On the picket line
October 1, 2004 | Page 11
HOTEL WORKERS in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., were set to strike as Socialist Worker went to press. The workers, members of UNITE HERE (UH), are fighting for a common contract expiration date in 2006 as part of rebuilding pattern bargaining in the industry.
In LA, the 2,800 members of UH Local 1l are fighting to improve management's meager wage offer, eliminate a $10 per week health care premium and increase staffing levels to reduce back-breaking workloads. On September 16, the union filed a class-action lawsuit against two of the hotels for routinely denying workers meal and rest breaks in violation of California labor laws. The union is also demanding an end to discriminatory practices against Black and immigrant workers.
Last month, the Wilshire Grand Hotel in downtown LA raised the stakes by locking out 17 laundry workers represented by UH Local 52. Local 52 was affiliated with UNITE and Local 11 with HERE before the two unions merged this summer, so the laundry workers are covered under a different contract .
Wilshire Grand General Manager John Stoddard is clearly trying to play on this division. "We brought in replacement workers," Stoddard boasted to reporters. "We had them all lined up in case this happened." Union leaders called the lockout illegal and an attempt to provoke a citywide strike.
In San Francisco, the employers are taking a hard line, filing unfair labor practice charges accusing UNITE HERE Local 2 of negotiating in bad faith. In Washington, contract negotiations between UNITE HERE Local 25 and the DC Hotel Association were set to continue September 27.
Tactically, a strike by the 3,8000 members of Local 25 could not happen at a better time for the union. The city is packed with tourists visiting the new Museum of the American Indian, and hotels are booked for the World Bank/IMF meetings scheduled for the weekend of October 1. The DC Metro Labor Council is organizing strike preparations, including pledges of food and money as well as volunteers to staff strike centers and prepare food for the picket lines.
Gillian Russom contributed to this report.
SAN FRANCISCO--Teachers and paraprofessionals from the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) voted "yes" to a massive concessionary "re-opener" contract September 20. UESF members are currently working under an expired contract, while the re-opener was negotiated.
The current re-opener makes little progress for UESF members on issues like protecting paraprofessionals from No Child Left Behind regulations or elementary school preparation time. It also concedes significant giveaways on health care for retired teachers and a more demanding work day and two-tiered wage system for Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's project "Dream Schools"--part of a move to privatize public schools while busting the union at the same time.
Participation in the mail-in ballot vote was dismally low--it passed 867 to 231 in a union of more than 7,000 members. In the wake of the vote, the school district announced that six new district schools would be made into Dream Schools in the 2005-2006 school year.
Dream Schools are a plan by the District to raise private money to fund a series of schools in which teachers are mandated to work longer days--even Saturdays--in an effort to raise standardized test scores. The staff at Dream Schools is forced to re-apply for their jobs to show their acceptance of these demands.
For more than a year, UESF has been led by the Progressive Leadership Caucus (PLC), a reform group that has promised a more democratic and aggressive union. The PLC has taken a less conciliatory line with San Francisco Unified School District and has been modestly successful at allowing more debate in district-wide meetings of union stewards.
Still, the PLC showed signs of weakness when it failed to act decisively to counter the district plan to implement Dream Schools at three lower performing schools.UESF members who want the union to chart a different course will need to come together to push the PLC to reject the logic of concessions.
NEW YORK--Approximately 175 union members and activists gathered for a fundraiser for the Million Worker March September 24. The exciting tone of the evening was set by chair Brenda Stokely, president of District Council (DC) 1707. "The people who have taken ownership of this march truly believe in the right of workers to run the world, and not the intellectuals and other forces that run it today," she said.
Stokely was followed by almost a dozen other speakers from both the labor and antiwar movements, who spoke of what the October 17 march in Washington, D.C., is really about--union locals, community organizations and other progressive groups uniting to stand for the rights of organized and unorganized workers. "This march is about universal health care, social security and rights for undocumented and immigrant workers," explained International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 representative Clarence Thomas.
Ralph Schoenman, the publicity chair for the march, echoed this sentiment. "This is a movement of the disenfranchised," said Schoenman. "The tiny oligarchy that fund and control the two parties better take notice. To mobilize people and organize in the workplace is revolutionary...We have an opportunity to recapture this society for the working-class majority. This is our time, and the march is a major step forward."
Several speakers criticized the leadership of the AFL-CIO for refusing to endorse the march. "It's time for workers to speak out and break with the bullshit that the Democrats are trying to sell us," said Raglan George, executive director of DC 1707. "We need jobs, we need the war to end."
There was a definite sense of the need for national and international workers' solidarity. The spirit of the event was summed up by several chants, including, "We are all immigrants here tonight," and "We say no more, we say, 'Sí se puede'--all power to the people!"
SEATTLE--By a margin of 85 percent, the University of Washington chapter of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 925 approved a two-year contract to start July 1, 2005. The contract contains across-the-board wage increases of 3.2 percent the first year and 1.6 percent the second year. Management had at first offered only 2 percent in one year.
Through a long and increasingly energetic contract campaign, the union fended off almost all of management's demands for concessions, including subcontracting union jobs, tying wages to performance evaluations, limiting seniority in layoffs and weakening overtime rights. It did, however, accept the imposition of a time clock system in the hospitals and the tying of layoff rights to discipline status--which may open the door to unfair layoffs of union activists.
Besides the wage increases, many workers will get special market-rate adjustments in wages, and those at the top of the wage scale will get a new step. Even so, the settlement still leaves workers behind inflation, since they have received no increase for the last three years.
The contract also gave wage increases to temporary hourly workers, and now covers more than 700 new workers. Overall, the contract settlement shows the positive result of open bargaining that involves the members at every step and of a campaign that escalated action as time went on.
Toward the end of negotiations, nearly half the membership signed an ad threatening to strike if management continued its takeaway demands. Many wore buttons that said, "I'll walk if I have to!"
To get an even better contract next time, the union will have to be prepared for an all-out strike instead of just a one-day strike. And it will need to bargain jointly with other campus unions. This time, management was able to settle early with the Washington Federation of State Employees, which weakened SEIU's position.