Union political donations backfire, spell AFSCME defeat

Labor union campaign funds did not result in wins for three candidates who sought seats on a New Mexico board that oversees billions of dollars in public-employee retirement funds. Balloting by thousands of government workers and retirees came amid controversy over potential union influence over how the Public Employees Retirement Association board manages a nearly $13 billion pension fund for state and local government employees.

PERA has roughly 72,000 active and retired members. The state chapter of the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees had backed Alan Ruckel to represent state employees, Olinda Reneau to represent county employees and John Lucero to represent retirees.

None of those candidates won their races, PERA officials said at the group’s annual meeting Thursday in Santa Fe. Fabian Chavez, a former PERA board member and former legislator, had expressed concerns the union might inject a “social agenda” into how pension funds are invested. He said news coverage concerning the union’s campaign contributions helped spell defeat for the three candidates. “What it proves is that you can organize,” Chavez said.

Carter Bundy, AFSCME’s political and legislative director for New Mexico, blamed news stories and editorials questioning the union’s contributions for the defeat of the candidates. “AFSCME is outgunned by people like Fabian Chavez with his connections,” Bundy said.

Bundy said he was not sure of the total amount of money AFSCME spent on the three races, but he said it would be less than the $52,000 it spent in three PERA races in 2004.

On a 5-3 vote, the PERA board approved a resolution to name the board room in the association’s new building, scheduled for completion by May 2009, The Senator Fabian Chavez Board Room.

Board member Loretta Naranjo-Lopez, who received AFSCME backing in the 2004 race, suggested the board consider other names for the board room or not name it after anyone. Naranjo-Lopez upbraided Chavez for making negative comments about the board in recent news stories. “I hope that we can continue to be a professional board and not have to be in a hostile environment,” she said.

PERA board members Victor Montoya and David Baca, who have served on the board for eight years, were re-elected in the mail-in election. Francis Page, who is chief of the Corrections Department’s budget bureau, won election to the state-employee seat held by Jeff Riggs, who did not seek re-election. The three winners will begin their four-year terms Jan. 8.

The PERA board has 12 members, including four state employees, four local-government workers, two retired members, the secretary of state and the state treasurer.

Montoya narrowly won re-election to his retiree seat with 2,127 votes, edging out Lucero, who received 2,107 votes. Gloria A. Stone received 970 votes and Aldolfo Alarid got 826 votes in the race. Vote totals for Montoya and Lucero were close enough that officials recounted the vote tallies.

Baca received 916 votes for the county-employee seat, while Reneau got 351 votes. In the state-employee race, Page received 1,631 votes, while Ruckel got 1,331 votes and Sandra Y. Martin garnered 585 votes.

The board Thursday also appointed Oscar Arevalo, the chief financial officer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, to fill Danny Sandoval’s position on the board. Sandoval, who was first elected to PERA’s board in 1998, stepped down from his state-employee seat because he is retiring from his job as deputy secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department.


Nurses reject contract, set to strike on Monday

A union representative for hundreds of nurses at nine hospitals in Kentucky and West Virginia says they will go on strike on Monday after rejecting a "final offer" over their contract with Appalachian Regional Healthcare - the largest hospital system in the region.

"We are being forced to strike," said Pat Tanner, lead negotiator for the Kentucky and West Virginia nurses associations, on Friday. "We continue to try to get the company to the table. They have refused - not us - to negotiate."

The nurses voted down ARH's proposed contract in a 408-228 voted Thursday night. The current contract expires midnight Sept. 30. "The vote dictated there will be a strike on Monday," Tanner said.

For ARH officials, contract talks concluded on Wednesday with their "last, best and final offer," which promised an initial 2 percent pay raise - that would increase to 3 percent over four years - and flexible schedules that would allow nurses to choose either 10 or 12-hour shifts.

Since then, ARH has not indicated any interest in furthering the weeks-long negotiations.

ARH President and CEO Jerry W. Haynes said in a statement that officials were "disappointed" by the vote.

However, Haynes said ARH is prepared to continue providing the same level of care at all of its facilities should nurses decide to stop work upon expiration of the current contract.

"We will be well staffed with registered nurses, whether they are current nursing employees, new hires, or highly qualified nurses provided by nurse agencies," Haynes said, adding, "The well-being of the patients remains our top priority."

Nurses say the proposed package reduces holiday pay and increases insurance premiums. They want additional staffing to offset mandatory overtime; better retirement and medical benefits; and reinstatement of the modified work week (working 36 hours for 40 hours of pay). The modified work week provision in the existing contract was agreed upon after the nurses agreed to give up continuing education days, a uniform allowance and other benefits.

ARH, which employs 4,400 medical professionals, is a not-for-profit system serving 350,000 residents in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. The system operates nine hospitals.

Earlier this year, union workers at ARH went on strike for 25 days before agreeing to a three-year contract. The United Steelworkers union represents about 60 percent of ARH employees.

More than 80 percent of union members agreed to the new three-year contract, which guaranteed better wages and health care costs, but cuts to disability benefits.


Teachers union deal forces school layoffs, tax hike

Schools Superintendent Jana Bechtoldt said District 187 will have to lay off 40 to 50 people next year to keep its finances in order and property taxes may be increased because of the contract agreement reached Thursday.

But Cahokia (IL) Federation of Teachers President Brent Murphy said he thinks the talk of job cuts is a scare tactic. School administrators gave workers more than they thought they could afford because that's what the people said they wanted, Bechtoldt said.

To end the teachers strike, the district agreed to give employees a three-year contract with 3 percent raises each year. This does not include the step increase employees receive for education and experience. The school board is scheduled to ratify the agreement Monday. Employees approved it Thursday.

"Basically, if we don't make major cuts -- about $2 million worth -- we could end up $8-9 million in debt by the year 2012," Bechtoldt said. "There isn't much in the way of services or materials that is left to cut. So to eliminate $2 million, we're going to have to eliminate positions. We're going to try to make cuts across the board from teachers, secretaries and service workers to administrators."

Murphy disagrees.

"The money is there to pay for the raises we asked for as well as to continue to pay down the district's debt," Murphy said. "There can't be any job cuts. Their staff is already bare bones as it is."

Murphy said about $250,000 in additional revenue created when Cahokia Mayor Frank Bergman agreed to take property out of a tax increment finance district and return the revenue the district produces to the schools plus $2.2 million in new state funding District 187 received this year will more than offset the raises.

But Bechtoldt said she thinks school leaders will still need to look for additional revenue to pay for the raises district residents demanded for teachers. And she said the people who made impassioned speeches at a Wednesday night public forum that led to a contract breakthrough in the early morning hours Thursday should expect the possibility that their property tax bills could rise because of the new contract.

"This is what they wanted," Bechtoldt said. "Their main concern was for the children, and I applaud them for that. But we have to also think about the future and making sure that the district isn't bankrupted."

Bechtoldt said school leaders are anxious to meet with Bergman to get the tax deal he promised the district done as soon as possible.

Bechtoldt said all the legal paperwork to take land out of the tax increment finance district must be done by Dec. 1 if the school district is to get the extra revenue in 2008 to pay for the new contract.

Under the union's expired contract, a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree earned $36,102. The average salary is about $58,000 while the highest paid teacher at the school district earned $64,471 for the 2006-07 school year.


Rank and file workers organize against UAW-GM deal

A landmark deal which could help the Big Three US automakers narrow their labor cost gap with Asian competitors faced opposition Thursday among the union's rank-and-file workers ahead of a crucial ratification vote expected next week.

Leaders of the United Auto Workers union expressed confidence that they would receive the votes necessary to approve a contract negotiated with General Motors Wednesday after a two-day strike. That agreement will then be used as a framework for its negotiations with Ford Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC.

But three former UAW executive board members have spoken out against the contract and group of union dissidents is waging an Internet campaign urging members to vote against the plan to transfer the administration of retiree health care benefits to the union.

At issue is whether General Motors will provide sufficient funds to ensure that the union-run retiree voluntary employee beneficiary association (VEBA) is able to pay benefits.

While details of the deal are being withheld pending union ratification, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said Wednesday that GM would provide a large enough cash infusion to ensure the trust can pay out benefits for the next 80 years.

But the UAW has been burnt by VEBAs in the past: a 33 million dollar fund negotiated in 1998 with Caterpillar Corp collapsed in 2004, leaving retirees to pick up the cost of health insurance if they weren't covered by federal Medicare plans.

Greg Shotwell, founder of the dissident union group Soldiers of Solidarity, which has battled UAW leaders and Delphi Corp.'s management since 2005, said the fact that GM shares jumped more than nine percent on news of the contract should make workers wary of the agreement.

"The rush to ratify is a sure sign that the 'Concession Caucus' doesn't want members to examine the contract too closely or debate it among themselves before they cast a vote," Shotwell said, referring to the UAW leadership's Union Caucus.

