Labor’s voice is the loudest

Ethical conflict yields to class in labor-state

The power of organized labor is on display in the marble Rhode Island State House hallways most afternoons. While union membership is at its lowest level in 50 years, labor leaders’ daily contact with lawmakers is as strong as ever. Most days on Smith Hill, union lobbyists far outnumber those from other interest groups.

“In fairness to labor, they’re up here every single day, talking to people,” says Senate Finance Committee Chairman Stephen D. Alves. “You don’t see the Chamber [of Commerce] people here every single day. Do [unions] have more access? I suppose they do - only because they’re here. They catch you in the corridor. If business people were up here and want to talk to us, they’re more than welcome to.”

But there are a handful of paid union employees who don’t need to register as lobbyists to exert their influence. They are elected members of the General Assembly.

Four senators - Frank A. Ciccone III, Paul E. Moura, Dominick J. Ruggerio and John J. Tassoni Jr. - and two representatives - Steven F. Smith and Anastasia Williams - either directly make their living by working for labor unions, serve on the boards of major labor organizations, or both.

Three of the four senators serve on the Senate Labor Committee and three sit on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Both representatives serve on the House Committee on Labor. All six regularly vote on legislation that affects union members.

But there is no inherent legal conflict, according to the state Ethics Commission.

State law prohibits lawmakers from voting or influencing legislation that directly benefits themselves or their families. But a provision in the state Ethics Code — dubbed the “class exception” - creates a broad exception to state law that Governor Carcieri and a chorus of others say “undermines public trust.”

Legislators who work for unions may vote on labor-related bills as long as the benefit is extended equally to other unions, the entire “class.” The same goes for lawyers, teachers, insurance agents and fire-alarm salespeople who regularly vote on laws that affect their industries.

The discussion strikes at the heart of the debate over public corruption in Rhode Island’s part-time legislature, which meets at least three afternoons a week for six months. Most members earn $13,508 a year, forcing the vast majority to make money elsewhere to help pay the bills.

Ciccone, for example, earned $151,558.20 last year in salary and benefits for working as a field representative for the Rhode Island Laborers District Council and another $22,944 for his role of business manager for Local 808, which represents court employees.

Ciccone was not the best paid of the union-employee legislators. Senate Majority Whip Dominick Ruggerio, D-Providence, earned $181,041 in salary and benefits as the administrator of an arm of the Laborers International Union known as the New England Laborers Employers Cooperation and Education Trust.

Meanwhile, Moura received $107,323 in pay and benefits from the New England Laborers Health & Safety Fund. He also sits on the board of the AFL-CIO, which lists his State House office phone number as contact information on its Web site.

And Tassoni took home $92,606 last year for his work as a business agent for the largest state employees union, Council 94, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Both Smith and Williams serve as unpaid members of the AFL-CIO’s board of directors. Smith is the president of the Providence teachers union, while Williams is the president of the Rhode Island chapter of Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

“I have to have a job. You can’t live on $13,000 a year,” Tassoni said. “It’s unfortunate that people think that labor is the evil of all evils … I got a good job. I like what I do. I like helping people. It’s right up my alley. It is what it is. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m a bad guy.”

REP. JOSEPH TRILLO, the outspoken Warwick Republican, doesn’t believe that individual union members are bad people.

But he says that working together, they have “a stranglehold” on the General Assembly.

“They are organized. They are vicious. They are mean. They are threatening. That’s the way they operate. And I’m sorry if I insult them. I’m insulting them as a group. One on one, they’re great,” he told the Ethics Commission last week during a public hearing on the class exception.

Despite hosting the hearing, it’s unclear whether the Ethics Commission may tackle the issue.

It cannot repeal existing law, but has the power to enact regulations that may clarify, redefine or interpret the current law.

Trillo begged the commissioners to weigh in: “This problem is so severe right now, that you are the last hope for this state,” he said.

He acknowledges that just a handful of Assembly members work directly for unions. While he estimates that between 25 and 30 percent belong to unions or have spouses that do, he could not provide data to support his figure.

Trillo said that the class exception should not apply to any group perceived to be as powerful as organized labor.

Ethics Commission board member Ross E. Cheit, a Brown University professor, wasn’t convinced that one group should be singled out.

“I’m worried about equating better-organized with unethical,” he told Trillo. “What you’re really saying is that the unions are really well-organized and that somehow nobody has figured out how to counter that. It seems to me that if there’s so much to counter, other people should get organized.”

Further, Cheit asked about Trillo’s personal circumstances.

Trillo owns a fire-alarm company, but helped draft legislation to revise the state fire code. The revisions would directly affect companies, such as Trillo’s, that supply fire safety equipment.

But because of the class exception that he wants changed, Trillo did not violate the state’s Code of Ethics because the legislation affected all fire alarm companies equally.

“Do you think you have the kind of conflict that we should worry about?” Cheit asked Trillo.

“Absolutely not, I’m one contractor,” Trillo responded.

“Right. That’s why the class exception applied to you,” Cheit said.

The governor’s office believes that the current law must be changed.

“Despite the clear constitutional and statutory intent to hold public officials to the ‘highest standards of ethical conduct,’ the class exception shields activity that would otherwise be considered unethical. Members of the General Assembly regularly introduce and vote on legislation that would directly benefit the financial interests of themselves and their private employers. This loophole should be closed,” reads a recent letter submitted to the Ethics Commission by Carcieri’s executive counsel Kernan F. King.

RHODE ISLAND’S class exception debate is not unique.

The majority of states allow public officials, at the state or local level, to vote on proposals in which they have a perceived conflict.

A study released by the Ethics Commission notes that 35 states, including Rhode Island, have exceptions in their conflict-of-interest laws that apply to the “class” issue. Each is written, interpreted and enforced differently, however. The Ethics Commission, which surveyed several states, found that most consider the issue on a case-by-case basis.

