Hoffa dawdles on corrupt Chicago local fix

Control of the powerful Teamsters chapter that oversees trade show workers at McCormick Place and truck drivers on films shot in Chicago should be stripped from the family that's run it for generations and put in "trusteeship" where an outsider would be temporarily in charge. A union watchdog made the recommendation more than 2 months ago.

In its Aug. 27 report, the Independent Review Board - a creation of the federal government and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters - pointed to three main problems with Teamsters Local 714:

• Members with ties to the ruling Hogan clan routinely got work on movie and TV sets over more senior people.

• Union leaders didn't adequately enforce contracts with five companies, which got away with using non-union labor for work that should have gone to Local 714 members.

• Local 714's chief, Robert Hogan, "failed to take action" after learning that a family friend who was in the union had contact with Hogan's father -- who had been kicked out of the union for alleged corruption. Active Teamsters are not allowed to "knowingly associate" with barred members.

The Independent Review Board has asked IBT General President James P. Hoffa to put Local 714 in trusteeship "because the Local is being conducted in a manner to jeopardize the interests of the Local, the Local is not being run for the benefit of its members and, at five Local 714 employers, the Local failed to perform duties of a bargaining representative."

On Tuesday, Robert Hogan, who could face expulsion or other discipline, called the situation "unfair" and suggested investigators "have a problem with the Hogan name."

The five companies mentioned in the report "represent less than 1 percent of our membership" and he noted the movie division's rules mirror those of a California local that does nothing but movie work.

Local 714 has been run by the Hogan family for three generations. They lost control once before, in 1996, over similar allegations, but returned to the helm in 1998.

The new report makes no mention of McCormick Place labor practices, which were widely criticized over the last dozen years as favoring Hogan cronies.

"We never make any comments on ongoing investigations," a Hoffa spokesman said.

Ken Paff, head of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, expects the international will ultimately place the local under trusteeship, but he said to completely end corruption, "members are going to need to come forward and clean up the local."

Based in Berwyn, Local 714 has roughly 10,000 members.


SEIU's democratic process questioned

Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards on Wednesday accepted the endorsement of the New Hampshire Service Employees International Union amid questions about the validity of the vote.

According to those involved, the union's board voted Oct. 23 to endorse Sen. Barack Obama. Union president Gary Smith promptly called Obama with the news. A person familiar with the conversation said it was clear to Obama that the endorsement was a done deal. The person did not want to be named because the conversation was meant to be private.

But the situation changed Tuesday night. The board, including some new members elected during the weekend, deadlocked 8-to-8 on a motion to endorse Edwards. Smith broke the tie in Edwards' favor.

Obama, campaigning Wednesday in Chicago, hinted at the intrigue. "There were some interesting aspects of how that whole thing played itself out," Obama told The Associated Press by telephone. "I won't go into all the details of it; maybe you can get some of the background from others.

"We have got some very strong allies in the union, and had received word that the board initially had voted to endorse us. There were some changes to procedure made that we don't entirely understand and I'll leave it up to you guys to sort it all out," Obama said.

Smith ducked questions Wednesday about whether he had promised Obama the endorsement, saying three times that he'd been in touch with several campaigns.

Asked a fourth time whether he had spoken with Obama, Smith snapped: "You can stop asking. That is the answer. It's going to be the consistent answer, no matter how many times you keep asking."

Jay Ward, the union's director, acknowledged the board's 7-to-5 vote on Oct. 23 for Obama. But he said the executive board returned a day later and wanted to reconsider, especially with the union's annual convention scheduled later that week.

In a straw poll at the convention, 50 union members said they were undecided or favored no immediate endorsement. Edwards got 23 votes, Obama 19 and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton 14.

That didn't sit well with Stephen Foster, a board member until Saturday who considered last week's vote for Obama final.

"The vote was taken and the chair announced that we had a presidential endorsement for Senator Obama. The board then authorized him to call Senator Obama and convey the news," Foster said. "That should serve as evidence that the sense and intent of the board was clearly in play without question at that time."

Edwards sidestepped the issue at a news conference.

"I think I'm the one they endorsed," he said, chuckling. "It's a very long and very democratic process. ... But at the end of the day, they decided they supported me."

He then repeated his criticism of Clinton from Tuesday night's debate, pointing to her answer about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

"In the course of three minutes, I heard Clinton, Senator Clinton, say two different things. When you get a yes-or-no question, you can't say yes and no."

At an evening event at a Manchester high school, Edwards raised the issue of Clinton's ties to lobbyists and their donations to her campaign.

"She defends the system in Washington. She says it's fine for lobbyists to have all this ability to give this money to politicians. And she says, 'I can take their money and still represent you,'" he said. "Well, maybe so, maybe so."


No role for parents in ending teachers strike

Frustrated by a teachers strike, some parents of Seneca Valley students are trying to broker, or at least encourage, an end to the walkout before it enters a fourth week. "This has now become a matter of who's going to blink first. There are hundreds of parents who do not just want to sit around and wait for school to start in two weeks," said Ken Dash of Cranberry, the parent of two Seneca Valley students.

Dash held a meeting this week at his home with 18 residents of the district and four union negotiators. He and others are urging teachers to approve a state fact-finder's contract proposal released in August and rejected by the school board and teachers.

"It is an independent, unbiased, rational proposal with a solution to this," said Dash, who hopes the teachers will vote on the report before Monday's school board meeting, the first since the strike started. "The community would be behind them 100 percent if they did that," Dash said.

Such a vote by Monday is unlikely, said Patrick Andrekovich, a Seneca Valley teacher and chief negotiator for the union, who said there is not enough time to hold the required votes.

Teachers and the school board appear to be hardening their positions since the strike began Oct. 15. On Tuesday, for example, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board issued a complaint based on a charge made by the teachers union of unfair labor practices.

Some residents are trying to encourage public discussion of any kind. Joe Scalamogna of Seven Fields, who is running unopposed for the school board in next week's election, said he would like to meet publicly with teachers and district residents.

"I am willing to do whatever it takes at this point. I am trying to be a peacemaker," he said.

School officials have offered a 4 percent raise for each year of a five-year contract.

The fact-finder's report recommended salary increases of 3.9 percent the first two years, 4.3 percent the third year and 4.7 percent in the contract's final two years. The report recommended higher co-payments and deductibles toward health insurance premiums, rather than flat contributions.

The teachers' unfair labor charge alleges that before the strike started, the district threatened to reduce retroactive pay in its contract offer if a strike occurred. The district has taken no such action.

The Labor Relations Board scheduled a Dec. 3 hearing on the complaint in Pittsburgh, said Christopher Manlove, a board spokesman.


Latest union fad: High-leverage mini-strike

With contract talks between UFCW Local 1099 and the Kroger Co. at an impasse, a labor relations expert today suggested that the dispute between the nation’s largest grocer and its hourly workers could bring a “Hollywood strike” over the weekend.

