Jumbo gov't-unions plow cash into N.C. politics

Organizers build political clout in dues-poor territory

North Carolina is the Norma Rae of states. You remember "Norma Rae," the 1979 movie starring Sally Field, about how a textile worker disturbed about Dickensian working conditions organized a successful union vote despite fierce company opposition.

Norma Rae was based on Crystal Lee Sutton, a $2.65 per hour towel folder at the J.P. Stevens Plant in Roanoke Rapids. Sutton ended up losing her job and working at a fast-food restaurant.

North Carolina is the least unionized state in the country, with 3 percent of the work force belonging to unions in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To put this in perspective, Mississippi has double the unionization rate of North Carolina, Alabama triple the rate. The national average is 12.1 percent.

As you might expect, the current drive in the legislature to allow public employees to engage in collective bargaining appears to be going nowhere fast this session.

The House Democratic caucus took up the matter last week.

"At this point, I doubt it has the votes to pass," said House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman, a Democrat from Lexington.

North Carolina has one of the most restrictive laws against collective bargaining by public employees in the country.

But a labor coalition is making a concerted effort to change that.

Leading the drive is the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, the nation's fastest-growing union. This spring, the State Employees Association of North Carolina -- the major advocacy group for state workers -- voted to affiliate with the SEIU.

Also pushing to change the collective bargaining law are the N.C. Association of Educators, the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters and the American Federation of Teachers.

To gain clout in the legislature, the SEIU has been plowing money into Tar Heel political campaigns.

But the drive also has powerful opposition. Business groups fear it will lead to a more powerful labor movement in the state. State and local government officials warn it will lead to work disruptions, drawn-out negotiations, time-consuming grievance procedures and higher taxes.

History would suggest you bet on the opponents.

There are a lot of reasons why unions have found North Carolina such barren ground.

Part of it is cultural. When North Carolina was industrialized in the 20th century, the mills were manned by fiercely independent hill-country farmers, not by European immigrants as elsewhere. The factories were in small, rural mill towns, often controlled by the mill owners, rather than in big cities where organizing was easier.

North Carolina -- a once poor rural state trying to attract Northern industry -- has been openly hostile to its workers' organizing.

During the 1920s, the government used bullets and billy clubs to put down the union movement. There is still a plaque in state AFL-CIO headquarters commemorating six striking textile workers shot dead in the back by deputy sheriffs in McDowell County.

The crushing of the labor movement has had a profound impact on North Carolina politics. There is no countervailing political force to business in North Carolina as there is in most states. Consequently, business interests usually get what they want in the legislature.

The clout of business and the weakness of labor also mean that any effort to persuade the legislature to give public employees collective bargaining rights will be a tough sell.


Teamsters warn Miller, Coors drinkers

Related Teamsters stories: here

Big California distributor targeted for strike action

Miller and Coors delivery drivers represented by Teamsters Local 278 in San Francisco, California are preparing to strike DBI Beverage Corporation, to protest the Tennessee-based company's plans to eliminate their retirement plan and unjustly fire employees. DBI Beverage Corporation distributes Miller and Coors in San Francisco.

"With all the money that Miller and Coors distributors pull in, treating the workers who actually haul the cases so poorly is shameful," said Jack Cipriani, Director of the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Conference.

DBI Beverage distributes beer in San Francisco for companies such as SABMiller, Molsen Coors Brewing, Crown Imports and Heineken. The company also owns Miller and Coors distributorships in Sacramento, San Jose, and Napa. Workers at the San Jose facility are represented by the Teamsters.

"DBI is a profitable distributor that just moved into San Francisco. If Miller and Coors want to maintain their reputation in San Francisco, their distributor needs to stop trying to destroy good jobs that support San Francisco families," said Chuck Mack, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7.

Over the past month, delivery drivers have repeatedly asked Miller and Coors to intervene in the dispute. "It's just disappointing that Miller and Coors don't care how poorly their distributors are treating us," said John Berry, who has delivered Miller and Coors products in San Francisco for over 20 years.

The Teamsters Union was founded in 1903 and represents more than 1.4 million hard working men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.


