Organized Labor is compared to Organized Crime

Organized Labor has a long history with extortion and the mob. Federal prosecutors have put most of those mob bosses behind bars, but unions haven’t renounced using blackmail to get what they want. They simply use more sophisticated methods to do the same thing.

Take the way unions exploit environmental concerns through Project Labor Agreements. Under PLAs, businesses promise to hire only union members — or else. Why would businesses sign such agreements? Because unions threaten to use environmental regulations to shut them down unless they sign the PLA.

The law requires companies to get environmental permits to begin major construction projects. The process takes time, and community groups may object to awarding the permits.

Unions can misuse these laws to kill a project outright — or at least delay it for several years. They can file environmental objections, conduct their own environmental impact assessment that shows that letting it go forward would harm the Earth, and use their influence to block companies from getting the necessary permits. Many businesses face an offer they can’t refuse: Sign a PLA and hire more expensive union members to construct their buildings, or the union will use environmental laws to shutter the project.

Sound like blackmail? That’s because it is. Only this time unions use government bureaucrats instead of armed thugs to intimidate businesses. It happens repeatedly:

— Gaylord Entertainment planned to build a $1 billion hotel and convention center on San Diego’s waterfront. The San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, however, insisted that Gaylord sign a PLA adding $100 million to the total cost or the union would tie up the project for years with environmental lawsuits. Gaylord pulled out, costing San Diego thousands of new jobs.

— The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 100 objected to a solar power plant being built in Fresno, Calif. Solar power plants are usually considered environmentally friendly, but this plant was being built with non-union labor. The IBEW discovered many environmental problems with the project and attempted to block it. Fortunately, the Fresno City Council saw through the attempted extortion and voted to reject the union’s complaints.

— Indeck Energy Services applied to build several co-generation power plants in upstate New York. The Building and Construction Trades Council also had environmental objections to this project and requested a meeting with Indeck’s president. At the meeting, however, instead of discussing the environment, the union bosses threatened to “stop every Indeck project in New York unless it went union.” Indeck capitulated, signed a PLA, and the union reversed its earlier objections, strongly urging the government to grant the environmental permits.

So why the shift toward, well, green blackmail? Because competition is putting the labor movement out of business. Unions are a cartel. They try to drive up wages by restricting the supply of workers. Businesses must pay what the union demands, and pass those higher costs on to consumers, or cancel the project. It’s an arrangement that suits organized labor quite well. However, it also means higher prices and fewer jobs overall.

But this only works when non-union competition is scarce. Consumers object to being overcharged and pick better value for their money. The auto, steel, trucking, and construction industries were heavily unionized before free trade and deregulation broke the monopoly. Today non-union companies dominate these sectors because they out-competed their unionized counterparts and provided Americans with better goods at lower prices.

The Labor movement wants its monopoly back. As long as some companies are free to hire non-union workers, that won’t happen.

How can the government stop on this abuse of environmental laws? There’s a simple solution. The government doesn’t enforce contracts signed under the threat of force. Indeck signed a PLA, but after encountering problems with their union contractor, they fired him and built the power plants with non-union labor. The Trades Council sued for breach of contract, and the case came before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB sensibly ruled that since Indeck was pressured into signing the PLA, the contract was invalid and the Trades Council had no standing to sue.

Unions should have to compete like everyone else, not use the government to force companies to hire them. Environmental blackmail is a return to the worst practices of the Labor movement. Congress should write the NLRB’s ruling into law to ensure that a future board doesn’t overturn it. Environmental laws should protect the earth, not a union monopoly.


Working for Union Earmarks

The ploy had been hatched behind closed doors by Democratic leaders of both houses. A pork-laden appropriations bill filled with $1 billion in earmarks would be combined with veto-proof spending for veterans. Instead, the two measures were decoupled in a party-line Senate vote last Tuesday.

The Democratic scheme to present President George W. Bush with a bill that he could not veto seemed a clever strategy, but it was based on presumption of Republican ignorance and cowardice. As late as last Monday, savvy GOP Senate staffers predicted that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's decoupling motion would fail. In fact, she did not lose a Republican senator as Democrats fell far short of the 60 votes needed to keep the two bills together.

During a confusing week on Capitol Hill, lawmakers engaged in games that were difficult for insiders to understand and incomprehensible to ordinary voters. As the first Congress controlled by Democrats since 1994 nears the end of its first year, the desire to bring home the bacon trumped concern over the falling dollar, the crisis in Pakistan and the continuing conflict in Iraq.

