On the picket line
March 12, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11
University of Texas shuttle bus drivers
AUSTIN, Texas--University of Texas shuttle bus drivers and mechanics in Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1549 voted March 4--by a margin of 80 to 0--to reject a contract proposal from their employer, ATC/Vancom. The workers have been operating under the terms of a contract that expired more than two-and-a-half years ago.
Many believe that their recent publicity campaign to pressure ATC, the university and the Austin transit authority has been instrumental in producing the proposal now. But the contract is no different from previous offers.
"This contract is an insult," said Daniel Urea, a driver with eight years seniority. "It provides a 33 cent an hour increase each year and no retroactive increases. And new drivers get nothing. It's a joke." The proposed contract would also allow ATC to change health insurance providers and costs at will. "The offer is damaging to your welfare," reported the High Beam, the union's newsletter.
The contract also states that workers must work 750 hours or more every six months to qualify for full medical and dental benefits--or pay 25 percent of the premium. Since many drivers can't afford this cost, "this will knock a lot of people out of getting health insurance," said Norm Couture, ATU Local 1549 president.
Workers and campus supporters will hold a teach-in on campus in March to build further solidarity with students along with events aimed at reaching other drivers and mechanics. The main task right now is to get more drivers and mechanics involved in the struggle in preparation for future action.
"We are the driving force," commented one driver at the picket. "We need to show ATC that we deserve more. We can get what we want if we keep fighting." The union can't count on winning their demands at the negotiating table. The time is now to make serious preparations for a strike.
LOS ANGELES--Southern California grocery workers returned to their jobs after their 18-week strike to find that the company was still out to bust their union. Vons moved workers with more than 10 years seniority to other stores, as far as they could without having to pay for relocation fees--25 miles.
In densely populated Southern California, 25 miles can mean more than an hour driving in heavy traffic. This vindictive maneuver was intended to frustrate senior employees to the point of quitting. Union members are furious, and at some stores they are demanding the return of transferred workers.
For employees with less than 10 years, the condition of their returning to work was accepting demotion. So a checker that had been making $17.90 would have to accept a general merchandise position that pays only $12.45 an hour--or be fired.
What's worst of all is that the union accepted these terms in negotiations. The workers that sacrificed so much for the last five months deserve more from their union. Now is the time to begin building rank-and-file opposition within the United Food and Commercial Workers.
MADISON, Wis.--At an unusually packed meeting of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Teaching Assistants Association (TAA), members voted by a wide margin to begin preparations for a possible strike in April. The TAA is escalating its tactics in the face of stalled negotiations over the terms of teaching assistants' (TAs) and research assistants' (RAs) health care packages.
Currently, TAs and RAs have a health care option that carries no monthly premium. State negotiators insist that the TAA must accept higher premiums due to Wisconsin's budgetary crisis--and because leaders of virtually all other state employee unions have already agreed to higher premiums. But TAA members--most of whom earn barely $10,000 a year--recognize that concessions today, however small, will only lead to spiraling health care costs in the future.
Heated arguments have begun within the union over the ramifications of a strike. While the likelihood of arrests and firings is low, many members are concerned about alienating undergraduates and faculty.
But with the state bent on wringing concessions from the union, striking remains the most powerful way for us to make our voices heard. It was a 1969 strike that first won union recognition for the TAA--and the threat of a strike that got us our tuition waiver in 1998.
On March 25, members will make the final decision on whether or not to hold an official strike ballot. In the meantime, the union is planning a series of public actions to mobilize the membership and build student solidarity.
Campus activist groups, including the International Socialist Organization and the Student Labor Action Coalition, are brainstorming ways to demonstrate the widespread support that exists among undergraduates for the TAA.
PORTLAND, Ore.--Workers reached a tentative agreement with Powell's Book Store, one of the largest independent bookstores in the U.S., on March 2. Nearly 500 members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 5 who work as cashiers, stockers, computer programmers, truck drivers and book buyers are covered by the deal.
Management at Powell's had attempted to roll back health care coverage by requiring workers to pay higher premiums and steep co-pays. Local 5 has been working without an agreement since October.
By mobilizing member's support, help from the international and other unions, the workers at Powells' were able to win a better agreement than management had originally proposed, including the preservation of 100 percent, employer-paid health care, a 2 percent annual wage increase during the three-and-a-half year contract and a $100 signing bonus. There were also changes that will help strengthen work rules and working conditions.