Bud war looms: Hoffa v. InBev's Carlos Brito

Related A-B/Teamsters stories: here

Militant union boss finally steps up

Teamsters officials are doubtful about whether InBev will keep its promise not to close any Anheuser-Busch breweries in the U.S.

Teamsters representatives have asked to meet with InBev CEO Carlos Brito to have him reconcile that promise with what they call "the financial realities" of the A-B buyout. Teamsters general president Jimmy Hoffa will meet with international union representatives in the coming weeks to hear about their relationships with InBev. More than 7,000 A-B employees are represented by the Teamsters.

In addition, Brito is expected to visit St. Louis this week.

USA Today is reporting that Brito will meet with A-B employees and top executives and begin forming a team. There's no word on what day Brito plans to come to St. Louis.


The truth about ACORN

Related ACORN stories: here

Voter-fraud can be very hard work

ACORN is a nonprofit group whose goal is to register new voters and other activism efforts to help low income groups. Ostensibly. Mostly it is a leftist organization that wishes to put more liberal politicians in office. It has been involved in several voter registration scandals for its loose system that actually encourages phony registration because they pay low income people per person registered which provides those workers to submit phony names. Most recently it was involved in the biggest case ever of voter registration fraud in Washington state. While ACORN and the Washington prosecutors deny that ACORN officials were directly involved, their system of pay per registration only encourages such fraud. John Fund reported on this last year.

But the most interesting news came out of Seattle, where on Thursday local prosecutors indicted seven workers for Acorn, a union-backed activist group that last year registered more than 540,000 low-income and minority voters nationwide and deployed more than 4,000 get-out-the-vote workers. The Acorn defendants stand accused of submitting phony forms in what Secretary of State Sam Reed says is the "worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history" of the state.

The list of "voters" registered in Washington state included former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, New York Times columnists Frank Rich and Tom Friedman, actress Katie Holmes and nonexistent people with nonsensical names such as Stormi Bays and Fruto Boy. The addresses used for the fake names were local homeless shelters. Given that the state doesn't require the showing of any identification before voting, it is entirely possible people could have illegally voted using those names.

Local officials refused to accept the registrations because they had been delivered after last year's Oct. 7 registration deadline. Initially, Acorn officials demanded the registrations be accepted and threatened to sue King County (Seattle) officials if they were tossed out. But just after four Acorn registration workers were indicted in Kansas City, Mo., on similar charges of fraud, the group reversed its position and said the registrations should be rejected. But by then, local election workers had had a reason to carefully scrutinize the forms and uncovered the fraud. Of the 1,805 names submitted by Acorn, only nine have been confirmed as valid, and another 34 are still being investigated. The rest--over 97%--were fake.

All this fraud was hard work.

To boost their output, the defendants allegedly went to the downtown Seattle Public Library, where they filled out voter-registration forms using names they made up or found in phone books, newspapers and baby-naming books.

One defendant "said it was hard work making up all those cards," and another "said he would often sit at home, smoke marijuana and fill out cards," according to a probable-cause statement written by King County sheriff's Detective Christopher Johnson.

Yup, fraud can be tough work.

Fraud seems to be the byword at ACORN. The New York Times recently reported on how the brother of ACORN's founder embezzled nearly a million dollars from the organization. While any organization can mistakenly hire a bad seed who looks at the organization as a source of illegal funds, what is disturbing about ACORN is the way they handled it. They knew about the corruption, but covered it up.

Acorn chose to treat the embezzlement of nearly $1 million eight years ago as an internal matter and did not even notify its board. After Points of Light noticed financial irregularities in early June, it took less than a month for management to alert federal prosecutors, although group officials say they have no clear idea yet what the financial impact may be.

A whistle-blower forced Acorn to disclose the embezzlement, which involved the brother of the organization's founder, Wade Rathke.

The brother, Dale Rathke, embezzled nearly $1 million from Acorn and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000, Acorn officials said, but a small group of executives decided to keep the information from almost all of the group's board members and not to alert law enforcement.

Dale Rathke remained on Acorn's payroll until a month ago, when disclosure of his theft by foundations and other donors forced the organization to dismiss him.

"We thought it best at the time to protect the organization, as well as to get the funds back into the organization, to deal with it in-house," said Maude Hurd, president of Acorn. "It was a judgment call at the time, and looking back, people can agree or disagree with it, but we did what we thought was right."

The amount Dale Rathke embezzled, $948,607.50, was carried as a loan on the books of Citizens Consulting Inc., which provides bookkeeping, accounting and other financial management services to Acorn and many of its affiliated entities.

Wade Rathke said the organization had signed a restitution agreement with his brother in which his family agreed to repay the amount embezzled in exchange for confidentiality.

Wade Rathke stepped down as Acorn's chief organizer on June 2, the same day his brother left, but he remains chief organizer for Acorn International L.L.C.

He said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a "weapon" into the hands of enemies of Acorn, a liberal group that is a frequent target of conservatives who object to its often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers.

Can you imagine if a conservative group hushed up such an embezzlement and didn't inform donors until the whole thing came out and still kept the embezzler, the brother, and those who knew about it on the payroll or the board?

The New York Post reminds us of why conservatives have criticized ACORN, most of which information the New York Times didn't seem fit to include to explain why conservatives have long been critical of ACORN.

