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On the picket line

December 6, 2002 | Page 11

Portland teachers
Burlington International Airport
Linens of the Week


By Nicole Colson

CHICAGO--Nearly 9,000 Dominick's grocery store employees overwhelmingly approved a new contract November 24.

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 1546 and 881 had been in a bitter fight with Safeway, Inc., the owner of all 113-area Dominick's stores. Safeway was attacking workers' health care and attempting to institute a two-tier system that would have severely weakened the union over the long run.

UFCW employees rejected a proposal from Safeway that would have severely affected the ability of workers to qualify for family health insurance and would have lowered workers' take-home pay by reducing their scheduled hours, while also lessening the contributions to the pension funds.

When employees rejected the company's "last, best and final" offer and voted to authorize a strike, the company threatened to close all of the stores and re-open them under the Safeway name, which would have effectively locked workers out.

Under the new agreement, workers will keep the same health insurance, pension benefits, scheduling of hours and other provisions of the previous contract in addition to a ratification bonus. Unfortunately, the new contract will only cover workers from November 10, 2002, to July 26, 2003. With the blessing of the union, Safeway will look for a new buyer for the stores before the expiration date of the new contract.

According to Stephen Powell, treasurer of Local 881, "It is the opinion of the leadership that this is the best outcome in a very difficult situation." However, once a new buyer comes in, employees could be laid off and stores may be shut down.

The only way UFCW workers can protect their jobs is if they begin organizing now against these likely future attacks.

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By Elizabeth Schulte

IN MORE than 40 cities across the country, union supporters and community activists gathered on November 21 to send a message to retail giant Wal-Mart. You can roll back prices, but you won't roll over workers! The day of action was called by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union as a launch for its campaign to unionize Wal-Mart workers nationwide.

About 100 union supporters turned out to picket the Wal-Mart in Rolling Meadows, Ill. They included representatives from the UFCW, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Teamsters, the Chicago Federation of Labor and Jobs with Justice.

While Wal-Mart is one of the fastest-growing retail chains in the country, its workers, most of whom are forced to work part-time, typically make just $11,000 year. And few can afford health care at rabidly anti-union Wal-Mart.

"Whenever you try to organize, they coerce and threaten workers," UFCW Local 1546 organizing director Matt Russo explained to Socialist Worker. When 12 workers tried to organize in Northwest Indiana, the company sent in 24 lawyers to stop them, he said.

And when meat cutters in Texas organized, Wal-Mart shut down the meat operations. "Pretty soon, they'll be the largest grocery retailer in the country, and they're going to be nonunion. We can't let that happen," Russo added. "This is going to be a difficult battle, but the UFCW is going to take them on."

Several Dominick's grocery workers, who ended a fight for a new contract that week, came out to show their support. "I realized with our fight how important it is to have a voice at work," said Dominick's worker and UFCW Local 1546 member Woody Morris. "We have to show our solidarity so that they will want to join the union."

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Portland teachers

By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--Members of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) were outraged to learn that the Portland Public Schools (PPS) plans to cut 15 days from the school year. PPS says that they're further in debt than they first thought--now $50 million. This amounts to a 10 percent pay cut for teachers.

Since 1995, the teachers have given up all kinds of benefits to keep the schools going--and now the district wants more. "You can't expect 4,000 people to pay for what the state will not pay for," Nancy Arlington, PAT's chief negotiator, told PPS.

Teachers have gone without pay increases in order to keep health benefits. Now PPS wants to cap those benefits. Five years ago, Portland teachers were the highest paid in the area. Now, they are the lowest paid.

But 14-year-old high school freshman Adam Anderson nailed it in a letter to the Oregonian. "We are spending billions of dollars on a war against Iraq," wrote Adam, "while PPS has a shortfall of $50 million. Where's the logic in that?"

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Burlington International Airport

By Kathleen Brown

BURLINGTON, Vt.--Members of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS) at Burlington International Airport picketed the day before Thanksgiving, the heaviest travel day of the year. The picketing was in response to the Federal Aviation Administration's contracting-out study, which will assess the "feasibility of privatization" in that sector.

In June, Bush made a regulatory change that opened the way to outsourcing air traffic control operations to the lowest bidder. One employee said that NAATS was the "sacrificial lamb," with other unions--such as the National Air Traffic Controllers Association--next in line for privatization.

Tom Halligan, an air traffic controller, said it was a way to "contract out America" and was like "turning back the clock to the Reagan years." In 1981, Ronald Reagan fired 11,350 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO), striking a devastating blow to the labor movement.

Privatization would mean job cuts in an already understaffed workplace and compromising public safety. Air traffic controllers and specialists are responsible for pre-flight weather updates, flight planning information, airport advisories, search-and-rescue missions and monitoring air traffic. It goes to show that, as far as the government is concerned, the bottom line is money, not safety.

Although the union's strategy so far has been to lobby Congress, the picket was a great first step to educate the public--and involve rank-and-file members in activity. It will take more action, along with solidarity from other air traffic control unions, to fight back against the government union-busters.

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Linens of the Week

By Josh Brand

WASHINGTON--The day before Thanksgiving, 200 workers gathered outside a sweatshop called Linens of the Week to demand collective bargaining rights.

For eight straight weeks, workers have held rallies to call for better wages and conditions. Now the company is taking steps to quell the rallies by sending home the entire first shift early in an attempt to prevent them from participating in the afternoon rally.

But this has only served to harden their resolve. For an entire hour, the crowd chanted "Sí se puede" ("Yes we can") and "Obreros unidos jamás serán vencidos" ("The workers united will never be defeated").

The conditions are inhuman--no ventilation, ankle-high water, an amazing pest problem with "rats as large as cats," according to workers. Marsha, an African American woman who has worked there for 40 years, still earns less than $9 an hour and has no health insurance.

It was against this backdrop that UNITE! began its organizing effort. In the first week, nearly 90 percent signed union cards.

Many cars drove by and honked in solidarity. Workers no doubt have a struggle ahead of them, but with the fighting spirit they've shown and solidarity from other parts of the labor movement, they can win.

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