Forced-labor unionism ads air in Colorado

Related story: "Maine card-check ad draws voters' attention"

Ground zero in labor battle against worker choice

With Colorado in the throes of an escalating squabble between unions and business, a national worker-choice organization launched an advertising campaign Wednesday in the state. The Center for Union Facts in Washington, D.C., is financing two TV commercials, one attacking the effort by labor to make it easier to organize workplaces and the other criticizing forced dues.

Spokesman Tim Miller said the group wants to raise awareness about the union-backed Employee Free Choice Act, which would amend federal law to allow labor groups to organize workplaces by submitting signed authorization cards from a majority of employees. Currently, union certification also requires a secret vote by workers. The bill died in Congress last year, but Miller said he expects unions to renew the effort.

He said the group's ad campaign is not connected to the Colorado right-to-work measure, which has been certified for the November ballot and has divided the state's business community.

Last week, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce said it opposes the effort to ban mandatory union membership and fees, citing the dangers of having voters approve several union- backed countermeasures. The stance conflicts with that of the state chamber of commerce, which has voted to support the measure.

Jess Knox, executive director of a pro-union coalition, said the timing of the ad campaign is "questionable at best."

"Their (right-to-work proponents') ship has taken on some serious water here, and all of a sudden, in comes the paid mouthpiece with messages to gin up the conversation and to try to change the subject," Knox said.

The group has run the ads in Oregon and Maine and plans to show them in other markets.


Barack will OK failed policies of the past

Reformer pledges to promote forced-labor unionism

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) met here last night with dozens of union leaders in an effort to mobilize their support for the general election as lingering rifts from a hard-fought primary campaign as well as broader tensions among major unions threaten to undermine organized labor's efforts on his behalf.

Several of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent heavily on ads attacking Obama. AFSCME's president, Gerald W. McEntee, criticized Obama until the end of the primaries, declaring in late May that Obama was a weak candidate who "will literally walk almost lame into the Democratic National Convention" and who "has a problem with the blue-collar worker and relating to that worker."

It was the second straight election cycle in which AFSCME picked a loser. In 2004, it endorsed former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

Now, Obama needs McEntee -- both to bring AFSCME's resources to bear and because of McEntee's influential role as the chairman of the AFL-CIO's political committee. AFSCME signaled it was on board this week. It helped pay for a hard-hitting TV ad by the antiwar group MoveOn.org attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and AFSCME's political director had a four-hour meeting with the campaign.

AFSCME leaders declined to comment last night, but leaders of other AFL-CIO unions said they expect McEntee to fall in line. "One of the things with Jerry is that he certainly gets fired up, and he may have overextended himself on this one. He is going to take a serious look at Obama," said Paul Shearon, secretary-treasurer of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

James Little, president of the Transport Workers Union, the first AFL-CIO union to endorse Obama, said McEntee's misgivings about Obama will not keep the labor federation's political committee from doing all it can for Obama. "He does a good job chairing that committee, but it's a committee decision and not a Jerry McEntee decision in how we move forward," Little said.

Obama met last night with the leaders of many of the 56 unions in the AFL-CIO, but one who was missing was R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Buffenbarger delivered several stinging riffs against Obama while campaigning for Clinton.

"Hope! Change! Yes, we can! Give me a break!" Buffenbarger said in February. "I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine!"

AFL-CIO spokeswoman Denise Mitchell said last night that the coalition will wait a short while before officially endorsing Obama, but she noted that the coalition has already spent four months casting McCain as unfriendly to labor, with 16,000 homes visited, 1.5 million leaflets distributed and 500,000 mailings sent out. The AFL-CIO is budgeting more than $50 million for the fall campaign. "While our unions may have a few things to work out, we believe that we'll be strong and united," she said.

There is also tension within the rival Change to Win coalition, which broke away from the AFL-CIO in 2005 and whose leaders will meet with Obama this morning. Its largest member, the Service Employees International Union, initially declined to offer a nationwide endorsement in the primary, instead letting state chapters endorse on their own. After former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), a labor favorite, dropped out in January, the union's national leadership signed off on a full endorsement of Obama in February -- later than many Obama supporters in the union had hoped.

Among those pushing hardest for an Obama endorsement after Edwards dropped out was United Healthcare Workers-West, a 150,000-member SEIU chapter in California that is embroiled in a nasty power struggle with SEIU President Andy Stern. Yesterday, the chapter's leader, Sal Rosselli, said his union's attempt to protect itself from a breakup being sought by Stern would distract from its efforts on Obama's behalf.

Already, Rosselli noted, the national leadership had blocked his staff from leaving California to campaign for Obama during the primaries. A recent proposal by SEIU's large New York chapter to impose a moratorium on the internal power struggle until after the election was defeated by the national leadership, Rosselli said.

