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On the picket line

August 3, 2001 | Page 15

New York Times
V&V Supremo Foods
Cement workers

Midwest Generation

CHICAGO--Midwest Generation is trying to starve some 1,150 strikers back to work with a rotten deal.

The workers, members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 15, don't have a strike fund--so management has all but refused to negotiate since the strike at seven plants began June 28.

And Midwest is trying to thin an already shorthanded workforce by seeking "flexible" work rules. "We were almost double the workforce 10 or 15 years ago," said striker Pat McLaughlin, who has worked at the plant since 1980. "It's getting to where it's forced overtime--before you could turn it down. Now, the numbers are down so low, if something goes down, we don't have enough manpower."

Midwest Generation workers have to step up the pressure on management and build solidarity with other unions.

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New York Times

NEW YORK--Some 200 people gathered last month to support the National Writers Union (NWU) in its protest against the New York Times' theft of writers' work.

For more than a decade, the Times has been publishing freelance writers' work electronically and reselling it to other media companies, who in turn make more profits off it. Freelance writers are asking to be compensated for the Times' multiple use of their material-and for a fair share in current and future sales of their work.

The NWU won a lawsuit over the issue earlier this year when a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the union.

But the Times has responded with threats and intimidation. Management is trying to force writers to sign a "retroactive rights" contract that waives their rights to all past and future sales of their work. Writers who refuse to sign are threatened with having all their work deleted from the company's electronic archives.

"No court in the land will give us our power," NWU President Jonathan Tasini told the crowd. "We're the only ones that can gain our power."

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NEW YORK--Anticorporate "pirates" torpedoed the plans of a Pacifica Radio board member to hold an idyllic booze cruise for his big business clients.

The July 13 protest in Manhattan's East River targeted the yacht of Pacifica board member Ken Ford, a department head at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The protest was part of a continuing campaign against the Pacifica board's pro-corporate majority and its policies of censorship and repression at the network's politically progressive stations, like New York's WBAI.

Ford has been a staunch supporter of various board power plays, which have included turning over protesters' names to the FBI. And the NAHB, a construction industry lobbying group, is notorious for attacking environmental protection laws, fair housing codes and access rights for the disabled.

So when it decided to host a lavish yacht excursion, a group of WBAI listeners confronted the posh party boat with a nautical picket line. Armed with a bullhorn, protesters cruised up to the yacht on a 25-foot fishing vessel and drowned out the cocktail conversation with chants of "Kick corporate Ford off the board!"

The high seas harassment of partygoers followed a protest three days earlier at NAHB's lower Manhattan offices.

Activists were galvanized into action in December when Pacifica carried out a purge of WBAI's most radical, pro-labor personalities. But since the protest campaign was launched last winter, four Pacifica board members have resigned, shrinking the pro-corporate majority to a mere 6-to-5 edge.

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V&V Supremo Foods


CHICAGO--V&V Supremo Foods workers were joined by union members, community residents and politicians for another rally in support of their strike that began in June. V&V Supremo workers joined Teamsters Local 703 in October, and approximately 90 workers voted to strike for better conditions.

For too long, the mostly immigrant workforce has suffered low wages, poor benefits and long hours. V&V Supremo is one of the country's largest distributors of cheese and other grocery products, and yet workers there are some of the lowest paid. "They make $71 million a year, yet they ask us to punch in later than when we arrive," said Ramiro Mendiola, who has worked at V&V Supremo for two years. Guys work 70-to 80-hour weeks to make $500 to $800. Then, when we're on strike, they pay temp workers more and hire private security for $1 million."

About 250 people attended the July 16 rally and pledged their support--including members from UNITE, Chicago Teachers Union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and various Teamster locals.

V&V Supremo workers have also reached out to others involved in struggles in their community. For example, they've been in touch with AT&T Broadband workers fighting for a decent contract and Little Village parents fighting for a school.

And despite the long strike, few have crossed the picket line--in fact, five workers who originally scabbed soon joined strikers after they saw the way the company was trying to divide them.

For now, V&V Supremo workers are calling for a boycott of Supremo food products.

Jesús Guzmán, who has worked at the company for a year, was encouraged by the community and union support. "We never thought the strike would be this long, but we've stayed on the line," said Guzmán. "If we don't fight for our rights, they'll never give them to us."

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AMHERST, Mass.--Some 75 University of Massachusetts-Amherst graduate students picketed the school's Division of Continuing Education July 18 to protest administrators' refusal to recognize their union.

Since the beginning of an organizing drive 18 months ago, more than 80 percent of graduate instructors for the division have signed cards to join the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO)/United Auto Workers Local 2322. But the university has refused to recognize the union or negotiate.

The instructors get about half the pay and none of the benefits for teaching Continuing Education courses as they get for teaching the same classes in their departments. They're also the only Division of Continuing Education employees on the Amherst campus not represented by a union.

The GEO campaign has included informational pickets and a 7-hour sit-in in UMass President William Bulger's office.

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Cement workers


GLENDORA, Calif.--Cement workers and their supporters rallied on July 18 in front of the corporate offices of the California Cement Co., which runs the Tucson, Ariz., factory where they work. The members of the PACE International Union have been working without a contract for four years, and management refuses to negotiate.

Arizona is an anti-union "right-to-work" state and prevents workers from walking out on strike. About 40 protesters from local unions and the County Federation of Labor showed up to the California rally. The union plans more actions.

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