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On the picket line

April 26, 2002 | Page 11

Group Health Insurance
International Windows Company

LA teachers

By Karl Swinehart, United Teachers Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES--Elections for the leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) came to a close on April 9, with John Perez winning the presidency. Perez won in a runoff election that had record-low participation, with less than 25 percent of the union's 40,000 members voting.

The runoff was a result of a split in the radical vote in the union. If combined, the votes for the more militant candidates Warren Fletcher and Mike Cherry would have won the initial election.

However, there was no unified strategy around the election by those teachers who felt dissatisfied with the last settlement. As a result of this split, the two more conservative candidates--Becki Robinson and Perez--went to the runoff.

The change in leadership comes during budget cuts and attacks on union rights from both the district and the state. The district is proposing class size increases, cuts in counselors and nurses, and a six-year wage freeze.

Under the guise of auditing low-performing schools, the district and state are asking teachers to sign "loyalty oaths" and are threatening to relocate faculty.

Although the low voter turnout reflects an inactive union membership, there are signs that this may be turning around. UTLA has begun to mobilize teachers to pack school board meetings in order to show our opposition to salary freezes and budget cuts.

In addition, UTLA members at 10 schools that are currently being audited by the state are organizing informational pickets to expose the hypocrisy of the budget-slashing bureaucrats who scapegoat teachers.

Job actions and mobilizations like these are steps in the right direction. We need more of this kind of activism.

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By Amy Muldoon, CWA Local 1106

NEW YORK--Members of the executive board of Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 1106 got the surprise of their lives at the last general membership meeting on April 16.

For years, the board has talked about membership as though we are passive and stupid, while they've coasted toward retirement. But on April 16, more than 300 members packed the hall to vote on a proposed dues increase--a full 50 percent more members than attended the last general membership meeting.

This increased mobilization was a result of a new coalition in the local that spans multiple garages and inside facilities. Many members feel the board is out of touch with the membership--especially among younger and African American members.

In fact, the board is unapologetic about the fact that nine out of its 10 members have 32 years in the company, and 10 out of 10 are white--despite the fact that 46 percent of the union's members are African American. The board's cocky attitude toward the members, however, is not matched by its passive stance toward the company.

Verizon implemented a speed-up that links productivity to disciplinary action for the first time. While the board has talked tough against this, only limited action has been taken. This was made crystal clear in the last general membership meeting when President Tony Caudullo talked about threatening management with a walkout--then refused to hear a motion to take a strike vote. Caudullo called the motion "inappropriate" and moved the agenda before anyone could respond.

But on April 16, Caudullo couldn't just move on. When the vote for the dues increase finally came up, the vote had to be taken twice, because the first "count" consisted of Caudullo simply saying "it passed"--without counting a single hand.

In the second vote, the dues increase did pass, by a couple of dozen votes. This close vote represents a step in the right direction for rank-and-file members, and has given coalition members a sense that we are having an effect.

The day after the vote, a white district steward at one garage felt compelled to ask Black members--in perhaps the first time the union has officially reached out to non-white members at the garage--if they felt they were being represented well.

With a strike on the horizon for 2003 and board elections in November, this is just the start.

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Group Health Insurance

By Danny Katch

NEW YORK--Employees at Group Health Insurance (GHI) process claims for thousands of public-sector workers in New York state every day. Now, they're fighting for their own health insurance.

This week, hundreds of GHI workers--members of Office and Professional Employees Local 153--hit the picket lines more than a month after their contract expired. "We'd rather be working," said Tanzeel Shibzada, "but our hands have been tied. We're being treated like crap."

Previously, a benefit of working for the insurance giant was that workers didn't have to pay co-payments or premiums. Now, however, GHI is demanding a $10 co-pay for medical visits and $20 for prescriptions.

Workers are striking against this corporate greed. "We're a nonprofit, but they're getting big money--company cars, health club memberships," Christie, a Medicare claims approver for 14 years, told Socialist Worker. "Why not give that money to us? We are their business."

Workers are gearing up for a tough battle. GHI has prepared for the strike by hiring temporary workers and bringing a veteran health care union buster onto their negotiating team.

But strikers potentially have weapons of their own. Most of GHI's clients are union workers: teachers, firefighters and transit workers. The New York City Central Labor Council needs to let GHI bosses know that city workers won't tolerate their claims being handled by scabs and temps.

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International Windows Company

By Federico Moreno

LOS ANGELES--More than 150 workers from International Windows Company have been abandoned by their union, Teamsters Local 986, following a six-month strike. Many strikers had been with the company for more than 25 years and believe that the company and union collaborated to "clean house" of older workers slated for retirement.

Just prior to Local 986 elections, the union endorsed a September 10 strike over low wages and poor benefits. The strike began successfully, but union leaders soon pulled a disappearing act. "We had no representation," Rafael Ramos told Socialist Worker.

In six months, the only offer that the company made was for workers to return to work--with lower wages and no vacations! Then, on March 18, Local 986 informed workers that they had come to an "unconditional agreement" and were cutting off workers' strike benefits.

"Where's our rights?" Ramos asked. "If you complain, you're out on the streets like us. They simply told us to pick up our last check. When we did, 10 armed policemen were guarding the Local's gate."

The workers are currently seeking legal representation in order to help them fight back against this assault.

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