NY gov't unions cool to C.B. statute changes

A law protecting government workers and public teachers could get some changes. The Taylor Law was formed decades ago to keep public employees from striking, but it also gave them more leverage at the bargaining table. They teach children, maintain local roads, and protect our communities.

Public workers could see changes to a law that gives them protections. Under the Taylor Law, employee unions are able to bargain for better pay and benefits. In return, they cannot strike.

Roberta Dunker leads the local Teamsters union and says public employees are underpaid and underappreciated. "Let's face it, on a cold winter night, when it's zero degrees out and the snow and ice is falling, who are the ones that are out there working? It's your municipal workers," says Dunker.

Catherine Klein heads the local office of New York State United Teachers. She says the Taylor Law gives some control to employees. "That's why there was that labor unrest back in the early 60s, now you have to sit down and negotiate terms and conditions of employment," says Klein.

But critics say giving workers bigger pay and benefits means bigger headaches for taxpayers.

Catherine Glover is the president of the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce.

She says local governments are forced to pay out worker contracts, pushing up costs, and taxes.

"It's outdated, and it is placing a continuously heavy burden on the taxpayer in supporting public employees," says Glover.

Glover says she supports workers rights, but says taxpayers should not suffer.

She's hoping for changes when the law is reviewed next week.

Economists, labor leaders and politicians will meet in Albany on Tuesday to consider possible changes to the Taylor Law.


UMW boss bemoans nurses' failing strike

Striking nurses have been promised “100 percent support” by the United Mine Workers of America in their negotiations with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare chain, including a facility in Beckley. “We will do anything we can to help them,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts pledged Wednesday.

For decades, many patients using ARH facilities have been union coal miners and their families, the UMWA leader pointed out. “We want to be sure that they are getting the best care possible, and it’s clear to us that the best way to do that is for the hospitals to stop forcing these dedicated professionals to work mandatory overtime and instead hire more staff,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he found it offensive that management has resorted to the use of replacement works to fill in for picketing nurses. “Let’s call them what they are — scabs,” he said.

“Many of these facilities still bear witness to their UMWA origins with photos of (legendary former president) John L. Lewis and other UMWA members on their wall. It is outrageous to John L.’s memory for scabs and hired security guards to be paraded in front of his image.”

Roberts called on ARH management to consider its roots and union heritage and strike an agreement that is acceptable to the nursing staff.

During this week’s interims session at the Capitol, about 76 red-and-white clad nurses rallied with a vow to stay off the job until their terms are met, and Roberts applauded their stand.

“The strike by nurses at the ARH in Kentucky and West Virginia is a clear signal to hospital management that these health care professionals are willing to stand up for better patient care for the communities they serve,” he said.


Contrite strike boss asks employer's forbearance

Striking United Steelworkers are proposing to go back to work at steel tubing maker PTC Alliance under terms of their old contract while still negotiating their differences with the company. The union made its proposal via e-mail to company officials late Wednesday afternoon after a meeting with a federal mediator, said Mike Johnson, president of Steelworkers Local 3059.

The union expects to get a response today, he said. Company officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. Since the strike started 10 days ago, PTC Alliance has brought in about 30 replacement workers at the Alliance (OH) plant, in addition to its 30 salaried employees, Johnson said.

He called the company's proposals, given Wednesday via the mediator, "a step backward," but declined to give details.

The mediator is working to set up another date to meet with both parties, Johnson said.

The union and company agreed last week to meet with a federal mediator after about 220 Steelworkers went on strike Oct. 1. Their previous contract expired at midnight Sept. 30.

The union and company said their differences are largely over non-economic issues. The union says it is trying to get language protecting jobs in its contract in case the company is sold.

Workers rejected a "memorandum of understanding" with the company before the contract expired, the company said in a statement released before Wednesday's mediation session.

PTC Alliance, based near Pittsburgh, said the strike has not disrupted manufacturing operations at its Alliance factory.

"All of the plant's machinery is operating and we are continuing to produce product to satisfy customer needs," said Cary Hart, PTC Alliance chief operating officer.

