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On the picket line

April 25, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11

SEIU Local 32BJ

NEW YORK--The Realty Advisory Board (RAB) is demanding a contract with no raise for its 28,000 building workers despite the booming real-estate market and a low 4 percent vacancy rate. As Socialist Worker went to press, a strike seemed imminent.

The current contract is set to expire April 22, and the RAB and negotiators for the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ are still far from an agreement. A strike would affect 3,000 buildings with 1 million residents in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

While property owners have been doing well, the union's largely immigrant workforce draws between $27,000 to $34,000 a year, seeing their own rents increase with the housing boom. The RAB is trying to use general economic gloom to leverage negotiations, seeking to lower the starting salary and to lengthen the progression to top pay.

Local 32BJ turned out 15,000 members to a huge April 15 rally on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the richest zip code in the U.S. A strike authorization vote in early April saw 6,000 members vote unanimously to strike if demands for a decent raise weren't met.

Local 32BJ's residential doormen, handymen, concierges and porters last struck in 1991. The local is regaining its strength after ousting the corrupt former president, Gus Bevona, in September 2000.

Solidarity will be key. Although other unions can't order their members to honor picket lines under restrictive U.S. labor law, they can advise members of their right not to cross.

If UPS drivers, sanitation, phone, cable and building trades workers refuse to cross picket lines, any strike would quickly bring the RAB to its knees. Unionized performers and crews in New York showed the power of solidarity when they refused to cross picket lines set up by striking Broadway musicians last month.

The New York labor movement should stand solidly behind workers in Local 32BJ to ensure a victory against a wealthy opponent and send a message to Mayor Michael Bloomberg who's demanding huge concessions from public-sector workers.

Stop Bush's attack on overtime benefits

By Elizabeth Schulte

WASHINGTON--You can say good-bye to the weekend, if George W. Bush gets his way. Since its establishment in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has been the only thing standing between workers and the seven-day workweek.

Under the law, bosses are required to pay time and a half for every hour employees work after 40. Over the decades, the law has come under constant attack.

Under Bush's plan, workers will be able to earn up to $22,100 a year--up from the current ceiling of $8,060--and still automatically qualify for overtime pay. Since the existing ceiling amount hasn't been raised since 1975, this is a step forward. But a very small one.

"If they would have adjusted it for inflation, it should be $27,000 (instead of $22,100)," according to AFL-CIO spokesperson Kathy Roeder. "The proposed rules will put workers further behind than in 1975."

Other proposed rule changes that define what types of workers are covered by overtime rules will make it harder for workers to qualify. The Bush plan would redefine who is considered a "professional" and therefore is considered ineligible for overtime.

A worker could lose overtime rights if, for instance, he gained certain skills through job experience, military training and technical school or if she directed the work of two or more full-time employees.

The AFL estimates that 1 million people would no longer be eligible under the new requirements. "It will be a pay cut for working-class people who ordinarily qualify for overtime," said Roeder. "Those workers depend on overtime to pay for food and housing and to save for their future, like college and kids."

These attacks come at a time when stricter--not more lenient--overtime rules are in order. Between 1979 and 1999, the total number of weeks worked by two-income married couples increased from 78 to 98, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

In many industries, such as transportation, agriculture, communications, and mining, more than a quarter of employees work more than 40 hours a week. And they're working excessive hours, averaging more than 11 hours of overtime a week. This translates into working six-and-a-half days a week.

Despite all this, fewer and fewer workers have qualified for overtime benefits. Bush and his friends in Corporate America want this trend to continue. We have to stop them.

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