State-mandated unionism an emotional issue in Iowa

One downside to all the presidential campaigning in Iowa is how it crowds out discussion of important issues in the Legislature. Come early January, the presidential commotion will clear out, and all politics will become local once again. So here's an early look at what we can expect from the 2008 session.

- Budget. The governor and lawmakers spent too much last year - about a 10 percent increase - so they've got to cool it now. The boom farmers are enjoying is offset by the bad trends in the housing market, and the experts say lawmakers won't have a lot of extra tax money to throw around.

- Health care. It's a big issue with a big price tag. Lawmakers are studying what they can do to cover all children and all adults in Iowa. Since there's no new state money to spend, any solution will lie in squeezing hospitals and insurance companies.

- Right to work. The unions want a law allowing public-employee unions to collect fees from non-union members for work the union does on behalf of all workers. There weren't enough Democratic votes for the idea in the House this year, but there might be next year. Some Democrats would like to drop this emotional question for the 2008 session and debate it in 2009, when they hope to have a few more Democratic House members.

- Infrastructure. That word will become a buzz phrase for the 2008 session because more money is needed for highways, schools and new prisons. Lawmakers will struggle trying to find the dollars.

For roads, look for legislators to keep high new-car registration fees around longer and make pickup trucks start paying a fair share. A gas tax will be discussed, but since it's an election year, the prospects for it are iffy. Majority party Democrats say they'll do it only if large numbers of Republicans vote for it, too. Democratic Gov. Chet Culver is cool to the idea, but is keeping his options open.

Also, there will be a discussion of making the local-option sales tax for schools, which has been approved in all 99 counties, a statewide sales tax. But some lawmakers say schools won't need the extra penny for repair work forever. They believe they'll need that extra penny for the general fund someday, thanks to all the spending increases they've promised but haven't covered.

As for prisons, look for some on the left to try to weaken prison sentences to let criminals out earlier instead of building more capacity.

- Commercial property taxes. Don't look for much to happen. One reason some lawmakers don't want to give an extra penny of sales tax to local schools is they know the state will need the money to buy down commercial property-tax rates someday, just not in 2008.

- Environment. Water quality and hog odors are emotional issues in Iowa. The greens and the populists are angry that a Democratic Legislature isn't doing more to curb odors and limit big hog lots, but cooler heads are saying Iowa can't hurt the pork industry.

Private discussions are under way between state environmental officials and leaders of mainstream farm groups to find some middle ground. Keep holding your nose.

- Gay marriage. A Polk County District Court judge says it's legal. Republicans want a state constitutional amendment to overturn the judge and ban it. Democrats don't want to go on record voting against an amendment before the election. So look for Democratic leaders to stall by saying the Iowa Supreme Court is considering the case and should speak before the Legislature weighs in.


Colorado debates compulsory unionism

A voluntary unionism ballot initiative in the works, coupled with ongoing talks between Gov. Bill Ritter’s office and a public employees union, have some at the Capitol questioning whether the labor battles that marked this year’s General Assembly could resurface in 2008.

Legislators last year passed a bill making it easier for workers to unionize, but only after a Senate filibuster and partisan battles in both legislative chambers. Ritter vetoed it, saying he was concerned with the tone of the debate more than the substance of the bill.

Some union leaders threatened to get the 2008 Democratic National Convention moved out of Denver, and pressure is building for the General Assembly to pass some kind of pro-union legislation next session.

Against that backdrop come two new proposals, one considered non-union and the other pro-union.

One is a statewide ballot issue submitted by an Aurora city councilman and private businessman that would bar mandatory participation in labor unions and would prohibit unions from collecting dues from workers at union-majority workplaces who choose not to join.

The Ballot Title Setting Board unanimously approved the wording of the amendment Wednesday, clearing the way for backers to begin collecting signatures to get it on the 2008 statewide ballot.

If voters approve the initiative, Colorado would join other “right-to-work” states with constitutional provisions that say workers can’t be forced to join a union even when most of their coworkers are union members. Though that resembles current Colorado law, it is not in the state constitution, and supporters fear that laws could be passed to mandate union membership.

Attorney John Berry, representing the constitutional amendment supporters, said that after the fight over HB1072, he fears stronger attempts to unionize Colorado businesses. This would hurt the state’s economic climate and the ability to attract new industries, he said.

