SEIU logo, colors barred from California courthouse

Union-member workers at Sonoma County Superior Court are claiming their rights are being violated because they aren't being allowed to wear union paraphernalia in the courthouse.

The workers represented by the Service Employees International Union have filed an unfair labor practices complaint after court administrators ordered them to stop wearing pins and certain colors showing support for the union.

The SEIU represents 150 court workers in contract negotiations. Their current contract expires September 24th. A court official says administrators issued the directive forbidding the display of union symbols because the court requires the appearance of neutrality and impartiality.

A representative for the SEIU says the union sent its complaint Tuesday to the state Public Employment Relations Board, which will evaluate it.

Negotiations between the union and court officials are scheduled to resume on August 30th.


America's union-backed McCandidates

Perhaps you caught a glimpse of last week's presentation at Soldier Field. You know, the political fashion show displaying the Democratic presidential candidates to all the union bosses in order to determine who - if anyone - is to get the endorsement from the AFL-CIO for the run to the White House.

If you didn't, perhaps you saw excerpts of the apocryphal debate in the news, and maybe even heard a 10-second bite where the junior senator from New York offered herself as Labor's fighting hero: "I'm your girl!"

If you didn't even know that seven of the eight declared Democratic candidates were having a get-together, it's just as well. Nothing much was said that's worth repeating, with apologies to Congressman Dennis Kucinich and moderator Keith Olberman.

An item in the news the day before probably drew a much larger audience if for no other reason than its catchy theme, stating that kids liked most any food better if perceived to come from McDonald's as visually suggested by McWrappers. It gave results of a study on obesity prevention, and how McBranding hooks preschoolers; also had Dr. Robinson of the Stanford University School of Medicine, and author of the study, saying how at McDonald's, "The majority of their marketing and reputation and brand is based on foods that are high in calories and fat and low on nutritional value." Health foods are for show.

Those two items in the news, a day apart, brought to the forefront what could be two of the greatest ills facing America today: obesity and bad governance; one affecting the physical health of the nation, the other dealing with the socio-political health of society.

Unhappy about how the country is being governed? Hey, cool off, don't be upset. For a nation of faith and monotheism, why not carry the idea beyond the realm of religion and into politics? Americans worship one god, so why look beyond our homespun form of capitalism to determine the nature of America's body politic.

Free from foreign impurities, this sacrosanct capitalism, whether dabbed socially benign or predatory, must be provided with an all-American circulatory system. And none better than McPolitics, a system designed to honor diversity of opinion via those two Golden Arches of thought, our two political parties: Republicans and Democrats. Two arches that hold together, lock, stock and barrel, our entire body politic; that's what Americans should desire to achieve, a unity-of-purpose doctrine for this land. Lefties, liberals, populists, greenies and progressives of all types are simply relegated to just epithets that the greater-right can bestow on the lesser-right in this incredible make-believe land of milk and honey ... and two-party politics.

McDonald's is about business strategies, public relations, advertising ... and plain deceit. But you know what? So is McPolitics! The vast majority of Americans are uninformed, misled and tricked into thinking that they can have it all: health, taste, convenience and low prices; as McDonald's, by chance or design, keeps health and culinary issues away from young and old, concentrating on what really counts in business: meeting people's expectations with flying colors. And so it is in politics as Republicans and Democrats, in their alternating governing roles, strive to keep Americans politically illiterate.

Homogeneity in American politics stays true behind the mask we put on to attend the biennial and quadrennial election balls. It reminds me of a yokel from Vermont that did appear on a popular TV sitcom a few years back. His repetitive character line was an introduction of himself and his two brothers, saying: "Hi, I'm Larry; this is my brother Larry; and this is my other brother Larry." We all seem to be part of this bumpkin Larry-brotherhood, half addicted to unhealthy food, and most suffering the consequences of bipartisan politics which cater to special interests instead of the citizenry at large.

But unlike McDonald's franchises, which have found success in much of the world, McPolitics is probably reserved for the American political palate and no one else. One doubts that it meets enough criteria for export, even if aided by heavy subsidies from both the US State Department and the imperial peacekeepers at the Pentagon. At least for now, America's interpretation of "democracy and freedom" does not appear to have made measurable inroads anywhere else.

