CityBeat Blogs - Labor Unions <![CDATA[Group Asks Kroger to Support Farm Workers]]>

Oscar Otzoy, center left, stands with fellow protesters outside a Kroger shareholder meeting at Music Hall
Nick Swartsell

 A national group working to convince companies to change the way they buy produce picketed Kroger's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.

About 100 activists showed up, holding signs and chanting as shareholders filed into the meeting at Music Hall. Some were local, while others came from Columbus, Florida and elsewhere.

The group organizing the event, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is based in Immokalee, Fla., and pushes for higher wages and improved working conditions for farm laborers. A large amount of produce production takes place in Florida and throughout the South, and the industry is rife with complaints of worker exploitation and mistreatment.

Hundreds of thousands of farm workers labor in Florida, and many make just pennies per pound picked, meaning it can take picking a couple tons a day to make a living wage. That’s if they make any money at all. Florida has prosecuted a number of cases of slave labor in the agricultural industry in the past decade and a half, leading to the discovery of more than 1,000 people being exploited for unpaid slave labor.

The adverse conditions affect people of color disproportionately. A study by the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that 50 percent of low-wage workers in the food industry are people of color, and that 65 percent of low-wage farm workers are Hispanic.

CIW started in 1993 as a small, local coalition working to improve these conditions, specifically working with tomato pickers. The group began near the city of Immokalee in southwest Florida, known as “the tomato capital of the world.” The organization had big success pushing for higher wages and better treatment and has grown to become a national-level organizing group for workers.

Oscar Otzoy picks produce and advocates for farm labor rights. He’s working in Columbus now but lived in Immokalee for eight years before that. He's been involved in the coalition to improve farm workers’ rights that entire time.

He says before the coalition, working days in the fields were long, and workers had little recourse when they were mistreated.

“Back then, you’d work long, hard hours, and if you were abused in the fields, if you were a victim of sexual harassment, as many women are, there was no system,” he said. “If workers wanted to complain, they would be fired on the spot. That’s all changing now.”

Otzoy says the life of a farm laborer can be hard, especially without groups like the CIW.

“You wake up very early in the morning, usually about 4 a.m., and then get on a bus to the field to work,” said Otzoy, describing a typical day before he joined the coalition. “But when you get there, you usually don’t start working until about 10 a.m., when the pesticides have dried and it’s safe to enter. All the time in between is unpaid.”

Protesters picket as Kroger shareholders enter Music Hall
Nick Swartsell
The CIW’s Fair Food Program, an effort to address some of the hardships of work in the produce industry, pushes for an extra cent per pound paid to workers, supports a code of conduct for companies and educates workers about their rights. CIW says the Fair Food Program has resulted in $12 million in extra pay for workers since it was first instituted.

McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Chipotle, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Wal Mart, among other large companies responsible for billions of dollars in the produce trade, have all participated in the Fair Food Program. Some staunch holdouts include Wendy’s and Publix, a Southern grocery store chain.

Kroger is another company that has yet to join in.

“We’ve been here every year, and we’re trying to grow our numbers,” said Sameerah Ahmad, a local organizer working with CIW at the protest. “We’ve been organizing these protests for a few years. We want to show escalation and pressure and show we’re not going way.

Kroger is the nation’s largest grocer after Wal-Mart, with total sales of more than $34 billion. The chain has not yet responded to calls to join fair food efforts. While the company itself hasn’t participated directly in any known agricultural injustices, Ahmad said that as part of the produce industry, the company should make sure it’s sourcing its food ethically.

“Kroger can take a big step by supporting workers’ rights in the fields,” she said.

<![CDATA[Local Walmart Workers to Strike Wednesday]]>

Protesting illegal firings, low wages and erratic scheduling, Walmart workers are taking a stand this afternoon in Cincinnati by walking off their jobs.

Workers will protest outside the Walmart on Ferguson Road at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon with Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, according to a press release sent out this morning.

Today’s strike is part of a larger strike movement happening in 20 cities across the country this week, leading up to the annual shareholder meeting.

The meeting is this Friday and hundreds of worker shareholders are making the trip to Arkansas as part of a union-backed workers group called OUR Walmart. They plan to request a living wage and family-sustaining jobs, calling for the new CEO Doug McMillion to “take the company in a new direction,” the press release said.

A typical Walmart worker is paid less than $25,000 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average retail worker makes only $21,000 per year and cashiers even less.

Walmart employees say they have to rely on food stamps while their company received $7.8 billion in tax breaks and subsidies in 2013.

OUR Walmart advocates for a $25,000 base salary for all employees.

“A minimum $25,000 salary at Walmart would not only help families, it would boost job creation, consumer spending, and the company’s bottom-line,” the press release said.

The major employer is currently on trial for worker rights violations involving firing workers who went on strike last year at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.  

The country’s largest and most profitable corporation is also tightening its belt; Walmart took $740 million out of its cost structure in the past year because its operating income grew faster than sales.

Walmart has had to make some changes lately in response to worker’s claims.

In March, the pregnancy policy was updated after an OUR Walmart campaign, allowing for more accommodations for pregnant women.  

In April, the retailer changed its internal scheduling system, making it easier for part-time workers to pick up extra shifts online.

<![CDATA[Ohio in No Hurry to Pass Right-to-Work]]> In light of Michigan’s progress in passing a so-called “right-to-work” law, Ohioans are both worried about and pushing for a similar law allowing workers to opt-out of paying union dues at businesses where workers are represented by a union.

Tea party activists are working to gather the 380,000 signatures needed to get the Ohio Workplace Freedom Act on the ballot. They have until July 3.

The Michigan House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the first of two right-to-work bills, both of which were passed by the state Senate last week. Gov. Rick Snyder has told multiple media outlets that he could sign the bills as early as Wednesday.

Michigan would be the 24th right-to-work state in the nation and the second in the Midwest. Indiana passed a similar law earlier this year.

Members of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus wore red carnations — Ohio’s state flower and a symbol of the labor movement — at the Statehouse Tuesday to show support for Michigan workers.

