Baltimore mayor maxes out on SEIU cash

Mayor Sheila Dixon has raised nearly twice as much in campaign contributions as City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell since Jan. 11 and has nearly four times as much cash left heading into the September Democratic primary for mayor, according to preliminary figures released Thursday.

Dixon's campaign has raised at least $1.2 million between Jan. 11 and Aug. 7, compared with $651,000 raised by the Mitchell campaign. Dixon's campaign has $723,000 cash on hand, while Mitchell's has $200,000.

The two are among eight candidates running in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary for mayor. The two other elected officials running for mayor, Del. Jill P. Carter and city Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr., said their figures were not yet available.

All candidates running in city races must file campaign finance reports with the Maryland State Board of Elections by Aug. 14.

Martha McKenna, a spokeswoman for Dixon, said the campaign was "pleased with the strong support that the mayor is getting from residents across the city.

Donors who have given the maximum $4,000 to Dixon's campaign, according to McKenna, include NBA basketball star Sam Cassell, a Baltimore native who plays for the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA; Rep. Elijah E. Cummings; the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of Dixon's church; Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of 1st Mariner Bank and the city's visitors bureau; and businesses controlled by John Paterakis, one of the city's most prominent businessmen.

Dixon also received maximum contributions of $6,000 from several unions, such as 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and Baltimore's Carpenters Union.

"At this point, with 33 days left in the race, we have a smart and aggressive plan to continue communicating with voters through Election Day and that plan will be well-funded," McKenna said.

McKenna said Dixon's preliminary figures do not include all in-kind donations -- such as food and other nonmonetary donations -- which would increase the amount of money raised but not the amount of cash left.

The Dixon campaign spent $806,000 during the period, McKenna said, including more than $100,000 on a television ad, $75,000 on polling and about $40,000 on signs and billboards.

The Mitchell campaign did not have a figure for money spent because the numbers are being audited after a discovery that Mitchell's father made $40,000 in questionable expenditures.

Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell Sr., a well-known doctor of internal medi cine and gastroenterologist, has since resigned as his son's treasur er.

Jayson Williams, campaign manager for Mitchell, said their figures showed "a lot of momentum building up in the race to ward the end."

Since July 27, Williams said, the campaign has raised $18,500 online, and more than $70,000 in do nations have come in the week before the Aug. 7 deadline.

About 77 percent of all contributions are $250 or less, and more than $60,000 has been raised online, he said.

"This is a tremendous grass-roots operation," Williams said.

Williams said the campaign's goal is to raise $1.2 million, which is what Gov. Martin O'Malley raised in his first mayoral campaign in 1999.

"We're pretty confident that we're going to raise those numbers," Williams said.

But Donald Norris, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Mitchell's campaign "is in real trouble" given Dixon's 2-to-1 edge in fundraising coupled with her 30-plus percentage points lead in a poll conducted for The Sun last month.

"The problem with his campaign finances has really diverted attention from his campaign," said Norris. "And the fact that she's been able to out-raise him by 100 percent suggests to me that, while I wouldn't want to say that the campaign is over, it's pretty close to it."

"It doesn't seem that his candi dacy has caught fire," he added.

Other experts said that the fundraising numbers show the potency of incumbency, even one that's just seven months old.

"Incumbency gives Dixon a tremendous advantage in fundraising, and I think that's reflected in the numbers you see," said Ronald Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. "I think she's going to be able to coast with that $700,000 to the finish line.

"He's going to have to out-campaign her, and that takes money," he added.

Carol Hirschburg, a Republican strategist, said Mitchell's total was not "terrible."

"He certainly has a shot," she said. "You can never tell what's going to happen in an election. In my experience a lot of money comes in at the end."

But Hirschburg said she did not find either total particularly noteworthy.

"I don't find either one of their totals impressive compared to what is out there and what is available," she said.


Forestry strike boss vows to intensify fight

The international president of the United Steelworkers promised yesterday to escalate his union's battle with B.C. forest companies, telling striking workers in this forest-dependent town that the union will target customers and shippers around the globe in a bid to press companies to settle the labour dispute.

