School bus drivers striking to break free from LIUNA

As it heads into a second day of a wildcat strike that forced thousands of students to find alternative transportation, the bus company serving the St. Louis (MO) Public Schools indicated a willingness to meet a key demand of drivers.

"We will honor whatever you decide with respect to union representation, as required by law," a representative of First Student, formerly Laidlaw International, wrote to striking drivers Monday afternoon. On Friday, the drivers and bus monitors filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board stating their intent to split with the School Transportation and Allied Workers' Laborers Local 509, an affiliate of the Laborers' International Union of North America.

The drivers followed up Monday with a walkout to protest what they said was the union's unauthorized approval of a 90-day contract extension. About 500 of the district's 840 drivers were off the job Monday.

Union negotiators and First Student returned to the bargaining table Monday afternoon.

A spokesman for the drivers said they want to bypass the union and negotiate directly with First Student.

"We are willing to do our routes until we can get someone we can trust to sit down with (First Student)," said Andre LaGrand. "We want someone who will be true spokespeople for us, that's what we're looking for."

Wayne Gensler, an area vice president for First Student, said the company is legally bound to meet with Local 509 representatives.

In an effort to head off more disruptions, however, Gensler and First Student invited the drivers — who say representation by the Teamsters would better serve their interests — to join the discussions as well.

"We want to talk with them, but we don't know who to talk with right now," Gensler said.

The district's drivers are asking for higher wages and, if possible, a benefit package. Under the current contract, they receive no benefits.

"All we want is to live like normal people," said driver Venezia Nunley. "We want to be able to go to the doctor, go to the dentist and get eyeglasses so we can see. We make too much for food stamps, we make too much to be eligible for day-care assistance. We're just stuck in the middle."

Meanwhile, disruptions on more than half of the district's 545 bus routes put parents in a bind as well.

Nelson Kennedy left work shortly before 2 p.m., summoned to Carr Lane Middle School to pick up his seventh-grade daughter.

"You always expect something to go wrong with the buses," Kennedy said. "It's just a matter of what degree."

School officials said student attendance across the district averaged 75 percent Monday.

Of the 1,900 students who attend Parkway and Pattonville schools as part of the city-county transfer program, 900 missed classes because of the walkout, said a spokeswoman for the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation.


SEIU breakaway unit to re-vote forced gov't unionism

The relationship between the California State Employees Association and its largest affiliate figures to improve as a result of balloting that took place over the weekend in San Jose.

Dave Hart, supported by the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, won the election for the CSEA presidency over incumbent J.J. Jelincic. Sunday's vote among the delegates to the CSEA general council favored Hart, 539-438.

SEIU 1000 won another victory over the weekend when the delegates approved bylaw changes that will shift power from CSEA to the affiliates. The voice vote by the delegates gave the affiliates greater degrees of autonomy long sought by SEIU 1000. "I think it's a new day in CSEA," said SEIU 1000 President Jim Hard. "The combination of the election of Dave Hart ... and the package of bylaw improvements is going to make it very easy to work with all of the affiliates inside the association."

With 87,000 members, SEIU is by far the largest of the four affiliates that make up CSEA. The other three, which represent retirees, state supervisors and California State University employees, have a total membership of about 49,000 among them.

The weekend elections came at a critical time for public employees in California. A ballot initiative is circulating that proposes to substantially change the public employee pension system. The unions strongly oppose the changes.

SEIU 1000 also is facing an internal fight by employees in one of its bargaining units to rescind their "fair share" fee payments. If they are successful, the "fair share" employees, who are not union members but are required to pay fees every month for representation services they receive from SEIU 1000, won't have to pay the money anymore. The Public Employment Relations Board is preparing to set a date for a vote on the measure. If it passes, it could cost SEIU 1000 about $12 million in revenues annually.

Meanwhile, the union's contract with the state expires next year, at a time when the California budget is expected to be facing a multibillion-dollar shortfall.

Along with Hart, CSEA delegates voted in another SEIU 1000-backed candidate, David Okumura, as the board's new secretary-treasurer. The lone incumbent to retain her position on the CSEA board is vice president Donna Snodgrass.

Hart is a member of SEIU 1000's bargaining unit 11 that is made up of about 3,500 technicians like himself. He has worked to measure the California snowpack every year for nearly a quarter-century.

