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On the picket line

October 25, 2002 | Pages 14 and 15

Boston janitors
Portland teachers


By a CWA shop steward

NEW YORK--In response to Verizon's plan to cut 1,995 jobs here, the AFL-CIO and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) called for a "Day of Outrage Against Corporate Greed." Five hundred protesters, mostly CWA workers at Verizon, rallied in front of the company's headquarters in Manhattan, demanding cuts in executive salaries and no layoffs.

Verizon is falsely claiming that the September 11 attacks and the downturn in the telecommunications industry are contractually sufficient justification for layoffs, which have never occurred before at Verizon in New York. The issue is being argued in arbitration, with the union trying to block Verizon from proceeding with layoffs before a decision is reached.

Some locals are now talking of a strike as early as the holiday season if Verizon lays off even one union member. The current contract doesn't expire until August, when a long strike over health benefits and Verizon's draconian disciplinary policy is virtually guaranteed.

"I think we're going to have to go on strike, and I think sooner rather than later," a shop steward from CWA Local 1109 told Socialist Worker. "I don't think the courts are going to decide in our favor."

"I think Verizon is answering to Wall Street," added another technician. "I think we need to inform the public about the plant"--the decaying infrastructure which Verizon has decided to let rot until profits rebound or until it can unload residential service, its least profitable sector.

Mismanagement has led to the current crisis, but Verizon has deep enough pockets to avoid layoffs. The company is trying to take advantage of the anti-labor climate created by the Bush administration to break the power of the union.

We can't rely on the courts, the Public Service Commission or least of all Democratic politicians to win this battle. We have to mobilize ourselves in any way necessary to force the company's hand.

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Boston janitors

By Mitch Lewis

BOSTON--A janitor's strike by members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 254 continues to make gains as it enters its fourth week. So far, six janitorial contracting companies have signed agreements that will provide health benefits for part-timers and paid sick days. Last Saturday, two more struck companies also signed agreements.

"The strike is making a huge impact," Silvia, a janitor originally from El Salvador, told Socialist Worker. "Everyone supports us, and even most supervisors are sympathetic. Before this there was so much abuse, you couldn't do anything. For me, this is really a fight for respect and dignity on the job. A $20 an hour wage is nothing if you don't have respect."

"I've never been on strike before," said María, a janitor in Boston for 21 years. "This has motivated all of us to stand up to the abuse we suffer at the hands of these companies."

The two largest companies, Unicco and Janitronics, continue to hold out despite massive support for the janitors. Unicco has already lost a million-dollar contract to clean government buildings in Boston, while Janitronics recently lost a contract with the Burlington Center complex for violating contractor policy.

"The community supports us because this is a just struggle," said Eddie, a Janitronics worker at the Prudential Center. "People know we're right to demand our share of the pie, because without us, they wouldn't make all that money. And that's why we're going to win this struggle."

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MADISON, Tenn.--Workers at the Peterbilt truck assembly plant here went into the second month of a lockout after management refused their offer to work.

The 750 workers, members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1832, were locked out September 3 after management made an "offer" of a 22-cent hourly raise--far outweighed by a 300 percent increase in health care premiums, a 600 percent increase in prescription drug charges and the erosion of job security.

Peterbilt made these outrageous demands even after they announced plans to lay off 500 workers in November. Those job cuts would leave just 250 people in the plant, down from 1,200 just four years ago. Management also wants the right to disregard seniority and call-back rights for any worker hired since 1993 who has been laid off for more than a year.

Ever since Local 1832 won a seven-month struggle in 1998 that included a strike and lockout, Peterbilt's parent company--PACCAR--has steadily been moving work to a nonunion plant in Texas. And when the union offered to return to work under terms of the old contract last week, management refused.

PACCAR has the money to pay for a decent contract--it's the leading company in the heavy truck industry, and it's made a profit for 62 years in a row.

UAW Local 1832 is asking supporters to contact PACCAR President David Hovind at 425-468-7400 and [email protected] to demand an end to the lockout. For more information, call the union at 615-868-6617.

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Portland teachers

By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--"Too much to ask" was the slogan of the Portland Teachers Association as they packed the bargaining session with the Portland School Board.

The arrogance and ignorance of school board administrators are glaring as they try to rip up the old contract that expired in June. Teachers are being made to pay for the schools' deficit of $37 million, which was caused by cuts in state funding and management incompetence.

While cutbacks have hit the classrooms, the school board spent big on compensation packages for executives and plush upgrades for offices. Now the board wants to take away virtually every protection teachers have. For example, principals would be able to "unassign" any teacher regardless of seniority or experience. The board also wants to be able to transfer teachers involuntarily, impose a wage freeze and put a cap on health insurance.

Teachers have given up a lot in years past--sabbaticals, a salary freeze, even $8 million from their Health and Welfare Trust to help the district. But this isn't enough for the school board. "The whole upper level of the administration has never been a K-12 teacher, and yet they think they can run schools like a business, which they can't," one teacher told Socialist Worker.

In an outrageous move this summer, the board fired all the custodians and replaced them with a contractor. Unfortunately, the custodians' union, the Service Employees International Union, did little to fight this. They should have linked their struggle with the teachers'.

Workers shouldn't be the ones to pay for a budget crisis--whether they teach, clean or have kids attending school. As negotiations continue, it's time to stand up to management. If we don't, they'll just keep taking more and more.

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