Strike forces 8,000 kids, parents to make up time

Nearly 8,000 students from southern Roscoe, Machesney Park and Loves Park were told to stay home on what was scheduled to be their first day of school today because teachers went on strike when their labor union contract negotiations had not reached agreements.

By 7:30 a.m. Harlem High School teachers lined Alpine Road, picketing for better wages. "Quality teachers equal higher test scores," and "Thank your teachers," read some of the handmade signs.

Besides sending a message to the administration, teachers said the district-wide strike shows the community the educators are serious about having competitive wages to keep quality teachers. It's difficult to build a school culture when there's a big turnover each year, they said.

Lenny P. Nieves, Illinois Federation of Teachers field service director, formally notified Superintendent Pat DeLuca about 11 a.m. Monday that the staff represented by the Harlem Federation of Teachers was to strike until a new agreement is reached by the parties and ratified by the union.

Thus, the students who attend Harlem's high school, middle school and nine elementary schools will remain on summer break until the contract is settled.

When the teachers went on strike three years ago students started the year about two weeks late, causing many Harlem fall sports teams to miss their first scheduled competitions, such as the football team's season opener.

Students will have to make up the time they missed.


Teachers strike! Not again!

Here we go again. Harlem, Illinois teachers are on strike for the second time in three years. It doesn't have to - and shouldn't - be this way. Illinois should become one of the 24 states that prohibit teachers from going on strike.

Only 10 states allow teachers the same right to strike as private-sector workers. Illinois already has laws to prohibit strikes by workers essential to public safety and security, including police and firefighters.

Harlem teachers went on strike for nine days in 2004, which was just three years ago. The strike disrupted the start of the school year and caused the Harlem varsity football team to forfeit its season opener. The strike ended when teachers and district officials agreed to let an arbitrator settle unresolved contract terms.

Everyone loses when teachers strike. Teachers and administrators lose some of the trust and confidence the community places in them to handle the business of education fairly and in the best interest of the students.

School districts exist for only one purpose: to educate children. Educators should be able to fulfill that mission without fixating on salaries and benefits. It happens in other industries; why can't it happen in schools?

After the last teachers strike, Harlem voters resoundingly rejected a tax referendum 60 percent to 40 percent. It was the fifth time voters rejected a tax hike, but it was the largest margin of defeat.

Of course, it didn't help voter confidence when, two years later, Harlem ended the 2006 fiscal year with a $3.5 million surplus in its education fund. Perhaps that surplus encouraged teachers.

It's understandable that Harlem teachers want to get paid on par with their peers in Rockford and the rest of the state. It's also understandable that district administrators want to be good stewards with taxpayer money. What we can’t understand is how it got to this point.

Administrators were confident kids would not miss any school, but the union declined to meet with administrators Monday, killing any hopes of a last-minute deal.

Labor and management failed. They squandered the opportunity to demonstrate how differences can be settled with communication and compromise without getting to the worst-case strike scenario.

This happens too often. There ought to be a law so students can be confident that back to school means back to school.


Labor leader speaks against Hugo Chávez

A former mentor to President Hugo Chávez urged Venezuelans to reject proposed changes to the constitution, saying Tuesday that the president would use them to govern indefinitely. Luis Miquilena, who was president of a popularly elected, pro-Chavez assembly that drafted Venezuela's existing constitution, called Chávez's reform proposal "a constitutional fraud aimed at giving him perpetual power."

"The essential point of this reform is based on the idea of permitting Mr. Chávez to continue in power indefinitely," Miquilena told a news conference. Miquilena, an 88-year-old former labor leader, once was commonly referred to as Chavez's closest adviser. But he quit his Cabinet in 2002 and has periodically criticized the president since then.

Chávez last week proposed abolishing limits on re-election and extending presidential terms from six to seven years. He denies allegations that he wants to become a lifelong leader like his ally Fidel Castro of Cuba, saying the reform will strengthen - not weaken - Venezuela's democracy.

The Venezuelan leader, who was re-elected by a wide margin in December on promises to steer the country toward socialism, says the changes will give poor Venezuelans greater decision-making power and permit billions of dollars (euros) in foreign reserves to be funneled into social programs.

He says the new reforms will ensure that Venezuela's capitalist system «finishes dying» to make way for socialism.

