On the picket line
July 9, 2004 | Page 11
Chicago Teachers Union
CHICAGO--Vote fraud in last month's elections for officers of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has led to rival slates claiming the right to run the union until new elections can be held this fall. In a June 11 runoff election, Marilyn Stewart, the candidate of the union's old guard, won an apparent 560-vote victory over Deborah Lynch, who was elected as a reformer three years earlier.
But the canvassing committee of the 35,000-member union voided the election after discovering that Stewart received votes from people who didn't attend work the day the elections were held. Another 600 ballots were reported missing.
So when Stewart's slate showed up at the CTU offices to take over on July 1, Lynch changed the locks on the door, claiming the right to continue to hold office until the new elections are held. "According to our constitution, the last duly elected person is in charge until there is a certified election that changes that," CTU Vice President Howard Heath told reporters.
For now, a federal judge has issued an order allowing Lynch to remain in office. However, the CTU's parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has sided with Stewart--whose union caucus is aligned with the AFT leadership.
"It has been AFT's position that elections are presumed valid pending a final decision on any challenges," federation secretary-treasurer Edward McElroy wrote in a letter to the CTU. The AFT's position effectively rewards Stewart's forces for stealing the election. By presuming Stewart's victory to be valid, the AFT would allow the old guard to use the powers of incumbency during the election rerun.
The dispute comes just after Chicago Mayor Richard Daley proposed a major restructuring of the schools that would lead to the closure and virtual elimination of union contracts at 100 schools. On the eve of the election, Daley gave a boost to Stewart's forces by announcing 1,600 layoffs of school employees--a move timed to make Lynch appear weak.
Still, Lynch opened the door for this crisis by pushing through a concessionary contract late last year. After the rank and file voted to reject Lynch's first proposed contract because of reductions in health insurance and other givebacks, Lynch came back with an improved--but still concessionary--agreement.
The contract angered many of Lynch's supporters, who voted for her after years of givebacks by the weak old-guard leadership. Many of Lynch's supporters abstained from voting this time around--which allowed Stewart to run a competitive campaign against her.
Now Daley's restructuring plan is certain to become a central issue in the election rerun to be held this fall. If Lynch is win to re-election, she will need to organize a fight to stop Daley's attacks.
NEW YORK--About 200 people demonstrated outside the New School July 1 to protest the university's refusal to recognize a vote taken by adjunct faculty to join the United Auto Workers (UAW). New School's 1,700 part-timers make up nearly 90 percent of the university's instructors. Some earn only $1,400 per course.
Faculty from New York University and the City University of New York showed solidarity, as did members of the UFCW, AFSCME DC 37 and other unions. Protesters called out university President Bob Kerrey on his attempts to bust the union.
Kerrey--a Vietnam war criminal and former Democratic senator from Nebraska--appealed the 530-466 pro-union vote. Yet the National Labor Relations Board has issued multiple rulings in favor of the union over the past two years.
During the vote for the union in February, the university called faculty members at home, threatening to reduce course offerings if they unionized. This threat didn't faze organizers.
As New School adjunct Greg Tewksbury explained, "As in any struggle, academic workers are workers. And as workers, we need the right to organize." Union flyers promoted the Employees Free Choice Act, a proposed federal law that would make it easier for unions to win recognition.
Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York Central Labor Council and a Democratic member of the New York state assembly, told the protesters that the presidential election "is the pivotal moment" in deciding the fate of workers' right to organize.
But we can't depend on politicians. We need to fight from the bottom up to win union struggles--and put pressure on whatever party is in power to win reforms.
NEWTON, Iowa.--A nearly month-long strike by United Auto Workers Local 997 at Maytag's plant here ended with management gaining on most of its demands. The 1,500 workers, who produce washers and dryers, went on strike June 10 over company demands to push health care increases onto workers and retirees, replace pay raises with lump-sum payments and exclude new hires from the pension plan.
The deal, ratified July 2, gives the company much of what it wanted. Workers with families will no longer have employer-paid health insurance, but must choose an "80-20" plan, with a $400 deductible and steadily rising deductibles, or a "90-10 plan" with a lower deductible of $300, as well as co-pays.
For singles, the deductibles would be $200 or $150, depending on the plan. New hires won't be allowed to join Maytag's pension plan, but have the option of a 401(k) with matching employer funds.
Management was happy with the deal. "The new contract is a positive development," Mark Krivoruchka, Maytag's senior vice president of human resources, told reporters. "We are pleased that union members recognized that cost improvements are a necessity in this competitive environment."
The agreement is a bitter end to a strike in which workers showed solidarity. When management recalled 400 laid-off union members to their jobs during the strike, they reported to work--and then marched out to join the picket line.
Unfortunately, the UAW did almost nothing to build support for this strike, leaving Local 997 to fight alone. This left workers isolated in their fight against a corporate giant. The company recently shut down its big Galesburg, Ill., plant and moved production to Mexico.
A majority of workers felt they had no alternative but to accept the deal. The defeat of the strike at Maytag is the latest in a series of labor struggles that highlight the necessity of building solidarity.
Providence, R.I.--Amid a budget crisis and allegations of ballot-box stuffing, members of the Providence Teachers Union (PTU) voted 622-355 to approve a new three-year contract on June 23. With raises of 1.5 percent in the first year of the deal and 3 percent in the next two, Providence teachers will remain the second-best-paid in Rhode Island.
But the contract contains several serious concessions. The biggest involves health care. Current employees and retirees will now pay 10 percent of their health care premiums, effectively wiping out the raise.
New hires will pay less for their health care--but only because they will get a different, more limited health care plan. "The new hires will wind up being a separate union," teacher Charles McDonough told the Providence Journal. "I'd like to go cry in the corner."
Additionally, the new contract shaves a day off the school year, while adding 10 to 15 minutes to the school day, for an extra 30 hours per year. But both Providence Mayor David Cicilline and PTU President and state Rep. Steven Smith called the contract a "win-win-win" situation resulting from the "spirit of cooperation."