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On the picket line

September 20, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11

Kaiser Permanente
Chicago-area teachers
University of Vermont
Washington State Labor Council

West Coast dockworkers

By Sue Sandlin

SAN FRANCISCO--As negotiations drag on between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), there are signs that frustration is growing among rank and filers.

Since the expiration of the contract on July 1, the "strategy" of the international has been appealing to the Democratic Party for support, staging rallies (away from the docks), calling for consumer boycotts and even offering concessions to the employers. They have purposely played down the idea of work actions, bowing to Bush's threats to bring federal troops in to break any strike.

But anger over the bosses' attacks continues to erupt at different ports, where workers have shown a willingness to take on the bosses at the job sites. For instance, late last week at the APL terminal in Oakland, employers insisted that workers put in overtime hours to finish unloading a ship. This would save the employers money because they wouldn't have to call out a second crew to finish the job.

Workers initially refused the forced overtime and called their union hall for guidance. They got mixed messages from their leadership. One official rightly told them that they did not have to work overtime under the terms of their contract. Another took the employer's side, insisting that they stay and finish unloading the ship.

In the end, some of the workers left, and some stayed to unload the ship. The incident at APL, along with the stop-work meeting that took place a week ago at the Matson terminal and similar on-the-job actions up and down the coast, shows that workers are ready to fight. But it also shows that the leadership has so far done everything it can to squelch such effective actions.

Another sign of workers challenging the conservatism of their leadership is the publication of the first issue of the Maritime Worker Monitor, a rank-and-file newsletter. The Monitor deals with what's wrong with appealing to Democrats and addresses the speed-ups that the employers are enforcing and how to fight them by enforcing the safety rules in the contract.

It quotes Harry Bridges about union democracy and talks about international solidarity and the real power of the union--the rank and file. The Monitor is dedicated to the late Sean Maloney, an ILWU militant who was also an organizer of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strike.

If current union leaders continue to pursue the path they're on, they risk a concessionary contract and possibly the coastwide breakup of their union contract. The only effective challenge to the greed of the shipping bosses is work action on the docks--and the rank and file is showing the way.

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Kaiser Permanente

By Rebecca Weston

SAN FRANCISCO--The 10,200 nurses at Kaiser Permanente scored a victory last week. Represented by the California Nurses Association (CNA) in 17 hospitals and 37 other medical facilities throughout Northern and Central California, the nurses threatened to call a strike vote after negotiations failed to produce a new contract by August 31.

As Socialist Worker went to press, rank and filers were set to approve the contract by October 2. On virtually every demand, the nurses were able to make substantial gains.

Kaiser nurses went into negotiations with the same demands raised by nurses throughout California and the country--minimum registered nurse staff ratios, the elimination of mandatory overtime, improved health benefits and substantial wage increases.

While Kaiser initially offered a 21.6 percent wage hike over four years, CNA successfully demanded across-the-board wages increase of 26.5 percent and eliminated substantial wage discrepancies between nurses in the Bay Area and Sacramento.

At the same time, CNA forced Kaiser to eliminate mandatory overtime and won improved health care benefits. And although CNA did not win a portable pension plan, they did win a defined Kaiser-specific pension plan that nearly triples their current retirement benefits.

As Socialist Worker went to press, it was not clear whether CNA was able to win defined minimum staffing ratios. Because of extreme nursing shortages throughout the state and state-mandated staffing ratios, the nurses had significant power going into the negotiations.

At the same time, through several one-day and three-day strikes in 1996 and 1997, the nurses have proven themselves willing to put muscle behind their demands.

CNA has the largest nurses' bargaining unit in the country. Their victory is a victory for nurses everywhere. "We have achieved a major accomplishment for our patients and our members with an excellent agreement that we know will resound through the health care industry across the nation," said CNA Vice President Deborah Burger.

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Chicago-area teachers

TWO CHICAGO-area teachers' unions went on strike as Socialist Worker went to press.

About 375 members of the Downers Grove Education Association went on strike in the suburban school district September 16 after working 10 months without a contract.

School district officials claimed that their offer of a 11.6 pay increase in the first year of a contract was generous, followed by 4 percent raises in each of the next two years. But the first-year raise would only apply to those who had worked in the district for four years.

Meanwhile, in Cary, northwest of the city, 243 members of the Cary Educational Association walked out in a fight to get a 25 percent wage increase in the first year of their contract, with a 7 percent increase in each of the next two years.

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University of Vermont

By Jessica Dur

BURLINGTON, Vt.--United Electrical (UE) Local 267, representing maintenance and custodial workers at the University of Vermont (UVM), has just ratified a new one-year contract that raises the minimum wage for employees from $7.63 to $8.70 an hour.

But even this raise is still far below the nearly $11 an hour that's necessary for a livable wage in Vermont. And the university is still forcing workers to pay a percentage of their deductible for health care coverage.

UVM--as a leading, profitable employer in the state--should adopt a livable wage salary for all employees!

Though these workers are an integral part of the university's operation, they are treated as dispensable commodities. They do everything from keeping the computer labs running efficiently to cleaning the dorms. "With insurance premiums going up, the 3 percent raise will really be no raise at all," said Charlene, a union member.

Negotiations for a new, multi-year contract begin in the spring. It's time to stop corporate values from flooding the halls of our universities. Student support and solidarity will be needed to help UE fight for the livable wage standard that has been adopted by both the City of Burlington and nearby St. Michael's College.

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Washington State Labor Council

By Steve Leigh

THE WASHINGTON State Labor Council last month became the first statewide AFL-CIO body to come out against George W. Bush's "war on terrorism." By an overwhelming vote among the 500 delegates, the council opposed the war, attacks on civil liberties, racial profiling and the USA PATRIOT Act.

The resolution, proposed by AFSCME Local 304, also called on the AFL-CIO to participate in rallies and marches to pressure Bush to redirect resources to public services.

Members of the council also voted down a resolution recommended by the federation that would bar "terrorist supporters" from holding union office--an echo of the AFL-CIO's old anticommunist position. Delegates noted that this rule could be used against any radical union activist, just as anti-left resolutions have in the past.

The council's antiwar resolution is a step forward--and can be used by activists to get their unions to mobilize.

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