His political allies firmly control the National Assembly, which is expected to approve the reform plan within months. The reform then would have to be approved in a national referendum.


Steelworkers take dues hit as Ohio plant shuts

Less than a month after ending a year-plus lockout at its Jackson plant, Meridian Automotive Systems Inc. is shuttering operations there. The Allen Park, Mich.-based automotive company told the state the plant closing would result in 141 job cuts.

C.P. Woods, Meridian's human resources director, wrote in a letter to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that the cuts at the plant about 75 miles south of Columbus would be phased in on or around Aug. 19, Sept. 2 and Sept. 30.

Another 330 workers had been locked out of the plant between spring 2006 and early August, when the company agreed to terms on a new contract with the United Steelworkers union. When the lockout ended, the union requested that workers brought in to run the plant be removed so locked out workers could return, but that agreement came as Meridian said it was likely to close the plant.

The union contract required Meridian to begin so-called effects bargaining when the plant closes, working with the union to negotiate severance packages and the extension of medical benefits.

Meridian and United Steelworkers officials could not be reached for comment.

Meridian is an automotive products supplier with 21 facilities and about 4,700 workers worldwide.


Newfoundland joins Canada's labor-struck summer

A strike at heavy equipment company Toromont Cat put as many as 45 workers from across the province on the picket lines Monday, with no end in sight. A three-year deal between the company and the Operating Engineers Local 904 expired Aug. 1, and attempts to negotiate a new pact have been unsuccessful thus far.

According to Wayne Waterman, vice-president and general manager for Toromont Cat in Newfoundland and Labrador, bargaining began June 19, but talks broke off after only a couple of days. An offer was made by the company Aug. 8 and an upgraded offer was made Thursday, but both were rejected by the union Friday. The strike vote went ahead Saturday.

"What we intend and always will intend is that our people are compensated above our highest competitors," Waterman told The Western Star. "We try and maintain a consistency on percentage throughout the entire enterprise - in Newfoundland, Ontario, Manitoba and a couple of northern regions.

"Our intention is to offer our people a competitive rate to keep us ahead of our competitors and that's where we are right now."

Union negotiating committee member Mario Mischaude, who was among those gathered on the picket line, said the union is obviously not satisfied with what's been offered.

"The big issues for us are wages, of course, as well as pension and medical benefits," he said. "We had an overwhelming majority not accept their last offer, which was minimal at best. It wasn't a very good offer.

"The talks have broke off and we haven't heard from the company since (their last offer)," he added. "We're waiting to see what they're going to do. If they want to go back to the table, we're ready to go back, but (in the last offer) they offered us a half per cent increase in wages. We took a day to drive across the island and the next day to drive back for a half per cent? That's what we're dealing with here. We just walked out and didn't come back."

Waterman dismissed the notion that pension and medical benefits were even an issue.

"Wages are obviously always part of a collective agreement," he said. "But pensions and medical benefits were not part of the collective bargaining agreement, not from our point of view. There are no more talks scheduled at the moment.

"Someone has to request we get back to the bargaining table, the negotiating committee or union committee. So, from our perspective, we can't do a whole lot about that."

Waterman and Mischaude expressed regret at what the strike might mean to the company's customers.

"It's disruptive for our customers," said Waterman. "It limits our abilities to service them to the level we would have been able to prior to this work stoppage."

Mischaude agreed that it "affects quite a few customers, unfortunately. But this is the only way we had to go."

Neither would hazard a guess as to when the strike might be resolved.

"Right now, we're up in the air," said Mischaude.

"We hope it won't be too long before they come back to the table and we can get a deal done."

That hope for a quick fix may be one of the only things the two sides have in common.

"The strike is still in its infancy, so it's really hard to predict (how long it will last)," said Waterman. "From my perspective, I'd like to see them back to work tomorrow."


Labor Board strikes down signing bonus

Steelworker union member workers at Timberwest joined the growing coastal forestry strike Monday, adding another 29 workers to the picket lines. The company, the largest private forest landowner in Western Canada, issued a lockout notice Friday that was to take effect at 4 p.m. Monday.

The move came just a day after the Labour Relations Board ruled the forestry giant was bargaining in bad faith when it offered a $100,000 signing bonus to select employees. In its decision, the LRB said the company's July 16 "final offer" to 29 engineers and foresters was an attempt to get workers out of their union by use of improper threats, promises or inducements.

