UFCW racketeering on display v. Wal-Mart

You've probably seen the commercials and may have received something in the mail blasting America's biggest retailer, during its biggest season. The United Food and Commercial Worker's Union launched the Wake Up Wal-Mart Campaign a few years ago and raised the stakes this Christmas season.

And as Local 12's Joe Webb tells us, the union is making its biggest push right here.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1099 has signed up more than 10-thousand people in its wake up Wal-Mart Campaign ... more than any other local. They're also mailing out nearly 250-thousand pieces of mail, blasting the store in Cincinnati and Dayton.

So far, it doesn't appear to be keeping shoppers away. The tv ads stand out this time of year as the only commercials encouraging you not to shop. They label Wal-Mart as foreign dominated and stingy with employee benefits. "This Christmas, lets make Wal-Mart be a better neighbor to us all."

Coupled with a mass mailing, the United Food and Commercial Workers are slinging a full bag of stones at the retail goliath and insist it has nothing to do with Wal-Mart being non-union.

Bill Dudley, UFCW Local 1099: "I think Wal-Mart needs to feel the pressure from everybody. I think that's what we're seeing with this campaign. Not the pressure to be union, but the pressure to be a responsible employer."

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company doesn't really comment on the campaign, but thinks it can't support the claims it makes. In a statement today, Wal-Mart said, our focus is on our customers, helping them save money, so they can live better. Our goal is to ensure that they can find the products they need and want at the time they need them and at a price that saves them money. If the campaign is making a difference, it's hard to see five days before Christmas. The Florence super center was packed this afternoon. Shoppers seemed more interested in price and selection, than China or employee benefits.

Amber Delph, Burlington: "You know, I think it's important that people have health care, but they choose to work here, so they choose not to have the health care. It's important to me when I shop to go somewhere where I can get good value and good service and I've never had anything other than that here."

Bill Wilson, Alexandria: "It's price and convenience for me. I like Wal-Mart. It seems like, even though it's a huge store, it kind of seems hometownish. I don't have a problem shopping here."

Wal-Mart says the claim that 70 percent of what it sells comes from China simply doesn't hold water. The company says a third of what it sells at its supercenters is grocery, which is almost exclusively domestic ... so the 70-percent number doesn't add up.


70% say unions too involved in politics

According to the latest opinion poll on the subject, the role of trade unions in the civil society is as much misunderstood as ever by the great unwashed.

Unions themselves don’t seem much the wiser, concentrating, as they do, so heavily on collective bargaining.

Not much original comes out of labor agreements. So many people in all walks have them, doctors, university professors, school teachers, police, firemen, candlestick-makers and even preachers, to say nothing of the business professions.

All right in their place but not much that’s new, affecting the general condition, comes out of their deliberations at a bargaining table.

The Angus Reid Strategies poll does acknowledge that 50 per cent of Canadians believe unions are important and 72 per cent believe they effectively improve incomes and working conditions, although they’re less appreciated when their activities cause difficulties in other people’s lives.

Another 70 per cent think unions are too involved in politics and 48 per cent say they have too much influence.

Actually official labor has narrowed its influence, to its own disadvantage.

It has limited its options to a single political channel, the New Democratic Party which, like other parties, is bound by a tight ideology in order to have a functioning motif distinctive from all the others.

In doing so, they weaken their chances of molding policy among others more likely to form governments.

The options in a modern society are much wider.

The ballot box is only the starting button for a democracy, indeed the least of the power levers.

Its purpose is merely to put names on a government and then let all the special interests work their magic on the decision-making.

Special interests have long been the most important factor in government anyway.

No dynamic democracy can be without them, working the system, developing new ideas, creating pressures on each other in a great contest out of which emerges the closest thing to a consensus possible in the rough and tumble of public debate.

In this context special interests are simply other people’s interests, no less legitimate than your own.

Industry has its business councils, the professions their governing societies, seniors their retired persons’ associations and preachers their synods.

The lives of working men and women are so amorphous that they have no one or no similar body speaking for them – unless it’s the trade unions.

In the clash of special interests that gives life to national and provincial policy the question is not whether labor is too involved in politics, as the poll says, but how much influence is appropriate.

