SEIU can't compete in Jackson County, Ore.

In a sequence far swifter than originally contemplated, Jackson County, OR, officials appear on their way to reopening the 15-branch Jackson County Library Services, closed since April 6. Management would be provided by outsourcing company Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI), at significant savings and with about half the previous hours, nonunion employees, and a new emphasis on volunteers. Both LSSI and the employee union submitted proposals earlier this month; the county chose to negotiate solely with LSSI, then called for fewer hours at lower cost.

The $4.3 million proposal was approved unanimously August 21 by the Jackson County Budget Committee, according to the Mail Tribune, with potential approval by county commissioners on October 1. Five libraries would be open 24 hours a week; the former central library, in Medford, had been open 46 hours a week, while the next largest, in Ashland, had been open 40 hours; three others had been open 35 and 38 hours a week. Six branches, previously open 28 to 30 hours a week, would be open 16 hours a week. Four others open 18 to 28 hours a week, would be open eight hours a week. Jim Olney, executive director of the Jackson County Library Foundation, told the newspaper that, without a union contract, volunteers could do more library work.

The system, which formerly operated under a budget of $8.75 million, was closed when the county expected a federal timber payments program not to be renewed. It actually was renewed for one year after the libraries closed, providing $23 million, but county officials initially pledged not to use it for libraries. However, they changed their minds after they realized that they had enough money for limited library service over three years. As the Mail Tribune noted, the planned $4.3 million budget would be about half the sum defeated in bond measures this past May and November 2006. "The feedback we got after the [May] vote was, ‘make the system less expensive," County Administrator Danny Jordan told LJ.

Proposals emerge

On August 13, Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) released its proposal to the Mail Tribune, even though county officials were not ready to discuss the proposals. Because the bidders were asked to respond to multiple scenarios, they also offered quotes for operating each individual branch, as well as a cluster of five branches. While the union's bid for full service was initially reported as $7.5 million and LSSI’s was $6.1 million, county officials said that LSSI’s bid actually provided even larger savings. On the other hand, LSSI assumed inflation of 3 percent over five years, while the union projected 6 percent; the county’s annual escalation is about 7 percent.

Outgoing Interim Library Director Ted Stark, who will direct the Menomonie Public Library, WI, told LJ that "it’s nearly impossible" for a union expecting public employee benefits to compete with a private company like LSSI, which offers a smaller benefit package. He also noted that LSSI, unlike the union, would not have to pay county chargebacks to other county departments for payroll and the liability risk pool.

Jordan added that LSSI, unlike the union, did not anticipate running tech services, human resources, and finance/budget out of the central library but instead would do so out of its Germantown, MD, headquarters. Branches would be given more autonomy, managed in clusters with degreed librarians at larger sites. He said the RFP required a base level of service, and that cost was less relevant than service delivery experience. LJ asked to see the two bids; they will be made available after a response to LJ’s public records request.


Teachers strike has community living on edge

A shortened negotiation session Tuesday resulting in no deal means school won't resume in the Harlem (Illinois) School District until at least Thursday. Even that would require a lot of things to fall into place.

First, negotiations set to begin at 3 p.m. today would have to produce a tentative contract. Second, the union would have to amend its constitution which requires teachers to have 24 hours to consider an agreement before voting on it.

"Anything is possible. (Union officials) could call me tonight and say they're ready," Harlem Superintendent Pat DeLuca said after negotiations broke off Tuesday. He added that it wasn't very realistic that he'd get a call, but said: "We've committed to negotiate whenever ... I sleep with one eye open."

A federal mediator is expected to attend negotiations today at the district's administration building in Machesney Park.

Lenny Nieves, a field services director with the Illinois Federation of Teachers who has been the spokesman for the Harlem teacher's union, said talks were suspended because the union could not get information that it needed. Nieves wouldn't elaborate.

DeLuca said later that the union wanted to see the district's health insurance plans and that the information was requested from the district’s insurance provider and it would be ready for distribution to the union team by noon today.

"We're working hard in order to get the students back in the classroom," Nieves said. "There are a lot of issues outstanding, but we're prepared to work as long as it takes to get this done."

Union leaders also said late Tuesday that the administration notified them that the insurance coverage for certified staff members would be terminated at the end of August if the contract dispute continues. Union leaders will brief members of their extended health coverage options in a meeting this morning.

