AFSCME recruits students for University strike

AFSCME members at the University of Minnesota are enlisting the help of lawmakers, students, other university workers and the community to build pressure for a fair settlement and avoid a strike. A strike would disrupt the first week of fall classes and affect every department at the university, from clerical support for professors to library services, computer operations and hospital and clinic appointments.

Some 3,500 clerical, technical and health care workers represented by AFSCME Locals 3260, 3800, 3801 and 3937 will strike Wednesday if a fair settlement is not reached, union leaders said. No bargaining is currently scheduled.

In the meantime, Teamsters Local 320 announced it had reached a tentative agreement covering its members at the university. Teamsters Local 320 and the university administration, which also have been in negotiations for several weeks, reached a tentative agreement Friday covering 1,200 custodial and food service workers, the union said on its website. Details will be released at a union membership meeting Thursday.

AFSCME stepped up the pressure for a fair contract with a rally Thursday on the Minneapolis campus. Speakers included state Senator Patricia Torres Ray, City Council member Gary Schiff, representatives of religious organizations and students.

The unions and university administration are split over the issue of wages, with the administration maintaining it has offered 4.25 percent in each year of the two-year proposal, while AFSCME said the total is actually 2.25 percent for clerical and technical employees and 2.5 percent for health care workers.

The university wants to roll step increases into the overall compensation package while the union objects, saying "Our step increases represent the salary scale for our jobs. They are longevity increases. They are not cost of living increases."

At the rally, Torres Ray said the Legislature allocated extra money to the university this year to increase employee pay.

"I am here to promise you that I will ask the tough questions at the Legislature and make sure your jobs are supported . . . It's a matter of equity and fairness," she told the workers.

State Senator Sandy Pappas, chair of the state Senate committee that oversees the university's finances, also sent a letter of support.

Schiff said, "By standing together you are standing up for economic justice for all workers and I applaud you."

Student speakers said they will educate other students about the issues in the bargaining, while non-union university staff pledged to wear buttons and engage in other activities to show solidarity.

History Professor Kirsten Fischer said she will move her 263-student survey course to a location off campus, rather than cross a picketline to teach.

Taking a stand will raise awareness in students, she said. "They need to know their world here at the university depends on the work you do."

In preparation for a walkout, the union locals have set up a hotline, 612-234-8772, and a strike headquarters at University Baptist Church, 1219 University Ave. S.E., Minneapolis.

The union also announced a rally will be held at noon Wednesday in front of Morrill Hall, the main administration building on the university's Minneapolis campus.

"You don't go on strike lightly," noted Joanne Pels, associate director of AFSCME Council 5, which includes the four university locals. "This is the ultimate sacrifice."


Unionizing religious worship

Thousands of congregations of various faiths in cities across the country will take part this Labor Day weekend in services to celebrate the link between faith, work and justice.

The nationwide event is known as "Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar." "Bimah" refers to a raised platform in a synagogue from which the Torah is read. "Minbar" in Islam is a pulpit from which the sermon is delivered.

"Labor in the Pulpits" is coordinated locally by the Faith Committee of St. Louis Area Jobs With Justice. The committee works to cultivate religious engagement in economic and worker justice.

This year's theme is "Immigrant Workers Rights." According to event planners, the theme is expected to help promote greater awareness and understanding among people of faith and others around issues related to immigrant workers in the United States.

Participating Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominations and groups are expected to hear messages about worker justice issues such as a living wage and family-sustaining benefits.

Currently, 33 Missouri congregations and faith organizations are registered to take part. Among area Catholics groups are the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Holy Trinity Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Cronan Church and Aquinas Institute of Theology.

Father Rich Creason, pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish at 3519 N. 14th St. in North St. Louis, was the first to host a "Labor in the Pulpits" event in St. Louis. His parish has been involved with the annual effort for several years, the priest said in an interview this week.

Most Holy Trinity has a number of parishioners who belong to unions. They come from the building trades and other blue-collar jobs, he said. "Unionized people have a higher standard of living," noted Father Creason, a longtime labor supporter and activist.

The underlying purpose of "Labor in the Pulpits," he said, "is to lift up and affirm (workers') sense of dignity in their work. Every person has a contribution to make and every contribution ought to be honored," Father Creason said.

