Michigan unions rally for compulsory unionism

Hundreds of union members from across the state rallied at the Capitol Building Thursday against efforts to place a "Right to Work" referendum on the Michigan ballot.

"It's just a bad deal for the state," said Tim Waters, rapid response director for the United Steelworkers union. "It's a bad deal for the citizens."

Passage of a Right-to-Work law would mean membership in a union could not be a prerequisite for employment. Such a measure has gained support from the pro-worker Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the editorial pages of the Detroit News.

But union leaders have called it an effort to eliminate unions in Michigan, arguing that the labor movement played an essential role in building the state's middle class and that the state must continue to support mandatory union membership in order to sustain that middle class.


NLRB issues suprising pro-worker ruling

Employees who don't want to be unionized have 45 days to build up support for a government-monitored decertification vote even if a company agrees to a no-vote, anti-democratic, so-called "card check" campaign and the union wins, the National Labor Relations Board said Tuesday.

In a 3-2 vote, the NLRB decided to give employees a chance to object to unionization and demand a secret ballot election even if the company agreed to a card check campaign on formation of a union.

Employers have the right to demand a secret ballot election when their workers seek to organize a union. But in some cases, the company agrees to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers at a plant sign cards authorizing the union's representation. Previous NLRB policy was that decertification petitions were banned for a "reasonable" amount of time if a company voluntarily agreed to a card check process.

However, "we conclude that the current recognition bar doctrine should be modified to provide greater protection for employees' statutory right of free choice," said NLRB chair Robert J. Battista and members Peter Carey Schaumber and Peter N. Kirsanow in the Sept. 29 decision. If employees can get 30 percent of eligible employees to sign a petition within 45 days, an NLRB secret-ballot election will take place, the decision said.

"This is an encouraging step forward for employee freedom," said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation.

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation lawyers challenged the card-check system for workers at two auto parts suppliers, Dana Corp., an Ohio auto parts maker and Metaldyne Corp.,of Plymouth, Mich., who were organized by the United Auto Workers.

The NLRB, however, said its decision would only apply to future card check campaigns, leaving the Dana Corp. and Metaldyne Corp. employees as members of the UAW.

The board's decision will make it less likely that a company will voluntarily agree to a card-check campaign, said NLRB members Dennis P. Walsh and Wilma B. Liebman.

"An employer has little incentive to recognize a union voluntarily if it knows that its decision is subject to second-guessing through a decertification petition," the two wrote.

It will also make it hard for the new union to get contract negotiations going if it and the company has to wait 45 days to see if anyone is going to challenge it, they said.


School unions invited to choose: layoffs or pay cut

Members of District 209's three labor unions - teachers, custodians and support staff - are expected to vote this week on a proposal from district administrators asking them to take pay cuts in lieu of staff reductions. Doing so would save the district $1.27 million, according to a letter from Assistant Superintendent Nikita Johnson, and help Proviso (IL) high schools avert a "financial crisis."

But some district employees are not pleased with the notion that the budget will be balanced on their backs, and at an Oct. 1 meeting of the custodial union discussion centered on negotiating protections against future layoffs, should the terms be accepted.

The district's financial problems are summed up in the $10.9 million deficit projection Johnson outlined during recent budget talks with the school board. That figure applies to the schools' operating funds only. When all accounts are considered, the anticipated year-end shortfall is closer to $11.3 million.

"The board of education is committed to retaining its employees; therefore, we feel that this option will allow everyone to equally share the burden of balancing the budget without reductions in force," Johnson said in her Sept. 27 letter addressed to the unions.

On Sept. 24, the board voted unanimously to approve $77.3 million in spending through the next fiscal year, despite revenue projections that call for roughly $66 million. At the time of the vote, administrators proposed that other factors, such as pay cuts, will shrink the district's deficit to $4.4 million.

"They have spent down their reserves and now they're making cuts to balance the budget," Catharine Schutzius, a representative from SEIU Local 73 said during a recent talk with union members.

According to Johnson's letter, administrators are waiting to hear from the unions by Oct. 5.

According to Schutzius, the district may terminate 41 employees if the pay cuts are not implemented. Most of those layoffs would impact support staff, 10 would come from the custodial ranks and only a few from among teachers.

Calls to Superintendent Robert Libka to confirm the number of potential layoffs were not returned. However, in a statement e-mailed to the Review, Libka addressed the reasons for the request.

"My first proposal to the board was a reduction in force of administration, support staff and exempt staff," Libka said. "The board asked the administration to explore other avenues, rather than terminate anyone. They did agree to consider proposals aimed at reorganization of the central office, and more specifically they approved the elimination of the director of communications position at the last board meeting in order to reduce expenses. No position is sacred at this time."