Meanwhile, parents, students and staff members are living on edge as the strike continues.

How a contract is ratified

The union and the administration reach a tentative contract.

According the union bylaws, union members have 24 hours to review the contract. The 24-hour review period starts when members receive the contract for review. For example, if a contract is tentatively reached at 3 a.m., the 24-hour provision does not start until the membership receives the deal later that day.

Union members vote on contract by secret ballot.

If the majority of union members vote to ratify the contract, the union notifies the School Board.

The School Board can finalize the contract anytime after the union ratifies it, and school can start the following day.

Parents who were expecting their children to be in school Tuesday scramble to find day care. Students wonder when they will reunite with friends and worry about the fate of their sports seasons. Teachers say they are eager to leave the picket line for the classroom.

Harlem classes are canceled indefinitely, while the teachers union and administration work to reach a compromise on entry-level pay and salary increases.

Because the school district teachers struck for nine days in 2004, the last time the contract was negotiated, this work stoppage has not caught many of those affected off guard.

Glenn Trommels figured there would be a teachers strike once he first heard their contract was being renegotiated. His son, Austin, now entering the third grade at Olson Park Elementary School, had already been forced to miss school during the work stoppage three years ago.

"It's aggravating because you never know what is going to happen," Trommels said.

After news of the strike spread, Trommels took Austin to the YMCA of the Rock River Valley, where additional programming is being held for students affected by the strike.

Harlem Community Center in Machesney Park is the only other center known to also be holding child care services for Harlem students.

The child care programming was a godsend for Trommels, who said his family would have been left searching for a baby sitter on short notice.

But Trommels is noticing his wallet lighten.

The daily price is $25 for children to stay at the YMCA, 200 Y Blvd., and $20 for them to be dropped off at Harlem Community Center, 900 Roosevelt Road. The YWCA of Rockford Child Care Solutions also has additional information for child care options.
Tom Papini’s family is not facing the burden of unexpected child care costs. His wife, Connie, is a stay-at-home mother, so the couple is viewing the strike as an extended summer vacation.

But with the possibility of school starting anytime, they are keeping their two children, 8-year-old Abby and 5-year-old Payton, ready for class. The children are going to bed at 8 p.m., and the family pretended Tuesday as if they were going to school.

The Machesney Park couple woke the children at 6:45 a.m., got them dressed, fed them breakfast and drove them to their school sites, a trial run of sorts.

"I guess you could call it a school drill," Tom Papini said.

Sports programs are attempting to stay in routine, while the early-season games for football, golf and soccer are in doubt. Teams are allowed to practice as long as they are coached by someone certified by the Illinois High School Association who is not a member of the teachers union.

But for athletes, the strike is not much of a surprise.

A year ago, knowing that negotiations were starting this summer, Harlem High School football coaches told players that there was a decent chance the season would be delayed by a strike, said Collin Russell, a junior on the team.

In 2004, the Huskies were forced to forfeit their season opener because of a teachers work stoppage. And just like the soccer and golf teams, the football squad might lose games this weekend having not even played a game.

"We kind of knew it would happen, because the coaches even brought it up last year," said Russell, who is hoping that Friday’s home opener against Belvidere North will be salvaged. "They said, 'the contract is up, so be prepared for anything.'"

If school would have started on time Tuesday, Kevin Jensen would have spent his day welcoming incoming freshmen to his band program. Harlem's band director said valuable preparation time for their shows at football games is being lost.

"We are missing our season just like all other activities," said Jensen, who was picketing with other teachers on Tuesday. "That's the tragedy. We should be in school."

Staff writer Zack Creglow can be reached at 815-987-1376 or zcreglow@rrstar.com.
Staff writer Mike Wiser can be reached at 815-987-1377 or mwiser@rrstar.com.

Harlem question and answer

Question: What’s the status of fall sports?
Answer: All fall sports programs have been cleared to resume practices during the strike, as long as they are coached by Illinois High School Association certified personnel who are not members of the Harlem Federation of Teachers union. Games for all fall athletic teams will be forfeited as long as the strike continues.

Q.: How can I check if school will be in session the next day?
A.: Harlem School District is updating the public through the media and on its Web site, www.harlem122.org. Administrators said they will try to alert the public by noon of the status of school for the following day.

