Mayors back forced-labor unionism

Worker-choice scheme 'a huge waste'

A coalition of 38 mayors in the Denver (CO) metro area voted Wednesday to urge business and union groups to back off their competing ballot initiatives. If the Metro Mayors Caucus doesn't get a response by July 4, then it most likely will take positions against both sides and campaign against them, said Centennial Mayor Randy Pye, chairman of the caucus.

"No to the labor measures and no to right-to-work," Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said Wednesday while addressing a Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. luncheon.

A business-backed right-to-work measure has been certified for the ballot and would ask voters to amend the state constitution to say that union membership and dues or fees may not be mandated as a precondition of employment.

Unions are pushing several competing measures, including initiatives that would hold executives criminally liable for corporate fraud and require businesses to provide reasons for firing workers.

"It is a huge waste of resources," Hickenlooper said.

About two dozen mayors in the caucus who attended the group's bimonthly meeting Wednesday voted to draft a resolution, which has to be approved by all of the mayors in the alliance before it is adopted. Pye said that is expected by next week.


Voters begin to opt out of prevailing wage law

Union subsidy goes bye-bye in trend-setting state

Carlsbad (CA) City Council members praised voters yesterday for overwhelmingly approving a city charter, calling the stunning victory a step toward more efficient and economical government. “An 82 percent positive vote was the highest percentage vote I could find on the ballot, so that was a great statement by the citizens of Carlsbad,” said Councilman Mark Packard, the measure's leading advocate on the council.

Pro-business groups, including the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Builders and Contractors, campaigned for Proposition D. The Democratic Party and the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, opposed the measure, but didn't actively campaign.

A charter, akin to a local constitution, gives a city more authority over some governmental affairs, including contracts, than a general law form of government. About a quarter of the 440 cities in the state have adopted charters, including Vista, Chula Vista, Del Mar, San Diego and San Marcos.

Packard said the first major project likely to benefit from a charter is the Alga Norte Park and Aquatics Center in southeastern Carlsbad, which is expected to cost $50 million to build.

He said it is too late to save money by making it a design-build project, in which the contractor is responsible for both design and construction.

Carlsbad may still save money, Packard said, by not requiring bidders to pay prevailing, or union, wages. The council has not taken a stand on the issue.

The California Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, sued Vista last year after it became a charter city.

“It's not passing a charter,” said union attorney Scott Kronland. “It's whether a charter city can choose to opt out of the prevailing-wage law,” which the union says is a statewide concern and therefore not optional.

Charter cities say previous court rulings allow them to award contracts that do not require paying prevailing wages.


AFSCME gov't-union mob turns ugly over pay

Police usher Cal chancellor from angry meeting

Campus police escorted University of California-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau out of the back of a building Thursday after angry union members took over a meeting, yelling and screaming about living wages. About 350 people showed up to a meeting where Birgeneau was supposed to answer questions from the Berkeley Staff Assembly, a campus group open to all employees. About 90 percent of the protesters wore green shirts, designating their affiliation with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The union, which represents about 900 campus employees in service and medical jobs, is negotiating two new contracts that expired last year.

When Birgeneau walked in, they quickly took over the meeting, shouting down organizers of the meeting who tried to introduce him.

The crowd briefly stopped its chants of "No contract, no peace," to let Birgeneau speak.

"I'm committed to improving the wages of the lowest paid staff," Birgeneau said. "The average wage is $14.45 an hour, so you don't have to remind me that living on that is difficult."

But Birgeneau also said wage decisions are made on a systemwide level for all UC campuses and he is not involved in negotiations.

After that, the crowd's chants grew louder and louder. Kate Benn, who organized the meeting for the staff assembly, tried to speak but was drowned out by the shouting.

Police opened a back door and escorted Birgeneau into an adjoining room. They then led him from the building through a back door and to an adjacent walkway.

"We were looking forward to having a lively discussion with him about job classification changes and his larger vision for the university, but it's not going to happen today," Benn said.


Union-backed pol stands up for child workers

Boasts big money lead over rivals

Search the Internet for Missouri House candidate Michael J. Colona, and the results extend far beyond his campaign website. The 67th District hopeful Democrat has done work for an adult-entertainment company that sells hard-core pornographic material on the Web and in video stores.

Colona, a St. Louis lawyer, says his role is limited to assuring that minors are not used in the production of sexually explicit materials.

But the founder of the Springfield, Ill., outfit that produces the pornography has contributed to Colona's election effort, and Colona's own campaign literature lists him as a member of an adult entertainment industry trade group.

Colona, 39, is one of five city Democrats vying for an open seat in the area around Tower Grove Park. The winner of the August primary will face an uncontested election in November.

So far, Colona leads the field in money — he's raised close to $40,000 — and has stacked up endorsements from the likes of labor and law enforcement.

His opponents, however, have begun questioning his ties to the pornography business, which Colona defends.

"A small part of my job is to ensure no minors are exploited by the pornography industry," Colona said in a statement this week. "Some of my opponents want to mischaracterize the work I've done. Make no mistake, my work is focused on keeping kids safe."

There are no allegations that either Colona or the company he has worked for, X99 Media, have engaged in anything illegal.

The company specializes in all-male videos. One of its websites, "Citi Boyz," invites "above-average looking guys 18 to 22 years old" to be models.

Colona has helped the company comply with federal obscenity regulations that require pornography manufacturers to keep detailed records of the individuals portrayed in film, print or on the Web. As part of federal disclosure requirements, Colona's name has appeared on the Web and on videos as the "custodian of records" for adult content distributed by X99.

Even so, it's unclear how much Colona remains associated with the company. Attempts to reach X99, located in a quiet residential area in Springfield, were unsuccessful.

Colona's statement indicated he is still with the company. In a later interview, though, Colona said he has cut ties with the company.

The Citi Boyz site that previously listed Colona as records-keeper now shows another attorney in Colona's Central West End law firm, the Stokley Group.