He said one of his immediate goals as president is to end the public bickering that has marked the relationship between CSEA and SEIU 1000 in recent years.

"This internal debate has been demoralizing to our members," Hart said. "I'm stopping all of that stuff. People can fight in meetings, but don't go public with it. People who don't understand the context can be very confused and demoralized by it."

Hart said he was supported by SEIU 1000 "because they wanted this internal sniping to end."

"We're burying the hatchet and moving on," he said.

Jelincic has been president of CSEA since 2003, when SEIU 1000 supported him for the job previously held by Perry Kenny. But shortly after Jelincic was elected with SEIU 1000 support, he found himself at odds with the union over his efforts to exert control over its management. He said the public portrayal of the conflict was overblown.

A former investment officer at the California Public Employees' Retirement System, Jelincic said he will have no problem going back to his old job, which he termed "a good gig."

He said Hart's election and the bylaw changes will make SEIU 1000 singularly responsible for whatever successes or failures the union generates.

"They've lost their ability to blame their problems on somebody else," Jelincic said.


California nurses prep for big hospital strike this week

Nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and other Sutter Health hospitals say that inadequate staffing means they can't take a meal break without abandoning their patients. Staffing issues and proposed changes to their health and retirements benefits also are the complaints leading some 5,000 nurses at 15 Northern California hospitals to prepare to strike tomorrow and Thursday.

"It's not good for patients to have a nurse that feels faint because she hasn't eaten," said Jan Rodolfo, a registered nurse in the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center of Oakland, speaking to reporters as members of the California Nurses Association made picket signs Monday.

The two-day work stoppage would occur at 13 Sutter Health hospitals, including the Berkeley and Oakland Alta Bates facilities as well as San Leandro Hospital, Mills-Peninsula Health Services in Burlingame and San Mateo, Sutter Delta in Antioch, Sutter Solano in Vallejo, Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, St. Luke's Hospital and California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Sutter Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae and Sutter Novato.

The nurses say that Sutter Health hospitals are violating legally mandated nurse-to-patient ratios by not providing for coverage when nurses take breaks. Most nurses just don't take breaks, according to Sharon Tobin, an intensive care unit nurse at Mills-Peninsula.

Tobin said another major issue is having enough staff to lift patients. "Injuries have skyrocketed" in the last six months, she said, as nurses injure their backs, necks or shoulders trying to lift or turn patients when teams of two or sometimes three people should be doing thatlifting.

Ten contracts between locals of the California Nurses Association and Sutter Health expired over the summer. Most of those contracts were extended until Sept. 26 as negotiations continued into their fourth month.

Many of the hospitals gave their "final offers" last week, according to a spokeswoman for Mills-Peninsula Health Services.

The spokeswoman, Debbie Goodin, also told MediaNews that the hospital has contacted a company that provides replacement nurses.

The health and retirement benefits at issue differ in each of the 10 contracts, according to both hospital and union officials. In some contracts, nurses are being asked to go through a health assessment and meet six times a year with a wellness coach in order to continue to get current health coverage. If they do not go, they would pay part of the premium for the coverage.

At other hospitals, nurses are being told they must go to certain Sutter facilities and to certain doctors for health coverage.

"It's disheartening. We were hoping this strike would be avoided — we are still hoping — but it is looking rather doubtful," said Rose Ann De Moro, an official of the California Nurses Association.

The nurses also are protesting plans by Sutter to close some hospital units, including the surgical unit at St. Luke's in the Mission district of San Francisco. Registered nurse Jane Sandoval from St. Luke's said that Sutter has already changed the nurse staffing in the surgical recovery and newborn nursery units so that nurses are only "on call" for the recovery unit and for the nursery with no one assigned to staff these units.


Unions stage protest against union-friendly Gov.

About 70 union members attending a statewide AFL-CIO convention boycotted a speech by Oregon Democrat Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Monday, exposing a deep new rift in the governor's sometimes rocky relationship with public employees. The workers, members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said they were protesting Kulongoski's agreement to give large pay increases to thousands of state managers, while negotiating much smaller raises for rank-and-file employees.

They said they chose to walk out instead of waving banners or disrupting Kulongoski's speech at the state's biggest labor convention. About 400 have signed up for the multi-day gathering. "Our members are angry," said AFSCME Executive Director Ken Allen. "The members wanted to let the administration know how seriously we view this." AFSCME represents about 22,000 public employees statewide.