For that to be answered political involvement has to be labor’s most important contribution. More than contract bargaining, more than strikes, more than protest marching and certainly more than being a plague on anyone’s house.

It’s okay for trade unions to be a special interest.


Forced Unionism Doesn't Help Workers

Concerning companies locating where there are right to work laws, Steve Turgati's letter ("Those Laws Don't Help Workers," Dec. 17) stated: "This is a bit misleading, because no one is forced to join a union."

If you are a carpenter, plumber, electrician, or other skilled trades person in a large city in the northeast U.S., you can't work without being a union member because contractors only hire union workers. If you want to work as a plumber, you'll probably have to relocate to another city.

The workers in a company I worked for in Pennsylvania had a UAW local with a typical union shop contract: You had to join the union by the end of your probationary period to keep your job. Yes, you could probably find another job without joining a union, but it might be flipping burgers or traveling to another town.

I'm all in favor of union representation of employees because there are instances of management abuses, but large unions that can shut down entire industries can do more damage than good.

The UAW local at my Pennsylvania employer called two 5-month strikes over wages, benefits, and work rules in a seven- year period where the employees wanted to settle but the UAW negotiators wouldn't let them vote.

The company eventually went out of business because the labor costs became too high and the company became non-competitive.

- Lawrence Heine, Harrisonburg (PA)


SEIU targets GE

Playing off General Electric’s corporate advertising jingle, security officers united in Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and writers of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) joined forces to march and rally Wednesday evening, December 12, to “bring G.E.’s bad things to light.” General Electric is emerging as a key outlier in contract talks for both the security officers and writers.

Protestors carrying flashlights marched along Wilshire Blvd in Westwood during busy rush-hour traffic and held a rally across the street from the World Savings Center headquarters of G.E.-owned Arden Realty.

“General Electric is refusing to support the efforts of security officers to win a union contract that could bring in $50 million a year into the economically challenged communities of South Los Angeles,” said Rev. Eric P. Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Convention (SCLC) Los Angeles Chapter. “By standing in the way of the union contract for security officers, General Electric is not only obstructing justice, the company is devaluing the contributions private security officers make to public safety.” Rev. Lee is a leader of the Stand for Security Coalition of community, elected leaders, clergy, and congregations united in support of low-wage security officers’ effort to win a union contract.

According to the Security Officers Union, the $50 million figure is an estimate based on what security officers would earn if corporate real estate giants like General Electric agreed to compensate contract security workers as they do union janitors. Nearly 70% of Los Angeles security officers are African American and live in South Los Angeles.

“G.E. could make a lot of holiday wishes come true for our families if it does the right thing and supports workers,” said security officer John Wilson. “Both security officers and WGA writers are committed to win strong contracts before the holidays, so it makes sense to be supporting each other.”

General Electric’s Arden Realty is one of the few real estate corporations to not yet call on their private security providers to settle a contract for Los Angeles security officers with higher wages and family health care as soon as possible. Blackstone, Jamison Properties, Maguire Properties, Beacon, RREEF, and other major building owners have sent letters to their security contractors urging them to complete negotiations of a fair contract before the holidays. The security officer contract will be the first contract of its kind in Southern California.

G.E. also figures into the ongoing strike of the Writers Guild of America against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). General Electric owns NBC/Universal, a member of the AMPTP. Striking writers, most of whom earn middle class wages, are seeking a fair share of the entertainment industry’s success. The AMPTP has prolonged the strike by walking out of negotiations twice, prompting many to believe that they never intended to negotiate seriously in the first place.

SEIU security officers in San Francisco and Oakland ratified their new contract today; including a 27% increase in wages and for the first time, access to quality, affordable family healthcare. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is calling the SEIU Local 24/7 contract a model for other U.S. cities to follow.


Union political ad noted for hypocrisy

A new ad praising Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards for his positions on behalf of American workers is coming under fire by rival Bill Richardson’s campaign, which says Edwards invested in a fund they allege has a role in the shutdown of Newton-based manufacturer Maytag.

The television ad by Working 4 Working Americans touts Edwards’ plans to end tax breaks for companies that move American jobs offshore.

The political organization is backed by the members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, which has endorsed Edwards in the primary fight.

