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On the picket line

June 17, 2005 | Page 11

Berkeley, Calif., teachers
Port truckers

New York City teachers
By Sarah Hines, UFT member

NEW YORK CITY--More than 15,000 New York City teachers, para-professionals and secretaries rallied June 2 in Madison Square Garden to demand a fair contract.

As of May 31, the 100,000 members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) have been working for two years under an expired contract. The large turnout was evidence of how angry UFT members are about the state of the contract--as well as the potential power that the union has to mobilize.

The highlight of the day was a march to Madison Square Garden from Union Square. The march came out of a proposal made by members of Teachers for a Just Contract and was organized by the Manhattan High School Chapter Leaders. Marchers chanted, "Smaller classes, better pay, that's what teachers need today!" and--at School Chancellor Joel Klein--"Hey Klein, we know you, you're a lawyer, a liar and a failure, too!" As one marcher told Socialist Worker, "The most exciting part was when we entered Madison Square Garden...Talk about solidarity!"

The rally at Madison Square Garden came after several months of increased activism and organizing in schools, including rallies and picket lines. Unfortunately, while speaker after speaker talked about the need for a fair contract, there was no strategy put forward to win it.

UFT President Randi Weingarten told the crowd, "If only Mayor Bloomberg would understand that if labor and management work together, everyone benefits, especially the kids. The mayor has too much of a nineteenth century 'us versus them' mentality."

But it is precisely this "us versus them" idea that is our side is missing and so desperately needs. As Dave Haverstock, a high school teacher in the Bronx, told Socialist Worker, "Bloomberg is out to roll back the contract completely...[I]f we don't act now they'll keep rolling it back until they roll over us."

"Weingarten has yet to talk about a possible strike with the rank and file in a serious way," Kiersten Greene, a member of Teachers for a Just Contract, told SW. "This is a huge mistake since it's the only thing that could potentially win us a fair contract."

The rally was an important step forward in the contract battle as it was the first city-wide rally in over a year, but it failed to address the real questions about how to organize an effective fight-to win a decent contract for teachers in the city.

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Berkeley, Calif., teachers
By Jean Whittlesey

BERKELEY, Calif.--Teachers here approved a new contract June 3 after two years of working without a contract, choosing to avoid a strike after union leaders said that a "no" vote would leave no other choice.

Members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers put up a good fight, organizing a work-to-rule campaign for five weeks and refusing unpaid work required to organize field trips, after-school tutoring and countless other activities. This pushed the district to offer its first wage increase.

At its April 14 meeting, the union's executive board and other members voted to prepare for a strike as well as to continue the work-to-rule strategy because the district had done little to improve its offer. On May 3, 400 teachers, counselors, parents and supporters waved signs, chanted and handed out leaflets to drivers during a rush-hour protest outside the district office building.

The new three-year contract provides a 1 percent raise in addition to step increases and maintenance of current health care for the first year. For the second and third years, no raise is provided and health care premiums paid by the district are capped, so teachers will have to pick up the difference and pay twice as much for doctor's visits and prescriptions. The contract includes a revenue-sharing provision, potentially adding 2 to 3 percent raises, which the negotiating committee believes may compensate teachers for money lost in health care--but this will depend on factors such as rising student attendance.

The third major demand of the union was met--hard limits on class size. After using a "fiscal emergency" escape clause to sidestep requirements of an earlier ballot measure, class size is now written into the contract, making it more difficult for the district to ignore the limits.

In the end, it's not clear whether this contract will give teachers compensation similar to other workers in the public sector. The contract places the burden of increasing student attendance on teachers, and the union has given up the hard-won benefit of guaranteed paid health care premiums. The contract tries to dodge this crucial struggle at a time when many unions in a similar situation could have been tapped to fight together.

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Port truckers
By Ken Morgan

THE INTERNATIONAL Brotherhood of Teamsters plans to open a union hiring hall at the Port of Charleston, S.C., to sign up independent truck drivers who move cargo to and from the port. Nearly all of the 50,000 port truck drivers nationally, including 80 percent of the drivers who work out of Charleston are independent contractors.

As independent contractors, these drivers do not have the right to unionize. Their grievances include payments too low to cover their expenses, rising fuel costs, long unpaid waiting times and no benefits. As a result of these complaints, port drivers engaged in a number of job actions last summer, including shutting down the ports of Charleston, Savannah and Miami for several days.

The Teamsters will be signing up drivers who are willing to give up their independent contractor status and agree to be employees of the companies that contract with the union. Companies "have had their way for years and years, and now it's time to get these guys a decent wage," said Jim Stewart, a representative of the Teamsters Port Division.

Drivers have been leafleting other drivers and held a June 1 rally to build support for the unionizing drive. "Enough guys are fed up and ready to do this," said Art Nelson, a longtime port truck driver. "We can't go on with these rates much longer."

On the West Coast, Maritech Leasing, based in Long Beach, Calif., signed a first-time collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters. Management also agreed to remain neutral during Teamster organizing drives at their other facilities nationwide.

Chuck Mack, International vice president and director of the Teamsters Port Division, described the agreement as "the initial step to re-establishing the Teamsters in America's ports. Port drivers on the West Coast now have a contract that guarantees them fair wages, health and pension benefits and a grievance system," said Mack.

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