UFW may face RICO charges over Whole Foods

Related UFW-Whole Foods stories: here

Oregon's union-happy Gov. fumes

Just as Country Natural Beef, a co-op of Food Alliance-certified natural beef ranchers, made its first step outside the west, adding a member in Louisiana in early June, an ongoing labor dispute threatened to disrupt the co-op's supply chain.

The dispute, between the United Farm Workers union and the Beef Northwest feedlot in Boardman, Ore., where Country Natural Beef (CNB) sends the majority of its cattle to be fattened, has been dragging on several months but may be put to rest quickly now that CNB's largest customer, Whole Foods Markets has removed itself from the fray.

Prompted by a public involvement campaign organized by the United Farm Workers union, Whole Foods in late May released an official request that Country Natural Beef stop sending cattle to Beef Northwest and announced that it would no longer buy beef fattened at Beef Northwest. Last week, however, Whole Foods withdrew its request after meeting with CNB officials, who explained the labor dispute in greater detail.

Presented in the press as a fight between social responsibility and environmental responsibility, the dispute revolves around 80 workers at Beef Northwest and whether they want to unionize. United Farm Workers (UFW) has gotten involved to support the Beef Northwest workers, but the union's critics say they have been using pressure tactics on both the workers and third-party members of the feedlot's supply chain. In an interview with The Oregonian, Beef Northwest owner John Wilson said his workers are higher paid than most feedlot employees and that he has not heard any complaints from them. "If they want to be represented, we're great with that," he said. "If they want to stay independent, we're great with that, too. We just want them to be able to decide for themselves."

In last week's announcement Libba Letton, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods, said the store's initial request was an effort to get the UFW to stage a vote and end the labor dispute, but was misunderstood as a sign of support for the UFW. "We have consequently withdrawn our request, so Country Natural Beef is continuing to place cattle with the Beef Northwest feedlot. 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."

In the absence of Oregon labor laws governing union organizing in agriculture, Beef Northwest and CNB have requested governor Ted Kulongoski's help in setting up a neutral election, and asked the National Labor Relations Board to resolve the dispute. If the dispute continues, Stacy Davies, marketing team leader for Country Natural Beef, told The Baker City Herald there is the possibility of a lawsuit against the UFW for damages caused by its targeting of third parties, such as Whole Foods.


Rep. John Barrow, Georgia DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has taped a radio commercial on behalf of U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Savannah, who faces a July 15 primary challenge. It’s the first case of Obama involving himself in a local race in Georgia. [N.B. Barrow voted for the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act that would eliminate secret-ballot union recognition elections and force workers into unions without their choice.]

Details of when the ad will start airing and where it will be broadcast — the 12th District covers much of east Georgia, including portions of Augusta and Savannah — were not immediately available Wednesday.

But the Obama campaign made clear to my colleague Aaron Sheinin that it sees Barrow, a two-term Democrat, as an important ally. We’ve got calls into the Barrow campaign, but haven’t heard from them yet.

“Senator Obama believes that Congressman Barrow has worked hard to bring change that families in his district deserve, and we’ll work hard to help John Barrow win in November,” Obama spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.

In the ad, Obama asks voters to join him in supporting Barrow. “We’re going to need John Barrow back in Congress to help change Washington and get our country back on track,” Obama says in the 60-second ad.

Barrow beat a Republican incumbent in 2004 and had tough GOP opposition in 2006. But this April, Barrow picked up unexpected opposition from Regina Thomas, a well-known African-American state senator based in Savannah. Barrow is white, and In past primaries in the 12th District, black voters have cast nearly 70 percent of the ballots.

Barrow had endorsed Obama in late February, a few weeks after the Illinois senator won the Georgia primary. And within weeks of Thomas joining the race, Barrow, a conservative Democrat, was placed at the top of a list of 14 national co-chairs for Obama’s massive, 50-state voter registration drive — along with the likes of singer Melissa Etheridge and the Rev. Joe Lowery.

