UAW sets strike pay and benefits for GM walkout

If the United Auto Workers strike General Motors Corp., union members will receive $200 a week in strike pay, according to union officials. They also will receive health benefits, provided they report for picket duty when assigned.

Locals representing GM workers across the country already are posting picket schedules and passing out strike information. Negotiations continue between GM and the UAW, but the clock is ticking. The current contract officially expired at 11:59 Friday.

On Thursday, the UAW signed indefinite contract extensions with both Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC, but has designated GM as its "strike target."


Teachers intend first-ever strike against District

Teachers in the Earlville (IL) School District filed an intent to strike Tuesday. The formal notice, filed with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, does not mean a strike is imminent, but must by law be filed 10 days prior to teachers strike. The earliest date teachers could strike is Sept. 22.

Denise Funfsinn, co-president of the Earlville Teachers Association, said the notice was issued after a series of federal mediation sessions failed to produce a contract settlement. Funfsinn said points of contention include compensation, student safety, retention of experienced teachers, health care and teacher retirement.

"The only thing our teachers are seeking is justice and a fair contract. As far as the teachers are concerned, we're being forced into this action by a board that is not coming to the table with fairness in mind," she said in a press release issued Thursday.

The school board said it cannot afford to increase teachers' salaries as high as teachers are proposing. "We are spending down our reserves rapidly because our expenditures have exceeded our revenues for some years now and we have been using our reserves to fund the difference," said Jerry Meyer, board president, in a press release the district issued. "Now that our fund balances are so diminished, the board cannot provide as much in the way of salary and benefit increases to the teachers as we have in the past. We must balance our budget in the immediate future."

The board believes it is offering a fair compensation proposal: a 4.85 percent salary increase in the base salary over the next three years and a 25 percent increase in the board-paid premium on teachers' insurance during the same time frame.

If a strike does occur, it would be the first in the K-12 district's history. According to Funfsinn, there is no official strike date set, though the union may set a date soon if no progress is made.

"Our goal is to help the school district attract and retain the high-quality teachers that we need to provide quality education to students," Funfsinn said. "We are not asking for the moon, and we do not want to strike. But we do want fairness. That continues to be our goal."

The board hopes teachers will continue to work as negotiations continue since a strike would be most disruptive to students.

"We look forward to getting past the current financial hard times," said Superintendent Patricia Hahto. "Teacher support is crucial to solving the district's financial problems."

Contract talks began in February and teachers have been without a contract since July 1. The next mediation session will be Thursday.


Cemetery strike: 498 cadavers held in storage

Gino Mucci will be laid to rest alongside his wife at Notre Dame des Neiges in Montreal sooner than expected. The 93-year-old widower, whose wife Maria died in May, launched a class action suit against the cemetery back in July on behalf of mourning families caught in the middle of a drawn-out labor dispute between management and its 129 unionized staff.

Mucci died on Saturday of a heart attack, two days before gravediggers were scheduled to return to work and resume burials. “He couldn’t even bury his wife,” said his granddaughter Debora De Thomasis, who has served as a spokesperson for the families throughout the labour standoff. “Now we’d like to bury them at the same time, but most probably he will [be buried] before her.”

De Thomasis says the length of the labor impasse has taken a toll on family members awaiting closure.

“It proves that some people suffered a lot from all of this. [...] We’re happy that it’s the beginning of the end, but at the same time it’s going to leave a lot of scars. My grandfather was affected by this. I’m not saying [his death] is totally about this, but it certainly played a role.”

Another woman whose father died nearly four months ago says she is relieved that her wait to bury him may soon be over. When contacted by The Suburban a few months ago, Ana (last name withheld) believed that the dispute would disrupt the grieving process of family members.

“It just comes upon you,” she said, holding back tears during a phone interview. “I think I’m doing more crying now than before because I’ve sort of been on hold. It’s starting to show that it affected me even physically last week. I had to go to the doctor. I’m in good health, but I had some really strange symptoms that kind of scared me. [The doctor] told to take a week and relax.

“I’m angry at everybody. [...] You lose a lot of faith in our society by these kind of things. It’s almost incomprehensible. I have no intention of lashing out at anybody over there [at the cemetery], I’m just going to be very quiet.”

Following an ultimatum by Quebec Labour Minister David Whissel that threatened potential back-to-work legislation, cemetery management and the workers’ union came to a tentative agreement late last week. The cemetery lifted its lock-out and employees will get back to work for four days a week until a final settlement is reached. In the interim, they will reserve one day a week for striking.

