Teachers strike cancels sports, forfeits loom

As Mary Ann Kennington watched her two boys play in countless football leagues growing up, she always looked forward to when they'd reach the varsity level. But after years of anticipation, it hasn't been what Kennington imagined it would be.

Strikes in the Harlem School District have tainted her sons' varsity seasons three times now - twice for Matt, a 2005 graduate, and now for Andrew, a junior on this year’s team. "It is frustrating because it's something you look forward to," Kennington said. "But I'm not surprised anymore. It seems like it happens every time a contract is up."

Kennington's older son, Matt, saw the start of his junior season threatened by a support staff strike in 2003. An agreement was reached on a Thursday, and Harlem played its season-opener against Rockford Guilford the following Saturday. The same thing happened during Matt's senior year, only then an agreement couldn't be reached in time, and Harlem forfeited its first game of the season to a Guilford team it later beat in the playoffs.

Now Harlem's season-opener is threatened again, and this time it's affecting Andrew, a running back and linebacker on coach Jim Morrow's team. Harlem is scheduled to host Belvidere North on Friday. If an agreement between Harlem's teachers union and the School District isn't reached in time for classes to be held Friday, Harlem will forfeit.

"Of course, the longer it goes, the tougher it becomes for the kids," said Bobby Sheets, Harlem's freshman football coach who has led the Huskies' informal practices. Harlem is not allowed to practice with their regular coaches, who are teachers; school equipment is not available; and there can be no contact.

"We're doing our best," Sheets said. "We've had good attendance. It is hard for the kids, but they really have been troopers."

Sheets also took over the varsity team during the 2004 strike when his son, Zack, was on the squad.

What makes it harder for this year’s team is that the opener against Belvidere North is a game they expected to win, and a forfeit could haunt them if they fall one win short of the playoffs in October.

"We've heard rumors that their whole team is juniors and they have to bring up a bunch of sophomores their first year," said Harlem senior running back Mike Johnson. "So we are looking forward to playing the new team in the conference and winning."

The 2004 Harlem team rebounded from its Week 1 forfeit and finished 7-4, but the missing game was always a cloud on the season.

"You only have so many games in high school, and that's obviously the most fun time to play is when you get to varsity," said Jake Ruef, a senior on the 2004 football team. "When you forfeit a game, that's a big loss."

The strike is affecting other sports, but football is the one with the biggest time constraint. Harlem’s football game has to be played Friday or Saturday, while other sports are more flexible and can reschedule if necessary.

"We held three-a-days last week, so we're in pretty good shape," said Harlem volleyball coach Lani Mitchell.

"It is frustrating, because we have a really great group at all our levels who have been working hard," Mitchell said. "Telling them on Monday that we couldn't be with them anymore was hard."

Harlem's first conference volleyball and soccer games are Tuesday against Belvidere North, and most of the other sports begin conference action next week also.

The boys and girls golf teams are the only ones that had scheduled conference action this week, but weather postponed the matches.

"The team is getting a little more frustrated as the days go by," Harlem golf coach Jared Day said. "After going through this three years ago, it's kind of bizarre this time."


Parts supplier strike shuts Ford assembly plants

More than 1000 Ford workers from the Geelong and Campbellfield plants have been stood down. Employees from the car manufacturing giant were stood down this afternoon without being told when they can return to work, after a strike at a parts supplier restricted car production at the company's two Victorian plants.

Workers were told the news after employees of Venture Industries, a plastics manufacturer who supplies parts to Ford, went on strike today after failed negotiations over voluntary redundancies.

"The cessation of parts delivery from Venture will result in the company standing down part of its assembly, stamping and engine plants from close of business on August 23, 2007, until the supply of parts from Venture resumes," the Ford statement said.

"This is a temporary action only and their jobs at Ford are not at risk. Other Ford employees will continue working."

'This is our fight for entitlements'

More than 240 workers at Venture Industries, a former Ford unit that supplies the car manufacturer with plastic components, walked off the job today in a row over unpaid entitlements.

Union leaders say Venture employees are owed $25 million in entitlements, after the company announced it would close its Broadmeadows factory and move to a new site on the other side of Melbourne.