Kulongoski said he understands the union's concerns but has no regrets or second thoughts about the pay increases for managers. He said he doesn't see a repeat of the soured relations that developed after his first term, when he helped drive an overhaul of public employee pensions. That led a number of unions to support Kulongoski's challengers during the 2006 primary. When Kulongoski won the primary however, unions became his biggest financial backer in the general election.

"I don't think I'm on the outs with state workers," Kulongoski said as he left the Seaside Convention Center. "It's nothing that good friends can't resolve."

The state has about 60 department heads who will get raises of 21 percent to 24 percent over the next two years. Nearly 4,800 state managers will see their salaries rise 11 percent to 16 percent.

Public union workers negotiated pay raises that total a little more than 6 percent for the same period.

All state employees took a two-year pay freeze during the economic downturn of the governor's first term.

Allen said he met with Kulongoski and his staff before the contracts were set and was told that 6 percent was all the state could afford. He told that to his members, he said. "It's my integrity that's on the line."

He said the fallout already has started. Unionized workers in the state Department of Environmental Quality refused to ratify their contract settlement. Another group that works as support staff in state prisons has started talking about a strike, Allen said.

The walkout put a brief damper on what largely has been a celebratory convention. AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain lauded Kulongoski as one of the most pro-labor governors in the nation. He said labor had one of its best legislative sessions in decades this year, and he thanked the governor for his support.

"Whenever we went to the governor's office, whenever we asked for help, he was there," Chamberlain said. On the AFSCME walkout, Chamberlain said he expects Allen and Kulongoski to work out a solution.

The difference between the labor and management pay raises is "unfortunate," Chamberlain said. "But if I had to pick two people to work it out, these would be the two people."

In his speech, Kulongoski credited unions for keeping the U.S. middle class intact.

"You, union members of the AFL-CIO, are the spokespersons for all working families -- union and non union -- in this great state," Kulongoski said.


SEIU-Edwards to continue wooing state-by-state

Sometimes no news is the worst news of all. SEIU, the high-growth service workers’ union, announced today that it won’t make a union-wide endorsement in the Democratic primary. “Any one of these candidates would help create a new American dream for workers and their families,” said SEIU honcho Anna Burger.

This is a true disappointment for Edwards campaign. The candidate has been working for this endorsement, hard, since the end of the 2004 campaign, walking pickets, joining hunger strikes, doing just about anything imaginable to win SEIU support.

I interviewed Burger for the profile of Edwards I wrote earlier this year. She confided that SEIU had a “special relationship” with Edwards:

"He has always been willing to reach out in organizing campaigns. He was with us in Houston when we were organizing 5,000 janitors, which was a huge effort. He was also with us in Miami when we were organizing janitors and university workers at the University of Miami, where we were in a very long difficult struggle. He wasn’t just making phone calls. He was on the picket lines.

All of the Democratic candidates came to the SEIU executive board in January. When John Edwards came in, someone asked him what kind of workers’ struggles had he been involved in. And he started to list some. And then from around the room people kept on joining in, ‘Oh, and you were here.’ ‘And you were here.’ And it started adding up. There were more places than even he’d remembered. It was kind of a comical moment, when instead of a candidate having to answer, everyone else was.

He was also the first one who jumped up and said he wanted to do our “Walk a Day in Our Shoes” challenge — and immediately he was off talking with a nursing home worker who was struggling to make ends meet. He believes with a passion about the importance of unions as part of the solution for working people in our country. This is a true commitment on his part."

With his modest fundraising to finish the third quarter, and recent slippage in the polls in Iowa, Edwards really needed this kind of momentum booster.

The good news for Edwards fans is that he can still vie for state-by-state endorsements of SEIU locals. Speaking to the Edwards campaign today, they put a brave face on the union’s decision, noting that SEIU Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina are now individually empowered to endorse their candidate. “This frees up our support within SEIU,” said an Edwards insider. “Now they can go to bat for us.”

The Edwards campaign also took pains to point out today’s SEIU decision prevents workers from, say, Illinois — where Obama’s endorsement is all but assured — from becoming foot soldiers in a pivotal early state like Iowa … unless Iowa’s SEIU local also endorses Obama.

So what if Iowa SEIU fails to endorse Edwards? “That would be troubling,” said the insider.


Michigan union admits wrongdoing in illegal dues claim

An international union has settled a case with an employee of a Corpus Christi-based company who claimed he was illegally forced to pay union dues to retain his job.

