DukeEmployees.com - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
News - November 2000
every form of tyranny over the mind of man." - Thomas Jefferson
The New York Times - November 30, 2000
A federal judge has ordered John Hancock Financial Services to pay millions of dollars in damages to a Unisys pension plan after finding that Hancock, the big Boston insurer, used some of the retirement money for its own benefit without regard to the pension plan's rights.
Judge Denny Chin of United States District Court in Manhattan found Hancock's conduct so egregious that, he wrote at the end of his 48-page opinion, he will remove Hancock as a trustee of the Unisys pension funds in December. This will allow Unisys to withdraw millions of dollars from its annuity contract with Hancock and invest it elsewhere.
Judge Chin awarded the pension plan $19.5 million for lost investment opportunity and for violation of pension rules against self-dealing.
With interest, the judgment will total about $65 million plus lawyers' fees, said Ann V. Kramer, a litigator at Anderson Kill & Olick, which represented Harris Trust and Savings Bank, which was the trustee for the pension plan when the lawsuit began in 1983.
Hancock said it would appeal.
The benefits that workers at Sperry, which became Unisys in 1986, received were not affected because Hancock handled only some of the plan assets.
Judge Chin's decision was issued last Wednesday, 17 years after Hancock was sued, but became widely known only yesterday.
Hancock insisted that it had no duty of loyalty to put the interests of the pension plan ahead of its own in regard to at least $22 million of what were known as free funds.
Before the case could be tried, the loyalty issue was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled 6 to 3 that Hancock owed a duty of loyalty. The insurance industry then began a lobbying campaign aimed at effectively undoing the decision by rewriting the law. Congress obliged in 1996, but did not touch the Unisys lawsuit.
"Congress basically gave the insurance industry a pass on these kinds of lawsuits," said Marc Machiz, a Washington pension lawyer who represented the Labor Department in the Supreme Court case. The case Judge Chin decided had its beginning in a 1941 decision by Sperry to buy an annuity contract that earned interest at 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent annually. If Hancock generated a higher interest rate, the extra money was credited to the Sperry plan, but was called "free funds" and was part of Hancock's general investment account, court records show.
In 1977, 1979 and 1981, the Sperry Retirement Committee withdrew $12 million of these "free funds" to invest elsewhere, earning as much as 25 percent interest, Ms. Kramer said.
In 1982, Sperry asked to withdraw $4 million and was refused. Hancock was then sued.
During the trial three years ago, Barry Shemin, Hancock's chief actuary, was asked whether $4 million was significant to a company as large as Hancock. Mr. Shemin, noting that the company was deluged with requests for withdrawals during an era of high interest rates, testified that "if you are trying to make a significant dent in a cash-flow problem, you don't necessarily only take one large action." "You might also take a series of smaller actions," he said.
Judge Chin observed that "every little bit helps."
To which Mr. Shemin replied, "Right, exactly."
Judge Chin focused on that admission, saying that "Hancock refused to return the plan assets because of its cash-flow problems" without considering its duty to the pension plan.
He also found that Hancock used these assets as a cookie jar for its own benefit. "In making investment and allocation decisions, Hancock repeatedly placed its own interests ahead of the interests of the plan and plan participants and beneficiaries," the judge wrote. "Hancock invested plan assets in its own home office properties and charged itself below- market rents."
The New York Times - November 29, 2000
Amazon.com has come out swinging in its fight to stop a new unionization drive, telling employees that unions are a greedy, for-profit business and advising managers on ways to detect when a group of workers is trying to back a union.
A section on Amazon's internal Web site gives supervisors antiunion material to pass on to employees, saying that unions mean strife and possible strikes and that while unions are certain to charge expensive dues, they cannot guarantee improved wages or benefits.
The Web site advises managers on warning signs that a union is trying to organize. Among the signs that Amazon notes are "hushed conversations when you approach which have not occurred before," and "small group huddles breaking up in silence on the approach of the supervisor."
Other warning signs, according to the site, are an increase in complaints, a decrease in quality of work, growing aggressiveness and dawdling in the lunchroom and restrooms.
Amazon, one of the leaders in electronic retailing, has stepped up its antiunion activities the last week after two unions and an independent organizing group announced plans to speed efforts to unionize Amazon during the holiday e-shopping rush. The organizing drive is the most ambitious one ever undertaken in the high- technology sector, where the nation's labor movement has yet to establish a foothold.
The Communications Workers of America has undertaken a campaign to unionize 400 customer-service representatives in Seattle, where Amazon is based. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Prewitt Organizing Fund, an independent organizing group, are seeking to unionize some 5,000 workers at Amazon's eight distribution centers across the country. The unionization drive has gained momentum because many workers are upset about layoffs at Amazon last January and about the sharp drop in the value of their stock options.
One chapter on Amazon's internal Web site, which provides a rare internal glimpse at how a company is fighting off a union, is headlined, "Reasons a Union is Not Desirable."
"Unions actively foster distrust toward supervisors," the Web site says. "They also create an uncooperative attitude among associates by leading them to think they are `untouchable' with a union."
The Web site, which calls the company's workers associates, adds: "Unions limit associate incentives. Merit increases are contrary to union philosophy."
A union supporter who insisted on anonymity and acknowledged seeking to embarrass the company over its antiunion campaign made a copy of the Web site material available to The New York Times. Amazon officials confirmed that the material came from the company's Web site.
Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the main purpose of the Web site material was to tell supervisors what they can do to oppose a union and what actions by managers violate laws barring retaliation against workers who support unionization.
For instance, the Web site said supervisors could tell workers that the company preferred to deal with them directly, rather than through an outside organization.
It also said supervisors could tell workers about the benefits they enjoy. As for the don'ts, the Web site warns supervisors not to threaten workers with firings or reduce income or discontinue any privileges to any union supporter.
Ms. Smith declined to name the lawyers the company had hired to work on the material. Union leaders said in interviews yesterday that their organizing drive was going somewhat worse than they had expected largely because of the unexpected aggressiveness of Amazon's antiunion efforts. Over the last two weeks, managers have held a half-dozen "all hands" meetings for customer service workers in Seattle, where managers have argued how unionizing would be bad for Amazon.
Marcus Courtney, co-founder of the Washington Alliance of Technological Workers, an affiliate of the communications workers' union, said, "This shows how Amazon, despite its public statements that this is a decision we let our employees make themselves and we trust them to make the right decisions, all these meetings and the internal Web site and their manuals show that Amazon management is trying to take this basic democratic decision away from the workers and make it themselves."
Ms. Smith denied that the company was not letting workers make up their own minds. "We hired intelligent and dedicated employees, and we trust them to make decisions about what's best for their future," she said. "But obviously we don't believe a union is best for their future or our customers."
In large, bold letters, the Web site tells supervisors: "A union promotes and thrives upon problems between supervisors and employees. Front- line supervisors who deal effectively with associate problems avoid associates believing they need a union."
Duane Stillwell, president of the Prewitt Organizing Fund, said: "It's unfortunate that this vaunted high- tech company is just saying the same crude things that factory owners have been saying for 100 years about unions. They're just scaring people out of wanting to do the right thing."
CBS News - November 28, 2000
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) -- For all the newfangled, personalized perks companies created to win employee loyalty in the tightest job market in 30 years, it seems more and more workers are gravitating to the old-fashioned benefit of collective bargaining.
Employees at electronic commerce company Etown.com escalated the Internet sector's flirtation with union membership Monday when they filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers' move to vote on whether to accept union representation puts them closer to joining organized labor than any other dot-com contingent including Amazon, which is in earlier stages of its initiative. Several Etown employees, customer service representatives for the consumer electronics site owned by Collaborative Media, told CBS MarketWatch that the company had a pattern of not following through on pay promises and pushing employees to work far beyond their job descriptions, accusations President and Chief Operating Officer Lew Brown said he knew nothing about.
The filing suggests that so-called New Economy firms -- famous for promoting long hours, loose hierarchies and the lure of stock options -- are taking a hit that extends from share prices to water cooler camaraderie.
As the Nasdaq's nosedive degrades the value of stock options and the dot-com death toll mounts, workers increasingly are seeking the same protections for job security, wage fairness, and working conditions that have long existed in other sectors of the U.S. economy.
"The businesses are becoming more traditional businesses as opposed to the hottest thing," said Charles Craver, a professor of employment law at George Washington University.
