Voters still want secret-ballot elections

More EFCA stories: here

Unions, Dems in sneak attack v. workplace democracy

As Election Day nears, new research shows troubling signs for candidates who support the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act - or union "card check" legislation. The surveys conducted in the battleground states of Louisiana, New Hampshire and New Mexico are consistent with nationwide voter sentiment and with polls taken earlier this year in other states. The research also sheds additional light on the disparity between union workers around the country and union bosses in Washington regarding the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

Faced with declining union membership, labor leaders have aggressively sought passage of the EFCA. Under the EFCA, workers would effectively lose their right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. The private ballot would be replaced with a "card-check" scheme where a union is automatically recognized if a majority of workers simply sign a card; the workers' signatures are made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers.

"It's clear there's a disconnect between the labor bosses in Washington, DC who are lobbying to effectively remove private ballots for workers, and rank and file union members who overwhelmingly support keeping their vote private when deciding whether or not to join a union," said Brian Worth, vice president of the Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc. and member of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. "Opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act is widespread among voters in Louisiana, New Hampshire and New Mexico, regardless of party affiliation and actually increases among union members themselves. Hopefully, candidates are listening," added Worth.

Highlights from the surveys include:

-- Two-thirds of Louisiana voters (67%), seven in ten New Hampshire voters (71%), and nearly eight in ten New Mexico voters (78%) agree that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be kept for union elections. Agreement with this statement increases among union households to 78% in Louisiana, 75% in New Hampshire and 87% in New Mexico.

-- At least seven in ten voters in Louisiana (71%), New Hampshire (73%) and New Mexico (77%) say that having a federally supervised secret ballot election is the best way to protect workers' rights when organizing a union. Among union households, this sentiment increases to 80% in Louisiana, 81% in New Hampshire and remains consistently high in New Mexico (78%).

-- The majority of voters in Louisiana (63%), two-thirds of New Hampshire voters (68%), and seven in ten New Mexico voters (72%) oppose Congress' "Employee Free Choice Act". Among union households, opposition to the legislation increases to 68% in Louisiana and to 76% in New Mexico. Union household opposition to the EFCA in New Hampshire remains consistently high at 69%.

-- A plurality of voters in Louisiana would be less likely to vote for Mary Landrieu (45%) if she supports the EFCA. In New Hampshire, 46% of voters would be less likely to vote for Jeanne Shaheen if she supports this legislation. More than four in ten voters in New Mexico (44%) would be less likely to Tom Udall if he supports this legislation.

More information about each statewide poll can be found at www.MyPrivateBallot.com.


Union Dues Fix

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

New York claims #1 labor-state ranking in the U.S. by making forced-labor dues permanent

As political rituals go, it was one of Albany’s most predictable. Every two years, a state law that required public employees to pay their unions’ dues regardless of whether they joined would near expiration. And every two years, the Legislature would renew the law. For more than three decades, unions pushed to make it permanent. But lawmakers, mainly Republicans in the State Senate who wanted the Legislature to have some degree of leverage over the state’s powerful public sector unions, blocked those attempts, arguing that a permanent extension of the law would amount to a big giveaway to organized labor.

Now, Gov. David A. Paterson has given the state’s public-employee unions their long-desired victory. On Wednesday, his office announced that he had signed a law making union dues mandatory in perpetuity for all public employees who are covered by unions even if they opt not to join.

The law affects mostly state workers, as well as county employees, public school teachers and other civil servants.

The Legislature overwhelmingly approved the bill last month. Similar bills had passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly before, only to fail in the Senate. But with Republicans in a pitched battle to preserve their thin majority in the Senate, the party seemed unwilling to block a priority of organized labor.

It passed the Senate last month by a 62-to-0 vote. The Assembly approved it 140 to 5.

Labor leaders said on Wednesday that making the law permanent guaranteed that unions would have the money to adequately represent members and nonmembers alike, which they were required to do under a state law known as the Taylor Law.

“In public employment, they have the right not to belong, but I still must represent them,” said Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers. “If under the law we’re obligated to represent every employee, then it’s only fair that every employee pays something toward the cost of being represented.”

