BC foresters bypass Steelworkers bosses

Thousands of logging and sawmill workers on the British Columbia coast were close to a massive strike today, even as TimberWest Forest Corp. made its workers a lucrative last-ditch offer. The company offered its workers a $100,000 signing bonus and an 11 per cent pay boost over the next five years, and said it intends to apply to the B.C. Labour Relations Board for a final offer vote that would give its employees a chance to vote directly on the offer if it is rejected by the union.

That move would essentially cut the United Steelworkers out of the loop after it issued a 72-hour strike notice for TimberWest employees on Monday. Union negotiators are likely to reject the offer, which also contains language allowing TimberWest to significantly change the way it deals with logging contractors.

TimberWest spokesman Steve Lorimer said language change is necessary.

"The coastal industry is in a crisis and we need to make some substantive changes to allow our industry to be competitive in a world market," he said.

The 7,000 workers for TimberWest, Island Timberlands LP, International Forest Products Ltd. (Interfor) and 31 other coastal foresters -- represented by company bargaining group Forest International Relations -- have been without a contract since mid-June. Talks have broken down with all of the employers except for Interfor, which has a bargaining session scheduled for Wednesday.

The continued survival of those talks has kept the entire coast off picket lines, since the union has been loath to injure Interfor's operations by striking employees who do contract work for the company.

But Interfor negotiator Andy Smith said on Tuesday that could soon change.

"I have alerted our management people that it's well within the realm of possibly that we are going to impasse tomorrow and we would see a strike notice," he said.


IAM Local 2061 suspected in strike-related violence

A United Space Alliance worker who crossed the picket line reported that his home and car were vandalized over the weekend. James Celli of Port St. John walked out of his house early Sunday morning and found all four tires on his 2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo flattened, and the words "USA Scab" scrawled in black spray paint all over his vehicle, according to the complaint. He also found the word “scab” scrawled on his garage.

The 570-member International Association of Machinists Local 2061 has been on strike since June 14. Union officials have said the issues with USA are wide-ranging, such as retirement benefits, wage increases, performance bonuses and health care insurance. Contract negotiations have stalled.

Celli told deputies he worked at USA and had recently crossed the picket line to go back to work. He joined about 16 percent of the space shuttle program workers at Kennedy Space Center who returned to the job, some for financial reasons. They each receive $150 each week from the union while on strike.

Deputies turned over the complaint to the general crimes unit, who will investigate.


Democrats propose significant spending cut

The new Democratic Congress has finally found a government agency whose budget It wants to cut: an obscure Labor Department office that monitors the compliance of unions with federal law. In the past six years, the Office of Labor Management Standards, or OLMS, has helped secure the convictions of 775 corrupt union officials and court-ordered restitution to union members of over $70 million in dues. The House is set to vote Thursday on a proposal to chop 20% from the OLMS budget. Every other Labor Department enforcement agency is due for a budget increase, and overall the Congress has added $935 million to the Bush administration's budget request for Labor. The only office the Democrats want to cut back is the one engaged in union oversight.

Although Congress has long insisted on copious reporting by corporations, including the burdens of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, lawmakers have been relatively nonchalant about union reporting. Unlike the quarterly filings of corporations, unions must only file once a year with the Labor Department using a free software program. They don't have to get an independent certified audit, are only rarely audited by the government, and don't have to follow standard accounting methods.

OLMS, the Labor office that watches over union disclosure forms, says that last year 93% of unions met its reporting requirements. But the other 7% deserve scrutiny. Union members deserve to know how their dues are spent. They might want to know that in 2005, the National Education Association gave more than $65 million to Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and dozens of other liberal advocacy groups that have nothing to do with the interests of teachers. In 2006, 49 individuals employed at the national AFL-CIO headquarters were paid more than $130,000. "Union members are also discovering the extent to which their dues money is funding lavish trips for union officials to luxury resorts and other expensive perks unrelated to collective bargaining," says Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

The OLMS reporting requirements date back to the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, the last major revision of federal labor law. The American Law Encyclopedia notes that then-Sen. John F. Kennedy "was instrumental in inserting title I of the act, which has been dubbed the union bill of rights." It mandated that union votes be by secret ballot, that unions file reports on large payments and loans to union officers, and that all members have access to union financial records and the right to recover misappropriated union assets. Its provisions led directly led to the creation of the Labor Department office that Democrats now consider the lone example of bloated government.

