Unions unleash RICO-like attack on Rite Aid

As it attempts to boost its two-year old pharmacy benefits management company (Rite Aid Solutions) at the International Foundation Employee Benefits conference in Anaheim, CA, problems continue to plague Rite Aid.

The nation's third-largest drug chain is struggling with the integration of 1,854 newly acquired Brooks and Eckerd stores, a plummeting stock, a consumer fraud suit in New Jersey, and escalating labor disputes on both coasts. In addition, Rite Aid remains under the watchful eye of federal billing fraud monitors through May 2008.

The International Foundation expects to draw some 5,000 participants to its 53rd Annual Employee Benefits conference, held Nov. 3-7 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Most attendees are involved in administering union health care and pension trusts. At the opening of the International Foundation Employee Benefits conference, a bicoastal labor coalition is inviting attendees to a reception to learn more about Rite Aid, its pharmacy benefits management service (PBM) and its aggressive anti-union actions. Food and beverages will be served.

The labor coalition sponsoring the reception brings together 1199SEIU (Service Employees International Union), the nation's largest health care union; ILWU, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and UFCW, (United Food and Commercial Workers). A new website devoted to Rite Aid news will also hit cyberspace just in time for the conference. The ILWU sponsored site, www.riteaidinsider.com, tracks issues of concern to investors, consumers, and seniors. 1199SEIU also has a website for drugstore employees at www.riteaidworkerstogether.org.


Collectivist Gov. betrays Big Business backers

Gov. Bill Ritter risked alienation from business leaders and an acidic attack from the state GOP when he signed an executive order creating a bargaining partnership with state workers.

The governor's decision to bypass the legislature immediately touched off an explosive debate over whether he took a courageous stand for the state's rank-and-file or opened the door for unions to take over Colorado.

Ritter's move Friday afternoon, in the works since he unexpectedly vetoed a pro-labor bill early this year, infuriated some of the state's top business executives and sent statehouse Republicans into a frenzy.

The executive order did not give state employees the powers of traditional collective bargaining - it contains a no-strike policy and specifies the new "partnership agreements" will not result in binding arbitration.

But workers now will have the right to collectively negotiate on matters of workplace safety, training and efficiency. Employees - represented by the union of their choice - can bargain on any "issues of mutual concern," including wages, health care and staffing.

The legislature, however, gives up none of its authority to set the state budget, which means lawmakers could toss out any agreement that costs money. And the governor is not bound to include such agreements in his annual budget proposal. Ritter said labor leaders were disappointed his order didn't include a strike provision or binding arbitration - allowing a third party to settle a dispute, no matter the outcome. Business leaders accused him of letting unions get a toehold on state government.

"All I'm thinking the whole while is this is about state employees," said Ritter, the son of a heavy-equipment operator in a union. "I'll still be frugal with the taxpayer dollar. But I will not apologize for paying attention to issues that make a difference in the quality of lives."

Ritter said he signed an executive order instead of taking a proposal to the legislature because "state employees operate within the purview of the executive branch." Also, he has more flexibility to tweak the policy if necessary and avoids some of the "polarizing" debate inside the Capitol.

Republicans called the move "an abuse of power." "This should be discussed by the legislature, but instead, it's a power grab," said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.

Ritter's order thrilled labor leaders and some state workers. "We didn't have a voice, and now we do," said Bill Cron, an information technology employee for the state Department of Transportation. "I'm ecstatic." Cron said he tried to speak up about a flawed computer system that cost the state millions of dollars, but he had no "voice at the table."

Business leaders, meanwhile, warned that the move would make businesses think twice about relocating here. "I'm surprised the governor would circumvent the legislative process to take this route," said Tony Gagliardi, Colorado director of the National Federation of Independent Business. He said collective bargaining for state workers "would lead to further polarization between the business community and labor."

Ritter upset union leaders this year when he vetoed House Bill 1072, which would have eliminated a second vote that's now needed to create all-union shops.

He said then that his "sympathies lie with Colorado's working families" but that he couldn't sign the bill because he was disappointed in the process, calling it "overheated politics at its worst."

Critics of Ritter's executive order also argued that a partnership with state workers is unnecessary.