Be that as it may, there are two mission statements that could shed some light on what might be the problems behind obesity and bad governance. McDonald proclaims in its mission statement, "McDonald's vision is to be the world's best quick service restaurant experience.” No corporate responsibility, not even empathy for customers as people. And it's fairly evident that "McPolitics wants to be America's answer of a government that lets business take care of business without interference." So if there is neither corporate nor government responsibility to educate and protect people, who else can they turn to? Somehow, carried to the extreme as ultraconservatives would have it, the answer is simple: it must be left in the hands of the economic marketplace. That is a polite way to be told in historical terms that we are marching back towards slavery.

Unfortunately, obesity and bad governance are two issues Americans are yet unwilling to confront head-on, and fighting food addiction or recognizing political or governmental malfeasance are simply not in the cards.


Gov't union strike creates Garbagetown, B.C.

We haven't even made it to the bye week yet, and I've already written a column about garbage and another about the misinterpretation of the term "dirty." Noticing a theme? I didn't, until it was pointed out to me, so I will stick to the program and combine both topics.

It's quite simple. The garbage that has been piling up in the dark corners of Vancouver make the city quite dirty. While people have been trying their best to redistribute their waste into the darkest nooks and crannies around town, those nooks and crannies are showing no vacancy.

At first glance, it seems as though the problem is minute and isolated. That is, until you notice five or six oversized trash bags scattered around an overflowing one-gallon garbage can in your favourite park. Or try taking a shortcut through the back alley, only to be barricaded in by piles of garbage that have been around the full (and privately maintained) trash receptacles.

Even with all of the mess that has been created during the strike, experts are forecasting a major rise in the population of downtown residents. Correction: Experts are forecasting a major rise in the population of downtown RODENTS. You see, the convenience and abundance of these stinky food sources provide optimal breeding conditions for the rat population (coupled with the mild temperatures).

Don't get too worried, though -- the booming rat population will not take over the streets by Christmas and stop traffic altogether. No, as the temperature drops they will seek warmth and better nesting conditions such as your house, condo or parking garage.

While the smelly piles of waste may be enticing to rodents, residents should be concerned about the contents of the trash rotting under the midday sun. Health officials have begun examining the contents and possible hazards of the orphaned trash.

Also, those who are contributing to the mess by dumping their garbage miles from home may be in for an expensive surprise. In many cases the garbage has been searched and then destroyed, meaning any identifiable pieces of trash (pizza receipts, phone bills, etc.) are being logged and citations will be forthcoming once the strike is settled.

So how do we help out? We need only ask our hemp-wearing (and maybe smoking), fair-trade-supporting friends how they have managed to cope. Most likely, they haven't even noticed. They have been reducing, reusing and recycling so long now that they barely fill up a coffee cup full of "trash" each week.

The problem presents an opportunity to create new waste-reduction habits. We simply need to follow the game plan given to us by Environment Canada: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

We simply need to make an effort in separating the items and distributing them to their proper locations.

You can't win without a sound game plan. We plan to reduce, reuse and recycle within our offensive game plan against the Stampeders this Friday.

- Reduce: Penalties and mistakes can be reduced to help with field position.

- Reuse: We can build off the successes we had in our previous meeting.

- Recycle: There are many valuable pieces of information that are gathered from watching the success other teams have had against an opponent, then adjusting the concepts to fit into our game plan.


UAW strike vote helps negotiations with Big 3

United Auto Workers Local 652 members are voting on whether to go on strike. It does not mean a walkout is imminent for workers represented by the local at General Motors Corp.'s Lansing Grand River plant. Local 652 Chairman Art Baker said the move is typical in contract talks, which formally began between GM and the UAW since July 23.

However, Local 652's vote is among the first to take place at UAW-represented plants across the country as GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC work to hammer out new contracts with the UAW. The current contracts expire Sept. 14.

"It's not that we want a strike or anything like that," said Chris "Tiny" Sherwood, the president of UAW Local 652 in Lansing. "It's just to show we're behind our negotiators and we have that threat always there."

Sherwood said local unions were asked by the UAW to hold strike authorization votes by Aug. 31. Local 652 represents workers at Lansing Grand River, which makes the Cadillac CTS, STS and SRX, and the Lansing Regional Stamping Plant adjacent to the Lansing Delta Township assembly facility.

Baker and Sherwood said vote tallies will be available today. Officials at UAW Local 602, which represents workers at the Lansing Delta Township plant, could not be reached for comment on the status of any strike authorization vote there.


Dis-organizing the UFCW: Decert looms in Portland

When the previous union liaison for Food Front - a Portland, Oregon cooperative grocery store on NW Thurman - retired about three months ago, employees had to appoint a new liaison to represent them. But no one wanted the job.

