SEIU subdues member-fee revolt

SEIU Local 1000 - California's largest state workers union is on the verge of gaining a measure of the independence it has been seeking from its parent labor association for more than a decade.

An autonomy deal already has been struck between leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1000 and the umbrella California State Employees Association. The agreement, however, must be ratified by the CSEA's general council. A vote of the estimated 1,000 delegates gathered in San Jose is scheduled for Sunday or Monday.

The decision will be made at a critical juncture for SEIU 1000. The 87,000-member union of office workers, information technology specialists, program analysts, teachers, nurses, printers, technicians and others is facing a serious effort by some employees to stop paying their "fair-share" fees, a prospect that could cost the union nearly $12 million in revenues annually. Also on the horizon: negotiations on a contract that expires next year.

Neither the fair-share issue nor the contract played into SEIU 1000's peace pact with the CSEA. But with those and other battles looming in the near future, the agreement will sort out SEIU's relationship with CSEA and remove what had become a major distraction for the union's leadership.

"To say the least, there has been conflict within CSEA over the last 15 years, and I think this is going to largely resolve those issues," SEIU President Jim Hard said.

CSEA President J.J. Jelincic agreed, calling the new arrangement a compromise that will satisfy both parties as well as three other union affiliates that represent California State University employees, retired state workers and assorted supervisors.

"Everybody has indicated they can live with it," Jelincic said of the agreement. "Everybody has things they don't like, but there's nothing in there that kills anybody. Hopefully, we're making some progress."

By far the largest of the affiliates, SEIU 1000 has battled with CSEA's leaders for more than a decade. The dispute has largely resulted from CSEA's efforts to exert control over the internal operations and resources of a union now sitting on a political bank account of close to $2.5 million.

The agreement to resolve the tension between SEIU 1000 and CSEA is the product of more than 100 hours of negotiations dating to March and involving participants from the four affiliates as well as CSEA. In one key provision, CSEA has agreed to let the affiliates hire and fire their own employees and managers as they see fit. If the association board wanted to step in and the affiliate disagreed, the dispute would go to arbitration.

Another critical component would change the composition of the association's board of directors. The power shift would give the affiliates a majority of votes on the CSEA board.

Meanwhile, the deal would expand CSEA's ability to provide business services to smaller, unaffiliated labor organizations. Jelincic said the arrangement provides "a growth path for the association" that would have considerably less work to do.

Steve Smith, the one-time head of the Department of Industrial Relations under former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and a former political strategist for CSEA, said the attempt at reconciliation has "potential."

"I think they're trying to maintain the central unity and power of having a bigger, more involved membership, but at the same time, Local 1000 really needs to do their own thing," Smith said. "There's a balance that they're trying to arrive at."

The proposed deal is getting some close scrutiny at the San Jose convention. An insurgent group within CSEA called California State Employees United, which claims to have about 150 delegates on the council, is opposing the compromise.

"It takes the balance of power away from CSEA," said CSEU President Alex Hernandez, himself a member of the SEIU 1000 board of directors. "Ultimately, CSEA is at risk of being nonexistent. It gives SEIU more power to separate from CSEA. Then they'll pull away from everybody to do what they want, without anybody overlooking them."

Although CSEA and SEIU 1000 called the proposed deal a step toward labor peace, there is still considerable division within the organization. Along with the peace pact, delegates also will be voting this weekend on CSEA's leadership, and SEIU 1000 is backing a slate to replace Jelincic and his team.

"To us, the question is, who can implement the intent of these changes and get focused on the work of serving the members," Hard said.

Facing an opposing slate has made discussion on the new deal "more difficult," Jelincic said.

But "quite frankly, I'm more concerned with the good of the organization and the good of state employees than I am with staying in office," he added.

As for the "fair-share" fees, the state Public Employment Relations Board is preparing to hold a vote on whether a big chunk of SEIU 1000-represented workers have to keep paying them.

Fair-share fees are paid by state workers who don't want to join the union but still are required to have money deducted from their checks to pay for representation services provided by the labor organization.

