Wisconsin moves against ACORN voter-fraud

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

Should election law be enforced?

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is suing Wisconsin’s election authorities to make them do what federal law says they should have been doing for years. It’s the least he could do.

No, really: the least. Van Hollen’s lawsuit has municipal clerks justifiably scared and has prompted synthetic outrage from critics, but all he really is asking is that the Government Accountability Board see to it that the anti-fraud checks it should have been running get run.

The clerks are spooked because this could impose impossible amounts of work mere weeks before a big turnout. But that’s the result of Wisconsin blowing past the federal deadline for checking registrations against other government records to find dead voters and fake names. The deadline was in January 2004. Wisconsin got two years of waiver and took 31 months beyond that.

We’re so late, the board told clerks not to crosscheck registrations turned in before August but after federal law started requiring it. Because of that, Van Hollen’s suit says, legitimate votes could be “diminished and diluted” by ineligible voters.

That’s what the state’s database of registered voters was supposed to prevent. Only it won’t work if you don’t use it. It’s long past the time someone in Madison, including Van Hollen, should have taken the federal vote fraud law seriously. Enforcing it isn’t outrageous behavior by an attorney general. Actually, it is his job.

It beats the other approach, which is to tell voters not to worry their little heads. This is the premise of those assailing Van Hollen, especially the left-wing pressure group One Wisconsin Now, which made the preposterous claim that Van Hollen is doing partisan mischief to disenfranchise voters.

Unlikely, says John Fortier, a researcher at the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project. Say your voter list entry doesn’t match your driver’s license. Under federal law, “they’re not allowed to just turn you away from the polls,” he said. In Wisconsin, since anyone can register on election day, the worst possibility is that it’ll take longer to vote.

It isn’t really disenfranchisement that bothers Van Hollen’s angriest critics. It is that taking the federal law seriously implies that cheating is a real possibility. This is a given in that humans cheat in every other competitive endeavor. It has become the Possibility That Must Not Be Named for a portion of the Wisconsin Democratic Party and its allies for no better reason than that Republicans brought it up.

The claim that there can be no fraud has been fraying for years, most recently when two left-leaning activist groups in Milwaukee said their own vote-drive workers had tried registering dead or non-existent voters. One of the groups, ACORN, was at the center of vote scandals in Seattle in 2006 and Ohio last month. These were not cases of misplaced initials and data entry errors. Political activists made up voters or signed up dead ones, exactly a kind of offense cited in a Milwaukee police report documenting hundreds of instances of fraud in the 2004 election.

That it can be done and not caught — ACORN wasn’t caught; it turned its own workers in — mocks the maxim that every vote counts. By insisting that cheating is so unlikely that we aren’t even interested in learning whether it takes place, we are unable to say whether any vote counts.

We’re in this fix because sensibly asking voters to identify themselves via the customary photo ID is anathema to one side, even after offers of free ID cards for all and after the U.S. Supreme Court said such rules do not “even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.”

So we pay millions and wait years for a database the state won’t even use properly. We put off matters until fixing it threatens to bury city clerks, until seven weeks before a critical election possibly determined by a few thousand ballots in Wisconsin — the validity of which, we’re told, is unknowable but shouldn’t worry us.

Demanding the elections board do its job was the least Van Hollen could do for legitimate voters.

- Patrick McIlheran is a Journal Sentinel editorial columnist.


The Canadianization of America

Related story: "Workers disinterested in irrelevant unions"
Related card-check stories: here

Here comes 'no-vote' unionism

In Canada, worrying about being Americanized is a national pastime, particularly in political and media circles. It seldom occurred to me the United States could become Canadianized until I moved here, in an election year, no less, and found Americans obsessed with many Canadian ideas at a time when those Canadian ideas are losing favor north of the border because they just don't work.

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama and heavy hitters in the Democratic Party have unambiguously supported a series of labor-law changes that would replicate some of the worst parts of Canadian labor laws. For example, the Democrats support card-check certification for unions, in place of secret-ballot elections. Such a system already exists in parts of Canada.

Interestingly for America, though, Canadian governments have largely been moving away from this system because of its negative consequences, namely creating a pronounced imbalance between union power and that of the workers and employers.