But Richardson’s Iowa campaign director, Robert Becker, said the ad ignores the role of management firm Fortress Investment Group, where Edwards worked as an adviser, in closing Maytag’s Newton plant. Fortress held stock in Whirlpool, the company that bought out Maytag and shut the company’s doors.

“John Edwards was paid nearly half a million dollars by the same hedge fund at the time the Maytag plant was shuttered, and he had $16 million of his own fortune invested there,” Becker said in a statement. “Can John Edwards be a champion for jobs in Newton, Iowa, when he works for and invests in a hedge fund that helped eliminate those same jobs? If anything, Edwards probably owes those families an explanation.”

Dan Leistikow, spokesman for Edwards’ Iowa campaign, said Edwards had no role in the stock purchases, most of which happened after he stopped working for Fortress and make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Whirlpool. And he pointed to Edwards’ support of Maytag employees who lost their jobs.

“No one has been stronger in standing up for Maytag workers than John Edwards, which is why so many of them are supporting him,” Leistikow said. “As president, he will never sign trade deals like NAFTA that put the profits of corporations ahead of the interests of workers like those who lost their jobs in Newton.”

Max Tipton is an Edwards supporter from Newton and retired United Auto Workers representative who negotiated with Maytag. He said he is surprised by the Richardson campaign’s claims.

“Everybody that has a dollar or two has some stock in some company,” Tipton said. “I do, you know, and so it’s really, I think, asinine for any candidate to suggest that John Edwards in any shape or form had anything to do with the closing of Maytag.”

Edwards also has come under fire from Barack Obama’s campaign, which mentioned the Edwards-Whirlpool-Maytag connection in papers given to a union official in Iowa.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said the information was provided at the request of the union official to compare the candidates’ on labor issues.


AFL-CIO slammed by NLRB over Dresser strike

Dresser-Rand Group Inc. reported today that it received notice from Region 3 of National Labor Relations Board that the nearly 16 week strike by Local 313 will be deemed an economic strike, not an unfair labor practice strike as originally alleged by the Union. The unfair labor practice claims were insufficient to give rise to any Company obligation to provide back pay to striking workers, and, additionally, the Company can retain its permanently hired new employees.

Of the eleven claims the Union originally filed against the Company, eight will be dismissed if not previously withdrawn by the Union. It is unknown if the Union will choose to withdraw the charges or face a dismissal. The remaining three charges, which would be subject to further proceedings in the Region, were insufficient to convert the strike to an unfair labor practice strike. Significantly, none of the three remaining charges are related to the negotiating process with the Union. While the Company would have the right to proceed to a full trial to challenge the charges, the Company has agreed to terminate those claims by posting a NLRB notice in the facility.

"Region 3 of the NLRB conducted a very thorough and comprehensive investigation of the matters brought to its attention. Their decision validates the steps we took throughout this process," said Elizabeth C. Powers, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer. "We put significant time and energy into ensuring that we handled the bargaining process appropriately. We have decided to end this process with the remedy that the NLRB has approved, by posting a notice in the plant, enabling us to move beyond this dispute and redirect our time and energy to where it belongs - serving the clients".

"This decision allows us to focus on our future," said Doug Rich, Director of Operations at Painted Post. "We are moving forward with a full complement of people to operate our facility and we are continuing to provide uninterrupted service to our clients."

"This is an excellent outcome for the Company, our employees and our clients," said Vincent R. Volpe, Jr., president and CEO of Dresser-Rand.

Dresser-Rand is among the largest suppliers of rotating equipment solutions to the worldwide oil, gas, petrochemical, and process industries. The Company operates manufacturing facilities in the United States, France, Germany, Norway, and India, and maintains a network of 27 service and support centers covering more than 140 countries.


Philadelphia's problematic union-only rules

School Reform Commission Chairman Sandra Dungee Glenn on Thursday told reporters the School District of Philadelphia is "concerned" about its Project Labor Agreement (PLA) and apprenticeship programs.

This comes just a day after City Council approved an agreement for the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It attached an amendment to the agreement demanding increased minority participation in unions.

