Bob Ewegen: Colorado's pro-union editorialist

Related story: "Big Business in Cahoots with Big Labor"

Denver Post's resident class warrior exudes hard-left POV

Bob Ewegen (bewegen@denverpost.com) is deputy editorial page editor of The Denver Post. He has a master's degree in labor relations from CU.

Thanks to the beneficence of a 28-year-old Coors trust-fund baby, Coloradans may soon enjoy the same "right to work" guaranteed citizens of the old Soviet Union. Article 40 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution 40 stated:

Citizens of the USSR have the right to rest and leisure.

This right is ensured by the establishment of a working week not exceeding 41 hours, for workers and other employees, a shorter working day in a number of trades and industries, and shorter hours for night work; by the provision of paid annual holidays, weekly days of rest, extension of the network of cultural, educational, and health-building institutions, and the development on a mass scale of sport, physical culture, and camping and tourism; by the provision of neighborhood recreational facilities, and of other opportunities for rational use of free time."

I'm puzzled why Jonathan Coors, a member of a family normally associated with right-wing causes, would push a Communist concept like right-to-work. But I'm sold, since an idea isn't responsible for its author.

Excuse me, my phone is ringing.

Hello. What? Oh, phooey.

Belay that endorsement. I've just been informed by nit-picking Ed Quillen that the Coors right-to-work plan isn't the same as the Soviet one. In fact, it doesn't guarantee you a right to a job at all, let alone "opportunities for rational use of free time."

It's just a union-busting scheme.

If you're lucky enough to find a job at all, the only right the Coors plan gives you is the right to work for less. Quite a bit less, actually. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an average worker in the 22 states with right-to-work laws earns about $7,131 a year less than workers in free bargaining states ($30,656 versus $37,787). Nationwide, union members earn $9,308 a year more than non-union workers, $41,652 versus $32,344.

These facts aren't in dispute. To be fair, however, there is considerable controversy among labor economists about whether right-to-work laws cause low wages or whether economic backwaters are more likely to pass anti-union laws. Probably, the truth is a mixture of both.

Right-to-work states have a poverty rate of 13.5 percent, compared with 12.2 percent in free bargaining states. The infant mortality rate is 7.94 percent higher and the uninsured population rate is 15 percent higher on average in right-to-work states. And they spend $1,680 less per pupil in elementary and secondary school.

These dismal statistics may simply reflect the relatively depressed economies in the 22 states with right-to- work laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

Twenty-seven other states are "free bargaining" states, where a union can ask the employer for a union shop. If an employer agrees, it must be approved by a majority of the union members voting on the contract.

Strictly speaking, federal law prohibits requiring workers to join a union. But workers in so-called union shops can be required to pay a fee to reimburse the union for the cost of negotiating for their wages and benefits. Such "agency fees" are allowed because federal law requires unions to represent all members of a bargaining unit, whether or not they belong to the labor organization.

Colorado is technically a free bargaining state, but it's unique in requiring a second election — open to all workers, not just union members — to institute a union or agency shop. A union must be approved by a majority of all workers, not just those voting, or 75 percent of those voting, whichever is larger. In practice, this requirement is so restrictive that there are very few union shops in Colorado.

That helps explain why the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce this week voted, almost unanimously, to oppose Amendment 47, the right-to- work initiative.

My old friend Joe Blake, Chamber president, would rather "return to the strong relationship that business and organized labor have enjoyed for decades" than fight over phantoms.


Maine card-check ad draws voters' attention

Related story: "Ad ruffles labor unionist's feathers"
Related video: "Maine ad exposes card-check"

The ads started appearing on television in Maine last month.

One showed a tough-talking boy in a school classroom telling his classmates they’re not going to get to vote for class officers by secret ballot. Another showed blue-collar workers making seemingly sarcastic remarks about how much they enjoy belonging to a labor union.

"I think it’s great my union dues are going to politicians I don’t even like," said a smiling man driving a forklift.

