Gov't union strike forces kids onto dangerous streets

Some Downtown Eastside (DTES) families are pleading with union leaders to let a community centre in the heart of the troubled neighbourhood stay open through Vancouver's civic strike. Steve Bouchard, president of the Ray-Cam Community Centre on East Hastings Street, says families depend on the DTES institution. "Where else would they go? The libraries are closed. Community centres are closed. Day camps are closed. There are no other options," Bouchard told 24 hours.

"It's forced local children onto the streets of the Downtown Eastside and potentially into the arms of pedophiles and drug dealers and pimps. We've received numerous phone calls at Ray-Cam. Some parents are in tears because they just don't know what to do." Bouchard said some kids have continued to come to Ray-Cam even during the strike, prompting some staff to care for them, even while they walk the picket lines. Bouchard said Ray-Cam has petitioned the Labour Relations Board twice to force essential service baselines for the centre, but it has received no support from union leaders. "It's unacceptable," Bouchard said of the union stance.

Calls to CUPE 15 president Paul Faoro, head of the union for indoor municipal workers in Vancouver, were unanswered by press time yesterday.


Teamster boss lied about criminal association

A top Pennsylvania Teamsters official could lose jobs paying him more than $188,000 a year if he loses in a pending ruling by a Teamsters' panel on charges he lied to the federal board that oversees the union.

Francis J. "Frank" Gillen is president of the 92,000-member Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters and of Philadelphia-based Teamsters Joint Council 53 and Teamsters Local 500. He is awaiting the decision by a union panel following a hearing on July 11 into the charge by the Independent Review Board, said Richard Murray, a special investigator for the board.

The Teamsters will not make a public comment on any decision until it is referred back to the Independent Review Board for its consideration, said Galen Munroe, a Teamsters International spokesman in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Gillen could not be reached for comment at his offices in Harrisburg or Philadelphia.

The Teamsters union is expected to release the decision soon because the union was given 90 days from the board's April 26 recommendation to issue a ruling, Murray said. The board could agree with the union's recommendation, Murray said, or ask for a new hearing, which could prompt a union appeal.

The review board accused Gillen of lying on Feb. 1, when he said he had not associated with Thomas Ryan, a former Teamster local president in Philadelphia barred in 1996 for misusing union funds and then banned from union activities.

Ryan, however, said in depositions in a lawsuit seeking reinstatement to the union that he had numerous contacts with Gillen since being suspended, Murray said. Gillen also is accused of failing to cooperate with the review board.

The three-member review board, set up by a federal court order in 1996, reviews allegations of union corruption or organized crime influence, then recommends actions.

Union financial reports for 2006 show Gillen was paid $112,293 for his local union office, $38,575 for the joint council position, and $38,036 for the state office, which also covers unions in Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia. Teamsters International union in Washington did not report any payment for his vice president's job in 2006.


Labor unions too political, rankle citizens

Canadians feel labour unions are essential, but don't fully support the way they exercise power and gain influence, according to an Angus Reid Strategies poll. The online survey found that 59 per cent of Canadians believe unions are an important entity in society, while 72 per cent feel unions effectively improve worker salaries and working conditions. But 70 per cent of those surveyed think labour unions are too involved in political activities, and 48 per cent believe unions have too much influence in Canadian life.

Atlantic Canada residents are generally more supportive of unions, with only 30 per cent of Atlantic Canadians feeling unions have too much influence in Canadian life, compared with a national average of 48 per cent. We tend to also be more supportive in B.C. With a Vancouver civic workers strike currently in the news, 27 per cent of B.C. respondents said city workers should never be allowed to strike, compared with a national average of 35 per cent. Thirty-four per cent of B.C. respondents said public school teachers should never strike - compared with a national average of 43 per cent - while 51 per cent of people in B.C. feel health workers should never strike, compared with 58 per cent nationally.

Angus Reid Strategies spokesman Craig Worden said Canadians generally support union causes, but when union activity causes difficulties in their own lives, they put qualifiers on their support.

He said general support for unions throughout Vancouver could wane, for example, if the current civic workers strike lasts several more weeks.

"If the strike drags on, survey results could change significantly," Worden said in an interview. "British Columbians are very supportive of unions up to a point but when it starts to affect their lives in a negative way, then that support will start to wither away."

He noted most Canadians want unions to have the right to strike, but they still want governments to have the tools to end strikes or allow replacement workers if necessary.

Just 53 per cent of B.C. residents surveyed agree that federal and provincial governments have adequate laws to protect workers -- the lowest percentage in Canada, 12 percentage points below the national average of 65 per cent.

Canadians 55 and over, those with university education and those in households earning less than $50,000 a year are more likely to believe that labour unions are necessary to improve conditions for workers.

The survey found that 72 per cent of Conservative supporters feel unions have too much influence in Canada and 52 per cent highly disagree with the idea that unions are necessary and important in society.

Eighty per cent of NDP supporters in the survey said labour unions are necessary and important entities in society.

The online survey of 1,000 adult Canadians was conducted on July 23 and July 24 and is considered to be accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


IUOE authorizes Seattle strike

There are construction sites all over Seattle and King County, and most could be seriously impacted by a concrete strike. Negotiations appeared to be continuing Monday between concrete truck drivers and four major concrete companies. Dave Hurley is a project manager for Real Property Development. His company works on residential projects. "If there's a strike, then we have to wait. We don't have any other choice," he said about a townhouse not yet finished.

Hurley's concrete comes from Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel in nearby Ballard. Salmon Bay is one of four local companies negotiating with the teamsters over a new contract. On the union's Web site, Sunday morning members voted in favor of a strike authorization that would give negotiators the power to call a strike if necessary.

Strike authorizations are typically granted during negotiations, but the Web site also suggests sessions earlier this month have been moving in a positive direction.

But the construction industry is a bit on edge after a multi-week strike just a year ago by the Operating Engineers who work in the concrete plants.

Hurley says a strike could raise costs for home buyers.

"So if you have a homeowner who's on the edge at a $400,000 house, now all of a sudden we need to bump $10,000 or $20,000 onto it. Now maybe they can't afford it," he said.

The union's website says it was hoping for a ratification vote Sunday morning, but instead said without an agreement in place they would take a strike vote, which they did.

That strike by the Operating Engineers last year lasted almost the entire month of August.


Evidence-tampering in gov't union police complaint

CUPE members in Vancouver are on strike and a stench can be detected. It is not the stench of garbage left uncollected, it is the stench of CUPE's dirty laundry. A former secretary to two CUPE Presidents is talking. The secretary continues to talk about the police complaint CUPE lodged against her after she complained of the "non-union sweatshop" they were quietly operating at Local 116 at UBC. VPD Constables Megan Herrmann and Kevin Ng - who don't have jurisdiction at UBC - left voice mail and showed up at her home. Their message: muzzle yourself about unfair labour practices inside CUPE.

When the secretary got a copy of the police report, she was shocked to discover that letters she had sent to CUPE President Barry O'Neill and BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair about unfair labor practices inside CUPE had been submitted as "evidence". Copies of these letters were enclosed with the police report. This fact has been discussed in a previous post, "CUPE Strike Haunted by Secretary Scandal". What is new is that the DTES Enquirer has learned that the police report pertaining to the CUPE complaint was retroactively altered roughly a year after the case had been labelled "CLOSED".

The alteration of the police report occurred after the whistleblowing secretary contacted CUPE President, Barry O'Neill, and BC Federation of Labour President, Jim Sinclair, in writing in 2003. She informed O'Neill and Sinclair that as long as the unfounded "WORKPLACE HARASSMENT" notation remained adjacent to her name in police records, she would ensure that it remained on their public records as union leaders. Speaking up about workplace conditions did not constitute "WORKPPLACE HARASSMENT", she reminded them. It was then that the term "WORKPLACE" disappeared from the police report -- even though the case had been labelled CLOSED by the VPD the previous year. The secretary doesn't know who changed the "offence" for which she was investigated but she can prove that it was changed in the police file long after the case had been closed.

It was quite by accident that the secretary stumbled upon the change. It was when she received documents from a second Freedom of Information request, that she noticed that the Vancouver Police had retroactively changed the offence for which she had been investigated. The offence was changed from "WORKPLACE HARASSMENT" to "HARASSMENT/ OBSCENE COMMUNICATION". She suspects that the term "WORKPLACE" was dropped as a form of damage control, to reduce potential embarrassment to union leaders -- but she can't prove it.

