Right to Work amendment advances in Colorado

Advocates for voluntary unionism, seeking a constitutional amendment that would bar compulsory union membership for workers, advanced Wednesday toward the 2008 ballot.

The language for a proposed "Colorado Right to Work" amendment was approved by the state's Initiative Title Setting Review Board. The measure would prohibit workers from being forced to join and pay dues to a union.

John Berry, lawyer for the backers of the amendment, said the measure is needed to protect workers and to ensure that Colorado employers stay competitive with surrounding states that have similar laws. "We've seen attempts to organize businesses in the state, and that puts us at a competitive disadvantage with other states," Berry said.

Berry said the divisive fight over House Bill 1072 this year was a warning that labor unions have significant power at the Capitol. That bill would have eliminated one of the two worker votes needed to create an all-union workplace. Despite supporting that proposal on the campaign trail, Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed the bill, saying he didn't approve of the divisive tone of the debate.

John Bowen, general counsel for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, said such a measure would create a "free-rider" provision that lets non-union workers enjoy benefits paid by dues-paying members.

Neither Berry nor Bowen knew how many unionized Colorado workplaces require workers to join unions.

Opponents to the ballot measure have a week to decide whether to appeal the board's decision. Bowen said his union hadn't decided yet.


NY charter schools open up to teachers' union

The state’s teachers union has achieved a breakthrough with a decision by teachers at South Buffalo Charter School to organize to negotiate pay, benefits and working conditions. That marks the first time teachers have elected to unionize in the seven-year history of local charter schools, and organizers said it could signal a much broader growth of unions at charter schools here.

“If the charter school system remains basically what it is today, I think it’s almost inevitable that you’ll see more of them being organized,” said Michael T. Preskop, regional director of New York State United Teachers. “You have administrators feeling they’re in a private setting and that they can do whatever they want to do.”

Most of the state’s 97 publicly funded charter schools are not unionized, and — unlike unionized traditional public schools — establish teacher work schedules and compensation and benefit packages without collective bargaining. The growth of unions could change that dynamic and create pressure at charter schools for tenure rights and work rules like those that now exist at traditional public schools.

Most charter school teachers work under one-year contracts, do not have tenure, work longer hours and — according to union officials — make less money than teachers in traditional public schools.

A spokesman for a statewide charter school advocacy group said NYSUT’s organizing effort is “totally hypocritical” because the union has long fought for measures that would weaken charter schools.

“The unions are very crafty and, I think, manipulative in their message to teachers,” said Peter Murphy, policy director for the New York Charter Schools Association. “The fact that the unions spent the last eight years trying to cripple the charter schools should not be lost on teachers.”

Murphy said the greater flexibility given to charter schools allows for educational innovation and the dismissal of teachers who are ineffective.

Two of the Buffalo area’s 15 charter schools already have unions, but in both cases that was dictated by state law.

Westminster Community Charter School was required to have a union because it was a former traditional public school that converted to charter school status. The Charter School for Applied Technologies in the Town of Tonawanda faced the same requirement because it had more than the state limit of 250 students when it opened in 2001.

The South Buffalo development is significant because it marks the first time a teaching staff at a local charter school voluntarily formed a union at the request of more than half the teachers.

Murphy said NYSUT recently filed Freedom of Information requests with several Buffaloarea charter schools and is taking a more aggressive role trying to unionize charter school teachers.

“They’re testing the waters and seeing where they can organize,” he said.

The effort to organize charter schools picked up steam last year when NYSUT merged with the smaller National Education Association of New York, said Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, a NYSUT affiliate.

“There’s a greater attention to it and greater ability to provide resources necessary to help them organize,” Rumore said.

South Buffalo Charter School officials could not be reached to comment.


Hospital getting along fine without nurse unionists

More than 500 registered nurses spend their third day on strike at Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hospitals across the region. Union members with the Kentucky Nurses Association say they're hoping for more than better working conditions. They want a new law.

In an emergency, Doctor Mark Francis says the Hazard ARH E.R. is still fully prepared and capable of taking care of patients regardless of what goes on outside the building. "There's a lot of emotions that go both ways and we're just here trying to take care of people," Dr. Francis said. Doctor Francis says the majority of ER registered nurses decided to stay and refuse the strike.

"We have hired system wide, 20 replacement workers and system wide there's about 130, at last count, of the ARH nurses who have made the choice to continue work and care for the patients," said ARH Spokesperson Candace Elkins. More than 500 registered nurses standing on the picket line say there are bigger issues at hand that affect many nurses statewide, but especially with ARH.

"Hours in a week, people like having extra time, but when you're working more than 16 hours straight at a time, that's when you start running into problems and patient safety issues," said Tim Vires.

ARH officials say when patients need care, the hospital staff has to step up and work extra hours to make sure healthcare comes first.

"Here at Hazard, much of the mandatory overtime happens when nurses call in and unexpected absences," said Senior Community CEO Donnie Fields.