"It’s super that I work harder, but get paid less, just because I don’t have seniority," said a woman wearing medical scrubs.

Unlike many ads focusing on issues that usually appear during fall election seasons, however, there were no tag lines at the end telling viewers to vote a certain way or urging them to tell their elected officials how they feel about a given topic. The ads, which since have stopped airing in Maine, simply stated that if viewers want to learn more, they should visit the Web site of the group behind the ads, the Washington D.C-based Center for Union Facts.

Union officials in Maine decried the ads, calling them "deceitful" and claiming they misrepresented union positions. Viewers who wondered why a general discussion about unions might all of a sudden merit a television advertising campaign in Maine were left scratching their heads.

But some possible clues about the reason for the television ads have since appeared in their wake.

Last week, a press release sent out by a group called the Employee Freedom Action Committee said that U.S. Rep. Tom Allen is trailing Susan Collins by 16 percentage points in his bid to win her U.S. Senate seat. The release also claimed that Allen’s chances of defeating Collins are hindered by his support of the "misleadingly named Employee Free Choice Act."

And then on Thursday, a full-page advertisement on the same issue appeared in Maine daily newspapers, including the Bangor Daily News. Unlike the television ads, it named Tom Allen directly and criticized his support for the federal bill. It instructs readers to "tell Tom Allen to support democracy" at the group’s Web site, EmployeeFreedom.org.

"For his own benefit Tom Allen should join the working Mainers that repudiate this deceptive legislation which is being pushed by the big labor funders of his campaign," EFAC Spokesman Tim Miller said in the groups’ press release, which he reiterated Thursday afternoon.

According to information provided on the Internet by EFAC and Center for Union Facts, the two groups are affiliated.

The Employee Free Choice Act, which has been approved in the U.S. House of Representatives but has yet to be passed in the Senate, would affect how workers vote on whether to join unions. Supporters of the act say allowing workers to join unions by publicly signing a card would help protect workers’ rights, while opponents say the bill would violate their right to vote by secret ballot.

James Melcher, associate professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington, said Wednesday that it seems likely that the television ads were meant to have an effect on the Senate race, though the people who made it may have hoped to influence the 1st District primary race, too. He said he was struck by the aggressive tone of the television ads.

"It was not a soft-sell advertisement," he said, speaking before the print ads appeared in the newspapers. "This could be softening people up for a second round."

According to Melcher, issue advertisements are used by advocacy groups that are interested in the outcome of political races but don’t want to face limits on how much money they can contribute to political causes. If the ads do not refer to political candidates or tell people how to vote, and if they are not coordinated with political election campaigns, he said, they do not count toward the federal limits that groups can spend on campaign contributions.

Melcher said it is likely the Center for Union Facts television ads ran in other states besides Maine. Because buying airtime in Maine is relatively cheap compared to television and radio ads in other states such as California and Massachusetts, he said, it makes financial sense for groups hoping to influence the political balance in the Senate to fund advertising campaigns here.

But there is a risk of a possible backlash from such ads, Melcher said, if they obviously come from out of state. The print ad in Thursday’s Bangor Daily News indicates it was paid for by a group calling itself "Mainers for Employee Freedom" and listed an in-state telephone number. A recording machine answered when a call was placed Thursday evening.

"Maine is a state where people get resentful when people from out of state try to tell them what to do," Melcher said.

Amy Fried, associate politcial science professor at UMaine, said this week that the television ads appeared to be aimed at the Senate race, but said the timing and topic of the ads were unusual.

Such issue advertisements usually address topics that are part of an ongoing public debate, not comparatively minor issues like union voting procedures, she said. They also tend to hit the media closer to a general election, not in May or June.

Fried said she could guess what the Democrat and Republican positions on the proposed bill might be, but that she was unaware of Allen’s and Collins’ specific feelings about it.

"I think for Maine it is [obscure]," Fried said. "Normally you would see it connected to an ongoing debate."

It is possible that the ads were meant to prime voters on the issue of union practices in the event that it does become a hotly debated campaign issue, she said, but it’s hard to see it becoming a major talking point in the campaign, like the Iraq war or the economy.