What she can prove is that there was nothing harassing or obscene about her communication with labor leaders. Her letters, which remain on file at the VPD Property Office, can be used to confirm this. "What was obscene about this situation was the way people who worked for CUPE were treated", she says.

The fact that the whistle blowing secretary had been investigated for the specific offence of “WORKPLACE HARASSMENT” and not "HARASSMENT/ OBSCENE COMMUNICATION cannot be disputed. "WORKPLACE HARASSMENT" is clearly typed at the top of the police report she obtained through Freedom of Information shortly after CUPE called police on her. And the fact that the case had been "CLOSED" in Dec. 2002 is also typed on the police report. Further, the DTES woman has preserved correspondence from the VPD informing her that the “WORKPLACE HARASSMENT” notation would remain on the police PRIME data base permanently. It did remain on the police data base until after she contacted O'Neill and Sinclair in 2003, after which time the "WORKPLACE" angle for which she had been investigated disappeared.

The whistle blowing secretary sees this retroactive alteration of an investigated "offence" in a closed police file as a form of evidence- tampering. She speculates that it may have been prompted by the fact that she was requesting a criminal investigation into labor leaders involved in this case. It was "no secret", she says, that she wanted union leaders criminally investigated for public mischief for lodging what she considered to be an unfounded police complaint. [Context: When CUPE lodged their complaint in Dec. 2002, the lodging of unfounded criminal complaints to silence vocal Downtown Eastside residents was an epidemic problem. Inspector John de Haas stated in one case involving the Vancouver School Board that bureaucrats lodging unfounded police complaints against political adversaries could justifiably face "public mischief" investigations, if a victims requested them. An advocate on the Downtown Eastside was advising residents to seek public mischief investigations in such cases.]

The whistleblowing secretary says CUPE and police were well aware that she had never visited or telephoned her CUPE "WORKPLACE" after leaving her job there. There was no workplace harassment and that fact was just too obvious so, in her view, somebody arranged for the "WORKPLACE" element to get retroactively disappeared. "I e-mailed Jim Sinclair in 2004 and I asked him if he had any idea who that somebody was," she says. He didn't respond. But she did preserve a copy of her e-mail to him.

There was no workplace harassment. There was no harassment, period. That's the position of the whistleblowing secretary."I have as much right as CUPE members [currently] on strike to protest about working conditions."


SEIU Local 503: A grant-making gov't union

Erica Thompson of Corvallis has received a $500 scholarship from SEIU Local 503. Thompson will attend Whitman College. SEIU Local 503 awarded 40 scholarships and awards totaling $25,000 this year through a member scholarship program. The scholarship program is funded through member dues and donations. Applicants must demonstrate satisfactory scholastic ability and special consideration is given to SEIU Local 503 members who are currently public employees or who have been laid off from public employment.


Obama to AFSCME: I'll picket with strikers

Sen. Barack Obama's advantage in his presidential campaign is that he is a fresh face whom many voters - and not just Democrats - see as candid and capable of inspiring those who may have become disillusioned with politics. Three years ago, Obama was a state senator. And no matter how you slice it, such a jump to the highest office in the land would be unprecedented.

This comes to mind because of a promise from the Illinois senator to union members in Iowa, the site of the first caucuses, that some might see as another example of naivete, and a pledge that might be difficult to keep. And it may provide evidence for those critics who wonder if he is up to the job.

In an appearance before a meeting of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, the nation's largest public employees union, Obama pledged as president he would join the picket line in a strike.

Now, courting interest groups is as much a part of American politics as kissing babies. He is neither the first nor the last politician to do so. One person's pandering is another's pledge of support. Republicans pander to gun owners, conservative Christians and business groups.

GOP presidents have certainly spoken to anti-abortion rallies, yet not one has marched in demonstrations. Memory does not produce the example of a Democratic president walking a picket line. It would not be presidential.

But by promising that he would do so as president Obama is making an unusual promise that leaves him open to charges he does not understand the role of president.

If nothing else, imagine a president matching in a picket line with hoards of Secret Service all around him. Not only would it be a logistical nightmare, it would demean the office.

No presidential candidate is immune from trying to help those who got him elected. And pledging to push for and sign legislation to help unions increase their political clout and financial position would be par for the course. But pledging to march in a picket line is another story.

According to the well-respected Mike Glover of the Associated Press, who has been covering the Iowa caucuses since Obama was in high school, the candidate said that he had marched with picketers trying to unionize a Chicago hotel, and had told them "if they were still fighting four years from now, I'd be back on that picket line as president of the United States."

Obama was a community organizer before he got into elective politics and his commitment to organized labor is genuine. But a president has an obligation to be president of all Americans.

Only about one in 10 American workers are members of a labor union these days. Others certainly sympathize with the admirable goals of organized labor to make life better for working men and women.

But to assume that as president he would be speaking for the American people by injecting himself in a labor dispute is a questionable decision. Being known as the president who embraces organized labor is one thing, being one of its soldiers is another.

Would a President Obama be willing to buck organized labor in a national crisis? Would he, for instance, fire air traffic controllers as did Ronald Reagan, if he felt such a move was necessary to keep the nation's commercial air system -- and the economy dependent on it - running?

At that point, it would be reasonable for the American people to wonder whose interests would be foremost in Obama's mind - the American people's, or organized labor.

Running for president is a tough business and candidates are human beings who often say things in the heat of the moment that come back to haunt them. But Obama's pledge to picket as president was in his prepared text.

It may get lost in the frenzy that is a presidential campaign, but the episode provides insight into a man who would like to be president of the United States.



Crossing Hoffa

Jimmy Hoffa disappeared near Detroit 32 years ago today, and his name still is associated with that city. But Steve Harper, author of the new book "Crossing Hoffa," says the controversial Teamster leader's connection to Minneapolis is equally "strong and deep."

In "Crossing Hoffa," Harper tells of how his father, Jim, led an insurrection at Minneapolis Teamsters Local 544 from 1959 to 1961 that brought the senior Harper face to face with Hoffa. "My dad got a tip from someone he trusted that the leader of (Local) 544, Fritz Snyder, was misusing union dues," Harper said in an interview from his home in Wilmette, north of Chicago, where he is a partner in a law firm.

Jim Harper, who believed Jimmy Hoffa wanted clean locals, put together a slate of candidates to run against Snyder's picks in an election. "To my father's astonishment, all three of his guys won," Harper said. "He became the center of a gigantic cause that made front-page news in Minneapolis and St. Paul. He didn't realize this was not what Hoffa wanted. Hoffa came to town and told him to stop the insurrection. My father refused. For 18 months, he and my mother were on the receiving end of death and murder threats."

These were not false threats. Jim Harper's truck was tampered with twice, and only his driving skills saved him from being killed. Later, Harper and his wife, Mary, were confronted at a Minneapolis restaurant by a mysterious guy with a gun who warned Jim to back off.

Steve Harper was 7 years old when his dad was fighting this union battle, and he remembers Jim buying a guard dog and building a firing range in the basement of the family home. But it wasn't until Jim Harper's death in 2001, at the age of 73, that Steve began looking into this extraordinary period in his father's life.

"My search for answers to two questions drove this book," Harper said.

"On my father's side, I wanted to know why a man who had a wife, four kids and a dog would persist in a crusade like this after the most dominant figure in labor at the time told him to stop. On Hoffa's side, why would this gigantic figure in the labor movement, with millions of things on his mind - including federal prosecutors wanting to send him to jail - care about some inconsequential insurgency in Minneapolis? I wanted to trace each of their lives to the moment of their collision."

Harper thinks his father's refusal to back down can be traced to struggles early in his life.

Jim Harper grew up in Minneapolis, son of a strong-willed mother and a depressed alcoholic father who was a fine musician.

After serving as a paratrooper in the Army, Jim ended up in Louisiana's infamous Angola prison for passing $50 in bad checks. He spent 13 months surrounded by vicious offenders in what then was America's worst prison. When he got out, he had learned not to show any fear.

By 1954, Harper was working his way up as a driver at Werner Transportation and had joined the Minneapolis Teamsters local.

"I think my dad saw this union insurgency as his opportunity to atone for what he regarded as a life of failure to that point," Harper says.

