Unions endorse Sen. Dodd, Sen. Clinton

Democrat Chris Dodd picked up a key endorsement today, from the same union that helped propel John F. Kerry to the Democratic nomination in 2004. The International Association of Firefighters said it will back the senator from Connecticut, who is striving to break out of the second tier of candidates and compete with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards.

The 280,000-strong firefighters union can funnel volunteers and money to Dodd, particularly in the early voting states. The Associated Press reported that union president Harold Schaitberger was expected to announce the endorsement at a news conference in Washington Wednesday morning. Dodd and Schaitberger were then scheduled to travel together to Iowa for a full day of appearances Thursday, followed by joint campaign events in New Hampshire on Friday and Nevada on Saturday.

Earlier today, Hillary Clinton announced that she has the support of the United Transportation Union, the first endorsement by a national union so far in the 2008 campaign. The union represents 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus, and public transit workers. "The UTU has a long history of picking winners early. Hillary will be a president that America's working families can count on. Time and again, as a United States senator, she has stood with us," union President Paul Thompson said in a statement released by Clinton's campaign.

While the national AFL-CIO voted this month to wait on endorsing any of the presidential contenders, its member unions are starting to pick their favorites. Obama and Edwards are also expected to win endorsements as the unions announce their choices leading up to Labor Day. Organized labor is a crucial source of money and volunteers for Democrats, both to win the nomination and in the general election campaign.

The AFL-CIO executive council decided Aug. 8 to defer an endorsement -- freeing its 55 affiliates to make their own decisions -- the day after 17,000 union members crowded Soldier Field in Chicago to hear the Democratic hopefuls make their pitches. The executive committee put off an endorsement because at least two-thirds of its members could not settle on a candidate.


Workers seek protection from Steelworkers threats

Private security forces have returned to the Pretty Products plant after some employees reported being threatened, a company spokeswoman said Friday. Renecia Lowery, human resources director for Pretty Products LLC, said employees told her members of United Steelworkers Local 50L made the threats.

The extra security was necessary to protect the company's employees and equipment, she said late Friday afternoon. Gary Shearn, president of Local 50L, refused to comment as he walked into the employee meeting at Lake Park Pavilion. He did not return a phone call seeking comment about the alleged threats.

Lowery said union leaders were told of the decision to move production jobs out of Coshocton at an 8 a.m. meeting Friday. Security forces were visible at Lake Park after the 3 p.m. meeting.

Coshocton County Sheriff Tim Rogers said deputies also were nearby Lake Park during and after the meeting. "We didn't anticipate any trouble, but you never know how people are going to react," he said.

Rogers said he knew of no complaints filed about vandalism inside or outside Pretty Products' Cambridge Road plant.

Local 50L waged a bitter four-month walkout against Lancaster Colony Corp., which owned Pretty Products before it was sold in June to Michigan entrepreneur Jeffrey Willis. Lancaster settled the strike in February, with the union getting most of its demands.

Lowery said company officials expect their workplace to be safe and violence-free as production winds down over the next six to eight months.


Teamsters take dues hit from Twinkies cuts

Interstate Bakeries Corp., the maker of Wonder bread and Hostess Twinkies, said Tuesday it will exit the bread business in Southern California, cutting about 1,300 jobs. The Kansas City-based company, in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since 2004, said it will close four bakeries in Glendale, Pomona, San Diego and Los Angeles. It will also consolidate about 325 distribution routes and close 17 distribution centers and 19 outlet stores.

Interstate Bakeries said the moves, which require approval by a bankruptcy court judge and the company's lenders, should be completed by Oct. 29 and will require $29.2 million in charges and an additional $1.8 million in accrued expenses.

"While IBC has made marked progress in several problem markets over the last six months, bread operations in Southern California continue to be unprofitable," Craig Jung, the company's chief executive, said in a news release.

Jung said the company has struggled in the region with low-cost competitors, changing consumer demand and labor problems. However, the company said it will continue selling Hostess and Dolly Madison branded snack cakes and doughnuts in the area.

"We must stop reinforcing failure and press harder where there is success," he said.

The cuts, equal to about 5 percent of the company's remaining employees, come as Interstate Bakeries continues to seek a path out of almost three years of bankruptcy protection. In that time, the company has slashed its work force by 22 percent and shut down 10 bakeries and numerous distribution centers and thrift stores. It has lost a combined $620 million over the past three fiscal years.