"It’s difficult for voters to see that as the basis for making a decision," Fried said.

Mark Brewer of UMaine’s political science department said Wednesday that he had seen the television ads but was not sure what the intent of them was, though it is possible that the Senate race was the intended target.

Brewer said he was more certain about the future of issue advertising in Maine by out-of-state groups. Nationwide, partisanship is as high as it has been since the 19th century, he said, and is one reason such ads are becoming more common in Maine. But even if partisanship goes down, he doesn’t think issue advertising from out of state will decrease.

"I don’t think that will change," Brewer said.

UM-Farmington’s Melcher was more emphatic when asked about the likelihood of seeing more issue advertisements in Maine during this election cycle.

"Heck, yeah," he said. "We’re going to be seeing them throughout the year."

Carol Andrews, spokeswoman for Allen’s Senate campaign, said Tuesday that Allen is proud of his support for the Employee Free Choice Act. By allowing workers to join unions by signing cards, she said, the bill would help counteract efforts by corporations to deny workers the right to organize. It would provide mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes and establish stronger penalties for violations of workers rights, Andrews said.

"Maine appreciates [Allen’s] leadership in standing up for working people," she said.

Andrews said the Center for Union Facts ads and the EFAC press release were clearly meant to cast Allen in a bad light. She said she is skeptical of the polling figures cited in the press release by EFAC.

"I don’t give any credence to poll numbers, especially to those released by a special-interest group with an agenda," Andrews said.

When asked about the television and newspaper ads, officials with Collins’ re-election campaign said the campaign had nothing to do with them.

But in a prepared statement from Felicia Knight, Collins’ deputy campaign manager, Knight said the senator does share some of the concerns expressed by groups opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act.

"Senator Collins believes that all workers are entitled to their long-standing right to a secret ballot," Knight indicated in the statement. "It is ironic that a public servant, elected by secret ballot, would vote to deny workers the same right."

The Web site for Employee Freedom Action Committee prominently displays a link to a blog called Labor Pains, which describes itself as a "joint blog for the Center for Union Facts and the Employee Freedom Action Committee." Besides highlighting Maine’s Senate race, Labor Pains also offers critical assessments of Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Al Franken of Minnesota, and Mark Udall of Colorado, all of whom are Democrats running for the U.S. Senate.

A disclaimer posted at LaborPains.org says that opinions posted on the site belong to the byline authors and should not be attributed either to Center for Union Facts or to EFAC. A description of EFAC on its Web site says it is a "non-partisan, non-profit organization fighting for fair elections in the workplace."

The mailing address and fax number listed online for EFAC are the same as that of Berman and Company, a Washington-based public relations firm run by lobbyist Rick Berman. Berman is listed as the president and executive director of the Center for Union Facts in the group’s 2006 tax returns.

A statement on the Center for Union Facts’ Web site says that it is not part of any political effort.

"The Center for Union Facts doesn’t support candidates for office," the statement indicates. "We are about education."


Organized Labor floods U.S. with political cash

Socialists all fired up about leftist resurgence

With the primary season over, labor is wasting no time jumping into the fall campaign. The 10-million-member AFL-CIO is expected to endorse Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, shortly. The Change to Win federation has already endorsed him.

One of the opening shots in the expected AFL-CIO push to elect Obama was fired June 5 by the Communications Workers of America. The union’s executive council voted to recommend endorsement of Obama to the full CWA convention which meets June 23.

CWA President Larry Cohen, a Democratic Convention superdelegate, has already been backing Obama. His union remained uncommitted through the primary season because its members were evenly divided between Obama and Hillary Clinton and, earlier, Sen. John Edwards. The decision to endorse is key to the overall federation endorsement of Obama because the CWA is one of the last big unions to remain uncommitted. For the federation to endorse, it needs agreement from unions representing two-thirds of its total membership and the CWA move brings it much closer to that total.

