Local mayor downplays USW forest strike, backs union

The first week of the West Coast forestry strike went by peacefully in the North Island, where 750 of the 4,500 idled workers live. "It has had very little impact so far," said Port McNeill mayor Gerry Furney. "Most logging communities are generally shut down for four or five weeks for fire season or snow every year, so people can deal with it. The forest workers in Port McNeill, and the North Island in general, have had a good year ... there haven't been any layoffs or shutdowns," Furney continued.

"My first reaction to strikes is they're unfortunate," says Furney. "If commonsense prevailed, people would avoid any shutdown longer than necessary, but sometimes the only way a union can get the attention of management is organize a work stoppage. I'm hoping, now that they have each other's attention, that they will come to an agreement as quickly as possible."

If the strike lasts longer, Furney hopes to see a mediator as soon as possible. "In the past, when a stoppage has occurred, the government has appointed a mediator, and that can focus the attention of both sides," he says.

Furney declined to say who's "right or wrong", but did sympathize with workers' concerns about hours of work

"While 12-hour shifts can work well in an isolated setting, where people don't have to travel, they don’t work in permanent community settings like we have in the North Island," said Furney. "Our guys are working regular shifts, and the quality of life is better."

Furney agrees with the union that longer shifts are less safe. "Eight-hour days are much safer than having people work 12 hours in very demanding circumstances," he said. "Twelve hours plus travel, that's a pretty long day, and it doesn't leave much time for family and community."

Over at United Steelworkers office in Port McNeill, Local 1-2171 first vice-president Nick Doubinin reports 95 per cent of the members are doing picket duty.

"No talks have started, or are planned ... our phone has not been ringing," said Doubinin.

But the union members are still "resolved," says Doubinin, and want action on shifts, hours of work, overtime and severance pay for partial closures.

The last contract, which was imposed by an arbitrator, allows employers the "unilateral right" to impose 12 hour shifts without paying overtime.

That was tried unsuccessfully by Cascadia in Port McNeill, says Doubinin. "The guys had never worked anything but an eight hour day, some of them for 30 years, and it didn't work."

Before and after working a 12-hour day, workers must travel on the crummy from the logging site to the marshalling point and then travel to and from their home. "I don't care where you are, that takes a toll," said Doubinin.

While none of the operations on the North Island use 12-hour shifts, "they have been talking about it," says Doubinin. "We’ve managed to avoid them, but these shifts could be imposed at any time. If all the operations in Port McNeill did that, the community would be hosed."


Vancouver garbage strike: Citizens fear bear attacks

Outraged residents along North Vancouver, B.C.'s Lynn Creek say a makeshift garbage dump beside their homes has them living in fear of a bear attack. One resident says she has already seen a black bear rummaging behind her home after District of North Vancouver managers began dumping garbage two days ago in the parking lot at Inter-River Park.

"The bears are already coming around," said Liane Galcso, who lives in subsidized housing on Premier Street, beside the park gates. She said it's outrageous that garbage is being dumped in her neighbourhood when bear-aware residents in her low-income housing complex are paying a private contractor to haul out their waste.

"Here we are because of concerns about bears, paying a private company to pick up our garbage because we are concerned the bears will smell it, and meanwhile the district is putting garbage in our backyard that's going to cause the bears to come into our area.

"We've all got kids here and we're scared. It is just unbelievable they are putting it here."

Tony Webb, of the North Shore Black Bear Network, said residents along Lower Lynn Creek often see bears this time of year.

"That is not a good spot to put garbage," said Webb. "That's a prime bear area.

"We hope it doesn't get to the point where there are bear issues. Nobody wants to see a bear shot."

Webb said even after the garbage is removed bears will return twice to the same spot to see if there is any further food. "This is getting bears habituated to garbage -- the very thing we've been trying to avoid for nearly a decade."

The garbage at Inter-River Park is being dumped by district managers. There is a wire fence around the garbage.

"I don't know why they put [the dump] there," said North Vancouver District Coun. Janice Harris. "We are aware there is concern about it from the residents."