Far from oppressing unions with burdensome reporting requirements, the Office of Labor Management Standards is doing what governments often do best: provide information and punish people who abuse the public trust. It has posted an impressive array of data on union governance at its Web site, unionreports.gov, where any dues-paying member can access it.

Investigations conducted by OLMS also have led to an impressive list of successful prosecutions of union officials. Just last week Willie Haynes, a member of the Saginaw, Mich., City Council who also served as a United Auto Workers financial secretary, pleaded guilty to falsifying his union local's reports. In May, Chuck Crawley, a former Teamster's local president in Houston, was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison for stuffing a ballot box so he could be elected president of his union local and embezzling dues money.

GOP Rep. John Kline of Minnesota will offer an amendment Thursday to restore $3 million of the $11 million planned cutback in OLMS's budget, so its budget would merely be restored to its 2007 level. Whatever sums are spent on union disclosure reports appear to be a good investment. Unions held $22 billion in assets in 2005, and you'd think that a modest enforcement budget, representing less than 0.003% of that amoun,t shouldn't be the only target for cuts by budget appropriators.

Union officials have publicly stated that they believe many of OLMS's requirements are burdensome and unnecessary. Since unions helped elect the current Congress, they are now seeking action on their agenda, which ranges from holding fewer secret ballot elections to cutting back on the oversight that is at the heart of the 1959 union "bill of rights" that JFK championed.


Teamsters well-prepared to deal with scab drivers

The 62-year-old man arrested last week in Castro Valley on suspicion of shooting at a garbage truck now faces felony charges. Judge Roy Hashimoto on Monday charged John Francis Boyle of Castro Valley with four felony counts, including assault with a deadly weapon, throwing a projectile with intent to cause great bodily injury, possession of armor-piercing ammunition and possession of a silencer.

During the arrest, sheriff's investigators reportedly found 22 weapons in Boyle's possession, including 16 pistols, five rifles, a shotgun and the wrist rocket. Most of the weapons were registered, said sheriff's Lt. Kelly Miles. While possessing this many firearms - if they are registered - is not against the law and is quite common across the country, Miles said, it is unusual for someone to take aim at a garbage truck.

Boyle, a retired former shop steward for a trucking company, was released on $60,000 bail. On Friday, Alameda County sheriff's deputies arrested Boyle after he admitted to shooting a projectile at the window of the truck that morning. The Sheriff's Office received a call at 10:30 a.m. reporting possible shots fired as a Waste Management driver was picking up garbage on Nichandros Street.

After being taken to the sheriff's substation in unincorporated San Leandro, Boyle reportedly told investigators he shot the projectile because he was angry with Waste Management for locking out its workers.

Sheriff's investigators still have not determined what kind of projectile pierced the window of the garbage truck. The driver was not injured in the incident, but investigators said Monday that Boyle admitted firing it from a wrist rocket, a type of high-velocity slingshot.

Usually, people will fire weapons out of anger at fire trucks or police cars without being caught, Miles said.

"But not too many people take these type of ... shots at garbage truck drivers," he said.

The labor dispute between Waste Management of Alameda County and Teamsters Union Local 70, which has left trash piling up all over the East Bay, probably just compounded Boyle's anger, and the garbage truck became the target of his aggression, Miles said. The heightened attention to the lockout also made it easier for Boyle to get arrested, the lieutenant added.


L.A. port clerk negotiations postponed

After hours of negotiations, office clerks at the nation's largest port complex and their employers agreed to postpone talks because the lead negotiator for the companies needed to handle a family medical issue. The parties have been at the bargaining table since Sunday afternoon, attempting to reach a settlement and avert a possible shutdown of the docks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Talks were scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.

The office clerical unit of Local 63, a division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, submitted its latest proposal Monday evening, and by the time the talks broke off, the shipping companies and terminal operators were considering it.

