Andy Stern's cover-up: 'Preposterous'

More Andy Stern stories: hereMore embezzlement stories: here

Jumbo union needs to sweep out corruption, starting at the top

The president of the Service Employees International Union said this week that he plans to consult with two labor reform groups in an effort to clean up his scandal-stained organization, beginning with a new ethics code and an internal watchdog commission.

But leaders of both groups said Wednesday that they were skeptical of Andy Stern's proposals. "Why does he need a new code of ethics?" said Herman Benson, founder of the Assn. for Union Democracy. "People didn't know that what they were doing was wrong? It's preposterous."

Three top SEIU officers have stepped aside in the aftermath of Times reports on the financial practices of the union's biggest California local. The SEIU has demanded that a fourth official return thousands of dollars in what union representatives allege were improper payments made by another local headed by his former girlfriend.

The disclosures are now the subject of a federal criminal investigation and a separate congressional inquiry. They come as Stern is mobilizing his 2-million-member union -- the nation's fastest growing -- to support Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

In a statement Wednesday, Stern's office said it would ask all SEIU locals to immediately prohibit financial dealings with companies in which officers have an interest and adopt guidelines on avoiding nepotism and self-dealing.

The statement said the commission would be appointed by the union's executive board and issue recommendations within 90 days.

Stern told The New York Times on Tuesday that he would turn for help to Benson's group and Teamsters for a Democratic Union -- dissidents credited with fostering greater democracy in the labor movement. Benson and the Teamsters group's national organizer, Ken Paff, said that the SEIU had not advised them that they would be recruited for such a role.

Paff said the union should have taken action long ago on the spending practices of the 160,000-member United Long-Term Care Workers union, based in Los Angeles.

The local and a related charity have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to small firms owned by the wife and mother-in-law of the SEIU chapter's president, and spent similar sums on a Four Seasons Resorts golf tournament and a Beverly Hills cigar lounge.

"How could they not know?" Paff said of the SEIU's national leadership.

"Hey, spending a lot of money at a fancy cigar place. How could you miss that?"

Like Benson, Paff said he would be willing to consult with the SEIU on his experiences as a reformer, but he was troubled that Stern has included in the union's inquiry a dispute with the president of another California local, Sal Rosselli.

Stern has accused Rosselliof financial malpractice and fraud for using union money to set up a nonprofit and a legal defense fund to further his political aims within the SEIU. Based on those allegations, the SEIU has moved to take control of the Oakland-based local under a trusteeship.

Rosselli, a longtime critic of Stern, has denied any wrongdoing. Benson and Paff said they believe Stern has tried to silence Rosselli, in violation of democratic principles.

"The conflict he has with Sal Rosselli is a political conflict," Benson said. "Stern is utilizing the corruption scandal to give himself cover for the action against Rosselli."

Stern spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette denied those allegations. In a second statement Wednesday, released in response to the remarks by Benson and Paff, Stern said the union would "seek opinions from a diverse group of people, including those who do not always agree we us, so that we can make the best decisions for our rank-and-file members. We believe that this process will best serve our members and place this union at the leading edge of the reform effort in the labor movement."

The president of United Long-Term Care Workers, Tyrone Freeman, has gone on leave. So has his former chief of staff, Rickman Jackson, who is president of the SEIU's biggest Michigan local.

An SEIU executive vice president, Annelle Grajeda, is also on leave.

The union has accused her ex-boyfriend Alejandro Stephens of improperly receiving payments from her local and a Los Angeles County salary while drawing $75,000 last year in consulting fees from the SEIU state panel.

Freeman and Grajeda have said they did nothing wrong. Jackson has said in e-mails that he would have no comment, and attempts to interview Stephens have been unsuccessful.


Andy Stern makes an SEIU scapegoat over dues

More Andy Stern stories: here

Workers' reputation is tarnished by greedy jumbo union bigs

A clash between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 221 and some of its members about the quality of representation is being played out in the effort to oust an Escondido resident, Wally Gutierrez, from the union.

Gutierrez, a union shop steward who works as an electronic-security technician in the county complex in Vista, was put on trial for disloyalty and advocating secession from the union during a hearing at the SEIU Union Hall in San Diego on Wednesday.

More than 30 people, mostly county workers, rallied in front of the union hall to support Gutierrez, carrying signs that read “Truth Not Lies” and “Free Wally” during the closed trial that lasted more than two hours.

