Whole Foods goes back to non-union beef

Related story: "Whole Foods cancels non-union beef"

Pro-union Gov. asked to back UFW off card-check demand

Ranchers-members of Country Natural Beef received some good news Monday Monday when Whole Foods Market officials reversed an earlier request asking the ranchers to stop placing cattle with Beef Northwest feedlot.

"We need to let the public know Whole Foods will continue taking Country Natural Beef cattle, including cattle fed at the Beef northwest feedlot," said Stacy Davies, marketing team leader for Country Natural Beef.

He said the United Farm Workers and Beef Northwest, a feedlot operating company headquartered in North Powder, have been locked in a labor dispute for some time and are working to resolve differences over how a vote will be conducted of non-management employees at the Beef Northwest feedlot in Boardman - where Country Natural Beef is fed.

United Farm Workers has been putting tremendous pressure on Whole Foods to intervene. They were getting thousands of emails per day promoted by UFW seeking to force Country Natural beef to stop placing cattle bound for Whole Foods Markets at the Beef Northwest feedlot.

In response to the union pressure tactics, Whole Foods officials requested in May that the 120 rancher-members of Country Natural Beef, including 16 in Baker County stop placing their hormone- and antibiotic-free cattle at the Beef Northwest feedlot.

That request was reiterated as recently last week by a Whole Foods spokesperson. However, on Monday, a new Whole Foods spokesperson, Livva Letton, announced that the request to stop placing cattle at the Beef Northwest feedlot has been withdrawn.

Livvy said the original request asking CNB ranchers to place their cattle with another feedlot "was an effort to get UFW to stop punishing our brand to pressure Beef Northwest" to accept their conditions for feedlot workers to vote on union representation by UFW.

"Unfortunately that request was widely misunderstood as a sign of our support for UFW. We have consequently withdrawn our request, so Country Natural Beef is continuing to place cattle with the Beef Northwest feedlot," Livvy said. "It was a request we made for them to look at, but they never stopped putting cattle in the feedlot, and we have not stopped selling their beef."

"We didn't intend our action to signal support for UFW or Beef Northwest," Livvy said. "While we have compassion for farmworkers, we can't step in and settle that dispute," Livvy said.

Davies said representatives of Country Natural Beef explained to Whole Foods officials that they fully support allowing non-management employees at Beef Northwest's Boardman feedlot to vote on union representation, provided the election is administered by a neutral party and conducted by secret ballot, so there's no undue pressure on workers to vote one way or the other.

Davies said CNB representative also convinced Whole Foods officials that it would take some time to find another feedlot with the equipment, personnel, expertise and willingness to separate and finish their cattle according to the humane requirements and in a hormone- and antiobiotic-free environment.

"We convinced them that moving the cattle was not an option," Davies said.

"As someone who buys their (CNB) product, we support what they are doing on this issue, but we are not taking any further role than that," Livvy said.

She said the all-natural method of raising cattle and humane animal treatment requirements followed by rancher-members of country Natural Beef and the Beef Northwest feedlot are "right in line" with the vision of Whole Foods Markets, which is headquartered in Texas.

"It's high-quality beef. It's free of antibiotics, and growth hormones, and the ranchers in that co-op treat their cattle so well, all the way up through the feedlot," Livvy said. "Whole Foods is very committed to the treatment of farm animals."

Union insists on no-vote, card-check recognition

Davies said Country Natural Beef, with the support of its major customers, including Whole Foods, Burgerville and Seasons markets, have requested that Ore. Gov. Ted Kulongoski step in and set up a neutral process to allow Beef Northwest workers to vote in a fair election within the next two weeks or CNB will ask the National Labor Relations Board to step in and help resolve the labor dispute between UFW and Beef Northwest.

Davies said in the absence of state labor laws governing union organizing in agriculture, Kulongoski as the state's chief executive officer is the one person with authority to step in and help resolve the dispute. He said the governor has been asked to set up a neutral election through the executive branch, or direct the judicial branch to do it.

If a fair election process isn't set up within the next few weeks, Davies said a lawsuit against the union for damages caused by the union's targeting of third parties not directly involved in the labor dispute, may be initiated.


Labor lawyers prep for federal bailout

Related video: "This is OUR time."

Unionists long for the days of yore

As Senator Barack Obama secured the delegates to become the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee this past week, employers should be braced for a possible dramatic change in the labor landscape. Speaking via satellite to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) convention taking place in Puerto Rico, Sen. Obama vowed to stand by re-elected SEIU president Andy Stern and union members by ushering in a union- friendly administration. He also vowed to pass the improperly-named Employee Free Choice Act if elected to presidential office.

The so-called Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would grant unions certification as soon as they had collected signature cards from half the workers, effectively stripping workers of their right to vote in a government supervised secret ballot election. EFCA would also impose substantial fines for employers' mistakes, as well as force first contracts determined by a third party arbitrator, even if the employer and the union both might disagree with the mandated final contract terms.

