Teamsters may scuttle Bud sale

Related A-B/Teamsters stories: here

Union officials fear huge dues hit from InBev deal

Union leaders representing InBev workers in Brazil, Canada and Europe have a simple message for Anheuser-Busch employees if InBev takes control of the St. Louis-based brewery: Watch out.

"They should worry, because the production is going to be concentrated and the work force reduced," says Siderlei Oliveira, president of Brazil's 1.2 million-member food workers union, citing a reduction in Brazil's brewery workers to 13,000 from 23,000 since the 1990s. "This is the strategy that they have."

In Canada, labor-management relations are "starting to thaw after a significant period of turmoil" marked by years of strikes, lockouts, changes in work rules, layoffs and plant closings, says Cam Nelson, president of the local service employees union representing workers at an InBev Labatt plant in Quebec province. The thaw reflects, in part, recognition by the union that the company's tough-minded cost-cutting and global clout give it the upper hand in calling the shots, Nelson says.

"They have accomplished most of their goals," Nelson says, "and I expect they will be aggressive in cost-cutting (in St. Louis). I would be pretty sure they would be following the same path as they have in the rest of the world."

InBev executives say the worries are unfounded. They strongly deny the company has any plans for consolidation in St. Louis or elsewhere in Anheuser-Busch. InBev "does not expect any significant job losses" from the proposed acquisition, said Nina Devlin, a spokeswoman.

In Washington last week, InBev CEO Carlos Brito said, "The headquarters for the North American region will remain in St. Louis, with an expanded role even.

"We've already said we're not closing any of the 12 breweries. Why? That's a pragmatic move because we don't have any breweries here. So beer needs to be produced locally. So we're not closing any of those breweries."

Another InBev spokeswoman, Marianne Amssoms, said Anheuser-Busch as currently constituted — including its recipes and brewmasters — is a perfect fit to take advantage of the important American market. "We will not change the heritage," she said.


Union leaders who have dealt with InBev are dubious. They describe a company that moves into a country, consolidates production while instituting strict cost-cutting measures for hourly workers as well as salaried employees — and makes sure it accomplishes its goals.

When labor relations grew rocky in Canada, the company didn't hesitate to bring outside security forces into the Newfoundland Labatt plant, Nelson said. Amssoms said that was done not to "bully" workers — as the union contends — but rather to assure workers' safety.

In Brazil, Oliveira said, InBev used security personnel to "intimidate in-plant union stewards." His union represents 60 to 70 percent of InBev's workers in Brazil, and he also oversees all Latin American food workers for the international union.

Some Brazilian workers who didn't perform efficiently were forced to do push-ups or answer to degrading nicknames, he said.

"It was like in the military; whenever you underperformed, you were punished with push-ups," Oliveira says. In a company statement, InBev called those "isolated incidents" that did not reflect company policy. InBev says it "does not encourage, condone or tolerate any practices or behaviors which cause the humiliation of its employees. While some isolated instances of harassment took place in the past, they were denounced by the company and the company has taken all the necessary actions to avoid potential repetition of such incidents in the future."

In Belgium, consolidation has led to thousands of brewery workers losing their jobs over 20 years — including the closing of a centuries-old brewery.

"Only two big, modern breweries remain," said Alfons De Mey, president of the 110,000-member Belgian food and hotel workers union. Wages have not suffered for workers who still have jobs, he said.

De Mey proposed that unions in Europe, Canada and Brazil meet to plan global strategy with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents 8,100 of A-B's 30,000 full-time U.S. workers. In St. Louis, the company has 6,000 employees, most of them at corporate headquarters. Of the 1,200 brewery workers, the Teamsters represent 884. Labor relations generally have been excellent over the years.

While declining to respond specifically to the union leaders' comments, Brito said the company wouldn't be as successful as it is if it had bad labor relations. And he notes that InBev has added 12,000 jobs over the past three years, after most of the cuts cited by union leaders.

"We talk to unions always in the sense of what will the future look like, because we're in the same boat," Brito says. "There are negotiations that take place … in our view, we always take the high ground."


The Teamsters are maintaining a public silence about the InBev bid. But behind the scenes, the 1.4 million-member union is surveying Anheuser-Busch employees' feelings about the possible deal.

On its website, the union says it wants "to safeguard the unique legacy of Anheuser-Busch, a proud union company and American icon, built by generations of Teamster workers." It warns workers that "InBev's buyout record in Europe and Canada shows that workers and communities that depend on Anheuser-Busch would suffer from a possible erosion of working conditions and even layoffs."

The Teamsters union also says that "to recoup the huge purchase price ... InBev probably would have to cut Anheuser-Busch's operations to the bone," with retiree health care one likely target.

Ron Oswald, general secretary of the 10 million-member Geneva-based international federation of food and beverage workers union, said that overall InBev "has taken over companies that had constructive relations with unions, and after that things have gone downhill and become hostile."

In Canada, Nelson said, guaranteed pensions are being replaced by less-certain benefits, which he calls "something the Teamsters should worry about." InBev also closed Labatt's Toronto plant, where 265 workers had been employed, in 2005, and engaged in a five-month lockout at another plant in Canada.

