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On the picket line

October 17, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11

New York City legal services
Washington, D.C. schools
Los Angeles teachers
University of Cincinnati

Chicago teachers
By Jesse Sharkey, delegate, CTU

CHICAGO--Some 36,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are set to vote on a tentative agreement October 16, with the outcome appears too close to call as Socialist Worker went to press. After the union's delegates rejected the proposed five-year deal by a vote of 402 to 289, leadership has gone on an offensive to sell the agreement.

The CTU has called nine meetings at schools throughout the city and union president, Debbie Lynch, has been appearing on radio, television and in the newspaper op-ed pages. But it's still unclear if Lynch's efforts will succeed--meetings have been small, and several have been won over by rank-and-filer teachers organizing for a "no" vote.

The leadership's threat that "no" means a vote for a strike appears to be its strongest weapon, as the idea of a walkout makes many CTU members nervous. But there's nothing automatic--it's up to members to decide to strike.

The problem is that union leaders conducted negotiations behind closed doors and never campaigned for a better contract--and settled for a weak deal. Schools will always be made the last priority unless we organize a real bargaining campaign. And that can only begin after we reject this tentative agreement.

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New York City legal services
By Lucy Herschel, delegate, 1199/SEIU

NEW YORK--Contract battles are heating up for legal services workers at two major institutions that provide legal services to New York City's poor. The 250 members of the Legal Services Staff Association (LSSA), UAW Local 2320, held a one-day strike October 8 to fight health care givebacks and other concessions being demanded by the managements of Legal Services of New York and MFY Legal Services.

Among the unions on hand to support LSSA's picket line were members of the Legal Aid Society Chapter of 1199/SEIU, which represents more than 500 non-attorney workers at the Legal Aid Society. The day after the LSSA strike, the Legal Aid Society Chapter voted down its proposed contract settlement, with most members expressing anger at the low wage increases early in the contract.

The anger and momentum at the ratification meeting led members to organize a lunch-time job action for the next day. Though organized by word of mouth in less than 24 hours, 80 workers showed up from offices around the city to walk in on Legal Aid management at their main headquarters to demand a better offer.

"I felt overwhelmed with joy," Caridad Delpozo, a computer help desk worker, told Socialist Worker. "I was stunned and taken aback because I didn't expect so many people to show and be so supportive of each other." Workers in both unions will need to keep fighting to win fair compensation for the important work they do.

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Washington, D.C. schools
By Jennifer Satlin, WTU

WASHINGTON--More than 400 students, parents, school custodians, building engineers, teachers and community activists rallied September 30 outside the mayor's office to call for the full funding of D.C. Public Schools. This year's budget is more than $100 million short of what the school system estimates it needs just to maintain current standards.

The protest featured a "wall of shame"--enlarged photos of the schools' unusable water fountains, broken toilets, leaking ceilings and sections of pealing paint 6 feet in diameter. Several posters read "Schools not Stadiums," referring to D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams' plan to allocate $339 million to construct a new baseball stadium in the city.

Rally supporters included four unions representing teachers, custodians, building engineers, and even principals. As Teamsters organizer Roger Newell put it at the rally "...[B]y fighting for full funding, we'll make sure that nobody's ox is gored for someone else."

Over the summer, the D.C. School Board voted to revoke the teachers' negotiated 9 percent raise--but reinstated the raise last month under the threat of a teachers' strike. The threat of layoffs and cuts is far from over, however.

We refuse to accept the choice between teachers‚ raises or custodians‚ jobs, building repairs or textbooks. We demand full funding now!

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Los Angeles teachers
By Karl Swinehart, chapter co-chair, UTLA

LOS ANGELES--Activists in United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) are mobilizing for demonstrations on October 23. UTLA members, along other school employees and parents, will rally at local district offices throughout the city to protest the upside-down priorities of the LA Unified School District.

School communities are outraged that school budgets are being cut $50 per student while the district increases funding for district bureaucracy by $37 million. For the first time in the union's history, members of UTLA took the initiative to call for a "chop from the top, support the classroom" campaign and created task forces in the UTLA's area divisions. This welcome change comes through the emergence of a union reform caucus, Progressive Educators for Action Caucus (PEAC), which is pushing for a more active contract campaign.

Six UTLA areas--as well as the union's House of Representatives--have passed motions with a range of contract demands. These include capping and lowering class sizes, creating equal learning conditions for all students, empowering teachers and parents to develop the curriculum and facilitating access to bilingual education programs, in addition to maintaining employee health benefits and strengthening school governing bodies. The October 23 demonstrations can show the public--as well as the UTLA leadership--that teachers want to address the broad range of problems facing our schools.

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University of Cincinnati
By Molly Seifert

CINCINNATI--Adjunct professors at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are fighting for recognition as a union local of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. Adjunct professors make up 42 percent of the university's faculty and teach the majority of UC's undergraduate curriculum. Yet they are paid only a fraction of what full-time professors are paid for teaching the same courses.

The average UC adjunct earns less than $1,500 per course, which is half the national average. Most receive no subsidized health insurance or other benefits--even after 20 or more years of service! In addition, adjunct professors are generally excluded from department and university meetings, leaving them without a voice in matters affecting the classroom.

The organizing drive has been underway since school started September 24. Many student groups, as well as the full-time faculty union, support the adjunct professors.

However, the UC administration argues that the university doesn't have funding to increase adjunct professors' pay and benefits. But the administration has raised tuition nearly 10 percent--and has several ongoing construction projects.

The question isn't about funding. It's about priorities. Brand-new buildings and renovated sports arenas don't teach students new ideas. Professors do. It's time to give the adjunct professors what they deserve.

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