The SEIU, one of the largest and most powerful unions, has been campaigning aggressively in support of EFCA and plans to spend $75 million on federal and state elections in the current two-year political cycle. Part of this plan includes aggressively pressuring or punishing political candidates who fail to follow through on pro-union vows after being elected.

"Employers across all industries must prepare for extremely aggressive union organizing campaigns that will be waged on a national scale," says Michael J. Lotito, a recognized workplace law expert and partner at the national employment law firm, Jackson Lewis LLP. "In fact Anna Burger, Secretary-Treasurer of the SEIU, predicts that the labor movement will add 1 million members per year if EFCA becomes law."

The convention established a new direction for the SEIU, voting to fund international, industry-specific campaigns over the traditionally favored local initiatives.

"With its new plans for consolidating power, the SEIU's leadership will effectively be able to dictate who will be targeted for corporate campaigns, how long they will last, and the terms under which they will end. The time for employers to define themselves positively before the union defines them negatively is now," says Philip B. Rosen, managing partner and chair of the Jackson Lewis LLP Labor Practice Group.


Beyond card-check

Seeking growth, pro-union experts explore fractional-dues scheme

Less than one in thirteen private sector workers belong to a labor union, and both businesses and unions believe that the National Labor Relations Act is no longer relevant to today's workers. Businesses argue that the NLRA's adversarial labor-management framework does not fit into modern workplaces, while labor organizations contend employer intimidation prevents workers from unionizing and that no one speaks for most workers today. Congress has debated many proposals to bring the NLRA into the 21st Century.

Most of this debate has focused on proposals like the Employee Free Choice Act that change the methods by which workers choose to join or not join a union. Congress has largely ignored reforming how employers and employees relate in the workplace. Many workers want a greater voice on the job but do not want to join a labor union. Currently they face an all-or-nothing choice. Section 8(a)(2) of the NLRA prohibits employee participation in workplace decisions except through traditional labor unions. This was intended to prevent employers from using “company unions” to undermine organizing drives. Today this ban prevents nonunion companies from innovating in employee relations and from giving their workers an effective voice in the workplace.

Professor Barry Hirsch of Georgia State University will present his research on how relaxing the 8(a)(2) prohibition could increase workers’ voice and choice in the workplace without undermining the goals of the labor movement. Former Republican and Democratic NLRB Members Robert Brame and Sarah Fox will discuss the advantages and shortcomings of this proposal.

What is Next for the NLRA: Reforming to Meet the Needs of 21st Century Workers

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium
Date: June 16, 2008
Time: 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Professor Barry Hirsch
W.J. Usery Chair of the American Workplace, Department of Economics, Georgia State University

J. Robert Brame
Partner, McGuireWoods LLP, and former Member, National Labor Relations Board

Sarah Fox
Counsel, AFL-CIO, and former Member, National Labor Relations Board

James Sherk
Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy, Center for Data Analysis, The Heritage Foundation


Pro-union subsidy unfit for public discussion

Upstate NY gov't officials clam up

The Madison County (NY) Board of Supervisors held its monthly meeting on Tuesday evening and representatives from the Department of Labor were invited to answer questions and educate the board regarding prevailing wage laws. But they refused because, "The media is here; we didn't expect them to be here," said Frederick Kelley, supervising public work wage investigator from Binghamton. Alan Frederick and Joseph A. Misiaszek Jr., public work wage investigators from Utica, also stood silently.

Jim Goldstein, Town of Lebanon supervisor, said he had told the state officials them that reporters would be there.

"We have open meetings; we have an open government. Are we living in a communist state or is this a democracy?" he demanded from the public officials who refused to answer even basic questions about how the state law works.

"Because the media is here, we have to involve our communications department," said Kelley.

"We have all these people here," said Goldstein, "for you to take that position here is absurd."

One by one, supervisors objected to the officials refusal to speak in open session.
The labor department had called Goldstein after watching the Lebanon town meeting on PAC 99, while the board was putting together a bid for a project. The cost of the work was estimated to be less than $2,000.

According to Goldstein, "They hear about it on TV and can't answer any questions because of the media. They wouldn't go to the Lebanon board meeting because the media would be there. It's a law; he enforces it We asked him to explain the law and he can't because the media is here? It doesn't make any sense."

The prevailing wage law, on the books for years, has only recently been enforced. "Something happened downstate where the bids might be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it has affected towns. Something as simple as a $100 furnace repair would have to go out."

Under a prevailing wage law a public body has to patronize companies that pay their workers at least as much as the prevailing wage in the area. Often low-wage rural areas will be lumped in with high-wage urban areas that greatly increase the prevailing wage.

