School strike cancels classes, games forefeited

School's off. The game's off. And contract negotiations are off indefinitely in the Harlem School district as teacher'’s union and management representatives took the suggestion by Federal Mediator Mike Salmon to cool off.

Superintendent Pat DeLuca said the phrase "cooling-off period" is just the phrase that's used and shouldn't indicate that previous negotiations were heated.
"We have many tentative agreements," he said Thursday. "We are working on language and minor financial issues."

Still, signs were evident that negotiations have become difficult if not acrimonious as the strike entered its fourth day:

The district publicly released the offer it had made to the teacher's union, which showed raises of 6 percent a year. The teacher's union countered that the numbers the district released were "misleading," saying the administration was cherry-picking figures.

Union representatives called the notice that teachers would lose district-supported health insurance on Sept. 1 a "scare tactic."

Not so, DeLuca countered. It isn't a scare tactic but "a reality," he said.

Neither side seems to want to budge from an existing two-tier pay system - teachers hired in 2004 and after are on a different pay scale than those hired before. DeLuca said the board believes it negotiated the system in good faith and doesn't want to change it. Union officials have made getting rid of or, at least, modifying the system a key point to their negotiations.

The union has scheduled a parent/teacher meeting for 3 p.m. Sunday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9759, 2018 Windsor Road, in Loves Park to, as spokesman Lenny Nieves said, "get our side out." The meeting is open to anyone who wants to attend.

"The district has been misleading the community," Nieves said. "They're trying to make us out as the bad guys and we're not. We want the community to see and hear what we're doing. We want the children back in school."

DeLuca said management also wants the children back in school and teachers back in their classrooms.

But, so far, the only meeting scheduled is the teacher's meeting at the VFW.

There aren't any negotiation sessions planned, and that means no school and no sports for who knows how long.


NYC taxi drivers authorize Sept. 5 strike

The Taxi Workers Alliance says that at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, September 5th its members will go on a 48-hour strike. "No taxis would be operating on the roads," said Taxi Workers Alliance boss Bhairavi Desai. "We're asking drivers to keep their cars parked either on the streets or leave them at the garage."

At issue is a new GPS system, a satellite-tracking technology the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission is requiring in all 13,000 of the city's yellow cabs. It's just one in a package of technology improvements that also includes a credit card reader and a video screen in every backseat.

The TLC says GPS will allow riders to track their trip on an electronic map, and make it easier to recover lost property. But the Taxi Workers Alliance calls it an invasion of privacy, arguing drivers' movements could be tracked even while off-duty - and that any technological snafu will cost them.

"The technology, if it shuts down, the meter shuts down," said Desai. "If the meter shuts down, the drivers cannot pick up a fare."

Right now, the group claims about 10,000 members and is working to recruit more.

Whether the TWA can get all 44,000 of the city's yellow cab drivers to go out on strike is not entirely clear. One rival group, the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, said on Thursday that its members will continue to drive.

"We are going to let our drivers know, there is no strike. Go to work. Do what you have to do. Put food on the table for your family," said NYS Federation of Taxi Drivers President Fernando Mateo.

But Mateo's group only claims about six or seven thousand drivers. And some drivers without any allegiance might still participate in a strike.

"The GPS does not bother me," said one cab driver NY1 spoke to. "The credit card thing does not bother me. The whole thing doesn't bother me. I don't know what's the sweat's about. [But], I wouldn't cross the picket line, no."

TLC Chairman Matthew Daus points out drivers have benefited from two taxi fare increases in the last few years.

"Riders have paid an additional $1 billion directly to drivers' pockets, (and) were promised technology enhancements in return," said Daus in a statement.

With the TLC apparently unwilling to budge, it seems some kind of strike is a real possibility, though just how widespread is anyone's guess.


SEIU disgruntles County workers, talks strike

The urge to strike was in the air for many Kern County, California employees as they received a 2 percent raise over the last four years. Union representatives were not satisfied with the offer from the county. County employees have been without a contract since July 1.

