SoCal Teamster trash haulers out on strike

Waste Management workers are on strike after failing to reach a contract deal. About 140 sanitation workers went on strike outside the Waste Management Company in Sun Valley around 3 a.m. Friday. And more strikers are picketing in Long Beach and Compton.

A union representative told Eyewitness News that wages, health care and vacation are all issues, but members are also upset by how they say the company is treating them.

"The take away, the intimidation, the lack of respect for the people, that they'll go ahead and spend this kind of money, if you can see they brought stub lights, they bring in people from other parts of the country, and they'll spend money on that, yet they won't spend that money on the same employees that work here every day," says Hector Rendon, Teamster Local 396. "They have to put these people up in hotels, pay them for their meals, pay them for their wages, air fare, where they could be using that money to negotiate our contracts."

Union representatives have been negotiating with the company since August. The company has made three offers, all of them were rejected by the workers.

The strike will affect about 225,000 residential and 29,000 commercial accounts in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. That includes Inglewood, Carson, Rolling Hills, Rancho Palos Verdes, Manhattan Beach, South Gate, Long Beach, Huntington Park, and also areas of the San Fernando Valley.

Waste Management representatives say they have brought in sanitation workers from other areas, so trucks are rolling out and they will try to get to as many locations as possible.

As for the contract issues, Waste Management says they offered a fair deal.

"We weren't surprised, but we are really, really disappointed," says Kit Cole, Waste Management. "We reached a tentative agreement with the union leadership earlier this week. That tentative agreement wasn't ratified by the membership, so now we have this strike."

If you are serviced by Waste Management, you can call the following numbers to get information about whether or not you will have trash pickup Friday.

* Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley - (800) 926-9693
* South Bay - (800) 774-0222

Strikers say they will be at the picket lines as long as it takes to get a fair deal.


Organized crime tool used for organized labor

Smithfield Foods has elevated the fight against its biggest union into new territory, filing a 100-page lawsuit accusing the group of far-reaching interference with the company's business.

The lawsuit is filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which historically has been used to prosecute organized crime. The suit comes a day after Smithfield called off negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which is trying to organize the world's largest slaughterhouse, in Tar Heel, N.C.

Documents released by Smithfield on Tuesday revealed that the warring sides recently made progress in negotiating a way to have a free election acceptable to both parties. But after the union rejected offers of votes overseen by a third party with equal access to workers, the company decided that it was done negotiating.

The union cited Smithfield's history of meddling in past organizing elections as its reason for rejecting the offer. This year, Smithfield reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board and agreed to pay $1.1 million in back wages, plus interest, to employees fired by the company during union elections in 1993 and 1997.

The recent suit accuses the union of waging a two-year campaign of extortion against the company in an effort to force it to accept the union. It says the union has hurt Smithfield through accusations made to Wall Street analysts and the media.

The legal action carefully lays out how the company views the UFCW and other labor organizations as acting in concert as an organized conspiracy to pressure the company. It even shows how this was done at supermarkets and Wal-Mart as proof.

Smithfield, which filed the suit in the Eastern District Court of Virginia, is asking for compensation for damages to its property and business.

Gene Bruskin oversees the union's efforts to organize the Smithfield plant and is named as a defendant in the suit. He declined to address the suit's specific allegations because the union hadn't read it carefully yet. But he said the timing of the action proved that Smithfield never had any intention of working with the union.

The union lost two elections in 1994 and 1997 in North Carolina, where the company was found to have intimidated union supporters. The UFCW also represents Smithfield workers at more than half its plants nationwide.


Union funds embezzlement: Indictments, convictions

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) on October 16 announced its criminal enforcement data for September 2007.

During September, OLMS obtained 13 indictments and seven convictions, for a total of 97 indictments and 115 convictions during fiscal year 2007. These indictments and convictions primarily involve union officers and employees who have embezzled union funds resulting in court-ordered restitution back to the unions of more than $31.5 million.

"In this fiscal year, OLMS's efforts resulted in 115 convictions of individuals found guilty of wrongdoing against unions. Our vigilance on behalf of rank-and-file union members punishes criminal behavior and protects union members, and we are proud of our results." said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor-Management Standards Don Todd. "Since fiscal year 2001, OLMS investigations have yielded a total of 834 indictments with 796 convictions and court-ordered restitution of nearly $102 million."

OLMS is the federal enforcement agency responsible for administering most provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The agency's criminal enforcement program includes investigations of embezzlement from labor organizations, extortionate picketing, deprivation of union members' rights by force or violence, and fraud in union officer elections. The agency's civil program collects and publicly discloses unions' annual financial reports, conducts compliance audits of labor unions and seeks civil remedies for violations of officer election procedures.

OLMS's public disclosure Web page at www.unionreports.gov contains union annual financial reports and additional forms required to be filed under the LMRDA. Other information, including synopses of OLMS enforcement actions, is available on OLMS's home page at www.olms.dol.gov.