Etown employees share many of the same concerns about mandatory overtime, sudden schedule changes, and access to promotions that 400 Amazon customer service representatives are pressing, said Marcus Courtney, co-founder of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, the nation's first and only union for high-tech workers. A former "permatemp" contract worker for Microsoft, Courtney organized an effort that brought minimum benefits such as paid time off and retirement contributions to 5,000 of the software giant's agency-placed contract workers. "Amazon and Etown are shattering the myth that high-tech workers in the New Economy do not want to seek union representation on the job and that unions are irrelevant in the 21st century," Courtney said.
Moving the discussion to the San Francisco Bay Area gives it added momentum. "For a long time this whole idea of organizing was pretty much nestled up here in Seattle."
Regardless of size or number of employees, Internet companies can't afford to ignore the growing dissatisfaction among the dot-com rank and file, Craver said.
"They're all scared to death because I think they feel that if several of the big ones were to be unionized, it would set a trend for the industry."
Erin Tyson Poh, spokesperson for the Northern California Media Workers Guild, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, said about 20 Etown employees approached the union after two were fired shortly after organizing a sick-out in October.
"Everyone's been talking for the last two years about the New Economy and the pot of gold at end of rainbow," Poh said. "The reality is a lot of them don't get that. They're doing what workers have always done: They're working faster and harder and longer for less pay."
Brown denied that a sick-out occurred. "Nobody was ever fired in relation to a sick-out." He said he hadn't received a copy of the petition and didn't plan any "unusual course of action" other than a standard open door policy to remedy any potential low morale among workers.
"We always work to make improvements, keep a stable workforce, and run a good business," Brown said. Chase Rummonds, a 31-year-old customer service supervisor who was fired, said workers became disgruntled when they didn't receive promised salary reviews or were scheduled overtime.
"The company was neglecting their employees and was taking advantage of them in very broad terms," Rummonds said. "They're very good at something specific like sales or the product they're focusing on, but they don't have much experience managing people."
While unionization could backfire by bringing wage pressure and ultimately lay-offs to Internet workers, it also may carry the necessary weight to ensure that rapidly growing enterprises such as Amazon don't expand beyond their capacity, Craver said. Businesses in hyper-growth mode sometimes implode without worker input, he said. And employees aren't the only ones for whom the stakes are high. Unions themselves stand to gain a much-needed boost in membership and national profile with the addition of technology workers.
Today, 9 percent of private sector workers are in unions compared to 35 percent in the late 1950s, Craver said. About 16.2 million Americans have representation, down from a high of 22 million in 1980.
"Unions today need a renaissance where they move into high-tech fields, finance, insurance, health care," he said. "If they could move into those fields as successfully as the CIO unions did in the 30s and 40s, we would have a real resurgence of unions. If they can't, the unions will continue to remain a relatively insignificant factor."
The Charlotte Observer - November 30, 2000
Two separate actions are under way that will affect the leadership of our nation for the next four years. Both are important. One is being conducted properly, with fundamental regard for the values of our nation. The other isn't. The one being conducted properly is the judicial examination of issues arising from the Florida election, including cases before Florida courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. In those cases, lawyers representing both sides will present their arguments, and judges will apply the law to ultimately produce a final result.
The other action is an abrasive public relations campaign, designed not to inform the public but to promote a mood that may result in bitterness and hostility as the courts move toward resolution of matters before them.
Let us be plain: We are talking about the destructive rhetoric coming from some Republican partisans, with their talk of a "coup d'etat," or "stealing the election." They dismiss experienced and respected members of the Florida Supreme Court as party hacks trying to snatch away an election that Gov. George W. Bush rightfully won. They deride the legal process as though it were some form of larceny.
Their message is that there can be but one legitimate outcome of the 2000 vote: a victory for George W. Bush. They are wrong. In the interests of the nation they should stop their demagoguery and let the legal system work.
There are numerous questions to be resolved, from the Gore campaign's efforts to exclude many absentee ballots to the Bush campaign's efforts to prevent hand recounts in counties where excluded ballots raised questions about the machine count.
Florida, like most other states, has sensible legal procedures to permit and resolve challenges to elections. That system was created precisely for situations such as this one.
Some Republicans complain that once the votes have been certified, Democrats should not question the results. That's nonsense. Perhaps it is coincidence that the Florida secretary of state, who used her discretionary power to make every decision in a way that benefited Gov. Bush, was also his state campaign cochair. It's good that the Gore campaign has muzzled the press secretary who called her a "commissar," "hack" and "lackey." But her pivotal role makes it even more important to observe the procedures established in Florida law for making sure elections are conducted fairly. There is no better way to affirm the integrity of the vote.
If the courts resolve the issues and Gov. Bush wins, Americans will accept that result. But until the courts finish dealing with serious questions about the accuracy of the vote count, no one has won Florida - despite what overzealous partisans may say.
The New York Times - November 23, 2000
The Quadrtech Corporation could have been just another company relocating to Mexico in search of cheaper wages and lower operating costs. But a federal judge, acting on a union complaint, has blocked the company's plans and ordered it to stay in California, a decision that has delighted union officials and worried manufacturers.
On Tuesday, a judge in the United States District Court in Los Angeles issued a preliminary injunction preventing Quadrtech, a small manufacturer of earrings and ear-piercing machines, from laying off 118 newly unionized workers and moving its manufacturing operations to Tijuana until labor complaints against it are resolved.
The company announced plans to move to Mexico one day after a branch of the Communications Workers of America was certified to represent workers at Quadrtech. Most of the employees are female immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries who assemble jewelry and are paid the state's minimum wage of $5.75 an hour.
Lawyers at the National Labor Relations Board, which petitioned the court on behalf of the workers, said this was the first time an American company trying to keep out a union had been prevented from leaving the United States.
"It's an eye opener," said Jaime Martinez, a union official who helped organize the California plant. "It's an issue that goes to the core of organizing the unorganized."
The judge's order comes at a time when footloose corporations and the formation of an economy that moves freely across borders with little or no concern for workers left behind have been publicly attacked in Seattle, in Washington and in other cities where international financial leaders gather to shape the world economy.
Experts said the case was certain to focus attention on what has become a common practice in the United States: employers using threats of relocation to keep workers from organizing unions or seeking higher wages.
"What's at issue here isn't the movement of a single plant but the future of collective bargaining as a viable institutional practice," said Harley Shaiken, a professor of labor and the global economy at the University of California at Berkeley. `'If you can move a plant to avoid a union, you undermine the whole system, and if you move when you are involved in collective bargaining, you destroy the whole process." The chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers, W. R. Timken Jr., said he foresaw trouble if the government and the courts intend to interfere in the business decisions of employers who seek to remain competitive.
"In the end, it's foolish to believe that any court can keep uncompetitive businesses captive by fiat," Mr. Timken said. "It just won't work."
Gregory Kennedy, the lawyer representing Vladimir Reil, the owner of Quadrtech, would not comment on the case. But in papers filed with the Federal District Court, Mr. Reil said the decision to move to Mexico was made for economic reasons.
In January, Mr. Reil transferred some equipment and dozens of workers from the plant of another company he owns, Onyx, in Harbor City, Calif., and opened Quadrtech in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. But relations between management and the workers deteriorated quickly. After a work stoppage in May that the workers said was set off by the company's refusal to provide a chair for an ill worker, the employees began to organize.
A union vote was held in June, and the International Union of Electronic Workers, which later joined the C.W.A., was selected to represent the workers. The union was certified July 12. A day later, Mr. Kennedy told the union that Quadrtech would move to Mexico.
"We viewed that timing as more than mere coincidence," said James Small, assistant to the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Southern California. The union filed a complaint with the board after the relocation notice.
The board acted so quickly in this case, as opposed to others, because the violation of fair labor standards was so blatant, Mr. Small said.
Board investigators found that Quadrtech supervisors had told employees that the company was moving to Mexico because of the union vote, Mr. Small said. The board later established that the company had a history of anti-union actions, including threatening to fire workers who voted for the union, and telling workers the day before the election that Quadrtech would not be able to compete if it had to pay higher wages.
Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, said implied or implicit threats to relocate have become a regular part of labor-management relations in the United States. She said she had conducted several national surveys of plant closings and had found that 68 percent of employers with manufacturing plants like Quadrtech's, which can pick up and move their operations, threaten to shut down or relocate in the face of union organizing campaigns.
"The more credible a threat," she said, "the more effective it is."
As global competitive pressures have increased, American manufacturers have shifted operations out of the United States to countries where wages are lower. Mexico has been a favorite destination, especially since the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. About 550,000 people were then employed in Mexican plants, called maquilladoras. along the border. Today, more than 1.3 million people work in border plants.
