Shoppers would pay for costly SoCal UFCW pact

The Southern California grocery union and three major chains made key concessions to reach a tentative contract agreement after more than six months of contentious negotiations, officials revealed Thursday. The United Food and Commercial Workers agreed to chip in $250 million of a $500 million employee reserve to help pay for health care, said Local 324's Greg Conger, boss of the second-largest branch of the UFCW in Southern California. The union has almost 70,000 members across the region.

Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons agreed to eliminate a two-tier system that gives richer benefits to veterans than new workers. That system led to higher turnover, reduced wages and long waiting periods for health care.

Under the new four-year deal, all workers can reach the top pay scale. The markets wanted that process to take nine years, but the union "reduced that dramatically," Conger said.

The chains also agreed to give workers a raise that amounts to more than $1 per hour over the life of the contract, Conger said. The pay scale in place for second-tier workers ranges from $7.55 an hour to $15.10 an hour. First-tier workers' pay tops out at $17.90, and it only took two years to get there.

The pay boost is retroactive to March 5, when the original agreement expired. The old contract was extended twice during talks, then automatically renewed each day with 72 hours' notice to cancel.

While Conger declined to share a specific dollar figure, he said the raise was higher than any that workers have received in the past 15 years. The union did not receive a raise during the previous three-year agreement.

"The problem with negotiations when you get so close to the end (are) those very small issues. Because they are standing alone, they magnify," Conger said.

"Then both sides really have to sit down and come to some kind of a compromise."

The companies were always willing to make compromises, said Adena Tessler, a spokeswoman for the markets.

"All along, the companies said that they planned to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement," Tessler said. "That meant that it would meet the needs of the employees and the companies."

With many details of the contract still under wraps - Tessler and union leaders said they did not want members to get preconceived ideas before Sunday's vote - it's too early to tell whether either side got the upper hand.

But it is already clear the union negotiated a better contract than it currently has, said Ken Jacobs, a labor expert at the University of California at Berkeley.

"The workers clearly gained quite a bit back compared to what they lost last time around," Jacobs said, referring to a 4-1/2 month-long strike that ended when the union accepted a contract that included employee contributions to health care, no raises and a separate pay scale and health care system for new hires.

The chains lost an estimated $2 billion, and many customers never returned, sticking with alternatives such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods that they discovered during the strike.

This time around, Jacobs thinks the markets were persuaded by strike authorizations that workers overwhelmingly voted for.

High turnover rates created low morale, which was a problem for the markets because the industry is competitive and customer-oriented, Jacobs said.

"Service quality matters," he said.

The markets and the union ultimately compromised because it was in both of their best interests, said Eduardo Martinez, an economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

Both sides are wary of nontraditional competitors such as Wal-Mart and Target, which could dry up market share and lead to job cuts.

"Obviously, having labor peace is going to put both parties in a better position to respond to competition," Martinez said.


Strike by small union would KO nation's largest port

Clerical workers presented their final offer to shipping companies Saturday after all-night contract talks aimed at preventing a strike at the nation's largest port complex. "We've done all we can," said John Fageaux Jr., the Office Clerical Unit Local 63 boss, of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. If the offer is rejected, clerks could strike as early as Monday. But Fageaux said he was hopeful a new contract agreement would be reached. "I think we're very close," he said.

The twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles handle more than 40 percent of all cargo container traffic coming into the U.S. The 15,000-member ILWU has indicated that longshoremen would honor picket lines if the clerical workers strike. The clerks work at marine terminals and handle bookings for the export of cargo and other transport documents.

A call to Steve Berry, the lead negotiator for the shipping companies, was not immediately returned. A major issue in the talks was the shippers' request for an association that could represent all the companies in collective bargaining, Fageaux said. The union agreed to discuss the idea in the next few years, he said.

The talks began in May and continued after the current contract expired June 30. Despite a strike deadline imposed last Monday by the union, the negotiating teams continued to meet - stoking concerns about a possible shutdown at the ports.

All told, Local 63 represents more than 900 full-time and temporary workers for 17 shipping companies and other cargo firms at the ports. The negotiations, however, only cover contracts for between 600 and 850 full- and part-time workers at 14 companies.


