SEIU members in revolt over compulsory dues

On November 26th, SEIU Local 1000 President Dave Hart made a visit to the Inland Empire's Caltrans Headquarters in downtown San Bernardino to persuade State and Caltrans employees to disapprove a measure that would not allow employees to pay the fair share measure regarding union dues.

The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has set an election to decide if employees who are not union members should continue to pay fair share fees in Unit 1. According to union officials, if fair share fees are rescinded, it will seriously hamper the Local 1000's ability to protect the gains on behalf of employees, fight the pending initiative to cut public employee pensions, stop contracting out and mount a strong and successful 2008 contract campaign.

According to Hart, "this election is about fairness, it's about security and it's about investment. State law requires Local 1000 to represent all employees regardless of whether or not they are union members. That means non-members get the raises, pensions, health care benefits and other rights that members have fought so hard to win. That's not fair. We believe everyone needs to share the cost of winning. It's an investment in economic security, job security, and retirement security."

But the majority of the employees that attended the event disagreed.

Employees pointed the finger at the Union's non responsiveness to union members' complaints about the management at Caltrans abuse of the hiring and promotion process.

Also, employees were not happy that although state employees recently received a three percent pay raise, the Union countered with a 1.5 union fee increase taking away almost fifty percent of the wage increase. Many employees made reference to the union that represents the engineers which received a 7 percent increase pay half the union dues of SEIU. Still others wanted to understand why there is not enough union staff to address issues based the recent union fee increases and in an example were told union staff had been directed to Los Angeles to support illegal immigration marches and could not attend an employee's hearing.

Many Black employees, and female employees at the event complained about the hiring and promotion practices being implemented by management and discussed the negative history of Caltrans management in the San Bernardino office toward Black employees. Some employees argued that many minorities and women have to leave this District and transfer to other Districts within Caltrans to receive promotion. Other discussed how an interim acting Director promoted her boyfriend to management although this Director was married and her husband worked at the District.

Employees demanded the Union investigate these claims, provide more representation and increase legal actions against management to ensure fairness in the workplace before they would continue the current process of fair share. Mr. Hart promised the employees they would have implement immediate actions on the issues brought forth. He stated that the Union has over 600,000 active and retired members and they can best represent the employees. Employees countered that although GM is the largest automobile company they are not building the best product, Honda and Toyota are, and maybe the other unions should have the opportunity to represent the employees.

Hart stated his job was made hard in getting employee raises because unions such as the prison guards gave Governor Gray Davis funds during his recall elections and received a huge pay raise in return. This hampers the bargaining process. Many employees stated they will vote "yes" which would allow the employees to not pay dues unless the Union starts representing the employees better, provide larger pay raises and address issues with Caltrans management in San Bernardino.

Employees say they are constantly given the black eye of waste in the government when it is really management that should be held accountable and all the conservative republican lawmakers should investigate. One Black female employee stated she would be contacting local Black elected officials such as Assemblymember Wilmer Carter to investigate the promotion process at Caltrans and why management has not renamed the building in memory of Rosa Parks.

One employee stated she overheard one of the director's complain it would cost too much and what did Rosa Parks do anyway. Another employee stated this just shows the view management at this District has of the Black community and gives a clear view of why Blacks are not being promoted to senior positions at this Caltrans location.


Tribes face Casino War domino effect

Just months after an appeals court ruled that American Indian tribes are subject to federal labor law, the unions we predicted would come calling in the wake of a 2004 labor ruling against tribes have surfaced, this time victorious at one of the world's largest and most profitable casinos.

About 60 percent of eligible dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Nov. 24 voted in favor of joining the United Auto Workers union, which represents about 6,000 casino employees in four other states. The dealers represent about a third of the casino's 10,000 employees and were courted by UAW for six months. It should be noted that during that time, the tribe enacted labor laws to protect tribal authority over union activity; but according to the tribe's attorney, the disgruntled employees did not file any petitions under its jurisdiction.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods, vowed to contest the vote, and will file an objection with the regional National Labor Relations Board. Although it was a solid first step for those 1,289 workers seeking to unionize, the outcome is not exactly "overwhelming," as described by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal, the state's leading opponent of tribal recognition and Indian casino fighter, predictably rushed to celebrate victory. "The message is that workers want union advocacy, and the law powerfully supports them," he told the local Norwich Bulletin. "No one is above the law, no matter how wealthy or powerful or even sovereign." He said the vote "could have a domino effect across the country at tribally owned commercial enterprises."

At least, he hopes it will. Blumenthal exhibited the same disregard for tribal sovereignty in 2004 upon hearing the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino v. NLRB ruling. He gloated then that the ruling was "a legal earthquake that shatters the complete immunity from labor law now enjoyed by most Indian casinos." Continuing with his disaster theme, he remarked following the union vote that "its impact could be seismic in changing the landscape of labor relations at tribal casinos." We issue no argument there. We can fully expect to see more organizing efforts by unions at tribal casinos throughout the nations.