Cohen explained that one reason it has taken a while for the full federation to make an endorsement is that pro-Clinton unions, notably AFSCME, needed time “to come to terms with the fact that their favorite lost.”

Once the AFL-CIO officially endorses Obama, it is expected to deploy large numbers of ground troops for the election. It has already budgeted $54.3 million for its own get-out-the vote drive and may, according to its political committee chairman, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, spend as much as $60 million on the effort.

The CWA, according to Cohen, will concentrate its efforts on six or seven states including, significantly, Louisiana and Mississippi. The union has a big membership in those states and has previously worked with the Steelworkers in both to successfully elect Democrats to Congress in long-time Republican districts. In large sections of Louisiana and Mississippi the combined memberships of the two unions constitute a majority of the voters who are union members.

The other states that the CWA will focus on are Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky.

The Steelworkers have already begun what they say will be 30,000 or more worksite visits by union activists, talking directly to workers about Obama’s positions. They’re emphasizing his proposals for fair trade policies and for creation of millions of good paying “green” manufacturing jobs. The jobs they are talking about include production of solar cells, industrial-sized windmills to power electric turbines, and hybrid automobile engines.

The Service Employees (SEIU), the largest union in the Change to Win federation, voted at their June 2–4 convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to spend $85 million for the fall campaign to elect Obama and a bigger Democratic majority in Congress.

An additional $55 million will be spent for a legislative campaign to push for creation of a “universal, comprehensive and affordable national health care plan,” according to a union statement issued after the convention.

In a unique move, SEIU voted to spend $10 million to mount campaigns against legislators on any level who go back on promises they have made to the labor movement.

The Mine Workers have already strongly rejected any notion that Obama will run weakly among white working class men, the largest demographic group among their membership. They have announced that they have begun to reach, by mail and on the job, every one of their 105,000 members and retirees. The effort aims to show the members how all of Obama’s major positions, particularly those on health care, agree with positions put forward by the union.

The Teamsters, another big Change to Win Union, announced June 4 that they have already begun a “key state” strategy for the Obama campaign. When asked to name the states, the union’s president, James Hoffa, said, “Ohio, Ohio and Ohio.”

The Teamster effort is actually a national one with, like the Steelworkers, a special focus on the Midwest and Northeast industrial states. The Teamsters say they will make a particularly strong effort in Missouri, an important swing state.

Talking about the Teamster drive for Obama, Hoffa said, “We’ll motivate our members, we’ll motivate their wives, we’ll motivate their families, we’ll motivate their grandmothers and we’ll motivate their grandfathers to get out and vote for Obama and all our candidates. I tell them, ‘You’re not voting for Obama, you’re voting for yourselves’.”


Just ahead: Small business dysfunction

A Bad Deal For Employees

As bad as the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is for large employers, it is a far worse threat to small businesses. Under current law, organizing small employers is not very cost effective - small employers are rarely worth the effort and expense given the number of new members the union will get. Under the EFCA, that equation is totally transformed. A small employer (let’s think in terms of less than 50 employees) can be targeted with only a few organizers meaning that many employers who were previously below the unions’ radar will now be directly in their cross-hairs.

The prospect of becoming an involuntarily union company should be particularly frightening to small employers as they tend to operate differently than large employers. Their relationship with their employees is usually quite different and much more personal. Similarly, employees in small businesses understand better how the business operates and the pressures it is under.

The EFCA threatens to undermine all of this by raising the very real possibility of a union interjecting itself between these employers and their employees. If a union comes in, the small business person WILL lose control of how the business is run. In the union company environment, no longer would employers be able to communicate directly with their employees, on a personal basis. They would have to go through the shop steward and union leadership. In some industries like construction, they would even lose control over who they have as employees, as the union would provide the employees according to their priorities such as seniority or how much they favored that particular contractor.

If the EFCA is enacted, an employer could think they are doing right by their employees and go home on a Friday night thinking things are fine. When they open up on Monday morning, they can find out they now have a union they did not even know had targeted them. Getting a majority of signatures—for a 25 employee company that’s only 13—can happen over a weekend.

