On the picket line
September 27, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11
By Ellie Fingerman
MORE THAN 800 teachers in two school districts in the Seattle area went on strike September 4 when contract negotiations broke down two weeks ago.
In the Issaquah school district, more than 400 teachers rejected an agreement between school district officials and union leaders from the Washington Education Association (WEA). The contract offered Issaquah teachers a measly raise of 1 percent in the first and second years and 1.2 percent in the third year. The district is seeking a court injunction to force the teachers back to work.
Snohomish teachers reached a tentative agreement, as Socialist Worker went to press. The three main demands were a salary increase, additional money for insurance and a reduction in class sizes.
Teachers have received strong community support from large rallies of parents and students walking the picket lines in solidarity.
By Shaun Harkin
NEW YORK--A threatened strike by 3,500 home health care aides last week forced management at Manhattan-based Premier Home Health Care Services Inc. to agree to a new contract with important gains for unionized health care workers.
The new contract includes a 20 percent wage increase, employer-paid health insurance, and paid holidays and sick days. The health care workers are members of the giant health care union 1199/Service Employees International Union, but have been working without a first contract for a year and a half because the company has refused to bargain in good faith.
Even though New York pays Premier about $18 per hour for each worker, the aides--nearly all of them women and many of them immigrants--earned only $6 per hour on average. Disgracefully, they received no benefits--no health care, no paid vacation, no sick days, no pensions--until the new contract.
"These are among the lowest paid workers in New York," said Dennis Rivera, the union's president. "They take care of the people who are dying or are too infirm to feed themselves. But they're so impoverished they can't provide for their own families."
Management tried desperately to avert a strike--which would have been the first ever by home health aides--by telling workers individually that they would lose their jobs if they went on strike. "Most of us are single mothers, and most of us are immigrants," said Bacchus, a seven-year Premier veteran, from Guyana. "We've been taken advantage of."
The gains made in this contract show that being part of a union makes a difference--and that building unions is the best way to fight poverty.
By Erik Wallenberg
BURLINGTON, Vt.--After more than three weeks of picketing, ironworkers who went on a wildcat strike in mid-August returned unconditionally to their jobs with Cody Steel Erectors (CSE).
Though the ironworkers and their union organizing team from Local 474 had been steadily building solidarity with a group of committed supporters, they decided that their best chance for organizing a union would come from being on the job and organizing inside their workplace.
Pressure mounted on the picketing workers when CSE began slowly replacing striking workers with unskilled workers. "These workers were getting less pay then we were, and they had absolutely no benefits," Steven Smith, one of the strikers, told Socialist Worker.
The unfair labor practices committed by CSE before the strike continued while the ironworkers were on strike--and remain since their return. In fact, union representatives went on public access television to show video footage of the replacement workers walking the beams upwards of three stories without guide wires or protective harnesses.
"While the strike wasn't as effective as we had hoped, it doesn't change what we're after," said ironworker Martin Bushey. "We're now working from within to organize CSE workers who are scattered on job sites around the state."
CSE has now sent the former strikers to a number of different construction sites around the state. "I believe CSE purposely split us up in order to weaken our attempt to organize a union," said Smith.
However, that strategy may backfire. "All the guys are still working together, and I find other CSE workers' interest comes when we talk with them and explain how a union can make our work environment and conditions improve," Bushey told Socialist Worker.
"We're still fighting to get a union at CSE and to gain a good contract," added Nick Lopez.
By Martin Smith
SANTA CRUZ, Calif.--The first-ever strike by Santa Cruz County workers began September 16 when more than 2,000 employees from 22 departments hit the picket lines to fight for better salaries and benefits.
Santa Cruz County workers receive from 7 to 24 percent less than their counterparts in surrounding counties, and the county pays less into employee health plans than any nearby county. Santa Cruz is rated the most expensive place to live in the U.S., making county workers' low wages even more difficult to cope with. But what's most disgusting is the fact that the Board of Supervisors and upper management gave themselves an 8 to 26 percent raise over the next four years!
The workers--members of Service Employees International Union Local 415--have brought nearly every department of county government to a halt. "We've been without a psychiatrist on our team for over a year and a half, because we couldn't hire one due to the low pay and high rent in the area," one striking mental health client specialist told Socialist Worker.
"They're jeopardizing the lives and care of our clients. We provide aid to the poor, the ill, the homeless and the suffering. We're fed up with the tremendous raises that they get while we are underpaid and our patients' services are cut."
KALAMAZOO, Mich.--More than 400 workers locked out by Graphic Packaging Corp. since July 26 are seeking solidarity in their fight for justice.
The workers--members of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) Local 6-1010--were locked out when they fought back against the company's demand for 20 hours of overtime per week and work on weekends and holidays.
Management's demands seemed calculated to force workers onto the picket line. After a federal mediator gave up negotiations, management locked out workers and brought in scabs.
Local members traveled to Coors headquarters in Denver--Graphic Packaging's parent company--where they received the support of the local labor council and the state AFL-CIO. But more support is needed.
Donations can be made with checks or money orders payable to Local 6-1010 Lockout Relief Fund, and mail your contribution to PACE Local 6-1010, 716 Shoppers Lane, Parchment, MI 49004. For updates, visit the union's site on the Web at ourworld.cs.com/local61010/L61010a.html.