On the picket line
June 25, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11
Montpelier Downtown Workers Union
MONTPELIER, Vt.-- Organizers of the Montpelier Downtown Workers Union, United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 221, scored a victory June 5. The union is an amalgamated local, representing employees of a number of small businesses. Although not formally recognized by many businesses, the union local has implemented a steward system to represent the grievances of workers throughout the city.
Recently, Jane Ketchum, a cashier at a non-union Shaw's grocery store, was wearing anti-George Bush pin at work. While walking through her check-out line, the manager told her to take it off. She refused, and a couple of days later she found her hours were cut.
Ketchum contacted Ellen Thompson, a steward with the union. Thompson requested from the manager a copy of an employee handbook, and information on past practice regarding such discipline and other materials. Intimidated by request, the manager returned Jane to her normal work schedule June 5. "It shows that there is power in a union" Ellen told Socialist Worker.
"When such complaints are verified by the stewards, the union is prepared to vigorously fight against such injustices through a variety of organizational and legal tools, negotiations, and when necessary, direct action," wrote one union activist in the monthly Downtown Workers' Journal. Getting the bosses on the defensive is what unions need to do everywhere.
BOSTON--On June 8, Democratic National Convention (DNC) organizers were forced to shut down construction at Boston's Fleet Center after construction workers and delivery trucks refused to cross a picket line. The picket, however, was led by the Boston police officers that have been working without a contract since 2002.
"Our members will not cross," said a business manager for Local 2222 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. "If everything gets resolved, we'll go in and do a great job. If it doesn't, they'll have to go wireless."
Over a dozen other city labor unions have been working without a contract for well over a year, including Boston teachers' union, firefighters and Service Employee International Union affiliates. Democratic Mayor Thomas Menino is crying poverty, even though it has been publicly documented that the City of Boston entered the current fiscal year with almost half a billion dollars in reserves.
This was the first direct confrontation with Menino since his State of the City address, when 10,000 union members gathered outside to heckle anyone that went inside. Signs read "DNC: Democrats Negotiate Contracts" and "Do Not Cross." Now with the DNC just over a month away, the threats of not working the convention are materializing.
However, the situation is precarious at best. Boston's unions have been in a general state of retreat since the Verizon contract dispute a year ago. And though the police picket resulted in workers on the DNC construction project stopping work, it's distressing that the police are playing a prominent role.
The Boston cops are responsible for the systematic crackdown on activism across the city in preparation for the convention. While they may form pickets around the DNC to pressure the state for more money, the police are in no way part of the labor movement. The fact is that they would rather be busting up a picket line than walking one.
As soon as their contract is settled, which will likely happen before the DNC, they will play the same reactionary, repressive role they've always played. It's exciting that other Boston unions have been inspired to action, but they need to be the ones leading the struggle.
NEW YORK--On June 9, 7,500 childcare workers, affiliated with AFSCME District Council (DC) 1707 and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, began a three-day strike for a decent contract. After working for four years without a contract and three years without a raise, workers are demanding a retroactive 9 percent pay raise over 27 months.
Showing that they will not back down from their fight for a decent standard of living, DC 1707 has already rejected a contract that would have provided a $1,000 cash payment and a 3 percent raise effective immediately, and a 2 percent raise next year.
Malcolm Perry, an employee at Children's Circle Day Care Center told a rally of more than 1,000 union members outside City Hall that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg "has to know we are human beings and we do matter. We're working people just like everyone else. We deserve a raise."
Meanwhile, on June 6, 10,000 home health care workers marched down Ninth Avenue chanting "overworked and underpaid" and demanding a living wage for the crucial work they do. "Most of us are living below the poverty level," Bay Ouma of the Bronx, an aspiring nurse earning $6.75 an hour, told New York Newsday. "We don't want to be on welfare. We want a living wage."
Contrary to the myth of the "welfare queen" who feeds off of government money in order to avoid working, these workers are in danger of needing welfare despite working as many hours as they can. About half of the workers have accepted a deal that will increase their wages from an average of $7 an hour to $10 an hour by 2007. Other workers have yet to reach an acceptable agreement.
It is not a coincidence that both of these strikes involve low-paid workers in traditionally "women's" fields. While some in the media have attempted to evoke sympathy for the workers who will be without child care and health care temporarily, it must be made clear that no worker benefits from placing their children or parents in the care of underpaid workers.