Strike is not a word in Henrietta Vann's vocabulary. "I can't say that word -- it's not good," said the airport employee, a member of the union representing the city's blue-collar workers. "People lose so much." Vann, who has been on strike before, was just one of the dozens of members of Local 1510 seated last night in a dimly-lit room on the seventh floor of the District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees headquarters. Vann and her fellow union members gathered for the first night of "strike training" -- preparations for a possible strike by the city's blue-collar and white-collar workers. The unions voted earlier this month to authorize a strike should their leaders deem it necessary. Negotiations with the city broke off because of disputes over cutbacks in medical benefits which the city says it cannot afford. The unions have not set a deadline for a strike and still have not resumed negotiations with the city, but Mayor Edward Rendell's Chief of Staff David Cohen said last week the city can implement its last best contract offer if no agreement can be reached. Should the possibility of a strike become a reality, training is necessary to ready the union members, said Dwight Kirk, a spokesman for District Council 33. "If a strike occurs we want to be prepared," he said. "We want [the members] to know we will do everything we can to help them endure and survive a strike. It would be irresponsible to just send them out on picket lines." Enter Thomas Burke, an international education trainer for AFSCME. Burke told the members of the union's rank-and-file that to prepare for a strike they must change the way they conduct union business. "We're reorganizing the union for the purpose of conducting a strike," he told them. "[Regular union] committees don't make sense when you're going on strike." "On day one of the strike, every one of you should know exactly what their role is," Burke added, as he stood next to an easel on which he had printed "MAXIMUM ORGANIZATION. MINIMUM CONFUSION." with a black marker. The training session was the first of three this week. A third of the locals were trained last night, including the airport workers, crossing and prison guards, and water department workers, and the rest will be spread out over tonight and tomorrow night. District Council 47, the white-collar union, will train its members soon, Kirk said. Holding preparation meetings does not mean union leaders are saying a strike is in the immediate future, Kirk added, and other members seated around the room agreed. "It's not a bad sign," Vann said. "It's something that people should be trained for and be made aware of." "I want the people to know exactly how to go about what it takes to formulate . . . to show the people what to do," said James Chisholm, another airport worker.Comments powered by Disqus
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