The presidential campaign "is not going to be our priority, and if we could focus on that, that would be our preference," he said.

SEIU secretary-treasurer Anna Burger dismissed his charge, saying SEIU had agreed to campaign for Obama at its recent convention and that it was up to Rosselli's chapter to follow that. "I would expect every single local to go out and implement the program we adopted," she said. "This is no [power] struggle that we started. We're focused on winning the election and winning real change for working families."


Union fight against workers spills into court

Complicated legal process slows union decertification

Last fall, more than 60 percent of the workers at Narricot Industries here signed a petition to throw out the union that had represented employees for 32 years. Now, some are trying to undo that decision, arguing that workers at the seat-belt and webbing manufacturer were coerced by management into signing the petition.

The battle, similar to union-management fights of years gone by, has left some employees feeling angry but helpless and is spilling into federal court in Norfolk.

The union fight began last fall, a few months after International Textile Group, a company controlled by billionaire Wilbur Ross, bought the Boykins factory. Ross specializes in reviving distressed companies in the steel, coal and textile industries and has unions in fewer than 10 percent of his other textile factories.

Vicki Eley, president of Local 2316 of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, said the new ownership told workers from the get-go that it wasn’t used to operating unionized plants. Narricot’s other Virginia plant in South Hill, also owned by ITG, is non-union.

On Sept. 29, with the petition in hand, Narricot withdrew its recognition of the union, breaking off collective bargaining when the two sides were close to reaching an agreement. Over the next three months the company gave employees a pay raise and made changes to employee benefits, documents from the National Labor Relations Board show.

Union members filed unfair labor charges with the NLRB, arguing that the company broke the law when it stopped negotiating and started making unilateral pay and benefit changes.

Then in May, NLRB administrative law judge Margaret Brakebusch ruled that the company was guilty of providing improper assistance to the anti-union effort. While union decertification drives are supposed to be run entirely by rank-and-file employees, Brakebusch found that plant supervisors urged workers to sign the petition and helped others withdraw from the union.

“People were told they’d get a $2 raise and better insurance,” said Eley, who has been active in the union during her more than 30 years at the factory. “People signed it because they were told they’d get more money if they got the union out.”

The company insists that the petition drive was run completely by rank-and-file employees without management assistance. “We want to uphold what employees’ wishes were, and we’ll go through the process to do that,” said Ed Hull, the plant manager.

The case is now before the labor board in Washington. But with only two of the five seats filled and presidential appointments stalled during the political season, it could be some time before a decision is handed down.

In the meantime, the company has refused to resume negotiations. That has led Patricia Timmins, the NLRB’s acting southeastern regional director who is based in North Carolina, to file for an emergency injunction in federal court to return the union to the workplace. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

“If there’s a withdrawal of recognition and you wait five years before the union can go back in, by that time the employees will be totally disgruntled with the union,” Timmins said. “So what we need to do is take care of it now.”

Narricot said in its district court filings that the benefit changes increased the company’s matching contributions to employee 401(k) plans and gave employees access to more doctors under the new health insurance plan.

Only about a quarter of the plant’s 262 eligible employees belonged to the union at the time of the decertification , although Local 2316 was the bargaining representative for all employees.

At the 4 p.m. shift change Monday, more than a dozen employees said they wanted the union to return.

Gregory Graham said the union used to look out for employees who might not know the fine print of Narricot’s rules. “They say 'it’s policy’ to do what they want, but we don’t know what the policy is,” Graham said.

The company fired two employees who had been outspoken union supporters.

Hull, the plant manager, said Narricot had a “reason of cause” for the firings but said he couldn’t be more specific because of confidentiality rules.

Wilson Joyner, the union’s chief shop steward, said some of the reasons given were poor quality of work, absenteeism and insubordination. The union used to review the personnel files of fired employees, but not anymore.

The two employees filed charges of unfair labor practices with the NLRB in April, alleging they were fired because of union activity. The agency is still investigating.

Labor lawyers said union decertification elections or petitions are relatively uncommon. Jason Weitzel, a labor lawyer who advises the local union, said the NLRB doesn’t often seek injunctions. In 10 years of working with the carpenters union regionally, he said, he has been involved in only two other decertification cases.

James Koch, a professor of economics at Old Dominion University and the school’s former president, said decertification – while unusual – fits into the trend of declining membership in trade unions. He said there are two situations in which decertifications typically occur.

“One is when a company isn’t doing well and thinks decertification is the only way to survive,” Koch said. “At the other extreme, you see decertification when employees are doing very well and don’t think they need unions.”

Delores Sides, an ITG spokeswoman, declined to say whether costs were higher for ITG at union factories, citing competitive reasons.

Eley, the union president, said plant manager Hull and other officials recently told employees that the union was trying to get back in the factory without any support.

