Feb. 27, 2004, 11:58PM

Grocery workers tally damage

Chains mostly win California dispute

New York Times

LOS ANGELES — With a tentative deal reached to end a 138-day dispute involving 59,000 supermarket workers in California, many union members complained Friday that the settlement gave no raises and meant a lower wage tier and skimpier health plan for new hires.

Grocery workers said they were delighted about returning to work even as they grudgingly acknow-ledged the three supermarket companies involved in the industry's longest and largest dispute had emerged largely victorious.

Under the three-year deal reached Thursday, the companies achieved much of their goal of cutting costs at their 852 Southern California supermarkets so they could compete better against nonunion Wal-Mart.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union was pressured into settling for considerably less than it had hoped because of financial hardship to the striking and locked out workers. The grocery companies also were hurt, losing more than $2 billion in sales as many shoppers refused to cross the picket lines.

"Both sides lost in important ways, but the union did lose more," said Ruth Milkman, chairwoman of the University of California Institute for Labor and Employment.

Organized labor had sought to transform this dispute into a crusade to protect health plans. But many Wall Street analysts had urged the three companies — Albertsons, Kroger, which owns Ralphs, and Safeway, which owns Vons and Pavilions — to hang tough to reduce their costs.

Under the two-tier plan, wages for new workers will range from $1 to $2.80 less per hour than for current workers, whose wages average about $25,000 a year. In addition, new hires will have a less generous pension plan than current workers and will have to pay $450 a year on average in health premiums, while current workers pay no premiums.

All this means that wages and benefits for new hires will average about $4 an hour less — $8,000 per year less for full-time workers — than for current employees.

"You're not going to be able to make a career out of it anymore," said Kerry Renaud, 50, a produce worker earning $17.90 an hour at a Vons supermarket in Hollywood. "We get squeezed, the big shots make more money, and Wall Street likes it."

But union officials said they had achieved their main goal, to prevent management from creating a far worse health plan for current workers and new hires. Union leaders said they had persuaded the companies to contribute more toward health coverage than management had originally planned.

"It's a great deal because we were able to preserve affordable health care," said Connie Leyva, president of one of the seven union locals involved in the dispute. "That is huge. These are still good jobs."

With Wal-Mart planning to open 40 combined supermarkets and discount stores in Southern California over the next five years, the three chains said they badly needed to cut labor costs.

Labor leaders said that the union members' truculence in the dispute, and their pressuring consumers to shop elsewhere, would discourage other companies from trying to scale back health coverage.

The grocery chains fear they will have a hard time luring back their customer base.

"I've gotten in the habit of shopping here," said John Wright, 57, as he stood outside a Trader Joe's store in Silver Lake. "The milk is cheaper and better. I never crossed the picket lines, and Vons is going to have a hard time getting me back."

Safeway's workers went on strike on Oct. 11, and the next day, Albertsons and Ralphs locked out their employees.

Many picketing workers and many labor leaders criticized the food and commercial workers' union for not making adequate preparations for a long dispute and for not realizing how hard the companies would fight.

The ratification vote is scheduled for today and Sunday. Under the new lower tier, union and company officials said, supermarket clerks and new cashiers will begin at $8.90 an hour, down from the $9.80 starting salary in the old contract. Their top pay will be $15.10 an hour, down from $17.90 for current workers.

Management will contribute $1.10 an hour for health insurance for new hires, compared with $3.80 for current workers. Management had sought to limit those contributions only to workers who joined the health plan, but agreed to make those contributions for all workers.

The union persuaded management to contribute nearly $190 million to a reserve fund to protect the health plan. And workers will receive a lump-sum payment of about $500 in the contract's first year and third year.

For many workers the dispute meant weeks of misery. No longer able to afford child care, many said they left their children alone when they served their four hours on the picket line for $25 a day.

For Immediate Release:                                  February 27, 2004


Statement of the United Food and Commercial Workers International President Doug Dority On the Southern California Strike/Lockout


Today, I am pleased to join with the officers of the seven Southern California UFCW local unions in their announcement of a tentative agreement in the longest major strike in the history of the UFCW, the largest and longest strike in the history of the supermarket industry, and the first major strike of the 21st century.


It is also one of the most successful strikes in history.


After five months, the picket lines remain strong, our members remain united, and customers continue to honor the workers' picket lines costing the supermarket conglomerates billions of dollars in revenue.


