Hollywood unions spill bad blood

The bad blood between Hollywood's two major actors' unions reached Hatfield and McCoy levels during the weekend just as they prepare to negotiate new labor contracts for their members. Saturday's stunning decision by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to negotiate its own deal with the studios rather than in partnership with the bigger and more-confrontational Screen Actors Guild (SAG) raises the question of which union will sit down first for formal talks.

The unions' TV-theatrical contract, which they have jointly negotiated for 27 years, expires on June 30. The studios, slowly recovering from the 100-day writers' strike, are fearful of another walkout and are delaying work on projects that could be interrupted in the summer.

The union that does not negotiate a new contract first with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) could find itself facing a bigger battle, depending on whether its proposals are greatly different than what was agreed upon by the other union.

AFTRA, whose contract covers 44,000 members of both unions, has been pushing for early talks all along, so it would come as no surprise if it were first to the table.

Both unions said Sunday that they would be getting in touch with the AMPTP within the next few days.

"Informal discussions are happening and we expect to set a timeline soon," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said.

SAG executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen said the union plans to call the AMPTP Monday.

"We've discussed it informally with them," Allen said. "This is what we were waiting for to get started on bargaining: To get this process finished and for the input of the members who were all participating."

The AMPTP issued a statement Saturday saying it was pleased that AFTRA is ready to start formal talks and is determined to "work hard and bargain reasonably" to avoid another harmful strike in the industry. The statement made no mention of SAG. (Hollywood writers walked out for 100 days last year.)

Both unions, however, probably will wait until after the April 7 start of talks between AMPTP and the Intl. Assn. of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents blue-collar studio workers.

AFTRA's eleventh-hour decision to suspend its joint bargaining agreement with SAG, known as Phase One, came as both actors unions were set to vote on a proposal package their members had been working on since February. Terms of the package have not been disclosed.

Just last Tuesday and Wednesday, members of both unions' "wages and working conditions" committees met to put finishing touches on the package. Word out of those meetings was that both worked amicably side by side.

But even that characterization had Allen and Reardon disagreeing. SAG's Allen described the meetings as "energetic" and "exciting." AFTRA's Reardon said there had been "tensions" and "disagreements."

The straw that broke the camel's back Saturday, Reardon said, was the anticipated decision by the cast of the daytime soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful" to circulate a petition seeking to annul AFTRA's representation of the show's actors.

Several weeks ago, members of the cast approached SAG about issues they had regarding AFTRA's representation.

"They're fed up that AFTRA has not taken care of their needs and concerns and that AFTRA has not assisted them in getting money owed to them," said SAG national board member Anne-Marie Johnson, also an AFTRA member. "They're fed up with their health and retirement package, and they know SAG will assist if they could."

Johnson said the actors were told to bring it up with AFTRA because SAG taking jurisdiction over the "Bold" actors would be considered "raiding."

Allen said the guild assured AFTRA it would not assist the soap opera's cast in their efforts to organize with SAG.

"The timing of this was transparently obvious," Allen said. "It was incredibly cynical and calculated. It was a flimsy excuse. SAG was never intent on raiding or representing the soap opera."

But Reardon said for AFTRA it was clear SAG planned a raid. She cautioned that the decision to stop jointly bargaining was not just because of "Bold."

"We had learned about 'The Bold and the Beautiful' situation but found out quite later in the game that the situation was much more dire than we first knew," Reardon explained.

Over the last year, there have been "growing attacks from the guild" that pushed AFTRA to its boiling point, including "letters in the screen actors magazine, petitions, elected leaders of SAG on the sets of our cable shows."

"It's been a very planned campaign to discredit AFTRA and the decertification petition is the outcome of that," she said. "You cannot engage in bargaining with employers when you're sitting at a table with a partner you don't trust. We would spend more time negotiating with each other than the industry."

Despite the contentious history, Allen denied Reardon's allegations of a SAG campaign against AFTRA and said it tried to work with its sister union.

