Barack ushers in forced-labor unionism

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Employers wake up, jobs threatened by 'no-vote' unionism

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores would have to pay hefty union dues while getting nothing in return, and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise.

The actions by Wal-Mart -- the nation's largest private employer -- reflect a growing concern among big business that a reinvigorated labor movement could reverse years of declining union membership. That could lead to higher payroll and health costs for companies already being hurt by rising fuel and commodities costs and the tough economic climate.

The Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don't specifically tell attendees how to vote in November's election, but make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states.

"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.

"If anyone representing Wal-Mart gave the impression we were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and acting without approval," said David Tovar, Wal-Mart spokesman. Mr. Tovar acknowledged that the meetings were taking place for store managers and supervisors nationwide.

Wal-Mart's worries center on a piece of legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which companies say would enable unions to quickly add millions of new members. "We believe EFCA is a bad bill and we have been on record as opposing it for some time," Mr. Tovar said. "We feel educating our associates about the bill is the right thing to do."

Other companies and groups are also making a case against the legislation to workers. Laundry company Cintas Corp., which has been fighting a multiyear organizing campaign by Unite Here, relaunched a Web site July 14 called CintasVotes. The site instructs visitors to take action by telling members of Congress to oppose the legislation.

"We feel it's important that our employee partners fully understand the implications that the Employee Free Choice Act could have on their work environment and benefits," said Heather Trainer, a Cintas spokeswoman.

Business-backed organizations are also running ads aimed at building opposition to the bill, including the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which counts several hundred industry associations as members. Another group, the Employee Freedom Action Committee, is run by former tobacco lobbyist Rick Berman. The groups, which aren't affiliated with each other, say they have a total of $50 million in funding. Neither will disclose which companies or individuals have provided funding.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has made defeat of the legislation a top priority. In the past six months, it has flown state and local Chamber members to Washington to lobby members of Congress. On Thursday, the Chamber began airing a television ad in Minnesota and plans to run ads in other states as part of a broader campaign.

The bill was crafted by labor as a response to more aggressive opposition by companies to union-organizing activity. The AFL-CIO and individual unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers have promised to make passage of the new labor law their No. 1 mission after the November election.

First introduced in 2003, the bill came to a vote last year and sailed through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, but was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate and faced a veto threat by the White House. The bill was taken off the floor, and its backers pledged to reintroduce it when they could get more support.

The November election could bring that extra support in Congress, as well as the White House if Sen. Obama is elected and Democrats extend their control in the Senate. Sen. Obama co-sponsored the legislation, which also is known as "card check," and has said several times he would sign it into law if elected president. Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, opposes the Employee Free Choice Act and voted against it last year.

Wal-Mart's labor-relations meetings are led by human-resources managers who received training from Wal-Mart on the implications of the Employee Free Choice Act.
[Shift in Support]

Fine Legal Line

Wal-Mart may be walking a fine legal line by holding meetings with its store department heads that link politics with a strong antiunion message. Federal election rules permit companies to advocate for specific political candidates to its executives, stockholders and salaried managers, but not to hourly employees. While store managers are on salary, department supervisors are hourly workers.

However, employers have fairly broad leeway to disseminate information about candidates' voting records and positions on issues, according to Jan Baran, a Washington attorney and expert on election law.

Both supporters and opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act believe it would simplify and speed labor's ability to unionize companies. Currently, companies can demand a secret-ballot election to determine union representation. Those elections often are preceded by months of strident employer and union campaigns.

Under the proposed legislation, companies could no longer have the right to insist on one secret ballot. Instead, the Free Choice, or "card check," legislation would let unions form if more than 50% of workers simply sign a card saying they want to join. It is far easier for unions to get workers to sign cards because the organizers can approach workers repeatedly, over a period of weeks or months, until the union garners enough support.

Employers argue that the card system could lead to workers being pressured to sign by pro-union colleagues and organizers. Unions counter that it shields workers from pressure from their employers.

