Democrats and the UAW

Democratic presidential candidates have been falling over themselves to line up union endorsements around the country and proclaim their ties to organized labor. But with the United Auto Workers calling a strike against General Motors, the largest carmaker in America, many candidates don’t seem eager to walk the picket line just yet.

Senator Christopher Dodd quickly came out with a statement saying the strike was “a brave step forward on behalf of all union members today.” And John Edwards said: “I also salute the courage of the auto workers to go on strike. Their fight for fair wages, safe workplaces, affordable health care and a secure retirement helps raise standards for workers all across America.”

But the upside of siding with the union may be limited this time around.

Michigan is moving its primary up to Jan. 15, and the Democratic candidates are barred from campaigning there, so taking the side of the union may not pay off politically. In addition, auto industry workers have come under criticism for their rich employment packages – especially for health care benefits that are so ample that G.M. has been dubbed locally as “Generous Motors.”

The U.A.W. called its strike just after the Republican presidential candidates met with local Republican leaders. Charles D. Elder, a political science professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said of the Republicans: “They are not going to be showing any great sympathy for the union position.” The state’s economy is suffering, with job losses in the auto industry partly to blame. How could the labor turmoil resonate come next year’s elections?

“There’s a lot of economic anxiety in the state,” said Mr. Elder said. “Normally that would benefit the Democrats. But if the contract is viewed as being too rich in these troubled times, it might rebound to the disadvantage of the Democrats.”


Economist downplays UAW strike ripple effect

The national strike by 73,000 United Auto Workers against General Motors Corp. was having a ripple effect on parts supply workers at other companies within hours of pickets being set up Monday at GM plants in Oakland County.

"Our company alone has 200 workers and we were told to go home after the strike was announced," said Kimberly Chamberlain, who works for the Pontiac facility of Logistics Insights, a GM parts supplier.

"It's not just the UAW that is affected by this strike, but it's everybody that works for GM or its suppliers," she said. "If my bills don't get paid, I won't have a roof over my head," the Waterford Township woman said. Chamberlain is a member of the Teamsters Union.

Dana Johnson, chief economist at Comerica Bank, said the impact of the strike on the national economy will be "small," noting that GM's workforce is a lot smaller than it used to be as its market share declined because of stiff competition from foreign automakers. "But, obviously, there're a lot of GM workers in Michigan and the impact on the state economy will be more visible," he said.

If a prolonged strike occurs, the ripple effects will hit workers in the supplier base and all the people in Michigan who sell goods and services to GM.

"We've seen the indirect impact that loss of jobs have had on Michigan's economy," Johnson said. "This will intensify the sense that Michigan is lagging behind the national economy.

"There's not a lot going right in Michigan now," he said.

The UAW walkout was the first nationwide strike since 1970. GM operates 82 U.S. facilities.

Johnson said Michigan is in a "one-state recession" and the addition of the strike "will really take a toll on Michigan's economy."

Michigan's August jobless rate was the highest in the nation at 7.4 percent, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

Lawmakers in Lansing have been unable to hammer out a new fiscal budget for next year and only have until the end of September to do so.

If no state budget is reached, the state government could be shut down, eliminating state-provided services to the state's 10.2 million residents. Michigan has an estimated $1.75 billion deficit for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

"(Providing) medical coverage is a problem for employers all throughout the nation," said Johnson referring to GM's request to create a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association and letting the union manage it to provide medical coverage for some 339,000 retired GM workers and their dependents. GM has an estimated $51 billion in unfunded retiree health care costs.

"There's a national consensus that in the next election we have to make changes on how we finance and provide medical coverage," Johnson said. "I think that's coming, but it's not something that's going to be immediate or soon enough before this contract will be settled."

Michael Robinet, vice president, global vehicle forecasts for CSM Worldwide, Inc., based in Northville, said the GM strike will "impact the supplier base during the next couple of days."

"The supplier plants for GM will continue a day or two but for the most part, GM won't be accepting any components.

"Essentially, just-in-time facilities will close down very quickly."

Just-in-time plants receive parts as needed to keep up with production, making it unnecessary to build up parts inventories.

GM will immediately lose production of 12,200 vehicles per day, or 760 vehicles per hour, in the United States "as long as the UAW strike against GM continues," said Robinet.

If the walkout continues more than 36 hours, Canadian production of 4,000 vehicles a day will cease by Wednesday or Thursday, he said.

If the walkout continues more than 72 hours, "it is expected that the ceasing of GM engine and transmission production in the U.S. will affect vehicle production in Mexico by Friday or Saturday."

Engine and transmission production in Mexico fed by U.S. component plans "would essentially cease as well," Robinet said.