Colona's name still appears as records-keeper on numerous other pornographic websites that distribute Citi Boyz content and on videos. As records custodian, his name appears on the cover of some videos, and is printed on the surface of the DVD itself.

Colona said he did not know how much money his work for the pornography company has generated — clients pay the law firm, not him, Colona said.

On March 31, Colona's campaign accepted a check for $325 — the legal maximum — from an individual, Steven Moore, who is listed on Illinois corporation records as the registered agent and organizer of X99. After a reporter asked about the donation, Colona said Thursday that he will donate the check to charity to "avoid the appearance of any type of impropriety."

Colona described his work for X99 as "over-glorified paper pushing." However, an adult-entertainment industry trade group — called the Free Speech Coalition — says record-keeping for adult films can be an extensive undertaking.

"Warehouses of files we're talking about," said Diane Duke, the coalition's executive director. "Some of our companies have whole departments dedicated to them."

Duke said pornography producers must keep on file the name, age and aliases for every performer, with a separate file for each title.

Colona's website lists him as a member of the coalition, a California-based organization that has fought against federal record-keeping requirements they believe are onerous and too broad.

When asked about his membership in the group, Colona said he was unfamiliar with some of its views.

"I do not condone them and I am resigning immediately from that organization," Colona said Wednesday.

Colona has been endorsed by unions representing city police and firefighters, who say they are not bothered by his work for the adult entertainment industry.

"He addressed it and talked to me about it," said Gary Wiegert, president of the police officers' association. "I'm not worried about it. I don't think our organization is worried about it."

St. Louis Alderman Jennifer Florida, a Colona supporter, said she had heard about his ties to the industry. She still supports Colona, but said she is wary about the pornography business.

"As a mom, I would stay very far from that," said Florida, who also represents the Tower Grove area. "It makes me feel very uncomfortable."

One of Colona's four Democratic rivals says she was shocked by the graphic nature of the websites where Colona's name appears.

"Some of the sites are just — they've been forwarded to me, and the names of them — I don't even want to go there," said Joan Landmann, who is also a lawyer.

The other candidates in the race are: another lawyer, Robert Stelzer; school district critic Chad Beffa; and political newcomer Emily Jo Pierce.

Michael Mahler, who co-owns a gift shop on South Grand, said he believes voters in the area may be open-minded enough to look past the candidate's involvement in the pornography business.

Mahler's store, Cheap Trx, sells the same type of videos as the company that hired Colona. In the 16 years Mahler has been in the neighborhood, he says he has received just one complaint — an anonymous postcard.

"Let's face it: The product line you are talking about appeals to a lot of people," Mahler said. "They may not necessarily tell their neighbors they like it."


Violent Andy Stern hauled into court

Victims of SEIU violence, thuggery get their day

Lawyers for two large unions locked in a bitter battle, the Service Employees International Union and the California Nurses Association, squared off in a courtroom here yesterday over claims the nurses abused the legal system when they obtained a rare workplace violence restraining order against the Service Employees and their high-profile leader, Andrew Stern.

A county-level magistrate granted the stay-away order in April after officials at the nurses' union complained of harassment by SEIU members angry that the nurses disrupted an organizing campaign the SEIU had under way at nine Ohio hospitals.

However, the same magistrate dissolved the order a few days later, after SEIU officials complained they were given no opportunity to contest the order before it was issued. Attorneys for the SEIU have now turned the tables on the nurses' union, demanding legal fees on the grounds that the nurses' legal action was an improper effort to silence the SEIU and Mr. Stern.

In a tentative ruling prior to yesterday's hearing, an Alameda County judge, Stephen Dombrink, sided with the SEIU. "Neither the Petition, nor any of the admissible evidence submitted in support of it or in opposition to the instant motion demonstrates that there was any credible claim of violence by Respondent Andrew Stern or by SEIU's agents," the judge wrote.

A lawyer for the nurses, James Eggleston, said his clients were legitimately concerned for their safety after fleeing what he called the "storming" of a labor conference in Michigan by SEIU members. He said leaders of the nurses' union were followed and visited at their homes. Some also got calls at the hospital units where they work.

"That fear was very real. There was great pressure to do something," Mr. Eggleston told the judge. "These are not acts that are intended to inform, persuade, or convince in the First Amendment sense. ... The home is a special place."

"Violence is not, 'I want to talk to you.' It's not ringing a doorbell," an attorney for the SEIU, Scott Kronland, countered. "People were going to homes to talk about a public issue."

Judge Dombrink ultimately said he would "take another look" at the evidence before deciding whether to stand by his ruling, but he suggested the nurses had gone too far by suggesting that Mr. Stern posed a physical threat to nurses in California. "He wasn't even in the state," the judge said.


Card-check ad hits Maine airwaves

Anti-democratic, 'no vote' unionism exposed

An organization called The Center For Union Facts has launched a nationwide television ad campaign attacking labor unions and supporting workers rights. Those ads recently ran on stations here in Maine, including NEWS CENTER. The ads depict workers talking about how unions take away their rights and bully people into joining unions.

J. Justin Wilson spoke to NEWS CENTER from his Washington D.C. office on Thursday.

"We think people should be able to have a free and clear choice as to whether to join a union," Wilson told NEWS CENTER. "If they want to quit the union they should be able to do that."

Wilson, the center's Managing Director, says the campaign is aimed at the "Employee Free Choice Act". Wilson says if the bill is enacted by Congress, it will strip workers of their right to a private vote when forming a union.

"In organizing elections people go and have a vote, just like election day in Maine," Wilson explained. "They want to switch to a system where a union organizer approaches you at your house and say sign this contract and they don't even show you the fine print."

The Center For Union Rights is a Washington D.C. Based 501-c non-profit organization.

While the center is warning people of deception and corruption on the part of unions, local labor leaders are fighting back.

