SEIU - the fastest-growing union in America

More than 50,000 Illinois health-care workers have united with more than 1 million from across the nation to form SEIU Healthcare, a new national health-care union. The union represents more than 500 workers in the greater Quincy area. "We are out there fighting, giving a voice to what we believe in," said Patricia Rowsey, who provides in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities in the Quincy area.

SEIU Healthcare is the national health-care arm of SEIU, the fastest-growing union in America. SEIU says more than 9 million health-care workers don't have a voice for good jobs and quality care through a union.

In Illinois, SEIU Locals 4, 20 and 880 are working together to increase funding for quality home- and facility-based long-term care and public hospitals. The locals plan to work together to develop joint training programs for health-care workers and continue combined legislative and political efforts.

"We need more training to give the best quality care we can to people," said Rowsey, a member of Local 880. "We're also asking for health insurance, because if we get sick it, affects the care we give our people. And we're fighting for more wages."

Rowsey, who has worked in hospital, nursing home and home care settings, was in Baltimore last month to launch the national health-care union.

"I was very proud to be part of that, to be with all of the workers who were there who pulled together, standing up and giving a voice for what they believe in, to give a voice to health-care workers in the field," Rowsey said. "Our jobs are so important to everyone throughout America. We're out there to give the best quality care we can to the ones we take care of."

The members of SEIU Healthcare want to raise standards and transform America's health-care system so that it:

* Puts patients and quality care first.

* Provides affordable care to every man, woman and child in America.

* Recognizes that all health-care workers must be treated with the professional respect and dignity they have earned, including high standards for pay, benefits, training and staffing, and the freedom to unite in a union without interference.

* Understands that workers must have a strong voice in the workplace and be full partners with management in determining the best way to deliver quality care.

* Ensures quality long-term care to meet the needs of an aging population in the coming years.

SEIU Healthcare has launched a petition drive to collect 1 million signatures supporting full funding for children's health insurance through reauthorization of the state Children's Health Insurance Program as the first step toward ensuring quality, affordable health care for all.

Another campaign is for safe staffing to improve the quality of care in the nation's hospitals. The multi-city grassroots campaign — a joint project of the United American Nurses and the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare — will educate the public, engage nurses and call for state and federal legislation establishing minimum staffing guidelines to provide safe care.

SEIU also will provide a new contest for health-care workers to submit their ideas on how to fix America's health-care system, called Best Thing Since Aspirin.


No arrest yet in Cal. Teamster-scab murder

As community leaders gathered to mourn the brazen slaying of an Oakland journalist and to denounce the city's chronic violence, gunfire claimed five more lives in separate incidents over a two-day span this weekend.

Police arrived at a hotel in the 8400 block of Enterprise Way near Oakland International Airport early Saturday to find Byron Mitchell, 29, of Chicago dying from a gunshot wound. Police believe he received the wound while struggling with a robber around 12:53 a.m. Mitchell had come to Oakland to work as a replacement driver during a recent contract dispute between the city's garbage hauler and its drivers, Phillips said.

Kevin F. Sharp Jr., 20, was watching television at his East Oakland home in the 1950 block of 13th Avenue early Sunday morning when he answered a knock at his door and was fatally shot, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene about 3:18 a.m.

The shooter fled, and police have no information on the suspect or a motive, Sgt. James Morris said.

Late Saturday, 25-year-old Khatari Gant died after gunman with an assault rifle sprayed his van with bullets in the 600 block of 54th Street, police said. Gant's brother and a friend were wounded in the shooting about 11:23 p.m.

All three were taken to a nearby hospital, where Gant was pronounced dead, Sgt. George Phillips said.

A man was shot around 4:40 a.m. Saturday in the 1300 block of 49th Avenue, according to police. That victim has still not been identified. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Jacqueline Venable, 40, was fatally shot Friday around 11 p.m. as she ate cake with friends in the 1100 block of 8th Street in West Oakland, police said. The group heard gunshots nearby before Venable fell to the ground.

She was taken to Highland Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 12:05 a.m. Saturday, the Alameda County coroner's bureau said.

The deaths brought the number of killings reported in Oakland for the year to 79. The city had recorded 84 murders by this time last year, when homicides surged by about 60 percent.