“Put simply, so called ‘right to work’ is wrong. Statistics show states with this anti-working family legislation have lower wages and higher poverty rates,” Ohio state Rep. Connie Pillich, D-Montgomery, wrote in an emailed statement. 

“We will continue to stand together and fight against these unfair attacks on workers in Ohio, Michigan and across the country.”

Despite the effort to put a right-to-work law on the ballot next year — a similar effort was unsuccessful in 2012 — it doesn’t seem like Ohio is in any rush to join Michigan and Indiana.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has higher priorities than passing a right-to-work law. The newspaper reports that Ohio added 127,000 jobs in the past two years and ranks fourth nationally and first in the Midwest in terms of job creation. 

Kasich said the agenda for the last two years of his first term include tax cuts, an education overhaul and infrastructure improvement to keep the state competitive.

“I have an agenda that I think is going to benefit the state of Ohio,” Kasich told the newspaper. “We’re doing very well vis-a-vis the rest of the country now, and I think if we continue to pursue the agenda I have and the legislature has, I think we’ll continue to be successful.”

FUN FACT: Michigan's right-to-work bill will be signed into law in the Romney Building. George Romney, former Michigan governor and father of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was an opponent of right-to-work laws.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> “Accentuate the positive” has always been Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory's motto when giving his annual State of the City address, and Tuesday night's speech was no different. Mallory talked about the new development in Over-the-Rhine and The Banks riverfront district, adding that type of vision for the future must continue. The mayor also said city officials must strive to improve the quality of life for residents.

A national teachers' union said Cincinnati Public Schools officials have used faulty budget estimates to justify a plan to lay off up to 225 teachers next week. CPS says it will have a $43 million deficit next year and already has laid off 40 administrators. At the request of the local union president, the American Federation of Teachers reviewed the CPS budget forecast and declared it has identified at least $17.9 million in savings, enough to save at least 197 teaching jobs.

Less than a week after the Reds agreed to a major contract extension for Joey Votto, the team now has struck a deal with Brandon Phillips. The second baseman will get a six-year, $72.5 million contract. Referring to the deals, Sports Illustrated wrote, “the small-market Cincinnati Reds show that they're serious about winning.”

A University of Cincinnati student remains hospitalized today after a toxic chemical explosion on campus overnight. Police say a female student was working with the chemical alone at the engineering building around 1 a.m. when a reaction caused an explosion. The student was working on a process known as aluminum etching.

Oxford police have had to stand watch while members of a fraternity that was ordered to shut down at Miami University clear out their belongings from the frat house. Sigma Chi International officials yanked the local charter and ordered the 29 frat house occupants evicted by today after years of sanctions for alleged drug use, alcohol abuse, hazing and property damage. Police had to arrest an apparently inebriated 21-year-old student from Chicago for refusing to leave the scene after he repeatedly barked at a police dog. (How douchey.)

In news elsewhere, Rick Santorum announced Tuesday he was leaving the race for the Republican presidential nomination, clearing the path for Mitt Romney. Although Santorum — an ex-Pennsylvania senator who lost reelection in 2006 — said his decision partially was prompted by health concerns about his three-year-old daughter, Bella, most pundits agree he likely was afraid of losing the primary election in his home state on April 24, which could've dashed his plans for a political future.

More Americans think the U.S. Supreme Court justices will be acting mostly on their partisan political views than on a neutral reading of the law when they decide the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care law, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News. Only 40 percent of respondents expect their decisions to be rooted primarily “on the basis of the law.”

Attorneys representing George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of an unarmed black teenager dropped out of the case Tuesday, saying they've had no contact with their client since Sunday. The attorneys, who conceded they had never met their client in-person, said Zimmerman had been in contact with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity during the same period. Meanwhile, special prosecutor Angela Corey said Tuesday she would hold a press conference “in the next 72 hours.” Corey will decide whether Zimmerman should face criminal charges for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

McDonald's has become the fifth major company to recently drop its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The shadowy group, which has ties to the Koch brothers and the NRA, provides model legislation for state lawmakers to introduce on various conservative and “free market” issues. ALEC has been criticized for pushing the “stand your ground” law in Florida that allows people to kill someone in public places if they feel their life is threatened. Other firms that have dropped membership are Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Intuit.

A massive earthquake off Indonesia’s western coast triggered tsunami fears across the Indian Ocean today, sending residents in coastal cities fleeing to higher ground. The U.S. Geological Survey said the first 8.6-magnitude quake was centered about 19 miles beneath the ocean floor. At least one aftershock also has been reported.
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Ending months of speculation about why a special prosecutor was investigating her, a Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleader was indicted Thursday for allegedly having sex with an underage student while she was a teacher at Dixie Heights High School in Edgewood. A grand jury indicted Sarah Jones on first-degree sexual abuse and a charge of unlawful use of electronic means to induce a minor to engage in sexual acts. The charges are felonies that are punishable by up to five years in prison. She resigned from her teaching job in November. Jones won $11 million in a default judgment in summer 2010 arising from a libel lawsuit she filed against, a gossip website. An online post had claimed Jones had two venereal diseases and was having sex in her high school classroom. The website has asked that the judgment be dismissed, while Jones has appeared on TV shows like ABC’s 20/20 to discuss cyber-harassment.

Cincinnati officials are touting how the violent crime rate in Over-the-Rhine has dropped in recent months, on the heels of the FBI and local police arresting five alleged gang members Thursday that are accused of committing crimes there. Police note there hasn't been a homicide in Over-the-Rhine in the past seven months, adding stepped up patrols partially are responsible..

Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order Thursday that is designed to crack down on human trafficking. His order creates a task force to coordinate statewide rescue efforts, law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, and services for victims. The task force is scheduled to report back to Kasich within 90 days on the problem's scope and how best to address it.

As The Enquirer's parent company this week sheds numerous employees by offering a voluntary “early retirement” severance deal, a union representing reporters at The Dayton Daily News are fighting efforts to replace older, more highly paid workers. The Dayton Newspaper Guild rallied outside the Cox Media Center on Wednesday, as the union resumes contract negotiations with the media company. Guild leaders said newspaper executives are seeking unlimited power to use freelancers to replace professional journalists, along with wanting to abolish job security for its most experienced workers by eliminating seniority-based layoffs. Cox also owns newspapers in Mason, West Chester, Hamilton and Middletown.