"We need to win this battle by bringing this industry to its senses - not its knees," said union chief Leo Gerard, who flew in from Pittsburgh to rally the 7,000 workers who are in their third week on the picket lines. With no talks scheduled, Mr. Gerard warned the strike will be "long and bitter" if a settlement isn't reached by next month.

This is the first coastal forestry strike in B.C. since the Steelworkers union took over from the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers union, and Mr. Gerard promised to put his union's deep pockets - with $150-million in its strike fund - to work in this dispute.

"They will not starve out this union," he said in an interview.

The dispute between the union and employer is over a combination of shift scheduling, overtime and severance pay.

The union is bringing in campaigners from the U.S. and Canada to target shoppers and shareholders alike, he said.

"We are going to start in the next few days to leaflet all the major stores where they are distributing lumber from any of these struck facilities, we will check with all the dock workers in Western Canada and the Western United States about shipping raw logs, we're going to mobilize our international affairs department to build relationships all over where the logs are going."

In Port Alberni, the main employer behind picket lines is Western Forest Products, which has two sawmills in town.

Duncan Kerr, its chief operating officer, said the company is struggling already because of a slowing U.S. market, combined with the high Canadian dollar. He's worried the union will bring the company to its knees if it digs in.

"There's no logic to signing a deal that threatens our ability to work towards being a long-term, viable company," he said in an interview.

Western Forest Products is the biggest industry player on the coast and Mr. Kerr said he has been visiting picket lines on Vancouver Island to talk to workers.

"It is somewhat frustrating for me; it's like we're eyeing each other and thinking it's unfortunate we are not producing for our customers."

For Port Alberni resident Tara Patterson, a stay-at-home mother with three children - two of them with special needs - the strike is scary.

"Financially, it's a struggle," she said in an interview. Her husband, Steve Richardson, is a grader at the Somass mill and hasn't collected any strike pay yet. The family attended the union rally and she says she supports the strike, but she's worried if it carries on.

"It's hard to tell the kids, 'There's no summer vacation, sorry.' They don't understand," she said. "If this keeps going, he may have to go work in Alberta."

But with an aging work force, there are fewer young families represented on the picket line. Many are like Jim Dorward, who has worked at the mill for 35 years and doesn't have to worry about mortgage payments any more.

"This could be a long one," he said. "But we are prepared to stay out. We've done picket lines in the winter before."


SEIU amps up political activity in Nashville

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Clement has the experience, leadership skills and vision to be Nashville's next mayor, a prominent labor union said today in advance of announcing its endorsement of Clement.

"We have several thousand members who work for Metro and they all have a vested interest in who gets elected mayor," Doug Collier, director of the Service Employees International Union Local 205. "We have determined that Bob Clement has the experience, the leadership ability, and the vision to move Nashville forward.

"We also believe that Bob understands the plight of people who work for a living and that he will support the best interests of city employees - and workers in general."

SEIU represents many city employees and retirees, as well as Nashville Electric Service workers.

Clement and former Metro Law Director Karl Dean will meet in a Sept. 11 runoff election for the mayor's office. SEIU plans to announce its endorsement of Clement at 5 p.m. today at its Gallatin Avenue headquarters.


Hollywood braces for AFL-CIO 'perfect storm'

August is usually a slow time in the entertainment industry. With the fall TV lineup set, writers, producers, directors, and casting directors take much-needed vacations, while network execs spend quality time in their summer homes. But the current contract negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have sparked rumors that writers, actors, and directors may all strike next year. Many are speculating that if the writers and producers don't come to an agreement by Oct. 31, the contract's expiration date, the WGA could ride out its contract until June 2008, when the AMPTP's pacts with the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America expire. The unions, negotiating for better residuals and new-media compensation, could unite for a "perfect storm" strike that might effectively shut down the industry.

The WGA hasn't called for a strike vote among its members yet, but recent economic reports out of Los Angeles -- including a July report from FilmL.A. -- have verified what many in the industry suspect: Studios and networks are stockpiling films and TV pilots in anticipation of having to wait out a triple-threat strike, creating what one casting director called a "second pilot season."