Lyle Hintz of North Highlands petitioned the Public Employment Relations Board in August on behalf of fee payers in SEIU 1000's 43,000-member Unit One, mostly analysts and information technology workers, after SEIU 1000 increased its union dues by 50 percent earlier this year. Hintz could not be reached for comment Friday. A date has not yet been set for the vote.

Hernandez estimated that about 40 percent of the unit's members are fee payers instead of full-fledged members. Only the fee payers will be voting on whether to abolish the fair-share fees. If they're revoked, the union would be out nearly $1 million in revenues a month.

Hard said that if the fees are voted down, "it would be very damaging to Unit One workers and their chances of ever winning anything."


Teamster strikers in Iowa attract Sens. Edwards, Clinton

Union workers at a Cargill corn-milling plant in Cedar Rapids will remain on strike at least until early next week, union officials said. About 100 workers went on strike Monday after their union rejected Cargill's contract offer. Teamsters Local 238 has contended several issues, including Cargill's plan to outsource about 15 maintenance positions at the plant and convert two positions into salaried positions that would not be covered by the union contract.

The first negotiating session between Cargill and the union is scheduled for Monday, according to Teamsters Local 238 business agent Dave Elliott.

Meanwhile, the workers could get some company at the picket lines this weekend from some presidential candidates, including Democrats John Edwards and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York. Edwards' staff confirmed plans to visit the picket line Saturday afternoon.

Cargill has expressed regret over the union's rejection of the contract but has not commented on its negotiating position. The company has continued to operate the plant using nonunion workers.

The strike does not affect the company's other businesses in Iowa.

Minnesota-based Cargill makes food ingredients, moves commodities around the world and runs financial commodities trading businesses. It is one of the nation's largest privately held companies, with 158,000 workers in 66 countries.

Cargill employs about 4,000 Iowans in 12 businesses in 20 communities.


Union political operatives patrol OH, KY

State and local union officials on both sides of the Ohio River say they're not waiting until 2008 to ramp up an election blitz designed to seize control of the White House. Instead, they'll be hitting the streets by the hundreds this weekend and next to influence races much closer to home - the Kentucky governor's race and Cincinnati City Council elections, among others.

"We're definitely being aggressive this year because these local races are so important running into 2008," said Margaret Priebe, communications director of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council.

The council has recruited a couple of hundred volunteers to visit the homes of union families in Hamilton County on Oct. 13 and Nov. 3, delivering campaign material and messages backing pro-labor candidates. The effort starts even earlier in Kentucky.

More than 60 volunteers from the AFL-CIO began visiting some 1,500 homes of union members in various cities in Northern Kentucky this morning - including Covington, Newport, Florence, Fort Thomas, Fort Wright, Independence and Alexandria. Their mission is to talk about the labor policies of Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher and his challenger, Democrat Steve Beshear.

The visits are part of a statewide effort targeting homes from Lexington to Louisville to Paducah, Owensboro and Ashland, said Bill Londrigan, president of the AFL-CIO in Kentucky.

"The people of this state can't afford to have four more years of the Fletcher administration," Londrigan said. "In Ernie Fletcher we've had pretty much of an anti-union governor."

While Londrigan said the primary focus of the door-to-door effort is the governor's race, the union has endorsed the Democratic candidate in the attorney general, auditor, treasurer and secretary of state races as well.

The union has sponsored similar pushes in previous elections, with home visits, leaflets and phone calls - but this effort is bigger, he said. It's also a prelude to the '08 presidential race, where the national AFL-CIO and its unions have said they plan to spend about $200 million, including a record $53 million just for grass-roots mobilization.

"We certainly see a clear connection, with a major change needed on the national level," Londrigan said.

Beshear has earned the group's endorsement with his opposition to making Kentucky a so-called Right-to-Work state, a legal designation that hurts unions' abilities to recruit members and gain funds; with his support of prevailing wage laws, which essentially set minimum requirements for wages on public construction projects; and with his support for higher minimum wages and collective bargaining agreements, Londrigan said.

In contrast, Fletcher strongly supports Right to Work and eliminating prevailing wages and named the issues two of his top priorities in the 2006 legislative session.