On June 30 the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Wal-Mart illegally fired an employee in Kingman, Ariz., who supported the UFCW and illegally threatened to freeze merit-pay increases if employees voted for union representation. The decision came eight years after the organizing campaign failed, and four years after the case was originally heard.

"We've always maintained the termination was not related to the union and that there was nothing unlawful about an answer provided an associate about merit pay," said Mr. Tovar, the Wal-Mart spokesman. "Following the decision, we were considering offering reinstatement, but that is on hold, since the [union] appealed the decision."

Unions consider the Employee Free Choice Act as vital to the survival of the labor movement, which currently represents 7.5% of private-sector workers, half the percentage it did 25 years ago. The Service Employees International Union said the legislation would enable it to organize a million workers a year, up from its current pace of 100,000 workers a year.

The Underdogs

The business-backed lobbying groups are running ads in states where a win by a Democratic Senate candidate would boost support for the legislation in the Senate, saying the loss of secret ballots exposes workers to bullying labor bosses. In one, they use an actor from the "Sopranos" TV series about mob life to hammer home their point.

Business groups say they're the underdogs since they will be outspent by unions by a wide margin. Labor has pledged to spend $300 million on the election and securing passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, compared with under $100 million by business groups, according to Steven Law, chief legal officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber's strategy is to focus on the Senate, where labor needs eight more supporters of the legislation to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

"This is a David-and-Goliath confrontation, but we believe we'll have enough stones in the sling to knock this out," said Mr. Law.

Wal-Mart is a powerful ally. Through almost all of its 48-year history, Wal-Mart has fought hard to keep unions out of its stores, flying in labor-relations rapid-response teams from its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters to any location where union activity was building. The United Food and Commercial Workers was successful in organizing only one group of Wal-Mart workers -- a small number of butchers in East Texas in early 2000. Several weeks later, the company phased out butchers in all of its stores and began stocking prepackaged meat. When a store in Canada voted to unionize several years ago, the company closed the store, saying it had been unprofitable for years.

Labor has fought back with a campaign to portray Wal-Mart as treating its workers poorly. The UFCW helped employees file a series of complaints about the company's overtime, health-care and other policies with the National Labor Relations Board. Dozens of class-action lawsuits were filed on behalf of workers, many of which are still winding their way through the courts.

Wal-Mart has been trying to burnish its reputation by improving its worker benefits and touting its commitment to the environment. On the political front, it's hedging its bets, spreading its financial contributions on both sides of the political divide.

Twelve years ago, 98% of Wal-Mart's political donations went to Republicans. Now, as the Democrats seem poised to gain control in Washington, 48% of its $2.2 million in political contributions go to Democrats and 52% to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks political giving.


Joint task force probes ACORN voter-fraud

More ACORN stories: here

Labor-backed group has compromised integrity of elections

Nevada state and federal authorities on Thursday announced the formation of a task force that will aggressively pursue allegations of election fraud. The secretary of state, attorney general, U.S. attorney's office and Federal Bureau of Investigation plan to work together as the election approaches and on Election Day to ensure a free and fair election in Nevada, where record turnout is anticipated.

"This is part of an effort to work proactively," Secretary of State Ross Miller, the state's chief elections official, said of the combined effort, which he said would "ensure there is integrity in the system."

Miller said investigators are already looking into allegations of fraud in voter registration, though he declined to go into specifics of an investigation he suggested was being handled by the FBI.

Clark County officials have said they suspect fraud is occurring in the thousands of voter registrations being submitted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, which works to get low-income people to vote. ACORN, whose officials have faced fraud charges in other states, says the group's workers are trained to follow the law.

Types of activity investigators would look into include voter registration workers being paid per registration, which is illegal; registrations coming in with duplicates or false names; or registrations being discarded when they belong to a particular political party, Miller said.

During the election, authorities will be on the lookout for bribery, intimidation, interfering with the election process and people voting more than once, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto added.