That’s generally been the practice in Rhode Island.

For example, in recent months the commission investigated a complaint that Ciccone broke state law by voting for legislation that would benefit the union he worked for.

The bill, which was passed by the Senate but died in the House, would have saved public employee unions money by shifting from the unions to the state some of the cost of mediating labor disputes. The legislation would have affected nine bargaining units that Ciccone represents, the commission staff found.

But the Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint, ruling he was protected by the class exception because the legislation would have affected more than 100 other bargaining units no differently than the ones Ciccone is involved with.

The Ethics Commission, however, found that Ciccone violated state law by failing to report his union employment on ethics filings in 2005 and 2006. Ciccone argued that his work for organized labor was common knowledge (It was printed in the secretary of state’s annual “Rhode Island Government’s Owner’s Manual”), but the Ethics Commission in late March fined him $1,500.

The commission has no choice but to enforce the current law as written, according to Jason Grammitt, a lawyer with the Ethics Commission.

“If you’re going to punish someone for unethical behavior, due process requires that you can’t be loosey-goosey about enforcing the code,” he said.

Grammitt continued: “With our part-time legislature, we know that everyone who’s not retired is employed elsewhere,” he said. “It’s expected, and sometimes anticipated by the people who elect these elected officials, that they’re going to have expertise or experience in a particular area. Maybe they elect someone affiliated with a union because most of the electorate is affiliated with a union. The commission wants to be very cautious about disenfranchising voters.”

Trillo doesn’t agree.

“The average person that votes has no idea … if they’re a union member,” Trillo said. “Fifteen percent of voters are informed on what they’re voting for.”

Senator Alves, the Finance Committee chairman, agrees with Grammitt:

“The people of their districts know where they work and they elect them. I don’t see a problem with that. If the people of their district find there’s a problem, they throw them out of office,” Alves said.

Alves was asked whether it was appropriate for labor union employees to serve on labor committees: “If they’re working for organized labor, it’s their area of expertise. It’s no more than a business person wanting to be on Corporations. There’s probably more people on the business side of the equation who champion business causes — lower taxes, flat tax, all of that, up here than there are labor people championing the causes of labor. Look around this chamber. We have more conservative Democrats who would stand on the side of corporations over the side of organized labor, I can tell you that.”


'It's all about union dues.'

There's no stopping SEIU in Maryland

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals heard a case yesterday over Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision to allow a union to represent family child care providers during negotiations for state subsidies.

The Maryland State Family Child Care Association sued to stop O'Malley's executive order from going into effect, and two Republican lawmakers, Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. and Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, have said that the Democratic governor overstepped his bounds. A lower court granted a preliminary injunction, but the appellate court entered a stay of that order.

Mark L. Rosenberg said that the Service Employees International Union has been trying to unionize the industry and turned to O'Malley when it failed to win approval of legislation in the General Assembly. He represents the association, a trade group, that sued and has historically represented the industry's interests before the administration. "It's all about money; it's all about union dues," Rosenberg said.

O'Malley's administration, in its brief, argued that the trade group didn't want to share its role and did not try to become certified as an elected representative of care providers. The order stated that the governor would be willing to enter into nonbinding negotiations with a bargaining representative elected by providers.


Hoffa gets a Bronx cheer

Labor-state truckers reject Teamsters

A Bronx specialty foods company is moving to a new facility in an expansion expected to create 150 jobs - but they won't be union jobs. Last month, the truckers at Baldor Specialty Foods Inc. voted against unionizing under the Teamsters.

The vote was two-to-one against joining the union, but Teamsters officials characterized the 55 votes garnered as an improvement over the nine pro-union votes cast the last time the Teamsters tried to organize the drivers several years ago, when the company was based in Queens.

Baldor's management credits a generous benefits package with staving off unionization, while the union blames worker intimidation and a vehemently anti-union workplace culture long cultivated at the company.

"They ran a typically harsh, anti-union campaign," said Dan Kane, president of Teamsters Local 202.

Baldor is now beginning its long-delayed relocation to a 200,000-square-foot complex on city-owned land near its current home in Hunts Point.

The move was nearly derailed when a judge ruled Baldor's lease illegal, citing evidence supporting collusion between the city and the food company.

That judgment was overturned on appeal in late 2006 by a unanimous appellate ruling, clearing the way for the expansion, which is expected to be completed in late summer.

The new facility, at 155 Food Center Drive, will help the company expand its signature Fresh Cuts pre-cut produce line.

It also will a feature a test kitchen with stadium seating built to accommodate cooking demonstrations, guest lectures, industry presentations, recipe tastings and nutritional seminars, the company said.

"The new space will allow for the growth of established brands in addition to the birth of new products and services - all working in tandem under the Baldor umbrella to best serve customers," said Baldor CEO Kevin Murphy.


Discrimination OK for labor unions

WSJ: Look for the Union label

What do the farm bill, the cap-and-trade global warming bill, the clean water bill, the housing bailout bill, and the school construction bill all have in common? Not much, except that in each one and countless others the Democratic majority in Congress has inserted "prevailing-wage" requirements that amount to a super-minimum wage.

We're speaking of Davis-Bacon, the 1931 law that originally applied to road building and other federal construction projects and set a floor on wages in part to price black and Mexican workers out of the work. Today, its main impact is to require de facto union wages. Many reputable studies have estimated that Davis-Bacon inflates federal construction costs by anywhere from 5% to 39%. A Heritage Foundation analysis of wage data reports that in many cities the mandated Davis-Bacon wage is twice as high as the market wage. In Nassau-Suffolk in New York, for example, Davis-Bacon requires a minimum wage for brickmasons of $49.67 an hour, though the more common area wage for that work is $25.50.

