NJ teachers unions pressure schools

As most schools prepare to open next week, about 120 districts across the state are still negotiating teacher contracts, including 10 in Monmouth and Ocean counties, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association. "The number of school districts still at the bargaining table is common for this time of year, and the negotiations should not affect the opening of schools," said Kevin E. Ciak, the association president, in a prepared statement.

Monmouth County had 18 school districts that returned to the bargaining table this year and five - Brielle, Manalapan-Englishtown, Matawan-Aberdeen Regional, Ocean Township and Wall - are still negotiating, according to Mike Yaple, spokesman for the association. Eleven districts in Ocean County began negotiating new pacts this year, and five - Lakewood, Ocean Gate, Pinelands Regional, Stafford and Tuckerton - are still negotiating.

"Still negotiating" could mean anything from face-to-face bargaining between the local school board and teacher's union to some form of mediation, Yaple said in an e-mail.

"Until a new pact is reached, teachers are covered by the provisions in their old contracts," Ciak said. "All of their salaries, benefits and other employment protections remain in effect which is why we note that public school teachers in New Jersey never truly "work without a contract.' "

In 2001, classes were canceled in Middletown following an impasse between the Board of Education and Middletown Township Education Association. Teachers there went on strike for about a week starting at the end of November, almost five months after their contract expired.

In none of the Shore area districts has there been any mention of a strike.

Ocean County talks

In at least three of the Ocean County districts - Stafford, Pinelands Regional and Tuckerton - the existing contract expired in June, according to contracts posted on the Web site of the state Public Employment Relations Commission.

Two other Ocean County districts were also believed to be starting this school year without a ratified teachers' contract, but no information was available about the status of talks in Lakewood or Ocean Gate. The schools superintendents and Board of Education members were unavailable for comment.

In Tuckerton, lack of a teacher contract "is certainly not going to have an effect on the continuity of education," said Eric Wilhelm, 41, Board of Education vice president.

The prekindergarten through sixth-grade district enrolls 290 students in a single building, Tuckerton Elementary School.

The sticking points, Wilhelm said, are the same concerns affecting people across the state: salary increases and benefits.

"Our district is small and sometimes getting all the things one wants is not as easy as it is potentially in a larger district," Wilhelm said.

Nevertheless, Wilhelm is optimistic that differences could soon be settled.

Dave Hewitt, a fifth-grade teacher at Tuckerton Elementary, wasn't worried either.

"There was one year where we started (the school year) beyond the point of our contract," the 29-year-old said. "Hopefully, things will work out."

Wilhelm held a similar thought.

"We're going to have pretty diligent negotiations come September. The board wants something as quickly as possible," Wilhelm said.

Manalapan-Englishtown Education Association members plan to meet with district officials today to continue negotiations with a mediator appointed by the New Jersey Education Association. Both sides are hoping the meeting will end in a resolution.

Negotiations began in February and later came to a halt, said Helen Rubenstein, a member of the association's negotiations committee. She said the old contract expired June 30.

"We had hoped to end the school year with a contract but we didn't and the board refused to entertain any proposals," Rubenstein said. "It (the district's position) was basically a take it or leave it.

"When we countered with something we thought was quite reasonable, they said, "Well, I guess we're at an impasse,' and that's the way it's been," Rubenstein said.

She added the association hasn't staged a strike in more than 20 years, "and hopefully we won't have one now."

District Business Administrator Joseph Passiment said salary increases have been the major stumbling block, but that the two sides "aren't that far apart."

Both Passiment and Rubenstein said they could not comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

"I'm optimistically confident that we will bring this to a resolution shortly," Passiment said.

"These things take time"

In Brielle, where the board and the local teachers' union still had not settled a new contract, School Business Administrator Ed McManus insisted that the ongoing negotiations would not delay the start of the upcoming school year.

The previous three-year contract between the board and the teachers was up June 30, McManus said.

"As you know, these things take time," he said.