Administrators have already agreed to the pay cuts, according to Libka.

Under the proposal, employees are being asked to take a two-week furlough. The reduction in pay would be spread over a period of 26 weeks and at no point would employees not receive a paycheck during a regular pay period.

With roughly 320 teachers in the faculty union, the projected savings is approximately $744,571. Based on the district's average teaching salary of $55,000, the furlough would cut $106 from each check, according to Johnson's letter.

Support staff, with an average salary of $27,000, would see $52 less per paycheck for 10-month employees and $61 less for 12-month employees. There are 134 employees in this union for a total savings of $154,919.

Custodians earn an average of $48,620 per year in District 209. If the furlough package is accepted, custodians would see $110 taken out of their paychecks. There are 85 members of the custodial union. The district is projecting a total savings in this staffing area of $158,608, according to Johnson.

These financial straits are not new to the district, though several years of deficit spending have compounded the problem.

Records maintained by the Illinois State Board of Education dating back to 1998 show that Proviso high schools have a history of spending more money than they take in. According to that data, District 209 has over-extended itself by no less than $2.6 million every year since 1999.

Overall, expenses have ballooned roughly 76 percent in the last decade--using figures from the recently approved budget-while revenues grew by 55 percent.

On average, Proviso spends some $6 million per month on payroll and bills.


Gov't union strikers turn violent, Symphony cancelled

The Vancouver, B.C. Symphony Orchestra has cancelled or rescheduled several concerts because of "violent and obstructive behaviour" by striking city workers outside the Orpheum Theatre. The VSO's decision, announced Tuesday, comes just days after a 54-year-old union member, William George McClure, was arrested and charged with assault of a city employee at the Orpheum on Saturday night.

Police said a man was arrested at Granville and Smithe after an alleged altercation outside the theatre. Picketing civic workers had been ordered to leave one door clear so musicians and technicians could go in for the season-opener the Vancouver Symphony.

VSO spokeswoman Kelley Spragg said in a statement Tuesday that the VSO decided not to hold other upcoming concerts because it was "strongly concerned for the safety and welfare of our customers, musicians, administrative staff, and volunteers." "We believe that safety is of paramount importance - a belief that has led to the decisions made regarding the [upcoming] concerts," she said.

The VSO has cancelled Wednesday night's Classical Music Tour concert, featuring Beatles music with the VSO. Ticket-holders should call Ticketmaster for refunds. The Tea & Trumpets concert set for Oct. 4 has been rescheduled to April 10 at 2 p.m. at the Orpheum. Tickets for the Tea & Trumpets will be honoured for the April concert.

The VSO Pops concerts, slated for Oct. 5-6 at the Orpheum, have also been cancelled. Ticket-holders are asked to keep their tickets as the concert will be rescheduled.
The VSO's season-opening concerts on Saturday and Monday had gone ahead as planned despite the civic strike after the B.C. Labour Relations Board granted an interim order that prevented third-party picketing at the city-owned Orpheum's stage door by striking Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 15 members.

This was to allow musicians of the Vancouver Symphony and unionized technicians to enter the building without crossing a picket line during the season-opener.
The Orpheum is a multi-purpose facility that houses members of unions not involved in the civic strike.

Production-related aspects of VSO concerts, such as lighting and sound, are governed by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents technicians and are not a CUPE responsibility.

CUPE and the VSO are still negotiating on whether the interim picket ruling will become permanent.


School board claims union misled teachers into strike

The Harrison Hills City School Board of Education is filing an unfair labor practice complaint against the Harrison Hills Teachers Association. The complaint alleges teachers misrepresented key contract language to members before the union chose to strike Monday.

“We understand the strike was fueled, in large part, by union leaders misrepresenting to rank-and-file members, among other things, the board’s position on proposed contract language relating to ‘reprisals’ against HHTA members for actions leading up to the strike,” according to the complaint.

Drexler said Tuesday the board had offered a mutual no-reprisal clause against union members or board members. He said, “The board has evidence that the HHTA leadership handed out a misrepresenting flyer at the Sept. 30 membership meeting when the strike was called. That flyer claimed the board could pursue reprisals ‘for any activity that is a detriment to the education of students or for any reason under Ohio law or Agreement.”’

According to the board, the union said Harrison Hills Board of Education did not offer a flexible spending account and misrepresented the board’s prescription drug proposal.

HHTA spokeswoman Linda Rusen could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

“On Monday, union spokespersons referred in media interviews to the salary differences and ‘language’ as the reasons for the strike,” Drexler said. “The language referred to is the misrepresentation of the board’s proposal for a mutual non-reprisal clause. Such a misrepresentation of the board’s position on several topics was a tragic disservice to the community.”

