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See Berding Run

By Gregory Flannery · April 18th, 2007 · Porkopolis
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  Cincinnati City Councilman David Crowley (left) wants the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to protect union organizers.
Joe Lamb

Cincinnati City Councilman David Crowley (left) wants the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to protect union organizers.



Worried about his odds for getting the Democratic Party's endorsement this week, Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding began bombarding the party's precinct executives with automated telephone calls featuring a one-time critic speaking on his behalf. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune recorded the message at Berding's request. Berding's campaign paid for the "robo-calls."

A growing number of Democrats have opposed an endorsement for Berding. Among various complaints, they dislike his extensive ties to Republican candidates and campaign contributors, his tendency to cut deals outside public meetings and his frequent clashes with some Democrats on council, notably John Cranley, David Crowley and Cecil Thomas. In the telephone message, Portune said he's forgiven Berding for helping then-Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus in his unsuccessful 2000 re-election campaign. Portune challenged Bedinghaus in that election and won; Bedinghaus later was hired by the Cincinnati Bengals, which also employs Berding.

"It wasn't my idea, it was Berding's," Portune said, "but I was willing to help out."

Since 2000, Berding has helped him on county-related issues, such as ongoing efforts to build a new jail, Portune said.

"The only reason I was willing to do this is because I was told I wouldn't have an opportunity to speak at the meeting because I'm not a precinct executive," Portune said. "I don't see anything odd about it."

The Cincinnati Democratic Committee (CDC) was scheduled to decide on endorsements at 6:30 p.m.

April 17 in Evanston. In the last few days before the vote, Berding mailed a letter to precinct executives quoting prominent Democrats vouching that he's a loyal party member. It included remarks from Portune, Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper, Councilwoman Laketa Cole and others.

A poll conducted last fall by former Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican seeking a return to office this year, showed Berding finishing in 10th place and just missing re-election to the nine-member council. Berding recently told the Cincinnati Business Courier that he'd raised more than $300,000 so far and will spend much of the money on television commercials to directly appeal to voters.

Berding, 40, is sales director for the Bengals. He managed the successful campaign in 1996 to increase Hamilton County's sales tax by a half-cent to build new stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds and later was hired by the team.

Protecting Workers from Union Busting
In 1935 the United States was one of the last industrialized countries to enact laws protecting workers from hazardous conditions and unfair labor practices. Now, 72 years later, legislators are finally giving the aged National Labor Relations Act a pacemaker -- and some teeth.

The Employee Free Choice Act is designed to give workers protection against employers who fire them for organizing unions. Firing organizers has been illegal since 1935 but happens with regularity, according to Peter McLinden, a regional director for the AFL-CIO. Activists were in Cincinnati April 16 for a press conference hosted by Progress Ohio in an effort to turn up the pressure on six senators in the Midwest.

"An employee organizer has a one-in-five chance of being fired during an organizing campaign," McLinden said.

That's because the existing law doesn't effectively penalize union busting, according to David Cook, an attorney in the field of labor law.

"Employers know there's no real penalty for breaking the law," he said. "Employers know how to abuse the law. The Free Choice Act restores the balance between employees and employers."

Matt Ryan, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union (www.seiu3.org), offered a local example from the Justice for Janitors campaign.

"After fighting for two years for the right to organize, half of the employees on the collective bargaining committee were fired the day before bargaining was scheduled to begin," he said.

The Free Choice Act, passed last month by the House of Representatives, would levy civil fines up to $20,000 for employers who violate employees' rights during an organizing campaign and calls for a neutral third party to settle collective bargaining disputes if a contract isn't reached after three months. Most important, the bill would allow workers to unionize by simply getting a majority of their fellow workers to sign authorization cards, instead of conducting lengthy campaigns ending in government-monitored elections. Cook rejected the argument that the change would eliminate the secret ballot.

"That's just smoke and mirrors," he said. "Removing the sacred secret ballot is a smokescreen to intimidate and coerce employees."

The new bill would ultimately benefit employers, Ryan said.

"Stable jobs, stable income and stable communities mean less turnover," he said. "The biggest cost for employers is recruitment and training."

For more information about how to support this legislation, contact Progress Ohio (www.progressohio.org) or call the Cincinnati AFL-CIO at 513-421-1846.

For the decision in Berding's endorsement and other political developments, visit CityBeat's Porkopolis blog at citybeat.wordpress.com.



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