“That’s a mini-strike,” said Gary Chaison, professor of labor relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “Short strikes can be very effective at making a point – two- or three-day strikes. That’s because you really haven’t done all that you can do in a bargaining situation unless you’ve walked.”

Union backers have stopped making random phone calls to Cincinnati-area consumers to inform shoppers about the stalled talks and bring pressure on the company to settle, a union official said today.

But if 11,000 members of the union who are employed by Kroger in Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana go out on strike at midnight Thursday, those calls are likely to start up again.

“Until we walk out the door, we want people to shop at Kroger, and we have been encouraging people to talk to store management that what is happening to hourly employees is unjust,” said Brigid Kelly, spokesperson for the union. “If there is a picket line, that message will have to change. We will make phone calls to shop at other union grocery stores in the area, places like Meijer, Keller’s IGA and elsewhere.”

Kelly said the union is ready to resume talks with the company. Company spokesperson Meghan Glynn also said the company is ready for negotiations to resume but both said no new talks were scheduled.

As the Thursday midnight strike deadline approached, some Kroger suppliers were watching unfolding events with great interest.

“This comes around every so often,” said Jack Mass, vice president of JTM Provisions, which sells prepared meals and frozen meat products at Kroger stores in the region. “We will load our trucks and land them where they are supposed to be.''

Kroger spokesperson Glynn said replacement workers are being interviewed in the event of a strike but would not say how many people have applied or been interviewed.

Help wanted flyers continued to be posted on cash registers and at entryways of stores and on Wednesday the company purchased a full-page advertisement in the Enquirer and Post that that claimed it had offered wage increases, affordable healthcare and secure pensions for long-time workers.


Union embezzlement case looms

The state Labor Department has ordered the Montana AFL-CIO to repay more than $35,000 in federal job-training funds. An audit found that a former coordinator of a union job-training office approved paying out more than $35,000 for his stepdaughter's college education.

Jim Baker was coordinator of the AFL-CIO's Project Challenge: Work Again office in Cut Bank. He enrolled stepdaughter Karol Zubach in the program in 2002. Baker approved spending $35,111 in job training money over four years. He later admitted he didn't inform program supervisors that Zubach was his stepdaughter.

The Labor Department turned the matter over to the state Justice Department for a criminal investigation. The state, in turn, has submitted a case file to the U.S. attorney's office for prosecution.


Right To Work law draws Hollywood to NC

Wilmington, North Carolina is leading the way in the state's ongoing drive to be one of world's top film production sites. Dennis Hopper liked working in Wilmington so much that he bought the old Masonic Building downtown and plans to turn it into an actor's school. Linda Lavin moved her operation to Wilmington lock, stock and barrel, purchased three properties and has started acting workshops. Tom Berenger bought a house in Wilmington after working here, and Henry Winkler returns periodically since making One Christmas here with Katherine Hepburn. Paul Newman, Tim Robbins, Julia Roberts, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger all visit this quaint city of 16,000 every chance they get.

But stars aren't the only ones attracted to Wilmington. "We're beginning to look like an expatriates' community," notes Ralph Colelli, referring to all the film people from Los Angeles, New York and other major cities who have made Wilmington their new home. Colelli, himself a onetime Hollywood resident, now has a production office in Wilmington, where he has been producing commercials for national and international clients for two years. "When there's a lot of production going on, schedules can still be hectic, but at least you don't have a two-hour commute home. There are a lot of talented craftspeople here." Wilmington is a different lifestyle, he points out, "but you can't help but fall in love with the area, the people, the beauty. We might not have as much work as Hollywood, but when you have 16,000 hours of talent for 800 crew people, you can make a decent salary."

Over the past decade, Wilmington residents have grown accustomed to the sight of production trucks, cables, crowds hovering around the action. It's not uncommon for Wilmington to have six or seven productions underway at one time. The city brings in $30,000 to $80,000 a day--anywhere from 12 to 15 percent of the city's total revenue. "Eighty percent of the film work done in North Carolina is done in Wilmington," explains Mark Stricklin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission. "There is more production in Wilmington than in 45 other states combined."

In 1995, in fact, Wilmington (which ranks third as the most popular film location in North America, surpassed only by Los Angeles and Toronto) brought in $240 million as a result of the film industry.

Several factors have contributed to Wilmington's popularity. It has a solid film-related infrastructure: crew, equipment, camera/grip/electrical packages and support people. It also has the largest complex of construction stages available in the East, Screen Gems Studios' 100,000-square-foot complex. There are a variety of locations that provide riverfront charm and quaint downtown backdrops. Surrounded by the Cape Fear coastal waterways and the Atlantic Ocean, the area has handsome beaches, low country, and charming small-town and old-Southern settings, include plantation homes. The only things missing are a major cityscape--Charlotte is used when that's needed--and mountains, for which Asheville fits the bill. The Screen Gems back lots, however, have doubled for major cities, as have the Wilmington Film Commission studios.

Wilmington has attracted medium-budget projects in the past, but is beginning to see larger budgets. To the city's credit, Wilmington has been used in feature films including The Hudsucker Proxy, Rambling Rose, Betsy's Wedding, Date With an Angel, Blue Velvet, and a portion of the remake of Lolita. Made-for-TV movies have included Noble House, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Sophie and the Moonhanger, and Anjelica Huston's Bastard Out of Carolina. In addition, Wilmington has hosted the TV series Matlock, American Gothic and The Road Home, as well as scores of commercials for clients such as American Express, Revco, McDonnell Douglas, and numerous music videos.

The bottom line is always a driving force when making movies. But Wilmington's large talent pool and film savvy also a major factors for this influx of activity. "They know they don't have to bring their own crew," Stricklin explains. "Wilmington has some of the best crew people you can find." Of the 1,200 crew people in the state of North Carolina, 800 are to be found in Wilmington. "They not only work here, they live here, so they're not going to step on anyone's toes," says Stricklin. "This is our bread and butter."

A sleepy coastal town, Wilmington was once home to Dino de Laurentiis, who set up shop with Carolco Studios in 1983 to produce Firestarter. It remains the largest film studio on the East Coast. Just recently, Carolco, which was rented out for film projects while in bankruptcy for two years, was auctioned off to the highest bidder. It went to EUE/Screen Gems Ltd. for $3.4 million and installed Frank Capra, Jr. as studio head.

Word seems to be spreading rapidly about the benefits of working in Wilmington. Stricklin, who until recently ran the Film Commission singlehandedly, says the office gets hundreds of scripts each year. He reads through them and sends the appropriate location photos (selected from over 50,000) that could work for the script. "The film office also serves as a clearinghouse, putting out-of-town film people in touch with local people who can help them locate a production manager and coordinator," he points out.

