New tactic pleases Dresser-Rand strike boss

Dresser-Rand Co., a major Southern Tier employer, rejected an offer on Friday by 400 union members to return to work while contract talks continue. The plant in Steuben County (NY) makes compressors for military and industrial use. It is a unit of Houston-based Dresser-Rand.

Local 313 IUE-CWA, after a strike that ran from Aug. 4 through Nov. 19, abandoned its picket lines and offered to return to work under terms of an expired contract. But with the company's refusal, "it's not a strike now, it's a lockout," said Steve Coates, president of Local 313.

The company said it has hired 130 temporary and 94 permanent replacement workers. It also has subcontracted 35 percent of the labor hours at Painted Post.

Elizabeth Powers, vice president and chief administrative officer, said Dresser-Rand and union representatives will meet Monday to continue talks.

The dispute centers on contract language covering work rules and on the cost of health insurance coverage.


Showrunners make-break writers' strike

Neal Baer hasn't written a word since the Writers Guild of America went on strike against the major studios three weeks ago. But the executive producer of NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York last week to meet with about 150 people on the show who could be out of jobs once scripts run out next month.

"I felt I owed it to my crew," Baer said. "I wanted to tell them how deeply sorry I was. They face the calamity of being laid off. But the writers had to fight for what was right."

Since the strike began Nov. 5, the elite group of TV show runners -- writers, including Baer, who also manage prime-time productions -- have felt torn by their dual loyalties to the guild and to their programs.

The majority agreed to stop work completely, hoping that by shutting down production of popular shows, studios would become crippled and would capitulate, thus bringing the strike to a quick end. Baer and other show runners vowed not to fulfill their producing obligations until serious negotiations resumed.

But a contingent of more than two dozen have quietly returned to work, editing episodes written before the strike began, according to talent agents and writers.

Their actions have stoked worries among writers about a repeat outcome of the last major Hollywood strike in 1988, when show runners went back to work after five months, undercutting the bargaining power of the guild, which ultimately agreed to terms that it had earlier rejected.

Whether the rift this time around will give the studios an advantage in negotiating a new contract will be unclear until the two sides resume talks Monday. Show runners have been credited with helping to bring the studios back to the table because some shuttered productions while others extended an olive branch by returning to work.

"I think we woke them up a little bit," said Steve Levitan, the show runner for Fox's "Back to You." "What we've been saying all along is we're your partners on these shows. We understand the big picture but we think that the studios have not been operating in good faith."

What makes the situation complicated, said Baer, a member of the guild's negotiating committee, is that "show runners are both labor and management."

Show runners are responsible for the teams of people who bring TV to life.

"At the end of the strike, you have to ask yourself: 'How did I behave?' " said veteran show runner Jonathan Prince, who returned to his job overseeing CBS' "Cane," starring Jimmy Smits.

"Although I was faithful to my guild by not writing one word, did I withhold my producing services? Or did I make sure that the production kept going so the crew could continue to earn a paycheck for a few more weeks?"

In the final weekend of October, just days before the writers contract expired, guild and studio negotiators remained far apart in reaching a new accord, disagreeing about the amount writers should be paid when their work is distributed over the Internet or other new media. No serious talks had even taken place.

The guild had held several meetings for show runners, but they were not well attended, according to Levitan, who previously had produced "Just Shoot Me."

Levitan stepped into the breach. He invited a small group to lunch to discuss strategies for unifying Hollywood's top writer-producers, giving birth to United Show Runners. The group designed the "Pencils Down Means Pencils Down" ads, signed by 150 show runners, that appeared in the entertainment trade papers Nov. 1.

That night, at a rally attended by 3,000 writers at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the guild announced plans to call a strike.

In an impassioned plea, one member of the Teamsters union told show runners they needed to honor the picket line if the guild wanted the support of his union. The Teamsters had the power to bring production to a halt because they deliver construction materials and other gear to sound stages and sets.

The next afternoon, an e-mail was sent by United Show Runners inviting writer-producers to a meeting the following day. On Nov. 3, about 100 show runners met at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, where Levitan moderated a session that lasted nearly three hours.

