ACORN-Tides payoff revealed by NYT

More ACORN stories: here
More Wade Rathke stories: here

Collectivists Pike, Rathke mix voter fraud, charity

When the embezzlement of almost $1 million by the brother of the founder of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as Acorn, surfaced last month, the organization announced that an anonymous supporter had agreed to make it whole.

That supporter was Drummond Pike, the founder and chief executive of the Tides Foundation, which channels money to what it describes as progressive nonprofits, including some Acorn charitable affiliates. Mr. Pike is a friend of Wade Rathke, the founder of Acorn and its leader until the scandal broke, and he agreed to buy the promissory note that required the Rathke family to repay Acorn the money that Mr. Rathke’s brother, Dale, had stolen.

Mr. Rathke is a member of the board of the Tides Foundation and other Tides-related organizations. Since 2000, the Tides Foundation has provided more than $400 million to nonprofit groups, with much of that money flowing out of donor-controlled accounts it manages in the same way that the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund or a community foundation does.

John A. Powell, board chairman of the Tides Network, the umbrella organization for various Tides affiliates, wrote in an e-mail message to The Times that Tides had no involvement in the matter and that none of its money was used to buy the Rathke family’s debt to Acorn.

He said Mr. Rathke was on a leave of absence from all Tides boards.

In 2000, Acorn discovered that Dale Rathke had embezzled $948,507.50 from it and affiliated charitable organizations. The management committee that controlled the organization decided not to alert law enforcement officials, and negotiated an agreement with the Rathke family to repay the money.

That agreement was carried on the books of an affiliate, Citizens Consulting Inc., as a loan to an officer. Sometime in June, Mr. Pike bought the loan from the affiliate, according to e-mail messages between senior executives at Acorn that were provided to a reporter by Acorn employees, who requested anonymity because they feared losing their jobs.

Mr. Pike refused to confirm or deny that he had bought the note. “As a rule, I do not comment on my personal finances,” he wrote in e-mail messages in answer to questions about the deal.

But e-mail messages among Acorn’s senior executives discuss how to keep Mr. Pike’s identity secret, even as they acknowledge that some of the foundations and philanthropic advisers that have supported Acorn and its affiliates know that he bought the note.

“Does Drummond know the word is out?” Steven Kest, the executive director of Acorn, wrote on July 4. “If not, shouldn’t someone tell him?”

In a July 12 e-mail message to Mr. Kest, Acorn’s political director, Zach Pollett, wrote: “I talked to Drummond on this yesterday and had Beth Kingsley” — Acorn’s lawyer — “prepare a ‘keep your yaps shut’ confidentiality memo to people at Acorn and CCI.”

Charles D. Jackson, a spokesman for Acorn, said the organization would not comment on the purchaser of the note.

Acorn’s board members and senior executives have signed confidentiality pledges that forbid them from disclosing Mr. Pike’s identity or discussing the purchase agreement, according to three Acorn contributors who asked to see the agreement but were told they would have to similarly pledge confidentiality. They declined.

But a handful of executives at foundations that have contributed to Acorn and Tides have learned through connections at those organizations that Mr. Pike was the buyer.


Barack wants card-checked beef at Whole Foods

Related stories: 'Whole Foods cancels non-union beef', 'Whole Foods goes back to non-union beef', 'UFW may face RICO charges over Whole Foods'

Organizer-in-chief already on the job

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has sent a letter to Beef Northwest Feeders urging managing partner John Wilson to re-open labor contract negotiations with United Farm Workers.

In the letter dated Aug. 4, Obama wrote he was concerned about "the breakdown in communication between Beef Northwest Feeders and United Farm Workers." The two parties have failed to agree on a method to determine if workers at Beef Northwest want union representation.

Obama went on to encourage Wilson "to recognize the card check election of June 13 and to negotiate with your employees' chosen bargaining agent, the United Farm Workers."

UFW claims that in a June card-check election, a neutral third party verified more than 50 percent of the feedlot's workers want UFW representation.

"If this election is good enough for who we expect to be the next president of the United States, it should be good enough for Beef Northwest," said Steve Witte, UFW Pacific Northwest director of strategic campaigns.

Wilson said the feedlot doesn't recognize the election, in part because it wasn't involved in the election or even aware it was occurring.

"We weren't notified. We were not part of the process. We didn't see any of the cards, and we didn't see any of the verification," he said.

Wilson added: "We would recognize the card count that the union claims to have as long as our employees are allowed a withdrawal process if they so desire."

Wilson said the feedlot also would accept other types of election.

"We're wide open to any other type of election - including a secret-ballot election - that is monitored by a neutral third party," he said.

The union has rejected calls for a secret-ballot election.

Wilson said he responded to Obama's letter and has invited the Illinois senator to have lunch with him and several employees at the Spud Cellar in Boardman and to tour the company's Boardman feedlot.

"I haven't heard back from him," Wilson said.

On another front, UFW has highlighted its Beef Northwest union organizing campaign as its campaign of the week on its website and is asking consumers to write letters to Whole Foods objecting to the grocery chain stocking beef finished at the feedlot.

Wilson said nothing has changed in his discussions with Whole Foods since the upscale grocer rejected a request from UFW to pressure Country Natural Beef to change feedlots. Country Natural Beef finishes its steers at Beef Northwest.

"Both Beef Northwest and County Natural Beef have had numerous conversations with Whole Foods and the relationship is excellent," Wilson said.

Wilson added that Beef Northwest continues to have discussions with UFW.


