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Off Limits

Hot to trot: Yes, that was Congresswoman Diana DeGette you saw pressing the flesh last Tuesday on the 16th Street Mall, surrounded by a rugby scrum of political officials from 25 "developing" countries. The lucky foreigners, from as far away as Angola, El Salvador and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were here to learn about "the election process in this country" as guests of the U.S. government. And they picked the perfect moment to focus on colorful Colorado. We believe it was the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville who once wrote that to understand American democracy, you must understand the crucial role played by interns in kneepads and toe-sucking hookers. And this latest group of global philosophers arrived just in time to examine Denver's own case study in surreal politik: Barry Arrington, who waged a noble battle for the GOP nomination in the Sixth District congressional race despite being distracted by his consuming interest in pornography.

The state legislator from Arvada, believed to be a direct descendant of Cotton Mather, already had a leg up in the race for Bluenosed Zealot of the Year: He founded Focus on the Family's local political arm (the Rocky Mountain Family Council), he used to erect billboards offering legal help to women "injured" by abortions, and he's the unchallenged champion of animals' sexual rights on the entire Front Range. While leading the unsuccessful Amendment 16 battle for censorship in 1994, Arrington worried about the influx into the state of materials depicting woman-dog and rodent-derriere relationships. Now this busy, busy fellow is a hired gun for the City of Aurora, which is trying to shut down Christal's, a shopping-pleasure palace for consenting adults.

Aurora city attorney Charles Richardson says the crusade against Christal's started a few years back when a gaggle of citizens complained that Aurora's own staff attorneys weren't qualified to fight smut the way it should be fought. They suggested Arrington, and he's been paid about $12,500 to wage the holy war, which has been highly successful: Earlier this year, a federal court of appeals upheld the city's aggressive anti-porn law, overturning U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch's ruling that the law was unconstitutional. The city filed a writ in U.S. District Court on August 11 to try to prevent Matsch from conducting a hearing next month on related complaints filed by Christal's attorneys.

Arrington's current rate, says Richardson, is $125 an hour. "He gave us a discount," says the city attorney, adding that the fiery Arrington has done "well" at his work. Richardson says he had no problem hiring Arrington for the work. "Any big city has to have a protocol for this," he says of the 255,000-population suburb. The idea, he adds, is for Aurora to force smut peddlers to relocate in neighboring cities that have less stringent or less strictly enforced laws. In some ways, however, Aurora will never really be a city. After all, its newspaper, the Sentinel, refers to Arrington, whose Amendment 16 campaign sought to virtually stamp out "offensive" speech, as a "civil-liberties attorney." You know, like Joe Stalin was a small-d democrat.

Mopping up: Attorneys for big-time janitorial contractor Maintenance Unlimited Inc. got hopping mad last week over a July Westword story that said the National Labor Relations Board "found" the company had violated federal labor law 69 times in a dispute with workers trying to organize in the Denver Tech Center. In fact, the attorneys pointed out in the process of demanding a retraction and an apology (Letters, August 6), the NLRB had merely alleged that those infractions took place, and a judge had yet to issue any findings on whether their client had engaged in unfair labor practices.

Point well taken. But here comes the judge.
In an August 6 ruling, federal administrative law judge Albert A. Metz found that Maintenance Unlimited, the major janitorial contractor in the southern suburbs, has violated federal labor law by harassing employees who want to form a union.

Local 105 of the Service Employees International Union has been trying to organize Tech Center janitors for much of the past year ("Janitors in a Conundrum," July 23). The judge upheld most of the complaints brought by attorneys for the National Labor Relations Board and singled out Maintenance Unlimited's treatment of 38-year-old David Rocha as an especially galling example of the company's labor record.

Like most of the firm's other employees, Rocha is an immigrant from Mexico. He made just over $5 an hour before he was fired. The father of four took part in a brief strike last summer during which he was quoted by local newspapers and radio stations as saying he "just wanted to be treated justly." He told Judge Metz that Raul Castorena, a Maintenance Unlimited supervisor, had threatened that he and other union supporters "were going to be taken to the sky." Rocha interpreted that comment, which was made while he and Castorena were alone in an elevator, as a death threat. He filed a complaint with police. While Castorena told the court that he was only joking, the judge ruled that the remarks violated Rocha's rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Being taken to the sky might actually be a relief to many Maintenance Unlimited employees, judging by the plantation-style working conditions they allegedly have endured at ground level. Judge Metz's ruling referred to constant verbal abuse and petty harassment of employees. The NLRB has charged that some workers were forced to clean toilets with their bare hands, that the company told employees they couldn't wear pro-union T-shirts on the job, and that supervisors asked workers to leave through different exits on days when they knew union organizers were waiting outside. Metz found the infractions serious enough that he ordered Maintenance Unlimited to offer jobs to Rocha and other employees fired for union activity and to compensate them for their loss of income. The company was also ordered to post prominent notices in six Tech Center buildings informing janitorial workers that Maintenance Unlimited has been found in violation of federal labor law and now promises to be on its best behavior regarding union-organizing activities.

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