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Friday, April 07, 2006

Pat yourselves on the back, ULW

There's a lot that needs to be said, but there is plenty of time to say it, so I will just highlight the important things here:

The provisions of the tentative agreement are in the process of being initialed by our lead bargainers. When that is finished, we will send out a complete copy to the members for your review. The Tuesday meeting will be for questions and answers and a lot of thank yous. A ratification vote will be held either at the Tuesday meeting or in the offices next week. Assuming that the contract is ratified by the membership and by the LAF Board of Directors, I will sign for the ULW and Dick for LAF.

That's the process. Here are the highlights on substance:
  • The hated health insurance "trigger" is gone. There is no zero option on the individual HMO premium as there was before 2003, but the percentage of the individual and family premiums paid by our members remains the same as in the 2003 imposed terms and conditions, and will not change over the life of the new contract. Of course, should health insurance premiums rise catastrophically, LAF still may come to the ULW and ask us to bargain with them to avoid layoffs or other negative measures, but we will be bargaining on an equal footing with management.
  • Every ULW member will receive at least a 3% raise each year of the contract. While we have not corrected the historical inequalities in salary among job classifications, management did respond to our demand that our most experienced non-exempt members not be given the shaft.
  • Members will be able to convert 3 sick days a year to take their child to the doctor. In other words, you will no longer have to take vacation. The exact details of this are being drafted. In our last BC meeting, Nicki Bazer dedicated this to the memory of Andy Cohen, who had pushed hard for this his entire time at LAF.
  • LAF will pay attorneys' ARDC dues for 2007, but not 2008 or 2009.
  • LAF acknowledges its responsibility to provide assistance to attorneys in meeting their MCLE requirements.
I'm exhausted, so if anyone on the BC thinks I've missed something, please chime in.

In my opinion, the management team bargained in good faith, listened to us and worked hard to understand and address our concerns, particularly on health insurance and salary issues. They deserve due credit for this, and I told Sheldon that I felt this way. Sheldon thanked me and said he felt that our team handled itself professionally.

But make no mistake (and I don't think anyone is)--this contract was won by the hard work, organization and support of our membership, making it clear to management that we would get a fair contract by any means necessary. Without it, we would not have gotten the deal we did. And now, if you will indulge me, I will quote Frederick Douglass on this point:
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.

-Steve Pick
For the United Legal Workers of Chicago

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Daily Bargainer: 4/5/06

The time we spent with management at the table last night was short, and even sweet, thanks to all the ULW members who came to support the bargainers, eat delicious homemade cookies, and play "Dick Hess Bingo."

Negotiations--if you can call them that--were sour, though. Although management found it important to reschedule the bargaining session from Tuesday to Wednesday, they didn't come to the table with anything new, much less the package proposal you would expect, given the extra time they had to prepare.

Although he came to the table empty-handed, Dick Hess's oft-reiterated theme for the night was "Let's finish this tonight." At least it was his theme until our lead bargainers made it clear that he needed to produce a salary chart that gave real raises to every ULW member. And with that, his resolve magically vanished.

Nicki Bazer, Jim Brady, Terrance Odom, and other members pressed Dick and the other management bargainers to explain why our longest-working members received the lowest raises. Several management bargainers took a stab at answering. And for once, the prize for Most Inane Management Comment of the evening didn't go to Dick, but to Mary Billington, for her "explanation": "There's a top value at every position. I can't explain it, I just see it at every level." Ah yes, the mystical approach to human resources. How wise.

Without further explanation, Billington's logic seems alarmingly circular: we pay you less because you have a limited value; therefore we limit your value by paying you less. So, how does LAF calculate this "limited value"? Is there a formula whereby your value to LAF is inversely related to your years of experience at your job? Or does Billington instead see herself continuing in the legal tradition of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who said of pornography: "I know it when I see it"? I'm sure we would all love to hear her clarify this staggeringly silly statement. Or explain why it doesn't apply to Sheldon Roodman and the other top earners at LAF.