So while Democrats insist that one of their top priorities is to solve America's "infrastructure crisis," what they aren't saying is that we could be building about 25% more bridges and roads by repealing Davis-Bacon. Instead, they want to expand its rules to nearly every activity that receives a penny of government money. Congress is even trying to require all state and local governments to pay these escalated wages. This year's farm bill was the first in 75 years to require Davis-Bacon wages, in this case for the construction of ethanol plants. Democrats also slipped in Davis-Bacon rules for the wind, solar and other alternative energy projects.

Democrats support these blanket Davis-Bacon policies even though minorities are still victimized by the wage law. A 2001 study by economists Daniel Kessler of Stanford and Lawrence Katz of Harvard found that when states have repealed their Davis-Bacon laws, this "is associated with a decline in the union wage premium and an appreciable narrowing of the black/nonblack wage differential for construction workers."

By the way, Barack Obama is a big fan of Davis-Bacon. He recently jibed at a gathering of building trade-union workers that "John McCain seems to think Davis-Bacon is something that comes from a pig farm." Mr. Obama has proposed a new taxpayer-supported $60 billion infrastructure bank that would siphon billions off to his union friends by mandating Davis-Bacon. That's "change," we suppose, right out of taxpayer pockets.


AFSCME's accidental labor-state Senator

Unconventional path for union-political boss

John J. Tassoni Jr. became a union leader by accident. He simply wanted to work. And when the bank shut down his family’s jewelry business, he took whatever job he could find. At 21, with no college education, he started pumping gas. Then he ran a printing press for Amica Mutual Insurance Company, learning a trade that would ultimately lead the Smithfield (RI) native into the world of organized labor and public service.

“I didn’t come from a labor background,” says Tassoni, now a business agent for AFSCME Council 94, the largest state employee union, and a four-term senator. “I just wanted to work. I was about to get married. I needed a job.”

He got his first union card at the age of 30, when he took a job printing baseball cards on the overnight shift for the now-defunct Federated Lithographers.

He had to join the union to work there. He says he didn’t have feelings one way or the other about union membership. His grandfather had been a Teamster, but Tassoni knew very little about organized labor.

He soon found that union membership offered a path to leadership.

He learned about contracts, negotiations, grievances. He took classes at the Institute for Labor Studies to learn more.

And nine years after he started printing baseball cards, Tassoni was elected president of Local Union 239-M. He gave up thousands of dollars in overtime, trading his printing job for a desk job to represent hundreds of people.

He was soon drawn to public service. But it wasn’t organized labor that encouraged his run for the state Senate.

Volunteering through his local Lions Club, Tassoni helped organize fundraisers for the family of a local woman dying of cancer.

They paid the family’s medical bills, helped arrange transportation and put the woman’s little boy through karate school. And they paid her funeral expenses.

Before she died, Tassoni remembers her words of encouragement: “She said to me, ‘I don’t know why you don’t get involved in public service; what you’ve done for me you could do for other people.’ ”

He decided to run.

Backed by family support and campaign contributions from labor unions, Tassoni upset 22-year incumbent Sen. Michael J. Flynn.

In the 2000 election, labor groups gave him at least $3,640. The labor donations would continue through his next three elections.

In the 28 days before his 2002 election, he received $1,500 from organized labor, according to records filed with the state Board of Elections. In the same period during the 2004 race, he received $1,740 from union political action committees. And he received $2,100 over the same time in 2006.

Tassoni notes that he didn’t receive any campaign funding from Council 94, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, since he was hired as a business agent there in 2002.

He also says that his union supervisors don’t mix work and politics.

“There might be some points where they say, ‘Hey, what do you think about x, y and z bill,’ and I’ll give them my opinion. But they’ve never told me, you need to vote for that or else,” Tassoni says.

He’s well aware that some people think it’s a conflict for him to work for a union and serve as a lawmaker.

“I’m not ashamed about anything.… I’m proud to say I represent people to try to help them save their jobs,” he says. “People know what I do for a living. As long as I represent the community that has voted for me to the best of my ability, they’ll keep voting for me.”


Teamster strike expands

Union car haulers walk out in 15 states

About 1,250 Teamsters-represented employees of bankrupt car hauler Performance Transportation Services walked off their jobs yesterday -- driving automakers to find other carriers to move vehicles from plants to dealer showrooms.

The walkout was at 24 plant sites, ports and railheads in 15 states, including Toyota's shipments from Georgetown, Ky., and Princeton, Ind. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters says it's protesting an emergency 15 percent pay cut granted by a bankruptcy judge and unfair labor practices.

"The strike is because PTS left the bargaining table," said Fred Zuckerman, co-chairman of the Teamsters' auto transporters negotiating group who is also Local 89 president in Louisville. "This is an attempt to get back into bargaining."

PTS Chief Executive Jeff Cornish said the cuts are needed to compete as the Allen Park, Mich., company reorganizes under Chapter 11 protection.


Labor-state Mayor evades prevailing wage law

Saves taxpayers but angers unions, aldermen

Olean (NY) Aldermen are questioning why they weren’t informed before work began last week to demolish bathrooms and locker rooms at Bradner Stadium. They also worry city taxpayers will have to pay for the work and repairs at the stadium if a private fundraising plan for the stadium falls through.

Mayor David Carucci authorized the demolition work that began last Monday. Workers from Wayne Paving and Concrete took out Bradner’s bathrooms and locker rooms and cut away a section of the stadium’s eastern wall.

Olean Public Works Director Tom Windus said the cost of the demolition work is about $10,000. Mayor Carucci said Wayne Paving and Concrete knows it will be a while before they get paid for the work. He said no taxpayer dollars are being spent at the site.

