AFSCME pulls plug on University picketing

There's no word yet on how talks went between the University of Minnesota and its striking clerical, technical and health-care AFSCME member workers. But two union Web sites say all picketing is suspended, and a rally planned for ten this morning also is canceled.

The university said in an e-mail this morning that they decline to comment on the strike negotiations. Strikers are asked to come to a noon meeting at strike headquarters for an update on what happened during Thursday's mediation.

The AFSCME union members have been on strike since Sept. 5. Money is the biggest issue in the strike.


Teachers want to be paid for illegal strike

The teachers’ union is balking at Schools Supt. William J. Rearick’s decision not to pay teachers for what he calls “the illegal job action” they took when they held a one-day strike on Sept. 4.

In a letter Monday to Rearick, Patrick Crowley, assistant executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, said the teachers are protected under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires salaried employees be paid a “predetermined amount” that is “not subject to reduction because of variations in the quantity or quality of the work performed.”

Crowley said that Rearick’s decision could be interpreted to mean that the employees are now considered nonsalaried workers eligible for overtime pay. If that’s not Rearick’s intention, Crowley writes, “it occurs to me that the withholding of pay is a willful violation under the federal statute and may subject the violator to criminal sanctions.” The School Department, Crowley writes, could face up to $10,000 in fines for withholding teachers’ pay.

“Please clarify your understanding of the exemption status for the workers in the NEA bargaining unit in order for the members to adequately calculate the overtime pay owed to them in time for the next pay roll period,” Crowley writes. “If, however, the refusal to pay the teachers their agreed upon salary was inadvertent, we will work with you to remedy the situation as expeditiously as possible.”

Rearick sent a copy of the letter to The Journal yesterday. He could not be reached for comment.

This is the latest flap in the ongoing contract dispute between the Tiverton School Committee and the 200-member NEA-Tiverton union.

The teachers returned to work two weeks ago under the terms of a Superior Court consent order that the union and the School Committee return to the bargaining table with an appointed mediator.

Both sides were set to meet again last night.

The union voted unanimously Wednesday to perform only official duties detailed in their existing contract. They will still perform duties that involve helping students, such as writing recommendations and coaching, but they won’t participate on school-improvement teams, for example, Crowley said.

The state law governing teacher contract negotiations does not give teachers the right to strike. The state Supreme Court went a step further when it ruled that such work stoppages are illegal. The high court added that teachers cannot be ordered back to their classrooms without a lower court hearing.


More AFSCME labor trouble in Minnesota

"STRIKE!" The word echoed through the building, shouted by several hundred sign-waving AFSCME members. The setting was not the University of Minnesota, however, where four AFSCME locals representing 3,500 workers are in the third week of a strike. The setting now was Hennepin County Government Center, where six AFSCME locals representing 5,000 workers are in negotiations for a new contract.

"Let them hear you up on the 24th floor," urged Cliff Poehler, treasurer of AFSCME Council 5 and an attorney in the Hennepin County Public Defender's Office. The crowd's "STRIKE!" roar grew louder. "It's take-backs, take-backs and more take-backs," Poehler said, updating the noon-hour rally on contract negotiations.

Poehler told the crowd that Hennepin County negotiators are proposing several contract changes:
• making County employees pay more out-of-pocket for health care;
• threatening to cut full health coverage;
• converting some full-time jobs to part-time jobs with reduced health benefits;
• allowing supervisors to take on union work;
• denying some health benefits to future employees.

On the last point, Poehler voiced especially strong concerns: "We're not going to pit union members against union members by denying benefits to future members."

"We've been way too nice," asserted Jean Diederich, president of AFSCME Local 34, which represents social service employees. "We don't take ownership for the value we give the County. The work that we do, the value that we give this County, every single resident of Hennepin County has benefited."

"Please go back to your worksites and let your co-workers know how important it is for them to get involved and support our [negotiating] team," Diederich urged rally-goers.

