Teachers Repudiate Union Leadership

But typical union bigs wield iron fist over the rank-and-file

With a nearly 52 percent majority, the Harlem (IL) Federation of Teachers voted Tuesday to reject the proposed contract tentatively agreed upon by negotiators earlier this week. Teachers called for the superintendent's immediate resignation.

About 503 teachers participated in the vote, which broke down to a nearly even split: 260 to 243. Staff agreed to work for the remainder of the week, but they said if a contract isn't reached by next Tuesday they will once again walk out on strike.

Meanwhile, the teachers said they have no confidence in Superintendent Pascal DeLuca, blaming his "negative management style" for a second consecutive strike. The district hadn't had a strike in the 15 years before DeLuca was hired, teachers said in a written statement.

Furthermore, the teachers wrote, DeLuca's management style has caused an all-time low in employee morale and adversely affected relations between the community and district.

"Whereas, Superintendent Pascal DeLuca's inability to establish a trusting relationship with Harlem staff, coupled with his preference for press releases over teachers' concerns, jeopardized the ratification of the tentative agreement," teachers wrote. "Therefore be it resolved that the Harlem Federation of Teachers expresses a vote of 'no confidence' in Superintendent Pascal DeLuca and urges the Board of Education to call for his immediate resignation."

So far the nearly 8,000 southern Roscoe, Loves Park and Machesney Park students who attend Harlem's 11 schools have missed five days of class. Their first day was Tuesday.

Reasons teachers cited when they went on strike included showing administrators that teachers are serious about having competitive wages to keep quality staff members. It's difficult to build a school culture when there's a big turnover each year, they said, asserting more than 120 teachers left the district within the past three years.

According to the teachers, they have the lowest salaries among Rockford, North Boone, Belvidere, Rockton, Prairie Hill and Hononegah. Harlem can afford higher wages, teachers claimed, because it has a $10 million surplus plus millions of expected state aid.


UFCW rallies against secret ballot election

At the heart of the big protest outside Smithfield Foods' annual meeting Wednesday is the question of how a union can be fairly elected at the world's largest hog slaughterhouse in North Carolina.

Two past elections in the 1990s, both of which rejected joining the United Commercial Food and Commercial Workers Inter- national Union, were marred by the company's use of intimidation and violence. Smithfield was forced by a court last year to rehire 10 workers whom it fired during the last election in 1997, as well as post a notice admitting its guilt.

Smithfield's appeals of legal actions stemming from the 1997 vote lasted almost a decade. Now the company and union are at an impasse over how to conduct another vote. The union distrusts the company because of the past, and Smithfield has rejected calls for a process that allows workers to sign cards to join the union.

The union said in interviews Wednesday that the company wouldn't even meet with them.

But CEO C. Larry Pope angrily said at Wednesday's shareholder gathering that there was, in fact, a meeting between Smithfield executives and UFCW officials in Richmond on Monday.

A follow-up meeting was scheduled for Friday, but the union canceled it, Pope said.

In a sometimes-heated response to the question from the Rev. Nelson Johnson, who was backed by workers at the meeting, Pope's voice rose as he explained the company's position.

"Call for a vote," Pope said. "Schedule an election."

In a 400-page ruling in 2000, an administrative law judge found the company repeatedly violated a number of labor laws to defeat the union.

The company fired union supporters, threatened to close the plant and assaulted and arrested a union supporter with its on-site police force.

The appeal of this National Labor Relations Board ruling wasn't concluded until 2004.

And it wasn't until May 2006 that a federal appeals court concurred.

The union says it doesn't trust the NLRB to ensure another election is fair.

More than half of Smithfield's plants are unionized, and most are represented by the UFCW.

Pope said the company wasn't against unions in general or the UFCW in particular.

"That union is already part our family," he said.

The union brought petitions of support from Smithfield workers at plants worldwide, from Iowa to Europe.

The union has also been getting Tar Heel workers to sign petitions and says 3,000 of the 5,000 have signed.

The company and union have argued about whether a possibility for electing a union could include card-check rights, where a union is recognized if a majority of members sign cards.

This method, which recently was the focus of a fight in Congress, has been unfairly portrayed by the company as the union's preferred route, said Leila McDowell, a union spokeswoman.


