Gov't union strike forces kids onto dangerous streets

Some Downtown Eastside (DTES) families are pleading with union leaders to let a community centre in the heart of the troubled neighbourhood stay open through Vancouver's civic strike. Steve Bouchard, president of the Ray-Cam Community Centre on East Hastings Street, says families depend on the DTES institution. "Where else would they go? The libraries are closed. Community centres are closed. Day camps are closed. There are no other options," Bouchard told 24 hours.

"It's forced local children onto the streets of the Downtown Eastside and potentially into the arms of pedophiles and drug dealers and pimps. We've received numerous phone calls at Ray-Cam. Some parents are in tears because they just don't know what to do." Bouchard said some kids have continued to come to Ray-Cam even during the strike, prompting some staff to care for them, even while they walk the picket lines. Bouchard said Ray-Cam has petitioned the Labour Relations Board twice to force essential service baselines for the centre, but it has received no support from union leaders. "It's unacceptable," Bouchard said of the union stance.

Calls to CUPE 15 president Paul Faoro, head of the union for indoor municipal workers in Vancouver, were unanswered by press time yesterday.


Teamster boss lied about criminal association

A top Pennsylvania Teamsters official could lose jobs paying him more than $188,000 a year if he loses in a pending ruling by a Teamsters' panel on charges he lied to the federal board that oversees the union.

Francis J. "Frank" Gillen is president of the 92,000-member Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters and of Philadelphia-based Teamsters Joint Council 53 and Teamsters Local 500. He is awaiting the decision by a union panel following a hearing on July 11 into the charge by the Independent Review Board, said Richard Murray, a special investigator for the board.

The Teamsters will not make a public comment on any decision until it is referred back to the Independent Review Board for its consideration, said Galen Munroe, a Teamsters International spokesman in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Gillen could not be reached for comment at his offices in Harrisburg or Philadelphia.

The Teamsters union is expected to release the decision soon because the union was given 90 days from the board's April 26 recommendation to issue a ruling, Murray said. The board could agree with the union's recommendation, Murray said, or ask for a new hearing, which could prompt a union appeal.

The review board accused Gillen of lying on Feb. 1, when he said he had not associated with Thomas Ryan, a former Teamster local president in Philadelphia barred in 1996 for misusing union funds and then banned from union activities.

Ryan, however, said in depositions in a lawsuit seeking reinstatement to the union that he had numerous contacts with Gillen since being suspended, Murray said. Gillen also is accused of failing to cooperate with the review board.

The three-member review board, set up by a federal court order in 1996, reviews allegations of union corruption or organized crime influence, then recommends actions.

Union financial reports for 2006 show Gillen was paid $112,293 for his local union office, $38,575 for the joint council position, and $38,036 for the state office, which also covers unions in Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia. Teamsters International union in Washington did not report any payment for his vice president's job in 2006.


Labor unions too political, rankle citizens

Canadians feel labour unions are essential, but don't fully support the way they exercise power and gain influence, according to an Angus Reid Strategies poll. The online survey found that 59 per cent of Canadians believe unions are an important entity in society, while 72 per cent feel unions effectively improve worker salaries and working conditions. But 70 per cent of those surveyed think labour unions are too involved in political activities, and 48 per cent believe unions have too much influence in Canadian life.

Atlantic Canada residents are generally more supportive of unions, with only 30 per cent of Atlantic Canadians feeling unions have too much influence in Canadian life, compared with a national average of 48 per cent. We tend to also be more supportive in B.C. With a Vancouver civic workers strike currently in the news, 27 per cent of B.C. respondents said city workers should never be allowed to strike, compared with a national average of 35 per cent. Thirty-four per cent of B.C. respondents said public school teachers should never strike - compared with a national average of 43 per cent - while 51 per cent of people in B.C. feel health workers should never strike, compared with 58 per cent nationally.

Angus Reid Strategies spokesman Craig Worden said Canadians generally support union causes, but when union activity causes difficulties in their own lives, they put qualifiers on their support.

He said general support for unions throughout Vancouver could wane, for example, if the current civic workers strike lasts several more weeks.

"If the strike drags on, survey results could change significantly," Worden said in an interview. "British Columbians are very supportive of unions up to a point but when it starts to affect their lives in a negative way, then that support will start to wither away."

He noted most Canadians want unions to have the right to strike, but they still want governments to have the tools to end strikes or allow replacement workers if necessary.

Just 53 per cent of B.C. residents surveyed agree that federal and provincial governments have adequate laws to protect workers -- the lowest percentage in Canada, 12 percentage points below the national average of 65 per cent.

Canadians 55 and over, those with university education and those in households earning less than $50,000 a year are more likely to believe that labour unions are necessary to improve conditions for workers.

