Big Labor sets goal to seize U.S. government

Remember: all of this - almost all of $200 million - goes to help Democrats.

Later today, the AFL-CIO will announce that its executive board approved a $53 million budget for its 2008 political program, the largest ever sum for a political cycle. AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman will oversee the deployment of more than 200,000 volunteers to 23 priority states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Five house seats in "union-dense" districts and six Senate seats will be targeted.

In Ohio, where union households comprised 28% of the vote in 2006, the AFL-CIO plans to reach out to more than 1.4 million voters. The labor federation will partner with other groups and use reams of consumer data to market precise political messages neighborhood-by-neighborhood.

"Our members are building an army to make more calls, knock on more doors and turn out more voters than ever,” said AFSCME President and AFL-CIO Political Committee Chair Gerald McEntee. “We're going for the Trifecta: the House, the Senate, and the White House.”

In total, the AFL-CIO unions will spend about $200 million on Election 08 efforts, according to AFL-CIO estimates. Virtually all of that money will be used to help Democrats. Republicans have nothing like the AFL-CIO. And for the first presidential cycle in recent memory, the Democratic Party institutions will have a financial edge.

And there's more: next week, the Change To Win labor federation will meet to sketch out its political program. One CTW union - the SEIU - plans to spend in excess of $30M by itself.


Surprise teacher strike set for Thursday

Teachers and support staff in the Shoreline School District in Kenmore, WA have scheduled a one-day strike for Thursday, to protest classroom-staffing decisions. The Shoreline Education Association voted late Friday to strike and to declare no confidence in Superintendent Sue Walker and her assistants. The strike will likely close schools, though the district's spokesman was unavailable today to confirm the closure.

Elizabeth Beck, union co-president, said the strike vote was in response to a move by the district to shuffle elementary-school students between classes, resulting in some class sizes as large as 28. The no-confidence vote was the first in Shoreline in at least a decade, she said.

Craig Degginger, public information officer for the school district, said no decision has been reached about whether there will be classes on Thursday. He said the district had not yet received official notification of the planned strike.

On the district Web site, Walker wrote that the district had added seven elementary teaching positions on Sept. 13 to deal with too-large classes in nearly half of the district's elementary classrooms. Those new teachers are to shuttle among overloaded classrooms, providing extra help during portions of the school day.

The planned strike adds tension to the already strained relations between teachers and administrators in the 9,000-student district. A strike was averted before school started, but Beck said Walker and her staff are already violating terms of the new contract.


Chicago Teamsters slow to fall in line

An intramural fight for control of the union that represents Chicago truck drivers is continuing to throw a monkey wrench into Mayor Daley's new 10-year labor deal -- and in the process is potentially delaying raises and back pay for thousands of other unionized city workers.

For the second time in a month, members of Teamsters Local 726 have refused to ratify the unprecedented decade-long joint pact that most believe is intended to ensure labor peace through the 2016 Olympics. The Thursday night vote again leaves Local 726 as the only union among a 34-member city labor coalition to reject the deal.

But under the coalition's rules, "if one of us doesn't have an agreement, then none of us have an agreement," said Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon, who isn't pleased with the recalcitrant union. The rejection by the Teamsters makes it unlikely the accord will be submitted to the City Council in October as originally intended. Union officials say that will in turn postpone any of the 8,000 affected workers receiving its benefits.

The delay is almost certainly temporary. Nobody thinks the glitch with the Teamsters poses any real threat to the overall agreement.

That includes the opponents, who have used the contract as a rallying point in efforts to unseat Local 726's current leadership during union elections scheduled for next month.

But the holdup at Local 726 has nonetheless become a source of irritation to other labor leaders unhappy about being caught in internal Teamsters politics.

"It's frustrating to me because I believe this is a great deal," said Gannon, who made a pitch to Local 726 members before Thursday's vote but apparently wasn't persuasive enough.

Want job security
The Teamsters voted 560-519 against the deal. Back on Aug. 29, they had rejected it on a 279-172 vote.

The union has some 2,200 members working for the city, prompting Gannon to ask, "Where are the rest of these guys?"

Vince Tenuto Jr., who is leading the charge against the contract as a candidate for secretary-treasurer of Local 726, called it "the worst contract I have seen in the 10 years that I've been with the city."

But he said his backers are not challenging the major provisions of the new agreement, including its 10-year length. Instead, they are concerned about portions of the contract specifically pertaining to them and want the city to guarantee their jobs and to continue to honor their seniority citywide.

"They just keep cutting back and cutting back on us and giving our jobs to the privates," complained Tenuto, who in an earlier letter listed this as his top demand: "We have 2,200 jobs in 2007, and we want 2,200 jobs or better throughout the length of the contract until 2017."

Pulling that off would be a neat trick at this stage of the negotiations. But I guess it will test just how badly the mayor wants his labor peace.

Tenuto said he is scheduled to meet Monday with the union official he is trying to oust, Thomas Clair, to discuss the changes he and his supporters are seeking. Clair did not return my phone call.

The union coalition members are also scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the situation.

Gannon said he expects the other unions to continue to stand behind Local 726, but will be looking for the truck drivers to "get it done next time," meaning on a third ratification vote.