Barrow has plenty of cash to make use of the Obama ad. He reported $1.3 million in cash on hand this spring.


94% in Colo. oppose card-check unionization

Related story: "Rep. Mark Udall, Colorado DINO"

Democrat, ironically, wants to end union democracy

The top legislative priority for organized labor this year is the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act better known as the "Card-Check" bill. Colorado's own Rep. Mark Udall supports this bill, which is a massive handout to organized labor. The bill would overturn decades of settled labor law in order to give organized labor an unfair advantage in union organizing at the expense of employees' privacy.

Organized labor reportedly is seeking to amass over one million volunteers and $1 billion to lobby for the bill, which, by some estimates, will more than double the unionization rate in the United States.

Furthermore, organized labor has made support for the "Card-Check" bill a litmus test for candidates that Big Labor will support in the 2008 elections.

Consequently, the time is now for Coloradans and businesses to engage and prepare for the coming fight and urge Mark Udall to join the 94 percent of Coloradans who oppose the card-check method of forming a union.

Kenzie Paup, Pueblo, CO


Teamsters rejected by workers

Secret-ballot election kills union-dues plan

A union drive at one of Amherst's largest employers has failed. Workers at Poly Cello voted overwhelmingly against joining the Teamsters after results of last month’s certification vote were released Thursday. Eighty-six per cent of the votes were cast against certification with only 24 ballots in favor, compared to 152 against.

“We are extremely proud of the respect and dignity that members of the Poly Cello family displayed during this time. It says a lot about the decency of employees, and their commitment to our customers that we remained productive as a team and that the tone of the discourse remained open, honest and measured,” company president and CEO Stephen Emmerson said in a prepared statement. “We can never lose sight that our most important competitive advantage is the talent, commitment and dependability of our people.”

Emmerson is pleased the company and the workers can continue moving forward in a non-union environment.

The union sent an e-mail mid-afternoon saying it would be issuing a statement later in the day, but as of presstime, none had arrived and Local 927 president Chuck Chalmers could not be reached for comment.

The vote was brought about after the union was approached by workers at the plant and managed to sign up the required 40 per cent of the workers needed for the vote to happen.

Although he was criticized by the union for speaking against the certification drive, Amherst Mayor Jerry Hallee, a former manager of the plant, welcomed the vote result saying it should bring about some stability.

“I’m very happy. It’s good news for Poly Cello, for Amherst and the employees,” Hallee said.

Poly Cello is a family-owned and operated flexographic printer that employs 350 people in Amherst and Belleville, Ont.


Stealth legislation threatens nation's workforce

Why is Barack Obama anti-employee?

Instead of wondering if the PHR/SPHR is worth your time or why your employees post their résumés in broad daylight, this time I’m wondering if you’ll have a job in 2010. Did that get your attention? Because in the new column at Workforce, I’m focusing on a stealth piece of legislation that would cripple the competitiveness of American business, limit the rights of employees and eliminate the need for independent-thinking HR pros, all in one easy-to-sign law.

I’m talking about the Employee Free Choice Act.

The worst thing about the Employee Free Choice Act isn’t its effect on us as HR professionals. It's how stunningly anti-employee the act is. Ability for employees to keep their feelings about unionization private? Gone. Ability for employees to listen and carefully contemplate both sides of an argument regarding representation? Gone.

Ability for an employee to vote in an election via the democratic process we all take for granted? Priceless ... but gone if the Employee Free Choice Act is passed and signed into law.

Read the whole article at Workforce. Educate your teams about what's at stake. Hard to believe SHRM, who's pretty good at governmental affairs, hasn't organized marches on Capitol Hill over the EFCA.


Denver teachers union targets Dem convention

What would Barack do?

A heated labor disagreement over Denver's teacher contract appears to be heading into late August and could reach a boiling point during the Democratic National Convention. Teachers and the administration are at odds over changes to the district's compensation system. It's one of the issues that led union officials to warn teachers in their May newsletter to prepare for a strike.