While the anti-sovereignty stance is not unusual for state attorneys general, Blumenthal's determination to involve Connecticut in the San Manuel case fostered the notion in his state that unionization was inevitable; that union organizers would be greeted with open arms. It is no coincidence that Foxwoods is the first Indian casino to face this violation of tribal jurisdiction in the wake of San Manuel. The sovereignty-eroding union win by the UAW has been deemed by Blumenthal an "historic golden opportunity" for the tribe. Only officials with complete disregard for tribal sovereignty would describe the situation that way. Cut from the same cloth is regional UAW director Robert "Bob" Madore, who, when interviewed by Indian Country Today reporter Gale Courey Toensing, dismissed the Pequots' (and in essence, every tribe's) concern over the issue of sovereignty. He cited the San Manuel ruling: "It's been decided. Get over it. Simply get over it."

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe is an interesting leader in this fight. Its major government enterprise, Foxwoods, helped tremendously to revitalize the Indian community and its ability to self-govern. But the small tribe's massive success has wrought two critical dilemmas: how to navigate uncharted territory in the operation and management of what is now the world's largest casino, and how best to deal with the attention only a world-class brand and top regional employer that is also American Indian can attract. These elements are generally celebrated, but not by the aforementioned attorney general, those who seek to regulate Indian gaming, or those business owners who feel "the Indians" have an unfair economic advantage.

It is worth repeating: Public perception becomes public policy, without exception. Basing an appeal to the NRLB on Indian tribal sovereignty is expected and the right thing to do, but the tribe must also work diligently to get its house in order to effectively address the concerns of so many unhappy (and now, vocal) employees. The domino effect may well have started at Foxwoods, but it is entirely possible that it can also end there, regardless of whether San Manuel is further challenged.

It is imperative that tribes confront this growing threat to tribal sovereignty by implementing strategies that render federal oversight unnecessary. Casinos and other tribal enterprises are not just profit centers. They are also controlled facilities for creative, tribal public relations opportunities and improving employee relations. Employees and guests are captive audiences for oft-repeated, pro-tribal sovereignty messages. Polls in recent years have shown a considerable wealth of public support for tribes and their enterprises. Building on customers' very basic knowledge of tribal sovereignty, tribes can take education a step further and introduce or promote concepts relating to self-regulation and tribal economic development as critical government services. The U.S. District Court of Appeals' upholding of the NLRB's decision was dependent on the concept of the San Manuel Band as an "employer" within the scope of the National Labor Relations Act and its enterprises typical "commercial" businesses, thus rendering tribes subject to federal labor laws. Preventive maintenance like community-building that begins in the tribal workplace is a far superior tactic than fighting an uphill battle after much of the damage has already been perpetrated.

Indian gaming is a $26 billion industry; no longer will it continue to grow unnoticed by labor unions interested in restoring their political influence. We previously expressed solidarity with American and Native American workers who belong to unions and whose families benefit from their membership. Many Indian families live comfortably due to union association. This latest battle is not between tribes and unions or workers. "This is not about the right of employees to unionize," said Jackson King, the Pequots' attorney. "This is about whether you respect tribal law or not."

It is a question of tribal sovereignty and the criticality of protecting and fortifying it within and among Indian nations.


Dresser-Rand strike boss outmaneuvered again

Dresser- Rand Co. Thursday declared an impasse in negotiations with Local 313 IUE CWA, imposed the terms of its latest contract offer and invited all union members to return to work immediately.

However, union officials Thursday night said the company told them the return to work wouldn't be immediate and that employees should wait to be contacted by the company before reporting.

"They (Dresser-Rand) have a process they have to go through now. They have to get rid of temporary employees first," said union President Steve Coates. "They have to go through a list of our employees and decide who they want. If they don't take us all back, we'll be filing a ULP (unfair labor practice). We'll be filing charges against the company for declaring an impasse as well. We felt that act was illegal. We don't believe we were at impasse. We wanted to continue to negotiate."

The company action follows a strike by 400 union members at Dresser-Rand's Painted Post plant. The work stoppage will reach its 17th week Saturday.

During the strike, Dresser-Rand said, the company hired more than 90 permanent replacement workers and 130 temporary replacement workers. It was not immediately clear how many of the 400 union members would be absorbed into the existing work force.

"It is anticipated that temporary employees will continue to be reduced by additional new hires, employees returning to work and increased subcontracting," Dresser-Rand said in a news release.

Not all the issues between the company and the union were resolved by Thursday's announcement. Local 313 filed several unfair labor practices charges against the company that have not been resolved by the National Labor Relations Board.

Dresser-Rand President Vincent R. Volpe Jr. said in a news release that the contract imposed Thursday contains "language governing operating policies ... consistent with contemporary standards." He said it also will bring benefits at Painted Post in line with those available to other Dresser-Rand employees in the U.S.