ACORN redlining in Houston

Union-backed voter fraud group harvests Katrina's outcasts

To find the most effective mass voter registration drive in Houston, check bus shelters, public hospital waiting rooms, job search centers and welfare offices. There — as opposed to PTO meetings, art festivals, naturalization ceremonies and other typical sites for civic activity — is where ACORN has been methodically signing up poor and working-class citizens this year.

In fact, the local chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has registered more voters in Harris County this year than the combined totals of all other local groups using deputized voter registrars, according to county officials.

Outside a Texas Workforce Commission office last week, ACORN worker Byron Jackson showed how the operation works. He found a willing registrant when Marina Ortega exited the job search center with daughter Daniela in a stroller.

Ortega said her voter registration lapsed and that she was glad to reactivate it because, with Barack Obama on the Nov. 4 presidential ticket, "it's going to be different, it's going to be historic, and everyone should come out to vote."

Jackson, 26, said he has signed up 1,092 voters at the strip shopping center on Stella Link Road in the past several months. The most surprising part of the job, he said, is how much people do not know about the voting process.

For instance, Jackson — one of about 2,700 people trained and sworn in by Harris County as deputy voter registrars — said he has reminded several potential voters that to cast ballots in their new neighborhoods, they should file updated voter registration cards whenever they move.

Jackson found out about his $8-an-hour registration job when ACORN members came to his southwest Houston home early this year with petitions seeking expansion of the Houston Community College service zone.

Few other voter registration drives here pay workers. ACORN said it has funding to get 35,000 voters registered in Harris County. Nationally, the group's various branches get funding from banks, foundations and individual contributors. ACORN is conducting the registration drive as part of a contract with Project Vote, a separate national group that advocates for the poor, blue-collar workers and minorities.

ACORN's voter registration projects have produced controversy in other states and in Congress, where critics say the organization has wrongly mingled its political advocacy projects with its nonprofit, nonpartisan voter registration drives. The organization denies this.

Obama's presidential campaign is associated with ACORN if for no other reason than Obama worked for ACORN as a Chicago community organizer.

In Houston, workers with an ACORN offshoot called Citizen's Services visited about 55,000 households on behalf of Obama's campaign for the Texas primary in March.

In contrast, the current voter registration drive must, by law, go without mention of political parties and contenders. ACORN workers target poorer neighborhoods and talk up issues such as rights for tenants and immigrants, mining neighborhoods more likely to support Democrats than Republicans.

About 40 percent of the 27,000 registration cards gathered by ACORN from January through July have been rejected or placed in limbo pending the gathering of more information, according to the county. About 6,600 were filled out by people already registered, and many others contained insufficient information.

But ACORN has worked with the voter registrar's staff under Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt to whittle the error rate, officials said. In Houston, the organization has a "quality control" team aimed at making sure registrations are legitimate and accurate.

Of the new registrations that are expected to raise the county voter roll to 2 million for the November election, only 13 percent come via such registration drives and cards mailed by individual voters. More than 60 percent come from the Texas Department of Public Safety, which offers registration forms at its driver's license outlets.

The local Republican and Democratic parties don't make a huge, direct mark on the voter roll, for different reasons.

Republican precinct volunteers hand out registration cards to potential new voters, urging residents to mail in the completed forms by themselves, party chairman Jared Woodfill said. The volunteers, unlike ACORN workers, cannot process the forms because they are not deputized registrars.

While spending its energy and money elsewhere, the Democratic Party is counting on the Obama campaign and groups such as ACORN to get new voters onto the rolls, chairman Gerald Birnberg said. The next step for parties as well as ACORN and other groups is staying in touch with newly registered voters to make sure they exercise their right to cast ballots in November.

For Merc Dennis, who signed a registration form offered by ACORN's Jackson, no more encouragement is needed.

"I'm keeping up some with it this year for some reason, maybe because there is a black man running," he said. "But I like Hillary, too."


Union secret-ballot ads hit hard

More EFCA stories: here

Dems on defensive as voters favor secret ballot union elections

It is virtually impossible to watch television in Maine and nearly as difficult in New Hampshire without seeing the ads: Images of American flags and Founding Fathers are followed by grainy photos of an angry Tom Allen and a smug Jeanne Shaheen, both Democratic Senate candidates and clearly intended as the bad guys, as the voiceover asks: "Shouldn't your vote still be private?"

To further compound the situation, Mainers get another dose of similar ads. There have been two aired so far, both featuring Vincent Curatola, who played mob guy Johnny Sack on "The Sopranos." The first has him peering over the shoulders of a man who entered a voting booth. The second, more recent, shows cutouts of Sen. Susan Collins and Allen, her opponent, with more cryptic comments by Curatola about workers' rights to privacy.

The ads leave some viewers scratching their heads and asking, "What's going on here?" The answer is two multimillion dollar, multi-state efforts by separate anti-union organizations that are trying to woo the viewer to their side on what they see as a critical issue.

And according to them, the stakes couldn't be higher.

At issue is the Employee Free Choice Act, a so-called "card check" bill, which would allow employees at a work place to unionize as soon as a majority signs cards expressing support to join a union. This would be an amendment of the National Labor Relations Act. Currently, under that act, the federal government conducts private ballot elections once a union gets 30 percent of a potential bargaining unit to agree to join a union.

The bill, said Tim Miller of the Employee Freedom Action Committee (the group behind the grainy photo ads), is an effort "to effectively get rid of privacy. Union bosses can stand over workers' shoulders and use coercion. It's bad enough that workers will lose their right to privacy, but it will tilt the whole political spectrum to the left when it comes to labor politics."

