Disney halts dues collection, union fumes

The March membership meeting of Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Union Local 681 was held last week, and a cast member who attended the meeting (and who asked not to be identified) said that the union is obviously gearing up for a long battle against Disney. The union leadership began the March 12 meeting with a review of the actions taken against Disney to date, and reportedly said that they are much stronger and better organized than they were four years ago. Local 681 president Ada Briceno reportedly told the cast members present, "We're going to need people who are willing to be arrested," and some cast members joked about wearing Mickey Mouse ears in their booking photos.

At the meeting, Briceno confirmed that the union has agreed to meet with Disney at the Anaheim Hilton, the location Disney proposed over a month ago. After staging a series of actions against Disney that included a protest at the Paradise Pier Hotel on February 15, Briceno said the union is ready to move on to the next level. The negotiations reportedly won't begin until April; the exact date has not yet been agreed upon.

Briceno has not responded to recent requests for an interview with MousePlanet, but cast members say that there are at least two major points of contention in this negotiation. The headline issue is likely to be health care. Local 681 employees who work an average of just under 18 hours per week receive "free" health insurance, paid for by Disney through contributions to the union's insurance fund. Disney currently pays just over $2.50 per cast member per hour for this coverage; the union wants Disney to raise that contribution to around $3.25. The union also wants to negotiate raises for hourly cast members (something that won't impact the tipped cast members covered by the contract).

A few cast members have complained that the union is not doing enough to keep them informed about what is happening in the negotiations, and Ada Briceno reportedly promised cast members that the union will be sending out a letter to the membership shortly. Disney has already sent out at least four letters to the covered cast members, but the union so far has relied on shop stewards and "committee" members to spread their message. Union leaders say that mailings are expensive, that they need time to have letters approved by their legal team and that many cast members ignore letters anyway. Whatever method they use, be it direct letters or an update on their Web site, the union definitely needs to touch base with their entire membership - if only to try to collect dues from them.

Under the terms of the expired contract, Disney deducted union dues (about $35 per month) directly from cast member paychecks, and forwarded that money to the union. The contract states that Disney will continue to do so even after the contract expires, unless the union refuses to extend the contract. When the union did just that, Disney notified the union that they would stop deducting dues effective March 1 of this year.

This puts the union in the position of trying to collect dues from 2,300 individual cast members. Union committee leaders staged a two-day "electronic funds transfer drive" at the three Disney hotels, trying to convince employees to sign up for automatic electronic fund withdrawals of their monthly dues. About 10 percent of the cast signed up; another 20 percent paid their dues to the union in cash or check. That still leaves the union trying to collect from 70 percent of the Disney cast members, and, with Disney cast members representing over half of the Local 681 employees, represents a 35 percent reduction in their cash flow for March.

A union organizer at the meeting reportedly accused Disney of taking the action with the intent of distracting the union employees from the negotiations to come, and said that the union is spending more in labor hours to collect dues then they are taking in. Meanwhile, the union claimed that it has spent more money so far on this contract negotiation than it had on any contract so far in the history of the union, and the talks have not yet even begun.


Socialist militants back illegal strike leaders

A March 4 community event here for the Freightliner 5—members of United Auto Workers Local 3520 who were fired after leading a strike—highlighted support the five are getting from other militant unionists in the South.

After the workers refused to accept the company’s concessionary contract and initiated a strike on April 3, 2007, Freightliner bosses fired five members of Local 3520’s bargaining committee—Robert Whiteside, Allen Bradley, Franklin Torrence, Glenna Swinford and David Crisco—along with six other workers.

The contract had 22 articles with no tentative agreement and 86 unsettled sub-issues relating to health and safety. Among the concessions was a two-tier wage structure, which pays newer workers far less than their seniors.

The other six got their jobs back after signing “model employee” agreements; one was subsequently terminated.

Kenneth Riley, a dockworker and president of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422, gave encouragement to the 50-plus Freightliner workers at the meeting. Local 1422 is home of the Charleston 5—workers who were put under house arrest in 2000 for leading a picket in Charleston, S.C.

Community support for labor

At the meeting, many spoke about organizing in the South and the need for community-labor support groups. In 2007, North Carolina and South Carolina ranked 50th and 48th, respectively, in union density in the U.S.

