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On the picket line

June 8, 2001 | Page 15

OTHER STORIES BELOW
American Airlines
U. of Washington
Washington state workers
UNITE
Chicago teachers
WBAI

Boeing

ST. LOUIS--As Socialist Worker went to press, 3,200 machinists at Boeing's military division here were preparing for a June 3 contract vote that could lead to a strike.

This is the aerospace giant's second contract offer in a month at the St. Louis facility, which was run by McDonnell-Douglas until Boeing acquired the company four years ago.

Boeing's deal with International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 837 members expired May 20. At a meeting that day, members were so frustrated with Boeing's initial offer that they shouted down union leaders who were trying to explain details of the contract and forced them to allow an immediate vote.

Management's deal was overwhelmingly rejected, and members set May 28 for a strike.

"Once I read the contract, I couldn't believe the union even brought it to us," Kathy Heller, a spray painter at the plant, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "That was the loudest, most boisterous union meeting that I've ever been to."

Union leaders postponed the strike for a week while they sat down with the company again May 30.

Members feel that Boeing should give workers at the military division in St. Louis the same raises, signing bonuses and health care and pension benefits that Boeing workers at the commercial aircraft division won in 1999.

Workers are also outraged at the company's plan to reduce the number of job classifications to a few "job families," giving supervisors flexibility to use workers across jobs. They know this would mean layoffs.

Boeing has reduced the St. Louis workforce from 24,000 in 1998 to 15,200 today. The new contract will also affect about 1,600 previously laid-off machinists.

Boeing claims that its deal is on par with other contracts in the defense industry, such as the one at Lockheed Martin. The company is currently competing with Lockheed to win a $300 billion contract from the Pentagon, which would include production of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Boeing wants to show with this contract that it's lean and mean. But workers see no reason why they shouldn't get a contract on par with Boeing's commercial division--and many are willing to fight for it.

St. Louis workers struck in 1996 against McDonnell-Douglas, before Boeing came into the picture. And they're fighting mad today.

"If you'd seen the attitude on the shop floor, everybody is ready," said Kevin Killoren, a sheet metal assembler and riveter, at the May 20 vote. "They're ready to fight this company to get equality. I've been here 15 years, been through five contracts, and I've never seen the union members so strong together."

Few details of the new offer were available at press time. Union leaders were recommending that members approve the deal, citing "substantial improvement was made in wages and other areas."

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American Airlines

by LEIGHTON CHRISTIANSEN

DALLAS--The board of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) unanimously rejected binding arbitration May 30, opening the way for a strike at American Airlines July 1.

"We have tried everything possible to get a new contract, we have narrowed our differences," said APFA President John Ward, "but the company has still not been willing to put the money on the table that is needed to get the job done."

The 23,000 flight attendants have been working under an old contract since November 1998.

Starting flight attendants make just $15,000 per year. APFA is seeking wage increases that bring workers at American more in line with unorganized flight attendants at Delta, the industry leader in pay.

The National Mediation Board approved a 30-day cooling-off period for American workers before a strike and scheduled more talks for June 5.

In February, APFA members voted 96 percent in favor of a strike. American flight attendants last struck for five days in 1993, before President Clinton convinced them to accept arbitration.

The APFA is well aware of President Bush's threat to stop all airline strikes this year. American contributed more than $180,000 to Bush's presidential campaign in 2000.

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U. of Washington

by NAT GIBBONS

SEATTLE--About 1,200 teaching assistants (TAs) went out on a long-awaited strike at the University of Washington (UW) on June 2.

Most TAs at UW are represented by the Graduate Student Employee Action Coalition/United Auto Workers.

Issues include pay raises, health insurance, workload, and family, sick and unpaid leave. The union is demanding the right to exclusively bargain a contract for all of UW's TAs, whether they signed union cards or not.

Last winter, UW averted a walkout by making a deal in which it told TAs that it would work with them to lobby the state legislature for more funding, but it would not recognize their bargaining unit.

When the legislature failed to address the issue, TAs voted 1,061-100 to strike during finals week.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Washington State Labor Council pledged support at a rally on June 1.

Kristen Inteman, a UW TA and bargaining team member, said that teachers and students are showing their support, despite costly union-busting tactics by the university. In addition to clouding the issues in the press, UW has "presented its side" with e-mails to students, ads in the university newspaper and mailings to every student.

TAs say they're staying out until their demands are met.

Just across the street at the university bookstore, workers are taking heart as they organize with the longshore union.

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Washington state workers

by STEVE LEIGH and BRIAN HUSEBY

SEATTLE--More than 7,000 state workers across Washington struck for a fair budget on May 24. The one-day walkout--which united the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Washington Federation of State Employees--was the first statewide public workers' strike in 20 years.