KNA members on the picket line say there's a bigger picture beyond the strike.

"We're hoping for new legislation to be passed so that nurses are not responsible for a large number of patients. We need better guidelines," said Michelle Hoskins.

There are numerous security guards surrounding the property at Hazard ARH, most of which have video cameras constantly recording the nurses on the picket line. ARH officials say they are strictly there for security purposes, a measure they wanted to increase after the Steel Workers' strike earlier this year.


Football game canceled due to teachers' strike

The football game between Harrison Central and Buckeye Local has been cancelled for this Friday due to the teachers strike in the Harrison Hills (OH) City School District . It's a tough blow for the Huskies coming off their win over Bellaire last week , as they improved to 4-2 with the victory.

Athletic director Mark Kowalski and head coach Justin Kropka said if the team had not practiced by Wednesday they would not play. Both teams will now divide by nine instead of 10 for their playoff ratings.

It will not count as a forfeit. The Huskies were 13th this week in the latest Ohio Playoff rankings and with four games left to play had a realistic shot of making the postseason .

The cancellation also will cost Buckeye Local a home game and the revenue that goes along with it. The Huskies are scheduled to play Indian Creek next week .


AFL-CIO unit to appeal decision favoring scabs, company

A Steuben County Judge says picketers can no longer use cameras or video cameras outside the Painted Post plant. According to court documents, that's only one part of the judge's ruling as to how picketers have been ordered to behave.

On the list of eight orders, picketers cannot engage in disorderly conduct like shouting. But some of the rules are not sitting with well with picketers and their lawyers. "They can and we can't this should have nothing to do with the picketing and the issue at hand," said picketer Noel Sylvester.

The judge's order comes after Dresser Rand officials filed an injunction, saying the picketer's behavior was causing problems. The strike over health benefits started in August.

Since then, some workers say they've been threatened and yelled at by picketers. They also say they've had trouble getting into and out of the plant because picketers purposely walk in front of their cars. Union lawyers say they plan to appeal the judge's decision.

In a press release, Dresser Rand Spokesperson Dan Meisner said, “We are extremely pleased with this decision. This injunction will help to protect our salaried employees, our newly hired replacement workers, and, perhaps most significantly, those employees that have chosen to cross the picket line and return to their jobs."

"That's the ruling, so I guess that's what we have to go with," said picketer Bill Davenport. "We've got the guards that are filming every move we make every time anyone comes in and out. We have no proof if anything happens," said picketer Tom Kerwan.


Union caught up in local government corruption

What a difference five years makes. In 2002, Will Smith Jr. was working as an influential member of the Lake County Council, Dozier Allen was preparing to leave the Calumet Township trustee's office after 32 years, and Robert Cantrell was running the East Chicago Republican Party in cooperation with Democratic Mayor Robert Pastrick.

Gary Urban Enterprise Association Director Jojuana Meeks was buying buildings hand-picked for her by county tax collector Roosevelt Powell. Gary businessman Jewell Harris Sr. was enjoying his close relationship with Gary City Hall, and Peggy Holinga Katona was busy running the county treasurer's office that her family had controlled for decades.

Five years later, every one of those officials - save former Mayor Pastrick - has since been touched by the U.S. attorney's ongoing Operation Restore Public Integrity investigation. Pastrick is the target of a racketeering lawsuit from Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter.

The effort to fight Lake County corruption has extended into Porter County, where the U.S. attorney's office brought charges of bribery against Pastrick's youngest son, Kevin Pastrick. In May 2004, Kevin Pastrick was convicted of bribing a carpenter's union official in a scandal over Coffee Creek, a residential and commercial development south of Chesterton.

The impact the federal corruption probe has made on political corruption is vast:

-- Smith was convicted Thursday of filing a false tax return and faces a lifetime ban from holding public office.

-- Allen was indicted last week for allegedly skimming from a township contract.

-- Cantrell was indicted last year on tax evasion charges.

-- Meeks pleaded guilty in March to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the GUEA.

-- Powell was convicted of conspiracy and tax fraud Thursday.

-- Harris is scheduled for trial Dec. 3 on allegations he double-billed the city of Gary.

-- Katona revealed last week an ongoing federal investigation is targeting her.

In all, Operation Restore Public Integrity has secured convictions or guilty pleas of at least 42 public officials and/or municipal contractors, mainly in East Chicago, Gary and Lake County government. A similar initiative, Operation Lights Out, brought nearly 20 convictions in 10 years during the 1980s and '90s.

Attorney General Carter, whose office also has prosecuted several dozen cases of Lake County vote fraud since 2002, said the work of fighting Lake County's infamous public corruption is ongoing, despite all the recent activity.

"Yes, progress is being made," Carter said. "But when you have a history of decades of corruption, I don't think it's going to go away in five years. My hope is that the next generation of political leaders will say, 'We can achieve things in public offices, but we're not going to do things in the way of the past.'"