ACORN has been implicated in similar schemes in 14 other states - including Ohio, where a worker traded crack cocaine for fraudulent registrations.

Back in the '80s and '90s, ACORN's tactics included trespassing, illegal seizure of private property, physical harassment, intimidation and outright extortion.

For example, in 1985, ACORN illegally seized 25 abandoned buildings owned by New York City and installed squatters as residents. A weak-kneed City Hall eventually gave the group title to the buildings - proving that crime can pay.

Amazingly, a large chunk of ACORN's budget is provided by taxpayers.

Much of the rest comes from gullible foundations and groups like the United Federation of Teachers - which has partnered up with ACORN in efforts to kill Mayor Bloomberg's school reform.

Michelle Malkin recently reported on how the federal government is funding this organization. Barack Obama worked closely with ACORN when he was in Chicago and he sent money their way when he served on the board of the Woods Foundation and ACORN is, of course, supporting his candidacy. It's all very cozy. But it's about time for the federal government and ACORN's donors to rethink their support of this organization.


Inside Barack's ACORN

Related ACORN stories: here

Dem link to corrupt, leftist voter-fraud group detailed

What if Barack Obama’s most important radical connection has been hiding in plain sight all along? Obama has had an intimate and long-term association with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn), the largest radical group in America. If I told you Obama had close ties with MoveOn.org or Code Pink, you’d know what I was talking about. Acorn is at least as radical as these better-known groups, arguably more so. Yet because Acorn works locally, in carefully selected urban areas, its national profile is lower. Acorn likes it that way. And so, I’d wager, does Barack Obama.

This is a story we’ve largely missed. While Obama’s Acorn connection has not gone entirely unreported, its depth, extent, and significance have been poorly understood. Typically, media background pieces note that, on behalf of Acorn, Obama and a team of Chicago attorneys won a 1995 suit forcing the state of Illinois to implement the federal “motor-voter” bill. In fact, Obama’s Acorn connection is far more extensive. In the few stories where Obama’s role as an Acorn “leadership trainer” is noted, or his seats on the boards of foundations that may have supported Acorn are discussed, there is little follow-up. Even these more extensive reports miss many aspects of Obama’s ties to Acorn.

An Anti-Capitalism Agenda

To understand the nature and extent of Acorn’s radicalism, an excellent place to begin is Sol Stern’s 2003 City Journal article, “ACORN’s Nutty Regime for Cities.” (For a shorter but helpful piece, try Steven Malanga’s “Acorn Squash.”)

Sol Stern explains that Acorn is the key modern successor of the radical 1960’s “New Left,” with a “1960’s-bred agenda of anti-capitalism” to match. Acorn, says Stern, grew out of “one of the New Left’s silliest and most destructive groups, the National Welfare Rights Organization.” In the 1960’s, NWRO launched a campaign of sit-ins and disruptions at welfare offices. The goal was to remove eligibility restrictions, and thus effectively flood welfare rolls with so many clients that the system would burst. The theory, explains Stern, was that an impossibly overburdened welfare system would force “a radical reconstruction of America’s unjust capitalist economy.” Instead of a socialist utopia, however, we got the culture of dependency and family breakdown that ate away at America’s inner cities — until welfare reform began to turn the tide.

While Acorn holds to NWRO’s radical economic framework and its confrontational 1960’s-style tactics, the targets and strategy have changed. Acorn prefers to fly under the national radar, organizing locally in liberal urban areas — where, Stern observes, local legislators and reporters are often “slow to grasp how radical Acorn’s positions really are.” Acorn’s new goals are municipal “living wage” laws targeting “big-box” stores like Wal-Mart, rolling back welfare reform, and regulating banks — efforts styled as combating “predatory lending.” Unfortunately, instead of helping workers, Acorn’s living-wage campaigns drive businesses out of the very neighborhoods where jobs are needed most. Acorn’s opposition to welfare reform only threatens to worsen the self-reinforcing cycle of urban poverty and family breakdown. Perhaps most mischievously, says Stern, Acorn uses banking regulations to pressure financial institutions into massive “donations” that it uses to finance supposedly non-partisan voter turn-out drives.

According to Stern, Acorn’s radical agenda sometimes shifts toward “undisguised authoritarian socialism.” Fully aware of its living-wage campaign’s tendency to drive businesses out of cities, Acorn hopes to force companies that want to move to obtain “exit visas.” “How much longer before Acorn calls for exit visas for wealthy or middle-class individuals before they can leave a city?” asks Stern, adding, “This is the road to serfdom indeed.”

In Your Face
Acorn’s tactics are famously “in your face.” Just think of Code Pink’s well-known operations (threatening to occupy congressional offices, interrupting the testimony of General David Petraeus) and you’ll get the idea. Acorn protesters have disrupted Federal Reserve hearings, but mostly deploy their aggressive tactics locally. Chicago is home to one of its strongest chapters, and Acorn has burst into a closed city council meeting there. Acorn protestors in Baltimore disrupted a bankers’ dinner and sent four busloads of profanity-screaming protestors against the mayor’s home, terrifying his wife and kids. Even a Baltimore city council member who generally supports Acorn said their intimidation tactics had crossed the line.