A Columbus man is crediting his friend for saving his life after a freak accident involving a turkey. Ohio State University “super fan” John Chubb, who also is known as “Buck i Guy,” was recently driving home on Interstate 79 from Pittsburgh after the Buckeyes’ win over Gonzaga when a turkey crashed through his windshield and knocked him unconscious. Chubb's friend, a retired Columbus firefighter, grabbed the steering wheel and safely brought the car to a stop. (Shades of Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”)

In news elsewhere, a group launching a $3.6 million advertising campaign criticizing President Obama for high gasoline prices is connected to the notorious Koch brothers. The American Energy Alliance is the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research, and sources told Politico that both groups are funded partly by industrialists Charles and David Koch and their donor network. In all, the brothers’ network is aiming to steer significantly more than $200 million to conservative groups for political advertising and organizing ahead of Election Day.

A conservative think tank with ties to local politicians has been drawn into the controversy over Florida teenager Trayvon Martin's shooting death. The unarmed 17-year-old was killed last month by a neighborhood watch volunteer who is expected to use Florida's “stand your ground” law as his defense. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model legislation for state lawmakers, promoted "stand your ground" laws. A statement issued by ALEC said the law probably is being misapplied in Martin's case: “It does not allow you to pursue another person. It does not allow you to seek confrontation." State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township) is among ALEC's leaders, as CityBeat has previously reported here and here.

Meanwhile, the police reports from the two officers who first responded to the scene of Martin's shooting have been posted online. They reveal what the officers encountered and how shooter George Zimmerman reacted upon being confronted by police.

Newt Gingrich's recent casual attitude toward his supposed presidential campaign might now have an explanation. The Washington Times has revealed that Gingrich secretly met with GOP rival, Mitt Romney, on Saturday. The ex-House Speaker said he has made no deal to end his bid for the Republican nomination, adding he hasn’t been offered a position in a potential Romney administration in exchange for dropping out. Curiouser and curiouser.

The Human Rights Campaign has obtained confidential documents from a prominent anti-gay rights group that indicates its legislative strategy includes trying to divide African-American and gay voters and pit them against one another. The documents, from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), were unsealed this week in a Maine court case. “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies,”the NOM report states. “Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.” Seems like that strategy worked with our local NAACP president, Christopher Smitherman.
<![CDATA[Firefighters Union Endorses Nine]]>

For readers who have been wondering, and there have been a few judging from our emails, here is a list of the endorsements for Cincinnati City Council made by the local firefighters union.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local No. 48 has endorsed a full, nine-member slate for council. The endorsements include five incumbents and four challengers.---

Candidates who received the union's backing were Republicans Leslie Ghiz, Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn, all of whom are incumbents; Democratic incumbents Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young; Democratic challenger P.G. Sittenfeld; Charterite challenger Kevin Flynn; and independent challengers Mike Allen and Christopher Smitherman.

There's no word on whether the candidates selected had to agree to a “no-layoff” pledge, as some candidates allege was the standard used by the local police union.

Also, as expected, the union endorsed a “no” vote on Ohio Issue 2, which supports the repeal of restrictions on collective bargaining rights for public sector labor unions like the IAFF.

<![CDATA[Cracking the FOP's Secrets]]>

As has become the norm during the last few election cycles, Cincinnati's police union is reluctant to publicly reveal its full slate of endorsements, for some strange reason. No matter: CityBeat managed to get this year's information.

Working through multiple sources at different campaigns, we've compiled what we believe to be an all-inclusive list of endorsements made by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Queen City Lodge No. 69.---

The FOP endorsed seven candidates for City Council, only three of whom are incumbents. The incumbents getting the nod are Republicans Leslie Ghiz, Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn.

Also, the police union endorsed challengers Mike Allen, an independent who is a former police officer and county prosecutor; Charterite Kevin Flynn; Christopher Smitherman, president of the NAACP's local chapter; and Democrat Jason Riveiro.

Perhaps the most surprising facts about this list are that the FOP didn't endorse GOP incumbent Wayne Lippert, who's generally toed the same policy line as the other three Republicans; it didn't endorse Cecil Thomas or Wendell Young, two Democratic incumbents who had long careers as Cincinnati police officers before their retirement; and it
did endorse Smitherman, who was a frequent, outspoken critic of the department during his sole previous council term, in 2003-05.

Multiple sources have confirmed that the FOP is using a pledge not to lay off any police officers as its litmus test in deciding on City Council endorsements. It's unclear, however, whether the pledge applies only to the current two-year term being sought (2011-13) or would apply to the entire eight consecutive years that a candidate potentially could serve, if reelected.

To avoid a $33 million deficit next year, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. proposed in August that City Council approve laying off 44 officers. So far, council has been divided on the issue.

Spending in the Police and Fire departments account for 69 percent of the city's General Fund budget. During the past several years, all other city departments have experienced cuts in funding, but the Police and Fire departments have seen their budgets increase.

One council candidate, who interviewed for an endorsement but didn't receive it, said, “It was very apparent in the interview that because I wouldn't commit to never ever laying off a police officer — not just in a two-year term, but for a possible eight-year stretch on council — they weren't going to endorse me.”

That candidate added, “As I told them, I'm running to make sure we don't lose another 10 percent of our population in the next 10 years. But, if we do, do they really want us to become a city that only pays for police officers at the expense of everything else? That's totally unrealistic.”

Still, another candidate who did receive the FOP's endorsement had a different impression. “They didn't asked me to pledge that but I told them that I was not in favor of layoffs,” that person said.

Additionally, Thomas and Young didn't seek the union's endorsement.

“My loyalty is to the city of Cincinnati, not just the Police Department,” Young said during a candidate forum Saturday night at The Greenwich in Walnut Hills. “I have to do what's best for the city as a whole.”

Also, the FOP is recommending a “no” vote on Issue 2, which would repeal the restrictions imposed on the collective-bargaining rights of public sector labor unions.

