Striking teacher-pickets fail to block football coach

Teachers in the Seneca Valley (PA) School District are planning to meet with the school board on Wednesday. They have been on strike since Monday. But one teacher, who is also a coach, has crossed the picket line, which angers most of his colleagues.

Head Football Coach Ron Butschle says when he knew a strike was imminent, he decided to keep coaching.

“We're at a point in the season now when we have an opportunity to go to the playoffs, the kids who are seniors on this team have battled, really battled for three years to get to this point and they deserve this,” he said. “They deserve the opportunity they have in front of them.”

But Patrick Andrekovich, of the Seneca Valley Education Association, sees Butschle as part of another team first – the teachers.

“As someone's who's played sports and coached, I totally get that. But I also understand that these people are teachers first, and the people that are bargaining on their behalf as teachers and as coaches need their support and we would have loved to have seen that happen,” he said.

The Seneca Valley athletic director says Butschle is one of 9 teacher-coaches who decided to coach through the strike.

As for Butschle, he'll says he'll continue to coach as long as the strike goes on.


SEIU reps busy with politics, ignore members

With management intent on closing Greenville Hospital in Jersey City, NJ, a group of nervous workers have a simple question: Where is their union?

According to several members of Service Employees International Union Local 74, their union officials have been missing in action since LibertyHealth Systems Inc., the hospital's parent corporation, announced in May its intention to shut the 100-year-old facility.

The workers, whose salaries range from $21,000 to $38,000 a year, said they are particularly concerned about their severance packages and pension benefits if the state allows the financially ailing hospital to be closed.

The last time they saw a union rep was when management held a large group meeting in May to announce plans to close the facility, they said. "He listened and he left," said Mike Plugh, a boiler mechanic, about Gerry Twoney, the Local 74 rep who attended the meeting. Since then, Twoney and the union's president, Sal Alladeen haven't responded to phone calls or letters, the workers said.

"We don't know anything," said Marilyn Felton, a secretary in the X-ray unit. "They have disappeared."

Neither Alladeen nor Twoney returned phone calls yesterday seeking comment. The union is headquartered in Long Island City, Queens, and represents 71 out of the roughly 350 workers at the hospital.

The union was once affiliated with the national Service Employees International Union but cut ties over the past year, said John Adler, an official with the SEIU.

According to John McKeegan, a spokesman for LibertyHealth, the company has held discussions with Local 74 about severance packages for the workers and "final plans" would be "presented shortly."

A state-run hearing on the hospital's future was held Thursday, and another is scheduled for Nov. 1 in Trenton.

In the meantime, the members of Local 74 are still searching for their union reps.

"Nobody has given me an update on my pension," said Barbara Peretti, a unit secretary. "I'm due to retire on Oct. 31 and I don't know a damn thing."


New York law speeds U/C benefits to strikers

Unionized New Yorkers have a new law on their side. It makes striking or locked-out workers immediately eligible for unemployment insurance if their company hires replacement workers. Previously, such workers had to wait seven weeks before eligibility, as workers who are not replaced still do.

"The law is essentially good for the workers," said Leo Rosales, spokesman for the state Department of Labor. "They can put food on their table while they're on strike."

Labor organizations have long wanted to eliminate the seven-week wait, saying management has had the upper hand in contract negotiations because workers feared the financial pain a strike would bring. Joe Fox, president of the Capital District Area Labor Federation, said the new law "is a great step forward for every working man and woman in New York who faces negotiations."

The Business Council of New York State Inc. is far less pleased.

Tom Minnick, who studies labor law for the Albany-based group, cited the change as more evidence that New York is unfriendly to business -- especially because New York and Rhode Island are the only states allowing striking workers to receive unemployment insurance, he said.

And the law ultimately could lead to more strikes, he said, because it disrupts the balance that previously guided union-management negotiations.

"The whole point is that both sides sacrifice during a strike," Minnick said. "That's what keeps people talking and gets them to the point of compromise."

Labor compromise continues to be elusive at WNYT/Channel 13 -- the NBC affiliate in Albany.

Workers at the station have been working without a contract since the start of the month -- and could be among the first workers affected by the new law.

The employees have already authorized a strike but have not gone out.

Bill Lambdin, union head at the station, said the new law strengthens the hand of Local 21 of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, especially as WNYT would almost assuredly replace striking workers.

Lambdin stopped short of saying the law would make his workers more likely to strike, but said "it certainly doesn't make it less likely."

Unemployment insurance typically provides about 50 percent of a worker's salary, capping the amount received at $405 weekly.

But most unions are also prepared to help striking workers financially -- and for many workers, the union payments could combine with unemployment payments to dull the financial pain of a walkout or lockout.

"Financially, it would not be all that traumatic for us to be on strike," Lambdin said.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed the bill in August, but apparently did so with reservations.

In a memo that accompanied the signing, the governor suggested the scope of the law should be limited to "cases where the employer hires a permanent replacement for the employee that applies for benefits" and should not apply when replacement workers are hired temporarily.

Spitzer's memo said he had agreement from leaders in the Senate and Assembly that the law eventually would be amended.

The Department of Labor's Rosales said that until that happens, all striking workers replaced by their employers will be eligible for unemployment insurance


Unions, collectivists revive religious left

Everyone knows the potent force of the Christian right in American politics. But since the mid-1990s, an increasingly influential religious movement has arisen on the left, mostly escaping the national press's notice.

