Socialists rap Big Labor for betraying members

At an executive council meeting last week in Washington, D.C., leaders of the AFL-CIO announced a $200 million effort aimed at Democratic Party victories in the 2008 elections. This pledged payout stands at complete odds with the needs and interests of the 10 million rank-and-file members who remain in the labor federation, and who did not vote on the decision to bankroll this pro-war, big-business party.

The pledge amounts to record campaign spending for the federation, $50 million more than in the 2004 elections. More than a year before the 2008 elections, the entire US campaign process is awash in cash. With the unions’ contributions, the Democrats’ war chests may surpass those of the Republicans for the first time in decades.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told the press Friday, “Today the AFL-CIO is sending a powerful message that we are going to change the course of our country in 2008 by electing a president and candidates at all levels who are committed to restoring the promise of America to working people.” These words echo the ringing endorsement the AFL-CIO general board gave in 2004 to the pro-war Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, describing him as “all of the best things America has to offer.”

The AFL-CIO spent $40 million to support Democratic congressional candidates in the 2006 midterm elections. Since gaining the majority in Congress—an expression of growing opposition to the Bush administration’s war policies—Democratic candidates’ promises for improvements in health care, education and other social programs have not materialized. Instead, working people have seen their standard of living deteriorate, while the Democrats continually vote to authorize Bush administration requests to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This state of affairs, however, has not deterred the AFL-CIO executive council from pledging record amounts for the big-business party this electoral cycle. For 2008, the federation has committed $53 million to a so-called grassroots campaign initiative. Press releases suggest this will entail the largest mobilization of union members in history for purely electoral purposes. According to Atlantic Monthly blogger Marc Ambinder, the AFL-CIO plans to “partner with other groups and use reams of consumer data to market precise political messages neighborhood-by-neighborhood.” The AFL-CIO said it would “activate and deploy more than 200,000 volunteers in 2008.”

AFL-CIO Political Committee Chair Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), told the press, “Our members are building an army to make more calls, knock on more doors and turn out more voters than ever. We’re going for the trifecta: the House, the Senate and the White House.”

By pouring resources into districts in the Midwest with heavy concentrations of union workers, AFL-CIO leaders hope to secure the presidency for the Democrats and widen the Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman stated in a press release that the federation was particularly determined to hand Ohio to the Democrats, given that in 2004 the questionable results within the state were decisive in Bush’s re-election.

Federation leaders say the initiative will engage “union voters about the issues they’re concerned with: health care, retirement security, good jobs, economic equality, trade policy and the freedom to form and join unions.”

Nowhere to be found in their 2008 agenda is a mention of the other issues of the most pressing concern: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, aggression against Iran, domestic spying, and the stripping of habeas corpus and other fundamental democratic protections. The Democrats, who are complicit in all of these crimes and others, represent no alternative for working people as this political crisis escalates.

The record $200 million allocation comes only two years after seven major unions broke away from the AFL-CIO, taking with them 6 million union members to form the rival Change to Win coalition, reducing the federation to 10 million members. The split was not a product of principled differences, but chiefly involved infighting over union dues income and influence with the employers and the state. The rupture signaled nothing progressive, but marked a further degeneration of the rotten bureaucratic apparatus.

Since parting ways, each of the rival groups has continued to pursue the policies of economic nationalism, labor-management collaboration and support for the Democratic Party that produced the collapse in the labor movement in the first place. The largest union within the split-off, the Service Employees International Union, has already announced it will spend more than $30 million on the 2008 campaigns. Change to Win convenes next week to announce its electoral spending and will undoubtedly pledge funding to the Democrats.

The Democratic Party victory in the 2006 mid-term elections expressed widespread antiwar sentiment within the American population. However, in the wake of this victory, while posturing as opponents of the war, Democrats in Congress have refused to cut off funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Far from representing any alternative to the Bush administration and the Republicans, the Democrats have played an instrumental role in facilitating the most reactionary and pro-business policies throughout Bush’s two terms.

Fearing being seen as “soft on terror,” the Democrats recently provided the key votes to make permanent and expand provisions of the “Protect America Act of 2007,” which grants vast powers to the government to spy on Americans. They have repeatedly provided the votes necessary to eliminate fundamental protections against secret detentions, and have played a crucial role in sanctioning torture.

