Thursday wrap

Secret ballot elimination needs more gradual approach ... On Friday, the Beltway's political class was sent aflutter with murmurs of a rumored EFCA "compromise" that would allegedly still steal secret ballots during union elections. Over the weekend, however, leaders of this compromise cleared up those misunderstandings. Three companies -- Starbucks, Coscto, and Whole Foods -- proposed a "level playing field" model. Their plan would increase unions’ access to employees, while guaranteeing the right to a secret ballot for workers. The business community quickly rejected calls for compromise, sensing they have the capacity to educate enough Americans about the dangers of EFCA to prevent the destructive proposal from passing. The union take was different and, frankly, bizarre. Labor leaders rejected any effort to protect the right to secret ballots. Either they are incredibly certain that they can pass the terrible bill as it stands or they are truly oblivious. The smart money is on the latter. Teamsters president James Hoffa recently asked, "Since when is the secret ballot a basic tenet of democracy?" For his own union, that answer is “exactly 20 years.” An ad by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace pointed out that in order to curb rampant corruption in Hoffa’s union, the federal government forced the Teamsters two decades ago to sign a consent decree stating the union would elect its leadership via secret ballot. (washingtonexaminer.com)

UAW offers helpful Card-Check demonstration ... Workers at the Dana Corporation Auto Parts plant in Albion, Ind., say the card check process has nearly torn the 50-person plant apart after harassment and intimidation from the United Auto Workers union forced them to a secret-ballot vote. A union organizer came to the plant two years ago to ask employees to join the UAW because the company had signed a neutrality agreement with the union. The meeting, however, did not go well, according to plant employee Larry Guest. "He was using real rough language -- cursing. It didn't go over well with the women at all. There were a couple that just got up and left," Guest told FOX News. Employees said union representatives approached them in the break room, at the plant doors and even followed them to their cars. "He was just like an itch that you couldn't scratch. He just wouldn't go away," said employee Rita Murphy. "After a while we realized he was going to be here morning, noon and night until he got his numbers that he needed," said Betty Pop. Dana employee Jamie Oliver told FOX News that she was approached at her home. "We're here in a little town and we're a plant of 50 some people -- you know the last thing you need is to have the union coming to your door saying I want your name," Oliver said. One employee said she was threatened for her choice. "I have my reasons for the way that I voted. That's nobody else's business, and had it not been for the card check, nobody would know if I was for or against," said Beverly Musolf. The UAW declined to give comment to FOX News on the employees' complaints. (foxnews.com)

Related video: No wonder union organizers hate secret ballots

Golden State lawmaker moves to shield union contracts in bankruptcy ... Some think the ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Michael McManus in Sacramento on March 13 may prompt other cash-strapped cities to consider bankruptcy as a way to break costly labor contracts. Vallejo is a waterfront suburb with 120,000 residents located on San Francisco Bay. Officials of two small towns up river from the bay, Rio Vista and Isleton, talked about declaring bankruptcy last fall. A bill introduced in the Legislature, AB 155 by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Norwalk, which has a dozen co-authors, would make it more difficult for local governments to declare bankruptcy. McManus said in his ruling on March 13 that federal law restricting the canceling of labor contracts in bankruptcy court applies only to companies covered by Chapter 11, not cities covered by Chapter 9. (capitolweekly.net)

News Union bailout threatened by inconvenient First Amendment ... With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks. "This may not be the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains but it should be an option for many newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat," said Senator Benjamin Cardin. A Cardin spokesman said the bill had yet to attract any co-sponsors, but had sparked plenty of interest within the media, which has seen plunging revenues and many journalist layoffs. Cardin's Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting companies. Under this arrangement, newspapers would still be free to report on all issues, including political campaigns. But they would be prohibited from making political endorsements. (reuters.com)

Big Labor's #1 agenda item taxis for take-off ... The timing of Senator Specter's remarks is interesting. When EFCA was reintroduced in both Houses two weeks ago, Senator Harkin repeatedly invoked "equal access," as if to signal a possible compromise based on that concept. Almost contemporaneously, Representative Sestak (D, Pa.) introduced an alternative bill that featured equal access. Last weekend, compromise proposals were floated that incorporated some of the elements Sen. Specter would be willing to consider, including equal access. And SEIU president Andy Stern (possibly the most influential EFCA supporter) is quoted in the current issue of Business Week as understanding that EFCA might need to be changed to secure passage. It's doubtful this flurry of activity is mere coincidence. The EFCA campaign is about to proceed to another level. Employers should be prepared to address the implications of quickie elections, equal access, and limited-interest arbitration — the combination of which would amount to "EFCA Lite." The elimination of secret-ballot elections was the big drag on EFCA's prospects for passage. Now that card check may be off the table, EFCA opponents have lost their most effective talking point. Consequently, wavering senators may now be more inclined to vote for the remaining provisions of EFCA, plus quickie-election/equal-access provisions that make union organization almost as easy as card check. Senator Specter's announcement merely concludes Round Two. (corner.nationalreview.com)

