ACORN fraud expands beyond elections

More ACORN stories: here

Union-backed group mixes loan fees, gov't grants, charity and politics

Barack Obama's ACORN is part of the problem. Involved in voter registration fraud and embezzlement, ACORN also bears some responsibility for the housing crash. Townhall:
ACORN’s “victories” often have harmed rather than helped their intended beneficiaries. ACORN-sponsored community groups, for instance, regularly have invoked the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 in their attempts to block bank acquisitions and mergers with flimsy charges of mortgage lending “discrimination.” The current mortgage meltdown, especially in the subprime market, in large measure owes to lenders responding to pressure to increase loan volumes to barely qualified or outright unqualified borrowers, many of whom now have lost their homes.

We have evidence of voter registration fraud in Wisconsin, Townhall recalls Obama supporter McCaskill in Missouri (remember):
In 2006, for example, ACORN members engaged in vote fraud in several states, especially Missouri. In that state’s Senate race, Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill defeated Republican incumbent James Talent by about a 50,000-vote margin. A sizable portion of that margin was attributable to ACORN organizers submitting phony or at least suspicious voter-registration cards to election officials in the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas. Several ACORN members in Kansas City were indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office just prior to Election Day, and eventually pleaded guilty. Rathke, not one for subtlety, called City of St. Louis election officials “slop buckets” when they questioned the veracity of ACORN-submitted forms. And who was Missouri state auditor during 2006? That would be Claire McCaskill.
(whose husband was also an "affordable" housing magnate, as was Obama's buddy Tony Rezko)

It's not just ACORN doing fraudulent voter registration for Democrats.


Out-of-state labor cash floods North Carolina

Collectivists target GOP in Right to Work state

National labor unions, major corporations and longtime Washington insiders are investing heavily in North Carolina political races this year. Out-of-state political groups could spend nearly $10 million on North Carolina's races for governor and U.S. senator, mostly on television and radio ads, and some are considering putting money into the presidential race here as well.

The candidates who are most likely to be targeted are Republicans: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory, and possibly presidential candidate John McCain.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beverly Perdue could also be on the list.

Though outside spending is nothing new in North Carolina, the amount of money involved is higher than in past years. The early appearance of negative ads has already put some candidates on the defensive on such issues as campaign contributions, tax breaks for oil companies and the minimum wage.

Experts say the deluge of out-of-state money is due to several factors: closer-than-usual races in North Carolina, strong Democratic fundraising nationally and the confluence of big-ticket races for president, governor and senator on the same ballot.

The biggest target for outside groups is the U.S. Senate race between Dole, a Salisbury Republican in her first term, and state Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat who has spent a decade in the legislature.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recruited Hagan and is prepared to spend as much as $8 million here. It has already run two TV ads attacking Dole's effectiveness and slyly bringing up the subject of her age.

The group is targeting North Carolina as part of an effort to get a filibuster-proof supermajority of 60 Democratic senators, and also because it has fewer Democratic Senate seats to defend, spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Its major donors include the investment banking firm Morgan Stanley, the hedge fund Fortress Investment Group and political action committees run by a number of Democratic senators, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Its GOP counterpart, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, has lagged behind, raising $58.8 million to the DSCC's $93.3 million by the end of July. The head of the Republican group recently said it would try to match Democratic spending in states such as North Carolina, but right now it doesn't have the money to do so.

Dole is getting support from another outside group, but it is at a much smaller level.

Americans for Prosperity, a national limited government advocacy group with an active North Carolina chapter, is spending $300,000 on radio ads praising Dole's support of offshore drilling and oil shale development.

Bob Hall, executive director of the campaign finance reform group Democracy North Carolina, said that the estimated spending is a little higher than the $7 million in soft money spent in 2000 - which would be worth $9 million today when adjusted for inflation.

The difference is that money came from donors across the country to the national parties, then to state parties to help candidates, whereas today's money is going to independent organizations, called 527 groups after the section of the law that created them.