Workers are demanding cost-of-living increases, continued health coverage and no layoffs in social service programs.

"It's not acceptable to hand out $2.7 billion in tax breaks to the state's corporate citizens and then turn around and tell state employees that there is no money in the budget to pay them a livable wage," said Jim Crowe, a member of SEIU-CSA-925 at the University of Washington.

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee and King County Labor Council Executive Secretary Steve Williamson addressed a rally at the University of Washington in Seattle. Workers there picketed the main campus, several hundred came to a noontime rally and, later, 500 workers occupied a street.

In the capital of Olympia, picketers targeted key state agencies and surrounded the legislative building.

In November 2000, voters approved Initiative 732, which tied teachers' salary increases to the cost of living in the Seattle area. Gov. Gary Locke responded by de-linking teacher salaries from those of other state workers.

"This creates factions so that we need to battle each other for resources," striker Steven Dublin told Socialist Worker. "We are not out here to take anything away from social programs."

Workers joined by students effectively shut down Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Although the strike only lasted a day, it was a large step forward. The action created a new unity among the public employees' unions as well as other union members who honored the picket lines.

The legislature is going into a new special session. If it doesn't come up with a good budget, more strike action will be necessary.

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UNITE

by LAURA DURKAY

NEW YORK--A multiracial crowd protested May 25 Henry's restaurant in support of a union drive at New York's industrial laundries.

Henry's gets its linen cleaned at Quality Linen, one of several industrial laundries that UNITE has been fighting to organize for more than a year. Workers, who are largely minorities or undocumented immigrants, are paid minimum wage and face dangerous working conditions.

Workers from all over the city turned out to show their solidarity.

But before the demonstration had begun, a protest organizer chased down the restaurant's flustered owner, who agreed to sign a letter stating that he would cancel his contract with Quality Linen and switch to a union company!

"Restaurant owners are vulnerable," said UNITE organizer Wilfredo Larancuent. "Sometimes just the threat will turn them around."

But activists know we have a fight ahead--to win decent working conditions for the more than 4,000 laundry workers in New York.

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Chicago teachers

by JESSE SHARKEY, Associate delegate, Chicago Teachers Union

CHICAGO--In a major upset, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) president Tom Reece was unseated by challenger Deborah Lynch-Walsh.

Reece's faction, the United Progressive Caucus, had run the 35,000-member union since the 1960s. Reece just finished his third term after defeating Lynch-Walsh in two previous elections.

The May 18 vote was widely viewed as a referendum on school reform.

By his admission, Reece had collaborated with the school board to carry out an aggressive school restructuring. Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas even tried to throw the election to Reece by granting teachers a one-time, 1 percent raise just four weeks before the election.

But teachers, who have watched their job security and standard of living go down for the past decade, had a surprise--they voted 12,220 to 9,158 against him.

Now teachers are waiting to see how Lynch-Walsh handles the opportunity to clean house. Big challenges lie ahead.

The city is set to announce that it is hiring Edison Schools--the for-profit school corporation--as "management consultants" for the city's lowest-performing high schools.

Lynch-Walsh will have to rebuild the strength of stewards--known as delegates--which has declined since the days when the union struck regularly.

But turning Reece out of office can only help put the CTU--the third-largest teachers' union in the country--in a position to show that teachers can fight and win.

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WBAI

by PETRINO DiLEO

NEW YORK--Pacifica Radio network executives took another shot at their WBAI affiliate, but exiled workers, media activists and listeners are continuing to fight back.

On May 18, management pulled the popular syndicated program Democracy Now! off the air. Pacifica said that airing a program hosted by Amy Goodman, an outspoken opponent of the network's move to the right, would be counterproductive to their fund drive.

But despite calls, letters and protests, the station hasn't promised to reinstate the program after the fund drive.

Activists reacted by stepping up their fight. Last month, Michael Palmer, a hard-liner on the Pacifica board, was forced to resign after activists threatened a day of action against his employer, the national real estate broker CB Richard Ellis.

"That was a huge victory for us," said Pete Korakis, a member of listener group Concerned Friends of WBAI.

Pacifica also had to withdraw threats to sue listener-based Web sites that have spoken out against the corporate takeover.

Nor have they silenced Goodman. She and fired members of the WBAI show Wake Up Call have begun a daily "WBAI in exile" Webcast that airs from 6 to 10 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at www.wbix.org.

Meanwhile, WBAI's fund drive is floundering. Apparently, the fund drive boycott called for by fired workers is having an effect.

For continued updates on the struggle, go to www.wbaiaction.org.

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