SEIU official brutally slain by mob, no arrests made

Four weeks ago, just after sunset on a Saturday night in the middle of a busy northwest Rochester, NY intersection, 36-year-old Latasha Shaw was brutally slain by a mob made up mostly of women and teenage girls.

Shaw's case drew enormous public attention and outrage: A mother, seeking justice for her injured daughter, was beaten and stabbed to death in front of three generations of her own family as a crowd looked on.

Rumors arose that those onlookers did nothing, and Shaw's case drew immediate comparison to that of Kitty Genovese, the young woman who was infamously murdered in Queens in 1964 as dozens of neighbors ignored her screams.

Shaw's slaying on Sept. 29 helped prompt an around-the-clock police crackdown in city streets. But no arrests have been made. Rochester police say they know Shaw's family and friends are frustrated that there have been no arrests, but they need time to sort through witness accounts and evidence to make sure that charges stick.

Police say they are vigorously investigating the case but provided few details.

The Democrat and Chronicle interviewed seven people who witnessed at least part of the attack, as well as neighbors and others. Those interviews raise questions about some accounts, but confirm others:

# Shaw had come to Driving Park Avenue that Saturday evening in response to an assault on her 14-year-old daughter by a group of girls and women several minutes earlier.

# Shaw called 911 at 7:27 p.m. to summon police to accompany her to the house where her daughter's attacker had fled.

# She was on her cell phone with a 911 operator when a large crowd raced from the house and began assaulting her.

# Contrary to some reports, witnesses to the attack have come forward, and at least a dozen names of people who allegedly took part in the attack have been passed to authorities.

# Seventeen different people called 911 between 7:29 and 7:36 p.m. to report the attack on Shaw. Several people helped at the scene after the assault.

# No evidence could be found that bystanders tried to break up the fight.

At least one community leader doesn't blame them.

"I think it happened so quickly and so viciously, in terms of the weapons used — she was attacked with sticks, hammers and knives — that I'm not sure how many citizens we have who could have stepped into a situation like that. Probably not very many," said City Councilman Adam McFadden, who was not present that evening but has made Shaw's case a personal crusade.

"I don't get upset that there were people there who weren't able to stop it," he said, "because I don't think there's a manual for how to stop something like that."

'They jumped me'

Latasha Elizabeth Grayson Shaw, who often went by Tasha, was born in Rochester. She attended Benjamin Franklin High School but dropped out after getting pregnant at 15. She eventually had four children, who range in age from 21 to 6. Her eldest child, Vincent Miller, lost his father in 1995 when he was stabbed to death in Rochester by a man with whom he had been feuding.

For about 15 years, Shaw had worked in food service at the University of Rochester, where a tearful memorial service was held after her death. She also was a vice chairwoman of the Service Employees International Union chapter at UR and a member of the union bargaining team.

A chair was left vacant at the bargaining table after her death and, according to the union's Web site, when a settlement was reached a week later, the union and UR dedicated the contract to her memory.

Shaw was a member of the Neva Scared Rydas motorcycle club. She lived in southwest Rochester with her three youngest children. Family members say she was a strict but caring mother.

On the afternoon of Sept. 29, Shaw dropped off her daughter, Jasmine Shaw, and Jasmine's cousin at their friend's house not far from Driving Park.

The three girls walked a few blocks to visit Jasmine's brother, Miller, who had just moved into a house on Driving Park, near Dewey Avenue.

Shortly before 7 p.m., the three girls walked to the Super Convenience corner store at 339 Driving Park Ave.

While walking out of the store, they were jumped by three or four females, at least one of them an adult, said Jasmine, who was knocked to the ground and suffered a facial cut.

In a recent telephone interview, Jasmine said the attackers were targeting the friend who accompanied her and her cousin that evening. That girl had been in a running dispute, played out through nasty messages posted on MySpace Internet pages, with one of the school-age attackers.

"She must have been watching us. She had to have seen us going inside the store," said Jasmine, who is now living in North Carolina with her younger sister, Jaeyona, and their father, Jonathan Shaw.

After the assault, the attackers retreated to a brown house at 310 Driving Park Ave., half a block to the east. Jasmine and her cousin walked the other way on Driving Park to her brother's home and called their mother.

When she got the call, Shaw was in Webster, at the home of her sister, Charnette Grayson. "Jas kept crying, saying, 'I don't know why they jumped me,'" Grayson recalled. "They were scared."

Miller walked to the brown house, but no one came to the door, Jasmine said. She said her friend also went to the house with her father and older sister and yelled for the occupants to come out. Those three were there when police arrived shortly after 7 p.m.

According to McFadden, an officer knocked on the door of the brown house but got no response. Police sent Jasmine's friend and her family home, and left the scene.

As this was happening, Shaw, Grayson, their mother and two other relatives were driving from Webster to the city.

"I was telling her that if the girls (who attacked Jasmine) were 18, she should have them arrested," said Betty Grayson, the mother of Shaw and Charnette Grayson.

The brown house

The brown-and-cream-colored, single-family rental house at 310 Driving Park Ave. was a well-known trouble spot.

People who live and work nearby said the home's sagging front porch was the site of frequent large gatherings and was the hangout for several dozen teenage girls and young women.