"Unions exist to push for higher salaries, and Colorado employees already have excellent salaries compared to the region and compared to the nation," said Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield.

The American Federation of Teachers, in a nationwide salary survey, found that skilled state workers under collective bargaining earned about 14.2 percent more than workers without it on average, per year, than workers without it. But even without collective bargaining in Colorado, state workers here earned 5.6 percent more than all state workers in average annual salary last year.

Mitchell called Ritter's order a "union Christmas present."

"A chunk of state employee paychecks will go straight to union bosses and predominantly to Democratic campaigns," he said.

Unions donated $213,040 to Ritter's 2006 gubernatorial campaign, compared with $1.2 million from business groups, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Ritter said the order, effective immediately, does not require employees to join a labor union or to pay dues if they do not join. But Republicans said it did not provide workers enough protection from "union coercion."

"With a stroke of the pen, he has thrown state employees under the union bus," said Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs.

Economist: Impact minimal

Ritter said he consulted business leaders this summer and more intensely in the past two weeks. He said he was "disappointed by the hysteria" from the business community but not entirely surprised.

The governor said he rejects the notion that his order will discourage businesses from coming to Colorado. He pointed toward his recently released economic-development agenda, which was praised by the business community.

Dave Paladino, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, called Ritter's order a "Colorado hybrid," taking the best management practices from across the country.

"Gov. Ritter has provided state employees and the state with a new way of looking at how to better manage state government," he said.

The order could affect about 30,000 classified state employees, though elected department heads can enforce it at their discretion.

Secretary of State Mike Coffman, a Republican, announced even before Ritter's afternoon news release that his office would ignore the Democratic governor's order. The office employs more than 120 people.

"This effort is clearly not in the interest of Colorado's taxpayers and will not lead to more efficient government," Coffman said.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer called Coffman's statement "cute."

"I thought it was very clever of him; he is not obligated to participate," Dreyer said. "The governor personally explained this to the secretary of state, twice."

Ritter's order creates agreements that include traditional elements of collective bargaining - minus some key powers, said University of Denver economics professor George DeMartino.

The effect "really puts an emphasis for the parties to find common ground," DeMartino said.

But University of Colorado economist Jeffrey Zax questioned the order's impact.

"The practical effect of this is pretty minimal," Zax said. Without binding agreements, "why would the state have any incentive to argue in good faith?"


Guilty County now looks to low-ball AFSCME

Josephine County (OR) Commissioners plan on at least one more executive session before meeting with union officials over a ruling this week that could cost the county thousands of dollars in back pay and benefits.

The Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) says that the County retaliated against certain employees for participating in a four-day strike. After the strike, the County hired another mental health company to provide services. The new company continued to employ most of the same people, but it changed the benefits package.

The ERB says full back pay and benefits are to be reinstated if a deadline to negotiate a settlement is not reached in thirty days.

AFSCME - the union representing the employees - says they figure from $70,000 to $1,000,000 could be owed AFSCME by the County. The County says it's hard to discern what the cost may be but they are looking at a $50,000 figure.

Both sides agree real figures are initially hard to break down until further review. Commissioners will meet again on Monday. Union officials say they may be meeting with commissioners for talks on Tuesday.


Writers employ classic shop floor strike tactics

The headquarters of the Writers Guild of America West became the command center for strike preparations Saturday as guild members met there to finalize plans for the walkout set to begin at midnight tonight.

About 300 strike captains - guild members who will serve as leaders on the picket lines - streamed into the building in Los Angeles' Fairfax district to get their marching orders from guild leaders.

Their cars crammed the parking lot of the Writers Guild, and when it was full, the captains parked in nearby lots meant for customers of Kmart and Ross Dress for Less. "People were pretty united," said Steve Skrovan, a writer for "'Til Death." "This is it. This is the time in history that a stand has to be made."

The strike preparations came three days after contract talks between writers and their employers broke down amid disputes over the amount of money writers should receive from DVDs and from shows distributed online. The writers' three-year contract expired Wednesday.

Saturday's high turnout gave a glimpse of what is expected to be well-organized and widespread picketing Monday. It is the culmination of a months-long strategy by chief negotiator David Young to mobilize the union's rank and file and prepare them for a possible strike.