Even a smaller buy can put a candidate on the defensive.

In late July, an independent group called the Alliance for North Carolina began running a $450,000 ad attacking McCrory, the GOP candidate for governor, for his stands on the minimum wage, community college tuition and pay raises for Charlotte officials.

The McCrory campaign initially dismissed the ad - even agreeing that he opposes a plan to make community college free - but it prompted them to start airing their own ad two weeks ahead of schedule, instead of waiting until after Labor Day.

Funding for the attack ad came from the Democratic Governors Association, a national group that works to elect Democrats, and the National Education Association, a teachers union affiliated with the N.C. Association of Educators.

McCrory campaign adviser Jack Hawke said third-party ads can insulate candidates from nasty attacks launched on their behalf, because by law such ads can't be coordinated with a campaign.

"It's put a whole new wrinkle in politics," he said. "All of a sudden you've got outside groups making allegations, while the candidate can say 'Oh, I don't know anything about that, I had nothing to do with it,' while they're in the back room cheering."

Democratic consultant Mac McCorkle, who is advising Perdue, said he'd much rather just run his own ads. Outside groups can cause a backlash, he noted, by straying too far off message or taking a harsher tone than the candidate wants to put forward.

"It clearly is a disruptive force, and it adds another element of uncertainty," he said. "You are always trying to game out what the other side may do, and then you've got these third and fourth parties in the conversation, too."

Perdue may face her own third-party attacks as well.

The Republican Governors Association recently formed a political action committee that raised nearly $390,000 by the end of June, although it has not yet aired any ads or announced any plans in the governors' race.

Although the third-party ads are independently created, they often echo the lines of argument of the candidates they are designed to benefit. The Alliance for North Carolina, for example, attacked McCrory for opposing Perdue's plan to provide free community college tuition.

Carter Wrenn, a longtime Republican political consultant, said it's fairly obvious to the heads of third-party groups what the campaigns would want.

"You have people who have come out of the same political school, so they tend to look at things the same way," Wrenn said. "Still, you always sort of suspect that maybe in the back rooms in the dead of night there's a little bit of communication going on."

The leaders of 527 groups are often former party officials and consultants who have worked with the candidates in the past.

The Alliance for North Carolina, a Washington-based group running the McCrory ad, hired Scott Falmlen, the former executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party, to serve as its spokesman in Raleigh.

Falmlen said the alliance is an independent group hoping to raise awareness of such issues as increasing the minimum wage and making community college free - both of which happen to be mainstays of Perdue's platform.

At a news conference Wednesday, McCrory called the group "very mysterious" and argued its members were allies of Perdue.

Falmlen said that was not true. He said the Alliance for North Carolina has provided information on its donors and its spending to the government, runs a Web site and answers questions from the media.

"We are totally compliant with what the law requires with both the Internal Revenue Service and the State Board of Elections," he said. "I don't know what else there is to say."


Dem takes heat for backing 'no vote' unionism

Related story: "Mary Landrieu, Louisiana DINO"
More EFCA stories: here

Free Market Group Condemns Vote to Strip Workers of Private Ballots

As Labor Day approaches, the Alliance for Worker Freedom's (AWF) Executive Director Brian M. Johnson issued the following statement condemning Senator Mary Landrieu's vote to side with Big Labor against the average rank-and-file workers in Louisiana by supporting H.R. 800, the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act."

Endorsed by the Communist Party USA and introduced by Congressional Democrats, H.R. 800 would disenfranchise all workers by taking away their right to a private ballot vote when deciding on whether or not to organize a union. H.R. 800 passed the U.S. House of Representatives but failed to pass in the Senate.

In a recent statement, AWF Executive Director Brian M. Johnson said, "It should be no surprise that Sen. Landrieu is siding with not only the extreme left, but the Communist Party in pledging to carry out the anti-democratic bidding of Labor Union bosses. Lopsided campaign contributions from Big Labor to the left translate directly into votes as not one Democrat in the Senate opposed this measure which strips the private ballot voting right of the American worker!"

