Labor reform in NY has little chance

Like the men in Aesop's Fable groping different parts of an elephant, critics of a state law that governs employee relations — and therefore to a large degree how much we pay in property taxes — can't even agree on what the problem is, much less solutions.

To mayors, town supervisors and fiscal conservatives, the statute, known as the Taylor Law, is so skewed toward public-employee unions that they're virtually powerless to break what they see as a cycle of higher and higher wages and benefits, and therefore higher taxes.

But to union leaders, the very same statute, which was adopted 40 years ago, unfairly blocks their attempts to use the workers' ultimate weapon — the strike — and lets employers drag out talks forever, since they pay no penalty for doing so.

The urgency of changing the law has risen on both sides, and for very different reasons.

Local officials point to a 40 percent hike in property taxes between 2000 and 2005 — about twice the inflation rate — and a growing chorus of angry citizens, many with horror stories about their seniors being forced to sell their homes or young adults moving away.

The concerns from labor groups grew out of a more specific event — the strike by New York City transit workers in December 2005. The transit strike was one of those rare work stoppages by public workers in the state since the Taylor Law was enacted — indeed, it was the chaos caused by repeated strikes by transit workers, teachers and others that was the impetus for passing the measure in the first place.

The law has been an unquestioned success at stopping those — there have been only a few strikes in the past decade.

But at what cost?

New Yorkers pay more in state and local taxes (more than $140 per $1,000 of personal income in 2005) than any other Americans except in Wyoming, which gets most of its revenues from minerals.

Any public employee will tell you that they haven't been getting rich for the past few years — raises in line with inflation have been the norm. But that's better than many private-sector workers have done. The average government worker now makes more than those working for private companies in most parts of the state, according to the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center.

The killer to taxpayers has been the steep rise in the cost of benefits, mainly health insurance and pensions.

Private industry has responded to escalations in those costs in large part by shifting more of the costs onto workers. But in negotiations ruled by the Taylor Law, with its binding-arbitration provisions for police and firefighters' unions and requirements that previous contracts remain in effect in the absence of a new deal, the public workers have fared far better in retaining the benefits most American workers used to have, but few have anymore.

Can taxpayers continue to afford the status quo?

Paul Francis, Spitzer's budget director, said this week that the governor has no intention of tackling the issue next year.

"We have to pick our targets carefully," he said.

The chairs of the two legislative committees that oversee public workers said they don't see the issue on their radar screens either.

That's probably good news for organized labor, which expects a report next year from its task force that has been studying the issue. It will more than likely call for some reduction in sanctions against strikes.

What Albany does best in situations like this, with opposing forces pressing for change, is nothing.


Courage pays off with Friday night victory

Seneca Valley 24, Shaler 14 - After crossing striking teachers' picket lines, Seneca Valley coach Ron Butschle directed his team Friday to its biggest win in five years and secured its first playoff berth since 2002.

Three turnovers in the second half led to scores and helped No. 10 Seneca Valley (5-3, 3-1) keep Shaler (6-2, 2-2) scoreless in the second half.

Butschle said he didn't use the strike as a rallying point for his team, which has won its past three games. "We didn't talk about the situation at all with the boys," he said. "We told them there are no distractions. The only thing that matters is what happens Friday nights. These kids are just focused on taking care of business. Whether not it was a motivating thing, I don't know."

Running back James Daniels scored two touchdowns, and quarterback C.J. Brown had one - a 33-yard run - for Seneca Valley. The game was marred by a combined 29 penalties.


Stench rises as 450 Teamsters strike

Trash began to pile up on curbs around the Los Angeles-area South Bay on Friday as more than 450 garbage workers went on strike. Waste Management - which handles trash service in Carson, Manhattan Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes and elsewhere in the region - scrambled to find replacement drivers and urged customers to be patient.

Overall, some 225,000 residential customers and 29,000 commercial accounts were affected. In Manhattan Beach, residents reported that their bins had not been emptied.

"We got a heat spell coming up," resident Esther Besbris said. "At the first sign of maggots, we'll have some very irate people."