Even before the hotly contested WGA-AMPTP talks began last month, the networks appeared to be bracing for a walkout. As announced at the May upfronts, NBC will not debut a new comedy series this fall for the first time in almost 30 years, instead ordering more episodes of proven favorites. The Emmy-winning The Office and My Name Is Earl will produce 30 and 28 episodes, respectively -- including four hourlong Office episodes. In their inaugural seasons, The Office (a midseason debut) produced 13 episodes and Earl offered 24. After much speculation about their cancellations, Scrubs and Law & Order were also re-upped for 18 and 22 episodes, respectively.

As of last week, at least one new scripted series introduced in May has been pulled in favor of more reality programming. Fox announced that its new paranormal police drama New Amsterdam, initially scheduled for a fall debut, will instead bow midseason -- if at all. Meanwhile, the network will move the summer game-show hit Don't Forget the Lyrics! to a prime spot, Thursdays at 9 p.m., starting Sept. 6. Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? will provide the lead-in for Lyrics and also hold the 8 p.m. Friday slot until the Oct. 19 premiere of the freshman American Idol-inspired series The Next Great American Band.

Summer Stock

In a March email titled "Message From the President," WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East president Chris Albers assured writers that producers were not stockpiling. "If our employers are as serious as we are about making a reasonable deal that protects our legitimate interests and provides fair compensation for the talent community, they will have no need to stockpile, for there will be no need for a strike," the presidents wrote.

But those contributing their blood and sweat to new productions this summer say otherwise. Casting director Wendy O'Brien, who casts FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and ABC Family's Kyle XY, said this summer has been almost a second pilot season. "There seem to be more pilots getting made right now," she said. "We just interviewed for four different pilots, which seems untimely…. I wouldn't normally be going out for pilots this time of year." O'Brien added that she hasn't noticed a spike in film production. "We're just trying to get as much in and sort of prepare in advance as best we can. There's really only so much you can do here other than work as much as you can and save up as much as you can."

Emmy- and Artios Award-winning casting director John Papsidera, who is currently casting the CW's new drama Reaper, agreed there is more work than usual. "It's certainly a busier time," he said. "Actors -- especially name people -- are all jockeying to line up what films they're going to do. It seems like a big chess match of who's moving where and what they're going to do…. It's a tough environment to operate and try and do business in."

The latest statistics, released in July, from the nonprofit production-coordination company FilmL.A. show that studio stockpiling resulted in a 21 percent surge in L.A.-area production days in the second quarter of 2007. According to its midyear forecast, released July 18, the nonprofit Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation estimates that employment in the entertainment industry will jump 0.9 percent this year due to stockpiling, for a total of 164,500 jobs. However, the report also predicts employment will take a 1.9 percent downturn in 2008, to 161,300 jobs -- with or without a strike. A report from New York's Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting was not available as of press time.

Jack Kyser, LAEDC's senior vice president and chief economist, said in the report that the contentious dialogue between the WGA and the AMPTP is adding fuel to the stockpiling fire: "The dialogue between the two parties has been rather harsh. There is a high potential for a disruption in this industry, either a strike or a de facto strike. Stockpiling of filmed product is already under way."

Pamm Fair, SAG's deputy national executive director for policy and strategic planning, agreed that stockpiling is going on but said the effect on SAG members will be "neutral." "I think…there is accelerated production going on by those who are concerned about management-labor dispute," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "Our membership is working in this time when production is up from the last quarter, and if it ever [slows down], they won't be working those days."

Fear and Solidarity

Casting directors, writers, and actors say they're concerned, but it's not time to break out the Sharpies, cardboard signs, and snappy picket-line slogans yet. Papsidera said the stockpiling is another result of Hollywood's collective and constant fear: "There's a lot of fear to be managed in the industry. Agents are afraid they won't get the right job for their client…. Actors are afraid they won't get a job or be employed. Producers are always worried they don't get the right people to get their movie to go. It's all about managing fear, to a large extent, each and every day. As a casting director, you deal with that on a daily basis from all sides…. I think you can either be part of the problem or you can try to be part of the solution. All you can do as somebody who's not directly involved in the negotiations is to put out hope and trust that people with bright, level, smart heads come to some conclusion for everyone."