The targets of corruption investigations have always questioned the motives of their accusers.

Cantrell once said the press needs corruption to exist to sell more papers. Critics say Carter is going after Robert Pastrick to get some ink ahead of his 2008 re-election campaign. North county Democrats long grumbled about Republican Joseph Van Bokkelen's selection of targets while he was the region's federal prosecutor.

Acting U.S. Attorney David Capp, who took over the office in July, said corrupt Democrats should not expect a pass just because he has voted as a Democrat in the past.

"I don't consider myself ever affiliated with a political party," Capp said. "I've been a career prosecutor over here for 22 years. I could care less about the politics of these investigations. If the evidence is there, we're going to pursue these cases wherever they lead."

One message remains clear from state and federal prosecutors: The probe and ensuing indictments for public corruption in the region are not over.

-- Jewell Harris Sr., accused of double-billing Gary for debris-hauling work at The Steel Yard stadium.
-- Bob Cantrell, charged with tax evasion and insurance fraud.
-- Dozier Allen, Wanda Joshua, Ann Marie Karras, Albert Young Jr., all charged with skimming money from a federal grant to Calumet Township.
-- Lawrence Meeks, contractor accused of not paying taxes on Gary Urban Enterprise Association income.

1. East Chicago City Councilman Frank Kollintzas, convicted for misappropriation of federal funds, lying to the FBI.
2. East Chicago City Councilman Joe De La Cruz, convicted for misappropriation of federal funds.
3. East Chicago City Controller Edwardo Maldonado, convicted for misappropriation of federal funds. Convicted a second time in July 2006 for using public money to pay his defense attorneys.
4. East Chicago City Councilman Adrian Santos, pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy in connection with the $24 million sidewalks-for-votes case.
5. East Chicago Parks Superintendent Jose Valdez Jr., fraud and conspiracy in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
6. East Chicago City Engineer Pedro Porras, fraud and conspiracy in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
7. Gerry Nannenga, former carpenter's union official, accepting bribes to approve the Coffee Creek land deal.
8. Kevin Pastrick, son of former East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick, paying bribes to approve the Coffee Creek land deal.
9. Peter Manous, former Indiana Democratic chairman, paying bribes to approve the Coffee Creek land deal.
10. Carl Paul Ihle Jr., co-owner with Kevin Pastrick of Sand Creek Sales, forging documents and lying about the Coffee Creek land deal.
11. Peter Benjamin, former Lake County auditor and assessor, paying bribes to Lake County Councilman Troy Montgomery.
12. Troy Montgomery, former Lake County councilman, accepting Benjamin's bribes.
13. Joel Markovich, former Lake County councilman and contractor, fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
14. Katie Hall, Gary city clerk, extorting $19,000 in campaign contributions from office employees.
15. Junifer Hall, chief deputy Gary city clerk and daughter of Katie Hall, extorting $19,000 in campaign contributions from office employees.
16. Robert J. Velligan, contractor, tax fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
17. Marilyn and Gregory J. Gill, contractors, tax and bankruptcy fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
18. Dimitrios Sazalis, contractor, tax fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
19. Former East Chicago Police Chief Edward Samuels, ghost employment as a security guard in a city housing project.
20. East Chicago Building Commission Miguel "Mike" Arredondo, ghost employment as a security guard in a city housing project.
21. Gary City Parks Superintendent Kimberly Lyles, lying to federal agents about influence peddling.
22. Assistant County Building Administrator Jan Allison, extortion.
23. G. Gregory Cvitkovich, former North Township trustee, tax fraud.
24. James H. Fife III, a former special assistant to the East Chicago mayor, federal tax fraud.
25. Karen Krahn-Fife, federal tax fraud.
26. East Chicago City Councilman Randall Artis, fraud and conspiracy in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
27. Terrance Artis, brother of Randall Artis and contractor, fraud in connection with the sidewalks-for-votes case.
28. Robert White, Gary city councilman, fraud.
29. Lake County Recorder Morris Carter, extortion.
30. Former Schererville Town Judge Deborah Riga, fraud in using office to personally benefit her family business.
31. Paul Hernandez, union fraud and corruption.
32. Ken Castaldi, union fraud and corruption.
33. Jojuana Meeks, embezzling money from Gary Urban Enterprise Association.
34. Charmaine Pratchett, embezzling money from GUEA.
35. Derrick Earls, embezzling from GUEA board.
36. Johnnie Wright, embezzling from GUEA board.
37. Greg Hill, contractor who didn't report GUEA income.
38. Will Smith Jr., Lake County Council president, tax evasion for a questionable land deal with GUEA.
39. Roosevelt Powell, former delinquent tax collector for Lake County, tax evasion, theft conspiracies involving GUEA land deals.
40. Willie Harris, Gary attorney, tax evasion, theft conspiracies involving GUEA land deals.
41. Nancy Fromm, addiction counselor, lying to federal agents.
42. Otho Lyles III, tax evasion and lying to FBI in Gary City Hall investigation.