Interstate Bakeries has run into an impasse as it seeks concessions from unions that represent 82 percent of its 25,000 employees.

Chiefly, Jung wants to move the company from its current distribution method where delivery drivers also sell products to a "path-to-market" system, in which distribution and sales are more separate.

The company said path-to-market gives salespeople more time to work with store managers to merchandise the products instead of simply delivering them. It also would allow some customers to order products over the phone or Internet, cutting down on distribution expenses.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has criticized the plan in a letter to its 10,000 Interstate Bakeries members - many of whom could be affected by changes in delivery policies - saying that other companies have tried and later abandoned similar distribution methods and that it has yet to be tried in the baking industry.

"We do not share IBC's view that its business plan will allow the company to emerge from bankruptcy; nor do we agree that IBC's untested Path-to-Market delivery system is the only way for the company to survive," Richard Volpe, the Teamster's international director, said in the Aug. 22 letter.

Sandi Sternberg, an Interstate Bakeries spokeswoman, responded that Jung and other members of company management have implemented path-to-market at other companies with success.

"IBC's distribution system has not fundamentally changed in 75 years and has failed to account for both advances in technology and changes in grocery store and consumer preferences," Sternberg said. "We believe our path-to-market system can give us a huge competitive advantage by meeting the grocery industry's desire for high-quality, seven-day-week service."

Volpe also said the union has suggested a number of ways to cut other operations, which it said would save the company $295 million over five years.

But Jung on Tuesday warned that the company is running out of time. It has until Oct. 5 to propose a reorganization plan or anyone else can make a proposal, including selling the company.

"We have weeks, not months or years, to act," Jung said. "Union agreement to path-to-market and the health and welfare concessions in our business plan are crucial."

Shares of Interstate Bakeries, which trade on the over-the-counter market, were up 10 cents at $1.20 in late morning trading Tuesday.


AFSCME organizers plot Obama miracle

Inside the Obama campaign, an eclectic team of field organizers is attempting something that has long been considered impossible: building a precinct-level field organization large enough to affect the outcome of Super Tuesday (now February 5, or "Super Duper Tuesday"). If successful - aided by email lists, web tools and old school organizing techniques long missing in electoral politics - these organizers could rewrite the rules of presidential politics, dramatically raise the profile of field organizing in the campaign world and help rebuild Democratic party structure in states, such as California, that have been long forgotten to electoral field organizing.

Over the past two months, the Obama campaign has staged a number of in-depth, three-day trainings in February 5 states, with more than 1,000 carefully selected volunteers attending. Trainees leave the events organized into teams by Congressional district, charged with building an organization that reaches all the way down to the precinct level.

For decades, presidential primaries have been almost exclusively fought in Iowa and New Hampshire -- through a complex mix of retail politics, local endorsements and media. If no clear winner emerged from those states, then last minute efforts in other early states such as South Carolina and Michigan sometimes became important (In 2000, Bush played rough in both states with New Hampshire first place finisher John McCain.)

However, by the time Super Tuesday came along (formerly in early March), campaigns had only prayers, no strategy. The vast size of the electorate voting on Super Tuesday, when combined with relatively small budgets, meant that a field strategy was simply out of the question.

In the 2008 cycle, however, two things have changed the calculus of presidential primary organizing and now raise the possibility of a hard-fought precinct-by-precinct field battle in states as large as California and as numerous as 20 possible February 5 primaries and caucuses. Many of these states have not seen serious electoral field organizing in decades.

First, an unprecedented amount of money is now available. The Obama campaign has a mountain of cash on hand and the ability to raise tens of millions more before February 5, 2008.

Second, use of campaign websites now makes hundreds of thousands of volunteer campaign workers available to campaigns in states before a single staffer is hired to work in them. At virtually no cost, campaigns are able to contact those volunteers via email, turning them out to events and trainings and giving them valuable work to do for the campaign in key states.

Those two factors raise the possibility of a well-financed, volunteer-driven field operation on a totally unprecedented scale, reaching even into states that have been organizationally forgotten for decades by both parties.

But it will only happen if field leaders in at least at one presidential campaign can figure out how to blend effective, old-school field organizing techniques with the methods of "online organizing" that are only beginning to be discovered and understood.