Other things we learned from management: LSC funding is going down, LAF has less money, management is doing everything they can, Dick has never seen LAF's tax documents, etc., etc. The fact remains, however, that even as our funding decreases, the salaries in management continue to rise. Despite the ULW bargainers' repeated statements that the raises needed to be higher than in previous contracts, the raises in management's latest proposal aren't even keeping pace with the 2000 contract.

Frustrated, Hess asked, "Do you want Sheldon Roodman to take a pay cut so you can have raises?" The room erupted in cheers. It was perhaps the best question Dick has ever asked.

The rest of the discussion was a tug-of-war over what should be addressed next: salaries or the healthcare trigger. Dick Hess, channeling Carl Sagan, kept insisting that, "We have to be in the same universe" on these issues, meaning--as far as we can tell--that he wants the ULW to make yet another generous concession to management by accepting a dangerous trigger first, and crappy salaries second. Tempting.

The ULW bargainers, however, wanted salaries to be addressed first, because they matter most to the union membership. These two issues are intertwined, but it's management's turn to make a move.

There is some cause for celebration, believe it or not. Both sides have signed off on the language sections of the contract, which means that the money issues are all that's left on the table.

Bargaining resumes tonight in the GO Conference Room. The Picket Committee will be making picket signs in the lunchroom, so stop by and put your crafty skills to work for a good cause.

Deep Thoughts 6: The Emotional Side of Picketing

Lean back on Dr. Freud's sofa, and let's talk about some of the emotional aspects of picketing.

If you've never been on strike, we'd like to suggest to you that there are stages you may pass through if you walk a picket line.

Stage One: Exposure
For a while as you first walk, you'll feel kind of exposed. You may feel like everyone else on the street is watching you, and it'd be a whole lot more comfortable if we could picket in the comfort and privacy of the union office. It's natural nerves and will pass into the second stage.

Stage Two: Chatting
The feeling of exposure should subside as you realize that there's a bunch of other people stuck out on the street doing exactly what you are doing. And what you are doing isn't taking up all your mental efforts. The result? We'll talk, we'll gossip, we'll complain, we'll tell really bad jokes. Why, we'll have ourselves the biggest social hour you've probably experienced since high school. After all, when was the last time you hung out with so many people during the work day with your brain in neutral?

Stage Three: Be a Star
(With deliberate reference to Ethel Merman's performance of "There's No Business Like Show Business.") As picket duty goes on, we're all likely to turn into extroverts. After all, everyone passing on the street is our captive audience. And, we'll be looking for ways to entertain ourselves. Please help your fellow members control their more outrageous impulses if we reach this stage. The less outrageous impulses should be enjoyed.

Stage Four: Enter Determination
Stage Four will probably be more a mix of the previous stages, with quiet, stoic determination thrown into the mix every now and then. After all, now that half of the Loop has seen your impression of Ethel Merman, you're going to make this strike thing work.

In addition to your emotional response to picketing, you will bond with the people sharing the picket duty with you. As trite as it sometimes sounds, and as much as we may squabble among ourselves over little things, while we walk a picket line we will support each other more like brothers and sisters than like co-workers.

Doubt it? Ask the old-timers.

Strike Prep. Committee

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

John Edwards Supports Unions

Do you remember this email?

“I am very, very pleased to inform you that Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in the last election, has agreed to be the featured speaker at our annual luncheon. Mark your calendars now for June 26th.”

--Sheldon Roodman, via email [sent out Fri 2/10/2006 2:16 PM]

Isn’t it ironic that management would ask such a strong supporter of unions and the labor movement to speak at LAF's annual luncheon? How will John Edwards react when he learns of the labor conditions at LAF where (1) we haven’t had a contract for over three years, (2) have had to work under management’s imposed terms and conditions of employment, and (3) management still refuses to offer us a fair contract now? Would John Edwards cross a picket line to speak at LAF’s annual luncheon?

