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On the picket line

January 21, 2005 | Page 15

City Colleges of Chicago
Rochester social workers

New York City private bus line drivers
By Jonah Birch

NEW YORK--The strike of private bus line workers in Brooklyn and Queens continued after contract discussions between officials from the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1179 and New York City officials broke down January 13.

The ATU workers, who have gone two years without a new contract, cite concerns about health care benefits and job security as the primary issues motivating their strike. They want to ensure that they have a new contract before the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) buys out the Green and Command companies--along with five other private bus lines--this spring.

The MTA has refused to release any details about its plans for the buyout of the private bus lines, an action tentatively scheduled for March 26.

In the weeks leading up to the strike, which began on January 10, the administration of New York's multibillionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg repeatedly failed to attend meetings scheduled with ATU officials to discuss a new contract. Combined, Green and Command provide the primary means of transportation to about 70,000 residents and workers of New York's outer boroughs.

The city's attempts to stonewall the ATU workers is just the latest example of New York's longstanding policy of trying to make workers pay for the city's supposed budget crisis. City officials have consistently attempted to turn public opinion against the ATU workers by crying poverty and insisting that the workers are selfishly putting their own narrow interests over those of the people of Brooklyn and Queens.

But workers on the picket lines at Green Bus Lines in Jamaica, Queens, pointed out that the city seems to have plenty of money for a proposed publicly-funded stadium for the New York Jets on Manhattan's West Side.

Workers at the private bus lines have been forced to work with old and broken-down equipment (which is owned by the city and leased to companies like Green and Command) even while large commercial property holdings, like Madison Square Garden, are exempted from city property taxes.

Workers insist that they will remain on strike until they are guaranteed that they will be adequately protected when the MTA takes over the private bus lines. Local 1179 has filed a lawsuit that would force the city to maintain labor standards first instituted in 1975, when the city began to receive federal subsidies for the private bus lines. "Once the [MTA] takeover takes place, they can extract concessions from us," Local 1179 President John Longo told Newsday--which is why the union wants a deal now.

As one bus driver at Green Bus Lines said of the current conflict with the Bloomberg administration, "This is what you get when you elect a businessman for a mayor."

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City Colleges of Chicago
By Carole Ramsden

CHICAGO--Two months after Cook County College Teachers Union (CCCTU) Local 1600 won their strike, reprisals against union members and supporters continue.

Even though the union won to keep the right to "no reprisals" language in their contract, the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) administration has decided to challenge exactly what defines a reprisal by firing 140 part-time and retired faculty members who didn't teach classes during the strike.

This is part of a series of attacks on other faculty who honored the picket lines and student. At Daley College, union members resisted the administration's effort to fire 25 teachers immediately after the strike. At Truman College, however, two adjunct adult education instructors face disciplinary hearings for not only honoring the picket line but for organizing solidarity actions.

Even though the administration's "fired" list has been given to department chairs to follow, most are refusing to acknowledge it.

Meanwhile, other violations of the "no reprisal" clause include adding a new fee of $450 for each course ($900 per semester) for nursing students. The administration claims that this is necessary to pay for the CCC's payment of the nursing faculty with one credit earned for one credit taught.

Professionals who work off campus were having to "sign-in" at their campus before showing up at work, but the administration finally dropped that demand.

Wright College student Sulaimon Balogun, of Nigeria, after being arrested for trespassing while handing out pro-faculty fliers on campus, finally had the charges dropped on January 7.

Malcolm X College professor Ben Rubin was arrested at his home two weeks after a protest at the end of the strike at a CCC Board meeting on trumped-up charges of assaulting a security guard. CCC administrators claimed to have video evidence proving this but have not been able to produce it.

Student activist from Malcolm X, Felipe Findley, was also arrested for the same alleged crime.

CCCTU President Perry Buckley has stated, "We must continue the fight on the campuses and continue to force the administration to back down on the reprisals." However, most of the union's response has been to follow a legal strategy. While a couple of rallies have been called, they have been organized by the faculty and/or students at individual campuses.

This plays into the hands of the administration. As one union member put it, the administration's "idea is to attack in many directions--sort of a death by a thousand cuts--to overwhelm the union."

The union needs to have a coordinated, centralized response that goes beyond just the legal means, and gets the faculty and students back in the administration's faces to stop reprisals.

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Rochester social workers
By Brian Lenzo

ROCHESTER, N.Y.--The Federation of Social Workers held a rally outside the Monroe County Office Building here January 11, drawing more than175 people. The union, IUE-CWA Local 81381, has been working over 18 months without a contract.

City social workers handle an average of 26 cases at a time, more the twice the number recommended by the Child Welfare League of America. As one woman put it, "I used to handle 600 to 700 cases a year. Now I handle over 6,000."

Workers on the picket line expressed concerns that many of their coworkers are taking medication for depression and stress-related health problems. They are overworked and underpaid, but county legislators are only proposing cuts across the board.

The latest contract offer proposed that workers be herded into one of two, lower quality, "defined plans" in order for insurance giant Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield to better monitor health care usage, with higher premiums to boot. The county also proposed a measly 2.75 percent wage increase, which is effectively erased by the rising health care premiums.

With the proposed closing of two Rochester city schools next fall, the county is asking working people to pay for their budget shortfalls, in their health, their wages and their children's education.

The picketers were loud and confident. But it will take a fighting union, with solidarity from all sections of the community, to stand up to the county government and demand what we deserve.

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