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On the picket line

October 28, 2005 | Pages 10 and 11

New York City teachers
By Sarah Hines, United Federation of Teachers

NEW YORK--Some 300 members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) picketed union headquarters on October 21 to express anger at the union leadership and opposition to the tentative contract deal UFT members will vote on this week.

The UFT has been without a contract since the last one expired two-and-a-half years ago. The proposed contract negotiated by UFT President Randi Weingarten and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg offers the city massive givebacks for less than a cost-of-living increase.

If approved, the new contract would increase the school day by 10 minutes and the school year by three days. In the high schools, the time increase would mean that teachers would be required to teach a sixth class, which is being billed as "small group tutoring."

The rally was the largest and most successful show of organized opposition to the union leadership in recent years and was organized by the opposition caucus Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC), which was founded in 1992.

During a 1995 contract battle in which teachers were being offered two years of zero percent wage increases, TJC organized a rally of 175 union members. Teachers voted that contract down, forcing union leaders to go back into negotiations with the city and negotiate a better deal, which they did.

The currently proposed contract deal would put extensive power in the hands of principals. Teachers would lose the right to grieve a letter in the file, be required to perform cafeteria and hall duty, and have to seek permission from principals to transfer schools. "Our staff has a big issue with having no right to grieve a letter in the file," said Jennifer Beals, one of 30 pickets from Norman Thomas High School. "It gives the principal too much power. It's a totalitarian tool."

The rally last week brought teachers, substitutes and para-professionals from elementary schools, middle schools and high schools alike, belying Weingarten's claim that the elementary schools are behind her. "The majority of the new people TJC is bringing in are elementary school teachers," according to TJC member Megan Behrent.

"Our school is pretty clear that this contract does not respect teachers and the work we do," said Glenda Francis, a teacher at P.S. 24 in Brooklyn. "[Nevertheless] there is a strong possibility that the contract will be approved. Three years without a contract is a very long time."

The union leadership has spent the past week campaigning in the schools to scare its members into voting for the contract, claiming that the only alternative is an immediate strike, which the membership realizes we are not prepared for.

We need a new union leadership that understands our needs and is willing to lead a fight to improve our working conditions and compensation. Last week's rally was a momentous step forward in this process. The next is to vote this concessionary contract down.

Northwest Airlines
By Lee Sustar

THE MECHANICS' strike at Northwest Airlines began its second month with the company asking a bankruptcy judge to void all contracts and the union canceling a vote on a concessionary contract.

The strike by nearly 4,500 members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), which includes mechanics and cleaners, began August 20 over management demands to permanently eliminate cleaner jobs and cut the number of mechanics in half.

Management's latest offer would have allowed just 500 AMFA members to return to their jobs and left the rest with just four weeks of severance pay. AMFA leaders decided to put the deal to a vote in mid-October, but then refused to do so when Northwest inserted contract language that would have prevented the union from disciplining scabs, according to Steve MacFarlane, AMFA's assistant national director.

"I think this illustrated that Northwest doesn't really want to deal with mechanics anyway," MacFarlane told Socialist Worker. "As horrible as the company proposal was, our committee decided to bring it back to members. But [the language on scabs] would have violated our union constitution."

While AMFA reports that only 70 mechanics have been confirmed as scabs, the strike has been weakened since the outset by other unions that have crossed the picket line, claiming as justification the fact that AMFA was outside the AFL-CIO. The unions crossing the line included the Air Line Pilots Association, the Professional Flight Attendants Association and ramp workers in the International Association of Machinists (IAM), which mechanics decertified in 1998 in favor of AMFA.

This scabbing continued after Northwest declared bankruptcy, even though the other unions themselves face massive cuts as a result of the bankruptcy. "The IAM is still crossing picket lines and scabbing, even though 6,000 of their 14,000 members will lose their jobs under Northwest's proposals," MacFarlane said of Northwest's plan to outsource baggage handling across the U.S. except in Minneapolis and Detroit.

"You have people who have been with the company for 25 years who will be dumped on the curb, with the jobs outsourced to people making $6 or $7 per hour," he added. "If Northwest pulls this off, it will be the end for a lot of other unions, too. Look at [auto parts maker] Delphi. Who would have ever believed a corporation would ask for a 75 percent pay cut? We are in the fight, and we are waiting for others to join us."

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