Service Employee International Union (SEIU) leaders said the county has not come up with a good enough offer, and leave it up to employees to vote for a strike.

Brenda Dodson works for California Children's Services at the Kern County Health Department, and takes pride in helping kids who need critical health services offered by the state.

She said it's time for the county to stand by its employees by offering an adequate contract.

"Last go around everybody lost money at the 2 percent because immediately health benefits went up and retiree benefits went up," Dodson said.

She said some county employees are barely getting by.

"Many of these people qualify for services such as Healthy Families, Section 8," she said, "some have qualified for food stamps, and some for free and reduced price lunches."

If 6,000 union members in Kern County don't accept the latest offer from the county, a strike could ensue.

Dodson said the county's proposed 4 percent raise doesn’t cover the cost of living expenses beyond a year.

"We're not asking for the county to give us the whole world," she said, "but we are asking the county to give us enough so where we can live and take care of our children, and we can live a decent life."

Supervisor Mike Maggard is in favor of more negotiations since there’s another supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the county said supervisors will address the issue in an official statement Friday.

Union members will vote on Saturday to decide whether to strike.


Unions desperate to keep tax-funded Labor Institute

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, Executive Secretary-Treasurer Maria Elena Durazo issued the following statement today in response to last night's passage of the State Budget by the Senate.

"While I'm disappointed that our most vulnerable had to endure the consequences of an unnecessary budget impasse, working families stand to benefit from this years budget as it allocates adequate funding for some of the issues we care about most. It fully funds K-12, higher education and it restores academic preparation programs so that our children are prepared to do the jobs of tomorrow. This budget acknowledges the need to make our environment cleaner and safer for our families by including funding to implement AB 32, California's landmark global warming bill.

"Especially meaningful in this budget was the preservation of funding for the Miguel Contreras Labor Program, (formerly the Institute for Labor and Employment ILE). The Miguel Contreras Labor Program is crucial to working class communities throughout this state as it serves as an important source of information about the Labor Movement and workers to interested scholars, students and public policy advocates, through the UC system. Just as importantly, the program carries the name of my late husband and beloved labor leader, Miguel Contreras, who so adamantly championed on behalf of workers fighting to join or remain in the middle class. I now call on Governor Schwarzenegger to do the right thing and ensure that the Miguel Contreras Labor Program remains in his final budget."


New England faces SEIU janitors strike

Candida Gomes has three children, and she wishes she spent more time with them. She gets up at 5:30 to get them off to school. Then she heads for her first job, cleaning the Wrentham State School. She gets back to her house in Pawtucket around 5 and puts on dinner before she reports to her second job, cleaning an office building in downtown Providence. By the time she gets back home, her children - ages 18, 11, and 5 - are supposed to be asleep, and usually they are.

Gomes came to the United States from Cape Verde 10 years ago, in search, she says, of a better life. When asked if she had found it, she hesistated before saying yes. One thing she is not hesitant about: She will be one of the members of the Service Employees International Union Local 615 who will vote Saturday to authorize a strike. "I'm ready to strike," she said earlier this week. "I'm ready to fight."

She is one of about 10,000 janitors in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire working under a contract set to expire on Aug. 31. Negotiations with the building maintenance contractors have been fruitless, so far.

Of course, there is a difference between authorizing a strike and actually walking out. Last-minute resolutions can happen at the bargaining table sometimes, but it doesn't seem likely here.

Virtually all strikes are about money, and this is no exception.

Janitors in and near Boston are making $12.95 an hour, while those more than 15 miles away make $9.84.

Those sound like (barely) livable wages, but not after a second factor is considered. Most of the jobs are part-time. That explains why Gomes and so many of her colleagues end up working more than one job.

"People want a life that has one good job, where they can spend time with their families, at their kids' schools" and in their neighborhoods, Lauren Jacobs, an SEIU organizer, said yesterday.