Acorn, however, defiantly touts its confrontational tactics. While Stern himself notes this, the point is driven home sharper still in an Acorn-friendly reply to Stern entitled “Enraging the Right.” Written by academic/activists John Atlas and Peter Dreier, the reply’s avowed intent is to convince Acorn-friendly politicians, journalists, and funders not to desert the organization in the wake of Stern’s powerful critique. The stunning thing about this supposed rebuttal is that it confirms nearly everything Stern says. Do Atlas and Dreier object to Stern’s characterizations of Acorn’s radical plans — even his slippery-slope warnings about Acorn’s designs on basic freedom of movement? Nope. “Stern accurately outlines Acorn’s agenda,” they say.

Do Atlas and Dreier dismiss Stern’s catalogue of Acorn’s disruptive and intentionally intimidating tactics as a set of regrettable exceptions to Acorn’s rule of civility? Not a chance. Atlas and Dreier are at pains to point out that intimidation works. They proudly reel off the increased memberships that follow in the wake of high-profile disruptions, and clearly imply that the same public officials who object most vociferously to intimidation are the ones most likely to cave as a result. What really upsets Atlas and Dreier is that Stern misses the subtle national hand directing Acorn’s various local campaigns. This is radicalism unashamed.

But don’t let the disruptive tactics fool you. Acorn is a savvy and exceedingly effective political player. Stern says that Acorn’s key post–New Left innovation is its determination to take over the system from within, rather than futilely try to overthrow it from without. Stern calls this strategy a political version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Take Atlas and Dreier at their word: Acorn has an openly aggressive and intimidating side, but a sophisticated inside game, as well. Chicago’s Acorn leader, for example, won a seat on the Board of Aldermen as the candidate of a leftist “New Party.”

Obama Meets Acorn

What has Barack Obama got to do with all this? Plenty. Let’s begin with Obama’s pre-law school days as a community organizer in Chicago. Few people have a clear idea of just what a “community organizer” does. A Los Angeles Times piece on Obama’s early Chicago days opens with the touching story of his efforts to build a partnership with Chicago’s “Friends of the Parks,” so that parents in a blighted neighborhood could have an inviting spot for their kids to play. This is the image of Obama’s organizing we’re supposed to hold. It’s far from the whole story, however. As the L. A. Times puts it, “Obama’s task was to help far South Side residents press for improvement” in their communities. Part of Obama’s work, it would appear, was to organize demonstrations, much in the mold of radical groups like Acorn.

Although the L. A. Times piece is generally positive, it does press Obama’s organizing tales on certain points. Some claim that Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father, exaggerates his accomplishments in spearheading an asbestos cleanup at a low-income housing project. Obama, these critics say, denies due credit to Hazel Johnson, an activist who claims she was the one who actually discovered the asbestos problem and led the efforts to resolve it. Read carefully, the L. A. Times story leans toward confirming this complaint against Obama, yet the story’s emphasis is to affirm Obama’s important role in the battle. Speaking up in defense of Obama on the asbestos issue is Madeleine Talbot, who at the time was a leader at Chicago Acorn. Talbot, we learn, was so impressed by Obama’s organizing skills that she invited him to help train her own staff.

And what exactly was Talbot’s work with Acorn? Talbot turns out to have been a key leader of that attempt by Acorn to storm the Chicago City Council (during a living-wage debate). While Sol Stern mentions this story in passing, the details are worth a look: On July 31, 1997, six people were arrested as 200 Acorn protesters tried to storm the Chicago City Council session. According to the Chicago Daily Herald, Acorn demonstrators pushed over the metal detector and table used to screen visitors, backed police against the doors to the council chamber, and blocked late-arriving aldermen and city staff from entering the session.

Reading the Herald article, you might think Acorn’s demonstrators had simply lost patience after being denied entry to the gallery at a packed meeting. Yet the full story points in a different direction. This was not an overreaction by frustrated followers who couldn’t get into a meeting (there were plenty of protestors already in the gallery), but almost certainly a deliberate bit of what radicals call “direct action,” orchestrated by Acorn’s Madeleine Talbot. As Talbot was led away handcuffed, charged with mob action and disorderly conduct, she explicitly justified her actions in storming the meeting. This was the woman who first drew Obama into his alliance with Acorn, and whose staff Obama helped train.

Surprise Visit

Does that mean Obama himself schooled Acorn volunteers in disruptive “direct action?” Not necessarily. The City Council storming took place in 1997, years after Obama’s early organizing days. And in general, Obama seems to have been part of Acorn’s “inside baseball” strategy. As a national star from his law school days, Obama knew he had a political future, and would surely have been reluctant to violate the law. In his early organizing days, Obama used to tell the residents he organized that they’d be more effective in their protests if they controlled their anger. On the other hand, as he established and deepened his association with Acorn through the years, Obama had to know what the organization was all about. Moreover, in his early days, Obama was not exactly a stranger to the “direct action” side of community organizing.

Consider the second charge against Obama raised by the L.A. Times backgrounder. On the stump today, Obama often says he helped prevent South Side Chicago blacks, Latinos, and whites from turning on each other after losing their jobs, but many of the community organizers interviewed by the L. A. Times say that Obama worked overwhelmingly with blacks.