Getting to Specter: Union Bigs will be back ... In an essay Senator Specter recently wrote for the Harvard Journal on Legislation, he states that for people like himself, "finding a practical solution is more important than political posturing." That's why we're dismayed by those who say they support the democratic process, yet refuse to allow meaningful debate and a democratic vote on critical legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act. Yesterday Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had a change of heart after he announced that he would support a filibuster this year in an attempt to block the legislation from coming to a Senate floor vote. What made Senator Specter change his mind after years of supporting cloture and the Employee Free Choice Act? Surprisingly to most Senator Specter who was a sponsor of the original Employee Free Choice Act in 2003, supported the bill again in 2005 and voted against a Republican filibuster of it in 2007, was the newest victim to feel the wrath of a powerful union busting campaign built on FEAR, Intimidation and Coercion by Corporate Front Groups such as the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace who have embarked on a multi-million dollar public Union Busting campaign, against workers rights, the Employee Free Choice Act and targeted senators in key states that included polling, television, radio, Internet ads and direct mail. (cleveland.indymedia.org)

Pro-union sheet smacks down Big Brands' EFCA-Lite Sell Out ... One of the most contentious issues in Washington, the deceptively labeled Employee Free Choice Act, needs to vanish. It's already hemorrhaging support as moderate senators have begun to voice their opposition. Colorado's senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, need to stand up and publicly oppose this harmful legislation. We appreciate the political implications of EFCA, as unions have thrown millions of dollars into getting it passed. But we oppose this bill, as it not only undercuts the rights of workers but threatens Colorado's economy. EFCA advocates typically begin their case by stressing the advantages of union membership and the adversity labor faces in trying to form unions. EFCA, they claim, will only level the playing field. A recent Rasmussen poll shows that only 9 percent of non-union workers have any interest in joining a union and 81 percent would not join even if they had the chance. So it is remarkably difficult to believe there is a widespread and unquenched yearning by workers to join unions. In an effort to find middle ground, three corporations (Starbucks, Whole Foods and Costco) proposed to leave most of EFCA intact and take out these toxic components. They were immediately rejected. Labor, after its impressive fundraising for the Democratic Party, must feel emboldened. But if unions truly believe in their cause, they wouldn't need to eliminate fair elections. And Colorado certainly doesn't need mandatory government intrusion into private labor disputes. For those reasons, we hope EFCA vanishes for good. (denverpost.com)

Jumbo union bigs grieve anti-democratic oppression ... A bill promoted as a protection of the democratic right to secret ballot elections was not handled very democratically by a Senate panel that cut off debate Wednesday so it could approve the measure before its time expired, several unions members said after the vote. The bill (SJR 1908), which seeks to guarantee that unionization could only occur through a secret ballot, was one of 14 pieces of legislation on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda for its two-hour meeting Wednesday. Most of the measures were relatively free of discussion and easily approved, but as it has been in every committee stop this year, the “card check” bill was neither. Members of several Florida unions, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the AFL-CIO and the Association of Federal, State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), lined up to oppose the bill, which was the last item taken up by the committee. But pressed against a deadline of 12:15 p.m., the panel approved a motion for a time certain vote of 12:13 p.m. The member who made that motion, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, then moved to reconsider the deadline for the vote as it approached, but her second motion failed 4-4, much to the chagrin of the unions. “It’s unfortunate that we’re having a discussion on democracy and today what we saw was workers were silenced,” said AFL-CIO spokesman Christian Ulvert. “Workers who came all the way from Miami drove up here to speak to this committee to share their thoughts on the legislation….. It’s unfortunate. These voters wanted to come engage in their democratic process and they wanted to speak.” (jaxdaily.com)