Riley spoke about the Charleston 5’s successful campaign after they faced conspiracy charges for leading a picket line at which more than 600 cops attacked 150 workers. Without being convicted of any crime, the Charleston 5 were then put under house arrest for almost two years.

“It was not until we got the community involved that things changed,” Riley said. They rallied churches, community groups and students. The case became an international campaign where trade unionists threatened to go on strike if the five were convicted. In the end, they were freed and given a fine of $100 each.

Local 1422 is “one of the largest and most powerful union locals in the state with the nation’s lowest rate of unionization,” stated Riley. “State troopers attacked the longshore workers only days after an historic march on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, at which 47,000 people demanded that the Confederate battle flag be taken down from the South Carolina State Capitol.

“Local 1422 is a largely African-American local, a very important segment of the Charleston community. It is significant that we are under attack because we are living proof that unionization is the best anti-poverty program ever created.”

Workers at Freightliner are finding ways to build a similar campaign. The Freightliner 5 recently returned from a tour of the Midwest and West Coast to gain support for their efforts.

Many Freightliner workers also participated with 7,000 others in the “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” (HKonJ) march in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 11, which marched on the North Carolina Legislature for the second year in a row. The HKonJ People’s Assembly has a progressive 14-point platform that includes livable wages, collective bargaining for public workers, ending the Iraq war, civil rights enforcement, better education and addressing chapters of racist history in North Carolina. Local People’s Assemblies are being organized throughout the year across the state.

Solidarity is key

“In a ‘right-to-work’ state, with only 3 percent of employees unionized, it is extremely important for the community to rally behind the workers to improve their lot in life. ... When these workers are able to attain these goals, this betters the community as a whole,” said Glenna Swinford, one of the Freightliner 5.

“Solidarity is more than just a word, it is actions. Solidarity is when people come together with one common goal, to undo the wrongs and build a movement for justice for all.”


Left plays 'identity politics' with white males

In the fierce campaign between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, a battle dominated by issues of race and gender, white men have emerged as perhaps the single critical swing constituency. The competition for the support of white men, particularly those defined as working-class, will shape the showdown between Clinton and Obama in Pennsylvania’s Democratic presidential primary on April 22.

Obama of Illinois won majorities among those voters in what appeared to be breakthrough victories in Wisconsin and Virginia last month. But he badly lost working-class white men to Clinton, representing New York, in Ohio and Texas two weeks ago, keeping the outcome of the Democratic race in doubt.

The Ohio results in particular raised questions about whether Obama can attract support from this crucial demographic. They also brought to the forefront the question of whether racial prejudice would be a barrier to his candidacy in some of the major industrial battlegrounds in the general election if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

An examination of exit polls in Wisconsin and Ohio, states with striking similarities, shows that many more working-class white men in Ohio said race was a factor in their vote on March 4 than was the case in Wisconsin. The analysis makes clear that race was not the deciding factor in the Ohio primary but did contribute to Clinton’s margin of victory.

In the past week, racial issues have dominated the campaign dialogue. Former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro quit the Clinton campaign after her comments about Obama and race brought criticism from the senator’s campaign and other allies.

On Friday, Obama had to distance himself from his spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., former pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, over statements widely viewed as being anti-American. Obama has been a member of the church for two decades.

Obama’s advisers have sought to play down the idea that racial prejudice was a major factor in Clinton’s victory in Ohio. They suggest that Obama’s poor performance among working-class white men reflects broader generational divisions that have marked the Democratic race.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama, said he is uncertain how concerned the campaign should be about the influence of race on working-class white voters. “It bears some closer examination,” he said. “I think for older voters, it’s more of a leap than for younger voters. But I don’t think it’s an insuperable barrier.”

Obama has sought to transcend race in his campaign, and he’s found considerable success in that pursuit in many states. Racial divisions have shown up in Southern states, as they did last Tuesday in Mississippi and earlier in Alabama. In both primaries, Obama overwhelming carried the black vote and Clinton overwhelmingly carried the white vote. But in smaller states outside the South – such as Iowa, Kansas and Utah, where there are far fewer minorities – Obama has done extremely well with white voters.

