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On the picket line

June 8, 2007 | Page 15

University of California custodians
Madison, Wis., painters

University of California custodians
By Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME Local 3299

AFTER AN 18-month fight, custodians on three campuses of the University of California (UC) system--Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara--declared victory on May 22.

Represented by AFSCME Local 3299, the custodians forced UC to bring their wages close to par with what custodians earn at comparable institutions. Management finally agreed to a $1.75 an hour increase for custodians on the three campuses--almost a 20 percent increase for some--plus a 50 cent an hour increase for custodians at all other UC campuses and medical centers.

In addition, groundskeepers at UC-Irvine won their struggle to be represented by the union, and all workers represented by AFSCME that make less than $40,000 a year will see a small percentage increase in their wages.

This victory is huge, especially given that the pay increase comes mid-contract. For 18 months, UC insisted that it didn't have the money. But workers picketed and pressured politicians and celebrities to boycott the university, and large numbers of supporters, students and workers got arrested on three separate occasions.

UC buckled to the pressure and "found" the $8.9 million that was there all along for this settlement.

The pay increase is a significant step toward a living wage--so that, as one custodian put it, "Now working two jobs is more of a choice. Before, I didn't have a choice."

This struggle also has developed a layer of strong fighters and rank-and-file leaders who understand that this victory was not given to them, but that they had to fight for every penny that they won. The union starts negotiating a new contract in August. We intend to win that fight, too.

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Madison, Wis., painters
By Benjamin Ratliffe

MADISON, Wis.--Workers from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 802 went on strike at midnight June 1 to fight for a living wage.

Negotiations have been ongoing for the last five weeks. Initial efforts by contractors to shorten break times and keep painters from using their own tools were defeated. But when it came to the economic package, the bosses presented workers with what union field representative Jeff Mehrhoff called "a slap in the face."

Workers have been offered a raise of just 69 cents a year for the next three years. Meanwhile, under the current offer, workers would reportedly be forced to pay another 92 cents an hour for health care coverage.

Workers returned shortly after the first negotiations with a proposed interim agreement that was rejected by a group of contractors. Upon rejection of the proposal, Local 802 agreed to strike by a vote of 96 to 10 at the union's largest meeting in recent memory.

According to union members Matthew Nadzieja and Kent Zenefski, who walked the picket line outside the University of Wisconsin at Madison Engineering Building, concessions the bosses are asking for will further diminish workers' paychecks, which already don't provide enough to raise a family. "All we're asking for is a quarter--I say, we should be demanding a dollar," said Nadzieja.

Workers are facing an uphill battle. Some of the contractors have agreed to the interim agreement, which Mehrhoff sees as a blatant attempt to break the union. Workers are also facing scab laborers, some of whom were brought in by the contractors, while others have been organized by a local carpenters' union that split from the AFL-CIO and has a long history of raiding drywall workers from Local 802.

Local supporters are planning help walk picket lines and get the word out about the strike.

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