We invite you to contribute short items to this column as a way for other fighting workers around the world to read about and learn from these important struggles. Jot down a few lines about what is happening in your union, at your workplace, or other workplaces in your area, including interesting political discussions.
LOS ANGELES - The continuing crisis growing out of the merger of the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads sparked a picket line of 45 spouses and children of Union Pacific employees at the Colton yard in southern California on December 20, protesting the long hours and unsafe conditions on the railroad.
Picket signs at the protest read: "UP Management: License to Kill," "Bring My Daddy Home Safe!," and "Sleep Deprivation Kills."
Matthew Boyer, the 15-year-old son of one engineer with 20 years at SP, explained why he was at the protest. "I'm protesting the hours my dad works. Not just the hours but how he's worked. After he drives a train for 12 hours he's left to just sit on the train for hours and hours more." This sentiment was expressed many times on the picket line.
Diane Houchen, the wife of another engineer, said, "We want our husbands back. They leave and they're on a train for 16 or 18 hours at a time. They come home and they're exhausted - but have to go out again in 10 hours. My husband worked on a train for 12 hours and then had to wait for a crew to come out and relieve them. After waiting for five hours he got out and hitchhiked home with the conductor agreeing to stay and watch the train. No one should have to go through this."
One engineer working at Colton explained from the sidelines of the picket line, "Crews go from here to Yuma and then don't come back for three or four days. It happens a lot. What happens is that after taking a train to Yuma you rest in the motel for eight hours and then patch another train, that is get called to bring another train into Yuma that didn't make it all the way. Then you rest in the motel for another eight hours and they might have to patch once again. Then after resting in the motel for eight more hours you might finally catch a train back to the home terminal in Colton. The railroad doesn't care."
He added, "The worst thing is they don't pay us what they owe us. "We're on a train for 16 hours and we only get paid for 12. We have to put in a special claim for the other four and who knows if we'll see the money or not."
Michigan paper workers strike against takebacks
KALAMAZOO, Michigan - Teamsters Local 7 has been on strike since December 11 against Contempo Colors in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Contempo makes paper products such as paper plates, cups, napkins, etc. The local, with 288 members, voted to strike with 238 in favor, 20 against, and 30 members not present.
At this time, no further negotiating sessions have been scheduled since the company will not cooperate in negotiations unless the union agrees to limit discussions to the company's takeback demands.
These include pay cuts for most of the workers between 56 cents and $2 per hour, with the greatest cuts affecting the lowest paid workers; no pay raise for the first two years of a five-year contract; and pay raises of 2 percent, 3 percent, and 4 percent in the second half of the contract. Other company takeback demands are a 15 percent increase in the copayment that workers make for their medical insurance plan and gutting of seniority rights.
Under the old contract, workers could bid for a job and be transferred to another department based on seniority. Management wants to have total decision-making authority in this area. The old contract provided for a worker to receive his or her current pay scale when pulled to a different job.
The company, however, has recently been violating that aspect of the contract by paying the worker the hourly wage of the job that he or she is pulled to even when that rate is lower than his or her usual rate.
No union members have crossed the picket line, but it's possible that the strike has become a lockout. One of the union members contacted the company about going back to work and he was refused.
The strikers have received financial and food donations from many area unions and reinforcements for their picket lines. The union organized a candlelight vigil on December 11. There's discussion about leafleting stores that carry Contempo products asking workers not to buy these products.
Pickets expressed determination to stand strong against the company's takeback demands. Strikers who were offered a pay raise stated union solidarity and concern for their co-workers as one reason they were on the picket line.
Craig Honts, a member of the United Transportation Union in Los Angeles, and Sandy Knoll in Fennville, Michigan, contributed to this week's column.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home