Jack McKay, the President of the Eastern Maine Labor Council, says the center is nothing but a front organization for lobbyists who are pro-big business and anti-union interests. McKay says the organization is run by Richard Berman, a notorious lobbyist for the Alcohol, tobacco, and fast food industries.

"What the ads play on is a sense that, 'I'm not gonna win, I should keep my head down and I can't make a difference, because somebody out there is going to beat me down," McKay said. "That's exactly the problem unions see."

McKay says Maine has been targeted because of the expected Senate race between Representative Tom Allen (D-Maine) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

They are on opposite sides of a bill in Congress called "the Employee Free Choice Act".

Mckay says the legislation would ensure workers' right to form a union, and give them the power to bargain with their employers.

Senator Collins is against the legislation, Felicia Knight, Collins' Deputy Campaign Manager issued a written statement addressing the ads.

"Senator Collins' campaign has nothing to do with these ads, which are currently airing in several media markets around the country. On the issue, Senator Collins strongly believes that all workers are entitled to their long-standing right to a secret ballot. It is ironic that a public servant, elected by a secret ballot, would vote to deny union employees the same right."

Representative Allen's Communications Director, Carol Andrews also addressed the advertising campaign.

"It certainly would not be surprising that groups who are anti-worker and anti-middle class would want to diminish Tom Allen's support of working people and would favor his opponent, who voted against the Employee Free Choice Act."

"Tom Allen is a proud supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act and our labor unions because he understands that our middle class is seeing an erosion of health insurance coverage, pension benefits and job security. Unions help level the playing field in these areas because they negotiate through collective bargaining."


SEIU unit serves up strike notice

About 25 service employees in Columbia Borough (PA) have threatened to walk off the job if they don't get a better salary offer in a new contract. "The (borough's) proposals are just ridiculous," chief shop steward Harry Howard, representing the borough's workers for Service Employees International Union 668, said Thursday. "They haven't really given us anything," Howard said. "They're spending a lot of money on lawyers' fees. … We don't understand their logic of thinking."

Members of SEIU 668 — also known as Pennsylvania Social Services Union — voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize a strike, Howard said.

"There is no date set," he said. "We're trying to get (the borough negotiators) back to the table."

Union members have been working without a contract since Dec. 31. PSSU represents borough employees in departments including wastewater, highway, planning and codes.

According to a release from the union, the borough has proposed a five-year contract with lump-sum bonus payments twice yearly, without increasing base salaries for the workers. The borough also has proposed an increase to the employees' contribution rate for medical insurance.

The union laid blame for failed negotiations at the feet of borough manager Norman Meiskey, who "continues to demand concession after concession," according to the release.

"Mr. Meiskey's proposal is insulting," Claudia Lukert, PSSU's chief negotiator, said in the release. "When you consider the rising cost of gas alone, not to mention food, utilities (and) mortgages, and couple that with ever-increasing medical insurance rates, by the end of a five-year contract, employees won't be able to afford to work for the borough under Mr. Meiskey's proposal."

Meiskey declined on Thursday to discuss details of contract negotiations.

"They can release what they want, but we're not going to comment," he said.

Meiskey did say the borough's last offer to the union was rejected, "and they requested we go into fact-finding with the board of mediation."

The state board of mediation will recommend fact-finding to the state Labor Relations Board, Meiskey said. "We're waiting to hear if they will enter into that process."

Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz said the borough's most recent contract proposal was "our final offer. We did not receive a counteroffer."

He said the strike-authorization vote does not mean a strike is imminent.

"I know unions do that from time to time when negotiations reach an impasse, but hopefully the two parties will get together and resolve their differences before there would be a strike," Lutz said.

"But without a date being set, I don't know what they have in mind."

A strike would certainly disrupt services in the borough to some degree, Lutz said.

"Obviously, those people provide a very vital service to the community," he said. "I would imagine we can do some things, but some things would be hindered by this."

Howard said the union "tried to negotiate in good faith … but the borough made its final offer. We took a vote, and it was rejected 100 percent."

A decision on whether to strike will probably hinge on the decision of the state mediator, Howard said. He said he hopes a decision will be made within the next two weeks.

"They always say it's a final offer," he said. "They drag contracts out for a year, year and a half, and they spend a lot of money on attorneys.

"But we're not going to mess around. We'll see what happens."

In May, an independent arbitrator awarded Columbia police wage increases of 5 percent in the first year of a new contract and 4 percent each year thereafter.


Education labor-racket exposed

Expert examines government-union effect

Higher education is being dragged down by faculty unions, says George Leef. "Unions try to protect the weakest members, thereby lowering the standards for everyone." Leef is director of research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit institute in North Carolina dedicated to improving higher education. It conducts studies designed to increase the accountability of trustees, administrators, faculty and students.

Leef had been on the faculty of Northwood University in Michigan teaching courses in economics, business law and logic. He also is the author of "Free Choice for Workers: A History of the Right to Work Movement."

Unions are dying off in the private sector. But in public education, they're growing like undetected cancer cells: kindergarten through college.

In many states, administrators of public colleges and universities are legally required to recognize and bargain with a faculty union if more than 50 percent of the staff vote to unionize.

The union becomes a monopoly representing the entire faculty, whether every professor wants it or not. But unlike representatives in federal, state or local governments, term limits or retention elections seldom apply to a union's tenure.

With few exceptions (to paraphrase Tony Soprano), once you're in, there's no getting out.

However, faculty unions, like all other ones, don't have any magic wands to make life better for professors, Leef says. They claim that if elected, members will get higher pay and more benefits, he says.

But take a closer look at one of the core union issues. The percentage of adjunct professors (part-time teachers) at unionized schools is no different than at ones without a faculty union, Leef says.

Tenure, essentially making an employee fireproof except for gross misconduct, and faculty unions, that make terminating an employee that much more difficult, create a forest of dead wood, Leef says. With that much job security, Leef asks, "why do your best?"

