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On the picket line

July 26, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11

Cook County, Ill., SEIU and AFSCME
Chicago UPS
Wisconsin state employees
Toronto municipal workers
BBJ Linen

San Francisco Day Labor

By Eduardo Capulong

SAN FRANCISCO--About 200 people rallied at City Hall July 15 to denounce Mayor Willie Brown and his threat to take away the Day Labor Program from immigrant rights agency La Raza Centro Legal.

Brown lashed out at immigrant rights activists early this month after Day Labor Program organizers led a Father's Day protest, also at City Hall, that called for a halt in the increased police ticketing of day laborers on Cesar Chavez Street.

Brown, a liberal Democrat, threatened to yank the city funding for the program, which regularizes the hiring process, ensures fair wages and working conditions, and provides services to the one of the city's most disfranchised populations, from La Raza Centro Legal, which has been running the program the last two and a half years.

We can't let Brown take the program away from La Raza. Under its leadership, the program has prioritized worker empowerment, begun organizing domestic workers, and fought for more resources, such as a building on Cesar Chavez with an indoor hiring hall, bathrooms and parking spaces. All these are now under threat.

Contact Renee Saucedo, [email protected], 415-553-3404, for information on next steps.

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Cook County, Ill., SEIU and AFSCME

By Nicole Colson

CHICAGO--More than 3,000 county employees walked off the job for a one-day strike in Chicago on July 11.

More than 10,000 Cook County workers, represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and AFSCME, have been working without a contract since December. The unions represent public health care workers and clerical staff at public hospitals as well as public defenders, court clerks and support staff at area courthouses.

Claiming the need for budget cuts, the county tried to ram through contracts that would have given most workers a pitiful 1 percent pay raise and require enormous hikes in medical insurance co-payments--as much as $60 more per month per family.

Of course, county board members recently voted themselves a 38 percent pay raise. This kind of hypocrisy made SEIU and AFSCME members ready to strike. As one SEIU official told Socialist Worker, "The one-day strike is just a signal to tell the county to improve their offer."

At the last minute, the county backed down, offering an improved contract to SEIU. If the new contract is approved, members will receive an 8.5 percent raise over three years. The raises will be retroactive to the expiration of the previous contract. And most importantly, the county withdrew the bulk of its proposed medical co-payment increases.

The fact that SEIU settled first, however, puts AFSCME in a weaker bargaining position. In fact, once SEIU hospital workers had settled their contract, AFSCME sent its members who work in hospitals back onto the job.

Union leaders apparently feared negative publicity if they picketed hospitals. But at the court buildings, hundreds of AFSCME members turned out throughout the day. "We're either all in or we're all out," Mary, an AFSCME worker, told Socialist Worker. "We have to stick together."

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Chicago UPS

By Donny Schraffenberger, steward, Teamsters Local 705

CHICAGO--Teamsters Local 705 contract negotiations were ongoing as Socialist Worker went to press, despite the national agreement. Local 705--like Local 710, also in Chicago--has a separate contract with UPS.

The 1997 Local 705 agreement stipulated that UPS had to create a minimum of 600 new full-time jobs over the life of the five-year contract. This language forced the company to create so called "combination jobs," or two part-time jobs put together.

Although this was a victory, management was able to pay these new workers substantially less than other full-time workers. This needs to be changed.

At a recent shop stewards' meeting, UPS Teamsters raised questions about the national contract, which serves as a model for our contract. The majority of stewards thought the tentative agreement wasn't strong enough.

Every worker I have talked has been appalled at the meager 50 cents an hour increase in starting pay for part-timers. About 80 percent of Local 705 UPS workers are part-timers. The vast majority of new hires quit before their first year due to the low pay, lack of hours, grueling labor and supervisor harassment. Their needs should be given top priority.

Also, no one supports the six-year length of the contract.

Top scale, full-time package car drivers would make more than $28 an hour in the sixth year of the contract.

Overall, members are frustrated by the lack of information. If the Local 705 contract doesn't satisfy the needs of our members, we should vote it down.

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Wisconsin state employees

By Eric Robson, steward, AFSCME Local 171

APPLETON, Wis.--Some 180 delegates representing more than 26,000 Wisconsin state employees in AFSCME Council 24 debated how to fight attacks on our union at our annual convention here July 19-21.

The state legislature recently passed a budget to close a $1.3 billion deficit. While public employees managed to get through this budget with only small cuts, it was done by raiding the money from the recent tobacco settlement.

Because the politicians were not willing to deal with the structural deficit created by years of tax cuts for the rich, there will still be a deficit of about $2.9 billion in the next budget cycle starting next July. What's more, we have been without a contract since the end of June 2001.

When state officials refused to meet until a budget deal was completed, Council 24 responded with a 3,000 strong rally March 28. But since then, the Council 24 leadership has been sitting back and waiting as well. At the convention, union leaders proposed accepting what was on the table in the spring--a 5.5 percent raise over two years.

Even if the deal goes through, we will continue to lose money to inflation. But union leaders hope that we can then elect better people in November so that negotiations will go better next year.

But no matter who gets elected, we will be facing a government determined to fix its deficit by cutting our benefits and laying off as many public workers as they can get away with.

We are going into one of the toughest rounds of negotiations in the union's history. We need to mobilize all state employees if we are going to turn back these attacks and get the wages and working conditions we deserve.

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Toronto municipal workers

By Brian Erway

TORONTO--After staging the largest municipal strike in Canadian history, some 24,000 city workers in Toronto are back on the job, after they were forced back by the Ontario provincial legislature.

Union members, which include garbage workers, nurses and day-care workers, struck in late June to demand that the city government halt privatization and subcontracting of public services. On July 11, the provincial legislature passed a law ordering members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Locals 416 and 79 back to work.

The dispute will now go to mediation and arbitration, and negotiations could continue into November, but the strike weapon has been effectively taken out of the hands of the workers.

Some labor leaders count this outcome as a victory and point to the role of New Democratic Party (Canada's labor party) legislators in securing arbitrators more favorable to the workers. But many union members consider this a bad precedent in the fight against a government determined to privatize services.

Since the legislature used the "threat to public health" posed by uncollected garbage as the rationale for ordering the unions back to work, there's concern that they might use similar measures to bar workers from striking.

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BBJ Linen

By Orlando Sepulveda

CHICAGO--Just a couple weeks after they celebrated a victory at Carousel Linen after an eight-month strike, laundry workers in UNITE were chanting once again "Yes, we can" (Si se puede), at a solidarity rally.

The July 12 rally was to protest working conditions at BBJ, the next step in the UNITE's Chicago-area laundry campaign. The demonstration of 70 workers and supporters upset an upscale fundraiser at Lincoln Park Zoo, where BBJ's expensive linens were used.

They paid $375 for the dinner--the same amount that BBJ's workers would receive after more that one week of hard work. Workers' pay ranges between $5.15 and $5.75 an hour, and that's after four or five years of working for the company.

Their first attempt to stand up against their bosses' greed was a wildcat strike in April 2001. According to BBJ worker Judith Pineda, after workers went to UNITE, the company "rushed to give us some concessions."

But conditions are still terrible. "Now, with the high temperatures, they don't have fans nor water for us," Pineda said. "Among our coworkers, there have been some who fainted. The only thing they do is to call the ambulance, and then they forget about us."

Another worker said, "They think because we are immigrants, they can mistreat us and do as they wish. They used to threaten us to bring the INS over us. That's why some of my coworkers are afraid."

We have to show these union busters that they can't afford to ignore workers' claims.

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