Card-check backfire: Bargaining for injustice

More card-check stories: here

UFCW big says: 'We can't win that way any more.'

Labor unions as we know them in America’s private sector are dying. It is a natural death. In some respects they are victims of their own success. In a much broader sense, as was so well stated by Michael Wachter, labor unions are “A corporatist institution in a competitive world.”

Unfortunately, for the American public and the vast majority of American workers the unions’ death throes may have some nasty unintended consequences. The law of unintended consequences may be at work when it comes to organized labor’s drive to replace secret ballots with card checks for certifying unions as representatives of employees.

Does anybody imagine for a moment that taking away the right to a secret ballot vote on union representation and replacing it with an undemocratic process like card checks will make employers any less anxious to avoid the unionization of their employees? All a card check will do is move the battle line.

Let’s assume that you are an employer and that you would rather deal directly with your employees than through a union. Let’s also assume that you know that if a majority of employees sign union authorization cards, for whatever reason, you will be required to recognize the union as the representative of your employees.

To paraphrase Mr. Rogers, “Can you say psychologist?” Almost every job application process involves testing and an interview. Most of the test questions are looking for honesty and character. Some of the questions are very direct. Some of them are subtle. They were designed by psychologists because they know that a job applicant when asked, “Are you a thief?” is going to say, “No.”

Do you imagine for a moment that a good industrial psychologist couldn’t slip in a few questions to determine a prospective employee’s attitudes about organizing a union?

So what happens? A person who tests as likely to want union representation, whether that is accurate or not, doesn’t get a job offer. That’s an injustice but it is an inevitable consequence of going from secret ballots to card checks.

The old adage “be careful what you wish for” may be appropriate to union support for card check certifications. They might get much more than they bargained for.

- David Denholm


Forced-labor unionism: Unfair Share

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Gov't union tramples public workers' right to not associate

The largest state employee union is suing up to 1,900 of the workers it represents for unpaid dues. "We pursued those folks after many years of trying to persuade them to pay their fair share," said Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees.

The lawsuits are the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute over mandatory union dues for state workers, which began in 2005 as part of the first contracts to set pay and benefits.

The lawsuits have been filed for months, but a conservative think tank recently found the total number of sued workers listed in the meeting minutes of a federation local.

The union represents about 40,000 state government and college employees. Dues are a percentage of salary, up to $76.50 a month.

Welch said he could not confirm the 1,900-lawsuit figure, which would amount to 5 percent of the membership.

The Olympia-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a frequent foe of unions, called the lawsuits "bullying tactics."

"A lot of these people never consented to being members," said Sonya Jones, director of labor policy at the foundation.

A legal defense against the lawsuits might go back to the original contract making dues mandatory, she added.

Unions were able to negotiate with the governor for the first time in 2004. As a condition of allowing mandatory dues, then-Gov. Gary Locke's team required unions to allow all affected workers to vote on the contract.

The contracts were approved in a vote, but a wave of protest sprang up before they went into affect in 2005.

Many workers said they were not told dues would be part of the two-year deal.

People now being sued for not paying can claim in court that they have never had a say on mandatory dues, Jones said. They will likely argue the first vote was invalid, and the second, in 2006, was closed to non-members.

About a dozen workers have contacted the foundation, at least one of whom owed as little as $250, she added.

But Welch said the employees have all been warned multiple times, and a Thurston County District Court judge upheld the union's action in a decision last year involving three objectors.

"They can call it whatever they want, but it's just not fair for a few people to get the benefits that everyone else is paying for," he said.

As many as 5,000 workers have declined to become full union members and instead pay smaller fees — up to $57.55 a month — to cover the costs of negotiating contracts and resolving employee disputes with managers, Welch noted.

The union asked the state to fire workers for not paying dues in 2006, turning in a list of 779 potential candidates. Just six workers were terminated before a lawsuit and public protest by the workers prompted the union to drop its demands.

The lawsuits are a better way to enforce the contract rules, Welch said.

"We think that's the fairest thing to do. We don't want anyone to lose their jobs; we just want them to pay their fair share," Welch said.

The renewed controversy comes as the union and others are negotiating their third round of contracts, this time with Gov. Chris Gregoire.