The reason not one of 13 appropriations bills had reached the president's desk was that Bush has threatened to veto at least 10 of them. Doubting their ability to override these vetoes, Democratic leaders conjured up combined packages that Bush would not dare veto. The earmark-heavy appropriations bill for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services would be joined with the defense bill, which funds Iraq, and with military construction, which contains money for veterans.

The defense component was quickly removed after protests by Rep. John Murtha, the influential chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. But plans for a Labor-HHS merger with the military construction legislation went forward. A stand-alone bill containing veterans money had passed the House, 409 to 2, on June 15, and a similar measure gained Senate approval, 92 to 1, on Sept. 6. These were measures Bush would sign. But Democrats held off final passage so they could meld it with the Labor-HHS measure, which they did in last week's Senate-House conference report.

At the same time, the pork content of Labor-HHS grew. Citizens Against Government Waste found 2,274 earmarks worth $1 billion in the bill. They include $1.5 million for the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute and $2.2 million for the AFL-CIO Appalachian Council. Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, North Dakota's two professed budget balancers, got $1 million for Bismarck State College. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS subcommittee, procured $882,025 for "abstinence education" in his home state of Pennsylvania.

The conference report's "compromise" Labor-HHS bill, at $151 billion, was actually more expensive than either the House or Senate version. It contains a $1 million earmark for a Thomas Daschle Center for Public Service and Representative Democracy at South Dakota State University to honor the former Senate majority leader, who was defeated for reelection in 2004. Sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Robert Byrd and Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Daschle Center funding was one of nine earmarks "airdropped" into the final version by the Senate-House conference without being passed by either the Senate or House. Silently removed from the bill by the conference report was the prohibition, passed by the Senate in a rare defeat for earmarkers, against spending $1 million for the Woodstock "hippies" museum in Bethel, N.Y.

In the past, if a point of order against an appropriations bill was affirmed, the whole bill would die. But a rule pressed by Democrats this year made it possible to split veterans spending away from Labor-HHS without killing the bill. All 46 Republican senators present voted to sustain the point of order, so the Senate fell 13 votes short of the 60 votes needed to keep the two bills together.

Consequently, the Senate had to pass the bloated Labor-HHS bill again last Tuesday. It did, but by a vote of 56 to 37, short of a veto-proof majority, as 19 Republican senators changed their affirmative vote from the last time they considered this bill. In an extraordinary outburst against the 19 switchers, Majority Leader Reid called them "sheep and chickens" who had "chosen to defend a failed president." In truth, he had just lost an audacious ploy.


Big Split: AFL-CIO raids SEIU police union

More than half of the Worcester (MA) Police Department’s 350 patrol officers have signed cards requesting an election next month to drop the union that has represented them for the last three decades.

The upcoming decertification election will further delay the start of contract talks between the city administration and the restive officers union, which has been working without a contract since June, when the last three-year labor pact ran out.

It is unclear how a new union would approach the bargaining table with City Manager Michael V. O’Brien, who extracted key concessions in the last contract, such as deleting a “re-opener” clause that had allowed the union to renegotiate if any other municipal union got a better deal, and higher employee health insurance contributions.

Some members of the police union are said to be angry about the Fire Department contract settlement earlier this year that they think was more generous than the one to which the police agreed in 2005 and served as a model for Mr. O’Brien’s negotiations with the other city unions.

A rival union, the AFL-CIO affilated New England Police Benevolent Association, is seeking to replace the current union, the SEIU-affiliated International Brotherhood of Police Officers, arguing that it will provide better legal representation in contract bargaining and for officers involved in grievance claims and discipline cases.

A third option could also be possible: dissolving the current International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 378 and replacing it with an independent police association, such as the one that represents Boston police officers.

The Lowell-based New England Police Benevolent Association, which is part of the AFL-CIO labor organization and the International Union of Police Associations, broke away from the International Brotherhood of Police Officers two years ago and has persuaded about a dozen local police and corrections unions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to join it since then.

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers is part of the National Association of Government Employees and the Service Employees International Union, which recently broke from the AFL-CIO to form the Change to Win labor federation. While the International Union of Police Associations is larger nationally, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers has historically had a stronger presence in New England.

The Police Benevolent Association filed a decertification petition with the state Labor Relations Commission in September, according to Gerald J. Flynn Jr., a Lowell police officer and former International Brotherhood of Police Officers vice president who is executive director of the PBA.