"How is it better for the acting members of the unions to negotiate separately?" Allen asked. "How is the leverage of the average working actor increased by negotiating separately as opposed to together?"

But not every SAG member believes the union's leadership was that blindsided by AFTRA's decision or will mourn the loss of the union as a bargaining partner.

"It was only recently that the Hollywood leadership of SAG was actively working to end our relationship with AFTRA over the strenuous objections of those of us who knew what the outcome would be for both unions," said Sam Freed a New York member who is SAG's second national vp. "Now, after a year of provocation that has gotten them what they always wanted, they are placing the blame on everyone but themselves for the outcome. The current Hollywood leadership of SAG has today failed all actors."


Dems: Workers need no-vote unionization

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Schellinger told a Richmond audience Saturday he wants the Indiana governor's job because the state "deserves better leadership." The crowd of more than 50, comprised mostly of members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a public employees' union, listened to Schellinger's remarks during an hour-long stop at the Richmond Holiday Inn on National Road East.

"I want to stand up for working families," the 47-year-old architect and native of South Bend said.

Schellinger faces Jill Long Thompson in Indiana's May 6 primary. He has never run for public office, and, dressed casually in a sweater, he emphasized his blue-collar background Saturday.

AFSCME endorsed Schellinger for governor in late 2007.

One of eight children, the businessman said he "learned a work ethic" putting himself through college at Notre Dame and working the night shift "grinding steel."

"It was an experience that taught me the importance of representing working families."

The candidate talked sporadically about what he called Indiana's most pressing issues: jobs, property taxes, education and health care.

He won his audience's loudest applause when he discussed project labor agreements and his support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which allows workers the freedom to decide whether to join a union. [N.B. - the proposal would ban supervised, secret-ballot unionization elections.]

"On day one in the first hour, I am going to sign an executive order reinstating collective bargaining," he said.

The candidate said Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, is "out of touch with where Indiana is as a state" and criticized his inaction on property taxes.

"This governor stood idle for three years on this tax crisis," he said.

Schellinger said he has a plan to "pick up" Indiana jobs, which includes increasing workforce skills training, working with already-existing small businesses, and investing in "green" technologies.

He said he's working on a health care plan, details about which would be released this week.

Saturday's attendees seemed to appreciate Schellinger's personal history, despite his lack of political experience.

"He comes from a different background ... more of a come-up-to-it instead of (already) being at the top," said Steve Case of Muncie, who works for Delaware County Sheriff's Department.

"We need to be more of a family and everybody work together," Case said. "... I think he'll do that."

Ron Moore, 50, works for Richmond Parks and Recreation Department and said after the event that Schellinger spoke "from the heart."

"I'm glad he's a people person instead of someone who's just going to throw things at us," Moore said. "I thought he was real straightforward."

Libbie Hardwick, 51, who also works for Richmond Parks and Recreation, said Schellinger's pledge to sign bills protecting unions highlighted the event for her.

"(He's) interested in local governments," she said.

Richmond Mayor Sally Hutton attended Schellinger's session. She said earlier this month she does not endorse candidates in primary elections.

Long Thompson met with Palladium-Item's editorial board March 13. Her campaign said Thursday she would likely be in the Richmond area "in the next few weeks."


Closed-door council advances union agenda

Denver City Council members Paul Lopez, Chris Nevitt and Doug Linkhart believed they could hold a meeting with Standard Parking and the Service Employees International Union because “fewer than seven council members attended.” Such a statement shows their lack of comprehension of the laws that dictate their behavior. That they proceeded without the benefit of legal council is irresponsible and endangers the very process they hoped to mitigate.

If there were questions, as Nevitt claims, they should have been dealt with in an open meeting of the City Council, not behind closed doors where, even if nothing improper occurred, the very hint of any impropriety would have been avoided.

If Standard’s bid is lower and they can prove the expertise to do the job, the City Council has a responsibility to choose their bid in order to exercise effective responsibility over taxpayer’s money.