A listing of selected OLMS enforcement actions during September 2007 is below.

Selected Enforcement Actions in September 2007
Office of Labor-Management Standards
U.S. Department of Labor

On September 20, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Jeffrey Klope, former financial secretary of Boilermakers Lodge 8-S, was sentenced to three years probation for embezzling union funds in the amount of $25,794. Under the special conditions of his probation, Klope is required to spend the first six months on home detention and perform 100 hours of public service. On June 13, Klope pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the same amount; Klope had previously paid full restitution to the union. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS St. Louis District Office.

On September 20, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, James Douglas, former secretary-treasurer of Glass Molders Plastic Local 220, was sentenced to two years probation and 240 hours of community service after pleading guilty to concealing, withholding and destroying union records. He destroyed union records to conceal his embezzlement of $12,857 from the union. Douglas repaid the union prior to sentencing, which follows an investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office.

On September 20, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Jose Ocasio, former secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 404, was sentenced to two years probation and 240 hours of community service after pleading guilty to making false entries in union records. He made false entries in the union's records in order to conceal his embezzlement of $9,083. Ocasio made full restitution to the union before sentencing, which follows an investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office.

On September 17, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Marlene Watson, former president of the Associated Field Representatives, was sentenced to 12 months probation for falsification of an annual financial report filed by a labor union. Watson previously made restitution in the amount of $9,030. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Seattle District Office.

On September 6, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Nathaniel Marc Greene, former president of AFGE Local 2562, was sentenced to10 months confinement, three years probation, ordered to pay a special assessment of $100, and ordered to pay restitution totaling $55,955.76. Greene knowingly and willfully made or used a false writing or document and knew the local's Form LM-3 contained a materially false statement or entry at the time he made or used the report. On April 4, Greene pled guilty to one count of making a false statement. The sentencing follows a joint investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office and the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of the Inspector General.

Guilty Pleas
On September 11, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Joseph Capece, former business manger/financial-secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 163 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $256,000. On September 4, Capece was charged with knowingly and willfully embezzling union funds in the same amount. The information and plea follow an investigation by the OLMS Philadelphia District Office.

On September 11, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, William J. Pagano, former secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 78, pled guilty to one count of embezzlement of union funds totaling $66,759.18. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

Criminal Charges and Indictments
On September 26, in the District Court for Douglas County, Wisconsin, John F. Sigafus, former secretary-treasurer of Machinists Local Lodge 335-W, was charged with business theft over $5,000 and forgery. The charges follow an investigation by the OLMS Milwaukee District Office.

On September 25, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Frank M. McEvoy, former business manager/secretary-treasurer for Laborers Locals 1370 and 123, was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $11,167.50 from Local 1370 and one count of embezzling union funds totaling $23,779 from Local 123. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Nashville District Office.

On September 24, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Paula Adair-Butts, former office secretary of Plasterers Local 577, was indicted on four counts of embezzling union funds in the amount of $28,480.96. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Denver District Office.

On September 11, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, former Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Division 37 secretary-treasurer Randy Greear was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $22,691.60. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Washington District Office.

On September 6, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Richard Lopez, Mark Jones, Cassandra Mosely and David Rodriquez, current president, former business agents and former organizer, respectively, of Teamsters Local 743, were indicted on one count of conspiracy to deprive Local 743 members of their honest services and to embezzle, or steal, the official ballots in the 2004 election of officers. Lopez and Jones were each charged with one count each of embezzlement or theft of union property, that being the official ballots, while Moseley and Rodriquez were each charged with two counts of embezzlement or theft of union property, also being the official ballots. The indictment alleges that between August and December 2004, Lopez, Mosely, Jones and Rodriguez engaged in a scheme to rig the election by diverting official ballot packages to their friends, family and associates, and casting the ballots or causing them to be cast in both the October and December 2004 elections for incumbent officers, known as the "Unity Slate," to ensure their election. The seven-count indictment follows a joint investigation by the OLMS Chicago District Office, the Department of Labor and U.S. Postal Service Offices of the Inspector General.


Judge quits Union Boss-Lawmaker graft trial

It has been over a year since former Flushing Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin pleaded ‘not guilty’ to a litany of federal racketeering charges, including that he swindled union members and local Little Leaguers out of more than $2.2 million.

Yet, over the past year, McLaughlin has seen his lawyers stall the impending criminal trial — to vet prosecutors’ mountain of evidence against their high-profile client, they say — one time after another.

Until recently. With jury selection finally set to begin last Monday, political observers citywide prepared for one of the borough’s longest-awaited political graft trials in recent memory.

Then guess what happened?

The public trial phase was postponed yet again — and this time through no apparent efforts by McLaughlin’s defense team. Instead, presiding judge Kenneth Karas caused the most recent delay.

For reasons that remain unclear, Karas recently transferred his chamber from Lower Manhattan to another U.S. Southern District Courthouse in White Plains. In the process, the judge brought with him all but a few of his pending cases in tow. One of the cases left behind was McLaughlin’s.

