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On the picket line

August 20, 2004 | Page 15

Pace University

Seattle-area grocery workers
By Darrin Hoop, UFCW Local 1105

SEATTLE--Workers at Safeway, Kroger, Albertsons and several smaller area grocery stores in the Puget Sound region ratified a new three-year contract August 15. By an 83 percent "yes" vote, 20,000 members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 44, 81, 381 and 1105 ended the standoff that lasted three months past the contract's initial deadline.

UFCW Local 367 withdrew from the bargaining team a couple of weeks ago to negotiate on its own, saying that it didn't approve of the secrecy involved in the talks or the direction of negotiations. Union leaders claim that there are no two-tier agreements in the new deal, but this is at odds with details that emerged as Socialist Worker went to press.

For example, new hires will have a lesser HMO health plan for their first 35 months before qualifying for the regular plan. And new hires will take almost four years to reach journey pay, compared to the current two years.

For the first time, members must pay health-care premiums--$7 a week for individuals and $17 a week for families. Also, time-and-a-half pay on Sundays was cut to time-and-a-third.

Wage increases are only 30 cents an hour in the first and third year of the contract with a 30-cent bonus for those who stay through the second year. Some workers stand to lose more than $100 a month under this contract.

The Puget Sound deal is the latest in a string of concessionary contracts since the UFCW's defeat after a four-and-a-half-month strike by Southern California grocery workers earlier this year.

Still, despite only a couple of members campaigning against the contract, the 17 percent who voted "no" show that a significant minority is fed up with the direction the UFCW is headed. Reformers can base their hope for the future on that.

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By Marcia Thorndike, UFCW Local 101

SAN FRANCISCO--Union workers at two Macy's stores voted August 1 to accept management's "final offer," with few of their demands satisfied. The 40-cents-an-hour wage increase in the contract barely keeps pace with inflation and is offset by rising health care costs. Personal time-off days will be deducted from vacation days.

A contract that codifies harassment and intimidation saw little improvement. "It's a disappointment," said Jessica Fink, a Macy's cosmetic counter worker. "The company gave zero respect to its employees who make their profits. Unfortunately, because of people's economic condition with our very low wages, and because of low morale, we didn't vote to reject the contract and go on strike for a better deal."

The disappointing contract came despite a raucous 1,000-strong one-day strike, in which United Food and Commercial Workers Local 101 President Mike Borstel and others were arrested.

Rank and filers participated in a Contract Action Team to prepare for the fight, and a rank-and-file bargaining committee represented workers in negotiations. These are positive, democratic structures, but workers at these two unionized department stores in a sea of nonunion retailers needed broad-based solidarity action.

Editor's note: A previous article on the contract fight at Macy's mistakenly implied in a quotation that 95 percent of the stores' workforce was first-generation Chinese immigrants. This is true of one department. We regret the error.

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Pace University
By Chris Williams, NYSUT

NEW YORK--After a struggle lasting just over a year, adjunct faculty at Pace University, a private university with campuses in downtown Manhattan and Westchester County, forced the administration to grant them the right to unionize.

Mirroring a national trend, Pace administrators have steadily increased the percentage of adjuncts until they are now a clear majority of teachers--with low pay, no health care or pension plan, and no office space or job security. Many adjuncts must work part time at three or four colleges to eke out a living.

With an 80 percent turnout, adjuncts voted by a 2-to-1 margin to join the New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT). The success of the organizing drive, in the words of NYSUT organizer Daniel Esakoff, depended on running "a bottom-up campaign, meaning, there were adjunct faculty involved in the organizing from Day 1."

The mass organizing committee consisted of 70 adjuncts, whose visibility and openness gave confidence to other workers. "We built a committee of leaders," said Esakoff. "The leaders in turn went out and built a community around them. It was not a top-down campaign. It was never our intention to electioneer and win an election.

"It was always our intention to build an organization that would take some of the boss's power away. There is no magic pill or magic leaflet or magic e-mail blast that will convince everyone of the need for a union.

"It takes hard work, workers talking to workers, or adjunct faculty talking to adjunct faculty, one at a time, until enough are convinced and ready to act. That's a lesson for the labor movement at large."

For information about getting involved in NYSUT, call 646-602-1494.

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