"It took 30 years to reach that first half-million jobs and only 6 years to double it," said Professor Shaiken of Berkeley. "Many of the plants and much of the employment increase in the maquilladoras results from U.S. firms shifting production to Mexico to take advantage of low wages, the lack of enforcement of labor and environmental standards, or both."
It appears that Quadrtech's threat to move was real. Weeks before the date the company scheduled for its relocation, Nov. 3, workers followed trucks taking equipment from Quadrtech to a warehouse in Tijuana, according to the board's investigation. When the employees tried to apply for work there, they were told the plant would open soon.
Because of the impending relocation, the labor relations board sidestepped its normal procedures and went to court to keep Quadrtech from moving while the legal complaint proceeded.
Barry J. Kearney, associate general counsel for the board's Division of Advice, said the board goes to court to block a few plant relocations every year, but they usually involve transfers within the United States. Mr. Kearney said he had not heard of the procedure being used to block an out-of-country move "over the last 30 years."
In granting a preliminary injunction, Judge Carlos R. Moreno of the District Court for the Central District of California stated that the labor relations board has a "fair chance" of proving that Quadrtech intended to relocate not for economic reasons but to keep out the union, which is illegal. The judge ordered the company to bring back the equipment it had shipped to Mexico and to keep all workers employed until the complaint was resolved.
Lawyers said resolution of the case, including a trial before an administrative law judge and appeals, could easily take a year and a half.
The New York Times - November 23, 2000
Seeking to exploit a major retailer's vulnerability during the holiday season, the labor movement has begun a broad campaign to unionize thousands of workers at Amazon.com in what is labor's most ambitious foray into the new economy.
The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, an arm of the Communications Workers of America, is seeking to organize 400 of the company's customer-service workers in Seattle. At the same time, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and an independent organizing group are seeking to unionize more than 5,000 workers at the eight distribution centers across the country used by Amazon.
With unions representing only a handful of workers in high-technology companies, the Amazon campaign is by far labor's biggest enlistment effort in the fastest- growing sector of the economy.
"This is an important way for labor to enter the new millennium," said Duane Stillwell, president of the Prewitt Organizing Fund, a new independent group that is seeking to work with several unions to organize Amazon's distribution workers. "This is a labor force that unions need to get next to. Amazon is obviously the leader in the Internet e-retailing economy, and as they go, so goes the industry."
Labor leaders say the time is ripe to unionize Amazon because many of its workers are complaining about mandatory preholiday overtime and the way their stock options have plummeted in value.
Union organizers say they hope that if enough Amazon workers put their support behind unionizing during the Christmas rush, management's fears of disruption might cause it to grant union recognition or grant concessions making it easier for workers to unionize.
Amazon is fiercely resisting the organizing drive, saying that its employees, who are given stock options, are owners of the company and in no way need a union.
"Obviously we don't feel that having a union at Amazon will benefit our employees, our customers or Amazon as a whole," said Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman. The company. which is based in Seattle, expects revenue of more than $2 billion this year, but has yet to make a profit.
At a distribution center in Fernley, Nev., last week, Jeff Bezos, Amazon's chief executive, spoke out against the unionization drive in a pep talk to employees putting in large amounts of preholiday overtime. "I'm not concerned it will disrupt the holidays," he said. "Everyone in this company is an owner. We don't need unions in Amazon.com."
Low-key unionization efforts began at Amazon two years ago, but they did not get far, largely because workers were delighted with their stock options and saw huge opportunities for promotion. At that time, Amazon's growth seemed boundless and its stock price was four times its current level of $25.19. But the unionization campaign has gained some traction this fall because the stock has sputtered and many employees think less about promotions than about possible layoffs, having seen the company lay off 150 workers last January. Amazon recently began using more than 100 customer-service representatives in New Delhi, causing the Seattle representatives to fret that they will be laid off in favor of the Indian workers, who are paid far less.
Last week in Seattle, 50 customer- service representatives who support unionization went public with their effort. Their aim is to get a majority of the 400 customer-service workers in Seattle to sign cards before Christmas saying they favor unionizing.
Several union supporters said they hoped that Amazon might be so eager to keep operations running smoothly during the Christmas rush that it might quickly grant them union recognition.
"The work these people are doing shatters the myth that high-tech workers don't want a union," said Marcus Courtney, co-founder of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers.
Many of the customer-service representatives complain that their wages, which usually run from $11 to $15 an hour, are too low for them to live well in high-cost Seattle. They also complain that they often receive little notice about schedule changes and having to work overtime. Several workers said that after working so much overtime they had tired of Mr. Bezos's mantra that it is Day 1 and Amazon is a start-up in which workers need to work hard.
"Our ownership feels hollow," said Kirk Sheldon, a 25-year-old customer service worker in Seattle. "They always say they are willing to hear our input, but there isn't follow-through. The inaction is the root of why we're organizing."
Officials from the food and commercial workers' union and the Prewitt fund said that over the next few weeks several dozen organizers would distribute fliers and collect signatures at Amazon warehouses in Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky and Nevada. Until two weeks ago, the union and the Prewitt fund were working together on organizing the warehouse workers, but their cooperative efforts have fallen apart. Greg Denier, a spokesman for the food and commercial workers, said many Amazon warehouse workers were eager to join unions because they were upset with overtime, with their wages of $7 to $9.50 an hour and with the way they were treated.
"Amazon may be the symbol of the new economy, but it has the worst of the working conditions of the old economy," he said.
The New York Times - By PATRICK McGEEHAN - November 21, 2000
The funds were managed by Trust Company of the West, an investment bank in California, and sold to Dean Witter customers under the names TCW/DW Term Trust 2002, Term Trust 2003 and Term Trust 2000. The first two were designed to last for 10 years before dissolving and returning cash to investors; the third was intended to last for seven years.
A Dean Witter spokesman, Bret Gallaway, said the net asset value of each of the funds was now close to its target of $10. If investors had held their shares for the last seven or eight years, they would have received a steady stream of dividend payments and would now be able to sell their shares for prices close to what they paid for them. They have "performed consistent with their stated investment objectives," Dean Witter said in its statement.
N.A.S.D. regulators say that is beside the point of their complaint, which takes issue not with the fine print of the prospectuses for the three funds but with Dean Witter's sales methods and its clearly stated strategy of converting holders of insured bank deposits to owners of volatile bond funds. While Dean Witter was selling the funds, the N.A.S.D. issued several warnings to its members about "sales of C.D. substitutes and the volatility of these kinds of products," Mr. Goldsmith said.
The prospect of litigation with regulators came as Morgan Stanley, which acquired Dean Witter in 1997, was battling the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over sexual discrimination complaints and trying to recover from a public battle with a former employee who said he had been fired because he was black and perceived to be gay. That case, brought by a young investment banker named Christian Curry, was settled this fall, a year after Morgan Stanley's handling of it led to the resignation of the firm's top lawyer.
The firm recently broke off settlement talks with the E.E.O.C., which said it had found evidence of a pattern of discrimination against women who worked in the firm's investment banking operation. The commission is deciding whether to file suit against the firm on behalf of Allison K. Schieffelin, who sold bonds for Morgan Stanley until she was fired last month.
Employee Advocate - DukeEmployees.com - November 21, 2000
Oh No! Anything, but irritate the boss. The article below has some interesting facts in it.
The Postal Service has earned its reputation as breading ground for violence. Twenty-nine incidents from 1986 and a death toll of 54 is not to be ignored. Did this carnage happen for no reason? Nothing ever happens without a reason. The fact that these murders took place on Postal Service property, circumstantially implicates the Service as being a factor, if not the sole cause.
When a supposedly independent commission recently rated the Postal Service as a safe place to work, it seemed a little bogus. Just why would a commission, out of the blue, conduct such survey. Now, we know that the Postal Service paid the commission to conduct the study. Suddenly it is no longer an independent commission, but a bought commission. When the tobacco companies paid researchers to not find any evidence that smoking was harmful to the health of humans - guess what? The researchers just could not find any evidence. It is easier to find what you are looking for, if you know what it is up front, and are paid to find it (or, not find it). The studies that the electric utilities sponsor to investigate the dangers of electromagnetic frequencies just cannot seem to find any danger.
Postmaster General William Henderson said "I didn't want to go to one more postal facility and explain why some father or mother was murdered." Did he really think that buying a study was going to prevent future such incidents? Good Grief!