“We think it was a mistake, for us and for Quebec workers in general, that the [Quebec labour] minister intervened in the private domain,” said union president Daniel Maillet, adding that workers will carry out their duties according to the agreement.

“We tried to find a solution to ease the pain of the families and, at the same time, to preserve our rights to negotiate. We have given ourselves a deadline, but it’s not a specific date. We’d like to reach a final settlement by Oct. 7. If not, we’ll continue to negotiate while keeping our one-day strike once a week.”

As of Sept. 4, the cemetery confirmed that 498 bodies had accumulated in cold storage since the lockout began on May 16. In a press release, the cemetery also stated that burials can take place year-round, except in certain sections. The 59 interments slated for these sections will receive priority, the statement said.

Despite a probable resolution, the class action suit launched by Mucci is still on, says De Thomasis. Families are claiming a reimbursement of half the funeral costs and $100 per body for every day they were affected by the lockout.

“The class action is still going. People have to learn their lessons from what happened,” she said.


Gov't union rejects 11th offer, escalates demands

Talks have broken down between the City of Vancouver, B.C. and its three striking union locals. The city has now asked the Labour Minister to appoint a mediator.

City spokesperson Jerry Dobrovolny says the city has extended an invitation to CUPE 15, representing inside workers, to continue bargaining through the weekend, but has now presented the union with 11 offers, including two this week that were rejected, "We're wanting to move as quickly as we can to end the strike and so we're trying now to do two things: one is negotiate through the weekend, but also have a mediator available for next week."

Meanwhile, Dobrovolny says the city has been presented a new twist by outside workers. He says CUPE 1004 has indicated the longer their members remain out, the higher their wage demands will go.

Their last offer asked the city for 18.5% over five years, above the regional mandate of 17.5%.

There is word CUPE 15 members may march on City Hall next Tuesday, the day of the first City Council meeting since the summer break.


Court interpreters strike for step pay

The way Michael Ferreira sees it, he's spent 17 years helping to bring justice to the Long Beach Courthouse. Now, he contends, it's time for the courts to bring justice to him. Ferreira, a Spanish-language interpreter and member of the California Federation of Interpreters union, is one of nearly 300 Los Angeles County translators who spent their eighth day on picket lines Friday to strike over allegedly unfair labor practices.

Sitting in a lawn chair outside the Long Beach Courthouse at 415 W. Ocean Blvd., his eyes shaded by a large sun hat, Ferreira said the strike is less about money than about equality.

Interpreters now earn about $73,000 a year, but are not afforded a "step salary schedule," whereby workers get automatic bumps in pay after a certain number of years on the job. Unlike other court employees - from judges to janitors - interpreters don't have steps; employees with 25 years' experience make the same amount as first-year translators.

That notion seems particularly galling to Helen Ketcham, a 50-year-old Spanish-language translator in Long Beach with exactly 25 years on the job. Ketcham said interpreters are both highly skilled and increasingly in demand in Southern California courts, but they are still treated as though they don't count as much as court reporters or clerks.

That may be a by-product of the job itself, she added.

"If we're doing our jobs right," she said, "we almost disappear in people's minds."

As the strike moved into its second week, judges and court staff scrambled to meet mandatory court deadlines on their cases without the normal supply of interpreters. While the Long Beach Courthouse employs 14 Spanish and three Khmer translators, it has been forced to make do with one on most days - either an independent contractor or an employee choosing to cross the picket line.

Allan Parachini, a spokesman for Los Angeles Superior Court, said courtrooms are operating as efficiently as they can and are postponing cases as often as possible.

"While I wouldn't say it's had no effect," he said, "everyone continues to get his or her day in court."

Judges are also provisionally certifying bilingual court employees to temporarily translate for the court. But, in most cases, that requires a stipulation by defense attorneys, and not all attorneys are willing to agree to it.

"I don't do scabs," said Deputy Public Defender Jack Fuller, referring to the pejorative term given to those willing to take the job of a union worker during a strike.

Fuller called court translation "one of the most difficult jobs in the courthouse" and said he would support the union fight any way he could.

Still, Parachini characterized the county's offer as "fair compensation," noting that court expenses are now paid for by the state and are therefore limited by state budget restrictions. After more than four months of negotiations with the interpreters' union, the county imposed a 4 percent raise last month as its "last and best offer," with the promise of 3 percent raises in each of the next two years.

"We don't have more to give them," Parachini said. "They are under a misconception that there is a pot of money in the state budget that can be used to increase interpreters' pay. That is, unfortunately, not true."

He also noted that the right time to renegotiate the contract to include a step system would be in 2008 - not now.

The interpreters' union is relatively new.