Judy Cairo, executive producer of Her Deadly Rival, a TV movie produced in Wilmington, hopes to produce more projects in Wilmington. "I'm not tied to a particular location. I can choose anywhere in the world," she says. "[But] anytime I'm looking for a location, I consider Wilmington. There's a fabulous crew base, and we have a comfort level because of the amount of production being done there. We know people have had good results. I know when I work in Wilmington I'll have professionals, beautiful scenery . . . And because North Carolina is a right-to-work state, we get more for our money. We can come in on budget." Terry Morse, who produced To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, scouted Wilmington, along with Los Angeles, for the upcoming production of The Marshall Plan. He, too, cites the cost of working in Wilmington as a selling point. "The large base of non-union people, good people, is a definite advantage," he says. "Salaries and housing are reasonable if you're shooting during the off-season. If there's any drawback to the area, it's a shortage of actors and actresses, but that's a very small disadvantage."

Over 230 projects looked at Wilmington in 1996, and 90 major productions scouted the area--an excellent track record. "I used to agonize over every project we didn't get," Stricklin recalls, "but we're landing one out of ten. That's pretty phenomenal."

At this writing, 43 projects had been completed in Wilmington in 1996: 23 TV movies, including A Degree in Deception; six features, including Blood Moon; three independent films; and a host of TV segments, documentaries and commercials.

Sophie and the Moonhanger.
Throughout the summer months, The Night Flier, an independent Steven King feature, was underway here, alongwith A Member of the Wedding, a major URSA movie. Then there were Santa and Me, a Lifetime movie of the week; Snakes and Ladders, a CBS movie of the week; and The Summer of Ben Tillman, a Hallmark Hall of Fame production. At present, Virus, a Universal Studios feature, is being filmed here, along with two more TV movies, Ditch Digger's Daughter and Love's Deadly Triangle.

"With several productions going on simultaneously, it can be a real juggling act," says Stricklin. "In 1993 we had two movies of the week in production--at the same time on the same street--while a merchant was having a sidewalk sale. That's when it became apparent we needed to have some procedures, a method to the madness. You have to orchestrate every detail. It's also important that we educate the community about the business of filmmaking," explains Stricklin. "Films have been made in Wilmington for the past 13 years, but we are seeing more and grander productions. We want the community to understand that people come here because of the crew and support services. They depend on the businesses here. It they don't have a pleasant experience, it could all be over in a heartbeat." A San Francisco native, Stricklin loves Wilmington. "I guess it's as close as we can get to the American dream, a Norman Rockwell kind of town. In this day and age that's pretty attractive."

And he's not alone. They keep coming: renowned photographer Brownie Harris; character actor Pat Hinkle; Peggy Farrell, a costume designer who moved her entire operation here from New York; and Suzze Toon, a Los Angeles native and makeup artist for 15 years, are a few more who now live in this latest candidate for the title "Hollywood East."

"I was a child actor. I grew up in the Hollywood of yesteryear," says Toon. "Wilmington has the feel of a younger, smaller Hollywood in its infancy." Since moving to Wilmington, she has established a retail cosmetics boutique downtown which carries her own line of makeup. "I love having the public come into the shop, along with the film people. I love a small town. It keeps everyone honest. And I certainly don't miss the earthquakes.".

Moviemaking in every region of North Carolina is setting records. According to Governor Jim Hunt, in 1995 filmmakers spent $391 million here in the process of making 54 features, 91 television projects and a variety of national TV commercials. In 1996, the number of feature films was down to 40. But, says Film Commission Director Bill Arnold, revenues are expected to be higher because the films were produced by Hollywood Studios with larger budgets.

Warner Brothers produced My Fellow Americans with Jack Lemmon and James Garner in Asheville. Paramount filmed Kiss the Girls with Morgan Freeman in Raleigh. Universal Studios used Wilmington for their remake of Day of the Jackal with Bruce Willis, Sidney Poitier and Richard Gere. Digging to China with Kevin Bacon and Diane Keaton was shot in the North Carolina mountains. To Gillian on her 37th Birthday, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, also rolled its cameras in the Tarheel State. And Body Count, which will feature David Caruso, Forest Whittaker and John Leguizamo, is scheduled to begin production in Charlotte in 1997.

"Filmmakers spent more than a million dollars a day, every day in North Carolina in 1995 alone, averaging a new movie every week," Hunt says. This placed North Carolina in third place, trailing only California and New York as the country's most active film production state. The 54 features made in 1995 shattered the state's previous high of 39, set in 1994, representing a 10 percent revenue increase. Two of the largest productions in 1995 included the $70 million Lolita, starring Jeremy Irons and Melanie Griffith, and the $50 million Eddie, featuring Whoopi Goldberg.

Wilmington captured the majority of production with $240 million generated from features and TV projects. The Charlotte area brought in approximately $89 million, most of that from Eddie and three other features, as well as 27 TV shoots. As a result of increased film activity, a regional economic development organization established the Charlotte Regional Film Commission. Film activity in the Research Triangle region generated $27 million in industry spending in 1995, with six features and six TV projects. Western North Carolina hosted a single feature and nine TV shoots, accounting for an estimated $15 million in industry revenues. Winston-Salem and the Piedmont Triad brought in revenues of $12 million, garnered from portions of Lolita, Eddie, and 24 TV shoots. The area also established its own regional film commission.

Since Governor Hunt established the state's film program in 1980, North Carolina has developed a variety of resources to help boost the industry: seven working production facilities, 29 soundstages, a back lot, support services and a skilled technical work force. These have helped bring 300 movies to the state and, last year alone, created 32,840 temporary jobs. Other states would do well to take notice.


Strike looms against Alabama steelmaker

Without a last-minute reversal, picket lines will go up at the Wise Alloys plant today, threatening to shut down production at the company's Colbert County operation.

Labor contracts expire today for most, if not all, of the 11 unions that represent the nearly 1,000 workers at Wise Alloys. "We're hopeful the company will sit down with us and bargain in good faith, but I don't see any movement in that direction at this point," said Charles Lamon, assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 558. "I really don't see a way to avoid (a strike) at this time. We have no desire to go on strike, but we're left with no options. "The ball is in the company's court. All they need to do is come to the table and negotiate in a sincere manner."

Union officials say the first picket line could go up as early as 3 p.m. today when the contract with security guards expires. Many of the maintenance workers are expected to set up a picket line at 4 p.m. when their contract ends.

The effectiveness of the strike could be determined just after 11:59 p.m. when the Steelworkers' contract is scheduled to expire. The Steelworkers, with about 330 workers at Wise, provide most of the production jobs.

Wise officials have been negotiating with the Steelworkers local on a new contract and those talks will likely continue through today.

A new contract could keep the Steelworkers on their jobs, while the other unions are on strike. If the new deal is not finalized and the Steelworkers join their union comrades, a work stoppage - or at least a slow down in production - would be likely, according to numerous sources at the plant.

"At this point, our full efforts are focused on reaching a fair and equitable outcome for all parties involved," said Wise Alloys spokesman Wayne Travers.

Negotiations are apparently going on with the operating engineers local as well. Lamon and other union labor representatives, however, say Wise officials are not negotiating with maintenance workers.