Once the union has the number of required employees to be recognized, the problems are only just beginning. The next step is to bargain for the first contract. This is a daunting, and chilling process, especially for a small business who has no experience with a union. It will also be expensive, beyond the terms of the agreement, as retaining competent legal counsel is all but required.

As if the card check provision of the EFCA were not enough, the bill also contains a provision which totally stacks the deck against the employer during these negotiations. If a contract is not agreed to in 120 days (not a long time in the context of first contract negotiations), the matter is submitted to binding arbitration.

In this environment, the employer will always lose; it’s only a question of by how much. The union will come in using the promises they gave the employees to get their signatures as their demands i.e., higher wages, greater benefits, more job security (read: less ability of the employer to use employees as they deem appropriate). The employer will respond with what they can give. The arbitrator will likely seek to find the middle ground. Wherever that is, it will be more than the employer can provide and the union has lost nothing as they have "no skin in the game." So favorable is the binding arbitration process to the union position that union negotiators should be expected to drag out the process intentionally to get the matter into arbitration.

Not only is the binding arbitration a horrendous provision for employers, it is also a bad deal for employees. When the arbitrator comes up with the contract, it is imposed on the company for a minimum of three years without employee approval or further review. Under normal contract negotiations, employees have the opportunity to ratify the contract. Under the EFCA, there would be no ratification by employees, so this provision represents the second vote employees would lose under the EFCA.

The Employee Free Choice Act may represent the surest way to put small businesses out of business, leaving those employees free to choose their next job.


Progressive Google

Related story: Union lines up Google for 'labor peace' (2/28/08)
Related story: Google 'labor neutrality' - get 'union-only' (2/18/08)
Related story: Google shows vulnerablity to union thuggery (2/16/08)

Search engine's clandestine partisan sensibility

It all started with Burning Man. In 1998, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin took time off from coding search algorithms to jump in a car, drive to Nevada, and bake in the desert with circus performers and ecstasy-addled freaks. On a lark, the two men tweaked Google's logo to tip off hipsters that they were out of the office, planting a Burning Man image inside one of Google's letters. "They wanted to communicate with the users, in a fun, lighthearted way, that they were going to be away," says Dennis Hwang, Google's Web-master manager. "Anyone in the know would know where they were."

That kicked off a tradition almost unique in the history of corporate branding. While it's usually gospel truth never to mess with the logo, Page, Brin, and Hwang tweak the Google home page several times a year on a lark, partly to advance their company's distinctiveness, and partly because they just feel like it. They've posted Google "doodles" to commemorate the invention of the laser, the launch of Sputnik, the World Cup, and Piet Mondrian's birthday. The spirit of their doodles, they thought, was pretty clear: Science is cool, art is cool, let's have a little fun.

But in the last few years, as Google has grown to dominate the world of Internet search, some people have detected a more sinister motive behind its choice of days to commemorate. From the National Review to NewsBusters and InstaPundit, some of the country's most prominent conservative opinion journals and news sites have published stories and blog posts denouncing Google for subtly pushing a liberal worldview in its doodles while steadfastly refusing to commemorate patriotic or religious holidays.

Few keep a closer watch on Google than the editors of National Review. For years, they have monitored Google's doodles in search of value judgments about America. When Google ignored Memorial Day in 2006, editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg wrote on NRO's Corner, "It's kind of sad. They change their logo for all sorts of holidays and occasions. Just last week they paid tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday. But Memorial Day doesn't seem to rate anything at all." In 2007, online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote, "What, no Easter? I wasn't expecting a risen Christ, but at least an Easter bunny?" Last June 6, Lopez sniffed, "So today is the D-Day anniversary. Today is the day RFK died 40 years ago. So Google is celebrating Diego Velazquez's birthday, natch."

