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web posted July 22, 2002

Unions struck a blow in ruling regarding federal bids

A U.S. federal appeals court last week upheld an executive order by President Bush that bans favoritism for union bids in federal contract awards.

"We conclude that the president acted within his constitutional authority in issuing Executive Order No. 13,202 and that the executive order expresses a proprietary policy that is not subject to pre-emption by the [National Labor Relations Act]," wrote a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The decision overturned a November 2001 lower court ruling that said the ban on union-only contracts, or project labor agreements, defied labor laws enacted by Congress.

Edward C. Sullivan, president of the The Building and Construction Trades Department of the national AFL-CIO, the primary plaintiff in the case, called the decision a major setback for "hundreds of thousands" of unionized workers across the country and another example of Bush using his authority to advance his political agenda at the expense of working people.

"The court's decision grants the president permission to promote his own labor agenda by overriding state and local decisions about how to conduct their construction projects," said Sullivan.

"The decision, moreover, minimizes the rights of hundreds of thousands of construction workers by giving the president license to disregard the labor laws on federally financed projects," he added.

But a number of independent labor groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Right to Work Foundation were quick to champion the decision on July 12.

"President Bush's common sense executive order helps to ensure open competition in the U.S. construction industry," said Ken Adams, chairman of the American Builder's Association, which claims that one in five U.S. construction workers do not belong to a union.

"It's just a travesty — it's racketeering, the whole thing, and it's time it ended," said John Upshaw, executive director of the Independent Roofing Contractors Association, which had filed a brief in support of the Bush administration's case. Upshaw's group represents about 80 commercial contractors in California, where the unions have a lot of political sway, but where only 15 percent of construction workers belong to a union.

President Clinton originally signed the executive order that required union-only contracts in federally funded construction project bids. Bush repealed that order in February 2001, reinstating an order signed by his father, President George H.W. Bush, over a decade earlier.

Proponents of union-only contracts have long held that union agreements ensure higher wages, benefits and safety for workers. On the contrary, opponents say that unions don't necessarily pay or protect workers more, they just drive up the cost of projects by holding a monopoly on bids and keeping the majority of available contractors out of the process.

"It just wasn't fair," said Craig Silvertooth, federal affairs director for the National Roofing Contractors Association, which represents about 5,000 roofing companies and manufacturers, about 80 percent of which are non-union.

Sullivan said the AFL-CIO plans to appeal the decision.

"The Building Trades are bitterly disappointed by this decision and we are considering our legal options, including the possibility of appealing to the Supreme Court of the United States," he said.

Schwarzenegger eyes governor's job

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he may yet run for governor of California.

Schwarzenegger, left, sits with Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, center, and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as he addresses a breakfast meeting at the Republican Governor's Association annual meeting.
Schwarzenegger, left, sits with Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, center, and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as he addresses a breakfast meeting at the Republican Governor's Association annual meeting.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican activist, spoke July 15 to a breakfast meeting of about 15 Republican state governors attending the National Governors Association conference.

The 54-year-old said he mulled a challenge against California Democratic Gov. Gray Davis this past year, but eventually declined because of his movie contracts.

"It's something that I'm still interested in (for) the future. I think that the greatest thing you can do is serve the people," Schwarzenegger said.

"It gives me the greatest satisfaction -- much more than going down another red carpet to do a movie premiere -- to go and create after-school programs, help special Olympians, inspire kids to stay away from drugs and gangs."

Schwarzenegger said he is now filming Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, True Lies 2 and another movie.

In a brief meeting with reporters, Schwarzenegger said he could imagine himself as California's governor, helping millions of people with their personal challenges.

"What a great feeling to go to bed every night and say, 'Look how many people I helped today.' That would be fantastic -- very satisfying," he said.

US planning to recruit one in 24 Americans as citizen spies

The Bush Administration aims to recruit millions of United States citizens as domestic informants in a program likely to alarm civil liberties groups.

The Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or TIPS, means the US will have a higher percentage of citizen informants than the former East Germany through the infamous Stasi secret police. The program would use a minimum of 4 per cent of Americans to report "suspicious activity".

Civil liberties groups have already warned that, with the passage earlier this year of the Patriot Act, there is potential for abusive, large-scale investigations of US citizens.

As with the Patriot Act, TIPS is being pursued as part of the so-called war against terrorism. It is a Department of Justice project.

Highlighting the scope of the surveillance network, TIPS volunteers are being recruited primarily from among those whose work provides access to homes, businesses or transport systems. Letter carriers, utility employees, truck drivers and train conductors are among those named as targeted recruits.

A pilot program, described on the government Web site www.citizencorps.gov, is scheduled to start next month in 10 cities, with 1 million informants participating in the first stage. Assuming the program is initiated in the 10 largest US cities, that will be 1 million informants for a total population of almost 24 million, or one in 24 people.

Historically, informant systems have been the tools of non-democratic states. According to a 1992 report by Harvard University's Project on Justice, the accuracy of informant reports is problematic, with some informants having embellished the truth, and others suspected of having fabricated their reports.

Present Justice Department procedures mean that informant reports will enter databases for future reference and/or action. The information will then be broadly available within the department, related agencies and local police forces. The targeted individual will remain unaware of the existence of the report and of its contents.

The Patriot Act already provides for a person's home to be searched without that person being informed that a search was ever performed, or of any surveillance devices that were implanted.

At state and local levels the TIPS program will be co-ordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which

was given sweeping new powers, including internment, as part of the Reagan Administration's national security initiatives. Many key figures of the Reagan era are part of the Bush Administration.

The creation of a US "shadow government", operating in secret, was another Reagan national security initiative.

House bill prohibits national ID card, citizen spy program

President George W. Bush's plan for uniform national driver license standards would be killed and a year-end deadline for anti-terrorism screening of airport baggage would be postponed indefinitely under legislation unveiled July 18 by House Republican leaders.

The fine print of the 216-page bill creating a new Homeland Security Department, sponsored by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, would also scrap a Bush administration program that critics say encourages Americans to spy on each other and would give some technology companies involved in national security immunity from lawsuits.

The House Select Committee on Homeland Security is likely to alter the measure when it is considered to day, as is the full House when the bill reaches the floor next week. Overall, the bill would give Bush much of the huge new Cabinet agency he requested to safeguard Americans from terrorism at home.
The Senate has finished hearings on a new department but is not expected to take up the issue for a few weeks. A spokeswoman for the chief Senate author, Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, said his version would also include most of Bush's major priorities.

Armey, R-Texas, included some surprising items in the House measure, some of which run directly counter to proposals Bush has made and were never recommended by any House committees. The proposal to delay indefinitely the Dec. 31 deadline for all checked airline bags to be screened for explosives drew immediate fire from Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

"Now, you have a proposal that already undermines security," Oberstar said. "How can you establish a Homeland Security Department and undermine security by giving this open-ended extension?"

In a letter to colleagues, Oberstar said the new Transportation Security Administration -- which would become part of Homeland Security under Armey's bill -- has repeatedly assured Congress it can meet the deadline. Airports have been pressing for a temporary delay, even though they can individually get one if they cannot meet the deadline.

On the privacy issues, Bush proposed in his homeland security strategy that states be encouraged to develop uniform rules for issuing driver licenses as an anti-terrorism measure. To many conservatives and civil libertarians, that sounded too much like a national identification card that the government could use to track Americans.

Armey flatly rejected that notion, saying, "Authority to design and issue these cards shall remain with the states."

The bill also includes language that would prohibit programs such as the Justice Department's Operation TIPS. Supporters say the initiative is aimed at encouraging people with certain jobs -- those that take them into neighborhoods, along coasts and on public transit -- to watch for suspicious activity.

But Rachel King, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it could "turn local cable or gas or electrical technicians into government-sanctioned peeping toms." Republicans also criticized the idea as smacking of a government Big Brother.

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