Labor-state helps pay SEIU's political vols

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Fair elections are the ones unions win

The state employees union is asking a few of its members to apply for unpaid leaves of absence from their state jobs, to work on political campaigns this summer and fall. The union pays the eligible person’s salary, at its current rate, and the state pays for health insurance.

Timothy Belcher, head of the Maine State Employees Association, said the leaves of absence are made possible through a voluntary cost-saving program first instituted by the state in the early 1990s as a way to save money.

The union has been using it as a means to recruit campaign workers since the last presidential election four years ago. The program allows a state worker to take an unpaid leave for any reason, if the supervisor believes the employee can be spared, with no questions asked. The goal is to recruit about 15 people, from the ranks of current state employees and retirees. “It won’t be 15 on leaves of absences,” said MaryAnne Turowski, a union spokeswoman, but a blend of current workers and retirees.

Money for the employee’s salary is being provided by the state employees union parent, the Service Employees International Union, Belcher said. “This is something that’s done in unions all across the country,” he said.

An advertisement is being run on the state employee union Web site calling on MSEA-SEIU members to take leave from their jobs to work full time or part time “to elect people who share our values.”

Belcher said that largely means Democrats, including presidential hopeful Barack Obama, although the union has endorsed the rare Republican.

“The reality is that if you look at the voting records and questionnaires we’ve received from the candidates, the issues that our members tell us they care about, like health insurance, benefits and wages, Democrats have been much more supportive,” he said.

Alicia Kellogg, director of human resources for the state, said the voluntary savings leave of absence was first adopted after the government shutdown under Gov. John McKernan.

“It was one of the ways the budget was balanced,” she said. “There’s been enough interest in it each year that it has been maintained.”

Kellogg said the program was budgeted to save about $100,000 in the last two-year budget, and covers everything from people who want to take 10 additional days off during the year to a month or more.

“The decision by the supervisor is operational need only,” she said, without regard for what a person plans to do with the time.

Belcher said it would be inappropriate for management to ask a person what they were going to do with their personal time.

“I think the employer should not be asking what you’re doing on your free time. Whether they’re sunning themselves in Hawaii or going to be working for a political candidate. In a union setting, we would find it very offensive,” for the employer to probe, Belcher said.

As to whether average taxpayers would object if they knew the leave was going to be used for political campaigning, Belcher said there’s a financial benefit.

“We’ve saved him some money by having somebody not work,” Belcher said, with the union versus the state picking up the tab.

The union also recruits employees, using various kinds of leaves, to do internal organizing, such as getting in touch with members about their contracts.


School union: No discount for non-members

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Progressive Era "closed shop" abuse proves difficult to eradicate

Employees of the Las Virgenes (CA) Unified School District who are neither teachers nor members of the local classified union are being forced to pay an "agency fee" that is equal to the monthly dues paid by union members.

Sherill McMichael, the office manager at Lupin Hill Elementary School in Calabasas, spoke to the board of education on July 22 on behalf of employees who have chosen not to join the Las Virgenes Classified Association (LVCA), the local union that represents office workers and other non-teacher workers.

McMichael said the fee represents a mandatory deduction of $25 to $50 per month from non-union paychecks, the same monthly amount that union members must pay.

McMichael said that because only 48 percent of the school district employees are members of the LVCA, the fee should be terminated.

"During this tough economic time, a yearly pay reduction of $250 to $500 for an unplanned, unauthorized payroll deduction could spell disaster for many families," said a letter to the board of education that was submitted by McMichael and fellow union members Sandy Moreno and Le Ann Christianson.

"When hired as an employee of the Las Virgenes Unified School District, no employee was instructed it was mandatory to pay an agency fee to LVCA," the letter stated.

The trio of classified employees spoke to the school board on behalf of all district employees who are not members of the local classified association.

Christianson said the move to force non-members to pay the fee was "disrespectful for the non-member majority."

"(The issue) has nothing to do with the administration or the board," Christianson said. "It's purely a union thing."

Moreno said the union decided to charge the fee during the summer while employees were away. "Their first paycheck when they return will be deducted," Moreno said. "They raised dues but never told anyone."

But LVCA President Penny Ellis said state law requires the deduction.

The law states that public school employees must either join the "recognized employee organization" or pay the organization a "fair share service fee."

McMichael said even if the fee is required by law, it is negotiable and should at least be lowered, if not eliminated.

The letter states that if LVCA enforces the mandatory agency fees, the non-member majority will file documents for a decertification of the union.

The women are contacting other nonmembers to sign a petition against the union.

"I'm not going to back down, I can tell you that," Moreno said.


Extortion lawsuit v. UFCW cleared to proceed

Related UFCW-Bashas stories: here

Setback for organized labor's anti-corporate campaigns

Bashas' Family of Stores can move forward with its lawsuit against the United Food & Commercial Workers' union and many of its operatives, according to a decision handed down by the Superior Court of Arizona last week. Judge Douglas Rayes denied the UFCW's request to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed last December. The suit accuses the UFCW, its local 99 affiliate, as well as several of its agents, of defamation, intentional interference with business operations, extortion and trespass.

