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Vol. 76/No. 24      June 18, 2012

On the Picket Line

Canada rail workers end strike
in face of government decree

MONTREAL—Some 4,800 Teamster-organized workers at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd ended their strike June 1, following adoption by Canada’s parliament of a law ordering them back to work.

The law sends the disputed contract issues to a government-appointed arbitrator with a mandate to impose a settlement within 90 days. The union contract expired Dec. 31.

The company called back more than 2,000 other workers it had laid off during the strike.

CP, the country’s second largest rail company, is a major transporter of grain, minerals, coal, lumber and other commodities, as well as manufactured products like automobiles. The nine-day strike tied up hundreds of millions of dollars in cargo.

“We are opposed to the government’s law because it means employers are not going to bargain if they think the government is going to intervene every time there is a strike,” said Éric Paquette, Teamsters union division 268 chair in Montreal, in a phone interview.

The central issues are pension cuts and longer shifts.

“The train crews have a lot of responsibility,” said Paquette. “Both for passengers and long freight trains carrying dangerous materials. The issue of work fatigue due to long hours is a question of preventing catastrophes.”

CP did not answer the Militant’s request for comments.

—John Steele

Chicago teachers rally
ahead of contract expiration

CHICAGO—More than 5,000 teachers and their supporters rallied at Auditorium Theatre and marched to the Chicago Board of Education here May 23 in a demonstration of resolve leading up to the June 30 expiration of their union contract.

Under negotiation between teachers and Chicago Public Schools are salaries, a longer school day, school resources, as well as the city’s expansion of privately run charter schools.

A new law signed by Democratic Gov. Patrick Quinn last June says 75 percent of all union members must vote to strike before they can legally walk off the job.

The May 23 action was the first citywide teachers rally in decades.

—John Hawkins

Atlanta school workers protest
denial of unemployment payments

ATLANTA—School bus drivers and cafeteria workers were among those protesting outside the Georgia Department of Labor June 1 to oppose a new ruling denying unemployment payments to workers at private schools during the summer break.

“I was in a bubble before this,” Kelley Thomas, a grill cook at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, told the Militant. “But my bubble was pierced when they took this away and I saw how it directly affects me.” The policy change came too late to find summer work, Thomas said. Now she is scrambling to make ends meet.

“I will make the trip here time and time again if that’s what it takes,” said bus driver Alvin Edwards. He came up from Savannah where some 800 school bus drivers and other workers for private bus company First Student are affected.

The 50 workers and union supporters marched into the Department of Labor office, but were told no one was available to meet with them.

“Our limited resources for unemployment benefits are reserved for people who have lost their job through no fault of their own and are seeking another job,” said a statement from the office of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

In another development, the Georgia Department of Labor has instituted a policy of denying unemployment benefits to any worker who fails a drug test while trying to get a job. In March the department began requesting companies notify the agency if a job applicant fails a drug test.

—Janice Lynn

Florida nurses picket
in fight for first contract

HIALEAH, Fla.—Nurses fighting for a first contract held an informational picket line in front of the Palmetto General Hospital here May 11.

“We voted in the union last year,” Rema Ajithkumar, a pediatrics nurse and member of National Nurses United, told the Militant. “We’re now negotiating to address basic issues of patient care.”

She and other pickets said some nurses are expected to care for as many as twice the recommended number of patients based on national standards.

“Why can’t they treat the nurses fairly, like they would want to be treated, and provide good care to everyone, not just VIPs?” asserted Zoe Hare, an intensive care nurse with 20 years at Palmetto.

“We remain in negotiations and are at loggerheads on staffing protections,” union spokesperson John Stead-Mendez explained in a May 31 phone interview.

Some 500 nurses work at the hospital.

The public relations department of Palmetto General Hospital has not returned calls requesting comment.

—Naomi Craine

Teamsters strike Davis Wire:
‘We couldn’t take it anymore’

KENT, Wash.—“This last year brought things to a boiling point. We couldn’t take it anymore,” said Robert Bruner, a member of Teamsters Local 117 and shop steward who was among pickets outside Davis Wire here where 85 workers went on strike May 21.

Frequent honks from passing trucks and cars greet strikers in this industrial town just south of Seattle.

The pickets describe working conditions that include long hours, weeks without a day off, no breaks and injuries.

“The environment is just crazy. We are working harder and faster. The rate of accidents is more since they have been pushing employees,” said galvanizing worker Thien Cao.

“We have to speed the machines up and people lose fingers, people get hurt, people fall off trucks,” said Bruner.

The union members rejected a proposed contract 54-1 on Feb. 29. On May 12 they voted 51-4 to strike. The company responded by laying off 28 workers a couple days later, strikers said.

Workers said they had worked nine weeks straight prior to the second vote. They pointed to large increases in health insurance costs as a demand they could not accept.

“The purpose of the layoff is they want to separate us out. So nobody would have enough spirit,” said John Dao, a veteran of 32 years at the plant. “Everyone is down on the picket line, including the ones that got laid off. They separated us but we’re back together.”

Davis Wire has not responded to requests from the Militant for comments.

—Clay Dennison

Related articles:
Cat strikers vote down 2nd giveback proposal
‘We’re sticking together, prepared for fight’
Workers locked out by sugar bosses launch Midwest solidarity caravan  
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