On the picket line
August 23, 2002 | Page 11
By Sophie Hand
CHICAGO--Workers in Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 1 were set to march August 23 through Michigan Avenue's ritzy shopping district. HERE is poised to strike Chicago's hotels on August 31 if hotel management doesn't offer a fair contract.
More than 7,000 hotel workers voted 98 percent to authorize a strike last week, sending a clear message to management that they don't intend to settle for the low wages and benefits that have separated Chicago-area hotel workers from their counterparts in other major cities. But as Socialist Worker went to press, negotiations canceled August 15 still hadn't resumed.
While hotel workers in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles pay nothing towards health care, Chicago hotel workers contribute $85 a month for family health care coverage. Some workers can't afford health insurance for their families and must put their children on welfare in order to get medical care.
Just last December, members of Boston's HERE Local 26 won significant gains after a 97 percent strike vote, rallies and mobilization for a strike convinced management to dramatically revise its contract offer in order to avert a strike.
That contract was considered an important precedent for the negotiations in Chicago, where nearly every job--from room attendant to food server to telephone operator--pays almost $10 an hour less than comparable jobs in New York City.
Across the nation, hotel management is using the post-September 11 decline in tourism as an excuse to cut jobs and wages. But despite the decline in tourism, according to PriceWaterhouseCooper, the hotel industry will record profits of $17.2 billion in 2002--compared to $16.7 billion in 2001. The difference in profits is due in part to reductions in hours, layoffs, pay cuts, reductions in workers' benefits and increasing workload for employees.
But Local 1 members are preparing to stand their ground. A number of unions and other organizations are organizing a food drive to help support the workers in the event of a strike.
By Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME Local 3299, UC-Berkeley
BERKELEY, Calif.--Members of the Coalition of University Employees (CUE) Local 3 are set to begin a three-day strike August 26--the first day of fall classes at the University of California-Berkeley.
For the last 15 months, CUE and the university have been negotiating a contract for clerical workers, whose last contract expired last September. Clerical workers are among the lowest-paid workers at the university, yet the administration is offering them a measly 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). This would cost the university about $41 million in total clerical salaries after the COLA--a pittance compared to the university's $2.9 billion in unrestricted reserves.
UC-Berkeley gets money from the state legislature for its budget. So the university is justifying its insulting offer to workers by pointing to the state's budget crisis in the wake of the recession and the 2000 energy crisis--in which greedy energy companies like Enron made billions while sticking consumers and the state with the bill. But only 25 percent of the university's salary funds come from state coffers--the rest comes from private sources and public grants.
UC-Berkeley can easily afford the sort of raises that clerical workers need and deserve. To top it off, the university expects health care premiums to go up between 20 percent and 40 percent in January. The administration then wants workers to make up the difference!
UC-Berkeley is in contract negotiations with several of its unions, including librarians and lecturers from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 1474. It looks likely that the AFT will hold a two-day strike to protest unfair labor practices by the university in conjunction with the CUE strike.
This kind of coordination between unions--as well as student support--can build the solidarity that's critical to winning victories for everyone at UC-Berkeley.
By Evan Kornfeld
LAKE PLACID, Fla.--On June 26, three Florida citrus growers were found guilty of conspiracy to hold employees in indentured servitude. This victory follows a two-year investigation by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).
Juan, Ramiro and Jose Luis Ramos kept their workers in a labor camp in Lake Placid, Fla. They told workers that they would have to pay a $1,000 fee for transporting them from Arizona to Florida.
Each week, the Ramoses illegally deducted large sums of money for the fee, rent, food and work equipment from the workers' pay. When some workers tried to leave for jobs up north, the Ramoses had a gang of armed thugs threaten them at gunpoint. Some were beaten.
The Ramoses face up to 25 years in prison, and the forfeiture of $3 million in assets. This is the fifth slavery conviction in Florida in the past five years, a sign of the abusive treatment that agricultural workers endure.
"It's time now that the agriculture industry take a look at itself and decide that it's not going to operate under the rules of the past and continue beating and holding workers by force," said Laura Germino, a CIW representative.
By Steve Leigh
SEATTLE--Boeing engineers and technical workers voted to recall two of their union leaders. President Tom Day was recalled by 57 percent of union members who voted and Treasurer Mike Dunn by 55 percent. Roughly 40 percent of the 18,000 eligible union members participated in the vote.
Dunn and Day are members of the Dedicated Unionists, a dissident group within Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) that has challenged longtime union leaders. They were elected in March on a platform of more union democracy--including more control over Executive Director Charles Bofferding and the rest of the union staff.
The latest dispute started when Day and Dunn wanted to talk to company management about globalization and Boeing's structure. The union's Council Reps wanted to know the content of the discussions before the officers talked to management. The officers agreed--but then talked to Boeing CEO Alan Mulally anyway because Mulally had to leave town before the next council meeting.
Though Dunn said he did not engage in collective bargaining with Mulally, he made a big mistake by violating his pledge to the Council Reps and gave old union leaders an excuse to go after the pro-democracy caucus.
According to a former Council Rep, the real reasons that the old-guard leadership went after the Dedicated Unionists is that they publicized Bofferding's salary and put the union's annual financial report on their Web site.
Even before the recall, the organizing methods of the Dedicated Unionists left a lot to be desired. According to their Web site, they have only 10 members, most of whom are anonymous. They can be contacted on the Internet but have no open membership meetings.
This recall is especially unfortunate since SPEAA begins negotiating in October for its first contract since the 2000 strike.
By Martin Smith
SANTA CRUZ, Calif.--More than 20 members of the University Professional and Trade Employees' (UPTE) union rallied August 1 against the University of California-Santa Cruz administration.
UPTE--which represents University of California firefighters, health care workers, researchers and technical employees--is fighting to expand the current "step-system" pay scale, in which employee wages do not keep up with inflation.
The administration is offering the union a 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise--an insult to all employees. Yet employee health premiums are expected to increase more than 15 percent next year. Though the university claims bankruptcy, it recently granted 19 to 25 percent raises to administrators already making six-figure salaries.
A high turnover rate--35 percent last year alone--means an inexperienced workforce and an over-reliance on veteran staff to fill in the gaps. It also means that they can pay entry-level employees less. As one firefighter said, "They're putting our lives in danger."