But critics of a permanent policy said that the new law was far too generous.

“It’s a very, very significant present to the labor unions,” said Edmund J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative-leaning research group.

“What it does is it removes one of the few remaining leverage points people still have over unions. And management, which is the taxpayer, has very, very little remaining leverage.”

A spokesman for the governor, Errol Cockfield, pointed out that because the law had been renewed every two years since 1977, the first year it was enacted, it has long been de facto state policy.

He added that in the governor’s estimation, it was a fair practice to make employees who declined union membership but were nonetheless represented pay dues.

Others said the law was a major concession to organized labor, which has been criticized as getting its way far too often in Albany. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved — over the objection of New York’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg — a bill that banned student test scores from being factored in when tenure was being considered for teachers.

The New York State School Boards Association, which urged Mr. Paterson to veto the union dues legislation, said in a letter to the governor that the bill amounted to “denying school districts an important bargaining tool.”

The association added, “This legislation grants employee unions one of their primary bargaining goals without requiring that they negotiate for it.”

Darcy Wells, a spokeswoman for the New York State Public Employees Federation, rejected that.

“Finally, the governor has stepped up and made it permanent,” Ms. Wells said.

“This has been a long time coming, and we think it’s the right thing to do.”


SEIU gets whatever it wants in labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Political rules made flexible to accommodate powerful left-wing union

Initiative 1029 critics filed a complaint with the Washington state Supreme Court on Tuesday, asking it to require that the long-term care measure be sent to the Legislature, rather than the Nov. 4 ballot.

Petitions circulated by the Yes on 1029 campaign declared the measure was an initiative to the Legislature. But its sponsors at the Service Employees International Union filed it as a petition to the people, and Secretary of State Sam Reed's office treated it that way. When confronted with the error last month, Reed contended voter signatures should not be discarded, and the measure should go to the ballot.

"If the initiative is placed on the ballot, he is choosing to ignore the clear, written intentions of more than 300,000 voters that petitioned him to send the measure to the (L)egislature," Deb Murphy, spokeswoman for the Community Care Coalition of Washington, said in a news release announcing the lawsuit by the group opposing I-1029's higher training requirements for long-term care workers.

Murphy said Reed needs to be ordered to send it to the Legislature. But Reed's staff members have said they lack the legal power to order such a redirection.

"We stand by our decision to accept over 300,000 voter signatures on I-1029 petitions, and believe that the courts will hold that the Elections Division exercised its discretion properly," Reed said in a statement Tuesday. "A similar case went to the state Supreme Court in 1991 and a unanimous court held that an error on the petition did not require the Secretary of State to reject the signatures."

Clerks at the court said it was too early to say when the court's commissioner would be able to review the case.

Proponents say the measure would improve care by raising training standards, but critics say it is expensive and could eliminate some entry-level jobs and make it harder for some families to get care for loved ones.


France OKs rollback of labor-collectivism

Barack Obama tries to alter global trend

The French Parliament, in a Senate vote late Wednesday, adopted a major economic change that effectively ends the country’s 35-hour workweek. The bill was supported by the upper house’s right-wing majority of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement, but was opposed by the opposition Socialists. Senators also adopted other major changes that change rules on strikes, tighten criteria for unemployment payments and free up the economy with plans aimed at bringing down the cost of living by increasing competition.

The measures were approved by the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, earlier this month and now become law with the backing of the Senate.

The change most contested by the Socialists and by trade unions was the move to let companies abandon the 35-hour limit on the workweek, a measure brought in by a Socialist government 10 years ago and denounced by conservatives as a drag on France’s competitiveness.

The new law maintains the working week at 35 hours but gives businesses the right to negotiate directly with employees to decide their working hours.

The 35-hour week was aimed at cutting unemployment and the French statistics institute Insee said it created 350,000 jobs between 1998 and 2002, but at the cost of billions of euros in state aid to companies.

Public opinion polls show that the French still view the 35-hour workweek as a progressive measure that they do not want to part with.