Consider also American replication of the Canadian health-care system. Large constituencies in America, including much of the Democratic Party, favor single-payer health care based on the Canadian model. Indeed, my experience in California is average citizens are more than ready to implement Canadian health care, not because they necessarily understand it but because elites have convinced them it's a better system.

It's not. The reality of Canadian health care with its chronic shortage of physicians is substantially different from the romanticized version I've heard about since landing in America. Canada's system is one of the most expensive in the industrialized world and provides relatively poor access to doctors and technology, which results in long and often painful waiting times. And these are only two of many problems plaguing the system.

Yes, U.S. health care suffers from serious problems, and it took me less than four months to experience them firsthand. What I've quickly learned, however, is the United States does not have a market-based health system, which would eliminate or dramatically reduce many of the problems observed. Rather, the problem is the American system is heavily and prescriptively regulated by government. Swapping a heavily regulated, privately provided health system for a heavily regulated, government-provided health system is not the panacea advocates make it out to be.

Taxes are another area where much of the United States seems intent on mimicking Canada, at least Canada pre-1996. That is, Canadians before 1996 generally argued about which taxes to increase. The environment here seems to be the same. Most of the debates, particularly in the presidential race, are about whether to increase taxes, and if so, which ones. Obama, for example, would allow the Bush tax cuts to expire (increase current rates) and raise income taxes on people making more than $250,000. The result would be a top marginal tax rate north of 60 percent for American workers.

Canadian governments, national and provincial, are reducing personal and corporate taxes because they recognize through experience the damaging and counterproductive effects of high taxes. Canada is supposed to be more egalitarian, while the United States supposedly focuses more on entrepreneurship and merit-based compensation. However, the ability to retain the fruits of one's efforts is deteriorating in the United States and now improving in Canada.

American politicians seem intent on copying Canada pre-1996, without regard to consequences. They have picked Canadian ideas that don't work very well, to the point that Canada is actually discarding them. That can leave a new arrival like me feeling like Al Pacino in Godfather III: "Just when I think I'm out, they drag me back in."

It wouldn't be so bad if America copied Canada post-1996. That would mean tightening the spending belts of government, balancing the books and reducing taxes — aggressively in some cases. Americans should welcome that kind of Canadianization not because it's Canadian but because it works.

- Jason Clemens is the director of research for the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco and the former director of fiscal studies at the Fraser Institute in Vancouver.


USW uses Todd Palin's dues against GOP

Related story: "Todd Palin's union dues used against GOP"
Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Unions 'discourage' members from asserting Beck rights that would rebate dues and fees used for union politics

It so happens that Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin's husband, Todd Palin — a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) union — is funding efforts to defeat and even smear his wife.

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix has informed Mr. Palin by open letter that he does have the right to cut off "forced" union dues being spent by the USW to defeat the Republican ticket of Sen. John McCain and Mrs. Palin.

"While I'm sure you're excited by your wife's candidacy for high office, you may be discouraged to learn that the union dues you pay are already being used to defeat her," writes Mr. Mix, reminding the candidate's husband that when his USW bosses endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama in June they pledged to support his campaign with funds collected from union members.

"In fact, at the USW's 2008 convention, union officials adopted a resolution 'vowing to play a key role in electing Obama,' thus pledging workers' dues to the effort to defeat your wife's candidacy," he adds.

"Moreover, a top USW official whose paycheck you help fund is viciously ridiculing your wife's candidacy on the Steelworkers' Web site, calling Governor Palin's selection 'cynical' and claiming that by choosing your wife 'McCain has clearly shown he lacks the judgment to be president.'"

Mr. Mix says Alaska does not have a right to work law, but under the Supreme Court precedent "Communications Workers v. Beck," employees are able to stop paying forced union dues unrelated to collective bargaining, such as union electioneering.

- John McCaslin


Labor bigs author Barack's negative ad blitz

More SEIU stories: here

Ugly union attack ads may backfire on Dems

A new group financed by a Texas billionaire and organized by some of the same political operatives and donors behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004 plans to begin running television ads attacking Barack Obama, a signal that outside groups may play a larger role than anticipated in the closing days of the presidential race.

The American Issues Project has amassed a multimillion-dollar fund, and the group is putting the final touches on an eleventh-hour campaign targeting the Democratic presidential nominee, sources said.