Drexler said the board of education is filing its unfair labor practice claim in Columbus with the State Employment Relations Board.

Meanwhile, as of Tuesday, no mediation sessions were scheduled between the teachers union and board of education. Nearly 140 teachers took to the picket lines Monday after the HHTA rejected the school board’s contract proposal, as well as a proposal for both sides to submit to binding arbitration. The process would have called for negotiators to chose a third party to formulate a contract.

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 3 percent increase on base salary for the 2008-09 school year.

“That would have meant an increase of approximately 4.5 percent the first year and approximately 5 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,” according a board of education news release.

Although a van owned by the security company hired to provide safety during the strike reportedly struck a teacher Monday, there were no reports of any accidents or violence Tuesday, Drexler said. That teacher was reportedly treated and released at a local hospital.

The security company was hired by the school district to provide safety for those choosing to cross the picket line during the strike. About 70 substitute teachers are being used.


Strike fails to halt tubing plant operations

About 220 members of the United Steelworkers union went on strike at midnight Monday at PTC Alliance's Ohio plant, but the plant is operating without interruption, the company said Tuesday. Members of Steelworkers Local 3059 at the plant in Alliance, Ohio, went on strike after talks aimed at reaching a contract extension broke off.

A representative of Local 3059 said job security was a main sticking point.

PTC Alliance, which is based near Pittsburgh, said it had reached a memorandum of understanding with union representatives, but that workers rejected the deal. PTC Alliance said it is using 30 non-union workers to staff the plant.

"Our management personnel have stepped up to the plate, and we are continuing to produce the same high-quality products that our customers have come to expect from us," Cary Hart, Chief Operating Officer of PTC Alliance's North American Tubing business, said in a statement. "Delivery trucks are entering and leaving freely, and we are continuing to receive raw materials as always."


Many UAW members campaign against GM deal

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union called off a strike by 73,000 workers at the General Motors (GM) US car firm, despite two days of solid action last week, after reaching a deal with the company. The strike, over healthcare benefits and job security, shut down all of the company's US facilities. It was the biggest industrial action in the US for seven years and rocked the world's second biggest car-maker.

Both the union and GM claim victory. Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW president, said the deal would "keep jobs from being reduced". But Rick Wagoner, the GM chief executive, said that the deal "helps us close the fundamental competitive gaps that exist in our business".

The deal badly lets down the workers – who had shown their power to fight. The union will control the healthcare fund, allowing the company to unload the healthcare liabilities from its balance sheets. There will also be a two-tier wages system. Other US companies have seen the deal and want to make similar agreements with their workers.

The Wall Street Journal said that the deal "includes a historic restructuring of GM's obligations for UAW retiree healthcare and sets up a mechanism for GM to buy out many of its current workers and replace them with new employees at lower wages".

The deal still has to be ratified by UAW members. Many are unhappy with it and are campaigning against it.


University students rally for absent Teamsters

A group of around two hundred protesters picketed the University of Chicago administration building Friday in a show of support for campus clerical workers’ recent demands for higher wages in light of the latest union contract offered to them by the University.

Students, who constituted the majority of the crowd, displayed signs demanding “no more wage cuts” and “four percent” while their chants decried the University for being “no good.”

The protest, assembled by Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), was a response to last month’s rejection of the University’s contract offer by campus members of Teamsters Local 743. The workers, mostly clerical employees but also members of the warehouse and maintenance departments, argued that the contract fell short of their requests for a minimum of four-percent wage increases each year.

“We thought the turnout was great. It was great to see so many students out in support of campus workers,” said Alex Moore, SOUL chair and a principal organizer of the protest. Moore said that although his organization sought to voice support for campus employees, “It isn’t really our place to be speaking on behalf of the workers.” Nonetheless, University maintenance worker Sydney Simmons, who marched with the demonstrators, offered “special thanks” to student protesters for their efforts.

Despite student turnout, the protest did not draw a significant number of University employees.

Caitlin Spies, an administrative assistant in the English department and a union member, attributed the low numbers to the general feeling among employees that attending the protest would be frowned upon by University administrators.

One source under the supervision of Associate Dean of the College Katherine Karvunis said that the fear of potentially losing their jobs had prevented many employees, including the source, from attending the student-organized rally. Some University employees watched the rally from across the street.

Karvunis, who was not in her office Friday, said she did not know the event had been planned. “Anyone who said that [employees would lose their jobs for attending], that information is false. I didn’t know anything about the rally so I can’t comment on it,” she said.