At the picket line this morning, AMWU delegate Tamsel Mehmet said the company has $25 million allocated for entitlements for 530 employees, but the company is targeting employees with 10 years or less for voluntary redundancies.

"The company is targeting people (who have worked) 10 years and under, which is basically in breach of our agreements and we are in dispute in regards to that and as a result we've got the commissions approval for protected industrial action as what you see here today," Mr Mehmet told The Age.

"We voted overwhelmingly for an indefinite strike and we basically felt we had no other choice and we `ve been forced into this position, this is our fight for entitlements."

Strike organiser Joe Cummaudo said there has to be a proper process to deal with workers entitlements.

"Discussion have been going on for six months and as work continues to go out there's a clear perception from all the workers here that the company could go insolvent or pretty much people could be left with nothing," Mr Cummaudo said.

"We just hope the message gets through, this has a huge impact on Ford and many other suppliers, we understand people lose money and that's not a good thing.


SEIU janitors picket state Capitol for more sick time

Janitors from around the state are expected to march through downtown Providence, RI this afternoon in an effort to get higher pay and more sick time.

Union officials say 12,000 contracted janitors are still negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the Maintenance Contractors Association of New England. The current contract expires at the end of the month.

The SEIU says employers are only offering a ten-cent hike in pay and no increase in the number of sick days, which now stands at two a year. Janitors are expected to be joined in their rally today near the Statehouse by several elected officials and union members from other trades.


UFCW union facts ads airing in North Carolina

Don't blink or you'll miss the fine print on the attack ads airing on WRAL-TV scorning the United Commercial Food Workers International (UCFW). These commercials are paid for by the Center for Union Facts, an anti-labor, anti-regulatory front group based in Washington, D.C., and headed by Rick Berman, a right-wing lobbyist for the food, tobacco and alcoholic beverage industries.

Coincidentally, the UCFW is the same union trying to organize workers at the Smithfield Packing plant in Tar Heel; Smithfield also has purchased WRAL ads featuring "testimonials" from workers touting the company line. Could there be a financial connection between Smithfield and the Center for Union Facts? We can only speculate, as Berman has refused to disclose the donor list of the center's well-funded mothership, the Employee Policy Institute. In addition to the UFCW, Berman has lambasted such communist regimes as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the living wage campaign and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.


Weeds taking over parks as gov't union strike drags on

Kids strapping on their shinpads and lacing up their soccer boots for pre-season practices in Vancouver might want to add another item to their kit: a weed whacker. Across the city, sports fields at community centres are suffering the ill effects of a civic strike now in its fifth week. Parks workers joined inside and outside workers in a walkout that began July 20.

Susan Mundick, general manager of the parks board, confirmed yesterday that no city fields are being cut during the strike. She said plans to rehabilitate the fields will be made when it ends.

Exempt staff are busy grooming the city's three full golf courses - Fraserview, Langara and McCleery - to normal standards and, to a lesser degree, are maintaining the three pitch-and-putt courses in Queen Elizabeth, Rupert and Stanley parks.

Mundick said that priority has been given to maintaining park washrooms and collecting garbage, but that given the cost of repairing or replacing the courses, and the greens in particular, the parks board decided they were important, too.

She was unable to say what the average cost of replacing a green would be.

Grass at some Vancouver community fields is now long, she said, but others "are in good shape" and residents have been using them for games.

She declined to comment on revenue lost to the board during the strike, or on suggestions by at least one park board commissioner that tens of thousands of dollars is being lost daily just in golf-course revenue.

In 2006, golf-course revenue was $9.5 million - or about $27,000 per day over a 335-day year. Some of that loss is mitigated by money not being spent on supplies and wages.


SEIU janitor organizers allege threats

Janitors at the Paramus Park, NJ mall have filed an unfair labor practice charge against their employer, a cleaning contractor hired by the mall's owners, claiming they were threatened for trying to start a union.

Christian Valle, 23, of Paramus said in an interview Wednesday that one of his supervisors with Service Management Systems Inc., a Nashville-based cleaning company, said Valle and other janitors could lose their jobs if they attempted to organize.

"There's a lot of fear among our co-workers," Valle said through an interpreter provided by the Service Employees International Union, which filed the complaint and is attempting to organize the janitors.