The city and Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce have formed a non-profit local development corporation - the Olean Local Development Corporation - to raise money to pay for an estimated $3 to $8 million renovation of the stadium. The partnership allows the city and the chamber to capitalize on each other’s strengths.

The city can apply for grants for the project, but by law cannot engage in private fundraising. The chamber can run a fundraising campaign but can’t apply for government grants. Mayor Carucci explained the Olean Local Development Corporation has other benefits.

“We needed an entity first of all that can be tax exempt,” he said. “And secondly, if we do the work through a local development corporation we don’t have to pay prevailing wage.”

By freeing the Bradner project from union work rules the city is required to follow, the corporation will save money on the project, he said.

Mayor Carucci said a nine-member board will run the corporation, adding that Common Council President Rick Smith, R-Ward 6, is on the board. The mayor said the corporation will exist past the Bradner Stadium project to help raise funds and guide other community development projects in Olean.

Mayor Carucci said the Olean Local Development Corporation (LDC) has formed and has applied for nonprofit status. Council members told the Times Herald they weren’t informed the corporation had formed or who is appointed to its board of directors.

Mayor Carucci said the council has been aware of plans to renovate the stadium. He said he didn’t feel the need to let them know the work was beginning.

“I didn’t think the council needed to know,” Mayor Carucci said of the work. “We’re not hiding anything. The money for this project isn’t going to come from the taxpayers, all the funding is going to come through the LDC.”

He pointed out that the Olean Urban Renewal Agency has already given $15,000 to start up the local development corporation.

A community fundraising campaign for the project hasn’t begun. Mayor Carucci said he’s unconcerned the corporation doesn’t have its budget in place yet.

“The stadium will be done in phases,” he said. “If we don’t have the money, if people don’t support it, then we’ll stop.”

But he predicted the community will support the project. He said the community signaled it wanted to rebuild Bradner Stadium when it rejected a proposed artificial turf field for the middle school in December.

“The exit polls were 4 to 1 that the stadium needed to be done,” he said.

Mayor Carucci said regardless of what happens, Bradner’s bathrooms and locker rooms needed to come down.

“Even if the project falls through and we get zero dollars, the locker rooms and rest rooms needed to come down anyway,” he said.

Renovation plans at the stadium include constructing an artificial turf field for football, soccer, baseball and softball. The stadium’s southern wall will be demolished to expand the field to make room for a baseball diamond and softball field. New bathroom and locker facilities will be installed, as well as aluminum bleachers.

A lighted, paved walkway from Forness Park behind the stadium to Bradner would expand parking for the facility.


Barack tiptoes to the center

Unionists fume, then quickly backpedal

Just days after clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Barack Obama is naming as his economic policy director an economist who has clashed with critics of Wal-Mart by defending the company as a boon to poor Americans.

The appointment of Jason Furman, 37, a former Clinton administration official who is a visiting scholar at New York University, immediately met with skepticism from some who have faulted Wal-Mart for being stingy toward its workforce.

"It's surprising because this guy seems to feel that Wal-Mart's low-wage, low-benefit business model is good for America. That's just flat-out wrong," the executive director of Wal-Mart Watch, David Nassar, said. "This guy helped to lend credibility to the Wal-Mart business model. That was disappointing then and it's disappointing now given this position," said Mr. Nassar, whose group is backed by a board that includes the president of the Service Employees International Union, Andrew Stern. Mr. Nassar quickly added that he was "not critiquing the Obama campaign."

A New York-based labor organizer and writer, Jonathan Tasini, said he was puzzled by the selection of Mr. Furman. "It's legitimate to give you pause," Mr. Tasini, who ran an unsuccessful primary challenge to Senator Clinton in 2006, said. "There have been concerns raised about where Obama's economic policies will trend," the writer said.

Mr. Tasini noted that, while Mr. Obama spurned labor groups by voting for a free-trade agreement with Peru, his past suggests he would be an ally of labor. "It's hard to believe that during his community organizing work in the poorest neighborhoods of his own city he didn't have something sink into him about income inequality. There's no way to read anything he has put out there as anything but rejection for the Wal-Mart model," Mr. Tasini said.

As the company became a pariah in Democratic circles, Mr. Furman stepped out on the issue in 2005 by publishing a 16-page paper titled, "Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story." He argued that the huge cost savings the company has delivered to its customers, who tend to have low incomes, far outweighed any impact the chain may have had on wages.

In a debate on Slate.com in 2006, Mr. Furman took on the tactics of the anti-Wal-Mart movement, which include trying to block new stores in places like New York. "If I heard that Wal-Mart was coming to my neighborhood, New York's West Village, I might rush for my mouse. But I wouldn't kid myself into thinking that my opposition had anything to do with helping the poor. If anything, I would feel guilty that I was preventing moderate-income New Yorkers from enjoying the huge benefits that much of the rest of the country already knows so well," he wrote.

"The collateral damage from these efforts to get Wal-Mart to raise its wages and benefits is way too enormous and damaging to working people and the economy more broadly for me to sit by idly and sing 'Kum-Ba-Ya' in the interests of progressive harmony," Mr. Furman added.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama, Joshua Earnest, said the candidate and Mr. Furman have not discussed Wal-Mart.

During the primary campaign, Mr. Obama was sharply critical of the company. He has said he will not shop there and that Wal-Mart should pay "a living wage."

At a January debate, Mr. Obama seemed to play to Wal-Mart's critics when he suggested that Senator Clinton's six-year stint on the company's board paled in comparison to his record as a community organizer in Chicago. "While I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart," Mr. Obama said, in one of his sharpest jabs at Mrs. Clinton.

One economist who has disputed some of Mr. Furman's findings on Wal-Mart said the disagreement shouldn't disqualify him. "That's small potatoes. Jason's economic agenda goes way beyond that," Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute said. "That's not anything close to a deal breaker."