One view in Obama’s campaign is that his poor showing in Ohio primarily reflected that the state has a high number of older voters. An analysis of exit polls in the two states undercuts that assertion. There were roughly similar percentages of white working-class men over 45 and under 45 in both states. It is accurate that Obama did far better with younger men in both states, but he won younger and older white men in Wisconsin and lost both groups in Ohio.

One difference between the two states is the influence of race on voting patterns. Among white men in Wisconsin, 11 percent said race was an important factor in their vote. In Ohio, 27 percent of white men said race was an important factor. That’s not enough to explain the entire difference in the voting patterns of white men in the two states, but more than enough to explain at least part of Obama’s problem.

Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has endorsed Obama, said that in industrialized states that have experienced economic dislocation and job losses, the competition for jobs heightens racial tensions. “I think race is a factor in the sense that these are states that have had a decreasing number of jobs because of deindustrialization,” he said.

Securing the votes of white men has become a critical factor in the Democratic race. Throughout the primary season, Clinton has dominated the votes of white women, but she and Obama have battled for support from white men.

In 27 states where exit polls were conducted, starting with Iowa on Jan. 3 and ending with Mississippi last week, Clinton has won the white male vote 11 times and Obama 10 times. In five states, they basically split the votes of white men.


Politics cast dark clouds in tribal Casino War

The issue of sovereignty and American Indians is ever-changing, and experts on the issue fear it's become too susceptible to changes in political administrations. To address these and other issues, the nonprofit Foundation for California held a one-day conference last week to discuss American Indians' history, their relations with the federal government and current sovereignty status in American jurisprudence.

Legal scholars, judges and political scientists attending the conference exchanged ideas on establishing a more coherent policy.

Alfred Balitzer, founder and chairman of the foundation, said the conference was not aimed at a specific legislative or judicial body. But he said: "The timing is good, especially [since] we see a number of cases are coming up now to the Supreme Court on sovereignty."

For example, the Indian tribe San Manuel and National Labor Relations Board are involved in a lawsuit over union organizing at tribal casinos.

In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a NLRB ruling that federal labor law could apply to tribe-owned businesses.

The judge ruled that "the tribal sovereignty is not absolute autonomy."

But Ralph Rossum, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, argued that the Constitution protects tribal sovereignty. He said in the Sacramento Bee that the Supreme Court should intervene and "repudiate [lower courts'] departures from clear and controlling precedents, and perform its historic role of protecting tribal interests and sovereignty."

Although saying the sovereignty issue is not "predictively political," Loren Smith, co-chairman of the conference and former judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, said it is hard to reach a bipartisan solution.

He said the issue is volatile even within the American-Indian groups.

"On the one hand, they obviously want to have a better life, they want to have prosperous economy, health care," he said. "On the other hand, they also want to retain their distinctive culture and institutions.

"As a judge, I am neither pro or anti," Mr. Smith said. "I am trying to look at what the constitution of law says, and obviously at the moment, there would be tweak."


Twinkie Teamster dues-counters somber

More than 3 1/2 years into its bankruptcy battle, the outlook for sweet snack-food maker Interstate Bakeries -- which owns the Dolly Madison plant in Columbus -- could be turning sour. Kansas City, Mo.-based Interstate Bakeries Corp. has delayed a U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing on its exit plan for more than a month, saying it is negotiating with a potential buyer. March 12 was the original hearing date. The new one is April 23.

But the company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2004, said in no uncertain terms that it could be forced to split its operation into pieces.

"Under the circumstances, the only prudent course of action for the company is to embark on a dual path and explore alternatives that include the sale of the company in multiple transactions," said Craig Jung, Interstate Bakeries' chief executive officer.

The snack-food firm owns the Dolly Madison plant at 1969 Victory Drive in Columbus. The factory, which is believed to employ more than 500 people, makes and distributes a number of sugary treats.

Products being churned out of the aromatic facility include Twinkies, Zingers, doughnuts, fruit pies, angel food cake and pound cake. They are shipping directly to retailer's warehouses for their own distribution rather than delivering straight to stores.

