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Akron beer workers are out of jobs. Is their own union to blame?

When union jobs are on the line, Teamsters launch into action mode. That's what happened when members of Local 348 in Akron faced termination from an area beer distributor. The local fought back with protest banners in stores and bars, radio ads, and picket lines at Akron events. The rallying cry: Labor jobs are being hijacked to Cleveland suburbs! It's a lockout!

But for all its wailing, Local 348 appears only to be overcompensating for past silence. The distributor permanently laid off all 68 Akron workers last week, saying that it couldn't get Local 348 to the negotiating table when it mattered most. They were replaced with union workers from Cleveland.

The House of LaRose, the area's exclusive distributor of Anheuser-Busch products, announced two years ago that it would consolidate its warehouses in Cuyahoga Heights and Akron into a single new facility. It negotiated a new contract with Local 293 of Cleveland, which oversees Cuyahoga Heights, but when it appealed for talks with Local 348, two months passed with no reply. So LaRose moved forward with plans to close the Akron warehouse and made multiple contract offers to its workers. One of them, on the table for more than a year, would have protected two-thirds of the Akron jobs and provided a severance package. Local 348's only response: "Nothing I could say on TV," says company President Jim LaRose.

Seventeen months after it initiated talks, LaRose announced plans to hire new workers through Cleveland Local 293, which has jurisdiction over the company's new Brecksville warehouse. On June 1, the Akron center was shuttered.

Today, Pat Darrow, secretary of Local 348, accuses the company of "throwing 68 employees out in the street" and hiring younger (and therefore cheaper) replacements.

Darrow also insists that Akron workers were never in LaRose's plans. But he declines to respond to a timeline of events provided by the House of LaRose, which details the local's failure to negotiate. "My time would be better served right now to support these people," he says.

The same could have been said two years ago.

All too real
As anyone who's seen Court TV can tell you, a trial can be a colossal bore -- even when there's a life at stake. So the new reality show, State v. -- currently filming the Mark Ducic capital-murder trial in Cleveland -- is really going to have to sex it up to compete with the likes of The Swan and Survivor. First Punch has a few gimmicks that might do the trick.

A catchphrase is a must. Have the accused carry a torch (call it the "Flame of Life" if you like). Should the jury render a guilty verdict, the judge gets to say, "The jury has spoken," then snuff the poor bastard's flame, Jeff Probst-style.

Traditional courtroom-drama lines, such as "May God have mercy on your soul," are way stale. Tell the judge to Trump it up: Sneer, point, and spit the words, "You're fried."

Eye candy is scarce in the typical Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Ratings disaster. So how's about a jury of Playboy Playmates? Nine regulars and three alternates, so all 12 months can be represented. Everybody in the jury pool!

Audience participation could turn this show into American Idol with a guillotine. Let viewers vote on what evidence should be allowed, on who among the witnesses should be gagged, and on the severity of the sentence. ("If you favor lethal injection, text the word 'needle' to the number on your screen . . .")

And for those who haven't read the Scene article on Ducic ["The Lies That Bind," April 14]: Don't read it now. It'll give away the ending.

Rage against the machines
Diebold's electronic voting machines may be easier to rig than a bingo game called by a blind man, but Cuyahoga County is charging ahead with plans to roll out the Akron-based company's products next year. Someone ought to take a look at new developments out west.

California's secretary of state recommended last month that the state attorney general bring criminal and civil charges against Diebold for lying to California officials. The company claimed that it was about to gain federal certification for its machines, when in fact it was nowhere close.

Seems that the operating system that runs its voting machines was placed on the internet, where it may have been downloaded and copied by wannabe hackers. There's also a problem with the system's plastic ballot cards, which voters insert into Diebold machines to ensure that they receive the correct ballot. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that they could buy blank cards over the internet and program them to cast multiple votes.

And for some strange reason, the Diebold operating system allows campaign workers to add as many "negative" votes as they want after an election. "There is no legitimate reason to ever put in a minus vote," says Bev Harris, one of the loudest anti-computer-voting activists in the nation, who spoke at the City Club last month. "The dangers posed by these Diebold machines are just extraordinary."

Ohio 1, Nature 0
Ohio legislators have finally found their talent: They are irrefutably godawful at protecting the environment. According to a recent report by the League of Conservation Voters, the State House earned a D+ on environmental issues in 2003.

Leading the effort were Speaker Larry Householder, majority floor-leader Patricia Clancy, assistant majority floor-leader Stephen Buehrer, and speaker pro tempore Gary Cates, all of whom voted to give polluters an extra five years of immunity from paying EPA fines. They also barred local governments from protecting themselves against hazardous factory farms and natural gas drilling, earning themselves a big fat F. In the midst of such spectacular failure, the best that most Northeast Ohio representatives could muster was mediocrity. Most of our reps only got B's and C's, missing the major leagues of sinister scheming, but still falling well short of doing good. "They weren't as bad, given the level of general awfulness," says Mike Eckhardt, the League's policy director, in faint praise.

Really lousing up the curve was Representative Dale Miller of Cleveland, the only rep in the area to earn an A+ (one of only four A's in the entire 99-seat body). Way to go, tree-hugger -- how are we gonna get back our reputation as a manufacturing state with wussy nature-boys like you around?

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