On the picket line
February 21, 2003 | Page 11
By Molly Seifert
FRANKFORT, Ky.--More than 20,000 teachers, educational support personnel, students and parents rallied outside the capitol building in freezing temperatures February 12 to protest the proposed budget cuts.
Like many other states, Kentucky is facing a severe budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. As a result, legislators are proposing budget cuts to many public services including health care and education to make up the nearly $400 million deficit.
The rally, organized by the Kentucky Education Association, called for more funding to benefit children in the classrooms, improvements to the state's health insurance program and increases in salaries and retirement benefits.
The impact of the proposed cuts would be felt across the entire spectrum of public education in Kentucky--from pre-school to higher education. For many areas, budget cuts mean closing early childhood education programs, eliminating all-day kindergarten, cutting elementary music and art programs, laying off teachers and capping enrollment at state universities.
Kentucky's state motto is "Where education pays," leading many at the rally to ask: Pays who? Surely not the teachers, whose average pay ranks 40th in the U.S. according to a 2002 Education Weekly report.
Maybe the motto should be "Where students pay." James Votruba, the president of Northern Kentucky University, is considering an 18 percent tuition increase for the next school year. "There are no other options left but to tax the students," he said.
But the problem isn't money. It's a question of priorities. Gretchen Hildago, a math teacher, carried a sign showing the proportion of the U.S. budget devoted to the military--46 percent in 2000--compared to education--11 percent. "What this indicates is that, as a country," said Hidalgo, "we give higher priority to sending our kids to war than to college."
CHICAGO--A group of immigrant construction workers fired for standing up for their legal rights are fighting back with the help of the Carpenters' union and a leading community-labor group here.
Andy Scolic, owner of ANSCO Real Estate Investments, fired 42 workers February 8 after they demanded that he correct irregularities in their paychecks, the workers told Socialist Worker. "He divided the company into three different companies to save money on taxes," said one of the workers, Antero Moscosa. But when workers had trouble cashing their paychecks, they walked out when Scolic refused to correct the problem.
When they returned to work, the 42 workers--out of about 100 total--were told they no longer had jobs. This was the last straw for the workers, almost all of them Mexican immigrants.
One of the fired workers had been at ANSCO--a multimillion dollar-a-year operation--for two years. "But they told me that I don't have any right to a vacation. And I do all the different kinds of work--framing, windows, plywood, doors, finishing, everything," he said on the picket line outside Scolic's offices February 12.
The workers' paychecks revealed Scolic's illegal practices in black and white--for example, showing that one worker had clocked 57 hours at just $9.50 per hour with no overtime. Many workers start at just $5.35 per hour for work rehabbing apartment buildings for sale as condominiums in Chicago's housing boom.
By contrast, a union journeyman carpenter receives $31.97 per hour in wages and $8 in benefits, according to Daniel McMahon, an organizer with the Chicago and Northeast Illinois District Council of Carpenters, who is working with the fired workers. "Scolic is one of the biggest violators" of workers' rights in residential construction in the Chicago area, McMahon said.
Scolic's companies routinely ignore Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards--such as forcing workers to do dangerous high-altitude work without harnesses and handling hazardous materials without gloves and other protective gear. Scolic's also threatened workers with firing--illegally--simply for contacting a union. What's more, two of six women workers reported sexual harassment from supervisors.
While the workers began organizing in November 2002, the firing has kicked their efforts into high gear. Besides working with the Carpenters' union, the workers have the support of the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues, which helped workers file complaints on Scolic with the National Labor Relations Board. "These workers need our support," said Katherine Bissell, director of the committee.
For more information, contact the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues at 773-728-8400.
BURLINGTON, Vt.--Employees of the City Market voted 89 to 23 last week to join United Electrical and Machine Workers of America. The union drive was surprisingly quick, taking only a month to reach a majority of its workforce.
Some of the workers' demands include a living wage, subsidized parking and safe working conditions. In Burlington, a living wage amounts to $11.25 an hour for a single person with no kids. As it stands now, most employees start at $7.50 an hour, and some positions, including grocery baggers, start below this amount.
Because the City Market received public money to pay for the land it's built on, it should be bound by the city's living wage resolution. But after it lobbied the Community for Economic Development Organization two years ago, City Market was exempted from the resolution.
Workers are also angry that their complaints about working conditions--such as cold temperatures--fell on deaf ears, until the union organizing campaign had gathered signatures from the vast majority of workers on its petition.
"The vote shows that we were not striving in vain, and that this is something people want," Duke Moultoy told Socialist Worker. But because the election wasn't overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, City Market's board of directors could choose to defer its decision to recognize the union. Keeping up the pressure will be the key to victory.