Mr. Furman had been affiliated with the Brookings Institution as director of its Hamilton Project, an economic policy project whose advisory council includes executives of Citigroup, as well as prominent hedge fund executives such as Eric Mindich of Eton Park Capital Management, Richard Perry of Perry Capital, and Thomas Steyer of Farallon Capital,


Casino War: UAW turns tail at Foxwoods

UAW withdraws after Foxwoods workers reject second union vote

The United Auto Workers has withdrawn its petition to organize technicians under federal labor law at Foxwoods Resort & Casino. The action occurred three days after racebook employees voted 23 - 13 to reject a UAW union at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation's gaming facility. The turnout at the May 30 vote represented 90 percent of the total potential pool of 40 voters.

UAW withdrew its petition June 2, hours before the regional National Labor Relations Board's scheduled hearing on whether the technicians would be allowed to vote.

''They did it in the standard manner. They gave us a call and then they confirmed the call in a one-sentence note that said the unit was withdrawing their petition,'' said John Cotter, assistant regional director for the NLRB in Hartford.

''This is the fourth petition we've had to deal with that they have filed under federal law. They withdrew the petition for this particular group of people, and they are free to file a petition for another group or they are free to re-file a petition for this group.''

The racebook employees' vote was the third union vote at Foxwoods in less than a year, and the second to be rejected in less than a month.

Last November, poker dealers voted 1,289 - 852 to form a UAW union under the federal National Labor Relations Act. The tribe has appealed the vote on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that the federal labor laws do not apply on sovereign tribal lands and that workers can organize under tribal labor laws.

On May 1, operating engineers at Foxwoods, including electricians, plumbers and painters, voted 215 - 67 against forming a union under the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30, which also would have been under federal labor laws.

Foxwoods President Barry Cregan said in a release that he was pleased with the outcome of the racebook employees' vote.

''We are very pleased that another group of employees has shown faith in Foxwoods management and their continued efforts to keep Foxwoods as a great place for employees and guests. I am very pleased with the way our racebook team members have conducted themselves.''

Janet Barragan, a racebook writer, said in a UAW release that ''there are a lot of good people working in racebook and we deserve a better future. We deserve better from Foxwoods. We're not giving up.''

The UAW did not return a call seeking comment on why it withdrew its petition.

A Foxwoods spokesman declined to comment on UAW's withdrawal of the petition, which sought to unionize between 80 and 120 slot technicians, electronic bench technicians, field service technicians and senior field service technicians at Foxwoods and MGM Grand at Foxwoods, the nation's new $700 million hotel, convention center and casino on the reservation, which opened May 17.

Riding on its success with the poker dealers, the UAW had pushed unsuccessfully during the recent legislative session for a law banning smoking at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun on health grounds. In an ironic twist, the UAW filed an unfair labor practice complaint May 15 against Caterpillar Inc. because of its decision to ban smoking on all of its U.S. properties. UAW said the ban goes against the company's contract and that the issue of workers' smoking rights should be subjected to collective bargaining.

But the defeat of two union votes in a row at Foxwoods has raised speculation that the union's first flush of success at organizing the poker dealers may be fading.

Both the UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were competing to organize the same Foxwoods technicians; but in early May, the AFL-CIO, to which the UAW and IBEW belong, gave the UAW the exclusive right to organize workers at Foxwoods for the next two years.

Cotter said the AFL-CIO decision could be related to UAW's early success at Foxwoods.

''My understanding is they thought UAW had already had a successful foothold and was considered more likely to be able to successfully organize these people.''

Typically, a union withdraws its petition because of declining support.

''In other words, they don't think they can win the election and don't want to expend their resources in terms of litigation, organizing experiences. That's almost always the case. I assume it's the reason here, too,'' Cotter said. ''I don't know that. We don't ask unions for their reason specifically. If they wish to withdraw, we respect that.''

Meanwhile, United Food & Commercial Workers International Union Local 371 is organizing beverage, cleaning and food workers at Foxwoods.

Brian Petronella, the local's president, said that it was ''appropriate'' for the UAW to withdraw its petition ''to try to regroup with those workers'' and re-file a petition for an election.

But the UFCW is moving forward despite the UAW's petition withdrawal.

''We've been going ahead with this since January. In fact, the lawyer from Foxwoods knew we are doing this and they sent me a letter. They wanted us to go through tribal law,'' Petronella told Indian Country Today.

The union won't file a petition under the tribe's labor laws.

''After reading the tribal law, there are too many laws in there that really wouldn't protect the workers,'' he said. He did not specify which laws those were.

UFCW is working to organize 500 to 2,000 Foxwoods employees, and is waiting for a solid majority before they file for an election, but Petronella acknowledged that a positive vote will most likely result in an appeal by Foxwoods.

''I anticipate a long, drawn-out process. We expect this will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.''

Mashantucket has vowed to take the core issue - tribal sovereignty - through federal courts.

The tribe maintains that employees may unionize under tribal law, said Jackson T. King, the nation's general counsel. The laws are available at www.mptnlaw.com.


SEIU: Serving Employers Instead of Us

CNA accuses SEIU of threatening patients

The bold print in the full-page ad in the June issue of "The Progressive" reads, "Why Nurses Believe SEIU's Company Unionism Threatens Our Patients." SEIU stands for Service Employees International Union, only the nurses who sponsored this particular ad quite sassily call it "Serving Employers Instead of Us."

Those are fighting words for me because experience has taught me that first and foremost, you want that nurse at your bedside to be your advocate. Ethically and morally, that is a sacred trust that must not be messed with by anyone, including the owners and operators of a health care institution.