Until two years ago, interpreters weren't even considered court employees. The first contract resulted in benefits and improved work conditions - including a requirement that interpreters "tag-team" duties if a hearing or trial is expected to last more than 40 minutes. Previously, no such breaks were mandated, leading to exhaustion and inaccurate translations, interpreters said.

The county provides 257 full-time certified interpreters in a number of languages - from Chinese to Arabic - plus 17 part-time workers and 125 as needed, Parachini said.

Certification is not easy to come by. It requires that translators be able to simultaneously listen and speak in two languages and in a setting that requires precision. In addition to being familiar with legal terminology, interpreters also must be able to translate on countless obscure topics, Ketcham said, from types of fish to parts on a truck.

If a doctor takes the witness stand in a case, she said, "he's not going to dumb down his language."

Interpreters point out that they could make more money in the private sector, and that the federal courts pay upwards of $75 a day more than the county.

Parachini said he couldn't dispute that federal interpreters were better paid, but added: "There are four of them."


Teacher strike looms in Illinois

After eight hours of fruitless negotiating Friday, District 187 teachers have given the board until midnight Sunday to reconsider their counteroffer or they will strike Monday.

"We requested a new contract proposal from the board many times and after eight hours of bargaining, we still had not received a new offer from the board," Cahokia Federation of Teachers president Brent Murphy said in a written statement issued shortly after 9 p.m. "We then made the board a new offer to reach an agreement and prevent a strike. The board rejected our offer and made no offer of their own. We are shocked that the board refused to make any effort to prevent a strike."

Superintendent Jana Bechtold said union members asked for a one-year contract with a raise of 3.5 percent. If the school board doesn't approve the deal by the midnight Sunday deadline, it reverts back to the teacher's original demand of a one-year deal with a 4 percent raise. Bechtold said the district is holding firm to its contention that it can't offer more than the contract that union members rejected Wednesday.

"The board is still standing on 2.25 percent," Bechtoldt said. "Eventually, we will probably have more negotiations. But nothing is scheduled."

Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford, who comes in to join union negotiators across the state when contract talks get bogged down, said he has never seen such a frustrating bargaining session.

"To sit there for more than eight hours and never get a contract offer is just odd," Comerford said. "I guess they just want a strike."

Members of the Cahokia Federation of Teachers, which represents not only about 300 educators but also about 200 secretaries and support staff, have rejected two offers from administrators. The latest was Wednesday, with 97 percent of the members voting against the deal.

Meanwhile, on Monday the school board unanimously rejected a counteroffer from the union that led to the filing of an unfair labor practices complaint against administrators.

The latest contract the district had offered was for one year with a raise of an average of 2.25 percent.

Bechtold said step increases teachers get for experience and furthering their education bring the raise for some to 8 1/2 percent.

Comerford said it is unfair to include steps in the salary calculation because the step increases are built to reflect and reward teachers with more experience and those who further their education levels.

Bechtoldt said the district cannot afford a larger increase because it is $5.3 million in debt.

Comerford said Cahokia schools got a $2.2 million increase in the revenue from the state, which would allow for the teachers to get the raise they are seeking and for the district to continue to pay down its debt.

Bechtoldt said every 1 percent the district increases teachers' pay costs taxpayers half a million dollars a year.

District 187 has 4,266 students. Teachers there have not gone on strike since 32 years ago, when they walked off the job for 18 days.


Vancouver's gov't union strike harms the poor

Courtney Chatham told the Georgia Straight she still has library books that were checked out before the onset of the civic workers strike. But that is likely the least of the 21-year-old Hastings-Sunrise single mother's worries. She is also seven months pregnant, unemployed, and takes care of her three-year-old son, Walker, with some help from his father and other residents in her subsidized apartment complex.

"If you live in Vancouver, you need to have access to pools," Chatham said while supervising Walker alongside neighbour Wilma Barker at the playground of Templeton Park. (Two striking CUPE Local 15 workers sat quietly in front of the closed public-pool main entrance.)

"Cheap entertainment is very important, and the parks are very important," she added. "When I moved to this area in April, they kept the park clean where I live [near Pandora Park], and there were no needles and condoms. Now I am scared to take my son there."

Chatham said that the $733 in total monthly welfare payments, plus a monthly prenatal and basic phone allowance of $45 and $32, respectively, offer little slack to pursue other options for her young family during the strike.

"I rely heavily on public, city-run free things and activities."

These include city-run swimming pools, summer programs, daycare spaces, and libraries. According to Indira Prahst, sociology instructor at Langara College–and Kerrisdale resident–the strike is not playing out the same way in her local parks.