"Hence the slogan, 'Vote no until you know the whole truth,'" said Shotwell, who works at a GM warehouse in Lansing, Michigan.

"Don't imagine that GM will pull up to Solidarity House (the UAW headquarters) with a Brinks truck and pile cash into wheel barrows for the mystic VEBA," he told AFP.

"As VEBA fund managers the UAW joins the sharks and parasites in the insurance industry and will assume GM's role as the gatekeeper -- the collector of tolls which will be automatically deducted from your pension, or extracted in co-pays," he added.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson did not return calls asking for comment on the Caterpillar VEBA.

Gettelfinger, however, said Wednesday he is looking forward to the debate.

"We have a VEBA in place. I think our retirees will be exceptionally pleased with this contract," he said during the news conference at which he called an end to the union's first nationwide walkout against GM since 1970.

Wall Street hailed the deal which will transfer a ballooning future liability currently estimated at more than 50 billion dollars off GM's books.

"While the devil will be in the detail, our first reaction is that GM captured a much broader set of concessions than we previously anticipated," JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel said in a report.

The health care agreement is expected to relieve GM of 14 billion dollars of retiree health care obligations if GM pays the UAW the equivalent of 70 percent of its current long term obligations in the deal, as is widely expected, Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache wrote in a research report.

While GM would take a huge hit to fund the deal, it would then improve the company's free cash flow by 2.7 to 2.8 billion dollars a year and cut labor costs by 18 to 19 dollars an hour, he estimated.

GM's US labor costs are currently nearly 30 dollars an hour above the level at non-unionized US plants run by foreign rivals like Toyota Motor.


SEIU boss: Above the rules?

The Salem (OR) Statesman Journal recently ran two articles describing SEIU Local 503’s president’s claim to overtime and the recall effort that’s been spawned by that claim. Then on Sept. 21, the paper picked Joe DiNicola as a loser in its list of weekly winners and losers.

I am a retired member of SEIU Local 503 working to recall President Joe DiNicola. Our bylaws provide that the president shall “serve on an up to full-time basis.” Our board of directors have recently clarified “full-time” to mean 40 hours a week — the prevailing interpretation. But the president seems to consider himself above the rule, and is seeking to convert nearly 2,600 hours of volunteer time to overtime. He, and he alone, decides when he will work beyond “full-time.”

Hundreds of our members spend uncounted hours volunteering their time for our union. Since the board clarified the meaning of “full-time” for the president, he has left board meetings before their completion on at least two occasions. He has made it clear that in his mind his election to president meant he’d volunteer no more time to the union — that was for other members to do.

So our members are showing a significant interest in a recall vote, and in teaching our president no one among us is above the rule.

Robert G. Gourley, Corvallis


TV unions picket Hollywood

About 100 members of the WGA West, AFTRA, SAG and Teamsters picketed FremantleMedia outside Tribune Studios in Hollywood on Thursday over the company's alleged refusal to negotiate with the guild for writers working on the game show "Temptation."

Last month, four WGAW writers walked off the show, claiming Fremantle ignored requests by the guild to negotiate a contract, WGAW president Patric Verrone said.

Game show writers are included in Appendix A of the guild's basic agreement with the studios, Verrone said. About half the game shows on TV employ members with a contract, according to the WGAW, including "Jeopardy," "The Singing Bee" and "1 vs. 100." "Temptation," he said, is on an accelerated schedule to film 170 episodes over an eight-week period. "We worked 14 to 18 hours a day on 'Temptation' for two months," said guild member Aaron Solomon, head writer for "Temptation" and one of the four who walked. "The fact that Fremantle wouldn't negotiate with the WGAW felt like a slap in the face."

Having a contract would provide health care and other benefits to the writers, including overtime, he said.

But Fremantle general counsel David Shall said that the WGAW's contentions are false.

The WGAW, he said, sent Fremantle's outside counsel, Ivy Kagan Bierman, a letter on Aug. 27 indicating that the writers authorized the guild to collective bargain for them and requested negotiations start as soon as possible.

Shall said that the same day, the WGA sent its four "Temptation" writers a letter indicating it had been in discussions with the game show's producers in the hopes of reaching a collective bargaining agreement, but unfortunately no deal had been reached. The letter, he said, directed the writers to "cease and desist" from working for Fremantle.

"We don't operate under those types of guerilla tactics," Shall said. "It's been one big propaganda campaign after another by the guild since that date. Our outside counsel tried several times via written letter, via phone calls, to reach the guild, and those calls were not returned."