Especially when it could cost educators their jobs?

Many professors make deals something like this with students, he says: "Don't take up too much of my time to talk to you, and in return, this will be an easy course in which to be handed a high grade."

And since administration does not like to clash with powerful faculty, expect little oversight, Leef says. "Administrators don't mind because it keeps students happy. For most schools, that's the most important consideration."

Unions also frequently get in the way of education objectives, he says.

Leef says that the business school of California State University, East Bay, knew it had to improve academic standards to keep its accreditation. However, the faculty union refused to accept the higher proposed standards (which would have required the faculty to do more work). Because of that, he says, the school lost its accreditation. It is now on a three-year probationary period.

The solution is elementary, Leef says. States must cut the Gordian knot and prohibit public sector collective bargaining, which he says is "a terrible, terrible idea. Taxpayers regret it, and states regret it.

"Both are squeezed year after year for more and more money."

- Dimitri Vassilaros is a Tribune-Review editorial page columnist.


Unions seek dues bonanza in N.C.

Missing out on collective bargaining

Guilford County leaders may consider tonight supporting a bill giving employee and teacher unions the ability to negotiate with local governments, but not the right to strike. HB 1583, which was filed last year, rests in a HouseJudiciary Committee. Several labor unions, including the AFL-CIO and Teamsters, support the bill, as well as the State Employees Association and police and firefighters' associations.

Democratic Commissioner Skip Alston has offered a support resolution for the Board of Commissioners to considerduring their 5:30 p.m. meeting in the Old Courthouse in Greensboro. Alston is seeking support for the HOPE (Hear Our Public Employees) initiative to repeal state laws prohibiting municipal, county, or state employees from contracting with any labor union.

"This is an internationally recognized human right and will increase the morale and efficiency of all public workers," Alston wrote in the support resolution.

Several business and employer groups, including the Employer's Coalition of North Carolina, have lobbied against the bill.

The John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh-based conservative think tank, also opposes union representation for government employees. Unionization would have "grave unintended consequences," according to a 2007 commentary, by jeopardizing the state's "right to work" status so many relocatingemployers like. "It will serve to discourage employers from relocating to our state as they consider fleeing unionized states where labor costs have exceeded what the market will bear," according to the commentary.

Collective bargaining also could raise government expenses. Theaveragenon-union public sector salary is $33,037, while the government union member averages $37,854, according to the foundation.


Damaging union activity in Michigan

Recent labor strikes cost GM over $3 billion

Volkswagen AG is still at least a month away from announcing where it will build a new U.S. plant with thousands of new jobs -- but the chatter suggests Michigan is running third in a three-way race.

Two sites in Alabama and Tennessee have emerged as favorites, and officials in both states are lobbying hard for an investment that could top $1 billion. Both states have prepped giant tracts of land with rail and freeway access that could be turned over to VW almost at a moment's notice.

But analysts say more than physical sites, Michigan's history of labor unions and UAW-automaker battles makes it difficult to lure investment from foreign automakers, despite a pool of well-trained and available workers. While the state has had some success in luring foreign auto suppliers and hundreds of non-manufacturing jobs, foreign automakers have consistently put their assembly plants due south, from Ohio to Mississippi.

Volkswagen has said the plant it plans to launch by 2010 will produce 250,000 vehicles a year and employ 2,000 workers, with a new midsize sedan as its first product. Driven by a growth strategy and a weak U.S. dollar that makes importing vehicles more expensive, VW has set a goal of selling 1 million vehicles in the United States annually by 2018.

VW has declined to comment on the search while it's in progress. But analysts and officials in a number of states have cited two locations -- one outside Chattanooga, Tenn., the other near Huntsville, Ala. -- as prime contenders.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said last week that VW would decide between Alabama and Tennessee. Michael Randle, the publisher of Southern Business & Development magazine and a Web site devoted to southern auto industry expansion, said last month that VW had settled on the Huntsville site.

Michigan state officials declined to comment on the VW search. The automaker moved its U.S. sales headquarters from Michigan to northern Virginia last year.

A clear driver of the southern strategy by foreign automakers has been to avoid union workforces, which could raise costs by forcing higher wages or hiring more workers. The UAW has only once successfully organized a foreign auto plant that it had not been invited into -- VW's first U.S. manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania, which closed in 1988.

David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research, said southeast Michigan's history of UAW activism had colored the perception of the entire state in the minds of automakers weighing new plant sites. Over the past few months, the UAW has led three strikes against General Motors Corp. and American Axle & Manufacturing that GM estimates will cost the company $3 billion before taxes.

"One of the primary factors in that is the union activity, particularly the recent strike action, has really been quite damaging," Cole said.

Beyond union membership, foreign automakers have also sought to craft their own workers -- preferring to train people who've never been employed in a factory to fit a specific culture, rather than retraining workers from other automakers.

Experts say that careful screening has been part of the reason unions have made few inroads in southern factories. Jim Bruce, a consultant who has worked on eight automotive-related factory projects, including the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Ky., noted that some companies had shied away from Kentucky since it has three UAW-represented domestic auto plants.

"Toyota went there anyway with the expectation that it had the ability to avoid unionization," Bruce said. "History has borne them out."

Southern states have also poured tens of millions of dollars into readying physical sites that can be marketed to manufacturers. The supposed finalists for the VW plant are both more than 1,000 acres, and have been prepped by governments over the past few years with zoning, property rights and access to roads and rails so that companies could start building within a few months.

Site Selection magazine says Michigan has only three sites of a similar size ready for development. One is a wastewater treatment plant in Muskegon, one is near the Alpena County airport, and the third is the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in the Upper Peninsula's Marquette County.

While only VW knows which site is in the lead, Cole and other experts said Michigan could make a stronger case for the future, and shouldn't be counted out.

Mark Sweeney, the senior principal of McCallum Sweeney Consulting, a South Carolina firm that does site selection work for governments and automakers, said foreign automakers have had trouble training new workers at some sites, and that labor quality was becoming more important.