Service Management Systems cleans the mall for Chicago-based General Growth Properties, the second-largest U.S. mall owner and operator.

A statement released Wednesday by the union said that in recent months janitors at more than 20 General Growth Properties malls have attempted to form an affiliated union.

Their efforts, according to the union, have been met by threats, intimidation and spying both by contractors hired by General Growth Properties and by employees of the mall management company.

In papers filed July 24 with the National Labor Relations Board, janitors at the Paramus mall claimed they were interrogated about their union activity, told they may be under surveillance and threatened with dismissal.

Jim Graham, a spokesman for General Growth Properties, denied the charges.

"SEIU's statements to the media concerning our company are part of a broader campaign against our industry aimed at unionizing the employees of our janitorial service providers. Making false allegations and filing claims with governmental agencies are standard tactics of the SEIU," he said.

Graham said General Growth Properties this month directed the cleaning companies it contracts with to provide janitors "good, affordable health insurance and higher, more competitive wages." He said the move was not related to the janitors' complaints.

General Growth Properties is "cooperating with the National Labor Relations Board and looks forward to being fully vindicated," he added.

Service Management Systems did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The union statement said janitors at several other U.S. malls owned by General Growth Properties filed similar charges with federal labor officials on Wednesday.

The allegations were made by janitors in California, Colorado and Washington.


Michigan Teamsters protest parking pay-automation

After learning that automated machines are slated to oust them from their jobs by the winter of 2008, the city's parking deck cashiers are hoping to rally support from the public, asking the city to reconsider the switch.

"Jennifer Granholm is trying to bring jobs into Michigan, and now the city officials are doing away with them - it's not a good thing at all,"” said Teamsters Local 283 boss Steve Hicks, who represents the city's 35-40 parking employees from Central Parking Systems.

After learning that revenues from the parking system are down approximately $75,000 from the year before - about 2 or 3 percent - due to recent declines in customer traffic, city staff recommended two options to cut costs. The first, an increase in parking rates - which Assistant Director of Engineering Paul O'Meara said hasn’t occurred in about 11 years - failed to get support from members of the Principal Shopping District due to their concern about losing additional customers to a cost hike in Michigan's struggling economy. The other option city staff presented was a switch to automated parking equipment to reduce operating costs.

Hoping to eliminate an increase in monthly parking permit rates, the majority of the City Commission voted to endorse the purchase of automated parking equipment for all five of Birmingham’s parking structures at their July 23 meeting.

To get the city to change its mind, Hicks said he and some of the cashiers have been passing out fliers and hope to put up posters in local restaurants and businesses to rally public support.

"We want the public to start calling the city of Birmingham to tell them that most people don’t like dealing with machines. It's just not a good thing," he said ... "I'd like the public to know that it could be their jobs next, so any support that they can give would be greatly appreciated."

Hicks referred to the cashiers as "ambassadors for the city of Birmingham," stating that many of them give drivers directions to restaurants and businesses in the city.

"They don't just take money. They’ve stopped people that have had too much to drink and get cabs for them and they watch for kids playing around in the parking structures, which protects people's cars from getting scratched up or banged around," he said.

Currently, the city employs at least two people at each of the five structures on two shifts, six days a week. The cashiers man booths in the garages, handle tickets, collect money and let customers out of the lot. Those who park in the lot for less than two hours have the option of heading to one of the exit verifier machines - which allow them to exit out of any lane for free.

Under the new proposal, automated validation machines would replace all but two cashiers - one in the Pierce Street structure and one at the Bates Street exit in the North Old Woodward structure. The city would completely remove the cashier booths from the exit lanes and replace them with validation machines, which calculate the parking fee, accept and process credit/debit cards, print and issue receipts on request, and still allow customers to exit for free if they park for less than two hours. The validation machines will also be installed along the street level or inside many of the stair towers, so that customers could use them prior to getting into their vehicles to increase efficiency at the exit lanes.

Though the cashiers will be eliminated in most cases, O'Meara said staff would remain at all five of the parking deck locations to assist the public, and cashiers would remain on duty at the Pierce Street and North Old Woodward Avenue structures. He said the transition would provide the customer with more payment options - including the use of debit and credit cards - while reducing costs so that parking fees can remain unchanged.

