Teachers strike day 4, school canceled

Cahokia (IL) schools will be closed again Thursday, the fourth day of District 187's first school stoppage in 32 years. Administrators and members of the Cahokia Federation of Teachers still had not had any contact about setting up a bargaining session as of Wednesday evening.

The sides remain far apart on the issue of salaries, with workers' offer of a one-year deal for a 3.5 percent pay hike rejected unanimously by the school board, and administrators' offer of a one-year deal with a 2.25 percent raise rejected by 97 percent of union members.

District 187 leaders say they can't afford the teachers' pay request because the school system is deeply in debt. Teachers say a $2.2 cash infusion from the state would more than cover the raise they want.

Carbondale High School Athletic Director Rick Moss said Monday that Cahokia officials already have called to tell him that they were canceling all their games this week. Moss has said if Cahokia informs him by tonight their team can play today, Carbondale will be ready.


Insiders: UAW - GM strike is imminent

Sources of mine that are sitting near, and at, the UAW/GM negotiating table are stating that they strongly believe that a strike at General Motors is imminent. They believe that there are too many gaps between the negotiating ideas of the UAW and General Motors.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger sent out a letter to all UAW Plant Chairmen on Monday stating that he believes that a firm deadline should be set with General Motors. If this deadline is not met, the UAW workers will strike. In the eyes of the UAW, the negotiations have been dragged along by General Motors in an attempt to stiffen the UAW, and a stronger strike threat could bring the sides closer.

My sources tell me that some of the areas in which the talks are reaching a stalemate involve the UAW's proposed investment plan for the worker's retirements, the Job's Bank, and the two-tier wage system that has been proposed by General Motors. Another key area comes in the form of outsourcing UAW jobs to third parties.

One of my sources explained that General Motors wishes to cut the jobs of many of the UAW workers that work on the docks, drive hi-los, and other jobs in material transport. The goal is to outsource these jobs to outside companies. The UAW is against this move since it would further limit their membership in GM.

If the UAW were to go on strike, the action would cripple General Motors. GM is currently preparing for the launches of many of the 2008 models for the company. There would be a lot of questions from buyers if the strike happened right before launch time. These questions could cause these buyers to move onto another car company.

Recently, Wall Street has been very interested in the talks between the UAW and General Motors. GM stock has risen in the last few weeks, and could possibly have a considerable jump if an agreement could be reached soon. A strike would cause many investors to take a step back from General Motors since a strike would cause many investors to question the stability of the nation's largest auto company.

A few of my UAW sources tell me that the UAW had strong reasons to believe that a strike would be imminent before ever reaching the negotiating table. This is one of the reasons why the picket signs were printed, and distributed, before the two sides had much of a chance to speak. Many of the General Motors plants have already been giving picket schedules in case of a strike.

One issue that has not been addressed by many of the news markets across the United States is the strain that a UAW strike against General Motors would have on local economies. In Detroit, many local businesses are very worried about the possibility of a strike. They point to the added revenue that they have from the healthy paychecks that plant worker's provide. This revenue will be lost if a strike happens.

When asked about his prediction as to the likelihood of a strike, one of my sources stated that, "We have to have the assumption that our UAW members will be on the picket line within the next few weeks. General Motors has made it clear that it does not want to budge on some of the key issues that we are facing. In the next day or two, we all will have to come to the realization that all GM plants will need marching orders."


Government workers' union boss ousted

After she led the Washington Public Employees Association for four years, Leslie Liddle's position as executive director has been eliminated. The union posted notice of her departure on its Web site this week, but President Greg Parker declined to explain the decision not to renew Liddle's contract.

"We're not going to do any other press release or anything else. It's internal union business," he said. Liddle could not be reached Wednesday.

The roughly 5,000-member union has been involved in major issues, including creating the newest state worker retirement plan and unsuccessfully lobbying this year against the repeal of a benefit in that plan called gain sharing. The union also defeated an attempt by some Department of Revenue workers to oust it this spring.

