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On the picket line

June 7, 2002 | Page 11

Transmission Crafters
Wheels Transportation
Madison Market
Stanford University
Chicago teachers


By Sophie Hand and Carole Ramsden

CHICAGO--"You're supposed to increase in life, not decrease. They sold us a decrease contract…The union should've been stronger." That's what Elliott, a striking PepsiAmericas driver, told Socialist Worker after Teamsters Local 744 members voted 133 to 67 to accept the contract.

In a complete slap in the face, PepsiAmericas management offered a meager $1.70 per hour increase during the life of the five-year contract--with no raise at all in the first year.

The drivers struck for two weeks against company attempts to increase health care costs and cut wages by as much as $20,000 per year. The company also attempted to add language to the contract allowing PepsiAmericas to further change the commission structure at will, without going through the union.

But according to Tom Capp, vice-president of Local 744, the clause "was modified to the union's advantage. Any changes will have to go through the union," he continued. "We got the most we could get. At the last second, we called the company and got 7 cents per case more in commission for full-service drivers."

Even though workers voted to accept the contract, they know they got a raw deal. "I can't believe it," said Anthony, another driver. "They just voted my attitude worse than it was before."

Many strikers felt isolated during the strike and wanted more leadership on the part of the union. "I can accept a pay cut in the short term, if it's for the good of the workers in the long term," Tyrone, another striker, told Socialist Worker. "But Local 744 members need to start now to lay the groundwork for the next contract battle."

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Transmission Crafters

By Jim Tapscott

ALBANY, Ga.--Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2699 at Transmission Crafters walked out May 28.

The company refused to renegotiate their contract, which expired May 20. The company wants to reduce an expected raise of 84 cents an hour to 20 cents an hour and outsource some of the work, which would mean layoffs. Also at stake are workers' health benefits and paid holidays.

The bosses want workers to end the strike before they will negotiate and are trying to kill the union. The local paper reported that production was continuing with scab labor, but no work is getting done because most of the skilled workers are walking the picket line.

On the third day of the strike, while union representatives were in a meeting, management sent out a scab to tell strikers that if the strike wasn't called off by the end of the day, their jobs would be gone.

But these intimidation tactics won't work. Workers are determined to stick it out until their demands are met--and to defend their union.

This strike is the first in Albany in nearly five years. Because Georgia is a "right to work" state, it's sometimes hard to see the benefits of organizing, but a victory for the union could send a message to other workers.

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Wheels Transportation

By Rosemary O'Connell

MONTPELIER, Vt.--"What's disgusting? Union busting. What do we want to see? An agency fee!" Mechanics and drivers at Wheels Transportation chanted this at their May 25 rally. These workers are into the third week of a strike 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. Such fees don't cost the company a penny, but Wheels doesn't want to agree to agency fees because it helps the company to pit union and nonunion workers against each other.

Since the election eight years ago, workers have been harassed, disciplined and fired. Since 1997, Local 597 has been fighting for an agency fee.

"It costs [manager Dona Bate] nothing, it's a personal power issue," said driver Debbie Miller. "She wants to divide and conquer, but we will stay in solidarity."

To support Wheels workers, contact Sonny Barney at 802-249-8066 or Rosemary O'Connell at 802-862-1788.

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Madison Market

By Nathaniel Gibbons, UFCW Local 1105

SEATTLE--Workers at Madison Market voted 33 to 2 to reject a contract proposal on May 22.

Madison Market is the last member-owned, non-CEO-directed co-op in Seattle. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1105 union and management proposed a contract that would leave workers with a wage scale $3 below that of the CEO-run Puget Sound Consumer Co-op chain. In addition, the offer didn't include workers' children or spouses under the benefits plan.

The vote follows a record-breaking week in sales. At a "member appreciation day" speech last month, general store manager Rob Martin lauded the store's success. But Martin failed to mention that employees were negotiating for a better standard of living--so workers did it for him.

After several workers asked tough questions regarding the treatment of workers, benefits and wages, Martin took one of them to the back to try to intimidate her.

Management plans to introduce quotas for stockers, personal bag checks and secret shoppers to spy on us. Illusions about the difference between a co-op and a corporation are quickly fading here.

We have been organizing independent meetings to discuss the contract demands. The meetings have been key in preventing managers from playing workers off one another and in building the solidarity to win.

In some ways, the bosses have been the best agitators, showing that even at a co-op, the only way for workers to represent themselves is to organize and fight.

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Stanford University

By Anna Letitia Mumford

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Subcontracted food service workers at Stanford have achieved a groundbreaking new contract that provides affordable health benefits and a wage increase. The agreement between SEIU Local 715 and food service contractor Bon Appetit marks the first time that subcontracted and directly hired workers at Stanford will achieve wage parity.

The victory comes as the result of intense student and worker pressure, including a five-day student "camp-out" in front of Stanford President John Hennessy's office and a petition signed by most workers stating that they would strike if necessary.

"We see this as a major victory for both the workers and our coalition," said Stanford Coalition for Labor Justice (SCLJ) member Leticia Ramirez.

The contract also includes great improvements in health benefits. "This is very exciting for us," said Bon Appetit worker Estela Diaz. "We had been offered health benefits before, but they were so expensive that most of us couldn't afford to buy benefits for ourselves or our families."

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Chicago teachers

By Jesse Sharkey, associate delegate, Chicago Teachers Union

A STORM is brewing between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the city's school board. The teachers' contract expires in a year, but a number of early signs suggest the battle could be intense.

In April, a fight broke out over the board's decision to close three elementary schools in poor South and West Side neighborhoods. Breaking with past practice, the CTU's new leadership responded energetically, criticizing the decision in the local media and mobilizing 250 teachers and parents to protest a board meeting.

Now the union faces a battle over "4.5"--the section of the Illinois code passed in 1995 that prohibits Chicago teachers from collective bargaining over anything except wages and benefits. With the Chicago schools facing a $170 million deficit next year, the need to restore full bargaining power is critical--and the union must figure out how to accomplish this.

Rank and filers have high expectations for the upcoming contract after watching hundreds of millions being spent on stadiums, unneeded construction projects and education consultants while our contract contained 2 percent raises, benefits cuts and loss of workplace rights.

It would be a mistake to lobby elected officials and wait for the fall legislative session to repeal 4.5. Daley's powerful machine supports the law and state Democrats will not take a stand on the issue.

Instead, the union must continue mobilizing the rank and file for the upcoming fight--starting in the summer.

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