John Bowen, attorney for the local United Food and Commercial Workers, noted during the title-board hearing that if the amendment passes, unions would continue to be forced to represent workers in union shops even if they do not join the union.

Berry thinks a ballot issue could attract the attention of national labor and right-towork groups, as a successful similar initiative did in Oklahoma earlier this decade.

Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is trying to make inroads in a more traditional way — through state elected officials.

The organization has been meeting with Ritter since May to discuss the institution of collective bargaining among state government workers.

This would allow those workers to negotiate as a group for improvements in wages, health benefits and work conditions, and give all sectors except public safety the ability to strike.

State agencies are experiencing high turnover, especially in the Department of Corrections, fueled in part by increasing health care costs, said Mark Schwane, executive director of AFSCME’s state council. Getting their employees more involved in workplace issues would make them feel more valued, he said.

Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, points to U.S. Census Bureau statistics that rank Colorado employees as having the ninth-highest pay package of state employees in the country.

Legalizing collective bargaining could mean that a lot more money will go to these well-compensated state employees, taking funds from vital programs, he said.

Ritter’s office hasn’t said what he plans to do in regard to collective bargaining, but he has defended the ongoing talks as a way to hear the concerns of workers and increase their cooperation with his office.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a Denver Democrat who has not taken a position on collective bargaining, was frustrated by the attention paid by Republicans and the media last session to HB1072, saying it took away from what he considered a positive session overall for business.

Leery of the amount of attention the governor’s talks are getting, Romanoff vowed that the issue would not distract the House from its work in the areas of higher education, transportation and health care reform.

“Our agenda is pro-economy,” Romanoff said. “I think everybody wants to get caught up in a fight about what’s good for business or what’s good for labor . . . I think a productive work force is good for the economy.”


Testing doctors' loyalty to striking nurses

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher soundly criticized his Democratic opponent's running mate, a surgeon, yesterday for refusing to cross a picket line to work at Hazard Appalachian Regional Hospital, where registered nurses are on strike. Fletcher, who also is a physician, raised the issue during an hourlong debate with Steve Beshear at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel in Louisville. Fletcher claimed that state Sen. Dan Mongiardo chose to align with union interests rather than patients.

"Right now, Dan Mongiardo won't cross the picket line down in Harlan Kentucky; why not?" Fletcher said. Mongiardo said he is continuing to take care of patients with medical emergencies and urgent cases but supports more than 630 registered nurses at Hazard and six other Kentucky hospitals, plus two in West Virginia, who walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. Monday when their contract expired.

Weeks of negotiations between the union and hospital administrators came to an impasse over several issues including staffing ratios, mandatory overtime and pay raises. The nurses also want better retirement and medical benefits.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Greater Louisville Inc., which sponsored the debate, along with Fletcher have supported "right-to-work" legislation that would allow nonunion employees to work in union shops. After the debate, Fletcher said doctors were obligated to care for patients despite the strike and said he crossed a picket line in 1987 to deliver babies. "I've got some real questions -- a physician that won't cross the picket line to take care of his patients, I can't imagine that," Fletcher told reporters.

Mongiardo said he's asking patients seeking elective procedures, such as tonsillectomies, to wait or get referred to another location. Striking nurses were standing up for patients' welfare and the issue needed support, Mongiardo said.

"This is a stance for a problem that is really in a crisis situation," he said during a telephone interview. "I think it's time that patients, doctors and hospitals alike stand up together and try to solve the problems."

Mongiardo said that his position was not connected to the upcoming Nov. 6 election and that "fighting between Democrats and Republicans at election time is not the answer to this problem."

Neither Fletcher nor Beshear talked about a report to be released today that looks into Beshear's role in the liquidation of the now-defunct Kentucky Central Life Insurance Co.

The report concerns an investigation that centered on Beshear's former law firm, Stites & Harbison.

The firm was paid $21 million over 15 years for assisting in the liquidation of Kentucky Central. The company owned citrus groves, hotels and billions of dollars worth of life insurance policies but was overtaken with financial problems and collapsed in the mid-1990s.

Fletcher has claimed Beshear and his firm prospered from the bankruptcy while hundreds of Kentuckians lost their jobs and thousands lost their savings.

Stites & Harbison was the subject of an ethics investigation 12 years ago that looked into whether Beshear's firm "violated any duty" or rules of ethical conduct when it signed on to lead the liquidation of the insurance company.