Editors: Reformer Barack breaks a promise

Tries to pin blame on opponent

Barack Obama’s decision to reject public financing of his presidential campaign comes down, of course, to basic arithmetic. The man is a private fund-raising machine. He expects to raise at least two or three times the $84 million he would be allowed to spend under the public financing system and he knows a political advantage when he sees one.

But given his professed support for public financing not just in general but in this very election cycle, Obama and his handlers obviously felt his decision required a high-minded video explanation.

And it was as tortured as one might expect from a candidate who has based his entire campaign on being an agent of reform.

We learned that in fact, it’s John McCain’s fault that Obama has been forced to go this route.

“We face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system,” Obama proclaimed in the video, adding that McCain “won’t stop the smears and attacks from his allies” in independent groups that can raise funds without limits.

That’s a truly remarkable political contortion. We’ve yet to hear much of anything from independent GOP groups in this election cycle. And in fact Obama’s announcement came in the same week that MoveOn.org and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees launched a national television ad that wildly distorts McCain’s statements on Iraq. Apparently if the baby in the ad is cute enough, it doesn’t count as a smear from a political ally.

Ah, but Obama has washed his hands of the independents, hasn’t he? In fact he has rejected donations from lobbyists and political action committees to his campaign and the Democratic Party, which we supported. But frankly when you’re Barack Obama, who needs ’em? And he has discouraged his supporters from donating to outside groups but then again, so has John McCain.

Another defense for rejecting public financing and the spending limits that go with it: The majority of his donors have given his campaign less than $100 apiece and in Obama’s world that amounts to a new kind of public financing, free of special interests. Note that this year the prime beneficiary of that “system” is . . . Barack Obama.

The public financing system, adopted in the wake of Watergate, may indeed be imperfect and in need of reform. But for Barack Obama that is a problem best dealt with, conveniently enough, after the election.

We occasionally grow weary of the term “flip-flop” during political campaigns. In this case we’re satisfied to use “broken promise.”


How to get rid of a union organizer

Culinary Union slapped with grievances

As a group created for the sole purpose of fighting for workers' rights, officials at the Culinary Union Local 226 are accustomed to closing ranks and taking on outsiders. But what happens when they're forced to fight one of their own?

A Culinary organizer for more than 11 years, Mario Vidales says he took on every casino and every powerful business interest that union leaders asked him to: Bally's, the Flamingo, nearly every gambling house in Reno. But when he refused to attack the 100 or so Culinary employees trying to organize their own union-within-a-union back in early 2005, Vidales says union leaders began shutting him out -- and started laying plans to get rid of him. Over the next two years, he says, union leaders tried to bully him out the door. When that failed they fired him in November 2007 for repeatedly and improperly calling in sick.

Today, Vidales has filed grievances with the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging union bosses violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws, a litany of provisions in his contract and the basic tenets of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. He wants $30,000 in back pay he says is rightfully his. And he says he wants the world to know how three key Culinary figures -- President Geoconda Arguello Kline, Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor and Staff Director Ted Papageorge -- have perverted the focus of the Culinary from fighting for workers to fighting for as much political and economic muscle as possible for themselves.

It all started in June 2005, after Papageorge removed Vidales as a supervisor, relegating him back to the position of organizer. Vidales says things went from bad to worse pretty quickly. As union bosses went after the handful of Culinary employees who were pushing for an in-house organization, the roar of infighting was deafening. Today, union employees have an in-house union to look out for their interests, but Vidales says Culinary officials did all they could to keep that from happening. It was a fight he didn't want.

"Ted and Geoconda wanted me to prepare verbal or physical attacks on these people who were organizing. It was ironic; these union employees had no representation of their own. But I refused. So Ted singled me out, telling me I wasn't a leader. I said, 'Ted, that's not being a leader, that's being an asshole,'" he says.

Vidales says seams of discontent broke open throughout the Culinary in the wake of that 2005 push to organize internally. The union's leaders, he says, stopped trusting the rank-and-file. The feeling was mutual.

"There was a lot of favoritism. If you weren't a favorite [of union leaders] or if you disagreed with what they said, you were out. In the Culinary, you must say yes, or you say nothing," he says.

