UAW boss licks chops over new $56 billion cache

The United Auto Workers union is establishing clear rules for a massive new health-care trust intended to guarantee the independence and solvency of a $56 billion fund that will be set up by the Detroit automakers.

"We are going to have some very strict controls in the trust agreement," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told the Reuters Autos Summit in Detroit on Tuesday. "My biggest concern in the establishment of this (trust) is that we have the groundwork or framework in place, if you will, to ensure that we have the proper people in place to make sure we take care of business."

Detroit's three U.S. automakers all signed a landmark health-care deal with the union, under which responsibility for retiree health care would shift to a new UAW-aligned trust fund known as a voluntary employee beneficiary association (VEBA).

The trust needs court approval and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accounting clearance before taking effect in 2010 under just-completed labor agreements between the union and the automakers.

Gettelfinger said union representatives were currently putting together a list of all the issues the UAW needed to address to set up a framework for the VEBA ranging from the independence of trustees to the objectives for fund managers who were to be brought in.

He said the UAW would focus first on establishing a similar VEBA at auto parts supplier Dana Corp (DCNAQ.PK) before January and then shift its focus to the bigger trust fund.

"It will be a slow process," Gettelfinger said. "But by the time I leave here as president this thing's going to be well established, and it's going to be off and running."

The key investment priorities for the trust fund will be protecting its solvency and generating cash flow in order to ensure that it can provide health care for at least 80 years for over 700,000 UAW-represented workers and retirees, Gettelfinger said.

The UAW could become the single biggest shareholder in Ford Motor Co (F.N) and General Motors Corp (GM.N) since the health-care trust is being financed partly through convertible debt.

Gettelfinger said it was not clear if the VEBA trustees would make the decision alone or in consultation with the UAW about whether to convert the debt to shares equivalent to as much as 16 percent of GM stock and 15 percent of Ford stock.

With the sizable potential investment in the two automakers, Gettelfinger said the union had considered the question of whether it should have representation on the boards of the automakers.

"We discussed that somewhat," he said. "I think, down the road, board seats will eventually come about."

Analysts have said the UAW could wield a big stick as an investor, especially on issues already on its agenda, including health-care costs, corporate governance, executive compensation and trade.

But Gettelfinger said the fund would be cautious about pushing a social agenda with its investment decisions.

"That is something we will be discussing, we have tried to do that in the past, but sometimes you run into issues with that," he said.

Gettelfinger also said the new investment fund would be run by independent trustees who would be given a "wide berth" on investment decisions.

The UAW may appoint one representative to the board of trustees of the new fund, Gettelfinger said, adding that he would not serve on the board.

Gettelfinger, who said he would not be seeking another term as the union president, has received a lot of interest from Wall Street firms seeking to manage the funds.

"We've heard from a lot of folks on Wall Street and other places that have an interest in what we're trying to do," he said. "It's going to take us a while to get there."

"We're going to be seeking outside counsel on it," he added.

He said the Detroit-based union would draw the line on any lavish spending of workers' money by either the fund managers or the trustees.

"We will have administrative costs, but we are not going to have trustees holding meetings in California," Gettelfinger said. "This is not going to be a lavish party."


Don't give thanks for trying to end workers' secret ballots

The statesman William Jennings Bryan remarked long ago that "on Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence." If that's true, liberal politicians eyeing a feast from Big Labor's table have a lot to recognize this holiday.

Labor leaders have opened their house and treasury to left-of-center politicians and promised a cornucopia to those who toe the union line. Planning to break its previous donation record, the AFL-CIO said it will spend more than $50 million to elect friendly politicians. Its member unions will spend a whopping $200 million. The powerful Service Employees International Union will likely surpass $70 million.

It's no wonder SEIU's president just confessed to the New York Times that he faces an "identity crisis" between being a labor leader and an "ATM" for Democrats.

Of course, labor leaders expect some thanksgiving for their generosity. Officials from the newly formed Change To Win coalition recently announced a $14 million surcharge on member dues to fund a war chest specifically aimed at "electing candidates that will help pass the so-called Employee Free Choice Act.