Not so, says Ed Gorham, president of the Maine AFL-CIO. "It's left up to the employer whether or not an election is held. They hold all the power. They can intimidate workers to force them from forming a bargaining unit. ... It's time to bring back the middle class."

The bill has already passed the House and is currently in the Senate. The folks behind the ad campaign fear that if Sen. Barack Obama, an Employee Free Choice Act sponsor, is elected president and power shifts to the Democrats in the Senate, the bill will become law.

To try to prevent that from happening, Miller's group and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (responsible for the Curatola ads) are working in what they see as key states where anti-Employee Free Choice Act senators are vulnerable.

Employee Freedom Action Committee

The Employee Freedom Action Committee (employeefreedom.org) is the "political arm" of the Center for Union Facts, said Miller, the group's communications director.

The Center for Union Facts was founded by Richard Berman, a Washington lobbyist. According to a 2006 USA Today profile, Berman is not only responsible for fighting the anti-union battle, he has also taken on Mothers Against Drunk Driving, groups working to take trans fats out of foods and those fighting to increase the minimum wage.

Miller makes no bones about the "spare no expense" effort his group is undertaking. In addition to Maine and New Hampshire, anti-Employee Free Choice Act campaigns are under way in Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, Colorado, Oregon and Minnesota.

Although he would not provide a specific dollar amount for Maine and New Hampshire, the committee is spending $30 million on the campaign, which includes "everything from television, radio and print ads to a YouTube page, Web advertising and a substantial grassroots organizing effort.

"It's the most important issue in the election to us," he said.

All so-called "third-party" ads such as these that mention candidates by name have to end by federal law 60 days before the election, or Sept. 5, "but that doesn't mean we can't continue to run ads that address the issue."

Coalition for a Democratic Workplace

Similar words spill from the lips of Brian Worth, spokesman for Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (myprivateballot.com), composed of virtually hundreds of businesses, chambers of commerce and trade associations.

The organization is focusing its efforts on only Maine and Minnesota. Although he too declined to provide specific figures, he said the campaign was in the "multimillion dollar" range in both states.

Worth said his organization chose the two states purposefully, as liberal to moderate and independent-minded.

"No one's going to call Susan Collins a conservative," he said.

Asked about the slightly sinister, mafioso tone of the ad, he said, "I've heard that from other folks. He was intended to be intimidating, but the whole card check things is intimidating. The question is, how do you educate someone in 30 seconds on an issue? You can bring a voter to water, but you can't make them go further if they don't want to."

Union perspective

Ed Gorham shakes his head at these ads, saying that he did complain to several televisions stations about them, "and they told me I would be welcomed to buy an ad," he said with a chuckle.

Gorham said in fact it's been the unions that have been downtrodden for years, thanks to employers "who tie things up to try to prevent us from coming in." He said unlike the ads and the anti-union groups suggest, unions are not taking away the right of workers to ask for a federal election. The majority card check is "just another option."

He said the Employee Free Choice Act is "the best opportunity" middle-class Americans have "to bargain with their employers for better wages and benefits."

Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO Maine "doesn't have the resources to buy the kind of ad time" of the anti-union groups and said at this point "it remains to be seen" whether the national AFL-CIO will kick in money.

He said his group is contacting labor households asking their support of the Employee Free Choice Act, and has undertaken a letter to the editor campaign, "but that's about it."

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, he said there's "no question" he'd be organizing.

The candidates

Shaheen campaign communications director Kate Bedingfield called the ads "misleading and confusing," and said Shaheen believes "employees should get to decide themselves" how best to form a union, either through election or card check.

Bedingfield took a jab at Shaheen's opponent, incumbent Sen. John Sununu, saying the groups comprise "yet another one" of Sununu's "out-of-state allies spending money in New Hampshire trying to distort Jeanne Shaheen's position."

Carol Andrews, communications director for the Allen campaign, said people should take a look at Richard Berman's background and decide for themselves. The other one, she said, "attempts to link Tom Allen and Maine's 67,000 union members to organized crime. This is wrong and has no place in this campaign."

Interestingly, Collins agrees.

"Susan Collins feels third-party ads in general should have no place in Maine politics," said her communications director Kevin Kelley.


Other than that ...

More EFCA stories: here

Employee Intimidation Act exposed

I really can’t stand labor unions. Despise them, actually. Then again, I’m sugar-coating it because I hate to use the word hate.

They promote Soviet-style collectivism. They promote a herd mentality while quashing independent thought and action. They lie, cheat and steal. They beat people up. They destroy private property. They’ve undermined the American work ethic. They’ve dampened the American entrepreneurial spirit. They’ve ruined the American public education system. They’ve destroyed the American steel industry. And they’ve devastated the American automobile industry.

But other than that, unions are great. And their #1 political goal today is to eliminate secret ballot elections.

The misnamed “Employee Free Choice Act” is anything but. How can you make a free choice in a union organizing election if some brass knuckled goon is looking over your shoulder watching who you vote for rather than being allowed to cast your ballot in the privacy of a voting booth? This bill would be better named the “Employee Intimidation Act.”

Of course, the reason Big Labor is pushing for the end of secret ballot elections is because in the private sector union bosses are consistently losing secret ballot elections. Private sector employees, unlike their not-too-swift brethren in the government sector, are rejecting the “benefits” of union membership like never before. Today less than 10 percent of private sector employees are unionized. So if Big Labor can’t win elections fair and square, the only thing for them to do is try to tilt the playing field. Thus their push to eliminate secret ballots.