Obama NLRB bails out SEIU organizers ... The election scheduled for today at Sweet Brook Nursing Home in which workers were to decide whether to unionize has been canceled by the National Labor Relations Board after six unfair labor practice complaints were filed by employees. The complaints allege that management has been threatening employees, discriminating against employees who favor the union, unfairly coercing employees, and spreading fear through unfounded allegations. "We learned on Monday morning that SEIU requested that the NLRB block the election and on Monday afternoon the NLRB informed us they had agreed," Cutillo said. SEIU officials said that in all unfair labor practice complaints filed with the NLRB, part of the process is to request action on the complaint. What that action might be is up to the NLRB. The NLRB chose to block the election. Among the allegations laid out in the complaints, management is described as having made note of which employees were wearing pro-union stickers, confiscating pro-union literature, keeping track of which employees are likely to vote in favor of the union, alleging that union organizers had been engaging in intimidation tactics at one woman's home, interrogating employees regarding union representatives' activities, and distributing anti-union leaflets where pro-union leaflets had been prohibited. According to information listed on the NLRB Web site, "The National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of rights relating to organizing, forming, joining or assisting a labor organization for collective-bargaining purposes, or engaging in protected concerted activities, or refraining from any such activity." Fadel said it is "quite rare" for the NLRB to block such an election. (berkshireeagle.com)

SEIU unit bags rival's dues from Pendleton ... Employees of Pendleton Woolen Mills voted yesterday to pull away from their current union and join Workers United. Katy Smutz, president of the local workers, said the members voted unanimously to walk away from Unite Here, a union that represents hotel, restaurant and textile workers. "It was kind of like a marriage that didn't work out," she said. "We had to get divorce." She said the union failed to attract new members and some bargaining units weren't getting represented. This time around, the local bargaining unit of 32 workers negotiated a four-year disaffiliation agreement in case the relationship goes sour. "Basically, it's a prenup," Smutz said. Workers United announced just this week they are now affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has an office in Pendleton. Smutz said the local group, Workers United 1108T, will maintain the same staff as before. The relationship between local union members and the Pendleton Woolen Mills, Smutz said, is harmonious. "The union and the company work really hard as a team to produce a quality product," she said. "We have a good relationship with the company." (eastoregonian.info)

Pro-union small business owners oppressed

SEIU organizers skip vote to avoid embarrassment ... The union that won a protracted battle to represent 750 service workers at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego withdrew this week to avoid potential defeat in a decertification vote. Its move means that any union wishing to represent the employees – who include housekeepers, secretaries, janitors and cafeteria staffers – will have to start the certification process from scratch, labor officials said. Wages and benefits for the workers will remain as they were under a now-defunct contract between the hospital and the Service Employees International Union, Rady spokesman Ben Metcalf said. But there's no longer a guarantee of 4 percent annual raises, he said. Instead, the employees will qualify for an annual merit raise awarded on a sliding scale of up to 6 percent. The SEIU pullout could bring a period of peace to the hospital after years of pitched conflict that often wedged workers between union leaders driven to expand their reach in San Diego County and Rady administrators bent on defeating the effort. “I hope we're able to take back our hospital and give management a chance to manage us,” said Sally James, a clinical assistant and former member of the bargaining unit. SEIU began its campaign to organize some of the lowest-paid employees at the hospital in 2004, and those workers quickly voted for collective-bargaining representation. But Rady administrators launched a protracted challenge over the union's legal status. The fight led to three votes by the workers for union representation. Negotiations to establish a labor contract took several more years. Weeks before the contract was signed, James and other union opponents started circulating a decertification petition that eventually gained enough signatures to force a vote. However, the balloting was delayed for nearly two years because the union filed charges of unfair labor practices against the hospital. In February, the union's leaders and Rady administrators agreed to schedule a decertification election for yesterday and today. Those plans were derailed Tuesday when SEIU notified federal labor officials that it was withdrawing representation from the hospital. Fear of losing the vote played a major role in the decision, said Keisha Stewart, deputy trustee of SEIU's United Healthcare Workers local, which oversaw the bargaining unit. (signonsandiego.com)

News Union Agonistes in Seattle ... "We do have an agreement with Hearst that it will recognize the guild as the collective bargaining agent for the people from our membership that it hired for seattlepi.com," Brown wrote. "And we have an opportunity to bargain for what I hope will be a groundbreaking new contract. It will not look like our old P-I contract." Brown would not elaborate on the agreement, nor would she say how many former guild members are now at the new P-I. Nor would she reveal whether any of them even want to be in the union again. Which suggests that this could be a daunting organizing challenge for the guild. A significant number of the current seattlepi.com employees were never represented by the guild in the past—with the most well-known case being blogger Monica Guzman, whose hiring as a union-exempt "new media" employee in 2007 triggered an unsuccessful lawsuit by the guild. It's unclear whether these employees, who were willing to work for Hearst without union representation before, will want to be in a union now. Even Joel Connelly, the resolutely pro-labor columnist, said he was "torn" about the idea of unionizing seattlepi.com—though he has made it clear that he had to give up a huge potential severance payment from Hearst and take benefit cuts in order to join the venture. To at least one seattlepi.com employee, the idea of unionizing is simply too much of a distraction at the moment—a moment that, for the site's employees, is a bit like the frenzied launch of a start-up. "I just haven't given it enough serious thought to know what I'd do or what I'd want," this person said, adding: "I feel my salary is just fine." For her part, Brown doesn't seem to expect a lot of support from Hearst as the guild tries to unionize the new P-I workforce. "I don't think the attitude of most employers toward unions has changed or is going to change any time soon," she said. (thestranger.com)

