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Legislative battle over self-checkout alcohol sales

Your quick trip to the supermarket for a six-pack of brews or a bottle of vino might take a bit longer if the state Senate approves a bill that would bar retailers from letting customers buy alcohol through self-service checkouts.

self-checkoutAB 183 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, is based on the argument that self-checkout alcohol sales make it easier for minors or already-intoxicated customers to buy, and increase chances of theft. The Assembly approved AB 183 on a 48-26 vote May 26, sending it to the state Senate.

Similar bills have been offered twice before, both by former Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate. His 2007 bill didn’t make it past the Senate Governmental Organization Committee; his 2009 bill was approved by the Legislature but was vetoed last September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said there’s “no legitimate evidence to suggest that self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. … Thus, it is unclear what problem this bill seeks to address.”

Among AB 183’s supporters are the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Mothers Against Drunk Driving – somewhat strange bedfellows, given they took ardently opposite sides on last year’s marijuana legalization just a few months ago. Other supporters include several police organizations as well as anti-drug and anti-alcohol groups.

“We believe it is imperative that our youth be taken out of harm’s way in regards to underage drinking,” Michael Henneberry, communications director for San Jose-based UFCW Local 5, said Thursday. “AB 183 is a common-sense fix to the issue and will swiftly mitigate against the major problem of youth using self check to procure liquor. The law applies to union and non-union stores alike and is equitable despite the claims of some retailers.”

Nonetheless, the move toward more self-checkouts means a shrinking need for supermarket labor, the UFCW’s potential members. The union for years has been trying to organize clerks at Fresh & Easy supermarkets, which happen to use an all-self-checkout model; most recently, the UFCW has staged an informational picket line outside that company’s new store in Modesto.

The UFCW, always a prolific contributor to Democratic campaigns and causes, spent $15,000 last year just to lobby for De La Torre’s bill. The union’s Western States Council spent $15,348 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter, but Ma’s bill isn’t listed among those the union has tried to influence.

Opponents of AB 183 such as the California Grocers Association say self-service checkout stations already have a lock-out or “freeze” mechanism that requires a clerk’s intervention to verify age before finalizing all alcohol purchases. They also say studies consistently show that most of the time, minors get alcohol by getting adults to buy it for them.

“When this same legislation was vetoed last year the reason was clear – there is no legitimate evidence to suggest that assisted self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. The same holds true today,” CGA President Ron Fong said Thursday. “Our stores have solid protections in place against minors purchasing alcohol and we see this bill as a solution in search of a problem.”

The California Grocers Association – also a prolific campaign contributor that leans Republican, and gave significant amounts to Schwarzenegger’s committees – spent $60,251 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter on dozens of bills including AB 183.

Posted on Friday, June 3rd, 2011
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Fiona Ma, Labor politics, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Senate delays FedEx labor showdown

The U.S. Senate this week delayed debate on legislation that shipping giant FedEx says would endanger some of the 2,000 jobs it provides at Oakland International Airport, but local lawmakers say the company just doesn’t want to lose an advantage over its workers and competitors.

FedExWorkers at FedEx Express – the air-oriented rapid delivery division of Memphis-based FedEx Corp. – are covered by the Railway Labor Act, which lets them unionize but curbs their right to strike. A section in the House version of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, HR 915, would amend the RLA to cover only pilots, aircraft maintenance workers and aircraft dispatchers, meaning most of FedEx Express’ employees would suddenly have strike rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

That provision isn’t in the U.S. Senate version of the bill, but the chamber briefly took it up for debate this week – and FedEx went to the mattresses to try to stop it – before the bill was postponed for another three months.

“This provision was inserted in a backroom deal in the dark of night without a hearing, public input or economic study,” FedEx spokesman Maury Lane said Monday. “It changed 70 years of labor law which has been serving employees under the RLA well by having 10 times the amount of unionization than the NLRA … so this move is actually an antiunion move, in reality, if you look at the bigger picture.”

The Teamsters disagree. The union and UPS, FedEx’s arch-rival, convinced House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., to insert and champion the provision. They call the current situation a loophole that treats FedEx differently from all its competitors and deprives workers of labor rights.

Lane says UPS is bigger and older than FedEx but does more of its shipping by truck and entered the air freight business a decade after FedEx, yet structured its operations in such a way that packages are moved by a chain of workers “contaminated” with a mixture of RLA and NLRA labor rules; FedEx Express workers always have been covered only by the RLA.

“They could’ve set their company up smart like we did but they chose to take a shortcut and they’re paying for it now because of a costly labor contract they signed two years ago,” he said. “This is not about leveling the playing field, this is about them wiping us off the playing field and getting a legislative bailout to fix a broken economic model.”