Vancouver civic strike by the numbers

> Striking Canadian Union of Public Employees locals: 15, 1004, and 391

> Number of days CUPE 15 has been on strike (as of September 13): 53

> Number of days CUPE 1004 has been on strike (as of September 13): 56

> Number of days CUPE 391 has been on strike (as of September 13): 50

> Number of city-run community centres closed during strike: 23

> Number of libraries closed during strike: 22

> Number of indoor pools closed during strike: 9

> Number of outdoor pools closed during strike: 6

> Number of schools going without a library because of the strike: 4

Sources: www.cupe.ca ; vancouver.ca/

"I use the parks and I ask people, 'Have you been affected by the strike?', and they say 'No,'" Prahst told the Straight by phone. "Many of these people are members of the private clubs and have their own swimming pools or else have the resources to drive to the beach or take the bus if they are in that marginal bracket. But in the poorer areas, the park is the backyard. The kids have been waiting all summer to participate in swimming, so in the summertime the low-income families are affected."

However, NPA park board chair and Dunbar resident Ian Robertson disputed the notion the strike widens the gulf between the rich and poor in Vancouver. He told the Straight he has had "numerous calls from parents" regarding the potential disruption of park access for soccer and hockey in all areas of the city.

Former COPE councillor Tim Louis said the strike "most definitely is exacerbating the gap between the haves and have-nots in Vancouver".

"The parties, in my view, have the ability and the wish and the desire to come to a settlement, but at the very highest levels of government at City Hall, there is a wish to unnecessarily prolong the dispute," Louis said by phone. "And the people that are being hurt are the most vulnerable and the least economically independent in the city."

At Straight press time, the city was in negotiations with CUPE Local 15, with further talks scheduled Thursday and Friday (September 13 and 14) with Local 1004.

The strike is also having an impact on the arts community, according to Lan Tung, leader of the Orchid Ensemble musical troupe. The ensemble's production of Triaspora opens at Nanaimo's Malaspina University-College Theatre on Saturday (September 15) before coming to Vancouver for September 21 and 22.

"It is [about the] Chinese-Canadian experience, with music, dance, and multimedia," Tung said by phone. "It features interviews with Chinese-Canadians in different generations, introduced as a contemporary performance. For the multimedia part, we visited the library before it went on strike. We all selected photos and chose the ones we liked.…Then they went on strike and suddenly we had no photos representing Vancouver's Chinatown."

Triaspora comes hot on the heels of the 100-year anniversary of the 1907 anti-Asian riots in Vancouver, yet the production may not be benefiting from some telling local images locked in the vault at the Vancouver Public Library or City of Vancouver Archives–while overwhelmed mothers like Courtney Chatham wait to check overdue books back in.


SEIU protests, pickets over bargaining impasse

Healthcare workers picketed and chanted Thursday in front of Lakewood (CA) Regional Medical Center to protest recent layoffs at the hospital and a halt in contract negotiations between Tenet Healthcare and union representatives.

Clad in purple T-shirts, nearly 90 workers from Lakewood Regional and other hospitals represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers-West walked along a stretch of South Street throughout the day, carrying signs and protesting the cutbacks they said will compromise patient care.

The local SEIU-UHW - which represents about 7,000 workers at 14 hospitals, including certified nursing assistants, radiology and laboratory technicians and respiratory therapists - had been in contract talks over wages and benefits with Tenet representatives for the last 10 months.

Those talks broke down in late August and the parties will likely need a third party, such as an arbitrator, to help resolve the stalemate.

Recent layoffs only magnify the situation, said union representative Antonio Orea.

"In addition to being understaffed, now we have employees being laid off," he said.

Tenet, which operates Lakewood Regional, has made "slight adjustments" over the last month to its staffing
levels, which have affected less than 2 percent of its workforce, according to a written statement.

Orea said 10 positions were eliminated at the hospital, including EMT jobs.

A hospital representative would not say how many positions were eliminated or from what departments, but said that the majority of employees who were laid off have been placed at other local Tenet hospitals.

"Lakewood Regional Medical Center is always re-evaluating and adjusting its staffing levels as needed," according to the statement. "The few positions eliminated were done so because the hospital had sufficient resources available to cover the work required and still provide quality care."

And while reductions were made in some areas, Lakewood Regional continues to hire in other areas in which needs exist, adding that 15 new employees were hired to fill such positions, according to a hospital statement, which did not give specifics on what those areas were.

Still, union representatives say the elimination of positions will impact patient care.