We do not know if the Postal Service has forced cash balance plans upon its workers. But, it has earned the term "going postal." We just hope the electric utility industry does not earn the term "going prompt critical."
The Charlotte Observer - November 20, 2000
Myrtle Beach Postmaster Mike Bosch has told postal worker Bill Huffaker to keep his truck off postal property until he removes offensive bumper stickers.
One of the bumper stickers on Huffaker's 1981 Ford Bronco says, "Guns don't kill people postal workers do." Another sticker says, "Back Off! I'm a postal worker."
Huffaker, a 20-year U.S. Postal Service veteran, says it's funny. Bosch isn't laughing.
"I find them personally offensive, and I think the Postal Service finds them offensive," Bosch said.
The Postal Service has found itself the punch line of gallows humor for years after a string of 29 incidents dating to 1986 in which 54 people died in shootings at post offices and forced the term "going postal" into the nation's vocabulary to describe worker rage. Postmaster General William Henderson finds no humor in jokes about "going postal," and he hired an independent commission to prove that post offices are safe places.
"I didn't want to go to one more postal facility and explain why some father or mother was murdered," Henderson said in August when he released post office safety statistics. The study showed postal workers are one-third as likely as the other workers to be homicide victims - 0.26 per 100,000 vs. 0.77 per 100,000. Huffaker drives a 700-stop route in Myrtle Beach and says that his truck has had the bumper stickers for threeyears. Huffaker, a Vietnam veteran with two Purple Hearts, says he knows his job is among the nation's safest - and that's why he can laugh at the jokes. "It's just a joke," he said. "I thought this was America."
The Charlotte Observer - November 20, 2000
Tallahassee, Fla. - A Fox Network news anchor was arrested and accused of hitting another journalist with his car in an apparent dispute over a parking space.
Witnesses told police that Shepard Smith, who hosts "The Fox Report," ran his car into Maureen Walsh, a journalist for a local cable company, when she tried to save a rare open parking spot for co-workers at the Capitol complex where the media are covering the Florida recount.
Walsh was treated at the hospital for bruises on her legs.
Smith, 36 was charged with aggravated battery with a motor vehicle and released on $10,000 bail.
L. A. Times - November 19, 2000
CHICAGO--Chicago-area women who sued Ford Motor Co. for sexual harassment will get $9 million to end the lawsuits, $1.5 million more than the company's original settlement in 1998.
U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo had called the first settlement with the auto maker "disappointing" and certified the case as a class-action suit, which allowed further legal action. She approved the increased settlement--Ford's response to the judge's class-action ruling--on Friday.
So far, about 150 of the 1,000 women eligible to claim part of the settlement--the second largest of its kind in Illinois history--have come forward. The rest have until mid-January to do so.
The women say they were harassed with catcalls and swearing while working on assembly lines. They also say the harassment included sexually explicit graffiti in public areas of the plants and inappropriate physical contact. Lawyers began filing the lawsuits more than five years ago.
Employee Advocate DukeEmployees.com - November 19, 2000
Sometimes foreign news reports give a clearer perspective of what is happening in America. One can sometimes read reports that have not been "sanitized" for consumption by the American public. The U. S. election article below comes from England:
The Times - FROM DANIEL MCGRORY IN MIAMI - November 17, 2000
DEPRIVED of a recount in Florida's biggest county, Democrat leaders are demanding urgent action by America's highest law officers after allegations of widespread fraud in Miami.
The allegations of vote tampering, with black supporters of Al Gore said to be among the main victims, have already prompted an investigation by the Justice Department.
Democrat officials argue that the number of spoiled votes in Miami was mysteriously higher than any other part of Florida, including the infamous ballot in Palm Beach. In some inner-city areas, one in ten ballot slips were thrown out of the count because they were apparently punched for two presidential candidates.
Gus Garcia, a senior figure in the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, said last night: "Of course our opponents are going to scream foul, but how else can you explain these figures unless there were dirty tricks. We need urgent action because while the courts can pick and choose over whether to allow hand counts, they have to act if they find fraud, and we believe that is what happened in parts of Miami."
Officials have discovered that while in the rest of Miami-Dade County under 3per cent of ballot slips were double-punched, in two dozen predominantly black areas between 8 and 11 per cent were fouled, the highest rates recorded in this area.
The Democrats allege that some ballots had already been marked before being handed to voters. Once they added their punch hole against Mr Gore's name, the machines tallying the count would spot the other mark on the ballot and just dismiss it as a spoiled vote. Kendrick Meek, a state Senator, said: "The claim that so many people in these areas were stupid and messed up the ballot doesn't ring true. These same people in the same precincts have never made so many mistakes before. And why are the mistakes only on the presidential vote, on what is a simple, single punch card ballot?" The Justice Department in Washington said: "We have received allegations from areas of Miami-Dade which we are investigating. We have also been told there will be further allegations of election irregularities being sent to us."
The New York Times - By ADAM CLYMER - November 18, 2000
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 - Ralph Nader, who drew 2.8 million votes - 3 percent of the total - as the Green Party's presidential candidate, contended today that the Green Party was the fastest growing in the nation and would achieve major-party status within 12 years.
Mr. Nader told reporters at a luncheon here that he had not decided whether to run again in 2004. Until that year, he said, he would concentrate on building the party and fielding Congressional candidates in 2002.
"We're building a party for the future," he said. "Obviously, there are a lot of open slots in the Green Party." Mr. Nader said the Democratic Party might be able to thwart the growth of the Greens "if they face left" instead of continuing to drift to the center. Democrats will never successfully "out-Republican the Republicans," he said. Mr. Nader also said he remained untroubled by the possibility that Gov. George W. Bush of Texas would become president because the Green Party took votes away from Vice President Al Gore. If Mr. Bush prevails, he said, his very narrow margin, the closely divided Congress and Mr. Bush's own personality will limit the damage he can do. "He doesn't know very much," Mr. Nader said of Mr. Bush. "He is not very energetic. He doesn't like controversy." Under either Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore, he said, the nation would face "four more years of ignoring systemic injustice." Under Mr. Gore, he said, that failure would be even less acceptable "because he knows more" but "he cowers again and again."
Mr. Nader predicted that success for the Green Party would follow greater understanding of the reality of the nation's economic situation. "Most people in this country are broke," he said.
"This is an economy that's very good for the top 10 percent," he continued. "A lot of the country is in real decay." He said that people responded to polls by saying they were better off than they were some years ago because families held two or three jobs, and that 47 million Americans were making less than $10 an hour.
The single most important thing to do to improve the circumstances of working men and women, Mr. Nader said, is to encourage unionization. He said Congress should change the labor laws so that if a majority of workers at a factory signed up for a union, they would have one, without having to go through an election period.
Now, he said, employers can fire pro-union workers with no real cost. At worst they have to give the workers back pay minus whatever they had earned, he said, and it usually takes more than three years to make such a case before the National Labor Relations Board.
Mr. Nader complained that the news media had covered his campaign only in terms of its effect on the Gore-Bush race.
Although he raised issues, like lobbyists' dominance in Washington, that had been explored by serious newspapers, "I was not asked any questions about any of the substance," he said. "It was all the horse race."
Dow Jones - November 17, 2000
NEW YORK -- Time Warner Inc. said it agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle a lawsuit with the Labor Department, which accused it of improperly classifying full-time workers as temporary workers to avoid paying health and retirement benefits.
The media group said the settlement isn't an admission of any liability or wrongdoing by the company or its Time Inc. publishing unit.
'We are pleased we were able to resolve this matter with a reasonable settlement that will put this litigation behind us,' said Time Warner (TWX) Vice President and Associate General Counsel Edward Weiss. 'The settlement will enable us to avoid the protracted distraction and expense from ongoing litigation.'
In October 1998, the Labor Department accused of Time Warner of improperly denying full-time employees pensions and health benefits by classifying them as temporary workers or independent contractors.
The department filed suit demanding an independent court review of the company's personnel policies. The suit marked the first time that the Clinton administration formally weighed in on one of the most contentious labor issues of the 1990s: the growing attempt by companies to hold down employment costs by farming out more and more important work to employees who aren't considered full time.
At the time, Time Warner President Richard D. Parsons said the Labor Department's allegations had 'no basis in law or in fact.'
Specifically, the department said Time continued to classify employees as temps even though they worked for the company beyond four to six months, a term that the company's guidelines suggest should make that person a full-time employee, U.S. officials said. Time also classified some employees as independent contractors even though 'common law' tests, such as the degree of day-to-day control that the employer exercised over those workers, meant they were really full time, the department had said.
