IUE-CWA moves to strike Delphi

A union representing more than 2,000 of Delphi Corp.'s hourly workers said Friday it has told the auto parts maker that it plans to terminate its contracts, a first step toward a possible strike in October. The International Union of Electronic Workers-Communications Workers of America said the notification, delivered in a letter earlier this week, comes as contract talks have dragged on concerning job security, wages and benefits.

"Delphi has not delivered proposals that meet our members needs," union President Jim Clark said in a statement. "From the start we have stated that IUE-CWA members want both their jobs and dignity intact at the end of the process. "We are tired of spinning our wheels in negotiations while Delphi falls short of these basic demands."

Lindsey Williams, a spokesman for Troy-based Delphi, said Friday that talks continue with the union. He said the company didn't plan to comment on communications between it and the union.

On Thursday, Delphi made more progress toward emerging from bankruptcy protection when a court approved a settlement with the United Auto Workers. Delphi's emergence from bankruptcy is expected before the end of the year.

The settlement with the UAW, Delphi's largest union, affects about 16,000 workers at 21 plants. Deals still need to be reached with five other unions representing a total of about 3,000 workers, including the IUE-CWA.

The IUE-CWA has said its workers are at three plants that Delphi plans to keep, as well as three the company plans to sell or close.

The union said the notice of its intent to terminate its local and national contracts allows union locals to strike starting Oct. 13.

"There is still much time to change our course," IUE-CWA Automotive Conference Board Chairman Willie Thorpe said. "But we cannot sit back and be unprepared. In our estimation, given the current state of talks, a strike is a real possibility, and we need to act accordingly."

As part of the termination notice, IUE-CWA also revoked its permission for Delphi to use temporary employees at IUE-CWA represented facilities. The union said Delphi could cut production or permanently hire the workers.

Delphi entered bankruptcy protection in October 2005.


Obama walks the Congress Hotel picket line

Barack Obama marches the picket line with Unite Here Local 1 and talks to them about his commitment to union workers and collective bargaining.

Hollywood writers take back seat to Teamsters

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), which was expected to resume talks with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) next week, suggested Thursday that the next round of negotiations may have to wait longer. AMPTP has indicated it could be another week or two before talks resume, as it turns its focus to concluding five contracts expiring July 31 with the Teamsters union representing about 4,000 drivers and four basic craft unions.

The rest period is unlikely to calm the waters in the WGA negotiations, which got off to a shaky start this week. After just two meetings on Monday and Wednesday, in which the factions exchanged proposals, the guild rejected Hollywood’s all-or-nothing offer calling for a total revamp of the half century-old residuals system that pays writers $250 million-$260 million per year, saying it thinks the networks and studios are bluffing.

AMPTP had initially proposed keeping the current residuals, health and pension formula in place for three years while the two sides jointly studied the impact of new media.

But when the WGA expressed no interest in the offer, labeling it a stall tactic which would result in Hollywood finding a way to avoid paying its members anything, the producers pulled it off the table late Wednesday after the guild had called a press conference to express its views.

Instead, AMPTP held out its harsher alternative: a “recoupment-based” system--the unions term it “profit-based”—in which writers would forego residuals for four years unless the companies recover the costs of development, production and marketing.

WGA officials and producer-writers quickly rejected that proposal too, saying they don’t trust Hollywood’s accounting methods, even with an outside jointly selected auditor involved.

“What we’re asking for is very reasonable,” said WGA negotiation committee chair John F. Bowman. “We want to be compensated based on historical models. We want to keep up and what they want to do is pay us nothing ... For us, revenues are clean. They’re easily audited.”

The guild fears that too many things can be thrown into the production hat and it would be impossible to enforce a provision allowing the studios to recover their costs before paying residuals.

Bowman reasserted his contention that Fox's accounting of “The Simpsons” shows the long-running hit is $45 million in the red. The studio has denied the claims, insisting that profit participants have earned millions.

Guild officials argue that the industry’s economic forecast is rosy. In contrast, industry executives have repeatedly complained about rising production costs and viewer erosion amid new and unproven distribution platforms.