Vidales says the stress of constant internal dissension and constant verbal and emotional harassment from Papageorge and other union officials caused him to develop diabetes and hypertension. According to internal union documents Vidales shared with CityLife, in March 2007 leaders approved extended stretches of recuperation time for him under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. But when he began taking advantage of all the down time, Vidales says, union officials saw their chance to get rid of him on trumped-up allegations.

But union officials reply that Vidales was fired for repeatedly refusing to call in sick on time. Sometimes, they say, he never called in at all; he just didn't show up. After repeated warnings, union officials say they unanimously agreed Vidales had to go.

"Management kind of bent over backwards to get him to straighten up his act," says Sam Savalli, Culinary's communications and member benefits coordinator. "We took all this info to the executive board. It was unanimous with the five members who were there. How could we ever take a position that this guy shouldn't be fired? Sometimes he wouldn't call in, sometimes he just didn't even show up."

Savalli says that on the days when Vidales would call in sick up to five hours after his shift began, he asked Vidales to bring in some kind of proof that he had gone to see the doctor that day. He says Vidales refused.

Vidales says, correctly, that since he was OK'ed for extended time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, he wasn't required to bring a note from his doctor. In fact, internal Culinary documents clearly state that union bosses would not ask Vidales to further substantiate his illnesses when he returned to work.

The reason they wanted some sort of proof, says Savalli, is because union leaders wanted to give Vidales the benefit of the doubt. Savalli wouldn't comment on how valuable Vidales was as a union organizer, but Culinary officials did provide CityLife with 10 examples of dates they say Vidales either called in sick hours after they were expecting him at work or didn't show up at all.

The warnings from union bosses began coming Vidales' way in January 2007. Union leaders fired him on Nov. 16, 2007.

Vidales says the reason union leaders took so long to fire him is because they wanted to build a specious, yet substantial, paper trail they could point to if he ever tried to take them to court.

Vidales might not get his day in court, but officials at the Department of Labor tell CityLife they've received his complaint. Most likely, they say, many months will pass before federal labor lawyers can determine if Vidales has a case. A mediated agreement between Vidales and Culinary officials would likely take even longer.

Taking on the same people who've successfully taken on the state's most powerful business interests is a giant task for one guy. Vidales says he's coming forward because the public should know that the Culinary has changed. Sure, he says, union officials will point to their paper trail as the reason they fired him. The actual reason he was let go, he says, is because he refused to play their particular game of politics, and union bosses needed time to build a case against him.

"The Culinary has changed. They don't care about workers anymore, they care about power. And they want more of it," he says.

No, says Pilar Weiss, Culinary spokeswoman: Vidales' firing wasn't the end game of some multiyear political drama. Vidales' firing was the only option left to union bosses after his blatant disregard for procedure.

"You can't have people who call in sick the day after," she says. "We've fought for years to make sure our [members and employees] can access workplace guidelines. We're not disputing that he was eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act. But there was a very specific set of workplace polices, with progressive punishments, that he didn't follow."


Denver Post's resident unionist doesn't get it

Related story: "Bob Ewegen: Colorado's pro-union editorialist"

Re: “Back in the USSR, at least they had the right to work,” June 14 Bob Ewegen column. It’s interesting that Mr. Ewegen would first accuse Jonathon Coors of pushing “a Communist concept like right-to-work” and then says that his right-to-work plan is a simply a “union-busting scheme.” Frankly, unions don’t really need “busting.”

Unions have been on the decline for many years. Nationally, only 12 percent of workers belong to unions, and this number is shrinking yearly. Given this, why should workers be faced with such an outdated concept as “union shop?”

Jane E. Lupp, Lamar, CO


Union official embezzler gets wrist-slap

Feds counter criminal element attracted to labor organizations

The former president of the Boilermakers Local 3-M in East Cleveland (OH) will serve six months on home confinement and must pay $17,415 in restitution after pleading guilty to embezzling money from the union. Francis Pagan was sentenced in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. He will remain on probation for four years and was fined $100.