Temo Figeroa is one field leader trying to make the leap. A longtime labor organizer, and the son of farm worker organizers, Figeroa, was hired away from the top political job at AFSCME to be the National Field Director for the Obama Campaign. Figeroa believes the new presidential field equation gives Obama a sharp advantage. On Saturday, motioning to a room of several hundred volunteer grassroots leaders attending "Camp Obama" in Atlanta from around the South, Figeroa said, "What's different is there's never been a candidate who has drawn this type of enthusiasm and has raised this type of resources to even fathom doing something like this. That's an amazing combination--if you have the resources and the volunteer base to do it."

He emphasizes that the Obama strategy is an early state strategy, focusing on Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. "But what if it's completely mixed results in the first four? Then you go into a battle for delegates. There are a little over 1,500 delegates that are up on February 5. Twenty states! So, for us, we have to prepare: because we have the ability to prepare. We have that luxury because we have the resources and this amazing volunteer base."

Camp Obama is the main ingredient in that preparation. Not counting dozens of trainings held near the Chicago campaign headquarters (which mostly focused on Iowa), there have been six Camp Obamas in February 5 states so far: Burbank and Oakland, California; Saint Louis, Missouri; New York City, New York; Phoenix, Arizona; and Atlanta, Georgia. While the curriculum has varied with the different teams behind each training, the end goals have remained consistent: send tight-knit, well-trained and highly motived teams of volunteer organizers back to their home Congressional districts with a plan.

Trainings have been lead by a diverse set of experienced - even legendary - organizers. The Dean campaign had Internet gurus; the Obama campaign has community organizing gurus. Many have come to the campaign through relationships with Figeroa and Barack Obama.

Figueroa: "For me, personally as an organizer, coming from labor, it's been an incredible experience to invite mentors of mine--colleagues in labor organizing, community organizing and faith community organizing to come and be part of truly an inspiring movement....And it's a really powerful message to our activists to be trained by some of the same organizations and organizers who trained [Obama]."

This past weekend's Atlanta training was lead primarily by Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz, once a National Organizing Director of the United Farm Workers and now sought-after advisor to political campaigns, unions and NGOs. In 1968, Marshall Ganz dropped out of Harvard to join the civil rights movement. He returned to his hometown of Bakersfield California with "Mississippi Eyes" and was able to see for the first time the poverty, racism and injustice that had been around him his whole life. He joined Ceasar Chavez as a farm worker organizer and was mentored by figures from Saul Alinksy's community organizing movement. Ganz eventually returned to complete his undergraduate degree at Harvard, and then stuck around to earn a PhD and become a professor.

In 2004, Ganz was a key advisor to a special Dean campaign organizing program in New Hampshire. Staffers who were influenced by him in that program are now running South Carolina for Obama, and Nevada and New Hampshire for Hillary Clinton. Karen Hicks, who ran the New Hampshire program is a National Field Coordinator for Clinton (Other recent Ganz students include co-founders of Facebook, the managing editor of political blog TPMCafe and an interesting assortment of evangelical Christian faith-based organizers.)

The Dean New Hampshire organization was built meticulously over the course of one year of intensive one-on-one conversations with voters and intimate house meetings. In the ten days after the "Dean Scream," that organization was credited by many for Dean's steady regaining of ground in the polls to place second in the New Hampshire primary. Michael Whouley, "the man who won Iowa for Kerry" was one of the people impressed by the power of the organization in New Hampshire -- so impressed that he hired Karen Hicks to be the National Field Director for the Kerry Campaign. Since 2004, thanks in part to the Dean organization there, the New Hampshire legislature has gone form red to blue and the state has elected a Democratic governor, and a long list of grassroots leaders from the Dean organization have run for local office.

However, the New Hampshire program was an exception inside the Dean campaign. Iowa's field operation was widely criticized after the fact for being utterly disorganized. Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi successfully used the Internet to bring thousands of volunteers to Iowa, but neither old-school field tactics nor new online-organizing tactics were employed to put them to work effectively, in an organized manner, for the campaign. (Obama's Western States field director, Buffy Wicks, was one young Iowa Dean staffer who led a failed mini staff rebellion there to bring in the New Hampshire model.)

Interestingly, for all the power of Dean's New Hampshire organization, almost no attempt was made there to use the Dean email list or online organizing tools to recruit supporters. That sprang from the distrust of the Internet by old school organizers who saw it as an "impersonal" medium.

