Union threatens dues-shy musicians with arrest

The battle between Local 47 and financial core musicians escalated quickly today as a New Era Scoring (NES) musician filed a federal charge today against American Federation of Musicians Local 47 responding to what the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWF) says is “an ugly union campaign of intimidation, coercion and retaliation against employees exercising their legal rights.”

Professional violinist Sai-Ly Acosta (no relation to Local 47 official John Acosta) who has played for the New Era Scoring orchestra filed a federal unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after union officials enforced a policy, labeled as “illegal” by the NRWF, requiring all musicians to be “in good standing” with the union in order to practice in a union-owned rehearsal facility with an orchestra (not NES) which is represented by the union under a collective bargaining agreement.

An NRWF release today said that union officials informed Acosta, who is not a formal member of the AFM union, that she and others could be arrested if they attended rehearsal tonight.

Orchestras and other musical groups require that all musicians, as a condition of employment, participate in certain rehearsals – many occurring in facilities owned by AFM Local 47. However, Acosta and several of her coworkers exercised their legal right to resign from formal union membership and become financial core status, and pay a reduced fee to cover the cost of union bargaining. As a result, according to the NRWF release, “union officials are attempting to unlawfully prevent her from practicing with the orchestra. Union operatives have harassed and intimidated the dissenting musicians, calling them ‘scabs.’” Financial core status musicians can work union jobs and accrue benefits like other full union members on those jobs, but can also work non-union jobs without fear of penalty by the union.

“These thuggish actions by union officials are both despicable and illegal,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “But this union intimidation is all too common in states like California where there is no Right to Work law on the books. No one should be forced to pay dues to an unwanted union just to get or keep their job”

In a statement to Film Music Magazine today, Local 47’s General Counsel Louis Levy said the alleged threats of arrest were “absolutely false.” Regarding the charges filed with the National Labor Relations board, Levy said, “The allegations that have been submitted by the National Right to Work Committee are completely denied by Local 47 and we believe they are false. We believe as the owners of our property we have the right to regulate the use of our property consistent with the law, and we will do so.”

Greg Townley, co-founder New Era Scoring, an orchestra that employs financial core musicians, said, “The union has property rights, but the issue that is relevant here is that property rights do not override anti-discrimination laws. If the only reason the financial core musicians are being discriminated against is because they are financial core, then legally that’s just as wrong as denying services to any group of people based on race or ethnicity.”

According to the NRWF, under the Supreme Court decision in Communications Workers v. Beck and subsequent NLRB rulings, union officials cannot require formal union membership or the payment of union dues unrelated to collective bargaining as a condition of employment. Employees are also entitled to notice of their right to refrain from union membership, an independent audit of union expenditures, and notice of their right to object to paying for non-bargaining activities, such as union political activities.

The NRWF contends that because Acosta and other musicians exercised their legal rights under Beck, they have been unlawfully targeted for retaliation.

The unfair labor practice charge will be reviewed by the NLRB's Regional Director who will decide whether to take the union to trial before a federal labor judge.


Teachers union walks out over retirement

Friday classes for 1,600 students of Nippersink (IL) School District 2 were called off after union representatives and school officials failed to reach agreement on a new contract. About 140 teachers and staff went on strike late Thursday.

In a last-minute negotiating session, union representatives and school officials met in separate rooms of Nippersink Elementary School in Richmond, while a representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service passed proposals between them.

The main sticking point in the talks was a proposal by the district that teachers split the cost of any future increase in pension contributions. Previously the district paid them.


City seeks to suppress gov't union strikers

The City of Vancouver, B.C. may be filing a complaint with the Labour Relations Board if members of a CUPE local don't stop picketing at park board sites. City spokesman Jerry Dobrovolny said Thursday that some members of Local 1004 showed up to picket as inside workers from Local 15 tried to go back to work after a three-month civic strike.

Dobrovolny said city representatives will try to resolve the matter by meeting with executives of the picketing outside workers' local. "If we have a fundamental difference of opinion about what is a legitimate or not a legitimate picket line then we would go to the Labour Relations Board for a ruling," he said.

