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On the picket line

October 7, 2005 | Page 11

City University of New York
By Nick Bergreen and Joe Cleffie

NEW YORK--Thousands of angry and frustrated college professors, adjunct faculty and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) met in September 29 at Cooper Union in Manhattan to discuss their demands for a contract. It was the biggest ever meeting of the union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which is facing off against the mayor, governor and state Senate.

CUNY, the state's system of public colleges and community colleges, is under attack. Those that make CUNY work--its teachers and workers--are being asked to accept wage increases below the rate of inflation, cuts to their welfare and dental funds, the elimination of department chairs from the union's bargaining unit and the introduction of a lower -tier wage system for new hires. Teachers and workers are also being asked to increase the amount of days they work each year.

These attacks come even as New York State has a projected budget surplus of over $3.5 billion for this year alone. Yet since 1990, after inflation, spending for public education in the state of New York has gone down 40 percent.

And since the PSC signed their last contract, over 25,000 new students have been added to CUNY schools. This means more work for the same pay--and tuition has gone up as well.

All this led to an outpouring of anger at the rally, where solidarity from students and other unions was on display. Representatives were on hand from the Transport Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers and graduate employees at New York University represented by the United Auto Workers.

PSC President Barbara Bowen described how members had complained because teachers subsidized the schools out of their own pockets for supplies, lab equipment and more. Bowen said that twisted priorities of the New York politicians represents a "well-developed agenda to dismantle public education," and that "our students were never meant to succeed."

Bowen said that after months of unsuccessful negotiations, the union is "forced to consider our most powerful weapon as a union, to withhold our labor"--and was greeted by thunderous applause by PSC members. Bowen said that if there was no fair contract offer by November 3--the date of the mayoral election--the union would hold a vote to authorize the union leadership to take job actions, including a strike. Actions are planned at every CUNY school October 19 and 20 to build support for the union.

Sutter Health
By Lucas Nevarez

SAN FRANCISCO--Eight hundred hospital workers have been walking the picket line at three San Francisco Sutter Health hospitals for three weeks now. With Sutter Health refusing to negotiate, the strike shows no signs of ending soon.

Sutter management rejected a contract proposed by a federal mediator, leaving the union no choice but to strike. "In fact, every other hospital in the Bay Area has already agreed to the standards for patient care found in this contract," said Sal Rosselli, Service Employees International Union-United Health Workers (SEIU-UHW) president. "Instead of honoring their agreement with the federal mediator, California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) backtracked on an agreement that would ensure that San Francisco residents receive high-quality care."

The SEIU-UHW bargaining team at Sutter agreed to the federal mediator's contract, despite the absence of the union's proposal for a single contract with all Sutter-owned hospitals. This "master contract" would have grouped all Sutter Hospitals together as a single employer, allowing workers to move from one hospital to another, while keeping their seniority and benefits consistent.

Sutter says each of its hospitals has its own board of directors and must bargain independently with unions. The SEIU-UHW, meanwhile, claims that this is a ruse and that all of Sutter's facilities use the same tactics and often employ the same consultants, lawyers and even identical language in press releases and other written statements involving union negotiations.

Unfortunately, Sutter-owned CPMC continues to claim that UHW members are fighting for this "master contract" (which has become their main reason for not going back to the negotiation table), ignoring the caregivers' concerns about other substantial issues such as safe staffing, an employee training fund and protections for workers to speak up on behalf of their patients.

SEIU-UHW seeks the "industry standards" that it has won in contracts with other Northern California health care systems, including Kaiser Permanente and Catholic Healthcare West.

Union members walking the picket line outside the hospital were disgusted to find out the hospital was using evacuees from Hurricane Katrina to fill their jobs. "They are not only bringing in people from New Orleans, but they are also bringing in African American workers from poor parts of the city to fuel racial divides amongst workers," one worker told Socialist Worker. "Most of the workers here are either Latino or Filipino/Pacific Islanders. They want us to fight amongst ourselves."

SEIU-UHW plans to continue round-the-clock picketing and weekend rallies to build solidarity with the community and other workers.

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