O'Meara said the machines will cost an estimated $530,000 from the parking fund for purchase and installation, but will save the city approximately $315,000 annually. He said he would present firmer numbers about the cost after he goes out to bid the project and comes back to the City Commission for permission to implement it - which is expected to appear as an agenda item sometime in October.

More information on automated parking will also be provided in the next Birmingham Quarterly.


Striking gov't union workers picket with pizzazz

The song "Happy Together" was not meant to be played on the accordion, nor is it traditionally considered a union protest song, but as striking Vancouver library worker Todd Wong pumped out the tune yesterday for fellow picketers yesterday in Library Square, it was a little bit of both.

"People thank me because they enjoy the music and it creates a wonderful ambience," said the library assistant, who had his picture snapped by fellow strikers and tourists alike. A 30-year veteran of both the accordion and the Vancouver Public Library, Mr. Wong is just one example of the artistic temperament that has decidedly flavoured the library workers' strike.

Today marks the start of the fifth week of the first strike ever in Vancouver's library union history. The smallest of the Vancouver unions currently on strike, CUPE 391's 800 members have taken a unique approach to walking the picket lines - one that involves very little walking and more knitting, reading, singing, barbecuing, listening to lectures and practising tai chi.

Mr. Wong admits he's been slack with his performance schedule - mostly because he's been busy organizing for poets, choirs and authors to come entertain the striking workers.

"People are more than willing to come and perform for our picketers. They have an appreciative audience that's cultural and literate," Mr. Wong said.

And just like the weekly Friday barbecues and daily tai chi in the mornings led by librarian Tim Firth, the presentations are open to all.

"We do this because we want to continually engage with the community," said Peter DeGroot, CUPE 391's job action co-ordinator.

"We feel compassionate and proud about the work that we do and we can't just stop reaching out and being involved with the community."

Many of the striking library workers have been answering questions on the line that they would usually answer at reference desks, using wireless laptops and cellphones to help confused passersby.

"It's very difficult to take the library out of the library worker," laughed CUPE 391 president Alex Youngberg.

Ms. Youngberg pointed out that librarians and those who work with them are generally of an artistic temperament, something that has become evident during the strike. For example, she said, striking workers have knit more than 80 hats, which are being sold for charity or will be donated to Downtown Eastside residents.

"People who work for the library are a very creative, eclectic bunch," said Mount Pleasant children's librarian D'Arcy Stainton. "We have all these creative people coming up with all of these things. Every day on the picket line is different."

Mr. Stainton and James Gemmill, another library worker, have created a series of black-and-white videos posted on the union's website. While Mr. Gemmill's videos serve as artistic depictions of life on the picket line, Mr. Stainton's videos are humorous send-ups of the city's position on key union issues, set to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and narrated in an old-time newscaster voice.

While the videos serve as a creative outlet and a morale booster for other library workers, they also allow Mr. Stainton to show his support for the issues that are keeping the library workers on strike, such as pay equity.

"I spent five years as a single dad working in a female dominated profession and it's hard when you look around and see other city employees with master's degrees making $20,000 more than you," he said.

Most of Mr. Stainton's cohorts are equally as devoted to achieving pay-equity language in their collective agreement, something Mr. Wong said they've been seeking for 30 years. At a recent union rally, the library workers were by far the rowdiest bunch in the crowd, giving Ms. Youngberg louder support than any other speaker.

"That spirit is still there," Ms. Youngberg said yesterday. "This is their first strike, and I wasn't sure how they would feel about it four weeks in, but if anything, they seem to be more passionate."


Gov't union strike marks downtown eastside Vancouver

Garbage continues to pile up in Vancouver, and nowhere is it more apparent than the downtown eastside. Kim Kerr with the downtown eastside residents' association says the city must return to the bargaining table with CUPE.

"The downtown eastside and the alleyways are a challenge, and as I’ve mentioned before, there are no public washrooms in the downtown eastside and unfortunately in the city of Vancouver we have three thousand homeless, so we have people who live in the alleyways. It is worth, there is no doubt about that, as you would expect it to be without garbage collection." Kerr says his organization employs up to 40 Cupe 10-04 workers, but they are not city workers and are exempt from the strike.