For labor leaders, this act would be a true bounty. The proposed law, already supported by all but two congressional Democrats, would make organizing new employees so easy that a conservative estimate suggests Big Labor could pick up an additional $5 billion in new dues each year.

For working Americans, though, EFCA is a real turkey. It would effectively kill the process of secret ballot elections for employees choosing whether to join a union. It would even impose binding, government-mandated "arbitration" on companies that don't reach a speedy agreement with a new union. It's hard to imagine the Pilgrims blessing such government intervention.

Given their hearty investment this election cycle, it's understandable union officials expect a full helping of pro-labor governance.

"All of the candidates on the Democratic side of the ticket, they're all speaking our language," boasted American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee, adding, "We're going for the trifecta: the House, the Senate and the White House."

So, when certain politicians bemoan our "dependence on Big Oil," it may be wise this holiday to remember their dependence on Big Labor. And as union officials offer to dish out, one can only hope the wisest politicians will politely but firmly say, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Bret Jacobson is a senior research analyst at the Center for Union Facts.


Ninth Circuit pro-union decision under review

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday agreed to review a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing California to prohibit employers from using state grant money to oppose union organizing campaigns.

The justices, without comment, granted a certiorari petition by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, which contends the ban is preempted by federal labor law. The Bush administration last month urged the high court to take the case.

The statute, enacted in September 2000 as AB 1889, prohibits entities that receive more than $10,000 in state money from using the funds to “assist, promote, or deter union organizing,” including “any attempt of an employer to influence the decision of its employees” over whether to support or join a labor union.

Legislation Codified

The legislation is codified in the Government Code, beginning with Sec. 16645. The chamber had successfully challenged it in district court and before a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel before an en banc panel upheld it in a 12-3 decision in September of last year.

The preamble to the law states:

“It is the policy of the state not to interfere with an employee’s choice about whether to join or to be represented by a labor union. For this reason, the state should not subsidize efforts by an employer to assist, promote, or deter union organizing. It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this act to prohibit an employer from using state funds and facilities for the purpose of influencing employees to support or oppose unionization and to prohibit an employer from seeking to influence employees to support or oppose unionization while those employees are performing work on a state contract.”

Employers who violate the law are subject to disgorgement of the state funds used and a civil penalty equal to twice the amount of those funds. Suspected violators may be sued by the state attorney general or by any private taxpayer.

If an employer commingles state and other funds, the law presumes that any expenditures to assist, promote or deter union organizing derive in part from state funds.

The Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Raymond C. Fisher, said the law is not preempted by the National Labor Relations Act because “California’s refusal to subsidize employer speech for or against unionization does not regulate an activity that is actually protected or actually prohibited by the NLRA,” and does not regulate an area intended by Congress “to be controlled by the free play of economic forces.”

Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder and Judges Stephen Reinhardt, Alex Kozinski, Michael Daly Hawkins, Sidney R. Thomas, Barry G. Silverman, M. Margaret McKeown, Kim McLane Wardlaw, Richard A. Paez, Johnnie B. Rawlinson, and Richard R. Clifton joined in Fisher’s opinion.

Court’s Opinion

Senior Judge Robert M. Beezer, who had written the panel opinion, was joined in dissent by Judges Andrew J. Kleinfeld and Consuelo M. Callahan, arguing that the law improperly forced employers to take a neutral stance in respect to union organizing drives.

In its brief to the high court, the administration cited San Diego Building Trades v. Garmon (1959) 359 U.S. 236, which forbids states from regulating activity the NLRA explicitly or arguably protects or prohibits, and Lodge 76, Int’l Ass’n of Machinists v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Comm’n, (1976) 427 U.S. 132, which bars states from regulating activity Congress intended to leave subject to the natural result of economic forces.

Congress, the administration argues, intended to permit “robust debate” during union organizing drives, as well as to grant the National Labor Relations Board the exclusive authority to regulate the actions employers may take to persuade employees to oppose unionization.