Q.: What happens with other extracurricular programs?
A.: All clubs and groups have been indefinitely suspended during the strike.

Q.: Are school orientations being rescheduled?
A.: School orientations will be rescheduled once the strike ends.

Q.: Are any outside organizations allowed to use buildings?
A.: The buildings are closed to outside use.

Q.: How will missed days be made up?
A.: Winter and spring break will be shortened accordingly. For Maple Elementary School, which started school Aug. 1 and has a schedule of nine weeks on and two weeks off, will pare down its breaks.

Q.: If parents have questions, who should they call?
A.: Parents should call the Harlem Administration Center at 815-654-4500.


St. Louis nurses decertify UFCW, deny SEIU

Nurses at St. John's Mercy Medical Center chose to end union representation there earlier this month, ending union representation of nurses in the St. Louis area. Both sides agree on why most St. John's nurses voted with hospital leaders. They said it was the strength of the hospital's message and its ability to communicate it.

The hospital said its communication efforts provided nurses with background to make an informed choice. The union described those efforts as manipulation.

St. John's nurses had three choices. They could vote for continued representation by their current union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, or switch to Service Employees International Union, a union supported by the UFCW, or for "neither," meaning they would have no union representation.

A total of 1,036 of St. John's nurses voted for neither, 685 voted for SEIU and two voted for UFCW. The vote was ratified this week by the National Labor Relations Board.

The results were not a complete surprise. St. John's nurses accepted an "open shop" clause in their contract in 2005, which means they could opt out of paying union dues. Only about a fifth of the nurses continued paying dues, though the union represented them all.

SEIU spokesman Carter Wright said the election process was unfair. Nurses were forced to attend the hospital's informational meetings during work hours, were eligible for mall gift certificates if they answered questions about the hospital's stance, and received a letter from the Sisters of Mercy asking the nurses, many of whom are Catholic, to vote with hospital leaders, he said.

"It's very difficult to have a free and fair election in this country," Wright said. "The employer has complete and total access to all the voters."

Those who communicated on behalf of the hospital saw the efforts differently. St. John's nurses Laura Sease and Bridget Whitson helped create www.nursesfornursesfornone.com, a website designed to push for decertification. The site included personal testimonials from nurses in favor of decertification and information on strikes, dues and the election.

The nurses said a deciding factor for many nurses was a request from the hospital's chief executive. Denny DeNarvaez, who joined St. John's in 2005, asked nurses to give her one year without a union to prove she would listen to their concerns and include them in decision-making.

"I kept asking people to reflect on, 'Do they really feel they have a poor working environment?'" DeNarvaez said.

St. John's had also assembled groups of nurses and other staff as hospital consultants, asking them to examine issues ranging from patient safety to clutter. Then, several months ago, there was a push throughout the Mercy system to boost nurse staffing ratios in some departments. Too few nurses caring for patients is a complaint shared by nurses nationwide, and it's often a rallying cry for union organizers.

Though DeNarvaez said the effort was unrelated to the union conflict, Whitson, a graduate nurse mentor, and Sease, a nursing instructor, said it gave the hospital credibility.

"There's been an increase in staffing ratios, and they certainly see that," Sease said.


SEIU Local 503 seeks ouster of abusive union boss

A new website - http://joemustgo.info - has been launched to organize Oregon SEIU Local 503 members' efforts to oust union President Joe DiNicola, the notorious "Overtime Joe". From the website:

Do you have a petition signing event coming up? Are you interested in helping out with such an event?

We need all the help we can get in bringing petitions to the members all across the state. If you are planning an event, or would like to help--and you are registered on this site--you can post a comment here, or send a Private Message to Scott.

If you aren't registered, please consider registering now. It's easy, there's no cost, and your information will not be used for any purpose other than the business of this site. If you don't want to register, that's fine too. You can use the Contact Us form from the Main Menu if you'd like to help out with the petitions.

The current Recall Petition is available for download.


UFCW workers at Albertsons reject offer

Albertsons employees belonging to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 4, the largest local in Montana, voted nearly unanimously to reject the latest contract offer.