Parishioners planning to attend Holy Trinity’s 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 2, Mass have been asked to bring a symbol, tool or sign of their work - "something tangible to them," said the priest. These items then will be placed in the sanctuary and blessed.

Father Creason also plans to address the issue of immigrant labor in America. He will discuss the pros of immigrant labor and why Catholics and others should support their efforts in the United States.

"The bishops have been strong in their leadership" on this issue, he said. However, he added, he was not sure the laity in general are following their lead. Some people, he said, fear the loss of jobs to immigrants. But immigrants take a lot of jobs that other people don't want and also bring a strong work ethic, both which should be viewed as positives, he said.

Last year, according to Jobs With Justice, "Labor in the Pulpits" was instrumental in the statewide campaign to raise the minimum wage. An educational campaign waged by participating Missouri congregations using targeted programs, sermons and educational sessions resulted in more than 70 clergy endorsements for Proposition B and brought voter education to more than 300,000 Missourians through their churches, the organization said.

Schildz is shop steward for the St. Louis Review, a union newspaper.


Politicians consider service improvements

It's called privatization, or sometimes managed competition. Whatever it's called, it's controversial. Louisville Metro Council members Tina Ward-Pugh and Ken Fleming want to study the cost of government services - from filling potholes to picking up garbage. Some fear it would be a first step toward privatization, taking jobs from government workers and giving them to private companies.

Ward-Pugh and Fleming - a Democrat and Republican, respectively - deny that's their motive. They introduced the idea more than six months ago, and it has sat idle since. But now they will explain what they want to do with the information at a Metro Council Budget Committee meeting next Wednesday.

A second meeting, on Sept. 19, will be set aside to hear from union members, workers and the public.

Public service agencies, such as police, fire and the Emergency Medical Service, would be exempt from the study.

"There hasn't been a systematic approach to putting a dollar value to every city service," said Ward-Pugh, who represents the 9th District. "Other communities have done that."

Both Ward-Pugh and Fleming say they believe the study will find that city workers do a good, economical job. They say they're not trying to use the study to build a case for outsourcing government jobs. Other cities and states have gone through a similar process.

But Fleming, from the 7th District, does say that managed competition would force government workers to come up with even more economical ways of performing their tasks.

And he said the study would provide more "transparency" in government because taxpayers will know how much they're paying for the services.

"Before you do anything, you've got to understand the costs," Fleming said. "This is proactive. There's a bunch of need in this community. If we could realize some savings, all boats would rise with the incoming tide."

The cost of the city's study can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million, depending on how many departments are involved.

Chad Carlton, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Abramson, said there's more to providing government services than a simple review of cost.

"Cheaper isn't always better," Carlton said. "We look at it as providing the best service at a reasonable cost. Looking at cost savings alone is a more narrow approach than we've taken so far. When we looked at our jails, it was not just cost. We evaluated things like best practices and safety."

For an idea of how controversial privatization is, consider a message that was posted on the AFSCME union Web page earlier this year when the plan was first announced. AFSCME, which stands for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, represents about 900 metro employees.

"We need to have members to sign up to speak out against this legislation. We need to forward e-mails, faxes and phone calls to the members of the Budget Committee, as well as our individual council members, and urge them to reject this Union Busting Legislation."

After listing all 26 council members' telephone numbers, it said: "LET'S DO THIS!!!!!!!"

Gino Carbenia, administrator of AFSCME Local 2629, said he doesn't buy the idea that Ward-Pugh and Fleming just want a look-see.

"Citizens need to have some control over the services they pay for,'' Carbenia said. "When they are in the hands of private companies, it's about dollars and cents and not service. Citizens pay more and get less under privatization. It's just that simple."

Denny Norris, a spokesman for Teamsters Local 783, which represents nearly 1,000 metro employees, called the study "smoke and mirrors."

"Companies will low-ball the bid then jack their prices up," Norris said. "The city loses all control with this."

Ruffin Hall, finance director for Charlotte, N.C., said managed competition has saved the city there "millions and millions" since the 1990s. But, he said, it's not as easy as it sounds.

In Charlotte, departments enter bids against private industry. Hall said that the city wins "most of the time," and that the process has forced departments to be more efficient to win those bids.