KY nurses crossing strikers' picket line

Union nurses on strike spent their sixth day on the picket line Saturday. While many nurses are protesting an unfair contract, others say it is fair, and are continuing to work despite harsh criticism. WYMT's Jeff Gould met up with two nurses who are speaking out after they say they were publicly humiliated.

The nurses WYMT spoke with Saturday say the reason they crossed the picket line was due to the very protest behind me. George Engle and his cousin Stacy are Nurses at ARH. They voted for the new contract and though Engle says he hadn't crossed the picket line, he was labeled "scab of the day" on this sign.

“But it comes down to what I am in this profession for, and it's to take care of the people here in Hazard, surrounding counties and do my job as a nurse,” George Engle said.

Today the Engles, along with more than 30 family members and supporters painted their cars with various messages of support, and drove by ARH, where the union nurses are protesting. George says, seeing his name on the sign is what convinced him to cross the picket line.

Other nurses on strike think otherwise.

Many of he nurses hope the negotiations that are scheduled in the near future will help them get back to normal.

ARH officials announced they have agreed to meet with a federal mediator in an attempt to end the ongoing strike.


Emotional, drugged ending to long, nasty gov't union strike

It's up to Vancouver, B.C. city workers and council members now to decide on ending the 11-week strike, after mediator Brian Foley issued a complex settlement proposal on Friday. Foley, who described the strike as one of the most difficult and emotional he's ever dealt with, said the proposal is balanced, giving the Canadian Union of Public Employees some, but not all, of what they wanted and providing city managers with "labour peace."

"I haven't taken sleeping pills in years, but I had to take them the last couple of days," said Foley in an interview with The Sun.

If approved by all parties, workers could be back on the job as early as Thursday.

"What's in there is what each side convinced me should be there," Foley said. "I considered this to be a very balanced package. I had to help the parties save themselves."

Neither city nor CUPE officials made statements Friday.

The proposal calls for a 17.5-per-cent wage increase over five years, a $1,000 signing bonus and contracting-out language that requires the city to give six months' notice to workers. There is no concrete information on how much Foley's proposals would cost.

Each of the three union locals - library workers, inside workers and outside workers - will vote separately over the weekend and all three have to accept it.

On Tuesday, Metro Vancouver's labour relations committee will vote, followed by Vancouver city council on Wednesday.

The proposal is retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year and would expire after the 2010 Olympics - on Dec. 31, 2011.

The city's 1,800 outside workers went on strike July 20.

They were joined shortly after by 3,500 inside workers and then 800 library employees. The strike is now at Day 79.

The strike brought residential garbage and recycling collection to a halt. Swimming pools, community centres, city theatres, marinas, libraries and city-run day camps have also been affected.

Unlike many strikes, the wage increase was not the main issue. Instead, complicated questions about contracting out jobs, giving extra money and benefits to new hires in hard-to-recruit fields, and pay equity for library workers were the sticking points.

The recommendations are so complex that no one on the picket lines Friday had any idea whether they would support them.

"All I've heard so far are three positive things but I have no idea what else is in there," said Andrea Duke, an engineering department employee who was picketing in the sunshine at city hall.

At a rally for library workers on the steps of the main library Friday, union leaders urged everyone to keep their spirits up.

"It's because of your resolve that we haven't been crushed by the employer," said past president D'Arcy Stainton.

It is the first time in their 77-year history that library workers have gone on strike.

Their biggest issue was getting pay equity for library workers, who are paid less than city workers for what they feel is work of equal complexity. Library union negotiators had asked for a committee to make recommendations on how to even out the differences.

Foley decided not to do that.

"I didn't want to give them some wishy-washy committee. Just give them the damn money."


Foley's 39 pages of recommendations include:


- 17.5-per-cent increase over five years.

- $1,000 signing bonus and a provision that vacation time and progression up the pay ladder, usually based on years worked, will be calculated as if the employee had been at work during the strike.

- Contracting-out language that requires the city to give six months' notice before any contracting out and provision for employees doing that work to be offered alternatives like other jobs, early retirement or retraining.

- A "partnership agreement" laying out ground rules for city work at Olympic venues, giving workers some rights to work and the city some flexibility in rescheduling work (library workers not included in THIS).


- City to "consider" seniority when it is assigning work to casual employees.

- A process to convert casual workers to full-time or regular part-time status.


- A $1-an-hour increase, above all other increases, for trades workers.

- Joint committee to work out a four-day week for people who work in garbage collection, equipment maintenance and parks.