“I just pay my dues,” said Krikor Bedrossian, a county air-conditioning mechanic from Oceanside. “I’m trying to be a decent person. But once they start to harm our own people, it starts to get ugly. We like Wally and respect him for everything he’s done.”

According to trial documents, the issue is whether Gutierrez was attempting to subvert the union by trying to get the members of his Crafts bargaining unit to drop full membership in the union and become an agency shop in which workers pay reduced union dues, called agency fees, for less than full service from the union.

Gutierrez admits to petitioning for agency fees in order to force the SEIU Local 221 to pay more attention to workers.

David Wilson, a county plumber from Carlsbad who participated in Wednesday’s protest, said that the union has neglected its members in recent years and that striking back in the pocketbook was the most effective way of changing the situation.

“We need some representation,” Wilson said. “Over the last three years, we’ve had one union representative come to our office, and he was a new hire. He didn’t really have much information. I can’t tell you all the reasons Wally Gutierrez is being thrown out. I don’t think anyone can.

That’s why were here: to get answers.”

Gutierrez is charged with using false information to persuade union members to drop to agency fees as well as undermining the union’s solidarity at a critical time, less than a year before the county contract expires in June 2009.

According to the union’s Web site, a new contract with the county would affect about 75 percent of its almost 12,000 members.

The accusations were made in a letter to Local 221 secretary Omar Lopez written by executive board member Kathy Griffee and dated July 2. Lopez wouldn’t comment on the charges, saying Gutierrez’s trial was an internal matter and would be adjudicated fairly by the union.

Other union officials contacted for this story refused to comment on the matter, citing similar reasons.

“It’s an internal matter, and we’re handling it internally,” said Local 221 spokeswoman Melinda Battenberg.

Griffee’s letter lists four allegations against Gutierrez, all of them attributed to secondhand sources.

One of the sources, Joann Hofelich, a former executive board member now in the Crafts bargaining unit, denied the statements attributed to her and appeared at the trial as a witness in Gutierrez’s defense.

“Why didn’t she (Griffee) call me?” Hofelich said. “She didn’t want to call me to verify what I said. It was hearsay. We are not being listened to, and none of our issues are being heard. We have no recourse.

“Wally was one of the people who asked questions. I believe that’s why he’s being singled out.”

Workers demonstrating for Gutierrez at the Union Hall were not allowed inside to observe the proceedings.

“I’m being denied access to my Union Hall,” said Vickie Church of San Diego. “Just before Labor Day, no less.”

Gutierrez, who is responsible for the county’s electronic security equipment in North County, is awaiting a decision on or before Sept. 11.

He believes the trial will hurt him, regardless of outcome.

“They’ve tarnished my reputation,” Gutierrez said. “After this, if I get in trouble at work, do you think I’ll get representation from the union?”


Barack OKs union drag on economy

More EFCA stories: here

Union political-payoffs come before nation's economic security

For more than two years, we have called the job-killing legislation which unions and their lackeys have dubbed the Employee Free Choice Act the Kill American Jobs Act--and with good reason: If enacted, EFCA (through its no-vote unionism and mandatory arbitration provisions) will cost many Americans their jobs.

Why? Here it is in a nutshell ... and it really is this simple:

Unions cost companies more all the way around. While some of the costs are attributable to higher wage and benefits costs (in some cases), the hidden--and often more costly--costs of unionization come from the "administrative" costs attributable to unionization. These administrative costs include higher legal fees, loss of managerial time, overly burdensome work rules, adversarial relationships which result in lower productivity, and the like. These higher administrative costs can easily (and most often do) equate to double-digit costs to a company and, if that company is in any industry that has competition (which one doesn't?), the unionized company becomes less competitive. When a unionized company becomes less competitive, the company must find a way to become competitive again (e.g, outsourcing) or it either shrinks (and lays off its workers) or it goes out of business.

The Law of Unintended Consequences Strikes Again. Now, as union bosses spend $1 billion on the November election to have their political lackeys pass the hallucinogenically-named Employee Free Choice Act, employers have finally awoken and are taking notice. As a result, as we've known for a while now, some companies are not waiting for EFCA's deleterious effects to take hold, they are either altering (or planning to alter) their business models now.

