AFSCME confirms tomorrow's strike plan

At a Labor Day rally in St. Paul Monday, union members reaffirmed their intentions to walk off the job at the University of Minnesota. "Our members are willing, ready, and able to walk out on Wednesday and it's going to have a huge impact on the University of Minnesota," Phyllis Walker, President of AFSCME 3800, said.

Walker said more than 3,000 clerical, technical, and health care workers are planning to strike on the second day of classes. Walker says the strike will continue until the university improves its offer. The strike announcement was expected after the union rejected the latest contract offer and no new talks were scheduled.

The university says its offer would have provided 94 percent of AFSCME employees with at least a 4.5 percent pay increases in each year of a two-year contract. The union calculates the university's offer at 2.25 percent per year for clerical and technical workers and 2.5 percent for health care workers.

The university says it has contingency plans in place to keep the university operating during a strike.

"There are going to be some services that are going to be delayed, but we are doing everything we can to keep it business as usual," University Spokesman Dan Wolter said.

"When the students come in on Wednesday, they're going to find that there isn't anyone in the library to help them," Walker said.

Walker said union members are willing to talk, if university officials call them back to the bargaining table.

"The ball's in the university's court," Walker said.


Bullying, politics dominate teachers union agenda

As a new school year opens, students, parents and teachers hoping for quality education face an ironic opponent: the National Education Association, America's premier teachers union. When it comes to opposing common sense education reforms, the 3.2 million-member NEA is the biggest, baddest bully in the playground. Sadly, students who want to learn and teachers who want to teach suffer most from the union's misplaced policies and politics.

When parents and kids shop together for school clothes, supplies and extra-curricular needs, they enjoy a bevy of choices in stores and manufacturers. That means they can shop around for the right products at the best prices. Makers of shoddy goods and retailers with lousy service will be forced to improve or lose business to better product providers. That's how competition keeps quality and prices in line with customers' needs and expectations.

But kids who go off to school with good, inexpensive clothes and supplies may receive education that's just the opposite - overpriced and underperforming. That's because the National Education Association fights every effort to let that same accountability and competition improve the product its teachers work hard to provide - the education of America's public school children.

The NEA's politicized leadership is fond of claiming that its efforts are in the best interests of students, but this is far from the case. Nowhere is this more clear than in its relentless mission to sabotage the accountability for results in the No Child Left Behind Act. While many groups have advocated ways to improve or change the law, NEA leadership has systematically worked to torpedo its reliance on academic standards and testing. Instead, it proposes a meaningless jumble of apples-to-oranges comparisons and "portfolio assessments" that would make it nearly impossible to evaluate the progress a school or its teachers are making in teaching our children.

The NEA's leadership also stands in firm opposition to any plan to shift its teachers to performance-based pay determined by the achievement of their students. Blocking efforts to compensate good teachers more than bad ones, the union insists on determining pay raises strictly by seniority. It rejects paying teachers based on their area of expertise — thereby maintaining America's shortage of good math and science teachers. And it stops retired folks or others who want to contribute their expertise from volunteering as teachers.

The NEA consistently opposes giving parents and students freedom of choice among public schools - so kids in districts with poorly performing schools can't seek better education in nearby neighborhoods.

On the other hand, the union protects teachers who clearly threaten students' best chances for a quality education. The tenure system makes it difficult to fire bad teachers; it can cost taxpayers nearly $200,000 to discharge a poorly performing educator.

The NEA shows no reservations about taking teachers' union dues and spending them to spread a radical political agenda. Annual NEA dues can reach as high as $500. A little of it goes toward core union activities, like collective bargaining for contracts that keep members from having to attend after-school meetings or teach another's class in an emergency. Some goes toward the hefty paychecks of NEA staffers, thousands of whom rake in six-figure annual salaries, far more than the teachers who pay them.

And a lot - as much as half, by some estimates - goes toward politicking. The NEA doesn't restrict itself to lobbying on issues that directly affect education, like the No Child Left Behind Act. It doesn't even restrict itself to weighing in on issues that indirectly affect education, like tax reform, which it sees as a threat to its own cash flow. The union lobbies on a host of unrelated issues, like statehood for the District of Columbia, even though many of its dues-payers don't want it to.

Fortunately, teachers do have some recourse. In right-to-work states, they don't have to pay union dues at all. And in others, while they can be required to pay dues for core union activities, they cannot be forced to pay for politicking, public relations or other non-essential union activities.