Named in the suit are the UFCW International; the UFCW Local 99 (including Hungry for Respect Coalition, a front organization designed to publicly disparage Bashas' Family of Stores); La Campesina radio station (88.3 FM); Michael Nowakowski, City of Phoenix Council Member and General Manager of La Campesina; Alfredo Gutierrez, community activist turned spokesperson for hire, and talk show host of La Campesina; Rev. Trina Zelle whose organization receives most of its funding from unions; William McDonough, Executive Vice President and Collective Bargaining Director for UFCW International; and James McLaughlin, President for UFCW Local 99, amongst others.

"This ruling is a positive first step towards clearing our company's good name," said Mike Proulx, Bashas' president and chief operating officer. "Through this lawsuit, we hope to once and for all put an end to the ugly and malicious lies that the UFCW has spread about our company and our members (employees) through its slick, negative campaigning."

Bashas' Family of Stores operates Food City, AJ's Fine Foods and Bashas' supermarkets. The grocer, selected earlier this year as a "Best Place to Work" by its members, employs more than 13,000 people, making it an attractive target for the UFCW. (If every Bashas' member paid dues to the UFCW, the UFCW's revenues would increase by more than $4 million each year.)

The goal of the UFCW's smear campaign against the family-owned and -operated grocer is to pressure management into signing a contract that would eliminate the right of Bashas' employees to vote, by secret ballot, whether or not they want a union.

"The UFCW has said that it intends to either extort Bashas' into surrendering to its campaign or destroy Bashas' as a viable business," said Mike Manning, the attorney representing Bashas' in this lawsuit. "In pursuit of that scheme, the UFCW and its operatives have repeatedly delivered false and defamatory statements about Bashas' treatment of its members; the health and cleanliness of its grocery stores; and Bashas' regard for and treatment of Hispanic customers and employees. This ruling allows Bashas' the right to protect itself from the UFCW's extortion."

The judge also ruled that a coalition of union members and community activists called Hungry for Respect could not be sued because it is not a distinct legal entity. "This is what Bashas' has been saying all along -- that Hungry for Respect is nothing more than an empty store front for the UFCW," said Manning.

The UFCW's smear campaign has included promoting a class action lawsuit; filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board; distributing negative flyers, door hangers and direct mail pieces; crafting, distributing and publicizing inflammatory and false reports; accusing the company of selling expired products, then planting expired products on store shelves; calling in false reports to governmental agencies alleging health code and other operational violations; organizing public demonstrations both inside and outside of stores, with the goal of disrupting and discouraging business; arranging "town-hall-style" meetings to publicly attack Bashas'; sending thousands of pieces of junk mail to Arizona families spreading lies about Bashas' and Food City; paying prominent and recognizable media outlets to defame Bashas'; handsomely funding vocal mouth pieces to serve as spokespersons against Bashas'; and making personal home visits to encourage shoppers to boycott Bashas' and Food City stores.

Bashas' was founded more than 76 years ago by brothers Ike and Eddie Basha, Sr. Since then, it has become the largest family-owned grocer in Arizona, and the 8th largest employer in the state. Bashas' is the 15th-largest privately held supermarket chain in the nation. Bashas' owns and operates more than 160 grocery stores in Arizona, California and New Mexico. Since its inception, the grocery chain has given back more than $100 million to the communities it serves. For more information, visit http://www.bashas.com or http://www.bashastogether.com.


Unions' voter-fraud unit ahead of schedule

More ACORN stories: here

ACORN advances timetable from prior years

In 2000, it was smokes for votes. In 2004, there were more votes in Milwaukee than Milwaukee voters. This year, voter registration workers in Milwaukee submitted forms with made-up voters, kicking off this year's episode of "Voter Fraud."

"Here we are in 2008 and it's early August, and we're already seeing problems," said Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. "I'm very concerned that we're going to see more problems throughout 2008."

An election year in Wisconsin just wouldn't be complete without a good partisan battle over voter fraud. This year's installment promises to be particularly testy. Wisconsin's status as a battleground state is solidifying as GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain closes the gap on Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama. And both parties are gearing up for a donnybrook over control of the state Assembly, which Democrats think they can win after 14 years in the minority.

This year's fraud fracas started last week when the progressive group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now fired about a dozen of its Milwaukee election registration canvassers for registering voters multiple times as a way to avoid having to actually register new voters to reach their performance goal of 20 voters a day.

"I think they were just lazy," said ACORN state political director Carolyn Castore. "They wanted to go out and get 20 cards in an hour and just be done with it."

Three ACORN workers have been referred to the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office for possible felony charges. So have two other workers from the Community Voter Project, which bills itself as a nonpartisan group that registers minority voters, as well as a canvasser whose employer hadn't been determined last week. More ACORN workers are under review by the Milwaukee Election Commission.

Republicans are predictably calling foul.

"This is the very reason I have fought for photo ID in order to receive a ballot," Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Milwaukee, fired off in a press release the day the ACORN story broke.

Stone has repeatedly tried to get his voter ID bill signed into law, only to see it fall victim to Gov. Jim Doyle's veto pen. Last year he sponsored a constitutional amendment, which passed in the Republican-led Assembly but died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

"We have added more names on the voter rolls, and we still have no idea if the person that is handed the ballot is truly that person," Stone said.

More names indeed.

ACORN registered 35,000 voters in the Milwaukee area, most of them from the inner city, before it shut down its voter drive last month. So far this year, 136,000 new voters have registered statewide, bringing the number of registered voters to 3.4 million.

Most of the newly registered were signed up by Democratic, left-leaning or minority groups. Most of the new voters, according to conventional wisdom, are not likely to vote Republican.

