Kids disappointed by teachers strike

Julie Baker's girls had their clothes picked out for the first day of school in Burrillville, RI. Their lunches were ready and their alarm clocks were set for yesterday morning. They were up at 5 a.m., some eager, some resigned, to the idea of a new classroom with a new teacher and more challenging lessons.

"I had to tell them to go back to bed," Baker said yesterday morning after an impasse in negotiations between the school district and the teachers' union delayed the opening of school. The impasse led the teachers' union leaders to declare a strike late Tuesday evening and many families didn’t hear the news until after sunrise yesterday.

The reaction around town was mixed, with most parents being annoyed, but portioning out the blame to varying sides of the negotiating table. Each of Baker's girls had their own opinion.

"I was pumped to go back to school to see my friends, but at the same time I was dreading the teachers I have," said Baker's 17-year-old daughter, Tayle D. Foster, who is bound for her junior year at the high school.

Her 8-year-old sibling, Madison L. Baker, was visibly upset. She noted that she was looking forward to working with her new teacher. Her twin sister, MacKenzie E. Baker, was just as enthusiastic.

"We want to go to school," Madison said.

"I don't," said her other sister, Misty R. Baker, a 10-year-old who has enjoyed a fabulous summer. She wants more time to ride horses. She loves horses.

Down the road, youngsters of all ages were riding their skateboards and scooters.

Allissa Koprusak, 14, was headed for the skate park across the street from the Callahan School.

"I guess we have a longer summer now, but we get to make it up next year," she said.

Her companion, 12-year-old Xiomara R. Figueroa, spoke for her family.

"We were all ticked off this morning," she said.

"I haven't seen most of my friends for the whole summer and I was looking forward to it," said 11-year-old Shahaira A. Pratt.

Their mother, Damais Pratt, wasn't among the working parents who had to find someone to look after her children. But she wasn't happy with the situation.

"I'm up at 6 a.m. in the morning expecting the teachers to get on the job," she said.

But she didn't blame the teachers.

"It's not their fault," she said. "Pay them what they need you to pay them and call it a day," she said.

Another mother, 39-year-old Kathy A. Sorensen, had a different idea. It involved the timing of the strike - right at the beginning of the school year.

Next time, she said, the School Department should keep teachers from going on summer vacation until they have a contract in place for the new school year.

"I think everything would get done a lot quicker," she said.


Gov't union strike keeps Library closed

Vancouver Public Library doors remain shut more than 30 days into a labor strike by library staffers and municipal employees, and now VPL director Paul Whitney and CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) Local 391 president Alex Youngberg are trading barbs in the press about the terms of the latest contract offer on the table. Characterizing Whitney's description of the offer as "insane," Youngberg disputed that Local 391, which represents library staffers, was asking for a 40 percent wage increase, as Whitney told Georgia Straight, a Vancouver weekly newspaper. "He's not giving librarians a very good reputation as far as math goes," she told the newspaper.

According to Youngberg, if the city agreed to all of the terms in the Local 391's latest offer, staffers would see a 29.5 percent increase in wages and benefits over a nine-year period. But Whitney argued that some of the contract's terms, such as an additional 4.5 percent wage increase for librarians and lowering the threshhold at which part-time employees can qualify for benefits, add up to "a lot of money," Whitney said. "We were pretty significantly taken aback by their latest offer."

The union offer includes provisions for pay equity that seek to redress gender imbalances in city-employee wages—a sticking point in the negotiations. An entry-level library staffer earns $15.31 CDN an hour, while the entry-level wage for other city employees is more than $20 an hour. "This is a female-dominated work force, this is long overdue," Youngberg told LJ last month.Whitney supplied the newspaper with entry-level librarian wage statistics from nine large Canadian cities. With an average hourly rate of $24.41, entry-level librarians in Vancouver earn the fourth-highest wages in the country. (Toronto librarians earn the most at $30.84 hour.)

CUPE members are writing a day-by-day account of the strike on their Bargaining Blog. The sympathetic Union Librarian blog, run by Kathleen de la Peña McCook, a professor of library and information science at the University of South Florida, Tampa, is tracking developments in Vancouver as well.


Seniority rules - but it shouldn't

Anyone who goes to a Police or Rolling Stones concert nowadays doesn't do so because those bands have been around the longest. Concertgoers still happen to like their music and have a choice: They like what they see and hear and choose to buy the tickets and music. Fans, one might say, see "merit" in the music and choose accordingly.

Contrast that with how striking Canadian Union of Public Employees locals in Vancouver appear to be demanding an end to merit in promotions, transfers and scheduling. Customers -- the taxpaying public and city officials who serve them -- must simply pay up and have no say in who gets to do what work other than time on the job.

Beyond the absurdity of Vancouver being forced to kill off merit as if skills and performance don't matter, polls over the years show that even a majority chunk of unionized employees don't like how union leaders favour seniority over merit, to say nothing of the public, which also wants merit used as the critical factor in workplace decisions.

But CUPE's locals have targeted merit; it's one of their many demands before they'll agree to return to work.

Local 15 wants seniority to govern promotions and transfers. Locals 15 and 391 want seniority rights applied to auxiliary employees; their scheduling and extra hours would be awarded according to a union pecking order instead of individual skills and results.

Local 1004 wants any disciplinary action removed from a personnel file after 36 months, as if past actions might not well predict future actions versus another unionized employee with a clean or cleaner performance record when serving taxpayers.

In attempting to bury merit beneath restrictive union seniority rules, CUPE is offside with the preferences of most Canadians and very possibly, the Vancouver workers forced to be CUPE members as a condition of employment under the various collective agreements.

In 2003, LabourWatch asked Leger Marketing to find out the views of Canadians on such matters. Leger found that 83 per cent of Canadians surveyed thought employee merit and performance should be more important in guiding the decision of an employer about promotions; only 14 per cent thought the seniority of an employee should be the decisive factor.

But here is the kicker in the poll: Among then unionized Canadians, 77 per cent thought merit should trump seniority.

Among formerly unionized employees, that figure jumped higher still; 87 per cent thought employee merit and performance should rank above length of service for a promotion.

Similarly, while Canadians were willing to consider a person's career length a bit more when it came to layoffs (24 per cent thought that factor should count the most when layoffs occur), fully 71 per cent still thought employee performance and merit should be the most important factor in deciding who should be laid off.

Here's another kicker for CUPE leaders: Even a majority of the currently unionized wanted merit over seniority!

In my discussions with pollsters across the country who do surveys for union leaders, the pollsters noted that union leaders often ignore the wishes of the employees they represent -- thus the wishes of those whose dues paid for the poll.

The Canadian Labour Congress, of which CUPE is a member, conducted its own poll in 2003, in part on why someone would or would not want to join a union.

Poll results revealed that 38 per cent of unionized respondents said they would very likely not vote for a union because of the presence of seniority provisions; 44 per cent of non-union respondents felt the same way about why they would be less likely to vote for union representation.

That most disagree with CUPE's anti-merit position should come as no surprise. Plenty of us have worked in environments where some colleague has been assigned work or promoted because of company connections or union seniority rules and not necessarily because they were the most qualified.

No one wants employees who have served long periods of time to be moved out their positions inappropriately. But layoffs and terminations are going to be less of an issue than ever because of a labour shortage and retiring baby boomers.

But most people quite reasonably don't like to see others get work, be promoted (and themselves held back) because of union rules or other factors unrelated to skills and results.

The City of Vancouver represents about 400,000 taxpayers in this dispute; CUPE represents 6,000 government workers. But when CUPE opposes merit as a principle in promotion, it is not likely representing even a majority of them with these demands.

John Mortimer is president of the non-profit Canadian LabourWatch Association and a Vancouver taxpayer.


Garbage dumped on lawn of Vancouver councillor

Two people upset with Vancouver's ongoing garbage strike took matters into their own hands Thursday, and spilled trash outside the home of a city councillor. "I looked out the window to see two individuals in black hoodies dumping garbage on my front lawn," Councillor Kim Capri told CTV British Columbia.

She joked that the strongest language she could muster was: "Hey, that's not very nice!" But it worked, and the pair ran off. Capri isn't the first politician targeted by pranksters fed up with the six-week old strike.