"It brought up the issue—do we really want unions to be here?" says Andrea Uehara, a Food Front employee of about 20 years.

Some pro-union workers within Food Front are attempting to get the petition withdrawn, says Ric Ball, collective bargaining director for UFCW Local 555. Uehara confirms that a petition calling for a withdrawal is circulating around Food Front, but she says no one has signed it yet. If they succeed, then the union can open contract negotiations with Food Front management and attempt to show how employees would benefit from retaining the union.

"From our position, it's a little short-sighted not to take the opportunity to bargain a contract first," says Ric Ball, collective bargaining director for UFCW, Local 555.

But employees cited several reasons for de-unionizing.

One is that relations have improved with management in the past few years, Uehara says. UFCW first started representing Food Front employees about 10 years ago in response to concerns about the store's then-new manager. Uehara says the staff trusts management now to do what's right for employees.

And Arabee Koch, a Food Front employee of eight years, says the UFCW hasn't done enough for the employees to justify keeping union representation. Koch says the union only impedes negotiations with management, whom she credits with improvements in employee wages and benefits.

"The only times we've ever seen the union is when they come to collect their dues... we're not getting anything out of [the relationship]," Koch says, adding that the $360 each non-management employee pays in union dues every year could be used to supplement their annual incomes instead.

Not every employee thinks ending the relationship is a good idea. Joe Lamb, a Food Front employee of four years, says keeping the union guarantees equal treatment and raises. If the employees go non-union, raises could be issued arbitrarily and irregularly at the whims of management, Lamb says.

Koch argues that co-ops don't need unions like corporations do because co-ops share the benefits equally among its members.

"No one here is getting rich," Koch says.


Make the union bosses take the losses

Okay, so it comes as no surprise to the average working person down at the plant that the guys sitting in the air conditioned offices back at corporation headquarters make a gazillion times more than they do. It doesn't matter that the backbreaking work, the dangerous work, the boring work, etc. etc. is done in plant. Hey, that's the way the system works. If you don't like it organize.


Okay, so it comes as no surprise to the average working person down at the plant that the guys sitting in the air conditioned offices back at corporation headquarters make a gazillion times more than they do. It doesn't matter that the backbreaking work, the dangerous work, the boring work, etc. etc. is done in plant. Hey, that's the way the system works.

If you don't like it organize.

And then you wake up and learn that even in the union the same situation prevails. Workers make the least money, union honchos the most.

And for a while who cared as wages were rising and benefits were increasing.

But that isn't the case any more. Wages aren't rising, benefits are going away.

But the union leaders, well, they're still doing okay for themselves (see article below).

And we wonder why unions have lost the respect of those they are supposed to represent.

Of course, it not just the union presidents big salary that has caused the decline in union membership, but I'll tell y'a what your average worker would be alot more impressed if their union leaders lived a little more like they do.

The funny thing is that the justification given by union big shots is same as that given by corporate CEOs. You gotta pay more to get the really top notch leaders.

Wouldn't it be nice if those running unions were doing it because they just cared about workers ... and not earning top bucks.

Wasn't there once even a time when that was sort of what happened...a long, long time ago in a place far, far away? I'm not sure that that time and place ever existed. If it did, it wasn't for long.

Is it any wonder so many workers are just not interested in joining the union when the lifestyle of their leadership and the lifestyle of their bosses is a lot more alike then either is with their own?

Not to me.

Until real workers actually control their own organizations - whatever they may be called - it is pretty unlikely that any of this is going to change.


Forestry industry strike shuts newsprint mill

Pulp and paper companies dependent on the coastal forest industry for their supply of wood chips are beginning to shut down fibre-starved operations, threatening to spread the economic impact of the four-week-old woodworker's strike beyond sawmilling and logging operations.

Two companies, Howe Sound Pulp and Paper and Pope & Talbot, have announced shutdowns and lay-offs affecting over 250 workers as a result of fibre shortages.

And the coast's largest pulp and paper company, Catalyst Paper, says it is closely monitoring its own chip inventories that supply four mills employing 3,000 workers in coastal resource towns.

"As the summer moves on, we will eventually get to a point where we are having to curtail operations, but we are not at that point yet," said Catalyst's Graham Kissack. "The picture will become more clear as we move towards the end of August."

Seven thousand coastal sawmillers and loggers walked off the job during the weekend of July 21, shutting down 34 coastal logging and sawmilling companies in a bitter dispute over working conditions. The strike began a count-down for the economically more significant pulp and paper sector, which had been stockpiling chips since spring in preparation for the strike.