Election irregularities are a topic commonly raised by constituents she talks to around the state, she said.

In addition to creating connections between agencies to enable them to work together more readily, the Election Integrity Task Force will include a toll-free phone number for reporting potential election violations, specially trained personnel and three command posts located around the state, said Steven Martinez of the FBI in Las Vegas.

Asked whether past elections in Nevada have been tainted by fraud, Miller mentioned allegations in the runup to the 2004 election that a Republican voter-registration drive threw out or tore up Democratic registrations. Those allegations were investigated but didn't lead to criminal prosecutions.

To make sure their registration is in order, Miller said voters should consult the Web site www.silverstate08.com, where his office maintains a searchable voter registration database.


Unions can't hide behind news editors

More EFCA stories: here

Tree-killers run card-check ads

It appears that anti-union activists are upping the ante to discredit the labor movement.

Recent full-page ads running in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal target unions as the cause for job losses in the steel, airline and auto industries. An ad in Thursday's New York Times features a photo of a padlocked gate with a "closed" sign under the lock. "The New Union Label," the ad reads. "Like what union leaders did to steel, airline and auto industry jobs? Then you'll love what they do to yours." TV ads have also been running in several states.

The ads are products of UnionFacts.com, which seeks to dispel the effectiveness of unions on its Web site. The ads are, in part, a response to legislation that would replace secret ballots with signed cards as a recruitment method. The Employee Free Choice Act, also known as card-check legislation, has gained support from a large number of House and Senate members. The nursing-home industry has been grappling with the growing influence of The Service Employees Union at facilities in recent years.


Union organizer explains EFCA to Congress

More EFCA stories: here

Why Dems want to eliminate secret-ballot union elections

Recently, I wrote a piece where I expressed my concerns about organized labor and their influence on the current presidential election. I cited three specific examples: Senator Obama's stated intention of ending the consent decree that has the government overseeing the Teamsters and keeping the corruption to a minimum; the Service Employees International Union shaking down its members for "contributions" to their Political Action Committee, in apparent violation of the law; and the disgustingly-misnamed "Employee Free Choice Act," a bill that would strip employees of the right to vote for or against unionizing in a secret ballot.

The bill, as I said, would allow unions to organize by an alternate method. Instead of a vote where each worker could, in private, cast their ballot for or against joining a union without fear of intimidation, the unions could simply collect a signed pledge card from a majority of the workers.

I think it's fairly obvious that this method would supplant the voting method in a majority of cases, as it would be a hell of a lot easier to collect the cards than to try to win a vote.

My main concern was potential intimidation of workers by union organizers, as that has historically been a union tactic. And I see that my concerns were well grounded.

Former union organizer Jennifer Jones, speaking under oath before Congress, told how these "card checks" are conducted:
A "card check" campaign begins with union organizers going to the homes of workers over a weekend, a tactic called "housecalling," with the sole intent of having those workers sign authorization cards. Called a "blitz" by the unions, it entails teams of two or more organizers going directly to the homes of workers. The workers' personal information and home addresses used during the blitz was obtained from license plates and other sources that were used to create a master list.

In most cases, the workers have no idea that there is a union campaign underway. Organizers are taught to play upon this element of surprise to get "into the door." They are trained to perform a five part house call strategy that includes: Introductions, Listening, Agitation, Union Solution, and Commitment. The goal of the organizer is to quickly establish a trust relationship with the worker, move from talking about what their job entails to what they would like to change about their job, agitate them by insisting that management won't fix their workplace problems without a union and finally convincing the worker to sign a card.

At the time, I personally took great pride in the fact that I could always get the worker to sign the card if I could get inside their home. Typically, if a worker signed a card, it had nothing to do with whether a worker was satisfied with the job or felt they were treated fairly by his or her boss. I found that most often it was the skill of the organizer to create issues from information the organizer had extracted from the worker during the "probe" stage of the house call that determined whether the worker signed the card.

