Hoffa on the spot in corrupt Chicago Teamsters bust-up

An oversight panel has urged the takeover of powerful Chicago Teamsters Local 714, claiming its leaders allowed sham contracts and steered lucrative movie industry jobs in Chicago to relatives. An investigator for the federally mandated Independent Review Board in New York would only confirm Monday that the anti-corruption unit had recommended placing the local under trusteeship.

Officials with Local 714 could not be reached, and Teamsters officials in Washington, D.C., said the union would not comment until Teamsters President James P. Hoffa has made a "final decision." The union would appoint a trustee to oversee the local if Hoffa upholds the report's recommendation. But a copy of the 250-page report obtained by the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a dissident group within the union, outlines the results of a long probe into the 10,000-member local.

Founded in the Depression by the late William Hogan Sr., the local has operated as a Hogan family dynasty. Its top official is Robert Hogan, and his father, William Hogan Jr., led the local until the review board in 2002 barred him from the union for his role in a plot to drive down wages and benefits of Las Vegas Teamsters. Robert Hogan's uncle, James M. Hogan, is the local's president.

The local allegedly had an "unwritten contract" with officials at several companies which allowed only a certain number of workers to join the union, according to the report. Similarly, the local allegedly looked the other way as non-union workers from labor agencies performed work normally assigned to Teamsters, and local officials did not speak out when workers failed to receive raises guaranteed under contract, the report said.

The local hired a close associate of William Hogan Jr., who continued to have contact with the local's former leader despite the fact union members were barred from associating with him, according to the report.

Dated Aug. 27, the report asks union president Hoffa to let the review board know whatever action he takes.

Ken Paff, head of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, suggested that the anti-corruption unit would act on its own if Hoffa failed to follow the report's recommendations.

Ed Stier, a former federal prosecutor who had led the union's own clean-up operation, hailed the report, saying it touched on issues his own group had cited three years ago.

But the union's clean-up effort came to a crashing halt in 2004 when Stier's investigators began looking into allegations of wrongdoing among Chicago Teamsters along with mobsters' influence over top Teamsters.

Stier had called for a full-blown probe, but he resigned when union leaders blocked his request to expand his probe.

At the time, Teamsters officials in Washington described allegations raised by Stier investigators as "uncorroborated and unsubstantiated." A follow-up report by another former federal prosecutor, commissioned by the union, discounted the allegations of mob links to union officials.

"I'm glad to see that the IRB is pursuing these corruption issues in Chicago," Stier said on Monday, adding "I think there is more to do."

The review board was created as a result of a 1989 federal court consent agreement between the union and government that was meant to clean up corruption within the Teamsters' ranks.


Teamsters set to enforce Hollywood picket lines

The Teamsters union - representing more than 4,000 Hollywood drivers, location managers and scouts, casting directors and animal wranglers - is giving the WGA's strike plans a major boost with a show of solidarity that could seriously disrupt local production.

The leader of Teamsters Local 399 is advising members that they should honor WGA picket lines as long as they're acting as individuals. The Writers Guild of America could go on strike as early as Thursday; negotiations resume today at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers offices.

In a message posted Monday, secretary-treasurer Leo Reed said Local 399 can't strike, picket or boycott a producer while its contract is in effect and must use its "best efforts" to get employees to perform. But Reed added that those restrictions don't apply to individuals. "As for me as an individual, I will not cross any picket line whether it is sanctioned or not because I firmly believe that Teamsters do not cross picket lines," Reed said in the message.

The move was not unexpected, as the Teamsters are the only Hollywood union with specific language allowing members to honor picket lines without reprisal from employers. Reed noted in the message that if Joint Council 42 of the Teamsters sanctions the WGA strike, the companies have agreed that they will not discipline any employee who refuses to cross. "Federal law protects you if you choose otherwise," Reed added. "Remember, I believe that Teamsters do not cross picket lines!"

Approval of a sanction for the WGA strike by Joint Council 42 -- parent to 23 Teamster locals in California and Nevada -- is expected to be a formality. It's unclear how many Teamsters will follow Reed's suggestion and refuse to cross WGA picket lines, but if many do, film and TV production could be hamstrung due to lack a transportation and location managers. And should casting directors not cross, the ability to make quick decisions on actors would be gummed up.

Strong support for the WGA emerged Sunday from the 300 members of Local 399 who attended a meeting at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Los Angeles.

In response, AMPTP president Nick Counter sent a letter to Reed and other leaders of the five Basic Crafts unions and reminded them of the "no strike" clause in their contract. The five unions signed a three-year deal this summer with the AMPTP.

"We expect each union to comply with this no-strike obligation and order your members to work," he added. "It is necessary to send you this reminder because of some misinformation and rumors which have been circulated."