This new religious left does not expend its political energies on the cultural concerns that primarily motivate conservative evangelicals. Instead, working mostly at the state and local level, and often in lockstep with unions, its ministers, priests, rabbis, and laity exert a major, sometimes decisive, influence in campaigns to enforce a "living wage," to help unions organize, and to block the expansion of nonunionized businesses like Wal-Mart.

The new religious left is in one sense not new at all. It draws its inspiration in part from the Protestant "social gospel" movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially Baptist Minister Walter Rauschenbusch, who believed that the best way to uplift the downtrodden was to redistribute wealth and forge an egalitarian society. Rauschenbusch called for the creation of a kingdom of heaven here on earth -- just as presidential candidate Barack Obama did last week at a church in South Carolina.

The popular Catholic writer John Ryan also advocated that government enact pro-union legislation, steep taxes on wealth, and more stringent business regulation. When FDR adopted several of Ryan's ideas, the priest was given the sobriquet "the Right Reverend New Dealer." His popularity reflected the tightening alliance between America's mainstream churches and organized labor. That alliance disintegrated during the 1960s, when clerics like the notorious rebel priests the Berrigan brothers began to agitate for a wider range of radical causes -- above all, a swift end to the Vietnam War. The more culturally conservative blue-collar workers who formed the union movement's core wanted no part of this.

The alliance has been revitalized thanks in large part to savvy labor bosses such as John Sweeney, who grew up in a prototypical Catholic pro-union household. When Mr. Sweeney took over the AFL-CIO in 1996, union membership was shrinking -- from 24% of the work force 30 years ago to 14.5% in 1996 (and just 12% today). He told church leaders that "unions need aggressive participation by the Church in our organizing campaigns."

The AFL-CIO launched "Labor in the Pulpits," a program that encouraged churches and synagogues to invite union leaders to preach the virtues of organized labor and tout its political agenda. Nearly 1,000 congregations in 100 cities nationwide now take part annually. Mr. Sweeney himself has preached from the pulpit of Washington, D.C.'s National Cathedral, urging congregants to join anti-globalization protests in the capital.

Under the auspices of Labor in the Pulpits, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian clerics have composed guidelines for union-friendly sermons and litanies, as well as inserts for church bulletins that promote union legislation. One insert asked congregants to pray for a federal minimum-wage hike and also -- if the prayers didn't work, presumably -- to contact their congressional representatives. Another urged congregants to lobby Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act -- controversial legislation that would let unions organize firms merely by getting workers to sign authorizing cards, rather than by conducting secret ballots, as is currently required.

The Chicago-based, union-supported Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) arranges for seminarians to spend the summer months working with union locals. Some 200 seminarians have helped unionize Mississippi poultry workers, aided the Service Employees International Union in organizing Georgia public-sector employees, and bolstered campaigns for living-wage legislation in California municipalities.

Working with IWJ, the labor movement has spawned some 60 new religious left groups, ranging from the Massachusetts Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice to the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues to the Los Angeles-based Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (Clue). In Los Angeles, Clue clergy helped crush several 2005 statewide ballot initiatives that unions opposed, including one that gave union workers the option of not paying dues that would fund union political activities.

In Memphis, clergy fought relentlessly -- via newspaper op-eds, public fasts, and preaching -- for the passage of living-wage bills that since 2004 have forced local businesses to hike wages well above the federal minimum. Labor-religious coalitions have worked spectacularly well: Some 125 municipalities have passed living-wage laws.

More than 100 religious organizations support IWJ financially, including the National Council of Churches of the USA (NCC), an umbrella organization of nearly 40 mainstream Christian denominations. The Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Episcopal Church are particularly active. The alliance between labor and the religious left also enjoys the powerful backing of the Catholic Church, whose American hierarchy, though often conservative on social issues, is firmly left-wing in its economic views.

Despite decades of economic progress that have reduced unemployment levels to record lows and made America a magnet for opportunity-seeking immigrants, leading clergy of the religious left depict the free market as a vast exploitative force, controlled by a small group of godless power brokers. Clergy describe Wal-Mart, for example, in terms that its thousands of suppliers, millions of employees, and tens of millions of customers would hardly recognize. The Reverend Jarvis Johnson, an IWJ board member, has urged congregants to invite the "hurting, blind and crippled" to a metaphorical banquet. Who are these poor, abused souls? "They are Wal-Mart associates who have to wait six months to a year to qualify for a health-care plan," Mr. Johnson explained.

Religious left leaders blindly refuse to acknowledge the considerable academic research showing that mandated wage hikes often eliminate the jobs of low-skilled workers -- the very people whom it seeks to help. David Neumark, for example -- a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley's Institute of Business and Economics Research and one of the world's foremost authorities on wage laws -- has found that while living-wage laws do boost the income of some low-wage workers, they also have "strong negative employment effects." That is, they vaporize jobs. In one study, Mr. Neumark noted that a 50% boost in the living wage produced a decline in employment for the lowest-skilled workers of between 6% and 8%.