Tenuto doesn't seem to be in any hurry for that vote to take place while Clair's team is doing the negotiating and with the union leadership election in the offing.

"We should be taking over Nov. 3," Tenuto said confidently. After that, reaching a deal shouldn't take much longer.

"We're really not that far away," he said.

Willing to strike?
Gannon questions how far the members of Local 726 are willing to push this if the city tells them it has made its best and final offer.

"Are they going to tell the city they'll go out on strike?" Gannon asked.

Tenuto said the strike talk is just intended to throw a scare into the union's members.

Maybe, but at some point, that is always the question for a union, otherwise there's not a lot of leverage, even with a mayor eager to tie up a tidy package to show the International Olympic Committee.

I'm always interested when I see somebody trying to go against the flow at City Hall, which is what put this on my radar screen, although everyone outside Local 726 assures me it will turn out to be nothing but a blip on that radar.

In the meantime, city workers might think twice about spending the money before they see the check.


SEIU Bay Area security guard strike starts Monday

On Saturday, Sept. 15, SEIU Local 24/7, the Bay Area’s security officers’ union representing nearly 6,000 security officers in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, voted overwhelmingly to authorize the leadership of the union to call an unfair labor practice strike when necessary to defend security officers’ rights.

San Francisco’s security workers have had enough and are planning to take to the streets to demand the city’s wealthiest property owners, including Morgan Stanley, instruct their contractors to end poverty wages and provide decent health care benefits. Mostly people of color and new immigrants, San Francisco’s security workers who guard these multi-billion dollar buildings are the lowest paid earning less than parking attendants and janitors. Because of these poverty conditions security workers sometimes have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

The clock is now ticking and we can all make a difference here in San Francisco to end poverty wages and win back healthcare for a predominately African American workforce! All week we’ve been building the drumbeat to this week of action. We’ve had press conferences, tons of media coverage and short demonstrations. Now from the 24th – 28th of September please join hundreds of human rights activists, community leaders, ministers and congregations to show security contractors and property owners that the community stands with security workers and the struggle.

If we come together we can insure that these workers rights are respected and that they are treated with the dignity they deserve!

We need you.


Vancouver's gov't union strike in perspective

Vancouver's civic strike has entered its 65th day, the second longest in Vancouver's history. And if history is any indicator, it will be many years before civic workers develop an appetite to strike again. Vancouver's longest municipal strike was an acrimonious affair lasting 90 days in 1981 during the reign of mayor Mike Harcourt.

Because the entire region was embroiled in that conflict, the city was awash in stinking piles of garbage with transfer stations and landfills closed for the term of the dispute. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra was reduced to playing concerts in shopping malls rather than the strike-bound Orpheum Theatre.

By the time the strike ended there was a mountain of garbage in front of Vancouver City Hall and 50 jobs were left open in Vancouver alone by employees who gave up and found work elsewhere.

The final settlement covered 9,000 employees across Greater Vancouver, and when the dust settled the region didn't see another significant civic work stoppage for 16 years.

"As a result of that strike, whenever there was talk of walking out, people still remembered that 13-week strike and people were very circumspect about going on strike," recalled Malcolm Graham, manager of labour relations for Metro Vancouver, formerly known as the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Graham joined the GVRD as a senior negotiator in 1983 and remembers the emotional aftermath of that conflict.

"That memory forced the parties to deal with issues more constructively," he said. "But time wears on and memories fade."

Before the marathon conflict that has engulfed Vancouver for the past nine weeks, two other lengthy strikes erupted in the past 10 years. Vancouver's outside workers went out for six weeks in 1997, and Vancouver park board workers and the city's outside workers walked out in 2000 for seven weeks.

The modern tendency for outside workers to engage in lengthy job action has its roots in science, according to UBC labour historian Mark Thompson.

"They really lost their ability to put pressure on the employers with the invention of the plastic garbage bag," Thompson said. "Historically, a long strike would quickly bury the afflicted city in stinking heaps of rotting garbage swarming with rats."

But after more than two months of the current conflict, neither the rats nor the garbage are particularly obvious to the casual observer, Thompson said.

Since the mid-1960s, Greater Vancouver municipalities have banded together to negotiate with locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a handful of other municipal workers' unions. In its first incarnation as an employers' association, the Municipal Labour Relations Bureau included Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, Delta and the North Vancouvers, and later evolved into the Greater Vancouver Regional District and now Metro Vancouver. Richmond and Surrey now bargain with their unionized workers separate from the employers' association.

By banding together, the employers hope to establish a cookie-cutter contract that can be applied across the region.

It doesn't always work.

In the current round of contract negotiations, trouble began when the CUPE local in Port Moody settled in October 2006 for 9.75 per cent over 39 months, forming what the employers regarded as the model, or pattern contract, for settlements in the rest of the region, Graham said.

CUPE maintains that the Port Moody settlement was unique because it included a job evaluation review system that would result in many employees getting significant wage increases over and above the negotiated numbers.

It took nearly six months before the sides would have meaningful talks, stalled over whether Port Moody was a pattern contract or not. Even as late as July, Vancouver was still pressing for a 39-month contract based on Port Moody's settlement, rather than the more recent offer of 17.5 per cent in increases over five years.

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