The union had rejected the company offer because of disagreements over work rules and proposed major increases in the cost of medical insurance. Union members walked off the job Aug. 4 when their three-year contract expired.

The union offered to go back to work under the terms of the expired contract on Nov. 19. Dresser-Rand rejected that offer four days later. The latest attempt at negotiations, on Monday and Tuesday, ended without an agreement.

Company officials could not be reached Thursday night to confirm that employees should wait to be called before returning to work. Dan Meisner, human relations manager at the factory, did not respond Thursday to repeated messages seeking comment.


SEIU's California collectivism in meltdown

Leaders of California's largest and most influential healthcare union are embroiled in an intense power struggle that could affect the shape of any deal lawmakers reach this year to overhaul the state's healthcare system.

The SEIU California State Council - the umbrella group for the local chapters of the Service Employees International Union - has been one of the biggest pockets of resistance to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to require all Californians to obtain medical insurance. With 600,000 members across California and tremendous influence among Democratic legislators, SEIU can make or break any deal negotiated by Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders.

While enthusiastic about the goal of securing coverage for the 5 million Californians who now are uninsured, Sal Rosselli - the president of an Oakland-based SEIU local as well as the state council - has insisted that any deal fully protect middle-class residents from having to pay premiums they may not be able to afford or forcing them to buy bare-bones policies.

But through a labor fight that has been more than a year in the making, Rosselli may be removed as president of the state council as early as this morning, two years before his term is scheduled to expire, according to union officials.

Many of the issues involved in the action have more to do with internal union politics about labor's direction than with the healthcare battle, but the leadership change could have substantial consequences. The potential new leaders are more eager than Rosselli and longtime Executive Director Dean Tipps to cut a deal with Schwarzenegger -- in part to help advance their campaign to overhaul healthcare nationally.

That has been the view of Andy Stern, the president of the international union, who has personally expressed to the governor's office his frustration with the stance of California SEIU leaders, according to people familiar with the discussions.

"Our experience in SEIU and across the country is you don't have to have the perfect bullet to slay the dragon," said Tyrone Freeman, president of the Los Angeles-based SEIU chapter representing 170,000 home care and nursing home workers.

Asked about the move to change leadership, Freeman said Rosselli had often acted based on "his ideological belief about how things ought to happen with the de facto inclusion of other leaders."

He disputed assertions of Rosselli's allies that Stern was masterminding the leadership change. "It would be more of a story of Tyrone Freeman and Sal Rosselli," Freeman said. "I have a very big local that is bigger than his. We've got impact, and we just believe things ought to be done differently."

The president of the state council is elected by the local chapters. Rosselli declined to discuss the leadership fight, saying in a brief telephone interview, "The agreements I've made with people is to try to deal with these things internally."

Rosselli said it would be a major mistake to approve Schwarzenegger's proposed healthcare overhaul without adding substantial protections for families -- a view in line with those other major California labor leaders, including Art Pulaski, the leader of the California Labor Federation.

Rosselli said that whatever deal is passed will have to go on the ballot next year, and said SEIU's extensive polling and past experiences with similar fights in California have convinced him that Schwarzenegger's version will not pass.

"People won't vote for something they can't afford or something that's not defined," he said, referring to the provisions in Schwarzenegger's plan that would assign state officials the role of deciding what benefits insurers would have to include in plans they offered to people.

Stern was on a flight to Los Angeles on Thursday and not available for comment, his office said. He is scheduled to appear at a downtown luncheon of the Asia Society, a nonprofit dedicated to improving relations between people in the United States and Asia. A spokesman said Stern was not engineering the leadership change.

The leadership fight comes after more than a year of struggles and reorganizations of SEIU in California, part of a larger battle over the direction of the union everywhere. Stern has been pushing to centralize union actions on the theory that local unions have lost much of their leverage to negotiate labor deals with national and global corporations, according to Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor history professor at UC Santa Barbara.

But some local unions have bristled at his approach. They also complained that Stern has been too willing to sign weak labor agreements with companies in order to organize their workers. Rosselli and Stern clashed directly over what labor agreements should be struck with nursing home chains, according to an article in the Bay Area's SF Weekly last April.

The difference has extended to politics as well, where California's SEIU leadership in Sacramento has taken a much more aggressive posture than the national SEIU has in Washington under Stern.

As part of Stern's plan, several California SEIU locals consolidated last year, and Stern appointed interim leaders of the new chapters.

The presidents of the locals have moved to establish a new state council and elect a new president, something that Rosselli's allies call a veiled attempt to dislodge him from his leadership role and part of Stern's broader movement to wrest power from the local unions.