"We've become sharper, quicker and faster," Hall said. "Lots of cities try to mimic this, but you've got to make a strong commitment to the program. Being successful in this is not simple."

The commitment begins with a strong audit division that will monitor how the private companies perform in fulfilling the contract in areas such as responding to citizen complaints. One advantage Charlotte has over Louisville: North Carolina is one of two states in the nation that prohibit public-sector labor unions.

"That's a stumbling block," Hall said. "The unions tend to go nuts-o."

Ward-Pugh and Fleming acknowledge that they should have done a better job of laying some political groundwork -- by talking to other council members, for example -- before introducing their ordinance.

They said opposition surfaced immediately among unions.

"Right now we don't have the votes" to pass the ordinance, Ward-Pugh said.

But they said they hope the Abramson administration will work with them so they can identify specific areas where there might be savings.

Council President Rick Blackwell, D-12th District, said he's worried about the cost of such a study.

"You might get a great deal at first, but once you've dismantled the city system (for providing a service) then you're pretty exposed," Blackwell said.

Ward-Pugh conceded there's more to evaluating city services than how much they cost.

"Even if we came up with a way to save 50 cents on a dollar, the fact is the people making that dollar are real and we can't talk about them in an abstract way," she said. "But that doesn't relieve us from the responsibility of finding out (these) answers."


Teamsters PAC donation roils township

Accusations of unethical behavior are flying among the Newberry (PA) Township. supervisors, leading one to resign a committee post and another to term the discord "an embarrassment." Supervisor Stephen Pancoe resigned from the union negotiating team on Tuesday, saying he "didn't want to deal with it anymore."

"It" are allegations that Pancoe, chairman of a political action committee, the Committee for Change, might be influenced by a $210 donation Teamster chief negotiator William Olmeda and his wife made to the PAC.

The township is preparing to start contract talks with the Teamsters, which represents the township's nine road crew employees.

Pancoe said the allegation is part of a smear campaign to silence him conducted by other supervisors and President George Knoll. The state's ethics board declined to get involved, Pancoe said. The supervisors, Pancoe said, "could have been businesslike and said 'Pancoe, we know you got a contribution for this guy, will it influence you?' But that's not the way they do business. They decided to rake my name through the mud."

Supervisor Charlie Richcreek said he and Knoll did not talk to Pancoe about the donation privately "because you can't talk to this man."

"He decided to make a mockery out of" the allegations, Richcreek said. "He brings it on himself."

Pancoe said during Tuesday's supervisors meeting that Richcreek used his connections as a supervisor to funnel work from the township's sewer authority to a plumbing company owned by Richcreek and his son. Richcreek sits on the sewer authority board.

Richcreek said he sold C&C Plumbing six years ago and that Pancoe's allegations are "lies."

"I'm talking to a lawyer right now," Richcreek said. "I'm going to sue him for defamation of character."

Richcreek called Pancoe's behavior "embarrassing" to the township and the residents who attended Tuesday's meeting.

Knoll said the township's solicitor, John Herrold, is looking into the Pancoe's allegations and will make a report to the board shortly. Herrold could not be reached for comment yesterday.


Another teacher strike looms in RI

Members of National Education Association Tiverton have voted to authorize its negotiating committee to call for action up to and including a Tuesday morning strike.

The negotiating committee and about 150 Tiverton teachers met Friday afternoon at the Green Valley Country Club in Portsmouth to debate whether to report to work Tuesday. The town's 200 contracted teachers reported to work Wednesday for the first day of school despite contentious negotiations with School Department officials.

During Friday's closed-door meeting, several teachers expressed concerns about the contract situation, according to Patrick Crowley, the teachers union spokesman. "I was happy members took an active stance," he said. "I'm proud of them that they're willing to stand up for themselves."

The agreement under which the teachers union was working - that actually expired last year - ended Friday at midnight.

The School Committee's current proposal for salary and health care would decrease teachers overall salaries by 1.5 percent, according to union officials. The average loss in wages for a member on a family heath-care plan is $2,201 and the average loss in wages for a member on an individual plan is $1,315, according to union figures.

The union has asked the state Department of Labor and Training to mediate the dispute, but the request has been ignored, according to Amy Mullen, president of the teachers union.