Case in point: Last week, in a discussion with a client's HR manager in the Northeast, the HR manager mentioned that area businesses have already begun planning for EFCA to become law by outsourcing to their workforces to temporary agencies. Since these were primarily warehousing jobs, they do not necessarily lend themselves to outsourcing overseas. However, there are a plethora of companies that provide temporary workers who can easily pick and pack and who, while the per hour cost may be slightly higher, the agencies that employ these temp workers are not unionized.

While unions may cry foul at this approach, they had better get used to it once EFCA passes.

The fact is, the ideas behind EFCA (especially its binding arbitration provision) are not new. In 1994, President Clinton's Dunlop Commission (you can read an analysis of the commission report here) called for such changes to appease union complaints of a declining union movement and their failures in the private sector. However, EFCA (or whatever its predecessor bill might have been named) never came to fruition due to the Republicans' gaining control of Congress in the 1994 mid-term elections.

Twelve years later, on the evening of November 8, 2006, as the last blog entry we posted on Kulture's blog (before blogging exclusively here), we stated that the mid-term elections of 2006 had nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with unions taking over Congress. Well, the union bosses have done it and on March 1, 2007, the unions got their puppets in the House of Representatives to pass EFCA. However, they knew it would never fly until they changed the make up in the Senate and the occupant in the White House.

Now, a mere two years later, union bosses are poised to complete their coup d'etat in 2008. Unfortunately, it is ordinary Americans that will suffer more under the effects of EFCA, as more and more companies look to shed themselves of the economic costs and risks associated unionization.


Barack's big fake-out

More EFCA stories: here

Healthier unions mean a weaker economy

The Democratic Party Convention in Denver has been called political theater, but it was really a masquerade ball. Again and again, speakers invoked the language of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan -- stressing the value of hard work and responsibility for self and family -- while advancing a set of pro-union and collectivist economic policies. If today's Democrats had their way, they would put the United States in the same approximate position as pre-Thatcher Britain, when the streets of London were choked with garbage because of a strike by sanitation workers and Britain was known around the world as "the sick man of Europe."

The most overworked word at the Democratic Convention was "work" itself. Barack Obama used the word 35 times in his address. Joe Biden mentioned it 22 times. Both told stories of parents and grandparents who worked their fingers to the bone in realizing the American dream of building a better life. Mr. Biden's speech included a touching vignette about his father, who told him, "Champ, when you get knocked down, get up. Get up."

But the real thrust of the message that Mr. Obama and he gave to the cheering multitudes in Denver was: You are entitled to your job. If you are hit by a foreign competitor who is leaner and hungrier and less coddled than you, get down and stay down, and expect the government to put you back on your feet.

When Mrs. Thatcher became Britain's prime minister in 1979, she assumed leadership of a country that had been devastated by several decades of ruinous economic and social policies. This was due to the same aversion to competition and international trade, and the same misplaced faith in the ability of government to act as the engine of progress and the guarantor of jobs.

In her speech to the Conservative Party in 1981, Mrs. Thatcher said: "We have to earn a living in a world that can choose between the goods that we produce and those of other countries. . . . And here let me say plainly to the trade union leaders: You are often your own worst enemies. Why isn't there more? Because too often restrictive practices rob you of the one thing you have to sell -- your productivity. . . . When two men insist on doing the work of one, there is only half as much for each."

In his speech to the Democratic convention, Mr. Obama said: "I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced."

One has to wonder who Mr. Obama thinks he is to suppose he'd be able to make so many correct calls in directing investment flows in one industry after the next while sitting in the White House. But his presumptuousness is not unprecedented. The Labour Party politicians in Britain who came to power at the end of World War II shared the same enthusiasm for government direction and micromanagement of the economy.

Like the Democratic Party of today, the Labour Party of yesteryear was obsessed with the issue of job security and fearful of competition from abroad. However, by the mid 1970s, having seen the country's fortunes decline for three consecutive decades, even the Labour Party could see the futility of its centralized, interventionist approach. Labour's Jim Callaghan, the last prime minister before Mrs. Thatcher, admitted in Parliament: "Let me say that of course there has been a fall in peoples' standard of life. It has fallen this year and will fall again next year."

In revitalizing the British economy, Mrs. Thatcher lightened regulation, reduced trade barriers, privatized a raft of publicly owned companies, lowered taxes (especially for the most highly taxed, which is to say those at higher income levels), and went to battle against the powerful trade-union bosses in order to establish greater democracy within the unions. She outlawed the closed shop and required ballots before strikes and ballots in the election of trade-union leaders.

