Will Europe rub off on Barack?

Political, economic gains shown from curbing unionist collectivism

The Barack Obama "Change Is Coming" World Tour touches down in Europe this week after a triumphant jaunt through the Middle East.

The trip is significant in more than one respect. After all, there is genuine (if incremental) "change" budding in European politics — most of it an attempt to turn back the kinds of stifling economic controls and regulations that the presumptive Democratic nominee seems to support here at home.

Obama will visit Germany, France and England this week. It just happens that those Western European nations have turned to right-of-center coalitions to remedy corrosive welfare systems, never-ending entitlements, unchecked union power and over-regulation of industry.

In England mere months ago, the left-of-center Labor Party lost more than 400 seats in local elections, including finishing off the reign of London Mayor Ken "The Red" Livingstone.

In France, Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy swept into power in 2007, promising to cut back welfare rolls and revitalize the floundering French economy. In Germany, Angela Merkel vowed free-market reforms to undo theoretical social "safety nets" that have led to "terrifyingly high unemployment."

Then, Silvio Berlusconi unexpectedly won Italy's election this year, in part on the pledge to unknot the tangle of economic regulations hampering that nation.

Those are the top four economic powers in Europe. That's officially a trend.

And while Democrats at home are stoking populist anger over those wicked corporations — better known as your employer — Europe is learning a truism: Corporations don't pay taxes; people pay taxes.

Since 1995, nearly 30 European nations have cut their corporate tax rates to spur growth. Yet, the U.S. boasts one of the highest corporate rates in the world. (Unless, of course, you happen to be an unsuccessful corporation. Then Republicans will send you tax dollars!)

In the past decade or so, 25 European nations have also turned to a low flat tax — typically around 10 to 20 percent — rather than our extensive and complicated "progressive" taxation which penalizes success and is rife with fraud.

Many of these nations have witnessed dividends in increased jobs, population and growth.

Estonia's free-market model, for instance, often offers a zero corporate tax rate to lure foreign investment and capital. Both Germany and Finland have grumbled that the small Baltic nation is stealing their jobs.

Other European nations, when offered the choice, head in the very same direction.

Out of the 27 members of the European Union, only Ireland, the continent's finest economic success story, was allowed to hold a citizen referendum on the new constitution. Rather than shackle their nation with more controls, Ireland voted "no."

Let's call it anti-Unity.

Yet, here at home, certain parties can't contain their anticipation at the prospect of raising capital gains taxes, revoking "tax cuts for the rich" and punishing anyone who churns investment and creates jobs. The producers have become the enemy.

Instead, we're in for more redistribution, more entitlement, more regulation and less international trade. In other words, the same counterproductive policies that Europe is struggling to undo.

It must be pointed out that "right wing" in Europe isn't American-style conservatism. And it takes some self-control to avoid using the phrase "so-called" throughout this column. The economic trend, however, is evident.

So in the midst of our mild downturn, are Americans now ready to import these doomed policies?

Obama — as all presidential candidates — has proven astoundingly malleable on the issues, so who knows? But let's hope his European trip provides some instructive lessons.


Supreme Court reviews unchecked union power

It's too late for Court to regulate 2008 elections

A 2003 Idaho law that aimed to strip Idaho unions of whatever political fund-raising muscle they had nearly fell by the wayside. By court order, the law—called the Voluntary Contributions Act—never went into effect.

But Idaho quietly appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which took the case in March. When the case, Ysursa and Wasden vs. Pocatello Education Association, et. al. is heard, probably about the time of the November elections, the decision could have widespread implications for union politicking in Idaho and across the nation.

Or, the state could wind up footing the legal bill for the teachers' union and inspire a few more government workers to join the union rolls.

The Voluntary Contributions Act took a broad swipe at public employee unions—mostly teachers and firefighters in Idaho—aiming to quash their ability to raise political funds. It even applied to some private-sector unions, though the state quickly admitted that it had no business regulating how businesses do their payrolls.

When it passed, the bill barred unions from using dues for political activities, required unions to set up separate political funds for candidate support and other political work, dictated how unions solicit political funds and banned payroll deductions for political purposes.

The state, through Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office, agreed that the definition of political activities was too broad in the bill and let most of its requirements drop. The Supreme Court will rule on the payroll deduction ban, the only remaining issue in the case.

"The notion is that states and their political subdivisions should be neutral, should neither aid nor retard political speech by their employees," said Clay Smith, a deputy Idaho attorney general who has pursued the case for the state.