"Everybody in the business was a little surprised to see Michigan on the list, but if I was in Tennessee or Alabama I would take that seriously," Sweeney said. If VW "doesn't care about operating in a union environment, a big strike against Michigan goes away."


UCLA students in hunger-strike for AFSCME

Students get a well-rounded liberal arts education

About 20 students and workers began a three-day fast at UCLA Wednesday to call for a new contract for UC health care and service workers, and the group presented 1,000 petition signatures supporting former President Bill Clinton's refusal to cross a picket line to speak at the university's commencement ceremony.

Clinton announced last week that he would skip his speech at UCLA's June 13 commencement ceremony if it meant crossing a picket line of University of California and health and service workers.

"While I'm honored to be invited and (am) really looking forward to speaking at UCLA's commencement ceremonies, I can't cross the picket line," Clinton said. "I hope it can be resolved quickly." Some students said they want to show support for the workers and encourage continued negotiations to try to resolve the labor dispute.

"I am participating in this three-day fast because I feel that the University of California is creating poverty in our communities," graduating senior David Chavez said. "Costs go up, wages remain the same and these families have to make hard choices on how to survive."

The 20,000 members of Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had voted to authorize a two-day strike that was supposed to be held today and Thursday, but that walkout was canceled when UC and union officials decided to resume contract talks.

AFSCME-represented workers include radiology, respiratory and operating room technicians; cooks, food servers and caterers; and custodians, groundskeepers and other maintenance workers in the UC health care system, which includes Santa Monica-UCLA and four other hospitals plus student health centers,

UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton said contract negotiations are continuing, and officials are "hoping for a fair and equitable resolution soon."

Hampton said talks were also continuing with Clinton's office in preparation for his scheduled speech.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that university officials were working to reach a deal with the union.

"While I admire the activism and dedication of students advocating a contract for union members, I am concerned they may place themselves at risk of health problems by refusing food," Block said. "I also am concerned that these students could jeopardize their ability to perform well during final examinations scheduled this week.

"Students should be assured that UC and union negotiators are working to achieve a new contract and that I share the objective of reaching agreement on a fair and equitable contract for employees," he said.


Al Franken, Minnesota DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Al Franken has now been endorsed by 21 unions – that’s right, 21. Why exactly are these big-time union bosses backing Al Franken? As Tim Lovasson, President of the Communication Workers of America Minnesota State Council said, “we support Al because Al supports the middle class and the Employee Free Choice Act.”

The union bosses support Al Franken because he will be another vote in the Senate for their anti-democratic power grab, the misleadingly named, Employee Free Choice Act.

We all know that it’s risky business to trust union bosses with words or numbers, but this is a little much — even for them. Labeling a piece of legislation “Free Choice” when it takes away the worker’s fundamental right to a private ballot in a union organizing election is simply stunning.

Inviting the union boss, in effect, into the voting booth is the opposite of a “Free Choice,” it’s no choice at all. It’s coercion, intimidation, and harassment.

I’m sure that the powerful union bosses, desperately trying to reverse years’ worth of declining membership rolls, will continue to step forward on behalf of candidates like Al Franken who will do their bidding.

But whether 21, or a 121, unions endorse Al Franken, Minnesota workers deserve to have their rights in the workplace protected.


SEIU targets Aramark for dues

Unions win more than they lose, everyone else pays

One of the nation's largest unions is targeting the workers who feed your kids and clean their schools as part of a campaign to expand union membership and improve working conditions. Service Employees International Union wants to recruit 100,000 new members nationwide -- and 2,000 just in the suburbs.

If the union is successful, it could mean better wages and benefits for hundreds of suburban service workers -- with the cost passed on to you in the form of costlier contracts and higher lunch prices.

The service union's focus is on Philadelphia-based Aramark, a contractor for about 40 Chicago-area school districts that together serve more than 130,000 kids.

Aramark is one of several contractors that provide food services in suburban school districts.

Aramark and its competitors -- including Sodexho, Arbor Management and Compass Group -- together employ an estimated 5,500 food service workers in suburban schools.

The service union has already targeted Arbor and may eventually expand its campaign to other contractors.

"Our focus is on Aramark because it's the largest nationwide and is actively firing and intimidating workers," service union spokeswoman Erica Hade said.

But she added, "We certainly believe that all school service workers should be able to form unions."

Aramark has about 182,000 employees nationwide. Of these, about 40,000 -- or 30 percent of Aramark's hourly workforce -- are unionized.

At least seven districts in the Daily Herald's coverage area contract with Aramark: Butler Elementary District 53, Community Unit District 300, Fox Lake Elementary District 114, Indian Prairie Unit District 204 and Lake Zurich Unit District 95.

Of these, only one, District 204, is unionized.

The service employees union says Aramark pays little, provides few employee benefits, creates an unsafe work environment and doesn't serve food to all the kids who need it.

The service union says most nonunion Aramark workers make near minimum wage, $7.50 to $7.75 an hour, work part-time and don't have health insurance.

In comparison, a unionized janitor in District 204 earns $11.84 an hour and has full employer-paid family health insurance, the union says.

Officials in unionized districts said they've seen little difference in the service they receive since their janitors unionized.

"We haven't noticed any changes to the work or the staff as a result," District 208 Business Manager Christopher Welton said.

Aramark says the union has exaggerated its claims to expand its membership and force workers to accept the service union as their representative.

An Aramark spokeswoman said the company's wages are competitive, and health care is available to employees who work more than 20 hours.

"The vast majority of our employees have access to an Aramark health-care plan," spokeswoman Kristine Grow said.

The most forceful attack on Aramark's record in the suburbs came in a March 2008 report by the service union. The report featured two school districts in the Daily Herald's coverage, districts 95 and 300.

District 95

The report questions Aramark's handling of mold at District 95's new May Whitney Elementary School, also known as the Annex.

