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On the picket line

December 10, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11

OTHER STORIES BELOW:
Virginia day laborers
Perry Center for Children

Northeastern Illinois University
By a UPI member

CHICAGO--After more than two weeks on strike, the faculty and staff at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) have been holding impressive picket lines on the four entrances of campus since November 19--and we're committed to stay as long as it takes to win a decent contract.

At stake in this fight is the quality of education at the most diverse university in the Midwest, as well as the quality of life for faculty and staff. We are the lowest-paid faculty among state universities, with full-time instructors holding advanced degrees earning just $23,000 a year.

While the administration pleads poverty, their cries are unheeded by a union that has armed itself with budget analyses. Our review showed that not only have administrators continued in giving themselves large raises and lavish perks, they've also diverted funds intended for instruction into undisclosed budget lines. These funds would more than cover the costs of the union's proposed contract--which maintains current workloads of 59.5 hours per week but raises pay to keep pace with the cost of living.

The administration asserts that such a contract is "unreasonable"-- and fears it might embolden the union. In fact, union members already have been emboldened. For more than a year, we've been organizing a newly revived membership through democratic unionism and educating ourselves regarding budget, salary, workload and grievance issues, and building solidarity in the ranks.

These activities raised the confidence of the membership that our demands are far from unreasonable. In fact, the university's refusal to meet those demands is an attack on the students, as well as the faculty and staff at NEIU. Going on strike was ultimately the only solution to stalled negotiations.

Now that we are on the line, have missed a paycheck and have withstood threats from our administration, it's abundantly clear that not only can we can win this strike and a decent contract, we can--and must--take greater charge of our university. It's already very clear that our union is stronger than ever--and our resolve to protect our working conditions, our students learning conditions, and our quality of life is solid.

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Virginia day laborers
By Derek Tyner

WOODBRIDGE, Va.--Immigrant day laborers are under attack in Virginia.

On October 19, Prince William County police arrested 24 Latino immigrants at an improvised day laborer site on charges of loitering. Less than a month later, three more were arrested on the same charges.

Eleven of the originally detained men have since been turned over to immigration authorities and are facing deportation, a move supposedly allowed by a new Virginia law that permits the transfer of detainees from local police custody to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention in cases of prior deportations or felony convictions. Yet none of the 11 men handed over to the ICE have such criminal records.

Instead, the tactic is widely seen as Virginia's new intimidation tool against an already vulnerable population.

The reason for this development is growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Northern Virginia towns, where the construction industry is booming and the Latino immigrant population has grown from 9 to 16 percent in the last four years. Day laborer sites are numerous and have energized sections of the population to pressure local officials and police departments to discourage day workers from congregating in public locations, despite the absence of officially sanctioned sites. In Woodbridge, Va., Police Capt. Tim Rudy justified the arrests as a "community maintenance issue," having "nothing to do with immigration."

Yet on November 20, at a contentious town hall meeting following the second round of arrests, the denunciations of day laborers as a drain on "community resources" was a repeated rallying cry. A member of the Virginia Coalition Against Terrorism, a local anti-immigration group, proclaimed, "If they are illegal, take them away. That's why I pay my taxes."

However, many of the arrested workers are members of the Workers' Committee of Woodbridge--a project of Mexicans Without Borders, an immigrant-run organization that carries on education and charity work, as well as legal battles to recover unpaid salaries. After the November 20 meeting, the Workers' Committee mobilized about 75 day laborers and supporters to march in defense of the workers' right to earn a living.

Ricardo Juarez, a coordinator of Mexicans Without Borders, spoke to Socialist Worker about the hypocrisy of targeting "poor people seeking a job on the street" while the real roots of the conflict in Woodbridge lie in the U.S. government's "imposition of neoliberal policies throughout Latin America." Juarez said the Committee will continue to organize against its members' unconstitutional detentions and will hold a press conference on the day the other workers are arraigned.

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Perry Center for Children
By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--More than 200 trade unionists and activists rallied November 29 in support of workers at the Perry Center for Children, who are on indefinite strike. The Perry Center provides residential treatment for at-risk youth. It is owned by the Trillium Group, but is publicly funded.

The workers, members of Service Employees International Union Local 503, have had a pay freeze for the last year, and management wants a further 3-year pay freeze. The current wage is only $8.86 to $9.28 an hour for a job that requires a bachelor's degree.

Because of the low wages, there is a high turnover of staff. This has led to staff being put at risk, low morale and kids who have no confidence when they see so many staff leaving.

Management has always wanted to bust the union, which has been at the center for seven years. The union agreed to binding arbitration, but management refused.

Already, social work professors at Portland State University have said that they will not send students to act as replacement workers. Dee Simmons from the Portland Association of Teachers told the November 29 rally that its members would not cross picket lines.

The excellent show of support by organized labor is proof that Perry Center workers can win this dispute. But continued solidarity is vital.

The strikers have kids as their first concern and realize that they will gain little monetarily from the strike--while management is ready to spend loads of money on scabs and lawyers to bust the union. As always it is workers who put kids first--while the company puts profits first.

For more information on the strike, go to www.seiu503.org.

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