Clergy members, politicians and colleagues who gathered Saturday near the spot where Oakland Post newspaper editor Chauncey Bailey, 57, was gunned down two days earlier said they were tired of bloodshed in the city. They encouraged witnesses to come forward and tell police what they knew to help stem the tide of crime.

"There's this whole notion of not wanting to be labeled a snitch and fear of retribution," Oakland city councilwoman Desley Brooks. "We need to turn this on its head."

A 19-year-old handyman for an Oakland Black Muslim splinter group that Bailey's colleagues said he was investigating was booked Saturday on suspicion of his murder.


Teamsters loom large in Demo presidential politics

Just south of the Steuben Street entrance to Standard Ready Mix Concrete Co., stands a shelter pieced together with corrugated boards and plastic wrap, with an American flag on the south end and a satellite dish feeding down to the television that's near two microwaves and a peanuts dispenser. That's the home away from home for members of the Teamsters Local Union 554, who have been striking since Oct. 16, 2006, alleging unfair labor practices.

There were many more smiles than normal around the shack just before noon Sunday, when Democratic Party presidential candidate John Edwards came to show solidarity for the mixers, yard employees and ready mix drivers who have been joined in the work stoppage by union members from Ludey's Ready Mix in Vermillion, S.D.

Several hundred people gathered just outside Standard Ready Mix, as Edwards began his five-stop campaign swing through Sioux City, Orange City, Sheldon, Spirit Lake and Spencer. His theme of the day was to ensure that not just the upper class in America thrives and that the middle class doesn't disappear.

Although Standard vice president Mark Jensen drove a truck close to the area and left it running and unveiled a "Hillary for President" sign, which several attendees said was an attempt to disrupt the event, the mood of the union members was upbeat.

Speaking to a crowd largely adorned in union T-shirts, Edwards said for the middle class "to survive, one of the critical things we have to do is strengthen and grow the organized labor movement in America. I've walked a bunch a picket lines all over the last several years, and I'm proud to be here with all of you."

As president, Edwards said he would back banning the hiring of permanent replacements for strikers, support the Employee Free Choice Act to give workers "a real choice in whether to form a union" and toughen penalties for breaking labor laws.

"If you can join the Republican Party by signing your name to a card, every worker in America ought to be able to join a union by doing exactly the same thing -- that's democracy, that's what we believe in," Edwards said to cheers.

Edwards said his appearance in support of the strikers was "not about politics, this is about doing what is right for the people you stand up for... your cause is my cause."

Jim Sheard, secretary of Teamsters Local Union 554, said he's known Edwards for five years, and "while none of the unions are making endorsements yet," he added, "I gotta tell you that John Edwards is the candidate who is not afraid of the word 'union.'"

Sheard said the 40 striking workers are in a "fight for their lives." With 20 years in the labor movement, Sheard said, "I've never seen a group stay together as strong as these guys."

Danny Avelyn, vice president of Teamsters Local Union 554, said "we were not unreasonable with anything we came to the table with" when talking to Standard officials. Of the sticking points in the impasse, Avelyn said, "there are numerous charges that I really can't get into," which center on "unfair labor practices."

Asked if he was hopeful the strike could be ended and the workers return to their jobs, Avelyn said, "I don't know if it can anymore, with so many things that happened. I am certainly gonna hold out hope, you know, that we can get everything done and get these people back to work where they belong."

Yet he acknowledged the striking workers may not get their jobs back. "That is a possibility, every time you go on strike," Avelyn said.

Sheard noted "we planned this event long before John Edwards decided to come." Avleyn told the crowd "these guys need your support today, tomorrow and the next day."

Standard's Jensen declined comment.


Vancouver gov't union strike effects spill over

The Vancouver civic workers' strike is starting to be noticed in Langley. Garbage pickup in Langley may also be affected by the strike if it continues this week, because the transfer stations are getting plugged with extra garbage. The Surrey transfer station on 192 Street was closed Friday to clear the piles of garbage accumulated there, and Langley City and Township garbage collectors may be delayed in picking up household garbage if transfer stations are closed during the week.

They are also affected by long lineups at the transfer stations, as they have to dump their loads and go back to their collection routes.

Vancouver City workers have been picketing the Vancouver Tree Farm in Campbell Valley Park. Langley City, through a Communities in Bloom initiative, bought hundreds of seedlings at the tree farm, but because the trees are harvested in spring, the strike won't impact the program, said head gardener Guy Martin.

