On the picket line
September 17, 2004 | Page 11
San Francisco hotel workers
SAN FRANCISCO--Some 600 hotel workers and supporters from dozens of unions celebrated Labor Day with a spirited march to Union Square that ended in the arrest of almost 150 people. UNITE/HERE Local 2, which represents more than 7,000 hotel workers locally, has been without a contract since August 14.
Members are gearing up for a strike vote scheduled to take place on September 14, timed to coincide with hotel contract expirations in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Spirits were high at the rally and Local 2 retiree Josefa Namias guaranteed that after the strike vote, "We'll be out in the street."
Union members are holding the line on the issues of health care and an all-important two year contract to win a common 2006 contract expiration date with hotel and casino workers in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Atlantic City--a total of 25,000 workers. This would enable the union to negotiate from a national perspective--which is precisely what the hotel companies oppose.
Health care is a crucial concern for all workers, and the memory of the defeated strike of 70,000 grocery store clerks from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union--which led to a dreaded two-tier system--is still fresh in people's minds. While wages for most hotel workers are low ($25,000-$30,000 per year), those who are even eligible for coverage are now expected to pay $150 a month or more for dependents, up from the previous $10 a month.
The companies also want to eliminate coverage for nearly 1,000 workers and their families. As Namias told Socialist Worker, "We have children who work now and I don't know if they're going to have benefits. We have to fight."
Renee Saucedo, Green Party candidate for Board of Supervisors, joined Local 2 president Mike Casey, United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly, Democratic Supervisor Tom Ammiano, and nearly 150 others in a sit-down protest that ended in mass arrests.
Many in the crowd felt that the first priority for labor is to put John Kerry into the White House. But the battle for a national hotel contract may well break out before the election--and will be won or lost on the picket line.
DESPITE OPPOSITION from AFL-CIO leadership, rank-and-file activists are pressing on with efforts to bring working people to Washington DC to "[put] forward to the entire country, our program for the betterment of America's majority working population."
In June, John Sweeney's office issued a directive to all state federations and central labor councils telling them "not to sponsor or devote resources to the demonstration in Washington, D.C." The reason? "We think it is absolutely crucial that we commit the efforts of our labor movement to removing George W. Bush from office...We encourage our state federations, area councils and central labor councils not to sponsor or devote resources to the demonstrations in Washington, D.C. but instead to remain focused on the election..."
In other words, the AFL-CIO leadership is saying: Forget about organizing for better health care and worker protections, shut up about the war in Iraq. Now is not the time to make a fuss--and help us elect John Kerry. Organizers for the MWM refused to give up, however.
Most recently, MWM has been endorsed by District Council 37 AFSCME, representing 125,000 municipal workers in New York, and the Green Party. Significantly, the South Carolina state labor federation has endorsed the march, and is organizing buses from that state.
Organizers have also reached out to the antiwar movement and see the MWM as part of the movement to stop the war in Iraq. Last week, MWM activists passed out leaflets at the Labor Day event at SBC Park to spread the word to union members and their families, and fundraisers are organized for September 16 and October 2. Much work still needs to be done to get as many people as possible to D.C.
Visit www.millionworkermarch.org to find out how you can get involved.
SEATTLE-- Members of the University of Washington (UW) chapter of SEIU Local 925 voted overwhelmingly September 9 to give their bargaining team strike authorization. Some 91 percent of members voting gave the authority for the bargaining team to call them out for a one-day or longer job action.
In negotiations over the last several months, the UW management has offered paltry wage increases--2 percent the first year and only 1.5 percent the second year. In return, it has demanded many takeaways--tying wages to supervisors' performance evaluations, the right to subcontract work, the right to temporary layoffs and weakening of overtime rules.
The union has rallied, picketed, sent postcards and published an ad with 2,400 signatures of members who are ready to strike if need be. This pressure has gotten management to improve its wage offer and back off some of its worst demands.
To be funded by the legislature, the contract must be agreed to by October 1. Union activists hope that this strike authorization vote will push management to move at the bargaining table. If not, the pin members are wearing says it all: "I'll walk if I have to."