Indoor workers went back to work Thursday after walking off the job in July, but outside workers and librarians voted against a mediator's proposed deal and remain on the picket line. That means that while community centres will start some of their fall programs, those attached to libraries may still be behind picket lines.

Garbage pickup still won't resume for Vancouver residents, who have found some creative ways to deal with their trash - mostly by taking it to the homes of friends and family living in condos with private pickup or to neighbouring municipalities that contract out such services.

"My brother lives in Vancouver so he brings me a gift whenever he comes over," said Dobrovolny, a resident of New Westminster.

Some people have taken to dumping their trash in back alleys or wherever they see fit while others have paid someone to dispose of their garbage for up to $10 a bag.

Vancouver Coun. Peter Ladner said that when it comes to garbage piling up, the strike may lead to a change in the definition of essential service for health reasons.

"It's not an essential service to pick up garbage every week or two or even every month. But it may be an essential service to pick it up every three months."

Ladner said managers and other staff exempt from the strike have been working overtime so dumped garbage doesn't create an even bigger mess.

"We've had the managers going around and picking through the garbage and taking it back to the people who dumped it," he said, adding address labels in the trash have come in handy.

As the strike continues, some Vancouver residents say they're owed a rebate on their tax dollars because they haven't received the service they've paid for while the city has saved on wages for three months.

"No question about it, there have been huge inconveniences and disruptions to people's lives in the city because of the strike," Ladner said.

But the labour disruption has come at a hefty cost, he said, including a $1,000 signing bonus for those who are now back on the job and overtime pay for managers trying to keep the garbage problem under control.

Lost revenue from golf courses and community centres has also added up to a lot of money, he said.

"We won't know for several months what the actual savings, if any, are and in the event that there are savings we have already passed a motion to council that they would be rolled into next year's budget."

"It's important that people don't expect a separate cheque in the mail."

Union officials couldn't be reached for comment.


Striking nurses blocked replacements from patients

Police were called out to the Sutter Delta Medical Center nurses' picket line Wednesday night after a bus with replacement nurses was not allowed to enter the parking lot, police said.

Police received a call at 7:50 p.m. that someone in a group of 30 strikers had shined a spotlight in a bus driver's eye as the vehicle tried to enter the facility, 3901 Lone Tree Way. An officer arrived to find a bus full of replacement nurses surrounded by picketing nurses, Antioch police Lt. Pat Welch said.

"They moved immediately when they were told to do so," Welch said.

The officer remained on scene for an undetermined amount of time to monitor the picket line, Welch said. Earlier in the day, police responded briefly after an anonymous motorist called dispatchers saying the striking nurses were causing a traffic hazard, he said.

Hundreds of nurses picketed in front of 15 Northern California hospitals Wednesday, starting a two-day strike lasting through Friday morning.


Casino unions authorize strike

Labor unions representing more than 6,000 workers at Detroit’s three casinos could go on strike if agreements on new contracts are not in place by Tuesday, the date on which current pacts expire. Talks continue between the casinos and the Detroit Casino Council that voted Wednesday to authorize a walkout if bargaining fails.

The strike threat comes as MGM Grand Detroit Casino has just launched its permanent hotel and casino complex Oct. 2. MotorCity Casino, owned by Detroit Entertainment L.L.C., is scheduled for the grand opening of its permanent complex on Nov. 1. Greektown Casino L.L.C., in the midst of hotel and parking garage construction, expects to open its permanent units next year.

The council, a coalition of five unions, is composed of the United Auto Workers, representing dealers, slot technicians, cage cashiers and money handlers; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, representing delivery, warehouse, clerks and landscapers; the Operating Engineers, representing engineering staff; the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, representing food and beverage, slot change and porter staff; and the Carpenters Union, representing the carpenters.


Unions unable to save jobs

Workers at Chrysler's U.S. plants went back to work six hours after the United Auto Workers union struck the automaker this week. The once powerful UAW, which in its heyday had more than 1.5 million members, used to be able to bring Detroit to its knees. No more. Today the UAW claims only 640,000 active workers, and its major goal in negotiations with the big car companies is to keep that number from shrinking. But the battle ultimately may be a losing one -- and the union is largely to blame.

