SEIU janitors march to celebrate strike vote

Moments after authorizing a strike yesterday afternoon, about 400 janitorial workers wearing purple union shirts marched through Boston's Newbury Street shopping district, passing posh clothing boutiques, art galleries, and tourists with cameras and shopping bags under their arms.

"We're just asking the companies who employ our workers to share the prosperity," said Rocio Saenz, president of Service Employees International Union Local 615, which represents more than 16,000 janitors and security officers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

"Nobody wants to strike, but today we are sending a clear message that we are prepared to do so if we are not offered a living wage and full-time jobs with health benefits," she said, just after finishing the mile-long march along Newbury and several other downtown streets.

The union's current contract with the Building Maintenance Contractors Association, a group of about 30 maintenance companies, will expire Friday, and although negotiations have been underway since June, the two sides are apparently deadlocked over the union's demand that workers get full-time status and a "livable" wage.

In 2002, the union went on strike for a month before agreeing to a five-year contract, Saenz said. The vote yesterday gives the union's board the authority to call another strike if no agreement is reached on a new contract.

Currently, unionized janitors in Boston make $12.95 an hour, and those outside a 15 mile-radius from the city make $9.84. Most of the workers combine part-time jobs and don't get health insurance.

The contractors provide cleaning and other janitorial services to stores and business and government offices. About 1,000 jobs involve cleaning state property.

Local 615 endorsed Governor Deval Patrick when he campaigned for office last year, and Patrick has said that he supports the union's quest for higher pay and better benefits.

State Senator Dianne Wilkerson spoke during a premarch rally at Arlington Street Church. She told the crowd that many state lawmakers support the union.

"Every day I go to work in the State House and some of our friends are part of the janitorial staff who keep that building spotless, so we take it personally," she said.

Wilkerson said the companies had offered 30 cents more per hour to workers in Boston and 10 cents outside Boston.

"That's insulting, and we have to shame them into doing the right thing," she said.

The association could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Many of the workers who marched said they came from countries such as the Dominican Republic and Cape Verde, and some spoke of having to work two or three part-time jobs. "It's a difficult life; I work three jobs," said Selida Pol, who lives in Boston and sends money to her family in the Dominican Republic.

Rafael Morrobel, also an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, said he makes about $400 a week cleaning offices. He heads to work just before 6 a.m. and returns home about 10 p.m.

"I wish the situation would change. That's why I'm here," he said.


Scabs continue to operate Dresser-Rand

Striking Dresser-Rand workers say they will stand firm against major changes in their health care and pension programs. The strike by Local 313 IUE CWA goes into its third week today. "I've got 41 years in," said Everett Southard of Lawrenceville as he walked a picket line Friday on East High Street in Painted Post, NY. "I'm going to hang in there. There's no sense giving in to them now."

Southard and about 400 other Local 313 members walked off the job Aug. 4 after their three-year contract expired. Major unresolved issues, according to the union and the company, are health care costs, retiree pensions and contract language on work rules. Dresser-Rand, which makes compressors for the military and the energy industry, employs about 800 at Painted Post. It has hired replacement workers and used managers to maintain production at the plant.

Dan Meisner, human relations manager at the Painted Post factory, said no meetings are scheduled with union representatives.

"At our last meeting we were told the union's attorney said not to call them for another meeting until our position has changed substantially," Meisner said. "That hasn't happened."

Some strikers said they are feeling a financial pinch.

"I think we're doing well as a union and as a group, but on the home front, it's getting tough," said Bruce Miller of Corning, who has worked at Dresser-Rand for three years. "I had to get a daughter ready for college so I used up a lot of my money."

Miller said many workers piled up overtime pay in anticipation of a strike. The strikers this week began to receive $200 a week from the union and will get $300 beginning next week, Southard said.

If the strike goes beyond seven weeks, Southard said, workers will be able to sign up for unemployment benefits -- part of which would be paid by Dresser-Rand.

No going back?
Some workers say they don't believe they will go back to their jobs.

"I don't expect to go back to work," said Rich Sullenberger of Beaver Dams. "They've been trying to do away with the union for years and it looks like they are going to do it. They'll replace us. I don't care to go back in and work for a company like that any more. I've had enough of them."

Dresser-Rand has been advertising for new workers and conducting interviews at the Holiday Inn in Gang Mills. Meisner said the new hires are considered "temporary replacement workers at this time."

Miller said he's also uncertain about going back to work at Dresser-Rand.

