Striking Vancouver picketers assault pregnant woman

The relationship between the City of Vancouver and its striking government workers appeared to sour further Tuesday with the city hurling serious allegations against some CUPE union members. David McLellan, deputy manager of community services, said police and an ambulance were called after a pregnant woman trying to cross a picket line was intimidated and assaulted by three members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. "This lady was quite harassed by the situation, verbally, physically pushed from the sidewalk, her documents torn up," McLellan said.

"Her car photographed, herself photographed ... It was quite an unpleasant scene." Police confirmed the incident at the city pound, where the woman encountered 10 to 12 picketers. Police said in a news release officers were called to investigate an allegation the woman was pushed. No charges were laid. A representative for the union local that represents inside workers could not be reached for comment.

However, in a release the union said it had been informed of the incident involving "a couple crossing the picket-line and a group of all-female CUPE picketers."

The release said police and ambulance were called in but no charges were laid and no one was taken to hospital.

"It is unfortunate that the city is taking advantage of this first picket-line complaint to escalate tensions between the city and its 5,500 employees," the union said in the release.

Mike Jackson, a CUPE spokesman for the outside workers, said he knew nothing about the situation.

"Anything that happens like that, we don't condone any of that action," he said.

City representatives also say tires have been slashed on several city vehicles and on the personal vehicles of staff who helped clean up after Vancouver's popular fireworks display, which generates an excess of garbage.

"It's distressing because (the vandalism) relates directly to the work we've been doing to try and keep the beaches clean, especially after the fireworks," said Susan Mundick, general manager of the Vancouver Park Board.

She admitted the city had no hard evidence the vandalism was being committed by CUPE members.

The situation on the bargaining front wasn't any more civil between both sides Tuesday.

The city called the demands by CUPE 15, which represents inside workers, "simply unaffordable," but said it remained hopeful after the cities of Delta and Burnaby both reached settlements with their respective unions.

Tentative agreements were reached Monday for 2,000 workers in Burnaby and another 800 in Delta, with ratification votes set for later this week.

After a failed meeting with the city on Saturday, CUPE Local 15 president Paul Faoro said inside workers were frustrated that the city bargaining team sent to talk with union negotiators did not include senior managers who could have struck a deal.

The union put forth an offer which would have seen members receive a raise of 21 per cent over a five-year contract.

After nearly two weeks without garbage pickup, a strong stench has started to waft from some neighbourhood alleyways and garages.

But on the busy Robson Street, which houses popular high-end stores and the city's art gallery, most bins remain empty and store fronts litter-free.

Sharon Danhelka, who works at two galleries in the downtown area, said she hasn't noticed a difference in the city's litter levels since the strike started.

"Someone's cleaning it up," she said, but pointed out that a bylaw requires store owners to keep their shop fronts tidy.

City engineer Tom Timm admitted managers were focusing on collecting garbage from the downtown and commercial areas.

He said there were also contracted programs, such as the Downtown Street Youth Action Group, that were still being run during the strike to pick up garbage.


FOP moves to decertify scandalous Tennessee Teamsters

Citing a string of unfulfilled promises and a scandal that's landed one high-ranking union officer in jail, the Fraternal Order of Police has officially asked for an election to strip the negotiating powers of the union that represents Metro's police officers. Officers with the Fraternal Order of Police submitted Tuesday a petition to have the Teamsters decertified as Metro police's union in an attempt to regain bargaining rights for the department's roughly 1,200 sworn police officers.

"When our members nationwide see a group either condone or allow illegal activity, then they know that's not a group that can properly represent them in a system that is based on justice, and a system we are sworn to protect," FOP national President Chuck Canterbury said Tuesday.

Last month, state investigators raided the local Teamsters headquarters and the Nashville home of national Teamsters organizer Calvin Hullett. Hullett, a former Metro police lieutenant, is accused of hiding surveillance cameras at a youth camp run by the Fraternal Order of Police. Three officers in Davidson and Shelby counties have been suspended or decommissioned because of the investigation. Hullett is the only person who has been charged criminally.

Promises unfulfilled

Danny Hale, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, also cited the Teamsters' inability to deliver on promises made while campaigning to become the department's union last year, including guarantees of a new pension program and collective bargaining.

Teamsters Local President Jimmy Neal did not return calls. The Teamsters have distanced themselves from Hullett.

Organizers said the petition filed Tuesday was signed by more than 700 police officers — 590 signatures were needed to call a decertification election.

