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On the picket line

January 27, 2006 | Page 15

OTHER STORIES BELOW:
Verizon Information Services
Pratt Institute

New York City home health aides
By Hannah Wolfe and Sean Petty

NEW YORK--More than 1,000 home health aides and their supporters marched through the streets of Harlem January 16 in single-digit temperatures to demand that the various health aide contractors respect their union and pay at least $10 per hour in wages.

The rally was organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199, a health care workers union, which has been locked in battle with several home health care agencies for the last two years. Rev. Al Shapton and Local 1199 President Dennis Rivera attended the rally, which also commemorated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite a three-day strike by home health workers in 2004, many agencies have yet to live up to their contract obligations and in several cases refuse to recognize the union.

Non-union home health aides make between $6 and $8 per hour with no health coverage, which is absurd in a city with the highest cost of living in the country. In addition, many felt that it was upside down that the people who provide health care can't afford to get it themselves.

"This is modern day slavery," said Imogene Lilly, a home health aide and union delegate at Sunnyside Healthcare, describing the conditions that she and her coworkers work under.

Polly, before she joined 1199, had to pay for hospital and clinic visits related to diabetes out of pocket, while making only $6 per hour. "I have walked that road, no union, no benefits, so I'm here to support them," said Polly. "[Workers] need a living wage. At least $10 an hour, and even that's not enough. It's hard work."

Many at the rally also took inspiration from the three-day strike by transit workers in December. "They opened a whole new world for all of the unions in this city to fight for what we need," said Imogene.

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Verizon Information Services
By Dominic Renda, shop steward, CWA Local 1105

NEW YORK--The 300 Verizon Information Services (VIS) workers who produce the Yellow Pages phone books have been on strike since last October 31. The Communication Workers of America (CWA) called the strike because VIS insisted on the right to lower wages at any time during the life of a new contract--a demand that is plainly illegal, as the union points out.

But this strike has been anything but easy. It has dragged on for two-and-a-half months--straight through the holiday season--due to the incompetence of the CWA leadership.

The union has spent time enlisting "support" from Democrats and Republicans in the state senate and assembly. This support has amounted to politicians merely sending letters to Verizon urging a "swift and fair resolution to the strike."

Meanwhile, the union set up picket lines that did not aim to stop scabs from entering worksites. And to make matters worse, the union leadership is virtually never at the picket lines.

Perhaps the union's biggest mistake is that virtually no one outside of VIS knows that the strike is even happening. Not even non-VIS Verizon employees hear that much of the strike. There haven't been any union meetings among Verizon workers to raise support for our brothers and sisters at VIS.

Due to all the strike's weaknesses, roughly 11 of the 75 workers are scabbing in New York, and picket lines have since completely disappeared at the VIS worksite here.

But not all is lost. This strike can still be successful--but only if labor movement fundamentals, which are solidarity and effective picket lines, materialize in order to force VIS to bring about a "swift and fair resolution to the strike."

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Pratt Institute
By Cindy Klumb

NEW YORK--Secretarial and technical workers at Pratt Institute voted unanimously at a January 12 union meeting to give strike authorization to a negotiating committee. Out of 72 workers in the bargaining unit, 50 attended the meeting to cast their votes.

Negotiations have been ongoing since the end of the summer, but little progress has been made. The union is asking for a one-time wage adjustment to make up for sacrifices made by its members in the 1990s to save the school from bankruptcy. For its part, Pratt is offering lower raises than the union has ever accepted before and demanding givebacks.

Pratt had a $10 million surplus last year and several years of surpluses preceding this negotiation, yet administration officials have come to the negotiating table crying poverty.

The clerical, secretarial and technical employees at Pratt are unable to continue to live without this adjustment--and are willing to strike if that's necessary to get a living wage from Pratt.

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