And if Obama wins in November, he’s already said he’ll commit the full power and prestige of the White House to passing this very un-American, anti-worker, anti-consumer piece of….um, legislation.

Enter Wal-Mart.

The retail giant, thanks to its excellent pay and employee benefits, has been able to successfully keep organized labor out of its successful operations – no doubt a big factor in their success. Big Labor hasn’t been able to win secret ballot elections to unionize the company, but the Employee Intimidation Act could well change the situation.

Unionizing Wal-Mart would hurt the company, hurt the company’s workers and hurt consumers. So it should come as no surprise that the company opposes the proposed legislation as well as the man running for president who says he would sign it.

But being true to form, Big Labor isn’t content with fighting opponents of the Employee Intimidation Act on a level playing field. You see, while Big Labor is busy extorting MILLIONS of dollars from union members’ paychecks to be used to elect more Democrats to Congress and Obama to the White House, they are also whining like little babies over some Wal-Mart managers allegedly telling Wal-Mart employees that a vote for Obama is a vote against Wal-Mart and their jobs.

According to the Associated Press this weekend, “The AFL-CIO and three other labor rights groups have asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unlawfully pressured employees to vote against Democrats in November because their party would help workers to unionize.” The malcontents, according to the AP story, claim “Wal-Mart broke federal election rules by advocating against Democratic candidate U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in meetings with employees.”

As you bear in mind the fact that Big Labor will spend millions upon millions of dollars this campaign cycle urging workers to vote for Democrats from Obama on down, consider the absolutely anti-business bias of the federal election laws, as described in the AP story: “Federal election rules allow businesses to push for specific political candidates to shareholders, executives and salaried managers, but they prohibit such actions for hourly workers.”

An employer paying the wages to its workers is not allowed to advocate specific candidates to those workers, but the union leeches can? What’s wrong with this picture? Why can Big Labor spend millions of dollars to influence federal elections, but private employers can’t even talk to its own employees about candidates whose political agenda could be harmful to the workers’ jobs? Why are unions more equal than everyone else? Inquiring minds wanna know.


- Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.


Editorial: No on card-check

More EFCA stories: here

Right To Work law threatened by 'no vote' unionism

Barack Obama, trolling for votes among a part of the electorate less than warm toward him during the primary season — blue-collar, working-class Americans — has made no bones of his support for legislation aimed at restoring the muscle that was once Big Labor.

Called the “card-check bill,” it would effectively deprive workers of the right to decide whether or not they want a union by secret ballot. Instead, such a measure would allow laborers at a workplace to organize if a majority check a box on a card for that purpose. A measure to that effect — the woefully misnamed Employee Free Choice Act — passed the House last year, but fell short in the Senate when Democrats could not amass the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.

Mr. Obama has affirmed he would make such a bill “the law of the land when I’m president.” Presumptive Republican candidate John McCain staunchly opposes the legislation, correctly noting that it would sunder workers’ preciously held right to make such a decision democratically via private ballot — without labor organizers peering over their shoulders and knowing how they vote.

Battle lines on this issue have been joined. The AFL-CIO is slapping on a full-court press — a “ramped-up campaign,” the organization calls it — to entice labor families in key battleground states (Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) to vote for Mr. Obama and, by so doing, swell the ranks of unions. Determined to counter this effort, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, has launched the Workplace Freedom Initiative, aimed at maintaining the primacy of the private ballot.

Of foremost concern is how Virginia’s two senatorial candidates — former governors Mark Warner, a Democrat, and Jim Gilmore, a Republican — view this legislation. Virginia has long been a right-to-work state, and proudly defends this beneficent tradition as one of the foundation stones of its prosperity. That said, we can scarcely fathom a statewide candidate endorsing any measure antithetical to this tradition — without losing favor among Virginia voters.

Of Mr. Gilmore, on this score, we have no qualms. Facing an uphill battle toward election as it is, the GOP candidate would commit political suicide by abandoning right-to-work and the secret ballot. His conservative political philosophy mitigates against such a move anyway.

Mr. Warner is, or could be, another story. He may feel compelled to follow the lead of Mr. Obama, whose campaign considers Virginia, which has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968, definitely up for grabs this November. What’s more, roundly favored to win the seat held since 1979 by retiring Republican John Warner, he may believe he can do so and still avoid political fallout.

But endorsing “card-check” would be a grave disservice to a people and a state that has profited mightily from its right-to-work status. In addition, backing this legislation would, we feel, cut across Mr. Warner’s grain as an entrepreneur. And a highly successful one, at that.

Thus, we ask Mr. Warner — and, for the record, Mr. Gilmore as well — how say you on this bill, the erroneously (and grossly so) named Employee Free Choice Act?


Let's keep the secret ballot

More EFCA stories: here

Congress should reject threat to union democracy

When we go to the polls it is our right to exercise our ballots in secret. This prevents us from being coerced or bullied into voting for a candidate or proposition that we neither want nor believe in. The secret ballot is ingrained in our way of life.

A free and secret ballot is not what big labor unions want. They are promoting a bill euphemistically called the Employee Free Choice Act. This so-called “free choice” or “card check” act would allow union organizers to form a union if more than 50 percent of workers signed a card saying they want to join. The act would allow union organizers to approach workers time and time again, however long it takes to “encourage” the workers to sign the “cards.”

Workers could be approached anywhere — in their homes, on the streets, at religious services, and/or any type of social gathering.

It is naive at best, and disingenuous at worst, to believe that tremendous pressure (perhaps even worse) would not be brought to bear on the workers to encourage them to sign. The reason for our secret ballot is to protect the individual from this kind of pressure when voting one’s conscience.

The Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in 2005, brought to a vote last year and sailed through the Democratic-controlled Congress. Fortunately, it was blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. President Bush is on record saying he would veto the bill.

Big labor is pledging to spend $300 million on the election to get eight more Democrats elected to the Senate, which is the number they need to reach the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Secret ballots must be protected. It is truly the American way.

Vince Pasquale, Stuart, FL


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Union bigs deal with disinterested workers

More EFCA stories: here

Bringing back the union label?

Most Americans these days have little to do with unions. Barely 12% of today's workers belong to a union , compared to over 32% at the high water mark in 1953-1954. And most union workers today don't work in factories, mines, shipyards, on the railroads or driving trucks like they did in the 1950s. Most of them are federal and state civil servants, policemen and firefighters and public school teachers with a few service workers and airline pilots and attendants thrown in.

Were you around for the steelworkers strike in the early 1980s? The one where wages trumped the steel industry's horrendous competitive disadvantage with Japan and Korea, who enjoyed labor costs less than a third of the US. The steel industry in the US expired right before our eyes as greedy union leaders enabled by the rank-and-file, oblivious to foreign competition, refused to budge off scorched earth entrenched positions at the bargaining table. By the end of the decade, half a million workers in the steel industry and their vendors had lost their jobs. One by one steel companies closed or sought protection from bankruptcy courts. Hundreds of thousands of pension promises were broken as steel producers had no means to fund their pension plans.

The demise of the textile and shoe industry has been equally devastating to workers, although less damaging to the overall economy. How many union textile or shoe manufacturing jobs still exist anywhere in America?

Today we may be seeing the final gasp of the US automobile industry. No doubt the managements of the big three bear most of the blame over the last 30 years in losing the customer satisfaction, design and efficiency battles against the Japanese car makers. In the early 1980s US car sales plummeted by one-third over a three year stretch. But the UAW bears equal culpability as the primary co-conspirator unwilling to bend in wages, health care or pensions. By 1990, the UAW commanded the highest wage and benefit package on earth. And today GM's cost per vehicle is at least $2,000 higher than Toyota, all attributable to the legacy of the UAW.

In the meantime, one of the strongest Democrat party voting blocks -- industrial union members -- has dwindled in both size and influence. In the 1960s, the endorsement of the AFL-CIO meant something. Today it is nearly as meaningless as the Chamber of Commerce endorsing a Republican. Democrat lawmakers trolling for voters, unwilling to acknowledge the economic dislocations from global trade and industrialization in the previously under-developed world and still stuck on the living wage notions of the social welfare progressives dating back to the turn of the 20th century, now need to revitalize the union ranks.

Moreover, the post-modern Democratic Party war of aggression against free markets and private property wouldn't be complete without punishing capital formation and discouraging competitive job creation by handing over the reins of industry and commerce to the unions. Using a form of confiscation by eminent domain and ignoring due process, here comes HR 800, proposed federal legislation carrying the misleading title "Employee Free Choice Act". It was passed by the House in March 2007, but denied by the Senate.

Undoubtedly this legislation would be resurrected in the first 100 days under a Barack Obama administration and be a slam dunk under veto proof super majorities in both chambers. James Sherk and Paul Kersey writing for the Heritage Foundation have provided a superb summary of the Act and its pernicious effects on both employers and employees. "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away the Rights of Employees"

This legislation invites and virtually guarantees union representation in which a simple card check process, intimidating to workers, denying them a secret ballot vote, and kept secret from employers, once reaching 50% plus one would force an employer to recognize the union with no recourse. Furthermore, HR 800 would give the parties only three months to negotiate; if at impasse after 90 days an arbitrator would hand down the provisions--wages, benefits, working conditions, management rights-- in which the employer would have no right of appeal, and anti-union workers would have no ability to mobilize for a decertification petition.

Certainly before the 2010 midterm Congressional elections, the union ranks would swell by the hundreds of thousands if not millions. And what would be the consequences in addition to more entrenched socialist labor party Democrats easily winning re-election? Higher costs to consumers, companies less globally competitive and more jobs shipped to China. And higher taxes for those who remain to fund more unemployment benefits, free health care, and abstract environmental regulations having little tangible benefit to anyone.

So, how bad is HR 800? Well the economic burdens it would present are bad enough. But even George McGovern, the aging liberal lion-in-winter writing in the Wall Street Journal, knows the most dangerous consequences from this toxic bill are the assault on free speech and denial of fundamental tenets of a democracy-- access to a secret ballot. We'll see if this generation of McGovern's heirs can return from the abyss to embrace over two centuries of noble principle or will continue to be intoxicated by the prospect of new voters wholly enabled and dependent upon their corrupt largesse.


IAM strike v. Beechcraft, week 3

Related IAM-Beechcraft strike stories: here

'A cause they believe in'

The International Association of Machinists union strike at Hawker-Beechcraft is about to enter its third week. The union will hold a rally in just a few hours to show company executives they still mean business. Workers, like Canada Curtis, say it's not easy, but they have plenty of help along the way. "I worked for them for a year and a half. And then this. Trying to support our family." It's meant weeks without a paycheck and days on end in all kinds of weather for a cause they believe in.

"Were doing what we have to do now. It's been a long time coming, but it's here," said Torrance Stone.

Monday marks three weeks since machinists at Hawker-Beechcraft walked away from the assembly line to picket the company's latest contract offer.

Rozanne Bilby says, "I believe that people coming in now should get paid the same pay everyone else is getting."