Actor Heather Pier is maintaining a similar attitude. "If a strike comes, it comes. My wailing and gnashing my teeth and crying about it won't make it not so," she emailed. "I'll do what I always do during tough times: hunker down and work through it. Really, what other choice do we have? Give up? Go home? Good heavens, how do you get anywhere with that attitude?"

Actor Kyle Nudo emailed that he is concerned about a strike but is confident it won't happen if the WGA, SAG, and the DGA stay united: "Wouldn't it be interesting when management comes to the table and [finds] that every creative union in the business [is] standing by each other in a chain of solidarity? There wouldn't be any need for a strike since 'management' wouldn't have a leg to stand on."

TV writer Angel Dean Lopez, whose credits include Sleeper Cell and Judging Amy, said he and his colleagues haven't been affected by stockpiling. But he noted that if there is a strike, writers will have a distinct advantage because they're used to going through long periods of unemployment. "It makes a really strong negotiating stance [when] people have little to lose," he said. "If you're only working 40 percent of the time anyway, it's not that big of a blow to agree to step down for a little while, because you figure half of that time you'd be sitting on your butt anyway."

Actor Joher Coleman agreed that actors make for strong strikers because they too have learned to cope with unemployment. "Whether prompted by a strike, fewer bookings, or even lack of personal drive, we can be very resourceful when things are slow," he emailed. "Having said that, I'd certainly prefer that a strike is not necessary and that our fellow union gets what they deserve without it. But if writers need to exercise the power of a strike, I stand with them in solidarity."

Actor John Stine noted it's time for actors to start paying attention to the contract talks. "Often actors are so intent on their careers, they miss the big picture," he wrote via email. "But I am a little concerned. I don't want to be on Big Brother 22 or Survivor Mojave Desert or whatever B.S. MTV show is in preproduction."

The AMPTP temporarily suspended negotiations with the WGA so it could negotiate its contract with Teamsters Local 399 and other craft unions. That agreement was reached Aug. 2, but plans to sit down again with writers have not been announced.


Budget impasse halts paychecks, AFSCME sues

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said it filed a lawsuit today, asking a judge to order Comptroller Dan Hynes to issue pay checks to state employees. Hynes has said that he can't write payroll checks without a state budget in place. That means 4,900 employees might not get paid on time, and more would be affected if the budget stalemate drags on.

Union officials said the union filed its lawsuit in Christian County and has asked a judge for a temporary restraining order to compel Hynes to pay employees. The union represents about 45,000 state and public university employees. AFSCME Assistant Director Mike Newman said the union's members should not pay the price for the inability of lawmakers to pass a budget.


City cuts jobs without notifying SEIU

The city of Boca Raton, FL told 45 city workers they no longer had jobs on Thursday morning. Jacqueline McCarry, of Boca Raton, a city park ranger for four and a half years, was one of them. Even though the city signaled imminent layoffs, she was surprised. "It was a really great job," McCarry said, hours after learning she didn't need to go to work this morning.

City Manager Leif Ahnell announced his proposed budget for the next year as the city wrangles with state-mandated cuts. It includes eliminating 72 full-time and 70 part-time positions across the city. Of those, 24 full-time and 21 part-time jobs had people in them. "Ultimately, there was no way for us to reduce our budget enough and not lay anybody off," Ahnell said.

The city will provide the full-time employees four-and-a-half months of severance pay and benefits. Part-time employees got two months pay, city officials said.

Parks and Recreation Services lost the most, with 32 spots eliminated. In Municipal Services, nine jobs are gone. Six police department employees, including civilian staff and two police captains, lost their jobs.

The proposed budget looks to eliminate city funding for 10 programs, including the Police Athletic League, Boca Raton Educational Television, concerts and holiday events.

Spending cuts are slated for another six programs, including the Fourth of July celebration, holiday tree lighting and Festival of the Arts Boca. Ahnell also proposed cutting 10 percent of the money the city gives each year to nonprofits.

