Vancouver braces for long gov't union strike

Vancouver, British Columbia residents are being warned to prepare for a lengthy disruption of municipal services, even though both sides in the dispute say they don't want a long strike. With no garbage collection, the core of Canada's third-largest city is expected to get dirtier. Parents with kids enrolled in city day camps have been scrambling to find other mid-summer diversions and homebuilders will now have to wait for the strike to end before they can get water and sewer hookups.

But city officials also warned residents Monday to keep plugging those parking meters - the city will find a way to enforce its bylaws and write tickets. City inside workers and librarians joined outside workers from the Canadian Union of Public Employees on the picket line Monday, bringing on a full-scale shutdown of city services by its 6,000 civic employees. If the last two walkouts since 1997 are any indication, the strike could last up to two months.

Besides almost 600,000 residents in Vancouver, another 80,000 people living in the District of North Vancouver are being hit by job action from their municipal employees.

Vancouver and its unions appeared to be doing little more than trading rhetoric through the news media Monday.

The city and CUPE each claim the other's inflexibility led to the strike.

"Over the last several weeks (the union locals) have developed an unrealistic set of expectations in terms of the burden that Vancouver taxpayers should shoulder to fund their demands," said Jerry Dobrovolny, a Vancouver assistant city engineer and the city's chief spokesman during the dispute.

But Keith Graham, a member of the union's bargaining committee, said the city has pushed for a 39-month contract employees clearly found unacceptable.

Thirty-nine months would ensure labor peace beyond the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Graham said the city precipitated the showdown by going to the B.C. Labour Relations Board to force a vote on its last offer, essentially attempting an end-run around union negotiators.

"They tried this exercise so they created this hole for themselves," said Graham.

"Let's get real here. Our members shot down the employer's last offer by 89 per cent."

Graham said the union was ready to bargainers non-stop over the weekend but Dobrovolny dismissed pictures of CUPE negotiators sitting at an empty table as nothing but a "photo-op."

Meanwhile, city managers detailed a long list of services that either will be available on a limited basis or not at all for the duration of the dispute.

Skating rinks, public golf courses, community recreation and fitness centres and swimming pools are shut down.

About 2,500 children in summer day camps and some in licensed child-care facilities are affected.

"Parents have been advised and have sought out alternate programs and situations for their children," said Sue Mundick, general manager of Vancouver's parks and recreation board.

While parks are open, some washrooms will be out of service and attractions such as the Stanley Park petting zoo and children's miniature train ride will be closed.

Garbage, recycling and yard-waste collection is suspended for 90,000 single-family homes, while apartment blocks and commercial buildings continue to have private garbage pickup.

"Essentially what we're recommending is that residents reduce and reuse and recycle to the greatest extent they possibly can during the job action," said Tom Timm, general manager of engineering services.

"And beyond that, they think about treating their garbage in a way that they're going to have to save it for longer than usual."

Timm said workers will still respond to emergencies, such as broken water mains or sewers, or faulty traffic lights.

The city's Gay Pride festival and Festival of Light fireworks competition will continue to take place, posing a major headache for the city's 600 exempted managers and workers who will have to do the cleaning up.

Both events attract hundreds of thousands of people to Vancouver's downtown.

"We are asking participants, spectators to do the best they can in terms of pack it in, pack it out," he said.

Officials warned people not to expect free parking during the dispute.

Cars at expired meters will still be ticketed to ensure adequate turnover in commercial areas, and rush-hour towing will continue in order to avoid traffic congestion, said Timm.

The gets $25 million to $30 million in revenue from parking meters.


Obama to AFSCME: Union no-bid contracts are OK

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama held himself up last night to Iowa's largest government union as the true change agent in the 2008 field who can bring Americans together and end "polarizing politics" that stymies progress on a host of pressing issues. "We've heard promises and slogans about change before," Obama told AFSCME Council 61. "The road to Washington is often paved with good intentions, but it always ends in the same divisive, polarized politics that's blocked real progress for so many years.

