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On the picket line

November 19, 2004 | Pages 14 and 15

University of California-Santa Cruz
University of Rochester

San Francisco hotels
By Adrienne Johnstone

SAN FRANCISCO--The employers have stepped up their attacks on 4,000 locked-out San Francisco hotel workers by eliminating the workers' health insurance December 1.

Hotel employer trustees on the San Francisco Health and Welfare Fund voted November 8 not to extend the health benefits of locked out workers--even though the fund has over $22 million in reserves and UNITE HERE Local 2 offered to contribute $4 million of its own money.

This is continued punishment for a two-week strike by Local 2 that ended October 13. Since then, the bosses have attempted to starve Local 2 members into accepting deep concessions and abandoning the central demand for a two-year contract that coincides with union contracts in other cities. The hotels want to label hundreds of workers ineligible for benefits, while driving others off the company health care plan with prohibitive monthly costs.

The mood on the picket line has turned somber. Jorge Bonilla, a banquet worker for 11 years at the San Francisco Hilton, told Socialist Worker that the demand for a two-year contract "in the beginning was okay, but now in this war, we need a new strategy to continue. The hotels don't care if we're here in January, but we can't [be]. We need a resolution this week."

Many workers are looking to Mayor Gavin Newsom to provide an end to the lockout. Newsom has publicly sided with Local 2 and has cancelled the extra police cars assigned to monitor picket lines. Newsom has called on the hotels to allow workers to return to their jobs for a 90-day cooling off period--but hasn't taken a stand on the issues of this strike.

Also, Local 2 leaders and the 125-member rank-and-file bargaining team have not effectively communicated to the members or involved them in planning their own struggle. Workers are fighting blind, not knowing the union's overall strategy.

As the lockout enters its fifth week, rank and filers must take the initiative and do more than just hold the line in order to challenge the bosses.

Send contributions to the Local 2 Solidarity Fund, 209 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102.

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University of California-Santa Cruz
By Cyndi Gacosta and Mariah Kornbluh

SANTA CRUZ, Calif.--More than 400 workers, teachers and students protested November 20 to demand a contract for workers at the University of California branch here.

The workers, members of AFSCME, chanted, "What do we want? Union wage! When do we want it? Now!" and beat drums as they entered a campus conference center. "We are fighting for a wage increase, respect and opportunity to advance without favoritism," said union member Nick Gutierrez.

AFSCME is seeking a wage increase in order to afford the cost of living in Santa Cruz, including health care and holidays. One AFSCME member in the custodial department doesn't earn enough to cover the costs of living in Santa Cruz, so she had to find a second job as a home caretaker for an elderly woman to be able to make ends meet. Another worker, Imelda Lopez, has been working as a custodian for more than 16 years. She began at $15,000 a year--but earns only $16,000 today, and has to pay $2,000 per year for parking on campus as well.

The students on campus have threatened to shut down the UC-Santa Cruz campus if the university refuses to meet the demands of the workers.

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University of Rochester
By Jeff DeToro

ROCHESTER, N.Y.-- About 400 University of Rochester employees and supporters showed up to picket and protest outside the university hospital in support of 1199 SEIU's fight for modest wage increases and continuation of current health benefits.

The approximately 1,200 SEIU members--who have worked without a contract since October 30--rejected the university's offer of a paltry 2 percent wage increase. In addition, the university is trying to drive down the benefits of unionized workers to the same level as non-unionized workers in order to achieve "parity."

Chanting slogans such as "two percent won't pay the rent" and "no contract, no work, no healthcare, no work," workers were defiant in their opposition to the university's offer. Union leaders vowed to do "whatever it takes" to maintain health care benefits that they've had for 25 years. Workers at the rally were greatly encouraged when a group of students came marching down the street with banners and signs in support.

A federal mediator is set to meet with both sides to try and break the impasse. The workers' success will depend on their solidarity. Asked if the union could win this fight, one employee, Destiny, said, "If we all stick together as one, it can."

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