Last Friday, trash was strewn outside the condominium building of Mayor Sam Sullivan. Now, he's angry that one of his councillors was targeted. He called the littering an attempt at "intimidation" that could fuel further acts against politicians.

Vancouver's Anti-Poverty Committee has taken responsibility for both incidents and said it was acting in solidarity with striking outside workers.

But Barry O'Neil, president of CUPE British Columbia, denounced the pranksters and said the union doesn't want to target individual politicians.

"We don't think that the battle should be personal," he said. "It's not against Kim or any other councillor; it's about getting people back to work."

The Committee has gained notoriety by protesting against the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, which it blames for taking money and housing away from the city's poor.

The group has refused to speak with CTV News, because the network is the official broadcaster for the Games. But it did send a fax explaining its motives for dumping trash on Capri's lawn.


Teachers strike decimates district

When Littlestown (PA) students took seats today in their new classrooms at their new grade levels during the first day of school, the teachers standing in front of many of them were likewise experiencing something new.

Over the summer, Littlestown Area School District filled 32 vacant teaching positions, District Superintendent Robert McConaghy said. Previously, the district had reported 31 vacant positions.

As a new school year begins, the school board and teachers union are still trying to reach an agreement. Health care and salary have been the primary issues, which led to a 10-day strike last October.

Last year's strike might have some parents wondering if there will be a repeat of it this year. The strike pushed graduation last year back to June 15. "I can tell you there is no talk of a strike at this time," she said. "We're still actively negotiating with the board."

The school board made another offer to the union in July. Teachers were going to vote on the offer last week, but had questions about the salary schedule included in the offer, according to Motts. She said the focus of a meeting last Friday was to work on the details of the salary portion of the offer. Those details are still being worked out.

No further meetings have been set at this point, she said.

Teachers had two days of in-service training this week preparing for school to open.

McConaghy said the new teachers seem to be adjusting well to their new jobs, and he expected school to begin without a hitch.

"It should be a regular, good start," he said Tuesday.

The positions were vacated during the summer as teachers resigned, many of them because of the situation with the teachers contract.

"The teachers are saddened they are starting a new school year without so many of their colleagues," said union President Tina Motts. "Their skills, knowledge and experience are a great loss to the district."

But Motts feels the new teachers will adjust well, and said veteran teachers will serve as good mentors. New teachers met with their veteran counterparts at an orientation Aug. 20.


Vancouver hotel workers vote to strike

Workers in four of Vancouver's largest hotels have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike. The 1,400 workers at the Hyatt, Westin Bayshore, Renaissance, and Four Seasons hotels are members of Unite Here Local 40 and have been without a contract since June.

Saying their employers aren't taking them seriously, they have voted 85 per cent in favour of hitting the picket lines. The vote gives union leaders the authority to call a strike if they feel negotiations with the employer aren't going well.

If the union delivered on the threat, it would be a blow to a city which is already suffering through a six-week-old strike by government union members.

"I think we've met for 12 sessions up until now and we haven't received any offer whatsoever from the employers," said Randall Cooper, a banquet worker and member of the bargaining committee. "I think we've agreed on one very very minor bit of language and that is it."

The union wants higher wages and better benefits. They argue that the cost of living in Vancouver has skyrocketed in recent years, and that benefits and salaries have not kept up.

"I've worked 30 years in the business, and I am retiring in 13 days, and I'm only going to get $200 per month, so that's not a very good pension, is it?" said Carol Spence, who works at the Hyatt.

More talks are scheduled for mid-September.


Teachers in NY town authorize strike

At this time of year, Donna brown is usually worried about getting her son ready to head back to school. "Just finding out about this. I think it's really shocking,” said parent Donna Brown.

According to the Athens (NY) school board president, teachers voted to authorize a strike Tuesday night. That does not mean they've decided to strike. But it does mean union leaders can call a strike at anytime.

The strike would affect classes and extracurricular activities like sports. "My kids deserve a good education, granted the teachers deserve their pay as well,” said parent Heather Clark.

The board president tells us district officials have been negotiating a new contract for two years now, with no agreement. He says the sticking points are health benefits and salaries.

"I don't understand why this couldn't be resolved over summer when school was out. The only ones that are going to suffer are the kids,” said parent David Terkey.

The school board president tells us, the union and district officials are set to meet on September twentieth for negotiation talks.

He says he doubts a strike would start before then.

The union president did not return our phone calls for comment.



Teachers Repudiate Union Leadership

But typical union bigs wield iron fist over the rank-and-file

With a nearly 52 percent majority, the Harlem (IL) Federation of Teachers voted Tuesday to reject the proposed contract tentatively agreed upon by negotiators earlier this week. Teachers called for the superintendent's immediate resignation.

About 503 teachers participated in the vote, which broke down to a nearly even split: 260 to 243. Staff agreed to work for the remainder of the week, but they said if a contract isn't reached by next Tuesday they will once again walk out on strike.

Meanwhile, the teachers said they have no confidence in Superintendent Pascal DeLuca, blaming his "negative management style" for a second consecutive strike. The district hadn't had a strike in the 15 years before DeLuca was hired, teachers said in a written statement.

Furthermore, the teachers wrote, DeLuca's management style has caused an all-time low in employee morale and adversely affected relations between the community and district.

"Whereas, Superintendent Pascal DeLuca's inability to establish a trusting relationship with Harlem staff, coupled with his preference for press releases over teachers' concerns, jeopardized the ratification of the tentative agreement," teachers wrote. "Therefore be it resolved that the Harlem Federation of Teachers expresses a vote of 'no confidence' in Superintendent Pascal DeLuca and urges the Board of Education to call for his immediate resignation."

So far the nearly 8,000 southern Roscoe, Loves Park and Machesney Park students who attend Harlem's 11 schools have missed five days of class. Their first day was Tuesday.

Reasons teachers cited when they went on strike included showing administrators that teachers are serious about having competitive wages to keep quality staff members. It's difficult to build a school culture when there's a big turnover each year, they said, asserting more than 120 teachers left the district within the past three years.

According to the teachers, they have the lowest salaries among Rockford, North Boone, Belvidere, Rockton, Prairie Hill and Hononegah. Harlem can afford higher wages, teachers claimed, because it has a $10 million surplus plus millions of expected state aid.


UFCW rallies against secret ballot election

At the heart of the big protest outside Smithfield Foods' annual meeting Wednesday is the question of how a union can be fairly elected at the world's largest hog slaughterhouse in North Carolina.

Two past elections in the 1990s, both of which rejected joining the United Commercial Food and Commercial Workers Inter- national Union, were marred by the company's use of intimidation and violence. Smithfield was forced by a court last year to rehire 10 workers whom it fired during the last election in 1997, as well as post a notice admitting its guilt.

Smithfield's appeals of legal actions stemming from the 1997 vote lasted almost a decade. Now the company and union are at an impasse over how to conduct another vote. The union distrusts the company because of the past, and Smithfield has rejected calls for a process that allows workers to sign cards to join the union.

The union said in interviews Wednesday that the company wouldn't even meet with them.

But CEO C. Larry Pope angrily said at Wednesday's shareholder gathering that there was, in fact, a meeting between Smithfield executives and UFCW officials in Richmond on Monday.

A follow-up meeting was scheduled for Friday, but the union canceled it, Pope said.

In a sometimes-heated response to the question from the Rev. Nelson Johnson, who was backed by workers at the meeting, Pope's voice rose as he explained the company's position.

"Call for a vote," Pope said. "Schedule an election."

In a 400-page ruling in 2000, an administrative law judge found the company repeatedly violated a number of labor laws to defeat the union.

The company fired union supporters, threatened to close the plant and assaulted and arrested a union supporter with its on-site police force.

The appeal of this National Labor Relations Board ruling wasn't concluded until 2004.

And it wasn't until May 2006 that a federal appeals court concurred.

The union says it doesn't trust the NLRB to ensure another election is fair.

More than half of Smithfield's plants are unionized, and most are represented by the UFCW.

Pope said the company wasn't against unions in general or the UFCW in particular.

"That union is already part our family," he said.

The union brought petitions of support from Smithfield workers at plants worldwide, from Iowa to Europe.

The union has also been getting Tar Heel workers to sign petitions and says 3,000 of the 5,000 have signed.