And, he said "if the walkout lasts into this coming weekend, vehicle production and engine/transmission volume could be lost in locations fed by GM North America such as Venezuela, Thailand, Australia, Korea and selected countries in Western/Central Europe."

"It is our view" this walkout will not be protracted -- past more than one week, he said.

GM's current inventory situation "is high" for many offerings -- more than 80 days for full-size pickups and SUVs and about 65 days for cars, making the short-term impact at the dealer level "minimal at best," he said.

However, if the walkout continues for more than two to three weeks, dealers will begin to feel an impact, Robinet said.

Auto supply workers such as Chamberlain, who were idled because of the GM strike, are eligible to receive employment compensation of between $81 and $362 a week for 12 to 26 weeks, depending on their weekly pay rate.


Teacher nabbed for union rip-off in Wisconsin

A Shiocton (WI) teacher has been charged with felony theft and accused of embezzling money from the teachers union while she served as its treasurer.

Tracy Stelter, 44, of New London is accused of taking more than $9,000 from the Shiocton Education Association between 2002 and last January, when a discrepancy was discovered in the union's books, according to a criminal complaint.

The complaint, filed in Outagamie County Circuit Court, said Stelter wrote checks to "cash" or wrote checks to other people, disguising them as expense reimbursements.

The scheme started to unravel when the union couldn't pay its dues to the Wisconsin Education Association Council in July of 2006, the complaint said. After getting another past due notice in November, the union had the books audited.

Stelter resigned her position as a special education teacher last January after being confronted with the discrepancies.

According to the complaint, she told police she needed the money after her husband lost his job.


Teachers strike may force another football forfeit

Contract talks between Cahokia (IL) School District administrators and the union ended Monday night with no settlement although the two sides traded offers in an effort to settle a teachers' strike entering its seventh day.

The district offered a two-year contract with a 2 percent raise each year plus a 1.5 percent bonus each year. The bonus would not be counted in the employee's salary amount used to calculate raises.

"We feel like we're giving them every cent they asked for before they walked off the job," said school board attorney Tom Ysursa. "The problem with their offer is the compounding effect."

The union asked for a 3.25 percent raise each year in a three-year contract.

Also, Cahokia Mayor Frank Bergman said the city would remove property from a tax increment finance district, resulting in an increase in funding to the school district.

Cahokia Federation of Teachers President Brent Murphy said this move would have paid for a 1 percent pay increase.

"For them to reject that out of hand is slap in the face. It's ludicrous," Murphy said.

Bergman said, "I don't believe the school board wants to come to an agreement. They have a plan and apparently it's to be punitive to the strikers."

No new talks have been scheduled but a public forum will be held Wednesday night.

The negotiating session Monday night lasted more than three hours.

School board members met at 5:45 p.m. behind closed doors to discuss their next move. At 7:30 p.m., a pair of federal mediators arrived to help the sides try to reach an agreement. About 300 parents and teachers stood outside the school board office, sometimes chanting slogans about wanting school to start, while the meetings went on.

Centreville Mayor Mark Jackson attended the negotiating sessions to try to help bridge the gap between administrators and workers.

"I don't know what I can do, but I'm here to do anything I can to help find a resolution," Jackson said. "These kids really need to be back in school."

Not only are the kids missing out on their education, Jackson said, but the need for working families to pay for day care to take care of their kids is putting a huge financial burden on families.

District 187 has 4,266 students. The Cahokia Federation of Teachers has 300 educators and 200 other workers in its membership.

Workers began the year without a contract while they and administrators waited for the state to work out its budget standoff. Eventually, a budget that included an additional $2.2 million in revenue for the Cahokia School District was passed.

Earlier this month, the administrators offered a one-year contract that included a 2.25 percent raise. That offer was shot down by Cahokia Federation of Teachers members with 97 percent of voters saying no. They said they took contracts in the past that included pay freezes and smaller-than-average raises to help the district get out of several million dollars of debt.

Union members counteroffered with a one-year deal that called for a 3.5 percent raise. That proposal was rejected unanimously by the school board. While the district got a boost in revenue this year, school board President Rich Sauget Jr. said, it is still deeply in debt and he fears giving the workers a large raise will put its finances in jeopardy in the future.

Six school days have been lost so far because of the labor problems. The current strike is the first in 32 years for District 187. The last work stoppage lasted for 18 days.

Cahokia High School's football team started the season at 4-0 and was forced to forfeit its game Friday against Carbondale because of the strike. Because of Illinois High School Association rules, the team could be forced to forfeit its second game if the strike isn't resolved by today. The team is looking for a volunteer certified coach to conduct practices.