Lane noted FedEx Express has 12,000 employees in California, about 2,000 of whom work in a hub at Oakland’s airport. Giving local workers the power to strike means decreasing FedEx Express’ reliability, he said, citing a 1997 strike that stilled UPS for 16 days. Less reliability means less customers and less revenue, he said, and that means letting workers go.

“There seems to me to be no reason for FedEx to have a special exemption from the normal labor laws that govern that industry,” countered Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, is the only Bay Area member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, though he wasn’t yet in office when the House passed its version of this bill last May.

Garamendi said Northern California’s business is “crucial” to FedEx and the company surely won’t curtail operations here. “UPS operates in the Bay Area very successfully with a union and they’re not pulling out, so I think it’s an anti-union attitude of FedEx that’s in play here, but the reality is quite different.”

Oakland International Airport falls in the 13th Congressional District represented by Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont. His staff said he supports the provision because it would treat FedEx the same as its peers and protect workers’ labor rights.

The consensus among staffers for both of California’s U.S. Senators is that the provision won’t be inserted into the Senate version of the bill, so it’ll become an issue for the conference committee working out differences between the House and Senate versions. A spokeswoman for Barbara Boxer said she supports the provision as a means of “leveling the playing field for all of our workers;” a spokesman for Dianne Feinstein said she has taken no position on the provision.

Posted on Thursday, March 18th, 2010
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, John Garamendi, Labor politics, Pete Stark, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Nurses take EFCA fight to DiFi’s doorstep

1,200 registered nurses paying you a house call? Now that’s some serious health care!

The nurses – gathered in San Francisco for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee national convention – will be making a “house call” to the home of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein at 1 p.m. today to demand she become a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. Their news release says they’ll leave a rose with a personalized note telling their stories of being intimidated and harassed by management in their efforts to win recognition for their union—and the toll that such union-busting can take on patient care.

“In the past, Senator Feinstein has said she supported the bill, but appears to be wavering. 1,200 RNs are making this house call to let her know that employers are trying to silence us when we advocate in facilities, and that patients end up paying the price for this union-busting. Employers are breaking the law in their harassment of nurses, and we deserve a free choice and a fair chance to speak up for ourselves,” CAN/NNOC co-president Deborah Burger said in the release. “Studies have shown that unionized nurses save lives, reduce turnover, and increase caregiver morale in facilities. That would be good for any hospital—and every patient.”

I’ve sought but not received a comment from Feinstein, who is in Washington today for President Barack Obama’s address on health care reform to a joint session of Congress. I’m sure Feinstein’s neighbors in the exclusive Gold Coast/Pacific Heights neighborhood will be thrilled to see 1,200 angry nurses on their doorstep. After they’re done there, the nurses will head downtown for a 2 p.m. rally outside Feinstein’s office at Post and Market streets.

Posted on Wednesday, September 9th, 2009
Under: Dianne Feinstein, Labor politics, U.S. Senate | 5 Comments »

State workers take to SF streets, Capitol steps

After covering a federal court hearing this morning in San Francisco, I was walking through Civic Center and saw several dozen state workers — most of them wearing the distinctive purple t-shirts of the Service Employees International Union — picketing outside the state building.

“We’re taking care of California, don’t hurt our families,” “Don’t balance the budget on our backs,” their signs read. “5 percent don’t pay the rent” and “The party of ‘no’ has got to go,” they chanted.

They were delivering to Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger’s San Francisco office copies of petitions signed by 35,000 state workers, urging the governor to drop his plans to cut another 5 percent from all state workers’ salaries; they’ve already lost more than a month’s worth of wages through the governor’s mandatory furloughs.

Instead, they want the governor to make a 10 percent cut in California’s $34 billion in private vendor contracts. Just since January 2008, the state has entered into more than 15,000 new private vendor contracts worth almost $6 billion; SEIU Local 1000 boasts it has sued to stop about 120 such contracts in the past two years, winning four out of five cases by proving the contracts were more expensive and less efficient than using state employees to do the same work.

“It’s time for the governor and his corporate supporters to begin giving back to help balance the budget by cutting private contracts and closing corporate tax loopholes,” SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said in an e-mailed statement.

SEIU workers were outside Schwarzenegger’s State Capitol office in Sacramento today, too. Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, seemed to misunderstand the union’s intent, issuing a statement saying the union wants all of the state’s private vendor contracts eliminated.

“SEIU and AFSCME’s proposals are out of touch with reality, and they do more harm than good. Big labor’s agenda is clear, protect the bloated bureaucracy that got us into this mess,” Hollingsworth said, noting private vendor contracts represent thousands of private-sector jobs and billions of dollars in future tax revenue that would be lost.

In the last decade, he said, public-sector employment has outpaced private sector employment by 9 percent.