On domestic issues, the Democrats have collaborated with the Bush administration time and again to cut funding and dismantle basic social, health and safety programs. Health care costs, the issue most heavily stressed by the AFL-CIO, have skyrocketed under loosened regulations on the pharmaceutical and medical industries. Since the Clinton administration, the Democrats have allowed the social safety net to unravel, leaving tens of millions of Americans uninsured and in poverty. The Democrats are also in lockstep with the most reactionary, chauvinistic elements on the issue of immigration, by refusing to oppose militarization of the borders and criminalization of undocumented workers.

The AFL-CIO executive council’s pledge of $200 million to support the Democrats’ 2008 electoral bid is a betrayal of the interests of union members. It is another indication that this upper-middle-class layer is motivated by protecting its income and privileges at the expense of the living standards of the working class as a whole. Defense of the interests of working people requires a complete break with the Democratic Party and all its financial backers, allies and apologists.


Hospital readied for 2nd nurses' union strike

Striking teachers fail to block replacements from work

Two people were injured on a Harrison Hills (OH) picket line when they were struck by security vans in separate incidents. Linda Rusen, spokeswoman for the Harrison Hills Teachers' Association, said a van owned by Michigan-based Huffmaster security struck a teacher at Hopedale Elementary. The teacher was transported by ambulance to Trinity Medical Center, where she underwent treatment. Police said the teacher was not seriously injured.

In a separate incident, another union member was injured on the picket line when she was clipped by a Huffmaster van's mirror. Huffmaster was hired by the Harrison Hills school board to provide safety during the strike.

"As picketing teachers are on the picket line, we are very concerned with our safety. We are also very concerned about the safety of the children who are being sent to school," Rusen said.

In a news release, Superintendent Jim Drexler said there were "attempts by pickets to block security vans bearing substitute teachers."

Police Chief Ron Bone said no one had been cited and both incidents remained under investigation Monday afternoon.

Drexler said there was a 36 percent district-wide attendance rate on Monday. Drexler said he hopes attendance will grow and said the district has employed more than 60 substitute teachers.


UAW turns to gamblers for dues boost

Today the UAW at Foxwoods, UAW Region 9A, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking to represent Foxwoods Resort Casino dealers. Union cards were signed by a supermajority of the estimated 3,000 dealers employed by Foxwoods.

“I’ve worked at Foxwoods for 14 years and I like my job, but Foxwoods is not the place it used to be. The past few months have been challenging. We’ve literally talked to thousands of our co-workers. We’re convinced our union, a voice on the job, will result in fair wage increases, better health benefits and most of all respect,” says Mary Johnson, a table games dealer.

Steve Peloso, a 15-year poker dealer is excited: “We have waited for this day for a long time. There have been too many abuses by management: Co-workers have gotten sick on the job and are then forced out. Health benefits get worse every year. We’re fed up, and we’re doing something about it.”

Speaking to the impact of this campaign on the state’s economy, Lori Pelletier, Secretary-Treasurer of the Connecticut AFL CIO says, “This is the largest organizing effort in Connecticut in decades. Union jobs are good jobs. When workers in a company this large secure better pay and benefits, it results in a stronger state and regional economy. This is a real shot in the arm for casino workers in Connecticut and across the country.”

Foxwoods gaming employees approached the UAW for help in organizing in March. Dealers were particularly frustrated by a management public relations campaign surrounding f5 percent wage increases. Many workers received pennies instead of the promised increase. The pay increase controversy coincided with a federal circuit court decision that extended the rights and protection of the National Labor Relations Act to tribal casino workers.

Raises are not the only concern, however. UAW at Foxwoods members cite health and safety and deteriorating health care coverage as major issues. “Starting pay for Foxwoods dealers is about $4.50 an hour. Most of our income comes from customer tips,” says Peloso. “Foxwoods takes in billions, yet labor costs are extremely low. There’s absolutely no excuse to cut our health care. We should have the best health care money can buy.”