Tariq Spence, host of the Water Cooler call-in show on WDKX-FM (103.9), said that listeners reported several times this summer about problems with a group of girls on Driving Park.

City Councilman Bob Stevenson, who lives nearby, said residents called his attention to the house, and he occasionally watched the crowds there from his parked car. "One day, nobody's been there. The next day, there'd be 30 people there. It didn't look like they were selling drugs or anything like that. It was just a tremendous gathering of people."

The home was purchased in July from a New Jersey firm by the EB Family Irrevocable Trust. Edward Berger of Brooklyn, whose family benefits from the trust, said he had heard nothing of events at the property until a reporter called a week ago.

After checking with his property-management company, Berger referred questions to Rochester police.

Stevenson said police had been dispatched repeatedly to the house this summer and fall, mostly because of complaints about unruly crowds. "They kept dispersing, dispersing, dispersing," he said.

Because people from the house weren't linked to significant criminal activity, officers' options were limited, Stevenson said.

"It's really difficult for the police to handle something like this one," he said.

"It's one of those things that festered all summer long, but there was no clear indication of an organization that's going to go out and murder somebody."

But McFadden said he has been told of several other cases in which girls from the house reportedly jumped other women and girls on the streets nearby. "The police were aware of that," he said.

McFadden's understanding is that the victims couldn't identify their attackers, and police then said they could do nothing. "In my mind, I don't know that that's an adequate excuse."

Rumors have circulated that the attacks on women and girls along Driving Park this summer were a gang ritual, perhaps an initiation rite, said McFadden, Charnette Grayson and others. McFadden said he knows that such things happen, but there is no way to tell whether it played a role in the events on Sept. 29.

To his knowledge, none of the girls associated with the brown house had been charged in connection with the earlier assaults.

"We should have been paying closer attention to these kids, and somebody should have been arrested," he said.

'Get off my momma'

Shaw, along with a carload of relatives, arrived at Miller's house on Driving Park shortly after 7:15 p.m. Jasmine was waiting outside. The teen, along with her mother and aunt, began walking toward the brown house, about a block to the east along Driving Park.

The police who responded to the attack on Jasmine had left just a few minutes earlier, according to witnesses. Shaw wanted them to return, said Charnette Grayson. "She was on the phone with 911 the whole time. She was angry, just like anybody else would be."

According to McFadden, who said he has heard the tape of Shaw's 911 call, she told the operator she wanted the police to meet her at the brown house, where she intended to find an adult who could answer for the attack on Jasmine.

"The 911 operator told her not to go, because the people (there) did not want to cooperate," he said.

Shaw and her two companions reached a point about 150 feet west of the brown house, in the middle of the northern stretch of Dewey where it meets Driving Park.

People yelled at them from the brown house, Grayson said, but she insists that she and her sister never yelled back.

"There was no confronting, no conversation, no nothing," she said. "Before you know, they just came running up the street like bulls."

Shaw, Grayson and Jasmine began to flee, but Shaw dropped her cell phone. When she bent to pick it up, her daughter and sister said, a man took her to the ground and held her there.

There, she was set upon by the mob. According to witnesses, between six and 15 people attacked Shaw; all but one or two of them were female. Some were teens, several were adults in their 20s or older.

Witnesses said attackers hit Shaw with a broomstick, baseball bats and other household implements. Several witnesses say she was kicked and stomped by women and girls.

Jasmine ran to her grandmother, Betty Grayson, who was holding Jaeyona, several feet away from the fray. But their older brother, Miller, joined in. He and Charnette Grayson remember fighting with other people, unable to reach Shaw a few feet away.

"I could hear her son (Miller) say, 'Get off my momma!'" Charnette Grayson recalled.

As suddenly as the attack started, it was over. "I turned my head real quick — I swear, it was like a second — then when I turned back, everyone was gone," said Jasmine.

The family ran to Shaw, who was lying face-up with her eyes open. A broken broomstick lay next to her.

"I heard Jas saying, 'Come on, Mommy.' She was pulling her arm. We rolled her over and there were the two butcher knives" lying on the ground, Grayson said.

Not until they moved Shaw did her family see that her side was soaked in blood, Grayson said, from one or more knife wounds.

The official cause of death, the family said, was a stab wound to the chest.

Grayson said she talked to her sister as she lay on the street. "I told her, 'Don't stop, keep breathing.'" Shaw muttered something that sounded like "Char."

"And then she caught her breath, and that was it," Charnette Grayson said. "A tear rolled down her eye, and then the ambulance came."

'Keep the faith'

The group of attackers, witnesses said, had run back toward the brown house. Most of them jumped into vehicles and sped away. The house has been unoccupied since that day, neighbors say.

Police responded to the fatal attack at 7:32 p.m. and took several people at the scene into custody, according to McFadden. He said those in custody were later released.

Rochester police spokeswoman Deidre Taccone verified that no one has been charged in connection with either assault on Driving Park that evening.

Shaw's family members said Latasha did what any mother would have done — protect and defend her children.

"Could we have done something different? I don't know. Maybe one of our kids would have ended up dead," Grayson said.

When the first attack on Jasmine, her cousin and her friend took place, people watched but did not jump in to break it up, Jasmine said. But someone did summon police.