Once Metro's Personnel Department determines the signatures are valid, the city would have 45 days to hold a decertification election. If officers vote to decertify the Teamsters, another election will be held to pick a replacement.


Unions shut down Tarantino film

The proposed TheSpoof.com motion picture has been put on the back burner at Quentin Tarantino's studio. Rumor has it no one greased the right palms at the unions and the people granting permits for the city of Los Angeles.

Yes, trying to shoot an independent film in L.A. is becoming a thing of the past. They seem to be locking out the Indies favoring instead the big studio productions that have the available funds to grease all the way down the food chain.

A city official from the permit office for the city said, "you can't shoot without a permit; you can't even shoot on your own property without a permit. There's much paper work shuffling involved, a production can get held up at any juncture if permits are not handled properly."

Union representatives let everyone know right away you have to pay union dues to get anything accomplished in this town, you need at least 23 teamsters drinking coffee on set at all times, transportation can grind the wheels of a Hollywood production to a sudden halt. Production assistants, craft services, lighting, grip, electrical, camera all need attention and payment.

Not only do they have to get over these hurdles but there's also, ASCAP, BMI, The DGA, ASPCA, AFL-CIO to name a few.

Now that all these people have jumped into the game the budget has sky rocketed from $600.000 to 60 million in two days. Unless a major steps in to save this production it looks like all may be lost.


Labor unions on the rise in Iran

The way part of the Western left portrays Iran, one would believe that here we have a progressive regime opposed by small numbers of rich reactionaries beholden to the United States. Blinded by anti-Americanism, the so-called left in the US and the European Union fails to see the true nature of the current struggle in Iran.

American intellectuals of the left such as Michael Moore, Sean Penn and Noam Chomsky have persuaded themselves that anyone who shouts "Death to America!" is fighting for "repressed humanity" and worthy of support.

For their part, the champagne and caviar socialists of Paris and London, claim that the only Iranians who oppose the mullahs are middle class intellectuals often with dual Iranian-American citizenship and, thus, deserving of being seized and tortured as hostages in Tehran.

The truth, however, is that the Islamic Republic, far from representing the mass of the Iranian poor, is an instrument of domination for a new class of rulers who control the national economy through oil revenues that account for almost 30 per cent of the gross domestic product and some 70 per cent of the national budget.

Over the past quarter of a century, the mullahs and their relatives, plus a few thousand military and security officers have shaped into a nomenclature. They have the best jobs, receive the most favours and enjoy priority in access to goods, services, and opportunities for social climbing.

The pre-revolution middle classes formed over 150 years have all but dissolved into poverty with, a good part finding refuge in exile.

Today, there are an estimated 6.5 million Iranians, almost 10 per cent of the total population of the country, in the Gulf region, Europe, Canada, the US and Latin America.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), more than 150,000 highly educated members of the Iranian middle class flee the country each year, creating "the biggest recorded brain drain in history".

Serious challenge

The most serious challenge to the new ruling class of mullahs and military-cum-security officials comes from segments of society that the left labels "the popular masses". Spearheading the fight are groups of industrial workers who have started to flex their muscles in the past two to three years.

Next week, these workers will confront President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration through a series of one-hour strikes designed as a show of solidarity with imprisoned trade unionists.

According to the Workers' Organisations and Activists Coordinating Council (WOACC) over 600 labour leaders have been arrested or "made to disappear" in a crackdown against independent trade unions that started last April.

A further 4,500 workers have been dismissed, often without pay, on vague charges of "fomenting unrest" in a number of state-owned building projects.

The largest number of arrests were made during the May 1 International Labour Day marches organised by independent trade unions in defiance of the state-sponsored ceremonies.

Next week's protests, however, will focus on two prominent independent trade unionists who symbolise Iran's growing labour movement.

The first is Mahmoud Salehi, leader of the Union of Bakery Workers in Sanandaj, capital of Iranian Kurdistan. Salehi was picked up on April 9 when security men raided his home, beat up his family and carried him to an unknown destination.

The second is Mansour Osanloo, president of the Tehran Bus Workers Union. He was abducted in Tehran on July 10 on a busy Tehran street and ended up in Evin Prison, known as "The Islamic Alcatraz".

Salehi has never been formally charged while rumours about his alleged misdeeds are spread through the state-controlled media.