Time improperly failed to notify those workers of their right to retirement and health benefits, the department had said.
Washington Post - By Howard Kurtz - November 14, 2000
In yet another bizarre twist to an already surreal campaign, the head of Fox News's Election Night decision desk--who recommended calling Florida, and the election, for George W. Bush--turns out to be Bush's first cousin.
Even as he was leading the Fox decision desk that night, John Ellis was also on the phone with his cousins--"Jebbie," the governor of Florida, and the presidential candidate himself--giving them updated assessments of the vote count.
Ellis's projection was crucial because Fox News Channel put Florida in the W. column at 2:16 a.m.--followed by NBC, CBS, CNN and ABC within four minutes. That decision, which turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the embarrassed networks less than two hours later, created the impression that Bush had "won" the White House.
Which is why media circles were buzzing yesterday with the question of why Fox had installed a Bush relative in such a sensitive post.
"Appearance of impropriety?" asks Fox Vice President John Moody, who approved Ellis's recommendation to call Florida for Bush. "I don't think there's anything improper about it as long as he doesn't behave improperly, and I have no evidence he did. . . . John has always conducted himself in an extremely professional manner."
But Moody admits that Ellis's Election Night conversations with the cousins "would cause concern." Ellis--whose mother, Nancy Ellis, is the sister of former president George Bush--boasted to the New Yorker that "everyone followed us." He also said the morning after the election that "Jebbie'll be calling me like eight thousand times a day." Ellis did not respond to an interview request yesterday.
Ellis's support for his cousin was hardly a secret. He wrote in The Washington Post's Outlook section nine days ago that the Texas governor is "smart, engaging, enormously energetic, possessed of dynamic leadership skills, funny, wry [and] optimistic," as opposed to "the morally berserk universe of the Clintons."
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said: "The notion that you'd have the cousin of one presidential candidate . . . in a position to call a state is unthinkable. Fox's call precipitated all the other networks' calls. That call--wrong, unnecessary, misguided, foolish--has helped create a sense that this election went to Bush, was pulled back and he is waiting to be restored."
Critics say the Ellis connection will reinforce Fox's reputation as a conservative network whose anchors include Tony Snow, a former Bush White House staffer, and such commentators as Newt Gingrich. Fox maintains it merely provides a balanced alternative to the liberal networks. But, says Rosenstiel, "the marketing slogan 'We report, you decide' is obliterated by the fact that one candidate's first cousin is actually deciding, and then they report."
Marvin Kalb, Washington executive director of Harvard's Shorenstein press center, calls Ellis "a fine writer and columnist, and he's always sensitive about his relationship with his first cousin. His mother is very, very close with former president Bush. Therefore I am puzzled as to why he'd put himself in a position where he would seem to be the one making the call for his cousin. It clearly conveys the wrong impression."
As a Boston Globe columnist last year, Ellis wrote after some reader complaints: "I am loyal to my cousin. . . . I put that loyalty ahead of my loyalty to anyone else outside my immediate family. That being the case, it is not possible for me to continue writing columns about the 2000 presidential campaign."
Ellis worked for NBC News as a producer and researcher in the political unit from 1978 through March 1989, soon after President Bush took office. Fox says it hired Ellis this year for work during the primaries and on Election Night. He also worked for Fox in 1998 when, Moody says, he called George Bush's reelection in Texas (though that was a landslide).
Ellis, who lives in Irvington, N.Y., was among those briefing Fox News President Roger Ailes last Tuesday night, but he was not a total Bush loyalist. At 7:52 p.m., Fox called Florida for Al Gore based on Ellis's recommendation, though Fox was not the first to make that projection. After Fox's report, according to the New Yorker, Jeb Bush called and asked Ellis: "Are you sure?"
The Gore call, based heavily on exit polls from Voter News Service, also turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the networks two hours later.
At 2 a.m., Ellis called his cousins to say it was "statistically impossible" for Gore to win Florida. "Their mood was up, big-time," Ellis told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer. "It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth--me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other the president-elect. Now that was cool."
But it was decidedly uncool to some Fox staffers, angry at what they see as Ellis exaggerating his role. Some are calling him "John 'Alexander Haig' Ellis," declaring himself to be in charge. Whatever the Yale graduate's job description, it remains unclear why a television network allowed him to call the election for his cousin.
"You factor that in to everything else, but John is a professional," Moody says. "It would be as strange not to hire him because of who he's related to as to hire him especially because of who he's related to."
L. A. Times - By JEFF LEEDS - November 14, 2000
A cousin of George W. Bush played a key role in the election night decision by Fox News Channel to call the race for the Texas governor, prompting the cable channel to lead a stampede of networks in declaring Bush the president-elect.
John Ellis is a consultant hired by Fox to run its election night "decision desk," the team that analyzes exit poll data and recommends when news executives should project a winner in each state. The decision by Ellis' desk to put Florida in Bush's win column at 2:16 a.m. EST made Fox the first news outlet to call the presidential race. The other networks rushed to follow over the next four minutes.
The current issue of New Yorker magazine says Ellis was on the phone with Bush and his brother, Jeb, that evening, sharing internal data from the network. In a letter to the magazine, however, Ellis denied that he was the source of any improper leaks.
The disclosures are raising questions of impropriety at Fox, which has promoted itself as a counterweight to the supposedly liberal bias in the national media. Roger Ailes, a top strategist in the 1988 and 1992 campaigns for former President Bush, is chairman of Fox News.
Having Ellis in a position to share internal data and influence network projections "certainly looks much too cozy and comfortable for a journalistic organization," said Marvin Kalb, a former television reporter and director of the Washington office of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, where Ellis was a fellow in the early 1990s. "If you have internal data . . . you don't go around sharing that [information] with the politicians."
Fox officials said the final decision to declare Bush the winner was made by John Moody, vice president for news, who oversaw Ellis' analysis unit. But Fox executives were furious over Ellis' alleged leaking of information to Bush. "I doubt he'll be back in 2004," one insider said. "People are . . . livid." One executive at the network said Ellis' conduct was considered a violation of Fox's promise to keep exit poll data confidential.
Exit poll secrecy has long been a sore point for the networks, which jointly finance a consortium called Voter News Service, which interviews voters leaving polling booths and supplies the survey data to its members starting at 1 p.m. EST on election day. Armed with the data, each network must decide for itself when it can accurately predict how a state will vote.
The decision to call Bush the winner in Florida was a mistake and a historic embarrassment for the national media that all of the major TV networks were forced to retract.
Ellis declined to comment Monday, saying only that he found questions about his integrity "absolutely unconscionable."
In a letter he sent to the editor of the New Yorker this week, Ellis said, "VNS prohibits member companies from sharing exit poll and sample precinct data with non-authorized parties. Although the information leaks out anyway, I and the other members of the Fox News Channel Decision Desk Team obeyed this guideline zealously, precisely because of my relationship with Governor Bush."
He added that although he did speak to the Texas governor twice on election day, he didn't reveal anything Bush didn't already know. He noted that Fox's decision desk team included several Democrats. Kathleen Frankovic, director of survey information for CBS News and a VNS board member, said the early release of data raises "big, big questions . . . [about] how it's used, is it accurate, [and] are people doing what we promised we would not do?"
L. A. Times - By MEGAN GARVEY - November 10, 2000
Election: She says it's 'ridiculous' to assert that her brother has strong support in the Florida county. Reform candidate sides with Democrats on the issue.
Bay Buchanan, who managed her brother Pat's Reform Party presidential campaign, Thursday called it "ridiculous" for George W. Bush's campaign aides to label Palm Beach County "a Buchanan stronghold."
The candidate himself also sided with the Democratic Party's interpretation of the 3,407 votes that he received in Palm Beach County--suggesting they were most likely cast by voters who were confused by a now-infamous butterfly ballot and punched the hole for Buchanan when they meant to vote for Vice President Al Gore.
"We do not believe they are all ours," said Bay Buchanan. "We think there was clear confusion and we understand the confusion since we've looked at the ballot ourselves."
She said she was startled to hear Bush strategist Karl Rove argue Thursday that Buchanan has strong support in a county where his campaign never bought an ad and never paid a visit.
"That is ridiculous. The vote there basically represents 20% of the votes we got in the entire state and it's not our natural base," she said. "We only got 5% of our state vote there in the 1996 Republican primary." And she said she believed her brother did the right thing by telling CNN and NBC on Thursday that he believed a mistake had been made.