Council presidents serve four-year terms, so were it not for this move Rosselli would remain at the helm until 2009. If he is replaced, Rosselli would continue to serve as president of his 130,000 member local and remain on the state council.The council is scheduled to convene Tuesday, but late Thursday, Annelle Grajeda, the only candidate to replace Rosselli, called a state council meeting to be conducted via a conference call at 7:30 this morning, according to an SEIU e-mail obtained by The Times.

Grajeda, whom Stern elevated to interim president of a Southern California local representing public service workers, is said to favor a more conciliatory approach to healthcare negotiations than Rosselli's. Before her elevation she had not been elected to the presidency of a local but had served as the top staff member for a decade.


Timing is everything in UAW strike v. Navistar

Truck and engine maker Navistar International Corp has cut its fiscal 2008 industry forecast for commercial truck and school bus retail sales in the United States and Canada, it reported on Wednesday.

Navistar now expects sales to range from 303,000 to 328,000 for its fiscal 2008, ending on Oct. 31, compared with a prior forecast for 328,000, it said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The forecast includes medium duty trucks, combined heavy and severe service trucks and school buses. Industry truck sales dropped in 2007 after rules requiring cleaner-operating but more expensive engines took effect.

Navistar also disclosed declines in its fiscal fourth quarter and 2007 truck and engine shipments. Warrenville, Illinois-based Navistar said it shipped 27,519 heavy and medium trucks, school buses and other vehicles in its fourth quarter, down 46 percent from a year earlier. Shipments were down 33 percent to 106,429 for the year.

Worldwide engine shipments fell 21.4 percent to 97,688 in its fiscal fourth quarter from a year earlier and fell 22.1 percent to 404,704 in fiscal 2007, Navistar said.

Navistar and the United Auto Workers resumed talks on Monday aimed at settling a contract dispute and ending a strike by about 3,700 workers that began Oct. 23.


Expert: Impact of writers' strike overestimated

The economic impact by a protracted Hollywood writers' strike was far less than some early estimates, an economist said yesterday.

Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist at the Anderson Forecast of the University of California in Los Angeles, said the strike would have a 380-million-dollar impact on the Los Angeles economy, far less than some early estimates of $1 billion.

He said initial estimates of the strike's impact were "grossly inflated." The walkout would have a roughly $380 million economic impact, even if the strike were to last through the end of March - roughly as long as the 1988 strike. "Virtually everywhere in the media, in City Hall and in Sacramento, this greater than 1-billion-dollar economic impact is taken as fact," Nickelsburg said.

"But what is behind it and how much faith can we put in this number? Is there a serious public issue for the Los Angeles economy worthy of governmental intervention? As it turns out, a close examination of the economic dynamics of the 2007 WGA (Writers Guild of America) strike suggests a much more modest and transitory impact on the Los Angeles economy," he said. "The impact, even if the strike runs as long as the record 1988 strike, will be about one-third or less of the currently accepted 1-billion-dollar estimate."

Representatives for the WGA as well as television and film producers were negotiating for a fourth consecutive day Thursday in hopes of ending the strike, which began on Nov. 5.

The union is pushing for writers to be paid for work distributed via the Internet, video iPods, cellphones and other new media.


Judge shields Teamsters, Clinton-crony

A federal bankruptcy judge has denied a request by Interstate Bakeries Corp. to force a group considering a bid for the baker to disclose terms of an agreement with a key union.

The decision Thursday from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Venters followed court arguments from Interstate that it needed to know the terms of an exclusive agreement between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — which represents 9,500 IBC workers — and the U.S. bakery division of Grupo Bimbo and Los Angeles-based investment firm Yucaipa Cos. Grupo Bimbo and Yucaipa are considering a bid for the wholesale baker.

IBC, maker of iconic brands Wonder bread and Hostess Twinkies, has been in bankruptcy reorganization since September 2004. The company argued that it needed to know the terms of the agreement partly because it needed to determine whether there was anything that would violate bankruptcy law. IBC was joined in trying to force the disclosure by the committee representing unsecured creditors.

Additionally, IBC’s attorneys argued that the information being kept secret was having a chilling effect on other potential bidders.

Yucaipa, run by billionaire Ron Burkle, and Bimbo Bakeries USA, based in Fort Worth, Texas, revealed Nov. 2 that the Teamsters would work exclusively with the duo in making an offer for IBC. That news came shortly after the Teamsters broke off talks with IBC, saying it was impossible for them to come to terms over wage concessions and changes the baking company wants to make to its delivery system.

“The process is naturally being derailed and chilled … because one of the potential bidders announces publicly to all others who may or may not be interested in the company, ‘Don’t bother. We’ve locked up nearly half of (the company’s) labor force through the Teamsters that is available to us and nobody else,’ ” said Zachary Rosenbaum, an attorney representing the unsecured creditors. “The natural consensus must be that a prospective bidder who might otherwise be interested in this process would sit on the sidelines.”

But Venters ruled there was no basis to force the disclosure now. He also noted that if Yucaipa and Bimbo make an offer by a Dec. 13 deadline, many of the details IBC seeks will be disclosed at that time.