The union has lined up an important ally in Governor Deval Patrick. About 1,000 of the jobs in question involve cleaning state property.

The state hires the contractors, but the administration has made it clear that, in this fight, it is siding with SEIU, one of the first labor groups that backed Patrick's candidacy.

"This has tremendous appeal to [Patrick] and his sense of economic justice," Labor Secretary Suzanne Bump said yesterday.

She said the union's call for more full-time positions resonates powerfully within the administration.

"The workers in these positions are not terribly well compensated," Bump said. "They don't have great opportunities for advancement, and most of them are working multiple part-time jobs, which presents a tremendous strain on their families. We want to try to facilitate full-time employment."

At a time when union membership is receding, SEIU has carved out a niche representing low-income workers like janitors and security guards who have often gone unorganized. The five-year contract that is set to expire later this month was the result of a strike in 2002.

I asked Jacobs how far apart the two sides are. She said they were too far apart to even discuss the matter in such terms. "We're in alternate realities about what needs to happen," she said.

Some of the companies that employ union janitors have been more open to negotiation than others. But the push for more full-time jobs is a major sticking point.

It's a step in the direction of expanded benefits and would change the way the companies schedule their staffs.

While that may be a legitimate concern to management, it doesn't mean much to Gomes. Even discussing the task of juggling her work and home life, she sounds weary. Her wish is simple: to work just one job.

"If I could get good wages, I could leave my second job," she said. "I should see my kids. This is not right for kids."


Teamsters take dues hit as Cal. tofu maker closes

Tofu maker Pulmuone Wildwood Inc. will close its Riverside Drive plant Sept. 21 and move production to Fullerton. Nearly three dozen workers will lose their jobs, and the 20,000-square-foot facility is on the market for $2.75 million.

The closing comes less than a year after the local business completed a merger with a South Korean company, and is the final phase of a production shift that started last year as Pulmuone Wildwood pursued a goal of automation, according to Eddie Molina, manager of the Riverside Drive plant.

Molina, a Los Banos resident who is moving to Fullerton along with a handful of other workers from the Watsonville plant, said about 20 local workers were laid off in last year's move. He said the shift is necessary because the larger Southern California plant can accommodate the new automated equipment that wouldn't fit inside the local facility. Automation will ensure food safety standards are met, Molina said.

Brad Sebring, the Teamsters Local 912 boss, which represents the tofu plant workers, said the automated equipment also will speed production and reduce labor costs.

"This company has a brand new facility, state of the art," Sebring said. "Technology, you're not going to ever stop that." Sebring said workers will get a small severance package and the union will help them move into other industry jobs.

Food processing jobs are becoming a rare commodity locally, however. Pulmuone Wildwood is the second food processor to shut down in less than a year. The much larger Birds Eye Foods Inc. plant on Harvest Drive ended production in December, eliminating more than 500 local jobs.

A baby food company based in Santa Clara County has expressed in interest in the Wildwood plant.

Wildwood Natural Foods signed a merger deal in 2004 with Pulmuone USA, a subsidiary of Pulmuone Co. Ltd., a $400 million South Korean-based company that specializes in organic foods. Terms of the deal were not released but the merger, which was completed in November, created the world's largest tofu company.

Wildwood was founded in 1980 in Marin County by Jeremiah Ridenour and Billy Bramblett, and produced tofu-based products at plants in Fairfax and Santa Cruz until consolidating in Watsonville in 2003. The company merged with Iowa-based Midwest Harvest in 2001.

Won Kyung Sun, a poor farmer who pioneered organic farming in the 1970s, founded Pulmuone in 1955 in Korea.

Pulmuone Wildwood is based in Fullerton, and markets products under the Pulmuone, Wildwood and Soga brands.