Travers said company officials would not address any specific issues under discussion or speculate on any future developments or events at the plant in Listerhill.

Wise officials have previously said they need to out-source the maintenance jobs in an effort to compete in the global aluminum market. The process involves using contract workers to perform the duties held by longtime Wise employees.

"To compete in a global market, you do it by producing world-class metal, not by doing away with the workers who have proven they produce at a world-class level and who have sacrificed time and again to help your company survive here," Lamon said. "The union workers here made a lot of sacrifices that allowed Wise to buy Reynolds (on April 1, 1999) and to operate successfully. Now, this is how they are repaying the workers and our community. Tell me what's right about that? This is not the unions' fault. "

ABB Inc. has been hired to provide workers for most of the maintenance jobs at the plant on River Road. Other companies will provide workers for other duties.

From the company's viewpoint, the people filling the 200 maintenance jobs are, in essence, being laid off and replaced by workers representing the private companies like ABB and Guard Mark.

ABB representatives have told maintenance workers at Wise that they can submit applications to continue in their positions at Wise - but under ABB management. They also told Wise workers that they would provide similar wages or better and would work with unions should the new work force decide to organize.

Dave Biros, director of business development with ABB, said the company has been hiring since September and still has several openings. He said anyone in the current Wise maintenance work force is welcome to apply.

"We have been encouraging them to apply since early September," Biros said. "A number of salaried Wise employees have applied with ABB. We've had two hourly employees apply."

ABB plans to hire 126 people to fill the maintenance jobs at the plant, Biros said.

"The existing work force at any ABB full-service site always has first dibs when ABB begins hiring," he said. "These employees have the skills and the understanding of their workplace. We always want to combine our professional maintenance management expertise with their shop-floor experience."

Biros said it's not true that workers who transfer from Wise's payroll to ABB's will see their wages and benefits cut.

"ABB has offered new employees the same pay rates as the rates Wise employees currently make," he said. "We even assured the Wise maintenance employees that they would continue to receive their current pay rate plus enhancements to some of their current benefits."

Biros said ABB offers complete benefits, including health, dental, vision, disability and life insurance. The company has said it will provide 12 paid holidays, up to five weeks of vacation and up to $10,000 a year in education assistance.

"All of our employees are salaried, which means they are paid even if they are off sick. And yes, employees still get paid overtime when they work it," Biros said.

Lamon said the building and trades unions that represent workers at Wise have asked what's needed for current labor contracts to continue so their workers could remain at Wise and under local union representation.

In an Oct. 19 letter of response from Sandra Scarborough, vice president of human resources at Wise, 11 concessions are listed as musts for the maintenance workers. Among those is waiving of seniority rights in job assignments and reductions of forces, elimination of arbitration if grievances and consolidation of all maintenance jobs.

"We freely acknowledge that the council will find many, if not all of these terms, unacceptable," Scarborough wrote.

Lamon said the letter shows that the company is unwilling to negotiate in good faith with the building and trade unions. Local unions have filed two complaints to the National Labor Board accusing the company of not negotiating in good faith. A ruling on those complaints has not been made.

Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick toward a possible labor showdown today.

Ernie Kilpatrick, business agent for the Steelworkers local, said his organization is trying to negotiate a fair deal and remains hopeful that can be achieved.

"If we don't get a contract, we'll just have to wait and see what happens next," Kilpatrick said. "We're making progress. We have several issues to work out."

He declined to list those issues.

Several workers say they are prepared to strike, though. Lamon said all 96 workers represented by the IBEW have voted to strike.

Ken Crowson, a member of the Steelworkers local, said the company appears to be negotiating with his union but he wonders why other unions are not being considered.

"They're supposed to negotiate with us, but they said they're not negotiating with maintenance," Crowson said. "I don't know how they can do that. I think they should negotiate with everyone. We all just want to be treated fairly."

Heath Ayers, another Steelworkers member at Wise, said he will join the picket line after midnight today.

"It will shut down our operations for a week or maybe the whole year," Ayers said. "I'd rather see the plant shut down than to not have a union operating here."

Sammy Smith, a crane operator and IBEW member, said he would be one of what he expects to be several hundred union employees picketing later today.

"We'll come out at 4 p.m. and picket if negotiations in good faith aren't made," Smith said. "We'll negotiate with Wise and Wise only."

Smith said he has been told that the Steelworkers will honor the groups' picket line and some have said they would join the picket if contracts are not renewed.

Lamon said the strike can be avoided.

"It's our hope that they will realize that this plant has been successful for 65 or 66 years because of the workers here," he said. "We hope they realize that they need these workers who have helped make them successful. All we're asking for is a fair shake."


UFCW takes dues hit as Chiquita lays off

Chiquita Brands International Inc., owner of the Fresh Express Group headquartered in Salinas, has announced a restructuring plan and management changes that will lay off 140 jobs in Salinas.

Chiquita has cut 700 jobs from its global operations - about 400 hourly positions and about 320 salaried and managerial positions, Chiquita spokesman Michael Mitchell said Tuesday.

They include 90 full-time fruit bowl production positions and 50 administrative and management positions in Salinas, Mitchell said. The Fresh Express facility on Blanco Road will be converted to increase production of other value-added products, such as salads, Mitchell said.

"We have made the decision to exit production of fruit bowls - not actually closing plants, but converting capacity that was used for fruit bowls for production of things like salads and healthy snacks," Mitchell said.

Chiquita employs approximately 25,000 people in more than 80 countries and 1,540 in Salinas, according to its fact sheet. Fifty-nine percent of the corporation's business is outside North America.

The Fresh Express Group generates about 25 percent of Chiquita's annual profits - $1 billion out of $4 billion. The group is one of the world's largest producers of bagged salads, processing 40 million pounds of salad each month.

John Fair, chief executive officer of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the job losses Salinas as city officials and business leaders try to spark business growth.

"We're going in the wrong direction," Fair said. "We're trying to find jobs, not lose jobs."

Salinas has seen other companies close their doors over the past two years, including J.M. Smucker Co., which cut 120 jobs and closed its plant in 2005, Ready Pac, which employed 475 people and closed the same year, and McCormick & Co. Inc., which closed at the end of 2006, laying off another 400 workers.Mary Claypool, executive director of the Monterey County Business Council, said the value-added processing jobs are well-paid positions the county needs to maintain.

"We are struggling to try and create higher-paying jobs, and every time we lose one, it's a setback for us," Claypool said.
'It's not good news'

Tanios Viviani, the Salinas-based president of the Fresh Express Group since 2005, will take on a new role as president of global innovation and emerging markets and chief marketing officer for Chiquita, which is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, the company said in a published statement.

Mitchell said Brian Kocher, president of Chiquita's North American operations, will oversee Fresh Express from a remote site.

Employees whose jobs are cut will be notified within the next two weeks, with production of fresh-cut fruit bowls stopping by early next year, Mitchell said.