Under the law concerning the unemployed, job seekers will have their unemployment benefits stopped if they turn down a certain number of “reasonable” job offers.

That measure was also definitively adopted by both houses of Parliament on Wednesday.

Another measure approved by senators requires schools to look after children on school premises when teachers are on strike. It also obliges workers to hold “preliminary negotiations” with employers before initiating strike action.

Critics say the law undermines the right to strike.

The economic bill approved by the Senate includes a series of measures to increase economic growth and purchasing power while curbing inflation and keeping state costs to a minimum.

Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said the bill could help increase purchasing power by a possible “1,000 euros per year and per household, starting in 2009.” That is the equivalent of about $1,500.

The government also hopes the legislation will create 50,000 jobs by the end of next year and increase economic growth by 0.3 percentage points each year.


ACORN sidesteps misuse of public funds

More ACORN stories: here

Congress set to bail out voter-fraud group

James Terry, Chief Public Advocate for the Consumers Rights League (CRL), released the following statement today expressing disappointment with the White House for dropping its opposition to the massive housing bill that will likely pass the U.S. House of Representatives today that includes, among other egregious provisions, more than $230 million for housing counseling -- a bailout for Wall Street and a payoff to organizations like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) which is engaged in questionable practices and the potential misuse of public funds:

James Terry, Chief Public Advocate, Consumers Rights League (CRL):
"This is a sham bill that rewards Wall Street bankers at the expense of American consumers. And because the White House will likely sign this bad bill, this country's next group of speculators will be looking to Washington for a bailout when their investment doesn't pay.

"Equally as troubling, this legislation will pump tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars into ACORN and its affiliate, the ACORN Housing Council (AHC). Because of that, these groups must be held accountable for not only their histories of questionable practices but for how they will spend this massive cash influx funded by American taxpayers. Appropriate oversight has not been established and as we've recently seen, the opportunities for fraud within ACORN are rampant. Just last week, the chief organizer of ACORN was forced to resign over the cover-up of a $1 million embezzlement scandal involving his brother.

"As internal whistleblower documents recently revealed, ACORN and its offshoots may have reaped substantial financial gains by misusing taxpayer dollars for political ends and by attacking lending corporations for the same so-called 'predatory' lending practices ACORN regularly engages in. ACORN has also been under fire for reports of voter fraud. With this bill likely on its way to the president's desk, this is an excellent moment for Chairman Frank to heed the current calls for investigation and focus his attention on groups like ACORN and AHC.

"In the interest of ensuring responsible use of taxpayer dollars, Congress should be asking some serious questions about ACORN's activities instead of blindly pumping millions of taxpayer dollars into these potentially corrupt organizations. This bill is a bad start -- but there is still time for Congress and investigators to do the right thing and protect consumers."

ACORN draws complaint from New Orleans

More ACORN stories: here

Insiders reveal rotten progressive-fraud group

The failure of the left intelligentsia in the United States to seriously address the glaring and longstanding contradictions that pit the so-called guiding principles of ACORN against the actually existing internal regime of the organization is, at least to me, very troubling. Having been active in New Orleans in the struggle for justice over the last twenty-five years I’ve reached the conclusion the good arising from ACORN’s best interventions is far outweighed by the bad arising from the organization’s Michael Milliken approach to community organizing.

As far as the treatment of its “organizers” go ACORN has a long history in this city of exploiting them ruthlessly. ACORN New Orleans has subjected its workers to union busting, poverty wages and witch hunts. ACORN New Orleans almost certainly used its connection with former Mayor Marc Morial to sidetrack attempts by workers at City Hall to win union recognition in the late 1990s. And ACORN avoided the struggle to reopen public housing in post-Katrina New Orleans like the plague. The list goes on and on and on.

How can the left in America expect to build a mass movement powerful enough to turn the tide against neoliberalism while turning a blind eye to even the grossest abuses of power by what is arguably the most powerful “progressive” non-profit/grass roots organization in the United States? I direct this question specifically to Noam Chomsky, Frances Fox Piven and Mike Davis since these individuals occupy both a prominent position in America’s left intelligentsia and maintain a more than cordial relationship with ACORN’s longstanding leadership.