Religious left clerics also ignore the evidence that much poverty in prosperous, opportunity-rich America results from dysfunctional -- dare one call it "sinful"? -- behavior. Around two-thirds of poor families today are single-parent households, largely dependent on government subsidies and headed by women with little education. The entry-level, low-wage work for which these mothers are qualified makes it hard to support large families. And the time they must devote to raising their kids makes it hard to climb the economic ladder. Poverty is increasingly about the irresponsible decision to have children out of wedlock. In many inner city communities where poverty is entrenched, 75% of all children are now born out of wedlock.

In any event, the religious left's sympathies do not seem to be those of churchgoers. While the NCC and its member churches pursue a variety of left-wing causes -- even partnering with the activist organization MoveOn.org and featuring speakers like Michael Moore at events -- a Pew poll found that 54% of white, mainline Protestants and 50% of Catholics voted Republican in the 2004 presidential elections. Those who attended church regularly voted Republican even more heavily -- at nearly the same rate as evangelical Christians, in fact.

For four decades, as the leadership of America's mainline churches has moved steadily leftward, those churches' memberships declined as a percentage of the U.S. population while the number of Christian evangelicals exploded. Left-wing clerics may be buying greater political influence with their alliance through organized labor, but the price may be further alienating their shrinking flock.

Mr. Malanga is senior editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, from whose autumn issue this is adapted.


Unions step up against WI anti-tax movement

With the state budget the last in the nation to be mired in wrangling over proposed tax increases, and with anti-tax forces set to descend on the Capitol Wednesday, Wisconsin has become a key battleground in the fight over taxation.

"Wisconsin is right on the forefront" of the debate over higher taxes and government-funded health care, said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a national anti-tax group that is the driving force behind Wednesday's rally.

Although the legislative debate in Wisconsin has focused on raising the state's cigarette tax and imposing a new tax on hospitals to fund the expansion of health care for low-income families, Phillips said the issue remains the same as in other states: whether residents are willing to pay higher taxes for the expansion of government programs.

"The real question for people is whether they believe the state of Wisconsin is spending their money wisely and efficiently," Phillips said. "The answer we hear from people and from polling is no."

The three-year-old national group has gained a high profile in recent years as a touchstone for conservative anti-tax activists. Earlier this month, the group sponsored a two-day "Defending the American Dream Summit" in Washington, D.C., that invited all of the presidential candidates in both parties and drew all of the major Republicans.

Phillips said the national group has identified three issues as its top priorities -- taxes, health care and global warming -- for grass-roots action against government. Two of those three issues are in play in Wisconsin, putting it on the short list of roughly a half-dozen states the group is targeting for special attention.

The Madison rally comes as the Republican-controlled Assembly and Democratic-controlled Senate remain deadlocked over a new state budget.

On Monday, the two houses met in special session to consider a last-minute "compromise" budget offered by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. The Senate passed Doyle's proposal, but the Assembly rejected it on a 53-44 vote that crossed party lines.

Wednesday's rally will feature speeches by Phillips, radio talk show hosts Vicki McKenna of Madison and Pat Snyder of Wausau, conservative bloggers Fred Dooley ("The Real Debate") and Owen Robinson ("Boots and Sabers"), and state Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus.

New networking

Mark Block, the director of Americans for Prosperity's Wisconsin branch, said the Assembly's rejection of Doyle's proposal has strengthened the position of anti-tax forces.

More than two dozen lawmakers have signed pledges sponsored by the group or similar anti-tax groups vowing to vote against any budget that raises taxes. All of the lawmakers who signed the pledge voted against Doyle's proposal on Monday.

Block said the presence of bloggers and radio talk show hosts on the dais is an example of how new media like the Internet and talk radio have changed grass-roots organizing.

Where it once might have taken weeks or months to mobilize public opinion on an issue, it now takes a matter of days or even hours, said Block, a longtime Republican strategist. Block got into trouble for coordinating then Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox's 1997 reelection campaign with the activities of an outside group and was fined a record $15,000. At the heart of that controversy was a decision by Block to supply a mailing list from Wilcox's campaign to the outside group, the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation.

With the Internet and blogs, Block said, groups can compile their own lists of interested citizens without having to seek such information from campaigns or other groups. And once those individuals have been targeted, he said, instead of sending a postcard to one person, "you can send him an e-mail that he'll forward to two or three more people."

Unions push back

Block said his group plans to bring buses of taxpayers from La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, and Madison.

But he said some members "are shying away from attending" because they won't be alone in rallying at the Capitol. "They don't want any confrontation."

The state AFL-CIO and the public employees' union AFSCME will mount a counter-demonstration on the fringes of the main rally, said Sara Rogers, executive vice president of the state AFL-CIO.

The unions intend to "welcome the out-of-state, anti-government" activists with a "peaceful, quiet, non-verbal welcome to reality," she said.

Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said the unions plan to hold a press conference before the rally demonstrating how the Legislature's failure to pass a budget will have real consequences.

The state Department of Public Instruction is already preparing to mail notices to local school districts announcing that their state aids will be about $79 million less than predicted because of the lack of a new state budget. School districts will then have to choose between cutting programs and raising property taxes to make up for the lack of state funds.

Beil said that based on the Americans for Prosperity's past public statements, "They're going to say that the responsible position is to have no state budget."

That is not true, he said, "and we will have plenty of people impacted by not having a state budget" on hand to counter that message.