Equal pay and better benefits top the list of points still to be worked out. Curtis says, "We're trying to show them that were in it to win it right now. And that we need something better than what they're trying to provide."

More than 4000 machinists on strike are willing to wait, some taking temp jobs to get by and keep busy.

Stone says, "People are ready to get back to work. They're tired of sitting at home and finding ways to keep yourself busy."

People on the picket lines are getting help from family, friends and the union to be able to stay out and fight. Some know, it won't be enough.

Bilby says more time on the picket line will mean, "More stress to the point that probably I'll end up crossing the line."

Others say that's not an option. Curtis says, "As long as we stay together, stick together and show them we are united, I think it will come out for the better for us."

Monday morning, the union plans to border the plant in an effort it's calling 'Hands Across Hawker' to show executives its solidarity in the negotiations.

"People are doing what they need to do to stay strong. We feel good about it," said Stone.

The union estimates as many as 300 Hawker Beechcraft workers have crossed the picket line, many of them non-union.

The strikers may soon get some outside support. Boeing's machinists' contract is up September 3rd and a union rep says negotiations aren't going well. Some 600 Boeing machinists work in Wichita.

The Boeing machinists plan to rally Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. Many Hawker-Beechcraft machinists on strike are expected to turn out.


Bud Teamsters warn InBev

Related A-B/Teamsters stories: here

New owners are cost-cutting Brazilian capitalists

Hundreds of St. Louis Teamsters and families rallied today in downtown St. Louis to show support for Anheuser-Busch workers nationwide in the wake of the purchase of the iconic American beer company by Belgium-based brewing giant InBev. Carrying rally signs that said "InBev: Keep Your Promises!," rally participants, along with Teamster trucks, overflowed Kiener Plaza next to the famous St. Louis Arch.

"For more than a hundred years, Teamsters and many other hardworking union members have made Budweiser and Anheuser-Busch the great American brand that it is today," said Jack Cipriani, Director of the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Conference and International Vice President. "Good jobs like those at A-B help our local communities grow. They provide access to good health care and the promise of a secure retirement."
The Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Conference represents more than 7,000 employees of Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. in the United States and Canada. Today's rally was co-sponsored by Missouri Jobs with Justice and included speakers and participants from InBev unions worldwide, the St. Louis Labor Council and employees from all 12 Anheuser-Busch breweries in the United States.

"We are here today to honor all of the workers at Anheuser-Busch and to tell InBev that winning the loyalty of the workforce is key to the company's success in the 21st century and beyond," Cipriani said.

InBev has promised to keep open Anheuser's 12 U.S. breweries and to retain St. Louis as the company's North American headquarters. During the upcoming contract negotiations the Teamsters plan to press Anheuser Busch to agree to this commitment in the labor contract.

At the rally, Union leaders representing InBev employees worldwide including Europe, Latin America and Canada announced an agreement to form a global alliance of InBev workers through the International Union of Food Workers (IUF). Paul Garver of the IUF stated, "InBev workers worldwide are building a strong, unified voice to insure fair treatment at the breweries and in our communities."

"Our priorities are protecting good-paying American jobs and their communities, as well as preserving health care and pension benefits for all workers," Cipriani said. "We urge InBev to keep its promises to its workers and the great communities like St. Louis that helped build Anheuser-Busch."

Hundreds of working men and women at the rally included long-time Anheuser-Busch employees, many of whom have spent their entire working life at the St. Louis brewery.
"I want to make sure that all of the younger employees get the same benefits I am going to get when I retire," said Tommy Davis, a 30-year employee of the St. Louis brewery. "I just want InBev to keep their promises."


SEIU reviewer pans Andy Stern's book

Charm, sweetheart deals a tough sell for jumbo union big

In the recent past, a fight inside the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), the second largest union in the country, has broken into the open. The leader of California's United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) union, Sal Roselli, has resigned from SEIU's executive board. His resignation came amid charges that SEIU's international leadership was taking control over local negotiations with employers, leaving the workers without a voice in their contracts.

The critics in UHW charge that the president of SEIU, Andy Stern, is leading the union into becoming a business union, where the union and the bosses that they face try to work out a common approach. This is different than the way unions have made gains throughout history. Class struggle unionism is what workers need, where the union recognizes that the workers and the capitalists have different interests, fights hard for the workers' felt and urgent needs, and negotiates the best contracts possible based on the current strength of the workers.

The following book review was written by a member of SEIU in Chicago. Joe Iosbaker is a chief steward for 1,500 clerical and administrative workers at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a member of the executive board of SEIU Local 73. As SEIU approaches its international convention this May, there will be tremendous debate about the direction the union is heading. This review is a contribution to that debate, supporting class struggle unionism in opposition to business unionism.

In 2006, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) wrote the book, A Country That Works. His ideas are worth talking about because Stern is important to the union movement. Many of the ideas in the book are good, including that unions need to be more democratic, more involving of our members and we have to grow. Some of Stern's ideas go against the traditions of the unions in the U.S. And some of the ideas that break with old traditions are good, like being willing to talk to the world's largest union, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). However, reading the rest of the book, especially those ideas about unions not being 'problems' for corporations, I found myself shaking my head in disagreement.

As president of SEIU, Stern has been among the most successful labor leaders in recent years. Under his presidency, our union has organized hundreds of thousands of new workers. Perhaps what he is best known for outside the union movement is starting the debate over the failures of the AFL-CIO. The debate didn't go the way SEIU wanted it to, so President Stern led us out of the AFL-CIO. Together with the Teamsters, UNITE HERE (Union of Needle Industrial and Textile Employees and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and several other unions, a new union coalition, Change to Win, was formed.

