Striking teachers give community a basic labor lesson

Harlem School District teachers sent written notification to the administration this morning of their intention to strike, halting the start of school for the second time in three years. Lenny Nieves, an adviser for the Harlem Federation of Teachers union, said the union will not meet with the administration today, quashing any hope of a last-minute labor contract breakthrough.

The action means school will not start Tuesday as scheduled. Teachers will start picketing at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at all Harlem schools, Nieves said.

School District leaders will conduct a news conference at 2:30 p.m. today at the Harlem Administration Center, 8605 N. Second St., to discuss plans for the strike.
Neither Superintendent Pat DeLuca or Anthony Rosilez, Harlem's human resources director and chief negotiator, could not be reached for comment this morning.

"There is one major hurdle and that is the salary and the salary structure," said Nieves, who informed the administration at 11 a.m. today. "We have some other issues that we are not that far apart on, but we have to settle salary and salary structure first."

DeLuca had said the administration wanted to continue eleventh-hour negotiations today and early Tuesday to settle the teacher's contract, but contract talks will not resume until Tuesday at the earliest. A federal mediator is attempting to arrange a bargaining session for Wednesday or Thursday, Nieves said.

Union leaders say that Harlem's starting teacher pay of $31,900 a year has caused the School District to bleed young teachers, who are leaving for better-paying jobs elsewhere. Average pay for teachers in the Harlem School District is $52,864 a year, about $4,000 less than the state average, according to the state Board of Education.

Harlem teachers also receive insurance and retirement benefits.

A contract agreement on the support staff contract, which covers all noncertified Harlem employees, has been reached. DeLuca said those employees probably will be locked out in the case of a teachers strike, but said they would not lose pay.
On Sunday night, administration finalized preparations with department heads and principals for a strike. Shane Turner, the School District's athletic director, has said sports practices will continue with volunteers coaching the athletes, but no games can be played if teachers are on strike.

In the wake of the news, Harlem Community Center announced it will hold additional programming during the duration of the work stoppage. Parents can drop their children off at the youth center, 900 Roosevelt Road, anytime from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays for $20 a day.

The last time a strike idled Harlem students was 2004, when teachers walked the picket line for nine days. The district locked out support staff during that impasse, and Harlem's varsity football team forfeited its season opener. The strike ended when teachers and district officials agreed to let an arbitrator settle unresolved contract terms.


Steelworkers union surrenders on eve of NLRB hearing

The United Steelworkers union has agreed to drop disciplinary action against four former members who defied a three-month strike last year at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the workers and the union said Monday.

The workers said they crossed the picket line to support their families. They said they were threatened with $620 fines and subjected to continued dues deductions after they quit the union and got harassed by union members using bullhorns outside their homes.

To settle a National Labor Relations Board complaint, Steelworkers Local 2L in Akron agreed to withdraw the disciplinary measures, erase records of the actions and post the local's commitment against harassing union-covered workers. The matter had been scheduled to go before a board administrative law judge on Tuesday in Cleveland.

Pete Stamich, president of Local 2L, said the agreement did not include any admission of wrongdoing. He said the former union members mostly work on their own at Goodyear and have little contact with union members.

The local has about 470 members, most making racing and experimental tires.

The National Right to Work Foundation, which opposes compulsory union membership, represented the former union members.

"The outright contempt that these thuggish union officials have for employees who refuse to toe the union line is despicable," said Stefan Gleason, foundation vice president.


Striking Teamster pickets shut IKEA store

IKEA's flagship Richmond, B.C. store is closed behind pickets today after members of Teamsters Local 213 rejected a five-year pay offer. The union represents about 300 IKEA workers in Richmond, whose last three-year contract expired on Dec. 31, 2006.

Among contract demands is the elimination of a two-tier wage schedule introduced in the last contract that allows the company to pay lower wages to new employees.