The 15,000-member ILWU has indicated that longshoremen would honor picket lines if the 750 clerks strike, which would effectively shut down loading and unloading operations at the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Local 63 clerical union president John Fageaux declined to provide specifics of the union's latest proposal, but said there were sticking points on wages, job security and health and pension benefits. He said the union initially decided to submit a "last, best and final offer" Monday afternoon but changed its mind later in the day.

Steve Berry, lead negotiator for the 14 marine terminal operators and other firms who employ the office clerks, said one counterproposal was given to the union around 6 p.m.

"We're working hard. We just keep going," said Berry, who had to attend to the family medical issue.

The port complex accounts for 40 percent of all the cargo container traffic coming into the United States.

A work stoppage could create ripple effects throughout many industries that depend on timely movement of cargo. It also would come as the ports enter their busy pre-holiday season, when shippers depend on the facilities to handle imports.

The clerks work at marine terminals and handle bookings for the export of cargo and other transport documents.

Under their most recent contract, full-time, port clerical workers earned about $37.50 an hour, or $78,000 a year. They also receive a pension, health care benefits free of premiums, and 20 paid holidays a year.

Berry said the employers' latest offer included raises that over the life of a three-year contract would bump the employees' hourly pay to $39.50; the union is seeking increases that would equal $53 per hour by the last year of the contract.

In 2002, longshore workers across the West Coast were locked out for 10 days over a contract dispute. The shutdown cost the nation's economy an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion a day.


Gov. welcomes first UFW contract in Oregon

The United Farm Workers and Threemile Canyon Farms - at 93,000 acres one of the largest dairying operations in the region - ended years of often-bitter conflict on Monday by announcing a three-year labor agreement. It was the UFW's first contract in Oregon and the largest agricultural work agreement ever reached in the state. Gov. Ted Kulongoski had favored an agreement, saying it could provide a stable framework for Oregon's agricultural sector.

“This is an important milestone for Threemile Canyon Farms,” said Marty Myers, general manager at Oregon's largest dairy operation, which employs about 250 mostly Hispanic workers. He said it ends all disputes and provides for internal resolution of future conflicts.

Some employees had filed lawsuits alleging wrongful firing and gender discrimination.

“Just as we remember our past,” said Arturo Rodriguez, UFW President, “we recognize that this agreement blazes a new agricultural path into the 21st century.”

“We look forward to working with Threemile Canyon Farms and joining in the promotion of their fine agricultural products.”

During the dispute, which began with the UFW's first organizing attempts in 2003, the union urged companies not to buy from Threemile Canyon, located near the Columbia River town of Boardman about 150 miles east of Portland.

A major dairy client for Threemile Canyon, which began operations in 2000, has been the Tillamook cheese factory on the Oregon Coast.

Key provisions of the new labor contract define mutual rights and obligations. Neither side can take labor issues to third parties not associated with the company or the union and the contract provides for a family medical plan. It makes provisions for employee advancement and training and establishes a code of employee conduct.

The contract represents the first large-scale union contract on an Oregon farm, although the Woodburn-based Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, or PCUN, has signed several smaller contracts in the Willamette Valley.

Threemile Canyon talks were complicated by the fact that Oregon has no collective-bargaining laws for farm workers. Attempts to pass such laws usually failed because unions considered them as unduly favoring farmers.

Steve Witte, the union's regional director for the Pacific Northwest, said Monday that a number of factors led to the agreement but said the immigration issue played a key role.

Big agriculture, he said, is concerned about a decreasing traditional workforce because of the border situation.

However the immigration issue settles out, he said, agriculture will have to begin looking at things in a new way.

“For agriculture to compete locally and globally you need a steady workforce,” he said.

“Threemile Canyon is not unskilled labor. Workers have specific and not easily replaced skills. It becomes a matter of protecting that workforce.”

NC moves to embrace collective bargaining

A nearly 50-year-old ban on collective bargaining by hundreds of thousands of state and local government employees would be abolished from state law in a bill that cleared a House judiciary committee Tuesday. The measure doesn't require all governments to enter into contracts or meet with their workers to discuss how workers will be paid or treated. But it would order the Office of State Personnel to set up a process by next spring to certify employee organizations to participate in state negotiations.