The administration also argues that the Ninth Circuit ruling conflicts with Healthcare Ass’n of N.Y. State, Inc. v. Pataki (2d Cir. 2006) 471 F.3d 87, which struck down a similar law in New York. The Second Circuit reasoned that a state “cannot leverage its money to affect” employer activity “beyond [its] dealings with the State.”

In urging the high court to resolve the asserted conflict, the administration noted that eight other states—Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, and Rhode Island—“have enacted laws of varying breadth that prohibit the use of state funds to encourage or discourage union organizing” and that bills patterned after the California law were introduced this year in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, and New Jersey.

Other amici supporting the chamber include the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The AFL-CIO and California Federation of Labor have joined Attorney General Jerry Brown in defense of the law.

Deputy Attorney General Angela Sierra authored the state’s brief to the high court.

The case is Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America v. Brown, 06-939.


UFCW goes national against Kosher processor

One of the nation’s largest unions is escalating its public fight with the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, AgriProcessors.

Activists with United Food and Commercial Workers stood outside kosher supermarkets and Trader Joe’s stores around the country last Wednesday, distributing fliers that purported to be a “Kosher Food Safety Alert.” The fliers cited controversial reports — many of them published in the Forward — about food-safety issues at the Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse.

Perhaps most provocatively, the flier claims that in 2006, AgriProcessors was cited five times for “violations of ‘mad cow’ safety rules.” The UFCW echoed these claims in full-page advertisements in Jewish newspapers and in automated phone calls to thousands of households in Orthodox neighborhoods.

AgriProcessors responded with a letter signed by the company’s vice president, Sholom Rubashkin, and published on its Web site and in Yeshiva World News. “Concerns about Mad Cow disease are simply wrong,” the letter said. “We have never had product from any suspect animals leave our plant.”

The debate stems from a series of documents released by the United States Department of Agriculture after a Freedom of Information Act request from the UFCW. These documents show that the plant was cited for violating rules designed to control mad cow disease, though they did not suggest that any contaminated meat had left the plant.

The food-safety concerns are only the latest controversy that has beset AgriProcessors. The slaughterhouse has also been criticized for the labor conditions at the plant and for the treatment of animals there.

KosherToday, a trade publication that has defended AgriProcessors, wrote about the UFCW’s campaign this week and said that it had not hurt AgriProcessors sales and in fact may have helped.

“The net effect of the onslaught against Agri was that sales of its products in some stores have risen by as much as 30% and it has opened an unprecedented number of new accounts,” KosherToday wrote.

Rubashkin’s letter alleged that the UFCW is going after AgriProcessors because the workers at the plant have not joined the union. Rubashkin accused the UFCW of orchestrating “a textbook campaign… to force a company into submission to unionize a plant even when it is against the wishes of the workers.”

A spokeswoman for the UFCW, Jill Cashen, told the Forward that AgriProcessors had never asked employees if they wanted to unionize.

“The [AgriProcessors] plant isn’t a free and open environment,” Cashen said. “We don’t speak for the workers, and neither does AgriProcessors. Workers there have never had a chance to vote one way or another.”

In the materials it handed out last week, the UFCW cited two major meat recalls that AgriProcessors has made during the past year. In his letter, Rubashkin wrote that no “raw, fresh or frozen poultry and beef products” had been recalled. Cashen called this response “technically correct but extremely misleading,” noting that the recalled products were precooked frozen foods.

The Jewish Labor Committee, a national organization, has worked with the UFCW on this issue.


Kosher processor describes UFCW racketeering

I am writing to the Customers of Agriprocessors, Inc. to dispel certain misconceptions that may have arisen as a result of inaccurate information of which you may have become aware concerning Agriprocessors, Inc.

Agriprocessors, Inc. is a viable company that is committed to maintaining the quality of its product both in full compliance with existing rules and regulations of the USDA and in full compliance with the rules of kashruth.

Over the past couple of years the employees of Agriprocessors, Inc. in Iowa have resisted attempts by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) to become their collective bargaining agent. Agriprocessors, Inc. in the past has and will continue in the future to maintain a commitment to its employees to create a safe, enjoyable and mutually beneficial atmosphere in the workplace.