"If I find another job paying as much, I'd have to think twice about going back," he said. "They are paying millions and millions in (executive) bonuses and it would only cost them a couple of million to give us back our health insurance."

Sullenberger said this year's talks are different from those in the past.

"At least in the past they would talk to you," he said. "Now there are no negotiations. They have the same proposal now as in April."

Local 313 has filed unfair labor practices charges against Dresser-Rand, accusing the company of failing to negotiate in good faith.

Shot in the arm
The strikers got a boost Friday when the New York State Young Democrats endorsed the walkout, saying the organization thinks Dresser-Rand has not bargained in good faith and that union rights are under attack.

Strikes have been common at Dresser-Rand Co. and its predecessor, Ingersoll-Rand Co.

Workers on the picket line Friday said a 1993 strike lasted five weeks and one in 2001 lasted one day short of seven weeks, when unemployment benefits would have begun.

Dresser-Rand Co., which also has plants in Wellsville and Olean, is based in Houston. Its headquarters was formerly in Corning.

Miller said the union has to fight the erosion of its benefits.

"People keep letting them take benefits away and pretty soon it's like working at McDonald's," he said.

Steve Coates, president of Local 313, and Adam Nightingale, a Dresser-Rand human relations executive in Olean, did not return calls seeking comment.


SEIU strike vote looms over county

Service employees weren't the only ones unhappy with the county's latest contract offer. Sheriff's deputies and District Attorney investigators have been busy negotiating for many months, but still don't have a deal.

As the vote to authorize a strike by service workers is less than a day away, the pressure is on the county to respond on all fronts.

With an authorization by the Service Employees International Union to strike looming over Kern County (CA), the Kern Law Enforcement Association (KLEA) also asks to be heard by the same county negotiator.

William Douglas is Kern County’s chief negotiator, and chisels out the deals county supervisors must approve.

Douglas faces two fronts while a union accuses him of reneging on a promise.

The first front is KLEA, which represents Sheriff's deputies and DA investigators who have been without a contract since July 2006.

The union thought it had a deal with Douglas, but that fell through.

Douglas said some union reps may have been under the mistaken impression he, and not county supervisors, approves new contracts.

"Just as they have to go through their members to formally accept an offer, we in the County Administrative Office and I have to go back to the Board of Supervisors and say, 'Here's where we think we can settle. Will you approve this?'"

Bob Gaines is president of KLEA and said Douglas negotiated a deal he couldn’t back up.

"I think the biggest slap in our face was Bill Douglas was under the impression he was given the authority to give us the firefighter deal if we asked for it,” Gaines said. "We did, and he said it was pretty much a done deal, but the Board of Supervisors recanted ... for what reasons, we don't know."

Since law enforcement is not allowed to strike, there's still time to negotiate.

The SEIU is a more immediate issue.

Becky Lomeli is a public health aide not satisfied with the county's offer to the SEIU.

She said while most employees will receive a sizable increase, it is only to make it on equal standing with other counties.

Lomeli said a quarter of lower paid employees deserve more than the 4 percent raise because it doesn’t take health benefits into account.

"To go on strike, we don't have to if they give us a fair deal, if they give us what we ask for," Lomeli said. "I think the majority don't want to go on strike, however, we will we want a fair deal."

Service union employees will vote Saturday whether to accept the county's offer or authorize a strike.


Boss apologizes for transit work stoppage

IndyGo and its drivers' union are pledging to work out their differences without stranding passengers in the future after a dispute Friday left potentially thousands of riders without a way to work.

Cliff Brown, the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 1070 boss pledged cooperation after a disagreement over nametags idled many of the system's buses from about 3:30 a.m. until shortly after 7 a.m.

"The members of ATU Local 1070 apologize for the disruption in today's bus service," Brown said in the joint statement issued by the transit system and the union. "The ATU Local 1070 and IndyGo management are working together to ensure that this disruption does not happen again."

"We regret the unfortunate incident that occurred today (Friday), which inconvenienced our customers," said a statement issued by the transit company. "If this inconvenience raised difficulty with any customer's employer, please let us know and we will initiate discussions with your employer."

To reach IndyGo, call (317) 635-3344.

"The IndyGo management team is determined to address the issues raised by the union," Gilbert L. Holmes, the transit system's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "We will work with the union officials to resolve their concerns. Those discussions will begin immediately."

Drivers milled about the outside of the IndyGo Administration & Operations Center, 1501 W. Washington St., before the crisis was resolved around 7:10 a.m.