And that, Democrats say, is the motive behind Stone's call for photo IDs.

"Unfortunately, the GOP will use any excuse to call for the use of voter ID," said state Rep. Joe Parisi, a Democrat from Madison whose former life as Dane County clerk makes him the only lawmaker in the state who has actually overseen elections. "If it rains too hard, they'll say it's because people aren't required to show their driver's licenses when they vote."

PARISI said the situation in Milwaukee is evidence that the system is working.

"Someone tried to game the system, and those people were caught," he said.

ACORN fired its errant workers, then flagged the fraudulent registration cards when it turned them over to the Milwaukee Elections Commission, as is required by law. Castore pointed out that the problem employees were a mere fraction of the 220 canvassers the group hired for the election drive, most from the economically depressed inner city where they were dispatched to sign up voters.

"Part of our mission was to hire out of that community," she said. "So you tend to get people who are a little less educated."

She said all the workers were put through training, a large part of which was dedicated to the legal implications of submitting phony registration cards.

But Republicans are skeptical about ACORN's motives.

"While ACORN may have reported it themselves, I don't think there's any question that they felt like eventually they were going to be caught, so maybe it would be better to report it now and throw themselves at the mercy of the authorities," said the Republican Party's Jefferson.

Stone contends that Democrats want to capitalize on unchecked fraud.

"The reality is the Democrats, I think, believe they benefit more from people who potentially wouldn't be eligible to vote being under less scrutiny," he said.

He accused ACORN of being one of several out-of-state groups willing to flout state election laws. "I'm hoping the U.S. Attorney will pursue this."

But Parisi said the Republicans' attempts to discredit registration efforts and push for voter ID are thinly veiled attempts to suppress Democratic votes. People who don't have up-to-date state-issued IDs, he said, tend to be younger people, minorities, senior citizens and students, who sometimes move several times a year.

"It's usually people who tend to vote Democratic," he said.

Jefferson contended that the GOP is not trying to take the vote away from anyone.

"We're not concerned about large turnout," Jefferson said. "We look at the rules as they are, whether we like them or not. We wish there was a photo ID requirement; there isn't. We wish that there were other reforms to the system that we don't have."

Alleged voting irregularities in 2004 in Milwaukee prompted a federal investigation, but U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic said despite isolated instances of suspected fraud -- including up to 200 felons who may have voted, and another 100 people who may have used false names, voted twice or otherwise falsified their registration forms -- he found no evidence of widespread efforts to swing the election.

The Milwaukee Police Department earlier this year provided Republicans with more ammunition when it released a report on the 2004 elections, calling for an end to same-day registration and requiring photo identification.

But Democrats point to a new voter registration database designed to weed out felons who try to vote, and people who try to vote twice or under the names of dead people.

"With the systems of checks and balances in place, including our statewide voter registration, anyone who tries to do something like that will get caught," Parisi said.

Jefferson said Wisconsin's same-day registration system creates a vast pool of voters who can cheat because they won't be entered into the system until after their votes are cast.

Kyle Richmond, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board, said more than 414,000 voters took advantage of Wisconsin's same-day registration in 2006. All registration information for same-day voters will eventually be entered into the system, and if they vote illegally, they will be caught, he said, adding that the threat of felony voter fraud charges provides a powerful disincentive.

He pointed out that a man was caught and prosecuted in after voting twice in 2006.

"We have a great level of participation in Wisconsin because of Election Day registration, and many states are following our lead," he said. "We believe in voter enfranchisement. We think it's a good thing."

Republicans are not convinced, and they argue that the system does not keep bad apples from voting.

"They don't intend to flag those voters," Jefferson said. "We still have that issue out there."

WISCONSIN'S partisan battle over voter registration and voting irregularities has been a colorful one in recent years.

In 2000, Republicans called for a criminal investigation after New York Democratic donor Constance Milstein was caught handing out cigarettes to homeless men in Milwaukee after getting them to cast absentee ballots. She was not found to have told the men how to vote.

In 2004 Milwaukee recorded more votes than registered voters due to sloppy bookkeeping. The election was further marred by several young men who flattened the tires on 25 vans rented by the state Republican Party to ferry voters and poll monitors to the polls.

Jefferson said he fears that last week's episode was just the "tip of the iceberg."

"We're concerned that it could be," he said. "And the reason I say that isn't because I've got a whole bunch of proof to throw in your lap today. The reason I say it is the historical trends here in presidential races in the last three cycles."

According to Stone, he's held hearings at which people have testified that when they showed up to vote, someone had already voted in their name. He said prosecutors have told him that they can't prosecute such crimes because the people who cast the illegal votes didn't have to show an ID, and so could not be positively identified.

In a battleground state like Wisconsin, such a concerted effort to steal votes could bear fruit, he said.

"If you have a total swing of 4,000 or 5,000 votes, that could make a difference in a statewide election," he said.

Requiring voters to show an ID would eliminate the problem, he said.

To Parisi, it's more election year hooey.

"I would challenge anyone making that claim to show me actual cases in which people actually did vote fraudulently," he said. "That's like saying we should outlaw driving because someone might speed."


Worker-choice is a moral issue

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Forced-labor unionism violates freedom of conscience

I led the Idaho Right to Work effort for six years, culminating in the successful 1986 ballot campaign in which Idaho voters approved a Right to Work law, despite our being outspent 3 to 1 by union officials intent on defending the "pay up or you're fired" system of job discrimination against employees who choose not to join or pay dues to a labor union.