Ms. Dungee Glenn's remarks echo City Council's struggle to determine how it will verify union minority roles and minority participation on jobs. Council must approve the 17 local unions' diversity plans and minority hiring goals before the unions will be allowed to work on the expansion project.

In the spring of 2006, the School District of Philadelphia signed a PLA with the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. In the agreement the district agreed to use only union labor on the $2.5 billion in planned capital projects.

In return the unions agreed to accept key employees of non-union contractors into the union and to create 425 apprenticeships for Philadelphia public school graduates during the next four years.

It was clear when then-SRC Chairman Jim Nevels introduced the program the District imagined fresh-faced graduates of local high schools entering apprenticeship programs. Mr. Nevels did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, Ms. Dungee Glenn told reporters her board has asked for a report from staff on the state of the apprenticeship program and PLA agreement in the schools.

"We have some questions and concerns about the PLA," she explained. "We have some concerns about the answers provided by [Philadelphia Area Labor Management (PALM)] and the names provided to us on the apprenticeship roles.

"We have some concerns about the average age of the apprenticeships on the list. They seemed to average around 30 or 31 years old. We are not comfortable with how they are filling the positions so we've asked for a full report."

She added, "This year they sent us a list of over 300 names added to their roles. There was very uneven information. Sometimes there were just names with no other information. Sometimes there were just names and ages.

"We do have concerns about the process. The building trades are not reflective of our students. We want to know the result is both parties are living up to the agreement appropriately."

Because it was the Building and Construction Trades Council at the center of the confrontation with Council over minority hiring last week, Building and Construction Trades Council President Pat Gillespie was asked for comment.

He didn't return the phone call.

The school district this week said they have completed $675 million in new construction, including such facilities as the Microsoft School of the Future. It is preparing to start four more projects next year.


AFSCME Edwards backers' dues mis-spent

The John Edwards presidential campaign is accusing a group of Clinton supporters of using Edwards' name to attack Barack Obama. A campaign flyer from the AFSCME union is hitting Iowa mailboxes this week.

The flyer quotes John Edwards attacking Obama's health care plan. Edwards' campaign says AFSCME is using his name to attack Obama without drawing Clinton in.

The director of Iowa's Edwards campaign says, "There have been a lot of misleading tactics and tricks in the last few weeks, but we've never seen anything like this before ... Iowans deserve better than planted questions and campaign flyers designated to fool them."


Teamster pleads guilty to embezzlement

A former Teamster pleaded guilty today to federal charges of embezzling money from a Rockford (IL) union, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Kathleen Thompson, 48, of Rockford, admitted that over three years ending in April, she embezzled funds from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 325 by cashing a member’s check without turning it over to the union, then replacing the missing cash with money from the unreported sale of pull tabs. The union office was often used for bingo and other games of chance and Teamsters would regularly cash player’s checks.

Thompson faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison without parole followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. She must pay the $33,770 stolen from the Teamsters local, which represents truckers and other workers in the transportation industry.

Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 9 in U.S. District Court.


GOP wanted to reconsider union-only rule

Hundreds of union workers were on hand as the Broome County Legislature voted not to reconsider a resolution regarding the reconstruction of the George Harvey Justice Building.

The resolution - which was unanimously adopted last month -- created a project labor agreement that requires most of the work be done by union workers. Non-union workers have taken the issue to court.

The Broome County Legislature voted against reconsidering a plan that requires union workers to do most of the reconstruction on the George Harvey Justice Building.

Thursday night, one county lawmaker proposed to reconsider last month's vote. But he didn't get enough support.

The county says the labor agreement will save more than $300,000 and help get the project done quicker.

But companies that employ non-union workers say everyone should get the same chance to earn the contract.

"Every time you take away a bid, you make the other people's prices go up, not down. The more competition, the better the price, the more the tax payers are served," Vincent Brigagliano, the COO of Piccirilli-Slavik & Vincent Plumbing and Heating, said.

"It brings local labor to go to work on the project. It's a savings for the tax payer. It's been proven to save money," Jim Collins, the business manager of the Electricians Local of Binghamton, said.

Wednesday, a Superior Court Judge issued a stay, stopping the county from opening the bids on the project.

A hearing is scheduled for next month.