August 2007 storms flooded the original May Whitney Elementary School next door, leading to the discovery of toxic mold and asbestos, effectively closing the school.

At an Illinois House committee hearing on Aramark in March, District 95 janitor Gustavo Gomez said he was told to clean the Annex last summer without proper safety equipment.

"Our job was to change the ceiling tiles," he said. "When I arrived at the building, the first thing I noticed was a strong, bad smell. When I removed the tiles, I saw that they were very old, and they were covered in what appeared to be yellow and green mold. Once the tiles were removed, there was dust everywhere."

Gomez said he could only work 15 to 20 minutes before he had to go outside for fresh air.

"I felt dizzy. I was sneezing and I couldn't stop coughing," he said. "All we had were thin rubber gloves, no goggles, no masks."

Grow said janitors were given proper equipment and training.

"Testing was done to ensure that there was no toxic mold in the new building," Grow said. "(Gomez) did not report any of the symptoms or concerns that he describes … to his supervisors at the time of the cleaning."

District 95 Superintendent Brian Knutson said there has never been toxic mold found in the Annex and that the district is continuing to monitor the situation.

Two former janitors in District 95 have filed grievances against Aramark with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming they were fired because of their union activities. The charges are being investigated.

Grow said the workers were fired for reasons she could not divulge.

"I can assure it was not for union involvement," she said.

District 300

Another complaint has been lodged by an Aramark employee in District 300. The Feb. 25 grievance claims Aramark cut the employee's hours and harassed her because she supports the service union.

The National Labor Relations Board is investigating the charge.

Grow questioned the merits of the Feb. 25 complaint against her employer.

"Aramark feels there is little evidence to support this claim," she said.

The big picture

If the service employees union's recent corporate campaigns are any indication, Aramark should gird itself for the long haul.

The union's campaign to win better compensation and working conditions for janitors has been going on for more than 20 years and has brought large-scale public protests to major U.S. cities.

"It's very typical of SEIU to … put pressure on the employer by … pointing out the various problems with the employer's labor relations or management practices," said Bob Bruno, a labor relations researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Labor experts say the service union's goal is to pressure Aramark to allow workers to join the union -- without interference from Aramark.

The traditional process, in which workers can vote on unionization, allows the employer to campaign against the union.

Because the employer has greater access to employees, labor experts say the union election process is stacked in the employer's favor.

"An employer who really wants to abuse the process and delay the election can coerce employees with only minor consequences," said Martin Malin, a professor of labor law at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Hade said the union is pursuing agreements that would allow suburban service workers to unionize without holding an election.

"It's a fair process," Hade said. "They don't face intimidation from anyone."

But Aramark says employees have a right to hear the pros and cons of unionizing and to vote on the issue.

"We want to make sure they have the opportunity to choose for themselves and make sure they have all of the information they need to make this decision," Grow said.

Researchers say unions have a much higher success rate if they bypass a union election.

"By an overwhelming advantage, workers choose a union if (there's) no employer opposition," Bruno said.

But getting Aramark's consent is no small task, experts say.

"Most employers won't agree," said Joe Barker, director of the National Labor Relations Board's Chicago office. "It's an exception rather than a rule when they agree."

Still, the service workers' union has been able to obtain consent from major employers in other metropolitan areas.

Aramark itself has allowed unions to bypass elections in the past -- but Grow said the company is reluctant to enter into an agreement with the service union without the consent of the school districts.

If the union fails to get Aramark's consent, workers will most likely get to vote on unionization.

But even if it's second-best, elections are still a pretty good bet for unions, labor watchers say. "Unions win more elections than they lose," Barker said.


Second thoughts about union subsidy in N.Y.

Measures Submitted to Block Union-Only Construction Rule

Legislation has been introduced in the State Senate and Assembly to block implementation of a law that critics say will prevent nonunion, upstate construction companies from bidding on public works projects.

The measure, which would become effective July 1, would remove a provision from this year's budget that requires companies building new schools, college dormitories and other public projects to use union workers. Opponents say it will have a chilling effect upstate, where 75 percent of construction workers are non-union. They say it will impact especially hard on minority-and women-owned construction companies, which are often smaller and non-union.

"If my company can't bid on public works, I don't work," said Ben Stubbs, a father of three who works in the mill shop at Gypsum Systems in Buffalo. Gypsum executives say their 200 workers will be shut out of government construction projects if the looming law is not changed.

The Buffalo News reported last week on the union-backed statute, which critics say has sharply increased the cost of public construction projects by requiring multiple contractors on bids over a certain amount. Upstate projects less than $500,000, for example, do not have to meet the Wicks provisions.

But the other way municipalities can escape Wicks is by signing project labor agreements, which contain a provision opponents say will both increase the cost of the projects and guarantee only union workers can be used. That, they say, shuts out hundreds of upstate companies from bidding or using their own workers.

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, and State Sen. George Winner, R-Elmira, have introduced legislation over the past several days repealing the project labor agreement provision. If not overturned, lawmakers say many upstate construction companies that rely heavily on public projects will close.

"We're trying to fix it," Schimminger said.

It will not be an easy task, though, because Senate and Assembly members are facing reelection this fall and -- before the 2008 session ends later this month -- have little interest in alienating politically powerful labor unions. The AFL-CIO strongly opposes the change, which they claim is led by nonunion companies that don't train their workers as well as union-run apprentice programs.

Denis Hughes, the state AFL-CIO president, recently said the companies now trying to halt the new law are "predisposed to holding down the wages, benefits and skill levels of construction workers. That's what they do."

But officials of minority-and women-owned businesses said the changes will harm their companies especially. Construction industry groups say the new law requires companies to have had apprentice programs in place for three years. But only 15 of 700 minority-and women-owned construction companies in New York have such programs, according to John Faso, a lobbyist for a trade group of non-union construction companies.