At the same time, Nelson says, after "a difficult road ... and a number of fights," the union has adapted enough to represent brewery workers as best it can. His local, which represents 700 Labatt workers in Quebec, recently reached a seven-year collective-bargaining agreement with InBev.


Barack finally embraces failed policies of past

Reformer welcomes former Clintonista unions

AFSCME has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for president, following a unanimous vote today by the union’s International Executive Board in favor of the endorsement. AFSCME President Gerald McEntee said the 1.4 million-member union would mobilize enthusiastically to elect Obama.
"Barack Obama has mobilized a historic movement to reclaim the greatness of America. With his leadership, our nation will rise up to rebuild the middle class at home and restore America’s reputation in the world. AFSCME will mobilize more members and invest more resources than ever before to help Senator Obama win the White House. We will turn out an army of 40,000 AFSCME activists to knock on doors, make phone calls and talk with their co-workers and neighbors to produce an unprecedented turnout in the 2008 election.

Barack Obama is a proven fighter on the issues our members care about most, such as ending privatization, providing state and local fiscal relief, fully funding and supporting public services and the workers who provide them and guaranteeing that everyone in our country has access to quality, affordable health care they can count on."
In October, AFSCME endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for president. Clinton suspended her campaign earlier this month and endorsed Obama.

Obama also has been endorsed by AFGE, the Boilermakers (IBB), the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD), the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA), the Postal Workers (APWU), the UAN, the UAW and the Utility Workers (UWUA).

Three unions that initially endorsed former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.)—the Mine Workers (UMWA), Transport Workers (TWU) and United Steelworkers (USW)—also have given their endorsements to Obama.

Twelve other AFL-CIO affiliate unions endorsed Clinton: AFT, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Bricklayers (BAC), Letter Carriers (NALC), Machinists (IAM), Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU), Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), Plasterers and Cement Masons (OP&CMIA), Sheet Metal Workers (SMWIA), TCU/IAM, Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the United Transportation Union (UTU). The IAM and IUPAT endorsements of Clinton in the Democratic primaries were accompanied by endorsements of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the Republican primaries.

The Fire Fighters (IAFF) union, which endorsed Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), has not announced a new endorsement.

In August 2007, the AFL-CIO Executive Council said it would not make an endorsement at that time for a 2008 presidential candidate, freeing AFL-CIO unions to endorse candidates for the caucuses and primaries. The AFL-CIO will continue the Working Families Vote 2008 campaign to help elect a worker-friendly Congress and president.


What a pro-worker government looks like

According to Green Left, it's Hugo Chávez's Venezuela

This year’s May Day solidarity brigade to Venezuela, the seventh brigade from Australia to be organised by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN), had 12 participants representing various unions.

One of those was Chris Spindler, an organiser for the Victorian Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU). Spindler was sent on the brigade as an official AMWU representative, to report back on how the Bolivarian revolution being led by President Hugo Chávez government was improving the lives of workers and the poor.

On June 11, the Victorian AMWU voted to affiliate to the AVSN and to send a message of solidarity and congratulations to the workers of the giant steel plant Sidor — which was nationalised in April following a long struggle by its workforce. Green Left Weekly’s Trent Hawkins spoke to Spindler about the his impressions of the revolution.

What is your impression of how the revolution is improving the lives of the poor?

Before we went on the brigade, participants knew of the social programs launched by
Chávez, particularly in literacy and health. To see the benefits first hand revealed what a monumental achievement the institution of these basic entitlements was.

One important example is in the area of health care. We saw the first level health missions, which were thousands of small health centres set up across the country, mostly staffed by Cuban doctors providing immediate care free of charge to everyone.

Now they are constructing a second level of care, increasingly staffed by Venezuelan doctors, which is more diagnostic and preventative, but still offering total care with medicine free for anyone in the country — including the 4 million Columbians and 2 million Ecuadorians living in Venezuela and even visitors like us!

There are still major problems of course, but just as we were leaving the government announced the building of 50,000 new houses and the creation of industries to provide ongoing work for the unemployed.

It is clear that people, even the poorest of people, can and are encouraged to get involved in the process. We met with an indigenous leader who emphasised that this was the first thing
Chávez did for the indigenous people — ging them an avenue to be involved. This more than anything is a revolution of the poor people.

What is the state of the union movement in Venezuela?

The union movement is growing. This obviously is tied to the clear support Chavez is giving to workers taking control of their own destiny. The number of unions registering in Venezuela each year has climbed dramatically under
Chávez’s presidency, from 209 new unions in 1997 to 588 today.

However it needs to be understood that a union in Venezuela is formed in a single workplace and then they can affiliate to a federation. Many federations seem out of touch with the general working class or even their own membership. They often lack credibility because they have not had elections for their leadership.

The leadership of the National Union of Workers (referred to as Unete to distinguish it from an opposition party with its initials of UNT) is hamstrung by internal and often personal differences. When Unete was formed in 2003, any union who could afford and wanted to employ a national coordinator for the federation was allowed to do so — making 21 national co-ordinators.

No elections have taken place for the national leadership. There are ongoing debates about workers’ participation in management and union independence from government.

