SEIU's expanding embezzlement epidemic

More Andy Stern stories: hereTyrone Freeman stories: here

Scandal engulfs 3rd California big, multiple investigations underway

The Service Employees International Union's top California officer has taken a leave of absence, and her former boyfriend has been ordered to return tens of thousands of dollars he received from the state council and Los Angeles local that she heads.

Annelle Grajeda is the third major SEIU leader to step aside following reports in The Times about the union's financial practices. The SEIU acknowledged Saturday that Grajeda was on leave as president of the L.A. local and the union's state council, and as an executive vice president of the national organization, because of allegations that she was improperly involved in the payments.

The union did not provide any details of Grajeda's purported role in the payment to the former boyfriend, Alejandro Stephens. The SEIU said it has demanded that Stephens, who was a longtime president of the Los Angeles chapter before it merged with several others, return the money.

An internal complaint filed Aug. 14 also accuses Stephens of remaining on the Los Angeles County payroll while drawing a salary from the union. Attempts to reach Stephens were unsuccessful.

Grajeda said Saturday that she was "very confident" the inquiry would conclude that she did nothing wrong. She said she could not discuss specifics. The inquiry is separate from a federal criminal investigation and congressional probe of another SEIU local in Los Angeles, which were prompted by a Times report earlier this month.

"Our serious concerns about these charges have been greatly elevated by the recently published article," states the complaint, brought by two members of Grajeda's local, which represents thousands of county employees including social workers, nurses and clerks. "We have grave concerns that this type of betrayal of public trust and malfeasance may be happening in our local union."

The SEIU is the nation's fastest-growing union, with 2 million members in North America and more than 700,000 in California. Grajeda's local has 77,000 members. She has been a close aide to its president, Andy Stern. The state council oversees the union's lobbying efforts in Sacramento and its get-out-the-vote drives.

In 2007, Stephens was paid nearly $14,000 by the Los Angeles office in "disbursements for official business" and $75,000 in consulting fees by the state council, according to the union's financial filings with the U.S. Labor Department.

As an SEIU executive board member, he also received more than $104,000 in salary and disbursements last year from the union's headquarters in Washington, D.C., records show. The filings indicate that the national office reimbursed the state council for the $75,000.

SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette said the $75,000 was part of a severance deal with Stephens when he was removed as local president because of the consolidation.

She said he violated the agreement by receiving money from the local and remaining on the county payroll as an employee. It was not known whether he received similar payments this year. In addition to the union payments, the complaint calls on the SEIU to investigate a nonprofit that is affiliated with the local and headed by Stephens. The most recently available tax records show that it has devoted only about 9% of its expenditures to its charitable programs.

In a letter to Ron Tanner and Arturo Diaz, the two local members who filed the complaint, SEIU's national office asked for more specific information. It also said the complaint about the charity was referred to the nonprofit's board.

Donna Meredith, the charity's vice chairwoman, said it was established after the 1994 Northridge quake to provide aid to union members affected by such disasters. She said it spent less than $15,000 on program services in 2006, the last year for which Internal Revenue Service reports are available, because it needed to build a reserve for future payments. "We have to keep putting funds into that," she said.

The nonprofit spent about $81,000 in 2006 on fundraising expenses, more than half its total outlays. Meredith said costs for the charity's fundraiser -- a 5K and 10K run -- were higher than expected. She defended Stephens' stewardship of the charity and his work for the union, labeling the complaints against him sour grapes by Tanner and Diaz. "He is doing what he is supposed to do," Meredith said of Stephens. "They are just unhappy with him because he is in charge."

Diaz denied that he and Tanner harbor any grudge against Stephens. "I think he's totally taken advantage of the membership," said Diaz, a county computer programmer.

Tanner, a county retiree who still belongs to the union, said Meredith's comment reflected "pure loyalty to Alejandro Stephens, whether he's wrong or right."

Previous Times reports have focused on the SEIU's largest California chapter, the United Long-Term Care Workers. The head of that local, Tyrone Freeman, has stepped aside because of the resulting investigations into its finances.

His former chief of state, Rickman Jackson, who is now president of SEIU's biggest Michigan chapter, also has taken a leave because of the probe.