D.C. union operatives lick their chops ... The many billions shoveled to the Energy Department as part of the $787 billion stimulus package recently signed into law may provide a cautionary tale about potential abuse, judging from a recent Energy Inspector General's warning. As if on cue, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress yesterday that he, too, expects a surge in stimulus-related fraud. "Our expectation is that economic crimes will continue to skyrocket," he said. "…The unprecedented level of financial resources committed by the federal government…will lead to an inevitable increase in economic crime and public corruption cases." The many billions shoveled to the Energy Department as part of the $787 billion stimulus package recently signed into law may provide a cautionary tale about potential abuse, judging from a recent Energy Inspector General's warning. As if on cue, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress yesterday that he, too, expects a surge in stimulus-related fraud. "Our expectation is that economic crimes will continue to skyrocket," he said. "…The unprecedented level of financial resources committed by the federal government…will lead to an inevitable increase in economic crime and public corruption cases." Friedman reportedly notes that during regular agency operations misuse of funds, falsification of data, kickbacks, bribes and other forms of fraud happen with "troubling" frequency. (washingtontimes.com)

Labor-state Gov. puts on poker face ... New York Governor David Paterson is ordering 8,900 state workers be laid off after unions refused concessions amid a staggering economic downturn. The state faces a $16 billion deficit this year. The cuts would affect roughly 4.5 percent of the entire workforce and would save the state about $500,000,000 over two years. Unions are calling the move "a bluff." Ken Brynien, president of the Public Employees Federation, said, "Using the Division of Budget's own numbers, it would only take about 3,600 layoffs to accomplish the savings he's looking for. That 8,900 number, I think, is just there to scare people to come back to the table." (13wham.com)

GOP Big issues Card-Check Caution ... In 2006, my last year as governor of Massachusetts, I vetoed a card-check bill that allowed public workers to organize if a majority signed union authorization cards as opposed to casting a traditional secret ballot. The veto was a gain for the rights of employees and employers to a fair election, but the victory was short-lived. After I left office, organized labor had another run at replacing the secret ballot with a card check. With the support of Democrats in the legislature, that same bill I had vetoed was passed again in 2007 - and my Democratic successor signed it into law. What happened next is a cautionary tale for Congress as it moves toward a vote on national card-check legislation. By tilting the playing field in favor of unions, card check not only robs workers of a secret ballot, it deprives management of the right to express its point of view. It will dramatically change the workplace as we know it, just as it's beginning to do for charter schools in Massachusetts. Small businesses will have to hire labor lawyers and follow burdensome new rules. If the parties can't agree on a contract, mandatory arbitration follows and employers that don't yield to union demands will have contracts foisted on them. All of this will raise costs, leading to more unemployment. The Labor Department reported that unemployment in February rose to 8.1 percent as American employers cut another 651,000 jobs. Unions are supposed to serve the interests of working people, yet in this case more power for the unions would help destroy many thousands of jobs throughout the economy. Conservatives like me are opposed to card check, but not to unions. (washingtontimes.com)

International Collectivism

Three Socialist Stooges? ... Oh, wise guys, eh? In some of the most bizarre casting news to come down the pike, Sean Penn has been set to star in the Farrelly Brothers' "Three Stooges," with Jim Carrey and Benicio del Toro close to committing, according to Variety. Penn will play Larry, Carrey may play Curly -- yes, he's gaining weight for the part -- and del Toro is being eyed for nominal leader Moe. No word on whether Shemp might appear, but may we suggest Bruce Campbell for the part? There's no word on a plot yet, though the Stooges' plots tended to be thin vehicles for delivering lots of physical humor. Casting is especially odd considering the players' pedigrees: Penn is coming off an Oscar turn in "Milk" and del Toro will next star in the horror movie "The Wolfman." Carrey spent his time in dramatic roles, but returned to comedy in 2008's "The Yes Man." (charlotteobserver.com)