In Carson, about 100 drivers and mechanics from Teamsters Local 396 picketed outside the company yard, while passing trucks honked in support. "They're trying to screw us over," said driver Ricardo Cruz, 27, who makes $17.80 an hour. Cruz said the drivers were prepared to stay out "as long as it takes to get an agreement."

No negotiations were held Friday, and there was no sign that talks would resume any time soon. If the walkout lasts longer than 11 days, workers will be paid $200 per week out of Teamsters strike funds.

The union rejected management's final offer on Wednesday, on a vote of 247-115. The two sides differ on wage increases and health benefits. Waste Management called the offer "generous," but the union members worried that the health plan would force them to pay too much in out-of-pocket costs, especially in the later years of the five-year contract.

Waste Management set up toll-free numbers to handle customer complaints. Customers also received automated phone calls telling them to expect delays of a day or two. Residents were told to leave their trash on the curb throughout the weekend and wait for replacement drivers to reach them.

"I just hope they would do something very, very soon," said Carson resident Dobard, who goes by one name. "I don't want to see trash piled up outside my kitchen door because these guys are fighting."

On the east side of Rancho Palos Verdes, where pickup is scheduled on Fridays, resident Lynn Scherer said that four large buckets were still outside her house.

"The recyclables, we can deal with that. It's the trash that's the concern," she said. If the strike lasts a week, she said, "I think for everybody it will be a very big inconvenience."

Thomas Pierry, also of Rancho Palos Verdes, said he had one green waste bucket and one uncollected trash bucket on his curb.

"I can probably last until Tuesday's pickup," he said. "Then I'm probably going to have to haul it down to my daughter's or son's house" in San Pedro.

Some businesses in the affected areas reported that service was normal Friday, as Waste Management placed a high priority on restaurants, hospitals and child-care facilities.

"They need to take care of at least restaurants," said Ben Ramos, general manager at Pancho's in Manhattan Beach, where the trucks came as scheduled on Friday.

Trash was also picked up at Cafe Pierre, where manager Stephane Legarrec warned that if service were interrupted, "After awhile, with the food, that brings some rats."

Replacement drivers were scheduled to work today and Sunday to collect trash that had not been picked up on Friday.

"I think at this point we look like we are in pretty good shape for this weekend," said company spokeswoman Kit Cole. "We're continuing to ask for patience."

The union's contract expired on Sept. 30. Negotiators have been working on a new five-year deal since August, but have not found an agreement that the union membership would accept.

Waste Management said that it offered a 22.5 percent increase in salaries over five years and a 21percent increase in the company's contribution to health benefits, a deal it called "extremely fair."

The offer would provide a $1-per-hour raise in the first year, followed by raises of 70 cents, 65 cents, 65 cents and $1. But Jay Phillips, president of Local 396, noted that the raises would be given incrementally over the course of a full year, lowering their value.

Phillips also compared the offer to a recent Waste Management contract in Oakland, where drivers now make $26.45 an hour.

"We're not unrealistic," Phillips said. "I'm not saying pay my guys $26.45 an hour. I'm saying the gap needs to start closing."

Drivers can work up to 60 hours a week, and can make $55,000 a year or more with overtime. But many fear that they will be forced to pay escalating health costs if the company caps its own contribution at a fixed amount.

"They're going up on the medical. We got some guys that just got married, and have newborns," said a driver who gave only his first name, Chuck. "They can't afford that, not with the salary they're making."

Cole argued that with 200 other trash companies in the region, the market is highly competitive.

"Waste Management was willing to step up and make these workers among the highest paid in Southern California," she said. "It is disappointing that the employees chose to strike rather than accept this generous tentative agreement."

Phillips said some of the replacement drivers were supervisors who had been brought in from Seattle. He said the company calls the workers its "Green Team" and sends them to respond to labor disputes around the country.

Cole declined to comment on the replacement drivers, other than to say they were from outside the area.

Phillips objected to the company's decision to release details of its offer to the media.