Aside from the signing bonus, the offer also would have allowed Timberwest to break contracts into smaller units and contract out those workers. That clause didn't sit well with the union or the LRB. The offer came hours after the United Steelworkers union served strike notice.

The United Steelworkers, which already had some 7,000 members on strike since July 21, said the offer was aimed at destroying the union’s bargaining unit.

"Our members are fed up with Timberwest's attempts to pervert the bargaining process, its half-baked schemes and attempts to buy workers off," said Bob Matters, USW wood council chairman in a press release.

Workers were already on strike against Interfor, Island Timberlands and 31 companies represented by Forest Industrial Relations.

The union said the LRB ruling clarifies that its members can take strike action against Timberwest.

The board ordered the company back to negotiations. Timberwest has said it will appeal the ruling, but also tabled a modified offer it says addresses the LRB concerns.


Boss out, SEIU Local 3 placed in trusteeship

An enormous Service Employees International Union local was put into a voluntary trusteeship by the international union earlier this month.

SEIU Local 3 has 9,000 members - most of them janitors - spread through Rust Belt cities such as in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit. Earlier this month, the union negotiated a contract for 1,200 janitors in Cincinnati and currently is negotiating contracts for about 3,000 janitors in Columbus and Indianapolis.

"Officers from the union actually asked the international to come in and provide some financial support and strategic support," said Gabe Morgan, city director for Pittsburgh, which has 5,000 SEIU members. "Frankly, when the local is almost going to double in size, you have to look at how you do everything."

The request for trusteeship from the international union came after the resignation of Local boss Peter Hanrahan for what Mr. Morgan described as personal reasons. The rest of the executive team remained intact, Mr. Morgan said.

Peter Colburn, SEIU's Milwaukee-based coordinator for property services in the central states, stepped in as trustee on Aug. 3. He said he expected to relinquish the trusteeship before the end of the year, when the leadership would again be restored to the local union.

A union voluntarily asking for trusteeship is "not very common, but not unheard of," he said.

In Pittsburgh, Local 3 is hoping to add about 600 workers through an organizing campaign in suburban office buildings. The union recently began bargaining with eight cleaning contractors representing large office complexes such as Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline and various UPMC buildings, said Mr. Morgan.

The union reached card check agreements with those contractors over the last year, he said, and is still trying to organize workers at Foster Plaza in Green Tree.

Downtown SEIU janitors make slightly more than $12 per hour, with benefits, said Mr. Morgan, compared with an average of $7 an hour for nonunion janitors.


Vancouver, B.C. city strikers demand signing bonus

The City of Vancouver is reacting to an internal memo from CUPE Local 10-04 obtained by CKNW. That memo says workers want a signing bonus as part of any contract settlement.

City Engineer Tom Timm says there have been lump sum payments following lengthy strikes in the past, but it's far too early to talk about bonuses, "The other part of their statement was, the longer the strike goes on, the more issues they're gonna put back on the table and that certainly doesn't sound like there's any willingness to negotiate or settle the strike. We would expect that they would move closer to our position rather then threatening to move further away." Timm was speaking with Gord MacDonald on The World Today on CKNW.

CUPE Local 10-04 President Mike Jackson says that memo was not meant to go public, and the signing bonus demand is negotiable.


Labor Unions rebound as Republicans falter

The lowest moment for the modern American labor movement came after the 2004 election. Unions spent more than $85 million trying to beat President Bush, money spent and gone forever. The loss left unions facing another four years of hostile labor regulators and anti-union policies, as well as the relentless effects of globalization on American workers.

"No one woke up the day after the election and didn't feel like they shouldn't go back to sleep for a few years," said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union.

After the election, unions also faced an internal fissure, with the SEIU and its 1.8 million members, as well as six other major unions, splitting from the AFL-CIO. The drive to destroy organized labor, which had begun in earnest 25 years before with the election of President Ronald Reagan, was, it seemed, nearly complete.

But now, just three years later, labor is suddenly resurgent.

The signs are all around: Passage in the House, and near passage in the Senate, of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to join a union by signing a card rather than going through what labor advocates consider the onerous process of an election; and a genuine sense that Democrats, on the cusp of real power, will owe their allegiance to labor rather than the party centrists, or New Democrats, who dominated the party during the Clinton presidency.