When the second, fatal assault occurred minutes later, Jasmine said, some onlookers might have thought that it, too, was just a brawl.

"No one knew she was stabbed until the end," Jasmine said.

And 17 people called 911 during and immediately after that attack. Taccone said that is exactly what police recommend bystanders do.

"People were frantic because they were watching Miss Shaw being attacked and dying," said McFadden, who has a log of the 911 calls. "It wasn't like they just sat there and watched it happen."

Just as the assault ended, an unidentified man stopped his blue sport utility vehicle in the street to protect Shaw as she lay bleeding on the pavement. Charnette Grayson remembers that a woman in lavender health care garb helped her try to revive her sister with CPR.

Though the exact number of witnesses is not known, Grayson said many people have been coming forward to the family and police with information. McFadden said he has given police about 20 names, including a dozen he believed were involved in the attack.

McFadden said many of the girls who hung out at the brown house, including some who may have taken part in the attack, were city high school students.

"There's a huge level of cooperation (from witnesses and the public)," McFadden said.

Rochester Police Chief David Moore, who praised McFadden's efforts, said much information has been passed to investigators, and many people have been interviewed.

But much of the information they're providing is "second- and third-hand," Moore said. What investigators need, he said, is more "good, solid substantiated information" — especially from eyewitnesses.

"We need someone to call that actually saw that crime take place," Moore said.

Moore and Gary Walker, a spokesman for Mayor Robert Duffy, said police are determined to make the most solid case possible.

"We know people are asking, 'How can something that so many people witnessed be so hard to make an arrest on?'" Walker said. "It's easy to make an arrest. It's hard to make it stick."

A month after Shaw's death, McFadden continues to lead daily marches through the northwest Rochester neighborhood in hopes of getting more witnesses to come forward.

He said frustration has been growing among Shaw's supporters because no arrests have been made. "To them, it seems like the justice system isn't working the way it's supposed to," he said.

Charnette Grayson said she's frustrated, too, but insists that police, not vigilantes, should settle the matter.

"I don't know where this investigation is going. To hell, maybe," Grayson said. "We're just going to keep the faith and hope someone goes to jail."


Teamster boss favored in city council race

It's the Teamster versus the mortgage banker for fifth district city council representative in Muncie, IN. Teamsters union steward Jerry Dishman, 50, 2817 N. Reserve St., and self-employed mortgage lender Dan Ridenour, 47, 4305 N. Glenwood Ave., are running for the council seat being vacated by Democrat Bruce Wiemer.

There are many differences between the two candidates. "I have not been active in politics other than voting, but I've always had an interest," says Ridenour, a Republican who's running for office because "I've grown a little frustrated with the direction things are going."

A fleet technician at the Pepsi America bottling company on North Walnut Street, Dishman is a Democratic precinct committeeman who keeps tabs on people's needs and has "helped a lot of people get things done like street repairs."

Dishman calls himself a "very strong supporter" of the city police and fire departments, whose political action committees donated $250 and $500, respectively, to his campaign. Cutting funding for police and fire protection would be a last resort for Dishman.

Asked during a candidate forum whether spending by the police and fire departments should be cut to reduce property taxes, Ridenour said "they should pay their fair share." He believes the two departments should "recommend their own cuts. Let them be part of the process, help us come up with ways to reduce spending."

Ridenour says he is not against public safety, but asks, "Do we need to do EMS runs with city fire trucks?" More than half of the city fire department's 6,000 annual runs are ambulance calls to which the county emergency medical service is also dispatched.

"I'd be out of business if I ran it like the city is run," Ridenour said.

Responding to a question raised by The Star Press editorial board, Ridenour said he would consider the possibility of the city discontinuing collective bargaining agreements with the labor unions representing police and firefighters. "I would consider most anything," he said.

Dishman indicated he would not consider such a proposal. He has spent much of his career "fighting for working people" to make sure they get their "fair share of the pie."

Ridenour believes he's more qualified to represent taxpayers on city council because of his financial background.

"I have to be very creative, being self-employed," Ridenour said. "I make zero salary if I don't produce, I get paid nothing. That kind of push and drive will help me."

On the campaign trail, Dishman has encountered terrified senior citizens who are afraid of losing their homes because of soaring property tax bills. The Statehouse -- where the governor and the state Legislature work -- is mostly to blame, Dishman said.

Dishman proposes stricter code enforcement to remove slum and blight from Muncie. He is angry that building owners "did not pay us back" the tax dollars spent to improve downtown buildings. Stricter code enforcement -- not facade grants -- should have been the catalyst for downtown revitalization, Dishman said.

Clearance of slum and blight should be a priority for the next mayor, Ridenour said. The city needs to make a good first impression to prospective businesses, he said.


The plague of anti-democratic, no-vote unionism

Some crazy things are tough to believe. Some make sense only when you get the whole story. Can’t believe it’s not butter? Sure you can. Can’t believe a union won’t let Tar Heel, NC employees vote on whether to join the union? You’d better believe it.

Union officials from United Food and Commercial Workers rejected an offer by Smithfield management that would have guaranteed the right of each employee at the Tar Heel plant to vote his or her conscience, in a secret-ballot vote free from coercion by management or labor organizers, on whether to join the union.