The ad was sponsored by the California Nurses Association and its national arm, the National Nurses Organizing Committee. According to its Web site, CNA/NNOC is one of the fastest-growing health care organizations in the U.S. with 80,000 members in 50 states, representing nurses, hospitals, clinics, and home health agencies.

CNA/NNOC claims that the head of SEIU, Andy Stern, has become "the darling of corporate media in recent years."

These nurses charge that Stern's corporate partnerships hurt the ability of registered nurses to advocate for their patients, stall the progress of the movement for single-payer reform, and undercut the entire progressive labor movement by giving corporate employers a docile alternative.

The allegations are shocking. According to the nurses, SEIU signed an agreement with nursing home operators pledging not to report patient safety problems, and also lobbied for less oversight of the homes.

They claim that Stern has partnered with Wal-Mart, the insurance industry, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, to defeat the kind of single-payer health care reforms this country so desperately needs.

CAN/NNOC nurses say that Stern sent hundreds of SEIU staffers to violently break up the Labor Notes conference in Michigan, with the goal of physically harassing female nurse leaders there who disagreed with him. Those same nurse leaders say they have experienced groups of SEIU staff trailing them at work, in the car, and with family.

They also charge that Stern cut a secret deal in Ohio with Catholic Healthcare Partners under which the employer would choose SEIU as a union and would then file an employer petition for an election -- with no show of support from workers who had already turned down SEIU representation.

"SEIU International under Andy Stern has embarked on a disturbing path of corporate unionism -- business partnerships with employers that undermine protections and a voice for workers." This is from the CNAN/NNOC Web site, which is urging nurses to sign a petition to 'Tell SEIU to STOP the intimidation!' "

CNA/NNOC charges that SEIU has taken steps to silence dissent within the union, has engaged in physical aggression, and has made threats against the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee for criticizing SEIU's direction.

"In contrast, CAN/NNOC is committed to building a powerful national movement of direct care registered nurses that protects the ability of RNs to advocate for patients and work together to improve patient care conditions." They call for standards for all RNs, and achieving genuine health care reform through a single-payer, Medicare for all system.

Those are worthy goals, indeed. It gladdens my heart to know there is this kind of activity among the rank and file nurses. I have often thought that if professional nurses would band together for the sake of improving health care, they could get the job done. Like fragile snowflakes, when they stick together, they can paralyze the whole system.

In reading through the various materials from CNA/NNOC, the charge that SEIU, which theoretically represents thousands of health care providers, has actually signed an agreement with nursing home operators pledging not to report patient safety problems is most vile.

The papers and the professional journals bring elder abuse and nursing home patient neglect to our attention on a regular basis. "Where are the nurses?" I find myself almost screaming. Well, they are out there and they are taking out full-page ads to bring attention to their plight.

Small wonder that they call the union Serving Employers Instead of Us. These are the "Steel Magnolias." I am so proud to be a part of them.

- Barbara Quirk is a Madison geriatric nurse practitioner.


Rep. Jim Marshall, Georgia DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA-03) voted in favor of passage of the “Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)” (H.R. 800). The legislation changes the standards for establishing or joining a labor union. Historically, a union is authorized to serve as the collective bargaining unit for a group of employees only after a majority of employees affirms their desire to organize through a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

If this legislative effort is successful, the secret ballot standard could be replaced with one where only a majority of employees signing authorization cards would be required to establish a union. This change in protocol has potential impact on the mining industry. Vote Results: Agreed to 241 Yes, 185 No, 8 Not Voting. March 1, 2007, House Roll Call Vote 118.


AFSCME dispute halts free speech at U.C.

Dem pols avoid union battleground

Several high-profile speakers scheduled to address graduating students at UC Santa Cruz commencement ceremonies this weekend have said they will cancel if the university fails to reach a contract agreement by the weekend with a union representing nearly 20,000 workers statewide.

Monday, aides for Assembly members John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, and Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, confirmed reports made by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 last week that the lawmakers will not deliver keynote addresses at ceremonies for UCSC's Kresge and Steveson colleges, respectively.

Union leaders say UCSC professors and nationally known social justice activists Angela Y. Davis and Paul Oritz also have declined to make scheduled speeches at Oakes and College Ten ceremonies. Former President Bill Clinton and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez have also declined to show up for their scheduled addresses at UC ceremonies in Los Angeles and Davis unless there an agreement is reached, the union said.

Nicole Savickas, a spokeswoman with UC's Office of the President, said Monday there was no systemwide contingency plan for how to deal with cancelled commencement appearances, though individual colleges and schools may be devising back-up plans.

"It's unfortunate that union has called for these public figures to boycott commencement ceremonies because the students are suffering,"
she said. "They are not really involved in our bargaining process."

UCSC is scheduled to graduate 2,242 undergraduate, 210 graduate and 88 doctoral students in ceremonies Friday through Sunday. In the fall and winter quarter, 1033 undergraduates also earned bachelor's degrees, 73 students earned master's degrees and 41 students received doctorates.

UCSC spokesman Jim Burns said he could not recall another time UCSC graduation speakers have pulled out over ongoing labor talks.

"Our commencement speakers, of course, have the right to decide whether they will actually participate in graduation ceremonies," Burns said Monday. "If some speakers choose not to come, we hope that their absence will not significantly impact celebrations that are designed to honor our students."

In a statement, Laird said, "I'm really hoping this will get resolved before commencement ceremonies, and I'm working hard with representatives on both sides. It would be a major disappointment for graduating students and their families to have commencement affected by this issue."

However, he said, "If by Saturday there is no agreement, and AFSCME asks that I not participate in the commencement, I will honor that request -- just as I have never crossed a labor picket line."

Lakesha Hamilton, the union's president, said Monday that AFSCME contacted lawmakers and other speakers, asking them not to participate. But she said others took their own initiative to tell the university they would cancel if there wasn't an agreement.