The story of how and why labor has reemerged is instructive on the recent past and future of American politics and the American economy, where tectonic shifts now seem possible.

Paradoxically, Bush and the Republican Congress turned out to be a gift to labor. The Iraq war, economic insecurity and various Washington scandals helped unite Democrats and deliver Congress to them.

Nor is the Democratic Party what it was 10 years ago.

The country has moved to the left on a range of economic issues. The richest 1 percent of Americans in 2005 controlled nearly one-fifth of the nation's income, the greatest share since the ominous year of 1929. American workers tell pollsters they are deeply pessimistic about their future, naming health care, exploding college costs and the outsourcing of jobs overseas as major concerns.

"Growing economic inequality and the return of what can be called the robber baron ethos in the business community has revived the idea that workers need their own organization to defend themselves -- against employers that overreach and against a government that enacts polices that favor wealthy people," said Lance Compa, a senior lecturer at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Labor is highly attuned to the country's changes and leveraged them with its campaign against Wal-Mart, the epitome of an anti-labor, profit-at-all costs company. After failing to organize Wal-Mart workers, two unions -- the SEIU and the United Food and Commercial Workers -- launched campaigns in early 2005 to shame the retailer into change.

As they try their new organizational strategies, unions are fantasizing about a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Congress, as Democratic candidates pitch unions as part of the economic solution to globalization and stagnating wages.

"If they get a Democrat in the White House, they'll get a better agenda," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. She noted, though, that, "Anything is better than what they have now. Remember, the bar was pretty low."

With a Democrat in the White House, unions will see a friendlier National Labor Relations Board, one more sympathetic to workers trying to organize.

Still, although labor is more optimistic about its future, labor experts warn that Democratic victories in 2008 might not result in the kind of dramatic changes for which union leaders are hoping.

"What's on the horizon, even with a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president, is trench warfare," said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara and director of the school's Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy.

Unions should pursue a broader working-class agenda, including a national health care plan, that would remove from the bargaining table one of the most contentious items in contract talks, Lichtenstein said. Employers would be less resistant to labor, he said.

Ultimately, some labor leaders say unions must take a hard look at themselves, before relying on politicians to reverse their decline.

"The fortunes of labor will not be decided by politics," said D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union in Las Vegas. "They will be decided by organizing workers."

Still, friends in the White House and Congress never hurt.


Corrupt Teamsters local raids city indie union

The controversial Teamsters Local 25 is trying to lure Somerville municipal employees away from their current collective bargaining group and into the Teamsters' fold. In an Aug. 17 letter to members of the Somerville Municipal Employee Association, Local 25 boss Sean M. O'Brien wrote that his union "has been approached by a large number of your fellow city employees who are very unhappy with the leadership of SMEA."

The 250-member employee association is unaffiliated with any national or international union. Its membership includes school nurses, clerical workers, Somerville Department of Public Works employees, traffic and parking clerks and library workers.

Former Local 25 President George Cashman was sentenced to a 34-month stint in federal prison in 2003 after pleading guilty to extortion and embezzlement charges. Local 25 officials did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday. SMEA President Michael Browne could not be reached for comment.

"The idea of an employee association in a very political city, such as Somerville, has the inevitable potential for favoritism and backroom decision-making," O'Brien wrote. "This behavior can be negative for a majority of the workers in the city."

O'Brien's letter notes that SMEA members have been working for a year without a new contract and the city has created a new collective bargaining unit without the association’s input. "It is time for a change," O'Brien wrote.

Somerville Personnel Director Richard Tranfaglia confirmed that "negotiations are ongoing" on a new SMEA contract, but said no new collective bargaining units have been created in the city.


Teamster takeover of town police force delayed

The topic of a Police Department union in town has had the hearing date pushed back again.

Members of the Gilford Police Department, the town and Teamsters Local 633 will gather before the Public Employee Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, Aug. 29 to resolve organizational and membership issues.

The Teamsters 633 is the group that has been chosen to represent the Gilford Police Department's collective bargaining unit. The hearing on Aug. 29 will determine whether or not members of the Police Department will receive a certificate from the PELRB authorizing them to unionize under the Teamsters organization.


