when I got involved in the union, I first started out as being a chaplain for the union, and I did a lot of visitations for people that had cancer and other various illnesses. ... When I found out that I could address things of a fairness nature, where I wanted to be fair, and that means fairness for both parties, both the company and union to find a balance ... so that you come to some kind of resolution ... that's how I wanted to get into this kind of work."

Have people ever gotten really angry at you?

"I've had personal attacks. Let's just leave it at that."

Obviously, people aren't going to agree with you all the time.

"I have that every day, people who disagree with me, but somebody's got to do it. ... But you have to be able to let it go because there are times when a person might disagree or call you a name or whatever, but if you are a big enough person to say, 'I need to represent that person to the best of my ability, for them.' ... You have to just be able to set it aside."

Have you ever been offered a kickback to sway the vote?

"In all the years that I've been doing this ... there's never been anything offered to me by anybody. ... I remember in 1994 we had a supplemental contract and that year I had purchased my own new truck and people accused me that somebody had bought a truck for me ... and it had nothing to do with it."

Last question: Where's Jimmy Hoffa?

"Everybody would like to know where Jimmy Hoffa is. I don't know. I do know where the new Jimmy Hoffa is. ... It's his son that's running the Teamsters."


Denver Post: Colorado's pro-union news organ

Journalism in service of forced-labor unionism

"In everything, we do to others what we would have them do to us." — CoorsTek statement of values Someone should put an initiative on the November ballot that will be bad for CoorsTek. CoorsTek has put up a measure that will be bad for Colorado. The Golden-based high-tech ceramics maker has brought us Amendment 47, a measure that would dash Colorado's Labor Peace Act.

It's not like the Teamsters or the AFL-CIO has run amuck since the Labor Peace Act was enacted in 1943. Only 8 percent of the Colorado's workers are unionized, and by most measures, we remain a business- friendly state.

Nevertheless, CoorsTek has initiated a destructive political battle over how the few labor unions that we have here in Colorado should be allowed to organize.

CoorsTek's director of government relations Jonathan Coors, 28, put the "right-to-work" campaign together using $200,000 from the privately held company.

Denver business leaders, including Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president Joe Blake, reportedly tried to get the brewing family scion to drop the campaign. The Chamber is now taking no position on the measure, its membership likely divided.

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the National Association of Independent Businesses, meanwhile, stand right behind Jonathan Coors.

It's unclear why CoorsTek cares so much about Colorado's unions.

The company has been busy expanding and creating jobs . . . in Asia.

CoorsTek celebrated the grand opening of its new plant in Gumi City, South Korea, on May 15.

"This new, modern facility will significantly expand our capability and presence in the Asia-Pacific region to serve customers worldwide," Eun-Suk Cha, president of CoorsTek Korea, said in a statement released by the company. "Every element of the new facility was carefully considered to ensure superior customer support, excellent manufacturing efficiencies and rapid-build capabilities."

Also on hand for the ceremony were Gumi City Mayor Nam Yoo-Chin; Gyeonsgsangbuk-do Gov. KwanYong Kim; TaeHwan Kim, a member of the Korean National Assembly; and of course, John K. Coors, CEO of CoorsTek.

Roughly one-third of CoorsTek's 2,700 employees are in Asia and Europe — presumably to be close to customers, including Samsung, LG Phillips LCD, Hynix and Magnachip Semiconductor.

Globalization is increasingly what CoorsTek is about.

Another backer of Amendment 47 is also winning the globalization game: American Furniture Warehouse. But don't be fooled by the name. It's practically a regional distribution network for Chinese manufacturers.

Why the working man drinks Molson, Coors or Miller beer is going to be another one of those unfathomable socioeconomic mysteries next to why the shrinking middle class keeps shopping at Wal-Mart.

Jonathan Coors has said his battle has nothing to do with the brewery, though his last name remains a major brand in beer.

His uncle Pete Coors, vice chairman of Molson Coors, has indicated that he does not support the right-to-work amendment. But when he was running for U.S. Senate in 2004, he pledged to support right-to-work.

It's hard to imagine getting this confused from that watery Coors beer.

You won't see Molson Coors CEO Leo Kiely getting behind Amendment 47, though.