"I'm obviously concerned," said Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, who wants to diversify Salinas' economic base over the next three years through job creation and new businesses.

"It's not good news, but (in) agriculture, some jobs can be reabsorbed," Donohue said.

Some laid-off workers could move to other areas of the company, Mitchell said, but they will need to apply for those positions. He said the company will negotiate the job cuts with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

Representatives from UFCW Local 5 in Salinas were unavailable for comment Tuesday because the office was closed.

According to a statement issued by Chiquita, the company expects to reduce costs by $60 million to $80 million annually starting next year.
E. coli effects still felt

The company said it expects the savings to come from reducing the company's operating and corporate overhead through a 21-percent reduction in management positions at the three highest levels in the company.

"Since 2005, market dynamics and the competitive landscape have been rapidly changing, which has limited our profitability and slowed the execution of our strategy," said Fernando Aguirre, chairman and chief executive officer.

In August, Chiquita reported what was considered disappointing second-quarter results with a $9 million profit. The company's statement said the layoffs come as a result of high European Union tariffs for bananas, high costs of fuel and the downturn in salad sales triggered by the September 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to Dole bagged spinach, which killed at least three people and sickened more than 200 around the nation.

Chiquita is due to report its third-quarter financials Nov. 8.

Andrew Cumming, president of King City-based Metz Fresh, said he doesn't believe Chiquita's announcement will affect Metz Fresh. The spinach grower/processor recalled 8,118 cartons of bagged spinach for suspected salmonella contamination at the end of August, but Cumming said sales continue to rebound from the recall and last September's E. coli outbreak.

"The outlook is positive as we've grown a lot since the company started and continue to grow," he said.


Union battles decert with diversionary protest

In 1973, at the age of 23, David Cox got out of the Army and found a job in the laboratory at St. Joseph Hospital of Orange. Thirty-four years later, he is still at St. Joseph, still working in the laboratory.

While Cox's career has held remarkably steady over the years, St. Joseph – and indeed, the entire health care industry – have changed, and not for the better, in his opinion. "I trained to be part of a team that would be effective in helping a physician diagnose and heal," he said. Today, "a lot of our focus seems to be on healing as fast and as quick and as cheap as we can. And I don't think that's always the best way."

When he first started at the hospital, supervisors seemed to listen more, Cox said. "If you had a problem, you could take it to the sisters," he said, referring to the nuns of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.

Cox and other employees want larger voice in how care is delivered. That's partly why they're trying to organize a labor union at hospitals owned by nonprofit St. Joseph Health System, which also include St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton and Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.

It's unclear how many employees at the hospitals support the formation of a union, and it's unlikely that the matter will be put to a vote anytime soon. That's because the union doesn't intend to seek an election until the management agrees in advance to a set of rules governing how such an election would be conducted, something management says it's not inclined to do.

SJHS' status as a Catholic institution – it is a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, although the nuns have withdrawn from day-to-day operation of the hospitals – has led to questions about whether the health system is in compliance with Catholic social teaching on labor unions.

Monsignor John Brenkle, a Catholic priest in Sonoma County, has been critical of SJHS's response to a union organizing campaign at its hospital in Santa Rosa.

"We have a very strong theory of social teachings about ... the need for unions ... yet when it comes time for a particular union to move in, then all of a sudden the institution finds all sorts of reasons not to allow the union equal access," he said. "The aggressive anti-union stance that the system has taken, that saddens me."

Deborah Proctor, the chief executive of SJHS, says that "in a Catholic organization, we endorse an employee's right to choose to be represented by a union."

However, she adds, "what's most important, what Catholic social teaching starts with – it doesn't start out talking about unions, it starts by talking about the dignity of the person. That's the primary principle of Catholic social teaching."

"Our disagreement is not over whether employees have a right to organize, our disagreement is over what will most ensure a fair and informed choice for employees," she said. "And it's only around those issues that we have some disagreements."


The National Labor Relations Act, the federal law that governs dealings between employers and unions, sets out rules for how an organizing election should be conducted. Once a union has collected signatures from at least 30 percent of the members of a proposed bargaining unit, it can file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an election.

However, unions have become disenchanted with the NLRB process, saying the agency is too slow to rule on complaints of unfair labor practices, such as when managers are accused of harassing union supporters or trying to intimidate other employees into voting against a union. The slowness of the NLRB's judicial process essentially gives management free rein to harass and intimidate workers in the six-week window between when a petition is filed and when an election is held, because complaints aren't resolved until long afterward, unions say.

That's why the Service Employees International Union wants SJHS to agree in advance to "free and fair" election rules, said Glenn Goldstein, director of organizing for SEIU's United Healthcare Workers-West local.

In 2003, the SEIU began trying to organize workers at SJHS's Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. In late 2004, the union filed a petition with the NLRB, and an election was scheduled for February 2005, Goldstein said.

"Management had a very aggressive anti-union campaign that included mandatory meetings on work time and a lot of supervisory and managerial interference, including threats and unfair labor practices," Goldstein said.

Support for the union "began to erode ... because of this very heavy-handed intimidation campaign," Goldstein said. The union withdrew its election petition.

Santa Rosa Memorial agreed in July 2005 to settle one charge of unfair labor practices by agreeing to post a notice specifying workers' right to organize. A second charge was dismissed, said Tim Peck, assistant to the regional director of the NLRB's office in San Francisco.

SJHS says that it has since adopted a code of conduct for how managers will handle union organizing issues. The code says, in part, that "any communication that we share with employees during union representation discussions will attempt to reasonably, respectfully and fairly convey our points of view in the context of both sides of the issue."

Still, local employees have complained of what they say are attempts by managers to intimidate workers who support the union.

After Cox's photo appeared in a union flier that he helped to distribute outside the hospital, he was called into a meeting by his supervisor and a human resources manager who wanted to know why one copy of the flier had been found in a work area, he said.

"I'm not responsible for where they end up," Cox says he told them. The meeting "left me with a bad feeling, very intimidated, very angry. …It seems obvious to me I was singled out because my picture was there."

Since then, the situation has changed: Cox is now allowed to post union fliers and newspaper articles about the organizing effort on a bulletin board in his work area.

Jan Smith, who works at St. Jude in Fullerton, said she and others were told by hospital security officers to leave when they were passing out union fliers outside the hospital in March.

A "second time, they came out and took our names. A manager came out and told us we weren't supposed to be there. We said yes, it was our right. They asked us for our names and said they were going to make a report to risk management," Smith said.


Other SJHS employees are opposed to forming a union.

Susie Slayton has worked at St. Joseph Hospital for 18 years. Previously, she worked in manufacturing for Kwikset Locks when it was in Anaheim. At Kwikset, she voted for a union, but says one isn't needed at SJHS.

Slayton fears that introducing a union would create "a big chasm between the employees and the supervisor that's not there now," she said. ""I have yet to see a manager that wouldn't take the time to sit down and listen to an employee."