Steelworkers forestry strike spreads pain, devastation

Murray Coulter is feeling the effects of the month-old United Steelworkers forestry strike, and he isn't even affiliated with either side in the ongoing dispute. The Courtenay man runs a small independent logging company, and since the strike began, his business has dwindled.

"I am concerned that this strike could have a devastating effect on the industry and on the lives of many coastal loggers," said Coulter. Coulter usually employs six drivers, and would usually be busy at this time of year. Now, he has only enough work to keep two drivers busy, and three of his logging trucks are sitting idle.

"Every time there is a continuing strike we feel the effect months and even years afterwards," said Coulter, adding that he did not wish to get involved in the politics of the dispute.

"I believe both sides have legitimate issues and grievances that affect labour and management. Logging is a very marginal business. There are so many factors involved which determine whether you make a profit or not."

Coulter pointed out both workers and employers are affected when the flow of logs is disrupted, and the coastal logging industry as a whole could suffer greatly because of a long strike.

"The bottom line is that no one benefits from a long, drawn-out battle over a few issues," said Coulter. "As important as those issues may be, both the companies and the employees have commitments that will not be met unless everyone is allowed to get back to work."

The province's financial affairs are a concern to Coulter as well - he believes if the strike continues, everyone could suffer.

"With the present unrest in the stock market and the debt that our province is in, I believe that a long disruption in the logging industry could put us into another recession."

Coulter compared the current labour dispute to a marriage in which both sides need to be committed to partnership and working out their differences through trying to understand one another's needs.

"If each side gets their backs up, it could end in divorce," said Coulter.

"That kind of separation in the forest industry results in good workers leaving the province to go elsewhere and people having to go deeper into debt just to make ends meet. For the industry, it means losing valuable customers that have only recently developed trust in our ability to meet our commitments and supply their needs."

He's aware of the damage being done to other forestry sectors.

"Unfortunately it means shutting down other sectors of the industry including the pulp workers," said Coulter. "The pulp sector has worked hard over the last few years to strengthen the value of paper, and all this hard work could be set back drastically."

As for Coulter, he just wants to get his trucks back on the road and his drivers working again. But that doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon with both sides in the strike digging in for the long haul.

"I know what a difficult industry this can be and I sympathize with both labour and management. For what it's worth, I would encourage both sides to sit down together and be prepared to compromise a little on their positions," said Coulter.

"If the union and the companies can reach an agreement soon, they could avoid some serious hardships down the road that will hurt everyone."


Ex-cop got his start with Teamsters

It's not hard to imagine a young Anthony Doyle as a neighborhood tough, hanging out on street corners in a gritty Italian enclave of Chicago's Chinatown in the 1960s. Even leaning back in his chair on the witness stand at the Family Secrets trial Wednesday, Doyle was an imposing presence with his broad shoulders and chiseled jaw.

With an accent expected of someone with his background, Doyle told jurors how he went from being one of the neighborhood boys to a Chicago cop accused of passing sensitive information to the Outfit.

He is the third of five defendants on trial to roll the dice and take the witness stand, following accused mobsters Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and Frank Calabrese Sr.A seemingly relaxed Doyle called his lawyer, Ralph Meczyk, "sir" throughout his testimony. He began with flat denials that he was a mob juice-loan collector or a rogue police officer who helped Calabrese, a friend for more than 40 years.

Prosecutors are expected to cross-examine Doyle using secretly made recordings of him conferring with Calabrese when the alleged mob crew leader was in federal prison in the late 1990s. Doyle testified Wednesday that Calabrese spoke in "some sort of mind-boggling code" that was gibberish to him.

"It was like reading hieroglyphics," said Doyle, who professed that he only acted interested.

"You know what feigning interest is, Mr. Meczyk?" he said.

Much of Doyle's defense is wrapped up in his personal history, portraying himself as just a loyal neighborhood guy who was doing favors for friends when he looked up data on a police computer. He didn't deny logging onto the computer and pulling information on evidence that turned out to be a bloody glove left at the scene of the murder of mobster John Fecarotta in 1986.

DNA left on that glove eventually was traced to Frank Calabrese's brother, Nicholas, which helped to persuade him to turn on the Outfit and become one of the most important government witnesses against the mob in Chicago history.