The local facility -- Interstate Bakeries' only one in Georgia -- has survived several consolidations. The company has shut down 12 plants and cut 8,000 workers since 2004. At last count, it had 24,000 on the payroll nationwide.

But as the bankruptcy process drags out, all bets on whether or not Interstate Bakeries might survive intact could be off.

"We will immediately begin holding discussions with potential strategic purchasers, many of whom have already expressed interest in buying certain of the company's businesses and assets," Jung said a week ago.

Even the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents Interstate Bakeries' transportation and delivery employees -- more than 9,000 companywide -- is taking a somber tone.

The union has been negotiating with the snack manufacturer to save employee wages and benefits, and ensure job security. The talks have been tense, however, with Interstate Bakeries insisting it is reeling from soaring health care and pension costs.

The Teamsters at one point last fall responded that they would rather see the company liquidated rather than accept deeper concessions. But that stance appears to be changing.

"Although IBC's financial position is not promising at this point, we are committed to working hard to find an acceptable plan that will save as many Teamsters jobs as possible," Richard Volpe, director of a Teamsters bakery and laundry workers group, wrote in a March 7 letter to the union's members.

"In order to do that, all of us will most likely have to make some hard decisions in the very near future," he said.

Aside from employee expenses, Interstate Bakeries management has said several other factors are putting it under the gun. Those include sagging sales, too much industry capacity, and soaring costs for ingredients, energy and fuel.


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Colorado Dem commits unionism apostasy

Aurora (CO) City Councilman Ryan Frazier became a polarizing figure when he threw his support behind a controversial right-to-work ballot initiative. Labor unions and government watchdogs started asking him to explain nearly $1,500 in campaign contributions he received from an Arizona engineering firm the same day it won a $9.6 million water construction contract with the city in April.

Aurora resident Foster Hines complains that Frazier has ignored an open records request he submitted weeks ago seeking information about his relationship and dealings with the firm.

"As a taxpayer, I'd like to know more about what communication Councilman Frazier had with this out-of-state engineering firm," Hines said.

Frazier said he's still consulting with city attorneys on how to comply with Hines' request.

Frazier questions the timing of Hines' inquiry, which came nearly a year after the council awarded the bid on an 11-0 vote.

Frazier suggests Hines is a front man for union groups trying to discredit him as he and other conservatives collect signatures to get a right- to-work initiative on the November ballot.

"It's interesting that they have tried to raise concerns at this time . . . and via an Aurora citizen," Frazier said. "They (unions) are trying to do whatever they can to throw something at me and try to make it stick as we get closer to the elections."

Hines, however, denies he's a front for labor and says his interest is as a longtime city resident.

City officials told Frazier in September that a Washington group tied to unions, FAST-Research Associates of America, was seeking information about his campaign finances, according to e-mails provided by the city. On its Web site, the group says FAST "now means 'Fish Around and Start Trouble.' "

Campaign finance reports show that Frazier, who won re-election last spring, received 15 separate $99 contributions from partners of Carollo Engineers on April 9.

The contributions came the same day the City Council approved the Carollo contract as a part of the city's $750 million Prairie Waters Project.

A month later, Frazier received another $500 in donations from partners of the firm, which has two offices in Colorado.

Chantell Taylor of Colorado Ethics Watch said the timing of the campaign contributions, though legal, gives the appearance of "pay to play."

"It is really flagrant that he took the money on the same day of the vote, and shortly thereafter he took more money from the same group," said Taylor. "It wasn't prudent on his part. To take the high ground, he should have recused himself."

Frazier said he has no direct business dealings with the Arizona firm; therefore, he had no reason to refrain from voting.

"To suggest I was unduly influenced is incorrect," he said. "I consider myself a man of immense integrity. I would never sell my vote."

Aurora City Councilman Larry Beer, chairman of the water committee last spring, said the criticism of Frazier is unfounded.

Frazier said it's no coincidence that questions surrounding his campaign donations are coming as the right-to-work initiative is gaining momentum.The measure aims to alter Colorado's constitution and bar unions from requiring all workers to pay fees for representation, whether they are union members or not.

Colorado union leaders said Frazier is not a target of a smear campaign orchestrated by big labor.