Judge bars Clinton-crony meddling for 30 days

A U.S. bankruptcy judge on Wednesday gave Interstate Bakeries Corp (IBCIQ.PK: Quote, Profile, Research) a final 30 days to settle differences with a key union and come up with a plan to begin bringing the maker of Wonder bread and Twinkies snacks out of bankruptcy.

IBC, one of the largest U.S. commercial bakers and distributors of fresh-baked bread and sweet goods, said it has identified at least three potential investors that could help save the company from liquidation, but it must reach agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on certain issues first.

Teamsters attorney Frederick Perillo said there was little chance the union could reach an agreement with IBC and argued in court that the union should be allowed to talk directly with potential investors immediately. The court should not extend IBC's "exclusivity" window in which parties talking with the bread company are barred from holding separate talks with the unions, Perillo said.

"We believe the only way is to open up the process so everyone can talk to everyone," Perillo said. "There are parties ... willing to engage in that type of constructive dialogue." One of those parties spoke up in court on Wednesday. Yucaipa Cos. LLC, a Los Angeles-based firm run by billionaire Clinton-crony Ronald Burkle, said it was among the investors interested in Interstate. Yucaipa's Robert Klyman told the court the company wanted to be able to negotiate directly with the Teamsters.

Perillo said the Teamsters feared IBC would use the next month to sell off key assets, endangering more jobs. IBC's move to exit the Southern California bread market, which is expected to result in the loss of 1,300 jobs, would make it harder for unions to work out an agreement with the company, he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, IBC received court approval to proceed with its previously announced plan to close down its bread operations in Southern California.

U.S. bankruptcy judge Jerry Venters approved the company's plan to shutter four bakeries, about 10 percent of IBC's bakeries, numerous retail outlets and 18 distribution centers in the region. The operations are slated to end October 20.

IBC controls about 12 percent of the Southern California market, but it has seen its share and profits erode in recent years. The bread division lost more than $13 million in fiscal 2007 in that market, according to the company.

"The profitability had deteriorated significantly," IBC President Michael Kafoure testified. "We took every action we knew to take to try to save the marketplace."

The company blamed stiff competition from Sara Lee (SLE.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and others for its slide.

IBC officials said they hope to emerge from bankruptcy as a stand-alone company. But the company will use the next 30 days to "pursue all other alternatives ... including a potential sale of the company in its entirety or in a series of transactions," company officials said.

Judge Venters told IBC, which filed for bankruptcy in 2004, that this was its last chance to formulate a plan to stay afloat as he extended the exclusive period for IBC to file a plan of reorganization to November 8.

"I hope everybody will lay their weapons down and give this thing a fair shot," he said. "This is going to be the last 30 days."


University faculty votes to authorize illegal strike

Members of the union that represents the academic faculty at the University of New Hampshire have voted to authorize a strike if talks do not improve between themselves and the administration. Professor Dale Barkey, president of the UNH chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the union approved the cautionary move with 78 percent voting in favor.

Barkey said the strike authorization vote passed Tuesday by a nearly 4-to-1 margin. It was 194 votes in favor, and 55 in opposition.

It is illegal for public employees to strike in New Hampshire. Last week, Barkey acknowledged the move was more of a statement than a plan for a prolonged strike. UNH spokeswoman Kim Billings said the administration would seek a court order to stop any job interruption.

Last week, after the union asked members to grant the authority to strike, UNH President Mark Huddleston asked to reopen negotiations.

"I am aware that many of you are concerned about the continuing impasse in collective bargaining and its impact on our campus community," said Huddleston in a letter on Sept. 26. "I share your concern, and I encourage everyone involved to commit themselves to statements and actions that move us toward civil discussion and productive negotiation."

Barkey said last week that the vote would still take place, as a way to force the administration back to the table.

"That hasn't happened yet," said Barkey. "We're ready to go back. We received a message that they wanted to go back to the table, and I think that's the direction we are heading in, but there are some details to work out."

Barkey said the contract expired June 30, 2006, and the two sides have been in negotiations of one kind or another ever since, be it negotiations, mediation or five failed fact-finder reports.

He said the sticking points are compensation, salary and benefits.

"It's a combination," said Barkey last week. "They want to cut benefits substantially. The benefit cuts are very costly and tend to escalate over the years. And, the salary offered the first year would not even make up for inflation when you consider the benefit cuts."

Billings said the cost of health care is going up, as it is everywhere. She said the faculty is being asked to make a contribution, something not done in the past.

The AAUP-UNH has already rejected the fifth fact-finder recommendation. That means both sides are supposed to return to the bargaining table because it must be accepted by both sides.

Administrators are scheduled to vote on it Oct. 18.


Reformed LIUNA Local brings in the rat

Laborers Local 91 has changed tactics since some of its members were convicted last year on federal racketeering charges for intimidation at non-union work sites. The union has sworn off physical threats.