Brielle board President Ted Vitale said Tuesday he could not specify what is holding up agreement. He did say, however, that the parties involved completed their first mediation session last week and have a second scheduled for the beginning of October.

Neither Kim Dolan, president of the Brielle Education Association, nor Beth Creighton, negotiations chairwoman, could be reached for comment.

In Wall, Doug Wild, board president, said the board and teachers union have yet to reach an agreement, but the delay is the result of scheduling conflicts over the summer.

"The board's ready and willing to negotiate and has been, and the summer played into the availability of all parties," he said.

Wild said talks are still amicable.

The previous three-year contract expired June 30, he said.

Representatives for the teachers' union could not be reached.

In the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional schools, negotiations started in the winter on a contract to succeed the one that expired June 30. Represented are about 450 people, which includes teachers, drivers and custodians.

School officials said they do not expect the ongoing negotiations to affect school's opening.

Carl Kosmyna, the Matawan Regional Teachers Association union representative, was not available for comment.


Nurses ready to strike against Cal. hospital

Negotiations are off, a strike is on and accusations are flying in the labor showdown between registered nurses and Fremont-Rideout Health Group. Nurses planning a one-day strike Friday say Fremont-Rideout is locking them out by bringing in replacement nurses for five days - a charge Fremont-Rideout denies. The California Nurses Association filed an unfair labor practice complaint Tuesday.

"In our view, striking makes it necessary to find replacements," said Tresha Moreland, FRHG's vice president of human resources. "We are not locking employees out, but if they chose to remove themselves from the schedule we will exercise our right to use replacements during the strike."

According to a member of the nurses' negotiating team, a federal mediator has suspended negotiations indefinitely because neither party will budge.

The last meeting was Thursday. The final two talks, scheduled for today and Thursday, were canceled.

"The nurses gave the administration their final compromised proposal," Rideout Memorial Hospital ICU RN Heather Avalos said of a 53-page proposal. "They rejected the entire thing."

In that proposal, Avalos said nurses addressed patient care issues, including staffing ratios, "safe floating," safe patient handling, and a 7 percent pay increase, as well as uniform benefits and retirement.

An example of the proposed change in "safe floating" would see nurses trained in cancer treatment not be asked to "float" to labor and delivery when staffing is needed.

As of Aug. 21, hospital officials offered to increase the nurses' pay by 5.5 percent for the first year and 5 percent for the second year of a two-year contract. In a statement, officials also said they addressed nurses' concerns with safe floating and state-mandated staffing ratios.

About 450 nurses agree with the efforts made by the union, but not all are represented by the nurses’ association. Seventy-five percent of those nurses last month voted in favor of the union's efforts.

In preparation for the strike, hospital officials have contracted with an out-of-state agency to hire replacement nurses for a minimum of five days.

Moreland said the hospital's cost for employing out-of-state nurses isn't known because the number of nurses who will be involved in the strike is not known.

Replacement nurses "have no interest in the community or what's going on," Avalos said.

According to Avalos, nurses received written notice that replacement nurses will be at the hospitals for five days.

"We're going to be locked out for four additional days," she said. "They are requiring us to show up for work, even if we're not scheduled, to tell us what days we will be working."

Liz Jacobs of the CNA said the out-of-state replacement nurses are unnecessary.

"A one-day strike can be handled locally instead of spending valuable money on out-of-state nurses," Jacobs said.

Hospital officials, however, said they are not "locking" anyone out, but if nurses choose not to show up to work on strike day they will be forced to use replacement nurses through the weekend.

The union filed complaints Tuesday with the National Labor Relations Board against Fremont-Rideout for unfair labor practices and alleged harassment.

The complaint says Fremont-Rideout is disciplining RNs for union activity, interrogating nurses about the union and plans to strike, and ordering pro-union members to not speak about the union on hospital premises, while anti-union nurses are able to speak out.

Avalos said she's seen such activity firsthand, but declined to give details pending an investigation by the federal board.

