On the picket line
July 23, 2004 | Page 15
Seattle grocery workers
THE CONTRACT covering 25,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union in the Puget Sound region has been extended for the fifth time, to July 23. The five UFCW locals have been negotiating with Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons under the guidance of a federal mediator since July 6 over a contract originally set to expire on May 2.
Despite the fact that these companies lost an estimated $2.5 billion in profits because of the four-month strike in Southern California, their goal of severely weakening the union shows no signs of slowing down. The companies are demanding a 30 percent cut in health benefits, a 24 percent wage cut, and a two-tier contract that will significantly lower pay, benefits and pensions for new hires.
The money to maintain--if not increase--pay and benefits, is there. Profits for the companies have increased more than 325 percent over the past decade to about $7 billion. Despite this, the union has proposed at least $120 million in concessions, mainly on health care.
The two sides claim to have reached tentative agreements on the retail clerk's pensions and retiree's health and welfare plan--but the union refuses to make public the details. Instead of being kept in the dark, union members need to demand that not only any tentative agreements on parts of the contract, but minutes of each negotiation session be displayed on the local's Web site. This would ensure a full and democratic discussion and debate about the direction negotiations are going in.
Some members are planning on mobilizing for a "no" vote and are making "No two tier" buttons to pass out. Members should also demand the linking up of this contract with the one covering 19,000 members of UFCW Local 588 in Northern California, where the contract has been extended past its initial deadline of July 17.
Neither set of workers should settle until both contracts have been settled. It will be up to the rank and file to lead the union forward.
NEW YORK--The 1199/SEIU members at the Legal Aid Society won a temporary victory against layoffs in July. After a series of membership actions including walk-ins, a press conference and an after-work picket, management announced that they were postponing the layoffs, which were to go into effect June 30.
Legal Aid had first announced layoffs of 150 members of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA)/UAW 2325 and 50 members support staff members, represented by 1199/SIEU. Management claimed that large budget gaps necessitated the cuts.
After union members protested to both to City Council and Board members, Legal Aid first rescinded the layoffs for the majority of the attorney and postponed the layoffs for 1199 members. ALAA members voted to take concessions in exchange for having all their layoffs rescinded.
Some members objected, calling for the two unions to unite to save all jobs without concessions, and 25 percent of the attorneys voted against the givebacks. For 1199/SEIU members, the layoffs could still be imposed.
And the corporate restructuring firm Alvarez & Marsal has been brought in to restructure Legal Aid. As Andrea Veras, a word processor targeted for layoff, said: "We need to continue fighting. If we sit back and see what happens, then it will be too late."
LOS ANGELES--As the traditional school year came to a close last month, LA's public school teachers, represented by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), won a series of surprising victories on the heels of two unprecedented union mobilizations.
First, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) backed down from threats to make school employees pay $60 million more for health care next year. Then, the school board approved an estimated $43 million in cuts to the district's $1.3 billion administrative bureaucracy.
This will free up desperately needed money for school-site expenditures. As if to underline that point, the board also proposed a budget that reverses a threatened $50 per child school spending cut. And board members backed down on threats to lay off hundreds of counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers.
These victories cannot be separated from the rallies of hundreds of teachers and supporters outside school board meetings on May 25 and June 8. At these protests, teachers showed a determination to fight back against health care cuts and demanded cuts in bureaucracy in order to increase school funding.
Members of Progressive Educators for Action (PEAC), an opposition group of UTLA members who want our union to wage a more militant fight against the attacks we face, played a crucial role in initiating and building these mobilizations. Now PEAC is discussing strategies for next year's UTLA elections as an opportunity to advance its vision for a more combative, rank-and-file unionism.
With the $400 billion military budget and the continuing profit-driven crisis in health care, the defensive victories won by LA teachers this spring are only temporary. The lessons of this spring's mobilizations need to be discussed and generalized among UTLA's 47,000 members in order for us to be prepared for the larger battles looming ahead.
PORTLAND, Ore.--Workers at the Freightliner plant here voted by just three votes to accept a weak new contract. The other three unions involved also accepted the contract. Earlier, the workers, members of the International Association of Machinists, had overwhelmingly rejected a previous offer.
The close (369-366) vote reflects the anger of workers who gave up so much in the last concessionary contract to make the company profitable. Like many other workers around Portland who have been made to pay the price of high unemployment, Freightliner workers are still left behind. The company has always dangled the threat of closing the plant and moving operations to North and South Carolina over the heads of workers.
The contract gives workers $2.50 an hour more over three years, and 40 cents per hour in pension contributions. But angry workers point out that this only takes them to where they were three years ago.
When the result was announced, many booed--indicating there was a willingness of workers to fight back. This anger is something the union should have built on to win a decent contract.