He's Said to Have Made 'Honest Assessment' "This is not the time to spin. It is too important," she said. "He knows they aren't his for several reasons. He's heard people who testified they voted mistakenly, he's looked at the ballot himself and so he's made an honest assessment. He doesn't know how many are not his but it looks like a lot of them belong to Gore."
Palm Beach County is in the sights of the nation this week as its disputed votes are the focus of two campaigns trying to resolve an election that remains undetermined. Florida's vote has not been certified and a recount underway Thursday evening indicated Gore trailed Bush by a couple hundred votes.
The Bush campaign came out swinging Thursday on the issue of the Buchanan votes, armed with numbers about independent-minded voters in Palm Beach County, which they said proved the vote for Buchanan may have been intentional. Rove, Bush's chief strategist, argued there was no discrepancy between their characterization of Palm Beach County as a Buchanan stronghold and the county's tradition as a strongly Democratic enclave.
(In the county's initial tally Tuesday, Gore led Bush by 26% of the vote).
Bush aides said Palm Beach County registration in the Reform Party, Independent Party and American Reform Party increased by 110% from 1996 to 2000. Rove, who lumped those organizations together as "Reform Party Labels," said such voters "are more likely to vote for their nominee than people who are not registered to the Reform Party."
But even Reform Party boosters in Florida said Rove's numbers are "misleading." And they dispute his assertion that "new converts to the Reform Party in that part of the state are probably more likely to be enthusiastic [about] voting for their candidate."
In fact, said David Goldman, who until October was the state Reform Party's vice chair, Florida, and the membership in Palm Beach County in particular, were "hotbeds" of anti-Buchanan sentiment. It was such sentiment that led to the national party's implosion at their convention in Long Beach in August, when the party split into two warring factions, one supporting and the other backing a rival.
"That Buchanan got that many votes in Palm Beach County is prima facie evidence of a terrible mistake transpiring," said Goldman. "If Palm Beach County is a Buchanan stronghold, then so is my local synagogue."
Goldman and other longtime Reform members in the state described a party in "disarray" with little organization, much less a groundswell of support for Buchanan in a place even he concedes is not his base. And they say the registration numbers Rove cited are also misleading because they believe they take into account people who mistakenly have registered for the all-but-defunct Independent Party believing they are declaring themselves as independents.
"Look, as of January 2000, we had fewer than 5,000 Reform Party members statewide and fewer than 1,500 in Palm Beach County, where many of them left after everything that happened with Buchanan," Goldman said.
And in a fractured party where neither side masks outright hatred of each other, both sides agree that the Republicans are wrong about this one.
Bay Buchanan pointed out that even in Tampa and the northern Panhandle, where they spent time and money, her brother got only about 1,000 to 1,200 votes. While the conservative firebrand earned 8,788 votes in the 1996 Republican primary in Palm Beach County, that vote came not long after Buchanan reached what has proved to be the high point of his political career with a victory over Sen. Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary. And that vote count, Bay Buchanan pointed out, represented about 5% of their vote total in the state and in keeping with turnout in other counties.
Bay Buchanan's concession that something strange happened is backed up by an independent statistical analysis of the vote done by a pair of college professors in Pennsylvania.
"Something unusual happened in Palm Beach County," said Greg D. Adams, an assistant professor in the department of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. ". . . He probably would have received under 1,000 votes, if the other counties in Florida are any guide." With Buchanan garnering less than 1% of the vote nationwide, some third-party stalwarts said the hoopla over his vote in one county in one state in the nation is ironic.
"Everyone dismissed third parties as irrelevant and meaningless and now all of the sudden they are very relevant. It looks as though votes for them will decide the presidency," said Jim Mangia, who led the anti-Buchanan forces out of the party. "It's a joke. It's a hard situation and it really screams out for political reform. If Bush comes out the winner, we may have a president who everybody knows did not win the election."
The New York Times - By RICK BRAGG and DANA CANEDY - November 10, 2000
DELRAY BEACH, Fla., Nov. 9 - In a precinct made up largely of Jewish Democrats from New York and New Jersey, Patrick J. Buchanan, who has never been able to shed a perception among some Jews that he is anti-Semitic, somehow took 47 votes for president.
"Like a jerk," said Robert Rosen, 87, describing the way he felt after he came home from the voting booth at the Lakes of Delray condominium clubhouse in Palm Beach County and realized that he was one of those 47.
A confusing ballot, said Mr. Rosen and more than 20 of his neighbors, led them to punch the wrong hole on that ballot, and several others said they were still unsure if they had accidentally wasted votes crucial to their candidate, Vice President Al Gore.
It was, the residents here said today as they angrily milled around this complex of 1,400 condominiums, almost too much to stand. The complex makes up almost an entire precinct in this predominantly Democratic county. It was the strongest showing in Palm Beach County by Mr. Buchanan, the Reform Party candidate, yet a survey of almost 200 people here found not one voter who meant to vote for him.
The problem, they said, was that they punched a hole on the ballot next to Mr. Gore's name that actually registered a vote for Mr. Buchanan. There were many who said they knew they mistakenly voted for him but had not realized it until after they cast their ballots. Others said they knew immediately they had made a mistake and punched a second hole in the presidential race - voiding their vote.
And some said they knew they had cast the wrong vote but did nothing because they said they were either embarrassed, ashamed or did not know what to do. Many did ask for a new ballot after mistakenly punching the wrong hole but before inserting the ballot in the box, and they received a new one. But others said they did not know they could.
Of the more than 1,700 votes cast at Precinct 162G, only 47 people, or less than 4 percent, voted for Mr. Buchanan, and residents here say that all or almost all of those 47 votes were intended for Mr. Gore. It is a small percentage in this precinct, but in such a close race every wasted vote seemed to cause great misery.
"I figured, `How could I go back?' because I'd voted already, and once you're out, you're out," said Natalie Cantor, 71, a retired bookstore employee from New York who said she believed she accidentally voted for Mr. Buchanan.
Once the ballot was inserted in the box, there was no recourse, these voters said.
Gerald Gross, 72, from Brooklyn, said he worried that he had punched the wrong name, and, after talking with others here, he was sure he had. Dave Silverberg, 74, of Baltimore, accidentally punched two choices for president on his ballot, trying to correct his mistake, and voided his vote. Ruth Kleiner, 74, from New Jersey, knew as she walked from the ballot box to the door that she had mistakenly cast a vote for Mr. Buchanan, but it dawned on her too late.
"I thought I did my job, and when I walked out, I said, `Did I do something wrong?' " Ms. Kleiner said.
Elsewhere in Palm Beach County, Republicans defended the ballot, saying they had no trouble understanding it. But other Democrats around the county supported the Lakes of Delray residents' assertions that the ballot was confusing.
"We shouldn't have to guess," said Tracy Spence-Banks, 34, a homemaker in West Palm Beach.
In the precinct, made up largely of the Lakes of Delray condominiums and similar communities, an even 1,500 people voted for Mr. Gore, 151 voted for Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, and 47 for Mr. Buchanan.
Residents here complained about the ballots long before the polls closed, refuting the argument by some Republicans that they were trying to deliver Florida for Mr. Gore long after the polls closed.
But people here said they had criticized the ballots long before they knew that Palm Beach County would become such a big story in the race. On Election Day, they called newspapers and radio and television stations, complaining that the ballot was confusing. They called election officials and state and local politicians.
"This was worse than a wasted vote," said Marcia Kirshner, 76, a retired purchasing agent from New York who said she intended to vote for Mr. Gore but, in her confusion, punched her card for Mr. Buchanan.
But the residents here - most of them are in their 70's or older - said their confusion was not related to their age, but to the ballot.
"I mean we are not senile; we're not stupid," said Ms. Cantor, the former bookstore employee. "When they keep telling us we're old and just don't know, that's an insult."
In the shade outside the clubhouse at Lakes of Delray, several men argued hotly about what had happened. Although there was general agreement that the ballot was flawed, there was little mercy here in this vehemently Democratic precinct for those who were fooled by it.
But some people were sympathetic. Zelda Sirota, 74, who lives in Lakes of Delray but volunteered to work the polls at Island Beach, said it was easy for her to understand why people were confused, and why they made mistakes when they voted, and why they did not immediately realize or correct their mistake, if they could.
"People were just embarrassed," she said. "It was pathetic."
Helen Halperin, 81, of Lake Worth, cast her vote but began to worry as she came home. "I was so troubled," she said.
It dawned on her that she had voted for the wrong candidate.