UAW continues strike votes to aid bargaining

More than 3,000 members of the United Auto Workers employed at the Chrysler LLC's technical center and headquarters are voting this week on whether to give the UAW authorization to call a strike - amid rising tension over the company's plans for eliminating dozens of jobs now held by union members.

The UAW routinely schedules strike votes as part of its countdown to the end of its current contracts with Chrysler, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. The contracts will expire Sept. 14. Jeff Hagler, the UAW Local 412 boss, said members of his local, which represents both salaried and hourly personnel at the Chrysler technical center and headquarters complex, as well as a call center in Auburn Hills, will vote Wednesday.

James Pitcher, second vice president of UAW Local 889, said Monday that all 16 of the local's bargaining units are holding strike votes this week. It is basically up to the individual units, which represent office and clerical personnel, to schedule the votes, but he confirmed the two bargaining units at the technical center in Auburn Hills will vote sometime this week.

The UAW's Chrysler department has ordered that all of the strike votes among the 42,000 union members employed by Chrysler in the United States should be completed no later than Sunday, union officials said.

Traditionally, the union leaders have been able to count on a strong vote to authorize a strike if UAW's top negotiators decide it's necessary.

Any strike has to be approved by the union's executive board. Harley Shaiken, a labor expert from the University of California-Berkeley, has said he considers a strike unlikely this year.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger also has avoided threatening any kind of a walkout or work stoppage during the preparation for the contract talks, which are considered critical to the industry. The last time the union used a strike threat during a contract year was at General Motors in 1996, when it approved a series of targeted local strikes to enforce its demands.

Nevertheless, for members of Local 412, the voting this year will have a special edge since three of the local's bargaining units are under siege, Hagler said. He says Chrysler is moving to shut down the call center, housed on Featherstone Road near the technical center, which has about 30 unionized employees. He also said Chrysler is looking for ways to outsource work done by a separate salaried unit that does cost-estimating for the company, and a third unit employing 220 hourly workers who handle housekeeping duties at the technical center and headquarters building.

"We're frustrated. We've done everything we can to help make them more efficient, and in return this is what happens," Hagler said.

Hagler, however, said he didn't blame Chrysler's new owners, the New York-based private equity firm of Cerberus Capital Management LLC, for the outsourcing drive.

"In fairness to them, I don't even think they know about it. This has been in the works for some time," he said.

"But I have a lot of confidence in Ron (Gettelfinger) and (UAW vice president) General (Holiefield)," Hagler said. Holiefield is the head of the UAW's Chrysler department.

Meanwhile, Chrysler has generally avoided public comment on the ongoing negotiations, which began last month.

Robert Nardelli, Chrysler's new chairman and chief executive officer, said last week that he is counting on Chief Operating Officer Tom LaSorda to reach a new a agreement with the union this year. Gettelfinger and LaSorda have had a constructive relationship over the years, Nardelli said.

When negotiations opened last month, Gettelfinger said he expected General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all to sign virtually identical contracts. He also said job security was critical to the union.

"In this round of negotiations, job security again is very important to us. The American automobile industry is very important to this country. So when we fight to preserve jobs, it helps our country as a whole," Gettelfinger said.

The UAW president also said the negotiations will have an effect beyond the automobile industry. "When we go into negotiations, there are a lot of people who benefit from what we do - whether they're union members or not," Gettelfinger said.

John Franciosi, Chrysler senior vice president of employee relations, said when the talks opened, he believed negotiators can be both creative and innovative during this round of negotiations.

Franciosi, however, also said transplanted Asian companies have a major labor cost advantage of better than $25 per hour over domestic companies such as Chrysler, and the company has to find ways to eliminate the gap if wants to compete.


Teamsters rival objects to UPS election rejection

A group that lost a union-organizing vote at the local UPS Freight Inc. terminal has filed objections to the election, alleging improper employer conduct. The company has denied any wrongdoing. The Association of Parcel Workers of America filed its objections last week with the National Labor Relations Board, which conducted the election earlier this month and will investigate the allegations.

Among its objections, the association alleged that UPS Freight converted part-time employees into full-time workers, raising pay and benefits just before the election. The company also told part-time dock workers that it planned to boost the number of full-time positions in the future to influence the election's outcome, according to the association.