It costs Chrysler an average of $75.86 an hour to employ each worker, according to the Associated Press, which is the highest in the American auto industry. The costs include not only what goes into the average worker's paycheck, just under $29 an hour, but more importantly the contributions the company makes to employees' health and retirement benefits.

Like General Motors, which settled after a two-day strike last month, Chrysler also pays retirees' health care, a roughly $19 billion liability. Chrysler's agreement with the union included a promise to create a health care trust similar to the one GM and the UAW set up to take over that company's $55 billion liability for the retiree health care program.

Last year, GM lost $10.6 billion, while the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler -- the German company that owned Chrysler until it was sold recently to a private equity firm in the U.S. -- lost $1.5 billion. Companies that lose money can't continue to increase salaries and benefits, much less pay out billions in benefits to people who no longer work for the company. But unions rarely demonstrate an understanding of this basic economic fact.

Even harder for unions to grasp is that there is no such thing as job security. Sure, a company can foolishly promise never to lay off workers, but it can't keep its promise if it doesn't make a profit. And unless productivity rises -- which means producing more with fewer workers -- profits will decline.

So what's a union to do? As the UAW's short-lived strikes against GM and Chrysler this fall demonstrate, trying to force employers to make concessions that are economically unfeasible doesn't work anymore.

Unions would be far better off abandoning their adversarial role and trying to become helpful partners with employers. It's in everyone's interest -- from the lowest-paid worker to the CEO -- that a company maximizes its profits.

But doing this would require unions to abandon outdated work rules, which prevent union members from doing jobs outside their specific category, working flexible schedules without demanding overtime or sitting on employer-employee committees except those sanctioned in collective bargaining. As a result, non-union companies often offer workers more individual choice.

In a non-union environment, a mother who wants to work a few extra hours one week in order to take time off to attend a school activity the next can do so without making it more expensive for the company through mandatory overtime pay rules. Similarly, unions prevent employers from rewarding the best hourly workers with bonuses and other special benefits outside the contract, and they won't allow penalizing, much less getting rid of, slackers. But a non-union company can reward innovation and industry among its workers.

The most constructive thing unions could do to help their current members is to ensure that those workers are more, not less, productive. But even a union's best efforts to hold onto its members' specific jobs won't stop capitalism's creative destruction engine. Some jobs in some industries will always be lost in order for other jobs to be created.

The UAW's new contract with GM promises to limit outsourcing of certain jobs and commits the company to hiring 3,000 temporary workers as permanent employees. The union hasn't yet made public the details of its deal with Chrysler, but it's a safe bet they've attempted a similar bargain there.

In the end, however, it will be the companies' profitability, not the union's efforts, that will keep good-paying jobs available for those workers.


Striking nurses fail to hold picket line

Roughly half the registered nurses at three Fremont-Rideout Health Group facilities reported to work Wednesday, the beginning of the two-day strike, according to hospital officials. Nurse representatives, however, said they are not surprised at the release of those numbers nor are they discouraged in their efforts to improve patient care.

“It doesn’t mean (nurses) are giving up,” said Karen Miles, RN at the Fremont-Rideout Cancer Center. “It just means they have a family to support. Any time you take away sick leave and vacation pay (people will cross the lines).” Hospital officials are reporting 229 of the eligible 450 nurses to be a part of the union, crossed the picket lines to report to work. During the Aug. 31, one-day strike, 104 nurses reported to work.

These numbers, Vice President of Human Resources Tresha Moreland said, only include counts from the Fremont and Rideout hospitals not the Fremont-Rideout Cancer Center or the Feather River Surgery Center.

The majority of the nine nurses at the surgery center, however, opted out of the union last month.

Fremont-Rideout Health Group registered nurses are on strike for the second time in less than two months. This strike, coordinated by the California Nurse Association, is at the same time as a strike at 13 Bay Area Hospitals where roughly 5,000 nurses from the Sutter Health chain walked off their jobs.

Nurses, however, say the estimates from the hospital are all wrong.