What seems incredible is the lack of perspective or political direction coming from the union movement. The preoccupation is with divisions and most demands raised are purely related to shopfloor issues. This is while huge social changes are taking place in Venezuela.

Unete, like the corrupt right-wing Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) before it, has avoided attempts to organise the informal sector (almost 50% of the workforce). Rather, they continue to focus on the demands of the most privileged section of the working class. This has lead to a real fracture between union leaderships and the great mass of workers.

How is the government acting in the interests of the working class?

I think the government, in particular
Chávez, is very conscious of the role of the working class in the revolution. He wants workers to take control of their own situation — not wait for the union federations or the government. Chávez wants cooperatives, workers’ control and socialist-style factories to exist and be successful.

We saw examples of factories that had been given a start by the government but were now self sufficient and working in the economy. Coops and worker-run factories are seeking to create a “new economy”.

The government is making sure that workers, particularly the poorest, are looked after. For example, there is a law that states you can’t sack anyone earning less than twice the minimum wage, and the minimum wage was increased by 30% on May Day. There was a 30% increase to all public servants too, although inflation is running over 20%.
Chávez has pushed for the reduction of the working day from eight hours to six as a way of creating jobs.

You spoke to workers at the newly nationalised Sidor steel company. What can you say about the significance of their struggle and the impact it had on the workforce?

We met with the third secretary of the United Steel Industriy Workers’ Union (SUTISS) at the factory gate, surrounded by at times hundreds of sidoristas — as they call themselves. The other union leaders were in Caracas signing a new collective agreement with

The workers’ enthusiasm in our discussion backed up their claims that it was the workers at Sidor — 13,000 of them — who won the 10-year long campaign to be re-nationalised after the pre-Chavez government privatised the company and their 18-month campaign for a new collective agreement.

It wasn’t
Chávez who gave it to them — it was them who won it!

This is a great example of what
Chávez is repeating to workers and communities: “get organized, create a collective plan, campaign for yourselves. And we will back you up.” I believe Chavez is trying to break dependency on the state and create a society of people who are confident in their own actions.

The sidorista campaign drew out the real attitude of the former labour minister Jose Ramon Rivero, who sided with the transnationals against the striking workers.

Sidor, one of the largest metal manufacturers in the world, has 13,000 workers, but only 4000 full-timers. Over the last 10 years, 18 workers had been killed and the company had violated industrial laws.

The demands of the workers for their collective agreement included; salary fairness, permanent jobs for the workforce, holidays at normal pay and an end of year bonus. After the company refused to negotiate and the labour minister sided with the company — after 18 months of struggle —
Chávez stepped in and backed the workers, nationalising Sidor and settling a new contract with the workers.

In the week after the nationalisation, the production at Sidor doubled and workers stated they are committed to making Sidor a “socialist factory” with increased production and efficiency.

The new agreement with the government includes: US$53 per day increase now and another $10 per day in November — a 150% increase on what is currently paid; retrenchment and retirement plans; social security and health plans for the family and all 9000 casuals to be made permanent. The Sidor workers confidence is sky high — not just in the government but in their own ability to organise and act.

What lessons can Australia workers draw from the Venezuelan revolution, and how can we lend the process our solidarity?

The inspiration comes from seeing normal, working-class people getting involved and taking control. People are organising together to improve their lot and the government is backing them. This is not handouts — this is constructing a new society where people are at the centre.

That inspiration should encourage people to get involved — don’t leave it to someone else. Get active.

If we can keep providing information about Venezuela, we should gain a sense of strength from victories for any working people, get confidence from knowing that people can win.

Also, Venezuelans need to know that people here are interested and care about their struggle. We should offer as much support as we can. The Victorian AMWU will try to develop an ongoing relationship with the Sidor workers and offer any services we can — for example, health and safety processes.

It may be a small start, but at least it is a direct contact with some of the Venezuela’s campaigners for a better world.

[For information about, or to get involved in, the AVSN, visit http://venezuelasolidarity.org.]


VW-UAW dues rumor sours Alabama

Union-friendly car maker insensitive to local preference for worker-choice

An adverse report from the Governmental Accountability Office already has torpedoed Alabama’s expectations of a 1,500-job Air Force tanker assembly plant in Mobile. Now there’s doubt that a 2,000-worker Volkswagen plant will be constructed in the northern end of the state.

Officials had counted on one or both of the plants to help pull the state out the economic nosedive that threatens to wreck budgets next year. Now it looks as if they’d better move swiftly to formulate a Plan B.

The GAO report said the Air Force made substantial errors in the bid process that made Northrop Grumman the winner of a $40 billion tanker contract that includes the plans for the Mobile assembly plant. The likelihood is that the project now will have to be rebid, with many observers saying that longtime supplier Boeing will get the award.

There has been no final decision on the Volkswagen contract either, but insiders say it’s beginning to look sour for Alabama, which is competing for the factory with Tennessee and Michigan.

A site in Limestone County near Huntsville has been offered. However, an article last week in the Mobile Press-Register said state leaders have been unsettled by reports that Volkswagen has made an agreement with the United Auto Workers. Alabama is a right-to-work state in which workers are not required to join unions as a precondition for employment.