When asked why, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Southern District Court in Manhattan declined to comment — saying only that “relocating judges can transfer their trials to other judges on a case-by-case basis.”

McLaughlin’s attorney, Michael Armstrong, could not be reached for comment; nor could federal prosecutors on the case.

In the meantime, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Richard Sullivan, who took the reins for Karas, has rescheduled the jury selection phase for January 21, 2008.

But by the time McLaughlin’s newly rescheduled trial begins, assuming no further delays, it will have been over 15 months since he was first formally accused.

Prosecutors unsealed their 186-page indictment on Oct. 16, 2006, charging that McLaughlin had defrauded taxpayers, union members, political contributors and the Electchester Little League out of millions of dollars for more than a decade.

Authorities alleged that the widely popular, married lawmaker, once considered a likely mayoral hopeful, used the stolen cash to fund weekend stays at his Long Island estate and expensive gifts for girlfriends.

If convicted, McLaughlin could spend the rest of his life in prison based on multiple counts of fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. He is out on $250,000 bail.

Since the pre-trial phase began, however, McLaughlin’s legal team has requested four adjournments in order to mount their defense against prosecutors’ overwhelming body of evidence — which is likely to include boxloads of incriminating documents, bank records and wiretaps.

Because of Karas’ recent transfer, the defense lawyers will have another three months to prepare.

However, that’s assuming the case ever makes it to the opening phases.

At a June pre-trial hearing, U.S. Assistant District Attorney Daniel Braun hinted at the possibility of plea bargain, telling Karas’ in his former Manhattan courtroom: “We have a lot to talk about with the defense in terms of whether a trial is going to be necessary.”


Ex-Treasurer of gov't union in $470K embezzlement

A former treasurer for the Portland, Oregon-area TriMet union is being sued for allegedly embezzling $470,000 to feed his gambling addiction.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 757, is suing Thomas V. Wallace for misappropriation and breach of fiduciary obligation.

The union represents about 2,000 TriMet employees and other Oregon transit workers. According to news reports, the alleged theft from a union-run program for elder and child care was discovered two years ago. During an initial investigation, union officials said Wallace produced false paperwork to cover his tracks. But they say a massive embezzlement scheme was eventually uncovered.

The lawsuit, filed by lawyer Gregory Hartman, seeks $469,413.89 that Wallace allegedly stole, plus interest and $20,000 for investigative costs. Wallace, 50, could not be reached for comment.


Seneca Valley teachers strike hero: Ron Butschle

As a high school football coach in Western Pennsylvania, where football is almost a religion, Ron Butschle is used to attention.

Seneca Valley High School's head coach never imagined the attention he now is getting by choosing to stay with a football team that has a chance at making the playoffs for the first time in five years. His players are gratified by his decision to stick with them during the teachers' strike.

The 42-year-old coach says he is one of nine Seneca coaches of various sports who plan to cross the picket line during the teachers' walkout, which began Monday. More than anyone, though, he quickly has become the most-discussed person in the district.

"I am not doing this as a rebel or to make a stand. I have to look at those boys. They don't get to make up those games. The missed days in class will eventually be made up," he said.

The teachers union could fine anyone who crosses the picket line. Should that happen, Seneca football boosters have said they would pay Butschle's fine.

Even Butschle's coaching staff is divided by the strike. One assistant coach still is coaching, while a second coach is on the picket lines.

"It is a tough, difficult situation for me. I am hoping that people respect me," Butschle said.

If the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents Seneca Valley's 585 teachers, had its way, Butschle would be on the picket line.

"That's his decision. I have no comment on that," said union spokesman Butch Santicola.

Fining Butschle has not been discussed, said Santicola, adding that he is angered by such rumors.

"We have never done anything like that -- ever," he said.

Butschle teaches English and speech to 10th-graders.

The Raiders have two games left in the regular season -- one tonight against Shaler and one next week against Butler. The team will participate in divisional playoffs if it wins either game.

Butschle has earned the support of his 56 players, said Ian Whittaker, a senior and right guard on the varsity football team since his sophomore year.

"I would be very disappointed if football stopped," he said. "This is my senior year, and we have been working for this for years."

Whittaker credits the team's success -- it has won four games and lost three this season -- to its head coach.

"It all comes from him -- from every practice, from watching films. He makes the atmosphere for us. During games, he gets so excited that he looks like he's about to walk onto the field and play himself," Whittaker said.

Butschle, however, credits his players.

"I have asked for blood from these kids, and they have given it. I have asked them to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours all year long on football," he said.

The father of three children, whose ages range from 7 months to 19, Butschle first played football in the late 1970s at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Ill.

His high school coach there, Dave Mattio, and his father, Ron Butschle Sr., who flies in from Florida for every Seneca Valley game, are the two people whom the younger Butschle has relied on most for advice in recent weeks.

"We talked at length the other day, and I think it's his best interest to stick with the team," said Mattio, who is still the head football coach at Marian Catholic. "His team is on the verge of something that might be very positive."