“They approached us with multiple questions about the lack of appropriate legal representation from the IBPO,” Mr. Flynn said.

The decertification campaign is partly the result of squabbling between the two unions over the services of veteran labor lawyer Richard K. Sullivan, who has been retained by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers for many years and has handled the Worcester local and other International Brotherhood of Police Officers chapters.

Mr. Sullivan has recently been in talks with the new union. Meanwhile, leaders of the Local 378 in Worcester are trying to hire him on their own as legal counsel to an independent police association or to pay him themselves as part of a local International Brotherhood of Police Officers chapter rather than through their parent organization, the state International Brotherhood of Police Officers, sources said.

Leaders of Local 378 declined to comment.

David Bernard, director of the state International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said the group is not trying to avert the election, and that it will abide by its outcome. But Mr. Bernard accused the rival union of using “misinformation” and “misleading statements” to induce more than 175 officers to request a decertification election.

“We welcome the campaign. We’re trying to run a vigorous campaign,” Mr. Bernard said. “I don’t think anyone in any way, shape or form is trying to silence the vote of the 350 men and women of the Worcester Police Department. We’re proud of our accomplishments.”

Mr. Flynn, meanwhile, denied that his union has used underhanded tactics. And he maintained that members of International Brotherhood of Police Officers locals across New England are unhappy with the dues structure of the union, saying that much of the dues money gets funneled to National Association of Government Employees and the Service Employees International Union, which represent tens of thousands of state, federal and private employees who have nothing to do with police work.

Mr. Bernard, of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, declined to comment about the dues issue.

“Quite frankly, they’re not representing police officers,” Mr. Flynn said of the current Worcester police union.


Councilman goes vigilante for SEIU-slayer witnesses

Rochester (NY) City Councilman Adam McFadden said Monday that he has pledged to personally provide armed protection to witnesses who come forward in the Latasha Shaw homicide.

"I would personally ensure their protection. Me, personally," McFadden said, adding that other men have pledged to stand with him. "I'm not just going to be standing out there with my coat on."

Shaw, 36, was an SEIU union official. She was stabbed to death on Sept. 29, attacked by a mob at Dewey and Driving Park Avenues.

McFadden has organized and led frequent marches that seek justice in Shaw's death by encouraging witnesses to come forward. McFadden, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, also has offered to relocate witnesses fearful of retaliation. The promise of armed protection, however — made on a morning radio call-in show and reiterated in later telephone interviews — raised charges that he had gone too far.

"I've got to believe that he was speaking out of anger ... that he was frustrated," city spokesman Gary Walker said. "I just find it hard to believe that the chair of the Public Safety Committee would propose vigilantism. "It is beyond belief."

McFadden was on the Watercooler radio call-in show Monday on WDKX-FM (103.9). Responding to questions about witness protection in criminal cases, he said people need to stand up for one another. He then made the promise of armed protection, and that by armed he didn't mean boxing gloves but bullets. In a telephone interview later, McFadden said that, while he doesn't own a handgun, he does own a couple of rifles.

"I'm not talking about taking the law into my own hands," he said. "I'm talking about protecting people who come forward."

The point, McFadden said, is to be clear that he and others are serious about justice in the Shaw slaying. He said he was confident an arrest would be made.

But he points to last month's acquittal of two suspects in a March 25 homicide. A key witness in that case refused to testify, claiming he was beaten up and told not to tell authorities what he knew.

McFadden said that when he asks people to trust him and come forward, he has an obligation not to "hand them over and blindly trust that they will be protected."

"If I've got to take some heat for saying I would physically protect people, I'll take that heat," he said. "I'm not depending on anyone in law enforcement or the DA's office to protect them."


Union embezzlement a Hawaiian family affair

Former labor leader Gary Rodrigues has been ordered to federal prison on Jan. 7, more than four years after being found guilty of defrauding the United Public Workers union.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra found no reason to further delay the sentence and issued an order Oct. 31 affirming the 64-month sentence he meted out Oct. 6, 2003, for Rodrigues.

Rodrigues, 65, who served as state director of the 15,000-member union from 1981, resigned after he was found guilty in November 2002 of 101 felony counts of mail fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. He was also ordered to serve three years on supervised release after he completes his prison term.