I began to realize that the number of cards that were signed had less to do with support for the union and more to do with the effectiveness of the organizer speaking to the workers.

This appears to be consistent with results of secret ballot elections that are conducted in which workers are able to vote and make their final decision free from manipulation, intimidation or pressure tactics from either side.

From my experience, the number of cards signed appear to have little relationship to the ultimate vote count. During a private election campaign, even though a union still sends organizers out to workers' homes on frequent canvassing in attempts to gain support, the worker has a better chance to get perspective on the questions at hand. The time allocated for the election to go forward allows the worker a chance to think through his or her own issues without undue influence--thus avoiding an immediate, impulsive decision based on little or no fact. After all, the decision to join a union is often life-changing, and workers should be afforded the time to debate, discuss and research all of the options available to them.

As an organizer working under a "card check" system versus an election system, I knew that "card check" gave me the ability to quickly agitate a set of workers into signing cards. I did not have to prove the union's case, answer more informed questions from workers or be held accountable for the service record of my union.
(Hat tip: King Banian of Outside The Beltway)

Let's look at this strategy from the viewpoint of the worker. You're at home, relaxing. There's a knock at the door. There are two or more people you've never seen before. They inform you that they're from Union X, and they know all about you. They know where you work, where you live, what car you drive, what your license plate is, and probably a bunch more personal information you'd rather not have shared by complete strangers. They'd like to come in and talk to you. This could be the very first time you've heard that there is an effort to get a union into your workplace, and these people (as she notes, there are at least two of them) want you to decide, right then and there, for now and all time, whether or not you want to join their union. You don't get to hear your employer's position, you probably can't check in with any of your colleagues, and there are these folks in your own home who want an answer now.

Those (like me) who get annoyed at Jehovah's Witnesses showing up at their door need little more convincing.

That these "blitzes" are going on now are troubling -- the unions aren't required to even notify the workers in advance that they might be visited at home by union organizers. But for these "blitzes" to not just lead up to an eventual secret ballot, but supplant it entirely, ought to scare the bejeezus out of anyone with even a fraction of a brain.

This bill is nothing less than an attempt by unions to legalize kidnapping. It would strip workers of their right to say "no" to unions in private, without fear of retribution. The secret ballot is a beautiful thing here -- it insulates the workers from individual retaliation from either side for expressing their preference. Both the employer and the union can engage in collective retaliation against the entire work force, but that has its limitations. For one, it's illegal. For another, as the unions are wont to point out, there is strength in numbers. Without the ability to single out individuals who voted one way or another, the threat of striking back is considerably weakened.

The irony here is appalling. The unions claim to represent the workers, but are working frantically to strip them of their power to act freely and without fear. And they are being aided and abetted by the Democratic party in this move to kill one of the purest expressions of democracy -- the sanctity of the voting booth.

And if you have the slightest doubt about how well the "Employee Free Choice Act" (good god, I want to throw up every time I see or type that monstrosity of a misnaming), just listen to Ms. Jones. She knows precisely how it would work, because she spent years doing it.


Collectivists eye Venezuela's leadership

Under Barack Obama, union-backed anti-privatization wave could sweep the U.S.

Advancing his policy of taking over major foreign companies, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he would nationalize Spanish-owned Banco Venezuela, the country's third-largest financial institution.

Chavez said during an afternoon telecast that he was seizing the bank because its owner, Banco Santander, was planning to sell it anyway. The Spanish concern, which acquired the bank in 1996, had not issued a formal comment by Thursday evening.

The announcement follows other nationalizations in recent years in which Chavez has paid foreign owners for their controlling interest in "strategic" concerns to further his socialist "Bolivarean revolution."

Over the last two years, Chavez has taken control of the country's largest phone company from Verizon Communications Inc. of New York. He also forced AES Corp. of Arlington, Va., to sell its majority interest in Caracas' main power firm. The socialist leader also has imposed the dominance of the Venezuelan state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, on all major oil operations. That reversed a 1990s policy under which foreign companies were invited to revive lagging oil fields and develop immense heavy oil reserves.