WGA executives pointed to Price Waterhouse Cooper figures showing that worldwide television revenues from advertising and subscription fees grew from $130 billion in 2002 to more than $170 billion in 2006, and are projected to grow at about 5.8% per year through 2011—making TV a $228 billion global market (while film revenues would grow 4.9% to more than $100 billion by then).

“Our sense is this,” Bowman said. “The future is here. It’s right now and it’s very bright. It’s a great world we’re in and the industry is poised to grow and we ask to be a part of it.”

City managers sub as full-blown strike kicks in

The city of Vancouver, B.C. vows major summer events won't be derailed by a municipal workers' strike that started in earnest on Friday. Outside workers who began limited job action Thursday walked out at noon Friday, although residents felt the effect earlier when their garbage wasn't picked up in the morning. "The notification we had was that it was going to be study sessions but it's been a large-scale strike since this morning," said Jerry Dobrovolny, assistant city engineer.

Dobrovolny said the city will be posting information and setting up a hotline for residents with tips on storing garbage if the strike drags on for an expected six to eight weeks. Vancouver's main landfill in suburban Delta is also closed, disrupting commercial garbage disposal, he added. It's the third civic labour stoppage in a decade and it could get worse on Monday when Vancouver's 3,500 inside workers are legally able to join their 1,800 outside-worker colleagues on the picket line. Besides garbage collectors, the strike involves parks workers, road-maintenance staff and those who run municipal day camps for kids, among other tasks.

"My understanding of one of the concerns right now is there's 2,500 children registered for day camps on Monday, and so those parents may need to be making alternate arrangements," Dobrovolny said.

But he said the final decision on whether to withdraw those services is up to the union.

Officials from locals 1004 and 15 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees were unavailable for comment.

Parks will remain open and Dobrovolny said special events will go ahead as scheduled, staffed by some of the city's 600 non-union managers.

They will face a real test next week when the Celebration of Light, a fireworks competition that draws hundreds of thousands to Vancouver's downtown waterfront nightly, begins Wednesday.

Cleanup will be an immense challenge, Dobrovolny acknowledged.

"That event and others will all go ahead," he said. "We're also going to ask the public for all of our parks and events to please pack out what you bring in."

If inside workers strike, a much larger array of services, including city-run recreation centres and various licence and permit offices, could be shut down.

About 400 inside and outside workers at the District of North Vancouver and its recreation commission, represented by CUPE local 389, were also holding rotating job action.

The unions are opposed to 39-month contracts being offered by municipalities that are designed to ensure labour peace until after the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

They say the term is too long and the wage package is inadequate.

Local 1004 president Mike Jackson has blamed the city for refusing to compromise on its contract offer.

Dobrovolny said the two sides are too far apart to resume bargaining. He said Vancouver's offer is final and it has no additional money to improve it.

"So really there's no basis for any further bargaining at this point," he said.

Besides the strikes in Vancouver and North Vancouver district, there's potential for labour disruptions in Delta and Burnaby.

Meanwhile, about 7,000 workers in the $2-billion B.C. coastal forest industry were poised to strike midnight Friday after contract talks with the bargaining agent for 31 companies broke down.

The strike would shut down the ailing coastal sector already hit hard by the high Canadian dollar and low prices due to slumping U.S. housing demand.


Finally, Steelworkers lumber strike begins

Timber workers on Canada's Pacific coast will begin a long-awaited strike at midnight Friday, with all the region's unionized lumber firms behind picket lines by the end of the weekend. The United Steelworkers union said it will begin picketing at 31 firms represented by industry bargaining agent Forest Industrial Relations, including Western Forest Products Inc. The sides are at odds over issues including the employer's authority to vary shift schedules. Companies say they need the flexibility to be competitive in a weak lumber market, but the union says it gives firms too much power over workers' lives.

The union has been in a legal position to strike for nearly two weeks, but had held off picketing while negotiations continued with three coastal firms that bargain independently of FIR. Those talks broke down this week. Picketing at the largest of the three, International Forest Products Ltd, which has about 600 workers, is scheduled to begin Saturday, the union said.