Unions rally for striking Steelworkers

Union members banded together to show support for Powell River's forestry workers' month-long strike. The crowd included members from the Hospital Employees Union, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Powell River firefighters and BC Ferry and Marine Workers' Union, rallying on Thursday, August 16.

"Time's going on and we thought we'd get a show of support from the community as well as other unions and some families," said Bob Henderson, a strike coordinator. Both sides are no closer to reaching a labour agreement at this time.

USW members at the MacKenzie Sawmill in Surrey recently accepted an agreement with their employers. However, Forest Industrial Relations (FIR), an organization representing 31 forestry companies operating in BC, said this has no bearing on other labour disputes.

"We are trying to get some logging outfits online with the same contracts so we can set a pattern agreement in the logging side of it, not just the mill side of it," said Henderson.

One of the more contentious issues for forestry workers is the employers ability to set shifts and hours.

"The shift issue was a big one," said Henderson.

"I don't know how they can do that, just break the Employment Standards Act, it's a written law," said Dave Mcrae, a forestry worker. "I guess we have the right to fill out time cards, and apparently all you have to do is send in your pay stubs and all the paper work and they have to pay you the overtime, but if you ever do that you'll never get another job."

The problem, loggers said, is Western Forest Products wants to cut in less time so they can move on, lengthening shifts and exhausting workers.

"Western Forest Products only has an allowable cut of approximately 700,000 metres and that's been ongoing for years and years. It has not changed much, actually its been cut back 20 per cent, but now they want us to work a continuous shift so they can get the logging done sooner, faster by contractors, which is shortening our working-year as well," said Henderson. "The allowable cut definitely has not changed for them but the hours of work and our shifts definitely have changed big time."

Fatigue from long hours have contributed to a rise in mortality rates in the industry, Henderson said. "Since 2000, an average of 23 forestry workers lose their lives per year." Since the union was legislated back to work in 2003, the number has grown, he said. "In 2005, 43 forestry workers lost their lives."

"A lot of them were non-union," Mcrae added.

Injuries are commonplace, said another striking worker, Mark Greenan. "What's happening to us out at the sort, we are not getting our hours in the winter. What comes by with that is guys are taking other jobs, now they get hurt, now they can't come back to their job because they have been hurt on another job--they're finished."

A satisfactory agreement is also important because the union sets the bar for all forestry workers, Henderson said, not only for labour standards, but also for the wages that help support communities such as Powell River.


Sonoma council blocks SEIU's fast one

What happens when members of the Sonoma City Council can't remember exactly what they agreed on? In a word: confusion.

It was a routine item on the City Council's Wednesday night agenda. It was so routine that it was included on the consent calendar, which covers those items that are approved en masse without discussion.

But councilmembers can remove items they think require further review and that's what Steve Barbose did when something caught his eye and confused him. The item was a memorandum of understanding between the city and 28 employees represented by their union, the City of Sonoma Employees' Association/SEIU Local 1021.

The MOU adopts an agreement that, according to the summary prepared by city staff, provides the employees in question with a 2007-08 salary increase of 5 percent, and subsequent increases for the next two years based on the Bay Area Consumer Price Index (CPI), but not less than 3.5 percent or more than 5 percent. For the final two years, the maximum city contribution to employee medical insurance can be increased if requested by the union up to the 5 percent CPI maximum.

That in itself may sound a little confusing. But later on in the staff report, there is reference to a 5 percent increase in base wage, less any amount requested by the union for an increase in the health contribution rate.

That led Barbose to ask, are we giving them a 5 percent raise, or a CPI-based raise not to exceed 5 percent?

The problem with the question is that no one could remember precisely what the council had agreed on in closed session. And one reason they couldn't remember, apparently, was because not a single council member had a single note from the meeting.

The reason there were no notes, according to Barbose, is that at the end of the meeting the union negotiating representative insisted, for reasons of confidentiality, on recovering all the written materials distributed at the start of the session. And it was the written materials upon which the councilmembers had written their notes.