Smith argues that: "Nothing in the First Amendment precludes a state legislature from requiring its own governmental creations to take an action that, in the absence of such requirement, the political subdivision may take without infringing the Free Speech Clause."

The state has made the case into a states' rights case, arguing that the legislature has the right to dictate to school districts, fire districts and other local governments how they do their payrolls.

But the unions read the First Amendment differently.

"It just adds another hurdle to being a state employee and trying to make your voice heard using your own money," said Bob McCarl, a Boise State professor who studies the sociology of work.

McCarl gives money to the Service Employees International Union's political action committee. But he has to cut a separate check to the PAC because Boise State only allows two payroll deductions, and his are taken up by regular union dues to the SEIU and to the American Federation of Teachers, a union of professors.

"Boise State desperately needs some sort of employee organization," McCarl said. "If the Teamsters came in, God forbid ... I don't care who organizes the place, but the reality is the employees have no voice."

So far, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have agreed that the state cannot regulate the way that public employees in school districts, cities, fire districts and other local governmental bodies spread out their paychecks. They can give to the United Way, have gym dues taken out of their paychecks or give $5 to a PAC if they have negotiated those arrangements with their employers.

But the employees of state agencies may be a different story. The SEIU is attempting to set up a payroll deduction plan for state workers for the first time.

"It goes to what's in the best interest of state employees and when are these people, as a group, going to wake up and say enough's enough," said Andrew Hanhardt, president of the SEIU-affiliated Idaho Association of Government Employees.

The Office of the State Controller sets up payroll deduction programs for a minimum of 50 employees who have a common request, said Brandon Woolf, deputy controller for payroll. The final decision is up to State Controller Donna Jones, and her office is closely watching the outcome of the union case.

Hanhardt said he has a list of about 40 people interested in having between $2 and $10 a month deducted from their paychecks and sent to his union's PAC, the Public Employees PAC.

Whether the state will offer payroll deductions for union PACs depends on how closely one reads the First Amendment.

The unions argue that the state swooping in and trying to regulate economic speech—political contributions—on a local level does not hold up to strict scrutiny, a more cautious implementation of the First Amendment.

The state says school districts cannot use payroll systems for funding political action.

"They've singled out that type of giving. That's regulating political speech on the basis of content," said Idaho Education Association attorney John Rumel.

And targeting unions for the regulation, as opposed to charity giving or gym membership, is blatantly political as well.

"They want to be able to regulate IEA and firefighters' political activity, which has not been friendly to the majority of incumbent legislators," Rumel said.

But the state holds that a less cautious interpretation of the First Amendment is warranted because a payroll system is not a traditional forum for free speech, like a park. If the state can show a reasonable objection to providing the service, like an added taxpayer cost, it can be justified in regulating that type of speech.

On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court took up the Idaho union case, the justices also chose to deliberate on a Utah case involving freedom of speech in a public forum. A man named Summum Ra, president of Summum Church, wants to place a monument in a Pleasant Grove, Utah, park and the city has denied the request.

Utah also figures heavily into the Idaho case since it is the only other state to pass a Voluntary Contributions Act. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Utah act unconstitutional as well, largely agreeing with the 9th Circuit, though the Utah case is awaiting further review. But some legal experts were surprised that the Supreme Court would take up a case that two circuit courts had already agreed upon.

In a presidential election year, the stakes are high for labor unions, for conservative legislatures and, some might argue, for the U.S. Supreme Court itself. While payroll deductions may seem like a small piece of the pie, the way a paycheck is divvied up speaks to workers' rights and is at the center of the unions' political strategy—to get more worker-friendly politicians in office.

"It's a very big deal because it's the most effective manner for unions to be able to utilize contributions of members who want to contribute towards political expenditures," said Alan Herzfeld, an attorney for the Professional Firefighters of Idaho. "And of course the legislature knew that."


The ACORN Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

More ACORN stories: here

Voters examine Barack Obama's real-world work experience

Barack Obama has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a group that engages in voter registration efforts that ultimately help elect their leftist candidates by any means necessary. Obama worked on their voter registration drive in 1992 and sued the state on behalf of ACORN in a “Motor Voter” case.