The city manager proposed a $111.8 million general fund budget to run most of Boca Raton's day-to-day operations. It includes a property tax rate of $3.31 for every thousand dollars of taxable value. That means a home assessed at $350,000 will pay $1,157 in city taxes, a $99 drop from last year. City taxes make up 18 percent of residents' tax bill.

The City Council can make changes to Ahnell's proposed spending plan, even restoring the lost jobs. But in past years, the council has made only small changes to the city manager's proposal.

"They have to cut somewhere," said Dave Skrabec, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 35.

The police union expects to meet with Police Chief Dan Alexander this morning to discuss changes in the department, he said.

"Hopefully, the services to the public will not be affected," Skrabec said. "We'll still have the same number of boots on the ground."

Ahnell said residents should see no changes.

"The general public will not notice any reduction in services," he said.

For McCarry, however, Ahnell's decision is life changing. She recalled her first day at work when she was told she was an "ambassador for the city," helping park patrons. She didn't know what her next step would be, except that she would avoid city parks for a while.

"I'm in no big hurry to get out there right now," she said.

Paula Payne, senior steward of the general employees union, NCF&O/SEIU Local 1227, said the city didn't notify the union about the layoffs as required by its contract. It calls for at least one week notice of pending layoffs. Payne said she wants to meet with the city manager's office to find out why it didn't adhere to the process.

"We expect them to follow the contract," Payne said.

Deputy City Manager George Brown said the seven union employees let go, including McCarry, were put on administrative leave for a week, putting the city in technical compliance with the contract. The city did it that way because it didn't want one group of employees notified before others.

"It was better they all find out together," Brown said.

There was nothing pleasant in Ahnell's announcement for Nancy Sneider, PAL board president. The group serves more than 100 children a week in its after-school boxing, cheerleading and weight lifting programs. And the city pays its $71,000 annual rent — or at least until this budget year ends Sept. 30.

Before learning of the budget cuts, PAL had plans for a new building with the Boca Raton Boys and Girls Club, Sneider said.

One of its boxers, Steve Geffrard, won the Junior Golden Gloves championship. There's even talk of grooming him for the Olympics. She called Geffrard "a perfect example of how PAL can completely change an at-risk youth's life for the better."

The program benefits the less fortunate, who often are ignored, she said.

"I think it's crazy to eliminate this," she said. "I think down the road there'll be repercussions."


Good times in Canada bring labor strikes

Western Canada's strong economy will spark more strikes in coming months, labour leaders and analysts predict. Strong strike mandates in both Alberta and British Columbia's public and private sectors could be a harbinger of lengthy strikes and acrimonious labour relations.

B.C. coastal forest industry workers and Vancouver civic workers have already hit the picket lines, while strike votes by Calgary paramedics and oilsands construction workers in Alberta are turning up the heat. Unions in several sectors contend wages in both provinces have not kept up with inflation and there is a desire to capitalize while times are good.

"All the ingredients are in place for a year or more of challenging labour relations," says Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan. "Today, it's the paramedics and the construction workers. Soon, it could be the teachers and members of the (Alberta) government civil service (whose contracts are coming up for renewal)."

McGowan says worker demands in Alberta are "natural and to be expected" after 20 years of dealing with provincial budget cutbacks and stagnant wages in both the public and private sectors. There is a huge pent-up demand among most Alberta workers for real increases to their standard of living, he adds.

For some workers, though, a strike vote means provincial intervention. The Alberta government recently declared a public emergency to prevent Calgary paramedics from walking off the job and sent them to binding arbitration.

On the construction front, McGowan says Alberta workers want to get as big a slice of the pie as they can before oilsands projects being built near Fort McMurray are complete between now and 2015.

Contending that employers have not rewarded employees after reaping record profits, McGowan says problems will persist at the bargaining table until employers realize that booms should benefit workers as well as companies and investors.

McGowan adds wage increases of two or three per cent "simply won't cut it" when Alberta's inflation rate is rising much higher. Any wage hike less than the rate of inflation is "essentially a rollback," he adds.