FIR-represented firms employ about 4,500 workers, but the total number of strikers will likely be closer to 7,500 because it will also shut down "me-too" employers who traditionally use FIR-negotiated deals for their contracts even though they are not part of the organization.

The strike will involve workers on British Columbia coast, including the Vancouver area and Vancouver Island. Contracts for workers in the province's Interior region do not expire until 2009.

A strike by coastal forestry workers in 2003 lasted for three weeks and ended when the provincial government intervened. The workers were then represented by the Industrial Wood and Allied Workers union, which was merged into the Steelworkers in 2005.

British Columbia is Canada's largest timber-exporting province, producing about half the softwood lumber the country ships to the United States each year. Softwood lumber, such as spruce and pine, is used in house construction.


City workers eagerly strike Vancouver

Vancouver, BC's outside workers jumped the gun on their strike early Friday morning and immediately ended garbage collection. The union representing the workers, CUPE local 1004, said pickets would go up at noon local time. The city's inside workers gave three-day notice Friday morning of their intention to strike after they rejected the city's final contract offer, voting 89 per cent against it.


Union referee probed in mob bet scam

The FBI is investigating an NBA referee who allegedly was betting on basketball games - including ones he was officiating during the past two seasons - as part of an organized-crime probe in the Big Apple, The Post has learned. The investigation, which began more than a year ago, is zeroing in on blockbuster allegations that the referee was making calls that affected the point spread to guarantee that he - and the hoods who had their hooks in him - cashed in on large bets.

A law enforcement official told the AP on the condition of anonymity that the referee was aware of the investigation and was planning to surrender next week. The official said the bets involved thousands of dollars and were made on games during the 2005-2006 and the 2006-2007 seasons.

The NBA issued a brief statement: "We have been asked by the FBI, with whom we are working closely, not to comment on this matter at this time." Federal agents are set to arrest the referee and a cadre of mobsters and their associates who lined their pockets, sources said.

"These are dangerous people [the referee] was involved with," a source said.

One source close to the probe counted the number of games on which the ref and his wiseguy buddies scored windfalls in the "double digits."

NBA Commissioner David Stern is aware of the investigation and has a report about the referee on his desk, another source said.

The official, whose name was withheld, allegedly wagered on games during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 NBA seasons.

James Margolin, an FBI spokesman, declined comment on the latest black eye for professional sports.

The sources indicated the referee apparently had a gambling problem, slipped into debt and fell prey to mob thugs.

"That's how he got himself into this predicament" by wagering with mob-connected bookies, one source said.

Professional basketball has remained largely unscathed by allegations of game-fixing, although college basketball has been rocked by several scandals involving point-shaving by players, but not officials.

One of the most recent was a Boston College point-shaving scam arranged in the 1980s by mobster Henry Hill, who bribed several players. Hill later became a government informant, and his life was depicted in the movie "GoodFellas."

Having a referee in their pockets provides a two-fold bonanza to game fixers.

Gamblers would be able to directly cash in by betting on games where they knew the point spread was compromised.

But having a ref in their pocket could prove even more lucrative to crooks in a bookmaking syndicate.

Bookmakers hope to encourage an equal amount of betting on each team and make their money on the "vigorish," which is typically 10 percent of a losing bet.

But armed with the inside information, the bookmaking syndicate could set an artificial point spread that would encourage large "layoff" bets from other bookies carrying too much action on one team, that were likely now to lose.

An FBI organized-crime squad in the bureau's flagship New York office is handling the case, but the referee traveled the country officiating various games on which he allegedly bet.

It was not determined which games were allegedly affected by the referee's actions, or how much money may have been won by him and his cohorts.

The FBI got wind of the scheme while conducting a separate mob investigation.

The most prominent American sport- gambling scandal in recent history involved Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 for betting on his own team.

Based largely on testimony of two Rose associates, Ron Peters and Paul Janszen, Major League Baseball determined that from 1985 through 1987, Rose bet on baseball, including 52 Reds games in 1987, at a minimum of $10,000 a game.