The UFCW, as it has in the past, we believe, is engaging in a course of conduct which has been referred to as "waging economic war on an unorganized company", the present target of which is Agriprocessors, Inc. As part and parcel of this campaign the UFCW has disseminated inaccurate and false information which is designed to destroy Agriprocessors, Inc.'s image and inflict economic damage.

The UFCW has also inappropriately attempted to contact existing business relationships in order to interfere with the lawful business of Agriprocessors, Inc. Moreover, we believe that the Union has been instrumental in orchestrating frivolous investigations of our company, by governmental authorities.

To date, all such efforts have been to no avail and the purpose of this letter is to assure our customers of Agriprocessors, Inc.'s commitment to produce quality products at fair prices while maintaining the integrity of its workplace.

As an illustration of the UFCW's prior activities against other companies I am enclosing a copy of a 94-page complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division, entitled "Smithfield Foods, Inc., et ano. v. United Foods and Commercial Workers International Union, et al."

Smithfield Foods is one of the largest American producers of pork products and has withstood a similar campaign lodged against it by the UFCW. The complaint sets forth at length the allegations against the Union having unsuccessfully attempted to organize Smithfield's workers, the Union engaged in a course of conduct which was intended to impose economic harm against the company.

The motivation, of course, was to bolster the Union's membership. Additionally, I am enclosing for your review an article entitled, "Predatory Unionism" authored by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, a Professor of Economics at Loyola College in Maryland. This article is very informative and quotes Joe Crump, a former official of the UFCW in which he sets forth the nefarious programs employed by the Union to exert undue pressure on an unorganized company to bring them to their financial knees, not necessarily for the benefit of the Union members but for the monetary gain of the Union itself.

Agriprocessors, Inc. wishes to further assure its customers that it will continue to adhere to its unwaivering commitment to you as one of its valued customers, the public at large, who enjoy the products manufactured by the company and to those employees who are integral to the past and continued success of the company.

Should you have any questions concerning anything contained in this letter or wish to discuss this matter with me in detail, please feel free to contact me at your convenience.

Very truly yours,
Sholom Rubashkin, Vice President, Nov. 14, 2007


Kosher processor's letter to customers re. UFCW

Dear Customer:

It has come to my attention that you may have been the victim of a slanderous and patently false campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

You may have received their misleading flyer entitled “Kosher Alert” or an automated phone call with misinformation about products produced by Agriprocessors.

This is part of a textbook campaign by the Union to force a company into submission to unionize a plant even when it is against the wishes of the workers, which is the case at Agriprocessors.

The vicious tactics by the Union not withstanding, when someone makes allegations about practices in our company or the quality of our products, I take it personally. My family guarantees that all our products are safe and wholesome.

Let me assure you there are no recalls or food safety issues with our products. We have a moral obligation to produce the safest products for our customers and we take that obligation very seriously. The Rubashkin family has been supplying high quality kosher meat and poultry for over fifty years. Mr. Aron Rubashkin has earned his reputation of trust for Kosher, quality and food safety. That is why consumers across America rely on our product every day.

As you know, all of our products must earn the seal of wholesomeness by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) before they leave our plant. To produce safe food in our modern production facility, we and the on-site USDA inspectors maintain a constant vigilance. We are committed to continue to strive for improvement so that you are guaranteed of the safest and utmost quality products.

It is unfortunate that in today’s day and age of respect for democratic institutions, that the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), refuses to abide by the wishes of the workers at Agriprocessors not to organize into a Union We would at any time respect the right of our employees to organize and join a union if they so choose.

We hope that you will now recognize the context of the disinformation that has been disseminated in our community in a brazen attempt to force the workers to unionize. We know, that like all fair-minded people that you will stand with our employees and their right to decide for themselves whether or not to have a union..