Strong economies in both provinces are being blamed for virtually all of the disputes. A notable exception is the West Coast forest industry strike of 7,000 workers, attributed in part to the controversial softwood lumber settlement between Canada and the U.S.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair says the disputes are symptomatic of a period in which wages did not match company profits.

"Overall, I think you're going to see (more labour disputes) because people are looking for ways to keep up," he says. "They want a share of the prosperity and to have a basic life."

Analysts have predicted Alberta and B.C. will power Canada's economic engine for the next few years.

Sinclair points to an ongoing highway maintenance strike, which began April 23, and upcoming negotiations involving Port of Vancouver truckers and retailers as other examples where the strong B.C. economy is causing labour tension.

"If you can't make it in the good times, and increase your wages in the good times, when do you?" he asks.

In one of the most expensive places in Canada to live, he's also calling for increases in the B.C. minimum wage of $6 per hour for new workers and $8 for others.

Sinclair says B.C. forest workers decided to picket because they received "a raw deal" four years ago when the collective agreement resulted in changes in work schedules away from the traditional five-day work week.

Two key outstanding issues are the contracting out of services as well as severance for workers after mills shut down in wake of mergers and acquisitions.

"It's a difficult one," he says. "Obviously, there are some problems in the forest industry ... This is about having a life when you work in forestry, so you're not working six days a week with three days off and then going back to work for six more."

Doug McArthur, a Simon Fraser University public policy analyst, says the current labour unrest in the West is typical of previous economic cycles. In other words, workers seek more when times are good.

"When you have these booms and busts or booms and then dips in the cycle, the boom times are, as you get further along in them, the times when you start getting real (labour) problems - particularly in the public sector," says McArthur. "The private sector is generally more flexible in being able to make moves, although in Alberta, the kind of moves they'd have to make is so great because of the boom."

He says the B.C. coastal forest strike was predictable after seven or eight years of substantial cutbacks, layoffs, shorter work periods and contracting out.

He notes the industry is "paying the price" for the softwood lumber deal, which is now coming back to haunt B.C.

"You've got forces coming together on both sides - the workers feeling a need, after a very long period of difficulty, for some stability and wanting to get recognized, and the companies under very severe financial pressure," he says. "So you've got the makings of a very difficult strike."

The solution, he says, is for companies to be prepared to offer greater job security and pull back on changes - "some of which have been really forced upon them by provincial policy" - particularly on non-wage issues.

McArthur also says Vancouver city hall made a "very big mistake" by tying the length of a civic worker contract to the 2010 Olympics, because the stance showed a lack of trust for workers in the wake of the province's deal with its employees.

The dispute demonstrates workers have not been able to capitalize on Vancouver's recent economic gains, spurred largely by private and public-sector construction projects, while housing prices have increased dramatically.

"You've had professional people, including senior managers in the city getting increases in wages," says McArthur. "Meanwhile, you've had ordinary workers really being subject over the years to a pretty restrictive and pretty high period of (economic) restraint and pressure for increased flexibility in terms of working conditions."

In Alberta, the oilsands labour strife is difficult because of the high costs and shortages of housing in the Fort McMurray area, McArthur says.

"There's no easy way for the (Alberta) government or the employers to resolve these issues," says McArthur. "Alberta hasn't had a tradition of high levels of conflict in labour relations, but the situation there is ripe for a level of conflict that they haven't seen before."

But Ken Thornicroft, a University of Victoria professor of law and labour relations, says the coastal forestry and Vancouver civic workers strike are just coincidental and "not reflective of some sort of labour uprising."

The B.C. coastal forestry strike stands alone because it reflects an ongoing need to restructure the industry and upgrade mills, he notes. A strong economy - in the form of a higher Canadian dollar - actually hurts the forest sector because many of its customers are outside the country.

There is not much incentive to reach an agreement because companies may lose money, or make little profit, once operations resume.

The Vancouver civic workers' strike, on the other hand, is more reflective of a strong economy.

"Generally speaking, when the economy is strong, you don't see lengthy labour disputes, because it's in both parties' interests to resolve the matter," says Thornicroft.