Meanwhile, Interstate has filed its own reorganization plan and has been promised $400 million in financing if it can get additional concessions from the Teamsters. It has already gained concessions from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents about 10,000 Interstate employees.

Other parties wanting to make an offer for IBC had to make their intent known to the company by Wednesday. All other bidders besides Yucaipa and Bimbo have a deadline of Jan. 15 to submit proposals. If there are multiple bids, an auction will take place on Jan. 22, and the court on Jan. 29 will give its blessing to the prevailing bid.


NEA beats back Teamsters raid

It appears 18,000 public school teachers in Clark County (NV) will not become Teamsters - yet.

On Thursday, leaders from Teamsters Local 14 announced they didn't get enough signatures to formally challenge the current teachers union, The Clark County Education Association.

The Teamsters kicked of their campaign back in June. They needed to turn in at least 9,000 pledge cards to the state labor board by Friday.

A spokesperson for Teamsters says they fell short by a sizable amount, but won't rule out another attempt.


UFCW lobbies Congress for cattle ownership ban

It's obvious the United Food & Commercial Worker's Union (UFCW) doesn't know much about the meat industry.

In their ad supporting Farm Bill measures (S.2302, Sec 10207) that would strip meat packers of their private property rights to own livestock, their lead argument is that "companies close plants to move production closer to the livestock they own," putting workers out of work.*

Unbeknownst to the UFCW, livestock processing began moving out of railheads like Chicago, Cincinnati and Omaha not long after World War II when livestock began moving by truck. Packing plants went to where livestock were fed to limit hauling distances for live animals. Over 30 years ago, the boxed-beef concept took over because hauling primal cuts meant hauling fewer pounds than with carcasses.

Livestock have been fed for generations where feed and water were plentiful and the climate suitable. No large-scale beef packing plant has been built outside the High Plains for 25 years. Pork processing plants have been located in an arc from the Corn Belt to the Southeast where hogs have been raised for decades. The union's arguments begin with historical inaccuracies.

More ridiculous is the contention that packers would move plants closer to the livestock they own. For one, packers only own, in the case of cattle, five percent of the cattle on feed. So they wouldn't handicap themselves for 95 percent of the cattle they process by locating plants anywhere but where the cattle are. For another, since the plants have been located where they are for decades, they already own what feedyards and cattle they own right where much of cattle production is - in the High Plains region. Likewise, with their contracted cattle.

Ironically, it is often the smaller plants away from the high-density cattle areas that are more likely to be owned by cattlemen or cattle producer groups who bought or built smaller plants to keep them open in lower production areas. Plants like those in the Northwest, California and the Southwest are inexplicably under attack by the proposed Farm Bill limitations on cattle ownership. Those smaller plants, plus the large #4 packer -- majority-owned by cattlemen -- would be made illegal. Cattlemen who have invested in a high risk, extremely competitive, narrow-margin business would be put out of business by Senators with little respect for free enterprise or Constitutional private property rights.

Even worse, by forbidding packers to participate in beef alliances where cattlemen, packers and retailers share ownership, spread risk and cooperate to improve cattle management and beef quality, the Senate would declare war on consumers. By destroying some of the most consumer-focused systems the beef production chain has devised, Congress would be depriving consumers of a better quality product at competitive prices.

"Natural" beef, in which consumers are guaranteed that cattle have been raised under certain non- standard production protocols, would be eliminated under other provisions in the bill. With no alliances or branded programs allowed under cattle ownership restrictions and no contracting or marketing agreements under other provisions, it would be impossible to make such guarantees. "Natural" beef production would be gone.

In the pork business, the production chain is tightly coordinated and often integrated under one ownership. So Congress would simply be declaring such pork companies illegal and putting them out of business - and employees out of work - plus creating a critical shortage of hog slaughter capacity.

Maybe it's so difficult for the UFCW to fashion a coherent argument that their jobs are threatened, at least for much of the beef-packing business, because many union jobs were phased out decades ago. Many beef packers striving for competitiveness with inexpensive chicken were built around rural, non- union structures in the 1970s - more flexibility, less restrictive work rules and lower wages than urban union scale. That's why, of the UFCW's 1.3 million members, only 250,000 (19 percent) work in meat processing. Uncompetitive labor costs were among key reasons for packing-plant closures in the past.

Packers rarely built feeding facilities from scratch when they entered livestock production. They purchased large, existing production facilities, already located in heavy production areas close to packing capacity. So "moving" packing plants to where packers own livestock is a non-issue.

The union's arguments are specious, their "facts" out of date and the proposed legislation extremely damaging to the interests of consumers, livestock producers and processors.

