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On the picket line

March 7, 2003 | Page 11

Broadway musicians
Portland, Ore., teachers
Federal workers
Airport screeners
University of California

New York budget cuts

By Michael Ware

NEW YORK--Mayor Michael Bloomberg is demanding that municipal unions agree to $600 million in cuts by April 1 or face 12,000 layoffs. Bloomberg--who Forbes Magazine named the 63rd richest individual on the planet with a $4.8 billion fortune--is asking the city's poorly paid workforce to pay for the city's $3.4 billion deficit.

Both the mayor and New York Gov. George Pataki have refused to increase taxes on corporations, calling them "job-killing taxes." In fact, Pataki's tax cuts a few years ago set up the current crisis.

The mayor laid out 21 "options" which include a 40-hour workweek at 35 hours pay, reduced leave and holidays, higher co-pays for medical visits, slashed pensions, an end to reimbursement of Medicare premiums and more. The unions estimate the proposal would cost each union member $2,400 in wages and benefits per year.

Clerical workers at the Board of Education have already seen 286 layoffs January 3, followed by 60 custodians at the Police Department. The end of March will bring 184 more layoffs to workers at the city's immigration services and road workers in the Department of Transportation.

Bloomberg pursued these smaller layoffs to gauge the unions' reactions. Seeing none, he has moved on to phase two.

AFSCME District Council (DC) 37, which represents 125,000 municipal employees, has already seen pay freezes in the boom years of the 1990s. Salaries still haven't caught up to inflation--and the union's contract expired June 30, 2002.

Some 6,000 daycare workers in AFSCME DC 1707 Local 205 have been without a contract for over two years, and face even tougher demands from the mayor. Teachers in New York's public schools face a May 31 contract expiration, having already agreed to a 100-minute increase per week in their current contract.

Yet United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has suggested that the union could help find ways to save money and has asked union delegates their opinion of a worst-case scenario with pay freezes, health care increases and/or layoffs.

DC 37 leaders have taken a similar approach. "Once the city gets the union to talk about money, they lock us into their game and say 'We can't give you a raise,'" Fitz Reid, an inspector in AFSCME Local 768 told Socialist Worker.

Bloomberg, like George W. Bush, arrogantly assumes that the unions are too demoralized and corrupt to mount serious resistance. But the deep-seated anger within the rank and file could spill over if organized--and the possibilities for that organization are growing.

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Broadway musicians

By Lee Wengraf

NEW YORK--Broadway musicians voted to authorize a strike March 1 as theater owners from the League of Theaters and Producers dug their heels in at the bargaining table. As Socialist Worker went to press, members of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians extended their strike deadline to midnight Thursday, four days past the March 2 contract expiration.

Hundreds of musicians and supporters rallied in the Theater District on February 26 to protest producers' attacks on their jobs. Unionized musicians work in 18 shows--all of the shows on Broadway except for Cabaret. Of Local 802's 440 members, 422 voted to strike.

At stake in this contract are theater owners' attacks on the "theater minimums" clause in the contract. This clause is key to job security as it requires all Broadway shows to hire a minimum number of musicians.

Theater owners are trying to pit the union against other creative talent, claiming that the musicians' union threatens "artistic freedom." But it's the League that wants to do away with "artistic freedom" as well as the artists!

Management is recruiting scabs from across the country to run "virtual" orchestras--computer-generated orchestras--prompting Local 802 president William Moriarity to call for a strike authorization vote.

"We'll lock them all out," an executive told reporters. "What the producers are trying to do is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous," said union member Marshall Coid, the onstage solo violinist in Chicago.

Send messages of solidarity to [email protected]

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By Orlando Sepulveda

CHICAGO--UNITE is stepping up its ambitious organizing drive at Cintas, the largest uniform rental provider and industrial launderer in North America.

The company reported profits of $234 million last year, making 2002 its 33rd year of uninterrupted corporate growth. But this has been achieved by cutting corners, breaking the law, harassing workers, and busting unions--which has made CEO Richard Farmer infamous.

UNITE filed 82 charges for violation to federal labor laws this past February. The union, which has successfully organized laundry workers in recent campaigns, has launched the "Uniform Justice" campaign, seeking to represent the thousands of Cintas workers who are subject to the company's anti-union policy.

According to UNITE's report Cintas: The Dirty Truth Behind the Uniforms, the company has deployed "a regiment of security guards…to record union activity and intimidate workers" and used "captive audience meetings and one-to-one interrogations" to coerce its employees.

In 1999, Cintas acquired a heavily unionized competitor, Unitog, only to later shut down the plants whose workers were represented by United Food and Commercial Workers and the Teamsters. When Cintas bought another unionized laundry, Metropolitan Uniform Services, the company launched a successful union decertification campaign.