That fact, along with hefty incentives, has given Alabama an advantage in recruitment of automotive jobs. But Volkswagen has a longtime relationship with the UAW and any deal that may have been cut would give Michigan the edge in landing the plant.

Volkswagen declined comment on the report, but a state official said the union issue was to be discussed at a meeting between Gov. Bob Riley and company officials in Huntsville on Thursday.

State leaders have said they hope the major industrial projects will jump-start the state’s economic recovery. But the now shaky prospects for both must be considered with other adverse developments.

The worst of these is the hole in the budget caused by oil and gas extraction litigation. Stung by a court decision in favor of Exxon Mobile Corp., Riley sought a tax increase on natural gas wells off the Alabama coast. It would have raised about $40 million for the state General Fund budget. But it died in the Legislature.

There also is a legal challenge over Riley’s plan to put $63 million in interest from oil and gas drilling into the General Fund. The case is on appeal after a circuit judge issued a preliminary injunction against the transfer.

Meanwhile, tax collections for education for the first eight months of this fiscal year grew by just

0.2 percent, far less than expected.

It’s not time to panic. But with schools, courts, prisons, health and other essential government functions in jeopardy, leaders can’t simply cross their fingers and hope for the best.


Obama ACORN-style Organizing Fellowships

Related story: "Unions win using Rules for Radicals"
Related ACORN stories: here

Barack's Americka Corps coming to your town

Barack Obama’s campaign is mobilizing 3,600 volunteers for six weeks of political work in 17 states, calling the campaign jobs “Obama Organizing Fellowships,” the Washington Post reports.

In exchange for working on the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign, fellows are promised training in community organizing techniques, which is a euphemism for leftist political agitation. (Perhaps fellows will be instructed in the fine art of fraudulent voter registration ACORN-style.) As this month’s Foundation Watch report on Obama’s radical roots notes:
Agitation is what Chicago-born Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), the father of community organizing, called “rubbing raw the sores of discontent.” In his classic book Rules for Radicals, Alinsky prescribed the tactics and defined the goals of community organizing. Among his “rules”: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up” and “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
Applications are now closed, according to the campaign, which claimed more than 10,000 people applied for the temporary gigs.

On the Obama campaign page devoted to the fellowships, Obama himself appears on a brief video saying the program will “train a new generation of leaders that will not only help us win this election but help us revive democracy in communities all across the country.”

Hold on a moment there. America may have its faults, but does Obama really believe it doesn’t have enough democracy already?

The answer is both yes and no, because left-wing extremists like Obama don’t use the word democracy the way other Americans do.

To radical leftists, democracy is a coded word for socialism. In other words, if they don’t end up with the political result they want, it’s not really democracy.

Obama’s ideological soulmates are people like Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!” and Princeton professor Cornel West, an advisor on his campaign team.

West wrote a book with the word democracy in the title, but it’s not really about democracy. The book, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, is about how the U.S. is supposedly under the control of racist, patriarchal, authoritarian fundamentalists who are intent on spreading empire no matter the cost.

West hails democracy as a concept but at the same time calls himself a “progressive socialist,” and has written that “Marxist thought is an indispensable tradition for freedom fighters.”

West is so committed to his through-the-looking-glass version of democracy that he supports Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, who wants to overthrow the elected government of neighboring Colombia, a real-life democracy.

When West visited Venezuela in 2006, he praised the government of leftist Chavez which has nationalized industries, jailed and murdered its opponents, and threatened the United States: “We in the United States have so many lies about President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution.” West said he visited Chavez’s Venezuela “to see the democratic awakening taking place.” By “democratic awakening,” West meant the transformation of Venezuela into a socialist state.

Another example of this odd lip service to democracy by those who don’t actually support it can be found among countries. During the Cold War era, the official name of the Soviet Communist puppet state of East Germany was the German Democratic Republic. Even today Stalinist North Korea insists it is a true democracy. That tyrannical state calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Real democracies tend not to be insecure about the fact that they’re democratic.

Similarly, the radical American activists who scream loudest about democracy in this nation that is awash in democracy tend not to give a tinker’s cuss about it.


Card-check laws suppress voting rights

Union democracy sacrificed for union dues

In his June 10 column "Unions could benefit workers," John Buell absurdly attempts to spin the Employee Free Choice Act as pro-worker legislation when in fact it strips workers of a fundamental American right. In reality, this legislation would suppress the voting rights of workers across the country and subject those workers to coercion by union bosses.

The act would eliminate the secret ballot process now used to determine whether workers want to organize as a union, a process protected for decades by the National Labor Relations Board and enshrined in our democratic system of government from its very beginning.

Today, workers can organize into a union if a majority of those workers decide, through a private ballot vote, to do so. This process allows workers to vote their conscience in private without facing coercion or retribution from either union bosses or management. The Employee Free Choice Act would gut that process. Instead, workers would have to sign a card distributed by paid union organizers to determine whether or not to organize. This means that everyone can quickly determine who did or did not sign the card.

