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Vol. 76/No. 2      January 16, 2012

On the Picket Line

Hyundai railcar workers in
Philadelphia win first contract

PHILADELPHIA—Fifteen months after union certification, members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 at the Hyundai Rotem railcar plant here voted 77-11 to approve their first contract Dec. 10. Workers voted to join the union in August 2010.

The contract includes wage increases, cuts in health insurance costs, and job security as the company obtains contracts to build more railcars. “The more unity in your shop, the less emboldened management will be to give you less than you deserve,” Ivan McNeil, a Local 234 shop steward, told the Militant. “Our contract is a clear example of that.”

In June 2011, about 60 production workers walked off the job to protest the bosses’ refusal to provide break room air conditioning and access to cold drinking water as temperatures rose to nearly 100 degrees. In August, the National Labor Relations Board ordered nine workers reinstated with back pay, saying that union members had been singled out for unfair discipline.

The factory assembles railcars for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which runs the region’s public transportation lines. Subway, trolley car, and bus operators and mechanics are also organized by TWU Local 234.

The starting wage for Hyundai workers in the union had ranged from $12.50 to $15 an hour. The new contract includes 13 to 16 percent wage increases over three years.

The union represents 127 of some 200 workers at the plant. Those not represented by the union include temporary workers, as well as fulltime workers from South Korea who work on a six-month rotation. Hyundai Rotem is a subsidiary of the South Korean automaker, Hyundai Kia Motor Group.

—George Chalmers, member of TWU
Local 234 at Hyundai Rotem.

Locked-out New Zealand
meat packers return to work

AUCKLAND, New Zealand—“It was the best we were going to get out of them,” TeRangi Wroe, a laborer on the slaughter floor at Canterbury Meat Packers’ Rangitikei plant, told the Militant Dec. 22. He was one of some 90 workers who voted that day by a 95 percent margin to accept a new contract. The workers, members of the Meat Workers Union, had been locked out since Oct. 19 after refusing company demands that included pay cuts of up to 20 percent, shift changes and cuts in allowances.

Workers were in good spirits when they marched back in together for a company orientation Dec. 23, said Amanda Chase, a leading hand in the plant’s boning room. “It’s good to go back when we’re still strong. We’re ready to take on what we have to take on. We did as much as we could in making a stand together.” Chase had flown to London during the lockout to speak and garner support at the Unite union’s national meat workers’ committee conference.

The new agreement reduces pay cuts to around 15 percent and improves provisions for long service and seniority, according to union organizer Robbie Magee. Some allowances are reinstated and conditions around bereavement leave, sick pay and staffing levels have been protected. Workers will receive a NZ$500 ($390) signing bonus.

The union contract is “an improvement from the beginning,” said worker Maryanne Broadbelt. Workers are being called back a few at a time over the next weeks, Wroe said, and will work alongside more than 200 others who left the union to sign the company’s original concession contract as individuals and worked during the lockout.

Locked-out workers won financial support and other solidarity over the nine-week struggle. They picketed daily at the plant on the country’s main highway and held protests targeting McDonald’s restaurants. ANZCO Foods, Canterbury Meat Packers’ parent company, supplies burger patties to McDonald’s. “This was an attack on unionism,” Chase told the Militant. “I believe there are going to be a lot of places that try to introduce these individual contracts as a way to get rid of unions.

“We definitely compromised on the contract but one thing we didn’t compromise on was giving up that site for the union. We actually got introduced to what unionism is all about. If anything, we should thank the company for that opportunity to get educated—that is priceless.”

—Felicity Coggan

Quebec auto parts workers
win reduced wage gap

BOUCHERVILLE, Quebec—By an 88 percent margin, members of Canadian Auto Workers Local 698 at TW Distribution voted Dec. 20 in favor of a three-year contract that included annual wage increases of 3.5 percent for the first two years and 3 percent for the third.

The increases reduce the wage gap between TW Distribution workers and those at the UAP/NAPA auto parts warehouse in nearby Montreal. Workers on the picket line say reducing this gap is a question of “respect.”

Faced with the threat of a lockout because of their Nov. 27 rejection of a contract by 92 percent, 45 members of Canadian Auto Workers Local 698 organized to put pressure on the company, including setting up picket lines. TW bosses locked them out Dec. 1. On Dec. 4 the unionists voted unanimously to strike. Workers picketed around the clock seven days a week.

The unionists also reached out for support. “On Friday Dec. 16, about 40 people—TW Distribution workers and CAW members from other locals—picketed at the UAP/NAPA warehouse in Montreal to let workers there know about our lockout,” André Nadon told the Militant. “We received a good reception.”

—Beverly Bernardo

New York City office cleaners
push back concession demands

NEW YORK—Some 22,000 office cleaning workers, members of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, pushed back much of the Realty Advisory Board’s concession demands with the threat of strike action and solidarity. The two sides reached a tentative agreement for a four-year contract Dec. 30.

Tentative agreements with SEIU 32BJ have also been reached for 7,000 workers in New Jersey; 2,000 in Hartford and New Haven, Conn.; 3,300 office cleaners in Hudson Valley, N.Y., and Fairfield County, Conn.; and 450 in Delaware.

All the contracts were set to expire January 1.

The tentative contract for workers in New York City includes a 5.6 percent wage increase over four years. The employers had demanded no increases for the first three years.

The contract maintains employer-paid family health-care coverage for all workers and their families. The bosses had demanded that new hires’ families not be covered. Under the old contract new hires were paid 80 percent of the wages of more senior workers for the first 30 months. The real estate barons wanted new hires to get just 70 percent permanently. Union negotiators agreed to a new hire wage of 75 percent, reaching 100 percent after 42 months. The agreement maintains sick time, holidays and vacation pay.

In recent weeks SEIU 32BJ in New York organized sizeable rallies, joining with other unions including Transport Workers Union Local 100 whose contract covering 38,000 bus drivers, train operators, signal maintainers, cleaners, mechanics and other workers expires Jan. 15.

A Dec. 29 press release by SEIU 32BJ said that janitors in more than 12 cities across the country had “pledged to honor picket lines should a strike spread outside New York City.” Contracts that cover some 155,000 cleaners around the country will be negotiated in 2012.

—Deborah Liatos

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