“Something is wrong with our system when the market no longer drives job creation. California’s bureaucracy should never out pace private sector jobs. SEIU is protecting a broken system and putting more hard-working Californians on the street. Budget priorities should be performance based, not based on which bully can shove the hardest,” Hollingsworth said, claiming that increasing the gas tax, instituting an alcohol tax and accelerating tax collection on small businesses would protect labor’s membership while shifting the cost to the general public. “Increasing taxes and proposing new ones is insane. It’s exactly what the voters said no to. We must cut programs that don’t work, end automatic spending formulas, and pursue long-term reforms that will keep us out of this mess for good.”

And California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring had this to say about it:

“Today we see the union campaign of threats and intimidation move from the hearing room to the capitol steps. The venue is different, but the tactics remain the same: bully government officials into making decisions that make sense for their narrow interest instead of the public good.

“Today, SEIU will continue to reject a 5 percent cut in pay for state government bureaucrats while continuing to demand billions in new taxes to be paid by California families who are already struggling to make ends meet. The Governor and lawmakers should continue to stand strong in the face of this continued bullying and intimidation by union officials.”

UPDATE @ 3:13 P.M.: Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear notes the governor issued an executive order earlier this month to eliminate funding “for contracts entered into by state agencies and departments after March 1, 2009 for all goods and services excluding those necessary for public safety and to prohibit entering into any new contracts.” The order also directed all state departments to develop and submit to the Finance Department plans to reduce their future spending on contracts and purchases by at least 15 percent no later than 30 days after the adoption of the revised 2009-10 budget.

Posted on Friday, June 19th, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, California State Senate, Dennis Hollingsworth, General, Labor politics, state budget, taxes | 1 Comment »

Views on California’s May unemployment numbers

From Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“When the world loses one-third of its wealth in 18 months, it is to be expected that historic levels of job losses will follow. Not surprisingly, we and our fellow states have seen unemployment numbers rise sharply during this difficult time. A full recovery will not happen overnight — it will take time, which only further underscores the need to continue the economic stimulus measures I fought for in the February budget. There is no greater priority right now than to stimulate the economy, create jobs and get California back on the road to prosperity.”

From California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski:

“While the rest the country is beginning to emerge from this deep recession, California remains stuck in the mud under Gov. Schwarzenegger’s failed leadership.

“If ever there was time to sound the alarm, it’s now. The staggering loss of 68,000 jobs in May means more families are teetering on the edge of financial calamity. Instead of throwing families in need a lifeline, the governor threatens to push them over the cliff with his ill-conceived budget proposal.

“The catastrophic cuts the governor has proposed to vital services will shred the safety net that so many families depend upon for survival in these difficult times. Budget cuts will also lead to additional job cuts, exacerbating unemployment.

“Behind every unemployment number is a heartbreaking story of a family in distress. Unless legislators and the governor reach a quick and fair solution to the state budget, we can expect job loss to accelerate and the pain families are feeling to intensify in the months to come.

“We can’t afford more Republican grandstanding. It’s time for a real budget that’s not balanced on the backs of working families.”

UPDATE @ 1:58 P.M.: More views, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, June 19th, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, economy, Labor politics, state budget | 2 Comments »

Labor targets Dianne Feinstein for EFCA

Big labor is trying to turn up the publicity heat on U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., this week by staging a two-day fast outside her San Francisco office in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Feinstein will be in Washington meeting with business leaders who oppose EFCA even as the Oakland-based California Labor Federation launches its protest Wednesday, with participants starting a fast at 10 a.m. and ending it Thursday evening; some protestors will stay overnight outside Feinstein’s office at One Post St. in San Francisco.

EFCA would let workers form unions by having a majority of employees sign petition cards stating their intention to organize — often called “card check” — without management requiring that a secret-ballot election be held; such elections would still be an option if the workers want it.

The bill also provides that if an employer and newly formed union can’t agree on a first contract within 90 days, either can ask for help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and if that doesn’t produce a deal within 30 days, the dispute goes to binding arbitration; all time limits can be extended if the parties agree. And the bill would beef up penalties against companies that violate labor laws during organizing campaigns and first-contract bargaining.

The Senator in March backed off her previous support of EFCA, and is currently the only Congressional Democrat from California not on board with the bill. She has floated a sort of compromise in which workers could vote to form unions with mail-in ballots, thus alleviating some lawmakers’ stated concerns about protecting workers’ privacy from labor organizers.

The federation’s schedule says there’ll be a kick-off at noon Wednesday with Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson, community leaders and others; a 4:30 p.m. workers’ rally in support of those fasting; and a 9:30 to 11 p.m. candlelight vigil. On Thursday, there’ll be another rally – this one with elected officials and clergy – at noon, and then a prayer circle to end the fast at 6 p.m.