All of Rose's bets on Cincinnati were to win.


Labor unions blamed for Cal. sex-offender snafu

As many as 2,100 California sex offenders reside near schools and parks in violation of Jessica's Law restrictions approved by voters and championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year, the state's top corrections official said Wednesday. The state will give those parolees 45 days to relocate more than 2,000 feet from any school or park as required by law, said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary James Tilton.

The revelation that hundreds of newly paroled sex offenders continue to live near areas where children congregate surprised the lead co-author of Proposition 83, which passed with 70 percent voter approval. Courts ruled earlier this year that the law applies to sex offender parolees released starting the day after passage of Proposition 83 in November. But the state delayed enforcing the restrictions because of legal ambiguities and negotiations with labor unions over the new workload, Tilton said.

"One of the issues we've had here is the complexity of the law, and who it applies to," Tilton said.

The corrections department conducted a general review of its sex offender parolees to determine that as many as 2,100 have left prison for housing within 2,000 feet of schools and parks. The department plans to conduct a case-by-case examination to determine whether each parolee is violating the law. It will then notify the individuals, who will have 45 days to comply or face referral to the parole board, Tilton said.

State Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, the principal co-sponsor of the initiative, said he was frustrated with the lack of communication from the department. He said he was never told of the enforcement challenges the department now says it faced.

"I think they've just got to get a handle on it," Runner said. "I don't know whether it's a case where they knew what was going on and were hoping no one would find out, or what. But clearly the intent of the voters was not being implemented."

A federal judge in February ruled that Proposition 83 does not apply to an estimated 90,000 sex offenders who lived in California before voters approved the law. The corrections department began working this spring on rules to enforce Jessica's Law and approved emergency regulations on June 28, Tilton said.

The total number of sex offenders paroled since the Nov. 7 election was unavailable late Wednesday. But Runner estimated that 300 are released each month, or more than 2,400 since November, meaning that very few may be complying with the law if 2,100 are in violation.

"It's surprising to me that they have identified that many out of compliance," Runner said.

Another portion of Proposition 83 requires tracking of sex offenders through Global Positioning System monitors. Tilton said his department is using GPS as quickly as possible but that it has limited resources and has prioritized tracking for high-risk sex offenders.

Tilton conceded that the new enforcement efforts may spark concerns that a wave of paroled sex offenders will be pushed to rural areas where housing is more distant from schools or parks. He said the department will monitor whether those forced to move will be able to find adequate housing and if they are forced out of cities.

"We keep hearing those concerns, but my position is, we have to implement the law," Tilton said. "We have to track what happens, but in my view and the governor's view, the law's the law."

Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said he had not heard of the plans to move the sex offenders but said the biggest impact likely would come in rural areas, which have fewer schools and parks to create restricted areas under the new law.

"It's going to affect law enforcement, particularly the rural sheriffs' departments where these people are going to have to go to get beyond developed areas," McGinness said.

Such a move might lower the risk to many people, simply because rural areas will have fewer potential victims, McGinness said. But, he added, that will be of little solace to people living where sex offenders may be induced to move.

"It's going to affect a lot of people, I can tell you that," he said.

Tilton also charged that local officials are creating hurdles through zoning changes that take advantage of Proposition 83.

He said, for instance, a vacant lot in Sylmar in Los Angeles County had been declared a park, forcing away sex offenders who lived nearby.

A spokesman for the union representing California parole agents said corrections officials told agents in January not to cite sex offenders if they were found to be in violation of Jessica's Law.

"Their policy wanted to ignore the violation of the law," said Scott Johnson, president of the Parole Agents Association of California.

He said parole agents were told Tuesday that the new policy would be to immediately detain parole violators, which he said made no sense either.

"They weren't going to give anybody any waiting time to move," Johnson said.

"They were trying to figure out how they were going to arrest all those people and where they were going to put them, because there's no room."


