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On the picket line

June 28, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11

Bay Area Rapid Transit

Immigrant airport screeners

By Brian Cruz

SAN FRANCISCO--Faced with ongoing protests in solidarity with immigrant airport screeners, the federal government recently announced that San Francisco International Airport (SFO) will be one of just five U.S. airports to retain its privately contracted security screeners under a two-year pilot program.

Under the Aviation and Transportation Act passed in the wake of September 11, the federal government had moved to federalize airport screeners--and to fire any screener who is not a U.S. citizen.

SFO is the only large airport to be part of the new program--and it's no coincidence that it is also the airport where screeners have been the most active in opposing the citizenship requirement of the new law.

According to Erlinda Valencia, the new pilot program "is a victory for screeners who have citizenship. But for those who are not citizens or not eligible to apply for citizenship, questions still remain."

More than 700 SFO screeners are not citizens, and only 160 of those will be eligible to apply to the new program. Additionally, under any new contracts between the security companies and the government, the screeners must all be U.S. citizens.

Valencia and other screeners at SFO are glad the program will keep them employed a bit longer--but they also see this as an important opportunity to continue to build rank-and-file opposition to the racist citizenship requirements of the new law.

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Bay Area Rapid Transit

By Elizabeth Terzakis

OAKLAND, Calif.--More than 300 Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers and their supporters packed a BART board meeting June 6 to protest proposed layoffs, service cuts and fare hikes.

Nearly everyone in the standing-room-only crowd wore BART uniforms or T-shirts from the three unions at BART--Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 790, AFSCME Local 3993 and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1555.

Cuts are to come at the expense of the lowest-paid members of the workforce, eliminating positions held largely by women and people of color. The proposed layoffs come on the heels of the elimination of 77 positions and drastically cut overtime earlier this year.

Station agent and ATU member Antoinette Bryant explained that previous cuts had already created conditions that make BART an unsafe place to work and ride. "At night, we have one station agent responsible for an entire four-block station, including 27 escalators and gates," said Bryant. "The district continues not to fill these shifts. That's a safety issue for the public and for workers."

Board member Dan Richard blamed the cuts on a decrease in ridership--due to 9/11, the collapse of the dot-com industry and the recession. But despite these factors, a $64 million surplus was transferred from BART's operating budget to fund capital projects in 2001, allowing them to overrun their projected budgets by $44 million. Another $30 million will be transferred from operations to capital in 2002.

BART workers rightly want to know why they should be made to pay for this mismanagement of funds. "Our agreement has always been, 'We do the work and you manage,'" Bryant told the board. "Well, you managed us into this situation. How dare you ask us to bear the burden?"

SEIU Local 790 president Roxanne Sanchez noted that the union is prepared to work on "creative solutions" to the budget problem. But she also had a warning. "Do not mistake this invitation to dialogue for weakness," said Sanchez. "If BART management persists in taking precipitous steps, we will be forced to fight--for our dignity, our rights and our livelihoods."

Between 1997 and 2001, unionized positions increased by only 5 percent even as revenues increased by record amounts. Meanwhile, the nonunionized BART workforce grew by 17.5 percent, but none of these positions are currently on the chopping block.

"BART appears to be making a statement here: in good times or bad times, put resources into management at the expense of people who actually provide direct service to the public," according to a union flier.

Workers across the region are being asked to take layoffs and concessions to pay for the recession. As one of the strongest unionized workforces in the region, BART workers have an opportunity to lead the way in saying "No!" to balancing budget on the backs of workers.

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By Lee Sustar

CHICAGO--More than 300 people attended a May 30 meeting with laid-off Enron workers at a panel discussion that included AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The meeting at Roosevelt University was part of a national tour and was hosted by the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Illinois AFL-CIO. It brought together a number of local officers and staff from a variety of union locals, as well as some rank-and-file members.

Enron workers spoke powerfully about how they had lost their life's savings as company executives assured them the stock price would rise again--and then prevented them from selling their holdings.

They described how Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the AFL-CIO were the only organizations that stepped forward to help them organize and win severance pay.

The meeting could have been used to build opposition to the financial scandals that riddle Corporate America--and to mobilize organized labor to defend workers who are being made to pay the price. Instead, the meeting focused narrowly on Enron.

And when asked about top union leaders' involvement in an Enron-style financial scandal involving the telecommunications company Global Crossing, Sweeney said only that the matter was under investigation.

The politics were left to Jackson, who lambasted Bush for stealing the election. Jackson didn't comment, however, on how military spending was being massively increased while budget cuts were pushed from Washington on down. Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere, who chaired the meeting, said, "You know what to do," directing those in the room to voter registration cards outside.

The high point came during the discussion period, when Jackson responded to a union member angry about concessionary contract demands from local government by calling for a demonstration of 50,000 in downtown Chicago. While people through the room cheered, labor leaders adjourned without commenting on Jackson's call for protests.

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