Reed's announcement offers a stark contrast with guidance provided to members so far by the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America -- with both guilds emphasizing that if the WGA strikes, SAG and DGA members have to keep working if they have a contract to do so. SAG urged members to join picket lines but noted that they should do so in their free time.

As for the negotiations, both sides have continually blamed each other for the lack of progress at the bargaining table over the past three months. In his most recent message to members, WGA West president Patric Verrone asserted that the AMPTP plan is to stall the talks until the final hours and then make a lowball offer.

"This sort of brinkmanship will likely be met by fear, confusion and even acrimony," he added. "All that is natural and expected. Therefore, we must be strong and steadfast in our convictions so that we convey the proper message to our employers, to our allies in the entertainment community, to the industry at large and to each other: That as much as we don't want a strike, we want a bad contract even less."

Verrone said the guild is planning a general membership meeting Thursday to provide updates on negotiations and the guild's options. And he warned members to be skeptical of any info that doesn't come from the WGA.

"In the days to come, there will be many rumors, lies and even threats that will come your way," he added. "There is a genuine climate of fear on both sides of this negotiation, and it is only natural that misinformation will spread.

"This used to be limited to word of mouth and the mainstream press but, like much in the 21st century, it has taken on a new form with the Internet. Know that we will not be able to keep up with (much less interfere with or attempt to influence) what is posted on blogs and bulletin boards, but we ask you to be discerning in drawing conclusions from those posts and from any source that is not affiliated with the WGA leadership, including the press."

The membership meeting has been set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Los Angeles Convention Center.


Governator nixes anti-democratic, no-vote unionization law

The National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights praises the good work of Governor Schwarzenegger who cast his of veto of SB. 180 on October 14. Governor Schwarzenegger showed great courage in standing up for Secret Ballot elections for farmers in the California workplace.

The Governor did not listen to the Labor lords who fought freedom through intimidation only to increase their membership by stripping secret ballot elections away. Rather, as Will Fine, executive director of the National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights wrote in a letter to the Governor and other state legislators, that in this veto "you have heard the call of Californians affirming workers' rights will never be compromised to the labor mobs again."

The National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights worked with the Governor and defenders of a free workplace to defeat SB.180 by reminding the politicians of farmers who work hard for their families, that their right to a secret ballot is always sacred whether they come to live or be born in this country. The Governor understood the needs of his people's freedoms stood above the "take away" politics of the unions was in the end his veto against card check.

By setting in place a "card-check" organizing process, SB 180 significantly changes the protections afforded to all of California's agricultural workers under the ALRA. This "card-check" process fundamentally alters an employee's right to a secret ballot election that currently affords them the opportunity to cast a ballot privately without fear of coercion or manipulation by any interested parties. This bill also limits the opportunity for employees to hear and consider other viewpoints on unionization.

Learn more about the work of the National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights at http://www.freeworkplace.org.


Cal. SEIU members to vote on compulsory fees

Seven years ago, 57 percent of voters approved a measure to prevent California's largest state workers union from collecting so-called "fair share" fees from nonunion employees.

But the measure still went down to defeat, thanks to a state law that requires majority support from all members in the affected bargaining unit. So why do the activists who want to wipe out fair share fees think they'll win this time around?

It all comes down to a little thing that wasn't a big part of the equation in 2000 – e-mail. In a unit where information technology and administrative and financial services make up the bulk of the work force, the campaign's supporters are banking on electronic access to the membership to turn the effort in their favor.

"Last time, it was done by a group of people that did not have Internet access to the rank-and-file," said Lyle Hintz, the retired state worker who organized the petition campaign to stop Service Employees International Union Local 1000 from collecting the fees. "This time, we have Internet access to the workplaces, and we've gotten a really high response."

If the measure passes, the union that represents a total of 87,000 workers across the state stands to lose an estimated $12.5 million in fair share fees paid by the nonunion members who make up about a third of Unit One employees. The bargaining unit is comprised mostly of administrative, financial and information technology workers, some of the highest-paid rank-and-file employees in state service. SEIU 1000's total revenue base last year was $44 million.

The state Public Employment Relations Board qualified the intra-union squabble for a vote and will mail out ballots beginning Nov. 27. Some 13,000 employees of the estimated 43,000 now represented in SEIU 1000's Bargaining Unit One signed petitions demanding the election.

Employees, both fair share fee payers and union members alike, have until Dec. 26 to return the ballots. They will be counted on Dec. 28, PERB general counsel division chief Les Chisholm said.

SEIU 1000 President Jim Hard said he is confident the rescission effort will be defeated "as a matter of fairness."