"The only way we'll be able to stand up to the special interests and win these fights is if we build a movement to do it, and the only way we can build a movement is if we finally have a president who can bring the American people together," he added. "That's the kind of experience we need in the next president and that's the kind of experience I bring to this race."

Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, told AFSCME Council 61 attendees that the 2008 election comes down to one question: "Do you want change or do you want more of the same?"

As a former community organizer in Chicago, Obama said he battled for hope, opportunity and equality for people hurt by steel-plant closings and job losses. Now, as a presidential candidate, he wants to carry on that march toward a hopeful vision for the entire country.

"What we need to make real today is the idea that in this country, we value the labor of every American," he said. "That we'’re willing to respect that labor and reward it with a few basic guarantees - wages that can raise a family, health care if we get sick, a retirement that's dignified, working conditions that are safe."

Under the Bush administration, Obama said Washington has been thrown open to the most anti-union, anti-worker forces in many years with powerful lobbyists blocking reform and government jobs being outsourced to private interests via no-bid contracts.


UFCW's ugly fight in Arizona

What is already an ugly fight between Bashas' supermarkets and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99 is only going to get uglier. The company and the union are, as is common in efforts to organize workers, so far apart it's difficult to see any way out of the impasse. The conflict reaches back 13 years to when Bashas' bought seven stores from Arizona Supermarkets Inc. Workers in these stores were represented by the UFCW and, because Bashas' kept on most of the employees, the company was bound by the collective-bargaining agreement. The same thing happened in 2001 when Bashas' purchased two ABCO stores.

Bashas' says it has tried to negotiate with the union but talks fell apart when the parties couldn't reach agreement on health and pension benefits, and the union eventually lost interest and hasn't been active in the stores. Bashas' contends the union no longer represents the Bashas' employees.

The UFCW says Bashas' representatives wouldn't even come to the table and talk, much less negotiate. Union spokeswoman Katy Giglio said the store didn't make the kind of major changes that would require the union's involvement until 2006, when the company unilaterally changed the health plan and removed two cashier stations in a store and replaced them with self-service check-outs. The company has also closed several stores and transferred employees to other stores without bargaining with the union.
Bashas' says that if employees want to unionize, they should file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and have an election.

The union says the election gives the company too much power to sway workers without a chance to counter their statements at the workplace. The UFCW wants Bashas' to let the union come in and make its case to workers while the company remains neutral.
Then, if the majority of employees sign cards saying they want to be represented by the union, the UFCW wants the company to accept that and work out a collective bargaining agreement for its store employees in its namesake chain, plus its AJ's Fine Foods and Food City stores.

The family-owned chain operates more than 150 stores and has more than 14,000 employees statewide, including 1,938 full-time-equivalent workers in Southern Arizona.

So far it looks like a classic union- versus-large-employer tangle. The UFCW filed grievances with the NLRB office in Phoenix and, after an investigation, the agency's regional director determined there was enough evidence of a violation to pursue the case. A hearing before a judge is scheduled for Tuesday in Phoenix. It could take several months for a finding to be made, and then either side could appeal to the five-member NLRB panel in Washington, D.C. From there, if Bashas' loses, it could appeal to U.S. Circuit Court.

Enter the baby formula.

A group called Hungry for Respect, which is organized by the UFCW and includes other community members, recently called press conferences claiming they'd done checks of Bashas', Food City and AJ's Fine Food stores and found 683 cans of expired formula at 55 stores.

Giglio showed the Star stacks of grocery receipts and said the group did the audit after complaints from Bashas' employees that they were removing out-of-date product at night only to find it back on the shelves.

Bashas' spokeswoman Kristy Nied says the claim stretches credulity, and the company is checking its transaction records to see if it can verify that the cans were purchased at their stores, and when.

Bashas' says it's a victim of a vicious smear campaign designed to pressure it into caving to a union its employees don't want.