"Senator Landrieu is proving to the American worker that big labor trumps worker privacy by voting to trample on the rights of the American worker," says Johnson. "Card check makes employees vulnerable to union threats and their families' targets of discrimination by organized labor. Landrieu should have to answer to Louisiana workers."

The recent polling data released by American Solutions for Winning the Future, indicates that 77 percent of Republicans, 82 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of independents, out of 1,000 American voters polled believe in protecting private union ballots. According to Johnson, "clearly Sen. Landrieu, the other Senate Democrats and the Communist Party have a different view for the future of America."

Louisiana Press & Talk Radio Alert:
To schedule an interview with Brian Johnson, call 202-785-0266 or email jkartch@atr.org

The Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF) is a special project of Americans for Tax Reform dedicated to the protection of workers rights.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact John Kartch at (202) 785-0266 or at jkartch@atr.org.


Union ads appeal to Maine voters

Related story: "Dem whacked by card-check ads"
More EFCA stories: here

Union members know the importance of secret-ballot elections

A political advertisement, featuring an actor who played a mobster on "The Sopranos" apparently portraying a labor union boss and which is critical of U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, is being denounced by both the Allen and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins campaigns. Allen, a Democrat, and Collins, a Republican, are running against each other for the U.S. Senate.

The ads, paid for by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, suggest Allen, because he was a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, wants to deny workers the right to vote by secret ballot when deciding whether to join a union.

The coalition is not affiliated with either of the campaigns.

The issue of the Employee Free Choice Act aside, both campaigns said the third party, negative campaign ads don't belong in Maine.

"You've got a bunch of big corporations targeting Democratic candidates running for Senate," said Carol Andrews, spokeswoman for Allen's campaign. "They've put a lot of money behind these ad campaigns. In our state , they're spending upwards of $800,000 bashing Tom Allen, unions and Maine working people. It's a total insult and a slap in the face."

Andrews said the ad seeks to demonize Maine's union workers, who include firefighters and shipbuilders.

"They are not organized crime," Andrews said.

While Andrews said the Allen campaign has publicly asked Collins to denounce the ads, she said the Collins campaign has been silent about the ads.

However, on Friday, Collins' campaign spokesman Kevin Kelley denounced the ads, too.

"Senator Collins' campaign has nothing to do with these ads, which are apparently running in several cities around the country," Kelley said. "Senator Collins has always denounced third-party ads like these and continues to believe that they should have no place in Maine politics."

Coalition leaders said their most recent ad, developed by nationally known media strategist Mike Murphy and featuring actor Vince Curatola, who played gangster John "Johnny Sac" Sacramoni on the former HBO television series "The Sopranos," was an effort to use a recognized character and humor to make their point.

The organization describes itself as a coalition of workers, employers, associations and organizations.

Its members, according to a list on the organization's Web site, appear to be primarily made up of business and industry associations.

Rhonda Bentz, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, said the organization has no ties to the Collins campaign.

"They didn't even know we were running or creating," the ads, Bentz said. "We felt it is important in that there is an opportunity to educate Maine citizens there is a threat to private ballot election. Whoever gets elected to the Senate -- Allen or Collins -- it is likely, next year, they will be faced with how to vote on this issue."

Regarding the Employee Free Choice Act issue, Kelley said Collins voted against the act because, "Just as every member of Congress is elected by secret ballot, she believes that employees should have the same right when it comes to determining union representation."

However, Andrews noted the act would not take away workers' rights to vote by secret ballot.

Instead, Andrews said, it would keep the option of a secret ballot vote, while also giving workers an additional option. She said the act adds the majority sign-up, or card check, process, in which workers seeking to form a union could sign cards indicating their desire to do so.

Andrews said that process would be much quicker and make it easier for people to unionize. She said the current system allows the employer to direct when union elections would be held, and some employers can take advantage of the system to delay the process and "try to wear people down so they never do it."

Bentz said the Employee Free Choice Act would leave the decision of whether to use secret ballots or the card check process in union elections up to union bosses and organizers.

