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On the picket line

April 9, 2004 | Page 11

Oyster Bar
Congress Hotel
University of Wisconsin-Madison

United Teachers Los Angeles
By Randy Childs, UTLA

LOS ANGELES--Rank-and-file activists in the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) are taking steps to organize a fight against layoffs, budget cuts, large class sizes and attacks on our health care.

Activists in Progressive Educators for Action (PEAC), a rank-and-file opposition group within UTLA, are joining forces with other groups to hold a protest rally at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) headquarters on May 25--and we're demanding that UTLA leaders endorse the action.

This move is in direct defiance of UTLA President John Perez, who has refused to fight LAUSD administration on almost every front. The 40,000-plus members of UTLA have been working without a contract for over nine months--but UTLA leaders have refused to mobilize teachers to pressure the district.

The school board has approved $421 million in budget cuts, and wants $60 million more by July. Meanwhile LAUSD administrators are unilaterally imposing scores of "reform" plans, mandated curricula, standardized tests and new paperwork on teachers.

The school board is also projecting a $120 million shortfall next year in employee health benefits. Rather than fight, UTLA leaders will hold a special symposium April 16-17 to discuss health care "savings" schemes.

PEAC activists will speak out, distribute leaflets, stickers, and petitions to send Perez the message that teachers are willing to strike to save our health care. PEAC is also mobilizing union militants to go to UTLA area meetings April 14 to build support for the May 25 demonstration and around the demands of no layoffs, no health care cuts, and lower class sizes.

PEAC also plans to reach out to parents, students, and other LAUSD unions. It will take a fight to win the union to adopt an aggressive, winning strategy.

For more information on PEAC, call 310-869-6321 or email [email protected]

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Oyster Bar
By Sean Petty

NEW YORK--After four winter months on the picket line, the 72 striking workers at the Oyster Bar restaurant in midtown Manhattan returned to work March 26. The workers, members of Local 100 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE), had recently expanded pickets to another of the owner's restaurants, Gallagher's Steakhouse, which pushed management to settle.

The three-year deal seems to be neither a resounding victory nor a defeat. There were no wage cuts or health care premium increases for new hires--the stated reason for the strike. Also, the company agreed to immediately take back striking workers once a settlement was reached, reversing its earlier stance.

However, the union agreed that newly hired waiters would make a dollar less per hour for their first two years of employment. Also, management won't have to increase pension contributions.

Throughout the strike, the workers received solidarity--from Teamsters who refused to pick up garbage, to other union distributors who refused to deliver food and supplies to the restaurant. Also, HERE Local 6, which represents city hotel workers, organized a weekly strike kitchen, staffed by hotel chefs, to keep up morale. The strike cut the Oyster Bar's business by 40 to 60 percent.

Still, one has to ask whether or not a better outcome was possible. For instance, why did the union wait almost four months to start pickets at Gallagher's, where the union reached a deal shortly before the Oyster workers struck?

And why wasn't the question of how to stop scabs or deliveries raised? Still, this fight does show that health care cuts and givebacks are not inevitable and can be successfully defended.

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Congress Hotel
By Lauren Fleer

CHICAGO--Three hundred people rallied outside the Congress Hotel April 2 in support of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 1 members, who are entering their tenth month on strike. Seventy percent of the 130 workers who walked out last June are still walking the picket line, while 20 percent have gone back to work.

Supporters at Friday's action included members of AFSCME, Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers; the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE) and others. Noticeably absent, however, was any representation from the International Union of Operating Engineers, which still has members crossing the picket line to work inside the hotel.

Since January, management has met with HERE three times, but has obstinately refused to budge on the "final offer" it implemented last summer--which slashed wages by 10 percent and eliminated health care coverage. Many speculate that management is merely trying create the appearance of good-faith bargaining as it faces charges in front of the National Labor Relations Board next month.

A planned merger between HERE and UNITE will soon allow campaign staff to mount a stronger attack on Congress owner Albert Nasser's other business interests. A delegation of Congress Hotel workers recently visited Nasser's Gelmart textile factory in the Philippines, which subcontracts to sweatshops on nearly every continent.

Filipino union workers gave HERE a very warm welcome, understanding that they are fighting the same fight. The next mass picket in Chicago is scheduled for June 15, the one-year anniversary of the strike.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison
By Bill Linville

MADISON, Wis.--The Teaching Assistants' Association (TAA), representing teaching and research assistants at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, continues preparations for a possible strike set for April 27-28 in select departments, with a grade strike to follow. The state has stonewalled the teaching assistants at the bargaining table for nine months, insisting on an end to no-cost health care and a "pay raise" that amounts to a 3.1 percent decrease in real wages.

As TAA co-presidents Tina Chang and Boian Popunikov wrote in the student paper the Daily Cardinal, the state is forcing TAs to pay $132 per year for single and $330 per year for family health insurance coverage. "That's a big percentage of the take-home pay we now have and would be an even bigger percentage were the proposed pay cuts applied. But it won't stop there. Those health insurance rates would undoubtedly increase faster than our wages would in the future."

A large portion of TAs are mobilizing for the possible strike, and more than 100 members of the TAA have signed up for organizing shifts to collect petition signatures. Undergraduates also are building support for the TAA through a petition campaign of their own, collecting undergraduate signatures supporting the TAA and the potential strike.

An April 1 rally of 300 undergraduate and graduate students featuring 2003 California Green Party governor candidate Peter Camejo connected the issue of undergraduate tuition hikes and the TAA's fight for a fair contract. Chanting "Education is a right, not just for the rich and white," marchers went first to a meeting of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents--which has approved an 18 percent tuition increase--and then onto the Governor's office at the capital.

Campus activists are now brainstorming about the next step in building solidarity for the TAs.

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