Further, the union is endorsing incumbents Lisa Allen, Bernie Bouchard, Brad Greenberg, Russell Mock and Fanon Rucker, along with challengers Brian Lee, William Mallory Jr. and Megan Shanahan, in their respective municipal court judicial races.

In related news, the Partnership of Westside Residents PAC — commonly known as POWR-PAC — has decided not to make any endorsements in this year's council elections.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Occupy Cincinnati has changed the location of its first-scheduled occupation, which will take place 11 a.m. Saturday at Lytle Park rather than Sawyer Point, due to a previously scheduled event. (The Revolutionaries are respectful of other organizations' fundraising walks.) The occupation has no scheduled end time. Several unions in New York City have endorsed the protest and plan to join it today. Here's a live stream of Day 19 in NYC.---

City Solicitor John Curp is displeased by COAST attorney Chris Finney's dumb lawsuits against the city, telling The Enquirer that the Laure Quinlivan investigation might cost the city tens of thousands of dollars.

He's trying to jump ahead of the city in looking into this," Curp said. "We're doing everything we can. I don't need Chris looking over my shoulder at the expense of taxpayers.

The Ohio Statehouse has installed six electric car charging stations in its parking garage, the first Capitol building in the nation to do so.

President Obama has signed something called a stopgap bill that will fund the U.S. government through mid-November. Certainly Congress will work everything out by then.

An Iranian graduate student at the University of Texas is on trial in Tehran, after Iranian officials arrested him in the airport after a short visit to the country. Omid Kokabee, 29, is reportedly accused of having relations with a hostile country and receiving illegitimate funds and faces 10 years in prison.

The private sector added more jobs in September than expected, but the government is cutting so many jobs that planned layoffs are the highest they've been in two years. At least we're getting more freedoms from it.

Have you been driving under the influence of alcohol less often since the recession started? You're not the only one. Try to keep it up once you get money again.

Reasons for the decline in alcohol-impaired driving are not well understood, but possible factors include less discretionary driving as a result of the current economic downturn … and possible changes in drinking location to places where driving is not required such as at home.

iPhone fans were disappointed yesterday when the company unveiled an upgraded iPhone 4 called the iPhone 4S rather than giving the nerds a brand new iPhone 5 design. Welcome to the party, Sprint! Good luck getting the phones banned in France and Italy, Samsung!

Keep laying off those cantaloupes. We know they're delicious, but seriously, DO NOT EAT THE CANTALOUPES.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

The Enquirer over the weekend published a thoughtful story on contemporary African-American leaders, noting that it was less than 50 years ago when such discriminated-against individuals were busy working for the not-so-inalienable rights afforded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As per usual, commenters overwhelmed the post-story discussion with blame for affirmative action, black fathers and various demands for a similar story about today's white leaders. (Will this one do?)---

Commenter, “theshern” pretty much summed up Cincinnatians' thoughts on contemporary African-American issues with this well-researched and thoughtful comment:

It's only a problem because the blacks keep the racial issue alive simply for the benefits. Instead of blaming themselves for their problems, it's much more easier to throw the race card.

Those mopes down at The Enquirer also spent some time last week describing how tickled it made them to consider a role-reversal debate over SB5, with Republican city council candidate Mike Allen scheduled to argue against the bill with Jeff Berding, a former Democrat who voted Republican so many times he was unendorsed by the party, arguing for it.

John Kasich last week explained how he believes in unions and believes they have a place. Kasich stopped short of describing the cold and damp corner of hell he had in mind, instead explaining how cool it will be for local governments to save money on public employees' health care and pension costs while he cuts local funding.

Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton will receive $332 million in new construction as part of a military realignment that will reportedly bring 1,200 jobs to Southwest Ohio.

Is a family-owned hunting camp not offensive to you? What if there was racist stuff written on a rock outside of it for many years? Rick Perry has some explaining to do.

The Occupy Wall Street protest has entered its third week after 700 people were arrested during yesterday's march on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Arrested Development star Will Arnett Tweeted that he was in a bathroom peeing with Jason Bateman and that the show will soon film 10 new episodes and a movie. But is it actually going to happen? Netflix hopes it does.

Scientists are freaking out about the new astronomy observatory called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. The lucky ones have taken the first pictures, of the Antennae Galaxies, “a pair of colliding galaxies with dramatically distorted shapes.”

Denmark is the latest European country to institute some type of “fat tax” on foods and drinks that make society less healthy and cost everyone a bunch of money in treatment.

Tiger Woods dropped out of the world's top 50 golfer ranking. Poor guy.

<![CDATA[Council's S.B. 5 Vote Rescheduled]]>

Cincinnati City Council's long-delayed vote on a resolution opposing Ohio Senate Bill No. 5 has been delayed again, this time at the request of the member who introduced it.---

Council's Budget and Finance Committee was scheduled to vote on the resolution this Monday, April 18. But Councilman Wendell Young, who introduced it on March 2, asked that the meeting be cancelled. It will now be voted on at a special committee meeting on April 25.

S.B. No. 5 -- which was signed into law March 31 -- limits collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions including police and firefighters. Although it allows bargaining for wages, hours and other conditions of employment, it prohibits bargaining for health-care benefits, pension matters, privatization of services and workforce levels.

<![CDATA[Qualls Opposes S.B. 5, But...]]>

This week's issue of CityBeat features a lengthy letter to the editor by Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls explaining why she opposes Ohio Senate Bill No. 5, which limited collective bargaining rights for public-sector labor unions including police and firefighters.---

Qualls wrote the letter for CityBeat after we asked about her position on S.B. No. 5, amid rumors she might support it — which would place her at odds with her fellow Democrats. Rather than comment for a column, Qualls asked for space so she could more fully explain her views to the public.

In essence, while she doesn't like the binding arbitration process used in labor negotiations with police and firefighter unions, she supports collective bargaining and, thus, opposes the bill.

Also, Qualls announces in the letter that she will no longer accept public-sector union endorsements or contributions to her political campaigns. It's widely believed by many people -- but not confirmed -- that Qualls will run for mayor in 2013.

The bill was approved in amended form by the Ohio House on March 30; it was initially approved by the Ohio Senate on March 2. Gov. John Kasich signed the bill into law March 31. It will take effect July 1, unless enough valid signatures are filed to force a referendum on the November ballot, which is highly likely.