High anxiety: The stresses of strikes

With all this intense talk about contract disputes, I feel a responsibility to remind everyone that writers' strikes can be dangerous. I should know; years ago I participated in one. Here are some of the points of jeopardy that may occur during a writers' strike:

* Writers aren’t accustomed to picket lines. During the last strike, I almost got run over by an errant Bentley. A well-known writer, the driver was delivering afternoon Bellinis to colleagues walking the line.

* Writers don’t deal well with free time. Liberated from their customary script deadlines, some decide to write the Great American Novel. This is not a healthy phenomenon: Unpublishable novels are bad for a writer’s ego.

* Writers are insecure about their status in the social order. Once they find themselves on a picket line, writers feel compelled to remind their friends at networks or studios that they are, in fact, a lot wealthier and more important than they. Friendships are splintered by these class tensions.

* In the period prior to a strike, studios and networks tend to rush shows into production without the customary fusillade of development notes. Stripped of their ability to complain about idiotic notes, writers exhibit intensely neurotic reactions — they turn on their wives, writing partners, even their agents.

Given these and similar side effects, it would be constructive if the Writers Guild took another hard look at their demands before going nuclear.

Peter Bart


Community rally for Teamsters nets 90 pickets

By 7am this morning, more than 50 community members answered the call to join locked out garbage workers on the picket lines outside of Waste Management's main truck depot on 98th Ave in Oakland swelling the number of pickets to at least 90. Houston-based Waste Management International, a Fortune 500 company, is pouring more than $600,000 a day into a massive scabbing operation designed to break the will of Teamsters Local 70, which represents about 500 garbage haulers.

About 50 scab garbage trucks left the 98th Ave. depot this morning, which is not a low number for Saturday service. However, given the mounds of rotting garbage left throughout the poorest areas of the East Bay, this is merely a token effort by Waste Management to address the poor service provided by scab labor. According to locked-out workers, the scabbing operation is putting just 2/3rds of the usual number of trucks on the street during the week.

At the picket rally this morning sponsored by the ISO, workers and supporters reiterated a call for community support: 1. All are welcome to walk the picket lines, which are 24/7, 2. Donate money or canned goods to the hardship fund and 3. Complain as loudly as possible about the poor service received since the lock-out.

More background is available at: http://www.alamedalabor.org and http://www.socialistworker.org/2007-2/638/638_16_EastBay.shtml

Solidarity forever!


Safety record at core of Teamster garbage impasse

The driving safety record of Teamsters Local 70 is front-and-center in the 19-day garbage driver lockout that has caused tempers to flare across the East Bay as stinking trash has piled up while replacement drivers miss or ignore entire neighborhoods. Waste Management officials, who return Sunday to the contract bargaining table, say their 481 locked out East Bay garbage haulers on the whole have the worst safety record of all the company's 22,500 drivers. They want to rectify that by securing a new contract with stiffer penalties for safety violations.

Union bosses from Teamsters Local 70 and the rank-and-file drivers themselves dispute these claims, saying Teamsters drivers are doing hard work in a geographically challenging area and that their safety record on the whole is good. The company's contract with Local 70 expired June 30 and Waste Management locked out its drivers July 2 in what company officials described as a pre-emptive move against a rumored Teamsters strike.

The company wants a new contract with the ability to discipline and fire repeat safety violators without the union's OK, while the union wants to maintain the past agreement, saying it gives management the tools it needs to get rid of unsafe drivers. The expired agreement made dismissals subject to a grievance procedure, which the company wants to eliminate.

By Waste Management's numbers, Teamsters Local 70 drivers over the past five years were responsible for 724 injuries and 1,760 accidents, including two that resulted in the deaths of two nonemployees.

James Devlin, Waste Management's area vice president, said Teamsters Local 70's hourly injury rate is 207 percent higher than the average injury rate among all the company's drivers.

Devlin also said Teamsters Local 70 drivers account for 29 percent of the company's repeat offenders -- those with two or more accidents or injuries in the first six months of 2007 . Local 70 comprises 2.1 percent of company drivers.