John Fund of the Wall Street Journal has been at the forefront in investigating voter fraud in presidential elections. In 2007, ACORN was involved in numerous voter fraud cases in Seattle. Fund wrote:
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.
Outside groups like ACORN knowingly or unknowingly routinely register non-citizens and convicted felons because they don’t ask for proof of citizenship. Earlier this month Fund wrote, “ACORN’s political arm has endorsed Mr. Obama while its ‘voter education’ arm has pledged to spend $35 million to register people this fall -- despite a history of vote fraud scandals that have led to guilty pleas by many ACORN employees.” Fund concluded, "But ACORN may play, along with other liberal groups, a leading role in electing Mr. Obama. Such groups deserve a closer look now, before their influence and possibly their clout grow dramatically after the November election."

- Lisa DePasquale


Congress wants to see your secret-ballot

It's probably too late to protect union democracy in the workplace

Senate Republicans will increasingly attempt to turn Democratic-sponsored "card-check" labor legislation into an emotional wedge issue to generate votes, drive fundraising and spur opposition to Democratic candidates in November.

"What we're trying to do is what we did with immigration: Let people know the facts and over a period of time build the level of anger," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told CongressDaily Monday after a forum he held on the issue.

The union-backed legislation -- which would allow the creation of a union without a secret-ballot election if more than 50 percent of workers signed authorization cards -- passed the House last year but fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance it in the Senate over GOP objections.

While the 110th Congress likely won't consider the bill, DeMint said he is forcing the issue now because a Democratic president and a potentially larger Democratic majority in the Senate might tip the balance. "A few losses in the Senate and an Obama presidency, and we're going to lose the secret ballot," he said, referring to the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

The strategy was laid out by National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign of Nevada this year, who said the bill has served as a rallying cry for the business community and others who hope to keep a strong minority of Republicans in the Senate by minimizing Democratic pickups in the chamber.

This summer, a coalition of business groups is spending millions of dollars on ads in Maine and Minnesota in support of vulnerable incumbent Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Coleman and Collins voted against card check legislation in the Senate.

The group, called the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, will spend $6 million-$8 million on the first round of ads, an industry source said. The ads feature actor Vincent Curatola, best known for playing mob boss Johnny "Sack" Sacramoni on "The Sopranos."

In Minnesota, the ads tie Coleman's Democratic challenger, Al Franken, to organized crime, when a narrator announces that Franken opposes secret-ballot elections for union organizing and calls him "My pal Al."

The coalition plans to spend considerably more, the source said, targeting tight Senate races and battleground states in the presidential election.

At the forum, DeMint insisted card-check was anti-democratic and would expose workers to intimidation and coercion from union bosses.

Supporters of the bill have argued secret-ballot elections allow employers to drag out the unionization process, intimidating and sometimes firing workers in the meantime. William Samuel, the legislative director for the AFL-CIO, suggested Republicans were leveraging businesses' fears.

"They do probably feel they can appeal to businesses to raise money by raising the specter of this bill passing this session," said Samuel.


Dares to disagree with Hoffa on secret-ballots

Related story: "Hoffa: Let's force labor unions on workers"

Don't let unions see your secret ballot

The Employee Free Choice Act is anything but. Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa wants to throw out secret ballot elections by workers of whether to unionize or not and replace them with a "card checks" program where union thugs can intimidate workers into signing a union card ("Make it easier to form union," July 11). Once a majority of workers sign, the union is in.

Private ballot elections are a fundamental right. But because the union usually fails in such elections, it wants to go to a method where it can make sure it won't fail. Where is the outrage?

Janusz M. Szyszko, Canton Township, Colorado


ACORN Watch launched

Eyes turn to Barack's background

Public funding, left-wing activism, insider embezzlement, the founder's resignation. It all adds up to increasing scrutiny for the union-backed voter-fraud group, ACORN, and a new address to bookmark: "ACORN Watch". For more information, click on the image.


Partisan tax holiday forces workers to pay

Who picks up the slack for subsidized union operatives? You do.

The committee hosting the Democratic National Convention has used the city's gas pumps to fill up and apparently avoided paying state and federal fuel taxes.

The practice, which began four months ago, may have ended hours after its disclosure. An aide to Mayor John Hickenlooper released a statement Tuesday evening saying that Denver 2008 Host Committee members would pay market prices for fuel and would also be liable for all applicable taxes.

However, Public Works spokeswoman Christine Downs told City Council members just hours before that host committee members were fueling up at the city pumps. The city does not pay taxes on the fuel for its fleet, and Downs said the host committee would not either.

