Unionized state workers shout down taxpayers

At a raucous rally just outside Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle's office Wednesday, roughly 800 state workers and others tried to shout down about 350 anti-tax advocates who praised Republicans for blocking a budget that includes tax hikes.

Carrying signs and chanting "Pay your share!" state workers, including many uniformed law enforcement officers and firefighters, tried to drown out the rally organized by the national anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity.

Retaliating with chants of "No new taxes!" those at the rally blamed Doyle for the ongoing stalemate that has left Wisconsin as the only state in the country without a new budget. Doyle's budget proposal includes more than $1 billion in tax increases.

Police separated the two groups with yellow tape. The anti-tax crowd faced the Capitol, while their opponents surrounded them on both sides. They blew air horns, yelled through megaphones and screamed in an attempt to drown out the anti-tax group's booming amplification system.

Before the speeches, the anti-tax protesters played audio clips of Doyle's 2003 promise not to raise taxes. "We hope the general population of the state will wake up to the fact they're being hoodwinked," said 86-year-old Betty Bunnelle of East Troy, Wis. Her husband held a sign that said, "No to Doyle Tax Increases."

A spokesman for Doyle did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Speakers at the rally egged on their supporters and needled the state workers.

"I see that government can function perfectly well without these people on the job," said Owen Robinson, a blogger who runs the Boots and Sabers Web site.

Robinson had asked lawmakers earlier this year to sign a pledge not to support tax increases. He got 10 Republicans and one Democrat to sign. Since then, 15 other Republicans and one Democrat have signed an anti-tax pledge by Americans for Prosperity, a three-year-old group that recently held a summit in Washington, D.C., that attracted all the major Republican candidates for president.

Democrats have pointed to those pledges as one reason for the budget stalemate. The Republican-controlled Assembly on Monday rejected Doyle's latest budget proposal, the second he has offered this year.

While current funding and taxing continues during the logjam, Doyle warned Tuesday that without a new budget and more money to cover expenses he may have to order a partial government shut down.

About 600 state prison inmates currently housed in jails under contracts with 15 Wisconsin counties will be removed starting in December to help save money, Department of Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch told counties in a letter released Wednesday. How to accommodate those prisoners in already overcrowded state prisons is being examined, Raemisch said.

Many of the signs at the rally referred to the possible shut down, including one held by a Department of Corrections worker that said, "Let the Inmates Come Sleep at Your House." A little girl held a sign saying, "Help Protect Me From a Sexual Predator. Pass the Budget."

Without a new budget, there will not be funding for a new law requiring sexual predators to be tracked with GPS technology.

"Failure to act will mean real cuts that affect real people and cause real pain," said Marty Beil, director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. Beil helped organize the demonstration led by the state AFL-CIO and public employees' union AFSCME.

Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said at the rally that Republicans have gained support as a result of Democrats' tax increase proposals.

"We are not extreme because we ask for tax relief," Priebus said. "The Democrats are extreme for wanting to increase state spending."

Doyle, and the Democratic-led Senate, want to increase cigarette taxes by $1.25 per pack, impose a new tax on hospitals to generate more federal money for treating Medicaid patients, and transfer $175 million out of a fund used to pay malpractice claims.

Republicans oppose the hospital tax and want just a 75-cent cigarette tax.

Those two issues are the largest remaining obstacles to reaching a deal, both Republican and Democratic leaders have said.

Department of Corrections worker Gordon Ovans of Red Granite, Wis., wore his blue work uniform and held a sign that told lawmakers to "Do Your Job." But after the rhetoric-filled rally, Ovans called for a more sensible approach to ending the budget stalemate.

"If there was a little bit of conversation between individuals, then we'd get it done," he said.

On the Net: Americans for Prosperity: http://www.americansforprosperity.org/


Teachers union boss embezzler trips up again

The former president of Lawrence, Kansas's teachers' union, convicted of embezzling nearly $100,000 in union dues, has been accused of violating the terms of his probation.

Wayne Kruse was placed on probation in October 2005 and ordered to pay back the $95,000 he stole from the Lawrence Education Assn. However - according to an affidavit filed in Douglas County District Court - Kruse still owes nearly $89,000.

His two-year-probationary period was set to expire earlier this month. Now, he's been issued a notice to appear back in court for the alleged violation. A hearing has been set for Oct. 29.


Proposed teacher strike-ban meets political reality

When only students suffer, teacher strikes will go on. Efforts to ban or discourage teacher strikes in Pennsylvania are well-intentioned, but ultimately unworkable, at least politically and in the various permutations now being discussed.

The Associated Press reported that a bill unveiled by an organization called Stop Teacher Strikes Inc. would force teachers to forfeit two days' pay for each day of a strike, fine individuals $5,000 for inciting a strike, and require nonbinding arbitration to resolve contract disputes within a certain time frame.

