Having it both ways

Secret-ballot hypocrisy abounds

Yesterday's 137 to 122 vote of House Democrats to replace John Dingell with liberal Henry Waxman at the energy and commerce committee would likely not have happened but for the secret ballot. Even Rep. Louise Slaughter, chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, told Congressional Quarterly she was relieved the vote would be a private one: "It's a secret ballot. . . . Thank the Lord."

After all, the fearsome Mr. Dingell, who will become history's longest-serving House member next year, has been known to hold grudges. Yet the obvious irony is that Democrats now will try to deprive workers of the same privacy privilege in workplace unionization battles. So-called "card check" legislation would require an employer to sign a union contract as long as a simple majority of workers sign a form authorizing a union to represent them -- a move that necessarily makes workers more vulnerable to coercion and intimidation than if they are voting by secret ballot.

And the ironies keep piling up. The leading House sponsor of card check is Rep. George Miller, who also served as campaign manager of Mr. Waxman's race against Mr. Dingell, settled by secret ballot. What's more, along with 10 House Democrats, Mr. Miller wrote a 2001 letter to Mexican government officials encouraging the "use of secret ballots in all union recognition elections." The letter states: "We feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose."

Rep. Miller and the other signers now say their demand was for secret ballot votes only when "workers seek to replace one union with another union." Funny. Their letter made no mention of that specific situation and instead referred to "all union recognition elections."

A better explanation is that Democrats' principled support for a secret ballot flies out the window when it comes to union organizing efforts sponsored by the special interests who helped them win control of Congress.

- John Fund is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.


Secret ballot double-standard

Steelworkers quit failed strike

Local leadership takes heat for workers' losses

United Steelworkers of America Local 1538 members voted Friday to end their more than month-long strike and return to work Monday at the American Standard plant on Ellsworth Avenue.

In response to the decision, the company announced in a press release that all employees should return to the job and the shift they worked before the strike began on Oct. 17.

"We will be calling the third-shift maintenance crew for normal Sunday night fire watch and operation start-up for Monday morning. All employees will be working eight or eight-and-half hour shifts with normal start times," the press release said.

When reached by phone, union representative Joe Holcomb said a majority of the plant's 340 union members voted in favor of going back to work during a meeting at the union hall set to discuss their options.

They did not take a vote on the company's last, best and final contract offer, which they'll be working under, but Holcomb said they'll continue battling through the alleged unfair labor practice claim filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

Through the complaint, they're alleging the company failed to bargain in good faith and didn't have the right to unilaterally change the labor agreement, he said. The offer included concessions in wages, insurance and the 401K , along with a profit-sharing plan if the company reached a certain percentage of profit.

With the economy being what it is and the strike not persuading the company to bargain with the union, he said the membership decided to go back to work and continue with the NLRB case.

He also said they'll appeal the recent denial of unemployment benefits for the striking workers. Holcomb claimed the hearing officer applied the wrong standard in ruling the situation wasn't a lockout, saying the workers were willing to work under the status quo, but when the status quo was changed, that should have been considered a lockout.

He said the hearing officer applied the standard that the company was in dire straits and needed to make the changes for financial reasons, but Holcomb contended the company was not in dire straits.

"The union has the right to pursue any moves it chooses. However, we continue to believe that we followed all of the rules, including bargaining in good faith and that we have reached impasse," American Standard Brands spokesman Tracy Benson Kirker said Friday by phone. "We're hopeful that the NLRB will agree with our position."

"In any case, we're just happy to put this behind us and get back to work," she added. "Now we can all focus on our customers and on ensuring the competitiveness of this facility."

In the press release, the company said "we're very pleased that employees are returning to work..."


Judge puts AFSCME ahead of taxpayers

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical labor-state pro-union bias

A judge has temporarily blocked the state from laying off workers at a central Illinois prison it plans to close by the end of the year.

Livingston County Judge R. Michael Travers issued a temporary injunction late Friday in a lawsuit brought by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees over the state's plan to close the Pontiac Correctional Center.