So at the end of an important contract agreement, five councilmembers weren't clear what they had agreed to a week later. City staff couldn't resolve the dilemma because, while they thought they knew what was agreed to, they couldn't be sure what council members thought they agreed to.

The solution? "I need to sit down and have a discussion" with Steve Barbose, said City Manager Mike Fuson. That discussion will, presumably, remind everyone involved what the council meant to do.


Hoffa steps up v. Iran, SEIU stuck in politics

Labor Unions played a key role in the past in defeating communism and supporting the American-Israel relationship. (Particulary the Garment Workers Union and the AFL-CIO under Lane Kirkland leadership deserve recognition). Now, the Teamsters step up to the plate. From the Wall Street Journal:
"Teamster boss James Hoffa is jumping into the Iran-divestment movement, urging the union's pensions funds to shed all shares they own in companies doing business in Iran.

In a letter set to go out on Thursday to more than 170 fund managers, Hoffa cites the recent crackdown in Iran on top labor leaders and widespread allegations that Iran is arming and training insurgents in Iraq as reasons why fund managers should "give consideration to divesting" in Iran-related shares. The Teamsters' pension funds amount to about $110 billion."
No word yet from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), another powerful union whose head seems more concerned with Democrats winning control of our Executive and Legislative branches than the state of the world or human rights.

Congratulations to the Teamsters.


IBM faces Second Life strikers

Ever wanted to go on strike, be part of that feeling of solidarity on the picket line, but felt too cowardly to take the risk? September should see just the opportunity for you. That is when Rappresentanza Sindacale Unitaria IBM Vimercate (RSU), the official trade union representing IBM's 9,000 workers in Italy, is planning a most novel form of industrial action - a strike on Second Life - and it wants as many avatars as possible manning the picket lines.

Details of what form the industrial action will take in this virtual world are scant at the moment, except that a Union spokesman has hinted that they are hoping Second Life avatars from around the world will participate.

A statement sent to The Register by the RSU sets out the reasons for the industrial action as follows:

It seems that the reasons for this first virtual strike are related to the renew of the internal agreement. While IBM is one of the company with major profits, its employees are receiving very few fruits of this big mountain of money.

The internal climate is below all the IT industries (taking advantages for the famous IBM's competitor: HP), and the drop that overflowed the glass is the long and inconclusive negotiation for the internal agreement. While the works council, supported by the majority of IBM Italy employees, was asking for a small salary increase, IBM responded with the complete suppression of the "productive results benefit", with a loss for a single employee of €1000 per year. For a company that wants to lead the corporate social responsibility, this is really too much.

IBM has a widely reported presence on Second Life which is now set to face, at the very least, a picket line of characters that come straight out of the darker recesses of wild imaginings.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out should the strike take place. The RSU is obviously hopeful that IBM's local management will see things its way, and the action does raise some interesting considerations. Second Life is already being seen by many corporations as a good marketing and merchandising tool, but the union is seeing its potential slightly differently.

"The high offices of the company are worried, because this action will turn on the lights on the project of creation of a global union alliance, that is engaging the unions from over 16 countries worldwide, including the new IT boundary: India," the statement said.

What can be used to motivate people to buy products or services can, just as easily, be used to inform and motivate workers in a global economy that they can take global collective action. They could even test out industrial action tactics in relative safety. It could be a tantalising prospect for a committed union activist. It will be interesting to see what actual impact the virtual industrial action has in the real world, and how IBM handles it.

UK Second Lifers with long memories may also be keeping a wary eye open for an appearance by the ultimate avatar for such situations - The Iron Lady of Orgreave.


Strking Steelworkers in clumsy blockade

Police were called to the Port Authority dock in Victoria, B.C. Wednesday afternoon after a fishing vessel sporting Steelworkers' union picket signs blocked a ship from docking. Port Authority manager Brad Madelung told the Times the vessel Saga Merchant was scheduled to dock early Wednesday afternoon to pick up a load of lumber (the majority owned by Western Forest Products) slated for delivery to Japan.