She said it is unfortunate there could be a bear problem this summer due to the garbage strike, especially considering the district has enacted a new bylaw to control curbside garbage.

Mayor Richard Walton did not return The Province's calls.

Bear expert Casey Black said garbage will attract bears from a long way off.

"Bears smell garbage for miles," he said.

If the bears don't get a reward with the garbage, they will move on.

Little progress was made yesterday on labour issues in North Vancouver. CUPE 389 representing 800 workers stopped work July 19.

n North Vancouver RCMP urged people to dump their garbage at the North Vancouver transfer station during off-peak hours because the heavy traffic is causing long delays.

n CUPE picket signs have come down at Ray Cam Community Centre in East Vancouver so that children in need can attend the centre's daycare services, under an agreement worked out yesterday between the union, the Labour Relations Board and the city.

n Delta city workers last night voted in favour of a contract giving them a 17.5-per-cent hike over five years.


Teamsters strike cancels service for disabled

Workers with Kalamazoo's Care-A-Van service are on strike. The organization helps elderly or physically and developmentally disabled people get around the Michigan town.

The union for the drivers says management offered a raise of just two percent. It worked out to 17 cents, so the drivers were on the side of the road Wednesday morning. Their Care-A-Van buses sat parked. "Unfortunately, that's the only thing they're going to understand I think is when it impacts them," said Ron Smeltzer, a representative for Teamsters Local 7.

They're members of the Teamsters Local Seven and Wednesday they're on strike for more than a 2% raise and a 20% cut in health coverage.

"I've had numerous breakdowns on the road," said driver Brad Cosgrove. Cosgrove is one driver also worried about safety. He says his elderly and disabled passengers often ride without air conditioning in buses that need repair.

"When it broke down on Monday, I was trying to calm the passenger down, he was trying to go, he didn't understand the bus wasn't going to run," said Cosgrove.

Those complaints about buses were a surprise to the General Manager of Pride Care, the company with the contract to run Care-A-Van. "They're all deemed safe by the City of Kalamazoo and Metro Transit," said Becki Russon.

Russon says the Teamsters told her this was an economic strike. "And so the safety thing wasn't even brought up until well into the conversation and seemed to be secondary," said Russon.

An economic strike means Pride Care can replace these drivers. Drivers like Cosgrove are willing to lose their jobs for change.

"We're not in this for the money, we believe in what we're doing," said Cosgrove.

Pride Care's GM set a deadline of five Wednesday for those drivers to come back to work or look for another job.

Because of this strike about 200 scheduled rides never happened Wednesday.


Rats grateful for big government union strike

As Vancouver's garbage slowly piles up in its cans and alleys while the CUPE government union strike drags on, the rats now appear to be noticing. Pest control experts say the number of rat complaints is increasing as a strike by Vancouver's municipal workers - including those who pick up garbage - enters its third week.

But a medical health officer said the rats don't pose a significant health risk to humans. Liyaquat Ali, western Canadian regional manager for Orkin PCO Services pest control, said his company has seen a five per cent increase in rat complaints since Vancouver's outside municipal workers went on strike July 19.

The increase in calls has been from businesses and residences alike, though there are more complaints from east Vancouver, he said. The problem has been compounded by the massive construction on the airport rapid transit line as the rodents are pushed from their nests. "The rats are starting to come out of their nesting areas and feeding on the garbage," Ali said. "The population is growing."

When outside workers represented by CUPE Local 1004 hit the picket lines, city officials warned residents to be prepared for a lengthy labour dispute which would mean reduced garbage collection.

And that doesn't bode well for potential rat problems, Ali said.

"You will have lots of rats running around," he said. "The garbage strike is one way to increase the population."

Medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly said even though the rats aren't a health risk, she acknowledged people don't find them pleasing.

"We know we have rats whether or not we have a garbage strike," she said. "If the rodent population does increase, it is not a risk to the public."

Any rat problems as a result of the strike will hit residences because businesses in the city rely on private garbage collection.

Daly said the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has not had an increase in calls about rats due to the strike, but the authority has issued guidelines on how to store garbage to prevent pest infestations.