Mediation with a professional arbiter has been set for Aug. 20-22, ending the Friday before the Democrats arrive for the convention.

The teachers' three-year contract will expire Aug. 31, the Sunday after the convention.

What could occur that week if the talks fall apart is anyone's guess.

"We will be doing everything in our power to get to a good agreement," said union president Kim Ursetta.

Teachers likely would not strike during the convention because they would still be under a contract. But there could be other actions, including demonstrations.

"I would predict that the (Barack) Obama people would work hard behind the scenes to get that resolved before the convention," said Chester E. "Checker" Finn Jr., national education expert. "It would be delicious irony for the party that is most beholden to teachers unions."

Roughly 200 of the delegates attending the convention are members of the National Education Association, said Colorado NEA representative Sondra Williams.

"My colleagues would not cross a picket line," Williams said.

On Thursday, representatives from Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association met with members of a blue-ribbon citizens panel, A-Plus Denver, to answer questions about proposed changes to the compensation system, ProComp.

District officials say their proposal would increase average base pay for teachers by 7.7 percent and provide bonuses for an average increase of 19 percent per teacher.

Union officials say they want an across-the-board 3.5 percent raise for teachers as well as incentives, maintaining a balance between salary building and bonuses they say was promised to voters.

A-Plus members questioned whether ProComp is doing what voters intended. The $25 million annual tax was passed in 2005 for pay increases in hopes of attracting and retaining quality teachers and improving student achievement.

"Wasn't that the intention of the voters, creating a results-based pay system?" asked former Denver Mayor Federico Peña.

Peña, who is co-chairman of Barack Obama's national campaign, said he believes the labor dispute will be resolved by the time of the convention.

"It's not a concern. I'm very hopeful they will reach an agreement."


Forced-labor unionism blamed for Michigan exodus

Related forced-labor unionism stories: here

Jobs flow to states with worker-choice

Michigan’s economy is in the pits, that we can all agree on. The matter of how we got there is subject to debate and may not ultimately help find the solution. But this much is clear, people and businesses are leaving Michigan in droves.

Why? For starters, Michigan’s close ties to the American auto industry is no help. According to Terry Stanton, a public information officer for the Department of Treasury, the Big Three’s market place share will have fallen a full 30 percent by 2009 since their peak in the mid-90s.

“Any state that faces changes like that in the auto industry will be seriously impacted,” he said.

True. But what can be done about it?

Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R-Kalamazoo, who is term limited in the state House and running against Sen. Carl Levin this November, believes Michigan is too cozy with its unions, and that as a state we are losing out on new factories to the 22 states that do not require union membership.

“The number one reason jobs leave Michigan is labor policy,” he said. “Our jobs aren’t going to China or India, they are going to other states.”

A measured amount of Hoogendyk’s rhetoric has to be chalked up to electioneering politics, and his desire to unseat Levin. But then again, how much of Michigan’s tax structure is deterring the growth of new business here?

On Levin’s Web site there is similar political maneuvering in a time when we need answers not more finger pointing. Levin correctly acknowledges the depressed Michigan economy and details a certain tax-relief plan he hoped would address those problems. The plan ultimately failed, and Levin’s Web site plays into unproductive partisan bickering and uses everyone’s favorite punching bag as the culprit — President George Bush.

Thankfully, at least Gov. Jennifer Granholm is being drawn less and less into that fray.

Back in 2005, the Wall Street Journal wrote a scathing article on the high taxes in Michigan. Granholm reacted swiftly, calling the financial newspaper’s report “treasonous.” The relationship between the two has not grown much warmer.

In a May 28 piece titled “Granholm’s Tax Warning,” the Journal again outlined the slouching state economy and once again laid blame at the feet of Granholm citing the state’s 2007 shutdown and subsequent tax hike.