To rebut this charge, Obama’s organizer friends tell the story of how he helped plan “actions” that included mixed white, black, and Latino groups. For example, following Obama’s plan, one such group paid a “surprise visit” to a meeting between local officials considering a landfill expansion. The protestors surrounded the meeting table while one activist made a statement chiding the officials, after which the protestors filed out. Presto! Obama is immunized from charges of having worked exclusively with blacks — but at the cost of granting us a peek at the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy side of his community organizing. Intimidation tactics are revealed, and Obama’s alliance with radical Acorn activists like Madeleine Talbot begins to make sense.


The extent of Obama’s ties to Acorn has not been recognized. We find some important details in an article in the journal Social Policy entitled, “Case Study: Chicago — The Barack Obama Campaign,” by Toni Foulkes, a Chicago Acorn leader and a member of Acorn’s National Association Board. The odd thing about this article is that Foulkes is forced to protect the technically “non-partisan” status of Acorn’s get-out-the-vote campaigns, even as he does everything in his power to give Acorn credit for helping its favorite son win the critical 2004 primary that secured Obama the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate.

Before giving us a tour of Acorn’s pro-Obama but somehow “non-partisan” election activities, Foulks treats us to a brief history of Obama’s ties to Acorn. While most press accounts imply that Obama just happened to be at the sort of public-interest law firm that would take Acorn’s “motor voter” case, Foulkes claims that Acorn specifically sought out Obama’s representation in the motor voter case, remembering Obama from the days when he worked with Talbot. And while many reports speak of Obama’s post-law school role organizing “Project VOTE” in 1992, Foulkes makes it clear that this project was undertaken in direct partnership with Acorn. Foulkes then stresses Obama’s yearly service as a key figure in Acorn’s leadership-training seminars.

At least a few news reports have briefly mentioned Obama’s role in training Acorn’s leaders, but none that I know of have said what Foulkes reports next: that Obama’s long service with Acorn led many members to serve as the volunteer shock troops of Obama’s early political campaigns — his initial 1996 State Senate campaign, and his failed bid for Congress in 2000 (Foulkes confuses the dates of these two campaigns.) With Obama having personally helped train a new cadre of Chicago Acorn leaders, by the time of Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, Obama and Acorn were “old friends,” says Foulkes.

So along with the reservoir of political support that came to Obama through his close ties with Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger, and other Chicago black churches, Chicago Acorn appears to have played a major role in Obama’s political advance. Sure enough, a bit of digging into Obama’s years in the Illinois State Senate indicates strong concern with Acorn’s signature issues, as well as meetings with Acorn and the introduction by Obama of Acorn-friendly legislation on the living wage and banking practices. You begin to wonder whether, in his Springfield days, Obama might have best been characterized as “the Senator from Acorn.”

Foundation Money

Although it’s been noted in an important story by John Fund, and in a long Obama background piece in the New York Times, more attention needs to be paid to possible links between Obama and Acorn during the period of Obama’s service on the boards of two charitable foundations, the Woods Fund and the Joyce Foundation.

According to the New York Times, Obama’s memberships on those foundation boards, “allowed him to help direct tens of millions of dollars in grants” to various liberal organizations, including Chicago Acorn, “whose endorsement Obama sought and won in his State Senate race.” As best as I can tell (and this needs to be checked out more fully), Acorn maintains both political and “non-partisan” arms. Obama not only sought and received the endorsement of Acorn’s political arm in his local campaigns, he recently accepted Acorn’s endorsement for the presidency, in pursuit of which he reminded Acorn officials of his long-standing ties to the group.

Supposedly, Acorn’s political arm is segregated from its “non-partisan” registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, but after reading Foulkes’ case study, this non-partisanship is exceedingly difficult to discern. As I understand, it would be illegal for Obama to sit on a foundation board and direct money to an organization that openly served as his key get-out-the-vote volunteers on Election Day. I’m not saying Obama crossed a legal line here: Based on Foulkes’ account, Acorn’s get-out-the-vote drive most likely observed the technicalities of “non-partisanship.”

Nevertheless, the possibilities suggested by a combined reading of the New York Times piece and the Foulkes article are disturbing. While keeping within the technicalities of the law, Obama may have been able to direct substantial foundation money to his organized political supporters. I offer no settled conclusion, but the matter certainly warrants further investigation and discussion. Obama is supposed to be the man who transcends partisanship. Has he instead used his post at an allegedly non-partisan foundation to direct money to a supposedly non-partisan group, in pursuit of what are in fact nakedly partisan and personal ends? I have no final answer, but the question needs to be pursued further.

In fact, the broader set of practices by which activist groups pursue intensely partisan ends under the guise of non-partisanship merits further scrutiny. Consider the 2006 report by Jonathan Bechtle, “Voter Turnout or Voter Fraud?” which includes a discussion of the nexus between Project Vote and Acorn, a nexus where Obama himself once resided. According to Bechtle, “It’s clear that groups that claimed to be nonpartisan wanted a partisan outcome,” and reading Foulkes’s case study of Acorn’s role in Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign, one can’t help but agree.

Radical Obama

Important as these questions of funding and partisanship are, the larger point is that Obama’s ties to Acorn — arguably the most politically radical large-scale activist group in the country — are wide, deep, and longstanding. If Acorn is adept at creating a non-partisan, inside-game veneer for what is in fact an intensely radical, leftist, and politically partisan reality, so is Obama himself. This is hardly a coincidence: Obama helped train Acorn’s leaders in how to play this game. For the most part, Obama seems to have favored the political-insider strategy, yet it’s clear that he knew how to play the in-your-face “direct action” game as well. And surely during his many years of close association with Acorn, Obama had to know what the group was all about.