Since being named executive director of the Writers Guild of America West last year, Young has borrowed heavily from his background as an organizer of garment workers, carpenters and construction laborers, employing what he calls a "classic shop floor" approach.

Strike captains are a key part of the effort. Young has heavily relied on captains not only to update guild members about negotiations but also to rally them.

The captains, each of whom are responsible for calling designated groups of writers by shows or geographic area, recently played an important role in the record turnout by guild members who voted by a 90% margin to authorize their leaders to call a strike. Captains contacted members who had not voted and urged them to do so.

The guild also established a phone bank in the headquarters Saturday to call members and alert them of developments, captains said. They left the two-hour-plus meeting to alert members of the plans for Monday, saying they had little faith that any progress would be made in last-ditch negotiations between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that was scheduled for this morning.

Guild members are being asked to sign up for a shift beginning at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. and will be given signs, chants and red T-shirts emblazoned with "United We Stand" when they arrive on site, captains said. Each member is expected to picket four hours every day. Of the guild's 12,000 members, about 8,000 are in WGA West, with the remainder in WGA East, which plans to picket in New York.

Many of the members will picket outside the studios in which the shows they were working on are made, while others will be assigned to locations based on where they live.

Although several of the strike captains leaving the building said they had been asked by guild leaders not to talk to the media, others spoke passionately about the need for action.

"These are some of the most important issues writers have faced in many years," said Dan E. Fesman, a writer for "NCIS." "If we don't get these protections now, then we don't know what our futures are going to be."

Other captains talked about the message the strike would send to other unions, which they said have been largely defeated in the last few years.

"It's the middle class versus the CEOs -- maybe the middle class can win one this time," said Sivert Glarum, who has written for shows such as "Rules of Engagement" and "King of the Hill."

"This is union-wide. If we go down, they all go down."


UAW-Navistar strikers choose anonymity

Four thousand UAW members at 11 local unions in six states have been on strike since Oct. 23 against International Truck and Engine, maker of Navistar trucks, in response to the company’s unfair labor practices.

“The company moved our work to Mexico and to nonunion plants in Texas, cancelled our supplemental unemployment benefits and ignored our job security program,” said General Holiefield, UAW vice president and head of the union’s trucking division.

Mike, who wished to be identified only by his first name, is a member of UAW Local 98 in Indianapolis, Ind. He and other autoworkers talked to the World last week outside the local union hall. He said the workers “had to take a stand” not only for themselves at their company but for all autoworkers at GM, Chrysler and Ford.

The workers told the World that the company had ordered an illegal lockout of employees at the Springfield, Ohio, plant and that at their Indiana plant Navistar has ignored a master recall list that was part of the latest contract. The company is flouting past practice by hiring temporary employees to replace workers who retire and to fill in for full-timers who take sick leave or vacation.


SEIU strikers bite the hand that needs them

You don't think Tuesday's election influenced the Beaver County (PA) Courthouse employees' decision to stage a one-day strike Friday do you? If not then we've got some swamp land in Florida to sell you. Cheap.

After three years of occasionally threatening to do, well, something, Service Employees International Union Local 668 finally got the gumption to twist a few arms, namely those of Commissioners Chairman Joe Spanik and Commissioner Charlie Camp, who are up for re-election in two days.

Camp didn't seem too worried at all when we talked to him Friday, even though he said the strike was "all about" getting him and Spanik "to feel the heat and be worried about the election results."

Maybe Charlie wasn't worried because he gets more "attaboys" about standing up to the union than complaints about not caving in. It's just a thought.

Spanik, on the other hand, looked exhausted and totally deflated Friday afternoon. The former labor official had spent days negotiating, trying to avoid an artificial deadline that only existed because of the election. Then, he had to sit and watch his union brethren turn on him.

Things really got bizarre when their union rep said the county was reviewing a proposal and they could return to work. Pandemonium erupted as employees started screaming at him and Spanik, mostly Spanik. Funny thing was, the union had asked whether their members could return to work for the rest of the day, and Spanik said yes.

It seems the workers preferred to lose an entire day's pay striking rather than return to their jobs-for-life and get a half-day's pay. No joke.