The disclosure brought immediate scrutiny. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said the practice "would seem" to be illegal and referred the matter to the state Department of Revenue.

Nonprofits, such as the host committee, are subject to state and federal gasoline taxes, according to the Department of Revenue.

The issue arose during the regular weekly meeting of Hickenlooper and City Council members. Downs requested authorization for a contract so the Public Works Department could be reimbursed by the host committee for use of "fueling facilities, fuel and car washes."

Downs said the contract with the host committee started in March and that $9,700 in fuel and services had been purchased from the city so far. But the committee has yet to be billed. The city anticipates $466,125 in total revenues from the contract, Downs said.

City Councilman Charlie Brown raised the question of whether the host committee would be paying fuel taxes, and Downs said it wouldn't.

"There's something there that just doesn't seem right to me because, in a sense, you're saying then that the officials who pass the laws are not willing to live by them," said Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz.

Hickenlooper said the practice isn't unique to Denver.

"I do know for a fact that they're doing the same exact thing in Minneapolis," Hickenlooper said, referring to the city that along with St. Paul is hosting the Republican National Convention.

But Teresa McFarland, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-St. Paul host committee, said its members are getting their gas at public pumps.

"We're not getting a tax break on fuel," she said. "That's not the setup at this end."

In Colorado, consumers pay 40.4 cents per gallon in state and federal fuel taxes.

"We're a nonpartisan, nonprofit committee, but certainly, if the city feels that taxes are applicable, we will pay those, too," said Chris Lopez, spokesman for the host committee. "So we would pay all applicable taxes on any of the fuel."

The host committee, which is responsible for raising money to put on the convention, is using the city's pumps "for safety and security reasons," Lopez said.

"We know the gas is not tainted," he said. "We use it as a safety and security measure."

Hickenlooper said GM is "loaning" the host committee vehicles and he expects a large number to be hybrids. It wasn't clear Tuesday whether host committee members are using those loaners or their personal vehicles.

Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said the city's arrangement with the DNC host committee was "appalling."

"I'm hoping this is not the first of many stories about how Colorado taxpayers are apparently subsidizing the Democratic convention," Wadhams said.

After the meeting, Faatz said it was wrong for the DNC host committee to get a tax break.

"I am just troubled by not having the payment of taxes for what I consider to be a privately funded party, and that's what the host committee is: it's a private organization," she said.

"If you've got a 14-gallon tank, on the average, that's about $5.66 that they don't have to pay for fill up," Brown said.

Brown also questioned the need for car washes.

It also wasn't clear Tuesday whether the Department of Revenue will investigate.

"We can't talk about any individual taxpayer's circumstance," said department spokesman Mark Couch. "Tax-exempt organizations are not exempt from fuel taxes, so a nonprofit group is not exempt from fuel taxes. As to the individual circumstance involved here, we'd have to look into it and investigate to make any kind of determination."

Denis Berckefeldt, spokesman for Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher, said Hickenlooper's administration has been guilty in the past of doing business before a contract is executed.

"Is it unusual that it happens?" he asked. "No, because they do stuff like this. Do we like it? No."

In January 2006, Gallagher complained to Hickenlooper in a letter about the "ongoing problem related to work being performed on behalf of the city before a contract for that work has been fully executed and properly signed."

At that time, Gallagher wrote, an examination of 999 contracts found that in 790 cases - 79 percent - work began before the contracts were "fully executed."

"We would have a problem with this because they're clearly selling fuel to the host committee without a fully executed contract," Berckefeldt said. "We have a real serious issue at the auditor's office with the city doing business with anyone without a contract."


Employers denounce sick-pay ballot scheme

SEIU forces sickness on healthy Ohioans

The East Liverpool (OH) Chamber of Commerce has come out against one ballot initiative and has opted to join up with the Business Resource Network. Pam Hoppel, CEO of the East Liverpool Chamber, said the decisions were made at the June and July board meetings. The local chamber elected to join the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and Governor Ted Strickland in their opposition to the Ohio Healthy Families Act by passing a resolution against the ballot issue.

"This is the proposed state law, crafted by Service Employees International Union, that would force employers to provide annual paid sick leave to all employees," Hoppel said.

If the initiative passed, the result, according to Hoppel and the chamber, would discourage job growth by making employers less competitive and negatively impact employees by restricting flexibility in the design and implementation of employee benefit plans.

"State lawmakers wisely refused to pass this one-size-fits-all, government-knows-best scheme," Hoppel said.