Right to Work is more than just an economic development issue, on which the proof is both overwhelming and conclusive. Idaho (1986) and Oklahoma (2001) roared into first place nationally in both job and income growth within two years of enacting Right to Work. As the only Right to Work state in the Great Lakes, Michigan would become an economic powerhouse overnight as industry in the region rushed to relocate.

But even moreso, it's an individual freedom and freedom of conscience issue, even a moral issue.

One example: Polls in 2004 showed that two-thirds of union households in Michigan voted in favor of the Marriage Protection Amendment, constitutionally protecting one man, one woman marriage. Yet national and state AFL-CIO officials formally opposed and spent their members' compulsory dues money campaigning against both the state and federal marriage amendments.

Thus, tens of thousands of Michiganians, who voted in favor of constitutionally protecting traditional marriage, are compelled as a condition of employment to financially support a private organization that lobbies and campaigns against their moral and religious convictions. That's just one of the many issues on which union officials campaign at odds with the views of individual employees compelled to finance those activities.

Should every person in Michigan be free to hold a job whether they belong to or support a private labor organization or not? Of course they should. Should it be illegal to discriminate against and fire an individual on the basis of membership or nonmembership in, or financial support or non-support of, a labor union or any other private organization, either way? Of course it should.

And if Right to Work should end up on some future election ballot, union officials will have a hard time convincing Michigan voters that Alabama or Texas or Florida or Arizona or Iowa or Tennessee or Nevada are poverty-stricken Third World-style economies.

If Right to Work is presented primarily as a Big Business issue, the corporate boardroom's plan for economic recovery, the advantage will remain with union officials.

But if it is presented as a worker's issue - with the helpful side-benefit that it will likely attract hundreds of thousands of new jobs to Michigan - then it may have a shot of surviving union officials' compulsory-dues-financed $50 million ballot campaign advertising gauntlet.

Outlawing job discrimination on the basis of union affiliation is philosophically, morally and politically justifiable, even if it had no effect on Michigan's economy. At the same time, no single change in public policy would more dramatically or immediately reverse Michigan's ongoing economic decline.

- Gary Glenn is president of the American Family Association of Michigan. He lives in Midland.


Left-wing GOP Senator denounces free speech

More EFCA stories: here

Snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory

While Sen. Susan Collins agrees with the message in several ads that attack opponent and U.S. Rep. Tom Allen for his support of the Employee Free Choice Act, she doesn’t believe such ads have a place in Maine politics, a spokesman for her campaign said Wednesday.

Allen’s campaign has called on Collins to denounce the ads. Kevin Kelley, spokesman for Collins, said the Senator does denounce this ad campaign with a blanket denouncement of all ads produced independently of the campaigns. “Senator Collins has always denounced third party ads,” Kelley said.

Carol Andrews, spokeswoman for Allen, released a statement Wednesday criticizing Collins for not speaking up about the ads.

"These past weeks have shown us clearly that Senator Collins is not concerned with the tone of third party ads so long as they attack Tom Allen. We are now seeing another round of television ads in a campaign that distorts Tom Allen's record, while portraying Maine's working men and women as members of organized crime," Andrews said.

The EFCA seeks to make it easier for workers to unionize, and eliminates the requirement that they be formed by a private ballot. It is also known as the “card-check” legislation.

The ads do not mention organized crime, however the latest ad in question features Vincent Curatola, who plays mob boss Johnny Sack on The Sopranos.

“On the issue this ad has brought up, Sen. Collins does not support the Employee Free Choice Act and she believes that all workers are entitled to a secret ballot. On this ad she finds it ironic that a public servant elected by a private ballot would vote to deny union employees the same right,” Kelley said.

The Alliance for Maine’s Future, a pro-business non-profit, has also come out against the federal legislation.

In a newsletter Tuesday, Executive Director Tony Payne wrote: “It is understandable that people in Maine who have missed out on the nation's economic boom might want to artificially increase their incomes through collective bargaining. The problem is that unless those jobs are creating added value, there is no extra money to go around. If the Card Check Bill were to become law and increased the number and clout of unions, it would drive up the cost of living for all of us while providing no measurable benefit.”

Stacey Morrison, CEO and owner of Ganneston Construction Corp. and Doug Newman, a board member of the Associated Builders and Contractors, also oppose the bill. Click on their names for their submissions on the topic to the Bangor Daily News.

Maine’s chapter of the AFL-CIO supports the legislation. President Ed Gorham has also written into the BDN on the issue.

Allen’s campaign has released a fact-check of the ad, rebutting its major points. The document emphasizes that the EFCA does not eliminate the private ballot, rather it adds another option for workers via a majority sign up process.

“Majority sign-up is much faster than the government-run balloting process and leaves less time for employers to harass and intimidate workers so they will back off from joining a union,” the document states, citing CBS News.


Secret-ballot elections thrown under bus

More EFCA stories: here

So much for free choice

Wal-Mart, the company that liberals love to hate, their George W. Bush and Big Oil of corporate America, has summoned department heads and store managers to meetings with human-resources managers to warn against a bill now before Congress that would make it easy for unions to get their foot in the door.