- 300 of the library's 700 employees, mostly the higher-paid full-time staff, get moved up the pay scale.


- Labour peace

- Language in provisions like contracting out, harassment policy and whistleblower protection that gives the employer reasonable room to move.

- Ability to give staff hired from other municipalities the same vacation time they would get in their new job as they had in their old one.


GOP commissioner backs AFSCME grievance

Local 1398 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees delivered a formal grievance Wednesday to the three Luzerne (PA) County commissioners. In the document, the union claims the last reassessment agreement, signed March 30, requires five employees of the county assessment office to work at 21st Century Appraisals.

Temporary, non-union workers have been used to fill in at the assessment office. The arrangement violates the union's collective bargaining agreement, the union claims. "Our union members were hired to work for Luzerne County, and not anyone else," said Paula Schnelly, president of the union. "We just want them back where they belong.

The commissioners must respond within five days, Schnelly said, and the two sides will attempt to reach a compromise. "I think (the complaint) is valid," said Republican commissioner Stephen A. Urban. "I don't know any precedent where the county can put county employees under the management of a private contractor."

The Democratic majority commissioners and other county officials could not be reached for comment Friday evening.


Cal. unions dig deep to fund politicos' gold-plated lifestyle

As my colleague Nancy Vogel laid out in a jaw-dropping exposé Friday, L.A.'s man of the people has not missed a trick while traveling extensively and luxuriously about the world, throwing campaign funds around like confetti. Italy. France. Spain.

Our very own rascal in paradise has been there, and he's tasted the world's finest offerings. A $1,795 meal in Paris. An $8,745 hotel bill in Barcelona. A $5,149 meeting at a Bordeaux wine shop. "There's not too big a difference," Nuñez told Vogel, "between how I live and how most middle-class people live." Hands down, it's the quote of the year.

I'm not sure what middle-class people Nuñez is talking about, but I'm worried that he's spending entirely too much time with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Could the speaker be talking about Brentwood's middle-class?

We're talking lifestyles of the rich and famous here, not Applebee's and Ramada. Nuñez may even be trying to compete with Schwarzenegger, who's been using an obscure nonprofit group to finance lavish overseas travel involving private jets and exclusive hotels, as detailed recently by my colleague Paul Pringle.

And there's one more thing these two high rollers have in common: They're both bending rules of ethics, if not snapping them in half.

Schwarzenegger's little nonprofit is well-fed with donations from people who don't have to disclose their identity. So not only is it unclear who's paying for the governor's travels, but the tax write-off for donors, and the use of a charitable organization to fund luxury travel, are arguably a corruption of the tax code.

In the case of Nuñez, it's legal to use campaign funds for travel, but only if it's related to the business of government and politics.

I suppose it's possible that a Bordeaux wine shop hosted a symposium on California infrastructure bonds, but when I called Nuñez's office for more information I got a stock answer from a spokeswoman:

"The expenditures were properly disclosed and described as required by law."

It's the democracy we've all been waiting for in Sacramento. Gulfstreams, Louis Vuitton office supplies and nose-thumbing responses to inquiring constituents.

Given Nuñez's refusal to explain the specific purpose of his travels, Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is biting her nails, hoping Nuñez wasn't sampling fine wine with players who have pumped $5.3 million into the "Friends of Fabian Nuñez" campaign kitty.

"The first question that comes to mind is whether the health insurance industry was sponsoring the speaker's lavish trips, as he's now debating the future of the health market in California," Balber said.

She notes that Nuñez's travel fund has received $136,000 from health insurers and their lobbyists. And Nuñez is working with Schwarzenegger ($719,000 and counting from health insurers and their lobbies) on a health insurance reform bill that would require every Californian to buy coverage, but wouldn't require insurers to cap the cost.

Certainly the insurers would love to raise a fine bottle of red to the passage of such a bill, and Nuñez has been known to pop the cork on crushed grapes that run as high as $224 a bottle.

But do we really want Nuñez managing billions of our tax dollars if this is his idea of money management? Easy come, easy go, I suppose, when you've got campaign funds to burn, on top of $170-a-day in spending money along with a six-figure salary.

I checked one five-week stretch of Nuñez's expenses in 2006 and found that he'd dined at the likes of the Water Grill ($602.29), Pacific Dining Car ($1,003.37), and Asia de Cuba ($538.10), and, in Sacramento, Biba restaurant ($1,026.58).