Moreland would not comment on allegations, but said the hospital will respond to the NLRB in an appropriate forum.

Nurses plan to picket 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at Fremont and Rideout hospitals in Yuba City and Marysville, respectively, as well as the Fremont-Rideout Cancer Center and the Feather River Surgery Center. They will also be handing out pamphlets and information on the strike, Avalos said.


Workers protected from unions by Right to Work laws

Texans have a long and proud tradition of supporting freedom of choice for workers when it comes to union membership. But the Texas Right to Work law – which makes it illegal to compel employees to pay union dues just to get or keep a job – is under attack.

In fact, Texas labor union officials are openly defying the law across the state and bullying workers who resist. These union bosses claim that the law does not apply to certain employees - simply because they say so.

In Corpus Christi, union officials ordered Carlos Banuelos and other guards at a Department of Homeland Security facility to pay union dues or be fired. Mr. Banuelos paid the money under protest while he challenged this extortion before the National Labor Relations Board with free legal help from the National Right to Work Foundation.

However, for veteran El Paso security guard Juan Vielma, the situation was worse. Mr. Vielma was indefinitely "suspended" in June 2006 without pay for refusing to pay dues. Without income for more than a year, Mr. Vielma faced mounting debt and declining health from the emotional strain. And because union officials had him "suspended" - not technically fired - Mr. Vielma was ineligible for any unemployment benefits.

But Mr. Vielma stood strong and fought back. Despite all the hardship, Mr. Vielma proudly told his hometown paper, "I work to get paid; I don't pay to work."

After a yearlong legal battle, National Right to Work Foundation attorneys secured Mr. Vielma's reinstatement and back pay after an NLRB administrative law judge agreed that union bosses unlawfully demanded that he pay dues. But union lawyers are appealing.

Meanwhile, Mr. Banuelos' case is heading for similar prosecution after foundation attorneys filed charges at the agency for him.

A recent admission hints that these violations of Texas' Right to Work law are just the tip of the iceberg. A lawyer for Mr. Vielma's employer admitted the company has contracts "across the country in right-to-work states" that require employees to pay dues.

With such a gutsy admission, Texans would be right to wonder just how many other employees around their state have suffered the same fate as Juan Vielma. More action is needed to put union officials on notice that trampling the Right to Work law won't be tolerated. The Texas attorney general should investigate this scheme statewide and prosecute every violation.

If the Texas Right to Work law isn't vigorously enforced, union officials will be emboldened, with dire economic consequences for the state. Right-to-work laws are an economic boon. In a recent special on CNBC, Texas was rated as the second best state in which to do business. Texas and the other top six states are all longtime right-to-work states.

In fact, according to the U.S. Labor Department, in the past decade, private sector employment grew by 23 percent in Texas and by 20 percent in right-to-work states overall, about double the rate in non-right-to-work states.

States without right-to-work laws have also suffered in terms of real income growth. Between 1995 and 2005, right-to-work states experienced a 37 percent growth in real personal income, while forced unionism states experienced only 26 percent growth in real personal income – 5 percentage points below the national average.

Texans can't afford to let union bosses lead Texas down the path of struggling states like Michigan, New York and New Jersey, which have given big labor a stranglehold over their workers, their economies and their politics.

The Lone Star State's Right to Work law must be defended to the hilt. Hard-working employees and the Texas economy cannot afford anything else.


Oregon taxpayers lay down for unions

New labor contracts hashed out this summer give most Oregon state employees raises totaling about 6 percent over the next two years. But the real bonus is in the benefits: The state will continue to shoulder the entire cost of health care premiums for employees and their families, an increasingly rare perk in either the private or public sectors as the price of health insurance skyrockets.

Last year, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported Oregon was one of five states to pick up the tab for premiums, which can run about $1,000 a month for a family of four. Today, it's one of only three. It's more common for states to pay for individual employees, but not their families, says Richard Cauchi, the group's health program director.