Court: Workers may oust union, after all

More decertification stories: here

Court-ordered decert smacks down NLRB

In early June, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys moved to block an injunction intended to force unwilling workers back into a union they'd already chosen to toss out.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of employees at a Narricot Industries facility in Norfolk, Virginia (a) did not belong to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Local 2316 and (b) overwhelmingly signed on to a union decertification petition, union bosses sought to retain monopoly bargaining privileges with a series of last ditch unfair labor practice charges leveled against the workers' employer. Among other things, union lawyers claimed that Narricot Industries' alleged unfair labor practices somehow incited employee opposition to the union's presence. (For the full story, check out the Foundation's press release here).

After examining the case, Foundation staff attorneys determined that employee disatisfaction with the Carpenters Union clearly predated allegations of unfair labor practices. Accordingly, the Foundation filed a motion to intervene in the District Court's hearing to defend employees' decision to eject the union from their workplace.

Yesterday, the District Court ruled in favor of the employees, finding that company misconduct had nothing to do with workers' decision to eject the union. The court also concluded that imposing union representation on unwilling employees for the duration of the NLRB's unfair labor practice investigation would violate workers' rights to not associate with an unwanted union. Here's the crux of the court's decision (.pdf):
The presence of the employee intervenors in this action in opposition to the imposition of an injunction, as well as the facts in the record which show that the employees, not Narricot, initiated the effort to remove the Union, have convinced the court that imposition of an injunction mandating the recognition of the union would not be just and proper.
With the NLRB and the union bosses aligned against them, Narricot employees really dodged a bullet. For now, at least, they're free of the unwanted union.


ACORN shocked, shocked by new revelations

More ACORN stories: here

More legal expenses for SEIU-backed voter-fraud group

A former temporary worker for the national community action group ACORN recently questioned by Dauphin County (PA) investigators about bogus voter registration forms is now a wanted man.

Luis R. Torres-Serrano, 37, of the 200 block of South 15th Street, is accused by authorities of submitting more than 100 fraudulent voter registration forms he collected on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now to county election officials.

"We're actively looking for Torres-Serrano," said John Goshert, chief of the Dauphin County detective bureau on Wednesday. "We're offering up to $2,000 for information on his whereabouts."

Dauphin County elections head Steven G. Chiavetta alerted county investigators to the suspected bogus voter registration forms late last month. In some cases, his office was contacted by people who received a new voter registration card and said they never filled out a form, Chiavetta said.

Chiavetta then forwarded his concerns about the forms submitted by Torres-Serrano to the Pennsylvania Department of State's elections bureau, which alerted voter registration offices statewide.

Torres-Serrano is charged with 19 counts of perjury, making false statements, forgery and identity theft in connection with the voter registration forms, authorities said.

Forgery, a second-degree felony, carries a possible maximum 10-year sentence and perjury has a possible 7-year sentence. Identity theft is punishable with five years, and making false statements carries a 2-year penalty.

ACORN spokesman Charles Jackson said that as soon as the group learned of the suspicious forms, Torres-Serrano was fired. ACORN fully cooperated with county investigators, he said.

"We're hoping that he's prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Jackson said.


ACORN Watch exposes Wade Rathke

More ACORN stories: here
More Wade Rathke stories: here

Barack's ACORN: Unions' dirty-tricks group revealed

After seven years of hiding corruption, ACORN has admitted Dale Rathke, brother of founder, Wade Rathke had embezzled nearly $1 million from the company. The embezzlement was only known to a few and was hidden from the remainder of the ACORN board. Unfortunately the wide scale corruption doesn’t even start with the embezzlement. The embezzlement is part of a much longer line of illegal activity.

ACORN is connected to money laundering, misuse of taxpayer funds, voter fraud especially in the Presidential Primaries, Wage and Hour Issues among their employees, and even safety issues in their offices. They are interfering in gubernatorial races especially in the State of Indiana. Their interference in the political arena knows no bounds. ACORN is the umbrella company to at least 75 non-profits all operating out of 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue, New Orleans, LA as verified by the Secretary of State in Louisiana. It is time to examine their fraud and expose it for what it is. So here is their dirty laundry list to date.

Money Laundering

The money laundering that was identified by the Consumer Rights League was released in a report in June 2008. The money laundering happened in 1996 and involved the Teamster’s Union, causing the president’s election to be thrown out by federal authorities. ACORN’s Project Vote, which is tied to voter fraud, received $175,000 to perform a “non-partisanship” get-out-the-vote activity. Project Vote was to target votes that benefited the Clinton Campaign, congressional and senatorial races with emphasis on the votes for congress people and senators.