North Carolina and Virginia are the only states that expressly ban state and local governments from entering into collective bargaining deals with their employees. A United Nations agency earlier this year urged North Carolina to remove its 1959 ban.

"Why should public employees not be able to meet with their employers and talk about conditions of employment?" asked Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, a primary sponsor of the bill and chairman of the committee that approved the bill on a divided voice vote. "It would allow concerted activity and negotiations between public employees and their employers."

The bill still faces a long road toward approval by the close of the two-year legislative session in 2008, let alone by adjournment this summer. It appeared the measure had missed a May legislative deadline to be considered now, but sponsors added a $100,000 appropriation to the bill to avoid the cutoff, surprising both supporters and opponents.

"We had worked very hard to keep that bill in that committee," said Paul Meyer, an attorney for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, which opposes the idea because "we've had a system that's worked for years and years and years in North Carolina and worked quite well."

North Carolina and South Carolina tied for last among the states in 2006 in the percentage of the overall work force that are union members at 3.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many lawmakers also have said a change isn't needed. The State Employees Association of North Carolina and organized labor consider the committee's passage a victory because they have emphasized the ban's removal during lobbying this year.

"Typically, policy decisions like this take more than one legislative session," said Dana Cope, executive director of the association, which lobbies for workers but is not a union.

Cope said the change would ensure that salaries, health care and retirement for state workers would be a top priority by requiring the state to negotiate with employees first instead of taking whatever lawmakers choose to give them.

"North Carolina public employees are one step closer to getting their freedom ... instead of 'collective begging' for the leftover budget scraps," he said.

The bill's next stop would be the House Appropriations Committee, where Blue said its future was unclear. It would also have to pass the full House and Senate.

Gov. Mike Easley, who signed an executive order last year designed to improve communications between state government and employee groups, would be asked to sign the bill into law. Easley wants to see details before commenting on the measure, spokesman Seth Effron said.

The International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency that promotes social justice and labor rights worldwide, agreed in March that North Carolina's complete ban runs counter to principles of freedom of association and the right that unions have to seek and improve living and working conditions for employees they represent.


Oregon backs SEIU, denies workers a choice

A state board has rejected an attempt by some Oregon Department of Transportation workers to form their own union and sever ties with the largest state-employee union. The Employment Relations Board dismissed a petition by the ODOT workers to separate from Local 503 of Service Employees International Union and create an independent Oregon Workers Union.

Most of the 1,900 workers are in Highway Division offices and shops statewide. SEIU would have been left with more than 800 ODOT employees in Driver and Motor Vehicle Services, a division excluded from the separation petition filed about two years ago. "The proposed bargaining unit would undermine the board's anti-fragmentation policies," the board's order said. It was made public last week.

"The Highway Division employees do not have a community of interest that is clearly distinct from other ODOT employees or from the other employees in the main bargaining unit. Nor are there other compelling reasons to establish a separate unit of Highway Division employees."

The board oversees the state collective-bargaining law for public employees. SEIU challenged the workers' petition. The case was argued Aug. 16, 2006, and closed when final written arguments were filed Jan. 11.

Craig Chadwick, a spokesman for the ODOT workers, said they will abandon their effort to form their own union but will continue to fight within the existing union.

"There's nothing to be gained by dwelling too long on the loss or licking wounds. There is still much work to do," he said in a statement posted on the workers' Web site.

"I am just so proud of all the people who worked so hard and gave so much in service to their brothers and sisters in ODOT Local 730 and this battle against a recalcitrant SEIU leadership for a member-run union outside SEIU."

SEIU Local 503 represents more than 40 percent of all state workers, and reached a tentative agreement with the state last week on a new two-year contract.

The Highway Division and DMV Services workers became part of the larger SEIU Local 503 in 1981. But Highway Division workers retained their historic designation as Local 730, and DMV workers as Local 735.

Kermit Meling, an ODOT worker and vice president of SEIU Local 730, hopes for reconciliation.