His daughter Robin Haunani Rodrigues Sabatini was convicted of 95 felony counts, including mail fraud and money laundering, and was sentenced to 46 months. She also was ordered to go to prison on Jan. 7.

Father and daughter are also jointly responsible for paying restitution to UPW of $378,103.

Federal prosecutors maintained that Rodrigues negotiated consulting fees into the union's dental and medical contracts without the knowledge of the executive board, then caused the fees to be sent to two companies owned by Sabatini, an accountant.

Rodrigues also was convicted of accepting kickbacks in connection with a welfare-benefit plan that was covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The federal act prohibits the acceptance or solicitation of gifts or gratuities.

Both were allowed to remain free pending the resolution of their appeal. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the jury's verdict on June 11 and later denied Rodrigues' petitions for rehearings.

"We believe the judge made the right decision in affirming their sentences," Assistant U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni said yesterday.

Doron Weinberg, Rodrigues' San Francisco-based attorney, said they are disappointed in the court's order, calling the sentences "excessive."

"As his lawyer and someone who studied the case for six to seven years now, I'm absolutely confident that he never misappropriated a penny from the UPW or its members and never committed any of the crimes for which he was convicted," Weinberg said.

"If we assume he did what he is accused of doing, we had hoped with the passage of time (Ezra) would reconsider, but he has not."

In a memo filed Oct. 15, the defense asked that Rodrigues' sentence be reduced to 33 months and he be allowed to pay the restitution in installments of $1,000 a month.

The $378,103 owed the union represents not only the consulting fees Sabatini received from insurer Pacific Group Medical Association, but also fees paid to Rodrigues from Hawaii Dental Service based on his negotiation of the UPW's dental plans.

Federal prosecutors contend that the sentences were reasonable, arguing that Rodrigues' conduct occurred over a long period, from at least October 1992 to December 2000. They said while numerous checks were made out to Sabatini's company, Rodrigues personally benefited by directing money to her. He was able to pay off a personal loan by steering consultant fees to Sabatini. Rodrigues' other daughter also received payments from Sabatini's companies, prosecutors said.

They said Sabatini never rendered services but still pocketed $193,000 paid to her in 1996.

"He clearly abused a position of trust placed in him by the more than 12,000 members of UPW, in a manner which continued for a long time, and which was carefully crafted to avoid getting caught, while lining his pockets, and that of his daughter, with hundreds of thousands of dollars," the government said in its memo.

The only option for Rodrigues is to petition the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the validity of the conviction, Weinberg said.

Weinberg said they are preparing such a petition: "It's not completely over."

Dennis Reardon, Sabatini's San Francisco-based attorney, could not be reached for comment.

But Eric Seitz, attorney for Rodrigues on three separate civil matters, said they also intend to ask the court for an additional delay of his surrender date until after the end of January.

Rodrigues is expected to testify Jan. 15 in U.S. District Court in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former UPW senior accountant Jeanne Endo against the union. She alleged that Rodrigues harassed her several times over a five-year period ending in 2001. Rodrigues, who was brought into the case by UPW, denies the allegations.


Steelworkers settle, Ala. employer moves on

The strike at Wise Alloys in Muscle Shoals was on its 13th day. The North Alabama Building Trades Unions are still on the picket lines trying to get their jobs back. Last week the building trades unions took a serious blow when the Steelworkers decided to go back to work. The Steelworkers signed a five year contract with Wise, and returned to work on Friday.

Many union workers thought all unions would stick together until the strike was over. The tensions between the unions is evident.

Right now the building trades unions are trying to stay optimistic. The strike started because Wise replaced them with contract workers. Wise has said negotiations are over with the building trades union.

We contacted union leaders today, and they told us they will meet tomorrow to regroup about the ongoing strike.


Steelworkers in surprise multi-state strike

Union workers at SEMCO Energy Gas Co. in Niles and Three Rivers , Ind. and Holland, Mich., went on strike early Monday after weeks of negotiations broke down, according to a union organizer.

About 44 members of United Steelworkers Local 16201 District 2 began walking the picket lines about 7 a.m., said union president Steve Mudd, a 21-year service mechanic from Niles.

A SEMCO spokesman said the walkout was a surprise. "The company has said we’d be happy to meet with the union," said Tim Lubbers, director of marketing and corporate communications for the natural gas utility.

