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On the picket line

March 17, 2006 | Pages 10 and 11

Chicago Transit Authority
Edens Medical Center
New York City transit workers

Cook County Nurses
By Elizabeth Lalasz

CHICAGO--Last week, registered nurses voted overwhelmingly--by 97 percent--to authorize a strike at Cook County's 29 facilities, including John Stroger Jr. Cook County Hospital, one of the largest public health care facilities in the country.

The strike margin and huge turnout indicate the determination and unity of the nurses and gives their union--National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association (NNOC/CNA)--a strong mandate to call a strike.

The last time nurses struck was 30 years ago, when they walked out for 38 days. Nurses have been working without a contract since late 2004, and have been in negotiations since last September.

The sticking points for the nurses are wages, benefits and staffing levels. Cook County nurses make 9 percent less than nurses in the private sector, with average annual wages for RNs in the county at approximately $54,000 per year.

The other main issue is safe staffing and patient care protections. On average, nurses can see between 200-300 patients per shift in a hospital where hundreds of poor, uninsured, mostly minority and immigrant patients wait for hours, and sometimes days, for treatment.

As Sheilah Garland-Olaniran, Midwest NNOC/CNA union spokesperson, told Socialist Worker, "Hospitals like Stroger are places of last resort for many people, given that there's no universal health care. Nurses working in this kind of environment are working without adequate support--they are worked like production workers with patients having to wait so long. Nurses are developing a consciousness about patient care and this vote reflects that. We realize that it's a hazard to work without adequate staffing and we need relief."

Fighting for lower nurse-to-patient ratios is a key strategy for NNOC/CNA, a new national union founded by the California Nurses Association in 2004. After beating Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to roll back ratios in California, the union is pushing legislation to relieve overworked nurses in about a dozen other states.

In the Chicago area, nurses are bringing their fight to the public, with pickets March 15 at Stroger, Provident and Oak Forest Hospitals. We need to show support with the CCBHS nurses in their fight for a good contract--and better quality health care for everyone.

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Chicago Transit Authority
By Carole Ramsden

CHICAGO--The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 241, which represent some 6,000 city bus drivers and mechanics, voted 1029 to 11 on March 6 to strike if no progress is made in talks with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). The strike deadline is set for April 9.

The main issue of contention is the CTA's use of "rostering" to determine bus drivers' schedules and salaries at two of the eight garages. Rather than receiving overtime after eight hours in that day, drivers only receive overtime after 40 hours within that week.

ATU Local 241 President Darrell Jefferson says that the CTA has drivers working up to 13 hours a day while paying them for eight. The CTA has the second-largest public transportation system in the country with about 1.5 million daily bus and train riders. Of that, almost 1 million riders take the 2,000 buses that operate over 152 routes and 2,273 route miles.

Last spring, the CTA threatened a "doomsday budget" of service cuts and fare hikes that was to go into effect July 17, unless the state legislature filled their $55 million operational budget deficit. The state did release additional money to the CTA, but the CTA still implemented fare hikes in January.

While it pleads poverty, the CTA built a brand-new $119 million headquarters in 2004. It's planning a $2 billion Circle Line project around downtown and a $172.4 million Loop "super station" which will both cater mostly to business people and tourists.

CTA president Frank Kruesi claims the ATU "do not have the right to strike under state law and the terms of their contract" and the strike vote "is probably more to stave off efforts by the Teamsters" who recently filed a bid to represent transit workers with the Labor Relations Board.

According to executive director of the Illinois Labor Relations Board, John Brosnan, Illinois labor law prohibits police and fire fighters from striking, but not bus operators unless it would endanger the public. The union says it has the right to strike because of unfair labor grievances filed against the CTA. This would be the first time since a four-day strike in 1979 if they walked.

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Edens Medical Center
By John Green

CASTRO VALLEY, Calif.--Casting ballots inside a bright purple union bus, nursing assistants, housekeepers and medical technicians voted to ratify a new contract and end a weeklong strike at Eden Medical Center.

Despite hospital management's aggressive union-busting operation, the 300 members of Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers-West won significant concessions.

The union, which represents a quarter of the hospital staff, struck over wages, education benefits, pensions and expanding representation at an affiliated hospital. Under the terms of the new contract, members will receive between a 10- and 18-percent wage increase.

Strikers organized a spirited picketing campaign outside the hospital, with pickets assembling early each morning.

Management took a hard-line, hiring nearly 50 temporary replacement workers and issuing reports to the media that claimed that two-thirds of strikers crossed the picket line. In a punitive measure, management locked out many striking workers following the end of the strike while negotiations continued.

Yet, the significant concessions on wages, education benefits and pensions indicate that management's tough talk was just that: talk.

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New York City transit workers
By Dominic Renda

NEW YORK--Last January, members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 narrowly voted down a contract offer by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

Now, a petition is being circulated to have a re-vote on the same contract offer, and according to one union official, thousands have already signed on.

There are two reasons why the re-vote petitions may be gaining momentum. One, the MTA threatened a worse contract offer than the one that was voted down, and two, Local 100 President Roger Toussaint and his allies on the executive board have done nothing to fight for something better.

Marty Goodman, a dissident member of the executive board and a member of the Committee for a Better Contract, said the "leadership and the MTA have done a lot to demoralize people."

At an executive board meeting, Goodman made motions to organize rank-and-file members to put pressure on the MTA. These motions, although seconded by another board member, were immediately shot down by Toussaint supporters.

Goodman explained that the first motion was to "convene a mass membership meeting in March to discuss the contract and where to go from here. [We should] allow for full membership discussion at such a meeting and a membership vote on contract strategies.

"Second, sponsor a mass demonstration at the MTA. Invite the entire labor movement to join us. Make it a powerful reminder to the MTA that they have a $1 billion surplus and transit workers don't have to accept givebacks!"

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