“He said that a majority of people had signed the petition and that the carpenters union was trying to get us reinstated without being wanted,” Eley said. “He was saying that the union went to court for no reason at all.”


Gov't adopts 4-day work week in Michigan

Related story: "Surge of gov't employers adopting 4-day week"

AFSCME avoids fingerprints on 'European' work cut

The four-day work week might end up migrating here from Oakland County (MI), after all. County Commissioner Rose Bogardus, D-Davison, wants to hear from department heads about whether that type of flexibility for employees would work in their offices and will talk about the idea further in a finance committee meeting next week.

"It's strictly about $4-a-gallon gas," Bogardus said. "I think it can (work) in some cases."

A similar proposal was approved for Oakland County recently, a program that could put as many as 1,500 employees on a 40-hour, four-day work week.

Genesee County Controller George Martini has said such a change here wouldn't be a financial windfall for the county and cautioned it would be nearly impossible to adjust some county departments' schedules without shortchanging customers.

Bogardus said any program would have to be voluntary and wouldn't be available if department heads believe the four-day week would be unmanageable.

She said she expects to find out that many departments already have "flex-time" arrangements with some employees to work fewer days but longer hours each day.

County Equalization Department Director Michael G. Ortiz said he's not sure the four-day week will work well for his office, but he's willing to talk more about it.

"We have found (the five-day work week) much more productive," Ortiz said. "(But I would) review the possibilities."

The Flint Journal could not immediately reach representatives of AFSCME Local 496 for comment Wednesday. The union is one of several representing county workers.


Teamsters may try to block Bud sale

Related story: "Bud-Teamsters wasteful inefficiencies exposed"

What's keeping A-B stock under InBev offer?

Although Anheuser-Busch's stock has steadily risen to all-time highs since reports of InBev's takeover bid first surfaced, now that the Belgian-Brazilian brewer has formally put its offer on the table, the shares seem to have stalled at a bit more than 5% under the $65 bid price.

On Thursday, Anheuser-Busch added 5.2% to close at $61.40 after cracking to a high of $62.72 on the day after the public disclosure of the all-cash offer that value the St. Louis-based brewer at about $46 billion. In March, it was trading at $45 and change.

The disparity between that and the $65 could reflect considerable investor sentiment that the deal may not go through and/or worries that even it does, it will be a long enough and messy enough affair that any extra returns to be made now are not worth the wait.

"I think there are two reasons that the stock has not moved closer to $65," said Ann Gilpin, an analyst with Morningstar. "First, there is the time value of the money: It could take such along time to go through that you have to discount it."

InBev has said it sees no reason it could not be concluded "promptly" but their offer has set off a public outcry - especially in A-B's home state of Missouri - about the possibility of the last large American brewer falling into foreign hands the way that Miller and Coors ended up under British/South African and Canadian umbrellas. And while InBev has promised not to shut down any breweries and to retain some key management employees, the political pressure could slow it to a crawl.

Second, Gilpin said, "there is some skepticism that it will go through. The [company's] board could do something dilutive" to make it a less attractive target, increasing its leverage by buying the part of Mexico's Grupo Modelo they don't already own.

Late Thursday, there was a published report, citing unnamed sources, that A-B is in early talks with Modelo about a possible combination of the companies.

Or, there might even be a stab at a governmental remedy like the one Pennsylvania employed with Wrigley. In that case, directors from the charitable trust that controls a majority of the candy giant who voted in favor of the sale were bounced by the Keystone State's attorney general and a judge, then later replaced with more-sympathetic appointees.

"They got the law changed so that the attorney general would have to approve any deal involving Hershey," Gilpin noted. "So it has happened before."

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, has said he opposes the deal as "deeply troubling" and, reports the Associated Press, has directed the state's Department of Economic Development to try and find a way to derail it.

And the unions are already screaming bloody murder too.

InBev's "reputation is one that is not conducive to good labor relations," said Jack Cipriani, Teamsters International vice president and director of the union's brewery and soft drink conference. "Our rank-and-file workers are worried that their pensions and health care may be in jeopardy if InBev were to take over Anheuser Busch. Our concern is that with a bid of this proportion one of the ways InBev is going to get back that value is to cut the good, American jobs our members hold."

The Teamsters, their members and other unions hold shares of Anheuser-Busch but exactly how large combined a stake they would represent is nearly impossible to determine.

Another possible reason for the stall at $61 is that the likelihood of a higher offer, from InBev or anyone else, is slim, Gilpin said.

"Anheuser-Busch doesn't have a lot of leverage to negotiate a higher price," she said. "InBev could go straight to the shareholders and get it done at $65. Besides, I don't think InBev could finance any more."

Tom Pirko, president of consultancy Bevmark, disagrees. Not only is he confident that a deal will go through but he thinks the price could go to $70 or even $75 by the time all is said and done.

