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100,000 CWA members walk out at SBC
Strike ends, fight goes on

May 28, 2004 | Page 11

A FOUR-DAY strike by nearly 100,000 workers at SBC Communications in 13 states ended May 24 with negotiations resumed on a new contract. The workers, members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), are fighting management attempts to push the costs of health care onto workers and to stop the outsourcing of union work.

In Madison, Wis., 33-year veteran Garry Grassman accused CWA International leaders of "pussyfooting around" by not calling a strike at the contract's original April 1 deadline. Some 250 SBC workers and supporters turned out for a strike rally in New Haven, Conn., May 20.

Unfortunately, John Olson, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, used racist language to describe SBC's outsourcing of jobs to India and the Philippines, saying, "When I dial operator...I don't want to hear an accent; I want an American worker." However, Robin Moody, a steward with CWA Local 1298 said that outsourcing was not the fault of the workers in those countries, but SBC.

Job security was also an issue on the picket line in Austin, Texas. "I'm worried about my job," said Felicia Miller, a four-year technician at SBC. "In my department, we've been surplused two years in a row...a couple of months later we were on mandatory overtime. It's like, why did you let those employees go, and then put us on a 12-hour week overtime?"

For many workers, health care is the critical issue. Maria Jiménez, a technician at SBC in Austin for 37 years, argued that the CWA has to draw the line on co-pays. "I'm sure people read the newspaper and say, 'Yeah, they're gonna have to pay 10 percent, and that's what I pay now, so what's the problem?'

"The only thing is that once CWA starts paying ten percent, then whoever these people work for, their bosses are gonna say, well you know what, now you can pay 20 percent. The unions have struggled all along. That's why people nowadays--whether you're a union member or not--have health care, have a 40-hour work week, have overtime, have weekends off. That's what the unions have done for everybody and people don't realize it."

Workers returned to work and were told by union officials to wait for updates. But with SBC stepping up the pressure, it's going to take more of a fight--including a return to the picket lines--for the workers to hold the line.

Marshall Braun, Dana Cloud, Naveen Jaganathan and Scott Johnson contributed to this report.

"We produce the profits"

KINGSLEY CHEW, the president of CWA Local 9410 in San Francisco, spoke to Socialist Worker's EMILY GIMENO and TODD CHRETIEN about the fight at SBC.

[SBC is] very profitable--to the tune of $8 billion in net profits last year. The question is--where does that profit come from? It's produced by us, but only the selected few at the top like the CEO were awarded any kind of substantial pay raise. He got $20 million last year.

They want us to "participate" in paying for health care. Once they open the door, once we agree to any--let's just say a minimal amount, a penny--what will it be tomorrow ?

Traditionally with Pacific Bell we had somewhat of a relationship with the corporation. Since SBC bought out Pacific Bell a couple years ago, it's not as amicable. We've actually been preparing [for a strike] as early as last year. We've got all the picket signs done and strike duty has been assigned.

Should we have to go past the four days and, let's just say, go for an absolute all-out call for a general strike, we've networked with all the other unions across the nation, the AFL-CIO, you name it. The labor councils are assisting us directly with strike mobilization, and we're asking that all unions sign up for our pledge to switch telephone carriers from SBC to AT&T if we have to strike all-out.

We're choosing AT&T because they, too, are union. We'll assess the four-day [strike]. I see the focus is to get SBC to wake up and kick it up a notch.

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