Memorial to slain Oakland Teamster scab

"About 12:53 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, police responded to the La Quinta Inn, 8465 Enterprise Way, where they found Byron K. Mitchell, 29, of Chicago, suffering from a gunshot wound. He was taken to Highland Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Sgt. George Phillips said police believe Mitchell was killed during a failed robbery.

He said police suspect someone knocked on the door of Mitchell's room, tried to rob him when he opened the door and shot him during a struggle. Nothing was apparently taken from Mitchell, police said.

Phillips said police were told Mitchell had come to Oakland to work as a replacement driver for Waste Management during the recently settled labor dispute between the company and its Teamster union-member drivers." (insidebayarea.com, 8/4/07)


Striking school teachers meet with parents

Contract negotiations between the teachers union and Harlem (IL) School Board are at a standstill. But talks between teachers and parents are starting strong. Harlem teachers held a community meeting this afternoon, at the start of what should be the second week of school for students.

And with classes and extracurriculars canceled indefinitely until an agreement is reached, patience is dwindling. It was standing room only. A mix of ages, and a mix of opinions.

"It's greed on their part, very simply. If they don't like it, go somewhere else," says Dan Hall. "Bring in teachers that want to teach." "They shouldn't have to sit out and wait until the teachers get what they want," says James Stripling. "I mean everybody wants more money. It's never going to end."

When it comes to the ongoing strike, and the fighting among adults, it's the kids who are unfairly sidelined. "It's a little disheartening when we have to forfeit our first game," says Harlem High School football player Andrew Davis. "We put in the effort during the summer, we weight lifted, we conditioned, and we're still putting it in now. And we're practicing for a game that may never be played. It's going to affect or college visits for scholarships and stuff."

"They work hard, they should get a pay raise," says Harlem High School Sophomore Zach Brazel.

"Teachers deserve every bit they get and in this district. I don't believe they get enough," says Tom Papini.

But long-time Harlem High School math teacher... Bill Dredge says it's a matter of raising wages to attract and retain quality teachers.

"Their pay is not close to being equitable and they're being hired away, so there is this turnover," describes Dredge. "We had 120 teachers this year, not including retirees that were lost."

Some parents believe the solution lies in their own hands.

"If the board and superintendent isn't going to support the teachers, we have to come together here and find a way to get somebody that's going to do that," says Papini.

There's a Harlem School Board meeting tomorrow night at six. Many parents and teachers who were at the meeting today say they plan to be in-attendance tomorrow wearing their school colors. They encourage all community members to attend. As of now, no new bargaining sessions have been announced.


Public protests cemetery labor shutdown

Close to 200 people demonstrated outside the main entrance to Montreal's Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery yesterday, appealing for the right to bury their loved ones. "When I think that my mother passed away three months ago and still cannot be buried next to my father, it is a very sad case," said Tony Vaccaro, joined by his two brothers and sisters, carrying photographs of their mother and father.

More than 100 days after the beginning of the labour conflict at the cemetery, bodies are literally stacking up in cold storage. For relatives of the dead, sadness has turned to frustration and anger. No bodies have been buried or cremated since workers were locked out by management on May 16. A group representing the families estimates that at a rate of 50 per week, some 600 families are waiting for the bodies of loved ones to be buried or cremated.

All landscaping and maintenance has also been halted and weeds and tall grass have overrun the usually immaculate 153-year old cemetery. In places, the grass is even covering up the tombstones on Montreal's picturesque Mount-Royal.

While families demonstrated outside the cemetery, approximately 70 union members affiliated with the Confederation des syndicats nationaux yesterday staged a silent vigil in support of their demands outside the Fabrique de la paroisse Notre-Dame-de-Montreal, which owns and operates the cemetery.

Outside the cemetery's entrance, Nathalie Saint-Pierre, 28, said she has no trouble remembering May 16. That is the day her 75-year-old father, Gilles, should have been laid to rest. Six months later, Ms. Saint-Pierre said the family is still looking for closure.

The wait for "finality" is psychologically draining, she said. "This is the first time I lose someone so dear to me. I am trying to mourn his passing, but I know we'll all have to go through it again."

As union and management entered a negotiating blitz to attempt to end the impasse, patience was running thin.