Chief Executive August Busch IV and other members of the family run the company but have only a small percentage and although they are all widely thought to be opposed to selling, there isn't much they can personally do to stop it.

"It's too late," Pirko said. "Junior has no credibility in the market that he has the options to turn it around. There will be lots of to-ing and fro-ing but the company's defenses are all soft, they have been deconstructed. His only option is to sit back and say he will pursue value and deliver the [higher] price."

And he could get it, Pirko believes: "InBev is valuing it at what it has done over the last five years, not as part of a worldwide combine with tremendous opportunities, especially in China," he said. "If I could trade in shares of Anheuser-Busch, I would be buying it like crazy," he said.


Huge Project Labor Agreement cancelled

$1.5 billion union-only deal scuttled

Las Lomas Land Co., LLC, filed a lawsuit Monday demanding the city of Los Angeles pay damages in excess of $100 million for the City Council's March 19 decision to strike down a housing development that would have brought 5,553 residential units to the steep hillsides near the Newhall Pass.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, also has an order compelling the city to complete its environmental review of the project that the company says the city terminated prematurely.

"Las Lomas followed the city of Los Angeles' rules for over six years to annex 555 acres of land into the city, and to create a community that would privately finance affordable housing, new water and transit infrastructure, new public open space and thousands of high-paying jobs that this city so desperately needs," Carlyle W. Hall, Jr., attorney for Las Lomas Land Co. said in a statement.

The project's boundaries sat in an unincorporated area of the county, between the city limits of Los Angeles and Santa Clarita. Las Lomas sought annexation into the city of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 10-5 in March to stop processing all paperwork on the plans. At that March council meeting, Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith had pushed to kill the project, saying it was "a flawed project."

But Los Angeles city planning staff had billed Palmer Investments for about $30,000 worth of clerical work done since 2002, which included processing the paperwork necessary to move Las Lomas forward. Las Lomas had also signed a $1.5 billion Project Labor Agreement for future workers, according to Hall.

Councilman Richard Alarcon had argued that the city of Los Angeles would expose itself to a "million dollar" lawsuit by terminating the project after Palmer had invested the time and money to make it happen.

A city lawyer consulted during that March meeting told the council that Palmer can sue for damages and can also file a lawsuit asking a judge "to compel the city to process the project and complete the process."

Smith said, however, that the council members have the final say, not the developer. He said the city had "done nothing to obligate the city to continue with this project."

Following the decision, Los Lomas developer Dan S. Palmer said he would look into all of his options. When asked if one of those options involved suing the city of Los Angeles, Palmer declined to comment.

"My client - and numerous community, business and labor groups - sought a fair and open environmental review process for the proposed Las Lomas community," Hall said in Monday's statement. "But, as the complaint alleges, for arbitrary, discriminatory and illegitimate reasons, the council violated the law and did not allow this fair review to take place, despite numerous warnings by its own City Attorney that the city could be liable for ‘substantial damages.' This lawsuit is being filed today to hold the city to account for these unfortunate actions."

Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition in the San Fernando Valley and the Stop Las Lomas group, said Monday, "It's the type of project that didn't belong to the city of Los Angeles. It had artificial life support for six years."

He called the lawsuit "a sad use of the judicial process" and said it is one which will be "thrown out with lack of merits."


Teamsters delay Twinkie-maker autopsy

Related IBC/Teamsters stories: here

Staggering losses mount as bankruptcy drags on

Interstate Bakeries Corp., in bankruptcy since September 2004, reported higher sales and a smaller loss for the four weeks ended May 3. Revenues for the period were $224.1 million, compared with $210.2 million for the four weeks that ended April 5, and compared with $234.9 million for the same period a year ago.

The loss for the most recently reported period was $9.4 million, compared with a loss of $15.4 million the prior four-week period. A year ago, the Kansas City based baking company reported a four-week loss of $3.8 million.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the recent period was a negative $2 million, compared with negative EBITDA of $3.4 million in the prior period and a net positive EBITDA of $8.3 million a year ago.

The maker of Hostess snack cakes and Wonder bread filed for bankruptcy in 2004 amid rising costs to make its goods and escalating labor and healthcare costs even as sales were declining.

Since then the company has closed bakeries, distribution depots and thrift stores and consolidated its delivery routes. It has reduced the number of employees by more than 20 percent to about 25,000 workers.

The company has submitted a plan of reorganization to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Kansas City, but that plan has been moved to the sidelines while IBC negotiates with unnamed parties it says are interested in investing in the company. Meanwhile, the company has been unable to make progress in gaining what it says are needed concessions from its employees who are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to craft a viable plan to operate the company post-bankruptcy.

IBC executives also say they’re also working on a plan to sell the company in whole or parts if talks with potential investors fall through.