Along with several other meal/meetings in that five-week stretch, his dining tab came to $7,764.94.

Can someone please give him directions to a Pizza Hut?

As you might have imagined, the news of Nuñez's champagne tastes had some donors feeling duped.

"We would much prefer that he be educating himself about what's the best healthcare system in the world rather than the best wine or the best shoes or any number of expenditures," said Donna Gerber, director of government relations for the California Nurses Assn., which donated $4,000 to Friends of Fabian.

Barry Broad, who represents the Teamsters ($15,900 in donations to Nuñez) and other labor groups, says it's hard to ask members to keep digging into their pockets for campaign donations when the working stiffs open their paper and see that Nuñez is frolicking around the world like he's playing with Monopoly money.

It's the kind of story that "further undermines the public's view of the political process," Broad said. But "I don't know how much lower it could go."

Not much, especially when the records reveal that Nuñez rang up unspecified office expenses at Nordstrom for $476.28.

A set of wine glasses, perhaps?

As for the office expenses from Louis Vuitton, they ran $787.50 on one occasion and $1,775.36 on another, which is a lot of staples.

Based on a call to Louis Vuitton and a search of the website, I'm wondering if Nuñez bought the $650 Taiga binder as a travel calendar and, to enter his next dreamy destination, the Cargo pen with alligator skin, Rhodium finish and an 18-carat gold nib for $1,620.

If the speaker reveals nothing else, can he at least fill the rest of the middle class in on what a gold nib is?


Socialists decry UAW-GM "sellout"

Voting at United Auto Workers union locals this week showed widespread opposition to the agreement the UAW signed with General Motors, ending last week’s two-day strike by 73,000 GM workers. The vote at most union locals has been reported as favoring the contract, but in many the margin has been narrow. Workers from at least two locals have voted to reject the contract.

According to reports on Friday, more than half of workers at UAW Local 163, which represents 1,400 workers at an engine plant in Romulus, Michigan, rejected the contract. Participation was relatively high, at nearly 80 percent. The report was extremely close, with the contract reportedly failing by only five votes.

Significantly, the Romulus plant received a “guarantee” for future production—the main feature being promoted by the UAW to convince workers to accept the contract. The union bureaucracy has used the fraudulent guarantees, which in fact do nothing to ensure job security, to pit workers at factories who have the guarantees against workers at factories that will be shut down.

At a smaller plant in Massena, New York, workers voted 172 to 137 to reject the contract, which includes plans to close that factory

Other locals reported close yes votes, including Local 594 in Pontiac, Michigan, where 41 percent of those voting opposed the contract. At Local 730 in Grand Rapids, 46 percent of production workers and 29 percent of skilled trades workers voted against the deal. Workers in Local 653, also in Pontiac, favored the contract by a larger margin, with 73 percent voting to approve it.

On Friday, several other locals reported a “yes” vote, including in Toledo, Ohio; Fairfax, Kansas; Janesville, Wisconsin; Delta Township, Michigan; and Lansing, Michigan. GM and the UAW have to obtain a majority vote from the total workforce in order for the contract to pass. Voting will be completed by October 10.

The participation rates at many of the locals supporting the contract were low, meaning that in most cases a minority actually cast a “yes” vote. For example, at Local 653, only 1,616 out of 2,900 workers, or 56 percent, voted. This means that only 41 percent of workers at the plant voted for the contract, while 59 percent either opposed the contract or abstained.

According to the Detroit News, “More than 60 percent of votes that had been cast by [Friday] morning were in favor of the deal. Locals representing about one-third of GM’s UAW-represented workers have reported results so far.” Several major locals were voting on Friday, and still others will vote Monday.

The reported vote totals are only a pale reflection of the opposition among workers to the contract and the UAW. Voting is taking place amidst a united front of the leadership of all union locals in support of a deal that attacks the jobs, wages, and benefits of autoworkers. The mass media has also been employed to push the contract and try to convince workers that there is no alternative but to accept massive concessions.

The UAW is particularly eager to get passed a portion of the contract that will set up a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA)—a union-run fund to manage retiree health care benefits. GM will transfer to the union about $30 billion out of $50 billion in healthcare liabilities, and the union will be responsible for implementing any required cuts in benefits. The VEBA means that the union will become a business enterprise, and the fund will provide a ready source of cash to union officials.