"We're talking about a very unsafe group here," Devlin said. "Most of these safety rules they're violating are the law -- not speeding in a school zone, wearing their safety belts and not backing up without the truck beeper on. Some of the drivers told us they cut the wire on the back-up beeper because it gave them a headache."

One driver had 18 violations, including hitting two freeway overpasses, and the company couldn't get rid of him because of union resistance, Devlin said. The current contract, Devlin says, leaves supervisors "managerially impotent." "All we can do in most cases is chronically counsel someone," he said.

"This is not just for Waste Management -- it's for the community. Two people have been killed," Devlin said.

The company's pursuit of stiffer penalties for safety violations has created ill will among some rank-and-file drivers.

"It's a lie," said Jose Rubio, a 29-year-old locked-out garbage truck driver who has worked for Waste Management for seven years and says he's never had an accident. "A week before they locked us out they threw a barbecue for us as a show of appreciation for our good safety record. They gave out a bunch of safety awards. We all know we're supposed to wear our seat belts and to slow down in school zones. It's the law."

Rubio said the company requires drivers to attend weekly safety training meetings. Some receive points for good driving which they can cash in for gifts, including electronics and jewelry. "I don't know what they're trying to do other than make us look bad.

"Of course there are going to be occasional accidents," Rubio said. "We're driving big trucks. People cut you off. But most of us are very safe."

Union officials say the company is slowly trying to dismantle the contract. They cite the company's desire to institute a no-strike provision in the new contract that would prevent members from honoring picket lines outside of those that are sanctioned in Alameda County.

Rob Dias, chief steward for Local 70, who has been at the table during contract negotiations, questions the validity of the company's data. "What defines an accident?" he said. "I don't know what their data represents."

Dias said the union doesn't discount the tragic nature of fatal accidents. He noted that in the case of Erich Jenkins, a 39-year-old fitness executive from Tracy who was killed in 2002 after being rear ended by a Waste Management driver in Castro Valley, the union sustained the driver's termination. Devlin said the company had to fight tooth and nail to get rid of the driver, at the time a veteran of the company.

Dias said other areas of the country Waste Management serves don't have as many hills, nor are they as congested as Oakland and other cities served by the company in the East Bay. Drivers are bound to have more accidents in an urban area than their counterparts in suburban and rural areas, Dias and rank-and-file drivers said.

"The position of the company is a take it or leave it attitude," Dias said. "That's what's causing the problem."

Asked how the union's demand that the expired contract be maintained in its totality could be viewed as showing flexibility, Dias said the company in 2001 agreed to "no take-aways." The union views the company's request to have employees cover a portion of health care cost increases, the no strike rule and the new safety penalties as take-aways.

"We had no alternative but to ask for a five-year extension," Dias said.
Contract sought by management

Waste Management would pay health-insurance premium increases of up to 9 percent each year of the contract, with employees paying any increases above 9 percent. If premiums increase less than 9 percent in a year, savings would be banked and would be applied toward future increases in excess of 9 percent in subsequent years.

The company proposes no strike/no lockout during the contract. Provision would bar sympathy or wildcat strikes, sit-downs, slow-downs, work stoppages, boycotts and restrict honoring picket lines to those pickets initiated by the Local 70 or sanctioned by the Teamsters Joint Council No. 7.

Five-day suspension and discharge for first and second offense, respectively, in any 12-month period for violation of safety rules. Drivers must abide by "life critical rules," including never driving in reverse while a co-worker is on the riding step, wearing seat belts, and obeying posted speed limits.

Source: Waste Management of Alameda County


Gov't workers' strike could last 2 months

A Vancouver municipal strike that began Friday could last well into September, a CUPE union leader said. "We think it will last six to eight weeks," CUPE Local 1004 president Mike Jackson said in an interview Friday morning as the close to 2,000 outside workers he represents prepared to establish picket lines.

Vancouver's outside workers walked off the job at noon Friday, bringing residential garbage and recycling collection to an indefinite halt. Work at the Vancouver landfill and the transfer station in south Vancouver also stopped Friday, with the city saying those facilities will now be closed to both the public and to private contractors. On Friday, private contractors were able to continue work by shifting to other transfer locations, a city spokesman said, adding he could not say if that option would be available next week.

