On the picket line
August 8, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11
San Francisco janitors
SAN FRANCISCO--Some 3,000 janitors represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1877, who clean about 250 buildings in San Francisco's business district, voted overwhelmingly to go on strike on August 2.
The vote came days after 600 janitors marched through downtown chanting "¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede!" As Socialist Worker went to press, Mayor Willie Brown had called a meeting with employers and the union negotiating team for Tuesday morning, thus averting a walkout that could have begun Monday night.
Approved by 95 percent, the strike vote represents a growing anger about health care costs being pushed onto workers. Elsa Almanza, a janitor in San Francisco for 21 years and a member of the bargaining team, said that the issue was not only about health care. "It's not just a co-pay fight," Almanza said. "We're fighting for our respect. We're working hard."
Building owners, and by extension the cleaning companies that serve as their contractors and hire the janitors, are asking the workers to share health care costs through co-pays. The contract members rejected included an insulting offer with a pay increase of $1.30 over five years and co-payments that would amount to $10 for visits to doctor's offices and for non-generic drugs and $5 for generic drugs.
Janitors have been pressing for a contract in which the full, employer-paid family health insurance they have had for more than 30 years is maintained. "We will strike, and we will kick their butts if they don't do the right thing," SEIU Local 1877 President Mike Garcia said at a rally.
The union has a huge battle on its hands. Employers have already signaled their willingness to hire strikebreakers. A key strategy for SEIU will have to be maintaining a picket line to keep out scabs and mobilizing public support for their strike.
CHICAGO--"We'll fight one day longer than they can," bartender Henry Miller said as the strike at the Congress Hotel here entered its seventh week.
Workers are feeling the impact of the long walkout. They recently decided to switch to a part-time picket schedule--instead of the 24-hour, seven-day a week presence they had maintained thus far--so that strikers can take other jobs to replace their lost income.
But time has also made things tougher for hotel management. Reports from inside the hotel say that the third floor has been entirely shut down to guests--and is being used for trash and storage. Teamster trash collectors, in solidarity with strikers, often abandon their pickup duties.
Two weeks ago, the mid-level food and beverage manager resigned because of extra work to make up for the strike. Staffers at Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 1, which represents the strikers, say this is the second resignation from middle management since the walkout began. "They're being expected to do the work of the entire staff, and things are getting bad in there," one said. "It's no wonder they want to quit."
The strike began on June 15, after hotel management implemented a final contract offer that included a 7 percent wage cut, unlimited right to subcontract and no raise for four years. Under the final offer, housekeepers' wages were cut to $8.21 an hour--far below the $10 an hour standard established at nearly all Chicago hotels in a master contract negotiated last fall. After six weeks, only nine strikers had crossed the picket line to go back to work.
The picket lines continue to be a significant nuisance for the hotel, as strikers are often successful in stopping travelers from staying at the hotel. Last week, HERE organizers convinced a large wedding and an 800-person conference to take their business elsewhere. Picketers keep a large poster of a cockroach by the hotel's front door to illustrate the Chicago Department of Public Health's warming about filthy insects inhabiting the hotel basement.
Strikers say they remained determined to outlast management--and win a decent contract. Activists taking part in the AFL-CIO's Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride in Chicago will join the Congress workers on the picket line on August 9 at 1 p.m.
SANTA CRUZ, Calif.--For Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc., the proverbial cup runneth over with profit while its employees are getting beans for pay.
Peet's got its start 36 years ago in Berkeley, Calif., and has since expanded into four states with 65 stores. Peet's is also now selling its brands in major grocery chains and even has plans to open stores internationally. Yet employees' complaints of insufficient wages and hours and shrinking benefits packages have gone unanswered.
Peet's is also now considering eliminating sick pay and holiday pay. This has prompted Peet's workers in Santa Cruz to ask the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 839 to be their representative in collective bargaining, and on July 9, the UFCW submitted a petition to the National Labor Relations Board requesting this, thus setting the stage for a union election.
Workers from Peet's, trade unionists, concerned citizens and members of the ISO in Santa Cruz held a rally and informational picket outside the Peet's store front July 31 to display solidarity. Brendon Constans, a Peet's employee and student at University of California-Santa Cruz, told Socialist Worker that Peet's is having record-breaking sales with net income for the first quarter of 2003 increasing by 162.7 percent.
Wages at the Santa Cruz location for non-managerial positions range from $8 to $10 per hour even though the Santa Cruz city council has established that the livable wage for the area is $11.50 per hour and will not do business with companies that pay less.
In late July, Peet's met with store employees and tried to persuade the workers to abandon their organizing efforts. UFCW Local 839 plans to meet with store employees in early August to answer any questions workers may have about the union and its policies.
SANTA CRUZ, Calif.--More than 80 truck drivers, operating engineers and oil paving workers have claimed victory after a two-week strike against the construction materials and concrete distributor Graniterock. The members of Teamsters Local 912 ratified a new contract that contains language protecting full-time jobs.
Fortune magazine actually ranks Graniterock as "one of the best companies to work for." But the company's drivers tell a different story. "This was about holding the line on protecting full-time jobs," David Werlin, an organizer for the local, told Socialist Worker.
The Teamsters contract expired on May 31, and Graniterock tried to use temporary and part-time workers to substitute for union drivers on vacation or sick leave. Workers pointed out the safety issue of hiring inexperienced temporary drivers to haul Graniterock's 32-ton trucks from the quarry. Driving a top-heavy cement truck in uneven terrain requires a lot of skill, the strikers said.
This argument hit home in Santa Cruz, where the driver of a big rig hauling cement lost control of the vehicle last month and caused a 20-car pileup--killing an 8-month-old girl and injuring dozens of others.
Another sticking point in the strike was that temporary workers wouldn't qualify for benefits until they had worked 60 days in any consecutive six-month period--something that union members said was unlikely. The temp worker policy amounted to having nonunion employees working in the same operation with union members, Teamsters members said. In addition, Graniterock offered the Teamsters a wage package far below the industry standard.
Solidarity organized by other Teamsters locals and unions in the Santa Cruz area contributed to this success.
CHICAGO--SINALTRAINAL, the union that represents Coca-Cola workers in Colombia, launched a worldwide boycott on July 22 with an international day of action.
The company is implicated in the most outrageous violations of labor and human rights in its quest for profiteering--and is being aided by the infamous death squads of Colombia. Members of SINALTRAINAL have been threatened, intimidated and tortured. Seven union members have been assassinated on company property by the paramilitaries.
In solidarity, the United Steelworkers brought the case before a U.S. court, where a judge ruled that the transnational corporation "has a case to answer." The backdrop to this attack on workers at Coca-Cola is the Colombian government's general assault on working people.
Demonstrations, pickets and other actions were organized around the world in solidarity with Colombian workers. In Chicago, about 100 activists picketed the local bottling plant, with signs that read, "Coca Killer." Leading the protest was Luis Adolfo Cardona, a Colombian trade unionist who escaped death at the hands of the paramilitaries. The Nicaragua Solidarity Network, Service Employees International Union Local 73 and Teamster Local 743 also brought solidarity greetings. "Our unity will bring them victory," said Rich Berg of Teamsters Local 743.
The Teamsters presence was especially welcome since Coca-Cola workers in the U.S. are mostly represented by the Teamsters--though by different locals than Berg's. The International union, under the conservative leadership of James P. Hoffa, has yet to back the campaign.
Colombian workers are counting on us to build solidarity.