According to UFCW Local 4 President Nicolai Cocergine, 98.5 percent of the union members attending last weekend's meetings rejected what he called the company's "last and best offer." Union grocery employees belonging to Local 8 out of Great Falls also voted overwhelmingly against the contract language, Cocergine said.

Montana grocery store clerks and meat cutters have already voted to give their negotiators authority to strike. However, that doesn't mean a strike is imminent.

Cocergine said he has asked the company for some dates to resume talks, but he hasn't heard back yet. The last face-to-face meeting was held July 24 and 25, he said.
"They aren't paying a fair wage. They aren't giving enough money to provide health benefits, and the company isn't putting any new money into the (union) pension plan," he said.

Stephanie Martin, director of communication and public affairs in Boise, Idaho, said 1,032 Montanans, or fewer than half of the grocery store's employees in this state, are union members. Eleven Montana union contracts expired between April 2006 and last February, she said.

The remaining seven Montana union contracts started expiring in April and all of them will run out by October.

"The company is open to returning to the bargaining table so that all parties can continue working to negotiate an agreement," Martin said.

In addition to Montana negotiations, Albertsons still is talking with union workers in Eugene, Ore.

Union workers in Southern California settled last month. Also, a tentative agreement has been reached with 4,000 workers in four unions working in communities along Puget Sound in Washington.

Albertsons is part of Supervalu Inc., based in Minnesota, a sale that was completed in January 2006. Supervalu operates 2,500 retail grocery stores that generate yearly sales of more than $40 billion.

Albertsons runs 535 stores, including Lucy supermarkets, in nine Midwestern and Western states. The grocery operates 34 stores in 24 Montana cities.


Delta Connection pilots picket, theaten strike

Holding signs warning of a potential strike, the pilots waited outside Montgomery (Alabama) Regional Airport. The pilots, members of the Air Line Pilots Association, say that one way or another they've been waiting for about five years now, which is the reason for the protest.

The pilots are trying to increase pressure on their employer, Delta Connection Atlantic Southeast Airlines, before contract negotiations resume next week. The contract dispute between the pilots and ASA has been going on for almost five years.

"We have been negotiating for five years, and we are frustrated by the process," said group spokesman Capt. Andrew Topp, who handed out fliers saying pilots made as little as $18,500 their first year with the airline.

ASA did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment on the picket, but the airline said before the demonstration that it wanted a contract that gave its pilots a fair salary.

Although the picketers' signs threatened a strike if the pilots can't reach a fair contract through negotiations, Topp admitted several things must happen before the pilots can walk off the job.

Before a strike could occur the National Mediation Board would have to declare an impasse, offer arbitration and then a 30-day cooling off period.

But should all that happen and a strike occur, Topp said he believes the pilots have the leverage to shut down the airline.

He predicted management would try to keep the carrier operating, but he said ASA would not find enough pilots to maintain a schedule.

But he said Tuesday's picket was not to fuel a strike, but to prevent one. Topp said the pilots hoped that customers would notice the pickets and tell the airline that it doesn't want to fly with unhappy captains.

Plenty of customers noticed the picket Tuesday.

Most passengers were sympathetic toward picketing pilots -- once they found out their flights weren't affected.

Topp said that was the reaction the pilots were looking for.

"We are not trying to disrupt the public," he said. "Of course, support from the public is always helpful."

Some riders in passing cars even honked and gave the picketers thumbs-up signs.

"I think they are doing exactly what they need to do to get what they need," said Robert Kirk, a passenger from Columbia, S.C., who was returning home after attending a funeral. He said he usually flies Delta or one of its connecting airlines.

On Tuesday, his first concern was the status of his flight, a concern shared by other passengers. The pickets were set up so that most passengers had to walk past them to get to the terminal.

Agnes Hatcher from Selma was one of the first passengers to arrive at the airport after the picket began. She and a friend asked a security officer if the airline was flying, and were glad to find out it was.

"Everybody wants more money," she said.

But as you might expect, some in the airport were less concerned with pilots than passengers.

Rick Whidmer, who lives in Pike Road, usually flies Delta, but was on Northwest on Tuesday. He said the pilots in their five-year labor negotiations weren't the only ones waiting.

Whidmer said he uses the airport about six or seven times yearly, and "There always is a delay." But he said he didn't believe the delays had had much impact on the airlines economically.