FedEx leans on Congress for anti-union protection

FedEx CEO and founder Frederick W. Smith, testifying before a Senate subcommittee Thursday, said removing FedEx Express drivers from the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act, as proposed in a House bill, would be bad public policy. During a hearing of the Senate Finance Energy and Infrastructure subcommittee intended to air views on how best to pay for modernizing the air traffic control system, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., asked Smith about a House bill dealing with the labor issue.

"We object very much for the insertion of language that affects only one company, and that's FedEx Express," Smith said. "FedEx Express has been under the Railway Labor Act since its inception when I formed the company in 1971."

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last month passed an amendment to an air traffic control bill that takes the FedEx Express operation from the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act, which regulates collective bargaining for air and rail workers on a nationwide basis. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., voted against the provision.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been trying to organize the company's drivers at the local level, where labor disputes are resolved by the National Labor Relations Board. A labor dispute at a single local could affect FedEx's overall operation and jeopardize the company's reputation for next-day deliveries.

The Senate bill does not contain the labor provision and the issue will have to be resolved in a conference between the two houses if the Senate passes its bill. Lott expressed his discouragement that a bill will be passed.

"The clock is running," Lott said. "We're running out of time. We need this bill. We need modernization. I'm afraid we're not going to get it."

Smith gave a short history of the Railway Labor Act before pointing to a 1992 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that, Smith said, "is just crystal clear ... that FedEx Express pickup and delivery operations are an integral part of its air operation."

Smith said he objected the insertion of language that affects only his company and particularly that the House committee approved it without a public hearing.

Turning to Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who represents workers at the UPS hub at Louisville, Smith discussed the rival company.

"I will say this, a little bit immodestly, for which I apologize, Senator Bunning, but all those people wouldn't be in Louisville if it weren't for FedEx because we invented the industry," Smith said. He said UPS, whose drivers are represented by the Teamsters, came into being with a very different "genealogy" than FedEx.

"The correct resolution of this matter in the public interest would be for UPS to be put under the Railway Labor Act," he said.


Calif. grocery workers threatened

Representatives of the 65,000 unionized grocery workers in Southern California are continuing to negotiate for decent pay raises and health care benefits, as they have since their contract expired on March 5. In June the UFCW workers voted to authorize a strike, though the union has repeatedly stated it wants to avoid one. But the bosses are already setting up the barricades.

Even though it’s public knowledge that the CEOs of Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons received raises totaling $27 million in 2006, the bosses aren’t making serious pay offers that meet even minimal cost-of-living increases. The workers have not received a raise since 2002, and the supermarket chains want to cut back the wages of new hires. In true-blue ruling class style, the chains have threatened to lock out the workers. But Ralphs just escalated the situation by announcing a plan to hire replacement workers, that is, scabs. It also threatened to fire workers who strike or to cut their hours and to make them pay exorbitant fees for family health care during a work stoppage. (UFCW press release, July 9)

Barbara Maynard, representing UFCW Local 770 covering the greater Los Angeles area, told the Santa Clarita Signal that the grocery companies have “continued to put forward proposals that show a tremendous disrespect for the workers and the communities they serve.” (July 11) The current rolling extension requires a 72-hour cancellation notice by either the UFCW or the supermarket chains. The struggle continues.


Garbage haulers, Teamsters tough it out

The company at the center of the garbage lockout that has trash piling up around the East Bay doesn't shy away from a fight and has squared off in the past with labor unions and environmentalists. Waste Management Inc. of Houston endured labor strife in its last contract in New York City, and unions say it has taken a hard line on health care costs and on implementing its own safety rules with a strict disciplinary code.

The company is a behemoth - the largest garbage firm in North America. Its revenue last year topped $13 billion, and its profits rang in at more than $1 billion. It employs more than 48,000 people, 12,500 of them in unions.

"Over the years, we've really had a pretty good relationship. We've been able to work out the problems that have come up," said Chuck Mack, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 70, which represents 481 people in the East Bay lockout. (An additional 360 belong to the machinists and the longshore and warehouse workers unions.) "That's changed in recent years when the company became more ideological on certain issues," including health care and the right to strike.