We can’t offer answers to these questions, but from all past indications, John Edwards falls squarely on the side of unions and we doubt he would cross any picket line. In fact, he and running mate John Kerry stated they would not cross a picket line, even to speak at the Democratic National Convention during their run for the presidency. This past February, Edwards was in Chicago supporting unionized hotel workers in their struggle for a fair contract!

If you would like to learn more about John Edwards or contact him to thank him for his support of unions, please visit: http://blog.oneamericacommittee.com/

Media/Communications Strike Committee
Lura Barber (Chair)
Terrance Odom
Eric Fong
Stephanie Villinski
Miguel Keberlein
Kate Shank
Sarah Biehl
Catherine Cornell

Monday, April 03, 2006

Quotes from the Bargaining Table

“LAF should strive to be the best agency in the country.”
-Dick Hess when asked by the lead bargainers if LAF’s salaries and pension plan are the best for ULW members.

“I don’t know the answer.”
-Dick Hess’s reply when asked if management proposal was similar to what Sheldon proposed to LAF’s Board. It isn’t. Management’s proposal on salary is well below what Sheldon even proposed to the board.

“The $940,000 is not on the table!!”
-Dick Hess’s retort when pressed as to why management won’t give meaningful raises, won’t raise the pension, won’t pay attorney’s ARDC dues, and keeps crying poor. The ULW bargainers responded emphatically that the $940,000 certainly is on the table.

“You’re on the wrong side of the fucking table!”

-Dick Hess to Diana White when White agreed with the ULW’s position that ULW members should be able to attend a broad range of outside trainings.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been unreasonable when someone comes to me.”
-Dick Hess explaining that he does not stop people from attending trainings.

“It’s my shit they hate. They like everything that you draft.”
-Dick Hess to Diana White when ULW bargainers questioned language Hess had drafted.

“I’m on drugs.”
-Dick Hess after becoming flustered with the difficult questions posed to him by the lead bargainers.

“We are not putting in something grieveable that we don’t want grieveable.”
-Dick Hess stating management’s position that they are still upset about losing an arbitration hearing to the ULW several years ago and thus are not going to expand any rights to grieve.

“I don’t even know the Ten Commandments.”
-Dick Hess when someone at the table made mention of not stealing from others.

“Under section 19, we are required to announce all open positions!”
-Dick Hess when discussing management’s proposal to be able to move attorneys from one office to another. The ULW has a pending grievance with management about management’s repeated failure to announce positions.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Daily Bargainer: Weekend Edition 4/1-4/2/06

Bargaining this weekend can be summed up in a few different themes. The first theme reflects the attitudes of management as expressed by Dick Hess: Management is the most important resource at LAF and deserves to be compensated much more than members of the ULW. When pressed by our lead bargainers as to why Sheldon feels he is entitled to a 13-14% increase in salary each year, while he only offers 1% raises to some in the ULW, Dick Hess responded that the “better people” are in management. Hess’s attitude might explain why, at the end of the day, management’s proposal to the ULW has only increased $11,000 in total from its initial offer.

The second theme of the weekend was that management wants to play favorites with the ULW. Management has been pushing and pushing for a way to open the door and rob the ULW of its seniority. In one section of the proposed contract, management wants the ability to give former LAF employees their seniority back if those former employees are hired back at LAF. (This was discussed in an earlier bargainer, so please refer back for more details.) At the table, our lead bargainers asked Dick Hess to explain this idea again and to say exactly why it was so important to management to try and manipulate the ULW’s seniority.

Hess’s typically long-winded explanation explained that if the agency becomes smaller and is forced to lay employees off, management should be able to pick and choose who stays and who goes. He gave the example of a woman working in the SSI project who leaves, does the same exact work at a private firm, and then returns to LAF. Hess believes that this person should not be laid off before someone who may have only been at the agency for three years because, “We need the best people in the agency.” He followed this up by declaring, “These are people that have been hired by us twice!”