"The elected officials need to be responsible and not act like children in a sand box. We're clearly getting to the point where there will be real cuts and real pain to real people," he said.

But Phillips, the national president of Americans for Prosperity, dismissed those arguments and charged that unlike those attending his group's rally, the unions are motivated by a direct financial interest in higher taxes and government spending.

"The people coming to our rally are there because they genuinely care. They're doing it because they think enough is enough. Usually the public employees are there because they're told they've got to increase spending or they won't get more money," he said.

He said the threats of cuts to vital government programs "are told to us in state after state. It's the same old tired arguments and it's not really real. Families have to rein in their own spending. Governments have to do that every once in awhile. The government sees taxpayers as a piggybank and that's just wrong."


Striking teachers face counter-protest at school

The Lake-Lehman School Board meeting Tuesday night was a study in contrasts. Outside, Lake-Lehman teachers and members of other education associations rallied, opposed by two counter-protesters.

Inside, nine residents supported the board’s stance and urged its members to hold firm in negotiations, while three defended the teachers. However, as has been the case with the two negotiating committees for the last three weeks, the board and teachers union failed to meet.

“We don’t cross our own picket lines. Nobody’s going in,” said John Holland, the teachers’ Pennsylvania State Education Association representative.

Lake-Lehman teachers thronged in front of the junior-senior high school, many holding the professionally printed signs they had carried earlier in the day, their second on the picket lines. The district has 153 teachers, but its ranks were swelled to approximately 300 with union members from 16 other school districts and two Pennsylvania State Education Association councils.

On a concrete island across from the crowd, Lonny Walsh of Sweet Valley and former school board member Ed Kern of Lehman Township defiantly held up hand-lettered signs favoring the board. Kern’s sign stated, “PSEA and L-L teachers: it’s time for medical co-pay and salary freeze,” striking on the two issues at the core of the contract dispute.

Walsh held up his health insurance card. “I pay $48 a week for family coverage and have $500 deductibles for each of the four people in my family,” he said.

“I’m in the silent majority of this school district,” Kern said. “I guarantee the people are behind me.”

In front of Kern and Walsh, union heads from districts including Northwest Area, Lackawanna Trail, Riverside, Crestwood, Wayne Highlands, Old Forge, Pocono Mountain and Greater Nanticoke Area offered encouragement to Lake-Lehman teachers.

“We were able to do it in Dallas,” Bill Wagner told his fellow Back Mountain teachers. “There’s no reason you can’t have a fair and equitable contract here at Lake-Lehman.”

“We’ve been there. We feel for you,” said Marcele Genovese of Abington Heights. The Lackawanna County district went through three strikes and heated controversy before its contract was settled in April 2005. “Be patient. A good contract will come,” she said.

Board president Charles Balavage said in the 17 months since negotiations started the district has offered “five or six” contract proposals while “the position of PSEA hasn’t changed once.”

He noted that in response to resident Thomas Becker, who asked the board’s negotiating committee — Mark Kornoski, John Oliver III, James Welby and Balavage — to step down “to see if people with perhaps cooler, more level heads” could take over.

Parent Donna Miller countered that the board should not appoint a new team unless the teachers union does also. Karen Masters agreed.

“I believe Mr. Holland and (Lake-Lehman Education Association president Daniel) Williams should be removed from the negotiating committee,” Masters said.

Jo Ann Harris urged the board to walk in the teachers’ shoes, saying they deserved “combat pay.”

“Act like professionals. Treat the teachers with dignity and respect,” she said to the board.

John Evans commended the board for its position. He said if the teachers think they have it bad in the classroom, they should try his job as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institution at Dallas.

Parent Wendy MacDougall, who is a senior leader for a health insurance company, said health insurance premium sharing is the “wave of the future.” She said she would have suggested an even higher premium contribution and a tiered co-payment for pharmaceuticals. And teachers’ raises should be based on performance, MacDougall said.

In other business, the school board, minus the absent James Welby, voted 6-2 to censure Williams and ask the Lake-Lehman Education Association for an apology. Williams allegedly used an undisclosed racial slur towards Balavage during the last contract talks on Sept. 27.

Board members Lois Kopcha and Drew Salko voted against the resolution. They said they weren’t present at negotiations, so they had no way of knowing what was really said.

“It was something you should have resolved yourself,” Kopcha said. “It had nothing to do with us.”


Striking teachers' creativity tested

Union officials and administrators from a McHenry County (PA) school district failed again Monday to settle on a new contract for teachers and canceled classes for a third day Tuesday for 1,600 pupils. Negotiators for both sides met at Nippersink Middle School at 6 p.m. and called off talks about three hours later. They will try again Tuesday to hammer out a deal to end the walkout.

Dan Oest, superintendent of Nippersink School District 2, said before the meeting that public comment overwhelmingly supports the school board. The community, he said, wants "the board of education to continue taking a strong stance." Oest declined to comment after talks ended Monday.

Denise Gossell, president of the Richmond Spring Grove Education Association, told picketing teachers earlier in the day that she hoped for a resolution but warned the strike over pension contributions could continue through Tuesday. "It's the same issue, but we're all trying to be creative," she said after the talks ended.

District and union officials had to walk through a gantlet of parents and teachers chanting, "Get it done," to get inside the middle school.