One thing she did not do was to set a goal of full employment -- insisting that "jobs (in a free society) depend not on government but upon satisfying customers." Contra Mr. Obama, she also stated: "The fact is that in a market economy government does not -- and cannot -- know where jobs will come from: If it did know, all those interventionist policies for 'picking winners' and 'backing success' would not have picked losers and compounded failure."

Due to the success of the United Auto Workers in making unreasonable demands over an extended period of time, what the Iron Lady might drily refer to as "an increase in wages and benefits out of proportion to any increase in output or productivity" has clearly crippled today's domestic U.S. auto makers. An Obama presidency would give a huge and unwarranted boost to union power and privileges.

The misnamed and undemocratic Employee Free Choice Act -- co-sponsored by Mr. Obama and almost certain to pass into law if he becomes president -- would go a long way in extending union power over a far greater number of private-sector companies by taking away the right to a secret ballot in union elections. It would give union organizers the time and opportunity to badger and intimidate workers who refused to sign union cards.

If, under an Obama presidency, the unions succeed in organizing Wal-Mart -- now the biggest target in their sights -- it will have one entirely predictable result: not the protection of jobs but the destruction of jobs by slowing or stopping Wal-Mart's growth. Nor will it help U.S. consumers if Wal-Mart is forced to hang out new signs saying "Everyday High Prices."

- Andrew Wilson, an independent speechwriter based in St. Louis, was Business Week's London bureau chief from 1981 to 1985.


MM takes on AFL-CIO's Laurence Gold

Obama's speech police: Hope & Change becomes Search & Destroy

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 Aug. 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), which 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 Aug. 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 Aug. 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. Obama recently 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 last week, 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.

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

- Michelle Malkin is a syndicated columnist and author of "Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild." Contact her at malkinbloggmail.com.


Feds may protect workers' rights

More EFCA stories: here

Will Bush Administration act to defend the secret-ballot?

Sure, the "privatize everything" crowd talks a good mediocre game, but when it comes action, their devotion to free market ideology is less than devout. Given a choice between letting management come to a compromise with workers on the rules of unionizing and having the federal government impose organizing rules that ostensibly favor business, there's no contest.
The Bush administration is weighing an executive order that would eliminate a union-preferred method of labor organizing at large government contractors, according to people familiar with the situation.

Labor leaders prefer a card-check system in which workers can form a union if a majority of them sign a union-authorization card. Companies generally prefer a secret-ballot election.


The executive order would require large government contractors to use secret-ballot elections for union organizing or risk losing government contracts, say people familiar with the order. Though companies typically prefer secret ballots, some are willing to accept card checks to avoid a fight.
Simmering in Congress, the Employee Free Choice Act, would allow unions to form over a period of time (months) rather than only through a secret-ballot election. As it turns out, ballot elections allow companies to more effectively defeat unionization drives. So, it's no wonder that corporations would be against mechanisms that ease organization. Currently, management can allow a card-check drive if they see fit to do so.

Here, however, the Bush Administration is considering implementing a rule that would prevent federal contractors from striking this sort of deal with its employees. So, when the free-market crew moans about the oppressive headlock of the domineering federal government, they're really just upset that it isn't intervening in the market for their benefit.


Out-of-state labor cash floods Colorado

More worker-choice stories: here

Union members' cash used to fight against worker-choice ballot measure

Special interests so far have pumped a record $31 million into state ballot measures, led by energy giants opposing a Colorado tax measure. "We are going to see opponents and proponents investing on issues on this November ballot sums of money Colorado has never seen," said Joe Blake, president and chief executive officer of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. "These campaigns will be over and above candidate campaigns. This is serious business."

Companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, Williams, Noble and EnCana contributed $1 million each to raise a stunning $10 million to defeat Amendment 58, a record for a single issue campaign, according to campaign finance reports.

The measure, backed by Gov. Bill Ritter, calls for eliminating an ad valorem tax credit that currently allows energy companies to significantly cut their state severance tax. If passed by voters on Nov. 4, it would raise roughly $321 million a year - with the bulk of the money going to college scholarships. Some money also will flow into renewable energy and environmental projects.