*Click here to see UFCW ad


Huge Chicago teachers union authorizes strike

Elgin Area (IL) School District U-46 union leaders filed a 10-day intent to strike notice Wednesday, the day after a 15-hour negotiation session failed to produce a contract for teachers. State law requires that education officials meet with a mediator and give 10 days' notice before striking. Sessions with a federal mediator are scheduled for Dec. 6 and 11.

Elgin Teachers Association President Tim Davis emphasized the move was routine and not a sign that teachers were ready to walk the picket line. "At this point it's purely procedural," Davis said Thursday. "A strike is a last resort. I don't think we're there." The union also filed an intent to strike notice during negotiations for the 2004-07 contract, but a deal was reached before the start of school.

Union and district officials opted to call in a mediator after Tuesday's marathon bargaining session. Officials had told union members they would engage in mediation if a deal was not reached by Nov. 19, but they then extended the deadline to Tuesday.

"We were not at an impasse. I thought we had the potential to settle Tuesday," Davis said, "but we had to be true to what we stated to members."

District officials agreed the sides have made headway after meeting three times since members rejected a tentative three-year deal in October. "The board's team believes it is very close to a settlement," said a memo sent Wednesday by the district's bargaining team to administrators.

Class sizes and case loads are the sticking points, Davis said, though any fix to those issues could affect teacher raises.

"Everything on the table will require a financial commitment," Davis said. "There are no easy solutions, even with all of the brainstorming we've done."

The 2,400 members of the state's second-largest teachers union have been working under the terms of an expired contract since the beginning of the school year.

The deal that members opposed, by a vote of 1,183 to 1,125, called for average raises of 6.1 percent in the first year of the contract and between 4.4 percent and 5.7 percent, determined by the rate of inflation, in the second and third years of the contract.

In a recent survey, teachers who rejected the deal listed the raises in the second and third years of the contract as the second greatest factor influencing their vote.

Class sizes and case loads topped the list.

The deal would have provided two teacher aides at each high school and one aide at each middle school to relieve excessive class sizes, a fix that teachers called inadequate.

Davis said the district needs to find immediate, short-term and long-term solutions to large class sizes and case loads.

According to union statistics, there still are about 160 fewer union members, including teachers and support staff, than in 2004, when the district faced a $40 million operating deficit and instituted drastic budget cuts and layoffs.

"The district had to get its financial side in order," Davis said. "But I think with such an intense focus, they took their eyes off the academic program."

U-46 teachers went on strike seven times between 1978 and 1991. The last work stoppage lasted 21 days.

"The board's team has spent countless hours during the first round of bargaining which resulted in the original tentative agreement, and remains dedicated to reaching another tentative agreement," the U-46 memo to administrators said.


Repeal of Right To Work law may be delayed

An economy growing at a slower pace in fall 2007 may signal possible concerns that must be considered by legislators during the 2008 Virginia General Assembly. That especially may be true with the Democrats now holding a majority in the state Senate, while the House of Delegates remains under Republican rule.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the two parties stand likely to clash over issues.

"The one thing we know for sure is that, with a GOP House and a Democratic Senate and governor, we’ll need negotiation and compromise if anything substantial is to be enacted in the next session," he said. "It’s the long [60-day] session, where the biennial budget is the centerpiece — in fact, 95 percent of everything that’s important about the session is in the budget, as always. "Other issues may grab the headlines, but the budget is the sum and substance of state government."

Sabato said the vast majority of budget items will be uncontested, but there are others expected for hot debate — including Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s pre-kindergarten education program. "As usual, it will be a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing, or very little, in terms of legislative output," he said.

Del. Joe T. May, R-Loudoun County, agreed that pre-kindergarten is a likely target to be opposed by the GOP, especially with state of the economy. "I see it as self-limiting."

He said the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates still should be able to adapt — after all, they have had to work for the last six years under a Democratic governor.

The Senate’s 21-19 Democratic majority does not automatically mean the Republicans will not get their programs approved, May added.

After all, if two Democrats swing on an issue, the party no longer has its majority, he said.

"I’m mildly optimistic," May said. "It shouldn’t be too much to handle, and things tend to work out.

"We also got news that the [budget] shortfall appears not to be as as previously believed."

Shenandoah University business professor Clifford F. Thies said Virginia’s economy still should lead to some positive steps by the Legislature.

He said the concern should be what steps are taken under existing conditions.

"We need to ask the question, ‘Is doing nothing worse than doing the wrong thing?’" Thies said.

He noted that several programs tend to eat up the state budget. Those programs include Medicaid and Medicare, the state’s prison system, and the public educational system.

"Medicaid is out of control, and prison expansion also is a very large drain on the taxpayers," Thies said. "There also is a very significant obligation to public schools, but I expect that we don’t really have politicians this time making comments like, ‘Let’s lower class size.’"

He said the Legislature may be forced to look at ways for programs to "pay" for themselves.

The prison population, for example, generally is comprised of working-age men who are not adding to the work force, yet the state pays for them, Thies said.