The East Liverpool Chamber of Commerce members voted to participate in the Business Resource Network Partnership in Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties, according to Hoppel.

The pilot program is designed to share information among various agencies that assist businesses.

"By being a part of the Business Resource Network, the East Liverpool Chamber of Commerce will be a piece of a powerful partnership that will result in stronger businesses for our region," Hoppel said. "Working together assisting local businesses is always more effective than working alone."

The cooperative effort will work to help save and create new jobs by helping existing businesses understand and tap into business services, incentives, worker training programs and other support services.

Organizers said the pilot program will serve as a model for Ohio, and possibly the nation.


Mashantucket Nation won't surrender to UAW

Related tribal Casino War stories: here

Tribe challenges Congress over applicable labor law

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has promised to continue its fight for the legal right to exercise tribal sovereignty over gaming at Foxwoods Resort & Casino following the certification of a labor union under federal law rather than tribal law.

National Labor Relations Board Chairman Peter Schaumber and board member Wilma Liebman issued a unanimous decision June 30 upholding and certifying an election at Foxwoods last November in which poker dealers voted 1,289 - 852 to form a United Auto Workers union under the National Labor Relations Act.

Jackson King, the tribal nation's general counsel, promised to appeal.

''The tribe plans to appeal all aspects of the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals,'' he said. ''It is the long-standing policy of the United States to encourage and support tribal self-government. Mashantucket Pequot laws provide a fair process for employees to select union representation if they so desire. We continue to believe that tribal law should apply in these matters. The union could already have a contract by now if they had followed tribal law.''

The tribal nation has maintained from the beginning of the unionization process that the federal labor law does not apply on sovereign tribal land. The tribe appealed the union vote both on jurisdictional and procedural grounds, but the NLRB rejected the nation's claim of sovereign authority.

While the issue of tribal sovereignty is not addressed in the latest ruling, it is at the heart of the labor issue. And because of its national implication, the Mashantucket case has grabbed the attention of tribal nations - and unions - all over Indian country.

With a certified election, the UAW can now demand that Foxwoods negotiate a contract on behalf of nearly 3,000 Foxwoods employees.

Foxwoods workers were jubilant and called for bargaining to begin immediately.

''We voted, we won, we've been certified,'' Steve Peloso, a 16-year veteran dealer at Foxwoods, said in a press release issued by the UAW. ''It's way past time for Foxwoods to come to the table and work with us on a fair contract.''

Bob Madore, director of UAW Region 91, which includes Connecticut, other New England states, New York City and Puerto Rico, said it's time for Foxwoods to negotiate.

''Foxwoods Casino is a very successful business that has made a significant contribution to our community and our state. Foxwoods workers have decided to form a union so they can talk about how to share in the success they helped to create. Workers made their decision last November, and the labor board has now issued its final decision. There's no excuse for further delay,'' he said in the press release.

But the tribe has said it will not negotiate with the union under the federal law. The refusal is the first step in a circuitous process that will eventually lead to a court appeal.

''There's no judicial review at this stage,'' said Richard Hankins of the Atlanta firm of Kilpatrick Stockton. Hankins is a labor attorney who represents the nation.

After the union has demanded bargaining and the employer has declined, the union typically files an unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB regional office in Hartford based on failure to bargain. The tribe's defense would be improper certification. The labor board would then typically grant a summary judgment finding the employer guilty of unfair labor practice to decline to bargain. That's when the issue would go to an appeals court, Hankins said.

He acknowledged the importance of the case: ''As a lawyer who is learning in the last year about Native American affairs, I can tell you that my colleagues in the traditional labor world don't understand how large of an issue this is to Indian country. They don't understand why it is such an affront to Native American expectations of self-government.''

The issues of Indian preference, sovereign immunity, right to work laws, and the authority of tribal councils and other governmental entities to make laws that govern the relationship between the tribal government and employees will all be litigated in this case and others, Hankins predicted.

''I think that particularly in this context, the labor board and the unions don't grasp how impractical it is to suggest that you can separate out the gaming enterprise from the rest of the governmental operations.''

The UAW press release referenced the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians (erroneously referred to as San Miguel) case in which a dispute between two unions ended in a NLRB 3 - 1 decision in March 2004. Federal labor law applied the case to employees at the band's casino.

Schaumber, a Bush appointee who was designated chairman of the NLRB last March, wrote the dissenting opinion.