This kind of anti-union activity is very well known to Miguel C., who worked for the company until he was fired in February. "I had talked to the supervisor to leave earlier that day, and he told me it was fine, but the next day he denied that we had talked, and they fired me. The truth is that they fired me because I had joined the union," he told Socialist Worker at the UNITE building here, where he was participating in the making of a video to expose Cintas' practices.

"Some years ago," he continued, "there was an attempt to organize workers at Cintas, but management promised to increase wages and benefits if workers didn't join the union. They didn't do it, and the promised were never carried on. Now they are trying to do the same...If only we had a union, they wouldn't be harassing us all the time."

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Portland, Ore., teachers

By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--On February 26, the 3,700 members of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) voted overwhelmingly to strike. Even as the vote was being taken, however, a tentative agreement was being reached by union negotiators.

The district is currently mired in a multimillion-dollar deficit, and workers are the ones expected to pay for it. Outrageously, the Portland Public School (PPS) district had floated the idea of cutting 24 days out of the school year and capping teachers' health care coverage.

Under the new deal, PPS has pledged not to cap health care coverage, and the Portland city council will put up the money to pay for 14 of the 24 days. But in return, teachers will have to work for 10 days for free.

As Socialist Worker went to press, teachers were voting on the deal, and it seemed that the contract would be accepted. But many teachers have no faith in the school board. One teacher raged that, while the teachers are taking a 5 percent pay cut by working 10 days for free, highly paid district administrators--the very ones wanting the cuts--will be taking no cut. "We lose 10 days' money and they get all their 24 paid days back. We're paying them!" she told Socialist Worker.

It's not even definite that the city will actually come up with the money. The union has to build on the support demonstrated by the huge vote in favor of strike action. As teachers have said all along, it's "way too much to ask!"

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Federal workers

By Steve Leigh

SEATTLE--Marching from the Federal Building to Westlake Mall, 200 federal workers and allies protested Bush's plan to privatize 850,000 federal jobs.

Sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), Jobs with Justice and several other labor groups, the rally was addressed by union leaders and spokespeople for leading Democratic politicians.

This rally is part of a campaign by the AFGE to resist Bush's plan to bust the union. Besides privatizing nearly half of all federal jobs, he wants to strip union rights from nearly 200,000 workers in the Department of Homeland Security. Even jobs that are now government positions, like those of airport screeners, are denied union rights.

The other major element of the speeches was support for Democratic politicians, and nearly every major Democrat sent greetings. Besides federal workers, several other unions came to show support, including members of the SEIU and dockworkers from ILWU Local 19.

Many workers and speakers openly opposed Bush's war on Iraq. Unfortunately, many argued against privatization on the grounds that it hurt the "war on terrorism."

As long as "national security" and the "war on terrorism" dominate political debate, workers will continue to suffer vicious attacks. Unions need to oppose not just the war on Iraq, but the so-called "war on terrorism" that's being used to justify a war on immigrants, civil liberties and workers as well.

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Airport screeners

By Eduardo Capulong

SAN FRANCISCO--Hundreds of immigrant airport baggage screeners and their supporters rallied at the Federal Building here February 26 to protest their termination. Denouncing their firing and the federal government's compromising of travel safety with their replacement of untrained workers, speakers demanded both their jobs back and assistance.

Most remain unemployed. A post-September 11 law, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), required that all airport screeners be U.S. citizens. As a result, at SFO alone, 900 immigrants--mostly Filipino--are out of work.

The rally yielded some results: a "patriot bonus," which airport security companies have so far withheld, will be forthcoming, according to a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.). Security companies had dangled this bonus to lure screeners to stay longer at their jobs earlier this year after the instability created by ATSA led many to consider other employment.

A California State Assembly committee has also agreed to hold a public hearing on the issue. State and local governments had earmarked retraining and job assistance monies to the screeners but have yet to disburse them.

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University of California

By Chad Walsh, member, AFSCME 3299, and Sherwin Mendoza

UNIONS AT the University of California (UC) system rallied February 26 to protest proposed budget cuts and the administration's refusal to bargain seriously with its unions. At UC-Davis, some 60 campus and hospital workers protested the university's drawn-out bargaining with the clerical (CUE), lecturers (AFT), and professional/technical (UPTE) unions.

"What do want? Contracts! When do we want them? Now!" was the most popular chant as service and patient-care technical workers (AFSCME 3299) from the UC-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento also marched to show their solidarity and support for their union brothers and sisters. "This university and its medical centers work because we do," said David Phoenix, a custodian and AFSCME shop steward.

By using the state of California's $35 billion budget deficit as an excuse for across-the-board cutbacks in staffing and now even layoffs, top UC executives are actively implementing austerity measures.

At UC-Santa Cruz, around 100 union members assembled in front of the university bookstore. Clerical workers, janitors, lecturers, teaching assistants, faculty, librarians and health care workers stood side by side to let the campus administration know that the unions are ready to stand together against the cuts.

These rallies, which included workers on UC campuses throughout the state, showed that workers are united to keep the pressure on for a decent living and a decent workplace.

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