However, an aluminum fishing vessel with steelworkers' picket signs stopped at the berth where Saga Merchant was to dock, blocking her path. "It appears the steelworkers or one of their representatives chartered a fishing vessel and proceeded to tie up without approval, blocking the berth," Madelung said.

Police were called and arrived on scene shortly before 1 p.m. - officers eventually persuaded the occupants of the fishing boat to leave the berth.

SOVA members Steve and Vicki Drybrough, who watched the scene unfold from the lighthouse adjacent to the marina, informed the Times the fishing vessel was being run by Save Our Valley Alliance (SOVA) member and Steelworker Wayne James.

However, the couple claimed James was having "engine trouble" and his blocking the Saga from berthing was an accident. They added the incident does not involve SOVA in any way.

Madelung said crews were scheduled to begin loading the ship at 4:30 p.m. that afternoon, but the pilot had left the Saga and the docking had been delayed thanks to the incident.

Local 1-85 Steelworkers president Tom Russell said while the protest was impromptu and unsanctioned, it was indeed a group of striking Steelworkers who blocked the Saga from docking.

"The guys are getting really frustrated," Russell said, adding the men were in the area fishing when they spotted the Saga and made the decision to hold the protest.

He added steelworkers are committing such acts because they cut the trees, haul the timber out of the bush, process the lumber, then lose control of the product when it hits the dock.

"Another 500 yards and its suddenly out of our jurisdiction," Russell said.

The strike is now in its fifth week, and thus far the two sides have not been able to come to an agreement or even return to the bargaining table.

About 7,000 workers on the West Coast of B.C. are participating in job action.

The sticking points in negotiations are hours of work, contracting out and severance for partial closures.


Locked out union members lobby Die Casting's customers

The locked out employees of Quad City Die Casting will try to increase the pressure on the company to reclaim their jobs by launching a "Save Quality" tour Monday to one of the company's main customers.

Six members of United Electrical Workers Local 1174 will travel to Hydro Gear in Sullivan, Ill., to try to garner support from the company to end the lockout.

Quad City Die Casting locked out its union employees July 26 after the majority of the union workers rejected the company's "last, best, final" contract offer. Company and union representatives had been in bargaining for three months. Workers had been under a prior three-year contract that froze wages until it expired June 30.

The disagreement was over the company's plan to use temporary and part-time employees to supplement the work force to reduce costs and ultimately the price of its products. The company and union had agreed to a cap on the use of temporary workers for 30 years.

Union and company representatives, with help from a federal mediator, met twice during the past four weeks to try to reach an agreement.

Quad City Die Casting makes aluminum and magnesium components for its customers. The company makes aluminum housings for hydrostatic engines for Hydro Gear.

UE International Rep. Tim Curtin said its members were concerned their reputations for making quality products were on the line because they believe company supervisors and temporary workers are making new parts during the lockout.

Union members called a press conference Thursday to announce plans to launch a "Save Quality" tour. They plan to make the 440-mile round trip to Sullivan Monday to talk with Hydro Gear officials about their concerns for the quality of the product Hydro Gear is getting during the lockout.

The trip will start with a rally and loud send-off in front of the company at 3800 River Drive, Moline.

"It is our hope that perhaps the customers will be as concerned about the quality as the locked out employees, and perhaps they can persuade management to end this lockout," Mr. Curtin said.

Company spokeswoman Linda Norberg declined comment Thursday.

The trip to Sullivan is the first in the tour, Mr. Curtin said. He declined to name the other points on the tour. However, he said American Kawasaki is the company's biggest customer.

Rich Nordholm, Local 1174 president, said the union knows work is going out the company door. Union members also have called local staffing agencies and asked that they not send in temporary workers.