Larry Purtill, president of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, was present at Friday's meeting. He said that if there is a teachers strike Tuesday, parents have only one party to blame: the School Committee.

"They (School Committee members) were elected for a job and they need to do it," Purtill said. "Their job is to get a contract so kids can go to school on Tuesday."

Mullen said that after the meeting ended about 6 p.m. a phone call was made to Superintendent William J. Rearick. She was told the superintendent was speaking with members of the School Committee, and, as of Friday at about 8:30 p.m., Mullen said she was waiting to hear from Rearick. She said that at the very least she is expecting a phone call this morning.

Mullen said the clock is ticking and that the negotiating committee is waiting for a response from the School Committee. She said the union would make it self available all weekend to negotiate.

"We want this done so we can get back to teaching kids," Mullen said.


Unions play hardball Presidential politics

By all accounts, Democrats John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich should be racking up union endorsements. They've walked picket lines, denounced trade agreements, bashed corporations and curried favor with unions large and small. In joint appearances with other Democratic candidates, they routinely get the loudest applause from the union rank and file.

If loyalty and reliability were the only qualifications for an endorsement, even union officials say Kucinich and Edwards would get them all. But with unions starting to line up behind candidates four months before the voting, the word that counts most seems to be "electability."

"We are in a situation where we have a lot of friends running for this position," said Edward J. McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has not endorsed anyone.

"There are people that we've been involved with for years and years in the Senate who we know, and there are others we know that have been involved probably a shorter period of time but just as enthusiastically. They're all good candidates. But the key to what we should be about is winning the election in 2008."

Winning the presidency, not the Democratic primary, seems to be the goal of the unions that have already endorsed candidates.

The United Transportation Union, which made the first labor endorsement, on Aug. 28, made sure to call Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a "winner." Harold A. Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the endorsement of Sen. Chris Dodd was "about who has the ability to win the election."

Clinton also has been endorsed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Edwards, who has been working hard to secure labor endorsements, got one this week from the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

The United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America are also expected to endorse soon at an event in Pittsburgh, although a final decision on a candidate has not been made.

Figuring out who to support - Clinton? Sen. Barack Obama? Someone else? — is not as easy as it was in the past, union leaders say.

"Each in their own way has been very supportive," said Terence M. O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union of North America.

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, won't immediately endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary. Change to Win, whose seven unions broke away from the AFL-CIO, will hear from the candidates individually in Chicago in September.

"John Edwards has done the most with our members over the years," said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. "But clearly the people in New York have a very positive feeling about Hillary, and our Illinois members are in love with Obama, so it's complicated."

Union endorsements can be key to a primary campaign for not only the money and momentum a union can provide, but the sheer manpower unions can throw behind a candidate in the form of motivated workers to man phone banks, hand out leaflets and promote for politicians.

The problem, unions say, is that all the Democratic candidates are pro-union.

"All of the candidates on the Democratic side of the ticket, they're all speaking our language," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

There have been clear union candidates in the past, like Richard Gephardt, who as a Missouri congressman racked up several union endorsements during his failed runs for the Democratic presidential nomination. Gephardt was a favorite because of his loyalty to union causes, but he never made it out of the Democratic primaries.

Edwards and Kucinich are union favorites now, relentlessly advocating for union support at every campaign stop. "As long as I'm alive and breathing, I will be standing with you," Edwards told Iowa union members, pledging to walk a picket line as president if elected.

But Kucinich is considered a long shot for the nomination, and Edwards is trailing front-runners Clinton and Obama in polls. "If electability wasn't a problem, Kucinich would be the front-runner," said Robert Bruno, a professor at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Not getting the first or the majority of union endorsements by no means eliminates either Edwards or Kucinich. Both are presidential campaign veterans, and it only takes one or two endorsements from unions to survive the brutal primary season.

Sen. John Kerry's 2004 candidacy got a major boost from the International Association of Fire Fighters. Their endorsement kept him in the race after the almost-coronated favorite Howard Dean and Gephardt flamed out in the early primaries.

Having so many friends in the primaries may also keep some unions on the sidelines, with not enough of their membership behind a single candidate to make an endorsement worth it. Those unions may wait until there's a clear front-runner to jump in.