Supporters of the measure have raised $1.63 million, with The Nature Conservancy alone contributing more than $600,000, according to filings by the campaign "A Smarter Colorado" late Tuesday.

In all, the 17 measures confirmed so far for the ballot have raised a whopping $31 million, a record high, according to campaign filings. In contrast, the combined statewide and metro-area ballot measures in the 2004 election had raised more than $14 million - surpassing the prior record of $11.8 million set in 2000.

Swing-state status draws ads

Katy Atkinson, a campaign consultant, said the competition for television air time is driving campaign costs higher for ballot measures.

The presidential campaigns are spending a lot of money on advertising since Colorado became a swing state and the state also has an open U.S. Senate seat, said Atkinson, who is working for the measure that would expand the stakes at Colorado's casinos.

"It is much more expensive to run a ballot issue campaign this year than it is in a year where there isn't quite so much competition for television time," she said.

Political analyst Eric Sondermann, said this year has seen a convergence of ballot measures affecting groups with lots of money - business, labor, casinos, and oil and gas companies.

"Between what oil and gas is going to spend against the severance tax, between the business/labor battle and the casino money, the total is heading north at a fast pace," Sondermann said.

Dan Hopkins, spokesman of Coloradans for a Stable Economy - the energy industry-backed campaign fighting Amendment 58, said television ads attacking the measure began Wednesday after the measure was formally numbered last Friday.

"We are obviously pleased with the support so far," Hopkins said. "Now, over 50 organizations - virtually every major business organization in the state - has endorsed our position, which is every bit as important as paid advertising to get our message out."

Fight began early

Industry says the measure, if passed, would hit Coloradans with higher utility bills and steeper pump prices and pit local governments against energy companies that pay significant local taxes.

Supporters of Amendment 58 began their television ads Aug. 14 because the campaign wanted to get their message out as early as possible, said George Merritt, spokesman for A Smarter Colorado.

"We were up early because we wanted people to understand that we give this $300 million subsidy to oil and gas," Merritt said. "Every million-dollar check that oil and gas companies write (to fight the measure) really underscores that Colorado taxpayers do not need to give the richest industry a $300 million subsidy. The companies are spending $10 million to buy an election."

The latest filings on other campaigns include:

* Amendment 47: Protect Colorado's Future, a union-backed committee fighting the amendment that would bar mandatory union membership as a condition of employment, raised about $570,000 last month, bringing its total donations to $3.1 million. The committee is also backing other pro-union ballot measures on the November ballot. The biggest donor last month was the union IBEW Education Fund, which gave $200,000.

The United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 7 contributed $161,234 in August to another group opposing Amendment 47, Committee for Fair Wage Benefits.

One pro-Amendment 47 group, Defend Our Economy, took in $26,000 and another, A Better Colorado, collected $15,000 during the month.


Denver Post sows opposition to worker-choice

More worker-choice stories: here

Forced-labor unionists have a mighty megaphone

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce's political-issues committee raised nearly $1.1 million during the most recent reporting period, according to secretary of state filings. The chamber's group, called Coloradans for Responsible Reform, has raised $1.6 million to fight four union-backed initiatives headed for the November ballot. Hospital giant HCA Inc. contributed $250,000 during the period from July 31 to Aug. 27.

Meanwhile, the group pushing two of the four labor initiatives raised $570,000, taking its total to $3.1 million. The group, called Protect Colorado's Future, received $200,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers during the period.

Protect Colorado's Future is behind Amendment 53, which seeks to hold executives criminally liable under state law for corporate wrongdoings, and Amendment 55, which would require businesses to give reasons for firing workers.

The group also is fighting three business-backed measures, including Amendment 47, which seeks to amend the state constitution to say that union membership and the payment of dues or fees could not be mandated as a condition of employment.

Amendment 47 backers raised $15,045, taking their total to $571,000. Archstone Communities contributed $15,000 to the group, called A Better Colorado.

Another business-backed group, Defend Our Economy, raised $26,600. The Bickel Family Foundation contributed $15,000. Defend Our Economy, which will fight the labor measures and support Amendment 47, has garnered $62,200.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 union's issues committee didn't raise any new funds. The group, Coloradans for Middle Class Relief, is leading Amendment 56, which would mandate businesses with 20 or more employees to provide health-care coverage, and Amendment 57, which would allow injured employees to seek damages outside the workers' compensation system. The group has raised $1.6 million, all from the UFCW.


