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On the picket line

January 4, 2002 | Page 11

Southern Connecticut State University
Immigrant airport security workers

Teamsters Local 722

By a member of Teamsters Local 722

LaSALLE, Ill.--Democracy has been denied at International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 722 by a political goon squad that backs Teamsters President James P. Hoffa.

Local 722 President Mark Serafinn ran for reelection on a reform slate against Mongan, who headed a slate of candidates supported by Hoffa and Teamsters Joint Council 65. When the ballots were counted October 20, the Serafinn slate had swept all positions--except the president position, which Serafinn lost to Mongan by just five votes.

But it became clear in the following days that the election was severely flawed. Although more than 50 percent of members cast ballots in each of the past four elections, only 37 percent voted this year.

One reason for this is that hundreds of eligible voters never received their ballots. Ballots were mailed in late September--when many post offices were in disarray because of the September 11 attacks and anthrax scares.

Additionally, several of the original ballot mailings were wrongly returned to a post office box by the U.S. Postal Service instead of to the union hall for address correction.

Dozens of Local 722 members who never received ballots signed statements saying that they would have voted for Serafinn had they been given the chance. These facts should have set the election aside.

A post-election protest hearing was held November 13, where Serafinn presented mounds of evidence and a parade of Local 722 members substantiating the facts.

By Mongan's own admission, the one U.S. postal facility that was in question--Bloomington, Ill.--would not issue a statement that mail service had not been interrupted during the time in question.

Despite these facts, Joint Council 65 ruled against Serafinn, saying that "statements signed by Local 722's members do not establish by competent evidence that they did not receive their ballots."

The Joint Council was clearly biased against Serafinn. The Council hearing panel included Keith Gleason, Tony Barr and William McCabe--all of whom are Hoffa delegates.

Gleason and McCabe were both involved in a scam to steal members from Local 722 in a bogus jurisdictional dispute involving workers at a company within 722's territory. Serafinn and other Local 722 members fought against this raid. Additionally, Barr faced Serafinn for the position of the Joint Council's Secretary-Treasurer earlier this year in a heated election fight.

Hoffa Jr. has repeatedly said that "One Member, One Vote" is his statement on democracy. Evidently, this doesn't apply if you disagree with Brother Hoffa.

Serafinn has appealed the Joint Council decision to the General Executive Board and Hoffa. As the entire Teamsters union watches to see if Hoffa's words mean anything, Joint Council 65 has dealt union democracy a severe blow.

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Southern Connecticut State University

NEW HAVEN, Conn.--The cafeteria workers at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) have a fight on their hands.

They're members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Union Local 217. This local has won many strong contracts in years past, but the new food service company--Chartwell's Food Services--has no respect for the workers' hard-won gains.

Since day one, they have blatantly violated their collective bargaining agreement by subcontracting cleaning jobs to Clark's Cleaning Service, which uses nonunion labor. Management is extremely harsh on workers--provoking fights, overworking them without paying them fully for their work, demanding random drug tests and so on.

Chartwell's behavior isn't unique to SCSU, according to Steve Mathews, union organizer for Local 217. At Trinity College, in Hartford, they've slashed union jobs and rolled back benefits. This led to a protest at Trinity College of about 250 workers and students, forcing Chartwell's to reverse some of its decisions. Some jobs were reinstated while some are still being fought for.

Workers at SCSU are fighting back as well. Some 30 students and workers met in early December to discuss plans to fight back. A rally was set for December 12 to demand justice.

"Respect our contract. Respect our work. Southern is a union campus--respect our unions!" said Vernon, a union steward at SCSU.

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Immigrant airport security workers

By Eduardo Capulong

JUST WHEN their jobs were about to get better, immigrant airport screeners face the prospect of losing them.

Federal legislation enacted November 19 will nationalize airport screening, creating 28,000 new federal jobs with annual salaries of up to $35,000 plus benefits. But because of the anti-immigrant hysteria whipped up by Congress and the Bush administration, you'll have to be a U.S. citizen to get one.

Unless the law is amended, 25 to 85 percent of the nation's 20,000 screeners will lose their jobs by mid-February--simply because they are immigrants.

California--and Filipino immigrants in particular--will be hardest hit. About 40 percent of screeners at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and 85 percent at San Francisco International Airport are noncitizens.

About 90 percent of the San Francisco airport's immigrant screeners are Filipino, many of whom have worked there for more than 10 years, according to Luisa Blue, national president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.

Activists have called the law "ethnic cleansing of Filipinos by mass firing and layoffs." The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the workers, estimates that 15,000 could lose their jobs.

"Between Oakland and San Francisco alone, close to 500 workers are going to have to find new work," said SEIU's Jono Shaffer. "And this is not a great time to be trying to find new work."

Like many other immigrant jobs, airport screening is miserable work. Airlines subcontract airport security to the lowest bidder, resulting in low wages and deplorable working conditions.

In a recent study, the General Accounting Office found median wages of $6 or less an hour with no benefits. As a result, turnover has averaged 126 percent at 190 of the country's largest airports. Five airports exceeded 200 percent, and St. Louis reported 416 percent.

There is also frequent understaffing. "It is not uncommon for X-ray screeners to be forced to stay at their posts for an hour and a half without a break, causing lack of concentration, blurry vision and headaches," according to the SEIU.

"All these years, nobody cares about us and then this happens," said Esmeralda Fuentes, a screener at LAX. "There are a lot of good people working here…It's not fair if they're just going to take our jobs over."

The citizenship requirement has nothing to do with airport safety. Pilots, flight attendants and other airport workers, including National Guardsmen now stationed there, do not have to be citizens.

We need to demand that the law be changed to allow immigrant workers to keep their jobs and their union membership.

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