Teachers continue strike for higher pay

Classes for Friday were canceled for nearly 18,000 students in the Bethel (WA) School District. The union representing about 1,000 teachers is on strike over pay, workload and health care benefits. There were no classes Thursday, and no new talks between the union and district have been scheduled.

The Bethel Education Association said it's willing to talk when the district realigns its priorities. The district said it's limited by state funding.

Superintendent Tom Siegel said the district's latest proposal was a two-year contract with pay hikes of 6.5 percent and 6.9 percent, including state cost-of-living allowances of 4.3 percent and 3.5 percent.


Teachers union on strike "for the children"

Bethel (WA) teachers are on strike today, effectively shutting down schools on what was supposed to be the first day of class for 18,000 students. Teachers planned to picket schools in high-traffic areas throughout the district, which serves the Spanaway, Graham, Roy, Kapowsin and Frederickson communities.

Clover Creek Elementary School teacher Danielle Edmonds expressed the sentiment of many of the teachers who gathered Wednesday in Graham to prepare picket signs. "We're really doing this for the parents, and the community and the children," Edmonds said. In order to get high-quality teachers, we need that "TRI" (more pay for work outside the school day) package and we need class sizes manageable so we can instruct their children ... in the best way we can."

She was among nearly 800 teachers, librarians, counselors and other certificated staff members who showed up for a meeting at Frontier Park in Graham late Wednesday afternoon. All told, the Bethel Education Association represents about 1,050 staff members.

District officials hope for a quick return to the bargaining table. But no more sessions had been scheduled as of late Wednesday night, making it unlikely school will begin Friday, district officials said.

"We are waiting to hear from the mediator if there is a counteroffer to our latest proposal," district spokesman Mark Wenzel said. "The district's negotiating team stands ready to bargain at any time during the coming days. We want to return to our shared mission of educating our students."

Talks between the district and Bethel Education Association broke down Tuesday over disagreements on workload, class size and pay. That triggered an earlier decision by association members to strike starting today if there was no tentative agreement by Wednesday.

The two sides, which had been negotiating since February, declared an impasse in early August and were in mediation.

Their two-year contract ends Friday.

Teachers were already slated to receive, from the state, a 4.3 percent cost-of-living increase this school year and an additional 3.5 percent the following year. However, association members say they need more money to remain competitive with other nearby districts, including Tacoma and Clover Park.

They also want the district to reduce class sizes, to shoulder more of the cost of rising medical premiums and to devote all Initiative 728 state funds to class size reduction, instead of using some funds for overhead and staff development.

The district says it would like to pay teachers more but is hampered by inadequate state funding. Officials say the district’s latest offer represents $3.9 million in additional compensation over two years. It would increase compensation by an average of 6.5 percent the first year and 6.9 percent the second year, including the state cost-of-living increase.

It increases the pay for work outside the school day for all certificated staff, including the most experienced teachers who would receive an increase from the current $8,050 to $10,099 this year, and to $10,957 the following year.

"Our school board charged the negotiating team with three tasks: Bargain in good faith, offer a fair package and keep the district fiscally sound," Wenzel said. "We believe the package on the table represents all those values."

Meanwhile, a sampling of Bethel parents and students showed a variety of opinions on the strike.

Melissa Johnston of Roy said she supports the teachers as well as the school district and hopes they can reach a compromise soon. She has two children - Ryan, 14, and Ashley, 12 - who attend Cougar Mountain Junior High.

The strike doesn't create a huge inconvenience in the daily routines for her and her children, she said.

"I'm glad this happened now, and not three weeks from now, when you're rocking and rolling in a schedule and all of a sudden it's like, 'Whoa,'" Johnston said.

Brigitte Wiegand, who has a third-grader and kindergartner at Pioneer Valley Elementary, supports the teachers' effort to reduce class sizes but isn't pleased with the strike. "The timing is really crappy," she said. "It's happening when kids are looking forward to the start of school."

Bethel High School junior Allison Barker and Graham-Kapowsin High School junior Heather Castle are worried the strike days could extend their school year and cut into next summer's vacation. "I think it's silly," Castle said. "They should have been able to figure it out by now."