The Times has reported that small companies run by Freeman's wife and mother-in-law got about $405,000 in 2006 and 2007 from the union and a charity he founded, among other expenditures. Freeman has denied any wrongdoing.

A housing corporation Freeman helped found used the address of a Bell Gardens home that property records show is owned by Jackson. Union and housing corporation officials have declined to say whether Jackson was paid for any use of his residence. Jackson has said in e-mails that he would have no comment on the matter.


Barack captures union-dues

Hyper-partisanship at work: 150-to-1 for Barack over McCain

Labor union's have lavished big bucks on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama since January of 2007 and only a piddling amount on the campaign of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

On the eve of Labor Day, a Times analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows Obama scooped up $8.1 million from union political action committees through July 2008 while McCain garnered just $54,100 from organized labor and employee PACs so far in this presidential election cycle.

The all-or-nothing bet unions are placing on Obama repeats the strategy of heavily backing Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 election.

"There is that huge split because there is a huge split in what Obama and McCain represent," said Tom Balanoff, President of Chicago-based Service Employees Union Local 1. "Barack Obama understands the needs of working families."

During and immediately after the primary season, SEIU political action committees were by far the largest organizational contributors to the Obama campaign, dropping a combined $7.26 million in his campaign war chest.

Of all the political action committee donations made to the Obama campaign, 89.3 percent were from unions. Of all the political action committee donations made to the McCain campaign, just 2.9 percent came from unions and employee PACs.

In fact, union political action committees made $1.6 million in donations to anti-McCain efforts, the election commission records show.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton had broader support from unions than Obama during the primary season, garnering $4.4 million in donations from 35 union PACs. Obama's money came from just eight union PACs.

Unions cannot make direct donations to federal candidates' election campaigns. Instead, union members contribute to the unions' political action committees through authorized payroll deductions.

The United Steelworkers are using the same logic as SEIU in throwing all their weight behind Obama now that he is the Democratic nominee, according to Jim Robinson, USW District 7 director.

"If we gave money to McCain, that wouldn't change the positions he's had for many years," said Robinson. "It would be like the chickens getting together and giving a donation to Colonel Sanders."

The United Steelworkers backed former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in the primaries.

"He was the most energetic and aggressive on trade policy," said USW public affairs director Gary Hubbard of Edwards.

But now the USW is backing Obama wholeheartedly, Hubbard said.

Obama's policies on universal health care, trade, and the Employee Free Choice Act make the Illinois Senator the choice of most every union, Robinson said.

Unions believe the Free Choice Act, which would give employees union representation if a majority signed cards signalling union membership, will increase union numbers. Unions claim the current regime of National Labor Relations Board elections for union recognition allows employers to stall unionization.

McCain opposed the Free Choice Act when it was introduced in Congress. The steelworkers also believe McCain's health care plan will actually drive workers out of employer programs and into the arms of private insurance companies, Robinson said.

In addition to their campaign donations, unions are working to increase their clout through get-out-the-vote and ongoing political campaigns, according to Michelle Ringuette, SEIU assistant director of communications.

Local 1 SEIU members were in Gary this weekend conducting a voter registration drive.

SEIU will have members make 10 million calls to members of Congress in support of universal health care and other issues important to working families, Ringuette said. The union will put up $10 million to make sure members of Congress deliver on their promises and dedicate 50 percent of its organizing budget to political action.

"We will keep the heat on so things get done," Ringuette said.

Big labor, big issues, big money
Union PACs and employee PACs were big givers during the presidential primary season and after, donating millions to the campaigns of presidential hopefuls.
John McCain
Total donations: $54,100
Total PACs contributing: 12
Barack Obama
Total donations: $8.1 million
Total PACs contributing: 8
Hillary Clinton
Total donations: $4.4 million
Total PACs contributing: 34


Workers can object to unions' political spending

More union dues stories: here

About 40% of workers disagree with unions' hyper-partisanship, but are forced to support it through workplace deductions

Soon after World War II, 36 percent of all workers in the United States were members of labor unions. Today, the figure is about 12 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A big decline, obviously. But even at 12 percent, that's enough people — roughly 16 million — to make a difference in a presidential election.