Why would the union deny the written request of 3,000 Smithfield employees for a secret ballot vote? The simple answer: the union doesn’t think it can win when the playing field is level. In a moment of rare candor last year, UFCW’s president explained that the union relies on publicly signed cards (which opens workers to intimidation by the union) because when it comes to the time-tested process of private ballot elections, “We can’t win that way anymore.”

That’s why Tar Heel has been Ground Zero for the union’s desperate campaign to use a system in which they get their feet in the door (and start collecting those delicious dues dollars) when enough employees have been convinced, cajoled or coerced into signing their names on a union authorization card.

If that sounds crazy, it ought to. For decades U.S. courts have declared that real elections are far better for employees than the “card check” system the UFCW is pushing.

Coercion in the card check process is an obvious problem. In 1967, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded: “It would be difficult to imagine a more unreliable method of ascertaining the real wishes of employees than a ‘card check,’ unless it were an employer’s request for an open show of hands.”

Confusion and deception are other problems inherent to card check. Most succinctly, the United States Supreme Court explained that there is a history of abuses “primarily arising out of misrepresentations by union organizers” over whether signing a union card meant you were joining the union, or whether you were just asking for a fair vote.

In 1983, the Seventh Circuit added that some people sign cards “not because they intend to vote for the union in the election but to avoid offending the person who asks them to sign, often a fellow worker, or simply to get the person off their back.”

Of all groups to agree, the AFL-CIO in its own guidebook for its organizers has said that cards signed by employees are “at best a signifying intention at a given moment” because “sometimes they are signed to ‘get the union off my back.’” It’s why under normal rules the union often gets a majority of people to sign cards calling for an election and then less than a majority when people vote in private. And that’s precisely what the UFCW is afraid will happen at the Smithfield plant.

In a 1998 legal brief, the AFL-CIO criticized the use of signed cards and stated that the “election system provides the surest means of avoiding decisions which are ‘the result of group pressures and not individual decisions.’”

The courts and the AFL-CIO are clear on the matter: real elections are the best way to ensure employee rights.

The union stalking the Tar Heel employees talks a good game about democracy. The rejection of an offer protecting employee rights was a reminder the union needs to put its money where its mouth is.

Richard Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts, a nonprofit organization supported by foundations, businesses, union members and the general public. E-mail: RBerman@unionfacts.com.


Firefighters play 800-lb. gorilla in local election

Campaign finance records show the Redlands (CA) Firefighters Political Action Committee has given $15,000 each to the organization's preferred City Council candidates - incumbent Gilberto Gil and challenger Jeff Sceranka.

Gil, whose campaign has won the support of other government unions, has collected more campaign money than any other office seeker in this year's seven-candidate race. Gil and Pete Aguilar are the two incumbents.

The five challengers in the race are Sceranka, a finance company president; newspaper executive Jerry Bean; transportation analyst Henry Nickel; college student Eddie Tejeda; and retired teacher Nancy Ruth White.

The two incumbents have the most money to spend in the days before the Nov. 6 election. Gil reported having about $20,700 left to spend. Aguilar had close to $19,000 on hand.

Campaign-finance reports showing how much money candidates collected between Sept. 23 and Oct. 20 were due at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Gil's report shows that he has raked in nearly $63,000 this year. Earlier this year, he wasn't even expected to run for re-election.

"Talk about a late-night push," Aguilar said, describing Gil's recent fundraising surge.

Gil is a state parole officer and has participated in labor negotiations with his union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. That union and other public-employee associations have given Gil significant amounts of money.

Records show the CCPOA gave $5,000. The Redlands City Employees Federal Credit Union contributed $5,000, and the San Bernardino Public Employees Association PAC gave $1,000.

Aguilar has collected the

second-most amount of money this election year - more than $56,000. His largest recent contribution came from the Redlands Police Officers Association, who gave $5,000.

Bean took third place in the money race with nearly $39,000 in contributions. Bean's largest contributor during the recent reporting period was Highland- based Stubblefield Construction Co., which gave $1,000.

Otherwise, Bean's contributors are primarily individuals who gave three-figure donations. Bean has also significantly self-financed his campaign to the tune of $10,000 of loans from himself and almost $1,200 worth of printing, graphic arts and clerical services from his own company, Century Group Newspapers.

Bean's publishing company does not produce any newspapers that cover Redlands. He is a former publisher of The Sun.

He jokingly said public-employee groups make his contributions look puny by comparison. More seriously, he criticized the $15,000 contributions that Gil and Sceranka accepted from the firefighters union.

"I'd question how people who accept that much money from a single source can be objective," he said.

Sceranka responded by saying, "I will be fair and objective because I'm representing the entire community, and not just one special-interest group" if elected.

"I wonder if the other council candidates, if they had gotten them (public-employee endorsements), they would turn down the money," he said.

Sceranka didn't collect contributions before the previous reporting period. His report shows that he has collected more than $37,000. Besides the Redlands Firefighters PAC, his largest contributors are himself - he has given his own campaign about $10,500 - and the San Bernardino Public Employees Association, which gave $1,000.

Sceranka reported a $10 contribution from Nickel, who confirmed that he made a small contribution when he paid a visit to one of Sceranka's campaign events.

"I figured I should make a donation if I'm going to have a glass of wine," Nickel said.