Yet she agreed it's better to have smaller classes, which she experienced last year in her French class. "We had more one-on-one time," Castle said. "If we were struggling with vocabulary, the teacher could help me."

Melissa Wolslegel, who teaches at Spanaway’s Evergreen Elementary School, expects to have at least 30 students in her sixth-grade class this fall. She said research shows that classes of 18 to 22 elementary students per teacher result in higher achievement.

Bethel Education Association President Tom Cruver said teachers are prepared to remain on strike until they achieve what they consider is a fair contract. "I am fully convinced they have underestimated the resolve of these people," Cruver said of the district.


SEIU costs workers 50% more in California

California state workers, subjected to forced unionism, will have little to say about the new 50% increase in dues money and "fair-share" payments the SEIU has assessed upon them. Why the increase?

Local 1000 donated $6.7 million in member dues to defeat an initiative on the ballot that would have required unions to obtain written consent from members before money could be used for political purposes. That sent the union into economic chaos.

According to the Capitol Weekly (page 7), the new assessment raised dues to $90 a month leaving members upset with the decision. "To them, we are a huge ATM machine. Because of that they spend, spend, spend," said Ken Hamidi who is organizing other members to fight the dues hike. Hamidi also notes that a large portion of the dues hike goes right to SEIU headquarters in Washington, DC.

Let's get this right - the union bosses deplete the members' dues treasury to fight an initiative that would give workers choice and input into their spending decisions. Then they assess a tax on those members who have no choice so they can spend more money without member input. Sounds like a vicious cycle rectified only by passage of a Right to Work law.


Teachers ready to strike, cancel football season

After meeting for five and a half hours Wednesday night, the Barnesville (OH) Board of Education and its teachers union still have not come to terms for a new contract. That means a strike date set for Wednesday, September 5 still stands.

The school board and leaders with the Barnesville Education Association met at Barnesville Middle School while a mediator carried contract proposals and counterproposals back and forth between the two parties. At one point, the union had offered to rescind its strike notice and go into a "cooling-off" period if the board would agree to bring an arbitrator into the talks. The board rejected that proposal.

Union president Denise Leach told NEWS9 that health care remains the largest sticking point in the talks. Superintendent Randy Lucas agreed that the two sides still disagree on health care costs. Lucas told NEWS9 the board hopes to reach an agreement in one final meeting set for Tuesday, September 4, one day before the strike date.

Lucas told NEWS9 the board has authorized him to hire replacement teachers in the event of a strike. If football coaches honor the picket lines, Lucas said he would have to consider canceling the Barnesville High School football season.


National teachers union pours dues into Utah

The Utah legislature passed one of the nation's most far-sighted voucher laws in February, and the state teachers union is calling in the national cavalry to help repeal it in a November 6 referendum.

Last month Kim Campbell, the head of the Utah Education Association, schlepped all the way to Philadelphia to speak at a National Education Association convention, where she asked the board of directors for financial support to oppose school choice. Ms. Campbell promised that her campaign to defeat it "will be ugly, mean and expensive," and she needs the outside cash to overwhelm pro-voucher supporters in the state. Look for other liberal activists to pour cash into what will be the most significant state-wide ballot test for school choice in years.

The Utah union chief made her out-of-state trek, by the way, even as one of her spokesmen back home denounced the "river of money from out-of-state ideologues intent on starting a voucher experiment in Utah." Apparently, out-of-state contributions are only tainted when they're used to support something the teachers union opposes.

In any case, Ms. Campbell's plea didn't fall on deaf ears. Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, a union watchdog, reported recently that the Utah union's $3 million request for its anti-voucher campaign was approved. The union's executive director wouldn't confirm or deny the amount when we inquired, but she did volunteer that "we're reaching out to the national affiliate for support and assistance, and we're hoping it will be significant." You can bet it will be.


FEC wrist-slaps SEIU political unit

Kenneth P. Vogel of The Politico reports that America Coming Together (ACT), a group to which left wing financial powerhouses George Soros, Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are major donors, has been hit with a $775,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission for improperly using unregulated soft money to boost the Kerry campaign for president. Given the magnitude of the expenditures involved (a massive $137 million), the fine is small. Those who brought the original complaint is not happy:

"This action comes more than three years after our FEC complaints were filed and nearly three years after the 2004 presidential election was held," read a statement from Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, and Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center.