Misuse of Taxpayer Funds

The misuse of taxpayers funds has been going on for more than 3 decades with the first instance being reported in 1977. It was connected to the Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA). ACORN had been awarded a federal grant for $470,000 to train volunteers to assist low income people. Congress investigated ACORN finding they had used these funds for labor organizing and not training employees.

The second instance happened during the Clinton Administration and involved the follow up program to VISTA, AMERICORPS, established in 1993 which absorbed VISTA. In 1994, a federal grant worth more than $1 million was awarded to a subsidiary of ACORN, ACORN Housing Corp. At some point their “use “ of taxpayer funding came into question. The Inspector General of Americorps under took an investigation. The investigation found the following irregularities. They found that there were questionable transactions charged to AHC by ACORN or other ACORN-related organizations. They found that AHC was founded to serve both organizations. The grant was revoked.

Embezzlement by an Employee

The embezzler wasn’t just any embezzler, his name is Dale Rathke, brother of Wade Rathke, founder of ACORN. The brother embezzled near one $1 million from “ACORN and affiliated charitable organizations” according to the July 9, 2008 New York Times article. The embezzlement remained hidden until a”whistle-blower” forced ACORN to disclose it.

A small group of executives decided to cover up the fraud. They did this by carrying the $1 million on the books of Citizen Consulting, Inc., which is the accounting end of ACORN. Wade Rathke said his brother signed a secret agreement saying the family would make restitution .in exchange for hiding the embezzlement.

When Wade was asked about the decision to keep the fraud secret, this is the explanation he gave to the NYT. “The decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because of word of the embezzlement would have put a “weapon” into the hands of enemies of ACORN”. According to Wade, he had no idea his brother was committing fraud until alerted by an employee of Citizens Consulting concerning “suspicious credit card transactions”.

Both Wade and his brother remained on staff with ACORN until last month. Wade stepped down from ACORN but remains as the head organizer for ACORN International LLC. ACORN is now under the watchful eye of an interim management panel with the Executive Director of New York ACORN, Bertha Lewis, named as director.

(It is important to note that ACORN has been lobbying for the housing bill to pass since it would provide more financial gains or “slush funds” for them according to the online Wall Street Journal. However in light of the embezzlement they have fell silent.)

Voter Fraud

In my original article I uncovered three states that reported voter fraud linked to Project Vote, ACORN’s non-partisanship voter registration. Three states is an underwhelming number when they have been implicated in voter fraud in at least a dozen states. According to CRL. From 2003 until 2007, they were involved in voter fraud in the following states, Colorado, Virginia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Nevada just to name a few more of the states ACORN has visited.

Wage and Labor Issues

According to a blog called bizzyblog, ACORN/Citizen’s Services have wage and labor issues. The list of problems includes: minimum wage (remember ACORN wants a living wage of $12/hr for workers), overtime pay , break and mealtime pay, payroll-keeping and employee classification issues. These issues are in connection with Citizen Services Inc, which was contracted to do the Get-Out-The-Vote work for the Obama for President campaign.

The Ohio canvassers, 250 alone in Columbus, Ohio by and large worked more than 40 hours per week. Some canvassers reported working 20+ hours of overtime for which they were never paid. Others said they were never paid time and a half for working more than 10+ hours overtime. ACORN/CSI absolutely refused to pay any overtime. The canvassers have filed various complaints with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Office.

ACORN is currently under investigation by a government inspector from the DOL’s Columbus Office. He is not only investigating the problems in Ohio but checking nationwide for similar incidences of wage and hour issues.

ACORN’s Safety Issues

I know it is hard to believe but ACORN/CSI had safety issues that were brought to the attention of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Columbus Office in their offices in Ohio. While they appear to be minor violations, a missing fire extinguisher and hazard communication, they are none the less on the OSHA website. The violations were reported in 2005 and closed in 2006 with no fine awarded for them.