A few short years later, it is inconceivable that a field director on a national campaign would reject volunteers because they signed up online. It has become second nature among even the oldest of the the old school field organizers to recruit people for events by sending out emails and posting events online. Every single person queried at Atlanta's Camp Obama said they had found out about the event by visiting the campaign website - in a group that was about two thirds African American and probably one half working class or low income.

Nevertheless, campaigns - including Obama's - are still only haphazardly using webtools and email lists to organize volunteers. For example, on the Obama campaign, there is still no online system available for the teams graduating from Camp Obama (or the teams they establish below them) to report in their progress back to headquarters. This is a huge missed opportunity to give field directors perfect visibility into the work of every team, anywhere in the country -- visibility that could be used to identify the best field volunteers in the organization for promotion, and to identify problem areas that need special attention from staff organizers. That said, no other campaign has anything like that kind of accountability system either.

Maybe one candidate will decisively win all first four primary states - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. In that case, the Obama February 5 plan will probably be judged to be unnecessary. Even so, it will continue to pay dividends for supporters of the Democratic party in 20 states for years to come.

On the other hand, if the First Four states produce no clear winner, then these months of meticulous planning by the Obama campaign could prove a history-making success. Perhaps there will be no bigger winner from that scenario, however, than field organizing itself, that would find itself in a dominating position in the future of electoral politics for the foreseeable future.


Gov't union strikes foster, child care agency

About 180 workers at the York Region Children's Aid Society walked off the job early Monday in a dispute over workloads and wages. They began picketing at 6 a.m. ET after rejecting management's latest offer last Thursday and talks collapsed on Friday, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union said.

Erin Kinsley, vice-president of OPSEU Local 304, said employees decided to "take a stand" and go on strike to fight "chronic workload problems" reported over the years. Kinsley also said the union is optimistic talks can resume.

More than 400 children could be affected by the walkout, as well as 1,000 open family case files in the region north of Toronto.

However, the Children's Aid Society has said it has a backup plan to ensure children and families are cared for during a walkout.

Officials said essential child protection services will be provided by "extremely well-trained" non-union branch managers.


Court orders A.G. to return $100K union donation

The Missouri Supreme Court on Monday ordered candidates to refund any oversized campaign contributions they accepted this year unless they could show such refunds would create a serious hardship. The court ordered the Missouri Ethics Commission to give any candidate a hearing to show why refunding the money would be overly burdensome.

Such hardship, the court wrote, would depend on the amount of contributions that exceeded the limits in effect before Jan. 1, 2007, and the extent to which those contributions already had been spent.

"Depending on the amount of money involved, it could become prohibitively difficult and expensive to require candidates to refund this money," the decision said. "It might also be futile, as donors could skirt the limitations on direct contributions" by giving the money indirectly through political party fundraising committees.

However, to allow candidates to keep thousands of dollars in huge contributions, the court said, would be unfair to candidates who have yet to raise money or even declare their candidacy. "In balancing these variables in an election such as this, one must endeavor to avoid doing so in a way that creates a political advantage for one candidate over another," the court said.

However, no refunds will be required of candidates whose elections already have been held, such as municipal races and other local contests held in the spring. To require refunds of money already spent would constitute a "manifest injustice," the court said.

The unsigned decision was a follow-up to the court's July 19 ruling that reinstated contribution limits that the legislature adopted in 1994. The legislature repealed the limits in 2006, but the court ruled unanimously that the legislative procedure was invalid.

Under the limits, statewide candidates could accept a maximum contribution of $1,275. Candidates for state Senate were limited to $650 and candidates for the House maxed out at $325.

With the limits gone, some candidates for state Senate received contributions as large as $40,000. Gov. Matt Blunt accepted $300,000 from a wealthy Texas couple. Attorney General Jay Nixon, who plans to challenge Blunt next year, received $100,000 from a single labor union.

Paul Sloca, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, stopped short of saying the decision was a loss for the GOP.

"We believe that candidates and contributors should not be punished for obeying the law, and we sincerely hope that the Missouri Ethics Commission will take the people, and not politics, into consideration when deciding the fairest way to apply the law the people’s representatives enacted," Sloca said.

Democrats rejoiced at the ruling.