The fine amounts to one half of one percent of the illegal expenditures. That amounts to no meaningful deterrent. It barely rises to the level of an annoyance, at best a minor cost of doing business.


UAW authorizes routine Ford strike

United Auto Workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike today in the event union leaders call for such an action as negotiations proceed with Ford Motor Company, UAW Local 862 president Rocky Comito said this morning. The union's contract with Ford expires Sept. 14.

The strike vote, which took place beginning Monday afternoon through 6:30 this morning, is a routine matter during contract talks, which take place every three to four years. Of workers who voted, 97 percent said "yes" to the possibility of a strike, Comito added.

"It is what we do every time the contract is up," Comito said. "We must let our negotiators know that we are in support of them." Ford employs some 7,000 workers who assemble Explorer sport utility vehicles at the Louisville Assembly Plant and F-Series Super Duty trucks at the Chamberlain Lane factory.

Contract negotiations in Detroit come as Ford struggles to regain profitability and consumer tastes shift increasingly to smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles, with wages and health care costs key issues in the talks.

With sales of Explorers falling in half in recent years, Louisville Assembly workers also await a decision - expected by year’s end - on the fate of their factory.


Steelworkers abandon picket lines for new jobs

The grass is proving greener on the other side of the province, and beyond, for striking local Steelworkers. Bill Routley, president of Duncan-based United Steelworkers Local 1-80, says some of his 3,000 members have landed ironwork at the Cowichan Commons retail mall.

They've also found work on the Mainland’s Sea-To-Sky Highway project, and in Alberta’s booming oil patch during a lengthy strike against the Forest Industrial Relations group.

"We got quite a few jobs for our people and we're happy that’s happening," he said Tuesday, noting no new talks are booked with FIR. "We're dug in and obviously things (job action) will keep happening until we get some fairness and equity for our members." Coastal Steelworkers have been on strike since July 21, citing long shifts and safety as major issues.

The union's four-year contract with FIR - imposed by a government mediator - expired June 15.

About 1,800 of Routley's members are eligible for strike duty.

Meanwhile, local highway workers with Mainroad South Island Contracting remain off the job despite a tentative deal being reached an Interior dispute between the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union and Argo Road Maintenance.

BCGEU boss George Heyman said Tuesday no new bargaining has been set in the job action that began in May.


Cadavers held 4 months in cemetery labor impasse

With the labour impasse at Notre-Dame des Neiges cemetery in Quebec heading into its fourth month, representatives for the families waiting to lay their loved ones to rest are combing through Quebec laws dealing with burials.

Burials and cremations at the 153-year-old cemetery were halted on May 16 when management locked out its gravediggers in a labour dispute. According to Debora De Thomasis, president of the Association pour la défense des droits des défunts et des familles du Cimetière Notre-Dame des Neiges, provincial laws on inhumation and exhumation may forbid bodies to be kept in storage between May and November.

"We're been reading them and trying to see what actions we could take. It seems that it's a legal obligation to bury any individual that is presently in a [storage chamber] between May 1 and Nov. 1. So they have a legal obligation to do so. They cannot keep any bodies in any fridge or storage whatsoever between those two dates. [...] There is some legal action that can be taken and that’s what we’re studying right now," she said.

Cemetery management says it has rearranged its storage capacity during the dispute to allow for 700 bodies, which should take them through to October, if the average rate of arrival is 40 bodies per week.

Some 300 people staged a demonstration in front of the gates of the cemetery on Sunday. Cemetery workers, who picket there on a daily basis, were asked not to be there.

De Thomasis says that families are becoming increasingly angry with both the cemetery management and its 129 employees.

"The only thing we know is that [both parties are] talking. I don't know what points they’re agreeing or disagreeing on, but the union is still not satisfied with the offer that it has been given. It was refused again on Saturday. Do they have good reasons or bad reasons for refusing? I don't know and at this point, we just don’t care," she said.

"Their conflict has nothing to do with us."

At press time, Quebec Labour Minister, David Whissell, announced that the government would step in if both sides in the dispute fail to find a settlement within the next week.

De Thomasis added that the long wait has families worrying about the potential for coffin mix-ups when burials resume.