Some companies, such as Chevron Corp. of San Ramon, Calif., agreed to Chavez's terms to cede control of oil production projects and remain in Venezuela as minority partners. But Exxon Mobil Corp. of Irving, Texas, and others left under protest and filed cases with international arbiters.

Spain's two largest banks, Banco Santander and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya, led a "reconquest" by Spanish companies of Latin American businesses in the 1990s when most countries relaxed foreign investment rules and privatized many state-run monopolies. Santander bought Banco de Venezuela, and Bilbao Vizcaya bought Banco Provincial.

But the purchases have not always worked out. Spanish investors in several utilities have absorbed losses, and the two Spanish banks took billion-dollar hits when Argentina's financial system collapsed in 2001.


SEIU announces hospital strike

More SEIU-UHW stories: hereMore strike stories: here

Jumbo union's bargainers: 'Enough is enough.'

SEIU member-workers have told the administration at Enloe Medical Center in Chico (CA) they will hold a two-day strike. The strike is set for Aug. 12 and 13.

Nearly 660 employees belong to the bargaining unit that has called the strike. The workers are represented by Service Employees International Union - United Healthcare Workers West. The employees include certified nurse assistants, lab assistants, lift technicians, unit secretaries and others.

Negotiations on a first contract have gone on for more than a year between the union and the Chico hospital.

The two sides have settled many issues but are at odds over wages.

In June, members of the bargaining unit voted 291 to 143 to reject Enloe's "last, best offer" and to authorize union leaders to call a strike.


ACORN implicated in New Orleans scandal

More ACORN stories: here

Feds close in on labor-backed voter-fraud group

As a scandal centering on ties between the woman who ran a city-financed home-remediation program and the contractors who received money from it intensified this week, the agency's board announced Friday it has suspended the program, perhaps permanently.

The move came after the FBI and the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development opened a probe into the agency, New Orleans Affordable Homeownership. Those interviewed by federal agents include activist Karen Gadbois, who has been highlighting NOAH's alleged misdeeds for weeks on her blog, www.squanderedheritage.com.

For now, the probe appears to focus on two things: links between NOAH's former director, Stacey Jackson, and the contractors who earned the most money under the program; and whether contractors -- particularly those with links to Jackson -- did the work at homes for which they were paid a total of about $1.8 million.

The program, designed to help poor and elderly residents repair dilapidated homes, was touted by Mayor Ray Nagin as a centerpiece of his 2007 budget. Slated as a $15 million initiative, he said the effort would help 5,000 homeowners.

In pitching the idea, Nagin said nonprofits providing gutting services had become overwhelmed. The city, he said, should pick up the slack.

The program has fallen far short of those goals, and the mayor has since attempted to distance himself from the program -- though it emerged this week that his brother-in-law was one of NOAH's highest-paid contractors. In addition, under its bylaws, NOAH's board members all serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

That has helped keep him in the center of the controversy, along with a heated news conference at which Nagin blasted the reporting of WWL-TV's Lee Zurik and accused him of hurting the city's recovery.

Links to contractors

Records show Jackson, who quit the agency in June, has had business partnerships with the two highest-paid contractors: Hall & Hall Enterprises LLC, owned by Richard Hall Jr., and Parish-Dubuclet Services Inc., owned by Trellis Smith.

Hall's firm was paid $347,342 by the program; Smith's received $320,684.

Jackson and Smith are co-owners of a shop called "The Him Store" that specializes in men's underwear. In addition, the Web site for Smith's marketing firm, EC Media, this week listed Jackson as the firm's "senior account executive."

The posting has since been removed.

Jackson also formed a company with Hall in 1999 called TJH Inc. It's not clear whether the partnership is still active. However, WWL-TV, which broke the news of Jackson's various potential conflicts of interest this week, reported that Hall confirmed that he knows Jackson "very well."

