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Labor in brief

May 25, 2001 | Page 15

New York City teachers
Bay Area Rapid Transit
New York City workers
Olympia workers



COVINGTON, Ky.--"[Comair pilots] have worked three years without a pay increase and the company has just lapped up those profits happily," pilots spokesperson Paul Lackie told reporters.

The 1,350 Comair pilots, members of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), voted 1,042-99 on May 12 to reject a second contract offer, continuing their strike. ALPA members are asking for a pay increase, lower insurance premiums, a better retirement plan and shorter workdays. Starting pilots at the regional carrier earn just $16,000 annually, while putting in 14-hour days.

Pilots walked out on March 26, costing Comair's parent airline Delta more than $1.5 million a day. The offer, mediated by the National Mediation Board, didn't satisfy the pilots' retirement demands and lengthened the workday. "That was a slap in the face to the pilots," said ALPA chair J.C. Lawson.

Negotiations for this contract began in 1998, with management stalling all the way. In 1999, pilots began a work slowdown, grounding planes for minor repairs--including broken coffeepots.

Comair bosses have laid off more than 2,000 non-striking employees, sold 36 aircraft and threatened to close down for good. "If a settlement is not reached on the terms that preserve Comair's ability to compete and grow," Delta President and CEO Frederick Reid threatened, "Delta will be forced to look at other ways to utilize the assets at Comair."

With Bush in office, the airline bosses feel they can take a harder line with workers. And Delta bosses may decide Comair's demise is a price worth paying to stop airline worker militancy.

That's why Comair pilots need the support of every worker and passenger in their fight.

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New York City teachers

by DAVID RAPKIN, member, UFT

NEW YORK--Some 25,000 angry New York City teachers rallied at City Hall on May 17, after waiting more than six months for a new contract.

Members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and their many supporters--including hundreds of parents and representatives from about 20 other unions--shut down Broadway and screamed their disgust for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has refused to negotiate in good faith. Teachers looked determined in black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Shame on City Hall."

The giant demonstration took place as most other municipal workers, members of AFSCME District Council 37, were intimidated into ratifying a new contract that includes merit-pay provisions. Giuliani is demanding that the UFT also allow individual merit-pay clauses in any new contract.

A majority of teachers, however, would likely refuse to ratify such a contract, despite the fact that UFT President Randi Weingarten has said that she would ask her members to accept some form of merit pay. At several points during the rally, Weingarten desperately flapped her arms in an appeal for quiet, as unruly teachers chanted, "No merit pay!"

Many teachers openly said that they were willing to strike and complained that UFT leaders hadn't even taken a strike authorization vote at this late date. "Almost no one at my school would vote for a contract with merit pay," Bob McCue, a dissident shop steward at Park West High School, told Socialist Worker. "People know that merit pay would be the beginning of the end of the union."

As Socialist Worker went to press, the city and the UFT were at an official impasse in negotiations. UFT leaders declared June 5 a "deadline" for a new contract, which the mayor dismissed with "Deadlines just don't work with me." Weingarten's response was to assure the city, "This is not about threats."

"But threats are exactly what we need to be making right now," said McCue, echoing the views of thousands of teachers. "If we aren't willing to strike, we won't be able to beat Giuliani and win a fair contract."

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Bay Area Rapid Transit


SAN FRANCISCO--A county judge tossed out a criminal complaint by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) management against Service Employees International Union Local 790 member Ray Quan to the cheers of about 40 workers and supporters on May 14.

Quan's trouble began when he printed a picture in the rank-and-file newsletter he edits of a publicly funded BART truck sitting in the driveway of a former manager--70 miles from work.

BART officials retaliated by claiming that Quan was "stalking" the manager. The judge rightly ruled that the charges against Quan were frivolous and, taking a jab at management's transparent attempt to victimize a well-known militant, added that management's "fragile sensitivities" could not be the basis of a prosecution.

Despite the ruling, Quan remains suspended without pay, pending the outcome of a contract-mandated arbitration hearing. Quan has worked at BART for 20 years and has served as a vice president in his local as well as chief steward for the mechanics' shop.

During BART workers' victorious, two-week strike in 1997, Quan played a crucial role organizing pickets, community support and holding out for better terms on the bargaining committee.

Now contract talks are beginning again. The rank-and-file newsletter, Oaktown News, called the attack on Quan "a pre-emptive strike…They are taking steps to eliminate an outspoken worker like Ray, and to make us think twice about opposing the takeaway contract that they want."

"The judge's decision today shows that when we all stick together, we can win," Quan told supporters outside the courtroom.

Workers are distributing a petition to demand that BART bring Quan back to work and agree to end the arbitration process on the basis of the judge's decision.

E-mail messages of support or requests for more information to [email protected]

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New York City workers


NEW YORK--Despite a bitter debate among union leaders, city workers in AFSCME District Council (DC) 37 overwhelmingly approved a new contract on May 14.

Negotiations nearly broke off shortly before the agreement was announced. The presidents of three big locals among the 56 represented within DC 37 were holding out against a "merit-pay" clause.

Merit pay will give management the power to pick which of DC 37's 137,000 workers get additional pay increases. As one leaflet supporting a "no" vote on the contract pointed out, merit-pay hikes certainly won't be awarded to union activists.

In the end, workers chose to accept merit pay in exchange for an immediate 8 percent pay increase. The wage hike is desperately needed by workers who have been without a contract for more than a year--and suffered through a two-year wage freeze under the previous contract.

DC 37 Executive Director Lee Saunders, chief negotiator Dennis Sullivan and other top union leaders enthusiastically endorsed the contract, repeatedly claiming that the union's contract with the city has always had merit-pay provisions.

But the deal strips the union of any say-so in the process. At a local meeting, Local 768 President Helen Greene--while stopping short of calling for a "no" vote--challenged "anybody who tells you merit pay isn't a defeat or isn't something new."

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was willing to give up the wage increase to get merit pay--which he is now trying to force on teachers.

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Olympia workers


OLYMPIA, Wash.--More than 30 city workers, members of AFSCME Local 618, picketed City Hall on May 15.

Local 618's contract with the city expired in January. "We've not gone to these extremes in the past," said Jean Wright, a 13-year union member.

Workers concerns include diversity in the workplace, hiring of temporary workers and weak protection for injured workers.

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