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On the picket line

February 28, 2003 | Page 11

OTHER STORIES BELOW
Tyson
Coca-Cola
Seattle janitors

Azteca Foods

By Orlando Sepúlveda

CHICAGO--Three months ago, striking Azteca Foods worker Angelina said: "Now that we have a real union, he [owner Arturo Velásquez] doesn't want to accept it." Today, Velásquez must be thinking very differently.

Last week, the Azteca CEO was pushed to accept one of strikers' main demands--recognize the right of the workers to choose their own union and not be subjected to the abuses of a company union.

Strikers had planned a February 18 picket the headquarters of LaSalle Bank, where Velázquez sits on the board. But, in exchange for Velázquez's agreement to accept federal mediation in contract negotiations, strikers canceled the action.

However, Azteca workers know better than to think their fight is over. "They know that mediation provides no guarantee that the company is ready and willing to negotiate a fair first contract," pointed out a representative of United Electrical Workers Local 1159.

That's for sure. Since September 30, the day the strike started, workers have picketed the company during the harsh days of the winter. They have also picketed LaSalle Bank, spreading their problems with Velásquez to the CEO's pals.

Strikers have no intention of suspending their campaign until they've won a fair contract and better working conditions. This is even more admirable, considering the union-busting season opened by the country's bosses and government as a corollary policy to their "war on terrorism."

"This struggle is about respect and dignity," said a striker named Josefina. "We have given our lives to this company…and Azteca Food has grown to be large and profitable. All what we want is the respect we have earned."

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Tyson

By Robin Gee

JEFFERSON, Wis.--About 470 workers at the Tyson Prepared Foods plant here were set to strike after they unanimously voted down the company's concessionary contract proposal. A strike deadline is set for February 26.

Workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 538, have been working with a contract extension since June. A union document lists 10 major points proposed by Tyson which are disputed by the union. Each one of these points alone, says local president Gary Gilbertson, is grounds for a strike vote.

Among concessions demanded by Tyson are the institution of a two-tier wage system; cuts in pay, sick leave and vacation for all workers; a freeze on pension benefits and the discontinuation of retiree health benefits. The company also wants an increase of up to $40 a week in workers' contributions toward health care and the elimination of severance pay.

Tyson is a highly profitable company looking to cash in on the union-bashing atmosphere set by the current administration. We have to stop them.

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Coca-Cola

By a Coca-Cola worker

DOWNEY, Calif.--About 175 merchandisers at the Coca-Cola sales center here went out on strike last week after negotiations broke down between their union, Teamsters Local 848, and Coke.

Merchandisers stock shelves for Coca-Cola at supermarkets and convenience stores. They're paid low wages and have to provide their own vehicles for work.

Last summer, merchandisers voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters. During negotiations, however, Coca-Cola announced that some merchandisers would not be covered by the new contract, because the company had re-classified them as "retail account representatives." These workers would have to have a separate election to be able to join the union.

Union members walked out February 19 at the Downey plant, and by the next afternoon, the strike had spread to facilities in Los Angeles, Carson, City of Industry and Montebello. Other Teamsters, who represent delivery drivers, warehouse workers, bottlers, lab technicians and forklift operators throughout Southern California, have refused to cross the Downey picket lines. This has brought distribution and production at the state's largest Coca-Cola bottling plant to a virtual standstill.

Coca-Cola wants to play rough. The company has flown in scabs from all over the country, and they're putting them up at a Hilton hotel at LAX airport. Coca-Cola also hopes that it will be able to use the "retail account representative" designation to divide the workforce.

But so far, Coca-Cola workers have shown remarkable solidarity. Last summer, the bottlers used a one-day strike to win a better contract for themselves, and they were supported by other employees. Solidarity will be key for the employees to win this strike.

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Seattle janitors

By Steve Leigh

SEATTLE--A hundred janitors and their supporters rallied at real-estate developer Martin Selig's building on February 21 to demand an end to union busting.

Service Employees International Union Local 6 and Jobs with Justice are demanding that Selig reinstate 50 union jobs that were lost when he kicked out union contractor ABM in several of his buildings and hired a nonunion contractor in December. Many union members lost their jobs, and those that were hired back took pay and benefit cuts.

Union janitors on average earn $11 an hour, compared to $8 an hour working for nonunion companies. Many workers are immigrants with families to support.

Since December, the local has mounted a campaign to win the jobs back. Under pressure from building tenants and the public, Local 6 has so far won back three of the buildings. One of its actions was sending a contingent of janitors to picket Selig buildings during the 55,000-strong antiwar march on February 15. The local promises to keep the pressure up to win back all of these jobs.

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