"Today's ruling is a victory for those Missourians who believe elections should be fought on a level playing field," party spokesman Jack Cardetti said. "It will be hard for Matt Blunt to argue that returning $350,000 from the Swift Boat benefactors creates a hardship."

Nixon's office said the decision "clears the way for the ethics commission to order refunds of contributions in excess of limits."

Bob Connor, the Ethics Commission's executive director, said the agency's attorneys would present their recommendations and analysis to the full commission on Thursday. The commission might adopt policies to comply with the court ruling, Connor said.

But Connor said the ruling appears to require the agency to conduct a case-by-case review of every candidate for office. The agency will have to weigh each hardship that is claimed on all the other candidates in a race, he said.

"If X says, 'I have a hardship for these reasons,'" the commission will have to consider it, Connor said. The commission will then determine how that affects every person in the same race.

After the decision to reinstate the limits, the Supreme Court invited legal arguments on whether contributions in excess of the limits should be refunded or whether the limitation should be enforced only after the July 19 ruling.

Monday's ruling clearly fragmented the court. Four judges agreed with the decision, but two others dissented, saying the proposed remedy was unworkable.


Unions take full advantage of GOP disappearing act

Unions are marking Labor Day this year with greater expectations than they've had in several years for broadly expanding union ranks and the rights and rewards of all American workers through political action.

Chalk it up to the extraordinary union efforts that were highly instrumental in Democrats winning control of Congress in last year's midterm elections. That and the certainty that labor is eager, willing and able to campaign as hard for the Democratic candidate in next year's presidential election - whoever he or she may be - and for other Democratic candidates at the national, state and local levels.

Among the most important of the candidates are Democrats who'll be attempting to win control of state legislatures in anticipation of redistricting after 2010, when they could redraw state and congressional district lines to favor election of more pro-labor candidates.

The unions' midterm campaign was by far the most extensive, most expensive and most successful political campaign in labor history. Unions spent more than $66 million, and put more than 100,000 members to work registering and turning out voters, distributing leaflets, staging rallies and contacting some 13 million voters directly.

One-fourth of all voters were union members, and they favored Democratic candidates over their Republican opponents by a margin of three-to-one.

The Democratic majority in congressional races was 6.8 million votes, and union households provided 5.6 million or 80 percent of that margin.

But though winning a congressional majority, Democrats fell short of the numbers needed to overcome presidential vetoes and Republican filibusters threatened against major pro-labor measures. Labor and the Democrats are determined to remedy that next year with what promises to be another exceptional election campaign.

Labor did win some important victories this year, notably the first minimum wage increase in a decade. But union and Democratic leaders already are laying the groundwork for a drive to have it increased again, to $9.50 an hour in 2009, when the newly-approved minimum will reach $7.25.

Above all, labor will be seeking enactment of the long-pending Employee Free Choice Act that was passed by the House this year, but kept from Senate approval by a GOP filibuster. The act would greatly increase penalties on the many employers who illegally discipline workers who seek union rights and would otherwise make it easier for workers to unionize and thus bargain for higher pay, better health care, pensions and other benefits.

Not incidentally, it also would lead to a substantial increase in union membership and in labor's already considerable political clout.

The rest of labor's long and ambitious wish list deals with a wide variety of issues that are of great importance to most people, whether they be union members or not. The AFL-CIO, for instance, is demanding that Congress:

* Provide everyone affordable health care, in part by allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for cheaper prescription drugs.

* Guarantee decent retirement benefits to all workers and truly equal pay to women workers.

* Repeal a federal regulation that allows employers to deny union rights to workers by classifying them as supervisors and extend union rights to all federal employees and to all firefighters and police.

* Tighten and intensify enforcement of job safety regulations in mines and other workplaces, revitalize manufacturing and require greater corporate accountability while limiting the lavish pay and pensions of CEOs.

* Ban the awarding of federal contracts to companies that outsource jobs and instead reward companies that provide jobs in this country, create an immigration system that fully protects the rights of foreign and domestic workers alike, and approve fair trade laws that penalize countries that violate workers' rights and other human rights and endanger the environment.

* Withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq quickly and develop an effective plan to fight the war on terror.

* Increase college student loans, revise President Bush's No Child Left Behind law and otherwise strive to give "a world-class education" to every child.