That includes putting wet kitchen garbage in rodent-proof containers.

Ali said a female rat can produce up to 60 young in an 18-month period. The gestation period for a pregnant rat is about three weeks.

Vancouver's outside civic workers hit the bricks two weeks ago.

The next day, they were joined by the inside workers leaving the city's 600 managers to do the work of more than 5,000 workers.

A sticking point in the talks has been the length of the contracts.

Vancouver has insisted on a 39-month contract.

The unions want either a three-year or four-year deal, and union officials have said they don't want to be bargaining again in the wake of potential cost overruns and cuts after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

The job action has meant everything from new-home construction to minor renovations could be delayed without inspectors or city crews to hook up water and sewer connections.

On Wednesday, inside workers represented by CUPE Local 15 agreed to stop picketing a Downtown Eastside daycare centre in an effort to decrease hardship on the disadvantaged children and parents using the facility.

The move drew praise from CUPE BC president Barry O'Neill who said it was outside the norm of standard labour relations.

The union said it hoped the gesture would inspire the city to return to the bargaining table.

Local 15 and the city had met briefly on Saturday but talks broke off after the city said the union's contract proposal was too rich for the city.

Local 1004, the CUPE unit representing outside workers, said it had asked the city to return to bargaining last week but received no response.

"It's frustrating, " said Dave Van Dyke, a vice-president with the local.

If the last two municipal employee walkouts since 1997 are any indication, the strike could last up to two months.

In other Lower Mainland municipalities, Burnaby's civic workers announced they had reached a tentative deal with the city. Workers will be voting on that later this week.

A similar vote was underway Wednesday for municipal workers in Delta.


Molson update: Plant-closing CAW strikers continue picketing

Despite the announced closure of a century-old Molson Canada brewery in Edmonton, union officials say striking workers will continue to walk the picket lines for another month. Garth Sanderson, president of Local 284 of the Canadian Auto Workers, says 102 unionized members will continue picket duties until the plant closes at the end of August.

There were tears in the eyes of many of the workers as they emerged Wednesday from a meeting with company officials to talk about severance packages. Doug Smith, who has worked at the Edmonton plant for nearly 30 years, said the company doesn't care about its workers and blasted it for closing the plant.

Daniel Pelland, chief brewing officer for Molson Canada, said the strike and a consumer trend towards canned beer were two reasons it was decided to close the Edmonton operation. He said the beer made in Edmonton will now be made at plants in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.


Alabama UAW strike boss calls for plant closure

About 225 hourly workers at the NTN-Bower plant in Hamilton continue one of Alabama's rare labor strikes. Members of United Automobile Workers Local 1990 have been on strike since July 24, said the union local boss, Jackie Peoples. He said in a telephone interview that workers are on strike over benefit, job security and seniority issues.

Peoples said the company wants employees to pay a medical insurance co-pay for the first time. "In all fairness, they did offer us a small pay raise," he said. But, he said, the company wants to take away a few gains such as seniority promotion and job retention. He said there are 60 to 70 hourly workers.

He said strikers are allowing employees and suppliers to enter and leave the property. "We have a picket line," he said. Peoples said employees are willing to lose their jobs if the plant closes over their demands. "We'll let it shut down and move on with our lives," he said.


SEIU builds partisan political coalition

The masters of grassroots organizing - SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West - will meet up with the masters of internet organizing at the annual Yearly Kos convention this week. According to SEIU's release, "it's an effort to build and strengthen relationships between organized labor and the progressive 'netroots' activists behind many of the most dynamic blogs to be found online."

UHW, one of the largest locals within SEIU, is one of several labor organizations sponsoring the event hosted by a group of readers and writers of the blog DailyKos. Among the numerous speakers at the event are bloggers, activists, and several Democratic presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson.

"The YearlyKos convention is a great opportunity for labor to reach out to bloggers and other online activists who share our goals of building a progressive majority and winning equality and fairness for American workers," said Sal Rosselli, president of UHW. "Our members are committed to achieving quality healthcare reform, and we’ve seen how effective the online community can be at bringing attention to this and other vital causes."