In Nevada, the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union is key but has said repeatedly it has no plans to endorse early and is looking closely at candidates' viability.

"We don't anticipate an early endorsement," said O'Sullivan of the Laborers, who were the top labor contributors to federal candidates and parties in 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the end, having so many allies running for the Democratic nomination means more say with whoever wins, unions say.

Having to choose between friends? "I think it's a nice problem to have," McEntee said.


Teachers union disrupts Board of Education meeting

About 70 members of the Harrison Hills (OH) Teachers Assn. marched on the Hopedale Administration Building Thursday night and made their presence known during the Board of Education meeting. The teachers wore orange T-shirts imprinted with a drawing of a tree and the slogan "HHTA ... rooted together." Some also wore badges stating "Mission Possible."

The teachers' association, which represents about 140 teachers and related staff in the district, and the board of education have been trying to hammer out a new contract. Earlier in August, the union announced it has authorized its negotiating team to issue a 10-day strike notice.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, teacher Linda Rusen represented the association and, in part, stated that teachers were "publicly calling attention to the need to reach a fair settlement."

"The attitude and actions of the board and of Superintendent (Jim) Drexler thus far have made it impossible to reach a fair settlement," Rusen said. "It is possible for the board and the superintendent to come to the bargaining table in good faith for the duration of the time it takes to get a fair settlement."

Drexler said the board is more than willing to negotiate.

"I remember times when the board of education sat here waiting for the Harrison Hills Teachers Assn. to come to the table. I remember times we talked for 30 minutes and then they asked for an extension. We gave them an extension, and they didn’t show up," Drexler said.

Both sides are waiting until Sept. 10 and 12 when they will meet with a federal negotiator. Some of the teachers stated that wages, insurance and sick pay were major points of discussion.


Unions cancel NYC Labor Day parade

Karen Hanretty, a television pundit and writer at The Hill's Pundit Blog nailed Big Labor for spinning the cancellation of their New York Labor Day parade:

It's official: The parade has been canceled. That’s right, Big Labor can't seem to organize a parade for, of all things, Labor Day. Or if it did, no one would show up, save a handful of politicians eager to show solidarity - so reports the New York Daily News in its Aug. 16 edition:

"The parade usually draws a flock of politicians eager to be seen supporting labor in the news, but barely any spectators."

The spin coming from unions over the cancelled New York parade is rich. "The labor movement is in better shape than we have been in years," said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. "[The parade] is not the most effective way to celebrate Labor Day."

Uh, OK. Celebration. Parade. The two seem to go hand-in-glove to me.

I tend to think Bob Burgie, a sheet metal worker quoted in the article, was more honest when he said, "We used to march in it every year, but nobody showed up ... Now the union makes going to it mandatory."

I suppose if card check ever passes into law, Big Labor will finally have an audience again for its parade - albeit a mandatory audience. Boy, that sounds fun.


450 nurses strike in California

Nurses from Fremont and Rideout hospitals are on the picket lines today after months of failed contract negotiations. The strike is set to last for one day. Meetings with hospital administrators 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, better staffing ratios that allow for safer patient handling, a seven percent pay increase, and equal benefits and retirement.

Hospital officials have counter-offered with a 5.5 percent pay increase for the first year and a five 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.

Picketing is taking place at Fremont Medical Center and Feather River Surgery Center, both in Yuba City. In Marysville, picketing will be taking place at the Rideout Memorial Hospital and the Fremont Rideout Cancer Center.

As nurses strike in Marysville and Yuba City, Governor Schwarzenegger is also taking action on health care. This morning, he continues touring the state, with an appearance in San Diego to call for health care reform, including requiring businesses to provide insurance for workers and requiring all residents to have insurance.

This comes after the Democrats in the assembly cancelled a vote yesterday on the governor's plan. Fabian Nunez says a vote would have embarrassed the governor.


UAW authorizes Chrysler strike

UAW Local 2243 in New York voted today to strike Daimler Chrysler Commercial Bus/Orion over several economic issues. The vote passed by 64 percent, according to a press release. Local union boss Myron Kuchera said all hourly employees are to report to their assigned picket duties on Tuesday. Kuchera said the union is ready to return to the bargaining table if the company is willing.

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