"During the first week of the strike, 100 trucks with product left the plant, and during the same time, the company received about 80 trucks of supplies, which is in line with normal shipping volume."

Customers have not canceled any orders, Hart said. PTC Alliance has 10 other factories.

Hart said the company remains committed to a consensual agreement with the union and that it looked forward to meeting with the mediator.


Disgruntled teachers union jeers School Board

Minutes after the Tiverton (RI) School Committee denied a teachers union grievance that pay should not have been withheld for the day they went on strike last month, the board abruptly ended the Tuesday night meeting when teachers tried to discuss other issues.

It was the School Committee's first public meeting since last week when it announced that it was seeking arbitration to try to settle a contract dispute with teachers after six mediation sessions failed to bring the two sides close to an agreement.

More than half of the 205 members of the teachers union attended the committee meeting in the high-school auditorium and booed members when they voted to adjourn. That came after teachers tried to prolong a discussion about some misinformation regarding them not writing college recommendation letters for seniors, and not conducting field trips.

"You owe teachers an apology," guidance counselor Beth Farley told School Committee Chairwoman Denise deMedeiros as teachers applauded. She took deMedeiros to task for sending out a press release last week that stated college recommendations were not being written, when in fact Farley said she has 63 teacher-written recommendations in her files for college-bound seniors, including two for deMedeiros' daughter.

Because of the contract dispute, teachers have refused to continue to volunteer as advisors for the mock trial team, math team and other extracurricular activities. DeMedeiros had an agenda item about that and the fact that parents have volunteered to cover many of those assignments.

When high-school social studies teacher Betty Anselmo started walking to the microphone to say that she is taking students on a field trip at the end of the month, contrary to statements that field trips are not taking place, deMedeiros said, "No more questions."

Committee Vice Chairman Michael Burk made a motion to adjourn.

"Let her speak!" teachers yelled from the audience. "Typical! Walk away!" another shouted.

The committee voted 3-1, with Sally Black voting against, to adjourn. Committeeman Leonard Wright was not at the meeting.

"I just wanted to let them talk," Black said after the meeting. "I wanted to hear what they wanted to say."

Burk said he motioned to end the meeting because "the union was trying to use our meeting for propaganda purposes."

"I was trying to run the meeting and they wouldn't let me," deMedeiros said afterward.

Union representative Patrick Crowley, assistant executive director of the National Educators Association, Rhode Island, said the way the meeting ended "makes members more agitated. The members were pretty upset before, now they're incensed."

He said one good thing came out of the meeting. "I'm glad the community got a chance to see what we've been dealing with for the last year ... refusal to listen, making up facts."

Crowley said he plans to file an unfair labor practice charge against the committee for "refusing to conduct a proper grievance hearing."

School Committee attorney Stephen Robinson told Crowley at the start of the hearing that he did not have the right to cross examine anyone or question anyone. "Tell the people and the public why you are entitled to pay while you were on strike," Robinson told him.

Robinson said the hearing was for the union to state the issue and recommend a remedy.

Crowley said the remedy is the teachers should be paid for the day because there can be no waiver or modification from the contract unless both parties agree in writing and the contract calls for 26 equal paychecks. Paying teachers at the end of the year for the day they have to make up because of the strike will be costly to the School Department because it will require the payroll clerk to run a payroll for just one day, he said.

Crowley also said the School Committee can't discriminate against a teacher for his or her membership in an association, and the committee did discriminate when it withheld a day's pay for teachers who were taking an action related to their association with the union.

"The remedy is the people should be paid for the day," Crowley said.

"Paid for the strike?" Robinson said. "How about language in the contract that you won't strike?"

The committee immediately voted to deny the grievance.


Aggressive SEIU surprises health-care management

Unions are increasingly using aggressive negative publicity campaigns and other alternative strategies and technologies to organize hospital and other healthcare workers, according to a new survey, the 29th Labor Activity in Healthcare Report.