The percentage of private-sector workers who belong to unions is in a tailspin, down from more than 16 percent in 1985 to 7.5 percent last year. To counter that, organized labor had its Democrats introduce legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s been around since 2003, but has new life now that Barack Obama has a real shot at taking the White House. Organized Labor is mounting a major push to get him elected.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private employer. It has aggressively resisted efforts to unionize its stores. When the United Food and Commercial Workers succeeded in organizing meat cutters at a store in Texas eight years ago, the company opted to phase them out in favor of prepackaged meats.

The conversations Wal-Mart officials had with its store managers and department heads warning against the legislation were legit. But they nonetheless sent unionists into a tizzy. Richard Ray, president of the Georgia AFL-CIO, called it “unfair corporate bullying” and proceeded to argue that it’s a really bad company in need of the Employee Free Choice Act.

That propose act gives back to organized labor all that it has lost and more. It allows unions to gain representation simply by gathering up and submitting signed authorization cards from a majority of the work force. There’d be no secret vote where workers declare their preferences, as they do in local, state and national elections.

The union could simply intimidate enough workers to force them to sign union cards and that’d be it. So much for free choice. So much for privacy in voting.

The Employee Free Choice Act is an awful bill. It stacks the deck. It takes from workers the right to make a free choice in the privacy of the voting booth. It’s one more reason the November election matters.


Unionist voters sour on Franken

Related story: "Al Franken, Minnesota DINO"
Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"

DINO wants to end secret-ballot union elections

When Democrats this spring sized up Al Franken's bid to win a Senate seat in his native Minnesota, they saw plenty of promising signs: an engaging and famously funny candidate familiar to voters, a stockpile of campaign cash, and a vulnerable incumbent Republican.

Less than three months before Election Day, however, the Republican seat held by a former New Yorker, Norm Coleman, looks safer than ever, and Mr. Franken's hopes could be doomed by his own New York past.

The former "Saturday Night Live" star, best-selling author, and talk show host is lagging far behind in the polls amid a swirl of negative stories about his unpaid taxes and employee benefits, raunchy jokes, and even pornography.

After being endorsed in June by the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Mr. Franken now faces a primary challenger who says Mr. Franken's campaign missteps show he is out of touch with Minnesota values and have rendered him unelectable.

Looking to bounce back, Mr. Franken shook up his campaign staff last month and brought in a group of veteran Washington operatives, including a former aide to Senator Schumer and John Edwards, Eric Schultz, and a top adviser to Senator Clinton, Mandy Grunwald.

But political analysts in Minnesota say the damage may be too great. The race, they say, has become a referendum on Mr. Franken rather than the incumbent — an ominous sign for any challenger.

"It's all about Franken, and it needs to be all about Coleman," an expert on Minnesota politics at Carleton College, Steven Schier, said.

Both candidates were born in New York City. Mr. Coleman, 58, was raised in Brooklyn and attended Hofstra University in Long Island. He moved to Minnesota after law school and was elected mayor of St. Paul in 1993 as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the state equivalent of the Democratic Party. He became a Republican in 1997 and won his seat in the Senate in 2002 after the sudden death of the incumbent, Paul Wellstone, in a plane crash shortly before the election.

Though Democrats have criticized him for voting 90% of the time with President Bush, he has developed a reputation as a moderate. He's also been known for his criticism of the United Nations and has introduced several bills to restrict American funding of the world body.

Mr. Franken, 57, was born in New York City and moved with his family to a suburb of Minneapolis at the age of 4, where he spent his childhood. After graduating from Harvard University, he began a career in comedy and eventually landed back in New York at the then-fledgling "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s.

After leaving the show in 1995, he penned the best-sellers "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations" and "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right."

In recent years, Mr. Franken emerged as the star of Air America Radio, hosting a talk show on the liberal start-up network, which struggled to find a foothold. He moved back to Minnesota in 2005 and started a political action committee with an eye toward challenging Mr. Coleman this year.

After announcing his candidacy on his show's final broadcast in February 2007, Mr. Franken stumped throughout the state, courting labor unions and other key Democratic-aligned interest groups as he sought to prove himself as a serious candidate, and not merely a celebrity on a vanity tour.

By and large, he was successful. Stressing his Minnesota roots, he focused on the issues and followed the national Democratic playbook of trying to tie Mr. Coleman to the increasingly unpopular Bush administration, particularly hammering his support for the Iraq war.

Mr. Franken demonstrated formidable fund-raising prowess and raised more money than any challenger in the country. Activists from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party increasingly lined up behind Mr. Franken, and his chief rival for the endorsement bowed out in March.

Though the nomination appeared largely in hand, Mr. Franken's problems were just beginning. First came the disclosure that he faced $25,000 in penalties for failing to pay workers' compensation for the corporation he had set up in his name in New York. Then, following a story broken by a Republican blogger, Mr. Franken in April announced that he was paying $70,000 in back taxes and penalties to 17 states. He attributed the error to his longtime accountant, saying he had overpaid the same amount in taxes to New York and Minnesota.

All the while, Mr. Franken continued to be dogged by off-color jokes and writings from his career as a satirist. In particular, Republicans pounced on a sexually explicit parody he wrote for Playboy, titled "Porn-O-Rama." Also unearthed was a 1995 article from New York magazine, which reported that Mr. Franken once proposed a joke for "SNL" about raping the "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl.

Facing criticism from prominent female Democrats in Minnesota, Mr. Franken offered a general apology to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor convention as he accepted the party endorsement in June. "It kills me that things I said and wrote sent a message ... that they can't count on me to be a champion for women, for all Minnesotans. I'm sorry for that. Because that's not who I am," Mr. Franken said, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune. "I wrote a lot of jokes. Some of them weren't funny. Some of them weren't appropriate. Some of them were downright offensive. I understand that."