While she's heard colleagues complain about a lack of staffing in some departments, that's attributable to a shortage of qualified applicants, said Slayton, who works in employee health services. "I've never heard people actually griping about not having the stuff they need to do their job."

Bernice Young, an EKG Technician at St. Jude for 17 years, also opposes a union. "I don't need somebody to speak for me," she said.

SJHS was one of 12 organizations chosen to receive a 2007 "Great Workplace Award" by the Gallup Organization, recognizing "one of the most productive and engaged workforces in the world," the company said.

There's no indication that the stalemate between the union and SJHS will be resolved anytime soon.

In a full-page ad published in the Register, Sister Katherine Gray, general superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, wrote that "we endorse our employees' right to organize under the processes set out by the (NLRB) ... We have arrived at our position through great thought and extensive conversation with employees, Catholic theologians, people at various levels of the labor movement and other interested parties."

The union's position is that it won't file a petition with the NLRB until SJHS first agrees to ground rules for an election.

Cox knows that the standoff could last indefinitely if neither side budges.

"We're going to have to keep bringing our message. We're going to have to reach more people," he said.


Labor-state Assembly marks Governor absent

Out of a stated concern for “elderly candidates” who are not adept at using computers, Rhode Island lawmakers have freed all politicians who raise or spend less than $10,000 annually — or have less than $25,000 in their campaign coffers — from having to file their fundraising and spending reports electronically after this year, themselves included.

Had the bill been law during the 2006 election year, the number of candidates and office holders required to list their donors online would have dropped by close to a third, according to an analysis performed yesterday by the Board of Elections.

With Capitol TV cameras rolling during Tuesday night’s veto-override session at the State House, Rep. Thomas Slater, D-Providence, told colleagues he introduced the bill because: “there are a lot of elderly candidates who run for office ... [who] still do not understand the logic of the computer.” For people like this, he argued, paper filings should again be an option.

But House Minority Whip Nicholas Gorham, R-Coventry, said: “I don’t really think the issue is about protecting the elderly here.”

“There are people in this room that just don’t want the data in that kind of format with the Board of Elections, where the public will be able to more easily access it ... because our history has been to oppose such things; the history of the party in control has been to oppose public information on campaign finance,” he said. “That’s too bad.”

Nonetheless, Republican Governor Carcieri’s veto of the bill was one of 34 vetoes overridden by the General Assembly during a one-day special session this week for which no agendas were publicly available until sometime after 3 p.m. the day before.

Little more than 24 hours later, the Democratic majority in both the House and Senate zipped through veto-override votes on close to three dozen bills, big and small, including one closely watched bill to enable the payment of pensions and other survivor benefits to the “domestic partners” of deceased public employees; another to ban forced overtime for hospital nurses, and a third to require annual adjustments in public works contracts to reflect upticks in the prevailing wage that Carcieri opposed especially vehemently on grounds it would inevitably inflate contract costs.

Yesterday, Carcieri was still undecided whether to veto a fast-moving bill to move Rhode Island’s presidential primary up from March 4 to Feb. 5, 2008, that cleared the Assembly Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, he said he had no objections to it, but a majority of House Republicans beseeched his veto. With 36 states holding primaries or caucuses before March 4, they argued that Rhode Island’s only shot at relevance was waiting until this early rush of primaries was over, in the event a clear winner had not yet emerged.

But there was no wavering in his views about Tuesday’s one-day special session. In a late-night statement after the session wound to a close, Carcieri voiced “disappointment that the General Assembly overrode vetoes on a slew of bills designed to reward unions, to raise taxes, and to weaken the authority of the executive branch of government.”

“Most of these bills are nothing more than union giveaways, tax increases and political attacks on the office of governor and the principle of Separation of Powers,” Carcieri said. “Legislation to strip the governor’s authority to appoint the chair of the Board of Elections appears solely intended to strike at the power of the governor’s office … Time share legislation is a tax increase on time share owners.”

“The General Assembly’s willingness to casually override so many bills on so many issues smacks of one-party rule,” he said.

“Today was a perfect demonstration why it is unhealthy for any party — Republican or Democrat — to have or to exercise untrammeled power,” he said.In response, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, said he took “offense to Governor Carcieri’s statement that we casually overrode so many bills. The same could be said that he casually vetoed a record number of bills. None of the vetoes were overridden without a great amount of discussion and research …” He labeled Carcieri’s comments in recent days about the nurse-overtime issue “callous and uncaring,” and called it “ironic that the overtime bill passed our chamber by a 57 to 0 vote, but yesterday the Republicans flip-flopped to support the governor’s political agenda.”

He also questioned Carcieri’s motivation in vetoing a bill requiring greater disclosure of how the state spends an estimated $192 million on consultants. “He should look at it as an opportunity to disclose to the public how and why his departments spent more than $100 million last year on outside consultants,” Fox said.

Some groups were delighted with the General Assembly’s actions. Nurses cheered from the House balcony at the override of Carcieri’s veto of a bill banning hospitals from forcing their nurses to work more than 12 consecutive hours.

A gay-rights group known as Marriage Equality Rhode Island issued a statement applauding the lawmakers for overriding Carcieri’s veto of a bill providing domestic partners with the same pension and death benefits as the married spouse of a deceased public employee.

The bill extends pension benefits of deceased municipal and state workers, including state judges and public school teachers, to domestic partners with whom they have lived for at least a year and are “financially interdependent.”

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Daniel P. Connors, D-Lincoln, was the only one of six bills listed on Marriage Equality’s legislative platform that became law this year.

“It’s a big first step,” said the organization’s director, Jenn Steinfeld, who was sitting in the House gallery during Tuesday night’s vote. “It was the only bill on our agenda that got a vote at all.”

In his veto message, Carcieri called the bill an “ill-thought out expansion of employee benefits that will cost the state significant dollars over a long period of time.” He cited, as an example, a 50-year-old judge who, at death, entitles his or her 40-year-old domestic partner to one-third of his $120,000 salary for life. Over 40 years, he figured, the benefit in this single case would cost the state $1.6 million.

But Steinfeld saw it this way: “By overriding the governor’s veto, the General Assembly has taken a stand for the dignity of ALL Rhode Island families.” Next … “we encourage the General Assembly to demonstrate their concern for Rhode Island families by passing equal marriage legislation.”

The debate over the electronic filing of campaign fundraising and spending reports hit close to home for some lawmakers.

The state’s five general officers have been required to file electronically since 2002, and all other candidates for public office — and officeholders — since 2004 if they raised or spent more than $5,000 or had a year-end balance of at least $5,000. But some have not done so yet, including Sen. Roger Badeau, of Woonsocket, the 71-year-old chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, and Rep. Robert A. Watson, the 47-year-old House Republican Leader, and Slater, the 66-year-old sponsor of the bill.