Companies are trucking in chips from the Interior to augment their supplies, but even that won't save them from the day of reckoning.

Catalyst chief executive officer Richard Garneau told financial analysts recently that the company has enough fibre inventory to run normal operations for August.

"Absent a coastal labour agreement, production cuts would have to be made in September," said Paul Quinn, analyst with Salman Partners.

Quinn said in a research report that he believes the collateral damage being done to the pulp and paper sector may spark the involvement of the B.C. government if requested by both parties.

A spokesperson for Labour and Citizens Services Minister Olga Ilich said Catalyst has already approached the government expressing its concerns over a prolonged strike.

"We do understand that they want to see the dispute resolved and so do we," said ministry communications manager Linda O'Connor.

"However, our position is that it's up to the parties to find a resolution. Government continues to monitor the situation, and we urge the parties to continue talking to reach a negotiated agreement."

The United Steelworkers, which represents 7,000 coastal workers, and Forest Industrial Relations, which represents most of the struck companies, are both dug into their respective positions and have no talks scheduled.

"We are in the same place as we were on July 5 when we tabled our final offer," said FIR's Ron Shewchuk. "We have gone as far as we are willing to go."

At Howe Sound Pulp and Paper's Port Mellon mill, the deadlock means the company's newsprint line employing 150 to 200 people is no longer running, and lay-offs are to begin Friday.

"The newsprint machine has been shut down. We are performing maintenance in preparation of a quick start-up in case there is a quick resolution.

"But if nothing changes, we will be forced to start laying off people on the 17th," said mill general manager Fred Fominoff.

He said that the strike by loggers and sawmill workers has virtually stopped the flow of wood on the coast and the amount available is not adequate to maintain full operations.

"We are very concerned about the impact of the strike on our employees, our business and our customers," said Fominoff. "However, given the current wood supply and economic conditions, we have limited options. It is our hope that there will be a resolution soon to this dispute to avoid long-term consequences to the industry."

The spread of the strike's impact beyond sawmills and logging operations into the pulp and paper sector is troubling for the coast's regional economies, but it is easy to overlook the provincial impact because the overall economy is strong, said Ken Peacock, director of economic research at the B.C. Business Council.

"Any time you take out an important sector of the economy it is always a concern," Peacock said. "And for some of those operations, the longer the strike goes on, there are so many other employment opportunities, workers can go elsewhere.

"That has to be a bit of a concern. The more protracted the strike is, the more people may look elsewhere for employment."


Democrats primp for Iowa labor unions

Democratic presidential hopefuls courted union voters yesterday, promising to strengthen the middle class by allowing workers to organize and bashing insurance and drug companies as barriers to universal health care.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York avoided criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement, a signature of her husband's administration that labor organizations oppose, and instead said the next president must "rethink and redesign" trade policy with other countries.

"I'm for smart, pro-American trade. We want to be able to have a competitive posture in the world but we don't want to be taken for granted and treated like suckers," Mrs. Clinton said.

She was one of six Democratic presidential candidates who spoke at a convention of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, promising universal health care and hailing the labor movement as critical to building the middle class. The federation's endorsement of a candidate is considered a key to deciding the first-in-the-nation contest for the presidential nomination.

"Nobody really stands out to me just yet," said David Brisbois, a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "They are always going to start off telling you what you want to hear."

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said that if he becomes president, he would sign the Employee Free Choice Act and support only trade agreements that expand the economy and protect workers.

"If it's only good for the Dow Jones but it's not good for Jim Jones or Fred Jones or Sally Jones, I don't want to be part of that trade agreement," he said.

Mr. Obama said insurance and drug companies have spent $1 billion fighting expansion of federally funded health care. "It's no wonder that they got what they paid for," he said.


Teamster-backed pol: Opponent uses 'fear and intimidation'

Democrat Paul Rumler officially announced Wednesday that he's running for Illinois state senator because he wants to repair the image of the 36th District. But the Democratic primary race between Mr. Rumler, a Moline native, and Sen. Mike Jacobs, of East Moline, is off to an acrimonious start.

After Sen. Jacobs' brother, J.P. Jacobs, showed up with a videocamera at Mr. Rumler's press conference at Teamsters Local 371 in Rock Island, union boss Chuck Frenell told him to leave, which J.P. Jacobs did. Girard Carns, Local 371 secretary/treasurer, said the press conference was on private property and meant for the press, Mr. Rumler's family and supporters.