The flaps provided plenty of fodder for Mr. Coleman, who lumped them all together in a television ad featuring three bowlers discussing the campaign. "We've read all this stuff about Al Franken," one says in the ad. "Not paying taxes. Going without insurance for his employees. Foul-mouthed attacks on anyone he disagrees with. Tasteless, sexist jokes. Writing all that juicy porn." The bowler concludes by saying he and his buddies have decided to run for Senate, because, he says, "we're just as qualified as Al Franken."

The spate of negative attention appeared to take its toll with voters. Polls last month gave Mr. Coleman a double digit lead after showing a neck-and-neck race early in the year.

With Mr. Franken's campaign seemingly sputtering, a little-known St. Paul attorney, Priscilla Lord Faris, announced in July that she would challenge Mr. Franken in the DFL's September 9 primary. Initially a supporter of Mr. Franken who had contributed to his campaign, Ms. Lord Faris said she concluded he was unelectable.

In an interview, she attributed Mr. Franken's problems to his long absence from Minnesota. "It's the total package. We kind of call it the New York City problem," she said. "The root of it is that he's been out of touch with Minnesota for so long that he didn't understand that we don't talk like that here."

A DFL spokesman said the party endorsed Mr. Franken "by acclamation" and fully expected him to win. "We're putting every resource into helping him beat Norm Coleman and take back Paul Wellstone's seat in November," the spokesman, John Stiles, said.

The Franken campaign did not return calls for comment.

Though Ms. Lord Faris is not expected to defeat Mr. Franken, she could damage him. She is running television ads criticizing him, and one has already been incorporated into one of Mr. Coleman's TV spots.

With her entry into the race, Mr. Franken is now hearing the carpetbagger charge from both sides — even from Mr. Coleman, despite his New York roots. "Norm Coleman has been working on behalf of Minnesotans for 30 years. He's led a Minnesota life," a campaign spokesman, Mark Drake, said. Mr. Franken "is someone who parachuted in from out of state to run for office."

Political analysts fault Mr. Franken for not knowing about his tax and employee benefit liability earlier in his bid for office, and they say he was wrong to discount the potential explosiveness of his career as a comedian, a charge the Democrats in Minnesota do not dispute. "He just really believed there was a red line between that past and running for office," a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, Lawrence Jacobs, said. "It was naïve on his part."

Democrats say Mr. Franken's campaign has improved markedly since the staff additions came on board. He had more than $4 million in campaign cash to spend at the end of the last filing period, and has been running a combination of positive ads along with spots attacking Mr. Coleman. Party strategists say the campaign has succeeded in going on the offensive, and aides have of late been focusing on reports that Mr. Coleman is paying well under market value for an apartment in Washington.

"It's a very tight race," said Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has made Mr. Coleman's seat a target this fall. He acknowledged that the campaign had suffered a "setback," but he said Mr. Franken handled it well and noted that the last polls were conducted a month ago.

Mr. Schier of Carleton College said Mr. Franken could come back, adding that Mr. Coleman's lead was not conclusive. "It's not over," he said.


Union-backed voter-fraud groups activate

More ACORN stories: here

Organized labor wants every vote for a Democrat to count

Three workers from a community activist group have been accused of falsifying voter registration forms in Milwaukee. Election Commission executive director Sue Edman says managers at the Community Voters Project caught much of the fraud committed by two workers. Election Commission staff found problems with forms turned in by the third worker.

Community Voters Project is the second group to have problems while registering voters.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now fired a dozen canvassers after they turned in false or incomplete registration forms.

ACORN and Community Voters Project are among five liberal groups that have launched big voter registration drives in Milwaukee in preparation for the Nov. 4 presidential election.


Gov't-union dues flow threatened by furloughs

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Labor-state unions' political skills come into play

Union and Prince George's County (MD) officials are saying furloughs for nearly 6,000 county employees are on the way, but leaders are staying mum on plans to make up for a $48 million budget shortfall. Initially, labor unions were asked to renegotiate contracts to save money, but when negotiations fell flat last month, rumors began to circulate of a plan requiring government employees to take at least a week of unpaid leave this year.

"We probably won't be commenting on it until it goes forward," said John Erzen, spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who said the exact terms could change. "Nothing is carved in stone just yet."

Details of the financial plan to balance the budget will not be made public until September when the County Council resumes after its August recess. However, several union and county officials said the county is considering asking workers to take between 55 and 88 hours of unpaid time over the fiscal year.

Ever since the budget gap was announced in late June, officials have said unpaid leave, or furloughs, could be used to cut personnel costs, followed by lay-offs as a last resort.

"We have said that [furloughs] would be a possibility," said Erzen, who was unable to estimate how much furloughs could save the county in costs.

The move comes after talks between the county and unions representing about 5,500 firefighters, police and other government employees stalled two weeks ago. County officials had first asked the unions to forego a portion of promised raises for the year in order to save about $14 million.

In the latest two-year contracts, workers had been promised annual raises between 2.5 to 3.5 percent to cover the increased cost of living, as well as additional raises based on individual performance.

Union officials rejected the proposals, which they said went against long-promised contracts they negotiated with the county. Union members have said the county could make up the shortfall by cutting other costs or dipping into its reserves, but that county officials were unwilling.