White, who has often described her campaign as a "grass-roots" effort, has collected more than $22,000 in contributions. Her largest single contributor during the recent reporting period was Bernard Ditges, who gave $2,000 and is identified on filings as a Texas-based engineer and information technology coordinator.

Tejeda reported receiving almost $11,700. His campaign is almost entirely financed by his wife, who is reported as giving almost $11,500 during the past reporting period.

"I'm not actively soliciting funds," Tejeda said. "Hopefully, I'll accomplish my goal, and I'll prove a point."

Nickel, who has repeatedly criticized the effects of monied interests in local elections during the campaign, reported total contributions of about $3,500. His campaign is mostly self-financed. Nickel reported loaning $2,360 to his campaign this year.

Campaign statements can be viewed at the city's Web site, www.ci.redlands.ca.us.


Student-athletes 'just ignore' striking teachers

Seneca Valley (PA) teachers have been on strike the past two weeks, slamming shut classroom doors in the district. But when coach Karen Martini's volleyball players walk past picket lines and into the gymnasium for practice, they are greeted with friendly waves from striking teachers standing guard in front of the building.

The volleyball team is one of five at the school that have continued to practice and compete -- successfully -- throughout the strike that threatens to last well into next month. "We just go do what we are supposed to do," Martini said. With a 3-0 victory against Franklin Regional last week in a first-round playoff game, the girls volleyball team has reached the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class AAA championship. Seneca Valley will meet Connellsville on Tuesday at North Hills.

Martini says focusing on volleyball hasn't been difficult. "It really hasn't been hard, just because my kids, when we walk in the gym, whether school is in or out, we like to focus on what we like to do," she said. "We have that hunger." Volleyball player Jennifer Boyd, a Ball State recruit, is one of four seniors on the team, including Lauren Balmert, Justine Carrow and Emily Hannon.

Every day, she walks past striking teachers without incident. "I just ignore them," she said.

The girls soccer team last week won two playoff games, defeating Franklin Regional, 3-2, and shocking No. 1 seed and previously undefeated Peters Township, 2-1, in the playoff quarterfinals. Dave Sylvester, who's been coach of the program the past seven years, said the girls never have advanced past the quarterfinals in the school's history. Next up is a semifinal match against Penn-Trafford on Tuesday at North Hills.

The Seneca Valley football team qualified for the WPIAL tournament for the first time since 2002 and will take a four-game winning streak Friday into the first home playoff game at the school in 10 years.

Coach Jim Nagle's boys and girls cross country teams finished second and 12th at the WPIAL championships last Thursday. Juniors Cam Stauffer and Megan Powell were fourth in their respective races.

Martini isn't a teacher in the school district, but football coach Ron Butschle, who teaches 10th-grade English and speech at Seneca Valley Intermediate School, has crossed his colleagues' picket lines to lead his team to two victories, including an upset of Shaler on the road during the first week of the strike.

Athletic director Greg Caprera said he's aware of at least eight teachers/coaches who have remained with their teams throughout the strike. They include Butschle, Nagle and one of Sylvester's assistant coaches. Sylvester isn't a teacher.

"We decided to do it (keep the programs alive during the strike) for one simple reason. The state mandates that students will have 180 days of classroom instruction," said Caprera, noting that days missed eventually will be made up on the school calendar. "You can't get back a football season. We did it for the students, who have been working hard since the beginning of the school year. There are also scholarships to consider."

Butschle, whose team earlier this season broke a 26-game losing streak in the Quad North Conference, says the strike isn't an issue with his players.

"The only thing that matters is what happens Friday night," he said. "I am not doing this as a rebel or to make a stand. I have to look at those boys. They don't get to make up those games. The missed days in class will eventually be made up."


Feds intervene to prevent entertainment strike

With a writers strike looming, the federal government's stepping in to mediate negotiations between the WGA and the companies after three months of unproductive bargaining. The announcement came Friday evening after a day of negotiations concluded with no sign of significant progress. Talks will resume on Tuesday - just a day before the Writers Guild of America contract expires.

"We worked very hard to narrow the issues and reach an agreement but many issues remain unresolved," said Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. "We will meet on Tuesday with the federal mediator who has been assigned by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service."

The WGA had no immediate comment.

Talks began Friday morning with a small slice of optimism emerging from the relentless doom and gloom of contract talks. The session lasted most of the day and marked the first time both sides were able to engage in discussing the give-and-take of bargaining - rather than merely presenting proposals - but it's believed the movements were fairly small.

Neither side provided details about the session at WGA West headquarters in Hollywood. And iIn contrast with most recent sessions, Friday's aftermath featured none of the usual finger-pointing statements of blame that have become standard issue.

Negotiators agreed to take the weekend and Monday off -- even though that will leave scant time before the WGA's contract expires at midnight Wednesday.

The decision to take a three-day break will underline the town's growing certainty about the talks - that the WGA plans to take the talks down to the wire, when fears of a strike may push studios and nets to soften on a contract issue in order to avert a work stoppage.

WGA leaders could telling its members to stop working and start picketing as early as next Thursday, should the talks fall apart. But if negotiators are making progress, writers would work under terms of the expired deal.