IRI Consultants surveys 3,300 members of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) each year to assess labor trends in healthcare.

The significant increase in the incidence of reported negativepublicity campaigns against healthcare organizations, also known as "corporate campaigns" (26 percent - up from 13 percent), also is reflected in the growing concern among 62 percent of the respondents who indicated they were either "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about union efforts to organize workers.

Corporate campaigns are designed to damage an organization's reputation and image by inflicting significant external pressure on an organization in hopes of gaining leverage. Union-sponsored campaigns often aim for negotiating strength or to force employers to accept "neutrality," "free access" or "card check recognition" that make organizing workers far easier.

These agreements enable the union to side-step traditional secret ballot elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board and are often more successful organizing strategies than traditional elections.

The new survey shows a significant increase over last year in respondents who report pressure from unions to agree to card check (32 percent - up from 17 percent), neutrality agreements (26 percent - up from 19 percent) and fair election agreements (10 percent - up from 6 percent).

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was the primary union in more than 50 percent of reported corporate campaigns, and continues to be among the most aggressive unions targeting the healthcare sector.

Respondents reported that registered nurses (RNs), service and nonprofessional employees and technical workers were the most common focus of union organizing efforts among ASHHRA member organizations. Among the most frequent issues used to organize workers were pay (80 percent), benefits (70 percent) and staffing levels (60 percent).

Unions also demonstrated more reliance on electronic and online techniques to reach potential members and create coalitions, taking advantage of low-cost communications tools like email, blogs and Web sites to network and disseminate information. Unions also have leveraged so-called "social networking" through the use of MySpace and YouTube.

Founded in 1979, IRI Consultants offers organization development, corporate communications and employee relations consulting, training and leadership development services that help clients implement best practices to improve employee job satisfaction, enhance workplace productivity and facilitate and apply effective communication strategies.

ASHHRA, a division of the American Hospital Association, is the nation's only membership organization exclusively dedicated to meeting the professional needs of human resources leaders in health care.

A copy of the full report is available by contacting Robert Moll at 313.965.0350, ext. 428.


Teachers to strike cash-strapped district

Beginning Friday, classes at District 2’s three schools will be canceled unless a teachers’ contract agreement is reached. “We are very, very disappointed that it has come to this,” said Denise Gossell, Richmond/Spring Grove (IL) Education Association president. “We’re being forced to strike by a school board that continues to demand new give-backs from the employees even after we have already conceded so much. It’s just not fair to those who have given so much to this district.”

Pensions remain the main issue at hand for the district’s 140 teachers and support staff members who took a strike vote Thursday. The district pays 100 percent of the employees’ contributions. According to the school board’s final offer, that would remain the same for the first year of the contract. However, in the next two years, any increase would be shared evenly by the board and the employees.

School board member Glenn Samuel said there were several reasons behind the negotiation standstill. “We have a structural deficit already of more than $2 million that needs to be paid down despite a balanced budget,” he said. In addition, the board also would like to get infrastructure and technology-related items for the students, Samuel said.

“We also have residents that have voted ‘no’ overwhelmingly, 80/20, in two fund referendums,” he said. “We can’t ask these people for any more money.”

No additional talks are scheduled between the two parties before Friday, District 2 Superintendent Dan Oest said. Negotiations began in May, with the both parties meeting 13 times since then.

A strike would affect about 1,600 students in the district, which includes Nippersink Middle School, and Richmond and Spring Grove grade school.

According to a notice sent to parents, all district schools will remain closed until the conclusion of the strike.

Parents can monitor the district’s Web site, www.nippersinkdistrict2.org, for updates, Oest said.

No decisions have been made on whether the students would have to make up any school days canceled because of the strike, Oest said.

When the district’s teachers threatened to strike in 2005, an agreement was reached hours before striking. If a strike occurs, it would be the first work stoppage in the district’s history.


Prinicipals' union grieves school leader's arrest

The New York City Council held hearings on school safety Wednesday, just a day after a student and a principal were arrested following an incident at a Manhattan high school. “This was a normal school day. He was here. He was back at work doing his job and everyone was glad he was back,” said East Side Community High School teacher Ben Wides.