The version approved allows collective bargaining for wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. It prohibits bargaining for health-care benefits, pension matters, privatization of services and workforce levels, among other items.

Rumors about Qualls' stance on Senate Bill No. 5 began after she delayed a vote on a resolution that would've placed Cincinnati City Council on record in opposition. It was introduced March 2 by Councilmen Wendell Young and Cecil Thomas, also Democrats, and referred to council's Budget and Finance Committee, which is chaired by Qualls.

But Qualls didn't place it on the committee's agenda for the subsequent three meetings, prompting concern by some supporters.

Young, who testified in Columbus against Senate Bill No. 5, said he's satisfied the resolution is being handled appropriately.

I have consistently asked for a vote on it, but I completely respect the chair's decision not to put it on, for whatever reason,” Young said. “To me, a resolution like this isn't 'urgent city business,' but it is a critical symbolic gesture to our employees and our citizens. We are saying that we respect the rights of workers in our city, and that we, as a government, believe that we should always be acting in good faith with good intentions.

I have no idea if that kind of stance would influence any state legislator, but it's important to me that we declare our intentions as a city,” he added. “It's still my hope that we will vote on this item at some point in the near future.”

The resolution now is scheduled for a vote April 18.

<![CDATA[Transit Workers OK New Contract]]>

A labor impasse between managers of Greater Cincinnati's Metro bus system and its transit workers appears to be near an end.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 627 voted Tuesday to accept a new three-year labor contract with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). The final tally was 409-49.---

SORTA's board of trustees will meet Friday, and is likely to approve the pact then,

Roughly 676 Metro bus drivers, mechanics, and operational support employees are covered by the new contract, which establishes wages, benefits and work rules.

Employees had been working under the terms of the previous contract, which expired Jan. 31, while negotiations continued.

Under the new contract, workers will receive a lump-sum payment of $500 this year, in addition to their salaries. Also, they will receive a 1 percent wage increase four times during the next three years, in February 2012, August 2012, February 2013 and August 2013.

Additionally, SORTA will provide three health-care insurance plans to employees, and they can choose which one best fits their needs. The plans are a high-deductible plan with $2,000 single/$4,000 family deductibles; a high-deductible health plan with $1,500 single/$3,000 family deductibles; and a PPO plan.

The union's vote ends negotiations that began in December and that hit a snag on Feb. 1, when SORTA trustees rejected the recommendations in a state fact-finder's report.

"Both union and management have struggled with how to give our employees a fair, competitive package while remaining fiscally responsible in these lean budget times, said Terry Garcia Crews, Metro's CEO & general manager, in a prepared statement. “This contract meets the needs of employees and the taxpayers who fund our service and can be accommodated within our 2011 budget."

Mark Bennett, ATU Local 627's president, indicated union leaders worked hard to avoid a strike.

“Wages and health insurance costs were the major issues for us,” Bennett said in a prepared statement. “ATU recognizes the importance of transit to the community, and we stayed at the bargaining table to hammer out an agreement that would provide good wages and benefits for our employees while recognizing Metro's budget constraints.”

Metro provides about 19 million passenger trips annually, or about 57,000 to 60,000 trips daily. Also, the agency has a contract with Cincinnati Public Schools, and provides about 7,000 trips for the district each day.

SORTA is an independent agency, but any fare increase requires City Council's approval because about half of Metro's $84 million annual budget comes from a portion of the city's earnings tax. Also, Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials each appoint members to SORTA's board of trustees.

<![CDATA[Wisconsin Governor Fooled in Prank Phone Call]]>

In this week’s Porkopolis column, Kevin Osborne writes about the coordinated effort by newly elected Tea Party-backed Republican governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich to use the looming budget crises as a reason take away labor unions’ ability to collectively bargain, with the ultimate goal of busting unions altogether. ---

It’s just another example of Big Business’ effort to squeeze the middle class even further and generate every last penny of profit it can muster.

Osborne writes about the real proponents (by way of large campaign contributions to many of the governors in question) behind this coordinated union-busting strategy: “As first revealed by Mother Jones magazine, the anti-union efforts are being bankrolled by the notorious Koch brothers, the real-world equivalent of Lex Luthor. The billionaire brothers, David and Charles, control Koch Industries, an energy conglomerate that is the second-largest privately owned company in the United States.”

A muckraking Web site called the Buffalo Beast all but confirmed Walker’s blind allegiance to the Kochs, as the site’s editor Ian Murphy posed as David Koch and was able to trick the embattled Wisconsin governor in an extended phone conversation that touched on a variety of Tea Party-friendly topics. The apparently clueless Walker admitted in the call that he talks about the coordinated union-busting effort with other governors, including Kasich. “I talk to John (Kasich) every day,” Walker said.

Here’s parts one and two of the 20-minute conversation.

How the damning call will impact the situation in Wisconsin — and ultimately every state dealing with the union-busting issue — remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: The American public should know the real reason/people behind these assaults on unions.

<![CDATA[Bus Workers Threaten to Strike]]>

Now that the agency that operates Cincinnati's Metro bus system has rejected a state fact-finder's recommendations about a labor contract with its workers, the union says it might go on strike.

The board that governs the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) voted 11-1 Tuesday to reject the fact-finder's recommendations, calling them too expensive and vague. The agency's contract with its 676 bus drivers, maintenance and support employees expired a day earlier, although that agreement remains in effect until a new deal is reached.---

A fact-finder with the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) made several recommendations related to a proposed three-year labor contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627. They included wage increases of 2 percent annually, totaling nearly $5 million during the three-year contract's duration.

That was a compromise between the union's and SORTA's positions. The union had sought 4 percent raises annually, while SORTA wanted no raises in the contract's first two years, and a 2 percent raise in the third year.

Also, SORTA said the fact-finder didn't offer enough clarification about a dispute over its health insurance plan and how much employees should pay.

The union had sought no changes in its coverage; SORTA offered three different options for employees. Under one option, the employee's share of the total premium would increase 2 percent during each year of the contract. Also, the agency offered a different plan and a PPO-style plan.