But Jim Harper also was truly offended by misuse of union money collected from hard-working members, and he mistakenly thought this would offend Hoffa, too.

Jimmy Hoffa first walked the streets of Minneapolis in 1937, when he was 24 years old. He'd been sent to Minnesota to recruit over-the-road drivers after the labor strikes of 1934, which were organized by Socialist Workers Party member Farrell Dobbs.

"Hoffa was extremely successful in helping organize the locals," Harper said. "Several years later, he was sent back by the Teamsters' leadership, who were afraid Dobbs and his people were getting too big for their britches. This propelled Hoffa into the national Teamsters spotlight."

By the time Jim Harper became a Teamster in the early 1950s, Hoffa was on his way to becoming the most powerful man in American labor. He was elected Teamsters president in 1957, promising to clean up the union.

"People look back now and say Hoffa was a crook and into organized crime, but while he was Teamsters president the organization was growing at the rate of a thousand members a week," Steve Harper said.

"He was one of those people, based on my father's description, who had personal charisma. He was fearless and had gone through tough times in his early years. The working man could look at this guy and say, 'He's got guts. We need somebody like this.' Even when he was being investigated, as far as working-class guys were concerned, the government was making the guy a martyr, throwing unprecedented resources at him to put him in jail."

By the time Jim Harper spearheaded the Local 544 insurrection, Hoffa was in trouble. The Teamsters were being watched by a government-mandated Board of Monitors, and Hoffa was worried about fallout from complicated financial deals involving a Teamsters retirement village he wanted to build in Florida. The deals involved Minneapolis retailer Ben Dranow, some banks and Teamsters pension money. The last thing Hoffa needed was media coverage of Jim Harper's challenge to the leadership in Minneapolis.

Hoffa ultimately succeeded in suppressing the Local 544 audit Jim Harper had pressed for, which showed misuse of funds. Then, the union's General Executive Board ruled, "The evidence presented did not support the charges" Harper had brought against Fritz Snyder.

With the battle over, Jim Harper was frozen out as a union driver at Werner and eventually went into management as a supervisor at the Minneapolis terminal of an Iowa-based trucking company. Meanwhile, Hoffa went to prison in 1967 for misuse of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.

Although Jim Harper lost his union fight, he never blamed Hoffa.

"To the end of my dad's life, I'm not sure he thought the bad things that happened to him were Hoffa's fault," Steve Harper said. "He always had great respect for the man. My father was big on people who had flaws and made something of themselves anyway."

Jim also had mixed feelings, later in life, about the value of unions.

"He thought they had positive aspects in terms of working men, but he was always worried the leadership wasn't going to do what was in the best interests of the members," Harper said.

Jim Harper outlived Jimmy Hoffa by 26 years. Jim was watching television in 1975 when news broke that Hoffa was missing.

"They'll never find him," the old Teamster said.

He was right.


UAW'S Delphi givebacks cause Big 3 to drool

The United Auto Workers union battled to get a new contract with Delphi and is now beginning tough negotiations with the Big Three automakers, Ford, GM and Chrysler. The Delphi contract includes the closure of 10 UAW plants, with the company keeping four in operation. Seven additional plants will be sold.

Delphi had previously enacted wage cuts of approximately $10 an hour for most of its employees. The new agreement will extend the wage cuts to about 4,000 workers who were at Delphi when it was spun off by General Motors. Their pay will drop from $27 per hour to between $14 and $18.50. These former GM workers will be offered $105,000 over three years in exchange for taking the lower wages or buyouts of between $70,000 and $140,000. The contract was approved by 68 percent of the workers, despite the painful takebacks. The settlement points to the problems of workers fighting multinational corporations in an era of globalization.

When Delphi filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, its chairman, Steve Miller, only accounted for the company’s U.S. operations. He purposely excluded Delphi’s foreign factories, which employ 115,000 workers and operate in low-wage countries such as Mexico and China. These are moneymaking operations, but U.S. bankruptcy laws allow the super-profits made at the expense of low-wage workers in countries throughout the world to be excluded.

Delphi sought court approval to dissolve the union contract, throw out the pension plan and cut wages and benefits by up to 75 percent. While demanding big concessions from the union, Delphi asked the bankruptcy court to allow it to reward its top managers with hundreds of millions of dollars in salary and stock options. “Hogs slopping at the trough of corporate greed” was how UAW President Ron Gettelfinger referred to the Delphi brass.

Since the Delphi concessions were forced on the union in June, GM stock has risen 23 percent. It is hard to read anything into this other than that investors are looking for similar concessions from the UAW in September. Ford’s stock, too, has risen, though not as dramatically since the Delphi deal.

Still to be fought out are the local agreements. One bone of contention will be GM’s and Delphi’s language in the national contract stating they want more flexibility to have skilled workers do production work and allow more outsourcing of union jobs.

GM’s “willingness” to grease the skids and help forge the deal by offering buyouts and buy-downs works in their favor. A strike would have been crippling for GM (GM is Delphi’s biggest customer) and GM has been subsidizing Delphi by paying higher prices for parts. With more Delphi plants closed, they will be freer to look for cheaper foreign parts. The Big Three have been telling their suppliers to leave the country to remain competitive.

Anti-labor forces would like to use the agreement with Delphi to bludgeon the rest of the labor movement. For example, comments have been posted on the web calling on Michigan teachers to also “face reality” and accept contract concessions.

At the same time, a recent analysis in the Detroit Free Press showed that 80 top executives at Ford, GM and a dozen auto suppliers had an average income of $4.2 million in 2006, a 22 percent increase over 2005.

As the UAW begins negotiations with GM, Ford and Chrysler, all who are not multimillionaires have a stake in the autoworkers’ struggle.


SEIU hungers for Wackenhut workers' dues

Wackenhut Services Inc., one of the nation's busiest private security providers, is fighting City Hall in Los Angeles and on Capitol Hill to hang onto contracts worth billions of dollars. But one of its toughest foes may be the labor organizers behind the Justice for Janitors strike in L.A. seven years ago.

The Service Employees International Union has Wackenhut in its sights as it organizes security guards across the country. The company, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is the largest contractor working here that has refused to recognize the union. "Wackenhut has been pretty hardball in seeking to prevent unionization," said Harley Shaiken, a professor of social and cultural studies at UC Berkeley. "The union is indicating there's a cost to that."

In March, labor leaders, members of the clergy and social activists wrote to the L.A. Public Works Department suggesting that Wackenhut wasn't qualified to continue doing business with the city under the responsible contractor policy, which requires companies to maintain records of "satisfactory performance" in all work, including work done under contacts with other governments.

The letter cited Wackenhut's "well documented record of racism, discrimination and poor security." Wackenhut is a subsidiary of the global security contractor G4S, which is under fire from international human rights groups and trade unions for alleged racist practices against black employees in South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique.

In April, according to Wackenhut, the city downgraded the company's initial score in the bidding process based on its answers to a routine series of questions each of the companies in the final round had been asked, dealing with their labor relations and performance history. Wackenhut's answers also prompted the Public Works Department to launch an investigation — the department wouldn't disclose exactly why — and the company's three-year, $14.2-million security guard contract with the city wasn't renewed after it expired in May.

The work went to three other companies. Only one of them, Securitas, has recognized the new SEIU security guards local, and just for commercial, not public-sector, work.

Two weeks ago, Wackenhut sued in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming that "the city abused its discretion by treating Wackenhut materially differently" from the other bidders," placing it at a "competitive disadvantage."

The suit doesn't name the SEIU but does charge that the union was behind the city's decision to dump Wackenhut.

"The SEIU continues to interfere in competitively bid public contracts … demand[ing] that Wackenhut be deemed 'non-responsible,' " the suit says.

On Friday, the city filed a motion in the case and called Wackenhut's allegations false. Jono Shaffer, an SEIU deputy director, said he hadn't seen the lawsuit. Wackenhut's reputation was under the magnifying glass in Washington earlier this month, where the House subcommittee on government management, organization and procurement heard testimony about the company's labor relations and supposed performance lapses. The committee was examining flaws in the federal procurement system that let contractors with poor performance records renew contracts or sign new ones.