An almost identical ad, just featuring different candidates, has also run on television in Minnesota, where Democrat Al Franken is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.


Unionists defend Colorado protectorate

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Battle v. worker-choice, capitalism aided by pro-collectivist Denver Post

Colorado has become an important battleground state in the presidential election, and one of the biggest senatorial races in the nation is over filling the seat of its retiring senator, Wayne Allard. Yet the most ferocious political fight in the state doesn't involve Democrats and Republicans. Instead, unions and business groups have loaded the November ballot with an array of competing initiatives.

Each side says it will spend tens of millions of dollars to push its agenda and defeat its opponent's measures, which each contends would cripple the state's economy.

The seven initiatives on the ballot include what proponents say would be the toughest law against corporate fraud in the nation, which would make company executives liable for crimes committed by their firms. Each side says the initiatives should be judged on their own merits, but also accuses the other of acting in bad faith.

"Their agenda's very clear," Jan Rigg, a spokeswoman for the business group Defend Our Economy, said of her labor foes. "They want to send a message to the business community that they're going to play hardball on this."

But Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future, which is backing the corporate fraud initiative, contends that certain business groups have backed anti-labor initiatives to "divide workplaces and divide workers."

"We have a pretty rickety national economy, and what we need to do is come together," Knox said.

The dueling initiatives join at least two other hot-button issues on the November ballot: proposals to ban affirmative action and to declare a fertilized egg a human being.

"It's fair to say that Colorado will be the center of ballot initiative world in November," said Joe Mathews, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, which follows voter initiatives. "The business-labor [ones] likely will be the biggest, most bitter and hard-fought ballot fight in the country."

The labor-business battle began last year when Democrats, jubilant about controlling the statehouse and the governor's mansion for the first time in decades, sent a bill to newly elected Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. making it easier for workers to unionize.

Ritter outraged labor by vetoing the bill. Ritter later issued an executive order enabling state workers to collectively bargain. That led to a group of business leaders, spearheaded by John Coors of the prominent brewing family, to propose a ballot initiative to make Colorado a right-to-work state.

The initiative, Amendment 47, would enable workers to opt out of unions in already-organized work sites, which 22 states, including all of Colorado's neighbors except New Mexico, allow. (California does not.)

"Coloradans appreciate and love their freedoms, and that's the main thrust of Amendment 47," said Kelley Hart, spokesman for the group that is funding the initiative.

Business groups later added measures to the ballot that would prevent unions from using member dues for politics without worker approval and an initiative to ban political contributions by any entity that deals with the government, including contractors and unions.

Labor and progressive groups fired back with a bevy of counterproposals, four of which are on the ballot. One would require a formal explanation before workers are fired; another would force businesses with more than 20 workers to provide health insurance; and the third would allow workers to seek damages outside of employee compensation.

The most dramatic proposal, though, is the corporate fraud measure. It was inspired by a local scandal involving Denver-based telecom giant Qwest Communications International Inc., whose chief executive was convicted last year of insider trading for selling his stock when he knew the company's public revenue projections were inflated.

When the conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court in March, labor groups drafted the corporate fraud measure. Backers say the aim is to enable local prosecutors to attack earnings fraud and other corporate crimes.

"This is a common-sense law," said Lew Ellingson, a former Qwest worker who now works for the Communications Workers of America. "If people break the law, they should be held responsible."

Mark Grueskin, the attorney who drafted the measure, said it merely closed a loophole in state law. Executives can already be prosecuted if their firms contradict a state order, such as dumping toxic waste. The initiative also makes them liable if they passively defy one by, for example, not correcting inaccurate earnings reports.

Executives are rarely prosecuted for the existing law, Grueskin said, and he doesn't expect a significant uptick should the initiative pass. "This isn't the focus what most DAs are doing today," he said.

But Mark Lowenstein, an expert on corporate law at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that if the initiative passes, executives could be left in the position of not knowing under what circumstances they could be held criminally liable. They would be forced to prove they didn't know about any misdeed in their firms.