For more than 20 years, the WPEA was an independent union under the guidance of executive director Eugene St. John. He resigned in a dispute with the union's executive board in 2003.

Liddle, who worked in Eastern Washington for the union, became executive director and oversaw joining the 1.4 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers as Local 365.

She also guided the WPEA through the 2005 Civil Service reforms that allowed unions to bargain for pay and to require dues from all workers they represent.

The UFCW affiliation was cited in the Web site notice about Liddle's departure this week.

"In light of recent restructuring of the union in an effort to come into compliance with the UFCW International, the WPEA Executive Board made the decision to eliminate the executive director position and not renew Leslie Liddle's contract," the notice said.

There have been no recent changes to the Washington, D.C.-based parent union's constitution, UFCW spokesman Jim Papain said.

"Here's what the constitution says: the president is elected by the members, and the president is in charge of running the local," he said. "So the president can hire somebody … but that person serves, like they say in my town and probably say in your town, at the pleasure of the president."


AFSCME wants drug tests for all

After nine months of contract talks, Salem (OR) city employees have negotiated pay increases and kept their health insurance benefits intact. But the city's drug testing program -- which excludes most managers from mandatory tests -- still rankles union members.

Randy Ridderbusch, a representative of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, said the union will continue to pressure Salem leaders to make drug testing a requirement for all management employees.

"It's unconscionable for managers to hand somebody a test and refuse to take it themselves," Ridderbusch said.

AFSCME represents a cross-section of more than 600 city employees. About 80 percent of the bargaining unit voted in favor of the new contract, Ridderbusch said. It includes a 3 percent cost of living increase in the first year and future increases from 2.5 to 3.5 percent based on a consumer price index.

City Manager Bob Wells said the contract will cost the city an additional $1.1 million per year.

Contract negotiations went into mediation before a deal was struck last week. AFSCME accepted a contract that allows 25 percent of its members to be subjected to random tests.

In contrast, Salem has a voluntary drug testing program for most management employees. The exceptions are management employees in police, fire and emergency services positions.

"Why is management so afraid to test?" asked Jack Tucker, president of AFSCME Local 2067, which represents Salem.

A few years ago, all Salem employees represented by AFSCME took drug tests -- only about four of the tests were positive, Tucker said. City officials confirmed the testing found only a few illegal drug users.

Wells said the law restricts the city's ability to order random drug tests for employees, such as managers, who aren't represented by a bargaining unit. Court cases, he said, have shown it can be construed as a violation of constitutional rights. Salem does require drug testing for everyone as part of its hiring process.

Wells, who twice has taken voluntary drug tests, said he understands the union's concerns. He plans to meet with the city's human resources department and develop a plan to re-emphasize the importance of voluntary drug tests.


Report doubts B.C. forestry strikers' claims

Statistics released Wednesday by the B.C. Forest Safety Council showing a dramatic drop in injury claims have been questioned because the statistics cover only a single sector of the industry. "I caution that the entire forest industry has not improved," said Ron Corbeil, health and safety representative for the United Steelworkers union.

Corbeil, who sits on the council himself, questioned the timing of the release, coming in the middle of a forest industry strike where the union has made safety an issue. "It's possible that the council wanted to get some positive stuff out there, but it's interesting that it's just a portion of the industry," he said.

The industry is using the statistics to discredit claims by the union that safety has been compromised by changes in shifts and work hours introduced in 2004. Rick Jeffery, president of the Coast Forest Products Association, was quoted recently in the Cowichan Valley Citizen newspaper saying the safety record has improved since the new shifts were introduced.

Tanner Elton, president of the council, acknowledged in an interview that the statistics released only cover the harvesting sector, which includes fallers and loggers but does not include log hauling or sawmilling, two sectors where there has been an increase in injuries.

He said the council wanted to present the positive safety trend in the harvesting sector to coincide with National Forestry Week, from Sept. 23 to 29. There was no intention to provide fuel for one side or the other in the strike, he said.