Mr. Rumler had the event at the Teamsters Hall because the union endorsed him. "I'm not going to let someone do opposition research on my time," Mr. Rumler said later.

J.P. Jacobs said in a phone interview that he attended Mr. Rumler's 2005 press conference with no problems when Mr. Rumler announced his first run against Mike Jacobs.

Mr. Rumler said he couldn't ask a Mike Jacobs supporter to leave that (2005) press conference because it was on public property. "The fact is the Jacobses are known for their fear and intimidation," he said.

When asked about that comment, Sen. Jacobs replied, "I'm not going to roll in the dirt with Paul Rumler. He owes my family an apology.

"I stand by my family's long history of elective service,'' he said.

J.P. Jacobs said he was shocked he was asked to leave the teamsters hall. He said he just wanted to hear what Mr. Rumler had to say.

Sen. Jacobs said taking video is pretty standard for operating a campaign, so the mistakes of an opponent can be caught. He said he didn't ask his brother to videotape the press conference, but his brother has the right to attend.

Mr. Rumler lost the Democratic primary race with about 44 percent of the vote in 2006.

However, Howard Spoon, president of Teamsters Local 371, said the union decided to endorse Mr. Rumler because "we really believe he's the best candidate and would do the best job for the community. I'm really confident that he can take the seat from Mike Jacobs."

Mr. Rumler told about 20 people at Wednesday's event, "It's time to change politics in Illinois."

"Instead of working together, some people have made matters worse," Mr. Rumler said, adding that Sen. Jacobs' public conduct as senator has put the area in an "unsettling light."

Mr. Rumler said he hopes to set a new standard, and said he wants to focus on building the Western Illinois University campus, increasing access to health care, improving roads and infrastructure, and increasing jobs.


USW forestry strike bosses talk tough

United Steelworkers Union boss Leo Gerard visited the front lines of the three-week-old forestry strike last Friday, addressing rallies on the coast, including Campbell River.

Gerard and other speakers blamed incompetence of the forest companies and the provincial government for the job action. The employers can't work together and provincial policies gave the industry control over the resource without any obligation to provide jobs, he said.

The forest companies hate each other so much they won't sit in the same room to negotiate together, Gerard said, forcing the union to hold talks at four separate bargaining tables. "It's hard to negotiate when the other side is incompetent," Gerard said. "It's hard to negotiate when the other side can't negotiate with each other."

Steven Hunt, USW District 3 director, told the crowd the steelworkers union is the "glue that is holding the industry together."

"We're at four different tables because the employers can't sit at the same table as each other," he said. "They hate each other."

The provincial government, meanwhile, sold B.C.'s forest industry down the river by "de-regulating" it, effectively allowing raw log exports without a requirement to provide value added manufacturing in the province.

"What the hell's wrong with a government that says you can have the right to those logs but you don’t have to create jobs in B.C.?" Gerard asked the crowd of over 100 members, families and supporters from other unions. "The jobs that come from those logs belong in B.C."

As a result of governent policy, we're importing plywood from countries like China now, Gerard said.

"And if (Premier Gordon) Campbell thinks that is job creation then Campbell is smoking better shit than you can buy in Vancouver," he added.

Meanwhile, the union is looking for changes to shift schedules that, they say, threatens workers' safety.

"What we've got out there is 11-and-a-half-hours a day of straight time is, quite frankly, going to kill people," said Darrell Wong, the USL Local 1-2171 boss.

Right now, Wong said, people are putting in 15- and 16-hour days.

"That's not going to be here when this contract is settled," he said.

Another theme voiced by the rally speakers is that the USW is setting the standard not only for their workers but for non-unionized workers as well.

"I want people to know ... that people that are on strike today are setting the standard for everyone who works non-union," Wong said. "If the industry is successful in breaking this union, they are going to be a hell of a lot worse off."

Gerard said the current situation in the industry is like the moose of his native Ontario.

The moose is the biggest animal in the forest. It fears nothing. Nothing bothers the moose except a swarm of black flies. Black flies pester the moose and fly up its nose and crawl down inside it.

There they lay eggs and those eggs start to develop and create a burst of bacteria in the moose, eventually killing it.

"If the forest industry doesn't come to their senses, we're going to be the blackflies," Gerard said. "We're not interested in bringing the industry to its knees. We're interested in bringing them to their senses."

The union is protecting good paying jobs that sustain families and communities, Gerard said.

"This strike isn't about us. This strike is about putting some dignity back in the work that this government and this industry took away from us," Gerard said.


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