In the lead story in today's section, Rochester labor leader Jim Bertolone states succinctly why he favors Barack Obama over John McCain. When the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor organization, endorsed Obama in June, it called him "a champion for working families."

The National Right to Work Committee doesn't hold the Democratic nominee in such high regard. "On Labor Day ... as we celebrate the free enterprise system and the value of hard work, union officials are mounting an unprecedented, billion-dollar campaign effort to grab more forced unionism power," said Right to Work President Mark Mix.

"Their goal is to elect a president and a filibuster-proof Senate that will give them even more tools to force workers to join or pay dues to a union."

The Right to Work Committee says its 2.2 million members are dedicated to the principle that all Americans must have the right to join a union if they choose to — but that no one should ever be forced to become a union member to get or keep a job.

And so the committee is urging workers to challenge the use of their dues this fall to pay for any elect-Obama effort.


Labor union corruption: A national epidemic

More embezzlement stories: here

Despite rampant racketeering & ripoffs, labor bigs seek $10 billion bailout from Congress via EFCA

Remember the air-traffic controllers union strike of 1981? Odds are you don't -- 60 percent of Americans were 16 or younger at the time of Big Labor's last nationwide power grab.

But unions haven't made that kind of nasty headline for a while. So it should be no surprise that this Labor Day many of these underinformed Americans approve of labor unions as an institution.

But new research indicates that unions' popularity would be in the tank if Americans were aware of the current leadership's record of fat expense accounts, corruption, embezzlement and discrimination.

You might be surprised to learn that in the last reported five years, inspectors from the Department of Labor obtained 1,100 labor racketeering indictments, with court judgments exceeding $400 million in fines and other forms of punishment and repayment to union members who were ripped off.

In addition, the federal Office of Labor-Management Standards has successfully prosecuted 850 corrupt union officials and obtained $103 million in restitution orders since 2001.

And since 2000, labor unions have faced more than 14,000 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints -- charging leaders with discrimination by race, sex, age, disability and religion.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, "Schemes involving bribery, extortion, deprivation of union rights by violence and embezzlement used by early racketeers are still employed to abuse the power of unions."

But union leaders have kept their activities out of the public eye -- relying on deft political maneuvering, multimillion-dollar public relations campaigns and the residual goodwill of the American people.

This has worked for a long time. But now organized labor has a new scheme that should be prompting more and more concerned citizens to speak up and oppose disturbing new legislation that amounts to a brazen power grab.

It's congressional legislation deceptively named the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA. It eliminates workers' right to a private vote when considering the forming of a union in the workplace and makes it vastly easier for outside organizers to enter a workplace and form a union, without time for debate and deliberation.

How would this "free choice" proposal do all this?

Instead of giving everyone the right to make a decision in the privacy of the voting booth, signatures would be collected in public, making individuals vulnerable to pressure and harassment from union organizers.

If organizers collect cards from more than 50 percent of a workplace's employees, the result is a binding contract for representation.

The U.S. Supreme Court has called this signature-collection method "admittedly inferior to the (private ballot) election process."

"It would be difficult to imagine a more unreliable method of ascertaining the real wishes of employees," said the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a real election, when you vote "no," your word is final. But under EFCA, union organizers would be permitted to pester employees as much as necessary, even showing up at their homes until they relent.

To a union organizer, "no" means "not yet." How can you ever register a final "no" vote in that process?

An AFL-CIO "Guidebook for Union Organizers" admits that sometimes employees will sign just "to 'get the union off my back.'" Nevertheless, 50 percent plus one of the targeted employees signing a card equals an election under the proposed rules.

An office could be unionized overnight.

Union president Andy Stern predicts EFCA would mean 15 million to 20 million more unionized Americans. By Stern's calculations, unions would conservatively pick up an additional $10 billion in dues annually.

Money talks in politics so unions would have unprecedented political influence and power to advance their agenda. And given their history of corruption, deception and mismanagement of member dues, a $10 billion cash injection should be enough to cause any American serious concern.