Federal investigators and a former company employee testified that Wackenhut failed to provide guards assigned to sensitive government facilities with adequate training or equipment. Its guards work at federal nuclear weapons sites, Army bases and Department of Homeland Security facilities. Wackenhut has collected $1.3 billion on federal contracts since 2004.

A delegation of labor and human rights activists visited Africa in April to investigate G4S' work record, including allegations that managers referred to guards as "monkeys" and required black and white guards to use separate toilets, and that the company had failed to pay overtime and back wages owed to its guards.

Lawrence Brede, a Wackenhut senior vice president, defended the company, testifying that it had "consistently been awarded high performance ratings" during its more than 40 years as a federal contractor.

In Los Angeles, the SEIU is hoping to repeat with security guards the success that it had in 2000 with the Justice for Janitors campaign. Los Angeles cleaning companies agreed to a contract that gave janitors a 25% raise and fully paid health benefits.

Nonunion security guards make as little as $8.50 an hour with no benefits, according to SEIU officials. Pay for unionized guards ranges from $12 an hour to $27 with health insurance and other benefits.

The union represents 50,000 security officers nationally, with significant memberships in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere.

In Los Angeles, an SEIU local established in May represents guards in 700 buildings who work for five contractors.


Carpenters union: shameful, decadent

Our society has reached a new level of decadence. While the journalist Hunter S. Thompson may have thought the Kentucky Derby was decadent and depraved, hiring the homeless for eight bucks an hour to picket for union members too busy to walk the line, is a surer sign of the complete breakdown of society.

I can’t even imagine what my grandfather, a Teamsters union member who worked in a brewery, would say about hiring somebody to do your picketing. According to a story last week in The Washington Post, hiring out the picketing to the homeless, students, retirees and others is a common practice by carpenters unions across the country. The union doesn’t pay union wages, though, the picketers in D.C. make $8 an hour with no benefits.

Not that the hired placard-toters don’t get the message across.

“Hey, baby,” is the greeting thrown out by some of the male pickets to women happening to pass by, said the Post story. But mostly, the pickets put on a good show, getting so loud that non-appreciative office workers sometimes complain about the loud chants of “What do we want? Fair wages. When do we want them? Now.”

The hired pickets rove from one non-union job site to another during a given week, making the view of the union about non-union labor clear. Luckily, their haven’t been any clashes between the pro-union pickets and the non-union workers. If a tussle did break out, you wonder if the union would begin to offer and extra buck or two an hour for hazard pay.

Of course, it’s not only the carpenter’s union. This story is a reflection of the trend of hiring someone to do everything for us, even those things most near and dear to our hearts. One anti-war group pays a homeless shelter resident $30 a day to hold a sign against nuclear war, the Post tells us.

Perhaps hiring people to go to church or synagogue for us, or even say our night time prayers, isn’t far away. Most of us already pay someone else to prepare the vast majority of the food we put in our mouths each day.

Can we do nothing on our own anymore? It used to be common for people to at least grow some of their own food. Now, if the need developed, how many people would have a clue about how to grow a few vegetables and can or freeze them for future use?

Is it any wonder we have so many immigrants, legal and illegal, willing to do the work many of us have neither the time, or interest, in doing? I hear complaints as much about legal immigrants as I do about illegal ones, especially those who speak Spanish. First of all, if they’re legal immigrants, what are you complaining about?

Illegal immigrants are here for a reason, too, and the economics of their presence shouldn’t be a major objection to most of us. They are here to better their lives and that of their families. We can’t criticize them for that. Many of the illegal immigrants are also taking advantage of, and being taken advantage of by, business bad apples who want to use cheap labor.

Many of us rightly oppose illegal immigration and think the federal government should do more to stop the problem. The economic reasons for illegal immigration, though, is something many of us support, even unwittingly.

It may seem like a small thing, but hiring other people to do all the dirty work is a sign of decadence, and most decadent societies are on the decline. Perhaps dirty work is a misnomer, because picketing isn’t normally dirty, although it can be messy especially during a nasty strike.

The pickets are hired to defend someone else’s livelihood and wages. Livelihood and wages ought to be something very important to people. If all of us are becoming lackadaisical about making sacrifices and doing the job to protect things important to us, you have to wonder if things are going downhill.

We should all take a look inside and realize there are some things too important to leave in the hands of others, even if we do pay them a few bucks an hour.


NoCal scabs go home

Nine hundred East Bay garbage workers beat back one of the biggest scabbing operations in decades, defeating Waste Management’s attempt to break their unions. Waste Management (WM) raked in over $1 billion in profit last year, earning it a reputation as the Wal-Mart of garbage. “All these corporations care about is their multi-billion dollar profits,” Bob Kuykenball, who has been with Local 70 for 30 years and worked for WM for the last seven, told Socialist Worker. “If they could, they’d chain us to a machine or a truck and make us work for minimum wage.”

Starting on July 2, WM shipped in over 300 scab employees and hired another 350 security guards, locking out Teamsters Local 70, Machinists Local 1546 and ILWU Local 6 members. The company claimed the lockout was about safety, but their scabs ran over union picketers, drove broken down trucks through the crowded streets of Oakland, started a grass fire next to a school and let piles of rotting garbage fester in poor and working class neighborhoods, while they picked up the trash in the well-heeled hills.

WM budgeted at least $10 million on their little scab army and they planned to run roughshod over any resistance.

They ended up with a bloody nose.

Locked-out workers organized pickets 24-7 at every WM facility, and despite police harassment, kept them strong.

While the picket lines never stopped the scabbing operation, every day between 4am and 8am, dozens of pickets confronted every single scab truck and security vehicle.

The pickets slowed down the company, demoralized the scabs and built unity between locked-out workers and other community and labor supporters.

As negotiations came down to the wire, Oakland City Attorney John Russo, announced to the newspapers that police would clear out the pickets on 98th Ave.

The next morning, Local 70 Secretary-Treasurer Chuck Mack was there at 5am with beefed up picket lines telling the police that if they arrested anyone they’d have to start with him.

The police backed off and the pickets stayed up.

Local 70 also spread its picket lines to other cities, including Walnut Creek and Stockton, if only for a few days.

The solidarity shown by ILWU Local 6 recycling workers and IAM Local 1546 mechanics threw another wrench into WM’s plans.

WM had hoped that the recycling workers, who make just $12 an hour, and the mechanics, who are still negotiating their own contract, would cross the picket lines and leave the Teamsters to fight on their own.

Instead, they faced a solid wall of support.

The recycling workers of Local 6 deserve special recognition in this fight as the predominantly Latino and female workforce held out for a month without pay.

Dozens of other unions and community groups pitched in holding the line by walking the picket lines and raising over $100,000 for a hardship fund for locked-out workers.

The 26-day lockout ended when Teamsters voted 363 to 3 voted to accept a new contract.

The five-year contract includes an initial 5% raise plus a guaranteed cost of living adjustment of at least 3.4% per year starting in 2008 as well as increased contributions from Waste Management to workers pensions.

Better still, WM conceded extra raises to the lowest paid Teamsters in order to equalize with the higher paid drivers.

The Teamsters also defended their right to honor the picket lines of fellow Teamsters and other unions on strike or locked out.

WM desperately wanted to take away this basic form of union solidarity.

The contract did contain several concessions.

The Teamsters gave up company maintenance of health benefits, meaning that workers will now be responsible for paying the increased cost of their health insurance if it rises more than 12% per year.

Also, the new contract gives up the right to strike over grievances, committing to binding arbitration in its place.

At the heart of the contract was Waste Management’s desire to impose draconian new disciplinary procedures that would have allowed them to fire a driver after two minor safety violations.

The Teamsters fended off this union busting tool, but were forced to accept new progressive disciplinary procedures that give the company new power to victimize individual drivers.

However, all disciplinary matters will be grievable, setting up a test of strength on the shop floor in which the union will pit workers’ unity against management’s new rules.

Finally, Local 1546’s WM mechanics are still negotiating their contract and the unions will have to make sure WM doesn’t take out its frustration on them.

Some workers criticized these concessions, as well as the fact that they were only allowed to see the contract an hour before they had to vote on it.

These concerns are certainly justified, but it’s also true that beating back WM showed that working people aren’t powerless in the face of corporate greed.

And these days, that lesson is worth a lot.

“They want it like it was before the first railroad strikes back in 1877 that build the unions in the first place,” explained Kuykenball.