"The best way to negotiate this agreement is across the table," he said. "It's not to put out numbers and figures and force me to have to put those numbers and figures in perspective. The parties are better able to hash out their differences face to face."

No one cared to predict how long the strike would last.

"There's no way to project," said Bill Huff, the executive coordinator of Local 396. "No one's called us to return to the table yet."

The strike is the first for this group of Teamsters since 1979. Melvin Mitchell, 54, of Inglewood said he had been driving for the company for 30 years.

"The company has no respect for us," he said. "We need some respect."

At Miraleste Intermediate School in Rancho Palos Verdes, administrators were beginning to worry about their trash bins Friday.

"It's going to be a serious problem real soon," said Julie Mahler, the school's registrar. "We don't have enough Dumpsters."

In Manhattan Beach, City Manager Geoff Dolan said the city has asked replacement workers to focus on the west side of town this weekend to ensure a smooth transition in the heavily traveled downtown.

"There may be some delays," he said. "But we've asked them to focus on The Strand and downtown area."

In the meantime, the city is posting updates on its Web site and sending out e-mails. "We're doing our best to keep residents informed," he said.


Teachers union quits Reynolds, PA strike

Classes in the Reynolds (PA) Area School District will resume Monday, as teachers called off their strike Friday morning And the students are ready to return to school.

“I heard it was called off and I was excited,” said senior Alex Beckman, 17. Alex is on the school’s homecoming committee and was decorating the gym Friday afternoon with other students for tonight’s dance. Alex and her fellow classmates said they heard the strike was over by word of mouth, but they didn’t know many details about what came out of Thursday’s meeting between the school board and Reynolds Education Association.

The board and union held a 5 1/2-hour bargaining session that began at 8 p.m. Thursday and ended with an agreement to end the strike and schedule more sessions to settle a contract. There were no classes Friday and union members were no longer on the picket line, said Barbara Henning, a representative of the Pennsylvania State Education Association who is on the union’s bargaining team.

The board and union issued a joint statement Friday morning that said they were pleased to announce the schools will reopen Monday and the decision to do so was an agreement both sides made.

As part of the joint agreement, the board and union have agreed to schedule six bargaining sessions during the next four weeks.

If a new contract isn’t settled during those sessions, the sides will enter into nonbinding arbitration and an arbiter will help settle a new contract.

Alex said she was glad to hear the board and union are willing to continue negotiations because she thought the situation wasn’t improving and she hopes they settle as soon as possible.

Freshman Laurel Ferguson, 14, said there have been lots of rumors going around about how long the teachers were going to be on strike and she didn’t know what to believe.
“The teachers weren’t allowed to tell us anything about the strike,” Laurel said.

The students said they can’t wait to get back to class Monday, even though they’ve gotten used to sleeping in and spending more time with friends.

Alex said she hopes they can make up the nine missed days of school a little at a time instead of all at once, like during most of Christmas break.

School board members and the Pennsylvania Department of Education will decide when the missed days will be made up, board secretary Sue Combine said Friday.

The department had said the union could strike until Nov. 2 to get 180 days of classes completed by June 15. The union had said teachers would strike until then unless a contract was settled or tentative agreements were made.

The students were glad the school board decided to continue offering sports and other activities during the strike, especially the homecoming dance because a lot of plans were put into place before the strike.

Preparing for the dance was different this time around compared to past years, Alex said. The students usually have teachers helping them decorate, but only a few stopped by during the week to offer assistance.

“It’s just been us,” Alex said.

Students were to vote for the homecoming queen at Friday’s football game because they were supposed to vote in class. They also missed out on weeklong festivities that included theme days and pep assemblies, Alex said.

The fact that the students did most of the work turning part of the school and gym into a 1950s diner and drive-in will make their efforts more worth it, she said. They’ll also enjoy the dance more knowing they’ll be in class again Monday.
“I didn’t think I’d ever celebrate going back to school,” Laurel said.

Ms. Henning said the board and union will continue to release updates on contract negotiations as joint statements. No further information on Thursday’s contract talks was to be released Friday, she said.