Coercive acts by union bosses and organizers are not uncommon. In fact, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research reports that incidents of union violence over the last 30 years have averaged nearly 300 per year. Consider Rod Carter, a UPS driver in Miami who in 1997 was stabbed with an ice pick by his fellow drivers for refusing to join a strike ordered by the Teamsters Local 769. Or the woman in Winchester, Va., who crossed a picket line of United Auto Workers Local 149 in 1996 to continue earning a paycheck from Abex Friction Products and found a severed cow’s head on the hood of her car.

Or Jeff Ward who in 2004, blocked the United Auto Workers from unionizing employees of the Thomas Built Bus Company because no private ballot vote took place, only to find flyers around the plant with his name, phone number, directions to his home and instructions that said: "Jeff Ward lives here. Go tell him how you really feel about the union."

Of course, not all unions or union members resort to such drastic actions. But, if behavior like this occurs now, what sort of coercion can we expect if workers lose their right to a private vote?

The Maine Legislature touched on this issue in June 2007, when a resolution was brought forth to encourage Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. At the time, it was striking that any elected official would be in favor of the legislation. As Sen. Carol Weston pointed out in a statement, "Secret ballots are far too important to the unionizing process to eliminate with one fell swoop. I think it’s ridiculous for legislators elected by a secret ballot to work towards eliminating that process for others."

Which makes you wonder how Congressman (and U.S. Senate candidate) Tom Allen could have co-sponsored the legislation in Congress.

Workers’ right to unionize is protected, and the right to do so with a secret ballot should remain protected as well. The Employee Free Choice Act threatens that right and threatens to subject workers to intense coercion when handed their card to sign. Progress in the workplace won’t be achieved with strong-arming and intimidation. Mainers must stand up to this deceptive legislation and let the private ballot stand.

For information on the Employee Free Choice Act and how it threatens the voting rights of workers across the country, visit www.unionfacts.com.

- Doug Newman is member of the board of directors of the Maine chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors.


Big government-union dues hit roils U.S.

Unions' political spending spree unabated

The latest hit to the economy could come from state houses and city halls as state and local governments across the nation find themselves in their worst budget crisis in years due to the economic slowdown. With revenue from sales and income taxes falling and property tax declines looming on the horizon, states, cities and towns have already laid off tens of thousands of government employees and many expect more job cuts ahead.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a public employees union, says about 45,000 government layoffs have been announced this year and far more are likely in the months ahead as public officials struggle with trying to balance their budgets.

All but four states are set to begin their new fiscal years on July 1, which means that tough decisions will have to be made soon. Economists say that cutbacks in jobs and spending by local governments could be a major drag on the overall economy in the last half of this year.

"This isn't a wrecking ball to a healthy economy, but it could be the straw that broke the camel's back," said Bob Brusca, economist with FAO Economics in New York.

There are 29 states, including California, Florida and Ohio, facing a combined budget shortfall of at least $48 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a liberal think tank.

The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that spending by all 50 states will be up 1% in fiscal 2009. But that would be the third lowest increase in the past three decades.

There are nearly 20 million state and local government employees in the country. So a 1% decline in employment at cities, towns, schools and states would result in a job loss of almost 200,000 people, a much larger amount than we've seen from battered sectors such as automakers or home builders in the past two years.

Even in states, towns and cities not yet laying off people, hiring freezes and early retirement packages are now common, said Robin Prunty, senior director in the public finance department of credit rating agency Standard & Poor's.

"The biggest cost they face is related to personnel," she said. "You typically do have some downsizing."

Tennessee plans to cut 2,000 positions, or about 5% of that state's work force, according to the CBPP. New Jersey is looking at cutting, 3,000 jobs while Ohio may trim 2,700 positions. The Detroit News reports that Detroit may lay off 1,300 workers after July 1 if the City Council doesn't sell the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

Brusca said many of the local governments facing the biggest squeeze are in Michigan and Ohio, which already have the weakest local economies, causing the unemployment situation in those hard-hit areas to worsen further.

What's more, Kerry Korpi, director of research for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said local governments are faced with a downturn in tax revenue at the same time that there is greater demand for many of the social services they provide.

At the same time, many local governments are also grappling with much higher expenses due to rising fuel prices.

Housing bust causing biggest problems

The 2001 recession was tough for state and local governments because even after the economy started to pick up, job losses continued for nearly two years.

But property tax revenues increased during that downturn as home prices and housing construction boomed.

Sales taxes, income taxes and property taxes each make up roughly a third of the tax collections from state and local governments, according to CBPP.

This local government budget crisis is likely to be more severe, according to experts, because the bust in home building and the decline in home prices will cut into property tax collections.

And it will probably get worse before it gets better -- even if the national economy starts to show signs of improvement.

That's because income and property taxes are likely to see declines lag the current slowdown. Sales tax declines are an early sign of a weakening economy.

But the drop in income taxes from job losses this year might not hit government revenue until next year while a drop in property taxes from a house being sold in the foreclosure process might not be felt in property tax collections for more than a year.

Still, the problems are already serious enough to cause widespread budget problems and repeated downward revisions in spending plans.