"It's an important discussion that's taking place," Hard said. "I think that the union works hard for everybody, both members and fair-share payers, and we all get the benefits out of the contract. We have to advocate for wage security, our retirement security, and our employment security at the bargaining table, in the courts, in the Legislature, in Congress, and at the ballot box in California, and all of those take a large amount of resources."

Fair share payers are employees who decline to join the union for philosophical reasons, but who are still forced by state law to pay fees for representation services, such as negotiating labor contracts, provided by the labor organization. Their fees amount to about $2 a month below the $75 monthly average paid by SEIU 1000 members in Unit One.

Both fair share payers and union members in the unit are pushing this year's fee elimination effort, rallying against a 50 percent dues increase that went into effect in July. Supporters of rescission have also decried the leadership style of Hard and other SEIU 1000 officeholders.

Seven years ago, the issue was the fact that the union for the first time was being allowed to impose the fees. When the ballots were counted on Oct. 20, 2000, a total of 11,464 voters supported the measure while 8,349 were opposed, according to PERB.

Even though the total in favor of getting rid of the fees amounted to 57 percent of the votes cast, it did not add up to 50 percent plus one of the 37,521 members in Unit One at that time, so the measure failed.

"It's a really hard thing to do," Hintz said.

But activists such as Alex Hommes, an Employment Development Department worker and union member in Santa Ana, said the campaign being waged by SEIU 1000's leadership against the measure is inadvertently helping its supporters.

"We're getting e-mail blitzes from them, and they're running phone banks, which is an interesting gamble," Hommes said. "They'd be safer trying to keep it low-key. But by creating so much publicity and awareness about it, they are actually helping us."

Hard countered that the rescission fight is helping the union leadership rev up the membership for a pair of big campaigns next year. The union's contract with the state is set to expire in the middle of 2008. SEIU 1000 also is preparing to join with other public employee labor organizations to contest a statewide ballot initiative now in the petition-gathering stage that seeks to reduce future members' pension benefits.

SEIU 1000 has almost $2.5 million on hand in its biggest campaign fund and already has contributed $150,000 to the effort headed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, and state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, to change the term limits law. The union has given another $230,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee of California.

The union president said the local has responded to members' anger over the dues increase by agreeing to subject a second installment, set to go into effect in June 2010, to a vote of the membership. Hard also defended the union's performance on behalf of its membership.

"I think we had very strong victories, defending our retirement in both the Legislature and in the initiative process in 2005, and I think we did really well turning (the state's initial offer of) 14 percent takeaways around at the bargaining table in 2006 and winning a general salary increase of 6.9 percent over two years," Hard said.


Big Labor votes solidarity with striking SoCal Teamsters

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO has sanctioned a strike request by sanitation workers represented by Teamsters Local 396. These workers have been on strike since October 19th against Waste Management Inc (WMI). After months of negotiations, the company refuses to offer workers more than substandard wages.

“Workers throughout Los Angeles County have made a commitment today, to stand in solidarity with these sanitation workers in their fight to make their jobs, good jobs,” said Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation, AFL-CIO. “It’s unfair to ask these workers to do some of the dirtiest and most dangerous work around that makes it possible for us to live in a cleaner and disease free environment, but not provide them with the adequate means to raise their families.”

In granting a strike sanction, the Federation will support these sanitation workers in various forms including picket line support, rallies, demonstrations, boycotts, food drives for strikers, and coordinating public officials, unions and community support.

“Support is a big deal,” said Juan G. Casales, a 7-year roll-off driver at WMI’s Long Beach facility. “We’ve gotten support from the community who has given us water and food. Carson Mayor Jim Dear and a Long Beach City Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal have come out to join us on the picket line. Now we have the entire Los Angeles Labor Movement behind us. It makes me proud to know that everyone is backing us up in our fight to be able to raise our families the right way.”

While Los Angeles area WMI workers deal with the same hazards as other garbage collectors, this mostly Latino group of workers is paid up to $9 dollars per hour less than Waste Management employees in other metropolitan areas and up to $6 per hour less than local city and county workers doing similar work.

Some of the residential areas being impacted by this labor dispute are Calabasas, Carson, Hidden Hills, Huntington Park, Inglewood, Lancaster, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Palmdale, Ranch Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates, South Gate, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO is the chartered Central Labor Council (CLC) of the AFL-CIO in Los Angeles County. It’s mission is to promote a voice for workers through active participation in the political process, to elect pro-union and pro-worker officials, and to advance public policies that support workers and their families. The Federation believes that in educating and mobilizing workers to be politically active, they will build greater capacity to help organize the unorganized and "rebuild the middle class."