Butschle enrolled at Duquesne University, where he pitched for the school's baseball team. He was the football coach in the Sto-Rox School District for 14 years before moving to Seneca Valley four years ago.

"He's very well respected here at Sto-Rox. He had a good record here and still has many friends in the district," said Athletic Director Mike Colligan. "The commitment he has shown to those Seneca kids is just great."

Butschle said he has received support from a number of striking teachers, but said he believes emotions from the strike will linger.

"There will be a lot of open wounds," he said." A lot people have very emotional opinions."


Union fines against scabs ruled unconstitutional

The Public Service Alliance of Canada cannot force its members to pay hefty fines for choosing to work and get paid while their colleagues are on strike, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled.

The ruling, which responds to the first attempt by any Ontario union to take its members to court to collect fines, raises serious questions for organized labour trying to prevent members from crossing picket lines.


According to the decision released by Justice Robert Smith late Wednesday in the case of Jeffrey Birch and April Luberti versus the Union of Taxation Employees Local 70030, fines imposed by unions are not enforceable by the courts in Ontario.

The PSAC ruling now sets a precedent and will act as a hurdle to future legal action by any union that tries to collect fines from members, said John Craig, a labour law expert with the Heenan Blaikie, the Toronto law firm that represented Birch and Luberti.

"I think many trade unions have these kinds of provisions in their constitutions and they were hoping that they would be able to resort to the courts to give it teeth," said Craig. "They were looking to the courts to be their enforcer. As Justice Smith said, 'The courts are not going to do that.' They will not step in and enforce these penalties."

The decision may put to rest a three-year battle between the Public Service Alliance of Canada and more than 200 of its members.

Following a October 2004 public service strike, PSAC fined hundreds of members who went to work and received pay instead of walking the picket lines. The fines amounted to one day's gross pay for each day the employee didn't show up to picket. Birch and Luberti were fined $476.75 each.

Members were also given one-year union suspensions for each day they didn't turn out to protest. The suspensions prevent members from running for an executive position or voting on union issues.

The union had argued the fines reflected damages suffered by the union as a result of having members walk across picket lines instead of striking.

In his ruling, Smith called the fines "extremely onerous" and "very unfair."

He said there was no way for PSAC to accurately determine damages suffered by the union as a result of having a member cross the picket line.

Smith also cited the Canada Labour Code, which protects a person's right to work, and questioned the need for the financial penalties.


He suggested the union could raise strike pay to entice more members to walk the picket lines and do a better job of educating workers about the harm caused by those who choose to work during a strike.

Each PSAC member walking the picket line earned $50 a day in strike pay.

Ed Cashman, PSAC's regional executive vice-president for the National Capital Region, disagreed that strike pay should be increased.

He said the union has contingency funds for people who find themselves in financial trouble during a strike.

Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said Wednesday's decision could have wide-ranging effects for unions across the province.

"Ultimately if a decision like this stands in the courts ... I guess unions will be forced to deal with the fact that if they have the fines in there they can't enforce them," he said. "They will have to look at other options. I'm not sure what they would be. We would have to live by the law."

Samuelson added that people don't often choose to break ranks with fellow union members and cross picket lines.

The PSAC strike in 2004 affected about 125,000 union members, yet only a very small fraction ignored established picket lines and went to work.

The PSAC's fines were introduced after a major strike in 1991. Some workers called for the union constitution to be amended to allow the practice because of their frustration with others who wanted to go back to work instead of picketing.

News that the fines are essentially non-enforceable comes at a time when one of PSAC's member unions, the Union of Taxation Employees (UTE), is in the middle of trying to negotiate a new contract. UTE's contract expires on Oct. 31.


Reynolds teachers strike: Day 8

There was no word late Thursday on whether the Reynolds Area School Board and Reynolds Education Association had settled a new contract or if the teachers union will remain on strike. The board and union met starting at 8 p.m. and both sides had said they were willing to stay all night if necessary.

The negotiations session was to be led by a state-appointed mediator, who will make suggestions if needed.

The mood on the Reynolds teachers picket line was upbeat at lunchtime Thursday as union members hoped a new contract would be settled. “We’re glad we’re meeting (Thursday night). We’re eternal optimists,” said Barbara P. Henning, a representative of the Pennsylvania State Education Association who is part of the union’s bargaining team.

Union members chose not to attend Wednesday’s school board meeting in hopes that their decision would set a positive tone for the bargaining session, she said.
“I believe a fair contract is achievable here,” she said.

If there was some progress but no settlement, it’s hard to say if the teachers will continue striking, Ms. Henning said.

Several parents at the board meeting said the teachers should call off the strike and continue negotiations while school is in session.

“We were bargaining while the kids were in school and we weren’t making any progress,” Ms. Henning said.

Dr. Charles Steele, a Pittsburgh lawyer and the board’s chief negotiator, gave a presentation at the board meeting that reviewed contract negotiations.