Which led to some very poignant questions by our bargainers: If employees who are hired back are so valuable because of their experience, than why does management pay these “best people” less the longer they have worked here? Faced with having to answer to the absurdity of his own lengthy explanation, Hess couldn’t muster up the courage to do so. He was silent. Asked why management felt it necessary to put re-hires back on probation for up to nearly 2 years when these were people who “had been hired twice by us,” Hess again was unable to answer the question.

The third theme of the weekend was, “We hear you and we don’t care.” Management simply does not value the work of ULW members as a whole and they are willing to play games with us to force us out on the street.

On Saturday, the ULW bargainers worked diligently to negotiate language, counter-proposals, offer new ideas, and try and reach a middle ground on many of the issues on the table. In fact, the ULW has offered to give ground on EVERY SINGLE ISSUE on the table during the bargaining in order to reach a contract. Thus, the ULW agreed to return on Sunday and work all day with management, with the understanding that we would be “negotiating” all day towards reaching an agreement. Instead, at 1 pm on Sunday afternoon, Dick Hess came to the table and said, “We have heard all of your [ULW’s] concerns, both at the table and in sidebars. We worked all night and some of us were even here since early this morning and this is the best we are going to do. This is our last offer.”

And what is the last package offered? It is an absolute injustice and slap in the face to the ULW. Dick Hess ought to be embarrassed that he presented this travesty to the ULW with a straight face and pretended that management has heard our concerns even a little.

The proposal does NOT offer meaningful salary increases, and in fact, several ULW members would lose money after adjusting for cost of living. For those people who wouldn’t actually receive a 3% increase in salary, Sheldon would rather give them a bonus in the first year to make it appear that they have received a 3% increase in salary. This “bonus” is a one-time, tiny payout that isn’t even worth the time we’re spending to write about it. By giving a “bonus,” rather than an ACTUAL RAISE, Sheldon avoids increasing these workers’ salaries in year two. This is a loss on all fronts, and is an insult to everyone in the ULW, in particular the members most affected by this sham parity, some of the longest-serving employees at LAF.

Sheldon’s cynical attempt to placate us with pennies will not distract us from our goal of real, substantial raises for EVERY member of the ULW.

In addition to its failure to offer reasonable raises, management’s proposal does NOT alleviate concerns with healthcare costs and only complicates matters further. Management absolutely wants a re-opener in the contract on healthcare, since they realize that there is only a minimal chance that we wouldn’t be back at the table in year two. Not back at the table “bargaining” as management suggests, but back at the table being told how bad things are about to get for us. We would have absolutely NO LEVERAGE to stop management from playing with our healthcare. Management wouldn’t have the courage to open up the entire contract at that point, only the healthcare portion, and only for management’s benefit. This proposal shifts the burden and the risk of rising healthcare costs firmly onto the shoulders of the ULW’s underpaid members. Taken together, the salary and insurance “trigger” proposals offend any sense of fairness, and fly in the face of the economic realities faced by our members.

After Dick Hess proclaimed that management had given its best offer to the union, the ULW bargainers met for several hours to discuss our available options. We decided to try and take care of those issues that were basically agreed upon by the ULW and management and get those out of the way. This refers to the language sections of the proposed contract, including a provision giving “sick leave for kids”—the only bright spot in this weekend’s session.

When our lead bargainers went to Dick Hess and told him that we wanted to finalize the language issues, Hess responded that management wouldn’t sign off on anything unless it was a complete contract. Unfortunately for Hess, management is bound by the rules of bargaining. After all, we do work for a law firm and words such as “good faith” still have meaning. Twenty minutes later, Hess came to the ULW with a pained expression, saying that management believed it was legally bound to sign off on the language issues if we had reached agreement.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for Tuesday, April 4th, at 6PM in the GO conference room.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Daily Bargainer 4/1/06


Saturday, we met with management from 12-5. John Bowman, Midwest organizer for NOLSW was present, providing us with invaluable advice and counsel, although he suffered a few good-natured jibes from Eva King. Both contract language and money proposals were discussed.