"It's terribly over-broad," he said of the initiative.

Rigg, whose group is fighting the measure, argued that it would scare away businesses that might otherwise relocate to Colorado. "You're not making Colorado a very attractive place to do business," she said.

Proponents say the measure shouldn't have that effect.

"I'm not sure that Colorado's economic development campaign is: 'Come to Colorado; we love corporate fraud,' " Knox said.


Card-check scheme exposed as false choice

Unions, Dems evoke George Orwell

In a masterpiece of cynicism, American labor unions have come up with a scheme to bypass those federally supervised, secret ballot elections they keep losing ... and dubbed it the "Employee Free Choice Act"!

What the unions want is for their organizers to be able to corner workers when they're alone -- in a break room, in the darkened company parking lot -- and "convince" them to sign a card saying they want to be represented by the union. What the unions need to make this scheme work is a new federal law directing that -- once a majority of workers have been so "convinced" -- the union would be declared the recognized bargaining agent, authorized to collect dues to cover "collective bargaining costs" even from those who choose not to join.

The current federal requirement that unless employers agreed to the "card count" system such questions would be settled through a secret-ballot election would be sidestepped.

Democrats favor this change. Arizona Republican John McCain does not.

In fact, labor organizers are rubbing their hands, having been promised that -- if they can help stampede far-left Democrats into the White House and beefed-up majorities in both houses of Congress -- the forced "card-count" system will be near the top of the Democrats' pay-back agenda.

This has raised concerns among the managers of private outfits that support the economy with their investments and taxes, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, which has rigorously resisted being unionized.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter has been holding meetings with store managers and department supervisors to warn that if Democrats prevail this fall, they would likely push the bill through.

The unions don't like that.

So Thursday, the AFL-CIO and three other labor-rights groups asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether Wal-Mart unlawfully pressured hourly employees to vote against Democrats in November.

Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar responded Thursday that if anyone representing the company "gave the impression we were telling associates how to vote, they were wrong and acting without approval."

This is a level playing field? It should be labeled "falling rock zone" at the lower end.

It's not unusual, these days, for union locals to "encourage" their members to apply for absentee ballots, and for union bosses to then "help" them fill out their ballots, seal them up, and mail them. If Wal-Mart supervisors had imitated that scheme, we'd agree they've gone too far -- and you can bet the unions would be loudly shrieking "foul."

But so long as voters are free to make up their own minds on election day, casting votes without fear in the secrecy of the voting booth, employers can and should have every right to inform employees of what they see as the likely outcome of supporting any such coercive schemes.

That's called freedom of speech. And it's guaranteed in the First Amendment -- which overrules any "federal election rules" to the contrary.


Orwellian unions, Dems evoke Soviet Era

More EFCA stories: here

'Free Choice': Either pay union dues or you can't work

If you’re a labor union and you lose 40 percent of the elections in which workers vote whether or not to have you represent them. And further, if you find it relatively easy to get unorganized workers to sign cards saying they want you to represent them, especially when you stand right over them and watch them sign, what do you do?

The answer is obvious: You promote a federal law to forbid elections and to accept signed cards instead.

And what do you name the proposed law? That’s easy too. You don’t name it the “Election Suppression Act,” or, the “Strong-Arm Sign-Up Act.” You name it the “Employee Free Choice Act,” as any student of George Orwell could tell you.

And in fact there is such an act hanging fire in the Congress of the United States, where it’s also known as HR 800. It requires an employer to recognize a union as the legitimate bargaining agent of its employees if a majority of those workers sign cards that are handed to them by union organizers, and it would forbid the National Labor Relations Board to conduct an election to see if that’s what the employees really want, as is done now.

Who would possibly support such a bill? That’s easy too: Democrats, by and large, including Barack Obama on the national stage, and the various Democratic candidates for Congress on the local stage – Paul Tonko, Phil Steck, and Tracey Brooks, as well as current Congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand.