He said the current tax system also needs to be adjusted to better reflect economic conditions.

Current rates, Thies said, are not meaningful because they do not reflect today’s economic picture.

Sen. Jill H. Vogel, R-Warrenton, said she expects a concerted effort in the Virginia Senate to consider all means to trim the budget.

She said Republicans have tried to hold the line on a number of issues, including keeping Virginia as a right-to-work state and keeping taxes low — and those issues likely will still be championed by the GOP in 2008.

Vogel said economic conditions may be a wake-up call to legislators, forcing them to trim budget requests as much as possible.

George Mason University political science professor Tim Conlan said the economy likely will make things rocky, regardless of whether the Democrats had taken control of the Senate or if it had remained under a GOP majority.

"It’s going to create a more difficult Legislature," Conlan said. "What I will be expecting is more artful budgeting, and then to pass on [the budgetary crisis] to the next administration."


Is Writers Guild strike starting to crumble?

Strike or no strike, Carson Daly's back at work on "Last Call." But what does this mean?

Is it the first crack in the dam that has kept late-night talk shows in repeat mode since Nov. 5 in support of the writers walkout?

Is Daly the canary in the mine shaft, about to take pent-up heat as the first talk-show host to cross the picket line? Is this an effort to save jobs at a show that, while in strike-imposed hiatus, was threatened with layoffs by NBC?

Is Daly thumbing his nose at the strike by inviting volunteers to record jokes on his voice mail for playback on the show?

Whatever the case, it's a cinch that the half-dozen other late- night shows will watch with interest, and perhaps longing, as "Last Call" returns Monday night (12:30 a.m. on KUSA-Channel 9). While none so far has announced plans to follow suit and tape new shows without their staff writers, pressure will surely continue to mount as the strike enters its fifth week.

One pressure point: ABC News' "Nightline" has been closing the ratings gap with reruns of the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on NBC and CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman," which was beaten by "Nightline" in total viewers the week of Nov. 12.

"Last Call" is primarily an interview show with musical guests. Also part of the formula: a monologue or other comedy bits (the show normally has three staff writers).

The Writers Guild of America, which is striking over payment for work distributed over the Web, blasted "Daly's call for non-Guild writers to provide him with jokes." (NBC declined to comment on Daly's "joke hotline.") Issued late Tuesday, the statement also complained that Daly "is not a writer and not a member of the WGA, unlike other late-night hosts who have all resisted network pressure and honored our writers' picket lines."

But there is precedent for late-night hosts to reclaim their duties during a strike — even another host named Carson.

The 22-week writers strike that began March 7, 1988, plunged "The Tonight Show" into reruns for two months. Its restless host, Johnny Carson, returned on May 11. As a nonmember of the Writers Guild, he was free to write his own monologue, and did.

"I just could not stay away any longer from all things that are going on in the country," he told his audience, then joked that the picket line he crossed was "weird": "The writers are out there holding up these signs, and there's nothing on them." By the end of May, Carson got welcome assistance. A special agreement with the Writers Guild brought the show's dozen writers back to work.

Letterman wasn't so lucky. Months of "Late Night" reruns came to an end June 28 with his return. But he, too, was deprived of his writers — and, as a Writers Guild member, was barred from writing material himself.

This time, Letterman's behind-the-scenes support has extended to paying his nonwriting staff, as well as that of "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" (which Letterman also produces), at least until the end of the year.

NBC's agreement not to lay off "Tonight" and "Late Night" staffers lasts only through this week, with any further employment yet to be decided, according to an NBC representative.

So maybe Daly was trying to safeguard the jobs of his staffers, which he has. Meanwhile, back on the air, he's unlikely to bad-mouth his network bosses.


Labor-state teachers union in the driver's seat

The last time the Oregon Trail School District entered into contract negotiations three years ago with the Wy’East Education Association (WEA), most people know what the outcome was: a strike that divided the school district and the community.

As the two prepare to negotiate once again, the message from both sides is clear: Things will be different this time around.

“I think that it would be very nice to set a model for the rest of the state,” said Sena Norton, president of the WEA, which represents teachers, counselors, nurses and other certified staff in the school district. “I’m hearing of other places that are very close to going what we went through. It would be nice for Oregon Trail to be suddenly the model of how it can work well. Out of a bad situation comes something that we would be very proud of.”

“I want to make it work because we learn a new way of dealing with one another so that it’s infectious,” said Ken Bucchi, director of human resources for the district. “That way when the negotiations are over, we don’t go back to anything, we just move forward and better what we just did. After we sign the contract is way more important than during it.”

Negotiations are expected to start in mid-January for a new contract that will start at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. The length of the contract will be determined during negotiations.

Many changes have occurred in the district since the previous negotiations, including a new district superintendent, Shelley Redinger, and the addition of Bucchi.