He's too busy trying to figure out where to locate the proposed new MillerCoors joint venture . . . other than Colorado.


Labor-state Republicans? Mark them absent.

Labor-state Dems may go unchallenged

Within the next two weeks, Rhode Island Republicans and Democrats will begin doling out their congressional endorsements with a major unanswered question still burning as Political Scene went to press: Will the GOP be able to muster anyone to run against Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Sen. Jack Reed? Or will two members of Rhode Island’s all-Democrat congressional delegation slide to reelection unchallenged by a Republican candidate?

Late last week, Federal Hill clothing store owner Joseph Zuccolo, 51, of North Providence, confirmed that he is once again thinking about mounting a Republican challenge to Kennedy, having taken out candidacy papers two years ago and then had second thoughts.

On March 12, the owner of Zuccolo’s Fine Men’s Clothing filed notice with the Federal Election Commission of the formation of his Joe Zuccolo For Congress Committee.

In 2006, Zuccolo said, he backed away because “organizationally and financially it wasn’t right for us.” Asked what has changed since then to make him a more viable candidate, he said: “Now we feel we want to and God willing, we will.”

While he did not elaborate, Zuccolo said he hasn’t raised any money yet for a race against Kennedy, who had $617,182 in his campaign account at the March 31 end of the last reporting period. But Zuccolo said he believes that he and his unpaid campaign manager, Dana Peloso, 25 — whom he identified as a candidate for state representative in Warren — have the time to pull together the necessary money and campaign organization to give the 1st Representative District race a good shot.

(If Peloso’s name sounds familiar, he was one of the organizers of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s Rhode Island campaign, a former chairman of Roger Williams University’s College Republicans, and one of two conservative talk show hosts bounced from Roger Williams’ student-run radio station in April 2007 for repeating more than 30 times the phrase that led to national shock jock Don Imus’ firing: “nappy-headed hos.” In his own defense at the time, Peloso said they used the words appropriately in the context of a discussion about Imus.)

Zuccolo’s campaign platform? He said a congressman needs to be “more proactive” on the big issues of the day, such as education and energy. His only campaign promise at this point is to “meet with the people of Rhode Island … address their needs … and keep them informed.”

In an interview on Friday, state GOP Chairman Giovanni Cicione said two other possible Kennedy challengers were still weighing the possibility.

Before the day was over, however, one had pulled his name out of the speculation field: Republican Rep. John Loughlin, of Tiverton.

While tempted, Loughlin said, a run for Congress would not be “economically feasible” at this point, “and besides, I really like my job as a member of the loyal opposition in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.” (Cicione would not identify the third potential candidate on his scouting roster.)

Cicione was less optimistic about the chances of lining up a Republican to challenge Reed, saying: “I am not as convinced. That’s a 50-50.”

He was more optimistic about GOP chances of picking up seats in the General Assembly during what he believes may be a watershed year, with more Democratic incumbents voluntarily relinquishing their seats than Rhode Island has seen in many years.

At this point, Cicione said, the GOP believes it has Republicans lined to run for 50 of the 75 House seats, and 18 of the 38 Senate seats including the small bloc of GOP incumbents in each chamber.

According to Cicione, even state Democratic Chairman Bill Lynch “is not denying a lot of the Democrats are talking about not returning, more than in most years” because in this tough budget climate “they can’t bring home pork,” they are feeling pressure to pay for their health insurance and forgo legislative grants, and they fear the unions will come up with challengers to force them into primaries while they are being “brutalized by their own constituents for not delivering.”

Lynch denies saying anything along these lines and says that he aware of only one Democratic lawmaker who does not plan to seek reelection. Obviously, he says, “This is going to be a difficult year in the legislature, which I don’t think anybody disagrees with,” and there is “always talk this time of year that … maybe some people may not run.”

But as far as a mass exodus, akin to what Rhode Island saw in 1992 after the credit union crisis put state lawmakers on the hot seat, Lynch said, “I don’t have any reason to think that is the case.”

State Democrats are meeting on June 8 at House Speaker William J. Murphy’s favorite gathering spot, the West Valley Inn, to endorse Reed, Kennedy and Congressman James R. Langevin for reelection, and choose a final run of superdelegates to the national party convention.