Rather, people like Mitch Ackerman, Colorado State Council president for the Service Employees International Union, charge that Frazier is "a tool" of out-of-state business interests trying to destroy unions and working families in Colorado.

"We expect our elected officials to be accountable to the people who elected them, and not accountable to corporate business interests or corporations who want multimillion-dollar contacts with the city," said Ackerman.

Frazier rolls his eyes at such assertions.

"Hopefully, at the end of the day, we can have a civil debate about the merits of the right- to-work measure, instead of these groups using scare tactics to make one person look bad," he said.


Iowan supports worker-choice

Walt Rogers of Cedar Falls announced his intentions to seek the Republican nomination for a seat in the Iowa State Senate. Rogers intends to run in Senate District 10, currently held by Senator Jeff Danielson. “I grew up in the Cedar Valley; this is my home, and I deeply care about what direction and path we go down as a community. I know the deep-seeded values of this community; family, hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, faith and helping your neighbor,” said Rogers.

“In talking with the voters of Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Hudson, concerns have been raised over a legislative agenda that many community leaders call ‘anti-business.’ This anti-job issue was an attempt to gut Iowa’s sixty year old Right-to-Work law, which would force Iowa workers to pay union dues when a worker chooses not to be a union member. Fortunately, Representatives Doris Kelly (D) and Tami Wiencek (R) acted independently and recognized how extreme this legislation was and stood against the Des Moines special interest groups pushing that anti-business bill,” said Rogers. “Unfortunately, our representative from District 10, Senator Jeff Danielson, did not join Representative Doris Kelly (D) in standing against this job-killing piece of legislation. This will be a central issue in this campaign because the voters want someone in the Iowa Senate who is independent, not controlled by special interest groups, and represents our values,” said Rogers.

“Additionally, as a State Senator I will work hard to make Iowa a place that the next generation of Iowans can receive a top-notch education and then get a job that keeps them here in Iowa to raise their family. In order to accomplish this priority, we need to take a thoughtful and conservative perspective to the Capitol and propose personal and small business tax relief, fix our growing property tax problem, curb government spending, and promote excellence and accountability in education,” said Rogers.

Rogers is a member of the management team at Orchard Hill Church in Cedar Falls. Rogers has been a community leader involved in many projects and initiatives including spearheading the effort to create a music festival called Onefest, which had over 450 volunteers and budget over $280,000.00. Rogers also serves on the board of Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Waterloo, is a member of the Cedar Falls Safe & Drug Free Committee, is on the core planning team of Love Cedar Valley (a community kindness event), and a past member of My Waterloo Days planning committee.

Walt has been married to Jenny, a Speech-Language Pathologist employed by Area Education Agency 267, for 27 years and the couple has three children. Jonathan and his wife, Katie, live and work in Cedar Falls. Alli and her husband, Kirk, work in the music industry in Nashville, Tennessee. Michael is a junior at Cedar Falls High School. Walt ran track at the University of Northern Iowa where he received his degree in manufacturing and management technology. Walt grew up in west Waterloo and currently resides in Cedar Falls. Senate District 10 is comprised of Cedar Falls, Hudson and western portions of rural Black Hawk county and city precincts of Waterloo.


Teachers union: It's not for the kids after all

As I read Dale Powers' March 10 column "Education Minnesota is the issue," I was surprised but pleased to learn that my union "is the single most powerful actor in Minnesota politics." That must be why we have such an education-friendly governor, such great funding for our schools, affordable health care coverage for all school employees and their families, and so much support for students of tremendous need. Good to know.

But I have to admit, on the point of "it's for the kids," he caught us. It is true that if, in fact, we were successful in securing additional funding for schools, we have no real intention of direct-depositing that money into each student's individual bank account.

We did think about it, but we couldn't quite figure out how to be sure the kids weren't out there spending their education allowance on food, health insurance, heat and gas for their parents' cars. Although we're pretty sure most kids would use some of their money for textbooks, extracurricular activities and towels, we are still doubtful that would provide the true educational bang-for-the-buck parents seem to want.

This idea that there is some way to funnel educational funding directly to kids, while bypassing all personnel-related expenses, seems a little far-fetched. Applying chocolate directly to my hips would probably cut out a few steps, too, but I don't think it is very practical.