“Over the past four months, Local 627 spent a significant amount of time negotiating in good faith with SORTA in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement,” said Mark Bennett, the union's president, in a prepared statement. “However, during bargaining and prior to the expiration of our contract, SORTA unilaterally and unlawfully changed our members' health insurance coverage.”

As a result, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against SORTA with the state. In turn, SERB assigned a fact-finder to mediate the dispute, in an effort to avoid litigation. SORTA refused to participate in the mediation process, so a hearing was held so both sides could make its case.

“Importantly, the neutral fact-finder closely reviewed and analyzed SORTA's finances and determined that SORTA, despite its claims to the union, was financially healthy,” Bennett said. “Furthermore, the fact-finder determined that the transit system should not be financed on the backs of our members by imposing cuts to employee benefits and salaries.”

SORTA representatives reply that the lack of clarification on the health insurance plan could prove too costly. If the highest-cost interpretation of the health insurance provision was used, the agency's cost would exceed $2.6 million in 2011 and increase to $6.3 million in 2013, a spokeswoman said.

In actuality, the fact-finder didn't make a strict determination about SORTA's financial health, as the union claimed. But it also provided some clarity about how to proceed with the health coverage, unlike what SORTA officials had claimed.

“The Authority's premiums have increased by 27 percent and the employees should not be expected to absorb the entire amount,” the fact-finder's report stated. “(An employee) stated the Authority saved 27.08 percent of their cost when the Authority changed insurance coverage.

“I recommend the employee will pay a percentage of their base hourly wage rate (based upon 2080 hours)," the report continued. "Pay 2 percent of base hourly rate in 2011 and 2012 with an increase to 2.5 percent of their base hourly rate in 2013. As to the opt out amounts, they are to be $350 per month for single and $550 per month for family.”

The union is keeping all options available for how to handle the impasse.

“Local 627 is prepared to do what it takes to avoid a system shutdown,” Bennett said. “However, if SORTA continues to maintain its rigid position, then the progress toward achieving a peaceful resolution seems unlikely. In view of SORTA's blatant unfair labor practices, if the need arises, Local 627 is prepared to engage in job action to protect its members' legal rights. While we sincerely hope that such action will be unnecessary, until SORTA agrees to comply with law, there may be no other alternative.”

Under labor laws, SORTA can impose a “final and best offer” to the union. In turn, the union may give a 10-day notice to strike.

<![CDATA[Metro Rejects Fact-finder's Report]]>

Trustees who oversee Cincinnati's Metro bus system voted today to reject a state fact-finder's recommendations for a new labor contract.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) said the fact-finder's recommendations were too expensive and vague. The agency's contract with its 676 bus drivers, maintenance and support employees expired Monday.---

Workers will continue to operate under terms of the previous contract while the dispute is ongoing. SORTA officials say they hope to resume negotiations.

A fact-finder with the State Employment Relations Board (SERB) made several recommendations related to a new three-year labor contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627.

The recommendations included wage increases of 2 percent annually, totaling nearly $5 million during the three-year contract's duration. Also, the fact-finder didn't address whether the health insurance plan's design and whether money should be deposited into employee health savings accounts.

As a result, SORTA trustees said there was too much leeway for interpretation. For example, if the highest-cost interpretation of the health insurance provision was used, the agency's cost would exceed $2.6 million in 2011 and increase to $6.3 million in 2013.

To fully fund the SERB fact-finder's recommendations, Metro would have to make emergency budget cuts including the elimination of all Sunday bus service and a 38 percent reduction in Saturday bus service, beginning in June. This would've meant 44 bus drivers and 13 mechanics would lose their jobs, along with several administrative positions.

The service reduction would've resulted in providing 1 million fewer rides to customers during the last seven months of the year, a price that was too high, trustees said.

“Our objective is to preserve service for our customers and jobs for our employees” said Sean Rugless, SORTA's board chairman, in a prepared statement. “The fact finder’s recommendation would have jeopardized SORTA’s financial stability and put both service and jobs at risk.”

In December, Cincinnati City Council reduced funding to SORTA, creating an estimated $1 million budget deficit for this year. Combined with the fact-finder’s recommendations, SORTA would face a growing deficit in its operating and capital budgets in 2012, culminating in a $47 million deficit by 2013.

Cincinnati voters approved a measure in 1972 that allocates three-tenths of 1 percent of earnings tax revenues for transit purposes, but City Council plans on taking some of that revenue this year to help pay utility bills for street lights.

SORTA is an independent agency, but any fare increase requires City Council's approval because about half of Metro's $84 million annual budget comes from a portion of the city's earnings tax. Also, Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials each appoint members to SORTA's board of trustees.

<![CDATA[Ohio Gets New Election Rules]]>

In an effort to promote greater transparency about who makes campaign contributions, outgoing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner today unveiled a new set of election rules.

The rules, which were approved by the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, is aimed at offsetting some of the impact of the Citizens United ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. In the landmark 5-4 decision, the court overturned a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.---

Brunner calls Ohio's new rules “truth serum,” which will help voters learn “vital information” about who's funding campaigns.

Under the rules:

** Corporations, nonprofit groups and labor unions must identify the ads they've paid for and disclose how much they've spent in independent campaign expenditures;

** Corporations, nonprofit groups and labor unions must include their Internet Web addresses so voters can learn more about them. If the information isn't included, media outlets can't use the ads;

** Corporations, nonprofit groups and labor unions must disclose that their ads haven't been authorized by a candidate or committee;

** Independent campaign expenditures by corporations and businesses owned 20 percent or more by foreign citizens are prohibited;

** Corporations, individuals and businesses that were awarded state or federal money through Ohio government are prohibited from making independent campaign expenditures within 12 months of the award;

** If the rules are violated, the Ohio Secretary of State will have the authority to investigate and refer complaints to the Ohio Elections Commission.

"Even though we can't change Citizens United in Ohio, we can apply 'truth serum' to make sure citizens' voices remain strong despite its effects," Brunner said in a prepared statement.

"We have more tools available for us to speak and fight for what we believe in as citizens in the most unique democracy in the world," she added. "We can read and learn-and we can advocate."