"It is not just expensive, but increasingly, almost agonizingly expensive for employers who are trying to provide 100 percent coverage," he says. The 2007-09 labor contracts with biggies Service Employees International Union Local 503 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees cover about 22,000 workers - many of the state's 37,000 workers, not including university faculty and staff.

The state has about half a dozen contracts left to negotiate, says Sue Wilson, human resources manager at the state's Department of Administrative Services. Public-school teachers negotiate separately with school districts.

A typical SEIU or AFSCME member earns $38,000 to $43,000 a year. The state payout for health care is the same, whether the employee is a custodian who earns $21,600 a year or a physician who makes $132,000.

Even with the cost-of-living raises, labor representatives say state worker pay still lags behind other states. Salaries for Oregon workers were frozen in fiscal 2003-05 when a recession scrambled the state's ability to keep schools and other public services open. State workers received salary increases of 2 percent in 2005 and 2006.

This year, their pay will go up 3 percent and another 3.2 percent in November 2008.

Wilson says state officials preserved health benefits in part because of Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a former labor lawyer who has also made health care a priority of his administration.

The unions made clear "it was their absolutely No. 1 priority over and above salaries, and the governor really wanted to use the resources available to meet that No. 1 priority," Wilson says, adding that state workers have sought benefits over pay increases.

Critics counter that Kulongoski is bowing to public unions that helped put him in office, and that the benefits and salary increases are unsustainable and unfair.

"Taxpayers see the cost of government go up and up, but their family budget is not increasing at the same rate," says Jason Williams, director of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon.

Like Oregon, North Dakota will continue to pay health care premiums for state employees and their families, says a spokesman for the governor. Oklahoma's full health benefits cover about 95 percent of its 37,000 workers, says Colleen Dame, deputy director of the state's benefits and contracts administration.

That's no longer the case in New Jersey, where state workers will see 1.5 percent of their annual salaries go toward health insurance -- saving the state an estimated $60 million annually. New Hampshire also started requiring employee contributions in July.

George Crosiar, a deputy state fire marshal in Oregon and AFSCME member, says workers value health benefits so much because insurance costs seem impossible to rein in.

"You feel like you're at the whim of whatever the health industry wants to do with premiums," he says.


Historic Colonial Williamsburg preps for UFCW protest

A protest march with placards, puppets and up to 500 participants is expected to stop traffic downtown this afternoon and draw police on horseback and motorcycles. The march led by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is slated to start at 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church on Scotland Street. It will run through Colonial Williamsburg's Merchants Square and Historic Area on its way to the Williamsburg Lodge, where Smithfield Foods is holding its annual meeting.

"Our biggest concern is getting these people safely through town with the least disruption possible for the people who work and live here," said Maj. Jay Sexton of the Williamsburg Police Department. "We don't expect any problems. This group has protested in many cities before."

March participants want Smithfield to allow a union vote at the company's pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C. The company's annual meeting often attracts protests. Last year, more than 300 union activists descended on Richmond, where they wore "Justice at Smithfield" shirts and chanted slogans at Smithfield's attendees.

Sexton said police would provide lead and tail escorts for the march. Officers also will be stationed at intersections and at the Williamsburg Lodge for traffic control, he said. Sexton said the city's police department is working with five to 10 mounted officers from Virginia Beach and Colonial Williamsburg's security staff, and Virginia State Police will be on standby.

City officials have told organizers that the march formation should be reasonably compact and measure about 10 people across. The city has issued a special event permit for the march that allows for up to 500 participants.

Before the march starts at 1 p.m., organizers expect for busloads of protesters to arrive about 10 a.m. and take part in a welcome event at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church. They also have planned an interfaith celebration at noon at the church.

The march will head east down Prince George Street with a short stop planned at the Genuine Smithfield Ham Shoppe, a new Smithfield Foods specialty store on Prince George Street that hasn't opened for business yet. It will head south on Nassau Street, east on Francis Street and then south on South England Street. Another stop is planned at 2 p.m. by the Williamsburg Lodge for the presentation of a petition demanding a union vote and union contract.

After stopping at the lodge, the protesters expect to head west on Newport Avenue to Bicentennial Park, where they will hold a rally at 2:30 p.m. Participants are slated to get back on board their buses at 3:15 p.m. The city's permit calls for the protests to end by 3:30 p.m.

Colonial Williamsburg struck a diplomatic note when asked about the march. CW spokesman Tom Shrout said in a statement, "Numerous businesses, organizations and groups book meetings and conferences at properties operated by Colonial Williamsburg. The UFCW is expressing an opinion about a company which happens to be meeting at the Williamsburg Lodge."


Vancouver gov't union strike could worsen

Vancouver's nearly six-week-old municipal strike may soon hit the city with a renewed wave of inconveniences. "When the fall starts, people get ready to go back to school and ready to consider new recreational activities," said Susan Mundick, general manager of Vancouver's Park Board.

September is traditionally a busy month at community centres, she said, with children eager to sign up for sports, parents searching for daycares and countless others signing up for courses. Mundick said that because of the strike, municipal arenas and community centres remain closed, and workers haven't maintained sports fields.

Today, the City of Vancouver said it had not yet responded to a counter-offer from Vancouver's striking inside workers, making it almost certain the dispute will last beyond Labour Day.

Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 15, representing Vancouver's inside workers, issued the counter-offer on Monday saying it was willing to meet at the bargaining table almost immediately.

The union, along with Vancouver's other striking locals, are planning a march on City Hall on Wednesday.

The strike has left the city's soccer fields in such a poor state some games will have to be cancelled and other venues found, said Peter Buree, of the Vancouver Youth Soccer Association.

Buree said the fields are unsafe because possible hazards, such as holes, rocks or sprinkler heads, are hidden by the long grass.

He added many fields also don't have goal posts installed.

As a solution, the 4,000-player boys' league will move some games to Vancouver's gravel fields. In other cases, he said, teams will ask competitors to play games on their fields instead.

Herb Lee, coordinator for the Vancouver Adult Co-ed Hockey League, said games might have to be postponed if the strike drags on.

Unlike many other local leagues, he said the VACHA plays all its games on Vancouver's municipal rinks.

"People are trying to sign up but there is no one at the community centres" to take their names, said Lee, who added the season is tentatively set to begin in early October.

The rink closures will also mean skating programs may have to be delayed, Mundick said.

Of course the Labour Day end to summer vacations means more than just a return to fall and winter sports. Many parents who traditionally rely on city-affiliated child-care facilities will have to find other options.

Mundick said community centres across Vancouver house licensed child-care programs for about 1,350 children.

The fall also means an increase in programming at the city's arts venues, such as the Orpheum, where city managers have been scrambling to find new venues for shows that would otherwise have to be cancelled.


Hollywood labor tension put into sharp focus

For 40 days, the children of "Kid Nation" hauled wagons, cooked meals, managed stores and cleaned outhouses, all in the name of building a society in front of reality TV cameras. Were they working? There doesn't seem to be a simple answer. But what is clear is that CBS' new reality venture, which placed 40 children on a New Mexico ranch without any contact with their parents, has become a flash point in a television genre actors and writers have long blamed for taking jobs from them.

Scheduled to premiere Sept. 19, "Kid Nation" has become the subject of several official investigations, highlighting some of the inherent problems in reality television, which keeps costs down by avoiding paying writers and actors.

The stakes are high for the networks that profit from the entertainment and for the Hollywood guilds that have joined the "Kid Nation" fight as the industry girds for a possible strike this year. To make their larger point about reality television, the guilds have seized on "Kid Nation" with its added dose of controversy - the welfare of children.

"To me, this is the sweatshop of the entertainment industry," said Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director of Writers Guild of America, West.

"What's happened with 'Kid Nation' is typical and universal, but then it's that much worse because it's about children. The exposure that reality television is getting as a result of the 'Kid Nation' case really has much greater import in the big picture."