At the 33rd annual Federal Bar Association Indian law conference in Albuquerque, N.M., in early April, Schaumber said he was extremely disappointed when his colleagues overturned 30 years of precedent and subjected tribes to federal labor law, according to a report on www.indianz.com. He said the board was ''turning a blind eye'' towards retained tribal sovereignty and the principles of federal Indian law that protect them.

A former federal prosecutor, he said the 2004 ruling is now being expanded at the expense of tribes. ''I will dissent in those decisions that expand San Manuel.''

The NLRB is supposed to consist of five members. In a kind of ''Alice in Wonderland'' way of thinking, a footnote in the ruling explains that Schaumber, Liebman and board members Peter Kirsanow and Dennis Walsh (the fifth member was not mentioned) delegated to Schaumber, Liebman and Kirsanow as a three-member group all of the board's power last December.

Although the three-member group doesn't actually exist because Kirsanow's term ended in December, the note explains that Schaumber and Liebman constitute a quorum of the three-member group and, therefore, have the authority to issue decisions.

The two-member quorum of the nonexistent three-member board is being challenged by a number of parties and Mashantucket is likely to challenge it, too, Hankins said.


Profitable auto makers flee labor-states

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Union organizers stumble in worker-choice states

Sen. Lamar Alexander today gave the following remarks while joining Gov. Phil Bredesen and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn to celebrate the dedication of Nissan Americas, a $100 million investment in Franklin, Tn., housing Nissan’s corporate operations for the United States, Canada and Mexico. Nissan announced the decision to move its North American corporate offices to Tennessee in 2005 and is now completing the move.

“When I first went to Japan 29 years ago, I carried a photograph of the United States taken at night from a satellite,” said Alexander, who served as Governor of Tennessee from 1979-1987. “It showed our country with all the lights on. The Japanese would ask, ‘Where is Tennessee?’ I would say, ‘Right in the middle of all the lights.’

“That was Tennessee’s first advantage. We were at the center of the market, which saves a lot of money when you are transporting 500,000 cars and trucks a year. Coming to Tennessee was a bold decision for Nissan. I recall Mr. Kawamata, the chairman of Nissan, laughing out loud during our dinner in Tokyo. ‘What is he laughing about?’ I asked the interpreter. ‘He says he is laughing because he is twice as old as you are and he is about to put the biggest Japanese overseas investment in history in your state.’

“It was a big decision for Tennessee, too. Every state was trying to get that plant. Back then, Tennessee was the fourth poorest state, with only Arkansas, Maine and Mississippi below us. Most of the auto industry was in the Midwest – Tennessee had almost no auto jobs.

“Then Saturn came – the largest American corporate investment ever. Every state wanted that one, too. Then hundreds of suppliers came. Then nine more assembly plants throughout the Southeast.

“The arrival of the auto industry in Tennessee has transformed our lives,” Alexander said. “Today one-third of Tennessee’s manufacturing jobs are auto jobs. Today our incomes are much higher.

“Nissan’s decision to put the first North American automotive headquarters in the South is another bold decision. I thank Carlos Ghosn for his vision and courage. I salute Governors McWherter, Sundquist and Bredesen for their leadership. I thank the legislatures that worked with all of us in such a bipartisan way to maintain Tennessee’s other competitive advantages: the right to work law, one of the nation’s best 4-lane highway systems and a fair workman’s compensation system.

“Gov. Bredesen especially deserves our thanks with today’s dedication and Volkswagen’s decision last Tuesday. Governor Bredesen and Tennessee have had a very good week, but I’m sure both the governor and Mr. Ghosn would agree that the most credit should go to the Tennesseans who work at Nissan.

“Twenty-eight years ago my wife Honey helped serve Thanksgiving turkey dinner in Japan to several hundred Tennesseans who had gone there to learn how to make cars the Nissan way. When those Tennesseans returned home, they quickly proved, at a time when many doubted it, that ‘made in Tennessee’ means quality.

“Nissan workers, you were the real pioneers. During this generation, you put the South on the path to becoming the new center for the American automobile industry. You made Tennessee the number one state in the South for auto jobs, and you have made it possible, during the next generation, for Tennessee to become the leading state in America for automobile suppliers.”