So let's find out. Bashas' should let the UFCW do its card check drive and give the union the opportunity to fairly present its case to workers. However, the UFCW should agree that Bashas' can present its case to the employees.

The card check route could prove more difficult for the union, because the majority of eligible employees have to sign cards for union representation — that's about 7,000 people. But for the secret ballot, it's a majority of the votes cast, so if 1,000 workers vote and 501 say they want a union, they win, according to NLRB field attorney Richard A. Smith in Phoenix.

Both sides should present their cases, within labor law standards, to the employees without real or perceived smear tactics on either side. And let the people who do the work decide.


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

You have to hand it to the Democrats: In control of both houses of the legislature, they have driven public approval of Congress down to 14 percent in a Gallup Poll - an all-time low. The Republicans said they would be better: high-tone, principled, immune to corruption; they would get things done. They weren't and they didn't. Yet six months in power, the party of government has shown itself equally incapable of key legislative achievement or cleaning the congressional closets.

The Washington Post reported last month: "Keeping momentum on ethics reforms is proving tough for House Democratic leaders, who are struggling to sell lawmakers on a proposal for overhauling House ethics enforcement, which is part of the party's pledge to improve accountability in Congress."

Both houses have passed measures expanding disclosure of lawmakers' dealings with lobbyists, but reconciliation of the competing bills has not happened. The Associated Press concludes: "Toughening ethics laws, once a priority of Democrats, has bogged down in Congress as party leaders find their campaign promises colliding with lawmakers' re-election concerns." The Democrats are proving as tolerant of their own corruption as their predecessor Republicans.

On specific issues, let's see:

# The Democrats have embraced legislator earmarks after insisting they would not.

# They failed — twice — to approve the bipartisan immigration bill.

# They tried (but failed, thank heaven) to allow unions to organize workplaces without Australian (secret) ballots — Big Labor's top legislative priority.

# In the energy sector, they have tried (but so far failed) (a) to drive up the cost of gasoline, (b) to drive up the cost of electricity, and (c) to impose $29 billion in "excess-profits" taxes on oil companies for "price-gouging." Their energy legislation contains curiously little to encourage new domestic development of oil, coal and nuclear to reduce our energy dependence on foreign sources.

# On the edges, the Democrats are frittering about U.S. attorneys, and Guantanamo, surveillance of terrorists, and funding of the office of the vice president. They're delaying rollout of administration plans for a new border-crossing card. They're subpoenaing records of administration internal documents and issuing criminal contempt citations.

Now the Democratic congressional leadership is spending July ripping the administration on Iraq, hamstringing the military and civilian effort there, and disparaging the very notion of a jihadist war in which we are the ultimate target — let alone the need to fight it.

The public began to embrace the Republican Congress as corrupt and incompetent — and routinely stymied in their legislative initiatives by Democrats, members of the party of efficient governing. Yet in six months, the Democrats are proving equally corrupt and inept — and fortunately stymied by a Republican minority that has not lost its ideological mind.

Ross Mackenzie is a former editorial page editor at the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, now retired. E-mail: rmackenzie@tribune.com.


Gov't union strike shuts down Vancouver, BC

Vancouver City Hall will be behind picket lines and municipal services will be brought to a near-standstill today as some 2,500 inside city workers - from bylaw officers to dog-pound staff - join their outside counterparts in a full-blown civic strike. Swimming pools, community centres, city theatres, marinas and city-run day camps are among the locations that will be closed at 8:01 a.m. today, 72 hours after CUPE Local 15 delivered strike notice on Friday.

"This is a full city shutdown," said Paul Faoro, Local 15 president. "The pickets will be everywhere. You'll see our members wearing strike signs, and you'll see managers doing the work." Piles of garbage, including cans of paints and solvents, have been dumped at the end of a dead-end road near the transfer station in Delta. The dump is closed due to a strike by civic workers.

