Strikers arrested at Minnesota regents' meeting

A strike by AFSCME union members employed by they University of Minnesota spilled into university business Friday. More than 100 protesters interrupted the Board of Regents meeting at McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis and several were taken away in handcuffs.

Technical, clerical and health-care workers represented by AFSCME are in their third day of their strike at the university's campuses across the state. Pay is the biggest issue.

The disruption started with one protester shouted a question. When the protesters wouldn't be quiet, chairwoman Pat Simmons called a recess. Several protesters ran and sat down arm-in-arm in front of a door that board members were going to use to leave.

Regent Steve Hunter, secretary of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, stayed to listen to the protesters.

He said, "I hope that we can get this contract behind us, that we can get a fair offer on the table, (one) that can be ratified, and we can heal the wounds that have been created in the community."

But the regents meeting never got back on track.

The University released the following statement early in the afternoon:

"The Board of Regents adjourned its meeting today as a result of the illegal actions of a small but, highly disruptive group of people. The majority of these people were neither students nor employees of the University of Minnesota."

This statement is being disputed by those who were protesting. Those involved say a majority of the protestors were students who ranged from freshman under grads to PhD candidates.

The board's statement goes on to say:

"Freedom of expression is paramount to the fulfillment of the university's educational mission. As citizens, these individuals were provided with the same opportunity to attend and observe the meeting of the Board of Regents as would be afforded anyone. Unfortunately, once; afforded this opportunity, these individuals engaged in activities that transcend freedom of expression and were illegal.

The University of Minnesota will not tolerate nor condone actions of individuals who intentionally disrupt our educational or governance processes. These individuals will be held fully accountable for their actions.

We do not believe that the actions of this small group in any way reflect the views of the majority of university employees who are members of AFSCME. We remain committed to our strong compensation offer to our AFSCME employees and look forward to the return to work of all of their members."

The university is seeing other disruptions related to the strike - some instructors are defying the University of Minnesota and moving classes off-campus to show support for striking "U" workers.

The university has ordered instructors to keep classes on campus or face discipline.

Provost E. Thomas Sullivan says in a letter to faculty and staff that university employees who refuse to report to work as directed are considered to be engaged in an illegal sympathy strike.

After the regents meeting was adjourned, striking workers and their supporters held a rally in the plaza outside of the McNamara Alumni Center.

Striking worker Laurie Eisenshank said her home is in foreclosure.

"The one luxury I have is Caller ID," she said. "That's been necessary so that I can screen calls and bill collectors."

The workers have been offered a raise of 2.25 or, in some cases, 2.5 percent. They want 3.25 percent - the same raise other state employees already have received.

"We're very hopeful that, at some point, we can get back to the negotiating table and finalize an agreement that ends the strike," said university spokesman Dan Wolter.

But no further talks have been scheduled.

The big sticking point involves what are called "step increases."

Those are automatic 2 percent raises given to workers every year, on the anniversary of the date they were hired.

The university says, when you factor in those step increases, the workers have indeed been offered a fair wage.

But the union says step increases never have been part of contract negotiations before, and to include them now is just a backhanded way to limit pay increases for workers who make an average of $34,000 a year.


RI teaches students every year about strikes

In one of the strange moments of my early days as a reporting intern at The Detroit Free Press, I was covering a teachers’ strike that had spread to several school districts in Michigan. And while walking the hallways of a high school, I looked in a classroom and there was my mother doing what she did — teaching.

There would be no picket lines for my mother or father. They were both teachers at a time when the profession was still, for some, a calling.

I can remember students at our dining room table, getting extra help willingly offered by my parents at an hour when most people were settling in for an evening with their TVs or power tools.

Striking was, for my parents, a betrayal. But they also came to the profession with the willing acceptance of a hard tradeoff — great personal satisfaction, but salaries that were abysmally low. Shirts with collars turned and jackets patched not out of fashion but necessity were part of the working wardrobe. Snorting junkers were the teachers’ ride.

A lot of years later, conditions are obviously better. Teacher pay has gotten downright comfortable. Teachers are often seen showing up at school in some very nice wheels. Benefits are wonderful. And there are the summers.