This Labor Day, make sure your friends and neighbors have heard about the labor bosses' latest scheme to increase their own power and eliminate working Americans' right to a private vote, free from coercion or intimidation.

It will be tragic if millions of Americans don't find out until it is too late.

- Richard Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit watchdog for America's workers.


What do union bigs want?

More EFCA stories: here

Huge federal bailout for organized labor looms in 2009

The 2008 elections may represent the high-water mark of Big Labor's political ascendancy. Although union operatives have already announced $300 million in national campaign expenditures, union political spending could exceed $1 billion after factoring in PACs, 527s, and state and local outlays.

What does Big Labor want? A sympathetic president and a filibuster-proof Senate majority mean less federal oversight for corrupt unions and new government-granted special privileges for union bosses.

Most ominously, the erroneously titled "Employee Free Choice Act" (AKA the Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill) looms over the horizon, threatening to unleash a wave of coercive union organizing across America.

In recent years, the Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill has become Big Labor's No. 1 political priority - a de facto litmus test for candidates seeking union bosses' political backing. Endorsed by presidential nominee Barack Obama and virtually all congressional Democrats, this legislation would allow union operatives to unilaterally bypass federally supervised secret ballot elections and instead pursue coercive card-check organizing drives to determine whether workers unionize.

By forcing workers to declare their support or opposition to unionization in front of aggressive union organizers, card-check leaves employees vulnerable to coercion, intimidation and harassment. Without even the limited protections of secret ballot elections, card-check allows aggressive unions to acquire monopoly bargaining privileges in an environment that makes it nearly impossible for employees to say "no" to unionization.

Under current law, an employer still has the right to insist that employees get a secret ballot election, rather than to bargain with the union assuming the cards are legitimate and uncoerced. The Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill would change all that.

The National Right to Work Foundation, a group that provides free legal aid to workers whose rights have been violated by compulsory unionism, has helped hundreds of employees abused by card-check. Workers report being harassed at home and on the job until many eventually agree to sign away their rights to self-representation. Some have had to threaten to call the police just to get aggressive organizers out of their homes.

In other instances, union activists have resorted to lying or misleading employees about the cards' meaning, claiming workers' signatures would only be used for choosing health insurance coverage, validating tax deductions, or initiating a federally-supervised secret ballot election.

According to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, the Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill is "the fuel - the opening - for the SEIU to change our growth curve from 100,000 to a million or more workers a year." If the SEIU is allowed to intimidate and cajole workers into signing cards, Ms. Burger's prediction threatens to become self-fulfilling.

Big Labor's political organizers are nothing if not ambitious. The Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill represents the cornerstone of their efforts to reshape American politics for decades to come.

While mandatory card-check would greatly enhance Big Labor's influence, union operatives have already used card-check drives to push thousands of workers into union collectives.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys recently acquired new information on the prevalence of card-check in the workplace. According to the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) report, union organizers successfully completed more than 250 card-check organizing drives between October 2007 and May 2008. Because the NLRB was not required to track the use of card-check until late last year, this information only hints at the pervasive nature of coercive organizing.

Current law gives employers the right (but not the obligation) to secure employee access to a secret ballot election, so Big Labor's efforts increasingly focus on bludgeoning management into submission. Union operatives frequently initiate vicious "corporate campaigns" aimed at targeted companies featuring drawn-out litigation, staged protests and massive PR broadsides. Employers then face a stark choice: suffer months of harassment at the hands of union militants, or subject their employees to abusive card-check organizing.

Once they cave in to union pressure, companies frequently are compelled to provide union operatives with employees' personal information and force workers to attend mandatory meetings touting the "benefits" of union membership.

Federal labor law already grants union officials privileges enjoyed by no other private organization, including the power to force workers to accept union "representation" and pay union dues as a condition of employment.

By further tilting the playing field in favor of union organizers, legislation like Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill will give union bosses what they need to raise billions of dollars in new forced union dues to spend on things like radical politics. Supporters of workplace freedom had better watch out.

- Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee


Politics interfere with worker-choice

More EFCA stories: here

Union bigs lean on Congress to enforce forced-labor unionism agenda

Big Labor is making a billion dollar bet on this fall's election. If they elect Barack Obama and a filibuster-proof Senate, they could run the table next year. Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of Big Labor's legislative agenda of more compulsory unionism. At the top of that agenda is the Orwellian-named "Employee Free Choice Act" which would block employees from secret ballot elections over unionization. Passage of EFCA, more accurately called the Card Check Forced Unionism Bill, is central to Big Labor's plans to obtain new coercive union organizing privileges.

The bill's provisions attack freedom and choice for both employees and employers. In Big Labor's world view, the only proper relationship between workers and employers is an adversarial one. Under mandatory "card check," employees may never even hear their employer's opinion on the downsides of unionization and what it could mean for their company. Employees could leave work at the end of one day, only to find the next morning that they are in a union. And just how will this happen? Union organizers pressure workers one by one to sign union authorization cards. When a majority of workers sign, the employer would be required by law to bargain with the union as the "exclusive representative" of all workers.

Because "exclusive representation" is such an extraordinary privilege, current law allows employers to insist that workers make their decision on unionization through a secret ballot election supervised by the NLRB. The Card Check Forced Unionism Bill does away with the secret ballot except under the most far-fetched of circumstances.

But there's more. In the Senate, Obama introduced the so-called Patriot Employer Act, which offers tax advantages to those companies agreeing to so-called "neutrality" and use of card check (which is not yet mandated). Under such agreements, employees lose both access to truthful information about the downsides of unionization and the privacy of the secret ballot. Employers that refuse to throw their workers under the bus will not be deemed "patriots" and will therefore face higher taxes than their competitors.

Meanwhile, Obama and union lobbyists have another bill in mind -- one which will force unionization on hundreds of thousands of public safety workers across America.

Under current law and the principle of federalism, states are free to determine for themselves the best way for state and local governments to negotiate contracts with government employees. Almost half of all states either do not permit union monopoly bargaining over police, firefighters, and EMTs or grant more limited forms of "exclusive representation." Already a cosponsor of this bill, Obama promises he will push for and sign the Police and Fire Monopoly Bargaining Act, forcing states and cities to bargain with union bosses as the monopoly bargaining agent of public safety personnel.

With the potential for the most radical shift in labor law in decades, it should come as no surprise that Big Labor is spending record funds -- estimated at over $1 billion in mostly compulsory dues -- on the 2008 elections.

When it comes fighting for forced unionism power grabs which corral more hardworking Americans into unions, Obama is Big Labor's great hope. So much for the little guy.

- Doug Stafford is vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.


AFL- CIO's Gold helps Barack silence critics

Michelle Malkin investigation gets details

Where are all the free speech absolutists when you need them? Over the past month, left-wing partisans and Democratic lawyers have waged a brass-knuckled intimidation campaign against GOP donors, TV and radio stations, and even an investigative journalist because they have all dared to question the radical cult of Barack Obama. A chill wind blows, but where the valiant protectors of political dissent are, nobody knows.

On August 11, I called the American Civil Liberties Union national headquarters in New York for comment about the Chicago gangland tactics of one of these groups -- a nonprofit called "Accountable America" that is spearheaded by a former operative of the Obama-endorsing MoveOn outfit.

"Accountable America" is trolling campaign finance databases and targeting conservative donors with "warning" letters in a thuggish attempt to depress Republican fundraising. (You'll be interested to know that the official registered agent of Accountable America is Laurence Gold, a high-powered attorney for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) who has testified before the Senate complaining about the use of campaign finance laws to stifle the speech of union workers -- a pet cause of the ACLU.)

The ACLU press office failed to respond to my initial call. On August 13, I followed up through e-mail:

"I called on Monday requesting a statement from the ACLU about Accountable America's intimidation campaign against GOP donors. What is the ACLU's position with regard to such efforts? Waiting for your statement..."

ACLU press officer Pamela Bradshaw e-mailed back:

"Michelle, My apologies that I cannot be of more assistance, but we don't have anyone available. Thanks, Pam."

My reply: "Pam -- Does this mean you don't have anyone available today, this week, or for the foreseeable future?"

On August 20, after a week of silence, I forwarded the message again to the ACLU press office. No response.