Celebrity Socialism in the Valley of the Sun ... Steve Nash, already well known for his political views, used Twitter recently to publicize an article in the left-leaning The Nation Magazine. Nash in sending a link to the article tweeted, "I read a unique and interesting article by Sean Penn. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20081215/penn ... Not getting on my soapbox but worthwhile." The article is a first hand account from actor and activist Sean Penn of his trip to Venezuela and Cuba which included interviews with Hugo Chávez and Raul Castro. The leaders of those two countries are highly maligned by much of what Nash describes as the "main stream media". After the Phoenix Suns practiced today and once he had finished answering basketball related questions from the assembled media, I had a chance to ask the Suns MVP point guard about the article and what he meant to convey when he linked to it via twitter. "I thought it was interesting that he took his time to go down there and meet with people first hand and try and balance his opinions and not necessarily take what we see every day in our mainstream media outlets as the truth." (brightsideofthesun.com)

Latin Progressive uses military to collectivize, centralize ... President Hugo Chávez signed two decrees on Wednesday creating national companies that will oversee Venezuela's seaports and airports. Lawmakers loyal to the socialist president earlier this month approved a law that brought all of Venezuela's major transportation hubs under federal control, and the National Guard has since seized ports in at least four states. "I'm creating a new state enterprise," Chávez said in a televised speech Wednesday in which he announced the creation of the state companies. The decrees will become law upon their publication in Venezuela's Official Gazette. The two companies, called the Bolivariana de Puertos and Bolivariana de Aeropuertos, will report to Venezuela's Ministry of Housing and Public Works. Critics say the move will limit the powers of state governors, who previously collected revenue from tariffs they imposed at airports and seaports under their administration. (forbes.com)

New Business: Venezuela to launch Air Hugo ... President Hugo Chávez says his government plans to take over a Caracas-based airline and relaunch it as "social property." Aeropostal Alas de Venezuela has been in state hands since late last year, when a raid on one of its owners uncovered 880 pounds (400 kilograms) of cocaine. Chávez did not say Wednesday if he would nationalize the airline now or await the results of a drug trafficking case against Abdala, Alex and Basel Makled — three brothers who own the carrier. A conviction may let the government confiscate, rather than pay for, the airline. Chávez's government already has one airline, Conviasa, which it founded in 2005. (iht.com)

Ex-CNN Marxist Funes gains White House access ... President-elect Funes will travel with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Costa Rica. The decision to travel goes beyond symbolism (though no small matter itself), but demonstrates his commitment to the moderate, economic and political union of Central America in partnership with the U.S. In deciding to travel to Costa Rica, Funes stiff-armed Nicaraguan President Ortega who was trying to hold a more Bolivarian oriented meeting of Central American presidents. (americasquarterly.org)

Lecturers strike hits students ... Thousands of students had lectures disrupted as staff walked out at three South Yorkshire colleges as part of a long-running dispute. Two days of strike action were called at Doncaster, Dearne Valley and Rotherham colleges in a pay dispute stretching back over four years. The South Yorkshire colleges are three out of only four nationally taking action, with unions saying they have failed to honour a deal which was designed to bring lecturers' pay in line with sixth form teachers. University and Colleges' Union branch secretary Rod Challis said there had been a very good turnout by members on both days. He said: "People refused to cross picket lines. We feel there has been a lot of support for the action and morale was high among the strikers. At Doncaster there are really two disputes at the moment because of plans for job cuts, so we are rather linking them together." (thestar.co.uk)

Rev. Jim Wallis: Obama's Internationalist Gains Exposure ... What really frightens me is that Obama's latest announced "spiritual adviser" has had connections with all these Marxist regimes. And who is the president's latest adviser? The Rev. Jim Wallis. Frontpage Magazine (March 17, 2009) reports, "The most notable of [Obama's] spiritual advisers today is his friend of many years, Rev. Jim Wallis." Rev. Wallis admits that he and Obama have "been talking faith and politics for a long time." He was picked by Obama to draft the faith-based policies of his campaign at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year. Why should this alarm us? First, Jim Wallis has had relationships with the communist Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). Second, his "Witness for Peace" was an attempt to defend the Nicaraguan Sandinistas! Wallis, together with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (Obama's former pastor of 20 years) "rallied support for the communist Nicaraguan regime and protested actions by the United States which supported the anti-communist Contra rebels". Third, Wallis and his Sojourners community of fellow-travelers believe Fidel Castro's Cuba, Hugo Chávez's Venezuela, Daniel Ortega's Nicaragua and the other revolutionary forces "restructuring socialist societies" are the communist paradises the United States needs to emulate in order to establish "social justice." Writing in the November 1983 issue of Sojourners, Jacob Laksin notes, "Jim Wallis and Jim Rice drafted what would become the charter of leftist activists committed to the proliferation of communist revolutions in Central America". (wnd.com)
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