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On the picket line

July 4, 2003 | Page 11

Washington, D.C. teachers
By Jennifer Satlin and Jeff Bale, WTU, AFT Local 6

WASHINGTON--More than 1,000 angry teachers rallied in front of the mayor's building June 16 to protest planned budget cuts and a school voucher program. The main demands were for the city to honor its current contract with teachers, which includes a 9 percent raise beginning October 1 and long-overdue retroactive checks for this year's raise.

After a short picket, teachers poured into Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping traffic. Later, they marched into City Hall itself, chanting loud enough to be heard a block away. The building's security guards, obviously on the side of teachers, showed the 400-plus protesters where to go, as they stormed into the mayor's office.

Teachers took a step further and threatened a fall sick-out if their demands aren't met. The chant of the day was "No 9 percent October 1, no work October 2!"

The demonstration showed that teachers are coming to the conclusion that solidarity and job actions are needed to win. "Protest is good, but they'll respond to action--when we make daily operations impossible," said D.C. school librarian Greg Bargeman, who was at the rally.

Teachers also criticized school vouchers, which have been supported by both the mayor and the school board president--even though D.C. voters have rejected vouchers twice, and studies show that they don't improve student achievement.

The D.C. City Council has already slashed $100 million from next year's budget. Yet Mayor Anthony Williams is proposing $339 million in public funding for a baseball stadium for the relocated Montreal Expos. "They have millions for tax cuts for the rich, they have millions for a stadium, and our schools are literally crumbling to the ground," said teacher and ISO member Jesse Hagopian, as he spoke to the rally.

The Washington Teachers Union (WTU) recently suffered a scandal of monumental proportions. WTU leaders allegedly plundered the union treasury of $5 million during a 7-year shopping spree on furs, china, fine jewelry and other luxury items.

The scandal left teachers disgusted and demoralized. But the June 16 action--the biggest union event in at least a decade--was a major step toward overcoming this.

The rally happened because of pressure on union leaders--and succeeded because of rank-and-file anger. But anger alone won't be enough to keep our union focused on struggle. Only an organized rank and file can keep the pressure on.

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Claremont Resorts and Spas
By Kathryn Lybarger

BERKELEY, Calif.--On a sizzling hot June afternoon, about 150 workers and community members turned out to picket the Claremont Resorts and Spa. Hotel workers, represented by Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 2850, are fighting for a fair contract--and to win union recognition for another 140 workers employed at the hotel's spa and salon.

KSL, the corporation that owns the ritzy hotel, has offered a meager proposal to its union food and beverage workers, who have to pay out of pocket for health insurance. Management also hired a full-time consultant to greet every new employee at the spa with an anti-union training session.

"It's hard to get new hires to see that they will do everything they can to keep us from getting benefits and wage raises," says Norine Madrid, an esthetician at the spa for 10 years. "But the consultant doesn't work with us everyday, and a key factor [in building the union] is in knowing one another and building relationships. I think we're going to win."

Community support for the struggle is strong. Most recently, the University of California -Berkeley football team agreed to join the boycott against the hotel. But building solidarity among workers at the Claremont is the most important job. When the third bargaining unit starts to go without its contract in September, management will really feel the heat.

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