So, I won't bother asking the ACLU's opinion of the latest wave of speech-squelching moves by the Obama campaign:

On Monday, Obama demanded that the Justice Department stop TV stations from airing a documented, accurate independent ad spotlighting Obama's longtime working relationship with unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers. Obama summoned his followers to bombard stations, many of them owned by conservative-leaning Sinclair Communications, with 93,000 e-mails to squelch the commercial.

On Tuesday, the Obama campaign sent another letter to the Justice Department demanding investigation and prosecution of American Issues Project, the group that produced the Ayers ad, as well as Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who funded it.

And on Wednesday, Obama exhorted his followers to sabotage the WGN radio show of veteran Chicago host and University of Chicago Professor Milt Rosenberg. Why? Because he invited National Review writer Stanley Kurtz to discuss his investigative findings about Obama's ties to Ayers and the underwhelming results of their collaboration on a left-wing educational project sponsored by the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The "Obama Action Wire" supplied Rosenberg's call-in line and talking points like this:

"Tell WGN that by providing Kurtz with airtime, they are legitimizing baseless attacks from a smear-merchant and lowering the standards of political discourse. ... It is absolutely unacceptable that WGN would give a slimy character assassin like Kurtz time for his divisive, destructive ranting on our public airwaves."

Behind the glowing, peaceful facade lies Barack "The Silencer" Obama and his silent enablers on the left. While mainstream journalists schmoozed with liberal celebrities in Denver, practiced yoga with left-wing bloggers and received massages at the Google convention tent near touchy-feely Barackopolis, Team Obama was on an ugly, aggressive warpath sanctioned by Mr. Civility. While compassionate Obama prepared to stand before thousands of worshipers at Invesco Field, purporting to give voice to the voiceless, his Chicago-schooled campaign machine was working overtime to muzzle conservative critics. "We want it to stop," ordered one pro-Obama caller to WGN.

Welcome to the future: the politics of Hope and Change enforced by the missionaries of Search and Destroy.


Teachers nix fact-finder, go out on strike

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Labor-states lead the nation in teacher strikes

Tuscarora (PA) School District teachers are officially on strike and there will be no school in session for the foreseeable future.

District Solicitor Carl Beard confirmed Saturday that the teachers have given written notice to School Superintendent Rebecca Erb that they are striking. The district and the teachers union could not agree on a teachers' contract for 2008-2009. A fact finder was called in, and the school board voted twice to accept the fact-finder's report. The teachers voted twice not to accept it.

The primary issues are health insurance (how much of a percentage the teachers have to pay) and salary concerns.

There will be a picket line on Tuesday morning at the high school, middle school and two elementary schools, though which two elementary schools have not been decided.

No new negotiating sessions between the district and the teacher's union have been scheduled as of this posting.


Alabama to dock obese state workers

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Management couldn't get away with this in a labor-state

Alabama, pushed to second in national obesity rankings by deep-fried Southern favorites, is cracking down on state workers who are too fat.

The state has told its 37,527 employees they have one year to start getting fit — or they'll pay $25 a month for insurance that otherwise is free. Alabama will be the first state to charge overweight state workers who don't work on slimming down. A handful of other states reward employees who adopt healthy behaviors.

Alabama already charges workers who smoke — and has seen some success in getting them to quit — but now has turned its attention to a problem that plagues many in the Deep South: obesity.

The State Employees' Insurance Board approved a plan this month to charge state workers starting in January 2010 if they don't have free health screenings.

If the screenings turn up serious problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose or obesity, employees will have a year to see a doctor at no cost, enroll in a wellness program or take steps on their own to improve their health. If they show progress in a follow-up screening, they won't be charged. But if they don't, they must pay starting in January 2011.

"We are trying to get individuals to become more aware of their health," said state worker Robert Wagstaff, who serves on the insurance board.

Not all state employees see it that way.

"It's terrible," health department employee Chequla Motley said. "Some people come into this world big."

Computer technician Tim Colley already pays $24 a month for being a smoker and doesn't like the idea of another charge.

"It's too Big Brotherish," he said.

The board will apply the obesity charge to anyone with a body mass index of 35 or higher who is not making progress.