Inside the courthouse, which remained open all day, the offices we visited seemed to be handling their few visitors pretty well. Surprisingly well, actually.

We talked to one Important County Official at the end of the day who put into words what some people had to be thinking: Maybe the only thing the striking workers proved Friday is that the county can afford to cut about 200 jobs.


Striking football coach relieved from duty

Some things I just don't seem to understand. Better make that a lot of things. Maybe I'm not supposed to but when things seem to be more than a little out of line, it tends to rub the wrong way. And what happened to Reynolds (PA) High football coach Tim Scarvel just wasn't right in my books or in my way of thinking.

Scarvel, along with other members of his coaching staff, was relieved from his coaching position because he refused to coach during the Reynolds teachers strike. The teachers hit the picket line on Oct. 9 but since have returned to work without a contract.

I have always been under the assumption that belonging to a union somehow protected the rights of its members. Was anything done to protect Scarvel's rights? If the football coach and his staff were ousted, why weren't the striking teachers relieved of their positions?

I'm not a lawyer, but what happened to Scarvel just doesn't seem to be the right thing to have been done at Reynolds. Some rules were meant to be broken or downright discarded by the type of situation that applies. Scarvel, in my opinion, should certainly not have lost his job.

Scarvel, along with his father, Don, and brother Frank, (assistant coaches) were informed that should a strike take place (which it did) the coaches would be out of a job if they didn't cross the picket line. They didn't. The head coach remains a guidance teacher at the school.

The Scarvels are a football family. Tim was a former Farrell High standout while his father, Don, served for many years on the staff of the Farrell program.

At age 34, Scarvel will probably be looking for a coaching position at another school. He was in his fourth year at Reynolds and formerly served as an assistant coach with the program. Less than two years ago, Scarvel led the Raiders to one of the best seasons in the program's 45-year history. Now he's looking for a job. We feel certain he'll find a new position soon. He's young, experienced and certainly knows football.


Union's tactics worry seniors at O'Connor Woods

Since its inception, O'Connor Woods has maintained a friendly relationship among the founders, the Dominican order of nuns, directors, administrators, employees and residents. They formed a strong, close and thriving community. We would like to continue this unity without outside interference and avoid tension.

Many residents believe the union election that was held on Friday was divisive and appears to have created a hostile and insecure environment for employees and residents. We want to continue what's been a fair and friendly existence. O'Connor Woods has been fair to its employees. The residents' $100,000 Christmas fund for employees is one determining factor.

An Oct. 20 article in The Record lacked the investigative qualities that are so important to an unbiased story. The 18 members of clergy who signed a letter portraying O'Connor Woods as an unfair and unjust organization are uninformed. This is based on the fact Carol Been, a Lutheran minister from San Jose and deputy director of the Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, sent the letter. She's known as a social activist.

Edward T. Burda, Stockton

The residents 'love it'

Enough already. Articles in The Record about O'Connor Woods aren't true. Residents I've met love it as a safe, well-run place with every chance for appropriate activities and independent living choices. We pick which meal we eat and who we eat with. The menu choices are great and varied.

The employees seem to like their jobs. All of them couldn't possibly be pretending they're happy with their jobs. They've become good friends. Turnover doesn't seem to be a problem.

Mary Ellen Zawilla, Stockton

Higher costs would hurt

I've been a resident of O'Connor Woods for five years. When I moved in, this was a fantastic place with employees and residents having great camaraderie. Since the Service Employees International Union has been involved, there has been an antagonistic climate.

I can't understand why The Record said O'Connor Woods, especially Executive Director Scot Sinclair, is averse to "bargaining consistently." The National Labor Relations Board has reviewed numerous union complaints. They all were thrown out. If O'Connor Woods is engaging in "stall tactics and union busting," the board wouldn't have dismissed the complaints.

I can't believe how much mileage an incident about an employee supposedly removed from the property has received in The Record.

A quote from union spokesman Mason Stockstill - "in our opinion, O'Connor Woods is not treating their workers to the same standards as other Catholic health care institutions" - was a joke.