"It is unfair and discriminatory," said Trisha Nowak of Erie Contracting in Lancaster, one of several public works construction companies that came to Albany Wednesday to push the repeal or at least a delay of the new law on July 1.

Juan Flores, an apprentice electrician with Wittburn Enterprise in Buffalo, said he is a former state prison inmate who was given a chance by the company to learn a trade.

"Under this law, I would not longer be able to work," said Flores, a Buffalo resident and father of a 3-year-old daughter.

The Paterson administration has so far defended the changes to the Wicks law.

State Labor Department officials recently said many big upstate projects, such as the Buffalo schools construction program, are the result of project labor agreements and that such deals often include concessions from unions to lower wage rates or agreeing not to strike.

Critics, meanwhile, said the Legislature must realize that the changes they adopted in April will disproportionately hit upstate companies that either won't be able to bid on contracts or will have to replace their workers with union employees.

"If this goes into effect, it locks these folks out of work. Is that what the goal was?" said Kenneth Adams, president of the Business Council of New York State.


Writers argue strike was not an Act of God

Writers Union demands back pay

The writers strike may have ended four months ago, but the studios still have checks to write -- at least according to actors.

Because of an obscure provision in the contract between the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood studios, hundreds of actors could be owed more than $10 million in back pay as a result of being thrown out of work when the writers strike shut down TV production last year.

SAG has quietly lodged claims against more than 80 shows on behalf of "series regulars" who lost their jobs temporarily during the writers walkout, which shut down such hit shows as "Lost," "CSI" and "Ugly Betty." The union contends the producers violated a so-called force majeure clause in the current contract that entitles actors to receive roughly 2 -1/2 weeks' pay if they are suspended due to extraordinary circumstances such as a strike. Series regulars include stars and those who have a recurring role on a show.

"The employers have refused to live up to their contractual obligations and have instead attempted to shift the studios' financial obligations onto the backs of the actors who are their employees," said SAG general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.

Jesse Hiestand, spokesman for the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, said he could not comment on the claims because they were part of a pending arbitration proceeding.

Force majeure has emerged as a sticking point in the negotiations that resumed last week between the studios and SAG. The current contract expires June 30. Producers want to revamp the system, which they contend is too costly. They propose that actors individually negotiate force majeure terms when they are hired. SAG says that's unacceptable.

The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, the smaller actors union that negotiated a prime-time TV pact with studios last week, decided not to grapple with the force majeure issue, instead letting SAG take the lead. AFTRA, which represents musicians, radio announcers and actors who work in daytime TV and reality programs, has jurisdiction over only a handful of prime-time shows.

SAG filed its claims in February, shortly after the writers strike ended. The 122,000-member union has demanded that the matter be reviewed by a third-party arbitration panel, which will have final say. A ruling, however, may take at least six months, providing little relief to actors who faced financial hardships caused by a strike that was not their own.

That's why SAG negotiators have pressed the matter in their own negotiations, which have been overshadowed by a turf war with AFTRA.

SAG leaders have not yet publicly commented on the new AFTRA contract. But in a private meeting Monday with Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton, SAG President Alan Rosenberg and Executive Director Doug Allen said the accord would be inadequate for their members. Rosenberg told Lynton he would work to defeat the AFTRA pact, said two people familiar with the meeting who were not authorized to speak about the matter.

The AFTRA accord was modeled on a contract negotiated by writers that SAG leaders have criticized. Although it included pay gains for actors, the contract did not achieve an increase in residuals from the sale of DVDs or give actors a say when products are pitched on TV shows -- two important issues for the union.

"We had a frank and cordial exchange and made the point that it was important for the industry that a deal be reached as early as possible," said Jim Kennedy, spokesman for Sony Pictures.

"The best way to do that is by negotiating with the AMPTP, and everyone's energies should be expended in that direction," he said.

AFTRA's board will vote on the pact this weekend,with members voting later.


Fears Of A Union Renaissance

Political power owed to forced-labor unionsim

Who's afraid of a little organized labor? U.S. business, that's who.

Union membership encompasses just 7.5% of the private sector, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is fearful of a potential resurgence in the United States. Now the group, which represents business interests, is opposing a laundry list of bills fluttering about Capitol Hill, which the chamber says would make it easier to organize a union, expand worker benefits at the expense of employers and lift the caps on punitive damages sought by employees in lawsuits.

"What's going on on Capitol Hill right now is nothing less than a radical rewrite of our nation's unemployment laws," says Randel Johnson, the chamber's vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits. As a result, the group is about to revamp its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill and in states like Colorado and Minnesota--which will host the presidential nominating conventions later this year--to turn the tides on union expansion.

But forget 2008. "We're very concerned about the next four years," Johnson says. The prospect of Democrats controlling Congress and the White House is unsettling for foes of labor expansion. Even before Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., sealed his party's nomination for president this week, he'd already scooped up endorsements from big unions like the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Steelworkers Union and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Labor issues do seem to be front and center this election season. Obama said he would consider renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement to keep more American jobs from being outsourced. Democrats in Congress have been firm about ensuring that labor clauses are part of international trade agreements, some of which are still pending. Labor disputes were reportedly part of what derailed merger discussions last week between UAL (nasdaq: UAUA - news - people ) and US Airways Group (nyse: LCC - news - people ). SEIU has waged a highly public campaign to close tax loopholes on so-called "buyout billionaires"--private equity and hedge fund managers.

Teamsters spokesman Galen Munroe says, "It's pretty much accepted that Americans want change after the Bush administration," adding that the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to make it easier for workers to choose a union, would help strengthen the middle class. The measure didn't make it out of the Senate last year, but Obama has vowed to revive it if elected.

That's exactly what the chamber and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, an alliance of local chambers of commerce and other business associations, fear. The groups say that because the bill would do away with the secret ballot voting that allows employees to choose a union, it would pressure individual workers to sign on. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, opposes the bill.

