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On the Picket Line

July 6, 2001 | Pages 14 and 15

Washington state workers
Wisconsin state workers
Bay Area Rapid Transit
International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6
Movie and television actors
Hayward, Calif., bus drivers


by DOMINIC RENDA, CWA Local 1105

NEW YORK--Some 2,000 Verizon workers and their supporters rallied outside the company's headquarters last month to protest management's defiance of the contract won during last summer's strike.

"By focusing its energy on violating workers' rights and trying to bust the union, Verizon is letting workers and consumers know that it can't be trusted," Communication Workers of America (CWA) President Morton Bahr told the crowd.

Verizon workers also protested in Baltimore, Dallas, Cleveland and Denver. At the Baltimore demonstration, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, "Verizon agreed to our demand and made a commitment not because they wanted to agree, but because your strike was successful. Today, we come together because it's a commitment that hasn't been fully achieved."

Verizon agreed last year to be neutral to CWA efforts to organize the corporation's wireless division and Verizon Information Services (VIS). Management also agreed to card-check recognition--meaning that a Verizon workplace would become a union shop after a majority of workers sign cards.

But management has gone back on those commitments. Verizon has set up a 30-page antiunion Web site that criticizes union dues and claims that the union will try to trick workers into signing authorization cards. Also, VIS waged an illegal union-busting campaign that included surveillance; prohibiting workers from discussing the union, even in non-work areas; and threatening that sales incentives and internal promotions would be lost if they unionized.

After VIS workers in seven offices won card-check recognition, bosses met with employees one-on-one and held mandatory meetings to convince some to write letters voiding their cards.

Currently, of 40,000 workers at Verizon Wireless, there's only one organized unit of 48 technicians in New York City. Of 11,000 workers at VIS, only 621 in New England are organized.

As a Verizon Wireless telemarketing representative from New Jersey put it: "We want a future, not a constant struggle, knowing that you will be axed eventually for not working overtime and so forth. We need some kind of real organization."

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Washington state workers


OLYMPIA, Wash.--A strike by Washington state workers ended in partial victory last month.

A first-year pay raise of 3.7 percent was included in the state budget, while the increase for the second year of the biennium was left open. Gov. Gary Locke's original proposal included raises of just 2.2 and 2.5 percent. There were also minor gains in health insurance benefits, although the goal of placing a cap on employee insurance premium contributions was not achieved.

This is the first time both public employees unions--AFSCME's Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)--ever struck together.

WFSE members demonstrated their commitment by voting 79 percent in favor of strike action. Nora Strothman, a gardener at the University of Washington, explained why.

"My colleagues at virtually every other public institution in the Puget Sound area are paid 30 to 40 percent more that I am. It used to be great working for the state. Decent wages, good benefits," Strothman said. "But all that has changed in the last 10 years as the legislature, even during the 'good times' has eroded our salaries and benefits to balance their budget."

Job actions began with rolling strikes--shutdowns at individually selected work sites.

One of those sites was the Port of Vancouver, Washington. "Nobody crossed the picket lines," said Bob Stamp, a port grain inspector. "When the longshoremen stopped, it shut down the port. The solidarity blew my socks off."

The strike action culminated with a statewide strike of 7,000 workers on May 24. At the University of Washington Hospital, about 100 union members received disciplinary letters for participating in the strike.

But union officials, as well as members, were glad that the strike happened. "I don't think there's any question we gained," remarked WFSE Executive Director Greg Devereux. "If we had just stood pat, I think we would have gotten 2.2 and 2.5 percent."

The spirit of the strike left little doubt that there's a sense of increased solidarity and fightback among state workers.

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Wisconsin state workers

by MIKE McHUGH, AFSCME Local 171

MADISON, Wis.--Several hundred Wisconsin state employees and supporters rallied for a fair raise on June 28, the last payday under the current contract. The crowd picketed outside the State Capitol, then went in and filled the Capitol rotunda with deafening chants of "No pay? No way!"

State workers and students rallied in April against Gov. Scott McCallum's budget proposal, which called for a 1 percent raise for state employees--essentially a wage cut in disguise--as well as a tuition hike for University of Wisconsin students.

Just days before the latest rally, the Republican-controlled assembly presented a proposal for a complete wage freeze; increases in employee costs for health insurance; an end to length-of-service checks; and a so-called "paycheck protection" provision to take away the political voice of union members.

Meanwhile, as speakers at the rally noted, McCallum and his lieutenant governor have pay increases of 7 percent and 15 percent, respectively, for themselves.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the Wisconsin State Employee Union--AFSCME Council 24--has expressed support for a wage freeze in exchange for health insurance benefits for retirees.

But workers are not falling for this divide-and-conquer strategy. More actions are being planned to put pressure on the state administration and the union leadership, including a July 26 rally at the governor's mansion. We want a fair raise now!