"UHW’s active participation in the YearlyKos conference speaks to Sal's leadership and vision," said Rick Jacobs, chair of Courage Campaign, a nonpartisan progressive online committee in California. "Labor and the online communities usually have common agendas. Communication between us is key to more victories."

The 140,000-member SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West is the largest hospital and healthcare union in the western United States and represents every type of healthcare worker, including nurses, professional, technical and service classifications.


Michigan UAW local votes to strike

An overwhelming number of local employees at Bridgewater Interiors have voted in favor of a strike. The UAW director tells 6 News that 99% of its workers in Lansing, Michigan support the move and hope it will put them a step closer to a deal. The auto suppler employees have been working for months without a contract. Their company makes seating which goes into the new crossovers built at GM's Delta Township plant.


UFCW wins federal reversal, school bus dues boost

The Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority and the City School District have agreed to expand bus service to city high schools despite a federal ruling that calls the existing service illegal.

The parties have reached agreement for 38 additional Regional Transit Service bus routes to serve John Marshall High School and Wilson Foundation Academy — increasing to 146 the number of routes to city high schools this fall.

"RGRTA ... was already told by (the Federal Transit Administration) on Jan. 18 to cease all triple-digit school bus service (routes to high schools). How did they respond? They negotiated ... even more school bus routes in the exact manner as last year and years before," said Gregory Gorea, a representative of United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 1, on Wednesday.

The UFCW union represents employees of Laidlaw Transportation Service, which filed the original charge against the RGRTA, claiming the service is illegal because it puts the federally subsidized RGRTA in competition with a private company.

"A deal is cut to have 38 more runs taken away from Laidlaw and our members and put on RGRTA, all under a cease-and-desist order," Gorea said. He spelled out challenges to the plan Wednesday during a news conference.

The Federal Transit Administration, which has regulatory authority over RGRTA, has twice ruled that the service provided to the City School District is illegal. The most recent ruling was Monday.

The district chose to approve expanded bus service to Wilson and Marshall in May because a second FTA decision had yet to be made and the issue wasn't finalized, district spokesman Tom Petronio said.

Mark Aesch, chief executive officer for RGRTA, said in a written statement, "the FTA's sudden reversal of their long-standing approval of this service is puzzling, particularly coming one month before the start of school. ... RTS and RCSD intend to jointly ask the federal courts for an injunction of this recent decision."

Aesch did not comment on bus service expansion.

In its complaint, the union claims that RGRTA's contract with the City School District is causing financial harm to its members because they are losing about $1.2 million a year — about $1,642 for each member — in unrealized wages.

The union also claims that the district is overpaying for bus service with RGRTA.

School officials said Wednesday that they will take part in a news conference with RGRTA today to announce contingency plans in case a federal court upholds the FTA ruling during the school year.

RGRTA is expected to ask a federal court for an injunction blocking enforcement of Monday's FTA ruling, which says RGRTA bus service for the City School District is illegal.

No matter what happens in court, district officials have said that bus service will continue as normal when school opens Sept. 6.


NYC taxi drivers talk strike

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission plans to install a high-tech GPS video-and-fare system in all of the city's 13,000 yellow cabs by the end of the year. But not if the New York Taxi Workers Alliance has anything to say about it. Bhairavi Desai, NYTWA executive director, announced July 25 that the organization's 8,400 members, mostly immigrants from India and Bangladesh, will strike in September if the system is forced on all the workers.

They say it amounts to "spyware," which can be used to track every trip drivers take. Driver Lea Acey was quoted in the July 26 AFL-CIO blog (blog.aflcio.org) as saying, "Even if I want to drive with my family to the park, I have to log in. If I'm an independent contractor, why is it TLC's or the garage's business where I am when I'm off-duty? It beeps all day long if I don't log in, like an ankle bracelet they put on criminals." In a first for the AFL-CIO, the NYTWA, which is a workers' organization, not an official union, joined the New York City Labor Council in February 2007.


UFCW ads in Washington Post


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