ACORN’s Illegal Activity Continues Today

In summary we know that ACORN is linked to money laundering , misuse of grant money, embezzlement and voter fraud. What we actually see is what the Consumer Rights League found - “taxpayer money supported Corporate shakedown tactics, counseling of potential home buyers to use “undocumented” or “under the table” income to obtain
mortgages and obtaining mortgages for undocumented

Despite the whopping $25,000 fine by the State of Washington, ACORN has continued to commit voter fraud in almost every state Project Vote has visited. In March 2008 in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, ACORN was linked to “bad voter registration cards”, they wanted to investigate but I have found no more information on an investigation. In June 2008 alone there were 90 voter registration cards stolen from ACORN in Las Cruces, NM and Project Vote admitted that 35% of all voter registration cards turned into Louisiana officials were duplicates.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse it does. On two subsequent days in this month alone, July 6 and 7, two more investigations are underway, one in Dauphin County, PA and one in Clark County, Nevada. In Nevada they are seeing 2000-3000 voter fraudulent voter registration cards turned in every week by ACORN.

Congress and its duty to investigate

The Consumer Rights League has its on agenda. It doesn’t like the housing bailout bill being offered up in the House (HR 3221) but it has started a petition to pressure to put pressure on Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the Financial Services Committee to hold hearings on the fraud committed by ACORN. (Petition)

They have even suggested some fixes to the problem with ACORN and its fuzzy accounting methods and funneling of money from one entity to another. CRL has suggested three remedies to prevent further abuses of the governmental system by groups like ACORN. They are calling for “increased transparency” (requiring annual audits), they also said there is a need for “organization firewalls” (something missing from ACORN) and finally hit them in the pocketbook with “increased penalties for misuse of public funds”.

ACORN’s continued fraudulent behavior does hi-light a problem within our federal government. It shows that we don’t hold organizations like ACORN up to the light very well. No doubt things need to be changed. ACORN does need to be investigated. Are these the things Obama wants to change?

I am left with some questions after exposing so much more about ACORN. How much does Obama know about ACORN? Obama has used ACORN in his bid for the presidency. How much money has he paid them and who was it paid to? ACORN has 75 subsidiaries. Which subsidiary did Obama pay?


Andy Stern flip-flops on private equity

More Andy Stern stories: here

Is there a 'sweetheart deal' to force workers' dues to SEIU?

Private-equity firm Blackstone Group is buying King of Prussia-based AlliedBarton Security Services Inc., a company that employs 52,000 security guards and others in the United States. Terms of the deal, announced yesterday, were not disclosed.

AlliedBarton, formerly SpectaGuard Inc., had revenue of $1.5 billion in 2007 and net income of $347,000, according to a regulatory filing. Before taxes, interest payments and other items, or EBITDA, the firm earned $89.1 million.

MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., which is controlled by financier Ronald O. Perelman, acquired the security firm in 2003 for $263 million. AlliedBarton has almost tripled in size since then, through acquisitions and internal growth.

William C. Whitmore Jr., AlliedBarton chairman and chief executive officer, said yesterday that he did not expect employee cutbacks and that the new corporate parent should give AlliedBarton access to capital to expand the business.

The firm employs 5,000 in the Philadelphia region.

The Blackstone deal, which is expected to close in August, should be "a good marriage," and the fundamentals of the business remain strong because "people want to protect their assets," Whitmore said.

AlliedBarton security guards protect shopping centers, commercial offices, government offices, colleges, hospitals and manufacturing plants. When it was formed in 1980 as SpectaGuard by Jay Snider (son of Flyers chairman Ed Snider), the company's yellow-shirted employees worked primarily concerts and sporting events.

SpectaGuard acquired Allied Security in 2000, and the combined company began operating under the Allied name. In 2004, the company purchased Barton Protective Services Inc. for $181 million and now operates nationally under the AlliedBarton name.

Blackstone is a huge New York-based private-equity firm with about $100 billion in assets.

In an unusual statement, the Service Employees International Union said it supported the deal. The SEIU, which has two million members, has been critical of private-equity firms for flipping assets, receiving favorable tax treatment, and paying huge compensation to the industry's top executives.

The union said the AlliedBarton deal "holds great potential for thousands of hard-working security officers nationwide." The statement said the union was hopeful that Blackstone's purchase "will improve the existing relationship between SEIU and AlliedBarton and lead to better jobs for security officers."

Blackstone publicly supported higher wages, health care and improved working conditions for unionized janitors during contract talks in Boston in 2007, SEIU spokeswoman Linda Tran said yesterday.


Union DINOs smack down democracy

Fascistic voter-blockers enforce speech crackdown for organized labor

A total of 24 states allow voters to change laws on their own by collecting signatures and putting initiatives on the ballot. It's healthy that the entrenched political class should face some real legislative competition from initiative-toting citizens. Unfortunately, some special interests have declared war on the initiative process, using tactics ranging from restrictive laws to outright thuggery.