Given the headline, "Education Minnesota is the issue," it seems the real concern Powers is raising is that Education Minnesota-affiliated teacher locals bargain contracts — not unilaterally determine wages and benefits, mind you — bargain them. It seems he would like this statutory arrangement to end for teachers. Apparently he feels that Education Minnesota-affiliated educational support professional locals should retain their bargaining rights, as should all of the other organized school-related employee groups affiliated with AFSCME, SEIU, Operating Engineers, Minnesota School Employees, etc.

Somehow I'm not following this. Is it all of Education Minnesota that is the problem, all unions that are the problem, or just the teachers themselves? What about the administrators? Are they a problem, too?

Maybe Powers should think twice about what it is he's seeking to change. Is pay the problem? Is bargaining the problem? Is Education Minnesota the problem? Are unions the problem? Are teachers the problem? I'm confused. When teachers, bus drivers, custodians, paraprofessionals, interpreters, cooks, clerical staff and administrators go to work each day, they are all there for the same reason — the kids. It's a shame they expect to be paid for their work, too, but that seems to be the American way.

I believe that when factors in our schools are improved — be it in the form of supplies, equipment or personnel — students benefit.

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, I like to think of it this way:

It was quarter past dawn... All the Whos, still abed, All the Whos, still a-snooze When he packed up his sled,

Packed it up with their union! The classrooms! The tests!

The sports! And the buses! The computers! The desks!

Three thousand feet up! He decided to dump it! "At last, we can finally balance the budget!"

"Pooh-Pooh to the Whos!" he was grinch-ish-ly humming. "They're finding out now that no Education is coming!"

"They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!" "Their mouths will hang open a minute or two, Then the Whos down in Whoville will all cry Boo-Hoo!"

"That's a noise," grinned the Grinch, "that I simply must hear!"

So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low. Then it started to grow ...

But the sound wasn't sad! Why, this sound sounded merry! It couldn't be so! But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at Whoville! The Grinch popped his eyes! Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was teaching, was learning! Without any union at all!

He hadn't stopped Education from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?" "It came without classrooms! It came without tests!" "It came without unions, or textbooks, or desks!" And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!

"Maybe Education," he thought, "doesn't come from a store." "Maybe Education ... perhaps ... means a little bit more!"

- Mary Broderick, president of the St. Cloud Education Association


Students gaining collective bargaining rights

The recent defeat of unionization efforts by graduate students at the University of Maryland at College Park demonstrates the difficulties faced by graduate students seeking collective bargaining rights. Though union rights have been granted at some universities across the country, many graduate students are still denied those rights on the basis of state law and their university designation as students rather than employees.

That distinction spurred graduate students at Maryland to protest heavily throughout the past year. They advocated for a voice in decision-making, a right already granted to faculty, as a means of raising stipends, lightening excessive work loads and addressing grievances.

"We aren't employees, and they think we don't need this," said Laura Moore, president of the university's graduate student government.

"But they make it clear that the stipend is dependent on the work we do."

Moore declared the range of graduate student labor comparable to that of faculty work and integral to the success of large universities.

UNC, the only peer institution of Maryland that does not grant collective bargaining rights to graduate students, currently employs such students as teaching assistants and researchers.

"Can you imagine if there was a grad student strike?" Chapel Hill Town Council member Mark Kleinschmidt said. "The university would shut down."

Though Maryland's graduate students work an average of 29 hours each week, they get paid for 20 hours. The minimum stipend paid for a two-semester teaching assistant position is $13,826. Its yearly increase has not kept up with the area's rising rent costs.

"These students are at the point where they're going to give up their dream of getting a graduate degree so they can find higher-paying work," said Janet Bass, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, an organization that has supported Moore's efforts.

UNC's minimum teaching assistant stipend is $7,200 per semester, but salaries are highly variable throughout different graduate programs.

Lauren Anderson, president of the UNC Graduate and Professional Student Federation, said graduate students at UNC are treated favorably - a situation she said could be jeopardized by a strong push for graduate student bargaining rights.

"We are listened to; we are asked how our experience is," she said.

"As long as those lines of communication are open, (unionization) is not a pressing need."