"But," she said, "I thought, `One vote. How much could that count?' "
Wall Street Journal - By ELLEN E. SCHULTZ - November 6, 2000
Just a week before Christmas in 1986, Jill Wellman, benefits manager at a unit of Varity Corp., wrote a memo about how the company could reduce its retiree health-care costs.
"You have asked that I be inventive in coming up with a solution," she wrote. "As far as I can determine there is only one solution" that doesn't involve the risk of having to pay the benefits in the end, "and that would be the death of all existing retirees and survivors."
'Not Necessarily Legal' Solutions
Her memo, however, went on to suggest "more practical" though "not necessarily legal" solutions to meet the cost-cutting goal sought by Varity, a farm and industrial equipment maker, as well as hundreds of other companies at the time. These included establishing "an offshore company responsible for the retirees but not accountable under United States law and have it go bankrupt and thus terminate the plans." Another option: terminating the benefits, facing "an almost certain class-action suit" and negotiating a settlement pact.
Ms. Wellman's list of possible tactics was just one of numerous compiled by Varity's managers and executives. Obtained by retirees suing the company, but never before made public, the documents are rarely seen blueprints that show how one company, aided by its benefits consultants, plotted to sharply reduce retiree medical coverage to give its balance sheet a boost.
Varity ultimately tried most of the ideas, with mixed results, paralleling cost-cutting moves at many other companies nationwide during the 1980s and 1990s. Among other steps, Varity actually did set up a business unit to fail. The failure was designed to free it of health-care coverage of about 4,000 retirees. After the unit's 1988 collapse, some of the 1,500 workers who had transferred to it sued, alleging they had been misled about the security of their benefits, and the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in their favor, restoring the benefits. Many other retirees were stripped of some of their health-care coverage less drastically, through a strategy the company dubbed "Creeping Take Aways."
Varity merged with Lucas Industries in 1996, and that company was acquired by TRW Inc. in 1999. "We're simply not in the position to comment on the motivations or decisions made by previous management," a spokesman for TRW says.
Ms. Wellman, now with another employer, says the memo was written in "frustration" after numerous requests from upper management for solutions to the perceived high cost of retiree medical benefits. She stresses that she wasn't recommending any of the steps she outlined. "I was not party to overall corporate strategy," she says.
Few Risks for Company
By the mid-1980s, Varity, like many employers, was eager to reduce the cost of its retiree medical program, and it asked its benefits experts to come up with solutions. Company executives didn't initially think they could unilaterally slash the benefits, as these had been promised to salaried employees and negotiated with unionized ones, who had accepted lower wages in return. "Worse yet, there is language in many of the contracts, booklets, and general descriptive material that implies a lifetime commitment," company documents noted. "We would never" succeed in court.
But the executives quickly figured out that, under federal pension law, there was little risk in trying. If successful, the company would save money; if sued, the worst outcome would be getting stuck with the benefits as promised. There are no punitive damages under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a federal pension law known as Erisa.
A December 1986 memo penned by Paul W. Pittman, Varity's benefits manager, outlined strategies for minimizing the chance of lawsuits. Under the heading "Creeping Take Aways," he detailed how the company "would progressively introduce minor reductions and usage controls ... designed to be insufficient to warrant retirees incurring the legal cost and trouble to have the benefits reinstated." Mr. Pittman couldn't be reached for comment.
If the retirees failed to challenge such moderate reductions in court, the company could later deflect legal challenges to deeper cuts by saying the retirees' prior inaction indicated an acceptance that benefits could be cut, other company documents noted.
And, if sued, Varity had options at hand for holding down costs, Mr. Pittman wrote. Should retirees "pool resources or approach their union to fund their case and take the company to court," the company could drag out the case, which would put "financial pressure" on the retirees "by forcing them to incur their own medical expenses, in addition to funding the legal proceedings. The next step is for the company, at a carefully chosen moment, to suggest to retirees that they agree to reinstatement of the plan, but at a much reduced level."
Mr. Pittman also proffered a suggestion he dubbed "pleading." He said the company could tell retirees "that the burden of medical expenses amongst U.S. retirees is unbearably high and would ultimately cause Varity Corp. to cease trading in the U.S., and that this would necessitate not only a loss of medical benefits, but also possibly the loss of some pension rights as well." Any agreements on this front would help the company establish its right to make even deeper cuts later, other company documents noted.
And like Ms. Wellman's list, Mr. Pittman's included the possible creation of a unit designed to go belly-up. Termed "Organized Liquidation," he predicted that retirees would sue. But, he wrote, "if made to look realistic, the collapse of [the unit] could be part of a strategy leading to a negotiated reduction" of benefits.
In the next few years, Varity aggressively tried out the memo writers' suggestions, including moving ahead with Massey Combines, the unit that was designed to fail. "Project Sunshine" was the name of the effort to persuade employees to transfer into the unit, assuring them it had a "bright" future. (Interestingly, Ms. Wellman, the 1986 memo writer, worked there when it failed in 1988; she later worked as a human- resources director at another Varity unit.) In addition, the company began its program of "Creeping Take Aways," limiting benefits by such things as a retiree managed-care program and higher co-payments and deductibles.
But savings from these moves weren't considered significant enough, company documents show, which is why in 1992 Varity began planning additional cuts. The eagerness to plow ahead was driven in part by a new accounting rule requiring companies to report the cost of future retiree health-care costs on their financial statements.
In a July 1992 memo, consulting firm Towers Perrin assured Varity that it would send over an expert who has "successfully negotiated rather dramatic decreases in postretirement welfare benefits." Indeed, while the Varity staff was hoping to get a 40% reduction in retiree medical costs, Towers Perrin's model, dubbed Strawman, subsequently projected a 63% reduction in the accumulated liability.
Some of the reduction would be accomplished by changing the assumptions used to calculate Varity's health-care liability. But "the real reduction," Towers Perrin concluded, "can come only if the benefits are reduced."
A spokesman for Towers Perrin says the firm was merely pointing out options, noting that the role of actuaries is to "provide advice on the choices a company faces as well as the consequences of these choices," but that the decisions and consequences are a client's. "Unfortunately, when companies are in financial difficulty, consultants help them find ways to recover, and not everybody can be satisfied," he says.
To aid Varity, Towers Perrin prepared charts showing which units had the highest potential retiree costs. Meanwhile, a "Litigation Risk" analysis prepared by Varity's legal consultants showed which units would be the easiest targets for benefits reductions, thanks to ambiguous wording in labor contracts. "The Company is not committed to maintenance of a retiree's standard of living," noted a memo Varity sent to managers later that year, headed "Philosophy & Objectives."
That memo -- it is unclear who wrote it - went on to say: "We are not averse to assuming acceptable levels of risk [of lawsuits]. ... No approach is too aggressive to consider." This was followed by another memo -- identified as an "overview statement" by Varity's then-chief executive officer, Victor Rice -- emphasizing the importance of taking "aggressive actions that would be reviewed favorably within the financial community." The memo added: "Continue to aggressively push legal counsel on risk analysis. ... I don't believe in 'show stoppers,' and won't accept them. Give me a course of action." Mr. Rice couldn't be reached to comment.
In April 1993, the company announced it would significantly reduce benefits. As the company predicted, the retirees sued. At the time, it was also battling Howe vs. Varity, the lawsuit over the failed Massey Combines unit. The Des Moines, Iowa, jury in that case heard testimony from executives about how Mr. Rice, the CEO, had bragged that he had "loaded all his losers in one wagon." It concluded that the workers had been duped and awarded them $36 million in punitive damages. However, as punitive damages aren't allowed under Erisa, the award was thrown out. In 1996, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision to reinstate the retirees into Varity's health-care plan - which Varity was in the process of cutting.
In 1993 and 1994, union and salaried retirees brought separate suits against different Varity units over the 1994 cuts, and in 1997 the company agreed to settle the suits, restoring 90% to 100% of the benefits. In one notable retiree victory in 1997, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Michigan granted a motion for summary judgment to retirees at Varity's Kelsey-Hayes unit, citing"a veritable mountain of evidence" that the company had promised lifetime medical benefits to 3,300 retirees and their spouses.
As it turned out, in none of these cases did the memos play a role. They were discovered too late to pertain to Howe vs. Varity, while the other cases were resolved before the memos became material, says Roger McClow, an attorney in Southfield, Mich., who represented Varity workers in three of the lawsuits
After TRW bought the company, the retirees were enrolled in existing TRW retiree medical plans. A TRW spokesman says it believes the arrangement with the retirees has "worked well for both the retirees and the company." TRW's plan documents note that it maintains the right to change the plans at any time.