He also opposes extending collective bargaining rights to negotiate labor contracts to public employees. Shortly after becoming governor, he rescinded an executive order issued by former Gov. Paul Patton that created an advisory council that allowed employees to vote to be represented by a union for bargaining on workplace conditions.

Both candidates have mentioned their beliefs on labor issues as one of the biggest differences in their gubernatorial platforms. Both, however, claim that their views are best for the state.

Jason Keller, a spokesman for Fletcher's campaign, shrugged off today's campaign by the AFL-CIO, saying working men and women aren't necessarily receptive to the political messages of union officials.

"Steve Beshear is committed to paying (tribute) to union bosses who support him," Keller said, echoing press releases that have criticized Beshear's support from "labor union cronies."

But Fletcher is more committed to the common worker, Keller said.

On the issue of Right to Work, for example, Fletcher's position actually would create and save jobs, he said, citing studies that show many companies looking to relocate or expand won't consider states without so-called Right-to-Work laws because of concern over union interference.

"Gov. Fletcher stands on his principles," Keller said.

But Vicki Glass, a spokeswoman for Beshear's campaign, laughed about Keller's comments. "They certainly have their spin on everything," she said.

She reiterated Beshear's opposition to Right-to-Work and other labor issues and said Beshear's election chances would be buoyed by today's door-to-door effort.

"He certainly is supportive of labor," Glass said. "We certainly welcome their help."

In Cincinnati, Priebe said the labor council has made endorsement decisions in the city council races, school board races and judicial races based on similar issues - support of prevailing wage laws, higher minimum wages, government employees and school personnel.


UAW: 3 Locals reject deal

A United Auto Workers union local in Wentzville, Missouri, is the third to reject General Motors Corp's tentative labor contract with the union, the local's financial secretary said on Friday. But of at least 12 UAW locals - representing more than 12,000 active members - that have completed voting this week, nine have voted for the contract. The UAW is aiming to complete voting by all its active GM members, totaling more than 73,000, by Wednesday, October 10.

A majority of workers casting ballots must approve the contract for it to be ratified. Members of UAW local 2250 in Wentzville voted down a contract that would leave the future of their plant uncertain by making production of the plant's next-generation vehicles dependent on demand beyond 2012. Roughly 70 percent of the voters turned down the deal.

Earlier in the day, members of local 163 in Romulus, Michigan, also voted down the contract despite the automaker's promise to keep work at the plant. Local President Larry Long said he was unsure why more than 50 percent of those voters were against the deal.

Union members at UAW Local 465, which represents the engine factory in Massena, New York, voted down the contract on Friday, local President Tony Arquiett said. Under the tentative contract, that plant is scheduled to close in 2008.

Members of UAW local 1753 in Lansing, Michigan, backed the contract at about 60 percent, the local's president said late Friday.

The UAW's GM members in dozens of locals across the United States must vote on the contract reached last week, which ended a two-day national strike against the largest U.S. automaker.

The UAW still does not have contracts with Ford Motor Co. and privately held Chrysler LLC.

The contract with GM would set a second-tier lower wage for workers not involved in direct production and establish a trust for retiree health care that would be partly overseen by the union. It also would make 3,000 temporary workers permanent and permit buyouts.

A quarter of the factory workers could be replaced with lower cost hires under the contract.

If approved, the contract would allow GM to greatly reduce the labor cost advantage enjoyed by Toyota Motor Corp and the two other Japanese automakers operating production plants in the United States.

The average UAW-represented GM assembly line worker makes just under $28 per hour before health-care and other benefits that take total hourly labor costs to $73, the automaker has said.

By contrast, Toyota's average hourly cost for workers at its U.S. plants is under $48 per hour including benefits.

GM and other U.S. automakers have argued that they need more flexibility to hire lower cost temporary workers and to pay janitorial and other workers in their plants below the UAW-mandated wage scale.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said last week that the union and GM were negotiating a program of buyouts and early retirement offers for the automaker's workers who are making the higher wages.


