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On the picket line

September 19, 2003 | Page 11

Grand Hyatt Hotel
Long Island University
St. Peter Hospital
Bon Macy's


A TENTATIVE agreement between DaimlerChrysler and the United Auto Workers (UAW) was announced as Socialist Worker went to press. While details weren't immediately available, several press reports indicated that the deal includes an agreement to allow Chrysler to close or sell as many as seven parts plants.

This indicates that the UAW is continuing its policy of allowing the Big Three auto manufacturers to reduce costs by moving increasing amounts of production to parts plants with lower wages. The deal is the first in a series of negotiations that cover nearly 300,000 workers at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors as well as auto parts producers Delphi, formerly part of GM, and Visteon, a spinoff of Ford.

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Grand Hyatt Hotel

NEW YORK--Nearly 1,000 members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 6 walked off the job August 22 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel to protest management's blatant indifference to their health and safety. The impromptu strike was a response to the hotel's refusal to obey an arbitrator's decision that it shut down a faulty cooling tower leaking hazardous chemicals and exposing workers to numerous long- and short-term health risks.

The Grand Hyatt's callous disregard for worker safety was so glaring that the arbitrator included a clause in his decision giving the union the right to take any action necessary if management didn't fully comply with the order. So when management refused to lift a finger, even as the deadline set by the arbitrator passed, union workers walked off the job and rallied in the lobby.

After realizing that they couldn't get a court in town to overturn the arbitrator's decision and facing a hotel full of guests, including the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, management caved at 6 p.m. They agreed to build a protective barrier around the areas where workers were being exposed to the toxins and completely fix the cooling system within the next 10 weeks.

The workers will also likely be paid for the time lost due to the stoppage. In light of the recent contract battle at Verizon, this victory shows that drawing the line and taking militant action can and does win.

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Long Island University
By Alan Wallis

NEW YORK--Faculty members at Long Island University voted to return to work, as Socialist Worker went to press. Strike coordinator Ralph Engelman said the concessions they had won constituted an important symbolic victory. The medical benefits for which some adjuncts will now be eligible, though meager, are "a foot in the door" toward winning the respect they deserve, Engelman told Socialist Worker.

After the administration threatened to take away strikers' medical benefits, members of New York State United Teachers Local 3998 held a rally in a nearby church where representatives of other trade unions joined them. "Corporate America will not stop until we stop them," said Stanley Aronowitz, relating the strike to the recent struggle at Verizon.

Aronowitz is chapter chair of the professors' union at City University of New York and former Green Party gubernatorial candidate.

Classes missed during the strike will not be made up, but tuition will also not be refunded to the students, even though salaries of strikers will be docked 3.4 percent this year. "The strike is over," Professor Engelman said, "but the struggle is not."

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St. Peter Hospital
By Brian Huseby

PROVIDENCE--Health care workers at Providence St. Peter Hospital rallied in the rain September 10 to protest management delays in contract negotiations. A major sticking point is health care benefits for the licensed practical nurses, surgical technicians, certified nursing assistants, housekeepers, dietary workers and others whose contract expired in June.

Management has refused to provide information about the benefits package or employee costs for the upcoming contract period. Without that information, the union bargaining committee can't move forward with wage negotiations.

"They haven't provided us with the information we need," said Kelley Staley, a surgical technician and member of the Service Employees International Union Local 1199NW bargaining committee. "They may give us a great raise and take it away in benefits."

Staffing levels are also a major concern, and the union wants a joint labor-management committee to discuss staffing--a proposal flatly rejected by St. Peter management. "People are fired up and determined," Carter Wright of Local 1199NW told Socialist Worker. "[The workers] know their demands are reasonable."

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Bon Macy's
By Steve Leigh

SEATTLE--By a vote of 72 percent, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) ended their five-month contract campaign against Bon Macy's. The contract held off some of the worst demands from Bon, but workers did accept concessions in the deal. In their "last and final offer," Bon management had gone for out-and-out wage cuts.

While the approved contract will not cut any current employee's wages, it does create a two-tier wage structure by bringing new employees in on a lower scale. The company had wanted health care costs to go up immediately, but the final contract delayed the cost increase until July 2004 when the employee share will jump to a whopping 50 percent!

There are no general wage increases in the three-year contract, but there are two one-time bonuses. This means that real wages after inflation will drop over the life of the contract.

The outcome of the campaign is unfortunate. In July, 70 percent of the workers covered by the contract voted to strike against the "last and final offer." A spirited rally of several hundred workers followed soon after.

But instead of using that momentum, the union leadership continued negotiations for two more months and squandered the opportunity to strike during the "back-to-school" sale in August. Union leaders knew the contract proposal was a setback, so they didn't formally endorse the offer, but in practice they argued for it at the ratification meeting.

The workers had only a couple hours to consider the contract before voting, so there was no time to mount an organized opposition. In spite of this, 28 percent opposed it.

This shows significant opposition--and a potential to organize a better contract campaign to reverse the concessions in the next contract. This will require strong rank-and-file organization next time.

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