“We did this for the public. It’s not always about the money. You’d be surprised how much you can get paid in spirit if you do the right thing.”



Labour union pandemonium in Vancouver

Against a backdrop of mounting garbage piles on some Vancouver streets, the city and its municipal workers unions appear poised to resume bargaining this week. Contract talks continued Saturday for the city's 2,500 striking inside workers, while its 2,000 outside workers are hoping their talks will resume early this week.

"Our bargaining committee is ready to go 24/7. We're waiting for the word," said Mike Jackson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees local representing outside workers. Meanwhile, negotiations with Burnaby's civic workers continue and seem to be going well, according to a CUPE media release. But rotating job action is set to begin at Simon Fraser University's child care society Sunday.

Negotiations between the North Vancouver recreation commission and its 800 workers resume Tuesday. Delta public employees, who rejected the city's "final" offer two weeks ago, have yet to issue 72-hour strike notice and remain at essential-services levels.


Teamsters vote for Phoenix transit strike

Sun Tran workers voted Saturday to authorize a strike if their union decides one is necessary after the union contract expires Tuesday at midnight. According to Andy Marshall, a principal officer for Local 104, 99.9 percent said "yes" in the votes, tallied after three meetings were held to accommodate members' schedules, a formality that is required under union bylaws. The contract, which expires Tuesday night, covers about 465 drivers, mechanics and fuel-island attendants, 85 percent of whom are union members, said Michele Joseph, Sun Tran spokeswoman. At issue are wages, pensions and health care, Marshall said.

A strike would happen only if Sun Tran on Tuesday offers what Marshall called a "firm and final" contract, which is usually a contract the union doesn't agree with. Union members would still have to vote on whether to accept the contract, and that vote wouldn't happen until a meeting next Saturday. If the members reject the contract, they will go on strike, as they did in 1997 and 2001.

"The biggest issue that needs to be addressed is the expansion of the city bus system in the future. We're concerned they're going to contract that work out for lower pay and benefits," Marshall said.
He said the Teamsters have proposed 12 percent raises and asked to maintain the health-care package.


Did you know ...

• The city has used a private firm to manage its bus service since the late 1970s because the City Charter prohibits employee strikes. The stipulation conflicts with federal transit grants, which mandate that recipients allow workers to strike. The current oversight company, Professional Transit Management Ltd., came on board in July 1999.

• In August 1997, Teamsters Local 104 went on strike after working for 10 days without a contract with Sun Tran when the union and the bus company could not agree on raises. That strike lasted for about a week, during which Tucson Unified School District began the school year with 3,000 students needing bus rides. The strike ended after the City Council stepped in and offered a one-year contract that raised Sun Tran workers' pay to what comparable city employees were earning.

• The following year, the Teamsters again said they were ready to strike but didn't have to. Their contract was renewed and increased average drivers' pay 19 percent and mechanics' pay 24 percent over the three-year life of the agreement.

• In 2001, the Teamsters union and Sun Tran extended their contract for a month after it expired, until the end of August that year. The Teamsters then agreed to work through Labor Day weekend but ultimately went on strike for 12 days before reaching an agreement that gave them $1.11 in raises over three years.


Canadian dysfunction: All CUPE'd up

The taxpayers of Vancouver held hostage. The City of Toronto forced into budget crisis. Calgary teetering on the brink of municipal labour unrest. Montreal headed for a major metro-wide service-destroying city workers' strike later this year. For all this and more we can thank the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the all-powerful radical labour group that uses strike threats and political power to hold real control over most government services across the country. All reform of city services is paralyzed. Essentially no privatizations take place in Canada, thanks to CUPE leader Paul Moist's relentless dissemination of scare-mongering stories and misleading research.

Mr. Moist landed in Vancouver on Wednesday to show his support for his striking, dues-paying members and to push CUPE's latest public negotiating gimmick -- wages and benefits that supposedly would give city employees enough compensation to allow them to live in expensive Vancouver. What this means in dollar terms isn't stated, mainly because it's just a public relations ploy. A CUPE radio commercial compares Vancouver workers to Olympic slaves in ancient Greece. "The slaves of ancient Olympia could afford to live where they worked, Vancouver civic workers cannot," says the commercial. "Tell Mayor Sullivan and council civic workers deserve a fair contract."

Good luck to Mayor Sam Sullivan. He's trying to fight CUPE, but he cannot win. With the 2010 Winter Olympics looming, the union will legally extort another fat deal. They've already rejected a 10% wage increase over 39 months --a city offer that covers the period up to just after the Olympic closing ceremonies. If the Mayor wants that bonus, he'll have to pay.

It's the way things work. Paralyzing strikes are the CUPE norm -- ritual extortions of wage gains, new benefits and favourable work rules. If no strike has occurred -- as in Toronto in recent years -- it's because the Mayor is a union man who doesn't want to damage cozy relationships with union bosses. Why endure a strike when you can give the union what it wants and move on to the next tax increase?

Toronto CUPE, after a fake frazzle over a possible strike in 2005, secured a new contract that was described by the Toronto Star: "Workers will get wage increases averaging 3% a year over the four-year term, plus a crack at getting back work that's now contracted out, and improved language on seniority rights for temporary workers who make up 20% of the membership." Today Toronto has a budget crisis. Wages make up 50% of the city's operating budget.

If any city employees in Canada have ever been laid off, it's not prominently registered in any public record: jobs are for life. Featherbedding and crony-ism are widespread. CUPE locals, depending on the city, dictate what work gets done and who does it.

City bureacracies are swamps of petty, costly regulations, many brought in to satisfy union-led campaigns. Toronto famously instituted a labour-intensive restaurant rating system that serves no purpose except to expand union workloads.

Canadians have no idea of the scale of CUPE's power and costly influence, thanks in part to willful media blindness. With rare exceptions, union-city labour negotiations are reported like sporting events. Rhetoric and posturing from both sides get detailed treatment, actual issues are never explored, and in the end a settlement is reached followed by ritual post-mortem blather to determine who "won" and who "lost," who "gave up" what phony demand to achieve some alleged compromise. Usually both claim victory. End of story. It's all just a media game.

Rarely, if ever, reported is the process by which CUPE extends its vice-grip control over city work -- moving garbage, building subways, operating pools or planting flowers -- and prevents any significant moves to cut costs or improve service.

For a glimpse into CUPE's control over urban life in Canada, consider the story of Montreal West, the tiny suburb in the metropolis's

west end. Home to only 5,600, the community is newly part of the unionized CUPE machine, the result of the twisted politics of Montreal's 2002 multi-city urban amalgamation and subsequent de-amalgamation.

Prior to its forced merger with the City of Montreal, Montreal West employed 15 workers affiliated with another union. The workers mostly lived in Montreal West, local people with local roots. With amalgamation, those workers became forced members of CUPE Local 301, the City of Montreal's notoriously thuggish employees' union. Even after de-amalgamation in 2006,Montreal West is stuck with CUPE, thanks to a provincial deal to buy off the powerful city union.

How CUPE operates is described in part in a recent letter to citizens from Montreal West council, including Mayor Campbell Stuart. It asks: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Answer: the union won't plant them.

The small community, which now employes 18 people, is part of a massive 6,500-member union with a contract that covers more than 100 different job classifications. Under the contract, employees are only required to work within extremely narrow job descriptions. "There are no designated 'gardeners,' for instance -- and so no flowers are planted unless the union allows a qualified employee to work outside his limited category."

The impact on Montreal West is costly. Town management can no longer assign the most appropriately skilled person. The union rep now makes all the job calls "based on whatever tactical criteria suits the union that day."

"Restricting what individual employees can be asked to do essentially cuts our town's available workforce by nearly half. In order to pick up town garbage bins, TWO men are required: one to drive the truck and one to empty the pail. SIX men (30% of our entire department) are required to repair a sidewalk: one to drive a 10-wheeler, one to use a backhoe, one to drive a pick-up with supplies, two to construct wooden frames, and one general helper. If the union rep allows, three employees could agree to perform the combination of complementary tasks necessary, but they cannot be required to do so."

