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On the picket line

April 30, 2004 | Page 11

University of Wisconsin-Madison
Seattle-area grocery stores
Northeastern Illinois University
Minneapolis bus workers

New York University
By Andrew Jagunich

NEW YORK--Adjuncts at New York University (NYU) won their first contract only hours before their April 21 strike was set to begin. This marks the end of an 18-month struggle by NYU-Adjuncts Come Together (NYU-ACT), United Auto Workers Local 7902.

As Socialist Worker went to press, details weren't available, but members of the bargaining committee reported significant improvements in wages, health care and working conditions. "This has the air of a milestone," said NYU-ACT member and negotiator Ward Regan. As newly formed adjunct unions at Pace University and the New School prepare for their first contract fights, NYU's adjunct contract sets a precedent for future successes.

The agreement was a sea change for NYU's administration, which had threatened to hire replacements for striking instructors. NYU President John Sexton repeatedly stated in public that the adjuncts' demands were "from another planet" and tried to scare students by saying that tuition would increase by 27 percent if the union got what it wanted--a claim that was pure fiction.

Growing solidarity for the adjuncts put pressure on the university to settle in the union's favor. After NYU-ACT voted 91.4 percent to strike, a number of full-time faculty planned to take their classes off campus. Student support was organized through the Student Adjunct Solidarity Squad (SASS), which worked closely with the union for the past three months. In the weeks before the strike, SASS collected over 1,300 signatures on a pro-adjunct petition and sold pro-union T-shirts.

Regan stressed that the adjuncts' struggle doesn't end with winning the first contract. Enforcing the contract will require the union to stay strong--and that means the membership has to stay involved. "None of these things happen by themselves," Regan said. "You can't buy a successful union movement. It has to be built."

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University of Wisconsin-Madison
By Andrew Villiesse and Alex Stone

MADISON, Wis.--The Teaching Assistants Association (TAA)--the union that represents graduate employees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison--has voted to go on strike after more than eight months of contract negotiations.

The main sticking point is health care. Both TAA members and state negotiators know that health care costs will rise faster than income--and the state is hoping to shift those costs onto teaching assistants. The TAA is fighting to keep the status quo, with the state paying for health care benefits--as it has since the TAA's beginning in 1970.

On April 26, TAA members voted to go ahead with a two-day walkout on April 27 and 28, followed by a possible grade strike at the end of the semester.

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Seattle-area grocery stores
By Darrin Hoop

SEATTLE--The contract covering 25,000 workers in United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 44, 81, 367, 381 and 1105 in the Puget Sound region expires May 2.

The big three grocery stores--Kroger Co., Safeway Inc., Albertsons Inc.--are attempting to force the UFCW to accept a new contract that would essentially render the union meaningless. Not only does the contract contain all sorts of givebacks, worse yet, it would create a two-tier pay scale for future grocery workers.

Some of the concessions are as follows:

-- Health care contributions for existing workers would be cut $1 an hour from current rates.

-- Wages would be frozen for the life of the three-year contract for all workers.

-- Overtime pay after eight hours would be eliminated, and on Sundays and holidays, workers would earn only an extra $1 an hour instead of the current time and a half.

The companies have been placing ads in local newspapers and posting signs in all the stores to find replacement workers. But as Socialist Worker went to press, the union has yet to hold a strike authorization vote or a single rally to show the unions' strength.

On April 30, the unions have rented out the Double Tree hotel near Sea-Tac airport from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. so that members can come learn more about the negotiations and prepare for a possible strike. But the contract expires two days later!

"They have no intention of bargaining a good contract," says Sarah Bright, an 11-year Safeway employee. "They'll have to be forced." It will be up to all UFCW members to organize their co-workers so they can pressure the companies--and their unions, as necessary--to demand a contract without concessions.

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Northeastern Illinois University
By Rachel Cohen

CHICAGO--The teachers' union at Northeastern Illinois University has been getting the squeeze, compelled over the years to work more and more for less money. The latest insult is Provost Larry Frank's unilateral decision to disqualify professors' work as sponsors of student organizations as counting toward their workload, which clearly violates the teachers' contract.

But these teachers won't take it anymore. By April 22, all professors formally resigned from club sponsorship positions.

In a show of solidarity, students gathered with virtually no notice to demonstrate their support for teachers. Members of the Socialist Club and their allies gathered in the campus' center to pass out fliers and draw together a crowd. The resulting crew of concerned students marched in protest throughout the halls of the classroom building, carrying signs and chanting, "Students for faculty rights, unite!"

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Minneapolis bus workers
By Alan Maass

MINNEAPOLIS--Transit workers in the Twin Cities ratified a two-year contract April 16, ending a six-week strike that shut down the public bus system. Management retreated on several issues that provoked the strike, but the new agreement contains many of the same concessions that Metro Transit originally demanded, including on the key issue of health care benefits.

Tom O'Neil, a bus mechanic for 29 years, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the deal was "almost the same contract they offered us the first time. Basically, it's the same garbage. I'm real angry."

O'Neil said that he would vote "no" on the deal, but that coworkers were feeling under the gun after a six-week walkout that the union--Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005--wasn't prepared for. Strike pay for the 2,200 drivers, mechanics, bus cleaners and clerical workers was only $50 a week. "There are a lot of people who are hurting," O'Neil said, "and if I were them, I'd vote yes just to get back to work."

Like so many other labor battles today, the key issue in the bus strike was health care. In the final contract, the Metropolitan Council, which manages Metro Transit, dropped its demand that workers have 17 years of service before qualifying for retiree insurance benefits. But the union agreed to a provision that caps retiree health payments at a specified dollar amount--effectively, a reduction in benefits. Even worse, the new deal eliminates all retiree health benefits for new hires--in other words, a two-tier system on health insurance.

Metro Transit's wage offer is virtually unchanged--a freeze in the first year of the contract and a 1 percent increase in the second, with an additional 0.5 percent hike tacked on next February. That's a wage cut once inflation is taken into account.

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