Yet, experience has taught Granholm to hold back, and rather than jump into another shouting match with the paper, she and her administration are touting recent bipartisan developments meant to grow the state’s economy.

Among those recent developments are the biggest tourism budget for the state championed by Democrats and Republicans alike, a downtown development package also pleasing to both sides of the aisle and a new film incentive package built to draw Hollywood’s glamorous (and profitable?) industry here.

These plans are not without their detractors. Just search online for the tongue-in-cheek video by Rep. Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham, lampooning the film incentive package. But again, wouldn’t Moss’ constituents been better served in another way other than watching a politicians exercise his poor acting skills and sarcasm?

What we need are Democrats and Republicans willing to work together, and perhaps even adopt some of each others ideas. There is a path out of this mess, but we will never find it with our two parties pulling in opposite directions, kicking and screaming the whole way.


Feds pack union-dues embezzler off to prison

Union-official criminals typically evade local law enforcement

A Pacifica (CA) man who once headed a Bay Area postal workers' union was sentenced last week to one year and three months in federal prison for charging at least $150,000 worth of personal expenditures to his union and falsely reporting the expenses as union-related business, authorities announced Wednesday.

Graham P. Vane, 60, pleaded no contest in January to one count of embezzling funds and four counts of making false statements to a government agency. Vane used his position as president of the San Mateo unit of the National Association of Letter Carriers to bill a myriad of goods and services for personal use on a union-issued credit card and 10 personal credit cards. Between 2003 and 2006, he used the credit cards for dining, family travel, jewelry, dental services, groceries and to pay his wife's cell phone bills, prosecutors said.

To cover his tracks, Vane falsified union records and made false statements to the U.S. Department of Labor, according to prosecutors.

He was also ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution.

The case against Vane was investigated by the Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards and prosecuted in the Northern District of California.


Union organizers only care about union-dues

Opinion: Send these union interlopers packing

Why do AFSCME and the UAW want to unionize workers at the University of New Hampshire? If you work at UNH and don't have a clue, you are not alone. For that matter, it appears union organizers are just as clueless. And that alone should be a strong indication as to how UNH employees should vote.

For months now, union organizers have been pounding the pavement — visiting campus offices during employee lunch breaks and knocking on doors at workers' homes. It was during one of these “house calls” it became abundantly clear that unionization efforts at UNH have nothing to do with the good of the employees — just the union.

The long and short of a conversation that ensued during one of these home visits was that the unions don't have a clue about what is going on at UNH — the good or the bad. And they don't seem too concerned.

While the unions pound the pavement for votes, UNH is struggling with a multimillion-dollar deficit. COLSA is going through a massive reorganization to save money and better address student and staff needs. Cost-cutting efforts have been extended campuswide in an attempt to hold down tuition increases and maintain a stable work force.

Yet despite all this, UNH has been fair — some might argue more than fair — in providing cost-of-living increases to staff members along with a merit pay pool tied to a comprehensive employee evaluation system.

A review of union literature finds few references, if any, to these and other issues challenging the future of UNH and all its workers — unionized or not. And neither are these issues apparently being addressed during union “house calls.”

The only semi-cogent reason given for UNH workers to unionize has been to protect workers' rights and somehow make working conditions better.

But what rights and whose working conditions?

Again, don't ask the union. Through their literature and in the field, it is apparent their people don't have a clue. They certainly don't offer specifics.

And as if to add insult to injury, when asked what this protection — needed or not — would cost, guesses — yes, plural — range from a few dollars a month to over $1,000 a year.

Let's face it, any worker in any business — public or private — can find something to complain about. It's not a perfect world and there are only so many dollars to go around. But no employee should cut off their nose despite their face by joining a union.

The bottom line at UNH is that employees are being asked by the union to gamble with their hard-earned money. They are being asked to turn their backs on an employer who has been good — and fair — to them.

Those approached to sign union cards should not be swayed by vague promises backed by little substance.