Now, it’s using a 10-foot inflatable rat to send a message to non-union workers and contractors — a message some of the targets say is an unsubtle hint of Local 91’s history of violence.

The large rubber rodent first appeared earlier this month near a hotel construction project on Niagara Falls Boulevard. Union members said they plan to use it in the future at other job sites where union workers are lacking. “On picket lines in the early 1990s, there was violence,” said Michael Godzisz of Lockport, one of the laborers on the site this week, “but now we’re waging a legal battle.”

Beatings, extortion and death threats over six years in the 1990s culminated in the convictions of 18 union members last year on federal charges in one of the biggest racketeering cases ever prosecuted in Western New York. Prison terms were slapped on several union bosses and their henchmen.

Former union President Mark Congi, 47, of Youngstown, received the longest sentence — 15 years in federal prison. Local 91’s former business manager, Michael “Butch” Quarcini, was indicted but died of cancer in 2003 before he could be tried.

New union leaders are taking a different tack on job sites, starting with a peaceful protest against general contractor DEC Management of Atlanta, which has hired some nonunion workers to build a $6 million Holiday Inn near Niagara Falls International Airport.

The rat is among the union’s new tools. It cost about $4,000 and stands outside the construction site for about four hours every morning before being deflated and carted away.

While inflated, it stands in front of the hotel site with the name of the general contractor attached to it.

“This is an informational picket line to make people aware that this is a non-union job,” Godzisz said.

The picketing laborers also stop construction vehicles as they enter the site but do so for only three or five minutes at a time, he said. After

being informed of the nonunion situation, the truck drivers may decide to enter or not enter.

“We can’t hold them up, and if we keep walking they can’t run us over,” said Rob Connolly, Local 91’s business manager. “After about five minutes, we let them go out of courtesy.”

The Holiday Inn construction site superintendent said some trucks belonging to subcontracting companies won’t cross the picket line. The superintendent, who lives in Atlanta, asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation from Local 91 members.

“This job needs all-round people, but the laborers chose not to negotiate and came on with an attitude,” he said. “The next day, the rat showed up.”

Connolly, Quarcini’s successor, said of the Holiday Inn project: “We talked with DEC, and they said they were going to do it their way. They bring in people from outside who take their money and go home. The local community doesn’t benefit.”

The site boss said he would have to pay the laborers $55 an hour in wages and benefits, more than the $35 an hour he pays union electricians working the job.

“We work up and down the East Coast,” he added. “The last thing I want to do is come into town and ruffle any feathers.”

The site superintendent said he has hired some local union workers for the project. One of them, an electrician who has lived in Niagara Falls all his life but didn’t want to give his name, said he is so fed up with Local 91 “bully tactics” that he’s going to leave the city and join DEC Management in its various projects elsewhere.

Laborers Local 91 cleaned house after the government crackdown, making a complete change of leadership. But the union still strikes an imposing presence in and around the city.

Part of the United Office Building in downtown Niagara Falls was vandalized in June after Local 91 members picketed a $6.5 million renovation project at the historic art deco building because non-union workers were hired to remove asbestos from inside the building. Carl Paladino, the developer, said the laborers are not trained to do such work.

DEC Management President Mike Thomas said by phone from Atlanta that the four-story, 88-room Holiday Inn on Niagara Falls Boulevard is still on schedule to be completed in February.


Union denies employer's request for strikers' vote

Andy Byrne, a local forestry businessman, feels the United Steelworkers Union (USW) is giving its membership a raw deal. Byrne owns A Byrne Trucking, A Byrne Forest Products and Granet Lake Logging.

He argues the 11-week-old forestry strike could have been avoided if the union members had more knowledge of the details within the original Forest Industrial Relations (FIR) offer.

"Most of them, I don't think, are aware of what the final offer was," Byrne said. "So many of them don't really know why they're out there."

Gary Kobayashi, USW Local 1-2171 business agent, said FIR's request for a USW membership vote was an attempt to gain a bargaining advantage. By gauging the membership, they could offer USW a deal worthy of only 51 per cent approval. "It's a game we can't allow them to play," he said.

FIR could have forced a union vote through the BC Labour Relations Board, but they did not, which is why Kobayashi believes it was a disingenuous offer.

"It did not address one single issue we had on the table," he said. "I don't even view it as a serious proposal."

But Byrne believes the offer was closer to USW demands than union officials want members to believe.

"They're not recognizing the membership," Byrne said. "We encourage all USW members to get the facts and demand your right to vote on FIR's offer."

Kobayashi said although FIR was not interested in bringing in a mediator, he is still optimistic the strike can be resolved sooner than later. "There are certainly a lot of companies within FIR that want to start up," he said. But apart from Kobayashi's gut feelings, there are no indications both sides will come to an agreement anytime soon.