There's no way the 600 city managers can do any more than the essential work of 6,000 striking staff, said city spokesman Gerry Dobrovolny.

The parents of more than 2,000 kids registered for day camps that were to start today should look for alternatives, he said.

But festivals, including the HSBC Celebration of Light, will continue as planned, he said, as long as citizens minimize littering. The first of four shows is set for Wednesday.

"One of our messages will be pack out what you pack in," said Dobrovolny.

Garbage was piled high at south Vancouver's garbage transfer station yesterday as the strike by Vancouver's garbage collectors and other outside workers, which began Friday, continued.

In Delta, where the Vancouver landfill was shut down by picketing members of outside workers' union CUPE 1004, the Delta Police closed a side road to the landfill. Frustrated Vancouverites piled garbage at the entrance to the side road.

"We don't want the outside of the dump becoming the dump," said Delta Mayor Lois Jackson.

Vancouver's librarians and library staff have vowed to respect picket lines and any library within a picketed community centre will close, said CUPE Local 391 president Alex Young Berg.

At 4 p.m. today, 72 hours after Local 391 issued strike notice, library workers will become the third Vancouver union to commence job action.


Trouble for town Highway officials, Teamsters

The troubles of the Haverhill, MA Highway Department and many of its workers may end up a financial windfall for local private companies that pave roads, trim trees and plow snow. Mayor James Fiorentini said he is developing contingency plans to hire private contractors to take over many of the department's duties should it lose almost a third of its 33 workers.

At least 10 Highway Department workers are under investigation by state and local authorities, who say the men worked on private paving and construction jobs for their former highway boss, James Flaherty, while they were on city time. The attorney general's office also said it is investigating whether the workers evaded paying taxes by not claiming the money they earned for the extra work between 2000 and 2005. City Solicitor William Cox Jr. and police Chief Alan DeNaro are in charge of a local probe to determine whether the workers cheated Haverhill taxpayers, the mayor said.

"I have no information that anyone in the Highway Department is about to be indicted for anything, but we have told the (highway workers) union we are preparing for every eventuality," Fiorentini said.

Jim Fiori, the Teamsters Local boss that includes the highway workers, declined to comment except to say he has received a letter from the mayor about his plans and is reviewing it with a lawyer.

Fiorentini said he will immediately suspend without pay any city employees who are indicted by the grand jury in its probe of James Flaherty, his son Kevin Flaherty and the rest of the Highway Department.

The Flahertys have been charged criminally and were arraigned Wednesday in Salem Superior Court on a variety of charges related to defrauding the city to benefit their personal businesses.

Some of the private services the city is considering contracting for include filling potholes, paving short roads, trimming trees and plowing snow, the mayor said. The privatization plan could be temporary or permanent depending on its success, he said.

"We are preparing (documents) to advertise for services in case we lose a number of highway workers," Fiorentini said. "There will always be a need for a city Highway Department because we are always going to need inspectors and supervisors to keep an eye on the private contractors. But we think there may be some opportunities to create efficiencies and save money, whether or not we lose any employees."

Robert Moylan, a leading authority in organizing and running public works departments in Massachusetts, is helping the mayor rebuild the Highway Department into a modern and efficient operation that the public can trust, Fiorentini said.

In addition to privatizing many of the department's duties, the mayor is also considering hiring a public works director who would be in charge of not only the Highway Department but also Water and Wastewater, engineering, recycling and trash collection.

In addition to the Flahertys, the department is also about to lose its longtime assistant superintendent, Stephen Wersoski, who is retiring at the end of the month. Wersoski is among the 10 workers who state investigators say worked on private Flaherty jobs.

Regardless of whether the mayor goes forward with his privatization plan, he said the city will soon install electronic time clocks at the Highway Department complex and global positioning system devices in equipment and vehicles driven by the department's supervisors.