Ironically, the UFCW has targeted our food safety record that as you can see below is nothing less than stellar. Here are but a few highlights:

1. Concerns about Mad Cow disease are simply wrong. We have never had product from any suspect animals leave our plant.
2. Agriprocessors has had zero recalls in any of our raw, fresh or frozen poultry and beef products since we opened. Yes, not one recall in nineteen years.
3. The UFCW claims we have excessive reports of non-compliance. In covering the same UFCW report, the Cedar Rapids Gazette interviewed USDA spokesperson Amanda Eamich who was quoted as saying, “…. a plant the size of Agriprocessors might receive 9,000 inspections per year, of which 250 noncompliance findings remains ‘‘ a pretty small percentage.’’

We have always maintained an “open door” policy and encourage our customers to ask any questions that they may have about our products. We rely on our quality control systems and personnel, USDA oversight and independent auditing to assure the products safety and wholesomeness of our products. Rabbis and customers are welcome to tour our plants at any time to see our commitment at work first-hand.

We are proud of our commitment to the principles we established almost nineteen years ago.
The food we produce at Agriprocessors is safe and wholesome. You have my word on it.

We encourage you to ask questions and find out for yourself. To get the facts, visit our web site www.agriprocessor.com or e-mail me at asksholom@iowabestbeef.com.

We are most gratified by your continued support and thank you for helping make Agriprocessors the leader in kosher beef and poultry.

Sholom Rubashkin, Vice President, Nov. 14, 2007


Teamsters welcomed to Coca-Cola bottler

Workers at Coca Cola in Cathedral City, California voted to secure strong representation yesterday, choosing Teamsters Local 63 in Covina, California as their bargaining representative.

Representatives for the 80 workers approached Local 63 four months ago expressing their desire for Teamster representation. The drivers, warehousemen and merchandisers told the Teamsters that they were seeking a strong partner to protect their future.

"The Teamsters are synonymous throughout the nation with strong representation," said Art Delgado, a warehouse worker for Coca Cola. "We were very concerned with protecting our future and believed the Teamsters were the right fit."

The workers' major concerns including protecting the future of their pensions and gaining a partner that had the experience and knowledge to negotiate a strong agreement and enforce the contract with the company.

"There is no doubt in my mind that these workers are a strong and united group. It takes an enormous amount of courage and wisdom to recognize the need take the first step to protect their families' futures," said Randy Cammack, International Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 63. "I look forward to working with our newest members and helping them get the representation they deserve."


Union urges strikers to reject settlement offer

Striking university support staff will vote on a contract offer early next week, but it may not mean a resolution to the ongoing labour dispute involving 2,400 striking workers.

Don Puff, a spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 1975, said union leadership will be strongly suggesting members reject the offer, which Puff says is an attempt to bully employees facing financial struggles as Christmas approaches.

"We're pretty sure (the offer) will be rejected because it's worse than what they went on strike for," he said.

Puff's comments stand in stark contrast with those of University of Regina spokeswoman Barbara Pollock, who calls the offer "fair and reasonable." She said she found CUPE's poor characterization of the offer as "rather odd." "I think the offer from the universities has pretty well just generally been increasing as we go along," she said.

The offer came out of conciliation talks between the CUPE local and its employers, the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan.

The two sticking points remain benefits packages and the universities' plan to link wage increases to performance reviews.

Pollock said the new offer increases benefits, provides a $750 retention bonus for employees still working at the universities next year, and includes new contract language which "puts some process" to the performance reviews by giving employees greater recourse.

Puff has a different reading of the proposed contract.

He said the offer has a worse benefits package, and takes away or lessens lump-sum payments for employees. He said the union is also ethically and morally opposed to the entire principle of linking employees wage increases to performance reviews.

Puff said the universities put forward the offer Tuesday night, and the union countered by offering to go to mediation to resolve the outstanding issues around benefits and performance reviews.

If the matter had gone to mediation, Puff said, union members would have been back on the job within two days.

"We offered to go back to work ... they're the ones who rejected our offer to go back to work and kept us out on this picket line," he said.

Pollock said the university didn't refuse to go to mediation, but "preferred" that union membership vote on the offer instead.