Studios and nets had presented a comprehensive package at Thursday's session, taking parts of several proposals off the talble with the goal of persuading the WGA to start coming off some of its 26 initital proposals. But the Alliance of Motion Picture & Televison Producers also flatly told the WGA to forget about any gains for residuals for DVDs, the CW, MyNetworkTV or the pay television market.

Those moves left the WGA unimpressed as the guild asserted that the AMPTP had only made "minor adjustments to major rollbacks."


Federal mediation fails, teachers authorize strike

Public school teachers in Jerseyville, IL voted overwhelmingly yesterday to reject the Jersey Community School District's 1-year contract offer, setting the stage for a strike that could occur as early as November 6th. The vote was 151 to 4.

Despite the assistance of a federal mediator, the district and the education association, which is a member of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, failed to reach agreement after a 12-hour negotiating session that began late Thursday afternoon when the district made what it called its final offer.

Yesterday morning, the union filed a 10-day intent to strike notice with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, the district office and the Regional Office of Superintendents.


Union ads disturb Down Under laborites

Derogatory and unconvincing ads are doing the Liberals more harm than good. One thing John Howard might consider doing to win back support is to stop being so negative.

Take the anti-union advertisements, the basis of the Coalition's campaign so far. One word that sums them up is snide. The ads are derogatory in a nasty, insinuating manner. They are also unconvincing.

Labor's treasury spokesman, Wayne Swan, has never been a union official, yet we keep seeing mug shots of Swan stamped with the words "trade unionist". What that really means is he's an ex-union member. So what? Howard's Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, was a union member once. Not just a union member, Nelson was once national president of one of the biggest trade unions in the country, the Australian Medical Association.

And don't forget Nelson's 20-year association with the Labor Party before he changed sides to win Liberal preselection for Bradfield.

Labor strategists should dig up the television footage of Nelson in the 1993 election campaign screaming before a rowdy election rally that he had "never voted Liberal in my life". Nelson later admitted that statement was a lie, but again, this pattern of behaviour doesn't seem to have affected his performance in government.

Another Labor bogey whose mug shot features in the anti-union ads is Julia Gillard. Her sin? She was once a trade union lawyer. The truth is she was a partner at Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon. They act for a number of unions.

Does the fact that Gillard may have once acted for a union mean she is susceptible to a union plot to take over the Federal Government? It's such a tenuous connection that it undermines the credibility of the entire advertisement.

Then there was the ad featuring West Australian Joe McDonald, which went to air on Thursday.

It features great footage of McDonald ranting and raving and carrying on like an odious thug at a union meeting.

My first reaction when seeing the ad was to wonder what garbage bin McDonald had crawled out from. But how much influence does McDonald really have? In the nine years I've been covering politics in Canberra, I've never seen the bloke.

Is he an ALP member? Sure. But again, so what? If this was Labor's future Treasurer, then maybe they'd be on to something.

Compare the footage of Joe McDonald to the Liberals' 1996 campaign ad showing then foreign minister Gareth Evans dancing in slow motion at a Labor victory party. That ad worked because viewers could make the link between Gareth the party animal and a government that had lost touch with public opinion.

It's not as if the Liberals don't have influential friends whose character could be called into question. People like Visy boss Richard Pratt, one of the Liberal Party's biggest corporate donors and now a confessed price-fixing cheat.

What looks worse? Some goon over in Perth no one has ever heard of getting carried away at a union meeting with about 10 people watching? Or having as your biggest corporate donor one of the country's most famous businessmen who has just admitted to orchestrating a price-fixing scam that ripped off millions of ordinary consumers?

The main point about the Liberals' negative ads is that they don't say all that much that cuts through. Another consequence of running so many negative ads is that they open the door for Kevin Rudd to emphasise positive messages.

While the Liberals are digging through the garbage looking for tapes of dodgy nobodies saying things that don't mean anything, Rudd is busy smiling and talking about the future and making people feel good about him.

Howard has a lot of good things he can say. He should hurry up and talk about them.

Another problem Howard has at the moment is that after years of spending lots of money on generous social welfare programs, voters aren't all that impressed when a package worth several billion dollars is announced.

In fact, polling suggests they would prefer it be spent on investing in big infrastructure projects.

The way things are going, Rudd shouldn't have to worry about promising to spend more money on personal grants and subsidies; he should switch to nation-building. Which is why I expect Rudd to make a killing in one area that Howard has already vacated, and this is investing in tertiary education.

Asked in last Sunday's debate for a two-minute closing statement, Howard first attacked Rudd for his "education revolution" slogan.

Thirty seconds later, Howard asked the nation if he could actually borrow the same slogan for himself and then he proceeded to outline his own education revolution.

This consisted of three things. The first was a restoration of basic standards. "Before anything else, we need to produce children out of schools who can read and write and spell and add up," Howard said. Where does he think we are? Botswana?

Up against China and India, which are investing billions in lifting tertiary education standards, we're going to need to be able to do a lot more than read and write to stay competitive.

Howard also identified the need to lift trade skills. Nothing wrong with that, but is having a country full of top plumbers what we really need?

The final leg to Howard's education revolution was that we all need to feel more pride about this nation's history. I'm sorry, but that sort of glib nonsense just doesn't cut it.