"They harvest our trees for us but the trees aren't ready [to plant] for a year or two," said Martin. He said there are full-time Vancouver City parks staff working at the tree farm, which grows trees for that municipality, as well as Surrey.

Langley Township asks residents to check its website, www.tol.bc.ca, for updates about the garbage pickup. For the present, the Township advises people to put garbage out at the normal times on their pickup day, but be prepared if there is a delay in pickup.


Global Iran embargo initiated by labor unions

Six labor unions affiliated with the International Transport Worker Federation (ITF) have threatened to block Iran's trade interests in Indonesia in a show of solidarity against the reported detention of an Iranian unionist accused of working as a spy for the West's interests.

The ITF representative in Jakarta Hanafi Rustandi said Sunday the six unions would launch a blockade of Iranian trade in Indonesia unless Mansour Osanloo, chairman of the Iranian Transport Union, was given an unconditional release.

The six unions include Indonesian Seafarers' Association, Garuda Cabin Attendants Association (Ikagi), Indonesian Train Workers Union (SPKA), Jakarta International Container Terminall Worker Union (SP JICT), Koja Container Terminal Worker Union and the transport union of the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperous Labor Union (KSBSI).

Hanafi said the unions would stage a demonstration Thursday at the Iranian Embassy in Jakarta to protest Mansour's detention.

He said a similar move would be made in a further 147 countries.

Mansour was reportedly seized by Iranian secret service agents on his way home to Teheran on July 10.

His arrest came just days after his return from an ITF congress in London where he reported on poor labor conditions in the Iranian government-owned transport company.

Hanafi accused the Iranian government of abusing its transport workers and of violating the ILO Convention No. 87/1998 on freedom of association.


Strike protests health insurance cost sharing

Lengthy talks between Dresser-Rand and Local 313 IUE-CWA broke down after 2 a.m. Saturday when heated words, sent union officials away from the table and to the picket lines. But the real disagreement is over health insurance cost control.

Union boss Steve Coates said in a press release that the breaking point for the union dealt with the health plan offered in the new contract. Coates was not available for comment Saturday. "Our members will not accept this unfair contract, and are determined to strike until the company stops its unfair labor practices and gives us a fair contract," Preston said Saturday from union headquarters. The new health care plan, which is identical to a plan that 100 union members have who came to work at Dresser-Rand in 2004 and after, would require the union members to pay half of what salaried employees currently pay for their health insurance benefits, DiLorenzo said.

When the union rejected that health plan, the company capped out-of-pocket expenses on years two and three of the proposed contract, giving members a possible maximum amount that they might have to pay.

The union, composed of machine tool operators, assemblers and machine tool handlers, rejected the change.

"They proposed a worse health plan than they proposed two days earlier," Coates claimed in a press release Saturday.

The new contract offer also included a $2,300 signing bonus for all 400-plus union members and gave a $605 per service year bonus to all union members who had worked at Dresser-Rand for more than five years, said Dan Meisner, human resources manager for Dresser-Rand.

A 3 1/2 percent wage increase also was promised each year of the proposed contract.

A plan to offer merit raises on top of the guaranteed raise was eliminated by the union, DiLorenzo said.

After the union officials rejected the modified health plan, DiLorenzo said there was no room left for negotiations, which included 18 sessions since April.

"In 31 years in bargaining for employees, this is the richest offer I've ever seen," DiLorenzo said. "At the end, we both agreed that there was nowhere else to go."

The union then went on strike.

About 20 members were on the picket line Saturday afternoon and expected to picket in four-hour shifts, according to members.

Dresser-Rand, a compressor manufacturer, recently announced plans to add 50 jobs over a five-year, $3.5 million investment at the Painted Post plant.

The future of those expansion plans is unknown given the current state of negotiations, officials said Saturday.

A company press release said a contingency plan has been put in place to outsource, subcontract and hire replacement workers to maintain production during the strike.

The Painted Post plant employs fewer than 800 workers, 420 of which are union members, Meisner said.

Officials on both sides are unsure when they will return to the bargaining table.

Dresser-Rand officials received a request from the union Saturday afternoon to return to talks, Meisner said.

"Right now, our concern is continuing to operate our plant," DiLorenzo said.

