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On the picket line

May 11, 2001 | Page 15

University of Wisconsin
University of Vermont faculty

Hawaii teachers
By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

HONOLULU--On April 25, 13,000 teachers throughout Hawaii settled a 20-day strike that shut down the public school system, from kindergarten to college. Teachers and professors had worked the previous two years without a contract.

The settlement came after teachers were guaranteed a 4 percent pay hike during the 2001-2002 school year and a 6 percent raise the following year. Additionally, teachers will receive a one-time payment of $1,100 for each of the two years that they worked without a contract. Teachers with master's degrees would receive an additional 3 percent raise, and those with doctorates would get an additional 6 percent. Professors ended their strike two days before the teachers when they agreed to 12 percent salary raises over the next two years.

Hawaii's teachers rank 18th among the 50 states when it comes to pay. This is much too low to keep up with the cost of living in Hawaii, which is 20 to 30 percent higher than in the mainland U.S.

The wage issue helped to generate an enormous amount of community support for strikers. According to news reports, teachers received cash donations, bottled water, umbrellas and lots of food on the picket line.

That support put pressure on Gov. Ben Cayetano to seriously negotiate. A few days into the strike, Cayetano ordered the state to stop payment on its share of premiums for the teachers' health plan.

But the solidarity of the teachers--99 percent of teachers and 91 percent of professors went out and stayed out--forced the state to concede. Even Cayetano had to admit, "I was impressed with the resolve of our teachers."

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LOS ANGELES--A possible strike by movie and television screenwriters was narrowly averted by a last-minute agreement May 4. Negotiators for the Writers Guild of America, which represents some 11,000 members, locked horns with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in contract talks that lasted several weeks.

The deal will bring in $41 million more for writers over the next three years. This falls short of the $100 million the union wanted, but the Guild won other important gains. Screenwriters won increased payment for foreign sales and forced the Fox network to pay the same rate as other major networks.

The union failed to win two critical demands: residuals for reruns on cable of network shows like ER and a revision of the payment formula used for work sold on videocassette and DVD. Only the threat of a strike forced producers to negotiate at all. In fact, industry bosses were so afraid of a strike that they stockpiled shows and filled program schedules with writer-free, reality-based shows like Survivor.

Guild members will vote on ratification of the contract June 4. And Tinseltown is sure to face more fights, with the contract for 135,000 movie and television actors set to expire July 1.

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University of Wisconsin
By Mike McHugh, AFSCME Local 171

MADISON, Wis.-- Nearly 100 workers and students rallied on Cinco de Mayo to support 24 Latino workers who were fired by the University of Wisconsin (UW) in April. The UW administration has admitted that the employees were singled out because their names "sounded Latino." The workers were sent letters demanding that they provide documentation of their legal immigration status.

When union leaders went to the administration to ask for an extension on the deadline, the workers were fired the next day. The firings happened just days after hundreds of state workers and UW students packed the State Capitol to protest Gov. Scott McCallum's proposed budget.

The plan calls for increasing tuition while offering state workers a measly 1 percent "raise."

At the rally, Mark Thomas, president of AFSCME Local 171, which represents the fired workers, accused UW of "racial profiling." "It's the public support we've received that is forcing the university to deal with this at all," Thomas said. "We're gonna have to keep pressure on."

"As long as workers live in fear of deportation, unscrupulous employers will abuse their rights," South Central Federation of Labor President Jim Cavanagh said.

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University of Vermont faculty
By Helen Scott, member, UAV

BURLINGTON, Vt.--Faculty at the University of Vermont (UVM) voted in favor of forming a union in mid-April. The faculty will join United Academics of Vermont (UAV), which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors.

The election was close, with 53 percent casting a ballot for collective bargaining. The victory followed an intensive yearlong campaign--and before that, two previous union drives. Support for a union grew out of recent unpopular moves by the administration, including attacks on health care benefits and a faculty "buyout" that left many departments understaffed--and remaining faculty overworked.

"I became interested in a union when I realized that the compensation package and working conditions under which I was hired weren't guaranteed," said faculty member Nancy Welch. "When I realized that the administration could unilaterally cut our health care benefits, I began to pay attention to how little voice faculty have and how much the university was acting like a corporation."

UVM service and maintenance workers are already represented by the United Electrical Workers (UE). Andrew Tripp of the UE said faculty unionization was a "huge step forward" because "what's bargained by one group gets passed on to everyone else."

Two other union drives are likely in the near future--among part-time faculty, who are excluded from the UAV bargaining unit, and among clerical and technical workers. UAV members realize that they still have a fight on their hands. The closeness of the votes means, as Welch put it, "We need to keep convincing people that a union is in our best interests."

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