"Our members are frustrated and angry," said Debora De Thomasis, who lost her grandmother this year and is a spokeswoman for the families. "We can't wait until December when the earth is frozen. Will we have to wait another year?"

That would present another set of problems. Guy Dufort, a lawyer for the cemetery management, said 700 bodies could be stored under current conditions, which by his count is enough to last until October. The families think that number will be hit sooner.

"If we reach capacity, we will find alternatives," Mr. Dufort said, but added: "I am not here to count the bodies."

If some thought divine intervention would settle the issue, they may have been disappointed when Montreal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte waited until July to weigh in, recommending conciliation but stressing the Church does not own the cemetery, so his hands are tied.

This came as a shock to some in this mostly Catholic province, who expected more action from the Church.

"I know the cemetery is Catholic. I was born and baptized Catholic, but I will never set foot in a Catholic church again," declared Robert Tomasino, 73. "These people deserve to be buried according to their final wishes. What is happening is abominable."

Lucie Martineau of the Archbishop's office said he was brokenhearted he could not do more to help settle the dispute. "Unfortunately, he can't legally intervene," she said. "But for the families in grief, it will never be enough; this is understandable."


Town preps scabs for teacher strike

Superintendent Randy Lucas said the Barnesville (WV) Exempted Village School District is willing to pay substitute teachers as much as $200 per day in the event of a strike by the teachers' union.

But Barnesville Education Association President Chris Pack said he doesn't think the district will be allowed to pay more than the standard rate of $65 per day for substitutes in the event of a work stoppage. He also believes some of those substitutes may not be qualified to teach the subjects assigned to them.

The BEA will meet with the BOE at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Barnesville Middle School for contract negotiations before a federal mediator in an attempt to avoid a strike by the teachers' union. Lucas said he hopes a settlement can be reached before the strike date of Sept. 5, but he is prepared to act if the two sides cannot agree on a deal.

"We are going to meet with them (the teachers' union) on Wednesday to see if we can strike a deal with them, but we will do whatever we have to do to keep the schools open," he said, noting the district would offer substitute teachers $175-$200 per day to work during the strike.

Lucas confirmed the district has employed a company named International Management Assistance Corp. to assist in the recruiting of qualified substitute teachers.

"We think we will be able to find substitutes to work for us. If we cannot, we will just have to see how many regular teachers show up for work, as well as how many students show up for school, and make a decision based on those numbers," he said.

One local resident received a call Saturday from a representative of IMAC, seeking substitute teachers to work during a potential strike. The resident, who previously worked as a substitute in Barnesville, declined an offer to work for a rate of $200 a day.

Pack said he does not see why the district wants to pay high substitute salaries and hire outside recruiting companies instead of giving union members what they want.

"What people need to understand is that we are not asking for more of a salary increase than what the board is offering; what we are asking for is a fair way to pay for insurance over the next two years," he said.

Pack said the district wants the teachers to go from paying nothing for insurance to paying $1,500 annually two years from now.

Pack also said he does not think the district will be able to offer $200 a day for substitutes because the Financial Planning and Supervision Commission will not let the district spend money in that manner. The commission is overseeing the district's finances after it was declared to be in a state of fiscal emergency.

"They (board and administration) know they are not going to be able to find enough qualified substitutes to work out here ... no matter what they offer to pay them, especially in terms of high school math and science because those are hard enough to come by as it is," he said.


Auditioning to be Hillary's Labor Secretary

On hearing that I come from that benighted place called Washington, the question on everybody’s lips as I travelled in Europe this summer was: who's going to win the election?

The first thing to be said is that this is a distinct improvement on the past five years. For most of that time, the revelation that I lived and worked in America's capital would generally elicit a clouded look of concern from my interlocutor, a whispered word of sympathy or encouragement, as though perhaps I might be seeking political asylum from the hellhole of militant nationalism, capitalist exploitation and religious bigotry that is George Bush's America.

I've no doubt that the new response, the keen interest in the identity of the next president, reflects a yearning to be rid of the current one. But at least it means that, however briefly, the rest of the world is thinking the same way as America. Given the vagaries of electoral politics, and that we are still almost 15 months from election day, it’s not a question that I would normally feel comfortable answering. But the campaign has been in something like full swing for almost a year. What’s more, the early start is matched, at least in the primaries (the phase of the election in which voters in the two main parties separately select their candidate), by an early finish. We are probably less than six months from knowing the identities of the two main candidates.