An article in the Wall Street Journal on Friday pointed to plans by GM and the UAW for a massive buyout package to press older workers to retire. These workers would then be replaced by thousands of younger workers who, according to the terms of the new contract, would be employed as cheap labor.

According to the Journal, “Buyouts are important under the tentative agreement because they could allow GM to have as much as one-third of its UAW work force under what is known as a second-tier wage-and-benefit plan that pays about half the traditional UAW-GM compensation package.” The UAW, on the other hand, would continue to receive dues payments from these lower-paid workers.

The UAW leadership is citing the buyout package as an incentive for older workers to support the contract. According to the Journal, “UAW leadership...is using the likelihood of another buyout package as an enticement to older workers, many of whom would like to retire but are awaiting some sort of exit package.”

For decades, the union has sought to eradicate working-class consciousness, solidarity, and traditions of militancy among its membership, pitting workers from different plants and of different levels of seniority against each other. The bureaucracy and the corporation are counting on the cumulative impact of this campaign to push the contract through.

As time passes, however, and details of the contract have begun to emerge, opposition has grown. This is why the UAW has sought a quick vote on the 500-plus page document before all the concessions in it can be thoroughly examined by the membership.

An article in Friday’s Detroit Free Press reported that autoworkers, retirees and their families will have to pay higher co-pays for medical visits and will have fewer healthcare options under the new contract.

“The new contract would eliminate all but a few health maintenance organizations, all dental HMOs and all but the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan PPO, according to the summary” prepared by the union, the Free Press reported. The details of the change are being kept from the membership, however. The Free Press said that GM also refused to provide details.

“GM workers hoped to get more detailed answers to questions at plant sites,” the newspaper reported. “But full copies of the contract, or even portions of it spelling out health coverage, are not available, several GM employees said. Many UAW information sessions are 30 minutes long, scheduled right before a vote.”

In other words, workers are being pressured to vote for the contract after a brief, chloroformed presentation by the union, without a chance to look through the contract proposal or get answers to questions they have about the concessions that the contract contains.

Many workers at GM feel that they have no option but to vote for the contract given that the union is conspiring with the company against them and the absence of any organized opposition within the union itself. The fact that the contract may very well pass highlights the inability of workers to express their interests through the framework of the unions. It underscores the need for workers to break with the UAW and build new organizations of struggle, in particular a political movement against the profit system and the two big business parties that defend it.


SEIU authorizes strike at WV hospital

The Service Employees International Union has issued a 10-day strike notice to Weirton Medical Center. The union intends to conduct a five-day walkout commencing at 7 a.m. Oct. 16 and ending at 7 a.m. Oct. 21. The union’s contract with the hospital ended at midnight Sunday, and several hours of negotiating Monday evening failed to produce a tentative agreement. There are about 575 members of SEIU District 1199 who work at the hospital as service, maintenance and technical workers.

“This is about basic fairness,” said Lisa Minger, a service worker at Weirton Medical Center. “We want what’s fair: Affordable health insurance and a progressive wage scale that rewards experience and hard work.”

Union and hospital representatives both said they are committed to good-faith bargaining, but no contract talks have been scheduled since Monday. “We are committed to patient care first and foremost,” said Dr. Joseph P. Endrich, president and chief executive of the hospital. “We are well prepared to care for all of our patients. Sadly, the union appears to have different priorities. Since the beginning of August, we have negotiated in good faith with the union.”

The 10-day strike notice is required by law before a strike at a health care facility, the hospital noted and emphasized that registered nurses at the hospital do not have union representation.

WMC said it proposed wage increases of 9 percent over a three-year term as well as working with the union to create an acceptable wage scale.

“Unfortunately, the union rejected WMC’s offer and decided to strike,” said a hospital news release issued Friday.

“We are disappointed in the union’s decision. The community relies upon this hospital,” Endrich continued. “We need to make fiscal decisions that enable us to remain viable, not just for today, but for the years to come.”

The SEIU has distributed materials alleging the hospital has not managed its finances well and has provided “millions in loans to doctors” while paying workers substandard wages and issuing patient charges such as $4 a day for phone service.

“It is our sincere hope that we can reach an agreement with WMC that will ultimately improve patient care, reduce turnover and contribute to a healthy and sustainable work force,” said Erin Kramer, coordinator with SEIU District 1199.

WMC Public Relations Director Kelli McCoy said, “We’re saddened to hear the union has decided to go in this direction, but we remain committed to providing high-quality patient care as always.”