Puff said CUPE representatives had to take the offer to their membership by law, and didn't have a choice.

Union members will vote on the offer on Monday and Tuesday. If the deal is rejected, further negotiations are slated to take place at the end of next week.

Pollock wouldn't speculate on whether the universities would agree to mediation if the offer is rejected.

Both sides have posted information about the offer on their respective Web sites. The universities' site can be found at http://blogs.usask.ca/updates and CUPE's at www.cupe1975-01.ca


Writers strike may derail CBS' Democrat debate

A Democratic presidential debate scheduled for next month in Los Angeles could be canceled because of the labor troubles of its sponsor, CBS News.

More than 500 news writers, editors, desk assistants, graphic artists and other staffers for CBS' TV and radio news operations have been working without a contract since April 2005, and this month voted to authorize a strike. These employees work for CBS News and its affiliates in four cities, including Los Angeles, where CBS is putting on the Dec. 10 debate. They are represented by the Writers Guild of America, but their possible walkout is separate from the ongoing strike by the guild's screenwriters.

As Democratic presidential candidates seek endorsements from organized labor, they have walked picket lines around the country, and a strike would leave the debate with few if any candidates. On Wednesday, five contenders - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson - said they would skip the debate in the event of a strike.

"If there's a strike, it's going to be awfully tough for any of the Democratic candidates to participate," said Roger Salazar, a political consultant who is a spokesman for the California Democratic Party.

The debate is officially sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, but the party indicated Wednesday that it would not cross the picket line if there were a strike. In a statement, DNC Press Secretary Stacie Paxton said, "We will continue to watch the situation closely."

Paul Friedman, senior vice president for CBS News, said "plans are well underway" for the debate. "We hope that either the labor issues will be resolved or the union will agree not to picket in the public interest of allowing the debate to go ahead," he said.

In a statement late Wednesday, the WGA East thanked the candidates for their support but did not indicate whether union members would picket the debate.

"We hope everyone follows their leads," the statement said. A union official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal union issues, said that the WGA had not decided to strike and that a walkout could come well after the debate.

The WGA is seeking a 3% raise for all employees, retroactive to the expiration of its previous contract. CBS has said it is offering a 3% raise for TV and network radio employees and 2% for local radio workers. The raises would not be retroactive.

The Democratic candidates today raced to make clear their support for workers. The day's first statement came from Clinton, who said: "The workers at CBS News have been without a contract for close to 2 1/2 years. It is my hope that both sides will reach an agreement that results in a secure contract for the workers at CBS News, but let me be clear: I will honor the picket line if the workers at CBS News decide to strike."

Edwards said on a conference call that not only would he honor any CBS News strike by not attending the debate, he also would cancel an appearance next week on ABC's "The View" in solidarity with screenwriters, who are striking and are also represented by the Writers Guild.

Dodd said in his statement: "Hopefully, it won't come to that, but I will not cross a picket line." A spokesman for Obama, Ben LaBolt, said that in the event of a strike, "Barack Obama will not cross the picket line to attend the debate."


Board tricked teachers into ending strike early?

The Lake-Lehman (PA) teachers union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district because the school board and administration changed the calendar. By moving the last day of school ahead, the district violated collective bargaining law by leading the teachers to believe their strike had to end early, the Pennsylvania State Education Association alleges.

District officials say they opted to end school later and keep extra holiday days for better attendance, a crucial part of federal No Child Left Behind law. Students are more likely to skip school on days like the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas, district solicitor Charles Coslett said.

“When we were redeveloping the calendar, I listened to parents and I listened to students, and tried to have a minimum of inconvenience,” superintendent James McGovern said. “My decisions have nothing to do with (the teachers’) positions. I care about two things: the students and the families of the Lake-Lehman educational community.”

“‘Inconvenience’ translates into ‘non-attendance,’” Coslett said. “To label this as motivated by anti-union animus is beyond the pale.”

On Nov. 9, the same day teachers returned to the classroom, the district “unilaterally changed the last day of school from June 13 to June 27, 2008,” the teachers’ PSEA field representative John Holland stated.