SEIU to strike v. hospital for one day

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical labor-state collective bargaining tactic

Employees of the Sunnyside Convalescent Hospital plan to stage a one-day strike Sept. 15 to protest stalled contract negotiations and missed paychecks, a union representative said Wednesday. Workers have been without a contract since October 2007 and say they have not been paid since Aug. 6.

Officials of Sunnyside Convalescent, in southeast Fresno, agree that the hospital's workers have not been paid but blame the state's budget stalemate, now entering its 66th day, for causing the the facility's funding shortfall.

"This is a very egregious situation," said Kevin Hall, regional political organizer for the Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers-West.

The union filed an unfair labor practices complaint Tuesday alleging the owners of the convalescent hospital are engaging in delays. Workers are asking for an increase in pay and benefits.

Of the hospital's 85 employees, 52 are represented by the union.

Michael Fellen, one of the hospital's owners, said he blames the union for the delays, saying it has changed contract negotiators several times.

"Every time we go in, the new [negotiator] doesn't know what the last one did," he said.

Fellen said nearly all of his funding comes from the state's Medi-Cal program.

"Right now, the state owes us over half a million dollars," Fellen said. "And if I had that money, there would be no problems."

Department of Health Care Services spokesman Norman Williams said Medi-Cal payments to providers like Sunnyside have dried up without an approved state budget.

"Without it, we are not authorized to make payments and so that can affect their bottom line," Williams said.

Fellen, who said he has used personal funds to help keep the hospital afloat, was optimistic he could secure a line of credit to help pay the workers. He also said that the hospital's 82 residents are not in jeopardy.

"We are fully staffed and fully supplied," Fellen said. "We are just a little disgruntled."

Certified nursing assistant Brenda Nutt said that while she understands the state's Medi-Cal funding has been delayed, working without a paycheck for three weeks has created a hardship for many workers.

"There are some people who can't pay their rent," said Nutt, an 18-year employee.

Fellen said he has been in contact with the state Department of Health Care Services regarding the one-day strike and will use replacement staff if necessary to maintain services.


IBEW pickets hospital site over wages

More prevailing wage stories: here

Supreme Court examines Depression Era, racist union subsidy

About a dozen members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 363 Tuesday picketed the site of the new Orange Regional Medical Center campus in the Town of Wallkill. The union is upset with the way electrical contractor Rondout Electric has hired its workers, said union Business Representative John Maraia, Jr.

“It was bid without using prevailing rate,” he said. “We feel that the project received a lot of money from the state, which should trigger it to be prevailing rate. So the project was not bid correctly.”

Union workers from other subcontractors on the site refused to cross the picket line as the electricians stood in front of the project.

The IBEW is also in State Supreme Court arguing the prevailing wage issue. Hospital spokesman Robert Lee said the construction contracts were awarded by HBE, the company hired by the hospital to manage and build the project. Some 60 percent of those contracts are union, he said.

“We are doing our best to keep jobs local, “said Lee. But, he noted the hospital is a not-for-profit and must watch its costs.


Teachers go out on illegal strike in WA

More strike stories: here

Kids get a lesson in collective bargaining

Teachers in the Bellevue (WA) School District are engaged in an illegal strike. Despite the presence of a mediator on September 2, negotiations appear to be stalled. Teachers clearly anticipated this move, voting to authorize a strike back in June. So what are the issues on the bargaining table?

One of the major items is compensation. School funding comes from federal, state, and local sources, and teachers in Bellevue are already some of the highest paid in the state. The school district is offering a 6.6% pay increase for the 2008-09 contract period. The average teacher salary in Bellevue is currently $58,500 (total compensation is $80,000 when benefits are included).

Teacher union negotiators are demanding pay increases double of the district’s offer. The school district says it cannot afford more pay without serious reductions in staff or increases in class size.

Another major bargaining issue is the district’s curriculum mandates. More on that later.


Judge rules against AFSCME in labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Jumbo gov't union to take a dues hit

A St. Louis County judge has ruled in favor of the city of Duluth in a dispute over employee layoffs. Last week the city's AFSCME union filed for a restraining order to prevent the 21 layoffs, which were made to chip away at a $6.5 million deficit. The layoffs took effect Tuesday. At issue was whether the city could cut the full-time staffers while 43 part-time and temporary workers stayed on the payroll.