Some show runners who had hurried to finish scripts before the strike began were chastised for their reluctance to walk away from their productions.

"This is the only industry in the world where employees would actually do extra work to help their employer withstand a strike," said Edward Bernero, the show runner of CBS' "Criminal Minds."

"Could you imagine being in a widget factory and having someone say, 'Hurry up, let's make more widgets because we are going on strike'?"

Bernero, a former Chicago police officer and son of a union truck driver, has not worked despite receiving a letter threatening legal action from CBS for breaching his contract.

At the gathering, Shawn Ryan, creator of "The Shield," implored show runners to abandon all of their duties for at least five days as a sign of solidarity with the Teamsters. Ryan garnered respect not only because of his credentials -- he also produces CBS' "The Unit" -- but for his passion and position on the guild's negotiating committee.

A vote was nearly unanimous, with only 10 or 11 standing up against it, according to several people who attended.

"It was a very inspirational meeting," Levitan said. "A lot of people came in with reservations and left with the idea that we can make a difference." He said the show runners hoped to make the strike brief by shutting down their own productions.

The unity was tested three days into the strike. On Nov. 7, about 100 of the industry's top writer-producers picketed Walt Disney Co., went to the Smoke House restaurant in Burbank for lunch and later adjourned to the guild offices in the Fairfax district to air their concerns.

By then, the Teamsters were crossing picket lines, the studios had sent breach-of-contract letters, and worse, a few show runners were producing on the sly -- at their homes and other locations, careful not to cross the picket lines.

Emotions were high. People yelled, booed and hissed. Writer-producers of new shows were freaked out by the threatening letters. Some expressed concern for their crews. Others doubted the walkout was having its desired effect as chief executives downplayed the strike's financial toll. Several prominent show runners argued that editing was not part of the writing process or covered by guild rules.

Among those who advocated continuing the work stoppage were producers with little to lose. Their shows either were in pre-production, were comedies that had already gone dark because they involved last-minute writing during the taping or had non-writing producers on staff who could carry the load.

Others had more on the line. By refusing to work, Ryan missed out on the production of the final episode of "The Shield," the FX drama that put him on the map.

"It's scary because your life's work is at stake," said Kari Lizer, the show runner for "The New Adventures of Old Christine." "Walking away and hoping that they're not going to finish the shows without you, that's the scary part. But I think the only way to make an impact is to stop providing our services."

When it seemed the room couldn't get any hotter, Andre Nemec, co-creator of "October Road," emerged with a compromise: Show runners would tell studios they would resume producing as soon as "good faith negotiations" began.

In a vote, opponents were in the minority. But not everyone was feeling warm and fuzzy. Cellphones rang all over Hollywood the next morning. Show runners who wanted to produce felt pressured by hard-line colleagues who didn't.

The first week of the strike ended with a rally at 20th Century Fox studios in Century City attended by about 4,000 people. An estimated 20 show runners convened afterward at Endeavor Talent Agency in Beverly Hills to hash out the situation. Worried that studios would seize upon division in the camp if they began to edit and produce, show runners concluded that anyone wanting to work should do so discreetly.

"Nobody wants to hurt the strike effort," said a show runner who requested anonymity. "But this was a horrible idea. They opened up Pandora's box by making it seem like we all agreed with this."

Another flare-up occurred late last week after news reports that some top show runners were editing despite their promise to do so only under the radar.

Carlton Cuse, the executive producer of "Lost" and a member of the guild's negotiating committee, was chided by fellow show runners after he was quoted in the Wall Street Journal defending his decision to put on his producer's hat in the interest of fans. Cuse declined to comment.

If the strike lasts another couple of weeks, the issue of whether to produce or not will be moot. There will be no scripts left to shoot.

Howard Gordon, show runner for Fox's "24," says the question misses the point and distracts writers from their united stance on contract demands.

"Our leverage is that we are writers and that the pipeline will dry up," said Gordon, who hasn't worked since the strike began. "If the show is not as well-edited, it may reflect a little on the ratings, [but] it's not going to be the factor that ends the strike."


