Long gov't union strike good for bacteria

As the City of Vancouver, B.C. suffers its 10th week without garbage pickup, some areas of the city are starting to smell pretty ripe. As you walk home through a back alley or pass an unemptied trash can, the stench of rotting garbage is increasingly difficult to escape.

That raises a couple of questions: What makes garbage smelly in the first place? And why do we find the particular stench of refuse so unbearable? The answer to the first question is relatively simple: Bacteria.

The hungry little micro-organisms are everywhere - including the surface of most foods - and, given enough time, they start to chow down. As they do so, they break down the large molecules in food into smaller ones. "And it's just kind of unfortunate that the small molecules all happen to be a bit smelly," said Reg Mitchell, a professor of chemistry at the University of Victoria.

The smelliest among them, he said, are nitrogen and sulphur, both of which are produced when protein breaks down. That's why foods that are high in protein -- like meat, fish and eggs -- smell the nastiest once they begin to rot. Food high in carbohydrates, on the other hand, is more benign.

"A slice of bread, even if it goes mouldy, doesn't usually smell," said Mitchell.

But what is it about the molecules garbage gives off that the human nose finds so smelly?

Pamela Dalton is a researcher in "human olfaction" at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. She said it's not hard to theorize why humans developed an aversion to garbage smells. After all, if your ancestors were in the habit of eating rotten flesh, you probably wouldn't be here now.

"Over time ... we've come to associate these types of odours with danger," said Dalton.

However, it's still unknown if we have these instincts from birth or if we learn them over time.

Dalton said researchers know that babies are born with certain innate aversions to sour and bitter tastes, a protection against ingesting poisonous foods.

"If you put a bitter-tasting compound in a newborn infant, they will spit it right out," said Dalton. "It's a very clear response."

But, despite repeated studies, researchers have been unable to determine if babies have similar hard-wired responses to smell.

Dalton suspects humans have some built-in aversion to certain smelly molecules, like sulphur. But she thinks there's also more to it than that. After all, we respond to the smell of garbage more viscerally than other bad smells -- like a skunk or industrial chemicals.

The other awful thing about garbage smells is that they can linger for days, even after the source of the smell is long gone.

Dalton said that's not because garbage smells are any more resilient than nice ones, but because our brains are fine-tuned to detect them.

With no end in sight to the municipal strike, Vancouver can at least take comfort in one fact: After repeated exposure to bad smells, said Dalton, the olfactory system eventually stops responding.

"If you smell the same thing for a long time and it hasn't hurt you, your brain starts to filter it out," she said.



Vancouver city workers should prepare to vote on a contract late next week, says the union's internal newsletter.

An online notice was posted Wednesday advising the members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 15, the city's inside workers, could expect to vote on mediator Brian Foley's recommendations within days of Foley presenting them.

"We anticipate that Mr. Foley's recommendations will be available some time next week," the bulletin says.

"As soon as possible after we have received them, we will provide the recommendations to our members and schedule a membership vote."

It is expected Foley's recommendations will also cover Local 1004, the outside workers, and that they would vote at the same time. However, Local 1004 needs a two-thirds majority to approve a contract, according to its bylaws.

Foley was brought in for a mediation process last week.

He said he wanted to have all parties present a written proposal of what their priorities were for the contract and then he would make non-binding recommendations that would be taken back to Vancouver city council, the Metro Vancouver labour relations board and union members for a vote.


150 unions in solidarity with S.F. security strikers

This week, security workers employed by companies including Securitas, ABM and United Protection Services, are taking historic action to protest their employers' use of intimidation, harassment and other unlawful means to keep them on low pay and without medical benefits.

The first strike by security guards in the San Francisco area, this action is part of a campaign by guards for respect in the workplace and greater opportunities for career development, as well as fair wages and health benefits. Security workers currently earn an average of $24,000 per year, which works out at $5 per hour less than cleaners in the city.

As in many other cities around the world, poor wages and conditions in the security industry drive high turnover and therefore discourage employers from investing in training and development for staff, making security a dead-end job in San Francisco.

SEIU, the union representing the guards, is calling on real estate giants such as Morgan Stanley, to address low standards for security guards in lease negotiations.

The strike is taking place in 14 buildings in the city's financial district, and is enjoying great support from many sectors of the community. 150 other unions in San Francisco, as well as the San Francisco Labor Council, are honouring the picket lines and strike sanctions, significantly disrupting the city's business community. The security workers also enjoy the support of clergy, congregations, elected leaders and community organizations, who were named in a full page advertisement in the San Francisco Business Times, calling for respect for security workers. Other security guards around the United States, in Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, D.C., and Seattle have sent delegations to the offices of Morgan Stanley in their own cities to demand a response.