Political reality

The overarching political reality is that, at least in the foreseeable future, if such a bill were passed by the legislature it would be vetoed by the governor. In another day, if another governor were inclined to sign such a law, the constitutional implications of treating public school teachers in a manner that sets them so far apart from any other public employee group in the state would certainly result in years of court challenges.

Strikes by public employees, especially those who hold the lives and safety of the public in their hands, have been banned, either by providing for binding arbitration as an alternative to a strike or authorizing the firing of employees who do strike. Pennsylvania is among only 13 states (including Ohio) that tolerate teacher strikes. But many of the states that prohibit strikes provide for some form of binding arbitration. No government official today should willingly agree to binding arbitration. Too many local government budgets have been broken by arbitrators who were incapable of looking at a balance sheet and simply telling the public employees that there wasn't a penny to be spared.

That is not to say that any public school district in the state should be held hostage to striking employees, including teachers.

Change the law

The only law that Pennsylvania needs to change is the one that requires school districts to make up days lost to strikes.

Striking teachers know that eventually they are going to get to work and be paid for 180 school days, They know that those 180 days must be completed by June 30. That gives striking teachers little incentive to settle.

But if the teachers knew that for every day they were on the picket line they would lose 180th of their pay — for a teacher making $50,000, that's $278 a day, nearly $1,400 a week — strikes would be few and far between. If they knew that their health coverage would be promptly suspended and payments into their pension plans lost for the duration of the walkout, teachers would face the same economic hardships that other striking employees assume when they walk out on strike.

Even organized labor should be perfectly comfortable supporting a law that restores balance to the management-labor relationship between school boards and teachers unions. It is unlikely that today three of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts — Reynolds School District in Mercer County, Seneca Valley School District in Butler County and Lake-Lehman School District in Luzerne County — would be closed today if the teachers knew they were losing $200 to $400 a day, money that they would never see.


Union hit with RICO lawsuit

Smithfield Foods, Inc. and Smithfield Packing Company ("Smithfield" or "the Company") today announced that it has brought a civil action against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and their agents.

This action follows more than two years of malicious conduct against the Company with the expressed purpose of harming Smithfield's business and forcing the Company's "voluntary" recognition of the Union as the exclusive bargaining representatives of hourly employees at the Company's pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina.

According to the suit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Richmond Division), the extortionate measures employed by the Union in their public pressure campaign violate U.S., Virginia and North Carolina laws, and after several rebuffed attempts at reconciliation, the Company has reluctantly filed a claim for relief under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("the RICO statute") in order to hinder future attempts by the Union to further damage their business.

According to the lawsuit, the Company alleges that the Union's violations include, but are not limited to, a public smear campaign, frivolous regulatory investigations, the communication of false statements to analysts intended to reduce Smithfield's stock price, unlawful interference with current and prospective business relations and a publicly established illegal extortionate pressure campaign intended to drive Smithfield out of business unless the Company agreed to meet their demands against its will.

Through this action, Smithfield intends to expose the Union's self- interested and self-promoting nature. The Company contends that the Union attempted to force the unionization of the Tar Heel employees as a means of maintaining and increasing the Union's own power in the face of diminishing nationwide significance. UFCW seeks to gain strategic and financial leverage in negotiations on behalf of other units at Smithfield currently represented by the Union and to generate membership for their organization in order to fund salary increases and pension plan contributions for individuals currently in the Union, though not necessarily for the prospective Smithfield members.

Pursuant to applicable law, Smithfield is seeking compensatory and consequential damages to their business and property, damages resulting from the Union's acts and omissions, exemplary and punitive damages for the Union's intentional, and malicious misconduct and equitable relief as might be appropriate. Additionally, the Company seeks reimbursement for reasonable attorneys' fees and costs and any other relief the Court deems just and proper.

The lawsuit has been filed and it may be accessed at http://www.smithfieldfoods.com/Investor/Pdf/RICO_101707.pdf.

With sales of $12 billion, Smithfield is the leading processor and marketer of fresh pork and processed meats in the United States, as well as the largest producer of hogs. For more information, visit http://www.smithfieldfoods.com/.

Contact: Lyndsey Estin/Adam Weiner Kekst and Company for Smithfield Foods, Inc. (212) 521-4800 or Jerry Hostetter Smithfield Foods, Inc. (212) 758-2100 jerryhostetter@smithfieldfoods.com


Court workers quit 6-week strike, suspend pickets

Los Angeles County court interpreters returned to work Wednesday for the first time in six weeks, having ended a strike that sought a new pay schedule on par with other court workers. "The battle line has come to a stalemate," said union leader Michael Ferreira, a Spanish-language translator for the Long Beach Courthouse. "We've done this long enough."