Hall also told the television station that he did not believe the work got him the job.

Hall, Smith and Jackson did not return numerous phone calls from The Times-Picayune.

Records also show that the property listed as the domicile for TJH Inc., at 1620 S. Salcedo St., had remediation work billed to the city agency.

That property is owned by Esperanza Young of Houston, according to the Orleans assessors' Web site. Efforts to reach Young were unsuccessful. According to WWL-TV, Young said that Hall is her uncle.

Young told the station that the nonprofit group ACORN gutted and boarded her house. Documents released by Mayor Ray Nagin's administration last week indicate that Myers and Sons Enterprises invoiced NOAH $5,120 for work at the same Salcedo address.

Also connected

Myers and Sons -- the third-highest-paid contractor under NOAH's gutting program, taking in $168,999 -- also has links to Jackson.

A city-maintained search engine of building permits shows Myers and Sons took out a permit in 2005 for work at 1210-12 Burdette St. That home is owned by Jackson's sister, Jamesha Turner, according to the assessors' Web site.

In late 2006, Jackson and her husband, Reginald, took out a $300,000 mortgage on that property, according to the recorder of mortgages' Web site.

The Burdette address is also listed on state records as the domicile of a corporation formed by Jackson and Turner. On that same document, Jackson lists her own address as 7623 Plum St.

In what appears to be a misprint, the city's list of homes remediated at NOAH's expense includes a property at 7633 Plum St. No such address exists, according to the assessors' Web site.

The closest to a matching address, 7623 Plum St., is owned by Sandra Turner. It could not be determined if she is related to Jamesha Turner and Stacey Jackson, whose maiden name is also Turner.

Meanwhile, WWL-TV also reported that Myers and Sons took out a permit to build Jackson's Eastover home in 2003. The permit, which did not turn up in a search of the city's database, indicated the work would cost $230,000, according to the television station.

There was no answer at Myers and Sons' offices Friday.

Feds interested

Gadbois said Friday that she and a colleague, Sarah Lewis, met Tuesday with members of an FBI squad investigating Katrina fraud to discuss discrepancies in the remediation program. The meeting was at the FBI's request, she said. HUD's office of inspector general also was represented, she said.

During a two-hour session, Gadbois said the pair disclosed what they discovered in a door-to-door review of some of the 870 addresses at which NOAH officials claim their contractors completed work.

"We did a survey of a quarter of the properties, and you could count on one hand the number that have actually been remediated, " Gadbois said.

Gadbois said that beyond the nuts and bolts of her citizen survey, she told investigators that she has been disappointed to find so many problems with the program.

"This was the only gesture the administration has made toward people's immediate needs, and it's as demoralizing as can be, " she said.

Program suspended

Amid the controversy, NOAH's five-member board of directors voted Friday to put the agency's four employees on administrative leave with pay at least until Wednesday, Board President Ed Shanklin said.

Shanklin, an investment banker with Chicago-based Melvin & Co., did not provide the employees' names or salaries. He said the board will meet Wednesday to decide how to proceed.

Shanklin declined to discuss the issues that have come to light in the past two weeks.

"I can't comment on that right now, " Shanklin said. "We're getting ready to start an investigation."

The board also includes Darrell Broussard; Bob Brown, managing director of the Business Council; Tonya Bernard of the city's housing department; and Greg Rattler of JPMorgan Chase Bank.

NOAH was created as a city-chartered nonprofit by then-Mayor Marc Morial. Over the years, the agency has provided small repairs, typically painting and roofing, for poor and elderly homeowners.

After Katrina, it was reconfigured to handle boarding, gutting and grass-cutting for dilapidated properties. The program started with just four contractors on board when the first house was gutted in late 2006.

Jackson said then that contractors would be paid less than the market rate of $2.50 per square foot because NOAH had the volume of work to negotiate a better price. Records indicate the agency was paying its contractors $1.55 per square foot.


