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On the picket line

November 30, 2001 | Page 11

Boston hotels

By Annie Levin

BOSTON--Hotel workers, members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 26, are ready to strike. They voted overwhelmingly November 19 to authorize a walkout if an agreement can't be reached by November 30, when their old contract expires.

Local 26 represents more than 3,000 hotel waiters, reservation clerks and dishwashers covered under a single master contract at nine major hotels here. Since September 11, roughly 1,000 members of Local 26 have been laid off, and many more have seen their hours slashed.

Now the hotel owners want to use the tragedy to ram through a concessionary contract. Management wants the right to assign some workers to shifts shorter than eight hours while forcing others to work overtime. And the owners are refusing to guarantee health benefits.

The bosses are pleading poverty due to the impact of September 11--but workers aren't buying it. "The hotels have had five years of profits shooting through the roof," Local 26 Secretary-Treasurer Henry Green told Socialist Worker.

At the November 19 vote rally, the multiracial, mostly immigrant workforce waved signs in four languages--all demanding justice. "Boston hotel workers will say no to givebacks, and in doing so you will win justice for all hotel workers all over North America," HERE President John Wilhelm said at the rally.

Lou Mandarini of Laborers Local 22 added, "Forty-three HERE members lost their lives in the World Trade Center. Thousands more have been laid off with not so much as a handshake. At the same time, airline and hotel corporations have gotten economic stimulus packages that haven't given a damn about working people…You have got to get a contract that can keep you surviving."

Rev. Jesse Jackson also spoke. "Workers of Boston, it's time to stand up and fight back, it's time to act," he said. "If you believe it is time to strike, then stand up"--which brought the whole room to its feet, cheering.

After the rally, workers poured out of the church and marched to the Park Plaza Hotel, chanting "No contract, no peace!" Sheryl Debarros, a hospital worker and member of SEIU Local 509, told Socialist Worker that she attended the rally because "we're all fighting for fairness for all working people. The rich made money, now it's our turn to make money."

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V&V Supremo Foods

By Eric Ruder

CHICAGO--After seven months on strike, workers at V&V Supremo Foods won an important victory. Not only did workers in the distribution unit win raises between 25 and 35 percent over the life of the three-year contract, but the company finally conceded that workers in the production unit had voted to join the union and agreed to negotiate a contract.

For months, the company tried to delay contract negotiations in the distribution unit and refused to recognize the production workers' election, who voted to join Teamsters Local 703.

"This is a company that for seven months spent millions of dollars fighting against a first contract, fighting against union recognition," said Nelson Soza, field representative for the AFL-CIO. "Their goal was to crush this effort," he told Socialist Worker. "It's a partial victory because we don't have everything we wanted to have, but we get back to work and get big raises."

The distribution workers' first contract also establishes a grievance procedure and the use of independent arbitrators if workers don't feel the company is abiding by the contract.

"For Latino immigrant workers, this is huge because it gives them some kind of voice on the job," said Soza. "They understood that they were the front line in this war…to begin to deal with the exploitation of immigrant workers, which so many employers take for granted," said Soza.

Support from community leaders, clergy and political figures was also crucial. "We haven't seen this kind of support since the farm workers' struggles," said Soza.

Starting in the summer, V&V Supremo workers had rallies of 300 to 400--and nearly 400 turned out to hear Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) speak at a church. In the final analysis, said Soza, "the bosses realized they weren't just up against 120 immigrant workers, but against an entire community."

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