Store manager Doug McCann said he decided to close the store rather than cause friction by requiring managers to cross the picket line. "When this is over with we still want to work together," he said in an interview. "I still have a great deal of respect for my co-workers and I don't want to cause friction in that relationship."

McCann said the company was willing to eliminate the two-tier system over six years but that was rejected by union negotiators.

The offer was then withdrawn in favour of a five-year deal including raises of two per cent in each of the first three years, and three per cent in years four and five. Workers rejected the offer by 61 per cent in voting over the weekend and the strike began at 3 a.m. today.

IKEA's Richmond store, now occupying 18,500 square metres on two levels at Sweden Way, was the Swedish furniture retailer's first outlet in Canada. It is the only one of the company's 11 stores across Canada that is unionized.

Callers to the store today hear a voice message saying that it is temporarily closed. The same message is posted at the store's website.

The strike does not affect Ikea's non-union Coquitlam store.

McCann said he believes the strike is the first at the store since the initial contract was signed more than 20 years ago.

The Sun has been unable to reach officers of Teamsters Local 213.


Local Steelworkers in Home Depot boycott

Half a dozen Sault Ste. Marie steelworkers carried out a leaflet campaign in the parking lot outside Home Depot Saturday. The local union activists were participating in a United Steelworkers (USW) cross-Canada campaign to inform consumers about struck wood products. The steelworkers' leaflets urged shoppers to think before purchasing lumber products labelled Western Forest Products, Interfor or Weyerhaeuser "Cedar One."

USW members in British Columbia have been on strike for four weeks against Western, Interfor and other employers over working conditions, including health and safety issues. "We're trying to make people aware that Weyerhaeuser isn't being fair at the bargaining table," said Gary Premo, a member of Local 2251, Algoma Steel Inc.'s large production unit. "Hopefully people don't buy the product and the company will get back to the table."

The USW says since 2004, many employers, backed by a B.C. government-legislated collective agreement, have imposed work days of 12 to 16 hours, when hours on the job and travel time are factored together.

Since January 2006, more than 65 B.C forest workers have been killed, says the union, which represents more than 280,000 men and women working in every sector of Canada's economy.


Jury makes UFCW pay rat organizer $820K

Charles Ardingo, a longtime union organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 951, has won an $819,614 award in a jury trial against the union.

In a case filed in December 2004, Ardingo claimed former union president Robert Potter and the UFCW illegally fired him for cooperating with a federal investigation into union finances and for failing to pay enough into a union legal defense fund. A related case is working its way to trial, possibly this fall, for Michael McMillan, who for 24 years was elected recorder for Local 951.

The July 19 award for damages in Ardingo's case far exceeds a potential $155,000 settlement reached in November 2005; that offer was rejected by Local 951's executive board. Another effort to settle both cases was unsuccessful this summer.

"We attempted several times to work through some of the issues," Ardingo said. "After those efforts failed, the jury's decision was welcome news.

"I'm very happy for that, of course," Ardingo said. "I was disappointed when I lost my job at 951. The issue I felt I had to go through with was more a matter of me and the workplace."

The trials are based at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, before Magistrate Judge Ellen Carmody.

Lawyers for the UFCW say they are considering an appeal, but a decision has not been made.

Marv Russo, who was just elected to the top job at Local 951 by a 3-to-1 margin, said such a large award is a concern, but he's optimistic.

"That stuff will work its way through the legal system," Russo said. "At the end of the day, everything will work out."

The upheaval among union officers dates back several years. In early 2000, the U.S. Department of Labor launched an audit of Local 951's finances and, later that year, convened a grand jury investigation. To cover legal costs for union officers and staff, Potter established a legal defense fund and asked top officials to contribute. Ardingo, asked for $5,000, instead contributed $1,260.

McMillan also was asked to contribute: first, $10,000, and later $5,000. He refused both requests, according to court documents, and said he was chastised and eventually punished by orders to go to North Carolina to help organize a Wal-Mart.

"That was probably the worst job you could get," said McMillan's and Ardingo's lawyer, Henry Guikema. McMillan demanded to be called back to Michigan, so he could fulfill his duties as recorder.