Mike Howells
C3/Hands Off Iberville
New Orleans, Louisiana

P.S. Isn’t it sad that activists affiliated with a supposedly progressive organization feel compelled to hide their identity when they criticize it.


Volunteers protest against 'no-vote' unionism

More EFCA stories: here

U.S. economy may trend toward Europe's

They've used the traditional means - newspaper and television ads - however opponents of the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the Card Check legislation, are on the ground in Maine convincing Mainers not to vote for the candidates that support the legislation. The EFCA seeks to make it easier for workers to organize, but has drawn criticism because it takes away the private ballot process in unions.

U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, who is running for Senate, and Chellie Pingree, who is running in the First Congressional District, both support the legislation.

Employee Freedom, the group behind the opposition, has established a volunteer effort in Maine. Tim Miller, communications director for the group, said this is a grassroots effort to inform people about the candidates.

The group’s YouTube channel has four videos of these volunteers approaching Mainers.

The first one shows volunteers approaching people in downtown Portland. “Tom Allen and Chellie Pingree want to take away your right to a private ballot, did you know that?” the volunteer asks people.

Another video shows the volunteer approaching Pingree, who tells them the conversation is more complicated than what they are presenting. Another video shows them approaching Maine House Speaker Glenn Cummings.

The volunteer was challenged in another video by House Majority Whip Sean Faircloth, who peppered the volunteer with questions about how the organization is funded.

Allen’s campaign has denounced the ads from Employee Freedom.

"We believe this ad has no place in this campaign, and we denounce it. To accuse hard-working Mainers of being aligned with organized crime and to suggest Congressman Allen is protective of organized crime is not only false and negative, but personally destructive," said Carol Andrews, Allen Campaign communications director, in a recent press release.


CWA harrassment of dissenter is revealed

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Whiner complains about typical union behavior

A Wethersfield (CT) woman is accusing her former union of planting crack cocaine in her files, signing her up for several thousand dollars worth of magazine and journal subscriptions and adding her name to mailing lists without her consent.

A lawsuit is being filed on behalf of Patricia Pelletier by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The suit accuses the Port Chester, N.Y.-based Local 1103 of the Communications Workers of America of forgery, identity theft and civil conspiracy, among other charges.

The lawsuit, which the foundation said it plans to file in Superior Court in Hartford today, alleges that union employees put crack in her files to make her look like a drug user and opened subscriptions in her name to more than 115 magazines and more than 215 business mailings. It says the action were a retaliation for her role in forcing a 2006 election that the CWA lost.

Union officials declined to comment on the allegations Wednesday.

Pelletier had collected signatures from co-workers at the Connecticut Student Loan Foundation in Rocky Hill to force a secret-ballot election that would determine whether the employees wanted to be represented by the union, according to the lawsuit. The union lost the election and, as a result, its status as the exclusive union representing the foundation's employees, the lawsuit said.

Employees at the foundation are now without union representation.


Disgruntled SEIU firefighters use inflatable rat

Related inflatable rat stories: here
Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical union bargaining tactic in labor-state

New Lenox (IL) firefighters hoped a giant inflatable rat would get the attention they need to settle union issues with fire district officials once and for all. The Illinois Labor Relations Board will conduct a hearing Aug. 28 to determine if 54 part-time firefighters were improperly reassigned last summer as they were organizing with the Service Employees International Union Local 73. The issue is whether the district should have negotiated with the union before it eliminated the part-time positions and sub-contracted to fill those slots. Less than half have remained as paid on call volunteers.

"It's frustrating. It took a long time to get the hearing scheduled," said Al Molinaro, director of Local 73's firefighter division. "The fire district has been dragging its feet, hoping there is no one left to have a hearing for. We want to make a statement. We want residents to know this is not fair play."

Larry Nicholson, a member of the firefighters negotiating team said they are seeking reinstatement of the 54 employees with back pay. As part-timers, they worked about 200 hours per month, he said. The fire board of trustees also is attempting to de-certify the union, according to Nicholson.