Fremantle has offered to negotiate Oct. 9, which would be a week after production wraps on the game show.

"We are not anti-union," Shall said.

Solomon called that meeting date a stall tactic. If the show does not return for a second season, the issue will be moot.

"All we want to do is work on the show, and we want to write and want the show to succeed," Solomon said, surrounded by supporters wearing red WGA strike T-shirts and carrying signs reading "I AM a Writer," "Resist Temptation" and "Stop the Abuse, Respect Writers."

The picket and rally was similar to a strike last year by 12 writers for "America's Next Top Model," who the WGAW says were fired because they wanted the guild to represent them.


Protest du jour: Teachers strike

Shoreline teachers plan to picket and rally today to protest student relocations and overcrowded classrooms.

The teachers' union settled with the Shoreline School District just in time for the first day of school, but district officials then began shuffling students into different classes.


Gov't union strikers foul local traffic signals

The commute through downtown Vancouver was a mess Thursday as traffic was in gridlock by lights that malfunctioned. But whether the problem was caused by an innocuous computer glitch or whether it was a result of sabotage as part of the city's ongoing municipal workers strike is under investigation.

The left-hand-turn arrows on traffic lights were out of sync along the city's major corridors of Granville and Oak streets. Then later in the day, a man called AM730, the city's all-traffic radio station, to say: "This is your traffic CUPE local and it will continue." When the anchor asked him for how long, the caller responded: "Until the strike ends."

Vancouver's inside and outside workers and librarians, members of three locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, have been on strike for 70 days.

The unions have entered into a mediation process with the city. Mediator Brian Foley is making non-binding recommendations to the parties, which will then vote on them. A media blackout is in effect while this goes on.

Tom Timm, the city's general manager of engineering services, said Thursday city staff were working on the problem.

"We are investigating whether this is a simply a computer malfunction or whether this is wilful sabotage," he said.

He said the lights, which are controlled by computer, were supposed to switch to accommodate day-time traffic Thursday morning, but that didn't happen.

Timm said the person responsible for fixing the lights is a member of CUPE but under an essential services designation, he was been called in to make the repairs.

Earlier this week, a Vancouver playing field was seeded with nails, broken glass and bits of concrete.

Debris was discovered in the grass after some Vancouver parents hired a contractor to mow the field prior to a children's soccer game, despite opposition from CUPE pickets.

Leaders of CUPE local 1004, representing outside workers who, among other things, maintain city parks and fields, called the sabotage malicious.

In a statement, the union said the civic dispute has been hard on everyone but there is no justification for endangering the life and safety of others.


More strikes loom at non-profit hospital

The Kentucky and West Virginia Nurses Association Union rejected a contract offer from Appalachian Regional Healthcare on Thursday, setting up the possibility for a strike when the current contract expires on Sunday. It would be the second time this year that ARH, the largest health care provider in the region, would have to battle the picket line.

ARH presented its "final offer" to the union of about 800 nurses on Wednesday, promising an initial 2 percent pay raise and flexible schedules that would allow nurses to choose either 10 or 12-hour shifts.

"We are disappointed that a contract offer with more than $10 million in pay raises, extremely competitive healthcare and retirement benefits, and much more for our nurses was not accepted," said Jerry W. Haynes, ARH president and CEO.

Pat Tanner, lead negotiator for the nurses association, said Wednesday the package reduced holiday pay and increased insurance premiums. The nurses want additional staffing to offset mandatory overtime and better retirement and medical benefits.

Haynes said ARH's facilities will be "well staffed" if there is a strike.

ARH, which employs 4,400 medical professionals, is a not-for-profit system serving 350,000 resident in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. The system operates nine hospitals.

Earlier this year, union workers at ARH went on strike for 25 days before agreeing to a three-year contract. The United Steelworkers union represents about 60 percent of ARH employees.

More than 80 percent of union members agreed to the new three-year contract, which guaranteed better wages and health care costs, but cuts to disability benefits.


Teachers strike's sour aftertaste: Shorter winter, spring breaks

Tatonya Roberts sends her two children to visit their "auntie" in Minnesota during spring break. But the trip will be cut short this year because school will be in session for most of that week, to make up for days lost during the nine-day teachers strike. "That's unacceptable," Roberts said. "Everybody has to suffer during this tug-of-war, not just the kids."