Why? Because the big unions want them too, that’s all. It would increase their power. Big unions are as fundamental to the Democratic voting base as oil companies and born-again Christians are to the Republican voting base, and when they say dance, Democratic candidates know enough to dance.

You can read more about this intriguing subject in my column in the Sunday Gazette, which I hope you will not hesitate to buy.

- Carl Strock


Union bigs give up on secret-ballot

More EFCA stories: here

Dems in danger for backing forced-labor unionism

The Democratic Party should heed Mr. McGovern's advice and stand up for the very principle embodied in their name by renouncing their support of a law which would effectively eliminate secret ballots for union organizing.

Labor unions say the bill is necessary to combat employer stall tactics that open employees to intimidation and coercion. But, in fact, the NLRB reports that in 2005 the average union election occurred within 39 days of receiving an employees' petition. Similarly, NLRB data reveal that less than 3% of organizational campaigns result in an employee being illegally fired. While these employers should certainly be punished, and they are, it is hardly a cause for shelving 60 years of labor law that has supported secret ballot voting.

J. Justin Wilson
Managing Director
Employee Freedom Action Committee


Feds probe Stern ally's misconduct

Related story: "SEIU insider payola exposed"

Stern's organizers experienced in dirty-trick electioneering

The election of a Los Angeles union leader under fire for his labor group's spending practices is the subject of a government review that could force a new vote because of complaints that the contest was unfair to challengers.

The U.S. Labor Department is investigating allegations that Tyrone Freeman's union local made it nearly impossible for candidates not on his slate to qualify for the ballot, according to people familiar with the probe.

A source close to the union said Trossman was informed six years ago of allegations involving Freeman's finances and personal relationships. It is unclear whether a review was undertaken at that time; Trossman said that the SEIU might have performed an audit of the local because of the allegations, but that he couldn't be sure.

The source, who asked not to be identified because he feared retribution, said Trossman helped develop a strategy in 2002 to keep the allegations from embarrassing the SEIU at a time of epic membership growth.

Trossman's efforts succeeded, the source said. Freeman's local continued to expand as part of SEIU President Andy Stern's much-celebrated campaign to organize entire industries state by state. The local and an affiliate ended up representing about 190,000 workers, most of them in the field of home healthcare.

Last week, Trossman said, "I don't remember exactly what happened" in 2002.

Trossman said that he did remember a Times reporter calling him then about the allegations and that he believes he referred the inquiry to the local. Trossman said he did not talk to Freeman about the accusations, and does not recall whether Stern was informed.

The source, who told of discussing the allegations with Trossman, said they included complaints that Freeman fathered a child with a staffer, Pilar Planells, who later became his wife.

"Many people complained" that Planells was placed in a key administrative position after she started a relationship with Freeman, the source said. The source also said there were accusations that Freeman arbitrarily increased worker fees to pay the local's bills, and that he spent too much money on perks such as cars for himself and favored lieutenants.

In an e-mail, Trossman said the union was "reviewing records and conducting interviews" at the local but offered no details.

A Freeman spokesman said in an e-mail that all the complaints about his spending practices and Pilar Planells were false.

Earlier this month, The Times reported that the local and a related charity had paid at least $405,700 since 2006 -- not counting any outlays this year -- to firms that Freeman's wife and mother-in-law operate at their homes. The union also spent nearly $300,000 last year on a Four Seasons golf tournament, restaurants such as a Morton's steakhouse, a Beverly Hills cigar lounge and William Morris Agency, the Hollywood talent house.

Freeman did not file any disclosure forms revealing the 2006 and 2007 payments to his wife's video company, as required by federal law, until after The Times began inquiring about them last month, U.S. Labor Department officials say.

In response to the July inquiries, Trossman had issued a statement on behalf of Stern that said the union had received no allegations about Freeman's local. Freeman denied any wrongdoing.

The source, who said he was party to internal conversations about Freeman in 2002, told The Times last week: "The international knew that there were allegations of impropriety many years ago. This is not news to them."