So it's a reasonable time to hazard some guesses about what the campaign has taught us so far. This week, I'll start with the Democrats, the big favourites to win next year. The most obvious and important fact we have learnt is that Hillary Clinton has firmly cemented her position as the prohibitive favourite to win the Democratic nomination, and with it the presidency.

Even occasional readers of this column will know that she has never been a favourite of mine. Prohibitive, yes; favourite, definitely not. I continue to find the ease with which she has sacrificed her principles on everything of importance, the makeover from radical feminist to soft-focused mother and devoted wife, from V-sign-waving peacenik to hawkish warmonger, all a little chilling even for my slightly cynical tastes.

But the truth is that no one ever lost money underestimating the credulity of voters. And to be fair for a moment, even I would have to acknowledge that Bill Clinton's First Lady (though, assuredly not his last), on the evidence of the campaign so far at least, deserves her lead.

If a Martian were to come down and follow the main candidates for a few days he would wonder why there was any question at all why Mrs Clinton should not be the anointed Democrat. Through the numerous debates, and on the stump across the country it is evident that she is the most knowledgeable, experienced and disciplined. Most of the time, like a Queen Elizabeth I or a Margaret Thatcher, she easily dominates the inferior men shuffling around her.

But she has not quite sealed the deal yet. Though her opinion poll lead among Democratic primary voters has widened in the past month or two, in the more important polls that measure popularity in the early primary states, her lead is narrower, or even disappears completely. She remains unpopular with many Americans.

So all the while, a faint patter of hope continues to beat in the hearts of the men in her wake. Barack Obama remains the closest challenger. The 46-year-old son of a black African and a Caucasian American continues to generate an excitement rare in political circles.

To be frank, that same Martian would have to wonder what exactly all the fuss was about the Illinois senator. His campaign has been, in substance, quite underwhelming. For all the luminous media coverage, the endless comparisons with John F. Kennedy, Mr Obama remains an oddly unconvincing world saviour. Watching him, you are struck by a sharp contradiction. There is Obama the Phenomenon - the Ideal, the Hope-Giver, the avatar of political change, national renewal and racial unity. Then there is Obama the man, the speaker with a rather pedestrian style, seemingly hobbled by caution. If he weren't young and black, let's be honest, he would be considered quite dull.

And this is before you even get to his biggest flaw - his lack of any real governing experience. In the past couple of weeks he has been in trouble over a couple of statements on foreign policy that his opponents seized on as evidence of his woeful unsuitability for high office.

In the first he said, that if he were President, he would sit down and talk with leaders of rogue states around the world. In the second, he said that if he had actionable intelligence that al-Qaeda were planning attacks inside Pakistan, and if the authorities in Islamabad refused to move, he would authorise US military action against the enemy.

This twin commitment earned him what may be the most memorable putdown of the campaign so far, when one of the Republican candidates said you didn’t know where you stood with Obama - one day he was Jane Fonda, the next Dr. Strangelove.

There was, substantively, nothing much wrong - or even very new - in what Mr Obama said. For Democrats and even some Republicans, talking with the leaders of unpleasant regimes is now seen as a necessary shift in US diplomacy, and no one in his right mind would really outsource American national security to the whims of the Government in Pakistan. But it somehow played into the perception of Mr Obama as not ready to be leader of the nation in a dangerous world.

The third main Democratic contender is John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator. He continues to run a campaign larded with a hypocrisy and opportunism that make Mrs. Clinton look like St Thomas More. He berates the exploitation of America's workers by evil global capitalists, then pops out of the picket line for a $400 haircut, paid for with money he earned in the past few years representing hedge funds as a wealthy lawyer.

He trails the other two candidates in the polls, but is staking all on a big win in an early contest - Iowa, probably - to propel him to a stunning nationwide victory.

The rest of the Democratic field - it would be doing unacceptable violence to the English language to call them hopefuls or contenders - continue to roam the country looking for scraps of comfort to sustain them in their pointless journey. For most of them now the campaign seems to be about auditioning for a spot in Mrs. Clinton's Administration.


SEIU gov't union in Kern County, CA votes to strike

Related Posts with Thumbnails