UNC graduate students, as well as University employees, are denied collective bargaining rights under N.C. General Statute 95-98. Since its enactment in 1959, attempts at repealing the law have quickly failed, Kleinschmidt said.

"We just haven't historically been a state where collective bargaining unions have been strong," he said.

"There is a perception that allowing people to advocate for their own interests is harmful to the state."

Earlier this semester, Maryland graduate students formed an unofficial union and partnered with state legislators to introduce legislation into both state houses that would have allowed for collective bargaining rights at the university.

Although both bills were defeated in early March, the group's Web site proudly encourages members to "Get ready for 2009!"


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Boston

The Labor Resource Center (LRC) of the University of Massachusetts - Boston provides educational and research programs to workers and to labor and community organizations. The mission of the LRC – to support workers and their organizations as they seek to gain control over their futures at work, in their communities, and in the political arena – is carried out through its three programs under the guidance of the LRC Advisory Board.

Labor Studies Program offers a Labor Studies Certificate through UMass Boston's College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). Labor Studies is the study of work and working people. Through the Labor Studies program you will explore the working lives of people, examining questions such as: how is the nature of work changing? how do unions and other worker organizations operate? how can public institutions better serve working people? You will analyze how laws, economics and politics affect working people's lives. As a Labor Studies student, you will learn from the past and the present, from the faculty and from each other, as you develop strategies to address the challenges facing working people today.

The Labor Extension Program provides training, education and technical assistance to workers, labor unions, and other worker organizations.Since 1995, the Labor Extension Program has provided hands-on training and technical assistance to workers, union members and community organizations. While our educational sessions are as diverse as the participants we attract, one simple principle unites everything we do: linking education with action to build a stronger labor movement. Recent training sessions have dealt with such topics as workplace rights, organizing, computer skills, and corporate research, as well as skills trainings for union stewards. For information on Labor Extension related activities on all four UMass campuses, visit the Statewide Labor Extension page.

The Future of Work Research Program conducts participatory action-oriented research about the changing nature of work in Massachusetts. The Future of Work in Massachusetts is a joint research project of the Labor Centers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell, funded by the University of Massachusetts' President's Office with monies provided by the Massachusetts legislature. The project encompasses diverse research efforts to describe, analyze, and document the rapid transformation that work is undergoing in Massachusetts. Up and down the occupational structure, citizens in the Commonwealth are facing a complex web of changes in their workplaces and work lives. Policy makers, leaders of community, civic and labor organizations need resources to assist them in understanding and responding to these changes. The goal of this project is to help provide those resources.

The LRC Advisory Board guides the Labor Resource Center in meeting its important and exciting mission.


Vaunted AFSCME unity breaks-down

The Oregon Council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has endorsed Barack Obama for president. The union represents employees in many Oregon jurisdictions including Benton County and the cities of Albany, Corvallis, Lebanon, Philomath and Sweet Home. Its executive board took the endorsement action Saturday in Portland.

“The union took action prior to the upcoming Oregon primary because Obama has a history of standing up and fighting for working people,” Oregon AFSCME Executive Director Ken Allen said in a statement. “In Illinois, Sen. Obama fought alongside AFSCME to keep vital public services open, including mental hospitals and prisons. He also worked to help organize thousands of workers at Resurrection Hospital, and supported card check recognition for other workers seeking to unionize in their workplace.”

He added: “He is a candidate organized labor can proudly stand behind and support.”

“I believe Obama has a proven track record of fighting for our members,” said Jack Tucker, president of AFSCME Local 2067, which represents City of Salem workers. “I also believe Obama has a much better chance of winning in November against John McCain.”

Tina Turner-Morfitt of Salem is a corrections counselor and president of a statewide local that represents corrections employees in the state prison system.

“I believe Obama can unite Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, which is what our membership within Corrections looks like,” she said. “This endorsement best reflects the thinking of our members and leaders.”

With the Obama endorsement, Oregon AFSCME joins the other biggest unions in Oregon supporting Obama in the Oregon primary, including the Oregon Education Association, the Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers and others.

Allen said AFSCME plans to mail to its members and participate in other get-out-the-vote activities both for Obama and for Oregon Hosue Speaker Jeff Merkley, seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.


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