Brunner, who didn't seek reelection, leaves office next week. She will be replaced by Republican Jon Husted.

<![CDATA[Someone at City Hall Can't Read]]>

It's the 1980s and '90s all over again in Cincinnati.

In a blatant attempt to do an end-run around the mayor, four members of Cincinnati City Council met with The Enquirer's editorial board today to unveil a budget-cutting plan that includes merging the city's Police Department with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

The council faction hadn't discussed the far-reaching concept previously with Mayor Mark Mallory or City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. but had held discussions with Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. about the idea.---

Mallory and Dohoney received letters from Leis about the concept this morning, about the same time that the council faction was pitching the idea to The Enquirer.

“I have been contacted by representatives of the city of Cincinnati seeking information about the feasibility of contracting police services with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office,” Leis wrote. “After careful consideration ... I am thoroughly convinced that a single agency providing law enforcement service to both the city and county would significantly improve the quality of service at a greatly reduced overall cost.”

The council faction pitching the idea is composed of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman Wendell Young, both Democrats; Councilman Jeff Berding, an independent; and Councilman Chris Bortz, a Charterite.

Mallory wasted no time in shooting down the idea, replying in a letter to Leis shortly afterward.

“I am entirely opposed to disbanding the Cincinnati Police Department,” Mallory wrote. “While federal, state, county and city governments across the country are facing serious, short-term budget deficits due to the world economy, I will not entertain using those problems as an excuse to abdicate our most important duty as a city.”

Later, Mallory used blunt language to describe what he believes is the proposal's true motivation.

“I have worked hard with the Fraternal Order of Police, Queen City Lodge No. 69, to pass budgets that have prevented police layoffs in the last two years,” Mallory wrote. “The proposal by representatives of the city to privately contract police services is a brazen and shameless attempt at union-busting, and I will never support it.”

The council faction's proposal comes just days after it asked the city's police and fire unions for $20 million in concessions to help avoid a deficit in 2011-12.

Oddly, City Council just approved the latest contracts with the unions not long ago; the firefighters' two-year contract was approved in October, while the police union's three-year contract was approved in 2009.

The latest police union contract went to fact-finding in February 2009 and the fact-finder's recommendations were issued on April 23, 2009. The administration recommended that City Council allow the recommendations to take effect without any formal action, and council did so.

The most recent firefighter union negotiations also went to fact-finding, with a fact-finding report issued on Oct. 22, 2010. The administration also recommended City Council let the recommendations take effect without formal action, which the council did.

Apparently, Qualls, Berding and Bortz have short memories.

To avoid a $62 million deficit during the next two years, Dohoney has proposed numerous cuts at City Hall, including laying off 144 firefighters and 131 police officers. Overall, 390 full- and part-time employees would be laid off throughout municipal government.

When Qualls and Berding asked the police and fire unions for concessions on Monday, they gave them until today for a response. The faction is seeking $10.3 million in concessions from firefighters and $9.2 million from police.

Specifically, they are asking the unions to give up certain payments and bonuses allowed in their contracts including ones for longevity, shift differential, overtime, tuition reimbursement, uniform allowances and for “working out of class,” which means filling in for a position a person normally doesn't work, as well as “across the board salary reductions.”

The deadline for the unions' reply is 8 p.m. today. City Council plans on approving a budget on Dec. 21.

So, are Qualls and company serious about a merger or are they merely striking a public pose to pressure the unions? Who knows, but two things are clear.

First, the time to seek concessions from the unions is during contract negotiations. Under Ohio law, police officers and firefighters are prohibited from going on strike. Instead, any contract disputes must be settled by binding arbitration.

The city has had budget problems for years and deficits are par for the course, so it's not a surprise that cuts must be made. It's disingenuous for Qualls and company to have approved the labor union contracts, then seek changes later.

It's worth noting that the one council member who dared raise these issues ahead of time — Democrat Greg Harris — was defeated in the 2009 elections after being targeted by the unions. Harris' position showed political courage and leadership, and his stance might have prevailed if his cowardly colleagues had stood in unison back then.

Secondly, the overture to Leis might have violated Cincinnati's charter. Under charter changes made in 1999 that took effect in 2001, the mayor is the city's official representative in deal-making with other jurisdictions.

The document reads: “The mayor shall be recognized as the official head and representative of the city for all purposes, except as provided otherwise in this charter.”

When groups were campaigning for the charter change in the late '90s, they said it was needed because City Council had “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” In other words, the previous system — in which the mayor was also a council member and appointed by his peers — led to members constantly jockeying for position and undercutting each other.

Among the supporters back then for converting to the direct election of a more powerful mayor were Qualls, Berding and Bortz.

Yet another example of cynical politicians stating, “Do as we say, not as we do.”

<![CDATA[The Great FOP Swindle]]>

Once upon a time, there was a mockumentary made about the Punk band, the Sex Pistols. Filmed some 30 years ago, The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle parodied the cliches of the music industry by charting the creation, rise and breakup of the group.

Now, the leader of Cincinnati's police union has formed a similarly titled group on Facebook, called Citizens Against Streetcar Swindle (CASS).---

The Facebook page created by Kathy Harrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge No. 69, lists an unspecified “public event” that will occur from midnight to 3 a.m. on Nov. 30.

Presumably, Harrell — an ex-West Side beat cop — actually meant noon to 3 p.m., probably for a protest timed to coincide with Cincinnati City Council's budget and finance committee, which will hold a meeting at 1 p.m. that day. Accuracy has never been the union's forte.

Harrell invited 403 people to the mysterious event. So far, nine have said they will attend, 12 have declined and 382 haven't responded.

Harrell is upset about the city manager's request to have the police chief cut $16 million from the Police Department's budget in the 2011-12 period, as part of reductions throughout municipal government to avoid a $60 million deficit. Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. has offered up only $10 million in cuts, which he says can be accomplished only by laying off 144 officers and demoting 160 others.

Although City Council hasn't said whether it will accept the chief's proposal, that would put the department's complement of sworn officers at 956 cops — or 41 positions below the level that Streicher once said was sufficient (997) for a city of Cincinnati's size.