Even when Google commemorates Independence Day, Lopez has looked for hints of a clandestine liberal sensibility. Last year, she printed a comment from a reader who claimed that the American eagle on Google's logo was clutching olive branches—but not arrows, the symbol of America's military might: "I think they've gone with a remodeled 'peace is patriotic' bumper sticker. They just couldn't bring themselves to do something 'American' without making some kind of signal about current policy."

All this vitriol leaves Hwang mystified. All they're trying to do, he says, is bring a little humor and quirkiness to their search engine. "This is just something that grew organically, a culture that developed over the years," Hwang says. "It made Google feel like it wasn't just a cold machine, not just an algorithm." It's not an issue of Google—like, say, American Airlines or America Online—trying to mask its national origin from foreign eyes. Still, almost from the beginning, the company caught hell for corrupting Americans with evil doodles. "We got e-mails complaining that we celebrated Earth Day," Hwang laughs. "I was just surprised. We all live on this planet, and celebrating that just seemed like a harmless thing to do."

Perhaps the most extreme condemnations come from the editors of the populist WorldNetDaily.com, who have all but accused Google of advancing the cause of godless communism. "Google consistently ignores patriotic American holidays such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day," WorldNetDaily's editors wrote last October, "but today it acknowledged an accomplishment of the communist Soviet Union, which launched the Sputnik satellite fifty years ago." The news site, which has also complained that Google's search rankings keep its stories in the basement, even ominously reported that the company misspelled its logo when commemorating Valentine's Day last year. "Previous Valentine's Day logos for Google, obtained by WND, have no such possible confusion for spelling," the site noted. Could Google even have it in for love?

"If you're going to choose to commemorate some really quite bizarre occasions, and never, never in their history, never once commemorating Memorial Day, which is a very significant holiday in the United States, I think that says something about who Google is," says WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah. "By the way," he adds, "I like Google's product. I wish there were another company out there that didn't make me sick to my stomach."

Indeed, the blowback against Google just underscores how ubiquitous and powerful the company has become. Google now accounts for more than 60 percent of all online searches conducted in the United States, and whenever any company grows this indispensable, it seems to acquire a quasi-public quality, as if it has an obligation to make official pronouncements on behalf of the American people. In many ways, Google's quirky coders are still struggling to understand the ramifications of the company's global dominance. When Hwang posted a Thanksgiving doodle with fall colors one year, for example, he got endless e-mails from users in the Southern Hemisphere, who pointed out that they were in the middle of spring, in case he hadn't noticed. "We've never been able to keep everybody happy," he says.

Saturday is Flag Day. Will Google do right by America and stand up for Old Glory? Hwang won't say. "The randomness is very important to us," he says. "Otherwise it wouldn't be any fun." You can be sure the right will be watching.


Andy Stern stifles change, democracy

It's official: Rosselli ousted

Labor boss Sal Rosselli lost his seat as a Service Employees International Union VP when international president Andy Stern's slate swept into power at the union's convention last week.

Rosselli remains president of SEIU-United Health Care Workers West, a position directly elected by members of the local union, which represents 140,000 health care and support workers at California hospitals and nursing homes, including thousands in Greater Sacramento. Rosselli resigned from Stern's inner circle in December in what became a public fight over whether health care workers are best represented as one group across a region or nationally, by industry. The convention chose Stern's "Justice for All" platform to consolidate bargaining and organizing along industry lines.

The local is in or entering contract negotiations for almost 100,000 California workers at Catholic Healthcare West, Sutter Health and more than 100 nursing homes. A contract re-opener with Kaiser Permanente may follow in September.

The industry most likely to feel the power shift is long-term care. Rosselli wants to use any regional gains achieved in the hospital contracts as leverage with nursing homes, while Stern is looking to a national strategy for each sector.


Sit Down, Shut Up And Walk Out

Animation Union dispute rages

Deadline Hollywood Daily blogger Nikki Finke is reporting the 14 WGA writers and writer-producers on Sony's animated SIT DOWN, SHUT UP have walked off the show. It is scheduled to premiere on Fox's Sunday-night animated block this fall.

