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On the picket line
July 5, 2002 | Page 11

Wheels Transportation
Village Voice
Building trades
Pearl Paint

New York City teachers

By a UFT member

NEW YORK--After 19 months without a contract, 94 percent of New York City teachers approved a proposed contract. While the contract provides a significant raise, it also includes major concessions--in particular a longer workday.

But the large percentage that voted for the contract doesn't necessarily translate into strong support. After 19 months without a contract and more than two years without a raise, many United Federation of Teachers (UFT) members felt that they couldn't do better and jumped at the prospect of a raise, including 6 percent pro rata pay as of September 2002 and a 9 percent retroactive raise.

But under the new contract, UFT members will also work the equivalent of 20 minutes more per day. The UFT originally proposed that the additional time should be devoted to professional development, preparation and other activities which teachers already do without pay. But the final contract language is extremely vague and allows district superintendents to decide how that time is spent with very few limitations.

Before the contract had even been ratified, tentative plans were being announced by superintendents to require that the time be used for direct instruction--in some cases in full-size classes of 34. This won't benefit teachers or students since it will simply add to the workload of already overworked teachers.

The new contract also weakens work rules and sets up a separate pay scale for uncertified teachers, creating further divisions between teachers.

Many implementation details won't be revealed until schools reopen in September. But one thing is plain to see even now. We need to rebuild rank-and-file organization within the union --both to organize around the implementation of the current contract and to prepare to fight for a better contract with no concessions next time around.

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Wheels Transportation

By Keith Rosenthal

MONTEPELIER, Vt.--Members of Teamsters Local 597 at Wheels Transportation approved a contract June 29, ending an eight-week strike. The contract, while including better job security language, essentially put the workers back in the same position that they were in before the strike.

One of their main demands--an agency fee, or closed shop--was dropped. And to add insult to injury, management is keeping on all of the scabs they hired during the course of the strike. This means that many of the striking workers will not get their jobs back--or will have to work part-time.

Workers were obviously dissatisfied with the final contract, but strike funds were running low, bills were adding up and many had taken part-time jobs while on strike to avoid financial ruin.

In retrospect, some thought that more aggressive tactics would have led to a victory. Others pointed to the breakdown of solidarity and the wavering of union officials, who recommended a "yes" vote on the contract.

"We got sold out," said shop steward Sonny Barney. "You have to stand strong," said Barney, who thinks the strike should have been conducted more aggressively. "You have to stand as a group, and you need to keep the solidarity. If one person wavers, you lose it."

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Village Voice

By Kate O'Neil

NEW YORK--All of the roughly 130 workers at the Village Voice weekly newspaper are ready to strike. They want to stop the company from cutting health and pension benefits in their next contract.

The Voice, which bills itself as a left alternative to the mainstream press, is hypocritically asking members of United Auto Workers Local 2110 for a 10 percent health care co-pay. And the paper wants to reduce matching funds to 401(k) plans for those unable to afford a maximum contribution.

But the union is standing its ground against concessions. "We're a progressive shop," stated union activist Bob Baker. "We have to dig our heels in on this one."

A recent union leaflet instructed workers to empty desks of all personal items, take home all business contacts and sign a release informing the paper not to run writers' copy in the event of a strike.

Since union members are involved in every aspect of the paper's production and distribution--from reporters to Web page designers to delivery drivers--they have the power to shut down the largest weekly in the country and win their demands.

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Building trades

By Carole Ramsden, IBEW Local 134

WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court continued to show its anti-union colors June 24 when it ruled that companies can sue unions without facing charges from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The unanimous decision gives employers the right to file "reasonable" lawsuits against labor unions without facing charges of retaliation under the National Labor Relations Act.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of BE&K Construction of Birmingham, Ala., a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). ABC is a non-union trade association made up of 23,000 construction contractors and related companies.

BE&K sued the building trades because union actions such as picketing and fighting for an environmental ordinance delayed a $350 million project. The NLRB originally ruled in favor of the unions by declaring BE&K's lawsuit "retaliatory," requiring BE&K to pay the unions' attorney fees.

BE&K lost again when it appealed to the 6th Circuit to overturn the NLRB's decision. It fell to the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in BE&K's favor.

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Pearl Paint

By Katherine Gorell

NEW YORK--Workers at Pearl Paint's original store on Canal Street celebrated a triumph April 20 as new members of UNITE Local 169. With their first contract, workers won pay raises, improved health benefits, additional sick, personal and vacation days, a 401(k) plan and the right to examine and dispute personnel file information. Pay scales have been made fairer, and some longtime workers received more than $1,000 in back pay.

UNITE organizers offered support as well as the use of the 14th St. union hall to host "UNITE! in Art," which showcases the art produced by Pearl workers. "This exhibit rallied membership support and taught the importance of becoming unionized," said shop steward Marco Rodriquez, a member of the negotiating committee.

Local 169 workers made flyers to simultaneously publicize their struggle and disguise their purpose so as to avoid harassment from their bosses. Because of union busting from management, exposing Pearl's campaign to divide and demoralize workers has been a critical challenge, but one that union leadership is tackling and is determined to defeat.

"For years people have wanted to organize at Pearl," said Rodriguez. "A lot of people were misinformed by the company itself, and people were afraid of getting fired."

Pearl Paint and stores like it rely on highly knowledgeable artists who are required to possess extensive knowledge about the store's products. They deserve good pay and benefits--contrary to the picture painted by those who profit handsomely from their expertise.

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