UAW goes out on strike in Kentucky

Non-union workers continue operations

Officials for United Autoworkers 822 and Douglas Autotech Corporation met for negotiations last Friday, but came away from the bargaining table with no settlement. On Saturday, striking Douglas employees watched three semi trucks arrive to transport equipment from the Douglas plant, 300 Albers Rd., to an unknown location. “They’ve got trucks moving things out and extra security,” said Frank Gruza, vice president of UAW 822, in a phone call early Saturday morning.

Gruza said the company indicated at the June 2 meeting that they were thinking of moving the Bendix line to their plant in Hopkinsville, Ky. The average production hourly wage at the Kentucky company is $13.96, and the average wage for production at the Bronson plant is $15.

According to Gruza and union president Mary Ellis, the company and the union remain deadlocked over contract negotiations in spite of a four-hour meeting on Friday, June 13.

“They offered the same proposal they gave June 2,” Ellis said. “That was it. We extended an olive branch and said we would go to work under the old contract and would set time frames for settlement. The company said they wanted nothing to do with the old contract.”

Ellis said 20 of the 146 employees at Douglas would lose their jobs if the Bendix line leaves Bronson. When the union went on strike on May 1, 106 employees were working, and 40 employees were on lay-off status.

Meanwhile Douglas employees continue to picket the company while non-union employees work at the plant. Employees were locked out May 5 after offering to return to work. The company hired non-union employees to work in place of the striking workers.
Officials at Douglas AutoTech declined to comment on the strike when contacted by the Bronson Journal. They referred the Bronson Journal to their negotiator, Attorney Bruce Lillie in Lansing, who did not return phone calls or respond to messages.

Union and company officials plan to meet again July 1-2 for more talks.

The Warner and Douglas Corporation established Douglas in 1902. The company began to make steering columns in 1955 for Ford. In 1986, Douglas introduced the first tilt and telescopic steering column and the single-lever type tilt and telescoping steering column in 1991 for heavy-duty trucks. In 1991, the Fuji Kiko Co., Ltd. purchased 51 percent of the company. Today, Fuji Kiko Co. owns 100 percent.

Douglas AutoTech in Hopkinsville, Ky., is one of nine Japanese companies in Christian County, Ky.


LIUNA thuggery smacked-down

Related story: "Labor-state unionist in office takes care of #1"

Controversial Project Labor Agreement mandate tabled

No action was taken Tuesday on a Superior (WI) City Council proposal to require project labor agreements on all municipal contracts. That doesn’t mean the issue is dead and won’t be resurrected once an opinion can be obtained from the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office concerning a possible conflict of interest by the proposal’s author, Councilor Dan Olson.

The agreements promise labor harmony and require contractors, irrespective of their union affiliation, to follow local collective bargaining agreements. Nationally, they are subject of numerous legal challenges and debate. Some states are considering bans on such accords, which opponents contend favor unions over merit-based contractors and are criticized for driving public project costs.

The city submitted a letter to the Attorney General’s office last week after The Daily Telegram questioned officials about the potential for a conflict of interest. Olson serves as a business manager for the Building and General Laborers Local 1091, one of 16 local construction trades unions.

Wisconsin law states, “No local public official may use his or her public position or office to obtain financial gain or anything of substantial value” for himself, immediate family or an associated organization.

City Attorney Frog Prell cautioned councilors against discussing or acting on the issue because Olson could be conflicted by the nature of his employment.

“I’m simply suggesting the council sit on this for a period of time to allow us to get a better feel for how that issue might play out,” Prell said, concerning the city’s efforts to gain a legal opinion. “... I present that even submitting to your co-councilors the merits of the proposal that was in front of the committee could be deemed ultimately a breach of some sort.”

Prell said past practice has been for conflicted councilors to remove themselves physically from the discussion and vote. He said action by the council could be “undone or … deemed void or voided by virtue of a conclusion of a finding of a conflict” of interest.

Councilor Ed Anderson said he didn’t see where Olson’s involvement presented a conflict of interest.

“I don’t know where you draw the nexus that Mr. Olson is getting some kind of personal financial benefit out of it. I don’t see that.”

In an interview last week, Olson said, “there is no doubt that I would get a small compensation in the form of working dues.”

In spite of the caution from the city attorney, councilors discussed the issue at length after Jackie Stenberg and Esther Dalbec moved to receive and file the proposal, and Olson made a presentation about its intent.

“What I am proposing is from my position as a city councilor — I see the need in this city for local labor,” Olson said. “I see the need for us to employ people that live here, that pay our taxes, pay our storm utility runoff fees, pay our high prices in gas, pay our high prices in produce. As a councilor, I do have construction experience that I am trying to use in this and in the best interest of the city of Superior. The proposal … contrary to the criticism that I have very eloquently taken in the last three days … we need to employ our people that live here.”

He said the project labor agreement ordinance would enable the city to do that.