According to the indictment, Pagan kept the union's checkbook and issued 165 checks to himself. He forged the signature of the union treasurer and filed false reports to cover up the missing money between 2003 and 2006, prosecutors said. Pagan pleaded guilty to taking the money from the union after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor Management Standards. The office is a federal enforcement agency that investigates claims of embezzlement at labor groups.


UNITE-HERE out on strike v. Aramark

Union calls for boycott of employer

Scores of food services workers marched today in front of Boston's two main convention centers and went on strike to protest what they consider unfair labor practices. The strike, which began this morning and will last through Monday, encourages weekend convention-goers to go without their mainstays: coffee, sandwiches, and snacks.

About 75 unionized workers of the concession giant Aramark Corp. started picketing this morning outside the Hynes Convention Center as thousands went to the Health and Fitness Expo, a two-day conference offering health screenings, fitness advice, and healthy cooking instructions. Dozens of other workers stood outside the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which tomorrow will host the 44th annual meeting of the Drug Information Association.

A union spokesman said they were not asking convention-goers not to cross picket lines, but were instead asking them to boycott Aramark services inside.

The workers, who are members of Unite Here Local 26, claim that Aramark has engaged in a pattern of pentalizing workers for union activities. There are 400 members in the local, which has been without a contract since October.

Aramark representatives did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The union wants benefits extended to a greater percentage of workers. Union representatives have argued that their previous contract was based on a sparse convention calendar, where food services only needed temporary and part-time workers. As business has increased, the union argues, the contract should treat the workers as permanent employees, providing them health insurance and other benefits.

Two members of the union's bargaining committee, Carolyn Donovan and Theresa Kelley, were fired by Aramark in the midst of contentious negotiations, union members argue. Aramark told the Globe this week that Donovan, who was let go in October, and Kelley, a coffee server released earlier this year, were fired for reasons unrelated to their union advocacy.

Management alleges that Donovan struck another employee, while Donovan says they were having an animated discussion but that she did not hit the other employee. Her firing is the subject of a formal complaint that is awaiting a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board.


Union-only insider development deal panned

Editorial smacks pol for sticking it to non-union workers

Skilled work done at the Marina District will be done by union labor, though there also will be some jobs for nonunion workers Toldedo (OH) City Councilman Frank Szollosi's attempt to require that only union labor be employed for private development on 58 acres being sold to developer Larry Dillin as part of the Marina District project is uncalled-for interference that could scuttle the entire project.

Mr. Szollosi argues that because public money was spent on the property, the principles that apply to public construction should hold sway even after the property is sold to the private sector. But the only thing that would be accomplished by restricting development on the site to union workers would be to limit Mr. Dillin's ability to negotiate the best deal he can with local trade unions, raising labor costs and potentially putting the project in jeopardy.

And if that worst-case scenario were to be realized, there would be no jobs for anyone, union or nonunion. If that's what the grandstanding Mr. Szollosi wants, he's the wrong person to represent Toledo's workers in the current economic climate.

The plain fact is any skilled work - carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical work, roofing, etc. - done on the 58-acre tract likely will be done by union labor in any case. The building trades have the best craftsmen, the best training, and, as a result, they get jobs done more expertly and in less time. Nonunion workers in the skilled trades do not have the benefit of the skill-development centers and training opportunities available to union members. In other words, it just makes sense to use union labor on projects of this sort.

This is not to suggest that there won't be jobs on Marina District projects for nonunion workers. There will be, of course, but the vast majority of the work will be completed by the highly skilled workers in the building trades.

The historic contributions of unionized labor to the growth, development, and prosperity of Toledo and the surrounding area go without saying but what is needed now are leaders who encourage development and job growth, not put unneeded restrictions on developers. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who has counted on strong union support during his political career, certainly knows that. So does City Council president and Teamsters Local 20 vice president Mark Sobczak. Indeed, Mayor Finkbeiner quickly made clear his position that it's not appropriate for City Council to "dictate an agreement between a developer and the unions."

Both Mr. Dillin and Mayor Finkbeiner have expressed their strong support for organized labor, and we feel sure that local union leaders are more than capable of taking care of their members in negotiations for work on Marina District projects. They do not require anyone's help.