There is apparently a dispute over who has jurisdiction over the writing staff: the WGA or IATSE, the labor union representing technicians, artisans and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, including live theater, motion picture and television production, and trade shows.

All Fox's animated shows are covered under the WGA contract, so the writers assumed their new show would be as well (Fox co-owns the show). Sony repeatedly told writers the same, but finally revealed the cartoon was to be covered by IATSE.

Showrunner Mitch Hurwitz (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) and writers-producers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein (formerly of THE SIMPSONS) are "upset and sick about this."

Insiders have revealed to Finke that the writers for SIT DOWN are upset they were on strike for four months and Sony is taking away their right to be repped by the WGA's new contract. WGA leadership had worried this would happen to animation writers as the big studios turn animation over to IATSE's jurisdiction.

Finke's sources say Sony garbled the facts from the start. "Bill, Josh and Hurwitz all took Sony's statements in good faith that the show would be guild-covered," one said. "Because Sony was saying up and down the line that they were waiting for the pickup before signing with the WGA."

A previous Sony animated TV show, DILBERT, was under WGA jurisdiction, so writers and producers trusted them.

The so-called Animation Guild Local -- IATSE's Local 839 -- arrived. "We naively thought it would be resolved, and we were all taken advantage of. We're saddened we've been played like this," one of the scribes explained. "Because for two whole months through last week, Sony was still saying 'Don't worry about it. Don't worry about it. The show will be guild-covered.' And then this week Sony said, 'Sorry, the guild is off the table. You guys are going to be IATSE.'"

No one has signed a contract, and no one has been paid so far, so they walked out Thursday. "We can't afford to keep on going in to work on good faith."

The WGA writers/producers went to the WGA to formally ask the guild's help in this fight. "We said, 'We don't want to be IATSE members. We want you to be our collective bargaining agent,' " one of them said. "Sony has offered to pay the IATSE dues and initiation for us and even said 'we have internal mechanisms that will give you guys residuals'. But IATSE is not going to kick in our pension and health so we're not going to vest as soon."

SIT DOWN's writers stressed they have a feeling of responsibility as WGA members, especially after the hard-fought strike was resolved.

"All the writers are unanimous on this: none of us want to be the writers who roll back WGA coverage of animation. And Mitch was very firm that his show isn't going to be the one that rolls back guild coverage of animation. It's really come down to a battle over jurisdiction. It's not about the money. It's about the right to be represented by the Writers Guild."


Barack's economic team takes flight

Progs reassured by Obama insiders' left-wing tilt

I'm all in favor of unions and other voices of the left making themselves heard when it comes to the substantive priorities of the Obama campaign and someday (should things go well in November) the Obama administration. But making a fuss over the appointment of economist Jason Furman, because of his association with centrist Democratic economics, seems not the best excuse to do it. And while other smart people--Ezra Klein, Paul Krugman, Matt Yglesias--have weighed in on this, I wanted to chime in, as well.

The contours of the economic policy debate within the Democratic Party have changed pretty substantially since the 1990s, when centrists (led by Robert Rubin) fought with liberals (led by Robert Reich) over everything from free trade to middle class tax cuts. The basis for this ongoing debate was philosophical rift over how best to boost living standards for lower- and middle-income Americans. The liberals thought it took a stronger labor movement and a more interventionist government, even if, say, that riled the financial markets; the centrists thought that higher economic growth would ultimately help more people, which necessarily meant putting market preferences (for, say, the fastest path to deficit reduction) above all else.

The Rubin wing of the administration won most of those fights--and, for a while, they looked like geniuses. But, as my colleague Jonathan Chait wrote in a 2006 article called "Freakoutonomics," now available here, the last few years have forced a sober reassessment. Living standards for most Americans haven't skyrocketed despite (sometimes) strong economic growth; key elements of the safety net, most notably health insurance coverage, have actually become weaker.