The title, A Country That Works, refers to the fact that America doesn't work for workers. Stern mentions that most people in U.S. say the economy is poor or not so good; most workers don't have guaranteed pensions; and in three years, 25% of all workers will be in contingent jobs. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. In response to this, he points to the importance of the Chicago home healthcare victory, the successful drive by janitors in Houston and the struggle of the janitors at the University of Miami. His message is that workers have to fight to get decent wages and benefits and unions need to be strategic in order to win.

His stories about China and the ACFTU are very interesting. Last year, Wal-Mart agreed to recognize the union for the 30,000 workers in their stores in China. His point was that U.S. unions had to engage with Chinese unions because China was impossible to ignore. There are hundreds of millions of low-wage workers in China and resisting the pressure to lower wages in the U.S. has to include unionizing the workers of the U.S. corporations there.

Stern recounts some of the approaches that have been successful for SEIU in organizing workers. In a New Jersey campaign to organize janitors, sub-contractors complained of non-union cleaning companies underbidding them. His approach was to make companies with unionized workforces competitive by organizing competitors. He couldn't find many employers to partner with, but even getting a few employers to stop fighting a union drive would be helpful.

A useful phrase Stern employs is the option of using the "power of persuasion" or the "persuasion of power." Talk companies into accepting the union, or organizing the workers and the union movement and its supporters to fight the company until they give in. In my opinion, persuasion in the class struggle doesn't really work. Always underlying the substance of discussions where bosses are persuaded is the "persuasion of power." In other words, if we couldn't hurt them, they would never listen to a thing we say.

As the book went on, I found more and more things I disagreed with. Stern said the "class struggle mentality is a vestige of an earlier era." I don't see how he can argue for this, when he also said that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. If the capitalists are engaging in attacks against us, we have no choice but to respond in kind.

In another place, he refers to SEIU's sponsored project, Wal-Mart Watch, having "sparked a national conversation" about employer-sponsored health care coverage. In 2007, the news had stories about Stern meeting with CEOs, including the head of Wal-Mart, to encourage them to be socially responsible and provide health care for their employees. Unfortunately, Stern's biggest meeting with Wal Mart was protested by the workers from the UFCW, who are trying to organize in those stores. His 'national conversation' about health care coverage seems to be promoting the kind of gifts to the insurance companies that Arnold Schwarzenegger developed in California, where healthcare still won't be affordable.

Stern talks about leveraging, where we get companies to agree to accept the union, after a majority of workers sign cards, in return for concessions from the union that will help boost company profits. Also in 2007, there were controversial articles about nursing homes in California and Washington where deals were worked out like this by SEIU, but where the workers didn't know the deals. The International union agreed not to criticize the companies for years, and the companies got to dictate which nursing homes could be organized and which ones could not. These arrangements were brought to an end when the large United Healthcare Workers of California, the SEIU affiliate there, exposed them.

The last example I'll mention is Stern's suggestion that unions and employers should form "value added" relationships. "Employees and employers need organizations that solve problems, not create them." This is missing the point - workers join unions because there is a problem: they don't make enough money, or they're working too hard, or they don't have any security. Unions exist to solve the problems that are created by the employers.

In conclusion, I'm not surprised that 'disappointingly' only a few employers have joined him in his labor-management cooperation plans. I'm happy when he concludes with a section of the book where he warns working people not to be fooled by the corporate propaganda about the great shape the economy is in. And it's comforting when Stern says things like, "If the going gets rough, SEIU is more than adept" at fighting management. President Stern should focus on helping to bring workers together and strategizing to get them more power on their jobs and in their lives.


Early retirement epidemic hits labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Valuable experience to be lost

Hundreds of state workers are opting to retire early rather than pay higher health care costs. The departures come after the General Assembly passed a new law requiring state employees to start paying more for their medical coverage when they retire starting in October.

The Providence Journal reports that about 550 state employees applied for retirement benefits in the first half of the year. That's more than double the 215 workers who applied during the same time period last year.

The biggest jump came in June, when 299 people applied for retirement benefits. A spokesman for the state treasurer's office expects another jump this month and in September, as the deadline approaches.

Joseph “Michael” Downey, president of Council 94 the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said many of his members have little choice by too retire sooner than they wanted. The union represents about 4,000 state workers.

Until the change, Rhode Island was one of 11 states that paid 100 percent of the medical benefits for state employees who retire with the required years of service before age 65.

Lawmakers approved the change to the retirement benefits in response to the state's budget crisis.

Ten months ago, Domenic Moretti, was promoted to senior construction building inspector, a job with a pay raise to $25 per hour and the responsibility of overseeing 4-million-square-feet of campus with 163 apartments at the University of Rhode Island

But after nearly 38 years with the state, Moretti, 57, said he feels he has to step down sooner than he'd like.

”If I retired after September, my health coverage would cost $172 a month,” he said. If he left before then, he said, he could keep his medical benefits, paid 100 percent by the state.

His last day of work was June 20.


Stern ally under investigation

"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."

In their second investigative story in ten days (previously) the LA Times raises serious questions about democracy at Local 6434. Members are challenging the local's officer elections, and could win a new vote.

Local 6434 required that members who wished to run against Tyrone Freeman's incumbent appointed slate collect about 4,800 signatures in three weeks - essentially impossible, especially as most 6,434 members are homecare workers who have little or no regular contact with others.