Although the union is not on strike, it would still view a UC speech by lawmakers as "crossing the picket line," she said. "These high-profile people knowing about our fight, that helps UC see that they should do the right thing."

She acknowledged that the union, which is part of the AFL-CIO, has made contributions to some of the lawmakers campaigns, but said the request for Laird and Ma to back out of their commitments was not coupled with a threat to pull political support.

"We haven't threatened to do anything," she said. "We just asked people to support the workers."

University negotiators met Monday with AFSCME leaders who represent 11,000 patient care workers in the UC system, but no agreement was announced over wage and job security disputes. The university has no meetings scheduled with union officials who represent about 9,000 service workers, such as custodial, maintenance and dining workers. About 550 of those workers are employed at UCSC.

Although it looks unlikely that the service workers could reach an agreement by Saturday, officials for both sides said they are not counting it out.

"It depends on what the two parties bring to the table," Savickas said.


SAG declares war against AFTRA

Jumbo Hollywood unions battle it out

Like two prize fighters battling for the heavyweight championship, SAG members angrily swung back against AFTRA this morning. The actor’s guild leaders chanted for a vote-down against the AFTRA agreement with the studios and producers outside SAG headquarters in Hollywood, California. “It is essential to vote down that AFTRA deal,” said SAG President Allen Rosenberg. “A vote no says, get back to the table with the Screen Actors Guild.”

“We are engaged in the battle of our lives.” Rosenberg said. The tentative AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) contract with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) provides residual payments for ad-supported streams and clips on the internet and establishes higher fees for downloaded content. SAG believes the revenue scale in the AFTRA contract puts SAG at a disadvantage and cheats their members.

Of the 139,000 members in SAG, approximately 44,000 members are also AFTRA members. SAG’s board wants those members to vote down the AFTRA agreement. AFTRA has 78,000 members. In attendance were actors Marg Helgenberger of CSI, Keith Carradine and Ed Asner.

SAG’s contract is set to expire on June 30. With pressure mounting on the SAG executive board to sign a deal before their contract expires, temperatures are mounting by its guild members who fear a repeat of the 2007-2008 writer’s strike. The WGA strike created an economic loss of $2.5 billion to the Los Angeles economy and close to 38,000 jobs lost according to city officials.

Rosenberg read down a list of issues facing SAG and its battle with the AMPTP, inciting AFTRA for hindering their negotiations. The crowd responded, “vote no, vote no, Hollywood is a union town.” Although billed as a “solidarity rally,” the event was more like an embittered spouse who lost the divorce battle in court,” said one AFTRA member in attendance just to observe the proceedings. “AFTRA has abandoned us,” says Rosenberg. AFTRA is taking a strong stance against SAG’s commitment to undermine their tentative agreement with the AMPTP.

The small crowd became more enraged when Rosenberg compared his own union members to lab rats.

Before the rally today, SAG board members sent a letter to AFTRA demanding they delay their ratification vote until they could negotiate a better deal with the AMPTP.

It is clear that AFTRA does not want to take a strike position and will take the legal high road against SAG if SAG chooses to interfere with the AFTRA contract agreement. In a written response, AFTRA reaffirmed their position as a member of the AFL-CIO.

“We hope it will not be necessary to pursue legal remedies, but be aware that we would view any attempt by SAG or its leadership to undermine or interfere with our ratification process as a violation of both law and the AFL-CIO constitution,” said AFTRA President Roberta Reardon.

SAG Executive Director Doug Allen said at the rally. “Now we face a watershed in history, what we’re trying to do right now is get the best possible contract we can. This rally is to remind each other what our priorities are. We aren’t done yet. You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”


Sparking further controversy is SAG’s attempt to use big Hollywood names such as George Clooney and Tom Hanks in support against AFTRA. On Thursday, SAG board member Susan Savage sent an email to its members encouraging them to “do all we can to stop AFTRA from ratifying a bad deal that will affect all of us.” She further went to suggest that George Clooney and Tom Hanks had personally called Rosenberg to “offer their total support.” The Clooney-Hanks public relations team went into high gear, stating that Savage’s claim were “untrue and fabricated.” Both PR firms for the two mega stars have said “they are in support of negotiations and not anti-AFTRA,” as the email had been interrupted by some of SAG members.

SAG member Brad responded to a possible strike authorization letter which maybe brought forth at a town-hall meeting this coming Wednesday. “We’ll strike if we have too but nobody wants to strike. What AFTRA has essentially done is cut SAG in half.” He said

In attendance at the SAG rally were writer’s guild members and board members. WGA President Patric Verrone and WGA National Executive Director David Young told the crowd, “We hope that you can make a better deal than we did. We hope that you can move the ball down the field.” WGA’s comment come on the heals of the recent writer’s strike. The comments won’t go unnoticed with WGA member’s who will feel cheated that their board did not negotiate properly for their own union members if SAG achieves better terms for it’s own.

Hollywood Today spoke with SAG member Charles on the picket line. “A trade guild is not a union. People that crossed the picket line are forgiven. In a real union that would not happen. We struck a few years back and everyone who crossed was forgiven as if they did nothing wrong, this is not a real union.” The implication implied weakness on the part of the guild and its members. He went on to further suggest that a real labor union would not tolerate such insubordination from its own.

It should be noted that the SAG New York offices boycotted the event. Some joint AFTRA-SAG members in New York, have stated they make more money as a member of AFTRA then being a member of SAG.

The AFTRA contract will be sent out to all its members for a ratification vote and the results are expected to be announced on or about July 7. All AFTRA needs is a majority to ratify the tentative agreement.

The SAG town-hall meeting is for members only in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 11 at the Harmony Gold Preview House starting at 7 p.m.


