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On the picket line

April 16, 2004 | Page 11

SEIU Local 2028
By Avery Wear

SAN DIEGO--Facing hundreds of layoffs and a bureaucratic union reorganization effort, rank-and-filers in San Diego's Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2028 have come together as Members for Reform.

Some 500-700 layoffs are anticipated for San Diego County workers, who make up the bulk of the membership. Entire programs, such as AIDS Waiver, which helps people with HIV to live independently, are being dismantled. City and other workers face severe cuts as well.

But despite over a year of headlines and warnings about California's worst-ever budget crisis, the local leadership hasn't mobilized members for a united and public defense of jobs and services. After a membership petition campaign called for a rally at the county building immediately after the local's convention on May 15, promises were made and later rescinded to follow through on that demand.

Meanwhile, proposed changes to the union's bylaws--to be voted on at the May 15 meeting-- further concentrate power at the top under the guise of "giving power back to the members." The changes would make it easier for the executive committee to change the bylaws, including the section on dues, and create a new level of bureaucracy in the form of an operations committee meeting more frequently than the executive board.

The changes are justified also as a restructuring to accommodate a membership influx from an ambitious plan to more than quadruple the membership in six years. Yet many members, as well as union employees, complain that staff are not trained to deal with basic work site issues.

The plans dovetail with the SEIU International's "New Unity Partnership" scheme for a progressive-sounding focus on new organizing at the expense of democracy and without addressing our basic weakness on bread-and-butter issues. Members for Reform's immediate demands are for the May 15 rally to happen-- with or without the sanction of the leadership--for specific changes to improve, not worsen the bylaws, and for more training for staff.

We aim to build an independent rank-and-file group that can challenge the undemocratic priorities of the local and international bureaucracy. Now is the time to build a fighting union genuinely run by the members.

University of Texas shuttle bus drivers
By Chris Hamilton

AUSTIN, Texas--About 60 University of Texas shuttle bus workers and students rallied on the campus last week to demand better pay, better benefits, and safer working conditions for the 225 drivers and mechanics in the university shuttle system. About half the workers are members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1549.

ATC/Vancom retaliated by firing two senior drivers who participated in the lawful rally. The workers have been stalemated for more than two years in a contract negotiation with Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority's subcontractor, ATC/Vancom.

The workers' wages have been frozen for three years, and health care benefits have been drastically cut. The workers are fed up--and it appears that a strike is pending. ATC/Vancom has offered a pay raise of 33 cents over four years only to the most senior drivers, and health benefits that could be altered at any time.

Thirty drivers and mechanics coordinated the rally with a student organization called Students for a Safe and Fair Shuttle (SFSFS). ATC/Vancom responded with a threat the day before the rally that anyone who attended it would be fired, and an offer that anyone who didn't would be rewarded with a free sandwich.

"If ATC wants my family to eat then they should give me money to buy food," one driver said. The union and the student groups have planned to respond with a picket and press conference at the company's offices to demand reinstatement of the drivers fired for participating in the struggle.

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