And for anyone who has succumbed to the union sales pitch, it is not too late. Call and write the union; rescind your vote. And when you do, don't take no for an answer.

Send these union interlopers packing without wasting as much as a dime on their self-serving recruitment efforts.

UNH does not need another union; neither the university nor its employees can afford the damage one will do.


Big Labor is calling Barack's shots

Obama waves off New Democrats

Listen closely to all those cheers for newly crowned nominee Barack Obama, and in the background you'll catch the notes of a funeral march. Resting, if not in peace, are the New Democrats.

The Illinois senator's primary victory marked the end of many things, and one looks to be his party's 20-year experiment with ideological centrism. The New Dems are still out there, still urging their party to fight its natural liberal instincts. But who's listening? Buoyed by the Republican implosion, wild for their retro nominee, the intellectual soul of the Democratic Party is now firmly left.

The New Democrats were born in the 1980s, in response to Ronald Reagan's triumphs. Prominent Democrats worried the party was out of touch, and created the Democratic Leadership Council. Its members were foreign-policy hawks, unafraid of cultural conservatism, and preached economic centrism. Their poster boy: Bill Clinton.

The 1990s were their midlife heyday, though even then the New Dems struggled. Party liberals despised Mr. Clinton's embrace of free trade, hated his accommodation of welfare reform, cringed when he pronounced "the era of big government" over. But no one could deny his success at giving the party its first two full terms in the White House since FDR. So they shut up and went along.

When Mr. Clinton left, so did the most prominent New Democratic voice. Party liberals have been reasserting control ever since. Howard Dean's 2004 consolation prize was the Democratic National Committee. Nancy Pelosi became House Speaker in 2006, and gave back committee chairs to the old 1960s liberal bulls. And now comes Mr. Obama, the party's most liberal nominee since Hubert Humphrey.

What's left of the New Democratic agenda? On foreign policy, Bill Clinton engaged in Bosnia, and as recently as 2004 John Kerry saw the wisdom of running as at least a moderate hawk. But today's unpopular war has only emboldened the party to revert to its antiwar comfort zone.

Mr. Obama calls for an immediate pullout of troops from Iraq, no matter what the consequences. His foreign policy, to the extent it is one, flows not from strength, but from greater American accommodation in the name of diplomacy. Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have together held some 72 votes on Iraq, most devoted to cutting off troop money, blocking the surge, or forcing a pullout. Last year, all but 10 House Democrats voted for a withdrawal timeline.

Economic centrism? What's that? Even Mr. Clinton's wife disavowed his New Democratic legacy by trashing free trade and Nafta. Mr. Obama raised her bet, aligning himself with leftist trade populists. The Democratic leadership has held up deals with Colombia, Peru and South Korea. Big Labor is calling the shots, and Big Labor will suffer no new trade.

Mr. Obama is hawking a tax policy that would take the nation back to the effective marginal tax rates of the Carter days. He wants to further tax income, payroll, capital gains, dividends and death. His philosophy is pure redistribution. Congressional Democrats voted for a budget that includes the largest tax hike in American history.

About all that remains of the New Democratic economic agenda is the mantra of "fiscal discipline." But since taking power, Democrats have passed spending bills far beyond President Bush's limits, and broken their own "pay-as-you-go" rules. The party's Blue Dogs have fought its leaders on some spending, though not when it risks derailing, say, farm bills. Mr. Obama recently revealed that his plan for economic recovery was to spend the nation out of its doldrums.

The one place where New Democrats have made a more lasting mark is on the culture. The party leadership has seen the wisdom of relaxing litmus tests on guns and abortion, a change that in 2006 let them field candidates who won conservative districts. But even here, Mr. Obama is a skeptic. He's said he'd repeal the Defense of Marriage Act – which Bill Clinton signed. He's criticized the Supreme Court for upholding the partial-birth abortion ban.

