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On the picket line

December 3, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11

OTHER STORIES BELOW:
Cincinnati janitors
Justice for Janitors

New York City teachers
By Megan Behrent and Kiersten Greene

NEW YORK--The Delegate Assembly of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) overwhelmingly voted November 10 in favor of placing a resolution proposed by Teachers for a Just Contract on the next month's agenda. The resolution demands that the negotiating committee be instructed "to unconditionally reject any and all demands of the City and the Department of Education for any increase in the length of our working day."

More than 80,000 members of the UFT have been working without a contract since the last agreement expired in May 2003.

The resolution at the November meeting was proposed in response to an October 14 article in the New York Times which claimed that the city and the UFT were close to a contract that would include a longer workday and five additional workdays a year. UFT President Randi Weingarten said the Times article was inaccurate--but insisted that she couldn't provide more specific details about possible bargaining positions as this would serve to weaken the union's hand in bargaining. She also asked the Delegate Assembly not to bind the negotiating committee with the proposed resolution.

Nonetheless, the possibility of extended time in the next contract sparked immense outrage from rank-and-file teachers across the city. Teachers responded by sending e-mails to Weingarten, and many chapters circulated letters in their schools, which teachers signed in droves pledging to "Vote no on any contract that lengthens our work day" and "Do our utmost to convince all other UFT members to also vote NO on any such contract!"

This campaign--led by Teachers for a Just Contract, an opposition caucus within the union--clearly tapped into the anger that many teachers feel about working conditions in the city's overcrowded schools.

There is also widespread anger at Mayor Bloomberg's insistence that any raises in a new contract would be tied to "productivity" measures--Bloomberg's way of saying that teachers must work harder for less.

Many teachers also expressed anger at the union leadership for keeping them in the dark about negotiations and thus having to find out about negotiations through the New York Times, rather than directly from the union. As a leaflet by TJC said, "The employer knew. Why were we, the members, the people affected by this, kept in the dark?"

In addition, the anger expressed by membership over this issue reflects the burden many teachers continue to feel from the last contract negotiated with the city which tied raises to an additional 100 minutes a week. At the time, the contract was overwhelmingly approved in part because many teachers believed that the time would be at their disposal to use for work they already do.

However, teachers learned from experience that this was not the case and instead the time was filled with additional work either in the classroom or in staff development meetings which only served to increase the workload for overworked and underpaid teachers in New York City's schools. As the leaflet from TJC put it, "We won't be fooled again."

Kiersten Greene, the delegate from P.S. 125 in Manhattan, who presented the resolution against extended time at the recent Delegate Assembly, clearly tapped into the dominant sentiment when she introduced the motion, stating "I'm tired"--and continued by calling on the Delegate Assembly to reject any consideration of extended working time.

Weingarten called on a district representative and another member of her dominant Unity caucus to respond. He argued that the membership should "trust" the negotiating committee and not to "tie their hands" by considering the resolution.

Nonetheless, the majority of delegates voted against Weingarten and the Unity caucus's arguments and in favor of putting the motion on next month's agenda. This is the first time in recent history that a Delegate Assembly has voted against the recommendation of the leadership--a significant development that shows the depth of anger among teachers.

While the resolution still might very well be voted down at the next meeting, this development sent Weingarten a clear message that teachers are overworked and exhausted--and are not willing to accept concession after concession without a fight.

This is only a first step in the fight for a decent contract for teachers in New York City, however. We need to build on the momentum provided by this recent development and continue organizing in our schools to put pressure on the Delegate Assembly to vote in favor of this resolution in December.

Nonetheless, it shows that a small network of rank-and-file activists in our schools can make a difference. It also shows the immense anger of rank-and-file teachers across the city--and the importance of rebuilding a militant rank and file in our union that can tap into that anger and turn it into action.

This is how we can rebuild our union and show Bloomberg that we're not afraid to fight to win a decent contract with no concessions.

Building a rank-and-file fightback to the policies of Bloomberg and the like is both urgent and necessary. While Weingarten justified her bargaining strategy at the Delegate Assembly by arguing that "if management and labor are not working together, the kids don't succeed," the UFT's recent history of contract negotiations tell a different story As long as we continue to accept concession after concession, we all lose as we watch our working conditions eroded, our schools becoming increasingly overcrowded and our workload increased.

The only way to improve our working conditions and to improve schools in New York City for both teachers and students is if we are willing to fight. The future strength of our union lies in building this kind of organized militant rank-and-file fightback.

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Cincinnati janitors
By Shane Johnson

CINCINNATI--More than 125 people representing three labor unions and several churches picketed the building of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the mouthpiece of the city's right-wingers, on November 23. The picket was called by janitors as part of the Justice for Janitors campaign and was organized by Service Employees International Union Local 3.

Immigrant janitors have been threatened by their employer, Jancoa Janitorial Services, with deportation and wage cuts if they continue their organizing. Most of the janitors are from Guatemala and make a paltry $7.50 an hour while working 35 hours a week. The building's owner, Duke Realty, which also employs Jancoa janitors, is currently facing five unfair labor practice charges by the National Labor Relations Board.

"Our families and our communities can't live like this," one janitor said of the poverty wages and lack of health care.

Duke Realty responded to the picket by sending employees outside to videotape picketers--and refused to meet with a delegation sent in to negotiate.

This picket needs to be a stepping stone to future actions.

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Justice for Janitors
By Marshall Braun

MADISON, Wis.--About 50 workers and student activists marched November 18 in solidarity with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 organizers and janitors leading a campaign to organize janitors citywide. The picket targeted the corporate headquarters of CUNA Mutual, the world's largest financial services provider for credit unions, to protest CUNA's unfair labor practices.

In 2000, CUNA illegally fired 22 union janitors and outsourced the work to Clean Power Inc., whose workers on average earn $7.50 per hour, work 30 hours per week and receive no health care benefits. The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating Clean Power, which services 44 percent of all commercial space in Madison, for intimidating union supporters.

For more than seven months, CUNA has refused to fairly negotiate a new agreement with Office Professionals Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 39, which represents about 1,400 of its workers. This summer, Mike Kitchen, CUNA's former CEO, was forced to retire after illegally paying $1,000 to a union splinter group calling for decertification. In 2000, CUNA unjustly fired a developmentally disabled worker--and his supervisor who refused to sign the termination papers.

Rallies are being planned elsewhere to build support for the Justice for Janitors campaign. However, contract talks between OPEIU Local 39 and CUNA remain deadlocked, and the union has yet to discuss any plans to strike.

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