Reynolds teachers had been on strike since Oct. 9, after they failed to settle a new contract during an Oct. 8 bargaining session. Unresolved issues include salary, health care and retiree benefits.

The board and union have been bargaining since January 2006 and teachers have been working without a contract since the 2006-07 school year.


U.S. Senators' low regard for union members

Today the U.S. Senate voted (46-47) to cut funding for the U.S. Department of Labor agency that ensures organized labor financial transparency and protects union members' dues.

The following comments were made on behalf of the U.S. Department of Labor in response to the vote:

"Today's Senate action hurts rank and file union members by cutting the budget of the enforcement agency that ensures they know how their hard earned dues are being spent and that protects them from election fraud, embezzlement of union dues and other financial abuses."


Senate votes less accountability for labor unions

By a 46-47 vote in the debate over the Labor/HHS appropriations bill (H.R. 3043) the Senate yesterday defeated an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to bring spending on the Office of Labor Management Standards up to the President's requested level.

The OLMS is the Department of Labor's office responsible for administering the disclosure and reporting requirements -- that is, the laws -- that apply to organized labor, working toward accountability and transparency. Unfortunately, the majority had cut the office's budget by $2 million.

The NAM and other business associations wrote the Senate this week urging a restoration of the funding. (Letter here.)

OLMS is the only agency of government devoted to protecting the interests of dues-paying union members. Yet, at a time when the public and Congress are calling for greater transparency and accountability for all institutions, including corporations, lobbyists, and members of Congress, the FY 2008 House and Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations bills cuts the budget of OLMS to FY 2006 levels.

And on Tuesday, the OLMS released its monthly review.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) today 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.

With every other office in the Department of Labor getting increases, why is the OLMS singled out for cuts?

The roll call vote on the Sessions amendment is here. And we see no news coverage of the specific vote.


Teachers refuse to end strike

Lynn Davids' yard was full of kids jumping on a trampoline and riding bikes this week instead of studying in classrooms shuttered by a five-day-old teachers' strike in McHenry County, IL. Davids has taken care of neighbors' children in her Spring Grove home, in addition to her own five kids, since teachers in Nippersink District 2 walked off their jobs.

"I have four children myself in the district, so school is something we really miss," she said.

The strike will continue after talks between the Board of Education and teachers Thursday night failed to produce an agreement. There was to have been discussion of the union's latest proposal for a four-year contract under which teachers would make health insurance contributions based on a percentage of salary and contribute to their retirement fund in the last year of the deal.

The district had been pushing for the teachers to contribute a greater share of the insurance and retirement costs. Both sides had agreed to 3.5 percent annual raises.

"We gave them what they were seeking in health-insurance contributions" and pension contributions, said Denise Gossell, president of the Richmond Spring Grove Teachers Association, after the talks ended. "We met their demands."

Board members could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

A union negotiator said earlier Thursday that she believes something more than money is driving school board members because they rejected many of the union's concessions.

"At first I thought it was an economic issue -- that the board was just really trying to be fiscally responsible and wanted minimum raises," said Laura Biloz, lead negotiator for the Richmond Spring Grove Teachers Association. "But now I think it's more about they have to show the public that they stuck it to those teachers and got concessions on everything."

District officials have said they have overwhelming community support, evidenced by e-mails and phone calls asking them to maintain a strong stance. The teachers are aware of the negative comments directed toward them but say they also have community support.

Meanwhile, many of the 1,600 pupils in the district's three schools are missing more than just classes.

Tryouts for the Nippersink Middle School basketball team were canceled Tuesday, as was a dodgeball tournament. A 3rd-grade musical at Richmond Grade School, scheduled for next week, will be canceled because the students couldn't practice their songs.

Also, the first quarter ends next week but report cards will not be sent.

Parents said their children are worried that they will get bad grades because they weren't in school and didn't finish the books they were supposed to have read and other assignments.

"They think they're all in trouble," Davids said. "I have to keep telling them every day that they'll pick up right where they left off when they get back to school."

Parent Kristy Neuman said she thinks the community is "really split. They see both sides."