Australia needs to invest like crazy in its tertiary sector to make sure we have the knowledge and the ability to develop the future industries that will support us.

If Howard is to get back into this campaign, he should drop the negative nonsense and start selling a positive story.

Otherwise Rudd will, and he will reap the rewards.


Strong opposition as UAW-Chrysler voting ends

Workers at Chrysler’s Belvidere, Illinois assembly plant began voting on Friday on the contract reached by the United Auto Workers union and the number three US automaker. There was widespread opposition to the sellout agreement by the 3,800 members of UAW Local 1268, which was the last major union local to vote on the contract covering more than 45,000 Chrysler workers in the US.

On Wednesday, after an intensive campaign of lies and threats by the UAW bureaucracy, which preyed upon economic insecurity of workers, the UAW was able to reverse the series of earlier rejections and push the contract through at four major factories in the Detroit area. Having experienced years of betrayals workers had no confidence the UAW would lead any serious fight against Chrysler and its new Wall Street owners, Cerberus Capital Management, and reluctantly accepted the deal.

With those votes, Chrysler and UAW officials announced the contract had won approval by 56 percent of those who had voted and that, even if the Belvidere local rejected the deal, it would pass nationally. Nevertheless many workers at the plant decided to stand up to the intimidation of the UAW and vote ‘no’ on a deal that would reduce wages of future workers by half, freeze current workers’ wages and relieve the company of its obligation to pay retiree health care benefits.

The workforce at the factory, which is located near Rockford, Illinois, 70 miles west of Chicago, includes, as one worker put it, a “melting pot” of workers who have been forced to transfer from dozens of Chrysler factories, as far away as Huntsville, Alabama; Syracuse, New York; and Newark, Delaware, to name just a few.

These workers—veterans of plant closings and layoffs—had heard the union claims before that they had achieved “job security” in exchange for concessions. There was a determination to stand up to Chrysler’s new owners—private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management—and to the UAW, which was betraying them once again.

There was also strong opposition among all workers to the company’s demands for a two-tier wage agreement that will cut future workers’ wages in half and break up solidarity among workers in the factory. Workers at the Belvidere plant have already witnessed the creation of second-class workers—when more than 600 so-called Enhanced Temporary Employees, or ETEs, were hired last year to add a third shift to the plant.

The workers were forced to sign a two-year employment contract, which provides no guarantee of future employment once it expires. ETEs are paid $18 an hour instead of the standard $28.75, must wait eight months for medical coverage to kick in, and can be fired at any time.

Last November several temporary workers filed a federal lawsuit against Chrysler, the International UAW and Local 1268 alleging breach of contract. Two months ago US Magistrate Judge Wayne R. Anderson ruled that they were not actual Chrysler employees covered by any contract when they signed the two-year agreement.

Unlike General Motors—which agreed to transform 3,000 temporaries into full time employees, albeit at substandard wages and benefits—Chrysler refused to hire any of these workers. Instead, the UAW and Chrysler offered the ETEs a $3,000 signing bonus to bribe them to sign the deal, which will essentially eliminate their jobs.

As the Rockford Register Star noted, “bonus essentially amounts to a severance package for most of the temporaries because the now privately-owned Chrysler is likely to eliminate Belvidere’s third shift, with some workers saying as soon as December, because of slow sales of two Jeep models assembled there.”

The local’s president, Tom Littlejohn, publicly opposed the new four-year agreement, citing the issue of the temporary workers, although he accepted Chrysler’s demand to use these workers in the first place. Like other UAW dissidents, Littlejohn has offered no serious opposition to the UAW bureaucracy and instead has promoted illusions that rank-and-file workers can force the union to defend them.

The UAW is not a workers’ organization but an apparatus controlled by well-paid and privileged officials who are administering what is essentially becoming a corporate entity. In exchange for sacrificing the jobs, wages and benefits of Chrysler workers, the UAW is taking control of a multibillion-dollar retiree health care trust fund, known as a Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association or VEBA, which will make it the proprietor of one of the largest private investment funds in the US.

The prerequisite of any serious fight to defend jobs and living standards is breaking with this outlived and corrupt organization and conducting an independent struggle to unite workers in the US and internationally against the global auto giants, as well as the two big business parties—the Democrats and Republicans.

A team from the Socialist Equality Party and WSWS distributed a statement urging workers to oppose the contract (“Vote ‘no’ on UAW sellout at Chrysler! Elect rank-and-file committees for contract fight!”). Dozens of workers approached us anxious to express their opposition to this betrayal.

One worker, with 14 years seniority, said, “They just want us to make poverty level wages. That way you’ll have to work three jobs to survive and when you work just one eight-hour day, you’ll consider that a day off. How can you raise a family on such wages? Society is already going down because both parents are working and they can’t raise their kids.

“I came from Chrysler’s Indianapolis metal foundry—which is now an empty parking lot. People at this plant have come from Alabama, New York, Indiana, Detroit and Kenosha. Management had a stranglehold over the people here before. They would browbeat them and insult them, until we came from the other plants and put management on its heels.

“We’ve seen plant closings, we’ve seen families destroyed and forced to move and, in some cases maintain two homes, just to make a living wage. [UAW Vice President General] Holiefield came to the Indianapolis foundry and told us we were getting a good deal. Could you imagine, our plant was closing and he said it was a good deal?