Among the allegations against the Flahertys and the other workers is that they used city equipment on private paving jobs and that the Flahertys traveled on an almost daily basis between the Highway Department garage and their private jobs in their city SUVs. Global positioning system devices, called GPS for short, would allow the city to track its equipment is at all times.

A review of Highway Department payroll records found many problems that were difficult or impossible to check because the department uses paper time sheets that can easily be manipulated, the mayor said.

James Flaherty, 65, retired in April after the mayor threatened to fire him. Kevin Flaherty, 35, who was a Highway Department foreman, was fired in June. The men are next due in court Aug. 17.

According to court documents, these city employees worked private Flaherty jobs on city time and are under investigation by state and local authorities:

Stephen Wersoski Jr., the longtime assistant highway superintendent who was appointed acting superintendent by the mayor shortly after James Flaherty was suspended Jan. 31. Wersoski, 58, joined the department in 1970 and recently announced he will retire Aug. 3.

Charles Gately, a laborer hired in 1988

Raymond Bradshaw, foreman hired in 1974

Frank Garwich, foreman hired in 1984

Robert Edgerly, laborer hired in 1987

Daniel Cannon Jr., hired in 1989 (no position listed on city records)

Eric Frasca, laborer hired in 1999

Thomas Collins, welder/mechanic hired in 1999

John Abromovitch, park maintenance craftsman/skylift operator hired in 2000

Paul Badolato, laborer hired in 2004


UFCW rep arrested in Swift immigration sweeps

On July 10, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 25 current or former employees of the Swift & Company meat processing firm. Twenty of those arrested were sought on federal and state warrants; most were picked up on the job, while others were detained in their homes. ICE arrested 18 workers on criminal charges relating to identity theft and administrative immigration violations in six locations where Swift plants are located. In Marshalltown, ICE also arrested Braulio Pereyra-Gabino, an official of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who represents Swift employees, on criminal charges for "harboring illegal aliens".

Union officials and worker advocates are especially troubled by the federal grand jury indictment against Pereyra, vice president of UFCW Local 1149, for allegedly harboring undocumented immigrants. "Nobody on our payroll has ever been arrested previously" in this type of case, said UFCW spokesperson Jill Cashen. "This is a criminal case, not an administrative legal problem, so we're concerned."

Typically, union representatives do not recruit, hire or fire workers, which makes the charges puzzling, immigration experts said. Details of the case against Pereyra-Gabino are in a sealed court file. Regional immigration officials and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa declined to elaborate on the harboring charge against him, or the policy under which he is being prosecuted.


Teamsters lose dues as PA manufacturer shuts

Despite lobbying efforts this summer by the Teamsters union and the state government, Philips Products will close its Selinsgrove, PA plant in September. Company officials told the Daily Item overcapacity is the reason for closing the window and door manufacturing plant. It employs about 160 workers. It's likely plants in North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas will make up for the production that will be lost with the closing of the Selinsgrove plant.


Nevada homicide victim was a Teamster

We now know the name of the man who was shot and killed at a Henderson, Nev. house party early Saturday morning. 22-year-old Josh Embler was killed at a home near Wigwam and Pecos. Embler was a forklift driver with Local Teamsters Union 631. Eyewitnesses say the shooting happened after a fight. Police say there was drinking at the party. Neighbors who called police say officers went to the home several times in the past to break up parties. If you have any information about the murder to call 267-4755. You can remain anonymous.


What Is A Union?

This year’s winner of the Walter Behn Memorial Bursary is James Laplante. We require a short essay on “what is a union” as part of the application. The Walter Behn Memorial Bursary is given each year to a grad of ADSS going on to further education. This is Laplante’s essay on unions:

For some people the word union has a negative connotation. These people hear of workers wanting too much money for the work they do, or they hear of violence on the picket lines. Those people do not know or understand what a union truly is.
By definition, a union is “a group of workers joined together to protect and promote their interests” (Gage 1983).