A person 5 feet 6 inches tall weighing 220 pounds, for example, would have a BMI of 35.5. A BMI of 30 is considered the threshold for obesity.

The board has not yet determined how much progress a person would have to show avoid the charge.

It is unclear how many people might be affected, because in theory, all state workers could make efforts to lose weight.

But that seems unlikely, as government statistics show Alabamians have a big weight problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30.3 percent are now obese, ranking the state behind only Mississippi.

E-K. Daufin of Montgomery, a college professor and founder of Love Your Body, Love Yourself, which holds body acceptance workshops, said the new policy will be stressful for people like her.

"I'm big and beautiful and doing my best to keep my stress levels down so I can stay healthy," Daufin said. "That's big, not lazy, not a glutton and certainly not deserving of the pompous, poisonous disrespect served up daily to those of us with more bounce to the ounce."

A recent study suggested that about half of overweight people and nearly a third of obese people have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while about a quarter of people considered to be normal weight suffer from the ills associated with obesity.

Walter Lindstrom, founder of the Obesity Law and Advocacy Center in California, said he's concerned that all overweight Alabama employees will get is advice to walk more and broil their chicken.

"The state will feel good about itself for offering something and the person of size will end up paying $300 a year for the bad luck of having a chronic disease his/her state-sponsored insurance program failed to cover in an appropriate and meaningful fashion," he said.

William Ashmore, executive director of the State Employees' Insurance Board, said the state will spend an extra $1.6 million next year on screenings and wellness programs but should see significant long-term savings.

Ashmore said research shows someone with a body mass index of 35 to 39 generates $1,748 more in annual medical expenses than someone with a BMI less than 25, considered normal.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a few states offer one-time financial incentives for pursuing healthy lifestyles. Ohio workers, for instance, get $50 for having health assessments and another $50 for following through with the advice.

Arkansas and Missouri go a step further, offering monthly discounts on premiums for employees who take health risk assessments and participate in wellness programs to reduce obesity, stress and other health problems.

Alabama's new policy is drawing no objection from the lobbying group representing state workers.

Mac McArthur, executive director of Alabama State Employees Association, said the plan is not designed to punish employees.

"It's a positive," he said.


Barack to wow unionists at Laborfest

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Nation's organizer-in-chief sets Labor Day event in labor-state

Barack Obama will be the special speaker at Laborfest.

Fresh from his triumph at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the presidential candidate will bring his visionary message, plans for a better American and powerful oratory to Milwaukee, consciously connecting the national worker’s holiday, Labor Day, with the union members who in Milwaukee celebrate annually with a parade and free family festival at the Summerfest grounds.

But a warning – absolutely no tickets for the Obama evening event will be distributed at Laborfest.

The Obama visit, under tight security, will fill the Marcus Amphitheater (south of the main grounds) and start at 6 p.m. Monday, September 1.

Doors for seating will open at 3 p.m. for the 6 p.m. event.

Tickets for the general public will be distributed in advance only at Obama campaign offices throughout the state and for union members in special advance arrangements (away from Laborfest) with their union leaders.

Obama will lead this Rally for America’s Workers, speak directly about his plans to provide real relief for working families and discuss why we can’t afford “four more years of the same old politics and the same old policies.”

For the public, required tickets can be picked up starting at noon Sunday at Obama campaign offices – as long as the tickets last. While open to the public and the press, seating for the event is limited, so this is really a first come-first served rally for the public.

Plans for all this were rapidly developed by the campaign and by the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, sponsor of Laborfest.

Union members will have to work through the offices of their locals or through meetings off the grounds with their union leaders Sunday and early Monday to get their tickets.

Thousands of tickets are available to them and thousands more will be
distributed to the general public through Obama campaign offices in Wisconsin listed below.

A statewide interest in Obama’s speech – indeed a national interest, with traveling media expected from around the world -- is anticipated, so Obama organizers suggest visiting a campaign office starting Sunday to get the essential tickets.

The central office of the Obama “Campaign for Change” is downtown at 744 N. 4th St. (corner of Wells St.). In fact, seven hours before the Obama event starts, that’s where the vintage cars and Harley motorcycles gather to kick off Labor Day's 11 a.m. parade through downtown to the Summerfest grounds.