"We expect to be doing both issues and express advocacy between now and November and beyond," said Christian Pinkston, a spokesman for the group.

The effort could mark a sharp turn in what has been an unusually quiet year for outside political groups. At this point in 2004, such groups had already spent about $100 million dollars on television commercials attacking Kerry (D-Mass.) and President Bush, but they have devoted $8 million to ads so far in this election cycle.

The resurgence on the right appears as though it will not go unanswered. The Service Employees International Union is set to unveil a multimillion-dollar television campaign on Monday, and other liberal and Democratic-aligned groups are rushing to establish financing for efforts over the final weeks of the campaign.

At the outset of the general election, both Obama and Republican nominee John McCain called on outside groups to stay on the sidelines, hoping to steer funds to their own campaigns and party committees. Several initial attempts to organize independent groups for the 2008 presidential contest fizzled early on. But as the back and forth has grown more intense in recent weeks, both campaigns have signaled that their opposition to such efforts is softening.

AIP emerged on the scene in August, airing controversial anti-Obama ads in four battleground states -- Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- that sought to raise questions about his ties to William Ayers, a member of the Vietnam War-era radical group known as the Weathermen. The ad was sponsored entirely -- at a cost of more than $2 million -- by Harold Simmons, a Dallas-based businessman who also helped fund the Swift boat activities four years ago.

The new group was launched by Chris LaCivita, who was intimately involved in the Swift boat campaign, and Tony Feather, one of the co-founders of Progress for America, which spent tens of millions backing Bush in 2004.

According to sources familiar with AIP, it has secured significant financial backing from a handful of major donors and is planning more ads like the Ayers commercial in the weeks between now and Election Day.

Four years ago, mid-September might have been too late to organize for November. But the rules for outside groups changed after a recent Supreme Court opinion that loosened restrictions on corporate and union electioneering within 60 days of the general election. That enabled groups such as AIP, which is organized as a nonprofit corporation, more leeway to launch last-minute attack ads.

On the Democratic side, much of that effort appears to be falling to labor unions and a handful of well-known advocacy groups such as MoveOn.org and the Sierra Club. In the spring, a coalition of liberal groups that included the AFL-CIO announced plans to spend $350 million on political activities during the 2008 campaign season, but they have been slow in coming together.

Ilyse Hogue, the campaign director for MoveOn.org confirmed that the group will spearhead an ad campaign focused on what has emerged as the central theme of the fall campaign, the question of which candidate is better equipped to bring change to Washington.

"The fight is over whose plan for change is real, whose is genuine. And we're looking to put that in front of voters," Hogue said. "When you look at McCain and [GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah] Palin's ties to Big Oil, it doesn't pass the laugh test that they are for change."

Having spent recent elections watching conservative groups bombard Democratic candidates by taking a disciplined message to the television and talk radio airwaves, the leaders of several major left-leaning groups said they are ready to answer back.

"After years of watching the other side do this, it's finally something we've really gotten strong at," Hogue said.

But Republicans appear to have a head start. In April, Simmons, a corporate tycoon who had spent heavily on the Swift boat campaign, began holding meetings with other Swift boat donors to discuss renewing their effort for 2008-- meetings that included input from Bush's former strategist, Karl Rove.

At one of the meetings, Simmons presented his plans to oilman T. Boone Pickens, another financier of the Swift boat efforts, at a gathering in Simmons's Dallas office, Pickens said. Pickens ultimately chose not to get involved but said several others decided to forge ahead. Rove is not directly involved in the American Issues Project but has provided advice to a group targeting Democratic candidates for the Senate and House, known as Freedom's Watch.

American Issues Project is organized as a qualified 501(c)4 under Internal Revenue Service guidelines. As such an entity, AIP must use 60 percent of all its funding to make issues-based appeals but can use the remaining 40 percent to directly advocate for or against the election of a candidate. Any money spent for express advocacy must be reported through the Federal Election Commission, meaning that donors to the group will eventually have their identities revealed.


Dear pro-union friends

Related story: "Bob Ewegen: Colorado's pro-union editorialist"

Denver Post's resident class warrior campaigns for forced-labor unionism

Bob Ewegen (bewegen@denverpost.com) is deputy editorial page editor of The Denver Post. He has a master's degree in labor relations from CU.