Richard Thornton, the Board of Elections director of campaign finance, said Watson, R-East Greenwich, is scheduled for training today on how to use the electronic filing system; Badeau has not responded to written reminders. And Slater, the sponsor, dropped below the new electronic filing threshold this year, according to the analysis.

Though the law envisions a one-day turnaround, Thornton said, board staff will have to hand enter contributions and expenditures by candidates no longer required to file electronically, and this could add weeks to getting the information online for public viewing.

Asked about the public benefit of the legislation, Fox yesterday said: “I do not believe that anyone should be penalized from the political process because they have no access to a computer or don’t understand the electronic process. They should not be forced to go to a public library if they don’t own a computer. The goal is to get more people to run for office, and not make one of the qualifications that they must be computer literate to seek office.”

The full list of veto overrides can be viewed at www.rilin.state.ri.us/lawrevision/veto2007.htm.


Irregularities cited in Teamster election

A battle for the presidency of Teamster Local 614 in Pontiac remains undecided and could wind up being decided by the National Labor Relations Board. The unofficial tally from last week's vote shows incumbent Earl Walker leading challenger Joe Bane by 20 votes, 437-417.

However, approximately 54 challenged ballots, which could decide the election, remain uncounted because of a dispute over dues. Billie Hawkins, a Local 614 steward and candidate for recording secretary on the slate headed by Bane, told The Oakland Press she filed a complaint with the NLRB against both her employer, First Student, a school bus company based in Pontiac, and Local 614.

"In September 2007, the employer intentionally refrained from deducting union dues from the payroll of employees who had signed dues check off authorizations for the purpose of assisting incumbent union candidates in an ongoing internal union election by disenfranchising employees as voters," the complaint filed by Hawkins said.

Under Teamsters rules, members have to have fully paid all dues in order to vote in an internal union election.

"They're school bus drivers. They're off every summer. The union has also been able to work out in the past so they're not disenfranchised," said Barbara Harvey, the Detroit lawyer representing Hawkins and Bane.

"The union, however, never sent them ballots," Harvey said. "Then none of the ballots were counted," which in itself was irregular.

"The ballots have been preserved, and they should be counted," Harvey said. "There were problems. The Bane slate is demanding these ballots be counted."

The Bane slate also has filed an appeal with the Teamsters Joint Council 43, and if the Joint Council and the NLRB don't deal with the issues, her clients are prepared to ask the U.S. Department of Labor to set aside the results and rerun the election, Harvey said.

Hawkins said she didn't know exactly how many drivers from First Student sent in ballots.

"But I do know most of them had to be requested and all were challenged," she said.

Both sides are operating under the assumption that the challenged ballots, if counted, could tip the election to the Bane slate, she added.

The NLRB has assigned the complaint to a case officer for investigation, according to a letter from the board's regional director to Harvey.

Meanwhile, Walker declined to comment on the postelection investigation. However, he did confirm the outcome wasn't settled yet.

"I'm not prepared to do an interview. These issues aren't resolved yet," Walker said.

A slate including Hawkins defeated a slate headed by Walker in 2006 in the election for delegates to the Teamsters Convention.

At the time, Walker's slate was pledged to support Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, who is officially a member of Local 614.

Hawkins said after her victory last year she was recruited by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to serve as a part-time organizer. The union is actively trying to recruit more school bus drivers into the Teamsters, she said.


Right To Work law lifts Oklahoma jobs outlook

Growth is described in dictionaries with words like develop, increase, thrive, flourish, upward In practical terms, think of growth as striving to do, and get, better. To improve!

In these times of argumentation, growth has become politically controversial. Business and economic interests have quit using “business friendly” and switched to “pro-growth”.

Good growth helps all. I agree whole-heartedly that we need legislators, and government, that are pro-growth (interpreted ‘good’ growth, specifically economic growth) Favoring good growth is admirable. Growth in knowledge, growth in tolerance, growth in compassion, growth in wisdom, growth in enterprise, growth in kindness, growth in spirit.

Growth in the economy helps everybody. More jobs, more opportunity, more philanthropy, less poverty, less suffering, less going to bed hungry.

Strangely, there are folks who disagree. To some, any and all change is bad. They claim to like the status quo. Don’t change. Continue to tolerate hunger, joblessness, low living standards and ignorance for many.

One of the best good growths is job growth. More jobs being available, helps everybody in general society. That’s why all the effort to get government more attuned to job growth is so important.

There are things government can do to encourage job growth and other things they can do to stop hindrance to job growth. Oklahoma government has done some good things to encourage the job creators. Our state’s Quality Jobs incentive law is one of those. Right to work is another. Our state technical education program is a major plus to assist job creators. Comparatively low property taxes help.

But to stay competitive with other states in getting more jobs created here, there are changes that can, and should, be made.

A couple of those would be meaningful lawsuit and workers compensation reforms, and lower personal income taxes.

There are two things average citizens can do to help gain better economic growth. Make campaign gifts to pro-growth candidates and, if unable to do that, be sure to vote for pro-growth candidates.


Strikers complain about settlement incentive

The PA state Department of Labor and Industry next month will hold a hearing on unfair labor practice charges filed by striking Seneca Valley teachers against the school district.

The union's chief negotiator, Pat Andrekovich, yesterday said that the Seneca Valley Education Association filed the charges last week, claiming the district threatened to reduce its latest offer as punishment for the strike. Christopher Manlove, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industry, said a hearing open to the public is set for 9:30 a.m. Dec. 3 at the State Office Building, Downtown.

In filing the charges, teachers said Mr. King sent written notice to them on Aug. 30 stating if a work stoppage occurred, the district would "regressively amend its 'Best Offer.'" The initial charges state that the district specifically said it would reduce its wage proposal by $43,019.45 for each strike day.

Following the hearing, the hearing examiner will issue a proposed decision. Each side then has 20 days to object and file an exception. If no exceptions are filed, the hearing examiner's recommendation is given to the three-member panel of the state Labor Relations Board, which then conducts a second hearing.

Both sides also have certain appeal rights.

Mr. Manlove said the process "can take some time to complete."

Another bargaining session has been set up for Monday morning by state mediator Bob Lavery.

The district's 575 teachers have been working without a contract since June 30, 2006, when their old contract expired. The district serves nearly 7,600 students.


Teachers union strike boss misses the point

The PA Department of Education calculated, based on the school calendar submitted by the district, the teachers can strike through Nov. 8 and still make 180 days of instruction by June 15.

School can’t be held on federal holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The Pennsylvania State Education Association’s position is if the district had asked the state to include up to five holidays the board approved on the school calendar, such as the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Good Friday, the strike could end as early as Monday.

“This board is forcing the teachers out on strike,” the teachers’ PSEA representative John Holland said. “They forced them out on strike with their proposals, and now they’re keeping them on strike by not designating their five local holidays.”

Holland already asked the Department of Education for a recalculation, and the department upheld its original date of Nov. 8. It’s not too late for the district to ask for another recalculation with five additional holidays, PSEA spokesman Paul Shemansky said.