San Francisco's elected officials passed a resolution in defence of the workers' decision to call the strike and urging the security companies to “end their intimidating and coercive unfair labor practices" and calling "upon the building owners and managers to come to the bargaining table with the security companies for a single purpose: to improve industry standards by providing adequate training and increased wages and benefits for private security officers.”

San Francisco security officers are leading the largest national movement of African American workers since in the United States since the 1920s. There are more than 1 million private security officers in the country — private security is one of the top-ten fastest growing industries and is dominated by African American workers. If these workers receive just a USD1 increase in hourly wages, paid leave and family health care, across the country, almost a half billion dollars could be infused into some the US' most economically depressed neighborhoods, where most security officers live.


SEIU takes nurses out on strike

Unionized nurses at Pomona Valley (CA) Hospital Medical Center walked off the job Wednesday, launching a five-day strike to protest what they call unsafe staffing levels and unfair pay, but hospital officials said operations will not be disrupted.

Hospital officials planned to hold a late-morning news conference to discuss how the hospital will handle the strike and the resumption of negotiations.

"Going on strike is the hardest decision a Registered Nurse can make, but we believe it is necessary to protect our patients," said registered nurse Sue Weinstein, executive director of the nurses' union, SEIU Local 121RN. "A strike is a last-ditch effort, but for us there's no other choice."

According to the nurses' union, contract talks have stalled after five months of negotiations, and the nurses plan to strike for five days.

The union said in a statement that at least 1,000 registered nurses would take part in today's job action.

Hospital spokeswoman Kathy Roche said the last bargaining session was held last Thursday, but "there were no new formal proposals presented or discussed."

"We are willing to continue discussions on a new contract," she said. "We are open and willing to meet with them and the federal mediator."

Roche said the hospital will have replacement nurses in place to ensure that medical center operations are not affected.

"We are continuing normal operations during the strike," she said. "We will not cease any of our services."

Weinstein said the union's primary concerns are safe staffing levels and competitive salaries. The union has proposed 5 percent annual salary increases for each of the next three years.

Roche said the hospital "staffs according to patient needs ... and that always either meets or exceeds state-mandated ratios. There's no validity in the allegations from the union that we are not meeting state ratios."

On the salary issue, the hospital has countered with an offer of a 5 percent increase the first year, and 4 percent bumps in the following two years.

Roche noted that some nurses also would receive additional step increases of up to 5 percent in the first year. She said the hospital also pays nurses wages "that are above the 75th percentile in Southern California."

"We have been and remain very competitive with other area hospitals," she said.

Nurses went on strike for one day in early September to protest what they called the slow progress of talks.

Jennifer Wolfinbarger, a nurse who has worked at the hospital for 21 years and serves as a member of the union's negotiating team, said she was disappointed by the situation.

"The hospital is not negotiating in good faith and needs to stop playing Russian roulette with patient safety," she said.


Labor state wants union boss for Attorney General

While Oregon Republicans search for an attorney general candidate, the Democratic field might get more crowded. Alice Dale, president of SEIU Local 49, said she would decide by mid-October whether to join the race.

"I'm actively considering it," Dale said. Dale is the former head of the SEIU Oregon Public Employees Union - the state's largest. She led the union on a strike in 1995 over a pay raise. "I think I bring a very deep understanding of issues that resonate with the average Oregonian," she said.

Dale would join state Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, and John Kroger, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Shawn Cleave, spokesman for the Oregon Republican Party, said there were two GOP attorneys with past governmental experience considering getting into the race, but would not name them. Democrat Hardy Myers announced last month that he would not seek a fourth term.


Teachers' union furious at anti-strike group

The salaries of all teachers in the Cumberland Valley (PA) School District have been posted on the Internet by an anti-strike advocacy group trying to prevent the threatened teacher strike in the district.

StopTeacherStrikes posted the salaries of each teacher on its Web site, www.stopteacherstrikes.org, because it wanted to remind the teachers they are public servants accountable to the taxpayers, according to President Simon Campbell in a press release.

StopTeacherStrikes said it obtained the salary information through Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law. “It provides for public transparency, accountability and oversight,” Campbell said. “Despite the outrage from the union, we will continue to post teachers names and salaries in strike-threatened districts.”

Campbell said teacher strikes are illegal in 37 states. Similar bills to ban teacher strikes in Pennsylvania have been unsuccessful. Calls to Jay Foerster, spokesman for Cumberland Valley Education Association, were not returned by press deadline.