Student-athletes and unionists on collision course

It appears Palatine-Schaumburg (IL) High District 211 and its teachers union are heading for a showdown not just over teacher pay but whether post-season prep sports games will be canceled. District officials changed their tune Monday and announced they will now allow student-athletes to participate in post-season sports games and practices - even if the teachers go on strike.

But there's a big caveat: The coaches of those teams who are also teachers - that's almost all of them - would have to cross the picket line and report to work if they're going to be allowed to hold practice or coach a sport.

Union Vice President Jason Spoor took issue with that. He said union members meet their coaching duties during any strike - but would not cross the picket line to teach. Previously the district had said all extracurricular activities and events would be canceled in the event of a strike.

Friday, union President John Braglia had said the district - and specifically Superintendent Roger Thornton - would be to blame if sports events get canceled. Braglia said he gave coaches the green light to continue coaching during any strike. The teachers union could strike as soon as today, though most indications are no strike announcement will come that soon.

Fremd and Palatine football teams have advanced in the playoffs. Also still battling for state titles are Fremd, Conant and Schaumburg in girls volleyball; the Palatine cross country team and individual runners from Conant and Schaumburg; the Palatine girls cross country team; and all five schools in girls swimming.

According to the district's Web site, school officials will follow Illinois High School Association guidelines, which grant participation to students if a strike happens during the post-season.

Regular-season practice and contests would remain canceled.

If a teachers' work-stoppage occurred prior to a post-season event, participation would be restricted, according to the IHSA.

Read the district's full statement on post-season play at d211.org and click "FAQ's" under "Negotiations Update."


Teachers union boss-embezzler adds 2 years

The former president of Lawrence’s teachers union — convicted of embezzling nearly $100,000 in union dues — had two years added to his probation term Monday.

Wayne Kruse waived his right to a hearing regarding whether he had violated the terms of his probation. He also did not contest the two-year extension of his probation.

Kruse was placed on probation in October 2005 and ordered to repay the $95,384 he embezzled from the Lawrence Education Association.

According to an affidavit filed in Douglas County District Court, Kruse still owes nearly $89,000. Kruse’s original two-year probation period was set to expire this month.

Kruse declined to comment.


Feds bust NY union-boss embezzler

Federal authorities Monday announced that Frank Proscia, a former shop steward and executive delegate of Local 157 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Monday pled in federal court in Manhattan to one count of aiding and abetting the embezzlement of monies from employee benefit plans.

According to the indictment filed in Manhattan federal court and statements made during Proscia’s guilty plea proceedings, from February through June 2006, he conspired with co-defendant Michael Annucci, also a former shop steward and others to defraud the District Council of New York City and the District Council - the administrative body that oversees the New York City local chapters of the Carpenters Union - and the union benefit funds.

Among other things, the defendants submitted false shop steward reports that underreported the number of carpenters and the hours worked by carpenters for a construction contractor at a jobsite located in New York City.


Archdiocese tests teachers union's strength

Teachers at a handful of Catholic high schools in New York will consider taking to the picket lines at a strike vote tonight.

The schools, which include John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen and Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, wouldn't likely see a disruption in classes for at least a week, even if teachers authorize a strike, said union officials. But the Lay Teachers Association, which represents some 430 non-clerical teachers at the schools, said they are dug in.

"The archdiocese seems to always want to test our strength," said Henry Kielkucki, business manager for the union. "They have given us their final offer, which means they don't want to negotiate with us anymore."

The union is upset about salary, pension benefits and medical insurance contributions in the proposed new contract. Archdiocese officials said the contract offer on the table includes generous raises, increases in contributions to teacher pensions and modest insurance increases that would be the envy of most.

"We hope the teachers look at this very carefully," said Joe Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York.

The union wants experienced teachers to earn $60,000 by 2010. The archdiocese, according to the union, has offered an 11 percent raise over three years, plus a $2,800 increase in family coverage. The average member of the union earns $44,500 a year.

The union and the archdiocese have a troubled recent history. A contract dispute in 2001 resulted in a 17-day strike. In 2004, the union again voted to authorize a strike but renewed negotiations headed off a work stoppage.

Zwilling said salary increases in the new contract would boost some teacher's salaries by 19.5 percent by 2009. Kielkucki disputes the math. Contract-required "step increases" in salaries are included in that number, he said.

In addition to the local schools, Monsignor Farrell and Moore Catholic High Schools on Staten Island; Cardinal Spellman and Cardinal Hayes in the Bronx; Cathedral High in Manhattan; and Maria Regina, JFK and Stepinac High Schools in Westchester could be affected by a possible strike.


SEIU taps Sisters of St. Joseph for dues

Hundreds of community members joined healthcare workers from St. Joseph Health System in Orange, CA, in a march outside the system's headquarters on 500 S. Main St. on Saturday.