After the rally, strike committee chair Roy Elliot outlined the strike preparations that have begun as negotiations continue. "It's important we show a united front," said Elliot, a member of AFSCME Local 552 who has worked with the County's Probation department since 1978.

Elliot said several committees have formed to divide responsibilities to wage a possible strike. Since Labor Day, he reported, "the number of people volunteering for committees has increase considerably."

Some of the committees include: internal communications, picketing, kitchen (to provide food to strikers), and hardship (to provide aid to members for whom a strike brings particular economic hardship).

"If the County doesn't think we're serious, they're not going to come up with a serious contract offer," said Elliot, explaining the extensive strike preparations.

"Hopefully, it won't come to a strike," Elliot said. "We will be prepared for that if it does; we'll work to avoid that if we can."

Additional negotiations are scheduled for Sept. 24, Oct. 8 and Oct. 22. Nov. 5 and Nov. 28 are scheduled for possible mediation.

The six AFSCME locals representing workers at Hennepin County include: Local 34 (Social and Health Services), Local 552 (Probation and Parole), Local 1719 (Adult Corrections Officers), Local 2822 (Clerical and Related), Local 2864 (Professional Librarians) and Local 2938 (Legal Unit).


Teachers strike tarnishes football team's record

Cahokia High School's football team will forfeit its game Friday night at Carbondale because of a teachers' strike at Cahokia's district. Carbondale High's athletic director Rick Moss said Wednesday that Cahokia -- 4-1 with the forfeit -- would have entered the game ranked fourth in the state by The Associated Press in Class 5A and as prohibitive favorites against the Terriers, now 3-2.

"It's probably the best shutout we've ever had," Moss said. "I've been joking with our football players that their defensive averages just got very good" with a game they didn't have to play.

The Terriers can use the off week to mend from being "pretty banged up" in previous games, Moss said.

Messages left Wednesday with Cahokia's athletics director, Roscoe Dowell, were not immediately returned.

Cahokia teachers began the strike Monday in the 4,300-student Metro East district.

No new talks are planned.


Teachers, district prepare for strike

Oct. 1 is an important day on the school calendar in the Harrison Hills (OH) City School District. It's the day union teachers say they'll walk off the job unless they can agree to a new contract with the school board. While both school administrators and union leaders have said they're hoping talks will continue, there are signs both sides are preparing for a work stoppage.

"What I want is a peaceful and fair settlement before Oct. 1," said Harrison Hills Teachers Association spokesperson Linda Rusen. "We'll do what we have to do to achieve that goal." Wednesday night, the school board authorized superintendent Jim Drexler to formulate a plan to hire substitue teachers and close schools if teachers walk out.

Drexler has said he plans to keep school open and asked the board to approve the hiring of Michigan-based Huffmaster, a company that provides replacement workers and security during work stoppages. Rusen said her union clashed with Huffmaster security workers during a previous strike in 1987, but Drexler said the firm's employees will provide a safe environment at the district's schools and have passed background checks.

Rusen remains hopeful the strike and the security won't be necessary.

"We're hoping that they came back to the table with a different proposal than they have offered in the past and start bargaining fairly," said Rusen.

Drexler said he and the board are willing to return to talks if called for by a federal mediator.

The Harrison Hills City School District has a list of frequently asked questions about its strike plan posted on its Web site.


Vancouver faces two more strikes

As a strike by Vancouver, B.C. civic workers approaches its 11th week, labor disruption is threatening to spread to the city's biggest hotels and its largest of supplier of natural gas.

Picket signs could soon be up outside the Four Seasons, Hyatt Regency, Westin Bayshore and Vancouver Renaissance hotels after the union representing 1,400 hospitality workers put the employers on 72-hour strike notice Thursday. Hopes that a strike can be averted now depend on the outcome of mediated talks set for Saturday between the employers and UNITE HERE Local 40. The hotel workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike last month, saying the employers weren't taking them seriously.