Nelson Lichtenstein, director of UC Santa Barbara's Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy, said it appears that SEIU leaders, when confronted with qualms about Freeman, opted for a path taken by other union executives in similar straits.

"They say, 'Let's hope this thing goes away, ' " he said. " 'When it becomes egg on your face, then you do something about it.' "

Lichtenstein said the union clearly had an "investment" in Freeman, a Stern protege who has been a high-profile loyalist in the SEIU push to consolidate regional locals into statewide chapters. That effort is being resisted by a handful of dissidents, notably the president of a 150,000-worker Oakland affiliate.

Stern wants to move 65,000 workers from that local to Freeman's, a proposal that has triggered a nasty internecine fight.

The election dispute, meanwhile, centers on a requirement that prospective candidates collect about 4,800 signatures of dues payers within three weeks. Because most of the local's members work in individual homes, gathering the signatures in that period was impossible, said Washington, D.C., labor attorney Arthur Fox, who has helped dissident union members challenge the election.

"It totally ensured the election of all the incumbent officers," Fox said. Freeman and the other incumbents had been appointed before the election, after several locals were consolidated into one.

The Labor Department review has taken on a new context in light of The Times' reports about the spending habits of Freeman's local and a charity he founded.

In addition to the outlays to the firms owned by Freeman's wife and mother-in-law, the union paid a combined $219,000 in 2006 and 2007 to a video firm whose principals include a former employee of Freeman. A now-defunct minor league basketball team coached by Freeman's brother-in-law received $16,000 for what the union described as public relations, according to records and interviews.

The union also paid about $106,000 to a firm called The Filming, for which no incorporation record, business license, address or telephone listing could be found.

A second nonprofit that Freeman launched, the Long-Term Care Housing Corp., did not receive the tax-exempt status it sought, and had lost its right to do business in California because it failed to file tax returns, state and federal officials say. It claimed to have a "strong relationship" with the prominent California Community Foundation, which told The Times it had never heard of the group.

The address of the housing corporation, as listed on its website, is a Bell Gardens home owned by Freeman's former chief of staff, Rickman Jackson, who now heads an SEIU local in Michigan, property records show. Jackson has not responded to interview requests, and the housing corporation has not answered questions about whether he has been paid for use of his residence.

Freeman has said all of the expenses of the union and the two nonprofits have benefited his members. He said he has refunded nearly $10,000 that the union paid to the Grand Havana Room, a cigar lounge known for its celebrity clientele and invitation-only memberships.

Peter Dreier, an Occidental College politics professor who studies labor, said Stern might have no option other than to place Freeman's local under trusteeship and remove him.

"It's a tragic situation," said Dreier, who added that the local has done an excellent job in organizing workers. "The real question is will the union be weakened by this? If the SEIU cleans house and does what's necessary, the union can continue to thrive."


Labor-state workers want out of Steelworkers

More decertification stories: here
Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Union members acting independently of management

Workers at Worthington Steel Co. in Porter (IN) have filed a petition with federal labor officials to decertify from the United Steel Workers despite the union reaching a tentative contract with the company.

The company and the USW have been negotiating the first labor agreement for the steel service center's 170 hourly workers since late 2006, shortly after the plant's about 170 workers voted to affiliate with the union.

A subsidiary of Columbus, Ohio-based Worthington Industries, the plant at 1000 Worthington Drive, does steel pickling, slitting, rolling and cutting.

The company and union reached a tentative agreement last week. However, a ratification vote can't occur until the workers vote on union decertification at the Sept. 5 election to be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, said Mike Mezo, bargaining coordinator for United Steelworkers District 7.

"Assuming we win the vote, the next vote will be on the contract," Mezo said Friday.

The decertification petition was filed based on the claim that Worthington is paying higher wages to workers at its nonunion facilities, he said.

"The company gave them a 5 percent pay raise but took it out of the workers' profit sharing, so the cost to the company is neutral," Mezo said. "They also raised their insurance premiums."

