On the picket line
August 17, 2001 | Page 15
by ALPANA MEHTA
BROCKTON, Mass.--Some 450 nurses at Brockton Hospital are holding firm in their strike after walking the picket lines all summer. The nurses, who are members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), walked out May 25 after working without a contract since last October.
The main issue in the strike is mandatory and forced overtime. Nurses say they receive late-night calls from the hospital, demanding that they come to work--often in the intensive care unit and emergency room, both areas where safety is of utmost importance.
This year alone, nurses have reported 49 incidents where low staffing put patients' safety at risk.
Brockton Hospital CEO Norman Goodman--who the nurses call "Norman the Very Badboy"--has been leading a vicious attack on the MNA since he took over six years ago.
Back then, Goodman pleaded hard times during negotiations with the nurses, convincing the MNA to agree to concessions, like part-time benefits for full-time work.
Now the hospital is raking in record profits, and Goodman has given himself big pay raises that make him the highest-paid hospital administrator in the state. But he's abandoned promises to restore benefits and is stonewalling negotiations with the nurses, a majority of whom have worked at Brockton Hospital for more than 20 years.
"Nurses here have been the backbone," said Anne, a 30-year veteran of the hospital. "We've been here through the lean times. What we did six years ago, we did for the patients."
Federally mediated negotiations held July 25 ended the same way that other talks have--with the hospital conceding nothing and insisting on its original proposal. Management's pathetic response to the forced overtime issue is a toothless advisory committee to "review" staffing issues.
"They've never given anything on mandatory overtime," Cathy, a nurse at Brockton for 22 years, told Socialist Worker. "They deny there's a problem in the first place."
Nurses are also battling an injunction against their picket line. "The injunction was uncalled for," says Anne. "On the first day, we blocked cars. But we didn't block the ambulances. They know that."
Strikers have won support from MNA members and other unionists, who have come out to walk the picket lines. "It's about people coming together in a community for what's right," said Anne.
Send messages of support and contributions to: Brockton Hospital Nurses Strike Fund, 707a Centre Street, Brockton, MA 02302.
by FIDEL BELMONT
LOS ANGELES--Activists here are spreading the word about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' (CIW) fight for justice. The CIW is an organization of farmworkers who work for Immokalee, Fla.-based Six Ls Packing Co., one of the nation's largest tomato producers and a contractor for Taco Bell.
They launched a national boycott of Taco Bell on April 1. Workers get no overtime pay, health insurance, sick leave, holiday or vacation pay, or retirement.
They must pick two tons of tomatoes to earn $50. Yet in 1999, Taco Bell reported earnings of more than $5 billion.
LA activists have organized numerous pickets at Taco Bells around the city to inform the public about the conditions of these workers.
Students and other local activists showed up each week at one Taco Bell location in East Los Angeles, carrying tomato-shaped signs that read, "Support Farm Workers" and "Boycott Taco Bell." They've also hung a 10-foot banner with an angry Chihuahua saying, "Yo No Quiero Taco Bell!"
Most passersby sign the CIW's petition without hesitation, and it's common for people driving by to honk and shout, "Boycott Taco Bell!"
CIW members are starting a "Taco Bell Truth Tour" in September, which will culminate in a September 23 march in LA and a September 24 demonstration at Taco Bell's headquarters in Irvine, Calif.
by a CWA Local 1109 steward
ATLANTA--Regional phone giant BellSouth and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) reached a tentative contract deal August 4.
As negotiations deadlocked in the run-up to the August 4 contract deadline, 96 percent of the CWA's 44,000 members working at Bell South voted to authorize a strike.
The sentiment to strike persuaded management to back off of giveback demands like elimination of double time and increased employee contributions for health care.
More than 200 members of CWA Local 3204 and their supporters marched and rallied in Atlanta August 3 to demand a fair contract. "We had UAW, the painters' union, even pilots out today!" said steward James "Gadget" Wallace. "And we'll stand alongside any union that's fighting for its rights. People are going to see that the union is the only way the workers can win."
The three-year deal, which covers nine southeastern states and Puerto Rico, contains a 12.35 percent raise, improved rules to deal with job stress for call center workers, health benefits for same-sex domestic partners, pension increases and increased vacation time and days off.
But the agreement failed to resolve the important issue of organizing workers in BellSouth subsidiaries.
Craig Michael Johnson contributed to this report.
by MARY McBRIDE
BURLINGTON, Vt.--More than 200 people came together July 28 for a Right to Organize march to support workers at the Berlin Health and Rehabilitation Center.
The march marked nearly one year since the nursing home workers voted to be represented by United Electrical workers union Local 254 and began their struggle for a fair first contract.
The Berlin home is owned by CPL SubAcute, a Canadian-based for-profit company that has spent huge sums on union-busting lawyers to try to stop the union.
Meanwhile, 80 percent of the workforce at the center is paid less than the living wage standard set by the Vermont state legislature. "A company that spends $400 to $500 an hour on lawyers can afford to pay us a livable wage," said one worker.
The other key demand of the nurses' aides and kitchen and maintenance workers is an end to short staffing.
by JEFF SKINNER and JOHN COURSEY
WASHINGTON--Some 300 unionists and activists demonstrated in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offices July 30 against Bush's attempt to gain fast-track authority over trade agreements.
Bush wants fast-track authority so he can push through trade deals, even if they ignore protection for workers' rights and the environment.
The AFL-CIO organized the rally as part of its campaign against fast track, which will come up for a vote in Congress later this year. The demonstration showed that workers are fed up with politicians of both parties trying to ram trade deals down our throats--and determined to say no to fast track.