SEIU strikes against Santa Cruz court

About 120 Santa Cruz County Superior Court employees are on strike today after contract talks with management broke down last week. At issue is the renewal of a contract for members of Service Employees International Union Local 521. The contract expired at midnight Friday. Those who have criminal cases still need to report to court or a warrant will be issued for their arrest. County residents summoned for jury duty need to follow the instructions on their jury notice.


Teamsters in act of self-discipline

An oversight board of the Teamsters union announced that it had filed charges against Don Hahs, the president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, accusing him of embezzling $58,000 in union money.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, a 59,000-member union based in Cleveland, merged with the Teamsters in 2004. The oversight board accused Mr. Hahs of using nearly $50,000 in union money to buy regular season and playoff tickets for the Cleveland Cavaliers, “for which there was no union purpose.” The board also said Mr. Hahs had the union pay $7,751.97 in personal travel expenses for his wife. Mr. Hahs did not return a telephone message.


Bay area strike enters week 12

A week after Teamsters Union members hit the streets to protest Waste Management of Alameda County's lockout of East Bay garbage workers in July, another union representing workers at a nearby San Leandro heavy-duty repair company was gathering up picket signs of its own.

Just a few blocks away from where the garbage workers had staged numerous rallies, members of Operating Engineers Local 3, which represents heavy-duty repair workers at Valley Power Systems North, began picketing outside the company.

The union called a strike over what members said were unfair labor practices and the company's refusal to contribute to the union's health plan or pension and retirement health care funds. "All we wanted was what we had," said Local 3 member John Griffin.

Although the Waste Management lockout has long since been resolved, the strike at Valley Power Systems is still going strong, entering its 12th week today.

But the stalemate between the company and the union seems nowhere near an end. Workers have been picketing outside the company every day since the strike began July 10, and both sides have yet to come to an agreement.

As the weeks have progressed, the union has managed to get a number of agencies and officials behind their cause.

San Leandro Councilman Jim Prola, whose council district includes Valley Power, has joined workers on the picket line on several occasions. A West Sacramento councilman joined a recent solidarity rally at the state Capitol to protest the company's position. AC Transit and Alameda County Board of Education officials also have backed the union.

And, earlier this month, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution to boycott the company.

The dispute over workers' benefits began in 2005, when Valley Power Systems bought out the former owner of the business, Stewart and Stevenson, which also had a facility in West Sacramento.

The company recognized the workers' union, which had represented employees for more than four decades, but also offered a number of employee benefits that competed with the union's contract.

Problems began when the company and the union began negotiating last year over the workers' pension fund, which at the time was suffering from a $1.3 billion unfunded liability, said company spokesman Kiley Russell.

Pete Figueiredo, a Local 3 district representative, countered that notion and said the real problems began the day Valley Power Systems took over and cut the company's workforce in half.

"Among other things, these employees that Valley Power purchased when it purchased that business had wage and fringe benefits that they worked hard for over the 45 years the union represented that shop," he said. "Then the company came in and said, 'That all goes away."'

Figueiredo said the company offered the union several options to offset the pension fund liability, but two of the options ultimately limited the amount of contributions workers could make.

The union then made an offer to the company, Figueiredo said, that basically allowed the company to monitor the workers' pension plan without making any immediate changes.

That offer, however, never materialized.

The National Labor Relations Board is investigating the union's unfair-labor charges, along with charges filed by the company. An employee with the company also filed a petition to the board to call for an election for decertification of the union, but that election has been blocked until the labor charges have been resolved.


Forestry Steelworkers adapt to striker lifestyle

There’s little sign of any breakthrough to end the B.C. coastal forestry strike now into its second month.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” said United Steelworkers Union member John Karadona from a picket line outside an Island Timberlands camp facility south of Parksville. “It’s a lifestyle we’re trying to preserve. It’s not about dollars and cents.”

Key to the duration of the strike are stagnant global markets and the accompanying move towards a low-cost environment the industry believes it needs to stay competitive. Workers say that’s meant increased company control over shifts that have become both longer and less predictable.

“My weeks are 60 to 62 hours long. I leave for work at around quarter to five in the morning,” said Karadona. “They’re saying the savings will be invested in mills and all they’re doing is shutting mills down.”

With little progress, no scheduled talks and the prospect of a lengthy impasse, some workers are leaving the industry, perhaps for good.

“I bet we’ve lost 25 per cent of the workforce,” said Karadona.

“We have put a fair offer on the table,” said Rick Jeffery president and CEO of the Coast Forest Products Association. “The shifting that they’re asking for doesn’t exist in any other heavy industry.”

