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On the picket line

December 14, 2001 | Page 11

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New York Catholic school teachers
Obituary: Noel Colón

St. Catherine's Medical Center

NEW YORK--After working without a contract since May 15, 477 members of the New York State Nurses' Association (NYSNA) struck November 26 at St. Catherine's of Siena Medical Center.

The Christmas spirit seems to have eluded administrators at New York City Catholic schools and hospitals, which have provoked strikes by refusing to address issues of poverty-level pensions and understaffing.

The State Health Department cited St. Catherine's for dangerously low staffing levels in 1998. Nurses are forced to work too much overtime with too many patients. "They have a policy of running the hospital at absolute minimum staffing, so if someone gets sick, you have a huge problem," said union spokesperson Anne Schott.

Nurses also want to switch to the union's health plan, which wouldn't require employee contributions. The hospital claims it can't afford it. And yet the hospital can afford to fly in scab nurses from all over in order to break the strike.

NYSNA held a December 1 rally and a candlelight vigil December 7 to gather support. "Everything the nurses are asking for is reasonable," said Michael Chacon, a nurse and NYSNA representative. "They're not asking for anything outlandish. The nurses just want to be able to create conditions that will improve staffing and enable them to provide the best care possible."

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New York Catholic school teachers

By Dominic Renda

NEW YORK--"The Catholic Church is not acting Christian." That's what one anonymous striking New York Catholic school teacher told Socialist Worker about the conduct of the Archdiocese of New York toward her union--the Lay Faculty Association.

Her 450-member union went on strike November 28 over wages, pensions and insurance. "They want us to pay more for our insurance, and that would cancel out an 8 percent raise they offered us," said the teacher.

The teachers at the 10 schools affected by this strike make an average of $31,900. The union is pushing for a raise that would allow them to make an average of $42,000 by 2004.

"We're not asking for huge sums of money," the teacher continued. "I can't get by in the city with this kind of income…I have to work another job."

The union is also asking for an additional pension. Many teachers are leaving these schools because the existing pension is so low that they have to get other jobs when they retire. "[The additional pension] wouldn't cost the Archdiocese anything," the teacher added. "[But] they're not interested."

"What they're trying to do is divide us, and they have succeeded to some extent. There are some teachers that haven't come on strike in the first place and others who haven't even joined the union." She explained that the Archdiocese has told teachers they don't have to join the union or go on strike.

The antiunion campaign has been challenged with solidarity from students, their parents and other teachers' unions. Students have led walkouts in some of the schools. "A lot of the parents support us and most of the kids support us too," said the teacher. "They understand why we're doing this."

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Obituary: Noel Colón

By Donny Schraffenberger, steward, Teamster Local 705

THE TRAGIC death of Noel Colón, an International vice presidential candidate on the Tom Leedham Rank and File Power slate, has left union activists saddened.

An emotionally disturbed staff member of Puerto Rico Teamsters Local 901 fatally shot Noel Colón after being told he was to be dismissed by order of the executive board. Noel was the local's president, a position he won last year on a reform program.

I recently met Noel at the Teamsters for a Democratic Union Convention in Pittsburgh. He spent an hour of his time talking to me about the Puerto Rican union movement, and also the struggle to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques.

He proceeded to buy me a beer, and I told him about the Charleston Five's struggle on the docks of South Carolina.

Noel himself began working on the docks of San Juan as a welder and joined the Teamsters in 1976. He was a militant who pushed for more rank-and-file involvement in the union and the struggle against the bosses.

He backed the creation of an elected stewards' council that had the power to approve or deny all of the executive board's major financial and policy decisions.

At the 2001 Teamsters Convention, Noel presented a successful resolution calling for the U.S. government to end its use of Vieques as a bombing range.

The Teamsters and the world's working class have lost a real fighter.

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