Mayor Stuart told me that, as a result of these and other rules, Montreal West's city services are at a standstill. And then there are seniority and other issues. "Jobs are 'bid on' by seniority each day, rather than assigned by the [City] Director on the basis of skill. This union process takes between 30 to 60 minutes every morning, and often results in highly inefficient allocations. For instance, if a worker's selected job finishes at 2 p.m., he cannot be assigned another task without potentially triggering a new 30-to 60-minute bidding process for the whole workforce!"

The union in Montreal West, says the Mayor, is "run with an iron fist. They intimidate workers in my town as much as they try to intimidate town administrators." Flower planting was threatened unless a certain worker was assigned the job, for example. "We were told quite explicitly that no flowers were going to be planted until we hired the guy they wanted."

Under CUPE rules, Montreal West would have to increase worker numbers to 28 to get the work done. The union also wants wage increases of between 6% and 8% over the next three years. All of Montreal is now prepared for a CUPE 301 strike later this year.

Montreal West is a microcosm of what goes on across Canada. The specifics and scale are different, but from Vancouver to Toronto to Montreal, CUPE runs our cities along the same lines.


Striker solidarity from B.C. anarchists

Anti-poverty activists in Vancouver, B.C. have begun a campaign of economic sabotage targeting parking meters. So far, in one night, over 300 meters have been damaged in such a way as too make them useless. According to one saboteur, ‘This is an act of militant solidarity with the CUPE workers on strike. So long as this strike is going on - the city is not going to be cashing in. As well these acts of economic sabotage are a protest against the NPA’s Civil City Initiative that fines street level workers. If the city continues stealing the money from working-poor peoples pockets we will take it from their coffers.’

The launch of this campaign follows a confrontation that happened between strikers who had set up a picket line to prevent parking enforcement agents from leaving a garage. Police were then used by the city to break the strike line.


UFCW to picket WA hospital Monday

Informational picketing by the United Food and Commercial Workers union will start Monday at 6 a.m. at Providence St. Peter’s Hospital in Olympia, WA after registered nurses overwhelmingly rejected the latest contract offer. Nurses want to publicly explain their ongoing concerns about staffing levels, patient care and working conditions, a news release today from the union says. The contract covers more than 600 nurses who have been negotiating for six months. The previous contract expired March 1.

On July 11, nurses voted to reject management’s June 22 contract by a 97 percent margin. Nurses voted by the same margin to authorize the UFCW Local 141 negotiating team to set a date for picketing. Federal mediator Jeff Clark has been notified of the voting. The next date for mediation is Monday. UFCW Local 141 represents approximately 3,000 nurses at 22 hospitals statewide.


Another Steelworker strike looms in Canada

The countdown is on towards Algoma Steel Inc.'s first labour disruption in 17 years. Out-of-town contract talks between Algoma and United Steelworkers Local 2251, representing about 2,500 hourly production, maintenance, service and clerical employees, broke off late Thursday afternoon in Burlington. Contract talks between the company and Local 2724, representing nearly 600 salaried supervisory and technical personnel, were still ongoing late Thursday night.

Contracts between Algoma and Locals 2251 and 2724 expire in five days, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. "The negotiating committee is packing up and coming home," said Mike Da Prat, president of Local 2251, in a telephone interview late Thursday from Hamilton St. Joseph Hospital. "We are too far apart to avoid a strike next week. We stayed beyond our original deadline and were still unable to come up with a fair and reasonable contract."

The local had advised the company "repeatedly" it needed a tentative deal by 12:01 a.m. Thursday to give it time to return to Sault Ste. Marie and proof read and prepare handout documentation for Saturday membership information meetings.

The talks broke off at 5 p.m. Thursday, said Da Prat.

Three earlier "contentious" company language proposals pertaining to letters of agreement, contracting out and lines of sequence that had angered and frustrated the 2251 bargaining team had been "resolved," according to Da Prat, but the monetary proposal was an issue that couldn't .

"Their last official offer was two per cent in each of three years, with COLA (cost of living allowance) roll-in each year - that was less than we got the last time.

"The company has made hundreds of millions of dollars this contract, paid shareholders over $400 million, and yet our reward for helping them reap unprecedented profit is anything but fair."

Da Prat was admitted to Hamilton St. Joseph on Monday for a scheduled kidney removal operation.

"It wasn't an emergency procedure, I knew it had to be done, it was just a question of when they were going to do it," said the union president, who expects to be released either Sunday or Monday.

Merle Evans, 2251 vice-president, assumed the chair's position on the bargaining team but Da Prat remained active in discussions.

The negotiating team, which has been in Burlington for three weeks, expects to return to the Sault today.

Membership information meetings are scheduled for Saturday at the Steelback Centre for 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the company and Local 2724 were still talking "monetary issues" as of 11 p.m. Thursday.

"We're still going at it," said Ian Kersley, president of Local 2724, in a brief telephone interview. "We're willing to stay as long as it takes to get a fair and reasonable contract . . . We have until midnight July 31st."

The interview concluded before Kersley could comment on whether his local would stay on the job beyond July 31, if the two sides were still talking, or whether the 48-hour period between membership information meetings and an actual vote, should they achieve a promise of settlement, could be waived.

"The information meetings are still a go for Saturday . . . Whether the negotiating team is actually there for the meetings is still to be determined," said Kersley.

Local 2724 has scheduled information meetings for noon and 8 p.m. at Best Western Great Northern.

Nearly 130 non-union personnel have been training for nearly two weeks on how to preserve and maintain company assets, such as coke making batteries, utilities, material handling, security and fire and flood patrols in the event of a labour disruption.

Non-union personnel are expected to be augmented by an unspecified number of workers hired through an outside agency.

The 25- to 30-day partial rebuild of massive No. 7 blast furnace, involving upwards of 500 tradespeople working 24/7 since July 6, will have been underway for 24 days at the strike deadline.

The USW hit the pavement for a record 112 days during the last labour disruption in 1990, from Aug. 1 until Nov. 21.

This is the first contract for India's Essar Steel Holdings Ltd. which received shareholder approval on their $1.89 billion cash takeover more than two months ago.



Teamsters backpedal in Tennessee

Teamsters Local 327, which represents Metro police officers, distanced itself Friday from former Police Lt. Calvin Hullett, and at the same time called for the police department to recommission Officer Roy Dunaway. Hullett, a national Teamsters organizer charged with allegedly placing hidden cameras at a Fraternal Order of Police camp in Wilson County, has been the focus of an evolving Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe.

The Teamsters supplanted the FOP as bargaining agent for Metro officers in 2006, but the FOP has been trying to regain control. Teamsters Local president Jimmy Neal acknowledges "there has been an ongoing dispute between the FOP and us." Hullett has been on disability pension since 2006. Before becoming a Teamsters organizer, he was FOP president.

In a news conference Friday afternoon, Teamsters attorney Jack Byrd stressed, "Mr. Hullett does not work for or at the discretion of Neal."

He also said the union has cooperated with the TBI and that neither Neal nor Dunaway has been interviewed or identified as a suspect.

Tuesday the TBI raided the Teamsters offices on Antioch Pike.

Dunaway, a 16-year Metro officer, had been full-time police liaison with the Teamsters, with an office in its headquarters. He was decommissioned Thursday, surrendering his badge, ID and gun when he was reassigned to a desk job in the warrants division.

Decommission defended

During the news conference, Byrd said Dunaway's only offense was "guilt by association."

He said Dunaway was acquainted with Hullett, who had access to the computer on which Dunaway conducted his police union business. That computer was among items seized by the TBI.

"It's a punishment before he has had his due process or even been accused of anything," Byrd said.

Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said Friday that "the decommissioning of Roy Dunaway was not punitive."

According to arrest warrants, two unidentified individuals accompanied Hullett to the FOP camp.

The Teamsters said they know nothing about them or about two Shelby County sheriff's officers, interviewed by the TBI, who are off-duty with pay pending an administrative investigation.


BC Steelworkers suspected in picket line violence

Masset RCMP are investigating a hit-and-run accident near the union picket line outside Port Clements, British Columbia Wednesday morning. It happened at about 7:30 am. Police were called after reports that a vehicle had struck a man, throwing him into the ditch, then left the scene. It occurred on the Port Road leading from the village to Juskatla.
The pedestrian was taken to hospital in Masset where he was treated for minor injuries and then released. RCMP are continuing to interview witnesses, but have not determined yet if the incident was accidental or if it was connected to the ongoing labour dispute.