The union sued two state agencies, including the Department of Corrections, claiming it did not meet a legal obligation to bargain with AFSCME before it began sending layoff notices to the prison's 570 employees.

The judge barred layoffs until the union's grievances have been arbitrated.

The judge's decision lent credence to the union's belief that the state and Gov. Rod Blagojevich rushed into their plan to close the prison, union Executive Director Henry Bayer said Friday.

"They failed to bargain with our union, they disregarded the prison system's dangerous overcrowding, and they ignored Pontiac's unique role in that system's safe operation," Bayer said in an e-mailed statement.

Department of Corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp had no immediate comment.

"We just got the decision and we will have to consult with the attorney general's office on what to do next, as they were representing us in this case," he said.

Blagojevich and IDOC plan to close Pontiac - a maximum security prison where high-risk, violent inmates are kept in individual cells - by the end of the year, saying the state will save $4 million a year for the next two years.

The union and local leaders in Pontiac, which stands to lose its second-largest employer if the prison closes, say the move is political. They believe Blagojevich is punishing Pontiac for its state legislators' support of a recall measure aimed at the governor.

About half of Pontiac's inmates are headed to a much newer, largely unused prison in Thomson in northwest Illinois. Last month, IDOC transferred 100 inmates out of Pontiac and into prisons in East Moline and Taylorville, AFSCME said.

AFSCME filed a grievance on Oct. 24, saying IDOC had begun closing Pontiac without bargaining over the closure's impact on employees, which union officials say is required under a collective bargaining agreement and "memorandum of understanding" (MOU) between the parties.

The grievance also alleged "it would violate the contract to lay employees off because such layoffs would not be due to lack of work or other legitimate reasons," according to the lawsuit.

On Oct. 27, IDOC announced its intention to begin layoffs, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit names the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the agencies' directors as defendants.

AFSCME has filed three lawsuits over Pontiac.

Earlier this week, a judge in Johnson County temporarily blocked IDOC from moving inmates out of Pontiac pending resolution of one of the other lawsuits.

That suit claims the closure creates safety concerns by moving maximum-security inmates to lockups that aren't built to handle them. A hearing is scheduled on Dec. 1.

AFSCME is also the lead plaintiff in a separate pending lawsuit, filed in Livingston County in September, that argues Blagojevich can't legally use money the General Assembly appropriated for the Pontiac prison at other facilities.


Union bigs blackmailing Baltimore

AFSCME cannot afford to have things change

Politicians in Baltimore crave endorsements from unions. The unions know this and they come up with long questionnaires where they get politicians to agree to give them all sorts of ridiculous benefits at the expense of the Baltimore tax payer. No current office holder would dare say what I am saying. The unions are sacred to them. The unions help them get votes by appearing at rallies with them, knocking on doors for them, and making phone calls for them.

The crazy thing is that numerous ( maybe most) union members who work in Baltimore actually live outside of Baltimore. A huge chunk of Baltimore voters do not even work let alone belong to unions. Politicians are basically agreeing to give all sorts of people who live outside of Baltimore (and sometimes outside of Maryland) high paying jobs and contracts with great benefits in Baltimore.

The work that police and firefighters do is admirable but their union bosses are blackmailing Baltimore. We need to worry about employing our own citizens and balancing our own budgets instead of worrying about how soon a Pennsylvania resident qualifies for his police pension.

The unions do not even try to hide their power in Baltimore. Sixth district Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton is married to Glenn Middleton the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 44. AFSCME is a powerful union that politicians from all over the Baltimore area love to suck up to. Sharon Green Middleton was unanimously selected by the City Council to take Stephanie Rawlings-Blake old seat in 2007. They would not dare go against her husband.

Unions had a time and a place in the past. They long ago stopped caring about their workers and now take financial advantage of tax payers everywhere. It is no coincidence that unions usually endorse incumbents in Baltimore elections. They can not afford to have things change.

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