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On the picket line

January 3, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11

West Coast dockworkers
University of California budget cuts
Seattle janitors

United Airlines

By Eric Ruder

CHICAGO--In one of the most brazen assaults on organized labor in years, United Airlines went before a court the day after Christmas to begin the process of getting a judge to void its labor contracts. In the meantime, United is pressing for drastic wage and benefit cuts--more than double the amount that United's management was seeking before it declared bankruptcy on December 9.

Initially, United sought a 7 percent pay cut from its 37,000 mechanics and a 4 percent cut from its 22,000 flight attendants while United's 8,000 pilots agreed to an 18 percent cut. Now the Association of Flight Attendants has agreed to a 9 percent cut, and the Airline Pilots Association's negotiating committee has agreed to a 29 percent cut.

The lone holdout is now the International Association of Mechanics (IAM). United says the IAM must accept a 13 percent cut worth $2.4 billion over five years--after mechanics in the union voted down a 7 percent cut two weeks before United declared bankruptcy!

United says that if the IAM agrees to these cuts, it will delay seeking a court-ordered elimination of its existing labor contracts until March 15--raising the possibility that it will take the concessions now and then push for the termination of union contracts anyway.

This would wipe out decades of hard-won benefits and work rules--and IAM leaders who agreed to concessions earlier now find their backs to the wall. They know that if they accept concessions, it will set a precedent for similar demands for wage and benefit cuts by other airlines--starting with US Airways, which has already threatened to use its bankruptcy proceedings to void union contracts with the IAM and other unions.

The challenge now is to turn the opposition to cuts into a fightback across the industry to defend jobs, pay and working conditions for all airline workers.

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West Coast dockworkers

WEST COAST dockworkers will vote this month on a proposed five-year contract--and rank-and-file activists are urging rejection of the deal. The deal was negotiated following a 10-day lockout by employers and the imposition of the anti-union Taft-Hartley law by George W. Bush, which banned job actions.

The tentative agreement contains a number of concessions that will allow shipping lines to use new technology to boost productivity while eliminating hundreds of well-paid clerks' jobs.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) President James Spinosa compares the deal to the Mechanization and Modernization (M&M) agreements of the 1960s, which opened the way for containerization of the ports, and union's Longshore Caucus last month voted to recommend the deal.

But Jack Mulcahy of ILWU Local 6 in Portland points out that M&M isn't a good model, since it boosted production by 139 percent while eliminating jobs and work hours. Dissatisfaction over the effects of that contract led to a strike in 1971--and the imposition of Taft-Hartley.

ILWU members should reject this deal and organize to fight for a better one.

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University of California budget cuts

By Martin Smith

IN THE midst of a massive state budget deficit that's greater than the deficits of the other 49 states combined, Californians are bracing for "Republocrat" Gov. Gray Davis' proposed budget cuts. The proposed cuts would have made his November Republican challenger, millionaire Bill Simon, gush.

From being bilked for billions by energy company thieves to having a mismanaged health care system, workers and students are being asked to bear the brunt of California's economic disaster. In December, Gov. Davis announced massive cuts to education, with a $74 million mid-year cut alone to the University of California (UC) system. This comes on top of huge cuts that were already implemented this year.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the UC's Board of Regents quickly voted for a $135 student fee increase--the first in eight years--while most students were away on winter break. This increase will have a devastating impact on minority and economically disadvantaged students.

UC administrators also are now using the current crisis to sock it to the campus unions, declaring bankruptcy and beginning layoffs. The fact that top administrators took 25 percent raises last year but are trying to force workers to accept increased health care premiums, co-pays, and parking fees--while eliminating merit raises--is an outrage. The UC system has over $4 billion in reserve funds that could be used to avoid the fee increase and salvage jobs with a fair contact.

In response to these attacks, the Coalition of University Employees (CUE), the UC's clerical union, and students protested the December 16 Regents' meeting at several campuses. "This is the rainy day UC has been saving for," said Margy Wilkinson, chief CUE negotiator. "The university has invested in pricey managers, not front-line faculty and staff. Now is the time to use UC's $4 billion unrestricted to serve students and prevent greater staff turnover."

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Seattle janitors

By Steve Leigh

SEATTLE--Chanting "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" 100 janitors and supporters marched downtown December 20, rallying at non-union buildings and demanding that union-busting real-estate developer Martin Selig reinstate union cleaning companies.

Supporters from several Service Employees International Union (SEIU) locals, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union, the carpenters' union and the King County Labor Council participated in the rally.

At the beginning of December, Selig dropped union janitorial service ABM from 13 of his buildings, replacing the company with Allied Building Services, a non-union company which pays worker just $8.50 an hour with no benefits.

Fifty ABM janitors lost their jobs when Selig made the switch. Those that were rehired by Allied lost their family health care benefits, pensions, disability insurance and guaranteed wage ladder, and their wages went down, according to SEIU Local 6, which represents the fired workers.

Under pressure from his tenants, Selig reinstated ABM at two of his buildings. Now, Local 6 is keeping the pressure on Selig to win back the rest of those union jobs through plans for rallies, picketing and organizing.

"This was a decision of greedy business owners to eliminate union jobs," said Sergio Salinas, president-elect of Local 6, at the December 20 rally. "Union jobs keep families out of poverty. Union jobs provide the safety net we all need. Selig is eliminating standards workers have fought for years to achieve. We have to organize the non-union contractors. We have to raise the wages in the suburbs to the Seattle level."

The stakes are high in this fight. Currently, 85 percent of downtown Seattle janitorial jobs are union, paying $8.95 to $11.40 per hour--but contracts with union janitorial services expire in 2003. Local leadership is trying to maintain a strong position for that contract fight by preventing the loss of union jobs today. This will continue to be an important fight for low wage and immigrant workers and the labor movement as a whole.

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