He predicts it will take months, rather than weeks, to settle the forestry dispute and predicts coastal forest workers - not employers - will have to soften their stance to get a deal done.

"It's just going to be a situation of economic surrender on the part of the employees," says Thornicroft.


4-week lockout ends in Teamster surrender

After absorbing the severe financial stress of being locked out for a month, members of Teamsters Local 870 suffered further setbacks in the contract deal brought to them by Teamster officials. The employers, Waste Management Co, imported scabs from other parts of the U.S. during the lockout and brought in their other allies, a mediator and Oakland mayor, Ron Dellums. The liberal community and the heads of the labor movement in this area have revered Dellums, a former congressman and mentor of another popular liberal Democrat, Barbara Lee.

When asked by the press if the lockout “was a test of his leadership” Dellums replied, "I don't take it to have anything to do with me. It has to do with a company in a dispute with a labor union. It would be a gigantic mistake for me to personalize this. That's a journey I choose not to go on." (1)

With friends like these, it should come as no surprise that Waste Management got what they wanted. According to press reports, management got a five-year contract while workers got a 5% raise which with inflation will most likely be a wage reduction.

The contract also makes it easier for the employer to fire workers for repeated safety violations, something the Union also opposed. Not knowing the details of this it is not easy to comment on it. But Unions, much more so than the employers, have fought for increased safety at work. The same goes for those of us that work in the community. Management’s cutbacks and drive for the bottom line have been safety hazards for workers and our communities whether in a hospital or in city streets; working people don’t cut funding to fire departments or public services, the employer’s have their politicians do it. We should be suspicious of management’s claims here.

A real plum for the boss is the Union’s acceptance of binding arbitration and a no strike clause for the five years of the contract. In return, waste Management won’t lock them out.

Waste Management are “pleased with the new arrangement” says the report in my local paper. (2) And so they should be. Chuck Mack, Local 70 spokesman also called the settlement a “good” one.

So the slide in to oblivion of the once powerful US labor movement continues. The Team Concept and damage control strategy that flows from it is still the main weapon of the strategists of organized labor.

The heads of organized labor from the top down have no program or strategy for fighting the offensive of capital. The employers are very confident as labor officials come to them cap in hand, ready to concede their members’ wages and benefits from the get go. In response to the friendly offer of concessions to save the team, the employers demand more. It would be humiliating but it is not the standard of living of most labor officials that is under siege.

“But the members voted for it!” employers and Union officials respond in chorus. Waste Management’s spokesperson, David Tucker is convinced the employees whose material interests he has just set back somewhat are happy, “I think the 363-3 ratification vote speaks loudly that we have reached a fair and balanced agreement” he says. (3)

The Teamsters Chuck Mack, recognizing that this is in actuality a setback is more cautious, “This whole thing was really a textbook example of how not to handle yourself if you are a large corporation.” “Our workers are satisfied” he tells the Times.

Naturally, workers voted overwhelmingly to go back to work, they have lost a month’s pay and see no chance of winning. They clearly see they are fighting a defensive struggle. Whatever Michael Moore’s faults, his movies make people think about US society in a critical way. His recent film Sicko, is his best and most polished film. One of the points made in his film, introduced through an interview with Tony Benn, the former British Labor party MP, is that the lack of social services and social safety nets in the US puts US workers at a terrible disadvantage.

Young workers seeking an education end up mired in debt and find themselves working three jobs to get enough to pay for school. One of those jobs might be the one that will provide some sort of health benefits. During the strike in the water district where I worked, the first threat that came our way was a reminder that our health care coverage would be discontinued in a month. What terror this implies for workers with sick family members or young children. Consequently, people keep their mouths shut on the job. What an advantage workers in France have. How much more confident they must feel to challenge the boss when their education is free or their health care is provided for regardless of what happens at work.

When there is no alternative on the table to concessions. When a medical co-pay of $15 is dropped to $10 after a month or two without pay and walking picket lines that aren’t orchestrated to stop scabs from crossing, life can get pretty demoralizing and concessions become an acceptable deal. Union officials then portray it as a victory. Starving to death a week beyond your master’s deadline is a victory of some sorts I suppose. “"I can accept what they've offered," said one locked out worker. "If it had gone on any longer, I would have been in trouble,", said another. After four weeks without pay and not the slightest hint from any quarter that gains could be made, any contract that keeps a roof over one’s head and the kids braces on their teeth is ‘acceptable” even if one has to work longer hours to do it.