The California Federation of Interpreters voted Monday to end the strike, following a contentious state Senate hearing devoted to the labor dispute in downtown Los Angeles. The interpreters were offered nothing new, although Los Angeles Superior Court management has remained open to renegotiating the union contract next year.

In Long Beach, 14 interpreters participated in the strike and most reported for duty Wednesday morning - appearing wary and glum. "Of course, I'm feeling kind of frustrated," said Helen Ketcham, a 25-year Spanish-language translator who walked with a picket sign in front of the Long Beach Courthouse nearly every day of the strike.

But for court staff, judges and defendants, the standoff ended none too soon.

For the last six weeks, courts have had to share a small number of interpreters - those willing
to cross picket lines - and have scrambled to delay case after case in lieu of dismissing them.

They've also been forced to use non-certified translators, such as court clerks and family members, to communicate when no other options remained.

On Wednesday, Judge Gibson Lee appeared relieved to see Ketcham walk into his courtroom in Long Beach's juvenile division.

His staff indicated the need for two interpreters - one for the minor, one for his mother.

"I'm just happy to have one," he said. "What a luxury to have one."

"Thank you," Ketcham replied.

Allan Parachini, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Superior Court, said he was glad the strike was over and reaffirmed the court's longtime position that there was no more money in the state's court budget to offer interpreters.

"It's not a negotiating tactic," he said. "We don't have any more to give them. That's literally true."

Interpreters now earn about $73,000 a year, Parachini said, 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 most other court employees - excluding judges - interpreters don't have steps; employees with 25 years' experience make the same amount as first-year translators.

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.

In Long Beach, the interpreters speak Spanish and Khmer, the language of Cambodia.

The court negotiated with the union for four months this year before imposing a 4 percent raise as its "last and best offer," with the promise of 3 percent raises in each of the next two years.

The union - which is relatively new - pushed for the step system and then opted to strike when contract talks broke down.

At Monday's state Senate hearing commenced by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), court administrators clashed with senators and interpreters over the effect the strike has had on the courts.

In the end, Romero and others promised to try to address interpreters' salaries at the legislative level and urged interpreters to go back to work - for the good of the foreign-language community.

"How can you say no to a state senator?" Ferreira asked.

Union members went on strike Sept. 5 - a sunny, warm day - and returned to work Wednesday morning, as rain fell from a darkened sky.

Union members, particularly single parents, could no longer afford to forgo a stable income, Ferreira said. And, given the tone of the senate hearing, he said, it was clear that continuing to strike would have served little purpose.

"The only people who really would suffer were the people we serve - and justice itself," he said.


Illinois' militant teachers unions

Teachers in two of the Illinois' largest school districts have rejected new contracts, while a labor dispute in northern McHenry County will continue for at least another day as a bargaining session ended Tuesday without a deal in the 1,600-pupil district.

In Elgin-based School District U-46, teachers failed to ratify a contract that would have increased their pay by about 6 percent this school year, a vote that may have reflected concerns about money as well as respect, a union official said.

Teachers were upset that Supt. Connie Neale negotiated a compensation package worth more than $400,000 that included a $60,000 raise earlier this year, said Tim Davis, Elgin Teachers Association president.

"The board set up the false expectation that this district had money to burn," Davis said. "I'm certain there were 'no' votes that were cast simply because of the irresponsible actions of our Board of Education."

Meanwhile, in Palatine-based Township High School District 211, teachers rejected a one-year contract offer that called for a 2.5 percent pay raise for about 1,141 educators, social workers and support staff. And in the Richmond-based Nippersink School District 2 in McHenry County, union representatives and school officials met Tuesday night but again failed to reach a new contract. About 140 teachers and staff have been off the job since Friday in a dispute over contributions to their pension and health-care plans.

One of the few bright spots in northwest suburban teacher negotiations was in Des Plaines, where the Community Consolidated School District 62 Board of Education approved a three-year contract that will provide annual 3 percent raises to the base salaries of 401 teachers and staff.

In School District 46, more than 90 percent of the district's teachers cast ballots Monday with 1,183 voting against the contract and 1,025 voting for it.

Some teachers said they voted 'no' because Neale moved to Missouri during the summer and went on sick leave in September.

"I think the bargaining teams worked hard," said Ken Kaczynski, school board president. "I thought the tentative agreement was a fair deal and addressed some concerns."

Mary Sotiroff, an Elgin High School math teacher, said she voted for the agreement but added that many of her colleagues felt the pay increase was "horrendous" compared with what Neale received.

"They don't understand the inequity of what Neale got versus the teachers," she said. "She is getting the cream of the crop and she's not even here anymore."

The proposed contract would have provided a base salary increase of 3.8 percent this year, along with an average 1.9 percent increase tied to seniority and qualifications. It also increased what the district would pay toward teacher pensions, officials said.