According to these patently absurd rumours, Salehi is a member of the Kurdish Communist Party (Komalah), is seeking to detach the province from Iran and is, at the same time, working with the US to bring "Jewish-Crusader democracy" to Iran.

The authorities have already disbanded the Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA), an independent service covering the free trade union movement. They have also arrested 32 WOACC militants, including six members of the executive board of the Tehran Bus drivers' syndicate.

Repressive measures

Despite the repressive measures, the labour movement seems to be picking momentum.

A group of WOACC leaders has written to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director General Juan Somavia, calling for an international committee of enquiry to investigate the repression of Iranian workers' movement.

The good news is that Western trade unionists are beginning to pay attention to the struggle of their fellow-workers in Iran. Several European trade unions have already called for Salehi, Osanloo, and other Iranian trade unionists to be released. There is some hope that American labour will also join.

Somewhere along the line, the Western left may also realise that it has been duped by a few anti-American slogans into supporting a regime that is dedicated to destroying whatever progressive ideals it once espoused.


Members largely ignorant of new union dues law

Only nine workers have claimed exemptions since a labor agreement 10 months ago allowed state employees who object to union activities on religious grounds to donate dues to charity, state records show.

They are among the 40,000 union members who won that right in September, after Environmental Protection Agency employee Greg Greenwood objected to paying dues to the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association because he believed the union supported abortion rights and same-sex marriages.

Previously, members of Ohio's public-employee unions who had religious objections were permitted to donate their dues to their church, but Greenwood had no church to which to make a donation. A settlement was reached between the OCSEA and U.S. labor agencies that allows objecting members to donate to any charity.

Two other state-employee unions - the Ohio Education Association and the Service Employees International Union-1199 - agreed to the settlement. The OEA represents about 700 workers in state libraries and prisons and the SEIU has about 4,200 social workers, doctors, dentists, psychologists, parole officers and other state employees. The OCSEA, the state's largest public workers union, represents about 35,000 employees.

Since the Greenwood case was resolved, 12 state workers have applied for the exemption, according to Department of Administrative Services records. Nine were approved, one was denied, one is pending and one was withdrawn.


Steelworkers announce final contract

The United Steelworkers says union members have approved a contract ending a 15-month lockout at an auto parts plant in southern Ohio. Today's announcement comes five days after Meridian Automotive Systems said it would close the factory in Jackson. A day later, on Friday, word came of the tentative contract agreement. The Steelworkers union represents 330 hourly workers at the plant. In a statement, it says it now hopes to work with the company and community leaders to find a way to keep the plant open. But if Meridian proceeds with shutting down the facility, the Steelworkers say the contract will require the company to bargain over severance pay and related issues. Jackson is about 75 miles south of Columbus.


Steelworkers forestry strike forces layoffs

Pope & Talbot Inc. on Tuesday said it is going to cut its pulp mill in Nanaimo, British Columbia temporarily. The mill will curtail one of its three lines due to a reduced supply of affordable fiber in the coastal region. The move is expected to reduce the productive capacity of the 400,000-ton per year facility by approximately 17% and impact up to 70 mill employees.

The company said it has decided to take this move for the reduction of lumber capacity in the coastal region and the strong Canadian dollar. The current Steelworkers coastal strike will worsen the situation in the near-term.

Pope & Talbot Chief Executive Harold Stanton, said, “While this will be tough news for some of our employees, we do have the flexibility to return to full capacity as conditions improve.”


Striking Teamster auto workers replaced

A strike by mechanics and parts workers at Columbia Ford entered its seventh week Monday, but the dealership is now using replacement workers to do oil changes and other small jobs. "We are doing limited work," Pat Sari, president and general manager of the Longview dealership, said Monday. "We have to take care of cars and keep them in compliance." He declined to say how many replacement workers have been hired. Sari said he and union leadership "had limited communication" last week and "continue to set up some meeting dates to talk."

The two sides last met July 12 but "absolutely nothing happened, and we made no movement," Brian King, business representative for Teamsters Local 58, said last week. Neither King nor representatives of the Machinists local 1350, which represents the repair shop workers, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Initially, 31 workers were on strike, but at least six have taken other jobs at equal or higher pay, King said. The remaining 25 workers continue to picket the dealership on Seventh Avenue. The dispute is over how much workers should contribute to their health insurance coverage.

"We told him (Sari) then that he had to improve the offer to have a revote," King said, referring to a dealership request that the last offer be put to a union vote again. "We'll stay there as long as it takes. We think he won't be able to hire qualified people."