Marc Poirier, president of the Corporation des thanatologues du Québec, strongly doubts such a thing would happen. At the prompting of journalists, Poirier visited the refrigerated storage vault at the cemetery recently and said that management is following all the ethical guidelines regarding the storage and identification of remains.

However, if anyone harboured any doubts about the identity of the remains in a coffin, Poirier said they would have the right to double check.

"Once the strike is finished and burials resume, if someone has a doubt - and I don't want to suggest that there should be a doubt, on the contrary - they have the right to look. [...] People shouldn't live with that kind of doubt," he said.

The cemetery standoff does not appear to have increased the volume of burials at other Montreal cemeteries on the island. However, if the standoff continues and there is no more room to store remains at Notre-Dame des Neiges, Poirier says funeral homes would become involved.

"We would put in place the emergency plan we have for pandemics. We're talking about dealing with a huge volume of remains," he said, adding that the emergency plan has never had to be used before.


Seattle-area teachers vote to strike Wednesday

Teachers and staff members of Shoreline (WA) School District's two unions voted Wednesday night to begin a strike the day school starts next week if they fail to reach a tentative agreement on a new contract.

The majority for the strike vote was "overwhelming," said Elizabeth Beck, co-president of the Shoreline Education Association (SEA), which represents the teachers in the district. More than 85 percent of each of the two union groups approved, she said. "We did not debate long," she said. "They were very committed; they were very supportive."

School district spokesman Craig Degginger called the vote "disappointing." The district hopes to reach an agreement this weekend with the Shoreline Education Support Professionals Association and the SEA and avoid a possible strike, he said. School is scheduled to start Wednesday. If the district and unions fail to reach an agreement by 6 a.m. Tuesday, teachers and other staffers will go on strike Wednesday, Beck said.

Degginger said the district hasn't yet decided if classes will be canceled if teachers are striking, reiterating that he hopes it won't come to that.

Beck also said she hopes the strike will be averted.

"We are hopeful that we will be in our classrooms on Wednesday. We're willing to take this action in support of the future of our school district," she said.

The issue represents the latest fallout from a two-year-old financial scandal. The district discovered in 2005 that its budget team had made financial missteps that resulted in a $2.7 million deficit; Superintendent James Welsh resigned last year.

The district has made drastic cuts to try to climb out of that hole, including closing two elementary schools and cutting 40 teaching positions and eight administrators, Degginger said. The district has no reserve and is under state oversight, which means it must balance its $86 million budget, Degginger said.

Degginger wouldn't discuss the negotiations, but Beck said the district wants to fund state-mandated teacher pay raises by reducing benefits and classroom supplies and personnel.

The administration's proposal for both teachers and support staff includes cutting hours, reducing professional-development pay, increasing insurance costs and reducing assistance for special-education students, according to the SEA.


"Students and staff should be the school district's first priority," Beck said. "We feel they need to put efforts into cutting elsewhere."

Initiative 732 mandates a cost-of-living pay raise for teachers and staff members. The state funds part of that, but the district is responsible for about $750,000, of which $429,000 would go to teachers.

The teachers union in Pierce County's Bethel School District also has voted to strike. Classes were scheduled to start today, but schools will be closed, said a district official, adding that schools will likely be closed Friday as well.

The 10,000-student Shoreline district, just north of Seattle, has a good academic reputation.

Before Wednesday's strike vote, teachers and support staff had been writing letters to the Shoreline School Board and picketing summer board meetings to protest the changes proposed to their contract.

They have been negotiating with the district since March and had their last scheduled meeting with district negotiators on Monday.

They also have filed two unfair-labor-practices complaints with the state against the district over alleged threats and other actions by administrators during negotiations.

The current contract ends Friday. Teachers returned to school Tuesday to begin staff work days.


Hospital to hire scabs, lock doors against strikers

Fremont and Rideout hospitals will close some of their doors for "crowd control" during Friday's expected one-day strike by registered nurses, documents said. A packet distributed to nurses by Fremont-Rideout administration, and provided to the Appeal-Democrat, outlines procedures and answers questions for nurses about the strike day.