As they waited, drivers complained to reporters about other issues including security and the air conditioning on the buses during the recent heat spell.

The service disruption is likely to add to concerns about the reliability of the service, which has been experiencing a recent uptick in ridership primarily because of high gas prices.

The system has been criticized for not offering enough options to dissuade people from using their cars to get to work.

IndyGo carries nearly 9 million passengers annually.

Brown said the problem started Friday because of a disagreement over nametags.

Brown said drivers are required to display three identification tags. Some drivers have been displaying one or two, and when they showed up for work Friday, managers told them they could not board their buses without complete identification, he said.

A memo issued to IndyGo personnel said that effective Friday, there would be a "zero-tolerance" policy for not using nametags and nameplates.

When managers started preventing drivers from boarding buses, the union considered it a lockout, Brown said.

"We didn't strike," he said. "We came to work."

IndyGo spokeswoman Ronnetta Spalding said Friday that the agency was concentrating on getting its 29 routes up and operating. It takes about 125 buses to cover those routes.

"We need to do whatever we can to get the buses back out," Spalding said.
Passengers were angry about the service disruption.

Pete Peterson, who works in the linen room at Wishard Memorial Hospital, waited for over an hour for the 5:15 a.m. bus downtown at a stop on 46th Street. At 6:30 a.m., a car stopped and the driver offered him a ride Downtown.

"It hurts," he said while waiting. "I'm just stranded. It's messing a lot of people up."

Gogi Napier, a clerk at Methodist Hospital, also was waiting at the same stop. "I think if there were problems and there was the threat of that happening, they should have told us," she said.

Napier said she called her office and that her bosses had seen news reports and were understanding.


Scab ships may face more pickets

Safety on the Great Lakes has been put at risk by an American company's decision to bring in replacement workers for three ships that had been stranded all summer in Sarnia, a union official says. Donald Cree, a vice president of the American Maritime Officers (AMO), made that claim Friday, less than 24 hours after the freighter Wolverine sailed out of the north slip on its way to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The Wolverine is one of three 630-foot long 'river class' self-unloading bulk carriers that were stranded in Sarnia after AMO members walked off them on May 10. The workers took the action after contract talks broke down. A key issue has been job and benefit security. The other two are the David Z and the Earl W, which are expected to sail with replacement workers sometime over the next 45 days.

The ships, which are virtually identical in appearance, are owned by the Wisconsin and Michigan Steamship Company of Lakewood, Ohio, which purchased them from the Oglebay Norton fleet for $18.7 million in 2006. AMO, which represents merchant marine officers and stewards in the U.S., estimates the labour dispute has cost the company $1 million. Cree said the public should be concerned about the latest development.

"They've got the dregs of society working there," he said. "They're scabs, strikebreakers, guys who couldn't hold a job in a legitimate fleet. They're getting no benefits, or minimum benefits at best. It's unsafe."

He added, "we were picketing them yesterday (Thursday) and we'll picket them everywhere they go."

According to the website of the Daily Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping News, the company is operating the Wolverine with "non-union licensed officers."

The company said Friday that no one was available to discuss the issue.


Teamsters reject Arizona transit's best offer

A Sun Tran contract offer to Teamsters Local 104 was "substantially turned down" during voting Saturday, said Local 104 secretary-treasurer Andy Marshall. Marshall would not release the voting numbers, only saying the rejection had been "substantial" in votes taken throughout the day during three meetings held at the Teamsters union hall.

He noted that the extended contract that the 465 affected Sun Tran drivers, mechanics and fuel island attendants have been working under since July 31 remains in effect until midnight Sunday. He said union leadership is ready to spend all day Sunday at the bargaining table to work out an agreement.

The contract the union voted on was not presented as a hostile "firm and final" offer but rather as the best Sun Tran could do, Marshall said Friday.

After the union rejected the contract, Marshall said the main sticking points pertain to part-time operators and the pension plan.

Reached late Saturday, Sun Tran spokeswoman Michele Joseph said she had not yet heard about the vote and was unable to comment.


Oregon Gov. calls in ex-union boss pal

Oregon is getting a little extra help putting its name on the big screen these days. Gov. Ted Kulongoski has appointed actor Ed Asner, well-known for his role as Lou Grant on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," to the board of the Oregon Film and Video Office. He joins director Gus Van Sant, screenplay writer Cynthia Whitcomb and board chair Gordon Sondland.

The board and the governor are trying to increase the number of movies filmed in Oregon. "We are rolling out the red carpet for Hollywood," Kulongoski said at a press conference in Portland.