The survey found that 72 per cent of Conservative supporters feel unions have too much influence in Canada and 52 per cent highly disagree with the idea that unions are necessary and important in society.

Eighty per cent of NDP supporters in the survey said labour unions are necessary and important entities in society.

The online survey of 1,000 adult Canadians was conducted on July 23 and July 24 and is considered to be accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


IUOE authorizes Seattle strike

There are construction sites all over Seattle and King County, and most could be seriously impacted by a concrete strike. Negotiations appeared to be continuing Monday between concrete truck drivers and four major concrete companies. Dave Hurley is a project manager for Real Property Development. His company works on residential projects. "If there's a strike, then we have to wait. We don't have any other choice," he said about a townhouse not yet finished.

Hurley's concrete comes from Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel in nearby Ballard. Salmon Bay is one of four local companies negotiating with the teamsters over a new contract. On the union's Web site, Sunday morning members voted in favor of a strike authorization that would give negotiators the power to call a strike if necessary.

Strike authorizations are typically granted during negotiations, but the Web site also suggests sessions earlier this month have been moving in a positive direction.

But the construction industry is a bit on edge after a multi-week strike just a year ago by the Operating Engineers who work in the concrete plants.

Hurley says a strike could raise costs for home buyers.

"So if you have a homeowner who's on the edge at a $400,000 house, now all of a sudden we need to bump $10,000 or $20,000 onto it. Now maybe they can't afford it," he said.

The union's website says it was hoping for a ratification vote Sunday morning, but instead said without an agreement in place they would take a strike vote, which they did.

That strike by the Operating Engineers last year lasted almost the entire month of August.


Evidence-tampering in gov't union police complaint

CUPE members in Vancouver are on strike and a stench can be detected. It is not the stench of garbage left uncollected, it is the stench of CUPE's dirty laundry. A former secretary to two CUPE Presidents is talking. The secretary continues to talk about the police complaint CUPE lodged against her after she complained of the "non-union sweatshop" they were quietly operating at Local 116 at UBC. VPD Constables Megan Herrmann and Kevin Ng - who don't have jurisdiction at UBC - left voice mail and showed up at her home. Their message: muzzle yourself about unfair labour practices inside CUPE.

When the secretary got a copy of the police report, she was shocked to discover that letters she had sent to CUPE President Barry O'Neill and BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair about unfair labor practices inside CUPE had been submitted as "evidence". Copies of these letters were enclosed with the police report. This fact has been discussed in a previous post, "CUPE Strike Haunted by Secretary Scandal". What is new is that the DTES Enquirer has learned that the police report pertaining to the CUPE complaint was retroactively altered roughly a year after the case had been labelled "CLOSED".

The alteration of the police report occurred after the whistleblowing secretary contacted CUPE President, Barry O'Neill, and BC Federation of Labour President, Jim Sinclair, in writing in 2003. She informed O'Neill and Sinclair that as long as the unfounded "WORKPLACE HARASSMENT" notation remained adjacent to her name in police records, she would ensure that it remained on their public records as union leaders. Speaking up about workplace conditions did not constitute "WORKPPLACE HARASSMENT", she reminded them. It was then that the term "WORKPLACE" disappeared from the police report -- even though the case had been labelled CLOSED by the VPD the previous year. The secretary doesn't know who changed the "offence" for which she was investigated but she can prove that it was changed in the police file long after the case had been closed.

It was quite by accident that the secretary stumbled upon the change. It was when she received documents from a second Freedom of Information request, that she noticed that the Vancouver Police had retroactively changed the offence for which she had been investigated. The offence was changed from "WORKPLACE HARASSMENT" to "HARASSMENT/ OBSCENE COMMUNICATION". She suspects that the term "WORKPLACE" was dropped as a form of damage control, to reduce potential embarrassment to union leaders -- but she can't prove it.

What she can prove is that there was nothing harassing or obscene about her communication with labor leaders. Her letters, which remain on file at the VPD Property Office, can be used to confirm this. "What was obscene about this situation was the way people who worked for CUPE were treated", she says.

The fact that the whistle blowing secretary had been investigated for the specific offence of “WORKPLACE HARASSMENT” and not "HARASSMENT/ OBSCENE COMMUNICATION cannot be disputed. "WORKPLACE HARASSMENT" is clearly typed at the top of the police report she obtained through Freedom of Information shortly after CUPE called police on her. And the fact that the case had been "CLOSED" in Dec. 2002 is also typed on the police report. Further, the DTES woman has preserved correspondence from the VPD informing her that the “WORKPLACE HARASSMENT” notation would remain on the police PRIME data base permanently. It did remain on the police data base until after she contacted O'Neill and Sinclair in 2003, after which time the "WORKPLACE" angle for which she had been investigated disappeared.