It's a similar scenario at Terasen Gas Inc. where the union representing nearly 500 employees served 72-hour strike notice on Thursday. The Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE), Local 378 is accusing the company of slashing employee benefits in a period of unprecedented profits. Terasen Gas says it has been in negotiations with COPE since February 2007 in an effort to reach a new collective agreement. Terasen Gas delivers natural gas and piped propane to 900,000 customers in British Columbia - 95 per cent of the province's gas customers. It has not had any labour disruption for nearly 18 years.


Teachers union gives strike notice

Unions representing teaching and non-teaching staff in the Wellington (OH) Schools have authorized their leadership to issue a 10-day strike notice if contract talks remained stalled, a union representative said.

Linda Repko, co-president of the Wellington Education Association, said negotiations are at “a crisis state right now.” She said chances of a strike are “50-50.” The WEA represents 89 teachers, and the Wellington School Support Staff represents 59 drivers, cooks, custodians and other workers.

Repko declined to discuss the status of talks or issues that remain unresolved. The union contracts expired June 30 and the two sides met with the help of a federal mediator Wednesday.

Superintendent Victor Cardenzana also said he could not talk about specifics regarding the impasse. “All of us would like to avoid a strike,” Cardenzana said. “Basically it comes down to money — I can’t talk about the details."


Striking Machinists make no progress

The Machinists union at Kennedy Space Center and NASA shuttle contractor United Space Alliance broke off negotiations Thursday after a daylong attempt to reach a contract agreement and end the union’s three-month strike.

Previously, the two sides had scheduled another negotiating session Friday, but that was canceled after Thursday’s impasse. “After meeting with the (union’s) negotiation team all day Thursday, negotiations were terminated without meaningful progress, and no further negotiations are scheduled at this time,” United Space Alliance spokeswoman Tracy Yates said.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2061spokesman Bob Wood called the company’s latest proposals “extremely regressive.” "They were moving completely backward,” Wood said. “This was not an attempt to negotiate.” He also said it was the company that “walked out of the negotiations.”

The two sides had agreed through a federal mediator to resume negotiations aimed at ending a strike that started June 14. The two sides previously had broken off negotiations.

About 444 union members are taking part and have been picketing in around-the-clock shifts at entrances to the Space Center.

The company has hired 140 replacement workers has assigned 182 employees additional duties on the shuttle program for the launch of Discovery, scheduled for Oct. 23.


Union recruits kids to picket with striking teachers

Roughly 100 parents and students picketed alongside the Cahokia Federation of Teachers on Thursday, demanding the School Board negotiate a contract so classes will resume. Children chanted "we want to go to school" in front of the Cahokia (IL) School District office. A group of parents held an impromptu meeting with Human Resources Director Art Ryan.

Ryan said he understood their irritation. He said he tried to explain the board's financial situation. "I'm perfectly happy to let them share and vent their frustration," he said. "I thought they deserved that."

Parents said they were concerned that their children were losing valuable classroom time. Parents who work outside the home said it had been difficult and expensive to find last-minute child care. "For every day they're missing, there's something they could be learning," said parent Mary Willis. She praised Cahokia teachers and said they were much more loving and committed to students than her own teachers had been.

Parent Chris Heatherly said he, too, sided with the teachers, though he said he was glad an administrator had taken the time to speak with his group.

The five-day strike has put about 4,300 children out of school. Students said they were worried about preparing for state tests, forgetting what they'd already learned in classes the past six weeks, and missing sports and other extracurricular activities.

The undefeated high school football team will probably miss a game against Carbondale today, which could jeopardize opportunities for the playoffs.

Cyana Herron, 10, didn't bring most of her textbooks home because she didn't anticipate a strike. She's been trying to work on multiplication problems on her own.

"But it's hard," she said.

School employees were asking for a 3.5 percent increase until Sunday. Now they are asking for a 4 percent raise. The board has said it can't go higher than 2.25 percent, because of the district's $5.3 million debt.

Teacher salaries range from $36,102 to $66,173, without benefits. The average salary is about $57,000.

The union includes about 300 teachers and 200 service members.