Union leaders say they had threatened to strike if talks didn’t move forward on agreed to insurance and pension benefits. "We have been working without a contract since last month and have exhausted every avenue," Mudd said. "This strike is not about money; it is about our right to bargain a contract and have that contract cover all terms of the agreement including our health insurance, our pension ... for the length of the contract," he said.

Mudd said SEMCO wants to "change insurance benefits" in the third-year of the three-year contract.

Lubbers said that is not entirely accurate.

"The company has agreed to bargain any potential health care changes to the health care plan," Lubbers said.

In fact, he said, the proposed contract includes bargaining language that the striking union workers didn’t have in their previous contract.

"The contract the union had (before) allowed the company to change benefits without consulting with the union," Lubbers said, adding, "so they have more rights under the new contract than they did under the old one."

Lubbers said the tentative contract calls for about a 10 percent salary increase over the life of the three-year agreement.

"In Michigan’s economy, I can’t believe anyone would reject an offer like that," Lubbers said.

He also pointed out that any health care changes that the company negotiates with the United Steelworkers are changes that impact "management and nonunion employees."

"If we want to change the union benefits, they have to change mine, too, and other management employees," Lubbers said.

Monday morning, about 26 Niles employees walked the picket line along Bell Road, where they were met with occasional car horns from supportive drivers.

"We have tried for six months to resolve this and have continued to work with no interruption of service to our customers," said Mudd.

Lubbers also pointed out that traditionally United Steelworkers in southeastern Michigan earn the highest wages of all of SEMCO’s unions.

SEMCO provides natural gas to about 250,000 customers in Michigan.

Lubbers said the company has trained workers to do the jobs of the striking union members.

"We continue to be willing to meet," he said.


Teamsters dishonor WGA picket line shrewdly

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is facing a moral and economic dilemma: Do its members cross a WGA (Writers Guild of America) picket line, thereby committing ideological treason; or do they defiantly refuse to cross, putting themselves in danger of losing their jobs? That call is far tougher than it may appear, even for a staunch union member.

As their strike against the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) enters its second week, some are already grumbling about what they view as a Teamster betrayal. There's a rumor going around WGA picket lines that if the Teamsters had given them the support they initially "guaranteed," the Writers would have the Alliance by the throat.

Because virtually everything-from prop equipment to food to personnel-is supplied by the Teamsters, they have the power to shut down a whole set. Shutting down a movie that's been green-lighted and already in production? Now, that's power.

Of course, no such guarantees were ever made. Legally, as well as practically, there was no way they could have been made. Stories like these always circulate during strikes. That's what you do on the picket line: You talk about your plight.

One of the rumors we heard during a Local 672 strike (on which I was a negotiator) was that the Southern Pacific Railroad had promised the AWPPW, our parent International, that they wouldn't cross our picket lines. We were ecstatic; we hadn't expected it. Volume-wise, stopping the trains wasn't as vital as stopping the trucks, but it was, if nothing else, a glorious symbolic victory.

When crunch time arrived, and picketers stood on the tracks outside the yard, waving their placards and cheering, we were told by Southern Pacific to move our people out of the way (apparently, some of our more stubborn picketers refused leave the track) or they'd call the police and have them arrested for obstruction. But what about your agreement to honor our pickets? we demanded. What agreement?!? they screamed. Hmmm. So much for rumors.

This railroad episode occurred shortly after the Teamsters informed us, with no sugar-coating or false hopes, that they would not be honoring our picketers. No way, no how. They indicated that the only picket lines they would even consider recognizing were those tied to national shutdowns, something on the order of the UAW's strike against GM plants across the country (whose picket lines, alas, the Teamies didn't honor).

Still, in the matter of the WGA, despite the temptation to point fingers, the Teamsters shouldn't be judged too harshly. While the studio contracts don't explicitly forbid a driver from choosing to honor a union picket line (which shouldn't be confused with a going on "sympathy strike" or "secondary picketing," which are not only more comprehensive but illegal), they do give the studios the right to fire a driver if he doesn't show up for work and doesn't have a valid excuse. In short, refuse to cross, and you can be fired.

Teamster leadership has made it clear that while refusing to cross a picket line is dangerous, it is hoped that the drivers will refuse nonetheless, that they'll see the long-term advantages of staying "unified." Accordingly, with only the union's promise that it will do its best to get their jobs back if they're fired, many drivers have flatly refused to cross the line.