"They are large enough and wealthy enough to drive their agenda economically and spend what they need to spend to starve people out and bring in replacement workers," Mack said. "Whatever they need to do, they show a willingness to do it."

The company contends that it is making a generous offer and is even increasing what it pays in health care costs. But it is asking for employee contributions to some health premiums and for "stronger enforceable language on safety and 'no strike, no lockout' provisions during the term of the contract," according to the company's regional spokesman, David Tucker. "That is why we are here today with a lockout."

The environmental side is even more complicated. Waste Management boasts that it is the largest recycler in North America and that it produces enough renewable energy to power 1 million homes.

Such claims are met with skepticism from Allen Hershkowitz, the senior scientist and director of solid waste research and advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Waste Management's ads regarding their environmental stewardship and recycling raise a lot of anxiety in the environmental community about crossing the lines into green-washing," Hershkowitz said.

"Wherever Waste Management operates, environmentalists are very concerned about the integrity of the recycling programs. Despite a lot of PR about the issue, Waste Management seems to favor diverting materials toward its landfills."

Lynn Brown, a spokeswoman at company headquarters in Houston, said, "The allegations are baseless."

"We are the largest recycling processor in North America," she wrote in an e-mail. "Recycling is a priority for us, and we are investing in new single-stream recycling facilities that encourage recycling and will grow our business. We have more than doubled our volume in single-stream processing. This growth wouldn't be possible if we were diverting to landfills."

Waste Management has humble roots. In a way, it started in the early 20th century, when Wayne Huizenga's grandfather was among the Dutch immigrants who ran trash and hauling businesses in Chicago. Years later, in 1968, Huizenga teamed with an in-law, Dean Buntrock, who had taken over his family's scavenger firm, and established Waste Management.

By 1971, they had taken the company public and embarked on a strategy that Huizenga later employed in his Blockbuster video stores and his AutoNation car dealerships: consolidation. Waste Management began acquiring local trash companies around the country, ultimately rolling them up into a giant corporation.

In getting there, Waste Management and its competitors transformed a grimy business that once had a reputation for underworld connections.

"The large public waste management companies of today are pretty different from the storied companies of years past," said Stephen Brown, the lead analyst on Waste Management for Fitch Ratings. "Today, these large public companies operate with a lot more sophistication. There's a lot of science and technology in the background. These are large operating companies. They run as a large modern corporation, not like the locally owned and maybe tougher companies of the past."

Waste Management did endure a dark period, what some labeled the largest corporate accounting scandal before Enron. In 1998, it reported that it had overstated its income over the previous six years by more than $1 billion, and it took a $3.5 billion pretax charge. Its financial reports exaggerated the value of assets such as trucks and landfills.

In 2000, Waste Management and its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen -- Enron's accountant as well -- paid $229 million to settle a class-action suit. In 2001, it settled another such lawsuit for $457 million.

Under the leadership of Maurice Myers, however, the company emerged from the scandal and its merger with USA Waste Services to stand atop its industry. It now faces competition from two other giants, Allied Waste Services of Phoenix and Republic Services of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Waste Management now is led by David Steiner, who had been general counsel and then-chief financial officer under Myers. Steiner is an attorney who once worked for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in San Jose.

1968: Wayne Huizenga and Dean Buntrock establish Waste Management Inc. in Chicago.

1971: Waste Management sells stock to the public and changes the industry with its strategy of acquisition and consolidation of regional and local garbage companies.

1985: Waste Management buys Oakland Scavenger.

February 1998: Waste Management discloses that it overstated its income over the past six years and takes a $3.5 billion pretax charge. Its financial reports exaggerated the value of assets such as trucks and landfills.

March 1998: Waste Management merges with USA Waste Services of Houston. The company keeps the Waste Management name but moves to Houston, with USA Waste executives taking the helm.

1998: Waste Management pays $457 million to settle a shareholder class-action suit, and the Securities and Exchange Commission fines Waste Management's independent auditor, Arthur Andersen, $7 million.