School district talks strikers into picket cutbacks

The teacher strike went into day three in the Harrison Hills (OH) school district, but the two sides have reached a deal on limiting pickets at school sites. The negotiated agreement has the authority of a court order and will continue indefinitely.

Terms vary depending on school site.

At Harrison High School, as many as 50 pickets could be present at one time. Ten pickets would be allowed at five separate entrances. In the case of Lakeland Elementary, with only two entrances, four striking teachers would be allowed at each entrance.

Common Pleas Judge Michael Nunner helped broker the deal and gave his approval on Wednesday.


Baltimore teachers picket after school

Parents of children at one Baltimore City school may have noticed something unusual when they picked their children up Wednesday afternoon, teachers walking on a picket line.

Gigi Barnett reports - teachers at Patterson High School are upset with their contract situation.

Teachers say they've waited for months for a contract, so for the next few days they will picket. Wednesday was the day they decided to start; it was the first protest, but it won't be the last. The demand is loud and clear. The picket line was the result of months of contract negotiations between city teachers and school leaders. They're at an impasse.

"This is planning time that belongs to teachers that we have worked for, negotiated. It is in our agreement, and we're going to keep it," said BTU President Marietta English.

What teachers want is their 45 minute planning period to themselves, but the school system says no contract until teachers agree to spend that time at least once a week planning in group sessions.

"People need to work together and learn together to respond to the problems of the job. I don't see how adults can get better at what they're doing without actually coming together and discussing the complexity of the job," said City School CEO Dr. Andres' Alonso.

But teachers on this picket line say no way.

"They can do it in certain schools, gotta be able to do it across the system, and why can't we sit down in a committee and work that out," said English.

Teachers promised to picket this week, and they made good on it right after school. By law city teachers are not allowed to strike, but they can demonstrate before and after school.

The next step in this process is for both sides, the city school system as well as the Teachers' Union to choose a mediator to take over the process.

Teachers will picket at two other city schools this week.


Employer to sue striking union

TimberWest is planning on going through with a threat to sue the Steelworkers after the timber giant said the union reneged on a deal to retract damaging statements about the forestry company.

On Monday evening, the company and the union reached an agreement in which the Steelworkers’ agreed to apologize for inaccurate statements, said Steve Lorimer, of TimberWest.

The company wanted the pubic act of contrition for statements regarding the forestry, environmental, safety and business practices of TimberWest the union made last week at a Sustainable Forestry Initiative industry conference in the U.S., as well as simultaneous news conferences in Vancouver and Salt Lake City, Utah. “It’s disappointing that the union reneged on the deal,” said Lorimer.

When reached by the News Leader Pictorial, representative of the union said they had no comment.

In a news release yesterday, the company said it received and approved a retraction and apology in the form of a media statement prepared by the Steelworkers.

The union also committed to publicly issue the statement yesterday morning, said Lorimer.

In addition to that, he said the Steelworkers committed to remove web-links connecting the union’s website to videos

The company maintains are defamatory and to remove offensive information regarding TimberWest’s forestry practices from its various websites.

Last week the union released video images it claimed showed TimberWest’s forestry contractor cutting trees into a small Comox Valley lake.

TimberWest was quick to react and said the lake doesn't exist, and that the body of water was actually a flooded gravel flat.

Also on Tuesday, a Steelworkers' representative confirmed the union will not be publicly issuing the apology, Lorimer said.

“TimberWest is disappointed with the union’s decision to go back on its word and to break the agreement reached in good faith between the two parties,” he said.

The news release stated: “These actions leave TimberWest with no alternative but to proceed with litigation.”

Lorimer would not speculate if the pending legal action will impact negotiations between the company and the union.

However, president and CEO Paul McElligott said last week in a news release: "Our request for an apology and retraction has nothing to do with the current labour dispute.

"We will not stand by idly when false and defamatory statements are made, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against these malicious attacks."

Nearly 1,000 Valley steelworkers have been on strike since mid-July after months of negotiations failed to resolve the disputes around wages and other items.

In all, about 7,000 unionized workers at 34 companies are manning picket lines.


LA district leans on teachers union

The top attorney for the Los Angeles (CA) Unified School District has put the president of the teachers union on notice, warning Wednesday that the union's protests against the district's faulty payroll system could violate labor agreements.

The message, in a letter from district Counsel Kevin Reed to union President A.J. Duffy, is the latest jab in the escalating, but still largely rhetorical, battle over the district's lumbering efforts to correct the pay problems.

It is the second such letter Reed has sent Duffy in recent weeks challenging the United Teachers Los Angeles' call late last month for its members to boycott after-school faculty meetings. Such boycotts, Reed said, are prohibited by the teachers' contract with the district, which states that union leaders cannot "cause, encourage, condone or participate in any strike, slowdown or other work stoppage."

In a previous case between L.A. Unified and the union, a state labor agency ruled that school faculty meetings fall under this clause, Reed said.

Reed said it would be up to the school board whether to take action against the union.