"Once we all sat down, we all came to the conclusion that we couldn't reach an agreement pretty quick," said Vincent Canales, president of the county's Fraternal Order of Police that represents about 1,200 police officers.

Relations between the two sides were strained before talks began. It took more than two years for the county and unions to hammer out the current labor contracts, which were passed this spring more than a year behind schedule.

On July 14, county administrative officer Jacqueline Brown sent a memo to workers freezing all raises until the talks concluded. Unions protested the move, filing formal letters of grievance.

"Your county's workers help run your county," said Wanda Shelton-Martin, spokeswoman for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 2,900 workers in several county departments. "They haven't even asked for our suggestions. All they have done is attack our workers."

AFSCME filed a grievance shortly after the freeze was imposed. FOP and others threatened to do the same, but held off.

Though she did not mention the talks with labor, Brown wrote in another memo to employees Aug. 1 that the county would pay the raises outlined in labor contracts, now that "a revised 2009 financial plan has been developed."

Brown did not return calls for comment.

The shortfall was announced days before the fiscal year began on July 1. County officials said that lagging real estate sales were projected to cost Prince George's County about $48 million for the year in lost transfer and recordation fees that normally come from home sales.


SEIU gets away with election violations

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Jumbo gov't-union owns labor-state

Washington State schools Superintendent Terry Bergeson thinks her opponents are cheating. In a complaint filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission, Bergeson says a so-called independent expenditure campaign paid for by the Service Employees International Union is not at all independent from her main challenger. The PDC is charged with sorting it out. Given its recent record, don’t hold your breath for a resolution.

But what is at least as interesting as the complaint itself is why the union cares enough about the Washington state school superintendent race to spend $200,000 promoting Randy Dorn and assailing Bergeson. That is more than either Bergeson or Dorn is spending in the campaign so far, and most of the cash came from the international office in Washington, D.C.

SEIU is a growing union with increasing political clout. It has led the charge to unionize previously marginalized workers such as custodians and home health care workers.

But it has not been involved in school politics or education issues. That changed in 2005 when the previously independent Public School Employees union affiliated with SEIU. The 27,000-member PSE union represents classified employees in 175 school districts in the state – secretaries, janitors, bus drivers, food workers.

The person credited with leading those school employees into the SEIU is Dorn, the PSE’s executive director.

So the obvious answer to the SEIU’s interest is loyalty. Dorn is a good soldier, part of the union family, who wants to become the state’s school superintendent. The international union based in D.C. wants to help.

But it’s still a lot of money – a $202,000 thank-you in a campaign where Dorn has raised $110,000 and Bergeson has raised $165,000.

And can SEIU really be considered independent from the campaign of a man who heads one of the union’s affiliates, whose campaign manager came from another SEIU local (though not one that donated to the independent expenditure campaign) and whose headquarters is housed in union offices in Auburn?

That doesn’t pass the smell test. But given the vagaries of campaign finance laws – Was there coordination? Were there conversations? Is there an association? – it might be considered lawfully independent. Again, that is up to the PDC and perhaps a court.

The Bergeson complaint raises another interesting – though tangential – issue: What is Citizens For Washington, the political action committee that is actually buying the radio and Internet ads with SEIU’s money? CFW’s officers have links to Gov. Chris Gregoire and to the state’s Indian tribes.

Scott Nelson, an Olympia lobbyist who is volunteering his time to advise Citizens For Washington, says the committee was created to work on other campaigns and issues, not Dorn’s. But it was asked to help with the SEIU effort between now and Tuesday’s primary. The campaign was designed by CFW chairman Tim Zenk, who managed Gregoire’s 2004 campaign, and CFW treasurer Mike Moran, a lobbyist whose client list includes the Samish Indian Nation.

Since the school’s job is nonpartisan, the race will end in the primary if a candidate gets a majority of the vote. If not, the two candidates with the most votes will face off in November.

“This PAC exists to further generally progressive causes,” Nelson said. The committee will spend the rest of the SEIU money to help Dorn until the primary, and then move on.

“They are on their own after the primary,” Nelson said.

Nelson did not deny that CFW might get involved in helping Gregoire, and that he expects to seek tribal contributions as part of the effort. But he said no decisions have been made and no money has been collected for other issues yet.

Despite the allegations made by Bergeson, Nelson said he thinks the group acted within the law.

“There’s nothing nefarious about this,” Nelson said.


Corrupt Chicago Teamster big ousted

Related Hoffa-Hogan stories: here

Feds shame Hoffa into acting against former ally

Robert Hogan, former President of Teamsters Local 714, agreed to leave the union earlier this week amid allegations of misconduct. Hogan, whose family has run the union since the Depression, signed an agreement with the Teamsters' Independent Review Board that he would voluntarily leave the union, agreeing never to serve as an officer or member there, or work as an employee again.

Hogan's departure is the result of a recommendation made to international union president Jimmy Hoffa last August by the IRB. The IRB alleged that Hogan had acted against the best interests of union members by hiring Robert Riley as a business agent and organizing director, even though Riley had been barred from the union. The IRB also charged that the local union was failing to represent its membership, had corrupt relationships with companies where members worked, and was using favoritism and nepotism to secure jobs for associates of the Hogan family.

Insiders believe that the Teamsters are trying to crack down on corruption in the union. Hogan, a one-time ally of Hoffa, believes that Hoffa is retaliating against a potential political rival. The national union has been managing Local 714 since June.