Neuman, the owner of a gymnastics center, said business has been booming during open-gym days since the strike started. Often, she'll take children home with her until their parents get off work.

"I have four of my own so typically there are 15 kids here," she said, standing in front of her Spring Grove home. "It's crazy. It's really hard. We just want them to go back to school."

Melissa Jensen, a working mother of an 11-year-old boy who attends Nippersink Middle School, said finding child-care hasn't been hard because her son's father has been off from work. They try to keep their son sharp by weaving educational tidbits into the day.

Though her son reads every night, she hates to think about how much he's missing by not being in school.

"I wish both sides could meet somewhere in the middle," Jensen said. "It's not fair to the kids. I don't know if it will shorten their summer or Christmas break. They are in the middle of it."


Unions planted in the past as coastal forestry sector withers

As the British Columbia coastal forestry strike limps into its third month, there is a yawning division between one camp that knows workers need to adapt to intensifying international competition, and another that is stuck yearning for the industry's protectionist past.

And that's just the split within union ranks.

Two locals of the (not so) United Steelworkers representing half of strikers are now urging members to vote down a proposed settlement from Forest Industrial Relations, an offer that gives the consortium of forestry firms the minimal tools that they will need to wrench the industry from its long-term decline.

How this week's vote will turn out is anyone's guess, since the overall bargaining committee has recommended acceptance, and there is nothing to stop members of the two dissident locals from casting a yes vote. But there is one certainty: There are large parts of the work force that refuse to acknowledge the depth of the crisis gripping the industry.

Coastal forestry, once the backbone of the British Columbia economy, is withering. Employment has fallen dramatically, and even more ominously, the industry has been earning pitiful returns on capital for a decade - around just 1 per cent. That was the picture at the start of the strike in late July - before the Canadian dollar surged to parity.

And in the face of this challenge, what are the management demands that the two locals find so unacceptable? The biggest objection is the ability of members to set work schedules without the say-so of the union, a clause that local 1-80 says will disrupt its members' lives. Translation: We shouldn't have to work weekends, or at least not without being paid overtime.

Contracting out and severance payments are also contentious points for the dissident locals, which don't like what they see as weak, to the point of useless, protection against further reductions in the work force. No one expects union leaders to be cheerleaders for layoffs, but creative minds in other beleaguered industries have managed to find practical solutions - witness the Magna-CAW accord in Ontario that will set up a union without the right to strike.

But in B.C.'s coastal forest industry, much of the union simply rejects the need for real change, claiming the employers' talk of a crisis is just a bargaining tactic. "This is company rhetoric," says local 1-80 president Bill Routley.

In his view, it's the provincial government that is to blame, with its removal of rules four years ago that required some firms to process logs locally rather than exporting. (There are still other log-export restrictions, but they have done little to restrict the surge of unprocessed logs to the United States.)

The reality is that rising log exports aren't the cause of the industry's decline; they are just a symptom of its uncompetitive costs.

The province isn't giving any hints about what its new forestry policy will be, saying it will not issue any statements on the matter while the strike continues. But it's hard to believe that the Liberal government will reinstate the protectionist policies it scrapped only a few years ago.

That leaves union hopes pinned to the current negotiations. Mr. Routley wants a new deal, one that will give the union a veto over work schedules and severely inhibit contracting out and other downsizing.

His members' best hope is that he doesn't carry the day. Such inflexibility would mean no rebound in forestry profits and more job losses, not fewer, according to a sweeping report commissioned by the province's forestry ministry last fall. If the industry's return on capital does not improve, "the ultimate level of pain for workers and communities will be even higher in the long run."

Recovery is possible, that report goes on to say. The U.S. Pacific Northwest industry was experiencing similar difficulties in the 1980s, but has doubled production since 1993, in large part because of the construction of modern mills. To add insult to competitive injury, those modern U.S. mills are now happily processing Canadian logs that B.C. plants aren't able or willing to buy.

A similar renaissance is possible in B.C., but the massive capital investment needed to rescue the industry will have to be able to earn a profit. And that will depend on labour no longer pining for the past.