It is long past time for the Marina District to move forward. City Council should facilitate that process, not throw 11th-hour roadblocks in its path. Mr. Szollosi's interference, however principled and well-meaning, is neither welcome nor useful.


Unions wrap up Oregon A.G.'s office

No choice for voters in single-party labor-state

Oregon's Democratic nominee for attorney general has also won the Republican nomination, final election results show. Democrat John Kroger, who handily won the Democratic nomination in Oregon's May 20 primary, also won the Republican nomination through write-ins, the state Elections Division said. Since there was no official Republican candidate for attorney general, the secretary of state's office said they had to count the 13,043 write-in votes.

In the race for the Democratic nomination, Kroger beat out veteran state lawmaker Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

In the write in count, he beat former Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron Saxton and Kevin Mannix.

"I am very pleased to win the Republican nomination. Winning this nomination shows that there is broad, bipartisan support for my agenda of tackling Oregon's meth crisis, improving consumer protection, and strengthening enforcement of our environmental laws," Kroger said in a statement.

Although Kroger, who teaches criminal law and jurisprudence at Portland's Lewis & Clark Law School,won both the Democratic and Republican nominations and is likely to be the Beaver State's next attorney general he could still face challenges from third party candidates.

In a post election interview with Legal Newsline, Kroger said he is taking nothing for granted, and plans to campaign hard for a general election win.

"We're going to fight very hard to wrap this up in November," he told LNL.

In his win against Macpherson, Kroger was backed by the state's largest labor unions: the Oregon Education Association, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union Locals 503 and 49.


Carpenters protest v. non-union workers

Local union carpenters are up in arms about a construction job allegedly being staffed by out-of-state workers. Nick DiGiovanni, a representative from the New England Regional Council of Carpenters (NERCC), said a new four-story, mixed-use building on the corner of Washington and Derby streets is being worked on by New Hampshire contractors Dulac Concrete and Opechee Construction.

Representatives from NERCC stood outside the worksite at the former Salem (MA) Evening News building for a couple days in late May, handing out fliers to passers-by.

The building is owned by Somerville developer Resource Capital Group (RCG), which owns and manages much of downtown Salem.

“How could RCG award this project to contractors in New Hampshire, why not locals?” DiGiovanni asked. A representative from RCG declined to comment on the subject.

In coming weeks, the NERCC is planning to picket outside the building to protest additional subcontractors expected to arrive from New Hampshire who, DiGiovanni claimed, are “less than reputable” contractors who misclassify their workers. Up until now the NERCC was simply leafleting, but the upcoming activity is being planned as a full picket line.

“It is our mission to alert the public when these kind of contractors come to town,” he said. “It hurts the union and non-union workers as well as the communities.”

NERCC currently represents 24,000 workers in New England states, offering them training and benefits. The organization often goes to bat over common union issues. When a union carpenter is hired, DiGiovanni said, a developer can count on the project being completed on time by skilled craftsmen who are being protected by health and injury insurance.

Often, he said, construction jobs are awarded to non-union companies able to offer cheaper rates because they are dodging the workers compensation benefits required by law by classifying workers as independent contractors.

“When we’re bidding head-to-head with responsible contractors who are using payroll to take care of their employees fair and square, we’re okay with that,” DiGiovanni said. “The problem we have is when we bid against non-responsible contractors. We don’t have a chance because we bring a higher range for employee benefits.”


Mayor Mark Begich, Alaska DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

The state's largest labor organization is endorsing Mark Begich for U.S. Senate. The AFL-CIO represents more than 60,000 union members. The endorsement came this week at a special meeting of nearly 100 AFL-CIO vice presidents from around the state. Begich said he is honored to receive the support or Alaska's working men and women. He says the endorsement is another sign that his campaign reflects the priorities of working Alaska families.

Begich is hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens who has been in office since 1968.


Teamsters: However Hoffa wants it

There is no one-size-fits-all rule about apostrophes and possessives

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is otherwise known as the "Teamsters Union," without an apostrophe -- but that's mainly because the Teamsters choose to spell it that way, and it's their name.


He's a Teamster

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