Strike-tax for Big Ent advertisers?

Happy holidays and best wishes for a successful and healthy 2008. Here's my suggestion for a happy end-of-year resolution to the writers' strike.

In the first week of the Writers Guild of America strike, I offered a solution that has been gaining momentum over the past two weeks. "It's time to think out of the box in more ways than one," I wrote on Nov. 9. So here's the solution. Let the advertisers step up and agree to pay a tax on all network television ad expenditures for the next three years, beginning in September 2008, to fund a pool for distribution to writers, actors, directors and related unions.

This pool of funds will provide compensation for the writers', directors' and actors' contributions to the digital rights expansion producers need and want, without requiring long -term economic valuation of the new-media marketplace. A one percent tax on broadcast and cable network spending represents an estimated $400 million annually, $1.2 billion over three years. Two percent = $2.4 billion. The networks and studios can't complain about this solution. The unions can't complain. While advertisers and agencies might protest at first, this strike tax will actually be self liquidating. As Sarah Fay, CEO of Carat U.S. and Isobar pointed out, "The strike is a huge issue for advertisers."

If the WGA strike stretches into the summer and is joined by Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild members, then the recent gains experienced by the networks as a result of returning late-night hosts will be lost. This has the potential to destroy network television as advertisers know and love it. By ending the strike, advertisers will avoid suffering losses to their business resulting from under-delivery on their required advertising exposure. They will assure the sustained viability of network television as a powerful medium for their messages, and they will support the industry as it transforms to a digital marketplace. In last year's upfront, advertisers agreed to pay substantially increased costs because network television is worth it. An additional one or two percent in costs might ultimately be extracted from the networks in negotiations, but networks will make it up by avoiding the substantial ratings declines the strike is causing and will continue to cause.

This strike already has only losers. What's finally beginning to be realized is the real losers are the advertisers who underwrite the network television business because they need it for their own business well-being. Ultimately, they stand to be the biggest long-term losers. Their history suggests they will stay neutral and stay above the battle. That would be a mistake. Advertisers need to get involved. They need to get involved now. They need to determine if the strike tax or an alternative is a viable solution to bring the AMPTP and the WGA back into a new three-way conversation. They need to take fiduciary responsibility for the nearly $40 billion they invest annually in the broadcast and cable network television industry.

Plus, advertisers can take credit in the critical eyes of American consumers for helping to bring back their favorite television shows and saving some marginal series from almost certain oblivion. Media agency executives including Fay, Group M's Rino Sconzoni, and MPG's Charlie Rutman have expressed their desire for reasonable negotiation and an early settlement.

Following last week's exclusive JackMyers report that advertisers and agencies were in active discussions with members of the writers' negotiating groups, additional media agencies have stepped up and expressed an interest in participating in the solution. The one to two percent strike tax provides an opportunity for these agencies to introduce a relevant new issue into the discussions. Of course, agencies can't speak for their clients, but they can urge the American Association of Advertising Agencies' media committee to engage with both the WGA and AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers). Agency executives can ask their clients to push the Association of National Advertisers to become involved. The two trade groups can poll their members to gain consensus regarding the strike tax. If the consensus favors advertiser involvement in the negotiations, each trade group should identify two representatives who can join the negotiations and facilitate bringing the AMPTP back to the negotiating table now.

If advertisers and agencies fail to act, the challenge, as I commented in my original column on Nov. 9, is "there is no obvious viable solution to the strike, which is the core issue that will either result in rapid resolution and capitulation by the writers, or result in a long drawn out battle of attrition. The dynamics favor a long battle with an unsatisfying conclusion for all." As 2007 comes to an end, strike dynamics continue to point to either a major concession by the writers in mid-January, which their leaders are adamant will not happen, or continued hostility through mid-March at the earliest and more likely through early summer when other unions can join the fray.

The AMPTP members and leaders are gaining confidence that strike economics and politics are swinging in their favor. The Directors Guild is entering into early discussions with the AMPTP to resolve their issues prior to their own strike deadline next June. The Directors have conducted extensive research that reportedly argues in favor of a more moderate negotiating position than that taken by the WGA. Late-night talk shows are returning to the air, and striking writers who are being economically hurt realize the networks and studios have no incentive to be conciliatory.