On June 22, the UAW at Foxwoods organizing committee began signing their co-workers onto union authorization cards. “It was just crazy when we went into work with union cards. People were lining up in the break room to sign up,” Johnson said, “We firmly believed support for the union ran high, but signing those cards was amazing.”

UAW members from across the state are eager to help the Foxwoods workers attain the rights and benefits they have themselves won through collective bargaining. UAW members work in widely diverse occupations, especially here in the Northeast. UAW Region 9A represents the Newport Grand casino workers, the Marine Draftsmens Association at Electric Boat, as well as museum workers, manufacturing workers, administrative clerical support staff, faculty, attorneys and auto technicians, to name just a few.

“Working in a casino is not easy particularly when you have an employer that treats you like the number on your badge. Unfortunately, those badge numbers are up in the 56,000 range. That just shows you that nearly 40,000 workers have come and gone. The Foxwoods dealers are speaking up loud and clear – it’s time for a change,” states UAW Region 9A’s Director Robert Madore.

The UAW membership includes more than 6,000 gaming employees who work in casinos across the country. In recent months, gaming employees at four Atlantic City casinos have won their UAW union elections.


Striking Teamsters let union workers through picket line

It's day one of what could be a long strike at the Cargill plant on Cedar Rapids' (IA) southeast side. All 102 members of the Teamsters Local 238 started walking the picket line at midnight. At issue; job security. They rejected a company contract offer yesterday afternoon.

Union representative David Elliott tells KCRG members are worried about a loss of jobs. He says Cargill plans to contract out about 15 to 20 maintenance and lab positions currently being held by union members. The workers fear similar plans in the future. Elliott says he was last in contact with someone from Cargill at about 8p.m. Sunday.

He adds there is no chance the two sides will come together Monday for more talks. He says the union is ready, but Cargill is not and probably won't be until sometime later this week. Until an agreement is reached, union members will walk the picket line 24-7.

The union did pull some strikers from the gate on the south side of the plant so other union workers could continue to drive in and out of the plant without having to cross the picket line.

Dave Feider, Cargill Corparate Affairs, has issued the following statement:

"We regret the union's (Local 238, Teamsters) decision to strike. We have negotiated in good faith over the past four weeks and had reached a tentative agreement with the union's leadership, one which we believed was fair and reasonable. It's unfortunate that the union's rank-and-file employees chose to reject this agreement.

"We will continue operating the facility at our normal hours, and we do not anticipate any issues for our customers, suppliers or other visitors to the plant.

"We continue to keep the lines of communication open to discuss contracting issues with the union local in hopes of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement, one that enables us to continue operating in an increasingly competitive marketplace."


Union boss offers $150 for strikers' vandalism

The owner of a private garbage collection company alleges that striking Vancouver, B.C. government workers followed him home, harassed him and vandalized his truck. Ray Donkor, who owns Discount Rubbish Removal, told CBC News that on Sept. 10, he was out collecting trash in Vancouver when he was followed by a man he believes was a striking civic worker.

"He started yelling at me, abusing me, so many bad words," Donkor told the CBC on Monday morning. "And then, about three minutes, another two guys pull up, the same city workers, and then two of them started going around on my truck, behind and front, so I didn't even know that they pulled something out," said Donkor.

His two children, ages 13 and 11, were home at the time and heard the disturbance, said Donkor. A neighbour also heard the yelling and called the police, who arrived after the men had left, said Donkor. The police inspected his truck and told him some wires had been tampered with, he said.

About 1,800 outside workers represented by CUPE Local 1004, who are responsible for duties including garbage pickup, have been on strike since July 20. After the incident, Mike Jackson, CUPE 1004 president, visited Donkor's home and offered him a $150 settlement, Donkor said, but he refused the cash because he first wanted to consult with a lawyer.

When contacted, CUPE officials declined to comment on the alleged harassment and damage to Donkor's vehicle, saying it was a "legal matter."

Vancouver police confirmed to CBC News that Donkor had filed a complaint following the incident.

Donkor said he is now back working and considering taking his case to court.

Civic inside workers, who carry out municipal duties inside city hall as well as parking enforcement, joined the strike three days after the outside workers.