If there are concerns, get them out in a public forum. This appears to be a surreptitious effort to sway a legitimate bid and advance a union agenda. Shame on them, and bring on the consequences at the next election.

- Kevin E. Somerville, Denver


UFCW still on strike in labor-state

A strike involving about 200 workers at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort entered its second day Sunday with no new negotiations scheduled. Members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 23 walked out at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and remained on picket lines outside the track and casino in Chester (WV) on Sunday.

Union spokesman Kevin Kilroy says no bargaining sessions have been set. The contract expired March 1 and the union is seeking higher wages.
Managers and supervisors are filling in for striking cashiers, slot technicians and money room workers. The striking workers represent about 9 percent of the track's work force.


Publicly-funded labor-activism at Cornell

The idea seemed radical at the time: Establish a college where faculty and students could grapple with issues roiling the workplace, including the adversarial relationship between labor and management. This daring vision, coming on the heels of the Great Depression and then World War II, led to the founding of the ILR School by the New York State legislature in 1945. The school was charged with a mission "to improve industrial and labor conditions in the State through the provision of instruction, the conduct of research, and the dissemination of information in all aspects of industrial, labor, and public relations, affecting employers and employees."

Given a home at Cornell University, ILR embodied both the intellectual rigor of the Ivy League and the democratic spirit of state universities. It created a multidisciplinary social sciences faculty that valued academic achievement and practical expertise. On-campus offerings promised students a liberal education with a professional orientation while off-campus Extension programs brought insights about the workplace to the wider community.

The centrality of the workplace in an increasingly complex world is the primary focus at ILR. With its diverse and distinguished faculty, the school leads the way towards new insights about current and future challenges. Faculty expertise ranges across the workplace-related social science disciplines, including economics, sociology, history, psychology, political science, law, and statistical analysis. Cutting-edge research, excellence in teaching, and commitment to outreach remain ILR's defining characteristics.

ILR is the nation's only institution of higher education to offer a four-year undergraduate program focused on the workplace, several types of graduate degrees, programs and workshops for adult learners, and customized services. Programmatic specialties include personnel and human resources management; collective representation, labor law, and labor history; labor economics; organizational behavior; international and comparative labor; and social statistics. From our Ithaca campus and additional offices around the state, ILR connects with the region, the nation, and the world.


Hottest stories last week

Hot on the feed - last 7 days.

Hottest on the blog right now.

Get the RSS feed. (What is RSS?)

SEIU complains about courthouse stench

Sure, the idea of work may sicken some. But what if work actually made you sick and forced you to stay home to recover? That’s the united contention of county employees who have been working in the lower level of the Regional Justice Center. They say the stench wafting through the bottom of the building is much more than a nuisance.

They say the stink stings staffers’ eyes, reduces their energy levels and worsens allergies and colds. They’re frequently sickened, prompting them to go home early or miss full days — which depletes their allocations of sick days. And they worry the often overwhelming sewage odor will affect their long-term health.

They contend their supervisors and human resource specialists haven’t taken the matter seriously enough. Some staffers say supervisors have belittled them over their complaints — a charge administrators vehemently deny. At least, the employees say, it has reached the radar of their representation: the Service Employees International Union, Local 1107.

It’s the stink that links. The union has begun organizing those affected, and could ultimately take the matter to county commissioners and other elected officials if the employees continue to be exposed to the smell.

“There shouldn’t be anybody in that lower level,” said Frank Maldonado, who works in the district attorney’s office in the justice center’s lower level.

So far, a half-dozen of the 53 employees of the district attorney’s bad check and information technology departments have been relocated across the street from the justice center, but it’s unlikely the rest will be moved elsewhere. There just isn’t room among the county complexes downtown, said Terry Johnson, who manages administration for the district attorney’s office.

The Regional Justice Center was supposed to be the airy and ventilated alternative to the moldy and dank Bridger Building, the previous county courthouse.

