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On the picket line

October 4, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11

United Airlines
Washington state teachers
Chicago-area teachers
Port of Seattle
University of Wisconsin-Madison
George Washington University

Metropolitan Transit Authority

By Frank Laporte

NEW YORK--Ahead of its December 15 contract deadline, Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 organized a 2,000-strong rally September 24 in front of the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) headquarters.

TWU Local 100 is seeking better health benefits and a substantial wage increase to reach parity with other transport workers in the area. And the union wants an end to on-the-job harassment, which Local 100 President Roger Toussaint describes as "plantation mentality."

Currently, MTA drivers earn $6 per hour less than Long Island Rail Road drivers, and the union--not the city--pays for health benefits. MTA workers have only five sick days per year, and MTA hands out an incredible 60,000 disciplinary charges to its workforce of nearly 30,000.

In the coming showdown, the stakes are high because Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to make MTA workers and riders pay for the city's growing budget deficit. But Local 100 opposes the 33 percent fare increases in order to build solidarity with MTA riders. "They'll try to take the public against us…and we took that away from them," explains Toussaint.

Toussaint's New Directions caucus was elected to lead Local 100 in 2000 after the old guard's disastrous contract negotiations in 1999. MTA workers are in a much better position to win this time, but we need to remember that the union power lies with its rank and file.

"We move New York…[And] when we stop, New York will stop moving," said Thomas Flood, a Brooklyn bus driver.

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United Airlines

By Jennifer Biddle, IAM Local 1781

UNITED AIRLINES' five unions agreed to $5 billion in cuts September 25 when they handed the company an alternative recovery proposal. UAL had been seeking $9 billion in cuts over six years in an effort to qualify for a $1.8 billion federal loan guarantee.

The unions have not published any details as yet so workers are taking a "wait and see" attitude. Among mechanics, much of the anger that boiled over when the company made their initial proposal has been undercut by the disastrous IAM retreats at Boeing and US Airways in the past month.

The response from Wall Street has been mixed. Some analysts have said that $5 billion won't be enough while others say that it's a step in the right direction. As a result, there's speculation as to whether or not the company will accept the unions' proposal.

A decision by the company is expected this week. But what is certain is that concessions have never saved an airline from bankruptcy. Workers at UAL can also be sure that their union leaders will use the company's threat of bankruptcy to push concessions if the company agrees to the unions' proposal.

Given that whatever happens at United will roll through the industry, it's important to challenge the company and union officials in a fight over concessions. Rank-and-file activists are planning to organize a "no" vote.

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Washington state teachers

By Dan Troccoli and Darrin Hoop

TEACHERS IN two Seattle-area districts have settled three-week strikes.

Teachers from the Snohomish Education Association voted 445-5 to accept a two-year contract on September 24. They won raises of 5 percent in the first year and 3.75 percent in the second year--and improved health benefits.

Teachers from the Issaquah Education Association ratified their agreement 744-45 after voting down the school district's initial offer by a 2-to-1 margin. They then voted 561-243 to defy a court injunction despite facing fines of $250 per day per teacher, $500 per day for the union and potential jail time.

Although district officials threatened to use substitutes, principals and parents to open the schools without the teachers, the teachers still won a 4.8 percent raise and $250 bonus in the first year and a 4 percent and $500 bonus in the second.

These two strikes have set the tone for next year when teachers' contracts in 71 of the state's 296 school districts expire. The Issaquah teachers showed that workers can stand up to court injunctions and win.

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Chicago-area teachers

After a five-day strike, Cary teachers won a 19 percent raise over two years and significant increases in the school district's contribution to the teachers' retirement fund. Teachers also staged a four-day strike in Downers Grove where teachers won several gains as well. As Socialist Worker went to press, Harvard school district teachers appeared set to strike.

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Port of Seattle

By Steve Leigh

SEATTLE--More than 100 members and supporters of the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 9 picketed the headquarters of the Port of Seattle to protest planned layoffs of 150 warehouse workers.

Last December, the Port decided to shut down its warehouse, claiming it is losing money. For decades, the Port has run a warehouse to hold incoming cargo. First, the Port proposed dropping wages from $19 an hour down to $8, knowing that workers would reject this insult. They then declared impasse and went ahead with plans to privatize the warehouse operation.

The Port has offered one week's pay for each year an employee has worked, but the union wants two weeks--the same severance pay that nonunion workers will get. "The Port of Seattle, which likes to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on museums, convention centers and condominium projects, has decided it no longer wants to fulfill one of the most basic roles of a public port--warehousing cargo," reads an ILWU press release.

The warehouse jobs will likely end up nonunion. "They're trying to beat unions down to lower wages in general," explained Greg McElroy, a 26-year Port of Seattle warehouse worker. "We fought for our rights in the '30s. Are we going to give it all up now? Workers need to understand that it really is a question of class struggle."

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University of Wisconsin-Madison

By Laura Nelson

MADISON, Wis.--More than 50 workers, students and community members rallied in front of the Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) September 18 to protest UW's abuse of its limited term employees (LTEs).

By firing and re-hiring LTEs every six months, UW avoids paying these workers union wages and benefits. Some workers have been "limited term" for 15 years without a raise--and they still receive no benefits.

Although it's a statewide issue, the Memorial Union was specifically targeted because more than 50 percent of its workers are LTEs. The rally--cosponsored by AFSCME Local 171 and the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC)--is part of a larger battle being fought in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is facing a budget crisis, and, rather than tax corporations, the state wants to balance its budget on the backs of its workers. Politicians are increasing UW's tuition at the same time that they deny raises to state workers.

By bringing together workers and students, this rally represents the unity needed to fight the cuts.

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George Washington University

By Mike Stark

WASHINGTON, D.C.--More than 50 George Washington University students gathered last week to hear a panel of university food service workers discuss working conditions.

The panel, sponsored by a campus group, described the appalling conditions in which they were forced to work. These included the inability of workers to receive emergency telephone calls during the day and constant berating by the management. One worker didn't find out that her son had been hit by a car until she got home--because the message wasn't delivered to her.

These workers, employed by Aramark, are denied health care benefits as well. One man paid for family coverage but was not able to get his diabetic wife insulin through the plan.

With contract negotiations coming up, the workers told the students they are ready to strike--and students appear ready to support their struggle.

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