UAW Local in Ohio strains to get message

After years of battling Toledo Hospital to represent its workers, the United Auto Workers canceled a rescheduled vote set for this week. The new election, ordered by the National Labor Relations Board, came after the union lost a series of representation elections at the hospital in 2001.

The union quietly withdrew its petition two weeks ago, said Randy Malloy, an assistant to the regional director of the NLRB office in Cleveland. The election was for the UAW's ability to represent about 1,300 janitors, cafeteria workers, secretaries, and other support-services employees at the hospital owned by ProMedica Health System Inc. UAW Region 2-B officials were unavailable for comment.

In a statement yesterday, ProMedica said the hospital was pleased about the cancellation. "Throughout this process, we have always desired to preserve the direct relationship that exists between the leadership and employees of our organization without third-party representation," the statement said.

The union in 2001 lost elections involving nurses, practical nurses, laboratory, radiology, and operating room technicians. But the labor board investigated a complaint that hospital officials had interfered illegally in the election involving the support services workers by creating the impression that promised wage increases would be in jeopardy if the UAW won.

In late 2004, the labor board ordered a new election. Eventually, it was rescheduled for this week.

The UAW represents nurses and other workers at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.


Hollywood blasts writers' union leadership

Movie and TV production is a step closer to being disrupted. Labor relations in Hollywood have gone from bad to worse. Sputtering talks between Hollywood movie and TV writers and an association representing the studios and networks are so bad; after six sessions, the producer’s spokesman J. Nicholas Counter on Friday went public with his unhappiness: “This is the most frustrating and futile attempt at bargaining that anyone on the AMPTP negotiating team has encountered in Guild negotiation history. “

“The WGA leadership apparently has no intention to bargain in good faith,” continued an angry Counter. “The WGA leadership is hidebound to strike. We are farther apart today than when we started and the only outcome we see is a disaster engineered by the present leadership of the WGA.”

The WGA issued a brief response to Counter’s statement., WGA head negotiator John Bowman and committee members Susannah Grant, Neal Baer, Bill Condon, and Shawn Ryan signaled their continued resistance to management proposals that would dramatically reshape the compensation structure for writers, eliminate writers credits on TV shows and essentially cut them out of revenue from new media including the Internet altogether.

“While the WGA remains determined to make a fair deal, at this stage of the negotiations the AMPTP is still stuck on its rollback proposals including profit-based residuals,” said the WGA in a statement late Friday afternoon. “Our members will not stand for that. The entertainment industry is successful and growing like never before. Writers, whose creativity is at the heart of that success and growth, are committed to sharing in it.”

The writers are talking about a management proposal that would re-adjust compensation from a system based on revenue generated, to one of compensation based on when a project becomes profitable. The writers say the only way to count is when revenue first comes in, and point to a history of lawsuits and complaints about Hollywood bookkeeping.

So the stage is set for months more of labor unrest in Hollywood, whether or not writers actually hit the picket line when their contract is up on Halloween. It is unlikely writers would immediate strike. There would more likely be a period while the writers attempt to work without a contract; or on an extension of the existing contract.

Some studios, however, have already put out word among agent and writers that they may not put anything new into development after Oct. 31, when the contract is up. Instead, the studios and networks are said to be stockpiling scripts, projects and shows. They have speeded up production and given the go ahead to more new projects than usual.

Movie studios as well are said to be building up their inventory of unreleased movies, so that they can spread out existing product beyond the contract period.

These talks come at a historic turning point for the entertainment industry, when the old forms of distribution are being shoved aside by a new generation of technology that personalizes the message in new ways. The big companies are making big profits but they are concerned that they could suddenly be made obsolete. The writers want to make sure they are compensated for their labors however the content is delivered to paying customers.

“The Companies and the Guilds must work together to re-position this industry to respond to the changing markets and the changing world,” Counter has said. “We must come together to avoid what has happened to industries that deny change or failed to adapt fast enough.

The WGA, still smarting two decades later from being cut out of a serious share of the home video bonanza, isn’t buying. In a message to members, the writers posted their point of view: “The companies seek to do to new media what they did 25 years ago to home video, and worse. As stated in

our “Declaration of Principles,” we will insist that re-use of our content in any medium must be fairly compensated… we know that the AMPTP companies are taking in billions of dollars in new media revenues. We will not accept the arguments about “unproven business model” that were used in the home video negotiations to deprive us of a fair share of revenues from this incredibly lucrative exploitation of our work.”