Potter told him if he refused to organize workers in North Carolina, it would represent a voluntary resignation, Guikema said. That prompted McMillan to file suit in 2004.

The dispute hinges on how the jury decides two points: Could McMillan legally be fired from an elected job? Or did he quit?

About the same time McMillan was sent to North Carolina, union organizer Ardingo also was ordered out of state.

"He was assigned to Seattle indefinitely, and allowed every two weeks to return to visit his family," Guikema said. Six months later, Ardingo was laid off.

The UFCW argued that the layoff was driven by economic hardship at the local, but the jury ruled the action was politically driven and failed to meet the union's "just cause" standard.

The two plaintiffs took different career paths. Ardingo has moved to Washington state, where he works with a smaller UFCW Local 21. McMillan lives in the Grand Rapids area and is self-employed.

Potter, who retired in mid-2006, said he could not comment on the lawsuits because McMillan's case is still pending.


Teachers to strike as school year starts

The teachers union for the northern Illinois community of Harlem says its members will strike tomorrow morning instead of starting classes. School Superintendent Pat DeLuca says the School Board and union would have to reach an agreement by 7 a.m. tomorrow to avoid a strike.

He says the union, the Harlem Federation of Teachers, has not yet responded to a contract proposal offered by the district Saturday. Union leaders say its 550 members will attend today's institute day but hit the picket lines tomorrow.

Teachers are upset about low pay, which they say lags behind the state average and causes young talent to leave the district for better-paying jobs elsewhere.

Starting teacher pay in Harlem is $31,900 a year.

The district has about 7,750 students.


Picket line violence Down Under

Unmasking the identity of this man and about 150 of his mates who caused mayhem outside a Sydney, Australia stationery business three weeks ago is proving pivotal to ending a long-running industrial dispute in the city's south-west.

The management of the business, Esselte, says the hooded man was one of the "union thugs" bussed in for the day to stir violence in support of 15 striking workers. Unless the unions confess and reveal the identity of the troublemakers, Esselte is refusing to negotiate further.

It further says the white doubledecker bus used to transport the agitators to the picket line at the Minto premises was owned by Unions NSW.

In the latest of an increasingly terse exchange of letters, the head of Unions NSW, John Robertson, wrote to Esselte management this week saying the Unions NSW bus was an orange, one-tiered coach. He included a picture.

The National Union of Workers said originally that the troublemakers were "fringe socialists" and said it did not know who they were.

Yesterday the union said unless it could view the footage that management shot, it could not say whether the troublemakers were its members.

The strike began at Esselte's Minto premises on June 18 when 15 of the 50 workers walked off the job. They had wanted a union-negotiated collective agreement, not an Australian Workplace Agreement.

"I was quite happy to do a union collective agreement for the 15 at the time," Esselte's financial controller, Barry Starr, told the Herald.

He said the agreement would provide the same conditions as the AWAs chosen by other workers that offered a 38-hour week, penalty rates, shift and leave loading, weekend rates, four-weeks' leave and 10-days' sick leave.

The unions say the agreement offered no pay rise.

Mr Starr said negotiations broke down when the union changed tack midway through and demanded the company scrap AWAs altogether and place everybody under the agreement.

Last month federal Labor's industrial relations spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, visited the picket line to support the strikers and rail against Work Choices.

About a week later, on July 18, there was a more ominous visit. About 150 strangers turned up. Most wore fluorescent NUW vests, others had union flags and caps.

They were filmed kicking cars and intimidating the workers not on strike. The mob yanked open the door of a truck and threw objects at the driver, including the contents of a bottle of metal polish.

The photo of the man in the balaclava, clutching a union vest in his left hand, was taken from the footage, Esselte says.

At the time Mr Robertson condemned the "extremism" and said the those bussed in were not part of the mainstream union movement.

A week later he wrote to Mr Starr seeking a meeting to resolve the dispute.