In a released statement, nurse representatives said, “The claims by hospital management are absurd and false. The vast majority of registered nurses participated in the walkout and the hospital should respect its RNs enough to work and resolve this dispute rather than spread misinformation to the public.

“It is likely they are including in their count managers, supervisors and traveling nurses. We have heard that nurses who entered the hospital to visit patients were forced to sign in as ‘strike breakers’ before being allowed in. We expect hospital management to bargain in good faith. They have made no movement in negotiations since August.”

Sessions to resume negotiations have not been scheduled.

Emergency room doctors and administrators said the efforts made by the hospital and the nurses who crossed the line helped continue the hospitals efforts to maintain quality patient care.

“Business is as normal,” Dr. Kashmir Singh said. “We haven’t heard any patient complaints that service was less than before. There is no change in care. Replacements were by bed sides when patients were transferred and asking questions to make sure they were doing procedures right.

“The hospital went out of their way to get an adequate number of people who were certified and provide the best service they could.”


Politicians follow teachers union orders

The concept of charter schools is popular enough that even most liberals won't attack them openly. Yet the national political assault continues behind-the-scenes, most recently in Ohio, where unions have now been caught giving orders to Attorney General Marc Dann, who has duly saluted.

Last week the Columbus Dispatch published emails showing that Mr. Dann and the Ohio Education Association are in cahoots to close down certain charter schools in the state. Mr. Dann was elected last November in a Democratic sweep that included Governor Ted Strickland and was helped by Big Labor. As a token of his appreciation, Mr. Strickland earlier this year proposed placing a moratorium on new charter schools and restrictions on private-school vouchers, only to be rebuffed by the Legislature. Now it's Mr. Dann's turn to send a thank-you.

In March, the teachers union sued the state, alleging that low-performing charters should be closed because officials had failed to monitor them properly. The Ohio Supreme Court had ruled against the union in a similar case last year. Yet Mr. Dann offered to settle the case, and the union dropped the suit after the AG's office agreed to go after charter schools on its own.

The union even advised a legal strategy for Mr. Dann, which was to use the charitable trust status of the schools to argue that they were failing in their mission to educate kids. "I know this is a long shot, but by any chance, are community schools registered as charitable trusts?" said a union lawyer in an email to the AG's office. "If not, are they exempt from registration by regulation?"

"Not that I'm aware of, to either," came the reply from Mr. Dann's office. It's no secret that politicians and teachers unions often collaborate to deny school choice to poor and minority students, but rarely are their tactics laid this bare.

The emails show that Mr. Dann and the union also conspired to decide which charters to sue, carefully selecting schools that were too poor to fight back on their own. So far, the AG has targeted just three charter schools in Dayton, which happens to be the district of Jon Husted, the Republican Speaker of the House and the Legislature's most vocal proponent of school choice. But Mr. Dann told the Dispatch that "certainly there are 30 or more that scream out for this kind of attention."

Failing charter schools, which are independently run public schools that function outside of the normal education bureaucracy, should and do close. That's one advantage they have over lousy traditional public schools that stay open indefinitely without ever being held accountable. In Dayton alone, 80% of public school students attend schools that have been graded "D" or "F" by the state. No wonder Dayton currently has more students per capita in charters than any city other than New Orleans.

In December Ohio's Legislature put in place stronger quality controls, requiring chronically underperforming charters to shutter if they receive a failing grade from the state for three consecutive years. Mr. Dann is thus trying to pre-empt a legislative process already in place. And his decision to use the charitable trust status of these schools sets a dangerous precedent. If he's successful, any nonprofit that the AG's office considers a safe political target -- from hospitals to the United Way -- could be similarly vulnerable.

What's really animating Mr. Dann and the teachers union is a desire to tarnish the reputation of charters and limit parental choice. Congratulations to the Dispatch for exposing their power play.


Nurses who walked-out earn extra, unexpected time off

The largest nursing strike in the Bay Area in a decade is scheduled to end at 7 a.m. today, but the issues that sparked it remain far from resolved. Many of the 5,000 registered nurses who walked out Wednesday at 15 Northern California hospitals will be back at work today.

But five hospitals have announced plans to lock out the striking nurses from one to three days because of contracts signed with replacement workers. Nurses plan to force the issue by showing up at those hospitals anyway early this morning and attempting to report to work.

