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On the picket line

June 6, 2003 | Page 11

Berkeley, Calif., teachers
Equity Office Properties Trust

Oakland, Calif., teachers
By Jessie Muldoon, Oakland Education Association

OAKLAND, Calif.--Teachers in Oakland are fighting against deep cuts and layoffs. The state of California is in the process of loaning the Oakland Unified School District $100 million, which will come at the cost of a state takeover.

The school board has scapegoated teachers to distract attention from their own financial mismanagement that made the crisis worse. Unfortunately, leaders of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) recently missed an opportunity to expose the school board for its dirty tactics.

The OEA had called a day of action May 28 at the school board meeting--but the board moved the meeting's location at the last minute. Despite that the OEA had made the call for the action, none of the elected officers or bargaining team members, and only two executive board members, turned out.

This is a step backward from the previous board meeting, when angry union activists representing teachers, food service workers, custodians and many other school employees shut the meeting down with a loud, confident rally. The failure of the May rally illuminated the need for rank and file organization that doesn't depend on the officials to fight such cuts.

As the school year comes to a close, activists need to hammer out a plan to organize throughout the summer, and hit the ground running when the school year begins. This will be a fight that will shape education and working conditions in Oakland for years to come.

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Berkeley, Calif., teachers
By Jean Whittlesey, Berkeley Federation of Teachers

BERKELEY, Calif.--At an emergency meeting May 13, the Berkeley school board heard from angry teachers and parents outraged over layoffs. A week later, a district wide rally at the school administration building was billed as a unifying action for the four unions totaling some 1,000 teachers, secretaries, janitors, teaching assistants and support staff. It drew 125 people, half of them teachers.

Unfortunately, the union officials who spoke, including Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Barry Fike, all emphasized that some layoffs were inevitable.

The fight began March 15, when 235 out of 590 teachers in Berkeley--40 percent of the total--received layoff notices.The pink slips resulted from both state budget cuts and previous district finances. Between 78 and 128 are expected to remain on layoff after June 1 reversals are announced.

The cuts would have been worse if teachers and parents hadn't organized. The highlight of the fight was two layoff hearings, demanded by BFT and held on April 20 and 21.

They turned into loud, boisterous rallies organized by teachers and the PTA from several school sites and supported by University of California-Berkeley students. At the start of each session, up to 150 people marched into the hearings chanting "They say cutback, we say fight back!" and "No justice, no peace!"

BFT demanded the hearings to insure that the district followed seniority and teachers' credentials in the layoff process. However, the judge's decision allowed the district to proceed as planned except for one teacher who was recalled.

At the Board May 13 meeting, the board increased its list of rescinded layoffs from 12 to 50, a small victory for the teachers. Teachers need to organize the entire rank and file to stand together for no cuts, without apology. We will not stand by and see public education destroyed.

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Equity Office Properties Trust
By Lauren Fleer and Mark Dickman

CHICAGO--A group of 150 janitors with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 and their supporters picketed a May 20 meeting of Equity Office Properties Trust shareholders. Equity is the nation's largest office building owner and real estate investment trust (REIT) in the United States with more than 700 properties totaling more than 125 million square feet.

The picketers came to protest Equity's recent elimination of 68 jobs. Chanting "No more cuts!" and "We're fired up, we can't take no more!" the demonstrators handed out leaflets, raised banners and carried brooms along with placards reading "Equity Office--Chicago's dirty secret."

While Equity CEO Richard Kincaid takes home a six- or seven-figure income, Equity has recently implemented a plan to save $75 to $100 million annually by getting rid of 20 percent of its workforce. Equity aims to eliminate 420 jobs by the end of 2003--but SEIU janitors are not having it.

Equity's initial 68 layoffs impacted not only the workers whose jobs were cut, but also the workers left behind to take up the slack. Some janitors who regularly clean 35,000 to 40,000 square feet per shift are now expected to cover almost twice the same ground. Equity janitors are now having to work twice as hard--and won't see a penny of the rewards.

These moves have proven unpopular with Equity's tenants as well, who notice the decline in service quality. Through educating and organizing Equity's tenants, SEIU has managed to win back 35 percent of the slashed jobs. And they won't stop there.

June 12 will mark the kick-off of a nationwide week of activity for SEIU's Justice for Janitors campaign. Large downtown demonstrations June 14 will demand that Equity reinstate its laid-off workers and, above all, stop the cuts!

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