As we have reported, while it is reasonable for writers to get a piece of the digital action, the digital marketplace is in its infancy and studios and networks are not yet able to determine future economics. Yet they are making money. Ironically, the strike will drive consumers to view more off-network programming online, on iPod and mobile phones, and through the purchase of DVDs. Writers won't get their fair share of these increased online, mobile and iPod revenues. Their premature concessions on DVD revenues in their 1988 strike is writers' "Remember the Alamo" call to action that keeps them on the picket lines today. In future years, they hope, as networks and studios reap billions from ancillary revenue streams, the writers are insisting through their strike that they not be left out in the cold.

To accomplish their goals, they will need a strong backbone and the organizational willpower to sustain the strike well into the new year. Their adversaries do not expect them to have that staying power. There are only four realistic scenarios. One, the writers concede most of their demands and return to work in January. Two, the advertisers and media agencies step in and offer to mediate and help fund a solution through a strike tax. Three, the strike continues into the summer and the networks introduce some new formula that concedes a share of unknown gross profits after having completely disrupted the business and accelerated major industry restructuring. And finally, the courts intercede and empower the WGA to negotiate with individual studios and networks, changing the power structure. The only solution that offers a win-win-win for the AMPTP, the WGA and other unions, plus advertisers is option number two: the advertisers step in. With option one, the inevitable is simply delayed for a few years. With option three and four, the writers gain a Pyrrhic Victory, but the industry suffers and advertisers suffer.


Covering for racism with union talk

Mayor-elect of Philadelphia Michael Nutter may have had his "brothers and sisters" moment this week when he called practices by contractors and unions "economic apartheid."

So it's good he got it out of the way before he takes office.

Nutter - despite the lurid rhetoric - and his colleagues are on the side of the angels on this one. The city, the unions and contractors must take action to make the industry as diverse as the city itself.

But in considering the obstacles, what often gets overlooked is politics. Union politics.

Labor leaders are elected by their members. They stay in office by keeping their members happy.

How do you keep union members happy? You keep them working.

And the more members you have, the more jobs you must have.

At any given time in this city, 20 percent of the building-trades work force is out of a job.

Inside an individual union, a leader can tolerate 20 percent of his membership grumbling. But if that number rises to 40 percent, for example, he might find his own job in jeopardy.

Like any politician, inside government or out, a union chief's first priority is survival.

"It is a balancing act," admits Pat Gillespie, leader of the Building Trades Council. "You want to be diverse, but you have to have jobs to keep everyone working. The prime directive of the building trades is to get the [construction] project."

To increase minority members, you begin with the apprenticeship program.

"Most apprenticeships take four or five years," Gillespie said. "So we have to look down the road and try to guess what the economy is going to look like. And then you decide, should we have a class of 25 apprentices or 50 apprentices?

"You try to be accurate because it's simply not fair to have someone go through five years of training and at the end of that, get only six months of work a year," he said.

Not to mention, a union man out of work half the year is not going to be happy with his union leadership.

Electricians union leader John Dougherty said that when he took over as chief, his union was nearly 100 percent white and suffering high unemployment.

Since then, he says, besides increasing work assignments, "probably 90 percent of [members] who joined under my tenure are from Philadelphia, and I've done more to be inclusive than any union not under a court order."

The union is a sponsor of the Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter School, which has 75 percent minority enrollment and trains kids for jobs in the industry.

For this to pay off, there have to be jobs.

"When our members go to work in the morning, they're working themselves out of a job," Gillespie said. "If you have five rooms of drywall to put up, when you're done putting them up, guess what? You're on the bench."

So how do you increase minority membership without increasing unemployment?

"You do it judiciously," Gillespie said.

And the more jobs you have, the easier it becomes - politically - for a union leader to beef up his minority membership.


Writers' strike - destruction multiplies

It doesn't look like the Hollywood writers' strike is going to end anytime soon. And with awards season coming up, things could get ugly. Some stars are threatening a boycott of those shows.