Yes, there are still New Democrats in prominent positions. House Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel has used his clout to help protect party centrists. But on trade, economics and foreign policy, Mrs. Pelosi and the liberals are in charge. The speaker has given "passes" to her more conservative members on tough votes, but she's not asked them to help craft an agenda.

So where does this leave the party? The New Democratic approach gave the party its best run in decades, and it has remained a magic formula for many local candidates. But nationally, the general political mood has left the leadership believing it can win no matter what it says. Maybe. Then again, one election doesn't make for a lasting majority.


SEIU dues raid v. AFSCME in Arizona

AFSCME: 'SEIU sucks'

It's high noon for two unions vying to represent state employees, and harsh words are flying faster than bullets at the OK Corral. The Service Employees International Union is pushing to displace American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has represented state workers for years.

Scott Washburn, SEIU's state director, said he believes his organization can do a better job. But that statement has provoked an angry reaction from AFSCME lobbyist Roman Ulman.

He said SEIU does a very good job of organizing, getting workers to sign up - and sign over a portion of their paychecks.

"But when it comes to representation, it sucks," Ulman said.

Washburn did concede that not all workers brought up on charges will find an SEIU representative at their side.

"If you're a problem employee, we're not here to protect you," he said.

However, Washburn said SEIU will provide representation to employees the state is trying to discipline or fire who have made innocent "mistakes."

The fight comes amid the question of what good union membership is in a state where governments are not legally required to negotiate with the representatives of their workers. Some communities do have "meet and confer" policies where there are informal discussions.

The state, however, does not.

In fact, the traditional big issue for private unions, negotiating wage hikes, is decided at the state level as part of the budget negotiations. Lawmakers and the governor decide what increases, if any, to give.

So why should anyone join?

Ulman said there are other things that a union can do for state workers.

For example, he said, state employees were complaining several years ago about the quality of health care being offered by Cigna, the company that had the contract to insure the workers.

He said AFSCME convinced Gov. Janet Napolitano to direct the state Department of Administration to self-insure, with the state seeking bids for companies to manage the process. Cigna decided not to bid.

Ulman said AFSCME also convinced the department to alter its prices for insurance.

He said there were two categories: single employees and employees with families. Ulman said there now is an option for employees with a spouse but no children, one that is less expensive than the family plan.

Washburn, for his part, has his own spin on why state workers should join a union.

"Everybody thinks that a union is about wages and benefits," he said, but added that's only "part of the equation."

Some of it, he said, is simply recognizing the reality that workers are not going to be getting significant pay hikes, if any at all, this year.

"The economy here in Arizona is a real mess, at all levels," Washburn said. He said that has created havoc not only with the state budget but also in the cities and counties where SEIU has members.

But he said there are other things SEIU can do for its members.

"We're really committed, as are these employees, about the notion of quality service and how do we involve employees in making decisions that affect their work life, which is a big issue for them," Washburn said. He said the union can help advocate for employees in getting changes in the kind of work they are performing.

At this point, though, those are strictly promises.

"We haven't been able to change much yet," Washburn said.

"We're still in our infancy here," he continued. "We're trying to grow the organization right now to become pretty-good sized in each one of these different agencies."

Washburn won't say how many members SEIU has. It is more than 1,000 - the level at which the state will allow payroll deductions.

Ulman pegged AFSCME membership at 5,000 to 6,000.

One big difference between the two organizations is that SEIU is much more politically involved. For example, the union was the main source of financial backing in opposing a 2004 ballot measure to deny many public benefits and services to people not here legally.

Washburn said the union gets involved in initiatives because of larger publicpolicy concerns rather than just what it means to union members.

There are other ballot measures where SEIU has taken an active role which have a closer link to labor issues. It was a primary source of dollars for the successful 2006 campaign to establish an Arizona minimum wage higher than the federal level.

AFSCME, on the other hand, has been more active at the Legislature.

It has been involved in efforts to allow state employees to become precinct committeemen and women for political parties.