Locals' rejection of Chrysler pact stuns UAW bosses

Two more locals on Friday defeated the four-year tentative agreement between the United Auto Workers and Chrysler LLC, in the wake of a resounding "no" vote the day before at an assembly plant in Missouri.

Workers at Detroit Axle narrowly defeated the contract by a 53.5 percent margin in a vote from Local 961 that represents about 1,430 workers at the plant. Earlier Friday, workers from Local 122 at the Chrysler Twinsburg, Ohio, stamping plant voted the contract down by a 53 percent margin. The plant represents 1,150 workers.

Some 9,500 employees at six locals nationwide were to vote on the agreement Friday, including Local 372 in Trenton. Results from some locals were not available late Friday.

The vote at Detroit Axle stunned Local 961 president Ed May. "I was totally floored," May said Friday night following the final vote count. "For that membership to turn that down, I was appalled. To me, it was like they really don't care. Some of the membership is confused; some were misled."

Two workers at Detroit Axle on Lynch Street said the severity of the two-tier wage system was a key issue in the rejection.

On the first day of voting Thursday, the contract drew a split decision, but the "no" vote was the loudest. At the St. Louis North Assembly plant representing 2,100 workers, the contract was rejected by 81 percent of voters, while at an engine plant in Kenosha, Wis., with about 800 UAW workers, 82 percent OK'd the deal.

The rejection unsettled some of those voting in Trenton Friday.

"That took me by surprise and made me think a little bit more about how I'd vote," said Dean DeMarco, who ultimately voted "yes" for the tentative agreement. "I think we could've gotten more, but what's the point in fighting for it? So we can go on another strike? I'll take what we can get."

Two provisions of the landmark agreement are proving to be particularly troublesome for the rank and file: A two-tier wage system in which new hires in jobs not directly tied to the assembly of vehicles would be paid less; and the lack of specific product commitments for Chrysler plants.

The deal does promise up to $15 billion in new domestic investment, offer workers a $3,000 bonus, and creates a union-controlled trust fund to cover retiree health care costs.

Ratification of the contract requires a majority vote of some 45,000 Chrysler workers eligible to vote. Voting is expected to wrap up Wednesday.

On Friday, some workers stood firmly in support of their leadership and the agreement.

"The health benefits, retiree benefits and profit sharing are a good thing," said Ernest Milo, shortly after he voted for the contract at Local 961. "We are just trying to hold on to our jobs."

Still, with more contract rejections Friday, that could affect the decisions of the more than 8,800 members scheduled to vote today and Sunday, said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

"You are beginning to see a groundswell against this agreement," he said. "Opposition can be a self-perpetuating force. Once one local turns it down, others will be willing to vote 'no.' "

John Hernandez, a worker at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant who will cast his ballot next week, said Friday that the Missouri vote is a wake up call for UAW leaders.

"I think the (Missouri vote) is a good thing -- it's going to shake up the international office," he said. "They'll think twice about what they push in our laps."

Hernandez said he's upset that Chrysler wouldn't say which products are coming next to many plants, including his own, while General Motors Corp. gave specific guarantees. He also said that the two-tier wage systems would split the membership.

In an unprecedented move, top UAW leadership is lobbying the rank-and-file hard for passage. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and UAW Vice President General Holiefield this week have been visiting workers preparing to vote. And on Wednesday, Holiefield sent a memo to local union leaders asking all appointed union representatives to sign the memo endorsing the agreement. "With teamwork in the leadership and solidarity in the ranks, we will prevail and our members will be best served," Holiefield said in the memo.

Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at University of California-Berkeley, said while such direct lobbying is unusual, it's not surprising given the complexity of the deal. "They've got to sell it not on what's making workers angry, but on the alternatives they face. (Leadership) feels it did the best they could in a tough economic situation."


SEIU charged with playing the race card

Workers at Fisher Island, FL -- one of the wealthiest enclaves in America – told NBC 6's Amara Sohn that they are being abused and discriminated against by the island's residents and employers.