Vancouver hotels brace for strike

After weeks of negotiations, workers at four of Vancouver, B.C.'s biggest hotels are poised to go on strike. On Thursday morning, the bargaining committee members authorized a strike vote, which will cover workers at the Hyatt Regency, Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside, the Westin Bayshore Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel.

"We officially sent 72 hours strike notice to the hotels," Yoseph Haile of Unite Here Local 40 said today. The hotel workers are concerned about the ever-increasing cost of living in Vancouver. Their hope is to make hotel industry positions middle class jobs that can keep up with those costs.

Median home prices in the city have exceeded $700,000, and rents are on the rise.

The hospitality industry has become increasingly important to Vancouver's economy and this is expected to continue as the 2010 Winter Olympics draws attention to the city internationally. Many hotels have invested tens of millions of dollars in anticipation of the Games.

The hospitality workers also cited an increase in housekeeper workload that the hotels have failed to address.

Smith Munroe, general manager of the Renaissance Hotel, is already bracing for the impact of the strike.

"We've already suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars simply because of the strike vote that was taken and the uncertainty that was created amongst our clients," he told CTV News.

The fear now is that, with a decrease in tourism due to the high Canadian dollar, the lack of hotel staff will further turn off visitors.


Leftist pols dutifully court Big Labor

Even at their peak, American unions were never as powerful as their West European cousins. And these days American organized labour is long past its prime. Union membership has dropped to just 12% of the workforce, down from 20% in 1983. Every election year pundits ritualistically ask whether unions remain politically relevant.

The unions did not help themselves in the last Democratic primary. In 2004 organized labor split between former House minority leader Dick Gephardt, whose campaign fizzled out early, and former Vermont governor Howard Dean, whose explosive antics doomed his bid. Union backing did not stop the Democrats' eventual pick, John Kerry, from losing a slew of union-heavy states such as Iowa, Nevada and Ohio in the general election.

Despite this record, this season's Democratic presidential candidates have been dutifully courting the unions. They talked up universal health care and trade skepticism at a debate sponsored by the AFL-CIO, a large American labor organization, last month. All the main contenders did the same at a conference on September 17th of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

John Edwards in particular is betting on union support energising his perpetually third-place campaign. He emphasizes his recent experience joining picket lines, and he is running to the left of the other main contenders. The International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, the United Steelworkers and the Transport Workers of America have endorsed him. Barack Obama, once a civil-rights lawyer in Chicago, also does well in front of the union crowd. But Mr Edwards has enjoyed a long head-start cultivating labor's backing.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has been hurt by her husband's record, particularly on free trade. Mrs Clinton now advertises her vote in the Senate against the Central America Free-Trade Agreement, but skepticism remains.

Still, organized labor has little incentive to continue picking losers, and Mrs Clinton remains the presumptive nominee. The United Transportation Union and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers have backed her. If the unions have much to gain from Mrs Clinton, Mrs Clinton also has much to gain from the unions. The support of female voters sustains her lead; her campaign could use a few burly men in blue collars.

Many unions may also choose not to make an early endorsement. But come the general election union members will still make fine get-out-the-vote foot soldiers for whoever wins the Democratic nomination, even if union bosses can no longer play kingmaker.


Teamsters take over WA state government

Well, not take over entirely. But seriously, a good day for them. First, Teamsters Local 117 has sealed the deal on pay increases for some Department of Corrections job classifications. How did they do this when contracts were finished last year, you ask? Remember that the Teamsters were the only union to win a “re-opener” clause allowing them to come back to the table this year.

The raises are aimed at more than 300 workers in jobs with recruitment and retention problems, and those significantly behind on the salary survey, said Leonard Smith, union organizer. “I think the state, at least this governor, has come around to say 'Yes, we do have this problem here.' They really came through for these classifications,” he said.

The deal is subject to legislative approval.

And, speaking of the halls of power, TVW exec Cindy Zenhder is now chief of staff to Gov. Chris Gregoire. She replaces Tom Fitzsimmons. And – this was news to us, but we’re the new guys round here – she is a former trucker and longtime Teamster activist.


U. of Minn. students' hunger strike for AFSCME

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