Workers at the march want to organize a union with SEIU United Healthcare Workers, one of the largest hospital and healthcare unions in the western United States.

Among those attending the march were Assemblyman Jose Solorio, 59th District, actor and activist Ed Begley Jr., and the Rev. Wilfredo Benitez of St. Anslem of Canterbury Episcopal Church.


Unions put up local Indiana political candidates

Three Valparaiso, IN candidates, including Mayor Jon Costas, who is running unopposed, received endorsements from two area labor groups.

The Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor and the Northwest Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council endorsed Costas, 4th District council candidate Jeff Lawley and at-large council candidate Michael Essany.

"We don't often endorse council candidates, but Michael seems to be in the frame of mind of the working men and women," Jerome Davison, president of the Federation of Labor, said. "He has some good ideas, and he's well-informed. He brings some good things to the table, and it's nice to see a fresh, young face with new ideas who can articulate them and come across to the folks of Northwest Indiana."

Lawley is president of the local Firefighters Union.

Davison said: "He understands the property tax and infrastructure needs, and he understands the needs of the first responders. He brings a good balance to the council, and he understands the needs of working men and women. I think he and Michael both understand how collective bargaining is important to the working men and women."

Essany, a member of the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists union, said: "Their support not only illustrates the need for more union support in our city, I think it also speaks to how many incumbents are perceived as unfriendly to unions."

Lawley, a Democrat, is running against Republican Kelly Ward. Essany, a Democrat, is one of four at-large candidates seeking two positions. The other candidates are Democrat Julia Versau and Republicans Art Elwood and Jan Dick, the incumbent.


Secret AFSCME connection creates candidate conflict

If elected to represent District 2 on Toledo (OH) City Council, Molly McHugh Branyan might feel more than the normal interest council members have when they vote to approve the budget each year. She'd also be deciding the salary and benefits of her husband, Kevin Branyan.

Mr. Branyan, 46, is a bridge mechanic in the city's Division of Streets, Bridges, and Harbor. He started with the city in 1987 and is paid $42,043 a year. He's a member of Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union. Mrs. Branyan, the endorsed Democrat, did not announce that her husband is on the city payroll, and doesn't mention it on her Web site.

Mrs. Branyan's opponent, D. Michael Collins, said she should have. He said she may have legal conflicts of interest on issues that relate to city employees, and voters should have been informed before the Sept. 11 primary election.

"We went through a primary election with very, very few people having an idea that one of the candidates in that field of 10 had a spouse employed by the city," he said. "I think that was a fair expectation for her to have to disclose it." He said he didn't know until this weekend about her husband's employment.

Mrs. Branyan and Mr. Collins, a political independent, were the top vote-getters in the primary to replace term-limited Republican Rob Ludeman in the South Toledo district. The general election is Nov. 6.

"There was no intention to hide," Mrs. Branyan said yesterday, adding that it is no secret her husband works for the city. "I did not feel a public statement was necessary."

Mrs. Branyan, a real estate agent, said while deciding whether to become a candidate she discussed the issue with her husband and with her father, John McHugh, who was mayor of Toledo from 1989 to 1993.

"The only thing would be that when they negotiate the contract I would recuse myself when they go to vote on it," Mrs. Branyan said.

David Freel, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, said Mrs. Branyan would face a conflict on a measure that approves health insurance coverage for Mr. Branyan if the coverage also insures her.

But he said state law allows public officials to vote on labor contracts that affect their spouses if the spouse is treated the same as all other employees.

Council already has one member who has a conflict of interest relating to city labor contracts.

Democrat Mark Sobczak has said he would abstain from voting on the contract of Teamsters Local 20 because he is vice president of the union.

John Madigan, city law director, said he had not researched the issue as of yesterday, but suggested that Mrs. Branyan abstain from voting on the AFSCME Local 7 contract if Mr. Branyan is a member of the union at that time.


Gov't unions pressure Houston for higher pay

As contract negotiations between the city and its government workers' union intensify, some of those employees are applying a variety of public pressure tactics in an effort to get higher pay.

The Houston (TX) Organization of Public Employees last week, for example, invited state Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, to a news conference where members called on the city to increase salaries for its lowest-paid employees.

Several union members joined Noriega, whose wife serves on City Council, outside the Houston Police Department, asking Mayor Bill White to pay the 1,000 employees working for less than $10-an-hour a "living wage."

"I had someone say to me, 'You mean you would pay a lifeguard $10 an hour?' I said, 'If that person saved my life, I'd pay them $100 an hour,' " Noriega said. "I don't see how you distinguish, in those circumstances, the important work that all these employees do."