Members of the Steelworkers' Union have been on strike since last weekend, and there's a picket line on the way to Juskatla as well as another in Queen Charlotte.
Police have a description of the vehicle and know the identity of the driver. They ask anyone who witnessed the incident or have any information to call them at 626 3991 or Crime Stoppers.


Vancouver gov't union strike: Garbage piles up

Garbage piles are showing up on some Vancouver streets as a strike by more than 5,000 civic workers continues into the weekend. The 1,800 outside workers, represented by CUPE Local 1004, first walked off the job on July 20, forcing city hall to suspend some municipal services, including residential garbage collection.

The city's 3,500 inside workers, who belong to CUPE Local 15, walked off the job Monday, affecting services such as city-run day-care facilities, building inspections and parking bylaw enforcement.

The 800 library workers, represented by CUPE Local 391, began a full-blown strike on Thursday, shutting down 22 branches of the Vancouver Public Library.

Striking library workers and outside civic workers will resume talks with city negotiators Monday morning, following a day of bargaining between the city and its inside workers on Friday.
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There is no word on any progress between the two sides because of a media blackout.

CUPE Local 1004 president Mike Jackson said a five-year contract reached by the City of Richmond and its civic workers set the stage for positive bargaining.

"I do feel optimistic. A new standard has been set, so we'll have to wait and see," he told CBC News on Friday evening.

Richmond's inside and outside workers on Wednesday and Thursday voted to accept a five-year agreement that includes a 17.5 per cent salary increase.

While the impact of the Vancouver civic strike has been relatively minor so far, all sides are saying they hope a deal will get done before more garbage piles up on Vancouver streets.

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside — the city's poorest neighbourhood where drug use is common — is looking a lot worse than even its usual down-at-the-heels appearance.

United We Can, a private crew that usually works in the inner city alongside municipal workers, is now left holding the bag.

"Normally we have the city to help us," said Richard Ivanauskus, the organization's spokesman.

"If there were a big pile of garbage, we'd sweep it out of the roadway or alley and the city would come along and pick it up. But that's just not happening now," he said.


SEIU investing in NY law officials

Albany, NY County District Attorney David Soares has more than $35,000 in his re-election war chest, including close to $10,000 from the state's largest health care union, the latest campaign filings show. The prosecutor, elected to a four-year term in 2004 after he upset incumbent Paul Clyne in the Democratic primary, reeled in $9,747 from the political action fund for the 1199 SEIU, according to the state Board of Elections filings for July. Other noteworthy contributions to Friends of David Soares include $5,000 from the New York State Laborers, $2,500 from the Drug Policy Alliance Network and $1,000 from the New York State Troopers political action committee.

Meanwhile, the top individual contributor was activist Alice Green, executive director of Albany's Center for Law and Justice and a failed 2005 mayoral candidate, who contributed $1,000.


Striking Machinists 'humiliate' scabs

In and around tents set up outside the entrance gate to Kennedy Space Center, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2061 sit in defiance of their employer, United Space Alliance. As of today, the union's strike over stalled contract negotiations with the company - NASA's main space shuttle contractor - has gone on for 45 days, still with no end in sight, according to both sides.

The strike by an estimated 450 to 500 blue-collar workers in the shuttle program has developed into an exercise in labor rights - and management's ability to adapt to it - not often seen on the Space Coast. Local 2061 leaders - some who have worked at the Space Center for more than 30 years - said their union has gone on strike several times through the years, more than any other union at the Space Center, as far as they can remember. "The membership in this local has a strong desire to stand up for themselves," Local 2061 President Lew Jamieson said.

With the shuttle program scheduled to end in three years, it raises the likelihood of a conflict, as both sides can see a potential end to their income, said Bruce Nissen, director of the Center for Labor Research and Studies at Florida International University in Miami.

The company could have the upper hand in the standoff if, as it has said, it has been getting by without the strikers without problems, Nissen said.

United Space Alliance - a joint venture of aerospace and defense giants Lockheed Martin Corp. and The Boeing Co. - said it is doing fine without the strikers.

A portion of the 570-member union's bargaining unit never joined the strike, and some have crossed the picket lines, while the company has hired 64 replacement workers, and assigned other workers extra duties.

Leverage issue

"The way I would describe it is everything is going safely, smoothly and on schedule," United Space Alliance spokeswoman Tracey Yates said about preparations for the launch of shuttle Endeavour, scheduled for Aug. 7.

"In situations like this, it's routine for the company to say everything is OK," Nissen said. "There always a lot of posturing" by both sides.

If the company is truly coping well without the workers, and the union does not have support from the community or other political forces, the strikers could be at a disadvantage. A lot of it depends on how difficult it would be to replace them permanently, Nissen said.

"The real difference is," he added, "what kind of leverage do they have?"

The strikers said the walkout isn't just about money. It's also about respect. They described feeling "beaten down," as the company pushes to meet its deadlines and "milestones" for the shuttle program.

The strikers said they believe professionals at the Space Center look down on them because "we don't have college degrees."

The other day, someone they believe worked at the Space Center driving by the picket line tossed out a leaflet to the strikers, they said.

The leaflet - which they showed to a reporter - depicted a photo of the strikers holding signs on the picket line with the face of the caveman from the Geico insurance commercials superimposed on their faces.

"So easy a caveman can do it," the leaflet read, a reference to the Geico commercials, as well as the workers who have been assigned to do the strikers' jobs.

However, the strikers said, they are the ones who do the physical jobs that keep the Space Center running - including day-to-day maintenance work that, contrary to what the company has said, is falling behind, according to "our people inside."

On another occasion, the strikers said, someone driving through the gate swerved at them to give them a scare. Some others going into the Space Center raise their middle fingers as they drive by, they said.

'I hate scabs'

The strikers said such actions are indicative of the resentment that is building among the company's white-collar workers for having to do extra work, outside their normal job descriptions, during the strike.

Meanwhile, tensions over those who cross the picket line are obvious.

"They can burn in hell," said Larry Tucker, a Local 2061 striker who has worked at the Space Center for 37 years. "I hate scabs. They're low-life scum."

At the picket site on North Courtenay Parkway, the strikers have put up a sign by the road listing the names of nearly 30 workers who have crossed the line.

"To humiliate them," Tucker said.

In one case, a United Space Alliance employee who recently crossed the picket line and returned to work said he found his car and home vandalized. James Celli of Port St. John told police he found all four tires on his car flattened and the words "scab" sprayed in black paint on his car and garage.

No one has been charged, and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office has not received any other reports of such vandalism.

Jamieson, the union's president, said the public shouldn't jump to conclusions about the vandalism in Port St. John.

"It's premature and callous to even insinuate that it was a Machinists' union member," he said.

$150 a week

The strikers, meanwhile, said they are finding ways to make ends meets. The union pays strikers $150 for eight hours a week on the picket line. Some work extra shifts for extra money, while taking odd jobs on the side. The strikers said some of their colleagues have found permanent jobs, and are never expected to return.

The picket line at the North Courtenay entrance resembles a refugee camp.

The only house in sight is occupied by a former member of the United Auto Workers union, who has allowed the strikers to draw electricity from his property to power fans and lights under the tents on the picket line, at the union's expense.

Under the tents, amid the grass and the dirt, there are barbecue grills, stacks of drinks, a refrigerator, lawn chairs, even a makeshift bulletin board. At least several strikers at a time are expected to man that and other picket sites around the clock.

Of the 570 members of Local 2061, nearly 500 are on strike, Jamieson estimated.

According to the company's calculations, that number is lower -- 449. Yates said 94 workers are not part of the strike. That includes a number who are part of the union's collective-bargaining unit, but don't pay dues and are not considered full-fledged members. It does not include 27 workers who have been on a leave of absence since before the strike, she said.

"Some USA employees who are performing replacement tasks are working overtime hours," Yates said. "That's not unusual. IAM workers routinely put in overtime when they were on the job."

Yates said she doesn't think anyone from management has even spoken to the union's leadership since the strike started June 14.

Still, the stressfulness of the walkout is evident on both sides, as they have been careful not to say anything publicly about the bargaining issues and each other that would inflame the situation, and make chances for a settlement less likely.

When asked if the company is willing to never bring the strikers back to work, Yates said: "That isn't the goal. I can't speculate on the future and what's going to happen."