Typically, Harrell opposes any layoffs. She is especially distressed by the city's plan to create a $128 million streetcar system in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Although much of the construction funding is derived from federal and state transportation grants, Harrell opposes a council directive to allocate up to 25 percent of revenues generated by a planned Cincinnati casino — estimated at up to $5 million annually — to operate the system.

The group's motto is, "POLICE CARS, NOT STREETCARS!!!!!" (sic)

Instead, Harrell wants those revenues to help pay officers' salaries and stop any layoffs.

Budget planners have called that a bad idea because the revenues only are estimated at this point, and could fluctuate widely from year to year. As a result, the revenues aren't a stable funding source and could prompt yearly budget crises.

Of the local funding portion used to construct the streetcar system, that amount comes from the city's capital projects fund, which would be legally difficult, if not impossible, to use to pay for the salaries of any municipal employees.

As a person correctly pointed out on the CASS page:

“The sources of funding for the city’s General Capital budget include a dedicated portion of city’s Income Tax (0.15% of the 2.1%), a dedicated portion of the city’s Property Tax (5.36 mills out of 9.89 mills), and lease payments from the city-owned Southern Railway. All of these sources are restricted by city charter and/or state law to be used for 'permanent improvement' purposes. A permanent improvement is defined as an asset with a useful life of at least five years and a value of at least $10,000. The city cannot by law use the funds from the General Capital budget to pay for operating expenses such as police officer salaries.”

Meanwhile, another poster on the Facebook page had a bit of fun with Harrell's apparent faux pas involving the event's timing.

What exactly is CASS going to do on Nov. 30 from 12-3 a.m.? Play Farmville?”

<![CDATA[Court Document: Chiquita Willingly Paid Terrorists]]> A statement given to the Colombian government by an ex-paramilitary leader could mean trouble for Chiquita Brands International as it tries to fight lawsuits about the firm’s payments to terrorist groups.

The statement — which was recently entered into the court record in the lawsuits — alleges the terrorist group had an "an open public relationship" with Chiquita in which it provided security services, as well as kidnapping and assassinating labor union leaders that caused problems for the company.---

Jose Gregorio Mangones Lugo provided the statement to a Colombian tribunal that allows former terrorists to get reduced jail time for confessing to all of their crimes, according to an article on the AlterNet Web site.

Lugo is an ex-commander of the William Rivas Front of the United Defense Forces (AUC), a right-wing group that operated in the area where Chiquita and its suppliers grew bananas.

Lugo’s statement contradicts the claims made by Chiquita executives, who said the company was extorted by AUC into making the payments in order to keep its employees safe.

In March 2007, Cincinnati-based Chiquita pleaded guilty to paying AUC more than $1.7 million during a six-year period, from 1997-2004. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Chiquita will pay a $25 million criminal fine over five years.

The U.S. Justice Department lists about 50 payments made by Chiquita after the U.S. State Department designated the AUC as a terrorist organization in 2001. Despite warnings from their lawyers, Chiquita made at least 19 of the payments after the company voluntarily disclosed the payments to Justice Department officials in April 2003.

Human rights groups have said the payments led to the murders of thousands of peasants and workers in the region, including four U.S. missionaries.

In lawsuits filed in federal court in Florida, several families of people killed by the paramilitary groups are seeking compensation from Chiquita, and some shareholders are alleging breach of fiduciary duty by company executives connected to the payments.

The AlterNet article states that Lugo and other witnesses have said, ‘the AUC was originally hired by the companies to drive the leftist FARC guerillas out of the banana-growing region and protect their plantations from ‘the gangs of common delinquents that robbed their supplies and equipment.’

“Once the FARC was vanquished and order restored, the banana companies continued to pay the AUC to ‘pacify’ their work force, suppress the labor unions and terrorize peasant squatters seeking their own competing land claims,” it continues.

Read AlterNet’s full story here.

In 1998, The Cincinnati Enquirer published an 18-page special section about its investigation into Chiquita’s business practices. Articles alleged the company allowed cocaine smuggling on its ships and knowingly sprayed workers with hazardous pesticides, among other allegations.

After Chiquita learned that at least one reporter illegally accessed the company’s voice mail system to obtain information, the firm threatened to sue The Enquirer. Shortly thereafter, the newspaper published a front-page apology for three consecutive days and removed the Chiquita material from its Web site. Also, the newspaper paid $14 million to Chiquita in a secret settlement uncovered by Editor & Publisher magazine.

At the time of the dispute, billionaire financier Carl Lindner Jr. was Chiquita’s CEO. Lindner is also founder of the United Dairy Farmers convenience store chain, ex-CEO of the Cincinnati Reds and a top contributor to the Republican Party.

<![CDATA[Reform Supporters Protest Local Grocery]]> A coalition of 40 tri-state churches is joining forces with a local labor union to stage a protest today at the Whole Foods Market in Norwood.

The AMOS Project and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 75 will meet at 6 p.m. at the Whole Foods store. Their action is part of a nationwide effort to oppose a recent editorial written by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote in The Wall Street Journal.---

In the article, Mackey opposed President Obama’s proposed health care reform plan and instead recommended private-sector solutions like tax credits. Also, he recommended abolishing regulations that require private insurance companies to offer coverage to certain populations.

Perhaps Mackey’s most controversial assertion was that health care is not a guaranteed right for U.S. citizens.

It read, “While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter? Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges."

During the next few weeks, The AMOS Project and the union also will distribute information to shoppers about what they described as inaccuracies in Mackey’s editorial.

“Health care reform in this country needs to bring all people in. This will happen if reform includes choices between private and public health insurance plans, increases affordability for all families, and makes insurance companies play fair, as outlined in the current proposals,” said the Rev. Gregory Chandler, AMOS Project president.

“Health savings accounts, like those proposed by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, only leave people struggling on their own and without many options,” Chandler added.

The local Whole Foods store is located at 2693 Edmondson Road, near the Rookwood Commons shopping center.

Whole Foods is the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods, and is the 10th largest food and drug store chain nationwide. It reported $1.8 billion in sales for its most recent quarter.