He also gave the union an ultimatum: make a reasonable settlement offer Thursday or agree to return to school and begin the arbitration process.

“We’re going to be at the arbitration process at the end of the strike anyway,” Ms. Henning said.

The union is allowed to strike until Nov. 2 in order to complete 180 days of classes by June 15. The union has said teachers will remain on the picket line until then unless a new contract is settled or any tentative agreements are made.

The teachers are required by state law to return to work after Nov. 2, then the union and board must enter into nonbinding arbitration and an arbiter will help settle a new contract.

Board members said Wednesday their main concern is to get the students back in school and they hope the union is prepared to join the board in a compromise.

The union has been negotiating with the board since January 2006 and its 100 members have been working without a contract since the 2006-07 school year.

The two sides last met Oct. 8 but failed to settle a new contract because of unresolved issues including salary, health care and retiree benefits. The teachers went on strike Oct. 9.


Lake-Lehman teachers strike: Day 4

On Thursday, Lake-Lehman teachers’ fourth day on the picket line, representatives from the union and school board indicated they are willing to sit down and talk. The question is who will initiate the contract talks.

“The ball’s in their court. We’re waiting for a legitimate, realistic proposal to come our way,” Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Paul Shemansky said, referring to the school board.

Board member Mark Kornoski said the teachers’ PSEA representative John Holland should contact the district’s attorney, Charles Coslett, or the state mediator, Clark Connors, if the union wants to set up a meeting.

But Kornoski admitted he would like talks to happen.

“I will talk to Attorney Coslett and the rest of our committee and see what they want to come up with,” he said.

The teachers union’s position is that the board’s last offer of Oct. 8 is unacceptable because the board gave it to the public and media first.

“The point we feel people are missing here is that last proposal they gave violated the labor laws of Pennsylvania,” Shemansky said. “That may be their last proposal, but we’re not seeing that as a legal proposal because they’re not following the guidelines. We’re not going to reward them for breaking the law.”

Health insurance premium sharing and salary raise percentages are two major sticking points. In its last proposal, the board suggested a three-tiered premium share, with teachers paying 2 percent, 3.5 percent or 5 percent based on where they are on the salary scale. Shemansky called the concept “anti-union” and said it was unacceptable.

A board complaint is that although the district gave the union several offers, the union hasn’t given any counter-offers or budged from its initial request for a 4.5-percent raise and no premium share.

Asked if the union would consider submitting a proposal of its own or else give the board an idea of what its members want, Shemansky said, “If they send us a legal proposal ... the negotiating team will take a look at it and decide where to go from there.”

Teachers will continue to picket Friday. They will be joined by members of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO at 10:30 a.m. at the Lake-Lehman Junior-Senior High School.

The state Department of Education still has not released its calculations of how long the strike can last.


Big union local rejects Chrysler deal 4-1

Workers at Chrysler's North Assembly plant in Fenton voted overwhelmingly against a proposed national labor contract, a sign that the United Auto Workers union national leadership faces opposition in efforts to approve a proposed four-year contract with the automaker.

Members of UAW Local 136, which represents about 2,000 workers who build Dodge Ram pickups, voted by about a 4-to-1 margin against the agreement. More than 1,400 members cast ballots.

All eyes now are on UAW Local 110, which represents workers at the adjacent South Assembly plant. They vote today and Saturday on the contract, which has been criticized for not providing sufficient job security for Chrysler workers.

Combined, the two locals represent about 10 percent of approximately 48,000 Chrysler workers voting on the contract. To be ratified, the contract must receive a majority of votes nation­wide.

UAW national officials traveled from Detroit to drum up support for the contract. But many union members belonging to Local 136 voted and left the union hall Thursday without even listening to the officials.

"I don't have a very good feeling about it," said Paul Wortham, 46, who works in environmental services in the North plant. He was one who

arrived with his decision made based on details of the contract distributed by union officials this week.

"There wasn't one particular item that I didn't like," he said, explaining his "no" vote. "It was pretty much the whole thing."

Mary Pryor, 44, who works on the door assembly line and also voted against the contract, was more specific.

"I don't like the idea of the union taking care of the benefits," she said.

Pryor was referring to the proposed benefits package that is anchored by a union-run trust fund for retiree health care, known as a Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Association. The trust fund allows Chrysler to unload billions of dollars in retiree health care liabilities off its books.

Joe Shields, president of the UAW Local 110, called for his members to educate themselves about the proposed contract at local informational meetings today. Voting lasts from 4 a.m. today to 4 a.m. Saturday.

UAW Local 110 represents more than 3,000 active members who assemble the Chrysler Town & Country minivan and the Dodge Grand Caravan minivans at the South plant.

The Post-Dispatch reported that the Local 110 delegation joined a few other locals and voted against the proposed contract at Monday's national meeting of local leaders in Detroit. The national leaders approved the contract before submitting it to the general membership for a vote.

But Shields emphasized that each member should carefully review the contract.