The union's leadership, meanwhile, has cautioned the strikers to choose their words carefully when speaking with the news media.

"We've told them this strike can't be won in the press, but it can be lost in the press," Jamieson said.


Nashville police-Teamster relationship changing

The investigation led by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation into the activities of the Teamsters Union has resulted in a Metro Police officer being decommissioned. Metro Police Officer Roy Dunaway was decommissioned and assigned to desk duty in Metro's Warrants division on Thursday. Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron said, "As part of the expanding investigation by the TBI, the criminal matter that began with the arrest of Calvin Hullett, certain information has now been received by the police department we believe required the decommissioning of Officer Roy Dunaway."

Dunaway was the Teamsters’ liaison with Metro Police department. The Teamsters Union represents Metro Police. In a statement, Police Chief Ronal Serpas said he has gotten sufficient information to require Dunaway to be relieved of law enforcement authority. Aaron said, “Decommissioning should not be seen as a punishment in any way. Officer Dunaway has been relieved of his law enforcement responsibilities, his law enforcement powers, until this investigation can be resolved.”

As far as the Teamsters’ relationship with Metro, Chief Serpas said Metro Police will not talk with the Teamsters until the investigation is resolved. “It is necessary that the administration of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department refrain from any direct contact or communication with any persons/officials employed by the Teamsters organization,” he said.


Metro Officer Questions Reassignment

A Metro officer who was the former liaison between the department and a union questions his recent reassignment. On Thursday, the department announced that Officer Roy Dunaway would not continue to serve as a liaison between the department and the Teamsters union.

"I've been a police officer 16 years," Dunaway said. "It's shocking to me and my family." Dunaway has been put on restricted assignment pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into the actions of a union organizer. The organizer was recently arrested after agents said he placed hidden cameras at a youth camp run by a rival union, the Fraternal Order of Police.

Metro said that Dunaway's decommissioning should not be looked at as punishment. But Dunaway's attorney said there's no other way to look at it and his client deserves an explanation.


UFCW bullying Arizona grocery workers

As a member of the Bashas' workforce, I am glad to see some truth coming to light in this conflict. Believe me, you have only scratched the surface. The United Food and Commercial Workers has waged an unethical (at best) campaign of harassment and intimidation against our company and its employees.

When their tactics failed to drum up enough support among the Bashas' membership to force a vote, they lowered themselves to the next level. They are now trying to damage our business by misleading our customers. Who gets hurt by this? The very workers that the UFCW says they are trying to help will suffer loss of income if this strategy succeeds.

In my opinion, this whole issue has nothing to do with helping the poor abused working man. It is nothing more than their desire to increase their income by whatever means they deem necessary. Union dues from 14,000 people (the approximate workforce at Bashas') is a lot of money, isn't it?

Steve Haegele, Phoenix (The writer has worked for Bashas' for six years.)


Illinois union locked out, replacements coming

Ninety union employees are without jobs, and most without benefits, following a three-month contract dispute and lockout at Quad City Die Casting, 3800 River Drive. Employees were informed Thursday night they would be locked out of work effective immediately. This will continue until their union, United Electrical Local 1174, agrees to the company's "last, best and final offer for a new labor agreement," according to a letter from company president Drew Debrey. "We take this action with regret, but believe it is necessary to protect the interests of our company, our customers and ultimately your job security," the letter says.

Quad City Die Casting -- which produces aluminum and magnesium components at a 40,000-square-foot plant -- had been negotiating a new contract with the union since May. Workers had been under a prior three-year agreement that froze wages until it expired June 30, said Local 1174 president Rich Nordholm, a toolmaker.

"Just to lock us out and pull back, I think, was very wrong. It was a shock," he said Friday, as about a dozen employees sat outside the building protesting the move, holding signs out to motorists. Some workers were out since 6:30 a.m. Friday.

The parties brought in a federal mediator to try to resolve the contract dispute, and they met at an unsuccessful nine-hour session on July 17.

The disagreement centers on the company's plan to use temporary and part-time employees to supplement the work force, to "reduce our costs so that we can meet the continuous demands of our customers to reduce our prices," Mr. Debrey's letter says.

Contrary to what the union has said, the proposal would not affect wages or job security, according to the company. Temporary employees only would be used when 75 full-time workers are scheduled and no employees are on layoff, and Quad City Die Casting would hire no more than five part-time employees at a time.

Mr. Nordholm said employees haven't been told details of that plan and fear that hiring temps or part-time workers could mean the loss of union jobs. "They'd be basically training their own assassins," he said.

"We have a hard enough time watching new full-time people, let alone temps," said Steve Bailey, a machine operator, union steward and contract negotiator. He called the sometimes dangerous work "stressful," and said the inside of the plant is typically 130 degrees.

The previous contract had a cap of 800 hours a year on the use of temp workers, and the union proposed allowing 10,000 hours a year, which the company rejected, Mr. Bailey said.

"I thought the whole point of mediation was to find middle ground," he said. "There was no middle ground. It was `our way or the highway.'"

The company letter said the temporary and part-time employees would be used only under "certain limited conditions." Mr. Debrey was not available Friday afternoon to comment on the dispute.

In early July, the company laid off 19 union employees, who still are on health insurance and collecting unemployment, Mr. Nordholm said. Many other workers wonder how they are going to pay their medical bills, he said.

"I am on 10 medications and they cost $980 a month without insurance," said Robin Carden, whose husband Jerry works at the plant. She has had a stroke, has high blood pressure and asthma.

"I was looking at back surgery, but my doctor canceled it because of this," Ms. Carden said.

"It's sad. All of us don't have health insurance because of this. I have a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old," said one laborer/metal tender.

Starting union wages at the company are $9.50 an hour and go up to $15, depending on the job, Mr. Bailey said. Labor and management were not far apart on the wage proposals, Mr. Nordholm said, declining to give details.

The lockout is "a big push to see if they'll just take it," he said of the last offer. "There's a lot of people working week to week, paycheck to paycheck. I'm not sure what they'll decide."

The union will meet at noon Sunday at the Silvis Eagles Club to discuss what to do, Mr. Nordholm said.

"I would like to see us hold the line," he said. "It's a toss-up what they'll do. Fifty percent feel they've been really done wrong. The other half, I think they're scared."

Quad City Die Casting is part of Moline-based QuadCast Inc., which has other casting plants in Davenport and Red Oak, Iowa. Both are non-union, Mr. Nordholm said.

During the lockout, the company will use employees not covered by the labor agreement, hiring temporary replacements, and shipping work to Red Oak, according to the company letter.


The San Francisco SEIU way

More pay. Less work.


Michigan UAW Local gives strike notice

Newly unionized workers in the Lansing area are expected to vote on a possible strike. Bridgewater Interiors in Delta Township received a letter recently from the union telling them a strike vote will take place on July 31st. Bridgewater Interiors is a supplier for General Motors. UAW officials say they're negotiating on the workers' first contract with Bridgewater. Officials also say the strike vote is standard procedure for all plants that are in negotiations. They say striking is a last resort.


Teamster fiasco forces Nashville police reorganization

A Metro officer who was the Teamsters liaison with the department was decommissioned and assigned desk duty due to continuing criminal investigation. In a letter sent Thursday to Teamsters Local 327 President Jimmy Neal, Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas said all communication between police leaders and the Teamsters organization would be directed to Teamster attorney Jack Byrd. This change occurs during an ongoing criminal investigation involving Teamster employee Calvin Hullett and potential accomplices.

"Please understand that nothing in this correspondence should be construed as an intent to sever the relationship between the Metropolitan Government and the Teamsters as the duly elected representative of the sworn police officers," Serpas said. "It is, however, incumbent upon the police department, due to the above described broadening events, to evaluate our position/relationship on a daily basis. Until the criminal investigation and matters arising from it can be satisfactorily resolved, it is necessary that the administration of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department refrain from any direct contact or communication with any persons/officials employed by the Teamsters organization."

Metro officer Roy Dunaway was decommissioned Thursday and assigned to desk duty in the police department's Warrants Division.

In his letter to Neal, Serpas wrote, "Regarding Officer Roy Dunaway, the Teamster liaison, sufficient information has been received by the department to require that he be immediately relieved of any law enforcement authority and placed on restricted assignment. No police department employee will be authorized to replace Officer Dunaway as Teamster liaison during this interim."

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