Police say Tuesday's incident started when 17-year-old Isamar Gonzales tried to get into the the high school before it opened Tuesday morning. Police say Gonzales – a student at the school – punched a school safety agent in the eye and was arrested.

When two safety agents told her to come back later, police say she started throwing punches, injuring the agents. As they arrested her, police say Principal Mark Federman tried to stop the agents from taking her out the front door to spare her the embarrassment. School safety agents then arrested Federman for interfering and slapped him with a desk appearance ticket.

Gonzales is charged with assault, while Federman is charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest.

The agents, who were at the City Hall press conference Wednesday, didn’t say anything because of the ongoing investigation, but the head of their union spoke out in their support.

“The principal decided that he wanted the person to be let out the back door. When that request was denied and they were trying to get the person out, the principal blocked the door,” said Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd.

But the head of the principals' union says the arrest wasn't necessary.

“I think there might have been other ways to handle it,” said Council of School Supervisors and Administrators president Ernest Logan. “I think when you go to the point of having an arrest that means it’s a last resort.”

Meanwhile, the City Council took a closer look at school safety with a previously scheduled hearing.

Councilman Robert Jackson says what happened Tuesday proves there's a problem with the system. He said there needs to be more transparency.

“My initial comment was, ‘this is a mess.’ A mess that, in my opinion, we should not be in,” said Jackson.

Some at the hearing say it's not clear who's in charge of school safety. Education and police officials say when something goes wrong, it's the principal, unless a crime is committed.

“The principal is the CEO of that facility when it comes to matters of education and even discipline, but when it comes to crime and safety, that’s the NYPD’s call,” said Assistant NYPD Chief James Secreto.

But in this unusual case, the principal was treated like a criminal, sparking anger and an investigation that's still ongoing.


Union settles with dues-abused workers

In order to avoid federal prosecution by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a local union had no choice but to ink a settlement with several Safeway employees after union officials tried unlawfully to keep them from exercising their rights.

The settlement, secured by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys, requires the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 4 union to reimburse Safeway Inc. employees' forced union dues seizures plus interest, to stop threatening their jobs, and to honor employees' resignations from formal union membership.

UFCW Local 4 officials must also stop "requiring employees' resignation letters be notarized, mailed by certified mail, set forth case law citations, and be individually submitted." UFCW union officials had previously rejected the grocery workers' requests to resign from formal union membership after union officials said the requests did not meet the union's bogus and illegal rules for resigning.

With help from National Right to Work attorneys, Safeway employees Gerald Rasmussen and Carla Crandall originally filed federal charges against the UFCW Local 4 union in April and May, respectively. After an initial investigation, the NLRB combined the complaints into one case. A hearing was scheduled for September 18, but in an eleventh-hour decision, union officials signed a settlement in order to avoid embarrassing federal prosecution.

"This is a victory for this group of courageous workers," said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. "But this ugly union intimidation and abuse will continue to plague workers in Montana because there is no Right to Work law to ensure that payment of union dues is strictly voluntary."

The employees' original charges cite that UFCW Local 4 union officials were attempting to enforce a compulsory unionism clause requiring employees to join or pay dues to the union or be fired from their jobs, despite a formal deauthorization election held in late April where a large majority of employees voted to strip union bosses of their forced unionism privileges. UFCW Local 4 union officials continue to challenge the election results.

After learning of their right to resign from formal union membership from sources independent of UFCW Local 4, Rasmussen, Crandall and other employees sent letters to union officials resigning from formal union membership. Union officials rejected their requests and never provided any of the legally-mandated financial disclosure statements to the Safeway employees.

In the Foundation-won Communications Workers of America v. Beck decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employees laboring under the National Labor Relations Act are entitled to resign from formal union membership but can still be forced to pay for activities related to union monopoly bargaining. However, they cannot be compelled to pay for other costs such as union political activities.