The company and union have argued about whether a possibility for electing a union could include card-check rights, where a union is recognized if a majority of members sign cards.

This method, which recently was the focus of a fight in Congress, has been unfairly portrayed by the company as the union's preferred route, said Leila McDowell, a union spokeswoman.


Teachers continue strike for higher pay

Classes for Friday were canceled for nearly 18,000 students in the Bethel (WA) School District. The union representing about 1,000 teachers is on strike over pay, workload and health care benefits. There were no classes Thursday, and no new talks between the union and district have been scheduled.

The Bethel Education Association said it's willing to talk when the district realigns its priorities. The district said it's limited by state funding.

Superintendent Tom Siegel said the district's latest proposal was a two-year contract with pay hikes of 6.5 percent and 6.9 percent, including state cost-of-living allowances of 4.3 percent and 3.5 percent.


Teachers union on strike "for the children"

Bethel (WA) teachers are on strike today, effectively shutting down schools on what was supposed to be the first day of class for 18,000 students. Teachers planned to picket schools in high-traffic areas throughout the district, which serves the Spanaway, Graham, Roy, Kapowsin and Frederickson communities.

Clover Creek Elementary School teacher Danielle Edmonds expressed the sentiment of many of the teachers who gathered Wednesday in Graham to prepare picket signs. "We're really doing this for the parents, and the community and the children," Edmonds said. In order to get high-quality teachers, we need that "TRI" (more pay for work outside the school day) package and we need class sizes manageable so we can instruct their children ... in the best way we can."

She was among nearly 800 teachers, librarians, counselors and other certificated staff members who showed up for a meeting at Frontier Park in Graham late Wednesday afternoon. All told, the Bethel Education Association represents about 1,050 staff members.

District officials hope for a quick return to the bargaining table. But no more sessions had been scheduled as of late Wednesday night, making it unlikely school will begin Friday, district officials said.

"We are waiting to hear from the mediator if there is a counteroffer to our latest proposal," district spokesman Mark Wenzel said. "The district's negotiating team stands ready to bargain at any time during the coming days. We want to return to our shared mission of educating our students."

Talks between the district and Bethel Education Association broke down Tuesday over disagreements on workload, class size and pay. That triggered an earlier decision by association members to strike starting today if there was no tentative agreement by Wednesday.

The two sides, which had been negotiating since February, declared an impasse in early August and were in mediation.

Their two-year contract ends Friday.

Teachers were already slated to receive, from the state, a 4.3 percent cost-of-living increase this school year and an additional 3.5 percent the following year. However, association members say they need more money to remain competitive with other nearby districts, including Tacoma and Clover Park.

They also want the district to reduce class sizes, to shoulder more of the cost of rising medical premiums and to devote all Initiative 728 state funds to class size reduction, instead of using some funds for overhead and staff development.

The district says it would like to pay teachers more but is hampered by inadequate state funding. Officials say the district’s latest offer represents $3.9 million in additional compensation over two years. It would increase compensation by an average of 6.5 percent the first year and 6.9 percent the second year, including the state cost-of-living increase.

It increases the pay for work outside the school day for all certificated staff, including the most experienced teachers who would receive an increase from the current $8,050 to $10,099 this year, and to $10,957 the following year.

"Our school board charged the negotiating team with three tasks: Bargain in good faith, offer a fair package and keep the district fiscally sound," Wenzel said. "We believe the package on the table represents all those values."

Meanwhile, a sampling of Bethel parents and students showed a variety of opinions on the strike.

Melissa Johnston of Roy said she supports the teachers as well as the school district and hopes they can reach a compromise soon. She has two children - Ryan, 14, and Ashley, 12 - who attend Cougar Mountain Junior High.

The strike doesn't create a huge inconvenience in the daily routines for her and her children, she said.

"I'm glad this happened now, and not three weeks from now, when you're rocking and rolling in a schedule and all of a sudden it's like, 'Whoa,'" Johnston said.

Brigitte Wiegand, who has a third-grader and kindergartner at Pioneer Valley Elementary, supports the teachers' effort to reduce class sizes but isn't pleased with the strike. "The timing is really crappy," she said. "It's happening when kids are looking forward to the start of school."

Bethel High School junior Allison Barker and Graham-Kapowsin High School junior Heather Castle are worried the strike days could extend their school year and cut into next summer's vacation. "I think it's silly," Castle said. "They should have been able to figure it out by now."

Yet she agreed it's better to have smaller classes, which she experienced last year in her French class. "We had more one-on-one time," Castle said. "If we were struggling with vocabulary, the teacher could help me."

Melissa Wolslegel, who teaches at Spanaway’s Evergreen Elementary School, expects to have at least 30 students in her sixth-grade class this fall. She said research shows that classes of 18 to 22 elementary students per teacher result in higher achievement.

Bethel Education Association President Tom Cruver said teachers are prepared to remain on strike until they achieve what they consider is a fair contract. "I am fully convinced they have underestimated the resolve of these people," Cruver said of the district.


SEIU costs workers 50% more in California

California state workers, subjected to forced unionism, will have little to say about the new 50% increase in dues money and "fair-share" payments the SEIU has assessed upon them. Why the increase?

Local 1000 donated $6.7 million in member dues to defeat an initiative on the ballot that would have required unions to obtain written consent from members before money could be used for political purposes. That sent the union into economic chaos.

According to the Capitol Weekly (page 7), the new assessment raised dues to $90 a month leaving members upset with the decision. "To them, we are a huge ATM machine. Because of that they spend, spend, spend," said Ken Hamidi who is organizing other members to fight the dues hike. Hamidi also notes that a large portion of the dues hike goes right to SEIU headquarters in Washington, DC.

Let's get this right - the union bosses deplete the members' dues treasury to fight an initiative that would give workers choice and input into their spending decisions. Then they assess a tax on those members who have no choice so they can spend more money without member input. Sounds like a vicious cycle rectified only by passage of a Right to Work law.


Teachers ready to strike, cancel football season

After meeting for five and a half hours Wednesday night, the Barnesville (OH) Board of Education and its teachers union still have not come to terms for a new contract. That means a strike date set for Wednesday, September 5 still stands.

The school board and leaders with the Barnesville Education Association met at Barnesville Middle School while a mediator carried contract proposals and counterproposals back and forth between the two parties. At one point, the union had offered to rescind its strike notice and go into a "cooling-off" period if the board would agree to bring an arbitrator into the talks. The board rejected that proposal.

Union president Denise Leach told NEWS9 that health care remains the largest sticking point in the talks. Superintendent Randy Lucas agreed that the two sides still disagree on health care costs. Lucas told NEWS9 the board hopes to reach an agreement in one final meeting set for Tuesday, September 4, one day before the strike date.

Lucas told NEWS9 the board has authorized him to hire replacement teachers in the event of a strike. If football coaches honor the picket lines, Lucas said he would have to consider canceling the Barnesville High School football season.


National teachers union pours dues into Utah

The Utah legislature passed one of the nation's most far-sighted voucher laws in February, and the state teachers union is calling in the national cavalry to help repeal it in a November 6 referendum.

Last month Kim Campbell, the head of the Utah Education Association, schlepped all the way to Philadelphia to speak at a National Education Association convention, where she asked the board of directors for financial support to oppose school choice. Ms. Campbell promised that her campaign to defeat it "will be ugly, mean and expensive," and she needs the outside cash to overwhelm pro-voucher supporters in the state. Look for other liberal activists to pour cash into what will be the most significant state-wide ballot test for school choice in years.

The Utah union chief made her out-of-state trek, by the way, even as one of her spokesmen back home denounced the "river of money from out-of-state ideologues intent on starting a voucher experiment in Utah." Apparently, out-of-state contributions are only tainted when they're used to support something the teachers union opposes.

In any case, Ms. Campbell's plea didn't fall on deaf ears. Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, a union watchdog, reported recently that the Utah union's $3 million request for its anti-voucher campaign was approved. The union's executive director wouldn't confirm or deny the amount when we inquired, but she did volunteer that "we're reaching out to the national affiliate for support and assistance, and we're hoping it will be significant." You can bet it will be.