The Republican State Central Committee is meeting at the Kirkbrae Country Club, in Lincoln, on June 12. Cicione hopes by then to have an announced GOP congressional slate.

So far, the only announced challenger is Mark Zaccaria, running for Rhode Island’s 2nd District seat against Langevin.

With a campaign Web page that shows him enthusiastically shaking hands with Republican Governor Carcieri, Zaccaria, a former member of the North Kingstown Town Council who runs a marketing company, says “we need to eliminate elective abortion from the American experience.” His view on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: “We should win them and then leave.”

Perennial candidate Chris Young — who has in the past run for several offices simultaneously — says he will run again for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat.

Candidates for local, state and federal offices must file declarations of candidacy June 23, 24 or 25. Candidates for federal offices must file their declarations with the secretary of state at 148 West River St., Providence. Candidates for all other offices as well as party committees must file with their local boards of canvassers.

For the birds

In another sign that state government is in trouble, birds of prey have begun circling Smith Hill.


A state Department of Health employee reported last week that a hawk had killed a seagull in the north parking lot. The hawk was apparently picking at the gull’s remains on the roof of a silver Honda Thursday morning.

“If this is your car, you may wish to check on its condition since remnants of the kill have been left on the roof. The hawk has now moved onto the roof of a red station wagon,” employee Brenda Sullivan advised in an e-mail to various state employees.

Sullivan’s message prompted a pun-laden response from Health Director David R. Gifford, who had determined the carcass-stained car belonged to a state employee.

“I hate to tar and FEATHER [her] any further, but I did check with DOA and she can not submit her car wash BILL due to the budget crises at hand,” Gifford wrote Thursday afternoon. “Though I am sure that this event will SOAR to the top of employee complaints about problems with our parking lots, I am not sure we can solve this problem.”

Political Scene obtained the e-mail exchange from Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr., D-Bristol, who did not appear to be amused.

“While Rome burns, aka the State is facing a huge deficit, this is what is going on at DOH,” Gallison declared in an e-mail to various media entities Friday.

Radio ad a dramatic plea for ‘compassion’ centers

“Have you ever had a gun held to your head to buy your medicine? I have. Seven times.”

A stark new radio advertisement chronicling the plight of one medical marijuana patient caught the attention of anyone who heard it last week.

The 30-second spot featuring patient George DesRoches, of Warwick, began playing on local radio stations along with a plea to listeners to call their representative in favor of the bill that would create compassion centers –– safe dispensaries where patients in the state’s medical marijuana program can buy the drug.

Jesse Stout, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, which sponsored the ad, said the airwaves seemed to be the right medium for it. “Putting someone’s own voice on the radio we thought would make it most immediate for listeners,” Stout said.

The compassion center bill passed the Senate last month. While it is not expected to move out of a House committee, Stout said he hopes the advertisement lends a sense of urgency and persuades House lawmakers to move forward.

Newly minted senator gets committee seats

A month into his move across the rotunda, Rep. — whoops, we mean Sen. — Roger A. Picard has landed himself several committee appointments. On Friday he was named to the Senate Labor and Corporations committees.

The new senator will no doubt find the appointments familiar since he served on the counterpart committees in the House during his 16 years as a representative.

Picard said that experience will allow him to “div[e] right in” on the Senate side at a busy time of year.

He won a special election in April following the death of longtime Sen. Roger Badeau.

Raptakis globetrotting

Sen. Leonidas Raptakis has logged his share of frequent-flier miles this spring.

Raptakis traveled to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, in the nation’s capital, 10 days ago as the featured speaker in the National Maritime Day Celebration –– honoring the U.S. Merchant Marine personnel “who gave their lives in service to America and freedom” over the last 75 years.

This week the Coventry senator heads to Athens, Greece, on an expedition to celebrate the “liberty ships,” the World-War II-era cargo ships that made up the majority of Navy’s transport fleet and are now headed toward extinction.

Following the war, 100 of the vessels were sent to Greece, where they were used to the rebuild parts of that country. Citing that contribution, Raptakis several years ago launched a campaign to create an on-ship museum in Athens honoring Hellenic seafarers and the ships’ storied history.


SEIU adopts Strategic Unity Plan

Andy Stern - Global Dictator

Related Posts with Thumbnails