Mr Starr wrote back, telling Mr Robertson that clearly Unions NSW had no control over the NUW and he did not believe the thugs were part of "some fringe socialist group".

"We remain very concerned that the NUW claims that it does not know the identity of the individuals who, presumably, outsourced the threats and intimidation of the day," he said.

"To now suggest that Unions NSW wishes to resolve the impasse is difficult to accept in light of recent developments, which were an affront to every worker in this state and country."

Mr Starr said he would be happy to talk if the strikers returned to work and Unions NSW directed the NUW to provide in writing the names and addresses of those involved in the mayhem.

"Given the proximity of the Unions NSW bus to the [truck driver] assault, perhaps one of your employees or officers may be able to shed some light on the identities of individuals."


Colorado state gov't gets more union-friendly

Will the proposed policy that would expand the access unions have to state employees truly make Colorado a "union paradise," as Republicans claim? Is it Gov. Bill Ritter's "thank you" to organized labor for its help in his winning election?

Or is it merely the much-needed clarification of existing rules that Democrats and labor leaders contend?

Here's one clue: The new policy grants public employee unions far more operating latitude than unions in private settings usually enjoy. Indeed, union organizers would have such pervasive access that they could become an intrusive, even intimidating presence for some workers.

State Personnel Board Rule 1-18, the existing policy, already gives employees the right "to associate, self-organize, and designate representatives of their choice." And it permits union representatives to "confer, with prior consent from the supervisor, on employment matters during work hours. Such conferences should be scheduled to minimize disruption to productivity and the general work environment."

So what's to clarify? Well, Department of Personnel and Administration Director Rich Gonzales drafted rules defining "reasonable access" for "talking to and distributing literature to employees" (a euphemism for union organizing) to include a wide array of common areas including main entrances and exits, cafeterias, break rooms, parking lots, and outdoor walkways at virtually all state facilities.

Not only that, unions are given the explicit right to reserve conference or meeting rooms within state facilities, as well as use both the state's centralized mail distribution system to communicate with state employees and all internal mail systems within departments.

Finally, unions can use the state's e-mail system to conduct organizing drives and otherwise communicate with state employees, subject to certain limitations such as volume e-mails (no more than three per month during work hours, which officially do not, surprisingly, include noon to 1 p.m.).

To be sure, unions would be expected to "pay all associated costs" involved in any mailings, refrain from criticizing management in e-mails, and permit employees to opt out of correspondence. Still, all this amounts to extraordinary access. While the current policy aligns closely with the rules and practices that apply in private business, the proposed rules do not.

It is naive to think that volume e-mails dealing with union organizing will not disrupt normal work performance, regardless of when they are sent. Campaign material is inherently a discussion-provoking distraction. Moreover, the possibility of the pervasive presence of union organizers allowed by such broad mandatory access to state workplaces is likely to create at least an irritating and distracting environment for many workers, if not worse.

A small fraction of Colorado's 74,000 state workers are unionized; the single largest bargaining representation covers about 4,000 members. So it's easy to see why Colorado labor leaders are so enthusiastic in their defense of the generous assistance being offered by the Ritter administration.

The new policy on "employee organization access" as currently crafted is unnecessary at best. At worst, it is the payback to organized labor that Republicans have characterized it to be.


Gov't workers picket private club, stop trash collection

The upscale Arbutus Club's plan to take care of their members' garbage during the Vancouver civil strike has been stopped dead by angry CUPE workers. Picketing civic workers set up shop in front of the Shaughnessy club this weekend to greet anyone attempting to drop off garbage at the ritzy facility.

The club's decision last week to offer garbage disposal to its members outraged CUPE officials, who have been against any efforts to replace union jobs during the strike.

Arbutus Club members were able to drop off their garbage and have it disposed of for $5 - if you've already paid the club's $40,000 initiation fee - but the union claimed non-members were also dropping off garbage at the club's gate.

Not anymore.