"I don't tell (the membership) how to vote," Shields said Thursday.

"You go down and listen to the information meeting," he said. "I haven't been telling them not to support it."

It is too early to tell if local dissent will be echoed nationally. Historically, St. Louis's auto unions are known for dissenting, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Cole said he thought this contract will pass at the national level, but that it may be closer than the two-thirds approval earlier this month by General Motors Corp. employees OK'd a contract proposal. He said that's partly because Chrysler offered far fewer long-term guarantees about production plans than GM did.

"It is unfortunate that Chrysler is not in a position to guarantee more investments, but the fact is they are not," Cole said. "They do not have enough products that are profitable enough."

The national vote may not wrap up until Wednesday, according to the Detroit News.

But local workers like Pryor were not sympathetic to their employer — or specifically to the company's owner, Cerberus Capital Management.

"Cerberus says they can't afford (to leave the health plans) alone, but they knew what they were getting into when they bought the company," she said. "If we end up going out on strike again, so be it."


More money resolves SEIU gov't union strike

Erie County, PA's Children and Youth employees have ended their 12-day strike. They voted 68 to 11 Wednesday to accept a proposed contract that increases the lowest-paid workers' salaries 7.17 percent per year through 2010, to about $33,000.

Workers went on strike on Oct. 5, but left the picket line on Oct. 8 and agreed to return to work while talks resumed. The highest-paid unionized workers, who earn $50,135 a year, would see salaries increase to $60,619 by 2010.

Agency Executive Director Gary Lucht calls it a fair contract. The wage offer is retroactive to Jan. 1 and would expire in January 2010.


USW takes dues hit as Weirton factory shuts

Global steel giant ArcelorMittal formally informed local government officials as well as union leaders Wednesday that the Weirton hot strip mill will be closed in mid December. The hot strip mill is the facility that converts steel slabs into coils for additional treatment at the Weirton Tin Mill.

An ArcelorMittal news release said closure “will result in the loss of about 250 hourly and 15 salaried positions, leaving a workforce of just under 1,000 at ArcelorMittal Weirton.

Notification came in the form of a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act delivered Wednesday to city of Weirton officials, Mark Glyptis, president of the United Steelworkers Local 2911 and the state of West Virginia. “We received our letter today at about 3:10 p.m.,” said Glyptis, Wednesday, “but it really wasn’t unexpected. We were told about the corporate decision in August and have been working to avert this decision since then.”

“It is too early to publicly discuss our plans for our union members. We have been involved in a serious dialog with the company but we are not prepared to discuss our employees. We will protect our union constituents and we have contract language that provides job flexibility as well as job security,” Glyptis explained.

The news release from ArcelorMittal said “plant management and the union are working together to determine how to implement the closure and how the job eliminations will be effected. Existing contract language provides for compensation and benefits associated with job loss.”

“The potential shut down of the hot strip mill is very difficult to accept. We started rebuilding the hot mill in 1988 and literally rebuilt the facility with our blood and sweat and we created a world class operation that has been in the envy of other steel mills,” declared Glyptis.

“We have watched the shutdown of our Hot End, our Sheet Mill and now the hot strip mill and it is difficult for all of us. This steel mill is part of us because we have all worked in the various departments over the years,” Glyptis said.

But Glyptis admitted Wednesday the Weirton hot strip mill was a victim of its narrow width capabilities and a decision by ArcelorMittal “to rationalize its current hot mill production.”

“We have an excellent hot mill operation. But it is a narrow hot mill facility and we always knew that would have an effect on us. But the Weirton workers have a great deal of teancity. The workers have been through a tremendous amount of change. But we persevere,” Glyptis declared.

“We have watched our government adopt a global philosophy and rationalization of the industry. Fortunately Lakshmi Mittal has indicated his intentions to remain in the tinplate business and we believe that will ultimately mean a strong Tin Mill in Weirton,” Glyptis said.

The ArcelorMittal announcement detailing the shut down of the Weirton Hot Strip Mill triggered an angry reaction from U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V. who said he was very disappointed in the corporate decision.

“I am further dismayed to discover that ArcelorMittal’s most recent decision, announced today, will cost Weirton at least another 250 hourly and 15 salaried positions. This is yet another unfair blow to the steelworkers at Weirton ,” Byrd said.

“I deeply regret that the workers at ArcelorMittal’s facilities at Weirton continue to experience these difficulties. Frankly, I find it hard to fathom how the Mittal family, with all of its wealth, knowledge, and expertise, cannot invest sufficiently in Weirton to keep these people employed. ArcelorMittal’s announcement comes right before the Holidays. In fact, the company’s own statement highlights how the company plans to close Weirton ’s hot-strip mill in mid-December. Merry Christmas, Mr. Mittal!,” Byrd declared in a statement from his Washington D.C. office.

U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said the closure notice was “very sad news.”