The statistics released by the council were prepared by WorkSafeBC and they show drop in deaths and injuries in timber harvesting between 2005 and 2006. A 21-per-cent decrease in claims in that sector has cut the cost of accident claims by 39 per cent, according to the council.

Further, there were fewer short-term and long-term injuries during the period and a reduction in the number of injuries requiring health care.

The safety council states in a background paper that the reduction in injuries resulted in a safety dividend of more than $70 million for the industry.

"The denominator is dollars," Elton said of the statistics, "but what we are really measuring here is injuries. There is no banner up saying 'Mission Accomplished.' What we are saying is we are making progress."

Elton said harvesting was used as a benchmark because it is the largest sector and the focus of the safety council's efforts. The council attributes the 2006 drop to a renewed approach to safety by companies and to certification and training programs for forest workers.

He said the indicators have continued into 2007 with the exception of the log hauling and sawmilling sectors, where the number of incidents is up.

"We have asked this industry to do a lot of things. We have asked them to fundamentally change the way they practise safety. We have asked them all to make investments. Let's make sure it is sustainable and let's make sure it continues," he said.


Adding hunger to the strike

Two weeks into a workers’ strike at the University of Minnesota, a group of students has jumped on board with a strike of its own - a hunger strike. On Monday, 13 students, a professor and another supporter of the protest began starving themselves (drinking only water and juice) in solidarity with the strikers, a demonstration which they said they would continue until a settlement is reached between the university and the labor union representing the university’s clerical, technical and health care workers. They were joined on Wednesday by a planned 30 or more students who pledged to fast for a 24-hour period.

“We’ve been pushed to take a more somber approach to force the administration to listen,” said Sofi Shank, a freshman at the university who is helping to organize the student response. The move comes after an earlier attempt to make the university listen - when 75 to 100 students stormed a Board of Regents meeting on Sept. 7 - ended in five arrests.

The student-led hunger strike is not being coordinated by the union, Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, although the student organizers are being housed in the same church as the one being used as a headquarters for the strike committee, according to Jennifer Lovaasen, a spokeswoman for AFSCME. In other labor disputes, students have organized hunger strikes with the tacit support of the union, although such cooperation - between two groups whose backgrounds and goals historically have been at odds - is never guaranteed.

In this case, the increased visible role of students comes as workers’ participation in the strike is gradually waning. According to the university’s count, which tallies the number of employees who show up for work each day, a little over 29 percent of unionized workers appeared to be on strike on Tuesday, down somewhat from a third at the beginning, according to spokesman Daniel Wolter. That works out to 900 to 950 workers out of 3,126, he said, although he expects more to report for work a week from Friday when health benefits discontinue for those who will not have come to work since the strike began. Shank said that such counts leave out the possibility of workers who stay home without coming to the picket line.

Shank recognizes that members of the union might potentially be wary of students’ involvement in their dispute, or “nervous about this technique.” They don’t want students to “damage their house on behalf of them,” she said. Lovaasen seemed concerned, but only about the students’ well-being: “We’re grateful for their support.”

The university, for its part, views the hunger strike as “theatrics” by a “cadre of activists looking for a cause, and this is their cause,” according to Wolter.

The strike began on Sept. 5 after an intense negotiating session over a dispute in wages. The union has demanded both the standard “step” increase, which rewards workers with increased pay for longevity, as well as raises to keep pace with inflation. The university views both types of pay as “real money,” which has led to competing numbers and competing claims about fair pay. The university’s original offer, which would apply to the 94 percent of employees still eligible for step increases, would increase employees’ pay each year by 4.25 to 4.9 percent, for the two years of the contract. The other 6 percent would receive lump-sum payments in lieu of step increases.

The university has since offered an additional $300-a-year increase as a lump sum (or $600 for the 6 percent of workers not eligible for step increases), which the union also rejected on Friday on the basis that it did not qualify as a step increase. “Figuratively, we’re still at the table because we never left,” Wolter said.