No new talks are scheduled, and the possibility of additional labor actions looms.

"We'd rather not see a recurrence of the strike, but if Sutter doesn't take the nurses seriously, the nurses may have no choice but to look at another strike somewhere down the road," said Charles Idelson, spokesman for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

Several hospital officials said they are willing to return to the bargaining table but have not had a response from the union.

"The union has not returned phone calls or confirmed any dates," said Dori Stevens, chief nurse executive at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch. "It's up to them to communicate with us when they want to talk."

The hospitals that plan to lock out nurses today are Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley and Oakland, San Leandro Hospital, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo.

Officials at those hospitals said that to remain open during the strike, they needed to hire hundreds of replacement nurses and put them on contracts for several days. Allowing striking nurses to return before those contracts expire would result in double staffing, they say.

Alta Bates Summit signed five-day replacement contracts and thus will not allow striking workers back until Monday.

Eden and San Leandro Hospital will allow the union nurses back Saturday, and Sutter Solano said its nurses can return Sunday.

Union spokesman Idelson questioned why many hospitals are allowing nurses to return today, but not others.

"They should be able to report to work at all of these hospitals," he said. "For Sutter to bar them from work is disgraceful."

Sutter Delta and Mills-Peninsula Health Services in Burlingame and San Mateo are among the hospitals that will allow striking nurses to return today.

Both sides point fingers at each other when discussing why negotiations have stalled.

"We're more than willing to come back and sit down," said Eden spokeswoman Jonnie Banks. "There are very few issues as far as Eden Medical Center that need to be resolved."

Union leaders countered that the hospitals are not displaying good faith by locking out nurses.

"We've been bargaining with them for months," said nurses association representative Bonnie Castillo. "It was going at a snail's pace. They weren't moving on any of the most salient issues to nurses."

As in many strikes, estimates of how many nurses association members crossed the picket line vary widely.

Alta Bates Summit spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp estimated Wednesday that nearly 50 percent of union nurses reported to work. Eden said 20 percent crossed the picket line, and Sutter Delta said only a handful did so.

The nurses association disputed those figures, estimating that at least 95 percent of its members participated in the strike.

Union leaders say the major unresolved issues include adequate staffing so nurses can take their breaks and lunch periods and proposed changes in health and retirement benefits.

Hospital leaders said they believe the dispute centers more on a union desire to increase its clout by getting a master contract at all of the hospitals. As it stands now, each hospital bargains separately.

Tensions boiled over Wednesday night at Sutter Delta when a bus with replacement workers arrived and a picketer shined a spotlight in the bus driver's eyes, police said. About 30 strikers then surrounded the bus, preventing it from moving.

Police were called and the strikers moved when they were told to do so, said Antioch police Lt. Pat Welch.

The nurses association filed a complaint Thursday with the state Department of Public Health alleging that hospitals have not independently verified that replacement workers are competent. Hospital leaders said they are confident that they are providing quality care during the strike.


What is a scab?

During the ongoing Steelworkers forestry strike, there have been some press reports about people breaking the strike and scabbing Both the Oxford Dictionary and the Gage Canadian Dictionary define scab as “a worker who will not join a trade union or takes a strikers place ...”

In this strike we have a hodge podge. There are some companies working while others are on strike. Anyone who crosses a picket line is a scab, but this time there are many variations to consider. Some union workers have a contract that expires at a different time than the Coast Master Agreement and they are working legally.

Other non-union companies are still working and undermining the strikers and themselves and that will be the union’s job to educate and organize them.

One problem comes with people who have retired from the unionized forest industry, taken the pension, and then return to work for a non-union company to keep their pension and get wages at the same time. They too are working during this strike. They are a drain on the workers’ pension plan, and they undermine the strike. Many of these same workers have relied on the union to maintain their jobs in the past. Are they scabs?

I guess that’s up to their fellow workers to decide. Then there are the strikers who run off and work non-union while the strike is on. This may look good, but it only prolongs the strike as the companies can keep making money while other families are suffering. Remember that if the union loses this strike we all lose: pensioners, unionized workers and non-union workers will see a reduction in income and that will affect our communities.