The temporary worker issue is the main sticking point, Mr. Nordholm said. When negotiations ended, the company and union negotiators were not far apart on wages and healthcare issues, he said. Other issues could be resolved in about an hour if the company and union could agree on the temporary worker issue, he said.

The union believes support for its cause is growing. Members cited visits from three elected officials and said they were receiving support from the Quad City Federation of Labor and other Quad-Cities area unions, Mr. Nordholm said. The locked out workers also recently received their first unemployment checks under a year-old Illinois law that expanded coverage to locked out workers.

The lockout affects 90 Quad City Die Casting employees, including 19 workers who were laid off in early July because of a seasonal slowdown. Those who were laid off expect to be recalled Sept. 10, Mr. Nordholm said.

Many of the locked out employees are skilled workers with 20 to 30 years experience. Workers earn $9.50 an hour for starting wages to $15 an hour plus benefits.

Quad City Die Cast is a division of Quad Corp. Two other foundries in the chain in Davenport and Red Oak, Iowa, are non-union shops. They receive their tool-making and maintenance services from Moline.


Turkey beset by wave of costly labor strikes

Turkey is experiencing the greatest wave of strikes since the 1990s. Following the workers of Turkish Airlines (THY), wage earners in the textile and marine sectors also decided to halt working until seeing their demands fully met. Finally, workers for the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) joined the caravan of strikers.

Hava-İş President Atilay Ayçin addreesing THY workers to say their reasons for striking are many. Employees at Petkim, Turkey's state-owned petrochemicals producer that was recently privatized in a debated tender to a Kazakh-led consortium, may choose to go on strike anytime as they still haven't reached an agreement with the company's administration over wages for next term.

Unions seem to have become much more prone to declare strikes in order to demand higher wages, despite laborers' salaries having enjoyed increases with the dramatically falling inflation in the past four years. "The shadow of strike is threatening the industries beforehand," many analysts say, as competitiveness, production, and so the profitability of these companies will fall, resulting in less recruitment or even firings in the middle-term. According to estimations made by some experts in the business, strikes may cause the economy to see a direct loss of at least $5 billion.

Analysts are also questioning the timing of these strikes, wondering whether there is special purpose for unions to shut down production all around the same time. "Is the strike being drawn to the table as a trump card of instability?" is the most asked question nowadays. Some believe the strikes will probably be exploited as a means to throttle the government and the economy. The employers are also wary of the unions' steps, blaming them of avoiding reaching a common ground in agreements.

The gridlock in collective bargaining talks has long been on the agenda of the Turkish economy. The Civil Aviation Workers' Union (Hava-İş) rejected the THY administration's offer of a 10 percent wage increase last month and insisted on a much larger hike -- 23 percent --for all workers. The two sides of the table made no concessions and the talks ended in a stalemate as the union decided to lead its member workers to a strike. Even Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's directives and Labor and Social Security Minister Murat Başesgioğlu's conciliatory attempts didn't help ameliorate the demands of the workers.

The THY administration, on the other hand, called the union's bluff and declared they will announce a lockout if workers strike. That means 11,300 THY workers may lose their jobs completely and THY may ultimately shut down its subsidiary company for technical services. Currently pilots are earning up to YTL 12,000 monthly whereas hosts and flight attendants make between YTL 3,000 and 3,600. The monthly earnings of technicians vary between YTL 2,500 and YTL 4,000.

The possibility of a strike is worrying tourism operators and exporters the most. It is a matter of concern for the government as well since tourism, which plays a vital role in shrinking the current account deficit, will be severely damaged if THY is forced to cancel flights due to a strike. Chairman of the Turkish Association of Travel Agents (TÜRSAB) Başaran Ulusoy insists that the two sides must immediately reach an agreement. "A strike at THY would definitely be a harsh blow to tourism," he says. At the same time, THY is of utmost importance in terms of exportation. The airline carries Turkish businessmen to some countries that no other Turkish airline company flies to. If THY opts to shrink its operations and cancels flights to such destinations, commercial relations with these countries may be greatly affected. Oğuz Satıcı, the chairman of Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM), points to this dreadful scenario and blames the union for the deadlock in talks and refusal to reach an agreement. For him, the THY administration has so far shown good intentions to solve the problem, but their attempts have always been weathered by the union for apparently no reason.