The event was the latest public-relations move taken by the union, which also has sent dozens of members to City Council in recent weeks to complain about low wages and benefit costs. Several members also are featured in a Web site, www.houstonwehaveaproblem.com, that derides their "second-class pay." And more events are planned for this week, including a downtown rally Thursday night and a blog by Councilman Peter Brown, who will live on $92.12 for four days, the same budget as a city health department clerk.

The discussion led White to send an e-mail recently to all 13,000 civilian employees. He asked them to use "good judgment" in weighing claims by the union, which is a marriage of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.

"This Administration is listening to your concerns," White's e-mail read. "Again, I thank both the employee representatives and the management representatives who have worked hard during this negotiation. We are attempting to bring this negotiation to a conclusion soon."

'Performance-based' raises

At issue are the ongoing meet-and-confer contract negotiations — the first ever between civilian municipal workers in Texas. The talks began in May, and it is possible a deal could be reached within weeks.

The city has offered a four-year, 16-percent increase in the size of its civilian payroll budget, but so far only has guaranteed 2-percent across-the-board raises each year. White prefers to set aside some money and let supervisors give larger raises to the best employees.

"One of the issues from the very beginning was that the mayor wanted to make certain that part of the compensation made available in the budget would be performance-based," said Anthony Hall, the city's chief administrative officer.

Hall and other city officials say there's only so much they can offer, without threatening to force layoffs or privatization of services on future mayors and councils who might face leaner budget circumstances.

The average municipal employee in Houston is paid about $37,000 annually, according to the city, a figure that increases to $59,000 with benefits such as vacation time, pension contributions and health insurance.

But the union last week focused on the lowest-paid workers, the laborers, data entry clerks and other entry-level positions that are paid less then $10 per hour. The union also praised the police department's recent effort to pay all civilian employees a $20,000 annual salary.

Surplus anticipated

"We have department leadership that has seen fit to stand up and give us a living wage," said James Moore, a 30-year city employee in public works. "We can't say that for every department."

The union's call for more money comes as White is devoting higher-than-expected property tax revenue to pay for more police overtime as the understaffed force strives to recruit and hire another 500 officers by 2010. The city also expects to have a surplus of some $250 million by next summer, leading the members to ask why some of that cannot be directed at their paychecks.

White has said his administration will use the money to rely less on debt while paying for expenses the city expects to increase over the next two years. That includes public safety spending, but also skyrocketing health-care costs for workers.

Still, the disparity in civilian and police and fire pay has some questioning the city's commitment to workers.

"We know that the public safety arena — police and fire — gets all the attention," said the Rev. Richard Hassell of the Sheeler Memorial CME Church, and a leader with the activist group The Metropolitan Organization. "But we believe the other employees are just as important to the city."


Teamsters raid AMFA for United Airlines dues

A group of airline mechanics at United Airlines, displeased with the union that represents them, is asking members to switch to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The disgruntled union workers are part of the 3,000 United Airlines mechanics at the carrier's maintenance shop at San Francisco International Airport, where unrest stirred not long after the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) was elected in mid-2003 to represent them.

The airline industry was in deep economic decline, and the mechanics walked away from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, their union home for 58 years.

About 12 United Airlines mechanics were disgruntled early on with their new union, complaining, among other things, about the handling of grievances and saying that the union did not gain the support of other key unions representing United Airlines workers, including the flight attendants and pilots.

In December 2005, the disgruntled United mechanics began collecting authorization cards from fellow workers, as well as contacting furloughed workers asking them for their support and promise to vote in favor of changing union representation when an election takes place, perhaps by year's end.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association "showed they do not have the political clout, they do not have the support of the other unions," said Richard Petrovsky, a United Airlines mechanic for nearly 38 years - that includes two periods when he was furloughed - who was an organizer. "It's really a very inexperienced group and with the lack of support from the other unions and their go-it-alone attitude, that gets them into trouble," he said of AMFA.

Petrovsky said he believes a majority of the 3,000 active mechanics at the maintenance shop are willing to vote to switch union representation. There are about 5,800 mechanics working for the airline in the United States. They would be included in a union representation transfer.

The critics also complain that the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association erred in taking 4,400 members out on strike at Northwest Airlines, from August 2005 to November 2006. By late 2005 replacement workers had their jobs.

"All of a sudden they are born-again Teamsters," Joseph Prisco, the president of AMFA Local 9, which represents the workers, said of the critics. "They think United is going to be scared when someone wearing a Teamsters logo comes to bargain. That's not how it works. We give our members what they need when they need it," said Prisco, based in San Bruno.

The Railway Labor Act, which governs labor relations in the railway and airline industries, requires the union to get authorization cards from mechanics to file for an election. In the vote, there must be a majority of more than 50 percent in favor of a change of representation - of both active and furloughed workers.

