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On the picket line

February 7, 2003 | Page 11

New York City unions
Portland teachers

University of Vermont

By Helen Scott, United Academics-AFT/AAUP

BURLINGTON, Vt.--After protracted negotiations, United Academics--the union that represents faculty at the University of Vermont--reached a tentative first contract agreement with the administration.

The three-year contract, to be voted on by the membership in early February, represents a significant victory for the young union. "The contract surpassed all my expectations," said assistant library professor Laurie Kutner. "I didn't dare dream it would end up this good."

Highlights include pay raises better than any seen in more than a decade and well above those given to non-union university employees; the establishment of minimum salaries by rank; recognition of faculty governance; and the right to grieve non-contractual as well as contractual issues.

Significantly, in this era of increased use and abuse of "contingent" instructors, the contract contains critical improvements in job security and work conditions for non-tenure-track faculty.

The contract doesn't include any of the concessions that the administration sought, such as cuts in benefits, removal of academic freedom or introduction of post-tenure review policies.

Many aspects of the agreement ratify principles currently enshrined in the faculty handbook. But previously those principles were non-contractual and therefore contingent upon administrative whims. Now, changes can only be made through formal bargaining--rather than by arbitrary decree. The contract also establishes that release time will be given for union activities.

The current negotiating team has won warm support from the membership for dedicating months of their time, without compensation, to securing an agreement that defends and extends the rights of all members of the bargaining unit.

"The negotiating team worked so hard for us," said Daisy Benson, another assistant library professor. "We'll now be making enough money so that I can finally feel like we're getting some professional respect for what we do."

The union drive was helped by an active public campaign for a fair contract, including a march on the president's office and a rally outside the room where the final negotiations took place. Union members worked hard at developing support from students and the wider community. Such work will have to be extended in the future in order to build on the gains of this first contract.

The agreement does have weaknesses. One is that, while it holds current rates of health costs paid by faculty, it doesn't place a cap on future increases in absolute costs.

In order to change this and win other important goals, it's crucial that United Academics builds solidarity with the other unions on campus and in the region so that future contract negotiations can be coordinated--and the victories of each group be shared by all.

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New York City unions

By Michael Ware

NEW YORK--Facing a $4 billion budget deficit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is demanding that municipal union workers pay for the fiscal crisis. Bloomberg is demanding $600 million in "productivity gains" like longer hours, fewer holidays, lower pensions and higher employee contributions to health care benefits.

And any raises are to be financed by more concessions and would not be paid retroactively. So in essence, municipal workers have already taken a pay freeze, since their contract expired last June.

The givebacks equal 12,000 jobs, according to the mayor. Layoffs hit the Department of Education in January, where 366 workers were let go. More will likely follow.

The city is currently negotiating with AFSCME District Council (DC) 37, whose contract covering 125,000 members expired last June 30. Roughly 80,000 teachers--members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT)--are also facing a contract battle, as their agreement ends this May.

Virtually all the cutbacks will fall on working-class New Yorkers. Pataki wants 5,000 jobs eliminated either through attrition or layoffs. Tuition for the City University of New York will rise by 20 percent, with a 40 percent increase for state schools. Parking fines have doubled, and a pack of cigarettes costs $7 after taxes.

Estimates of the combined state and city budget deficits range as high as $11 billion. And yet, Pataki rammed through tax cuts several years ago that amounted to more than $10 billion in lost revenue for this year alone. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also gave away billions in tax breaks to corporations.

But the weak leadership in city unions let them get away without a fight. Corruption in AFSCME District Council (DC) 37 led to vote rigging to pass a contract that included a two-year pay-freeze in the 1990s. Lillian Roberts, the DC 37 chief executive expected to clean up the union, has proposed eliminating kickbacks in city contracts--but has no strategy to fight back.

Similarly, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is justifying concessions, arguing that "people often forget that the unions have come through countless times in crises."

Union activists should use the mounting anger against corporate greed to link doubts about the war in Iraq to the war on workers at home. Wall Street made billions in the dot-com boom--they should pay to clean up after the party.

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Portland teachers

By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--Chanting "Teachers need a contract," more than 700 spirited teachers rallied outside the school board January 27.

The teachers--members of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT)--have been fighting for a new contract since their last one expired in June. They are furious with administrators at the Portland Public Schools (PPS), who now intend to cut 24 days off the school year because of the district's huge deficit. This will amount to a 12 percent pay cut.

The rally was also addressed by United Auto Workers, the firefighters' union, Jobs with Justice and teachers from surrounding school districts. "They want to slash and burn, then expect us to replant the rain forest," said one fourth-grade teacher. PPS also wants to cap the teachers' health benefits--something that teachers have said that they simply won't stand for.

PAT had already said it would accept a wage freeze and a cut of nine days in the school year, but the school board is hell bent on completely shredding the old contract. And what is PPS willing to concede? They'll pay for the teachers required fingerprinting--which most teachers have already done anyway!

Many teachers now see a strike as the only way to defend their health benefits, and PAT has declared an impasse in negotiations, which could lead to a walkout in five weeks.

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