But there has been a high cost for the relative prosperity. It is the gradual erosion of that special place teachers used to hold in their cities and towns.

It usually shows itself in the late summer when parents start telling stories of how they have had to reorder their lives because children who they expected to be in school are not.

There are scowling, finger-jabbing citizens who point to hard times in their communities while teachers exploit their unique hold on the most important service those communities provide.

And there are the teachers themselves who, as a professional group, seem to have the public relations sense of deer ticks. They seldom seem to consider who might be listening when they choose to bemoan their hellish days on the job. The irritation can last for days.

And, of course, they go on strike sometimes, knowing they are risking absolutely nothing because they will still be required by state law to work the same number of days. And days lost in September are recovered in June. They’re not really putting a whole lot on the line. None have gone to jail in a long time.

Every year, the teacher strike or strikes of the season seem a little more tedious, a little more tacky, a little more out of touch.

They go on strike and provide one hell of a civics lesson for their students. They and school committees perform a mad, down-to-the-wire ritual made possible by the complete failure of anyone to impose limits and deadlines.

A friend suggested to me that it would probably take simultaneous teacher strikes in Providence, Pawtucket, Warwick and Cranston — while the legislature was in session — to force some kind of sane negotiating policy to be imposed in Rhode Island.

I wouldn’t be a teacher if they paid me. The dizzying array of social problems that walk through the schoolhouse door every morning is an added burden that I can’t imagine having to deal with on top of daily lesson plans. And a good teacher is still as rich a resource as a community can have.

But it seems a disconnect has taken place. There is a sad irony in the fact that, the closer teachers have come to being paid what they’re truly worth, the farther they seem to have moved from the people who foot the bill.


Oakland strikers threaten port shutdown

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said late Thursday they will not cross a picket line set up at the Port of Oakland by another union.

Members of Operating Engineers Local 3 set up the picket at Berth 67 at the Howard Terminal on Market Street after learning that a nonunion worker had gone to work at Valley Power Systems in San Leandro.

Members of the longshore union said they would honor the picket in sympathy with their fellow union. The ILWU said its members would not enter the berth where the action is taking place.

"Usually these actions are very localized," said ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees, assuring that the whole port would not be shut down. Officials of the Port of Oakland could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

The operating engineers, which represent heavy equipment operators, have been on strike for nine weeks in a contract dispute, business agent Chris Snyder said. But the discovery of nonunion presence at a work site triggered the latest job action.

The union also has been picketing at the Port of Santa Cruz and at various job sites in San Francisco where its members work on generators, Snyder said.


Professors defy AFSCME strikers

University of Minnesota English Prof. Paula Rabinowitz stood in a Baptist church sanctuary just off campus Thursday afternoon, knowing school administrators wouldn't be happy as about 200 students filed in and plunked themselves down on piano benches and pews stacked with hymnals.

But in a show of support for striking union workers Rabinowitz, chairwoman of the English Department, defied university administrators and moved her class to the church across the street from the school's boundary. She is among several instructors who challenged a direct order to keep classes on campus or face disciplinary action.

"My work is to talk to students," she told the class. "Where it happens is not an issue."

Thursday marked the second day of protest by one-third of about 3,150 technical, clerical and health-care workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The biggest issue is a battle over wages, with union officials unhappy with the university's proposed 2.25 and 2.5 percent raises, saying they don't keep up with inflation. University officials maintain that when service anniversary step increases of 2 percent are considered, the offers are fair.

Union officials said that instructors have contacted AFSCME for help finding off-campus space for nearly 120 class sections, impacting an estimated 4,000 students out of more than 50,000 on campus. AFSCME member Jess Sundin said the union knows of about 30 classes that already found off-campus accommodations.

In addition, she said, many instructors have found locations ranging from nearby coffee shops to community theaters without the union's help.

At the peak of a union strike in 2003, about 4,000 students had class off campus, Sundin said.

In a letter to faculty members, teaching assistants and teaching staff dated Aug. 29, Provost E. Thomas Sullivan made it clear that classes should not be moved off campus.