"Some budgets were out of balance almost immediately upon being introduced," said S&P's Prunty.

The city of Vallejo, Calif. filed for bankruptcy last month due to a ballooning budget deficit from soaring employee costs and declining tax revenue. Labor contracts with the city's unions were part of the problem but the city's plunging real estate market also was a factor.

Home values in Vallejo are down 24% year-over-year and 91% of homeowners who bought in the past two years have mortgages larger than their home's value, according to real estate site Zillow.com.

While Vallejo's housing problems are an extreme, they are not unique to that San Francisco suburb. Experts say the hit to property taxes that lays ahead for many cities could make this local government budget crisis the worst in nearly 30 years.

That's more bad news for an overall economy already fighting enough headwinds.

"The potential is there for this to be fairly prolonged," said Prunty.


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Jumbo gov't-unions in solidarity for Barack

Union members who differ with officials are marked absent

More major labor organizations, including the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO, are poised to support Democratic Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., in his campaign for the White House.

By a unanimous vote, the AFSCME Executive Board voted June 18 to endorse Obama, union President Gerald McEntee said. In a telephone press conference, McEntee said his union expects to mobilize at least 40,000 of its 1.4 million members as activists for Obama in the fall campaign. It also expects to spend "close to $50 million on the campaign," including advertising.

McEntee, who chairs the AFL-CIO's Political Committee, added he expects a federation-wide endorsement of the Illinoisan "within the next two weeks."

Delegates to the upcoming convention of the National Education Association, the nation's largest union, will vote on whether to endorse Obama, NEA President Reg Weaver said.

The vote by the 9,000 delegates, meeting July 2-4 in Washington, comes after the union thoroughly evaluated the positions of both Obama and the presumed GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on issues key to teachers, students and schools. Two months ago, the 3.2-million-member union issued a blistering critique of McCain's economic proposals. NEA said they would produce a spending freeze that would harm public schools and 3.6 million students.

The NEA endorsement is important because it has politically active members in every state and because NEA has led successful campaigns on education-related issues by convincing other voters of their importance.

"Ideally, NEA would have endorsed a candidate during the primaries, but our members were like voters everywhere," split between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Weaver said. Now that Obama has enough Democratic delegates to be the nominee, and with "such a clear picture of what Obama will do for public education and his commitment to partner with NEA on issues that affect our members across the country, every public school employee needs to get squarely behind" him, Weaver said.

AFSCME campaigned hard during the primary season for Clinton, whom its board strongly -- though not unanimously -- endorsed. Its pro-Clinton campaign included criticism of Obama's health care plans as incomplete and of Obama as inexperienced. But McEntee said conditions changed and that union leaders were particularly satisfied by intensive meetings on June 17-18 with Obama, where they quizzed him and exchanged views on education, trade, health care and other issues.

To get the AFL-CIO's endorsement, Obama needs votes of unions representing two-thirds of the federation's 9 million members. That endorsement would not come from the federation's Executive Council, but from its larger General Board. McEntee said he expects AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to convene a telephone conference call among that board's members to make the decision.

Obama has already been endorsed by the Change to Win labor federation, which includes the Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, Laborers and United Food & Commercial Workers. The United Steelworkers, the nation's largest industrial union, also recently announced its support of Obama.


Clinton vets creep into Obama campaign

Learning to embrace the failed policies of the past

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has reached out recently to heavyweights in the Clinton camp, keeping his group of Washington outsiders in the background. Since locking in the Democratic Party presidential nomination in early June, Obama has expanded his team of campaign advisers without doing away with the core team that has advised him since the start of his bid in 2007.

Obama's choice however to associate with Washington outsiders has sometimes resulted in mistakes by association.

One was when unpaid foreign policy adviser Samantha Powers described Hillary Clinton to a reporter as a "monster," and quickly resigned.

Another was when University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee, another unpaid adviser, was quoted in Canadian media suggesting that Obama's campaign talk on re-negotiating parts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) should be viewed as political positioning.

Obama's main spokesperson on foreign affairs issues is Susan Rice, a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the second term of Bill Clinton's 1993-2001 presidency.

Criticized for his lack of experience after less than four years as US senator, Obama on Wednesday announced the formation of a "National Security Working Group" that included experienced big-name Democrats like former senator Sam Nunn, an expert on nuclear proliferation issues, and Lee Hamilton, the former co-president of the September 11 inquiry commission.

Also on the list was both of ex-president Clinton's secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, and his former defense secretary William Perry.

At an event presenting the group, Obama said that he wanted to turn the page of the "rigid ideology" that he said characterized the George W. Bush presidency, and return to "the pragmatic tradition of American foreign policy."

Obama took a similar approach towards the economy, announcing earlier in the month that his campaign had engaged Jason Furman -- an economic centrist close to Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin -- to direct economic policy.

On the other hand, Obama has not hesitated in putting distance between his team and the Washington crowd, to the point that he has relocated part of the Democratic Party operations from the US capital to Chicago.

Obama's top strategist is David Axelrod, a New York native who has lived in Chicago for decades. And the architect of Obama's innovative primary strategy that racked up victories in small states to balanced Clinton's victories in large states, campaign director David Plouffe, is another Washington outsider.

