Wed 9/17/2003 7:31 AM

HISD's crisis in integrity [Robert] Kimball's [Sept. 14 Outlook article, "Coming Up Short / HISD whistle-blower: Face up to dropout reality," giving an] accounting of the treatment afforded a "whistle-blower" in the Houston Independent School District, accurately reflected the treatment the Houston Federation of Teachers has observed when employees have attempted to report violations of policy and/or statute. The immediate reaction of the bureaucracy is to close ranks and cover up the problems rather than correct them.

In the process, the whistle-blower is subjected to the full wrath of the bureaucracy as it works night and day to discredit him or her. It is for this reason that the union generally takes the information from the employee and shields [his or her] identity from the administration while we publicize the issue.

In the Sharpstown [High School] dropout incidents, the other victim who attempted to report wrongdoing, [computer network specialist] Kenneth Cuadra, is a member of HFT whose major indiscretion was in believing that his administrators were fair and just people who wanted to get at the truth and resolve the falsification of state records. His belief is now shattered.

I do want to correct one inaccuracy in Kimballs' Outlook piece. While Kimball has faced thousands of dollars in legal bills, Cuadra is a union member, so the union has paid the bulk of his legal bills. While Cuadra is not facing debilitating legal bills, he has lost faith in the system that has dragged his name through the mud undeservedly. HISD has more than a crisis in record keeping, it has a crisis in integrity, which is far more serious.

Gayle Fallon, president,

Houston Federation of Teachers, Houston

  Sept. 18, 2003, 11:35PM

Attendants love job, but not pay Southwest calls for endto staged media events


Southwest Airlines recently insisted its unions back off its public pressure campaign so they could negotiate in private.

The union responded Thursday with a series of media events, including one in Houston, to pressure the carrier.

This appears to be another strain on the much-heralded Southwest Airlines culture.

After 16 months of negotiations between management of the Dallas-based airline and its flight attendants union, they've turned to a federal mediator for help.

Union President Thom McDaniel said while he's pleased the matter is going to mediation, he also suggested that having to bring in a third party is not in keeping with the culture carefully crafted by the low-cost leader.

"We've always talked about being one big family," said McDaniel, who lives in Houston. "But families sit down and talk and solve problems."

Southwest believes its flight attendants deserve a new contract and also pay raises, said Ginger Hardage, vice president of corporate communications.

"And we believe working through a mediator at the National Mediation Board will expedite our progress," Hardage said. "We believe we need to make progress at the negotiation table and really have a focus and eliminate any distraction."

Southwest Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Parker said in a letter to McDaniel earlier this month that the media events orchestrated by the union and its public relations firm have been "extremely detrimental" to the negotiation process.

"Negotiations are serious business, requiring serious people who are not performing on a stage for an audience," Parker wrote.

The executive told McDaniel he has negotiated many contracts, including contracts with every work group at Southwest.

"None has ever been successfully negotiated through the media," Parker wrote.

Hardage said Southwest has gone to mediation with other employee groups to hammer out a contract.

"We have used mediation several times in the past," she said.

It is not unusual for unions to seek publicity when attempting to pressure a company to offer a more favorable contract. This is particularly true when they think their demands will resonate with the general public and they don't have the clout of groups like pilots, who can shut down a carrier.

The union held just such an event Thursday at Hobby Airport, where Southwest carries more than 80 percent of passengers. The demonstrators continued to push the slogan "Working for free ... that's just `plane' nuts!"

The slogan refers in part to flight attendants having to clean cabins between flights without being paid, because the planes are idle, the union says. They get paid for the time the planes are in the air. The union contends flight attendants work for free more than 23 hours every month, or seven weeks a year.

That issue is among numerous others being discussed with management.

A mediator was assigned late Tuesday to handle the negotiations between Transport Workers Union Local 556 and Southwest's management.

During demonstrations, flight attendants complain about the current contract. But they also go out of their way to say they enjoy working for Southwest.

Flight attendant Becky Schrimpf said Thursday she just wants to make enough money so she doesn't have to work extra. She said she is assigned to work about 85 trips a month but has to work about 115 trips a month just to make ends meet.

"It's tough when you don't have an extra income," said Schrimpf, who is single. "That's not good quality of life because you are gone all the time."

Schrimpf, 26, a Katy native, had base pay of around $16,000 a year when she started at Southwest more than two years ago. She said that figure has risen to about $18,000 or so now.

"We all love our job and we want to keep doing it," she said. "We just need a little more. I don't want to do anything else. I just want to be a flight attendant."

Southwest presented the union with a proposal July 16, which McDaniel said was unacceptable. The union presented a counterproposal Aug. 7.

Parker told McDaniel at their last negotiation session that he was not willing to negotiate on a stage or in the newspapers.

"Whenever the Union is prepared to enter into serious negotiations, with a media blackout on both sides, we are prepared to resume negotiations," Parker said in his letter, dated Sept. 3. "If these terms are not acceptable to you, we are at an impasse and I am prepared to so advise the National Mediation Board."

He did.

Hardage noted that unlike many other airlines, Southwest has never had an employee furlough. The airline had no layoffs after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Many other carriers did.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  Sept. 18, 2003, 9:56PM

AFL-CIO head says goal to defeat Bush

Associated Press WASHINGTON

 -- AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced Thursday he will seek a new term in 2005, an early decision he said would allow the labor federation to concentrate on defeating President Bush in 2004.

"We face one of the single most antiworker administrations in decades, and we must focus our efforts on making sure that the next administration is one that values working people," Sweeney said.

The announcement comes well before the 69-year-old labor leader faces re-election to a new four-year term in summer 2005. The bid, if successful, would keep him in charge for 14 years.

An AFL-CIO vice president since 1980, Sweeney was first won the presidency in 1995 and has been re-elected twice.

Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson also plan to seek re-election, maintaining the status quo that some union heads said would be welcome in the run-up to the White House race.

Labor leaders agreed Thursday their energies would be better directed at pushing Bush out of office instead of a potentially divisive and bitter race for a new union president.

"We spend too much time thinking about things before they need to be, and the only thing that's worth spending time on right now is beating George Bush," said Andrew Stern, president of the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union.

"We need all the focus, the unity, the solidarity that we can put together," said Gerald McEntee, head of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Despite Sweeney's promise when he rose to the helm to increase union membership, it has since slipped almost 2 percentage points to just over 13 percent of the labor force.

He said his first priority is growth and organizing, with a focus also on immigrant workers' rights and broader cooperation with nonunion workers over issues like minimum wage and overtime.

Some union leaders have supported moving millions of dollars into politics and away from the AFL-CIO's general budget or organizing fund.

A federation of 64 labor unions representing more than 13 million workers, the AFL-CIO has yet to endorse a U.S. presidential candidate, and the large Democratic field could make it difficult to do so until the nominee becomes apparent. Only two candidates have landed an AFL-CIO endorsement during the primaries: Walter Mondale and Al Gore, both former vice presidents.

Stern said if the AFL-CIO announced its support for a candidate now, it would likely be Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, who has already won support from 12 unions.