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On the picket line

March 2, 2007 | Pages 10 and 11

Boston teachers

Boston teachers
By Brian Kwoba

BOSTON--A planned vote on a one-day strike by 2,000 members of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) at a February 14 meeting was hijacked by union leaders, who rammed through a vote to postpone action instead.

The BTU, which represents about 8,000 teachers and staff members in the Boston Public Schools, has been without a contract since August and is in negotiations with the school district over salaries, health care costs and class sizes, among other issues.

At the start of the meeting, BTU President Richard Stutman announced that earlier that day the district had "caved on class size" and that negotiations were looking better for the union. Stutman then announced that there would instead be a substitute motion on the floor that would delay the strike vote for another two weeks and allow the negotiations to proceed.

After some intense debate, with premeditated interventions from key members of the executive board, the motion was put to a vote. Despite the fact that hundreds of union members were crowded in the back of the hall with no seats, a vote was taken--first vocally, and then by show of hands.

The vote was clearly too close to call, but the union president called the votes for his motion to be the majority, at which point more uproar ensued. Eventually, amid the bedlam, the meeting chair called a "point of order"--that in the estimation of the chair, Stutman's motion to postpone the strike vote for two weeks had passed, and therefore the meeting was over.

Understandably, many rank-and-file BTU members left the meeting furious at the decision they had just been force-fed by the union leadership.

The anger was fueled by other outrages as well. First, in the hour leading up to the meeting, it had already been reported in the media that the union was going to vote on a substitute motion, meaning that the union leadership went to the press before it consulted its own membership.

Second, the school district took the union to court in January on the grounds that Massachusetts law prohibits public employees from striking, and for weeks has constantly referred to any strike action as "illegal."

"My greatest worry is not about this vote or even this contract settlement," said BTU member Marc Seiden. "My greatest worry is that we live in a time where the rights of ordinary people are being slowly chipped away. Do you realize that part of this whole debacle includes a court ruling that our union is not even allowed to discuss a strike? In my mind, the only way to fight such a radical ruling is to break that law.

"There are many examples in history that show us that 'illegal' is not synonymous with 'wrong,' and that in fact it is the civil disobedience of organized people who break the law for what they know is just who help us come to terms with what is actually right."

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By Joe Cleffie

WORKERS AT Harley-Davidson's York, Pa., plant voted to return to work after a three-week strike that ended February 22.

More than 2,700 members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local Lodge 175 went on strike to fight against a proposed raise in health insurance costs as well as a company attempt to impose a two-tier wage system in the plant that would have prevented new hires from ever reaching the wage levels of older workers.

The settlement, which passed with more than 80 percent approval, gives workers a 12 percent pay raise over three years. Workers will not have to pay for health care premiums like the company originally wanted, but they will have increased deductibles and co-pays.

New hires will start at lower rates but can advance to the maximum pay of current employees. The union also gave some ground on matching funds contributed by the company to the employee pension fund.

The deal is better than a contract accepted by workers at Harley's Milwaukee engine plant late last year, and it is an "improvement over the proposal rejected by workers earlier this month," Tom Boger, business manager for IAM Local Lodge 175, told the Associated Press.

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