The walkout, which started Friday, affects about 140 teachers and staff.

The school board has offered 3.5 percent salary raises in each of the next three years. At issue is the board's demand that teachers pay a portion of any increase in pension contributions. Starting salary for teachers in the district is $33,000.

The teachers union has offered to have employees contribute 0.5 percent of their salary for health-care benefits but not until the fourth year of a contract.

The board's last offer included having the employees contribute 0.5 percent in the second year of a contract and 1 percent in the third year.

The district operates three schools: two elementary and one middle school. Most pupils are from Richmond and Spring Grove.

With schools closed, Henry Konkel of Spring Grove had to take his 11-year-old son to work with him Monday.

"He said, 'Dad, I miss going to school,' and I said, 'I had a feeling you might be out all week,' " Konkel said. "It's time the teachers realize they can't keep tapping the taxpayers."

Amy Burghardt has two children affected by the strike.

She said that if parents want high-quality teachers to continue to come to the district, they should pay them what they are worth.

"Teachers keep losing ground as far as their benefits and salaries," said Burghardt, who works as a teacher's aide for the district but is not a union member.

"It isn't fair that teachers have to keep making concessions year after year.

"They are a valuable asset."


Right-to-strike compared to teacher pay

Some Pennsylvania lawmakers want to make it illegal for teachers to strike. A strike was approved at the Athens School District last month and even though teachers didn’t officially strike, they could still do it at any time.

Nancy Hazard has two children who attend the Athens Elementary School. She was concerned when teachers at the school were ready to strike and she agrees with the proposed law to stop teachers from striking.

“I got a letter in the mail saying that they're going to be on strike a couple of weeks ago starting Sept 30th. I was ticked off because kids need to be in school,” says Hazard. “I think it's a good idea because my daughter is a senior this year and she will not graduate if the strike does happen,” says Kelly Talada of Athens. ”It hurts the kids and it makes them have longer summers,” says Hilda Gardiner of Athens.

Even though some parents say this law will keep their kids in school without any interruptions to their class work, other parents say they don't agree with it.

“They should be able to strike like anyone else. That's my opinion. If I had issues where I had to go on strike with my employee I'd do the same thing,” Tommie Smith of Athens.

District and union leaders have been negotiating for two years on a new contract. The major hang-ups are health benefits and salaries. Union members voted to authorize a strike in August. That means union leaders can call a strike at any time. Classes and extra curricular-activities are at stake.

Right now, the bill to stop Pennsylvania teachers from striking has been in stalled in the House Labor Relations Committee since July. If the bill comes up for a vote in the full House of Representatives, Representative Tina Pickett says she doesn't know how she'll vote.

Pickett says in the past seven school years 82 teacher strikes have happened. She also says Pennsylvania is one of the top 10 highest paid states for teacher salaries. Out of those 10 states Pennsylvania, Illinios, and California are the only ones where there no law banning teachers to strike.

An Athens School District official says this bill wouldn't have any effect on them because they hope to resolve their problems before this could become law. The union president did not return our calls for comment.


Tribes prefer no NLRB-supervised election

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe is so sure the National Labor Relations Board has no jurisdiction over its employees at Foxwoods Resort Casino that it refused to “commit” Monday to holding an election if the NLRB's regional director sides with the union.

The NLRB held the second day of its hearing Monday on whether the federal agency has jurisdiction to hold an election that could result in the representation of about 3,000 casino dealers by the United Auto Workers union. Both sides, however, have already agreed to the classes of dealers that could be included in a union, should one be approved by Regional NLRB Director Peter Hoffman.

During the testimony, though, Hearing Officer Dina Emirzian asked tribal attorneys Thomas Gibbons and Michael Soltis of Jackson Lewis LLP of Hartford whether they would cooperate with the posting of notices for an election and other steps if Peter Hoffman decides this case in favor of the U.A.W. and calls for a vote.

Gibbons and Soltis said they “couldn't commit” to that and reiterated their stance that there is “absolutely no basis” for Hoffman to direct an election.

The tribe has the right to appeal Hoffman's decision to the NLRB in Washington, D.C.

The hearing concluded Monday afternoon, and a decision could be issued in coming weeks.

The bulk of the hearing involved a tribal court judge testifying that the Mashantucket Pequots have a system of laws regulating employment, as the tribe continued to build its case that the NLRB has no jurisdiction on the reservation.

Chief Judge Thomas Weissmuller testified that his court is involved in ruling on how laws regarding employment are applied and hears appeals on those matters. A Board of Review hears the facts first, and the court can hear as many as 30 appeals a year after a final decision is rendered by the Foxwoods chief executive officer or chief operating officer, Weissmuller said.

Asked to sum up their views, Gibbons and Soltis reiterated Monday that the NLRB has no jurisdiction to intervene by holding an election for a union.

The union's counsel, attorney Thomas Meiklejohn, likewise reiterated the U.A.W.'s stance that the federal appeals court ruling in February, which found labor laws apply to the nation's Indian tribes, applies in this instance. The case is known as San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino v. NLRB 2007.

“It is beyond doubt the casino is a commercial enterprise,” said Meiklejohn, “therefore the NLRB can and should exercise its jurisdiction. ... And it has no negative impact on tribal sovereignty, period.”

