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On the picket line

May 16, 2003 | Page 11

Los Angeles hospitals
University of California labor solidarity

Azteca Foods

By Eric Ruder

CHICAGO--After seven months on strike, workers at Azteca Foods voted unanimously to return to work last week. The workers--members of United Electrical Workers Local 1159--decided to end the strike and continue their fight for a new contract from inside the plant.

During the strike, not a single striker crossed the picket line--"a point of pride for the returning workers and an impressive display of long-term unity," according to a statement by the union. Also contributing to the decision to return to work was Azteca's recent decision to settle unfair labor practice charges filed by UE Local 1159 that Azteca "illegally threatened to fire workers for union activity and that it violated their rights though intimidating interrogations and surveillance." Azteca didn't admit any guilt, but did agree to post announcements in the plant that it will obey U.S. labor laws in the future.

The strike began last September when workers asked United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1159 to represent them, and Azteca owner Arthur Velásquez refused to acknowledge the union. For decades, the Azteca workers--all of whom are Latino immigrants--were represented by a corrupt, mob-connected union. When Velásquez pushed for a 700 percent increase in health insurance co-pays while offering raises of 5 cents, workers had enough.

Workers took the fight to the streets, even picketing LaSalle Bank where Velásquez sits on the board. And despite the return to work, Azteca workers voted to continue the boycott--a tactic that the union estimates has cost Azteca some $15 million.

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Los Angeles hospitals

By Evan Kornfeld

LOS ANGELES--Emergency room patients at the County-USC hospital--the city's largest public hospital--regularly wait as long as four days for a bed, according to a sworn statement by Dr. Edward Newton.

Dr. Newton is the emergency room's interim chairman, and he was testifying as part of a lawsuit by legal aid groups to stop Los Angeles County from eliminating 100 of the 745 beds at the hospital. County-USC treats 600,000 uninsured patients every year in its severely overcrowded emergency room and inpatient facilities.

Dr. Newton recounted the case of a 40-year-old woman with an arterial blockage in her lungs who was kept in the emergency room for 30 hours. She died from cardiac arrest while waiting for a bed. He also told of a man with shortness of breath who died before doctors could help him. "Had we had the capacity to diagnose him earlier," said Dr. Newton, "his life would have been saved."

Dr. Ronald Kaufman, a former chief medical officer at County-USC, wrote that the proposed cuts slated to begin in June would "destroy" the hospital and the trauma system in Los Angeles County.

In a related case, a federal judge issued a tentative decision to block the closure of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey. The center treats 9,500 patients a year, mostly people with brain or spinal injuries. About half its patients are covered by Medi-Cal, California's version of Medicaid.

Judge Florence Marie Cooper concluded that if the center closes, these patients "will not be able to obtain adequate substitute care at surviving hospitals or other settings." The county announced it will appeal her decision.

People are being denied adequate health care while the government funds its occupation of Iraq. It's time for people to organize and stop this madness.

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University of California labor solidarity

By John Green

SANTA CRUZ, Calif.--About 60 students from across California met at University of California (UC)-Santa Cruz May 3 and 4 to foster student activism around university labor organizing. Julia Harumi, an immigrant rights lawyer, summarized the activist tone: "Lawyers can't win fights--it has to be the workers."

Students discussed strategies and shared stories of successful campaigns in meetings such as "Building Workplace Power" and "Organizing for Victories in Budget Cuts." "There's a connection between our imperialist adventures abroad and the assault on workers at home," said Peter Olney of the Institute for Labor and Employment.

This conference, the first of its kind representing all of the UC system campuses, is a much-welcomed step by organized labor to turn back the relentless attack during the past 20 years. "¿Se puede?" asked one AFL-CIO organizer. "¡Sí, se peude!"

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