“My sole intention here is to keep people living in the city,” Olson said. “I had that in my campaign that I wanted economic development and part of that is to retain the people that live here, to provide them with employment, to provide them with a living wage and to have them live in their homes and not be forced out of town to live in other places.”

City ordinance already requires contractors on public works projects to pay prevailing wages. Olson’s proposal goes further, requiring all contractors to abide by union work rules. It makes unions the bargaining authority for all workers, irrespective of their union affiliation or desire to be represented.

“If it’s not broke, I don’t know what we’re fixing,” Stenberg said.

“I’m kind of wondering what we’re trying to fix,” said Council President Tom Bridge. “I’m kind of concerned here that if you limit this to local people, you’re taking benefit away from the taxpayers as a whole because they pay more when you leave people out. We almost gave away $150,000 about a month or so ago, just because of a local labor issue as opposed to bringing someone here from Wausau.”

In April, Olson abstained from voting on the city contract for capping the landfill because members of Local 1091 stood to benefit if it had been awarded to RJS, which entered a bid about $150,000 higher than the Wausau company that was ultimately given the work.

Anderson said there is a value to the public in having labor harmony outlined by a project labor agreement. He likened it to having insurance.

“I think there’s some certainty in having these things decided in advance,” Anderson said. “That has got to be worth money.”

Anderson said local companies are going to be under public pressure to keep costs down.

“If you limit the number of people that get involved, prices go up,” Bridge said.

Stenberg said it’s not the role of government to support the unions.

The agreement itself has no requirement that union-only contractors can bid on city contracts, Olson said. Nonunion contractors would not have to pay into the health reimbursement arrangement if they have a health and welfare plan.

“My biggest concern is Frog; what have we hired him for?” Dalbec said. “… If we’re not going to listen to him, why do we have him sitting there? He’s telling us we should wait on this.”

Milroy said while the media was doing its job in pursing the story, he accused city administrators “making political hay” in the media before the council had “a fair chance to debate the issues” after Mayor Dave Ross and Jeff Vito, development and government affairs director, responded to Telegram questions concerning the proposal and labor issues on past city contracts.

Ross asked Milroy if it was the council’s intent to gag him from publicly discussing proposals the council may consider.

Milroy said that was not his intent.

“I am disappointed this was all played out so much in the press before we had a chance to sit down like we are tonight to have an honest and fair debate,” he said.

Councilor Bob Finsland said he was concern about the motion on the floor, which would have removed the proposal from discussion.

The council divided 7-3 to on a motion to receive and file. Finsland, Milroy, Olson, Anderson and Councilors Warren Bender, Chuck Hendry and Mick MacKenzie voted to keep the issue alive.

A motion to table the issue passed unanimously.


Worker: Union dues made job unaffordable

Testimony makes case for worker-choice

In October of 2007, I joined Quality Food Center as my part-time job. When I started work, the management at Q.F.C. failed to tell me that I would be obligated to be a member of U.F.C.W. Local 21. Despite my dislike for unions, I originally put up with it because I needed money.

Every month Local 21 would take $22.50 out of my checks. Although my original wage was $8.25 an hour, I would have to work a lot more just so I could make minimum wage after union dues. I realized that a non-union worker earning minimum wage makes the full $8.07 an hour, required by the state of Washington; on the other hand, a Local 21 worker would have to work 125 hours per month just to average $8.07 an hour, after the union fee.

The results may equal minimum wage but the hours to reach that point are too substantial. Plus, Q.F.C. wouldn't let me work more than 30 hours a week. On a monthly rate, I couldn't work more than 120 hours.

If I had a maximum schedule, I would still be short five hours of making minimum wage. Therefore, as a Q.F.C. employee, it was impossible to make minimum wage. During my union days, Local 21 took two "initiation" fees ($75 apiece) from two of my checks. After one had been deducted the $75, my hourly wage amount added up to $3.67 per hour; and after my other check had been decreased from the "initiation" fee my hourly wage was a meek $0.17 per hour. I eventually quit my job; the reason was 100 percent Local 21.

Jeffers Baxter, Mukilteo, WA


Publisher sues Portland Newspaper Guild

News Union refuses to negotiate

Blethen Maine Newspapers, the owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram has filed a lawsuit against the Portland Newspaper Guild, which represents roughly 300 Blethen staffers, over its labor contract.

At issue is whether the labor contract the guild signed in 2007 with Blethen, which is owned by the Seattle Times Co., must be honored by prospective buyers of the paper. In March, the Seattle Times Co. said it was looking to sell its Maine holdings, which also includes daily newspapers in Waterville and Augusta. At the time, the guild said it would seek to stop any deal unless a buyer was required to honor the labor contract. That requirement has stalled talks with potential buyers, according to a memo sent Tuesday from Publisher Chuck Cochrane to Blethen staff.