“Shelley is the reason this whole pace has changed,” said Bucchi. “Shelley brings more than a breath of fresh air; she brings a cyclone of fresh air to this whole thing. She really is all about how do we support and encourage the best teachers we can develop.”

The teachers union’s negotiation team has met every other week and will soon meet every week in preparation for negotiations. The team is composed of two representatives each from the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Team members this year are Steve Snow and Yvonne Stave from elementary schools, Emily Alexander and Tim Zielke from middle schools, and Ramona Nichols and Bill Pence from the high school.

“We’re looking over our entire contract. and our goal is to put together a contract that is going to best serve the needs of the kids of the district by serving the needs of the teachers in the district,” said Snow, who also serves as chairman for the union’s bargaining team.

The team recently completed a survey of its 237 union members to gauge what issues are most important to them for this round of negotiations. The union also gathers information through its executive council, building representatives and various committees, although Snow declined to identify specific issues identified by the survey.

“It’s very important that you listen to those members, and we do,” said Norton. “We know what’s important from them directly from their mouths, what they’re dealing with that might not be known.”

Bucchi noted that when the teachers’ team comes to the table to meet with the district, it will be treated with respect and be given a complete picture of the district’s financial state. He also believes that transparency will bring the union into the fold and make negotiations easier.

“I honestly believe that if the union knows as much as we know about the dollars, they’re going to want to do the right thing with the dollars,” said Bucchi. “I think we’ll all be on the same page if we approach it that way.”

The district is also in the process of reviewing the previous contract and finding places where changes can be made. Bucchi sees a number of areas where the previous administration may have been a little too strict and has already found areas to improve.

“It’s not because we’re being great guys, it’s because I know from experience what works and what doesn’t,” said Bucchi. “There are just things I can find we can loosen up on and be fair and treat teachers as professionals they are.”

Only three of the seven board members served during the strike in 2004, but the current composition of the board has impressed upon the teachers a desire to understand their needs and situation.

“I do see a board that is willing to hear information and use that information,” said Norton. “That’s a positive.”

“They do really care,” said Bucchi about the board. “I think they really do want a radical change in the relationship; they want a good relationship.”


AFSCME boss rebuked at County Board meeting

About 30 Knox County (IL) union employees picketed outside a county board meeting Wednesday to protest the 2.5 percent wage increase being offered to them by the county. Negotiations are ongoing between the county and members of AFSCME Local 1047, which includes workers at the county nursing home, and Local 3217, the county sheriff's department.

AFSCME Council 31 staff representative Randy Lynch tried to speak to the County Board about his concerns with the contract during a public comment period during the meeting but was rebuffed.

Lynch said he objects to the county board giving "a blank check to the state's attorney's office" to hire private investigators over allegations of wrongdoing by county officials. But board chairman Allen Pickrel stopped him, saying, "We're not going there."

"I think it's my right as a citizen to say it," Lynch responded, but Pickrel retorted that the comment was "out of line," and Lynch sat back down.

The nursing home contract is not about to expire, but union officials are exercising an option for a "wage re-opener," which effectively reopens the contract to renegotiate pay scales. The sheriff's department contract is up Nov. 30. Neither group is allowed to strike.

The only sticking point is the 2.5 percent wage increase county officials are offering employees from both groups, Lynch said.

"We can't accept 2.5 percent," he said. "It's not fair. . . . We're just tired of it. We sit back and watch the Knox County Board squander the people's money."


AFL-CIO: Striking nurses must protest, not negotiate

Striking registered nurses and their supporters rallied outside of Appalachian Regional Healthcare headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky this afternoon.

Members of the registered nurses union hit the picket line two months ago after their contract with ARH expired. A bus of about 50 union members from Beckley headed to Lexington this morning. A few nurses remained on the picket line at Beckley ARH. They believe the rally in Lexington is necessary.

Jennifer Cantley a member of Union Local 201, says, "We're just trying to get out there and show our support for the union and let the public and everyone know what this strike is about. Patient safety, mandatory overtime, that's what it's all about."

NBC Six asked Rocco Massey, CEO of Beckley ARH his thoughts on the Rally in Lexington. Massey says, he believes the negotiations should be more important than a rally. Continued negotiations have been scheduled for 9 AM Friday.


Judge Bogas rules, strikers declare victory

Declaring victory in a 3-year labor dispute with Massey Energy, members of the United Mine Workers of America say they expect to return to their jobs soon.

Today the miners tore down a picket shack across from the Mammoth coal mine near Smithers, West Virginia, where they had been protesting Massey's refusal to hire them after it bought the mine from Horizon Natural Resources.

The miners said they were being discriminated against for their union membership, and earlier this week an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board agreed.

Judge Paul Bogas said Richmond-based Massey should let the 85 miners have their jobs back and begin collective bargaining with the union. Massey plans to appeal the ruling. William "Bolts" Willis, head of UMWA Local 88-43, which represents the miners, said the union is confident it will win any appeal of the ruling.


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