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On the picket line

November 12, 2004 | Page 11

Northeastern Illinois University
United Airlines

Hotel and casino workers

SOME 10,000 workers at Atlantic City casinos prevailed in a one-month strike that ended November 2. The workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 54, defeated the employers' attempts to force them to pay dramatically higher health care costs. Instead, the bosses' will keep picking up the whole tab for medical insurance.

While details about wage increases weren't immediately available, the union stated that it had won a 28 percent increase in the total economic package of wages, health benefits and pensions over the life of a five-year contract.

The length of the deal was a concession by the union, which was attempting to link its contract to that of casino workers in Las Vegas, where an agreement will expire in 2007. Nevertheless, the union won on most other demands.

Crucially, management had to retreat on its practice of leasing space to nonunion chain restaurants and bars, such as Planet Hollywood. The deal allows two existing subcontracted restaurants to remain, but bars more such outsourcing.

According to a contract summary released by the local, "members will not lose jobs, hours, wages or seniority through subcontracting. Members and the union contract are protected if a casino is sold." In addition, the employers agreed to restore a step system of wage increases and bonuses based on years of service.

The strike was the longest since casino gambling came to the New Jersey shore 25 years ago--and it got the support of organized labor in the New York City area. The corporate owners of the casinos apparently believed that they could spark a back-to-work movement by holding out for several weeks.

The workers--who include hotel maids, servers, bartenders, cooks and other service workers--make only between $8 and $10 per hour, plus tips. But the union provided $200 per week in strike benefits, then raising the level to $300, reflecting the high stakes in this fight.

While the settlement postpones the establishment of a national contract expiration date, it sets important precedents for the union by stopping outsourcing of union jobs.

Meanwhile, hotel workers in San Francisco have begun collecting unemployment six weeks into their strike/lockout at14 hotels here.

Two weeks ago, hotel workers were encouraged to find that Mayor Gavin Newsom joined their picket line, after he became disgusted with the hotel bosses' refusal to allow workers to return to work for a 90-day cooling-off period while negotiations continued. After voters rejected a local ballot initiative to increase the city sales tax, Newsom's first move was to pull the police on overtime patrol outside the hotels.

News of the victory for hotel and casino workers in Atlantic City renewed hopes that the union can find a way to reach a good settlement.

Abraham Gomez contributed to this report.

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Northeastern Illinois University
By a UPI member

CHICAGO--University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), the union that represents faculty and staff at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), has given NEIU's administration notice that it could strike as soon as November 19.

In late October, 85 percent of UPI members voted to strike over the issues of wages, respect for workload and educational quality. While mediation continues, it appears more likely than ever that union members will be forced to walk out in order to get the administration to take their demands seriously.

Workers at NEIU have gained incredible confidence from the recent union victory at the Chicago City Colleges, and we're continuing to prepare for a strike with picket training and the outfitting of a new strike headquarters located just off campus.

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United Airlines
By Lee Sustar

ACCEPT CUTS in pay or pensions--or the judge will take away even more. That's the threat to unions from bosses at United Airlines and its counterparts throughout the industry.

United plans $2 billion in cost cutting, including $725 million in concessions from unions, which have already given the carrier $2.5 billion worth of cuts. The airline has cut its workforce nearly by half since 2001, to 60,000.

The airline also wants to terminate the company's pension plans, dumping $8.3 billion in liabilities into the government's Pension Benefits Guaranty Corp., which insures the pension plan but pays greatly reduced benefits.

United's threat to dump pensions and have a bankruptcy judge impose the cuts follows the example of US Airways, which terminated its pilots' pensions earlier this year and then got a judge to impose a 21 percent pay cut when the union refused to go along.

The picture is similar at other airlines. Pilots at Northwest Airlines have agreed to approve $265 million in concessions. At Delta Airlines, pilots are set to vote on whether to accept a 32.5 percent pay cut as the company prepares to eliminate 7,000 jobs through 2006. Union workers at American, who agreed to $1.8 billion in annual concessions in 2003, now face further cuts as well.

The airlines are blaming high fuel costs for their continued losses, but the roots go much deeper. It's the result of industry deregulation in the late 1970s, which introduced the chaos of short-term market fluctuations into the industry and favored new, low-cost carriers.

The high fuel prices have given airline management the pretext to impose the costs of restructuring onto workers in what is the most unionized industry in the private sector. If unions are reluctant to go along, bankruptcy courts, creditors and the federal Airline Transportation Stability Board stand behind the employers to enforce the cuts.

The only way to fight these cuts is for airline unions to stand together to demand re-regulation of the industry. Instead, the unions have agreed to cuts to help management restore profits in a job-killing race to the bottom.

There are signs that union leaders, under pressure from members, may finally be digging in--union officials representing flight attendants at United and customer service representatives at US Airways are both on record as opposing further cuts. Until a group of airline workers takes a stand, the cutbacks will only get worse.

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