On the picket line
May 14, 2004 | Page 11
Seattle-area grocery workers
SEATTLE--The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and the big three grocery stores--Kroger Co., Safeway Inc., and Albertsons Inc.--in the Puget Sound region have agreed to a temporary contract extension beyond a May 2 deadline. From now on, either side with 72 hours notice can strike or lockout the other side.
There are five UFCW locals--44, 81, 367, 381, and 1105--that are currently negotiating. Some 16,000 workers would take part in any strike or lockout, and another 9,000 UFCW members in smaller stores will receive whatever contract is ratified.
The companies are attempting to shove a Southern California type two-tier contract that contains massive concessions onto the union. Health care concessions alone would add up to over $550 million.
In addition, they want to freeze wages for the life of the three-year contract. 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.
New hires wages would be 16 percent lower than current workers and would have to pay 20 percent out of pocket expenses for less health care benefits. Pension, vacation and holidays all would also be cut.
The union claims they are holding off on calling a strike authorization vote until they see the entire proposal. But with concessionary contracts having been signed all around the country from Southern California to Washington, D.C., what more does the union need to see?
On May 5, the five locals held all-day contract update meetings and strike preparation workshops. At the morning session, it was standing room only with a line of members extending into the hallway. Local politicians and union officials came to show their support.
Several angry rank-and-file members circulated a flyer demanding no concessions and are now circulating a petition calling for no cuts in health care or pensions, no wage takeaways, no changes to work rules and no two-tier contract.
It will be up to the members to continue to let the companies know their corporate greed is unacceptable in the Puget Sound region. Every member possible needs to help circulate the flyers and petitions so the union knows how angry the members are.
"I call on all of our members to become angry," said Sarah Bright, an 11-year Safeway employee. "I call on all of us to become active. Tell our union, so they can tell the employers at the bargaining table, that we will not accept the destruction of our quality of life in the name of their higher profits. We must be ready and willing to strike, should that become necessary."
AUSTIN, Texas--In a victory for University of Texas (UT) shuttle workers and members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1549, two unfairly fired drivers were rehired by ATC/Vancom. James Frank, ATU 1549 vice president, and Glenn Gaven, former president of the local, were fired following an April 2 rally and picnic organized to support UT shuttle workers.
They were fired supposedly for organizing a work stoppage, despite the fact that participating workers took personal days off and put their shifts up in advance. These two drivers are active union leaders and have been organizing workers in an ongoing contract dispute with the company.
Since the firings, union members and supporters have organized to get Glenn's and James' jobs back with pickets at ATC/Vancom local offices as well as at the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority, which hires ATC as a subcontractor to run the shuttle services. These rallies were very successful, drawing roughly 70 fired-up workers and supporters each time.
This increasing pressure forced ATC to back down and reinstate the drivers. The real fight is just beginning. After three years with no raise, and repeated attacks on health benefits, UT shuttle workers need to push their advantage to force the company to give them a decent contract. We have won one victory--now it's time to fight and win the larger battle.
NEW YORK--Graduate students at Columbia University are still on strike as the semester comes to a close. The strike, which began April 19, could determine whether Graduate Student Employees United/United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110 will be able to represent Columbia's 1,900 teaching assistants and research assistants.
The strike received an exciting gesture of support May 5 when members of the university's other campus unions joined grad students on the picket line in a one-day solidarity strike. Campus workers, grad students from New York University and Yale, and members of CUNY's Professional Staff Congress also joined several hundred grad students for a midday rally.
A large cheer went up from the crowd when several dozen members of Transport Workers Union Local 241, which represents Columbia's maintenance workers, marched into the demonstration with their union flags. Clerical workers from UAW 2110, which the grad students are trying to join, were told they would be docked a day's pay for observing the strike. In response, some grad student volunteered to donate their stipend checks for the month of April to a hardship fund for the clerical workers.
The crowd of several hundred marched into the Columbia administration building, chanting loudly and waving union flags. With final exams approaching, the future of the strike is uncertain.
In Contemporary Civilization (CC), a required course that most students take in their sophomore year, the university is requiring students from struck sections to take a uniform final exam or receive a zero grade. Some students are organizing a protest action and will place stickers on their exam booklets saying the exam "compromises the academic integrity of my CC experience."
Sophomore class president Wayne Ting told the Columbia Daily Spectator, "As someone who's politically and socially conscious, I recognize that [the group final] is a ploy to undermine the efforts of the union."