All parties were glad the Cahokia Federation of Teachers and School Board settled early Thursday, agreeing to a three-year contract of 3 percent raises a year, plus annual steps on the salary scale, a compromise of several past board and union offers. The union comprises roughly 500 employees, and the average teacher salary is about $57,000.

Students and teachers hugged after the union officially ratified the contract Thursday afternoon, 438 to 14. Student athletes were relieved to learn they'd be allowed to compete again, including the high school football team. The team has practiced with outside coaches during the strike, in order to be eligible to play against Centralia High School tonight.

Bleary-eyed parents — some of whom stayed up until negotiations ended around 3 a.m. Thursday — cheered upon hearing that classes would resume today. One father lit a cigar in celebration.

But they had mixed reactions to changes in the school calendar that the settlement will bring. The board and union agreed to make up six of the nine strike days. That will cut two days from the scheduled two-week winter break and four days from the scheduled one-week spring break.

The moves will disrupt vacations, time with family — even custody visits for children whose parents are divorced. Some said the district should have canceled a four-day fall break, which starts Oct. 9. Superintendent Jana Bechtoldt said that would be too soon to schedule.

"The reality is that it's too short notice to do it in that time frame," she said.

She added that many parents said keeping summer vacation intact was the top priority, so students could get jobs or prepare for college.

"It shouldn't be in the summer, nuh-uh," said freshman Brittany McAllister, who plans to spend those months attending camps and vacationing with family in several states.

Illinois law doesn't require strike days to be made up, but most districts choose to do so, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. Otherwise, teachers would lose pay, and school districts would lose state funding that's based on attendance.

The union originally requested that all strike days be made up — in part to secure employee pay, and in part so students wouldn't miss any class time, said Brent Murphy, union president. School employees suggested holding school on two teacher institute days and Casimir Pulaski Day.

The more than 100 union members who are 12-month employees will have to take pay cuts rather than make up days lost. The union raised roughly $4,000 to distribute among these employees as a thank-you.

Some educators say school districts shouldn't be permitted to make up strike days.

Jim Rosborg, director of graduate education at McKendree University, said he's a firm believer in the collective bargaining rights of school employees. But Rosborg, a former teacher and superintendent, said eliminating make-up days would force both unions and administrators to work harder at a compromise, avoiding strikes in the first place. Make-up days are never as effective as regularly scheduled school days, he said, because students don't want to be in class when other schools are out.

Murphy disagrees. He said banning make-up days would weaken the union's power to strike. He added that any loss of funding that the district suffered in the event of a strike would hurt students the most, in the long run.

"It's important that we make up the days so these students get a quality education," Murphy said.


Teachers union strike rumored

"We didn't get anywhere. We made a proposal," Lake-Lehman (PA) School District board member John Oliver said. "Apparently they were offended. It didn't go anywhere after that. A little screaming happened, and that was the end of it."

John Holland, the teachers' Pennsylvania State Education Association representative, called the board's proposal "unrealistic," especially in terms of health care. "They want the sole authority to do whatever they want with the insurance," Holland said. "That tells me they're not bargaining in good faith and they have no intention of reaching an agreement. There's no point in having a contract if they can do whatever they want to."

The only thing the board and union agree on: the future doesn't look good. "We're far apart right now," Oliver said. "We make them an offer, they're supposed to counter-offer, and it's not going that way. I don't know where we go from here. It just seems both sides are standing strong."

Teachers, without a contract since August 2006, had a strike around Memorial Day in May. Is another possible? "Rumors have it, yeah," Oliver said. "Nothing official. I don't see what else the teachers would do, which is unfortunate."

When asked about a strike, Holland answered, "We'll have a meeting and we'll explore all of our options."

Thursday's meeting took place at the Lehman Township municipal building because the board didn't want to go to the PSEA headquarters in Plains Township. The session was supposed to be there because the board didn't show up at the Sept. 13 meeting, claiming an emergency.

The parties either have to take turns hosting sessions, or else meet at a neutral site.

Future meetings could also take place at the Lehman Township building. The board didn't schedule any dates, for which Holland said he will file an unfair labor practice charge.

The law requires the two sides to meet on a regular basis and bargain in good faith, he said.


Teachers protest, threaten to strike

Harrison County (PA) teachers said Thursday might be their last day in class before hitting the picket lines. At 7 p.m., teachers said they would protest outside of the school board's regularly scheduled meeting.

Wednesday night, the teachers' union and school board took part in a bargaining session, but the parties did not reach an agreement on a new contract. The union has said teachers will go on strike Monday if they do not reach an agreement.


State to workers: "Pay the union or you're fired."

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