The average teacher salary in the district is $62,452, according to the 2007 Illinois State Report Card. The Elgin-based district, the state's second largest, covers 11 communities and serves 41,087 students.

All five of the district's high schools have failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires that at least 55 percent of students meet or exceed academic standards.

Oakhill Elementary and three middle schools -- Kimball, Larsen, and Canton -- also failed, according to state data.

Davis argued the district takes a narrow approach to improving schools, rather than a collaborative one.

"There's the currency of dollars that you can bargain at the table, but there's also the currency of treating people as professionals and trusting them and respecting the work that they do," Davis said. "We are woefully lacking in that particular currency."

Teachers, he said, also were concerned that the contract didn't address large class sizes and proposed an unacceptable new teacher evaluation plan.

The union will survey members at a 4:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday at Elgin Community College with plans to return to the bargaining table, Davis said.

If talks fail to generate an agreement, the union would look at mediation before considering strike options, he said.

In the District 211 dispute, teachers also rejected a proposed deal Monday. John Braglia, president of the teachers union, said members were "insulted" by an offer of a 2.5 percent raise, considering the union made concessions on health care under the current three-year contract now in its final year.

The district's offer also included an increase of up to 4.5 percent for about 73 percent of the staff who qualify based on years of experience and graduate course work.

Braglia said such a "step increase" has never been considered part of a pay raise for teachers in District 211.

The average teacher salary in the high school district is $85,766, according to state data. The district covers Palatine, Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg and part of Elk Grove Village.

In the McHenry County district, the school board has offered 3.5 percent salary raises in each of the next three years, but the sides cannot agree on pension and health-care benefits.

The district operates two elementary schools and one middle school. Most pupils are from Richmond and Spring Grove.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume with a federal mediator Wednesday night at Richmond Middle School.


Government lawyers threaten to go on strike

Prosecutors at the Contra Costa (CA) District Attorney's Office are unhappy enough with their pay that they are considering not coming to work. The prosecutors' collective bargaining unit is set to vote Thursday night on whether its more than 80 members should strike, staying out of courtrooms for at least one day in November.

A strike could leave a half-dozen supervisory prosecutors filing criminal charges and appearing in court to keep suspects from getting out of jail.

"The message has not gotten through that we cannot handle the violent crime, and we cannot protect citizens anymore," said prosecutor Barry Grove, president of the District Attorneys' Association.

Grove said too many experienced prosecutors are leaving for more pay in other counties or to join private law firms. This leaves a gap of prosecutors experienced enough to take on complicated cases, usually murders, assaults and other crimes that can carry life sentences in prison.

After six months of negotiations, the county's human resources director, Lori Gentles, said the county is still trying to broker a deal and is always concerned about retaining employees.

"We're at the initial stages of bargaining," Gentles said. "We look at what the market bears and what the county can afford."

Grove and other prosecutors call their situation a public safety concern, citing a loss of 10 attorneys this year, five of whom had at least 10 years of experience and handled serious cases.

"You've got a shooting gallery in West Contra Costa," Grove said. "We can't handle it."

For instance, each attorney who handles homicides is juggling as many as 18 cases. A normal load is about 12, said prosecutor Harold Jewett.

County Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond said he does not want to lose talented prosecutors, but county supervisors are limited to a budget.

"We want to pay the right amount to preserve public safety," Gioia said. "We don't want to raise salaries in such a way that we have to cut other law enforcement services to save money."

The prosecutors' bargaining unit and the county have been negotiating a three-year contract for the past six months. Grove said that prosecutors proposed a 30 percent pay increase over three years to bring their salaries up to the average of Bay Area prosecutors in the most populous counties.

The county countered with 7 percent over three years, according to Mary Knox, the association's secretary, who is also a negotiator.

"It was just a slap in the face," Knox said.

Gentles declined to comment on negotiation specifics.

Prosecutors say that despite being the second-lowest-paid office in the Bay Area, they deal with more crime.

For instance, Contra Costa County had 80 homicides in 2005, according to the state Department of Justice. That accounts for the third-most homicides in the nine Bay Area counties, compared with 126 in Alameda County and 96 in San Francisco County.

If prosecutors strike, the handful of managers who would take their places must file charges within 48 hours of a suspect's arrest. They must also present evidence at preliminary hearings for suspects who demand them within 10 days of an arraignment. Otherwise, judges must order the defendant's release.

Defendants might have a tough time finding their own lawyers on the day of a strike. The president of the local Public Defenders' Association will urge his members not to cross the prosecutors' picket line.

Deputy public defender Mike Kelly said Contra Costa County supervisors gave themselves a 60 percent raise in 2006 because it brought them to the average salary of supervisors across the Bay Area.

He said attorneys deserve the same.

The salaries of deputy public defenders depend on prosecutors' salaries. The county agreed in 2005 to pay deputy public defenders the same level as deputy district attorneys. A raise for prosecutors will also bump the salaries of public defenders.