To me, a union is more than that. A union is a way of life. If it were not for unions, my grandparents would never have been able to establish the life they did for themselves. They started their lives in the time when employers had all the rights and control. The union ensured a safe place to work, decent wages, wage and work equity, and health plans that enabled workers to care for their families.

I am thankful to all the people, who over the years, fought to establish unions. Through their efforts in establishing unions, my grandfather was able to give his children a better life and consequently, I have a better life today than I otherwise would have had. I have been raised in a union home and for that I am thankful.


Steelworkers strike to shut forestry long-term

British Columbia's union leaders threatened to leave the province's coastal forests industry cold for months as they and about 6,500 logging and sawmiller workers walked off the job Friday at midnight. "We're locking in for the long haul," said Brian Harder, the president of United Steelworkers local 1-3567, which includes workers along the province's Fraser Valley. "It's going to take months, we expect. It's not going to be a short-term strike."

Union members spent Saturday forming picket lines at hundreds of forestry operations up and down the coast of B.C. as the lights went off on the $2-billion industry in what both union and industry said was an orderly shutdown. Workers at Island Timberlands LP and the 31 companies represented by industry bargaining group Forest Industrial Relations were joined by employees of several hundred other small forestry operations known as "me-toos." They are not directly involved in bargaining, but follow the contracts that other coastal workers agree to and mimic their job actions.

Workers at International Forest Products Ltd., or Interfor, were set to walk onto picket lines on Saturday at 4 p.m., while a group of 29 engineers and foresters employed by TimberWest Forest Corp. remained on the job pending resolution of a dispute before the province's labour relations board.

TimberWest recently offered those workers a contract that included a $100,000 signing bonus and 11% pay hikes over five years. The union has argued that that contract should also apply to the hundreds of logging contractors used by TimberWest. Those contractors use striking Steelworkers employees, meaning that TimberWest's operations have been strangled alongside everyone else.

Forestry operations in the interior of the province, where most of B.C.'s lumber is produced, continued to operate normally. Workers there fall under a separate contract.

The coastal industry has struggled with inefficient mills, some of the world's highest forestry wages, a punishing tax on U.S. exports, poor lumber prices and a soaring loonie -- factors that have made it nearly impossible for many to turn a profit in recent years, although log exporters like Island Timberlands and TimberWest have seen strong returns.

As a result, industry has argued it cannot afford to accede to union demands, which include severance pay for partial mill closures, stronger language on the use of contractors and veto power over changes in shifts. That last issue, known as "alternate-shifting," was introduced after the B.C. government imposed a contract following the last coastal strike in 2003. That contract awarded employers a number of measures designed to boost their efficiency and included the ability to rapidly alter workers' shifts in the interest of saving on overtime payments.

Industry has offered to make some changes to how alternate-shifting works, but has fought to maintain the principle.

"Ultimately, we're trying to preserve our competitiveness," said Forest Industrial Relations spokesman Ron Shewchuk, who urged the union to take industry's most recent offer to workers for a vote.

"We've actually gone quite a ways to offer improvements to the contract without asking any concessions of employees. If we go any further, we would incur extra costs or reduce our flexibility. And neither of those are acceptable to us."

Darrel Wong, the president of Steelworkers local 1-2171, said workers are prepared to wait for a better offer.

"Our members got beat up pretty bad with this lass contract and there has been an enormous amount of frustration over the last few years with the way people have been treated on alternate shifts," he said. "We're going to fix some of it, maybe not 100% but we are certainly going to fix quite a bit of it. We're not going be working these dangerously long shifts."

Pressure on companies from contractors who don't want the strike will force industry concessions, said Mr. Wong.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Bishop disagreed.

"I think you're going to see the union come back with its tail between its legs and try to get some kind of a compromise, a significant compromise over the position they had going in," he said.

"I don't see any other way, otherwise this will be a very long strike. Because the companies are very focussed on what they need, and there's no reason for them at this point, given the economics of the business, to rush into a settlement they don't need."

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