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On the picket line

October 11, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11

Yale University
United Parcel Service
Fletcher Allen Health Care
California farmworkers


By a CWA shop steward

NEW YORK--In an effort to buoy its stock price and reduce costs, Verizon New York has announced a third employee "surplus" of 2002, this time of 3,800 Communications Workers of America (CWA) members in the state.

The company continues to claim an "external event" as the cause of its falling profits, which, in its contract with CWA, allows it to lay off "surplus" workers. This is the precedent Verizon is looking for, since the union has never allowed layoffs in the past.

The real source of Verizon's problems lies in unsound investments, unrealistic profit forecasts and increased cell phone usage. They now want workers to pay for management's mistakes.

Arbitration hearings between the company and the union could last into the spring, yet Verizon wants to pursue layoffs regardless once a retirement offer ends November 2. But the company has already implemented a speedup with severe discipline in its Service Excellence Plan for workers in installation and repair.

With the health care industry driving costs through the roof, Verizon is looking to force employees to pay for 35 to 50 percent of health benefits in the next contract. Verizon is trying to take advantage of the weakness of organized labor and the anti-labor climate created by the Bush administration and the "war on terror."

We have to rise to the occasion. More union members are wearing red on Thursdays, and they are applying the company's safety guidelines more rigidly. When management hands out discipline, they should feel a unified response, like solidarity stickers and buttons wore by Queens technicians on behalf of a suspended co-worker.

Verizon's solution is to let the infrastructure, their customers and their workers go to hell to satisfy Wall Street. If we play by their rules and the logic of profit, we're sure to lose.

Responding to an enraged membership, several CWA Locals have said they will strike if one member gets a pink slip. Rank-and-file workers should be ready to strike now--as well as saving for a strike when the contract expires in August.

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Yale University

By Sam Bernstein

NEW HAVEN, Conn.--More than 700 workers, community members, teaching assistants and students were arrested October 25 for civil disobedience in support of workers at Yale University whose contract expired in January. They blocked one of the busiest intersections in New Haven during rush hour as more than 1,400 supporters cheered from the sidewalk.

The protesters came together in solidarity with Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Union Locals 34 and 35, which represent dining hall, service, maintenance, clerical and technical workers at Yale.

This fight is about basic workers' rights--respect on the job and even the right to unionize--as well as wages, pensions, affordable health care and child care. One of the union's major demands is that Yale recognize teaching assistants who have voted to unionize and Yale-New Haven Hospital workers who want to join Service Employees International Union Local 1199.

Since school has resumed, Yale has been engaged in blatant anti-union propaganda. Judging from both Yale's history and their current actions, Yale administrators won't cooperate.

The civil disobedience was an excellent first step. Now the rank and file needs to demand what's rightfully theirs. Yale will never concede without a fight.

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United Parcel Service

By Donny Schraffenberger, steward, Teamsters Local 705

THE TEAMSTERS Local 705 UPS contract ballots were counted on October 1. The contract passed by 2,573 to 1,455--out of a possible 14,000 votes.

Most workers I talked to at the Jefferson St. hub voted no on the six-year deal. They saw the contract as a step backwards, especially given UPS's huge profit growth as a global company in the past five years. But many people were cynical that the union couldn't do better.

Start pay for part-timers remains $8.50 an hour and the daily guarantee is still just three and half hours. And new combination full-time jobs pay far less than the old inside full-time jobs. Around 7,000 part-timers work in the giant Chicago Area Consolidated Hub facility alone.

Granted, full-time package car drivers will make over $28 an hour in 2008. But new package car drivers will have to wait 30 months to hit top scale instead of 24 months under the old contract.

UPS Logistics, the fast-growing nonunion section of UPS, will not be organized. This will come back to haunt us in the future.

Granted, there were some wage gains and improvements in health benefits, but the widening gap between part-time and full-time workers is approaching Grand Canyon proportions.

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa let us down in the national agreement, and this certainly weakened our position in Local 705. That is why I have to disagree with Secretary-Treasurer Jerry Zero's opinion that "people who doubted Hoffa should certainly be convinced that he is a man of his word, a great leader and someone who has proven himself to be a great general president."

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Fletcher Allen Health Care

By Nancy Welch

BURLINGTON, Vt.--Nurses at Vermont's largest hospital voted to join a union by a margin of nearly 2 to 1. Last week, the final count of the two-day vote at Fletcher Allen Health Care--672 to 346--was announced to a cheering crowd of 90 nurses and supporters.

"Today's win is a tremendous victory for the registered nurses at Fletcher Allen and a huge shot in the arm for the union movement in Vermont," said Steve Chamberlin, a nurse at Fletcher Allen for 26 years.

Four years ago, hospital administrators spent an estimated $3 million to defeat the nurses' last attempt to unionize. This time, despite another aggressive anti-union campaign, the nurses built robust support in the hospital and the community.

Nurses cited dangerous staffing shortages and poor patient-staff ratios as key reasons for their drive. They also pointed out that stagnant wages has made it nearly impossible to recruit and retain nurses.

With the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals/AFT, the nurses have a vehicle to fight for their demands for better wages and better patient care.

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California farmworkers

By Phil Gasper

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--Democratic Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation at the end of September allowing some California farmworkers to seek state mediation if their employers refuse to sign a contract. The mainstream media described the new law as a "major victory" for the United Farm Workers (UFW), but in reality it grants the union very little.

California's farmworkers were granted collective bargaining rights in 1975. Since then, the UFW has won 428 representation elections across the state, but in nearly 60 percent of the cases, growers have refused to sign contracts. As a result, the UFW's membership has dwindled to 27,000 from a high point of well over 100,000.

Today, most farmworkers earn less than they did 15 years ago. Three-quarters make less than $10,000 a year, and 90 percent have no health benefits. The UFW has been campaigning for a law that would impose binding arbitration on deadlocked contract negotiations, but the legislation signed by Davis--who has received $1.5 million in campaign contributions from big agriculture in the past four years--falls far short of that.

The new law allows a mediator to propose a contract, but the proposal can be appealed first to California's Agricultural Labor Relations Board, then to the Court of Appeals and finally to the State Supreme Court. Worse, the legislation doesn't apply to small farms, expires in five years and only 75 cases are allowed to be mediated--fewer than one-third of the stalled negotiations.

"As long as employers work within the spirit of the law," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, "we can accomplish good things for farmworkers as well as for the agriculture industry." But the employers' Western Growers Association immediately made clear that it opposes even this watered-down legislation and will try to get it struck down in court.

Davis, who is up for re-election next month, grudgingly signed the legislation after a long campaign of marches, rallies and hunger strikes. The same day, he vetoed a bill allowing undocumented workers to obtain driver's licenses.

Rather than looking to Democrats, farmworkers need to organize militant grassroots action and to win genuine solidarity from other sectors of the labor movement.

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