The county's district attorney, Robert Kochly, said he supports the prosecutors. He said his office ends up providing training for young lawyers.

"This situation has caused us to lose a huge amount of talent," Kochly said. "I support an agreement that will pay a salary that will entice most of them not to get their training in our office and the rest of their career in another."


Striking teachers hold out for 100% paid health insurance

Lake-Lehman (PA) teachers walked the picket lines for a third day on Wednesday. Later that day, the Wyoming Valley West School Board voted in favor of a new agreement for district teachers, who had, like their Lake-Lehman colleagues, been without a contract since last summer.

“It bodes well for Lake-Lehman,” said John Holland, who is Pennsylvania State Education Association representative for both districts. “Several times when we were negotiating, (board solicitor) Charlie Coslett and the board said, ‘We’ll have to see what happens at Valley West, that’s the marketplace’... They have to remain competitive with neighboring districts.”

The Wyoming Valley West contract gives teachers a raise of approximately 4 percent over four years. Although health insurance deductibles are raised, there is no premium share by teachers.

Lake-Lehman School Board president Charles Balavage said he couldn’t comment on the Wyoming Valley West contract because he hadn’t seen it.

He said Holland was taking comments by the board and Coslett out of context. A few months ago they had heard of a contract proposal at Wyoming Valley West they thought sounded good, but Balavage couldn’t say if it was the same one passed Wednesday.

The Lake-Lehman board’s last best offer was for a four-year contract that included a 2.5 percent raise, higher deductibles and health insurance premium sharing. Teachers at steps one through seven would pay 2 percent of their premiums. Those at steps eight through 12 would pay 3.5 percent, and those at steps 13 and above would pay 5 percent.

“Everywhere I go, people are telling us that we should stand fast, and the offer we gave them is a good offer,” Balavage said. “It’s within the means of the district, and that’s what it’s about: doing what we can afford, so we can also let the school go forward, not just the teachers.”

Holland said the teachers have strong support themselves.

“We’re receiving a lot of favorable public comments,” he said. “A lot of people stopped by and said they’re impressed with what we did.”

Holland was referring to the rally before Tuesday’s Lake-Lehman school Board meeting, when approximately 150 teachers from 16 districts in five counties joined the 153 Lake-Lehman teachers in a rally.

Teachers will continue to picket until further notice. The state Department of Education has not released calculations on how long the strike can last.


Striking nurses look to gov't for aid

Striking nurses appealed Tuesday to the Raleigh County Commission for help in restarting stalled talks with the Appalachian Regional Hospital chain, insisting the labor dispute is about care of patients and not about financial gains in any new contract.

Commission President Pat Reed applauded the work of the nurses, many of whom sat in the audience holding picket signs, but offered no formal support by the county. “I hope this will not be an extended time,” Reed told the nurses.

Reed said she preferred to see them “back at your places doing what you do best.” “That’s not standing out on a cold night, but taking care of the people of Raleigh County,” she said.

About 160 nurses walked off the job at Beckley ARH, joining union members in eight other hospitals of the Kentucky-based chain, in a dispute centered on mandatory overtime work, which strikers say puts patients at risk.

Wayne Rebich, a local leader of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, told the commission a Tampa, Fla., consulting firm, Yesson & Associates, is orchestrating an attempt by ARH to drive off the union (Kentucky Nurses Association/West Virginia Nurses Association) saying the company’s Web site boasts of a 96 percent rate in ridding corporations of unions.

“We need our public officials here to take a stand with these nurses to support them,” Rebich said.

“They need your support. They need a strong letter of support. It’s time for our public officials to take a stand against these people and what they’re doing to our citizens.”

Ocie Helton, president of Local 201, asked the commission to help goad ARH into resuming negotiations to get the dispute resolved so they can return to work with “a fair, equitable and sustainable contract.”

“This strike is not about money,” Helton said. “It’s about patient care.”

Nationally, she said, nurses average a patient load of eight, but at ARH, a nurse typically is looking out for 12 to 15 per shift, and, “That’s what we’re fighting.”

“We don’t have the time to give the care, and handholding, and backrubs and stuff that are very important to patients,” Helton told the commission.

“There is a huge nursing shortage nationwide. We know that. We just need to be able to get back to the table. We need to negotiate. This cannot be settled until we do that.”

Helton disputed an ARH contention that nurses are only required to put in an average of five mandatory overtime hours weekly, saying a new “flex system” forces them to work three 12-hour shifts a week, and four the next.

And, if a nurse fails to show, those on duty are forced to work a 16-hour day, she said.

“State law says there is no mandatory overtime,” Helton said. “But we know, even with state law, we’re going to do mandatory overtime. When it comes to the end of our shift, and another nurse is not there to take over our patient load, we’re not leaving. There has to be somebody to care for those patients.”