This isn't like any other "institution." This is an independent residential facility. The residents pay all costs, including salaries, health insurance, retirement funds, vacations and sick pay, etc. Not Medi-Cal. Not insurance companies. But every one of us pays for services provided. The majority of us are living on pensions and meager Social Security payments.

The $4 per hour the union is promising employees would raise our rents by more than $500 a month. Retirement benefits aren't very large for most of us. Each year, a huge amount of money is donated by residents at Christmas. Each employee receives a nice monetary gift. Some employees readily forget about this.

The clergy and The Record should visit our facility and talk to residents.

Maybe The Record could report both sides of the story. What a novel concept.

Lena Vasconcellos, Stockton

Employees 'like' jobs

We've been residents of O'Connor Woods since June and are more than satisfied. I've talked to a number of employees and they're always very pleasant. They say they like their jobs and enjoy working here.

Regarding the union, I've been on both sides. There is good and bad. Some have a tendency to make issues, trying to convince employees things aren't very good.

The Record's Oct. 20 article seemed to be slanted toward the union. Why not get information from both sides? Check what each says and publish an article with facts.

Earl W. Ringness, Stockton

Care that's nonprofit

What a sad state of affairs it is for O'Connor Woods, one of the most unique and beautiful retirement communities in the Central Valley.

I worked there for seven years, and there is no other comparable facility in the Valley. The environment, care and services are unsurpassed. I was welcomed and treated with respect and affection by most residents, who appreciate everything the staff does for them.

A generation that planned and saved for retirement, through no fault of its own, has faced a huge battle with the union and employees they've bonded with in their home.

When I worked at O'Connor Woods, I never lost sight of the fact I worked for a not-for-profit organization. The employees are working for the residents.

Do they still acknowledge O'Connor Woods is a not-for-profit senior residential community. Are they honoring, connecting and inspiring seniors? Are they transforming how people perceive and experience aging?

Cindy Welborn, Stockton


Bishop defends O'Connor Woods management

O'Connor Woods is a highly respected retirement facility in our community and provides quality care to its residents.

My predecessor, Bishop Donald Montrose, lives there, as do relatives of many who live in and around Stockton.

O'Connor Woods is also an institution that hires workers who live in our community.

On Oct. 7, 2005, these workers voted to form a union, but there has been little progress toward a contract. The delay in acting on the expressed will of the workers is troubling.

The resulting labor unrest between workers and management at this Catholic-sponsored facility has spread to residents and the wider community.

Without assigning blame or responsibility for this failure to come to an agreement, I reiterate principles of Catholic teaching that should guide this process.

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael join me in saying:

Workers always have the right to organize.

According to the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, "Among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the right of freely founding labor unions."

It's important to note this doesn't say, "If there are unjust conditions, workers have a right to organize."

There is no such presumption in the statement. Nor is there any such a presumption at O'Connor Woods.

It doesn't matter whether conditions are just or unjust. Workers always have the right to organize.

It's up to workers - not bishops, managers, union business agents or management consultants - to decide freely about how they wish to be represented in the workplace.

Workers are free to decide whether or not to be represented by a union. Catholic teaching guarantees their right to make the best decision for themselves and their families.

Representatives of management and unions need to pursue their legitimate objectives without undermining workers' rights to decide freely or management's responsibility to safeguard the facility's mission.

All must focus on the promotion of a collaborative workplace where mutual respect for the roles of workers and management thrives.

If workers vote to be represented by a union, management and union must be prepared to participate and conclude a reasonable contract within a reasonable time period.

If the workers decide they still want to form a union, a contract should be negotiated without delay.

If they decide otherwise, that decision must be respected. Catholic teaching respects their decision.

As bishop of the Diocese of Stockton, I'm grateful to the Dominican Sisters who have served this community so generously for so long.

Stephen Blaire
bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton (Stockton, CA)


Strike boss talks tough at Redco

Redco Foods, Inc. in Little Falls (NY) may need to do some rethinking if the union, Local 50 BCTGM, continues to picket. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco workers and Grain Millers union at Redco Foods began their strike Thursday in an effort to make the company see what they feel could be a negative future for new and potential workers.

According to Joe Svingala, vice president of Local 50 BCTGM, the strike was a stand to protect the rights of future employees at Redco. The union has approximately 2,400 members, including those in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. There are 51 members in Local 50.