Bargaining unit abandoned by UAW

More decertification stories: here

Not enough union-dues flow to sustain organizers

Ortech workers no longer have an alliance with the United Auto Workers Union. As of July 29, 2008, the UAW filed a disclaimer severing relations with Ortech's employees as part of its collective bargaining union.

One employee told KTVO that Ortech laid off all of its employees who voted in favor of the union. Another employee said she is glad that the union is out of Ortech, and hopefully it will bring more jobs to the company.

Ortech currently employs about 50 people.


Governor no obstacle to SEIU, AFSCME in Ohio

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Under 'sick-or-not' mandate, employers would pay

Gov. Ted Strickland's quest to head off a union-backed November ballot issue is common-sense, practical politicking. But if conference-table haggling doesn't derail a union-backed bid to require Ohio employers to provide paid sick days, Strickland must fight, not walk.

Ohio's is among the half-dozen most powerful governorships in the nation. That, and Strickland's popularity and Republican disarray, put Ohio at his command.

Strickland doesn't shy away from power. To help the House's Democratic minority become, he hopes, a majority, Strickland craftily used the power of patronage to lure two Republican House candidates off November's legislative ballot. In June, he gave Ohio's six Catholic bishops the brush by vetoing a legislative ban on embryonic stem-cell research. To do that, Strickland exercised his right to veto part of a bill, rather than all of it. That's a line-item power not even President Bush enjoys.

Likewise, Strickland -- just by signing two executive orders -- added 15,000 dues-paying members to the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Strickland, by fiat, bestowed collective-bargaining rights on 7,000 independent home-health-care workers. They aren't public employees, but they're paid through Medicaid. After they ratify a pending contract, they will sign SEIU membership cards..

The governor, also by edict, bestowed collective bargaining rights on 8,000 independent child-care home providers. They aren't public employees, either, but they are Medicaid-paid. AFSCME now represents them.

Strickland owes organized labor nothing. If anything, labor owes him. And he should not hesitate to tell the SEIU, the primary force behind the sick-leave initiative, that it's a surefire jobs-killer.

The union wants to make Ohio employers with 25 or more workers offer those employees seven paid sick days a year.

No other state has such a law. In fact, last week, a California state Senate committee, run 9-6 by Democrats, killed a bill to impose mandatory paid sick days on California employers. Given California's far-out politics, that speaks volumes.

Whatever one thinks of statehouse business lobbies, the effect of a Strickland-brokered sick-leave compromise would be to give the SEIU something it couldn't win from the General Assembly, albeit a GOP-run General Assembly. Strickland counters that, absent a compromise, Ohio voters are virtually certain to enact the SEIU sick-leave initiative in November.

He seems surer of that than the business lobbies are: They're prepared to spend a great deal of money on a fight, and they're not known for embracing lost causes.

Strickland has gotten the SEIU to his conference table. He says the business lobbies are playing Russian roulette by staying away. Those lobbies retort that they tried negotiating earlier this year but got nowhere. Meanwhile, Strickland has stopped short of saying he will campaign against the SEIU's initiative if a compromise isn't fashioned.

Agreed, a governor saves such a threat for last. But if this initiative is as bad as Ted Strickland says it is -- and it is -- he has to go to the mat if it comes to that.

Strickland studied for the United Methodist ministry; he's familiar with the Bible. So the governor of Ohio knows that history isn't kind to a magistrate who washes his hands of a fight.


Highly-skilled dues embezzler nabbed by Feds

Organized labor crime epidemic sweeps nation

A former bookkeeper for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of embezzling about $108,000 from her employer. Rosa Della Porta, 44, of Highland Park worked for the union's Local 26 office in South Los Angeles. She was indicted Friday in federal court for one count of embezzling union funds.

Her job responsibilities included receiving dues and making bank deposits, according to a release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"After receiving cash from various sources, Della Porta allegedly deposited less cash than the union received and pocketed the balance," according to the release.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor determined she allegedly stole approximately $108,000 in cash from January 2003 to June 2006, when she was relieved of her bookkeeping duties. She was terminated from her job in November 2006.

Local 26 President Luisa Gratz said Della Porta worked for the union for about 10 years.

Suspicions were raised when resources were suddenly scarce, Gratz said.

"We didn't know what was wrong, and we called our accountants," she said.

An audit uncovered the embezzlement, and Gratz said she notified the Department of Labor.

She said investigators told her the method Della Porta allegedly used to embezzle the money is called "check lapping."

"They said it's a very skilled person who can do that," Gratz said. "She
fooled us."

Gratz said she personally spent a lot of time working with investigators, and wishes she could've used that time in a more productive manner serving the union's members.

"But I'm very glad that the Department of Labor has finally concluded its investigation and has decided to take action against her," Gratz said.

Gratz said Della Porta has a young son and maybe a teenage daughter.

Gratz recalled a time that Della Porta arrived at work in a new BMW. Della Porta told Gratz she bought it with money she won gambling in Las Vegas.

"I didn't believe her, but we didn't have proof," Gratz said.

If convicted, Della Porta faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

The Local 26 office represents approximately 1,000 ILWU members, who work for 28 industrial companies in the Los Angeles area.

Gratz said members include steel and scrap metal workers, security guards who work in the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, as well as truck drivers and pharmaceutical employees.

The ILWU represents approximately 42,000 workers in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.


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