"All we want is our day in court. If we're wrong, we will bow out," Nicholson said. Union leaders filed a grievance in April 2007 after the fire district reclassified firefighters as paid on-call staffers on the very day that the state certified a new firefighters' union to represent them.

Those who stayed as paid on-call volunteers attend 10 hours of training per month, but have not been allowed to respond to emergencies, Molinaro said.

"They are given with no hose and told to stand by. Basically, they took work away from these guys, and never allowed them to perform their duties." Some have 17 or 18 years of firefighting experience, he said.

Fire Chief Jeff Swanson flatly denied that. "They are called out if there is a structure fire and we have not had a lot of those lately," he said.

Tom Gilbert, fire district attorney, said the picketing - outside Monday's board of trustees meeting - "comes as a shock."

"I have no idea why they are picketing when we are doing everything we're supposed to," he said. After a year of negotiating this initial contract, both sides said there has been some progress.

According to Molinaro, there's been some resolution on "peripheral issues, but not on key issues," such as wages, hours, scheduling and conditions of employment. "We put forth a proposal we believe would work, but we've had no reply from the district. That's what has pushed us to this point. It's been a couple of months since we sat down to negotiate."

The labor board decision "is not a function of the contract negotiations," Gilbert said. "We're down to a few issues - staff levels, wages, I'm not even sure."

"The first contract is always the hardest," he said. "There have been some delays, not caused by either side."

Firefighters unionized to get job security after Fire Chief Jim Stedman was abruptly dismissed after serving only eight months.


Teamsters: Three strikes v. Coca-Cola

Related Teamsters-Coca-Cola strike stories: here

Militant union tests southern hospitality

The picket lines are still going strong outside of Coca Cola Consolidated in Tillman's Corner (AL). Striking workers began their battle against the bottling giant almost two weeks ago. Larry Evans has worked for the company over 30 years. Evans is one of 275 other Teamsters union members in a bitter contract dispute with the company. He says the company plans to freeze contributions to their pension plans and replace them with a 401(k).

But Evans, who is just two years away from retirement says it's too late to start over."There's some of us down there, people with more time than I've got, that we've stayed here all this time building this time up to go. And now it's like they're wanting to jerk a rug out from under our feet," said Evans.

If the company gets the contract it wants Evan's says he will lose almost $600 a month towards his retirement, he says he'll also have to wait an extra three years to start collecting it. "It's a young man's job, it really is and I just don't think I can stay that long and I want to go ... and I'm ready," said Evans.

A spokesman for Coca Cola Consolidated tells News Five the company plans to offer workers a lump sum payment as compensation. Lauren Steele says the amount is based on how long an employee has worked for Coke, but he wouldn't give us a figure.

The company says they have also suspended striking workers health benefits. Two other plants, Gautier, Mississippi and Robertsdale, are also on strike.


Huge Teamster local authorizes strike v. UPS

Related videos: 'Teamsters vote to strike v. UPS' • 'Chicago Teamsters strike vote v. UPS'
Related UPS-Teamsters stories: here

What can Brown do for Jimmy Hoffa?

Members of Teamsters Local 705, the second-largest local union in the country with about 11,000 members, authorized July 20 a strike effective Aug. 1. A strike would send UPS drivers, package handlers and other union employees to the picket lines, leaving thousands of packages in the Chicago area, bordering states and possibly even nationwide undelivered.

Steve Pocztowski, secretary treasurer for the Local 705, which is independent of the national UPS union, said he expects to be on strike Aug. 1. He said his group gave UPS a proposal June 9, and UPS has done nothing to make a deal. The strike vote was nearly 93 percent in favor.

Pocztowski said UPS came back to them offering half the amount of a raise and less in pension contributions that the national UPS union received in their contract signed in October.

Norman Black, spokesperson for UPS in Atlanta, said he expects it to be business as usual at the beginning of August.

“We are absolutely confident that we will negotiate a deal that is good for the company, our employees and our customers,” Black said.

UPS hubs in Illinois include locations in Addison, Bedford Park, Chicago, Decatur, Franklin Park, Hodgkins, Northbrook, Palatine, Rockford and Rock Falls.