But “employees who had been healthy in the old building now are often sick,” Maldonado said.

Yet, two tests conducted by consultants found the levels of hydrogen sulfide in the lower level safe. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration maintains that any level below 20,000 parts per billion of that gas is acceptable. The highest peak recorded by sensors has been 36 parts per billion, county officials said.

“I realize it’s uncomfortable even if it’s not unhealthy,” Johnson said.

The most recent smell test, which lasted seven days last summer, found a high of 14 parts per billion. That test cost $7,000.

The results were little consolation to county employees.

“You get into the office after a good night’s sleep feeling good, but quickly you’re sluggish,” Maldonado said. Kavyn Lighten, a senior financial office assistant in the bad check unit, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and “just can’t take” the smell. She says she misses about three days a month because of the smell, and has just four hours of sick time left. Lighten joined the district attorney’s office nine years ago.

Some staffers, including Damien Brodie, have sought workers’ compensation for the frequent stomach irritation and nausea, as well as the occasional dry heave and headache. But Brodie and all others have been rejected by health provider Sierra Nevada Administrators. Sierra maintains “the description of injury” does not meet state criteria.

“You feel powerless,” Brodie said.

All in a day’s work, eh?


Catholic teachers in strike threat

There will be plenty of memorable images from Pope Benedict XVI's visit to New York City next month: a trip to Ground Zero, a public Mass celebrated at Yankee Stadium. But there's one possible image the Archdiocese of New York can't be looking forward to: hundreds of Catholic school teachers walking picket lines.

More than 400 teachers at 10 Catholic high schools — including John S. Burke Catholic in Goshen and Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie — represented by the Lay Faculty Association will vote tomorrow night on a possible strike during the Pope's visit.

Association president John Fedor, a science teacher at Burke, says he expects his members to vote to walk out.

The teachers have been without a contract since September and an independent mediator failed to bridge the gap between them.

On Jan. 10, more than 300 teachers staged a one-day sick out, which canceled classes at Burke and Lourdes.

The union and archdiocese are at odds over salaries, pension contributions and medical premiums.

Now, teachers are poised to strike for the first time since a 17-day walkout in 2001.

Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling did not return a call for comment yesterday.

Fedor says member won't do anything to actively interrupt the papal visit, but the strike's timing has a purpose.

"We are looking to embarrass the archdiocese," Fedor said. "They deserve to be embarrassed."


SEIU lawsuit may shut Head Start center

A labor union filed a lawsuit against the St. Martin Iberia Lafayette (LA) Community Action Agency for refusing to reinstate a teacher after an arbitrator found she was fired improperly. Tina Becnel, a former Early Childhood Development teacher at SMILE’s New Iberia Head Start Center, was fired in September 2006 after she was accused of hitting a 4-year-old student.

An arbitrator later ordered Becnel be reinstated, finding no credible evidence the incident occurred.

According to the lawsuit, SMILE reinstated Becnel on Dec. 7, 2007, but terminated her again just four days later when the Louisiana Department of Social Services threatened to revoke the facility’s license based on the original abuse allegation.

Service Employees International Union Local 21LA, which represents SMILE employees and other public workers in Louisiana, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court on Becnel’s behalf.

The lawsuit states SMILE’s failure to reinstate Becnel violates the federal Labor Management Relations Act.

It requests Becnel be reinstated and receive lost wages and benefits since the date of her initial firing.

“The arbitrator ruled that the teacher should be made whole,” said Local 21LA President Rick Pettitt.

“(SMILE) has refused to abide by that, which has left us no choice but to file a lawsuit in federal court.”

Alvin Wiltz, SMILE’s executive director, did not return calls Friday seeking comment.


Ignorant unions, leftists line up with Hamas

Two of Australia's most prominent left-wing unions have been branded anti-Semitic in an influential Jewish-American online newsletter for linking the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel's statehood to "racism and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians". The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia have attracted criticism in the US-based Jewish daily Forward for their condemnation of Israel.