That a handful of drivers have risked their jobs rather than abandon their principles may not appear impressive from a distance, but it looks damned impressive from close-up. Everybody spouts allegiance to principle until they're asked to take a risky, potentially life-altering stand. Then they starting listing on the fingers of both hands the practical reasons for not doing it.

Some Teamsters have found creative ways to serve both masters, to remain, technically, "union-pure" and yet keep their jobs. Because WGA picketers work four-hour shifts, consisting of a morning session (from 9-1) and an afternoon session) from 1-5), some drivers began making deliveries earlier than usual, before the picketers showed up, to avoid the dilemma of whether or not to cross. Writer websites have noted that the WGA wised up and began assigning pickets as early as 7:00 a.m.

Drivers are stopping outside the studio gates, refusing to cross the picket lines but inching as close as possible to the entrance, to permit hand-dollies to be used to unload their cargo. Also, according to reports on WGA chat sites, Teamsters are engaging in a quasi-slowdown, where even after crossing the line, they make every effort to slow down and disrupt the operation, short of getting themselves written up or fired.

A negative: Many drivers sill remember that in 1988 the WGA refused to honor Teamster picket lines, and that their reasons for refusing weren't exclusively practical; in truth, they were far from noble. There was class warfare at work; blue-collar vs. white-collar distinctions, college degree vs. high school diploma distinctions, the feeling that truck drivers weren't quite "worthy" of a major sacrifice. Anyone who denies these dynamics is fooling himself.

Another negative, filed under "Rumors": Teamster drivers began spreading reports of large numbers of writer-slash-producers already crossing the picket lines. ("Hey, if they won't support their own strike, why should I risk my job for it?"). Coupled with entertainment celebrities like Vince Vaughn and Jimmy Kimmel declaring publicly that they'll defy the strike, some drivers (mainly the younger guys) are having a problem regarding this whole thing as anything more than an elitist, Hollywood food-fight.

Overall, however, it hasn't been all bad news with the Teamsters. It's been heartening to hear them speak out about the importance of showing solidarity. While there aren't near enough driver refusals to give anyone reason to rejoice, there have been some; and that, along with the slow-downs, qualifies as a minor triumph.

More importantly, even if the WGA hasn't reciprocated in the past, and some grudges are still being nursed, the Teamsters have shown themselves shrewd and mature enough to recognize that if management is allowed to crush the WGA, they'll be encouraged to crush other unions. There's wisdom in that observation.


Public safety workers to vote on decertification

About 270 to 300 emergency medical technicians, paramedics and non-emergency transportation workers for American Medical Response in New Haven (CT) will vote in early December on whether to keep their current union, switch to a new bargaining unit or opt out of union representation altogether.

They all are based at AMR’s 58 Middletown Ave. facility.

Jeff Lindauer, president of the COPS union that represents the employees, said Tuesday the other two labor organizations that will appear on the ballot at the Dec. 6 vote are the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics and the Teamsters.

"You sign a contract and it can either be renewed or other options are investigated," Lindauer said.

The Connecticut Organization for Public Safety Employees replaced IAEP at AMR in January 2005 and there is one year left on the contract, Lindauer said.

"Some feel they would be better represented by each of the groups," Lindauer said. He declined to speculate on which bargaining unit has the most support.

John Cotter, assistant regional director for the National Labor Relations Board, said an outside union must demonstrate support among at least 30 percent of the eligible workers in order to petition for an election at workplaces with an incumbent union.

In this case, the petitioning party was the Teamsters, he said.

Neither COPS, because of its current status, nor IAEP were required by the NLRB to meet a minimum level of support, Cotter said.

The Teamsters had a vehicle parked at AMR Tuesday and at least one other recent occasion, workers said.

Representatives for Teamsters and IAEP could not be reached for comment.

Calls to AMR were referred to the company’s corporate headquarters in Colorado, which did not respond Tuesday.

Federal law prohibits any union contract from barring a petition effort for longer than three years, Cotter said, which protects employees who might have negotiated long agreements.

Some contracts can stretch as long as 10 years, he said.


AFL-CIO unit faces decert at USAirways

A group of US Airways pilots says it has asked a federal agency to decertify the pilots union.

The fledgling US Airline Pilots Association has been collecting signatures for six months from disgruntled pilots who want a new union. Their current union is the Air Line Pilots Association International, an AFL-CIO affiliate.

The pilot group says it has collected more than 3,000 signatures out of about 5,300 pilots working for the airline. The group's president, Stephen Bradford, said that's enough to call for a decertification vote.

