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On the picket line

September 6, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11

United Parcel Service
United Farm Workers
Los Angeles County
Boston janitors
Delta Dental

West Coast dockworkers

SAN FRANCISCO--Talks broke down between West Coast dockworkers and shipping bosses as SW went to press. The workers, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), announced that they were considering job actions, including a slowdown.

The contract, which expired July 1, has been extended--and the ILWU hasn't taken a strike vote. The employers' group, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), immediately threatened a lockout if the ILWU takes action.

The PMA has the backing of the Bush Administration to threaten the ILWU with the Taft-Hartley act, which would impose an 80-day cooling-off period--and possibly the use of troops as strikebreakers.

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United Parcel Service

By Donny Schraffenberger, steward, Teamster Local 705

WASHINGTON--The Teamsters' new contract with United Parcel Service (UPS) was ratified in a mail-in ballot, according to results announced last week. But participation was lower than at any time in the union's history.

There were no official turnout figures as Socialist Worker went to press, but unofficial counts cited by Teamsters for a Democratic Union put the number of ballots at 80,000 to 90,000--just a third of members covered by the national contract. The proposal passed by a 72 to 28 percent margin.

The six-year deal sells part-timers short. Base pay for them will still be a meager $8.50 an hour, with a 50 cent raise after 90 days. The difference between new part-timers--the majority of the workforce--and top-scale package car drivers will be $20 by 2008!

Local 705 in Chicago, which has a separate pact with UPS covering 20,000 workers, is having a contract meeting on September 7 at 9 a.m. at the union hall. Although we won more full-time jobs than any other local, we also have one of the highest ratios of part-timers to full-timers--around four to one.

The giant CACH facility employs 7,000 people, almost all of them part-time. The average new hire lasts less than three weeks.

A strong union can't accept a decent deal for its long-term full-timers while part-timers quit because the pay is too low, guaranteed hours aren't enough, and the pace of work is backbreaking. Also, the combo jobs won out of the 1997 strike should pay the same as other full-time work--not $5.50 an hour less.

Since the Hoffa administration accepted a UPS deal without a fight, it's up to Local 705 to lead the way.

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United Farm Workers

By Phil Gasper

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--Seven thousand members and supporters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union rallied here August 25 to demand that Democratic Gov. Gray Davis sign a bill to impose binding arbitration on growers who refuse to sign contracts with their employees.

But days later, the union's supposed Democratic allies in the state Senate removed key provisions from the legislation--leaving it virtually toothless--in order to win the governor's approval.

Although the UFW has been one of Davis' biggest supporters, he has also received $1.5 million in campaign contributions from big agriculture since his 1998 election. In the last month alone, Davis took in $150,000 more from the agriculture industry, and it became increasingly clear that he intended to veto the bill when it reached his desk.

At the Sacramento demonstration, leading Democrats had claimed the legacy of the UFW's legendary first president, Cesar Chavez. John Burton, president of the state Senate, said that we would "never forgive" Davis if he vetoed the bill--SB 1736.

But now Burton has abandoned SB 1736 and put forward a new bill without binding arbitration. Under the new legislation, a mediator could propose a contract, but growers would have the right to appeal it to the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), which has a long history of siding with the employers.

California's farmworkers won collective bargaining rights in 1975, but most growers have refused to bargain in good faith, and boycotts and other campaigns have proved largely ineffective. As a result, the UFW's membership has dwindled to 25 percent of its former size while workers are worse off than 15 years ago. Today, 74 percent make less than $10,000 a year and 90 percent have no health benefits.

It seems likely that Davis will sign the new bill, allowing him to pose as pro-union for his November re-election campaign, while in reality continuing to protect the interests of exploitative growers.

Real gains for California's farm workers won't be won by relying on Democrats in Sacramento, but through organizing efforts and genuine solidarity from the rest of the labor movement.

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Los Angeles County

By Maritza Marquina

LOS ANGELES--Chants of "Don't you dare take away our health care" filled the air August 20 outside the LA County Board of Supervisors' building. A rally of 600 brought together workers from several Service Employees International Union (SEIU) locals as well as community groups like the Coalition for Healthy Communities.

United, they voiced their outrage at the Board's recent decision to close 11 community clinics and the Antelope Valley's High Desert hospitals in an attempt to "trim" $57 million from the county's health budget.

This is a plan that will have devastating effects on the community, cutting immunizations and preventative and emergency care for the working poor and the uninsured. Antelope Valley patients, for example, would have to travel 75 miles to receive emergency care!

At the rally, 17 people were arrested for blocking traffic--which seems to have paid off. The Board decided to keep the High Desert hospitals open for another year. "Their cuts always affect us, they always affect the poor people who work the hardest, they don't give a damn about us," said Reyna Montero of SEIU Local 434b.

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Boston janitors

By Ed Bishop

BOSTON--A fight is brewing in the so-called "cradle of liberty" over basic rights and respect for workers. Service Employees International Union Locals 615 and 254 are trying to bring janitors' living standards into the 21st century with a "Justice for Janitors" campaign fighting for better wages, health insurance, sick days and full-time jobs.

The "American Dream" is a nightmare for the majority immigrant workforce, most of whom earn less then $39 a day and have no health care or other benefits. On these poverty wages, workers have to struggle to afford living in pricey Boston. Some work two part-time jobs, but still have no benefits--and sometimes have to choose between eating or going to the doctor. Janitors in other cities, however, have won full-time jobs with good pay and health care.

Negotiations started in June, but the three major companies refuse to bargain seriously. As the contract deadline neared, the companies began using physical intimidation against workers and threatened to fire or review the immigration status of workers who were fighting for a fair contract.

At a spirited rally on August 30, workers voted to strike. This sent a clear message to the bosses that they need to take janitors seriously.

In Los Angeles two years ago, janitors fought a similar struggle and won. Now, it's time to win in Boston.

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Delta Dental

By Andy Libson

AFTER FOUR weeks on the picket line, workers at Delta Dental--members of Teamsters Local 865--voted to return to work with a new contract.

The contract includes an 18.5 percent wage increase over four years, but this isn't enough to keep pace with the skyrocketing cost of living in the Bay Area. And the contract didn't address the central issues that angered workers on the picket line--new co-payments for health insurance, a dental insurance cap of $2,000, a longer work week and the loss of Saturday overtime hours (since new hires will work Saturdays at scale).

The pressure brought to bear on management at Delta Dental was enough to win a modest pay increase and to defend the union against an aggressive management. But by any measure, the bosses got more than they gave.

This loss was not the result of strikers' lack of will. Workers like Christine Le, mother of two, lost her apartment and moved in with her family during the fight. During the entire time she was out, the workers never received a dime of strike pay, she said.

Rank and filers like Donner Valerio and Patricia Ward took up the work of organizing picket lines when the union's shop stewards refused to endorse continuing the battle and in some cases threatened to cross the line.

Delta Dental employees weren't surprised by the greed of their employers, but many were outraged at their union leadership, which showed no will to put up a sustained fight and in some cases actually undermined the workers' fight.

This combination proved too much to overcome. But the fight doesn't end here. Many workers have promised to remember the lessons of the strike--and to use upcoming union elections to elect those militants who consistently organized during the strike.

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