The initiative is a reform born out of the Progressive Era, when there was general agreement that powerful interests had too much influence over legislators. It was adopted by most states in the Midwest and West, including Ohio and California. It was largely rejected by Eastern states, which were dominated by political machines, and in the South, where Jim Crow legislators feared giving more power to ordinary people.

But more power to ordinary people remains unpopular in some quarters, and nothing illustrates the war on the initiative more than the reaction to Ward Connerly's measures to ban racial quotas and preferences. The former University of California regent has convinced three liberal states -- California, Washington and Michigan -- to approve race-neutral government policies in public hiring, contracting and university admissions. He also prodded Florida lawmakers into passing such a law. This year his American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) aimed to make the ballot in five more states. But thanks to strong-arm tactics, the initiative has only made the ballot in Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska.

"The key to defeating the initiative is to keep it off the ballot in the first place," says Donna Stern, Midwest director for the Detroit-based By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). "That's the only way we're going to win." Her group's name certainly describes the tactics that are being used to thwart Mr. Connerly.

Aggressive legal challenges have bordered on the absurd, going so far as to claim that a blank line on one petition was a "duplicate" of another blank line on another petition and thus evidence of fraud. In Missouri, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan completely rewrote the initiative's ballot summary to portray it in a negative light. By the time courts ruled she had overstepped her authority, there wasn't enough time to collect sufficient signatures.

Those who did circulate petitions faced bizarre obstacles. In Kansas City, a petitioner was arrested for collecting signatures outside of a public library. Officials finally allowed petitioners a table inside the library but forbade them to talk. In Nebraska, a group in favor of racial preferences ran a radio ad that warned that those who signed the "deceptive" petition "could be at risk for identity theft, robbery, and much worse."

Mr. Connerly says that it's ironic that those who claim to believe in "people power" want to keep people from voting on his proposal: "Their tactics challenge the legitimacy of our system."

He's not alone. Liberal columnist Anne Denogean of the Tucson Citizen opposes the Connerly initiative, but last month she wrote that BAMN "is showing a disgusting lack of respect for the democratic process and the right of all Arizonans to participate in it." She detailed how members of this organization harass petitioners and film people who sign the petition, while telling them they are backing a racist measure.

The police had to be called when BAMN blocked the entrance of a Phoenix office where circulators had to deliver their petitions. "BAMN's tactics," she concluded, "resemble those used by anti-abortion activists to prevent women from entering abortion clinics."

But BAMN proudly posts videos on its success in scaring away voters, or convincing circulators to hand over their petitions to its shock troops. "If you give me your signatures, we'll leave you alone," says a BAMN volunteer on one tape to someone who's earning money by circulating several different petitions.

What about voters' rights to sign ACRI's petitions? BAMN organizer Monica Smith equates race-neutral laws with Jim-Crow segregation laws and slavery. She told Tuscon columnist Denogean that voters are simply being educated that ACRI is "trying to end affirmative action . . . We let them know it's up on the KKK's Web site." Mr. Connerly has repudiated any support from racists.

Other opponents of Mr. Connerly deplore the blocking and name-calling. Arizona State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema told me that initiatives have been used to pass ideas such as campaign finance and redistricting reform often opposed by entrenched legislators. "People have a right to sign a petition, hear the arguments and then vote," she says. Ms. Sinema thinks Arizonans can be persuaded to vote down ACRI's measure, much as they voted down a ban on gay marriage in 2006.

The war against citizen initiatives has other fronts. This year in Michigan, taxpayer groups tried to recall House Speaker Andy Dillon after he pushed through a 22% increase in the state income tax. But petitioners collecting the necessary 8,724 signatures in his suburban Detroit district were set upon. In Redford, police union members held a rally backing Mr. Dillon and would alert blockers to the location of recall petitioners. Outsiders would then surround petitioners and potential signers, using threatening language.

Mr. Dillon denied organizing such activity. Then it was revealed two of the harassers were state employees working directly for him. Another "voter educator" hired by the state's Democratic Party had been convicted of armed robbery. After 2,000 signatures were thrown out on technical grounds, the recall effort fell 700 signatures short.