FEC wrist-slaps SEIU political unit

Kenneth P. Vogel of The Politico reports that America Coming Together (ACT), a group to which left wing financial powerhouses George Soros, Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are major donors, has been hit with a $775,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission for improperly using unregulated soft money to boost the Kerry campaign for president. Given the magnitude of the expenditures involved (a massive $137 million), the fine is small. Those who brought the original complaint is not happy:

"This action comes more than three years after our FEC complaints were filed and nearly three years after the 2004 presidential election was held," read a statement from Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, and Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center.

The fine amounts to one half of one percent of the illegal expenditures. That amounts to no meaningful deterrent. It barely rises to the level of an annoyance, at best a minor cost of doing business.


UAW authorizes routine Ford strike

United Auto Workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike today in the event union leaders call for such an action as negotiations proceed with Ford Motor Company, UAW Local 862 president Rocky Comito said this morning. The union's contract with Ford expires Sept. 14.

The strike vote, which took place beginning Monday afternoon through 6:30 this morning, is a routine matter during contract talks, which take place every three to four years. Of workers who voted, 97 percent said "yes" to the possibility of a strike, Comito added.

"It is what we do every time the contract is up," Comito said. "We must let our negotiators know that we are in support of them." Ford employs some 7,000 workers who assemble Explorer sport utility vehicles at the Louisville Assembly Plant and F-Series Super Duty trucks at the Chamberlain Lane factory.

Contract negotiations in Detroit come as Ford struggles to regain profitability and consumer tastes shift increasingly to smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles, with wages and health care costs key issues in the talks.

With sales of Explorers falling in half in recent years, Louisville Assembly workers also await a decision - expected by year’s end - on the fate of their factory.


Steelworkers abandon picket lines for new jobs

The grass is proving greener on the other side of the province, and beyond, for striking local Steelworkers. Bill Routley, president of Duncan-based United Steelworkers Local 1-80, says some of his 3,000 members have landed ironwork at the Cowichan Commons retail mall.

They've also found work on the Mainland’s Sea-To-Sky Highway project, and in Alberta’s booming oil patch during a lengthy strike against the Forest Industrial Relations group.

"We got quite a few jobs for our people and we're happy that’s happening," he said Tuesday, noting no new talks are booked with FIR. "We're dug in and obviously things (job action) will keep happening until we get some fairness and equity for our members." Coastal Steelworkers have been on strike since July 21, citing long shifts and safety as major issues.

The union's four-year contract with FIR - imposed by a government mediator - expired June 15.

About 1,800 of Routley's members are eligible for strike duty.

Meanwhile, local highway workers with Mainroad South Island Contracting remain off the job despite a tentative deal being reached an Interior dispute between the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union and Argo Road Maintenance.

BCGEU boss George Heyman said Tuesday no new bargaining has been set in the job action that began in May.


Cadavers held 4 months in cemetery labor impasse

With the labour impasse at Notre-Dame des Neiges cemetery in Quebec heading into its fourth month, representatives for the families waiting to lay their loved ones to rest are combing through Quebec laws dealing with burials.

Burials and cremations at the 153-year-old cemetery were halted on May 16 when management locked out its gravediggers in a labour dispute. According to Debora De Thomasis, president of the Association pour la défense des droits des défunts et des familles du Cimetière Notre-Dame des Neiges, provincial laws on inhumation and exhumation may forbid bodies to be kept in storage between May and November.

"We're been reading them and trying to see what actions we could take. It seems that it's a legal obligation to bury any individual that is presently in a [storage chamber] between May 1 and Nov. 1. So they have a legal obligation to do so. They cannot keep any bodies in any fridge or storage whatsoever between those two dates. [...] There is some legal action that can be taken and that’s what we’re studying right now," she said.

Cemetery management says it has rearranged its storage capacity during the dispute to allow for 700 bodies, which should take them through to October, if the average rate of arrival is 40 bodies per week.

Some 300 people staged a demonstration in front of the gates of the cemetery on Sunday. Cemetery workers, who picket there on a daily basis, were asked not to be there.

De Thomasis says that families are becoming increasingly angry with both the cemetery management and its 129 employees.

"The only thing we know is that [both parties are] talking. I don't know what points they’re agreeing or disagreeing on, but the union is still not satisfied with the offer that it has been given. It was refused again on Saturday. Do they have good reasons or bad reasons for refusing? I don't know and at this point, we just don’t care," she said.

"Their conflict has nothing to do with us."

At press time, Quebec Labour Minister, David Whissell, announced that the government would step in if both sides in the dispute fail to find a settlement within the next week.

De Thomasis added that the long wait has families worrying about the potential for coffin mix-ups when burials resume.

Marc Poirier, president of the Corporation des thanatologues du Québec, strongly doubts such a thing would happen. At the prompting of journalists, Poirier visited the refrigerated storage vault at the cemetery recently and said that management is following all the ethical guidelines regarding the storage and identification of remains.

However, if anyone harboured any doubts about the identity of the remains in a coffin, Poirier said they would have the right to double check.

"Once the strike is finished and burials resume, if someone has a doubt - and I don't want to suggest that there should be a doubt, on the contrary - they have the right to look. [...] People shouldn't live with that kind of doubt," he said.

The cemetery standoff does not appear to have increased the volume of burials at other Montreal cemeteries on the island. However, if the standoff continues and there is no more room to store remains at Notre-Dame des Neiges, Poirier says funeral homes would become involved.

"We would put in place the emergency plan we have for pandemics. We're talking about dealing with a huge volume of remains," he said, adding that the emergency plan has never had to be used before.


Seattle-area teachers vote to strike Wednesday

Teachers and staff members of Shoreline (WA) School District's two unions voted Wednesday night to begin a strike the day school starts next week if they fail to reach a tentative agreement on a new contract.

The majority for the strike vote was "overwhelming," said Elizabeth Beck, co-president of the Shoreline Education Association (SEA), which represents the teachers in the district. More than 85 percent of each of the two union groups approved, she said. "We did not debate long," she said. "They were very committed; they were very supportive."

School district spokesman Craig Degginger called the vote "disappointing." The district hopes to reach an agreement this weekend with the Shoreline Education Support Professionals Association and the SEA and avoid a possible strike, he said. School is scheduled to start Wednesday. If the district and unions fail to reach an agreement by 6 a.m. Tuesday, teachers and other staffers will go on strike Wednesday, Beck said.

Degginger said the district hasn't yet decided if classes will be canceled if teachers are striking, reiterating that he hopes it won't come to that.

Beck also said she hopes the strike will be averted.

"We are hopeful that we will be in our classrooms on Wednesday. We're willing to take this action in support of the future of our school district," she said.

The issue represents the latest fallout from a two-year-old financial scandal. The district discovered in 2005 that its budget team had made financial missteps that resulted in a $2.7 million deficit; Superintendent James Welsh resigned last year.

The district has made drastic cuts to try to climb out of that hole, including closing two elementary schools and cutting 40 teaching positions and eight administrators, Degginger said. The district has no reserve and is under state oversight, which means it must balance its $86 million budget, Degginger said.

Degginger wouldn't discuss the negotiations, but Beck said the district wants to fund state-mandated teacher pay raises by reducing benefits and classroom supplies and personnel.

The administration's proposal for both teachers and support staff includes cutting hours, reducing professional-development pay, increasing insurance costs and reducing assistance for special-education students, according to the SEA.


"Students and staff should be the school district's first priority," Beck said. "We feel they need to put efforts into cutting elsewhere."

Initiative 732 mandates a cost-of-living pay raise for teachers and staff members. The state funds part of that, but the district is responsible for about $750,000, of which $429,000 would go to teachers.

The teachers union in Pierce County's Bethel School District also has voted to strike. Classes were scheduled to start today, but schools will be closed, said a district official, adding that schools will likely be closed Friday as well.

The 10,000-student Shoreline district, just north of Seattle, has a good academic reputation.

Before Wednesday's strike vote, teachers and support staff had been writing letters to the Shoreline School Board and picketing summer board meetings to protest the changes proposed to their contract.

They have been negotiating with the district since March and had their last scheduled meeting with district negotiators on Monday.

They also have filed two unfair-labor-practices complaints with the state against the district over alleged threats and other actions by administrators during negotiations.

The current contract ends Friday. Teachers returned to school Tuesday to begin staff work days.