Unionist Stuart Appelbaum singled out the CFMEU and MUA for their "venom" after endorsing an advertisement published in The Australian that condemned a parliamentary motion commemorating 60 years of friendship between Australia and Israel.

Mr Appelbaum's criticism is all the more stinging considering he is president of the giant Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in the US and president of the Jewish Labor Committee.

In an article called "American labor can help right anti-Israel left", Mr Appelbaum said many progressives in the US were fuming at the lack of support from left counterparts overseas after Israelis living in towns near Gaza had been the "target of choice for Hamas terrorists".

He said the Socialist International's statement last month condemning "the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza" was salutary compared with some of the venom generated by the Left abroad.

It was a triumph of instinct over intellect, Mr Appelbaum said, that the CFMEU and MUA could back a resolution saying, "we as informed and concerned Australians, choose to dissociate ourselves from the celebration of the triumph of racism and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al-Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948".

Mr Appelbaum questioned why voices publicly seeking social justice served up "these kinds of diatribes against Israel" and held Israel to standards that no other nation would be expected to meet. "One can only conclude that, at least in part, what we are increasingly witnessing on the left overseas is anti-Semitism cloaked under the veil of anti-Zionism," he said.

Andrew Ferguson, the CFMEU's chief in NSW who authorised his union's participation in the ad, told The Australian yesterday: "I do not accept that being critical of policies of the Israeli state makes us anti-Semitic, just as being critical of the policies of George Bush does not make us anti-American."

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin was unavailable for comment yesterday, but his union is believed to want to put the onus on officials lower down the pecking order for supporting the anti-Israel ad.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff accused the CFMEU and MUA of reacting without the facts.

"The small number of unions that have adopted an anti-Israel position have done so more out of ignorance than prejudice," Mr Alhadeff said.

The nation's union movement has divided over the issue, with right-wing Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes accusing the CFMEU and MUA of "lining up with Hamas".


UAW striker-replacements sought

Nearly five weeks into the UAW strike at American Axle & Manufacturing Inc., the company is hiring workers at four plants in New York and Michigan that are subject to the work stoppage, to replace striking workers and for future positions at the auto supplier. In an ad found on The Oakland Press' Web site, the company said it seeks candidates for production and skilled trade positions.

After noting the strike, the ad reads: "Employment offered to applicants responding to this advertisement will be to fill anticipated attrition replacement openings after negotiations or in place of employees involved in this strike."

The ad does not list compensation rates for the positions or a start date, but notes that the company seeks to fill full-time positions for three shifts and that those hired would receive benefits after "a certain period of regular employment."

The Detroit supplier says the hiring is primarily intended to give the company a group of workers ready to start as workers now on strike leave their jobs. Any deal between the union and the company is expected to include buyout and early retirement packages.

"We are currently preparing a pool of potential new associates in anticipation of those events," American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said Saturday.

Little progress has been made on key economic issues at the heart of contract negotiations, such as wages, benefits and buyout packages.

Word spread among workers Saturday that the company is seeking replacement workers.

Wendy Thompson, former president of UAW Local 235, said in an e-mail message that the union learned the company expects to have more than 20 replacement workers report to work Monday.

Rogers said that was not true. "We are not bringing in any replacement workers on Monday," she said.

Rogers also said the company has asked workers who were laid off before the strike to report back to work.

UAW Local 235 President Adrian King said he was not aware of replacement workers being asked to report on Monday.

On Feb. 26, 3,650 UAW members at American Axle went on strike after negotiations on a new contract collapsed. The company is seeking to cut wages and benefits in half, saying it needs to cut labor costs to compete with other suppliers that have won concessions from their unions.

The UAW, which has said it needs more data to substantiate those demands, argues the cuts are too steep for a company that is not in bankruptcy and made a profit last year.


Picket line as Dem photo-op

Related Posts with Thumbnails