Ever since voters in virtually every state with direct democracy passed term limits in the 1990s, state legislators have been hostile to the process. Now Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Colorado have all passed legislation to prohibit people from out-of-state from circulating a petition, and also to ban payment to circulators on a per-signature basis.

To his credit, Colorado's Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed such curbs. In March, a Sixth Circuit federal appeals court panel unanimously ruled that an Ohio law barring per-signature payment violated the First Amendment. Similarly, a Ninth Circuit panel just voted unanimously to strike down Arizona's residency law for circulators.

Some judges think the "blocking" of signature gatherers has gone too far. In 2006, Nevada Judge Sally Loehrers decreed a "civility zone" that barred opposing sides from coming within arms' length of each other at petition signing sites. "The blockers were off the streets within two days," says Paul Jacob, the head of Citizens in Charge, which promotes the initiative process.

Last year, Mr. Jacob was charged with conspiracy to defraud the state of Oklahoma in a bizarre prosecution that claimed he brought in out-of-state signature gatherers in violation of the state's residency requirement. Yet local public sector unions opposed to Mr. Jacob hired out-of-state outfits such as the Voter Education Project, an AFL-CIO offshoot that specializes in harassing signature drives.

Representative government will remain the enduring feature of American democracy, but the initiative process is a valuable safety valve. So long as elected officials gerrymander their districts and otherwise make it nearly impossible for voters to oust them, direct lawmaking will be popular. That's why attempts to arbitrarily curb the initiative, or to intimidate people from exercising their right to participate, must be resisted. It's a civil liberties issue that should unite people of good will on both the right and left.


Mary Landrieu, Louisiana DINO

More EFCA stories: here

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot elections; 'We can't win that way anymore'

Most Louisianans have never heard of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that could soon become federal law. But if you believe the private ballot is an essential component of a free and fair election, you should be aware of how this legislation rewrites the rulebook for union organizing.

Under current law, when a union proposes to represent a company’s employees as their collective bargainer, a federally supervised private ballot election is held to determine whether the workplace will be unionized. This ensures that everyone can vote according to their conscience and without fear of intimidation from union officials, peers or employers.

The EFCA, however, seeks to skip the private ballot election process, replacing it with something called a "card check." This method makes it possible for a union to be established by pressuring a majority of the employees to sign authorization cards. Once that threshold has been reached, the other employees are cut out of the decision making process.

Not surprisingly, unions are driving this bill. Concerning private ballot elections, United Food and Commercial Workers Union President Joe Hansen has noted, "We can’t win that way anymore." The AFL-CIO admits that unions need signatures from at least 75% of the unit to have a better than 50% chance of winning the election. In other words, getting signatures is easier than getting votes.

Unions have a right to organize, but a worker’s ability to choose should not be impaired for political reasons.

Employees have the right to make an informed decision regarding union representation and they should be able to make this decision in private, free from coercive tactics.

While titling this the Employee Free Choice Act may have been an unintentional joke, here is the ultimate irony: By supporting this bill, some of our legislators could subvert the election process that put them into office.

One of this bill’s supporters is Senator Mary Landrieu. Does she believe that her next election should be conducted with signature cards?

Assuming she does not, perhaps she should explain why the private ballot guaranteed to her supporters should be denied to workers when they make important workplace decisions.


ILWU takes big dues hit in Maui

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Dems' high fuel prices trickle down to workers

Maui Land & Pineapple Co. plans to announce today it will lay off 274 employees to save $11 million in annual operating expenses. The layoffs come in the face of a weak economy and rising costs of energy, the Kahului-based company said.

It is the latest in a string of layoffs to hit Hawaii this year, including several thousand lost jobs with the shutdown of both Aloha and ATA airlines alone, sending Hawaii's jobless rate in June to 3.8 percent, the highest level in nearly five years. The cuts represent a 26.2 percent decrease in MLP's 1,045-person work force. Severance costs are expected to total approximately $3 million, offsetting some of the immediate savings.

MLP's agriculture segment will lose 204 jobs, or about half its work force. The unit has seen more than $100 million in capital investments and operating losses during the past four years.

"Skyrocketing costs for fuel, fertilizer, packaging, and transportation have outstripped the company's ability to increase prices," the company said in a statement.

Maui Pineapple Co. will now concentrate on serving local markets and selected accounts on the mainland.