Hospital to hire scabs, lock doors against strikers

Fremont and Rideout hospitals will close some of their doors for "crowd control" during Friday's expected one-day strike by registered nurses, documents said. A packet distributed to nurses by Fremont-Rideout administration, and provided to the Appeal-Democrat, outlines procedures and answers questions for nurses about the strike day.

Information in the packet states that at Fremont Medical Center in Yuba City "all doors will be locked except for the main entry and material management wing stairwell." And, at Rideout Memorial Hospital, "all doors will be locked except for the north wing entry, main entrance main tower and the ER entry."

"Not all doors will be locked; there is no lockout," Tresha Moreland, Fremont-Rideout vice president for human resources said. "Some doors will only be locked in preparation for crowd control."

Moreland said officials are anticipating a large crowd outside the hospital, and sealing some doors would allow staff to monitor activity inside the building.

"It's all about patient care," Moreland said. "We know there will be a large crowd, and we want there to be control."

Additionally, the guide says that nurses showing up to work Friday will be required to check in at a “command center” in order to receive instructions and a badge showing security they will be working that day.

Those not showing up for work Friday will not be allowed to show up for work through Monday due to contracts with replacement nurses.

Heather Avalos, a Rideout Memorial Hospital ICU registered nurse, said she was surprised to see the precautions being taken by the hospital.

"We’re not going to get violent, but I don't know what they expect," she said. "We are professional adults. Getting violent would defeat the purpose. They're trying to say we’re not locked out but we're not allowed to return to work until Tuesday."

Avalos said nurses will strike from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at Fremont and Rideout hospitals in Yuba City and Marysville, respectively, at the Fremont-Rideout Cancer Center in Marysville and at the Feather River Surgery Center in Yuba City.

Pamphlets will be handed out and picketing will take place at these locations with signs made at the Sacramento office of the union, the California Nurses Association.

Nurses decided to strike for one day Friday after months of failed contract negotiations. Meetings with hospital administration were called off Thursday after a federal mediator said neither side would budge from their stands.

Nurses are requesting changes in "floating practices" in which nurses would only be assigned to areas similar to their expertise, staffing ratios, safe patient handling, a 7 percent pay increase and equal benefits and retirement.

Hospital officials have counter-offered a 5.5 percent pay increase for the first year and a 5 percent increase for the second year of a two-year contract. The hospital administration also said it would address patient care issues and nurses' concerns over staffing.

Nearly 75 percent of the hospital's 450 eligible nurses voted in late July on the issues. Of that 75 percent, more than 90 percent agreed with the efforts made by registered nurses and the union.

Meanwhile, Fremont-Rideout placed an online ad with Nursing Corporation for replacement nurses. The ad says replacements will be paid $40 an hour and guaranteed at least 48 hours of work with a five-day commitment.

"As nurses, we know you can work as a replacement for one day; we get faxes all the time," Avalos said. "It's a punitive action to chose to secure contracts (for five days) when it's not necessary."

Fremont-Rideout nurses will be able to report back to work on Tuesday for shift schedules.

However, in a letter released to the bargaining unit for registered nurses hospital CEO Terri Hamilton says "those who struck will be recalled according to unit of need and by seniority."

Moreland said she had not read the letter and therefore could not comment, but added it would be difficult to predict the number of affected employees until the strike happens.

"There's no way to predict the future," she said. "We won't have those numbers until Friday."

Extra security and shuttle buses will also be available for patients and working employees during the strike, the fact packet says.

Police do not have plans to increase patrol around the hospitals, but the Marysville and Yuba City departments are aware of the scheduled strikes.


Denver teachers union votes for job acton

Denver Public Schools and its teachers union have two days of failed contract talks behind them this week and no plans - yet - to meet again. Negotiators for the district and the union were unable to resolve differences on issues of pay and teaching time during mediated talks that began at 10 a.m. Monday and stretched into early Wednesday morning.

"Our hope is that we can get back to the table as quickly as possible and resolve this dispute," said Kim Ursetta, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. "Teachers have been very clear that the economic and instructional proposals on the table are not satisfactory," she said, "so we need to find a way to work with the district."

DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet said he would like to pay teachers - and other district employees - more but can't afford it. "It's a fair offer because it's everything the district can afford in our current fiscal environment," he said of the DPS proposal. "We have made teacher pay a priority. We wish we could pay more to all of our employees. As we get the district back on strong financial footing, we'll be able to do that."

Ursetta said the union bargaining team will meet today with the DCTA board of directors to talk about next steps. Next Tuesday, after school, the union will hold five meetings across the city to talk to teachers.

"We will ask them to give us some further direction about how we can resolve this," she said.

DPS has adopted a "hard line, take it or leave it" approach, Ursetta said, and has been willing to make only "minimal" changes to its offer since negotiators for the two sides last met in May.

Bennet disagreed with that characterization.

"I hope we'll be able to reach an agreement," he said. "We have a lot of things going on in DPS right now and I think it's important for us to find a way to pull together."

Union representatives for each Denver school voted Tuesday to file notice with the Colorado Department of Labor. The action is required notice of a possible job action, which can range from a rally to picketing to a strike.

Denver classroom teachers last went on strike in 1994, and Ursetta, then a first-year teacher, went with them.

"A strike is the absolute last resort of what could happen," she said. "We want to do everything to avoid a strike. Our goal is to get a settlement."

Dividing lines

Denver Public Schools and its teachers union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, were unable to resolve their differences after two days of mediated talks this week. Here's where they differ on the key issues of pay and time:


• DPS: Contends its offer will increase teacher pay, on average, by 6.2 percent. That includes a 3.6 percent cost-of-living hike plus the customary increases for experience and additional education, known as "steps and lanes." DPS says it has prioritized teacher pay by increasing it 21 percent over the past four years though revenue has gone up 13 percent and other employee groups have seen raises of 8 to 11 percent.

• DCTA: Contends the district offer only amounts to a 3.6 percent cost-of-living increase; the union is seeking a 4.47 increase. The union contends the "steps and lanes" shouldn't be counted in the offer because they're a typical part of any teachers' union contract. Using that calculation, the union says pay has increased only 1.5 percent per year over the past four years.


• DCTA: Argues teachers need more time to analyze an increased number of student assessments and to implement new district initiatives. The union offered to add three days to the school calendar - with 1.5 days for planning and 1.5 days for instruction - and be paid only two days.

• DPS: Declined the offer, with DPS leaders saying they would like a longer school year but cannot afford to pay for it. DPS estimates the additional two days would cost between $2.5 million and $3 million.

Denver Public Schools

• Students: 72,633 as of fall 2006, the most recent figures available; Colorado's second-largest school district

• Teachers: Approximately 4,100

• Schools: 155, including traditional, charter, contract, online and alternative schools

• Starting teacher salary: $34,200. Would be $35,431 under the district's pay proposal; lags districts such as Westminster, where starting pay has hit $40,000


Prison officer strike causes chaos

Chaos erupted across prisons in England and Wales today after prison officers went on strike, with one inmate found dead and others taking to the roof of a jail. Police and fire crews were called to Liverpool jail after several prisoners climbed on to the roof in the wake of the prison officers' walkout.

The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, warned earlier today that the situation in prisons across England and Wales was "potentially explosive" because record numbers of prisoners were being supervised by a handful of governors.

One of the wings at Britain's largest prison, Winson Green in Birmingham, was evacuated after an incident as cold lunches were being handed out, the BBC reported. The fire service was in attendance.

The prison governor at Liverpool jail appealed for striking officers to help to contain the situation on the roof in H wing, warning that police would have to go in.

There are just eight governors looking after 1,300 inmates at the prison, according to BBC News 24.

Prison officers on the picket line are angry that prisoners have been let out of their cells during their absence.

But a majority of the prison staff voted to send in colleagues with specialist "tornado" training in containing incidents.

However, the officers are expected to return to the picket line once the situation is resolved.

Police have surrounded the perimeter of the prison and a police helicopter has been circling overhead.

Earlier today a 39-year-old prisoner was found dead at Acklington prison in Northumberland, although staff said they did not think the incident was linked to the prison officers' strike.