Axelrod and Plouffe visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday -- and as Senate Majority Leady Harry Reid said, these people "are always under the radar screen. You don't hear much from them."

To best illustrate his distance from Washington, on Wednesday Obama announced he had hired Patrick Gaspard, a leader at the powerful Massachusetts-based Service Employed International Union (SEIU), as his campaign's political director.


Chávez quits hassling labor organizers

Venezuela removed from ILO watchlist

Venezuela’s Minister for Labor and Social Security, Roberto Hernández, categorized the outcome of the 97th annual conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland last week as “highly positive,” after the group removed Venezuela from a list of 29 countries classified as violating trade union freedoms.

Hernández said that Venezuela had been removed from the list of countries that violate trade union freedoms because the accusations made by opposition sectors over the supposed violation of workers rights along with other accusations were unsubstantiated and shown to be false.

“The balance that we can make of our participation in this conference is highly positive...After seven years of the efforts of some sectors to include Venezuela among the countries that violate union freedoms, we were excluded from this list because we demonstrated that all the indications against us were false,” Hernández declared.

The Workers' and Employers' Group of the ILO also unanimously rejected a request to cite Venezuela to appear before the Standing Orders Committee for allegedly interfering in union elections, made by the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) - Venezuela’s old traditional labor federation - along with the country’s largest employer’s federation, Fedecamaras.

The CTV and Fedecamaras, both of which have a record deeply linked to Venezuelan opposition sectors, as well as with the military coup against the government of President Hugo Chávez in April 2002, have repeatedly and unsuccessfully made the same request for several years.

The National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT), a union federation that was formed in May 2003, after a two-month 2002-2003 oil industry shutdown, by union leaders unhappy with the CTV’s prioritization of anti-Chávez politics over workers’ interests, has subsequently surpassed the CTV, despite internal divisions, as the largest and most representative union federation in Venezuela.

In reference to the CTV/Federcamaras denunciation against Venezuela, for allegedly violating article 87 of the ILO charter, in relation to union elections, Hernández pointed out that the National Electoral Council has presented a new regulation pertaining to union elections that rules out any possibility of interference.

“The National Electoral Council declared a new regulation for the process of union elections, in which there is no possibility of interference by this electoral body in the process of union elections,” he stated.

“I think that with these facts, it has been clearly demonstrated to the world that Venezuela is a country where the laws and norms that have to do with unions and union elections are respected,” the minister asserted.

Stalin Perez Borges, a national coordinator of the UNT who formed part of the Venezuelan delegation to the conference said that while Venezuelan workers still suffer from the “unjust relations imposed by capital,” the complaint by Fedecamaras against Venezuela was “ironic.”

“While the employers say they supposedly defend trade union freedom, within Venezuela they violate it,” he said.

In reality, Perez Borges said, the petition by Fedecamaras and the CTV represents a “war” against the government and the Bolivarian revolution. This “bosses representation has the audacity to speak in the name of democracy when they carried out a coup d’état against a legitimately constituted government and promoted the economic destruction of the country through the sabotage of the oil industry.”

The union leader added that he believed that Hernández, only recently appointed as Labor Minister, “would be respectful of trade union freedoms, as were all the previous ministers throughout the whole period of the government of President Chavez, with the exception of the last one recently dismissed [José Ramon Rivero].”

Ex-Minister Rivero was widely criticized by workers for siding with management in numerous disputes, in particular, a long running and often bitter dispute at the SIDOR steel plant, which lead to the intervention of President Chavez who nationalized the plant on April 9 in line with workers demands and dismissed the minister only days later.

Eduardo Sánchez, also a national coordinator of the UNT and member of the Venezuelan delegation said it was “incomprehensible” that Venezuela ever formed part of the list of countries charged with violating trade union freedoms.

Sánchez recalled that under the auspices of the Bolivarian Government the number of trade unions has more than doubled in Venezuela over the past 10 years, and that trade union freedoms, such as the right to a collective contract and the right to strike, are consecrated in the Bolivarian Constitution.

He also pointed out that through a presidential decree issued on April 30 Venezuela now has the highest minimum wage in Latin America and is advancing in the struggle against the casualization and flexibilization of labor as well as the nationalization of strategic industries, in order to put them “at the service of the nation as social property, in which workers occupy a protagonistic role.”

In conclusion, Hernández said another positive aspect of the conference was that Venezuela was chosen as regular member of the Governing Body of the ILO for the period 2008-2011. “We were included this month at the 97th Meeting of the International Labor Organization as regular members of the Governing Body of this inter-governmental group,” he said.


Union-only wages make housing unaffordable

A labor-state housing official commits apostasy

A perfect storm is gathering, threatening to sink the development of affordable housing. It involves a conflict between two positive objectives — more affordable housing and higher construction wages. The conflict is embedded in the Industrial Development Agency legislation now being discussed in Albany, which would require prevailing wages on affordable housing built with IDA financing. Prevailing wages are set by government- issued schedules that largely correspond with union rates.