“Redco is trying to get all brand new employees to come in and work for low wages and take 25 percent of those wages for health care,” Svingala said. “They’re also taking away benefits and vacation time, and plan to take away the defined pension. The company is offering these new employees [and future ones] a 401K retirement plan, which they can’t afford because of everything else they pay for, making it a pointless offer.”

Svingala has been with the union since 1976 and has been a union officer since 1992. He said he and fellow members are trying to ease what the company is trying to do to all future employees.

“It’s too devastating for them,” Svingala said. “We’ve been negotiating since July, and there’s been no movement for new employees, nothing to protect the rights of these workers.”

Furthermore, Svingala continued, the company is only looking for a two-year contract.

“If we allow them to devastate new workers, they’ll be coming after all the current workers within 20 minutes.”

After several attempts to reach him, Redco’s Vice President of Operations Dale Wager was not available for comment at press time.

“We want to get this resolved in the shortest time possible,” Svingala said Thursday. “I would go back this afternoon if we could resolve this matter.”


SEIU authorizes strike against WV hospital

Workers at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington (WV) voted Friday night to post a ten day strike notice. These workers include: Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN's) but not Registered Nurses. This also includes housekeeping, business office employees, maintenance and some clerical positions.

Joyce Gibson who represents the 763 workers through the Service Employees International Union says they'd been in contract negotiations with Cabell since August with very little movement until early Friday morning. That's when she says the hospital laid down a final counter offer, but pulled it off the table ten minutes later. Ms. Gibson says the union was ready to approve that offer. Now, she says they'll hit the picket line in ten days unless both sides can reach an agreement.

Without getting into the specifics of the negotiations, the hospital says it hopes to work out a new deal before any possible strike.

The last time nurses, aides service and maintenance workers at Cabell Huntington went on strike was nine years ago.


Right To Work states embraced as business-friendly

A decade ago, Hawaii's climate for small business was ranked dead last by an entrepreneur advocacy group called the Small Business Survival Committee. Hawaii crawled out of the cellar six years ago, made it to 46th-friendliest two years ago, has achieved respectability by gaining four more notches in the latest rating and deserves further elevation in the next assessment.

The Small Business Survival Index is less than objective. It was shrugged off five years ago by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano as "very, very conservative." Indeed, Hawaii and other states are dinged a point for allowing union shops while right-to-work states are embraced as business-friendly.

Comparisons to past ratings also are questionable, especially in the category of workers comp premiums, where Hawaii made its biggest gain from previous indexes issued by the committee. Two years ago, Hawaii's premiums were ranked at third-costliest among states and the District of Columbia. In the 2007 index, Hawaii improved to 13th-costliest in workers comp, a significant improvement.

Or is it? In the 2005 index, the ranking by cost of workers comp premiums was based on a summary compiled by Oregon's Department of Consumer & Business Services, based on 2004 data. Hawaii's improved ranking this year is based on a survey released three months ago by the National Academy of Social Insurance -- based on data about workers comp benefits for 2004.

The small-business group's report does not explain why it assessed the cost of premiums in its 2005 rankings and benefits this year -- both based on 2004 data. (The change vaulted the District Columbia from ninth-most-expensive in 2005 to the cheapest in this year's rankings.)

That is not to imply that island businesses' cost of workers comp has remained stagnant. The Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported that the Oregon agency's survey a year ago showed that the cost of Hawaii premiums had fallen from third-highest to 15th-highest - dropping from an average of $5.36 for every $100 of payroll for workers comp in 2003 to $4.49 for every $100 of payroll.

Hawaii's insurance commissioner agreed last month to allow a further reduction of 19.3 percent in the cost of workers comp. Although insurance companies are not required to reduce premiums, their trade organization had suggested a 16.8 percent reduction.

Small companies are not discouraged by the state's business-unfriendly reputation. The Small Business Administration's Hawaii District last year guaranteed more than $54.5 million in loans during the 2007 fiscal year -- a 35 percent increase over the previous year.

