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Labor in brief

September 28, 2001 | Page 15

Charleston Five
V&V Supremo



ESSEX, Vt.--Some 125 IBM workers and their supporters gathered at Essex High School on September 7 to rally in support of their union drive. The [email protected] hosted the event and is hoping to win union recognition through the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

IBM is the largest employer in Vermont, and a successful union drive would be a major victory for the labor movement.

The union drive picked up steam late this summer when the company implemented an 18 percent, across-the-board wage cut and fired several hundred workers.

But workers' resentment has been building over the last two years in the face of cuts in health and pension benefits.

"I used to just do my job and then go home," Earl Mongeon, one of the head organizers of the [email protected], told Socialist Worker. "But IBM has recently deteriorated our benefits so much that I decided I had to do something."

Mongeon went on to point out that IBM CEO Lou Gershner pulled in about $150 million this year, yet some IBM workers have been forced to take second jobs just to stay afloat.

Many workers stood up at the rally and talked about the deterioration of labor standards all over the country. Retirees warned workers that things would only get worse unless they acted. Even those who used to consider themselves anti-union thought that the time had come to fight back.

The rally was also marked by a strong sense of solidarity from members of other unions. Supporters from the AFL-CIO, CWA members from the recently unionized Verizon and members of the new faculty union at the University of Vermont also attended.

Joe Smith, the District 7 vice president of CWA Local 1400 at Verizon, summed up the mood of the rally nicely: "We need to stand together and get the word out to the people--to wake up and see what's going on in this country, because our rights are fading away to corporate greed."

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Charleston Five

NEW YORK--On September 18, the Communications Workers of America Local 1106 unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Charleston Five.

Although most members had not heard of the struggle before the meeting, the original request for $500 was shouted down--and $1,000 was pledged amid cheers.

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CHICAGO--A week after the tragedy in New York and Washington, Boeing Co. had more disastrous news for workers.

The company announced that it plans to lay off as many as 30,000 people--some 30 percent of the workforce--in its commercial jet unit by the end of 2002.

After the September 11 air attacks using commercial jets, Boeing slashed its projected delivery number from 510 or 520 to the "low 400s." "It is critical that we take these necessary steps now to size the commercial airplane business to support the difficult and uncertain environment faced by our airline customers," said Alan Mulally, president of Boeing's commercial airplane division.

In fact, Boeing was already preparing to outsource millions of dollars worth of production work to contractors--and announce layoffs--well before the air attacks. Boeing "was already planning to pare the workforce in anticipation of an airline slump, after restructuring factories, embracing lean manufacturing principles and cutting costs," Business Week reported. "For the first time in nearly a decade, the division was producing 10 percent profit margins. Execs were confident they could squeeze even more fat out of a what had been a costly and inefficient airplane production system."

While layoffs will be spread over facilities in Washington, California and Kansas, the greatest pain will likely be felt in Washington's Puget Sound region, where some 60,000 Boeing workers build airliners.

"Every time they need more money, every time they need their stock to go up, they announce layoffs," said Don Gross, who has worked at Boeing for 13 years.

Layoffs--53,000 of them--were a huge issue in the International Association of Machinists (IAM)'s 1999 contract fight with Boeing. And while the IAM's threat to strike won solid wage increases, it left the door open to the job cuts.

So Boeing continued to eliminate jobs by establishing the highest production pace ever. In Renton, Wash., Boeing produces 737s on the first-ever continuously moving production line, with planes parked nose to tail on a moving assembly line. And in August, Boeing announced plans to reduce its three existing production lines to two.

So after September 11, management announced more cuts and blamed them all on the air attacks. But IAM leaders--who have stood by while Boeing outsourced tens of thousands of jobs--don't have a strategy to fight these cuts. "I think at this point, Boeing's management does have an obligation to the region to keep this work in-house. It's an area where we can work together to mitigate job losses," IAM Local 751 President Mark Blondin said.

But Boeing's only obligation is making profits. Whether Boeing is able to use the tragedy to cut more jobs will depend on what kind of fight IAM members organize to stop them.

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V&V Supremo


CHICAGO--Authorities and V&V Supremo, a Mexican food products company, took advantage of the September 11 attack in New York and Washington, D.C., to arrest and threaten a strike leader.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 703 member is now prohibited from walking the picket line with other strikers in their 17-week strike against the company because he allegedly made a bomb threat.

The Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues held a prayer service with strikers on September 17. Striker Max Rodea criticized the Mexican-owned business for its exploitation of the undocumented, mostly Mexican workforce.

In recent negotiations, the company offered a 25-cent raise in the first year, and no raises in subsequent years. It also designed a two-tier pay scale for drivers in hopes of dividing workers.

The majority of strikers have not crossed the picket line, but many are working other part-time jobs to get by.

One major supermarket chain, Dominick's, has agreed not to stock their products, and strike-support organizations are working on other businesses to join the boycott.

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