Bradford says most pilots are angry with how the Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier has merged work forces from America West Airlines and the former East Coast-based US Airways.

Pilots from the former US Airways have complained about having to make more financial sacrifices than their counterparts at America West. In particular, they've claimed that they're getting the short end of a new seniority system.


Catholic school teachers picket in NY

Under gray and drizzling skies yesterday, two teachers stood at the edge of the school property with signs around their necks: "Catholic School Teachers Deserve a Just Wage." "Help Us Stay in Our Classrooms." Not 10 feet away was the school's sign: John S. Burke Catholic High School.

Teachers also picketed nine other Catholic high schools yesterday across the Hudson Valley and New York City to protest stalled contract talks with the Archdiocese of New York.

The teachers, members of the Lay Faculty Association, are pushing for higher salaries, bigger pension contributions by the archdiocese and lower medical premiums. The average teacher salary is $45,000, with the highest capped at $52,000, said union President John Fedor. The union would like the highest salary to rise to $60,000 in three years.

Comparatively, the average salary of teachers in Orange County during the 2004-2005 school year was $57,916, according to New York State United Teachers. Across the state, it was $55,665.

Teachers with family medical plans now pay $900 a year. Under the archdiocese's proposed contract it would go up to more than $2,000, Fedor said.

Fedor, science department chairman and a biology teacher at Burke, worried yesterday that people had forgotten about the picketing that is set to take place every morning this week before classes begin at 8:07 a.m. But as school buses pulled into the parking lot, the group had grown to eight.

"I wasn't really sure they were going to go through with this, actually," said parent Susan Sito.

Unlike the parents and passers-by who honked or waved their support, Sito said, the teachers get paid a lot already and tuition has gone up in the past two years.

By the end of the picketing yesterday, the number of teachers had swelled to 17. Fedor said there are about 36 teachers at Burke, an estimated 25 of whom are union members.

In 2001, the union staged a 17-day strike. In 2004, the union voted to strike but it was averted by renewed negotiations. Both sides are set to meet with a mediator next week.

Orange County also has 10 Catholic elementary schools, represented by the Federation of Catholic Teachers, which is also in contract negotiations. A final offer has not yet been made and the union has not voted to strike.


Expert: Strike has little impact on TV watchers

A leading Madison Avenue researcher said that there won't be permanent damage to viewing habits from the TV and film writers strike, which is into its second week with no sign of a resolution.

Steve Sternberg, Executive VP, Audience Analysis at New York-based ad buyer Magna Global, said in a report released Tuesday that it was "nonsense" that this is the worst time for a strike with a new-media landscape. He also debunked the idea that YouTube and MySpace, among others, would get a big boost from the strike as viewers go elsewhere.

"Video streaming is currently a minor occurrence and is primarily driven by new television content," Sternberg wrote. "The impact on TV viewing, even during a lengthy strike, will be negligible."

Sternberg said TV viewing hasn't declined in 20 years, though he conceded that it might shift as some viewers go to cable for the originals they don't see on broadcast TV. "Just as overall television usage declines sharply every summer and then rebounds come fall, it will rebound once the writers strike ends," Sternberg wrote.

The 1988 writers strike caused about a 9% decline in primetime viewing, and Magna Global predicts that there will be a 9% decline in primetime viewing among the advertiser-friendly adults 18-49 demographic for the broadcast networks between January and May if the strike lasts that long. That has been backed up by other independent analyses.

The declines will be steepest in the spring, with a predicted 12% drop in April and 13% in May, while broadcast TV viewing will decline 5% in January and February and 8% in March. Sternberg said that viewers have been conditioned by as much as a 36% repeat load during December, January and March, which differs from the 14% during the non-sweep time in 1988. Sternberg also wrote that such reality shows as "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol" didn't exist when the strike began in 1988.

"The overall impact on ratings may not be as great as some fear," Sternberg wrote.


Nationwide strike halts France

French rail workers began an open-ended, nationwide strike on Tuesday expected to shut down much of the nation's public transport, as unions and President Nicolas Sarkozy faced off over reforms.

Unions at the state SNCF rail company walked off the job at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) and the shutdown was to extend on Wednesday to Paris metro trains and the state gas and electricity companies.

Hours before the strike, which was called to protest Sarkozy's plans to scrap pension benefits, police used truncheons and tear gas to break up a separate student protest at a Paris university.