“I must express my profound disappointment in the company’s decision, especially in light of the incredible efforts that have been made by so many people to make Mittal successful in Weirton. There has been good faith effort after good faith effort by the steelworkers of Weirton, including painful concessions, to put together a viable program for Mittal. This is a tragic disregard for those efforts. I am saddened by the company’s decision. I will continue to do all I can to back the steelworkers at Weirton who have already done so much to help make this nation strong,” Mollohan stated.

Meanwhile, Glyptis said ArcelorMittal has already started preparing to ship coils from other North American plants.

“We have been receiving rolled product from the Indiana Harbor and Cleveland plants and that will continue when the hot mill is closed,” Glyptis said.

“At the same time we will continue working with our USW leadership in Pittsburgh, corporate officials in Chicago and government leaders in Charleston and Washington D.C. to work on keeping our hot mill facility a part of the future of Weirton,” Glyptis declared.

Brian James, general manager of the ArcelorMittal Weirton plant said “the company is committed to making Weirton a world class tinplate producer. We’re confident that this action, combined with the ongoing efforts and the energy of the dedicated Weirton workforce, will put the plant on a track to achieve the profitability necessary for sustained operations.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Glyptis who said he is confident the Weirton plant can once again “be a leader in the world tinplate business.”

“I was at the North American corporate offices in Chicago Tuesday and I was told that ArcelorMittal plans to shift some of its tinplate business from its Dofasco plant in Canada to Weirton. We will be able to run product we have never done before,” stated Glyptis.

Both James and Glyptis said ArcelorMittal will invest monies in the Tin Mill operation.

“We will see a tension levelor, side trimmer, automated inspection units and steering units installed in the Tin Mill. And the company has committed to investing in the Tin Mill in the corporate five year capital plan,” said Glyptis.

“ArcelorMittal is dedicated to working with its employees to assist in the transition. We are committed to the future of this city—not only by making this facility a premier tinplate producer, but by investing in the community and working with the city and the state to market unused land owned by ArcelorMittal for new development and new job creation,” James declared.

Weirton City Manager Gary DuFour the city has had an ongoing discussion with ArcelorMittal “regarding the unutilized properties owned by the steel company.”

“ArcelorMittal has made a commitment to work with Mayor (Mark) Harris on the steel company property that is no longer used. We started those discussions on the former Open Hearth site and will continue those discussions with ArcelorMittal and the state of West Virginia,” DuFour said.

“We hate to see the loss of any additional employees at the steel mill. But the WARN Act letter we received this afternoon was not unanticipated,” DuFour noted.

The closure of the Hot Strip Mill is the latest of several departmental shutdowns in the Weirton plant since Mittal Steel bought the plant.

Two years ago Mittal Steel permanently closed the blast furnace and Basic Oxygen Plant/Caster operations. That was followed by the Sheet Mill a year later.

There are approximately 1,225 hourly employees at the Weirton plant.


UAW deal sets Chrysler carve-up

More than 48,000 auto workers will begin voting as early as Friday on the agreement reached between the United Auto Workers union and Chrysler LLC last week. While UAW officials are once again claiming they have protected jobs, the deal will allow Chrysler’s new owners, private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, to accelerate plans to dismantle the number three US automaker by selling or shutting down dozens of factories and other facilities.

The tentative agreement was reached October 10 after the UAW staged a six-hour walk-out, which the New York Times noted has been referred to as a “Hollywood strike” in Detroit business circles because it allowed the UAW to claim it won the best deal possible, while doing no damage to Chrysler.

Under the terms of the deal the auto company has made no commitment to continue operating virtually any of its 26 factories, including giant assembly plants in Sterling Heights, Michigan and Belvidere, Illinois, after the 2011 contract expiration.

At least seven facilities are immediately threatened with closure, including:

* Newark, Delaware assembly plant, with 2,000 jobs. The plant’s closing, which was previously announced, has been sanctioned by the UAW agreement.

* Conner Avenue Assembly plant in Detroit, with 127 workers.

* St. Louis South assembly plant, with 2,850 van workers.

* Detroit Axle plant, with 1,646 workers.

* Indiana Transmissions Plants 1 & 2, with 2,252 workers.

* Fontana, California Parts Distribution Center, with 105 workers.

* Sterling Heights Vehicle Test Center, with 17 workers

A new round of plant closings and layoffs, in addition to the 11,000 hourly and nearly 5,000 white-collar job cuts previously announced, would be in line with the business model of Cerberus, notorious for buying up firms, wiping out jobs and slashing wages in order to resell the companies at an enormous profit. The Detroit Free Press reported Wednesday that Cerberus executives were already discussing plans for the elimination of at least five vehicle models over the next month as part of a massive restructuring and consolidation of the company’s operations.

As it did in the deal with GM, the UAW has accepted a two-tier wage system at Chrysler, which will spur on company efforts to eliminate the jobs of tens of thousands of older, higher-paid workers. A portion of these will be replaced by new hires receiving sharply reduced wages and benefits.