Helton said the company talks constantly about money proposals.

“They offered us this big package but it doesn’t come down to money,” Helton said. “They’re spending big money on Yesson. They say the hospital is running as usual, and it is. It’s stacked with agency nurses from out of state and all over. They’ve doubled security. There’s more security on the other side of the road than we have nurses on this side of the road. We have not, to my knowledge, done one mean thing, like trashing anything, tearing up anything. That’s not our aim. Our aim is not to close the hospital. Our aim is to keep it open with quality patient care.”


The UAW's gamble

At the time I write this, the United Autoworkers Union just ended a seven-hour strike against Chrysler — thus ending the walking off of jobs by workers and the restriction by threat of violence of those who would have tried to take their place.

Those are, after all, the two characteristics of a strike. You don't work, and you physically threaten those who want to. Unions are, as Rothbard noted, the only organization in society besides the government with the legal right to use coercive force on adults. Unions in the United States were given this right with the passage of the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932.

There was a time when such strikes would cause serious harm to companies. In the 1950s, the autoworkers faced a less competitive labor market, so strikes and their threat were things to be feared. Output could fall to zero, and the myriad of firms that support the automotive industry (unionized or not) would face shutdowns. Meanwhile, friction existed between employers and employees who otherwise would have strong incentives to compromise and cooperate, as is the norm in non-unionized sectors of the labor force.

But strikes were easier to pull off in those days. Public sentiment was more sympathetic to the union workers, and the percentage of union labor in the workforce was much higher. It was likely that you or many of your friends depended on union jobs to provide for families. Also, postwar America was largely immune from international competition for manufactured goods. This meant that if workers struck, they could often damage their firms without threatening them with bankruptcy.

Furthermore, union labor back then had skills that restricted competition from other workers. Given the tools and other forms of capital that existed at the time, workers making Ford Fairlanes required skill sets that simply aren't necessary for today's workers building Ford Explorers with modern robotic technologies. The increased skill requirements on their own would give workers bargaining power over their firms, notwithstanding the many legal protections unionized workers received.

Taken altogether, union labor enjoyed a heyday at this time. But its success incurred two significant costs that are ignored by union labor's partisans.

The first concerns the many unseen costs of union labor. On the surface, we see workers earning higher salaries through labor contracts arrived at collectively. But beneath it, there are workers who cannot find work because they either cannot join the union or because firms can afford less labor when they are restricted to union labor. At the same time, racism abounds because it can no longer be thwarted by market forces. Workers not favored by unions (or pro-union legislation) find it difficult to learn skills they would have gained on the job. By keeping such workers unskilled, organized labor protects existing workers by restricting possible entry into skilled labor markets.

The second cost is the redistribution of wealth that occurs when unions are strong. In the market economy, the benefits of productive activity are shared among three groups: the owners of capital, the laborers, and the consumers, with the benefits of the last group greatly exceeding those of the previous two. Unions, when successful, pervert this relationship by acquiring benefits from the owners of capital and the consumers. As a result, capital owners have fewer resources to invest for the satisfaction of future consumer needs, and industry in general has less capacity for innovation. Consumers suffer as well, when their consumption choices are reduced and when they pay higher prices reflecting increased scarcity.

Today's marketplace, in contrast, is more competitive, both in the labor and the goods markets, and such competition is the bane of union power. Competitive markets mean that massive strikes can now prove fatal to employers and employees, which explains why the UAW Chrysler strike was so short-lived. With competition rendering strikes ineffective, the strike option can only be effective for teachers, government employees, and other professions that function in less competitive environments.

What's more, technology today requires workers with strong work ethics (and not necessarily hard-to-acquire skills), something that is not in short supply and means that automobile plants no longer need to congregate in specific geographic locations near labor pools and agglomerations. Indeed, an increased competitive atmosphere causes automobile firms that do not eschew union labor to pay a significant market price.

All this happens because in the end, economic forces reflect the constant consumer desire for more products and lower prices. Protected markets may circumvent these desires in the short run, but in the long run they trump even the most successful labor cartels. We see this happening when another Detroit factory is shuttered while new ones open in places foreign to Detroit culture, whether in southern Alabama or southern China.

This illustrates the risk that the UAW invited by striking against Chrysler. The union may be emboldened by the deal it received last month from General Motors, including stock ownership that could result in union control of the company. But Chrysler, in contrast, is no longer publicly traded and may be less able to offer benefits to the union in exchange for the union's assumption of legacy costs.

The extent those costs harm the domestic auto industry illustrates what happens to industries in which worker benefits exceed worker productivity. No market participant consistently gambles with economic law and wins, and the UAW has been gambling for a long time.


City labor deal favors unions over taxpayers

A five-year salary deal with six Los Angeles unions includes incentives that could boost the cost of the contract by 10 percent, to nearly $300 million, city officials conceded Wednesday.