The shame of it is that when the L. A. Times returned to Obama’s stomping grounds, it found the park he’d helped renovate reclaimed by drug dealers and thugs. The community organizer strategy may generate feel-good moments and best-selling books, but I suspect a Wal-Mart as the seed-bed of a larger shopping complex would have done far more to save the neighborhood where Obama worked to organize in the “progressive” fashion. Unfortunately, Obama’s Acorn cronies have blocked that solution.

In any case, if you’re looking for the piece of the puzzle that confirms and explains Obama’s network of radical ties, gather your Acorns this spring. Or next winter, you may just be left watching the “President from Acorn” at his feast.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.


6,000 unionists march against Andy Stern

Heavy-handed boss tears jumbo union apart

6,000 healthcare workers marched today to protest a hearing by the Service Employees International Union, the parent organization of United Healthcare Workers-West. The SEIU-appointed hearing officer is expected to recommend splitting UHW in half, dividing 65,000 nursing home workers and homecare workers from their co-workers in hospitals. The split would weaken the voice of healthcare workers who have spoken out against SEIU's top-down sweetheart deals, especially in long-term care.

"Healthcare workers have struggled together and taken big risks to win a voice to stand up for our patients, in hospitals, in nursing homes and in homecare," said Ruby Guzman, a certified nursing assistant and chief steward at Creekside Healthcare Center in San Pablo, Calif. "Today we are at our greatest position of strength with the healthcare industry. How could our own union try to tear us apart?"

Members of United Healthcare Workers-West have been working for over a decade to unite healthcare workers in California for a stronger voice to advocate for safe conditions and better patient care. In 2008, for the first time, UHW members have nearly 200 nursing home, hospital, and homecare contracts set to expire in the same year, bringing unprecedented strength to the largest bargaining campaign in American healthcare history.

UHW's strategy has already succeeded, reaching a landmark agreement last week with the Mariner nursing home chain that ties standards at 10 nursing homes in Northern California to standards at Kaiser, where UHW hospital workers have the best contract in the country.

Now those gains are at risk. At Monday's hearing, the hearing officer chosen and paid for by SEIU could decide the fate of 65,000 healthcare workers. In recent years, SEIU has used an undemocratic election process to force mergers of local unions. If SEIU follows the same process in this case, all 65,000 nursing home and homecare workers who are members of UHW could vote "no" and still be transferred to a different local union.

In a March election held by UHW, 99 percent of nursing home and 96 percent of homecare workers voted to stay united with hospital workers in UHW. SEIU has chosen to disregard that vote.

The 150,000-member SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West is the largest, fastest-growing hospital and healthcare union in the western United States. Our mission is to achieve high-quality healthcare for all.


Teamsters strike v. Coca-Cola continues

Related Coca-Cola strike stories: here

Is militant union staging a pattern strike?

Local Coca Cola bottling and delivery ran normally Monday, or work barely limped along. On the second day of the Teamsters union strike against Coca Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated in southwest Alabama and southeast Mississippi, those were the competing versions of reality put forth by the company and strikers.

No talks were in sight as Teamsters manned picket lines in Tillman's Corner, Robertsdale, Leroy and Vancleave, Miss. The only contact between the two sides was through the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, which aids negotiations between unions and employers, said Jim Gookins, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 991, based in Mobile.

Gookins said he understood through the mediator, that the company wants workers to return to their jobs before any more negotiations. Lauren Steele, vice president of corporate affairs for Coca-Cola Consolidated said he knew of no such precondition to talks.

Sergio Delgado, a mediation service director based in Orlando, Fla., said that a mediator from Birmingham is trying to facilitate negotiations, and said the mediator attended some bargaining sessions before talks broke down.

"Hopefully we can get them back to the table," Delgado said.

About 275 of 300 local workers are represented by the Teamsters.

Both sides agree the dispute centers on the company's desire to freeze the traditional pension plan and instead make larger contributions to a 401K retirement savings plan. Steele said the proposal includes payments to help older workers make up the difference in expected pensions. But Gookins has said they aren't enough, and that veteran workers would be especially pinched.

The three-year contract offer also included an annual raise of 3.25 percent.

Steele said the company has been pinched by soaring costs for fuel, corn syrup and other materials, and made a fair offer despite "very difficult economic conditions."

Workers saw it otherwise, rejecting the deal 176 to 15 Saturday evening, hours before the strike began.

Coca Cola Consolidated, based in Charlotte, N.C., is the nation's second largest Coke bottler. It makes products at the Tillman's Corner plant, and distributes them in Mobile, Baldwin, Washington and Clarke counties in Alabama. In Mississippi, company serves all of Jackson, George and Greene counties, plus parts of Harrison, Stone and Perry counties.

Steele said that more than a dozen union-represented workers had crossed the picket line Monday, and that the company was using managers, part-time workers and temporary workers to run the bottling line and make deliveries. He said Coca Cola Consolidated will acquire drinks from other plants if Mobile can't make enough.

"We may well deliver and sell more product this week than last week," Steele said, noting that route drivers were missing out on sales commissions during the peak summer season.