Let the bombast begin! Ok, so the bombast has been blaring at us for more than a year already as part of the presidential election from hell. But now Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman has certified a staggering 18 issues for the Nov. 4 ballot — and special-interest groups have already begun a steady drumbeat of negative advertising to defeat them.

This is the most obese ballot since 1912, when a record 22 measures assailed voters, according to the Ballotpedia.org website.

But in 1922, we didn't have television or cable TV. Back in the day, when the citizenry wanted to waste their minds, it turned to rotgut whiskey. Same end result as watching the boob tube today, but our forebears had more fun letting John Barleycorn drench them into insensibility and it cost them less than Comcast extracts from us today.

Today, of course, there is no escaping the glare of Cyclops and there will probably be more than $50 million hurled into negative advertising to defeat those ballot issues.

The energy industry has already raised $10 million — and reportedly expects to spend at least twice that — to beat Gov. Bill Ritter's severance tax initiative, Amendment 58.

Organized labor, drawing on its allies in other states, will probably spend a similar sum to crush three union-baiting measures: Amendments 47, 49 (prohibiting public employers from deducting union dues from paychecks), and 54 (restricting campaign contributions.)

Amendment 47 is the real stinker. It's mislabeled as a "right to work" law, but even its backers admit it won't guarantee a single worker a job. It's is more accurately called a "right to work for less" law because the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (President George W. Bush, proprietor) reports that an average worker in the 22 states with right-to-work laws earns about $7,131 a year less than workers in free bargaining states like Colorado ($30,656 versus $37,787). Nationwide, union members earn $9,308 a year more than non-union workers, $41,652 versus $32,344.

Unfortunately, labor didn't limit its reaction to this sneak attack by anti-union zealots to raising money to defeat them. Unions filed four anti-business measures in retaliation: 53, 55, 56 and 57. The business community will raise millions to defeat these punitive measures that, collectively, would cripple small business in Colorado and destroy thousands of jobs.

Pro-choice groups are sure to spend millions more to defeat 48, which proclaims that fertilized eggs are people from the moment of conception, thus criminalizing abortion and some kinds of birth control.

Amendment 46 will also draw the boo birds. It would eliminate some racial preferences in higher education and will be bitterly opposed by liberal groups.

Sure, advocates of these measures will spend money to support them as well. But only Amendment 50, expanded gambling, is likely to have more cash spent in support of it than in opposition. Overall, opponents are likely to spend more than proponents. That raises the possibility that a battered and confused electorate will just vote "no" on everything.

That would be sad because at least one issue, Amendment 59, deserves the support of every thinking Coloradan. It would ease the conflict between the Byzantine TABOR amendment and the education-funding Amendment 23 that led to the state fiscal crisis in 2003-05. It would still keep the core TABOR requirement that voters must approve all tax increases.

If you can't stand the screeching and bellowing you will endure for the next two months, then make absolutely sure you vote for one measure referred by the legislature — Referendum O. This crucial reform will make it harder to put conflicting mandates like TABOR and Amendment 23 into constitutional concrete while making it easier for citizens to write more flexible initiated statutes.

The eardrums you save may be your own.

- Bob Ewegen, deputy editorial page editor of The Denver Post


Militant Teamsters to subdue InBev

Related A-B/Teamsters stories: here

Cost-cutting Brazilian capitalists cowed by threats

Hundreds of union members and their families milled around Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis last month under a blazing blue Saturday sky. Some clutched placards — "InBev — Don't forget who makes this Bud!" At exactly 1 p.m., drivers of parked tractor-trailers leaned on their horns. A blaring crescendo signaled the Teamsters were in town, ready to roll.

It remains to be seen whether the International Brotherhood of Teamsters will be so rowdy in an upcoming round of national contract negotiations with St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos.

Events are moving fast and furious: InBev of Belgium expects to finalize a $52 billion takeover of Anheuser-Busch — the biggest buyout in the history of beer — by the end of the year. A five-year contract between the Teamsters and Anheuser-Busch is set to expire Feb. 28; negotiators will go behind closed doors the week of Sept. 29 try to draw up a new contract.

For now, signs point tentatively toward a peaceful, swift and smooth labor negotiation.

"The Teamsters don't want the uncertainty" from a long or strident standoff, said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University. "InBev doesn't want the uncertainty, and Anheuser-Busch knows it's more valuable without uncertainty."