Striking teachers furious that schools stays open

After five days on strike, the Harrison Hills (OH) Teachers Assn. agreed Friday to negotiate with the district’s board members through a mediator on Sunday. On Friday, HHTA Spokes-woman Linda Rusen said the board contacted Federal Mediator Jack Yoedp of Pittsburgh, who then contacted the association about conducting another negotiation for contract proposals. As a result, she said HHTA will meet with the negotiator in the Holiday Inn at Weirton, W.Va., on Sunday at 3.

Meanwhile, another teacher was injured Friday morning at Hopedale Elementary, making it the fourth time during the strike that a picket has been injured. According to Rusen, Karen Hanzel, Hopedale Elementary 2nd-grade teacher, was struck by a vehicle while in the picket line. Because of the severity of Hanzel’s injury, she was taken to a hospital for immediate medical attention, Rusen said.

Sgt. John Thompson of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office said Frederick Saunders, 50, of Youngstown – who is a fill-in teacher during the strike – was charged with misdemeanor assault after hitting Hanzel. He said Saunders is in the Harrison County Jail at Cadiz on a $20,000 bond.

“In response to these unsafe conditions and to the lack of education being provided in the district,” an HHTA release stated, more than 450 parents signed a petition to have the district’s schools closed.

“We want our schools closed,” the petition said. “Stop wasting the taxpayers’ money on out of state workers. Settle the strike so our children can get back to school. We want the schools closed until the strike is settled.”

The petition was delivered to the board on Friday afternoon, the HHTA release stated.

As for school attendance, Superintendent Jim Drexler said it continues to climb throughout the district, with some schools reporting at least 50 percent of students in class.

In a statement, Drexler said he met Friday for about 90 minutes with “a number of parents in the administrative office who wanted to share their concerns with me. They voiced their understandable frustrations with this regrettable situation that no one wants.”

In addition, a press conference was held on Friday by county Prosecuting Attorney T. Shawn Hervey. Rusen said Hervey said during the conference that HHTA and district board members need to get back together and solve the situation as soon as possible.


Mediator OK's $1,000 bonus to determined B.C. strikers

A Vancouver (B.C.) TV station is reporting that a mediator has recommended Vancouver's striking government union workers receive a 17.5 per cent wage hike over five years. CityTV says it's obtained a copy of Brian Foley's report which says the 5,000 workers who walked out 11 weeks ago should get the same raises their suburban counterparts settled for weeks ago.

Both sides plan to vote on the mediator's recommendations beginning this weekend.

Mr. Foley also made recommendations on 60 outstanding issues the city and three locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees couldn't agree on, such as layoffs, compressed work weeks and pay equity. The mediator also suggested the city give the unions six months notice if it wants to contract out work during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Vancouver civic strike has cut garbage collection, closed community centres and forced the city's booming construction industry to stall projects for lack of permits and inspections.

* Read the recommendations (.pdf) Popup


N.Y. UAW Local rejects GM contract proposal

United Auto Workers at General Motors' Powertrain plant, scheduled to be closed by the end of next year, have rejected the tentative labor agreement between their union and the company, a union official said.

UAW Local 465 workers voted against the contract 172-137, said union president Anthony Arquiett. "I respect each worker's individual decision. This vote represents the disappointment of a lot of our members," Arquiett said.

The reasons for voting against the new contract varied, he said. Some workers were unhappy with a new two-tiered wage system, others were unhappy with the creation of a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association to pay for retired auto workers' health benefits and some were unhappy that their plant is being closed, Arquiett said.

In May, GM announced it was closing the 48-year-old Massena plant because it would be too costly to modernize it as the company switched to newer manufacturing technology. The closing will leave about 500 workers without jobs.

The new contract was reached last week following a two-day nationwide strike by UAW workers. About 74,000 hourly GM workers are voting on the pact this week and next, with a final tally to be done by Oct. 10. The Massena workers voted Wednesday.

The biggest reason for the strike was job security and guarantees for new parts and new vehicles in GM's U.S. plants. It was hoped that the Powertrain plant could be saved in the negotiations.

The workers in Massena all will be laid off for one week starting Monday, and up to 40 will lose their jobs on Oct. 15, Arquiett said. Local union leaders will be working with plant management on a month-to-month basis to schedule for further staffing, he said.


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