Gookins, though, said strikers had counted only 13 delivery trucks leaving the Tillman's Corner plant Monday, when normally there would be more than 50. He said strikers believe deliveries will become harder beginning today because Monday's trucks were loaded before the strike began.


VW opts for a worker-choice state

Related VW stories: here

Forced-labor unionism repels capital investment in Michigan

Despite hopes it would come to Michigan, German automaker Volkswagen announced Tuesday Chattanooga, Tenn., is the site of its new U.S. factory. And after months of rumors, it was confirmed property in Marshall - 750 acres of farmland on C Drive North - was being seriously considered by Volkswagen officials as a potential factory location.

"The Marshall site was on the list and they visited it several times," Jim Hettinger, chief executive officer of local economic development firm Battle Creek Unlimited, said. "We hosted 28 people from VW at the Yarrow Resort (north of Augusta) and that was where most of the meetings and pitches took place."

Marshall, along with Huntsville, Ala., were in competition with Tennessee for the future plant. VW said the plant it plans to launch by 2011 will produce 150,000 vehicles a year at first and employ 2,000 workers, with a new midsize sedan as its first product.

While Michigan was named as a finalist, many analysts said the state's chances of winning the plant were slim from the start, citing Michigan's history of labor organizing and union battles as a factor in luring foreign automakers, despite a deep pool of well-trained workers.

"We really pushed our labor force," Hettinger said. "We presented example after example of employers in this area being quite satisfied with skills and quality of labor."

Hettinger said in addition to a stellar campaign by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., local manufacturers joined in the effort to lure VW.

"Duncan Aviation and especially Denso worked hard to convince VW to come here," he said. "Denso worked really hard and supplied a lot of data to get VW to seriously consider this area."

Granholm said in a statement Tuesday Michigan waged "an aggressive campaign" to promote the state's highly skilled workforce and presented VW with "an unprecedented" incentive package.

Alabama and Tennessee also were preparing bundles of tax breaks and other incentives to land the factory. Hettinger said Tennessee might have had the edge because of several factors:

• Tennessee possessed a ready site along Interstate I-75, known as the Southern automotive corridor.

• A U.S. population shift with more people moving south and west, making Tennessee more in the central market.

• Tennessee is a Right-to-Work state with no union presence.

"The fact that the UAW was striking American Axle at the time and it was on the front page of the newspapers every day probably hurt our chances because that old stereotype of Michigan was reinforced," Hettinger said, also offering criticism of that decision.

"There are a lot of problems with southern sites and many of these companies have begun to experience the difficulties of southern location: no infrastructure, no manufacturing culture, no computer skills, no logistical management skills," he said. "I have been telling companies for years that they are trading their union fears for far more difficult and complex infrastructure problems in the south."

Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Volkswagen America, said both Granholm and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley "were strong advocates on behalf of their states and the citizens they represent."

"We reviewed three excellent sites, all of which had the specific qualities necessary to build a plant in the United States," Jacoby said. "This was a difficult decision, but we look forward to continuing our relationships with both states."

Hettinger said despite thinking VW coming to the area was a long shot, the risk carries specific benefits.

"VW was represented by one of the best site selection consulting companies in the business and there is an ancillary benefit of strutting our West Michigan stuff for the consulting company as they will be on future searches," Hettinger said. "I believe that much of the effort was fruitful and will come back to the area in positive ways in the future."


'No-vote' unionism ads fill the dog days

Related EFCA stories, videos: here
Related card-check stories, videos: here

McCain-Feingold law squelches free speech two months before elections

Two business-backed groups are targeting congressional candidates in half a dozen states with critical advertising based on their support for a piece of pro-union legislation.

The campaign is the latest example of the record amount of money pouring into this year's election. The two groups expect to spend a combined $50 million in the months leading up to November in an attempt to blunt a far-richer effort by organized labor. Unions have said they plan to spend $300 million on the coming election, mostly on voter turnout and issue advertising.

The ads center on a core dispute between business and labor over the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize workers through a card-signing process rather than a secret-ballot election. Business groups say workers would face pressure from union organizers to sign the cards. The legislation passed the House last year but could not overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

Business and labor both believe the legislation could cause a sea change in union organizing if enacted, helping unions rebuild their thinning ranks. Labor is hoping it will help reverse a long-term decline that has brought union membership to less than 8% of private-sector workers, roughly half the percentage of 25 years ago. Unions say employer opposition during organizing drives has hurt the unionization rate as much as outsourcing and other economic factors.

Both sides have made the legislation, likely to come up for a vote again next year, a hot-button issue.

One group attacking the legislation is the Employee Freedom Action Committee, headed by Rick Berman, a former tobacco lobbyist who has helped companies fend off union organizing. The group has run ads targeting Senate candidates in Minnesota, Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire and Louisiana, and expects to include Mississippi and several more states. Mr. Berman, who is also president of a consulting business named Berman & Co., said he is on track to raise $30 million for the project but refused to say who has provided funding.

The group will push out a flurry of television, radio and newspaper ads between now and early September, said spokesman Tim Miller. The group was set up as a 501c4 nonprofit so that it could name specific candidates in advertising, he said. But that also means it must run candidate ads before a blackout period begins 60 days prior to the November election.