"Every faculty member, graduate assistant and employee who is scheduled to teach, is expected to hold their classes, and to hold them on campus as originally scheduled," he wrote. "University employees who refuse to report to work as directed are considered under state law to be engaged in an illegal sympathy strike and are subject to discipline."

Rabinowitz said talk of discipline for relocating classes was "contradictory" to the university's intellectual mission.

In an interview, Sullivan said students have told him they were upset about relocating classes.

"We all have to be mindful and respectful of students' wishes," he said. "We want to encourage [free thought]. That's what this university is all about. On the other hand, there are academic and professional and legal responsibilities that we all have."

In his letter, he said off-campus locations could pose accessibility and liability issues.

Sullivan's directive to stay on campus is similar to instructions that teaching staff received during the 2003 strike, Sundin said. But the 2003 instructions did not invoke the Public Employment Labor Relations Act, which gives the university a legal basis to discipline, she said. The act requires university employees to report to work in the event of a strike by another union, Sullivan wrote in his letter.

"This year it's a less-veiled threat," Sundin said.

The warning doesn't carry equal weight among the university's teaching staff, worrying vulnerable graduate students more than tenured professors who have greater protection. That hasn't stopped the former from relocating classes, said Meredith Gill, a graduate student and teacher.

"It is scary," said Gill, who held her Issues in Cultural Pluralism class in the church lounge Thursday afternoon. "We could lose our jobs. ... I feel that the struggles of AFSCME are the same struggles of the graduate students. We are also underpaid and overworked."

Carl Flink, associate dance professor and director of dance in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance, said he also used the strike as a teaching opportunity. Flink held two classes off campus Wednesday. His students ran from the West Bank to the East Bank, performing dance moves along the way as strikers cheered.

"I did make sure to use the time to talk with [the students] about the complexities of the issue," Flink said. "It's not us against [the administration] or them against us."

Lisa Norling, an associate professor in the History Department, let her 50 students choose between moving off campus for the duration of the strike, relocating for one class session next week or staying on campus. In a secret ballot, most voted to relocate for one session, she said, adding that she'll meet on campus with students who voted against moving off for the one session..

Many students said they didn't mind relocating, although sophomore Amy Erickson said she heard a few peers grumbling about paying money to sit in off-campus buildings.

"I didn't really mind because I respect what my teacher is trying to do," Erickson said as she left Rabinowitz's class. "[Strikers have] raised a lot of awareness. I respect them for it."

Mirroring many students' experience, Erickson said less than half of her classes -- two out of five -- have relocated.

Senior Erin Durkee, a union supporter, said the strike hasn't hindered her ability to accomplish daily activities but noted that the picketers' presence is noticeable.

"The main point of the picket is to create tension and it's there," she said. "I think it's been quite effective."

After class Thursday, Rabinowitz headed to the Dinkytown coffee shop, Espresso 22, where she now holds office hours.

Said Rabinowitz: "The university has always said the university is not its buildings. It's amazing the amount of work you can do without a building."


Unions offend Catholic Latinos

For more than 100 years, Catholics have supported unions. Why do American labor unions go out of their way to offend Catholics?

That’s a question Jesuit Fr. George Schultze, a lecturer on Catholic social doctrine at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, explores in his new book, Strangers in a Foreign Land: the Organizing of Catholic Latinos in the United States. Observing organized labor’s disappointing record in representing the interests of Catholic Latinos, Schultze laments that the unions have stunted their own effectiveness by endorsing positions repugnant to the workers they are trying to recruit.

"Today's labor leaders risk alienating Latinos and jeopardizing Catholic support if they accept and promote abortion and take anti-family and anti-marriage positions aligned with the radical homosexual and feminist movements," writes Schultze, who, prior to becoming a Jesuit priest, worked for the National Labor Relations Board.

He insists that unions’ embrace of perverse sex and gender politics is a “shame” because “Latinos can benefit from union organizing and the growing population of Latino workers offers opportunities for significant growth in the sagging labor movement."

Catholic Social Justice teachings since Pope Leo XIII have traditionally supported the organizing of low-income workers and immigrants. However, the labor movement in California has in many ways strayed from its goals.