Jeffery said logging by non-union companies has continued despite the labour unrest. He’s adamant the industry must have flexibility in scheduling if it’s to survive under tight economic conditions that have become even more restrictive in light of a Canadian dollar flirting with par in comparison to its U.S. counterpart.

“Sixty five per cent of our product goes into the U.S.,” he said. “Markets are unlikely to return to health until late 2009.”

As the labour dispute lingers, the B.C government has chosen to sit on a plan that could help end the dispute involving 7,000 forestry workers.

A coast recovery plan drafted in response to industry pleas to assist the beleaguered sector will not be released during contract negotiations. B.C. Forests and Range Minister Rich Coleman is on record saying the report is being held due to its potential impact on bargaining.


Teamsters in solidarity with UAW

The United Auto Workers union strike against General Motors Corp. sent ripple effects throughout the Lansing region's auto industry. In addition to thousands of employees moving from the area's four working GM facilities to UAW picket lines, more could be idled at area auto suppliers.

And at GM dealerships, the clock is ticking on how long they will be able to keep some models in stock. "The biggest thing for us if it goes on very long is the mindset of GM employees and people who do business with GM employees if they hunker down and decide not to spend any more," said dealer Tony Young, of Young Chevrolet Cadillac in Owosso.

Spirits still high

So far, the strike hasn't dampened the spirits of area manufacturers who recently have been on a hiring spree, said Kate Tykocki, spokeswoman for Capital Area Michigan Works.

Staffing agencies recently have been looking for hundreds of workers to fill jobs at auto suppliers, defense contractors and other manufacturers.

"It's going to depend on how long it's going to take to come to a resolution," Tykocki said. "If this goes on for seven more hours, the reaction is very different than if it goes on for seven more weeks."

Automotive supplier Ryder Logistics told its truck drivers to leave GM properties shortly after 11 a.m.

Ryder gathers auto parts from other manufacturers and puts them in the correct sequence for assembly, then trucks the components to the GM plants in Lansing.

Initially, workers inside the Ryder warehouse were kept on the job after GM workers walked out.

"They kept us, but there hasn't been anything to do since 11," Ray Ross, 56, a GM retiree who now drives a truck for Ryder, said at about 1 p.m.

Workers don't report

By later Monday afternoon, Ryder had told its third-shift drivers not to report to work. Workers at Dakkota Integrated Technologies in Holt also reportedly faced temporary layoffs.

Many workers at suppliers clustered around GM's plant in Delta Township are represented by unions, including UAW Local 652 - which represents GM workers at Lansing Grand River and Lansing Regional Stamping - and Local 724.

At Young, the lot remains clear of the new Cadillac CTS, built at the Lansing Grand River plant. Getting any of the luxury cars that have been built from the plant to the showroom could prove difficult.

The Teamsters union said its 10,000 automotive transport members would not cross UAW picket lines to deliver GM cars and trucks.

"That hot product is kind of sitting on the shelf," Young said.

Plenty of cars on lot

At Saturn of Grand Ledge, dealer Sherrill Freeborough said she isn't in danger of running out of cars any time soon. But getting just the right car for a customer could quickly become a problem.

"Having exactly what people want is our big concern," she said. "We have a really good network of retailers that trade inventory, but I think people are going to be leery about doing that."


Boss: UAW strike puts us in the best position

United Auto Workers strikers at a large General Motors plant in this small Ohio town want to be on good terms with the company, since they still have hope that the site will be chosen to make another car in 2009.

But what matters most to them now is standing on the picket lines. From Lordstown to Janesville, Wis., to Ypsilanti, Mich., and 77 other U.S. facilities, 73,000 unionized workers at General Motors Corp. stopped work Monday in the first nationwide strike the industry has seen since 1976.

Some strikers are hoping they won't be out of work very long. Ben Strickland, shop chairman for UAW Local 1112 at the GM Lordstown assembly plant where the Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 are made, has been in talks for the last month on work issues at the plant.

Union officials are seeking a local contract as part of a framework to retain jobs in the future, since car production at Lordstown isn't guaranteed beyond another two years.

"Actually, the strike puts us in the best position for a new product," Strickland said on a picket line shortly after workers streamed out of the plant. "The international (UAW) has given us total support to help us ensure our future here at Lordstown."

Passing vehicles honked in support of the pickets; about six to 12 were at each of the Lordstown complex's gates in the first hours of the strike.

Manufacturing stopped with half-finished sport utility vehicles left behind on a production line at GM's assembly plant in Janesville.

Pipefitter Steve Hamilton said he was worried about supporting his two young children on just his wife's salary. "I just want it to be short," he said.