“I work at the richest Zip code,” said island security guard Willie Floyd. “They are leading in discrimination.” Floyd, who has been working on the island for three years, claims the discrimination begins on his way to work on the exclusive Fisher Island Ferry.

“Once cars are loaded onto ferry, we are blocked from walking to the employee lounge because they don’t want us to walk by and touch the cars,” Floyd said. Junior Francois, who is also a security guard on the island, said he was abused by a resident after he unintentionally violated this new policy. “I made the mistake of touching a resident’s car and was called a peasant,” Francois said.

Floyd and Francois are part of a group of 19 workers who filed a complaint with Miami-Dade County’s Equal Opportunity Board. The workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union.

According to allegations, the corporations that employee the more than 400 workers on the island encourage segregation on the ferry. The workers, who are mostly minorities, said the workers' lounge area is separated from the one for residents.

The Fisher Island Association released the following statement:

“We’re approaching Halloween and the SEIU is at it again. They know the design of the ferry boats requires two lounges because the superstructure and wheel house are in the center. It is a sad day when the union is so willing to play the race card, when they know the allegations are false."

But the workers disagree. They said they are fighting for justice and want their employers to treat them with respect.


UFCW defense sheds light on RICO lawsuit

Smithfield Foods’ Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) lawsuit against the UFCW comes as no surprise, given the company’s abuse of the law for more than a decade.

The company’s violations against workers at its Tar Heel, North Carolina, plant are well documented in public records, including illegally firing, intimidating, assaulting, using racial epithets and spying on workers. Twice workers attempted to exercise a choice for union representation at the Tar Heel plant, and twice the company suppressed their rights by violating the law.

The internationally acclaimed and widely respected Human Rights Watch twice issued reports that cited Smithfield for systematic abuse of worker rights.

At Smithfield’s nearby Wilson facility, the company engaged in similar misconduct to suppress workers from attaining union representation.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the New York Times exposed how the company fueled racial tensions among white, African American, and Latino workers.

The company has been cited and fined by the EPA and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It is more than ironic that Smithfield now wants to turn to the law to shield its abusive conduct from public exposure. The company action constitutes hypocrisy of the highest order, seeking to hide behind a frivolous lawsuit that also targets community and religious leaders for advocating on behalf of Smithfield’s Tar Heel workers.

In effect, Smithfield’s suit attempts to prevent petitioning national and state government bodies with grievances.

It seeks to prevent organizations from informing and petitioning the public to support causes.

It seeks to prevent consumers from learning about the working conditions that exist where products they buy are produced.

It seeks to label national, state, and local public officials, religious and community leaders as unwitting dupes of the UFCW because they support the cause of justice at Smithfield’s Tar Heel plant.

It seeks to avoid responsibility for company violations of workers’ federal right of free association.

It is truly shameful that Smithfield is willing to spend millions of dollars on high-priced lawyers and frivolous lawsuits rather than committing the resources needed to provide basic safety and health improvements for Tar Heel workers.

In concert with other powerful corporations, Smithfield Foods has helped eviscerate labor law in this country. And now these giant corporations are attempting to further exacerbate the imbalance between workers and corporations.

The Smithfield lawsuit is an assault on fundamental American values. It ultimately seeks to ensure that only the voices of the powerful are heard. That corporate conduct is privileged and beyond reproach. And that the workers, consumers, and communities corporations purport to serve have no stake in how an enterprise treats its workforce or serves the communities where they live. Like the golden parachutes CEOs receive regardless of their responsibility for bad business decisions, Smithfield refuses to be accountable for its irresponsible disregard of the law.

The UFCW will aggressively continue to expose Smithfield’s irresponsible corporate behavior wherever it occurs. The UFCW will continue to work with community and religious leaders and elected officials in this cause. The UFCW will not be bullied by a baseless lawsuit, and we will continue to struggle for worker justice at the company’s Tar Heel facility.