"Healthcare workers at Tenet hospitals are doing heroic work for our patients despite management making it increasingly difficult for us to provide the best possible care," said Terrence Carter, an EEG (electroencephalogram) technician at the hospital.

Meanwhile, both sides said they want to work things out and reach a new wage contract for SEIU members at hospitals in California.


Long Steelworker strike crimps newsprint supply

Nearly two months into the logging strike, a Crofton mill official says things are getting desperate, and he is calling on the B.C. government to help. Meanwhile, local business owners affected by the labor dispute say they’ll continue toughing it out until the issue is resolved.

The United Steelworkers began striking in mid-July, following months of unsuccessful bargaining with four forestry companies. At the time, Don McKendrick said if the work boycott lasted longer than six weeks, it could force the Crofton mill to shutdown.

Now, the vice-president of operations for Catalyst’s Crofton division said they have enough wood chips to last another month. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t being affected, McKendrick said. “This overall labour dispute is frustrating,” he said. “We’re not part of this dispute and yet we’re feeling the pain.”

The Crofton mill relies on logging for wood chips and, in anticipation of the strike, had been storing them. Workers have also been purchasing chips through suppliers that aren’t striking.

“Going into the labour dispute, we made every effort to beef up our supplies,” McKendrick said. “And we’re doing quite well considering.”

The issue is having an effect on employee morale, he said, with workers constantly asking him about chip supply.

“It’s on everybody’s mind,” he said. “People are concerned about their well-being.”

With strikers and forest companies seemingly at a stalemate, McKendrick said it’s time for the B.C. government to step in and create some movement.

“The longer it goes on, the more collateral damage will be done to people who are not involved in this dispute,” he said. “It’s imperative our provincial government take some action.

“I’m not suggesting an imposed settlement, but get them talking.”

After all, he said, customers could be lost if the strike continues much longer.

“They can see the long-term pain when you lose a customer. And in today’s world, when you lose a customer, they don’t come back.”

About 90 per cent of OK Tire Service’s commercial business comes from loggers, negatively impacting the store’s bottom line, said store owner Dave Darling.

Despite that, he said his business is holding up “just fine”.

“We will continue to tough it out until it’s over, no matter how long it lasts,” he said. “We’ll survive.”

Rob Kirkland, branch manager of Raeside Equipment Ltd., shares his optimism.

“We’re rolling right along,” he said. “We’re certainly not as busy as we’d be if there wasn’t a strike, that’s for sure.”

Meanwhile, USW Local 1-80 president Bill Routley said his employees won’t budge until three issues — work hours, severance pay for partial closures and contracting out — are addressed in a new contract.

“We don’t like to see a community impacted in any way,” he said. “But these issues are too important to the union.

“We can’t back away from them.”


Teacher union leaders get bitter lesson

The Supreme Court yesterday committed five leaders of teacher trade unions to remand for allegedly disregarding a court order but granted them cash bail of Rs 50,000 each.The Bench comprising Chief Justice Sarath N.Silva, Justices Andrew Somawansa and Jagath Balapatabendi made the order in respect of the token strike staged on Thursday despite the court order.

All Lanka United Teachers’ Union leader Ven. Yalewela Pannasekera Thera, Ceylon Teachers’ Union Secretary C.Jayatunga, Lanka Home Science and Agriculture Diploma Holding Teachers’ Union Secretary Mayura M.H.Senanayake, Association of Educational Professionals Secretary Wasantha Dharmasiri and Lanka Teachers’ Services Union leader Mahinda Jayasinghe were noticed to show cause as to why they organized the token strike disregarding the court order.

The trade union leaders who were included as added respondents said they were not aware of the court order. But the court said notice of this action had been given to the respondents twice by the petitioner and once through court. Court also said adequate publicity was given through the media and there was no reason for the added respondents to say that they were unaware of the case and the court order.

The Court also ordered that if they or their unions or their members engaged in the disruption of marking AL answer scripts, they would be dealt with severely. The inquiry was fixed for September 19.

The Chief Justice told them that if they were having a salary problem, they should have come to the court and it would have looked into that.

The trade union leaders were ordered to explain for their course of action despite an interim order having been issued by the Supreme Court saying that no threat or intimidation should be carried out on assistant examiners appointed for the correction of Advanced Level answer scripts.

President’s Counsel Faisz Musthapha instructed by Mrs Anoma Goonetilleke appeared for the petitioner. Upul Jayasuriya, Nimal Weerakody and Vishwa Gunaratne appeared for the trade union leaders. Deputy Solicitor General Sanjay Rajaratnam appeared for the Education Minster, the Ministry Secretary and the IGP.


Big Labor backs illegal workers

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