Many, if not most, of labor's wishes have at least the promise of support from many, if not most, congressional Democrats and Democratic presidential candidates. That alone, no matter how many of their wishes will or will not come true, is enough to make this the happiest Labor Day in many years for American unions.


Chicago university union members picket

Demetris McKinley, a customer service representative, came to work on Thursday, Aug. 16, even though it was a vacation day for her. She came to work to picket. On Tuesday, Wednesday and then Thursday of that week, over 300 clerical and administrative workers at the University of Illinois - Chicago, members of Local 73 SEIU (Service Employees International Union), had picketed for a new contract. These workers are starting a second year without a contract, and that means a second year without a raise.

Picket signs read, "Fair contract now," and "UIC get back to the table." But the picketers, who were mostly Black women and Latinas, also felt discrimination. "I strongly believe that if this department was made up of whites and had even a small percentage of white males that we would not be going through this," Demetris wrote later in an email to another union activist.

She went on to say, " ... and we would not be working in this rundown building either. We are being taken advantage of."

"They Say Give-Back, We Say Fight Back!"

Local 73 has other issues on the table. For example, stopping the erosion of unionized civil service jobs. Over the past five years, 500 of these jobs have disappeared, replaced by 'academic professionals,' a fancy sounding title which means employees with a college degree. These workers then have no job security and can be dismissed when a department has a tight budget.

The state budget has been squeezed by reduced revenues since 2001, and a budget for the current fiscal year still has not been adopted in Springfield, the state capital. However, workers know that UIC has been making record profits in the medical center, as a landlord and from research grants. The top administrators and physicians have seen their salaries grow. Union workers refuse to be left behind.

Also, UIC workers are still bitter that, for 35 years, they have been paid less than the mostly white workers at the downstate Urbana campus. UIC was built in the 1960s, and the Board of Trustees adopted a pay structure for the mostly Black workers at that time that was $1 or $2 less per hour. This continued until Local 73 became strong enough to force the university to grant parity in wages. This was only achieved for most workers in 2002. Food service workers only achieved wage parity this year.

This is in part why workers at the University of Illinois - Chicago are so determined to reject UIC's proposal for wages that don’t keep up with the cost of living. "We fought long and hard to get here. We are not going backward," said Local 73 executive board member, Sirlena Perry, a UIC secretary.


SEIU rejects offer, will strike Kern County, Cal.

About 6,000 Kern County employees dismissed the county's latest contract proposal and decided to strike over pay and retirement benefits. More than 83 percent of the Service Employees International Union's Local 521 voted to strike Saturday, a spokeswoman said.

Subcommittees in each county department will now decide when and under what conditions union employees - including social workers, Kern Medical Center employees and county parks and recreation workers - will strike, she said.

Contract negotiations between the union and the county foundered Wednesday after the two sides disagreed on three main points: a county proposal to have new employees shoulder the investment risk in their retirement plan, equitable compensation in job classifications and a retroactive pay raise.

"The wages are too low for what we do. Period," said Tom Sweeney, 58, who works at the Tehachapi landfill.

The $16 Sweeney makes per hour, without benefits, is 16 percent below what Bureau of Labor statistics for the Bakersfield area, he said.

County employees last struck in the late 1980s, but the board of supervisors may avoid a walkout if they can broach a new deal at Tuesday's meeting.


Striking gov't union rejects Vancouver's offers

The city's hopes of labour peace by Labour Day were effectively dashed yesterday when the union representing striking inside workers rejected two proposals put to it last week. Instead, said Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 15 president Paul Faoro, the union hand-delivered to the city its own counter-offer and has asked the city to come back to the bargaining table - with the help of a mediator if necessary.

"We're prepared to use a facilitator if they want; we're prepared to use a mediator; we're prepared to use the Labour Board for assistance," Mr. Faoro said. "So my union is prepared to come back to the bargaining table and go right through the night, if needed."

The union said the city's two offers did not address many of its concerns, but was pleased the city moved the wage and term of the contract up to the regional mandate of 17.5 per cent over five years.

City spokesman Tom Timm said he was disappointed the union did not accept one of the two proposed contracts as is, since the strike will now likely continue on into a seventh week, but said the city is considering the union's offer.

"I guess it's better than if they simply said no, try again, which would not have been productive at all," Mr. Timm said. He added he did not know how long it would take the city to respond.