Cathy Lyttle, spokeswoman for Worthington Industries, couldn't be reached for comment.

At this point, workers at the company's Porter facility still are receiving profit sharing, and their insurance premiums haven't been increased. However, the USW's tentative agreement with the company substitutes incentive pay for profit sharing, Mezo said.

"If people are comfortable having their compensation based on how much the company makes, they'll want profit sharing. But if they want it based on if they come to work every day and do their work, they'll want the incentive pay," he said.

The tentative labor agreement also provides an 2.5 percentage pay increase in each year of the three-year agreement, with lower-wage workers receiving more, Mezo said. It allows the company to raise insurance premiums but puts a cap on the increases, he said.

"We intend to win the decertification vote and then vote on the contract's ratification," Mezo said. "If it doesn't pass, we'll continue to bargain until we get a contract people will accept."


AFL-CIO unit on strike in Buffalo

No need for replacements yet

Cornerstone Community Federal Credit Union can hold out for more than a month with just one branch staffed by executives and volunteers, its chief executive said Friday after a sudden strike by most of its workers shut down two other offices.

More than 70 employees of the Lockport-based credit union went on strike at 8 a. m. Friday in Niagara County, effectively shuttering the two branches and putting contract negotiations on hold. The labor union representing the workers objected to management’s proposed four-year contract requiring them to shoulder more of the health insurance burden.

With more than three-fourths of its workers on the picket line, Cornerstone is operating only from its main office on South Transit Road in Lockport. It’s using executives, some nonunion employees, board members and committee volunteers to staff the branch, said president and CEO Ann M. Brittin.

It closed its nearby Stephen Street branch in Lockport as well as its Middleport office, but ATMs are available at both.

Officials are telling customers to use one of five nearby “shared-service centers” to do basic banking, including deposits and withdrawals. Shared-service centers are branches of other credit unions that participate in a national network.

“We truly don’t want to inconvenience our membership. We know how important they are to us,” Brittin said.

Talks have been suspended, and Brittin said she had “no idea” when they would resume or how long the strike will last. She also didn’t know how it would affect the credit union, but said that if needed, “we can maintain this for several weeks.”

The strike comes just days after Cornerstone said it would open its fourth branch at 107 Main St. in North Tonawanda. The branch is slated to open in September. Cornerstone has more than $240 million in assets and 44,000 members, and serves all of Niagara County.

The strike by the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 212 follows the collapse of efforts to negotiate a new contract at Western New York’s largest locally based credit union. The former four-year contract expired Nov. 13, 2007, and talks have been under way since then to reach a new agreement, with 18 bargaining sessions held and a mediator involved. OPEIU represents 73 of Cornerstone’s 94 employees.

The major sticking point concerns a demand by management that workers start paying more for health care, as insurance costs rose 53 percent from 2004 to 2008. Workers currently do not pay any portion of the premium, but the credit union wants them to pay 5 percent of the monthly amount starting in November 2009, in addition to higher co-pays and deductibles.

The credit union also changed primary health plans to a less-expensive option with lower benefits, although employees can still buy up to the original plan if they choose.

“The board of directors and management staff of Cornerstone provide all employees with a fair wage and benefits package,” Brittin said in a press release. “As a member-owned credit union, we must also maintain a fiscal responsibility to our members as stewards of their assets.”

However, workers say they like the plan they have and complain that the proposed higher wages “don’t make up for the difference if people need to buy into the desirable plan,” said Deana Fox, the labor union’s business representative.

“The OPEIU is seeking a fair deal that allows the workers to experience a wage and benefit package that helps to meet the ever increasing costs of living and burdens of health care,” the union said on its Web site.

Management and the union ultimately reached a tentative contract agreement, but it was “overwhelmingly” rejected by the union’s membership in June and again on Aug. 12, the union said on its Web site. Members authorized a strike beginning Friday if “an improved deal” was not reached. Brief discussions were held, but did not lead to an agreement.


ACORN tried to register 13 yr. old

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