The free events there, open to all residents and families, are full of activities for children and adults. Dozens of Summerfest’s traditional food and beverage vendors will be open for business. Two bands will rotate full time at the Miller Stage. Bingo, pro wrestling and special displays and raffles are among the attractions.

These Laborfest activities run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., leaving enough time for participants to stroll over to the Obama event, which was announced just two days in advance, on Aug. 30.

Obama’s last Milwaukee visit was Feb. 16 in a major appearance for the state Democratic Party ahead of the Wisconsin primary. Many commentators have credited that primary with galvanizing his national campaign. Obama supporters expect his speech at Laborfest will do the same for the November 4 election.

It is hard to overstate the interest in his appearances and plans.
It’s an outburst of belief reflected in the numbers who watched his acceptance speech August 27 (the most-watched convention speech ever: 38.4 million viewers -- 57% more that John Kerry in 2004).

It was also anticipated by Milwaukeeans in 2004, when Obama (not yet even the senator from Illinois) spoke at Washington Park. Many pressed forward to greet him in person, saying “I’m shaking the hand of a future president.”


Rep. Brad Ellsworth, Indiana DINO

Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Is the Employee Free Choice Act on your political radar? If it is not, it better be. It has the potential to be one of the most damaging pieces of legislation for employers and employees that has been seen in decades.

What is the Employee Free Choice Act?

* It provides that a union could be certified to represent your employees with a simple majority of your employees signing an authorization card, therefore the slang term for this legislation, "card check." This requirement for employees to publicly sign a union card to join a union would do away with the current practice of private ballot elections in organizing efforts. At issue is whether or not workers should continue to have the right to vote in privacy like we do in every other election in this county. Because there is no private ballot, the way each worker votes is made known not only to their co-workers but also to union organizers and their employer. This atmosphere would be ripe for extreme peer pressure, harassment and intimidation. This is wrong. Workers deserve the continued right I to make these important personal decisions in private, without fear of coercion or reprisal from union organizers, their employer, or both. The right to a private ballot is a cornerstone of our democracy The voting booth is so private that couples who have been married for years will not disclose to each other whom they voted for in the last government election. Yet, can you believe this fundamental right is under assault in the U.S. Congress? It gets worse.

* If an employer and a union are engaged in bargaining for the first time and are unable to reach an agreement, arbitration will be forced and the result binding for two years.

* It increases the amount an employer is required to pay when an employee is discharged or discriminated against during on organizing campaign to three times back pay. Additionally, there are civil fines up to $20,000 per violation against employers found to be willfully violating employees' rights during an organizing campaign.

On the record. This proposed legislation called H.R. 800 has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives 241 to 185. A companion bill in the U.S. Senate (S. 1041) is currently under consideration. The Indiana members of the U.S. House of Representatives have recorded their votes on this issue. Representatives Julia Carson, Joe Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth, Baron Hill and
Pete Visclosky all voted in favor of this legislation. Standing up for worker rights and voting to protect private ballots were representatives Dan Burton, Steve Buyer, Mike Pence and Mark Souder.

President Bush has promised a veto. But however this issue turns out this session, it is not going away What if there is not a presidential veto threat after 2008?

This legislation is organized labor's highest legislative priority today and will continue to be. This is their litmus test for members of Congress that they support. Unions seek to reverse the decline in union membership by facilitating the organizing of workplaces through legalized coercion and intimidation.

Call to action. Whether you are an employee or employer, make your voice heard. If you need assistance with how to do that, visit www.myprivateballot.com. Indiana organizations that have declared their public opposition to this "card check" legislation include the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Manufactures Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, Indiana Retail Council, Indiana Petroleum Council, Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association, Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association, and Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

Remember. Your vote. In America it's as sacred as the Constitution. And it is to be cast in private. A right that belongs only to you. Don't let your Congressman, who was elected by secret ballot, take away your right. What could be next??

- J.R. Gaylor is president and CEO of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Indiana Inc. He also serves on the board of directors of the Indiana Construction Roundtable and on the board of trustees for Vincennes University.


Ronnie Musgrove's EFCA Deception

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