The walkout came just hours after the city's inside workers served 72-hour notice of their own impending strike. If the city is not able to reach a deal with those workers over the weekend, both Vancouver's outside and inside workers will be off the job as of Monday morning.

"There will be on-strike placards right through Vancouver," said Paul Faoro, president of CUPE, Local 15, which represents Vancouver's inside workers.

On Thursday, 89 per cent of CUPE 15 members who cast ballots in a vote rejected a final offer put on the table by the city.

As a result of that vote, Faoro said, CUPE 15 served the city with 72-hour strike notice early Friday. He added that his union also invited city negotiators back to the bargaining table to see if they could reach a deal before a planned walkout on Monday.

"We think if the city showed up and had open ears, and the desire and the willingness to listen to the issues we could get it done," Faoro said, explaining union negotiators had not heard from the city at all on Friday morning.

Later in the day, Mayor Sam Sullivan said the city had tabled its final offer and was not willing to budge, especially when it came to the length of the contract.

"I'm asking the union to come back and consider the city's final last offer," Sullivan said at an afternoon news conference, explaining that the city's proposed 39-month deal would last until after the Olympics.

"We have gone farther than I ever imagined we would. This is a very generous offer," he added. "There is nothing more that I can do about it."

Sullivan said he thinks the union is digging in its heels on the term of the contract because it wants the ability to shut down the city during the Olympic Games in 2010.

"That is the primary discussion point," he said. "I can tell you as the mayor I will never agree to any kind of contract which will allow the city to be shut down in the middle of the Olympic and Paralympic Games."

Faoro took issue with this, saying his union would be happy with a four-year contract, one that would end well after the Olympics were over.

Sullivan dismissed this idea as well, saying a four-year deal would put labour negotiations too close to the municipal election in November 2011.

"We at the city have been very clear that we do not want elections and contracts to be negotiated at the same time," Sullivan said. "It's not healthy for democracy."

In the case of Vancouver's outside workers, Jackson said they had planned to only hold rotating walkouts on Friday, but became "infuriated" after hearing city spokesman Jerry Dobrovolny speaking on the radio and opted for a full-scale walkout.

Jackson said Dobrovolny said the city has presented five progressively better contract offers since last September. He maintained management was "lying" because the city had been sticking to a 9.5-per-cent wage increase over 39 months.

He said union members already felt "disrespected" by management and were angered by the comment because the union wanted to continue bargaining.

"Tuesday was the last face-to-face," Jackson said. "It's now Friday. It shows you the employer is not interested in getting a collective agreement to substantiate labour peace.

"This could have all been avoided if we would have sat at the table and gone around the clock to get a deal done."

Employees at the Vancouver Public Library also served 72-hour strike notice Friday.

Another CUPE local poised to strike is in North Vancouver, where Local 389 represents about 400 North Vancouver district employees and another 389 employees of the North Vancouver Recreation Commission.

The commission operates swimming pools, community centres and other recreation programs in both the city and district of North Vancouver.

The union, which has been in a legal position to strike since Thursday, began an overtime ban and a "work to rule" program on Thursday.

Union members also walked off the job in half-hour blocks on Thursday and Friday.

"At this point, we don't know whether the job action will escalate on Monday," district official Jeanine Bratina said. "We're waiting to see."

CUPE 389 president Cindy McQueen could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, employees in other communities are still in mediation, including those in Burnaby and at the Burnaby Public Library, and in Delta and the Delta Police Board.

Still bargaining, but not at mediation, are workers at North Vancouver City, North Vancouver City Library, White Rock, the Coquitlam Public Library and the City of Langley.

Bargaining has not yet commenced in Coquitlam, New Westminster, the Township of Langley, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.


7,000 forestry workers on strike

That there are 7,000 coastal forestry workers walking picket lines from Duncan to Campbell River and beyond in British Columbia today should come as no surprise. The union representing them warned three years ago it was bound to happen. Bill Routley, the United Steelworkers Local 1-80 boss, was quoted as saying on May 28, 2004, that unless there were changes to the contract imposed on the coast by a government-appointed mediator, the union would walk off the job this summer.

And today, those workers have hit the bricks. Both sides of the dispute admit the job action has nothing to do with wages or benefits. There are myriad issues between the two sides, but the dispute appears to hinge on shift-scheduling, which the imposed agreement granted companies the right to do without consulting employees.