Textiles are another sector that has come under the strike wave. The Turkish Textile, Knitting and Clothing Industry Workers' Union (TEKSİF) decided on a strike in 20 establishments. The Real Trade Union for Workers in the Weaving, Knitting and Garment Industry (Öz İplik-İş), committed to Labor Confederation (Hak-İş), is also going on a strike involving 5,000 workers in six establishments. Textile, Garment, Painting, Tricot and Dress Workers' Union (TEKSTİL-SEN), on the other hand, has also decided to strike in seven work places on behalf of 5,000 employees. The strike decisions coming one after another are causing stress on Turkish industry, which scrambles to deal with the Chinese threat and the economy. The strikes would shake the textile industry that has a significant for Turkey's exports and struggles to become a trademark. It is said that the strike decision concerning about 16,000 workers in total would likely please the Chinese the most. The widely accepted opinion is that a possible shrinking of the textile sector, which is the leading power in terms of employment, would jolt the sector.

The Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) Apparel and Ready Wear Assembly President Umut Oran stated that the sector's profit margin remained between 5 and 10 percent due to the negative impact of East Asia, adding: "The textile sector lies on the edge of a knife. The Turkish economy doesn't have a chance to overcome a strike; it would mean non-production and the decrease in the acceleration of the sector. Oran also underlined that a strike would shake the exports of the sector.

The İstanbul Textile and Raw Materials Exporters' Union (İTHİB) Chairman İsmail Gülle emphasized that many employers would volunteer for a lockout if a strike did happen. "The strike and the subsequent lockout would wear down the sector. The important thing is that factories keep manufacturing. The exports of the textile sector are around 25 percent and will reach $7 billion by the end of 2007. We wouldn't like to have any obstacle while we have gained this acceleration."

Turkey's pioneering scientific studies institution, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), is also under the threat of strike. The Turkish Union of Trade, Cooperative, Education, Office and Fine Arts Workers (Tez-Koop İş), a sub-union of the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş), decided to go on a strike with 3,000 employees. The strike in an institution such as TÜBİTAK, which gives significant research and development (R&D) support to Turkish industry, is also considered a serious threat for the Turkish economy in general. TÜBİTAK runs several R&D operations in institutions and laboratories in various cities and conducts basic and applied research on positive sciences for the public and private establishments. A slowdown in TÜBİTAK would prevent the Turkish industry from becoming a trademark and competing in the global markets.The ongoing collective bargaining in Türk Telekom also ended up without a compromise on Wednesday. The Turkish Communication Workers' Union (Haber-İş) is preparing to decide on a strike in the second half of September. During the negotiations, which concern around 25,000 workers, the union asked for a 19 percent salary increase. This much of a raise would bring an additional financial burden equivalent to YTL 172 million to the establishment.

As the labor unions move to strike in several establishments, the total number of workers to participate may reach 62,300. Negotiations between the government and the unions still continue and the third round meetings brought the wage increase issue on the agenda. In order to meet the unions' demands, additional resources between YTL 5.3 and YTL 10.6 billion is required. Furthermore, civil service unions have several other demands, such as additional payment for crowded classrooms in schools, energy use at a discounted price, free lunch and more workers at the Postal and Telecommunications General Directorate (PTT) -- all of which are impossible to fulfill.

Meanwhile an establishment in Tarsus is seeing its 546th day in a strike. Since March 15, 2006, the 300 workers of the SCT Filter Factory have been striking with Birleşik Metal-İş, a sub-union of the Confederation of Revolu-tionary Workers' Union (DİSK). The laborers alternatively stand guard at the factory as well.

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