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On the picket line

February 18, 2005 | Page 11

Chicago City Colleges
By Carole Ramsden

CHICAGO--At the end of January, the Faculty Council of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) voted "no confidence" in system Chancellor Wayne Watson by a 350-to-5 vote.

This vote was largely in response to Watson's refusal to hire back 63 retired part-time and 76 adjunct faculty members who honored the picket line during teachers' three-week strike last fall.

This is one of many actions taken by the chancellor in retaliation against students, part-time teachers and other employees that supported the strike last fall by the teachers and professional staff, who are represented by the Cook County College Teachers Union (CCCTU), AFT Local 1600.

The contract clearly states that there is to be no retaliation against "the union, union members, students, clerks or any other person as a result of participation or non-participation" in the strike. However, Watson and Board Chairman James Tyree insist that the blacklisted teachers failed to meet their contractual obligations last fall when they refused to teach during the strike.

A week before the new semester's classes began, blacklisted faculty received letters warning them to not show up for their classes--with the explicit threat of removal by security guards. In response, the union organized a protest at Truman College (TC) during the first week of class, as about 75 faculty members, students and supporters rallied against the reprisals.

TC Chapter Chair Anthony Johnston said, "This is pure intimidation. When this goes through arbitration, there is no doubt that we will win. But that will be a long, protracted process, and in the mean time, they're hoping to break our spirit. That's why we're out here today raising awareness and pressuring the administration to back down on these reprisals."

A student at Malcolm X College was suspended for strike activity, and told that the college hadn't sent a letter to the Army needed to prevent him from being called to active duty.

With the conflict at a standstill, the union is distributing "No reprisals means NO REPRISALS" buttons and currently asking teachers to step down from any volunteer committees until the reprisals have stopped. This is a good show of solidarity and has potential for becoming a broader work-to-rule campaign.

However, more leadership needs to come from the union through centralized actions that can be coordinated across all of the colleges to show the CCC administration that the union stands united and ready to do whatever it takes to stop the reprisals.

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Bay Area grocery workers
By Marcia Thorndike, UFCW Local 101 (retired)

SAN FRANCISCO--The Super Bowl of mega-chain corporate supermarkets versus unionized grocery workers was quietly concluded last week in the San Francisco Bay Area, and champagne corks were popping in the corporate boardrooms.

A three-year contract with grocery giants Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger was ratified by mail-in ballots cast by 45 percent of the 20,000 members of eight United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals covered by the agreement, with 63 percent in favor and 37 percent against.

The season opened in Southern California in October 2003, with the corporate team of Safeway, Albertsons and Kroger defeating the union on March 1, 2004, after a four-and-a-half month strike/lockout of 59,000 workers. The union accepted nearly all the devastating concessions the companies proposed, while the corporate team suffered heavy financial losses.

The union then accepted concessionary contracts in state after state, with both labor and management celebrating "labor peace" in contrast to the battle which "hurt both sides," in Southern California. However, the loss of millions of dollars in corporate profits can hardly be compared to the losses suffered the striking/locked-out grocery workers: homes, cars, apartments, marriages, children and their current and future job security, pay and benefits.

What's more, the Big Three corporate grocery giants succeeded in pushing down the bar of union contracts to a new ultra-low.

The Bay Area contract will impose annual health care deductibles--up to $600 for veteran workers and $1,800 for new hires--while cutting starting wages to $8 per hour. It would take a full-time worker three-and-a-half years to reach top pay--but many stores employ a majority of part-timers, effectively putting top pay out of reach. New hires wouldn't receive full health care coverage for six years--three years after the new contract's expiration date.

Rank-and-file members of the Local 870 Contract Bargaining Committee distributed a four-page document explaining why coworkers should vote "no."

Groundwork is being laid for member-to-member organizing within and between locals and regions, with full knowledge that the bosses will be coming back for more cuts when the contract expires in 2007. It will be up to the members themselves to be the driving force behind a real fightback.

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