Reed, in the letter, also demanded that Duffy stop threatening large-scale teacher "walk-outs" during the school day. While testifying at a public hearing last week organized by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), Duffy angrily denounced the district's response to the payroll problems and promised to cripple the district with walkouts if fixes were not made. But, in an interview afterward, the union president said there were no immediate plans for teachers to leave their classrooms.

"Superintendent Reed needs to calm down," Duffy said, when told about the lawyer's latest missive, mockingly referring to Reed as the district's top official.


Striking nurses lose their jobs

Registered nurses on the picket lines against a local healthcare system know that they may not have a job once the strike ends. Appalachian Regional Healthcare Inc. is in the process of hiring permanent replacement nurses to fill vacancies left when members of the Kentucky and West Virginia nurses associations walked off the job at midnight Sunday. Depending on how many of those positions are filled, some nurses who don’t have seniority or specific qualifications may find themselves without a job.

Tim Hatfield, community CEO for Williamson ARH, said yesterday that hospital officials are taking applications and the nurses hired through that process will be permanent. He explained that the new nurses must fill out a form that says they are fully aware that they are replacing a nurse who is on strike.

“We want to take care of our patients and we have reached an impasse (with the nurses associations),” Hatfield said, justifying the hiring of new nurses. Hatfield said that members of the nurses associations have changed their positions several times as to why they are on strike. “It’s a moving target. We’re not sure if we know what they want right now,” he said.

Because the strike is an economic one and the nurses voluntarily left their positions when they walked out, Hatfield said it is perfectly legal to hire replacement nurses. Once the strike is over, nurses will be called back based on seniority and their specific qualifications. For example, the hospital will not put a pediatric nurse in the position formerly held by an intensive care unit nurse.

Hatfield said that despite information put out that there is a shortage of nurses in the area, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College as well as Pikeville College have nursing programs that turn out a large number of qualified candidates that can be hired.

Hatfield also said a memorandum has been sent by ARH officials to the nurses associations asking for an appointment so the two sides can sit down and review the proposed contract that will take effect Oct. 15 even if the strike is not settled.

On Tuesday, KNA/WVNA chief negotiator Kathy Tanner said the striking nurses are well aware that their jobs may be filled by someone else once the strike ends.

“The answer to your question is ‘Yes,’” Tanner said. “But they are not tied to ARH. Other hospitals have already called wanting their services. ... If ARH won’t let them work, I guess we’ll have to find them other jobs.”

Tanner maintained that the nurses do not want to be on strike.

“We really don’t want to be out here,” she said. “We’re not happy about this, but they forced us out.”

Tanner said the nurses feel “abused” and “taken advantage of,” but they are holding their own on the picket lines.

“They are strong, they are bright and they are committed,” Tanner said of the nurses at Williamson ARH after visiting there.

According to ARH officials, more than 130 nurses system-wide have crossed the picket line and returned to work. Though Hatfield said he could not comment on the number who have crossed the Williamson ARH line, reports are that two of the nearly 70 registered nurses have returned to work.


Bankruptcy judge rules against Teamsters

Interstate Bakeries Corp., the bankrupt maker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies snacks, on Wednesday received court approval to proceed with a plan to exit the bread market in Southern California. U.S. bankruptcy judge Jerry Venters approved the company's plan to shutter four bakeries, numerous retail outlets and 18 distribution centers in the region.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union opposed the move, and has cited the action as one sticking point in its negotiations with Interstate that are aimed at keeping the company afloat.

Interstate Bakeries controls about 12 percent of the Southern California market, but it has seen its share and profits erode in recent years. The bread division in Southern California lost more than $13 million in fiscal 2007, according to the company. "The profitability had deteriorated significantly," Interstate Bakeries President Michael Kafoure testified.

The company blamed stiff competition from Sara Lee and others for its slide. Interstate filed for bankruptcy in September 2004.


Teachers' strike, Day 3

Harrison Hills (OH) administrators went to court to seek a restraining order limiting the number of pickets at each school entrance as the district’s teacher strike entered its third day Wednesday. The hearing ultimately was delayed as lawyers for both sides hammered out a compromise, to which Common Pleas Judge Michael Nunner agreed.

After about seven hours, lawyers came to an agreement that allows a varying number of pickets at each school, not only at parking lot entrances but also on sidewalks. Some teachers have congregated at houses across from schools, and district Superintendent Jim Drexler said the negotiations did not address private property.

School entrances have been scenes of controversy during the strike. Union negotiators alleged they were injured by security vans, and administrators claimed the teachers were purposely blocking the vans, which are owned by Huffmaster Crisis Management, the firm the district hired to provide security and substitutes.

Hopedale teacher Cheryl Wells was treated Monday in Trinity Medical Center West at Steubenville after a Huffmaster van allegedly hit her from behind. John Avouris, a consultant with the Ohio Education Assn., said a Huffmaster van ran over his foot Tuesday at Hopedale. Both are members of the union negotiating team.