The second group, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, was created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business associations last year to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act. The group has so far run ads in Minnesota and Maine and expects to spend up to $20 million, said Rhonda Bentz, a spokeswoman, who declined to identify the group's corporate funders. The group's Web site lists several hundred business associations as members.

One of the Coalition's ads running in Minnesota, where comedian Al Franken is running for the Senate as a Democrat, equates union organizers with those involved in organized crime. The ad features Vincent Curatola, who played "Johnny Sack" on the TV series "The Sopranos," speaking in character and praising Mr. Franken for his support of the legislation. A narrator says Mr. Franken supports eliminating secret ballot elections. "My pal, Al," says Mr. Curatola.

Andy Barr, a spokesman for Mr. Franken's campaign, said the candidate is "not wavering at all in his support of this important legislation." He described the ads as "unfortunate and very un-Minnesotan."

Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work, a labor advocacy group, says the ads are misleading because the legislation would make it easier for unions to organize workers via cards but would not eliminate secret ballots altogether.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, described both groups as deceptive because they do not reveal their funding sources.

Mr. Berman said some groups, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, "don't like the fact that we're effective in getting our message out." He added, "The fact is we run a squeaky-clean operation and I'm well aware of them looking over my shoulder."


CEO plays hardball with union-dues

When Delta boss has leverage, he uses it

Shortly after assuming the top job at Delta Air Lines last year, Richard Anderson gave each of the carrier's executives an eight-page, spiral-bound book that would serve as a blueprint for returning the airline to its former glory.

"Rules of the Road" sets ambitious targets for financial performance and customer service, but primarily defines management principles that Anderson believes are crucial to survival in an industry that has seen four big airlines, including Delta, go bankrupt in the previous six years.

Anderson put one of those credos - "Speed wins" - to work just months into his CEO job, when he startled the industry by saying Delta was open to a merger. Six months later he had a deal to acquire his former employer, Northwest Airlines.

Federal regulators are expected to approve the merger later this year. If they do, Anderson, 53, could face his toughest challenge -- proving that combining two money-losing airlines can usher in a new era of stability for passengers, employees and investors.

Since the merger was negotiated, oil has soared to over $140 a barrel. Airlines are cutting flights, raising fares, charging new fees and jettisoning workers. Northwest announced 2,500 job cuts on Wednesday.

Anderson contends a larger Delta would prosper over the long haul. But to pull it off he will have to succeed where many airline executives have failed, combining two sprawling companies with dramatically different cultures.

Anderson's career has been marked by responses to one crisis after another.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks came just seven months after Anderson was named Northwest's CEO in 2001. He also had to deal with a recession, the Iraq war and the spread of a viral respiratory illness in Asia, forcing Anderson to lay off workers and slash costs.

In late 2004, about a year before Northwest filed for bankruptcy, Anderson bolted for an executive post at UnitedHealth Group. Anderson explained the leap as an opportunity to one day run a much bigger company. But even there, crisis loomed as the company and its longtime CEO, Dr. William McGuire, became engulfed in a stock options backdating scandal.

Anderson, who was personally untouched by the options problem, was involved in developing the legal strategy that helped clean up the options mess.

"Richard is a great doer," said former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, who worked with Anderson after the Sept. 11 attacks on creating a federal security system for air travel. "His blood circulates faster than many people's," Kelleher said.

That's been true from a young age. Anderson was just a 19-year-old college student when his father, an office worker for the Santa Fe Railroad, died of cancer. His mother's death, also from cancer, followed just nine months later. Anderson, the middle child in a family with four sisters, stepped forward to become the guardian of the two younger girls.

He said it's hard to know precisely how his parents' early deaths shaped the person he has become. "It surely required you to get serious pretty quickly and get on with getting your degree, getting into law school and start working. That's what I did."

Anderson worked as a construction laborer and as a plumber's helper to put himself through college. He earned his law degree at night.

In Houston, where he was a prosecuting attorney, he was a neighbor of Ben Hirst, who was in charge of Continental's legal department.

The pair would discuss current events and books they were reading over beers in lawn chairs in their yards. In 1987, Hirst hired Anderson to join Continental.

"Clearly, he had a lot of intellectual curiosity, which is an absolute necessity in the airline business," said Hirst, now Northwest's general counsel. "Secondly, he was an extremely skillful trial lawyer who had the ability to drill down and get to the bottom of things, which is equally a necessity in this industry."

On the front lines

Anderson isn't one for long, flashy PowerPoint presentations, according to his "Rules of the Road," which he keeps near his wooden desk that was used by Delta founder C.E. Woolman. Nor is he into political gamesmanship. "Put all the cards on the table." (Rule No. 4F) And several rules are devoted to team-building.

Anderson, who regularly works 80-hour weeks, devotes one-fourth of his daytime hours to meet with Delta employees.

"In an ideal world, you'd like to be on the front lines all the time," he said.

Anderson is known for making impromptu visits at airports, walking around maintenance hangars without an escort and riding in the jumpseats of Delta's cockpits.

"By talking to two pilots, you can learn what's going on and you can get the message out about what we're doing," he said.

On a recent summer day, the maroon leather chairs in the Delta board room are filled with 20 rank-and-file employees who are encouraged to ask questions and give Anderson unfiltered feedback on how to make the airline run more smoothly.