Russian strikers shut Ford plant over pay

A Ford production plant in Russia has come to a standstill after workers resumed a strike, demanding higher salaries. About 500 staff have walked off the site in St. Petersburg and are refusing to let others pass a picket line.

The biggest foreign-owned car plant in Russia produces smaller Ford cars and has a workforce of two thousand, all of whom are demanding a 45 percent rise in pay.

The workers claim inflation has eaten into their take-home money.


Strikers arrested for picket-line violence against scabs

Police arrested two pickets Thursday at the entrance to heavy equipment dealer Toromont Cat in St. John's.

Striking workers from the International Union of Operating Engineers confronted non-unionized employees who were trying to cross the picket line on Kenmount Road. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary confirmed two people on the picket line were arrested and a vehicle was damaged. St. John's and District Labour Council president Sam Kelly said the company has been using replacement workers for at least two weeks.

Fifty Toromont Cat workers in St. John's, Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook and Labrador went on strike in August seeking better pensions and wages.


Judge's order: Broadway strikers must work

The Grinch — not to mention all those singing and dancing Whos — came back to Broadway Friday, two weeks after the musical about Dr. Seuss' celebrated green meanie was shut down because of the stagehands strike.

When actor Patrick Page, dressed in his furry chartreuse costume, slunk on stage at the St. James Theatre, the crowd erupted in cheers. It was the first performance of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" since Nov. 9, the musical's opening night.

The walkout by IATSE Local 1, the stagehands union, the following day shut down more than two dozens plays and musicals. The reopening of the $6 million production was ordered Wednesday by state Supreme Court Justice Helen Freedman, saying: "I think one Grinch in town is enough."

Her ruling came a day after she heard arguments from producers of the show and Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns the St. James. Producers, citing a special contract between the show and Jujamcyn, wanted the show to go on.

The judge said her decision was based on a provision of the theater lease, adding that she believed the production company would be irreparably harmed if the show wasn't permitted to resume its run.

Said producer James Sanna just before the 11 a.m. performance (the first of four on Friday) began: "This may be the first time in Broadway history a producer has made a curtain speech on two consecutive performances. The first one was a traditional one on our opening night and now 14 days later on our reopening. ... We have faced lots and lots of obstacles and we are very happy to be back. But if there ever was a show and a company that deserves to be back, it is ours. I am very proud and humbled the way the whole company rallied around us on this."

Theatergoers milled in front of the theater, working their way through reporters and TV crews to get into the theater. Meanwhile, across the street at the dark Majestic Theatre (which houses "The Phantom of the Opera") pickets from Local 1 quietly walked in a circle.

Vendors hawked $20 souvenir programs (which includes a "Grinch" knapsack) as audiences streamed into the theater.

Mark Cleveland, his wife Karla, and their two sons, 10-year-old Adam and 8-year-old Connor, had come from the Netherlands Antilles to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and then maybe some shows. They were leaving for Los Angeles immediately after seeing "Grinch."


UAW hungers for gamblers' dues

Dear Editor: In an effort to prevent its “team members” (employees) from forming a union, the Foxwoods casino management has disseminated misleading and incorrect information to employees and the public through radio and newspaper advertising. It is especially distasteful in a community such as ours that benefits from union men and women who live and work here.

The ads start out by stating the United Auto Workers (UAW) has had 429 strikes in the last 20 years. That's pure scare tactics. Our local, the Marine Draftsmen's Association, UAW Local 571 at Electric Boat, has won good salaries and benefits through collective bargaining for years. I can tell you how many strikes UAW Local 571 has had over the past 20 years: zero. The right to strike is a powerful tool, but everyone's goal is not to use it.

The ad continues, “If the UAW calls you out on strike your paycheck would stop — and during the strike your health insurance alone could cost your family another $1,200 a month.” First, UAW doesn't call anyone out on strike. A decision to strike can only be made by a two-thirds vote of the local union membership. Second, if membership authorizes a strike, we have the resources to support each other, including fully paid health insurance for the duration of the strike. The UAW has one of the strongest strike funds in the country, and that's why we successfully settle 98 percent of first contracts without a strike.

