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On the picket line

March 14, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11

Washington Jefferson Hotel
Chicago teachers
Labor Committee for Peace and Justice
Washington teachers
United Food and Commercial Workers

Portland, Ore., teachers

PORTLAND, Ore.--Teachers here approved a new contract last week that will require them to work 10 days for free.

Under threat of budget cuts, the district had planned to cut 24 days from the school year. Those days will now be reinstated, but teachers will also have to accept a 5 percent pay cut this year.

This is a terrible defeat and sets an alarming precedent for other teachers across the country who could be facing similar attacks. What's more, Ann Nice, president of the teachers union, praised teachers for accepting the concessions and thanked city and county officials for brokering the deal!

What a betrayal. With leadership like that, it's no wonder that 2,800 of Portland's 3,100 teachers voted to accept the cuts.

But the deal is horrible. While teachers must work for free, highly paid administrators won't take any cut. And this could be just the beginning. While workers held onto their health care benefits, the district will likely try to shift much of those costs onto teachers in coming months.

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Washington Jefferson Hotel

NEW YORK--Workers at the Washington Jefferson (WJ) Hotel in midtown Manhattan have been on strike since December 20. After years of abuse, low pay and negligible benefits, workers approached Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 6 for representation.

Several workers were then fired, and Shimmie Horn, the owner of the WJ and chief officer of the other family business, the Correctional Services Corporation, broke off initial negotiations with the union.

Local 6 then led workers out on an Unfair Labor Practice strike. "It's no surprise that he's big in prisons," said Mauro Arcos, one of those fired for organizing. "It's how they treat their workers, too."

Most of the WJ bookings come from El-Al Airlines, which books rooms for staff on layovers. Local 6 approached the airline about stopping its use of the hotel, but to no avail.

Pickets have now spread to another Horn property, the Iroquois Hotel. "Housekeepers there make $7 less per hour than comparable hotels, have an expensive health plan and no pension," Lani, a housekeeper, told Socialist Worker. "These managers are very pushy. They fired two workers, one with 19 years on the job, because we want a union."

Jobs with Justice is working with Local 6 to promote the strike and build solidarity.

Visit the WJ Hotel strike Web site at

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Chicago teachers

By Jesse Sharkey, CTU delegate

CHICAGO--George Schmidt, a union activist and editor of a widely read rank-and-file newspaper of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), won an important legal victory in January.

The Chicago Board of Education dropped a $1.4 million lawsuit against Schmidt's paper, Substance, which was sued for "copyright infringement" for publishing sections of the Chicago Academic Standards Exam (CASE). Schmidt was also fired from his teaching job as part of the Board's effort to quiet his paper.

Substance provides comprehensive news of the Chicago Public Schools, often exposing corruption. And Substance has campaigned against the Board's drive towards standardized testing.

The legal victory owes much to the fact that 12 teachers at Curie High School refused to administer the CASE standardized test. The CTU then overwhelmingly passed a resolution to back the "Curie 12" and give support to Substance, at which point the Board announced that it would stop giving the exam.

Chicago teachers will continue to follow this case as Schmidt will now sue the board in an attempt to win back his job, collect legal expenses and receive back pay. Union activists and opponents of standardized testing can take inspiration from this struggle.

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Labor Committee for Peace and Justice

By Annie Levin

BOSTON--More than 80 people attended the first teach-in organized by the Boston Labor Committee for Peace and Justice, a new antiwar committee of Boston-area labor activists.

The March 1 teach-in featured socialist historian Howard Zinn as its keynote speaker and held workshops that took up everything from the war's impact on budget cuts to discussions of strategies for passing antiwar resolutions in our unions.

"In our small labor council, we had eight delegates with kids in the military overseas while in the U.S. Congress, only one member has a kid in the military," Jeff Crosby, president of International Union of Electrical Workers Local 201 at General Electric, told the audience.

"For decades, our labor movement has pulled away from social justice issues and told our members that that's not relevant to our union," said Celia Wcislo, president of Service Employees International Union Local 285. "So it's not surprising that now the debate in our union is whether labor has any business in opposing this war. When the debate came up in our Executive Board, all the E-Board members were personally against the war but scared to support the resolution…We have to challenge them to think in a new way about the role of a union because they've learned wrong."

"Bush doesn't have friends outside of the U.S.--just interests," said Colombian trade unionist Hector Giraldo. "We've learned in Colombia that whenever there's an opportunity to extract petroleum, war is not far behind…This war forces us to join in international solidarity against U.S. war in Iraq and in Colombia."

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Washington teachers

By Jeff Bale, Building representative, WTU, AFT Local 6

WASHINGTON--The Washington Teachers Union (WTU) is planning an official contingent to participate in the emergency antiwar demonstration planned for March 15 at the Washington Monument.

The decision came at a union meeting last week when George Springer, the recently installed administrator of the union, was put on the spot and asked to honor the two antiwar resolutions that the WTU membership had overwhelmingly passed last fall.

Shockingly, Springer said he would help get a contingent together. The surprise that teachers will have an official venue in which to voice their opposition to the war comes because the administratorship--in which the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) took over the WTU--has been about keeping rank-and-file teachers shut out.

The administratorship took place in late January in response to a scandal in which former WTU president Barbara Bullock and three of her employees walked away with at least $5 million in teachers' dues.

In January, the AFT installed Springer, a northeast regional director for the AFT, to run our union. Springer suspended our constitution and abolished our monthly membership meetings and implemented smaller meetings spread out across town instead.

WTU members are angry--at the takeover, having our meetings cancelled, at having no say in elections or in the agenda of the union. The most effective way for long-lasting change in the union will be to get rank-and-file members active and organized around issues in which they can have a direct impact. That is why using the opening Springer has given us to build a D.C. Teachers Against the War network is so crucial.

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United Food and Commercial Workers

By Nat Gibbons, member of UFCW Local 1105

SEATTLE--United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1105 approved a dues increase in late February. A packed hall of more than 200 members passed the increase by only 16 votes.

Dues have now gone up by 2.75 percent of a journeyman's wage, which means a worker making $9 per hour will pay an increase equal to a worker making twice that.

Even though the increase was approved four months ago, the local president was forced to agree to a revote under pressure from the rank and file and because the union failed to give proper notice to the membership in accordance with union bylaws.

The local president denied requests for an all-day vote, which would have made it possible for more members to participate.

The union's resolution for the dues increase states that it will "provide a reserve to assist in fighting those employers who try to break the union," but by their own report, our defense fund is being decreased from 6 percent in 2002 to 5 percent in 2003. The bulk of our dues actually goes to pay for salaries of officials and "administrative costs"--which amounts to roughly 75 percent of our dues!

We need a strategy based on rank-and-file workers--not paying into the UFCW's Fat Cat Fund.

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