On the picket line
April 27, 2001 | Pages 14 and 15
MINNEAPOLIS--Northwest Airlines and the union representing mechanics and maintenance workers reached a tentative agreement April 9 after almost five years of negotiations. The 4-year deal, covering 9,600 members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) Local 33, is a mixed bag.
Mechanics would receive a 24.4 percent pay increase, pushing senior mechanics to $33.05 an hour--tops in the industry. Northwest will also pay mechanics an average $10,000 retro bonus--instead of a retroactive raise for the 54 months of contract negotiations.
AMFA had pledged to reject the lump-sum bonus that Northwest pilots and flight attendants accepted--and to hold out for a retroactive pay raise. But with Rep. Jim Oberstar, (D-Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, warning AMFA leaders that failure to settle would likely lead to Congress imposing a settlement, the union backed down.
Northwest mechanic Michael Krieg told reporters that he would vote yes on the deal. But "[i]t's really a restoration of things, not a victory," he said.
Mechanics, pilots and flight attendants all gave Northwest massive concessions in 1993 to keep the airline out of bankruptcy. But despite a quick turnaround, when negotiations came around in 1996, Northwest bosses stonewalled all employee groups. Northwest didn't settle with its pilots until the Air Line Pilots Association struck for two weeks in August 1998, costing Northwest millions.
Northwest mechanics were prepared to walk March 12 after a 96 percent strike authorization vote. But in a show of loyalty to the bosses, President Bush called on a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to take over stalled negotiations.
The 1,500 Northwest cleaners and custodians represented by AMFA are less enthusiastic about the contract. Cleaners are upset that the percentage of their raise is far below that of mechanics. O.V. Delle-Femine, national director of AMFA, claims that the disparity is natural because skilled mechanics are in short supply but there are plenty of people looking for cleaners' jobs.
Actually, the disparity reflects AMFA's craft-union bias. In its successful raid on Northwest mechanics that ousted the International Association of Machinists, AMFA tried to exclude cleaners from the bargaining unit.
Ballots on the tentative agreement will be counted in early May, and AMFA officials are pushing for ratification. But mechanics and cleaners rejected a tentative agreement between the IAM and Northwest in June 1998, before joining AMFA--and may yet decide to reject this deal.
ATLANTA--Pilots at Delta Airlines reached a tentative agreement with management as Socialist Worker went to press. The deal averted a strike that was set for April 29. However, the 9,800 pilots could still walk if the deal is rejected in balloting that is expected to take about a month.
Capt. Charles Giambusso, chair of the Air Line Pilots Association's (ALPA) Delta Master Executive Council, called the deal "an industry-leading agreement." The five-year deal provides for raises ranging from 23.8 percent to 34 percent, while pilots at the low-fare Delta Express subsidiary would get raises of 62.8 percent in exchange for flying more hours.
The company also agreed to limit the number of regional jets it can fly to 57--a crucial issue for ALPA since airlines have typically used the regional jets to shift routes to lower-paid pilots in subsidiaries like Delta Express. Under the proposed contract, Delta can only add more regional jets if it expands its main operations under a formula specified in the deal.
The key to winning this concession from management was pilots' determination to fight--as evidenced in a 97 percent vote in favor of a strike. In 1996, pilots gave Delta big concessions to keep the airline out of financial trouble--concessions that ALPA says were worth more than $1 billion.
Despite a threat by President Bush to ban all airline strikes, Delta pilots rejected binding arbitration at the end of March, starting a 30-day cooling off period and a strike deadline. After announcing the settlement, management said it was starting new negotiations in an ongoing strike by pilots at Delta's other subsidiary, Comair.
LOS ANGELES--Strikers at Hollander Home Fashions are staying strong despite the company busing in scabs six days a week and the hardships of living on a small strike fund. The more than 400 workers, represented by UNITE, have been on strike since March 8.
Hollander is making big profits off its LA plant, which makes pillows and other home products for stores such as JC Penney and Ikea. But most workers--even those who have been with the company for decades--don't make a living wage. The strikers want a decent raise, a retirement plan and an end to abusive working conditions.
Workers have traveled to Hollander plants in other cities to spread their strike. In April, strikers went to factories in Georgia and Pennsylvania where contract strikes have broken out.
The Hollander workers need this support. Unfortunately, the AFL-CIO hasn't done enough to build support in LA, letting the mayoral elections overshadow this important battle for the immigrant labor community.
Hollander is refusing to make a reasonable offer. Insultingly, management's response to demands for retirement benefits has been to offer to bring in financial consultants to "teach the workers how to save money."
Hollander workers don't need consultants. They need a fair and just contract.
SAN FRANCISCO--The latest in a series of short-term strikes at Bay Area hospitals heated up in April when cops arrested 17 workers for protesting outside the California Pacific Medical Center. The members of Service Employees International Union Local 250 were arrested when they crossed a barrier that the hospital put up during a noontime rally and sat down on the hospital steps.
California Pacific is owned by Sutter Health, which has held out from settling through five strikes, ranging from one to three days, at a dozen hospitals in the Bay Area. The latest walkout was postponed earlier in the month after Sutter made some concessions around staffing issue. But typically, Sutter reneged on the offer.
Staffing has been the central issue at all of the Bay Area hospitals that have seen strikes. But there are plenty of other unresolved issues, including retroactive pay and an end to subcontracting.
"They want to separate us from all of the rest of the hospitals as far as when the contract gets renewed," shop steward Ken Brookes told Socialist Worker. "It's inevitable we're going to have to go back out."
Brookes expressed disgust at Sutter's sick priorities. "It's a shame," he said. "With all the money they spent to replace us during the strike, they could give us what we want."
Despite Sutter's tactics, Brookes is confident. "They feel they can hold out longer than we can. I think we can hold out--the union is here to stay," he said.
NEW YORK--Teaching and research assistants at Columbia University filed for a union representation election in late March. Graduate Student Employees United (GSEU) presented the National Labor Relations Board with an overwhelming majority of signatures in support of a union election among Columbia's 1,100 TAs and RAs.
This union drive comes in the wake of last year's successful organizing effort at New York University (NYU), the first private university to negotiate with a union representing graduate employees. Organizers are planning for a union election before the end of the spring semester.
But Columbia is gearing up for a fight. Administrators are trying to exclude as many graduate employees as possible from the bargaining unit.
Among the key issues are wages and health care. TAs and RAs don't receive stipends or guaranteed wage increases and pay high out-of-pocket costs for health coverage.
Most of all, GSEU members want the right to have a real say about their workloads and working conditions at Columbia. As Kim Phillips-Fein, a history graduate student, put it: "It's a question of democracy more than anything else."
NEW YORK--More than 200 students turned out for a National Student Labor Day of Action to support local union drives in April. The event highlighted the successful fight of New York University (NYU) teaching assistants to join the United Auto Workers and the struggle of workers at local green grocers who are trying to affiliate with UNITE Local 169.
The rally culminated in a march against East Natural, a green grocer close to NYU that is staunchly antiunion, pays its workers less than minimum wage and forces them to work upwards of 70 hours a week. American Federation of Teachers Local 3882, Latinos Unidos Con Honor y Amistad, Jobs with Justice and Students for Social Equality also participated in the event.