"I'm just glad this is finally behind us so we can focus on rebuilding ... unity among members," Meling said Monday. "I have great respect for some of the people involved in that effort. But it's time to focus on unification and work for better working conditions."


Locked-out strikers picket New Zealand hospitals

Spotless, and its employees - about a third of the country's public hospital service workers - have been at loggerheads over the company's refusal to sign an agreement reached between district health boards, three other contracting companies and the remaining two thirds of the workforce. Threatened strike action by the workers last week was superseded by lockout action from the company, which said the strikes posed a health and safety hazard for the hospitals.

The Service and Food Workers' Union (SFWU) appealed the lockout to the Employment Court, but the court confirmed health and safety grounds were sufficient to warrant the action.

A temporary stay on the lockout notices over the weekend was removed last night after mediation failed to resolve the situation, and workers were again locked out from midnight.

Spotless spokesman Peter Jennings said the union had refused to withdraw the strike notices and negotiate details of an agreement, despite Spotless making key concessions and guarantees about wages.

He said the starting position for bargaining was that Spotless staff would receive the same base rate, penal rates and overtime rates as those paid by the DHBs and there would be opportunities for some to receive more.

The company was also keen to discuss a targeted link between pay and competencies for new employees and senior staff, but Mr Jennings said the union didn't seem to be interested in that.

SFWU spokesman Alastair Duncan said the company had not been forthcoming on details around its pay offer.

The company had a poor track record on pay, and had come to mediation unwilling to change its position.

"Once again they are standing outside the framework of a national settlement reached with every other employer in the sector."

The union's workers were now facing 14 days of lockout notices - matching the original strike notices.

There were no immediate plans to resume mediation.

Mr Duncan called on the district health boards to pull their contractor into line.

"We'll be raising the importance of the DHBs taking interventionist action with Spotless and telling them we don't want our hospitals turned into a place of conflict," he said.

A helpline had been set up to raise donations for the locked out workers.

Affected hospitals are Invercargill, Palmerston North, Hastings, Wanganui, Tauranga, Rotorua, North Shore, Waitakere, Middlemore, North Shore, Whangarei and Northland.


Teamsters Local 26 lose dues income to plant closing

The bankrupt owner of three auto-parts plants in Rantoul, Illinois now says the facilities will close at the end of August unless they are sold. Most of the roughly 475 people who work at the plants will be laid off beginning Aug. 17 and the plants will close Aug. 31, a Collins & Aikman Corp. executive said in letters dated Friday and sent to the city of Rantoul and the employees' union.

Financing from the company's customers, which has allowed Collins & Aikman to continue operating, ends at the end of August. "The plant closing and layoffs will be permanent," wrote Mark Leyda, the Southfield, Mich.-based company's executive vice president of human resources.

Patrick Gleason, president of Teamsters Local 26, which represents most of the Rantoul workers, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press Monday.

The letters followed similar correspondence sent to Rantoul leaders earlier this month warning that closure was coming. Village Administrator David Johnston said Monday it only confirmed what he and others expected.

"August 31st, folks, it's over," he said.

Rantoul is organizing a job fair to help people who lose jobs find new ones, he said, and already has heard from some potential employers with openings.

The Rantoul plants are part of Collins & Aikman's plastics business, which manufactures auto trim such as consoles and door panels. Collins & Aikman spokesman David Youngman said Monday that the company continues to talk with potential buyers.

He has declined to identify all but Cadence Innovation LLC, a Troy, Mich.-based company with which Collins & Aikman reached a tentative deal in April - when the Rantoul plants employed more than 700 people. That agreement fell through in June.

Collins & Aikman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2005, but last year abandoned plans to reorganize its business and began selling assets to pay its creditors. The company, like many of its competitors, struggled in recent years as domestic automakers' sales lagged.


Mass. transit union pickets for leverage

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 22, impatient with the pace of labor contract talks, picketed the office of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority at 287 Grove St. for three hours yesterday. The informational picket went up the day before talks were to resume today for a pact to replace a one-year contract that would have expired June 30 except for an agreement to extend it for 30 days. The union members carried signs such as "No More Concessions," "A Living Wage Is Only Fair" and "Let's Talk Not Walk."