Even if Democrats sweep Congress and the White House in November, the chamber and other business groups appear to have an ally in the Supreme Court. In several cases last year, the court ruled in favor of business interests, including several decision that limit frivolous lawsuits against employers.

As early as next week, the court could rule whether a federal labor law pre-empts California's prohibition against employers using state money to deter union organizing campaigns. With many winds in Washington blowing in Big Labor's favor, business groups are hoping the justices come out on their side once again.


Daly’s Attack on “Big Labor” Harms Prog Agenda

Related story: "Big Labor Sell-Out in Fog City"

Shocking language unbecoming a S.F. leftist

San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly has long championed organized labor. But following the Labor Council’s signing a community benefits agreement with the Lennar Corp. and agreeing to back Prop G, Daly lashed out at his longtime allies. He lambasted “Big Labor,” accusing the city’s unions of “selling out.” He also described San Francisco Labor Council head Tim Paulson as the “Top Big Labor Boss.”

If Daly thought his comments would encourage labor to support progressive causes in the future, he is wrong. The two labor representatives who negotiated the deal—Paulson and UNITE HERE Local 2 President Mike Casey—are longtime progressives. Both have tried to move the city’s labor movement to the left. Daly’s attacks on them simply allow labor’s conservatives to say “I told you so,” pushing the Labor Council to see Mayor Newsom, not Chris Daly, as a more trusted ally.

Daly: “Big Labor Sells Out”

Daly’s May 22 article attacking labor mixes valid criticisms of the Labor Council’s deal with Lennar with entirely inappropriate personal attacks on the integrity of Tim Paulson among others. Daly calls Paulson the “Top Big Labor Boss,” even though he knows that Paulson is essentially the representative/agent of the Labor Council and has no ability to “boss” any union or its members.

Daly also knows that Paulson is a longtime labor activist who has fought to make the San Francisco Labor Council more progressive. This is no easy task. Throughout the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s, the Labor Council was dominated by pro-development construction unions who joined with downtown interests in opposing progressive interests.

Paulson has also tried to bring the SF Labor Council into the 21st Century on the administrative side. He has formed key committees, and gotten prominent leaders like Local 2’s Mike Casey to become actively involved in the Council’s efforts.

Casey played as large a role as any labor official in the Lennar agreement. And for Chris Daly to suggest that Mike Casey has “sold out” on this deal, or has ever sold out his members’ interests on any agreement, is outrageous.

Progressive groups often make deals that warrant criticism, and I share Daly’s problems with Prop G. But disagreeing with the merits of a deal is quite different from accusing groups of “selling out.”

Who is “Big Labor”?

Daly uses the rhetoric most commonly found in the right-wing National Right to Work Committee playbook in continually referring to the Labor Council as “Big Labor.” Conservatives have used this phrase as a counter to “Big Business,” as if labor unions in the United States had anywhere near the power of corporate interests.

Given Casey’s central involvement, are the maids, clerks and banquet waiters who comprise Local 2 part of the “Big Labor” cabal Daly now scorns? And who does Daly see as comprising “Little Labor”? Are these the over 85% of the working population not in unions?

Frankly, I wish the United States had a “Big Labor” with significant union density in the currently non-union service, retail, and financial services sector. If the labor movement mirrored the economic clout of Big Business, the United States would soon have universal health care, a minimum living wage, smaller class sizes in schools, and millions more affordable housing units.

Undermining the Left

As much as Chris Daly admires Barack Obama, he seems to have missed the chief message of Obama’s campaign: the importance of seeking unity, not division. By attacking the integrity of Tim Paulson and Mike Casey, and, by implication, their colleagues in the Labor Council, Daly has made it much harder to get the city’s labor organizations to go out on a limb for progressive causes.

Proposition G is an important measure, but it is not self-executing and requires Board of Supervisors ratification. It is not the type of issue that should lead the city’s progressives to permanently alienate their allies in labor.

One suspects that Daly’s vehemence was motivated by labor reaching a deal “behind his back.” Daly likes to be at the center of things, and understandably was miffed at his exclusion from labor’s negotiations with Lennar.

But labor had a similar view toward Daly’s Proposition F. He did not seek their approval before moving forward with the measure, so labor likely felt no hesitation about proceeding without him in dealing with Lennar.

Group Accountability vs. The Lone Ranger

Chris Daly has proved very effective at pushing the progressive agenda, but increasingly does so without consulting affected constituencies. He has become the classic Lone Ranger. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Labor Council, ACORN and SFOP—who all signed on to the Lennar deal—are membership organizations that operate on a strict model of group accountability.

Unlike most cities, San Francisco’s progressive “movement” has disproportionately involved people whose political activities are not limited or controlled by broader membership organizations. This model for moving a progressive agenda can run into a conflict with the accountability paradigm, which expects proposals to be formally brought before group decision-making bodies for approval.

The future of Bayview-Hunters Point will not be decided on June 3. Rather, it will be fought through the Board of Supervisors and likely the ballot box until development of the area takes off, which could be years.

Ideally, the Labor Council could have worked with Daly and other progressive Supervisors and groups after the election to achieve a long-term win-win solution for the community. But Daly’s comments have prevented him from working with labor on reaching such a deal, and he has helped move the Labor Council closer to Mayor Newsom, hardly Daly’s intended goal.

No Progressive San Francisco Without Labor

When one considers the standard progressive agenda for San Francisco—which includes increased revenue through a gross receipts or real estate transfer tax, universal health care, improved public transit, an affordable housing set-aside, and increased funding for schools—how does this happen without the city’s labor movement? The Labor Council and its member unions have the resources necessary to help defeat downtown/corporate/real estate opposition to this agenda.

That’s why Daly’s attempt to turn progressives against the Labor Council is so self-defeating. And why progressives should challenge each other on the merits, rather than personalizing policy differences and ascribing sinister or profit-based motives to current and potentially future allies.

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