Every day, support for the fight for affordable health care grows stronger. Community and religious leaders have put their bodies on the line in acts of civil disobedience. There have been scores of arrests from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay area to Baltimore, Maryland. There are daily rallies, demonstrations, picket lines and handbilling from Seattle and Portland to Washington, DC. The Southern California supermarket strike has become a national cause.  


The men and women on the picket lines are genuine heroes. Their sacrifice for affordable family health care has motivated and activated workers across the nation. I am honored to be part of their union, and I am humbled as well as inspired by their dedication, strength and selflessness.


These members will never be forgotten. They will always be honored and respected. We owe them a debt of gratitude. They have sent a message to employers everywhere that attempts to eliminate health care benefits will come at a high price. Workers will not sit idle as their families are denied health care protection. Workers will stand united and fight for health care.


In Southern California, workers were given no choice but to fight. UFCW members have never faced, nor has any UFCW-represented employer ever made a more extreme or drastic demand—a demand that would have effectively eliminated affordable health care benefits, as did the supermarket employers in Southern California. The UFCW, its local unions and its members rose to the challenge. The employers never believed that workers could sustain a five-month strike. The employers completely underestimated the determination and fortitude of their employees.


Through their struggle, the striking and locked out workers have performed a service for the whole country. They have sounded the alarm for all of America—your health care benefits at work are at risk. If the supermarket giants—profitable, growing Fortune 50 mega-corporations—can launch an attack on health care benefits, then every employer is sure to follow. They have sounded the alarm that the American health care system is ready to collapse.


In one year, over 2 million lost health insurance. That's over 6,000 workers a day.


The fight here has given us a national call to action.


We must have national health care reform. No one company, no one union, no industry or group of workers alone can fix the health care system.  We can patch it up. We can protect our members for another contract term, but the system continues to falter, exacting an increasing cost on both workers and employers and leaving more and more families without health care.   


Now is the time for action. 2004 is the year to put health care reform on the political agenda and demand that every candidate for office commits to comprehensive, affordable health insurance for every working family.


No worker should ever again be forced to choose between a paycheck and health care benefits. No worker should ever again be forced into the streets for five months to protect health care for their families. 


The UFCW will lead the fight for health care reform. And, I believe, with members like our Southern California members—the UFCW will win that fight.


Feb. 27, 2004, 11:58PM

State OKs proposal to fill teachers gap

Plan would allow temporary certificates


AUSTIN -- A refugee from corporate America could be at your child's chalkboard this fall under a controversial program that would allow school districts to grant temporary teaching certificates to qualified college graduates.

The measure, approved last fall by the State Board of Educator Certification, survived a vote Friday by the State Board of Education. The education board voted 8-7 to reject the rule, but 10 votes were needed to kill it.

The program is expected to be in place by May, pending a final vote by the certification board.

Teacher groups derided the proposal for two-year certification, saying it would create "instant teachers," but business and anti-tax groups supported it as a way to address chronic teacher shortages.

The traditional way to become a teacher is to earn a college degree in an academic subject that includes education classes. Many districts also have alternative certification programs that allow graduates to complete additional college courses while teaching.

The temporary certificate would allow college graduates who can pass teacher exams and a criminal background check to teach in grades 8 through 12, bypassing the usual educator preparation programs that take time and cost thousands of dollars.

The temporary certificate would be valid for two academic years, after which the district would have the option of issuing a permanent certificate.

School districts must provide the educator certification board with evidence it will offer support to the new teachers, including mentoring, pre-service training and ongoing professional development. Critics complained the board would have no authority to act if the districts fail to follow through with the training.

During the discussion that preceded Friday's vote, most board members who opposed the rule explained why they thought it should be rejected. In contrast, none who backed the rule said why they supported it.

"Poorly prepared teachers produce poorly prepared students," said Alma Allen, D-Houston, who voted to reject the rule. Board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, voted against rejecting it.

"Clearly they (the supporters) knew they were going to (prevail)," said Richard Kouri, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association. "They just let everyone who was opposed to it have their say and then quietly cast their seven votes and from a minority position made this rule go into effect."

Kouri said he thinks the number of professionals who apply to be teachers will depend on the state of the economy this fall.

Ron Kettler, interim executive director for the certification board, said the rule probably will receive final approval at an April 2 meeting and go into effect later that month.