The NEA has done a solid job of stacking the deck against students, parents and teachers who want good schools. But that can change, if everyone interested in quality education stands up - and stops turning money over - to the NEA-borhood bully.


Right to Work law liberates workers

When labor unions were still relevant, Labor Day was a holiday of union-sponsored parades and picnics, a chance to pause from the daily grind and celebrate the strength of solidarity. But today, most people won't even think about labor unions as they go about enjoying what for all practical purposes is the last day of summer. That's because most American workers don't belong to a union and never have. Nor do they want to.

Just 12 percent of employees in the United States are union members. That's down from 20 percent in 1983 and is falling steadily. The loss of manufacturing jobs certainly has hurt Big Labor. But so has its inability to connect with workers employed outside of factories and government offices.

Today's worker is more independent, more mobile and more comfortable interacting with his or her employer as an individual, rather than as part of a collective bargaining unit. Still, too many workers are trapped against their will in unions they were forced to join by state and federal laws that support compulsory union membership and automatic dues deductions.

With Congress now under Democratic control, efforts have stepped up to strengthen those laws and undermine the ability of states to pass right-to-work legislation, which allows workers a choice in whether or not they join the union. Currently, 22 states have right-to-work laws.

Michigan should join them. Freeing workers from compulsory union membership would send an important signal that Big Labor no longer dictates policy and controls politics in Michigan.

The economies of the right-to-work states are growing far faster than the rest of the nation. That alone should be incentive for the state to modernize its labor laws.

As for Congress, instead of limiting the ability of states to protect workers from union conscription, it would do better to pass the National Right to Work Act that has been introduced several times, but without success.

Workers who want to join a union should have that right. But workers who don't want to join should have their rights respected, too.


State Right to Work laws weaken unions

Labor Day has special meaning in 28 states. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of them because it refuses to prevent unions from confiscating money from nonmembers.

That's too bad for workers who don't want union representation and yet are forced to pay for the dubious benefit of having someone they do not want -- and maybe not even know - speaking for them. And if Congress caves in to Big Labor next year, it could get much worse for workers and employers.

Workers legally cannot be forced to join a union, regardless of the state. However, if they aren't in a right-to-work state and yet work in a union shop, they can be forced to pay the percentage of union dues that supposedly are not used for political purposes.

Better make that Union Labor Day in Pennsylvania and the other 27. And don't throw out that record of Joan Baez singing the labor anthem "Joe Hill" just yet.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The AFTRA union is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggest labor unions rapidly are becoming endangered species. Big Labor is not quite as dead as a dodo but California condors continue to soar ever closer.

In 2006, 13.6 percent of wage and salary workers in Pennsylvania were union members compared to 13.8 percent in 2005.

The state's union membership rate is the lowest recorded in the 18 years the department has tracked it. And Pennsylvania's union membership rate has steadily declined from the high of 20.9 percent in 1989, the bureau reports.

Nationally, the unionization rate fell to 12 percent in 2006. It was 12.5 percent in 2005. It actually had been 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year the agency tracked it.

Big Labor's solution to stop the hemorrhaging is the ironically titled Employee Free Choice Act.

Currently, an employer whose employees are targeted by union organizers has the right to demand a secret ballot election for his employees to minimize the likelihood of union intimidation. But if the act becomes law -- and it might next year should Democrats gain more seats in each chamber of Congress -- the employer would no longer be allowed to demand a secret ballot election.

There's a nationwide push by union officials to make this coercive organizing scheme the law of the land, according to Justin A. Hakes, legal information director of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. It's a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid for employees victimized by compulsory unionism.

"If they succeed, we are bound to see a dramatic increase in the already rampant coercion of workers under such drives," Mr. Hakes says.

Not everyone sees it that way.

"It's labor that has to stand up for the middle class," says Jack Shea, secretary of the Allegheny County Labor Council. "If we make the unions weaker there will be no spokesman for the middle-class worker."

But that's assuming the worker cannot speak for himself. The vast majority of workers nationwide seem to have made a statement about joining unions.

"All the right-to-work committees want to do is weaken the union," Mr. Shea says.

At last, something everyone can agree on.


Big year ahead for organized labor on west coast

Organized labor in the Southland faces unprecedented challenges as approximately 228,000 workers will have contract negotiations pending over the next year. "These are difficult times for working people. Jobs offering a middle-class standard of living and health care coverage affordable to wording people are under attack," said Maria Elena Durazo, the former union organizer who now heads the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

"Never before have so many workers had so much at stake going into bargaining for new contracts," she said at a breakfast at the downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. "Never before has L.A. labor faced such a challenge," she said. "The future of the labor movement in L.A. depends on what we do next year. We must mobilize every resource. We must rally every activist. We must tap every ally in the trying year ahead."

Durazo, who once organized hotel workers in downtown Los Angeles, is the widow of Miguel Contreras, the former head of the county Federation of Labor who died unexpectedly in 2005 at age 52.

Unions that represent about 228,000 workers in the greater Los Angeles area - including actors, electricians and longshore workers - will negotiate new contracts in the next year, according to union officials.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who once organized a teachers union, was also at the breakfast, where he helped serve up food.

"When you work hard and you play by the rules, you ought to have health care, you ought to have a decent wage, you ought to be able to maintain a family," he said.

However, this time, Villaraigosa will be on the other side of the bargaining table as contracts for city workers are among those coming up for renewal.

On Monday, thousands of union members were at a march, rally and picnic in Wilmington in Southern California's only Labor Day parade.

"We are the union," they chanted as they marched to Banning Park.

Cardinal Roger Mahony blessed workers and their tools at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. During his homily, Mahony expressed disappointment with Congress for not updating immigrating laws to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

"The first sign in big letters says ‘come, help wanted, help desperately needed here.' Down farther on the sign it says ‘no trespassing,"' he said.

President Bush made reference to the continued economic boom in his Labor Day speech.

"Productivity is high, consumers are confident and incomes are rising across our country," Bush said. "Our economy has experienced one of the fastest growth rates of any major industrial nation.

"More than 8.3 million jobs have been created in American since 2003 and the unemployment rate remains low. My administration is committed to promoting pro-growth economic policies, keeping taxes low and support small businesses to keep our economy strong and growing."

Bush also made a surprise stop in Iraq on his way to an economic conference in Australia.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. Oregon became the first state to formally recognize Labor Day in 1887.

In 1894, Congress passed a bill designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day and a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and territories.


Vancouver labor unrest multiplies

Vancouver's outside workers continued their strike on Labour Day, as Mayor Sam Sullivan said he would not push for a settlement. "I believe that if the politicians get out of the way and let the negotiators negotiate, we will come to a speedy conclusion," he told CTV British Columbia.

Sullivan had wanted the strike to end by Monday. But CUPE 1004 president Mike Jackson said talks have not gone well between the two sides, and blamed the impasse on the city's leadership. "When you ask who's driving their bus right now, I don't think any of them know, because I certainly don't know who's in charge with them," he said.

Garbage has continued to pile up since the strike began in July. And Vancouver's labour woes could soon grow worse. Another 1,400 hotel employees have voted in favour of striking, and only need to give 72-hours notice before setting up their own picket lines. Meanwhile, 7,000 coastal forest workers, represented by the United Steelworkers union, have been on strike since July 21.

The workers want better scheduling, severance and protection from contracting out.

Jim Sinclair, president of B.C. Federation of Labour, said all of the strikes are motivated by a widening prosperity gap.

"As long as the headlines that every worker picks up everyday say 'prosperity for all,' as long as we've got twice as many millionaires who are twice as rich as anybody else in the country, as long as there is a gap between people struggling to work and people at the top, then you're going to see more strikes," he said.

"We've got a right to keep up."

Jackson said Vancouver's outside workers could remain off the job for as long as needed, because the healthy economy has created a strong labour market for them to supplement their strike pay.

"In regards to a hot labour market, (CUPE 1004) deals with truck drivers, trades people, mechanics and even general labourers - we have lots of them, and they're picking up work as we speak," he said.


Remembering victims of union thuggery

I've been busy this weekend but I thought one topic needed to be covered, the victims of union violence. Since I don't have a lot of time between family activities I'll stop with one source, Wikipedia. Here's a short list of people who have been attacked by union members.

* 2004 AFL-CIO push their way into a Republican field office in Orlando FL, breaking the wrist of one staffer. AFL-CIO member Van Church is unrepentant: "If his wrist was fractured, it's a result of his own actions in jerking the door the way he did."”

* 1999 - During protests by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547 against a non-unionized workforce getting a contract, picketers threatened and assaulted workers, spat at them, sabotaged equipment, and shot guns near workers. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the union had engaged in "ongoing acts of intimidation, violence, destruction of property."

* 1999 - During protests by Laborers' International Union of America Local 310, picketers punched a worker, and threw coffee cups at workers.

* 1999 - Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 120 were convicted of striking a worker, and imprisoning another one in a truck trailer.

* 1998 - Teamsters Orestes Espinosa, Angel Mielgo, Werner Haechler, Benigno Rojas, and Adrian Paez beat, kicked, and stabbed a UPS worker (Rod Carter) who refused to strike, after Carter received a threatening phone call from the home of Anthony Cannestro, Sr., president of Teamsters Local 769.

* 1998 - During the Communications Workers of America U.S. West strike a worker was threatened with a gun, and a manager was hit in the head with a rock.

* 1990 - on the first day of The New York Daily News strike, trucks were attacked with stones and sticks. One union member was immediately arrested for transporting Molotov cocktails. Strikers followed replacement laborers and threatened them with baseball bats. Strikers then started threatening newsstands with arson, or stole all copies of the Daily News and burned them in front of the newsstands. Independent sources estimated over a thousand reports of threats. The newspaper recorded over two thousand legal violations. The Police Department, recorded more than 500 incidents. 50 strikers were arrested. Bombings of delivery trucks became common, with 11 strikers arrested on one day in October.

* 1983 - Eddie York was murdered for crossing a United Mine Workers (UMW) picket line.

And yes the entry does have listings of union members who were victims of management violence. Unfortunately the latest example of management violence in the US was in 1949.

There is a clear pattern of unions using violence against not only the company but fellow workers to intimidate and get the results they demand. There's a legal term for that extortion. Every attempt should be made to connect union leadership with these activities.

The left likes to claim that senior management should be jailed when employees at the lower levels fail to do their job (or go beyond their jobs). Clearly there is a double standard because the union thugs at the top never seem to be held accountable.

I have one thought unrelated to union violence. The union movement is failing in the United States because it is outmoded and cannot compete in the world wide marketplace. The only place where unions are growing it seems is in the government sector where management and workers are unaccountable and failure is rewarded with a bigger budget.

Update: Here's an example of union violence in North Dakota within the last year.

Union members are chanting "settle the contract."

Some of them went as far as to put nails on the ground before the bus came.

When our K-X News photographer started getting video of the nails, the striking employees tried to kick them away.

The strike began Saturday, about four in the afternoon.

Contract negotiations broke down regarding benefits and salary.

The union wants I-R Bobcat to pay the entire cost of their health care in addition to a pay increase.


Candidate plays class warfare card for unions

Former North Carolina U.S. Sen. John Edwards promised today that if he is elected president, he would help American workers join unions and protect their right to strike.

"The truth of the matter is, in order to grow and strengthen the middle class in this country, we have to grow and strengthen the organized labor movement," the candidate told hundreds of union supporters gathered at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Edwards, who had just marched in a Labor Day parade, took the stage in rolled-up-sleeves and blue jeans. He delivered a vigorous, eight-minute speech, in which he ripped the Bush administration and vowed to help working people.

He promised to let people join unions simply by signing membership cards instead of holding secret ballot elections, and he said he would outlaw the use of replacement workers, or scabs, during strikes. "Nobody - nobody - will be able to walk through that picket line and take your job away," he said to cheers.

Edwards also renewed his criticism of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.

"Listen, we don't need a surge in Baghdad," he said. "We need a surge in New Orleans, where our people are hurting."

Edwards has worked relentlessly to pick up support from labor unions. At an event in Pittsburgh earlier Monday, he picked up endorsements from the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers of America.

The campaign touted the Steelworkers as the largest private industrial union in the United States.

In a telephone interview from Pittsburgh, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said all the Democratic candidates have strong labor views, but he said his union activists overwhelmingly favor Edwards. "They judged Sen. Edwards on his life's work - standing up for working people," he said.

The Steelworkers have 850,000 members, including about 7,000 in Iowa. The union’s contributions will including campaign volunteers, he said.

The Steelworkers backed former Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt in the 2004 presidential race. "We're looking to improve our track record," Gerard said with a laugh. Gephardt dropped out after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses that year.

Last week, Edwards snagged the endorsement of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. Other Democratic candidates also have union backing. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and by the United Transportation Union.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is backed by the International Association of Fire Fighters.


Teacher strikes cancel school in RI towns

It's back to school Tuesday for students in Burrillville, but in East Greenwich and Tiverton - summer vacation will extend at least another day. Burrillville teachers decided to report to school Tuesday despite the failure to reach a contract agreement with school administrators. Schools will open with a one-hour delay.

The two sides met for more than five hours of negotiations Monday. Patrick Crowley, assistant executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said talks will continue Tuesday afternoon. "The teachers will be there and negotiations will continue while the kids are in school," Crowley said.

Classes in Burrillville were supposed to start last Wednesday, but officials canceled school for the week after negotiations stalled. A Superior Court judge was prepared to order them back to work. Teachers and school officials are split on wages, benefits and class size.

Tiverton teachers said they would not report for the start of school on Tuesday after talks with school officials failed to reach a deal over the weekend. NBC 10 reported that classes have been canceled for Tuesday.

The School Committee held an emergency meeting Monday afternoon at the high school to discuss the status of contract negotiations. A group of Tiverton teachers held an impromptu rally outside.

Union officials said they were prepared to negotiate over the weekend but that they wanted the entire School Committee present at the talks in case a tentative agreement was reached.

The committee sent the superintendent as its negotiator and one committee member as an observer, which the union said was not good enough.

"It's very frustrating. It was our sincerest hope that we would not be in this position. We notified them Friday night of where we stood on things. We hoped that we would be able to make progress over the weekend, and they have refused to do so," said Amy Mullen, president of the Tiverton teachers' union.

The chairwoman of the School Committee said the superintendent is authorized to negotiate on the committee's behalf. But the union said it wants the decision makers at the talks, not what it called a messenger.

The talks are bogged down on health-care premium costs and salary demands.

Crowley said earlier that school officials want teachers to pay higher premiums while the teachers want to switch to a higher deductible plan.

On the issue of salaries, the school committee was offering a 1 percent increase. Teachers were asking for a 4 percent hike for the three-year contract, he said.

Teachers' contracts remain unresolved in other Rhode Island school districts.

East Greenwich teachers and administrators failed to reach an agreement Monday, and classes have been canceled for Tuesday.

In Exeter-West Greenwich, school began last week and will continue, although that contract is also in mediation. The next scheduled session is Wednesday.

There is a similar situation in Ponaganset schools, where classes began last week and will continue Tuesday. Ponaganset teachers and administrators have a mediation session at 2 p.m. Monday at the state Department of Labor and Training.


Teamsters capture most-decertified award

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is the winner of Union Free America's 2nd Annual "Most Decertified Union Award." This honor is awarded to the labor union that lost the most decertification elections during the preceding 12 months.

The judging was based on an analysis of the reports of election results on the National Labor Relations Board’s web site for the period August 2006 through July 2007. During that time the NLRB conducted 353 decertification elections. Employees seeking to rid themselves of a union won 236 or 67 percent of them.

The Teamsters union won the "Most Decertified Union Award" by being decertified 61 times during that period. The Teamsters were involved in a total of 86 decertification elections of which they lost 71 percent.

The United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union was in a distant second place with a loss of 19 of 25 elections.

Honorable mention in the 2007 competition was awarded to the Sheetmetal Workers International Association, which even though it only participated in 7 decertification elections, lost 100 percent of them.

The Teamsters outstanding performance helped the Change to Win unions edge past the AFL-CIO affiliates in the competition. Despite the fact that the AFL-CIO is a considerably larger federation, Change to Win unions participated in a total of 164 decertification elections and lost 110 of them compared to just 148 elections with 102 losses for the AFL-CIO.

Colorful certificates commemorating these achievements have been sent to the Teamsters, Steel Workers and Sheetmetal Workers unions.

"Labor union officials will contend that they don't compete for the 'Most Decertified Union Award' but actions speak louder than words," said David Denholm, the founder of Union Free America.

Union Free America was founded in 2002 to provide advice and encouragement to workers fighting to stay, or become, Union Free. The "Most Decertified Union Award" was established in 2006 in response to the growing number of requests from workers for information about how they could rid themselves of unwanted union representation.


Steelworkers boss explains forestry strike

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