UFCW boss claims 'high road' in illegal dues fiasco

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 4 has reached a settlement with two Safeway employees in Polson who filed complaints over their efforts to leave the union. Complaints filed this spring by Gerald Rasmussen and Carla Crandall said the Butte-based union inadequately informed them of their rights to be nonmembers and to pay reduced membership fees.

Among other things, the settlement announced today requires the union to reimburse a portion of their dues and honor their resignations from membership. It also requires the union to notify workers of their Beck rights, which state that employees forced to pay union dues only have to pay for membership activities and not the union's political activities.

In agreeing to the settlement, the union didn't admit wrongdoing. UFCW Local 4 president Nicolai Cocergine says the union was prepared to defend itself against the claims, but opted to take the "high road" and settle, rather than spending thousands of dollars of membership money on attorneys fees.


Teachers union out on strike in PA

Teachers hit the picket line and classes were canceled Tuesday in Reynolds (PA) School District after the union and school board failed to agree on a contract. With no new negotiations in sight, it’s unclear how long the strike will last.

Representatives from both parties said some progress was made during a lengthy negotiating session that ended at 1 a.m. Tuesday, the day the teachers union set for a strike deadline if a new, five-year contract wasn’t reached.

The union, which represents 100 district teachers, made concessions in educational incentives, personal day use and hiring and offered to increase their insurance premium share, said Gino Tofani, a teacher and chief negotiator for Reynolds Education Association. But the sides couldn’t agree on the main sticking points — salaries, health care and retiree benefits — and the union made good on its strike threat. “We’re still available 24/7 to meet and bargain,” Tofani said.

“We’re flummoxed that they would walk away from the bargaining table when progress is being made,” said Dr. Charles Steele, a Pittsburgh attorney and chief negotiator for the school board.

The union said it hasn’t decided how many days they will strike because they are waiting for the Pennsylvania Department of Education to review the school district’s calendar. State law requires 180 class days before June 15, which limits the number of days teachers can strike.

Pymatuning Township resident Keith McDonald, who has three children in the junior-senior high school and one who graduated from Reynolds, said he understands why the teachers went on strike but thinks both parties are being stubborn in not settling a contract as soon as possible.

“I’m more worried about the education my kids are getting,” McDonald said.

Sarah McDonald, who bought a home in the township earlier this year with her husband, said their 5-year-old daughter Kylie was enjoying kindergarten only to have it cut short.

“It’s frustrating because we just moved and now she’s not able to experience it,” Mrs. McDonald said.

The teachers shouldn’t have to work without a contract, but the strike is disappointing, she said. Mrs. McDonald said she’s luckier than other parents because she works at a day care where she can bring Kylie with her during the strike.

“I think the kids suffer more than anything,” she said.

Union representatives said they’re not surprised by the board’s response to the strike.

“No doubt the board will claim that they’re in disbelief that we’re going forward with the strike after coming so close in negotiations,” said Marcus D. Schlegel, a Pennsylvania State Education Association representative who is advising the union.

“Was there movement? Sure. Unfortunately, we were the only ones making concessions. We allowed more than a month to come to an agreement and the board wouldn’t move enough for that to happen. If we didn’t strike, what’s to keep them from drawing this out indefinitely?”

The union and board have been negotiating since January 2006 and REA has been working without a contract since the 2006-07 school year.

Tofani said little separates the two parties on salary increases. The union asked the board for teachers at the top of the salary schedule to get yearly increases of $1,400 to $1,600, but the board’s proposal was only $200 a year, he said.

“I think the real shame here is that we’re less than $8,000 apart per year in terms of total money. The problem is in the way the board wants to control the distribution of funds. After you deduct the premium share, some of our most experienced people would receive raises of less than $225 a year; we simply can’t agree to that,” Tofani said.

Steele said the board couldn’t accept the union’s salary offer because the school district is not a reservoir of unlimited money, which is also why the two parties differed on health care benefits for retired teachers, he said.

The union asked the school board to offer retirees benefits for 15 years, but the board made an offer for five years because that’s all the district can afford, Steele said.