"That's where so much of the action takes place," Ulman said, helping to get candidates elected. But current law keeps state workers from holding any office within a party.

One other difference separates the unions: cost.

AFSCME's 1.4 percent dues are higher than the 1.25 percent charged by SEIU. But Ulman said that figure is capped at $28 a month.


UFCW boycott appeals to D.C. Council

Politicians defend no-vote, anti-democratic unionization

Two D.C. Council members offered their support yesterday as union organizers, religious leaders and other area politicians launched a boycott against Smithfield Foods, a major meat producer, saying the company had mistreated and fired workers who complained of job-related injuries at its Tar Heel, N.C., processing plant.

"Our work here is to make Smithfield uncomfortable," council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said in an interview. Mendelson is drafting a resolution that condemns the company, which also has a plant in Prince George's County, for its labor practices, supports a boycott and calls on the company to allow the North Carolina plant workers to unionize. Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) is also supporting the effort.

"We honestly believe that when people know of the atrocity that's taking place down in Smithfield, North Carolina, they'll show compassion and won't buy Smithfield up in Washington, D.C.," said the Rev. Jarvis Johnson, co-pastor of New Prospect Family Praise and Worship Center in the District and a campaign co-coordinator.

When Sade Morris started to feel pain in her hands last year from working as a pork cutter at the Tar Heel plant, she went to the company clinic. "They would put an ice pack or a heat pack on my hand, and they'd tell me to do hand exercises," said Morris, who was in the District yesterday for the protest. The treatment "didn't work," Morris said, but her supervisors told her to return to work. Her doctor told her that she had developed carpal tunnel syndrome and would need surgery.

In mid-March, "Smithfield fired me two days before I had surgery," Morris said, terminating her medical insurance and leaving her with "almost $7,000" in medical bills. Morris said that her hands still hurt, that she was seeing a physical therapist and that she was still under orders from her doctor not to lift more than 15 pounds.

Sen. David Harrington (D-Prince George's), who was also at yesterday's protest, said, "I think that bringing some attention to the situation will help out the workers in North Carolina." Last year, as a Prince George's County Council member, Harrington got a resolution passed condemning the plant's practices. The Smithfield plant in Harrington's district is unionized.

"I would hope that Smithfield will be compelled for the sake of their workers and sit down at the Prince George's plant and see how a union shop ought to work," he said.

Smithfield spokesman Dennis Pittman said yesterday that his company is a fair employer that doesn't oppose organized labor. The company welcomes a National Labor Relations Board "secret ballot election," he said. "As far as anyone being fired for any injury, that is certainly is untrue."


News Union sues employer over layoffs

Many folks don't realize that news biz is unionized

The Memphis Newspaper Guild Local 33091 has filed a National Labor Relations Board charge against The Commercial Appeal involving the most recent lay-offs. Guild members had entered into talks with newspaper executives in an effort to relieve some of the hardships faced by employees affected by the layoffs.

In bargaining sessions with the company on June 10, Guild representatives asked for more bargaining before layoffs were initiated. Guild representatives were told the company had not set a final list of who would be laid off.

Two days later, 30 people lost their jobs and were escorted out of the building. The remainder of the layoffs were completed before the next bargaining session. The CA has so far offered no insurance beyond the end of the month, no severance pay beyond the accrued pension benefits, and no bumping or re-employment rights beyond that any member of the public would have. The employees are considered terminated, not laid off.

The Memphis Newspaper Guild is a union that represents employees in the accounting, advertising, circulation, editorial and maintenance departments at The Commercial Appeal.


Dem pro-union Gov. sued by AFSCME

Organized labor turns against an old friend

Three labor unions representing thousands of Pennsylvania state government employees filed suit Thursday in an effort to block furloughs that have been threatened if state budget negotiations stall. Gov. Ed Rendell has said that without a budget, as many as 25,000 workers in positions deemed not to be critical to the public's health, safety or welfare must be furloughed without pay after the current fiscal year ends at midnight June 30.