Information in the packet states that at Fremont Medical Center in Yuba City "all doors will be locked except for the main entry and material management wing stairwell." And, at Rideout Memorial Hospital, "all doors will be locked except for the north wing entry, main entrance main tower and the ER entry."

"Not all doors will be locked; there is no lockout," Tresha Moreland, Fremont-Rideout vice president for human resources said. "Some doors will only be locked in preparation for crowd control."

Moreland said officials are anticipating a large crowd outside the hospital, and sealing some doors would allow staff to monitor activity inside the building.

"It's all about patient care," Moreland said. "We know there will be a large crowd, and we want there to be control."

Additionally, the guide says that nurses showing up to work Friday will be required to check in at a “command center” in order to receive instructions and a badge showing security they will be working that day.

Those not showing up for work Friday will not be allowed to show up for work through Monday due to contracts with replacement nurses.

Heather Avalos, a Rideout Memorial Hospital ICU registered nurse, said she was surprised to see the precautions being taken by the hospital.

"We’re not going to get violent, but I don't know what they expect," she said. "We are professional adults. Getting violent would defeat the purpose. They're trying to say we’re not locked out but we're not allowed to return to work until Tuesday."

Avalos said nurses will strike from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at Fremont and Rideout hospitals in Yuba City and Marysville, respectively, at the Fremont-Rideout Cancer Center in Marysville and at the Feather River Surgery Center in Yuba City.

Pamphlets will be handed out and picketing will take place at these locations with signs made at the Sacramento office of the union, the California Nurses Association.

Nurses decided to strike for one day Friday after months of failed contract negotiations. Meetings with hospital administration were called off Thursday after a federal mediator said neither side would budge from their stands.

Nurses are requesting changes in "floating practices" in which nurses would only be assigned to areas similar to their expertise, staffing ratios, safe patient handling, a 7 percent pay increase and equal benefits and retirement.

Hospital officials have counter-offered a 5.5 percent pay increase for the first year and a 5 percent increase for the second year of a two-year contract. The hospital administration also said it would address patient care issues and nurses' concerns over staffing.

Nearly 75 percent of the hospital's 450 eligible nurses voted in late July on the issues. Of that 75 percent, more than 90 percent agreed with the efforts made by registered nurses and the union.

Meanwhile, Fremont-Rideout placed an online ad with Nursing Corporation for replacement nurses. The ad says replacements will be paid $40 an hour and guaranteed at least 48 hours of work with a five-day commitment.

"As nurses, we know you can work as a replacement for one day; we get faxes all the time," Avalos said. "It's a punitive action to chose to secure contracts (for five days) when it's not necessary."

Fremont-Rideout nurses will be able to report back to work on Tuesday for shift schedules.

However, in a letter released to the bargaining unit for registered nurses hospital CEO Terri Hamilton says "those who struck will be recalled according to unit of need and by seniority."

Moreland said she had not read the letter and therefore could not comment, but added it would be difficult to predict the number of affected employees until the strike happens.

"There's no way to predict the future," she said. "We won't have those numbers until Friday."

Extra security and shuttle buses will also be available for patients and working employees during the strike, the fact packet says.

Police do not have plans to increase patrol around the hospitals, but the Marysville and Yuba City departments are aware of the scheduled strikes.


Denver teachers union votes for job acton

Denver Public Schools and its teachers union have two days of failed contract talks behind them this week and no plans - yet - to meet again. Negotiators for the district and the union were unable to resolve differences on issues of pay and teaching time during mediated talks that began at 10 a.m. Monday and stretched into early Wednesday morning.

"Our hope is that we can get back to the table as quickly as possible and resolve this dispute," said Kim Ursetta, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. "Teachers have been very clear that the economic and instructional proposals on the table are not satisfactory," she said, "so we need to find a way to work with the district."

DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet said he would like to pay teachers - and other district employees - more but can't afford it. "It's a fair offer because it's everything the district can afford in our current fiscal environment," he said of the DPS proposal. "We have made teacher pay a priority. We wish we could pay more to all of our employees. As we get the district back on strong financial footing, we'll be able to do that."

Ursetta said the union bargaining team will meet today with the DCTA board of directors to talk about next steps. Next Tuesday, after school, the union will hold five meetings across the city to talk to teachers.

"We will ask them to give us some further direction about how we can resolve this," she said.