"To follow prevailing wage, if someone drives a fuel truck, they might get paid one rate for driving and then another for unloading the fuel. You have to know the difference," Goldstein said. "There should be a threshold or limit that applies to smaller communities," said Goldstein, he has also spoken with Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-111, and state Sen. Dave Valesky, D-49, about the issue.

There were approximately 30 members of the public at the evening meeting to watch the board in action.

City of Oneida Supervisor Scott Henderson, Wards 1-2-3, was absent.

The next meeting is July 8 at 10 a.m.


AFL-CIO rips Diocese

Union organizer received 'inhumane' treatment

Mr. Milz, along with seven other teachers in the Holy Cross and Holy Redeemer school systems, were informed Monday that because of declining enrollment, they would not be needed for the 2008-09 school year. Pennsylania AFL-CIO President William George called the action to Mr. Milz “a challenge to our freedom.”

“We will not let this inhumane and desperate act go unchallenged,” Mr. George said in the statement. “We will do what is necessary to see that justice prevails.”

Meanwhile, the diocese maintains no one was “fired,” and union involvement had no bearing in Mr. Milz, a 34-year diocese employee, being laid off.

“If you believe that, you believe in the Tooth Fairy,” Mr. Milz said Tuesday. “This has been set up since the beginning to eliminate my position.”

Earlier this year, the diocese announced it would not recognize the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers as a collective bargaining unit. Mr. Milz, a social studies teacher at Holy Redeemer High School in Wilkes-Barre, has led the campaign against the decision.

Though Mr. Milz has worked in the diocese for 34 years, he had the least seniority in the social studies department.

The same criteria always used to determine layoffs was used again this year, according to the diocese.

According to the diocese, seniority is based on years of continuous service in the diocese and applies to position in geographic school systems, within secondary and elementary systems, and within specific fields.

Teachers are also required to meet certain criteria, including the completion of theological courses, state certification and having a pastor’s letter confirming that the teacher is a practicing Catholic and in full communion with the church. If not Catholic, teachers must have letters from appropriate representatives of their faiths.

If additional positions are needed due to enrollment increases, teachers who have been laid off will receive first consideration for these openings, according to the diocese.

Mr. Milz will continue to campaign for recognition of the union, although he won’t be employed by the diocese.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. I knew this was bound to happen, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”


Tell the real cost of government employees

We're adults, we can handle the truth

Something to be re-learned from the current housing crises is that making long-range financial decisions can be very complex. When evaluating your ability to pay you must consider all the costs over time, not just the "minimum monthly payment." The same principle should apply to financial decisions made by politicians and the best check on that is an informed public, but what happens when the politicians intentionally keep the public in the dark? That's the current situation regarding the negotiations between the City of Hollister (CA) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521.

Comments by members of the union dominated the public input portion of the last Hollister City Council meeting. Public input is for people to address items not on the agenda. Council members are permitted a short comment, but the law prohibits them from taking any action on those issues. That law is in place so citizens can prepare their positions and present them - at least that's the theory. In this particular case, the theory is meaningless. Ever since negotiations began, the city council has exercised their legal right to freeze the public out completely.

A parade of union members came to the podium to support their offer to the city, but only the city administration knew if their presentations were accurate because the public had been kept blindfolded; the question is why?

SEIU Local 521 represents about 4,000 public-service workers in Monterey and San Benito counties; approximately 43 of those workers are employed by the city. SEIU's primary function is to secure more pay, benefits, jobs and protection for its members. On the other hand, most union members probably believe that their employer's primary function is just the opposite.

SEIU is aggressive; they use their war chest when required, as they constantly reminded the city council much to the officials' chagrin. They were a large contributor to the city's successful campaign for a sales tax increase. Of course, the union had a critical self-interest in keeping the city solvent and its own members employed.

On the other hand, reality is always a check and balance on desire. SEIU is still operating on extensions of the contract that expired June 30, 2006. When one considers the city's financial condition, it probably benefited both parties to wait for renewal. The city needed union concessions on cost-of-living allowances (COLA) and the union needed to wait until the city was financially stable before they tried to have the increases restored or draw a contract for the future. Now those negotiations are taking place - behind closed doors. There is simply no reason for this secrecy.

It is understood that the city does not want to give away its strategy just as the union does not want to give away its final position - posturing and horse trading are mandatory. However, the mere disclosure of offers and counter-offers does not compromise the process; after all, the union knows that information, the city manager knows, the only people who don't know are the majority who will pay the bills.

Some of the union's arguments, such as the lack of COLA increases, are perfectly reasonable. After all, even those on Social Security get COLA increases, although they are based on national, not local, factors - that's an important distinction. Other arguments, such as implying that enterprise funds can pay more, did not make sense. As both a taxpayer and a ratepayer all the money comes from my personal budget - the technicalities of fund accounting does not matter.