MLP's Kapalua Resort on Maui is cutting 46 jobs, and 24 jobs will be lost in the corporate and community development unit. Layoffs will occur across all levels, the company said. Where possible, cuts are being made through attrition or retirement, MLP said.

MLP spokeswoman Teri Freitas Gorman said employees were notified yesterday and today.

The company consolidated some marketing, sales, accounting and purchasing functions and has appointed Wes Nohara general manager for all agricultural operations.

MLP is assisting the affected employees with severance packages and federal and state work-force development programs.

"This is a difficult but necessary decision as we respond to higher energy-related costs in our operating units and sluggish conditions in the real estate market," David Cole, MLP's president and chief executive officer, said in the statement.

Cole declined to immediately comment.

James Hardway, special assistant to the director of state Labor and Industrial Relations, said he was not sure Maui businesses could absorb the additional workers.

"It is a big layoff," he said. "I guess the question is, Are they going to sell that land, or are they going to lease that land? Is someone going to take it over? Obviously they are going to need a work force."

Maui had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state in June at 4.3 percent, just behind Honolulu's 4.2 percent.

Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares called it "a sad day" for MLP employees and their families.

"I'm sure it was a very difficult decision for the company, whose roots in agriculture in our community go back generations," she said in a statement. "We are concerned for everyone affected, and our community's history of caring for each other during tough times will be very important. I have faith that we will pull together to support each other as we always have."

Hardway said the department will hold a meeting Tuesday offering unemployment services for workers fired from the resort. A separate meeting will be held for the other employees, he said, because they fall under union rules that allow for bargaining rights.

The company owns 24,600 acres of land on Maui. About 21 percent of the acreage is used in operations, and the remaining land is primarily in pasture or forest reserve. About 2,600 acres of leased land is used in agriculture operations under 10 leases expiring at various dates through 2018.

In 2007, MLP's agricultural operations employed 440 employees, of which half were seasonal or intermittent employees and 58 percent were covered by collective-bargaining agreements, according to the company's most recent annual regulatory filing.

Resort operations employed approximately 420 employees, of which 11 percent were part time and 22 percent were covered by collective-bargaining agreements. The community development segment employed 30 employees, and corporate services and other operations employed 110 workers.

William Kennison, Maui division director for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, said the layoffs come at a bad time in the economy when there are fewer jobs.

"These are sad times. We see how people are getting less hours of work, getting laid off," Kennison said. "It looks like we're in it for the long haul."

Kennison said the union contract calls for severance pay for full-time employees based on the position and length of service. He said the union, which has about 400 members working for MLP, plans to sit down with the company to discuss keeping medical benefits.

The company's last layoffs occurred on June 30, 2007, when it fired 120 employees after closing its pineapple canning operation to focus on Hawaii and mainland fresh pineapple sales.

MLP said in May that the delayed ripening of fruit at its Haliimaile plantation helped contribute to a loss of $740,000 in its first-quarter earnings, compared with a year-earlier profit of $15.7 million, which was inflated by a $25 million sale in March 2007 of land underlying the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua hotel.

The company's agriculture unit, which includes primarily pineapple, had an operating loss of $5.6 million, more than double the loss of $2.4 million a year earlier; the real estate segment saw operating profit plunge 72.2 percent to $8.1 million from $29.1 million due to the year-earlier land sale; the resort division had an operating loss of $2.3 million, more than double the loss of $904,000 a year earlier.


Collectivist explains unionism, strikes

Why solidarity is worth lost paychecks

As the word gets out that 9000 Verizon workers unionized with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers across Southern New England have voted overwhelmingly to go on strike next Friday unless the company meets their contract demands, it seems a propitious moment to say a few words about why it's important for working people to support strikes and other labor actions.

A few decades ago it would have seemed strange to have to discuss this issue, but in an era when just over 10 percent of the American workforce are union members, and a vanishingly small percentage of those members are under 30 years old, it's worth doing.

There's a basic fact about a capitalist economy that rarely gets mentioned in the mainstream media ... and sorry if we get kind of schoolmarmish here ... a few people own a lot of stuff, a somewhat larger but still small percentage own some stuff, and most people don't own much stuff. What do we mean by "stuff" here? Corporations and everything they control, mainly. The main productive organizations of our society, all the materials and infrastructure that go into building the things these organizations make, and all the money they stockpile and play with in the stock market and a myriad of other ways.