The Teamsters, one of the country's biggest unions, faces an odd dynamic as InBev comes to town. The incoming owner of Anheuser-Busch is known for a tough approach toward unions in Belgium, Canada and Brazil. No one knows exactly how InBev will behave toward the Teamsters, which represent about 8,000 Anheuser-Busch employees in the U.S. — about a quarter of the company's overall work force.

"With Anheuser-Busch, I knew where I stood to a certain degree," said Ray Wilkinson of House Springs, a fourth-generation brewery worker. "I'm concerned for my family. … Right now, I don't know where I stand."

InBev has tried to assuage concerns about its planned acquisition. The giant Belgian brewer says it will keep all 12 of Anheuser-Busch's U.S. breweries open, and says it expects the takeover of A-B to have little or no impact on union jobs.

But the Teamsters remain skeptical, arguing that InBev will be under pressure to make good on $45 billion of debt it shouldered to finance the purchase of Anheuser-Busch. The Teamsters wanted to know how that amount of debt — and the need to cut costs — squared with InBev's assurances. The highly leveraged nature of the transaction raises "major credibility issues," the Teamsters said earlier this summer.

For their part, InBev and Anheuser-Busch have said the combined company will trim $1.5 billion in costs by 2011 — but mostly through economics of scale, overlapping corporate functions and cuts in the salaried, nonunion work force.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters union says its top priorities in the negotiations with Anheuser-Busch are protecting jobs, pension benefits and health care — demands that reflect the fact that many brewery workers' dads and grandfathers also worked at Anheuser-Busch.


Relations between A-B and the union haven't always been tranquil.

Ten years ago, contract negotiations between the Teamsters and Anheuser-Busch temporarily ground to a halt as things turned nasty. The union twice voted down a proposed contract before a deal was struck, narrowly avoiding a strike.

But by December 2003, the chill had thawed. Anheuser-Busch wrapped up quick negotiations with the Teamsters and emerged with a contract that has helped smooth labor relations.

By ratifying early, about 7,500 Anheuser-Busch employees covered by the contract got early wage and benefit increases and a $1,000 ratification bonus. Anheuser-Busch committed to keep all 12 U.S. breweries open during the term of the agreement and provided wage raises in all five years as well as bigger pensions.

Will the contract negotiations be swift, smooth and painless this time around? A few factors say yes.

First, rather than salivating over the opportunity to squeeze the union, InBev may want to stay in the background. If Anheuser-Busch hammers out a new union contract quickly, the Belgian company would get valuable, precise information about the labor issues and financial costs it is inheriting at America's biggest brewer.

At the same time, the Teamsters want to demonstrate they are pragmatic employees that InBev can live with. A constructive approach to negotiations would go a long way in that direction.

"Make no mistake — we're committed to the success of Anheuser-Busch and InBev," said Jack Cipriani, director of the Teamsters brewery and soft drink conference.

The Teamsters could benefit from negotiating with Anheuser-Busch — with whom it has had a stable relationship in recent years — rather than with InBev. Lurking in the background is the possibility that, if the union drags its feet and throws up roadblocks to a new contract, InBev could close its buyout of Anheuser-Busch, swoop in and start to throw its weight around.

The next three to four months are "the window of opportunity," Paul Garver, brewery worker coordinator for the International Union of Food Workers, said at the Aug. 16 rally in downtown St. Louis. "Once this merger goes through, the promises that have been made through the media will be meaningless," said Garver, whose group is an international federation of trade unions.

If the new contract is in place before InBev takes control of the biggest U.S. brewer, InBev has to live with it. But if InBev takes over while the Teamsters and Anheuser-Busch are still negotiating, previous progress could conceivably come to naught. InBev would have the opportunity to bargain hard, and could take a very different stance toward the union than did Anheuser-Busch. If the company — or the union, for that matter — dug in its heels over unresolved issues, talks could break down.

Several observers said InBev would likely not want to rock the boat by stirring up labor trouble, even if it did have to mop up the union negotiations.

Despite the arguments for urgency, the Teamsters want to flex their muscles and demonstrate the ability to secure a solid contract. The Teamsters "can't sell out to Anheuser-Busch just to get a deal," said Neil Martin, a Houston labor lawyer with the law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell. "They've got to live with the deal."