“We ripped into him and we’re not going to sit here and listen to them lie again. It’s been years and years of concessions and finally half of the Chrysler workers are standing up.”

Another worker said, “It used to be that your dad worked in the plant, you did and so did your kids. I wouldn’t have my kid work for $14 an hour at Chrysler. It’s happening everywhere. The government is for big business and these corporations are globalizing to increase their profit margins.

“The politicians speak for the richest 2 percent—like the billionaire who owns Cerberus. Us workers can’t even comprehend how much money they are making.”

A temporary worker said, “I’m voting no. The ETEs are getting horned all over. I quit a $20 an hour job in Janesville, Wisconsin, where I worked for Lear supplying parts for GM. I thought I would get a steady job at Chrysler but within four to five weeks we were told we had to sign a two-year contract or get out.

“You can’t make it on $14 an hour, even if you have two jobs. The UAW is going down and the contracts have been getting worse and worse. They are selling us out. I thought they were just doing it to the workers in the supply plants so I came to a Big Three plant and the UAW is sticking it to us again.”

Felix, with 38 years at Belvidere, said, “I voted against it. The union is asking us to vote on a contract without being able to see it. It would be as if I took out a loan without knowing the terms. How can you ask someone to vote on a contract without a straight answer?

“The local leadership isn’t saying a lot. I was told they were sent a letter to intimidate them. It’s an incredible situation. I never thought I would see a situation like this. The union has completely sold us out.”

A young worker named Tsipiora said, “My dad’s generation fought hard for us but now he is saying the union is giving everything away. Chrysler is holding us hostage—they know we want job security and they are threatening that if we reject this, we’ll be on a long strike.

“The International sent its people from the negotiating committee who said we were going to maintain our wages and not lose anything. Another official said we didn’t have medical deductibles—she didn’t know what she was talking about. I have a child and I don’t go to the doctor because it costs $70 a visit and that’s the ‘reduced’ insurance rate.

“Cerberus is going to carve us up. We all knew that’s what kind of company they are. They come in and slash costs and resell a company at a big profit.

“The union allowed the company to set up these temporary jobs. But you have no certainty for the future. It’s like you’re working at Taco Bell.”

Ed said, “I voted no on the contract. I don’t like what they are doing at all, especially to the two-year people. Earlier, they had a system where it took a worker three years to become a full-paid worker. When I came in it was 90 days. Each time it’s a further step backwards.

Mary said, “A local official came up to me and began telling me how good the contract is. But I wasn’t swayed. They have been sending people from the International union all around to speak to people on the shop floor. Now, when was the last time you had people come to the plant to speak to anyone about anything? It was intimidating.”

Another worker said, “I don’t want to get started, I am so angry. We have a union that won’t do anything when it comes to a fight. I really don’t like what this company is doing. I have seen a lot of good people lose their jobs, their health care and their homes. It is really bad.”

Mike said, “I don’t like the contract at all. I don’t like the core against the non-core,” he said, referring to a new low-wage category for workers supposedly not directly involved in assembly line production.

“In four years with most of the company being non-core, will the company come around and change it on us and make everybody $14.00 an hour? It is not fair to the new hires. It’s not fair to anyone. Why am I paying union dues for this if this is the best they can do?

“My dad is a retiree but I don’t think the VEBA will be around when I retire in 20 years. I think the way the stock market is going, with all of the fluctuations, it will run out of money. If my kids work for Chrysler or one of the auto companies I don’t think they are going to see retirement.

“People work for 30 years to get what is called a non-core job, but now they will pay low wages. Anyone who thinks it is easy working in an auto plant has never done it. We have injuries all of the time.”

William worked at the Chrysler Huntsville, Alabama plant before he transferred to the Belvidere plant two years ago. “This two-tiered wage is terrible,” he said. They did it in Huntsville and it pitted people against each other. It was really bad. How can you have unity this way? I am totally against it.”

Andy worked at Chrysler’s New Process Gear plant in Syracuse, New York before it was sold to the Canadian parts giant Magna. “How can you have a guy making $16 an hour working next to someone making $27? The International is trying to shove this down our throats. Chrysler is already cutting 13,000 jobs.

“I was there during the Chrysler bailout in 1979. I took the concessions then and I want that money back. Instead they keep taking more and more. The plant I worked for changed names so many times, from ‘Chrysler,’ to ‘a division of Chrysler,’ to ‘Accustar,’ to ‘Venture Gear,’ and now, ‘Magna.’ Who is going to pay my pension?

“They say we have to compete in a global economy. Can you blame somebody in another country because they are trying to feed their families? That’s what I’m trying to do—I hope people don’t hate me for trying to feed my family.

“I’ve seen good times and bad times. All these companies are crying poverty. Yet they are still making profits on every car. If you look at the big picture, we’re in a fight for our lives. They pit worker against worker.

“There is no job security. Ronald Reagan proved that when he fired the air traffic controllers in 1981. You go around any town you see businesses for lease, for sale, condemned.

“The more money they get the more they want. I don’t think we should give back

“Why are they spending a trillion on a war when we have problems in the US that money could be used for? The politicians are taking my livelihood away.”

Related Posts with Thumbnails