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On the picket line

May 24, 2002 | Page 11

San Jose health care workers

By Brian Belknap

SAN JOSE, Calif.--With chants of "They say cut back, we say fight back," more than 1,000 health care workers here went on a one-day strike against three hospitals May 15.

Short staffing and patient care are the main issues. The nursing assistants, lab technicians, respiratory therapists, clerks, housekeepers and other support staff are demanding better wages, health benefits and job security.

Parent company HCA has kept compensation well below the Bay Area's 50 other medical centers and, after nine months of negotiations, has refused to budge.

"The goal here is to alert the community to the staffing crisis in HCA hospitals every day," said Sal Rosselli, president of Service Employees International Union Local 250. "The staffing crisis at HCA hospitals is getting worse and worse. They're grossly understaffed."

The strike was set to be twice as big, but the other three hospitals caved in to the union's major demands just hours before the strike.

The pressure will have to be kept on to win better conditions for workers and patients at the remaining three hospitals.

Wheels Transportation

By Keith Rosenthal

MONTPELIER, Vt.--Drivers and mechanics at Wheels Transportation went on strike May 13 to protest a crackdown by managers and to defend their union.

Wheels is a publicly funded bus service for central Vermont. The workers, members of Teamsters Local 597, have been working without a contract since December and plan to stay on strike for as long as it takes to win an "agency fee."

Agency fees stipulate that while no one is required to join the union, all employees pay a fee equal to the cost of bargaining a contract. The workers feel that management wants an open shop instead of agency fees because it divides the drivers and makes the union weaker.

Throughout contract negotiations, the workers have been harassed, arbitrarily disciplined and even fired in an attempt to intimidate them.

"We're going to shut this place down and stay out on the picket line until they give in," Sonny Barney, Local 597 union steward, told Socialist Worker. "If you stick together, you can win anything with solidarity."

The workers have received tremendous support from other union activists--and a honk and a wave from just about every car or truck that passes the picket line. They even had a member of a steelworkers' union pull off the road and offer a heated army tent to protect them from the hail and rain.

"People have to come out and support union members," said Glyn Dodge, a worker at Wheels. "Unions give workers a strong voice, and the more we get out, the stronger we'll be."

Join workers at a 10 a.m. rally May 25. Contact Sonny Barney at 802-249-8066 or Keith Rosenthal at 301-922-9358 for more information.

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