I understand Foxwoods' economic incentive to keep the casino union-free so it doesn't have to share its considerable profits with “team members,” but must it sacrifice truth and integrity?

Unions have been leaders in bringing good jobs to this region. We look forward to working with Foxwoods employees to ensure quality jobs across southeastern Connecticut.

John Worobey Jr., Waterford

Editor's note: The writer is president of the Marine Draftsmen's Association, UAW Local 571.


Teamsters strike enters week 4

Some 266 production and maintenance workers at Sun-Rype are entering their fourth week of a strike at the company's Kelowna (British Columbia) processing plant. The workers, represented by Teamsters Local 213, walked off the job Nov. 6 after negotiations failed. The bargaining unit's last contract expired Aug. 31, 2006.

Teamsters business representative Gene Wirch said the union made a counter-proposal to Sun-Rype's last offer, which the company "pretty much outright rejected." Negotiations lasted more than a year, including unsuccessful rounds of mediation. No new talks are scheduled.

Wirch said the company's last offer did not address items that the union insists should be in a new agreement, including revised terms for contracting out work. Wirch said the union has observed some contracting out of the bargaining unit's work and "we saw them escalating [the practice]."

Sun-Rype officials did not grant an interview, but in a written statement, CEO Eric Sorensen said the company "made negotiating a new collective agreement with our unionized employees a top priority." In the statement, Sorensen added that Sun-Rype is committed to its Kelowna operations, having spent more than $13 million over the last two years. "It is very important to us that his issue be resolved as quickly as possible so we can carry on with building the long-term viability of this business and optimizing the investments we have made," Sorensen said.

Wirch said morale is high among striking workers, some of whom have temporary jobs in the region's booming economy.

"We know there are going to be some who are just not going to come back [after the strike]," Wirch said, "and that's going to be unfortunate for both sides."

Sun-Rype's shares closed at $12.53, down four cents, in Friday trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.


AFSCME fumes as City Council rejects proposal

Pickerington (OH) City Council on Tuesday night unanimously rejected a proposed contract agreement with AFSCME Local 1822, which represents about a third of the city's 60 employees.

Council president Keith Smith said the two sides couldn't agree on the structure of pay raises for the union employees. Union officials were seeking approval of a three-year contract that would have awarded 3.5 percent pay raises each year over the duration of the contract.

"We were only comfortable with giving the 3.5 percent raise for the first year of the contract, not all three years," said Smith. "We'd accept either a one-year contract at 3.5 percent or a three-year contract that doesn't guarantee the 3.5 percent raises in the second and third years of the contract."

Smith said the city would like to have an opportunity to evaluate its financial situation in those years before guaranteeing the 3.5 percent pay increases. He said because the union already approved the contract offer, negotiators from both sides will have to return to the bargaining table to begin nailing down a new agreement.

Union officials did not return several calls seeking comment on the contract's rejection and what effect it will have on city employees.


Workers strike against co-op over bonus pay

Sugar field workers said they hope to begin negotiations Friday with the Santa Rosa Sugar Mill after striking for more than two days. More than 300 workers began the strike Wednesday morning because management had not paid $1,000 bonuses that were promised in May, said Jose Torres, a paralegal in the Weslaco office of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

Steve Bearden, president of the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, said the cooperative has paid bonuses to workers in the past but couldn't afford to this year because of equipment costs.

"It was a great year as far as sugar was concerned," Bearden said, but the cooperative ended up with a $750,000 loss. "We're working with (the workers) and trying to get them to come back to work," Bearden said Thursday. He deferred further comment to the cooperative's lawyers.

Workers on the picket line declined to comment, saying they feared retaliation by management. Torres said the striking workers are not unionized because agricultural workers are barred from joining unions under the National Labor Relations Act.

Torres said the mill has already placed advertisements for new field workers.

Santa Rosa is located about 30 miles northwest of Brownsville.


Keeping labor unions out

As the late Senator Paul Wellstone liked to say, "We may be entitled to our own opinions, but we're not entitled to our own facts." Even with organized labor's many problems (shrinking membership, internal dissension, gutless Democrats, growing irrelevancy, etc.), there's no disputing the facts.