UPS Freight has about 350 hourly dock workers and drivers at its Kansas City, Kan., terminal. The vote against joining the parcel workers association was 203-66.

"UPS Freight believes its employees spoke quite emphatically last week in a closed ballot on the question of third-party representation and certainly did so without any coercion by management," said Ira Rosenfeld, a company spokesman. "If requested, UPS will file a response with the NLRB and vigorously defend any allegations of wrongdoing."

Van Skillman, president of the parcel workers group, said he hoped another election would be held in the next six weeks. He also said the group planned to file an unfair-labor-practice complaint against UPS Freight.

Dan Hubbel, assistant director of the NLRB’s regional office, said an unfair-labor-practice complaint would be reviewed before the agency determined whether to file a charge.

This was the first election in which the parcel workers group tried to unionize UPS Freight workers, most of whom do not belong to a union. The Teamsters union represents 125 employees at a UPS Freight facility in Indianapolis.

UPS Freight formerly was Overnite Transportation Co., a trucking firm the Teamsters failed to organize through the 1990s.


Texas blocks federal workers from SPFPA union

Sometime between now and Aug. 24 at the federal immigration and customs processing center near Port Isabel, a "Notice to Employees" will be posted ... by order of the 117th State District Court in Nueces County. Upon request by the Office of the Attorney General of Texas.

Informing the employees that a "permanent injunction" protects them from being threatened, suspended or discharged if they "choose not to engage" in joining the "International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America."

One small step for security guard Carlos Banuelos. One giant leap for Texas' right-to-work law.

Meanwhile, 840 miles away, a similar notice will be posted at another federal processing center in El Paso under an order by El Paso County's 171st State District Court.

One small step for security guard Juan Vielma. Another giant leap for Texas' right-to-work law.

Henceforth, every security guard at the Port Isabel and El Paso facilities will independently and without coercion decide whether he or she wants to fork over $30 a month to the Michigan-based IUSPFPA.

Please join this independent Texan in a moment of thanksgiving for ...

Banuelos and Vielma - whose defiance of the union and endurance of Big Labor Pain have been reported here extensively.

Attorney General Abbott and his staff, who came late to the aid of Banuelos and Vielma, but who on arriving wasted no time and took no prisoners on their way to court to seek the permanent injunctions.

The staff of the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, whose early arrival at the battle on behalf of Banuelos and Vielma played a decisive role in the successful defense of Texas' right-to-not-join-a-union law.

Of course, nothing is ever easy or simple when dealing with the federal government, as this caveat in each court order shows:

"In the event (a facility) is determined to be a federal enclave through a final adjudication by a court of competent jurisdiction, the injunctive requirements of this Judgment shall no longer be in effect."

Here's why:

The judicial door to the injunctions was opened by a federal administrative law judge, who ruled that the Texas facilities involved in the dispute were not federal enclaves (which are exempt from state law).

The union is expected to appeal that ruling.

So future court actions could lift the injunctions and, again, force Banuelos and Vielma to make a choice between (a) losing their jobs and (b) joining the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America and helping to support (in salary, allowances and "disbursements for official business") ...

David Hickey, president — $163,929

Steve Maritas, director of organizing — $120,401

Mark Crawford, regional vice president — $91,304

Bobby Jenkins, regional vice president — $107,101

Kerry Lacey, regional vice president — $92,320

Michael Swartz, regional vice president — $94,696

Dennis Eck, secretary/treasurer — $100,602

Howard Johannssen, senior adviser to the president — $92,991

Not to mention ...

The union's Detroit law firm, Gregory, Moore, Jeakle, Heinen & Brooks — $445,949.

A charity golf outing — $11,871

A "Summit Hotel" stay — $8,392.

Those numbers are from the union's 2006 U.S. Department of Labor report, so the names, numbers, hotels and golfing sites might change from year to year.

But the Big Labor costs to members will forever remain the same.


City sees no end to gov't union strike

Vancouver city officials say a simmering summer strike by three civic unions could last for months. Saying a new proposal from the union representing striking library workers "is going in the wrong direction," city spokesman Jerry Dobrovolny said the public should brace for the strike, which began more than a month ago, to continue much longer.

"Typical city strikes tend to be about six to eight weeks," he said. "While I can't speculate on how long this one will now last, I can say that this one clearly isn't typical. I would say it is going to be a long one."