The few people that own all this stuff also exercise a great deal of control over our political system - by fair means and foul. They also control the non-profit sector through saving taxes by pumping a percentage of their profits to foundations (that they also control) that fund non-profit organizations. Like Open Media Boston. (D'oh!)

Since a few people control the means of producing most things, and most people don't own them (or only own bits and pieces of them), most people then have to sell their labor to make a living. That is, most people work for wages, and in fact, most people make these wages working for a corporation. A significant but smaller number of people work for the government and non-profit sector. When the economy does well, most everyone has a job and feel fairly good about things. When the economy goes down, prices go up, more and more people don't have jobs, and more people don't feel so good about things.

As the economy goes up and down, the people that own things want to keep making money. No matter what. So they are always looking for ways to lay off workers at will in the event they need to save money on labor costs. And to keep salaries and benefits as low as possible at all times for the same reason. Now naturally, it is in the interest of workers to have the highest possible salaries and benefits and to keep their jobs for their entire working life. So there is a built-in, never-ending tension between workers and owners. Owners want the freedom to use workers as widgets - to be bought as cheaply as possible and disposed of as needed. Workers want the opposite.

But unless workers organize together in collective democratic organizations called unions - and get that union legally recognized by the corporate-controlled government, fighting through an increasingly byzantine set of laws designed to stop them from doing that, and get a contract signed between their union and their company (or government or non-profit) - they have no ground to stand on in a fight with the owners. This is why workers form unions to begin with. To be able to say "Hey, owners, we are not widgets to be bought and sold. We are people, and you will treat us as such."

Now unions are not perfect by any means. But they are the main bulwark workers have against job instability, job loss, and poverty. They are also the main lobby workers have in the government for things that benefit all people like Social Security, Medicare, and the minimum wage. Plus the main groups fighting for things we don't have, but should. Like a single-payer national health care system or a cradle-to-grave living wage irrespective of employment status.

Unions have a lot of ways to fight for job stability, better wages and benefits and societal programs that benefit everyone, but the most powerful weapon they have historically used is withholding their labor - striking - until their demands are met. These days it can be frighteningly easy for owners to end-run strikes, bring "replacement workers" (better known to workers as scabs), and fire all the original workers. But not so easy that unions won't still strike when they are pushed far enough.

So one of the most important things that workers of all kinds can do for other workers when they are striking is called "solidarity." Showing solidarity means lots of things, but at base it means not getting pissed off if you are inconvenienced because striking workers make your life somewhat difficult for a while.

Like in the current situation. Let's say the 9000 Verizon workers go on strike next Friday. Managers and temps will be asked to step in and do their jobs. This will, of course, not work - because some of the striking workers do very dangerous work like repairing downed phone lines that untrained people simply can't do. Also, because it's difficult to replace that many skilled workers quickly. This is one of the reasons why Verizon workers haven't already lost their unions like workers in so many other sectors have. They are very skilled, and not easily replaced.

So their might be problems with phone service after a few days of a telephone workers strike. This being the 21st century there might also be problems with (horrors!) DSL lines and other information services that a giant telecom like Verizon provides.

The advice we can give you from Open Media Boston if that happens. Deal with it. Suck it up. Know that every victory for a union in this day and age is a victory for all working people.

Better yet, if it comes to a strike, help out the Verizon workers. Go join a rally or a picket line - and bring some cash to donate to the strike fund while you're at it. Help the union lobby government officials to support the union rather than attacking it. Pass resolutions in your own community or religious organization to support the strike.

Show solidarity, and like good karma it will come back to you one day. Maybe you'll decide to try to organize fellow workers at your workplace into a union one day (here's hoping). Maybe you'll even go out on strike. Then where are you going to turn for help? To other unions. And you know what? They'll back you up. The best of them and even some of the worst of them will. They're good at that. They know the score.

Who knows? If this kind of attitude spreads around among working people some more in the years to come we could see a resurgent labor movement winning some big gains. But for now, here's what ... if the Verizon workers go out on strike next week, support them. Try solidarity on for size. You might find you like it.

We know it sounds a bit corny and old-fashioned. But just this kind of corniness built the labor movements that allowed the children of peasants and serfs from all over the world to become university professors and doctors and journalists (couldn't resist that one), and yes, telephone linesmen. With good wages, and benefits and job security. So, think it over. Side with the owners, who, trust us, do not have your back? Or with the unions.

We'll stand with the unions. But you all already knew that.

Now where do you stand?


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