The ranking of Hawaii's business climate is not likely to soar to the top, as it will continue to be at or near the most expensive in important areas. The centrist Milken Institute in Los Angeles has entrenched Hawaii as the most expensive state to do business over the past three years, with the nation's highest taxes, electricity costs and industrial space costs.


Hungering for KY nurses' union dues

Thirteen years after losing a bitter election to unionize what is now Norton Audubon Hospital, the Nurses Professional Organization soon may get another try. The union lost that election handily, but the National Labor Relations Board voided the result because it said hospital managers coerced nurses to vote no.

Now, the labor board plans to hold a new election at the Louisville hospital on Poplar Level Road - and Norton Healthcare says it welcomes the vote. "Are we optimistic that we would win? Sure," said Tom Kmetz, president of the hospital. "I wouldn't say 'bring it on' -- I'm not that confident. But I'm pretty confident that we would be successful" in turning back the union effort.

The upcoming vote will determine whether Audubon will become the only major Louisville hospital, other than the VA Medical Center, to have union nurses.

Norton cleared the way for the new election by agreeing last month to settle an unfair labor-practices case involving its treatment of three pro-union nurses. Norton agreed to pay them about $172,000. The case had been a roadblock because the NLRB won't hold elections while unfair labor claims are pending at a workplace.

Norton told employees last week that it expects an election within a few months.

Kay Tillow, director of organization for the nurses group, said the union doesn't want a vote right away because it needs time to "reach out to (nurses) and to build our union," given the passage of 13 years since the last election at Audubon.

However, the NLRB wants to get the case resolved, and its regional director might not allow a delay, said Matthew Denholm, supervisory examiner at the Labor Relations Board's regional office in Cincinnati.

Norton officials maintain that Audubon is a much better place to work than in 1994, when Columbia/HCA Healthcare operated it.

They point out that the hospital has 41 percent more registered nurses now than under Columbia, though that occurred partly from replacing licensed practical nurses with more highly trained registered nurses. The company also said it has spent $65 million to upgrade Audubon's equipment and technology since 1998.

But Tillow said conditions at Audubon still are ripe for a union. She said nurses need higher wages, more respect, and protection from being assigned temporarily to units they're not familiar with.

She and former nurse organization members at Audubon said nurses need more of a voice in patient-care decisions and have too high a workload because there are too few nurses.

"You couldn't spend the time that you needed to with each patient," said retired nurse Patty Clark, a former president of the union, who will get a small portion of the pending settlement. She said nurses also have been fired for making mistakes caused by overwork.

An affiliated nurses' union in California won a law requiring minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in that state in 1999. Tillow said she believes the ratios at Audubon are often lower than the California requirements, although she couldn't provide figures.

Audubon chief nursing officer Jane Carmody said the hospital's staffing levels generally equal or exceed the California requirements, which vary for different areas such as intensive-care units and emergency rooms.
Uphill battle likely

To win an election at Audubon, the nurses' organization would have to win over nurses who arrived long after the late 1980s, when the hospital became a center of efforts to unionize Louisville nurses.

"I don't think I would vote for a union," said Genny Clifford, an intensive-care nurse who has been at Audubon five years.

She said Audubon has set up committees for nurses to share in decisions such as how to manage certain illnesses. "It makes me feel like I have a say in what I do," Clifford said.

"I just don't want to have anything to do with (a union) at all," said Ashley Ricketts, an emergency-room nurse. "You're putting yourself under somebody else's rule. And I don't like that. I like the way we're doing things now."

Few hospital nurses in the United States are in a union, but the practice is particularly uncommon in Kentucky, according to figures compiled by a national nurses' union.

About 18 percent of registered nurses nationwide are in a union, according to United American Nurses. The figure is about 11 percent in Kentucky, the organization said.

Nurses are unionized at the Louisville VA Medical Center - where civil service rules limit union powers - and Appalachian Regional Healthcare, which operates nine hospitals in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

Nurses in the Appalachian system, represented by the Kentucky Nurses Association, have been on strike since Oct. 1. Tillow and a group of NPO nurses from Audubon went to Hazard one day late last month to support them on the picket line. But Tillow stressed that that doesn't mean the NPO would consider a strike at Audubon if it won representation there.