Striking B.C. forestry union shows desperation

The United Steelworkers union turned up the heat in the coastal forestry strike Wednesday, releasing a video showing TimberWest Forest felling large old-growth cedar logs directly into what appears to be a pristine blue Vancouver Island lake.

But the forest company responded by accusing the union of attempting to deflect attention from its demands at the negotiating table by releasing footage the company says is selective and misleading.

The flare-up between the union and one of 33 companies behind picket lines comes at a time when the union is meeting quietly with Forest Industrial Relations, the employer association representing most forest companies, in an attempt to break the nine-week-old strike. The back-channel talks were initiated last week when the union met in Montreal with the coast's largest company, Western Forest Products.

Despite the attack on TimberWest, Steelworkers regional director Steve Hunt said the union is seeking a way to break the stalemate.

"We are going to continue with discussions to see if we can unhook some of this stuff," Hunt said of the low-level talks.

FIR spokesman Ron Shewchuk said employers are also open to the informal approach.

"It's always encouraging when people are talking, but it's too early to say if this will lead to a settlement," he said.

But Wednesday, the union had TimberWest, which is not a member of FIR, in its sights. At a news conference, Hunt said the union was releasing the video of what it claimed are bad logging practices to hit the forest company in the marketplace. The video shows massive cedars being felled into a body of water. The union says it flows into a fish creek that flows into Cruikshank River, which in turn flows into Comox Lake, the source of water for the Comox Valley. That's a violation, Hunt said.

The logging took place in June 2006, but Hunt said the union did not receive the video - taken by the contractor who did the logging in a region known as the Kweishen Bowl, near Forbidden Plateau - until three months ago. He acknowledged the union was releasing it now as a pressure tactic.

The union called for an investigation by the Private Managed Forest Lands Council, the agency that regulates logging on private land. Companies logging on private land are required to retain leave-strips on bodies of water that have outlets flowing into fish-bearing streams.

TimberWest accused the union of being disingenuous. The body of water in the video is not a lake, but rather a temporarily flooded meadow caused by a rockfall at the neck of a valley, said Steve Lorimer, community relations manager for TimberWest. TimberWest released its own photos, taken Sept. 25, showing the region is now dry.

If TimberWest is guilt of anything, it's timing the harvesting when the meadow was flooded, the company said.


Government unions replace industrial dinosaurs

What a difference 37 years makes. The last time the United Auto Workers called a nationwide strike against General Motors was in 1970. That strike lasted 67 days, triggering layoffs at parts suppliers and steel companies and dominating headlines.

This week's strike lasted just two days - hardly making a dent in the economy and competing with other stories for the nation's attention.

Why the difference? The answer lies in the dwindling fortunes of GM and the UAW.

The 1970 strike was a "titanic clash between two massive permanent entities," says Jefferson Cowie, a professor or labor history at Cornell University. "They were both the backbone of America at the time."

In 1970, General Motors was the biggest automaker and the largest employer in the world. The 1973 oil crisis was years away, as was the threat from low-cost Japanese automakers. GM, along with Ford and Chrysler, could barely keep up with demand.

The UAW, meanwhile, was enjoying a Golden Age. Its membership was growing, with 400,000 workers at GM alone, as was its political clout. It was big labor at its most muscular, and strikes were common. That same year, more than 2 million American workers in various industries walked off the job.

GM had deep enough coffers to weather a two-month strike and the UAW turned to the powerful Teamsters Union for financial support. In the end, the union prevailed, winning a 13 percent pay raise and other concessions.

Flash forward 37 years and the picture could hardly be more different. GM faces an increasingly globalized auto industry and, in particular, threats from Japanese automakers. GM has lost $12.3 billion in the last two years and seen its share of the U.S. auto market shrink to 24 percent, compared with 46 percent in 1978.

The UAW, meanwhile, has seen its membership — and its clout — shrivel. None of the so-called transplants — Japanese and European automakers with factories in the U.S. — is unionized. Rather than a struggle for supremacy, this short-lived strike represented a struggle for survival.

Ron Gettelfinger. the head of the UAW, said the union's No. 1 issue was not working conditions or wages. It was job security.

Neither side could afford a messy, protracted strike, so the tentative agreement reached early this morning comes as little surprise. Both sides have bought some more time. Ironically, those generous pension benefits that the UAW won back in 1970 "have come home to roost," says labor historian Cowie. So-called "legacy costs" were another major issues in the recent strike.

The UAW walks away with "a mixed-bag," says Cowie. "But a mixed bag is better than being crushed."


Candidate's wife quick to oppose GM management

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