AFTRA will hold an informal meeting on June 12 at the Eagle Rock Cultural Center and a second meeting is scheduled for June 16 at the Barnsdale Art Center.


Gov't unions innovate for dues

Lack of 'exit option' boosts union revenue

Public sector labor negotiations can produce innovations in benefits plans and union-organizing campaigns, but combative attitudes and economic pressure remain obstacles, said a panel of professors and labor relations professionals on Monday.

"It's my belief, for better or worse, that public sector workers are becoming the face of the American unionized worker," said Stephan Fugate, chairman of the board of the Baltimore City Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System, at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service's National Labor-Management Conference in Washington. "Are public sector unions still an innovative force? We'd better be."

Adrienne Eaton, chairwoman of the labor studies and employment relations department at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations, said the relative stability and strength of public sector unions put them in a better bargaining position than their private sector counterparts.

"I think you need the urgency and the lack of an exit option. In manufacturing, there is the option, often, to exit," she said. "You can't, in fact, cooperate with a weak partner. Innovation is only possible in labor management relationships when both sides are strong."

Christian Weller, a senior fellow at the think tank Center for American Progress and associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts (Boston), said besides their strength, government unions have produced more even income distribution than unionized private sector enterprises among members who hold different jobs within the bargaining unit. He said the size of public sector unions provides opportunities to develop innovative and intelligent benefits offerings that are out of reach of private sector businesses.

"Public sector employees have greater opportunities to take advantage of economies of scale. We don't assume public sector employees will go out of business," Weller said. "That allows public sector plans to take a much more long-term view in their investments [of pension funds] and become more stable investors."

Nancy Peace, a mediator and arbitrator based at the Center for Management Research in Wellesley, Mass., said she worried that intensely adversarial attitudes were a barrier to innovation.

"If you think you're at war, or you think that effective negotiation is a zero-sum game, I think that has a chilling effect on collective bargaining," she said. "It is often a counter to what I would see as creative and innovative bargaining. What do constituents view as robust representation? What does winning mean? How do you define that? That impacts your ability to be creative when you come to the table."

Peace said union elections and management turnover mean there is no guarantee that subsequent leaders would sustain any creative approaches to negotiating or devising employee benefit packages.

Robert Tobias, distinguished adjunct professor in residence at American University, said regardless of labor or management's intentions, the costs of past commitments now coming due would constrain public sector negotiation.

For example, a 2008 Pew Charitable Trusts report found that the costs of Philadelphia's pension fund and health care systems for city employees were outstripping the city's growth in revenue. In 2003, the Bush administration proposed making agencies shoulder the entire expense of their employees' retirements, shifting some of that cost burden from the Office of Personnel Management. As more baby boomers retire, the government will begin to feel the full brunt of those payments.

"They have huge legacy costs in the federal sector that will absorb a huge amount of GDP [gross domestic product] in the next few years," Tobias said.


Bringing unionism to North Carolina

Jumbo unions hurt by dues shortage from gov't workers

In North Carolina, there are thousands upon thousands of workers who are union members. Our neighbors working at employers such as Miller Brewing, Goodyear, AT&T and Yellow Freight all have exercised their constitutional right to bargain collectively.

So why can't police officers in Charlotte, school custodians in Greensboro, firefighters on the Outer Banks, state workers in Raleigh and teachers in Asheville enjoy the same fundamental American workplace right?

Because North Carolina is one of only two states that prohibit public employees from collective bargaining.

The legislation robbing public employees of their rights was the result of an organizing drive at the Charlotte Police Department a half-century ago. Elected leaders in the Queen City, along with the editorial page at the Charlotte Observer, stoked the fires of worst-case scenarios if the police officers dared exercise their constitutional right.

Something had to be done, and Mecklenburg County state Rep. Frank Snepp Jr. led his delegation in introducing a bill to take away workers' rights. N.C. General Statute 95-98 was passed by the General Assembly in May 1959, and Gov. Luther Hodges promptly signed it into law. As a result, North Carolina's public employees were relegated to second-class citizenship.

THIS OVERREACTION IGNORED A FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH. One of the most basic rights in the American workplace is the right to bargain collectively for wages, benefits and work responsibilities. In the first half of the 20th century, the exercising of these rights provided many of the benefits that workers now take for granted.

Were it not for the labor movement, benefits such as the weekend, a 40-hour week, pensions and health-care would not exist. Make no mistake, corporate America didn't grant these benefits because it wanted to; it did so because it had to. Unions bargained for those benefits.

This truth has been ignored and left up on a shelf for too long. North Carolina now has a chance to restore these basic workplace rights to its public employees. A coalition of labor unions, environmentalists, social justice and faith-based groups has formed the N.C. H.O.P.E. Coalition. The acronym stands for Hear Our Public Employees.

The coalition is supporting House Bill 1583, which would overturn the ban on collective bargaining. As expected, the usual cast of characters led by business interests is playing chicken little. The sky will fall if municipalities are allowed to collectively bargain.

These interests haul out the tired threat that our police officers and teachers may strike and hurt public services.

Of course, this isn't true. There is a separate statute that bans public employees from striking, and HB 1583 would leave that untouched. Public employees could not strike. Neither would municipalities be compelled to bargain. The legislation merely lifts the ban and allows the state, a county or town to bargain if it chooses to do so.

We know the fight is tough. During this short session of the General Assembly, there is actually more support than ever for correcting this injustice. Labor unions and employee associations representing police officers, teachers, state employees and firefighters are going to walk the halls of Jones Street and make sure that legislators understand the issue. We are going to make sure that the enemies of working families do not let their half-truths rule the debate.

Along with members of the public, we can ensure that public employees have the same rights as their counterparts in the private sector.

- James Andrews is president of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO.


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