Weissmuller also testified that his court operates independently of the tribe, even though the tribe's casino revenues pay for court operations. The tribe can and does lose cases that come before the court, he said, noting that a Foxwoods employee cannot lose his or her job “unless they've been afforded due process.”

Under cross-examination by Meiklejohn, Weissmuller also revealed that a recently enacted Mashantucket Employment Rights Ordinance that affects labor relations and employment rights could impact “existing precedent” derived from past case law in his court.

Both sides offered a joint statement indicating the MERO Commission is not completely set up yet.

The union also declined to withdraw its petition following an invitation to do so by the tribe, Meiklejohn said.

Meiklejohn called no witnesses during the two-day hearing, which started on Friday.

The hearing closed with an order to attorneys to file legal briefs by Oct. 22. The tribe's attorneys may be granted a short extension, Emirzian said.


Teachers ordered to follow new strike rules

Reynolds Education Association members were surprised to learn Tuesday that the rules for conducting a strike on school grounds have changed. “They restricted some of our access,” said Marcus D. Schlegel, a Pennsylvania State Education Association representative who is advising the union.

When the union first hit the picket line Oct. 9, the teachers were allowed to gather in the school parking lot, use school bathrooms and use school facilities for union meetings.

REA received a letter from Superintendent Maddox B. Stokes that said teachers can’t gather in school parking lots to picket or serve food and drinks; they can only use several portable toilets that are set up on school grounds; and they can’t use school buildings for meetings.

Teachers are still allowed to park in the school lots but chose Tuesday to park on the side of the road along school property to avoid any problems.

Schlegel said he thinks the board suddenly enacted the rules to draw attention away from the fact that a new contract hasn’t been settled.

“The bigger point here is all these things are distractions,” he said Tuesday as he stood on the side of the road with teachers at the high school.

Barbara P. Henning, a UniServ representative with PSEA who was also on the picket line, said that during most strikes she’s covered, unions aren’t allowed access to school property at all.

“They gave us things and took them away,” she said.

The letter said the union is not welcome to use school facilities to hold meetings because of improper behavior regarding the misuse of district property during REA’s last meeting in the large group instruction room.

Several days before teachers went on strike, the union met in that room to make final preparations and one union member obscured a security camera in the room because REA was worried board members would try to watch the meeting, Schlegel said.

“It was so our members wouldn’t feel intimidated,” he said.

Not being allowed to meet in the school shouldn’t be a problem because union representatives have been able to notify REA members of important information, Schlegel said.

Stokes’ letter also said that REA members should be reminded that they are not to harass, intimidate or interfere with students and parents or other school employees who must cross the picket line.

Incidents that have occurred thus far with regard to student and parent interaction are unacceptable and won’t be tolerated, the letter said.

Gino Tofani, the union’s chief negotiator, said the picket line has been calm and there have been no confrontations. The only incident he can think of that Stokes may have been referring to is a parent who questioned the cancellation of an activity, but that conversation was not an argument.

“We haven’t done anything unacceptable,” Tofani said.

Stokes refused to comment Tuesday on the letter.

“That’s between the union and me,” Stokes said.

The letter ended by saying that if any of the rules are violated, the union will be directed to remain completely off school property, except to use portable toilets, for the duration of the strike.

Schlegel said union members will cooperate with the rules, which is what they’ve been doing all along. They will also remain focused on continuing contract negotiations, as a negotiations session is set for 8 p.m. Thursday.

“This won’t distract us from the more substantial matters at hand,” he said.

Information about the strike and contract negotiations are posted on the union’s Web site at reynoldsrea.psealocals.org and the district’s Web site at www.reynolds.k12.pa.us


Striking aerospace union sets new record

The contract standoff between the Machinists union and NASA contractor United Space Alliance has turned into the union's longest strike ever at Kennedy Space Center.

The strike, which began June 14, has lasted 126 days as of today. That's longer than several Machinists union strikes at the Space Center from the 1970s to the 1990s, according to union officials.

Both sides have not returned to the bargaining table since last month, when a scheduled two-day negotiating session arranged with the help of a federal mediator broke down after one day and the second day was canceled.

Representatives for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2061 in Cape Canaveral have been in contact again with a federal mediator, in hopes of working toward a contract agreement. But, so far, no sessions with the company have been scheduled.

Nationwide, the Machinists union has had longer strikes, including one that lasted more than three years, and ended with the union agreeing to a contract, said Bob Wood, the union's Southern Territory communications representative.

In that strike, a number of union workers never returned to their jobs.

In the current Space Center strike, some Local 2061 members also have moved on to other jobs and are not expected to return, Wood said.

Meanwhile, the company — NASA's main space shuttle contractor — is preparing for the launch of shuttle Discovery. There have been no problems with launch preparations because of the strike, United Space Alliance spokeswoman Tracy Yates said.

Roughly 440 members of Local 2061 are on strike, and continue to staff picket lines in shifts around the clock at Space Center entrances.

Local 2061 officials recently traveled to the Washington, D.C., area to meet with federal officials, mediators and top-level machinist union officials about the strike.

At about that time, United Space Alliance began advertising to hire workers to fill the strikers' jobs.

The company already has hired 149 subcontractors and enlisted 163 nonunion United Space Alliance employees to help perform the strikers’ jobs, according to Yates.