The city's 800 library staff, represented by CUPE Local 391, have been off the job since July 26, closing 22 library branches.


Athletic teams pay for teachers' strike

One of the casualties of the Harrison Hills (OH) School District teachers strike may be Harrison Central's athletic teams. That includes their football team. 7Sports spoke with both athletic director Mark Kowalski and football coach Justin Kropka on Monday night and they both said if the team does not practice by Wednesday they will cancel their game at Buckeye Local this Friday.

And for a team coming off a win over Bellaire and off to their best start in school history at 4-2, they could be costing themselves a possible playoff berth. The team is not practicing as long as the teachers are out. Kowalski told 7Sports they will go on a week by week basis until the situation is resolved.

Football is not the only sport suffering. The volleyball team also had to cancel games for tonight and tomorrow night. If the football game is cancelled it would also cost Buckeye Local a home football game and the gate that goes along with it.


Nasty 11-week forestry strike turns to boycott

As a war of words escalates into threats of defamation suits in British Columbia's increasingly nasty coastal forestry strike, union and company officials have begun informal talks aimed at ending the months-long work stoppage.

"Both sides are having tentative discussions, but it's you couldn't call it a formal restart of negotiations," said FIR spokesman Ron Shewchuk. "But it does signal the fact that this strike has gone on too long already and that both sides would like to see a settlement." Last week, for the first time since 6,000 forestry workers walked off the job on July 21, the United Steelworkers sat down with Forest Industrial Relations, the bargaining arm for 31 of the struck companies. More talks are scheduled for this week.

The attempt at talks comes as the union's lawyers worked to formulate a response to TimberWest Forest Corp., which on Friday demanded an apology for a video the Steelworkers circulated last week. An accompanying news release claimed the video showed TimberWest contractors "falling timber into a Vancouver Island lake" - against B.C. forest rules.

TimberWest fired back, saying the trees were fallen into a flooded valley -- not a lake -- and threatened defamation action unless the union retracted and apologized by yesterday. Steelworkers negotiator Bob Matters said the union planned to "listen to legal counsel" before responding. But, he said, frictions are increasing as the strike continues. "The longer people are out, the nastier it gets," he said.

On the weekend, Steelworkers locals as far away as Texas and Maine distributed leaflets at over 100 Home Depot stores in an attempt to persuade customers to boycott cedar produced by Western Forest Products Inc., International Forest Products Ltd. and Weyerhaeuser Co., and union officials have lobbied small-town mayors to obstruct any real estate sales from struck forestry companies.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Bishop questioned the wisdom of those moves.

"The union's behaviour seems to be undermining its credibility and validity faster than if they had stayed quiet and signed a little earlier or come back to the table with more reasonable demands," he said.

The need for compromise is especially important in the face of mounting woes for the coastal forestry industry - whose situation has grown worse during the strike as the dollar reached parity - and the growing presence of non-union contractors in the woods. Mr. Bishop estimated that less than a quarter of striking workers are actually on picket lines, -- although Mr. Matters said it is closer to 75% -- and the Steelworkers risks following the fate of the U.S. Pacific Northwest forestry industry, which virtually collapsed two decades ago following the spotted owl debate. When it eventually came back, it did so with a non-union work force.

"The industry on the coast is currently fighting for its life," Mr. Bishop said. "And it appears the Steelworkers union has done more damage than good and has not positioned the industry for viable new investment that's going to get this industry off ground again."


Picket line violence in Vancouver, B.C.

A striking union member in Vancouver's government workers' strike is facing a charge of assault after an altercation on the picket line outside the Orpheum Theatre Saturday night. Vancouver police said William George McClure, a city clerk who belongs to CUPE Local 15, was involved in an assault against a 55-year-old violist.

"We were called after there was an altercation between one of the people who works at the Orpheum and another person that was standing outside the Orpheum," Fanning said Monday. "They got into an argument and a man was assaulted."

The city's inside workers, represented by CUPE Local 15, were supposed to stay 10 metres away from the stage door during the Vancouver Symphony of Orchestra's opening night Saturday, following a B.C. Labour Relations Board ruling Wednesday. But McClure, 54, allegedly crossed the zone and engaged in a heated conversation with the victim, police said. He then allegedly struck the victim in the groin, something police consider a minor assault, police said.