Brother Mack reveals the thinking of the labor leadership that has led to years of catastrophic defeats for organized Labor. "In collective bargaining, compromises are the heart of the process," he tells the San Francisco Chronicle. (4) This view is held by the entire leadership of organized Labor. But there is no such thing as a win-win situation, it is exactly this strategy of compromise, of damage control, that is at the heart of the matter and is why labor’s share of the national pie has continued to decline.

The employers are intent on taking back all the gains of the last 100 years; they have made that very clear. But organized labor is not powerless and the working class in the US is still the most powerful force in society. The docks, auto, steel, transportation, and communication are all unionized industries. It is not the aggressiveness of the employers that is the main feature in the decline of living standards, it is the failure of the Union leadership to respond with equal aggression. The public sector alone has the potential to completely shut down economic life in the US.

It is this power that must be mobilized in our own defense. The Team Concept has to be abandoned. Anti-Union laws must be challenged. Demands such as a $15 minimum wage, shorter workweek and jobs and social services for our communities must be made to draw in the rest of our class in this struggle against the capitalist offensive. The days of cops ensuring scabs rights to walk calmly through picket lines must come to an end. Mass picketing, occupations, mass violation of ant-Union laws and injunctions, this is what built the Unions in the first place and what will defend our livelihoods today.

We are potentially far more powerful that we were prior to the great struggles of the 1930’s and the building of the CIO. It is one thing to compromise after a bitter struggle, when the forces are not in our favor for whatever reason; retreat at times a part of having a serious offense. But a policy of compromise is a disaster.

(1) SF Chronicle 7-26-07
(2) San Leandro Times 8-02-07
(3) ibid
(4) SF Chronicle 7-29-07


Striking Vancouver gov't union breaks off talks

Negotiations have broken down between Vancouver and its unionized workers as the strike which has paralyzed city services nears its fourth week. It's left tempers short on both sides.

"Members of our team are tired and they're angry," city spokesman Jerry Dobrovolny said in a news release. "After spending five full days with all three CUPE locals, union negotiators have walked away from talks, and will continue to impact the delivery of city programs and services."

That's not how the unions see it, however. Mike Jackson, president of CUPE Local 1004 which represents outside workers, said the union negotiators wanted to lift a media blackout so they could tell their members and the public what was happening after five days of talks behind closed doors. "It didn't take long for the employer to split," Jackson said. "We're still willing to negotiate." He says he's frustrated.

The more than 5,000 civic workers are represented by three CUPE locals.

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

With no garbage collection, the core of Canada's third-largest city is getting 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.

CUPE 1004 commenced job action on July 19. Four days later, inside workers represented by CUPE 15 hit the picket lines and a day later, library workers under the banner of CUPE 391 hit the bricks.

Dobrovolny said city negotiators have tried for the past year to first avoid a strike and then to reach an agreement with the striking workers.

"We are upset that Vancouver residents are going to have to continue to suffer the effects of job action taken by CUPE," Dobrovolny said. "But again, in this round of negotiations, it's become clear to us that our CUPE locals have no interest in ending their strike"

Jackson said that deals already reached with civic workers in North Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey, the templates for an agreement in Vancouver exist.

He said the union has the details of those deals and imagines the city does, too.

Civic workers in Surrey recently ratified a new five-year contract, leaving Vancouver as the only municipality in the Greter Vancouver area still without an agreement.

CUPE officials say the vote was 89 per cent in favour of the contract, which shares the same wage increase as deals approved earlier in Richmond, Delta, Burnaby and North Vancouver.

Dobrovolny says the city had put forward five-year offers to each of the three CUPE locals, each very similar those in the District of North Vancouver.

And, Jackson says they had agreed on the five-year terms but had only discussed wages in the first three years of those terms.


John Edwards - Congress Hotel picket line

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