"My biggest complaint is that the flights are usually full," he said. "If there is a problem, you can't do much about it."


Vancouver citizens split over gov't union strike

Neither side is winning the public-relations war in Vancouver's five-week-old civic strike, according to a controversial city poll completed Aug. 15.

According to results of the Ipsos Reid survey released yesterday:

- Vancouver residents are divided over which side they support, who's being more "fair and reasonable" and whether they support the strike action at all. Forty-four per cent supported the unions "strongly" or "moderately" while a total of 43 per cent backed the city in the dispute. Forty-six per cent supported the strike action in general while 51 per cent opposed it.

- Only about two in 10 respondents said the strike has affected them a great deal personally; 42 per cent said they have been "somewhat affected."

- The vast majority (89 per cent) said a wage offer of 17.5 per cent over five years was "about right."

- Most respondents (58 per cent) said they were concerned the deal, whenever it is reached, might mean a tax hike; 27 per cent said they were not concerned.

- Supporters of both sides (63 per cent) said managers have done a good job conducting city business during the strike.

City officials initially declined to released results of the $9,000 poll and have yet to say who at city hall ordered it or chose the questions.

The poll was done days after the city approached its three striking unions with a verbal offer generally mirroring deals struck weeks before across Greater Vancouver. The unions had at that point agreed in general to the wage portion of the city's proposal, although not to particulars of the offer.

Mayor Sam Sullivan's office has said it did not order the survey and will not pay for it out of his office budget. City councillors were not asked to approve the spending.

Several metro municipalities - including Delta, Surrey, Richmond and Burnaby - have settled deals for 17.5-per-cent hikes over five years. None conducted polls on how residents felt about the offers.

News of the poll has met with widespread criticism. One radio-station online survey showed 85 per cent of respondents were opposed to city money being spent on it.

The poll of 300 residents is considered accurate plus or minus five per cent, 19 times out of 20. Full results are posted at www.vancouver.ca under the What's New button.


AFL-CIO boss heads Gov.'s insurance-welfare panel

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Tuesday announced executive appointments for the new Oregon Health Fund Board, charged with developing a plan for reforming Oregon's health care delivery system.

The board was created by Senate Bill 329, which passed in the most recent legislative session. The bill says board members should have experience and expertise in consumer advocacy, management, finance, labor and health care and represent the geographic and ethnic diversity of the state. The Healthy Oregon Act, as SB 329 is called, seeks to develop a strategy for pooling resources to help finance health insurance for Oregonians who currently cannot afford it.

The new Health Fund Board will include:

* Tom Chamberlain. The president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, Chamberlain is a former firefighter and served as a medic in the U.S. Air Force.

* Ray Miao. Miao is the president of the Oregon chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons and is a Deschutes County Public Library board member.

* Marcus Mundy. Mundy is president of the Urban League of Portland, a board member for the African American Health Coalition and former vice president at Kaiser Permanente.

* Jonathan Ater. An attorney at Ater Wynne of Portland, Ater is also the current vice chairman of the Oregon Health Policy Commission and served on the governor's Mental Health Task Force in 2004.

* Bill Thorndike. The owner of Medford Fabrication in Medford, Thorndike served as past trustee for the Rogue Valley Medical Center Foundation and treasurer of Asante Health System.

* Eileen Brady. Co-owner of New Seasons Market and board chairwoman of Celilo Group Media, Brady has been a leader in developing sustainable food and farming systems and has been mentioned as a political candidate.

* Charles Hoffman. A Baker City physician, Hoffman also serves as a clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and is a former mayor of Baker City.


Forestry strike continues, as fruitless talk ends

Talks between the striking United Steelworkers Workers union and independent logging contractors aimed at getting some of the coastal forest industry back to work broke off Tuesday after both sides could not agree on what was required to bring picket signs down.

Steelworkers regional director Steve Hunt said the contractors - referred to as "me-too" contractors because they intend to live with whatever agreement the union eventually signs with major companies - were not interested in negotiating their own deal. "The talks were not fruitful," Hunt said.

He said the union wanted a separate agreement, but the contractors wanted to return to work with no agreement.

"We were skeptical from the start that this was going to work," he said.

The strike between 7,000 woodworkers in the Steelworkers union and coastal forest companies is in its fifth week.


Pilots picket to protest pay

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