The Teamsters would put themselves at a disadvantage in negotiations by appearing too eager to get a new contract with Anheuser-Busch. Chaison said the Teamster's current message to Anheuser-Busch is, "'We'd like to get a quick agreement with you, but it's not the end of our world if we don't.'"

Things are going smoothly this time in preliminary talks. Anheuser-Busch and the Teamsters recently wrapped up a few days of "professional and productive" negotiating sessions in Cincinnati, focused on local issues such as work rules at each brewery.

The upcoming national negotiations over issues such as wages and health care promise to be more difficult. Still, some Teamsters and labor analysts expect this round of contract negotiations to be uneventful, given the encouraging start. "We're going to get a contact," said Dan McKay, president of the Teamsters Joint Council 13. "We're going to get a good contract."


Where will the future balance of power lie between the Teamsters and Anheuser-Busch InBev? Like many unions, the Teamsters have suffered from the slippage of union membership in the U.S. The days may be gone when hard-muscled labor strife made the union feared. But the Teamsters union still has some kick and a well-earned reputation for shrewd and pragmatic negotiations.

The labor movement in general has "really taken it on the chin over the last couple of decades, but the Teamsters are better situated than a lot of manufacturing unions," said Roland Zullo, assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations. Why? A concerted effort to diversify the union's membership beyond truck drivers, said Zullo.

The Teamsters have lost some of their pull in the national labor movement and in state and local politics, but they "still carry clout among the workers at Anheuser-Busch, and they will still have something to say," said Henry W. Berger, emeritus professor of history at Washington University.

Now, the Teamsters are trying to rebalance the scales of power between unions and a brewing powerhouse — Anheuser-Busch InBev — that will supply one-fourth of the world's beer. The Teamsters and other unions are trying to forge a new international partnership of unions that represent workers at InBev's breweries in Brazil, Canada, Europe and — when the A-B takeover closes — the United States.

The rise of global entities like Anheuser-Busch InBev means "we must all adapt to new circumstances," said Cipriani. "The Teamsters in St. Louis are adapting to a new international reality."


USW big wants GOP ticket to declare

Related story: "Todd Palin's union dues used against GOP"
More EFCA stories: here

Pro-union or pro-worker on secret-ballot issue?

In a Sept. 3, 2008 posting in from the President Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, notes that John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, in introducing her husband, Todd, pointed out that Todd is a member of the United Steelworkers.

Gerard writes, “At the press conference, Palin trotted him out, stressing his steelworker credentials. Here’s a good union man, she emphasized ...”

Gerard raised several labor-related questions which he said Palin should answer if she was going to run for national office as the spouse of a union member. And KCTribunecontacted the McCain-Palin campaign in hopes of obtaining a comment.

However, after three days of attempts to obtain comments from spokespersons for McCain and Palin, it became clear that reports that the campaign was shielding Palin from the news media were true. But there is still a story in a summary of comments by the Steelworkers President.

Gerard writes, “Ms. Palin needs to stop trotting out her husband as an exhibit until she explains her positions on workers’ issues. Just exactly where does she stand on the Employee Free Choice Act?

“Her family has benefited from her husband’s ability to be part of a labor union. Workers in labor organizations earn higher wages and are more likely to have pensions and health insurance. Because he works for BP and is a member of USW, which collectively bargained a good contract for workers at BP, Todd Palin earns a good wage and has good health insurance. The Employee Free Choice Act would make it easier for other Americans to join unions and earn better money and obtain health insurance. Polling shows that 70 percent of Americans support the Employee Free Choice Act.

Gerard continues, “Inquiring minds want to know, Ms. Palin. Where do you stand on Employee Free Choice? Where do you stand on privatization of social security? Where do you stand on job-killing free trade?

“Are you with McCain—and against workers—on these issues? If so, you need to stop using your husband’s membership in the USW as a prop, because then his union card cannot possibly cover up your or John McCain’s worker-savaging positions,” Gerard concludes


Socialists: Labor cannot rely on the Democrats

More collectivism stories: here

Prog movement, SEIU misplaces trust

Summer is ending, leaves are falling and kids are going back to school. Labor Day has come and gone, and with seasonal regularity, union members are once again being urged by their leaders to work for the candidates of the Democratic Party. Tens of millions of dues dollars will wind up going to support these so-called “friends of labor.”