It's also shined a light on the common network practice of creating subsidiary companies that can contract with production companies that are not bound by union labor laws and can shield networks from having their corporate image tarnished.

"This is an area that the networks don't really want to talk about because they don't want to address the manner in which they try to divorce themselves from legal responsibility or moral responsibility for the conditions on the shows," Hermanson said.

"The purpose of using these companies is to distance themselves from any liability for labor practices or lawsuits of any kind," he said. "But it's an insidious practice in my opinion because when you look at who is deriving the benefit ... it leads right to the network's door."

A complaint charging "abuse and neglect" by the mother of a 12-year-old girl who was burned in the face while cooking was made public last week. New Mexico Atty. Gen. Gary King said he will investigate whether producers lawfully kept state inspectors, who wanted to review work permits for the children, from the site. CBS lawyers maintain that no work permits were needed because the children were "participating," and not working, during the filming of the program.

The Screen Actors Guild joined the fray Monday, having received a barrage of calls from parents, members and former young performers who "called and yelled at us because they were really appalled at the way these kids were treated," said Pamm Fair, SAG's deputy national executive director.

The guild looked at the contract between parents and producers, she said, "and it's been a long time since we've seen such egregious provisions for any performer, let alone children."

"We have a lot of people who are very upset about this show," she added, "so there may be action down the line to let the network know that people are unhappy about the treatment of children and how it's reflected in the series."

SAG is following the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which announced Friday that it was looking into reports of abuse of children on the set. AFTRA covers the host and announcer of "Kid Nation," and the organization is reviewing the contract between the children and the production.

Although the CBS Corp. board of directors has not met on the issue, board member Linda Griego said members are making inquiries to make sure the laws were followed.

CBS owns the copyright to the show through a subsidiary company, Magic Molehill Productions Inc., which was incorporated in 1995 and has held copyrights to other reality fare on CBS and the CW, the network CBS co-owns with Warner Bros. CBS contracted with Good TV Inc., which belongs to Tom Forman, the creator of "Kid Nation," to produce the show.

Although Magic Molehill is a non-union entity, Good TV had agreements with AFTRA to cover the "Kid Nation" host and announcer, with the Director's Guild of America for the show's director and with the Teamsters to cover the drivers. But the production crew was non-union.

CBS officials declined to comment about Magic Molehill except to acknowledge that it's a copyright holder for "Kid Nation" and other shows.

Since "Survivor" premiered on CBS in 2000, reality TV has been the prickly stepchild of the networks. Reality shows can yield a hefty bounty for networks and producers when the shows hit big. But, over the years, as the genre has produced everything from the Emmy-winning "The Amazing Race" to "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance," skepticism has grown about the "realness" of the shows.

Producers have admitted to writing scenarios that contestants are asked to carry out. And contestants have revealed that they work long hours and are often asked to do different takes of scenes to make them more interesting or controversial.

For these reasons, union representatives argue that the shows have writers who should be compensated according to union guidelines and that some contestants are performers who could be covered under collective bargaining agreements.

Two suits are pending in California Superior Court on behalf of groups of reality show producers and writers who are charging several production companies and TV networks with violations of labor laws governing overtime, wages and meal periods.

Like the amateur contestants on game shows, each child on "Kid Nation" received a $5,000 stipend -- "as a thank-you for participating," Forman said -- and some won prizes of $20,000 or more. The participants, ages 8 to 15, hailed from 15 states, excluding California and New York, which have some of the strictest labor laws in the country.

In an interview Aug. 9, Forman said he avoided children from those states because, "as we looked at the labor issues, there were some issues there." But, he said, "I was OK with it too, because that's where I thought we would find kids in the entertainment business, not the all-American kids we were looking for that I think the viewers would relate to."

Although only one child from the "Kid Nation" cast has turned out to be a professional actor, almost half have expressed interest in performing or acting. In interviews, some of the children and parents have said the children did not "work" when they were filmed for 14 hours or more a day because they set their own hours and decided for themselves what chores to do.