Details of the proposed deal, outlined on the union coalition's Web site, include flexible payments to approximately 22,000 workers if they find $25 million in cost savings citywide by the final year.

City officials have hailed the cost-saving provision of the deal, but admitted Wednesday that the cash payouts to workers would offset most, if not all, of the savings.

The contract also calls for salary negotiations to be reopened if city revenues top projections by 3 percent, an unprecedented provision since most contracts are based on cost-of-living or inflation measures. It also does not allow terms of the contract to be reduced if city revenues drop.

"It's a pretty rich contract," said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "It is troubling, given the perilous financial situation facing the city and all local government. They have to be careful in what they are promising workers and the public."

But City Administrative Officer Karen Sisson, who headed the city's negotiating team, said she believes that the proposal is fair to both sides.

"We require the unions to find specific savings that will continue year after year for them to get certain benefits," Sisson said.

"And while we agreed to sit down and talk if our revenues exceed expectations, there is no requirement that we increase the contract."

The deal calls for salary increases of 14.25 percent over the next five years for all workers, with an additional 8.25 percent for workers at top pay levels in the last three years of the contract.

The deal means thousands of city workers will see salary increases of about 23 percent - well above the controversial 16.8 percent salary deal recently negotiated for Department of Water and Power workers.

Total cost of the six-union salary deal is estimated at $273 million.

In a statement on its Web site, union coalition leaders said the contract is unprecedented "not only because of what we fought hard to get, but because of how we got there."

"By working as a coalition, city unions were able to support each other, increase our strength and earn greater respect from the city.

"Instead of letting the city pit one union against another, we stuck together and were able to negotiate a better package that works for everybody."

Few details of the package have been released as union membership debates whether to ratify the deal. The contract also must still be approved by the City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

`Flex cash' payments

The union Web site says the contract includes an increase in "flex cash" payments in the last year of the deal if workers find $25 million in savings or efficiencies.

It would provide monthly payments of $115 for full-time and $57.50 for part-time workers.

The flex-cash payment - a monthly stipend given to allow workers to include family members in dental plans or upgrade their insurance - is now given in much lower amounts and varies depending on the union.

If enacted, it would add $25 million to the contract costs.

But Sisson said the flex-cash program is fair because it would require the union to find verifiable savings that could be realized annually.

"If they come up with $15 million or $20 million a year, the city gets those savings with no increase in the flex-cash program," Sisson said.

"If they do find the $25 million, then the flex-cash program will be revenue-neutral."

But Kyser said he is concerned that the deal comes amid a drop in the housing market and property values, which are reflected in lower tax revenues to local government.

"I would expect to see people asking the Assessor's Office to revalue their property to try to reduce their property taxes," Kyser said.

"If that happens on a large scale, then the cities and school districts will be losing a lot of money."

He also noted that the deal is coming as the city is asking voters to approve retaining a telephone users' tax amid concern that a judge could throw out the current tax, and as the DWP is looking to raise both water and electric rates.

"We are facing perilous times in local government," Kyser said.

Parks backs pact

But Councilman Bernard Parks, chairman of the council Budget Committee and one of the council's more fiscally conservative members, defended the proposed agreement.

"You have to look at this in a couple of ways," Parks said. "If you consider that these are the same workers who three years ago agreed to take no pay increase and this is a five-year contract, then we are looking at it in an eight-year window.

"Also, these are some of the lower-paid workers in the city. If we are going to seek parity with the DWP, we have to begin somewhere with these workers."

A recent Daily News review of DWP salaries found they average 20 percent higher than comparable city posts, a difference that has long been a source of contention for other unions.

The coalition in the recent talks included Service Employees International Union Local 721, representing 9,160 workers from custodians and trash-truck drivers to street-services employees.

It also represented 9,000 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 36 employees, including clerical workers, librarians, professional medical employees, Community Redevelopment Agency workers, and mostly part-time Recreation and Parks employees.

Other unions include the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 501; Laborers International Union Local 777; Los Angeles/Orange County Building & Construction Trades Council; and Teamsters Local 911.

Police and firefighters contract talks will come up in about a year, but Sisson said those will be subject to different dynamics.

Some talks already have been held with the unions about using a similar negotiating approach to that used by the city coalition of unions.

But Parks said he does not believe this contract deal will set a precedent for deals with police and firefighters - the highest-paid workers in the city.

"We are going to have to get a message out that we are holding the line," Parks said.


Union locals urge rejection of B.C. coast deal

Union locals representing nearly half of the roughly 7,000 striking workers in British Columbia's $2-billion coast forest sector are urging members to vote against a tentative deal announced Monday to end a nearly three-month long strike.