No one from the union, which represents 3,500 full-time and seasonal workers responsible for services such as community centres and city-run daycare facilities, was available for comment Monday night.

Alan Gove, a spokesman for the VSO, told CBC News that extra security personnel have been hired for the performance Monday night. They were to be stationed outside the stage door. "Just a little bit more of it," Gove said. "We learned something Saturday night that we can't make any assumptions."


Jumbo union's members make time for lobbying

Hundreds of SEIU healthcare workers, healthcare allies, and children marched to the White House today to deliver mail bags overflowing with petitions from one million Americans in support of health care for kids.

Last week, both the House and Senate approved legislation to expand the successful State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a change that would provide coverage to nearly ten million children whose families cannot currently afford private insurance. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill.

Thousands of healthcare workers gathered the petitions at hospitals, healthcare clinics and community events throughout the country. “Healthcare workers are responsible every day for the quality of care their patients receive and they take that responsibility very seriously. If President Bush vetoes this bill he is in total denial of what it means to be a responsible and caring leader,” said Mary Kay Henry, SEIU Executive Vice President.

“The President and every Member of Congress enjoy guaranteed healthcare coverage. We owe the children of America no less,” said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who led the bipartisan effort to create SCHIP in 1997 in the face of escalating health insurance costs and poor child health outcomes. “If the President vetoes the CHIP bill, overwhelmingly approved by the Congress, then our duty is clear. We will be back tomorrow, and the next day, and for however long it takes to see this bipartisan bill become law. Just over one month of the war in Iraq would pay for a year's worth of coverage for 10 million kids. The President has broken his promise to America’s children. We must not break ours.”

Senator Kennedy stood with SEIU member Carolyn Chester Taylor as she described how SCHIP allowed her son to get the care he needed. “Without the help of SCHIP, health insurance would cost us one-third of our income. You do whatever you have to in order to take care of your kids, but I just don’t know how we would make ends meet.”

SEIU Healthcare, Allies to Launch National Voter Outreach Campaign in Key Congressional Districts

Today’s event marked the launch of a national campaign directed at passing the children’s healthcare initiative. The effort, to be led by SEIU Healthcare and its allies, will mobilize support for expanding SCHIP, and will target key members of Congress.

Said Dennis Rivera, Chair of SEIU Healthcare, “If President Bush and the Members of Congress who did not support SCHIP think they can deny healthcare coverage for children by casting blame on hard-working parents, they are sadly mistaken. These petitions prove that Americans won’t stand for that argument, nor will they stand with President Bush if he vetoes this bill.”

The Care for Kids petition drive was co-sponsored by Americans United for Change, Campaign for America’s Future, Change America Now, Coalition on Human Needs, Families USA, First Focus, Jobs with Justice, Moveon.org, NAACP, the National Education Association, PICO, True Majority, and USAction.

The fastest-growing union in North America, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its 1.9 million members are uniting workers to improve their lives and the services they provide. SEIU Healthcare unites more than one million nurses and healthcare workers in the hospital, nursing home, and homecare industries in a national union dedicated to ensuring the highest quality of care for every patient, fixing our broken healthcare system, and improving the lives of healthcare workers, their families, and their communities.


Teachers to strike for higher pay in PA

Contending the most recent school board offer would actually lower teacher pay by more than $2,000, the Lake-Lehman teachers union has notified the district it will go on strike as of 12:01 a.m. Oct. 15. But, board member Mark Kornoski challenged the union’s assessment, calling it “fuzzy math.”

John Holland, regional field director for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, showed two examples to back up the claim. Under the latest school board proposal, he said, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and three years experience would get no raise the first year and a $1,247 hike the second year, while paying 10 percent of the health insurance premium each year. That premium co-pay would cost $3,285 over the two-year period, Holland said, meaning the teacher would actually see overall pay drop by $2,038.

Similarly, a teacher at the top of the pay scale with 17 years experience and a master’s degree plus 54 college credits would get no raise the first year and a $747 raise the second, while the two-year health insurance premium co-pay would cost $3,285, for a net loss of $2,538 during the two-year period.