Trained workers "are highly sought after, and they have tens of thousands of dollars of tools that they have to buy for themselves," King said.

Columbia Ford is proposing to cap its monthly contributions to health coverage at $650 per individual for family coverage, leaving Teamsters workers to each pay about $100 a month. Currently, the workers pay $34 a month. Machinists' health care costs would increase to $133 a month.

However, the union has said that while the immediate cost increase is of a concern to the union, workers are especially wary of how much more they would pay as health insurance costs continue to escalate.


CAW strike the final factor in brewery closure

A half-dozen striking Canadian Auto Workers were on the afternoon picket line at Molson for only 30 minutes Tuesday when they learned their brewery will close permanently and all 102 unionized and 34 non-unionized employees are out of a job.

The fortress-like Molson House at 104th Avenue and 121st Street has been in operation since it opened in 1904 as a Sicks brewery. Molson's took over the brewery in 1958. Company officials now say consumers' tastes for canned rather than bottled beer doomed the facility, which produces only bottled beer.

"Nationally, 25 per cent of beer is consumed in cans," said Molson chief brewing officer Daniel Pelland. "In the West it was in the 50-per-cent range and it's now up to 60 per cent." Another factor in the closure of breweries throughout Canada in recent years was an interprovincial trade agreement of the early 1990s that allowed domestic beer to be moved across provincial boundaries. Prior to that, all domestic beer had to be produced in the province in which it was consumed.

At one point, Alberta supported three Molson breweries. The 104th Avenue brewery is the last of the three to close. The Edmonton plant is only the most recent Molson closure since Canada became a free-trade zone for domestic beer.

"We closed out the Regina brewery in 2002. Barrie closed in 1999 and we closed our Fleet Street brewery in Toronto in 1989," said company spokesman Ferg Devins.

Another factor in the closing of the local plant was Molson's loss in May of the right to bottle Foster's, a popular Australian brand name. In future, all North American Foster's will be brewed by Miller's in the United States.

Foster's was not brewed in Edmonton, but the loss of production at Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal breweries freed up production capacity. The Edmonton brewery had produced less than 10 per cent of Molson Canada's annual volume. Local consumer demand will now be picked up by Molson facilities in other cities.

A final factor was the strike.

"The current labour impasse, after months of negotiating at the Edmonton brewery to reduce costs for new hire employees, was a contributing factor to the decision," said Molson president Kevin Boyce.

Workers at the local plant had been on strike since May 30. They walked out to demand a new three-year contract that would promise a phase-out of the brewery's two-tier wage system.

Officially, starting wage at the brewery was $29.15, said Garth Sanderson, president of the union representing local workers, but new workers received $8 an hour less than that and their wages would remain lower than their longtime peers, even as they moved up the seniority ladder or got promotions.

The union wanted the company to redraft its wage system so that at some stage new hires would achieve wage parity with older employees. Until the brewery was closed by the strike, new hires also received fewer sick days and had a pension scheme that required them to pay half the cost of their pension, whereas the company paid the full cost for full-time workers, Sanderson said.

"We didn't go out for more money," said Sanderson, president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, Local 284. "We went out for a good cause." Closure of the brewery represents a family tragedy as well as a worker tragedy for Sanderson. He has worked there for 20 years. His father worked at Molson's for 35.

"I'm now 42 years old and in a way I've been with them all my life." Workers agree that with Alberta's red-hot economy it should prove relatively easy to land another job. It will be virtually impossible to find jobs that pay as well, however.

"I'll probably be all right with my millwright's ticket but the guys who worked on the bottling line will find it tough," said Larry Skoreiko.

The brewery has been a 104th Avenue landmark for 103 years. Its oldest building is a turreted structure akin to a castle, built of red brick baked in the river valley using Edmonton-mined coal.

A city archivist says it was never placed on the city's list of protected historic buildings, however, so closure of the brewery brings the continued existence of that building into question.

Crosstown Motors, a large auto dealership which operates next door, is scheduled for demolition and will be replaced by a condo project. It remains to be seen what will happen to the brewery property, Pelland said.

"We have to decide how to deal with that. Our focus right now is our employees. We will get to the brewery asset and the property in the weeks ahead." Before that happens, Molson will discuss separation packages for its workers with union officials, Pelland said. A closed-door meeting of employees, union officials and company representatives is scheduled for 9 a.m. this morning at the Ramada Hotel, 11834 Kingsway.

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