The governor said the state makes $37 for every $1 it invests in movie making incentives. But luring the movie makers can be difficult because of increasing competition from other states and countries.

An estimated 35 U.S. states have incentive packages to draw movie makers there, the film and video office said. Canada and other countries have offered alternative shooting sites with healthy financial incentives for years.

But Oregon recently improved its financial incentives for movie makers.

The 2007 legislature increased the tax credit available to movie makers through the Oregon Production Investment Fund tax credit from $1 million to $5 million per year. It comes in the form of a partial reimbursement for in-state costs. That's in addition to existing benefits, such as the Greenlight Oregon labor rebate, which provides a 6.2 percent kickback on labor costs within the state.

Kulongoski hopes the addition of Asner adds clout to Oregon's effort.

Asner has won five Golden Globes and seven Emmy Awards. Besides his role as Lou Grant, he has appeared in shows such as "Mad About You," "The Closer," "ER" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." He's also been in films such as "JFK" and "The Bachelor."

The former president of the Screen Actors Guild has known Kulongoski for years, and helped him campaign for governor. Though he lives in California, he wasted little time selling Oregon at Thursday's press conference.

"Moses wandered the desert for 40 years and he didn't find oil and didn't find the promised land," Asner said. "It only took me two hours by air to get here and this is the promised land."

Asner said he planned to promote Oregon's natural beauty and character to others.

The state has already seen the benefits of its increased investment. "Management," a new film starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn, is scheduled to begin shooting in southern Oregon and Portland this fall.

Earlier this year, "Feast of Love," starring Greg Kinnear and Morgan Freeman, and "Untraceable," starring Diane Lane, were shot in Oregon.

"To be honest, as a guy who likes popcorn, this was easy," Kulongoski said of his decision to appoint Asner.


SEIU rejects County's best offer

Beaver County, PA officials said Friday that they don't know what will happen now that courthouse employees have rejected a contract described as the county's best offer. "We need to find out where the sticking points are," said employee relations director Rick Darbut. "For us, it was the best offer that could be put out."

Asked if there were any more concessions the county could make to settle the contract situation, Commissioners Chairman Joe Spanik simply replied, "No." Courthouse workers, who are members of the Service Employees International Union, voted down the proposed two-year deal 155 to 52 Thursday. The union has been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2004.

Union steward Jeff Policaro didn't respond to a message left at the assessment office where he works, and SEIU Local 668 business agent James Falorio didn't return a telephone message.

In a July 19 memo to members, SEIU recommended that employees accept the agreement. "Although this (is) not the best of contracts this is the best contract we can get at this time," read the memo.

After a four-year proposal last year met with resistance, the county backed off on efforts to reduce vacation and sick time, as well as holidays. The county initially wanted to eliminate Flag Day, Dec. 26 and employees' birthdays as paid holidays.

The county's offer included 3 percent raises in each of the next two years. Employees would have been required to pay 1 percent of their base annual salary toward health insurance.

Currently, courthouse workers don't pay anything for their health insurance, unlike other bargaining units in county government.

"They're the last group not paying 1 percent," Spanik said.

Spanik also said the county's offer included a "double-bump" raise for employees with between seven and 12 years of county service. He said that would have meant that those employees would have received raises of 6 percent in each of the next two years.

About 100 employees are eligible for a double bump, Darbut said.

Since the union's contract expired, employees have not received raises.

In addition, all employees would have received a signing bonus of $400 for full-timers and $200 for part-timers.

Spanik said employees also bristled at a change that would have required sick leave being earned every month instead of being allocated at the beginning of each year.

Employees, Spanik said, also didn't like a proposal that would have kept certain offices open an additional hour every week to accommodate residents who might not be able to conduct business during the work day.

Spanik said he didn't think the 33 percent to 56 percent raises given to the county's three solicitors earlier in the week had much to do with the rejection because he had heard for weeks that employees weren't happy with the proposed contract.


Boston SEIU janitors authorize strike

A union representing about 10,000 local janitors has unanimously voted to strike if they can't reach an agreement before their current contract expires Friday. The janitors in SEIU Local 615 clean buildings around New England, including about 1,000 state buildings.

They're asking for more full time work, a raise from current pay of about $10 an hour and better access to health care. Their vote came at a meeting at Arlington Street Church in Boston. A spokesman for the union says progress has been slow in talks with cleaning contractors. In 2002, the same union went on strike for about a month.

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