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On the picket line

June 16, 2006 | Page 15

OTHER STORIES BELOW:
Cook County nurses
Chicago laborers

Smithfield Packing
By Lee Sustar

HARDLINE ANTI-UNION practices by Smithfield Packing in North Carolina will be the focus of a June 20 rally in Chicago, the first in a series of planned protests.

Smithfield, the largest pork processor in the U.S., has for years harshly resisted efforts to unionize its 6,000-worker plant in Tar Heel, N.C., even though its workers at plants in Iowa and South Dakota are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

In May, a federal court upheld a National Labor Relations Board ruling that Smithfield had violated a cease-and-desist order by the board, which had accused the company of intimidating and firing workers to defeat a 1997 union election.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia also ordered Smithfield to reinstate four workers who were fired, including one who was beaten by company security guards on the day of voting for the union. That worker, Willie Jackson, suffered a dislocated shoulder, had a $3,000 hospital bill and lost his home as the result of his unemployment.

More recently, the company has tried to sow divisions between African American workers and Mexican immigrants hired in recent years. To help promote unity, the UFCW has reached out to Latino immigrant organizations across the U.S.

In Chicago, the March 10 Movement, the organizing committee of the mass immigrant rights marches, promoted the event at the Centro Comunitario Juan Diego, a social services organization. At the same event, the Chicago Workers Collaborative, which works with Latino immigrant workers, conducted a workshop on how workers can organize for their rights even in nonunion workplaces.

The Chicago rally will take place June 20 at the Chicago Union Stockyards Gate, Halsted and Exchange, at 2 p.m. For more information, see www.smithfieldjustice.com, or contact Rigo Valdez at 415-215-4422 or [email protected].

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Cook County nurses
By Elizabeth Lalasz

CHICAGO--Registered nurses (RNs) at the Cook County Bureau of Health Services (CCBHS) recently announced plans for a one-day strike on June 23 unless substantial progress is made in contract negotiations with the county.

The CCBHS, which runs John H. Stroger Cook County Hospital, Oak Forest and Provident Hospitals and 28 community clinics, including the county prison and juvenile detention center, is one of the largest public health networks in the U.S.

The RN Facility Bargaining Council, which includes 120 staff, clinic, and advanced practice RNs, set the strike date to protest the continuing failure of the county to resolve the RNs' serious concerns about safe patient care and achieving a fair contract, according to the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association (NNOC/CNA).

After months of contract talks, several critical issues remain unresolved, including pay inequality with other area hospitals, which undermines the ability of the county to retain its most experienced RNs. But the biggest issue is the nurse-to-patient ratio.

"It is no longer acceptable that RNs are told to 'do the best we can' when it comes to safely caring for our patients," said negotiator and registered nurse Barbara Brown-Frazier. "Staffing is a key concern management must address as part of any tentative agreement package we would recommend to our members."

Diane Ellis, who's also a nurse and a member of the bargaining team, explained that nurses are prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to get their demands met.

"The heat is on county management to meet the nurses' demands to come to a fair settlement soon so that we can ensure that no disruption of patient care takes place, although we stand ready to do whatever is necessary in the short term to guarantee improved patient care in the long term," said Ellis.

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Chicago laborers

CONTRACTORS HAD to throw in the towel June 5 after a four-day strike by 2,000 members of the Laborers Union in the Chicago area. The union had extraordinary leverage, given the huge reconstruction project underway on Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway.

The employers had sought to cut pensions by 20 percent, eliminate time-and-a-half pay on Saturdays, and slash wages by half for workers doing cleanup, landscaping and flagger duty.

Instead, the contractors' Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association had to drop those demands and agree to a $12 per hour pay increase over the life of the four-year contract. The base rate is currently $30.15 per hour. While neither side released details, the Laborers claimed that the agreement protects members from subcontracting and preserves pension benefits.

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