Prosecutors argue that organized-crime leaders understood the glove's potential damage and were eager to know what authorities were up to when Doyle was working in a police evidence area in 1999.

Doyle, born 62 years ago on the South Side to immigrant parents with the surname of Passafiume, grew up with many of the men whose names have surfaced again and again in the Family Secrets trial. His next-door neighbor, reputed mob figure Ronnie Jarrett, worked with Frank Calabrese Sr. in later years.

You didn't ask your friends what their fathers did for work, he said.

"Some worked for the city, some were bookmakers or might have been this or that," Doyle testified.

Doyle described how after several high schools asked him to leave, he ended up spending most of his time on the corner messing around with friends. While still a teen, he said he met Calabrese, who became a rival in neighborhood handball games.

He eventually got a job offer from Calabrese to help collect loans, Doyle said, but he refused. He wasn't ready to quit hanging out with no responsibilities, he said.

Calabrese later got him a job with the Teamsters Union at McCormick Place, he said. He left when he landed at the city Water Department in exchange for doing political work in his ward, he said.

"I worked for the precinct captain," Doyle said. "I handed out pamphlets."

After a stint with the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation, Doyle worked on police vehicles as a civilian before joining the force as an officer. After working in mass transit and gang crimes, he was transferred to the Evidence and Recovered Property Section in the 1990s.

By then, he said, he had lost track of Calabrese, but he was asked to go see him while visiting another pal in prison. He eventually made a trip to visit Calabrese with Michael Ricci, another police officer who was charged in the Family Secrets case but died before he could be tried.

He agreed, Doyle said, because he had heard about the case that landed Calabrese in prison in the late 1990s.

"I thought maybe he was in need of a friend," Doyle said. "When you're not in trouble, you don't need anybody."

It wasn't long after the first visit that Ricci called Doyle at the subterranean evidence storage area under the Criminal Courts Building at 26th Street and California Avenue. It was January 1999, and Ricci had an evidence inventory number for Doyle to look up.

Doyle denied knowing it was the glove from the Fecarotta murder.

Ricci called again that February, Doyle said, and had him run the item again. This time the computer said the glove had been turned over to the crime lab.

When he is cross-examined Thursday, Doyle will likely be asked to explain a conversation between himself, Ricci and Calabrese on Feb. 19, 1999. Prosecutors contend the three were speculating about whether Nicholas Calabrese would cooperate with the government.

In that conversation, Doyle appeared to join in the code talk as Calabrese asked about the "stuff being taken from the purse."

According to the transcript, Doyle told him when the item was removed and used the correct name of the person listed on the computer readout for the glove.

"It stayed at the crime lab till the 13th of January '99, when somebody named Lori Lewis withdrew it from the crime lab," Doyle was quoted as saying. "It never come down to our warehouse where it was supposed to go."


SEIU urges county workers to strike

New developments on Wednesday night in the ongoing wage battle between thousands of Kern County (CA) employees and the Board of Supervisors. The union representing the workers is urging them to reject the county's final offer, and vote to strike. In July, hundreds of members of the Service Employees International Union staged a protest outside the supervisors chambers.

Union officials say the workers have been without a contract since July 1. The major sticking points include a fair wage increase for everyone, and retirement benefits. On Wednesday, the county made its final offer, and by Wednesday evening, bargainers for the union recommended the 6,000 employees reject it, and authorize a strike.

Union members are scheduled to vote on Saturday, but even if they vote to strike, it doesn't mean it will happen right away.

"There is a strike action committee made up of Local 521 members and they would get together to determine what the best course of action would be, which includes when to strike, for how long, and also the various options. Those could include a one-day strike, a closed-end strike, which would be held for a certain amount of days or weeks, rolling strikes, or an open-ended strike like the one the grocery workers had several years ago," said Aimee Barajas, SEIU Local 521 spokeswoman.

The votes should all be counted by Saturday night.

KGET tried, but were unable to reach any of the county supervisors for comment on Wednesday night.


Teacher strike cancels school today

Classes and all school activites are canceled for Thursday at Harlem (Illinois) School District because of an ongoing teachers strike. Negotiations are set to restart at 3 p.m. today. If an agreement is reached today, the union requires teachers to have 24 hours to consider an agreement before voting on it. However, that provision can be waived.

"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.

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.”

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