Hopedale Police Chief Ron Bone said the incidents remain under investigation.

At Hopedale Elementary on Wednesday, teachers walked in circles, sometimes dancing, for two minutes before allowing a Huffmaster van to leave the parking lot. Then they immediately crowded back onto the driveway to walk for another two minutes before allowing a second van to pass.

“We teach our kids to take turns,” teacher Judy Burriss shouted.

Others were chanting “Hollywood,” a nickname they’d given to a Huffmaster guard who has been recording video of the pickets.

Marsha Hennis, picket captain for Hopedale, explained that under the law pickets have a certain timeframe to clear the way after someone indicates he wants to leave. The union observed a two-minute rule.

Under the new court agreement, the union will not be permitted to hinder the coming or going of people or vehicles from school property, according to a press release from the school board. For example, union members will not be allowed to surround vehicles as they enter or exit at a building.

“The schools have had many incidents in which striking teachers and the union leadership physically blocked the arrival of students, parents and substitute teachers, often intimidating them,” Superintendent Jim Drexler stated in the release.

“In addition, the teachers’ assertions of physical harm resulting from claims of bumping by vehicles would not have taken place had the teachers not placed themselves at risk of contact with vehicles.”

Union spokeswoman Linda Rusen stated in a release Wednesday that HHTA members will abide by the law and Nunner’s order.

“We have and will continue to be respectful of the law and the direction of local law enforcement officers,” Rusen stated.

Negotiations remained at a standstill Wednesday. Drexler said it would be up to the federal mediator to set up any bargaining sessions.

Striking teachers continued to voice their demand that any proposed contract prevent reprisal against not only teachers and their children but also against other parents and students who acted in support of the strike.

Specifically, Rusen said they didn’t want students whose parents held them out of school for the strike to be punished once matters are resolved.

Drexler has said discipline for attendance problems will remain as it was before the strike, leaving him with the possibility of having to reprimand hundreds of students if attendance remains low. About 36 percent of students showed up Wednesday, the same as Monday and 2 percent higher than Tuesday.

Harrison Central High students Jessica Donley and Justin Frontz, who joined the teachers in front of their school Wednesday morning, aired doubts about Drexler’s ability to keep enforcing attendance policy per usual.

“There’ll be so many irate parents if their students don’t get credit,” Frontz said in reference to a district policy that says missing 18 days precludes a student from earning credit for classes, or nine days for a semester-long class.

Ten unexcused absences normally would trigger truancy charges. However, Harrison County Prosecutor T. Shawn Hervey has said his office won’t file such charges.

“Attendance during the strike is within the sound discretion of the parents, and each family must decide how best to deal with the unfortunate reality of the strike,” a release from Hervey stated.

The union raised questions Wednesday about the qualifications of substitutes provided by Huffmaster, noting that some of them had applied for, but had not yet been granted, substitute licenses. Drexler said the law allows those people to teach while their applications are pending, but they can’t be paid until the licenses are received.

OEA representative Shelly Jackson, who is working with the union, also said Wednesday that the district’s request for parents of students with severe developmental disabilities to hold those students at home might violate state and federal standards regarding special education.

“Baselines have to be met, testing, monitory, and I don’t think they’re doing that,” Jackson said.

Drexler said that under the conditions of the strike, the district would have to deal with such issues on a day-by-day basis.


Bay Area strike enters 4th month

On Friday September 21, striking workers from Valley Power on Adams Avenue geared up for their 12th week of picketing with a solidarity breakfast on the picket lines. Family, friends, and representatives from the Alameda County Labor board turned out to show their support over coffee and toast.

In the last month, the picket line went mobile, visiting the Sacramento and Fresno locations, while garnering the support of city representatives throughout Alameda County and the state.

In August, striking workers from Valley Power went before the National Labor Union Relations Board in Oakland. During the hearing, Robert Humphreys, a partial owner of Valley Power Systems North, stated that the company was not hiring new employees because there is little work for them.

Moises Alcarecca and strike co-captain John Griffin, who are out on the picket line daily, estimate that 90 percent of the company’s business at the Adams Avenue location has come to a halt.

“Maybe one or two trucks might slip in once a week, but it’s not enough to pay the bills,” says Alcarecca. “We pretty much shut this place down.”

This month Valley Power was added to the “Do Not Patronize” list maintained by the AFL-CIO. On September 11, Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington’s resolution to boycott Valley Power Services passed unanimously. Berkeley is the first city in the Bay Area to pass such a resolution.

When Valley Power took over Stewart and Stevenson in 2005, they revoked workers’ pension plans and health benefits. Union workers who became employed by Valley Power as a result of the acquisition are asking that their benefits be returned. They have been on strike since July 10 and say they will remain on strike until their contract is honored.

In the meantime, striking workers have taken part-time jobs, and rely on the “Hardship Strike & Lock-Out Fund” to help with health care costs.


Cal. state senator rallies SEIU strikers

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