Cochrane claims the union has refused to participate in arbitration to settle the matter and that the lawsuit is a last resort.


Teamsters: County guilty of typical union tactics

Union organizers identified in Florida

A Teamsters' representative has fired off a letter to the county administrator asking him to respect the rights of 12 employees who are actively engaging in union-organizing activity. John Sholtes, business agent for Teamsters Local Union 79, said it is not uncommon for employers to "blatantly violate" Florida Statutes section 447 which protects these public employees.

"These reckless employers resort to dirty tricks and illegal union-busting tactics such as intimidation, threatening, interrogation and overall impartial treatment to prevent unionization," Sholtes wrote in a June 16 letter to County Administrator David Hamilton.

"Then, to add injury to insult, they make comments about how they were not even aware that their employees were involved in union activity."

To avoid that, Sholtes sent pictures of the 12 employees so the county administrator is aware of who is involved.

Sholtes has asked Hamilton to let county employees make up their own minds about unionizing.

"I think it would be a great gesture to boost the moral of the workers in these fiscally challenging times," Sholtes said.

The employees involved in union organizing are Ron Aliff, Kathy Connell, Mike Rollins, Donald Finn, Penny Oliver, Richard Longboat, John Burnett, Debbie Johnston, Henry Browning, Dan Oliver, Rachelle Jones and Jerome Golden.

It would require 50 percent plus one of the county's approximately 800 eligible employees to vote in favor of representation. Should they opt to unionize, the state would certify the election and the Teamsters would become the employees' bargaining agent.

Then, the union would begin contract negotiations with the county.

Hamilton said he is preparing a response - via the county attorney's office - to Sholtes' letter which should be available by next Tuesday's commission meeting.

Hamilton said he has no objection to the 12 employees involved in organizing activities and will not intervene.

"At the end of the day, it will be about the choice of our workers," he said.

Hamilton added that he is planning a series of staff meetings in July that will address employee salaries and other budget items.

County employees announced six months ago they were considering unionizing with the Teamsters, instead of joining the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which already represents the county sheriff's office.

This is the third time county employees have tried to organize. They voted down earlier alliances with the Teamsters and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Meanwhile, county employees are invited to meet their organizing committee and talk to Teamsters representatives at a meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, June 28, at the Hernando County Fairgrounds, 6436 Broad St.

The meeting is limited to Hernando County bargaining unit employees and any upper management officials seen at the event will be reported to the Public Employees Relations Commission, according to a Teamsters flyer.


Coloradans for Employee Freedom launched

Group formed to promote worker-choice issues

Any hope of Colorado's business community and its unions coming to a labor peace won't be helped by a $150,000-plus television commercial buy blasting union leaders for corruption and mismanagement of funds.

The ads running on stations around Denver, including 9NEWS, are paid for by the Center for Union Facts. It's an organization founded more than two years ago because "labor bosses were going unchallenged," said spokesman Tim Miller. "The commercials are our way to educate the public about the mismanagement of union dues."

The commercials include "union workers" critical of their bosses for donating their wages to politicians they don't like and also, highlight a mock-school election where a young boy tells the class their votes for student body president will not be secret. He says his committee of friends will ensure students vote the right way, a metaphor for what union critics have long said.

Colorado voters may have the chance to decide competing worker issues this fall at the ballot box. Amendment 47, called "Right to Work," would prevent unions from collecting mandatory dues in workplaces that have collective bargaining, has already qualified for the ballot. The group running that campaign calls itself A Better Colorado. To counter that, Colorado's unions are collecting signatures to require that all businesses with 20 or more employees provide health care coverage.

Political leaders like Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colorado), Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) have asked both sides to back down, to respect Colorado's current "Labor Peace Act," which was passed by state lawmakers in 1943. It requires a special employee vote before a workplace can become unionized.

Jess Knox with Protect Colorado's Future, the group advocating the union initiatives, denounced the ad campaign and attacked Rick Berman, the individual behind the Center for Union Facts. In 2006, Business Week magazine reported Berman's creation of the Center to stop union recruitment and also his previous public relations efforts, such as one on behalf of liquor makers to "go after Mothers Against Drunk Driving for proposing stiffer alcohol limits for drivers."

He also pointed out the ad campaign begins less than a week after the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce board voted to oppose Amendment 47, and roughly two weeks after his group alleged massive fraud in court filings as it related to the amendment's signature gatherers.

"The message should be discounted because of the messenger," said Knox. "The folks who are advocating this issue are struggling, they're treading water, so in comes this political hit man. You have to take it with a grain of salt."

The commercials have been running in Maine and Oregon. Miller said they will be supplemented by a local group called Coloradans for Employee Freedom which has Independence Institute President Jon Caldara and former State Senate Majority Leader Mark Hillman (R-Colorado) on its board. That group, he said, will advertise "in a way that educates voters about where politicians stand on important issues, particularly on issues of worker freedom."