The union didn’t stop anyone from crossing their picket line Tuesday, including the district’s support personnel, some members of which were required to report to work even though classes were canceled.

Reynolds Educational Association Support Personnel members have been working without a contract since June 30, 2005, despite beginning negotiations with the school board in January that year.

RESPA announced Aug. 14 that members authorized its contract negotiations team to strike if contract talks don’t move forward but had not set a strike date. The school board is continuing negotiations with that union, Steele said.

The last time Mercer County teachers went on strike was in March 2002 in the Hermitage School District.

School trying to keep sports, activities going

The board has said they will try to offer as many student activities as possible during the teachers union strike, said Dr. Steele.

Practices, games and meetings for cross country, girls’ junior high basketball, volleyball, varsity football, marching band, homecoming activities including the dance, PTO Market Day and the PSAT exam will still go on as scheduled, he said.

However, any teachers who are also coaches or advisers have told the board they will not betray the union by leaving the picket line to perform their extracurricular duties and their positions will be temporarily filled by other coaches and volunteers, he said.

Junior varsity and junior high football practices and games have been canceled during the strike because there are not enough people available to staff those activities, Steele said.


Nurses walk off jobs at Bay Area hospitals

Thousands of registered nurses walked off their jobs at 7 a.m. today for the start of what is expected to be a two-day strike at 15 Northern California hospitals. Union officials said as many as 5,000 nurses were expected to participate in the strike, which is directed at Bay Area hospitals affiliated with the Sutter Health network.

At least 80 nurses were picketing this morning at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley at a low-key protest. Many cars honked their horns in support of the nurses as they drove by the picket line on Ashby Avenue. Alta Bates, along with the Summit campus in Oakland, is the largest hospital involved in the strike.

About 30 nurses were outside the Summit campus this morning at a low-key event, said Jim Ryer, collective bargaining director for the Northern California chapter of the California Nurses Association.

"They're nurses and they are here to make their point about patient care and patient safety and staffing," he said. "Obviously it's peaceful."

The nurses, represented by the California Nurses Association, have been negotiating for new contracts since April. The nurses say the main sticking points are reduced health benefits

and inadequate staffing, but hospitals officials said the union wants more negotiating clout.

Linda Bawers, who will celebrate her 34th anniversary at Alta Bates in November, said she was most concerned about retiree health benefit cuts

"I saved for my retirement," she said. "My finances aren't the issue but retiree health care is."

The hospitals hired temporary nurses through replacement companies and vowed that patient care would not be interrupted.

While the strike is scheduled to end by 7 a.m. Friday, striking nurses at two of the hospitals may not be returning immediately to work.

Officials at Alta Bates said the hospital signed a five-day contract with a company providing replacement nurses, so its nurses are expected to be locked until Monday. Eden Medical Center signed a contract ensuring a one-day lockout for its nurses.

At Alta Bates, nurses vowed they would return Friday.

"They've told us we're locked out for five days, but we told them it's a two-day strike, and we'll be here at 7 a.m. (Friday), ready to return to work if we're scheduled," said Christine McCargar, a union negotiator who has been a nurse since 1969.

Nurses' salaries have grown in recent years. According to officials at California Pacific Medical Center, nurses could make an average of $142,000 a year by the end of the proposed four-year-contract.

While union officials have said wages are not a main issue in the dispute, they called the salary figures inflated.

The union argues that Sutter affiliates provide inadequate staffing, particularly to cover nurses during breaks and during their meals; it says the parent Sutter Health intends to scale back and ultimately close St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco; it has been unable to negotiate language with the Sutter affiliates covering the lifting of patients, to lessen injuries to nurses; and it is dissatisfied with health care and pension proposals.

"It's not about the pay, it's about health insurance and staffing," said Bette Baker, a nurse in Alta Bates medical surgical unit since 1999.

Bawers, meanwhile, said that state mandated nurse staffing ratios haven't helped because Sutter has just reduced the number of nurses' assistants.