A prison service spokesman said: "HMP Acklington prisoner William Stuart Laidlaw was found hanging from a ligature in his cell this morning at 9.30am. A doctor attended but Mr Laidlaw was pronounced dead at 9.50am.

"Every death in custody is a tragedy and our sympathies are with the family of Mr Laidlaw at this time. As with all deaths in custody, the prisons and probation ombudsman will conduct an investigation."

Laidlaw was convicted of aggravated burglary and sentenced to four-and-a-half years. He had previously been released on licence but was returned to prison for breach of licence conditions on July 7. He was due for release on March 26, 2009.


Government should buy health insurance for all


NJ teachers unions pressure schools

As most schools prepare to open next week, about 120 districts across the state are still negotiating teacher contracts, including 10 in Monmouth and Ocean counties, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association. "The number of school districts still at the bargaining table is common for this time of year, and the negotiations should not affect the opening of schools," said Kevin E. Ciak, the association president, in a prepared statement.

Monmouth County had 18 school districts that returned to the bargaining table this year and five - Brielle, Manalapan-Englishtown, Matawan-Aberdeen Regional, Ocean Township and Wall - are still negotiating, according to Mike Yaple, spokesman for the association. Eleven districts in Ocean County began negotiating new pacts this year, and five - Lakewood, Ocean Gate, Pinelands Regional, Stafford and Tuckerton - are still negotiating.

"Still negotiating" could mean anything from face-to-face bargaining between the local school board and teacher's union to some form of mediation, Yaple said in an e-mail.

"Until a new pact is reached, teachers are covered by the provisions in their old contracts," Ciak said. "All of their salaries, benefits and other employment protections remain in effect which is why we note that public school teachers in New Jersey never truly "work without a contract.' "

In 2001, classes were canceled in Middletown following an impasse between the Board of Education and Middletown Township Education Association. Teachers there went on strike for about a week starting at the end of November, almost five months after their contract expired.

In none of the Shore area districts has there been any mention of a strike.

Ocean County talks

In at least three of the Ocean County districts - Stafford, Pinelands Regional and Tuckerton - the existing contract expired in June, according to contracts posted on the Web site of the state Public Employment Relations Commission.

Two other Ocean County districts were also believed to be starting this school year without a ratified teachers' contract, but no information was available about the status of talks in Lakewood or Ocean Gate. The schools superintendents and Board of Education members were unavailable for comment.

In Tuckerton, lack of a teacher contract "is certainly not going to have an effect on the continuity of education," said Eric Wilhelm, 41, Board of Education vice president.

The prekindergarten through sixth-grade district enrolls 290 students in a single building, Tuckerton Elementary School.

The sticking points, Wilhelm said, are the same concerns affecting people across the state: salary increases and benefits.

"Our district is small and sometimes getting all the things one wants is not as easy as it is potentially in a larger district," Wilhelm said.

Nevertheless, Wilhelm is optimistic that differences could soon be settled.

Dave Hewitt, a fifth-grade teacher at Tuckerton Elementary, wasn't worried either.

"There was one year where we started (the school year) beyond the point of our contract," the 29-year-old said. "Hopefully, things will work out."

Wilhelm held a similar thought.

"We're going to have pretty diligent negotiations come September. The board wants something as quickly as possible," Wilhelm said.

Manalapan-Englishtown Education Association members plan to meet with district officials today to continue negotiations with a mediator appointed by the New Jersey Education Association. Both sides are hoping the meeting will end in a resolution.

Negotiations began in February and later came to a halt, said Helen Rubenstein, a member of the association's negotiations committee. She said the old contract expired June 30.

"We had hoped to end the school year with a contract but we didn't and the board refused to entertain any proposals," Rubenstein said. "It (the district's position) was basically a take it or leave it.

"When we countered with something we thought was quite reasonable, they said, "Well, I guess we're at an impasse,' and that's the way it's been," Rubenstein said.

She added the association hasn't staged a strike in more than 20 years, "and hopefully we won't have one now."

District Business Administrator Joseph Passiment said salary increases have been the major stumbling block, but that the two sides "aren't that far apart."

Both Passiment and Rubenstein said they could not comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

"I'm optimistically confident that we will bring this to a resolution shortly," Passiment said.

"These things take time"

In Brielle, where the board and the local teachers' union still had not settled a new contract, School Business Administrator Ed McManus insisted that the ongoing negotiations would not delay the start of the upcoming school year.

The previous three-year contract between the board and the teachers was up June 30, McManus said.

"As you know, these things take time," he said.

Brielle board President Ted Vitale said Tuesday he could not specify what is holding up agreement. He did say, however, that the parties involved completed their first mediation session last week and have a second scheduled for the beginning of October.

Neither Kim Dolan, president of the Brielle Education Association, nor Beth Creighton, negotiations chairwoman, could be reached for comment.

In Wall, Doug Wild, board president, said the board and teachers union have yet to reach an agreement, but the delay is the result of scheduling conflicts over the summer.

"The board's ready and willing to negotiate and has been, and the summer played into the availability of all parties," he said.

Wild said talks are still amicable.

The previous three-year contract expired June 30, he said.

Representatives for the teachers' union could not be reached.

In the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional schools, negotiations started in the winter on a contract to succeed the one that expired June 30. Represented are about 450 people, which includes teachers, drivers and custodians.

School officials said they do not expect the ongoing negotiations to affect school's opening.

Carl Kosmyna, the Matawan Regional Teachers Association union representative, was not available for comment.


Nurses ready to strike against Cal. hospital

Negotiations are off, a strike is on and accusations are flying in the labor showdown between registered nurses and Fremont-Rideout Health Group. Nurses planning a one-day strike Friday say Fremont-Rideout is locking them out by bringing in replacement nurses for five days - a charge Fremont-Rideout denies. The California Nurses Association filed an unfair labor practice complaint Tuesday.

"In our view, striking makes it necessary to find replacements," said Tresha Moreland, FRHG's vice president of human resources. "We are not locking employees out, but if they chose to remove themselves from the schedule we will exercise our right to use replacements during the strike."

According to a member of the nurses' negotiating team, a federal mediator has suspended negotiations indefinitely because neither party will budge.

The last meeting was Thursday. The final two talks, scheduled for today and Thursday, were canceled.

"The nurses gave the administration their final compromised proposal," Rideout Memorial Hospital ICU RN Heather Avalos said of a 53-page proposal. "They rejected the entire thing."

In that proposal, Avalos said nurses addressed patient care issues, including staffing ratios, "safe floating," safe patient handling, and a 7 percent pay increase, as well as uniform benefits and retirement.

An example of the proposed change in "safe floating" would see nurses trained in cancer treatment not be asked to "float" to labor and delivery when staffing is needed.

As of Aug. 21, hospital officials offered to increase the nurses' pay by 5.5 percent for the first year and 5 percent for the second year of a two-year contract. In a statement, officials also said they addressed nurses' concerns with safe floating and state-mandated staffing ratios.

About 450 nurses agree with the efforts made by the union, but not all are represented by the nurses’ association. Seventy-five percent of those nurses last month voted in favor of the union's efforts.

In preparation for the strike, hospital officials have contracted with an out-of-state agency to hire replacement nurses for a minimum of five days.

Moreland said the hospital's cost for employing out-of-state nurses isn't known because the number of nurses who will be involved in the strike is not known.

Replacement nurses "have no interest in the community or what's going on," Avalos said.

According to Avalos, nurses received written notice that replacement nurses will be at the hospitals for five days.

"We're going to be locked out for four additional days," she said. "They are requiring us to show up for work, even if we're not scheduled, to tell us what days we will be working."

Liz Jacobs of the CNA said the out-of-state replacement nurses are unnecessary.

"A one-day strike can be handled locally instead of spending valuable money on out-of-state nurses," Jacobs said.

Hospital officials, however, said they are not "locking" anyone out, but if nurses choose not to show up to work on strike day they will be forced to use replacement nurses through the weekend.

The union filed complaints Tuesday with the National Labor Relations Board against Fremont-Rideout for unfair labor practices and alleged harassment.

The complaint says Fremont-Rideout is disciplining RNs for union activity, interrogating nurses about the union and plans to strike, and ordering pro-union members to not speak about the union on hospital premises, while anti-union nurses are able to speak out.