The result could be the loss of union representation entirely if less than a majority of members, active and furloughed, vote.

The goal of the proponents for change is authorization cards for 65 percent of eligible voters.

The Teamsters union is supporting the proposed switch.

"AMFA is more of a service organization than a union, and it failed miserably in taking care of the workforce," said Chuck Mack, Western regional vice president of the Teamsters.

"Our focus is on aircraft mechanics, not on butchers and bakers and candlestick makers," said Prisco. "If size matters, the workers would still be with the IAM. We're focused on what members say is most important in their working lives."

Among its 1.4 million members, the Teamsters union represents two large groups of airline mechanics, at Continental Airlines and United Parcel Service. Its membership includes some pilots and flight attendants and cargo handlers.

AMFA also represents mechanics at Alaska Airlines, ATA, Horizon Air, Mesaba Airlines and Southwest Airlines.


Police closing-in on SEIU official's killers

Rochester, NY police say they're close to making arrests in the murder of SEIU official Latasha Shaw. Her sister tells News 10NBC that she has faced the killers. The problem, Charnette Grayson says, is that she just can't prove it.

Latasha Shaw was attacked and stabbed to death in broad daylight on Dewey Avenue September 29. Police are trying to match names to the pictures of suspects that they have.

"Everybody is angry. A lot of people from the community. But my family is furious," Grayson said.

It's been three weeks since Grayson lost her sister and best friend. Shaw was jumped by a group of men, women and teenagers, about 20 in all. Grayson was with her, looking for the people that beat up Shaw's daughter less than an hour before.

"She said, 'you all come back because they got knives and bats and stuff,' " Grayson said. "They all come running out of the house. She fell. Then I turned around. We were fighting and the next thing I know, was she wasn't moving."

Shaw was stabbed and killed with a butcher's knife. The whole attack happened in front of dozens of people. Since then, Grayson says she's even come face to face with the people she says are the killers.

"We see them. We hear some of the names, some of the girls. You know they were involved, you just can't prove it," Grayson said. "Yeah, we bump into them. We done seen them out."

RPD investigators tell Grayson they're close to making arrests. They've shown her pictures of suspects and they're trying to put names to the faces. Grayson says enough people saw those faces and know the names, but some are still afraid to come forward.

"I think some people are scared because there's still stuff going on on Dewey, so I think people are scared," she said.

"Are you scared?" we asked. "Oh no. I'm not scared. I just hate the fact that they're still out," she said.

The 911-call sheet from that afternoon in September shows there were at least 20 calls made within two of minutes of the attacks. One call was made just before. That came from Latasha Shaw's cell phone.


Employer wheels and deals during strike

Jeff Bowen, International Truck and Engine Corp.'s vice president of human resources operations, has been faced with many questions since the company on Thursday announced its plan to purchase General Motors' medium-duty truck business.

The majority of the inquiries have dealt with the location the new trucks might be built. Some company representatives have said Springfield is an option, pending changes in work rules and job classifications. Bowen said he has "heard from Springfield employees who are excited about the prospect," offering a response that reinforced the position the company has held for years.

"No new products will be built in that facility unless significant changes are made to make Springfield operate more competitively."

Bowen said the company is meeting orders even though more than 4,000 United Auto Workers members at International Truck and Engine Corp.'s facilities in six states have been on strike since last week.

"Though we still want a competitive deal with the union, we simply can not allow either the strike or the union's delay in bargaining impact our customers." International has the capabilities, he said, to fulfill orders even with the current strike situation.

Even though there are clear differences between the UAW and International, Bowen praised UAW members for their actions. "I am pleased to communicate the behavior exhibited so far on the picket lines has been safe and respectful both by picketers and those crossing the picket lines," he said.

Bowen stressed the need for renewed negotiations. "Events are rapidly evolving and decisions must be made as opportunities are presented."


Three strikes for UAW

Following nationwide walkouts at General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC, the United Auto Workers called for a strike at International Truck and Engine Corp. plants Oct. 23, saying the company had “shredded” its agreement with the union.

Operations continued without union members at the Truck Development and Technology Center and the Truck Reliability Center in Fort Wayne after UAW workers set up pickets at the facilities.

The International Truck and Engine facilities in Fort Wayne employ about 1,000 workers, including close to 300 represented by UAW Local 2911. Members of the local carried signs at entrances of the facilities to call attention to the strike.

“We are out here picketing,” said Tom Burkholder, president of the local. “This is an unfair labor practice strike, not an economic strike. It’s for interfering with negotiation of the contract. We don’t know when we’re going back.”

More than 4,000 UAW members at 11 local unions in six states went on strike at 5 p.m. Oct. 23 against International, charging the company with unfair labor practices.