"We're doing the lab work, we're doing what the aides used to do," Bawers said.

In addition to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, other hospital included in the strike are Mills-Peninsula Health Services in Burlingame and San Mateo; California Pacific Medical Center (the California campus at 3700 California St.) and its campus at St. Luke's Hospital, San Francisco; Eden Medical Center, Castro Valley, and its San Leandro Hospital campus; Sutter Delta, Antioch; Sutter Solano, Vallejo; Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa; Sutter Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, and Sutter Novato.

Nurses also walked out at two hospitals outside the Bay Area. Those hospital, which are operated by Fremont-Rideout Health Group, are Fremont Medical Center in Yuba City and Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville.

Nurses on Strike

Nurses began a 48-hour strike today at the following Bay Area hospitals:

-- Alta Bates Summit Medical Center (Oakland and Berkeley)

-- Mills-Peninsula Health Services (Burlingame and San Mateo)

-- California Pacific Medical Center (California St. campus, San Francisco)

-- St. Luke's Hospital (San Francisco)

-- Eden Medical Center (Castro Valley)

-- San Leandro Hospital

-- Sutter Delta (Antioch)

-- Sutter Solano (Vallejo)

-- Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa

-- Sutter Marin General Hospital (Greenbrae)

-- Sutter Novato


Appeals court asserts labor union speech rights

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled unconstitutional an Idaho law that forbids payroll deductions by teachers, firefighters and other local government employees to pay for political activities by their unions.

The law was passed in 2003 by the Legislature over the objection of the Idaho Education Association teachers union, which called it a mean-spirited attempt to silence labor organizations. The IEA sued, prompting a federal judge to issue an injunction almost immediately against enforcing the law.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in San Francisco affirmed a ruling by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill that the 2003 law violates First Amendment protections of free speech. It hampers the ability of teachers and their unions to conduct First Amendment-protected political activities by making it tougher to collect money to do so, the judges agreed.

"The unique nature of the state's intervention therefore strongly suggests that the state's purpose here is exactly that against which the First Amendment protects - the denial of payroll deductions for the purpose of stifling political speech," wrote Judge A. Wallace Tashima.

A similar law in Utah has also been struck down.

Gayle Moore, an IEA spokeswoman, said Republican leaders in 2003 in the state House and Senate drafted the legislation in hopes of trimming the teachers union's power - a year after some 5,000 teachers rallied on the steps of the Idaho Capitol building to call for more education funding.

"What the ruling says is, there are constitutional limitations of the ability of a Legislature to go after specific groups or organizations and curtail their ability to be a full participant in the political process," said John Rumel, IEA general counsel.

When it passed, backers of the law. including former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, current House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said the ban on political payroll deductions would actually empower those teachers who wanted to become active in their labor groups by sending separate political contributions.

Neither Denney nor Geddes returned phone calls Friday seeking comment. But Olympia, Wash.-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which has been fighting the Washington Education Association's political funding and had filed a court brief supporting Idaho's law, said it was disappointed.

"If unions want to engage in political activity they should collect contributions from individual donors just like any other political candidate or entity," said Michael Reitz, a spokesman.

The appeals court disagreed, ruling that banning payroll deductions would have the effect of trimming funding - resulting in an unconstitutional free-speech burden on public-sector unions that represent teachers and also firefighters.

"The law does not prohibit plaintiffs from participating in political activities, but it hampers their ability to do so by making the collection of funds for that purpose more difficult," Tashima wrote. "The district court found that unions face substantial difficulties in collecting funds for political speech without using payroll deductions because of their members' concerns over identity theft associated with other electronic transactions, as well as the time-consuming nature of face-to-face solicitation."


UAW cancels mini-strike

If the last strike seemed like an extended coffee break, this one barely gave enough time to brew up a beverage. Wednesday's stoppage by United Auto Workers at Chrysler lasted all of about six hours, compared with the 41-hour walk-out at General Motors last month.