"We are sad for the schoolchildren of the state of Texas. They will have untrained teachers in their classrooms, and parents won't even know it," said Lauren Whelan, a government affairs attorney with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Schools would not have to notify parents their child's teacher has a temporary certificate.

Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond said the rule will attract people with expertise to the classroom.

"In too many cases now, we have teachers who are certified to teach but lack depth of knowledge in the subject matter they're teaching," said Hammond.

The state's 290,000 teachers earn an average of $40,000. Teacher groups maintain there are more than enough certified teachers to fill the classrooms, but many have left teaching because of the pay and working conditions.

Gayla Lawson, an assistant professor of education at the University of Houston-Victoria, said rural districts that have teacher shortage problems won't have the resources to adequately train novice teachers.

The Houston Independent School District plans to keep dealing with uncertified teachers the way it has since 1986, when HISD opened its own alternative certification program, district spokesman Terry Abbott said.

Each year, about 800 college graduates pay $3,750 apiece to enroll in the HISD certification program, he said.

"It's provided our district some very fine teachers over the years," he said. "We'll just have to see how (the decision) affects the number of teachers coming into our program," Abbott said.

Gayle Fallon, president of the 6,800-member Houston Federation of Teachers, said she doubts the board's decision will have much impact on the number of people seeking teaching jobs.

"Where do we have these hordes of people who want to compete for jobs where you're treated and paid as badly as public schoolteachers?" Fallon said.

Spring Branch Independent School District and other Houston-area school districts said loosened requirements for college graduates to teach without certification will help prevent any future teacher shortage.

But Spring Branch ISD will still give priority hiring consideration to certified teachers, said Edna Moore, administrator for human resources.

The majority of the district's 1,700 teachers are certified, especially those in specialized fields of bilingual education and math classes, she said.

"It's also difficult to know immediately whether the decision could conflict with the No Child Left Behind requirements which are even stricter," Moore said.

But where the new state rule could help would be if more experienced teachers decide to retire before a June 30 closing of a federal loophole in Social Security rules.

"We won't know until teachers notify us at the end of the school year if they've decided to retire," Moore said.

Chronicle reporters Jason Spencer and Jo Ann Zuñiga contributed to this


  Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

  March 4, 2004, 12:00AM

Teachers union accuses HISD of ignoring violence


Houston students are becoming increasingly hostile toward their teachers because HISD administrators don't enforce the district's discipline policies, a teachers union leader said Wednesday.

The Houston Federation of Teachers based its conclusion on a survey of 2,012 middle and high school teachers. Elementary school teachers weren't surveyed.

A Houston Independent School District spokesman disputed the union's findings and criticized its survey methodology.

Nearly 75 percent of teachers reported being verbally abused by students, and 15 percent said they'd been physically assaulted on campus. At the same time, only half said their principals always or sometimes send students with serious disciplinary problems to an alternative campus, as required by law.

"The school district, while not violent, is in danger of becoming violent because of lack of enforcement," said Gayle Fallon, president of the union that represents about 5,300 of HISD's 12,000 teachers.

School board President Karla Cisneros said she has not seen the survey but plans to review the results.

"I'll find out more," she said. "I expect that everyone from HISD is following the law."

Fallon said the survey bolsters the union's contention that HISD officials are not doing enough to protect teachers and are fostering a "culture of disrespect" among students.

"We were told we were exaggerating," Fallon said. "I don't think so."

HISD spokesman Terry Abbott said the union's survey was unscientific and "designed to get teachers to answer a certain way."

The survey, distributed by union representatives, included biased remarks about the district, Abbott said. The top of the survey begins: "HISD has refused to acknowledge that some of our campuses are failing to comply with the Safe Schools Act ... "

A telephone survey conducted earlier this school year for HISD by Florida-based Market Research Insight more accurately reflects teachers' opinions, Abbott said. The firm anonymously questioned 406 teachers at all grade levels, he said.

That survey, which claimed a 5 percentage-point margin of error, found that 89 percent of HISD teachers feel safe at school and are satisfied with the district's efforts to keep them safe. It also revealed that 71 percent of teachers feel safer at their school than in the surrounding neighborhood.

Fallon said teachers answered the union's survey more honestly.

She also compared Abbott's response with that of former HISD Superintendent Rod Paige, who sternly warned principals to follow disciplinary policies after a previous union survey yielded similar results.

"His (Paige's) response was not to put out a press release saying 2,012 teachers lied," Fallon said.

 Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle