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On the picket line

November 8, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11

General Electric
Teamsters for a Democratic Union
Boycott Taco Bell
Plainfield, Ill., teachers

Washington, D.C., teachers

By Jeff Bale, Washington Teachers' Union, Local 6, AFT

WASHINGTON--Crisis has once again hit the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU). Some $800,000 has gone missing, and the subpoenas are rolling in.

Teachers received a retroactive paycheck last spring to cover part of a new raise. But roughly $160 was deducted from our paycheck as "union dues." When members called the union to find out why they took the money, officials rudely dismissed the questions and blamed it on payroll.

Turns out that the union did illegally deduct money from our paychecks. Now it's time to refund the money, but no one can find it.

Over the summer, one WTU member's lawyer contacted the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), our parent union, regarding the issue. This triggered an initial investigation, which found a whole series of checks and credit card charges that cannot be justified.

The Executive Board asked President Barbara Bullock, her assistant and the treasurer to resign. So far, only Bullock has complied. Another staff member was fired.

News of the scandal was brewing as our October membership meeting approached. After three and a half years of no turnout, we finally had a quorum of some 150 members. Esther Hankerson, interim president, went through the scope of the scandal, which shocked many in the room. She also announced that the AFT would be overseeing the union until the issue was settled, and that the U.S. Attorney's office was investigating.

Members rose to ask questions and speak their mind about the crisis. Many speakers were applauded when they said the entire Executive Board, whether directly involved or not, should step aside, since they failed in their main duty of overseeing and protecting the union. Others applauded when calls were made to defend Hankerson and stick with the union through troubled times.

This crisis hits during an election year for the union leadership. Two reform candidates, George Parker and Elizabeth Davis, are expected to run again for leadership. The challenge for this reform slate will be to take the anger at this scandal and use it to refocus the union and put it in a posture to go on the offensive.

Cleaning up the union will mean getting rank and filers more involved--not just in internal union affairs, but in making ours a fighting union to defend our contract, keep our raises and fight for better working conditions.

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General Electric

By Annie Levin

LYNN, Mass.--As part of a fight against job cuts, 2,500 members of the International Union of Electrical Workers/Communications Workers of America (IUE/CWA) Local 201 began a four-day strike at General Electric on October 31.

The third largest local at GE nationally, this is the union's first strike since 1986 at the Lynn plant, which produces military and commercial aircraft engines. The union is demanding that GE resolve two major grievances.

The first concerns the company's outrageous demand that union members sign disability waivers in order to receive the pension benefits in early retirement packages. The second grievance was filed in 1999--three years ago--when the company, in violation of the contract, farmed out work to nonunion plants in Romania, leading to the loss of 12 jobs in Lynn.

At least one worker was injured on the picket line when a Cadillac struck David Moro, a lathe operator, in the leg and drove away. The car had stopped behind a pickup parked near the picket line and then jumped the curb and struck Moro before heading onto plant grounds, according to witnesses.

The four-day strike comes in the wake of an announcement by GE Aircraft Engines that they plan to cut 1,000 jobs by the end of the year and up to 1,800 more over the next two years. The Lynn plant stands to lose more than 40 jobs by January as part of this attack.

GE claims that the job cuts are a necessary response to the economic slump. But last July, GE signed a $1.9 billion deal with the U.S. Navy to produce 480 F414 engines at the Lynn plant. And with the company's $16 billion a year in profits, it's only the workers who are experiencing a slump.

The truth is, GE's downsizing is nothing new. In Lynn alone, GE has cut more than 5,000 union jobs over the last decade.

The struggle against GE's corporate greed is building nationally with major locals in Erie, Pa., and Schenectady, N.Y., also issuing strike notices because of job cuts. "The era of GE announcing engine orders at the front gate while secretly shipping our jobs out the back gate is over," Local 201 President Jeff Crosby told reporters about GE's attempt to move jobs to countries where it hopes to secure defense contracts. "[This] is just the latest example of what we're up against. They're very clearly saying, 'We need to shed people to increase our bottom line.'"

Meanwhile, IUE/CWA leaders are discussing another possible strike to take place next year at GE over rising health care costs. And next June, the contract is up and union leaders from GE's 14 unions are meeting soon to plan the national contract campaign.

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Teamsters for a Democratic Union

By Donny Schraffenberger, steward, Teamsters Local 705

CLEVELAND--More than 200 reform Teamsters and activists met at the 27th annual Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) Convention November 1-3.

The key speaker on the opening night was left-wing writer Studs Terkel. The following evening, Ken Riley, President of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 in Charleston, S.C., spoke on the Charleston Five victory and the attack on the West Coast dockworkers today.

Also addressing the convention was Tom Leedham, principal officer of Teamsters Local 206 in Oregon and twice a reform candidate for general president against James P. Hoffa.

The convention also highlighted inspiring struggles from meatpacking workers at Excel in Colorado and IBP in Washington State and movers in New York City.

An antiwar resolution proposed by this writer and Joe Allen, a shop steward in Local 705 in Chicago, was heartily received by many Teamsters. The resolution was modeled on one passed by a recent Local 705 membership meeting--but was tabled in a vote recommended by the TDU steering committee.

The result is that the longest-standing reform group in the labor movement is silent on the war drive against Iraq at a time when increasing numbers of union bodies are voting to oppose it.

The vote stood in sharp contrast to the convention workshop on "Building Labor and Community Alliances." Speaking along with Ken Riley was Bill Gibson, principal officer of Teamsters Local 96 in Washington, D.C. Gibson said that he opposed the Vietnam War when he was younger--and that his local is taking up the issue of war today.

Also, the convention didn't take up the question of why TDU criticized--but did not oppose--the recent UPS contract.

And although there were interesting reports from UPS Teamsters from across the country, we still need a more organized plan on how to take on the company on the shop floor. TDU's new "Guide to Enforcing the UPS National Contract" is good, and I encourage everyone to get a copy. But we also need a fighting strategy, like the one that workers at IBP in Washington state implemented--not just getting reformers elected to office on the lowest common denominator on being anti-Hoffa.

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CHICAGO--About 9,000 workers at the Dominick's grocery store chain will vote November 10 on whether to strike against management's union-busting contract demands.

Safeway, the third-largest grocery chain in the U.S., owns Dominick's. The company has threatened to sell the stores if members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 881 and 1546 walk out.

"The company would dispose of the assets of the Dominick's subsidiary," Safeway said in a statement designed to intimidate workers. "Dominick's will not attempt to operate any of its stores should the employees go on strike."

Instead, union officials say, the company is planning to close down its stores for a few weeks and reopen them under the Safeway name--without union contracts. The company denies this. But in any case, management has given the workers little choice but to fight.

Dominick's wants workers to begin paying for their health insurance premiums, and the company wants to dismantle the seniority system that gives the longest-standing workers the first choice in choosing which shifts they work.

If Dominick's workers strike, it will be the biggest strike in Chicago in years--and they will need the support and solidarity of the entire labor movement.

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Boycott Taco Bell

By Evan Kornfeld

FOUR UNIVERSITIES and four high schools have declared themselves "Taco Bell-Free Zones." This is a victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization that's fighting to improve the wages and working conditions of agricultural workers in Immokalee, Fla., who pick the tomatoes used by Taco Bell.

The University of Notre Dame, Milwaukee Area Technical College and the University of California-Berkeley decided not to allow Taco Bells to open on campus in response to student protests. And Duke University stopped selling Taco Bell after students protested there.

Students at West High School in Denver, Colo., Sunflower Catholic High School in Florida, and Garamoni High School in Illinois also persuaded their schools to stop selling Taco Bell products. Thirty Catholic schools in Gary, Ind., stopped buying products from Pizza Hut, which is owned by Yum! Brands, Taco Bell's parent company--also citing the boycott.

At the University of Texas, two dozen students dressed as tomatoes, cheerleaders and CEOs gathered outside a Taco Bell on Halloween to protest the low wages paid to tomato pickers. "The tomato pickers there in Florida are making terrible wages," student John Nation told The Daily Texan. "They are making just about $7,500 a year--and, because of exemptions on the federal minimum wage for agricultural workers, they are being paid what is considered half the poverty line."

The CIW is calling for tomato pickers to be paid one penny more per pound of tomatoes picked and says that this can be paid for if Taco Bell charges one penny more for the price of a chalupa.

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Plainfield, Ill., teachers

By Jesse Sharkey

CHICAGO--About 1,200 members of the Association of Plainfield Teachers returned to work November 1 after a four-day strike. The new contract, which provides for a 22 percent wage increase over two years, was approved overwhelmingly by the union's membership. "We're happy," union spokeswoman Nancy Eichelberger said. "We've made a good step here."

Teachers in suburban Plainfield's 18 schools had been working without a contract since June 30. The short strike convinced district officials that they could afford a larger pay raise.

The school board had accused the union of bankrupting the town with its wage demands by comparing the district to its wealthier neighbors. But a strike convinced the school board that it wasn't bankrupt and had money to pay teachers after all.

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