UPDATE @ 1:51 P.M. TUESDAY: California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring just issued a statement on a similar, pro-EFCA rally taking place outside Feinstein’s office in Los Angeles:

“Today, according to the union bosses, ‘workers and community supporters’ will be demonstrating in support of the Employee ‘Forced’ Choice Act (EFCA), which they claim will ‘help workers earn good wages, healthcare and retirement benefits.’ Unfortunately, it appears our friends have not been reading the news as of late, as unreasonable demands made by Big Labor have forced workers in the auto industry to lose their jobs and mismanagement of their programs have left worker benefit packages terribly underfunded.

“EFCA threatens to have the same affect on the small business community here in California and throughout the nation. By mandating contracts on employers and eliminating workers’ right to a private ballot, union bosses will decimate job creation and severely increase unemployment, slowing any economic recovery on the horizon.”

To clarify, EFCA wouldn’t be “eliminating workers’ right to a private ballot” – it would eliminate management’s right to a private ballot. Workers would still be able to choose a secret-ballot vote if they wish it.

Posted on Monday, June 1st, 2009
Under: Dianne Feinstein, Labor politics, U.S. Senate | 9 Comments »

Contra Costa firefighters agree to defer pay raises

Contra Costa firefighters have agreed to delay wage increases for two years in recognition of “current, unprecedented economic circumstances,” according to the office of Contra Costa County Supervisor Susan Bonilla of Concord.

The members of United Professional Fire Fighters Local 1230 agreed to defer  to 2011 of a 2.5 percent raise scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2009, and to 2012 a second raise of 2.5 percent scheduled for Jan. 1, 2010.

In return, the county extended all other terms of the firefighters’ contract for two years.

“As firefighters, we experience on a daily basis the hardship many families in our community are facing,” said Local 1230 President Vincent Wells. “We wanted to work with the county in maintaining the level of public safety we have always provided … We are willing to defer our raises out a few years with the hopes that the economy will turn around.”

While the pay deferral was undoubtedly welcomed, the firefighters’ concession does not represent a permanent structural change in wages or benefits.

The county and its numerous labor unions have been in negotiations for months as the county struggles to reverse an unsustainable trajectory of rising wages and benefits. Most county employee compensation levels are prescribed in labor contracts, which cannot be changed other than through negotiation and agreement on both sides.

Unions are usually loath to agree to any concessions because it sets the stage for future talks as well as other unions’ negotiations, so it will be interesting to see if other public employee unions follow the firefighters’ example.

Click through to read the full press release.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, April 29th, 2009
Under: Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, Labor politics | 7 Comments »

SEIU fires back at CNA with lawsuit of its own

The Service Employees International Union filed suit today against arch rival California Nurses Association in the two group’s ongoing and nasty dispute over labor practices.

The two unions have been at odds over recruiting and organizing tactics for nurses and the fracas devolved into a shoving match at a labor conference in Michigan and unwelcome visits by SEIU representatives to the homes of California CNA leaders.

Unless national union leaders step in and broker some of deal between these warring factions, this fight will play out in California courtroom.

Click here for CNA’s specific web site on the dispute.

Read on for SEIU’s latest press release and a link to its dedicated web site on the matter:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, April 21st, 2008
Under: Labor politics | No Comments »

SEIU will challenge restraining order

The Service Employees International Union will ask a judge to dismiss a temporary restraining order requested by the California Nurses Association, calling the nurses’ charges of harassment unfounded and politically motivated.

A Superior Court judge in Alameda County issued the TRO late Tuesday, and ordered a hearing for all parties on May 1.

The unions are locked in an ugly battle stemming from a fight over membership organizing in Ohio hospitals and a nasty, physical confrontation at a Michigan labor conference.

CNA chief Rose Ann DeMoro of Walnut Creek says SEIU sent 200 people to California to intimidate and harass her members. Some visited the homes of some of her association’s leaders and frightened them, DeMoro said. (See my blog entry yesterday for CNA’s press release.)

DeMoro said she has been forced to cancel two appearances under threat of SEIU protests and has had to take precautions to protect her personal safety.

Read more for SEIU’s press release issued a few minutes ago:
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, April 17th, 2008
Under: Labor politics | 4 Comments »

CNA wins restraining order

The California Nurses Association, led by Rose Ann DeMoro of Walnut Creek, has obtained a temporary restraining order against the Service Employees International Union in what has become a highly contentious battle between the two unions.

The nurses group contends that SEIU is harassing, stalking and intimidating nurses in roughly a dozen California hospitals targeted for an SEIU take-over.

According to the CNA, SEIU Director Andy Stern will be required to appear in Superior Court in Oakland on May 1, where a judge will consider a request for a three-year injunction.

SEIU, on its website, accuses CNA of engaging in union-busting activities starting with a conflict in Ohio. De Moro later cancelled an appearance at a Michigan labor conference out of fear for her personal safety.

Click here for CNA’s press release or read on for the text. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, April 16th, 2008
Under: Labor politics | No Comments »