DPS has adopted a "hard line, take it or leave it" approach, Ursetta said, and has been willing to make only "minimal" changes to its offer since negotiators for the two sides last met in May.

Bennet disagreed with that characterization.

"I hope we'll be able to reach an agreement," he said. "We have a lot of things going on in DPS right now and I think it's important for us to find a way to pull together."

Union representatives for each Denver school voted Tuesday to file notice with the Colorado Department of Labor. The action is required notice of a possible job action, which can range from a rally to picketing to a strike.

Denver classroom teachers last went on strike in 1994, and Ursetta, then a first-year teacher, went with them.

"A strike is the absolute last resort of what could happen," she said. "We want to do everything to avoid a strike. Our goal is to get a settlement."

Dividing lines

Denver Public Schools and its teachers union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, were unable to resolve their differences after two days of mediated talks this week. Here's where they differ on the key issues of pay and time:


• DPS: Contends its offer will increase teacher pay, on average, by 6.2 percent. That includes a 3.6 percent cost-of-living hike plus the customary increases for experience and additional education, known as "steps and lanes." DPS says it has prioritized teacher pay by increasing it 21 percent over the past four years though revenue has gone up 13 percent and other employee groups have seen raises of 8 to 11 percent.

• DCTA: Contends the district offer only amounts to a 3.6 percent cost-of-living increase; the union is seeking a 4.47 increase. The union contends the "steps and lanes" shouldn't be counted in the offer because they're a typical part of any teachers' union contract. Using that calculation, the union says pay has increased only 1.5 percent per year over the past four years.


• DCTA: Argues teachers need more time to analyze an increased number of student assessments and to implement new district initiatives. The union offered to add three days to the school calendar - with 1.5 days for planning and 1.5 days for instruction - and be paid only two days.

• DPS: Declined the offer, with DPS leaders saying they would like a longer school year but cannot afford to pay for it. DPS estimates the additional two days would cost between $2.5 million and $3 million.

Denver Public Schools

• Students: 72,633 as of fall 2006, the most recent figures available; Colorado's second-largest school district

• Teachers: Approximately 4,100

• Schools: 155, including traditional, charter, contract, online and alternative schools

• Starting teacher salary: $34,200. Would be $35,431 under the district's pay proposal; lags districts such as Westminster, where starting pay has hit $40,000


Prison officer strike causes chaos

Chaos erupted across prisons in England and Wales today after prison officers went on strike, with one inmate found dead and others taking to the roof of a jail. Police and fire crews were called to Liverpool jail after several prisoners climbed on to the roof in the wake of the prison officers' walkout.

The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, warned earlier today that the situation in prisons across England and Wales was "potentially explosive" because record numbers of prisoners were being supervised by a handful of governors.

One of the wings at Britain's largest prison, Winson Green in Birmingham, was evacuated after an incident as cold lunches were being handed out, the BBC reported. The fire service was in attendance.

The prison governor at Liverpool jail appealed for striking officers to help to contain the situation on the roof in H wing, warning that police would have to go in.

There are just eight governors looking after 1,300 inmates at the prison, according to BBC News 24.

Prison officers on the picket line are angry that prisoners have been let out of their cells during their absence.

But a majority of the prison staff voted to send in colleagues with specialist "tornado" training in containing incidents.

However, the officers are expected to return to the picket line once the situation is resolved.

Police have surrounded the perimeter of the prison and a police helicopter has been circling overhead.

Earlier today a 39-year-old prisoner was found dead at Acklington prison in Northumberland, although staff said they did not think the incident was linked to the prison officers' strike.

A prison service spokesman said: "HMP Acklington prisoner William Stuart Laidlaw was found hanging from a ligature in his cell this morning at 9.30am. A doctor attended but Mr Laidlaw was pronounced dead at 9.50am.

"Every death in custody is a tragedy and our sympathies are with the family of Mr Laidlaw at this time. As with all deaths in custody, the prisons and probation ombudsman will conduct an investigation."

Laidlaw was convicted of aggravated burglary and sentenced to four-and-a-half years. He had previously been released on licence but was returned to prison for breach of licence conditions on July 7. He was due for release on March 26, 2009.


Government should buy health insurance for all

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