“Does anyone think this is going to get a contract?” Holland asked. He added that he would release results of his analysis of the board’s offer soon, as well as the union’s latest proposal.

Kornoski, contacted at home, said Holland’s numbers are suspect. “I don’t think the raise is less than the premium share. Take the $49,000 average (pay) and a 2.5 percent raise, then take a $900 co-pay for a family or about $400 or $500 co-pay for a single person, and I don’t think it’s more,” Kornoski said. “Mr. Holland is using his fuzzy math.”

The union met behind closed doors in the high school auditorium after school and Holland made a presentation using an overhead projector to show what he argued was the true cost of the board’s latest proposal. He then announced to the media that the union had notified Superintendent James McGovern that it will strike Oct. 15.

“State law only requires we give them 48-hour notice. We’re giving them two weeks notice so the public has an opportunity to get involved and tell the school board you need to do the right thing, you need to get this over with. We also wanted to give the public notice so if it does come down to a strike they have ample time to make plans for their children.

Holland said the strike could be avoided but “they have to bargain in good faith, they need to give us good proposals.”

But Kornoski repeated his contention that the union has failed to negotiate. “They haven’t modified any of their offers since day one. At least we’re trying to do something. The last two sessions turned into screaming matches by Mr. Holland and (union president Dan) Williams.” Still, he said, he believes the strike could be avoided, and suggested the best course might be for the teachers to “sit down and really think about it and talk about it. A strike is not going to settle anything.”

The union will not set a limit to the strike length if it occurs, Holland said. However, by state law it has to end in time for the district to complete 180 days of school by June 15. Once a strike starts, the state would determine when teachers had to return to work.

Holland insisted the two-week warning of the strike was not calculated to allow coaches to complete seasons or playoffs in some of the district’s successful programs such as field hockey. “The determination was made to hold this meeting today because of the way things went Thursday.”

The board negotiators refused to meet at union headquarters in Plains Township on Sept. 27, and the union refused to meet at the high school, nearly scuttling the talks for a second time in a row (the board said it missed the Sept. 13 talks because of an emergency). A compromise was reached and they met at the Lehman Township Municipal building, but talks degenerated and ended without another negotiation session scheduled.

Board solicitor and lead negotiator Charles Coslett said he had expected another session to be arranged after things cooled down, with the state mediator helping set it up. But Holland said no discussion of a new session has occurred since then.

A few parents showed up at the announcement. Donna Kocher said her son Joshua’s “education is suffering. It’s starting to trickle down to the kids now. School projects of the kids are being kept back; it’s starting to get out of hand.”

Kocher said she’s been following the debate and “it’s starting to get petty. It doesn’t sound like there’s any bargaining going on.

“If everyone is out for the best interests of the students, why isn’t it settled?”


Replacement teachers fill-in during strike

There were 70 substitutes on hand Monday to replace 140 striking teachers in the Harrison Hills (OH) City School District. Today, Superintendent James Drexler said school attendance was down on the first day of the strike and “more substitute teachers will be hired as attendance increases.”

Drexler said he was not sure of how many students reported to school. Members of the Harrison Hills Teachers’ Association formed pickets lines at 5 a.m. today after contract negotiations failed to produce a settlement late Sunday.

Drexler said a decision to hold “eleventh hour” negotiations at a church in Steubenville rather than at a location within the school district was based upon the suggestion of federal mediator. “At this point, there are no new negotiations scheduled,” Drexler said. “The board of education made every effort to achieve an agreement that was fair and equitable to the citizens, students and teachers of Harrison Hills. We did everything possible to avoid a strike. Unfortunately, the teachers chose to strike instead of using other options that would keep teachers in the classrooms.”

Drexler said there were reports of parents, employees and buses having trouble getting through the pickets lines.

“At several school, teachers blocked entrances to the schools and refused to let them through.” he said.

Harrison County Sheriff Mark Miller said there were no major problems and no arrests, but teachers were asked to allow access to the high school building in Cadiz and a junior high facility in Scio.

Cadiz Police Chief Brian Dowdle said his department responded to a 7:45 a.m. call to the high school and teachers were warned they cannot impede traffic to the school.