The International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America settled the case earlier this month with Carlos Banuelos, a security guard with Asset Protection and Security Services. Banuelos, who works at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Port Isabel Service Processing Center, claims he was forced to pay union dues in December after being threatened with termination. A hearing scheduled for Oct. 4 in Harlingen was canceled when the union settled the case.

The settlement states that the Michigan-based union no longer will:

- Threaten Asset employees at the Port Isabel facility with termination if they refuse to join or pay into the union,

- Request that Asset discharge employees who don't join or pay into the union,

- Interfere with, restrain or coerce employees.

The union also agrees to remove from its records any unlawful request to remove Banuelos from employment with Asset. Calls to union officials late Monday afternoon were not returned.

Patrick T. Semmens, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, said the settlement favored Banuelos but is a victory for all employees of the detention center.

Scott Mandel, owner of Asset, said his business has not been affected by the case. Most of Asset's 425 employees have not had issues with the union.

"I anticipated a mass exodus when all this started, but it didn't happen," Mandel said. "There were a few people who had issues with the union and those cases have been resolved or dismissed. We're happy with the results."

Mandel said the company voluntarily stopped collecting union dues in August and has reimbursed the few who have requested it.

Union officials said they had a right to collect dues at the Port Isabel facility because it is considered a federal enclave, property and buildings owned by the federal government that operate under the sole authority of the federal government.

Attorneys for the Right to Work Foundation, who represent Banuelos, say no evidence has been found to substantiate the claims.


Judge ducks teachers union strikers

The eighth day of the Harrison Hills (OH) teacher strike saw both parties back in court Monday, but a judge delayed the planned contempt of court hearing and urged the union and administration to resolve their differences.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Jim Drexler said the Harrison Hills Teachers Assn. was making contract demands outside the limits of the district’s finances, while HHTA officials said they weren’t offered the deal the board published on the school Web site.

The union and administration were due before Judge Michael Nunner of Harrison County Common Pleas Court for a hearing alleging violations of an agreement reached last week that limits the number of pickets at each school. That pact arose from alleged injuries to union members by security vans and claims by the administration that teachers purposely were blocking those vans.

However, Nunner pushed the hearing back to Oct. 18 and asked the two sides to work diligently toward a solution for the sake of the county at large.

“What he pretty much told us on that was that everyone should sit back and take a deep breath and use common sense,” Drexler said. He added that the district hoped to schedule more negotiations with the federal mediator soon.

Several hours of negotiations with the mediator Sunday in Weirton, W.Va, failed to yield an agreement. In the board’s final proposal (available at www.harrisonhills.k12.oh.us), Drexler said, the district offered teachers 3 percent raises for the next two years, lower prescription co-payments and kept maximum health care premiums at $49, while asking teachers to sacrifice some insurance coverage.

Union spokeswoman Linda Rusen said Monday that neither their negotiating team nor their membership at large had been offered the deal involving 3 percent raises. She also said the union wanted a three-year contract.

Drexler also said the board had given ground on a no-reprisal clause the union was unhappy with because it didn’t cover parents and students who acted in support of the strike. Rusen said the union was concerned because protections for the district’s classified staff weren’t included in the no-reprisal clause.

Also Monday, the district sent a press release stating it would file a second unfair labor practice complaint with the State Employment Relations Board. The complaint says that on Sept. 26, HHTA members erected a sign near school board member Judy Crawshaw’s place of employment “in an effort to disparage and discredit” her, which the district said is a violation of state law.

Rusen and Ohio Education Assn. representative John Avouris expressed surprise over the filing, saying they hadn’t been notified of it. Rusen also said she had no knowledge of union members erecting any such sign.


Teachers union will blow off pre-strike tension in PA

Frustrated over a lack of progress during negotiations, the Seneca Valley Education Association said yesterday it will go on strike on Monday. "Our people would much rather have an agreement," said Butch Santicola, a Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman representing the teachers union. "But the teachers are sort of relieved to get this over with."

The 575 teachers in the district have been working without a contract since June 30, 2006. In August, the teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize union leaders to call a strike if negotiations did not progress. Since that time, numerous offers and counter-offers have been made by both parties, all of which were not accepted for various reasons. The biggest areas of contention are salary and benefits. District officials requested fact finding but later voted down the fact finder's report, stating his suggested salary increases were too high.