"Our issues are about how you treat people in the workplace," said Steelworkers Western Canada director Steve Hunt. "Over the last four years, the companies have had their way with the guys and took advantage, scheduling shifts that weren't appropriate. "There's a feeling among our membership that they feel they were mistreated. They felt they gave a tremendous amount up in the last agreement and what did they get from it? Abused."

Routley said over the last three years, the companies have been experimenting. He says loggers have complained of having to work 11.5-12-hour shifts four days on and four days off. Mill workers are being scheduled to work two afternoons, then two graveyard shifts, followed by one day off before returning for day shifts or working 10 days before getting time off.

"They didn't know if they were coming or going," he said, adding the long hours in physically demanding jobs take a heavy toll, particularly as the workforce gets older.

"I had the wife of one guy tell me her husband drove home, parked the car in the driveway, turned it off and fell asleep. He was too tired to even make it to the house," said Routley. "Our members feel totally abused in that process."

Routley admits flexible shifting has been around for years, but contends it used to be done in consultation with the workers. "They had been mutually agreed upon with the union, it was well discussed and well understood why there was a need," he said.

The change in scheduling may have contributed to a spike in forest-industry fatalities and injuries in 2005, when the province set a record with 43 deaths in the woods and 110 injuries. That was a significant increase from the 16 fatalities in 2004. But the number dropped just as significantly in 2006 with 12 fatalities and 125 injuries.

What the union calls abuse, companies call sound economics.

The coastal industry, a high-cost producer and exporter, is facing the challenge of a strong Canadian dollar -- it hit a 30-year high this week against the U.S. greenback -- a 15 per cent surcharge on exports to its largest market, the U.S., and an American housing market in a severe slump.

And the companies say finding savings has been important in order to remain a global competitor. "Scheduling of work is fundamental to the efficiency of business," said Darshan Sihota, president of Island Timberlands.

Ron Shewchuk, spokesman for Forest Industrial Relations, which represents 31 companies on the coast, said scheduling is a tool to help the companies remain competitive.

"We need to be able to put those shifts in place. It also helps us be more flexible and reduce our costs. It's allowed us to put shifts in place without incurring extra costs relating to premium and overtime costs," he said. "To reduce that flexibility or increase our costs isn't acceptable to us."

Shewchuk said FIR's recent contract proposal offered a provision to allow for greater consultation on the kinds of shifts companies would impose as well as offering better advance notice

"We think that addresses some of the major concerns employees have with these things," he said.

But there remains an air of distrust on the coast and the union may be looking for a stronger commitment in the deal than offering to modify existing language to provide for more input from employees.

"Trust levels are at an all-time low," wrote Hunt in a recent opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun. He noted that promises from the companies of major investments in infrastructure have not materialized and the coast may be in worse shape now than it was in 2001, before the prhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifovincial government introduced the Forest and Range Practices Act.

Steelworkers hit the picket lines at midnight last night at Island Timberlands and the 31 member companies represented by FIR including the largest industry employer Western Forest Products.

Picket lines will be up this afternoon at International Forest Products' (Interfor) three sawmills on the Fraser River.

And while the union's 72-hour strike notice at TimberWest has expired, pickets will not be in place there as the two sides are in front of the B.C. Labour Relations Board.


Radio comments triggered Vancouver strike

Picket signs went up in Vancouver Friday, after the city's outside workers - including garbage collectors and road maintenance crews - were angered by comments made on a local radio program. Mike Jackson, president of CUPE Local 1004 said union members became "infuriated" when a city spokesperson said during a radio interview that Vancouver has presented five progressively better contract offers since last September.

CUPE said the walkout was triggered when spokesperson Jerry Dobrovolny said the city was not going to return to the bargaining table, despite an open invitation to have more talks Friday morning.

"Tuesday was the last face-to-face," Jackson told CanWest News Service. "It shows you the employer is not interested in getting a collective agreement to substantiate labour peace. This could have all been avoided if we would have sat at the table and gone around the clock to get a deal done."