Pocztowski said if union members strike Aug. 1, he will extend an offer to other major hubs to join in on the strike, including New York, New Jersey, Boston and Los Angeles.


Teamsters claim high ground v. InBev

Related A-B/Teamsters stories: here

Militant union fears layoffs, union-dues loss

I heard recently that the Anheuser Busch family had agreed to a sweetened $52 billion takeover bid from Inbev, After the Anheuser Busch family said they would put up a long fight to keep Budweiser. The deal would create the world's largest brewer and the fourth-largest consumer product company under the name of Anheuser-Busch InBev.oh boy another American icon is sold to interest outside the United States.

On its website, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents 8,100 of Anheuser Busch 30,000 full-time U.S. workers says it wants "to safeguard the unique legacy of Anheuser-Busch, a proud union company and American icon, built by generations of Teamster workers." It warns workers that "InBev's buyout record in Europe and Canada shows that workers and communities that depend on Anheuser-Busch would suffer from a possible erosion of working conditions and even layoffs."

Shareholders will receive $70 a share, a $5 increase over the offer Anheuser-Busch rejected in June. Both companies' shareholders must approve the deal, as must U.S. and EU antitrust regulators.

Bev said it plans to use St. Louis as its North American headquarters, and that it will keep open all 12 of Anheuser-Busch's North American breweries. What they really mean is that things will stay the same until they actually own the company and then American workers will lose their jobs.

Does is matter that a quintessentially American company will now be owned overseas, and its name changed to Anheuser-Busch-InBev?

Is this globalization run amok, or just smart business? Another American Icon gone Bud, next in line mite be Hershey or Heinz. With 100s of others in the making.

How long will it take before our great country the United States of America is completely sold out to the rest of the world and we are called the United States-Europe or something else.

Should the Busch family had sold out or not?


CWA, IBEW approve strike v. Verizon

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical bargaining tactic in labor-dense states

More than 65,000 East Coast Verizon employees voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if talks fail to produce an agreement by the August 2 expiration of their current deal. Officials from the Communications Workers of America said 91 percent of the workers voted to authorize a walkout if negotiations fail.

“It shows the overwhelming support members have for getting a fair contract,” a CWA spokeswoman said. “Meanwhile, both sides are working hard in bargaining to reach a fair agreement.”

An additional 15,000 mostly out-of-state workers who are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.

Verizon said it was not surprised by the affirmative strike votes.

“That’s pretty much standard procedure,” a Verizon spokesman said. “It really doesn’t mean anything about the tenor of the negotiations.”

Wages, health care, work rules and protection of union jobs are at the forefront of the negotiations for the workers, who insist they will fight to secure a contract with no givebacks on health care. Verizon’s employees are among a dwindling group of workers who do not have to contribute to health plans.

“We’ve sacrificed over the years in salary increases so we can hold on to the health care benefits we have,” said Jerome Paredes, a field technician in New York. “We haven’t seen it come out of checks like others, but we’ve already paid for it.”

Perhaps the trickiest issue has to do with the union’s push to protect jobs in the future.

The bargaining unit has been shrinking as Verizon moves call centers abroad and shifts traditional bargaining-unit work to lower-wage, lower-benefit employees at Verizon Business and Verizon Wireless, the CWA says.

The percentage of Verizon’s revenue that comes from union operations has shrunk to 30 percent this year, compared with 70 percent in 2002, according to the union.

Despite the sputtering economy, workers say the negotiations come at an opportune time for them. That’s because Verizon has received permission from the New York state Public Service Commission to provide television service to 3.1 million households in New York City’s five boroughs.

Verizon has said it will make a “historic investment” to build out its advanced fiber-optic FIOS network and provide an alternative to cable for residents across the city. Nationally, the company is expected to spend $23 billion to roll out the FIOS technology.

Workers say the importance of FIOS to Verizon gives them added leverage in negotiations because the company would not want a strike to interrupt the rollout process.

