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On the picket line

October 19, 2007 | Pages 10 and 11

Prudential Overall Supply
UMass graduate employees

By Lee Sustar

THE CHAIR of the United Auto Workers (UAW) bargaining committee at Chrysler is urging a "no" vote on a tentative deal between the union and the company.

Bill Parker, president of UAW Local 1700 at Chrysler's assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., issued a leaflet at an October 15 meeting of Chrysler local presidents urging them to vote against the deal because of its many concessions, including a two-tier wage system, lack of a raise in basic pay, and a failure by Chrysler's new management to commit to building future models.

According to one of the officials in the meeting, as many as a third of the local officials backed Parker against UAW President Ron Gettelfinger in a rare show of dissent against the union's ruling Administration Caucus.

The tentative deal at Chrysler, reached after a six-hour strike, is modeled on an agreement at General Motors, which was approved October 10 by 66 percent of UAW workers at GM. Both agreements allow the companies to shed their obligations to provide retiree health care by establishing a union-controlled trust fund, known as a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA).

But the tentative Chrysler deal lacks two gains that the UAW managed to get at GM--the conversion of temporary employees into permanent hires and a commitment to manufacture new products at UAW-organized plants.

"Virtually no Chrysler plant received commitments beyond the scope of their current product," Parker's leaflet stated, according to Bloomberg News. "As a result, the plant-by-plant threats we've experienced in the past will continue."

Parker, a former member of the opposition New Direction caucus of the 1980s and 1990s, also slammed the proposed lower-tier pay for so-called "non-core" work. "For years, the UAW embodied industrial unionism," Parker said in his flier. "So goes the UAW, so goes the American middle class."

Gettelfinger will pull out all the stops to push the Chrysler deal through. But Parker's opposition--and his credibility as the chair of negotiations--means there will be a fight.

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Prudential Overall Supply
By David McCarthy

MILPITAS, Calif.--Thirty laundry workers have been on strike here for over a month as part of a larger struggle of workers across California against Prudential Overall Supply, an industrial laundry company.

Workers are fighting for union recognition as well as pay increases and improved conditions. Irvine-based Prudential has contracts with cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, and provides services to 110 Fortune 500 companies.

Despite record growth, Prudential has routinely underpaid its workers and violated federal law requiring companies with government contracts to pay according to local fair wage laws as well as provide certain benefits. Workers have reported being paid 50 to 70 percent less than median wages, and workers in Milpitas get paid around $10 an hour compared to the local fair wage of $14.19.

Workers are often given only half of the required vacation time under federal law. The company routinely falls short of its required health care contributions, and many workers report never having been told what wages and benefits they are legally entitled to.

Prudential has responded to the strike with intimidation, including threats and some suspensions. The largely immigrant workers set up picket lines at several of the company's plants and are working to get cities who have contracts with Prudential to put pressure on the company, with the help of UNITE HERE.

After workers submitted unfair labor practices complaints, the city of Oakland found that Prudential was in violation of living wage laws and demanded the company pay $40,000 in back wages to workers. Oakland is one of several cities and counties that have taken action against Prudential after San Diego canceled the company's contract and sued for $1.8 million.

Workers and supporters will have to keep up the pressure on Prudential and the city of Oakland.

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UMass graduate employees
By Charles Peterson

AMHERST, Mass--More than 200 members of the UMass Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) and their supporters rallied at the Whitmore administration building on October 11.

GEO, a member of United Auto Workers Local 2322, represents over 2,500 graduate employees at the UMass Amherst campus. Members are demanding funding for diversity and for child care, a rollback of student fees and a fair contract.

GEO has long been an obstacle to the corporatization of UMass. Last year, it passed a motion opposing the board of trustees' decision to award an honorary degree to Andrew Card, Bush's former chief of staff.

A key sticking point in contract negotiations is student fees. UMass collects $1.2 million a year in fees from its grad students, which are essential for the shiny new buildings currently under construction. "These buildings are being built on our backs," said GEO Vice President Aaron Winslow.

Winslow said of the October 11 action, "It was a show of force, letting the administration know the workers have the numbers." Continuing to mobilize the GEO membership and its undergraduate supporters, along with solidarity from other area unions, will be key to winning a fair contract. Another action is planned for October 18.

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