The inherited lawsuit

The case Norton is settling for $172,000 involves a nurse who was fired by Columbia/HCA in 1994 and two nurses, including Clark, who were demoted from charge nurse to staff nurse in 1996. The NLRB found the nurses were punished for pro-union activity.

Norton inherited an obligation to give the nurses appropriate jobs after it bought Audubon, but hasn't done so, the NLRB has ruled.

Norton offered the two former charge nurses comparable positions, but defined the posts as supervisory -- meaning the two nurses could not take part in a union. The NLRB said that was wrong.

The nurse that Columbia fired, Joanne Sandusky, had been a lactation specialist at Audubon. Norton eventually offered her a position as a medical-surgical nurse, but not an infant-care job she was trained for. That offer was not "valid," the NLRB found.

Sandusky, 67, became a public-health nurse after Columbia fired her. She lost the most income and therefore got the bulk of Norton's settlement money. She said her amount was about $139,000.

Sandusky is retired, so she won't be involved in the Audubon election. But she said she hopes the union wins.

"It's been a long fight," she said, "but I really think it's worth it."


Canadian gov't union picks a cold time to strike

Students at Saskatchewan's two major universities were greeted by pickets as they made their way to school Friday morning. More than 2,400 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) put up picket lines outside the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan.

Picket lines in Regina have been set up at the main campus entrances at the University of Regina and at the old Regina Campus on College Avenue.
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) picketed at the University of Regina on Friday morning. More than 2,400 CUPE members were off the job at both the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Student Simon Kostic said he was forced to wait more than two minutes to cross the line. "They did a really good job of slowing traffic down," Kostic said. "As soon as the light turned green (the pickets) crossed over in order to slow traffic down. They walked in a circle in front of traffic to prevent people from coming in."

Lyssandra Pyle said she took the bus to the university this morning, but it wouldn't take her all the way. "The picketers stopped the bus (at the University Drive South entrance), so I had to walk to school from a farther distance," she said. "And it's getting cold out now, so it sucked."

Mike Ehman, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 588, which represents Regina Transit employees, said buses will not cross the picket line. But it is due to safety concerns, and is not a show of support for CUPE, he said. Officials from Regina Transit were unavailable to comment Friday.

Barb Pollock, vice-president of external affairs at the University of Regina, said students are going to be affected, but the university is working to ensure those effects are minimal.

"There are 110 of us out-of-scope staff, and we are doing what we can to maintain the essential parts of services - anything that affects the safety, health, and security of our students and staff - to minimize the impact on student programs," Pollock said Friday.

The University of Regina Faculty Association (URFA), which supports the strike, e-mailed its members asking that they do not volunteer for CUPE duties.

The university bookstore, pool, locker rooms and the lifestyles centre will remain closed and all intramural sports have been cancelled. The campus library hours have been shortened and will be closed weekends for the remainder of the strike. And food services are only available in the Riddell Centre.

Parking will still be enforced on campus. Parking enforcement officers are commissionaires, and not under this contract. However, the parking services office will be closed.

The university has contracted extra security staff - three officers inside, and five to monitor the picket lines. Pollock said that security is keeping an eye on the strike to ensure that there are not any problems.

The Serena Ryder concert Friday evening at Darke Hall was postponed until February - though refunds are available at point of purchase - and the Saturday performance of the play, The Water Child, at the U of R's ShuBox Theatre has also been cancelled.

Pollock said that most concerts will either be cancelled or postponed. She said that performances of plays, which require minimal staff, will be decided on a daily basis.

Class registration, set to commence next week, has been cancelled until further notice.

Don Puff, president of the affected CUPE local in Regina, said that the union is striking because the university refuses to change its position and return to the bargaining table.

Puff said that the major points of contention between CUPE and the universities are over concessions around benefits, and the fact that performance is tied to pay increments.

"At this point it's completely and totally up to the employers whether or not we go back to the table, and when we go to the table," Puff said from the picket line on College Avenue. "But, we'll be out here until we go back to the table and get a deal."

Pollock said the universities are more than willing to return to negotiations, but union representatives are not interested in "bargaining in good faith."

The strike could last a long time, and Pollock tells students they should check the U of R's Web site periodically to see what services will be affected and when.


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