On the picket line
November 14, 2003 | Pages 10 and 11
Chicago Transit Authority
CHICAGO--For four years now, 6,600 Chicago transit employees have been working without a contract. Union officials have been negotiating intermittently with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in the years since the membership voted down CTA's last offer.
The International leadership of the Amalgamated Transit Union assumed control of Local 241 this February, after former President Lee Robinson signed a contract settlement without approval from the union's executive board. Arbitration between CTA officials and union representatives began this August, but no progress has been reported.
"We've waited four years, working every day, and we want our contract," driver Michael Taylor told Socialist Worker. "We want a fair wage." Taylor stressed that the $20.01 per hour that bus drivers earn is well deserved. "We put ourselves in harm's way every day to do our jobs," said Taylor. "We shouldn't have to go seven years without a raise."
A new round of bargaining between bus drivers and CTA management is scheduled to start in December--at a time when the CTA is forecasting a $50- to $80-million budget deficit for next year.
CTA President Frank Kruesi has proposed a citywide fare increase to make ends meet--even as he slipped through a bundle of pension enhancements for himself and top CTA managers without public hearings or discussion. Drivers have since become concerned about the solvency of their pension fund, which is managed by a joint union-management pension board, and are currently trying to get rank-and-file members seats on the board.
Drivers and riders alike are also incensed about the potential fare hike. "How can they be hiking fares when they haven't even taken care of their workers?" remarked Denise Dixon, field organizer for Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH Coalition, which supports the workers. "It's just disrespectful--they can take care of their own bottom line, but the workers get nothing."
Management, armed with a no-strike clause, seems to have had the upper hand for several years. Now's the time to step up the pressure and make common cause with riders angry over fare hikes in order to push CTA to deliver a new contract and a raise.
ROCHESTER, N.Y.--About 120 transit workers from Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 282 and supporters picketed outside the city bus depot to demand a contract from management. The crowd was a cross section of bus drivers, mechanics, janitors, technicians, representatives from local unions and supporters picketing in solidarity.
Workers have been without a contract since their last one expired April 1, 2002. After 22 months and 26 arbitrations, management's best offer contains no wage increase in the first year of the contract and a measly 3 percent increase in subsequent years.
Management also wants to create a two-tier health benefit system, putting new hires on a less expensive plan. "It's one thing after another," said one picketer. "They say they don't have money, but their books show that they're taking in millions."
Because of New York's anti-worker Taylor Law, public employees are prohibited from striking, and penalties for violations are levied against the union and employees involved. Like many workers around the country, transit workers face a struggle where all the rules rigged to work against them.
However, spirits remain high. "They're saying that we're unskilled and unprofessional," explained another picketer. "We're getting ripped off--that's why we're out here."
JEFFERSON, Wis.--Nearly 400 strikers and supporters turned out for a November 7 rally in support of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 538's eight-month-long strike against Tyson Foods. Featured speakers included AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and prominent state politicians.
"This is not a fight against one greedy plant in Jefferson, this is a fight against corporate greed in America," said Sweeney. But despite Sweeney's fighting rhetoric, UFCW and AFL-CIO leaders still haven't called a nationwide boycott of Tyson products for fear of a lawsuit.
The only strategy that union leaders seem to have can be summed up by their main slogan--"one day longer, one day stronger." But this gives the advantage to Tyson, a multibillion-dollar corporation with pockets deep enough to outlast workers who must pay rent, bills, mortgages and health care costs.
"How many rallies are they going to have?" asked striker Chuck Moehling. "In the next two to three months, something has to happen." At this critical juncture, Tyson workers will have to look to labor's fighting traditions for a strategy that can win.
In 1989, for example, strikers at Pittston Coal ignored more than $13.5 million in fines and occupied the plant for 77 hours after being on strike for a full year. This action forced Pittston to come back to the table, saving their union and forcing all previously levied fines to be dropped.
Rank-and-file workers have to begin organizing meetings to hammer out a strategy to force Tyson to the table.