"We'll eventually return to the table, but not until our operations are up and running."


SEIU Local 1199 talks tough with hospital

The head of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the union trying to organize workers at Boston teaching hospitals are trading accusations of unfair tactics. In his blog, Beth Israel chief executive Paul Levy said that the Service Employees International Union uses a strategy that includes attacking the reputations of hospitals, its senior management and its trustees.

Last week, SEIU Local 1199 sent a report to trustees alleging that the hospital made "potentially misleading representation of charity care" in its financial statements. In an e-mailed comment, Local 1199 executive vice president Mike Fadel called Levy's blog entry "intellectually dishonest" and a "tired rhetorical device of attacking the messenger."

Levy wrote that his colleagues at the hospital are wondering whether SEIU is preparing for a union drive at Beth Israel. "Or is it sending a message to other hospitals in the city that it will attack anybody who has the nerve to speak out against its tactics?"


Will strike if provoked

"Look for the union label," urged the anthem of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, calling on consumers to buy only clothes with a tag certifying the item was made by union members. Look for the union logo could be the slogan of "The Shirts Off Our Back," an exhibit on display at the American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark in Haledon.

Scores of emblems, insignia, mottos and designs can be found in the collection of union T-shirts that have been sewn into quilts and hung on the second-floor of the museum. Black T-shirts from Teamsters Union locals are blazoned with heavy trucks, spread-winged eagles and cobras coiled under the warning "Will Strike If Provoked!"

"Worthy Wages for Worthy Work," reads a T-shirt from the United Federation of Teachers.

Turning union T-shirts into quilts was the brainchild of the museum's director, Angelica Santomauro, who put out a call to unions to send the museum a T-shirt and a $100 donation, part of which paid for the stitching.

Unions from as near as Haledon and far as California sent shirts, said Evelyn Hershey, the museum's education director. Each time the museum collects another 15 to 18 T-shirts, they box them up and send them to Michigan quilt-maker Andrea T. Funk, who runs a business stitching T-shirts together and has written a book about turning T-shirts into quilts.

Funk, who once belonged to the AFL-CIO as a clerical worker and began making T-shirt quilts about 15 years ago, said in a telephone interview that working on the T-shirt quilts gave her exposure to an array of unions beyond the auto workers who have a major presence in her home state.

"Unions are part of the fabric of Michigan," Funk said, "but I didn't realize how many different types of unions there were."

T-shirts, long worn as undergarments, did not become popular outerwear until the late 1960s, Hershey said. Unions, which had once distributed lapel pins and ribbons to workers to denote membership, began to use T-shirts for conventions and rallies.

The slogans and logos helped educate those not familiar with the labor movement or some of its achievements: laws prohibiting child labor, and others that created the eight-hour workday and the weekend.

The T-shirts are "sound bites on a chest and back," Hershey said.

One example, a T-shirt from UNITE, a descendent of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, contains a laundry list of bargaining points. "Let's talk about ... workplace injuries ... inadequate pensions ... two-tier benefits ... substandard wages," it reads. "It's about us and our families! We deserve better! UNITE!"

Hershey, who runs museum programs for schoolchildren, said the variety of T-shirts in the quilts offer "an easy way to introduce them to all the different kinds of workers who are in unions."

One room of the exhibit displays several quilts made by local schoolchildren, who created patches of felt depicting various labor unions, including those of police and teachers. Nine-year-old Kade Skelton, a soon-to-be-fifth-grader at St. Gerard's School in Paterson, made a patch that contains a railroad car and the sentence "The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Stands for Service Not Servitude." The union, formed in 1925, was the nation's first union of African-American workers, Hershey said.

The exhibit, at 83 Norwood Ave. in Haledon, will remain on display until December, and unions may continue to send in shirts.

Those in the exhibit express solidarity, defiance, patriotism and occasionally, humor.

"My Job Went Overseas and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt" reads a shirt from the AFL-CIO.

All T-shirts in the exhibit have the union label.


Union political activism ramps up in Oregon

Oregon AFL-CIO Pres. Tom Chamberlain speaks as Gov. Ted Kulongoski signs the AFL-CIO's HB 2891, the first-in-the-nation card-check authorization law that bars democratic elections in gov't union organizing campaigns. The two leaders discuss extending the new state ban on non-union labor to Oregon's private sector.
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