"The industry is clearly going through a shakeout," Anderson tells workers. "We're really going to manage our costs closely, but not foolishly." Delta will reduce the regional jets in its schedule, phase out low fares to leisure destinations that don't cover costs and invest in international service that will allow Delta to survive for years to come.

In a later session with pilots, Anderson adds, "We will not be vulnerable to anybody," because the airline is preserving the flights that are "strategically important to Delta."

Blending workforces

During his tenure as Northwest CEO, Anderson sought concessions from Northwest's seven unions, but union leaders said he dealt with them in an open and honest fashion. Dave Stevens, chairman of Northwest's pilots union, said, "Richard Anderson is pragmatic and understands the need for leadership, not just management."

Still, Northwest union leaders are wary of how their members will fare in a merger with the much larger Delta workforce, in which only pilots and dispatchers belong to unions.

Leaders of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) portrayed Anderson and other Delta executives as enemies of labor during recent congressional merger hearings.

AFA President Patricia Friend castigated Anderson for making a video -- distributed to Delta flight attendants -- that she said included "falsehoods" about his dealings with Northwest attendants and made it sound like "bad things" would happen to Delta attendants if they joined a union. In May, Delta attendants rejected union representation. Despite high oil prices, Delta approved a 3 percent pay raise for its nonunion employees that took effect July 1.

Sitting in his Atlanta office, just yards from Delta's heritage museum, Anderson said, "We work hard every day to make this a good place to work. And you don't need a union to do that and the company has demonstrated that time and again."

Danny Campbell, who served as president of the Northwest flight attendants union when Anderson led the company, said the two had a good working relationship. After Anderson became CEO, Campbell told him that he could avoid some militant union actions if "flight attendants had a seat at the table -- we wanted to be part of any decisions that were coming down the pike."

(Rule No. 4B: "Do not confine the debate to senior executives because we learn from the people closest to the work.")

Campbell said that Anderson heeded his advice, consulted with the union before cutting jobs and the two sides worked out an "unprecedented" agreement that allowed attendants to take voluntary leaves that included unemployment and health benefits. But Campbell said he saw a side of Anderson that he didn't like when Anderson, then seeking financial concessions from attendants, refused to grant automatic payroll deductions of union dues after the attendants switched unions. "He felt he had leverage" and used it, Campbell said.

Delta's decision to merge set off a scramble among other airline executives to do the same. Analysts confidently predicted that the "Big Six" airlines would become the Big Three. Despite flirtations and outright courtships, no other deals materialized. In most cases, the prospect of having to combine fleets and workforces -- where seniority issues can bog down operations for years -- simply proved too daunting an undertaking at a time when high fuel prices are eroding airline cash balances.

Still, some analysts are betting that Anderson can pull it off.

"Historically, mergers did not do well because they had not been well thought out or well executed" or lacked the right leadership, said Julius Maldutis, who has worked for decades as an aviation consultant or airline analyst.

He said the Delta-Northwest merger will be successful because it has all three critical elements. "Anderson is today the leading airline executive, and he has clearly demonstrated his capability since he arrived at Delta," Maldutis said.


AFSCME strikers fail to shut down employer

Striking UC workers marked absent

Thousands of employees at University of California campuses and medical centers around the state were back on picket lines on Tuesday. Many workers, who said they are seeking better pay, carried signs outside of UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento's Oak Park. The walkout started on Monday.

The strike includes bus drivers, cooks, custodians and others represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Officials at the medical center said the facility is able to operate despite the absent workers.


School union protests dues hit

Why pay less for gov't services?

School bus drivers continue to picket outside Pleasant Valley High School this week in an effort to gin up public support for their fight against a decision to outsource their jobs to a private company.

"We're hoping to get as much support as possible from the public," said Eilleen Thierry, a driver for the district for 17 years. "We just don't feel it's more economic for the public, the taxpayers."

Members of the union representing the district's support staff have protested the school board's 6-3 vote on June 26 to subcontract transportation work to Cincinnati-based company First Student. They plan to picket during evening commutes this week to galvanize public support for their cause.

About a dozen protesters joined the picket line on Monday. The district employs 150 transportation workers.

"What can happen now is the community can come show the school board that this is not in their best interests," said Scott Carpenter, representative for Pennsylvania State Education Association, the union representing the drivers.

Protesters said they hope the public will come to this Thursday's school board meeting to voice concerns about the deal. In support of the privatization, board members said the contract with First Student would save Pleasant Valley $1.3 million next year.

The union has filed a complaint with the state labor relations board accusing the district of unfair labor practices for agreeing to the First Student deal without declaring an end to negotiations with the union.

"We haven't heard anything from the complaint yet," Carpenter said. "We won't know that outcome for quite some time. I don't think that's unusual."

First Student met with the district's transportation employees last Friday and again on Wednesday to discuss wages and benefits that will be offered to current employees who join the company under the new deal.


NEA bars private school workers from union

Only one choice is acceptable to jumbo gov't union

Employees of private K-12 schools won’t be able to join the National Education Association any time soon, after nearly two-thirds of the delegates at the union’s annual convention turned down a proposal from the executive leadership to accept them.

The 10,000 delegates attending the Representative Assembly held here July 3-6 voted, however, to allow private preschool workers to join the NEA's membership ranks. Doing so would be contingent on the approval of the state affiliate.


Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire DINO

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