At least 8,000 positions—including maintenance, material handling and forklift operating—will be defined as “Non-core” jobs, allowing the company to pay new hires in these positions between $14 and $16.23 an hour, compared to $28 to $32.52 for current workers. The union and company will also be able to expand the number of workers defined as “non-core” in the future.

In addition to non-core workers, the Chrysler contract introduces a new category of “Non-Core Facilities,” i.e., factories and divisions where the entire workforce will be paid half the wages and far fewer benefits, once veteran workers are driven out.

These facilities will include the Toledo, Ohio Machining Plant, which employs 1,530 workers; the Detroit Axle Plant, until it is closed; and a new axle plant in Marysville, Michigan, which will replace the Detroit operation and is expected to employ 900 workers. In addition, 500 truck drivers and warehouse workers in Chrysler’s transportation division will be replaced with low-wage workers, as well as more than 2,700 UAW members employed at the company’s 24 Mopar Parts Distribution Centers (PDCs), which distribute and sell replacement parts and accessories to Chrysler dealerships.

With the threat of plant shutdowns hanging over workers’ heads, there is little doubt that the UAW and management will institute bidding wars between facilities to see which can get themselves termed “Non-Core” or which will accept some other form of local “Modern Operating Agreement,” in order to attract investment and win a temporary reprieve from closure.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the UAW and Chrysler explains that the company had initially contemplated outsourcing certain “non-core” functions and facilities, but “after considerable discussion with the Union,” it decided instead to retain these jobs under a “competitive wage and benefit structure,” that includes “defined contribution approaches for pension and retiree health care.”

Rather than employer-paid pensions and retiree medical benefits the company will contribute a dollar for every compensated hour into a 401(K) plan that is invested in the stock market. In other words, future auto workers will be forced to depend on the meager earnings from their 401(K) plans—if they gain any value at all—for both living expenses and medical costs after retirement! New hires will also be forced to enroll in a health care benefit program with increased deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses.

The union, in short, was able to retain its dues-paying members at Chrysler by allowing the company to pay them wages and benefits on par with or even below non-union levels. Meanwhile the union agreed to the outsourcing of all “housekeeping functions,” including “but not limited to” all janitorial work, trash handling, grounds keeping, line sweepers, booth cleaning, machine cleaning and chip handlers.

Unlike the GM contract, which included the transfer of 3,000 temporary employees to permanent, full-time jobs, Chrysler will be able to expand the use of low-paid, part-time employees and “long-term temporary” workers who accumulate no seniority. Nearly a quarter of the 4,000 workers at Chrysler’s Belvidere Assembly Plant are temporary workers.

For current workers there will be no wage increases over the course of four years, but lump sum payments instead, which, according the UAW, will still be subject to deductions for union dues.

Chrysler also received the retiree health care concessions granted to GM. These givebacks, which include imposing first time ever out-of-pocket expenses on retired workers and their dependents and diverting cost-of-living increases from current workers, will save the company more than $300 million a year.

In return for these massive concessions, the UAW is being given control of a multi-billion dollar retiree health care fund or Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA), similar to the one established in the GM deal. Chrysler will reportedly contribute just $8.8 billion of the $18 billion in obligations owed to the company’s 78,000 hourly retirees and surviving spouses, which the UAW will use to cover the costs of retiree health care after 2010. As in the GM deal, much of this will no doubt be financed by diversions from pension funds, existing health care funds and current workers cost-of-living increases.

The establishment of the trust funds—which will be worth an estimated $70 billion if agreements are reached with all three Detroit-based automakers—will give the UAW control over one of the largest private investment pools in the US, turning it into a profit-making enterprise that will guarantee a massive stream of income to the labor bureaucracy, even as it cuts benefits to its own members.

This is why last May UAW President Ron Gettelfinger—who just weeks before had denounced speculative investment firms such as Cerberus, saying they were only out to “increase their wealth by stripping and flipping companies”—made a 180-degree turn and suddenly announced that the sale of Chrysler to the private equity fund was in the “best interests of our members.”

On Monday UAW local officials approved the new four-year agreement, with a minority of local leaders voicing opposition, particularly from plants targeted for possible closure. There is considerable concern, among union officials, as well as executives of Detroit’s Big Three automakers and in the media, that rank-and-file workers will reject the sell-out agreed to by the UAW.

Chrysler workers should begin now to organize to defeat this betrayal. Rank-and-file committees should be elected to take the struggle out of the hands of the UAW and unite all auto workers to defend jobs and living standards. This should include committees to monitor the ratification vote and prevent efforts of the UAW bureaucracy to intimidate opponents or manipulate the ratification results.

Above all, lessons must be drawn from the open transformation of the UAW into a profit-making business. No serious fight can be conducted against the auto companies, the Wall Street speculators and the two corporate-controlled political parties until workers break free from the control of the UAW. Workers must organize themselves, above all, on a political basis to unite every section of the working class, in the US and internationally, to transform economic life to meet the needs of working people, not corporate profit.


Coming soon: SEIU janitors strike

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