"Tomorrow is going to be a hellish day for travellers and perhaps for many days beyond that," said Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand. Bertrand held a last-minute meeting with the head of the CGT, the biggest union in the transport sector, on Tuesday and was to meet with other unions into the night and on Wednesday.

"Millions of French people will be deprived of their fundamental freedom, the freedom of movement and even perhaps to work," Prime Minister Francois Fillon told parliament.

Only 90 of France's 700 high-speed TGV trains will be running, commuter services will be severely disrupted in the Paris region and there will be "almost no" metro service in the capital, according to metro operator RATP and rail operator SNCF.

Employees at the Paris opera house plan to walk off the job as do workers at the Comedie Francaise state theatre, which cancelled a performance of "Pedro and the Commander" scheduled for Wednesday evening.

Paris hotels say more than 25 percent of their reservations this week have been cancelled because of the strike, while commuters have flocked to car-pooling and other alternative travel arrangements.

Hours before the rail strike began, Sarkozy re-asserted his determination to carry out economic reforms "right to the end", arguing that he had a mandate to enact the changes.

"I will carry out these reforms right to the end. Nothing will put me off my goal," he told the European Parliament during a visit to Strasbourg.

"The French people approved these reforms. I told them all about it before the elections so that I would be able to do what was necessary afterwards."

Sarkozy convened a meeting of directors of the state SNCF rail company, the RATP and the EDF electricity and GDF gas utilities to "assess the situation and prospects in the coming days," said presidential spokesman David Martinon.

The unions have called for open-ended strikes while the operators are expecting massive disruptions to continue into next week when civil servants, teachers and other public employees stage their protest action.

At issue are pension privileges that allow some public employees to retire as early as age 50.

Currently the state injects some five billion euros (6.9 billion dollars) a year into the special pensions fund because contributions from workers fall far short of payments.

The last time a government tried to reform the "special" pensions, in 1995, three weeks of strikes and demonstrations forced then president Jacques Chirac to climb down.

This time, polls show strong support for Sarkozy in his showdown with the unions.

"It is by vanquishing the street that Sarkozy will win or lose his ability to deepen reforms and put in place the clean break that he announced more than a year ago," the right-wing Figaro newspaper wrote.

Two polls published Tuesday showed Sarkozy's popularity had declined by several percentage points, but a majority of people still held a favourable opinion of him.

Some 58 percent had a favourable opinion of Sarkozy in an IPSOS poll, a five-point drop from October. An LH2 poll showed him with 54 percent, a seven-point decrease.

The strikes come as students have shut down about 20 of France's 85 universities in protest against a reform law they fear will give business too much say in running universities.

French police used truncheons and tear gas to break up a student protest at Paris X University in Nanterre, west of the capital.

A strike on October 18 enjoyed strong support and union leaders have vowed to stand their ground in the battle with Sarkozy.

"Workers in this country understand that we are not only fighting to defend the pensions of rail workers but also the future of the pension system in this country," said Christian Mahieux, from the Sud-Rail union.

Magistrates and court clerks are planning to take to the streets on November 29 while unions at the Meteo France weather service also announced a strike starting on November 20.


Navistar negotiates leisurely with striking UAW

Truck and engine maker Navistar International Corp. said Tuesday that contract talks will resume Nov. 26 with striking members of the United Auto Workers Union.

Negotiations were suspended Oct. 4 when the union asked for a break to review Navistar’s contract proposals. Union members went on strike Oct. 23, accusing the company of engaging in unfair labor practices by laying off workers at the Springfield, Ohio, assembly plant just before the union contract expired Oct. 1 and moving truck production to nonunion plants in Texas and Mexico.

The UAW represents about 4,000 Navistar employees, including about 700 at an engine plant in west suburban Melrose Park. Workers also are on strike at Navistar sites in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas. Representatives for the two sides have met only briefly since early October.

“We’re looking forward to substantive and good-quality conversations,” a spokesman for Warrenville-based Navistar said.

The negotiations have revolved around Navistar’s demand that union employees begin paying a portion of their health insurance premiums. Union members currently make co-payments for prescriptions and doctor visits.

The union, meanwhile, is looking for guarantees that the company won’t shut down unionized plants in the coming years.

Charlie Hayden, president of UAW Local 402 in Springfield, said striking workers’ morale remains high. Last week, UAW leaders conducted informational meetings with employees.

“Hopefully, there’ll be some new proposals,” Mr. Hayden said.


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