Gov't-union cash colors Colorado ballot

Public employee bosses back forced-labor unionism in a big way

The union-backed coalition opposing a right-to-work measure raised an additional $152,000 for its campaign, while the group pushing the amendment came up empty-handed in the latest financial reporting period. Protect Colorado’s Future, which is also backing two of its own ballot measures, has raised about $2.38 million, about four times as much as the right-to-work advocates. The group also is pushing a measure that takes aim at corporate fraud and another that would require companies to show “just cause” for firing employees.

The contributions received by the group in the July 3-16 reporting period include $127,000 from the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and $25,000 from the Colorado Professional Firefighters, according to a filing with the Colorado secretary of state’s office.

A Better Colorado, a group funded largely by brewery heir Jonathan Coors and his employer, CoorsTek, has raised a total of about $556,000 toward its campaign to pass a right-to-work measure that would outlaw arrangements that require non-member workers to pay fees if they are represented by unions.


Denver Post cheers pro-union operatives

Labor's reliable news organ spreads the word

The coalition pushing a pair of pro-union ballot initiatives said Monday that it will probably file signatures for one of the measures with the secretary of state's office by the end of this week. The group, Protect Colorado's Future, circulated petitions at the Mile High Music Festival last weekend at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The event attracted more than 80,000 people.

Protect Colorado's Future is collecting signatures for measures that seek to hold executives criminally liable for corporate wrongdoing and require companies to provide reasons for firing workers.

Jess Knox, the group's executive director, didn't specify for which measure signatures would be filed this week. The group has to submit 76,000 certified signatures for each initiative by Aug. 4 to get them on the November ballot. Signatures for the other measure are expected to be filed next week.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union is collecting signatures for two other pro-labor measures. Those seek to require businesses with 20 or more employees to provide health insurance for workers and allow injured people to sue employers outside the workers' compensation system.

The proposed union measures came in response to the business-backed Amendment 47, which has been certified for the ballot. It will ask voters to amend the state constitution to say that union membership and the payment of dues or fees could not be mandated as a condition of employment.


Denver Post dumps on worker-choice scheme

Colorado's reliable pro-union news organ reports

Protect Colorado's Future, the union-backed coalition, raised another $152,000 during the latest reporting period from July 3 to July 16. The group, which is fighting the right-to-work ballot initiative and collecting signatures for a pair of competing measures, has raised about $2.4 million this year.

A Better Colorado, the business-backed group pushing the right-to-work measure, didn't report any new contributions during the latest period. It has raised about $556,000 since January.


Cutting union-dues in a labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

AFSCME calls the shots in labor-states, but not in Florida

The cuts span all departments. Naples police department will lose five positions, though only one of those is filled. Community services will lose seven positions, three of which are filled. All told, 37 positions in Naples will be cut come Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year. Although five positions will be created to manage projects that the construction management department normally handles, Naples officials said the decision to make the cuts will still save the city more than $2 million.

“Our intent is to have minimum impact (on the community),” Naples City Manager Bill Moss said Tuesday. “Our challenge to department directors is to provide the services that people would traditionally receive.”

The city on Monday informed 21 employees that their positions would not be funded in the 2008-2009 budget, which needs to be adopted by October 1.

The city also told staff that an additional 16 vacant positions would be eliminated. Those positions include eliminating the entire construction management department, Moss said in his e-mail to the mayor, City Council and department directors Monday.

The decision to downsize several departments means the city will save more than $2.3 million a year, said Ann Marie Ricardi, the city’s finance director.

That means the city leaders still need to come up with about $600,000 to make up for the deficit the city is facing next year.

But where that money will come from is still unknown, Moss said. The city has the option of raising taxes and dipping into the reserves to make up the difference. But Moss said he isn’t thrilled with either of those options.

“The city has worked long and hard to build up those reserves,” he said. “To me, it’s a better option to look at the organization and the way we’re spending money, than to dip into the savings account.”

Moss said more staffing reductions haven’t been ruled out, but that the city will look at alternative ways to save money.

Irwin Scharfeld, a labor relations consultant for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 79, which represents about 200 of the city’s employees, said he hopes more city staffers won’t be cut in an attempt to save money.

“These employees were hired to perform vital services for the city which help make Naples the paradise that it is today and not to subsidize the budget,” Scharfeld said in an e-mail Tuesday. “We feel there are other ways the city can balance the budget and will be discussing them with the city officials and City Council in the immediate near future.”

Scharfeld said the union was holding an emergency meeting Tuesday, and planned to meet with city officials in the coming days.

The city is facing a more than $3 million shortfall.