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Bay Area Rapid Transit


SAN FRANCISCO--As Socialist Worker went to press, unions representing 2,200 transit workers at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) asked Democratic Gov. Gray Davis to declare a 60-day cooling-off period to avert a strike.

Rather than granting the cooling-off period, Davis took the unprecedented step of appointing a three-member panel to arbitrate the dispute. This panel will advise Davis in as week as to whether he should impose the cooling-off period or potentially arbitrate a contract.

While leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, representing train drivers, and SEIU Local 790, representing mechanics and station agents, asked for Davis' intervention, they have set a dangerous precedent by agreeing to work beyond their contract. Davis could use his unorthodox intervention in the strike to force unions to accept a weak contract. In fact, the smallest of the three unions, which represents technical employees and supervisors--AFSCME Local 3993--protested the governor's involvement, but decided to go along with the other bigger unions.

Management tried to provoke a strike by offering 2.5 percent raises for three years and a 3 percent raise in the last year of a four-year contract--less than half the cost of inflation in the Bay Area. Management also wants to restrict the grievance procedure, extend probation for new hires and cut overtime pay.

The union originally asked for a 30 percent raise over four years, but has bargained down some since then, while management has refused to budge. It claims that rising electricity costs have cut into its budget. Yet ridership is up from 235,000 per day in 1997 to 355,000 per day this year, while BART ticket prices were raised by almost 50 percent in the mid-1990s.

In 1997, weeks after the national United Parcel Service strike, a six-day strike won significant wage and work rule gains for BART workers. Thousands of riders signed petitions supporting the strikers and San Francisco State University students demanded that the administration allow them to miss class for the duration of the strike.

This time, management hopes to scare the union into taking a bad deal.

Davis' seven-day delay should be used to prepare for a strike. Should the 60-day cooling-off period be invoked, the unions and their supporters will have to prepare to give the bosses a taste of their own medicine.

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International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6


SAN FRANCISCO--Rank-and-file activists in International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 6 won an important victory last month when the union's International executive board ruled to reinstate business agent Fred Pecker.

Pecker was unconstitutionally removed from office by Local 6 leaders eight months ago. Local 6 members waged a campaign against an attack on the democratic rights of the membership by Local President Roberto Flotte and Secretary Treasurer Hector Valdivia.

Pecker was brought up on trumped-up charges of campaigning for election to the International executive board on "union time." Two other business agents, Reina Ratcliff and Jill Duke, were also suspended. The three had been elected--and their removal was an attack on union democracy.

The past eight months saw several rank-and-file mobilizations, including plant gate leafleting and rallies at the International office in San Francisco. Several other locals in the union passed resolutions in support of the fight. On occasion, Flotte and Valdivia called the police to shut down union meetings.

In February, the local executive board removed them from office and replaced them with Larry DeGateano as president and Fred Pecker as secretary treasurer to serve until the regularly scheduled elections in November. But International President James Spinosa refused to recognize the removal of Flotte and Valdivia.

The executive board reached a compromise that reinstates Pecker with back pay from this past May, but considers him suspended the previous six months without pay. Pecker is appealing this decision while Flotte and Valdivia remain in office. Ratcliffe was reinstated with full back pay, while Duke's case will be decided by mediation.

Nevertheless, this struggle shows that an attack against the membership by unscrupulous officers can be beaten back by a determined fight from a mobilized rank and file.

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Movie and television actors


LOS ANGELES--The contract between the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and movie and television producers is set to expire July 1.

Negotiations have bogged down over the residuals to be paid to actors by cable networks. There's also disagreement over the minimum payment to actors: the unions want a 5 percent raise, while producers are offering 3.5 percent.

Union leaders have been playing down talk of a strike, without ruling it out. "It is never easy to negotiate with AMPTP [Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers]," said SAG's chief negotiator Brian Walton. "And this time is no exception. They have the thinnest salami slicer in the world. Ultimately, however, they need a deal with the actors' unions, and they might as well get one now--rather than painfully later--and we and they know that."

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Hayward, Calif., bus drivers


HAYWARD, Calif.--School bus drivers for the Durham Transportation Co. said "yes" on June 29 to a union. Despite a $150,000 campaign by the company against the organization effort of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 78, drivers voted 86 to 60 in favor of joining.

The company hired a vicious "labor consultant" firm which randomly intercepted buses (full of young children), harassing drivers and berating them to vote against the union.

"There is very low pay," union organizer Astraea Kelly said of the driver's working conditions. "[Drivers are] held up to five weeks unpaid during training."

Two days before the vote, some 40 workers and 15 supporters picketed outside the company gates. Additionally, five of the six mechanics voted to join Mechanics and Automotive Trades Union Local 1173, making the Hayward yard a union shop.

According to Teamsters Local 78 organizer Skip Joaquin, in the last two years, his local has led 14 successful unionization drives, resulting in a total of 560 newly unionized workers.

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