Judge Eric Hylden ruled Wednesday the layoffs are legal and did not grant a restraining order.

Union leaders said they're not giving up and will try to find a legal way out, such as working a mediator or arbitrator or seeking change through the city's civil service board.


Steelworkers strike, week 5

More strike stories: here

Strike pay won't make up for workers' losses

United Steelworkers at TYK America Inc., a brick-making refractory in Jefferson, have been on strike since Aug. 9 in a dispute over health care costs, said Dennis Fleming, a union staff representative. About 30 members of USW Local 5852-17 went on strike after working without a new contract since May 31, Fleming said.

The workers, who earn an average of $14 an hour, were offered wage increases of 40 cents an hour the first year, followed by hikes of 35 cents an hour and 40 cents in the following years.

The steelworkers balked at TYK's proposal for reduced health care coverage that would cost them a $125 per month premium. The plant is continuing production, a spokesman said.


Boeing's greedy labor union

Related video: "IAM bigs prep Boeing clash"

Killing the goose that lays the golden egg

Know who the United States' leading exporter is in terms of sales? Boeing, the Chicago-based manufacturer of such diverse items as commercial and military aircraft, rotorcraft, electronic and defense systems, missiles, satellites, launch vehicles and advanced communications systems. It also operates the space shuttle and International Space Station. And it employs 160,000 people, here and round the world.

It is one of the great American companies, wonderfully managed, almost always ahead of the curve, and so competitive that only Airbus, the European conglomerate subsidized by the French and German governments, comes anywhere close to being in its class.

But just now Boeing is locked in a standoff with its union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, over a labor contract. The union has threatened to send 26,800 machinists to the picket line if an agreement on the contract is not reached today, and a strike would cost Boeing roughly $100 million in revenue for each day its production lines go idle. In 2005, according to the Wall Street Journal, when the union struck for 28 days a number of Boeing suppliers were forced to temporarily lay off workers because unused parts were beginning to stack up.

And what has Boeing offered its union workers? A deal that would raise wages by an average of 11 percent for each worker over the three-year life of the contract, and boost the union's pension multiplier by 14 percent to $80 a month for each year of a worker's service. Under the contract, according to the Journal, the average union member would earn roughly $65,000 a year before overtime - which averages $10,000 a year.

Now we understand those kinds of wages don't come close to your average city manager or school superintendent in the Victor Valley - where overpaying "public" servants is a way of life enjoyed by no one else in the valley's work force - but Boeing is a private sector outfit. Paying outrageous corporate taxes and adhering to equally outrageous government regulations put in place by other "public" servants who have no understanding of profit and loss mechanisms makes survival a lot tougher order in the private sector, otherwise called the real world.

On Thursday, Boeing proposed a deal that would raise wages by an average of 11 percent, or $34,000, for each worker over its three-year life and boost the pension multiplier by 14 percent to $80 a month for each year of service. Under the proposed contract, the average union member would earn roughly $65,000 a year before overtime that averages $10,000 a year or more.

The union, on the other hand, wants pay raises of at least 13 percent, plus a larger pension contribution from Boeing.

In other words, what's going on at Boeing is the same sort of thing that went on for decades in the American automobile and steel industries, where unions used the strike lever to shut down operations and cost their own corporations not only billions of dollars in lost sales, but have over the years effectively destroyed those industries' ability to compete in the world's market place. And lost their jobs in the process.

Boeing's machinists union, of course, feels no compunction about killing off the company which provides it with outstanding jobs, labor conditions that rival any company in the world, and pension plans that even in Europe are envied. They haven't learned the lessons taught them by other industries who've let unions destroy them. So one of these days, those workers will pay the price. And so will the rest of us.

Yet it's unions who like to talk about how "greedy" corporations are. And guess who echoes such nonsense?


Barack charms unionists at Laborfest

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Collectivists gather in labor-state

With 5,000 labor activists down-front and twice as many curious stretching to the back of the outdoor venue, about 15,000 to 17,000 persons – depending on who was counting – packed the final event of Laborfest Sept. 1 – a remarkable visit and speech from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, arranged just two days before.

A powerful lineup of speakers and the senator from Illinois himself paused to thank Secretary-Treasurer Sheila Cochran and other leaders of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council for helping organize such an assemblage of regular citizens and union members at the last minute. The Obama campaign gave away tickets and union leaders had done the same, all for free and all snapped up even faster than expected.