Because of the rescheduling, the 19-day strike does not prevent Lake-Lehman from providing the state-mandated 180 days of instruction by the end of the scheduled school year, he said. Based on the calendar approved by the board before classes started, the Pennsylvania Department of Education determined the strike could last through Nov. 8 to get the 180 days in by June 15, or by Nov. 26 to get them in by June 30, the absolute deadline.

At the time the teachers called the strike, the school calendar set the last day at June 13. Changing the end date means the strike could have continued for two weeks, Holland said.

If a strike lasts up to the state’s critical date, both parties enter mandatory, non-binding arbitration. The union believes the calendar change cancels it, however, because the teachers purposely stayed on the picket lines to what they thought was the required date to start the arbitration, Holland said.

Strikes aren’t allowed during arbitration. But if it hasn’t kicked in, teachers can resume their strike, Holland said.


Dem unleashes 'a litany of pro-union points' to strikers

Hundreds of picketing writers, many donning their trademark red T-shirts, welcomed Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards to their picket lines Friday outside NBC studios in Burbank.

Their supporters on hand included actress and comedian Sarah Silverman (no, she didn’t say anything witty or remotely funny to CityBeat), Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, an Edwards look-a-like, gorgeous soap actor Alex Valente, and a man dressed as a postman handing out so-called residual payments from DVD sales.

As the crowd grew to about 500 people, the endless honking from passing cars and writers’ chanting – “What do we want? Contracts! When do we want them? Now!” – became deafening.

Edwards tried to walk the picket line, but a mob of journalists and writers engulfed him, elbowing each other out of the way to get a decent photograph of the candidate. He paused twice to speak briefly about his support of workers’ rights in America. “This is about justice and fairness and equality, and ensuring those who work hard and are creative and create the products that bring us billions of dollars are actually treated fairly.”

The Writers Guild of America has been on strike since November 5 after talks concerning a new contract broke down. The Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced on Friday they will resume talks on November 26.

Edwards made it clear he supports the writers, saying he was proud to stand with them in their “fight for justice,” but he also turned the event into a chance to speak about the larger issue of unions and corporate conglomeration in America.

“If we actually want to strengthen and grow the middle class in this country, we need a president who understands that we can’t have big corporations taking over this government,” said Edwards, breaking into a litany of pro-union points.

He said it must be easier for unions to organize, any American worker must be able to join a union, and it must be the “law of the land” that when strikes are necessary, workers’ jobs are protected. Edwards has competed with senators and fellow presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the union vote. Several state chapters, including those in California, Iowa, and New Hampshire, of the powerful Service Employees International Union have endorsed Edwards. Clinton has received the backing of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers.

When asked if he wants to start a class war, as argued by presidential candidate Bill Richardson at the Democratic debate on Nov. 15, Edwards said no and responded: “There’s a class war that’s been going on by the Republicans for a long time. What they’re doing is empowering those who already have power – the richest Americans, the big corporations … . All I’m trying to do is make sure the rest of America gets a fair chance.”

The Burbank Police Department estimated the crowd at between 400 and 500 people. The strike in front of NBC studios usually attracts less than 100 a day, they said.

Though most writers CityBeat spoke with said they were still undecided concerning the election, they said they appreciated that Edwards came to their strike and addressed issues affecting workers in America.

“What he said was part of an important conversation that the country needs to have right now in terms of media ownership and protecting the middle class,” said writer Jerry Jackson.

Curtis Chin, who normally pickets at Paramount but came to NBC to see Edwards, said he liked that the candidate looked at the bigger picture, which Chin framed as “larger corporations trying to squeeze extra profits at the expense of workers.”

Other writers said Edwards’ appearance was important to them because it brought attention to their strike. “Anything that’s going to get attention for our cause is all for the best,” said writer Laura Burns. “I wish they would all come.”

Writer Sterling Anderson said Edwards’ support of the strike did influence his decision in the election. “This definitely made him on the top of my list,” he said. “This matters to me and my family.”


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