Fact: Across the board, union jobs pay more (10-15% more), offer better health and medical benefits, and provide workers greater on-the-job security and influence than non-union jobs. Fact: Union facilities are demonstrably safer than non-union facilities; statistically, the numbers aren't even close. Fact: If unions didn't represent a threat to management's greed and unchecked authority, they wouldn't be so vehemently opposed by businesses and business lobbies.

All of which raises the question: Given the post-Reagan assault on the earning power and dignity of blue-collar jobs, why aren't more people signing union cards? Why haven't the marginal and disenfranchised in the workforce wised up? Union membership used to hover at close to 35%; today it's barely 12%. Worse, if only private industry were counted, it's less than 7%. Better money, richer benefits, safer environment, more control ... what's not to like?

The short answer is that forming a union shop can be a complicated, even dangerous undertaking. The site's employees not only require capable leadership, they need a plan of action and a cadre of dedicated "insiders" willing to sneak around and get 30% of the people to sign union cards (the minimum required by the National Labor Relations Board to sanction an election). And even after getting those signatures and filing that petition, there's a daunting up-hill struggle awaiting.

As for the "sneaking" part, while it's not required, it's strongly recommended. Ask anyone who's done it. When management gets a whiff of union cards being passed around, hackles go up, and they tend to punish the ringleaders, both as a practical matter and as a warning to future activists. They fire people. The standard charge is "unsatisfactory work performance." When employees who are paid by the hour are caught passing out union literature (even on their coffee breaks), they're charged with "stealing" company time, and are terminated.

Because it's perfectly legal to circulate union literature on the job (so long as it doesn't "interrupt, restrain or restrict" the operation), punishing an employee for doing so is a violation of federal labor law. Companies realize this; they know it's a violation. It's just that successfully keeping out the union by any means possible falls into that category of the ends justifying the means.

Of course, the fired "instigators" are more or less dead in the water. Not yet being union members and, therefore, not having access to free legal counsel, they have little recourse but to fight for reinstatement on their own. Even if they do manage to get their jobs back, months or years later, the union organizing drive is likely to be ancient history.

In truth, intimidation and outright threats are common practices. The United Mine Workers is a prime example. Although the UMW has filed numerous ULPs (unfair labor practice charges) against coal companies, accusing them of coercing prospective members, the NLRB has seldom moved beyond a preliminary investigation. Even though, in fairness to the NLRB, charges of coercion are difficult to prove, the Board simply has shown little interest in taking on the big boys. This has been particularly true during the Bush administration.

According to Phil Smith, Communications Director of the UMW, coercion and intimidation are the main reasons why, even with the alarming safety record of non-union mines (92% of all coal mining fatalities since Jan. 1, 2006, have occurred at non-union sites), less than 30% of America's coal miners are unionized.

Coal miners are tough sons of bitches. Anyone who drills their way two miles into a mountain, and then sets up shop there, eight hours a day, has to be tough. But the threat of being black-balled by the industry or having the mine sub-contracted to an outfit that refuses to recognize the UMW (a common ploy, according to Smith) outweighs taking the chance of trying to join the union. Even tough guys fear losing their jobs.

When a company-any company-can't dissuade its employees from signing union cards, and a petition manages to get filed with the NLRB, the management team shifts into its Def-Con 4 mode. Human Resources team goes on full-alert. It's been said that companies react to a union membership drive roughly the same way a Swiss housekeeper reacts to finding a rat in the pantry.

Let's be clear: If management didn't object to employees forming a union, they wouldn't force them to go the NLRB route in the first place. Instead, they'd agree to recognize them as soon as a majority of the employees (50% +1) signed cards. This method is known as the "card check" system. Once fairly rare, it's become increasingly common as union and community pressure has forced businesses to submit to democracy. But even with the card-check method, intimidation and disinformation still occur. Meanwhile, the old guard remains unmoved. Their view: If you want a union shop, you're going to have to do it the hard way.