Rendell plans to continue to pay workers in "critical" positions—such as state troopers and prison guards—after the budget year is over. Workers not in that category are at risk of being sent home without pay, although Rendell has said he might not order immediate furloughs if progress is being made.

The unions' Commonwealth Court lawsuit argues that nothing in state law, federal law or the Pennsylvania Constitution "permits such a distinction between 'critical' and 'noncritical' employees with respect to furloughs."

Rendell has cited the federal Fair Labor Standards Act's requirement that workers be paid as part of the justification for furloughs. The lawsuit asks the state court to take up the matter on an expedited basis.

"It's to answer the question: Is he correct in going behind the Fair Labor Standards Act to say that he has to furlough people without a budget?" said David R. Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13.

The other unions that sued are the Pennsylvania Social Services Union Local 688 and the Federation of State Cultural and Educational Professionals Local 2382. Together the three organizations represent about 17,000 of the targeted workers.

The defendants are the state, Rendell, Rendell's secretary of administration, his budget secretary and state Treasurer Robin L. Wiessmann.

Rendell and the Legislature are trying to hammer out a $28 billion-plus spending plan for next year, along with unresolved disputes over policies on energy, health care, economic development and infrastructure investment.

Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for the Democratic governor, said the administration was hopeful a budget deal would be struck in time to make the lawsuit moot.

"We recognize the union's need to do what it believes is best for its members, but the governor has an obligation to uphold the (state) constitution," Ardo said.

Wiessmann's spokeswoman said the lawsuit was under review and the department had no immediate comment about its merits.

Rendell told reporters Thursday that a Democratic-sponsored measure in the state House, if passed, would provide pay for workers for about a week and give negotiators some breathing room. He has backed off previous statements indicating that furloughs would occur at the stroke of midnight June 30.

"If we are continuing to make progress and it's a question of a day or two of drafting or a day or two necessary by legislative rules, I am inclined to do what I did last year, and say, 'We're making progress, therefore I'm going to keep everybody working,'" he said.


UFCW ads try to shift attention

New campaign flirts with more RICO violations

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is giving consumers false information about Smithfield Foods. The union also is refusing to let the employees vote by secret ballot on whether they want to be represented by the union. Responding to the UFCW's announcement of a Washington-area advertising campaign aimed at Smithfield pork-processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, Dennis Pittman, Smithfield's Director of Corporate Communications, said:

"These misleading and deliberately inflammatory ads are a continuation of the union's pressure tactics against Smithfield. The UFCW's real motive is to avoid a free, fair, secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board in which employees decide whether they want to be represented by the union."

Smithfield has repeatedly offered to schedule such an election. The company has offered to pay half the cost for an independent, outside election observer, such as President Jimmy Carter's Center in Atlanta. But the UFCW refuses to agree to the election.

"Instead, the UFCW is giving false information to consumers about the plant's safety record," Pittman said. "These tactics can only hurt the employees who work there. We call on the UFCW to stop its pressure campaign. Let the employees vote."

Pittman added:

-- "Smithfield does not tolerate the use of racial slurs by any employee or supervisor. Our code of conduct prohibits it, and we will terminate anyone who violates the code."

-- The Tar Heel plant pays above-average wages and gives all employees full health-care insurance and benefits including life insurance and help with college tuition. The company also established a medical clinic at the plant that provides low-cost doctors' visits and prescriptions to employees, their families and area residents.

-- The Tar Heel plant has one of the best safety records of any plant in the industry. In fact, its safety record is as good as or better than Smithfield's unionized plants.

-- Smithfield is not anti-union. Of the 35,300 employees in Smithfield's pork operation, 23,800, or 67 percent, are covered by collective bargaining agreements.

"A consumer boycott will only hurt the employees at Tar Heel and their families," Pittman said. "If the UFCW truly cares about these employees, it will let them vote."


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