And two more late-night hosts plan on crossing the picket lines. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert say they'll go back to work the first week of January. Plus, the strike is costing a lot of people a lot of money. Stacey Vanek-Smith has more: "Los Angeles drivers are still showing their support to writers picketing the studios, but that support is getting expensive. The strike has cost the regional economy more than $340 million. That's according to new numbers from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation."

Jack Kyser is chief economist for the group. He says the industry is on a slippery slope.

"This is sort of a difficult time. You have the new TV season underway. You have a lot of the new series seem to be gaining a little traction, but they're in danger of running out of scripts, and then what do they do? They don't have an inventory of old shows that they can show during reruns."

If the writer's strike keeps going through the end of the current TV season in May, the industry is expected to lose around $2.5 billion.


Workers vote school strike, replacements authorized

Bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other non-teaching staff in the Columbia (OH) school district plan to strike at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 7.

Children will be safely delivered to school that day prior to the strike’s start, said Lloyd Rains, regional director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees.

The reason for the strike is the board’s refusal to continue health insurance for new hires working less than 32 hours a week, which includes many of the bus drivers, Rains said. “We were given the board’s last best offer,” Rains said. “It’s a take it or leave it situation, and we’re not accepting it.”

Rains hand-delivered the notice Friday morning to Superintendent John Kuhn and that prompted the school board to call a meeting Friday afternoon.

The three board members present authorized Kuhn to hire substitute staff to fill in during the strike. “Mr. Kuhn has been authorized to do what he has to do to keep the schools open,” school board president Cheryl Blazek said.

Kuhn said he was working with a management company that deals with work stoppages, but he declined to elaborate on his plans or name the company.

In the school district, OAPSE represents bus drivers, monitors, secretaries, aides, special-needs aides, mechanics, and cafeteria and maintenance workers. There are 47 employees; 37 of whom are represented by the union, Rains said.

The union has been without a contract since July 2006. There are no negotiation sessions scheduled.

The strike upset parents who said they worry about how their children will get to school.

“I think it stinks they don’t have a contract yet,” said Coleen Barta, who was dropping off books to the library Friday afternoon. “The bus drivers really go above and beyond the call of duty.”

For example, Barta said a bus driver recently made sure that her son got to an alternate drop-off site, even though that wasn’t even her route. Barta said she was unsure what she would do in light of the strike.

“I don’t want my kids to miss school, but I do want to support the drivers,” she said.

Bus driver Lauri Snyder said she and other employees are resigned to the strike, but it will be very difficult.

“Nobody’s happy — nobody wants to strike,” Snyder said.

While current drivers would retain their benefits under the new contract, they could be stripped in a subsequent contract, she said.

“You can’t have the haves and have nots,” Snyder said. “It will affect us.”

In time, newly hired employees without benefits would serve on the negotiating team and bargain away the benefits being paid to current employees, Snyder said.

If that happened, Snyder said she would have to quit. “I have to have health benefits for my family,” she said.

She said she earns about $15 an hour and works from 6 to 8:45 a.m. and 1:45 to 4 p.m. — or about 20 hours a week excluding field trips.

“The hours make it almost impossible to get a second job,” Snyder said.

Like Sawyer, Rains said the two-tier system would create all kinds of problems.

He said OAPSE employees are willing to accept concessions that Columbia teachers did last year when they agreed upon a new contract. The teachers’ contract included raises ranging from 2 to 3 percent. And, like teachers, Rains said they are willing to pay about 8 percent of their monthly insurance premiums.

“Part of the problem is that our members don’t understand why they are being targeted by a district that is financially sound, continues to pay administrators a portion of their retirement and have not asked any other group of employees to totally eliminate benefits,” Rains said.

Columbia residents shopping Friday night at the Schild’s IGA in nearby Eaton Township said they were upset about the prospect of a strike.

“You’re not going to get anyone hired, and you’re going to overwork the ones they already have,” said Barbara Bene about the district’s plan to withhold benefits.

Another woman, the mother of two high school students, said she thought the school board was making a mistake.

“The people at the top are getting the money and the people at the bottom are getting the shaft,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.

Columbia resident Joe Dzurinda, a computer programmer, said he buys his own health insurance for $500 a month “and I get garbage for that.”

“Everyone wants to cut costs, but I think they should have their benefits,” he said.


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