The city, like many other Lower Mainland municipalities, is proposing a 9.5 per cent wage increase over 39 months. The contract would expire after the end of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Civic inside workers voted late Thursday to reject by 89 per cent what the city called its "final offer."


'Undemocratic' SEIU Local 503 crushes competitor

Score two victories in recent weeks for Oregon's second largest union. On top of Service Employees International Union Local 503 's sealing a two-year deal last week with the state for 18,000 workers, the union got a win from the Employment Relations Board. The board on June 28 denied a bid by a splinter group calling itself the Oregon Workers Union to break away with 1,900 workers. The would-be OWU, mainly representing workers from the state Highway Division, petitioned to leave SEIU because it believed the big union to be "ineffective and undemocratic." No hard feelings, though, says the OWU's Craig Chadwick. "I'm going to try and make the only horse we got work," he says, referring to SEIU.


Mass. gov't unions won retroactive pay hikes

A number of city employees received retroactive pay in 2006 because of deals reached with the city. The Somerville Police Superior Officers Association, Somerville Municipal Employees Union Unit B, SEIU Local 888 representing the E911 call operators, School Custodians union, and the School Department's administrative and paraprofessionals unions all signed new contracts with the city in 2006. SMEA, the school custodians and the Police Superior Officers Association negotiated deals which gave employees back pay, said Maeghan Silverberg, the city's public information officer.

* How much did they make? See the 2006 municipal salary list for Somerville [via link to source, below.]

In October 2006, the city reached an agreement with the Somerville Police Superior Officers Association that gave 28 sergeants, lieutenants and captains two retroactive raises, one going back to July 2004 and another from July 2005.

More recently, the city negotiated a contract with E911 operators that includes two retroactive raises. The results of those raises will not be reflected in the Journal's list of salaries.

Non-union city employees also got retroactive pay this year.

"Non-union employees got retroactive pay based on a new wage-classification system recommended by the Municipal Compensation Advisory Board," said Silverberg via e-mail. She added that this was the first pay adjustment for non-union employees in five years.

What about those raises the Aldermen voted for themselves and Mayor Joe Curtatone?

They took effect on Jan. 1, 2007, and will show up in next year's list.


Teamsters take dues hit as firm shuts early

Lansing, MI-based American Sunroof abruptly closed its doors for good Thursday morning, leaving stunned employees facing locked doors as they arrived at work. Officials from the Teamsters Local 580 said about 15 of its members were affected, though the company has about 30 employees on payroll. The company was due to close July 31. Officials with the union said they would try to ensure workers got paid for their last two weeks of work.


Supermarket swindle

ILWU Local 63 port union's "final offer"

Negotiations between office workers and shipping companies at the nation's largest port complex were scheduled to resume Friday evening as the workers' negotiating team prepared to submit a counterproposal on a new labor contract, an officials said. The latest proposal by the clerical workers was to be their "last, best and final" offer, said Bill Orton, a spokesman for the International Longshore Warehouse Union's Office Clerical Unit, Local 63.

Steve Berry, lead negotiator for the shipping companies, said both sides were scheduled to meet sometime Friday evening. Berry said he was not aware of whether the proposal would be the union's final offer. Earlier in the week, the union said publicly it was preparing such an offer, but ultimately backed off from doing so.

The negotiating teams have continued to meet well past a strike deadline imposed earlier this week by the union. The deadline of 12:01 a.m. last Monday stoked concern over a possible shutdown at the ports.

The 15,000-member ILWU has indicated that longshoremen would honor picket lines if the clerical workers strike.

That would effectively shut down loading and unloading operations at the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which account for more than 40 percent of all the cargo container traffic coming into the U.S.

Berry said he's optimistic a work-stoppage won't occur.

"We're committed to get it done this weekend, if we can," he said.

The previous round of talks wrapped up around 1:30 a.m. Friday, said Berry, adding that progress was made on some issues.

Still, differences remain over wages, the size of workers' pension benefits, changes to their health plan and other issues, he said.

The talks began in May and continued after the current contract expired on June 30.

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

All told, Local 63 represents more than 900 full-time and temporary workers for 17 shipping companies and other cargo firms at the twin ports. The negotiations, however, only cover contracts for between 600 and 850 full- and part-time workers at 14 companies.

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