Both organizations are registered as 501(c)4 under the federal tax code, meaning they are identified as "social welfare organizations." It also means their donors can remain private.

"We have businesses and individuals who have donated to our group," Miller said, "but unions have a history of violence and intimidation, so we choose not to identify them."

Knox said his group which is also registered as a 501(c)4 is identifying all of its donors and the contrast should tell voters more than the commercials themselves.

"They're trying to interfere with a legitimate conversation taking place in Colorado," Knox said. "It's disappointing they've turned to a paid hit man from out of state once they felt the heat."


Labor-state bars overtime

Pols serve as collective bargaining agent for entire state

With two days left in the legislature's regular session and little apparent progress on big issues, Gov. David A. Paterson and lawmakers last night announced deals on working hours for nurses, barring rogue teachers and administrators from schools and extra electricity generation.

The leaders agreed to end mandatory overtime for nurses working in hospitals and nursing homes but not in home care, beginning next summer. The move is aimed at encouraging more people to become nurses, addressing a chronic shortage.

Paterson estimated 30 percent of licensed nurses aren't working in the profession - many because of mandatory overtime, which leaves them exhausted and away from their families. "This is an issue of patient care as well as workers' rights," he said.

Groups representing hospitals and nurses lauded the deal. Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union noted New York will join 14 other states that already ban mandatory overtime. "We are extremely excited at the prospect that nurses will no longer be compelled to work beyond the point of safe functioning," said Pat Greenberg of the union's nurse alliance.

Shaun Flynn of the New York State Nurses Association added, "This will help end the nursing shortage."

But Daniel Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, called for tackling the shortage's "root cause" by authorizing more state aid so nursing schools can admit more students.

Paterson and the legislative leaders also reached agreement to revoke the teaching certificates of registered sex offenders and licenses of school administrators found to have defrauded the government.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) predicted the state's energy needs would be partially met with a deal allowing businesses to send excess electricity back to the grid in return for credit on their bill.

Negotiations continue over higher-profile issues such as cleanup of toxic industrial sites, gun control, tax credits for environmentally friendly buildings and patient notification of doctors who have been disciplined. Paterson was optimistic more deals would be struck.

But he also acknowledged his plan to cap yearly increases in school property taxes would have to wait for a special session in the summer or fall. "We're probably not going to come to some agreement in the next few days."

Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R-Schenectady) criticized Paterson for complying with a court order to provide undergarments for transgender children in juvenile detention centers. "If we're going to buy bras and panties ... we can provide property tax relief for people," thundered Tedisco.

Later, Bruno said progress was being made toward a remedy for the foreclosure crisis stemming from subprime mortgages. There needs to be tougher criteria for loan applicants, he said. "We've got to reform the system because the way it exists now too many people are in trouble."


Teamsters face dues hit from Gary schools

Labor-state school district deals with cost over-runs

Pressed to shave $7 million from the school district budget by July 1, Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Mary Steele-Agee outlined a plan this week to save cash via cuts to security, maintenance, teachers and administrators. "The bottom line is there is a $7 million deficit in the school district as we speak that has to be resolved. We have to balance the budget," Steele-Agee said.

The elementary schools will lose 21 teaching posts, the middle and high schools will lose 8.5. Seventeen teaching posts in the areas of special education, speech, black history, home economics and cooperative education will be slashed.

Four teachers at the now closed Kennedy-King Elementary School will also lose positions under the plan that still needs school board approval.

Teachers have already received layoff slips. Steele-Agee said some positions in other ranks were unfilled and won't affect actual people.

Seven paraprofessionals will be cut, as will nine administrative positions -- the district buyer, property control manager, professional development supervisor, assistant director of the Gary Area Career Center, and five elementary and assistant principals.

Two secretaries, five Teamsters, three general maintenance workers, five high school security posts, 12 elementary school security posts and 12 elementary supervisory aides are also on the chopping block.

"I asked every department to look at the people they supervise and tell me which positions could be cut," Steele-Agee said.

School Board President Nellie Moore said a plan should have been in place for cuts earlier, so the district would not have to rush to make them now.

Steele-Agee said she just learned from the state June 9 how much funding would be lost. The superintendent said she conferred with business manager Alesia Pritchett who told her the district was already operating on "bare bones."

Moore replied "We've known for a long time we'd have to cut the budget."

Still, Moore recommended the cuts be placed on the consent agenda for next week's board meeting. "We have to keep these buildings open and keep them staffed," Moore said.

Incoming 1st District School Board Member Barbara Leek said the board could save money by cutting its own expenses -- which are budgeted at $226,235.

She suggested they reduce board travel. She also said they could save office supply costs by using CD-ROMs rather than paper documents.


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