Barack: U.S. needs more union organizers

More EFCA stories: here

Will unions be able to meet the crush of new demand?

Sen. Barack Obama has promised to back changes in federal labor law that local union leaders say have been long overdue.

In a conference call Thursday with members of unions who have endorsed him, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee talked of the "need" for a stronger labor movement and the passage of a bill that would change the way unions can organize workplaces.

"We're going to sign the Employee Free Choice Act into law because if a majority of workers want a union they should get one," Obama told the hundreds of union members taking part in the call.

Denver's labor community has been part of a nationwide effort to push for a new law, arguing that current law gives employers too much power over workers who want to form unions.

"The current system is broken," said Ted Texter, political director for Teamsters Local 455 in Denver. "Everybody knows it."

Unions point to the long delays workers face getting a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board if employers interfere with their organizing efforts.

"If you try to exercise your rights, you do that at the peril of your job," said Mike Cerbo, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO.

Cerbo pointed to Wal-Mart as an example of what he sees as the shortcomings of the current system. "Under the Wal-Mart regime, exercising a democratic right of self-organizing is an act of courage," he said. "Under the Employee Free Choice Act, it'll be an act of democracy."

Unions want workers to be able to have the choice of forming unions in the workplace by signing up fellow employees individually through what's known as a "card check" process. They prefer it to the secret-ballot process some employers favor; unions say scheduling an election gives companies leverage and time to launch an anti-union campaign.

"There needs to be a fair and equitable way to do this," said John Fleck, president of the Denver Area Labor Federation. "We need labor law reform in our country and this is our version."

At issue

The Employee Free Choice Act would ensure workers the right to form a union through a majority sign-up process instead of a scheduled, secret-ballot election. It was co-sponsored by Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, and opposed by John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.


AFSCME faces dues hit in Detroit

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Labor-state shocker

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration notified city employee unions Friday that layoffs are coming. A faxed letter from Labor Relations Director Barbara Wise-Johnson informed Albert Garrett, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, that layoffs are "inevitable" because the sale of the city's half of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel has stalled. The sale, which Kilpatrick pushed, would generate $65 million for the budget.

"There is no other viable resource to make up this $65-million deficit," Wise-Johnson wrote.

A similar letter was sent to other employee unions, said Kilpatrick spokeswoman Denise Tolliver.

It does not indicate how many employees would be laid off, but says the effective date would be at the end of September. Tolliver said she did not know the number of layoffs.

At one point, Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams said it would require the layoff of 1,300 nonuniform employees or 738 police officers and firefighters to come up with $65 million.

More recently, he said layoffs of that level would be too extreme and the city would mix layoffs with other onetime fixes like property sales. Adams declined to say how many layoffs would be needed then.

The City Council balked at the tunnel sale.

A top AFSCME official called the layoffs unfair.

"I think it's disgraceful for city employees to get laid off because of a deficit the mayor helped create by mishandling city funds and squandering money trying to cover up his personal misconduct," said Leamon Wilson, chairman of the 18 AFSCME presidents whose locals represent city employees.


Denver Post runs a pro-RTW letter

Colorado's pro-union tree-killer usually a reliable voice against worker choice

Many readers are probably aware that Colorado is not a “right to work” state. Employees in a unionized company can be forced to pay “agency fees” to the union, even if they refuse to be union members. However, what readers might not be aware of is the fact that during each election cycle, unions spend millions of dollars of their members’ money supporting politicians, many of whom the majority of union members do not even support.

Colorado Democratic candidates, including Rep. Mark Udall and Sen. Ken Salazar, received more than $1 million from labor unions during the 2004 election, compared to the $36,000 that Republican candidates received. Unfortunately, organized labor wants to change the law to make it easier for unions to pressure workers into paying union dues, and consequently supporting Democratic candidates. This is a problem. Our solution is to vote Republican.

- Kenzie Paup, Denver


Mark Begich, Alaska DINO

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