Not wanting to get involved in the labour dispute, the Arbutus Club has reluctantly given in to the union's demands and terminated their temporary garbage disposal service.

CUPE representatives could not be reached for comment by press time.


Dems play politics with union watchdog unit

The Office of Labor Management Standards, the federal government's union-watchdog agency, has recouped more than $100 million for American workers since 2001. But this increased oversight of unions hasn’t gone over well with liberals in Congress, who are now trying to slash the agency's budget for next year.

Last month, pro-labor Democrats in the House successfully fought back a Republican-led effort to restore $2 million to the agency's budget. The Senate will take up the bill when Congress returns from its August recess. The liberals' revolt against the Department of Labor agency comes on the heels of an increased crackdown on union misbehavior and greater scrutiny of union finances. Following the 2000 elections, the Office of Labor Management Standards reversed nearly a decade of lax enforcement under the Clinton Administration.

The result has been a steady rise in investigations and convictions under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. Since 2001, for example, the agency has filed 810 indictments, won 781 convictions and recouped $101 million in court-ordered restitution for union workers.

Recent convictions include a Teamsters president in Houston who was sentenced to 78 months in prison for embezzlement and mail fraud. He was ordered to pay $121,478 in restitution. The president of the National Association of Letter Carriers in San Mateo, Calif., was indicted for embezzling more than $170,000 in union funds. And the president of the International Longshoremen's Association in Puerto Rico was convicted of embezzling $1.9 million in union funds and falsely reporting the amount of dues paid on the union’s financial disclosure forms.

Those forms, available for public consumption at UnionReports.gov, have been a source of contention for labor unions ever since the Department of Labor revised them in 2003 - the first change to union financial reporting since 1959. The AFL-CIO warned that it would cost all unions more than $1 billion to comply and that it could spend upwards of $1 million to meet the government’s new disclosure requirements. Those figures were greatly exaggerated, however. The AFL-CIO spent a total of $54,150 to meet the new requirements.

The increased transparency has revealed some embarrassing expenditures by unions, such as the $1.9 million spent by the International Association of Machinists on its very own Lear jet. But while transparency is a good thing for union members who expect good stewardship from their leaders, it has met resistance on Capitol Hill, where many liberals count on union leaders for fundraising help. During a recent debate over the Department of Labor spending bill for next year, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D.-Wis.) argued the Office of Labor Management Standards' budget should be cut.

Obey defended the move to cut the agency's budget by $2 million - about $11 million short of Bush’s request—by saying that any increase in funding would "enrich the one portion of the Labor Department which has been doing very well [with its current budget]."

Successful Agency

It's true that the agency has been doing well, especially considering that it employs about 325 people in offices across the country and is the only federal agency responsible for union enforcement. But after years of being starved under President Clinton, the Office of Labor Management Standards is still below its 1980s staffing levels. Don Todd, deputy assistant secretary for the agency, said enforcement had fallen off so dramatically in the 1990s that a union stood the chance of being audited only once every 200 years. Even today the agency can audit only about 4.6% of unions each year.

Republicans in Congress have fought back. Rep. John Kline (R.-Minn.) offered an amendment to restore about $2 million to the agency's budget, which would have kept its funding from declining from this year’s level. It was rejected, 186 to 237, on a mostly party-line vote.

Citing the agency's success in winning restitution for union workers, Kline said, "Some of my colleagues may dismiss these monetary results as just small change compared to the billions of assets held by labor unions, but they miss the point. Stealing from your fellow union members is against the law, regardless of whether the theft is $10,000 or $100,000. And anywhere in the country but Washington, D.C., $10,000 is a lot of money."

Conservatives have also attacked liberals for cutting the agency’s budget while at the same time increasing money spent on enforcing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The law, passed in the wake of the Enron scandal, has driven American businesses overseas because of its burdensome regulations. Liberals went above and beyond the Bush Administration’s funding request for the SEC by $3.1 million.


Striking CUPE: Vancouver picket line fiasco

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