“International Truck and Engine has shredded our agreement, shipped our work out of the country and trampled our nation’s labor laws,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in a statement.

“When UAW members are on strike for justice anywhere, they have the support of UAW members everywhere — and our entire union is standing shoulder to shoulder with our members at ITE.”

International said in a statement that UAW accusations against it “are completely unfounded and false.” “But we’re not going to elaborate further at this point,” the statement continued. “All along we have engaged in good faith bargaining and we will continue to do so throughout this process.”

International is owned by Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar International Corp., which has been pushing for cost reductions from the union.

In addition to making International brand trucks, Navistar produces diesel engines for large Ford Motor Co. pickup trucks.

For more than two years, the company and union had engaged in various periods of early negotiations, attempting to reach agreement on changes that would improve the competitiveness of International’s UAW-represented facilities.

In June 2006, the company and UAW leadership reached a tentative agreement on new contracts, but 84 percent of the voting UAW membership rejected it. Negotiations began again on Aug. 27 and had continued past the Oct. 1 expiration of the labor agreements.

On Oct. 4, the UAW notified International it had chosen to take a break from bargaining in order to conduct a detail examination of the company’s proposals. Talks resumed at the national level Oct. 21, but broke down within two days. The bargaining never resumed at the local level.

“The union’s decision to strike is disappointing,” said Jeff Bowen, the company’s human-resources vice president, in a statement. “All of the changes we have been discussing are already in place at other UAW-represented manufacturers in our industry.”

UAW officials also expressed disappointment in the breakdown of the talks. Both sides said they were ready to continue bargaining, but UAW officials said the talks needed to resume under fair conditions for negotiation.

“Our bargaining committee came to these negotiations with every intention of reaching an agreement,” said UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who directs the union’s Heavy Trucks Department, in the UAW statement.

“But it takes two sides to reach a deal — and it has unfortunately become apparent that management at ITE is not yet willing to work with us to negotiate a fair and equitable contract.”

The company has violated U.S. labor law, said Holiefield, by making unilateral changes in the terms and conditions of employment, ordering an illegal lockout at the company’s assembly plant in Springfield, Ohio, and refusing to provide the UAW bargaining team with information necessary for negotiations.

“ITE executives moved our work to Mexico and to nonunion plants in Texas, canceled our supplemental unemployment benefits and ignored our job security program,” Holiefield said.

The UAW has filed charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board regarding ITE’s conduct.

“We’re prepared to return to the bargaining table at any time,” Holiefield said in the statement. “If the company is willing to abide by the law and respect our hard-working members at ITE, we believe we can resolve our differences.”

In addition to Local 2911, workers on strike include members of UAW Local 98 at the ITE Indianapolis Engine Plant; Local 226 at Indianapolis Casting Corp.; Local 2274, who are ITE clerical and technical workers in Indianapolis; and Local 402 at the ITE Springfield Assembly Plant and Local 658 representing ITE clerical and technical workers in Springfield.

The strike also includes Local 6 at the ITE Engine Plant in Melrose Park, Ill.; Local 2293, which represents clerical and technical workers in Melrose Park; Local 472 at the ITE Parts Distribution Center in Atlanta; UAW Local 119 at the ITE Parts Distribution Center in Dallas, and Local 1872 at the ITE Parts Distribution Center in York, Pa.

Jeff Benzing, communications manager for International in Fort Wayne, said the day after the strike was called pickets “were very orderly ... there were no problems at all.”

“We are operating,” he said. “We had plans in place to make sure we meet our customers’ needs. Our No. 1 focus is to take care of our customers and we are doing that. Our first and foremost concern is the safety of all our employees, both the ones in the building and the ones on the picket line.”


UAW-Navistar strike enters week 2

Monday begins week two for a strike at Navistar, one of the city's largest industrial plants. It's been nearly a week since workers walked off the job and this weekend there was no reported progress that would end this strike.

Just over 4,000 Navistar workers in six states remain on strike Monday morning, and about half of those workers are in Indiana. About 1600 work at the facility on Brookville Road. Another 400 work at a Navistar plant in Fort Wayne.

The company is an engine assembly plant that works with Ford. Ford announced in August that it would cut car and truck production by 21-percent through the end of the year and temporarily stop production at ten assembly plants.

Union members say they've been working without a contract for several weeks. The union also has filed unfair labor practices claims against the company.

"We feel there is some unfair labor practice, so we felt there was no other thing to do but take a stand and go out on strike," said John Whistler, union member.

A spokesman said last week the company has been negotiating in good faith. He also says production will continue at non-union plants.

Our attempts to get a hold of anyone from Navistar to update the situation were unsuccessful.


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