On the picket line
February 20, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11
Stop and Shop
NEW HAVEN, Conn.--With 70,000 of their fellow grocery workers engaged in a bitter strike battle in Southern California, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in New England narrowly averted a strike last weekend. On Sunday morning, roughly 43,000 grocery workers employed by Stop & Shop in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts agreed to a last-minute contract that fended off attacks on health care and wages by the company.
Stop & Shop had originally proposed that employees pay 20 percent of health care costs while eliminating time-and-a-half pay for new part-time workers on Sundays and holidays as well as delaying medical benefits for three years for newly hired employees. But the new contract calls for the company to continue paying all employee health care costs while both full-time and part-time employees receive modest wage increases and some health benefit reductions.
However, workers will continue to make co-payments for doctor visits and pay 20 percent of major medical costs. "The company contributes all of our pension and insurance premiums," said Donna Boyington, a 15-year Stop & Shop employee from Glastonbury, Conn. "That's a wonderful thing in this day and age. We held our ground."
The key to maintaining these previous gains was the threat of a region-wide strike. "What turned the tables here was that we stuck together as unions," said Local 371 President Brian Petronella. "Stop & Shop tried to pick us off. We had to hold our ground on health care." But, although Stop & Shop workers didn't face the same harsh demands as their counterparts in California, a separate settlement has weakened the UFCW's attempt to carry out an industry-wide fight on these issues.
CHICAGO--After previously rejecting two contracts by large margins, workers at Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. overwhelmingly approved a new contract last weekend. The new four-year deal contains increases in pay, pension and health care benefits, according to union officials.
The $1.90-an-hour wage increase will be phased in over the life of the contract, and pension benefits will also improve in three steps. The new contract also puts a cap on out-of-pocket health care expenses that workers must pay and doubles the lifetime maximum health benefits to $2 million, according to Jethro Head, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union Local 1.
About 500 full-time workers are covered by the contract. Their last contract expired September 30, but workers continued under the old contract until the company terminated it last month. Last weekend, workers overwhelmingly authorized a strike, and a few days later there was a breakthrough in negotiations.
NEW YORK--Adjunct professors at New York University (NYU) are fighting for their first contract since joining Adjuncts Come Together-United Auto Workers (ACT-UAW) in 2002. Part-time faculty, called adjuncts, make up close to 70 percent of NYU's faculty. This follows a national trend in which almost 50 percent of all U.S. faculty are adjuncts--and therefore receive lower wages, little or no benefits and little job security.
Contrary to NYU's motto of "a private university in the public service," the administration increased undergraduate tuition by 7 percent last year, making the average yearly undergraduate tuition $33,000. Outrageously, adjuncts earn on average $2,700 per course, and almost all are limited to teaching two courses per term.
In their new contract, adjuncts are asking for substantial wage increases, health and retirement benefits, participation in faculty governance, adequate space to prepare and meet with students and--most of all--job security.
But it will take a fight to squeeze these basic rights from NYU. A student group has recently formed to build student solidarity with adjuncts, with a teach-in being planned for early March.
PORTLAND, Ore.--Up to 400 people rallied in support of members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 5 who work at Powell's Bookstore and in solidarity with striking Safeway workers here. Safeway management is going after workers' benefits--similar to Safeway's attack on grocery workers in Southern California. At Powell's, ILWU Local 5 has been trying to negotiate a new contract for months, yet management wants to make workers pay for more profits.
Protesters marched through Powell's as dozes of workers walked off the job to demand a fair contract. The marchers then went on to a Safeway store, where some went inside to leaflet shoppers about the plight of the California's grocery workers.
One marcher was roughly arrested and handcuffed by security guards for trespassing. The crowd outside grew angry outside when they heard the news and demanded his release, chanting "Let him go!"
After a short while, and probably under police advice, Safeway security released him without pressing charges. Safeway and their hired goons might want to intimidate pickets, but the message from activists is "We'll be back!"
AUSTIN, Texas--More than 50 University of Texas (UT) shuttle bus drivers, mechanics, and supporters held a spirited rally and picket at the campus statue of Martin Luther King February 9. The rally was designed to win the solidarity of students, faculty and staff with the workers' campaign to win a decent contract from ATC, a huge subcontractor with Austin's Capital Metro Transportation Authority.
The current contract expired more than two years ago, during which time ATC has reduced health benefits. Senior drivers and mechanics have not had raises in three years. The workers also have safety concerns.
Picketers chanted "Support UT Shuttle Workers" as other participants handed informational brochures to passing students. Speakers at the rally emphasized the need to win the support of students. "Without students' support, the university will just divide and conquer, telling the students that their fees will go up if we get paid what we deserve," said union member Glenn Gaven.
Union vice president Norm Couture said that although student shuttle fees have risen, the workers have seen none of that money. "He said that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," said UT student Courtney Morris, pointing to King's statue. "Students need to find out that an injustice to anyone is an injustice to everyone. We have to build broad support, and we have begun that work today."