The real blame lies with the government as they ordered the expired contract and set the different dates of expiration. They once again proved how mean spirited they can be by setting worker against worker.


Big grocery workers union authorizes strike

The union representing 11,000 local Kroger workers has been authorized to call a strike after a Wednesday vote by its membership. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1099 said 98 percent of the votes were in favor of rejecting the proposal the grocer put on the table, according to a report by WCPO-TV. The union had recommended that workers reject the proposal and vote on a strike authorization.

Kroger in an earlier statement, called its proposal "very fair," and said it includes wage increases for all employees. Negotiations will continue on an agreement which will cover employees at 77 stores in Ohio and Kentucky.

Kroger, headquartered in Cincinnati, operates more than 2,400 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states.


Teachers strike leaders cool to secret ballot

Superintendent Jim Drexler, a member of the Harrison Hills Board of Education Negotiating Team, said today that he will ask the union negotiating team at the bargaining table to let union members vote by secret ballot on a board offer regardless of the outcome of today’s mediation session.

In an attempt to resolve the Harrison Hills Teachers Assn. strike, federal mediator Jack Yoedt has scheduled another negotiating session for today at 1 p.m. in the Harrison County Courthouse at Cadiz.

Drexler said if the two teams can reach a tentative agreement at the meeting, he hopes union leaders will take an immediate vote. If an agreement is not reached, he said, he “would strongly urge the union leadership to allow the members to see and vote on the board’s offer.” The HHTA, which represents about 140 teachers, began the strike Oct. 1.

“I urge the union leaders and negotiating team to join the board team in reaching a tentative agreement, if possible,” Drexler said. “But the membership should be allowed to see and vote by secret ballot on either a tentative agreement or the board’s offer.”


Teachers strike divides community

Waiting well away from the small cluster of orange-clad, chanting teachers, Chris Fazi stood outside Hopedale Elementary School yesterday with his hands in his pockets. Looking down on the teachers, carrying signs and singing as the buses loaded, he gave a helpless shrug. "It's a joke. "Just give them what they want so they can get back in the classroom," Fazi said while waiting for his 9-year-old stepdaughter, Star Roe.

The school is part of the Harrison Hills School District, where the 140-member teachers association has been on strike since Oct. 1. Teachers have been without a contract since June 30, and in negotiations since early May. Despite the ongoing discussions, the association and the school board keep getting hung up on three main issues: salary, the length of the contract and a no-reprisal clause.

The school district has offered a 3 percent raise for each of two years, but the teachers want a three-year contract. So far, the district has not put that on the table. The district and the teachers union are scheduled to have negotiations today.

Thirty-year Hopedale teacher Marsha Hennis said the board was being unreasonable. She teaches second grade at Hopedale and said she's never worked with less than a three-year contract.

She said she'll be saying an extra prayer that today's latest round of negotiations wraps up a situation that has caused plenty of strife in this small village about 110 miles east of Columbus. The issue has divided the community, with more than half of the district's 2,000 students staying home since the strike began nine days ago.

"This needs to be settled," Hennis said. "We need to be in there with our kids."

Superintendent Jim Drexler said it is hard for parents to send their children across the picket lines, but for each day the kids don't go, they are counted absent.

"There will be a long healing process," he said.

Drexler said the board has done everything it could to meet the teachers' demands, but the district does not have the money to satisfy all requests.

David Morgan Jr. came to pick up his two children yesterday. He said they didn't miss a day because of the strike.

"To me, they're asking too much," Morgan said of the teachers' demands. "Everyone is entitled to a raise, but they need to make it clear why they deserve it."

He said he wouldn't let his children stay home because the state only allows for 18 days of absences before the child can be considered truant.

Fazi said Star stayed home for the first five days of the strike, but when the issue went past the weekend with no resolution, he decided he couldn't keep her out any longer. Star said she did not like her substitutes, who are provided to the school by a security company that brings them in by van each day.

"If this continues, she's going to Steubenville schools," Fazi said.


It's a beautiful forced-dues, SEIU day

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