"USA is continuing to review and process applications, and we plan to bring on more subcontractors to perform replacement work that is now being done by USA employees," Yates said.

Wood called the company’s hiring plans a "scare tactic" to get Local 2061 to cross picket lines and return to work.


Union boss urges rejection of forestry strike settlement

One of the most influential Steelworkers locals is urging its members to reject the settlement reached Monday in the Coast forestry strike, claiming the union did not win in a key strike issue - longer hours and working on weekends.

"We've got a problem," said Local 1-80 president Bill Routley, who represents 1,800 loggers and sawmill workers. "You could drive a truck through the loopholes (in the agreement.)" Routley said the settlement reached Monday falls short in one key area - shift scheduling. And that's the issue Local 1-80 was on strike over, Routley said.

Workers in his local have lost their weekends off because of changes in shifts and were willing to stay on strike to win them back, he said. "That was our No. 1 issue - the way shifting is done."

But Bob Matters, chairman of the Steelworkers wood council, said the agreement provides significant protection to workers over the scheduling of shifts, including the right to propose changes.

"We can design and craft schedules now that meet our needs as well as those of our employer."

It does not, however, guarantee weekends off if an employer can present a solid business case that seven-day-a-week operations are required.

Matters said the union has recognized that the the forest industry is changing in response to global competition and negotiated a process that ensures workers have a say in shift changes.

"There may be some real honest business reasons that require working shifts other than Monday to Friday," he said. "Did we get the right to say no, we are not working anything but Monday to Friday period? No we did not. But we can craft our own schedule around that need."

The 12-week long forestry strike by 7,000 union workers idled much of the Coastal logging and sawmilling industry over divisive issues like shift scheduling for loggers, severance pay for partical closures of sawmills and contracting-out of jobs.

Local 1-80's opposition to the deal "simply reflects the fact that this strike went on for a long time and we had some very emotional issues," Matters said.


Dissidents oppose UAW-Chrysler deal

The proposed contract between the United Auto Workers and Chrysler LLC has come under fire from a top union negotiator as well as dissidents who charged the tentative deal gives away too much to the newly private automaker.

In a striking break with the UAW's tradition of closing ranks once a contract has been negotiated, Bill Parker, the chairman of the union's Chrysler negotiating committee, sent an open letter to other leaders urging a return to the bargaining table.

Parker, chairman of UAW Local 1700, which represents some 2,700 workers who assemble the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger models, said he had voted against the contract when it was proposed last week.

Separately, the UAW dissident group Soldiers of Solidarity urged union-represented workers on Tuesday to "stand your ground. There's nowhere to run," in a posting on its Web site. About roughly 49,000 will vote on the four-year contract starting this week.

Critics within the UAW released excerpts from the proposed contract on Tuesday, saying the agreement would allow Chrysler to hire a large class of lower-wage workers at half the current wage without guaranteeing future investment in U.S. factories. They also objected to a plan to create a health care trust fund for Chrysler retirees, saying it was underfunded compared with Chrysler's $19 billion obligation for medical costs.

The UAW called a strike against Chrysler last Wednesday, but ended it six hours later after union leaders met that afternoon and decided to accept the terms of a contract proposal from the automaker from earlier that day.

Parker's letter to UAW local leaders, which encouraged some to vote against adoption of the Chrysler agreement at a Detroit meeting on Monday, was released by union dissidents to bolster their case against the contract.

The terms of the deal are seen as crucial to the success of private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP (CBS.UL: Quote, Profile, Research) in turning Chrysler around after the automaker posted a $680 million loss in 2006.

The contract, along with a now-ratified deal with General Motors Corp. (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research), will also be taken up as the pattern in talks involving Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote, Profile, Research). Many analysts see Ford as the most urgently needing to secure concessions to bounce back from a slide in market share and a $12.7 billion loss last year.

In a letter to Chrysler workers, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Vice-President General Holiefield acknowledged the union had been pushed hard by the automaker.

"Chrysler had an agenda that was nothing but cutbacks, but our membership turned the company around," Holiefield said. "We saved plants, we saved parts distribution centers, and we saved jobs."

The UAW won a pledge from Chrysler to drop plans to spin off its transportation unit and its MOPAR parts distribution business, but agreed in exchange to allow thousands of new union hires to come in at just $14 per hour, roughly half the current wage.

Chrysler also retained the right to close or sell five of its U.S. facilities, including an assembly plant in Delaware that makes the Durango SUV and one in Detroit dedicated to the high-performance Viper.

A side letter to the contract also spells out that any future Chrysler production in the United States is based on "market demand" and "favorable business cases."

Job security is a hot-button issue for many UAW-represented Chrysler workers because the automaker under Cerberus has made it clear it will seek out production partners overseas to reduce costs and target new markets outside the United States.

Compared to larger rival GM, Chrysler also appeared to have won deeper concessions on retiree health care based on its pledge of $10.3 billion to fund the new trust that will start operation in 2010.

The funding would include a warrant issue that union leaders said has a "potential equity upside value" of $605 million. The basis of that calculation was not spelled out by the union.

GM's contract was ratified by about two-thirds of its UAW workers.

Representatives of the UAW and Chrysler were not immediately available for comment.

Chrysler was taken private by Cerberus in August in a $7.4 billion deal. Former parent Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) retains a stake of almost 20 percent.