Dobrovolny's comments followed a meeting Monday with The Vancouver Sun's editorial board. During the meeting, he accused the unions representing 6,000 striking inside, outside and library workers of engaging in a "larger political agenda," a comment a union official later dismissed as "rubbish."

Dobrovolny said the city offer essentially matches five-year contracts recently signed with 10 other municipalities, apart from some specific issues peculiar to each union.

Dobrovolny said no new talks are scheduled, and the city has no idea how it is going to resolve the dispute, which is actually three separate strikes, the longest of which is now in its 33rd day.

He said striking workers now appear to be trying to put new demands on the table, something that "takes the two sides in different directions."

For example, he said, library workers made significant new demands in a proposal opened by city negotiators on the weekend, and a statement on the outside workers' website warns that "the longer this strike goes on, our demands and costs to the employer will go up."

But the presidents of all three striking locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees said Monday afternoon they are not making new demands and in fact are generally happy with the standard set in the other five-year municipal agreements.

Where they disagree is on issues that specifically affect their unions, they said.

The city has offered the inside and outside workers a five-year contract with raises totalling 16.5 per cent, while the library workers have been offered 17.5 per cent. Dobrovolny said the difference accounts for the fact the first two unions have a number of additional costly benefit demands on the table.

But he said city negotiators were "dumbfounded" on the weekend when they opened a counterproposal from Local 391, which represents the city's 785 striking library workers.

In addition to a five-year, 17.5-per-cent pay raise, the union also wants collective improvements to pay equity and job evaluations of another nine per cent, and another 4.25 per cent for 100 librarians.

"We are absolutely baffled," he said. "They increased their demands significantly. We frankly don't know what the issue is."

Local 391 chief negotiator Ed Dickson said the union's counter-proposal, made Friday, was virtually the same as its previous position, but for the first time put figures to the pay equity and job evaluation demands. The cost would be about $1 million over the five years, which he said the library has already saved because of the strike.
Local 391 president Alex Youngberg said library workers are predominantly women who are paid less than male counterparts with the same education.

"We have been trying to fight this for 30 years, and all we have been asking is for a basic start," she said, adding other accepted municipal contracts have included similar pay equity proposals.

Mike Jackson, acting president of CUPE Local 1004, which represents the city's 1,800 outside workers, said the union had already made several verbal concessions to the city that should help restart negotiations. But he said members remain concerned about whistleblower protection and improvements to dental and eyecare plans.
As for Dobrovolny's allegation that a statement on the outside workers' website indicated they would be demanding more the longer the strike went on, Jackson said it referred only to the standard union demand for a signing bonus for prolonged strikes.
Dobrovolny did not allege that the city's 3,500 inside workers, represented by CUPE Local 15, were putting more demands on the table.

In fact, said Local 15 president Paul Faoro, the city is continuing to demand several key concessions from the union, including weakening job security language that inside workers turned down before the strike. None of the new municipal contracts contain those concessions, he said.

"We have said consistently that we are prepared to bargain," Faoro said. "But with the city still pushing concessions that our members turned down four weeks ago, this is not going anywhere. They [the city] need to get off that."
Faoro, like the other presidents, said the city could get a settlement by the weekend if it is prepared to bargain.

But Dobrovolny said the city believes the unions are trying to prolong the strikes in order to destabilize the Greater Vancouver Regional District's labour relations bureau, of which the city is a member. The bureau was set up in the 1960s to collectively bargain for member municipalities, which Dobrovolny said had been "whipsawed" for years by unions when negotiating on their own.

But in recent years, several municipalities, including Richmond, opted out and began negotiating contracts themselves.

That, Dobrovolny said, is the main reason why the city's original 39-month, 9.5-per-cent offer was abandoned after Richmond last month signed a five-year deal of 17.5 per cent. Since then, many other municipalities, including North Vancouver District, which was struck the same week as Vancouver, have settled.
Faoro called Dobrovolny's idea "rubbish."

"With the amount of money my union is paying out on benefits and strike pay, if there was a larger political agenda we would have settled the contract and dumped that money into the next municipal election," he said. "The last thing I am going to do is keep my people out for some political agenda."


CWA Local 1182 member beat down

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