At issue are teacher salaries and some contract language.

In a recent press release, Drexler said the board’s latest offer would have ensured the teachers a 2.5 percent increase on base salary for the 2007-08 school year and a three percent increase on base salary for the 2008-09 school year.

The release stated “that would have meant an increase of approximately 4.5 percent the first year and approximately five percent the second year for the average teacher salary. The board’s last offer also guaranteed that teachers would continue to pay a minimum of $49 per month toward insurance premium.”

HHTA spokeswoman Linda Rusen said teachers are asking the district board of education to bargain in “good faith.”

“Everyone knows that a strike cannot be business as usual. The sooner the board returns to the table and bargains with the teachers in good faith, the sooner teachers can return to their classrooms. Only then will students have the highly rated educational program the Harrison Hills school community has come to expect.”

Extracurricular activities involving teachers, including athletics, will be canceled for the length of the strike, according to reports.


Baltimore teachers set walkout for Wednesday

The only issue left on the table is a one hour teacher planning period each week. It looks as though an arbitration panel will resolve the issue as teachers take to the picket lines.

On Wednesday, Baltimore's 6,000 teachers will step away from their classrooms and onto picket lines at schools around the city. They plan to vigorously protest an addition to their proposed new contract that would take one planning period away from them each week.

"Those are important to us. Time when we plan, get ready for the next day, get ready for the next class, mark papers, get materials, get resources," said Marietta English, president of the Baltimore teacher's union.

School officials tell Eyewitness News there's already an agreement in place on salary and health benefits. The primary sticking point appears to be a one hour common planning period involving teachers and administrators. Under the old contract, elementary school teachers get three planning periods a week and high school teachers get five. The teachers' union says principals already schedule staff planning sessions without taking away teacher planning periods.

"Teachers need to work together in order to plan to be better at what they do. We know that it takes place in many of our schools already and we felt that it was important that it be institutionalized in all our schools," said Dr. Andres Alonzo, CEO of Baltimore City schools.

The pickets are not a strike action, which is prohibited by state law. But teachers won't be available for as many extracurricular activities and they're getting political support from council leaders who've taught high school themselves.

"If you're really gonna do a good job of teaching, you're always working at it night and day, so take away any of the time that you're used to having is very damaging and discouraging to teachers," said Mary Pat Clarke.

It could take up to three weeks to get a decision from the arbitration panel. In the meantime, expect to see teachers walking pickets outside Patterson Park School on Wednesday, Poly High School Thursday and at selected schools until the planning period decision comes down.


Hollywood writers want to strike sooner

Here is something that is even forcing Hollywood to do a double-take.

Members of the Writers Guild of America - the main union representing the scribes of television shows and movies - are preparing to strike not next spring when their fellow actors are planning to strike, but instead when their contract runs out at the end of the month.

Michael Ausiello and Ben Katner of TV Guide union leaders distributed an e-mail to WGA members Monday that is calling for a strike authorization vote to take effect Nov. 1. The results of such a vote won't be known for at least 10 days, but if writers agree, then they could be picketing in front of studios just a day after they take the kids trick-or-treating. Well, that is if writers actually picket, and if kids actually still go trick-or-treating.

The move is actually a bit of a surprise because many in Hollywood felt that the writers would wait until next spring when the Screen Actors Guild planned to go on strike, which would make such a work stoppage even more damaging to the studios. For some undisclosed reason, that tactic is not being exercised and union leaders for writers are practically saying now or never.

The biggest issue seems to come from compensation over streaming online video, and television and movies made available through more modern means, and not just traditional means. Some fans will remember last year when WGA made a stink over Webisode broadcasts from shows like "Battlestar Galactica" on SciFi Channel.

Ausiello, known for being the master of scoops over at TV Guide, said such a sudden move would catch Hollywood by surprise.

"This would majorly tighten the noose around the necks of the guys holding the purse strings, because movie studios won't have had time to fast-track blockbusters to see them through a strike, and most fall TV shows will only have 10 or 11 episodes in the can at that point," Ausiello said.


How I spent days 45-55 of the Vancouver, B.C. gov't union strike

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