Now the centrists sound more like liberals. As Jon noted, Princeton economist Alan Blinder--a Clinton Administration veteran with pretty impeccable centrist credentials--have been writing articles pondering the loss of jobs to trade, something the Rubinites never did when they were busy trumpeting the virutes of globalization. The Democratic Leadership Council, a historic enemy of labor, called for letting unions organize new workers via "card check"--a change that, if enacted, has the potentially to seriously boost union organizing. Laura Tyson, another Clinton veteran and Rubin ally, started talking up the success of Scandinavia's "flexicurity" model, in which a strong--and, yes, expensive--cradle-to-grave welfare state helped workers cope with the downsides of globalization. (Also in this category is William Galston's new American Prospect essay, "How Big Government Got Its Groove Back.")

Jason's own work reflects this. While he's gotten a lot of attention for a controversial paper suggesting Wal-Mart had its virtues, he was also a staunch--not to mention highly effective--defender of Social Security during the Bush Administration's campaign to privatize it. In a riskier economy, he understood, universal social insurance is even more important. And, like most of the centrist economists I know, he's come out pretty strongly for universal health insurance, as both a necessary step towards controlling health care spending (in the long run) and an essential step for protecitng economic security.

That's not to say the centrists and the Democratic left (which has undergone its own transformation of sorts, particularly on issues like welfare and work requirements) see eye to eye on everything or even most things. You can still get a pretty good argument going between the sides on how best to manage trade, when and where to fix the tax code, not whether but how to deliver universal health are, and so on. Obama's campaign, for all of the excitement it has generated among liberals, was not exactly pushing the boundaries of policy debate to the left. That job fell largely to John Edwards and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton.

So it's fine to watch the Obama campaign's policy moves warily. And it would certanly behoove Obama to keep a diverse and broad set of advisers, representing a wide swath of informed Democratic Party opinion. That means listening to folks like Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who is firmly in the centrist tradition and has been advising Obama all along. But it also means listening to the likes of Dean Baker, Jared Bernstein, and Joseph Stiglitz--people who have not only made important critiques of Rubinomics but started doing so before it was fashionable.

But this is where the appointment of Jason Furman actually makes me feel better about Obama, not worse. Like a lot of journalists who write about poilcy, I've frequently consulted Jason while researching articles. And I put great faith in his judgment. He's the kind of expert who will tell you what he thinks, what other people think, and what the research shows--while telling you, up front, that it's not clear which one is right. He's also the kind of expert who changes his mind when new information warrants it. He is, in short, an honest broker and serious intellectual. (He's also a veteran of policy wars in campaigns and the White House, which means he can provide the kind of savvy that even politicians looking to change the culture of Washington desperately need.)

In response to this mini-controversy, the Obama campaign has said it is reaching out to the left side of the economics debate, too, specifically mentioning Baker, Bernstein, and Stiglitz, among others. I take Jason's appointment as a sign that the campagin means it.


Transport strike causes mayhem

A transport strike against petrol costs has caused chaos throughout Spain, blocking roads, leading to petrol shortages and provoking worries that shops will run out of major products if the strike lasts.

Picket lines blocked cars on main roads across the country, leading to tailbacks of up to 20kms and hundreds of angry drivers prevented from getting to their places of work. Many others, taking children to school, were also affected. Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia suffered worst, although Andalucia was also hit by the strikers, as 90 per cent of national transport workers supported the action.

Meanwhile, government representatives held talks with the organisation behind the strike, Fenadismer (National Federation of Transport Associations of Spain). The government maintained that bringing the price of petrol down is not possible, although President Zapatero said everything would be done to prevent them from rising further.

Transport workers are among the worst hit by rising crude oil prices and the knock-on effect on petrol prices. Lorry drivers say thousands of jobs are at risk and are demanding an obligatory minimum price.

Tailbacks and congested roads were not the only problem, as 40 per cent of petrol stations in Cataluña and 15 per cent in Madrid, as well as hundreds of others across Spain, ran out of petrol on the first day of the strike.

Shops and markets were also overflowing with shoppers, worried that provisions would run out.


SEIU - COPE for Obama

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