The New York Times - By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH - November 3, 2000
Five years ago, St. Clair Adams saw a Help Wanted sign at the Circuit City store in Santa Rosa, Calif., and went in to apply for a job. He remembers feeling only "minor discomfort" when told he would not be considered unless he gave up his right to sue the retailer.
"I just needed to pay my house payments and was looking for a full- time job," Mr. Adams said. "I was thinking, why is this going to affect me?" He signed on the dotted line and went to work selling computers. As things have turned out, the two pages of legalese Mr. Adams signed affected not just him but many others: they are at the heart of a Supreme Court case, Circuit City v. Adams, that could enhance or diminish the workplace status of millions of Americans.
Not long after he joined the company, Mr. Adams began to be hazed by fellow sales representatives who suspected that he might be gay. He complained to his supervisor, got no satisfaction, and finally decided to bring harassment charges against the company. Circuit City promptly countersued, saying that Mr. Adams had waived his right to a trial and must submit to arbitration.
Mr. Adams persisted, and next week the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case - which is expected to decide whether such waivers are legally enforceable between employers and nonunion employees.
Ten years ago, it was all but unheard of for a company to make its employees agree to resolve workplace disputes in nonjudicial forums. But arbitration, long established in other settings, has caught on in the workplace, as businesses seek to pare legal costs and reduce their exposure to unpredictable juries.
Today, agreements to arbitrate disputes turn up repeatedly in job applications and employee manuals. In many cases, employees are told they must sign to keep their jobs.
Because arbitration is a private procedure, statistics on its use in the workplace are sketchy. The General Accounting Office estimated in 1997 that 19 percent of companies used arbitration to sort out employee grievances, though not all made it mandatory. One large provider, the American Arbitration Association, says it administers programs at 500 companies, covering more than five million employees, and gets 8 to 10 new company requests each month.
Companies that require arbitration say the process is fair, inexpensive, faster and less traumatic for everybody than lawsuits. Surveys show that many employees who air their grievances before an arbitrator come away satisfied.
But critics say that making workers waive their right to sue their employers can be coercive and undermines civil liberties. Though few workers know it when handed a piece of boilerplate to sign, academic research suggests that the practice of arbitration in the nonunion workplace favors companies. Employees will rarely go through arbitration more than once, but many businesses engage in it again and again and learn to manipulate the system, said Lisa B. Bingham, an Indiana University professor.
In cases of wrongful dismissal, sexual harassment, race discrimination and other matters, the agreements consign employees to closed-door tribunals, critics say, where the procedural rules have been written by the companies themselves, sometimes to the great disadvantage of unsuspecting employees.
A California receptionist, Sherri I. Warner, tried to bring sexual-harassment charges against her employer, a plastic surgeon, but was sent to arbitration because she had signed a waiver when she was hired. She lost her case - something that might have happened at trial, too - but the arbitrator then ordered her to pay his own $18,260 fee, plus the plastic surgeon's $207,271 legal bills. Her lawyer, Stephen J. Gorski, said she had filed for personal bankruptcy.
Other companies have set up programs barring employees from suing them, but reserving the right to sue employees. Some, like Circuit City, cap the awards aggrieved employees may seek.
Hooters of America which operates the Hooters restaurants, required its waitresses, bartenders and other employees to agree to a program that allowed the company to pick the arbitrators, a privilege comparable to letting a defendant choose his own jurors. A federal appellate court last year found the Hooters agreement "utterly lacking in the rudiments of evenhandedness" and released employees from it.
Many agreements emphasize that the proceedings will be private; some even threaten fines for employees who talk about their grievances.
"Remember how we used to mock the Soviet Union for having a civil justice system that was private?" said Cliff Palefsky, a San Francisco employment lawyer and foe of mandatory arbitration in the workplace.
The agencies that enforce the nation's labor and antidiscrimination laws also find this secrecy particularly troubling, for it shields from public view workplace disputes involving mass layoffs, plant closings and charges of discrimination and sexual harassment.
In recent years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken several companies to court for requiring workers to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. Different jurisdictions have handled the cases differently, but in most, courts have found the agreements enforceable as long as the rules do not put employees at extreme disadvantage.
Still, the increased scrutiny has slowed the spread of mandatory arbitration in recent years, and has prompted the arbitrators to set minimum procedural standards, said Carolyn L. Wheeler, an assistant general counsel for the E.E.O.C. She said companies were now watching to see whether the Supreme Court would sanction the practice.
"If the outcome of the Circuit City case is that arbitration agreements are enforceable," Ms. Wheeler said, "then I don't know why everybody wouldn't adopt them."
Programs requiring employees to arbitrate their complaints appeared after the Supreme Court ruled in 1991 against a stockbroker who wanted to sue his firm on charges of age discrimination. Years earlier, he signed an arbitration clause as part of his registration with the New York Stock Exchange. The clause was meant to cover disputes between investors and brokers, but the Supreme Court affirmed that it could also apply to employment disputes. (The exchange has since deleted the clause from its registration forms.)
Before long, management-side employment lawyers were urging corporate clients to put themselves on the same legal footing. Their advice fell on receptive ears, for 1991 was also the year that Congress amended the civil rights laws, allowing people to bring discrimination complaints before juries, and to seek punitive damages and payments for emotional distress. Businesses, some still burdened with unresolved age- discrimination complaints from the layoffs of the 1980's, faced the prospect of even more sensational trials.
In 1996, GE Aircraft Engines assembled its employees in an auditorium and explained that it was adopting a dispute resolution program. It involved four layers of hearings, culminating in arbitration. "Everybody was a little ticked off, but what could you say?" recalled James E. Broadnax, an engineer who at that time had been with G.E. for 17 years. "It was a condition of employment."
Company rules emphasized privacy, forbidding employees with disputes from seeking out sympathetic colleagues or sharing documents. Arbitrators' decisions were not to be published, or cited as precedent in future disputes, the rules said.
Mr. Broadnax had been thinking about taking GE Aircraft Engines to court when the arbitration rules were handed out. He is black, and from 1993 to 1997, he was passed over 11 times for promotions given to whites he considered less qualified. By 1997, he felt sure he had a case, but the new rules required him to complete the four steps first.
Three years later and $116,000 in legal fees poorer, he is finally ready to take his complaint to court. But now, lawyers for the aircraft engine unit are arguing that the statute of limitations has run out. "When I got into the first $20,000 of debt with this, I should have stopped," Mr. Broadnax said. "Any normal citizen would have. The company is interested in the employee running out of time and patience. That's how they win."
Rick Kennedy, GE Aircraft Engines' spokesman, declined to comment on Mr. Broadnax's situation. But he said the vast majority of the employees who used the company's dispute resolution program had been able to resolve their disputes at the lower levels, and did not even need arbitration. "It's been useful to both sides," he said.
Mr. Adams harbors similar suspicions about Circuit City's arbitration program, which has been challenged in a number of courts and found unenforceable in a few because of its limit on punitive damages. Circuit City declined to discuss the matter while its case is pending.
As Mr. Adams tells it, his complaint arose out of a petty incident: His co-workers liked to make crude remarks about the customers behind their backs. One day, they were chortling about a buxom shopper, and he tried to hush them.
"I said, `Stop, we could be fired for that,' " he recalled. "They said, `Oh, you must be gay.' "
Mr. Adams is, in fact, gay, but he had not wanted to say so because his co-workers seemed intolerant. When confronted, though, he did not want to deny it, so he did not say anything. The next thing he knew, he was the butt of endless sexual jokes and pranks. Even his immediate supervisor joined in, he said.
Mr. Adams said he repeatedly asked the store manager to intervene, but the hazing just got worse. Finally, he announced that he needed time off to see a lawyer. Suddenly the fun was over. The store manager called in a team of investigators from Circuit City's human resources department; their questions scared Mr. Adams's co-workers into thinking that they were about to be fired, and they blamed him.
Mr. Adams became deeply depressed. A doctor prescribed disability leave, and when he took it, Circuit City informed him he had never applied for employee benefits, so none would be forthcoming.
"I had no medical, no dental - nothing," Mr. Adams said. "All these creditors were calling me. Circuit City was calling and threatening me. The whirlwind of stress really took a toll on me."
He eventually moved to San Diego, to distance himself from what he calls "this tailspin." But Mr. Adams says he still cannot understand why any company would spend so much time and money trying to keep someone like him out of court. If anyone had just paid attention the first time, he said, he would never have had a grievance.