The union does not include step increases in calculations about wage increases to match inflation. “What I want people to know is that this is about wages and benefits for university workers, and the typical striker earns $34,000 and qualifies for food stamps to support a family of four. Today is Day 11 of the strike, and frankly, we’re hungry for a settlement,” Lovaasen said.

Although the university has had to make adjustments in staffing, most services are still operational. The one exception is a number of professors who continue to hold classes off campus out of solidarity with the strikers — an act that violates university policy. “We’re not known for a rigid level of discipline with faculty members,” Wolter conceded, although he said there were discussions about the possibility of financial repercussions for some departments or temporarily replacing instructors. Some students, he said, have had to drop classes because of the inconvenience of attending class at a church or theater.


Virtual strikers attack IBM over pay

Italian IBM workers have called a virtual strike in Second Life to protest at low pay. IBM employees and their supporters will picket IBM's presence in the 3D world at some point between 25 and 30 September, according to a union website. Staff are upset that the company has ignored requests by the works council for a small salary increase, despite making large profits.

Writing in an official IBM blog that covers virtual worlds, IBM employee Jo Grant said that the best way for the company to deal with the strike is not to overreact. "The strict approach would be to exercise full property rights and eject or ban anyone that is not considered beneficial to supporting your business," said Grant. "The downside of this approach is that once you start where do you stop? If someone is wearing a competitor's shirt is that worth ejecting?"

Grant added that in the case of the Italian labour union, he would treat it like a real world protest. "I would meet with the leaders to discuss their protest, not their grievance. That is presumably being taken care of elsewhere," he said. "If they were willing to have a non-harassing protest of a set duration I would cooperate with them in having it done."

IBM first proposed its presence in Second Life in December 2006 as a marketing and communications service.


State: No unemployment benefits for strikers

A Pennsylvania state panel said Harley-Davidson employees who went on strike in February will not receive unemployment checks for that time. Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 175 said 2,516 employees sought the benefits for four weeks they were on strike at the Springettsbury Township motorcycle plant.

The law does not allow unemployment compensation when workers are on strike, but does when they are locked out.

The employees argued that the strike began with a lockout, but the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review ruled that Harley-Davidson had been entitled to close for business reasons that did not constitute a lockout. An appeal deadline has passed.


City workers' union pickets Council meeting

Picketers greeted those coming to the Tuesday meeting of Canton (IL) City Council. AFSCME Council 31 which consists of city clerical workers, and employees of the public works, street, water, sewer, and garbage departments, held picket signs asking for relief from rising insurance costs.

According to Dave Smith, the state representative for the city's local, and Kayma Duncan, who serves as vice president of the local, about 40 city employees have been impacted by the increase in health insurance and are currently in negotiations with the city.

A recent pay raise has not covered the entire cost of the insurance increase for a portion of the workers. That has been the case since February, according to Smith who calls this a "devastating cut in pay." "These are dedicated city employees. This is their career, their livelihood," said Smith.

According to Smith, there will be more negotiations on this issue next week. "We can't accept a pay decrease," he stressed.

According to a statement, "We understand that employees need to pay more for insurance and we have increased the amount in the last contract by 100 percent. In April 2004, employees were paying 1.2 percent of their base pay. In September 2004, the employee premium increased to 1.5 percent and anytime the insurance fund balance dropped below $100,000, the employer premium was increased to 1.8 percent. Effective May 2005, employees paid 3 percent of their base pay. This is double what employees were paying in 2004."

The statement goes further to say, "The city is proposing a change to have employees pay 20 percent of the premium. This means that the lower paid employees would pay over 300 percent more in premiums. The take-home pay for employees would drop for some employees close to 12 percent. The pay increase offered by the city is only 9 percent over three years which means a loss of pay for some employees. The union understands that health care costs are rising and has proposed an increase of 33 percent."

