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Immigrants show the labor movement how to fight
A lesson for the unions

June 2, 2006 | Page 8

THE MAY Day march for immigrant rights has excited some of my fellow coworkers at United Parcel Service (UPS). I work at the 8,000-person CACH facility outside of Chicago where we handle over a million packages a day. The hub is constructed to maximize efficiency, but also has the effect of grinding down those who work there over time.

Most workers are part time and quit within a year, because the conditions are so appalling and the pay is so low. Management constantly harasses and writes up workers for the smallest infractions. There are no company sick days at a place that is filled with dust and dirt and is so noisy that management gives out free earplugs every day.

Many part-time workers don't even know the Teamsters union exists, unlike at Jefferson Street in Chicago, the UPS hub where I formerly worked, where the stewards and rank-and-file members would loudly voice and act upon their rights.

I, along with several dozen UPS Jefferson Street workers, was forced out to the suburbs when management closed down our day sort. This experience embittered many of us. The company offered only miserable early-morning or late-night hours. Management even tried to take away our right to bid by seniority for these jobs, a battle we won in the end. What we didn't win was the right to stay in our better--and, for most of us, closer--old jobs.

The last 10 months at work have been hard. But recently, the immigrant rights movement has helped lift our spirits. A few of the guys I work with have gone to the mass marches. Being there, we can see where the power of millions of working-class immigrants can take on the rich and the powerful. Even undocumented workers can stand up and fight.

At our union job, we have accepted managements' daily attacks for far too long. Although the immigrant rights movement has inspired some, there are other workers who have been either indifferent or outright hostile to the movement. Some argue that undocumented immigrants are forcing wages down by working for less than U.S. citizens.

But at unionized UPS, starting pay has been almost the same since the early 1980s. At the same time, top scale is over $27 an hour. We cannot have a united and strong union when the majority of our UPS members make poverty wages. UPS management will split us up and wither away our union.

We need to raise the wages of the part-time workers significantly, for how long will UPS bosses tolerate paying the far better wages and benefits for its full-timers when they could pay some part-timer far less to do the job?

The same is true for the U.S. workforce as a whole. We cannot have poverty wages for documented and undocumented workers, and expect to keep and improve the better-paid working-class jobs.

Capitalists are ruthless. All they care about is profit. They want us to point the finger at someone worse off and say they are the problem. Undocumented workers aren't causing falling wages or unemployment. They only want a better life for themselves.

It's the CEOs and big-time shareholders who are destroying the good jobs--good jobs that workers had to fight for by demonstrating, unionizing and striking, for they were not given to us. The immigrant rights movement is offering hope. It is up to us to fight for a way forward.
Donny Schraffenberger, Chicago

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