The whistle blowing secretary sees this retroactive alteration of an investigated "offence" in a closed police file as a form of evidence- tampering. She speculates that it may have been prompted by the fact that she was requesting a criminal investigation into labor leaders involved in this case. It was "no secret", she says, that she wanted union leaders criminally investigated for public mischief for lodging what she considered to be an unfounded police complaint. [Context: When CUPE lodged their complaint in Dec. 2002, the lodging of unfounded criminal complaints to silence vocal Downtown Eastside residents was an epidemic problem. Inspector John de Haas stated in one case involving the Vancouver School Board that bureaucrats lodging unfounded police complaints against political adversaries could justifiably face "public mischief" investigations, if a victims requested them. An advocate on the Downtown Eastside was advising residents to seek public mischief investigations in such cases.]

The whistleblowing secretary says CUPE and police were well aware that she had never visited or telephoned her CUPE "WORKPLACE" after leaving her job there. There was no workplace harassment and that fact was just too obvious so, in her view, somebody arranged for the "WORKPLACE" element to get retroactively disappeared. "I e-mailed Jim Sinclair in 2004 and I asked him if he had any idea who that somebody was," she says. He didn't respond. But she did preserve a copy of her e-mail to him.

There was no workplace harassment. There was no harassment, period. That's the position of the whistleblowing secretary."I have as much right as CUPE members [currently] on strike to protest about working conditions."


SEIU Local 503: A grant-making gov't union

Erica Thompson of Corvallis has received a $500 scholarship from SEIU Local 503. Thompson will attend Whitman College. SEIU Local 503 awarded 40 scholarships and awards totaling $25,000 this year through a member scholarship program. The scholarship program is funded through member dues and donations. Applicants must demonstrate satisfactory scholastic ability and special consideration is given to SEIU Local 503 members who are currently public employees or who have been laid off from public employment.


Obama to AFSCME: I'll picket with strikers

Sen. Barack Obama's advantage in his presidential campaign is that he is a fresh face whom many voters - and not just Democrats - see as candid and capable of inspiring those who may have become disillusioned with politics. Three years ago, Obama was a state senator. And no matter how you slice it, such a jump to the highest office in the land would be unprecedented.

This comes to mind because of a promise from the Illinois senator to union members in Iowa, the site of the first caucuses, that some might see as another example of naivete, and a pledge that might be difficult to keep. And it may provide evidence for those critics who wonder if he is up to the job.

In an appearance before a meeting of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, the nation's largest public employees union, Obama pledged as president he would join the picket line in a strike.

Now, courting interest groups is as much a part of American politics as kissing babies. He is neither the first nor the last politician to do so. One person's pandering is another's pledge of support. Republicans pander to gun owners, conservative Christians and business groups.

GOP presidents have certainly spoken to anti-abortion rallies, yet not one has marched in demonstrations. Memory does not produce the example of a Democratic president walking a picket line. It would not be presidential.

But by promising that he would do so as president Obama is making an unusual promise that leaves him open to charges he does not understand the role of president.

If nothing else, imagine a president matching in a picket line with hoards of Secret Service all around him. Not only would it be a logistical nightmare, it would demean the office.

No presidential candidate is immune from trying to help those who got him elected. And pledging to push for and sign legislation to help unions increase their political clout and financial position would be par for the course. But pledging to march in a picket line is another story.

According to the well-respected Mike Glover of the Associated Press, who has been covering the Iowa caucuses since Obama was in high school, the candidate said that he had marched with picketers trying to unionize a Chicago hotel, and had told them "if they were still fighting four years from now, I'd be back on that picket line as president of the United States."

Obama was a community organizer before he got into elective politics and his commitment to organized labor is genuine. But a president has an obligation to be president of all Americans.

Only about one in 10 American workers are members of a labor union these days. Others certainly sympathize with the admirable goals of organized labor to make life better for working men and women.

But to assume that as president he would be speaking for the American people by injecting himself in a labor dispute is a questionable decision. Being known as the president who embraces organized labor is one thing, being one of its soldiers is another.

Would a President Obama be willing to buck organized labor in a national crisis? Would he, for instance, fire air traffic controllers as did Ronald Reagan, if he felt such a move was necessary to keep the nation's commercial air system -- and the economy dependent on it - running?

At that point, it would be reasonable for the American people to wonder whose interests would be foremost in Obama's mind - the American people's, or organized labor.

Running for president is a tough business and candidates are human beings who often say things in the heat of the moment that come back to haunt them. But Obama's pledge to picket as president was in his prepared text.

It may get lost in the frenzy that is a presidential campaign, but the episode provides insight into a man who would like to be president of the United States.

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