Would the school board request another recalculation?

“It’s something I think they would consider,” Superintendent James McGovern said. “I do have a call in to the Department of Education, and I want to discuss our options with them.”

The administration and board will change the calendar after the strike, McGovern said. District officials must consider issues like snow days, a set graduation date, and whether there could be another strike in the spring.

“Everybody is naturally assuming there will be school on New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve, but the calendar has not been revised,” he said. “There are many different options the district can take.”

On Holland’s assertion the district is forcing the teachers to strike: “That’s almost insulting,” McGovern said. “I’m not looking at the calendar to strengthen or undermine one team’s position over the other. That’s not my job.”

He said his sole intention is to alter the calendar in the best interests of the students and community.

“This isn’t a lockout. (Teachers) can come back tomorrow,” McGovern said. “Administration is not developing a strategy based on the calendar to keep them out. We’re adjusting the calendar to their actions. It’s as simple as that.”

The Department of Education will re-check its calculations if asked to, but spokesman Michael Race said he couldn’t say what might happen until the department gets a formal request.

The letter the department sends to the district and union giving the date teachers must return is a courtesy, and Race stressed that the return date is not legally binding.

“If there’s more of an obsession on the date than on resolving the issues, someone’s missing the point here,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter who’s right in that situation, because the date is not legally binding.”

“To say that it isn’t binding isn’t true,” Holland countered.

If teachers don’t go back on the department-designated date, the state Secretary of Education can get an injunction in court and order them back, he said.

The drop-dead state deadline for districts to complete 180 days of school is June 30, but the union is only striking for as long as it takes to make the June 15 date.

Then non-binding arbitration becomes mandatory, Shemansky said.

“That’s the only reason they are staying out the maximum number of days: they want that (neutral) third party to come in,” he said.

The teachers could cut the strike short, McGovern pointed out. Non-binding arbitration could start any time the two parties agree to it, he said.

Asked if the union might go for non-binding arbitration before the strike ends, Holland replied, “They (the district) need to fulfill the obligations. If they want the teachers to come back, they need to designate their five local holidays. It rests squarely on their shoulders. They are not going to throw out these red herrings.”


Teamsters protest against monopoly

More than 150 citizens crowded the sidewalks outside Federal Communications Commission headquarters in a Halloween-morning rally against media consolidation.

The public event, held before the FCC's Oct. 31 hearing on localism, was joined by elected officials, civil rights and labor leaders, consumer and media reform advocates, activists and even cheerleaders, who all came to urge the federal agency to vote against any rule changes that could result in more consolidation of ownership. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has proposed an expedited timeline for rule changes that could allow a company to own a newspaper and several radio and television stations in a single city.

"We are gravely concerned that Chairman Martin would try to secretly move on such a critical issue with such a short timetable," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, which coordinates the StopBigMedia.com Coalition. "The public is being shut out of the process so that Martin can move forward with his Big Media giveaway."

"Neither we nor the public received any confirmation that the hearing would occur until ... just 5 business days before the event," FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, who spoke at the rally, said in a joint statement about the hearing. "This is unacceptable and unfair to the public."

"Thank you for coming to the hearing that the FCC doesn't want you to attend," Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told a crowd that spilled over the sidewalks in front of FCC headquarters. "The FCC is in the wrong region to be talking about more media concentration. We're going to stop this rush to consolidate right here in Washington where it began."

"We cannot and we will not let the FCC shove new media ownership rules down our throats. It is our constitutional obligation to stand up and demand that we see greater media ownership diversity, not less," Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) said. "Chairman Martin's efforts to curtail debate and quickly advance a media consolidation proposal raise numerous warning signs that he wants to further shrink an already limited diversity of opinion found among American news outlets. His expected plan is the exact opposite of what is needed in this country."

"We have a media diversity crisis -- too few, own too much, at the expense of too many," said Rev. Jesse Jackson, president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. "Stopping media consolidation is the most important way to help minority ownership. But the FCC is trying to fast-track media consolidation instead of creating policies that expand ownership opportunities. The FCC should be serving people, not profit."

"The Teamsters are here today to seek protections for the public interest," said George Tedeschi, vice president at large for the Teamsters. "Our members, like all citizens, depend on the news media for important information and we understand that the FCC is charged with ensuring that diverse and local viewpoints are communicated."

"Despite the fact that together we represent two-thirds of the country, women and people of color are woefully under-represented in media ownership," said Kim Gandy, president of NOW, citing statistics from a Free Press study on diversity and broadcast ownership. "Massive consolidation and market concentration is one of the key factors keeping this vital population from access to the public airwaves."

"God has supplied the airwaves as a gift to all humankind," said Rev. James Coleman, president of the missionary Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington, D.C. He requires of us to be good stewards over the airwaves and ensure that media reflects in a balanced fashion the views, opinions and ethnic values of all segments of society."

"I have watched these hearings be co-opted by broadcasters in the 14 months since the FCC has started this process," said Carrie Biggs-Adams, staff representative at NABET-CWA, who lined up with others outside the FCC at 4 a.m. to be assured an opportunity to testify. "The FCC hasn't listened to the public. They haven't told us when and where these hearings are to occur and they haven't made them accessible so that we can come to voice our opinions."

In the spirit of Halloween, a group of activists including the founders of Prometheus Radio Project dressed up as cheerleaders to "cheer" the FCC for snubbing the public and ignoring their outcry against media consolidation. They cheered: One million, two million, three million dollars, All for Clear Channel stand up and holler M-O-N-O-P-O-L-Y, Monopoly, Monopoly, Monopoly makes us cry

Footage of the rally will be available to members of the press.

For more information on the rally and FCC hearing, visit http://www.stopbigmedia.com/=dc


Teachers vote to strike in Chicago suburb

On Tuesday, teachers here overwhelmingly voted to strike if ongoing negotiations with the School District fail to produce a contract, Yorkville Education Association President Michele Breyne said.

The vote, in which Breyne said more than 96 percent of the approximately 300 union members supported an authorization for intent to strike, followed a public disagreement about contract negotiations, which have been ongoing since the summer.

At a Monday night School Board meeting, board member Dean Fisher said teachers had turned down an 18 percent salary increase over three years. Assistant Superintendent Frank Bogner said Fisher's statement reflects the views of the administration and the board. "The board's opinion is that 18 percent was discussed with no change in benefits and then when that discussion got to a more firm level, that wasn't accepted by the teachers," Bogner said.

Teachers had a different recollection of the negotiations. "There was never a formal written 18 percent offer made by either side," Breyne said, adding that Fisher was not present during the negotiations.

Fisher's statement and Breyne's response were the first public comments on the negotiations by any party. In the past, both teachers and district officials cited a joint agreement to keep quiet.

Bogner said he did not believe Fisher had breached that agreement and had no opinion on whether the agreement had been breached in the past.

A provision of Yorkville teachers' existing contract authorizes them to work until a new one can be reached.


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