As California Catholic Daily has reported, even the United Farm Workers has morphed into a powerful lobbying machine for liberal causes with no connection to farm labor. In 2005, one of César Chavez’s granddaughters, Christine Chavez, and UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta were jubilantly hailed by homosexual activists for their “key effectiveness” in bringing Hispanic legislators over to support same-sex marriage.

And though the United Farm Workers has never officially endorsed abortion, Huerta devoted herself to persuading the California Labor Federation to take a pro-abortion stand.

"It is now the unions rather than Latino workers that are becoming strangers in a foreign land," Father Schultze observed.

The author, who holds a degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, documents how dependent American employers and consumers are on immigrant labor, and advocates that Americans should champion the rights of legal immigrant workers, without compromising on American sovereignty.

"Peripheral and membership-dividing issues ... are not part of labor's political agenda,” writes Schultze, giving the example of the AFL-CIO endorsing “Pride at Work,” a labor caucus that promotes the homosexual movement’s goals.

Asks Schultze, “Why should abortion and same-sex marriage be planks in labor's political platform?"

Latinos now comprise between 30 to 35 percent of the Catholics in the United States. Schultze observes that Latinos, the very group labor hopes to organize, and especially Latino immigrants, are culturally conservative.

Latinos who leave the Catholic Church most often gravitate to evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which are active in opposing liberal cultural values.


Permanent replacements apply, get jobs

Hundreds of Dresser Rand workers are still picketing and still standing strong, even after Dresser Rand officials say they're now hiring permanent replacements for striking workers.

The announcement comes after union officials say negotiating talks went no where for the second time since the strike over health insurance began more than a month ago. But despite this, both sides have agreed to meet again on Wednesday.

"Why would they hire permanent replacement workers if they're going to meet again," asked picketer Don Hastings.

"I still think it's just another scare tactic," said picketer David Stryker.

But Dresser Rand officials have already received 500 applications for the permanent replacement jobs. They say they're pleased with the quality and qualifications of the applicants.

"Really doesn't bother me that much. It took these guys years to learn the skills they have," said Stryker.

"They can't get the experience off the street that we already have," said picketer David Holmes.

Picketers say they know they'll be back to work at Dresser Rand.

"I think it will be settled sooner or later," said picketer Jeff Swan.

"We'll go back to work when they come around," said Holmes.

"I honestly don't think I'll go back. I think the animosity they're showing towards their workforce that has worked there for years is just going to lead toward an unfriendly work environment," said Stryker.


Carleton University workers strike

Talks between Carleton University and the almost 750 striking CUPE Local 2424 members are temporarily suspended after an afternoon meeting yesterday lasted less than an hour.

"I was (optimistic) earlier (yesterday)," said the university's chief negotiator, Stephen Green. "I'm not so sure now. Even though the gap was narrowed, the parties seem to be more entrenched now than ever."

The 750 administrative, clerical, technical and professional employees walked off the job on the first day of class Wednesday, mainly over wages and benefits. They have been without a contract since June.

While the gap has narrowed, Green says there are no more talks immediately scheduled. "We have suspended the talks for a temporary period while we consider our positions and decide whether or not there are any new ideas," he said, adding the university's offer of an annual 3% wage increase over the three years of the contract, benefit improvements and funding for training is still on the table.


Meanwhile, cars filled with students and staff lined up at the picket lines blocking the two entrances to the university.

"We're putting a plea out to the (university) board of governors," said Wiz Long, VP internal of Local 2424, who stood on the corner of Bronson and Sunnyside Ave.

"There's been no headway since (Wednesday) ... We want to support everyone but we also want respect from our employer."

Mark Richards, 25, a master's student in political science, stood across the street, looking at the picketers stopping traffic.

"I'm still not sure whether I'm offended by this," he said as he tried to figure out where to catch his No. 4 bus that had been rerouted as a result of the strike.

Richards, who just moved to Ottawa from Saskatoon, says the strike has been a pain for some students. There's no IT help and some of his friends haven't been able to get their student cards, restricting them from taking books out of the library.

Inside the University Centre, it was business as usual.

Book store employees said business has been running smoothly despite missing some key employees.

The store is also short on some stock because some delivery trucks would not cross the picket line.


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