1999: Waste Management brings in Maurice "Maury" Myers as CEO, who cleans up the company and leads its recovery from the accounting scandal.

March 2004: Waste Management names as CEO David Steiner, its former general counsel and chief financial officer.

2007: Waste Management reports earnings for 2006 of $1.15 billion ($2.10 per diluted share) on revenue of $13.36 billion.


UAW, SEIU deny organizing hospital workers

Union organizing efforts are under way at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, CT,, a hospital spokesman confirmed Thursday, and management last week sent a letter to the facility's 1,840 employees. "Our hospital doesn't need a union," said Keith Fontaine, vice-president of corporate communications for the hospital, summarizing the letter's contents. "We just think that our employees receive wages and benefits that are competitive and generous."

The hospital first heard information about the drive about a month ago, he said, but it is not clear which union is behind the effort. Both the UAW, which is attempting to organize workers at Foxwoods Resort Casino, and SEIU Local 1199 Thursday denied involvement in the drive.

Fontaine said recent activity doesn't appear to be a formal attempt to create a union. The last such attempt was in the mid-1970s. The hospital also has consulted with regional offices of Jackson Lewis, a national legal firm dealing in workplace law retained by Backus since 1974, about the situation, he said.

"This isn't altogether unusual, although it doesn't happen annually," Fontaine said of organizing efforts. "We're not certain which individuals are being targeted."

Backus administration has encouraged ongoing dialogue among employees, their supervisors and even Thomas Pipicelli, the hospital's president, Fontaine said.

"Hospitals are complex organizations," he said, "and we've got to keep talking with a large work force."


Steelworkers bank strike holds by one vote

One member, one vote. That's all it took Thursday night to keep striking TD Canada Trust employees on the picket line. Members of Steelworkers Local 2020 rejected a tentative settlement struck with the bank earlier this week by a vote of 44-43. They were to be back on the picket line at the main TD Canada Trust branch on Elm Street at 9 a.m. today.

Steelworkers' boss Jim Kmit said he was surprised the local rejected the offer, "but whether you have 80 per cent or 51 per cent, the fact is it has been rejected."

Kmit said the bank improved its pre-strike proposal. It had been offering an increase of 35 cents an hour July 30, 2007, and retroactive pay tied to performance reviews in 2006 that were to go into effect Jan. 15, 2007. All raises in 2008 were to be tied in with performance reviews.

In the new offer, the bank guaranteed a 2.2 per cent increase to all employees in 2008 with more money possible depending upon performance.

"The members have made it very clear," said Kmit after last night's vote at the Steelworkers' Hall. "The performance review system is not a fair system."

Strikers also made it clear there wasn't enough money in the offer. "The banks make billions and they want a bigger share of it," he said.

The local's bargaining committee, comprised of Kmit and three female representatives, recommended the offer thinking there was enough there to end the strike.

Kmit planned to contact TD Canada Trust last night and tell them the union was prepared to go back to the bargaining table.

TD Canada Trust spokeswoman Kelly Hechler would only say the bank was disappointed the tentative agreement was rejected.

TD officials would be contacting Kmit on Friday, she said, to find out why an offer his bargaining committee recommended was turned down.

Hechler wouldn't comment on whether the bank was prepared to resume negotiations.

"If I was the TD, I'd dig a little deeper," said Kmit. "They're going to have to share a little bit more of those billions."

Jacques Vincent has 20 years with TD Canada Trust and is financial services representative at its Lasalle Boulevard branch. He described the meeting before the vote as quiet and civil.

He wouldn't say how he voted, but he thought long and hard before he did. "Was it better for me or was it better for the rest of the people?" he asked himself.

"I said, 'Well, for me it wasn't very good.' "

Vincent is one of the bank's top earners and makes $42,500 a year. A first-year employee earning $12 an hour would have received the same 35-cent-an-hour increase July 30 as him.

"That's where they missed the boat," he said. "The top producers basically got nothing."

The bank has had performance reviews for years, but it wants to restructure the system so employees filling the basic requirements of their job "would probably get zero," said Vincent.