In conclusion, the statement reads: "The city's proposal is not acceptable to any of the public works employees. We would ask you to support the union members proposal for a fair increase in premiums."

Mayor Rod Heinze stated, "We're negotiating with the union in private. We cannot make this a public negotiation."


County court interpreters strike continues

Striking court interpreters in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara held firm on Wednesday, the 11th day of a walk out protesting their dissatisfaction with salary negotiations with the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County.

About 94 percent of the roughly 400 interpreters who joined the strike on its first day of Sept. 5 remained on strike Wednesday, reported the California Federation of Interpreters (CFI), a division of the court interpreters' parent bargaining unit Communication Workers of America District 9 (CWA).

Locally, only three workers walked off the job; compared to hundreds in Los Angeles County.

Meanwhile, the court showed no signs of bending to the union's request to return to the bargaining table.

“We implemented our last, best and final offer,” said Allan Parachini, public information officer for Superior Court in Los Angeles County.

“We have done what we can do.”

Bargaining representatives for region one of the Superior Court of California, which encompasses Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles counties, have been negotiating with Superior Court in Los Angeles since May regarding pay.

The court interpreters are seeking salary steps, which provide pay increases based on years of service.

Doris Vick, an interpreter at the Santa Maria court complex, was among the local strikers..

Of the three union interpreters at the Santa Maria court complex who are employed by the court, Vick was the only one who went on strike, despite previous reports. An independently contracted court interpreter in Santa Maria, Anna Barbosa, also joined the strike, Vick said.

Lompoc court's one interpreter employee did not take part in the strike, she said.

The one court interpreter employee who works at the Santa Barbara courthouse, Jose Navarrete, was on strike as well, Vick said. Interpreters on contract to work in Santa Barbara court did not join the job action, she said.

Vick said she was resolved in her decision to go on strike when it began, and is planning to remain on strike through its duration.

“It was very clear that it needed to be done, to send that message to the administration,” she said.

She said she has traveled to Los Angeles a few times to join the picket there, and said she plans to attend a rally for the cause Friday in Los Angeles.

However, she was not happy about missing work and losing wages.

“It's certainly not something I want to do. It's not something I can afford to do. It's more something that needs to be done,” Vick said.

Parachini said the strike caused court cases to be continued and prompted judges to rearrange their calendars.

Court administrators in Santa Barbara County could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Mary Lou Aranguren, staff representative for the interpreters' union, could not give an estimate Tuesday about how long the strike might last.

“That's very hard to predict,” she said. “What I can tell you is our people are very determined to be treated fairly.”


Teachers authorize strike in Ohio

By a 98 percent margin, members of the Edison (OH) Local Education Association voted to authorize their negotiation team to issue a 10-day notice of intent to strike if necessary. “We certainly do not take this step lightly or without a lot of thought,” ELEA spokesman Jamie Evans said.

The ELEA and the school system administration have been in contract negotiations since June 14 when the last contract ended. The school board’s desire to transfer a portion of heath care costs to teachers is one of the negotiation hurdles.

The vote to authorize a 10-day notice of intent to strike came Wednesday night after a 90-minute meeting at Edison Local High School. Evans said approximately 122 members of the union cast a vote in the matter. The ELEA represents approximately 150 teachers of the Edison Local School District.

In a press release issued late Wednesday, Evans said, “... the stubborn and disrespectful actions of Superintendent (Lisa) Carmichael and the board of education have left us no choice.”

No strike date has been set, according to Evans, and there are no scheduled negotiation dates as well.

The ELEA is waiting for the federal mediator, Laura Shepherd, to schedule another meeting. Shepherd has met twice with the negotiation teams.

“We are hopeful that the board and the superintendent will come back to the negotiating table and bargain in good faith so that we can remain in the classroom doing what we do best — educating the students of Edison Local,” Evans stated in the press release. “But, our members are unified and prepared to do what is necessary to obtain the fair contract and the respect that we deserve.”

