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On the picket line

July 20, 2001 | Page 15

Lockport Memorial Hospital
Power-One International
Renee Strauss

Berlin Health and Rehabilitation


BURLINGTON, Vt.--Supporters of nursing home workers at Berlin Health and Rehabilitation are organizing for a July 28 march to show that they've had it with CPL SubAcute's corporate greed.

Nurse's aides and kitchen and maintenance workers at the home voted last August to join United Electrical workers union Local 254. They were the first nursing home workers in the state to win a union election.

But CPL, a Canadian multinational, won't come up with a first contract. Management says it wants to keep its 20 U.S. facilities nonunion--even though its homes in Canada are all unionized.

The 120 union workers at the Berlin home work for poverty wages in dangerously understaffed conditions. On nights, there's often only one nurses' aide to take care of 52 residents.

Meanwhile, CPL is raking in the profits. The company is using $400-an-hour union-busting lawyers from New York City and Los Angeles to intimidate, harass and threaten workers--and all at taxpayers' expense, since more than 80 percent of CPL's revenues come from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating 27 separate labor law complaints against CPL.

The Berlin workers have wide support around the state. It's time to turn that support into action--and march for workers' rights on July 28.

The July 28 march begins at 1 p.m. from the intersection of Church and Pearl Streets.

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Lockport Memorial Hospital


LOCKPORT, N.Y.--On a quiet street in this old canal city near Buffalo, members of the United Professional Nurses Association (UPNA) are on the picket line.

Some 125 nurses at Lockport Memorial Hospital walked out July 6 in a strike over forced overtime and understaffing.

The nurses say that management deliberately leaves holes in the nursing schedule, pressuring them to "volunteer" to work shifts of up to 20 hours. "You could be there from 7 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the morning, and the next day, you have to be there again," one surgery ward nurse said.

The constant understaffing is having an effect on patient care. "With new moms, we're not in there long enough to teach them to wash a baby," said one nurse. "A patient's dying, and you don't have time to go in and talk to the family."

The nurses and administrators have been negotiating since February, sometimes with a federal mediator. The union called the walkout after management offered a $400 onetime bonus instead of pay raises and added staffing.

In response to the strike, administrators have transferred patients and shut down most operations except emergency and outpatient procedures. They're starting to lay off hospital staff in big numbers, including members of three other unions--CSEA, UAW and PEF.

But other union workers are supporting the nurses, visiting the picket line and attending a July 12 rally and picnic across from the hospital. "This struggle isn't just ours, it's everyone's," says UPNA president James Huff.

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Power-One International


ALLSTON, Mass.--The Power-One International plant here closed its doors July 9, throwing 265 workers out of a job. Over the preceding month, Power-One--the world's sixth-largest manufacturer of power conversion equipment--began laying off more than 3,000 workers at factories in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the U.S.

But in Allston, workers decided to fight back. They started a campaign to demand a fair severance package--since management was offering workers with more than 10 years on the job only four weeks' pay, and workers with less than five years only two weeks' pay.

On May 21, the workers, who don't have the protection of a union, held a one-hour strike to demand that the company provide one week's pay for every year of service.

"Most of these workers are Chinese immigrants, they don't speak English, many of them are undocumented, and they're facing one of the worst things that can happen to you--losing your job," said Jason Primas, an organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 925, which was asked to help in the fight. "And still they organized themselves. They were threatened with all kinds of things--arrest, deportation--but they fought back anyway."

Management responded with illegal harassment--threatening workers with firing and arrest. The Power-One workers took their case to the National Labor Relations Board and have since filed a second complaint for Chi Yao Wu, an assembly line worker who was suspended.

Management claims Wu threatened her boss. But workers say that the company was retaliating against Wu for her role in organizing the May 21 job action.

Power-One bosses had the gall to brag about their attacks. "This is not to say that [the threats] didn't happen, but we don't believe we did anything wrong," one PR flack told the Boston Phoenix.

Union activists in Boston agree that the courage and solidarity that Power-One workers showed won't be forgotten. "Even though they're going to lose their jobs," Primas told Socialist Worker, "there are now hundreds of workers who learned so much from this experience and became militant activists. They'll bring that militancy with them into the next jobs they go into."

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NEW YORK--Defiant chants of "Whose station? Our station!" rang out over the airwaves in late June as supporters of the free-speech fight at WBAI briefly managed to get on the air.

The protest took place as part of the WBAI Radio In Exile festival, organized at a Long Island arts center to protest management's censorship and antiunion attacks at the left-wing, listener-funded Pacifica station.

In defiance of management's gag rule, "exiled" personalities Mimi Rosenberg, Grandpa Al Lewis, Errol Maitland and others got on the air with Radio Free Eireann host John McDonagh for a few moments before the connection was cut.

"That was awesome," exiled volunteer Erin Burkavage told Socialist Worker. "It reached other listeners who may not have really known about what was going on at the station, and it showed them that there's this whole other side out there alive and growing."

The bitter battle at WBAI broke out last December when the Pacifica Foundation, which oversees the station, launched a purge of union militants and radical hosts. Pacifica bosses want to turn WBAI into a more corporate-friendly station--or worse, sell it off to a corporate network.

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Renee Strauss


BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.--About 50 people assembled in front of Renee Strauss for the Bride, an exclusive bridal shop catering to celebrities, on June 7 to rally on behalf of an employee who is owed back wages.

Ana Celia Romualdo worked for Strauss for three years. During that time, she often worked 12-hour days, not only fitting dresses but cleaning the store and Strauss' home. The unpaid overtime wages Strauss owes Romualdo amounts to approximately $9,000.

After attempting and failing to collect the back wages on her own, Romualdo was forced to file a wage claim against Strauss with the California State Labor Commissioner's office.

A settlement has not been reached due to Strauss's refusal to negotiate in good faith. Strauss has gone so far as to admit that she owes Romualdo thousands of dollars in unpaid overtime, yet refuses to settle on a dollar amount.

The Garment Worker Center and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles is representing Romualdo in negotiations. Demonstrators wearing makeshift bridal veils picketed the front of the store, with signs in English and Spanish demanding justice.

At the end of the rally, several protesters entered the store to present Strauss with an "invitation" to settle with Romualdo. Protesters vowed to picket the store until Strauss pays every cent she owes Romualdo.

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