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On the picket line

July 2, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11

Puget Sound grocery workers
Legal Aid Society

By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--About 1,100 workers have voted overwhelmingly to strike a Freightliners plant here, despite the union bureaucrats' recommendation to accept a contract. The current contract ran out June 30.

The International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 1105 voted 713 to 35 to strike, and the Teamsters Local 223 by 117 to 24. Service Employees International Union Local 49, which represents office staff, also voted against the offer.

Freightliner, which makes heavy-duty trucks, is a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler AG whose truck/bus division reported a quarterly profit of $329 million, up $51 million from last year. Workers made big concessions, including giving back $2 an hour in the 2001 contract and accepting a large reduction in the number of jobs.

But now the company has seen a huge increase in profits and doesn't want to share it. The company expects sales to top $10 billion this year. "They made hundreds of millions of dollars, and they don't even want to give us what we gave back," Teamster Dave Fishel said.

As the union goes back to negotiate again, workers have to be wary of being sold short. Portland has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country for a long time. It's time for the bosses to pay up, and stop making the workers pay for the their problems.

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Puget Sound grocery workers
By Darrin Hoop, UFCW Local 1105

SEATTLE--The contract covering 25,000 grocery workers in the Puget Sound region has been extended for a third time, to July 9. Five Locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons have been locked in negotiations since before the contract originally expired on May 2.

Both sides have agreed to bring in a federal mediator to oversee the talks, which are set to resume July 6. The companies, who are grouped together as the Allied employers, are still demanding around $500 million in concessions. They want massive cuts in health care benefits for current workers and a two-tier contract that would significantly reduce new employees' wages, health care and pension benefits.

The companies, despite losing hundreds of millions in potential profit because of the Southern California strike earlier this year, are still making tons of money. For example, in the first quarter of this year, Kroger's profits were down 25 percent compared to the first quarter last year, but it still made $262 million in profit.

UFCW leaders themselves proposed $120 million in health care concessions--but the companies rejected this offer because it didn't cut enough! Yet the union still hasn't called for a strike vote or mobilized for any mass rallies that could tap into the widespread support within the community.

Union members must demand at least three days to look over any proposed contract before voting on it. A "vote no" campaign will be the only way to let the union know that concessions won't be acceptable.

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Legal Aid Society
By Rebecca Kurti and Lucy Herschel, 1199/SEIU

NEW YORK--About 100 workers protested June 24 over the layoffs due to budget gaps of more than 160 attorneys and 50 support staff at the Legal Aid Society. Legal Aid is New York City's largest provider of free legal services to poor and working people.

The picket was called by 1199/Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the non-attorney staff at Legal Aid, with support from Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA), United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2325. Protesters chanted, "Serve the needy, not the greedy" on the street in front of Legal Aid's main office.

Both unions fought by lobbying and rallying on the steps of City Hall, convincing city council members to provide funding specifically to avoid layoffs. In spite of getting the requested funds, management and the Board of Directors at first did not rescind a single layoff notice.

"Management looks at us like we are nothing," said paralegal Magnus Mukoro. "They have no respect for us or the work we do. If we need to walk out, we need to walk out." The day after the picket, Legal Aid management and the Board of Directors rescinded the layoff notices for most ALAA attorneys. This shows that membership mobilization and political pressure can win.

Last fall, 1199's members voted down a contract, held a major walk-in on management and won a better contract. Both unions at Legal Aid need to work together to pressure management and the Board of Directors through job actions until every last job is restored.

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