"It's still being reviewed by our senior bargainers. We haven't come to a conclusion at this point. We have to go through it in some detail, not only to see what's in it, but also what changes have been made from CUPE's previous positions."

One obvious change the union made to the city's offers was to include a clause that would prohibit the city from laying off any CUPE 15 employees as a result of contracting out, something that has been a sticking point throughout the negotiations.

The union also included an Olympic partnership agreement in its counter-offer, which Mr. Faoro had previously said his union would only discuss after all the other details had been ironed out.

Keith Graham, CUPE 15's chief negotiator, said the Olympic agreement the union has proposed is basically the same as the one the City of Richmond reached with its civic workers, with a few key differences.

"What we're asking for in the Olympic agreement is that our members, who normally work at that site, be given first opportunity to continue to be scheduled at that site, doing their normal work, before volunteers and VANOC employees are called in," Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Timm could not say yesterday if the city was willing to go back to the bargaining table or whether or not it would accept a mediator. Mr. Faoro said if neither of those things happens, the city will have to answer to the public.

"If they don't want to come back to the bargaining table, I think they're going to need to explain, to the public, and their employees, why they're not prepared to come back to the bargaining table, and why they wouldn't take the opportunity to use a mediator."


Forestry strike about to trigger big layoffs

If there is no end in sight for the coastal forestry strike by the end of next month, Lyle Stolz could be facing a pretty quiet shop. The president of Aquila Cedar Products in Parksville said the 39-day strike, which has virtually shut down the forest industry on Vancouver Island, could effectively silence the planers and saws they use to produce cedar fencing, siding and furniture and force him to lay off workers.

"We are going to feel [the impact] fairly soon ... we are relying on the major companies who are on strike for our raw materials," he said. "I did stockpile a bunch and we are still working our way through it, but in a week or two we will be down to some of the products that aren't going to benefit our local market.

"We will keep the guys working for a bit longer yet, but come the end of September it's going to look pretty bleak around here."

With unionized logging operations and sawmills idled by the United Steelworkers' job action, fibre supply at the coast's pulp mills, value-added plants and wood processors is starting to dwindle, which has already provoked the pulp and paper industry to announce layoffs across the board.

Value-added plants and remanufacturers are facing a similar fate.

Stolz said he has been trying to source new fibre, but has been running up against the fact there is precious little out there with the Island forests quiet.

"It's an auction. It goes to the highest bidder, and I don't want to play much of that game," he said. "You don't make a lot of money that way."

As a result, some of Aquila's 50 employees could face layoffs, and Stolz said that's a problem as once they are gone they may never come back.

"It's a very large problem. We have struggled to get enough people here all year," he said of a skilled labour shortage that seems to have hit every sector in the province. "Once we have to start doing layoffs, well, there's just too much work around and they aren't going to be waiting around for us to call them."

Dave Conway, owner of Victoria-based Old Country Woodturning, which produces mouldings, spindles and other products, said he hopes to be able to keep his 20 employees busy by renovating their new building space if the fibre supply dries up.

"I don't want to lay anybody off because it takes too long to get good guys," he said.

Conway said he also stocked up with alder and hemlock in anticipation of the strike. But should the action carry on for a long period there could be trouble.

"It would have a dire effect if we can't get fibre, we'd probably have to resort to bringing it in from the U.S.," Conway said. "We haven't run into it yet but should we deplete our inventory I would be concerned."

Conway is actually getting hit at both ends as 95 to 97 per cent of his production is shipped to the U.S. But the housing slump in that market has left them trying to open up a new market in Canada. The only problem is if they manage to open up a local market for their custom work, the fibre supply could limit how much they can produce.

The U.S. slump is playing into the hands of homebuilders, said Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association.

Edge said after talking with builders and suppliers the local market hasn't felt much impact of the strike.

"There is no real impact at this stage," said Edge. "A lot of coastal product is slated for export and there's a lot of supply out there, most of it coming from the Interior."

He was referring to the structural lumber used to frame houses. "And the slowdown in the American market definitely increases that supply.

"But with anything like this, it's all about how long is it going to last . . . at some point there could be an impact."

Reached Monday, both the union and Forest Industrial Relations, the organization bargaining on behalf of the companies, said there have been no developments, and no discussion about kickstarting new bargaining talks.