Carmichael was not available for comment.

School board member Warner Sanders, a member of the negotiation team, said he was unaware of the ELEA vote late Wednesday night and could not comment on the board’s behalf.

The Edison BOE meets 7 tonight at the high school.


Posturing may lead to teachers' strike

Reynolds (PA) School Board said Wednesday they’ve made progress on contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, but the president of Reynolds Education Association disagrees. “We feel there has been minor progress made,” Gino Tofani said after the board gave a presentation on the status of negotiations.

There are many issues to be resolved before a contract settlement can be reached and the biggest sticking point for the union is salaries, Tofani said. The union, which represents 99 teachers, is asking the school board for salaries that Tofani said are below the cost-of-living, which the board has said the district can’t afford.

The two parties plan to hold three more negotiations sessions before Oct. 9 — the date teachers said they’ll strike if a contract isn’t settled. Tofani said it’s hard to say at this point if a strike is likely. “I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said.

After the presentation, Superintendent Maddox B. Stokes said he doesn’t understand why the teachers would want a strike because he believes a lot of progress has been made in settling a new contract.

“When you’re making progress, I don’t think it makes sense to strike,” Stokes said.

The union has been negotiating with the school board since January 2006 and working without a contract since the 2006-07 school year, said Dr. Charles Steele, the district’s chief negotiator who gave the presentation.

A handful of issues including life insurance, extra sick days, grievance procedure changes and distance learning have been settled, Steele said.

The unresolved issues include salary, health care benefits, personal leave day restrictions, longevity pay and early retirement. Once they are settled, everything else should fall into place, Steele said.

The board and union disagree over how to evaluate the fairness of a raise and both parties believe the salary schedule isn’t balanced because the amount of increases between steps isn’t equal.

Meeting the union’s salary proposal is something the district can’t afford with raising taxes, Steele said.

There is also disagreement over health care co-payments. The district is seeking a higher co-pay than the union wants.


Union strikes against Ohio manufacturer

About 160 hourly employees at the OPW Fueling Components plant at 9393 Princeton-Glendale Road in West Chester, OH continue picketing today after going on strike Sunday. Members of Local 45B of the Glass, Molders and Pottery Workers union set up picket lines after rejecting the company’s offer of a new contract.

The old five-year agreement expired over the weekend. Dave Orewiler, director of human resources for the operating unit of Dover Corp., said the plant was continuing to operate and filling customer orders. He declined to comment on whether the company was using replacement workers to continue operations.

There was no word on a resumption of negotiations. A union spokesman couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.


Edwards to SEIU: Do you believe?

Teachers' strike causes kids to suffer

A couple days on the picket line is bringing out pettiness in Cahokia (IL). One complaint of the teachers union, for instance, is that the district spent $7,500 remodeling the district office.

Please, 4,266 children are locked out of learning for the fourth day today, and this is the focus? Is anyone concerned that kids who need every possible minute of class time are losing learning opportunities? Cahokia has some of the lower test scores in Illinois. Struggling students don't bounce back easily from disruptions like this.

Is anyone concerned that the high school's 4-0 football team will have to forfeit games -- and perhaps some players' opportunities for college scholarships -- if this strike doesn't end quickly?

It's hard to understand why a settlement couldn't have been negotiated without a strike. The school board is offering the teachers a raise, just not as big as the teachers want.

But strikes happen often in school districts throughout Illinois because there is no financial suffering for teachers. Invariably, settlement deals includes teachers getting their full salaries, no lost pay for strike days.

The law needs to change so that teachers cannot strike. We don't let police officers, firefighters or other essential public employees walk off the job to force a contract, and we shouldn't allow teachers to hold our children hostage to get their demands met.

A no-strike law would keep children in the classroom, and it might temper the us versus them mentality that strikes engender.

Both the administration and the teachers presumably are in these jobs for the good of the children. It's time to put the children's interests first.

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