Naples City Council will hold a budget workshop when it comes back from its two-month summer vacation on Aug. 18.


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School is not in session yet, but 45 Collier County (FL) School District employees will not be working by the new school year. The district confirmed it will layoff 20 bus drivers and 25 bus attendants. Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute said in an e-mail that the district determined it could reduce the number of bus routes for the 2008-09 school year during an annual efficiency review of the routes and occupancy.

“School districts throughout our state have experienced significant budget reductions this year and will receive even deeper budget reductions next year. In total, our school district has lost over $20 million in two years and the outlook for 2009-10 is not good,” reads a letter sent to the drivers and the attendants Friday. LaBute said that the reduction in force came as the district was looking to cut routes due to a decrease in student enrollment.

District spokesman Joe Landon said in an e-mail that the district would reduce the number of bus routes from 275 at the end of the 2007-08 school year to 259.

“We will still be making all the stops we did last year, but with fewer buses,” he wrote. “No stops will be eliminated.”

In a letter to the 45 employees, district officials informed the employees that they will be employed until Monday, Aug. 18, which is the day before school starts for the 2008-09 school year.

Randy Pines, chief negotiator for Teamsters Local 79, said the union was informed about the reduction in the work force Friday before the letters went out to the employees.

“We just found out, so the information we have is still sketchy,” he said. “I am concerned about the attendants being gone and what effect this will have on the children.”

The 25 bus attendants are placed on buses to help exceptional education students who might need help while on the school bus. LaBute said the district is not reducing the number of students who get the attendant on the bus. She said those are determined by the student’s individualized education plan. She said the district is just changing the method by which it assigns runs to the attendants, which reduces the number of attendants needed.

LaBute said the reductions were based on seniority level of the employees. She said as vacancies occur during the year, the employees who have been let go will have the first right to the vacant positions, as per contract.


Pollster gives union-happy Gov. mixed review

Dem stumbles over worker-choice, as Big Labor loads up in Colorado

Democrats are hoping the West will be fertile ground in this November's election for their presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, and congressional and U.S. Senate candidates. Colorado, in particular, is seen as a battleground. And, indeed, the Rasmussen and Quinnipiac July polls show that Obama is ahead by 3 to 5 percentage points.

Surprisingly, new Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter may be in trouble. When compared with his Montana counterpart, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, in recent Rasmussen polls, Ritter's job rating lags behind Schweitzer by 19 points. Only 45 percent of Colorado voters gave Ritter an excellent or good job rating, whereas 64 percent of Montanans rated Schweitzer as doing an excellent or good job.

The Rasmussen poll uses an automated response technique that is questioned in some professional quarters, but it produced presidential and Senate race results in Colorado comparable to other polls using more traditional interviewing techniques.

Ritter's 2006 election was the latest in a series of across-the-board victories for Colorado Democrats - from the state legislature to U.S. Congress to the U.S. Senate. But a spate of recent political missteps has dogged Ritter in 2008.

The governor's poor job performance is at least partially a reflection of growing criticism about many unfulfilled expectations - most of which he raised - and his association with controversial or thwarted initiatives.

* He created transportation and health care panels that recommended significant new programs, but produced minor legislative and policy changes and little new money.

* He froze propertytax rates, which would have dropped, and directed excess funds to favored programs. A lower court has ruled Ritter's action unconstitutional, and the ruling is under appeal.

* He has proposed raising the mineral severance tax, but the increase has only weak support from key constituencies and powerful opposition from oil and gas interests and drilling boom towns. Also, he has proposed strict environmental rules on oil and gas drilling and is getting political resistance.

* He is in a peculiar fight with his former gubernatorial campaign manager over financial issues. Civil and criminal violations are being investigated.

* And, most unexpectedly, Ritter unionized state employees, unleashing an onslaught of criticism from business and editorial pages - especially in The Denver Post, usually the state's main liberal paper. His action contributed to a labor/business ballot war involving "right to work" and other labor-oriented initiatives.

Although many of Ritter's problems could be resolved in his favor, he is at risk. Fortunately for Ritter, the intense presidential race and upcoming Democratic National Convention in Denver are diverting local attention away from his trials. But, after the expected Democratic surge in November recedes, Ritter may be in for a period of considerable criticism.

Republicans, desperate for some glint of success, are likely to pursue a full attack.

- Floyd Ciruli, founder of Ciruli Associates, is a Denver-based pollster and political analyst.


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