Most likely, the solution won’t be found until the middle of next year, around the end of June 2008 when the contracts for the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA, as well as the Directors Guild are all up. The writers and actors, both with activist leadership, have been working together for months, but the directors are likely to take their own course, starting early negotiations early next year.

There is a huge gulf between labor and management in this round of negotiations for contract with writers, actors and directors. There are no easy solutions and there will be no quick answers.


Teachers fed-up, slow down in Ohio

District teachers are fed up with waiting for their contract to be renewed and won’t work more than they legally have to, according to a mass mailing to the parents of Wellington (OH) students. Form letters signed by various teachers and staffers appeared in mailboxes Friday and Saturday.

One letter signed by high school teacher Janet Brand states that her work hours are 7:30 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. “As you are aware, my day usually extends well beyond those hours. However, since it appears that the Wellington School Board does not value us as professionals, as evidenced by their refusal to bargain a fair and equitable contract, we have established, as an Association, a Work to Rule policy,” the letter said.

School board member Brian Fehlan said he’s received several calls from parents upset about the tone of the letter. “It left a more negative view in their minds toward the teachers,” he said.

Negotiations with the teachers union — which the letter calls “an unfortunate and unnecessary mess” — will resume at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday for the first time since Sept. 19.

The sit-down was called by a federal mediator, said Fehlan, who hopes to settle the contract Tuesday.

Repko said there is a 50-50 chance the Wellington Education Association will call for a strike during the meeting. But teachers don’t want to strike, she said.

“We want to come to a resolution. It would benefit both sides,” she said.

The WEA represents 89 teachers.

Tuesday’s meeting does not address another lapsed contract with the Wellington School Support Staff union, which represents 59 bus drivers, cooks, custodians and other noncertified workers.

Parent Gerry Askew said her group, called Support Our Children, will parade in front of Town Hall on Main Street, where the meeting will be.

“Nobody in this town wants this to end in a strike. We want it to end now,” she said.

Support Our Children members distributed fliers Friday at the Wellington Dukes football game. The fliers are asking the community to pressure school board members to settle the contract.

They also will be present 7:30 p.m. Monday at a meeting hosted by the WEA and WSSS at McCormick Middle School.

That forum will give more information about the union’s Work to Rule policy.


UAW-GM rejection indicates emerging opposition

United Auto Workers union members in Wentzville rejected Friday a new national labor contract with General Motors Corp., according to a worker there and a former UAW regional director. However, officials for the chapter, UAW Local 2250, would not comment on the outcome. Chapter spokesman Tom Brune confirmed only that voting, which began Thursday, ended around 9 a.m. Friday.

Local 2250 represents more than 2,000 members who assemble the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana passenger vans at GM's plant in Wentzville. Even if the local chapter has rejected the contract, it would have no direct impact on plant operations. A national strike is possible only if a majority of the 73,454 GM UAW members also vote against the contract. Voting is expected to conclude Oct. 10.

Various media reports say the contract is passing by a wide margin nationally, although workers from at least two plants besides Wentzville have voted against it.

Wentzville's votes could indicate emerging opposition, said Jerry Tucker, retired director for the UAW Region 5, which includes Missouri. Tucker was among retirees who spoke out against the tentative labor contract approved last week by national UAW leaders.

Tucker said proposed changes to health benefits unnerved the plant's aging work force. The new contract includes a benefits package proposal anchored by a trust fund for retiree health care, known as a Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Association, or VEBA.

GM, which has about 340,000 retirees and spouses, wants to form the VEBA to get $51 billion in retiree health care debt off its books. The VEBA would be run by an independent board overseen by the UAW.

Though they don't get to vote on the contract, retirees such as Tucker have made known their fears that if the VEBA ran dry, workers and retirees alike would be left to pay their own health costs. The UAW's national leadership is supporting the VEBA because it protects retirees' benefits in the event of a downturn or bankruptcy at GM.

If UAW members do reject the proposed contract, there likely would be a new round of negotiations rather than a strike, said Harley Shaiken, labor specialist at the University of California at Berkley.

Shaiken said the signs point toward ratification of the contract offer.

"The national council of local union officers voted for the contract, and if it were going to go down, you'd have expected there to have been dissent there," Shaiken said. "Many may be voting 'no' now, but they may not be prepared for a strike."

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