Strike boss sends Dresser-Rand mixed signal

Negotiations aimed at ending the nearly 12-week-old strike at Dresser-Rand Co. could resume in the next two weeks, a union leader said Friday. Steve Coates, president of Local 313 IUE CWA, said lawyers for both sides are "trying to set up dates to continue talks, probably in the next two weeks."

Union members walked off the job Aug. 4 after their three-year contract expired. The talks stalled over contract language covering work rules and the cost of health insurance.

Coates signaled Friday that the union could be flexible on both issues. "We're trying to look through our proposal again and change some of the language we proposed and take a look at some of the insurance issues," he said. "The insurance is only 25 percent of the problem." Coates said Dresser-Rand Co. has sent a letter to union members urging them to come back to work. He said only six of the union's 415 members have crossed picket lines to return to their jobs.

Daniel L. Meisner, human resources manager at Dresser-Rand in Painted Post, did not respond to a call seeking comment Friday.

In a related development, Local 313's negotiating committee met Friday with members of the negotiating committee of Local 4601 of the United Steelworkers of America. The Steelworkers' local represents 492 Dresser-Rand workers in Olean, said John Baglione, president.

Coates said the meeting was held to share information and strategy. The Steelworkers' contract with Dresser-Rand Co. expires in June 2008.

"We're different unions but have the same interests," Baglione said. "We're not trying to get rich. It's just a matter of supporting our families. We keep in contact, and we share everything that is going on."

Baglione said the strike at Painted Post means Olean workers have to prepare for the worst next year.

"Their fight is our fight, but we haven't got to the front lines yet," he said.


NLRB guts voluntary union recognition

The National Labor Relations Board was never set up to be a friend of labor, though from time to time it has taken pro-worker stands. It’s been particularly hostile to collective bargaining rights during the last seven years of the Bush administration. A Sept. 29 ruling proves it.

The board ruled that if employers voluntarily recognize a union based on union authorization cards (also known as card-check), anti-union employees have a 45-day window to petition for an NLRB decertification election. The ruling stipulates that 30 percent of employees can force an election even though more than 50 percent of the workers want the union and even if a bargaining agreement has been reached during the 45-day period. (AFL-CIO blog, Oct. 3)

In a dissenting statement, two NLRB members noted the ruling “cuts voluntary recognition off at the knees” and “subjects the will of the majority to that of a 30 percent minority.”


SEIU nursing unit lives high on the hog, politicking hard

I wonder how many of the hardworking rank-and-file members of the California Nurses Association know that the organization pays Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro $207,403 plus another $10,333 in expenses -- and has made a $75,000 "gift" to the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights that is being used to attack Democrats in favor of health care reform?

Somehow I don't think they'd be too pleased their dues were going to their leadership's pockets instead of fighting for health care form.

DeMoro's sky-high salary is accompanied by a bloated payroll that also includes $126,811 for its Government Relations Director Donna Gerber (a former failed Assembly candidate). Gerber was the only person to testify against AB 8, the Nunez/Perata health care plan supported by nearly all legislative Democrats.

CNA's expense report also includes expenses at fancy hotels such as the Beverly Hills Hilton, Seascape Luxury Resort in Aptos ("Like Having Your Own Beach Home on Monterey Bay"), Millennium Biltmore in Los Angeles, and the cozy Villa Rosa in Santa Barbara. Thousands more were spent on several public relations and advertising consultants.

CNA's gift to the Foundation (which refuses to provide a list of its donors), is reported in a filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. It comes as the two groups have been running a smear campaign against Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. Both the CNA and FTCR have been prominently quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, and in the Associated Press attacking the Speaker for his spending of campaign funds.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The expense report is an eye-opener.

Unlike the California Labor Federation, SEIU, and nearly every other major statewide labor union (CSEA is the other), CNA is pouring its money into efforts to defeat comprehensive health care reform in Sacramento this year. CNA supports single-payer health care, also favored by most Democrats but will fail to win approval in California for years and years to come.

CNA's latest attempt at the ballot was an initiative that received fewer votes than any other on the ballot in the November 2006 election.


Taxpayers take on government unions

The 2007 Vancouver Library Olympickets

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