The critical information is the total cost of employing workers. Employees tend focus on their take-home pay for a 40-hour week, but that is only a small part of the cost - and getting smaller. City management tends to focus on current costs, but that is only a small part of the cost - and also getting smaller as retirement and heath costs skyrocket. Someone needs to focus on both the current and future burdens being placed on the tax and ratepayers - remember us? To that end, it would be educational for the city to calculate those critical numbers and allow the public, including the employees, to see the all the bottom lines - today's and tomorrow's.


Protesters fail to block privatization

Union official bemoans dues loss

Nineteen custodians in Comstock (MI) Public Schools are soon to be out of work after the Board of Education voted Monday night to hire Grand Rapids Building Services, Inc. to perform custodial work next year. It is a move that will save the district $430,000.

Protesters picketed the meeting, which was heavily attended by union members and their friends and family members, most clad in black and wearing anti-privatization buttons and ribbons. The recommendation to outsource, delivered by Treasurer Todd Mora, was unpopular with the union-heavy crowd and many spoke out before the vote.

Valerie Hurley, 53, lead custodian at Green Meadow Elementary School, has been with the district for 23 years. As her co-workers walked on the edge of Gull Road with signs before Monday's school board meeting, she stood in front of the Comstock Education Service Center, handing out fliers titled "Do You Want Strangers in School With Your Children?."

"They want to privatize our jobs and bring in people for $8.50 an hour instead," Hurley said. "They called us 'the school family' here until it cost more money to keep that 'family' together."

At the meeting, Hurley advised the board against action that she called misguided.

"I'm here to urge you not to take jobs away from Comstock employees and give them to an outside service," she said. "Our top priority is children, but the top priority for an outside business is to make money. If you hire this company, you will have transient, minimum wage employees working in our schools."

School Board President Gerielle Waltz-Stewart said the decision to privatize did not come easily, but that the board felt it had become a fiscal necessity.

"This is very emotional," Waltz-Stewart said. "We cannot allow emotion over intellect because when that happens, poor decision are made."

Taxpayer Peggy Whipple suggested that administrators be cut rather than janitors.

"Can some of these jobs be saved by cutting higher- paid administrative positions?" Whipple asked.

Denise Pyle, 41, of Climax, was on hand to support friends.

"You must accept personal responsibility for the decision you make tonight," Pyle said. "I see very few administrative cuts on this proposal. If you fire 19 custodians, you will affect 54 family members and some families will lose their homes. Can you live with that? Can you sleep tonight if you do that?"

In response, Waltz-Stewart pointed out that when Assistant Superintendent Sandy Standish replaces retiring Superintendent David Hutton next year, her position won't be filled.

"There are plenty of administrative cuts here," she said. "We are working with two superintendents now and we are not replacing the one we are losing."

It is a move that she said will save the district $160,000.

"These situations are difficult," Vice President Rick Taylor said. "No one on this board wakes up thinking 'Who can I get rid of today?' But as a parent and as a board member, if I have to choose education or other services, I'm going to choose education."

Trustee Richard Hathaway said that he was more in favor of athletics being cut than he was of omitting a custodial staff that he considers part of a safe school environment. Standish called athletics a vital part of attracting families to Comstock Public Schools.

"To be competitive, we have to have a blend of academics, arts and athletics, Standish said.

She also said there much care taken in the selection of Grand Rapids Building Services for consideration.

"Other companies will do this for less money," Standish said. "But they don't have the reputation that Grand Rapids Building Services has and they don't have as much experience with schools. This company has good health insurance, they pay between $10 and $13 an hour, and they've agreed to interview our staff for positions with their company."

"You are our friends," Standish said. "We work in the same buildings together. No one here wants to be making the decision that we have to make tonight."

Lise Schallhorn, 40, of Plainwell, cried as she pleaded for her husband's job. Ron Schallhorn works for Northeast Middle School.

"We have a lot invested in this school district," she said. "My husband is so much more than a custodian. He teaches magic tricks to the kids. He talks about his job at home all the time."

In the end, the chance to save $430,000 was approved. When the motion passed to privatize, with all board members except Trustee Hathaway voting favorably, the group of formerly vocal protestors filed quietly out the door.

"See you in the unemployment line," Hurley said to her co-workers.


Billboard attacks school privatization scheme

Union campaign invokes fear of 'strangers'

In a cost-saving effort, school officials are exploring privatizing custodial services. The district is looking at a budget deficit of $176,000 this year and a shortfall of more than $400,000 in 2008-09. Alma (MI) Board of Education members are searching for ways to save money that "do not affect the kids or the classrooms," Superintendent Don Pavlik said.

"We have sought out costs for outsourcing (custodial services) but have not received any estimates."

Pavlik expects to get bids from five to seven companies.

He said Midland and Bullock Creek schools recently approved privatizing cleaning operations.