The fundamental issue is: Should developers of affordable housing who receive government subsidies be required to pay prevailing wages to construction workers, thus significantly increasing the cost of building?

Gaining higher wages is an understandable goal of organized labor. But the money has to come from somewhere, and funding sources for affordable housing are scarce.

The residents of new affordable housing cannot afford higher rents or purchase prices, and the pie for affordable housing is, by any measure, already too small. Take a larger slice out — for wages or any other purpose — and the pie shrinks even further. A smaller pie translates inevitably into less affordable housing. The fewer affordable units that get built, the longer the wait for working families, the poor, the elderly, people with special needs and the homeless to find decent housing.

For more than 30 years, the affordable housing industry has rebuilt communities by providing high-quality, low-cost housing for tens of thousands of low and moderate income residents. Construction workers earn good wages. Non-union skilled trades, such as plumbers and electricians, can earn in excess of $58,000 annually, while laborers can earn $40,000 and more. These jobs represent important opportunities for workers who live in the communities in which the housing is built.

Prevailing wages would push labor costs up to union scale, to between $100,000 to $125,000, and the jobs would likely go to workers who live outside these neighborhoods. Of course, this assumes that more taxpayer dollars will be available to make up the difference. Otherwise, the result will be fewer or no jobs for anyone, since the projects would be scaled back or not built at all.

Affordable housing often leads the way for further economic development, creating well-paying jobs and opportunities for local residents and minority-and women-owned firms. Impose prevailing wages and these promising businesses could well be forced to close, while the neighborhood jobs that they could create would never materialize.

Mandating prevailing wages would capsize housing policy, decreasing production, eliminating jobs and forfeiting hope. This perfect storm is not inevitable, unless we make it so. Prevailing wage legislation is bad for housing, bad for neighborhoods and bad for New York.

- Bernard Carr is executive director of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing.


Routed Teamster organizers display hubris

Related story: "Secret ballot election kills Teamster dues plan"

Only 13.6% of workers voted to unionize

Officials with the Teamsters are disappointed their efforts to organize workers at Poly Cello were unsuccessful, but proud of the employees for bringing the challenges they face to the public.

"We are, of course, disappointed. At the same time, we are proud that the employees had the courage to bring public attention to the challenges they face in the workplace and approach us with their concerns," Local 927 president Chuck Chalmers said. Eighty-six per cent of the workers at the Amherst (MA) printer cast ballots against joining the Teamsters with 24 votes in favour and 152 against.

The vote result was made public soon after the ballots were counted on Thursday. Chalmers feels a union would have secured a brighter future for the printing company's workers, but feel the employees' decision was influenced by former company manager Amherst Mayor Jerry Hallee.

"As the former general manager Jerry Hallee undoubtedly has the interests of the business at heart," Chalmers said. "As such, I continue to question whether he can have an impartial view of how best to protect the rights and meet the needs of employees."

Chalmers hopes that in future the mayor demonstrates more professionalism and allows workers to make their own informed choice.


PLA + Card Check = Maximum Union Dues

Labor-state union has dues-winning formula

Workers at the newest hotel in Minneapolis, Hotel Ivy, have signed union cards and organized as part of UNITE HERE Local 17. The employer was bound to a card-check agreement under the terms of financing provided by the City of Minneapolis to help build the hotel. The City provided $6 million in tax increment financing for the $100 million development, which renovated a historic 1930 Moorish-style tower as part of a larger project that includes 136 hotel rooms, 92 condos, and a 17,000 square foot health club.

The new bargaining unit will include about 50 workers, reported Martin Goff, director of organization for UNITE HERE Local 17. The workers include housekeeping, front desk, bell stand, banquet, and room service.

"It took about two weeks to organize," Goff said. "We had some people we knew inside from our other hotels." Once Local 17 recruited an organizing committee, Goff reported, "the committee signed up virtually everyone." Goff said 86 percent of the workers signed union cards.

Contract negotiations began June 4. "We think we'll have a contract in short order," Goff said. "We think the employer is looking to get it done and get on with business."

Goff said contract issues will include health care and dental care (workers currently have neither), scheduling, clear job classifications and other workplace concerns.

Hotel Ivy, located at 201 S. 11th St. in downtown Minneapolis, opened February 21 and is one of only 10 U.S. locations of the Starwood Hotel and Resort's Luxury Collection.


Strike leaders' tears no comfort for jobless

Related story: "Gettlefinger stymied by UAW-AAM strike failure"

When words failed, tears told the story. In the recent American Axle Manufacturing & Holdings Inc. strike, news accounts duly reported main elements of the labor dispute: company demands for deep pay cuts and reduced benefits for workers and - when concessions weren't enough - orders to close Buffalo and Tonawanda plants at the cost of 1,400 jobs.

In their impersonal and objective way, the reports failed to capture the shattered emotions and dashed dreams of rank-and-file workers and union leaders during the 87 days the UAW strike lasted from Feb. 26 to May 22.

The experience created a recurring nightmare for them, say United Auto Workers union officials George Jemiolo, Scott Adams and Kevin Donovan. They led the union bargaining team in negotiating a new strike-ending, four-year contract.


Union 'PowerPAC' for Barack

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