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Vol. 76/No. 6      February 13, 2012

On the Picket Line

Caravan supports locked-out
Steelworkers in Quebec

MONTREAL—“We’ve just come back from a car parade around the town, 250 cars,” Marie-Christine Guay told the Militant Jan. 26. “The event was totally magnificent. People in their houses flashed their lights. People on the street waved. We circled all around town.”

Guay is a nurse; her husband is one of the more than 750 members of the Steelworkers union locked out at Rio Tinto Alcan’s smelter in Alma, Quebec.

Picket lines have been up since Dec. 31. Workers are fighting to prevent the company from more than doubling the percentage of work performed by mostly nonunion subcontractors, who get half the wages and no benefits.

“None of my family works in the plant,” Cindy Dufour, 24, a municipal worker in the town of L’Ascension de Notre-Seigneur who organized the caravan, told the Militant via email. “I decided to organize this because too many people don’t understand the stakes in this fight.”

“The workers always see the same cars going by,” she said. “They’re in one corner of town, so I said to myself that I’d bring cars to them to boost their morale. And above all, to be visible for the population.”

Unions representing miners in Turkey, Rio Tinto Group workers in Australia, and unions in the U.S., U.K., France and South Africa have pledged their support, with plans for joint solidarity actions to come.

—Katy LeRougetel

Houston airport workers
fight for union recognition

HOUSTON—“I was fired for reporting short paychecks to my Huntleigh USA supervisors and for defending my coworkers who faced the same shortages,” Antoinette Spencer told airport workers and supporters at a Jan. 26 protest here. “This is why we need a union.”

Workers from PrimeFlight Aviation Services and Huntleigh at Houston’s Bush International Airport are fighting to get Service Employees International Union recognized as their union.

PrimeFlight workers assist passengers as wheelchair attendants and electric cart drivers, receiving a base wage of $5.25 to $6.35 an hour plus tips. Under federal law, employers must make up the difference in wages for workers who customarily receive tips, if tips and wages combined don’t equal the legal minimum of $7.25.

The Houston Chronicle reported that PrimeFlight workers say they are told to report tips they don’t receive.

Spencer told the Militant that as a dispatcher she was paid $9.50 an hour by Huntleigh and that most of her coworkers who provide cleaning, baggage handling, and security services at the airport are paid $7.25 an hour. “It’s not enough to live on,” she said. “So we are organizing.”

Neither PrimeFlight nor Huntleigh returned calls requesting comment.

—Jacquie Henderson

Job safety key issue in contract
fight with oil companies

CARSON, Calif.—“Safety has everything to do with why we’re here,” said Robert Jacobus, 41, while picketing with more than 50 coworkers at the BP refinery here Jan. 26. His neck was bandaged from an acid burn on the job two days earlier.

“The next day BP provided the needed equipment, which proves it could have been made safe in the first place,” Jacobus, a member of United Steelworkers Local 675, told the Militant. “Instead, the company puts profits ahead of safety.”

Contracts covering some 30,000 Steelworker-organized refinery workers at BP and other oil giants are set to expire Feb. 1. Since the last contract took effect three years ago, 18 oil workers died on the job.

“We have advocated for the right of all employees to stop work if they feel like they are in danger in any way,” said Walter Neil, Public and Government Affairs director for BP’s Carson refinery in a phone interview. “It’s been that way for years.”

“Today it’s about paperwork and signing off things, which is not the same as safety,” said Mathew Moala, a pipe fitter at BP. “When I first started eight years ago, this was a safe workplace because the older workers with experience trained us to pay attention to safety. Now it’s a harsh environment.”

—Arlene Rubinstein

Seattle march backs union fight
on Washington dairy farm

SEATTLE—Chanting “What do we want? Union! When do we want it? Now!” about 70 supporters of the United Farm Workers union marched to the Darigold offices here Jan. 27 to demand union recognition at the Ruby Ridge dairy in eastern Washington. Ruby Ridge is one of 550 member farms of the Darigold milk products cooperative.

Marchers waved UFW flags and carried handmade picket signs saying “¡Queremos contracto!” (We want a contact) and “Sí se puede” (Yes we can). Some had made the four-hour trip from Pasco, where the Ruby Ridge farm employs about 40 dairy workers who attend to nearly 2,000 cows.

“Today we are delivering 20,000 signatures to tell Darigold that they need to listen to the farm workers,” Jorge Valenzuela, Pacific Northwest Director for the UFW, told the Militant. Darigold’s stance is that this is a dispute between Ruby Ridge and the UFW.

Speakers described low wages and poor working conditions faced by dairy workers. They said 14 workers had been fired for supporting the union. The National Labor Relations Act does not cover farm workers. Ruby Ridge has filed a lawsuit against the UFW and 18 workers.

In a phone interview, Ruby Ridge owner Dick Bengen denied that he had fired any workers for supporting the union. “That would be illegal,” he said. “I don’t want a union. I run a dairy that I think would not operate as good under a union.”

The rally included music, hot food and coffee, which helped lift spirits on a winter day.

Dean Peoples

Related articles:
‘Groundswell of support’ backs Caterpillar workers
Bosses demand 50 percent wage cut
EGT agrees to hire ILWU labor, but fight is not over
Wyo. miner fought for safety, wins job ruling
Sugar workers boost pickets, plan protest  
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