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On the picket line

December 9, 2005 | Page 11

University of Vermont
National Writers Union
Capital Metro

Metropolitan Transit Authority
By Peter Lamphere

NEW YORK--The men and women who make this city move were angered last week as the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) ratcheted up its demands in the negotiations for their new contract.

The MTA has proposed that the separate jobs of conductor and train operator be merged into a single position and that token booth clerks take on cleaning responsibilities inside train stations--in addition to refusing to budge on wages. The 34,000-member Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 has said it will go on strike if a new settlement is not reached by midnight on December 15.

Since the MTA is a state agency, Mayor Michael Bloomberg claims to be neutral in the talks. But in 1999 and 2002, the mayor's office obtained injunctions against a transit strike, which are illegal under New York State's draconian Taylor Laws banning public-sector strikes.

This time, the union has called the city's bluff, asking a judge to place an injunction on any such maneuver by the city.

However, the results of the transit workers' battle will be determined by the actions of the rank and file. Already, some train operators and yard workers have been engaging in a work-to-rule campaign that can slow the system down.

TWU Local 100 has a long history of rank-and-file activism--and union oppositionists even managed to win control of the union in 2000 when the New Directions slate elected current president Roger Toussaint. Yet he has turned out to be a top-down leader who has yet to mobilize the rank and file in the contract campaign.

A showdown is looming. Bloomberg has already won starkly concessionary contracts from firefighters, sanitation workers and teachers. Toussaint has pledged to win a "no giveback" contract. But that will only happen if the rank-and-file bus drivers, train operators and other transit workers are mobilized to make the strike threat a credible one.

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University of Vermont
By Tristan Brosnan

BURLINGTON, Vt.--More than 200 hundred people, including students, faculty, staff and construction workers from the University of Vermont (UVM), met outside the Board of Trustees lunch to rally in support of good jobs.

The faculty union at UVM has been in the negotiation process for 11 months. Staff members, who have undertaken a union-organizing drive, have recently been told that they can't talk about the union drive at work.

During the summer, UVM spent $20,000 on an anti-union Web site to try to persuade staff members not to organize. The scheme backfired, however, leaving students, construction workers, faculty and staff fed up.

On the morning of the rally, the Board of Trustees received two petitions--one from students and one from staff--with more than 1,000 signatures. "It's all of our futures," said Jon Mandel, a freshmen at the University of Vermont, at the rally. "We need to stop putting money toward war and start giving it to educators and workers."

Students and staff marched into the building where the Board of Trustees was meeting. After a few minutes, the board decided to leave, but only after being followed by more than 100 people, chanting "Money for the classroom, not the boardroom."

The event was a major success. "It's happening everywhere--teachers at Colchester went on strike, and transportation workers in Philadelphia recently went on strike," said Jenn Shainess, a senior. "It's a big deal."

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National Writers Union
By Lee Sustar, NWU

THE NATIONAL Writers Union is holding a special election to fill vacancies opened by resignations--the first since reformer Jerry Colby was elected president in late 2003.

Reform efforts have been hampered over the last year by problems inherited from the previous leadership of Jonathan Tasini and disunity in the current leadership.

The slate of Jack Rasmus for First Vice President, Ken Wachsberger for Second Vice President, and Dan McCrory for Recording Secretary offers the best candidates to continue the organizing and rebuilding efforts initiated by Colby. Larry Goldbetter, while not formally part of this slate, is the best choice for Trustee.

On the other hand, the Conroy-Eisenberg-Selby slate would obstruct the consolidation of reform efforts.

They are politically questionable as well. Seth Eisenberg, the At Large Chapter Co-Chair and candidate for Second Vice President, worked for American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and was National Executive Director of the right-wing Likud USA. Eisenberg requested that the cash-strapped union fly an at-large delegate from Israel to the recent National Delegates Assembly at the cost of $2,000.

The election of Rasmus, Wachsberger, McCrory and Goldbetter would provide the National Writers Union with a united leadership to carry through President Colby's reforms, reach out to youth and focus on organizing book writers.

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Capital Metro
By Jason Netek

AUSTIN, Texas--In recent weeks, the conflict between Capital Metro and the drivers, mechanics and other workers of Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 1091 and 1549 has intensified.

Last month, Local 1091 voted 289-24 to authorize a strike after rejecting its employer StarTran's "last, best and final offer." The union has already staged a one-day strike as well as several pickets to demonstrate that it's not backing down.

The union opposes management's proposed two-tier wage system as well as several other union-busting tactics and health care cuts. By authorizing a strike, the union has been able to get back to the bargaining table, even though it supposedly had already received Capital Metro's "final offer."

Local 1091 President Jay Wyatt declared that the union will continue to bargain, and he called StarTran's bluff about forcing a contract. "If they do, we're going out on strike," said Wyatt. "It's as simple as that."

Two weeks ago, Local 1549 held an assembly to discuss striking over the unfair labor practices of its employer, FirstTransit, which has yet to make good on the contract already set in place by former employer ATC/Vancom. As a result, the drivers are working under an expired contract.

A vote to authorize a strike has yet to take place, but members recently elected a new president--Glenn Gavin, who's a driver, a former recording secretary and a union militant--showing that pro-strike sentiment has a hearing in the union. Student activists were recently invited to speak at the assembly and have pledged to assist the union in building solidarity and strike support.

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