Avalos said she's seen such activity firsthand, but declined to give details pending an investigation by the federal board.

Moreland would not comment on allegations, but said the hospital will respond to the NLRB in an appropriate forum.

Nurses plan to picket 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at Fremont and Rideout hospitals in Yuba City and Marysville, respectively, as well as the Fremont-Rideout Cancer Center and the Feather River Surgery Center. They will also be handing out pamphlets and information on the strike, Avalos said.


Workers protected from unions by Right to Work laws

Texans have a long and proud tradition of supporting freedom of choice for workers when it comes to union membership. But the Texas Right to Work law – which makes it illegal to compel employees to pay union dues just to get or keep a job – is under attack.

In fact, Texas labor union officials are openly defying the law across the state and bullying workers who resist. These union bosses claim that the law does not apply to certain employees - simply because they say so.

In Corpus Christi, union officials ordered Carlos Banuelos and other guards at a Department of Homeland Security facility to pay union dues or be fired. Mr. Banuelos paid the money under protest while he challenged this extortion before the National Labor Relations Board with free legal help from the National Right to Work Foundation.

However, for veteran El Paso security guard Juan Vielma, the situation was worse. Mr. Vielma was indefinitely "suspended" in June 2006 without pay for refusing to pay dues. Without income for more than a year, Mr. Vielma faced mounting debt and declining health from the emotional strain. And because union officials had him "suspended" - not technically fired - Mr. Vielma was ineligible for any unemployment benefits.

But Mr. Vielma stood strong and fought back. Despite all the hardship, Mr. Vielma proudly told his hometown paper, "I work to get paid; I don't pay to work."

After a yearlong legal battle, National Right to Work Foundation attorneys secured Mr. Vielma's reinstatement and back pay after an NLRB administrative law judge agreed that union bosses unlawfully demanded that he pay dues. But union lawyers are appealing.

Meanwhile, Mr. Banuelos' case is heading for similar prosecution after foundation attorneys filed charges at the agency for him.

A recent admission hints that these violations of Texas' Right to Work law are just the tip of the iceberg. A lawyer for Mr. Vielma's employer admitted the company has contracts "across the country in right-to-work states" that require employees to pay dues.

With such a gutsy admission, Texans would be right to wonder just how many other employees around their state have suffered the same fate as Juan Vielma. More action is needed to put union officials on notice that trampling the Right to Work law won't be tolerated. The Texas attorney general should investigate this scheme statewide and prosecute every violation.

If the Texas Right to Work law isn't vigorously enforced, union officials will be emboldened, with dire economic consequences for the state. Right-to-work laws are an economic boon. In a recent special on CNBC, Texas was rated as the second best state in which to do business. Texas and the other top six states are all longtime right-to-work states.

In fact, according to the U.S. Labor Department, in the past decade, private sector employment grew by 23 percent in Texas and by 20 percent in right-to-work states overall, about double the rate in non-right-to-work states.

States without right-to-work laws have also suffered in terms of real income growth. Between 1995 and 2005, right-to-work states experienced a 37 percent growth in real personal income, while forced unionism states experienced only 26 percent growth in real personal income – 5 percentage points below the national average.

Texans can't afford to let union bosses lead Texas down the path of struggling states like Michigan, New York and New Jersey, which have given big labor a stranglehold over their workers, their economies and their politics.

The Lone Star State's Right to Work law must be defended to the hilt. Hard-working employees and the Texas economy cannot afford anything else.


Oregon taxpayers lay down for unions

New labor contracts hashed out this summer give most Oregon state employees raises totaling about 6 percent over the next two years. But the real bonus is in the benefits: The state will continue to shoulder the entire cost of health care premiums for employees and their families, an increasingly rare perk in either the private or public sectors as the price of health insurance skyrockets.

Last year, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported Oregon was one of five states to pick up the tab for premiums, which can run about $1,000 a month for a family of four. Today, it's one of only three. It's more common for states to pay for individual employees, but not their families, says Richard Cauchi, the group's health program director.

"It is not just expensive, but increasingly, almost agonizingly expensive for employers who are trying to provide 100 percent coverage," he says. The 2007-09 labor contracts with biggies Service Employees International Union Local 503 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees cover about 22,000 workers - many of the state's 37,000 workers, not including university faculty and staff.

The state has about half a dozen contracts left to negotiate, says Sue Wilson, human resources manager at the state's Department of Administrative Services. Public-school teachers negotiate separately with school districts.

A typical SEIU or AFSCME member earns $38,000 to $43,000 a year. The state payout for health care is the same, whether the employee is a custodian who earns $21,600 a year or a physician who makes $132,000.

Even with the cost-of-living raises, labor representatives say state worker pay still lags behind other states. Salaries for Oregon workers were frozen in fiscal 2003-05 when a recession scrambled the state's ability to keep schools and other public services open. State workers received salary increases of 2 percent in 2005 and 2006.

This year, their pay will go up 3 percent and another 3.2 percent in November 2008.

Wilson says state officials preserved health benefits in part because of Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a former labor lawyer who has also made health care a priority of his administration.

The unions made clear "it was their absolutely No. 1 priority over and above salaries, and the governor really wanted to use the resources available to meet that No. 1 priority," Wilson says, adding that state workers have sought benefits over pay increases.

Critics counter that Kulongoski is bowing to public unions that helped put him in office, and that the benefits and salary increases are unsustainable and unfair.

"Taxpayers see the cost of government go up and up, but their family budget is not increasing at the same rate," says Jason Williams, director of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon.

Like Oregon, North Dakota will continue to pay health care premiums for state employees and their families, says a spokesman for the governor. Oklahoma's full health benefits cover about 95 percent of its 37,000 workers, says Colleen Dame, deputy director of the state's benefits and contracts administration.

That's no longer the case in New Jersey, where state workers will see 1.5 percent of their annual salaries go toward health insurance -- saving the state an estimated $60 million annually. New Hampshire also started requiring employee contributions in July.

George Crosiar, a deputy state fire marshal in Oregon and AFSCME member, says workers value health benefits so much because insurance costs seem impossible to rein in.

"You feel like you're at the whim of whatever the health industry wants to do with premiums," he says.


Historic Colonial Williamsburg preps for UFCW protest

A protest march with placards, puppets and up to 500 participants is expected to stop traffic downtown this afternoon and draw police on horseback and motorcycles. The march led by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is slated to start at 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church on Scotland Street. It will run through Colonial Williamsburg's Merchants Square and Historic Area on its way to the Williamsburg Lodge, where Smithfield Foods is holding its annual meeting.

"Our biggest concern is getting these people safely through town with the least disruption possible for the people who work and live here," said Maj. Jay Sexton of the Williamsburg Police Department. "We don't expect any problems. This group has protested in many cities before."

March participants want Smithfield to allow a union vote at the company's pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C. The company's annual meeting often attracts protests. Last year, more than 300 union activists descended on Richmond, where they wore "Justice at Smithfield" shirts and chanted slogans at Smithfield's attendees.

Sexton said police would provide lead and tail escorts for the march. Officers also will be stationed at intersections and at the Williamsburg Lodge for traffic control, he said. Sexton said the city's police department is working with five to 10 mounted officers from Virginia Beach and Colonial Williamsburg's security staff, and Virginia State Police will be on standby.

City officials have told organizers that the march formation should be reasonably compact and measure about 10 people across. The city has issued a special event permit for the march that allows for up to 500 participants.

Before the march starts at 1 p.m., organizers expect for busloads of protesters to arrive about 10 a.m. and take part in a welcome event at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church. They also have planned an interfaith celebration at noon at the church.

The march will head east down Prince George Street with a short stop planned at the Genuine Smithfield Ham Shoppe, a new Smithfield Foods specialty store on Prince George Street that hasn't opened for business yet. It will head south on Nassau Street, east on Francis Street and then south on South England Street. Another stop is planned at 2 p.m. by the Williamsburg Lodge for the presentation of a petition demanding a union vote and union contract.

After stopping at the lodge, the protesters expect to head west on Newport Avenue to Bicentennial Park, where they will hold a rally at 2:30 p.m. Participants are slated to get back on board their buses at 3:15 p.m. The city's permit calls for the protests to end by 3:30 p.m.