Yet time and time again the Democrats act against the interests of the working class. Who can forget NAFTA, the destruction of welfare and the bipartisan support for wars against Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq again and (unless we stop it) Iran?

Another example of the Democratic Party’s subservience to Big Business just occurred in Ohio last week.

Early this year the state’s various unions joined forces to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to place a proposal—compelling employers with 25 or more employees to provide seven paid sick days—on the ballot in November. Union volunteers, including me, took petitions to their union meetings and union picnics, to their churches, and out in the community. The petition drive was successful and polls suggested the measure would pass by a wide margin.

Needless to say, Ohio’s corporate elite were dead set against the Healthy Families Act. Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, elected in 2006 with broad labor support, at first appeared lukewarm on the matter, but in the end lined up solidly behind the capitalists. “Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher,” according to the Sept. 5 Cleveland Plain Dealer, “said that behind the scenes he and Strickland told SEIU officials that their opposition ‘would not be cosmetic. We were going to actively oppose it and actively campaign against it.’ ”

Perhaps Fisher, a career politician, never had to go to work sick because he couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay. Perhaps Strickland, an ordained minister, never had to worry about being fired by the flock if he stayed home with a sick child.

As a UAW activist for 21 years I would have liked to see, for once, some anger on the part of the union leadership. Unfortunately Service Employees International Union 1199 has done the exact opposite and—without input from the rank-and-file or even the other unions that campaigned for Healthy Families—withdrawn the ballot initiative. “We respect the governor’s wish to avoid a negative and divisive fight that could hurt Ohio,” stated Becky Williams, president of SEIU District 1199. Apparently 1199 feels obligated to the governor for his purported support last year for the union’s effort to organize home health care workers in Ohio.

This quid pro quo arrangement exemplifies corporate model business unionism at its worst. It’s time to abandon these regressive strategies and organize the masses of unorganized workers who hunger for a living wage, paid health care and the basic job security that is nonexistent without a union contract.

Hooray for papers like Workers World and candidates like Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, who represent a genuine voice for workers and oppressed.

- Martha Grevatt


Boston's pro-union City Council

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Unions rush to protect contract details from disclosure

Local police unions throughout Massachusetts, faced with an early October deadline, are scrambling to add language to labor contracts that would protect lucrative road construction details that can earn officers thousands of dollars in extra pay. If successful, the moves by officers in cities and towns could undermine Governor Deval Patrick's plan to reduce police officers stationed at Massachusetts road projects and replace them with less expensive civilians, known as "flaggers."

It is another twist in the long-running political saga over whether costly police details should be curtailed in Massachusetts, which is the only state that automatically assigns police officers to nearly all utility and road work sites.

Patrick scored a political breakthrough this year when he gained permission from lawmakers to set up a scale of dangerousness to determine if a police presence is needed. Under his draft plan, police details will only be required at projects on major roads where cars are traveling fast. Flaggers will be posted at safer locations.

But police are looking to exploit an exemption included by the governor in his proposal. The new rules will not apply at the local level if, by the time they take effect, cities and towns have already adopted a police detail requirement, either in a police union contract or municipal ordinance. The rules are scheduled to take effect as early as Oct. 3.

In several cases already, local officials, hoping to use the issue as a bargaining chip with unions, have looked favorably on the police efforts to preserve the details

In Revere, for instance, city officials say they are willing to protect details in the union contract in exchange for officers agreeing to accept mandatory drug and alcohol testing.

"I'm a huge supporter of the governor," said Revere Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino. "But on this issue I'm not convinced that the city of Revere is better served by having flagmen on the streets instead of police details. I don't see that there's significant savings."

Chelsea city officials last week proposed an ordinance that would protect police details in their community and prevent the state from using civilian flaggers. Hopkinton officials have asked the Patrick administration to delay the state regulations to give them more time to devise new bylaws.

The state will hold a public hearing to discuss the new rules tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the State Transportation Building. As of Friday, Patrick administration officials were deciding whether to eliminate the exemption in response to union leaders' maneuvers.

"The administration is giving strong consideration to removing that provision from the proposed regulations," a senior administration official said.