SEIU members picket Cal. hospital

Hospital workers picketed Monday evening outside Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center to call attention to their stalled bargaining efforts with the hospital's parent company, Tenet Healthcare Corp. About two dozen members of the Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers-West wore purple T-shirts while speaking about their push for wage increases, improved health benefits and job training opportunities.

"I would like to have a fair contract that is going to give me what I need to take care of my family," said Teri Baro, a surgical coordinator for nearly 20 years at Sierra Vista in San Luis Obispo.

The union represents hospital employees, including nursing assistants, operating room technicians and radiology technicians. It has been negotiating with Tenet for nearly a year with no progress, said Barbara Lewis, union administrative vice president.

Patient care has suffered due to Tenet's failure to invest in its hospitals and staff, Lewis said. The Sierra Vista employees want a contract that guarantees them a fair wage similar to what’s paid at other hospitals in the state, she said.

In a letter to the community, Sierra Vista Chief Executive Officer Candace Markwith denounced SEIU’s allegations of poor patient care.

"Their accusations are an insulting attack on the work done every day by our dedicated employees and physicians who provide excellent, high-quality care to our patients," Markwith wrote.

Less than two weeks ago, Tenet announced a new four-year contract with its registered nurses at Sierra Vista and Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.

Nurses were pleased with the contract that includes a 25 percent wage increase over the four years, said Sherri Stoddard, a nurse and board member of the California Nurses Association union.

Registered nurses continue negotiations with the parent company of French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, Catholic Healthcare West.

Vicki Bryant, a nurse at French and negotiator, said the nurses will return to the negotiating table Wednesday and Thursday. Negotiations are stuck on health care benefits and wage adjustments on par with those recently granted by Tenet, she said.

"We will not strike as long as they are willing to negotiate with us in good faith," Bryant said.


Labor takes over Oregon Business Association

Many are surprised to see that presidential candidate John Edwards will be brought to Oregon by the Oregon Business Association on October 9th.

Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Bill Richardson are widely viewed as the more business-friendly of the Democratic Presidential candidates. In fact, Edwards is one of the few candidates on the campaign trail to come out and advocate for a massive tax increase on higher income wage earners and an "excess" tax for certain businesses. Even the Willamette Week found it bizarre.

This decision comes off the heels this summer of another controversial OBA decision when they hired retiring Sen. Ryan Deckert. Although Senator Deckert has great respect in the Capitol building and has voted more business-friendly than many of his colleagues in the Majority, he still has a lot more anti-business votes than pro-business votes.

Such decisions begin to tie the hands and typecast the OBA as a political opportunist organization rather a principled business interest group.


Clinton pitches "trade prosecutor" to unions

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told a group of labor activists this afternoon that she'd like to "hit the reset button" on the start of the 21st century and give the middle class a stronger voice in the White House. "We cannot go four or eight more years of either this domestic or foreign policy," Clinton said. "We will not recognize our country if we don't start pulling it back form the brink right now."

Clinton, a U.S. senator from New York, was the first of four candidates to speak to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers national convention at Disney Yacht and Beach Club this week. The group has about 700,000 members across the country. Clinton's message of giving the middle class a bigger role in the economy won several ovations from the crowd of about 700.

She said she would fight to make sure food had county-of-origin labels and promised to appoint a "trade prosecutor" to assure countries abide by trade agreements. "The goal here has to get back to a balance of power," Clinton said.

"Our country worked best when were creating a thriving middle class, when we were creating millions of new jobs where people did feel they could take care of their son or daughter and have a better future for themselves.

"I want to get back to that shared prosperity."


Striking Steelworkers pitch boycott at Home Depot

United Steelworkers union members handed out leaflets Saturday in front of the Home Depot in Prince George asking consumers not to buy products from any of the mills currently experiencing strike action. In particular, the leaflets single out Western Forest Products, Interfor and Weyerhaeuser (Cedar One).

The campaign is taking place at Home Depots right across the U.S. as well as Surrey, Coquitlam and Abbotsford. It is also hitting Rona outlets in Surrey, Mission and Maple Ridge. USW members have been on strike for five weeks against Western, Interfor and other employers over working conditions, including those affecting health and safety.

The union says that by not purchasing the labeled products, consumers support a safer, better forest industry in BC, and one that provides quality products.


Ted Nugent goes off

Related Posts with Thumbnails