Phil Donahue, a bus driver of nine years, said he believes there will be "strong participation by the rank and file" if a strike is called. But he said he hopes it won’t be necessary because "nobody makes out in a strike - not the employees, not the public, and not the management."

The contract extension expires July 29, but WRTA Administrator Stephen F. O'Neil has said he hopes another extension would be approved if the two sides do not agree by then. Talks began in March, but Local 22 Business Agent Christopher W. Bruce accused management of "surface bargaining," which he said is a failure to engage in the give and take necessary in labor negotiations.

RTA Services General Manager John F. Carney said yesterday, "I believe we're going to offer the union an offer that's a fair offer" in today's negotiations. Neither Local 22 nor RTA Transit Services, which has the management contract to operate the transit authority buses, has given details of the negotiations.

However, union officials said previously that the company wants to increase the employee contribution to the health insurance plan from 11 percent of the premium to 20 percent while offering a pay raise that the union does not consider to be adequate.

Mr. Carney said the pickets conducted themselves professionally yesterday. "We're very proud of them," he said of the company's employees.

With the picket conducted during the work hours of noon to 3 p.m., Mr. Bruce said about 25 union members at a time carried signs, involving between a third and half of the 155 Local 22 members. Also there was Ross Kiely, business agent for Springfield's ATU Local 448, which brought in three busloads of union members during Local 22's strike three years ago.


In search of Jimmy Hoffa

Shippers counter union's final offer

The shipping companies that use the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex have responded to a contract proposal from the clerks' union with a counter-proposal of their own. The lead negotiator for the 14 marine terminal operators and other firms who employ the office clerks says the counter-proposal was given to the union hours after they got the workers' offer.

Today's negotiations come after both sides in the labor dispute agreed to continue negotiating past this morning's 12:01 deadline set by the union. Specifics of the proposals have not been disclosed. A strike at the port complex - the nation's largest - could create ripple effects throughout many industries that depend on timely movement of cargo.


Tenn. strikers unleash epidemic of violence

Federal mediators will be in Loudon County tomorrow to try to settle the strike at Maremont. It's been five months since workers there walked off the job. Monday owner, Kenneth Banks sent us a news release saying the plant has come under, what he calls an "epidemic of violence", but the union says those accusations are false. "It seems to be we have a lot of people that think it's ok to act like a terrorists,” Volunteer TV’s Mike McCarthy investigates. Maremont plant owner Kenneth Banks says he knows exactly who those people are. "There's no question it's the people who are ex-employees here that have been on strike."

"Those are wild accusations with no proof behind them whatsoever,” says Machinist Local 2545 union boss Bob Wood. Workers with union in Loudon set-up their picket line in February, that's after contract negotiations failed. "We've stood up for what we believe in. That's what's important,” Wood says.

But Banks says the strikers have unleashed an "epidemic of violence" against the plant and current workers. "They're just trying to terrorize us into giving into what they would like us to do."

He says that includes: a bomb threat, shooting into employee homes and car fires. Banks says the attacks started here in the parking lot since day one of the strike. But once the plant got more security, the attacks moved beyond the fence. "Wherever our employees are, wherever they live." He says that's Loudon, Knox, McMinn, Monroe, and Roane Counties.

"He has no proof at all for anything. He's just making accusations,” Wood says.

"I don't know how many police reports we have. It would be over 50,” says Banks. “And we have probably more than 200 incidents." Loudon Police have arrested two strikers since the walk-out, both at the plant.

The first for reckless endangerment, but those charges were dropped. The second was for possession of a weapon with intent to go armed, but neither are tied to any of what the police call "vandalism."

The union's keeping an open mind. "Let's look at negotiations rather than these accusations,” Wood says. Tuesday, the next round of those negotiations begin. Both sides will meet with the federal mediator Tuesday afternoon.

Banks says he's filed racketeering charges against the union with the National Labor Relations Board. The legal hearing's scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

The plant has replaced the more than 250 strikers.

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