The new regulations would place civilian flaggers on nearly all state roads where the speed limit is below 45 miles per hour, as well as on low-traffic roads where the speed limit is higher. Flaggers would also be used on sites where barriers are used to block off construction sites on a high-speed, high-traffic road.

Some roads - generally those with speed limits of 45 miles per hour and above and with more than 4,000 vehicles per day - would still rely on police officers to monitor traffic.

The new regulations will easily apply to state roads, which the state has jurisdiction over. But the current dispute is over local roads, where the vast majority of projects are conducted.

The last-minute push is being led by the Quincy-based International Brotherhood of Police Officers. The union has posted a three-sentence clause on its website for local unions to insert into their contracts. All local officials would have to do is put their city or town name into the blank space.

It is difficult to tell how many cities and towns will go to bat for local police unions, but many local officials contacted last week said they had been approached by their police union. Local police union officials did not respond to a request for comment. The State Police union also has opposed the governor's initiative.

Although there are no statewide regulations requiring the use of police details for Massachusetts road projects or utility jobs, state and local officials have used them for decades at construction sites anyway, in deference to politically powerful unions. It is a longstanding practice and typically has not been included in any local bylaws or mandated as part of collective bargaining agreements.

"The local police are feeling this will cut into their authority and being able to determine what is needed and what isn't," said Anthony J. Troiano, town manager in Hopkinton. "It's all very fluid. Who knows what will happen in the next two weeks?"

Hopkinton town officials declined to alter union contracts, but instead sent letters to state officials asking them to delay implementation of the regulations until July 1, 2009, to give them time to hold town meetings and adopt new bylaws.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents local officials across the state, is advising city and town leaders to avoid inserting the new language into police contracts.

"We strongly support the reforms that have been put forward," said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. "Even though the cost projections are relatively modest, we feel it's important for communities to be empowered to manage all aspects of their government."

Police have argued that the presence of a cruiser and a uniformed officer slows traffic and provides the best protection for the public and for road workers. Police have at times also made arrests or caught suspects on unrelated cases while on police details.

Some city officials said they did not expect the savings accrued by switching to flaggers to be significant.

"I've gone from being excited about the opportunity to finally addressing this issue, to saying it makes no sense whatsoever not having police officers on site," said Jay Ash, the city manager in Chelsea, where about eight police officers are on police details each day.

Ash said a union flagger would earn $34.84 an hour in Chelsea, compared with $35 an hour for police detail officers.

But an estimate calculated by the administration shows that - on state-funded road projects - annual savings could be between $5.7 million and $7.2 million of the $20 million to $25 million spent annually on police details.

The Boston City Council is expected to preserve contract language and city ordinances that guarantee the use of details.

Councilor Sam Yoon said the city should study whether a city ordinance requiring paid details at construction sites is costly for residents. But there appears to be little appetite on the council or from Mayor Thomas M. Menino to change the arrangement.

"I think we are a very prolabor council," said City Council president Maureen Feeney.


Gov't workers to picket City Hall

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical labor-state bargaining tactic

Public works employees plan to picket Portsmouth (NH) City Hall Monday for alleged violations of their employment contract. According to a written statement issued Friday by the Boston office of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, local members of the union who work for the city's DPW will form "an informational picket line" outside City Hall to "protest a series of actions by City Manager John Bohenko which violate provisions in the contract agreement between the union and the city."

The picket line is scheduled for Sept. 15 from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. for the purpose of urging the City Council to direct Bohenko "to stop violating the union's contract," according to the statement. Union members also plan to attend the council meeting and make their case before the city's elected officials.

The planned picket line is being described as "the first of what could be many informational protests over the next several weeks." Public works representatives are currently negotiating a new employment contract with Bohenko as the city's representative.

The city manager said the nature of collective bargaining can foster disagreements, but typically unions and/or union members arbitrate through the third-party Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

"There is a process in place where everyone has equal footing," he said of the PELRB process. "It's free speech and they have the right to (picket), but again, there is a process and it certainly is one that is fair."

Ken Fanjoy, president of the local AFSCME chapter and a public works heavy-equipment operator, is cited as the local contact person for the picket, but did not return the Herald's messages seeking specifics. In June, Fanjoy told the Herald that during his 25 years as a city employee, he was passed over for promotions six times and alleged his status as a union leader was the reason.


Sweeney demands solidarity

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