On the picket line

March 7, 2008

Support the Freightliner Five

A WEST Coast tour by two of the Freightliner Five in late February garnered financial support and solidarity in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

The five--Robert Whiteside, Glenna Swinford, David Crisco, Franklin Torrence and Allen Bradley--were terminated by Freightliner nearly a year ago for leading a brief strike at the company's Cleveland, N.C., plant following the expiration of their contract. Since then, the workers, elected members of United Auto Workers Local 3520 bargaining committee, have been fighting for their jobs.

In the Bay Area, Torrence and Bradley got support from AFSCME Locals 444 and 2428, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Locals 10 and 34, and United Educators of San Francisco. After speaking to the San Francisco Labor Council, they got a strong show of solidarity among the delegates, and a collection was taken.

The two also walked picket lines of UNITE HERE and SEIU workers and spoke at a solidarity meeting at ILWU Local 34, which was attended by 35 union activists. Together, Bay Area union members and supporters raised nearly $8,000 for this struggle.

In Los Angeles, Torrence and Bradley were introduced by United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy in a meeting at the union's headquarters. More than 35 turned out to hear Freightliner workers as well as Writers Guild of America strike activist Patrick Mulvihill. UTLA donated $500, and $600 more was collected from those in attendance.

In Seattle, 25 turned out to the Seattle Labor Temple to show support for the struggle. Joining Torrence and Bradley on the panel was Michael Hureaux, a longtime member of the Seattle Education Association.

In Portland, Ore.--where Freightliner corporate headquarters are located--more than 20 union members labor activists turned out to the painters' union hall for a wide-ranging debate on rebuilding a fighting labor movement.

Allen Bradley's comments in Seattle summed up the message of the tour. "Whether you work in a plant or an office or a classroom, it's all the same issues," he said. "Bosses are all the same--they're trying to fleece workers for everything they've got. All workers need to be organized.

"If our case falls the wrong way, it will kill unionizing in the South. If we win, it will give confidence to workers all over this country that we have to fight and that we can win."

Sam Bernstein, David Rapkin, Adam Sanchez and Steve Zeltzer contributed to this report.

Saigon Grill

NEW YORK--In an important decision for restaurant workers, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that 28 delivery workers at the Saigon Grill were fired illegally.

Owner Simon Nget is legally required to rehire all of them within 14 days, but that order could be suspended if Nget decides to appeal. Judge Ray Green also ordered Nget to pay workers the wages they hadn't received since their dismissal.

After nearly a year of striking, Saigon Grill workers have won the right to return to work. Nget was paying delivery workers sometimes only $120 for a 75-hour workweek--the equivalent of $1.60 an hour, which is about one-third of the $4.85-per-hour minimum wage in New York state for tipped employees.

One way that Nget kept workers' wages so low was through a complicated regime of illegal pay deductions, like taking $200 if a customer reported a late delivery. Workers were often forced to pay for their own medical care, as well as bicycles and bicycle maintenance.

The long hours, low pay, rotten working conditions and an abusive management were too much for the Saigon Grill delivery workers, who gained the confidence to strike out of recent victories at other local restaurants, including 88 Palace.

"Do we have time for family or friends? No," said Jerry Weng, a member of the Justice Will Be Served delivery workers campaign and a two-year delivery worker at Ollie's, another Chinese restaurant. He argued that the ruling "will have a huge impact on workers trying to stand up for their rights."

The victory is sure to provide momentum to struggles at other restaurants, like Flor de Mayo where workers are also on strike. Unfortunately, the fight to reinstate the Saigon Grill workers is not over. The strike will continue until Nget complies with the court ruling.

Justice Will Be Served encourages supporters to join the picket line at the Flor de Mayo restaurant on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. on 83rd Street and Amsterdam, and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on 101st Street and Broadway.

Portland, Ore., public schools

PORTLAND, Ore.--Portland Public Schools (PPS) have backed off their plan to cut custodians' pay by as much as $4.25 an hour. The custodians, members of Service Employees International Union Local 503, have faced a vindictive campaign from PPS who were forced to rehire the custodians after an illegal termination four years ago.

Other school workers recently reached agreements with PPS, including 188 nutrition workers, also members of Local 503, who won a 2.5 percent raise and a paid Martin Luther King Day holiday. Eighty-five special ed school bus drivers, members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, have also come to an agreement after negotiating since December 2005.

Workers will also get a small increase in the amount the district pays for health care. PPS thought they could easily defeat the unions, but a sustained campaign with pickets of over 200 outside PPS board meetings showed that there was a lot of support for school workers.

PPS will soon open up negotiations with the Portland Association of Teachers. As the custodians' fight has shown, teachers will have to be on their guard.

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