Obama said this would not be a political speech because Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on Louisiana as he spoke. He called for prayers and financial support and emphasized that his website provided a direct link to Red Cross contributions.

His theme of being “our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper” was outright plagiarized the next day or two at the GOP convention, but hardly with such eloquence or ability. That alone – the ability to think on his feet while empathizing with his heart, the demonstration of true experience, surrounding himself with top advisers but making careful decisions quickly -- could hardly do other than remind voters that there were stark differences between him and GOP candidate John McCain, also a US senator.

In a 14 minute talk that reporters called one of the best he has made – combining several common themes but put together that day on plane flights and then adjusted to circumstances and new information -- Obama connected his support of labor and the Employee Free Choice Act to the loss of the formative spirit of caring that had long identified the United States.

“I had planned to come here and talk about organized labor, to recognize the labor movement as . . . the backbone of our economy,” he admitted, drawing a laugh when he talked of the people who approach him and ask “Why do you support unions so strongly?” His rejoinder “And I have to ask, ‘Why don't you?’”

Rattling off a litany of organized labor’s accomplishments – the 40 hour work week, minimum wage, health care and pensions, worker safety laws. – he reminded the local audience and the abundant TV audience, “Even if you're not a member, you've benefited from a union. So I wanted to speak about the middle class and how we sustain it.”

But with “our neighbors along the Gulf Coast once again under siege, (this is not) a night for political speech.”

“In times of need,” of natural tragedy, “there are no red states or blue states, just the United States of America.”

But “I do want to point out the connection of that spirit of unity and the spirit that brought about the union movement.”

Recalling the early days “when a worker could be fired any time” or sent to the poorhouse or discriminated again, “Somebody got an idea: Alone we are weak but united we are strong.”

Building cheers with his measured examples of what happened then and what happens now under union organizing, he repeated, “Alone we are weak but united we are strong. That's why we call it the UNION movement.”

“Here's the thing. That spirit I want it back. That spirit of looking out for one another.”
A portion of the crowd that greeted Obama at Laborfest

He noted ruefully, “That spirit is most evident in terms of great tragedy, when national disaster strikes and takes it out of the realm of politics. But that spirit can’t be just restricted to moments of great catastrophe.”

“I know there are people going through their own quiet storms,” he said, with a mounting ferocity of examples -- people seeing “their jobs shipped overseas,” or “seniors who don't know how to pay home heating bills,” of people unable to fill their gas tanks, or young people ready “to go to college but don’t have the money” -- there are also young people right here in Milwaukee, he reminded the audience, with “no prospects for the future,” seeing the only paths “open to them the casket or a jail cell.”

“All across America there are quiet storms taking place,” Obama summarized to increasing roars of empathy, and “that’s why I’m running for president of the United States.”

It was a powerful speech, perhaps more powerful since the spiritual base dominated. Afterward he made time to greet the crowd and the gallery of selected supporters behind him before dashing behind the Marcus Amphitheater black curtain.

Obama had actually been preceded by other strong speeches, particularly from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who was radiant with pleasure at Obama’s visit. Then came the governor and both senators, then Rep. Gwen Moore who recalled Wisconsin’s pioneer place in labor history, all followed by other speakers providing ways to support the campaign or workers who were actually suffering job loss under the current administration’s indifference.

This was a thunderous night in Milwaukee. Even though the preliminary speeches were brief in sum they took twice as long as did Obama’s.

But those who were there, noted one elderly gentleman in the crowd, “will remember this night forever.” The crowd was still talking and planning the future as they returned to homes and families while it was still light outside.

For Laborfest staff and the Obama campaign organizers, who underwent considerable stress and haste in pulling the occasion together, the smoothness was double remarkable – a 6 p.m. event that actually began within five minutes and sent Obama back to his home in Chicago in about an hour.

Obama, in fact, had touched down an hour before he spoke. That allowed him to meet backstage with a range of Wisconsin political leaders (several who had backed him long before most Democrats did, notably Barrett, Doyle and Moore). Also present were a chosen group of labor leaders and just families who had been invited to speak with him or pose for photos under the watchful eyes of three security teams (the Secret Service, the Obama campaign itself and the Milwaukee police department).


Opposing the secret-ballot

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