In statements to the press last week, CBS expressed support for its show and production. Forman also said in interviews that the children "were not taken advantage of."

"I think that some of the controversy comes from people who don't believe that kids are as capable as I know they are," Forman said. "I saw it in my own kids and I saw it in these kids, that if you let them step up and take responsibility, they are smarter than anyone gives them credit for."

But to get what they want, reality show producers cite documentary filmmaking as their inspiration and claim their shows are more just than a form of entertainment, said Mark Andrejevic, author of "Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched."

"In order to legitimate the free labor that they extract from cast members, every reality show producer claims that this is some kind of experience where people grow and learn about themselves," he said. "The producers rely on the tradition of the documentary to make this seem like it's not exploitation when the only true commitment they have is to turn a profit."


Possible PA teacher strike in October

Contract negotiations between Lake-Lehman (PA) teachers and the school board Tuesday night went better than the past few sessions, Board Member Mark Kornoski said. "We got a little dialogue going. Nothing much really, but hopefully we'll get some progress and get this thing settled," Kornoski said. "Hopefully we're going to get some movement."

The last two sessions ended with both sides hurling stinging accusations that the other side was stalling and recalcitrant - even contending the other side walked out before talks were done. But that was not the case this time. "Let's just say we're not accusing either side of unfair labor practices."

Asked if he felt the calmer atmosphere could decrease the risk of a teacher strike this fall, Kornoski said he doesn't believe "the negotiations have anything to do with that," and that he has been hearing rumors that, if any strike is staged, "it may not be until sometime in October."

The teachers have been working under an expired contract since August of last year and held a strike near the end of the school year. They have also staged informational pickets before school board meetings and sat in on the meetings, sometimes addressing the board.

Both sides say they want a fair contract. A primary sticking point has been the board's push to have teachers pay part of their health insurance premiums.

Kornoski said there are two more negotiation sessions scheduled, but wasn't sure of the dates, though he believes both are set for September.

Union lead negotiator John Holland did not return a call late Tuesday night.


Unions keeping busy with politics

Teachers out on strike in Rhode Island

Burrillville's teachers will not report to their classrooms this morning for what was expected to be the first day of the 2007-2008 school year. The teachers' union leaders announced a strike late last night on the heels of fruitless collective-bargaining negotiations stretching back to late last year. Schools Supt. Steven Welford confirmed last night that the district had canceled today's classes.

The teachers are dissatisfied with contract proposals that, according to a union official, offer too little money and try to change their roles. They also disagreed with proposals to increase limits on class size.

"We wanted to try and get this resolved," said the official, Patrick M. Crowley, assistant executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island. "We've invested the time and effort into trying to get a deal that would work. It's not a matter of one group walking away," he added. "It's a matter of two sides that can't reach a deal."

The union's representatives have negotiated with representatives of the School Committee on various occasions since last November.

The talks have been intense since Friday.

On Monday, the union membership, numbering 203 teachers, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike should their union leaders deem it necessary.

The teachers then went to work as scheduled on Monday and again yesterday in anticipation of a breakthrough that would head off a strike.

However, both sides seemed to be anticipating a standoff late yesterday afternoon.

A lawyer representing the school district - which educates about 2,700 students - advised parents to log onto the district's Web site (www.bsd-ri.net) and tune into local television news channels to see if the first day of school would be delayed.

Any change in the opening of school would be treated as a snow day, he said.

The same lawyer, Benjamin M. Scungio, issued a news release that sought to reinforce the district’s commitment to continued negotiations.

"The school committee fully supports its teachers and the good work they do in the educational interests of the children in the town of Burrillville," Scungio wrote. "The school committee is grateful that the teachers continue to perform their professional duties even though we have yet to achieve an agreement."

Scungio's release says the school system wants to reform the existing contract in a way that allows greater cost-sharing of health care and other benefits and creates "efficiencies within the contract to free-up additional money."