The fact finder recommended salary increases of 3.9 percent for the first two years, 4.3 percent for the third year and 4.7 percent for the final two years of a five-year contract. The average teacher's salary in the district is $54,949.

The district has offered an average 4 percent annual increase for all five years of a new contract. Teachers had originally asked for roughly 7 percent increases per year, but later made a new offer, requesting an average of 6 percent per year.

Tom King, an attorney representing the district in negotiations, said the district isn't surprised the teachers have decided to strike.

"They only had three choices: take what was offered, go on strike or go back to the bargaining table," he said. "I think they chose the worst of the three choices, but that's certainly their right. I think it's a mistake, though."

Health care costs also have been a point of contention.

Formal written notice, giving the required 48 hours' notice of the union's intent to strike, will be delivered to Mr. King this morning, Mr. Santicola said.

Teachers could remain on strike until Dec. 8 unless an agreement is reached.

Seneca Valley has an enrollment of 7,580 students and includes Cranberry, Zelienople, Harmony, Seven Fields and Jackson.


UAW could stage short strike at Chrysler's convenience

The United Auto Workers have set a strike deadline against Chrysler. The UAW said contract talks with the automaker continue, but if no agreement is reached by 11 a.m. Wednesday, union members could walk off the job.

"I've been on edge six months," said Chrysler worker Andre Pickett. "It's not a good feeling." "I've been on strike before," said another Chrysler worker. "It's no big deal." Several UAW members said they have already started making picket signs at the union halls and would not be surprised if there is a strike.

Some industry experts agree and said Chrysler may allow a strike because the automaker has already temporarily shut down five assembly plants, including the Jefferson North Plant in Detroit, and a truck plant in Warren, Mich. Industry analyst also pointed out that the automaker already has a large inventory of vehicles and would not have to pay workers during a strike.

"I don't rule out" Chrysler allowing a strike, said AutoPacific analyst Jim Hall. He said a walk-out could motivate both sides but cautioned, "I like to think it would happen without a very long strike."

"I believe we may go out a couple of days, if anything, and be back on Monday," said Charlotte Brown, a worker at the Chrysler Stamping Plant. "I hope they get it together. I don't want to go on strike, but I don't want a pay cut, either."

The negotiations are taking place at Chrysler's headquarters in Auburn Hills. Chrysler has about 49,000 hourly workers.


Vancouver strike-mediator's neutrality questioned

Civic strike mediator Brian Foley, who put his "heart and soul" into his recommendations, rejects an allegation that his proposal was tilted in favour of the city. "I have 40 years' experience," Foley said yesterday. "I came from a union. I pride myself on being neutral. I put my heart and soul into those recommendations. It's obvious my judgment is being questioned."

Foley's proposals to end the 11-week-old Vancouver strike were given last week to the three striking locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Voting by the 5,075 union members wraps up tonight, while management votes tomorrow. If the contracts are approved, services could begin returning as early as Thursday.

But union leaders are offering members differing advice. Inside workers were asked to approve it, while library workers were asked to reject it. As for the outside workers, members told The Province that the leadership is letting them decide for themselves.

City spokesman Jerry Dobrovolny said it's disappointing some locals have recommended rejection.

"The city was hopeful the recommendations would facilitate a quick end," he said. "The members will have the final say. We'll wait for the results."

Foley said his proposal was fair.

"I listened to every union and management argument for 10 days. I believe my recommendations are fair and balanced, ones that both parties can live with.

"The recommendations went beyond what the city was prepared to do. If I had come down 100 per cent in favour of the union, the city would have rejected it."

He believes if settlements are not reached this week, the strike could extend until 2008.

"This one has a bad odour to it," he said. "It looks like it would go more sour than it is now. We have heard from the leadership of the locals but we haven't heard from the union members yet."

Foley told CKNW: "My nose tells me that this thing, regrettably, has the ability to be a long and protracted and bitter strike."

D'Arcy Stainton, past-president of the library local, dismissed Foley's prediction.

"Foley is an independent mediator who makes his living by getting people back to work," Stainton said. "He wants to put another notch on his belt."

Stainton believes library workers will reject the deal.

"Foley's recommendations tilt in the city's direction. He gave cash to less than half of our members and shut out the other half," Stainton said.

Dobrovolny said that in the past when votes differed members refused to cross each other's picket lines.

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