United Steelworkers local 1-80, representing about 1,800 workers in the Duncan area of Vancouver Island; and local 1-85, representing about 1,100 members in the Port Alberni region, also on Vancouver Island, said the deal does not address the critical issue of shift scheduling.

Ratification votes are set for later this week. If the deal is approved, workers could be back on the job as soon as next Monday. In announcing the details this week, Steelworkers leaders said the deal would "fetter company rights to impose shifts" and also includes major improvements in safety.

Local 1-80 president Bill Routley yesterday said the tentative deal gives companies too much leeway in assigning shifts, and doesn't address shortcomings of an imposed settlement that came into effect after the industry's previous strike in 2003.

The tentative deal, between Steelworkers and Forest Industrial Relations, an employer group representing 31 companies, calls for successive pay increases of 2, 3 and 4 per cent a year over a three-year term.


Judge rules for Teamsters, against FedEx

An Indiana federal judge ruled Tuesday that lawsuits filed by former and current drivers in 36 states against FedEx Ground, a subsidiary of shipping giant FedEx Corp., qualify as a class action, according to an attorney for the drivers.

Judge Robert Miller of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana, granted class certification to approximately 14,000 current and 10,000 former drivers for the company who claim that Memphis-based FedEx illegally classifies drivers as independent contractors.

FedEx indicated that it will appeal the decision.

As independent contractors, drivers are not entitled to overtime, vacation pay, expense reimbursements or medical benefits. FedEx also does not have to pay Social Security or worker’s compensation taxes, but drivers must pay for their own truck repairs and gasoline.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuits claim that FedEx’s strict control over work routes, uniform, delivery procedures and behavioral standards, as well as fines for those who buck those standards, in effect makes them employees and thus allows them to unionize. By granting class certification, Miller allows the plaintiffs from the various lawsuits to have their claims heard as a single lawsuit.

What will happen next is lawyers will file supplemental statements to ensure that the claims are similar, said Lynn Rossman Faris of Leonard Carder Law Firm. Faris said that she expects to file those statements on Nov. 15.

Faris also said she expects little difficulty in moving forward with the class action, because there isn’t any difference between those claims and the Kansas case Miller used as the basis his ruling, she said.

“The claims, in the other cases, are indistinguishable,” Faris said.

As a remedy, FedEx could try to appeal the decision and have it reviewed by a higher court. In fact, the company plans to appeal the decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, said Sandra Munoz, a spokeswoman for FedEx. She declined to speculate on other options if the circuit court refuses to hear the appeal.

Galen Munroe, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is seeking to unionize the drivers, declined to comment on the case at this time.

But Faris said she is confident the drivers will be allowed to pursue the class action, even if the Seventh Circuit agrees to hear FedEx’s appeal.

“This is a very thoughtful and careful opinion,” Faris said. “We think it is very well-grounded and will be affirmed.”

In the meantime, lawyers will also notify drivers who can take part in the lawsuit of their options, and will allow those who want to opt out to do so. Once the deadline for opting out passes, if the case is allowed to go forward, the suit will either go to trial or be settled out of court.


Faculty strike continues at Acadia University

Talks between Acadia University and its faculty broke off after about two hours Wednesday night when the union’s bargaining team rejected the university latest offer.

"We are very disappointed with the board’s most recent offer, as well as their decision to walk away from negotiations almost immediately after our team indicated that the offer was unacceptable," Peter Williams, Acadia University Faculty Association President, said in a news release late Wednesday night.

"All along our wish has been to get back to the bargaining table. We took the invitation to restart negotiations two days into the strike as a hopeful sign that the board was committed to ending the strike and moving forward," Mr. Williams said.

"But their offer provided almost no significant change from the offer that our members overwhelmingly rejected in June and again in September."

The two sides headed back to the bargaining table Wednesday night after three days of a work stoppage.

"I think to say we’re frustrated would be an understatement," university spokesman Scott Roberts said just after 10 p.m. Wednesday, claiming that the faculty association a few minutes earlier had walked away from bargaining table.

"We’ve been very clear, we’ve been very fair, we’ve been straightforward throughout and, at this point, we’re at a loss as to see how we can get back to the table."

The university had proposed a four-year deal which would have seen salary increases of 3.0, 3.5, 3.75 and 4.0 per cent in addition to grid step increases that the faculty members would be entitled to. This was a similar offer that was rejected Sunday night before talks broke off.

"We had also in our offer introduced employment equity language, significant increases in professional development and the university research fund and we had more money on the table for health benefits as well," Mr. Roberts said.

Earlier Wednesday, both sides were hopeful that something would have come out of the talks.

Andrew Biro, faculty association’s spokesman, said the union is prepared to stay on the picket lines if it gets the same offer that was turned down Sunday.

About 100 students marched through the town Wednesday morning in a show of support for the faculty.


Immigrants learn about U.S. labor unions

Related Posts with Thumbnails