Others were willing to sit out as long as needed to protect their jobs and benefits.

"It's time for the union to slap GM for a little bit," said Larry Allen, who works in the paint shop in Janesville. "We're prepared to do whatever it takes."

Workers said the weekly strike pay, about $200 if the strike lasts more than eight days, won't go far.

"It pays for your groceries," said Mark Wolf, an assembly line worker in Ypsilanti, Mich., who has two teenage children. "In six to eight weeks when my savings account is dwindling down, I'll be more concerned. But we've been planning for this."

The union had more than $800 million in its strike fund as of last November, according to the UAW's Web site.

Workers at Spring Hill, Tenn., already were reeling from a huge layoff in April that put almost half of the plant's 4,700 workers out of a job for 18 months while the former Saturn plant is retooled to make other GM vehicles.

"We didn't exactly have people jumping up and down to go on strike, but we trust our leaders we have in Detroit will negotiate a good deal," said Tim Stannard, a local union official there.


GM suppliers idled by UAW strike

As union workers at General Motors Corp. went on strike Monday morning, some of the employees at companies that supply the massive Lordstown complex are out of work as well. Union workers affiliated with companies such as Intier Seating Systems, Lear Corp. and Automodular of Lordstown all were off the job, according to Local 1112 United Auto Workers Union President Jim Graham. Between them, they represent about 443 employees, Graham said.

"There’s nothing to supply," Graham said.

Some reports indicate companies that supply parts to the assembly plant were sending workers home, but many administrators at these places refused to comment.

One company announced it would suspend its supply of parts to GM, depending on the length of the strike.

A handful of cars were parked outside Lear, a plant that ships interior roofs called "headliners" and door pads to the plant.

Tom Tomko, a maintenance worker at Lear, said he was one of four employees left after workers were served with layoff papers before noon Monday. Tomko said he and three other employees were left to finish out the week to catch up on repair work, but if the strike is still going by Friday, they’re out too.

He described some workers "hooting and hollering" as they were punching out for the rest of the day with its nice weather, but he said there was some concern if the strike goes on too long.

"At least they get to collect unemployment. I think it’s a concern that it could go on longer. It could affect sales," said Tomko of Youngstown.

But as reports indicated the United Auto Workers national strike was an effort to force GM to commit to building vehicles in America, Tomko said he had to side with the union, despite the uncertainty.

"We’re losing too many good jobs here," he said.

Conflicting reports were received concerning Intier, where people who answered a phone call placed in the lobby of that business deferred comment until today, about what, if any, production was going on at the plant.

There were cars in Intier’s parking lot, and some workers said work was continuing for now. The company builds car seats for the Lordstown complex.

"I know they’re not putting the seats in our cars. That’s a guarantee," Graham said.

Tracy Fuerst, a spokeswoman of Intier’s parent company Magna International, was reached by e-mail. She wrote that no workers she was aware of were sent home Monday.

But one worker said employees reported to work, stayed for two hours and then were told they could stay and clean or go home for the day. After today, the worker said they were told to work on a call-in basis.

When asked about this, Fuerst said she could call the plant today, but she did not hear anything. A statement from Magna said, depending on the length of the strike, the company may be required to suspend the supply of parts to GM. When asked how that would affect workers, or how the company would handle an extended strike, Fuerst responded that she could not speculate on the strike’s impact.

Administration at Lear declined to comment about the status of its workers, as did people who answered the door at the exhaust system supplier Faurecia next door.

Calls to Lear spokesmen were not returned Monday.

A Falcon Transport truck was parked at the dock at the Lear plant, though Human Resources director Dan Gold declined to comment earlier in the day if Falcon workers were still on the job.


UAW in national strike against GM

Thousands of United Auto Workers walked off the job at General Motors plants around the country Monday in the first nationwide strike against the U.S. auto industry since 1976.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said that job security was the top unresolved issue, adding that the talks did not stumble over a groundbreaking provision establishing a UAW-managed trust that will administer GM's retiree health care obligations. Gettelfinger complained about "one-sided negotiations."

"It was going to be General Motors' way at the expense of the workers," Gettelfinger said at a news conference. "The company walked right up to the deadline like they really didn't care."

Gettelfinger added that the union and GM's management would return to the table Monday.

Workers walked off the job and began picketing Monday outside GM plants after the late morning UAW strike deadline passed. The UAW has 73,000 members who work for GM at 82 U.S. facilities, including assembly and parts plants and warehouses.

General Motors Corp. had been pushing hard in the negotiations for the health care trust - known as a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA - so it could move $51 billion in unfunded retiree health costs off its books. GM has nearly 339,000 retirees and surviving spouses.


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