Union workers on strike in Montana

Members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local Number 599 are striking at Beall Trailers of Montana in Lockwood over health care costs The 114 union members went on strike at 6:30 this morning Boilermakers President David Bye says the strike is over a 13% increase in health care costs.

Beall spokesman Dave Shannon said health insurance premiums have risen 30%. He says the company is asking employees to pay 96 cents an hour toward their health care costs, with a 96-cent-an-hour pay supplement. Bye says the union is concerned the supplemental pay will be eliminated at the end of the three-year contract. Beall Trailers manufactures tanker trailers.


Another PA teachers union talks strike

Teachers' union officials are meeting today to discuss the possibility of a strike. The Carlisle (PA) Teachers Association gave its union leaders authorization Monday to initiate the strike process, which requires 10 days notice. Union leaders vowed that same day to try to avoid the picket lines.

Under the teachers' contract, which expired June 30, teachers may strike after 30 days of federal mediation have passed, which ended Saturday, so long as they provide 10 days notice to the school board and State Employment Relations Board, according to their contract.

The possibility of a strike comes after four months of negotiations, which finally resulted in an offer, which teachers rejected Monday with a vote of 103-5; one blank ballot also was cast.

The offer outlined a 0.75 percent pay increases made possible by upping health insurance co-payments for teachers.

The changes would reduce premiums for the district. The savings would be redistributed to teachers, said Superintendent Tim McLinden.

Last week, Carlisle's classified employees voted to accept a similar offer. By agreeing to higher co-pays, they were given a 1.5 percent salary increase this year and 2 percent the next, McLinden said.

The pay percent increase is greater for classified employees because they are paid less than teachers, he said.

"There's no money in the budget right now for salary increases," McLinden said.

Carlisle is facing a $40,000 deficit by the end of next year and cannot afford to plan for salary increases, he said.

They likely will have to ask voters for operating funds in 2009, he said, though the amount has not been set.


Bloated, overdemaning UAW suffocates American auto industry

General Motors, the largest automobile company on the planet, earned over $200 billion in revenue last year, but by December, had nearly $2 billion in net losses. Similarly, Ford Motor Company found itself in the red in 2006, bringing in roughly $160 billion while losing $12 billion overall. Why are such clearly profitable companies experiencing massive net losses? Labor unions.

There was a time when labor unions helped create an equal playing field for employees and their employers. Gross human rights violations and unfair labor practices required organized action on the part of employees to fight for life’s basic necessities. The days of thoughtless abuse inflicted by employers have long since passed, and today Americans enjoy better work conditions than ever before.

However, these archaic relics still linger and have transformed into an unrelenting plague upon American business, fighting tooth and nail to squeeze every dime they can from corporations. Labor unions, despite experiencing a decline in popularity, have shifted their focus from human rights issues to nitpicking details of wages and retirement plans, leaving many companies in the red.

After negotiations failed on Sept. 24, 73,000 members of the United Auto Workers union walked out of GM production plants and grabbed picket signs. Among other things, the union wanted GM to secure more jobs in America by reducing the amount of labor it outsourced, while also protecting wages and allowing thousands of part-time employees to be given full-time jobs. In addition, UAW negotiators aimed to increase funding for large retirement packages that have already been established. Meanwhile, GM continues to struggle with falling numbers and stiff competition. It only makes sense that if the UAW would like to have any jobs for its members, it would do everything in its power to guarantee the company stays afloat. Demanding higher wages, more positions and sustained pensions while GM continues to report negative earnings is detrimental to the success of the company, and shows just how outdated and greedy these unions have become.

Over a week later, on Oct. 10, a similar dispute was settled between the UAW and Chrysler. The company has also struggled to stay in the game, despite rising demands from unions. However, a contract similar to the one approved by GM was passed, ending the six-hour strike against Chrysler. The UAW also has its sights set on Ford, which has performed worse than any other American car manufacturer. The union remains confident it will get a third, nearly identical contract passed for Ford employees.

In comparison, Toyota, a Japanese car manufacturer, reported very similar revenue earnings as GM last year, but when the year ended, it had a net $15 billion in profit. The company turned a profit because it does not employ union workers, and thus is protected from the disruptions these unions impose on American manufacturers.

In addition to creating financial hardships for companies, labor unions also kill work ethic in their members. Because there is little incentive to work harder, employees slack off and do not perform to the best of their ability. These employees know their labor union will defend their job if they were fired, and will also pay the employee for a period of time until they find a new job. Clearly, unions create a lazier working class in America, while at the same time draining money out of would-be successful companies.

Employees need to stop depending on unions to negotiate defined benefit retirement plans and other monetary issues and begin planning for their own future. Retirement plans like 401(k)s and Individual Retirement Accounts offer private alternatives by allowing workers to choose how much they save for their future. Through direct investment, these plans eliminate the need for leechlike labor unions while protecting the profits of business. In addition, labor laws and regulations help safeguard workers from other kinds of abuse.

Unions are remnants of an important period in American history, but they have more than served their purpose. Unions greatly damage the profitability and jeopardize the survival of businesses. Workers need to take initiative, dump destructive unions and work to improve their own futures. If American industry hopes to compete with its Asian and European counterparts, huge changes need to be made to organized labor.


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