The article also alleges that SEIU International knew about concerns around Freeman six years ago in 2002, but came up with a plan to "keep the allegations from embarrassing the SEIU at a time of epic membership growth."


Unions smack California GOP

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Hyper-partisan union militants send workers dues in one direction only

Outside groups spent nearly $700,000 in independent expenditures on the 80th Assembly Democrat primary. That's why we weren't surprised to see the 23,000-member-strong California Faculty Association is jumping into the general election race early.

The union last week launched a $435,000 “Flunk the Assembly Republicans” multi-platform advertising campaign geared at four open swing seat districts, including Gary Jeandron, in the 80th.

In November, Jeandron faces Democrat Manuel Perez, who attracted the bulk of the independent expenditures spent during the primary season.

Campaign officials for former Palm Springs police chief and current Palm Springs Unified school board member Jeandron said his two key issues include public safety and education.

“There is no truth at all to the ad,” Jeandron said in a statement Friday. “This is an outside special interest group playing politics with our kids. If I had the $435,000 this group is spending on these ads, I'd be funding scholarships for those same children they accuse me of preventing from attending college.”


Barack turns to unionists

Returns from vacation to resume Bush-blaming

Fresh from a weeklong vacation, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama used his first general election campaign stop in Reno on Sunday to deliver one of his sharpest rejoinders yet to the barrage of negative campaign ads from his Republican rival that have flooded airwaves in this battleground state.

Speaking to about 250 supporters perched on wooden picnic tables in the Wooster High School courtyard, Obama said his purpose in the presidential race is to "restore the American dream" to those struggling through the economic downturn.

In a 30-minute speech, Obama sought to lay responsibility for the present economy at the feet of the deeply unpopular President Bush and then convince voters U.S. Sen. John McCain would continue in those footsteps.

"(McCain) ran a negative ad, which is most of the ads he runs, that claimed my economic plan was higher taxes and that it would lead to economic disaster," Obama said. "That is what he said. My plan would lead to economic disaster.

"Well, I've got news for John McCain. My plan is not going to bring about economic disaster. We already have economic disaster from John McCain's President George W. Bush."

McCain has spent significantly on television ads in Nevada, attacking Obama's economic policies, his celebrity status, his tax proposals and his readiness to lead. His most recent ad labels Obama the "tax man."

Obama spent the last week on vacation in Hawaii, his childhood home, leading some of his local supporters to worry he hasn't been swift or strong enough in responding to McCain's attacks.

"I thought that Hawaii trip hurt him a little," said Mario Romero, a Reno business owner and supporter, who shook Obama's hand when the candidate made a surprise stop to PJ &Co. Restaurant on Sunday. "McCain's been out there making all these comments, and I don't think he did enough (in response.)"

But in his speech Sunday, Obama went on the offensive, accusing McCain of leaving the middle class out of his economic plan, which he said gives someone making $2.8 million a year a $500,000 tax cut.

"My plan provides tax cuts to 95 percent of the American people," he said. "If you are making $150,000 or less, you are going to be getting a tax cut under my plan."

Obama's tax plan does include tax increases for those making more than $250,000 a year and would increase capital gains taxes.

The economy is at top of mind for Nevada voters as the state experiences its worst economic downturn in a decade, resulting in lost jobs, a record number of home foreclosures and a struggling gaming industry.

Obama spoke to a crowd of mostly labor union members from a wide array of industries. He spent about 30 minutes answering questions from the crowd, promising them a Labor Department that would look out for the rights of union members and said he would oppose a move to contract U.S. Postal Service routes to private firms.

At one point when an audience member criticized McCain's military record, Obama took the opportunity to stand up for his rival.

"I think his policies are terrible. I think his service was admirable," he said, before continuing his assault on McCain's record.

"John McCain wants to present himself as a maverick," Obama said. "He always says, 'I'm a maverick, I'm a maverick, I'm a maverick.' Let me tell you something, every single one of his top people are all lobbyists for the very special interests that have been dominating Washington all these years."

In response to the speech, McCain's Nevada spokesman Rick Gorka put out a short statement.

"John McCain has always put country over politics regardless of personal or political consequences, which has put him at odds with members of his own party on numerous occasions," he said. "From campaign finance reform, to ethics and education, John McCain puts the needs of the country above all else."

State Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he was glad to see Obama's new aggressive stance.

"Now with 79 days until the election, people need to know where he stands in comparison to John McCain," Horsford said.

The Obama campaign's decision to hold a small town hall meeting open only to invited supporters drew some fire from both Republican opponents and Democratic supporters.

Gorka accused Obama of "handpicking an audience" for a "safe environment."

"That's in comparison with John McCain who is unafraid and incredibly willing to talk to any voter regardless of party affiliation," he said.

Washoe County Democratic chairman Chris Wicker said party headquarters was inundated with calls from those who wanted access.

"I have to be straightforward on this," he said, nodding when asked if Democrats were angry. "People are so excited about Barack Obama that they really want to see him in person. But knowing Nevada is a battleground state, I know that he will be back in Reno and he'll put on a larger event for people to see him in person."

Wicker said Obama wanted to have a "real conversation" with people, rather than give a speech before thousands. Wicker added that he didn't think that allowing McCain supporters in the event would "add to the conversation because these are concerns shared by everybody."

But he acknowledged the decision may have cost Obama an opportunity to persuade undecided voters by not inviting them to the event.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said supporters were spoiled during the Nevada caucuses, when Obama repeatedly campaigned here before large crowds.

"I think they understand the campaign has moved to a different stage now," she said.


Secret ballot absolutely necessary

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