It's after the cards are in, and the Board is notified, that the real fight begins. During the run-up to an election (which can take months to schedule if company lawyers use creative stalling tactics), management launches a zealous, anti-union campaign whose aim is to inundate the employees, break down their initiative, through terror, intimidation, flattery and bribery.

Wal-Mart comes to mind. They have surveillance cameras in their parking lots to protect employees from being intercepted by union organizers as they make their way to and from their cars. Wal-Mart employees are required to report any person they meet who tries to engage them in a discussion of labor unions, and are warned not to accept anything these people may try to give them. (Isn't this the same thing people tell their kids about child molesters?!)

Typically, Wal-Mart's anti-union campaign will include everything from mandatory come-to-Jesus meetings where employees are "educated" about the evils of union membership (via movies, slide-shows and first-person horror stories) to the awarding of previously unannounced (surprise!) cash bonuses, as a token of management's appreciation of their work. That these cash gifts occur on the eve of a union certification vote is dismissed as coincidence.

Organizers in the field report the following (in no particular order) as the five most frequently used propaganda weapons used by management:

* Employees are told that any monetary gains will be wiped out by union dues, which run as high as $300-$400 per month, and can be raised at any time. Fact: While monthly dues vary from union to union, $50 is about average. And dues, initiation fees and officers' salaries can't be raised without the membership's secret-ballot approval. It's the law.

* Employees are warned that strikes will keep them out of work for months at a time, ruining them financially. Fact: While strikes used to be fairly common, they are now rare, especially the long ones. The recent strikes called by the UAW-against GM and Chrysler-lasted two days, and six hours, respectively. The WGA, which has been out for barely over two weeks, will be re-meeting with the AMPTP on November 26, with a chance of settling.

* Playing Mr. Nice Guy, management assures the workers that "carpetbaggers and opportunists" aren't necessary, that any safety or labor problems can be handled in-house. Fact: If that were truly the perception on the floor, the employees wouldn't be seeking union assistance.

* Employees are reminded that union bosses are corrupt, and that members aren't allowed a say in who gets elected. Fact: The Landrum-Griffin Act guarantees every member the right to vote. Even the Teamsters get to pick their leaders. Indeed, if American presidential elections were as openly democratic as union elections, we wouldn't still be flogging something called the Electoral College.

* Management threatens to shut down the operation and move away. It's an illegal tactic, but it's used nonetheless. Fact: Companies pull up stakes for lots of reasons, but having a union shop is rarely the determining factor. In today's climate, if a business can make more money by moving to Mississippi, India or Timbuktu, they'll do it . . . union or no union.

After considering the many obstacles placed in the way of joining a union, perhaps the question should be restated. Instead of asking why there aren't more people joining unions, the proper question should be: Given the hassles, threats and pitfalls awaiting them, how is any organizing drive ever successful?

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000.


Unions' cash buys anti-conservative influence

Senior Conservatives have claimed that Labour and the unions have a "symbiotic relationship" which has piled extra burdens on employers. Shadow business secretary Alan Duncan said in a pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies, published on Friday, that a string of initiatives from the government since 1997 had favoured union interests.

Co-authored with shadow business minister Jonathan Djanogly, the study argued that employment legislation, the trade union modernisation fund and an EU working time directive had all benefited unions.

It added that the two-way relationship was confirmed by generous union donations to the Labour Party. Djanogly said: "Now, trade unions and Labour MPs are calling for more employment protection and more rights for trade unions.

"A further Employment Bill is being prepared for 2007/08. The process is now accelerating at the very time as the Labour Party is becoming more dependent on trade union donations.

"Trade unions continue to be generous donors to the Labour Party. Data from the Electoral Commission shows that since the beginning of 2001 (when parties were first required to declare donations), the unions have given over £55m to the Labour Party, two thirds of all the donations made to the Labour Party."

Duncan added that the Conservatives would be "determined to bring down the big donor culture, whether from individuals, corporations or trade unions".

"Money should not be allowed to buy influence," he said.

"Although this paper is not a statement of Conservative Party policy, it does highlight areas and proposals which we believe merit a thorough review and debate. I hope that this paper will initiate that."


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