Even more than last time round, the strike looks like a tactical effort to appease union hardliners and focus the minds of company management. There were good reasons to expect negotiations with Chrysler to drag on. GM had one overriding aim in its talks - shifting legacy healthcare obligations off its balance sheet. For that, it was prepared to make a big upfront payment, increase pensions and offer guarantees on manufacturing plans.

Details of Chrysler's settlement remain to be seen but the carmaker's situation suggested other priorities. Its legacy costs per unit sold in the US, at $501, are about half those of GM, according to CreditSights. Moreover, Chrysler's newly installed private equity owners are presumably more concerned with cash flow than alleviating balance sheet pressures depressing a public share price. A benefits settlement would entail a huge cash outflow at the beginning of the life of their investment.

If, as seems likely, Chrysler's agreement differs markedly from that at GM, it probably involves a trade-off between the size of any benefits settlement and any promises made regarding job guarantees. Chrysler's new owners, focused on maximising returns over a finite life span and with an eye on US economic wobbles, will want as much operational flexibility as possible.

Beyond the horse-trading, the fact that the strike ended so quickly suggests both sides accept at least one thing: under the pressure of globalisation, the US car industry is shrinking. That offers some encouragement as the UAW turns towards its final target, Ford. With any luck, the next strike might fit into lunchtime.


Teachers strike could last 3 weeks

Officials can't say how long the Lake-Lehman (PA) teachers' strike, scheduled to start Monday, will last. But unofficial calculations indicate teachers might be allowed to stay on the picket lines for up to three school weeks.

Board members said a strike could last up to 30 days, but John Holland, the teachers' Pennsylvania State Education Association representative, said that's not true. However, he wouldn't give a better estimate.

"I'm not sure, and I don't want to guess at it. That calculation comes from the state," he said. "I always wait until I officially get it from them. We're required to abide by their calculations."

The state Department of Education determines how long a strike can last, spokesman Michael Race said. "We would calculate, based on their calendar, how long they can be out to complete 180 days of instruction by June 15," he said. "Legally they have to have 180 days by June 30, but we advise them they have to complete by June 15."

Lake-Lehman's calendar, available at the district Web site www.lake-lehman.k12.pa.us, has exactly 180 days of school. The last day is Friday, June 13, 2008.

School districts are only required to close on holidays. Unofficial calculations indicate there are 14 non-mandated vacation days and two days when school is closed for parent-teacher holidays. Those 16 days could potentially be used for the strike.

Each school district sets its own calendar because they start and end school on different dates and have different days off.

For example, the first day of hunting season is often a holiday in rural districts, but it is unheard of in Philadelphia, Race said.

The Department of Education does not make length determinations until the walkout officially starts, Race said.

"If they (Lake-Lehman teachers) do go on strike Monday, we'll probably have a letter ready Tuesday or early Wednesday advising them of the critical date they need to return to meet the 180-day requirement," he said.

No matter how long the state says the strike can last, the union will take it on a day-by-day basis, Holland said.

"It doesn't mean we'll be out three days or 13 days," he said. "We assess it day by day, in the interest of making our point."

A strike is almost a certainty. No negotiation sessions are scheduled.

School board member John Oliver said he still hasn't heard from the union on what the board labeled its final, best contract offer.

The proposal would not require a tax increase, Oliver believes. Lake-Lehman's real estate tax is currently 263.64 mills in Luzerne County and 59.9 mills in Wyoming County. A mill is $1 on every $1,000 of assessed property value.

"It was my understanding that if you give a last final proposal, you have to vote on it," Oliver said. "The teachers need to answer back. Let's get it done. This is our last best offer. If you don't like it, come back with a counter-proposal. Don't just say no and that's it."

"The board has no right to tell us we have to take anything to a vote," Holland replied. "We are not required to respond or vote on it, nor will we respond or vote on it."

He said the proposal was not realistic, and the board violated state labor laws by making it public Monday night.

"We have a school board here that's like a rogue elephant running around. They know they're breaking the law, and they don't care," Holland said. "They're impeding everything in their path, not caring what kind of destruction it causes."


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