Colonial Williamsburg struck a diplomatic note when asked about the march. CW spokesman Tom Shrout said in a statement, "Numerous businesses, organizations and groups book meetings and conferences at properties operated by Colonial Williamsburg. The UFCW is expressing an opinion about a company which happens to be meeting at the Williamsburg Lodge."


Vancouver gov't union strike could worsen

Vancouver's nearly six-week-old municipal strike may soon hit the city with a renewed wave of inconveniences. "When the fall starts, people get ready to go back to school and ready to consider new recreational activities," said Susan Mundick, general manager of Vancouver's Park Board.

September is traditionally a busy month at community centres, she said, with children eager to sign up for sports, parents searching for daycares and countless others signing up for courses. Mundick said that because of the strike, municipal arenas and community centres remain closed, and workers haven't maintained sports fields.

Today, the City of Vancouver said it had not yet responded to a counter-offer from Vancouver's striking inside workers, making it almost certain the dispute will last beyond Labour Day.

Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 15, representing Vancouver's inside workers, issued the counter-offer on Monday saying it was willing to meet at the bargaining table almost immediately.

The union, along with Vancouver's other striking locals, are planning a march on City Hall on Wednesday.

The strike has left the city's soccer fields in such a poor state some games will have to be cancelled and other venues found, said Peter Buree, of the Vancouver Youth Soccer Association.

Buree said the fields are unsafe because possible hazards, such as holes, rocks or sprinkler heads, are hidden by the long grass.

He added many fields also don't have goal posts installed.

As a solution, the 4,000-player boys' league will move some games to Vancouver's gravel fields. In other cases, he said, teams will ask competitors to play games on their fields instead.

Herb Lee, coordinator for the Vancouver Adult Co-ed Hockey League, said games might have to be postponed if the strike drags on.

Unlike many other local leagues, he said the VACHA plays all its games on Vancouver's municipal rinks.

"People are trying to sign up but there is no one at the community centres" to take their names, said Lee, who added the season is tentatively set to begin in early October.

The rink closures will also mean skating programs may have to be delayed, Mundick said.

Of course the Labour Day end to summer vacations means more than just a return to fall and winter sports. Many parents who traditionally rely on city-affiliated child-care facilities will have to find other options.

Mundick said community centres across Vancouver house licensed child-care programs for about 1,350 children.

The fall also means an increase in programming at the city's arts venues, such as the Orpheum, where city managers have been scrambling to find new venues for shows that would otherwise have to be cancelled.


Hollywood labor tension put into sharp focus

For 40 days, the children of "Kid Nation" hauled wagons, cooked meals, managed stores and cleaned outhouses, all in the name of building a society in front of reality TV cameras. Were they working? There doesn't seem to be a simple answer. But what is clear is that CBS' new reality venture, which placed 40 children on a New Mexico ranch without any contact with their parents, has become a flash point in a television genre actors and writers have long blamed for taking jobs from them.

Scheduled to premiere Sept. 19, "Kid Nation" has become the subject of several official investigations, highlighting some of the inherent problems in reality television, which keeps costs down by avoiding paying writers and actors.

The stakes are high for the networks that profit from the entertainment and for the Hollywood guilds that have joined the "Kid Nation" fight as the industry girds for a possible strike this year. To make their larger point about reality television, the guilds have seized on "Kid Nation" with its added dose of controversy - the welfare of children.

"To me, this is the sweatshop of the entertainment industry," said Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director of Writers Guild of America, West.

"What's happened with 'Kid Nation' is typical and universal, but then it's that much worse because it's about children. The exposure that reality television is getting as a result of the 'Kid Nation' case really has much greater import in the big picture."

It's also shined a light on the common network practice of creating subsidiary companies that can contract with production companies that are not bound by union labor laws and can shield networks from having their corporate image tarnished.

"This is an area that the networks don't really want to talk about because they don't want to address the manner in which they try to divorce themselves from legal responsibility or moral responsibility for the conditions on the shows," Hermanson said.

"The purpose of using these companies is to distance themselves from any liability for labor practices or lawsuits of any kind," he said. "But it's an insidious practice in my opinion because when you look at who is deriving the benefit ... it leads right to the network's door."

A complaint charging "abuse and neglect" by the mother of a 12-year-old girl who was burned in the face while cooking was made public last week. New Mexico Atty. Gen. Gary King said he will investigate whether producers lawfully kept state inspectors, who wanted to review work permits for the children, from the site. CBS lawyers maintain that no work permits were needed because the children were "participating," and not working, during the filming of the program.

The Screen Actors Guild joined the fray Monday, having received a barrage of calls from parents, members and former young performers who "called and yelled at us because they were really appalled at the way these kids were treated," said Pamm Fair, SAG's deputy national executive director.

The guild looked at the contract between parents and producers, she said, "and it's been a long time since we've seen such egregious provisions for any performer, let alone children."

"We have a lot of people who are very upset about this show," she added, "so there may be action down the line to let the network know that people are unhappy about the treatment of children and how it's reflected in the series."

SAG is following the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which announced Friday that it was looking into reports of abuse of children on the set. AFTRA covers the host and announcer of "Kid Nation," and the organization is reviewing the contract between the children and the production.

Although the CBS Corp. board of directors has not met on the issue, board member Linda Griego said members are making inquiries to make sure the laws were followed.

CBS owns the copyright to the show through a subsidiary company, Magic Molehill Productions Inc., which was incorporated in 1995 and has held copyrights to other reality fare on CBS and the CW, the network CBS co-owns with Warner Bros. CBS contracted with Good TV Inc., which belongs to Tom Forman, the creator of "Kid Nation," to produce the show.

Although Magic Molehill is a non-union entity, Good TV had agreements with AFTRA to cover the "Kid Nation" host and announcer, with the Director's Guild of America for the show's director and with the Teamsters to cover the drivers. But the production crew was non-union.

CBS officials declined to comment about Magic Molehill except to acknowledge that it's a copyright holder for "Kid Nation" and other shows.

Since "Survivor" premiered on CBS in 2000, reality TV has been the prickly stepchild of the networks. Reality shows can yield a hefty bounty for networks and producers when the shows hit big. But, over the years, as the genre has produced everything from the Emmy-winning "The Amazing Race" to "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance," skepticism has grown about the "realness" of the shows.

Producers have admitted to writing scenarios that contestants are asked to carry out. And contestants have revealed that they work long hours and are often asked to do different takes of scenes to make them more interesting or controversial.

For these reasons, union representatives argue that the shows have writers who should be compensated according to union guidelines and that some contestants are performers who could be covered under collective bargaining agreements.

Two suits are pending in California Superior Court on behalf of groups of reality show producers and writers who are charging several production companies and TV networks with violations of labor laws governing overtime, wages and meal periods.

Like the amateur contestants on game shows, each child on "Kid Nation" received a $5,000 stipend -- "as a thank-you for participating," Forman said -- and some won prizes of $20,000 or more. The participants, ages 8 to 15, hailed from 15 states, excluding California and New York, which have some of the strictest labor laws in the country.

In an interview Aug. 9, Forman said he avoided children from those states because, "as we looked at the labor issues, there were some issues there." But, he said, "I was OK with it too, because that's where I thought we would find kids in the entertainment business, not the all-American kids we were looking for that I think the viewers would relate to."

Although only one child from the "Kid Nation" cast has turned out to be a professional actor, almost half have expressed interest in performing or acting. In interviews, some of the children and parents have said the children did not "work" when they were filmed for 14 hours or more a day because they set their own hours and decided for themselves what chores to do.

In statements to the press last week, CBS expressed support for its show and production. Forman also said in interviews that the children "were not taken advantage of."

"I think that some of the controversy comes from people who don't believe that kids are as capable as I know they are," Forman said. "I saw it in my own kids and I saw it in these kids, that if you let them step up and take responsibility, they are smarter than anyone gives them credit for."

But to get what they want, reality show producers cite documentary filmmaking as their inspiration and claim their shows are more just than a form of entertainment, said Mark Andrejevic, author of "Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched."

"In order to legitimate the free labor that they extract from cast members, every reality show producer claims that this is some kind of experience where people grow and learn about themselves," he said. "The producers rely on the tradition of the documentary to make this seem like it's not exploitation when the only true commitment they have is to turn a profit."

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