CWA members plan to rally in front of Verizon headquarters in Lower Manhattan on Saturday, July 26. The last time they walked off their jobs was in 2000, when a bitter strike lasted 18 days. The union extended the negotiation deadline in 2003, averting a work stoppage.


Government unions kick up their heels

Push is coming to shove around the country

AFSCME unions in Prince George (MD) County are filing an official grievance against the county, as the conflict between the government's unions and Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) deepens.

At issue is Johnson's decision to try to close a $48 million budget shortfall in part by renegotiating pay raises included in union contracts. Johnson has said he does not want to freeze salaries but reduce the size of the raises as a way to avoid layoffs or furloughs.

Union officials are particularly steamed because they have been told that all raises are on hold until the issue is resolved. They said withholding increases outlined in signed agreements is a violation of their contracts.

In a July 17 letter to county employees, Chief Administrative Officer Jacqueline F. Brown indicated that all cost-of-living and merit raises are on hold while new fiscal plans are being devised.

"Our membership is outraged," said Vince Canales, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, noting that many members are especially furious about the delay in pay raises, given the recent death of Sgt. Richard S. Findley in the line of duty. "On the heels of everything that's going on, it's a slap in the face."

Wanda Shelton-Martin, a field representative for American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 67, said union members plan to attend a meeting of the County Council on Wednesday to deliver their grievance and ask for the council to intervene on behalf of workers.

Johnson spokesman James Keary said that negotiations with the unions are continuing but that pay raises must be trimmed to ensure a balanced budget. He said the county's tax revenue has dropped sharply with the dipping economy.

"There's a lot of things that have been put on hold in this fiscal year to evaluate what's happening," he said.

Keary indicated that talks will continue until at least the end of the month to try to come to terms with the unions before county officials start looking at other options, including layoffs.

And what will happen at the end of the month?

"I believe a decision will be made," he said.


Golden State gov't-union meltdown

Can't anyone here play this game?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has prepared an order to cut the pay of about 200,000 state workers to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 an hour until a budget is signed.

Administration officials said that Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the order, a draft of which was obtained Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times, early next week as part of an effort to avert a cash crisis. The deadline for passing a budget was July 1, and without one soon, officials said, California might be unable to borrow billions of dollars needed to keep the state solvent.

Controller John Chiang, asserting that the state has enough money on hand, said through a spokesman that he would not implement such an order. Chiang’s office handles payroll for government workers.

The Republican governor’s plan, likely to be challenged in court by public-employee unions if carried out, would allow the state to defer paying about $1 billion a month, administration officials said. Workers would be repaid lost earnings once a budget was in place.

As drafted, the order also calls for the state to lay off 21,855 part-time workers, stop overtime payments for almost all employees and cease hiring until a budget is enacted.

“Because the Legislature has failed to pass a budget and our state does not have a rainy-day fund, this is one of a number of options we are considering to make sure we have sufficient cash to cover our costs,” administration spokesman Matt David said.

Until recently, the governor had played a relatively minor role in budget negotiations since offering a revised spending plan in May. As frustration over Sacramento’s handling of the budget has mounted, much of the blame has fallen on him. His approval rating among voters is 40 percent, according to a Field Poll released this week, down from 60 percent in December.

The executive order appears intended to show that Schwarzenegger is taking action and to pressure lawmakers to finish work on the budget.

If the order took effect, most state employees, who are paid once a month, would not see another paycheck until the end of August. If the budget were passed that month, their full salaries would be reflected in that paycheck.

The response to Schwarzenegger’s plan from unions was immediate and angry. Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, which represents 95,000 state workers, said she believes the governor’s plan is illegal. Union attorneys are drafting a lawsuit to file if the order is signed.


UFCW pickets v. Exxon-Mobil

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical labor-state bargaining tactic for RICO-challenged union

Union organizers rallied at Montville (CT) Exxon Mobil on Interstate 395 Wednesday, alleging the company is stalling while bargaining for a contract with workers. At the request of Exxon Mobil, state police broke up the 10 a.m. rally and asked organizers and a crowd of about 30 people with the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 919 to move to a grassy island in the parking lot so as not to obstruct business in front of the gas pumps and convenience store, said union President Mark Espinosa.