Points of contention on language issues remained as before: financial support for nonexempt employees’ education, seniority for returning employees, probation for new attorneys and the ability to grieve certain outside hiring decisions. Management’s March 31 salary proposal was reviewed, as well as their proposal regarding reopening the sections of the contract on health insurance to force employees to pay greater percentages of premiums, copays, etc. Because we felt that we could make more progress this weekend, we agreed to bargain on Sunday.

While our core bargaining team dealt with management, members of the EC and strike committees met to review preparations. A fundraiser was tentatively set for April 20, with an exciting program featuring bands, a silent art auction and more. Procedures for distributing hardship funds were discussed, as well as the logistics of picketing, should it be necessary.

A number of members were present to support the bargainers and they have our thanks. I am cautiously optimistic that we will continue to make progress in bargaining, but I am unqualifiedly optimistic about the efforts of our union to make sure we are ready for anything.

Steve Pick, ULW President

Friday, March 31, 2006

A warm welcome...

...to all our readers in management at LAF. We know you're out there!

Rumor has it, in fact, that a some of Sheldon's top bargainers are ardent readers. Don't worry guys, that pain you feel as you read on is simply the pricking of your conscience.

Isn't it good to know we have fans in high places?

Daily Bargainer 3/30/06

On Thursday, March 30, the bargaining committee met twice with management. Negotiations took a nosedive when management began pushing its trigger provision regarding healthcare costs. The trigger provision that is now in the Imposed Terms and Conditions states that management can force the ULW back to the bargaining table if healthcare costs paid out to BlueCross BlueShield increase 10% or more in any given year. This provision gives management the power to force the ULW back to the bargaining table to negotiate the way healthcare costs are allocated across the agency.

Translation: we would be forced to pay higher premiums (something we never even agreed to in the first place) and higher co-pays, with fewer overall benefits. If we didn’t like it, our only recourse would be to go on strike at that time. This would happen each year at the end of November or beginning of December. Would we get anything in return? Absolutely not.

If we bargained the trigger, management wouldn’t allow us to negotiate any other area of the contract. For instance, they could tell the ULW that they want members’ co-pays pushed up to $50 on prescriptions and $50 on office visits. In return, the ULW would get nothing. That’s right--it would simply be a takeback by management that could occur each and every year of the contract!

As if having a trigger provision isn’t bad enough, management has proposed lowering it to 3%. That means that we would have reopened bargaining in each of the last three years--and doing nothing but giving back our benefits to management.

Management of course has not proposed any trigger mechanism for giving the ULW money back when the healthcare costs actually come in under the amount they have budgeted. Now that would be ridiculous! How would management get their raises then?

The evening session did not produce any better results than the afternoon, even though management brought in its heavy hitters: Dick Hess, Mary Billington, and Diana White. Oh yes, and Frank Avellone. After delaying for an hour, and then requesting a lengthy sidebar, management finally showed up at the table at 8:15 pm. Guess what they brought to the table? Another trigger proposal meant to give Sheldon free reign on takebacks from the ULW. After hearing management’s proposal for ten minutes, the ULW met and then presented management with two package proposals--a language package and a money package.

As has been management’s past practice, they are trying to push the ULW into a corner and then cry poor. Unfortunately for management, crying poor rings hollow when the agency is receiving nearly a million dollars in extra money this year and Sheldon Roodman will receive a raise of at least 13%--as he did in FY2004—-or more! In fact, Sheldon's annual raise this year will be more than a receptionist with nine years of experience would earn in all of 2006, before taxes, according to management’s salary proposal.

But guess whose gets hit the hardest when healthcare premiums and co-pays go up: Sheldon or a receptionist?

The ULW bargainers will be back at the table on Saturday. We hope that management will finally put forth a fair plan. Please make sure you keep yourself informed and prepared for a strike.