The move would eliminate 19 custodial jobs, which doesn't sit well with members of the Alma Education Support Personnel Association.

The union, which is affiliated with the Michigan Education Association, also represents the district's maintenance workers, bus drivers and food service employees.

The group has paid for a message on a billboard at Adams and Superior on the east side of town. It states: "Don't Privatize. Do you really want a stranger cleaning Alma Public Schools? Call a school board member today."

Union spokesman Joe Scholtz, a maintenance department worker, said members are encouraging supporters to attend the next school board meeting, set for 7 p.m. Monday, June 16.

Pavlik reiterated that outsourcing custodial jobs is just one of many money saving options the district is exploring.

He pointed out that several area schools, including St. Louis and Ithaca, have privatized their food service operations during the past few years while Alma continues to run its own.

The district did, however, contract out its mowing about three years ago.

At that time, school officials also got estimates on privatizing custodial services. "When we looked at it before, (privatization) was substantially cheaper," Pavlik said.

The 2008-09 deficit could actually be larger than anticipated because the amount of state funding the district will receive is still uncertain, he said.

"The target keeps changing," he said. "The state is forcing us to do with less."

To compound the problem, Pavlik projects the district's enrollment will decline by about 90 students next year. At $7,200 per pupil, which is what Alma currently receives, that would be a loss of more than $600,000 in state funding next year.

"That's a double whammy for us," Pavlik said. "We will propose (privatizing custodial services) or reject it before the next budget cycle."

That decision will have to be made before July 1 when the 2008-09 fiscal year begins.


Rep. Harry Mitchell, Arizona DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) has publicly rebuked Arizona Democrats who are supporting the Employee Free Choice Act: "For any member of Congress to support, let alone co-sponsor, this bill is disappointing,” said Shadegg. “It is particularly disappointing that a fellow Arizonan, from a strong right-to-work state, would turn his back on workers’ rights. I call on Harry Mitchell to remove his name as co-sponsor and reject this extreme legislation. This legislation is so radical, it has been endorsed and supported by the Communist Party USA. As a new member of Congress, Mr. Mitchell would do well to listen to his constituents back home, not East Coast based Big Labor.”


Jury lets Carpenters officials off the hook

You gotta love those New Yorkers

A jury on Tuesday acquitted two carpentry union officials of charges that they had taken a bribe. The verdict, which came after only an hour and a half of deliberation, ended an arduous eight-year legal process for the officials, Michael Forde and Martin Devereaux, whom prosecutors accused of taking a bribe in 1998 to allow a construction contractor to use nonunion workers on a union job site.

In 2004, Mr. Forde and Mr. Devereaux, officials of Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, were convicted on the same charges, but a judge dismissed that verdict after it was discovered that some of the jurors had debated a Village Voice article about the case before the jury began its deliberations.

“I’m kind of choked up right now,” a red-faced Mr. Forde said on Tuesday after the verdict. “I’m happy that justice has been served. The wheels of justice grind slowly.”

After the verdict, several jurors made an unusual request to meet the defendants and their lawyers. On a street adjacent to the courthouse, several of the jurors exchanged hugs and handshakes with Mr. Forde and Mr. Devereaux.

Michelle Perillo, a 26-year-old juror, told Michael Dowd, the lawyer for Mr. Devereaux, “You were awesome; a great speaker.”


Federal court smacks down Blue Man Group

NLRB's pro-union rule upheld

The Blue Man Group seems singularly out of place in federal court. Imagine them: mute, blue, and frenetically playing the Dumpstulums (overturned dumpsters) for a panel of profoundly underwhelmed federal appellate judges. That never happened. But the group was mired in a labor dispute in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — until today.

When the Blue Man Group moved its Las Vegas show from the Luxor Hotel to the Venetian Hotel in 2005, the group’s stagehands organized with an IATSE local. After the National Labor Relations Board certified the election, the stagehands tried to bargain for a new contract, but Blue Man's management refused to negotiate, claiming the union unit was illegitimate because it left out a handful of musical technicians. The NLRB sided with the union and ordered the group to play ball. The Blue Man Group appealed.

Today, the D.C. Circuit backed the NLRB, ruling that the board applied the correct legal standard to determine whether the bargaining unit was appropriate. The court also granted the NLRB’s cross application for enforcement, meaning that the Blue Man Group will be sitting at the negotiating table very soon. Click here for the ruling.

Judge Douglas Ginsburg, who was joined by Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas Griffith, ended the opinion with an acid footnote: “[The petitioner’s] other arguments are sufficiently lacking in merit as not to warrant consideration in a published opinion. Also, we deny [the petitioner’s] motion that the court ‘take judicial notice of several artistic reviews of the Blue Man Group show that aptly describe the unique and highly unusual experience of attending a Blue Man Group performance.’”

See. Underwhelmed.


AFSCME organizer walks her own path

Minnesota activist profiled

Some people become artists because that is where their talent lies. Others do it because they have something to say. There are those who can't quite put the reason into words. And then there's Juliana Hu Pegues.

Intentional artist, intentional Minnesotan

After activism that included protesting outside the opera "Madam Butterfly," which portrays Asian women as passive and submissive, and the play "Miss Saigon," notorious for its racist and sexist stereotyping of Asians, Hu Pegues says members of the local Asian-American arts community "invited me to become an artist ... I identified as an Asian-American writer."

Hu Pegues was new to the Twin Cities in those days; she'd arrived here in the summer of 1992 as part of an anti-racism community organizing effort after a cross was burned in the yard of a family on the east side of St. Paul. She planned on her time here as a detour, on her way to her "destiny" in San Francisco. "I was coming out, I was biracial and bisexual," Hu Pegues recalled. "[I thought] San Francisco was the place I needed to be."

The longer Hu Pegues stayed in the Twin Cities, the more she liked it. "The irony was, I found in the Twin Cities what I thought I'd find in San Francisco ... there were lesbians of color organizing, and the beginning of a Pan-Asian arts renaissance." She decided to stay put.

Travels with Juliana

The Twin Cities was a long way, both literally and culturally, from Hu Pegues' origins. Her parents met in Taiwan when her mother, who'd gone to secretarial school, landed a job as a secretary at Pan Am and then married her boss. Hu Pegues was born in Taipei in 1969 to a Chinese mother and a white American father. The family moved to Singapore, where her younger sister was born, before moving to her father's native Alaska, where her brother was born and where the family settled.

In Juneau, Hu Pegues' father worked for the state government; she remembers her mother studying for her citizenship exam while she "took care of other people's children," and then doing office work. Today, she works in an independent bookstore.

Hu Pegues' mother has had a strong influence on her. "Though she was raised as a Catholic, I remember my mom saying that the pope was not a woman and therefore had no business talking about a woman's body," Hu Pegues recalled. "When I announced, as a pre-teen, that I didn't think I wanted to get married, but I wanted to have a daughter, my mom said, 'Good for you.'" Her father was "kind of silent" on the subject.

Her mother transitioned back to Buddhism during Hu Pegues' childhood. "Taiwan is a secular Buddhist and Taoist state in the same way the U.S. is a secular Christian state," she explained. "People may visit Buddhist temples yet worship Taoist deities."

As her mother began to observe Buddhism, Hu Pegues remembers statues of both Buddha and Jesus in the house. "Mom got a jade Quan Yin (the Buddhist goddess of mercy) pendant that she wore along with a crucifix," she recalled. "Quan Yin was heavier and hung over the crucifix, knocking it askew. A few years later, the crucifix disappeared."

Her mother wasn't the only strong female influence on Hu Pegues. "My dad really looked up to his mother," she said. "After his parents separated, his mom raised nine boys on her own." Her grandmother, Hu Pegues said, "believed in women's rights before there was a name for it."

Personal identity

Hu Pegues, a straight-A student and class valedictorian, won a scholarship to the University of Redlands, a small liberal arts college in southern California. "The way school is structured, what we're taught is disempowering." She illustrates her point with an experience that happened in a class at Redlands. "It was an older white professor, his research area was archaeology in Mexico. 'You,' he said, pointing at me-I didn't have a name-'You are so lucky because you could pass for Mexican.'"

Another example she cited was a paper she wrote for a biology class on eco-feminism. "It came back with everything circled in red. I cited Robin Morgan as a source and her name was circled with a note, 'Who is this? Is this a credible source?'"

After two years Hu Pegues moved to Seattle, planning to take a break for the summer. She never went back. "I wanted to be in a big city. In Seattle, I wanted to talk about race, about feminism." She lived in a house with five other women and worked as a cook in a collective vegetarian restaurant. "I was not quite out. I still had a boyfriend, he had grown up in Alaska too. He was a very sweet guy, he ended up moving to Seattle to be with me."

She began to become more political about her sexuality and race. During the year she lived in Seattle, she was an "anarchist-feminist." A year in Maine followed, and then one in Boston, where she broke up with her boyfriend. "I needed to be with women," she said.

During this time she began to experience some frustration over how others viewed her in a racial context. "My authenticity is as an Asian-American. In a woman of color context, I am asked if I am Latina or Filipina. Or, 'Aren't you Brazilian?'"

Women's Prison Book Project

Hu Pegues became involved in women's prison reform issues, and she and three other women founded the Women's Prison Book Project. Hu Pegues had previously been involved in books-to-prisoners programs in Seattle and Boston, but she and her roommate saw a need for an organization with a distinct mission of providing books for women. Women prisoners, she explained, need different books than their male counterparts. "Men want legal books, books about political issues ... they're becoming politicized. Women need books around identity, novels. They're interested in learning about how to advocate for themselves and health issues, because prison is such a toxic environment. And child development books, because a majority of women prisoners have children, and a majority of those were the primary or sole parent.

"We started out going though our book collections, asking friends for books they didn't need. We started working nationally right away. We contacted other book projects."

Dictionaries, Hu Pegues said, are the most requested item. Women use them in writing to those outside. "Connections, maintaining connections, is the thing these women have to fight hardest for. How does she stay part of a family, a community? Their primary mode of communicating is through letters," she said.

The organization has, from the beginning, been staffed by volunteers. Hu Pegues' involvement today is less intense than it was when she helped found the Women's Prison Book Project 14 years ago, but she stays involved by volunteering at mailings and attending fundraisers. She is still passionate about the need for the organization-her eyes flash when she talks about how hard it is in some cases for books to get past prison censors.

Moving on

After getting the organization up and going, Hu Pegues did something for herself: She went back to school at the University of Minnesota. She also began organizing for her local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). After earning a B.A. in comparative ethnic studies, Hu Pegues did some work in curriculum development and was an artist-in-residence at several public schools. "I really love to teach," she said.

She is planning on teaching (at the college level) being her next career. "When I teach writing, I want to deal with the notion of how young people are 'other'-race, sexuality, gender, class. Too many writing classes are about how you're 'supposed to write,' not about how to express what you feel. I think that's what's most important. We can always get to the spelling and grammar later. It's important that they know 'I am a thinking person. My thoughts are important to this world.'"

Today, Hu Pegues juggles graduate school-she is in a Ph.D. program in American Studies at the University of Minnesota-with activism and writing. Her political involvement and cultural identity have informed her work from the beginning. Her current play, "Q & A," produced through Theatre Mu, has just finished a two-and-a-half-week run at the Mixed Blood Theatre. "Q & A" explores Asian-American issues of race and sexuality through a question-and-answer format.

She manages to have a social life, too. Hu Pegues' partner of the last two years is a man. She admitted to getting some flack from some of her lesbian friends about that. "I have a couple of friends who sort of disappear when I have a male partner, reappear when I have a female partner. That makes me sad on a personal level.

"I am really open if someone says to me, 'this gathering is only for women.' My partner and I are not joined at the hip. But if I'm not invited because I'm with him ... I'm not going to say, 'I demand to come to your dinner party.'

"We live together. He's Vietnamese-American. We are not engaged and we are not going to get married. He's heterosexual, but he's had to come out to his siblings, when they've asked 'when are you guys getting married?' that I'm bi.

"I'm not going to collude with the state. I couldn't get married when I was with a female partner, so why would I want that privilege with a man?"

Hu Pegues dislikes what she sees as "'the invisibility of being bisexual.' If I'm with a woman, people think I'm a lesbian. If I'm with a man, they assume I'm straight. "I think it's good to get people out of their boxes. Sometime I might say to my partner, 'I'm going to the queer women's potluck.' But I can't go if I'm not invited."


News-union employers sing the blues

Left-ish Big Print awash in red ink

Brian Tierney was pretty cocky when he and a group of investors bought the Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister, the tabloid Daily News, for $515 million two years ago. The former public relations magnate vowed to boost circulation and revenue at the papers.

How would he do that when Knight Ridder, their former owner, had failed to do so before reluctantly selling itself to McClatchy Newspapers (MNI)?

Tierney boasted that he and his partners could invest more money into the Inquirer and the Daily News because, unlike Knight Ridder, they weren't facing angry public shareholders obsessed with the next quarter.

Sounds straightforward enough. Focus on the long-term and reap the rewards of your fortitude. But that doesn't mean Tierney and his partners aren't under considerable pressure in the short run.

They borrowed at least $345 million to finance their acquisition. Last week, a Standard & Poor's newsletter reported that Philadelphia Media Holdings was in violation of its covenants on its senior debt and missed a June 1 interest payment on a mezzanine loan.

Jay Devine, spokesman for the company, declined to comment on the specifics of the credit challenges. "This is not a sign of any big problems at the company," he insists. But given the financial pressures, Tierney and Co. can only be doing so much investing in the Inquirer these days.

A similar story is playing out at newly-private newspapers across the country. In December, real estate tycoon Sam Zell took the Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, private in a deal financed with $8.4 billion in debt. Now he's selling Newsday and other assets because the company isn't generating enough cash to cover a $650 million debt repayment looming in December. Another $750 million is due next May.

And then there are the guys at Avista Capital Partners, the New York-based private-equity fund that bought the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for $530 million in 2007, using nearly $430 million in debt. Two months ago, Avista wrote down the value of its own $100 million investment by 75%.