The bank has given employees at the rest of its branches across Canada an increase since this labour dispute began, Vincent said. The eight Sudbury TD branches, members of the same local, are the only unionized branches of TD Canada Trust.

Of the 112 members of Local 2020, 104 are active members, said Kmit. The remainder are on short- and long-term disability.

Vincent said 85-90 of members are female.

"They're to be commended. They say women cave in right away, but they're strong. They're starting to have a voice."


AFSCME takes coroners workers

Employees of the Lake County, Ill. Coroner's Office have unionized and will soon bargain for their first union contract. A total of 11 employees of the office, including deputy coroners, toxicology analysts, lab assistants and secretaries have been certified as members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The Illinois Labor Relations Board recently certified AFSCME as the exclusive bargaining representatives for all coroner's office employees.

"More and more Lake County employees are contacting AFSCME for representation. They realize that their job security depends on the next election," said AFSCME representative Matthew LaPierre. "They are realizing that the county may not be offering them the best in terms of wages, hours and working conditions."

"Now that we have been certified, the hard part begins and that means negotiating our first contract," LaPierre said.

Lake County Coroner Dr. Richard Keller said that because the office of coroner is an elected political position, he understands why employees of the office sought union protection.

"They are at-will employees, and when the office changes by political process, they do run the risk of losing their positions," Keller said.

AFSCME also represents about 250 employees of the county-operated Winchester House nursing facility in Libertyville.


Detroit in mammoth legacy cost dump

The Situation: The Big Three auto makers are selling off assets as they try to build up cash for a deal with the UAW over retiree health-care liabilities. The Plan: Auto makers may try to amass enough cash to unload employee obligations to a new, union-run fund. What's Next: In talks with the UAW set to begin Friday, Detroit's auto makers hope to establish the trust, freeing them to focus on restructuring.


Full-scale Vancouver gov't union strike likely Monday

Thursday's job actions by Vancouver and North Vancouver, B.C. civic workers have not created serious disruptions, but union leaders are indicating they will launch a full-blown strike as early as Monday. Outside city workers at Vancouver's waste transfer station walked off the job Thursday afternoon. "On Monday morning, we could have full pickets out," said Mike Jackson, the CUPE Local 1004 boss, which represents about 1,800 outside workers in Vancouver.

"We're telling the employers you have 72 hours from tomorrow [Friday] morning to get us to the table to get a deal done, or else," he said. Unionized outside workers staged walkouts at four City of Vancouver job sites Thursday, including the waste transfer station in south Vancouver, Jackson said.

Meanwhile, Vancouver's inside workers voted Thursday on what the city said was the final contract offer. They were expected to reject it and issue strike notice Friday morning and walk off the job Monday, Jackson said.
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Services such as day care within city facilities, building inspections and parking bylaw enforcement will be affected if inside workers carry out job action or refuse to cross picket lines.

On Thursday, about 400 outside workers participated in rotating job actions, such as a ban on overtime and two-hour information sessions.

At the waste station in south Vancouver, trucks full of garbage continued to come in, unload and leave, because managers had taken over for the employees who walked off the job.

Jackson said the labour dispute could have been avoided.

"Eventually we're going to get a contract. Why can't we get a contract now and why do we have to go through this?" he said.

Jackson said a full-scale strike is inevitable even if CUPE Local 15, which represents the inside workers, votes to accept Thursday's offer.

"If they accepted the offer and we did not have a collective agreement on our end, we will still have picket signs up and (CUPE) 15 would not cross picket lines," he said.

Jerry Dobrovolny, a spokesman for the City of Vancouver, said residents, businesses and employees will all be affected if job actions escalate Friday.

"It's hard to be specific about what would happen until we know which service the union chooses to withdraw," he said Thursday night.

In North Vancouver, about 200 unionized outside workers walked off the job Thursday.

There were no talks scheduled between CUPE Local 1004 and city negotiators as of Thursday night.

Results of the vote by inside workers will come out early Friday morning.


Thanks, UFCW bosses!

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