“It’s distressing to know that someone said to a member that someone would lose their job ... That needs to be cleared up,” said Evelyn Steward, associate dean of students in the College and a union steward on campus, who some felt was discouraging participation in the rally. Steward sent e-mails to employees informing them that the SOUL protest had not been sanctioned by Local 743. The e-mails did not discourage employees from attending the rally.

Steward said that the implication that she opposed the rally was “outrageous.” She said that she attended the rally but only watched from afar. “I participated in spirit,” she said.

Steward said she supported the rally because the student protesters “were there for the good of the contract.”

Negotiations between lawyers for the University and the Teamsters union ended late last month after the University presented the union with its final contract offer after months of discussions.

In an unprecedented vote turnout, union members rejected an offer by the University for the first time in the union’s history on campus.

University administrators have maintained that they are committed to offering a contract that will offer employees a decent “living wage,” said Gwynne Dilday, associate vice president for human relations management, during a phone interview last week.

Representatives for both sides plan to return to the negotiating table in an attempt to hammer out an agreement.

Meanwhile, students and active union members continue to be outspoken in their efforts to influence the University to relent. A panel discussion featuring several university employees is scheduled for Tuesday evening.


Steelworkers union reneges on apology and retraction

TimberWest Forest Corp. is following through with a threat of a lawsuit against its union after the United Steelworkers at first offered an apology and then apparently reneged.

TimberWest threatened legal action on Friday, days after the union invited the media to watch a video of contractors falling logs in a Vancouver Island lake. The union accused the company of shoddy forestry practices and asked for a review of the company's environmental certification.

In a statement Tuesday, the company said it received its demanded apology from the union in the form of a letter Monday, which was supposed to go out to the media the next day. Instead, a steelworkers representative apparently contacted TimberWest Tuesday saying it wouldn't be sending out the statement. "TimberWest is disappointed with the union's decision to go back on its word and to break the agreement reached in good faith between the two parties," the company said in a news release. "These actions leave TimberWest with no alternative but to proceed with litigation."

TimberWest attached the retracted union apology to its news release, which says the United Steelworkers incorrectly described TimberWest's forestry, environmental, safety and business practices.

"The United Steelworkers retracts the accusations that it has made and apologizes to TimberWest for its actions and for any harm that these statements may have caused," a union statement said.

TimberWest President and CEO Paul McElligott said last week: "Our request for an apology and retraction has nothing to do with the current labour dispute. We will not stand by idly when false and defamatory statements are made and we will vigorously defend ourselves against these malicious attacks."


Oregon union bitter about second-class treatment

Rank-and-file state employees have been slapped in the face with the news that Gov. Ted Kulongoski - a former union lawyer - has issued top-heavy pay raises for all state managers.

With 33 years of collective bargaining experience -- 16 of those years at various state "central table" negotiations -- I thought I'd heard and seen everything. But we are outraged at this proposed package for state managers. Having just finished months of face-to-face bargaining with the state, we feel like we've been lied to.

Some quick background. We, AFSCME, are the second-largest union of state employees, and we represent several state agencies with unique jobs and job classifications that are difficult to fill under any circumstances. We represent a variety of scientists and other advanced-degree people at Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Land Conservation and Development, the State Lands Division and others. We represent most Department of Corrections employees in the state, both correctional officers and the others who work inside prison walls.

In the past 15 years, seven of those years have seen pay freezes for state workers, so they've only averaged a raise about every other year.

In late August, after months of negotiating for our members, we signed off on a deal that the state said was the absolute maximum it could afford. As part of that process, we spent weeks comparing data from other states and some Oregon counties and with a special eye on classifications where we know the state has special recruitment and retention problems.

But noteworthy is the fact that the Department of Administrative Services always balks at using cities and other local governments as comparators for us, especially the cities of Portland and Salem that absolutely compete with the state for employees. Yet DAS is happy to turn right around and use such cities as comparators for justifying its management raises!

Here's another problem: This management package is more than triple what our agreement was, and the state has unilaterally given this across-the-board increase to every manager. But not every management position is a recruitment and retention problem for the state. Yet every state agency will now have to "eat the costs" of these raises, meaning our members could face layoffs -- or at the least, face increased workloads as agencies won't be able to "afford" to replace front-line workers.

Finally, this move is short-sighted because it portends a bad future for the state in upcoming negotiations. How can we trust DAS when it tells us "this is all we can afford" in the future? Why would we ever settle again before we find out what management is giving themselves?

Our trust has been violated, we've been slapped and lied to and we will not forget it.


Gov't union strikers protest at Symphony opening

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