Tierney and his peers are discovering that there's little benefit to being a private newspaper company owner - at least when you've borrowed a lot of money to become one, your business prospects keep getting worse, and credit is generally hard to come by anyway.

It took years of mediocre financial performance before Knight Ridder's equity investors rebelled and forced the company to put itself on the auction block. In today's environment, lenders are likely to be a lot less patient.

"They now have crabby and anxious bondholders." says Lauren Rich Fine, a former Merrill Lynch newspaper industry analyst who now teaches at Kent State University. "Still the same pressure - if not worse."

Unfortunately, Tierney and his fellow publishers-in-training are running up against the same secular trends that have confounded their public-company peers. They've bought big city papers that were losing circulation and ad revenue share. Now the weaker economy is decimating the automotive, real estate and employment classifieds that traditionally provided close to half their ad sales.

The ailing economy is making lenders less willing to cut the likes of Philadelphia Media any slack, says Dave Novosel, senior analyst at Gimme Credit. A recovery could take some of the pressure off, but Novosel says these companies may still be in a tight spot because of the exodus of advertisers to the Internet.

"It's more than likely that their cash flows will be flat or down in a year," Novosel predicts.

So what are their new owners doing to head off disaster? A little of this, a little of that. Philadelphia Media has added 30 positions at its online division. The Tribune is exploring ways to re-invigorate its ad sales force. But it may be a while before these moves translate into revenue growth. In the meantime, their papers are slashing staff.

That's what Tierney said he wouldn't do before he and his investors bought the Inquirer. Since then, Philadelphia Media has laid off about 140 employees at the two papers - 5% of the total staff.

"Knight Ridder took the headcount down and was pretty draconian about it," says Henry Holcomb, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia "But they did it through early retirement incentives. The first layoffs we've ever had were under the new owners."

Knight Ridder blamed Wall Street when it cut. Tierney can always scapegoat his lenders. Either way, the results look depressingly familiar.


New Obama aide draws fire from unionists

Barack tiptoes to the center

Having Hillary Clinton get behind his presidential candidacy may have been the easy part for Barack Obama, as he now moves to both buttress his campaign's brainpower and unite the notoriously fractious Democratic Party. The two tasks aren't necessarily complementary, as Obama discovered Tuesday when labor leaders and others expressed surprise and chagrin over his choice of Jason Furman as his chief economic advisor.

For the presumptive presidential nominee, Furman's selection is part of a process of tapping into heavyweights who weren't part of his initial band of loyalists but whose talents he can now call upon. Furman, 37, served a similar advisory role for the party's 2004 White House nominee, Sen. John Kerry, and has worked closely in recent years with Robert Rubin, the guiding force behind President Bill Clinton's economic agenda.

There's the rub, for the union officials and some liberal activists.

As The Times' Tom Hamburger reports, criticism of Furman includes the charge that, as a promoter of the benefits of economic globization, he overlooks the trend's negative effects.

Marco Trbovich, a top aide to the head of the Steelworkers Union, told Hamburger: "We are very much taken aback that Furman has been put at the head of this team. ... He is a very bright fellow but he is an unalloyed cheerleader for the trade policies that have been very destructive to manufacturing jobs in this country."

That's not exactly ...

... the type of reaction that is going to help Obama improve his standing with the large pockets of working-class white voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere that he needs to win over.

A spokesman for Obama, Hari Sevugan, stressed that it will be the candidate, not the advisor, calling the shots.

"Staff who work for Sen. Obama implement his ideas and his vision, regardless of their own," Sevugan said.

Hamburger's story on the dispute can be read here.


Death on the picket line

Striker tried to block van

The news that Julio Cervilla Sojo, a 47 year old haulier from Albolote (Granada), had been run over and killed by a van driver while on picket duty at a roadblock in Atarfe (Granada), prompted Fenadisma representatives to walk out on negotiations with the government yesterday.

Nothwithstanding, a packet of 54 measures presented by the Development ministry to negotiators from the National Road Transport Committee (CNTC), which represents 82% of total Spanish hauliers, was generally well received. Negotiations resume at 10am this morning.

A demonstration in memory of Mr Sojo has been organised for midday today, and though the exact details have not been confirmed, it seems that it will begin at the spot where the incident occurred. The van driver responsible was arrested at the scene.

Mr Sojo, who was separated, leaves behind three daughters and a grand daughter. He had been working for around six weeks for Benito Sánchez, a self-employed transporter with just the one vehicle, who was also on picket duty.

Elsewhere, a young picket sustained injuries to one of his feet when he was run over by a Guardia Civil vehicle escorting a convoy of two petrol tankers in La Almarcha (Cuenca). Four pickets were arrested in Villarrapa (Zaragoza) for attacking a lorry driver, while five others have been charged over an altercation at the Las Granadinas industrial estate in San Isidro (Alicante).


N.H. Dem Gov. on secret-ballot

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