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On the picket line

August 24, 2007 | Pages 10 and 11

Long Island, N.Y., home health aides
Smithfield Packing

Long Island, N.Y., home health aides
By Peter Lamphere

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Banging pots and pans, shaking maracas and chanting, home health aides here led an inspiring picket of Premier Home Health Care in an effort to win their first union contract.

The spirited five-day strike, which began August 13, ended without an agreement, but the yearlong effort to organize the workers into SEIU Local 1115/SEIU United Health Care Workers East continues.

Overwhelmingly, those walking the picket line cited low wages and the need for health care and sick days as a motivating factor of the strike: most only make between $7 and $8 an hour.

"Whatever it takes, we have to do it because we care for these people, and nobody cares for us," said Jean Douglas, one of the members of the union organizing committee and a 20-year veteran of the home health care industry.

Four days into the strike, management finally responded to pressure to come to the bargaining table with a slap in the face: The company offered nothing for the first year, and a raise in the second only if Premier makes a profit. Another member of the union committee, Regina, summed up the sentiments of the workers about the offer: "It was disrespectful."

Workers refused the offer, but on August 17 voted to return to work. The membership had only planned for a five-day job action, but plans to go on another strike should it be necessary.

"I was ready for [organizing a union] because I had nothing," said Jean, "I still have nothing, because we don't have a contract yet, but at least I have hope. You've got to fight for what you want."

The effort in Long Island is part of a long-term campaign by SEIU to organize the home health care industry. New York City Premier workers were organized in 2002 because of a strike threat, and tens of thousands of aides struck in New York City in 2004 to successfully win wage gains.

Call Premier President Arthur Schwabe at 914-428-7722 and tell him that his workers deserve better.

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Smithfield Packing
By Elizabeth Schulte

WILLIAMSBURG, Va.--Workers at Smithfield Packing Company in Tar Heel, N.C., and supporters from several cities will be taking their message to the company shareholders' meeting here August 29: We have the right to unionize!

The anti-union tactics at Smithfield--the world's largest pork-processing plant--are as vicious as their plant is dangerous. On August 6, management terminated Jose Ozorio Figueroa, claiming it was because he was four minutes late to his shift.

But Figueroa, who has worked at Smithfield since 2004, and other pro-union workers know it's because of his activism for rights on the job. He was among a group of workers who took part in a walkout in November 2006 to protest the company's firing of workers whose Social Security numbers did not match federal records.

Activists are working to build solidarity--inside the plant and around the country. Workers began circulating a petition five months ago inside the plant calling for clean drinking water to be made available at work, and walked out of the plant on August 7 after they had waited three hours for clean drinking water the day before in the unbearable 103-degree summer heat.

According to the Justice at Smithfield campaign, 40 percent of the livestock workers walked out and held a sit-in on the grass outside the livestock area.

"Basically, the workers decided that we are not going to work until we get this resolved," Keith Ludlum, one of the workers who walked out, told the Fayetteville Observer. "I think it is ridiculous to have to go to this measure in order to have clean drinking water for everyone."

Meanwhile, supporters are taking this fight to the road. In Boston, supporters helped pass a resolution on August 1 that asks the city to suspend any purchases of products made at the Tar Heel plant "until the company ends all form of abuse, intimidation and violence against its workers."

Activists from several cities will board buses to rally at the Smithfield's shareholders' meeting to present petitions signed by hundreds of supporters.

Visit for information or to sign the petition.

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