Participants complied, he said.

Exxon Mobil spokesperson Beth Snyder confirmed that the company requested the relocation to ensure business wasn't interrupted and that customers remained safe.

The state leases the property to Exxon Mobil, Espinosa said. State police could not be reached for comment.

”We want to send a message back to Mobil that we are not going to go down without a fight, and we're not going to have employees' concerns swept under the rug,” Espinosa said.

Exxon Mobil recently announced it will, over time, sell off 25 percent of its gas stations because of reduced profit margins.

”They've indicated the lease expires February of 2009, and whether or not they've got a buyer, they are going to shut this station,” Espinosa said.

Snyder said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on ongoing negotiations with the state regarding the continued leasing or possible sale of the property, which she could not confirm or deny.

The union was certified last October, but union attorney J. William Gagne Jr. has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Exxon Mobil Corp. is refusing to bargain in good faith.

Espinoza said the company would only meet monthly with the union, which believes at least twice-monthly meetings are necessary.

”Stalling as the company has done only deters us from our goal and helps disenfranchise the employees,” he said.

Exxon's last offer was to dock the 12 Montville workers 10 cents and hour, he said.

Snyder could not comment on particular negotiation time frames or proposals, she said, but confirmed talks are “ongoing.”

Members of UFCW Local 1459 of Springfield, Mass., Local 328 of Providence and Local 371 Norwalk showed up for the rally, Espinosa said. By 11 a.m., most had left the property, but a handful of organizers and workers remained.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for Aug. 28, Espinosa said.


Labor-state nurses picket for leverage

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical bargaining tactic usually spooks management

Beneath foreboding skies yesterday afternoon, nurses from Our Lady of Fatima Hospital and their union leadership marched with picket signs to protest recent contract negotiations, future benefits and what they say are unsafe staffing levels.

About 300 staff members and per-diem nurses at the Catholic hospital are represented by the United Nurses & Allied Professionals.

Talks have bogged down over staffing numbers during shifts, which union officials say are far below what is needed. The numbers are also not in sync with what the hospital has been reporting to the state Department of Health about staffing levels, according to union officials. The union says management has trimmed health and pension benefits in its proposed offer, which it says will hinder efforts to hire more nurses.

Negotiations began in May; the current agreement is set to expire midnight July 31.

“In the last 3½ years, nurses have filed 400 unsafe staffing forms,” said Christopher Callaci, a field representative for the union. “The significance of that number [of complaints] should not be underestimated. These guys are out of touch.”

R. Otis Brown, a hospital vice president, said “Staffing is not a problem. We stand behind our care. There are no federal or state mandates,” he said. “We have to have flexibility in staffing because of our volume and acuity.”

Brown said the hospital has included 14 new registered nurse positions and 9 observational assistant positions to assist nurses in the monitoring of select patients. The hospital has 84 nurses in its per-diem float pool to provide flexibility in handling staff absences or increases in the number of patients, he said.

“We are anxious to get back to the bargaining table. Any issues that need to be addressed at all are better addressed at that setting than out here or in the news-paper, or on the radio,” he said.

Yesterday, a few dozen nurses, some family members and a former patient marched with signs that read: “Bad faith,” and “Where is the Bishop?” a reference to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. They chanted, too, saying “More nurses.”

According to some unsafe-staffing forms filled out by supervisors, the patient-to-nurse ratio is higher than it should be. For example, a heart unit with 23 patients during an overnight shift should be staffed with four nurses, but was only staffed with two.

Lynn Blais, a registered nurse and the union’s local president, said the short-handed shifts have eroded morale.

“In my 24 years as a nurse, this has been the worse that I’ve ever seen. [Nurses] can’t understand why they won’t staff. They are worried that they are going to hurt a patient. They are worried about their licenses,” Blais said.

Members voted last week to authorize the union leadership to call a strike if needed. State law stipulates that the union must give the hospital a 10-day notice before a strike.

“A strike notice sets off a number of things. Nobody wins in a strike. We’ll do what have to reach a settlement,” Brown said.

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