Crowley was less specific when he was asked to identify sticking points in the negotiations.

"Management is asking for things they can't afford to buy this year," he said.

The system wants to change the role of teachers from professionals to staffers who take direction, Crowley said. He declined to elaborate.

Scungio cited the town's limited ability "to meet union financial requests" as an issue in the contract negotiations.

For example, a new state regulation requires high school teachers to spend 330 minutes per day in instructional time, the release says.

The requirement forced the district to hire five new teachers at a cost of more than $300,000, but the state did not supply any financial aid to help the district pay for the additional cost, according to Scungio.

The highest paid teacher earns $66,000 a year in the Burrillville system, Crowley said. A teacher on the first step earns about $34,000, he said.

He rated that pay scale between the 16th and 19th highest in the state.

Language in the existing contract could add a twist to any legal wrangling in the event of a strike.

The existing contract expires Friday, but it also stipulates that teachers must work no more than 181 school days, according to Crowley.

The teachers logged their 181st day of work on the last day of school in the spring, he said. Thus, they are under no contractual obligation to report to work, he said.

He acknowledged that the school system interprets the contract differently. The schools’ lawyer, Scungio, was not available to comment on the issue yesterday afternoon.

Welford was uncertain about the prospects of school opening tomorrow.

"We don't know," he said. "Obviously there’s process. We will go through that process."

He promised that the system would explain its plans in a news release today.


Teachers strike looms in Washington State

The start of Bethel (Washington) schools this Thursday is in jeopardy after talks broke down Tuesday. No more mediation sessions are scheduled, said Tom Cruver, president of the Bethel Education Association. "We don't want to go on strike, but it seems the district has left us no choice," Cruver says. "This district cannot attract and retain highly qualified teachers unless they offer comparable compensation. Our students also deserve smaller class sizes so we can give them more individual attention."

Teachers voted in May to strike this Thursday if they had no contract agreement by Wednesday. Cruver added that the union by-laws also require members have 24 hours to review a tentative agreement before voting on it.

Bethel school officials also confirmed the two sides "reached an impasse" today.

"The sad thing in this negotiation process is that the positions of both the BEA and the district have merit," said Bethel Superintendent Tom Seigel, superintendent. "We absolutely agree that teachers deserve higher salaries and lower class sizes. The issue remains school funding." District spokesman Mark Wenzel said the district will phone parents on Wednesday afternoon to relay updated information about the start of school. Parents can also check the district site www.bethelsd.org.

Athletic practices will take place as regularly scheduled, even if the start of school is delayed, Wenzel said. Coaches work under a different contract from that of the teachers and other certificated staff.

District and teacher union representatives began mediation sessions last week in hopes of reaching a settlement before their contract expires this Friday.

The parties reached agreement on some issues, but differences remain over compensation, class size and medical benefits.

The association represents more than 1,050 teachers, counselors, librarians and other certificated staff members in Bethel schools.

If members strike, the start of school would be delayed for 17,000 students in the suburban district that includes Graham, Spanaway, Roy, Kapowsin and Frederickson.

"We all have a shared vision of educating youngsters to the highest possible standard," said Seigel. "We look forward to a successful conclusion to these negotiations so we can kick off a great 07-08 school year."


Striking teachers reject contract, set to walk again

The Harlem (Illinois) Federation of Teachers overwhelmingly vote no on the tentative agreement reached with the Harlem School Board. The teachers will continue to work through Tuesday. If a contract is not voted on and in place by Wednesday the teachers will be back on the strike line.

Before Harlem teachers take a vote on their contract Tuesday night, they passed a vote of 'no confidence' regarding Superintendent Pascal DeLuca. Teachers also want the Harlem School board to ask for his immediate resignation.

Teachers blame DeLuca's management style, say there's bad morale, and say he's more concerned with press releases than teachers' needs.

Harlem teachers went back to school Tuesday for the first time after a week-long strike. They were not happy with contract negotiations.

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