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Vol. 76/No. 30      August 13, 2012

On the Picket Line

Con Edison lockout ends
with tentative agreement

NEW YORK—Con Edison ended its nearly four-week lockout of 8,000 workers July 26 with the announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a tentative agreement. The new contract offer will be brought to a vote by the union membership.

Cuomo summoned Utility Workers officials and Con Ed President Kevin Burke to the governor’s offices earlier in the day to press for an agreement.

To maintain power, Con Edison was working 5,000 supervisors, many recently hired college graduates, and 700 contractors 12 hours a day, at least six days a week.

“There is a real possibility of a safety or reliability issue if this situation continues,” Cuomo wrote the day before, saying “the lockout has gone on long enough.”

According to a summary of the proposed four-year contract posted on the union website, Con Edison agreed there will be no changes to the pension plan for current employees before July 1, 2037, but new hires will be placed on the “cash balance” plan.

The proposal also includes an increase in the weekly payments for medical insurance and deductibles, but less than Con Edison had been demanding, and an 11 percent wage increase over four years.

In a statement, Con Edison thanked Cuomo for his role in brokering the tentative agreement, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York Police Department “and other city agencies for their extensive assistance in supporting our operations during the labor dispute.”

During the lockout, workers held boisterous picket lines and took part in labor rallies, winning support from workers across the city.

“We made some noise, that’s for sure,” Fred Scott told the Militant. “I’m glad that we did. I felt like the whole country was watching us.”

If the companies get their way, Scott said, “we’re going to end up with just two classes of people: the poor and the wealthy.”

—Seth Galinsky

Seattle: Teamsters strike
Waste Management over pay

SEATTLE—Some 150 recycle and yard waste workers, members of Teamsters Local 117, went on strike here July 25 for higher wages and better working conditions against Waste Management Inc. In solidarity, 350 garbage haulers, members of Teamsters Local 174 who work for the company under a separate contract, are honoring the picket lines.

“We do the same work, drive the same trucks and face the same hazards on the job” as the garbage haulers, recycler Brent Bliven, told the Militant at the picket line. “There is no reason for a $6 to $7 or even higher wage gap.”

At a July 26 press conference, Brenda Wiest, an organizer for Local 117, said the company has walked away from the bargaining table three times since the contract expired May 31.

Waste Management, whose registered trademark is “Think Green,” said in a July 29 news release that the company has brought in substitute drivers from other Waste Management locations, and more “are on the way and we are beginning to hire replacement drivers identified during our job fair last month.”

About 9,000 of Waste Management’s 45,000 employees nationwide are organized into the union, Wiest said.

Having inexperienced drivers who don’t know the routes could be dangerous, said recycling driver Brent Barrett. “There are narrow streets, alleys and overhead wires that you have to be aware of.”

All those who support the union are encouraged to join the picket lines, Wiest said in an interview.

Waste Management did not return calls requesting comment.

—Edwin Fruit

Peugeot workers win delay
on plant closing, layoffs

PARIS—Fifteen hundred workers demonstrated outside Peugeot headquarters here July 25 to protest the planned elimination of 8,000 jobs in France, including the closing of the Aulnay assembly plant. Workers came from all over France, including more than 200 from the Rennes assembly plant, 200 miles west of Paris.

A special meeting of the Central Works Council, a consultative body with elected workers representatives convened by management, was taking place at the headquarters. The council decided to impose an audit of Peugeot’s books before the “restructuring” plan can proceed. This blocks its implementation until the fall, giving the unions more time to mobilize.

Among the speakers at the protest rally were union officials from Renault, the pharmaceutical group Sanofi, and Air France. The airline recently announced plans to lay off more than 5,000 workers.

—Derek Jeffers

Quebec Hyatt Regency workers
turn lockout into a strike

MONTREAL—The Hyatt Regency hotel here locked out some 300 workers organized by the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) July 25, after the unionists came to work wearing orange sashes to protest the slow pace of contract negotiations. In response, 94 percent of the Hyatt workers voted to strike that afternoon.

The union federation is in negotiations with 35 hotels involving some 5,500 workers in Quebec.

Workers on the picket line July 28 told the Militant that Hyatt wants to make it easier to move full-time workers to part-time status to avoid paying benefits and to allow management to cancel some shifts with 24 hours notice.

The hotel is also demanding to reduce the guaranteed work shift from eight hours pay to four, said Rose Vaillant.

“I worked at McDonald’s where we didn’t have a union so I see the difference having a union makes,” said Anthony Gentile, 19.

On July 29, 50 people joined a solidarity barbeque on the picket line, including workers from other hotels.

“We are continuing to bring everyone together to fight for our rights,” said Jorge Cunha, a dishwasher.We are going to fight hard like we did in the 2008 strike that we won.”

The Hyatt Regency did not return calls asking for comment.

—Beverly Bernardo
and John Steele

Strikers at steel plant in Greece
return to work after cop attack

ATHENS, Greece—Workers at the Elliniki Halivourgia steel mill, on strike since October last year, voted July 28 to return to work. Some 400 members of the steelworkers union, which is affiliated to the PAME federation, were fighting cuts in their wages and hours and the firing of more than 100 coworkers.

Plainclothes cops arrested six workers on picket duty during the early morning of July 20, the day after an Athens public prosecutor ruled that the strikers were depriving other employees of their “right to work.” An Athens court ruled in June that the strike was illegal. The plant has been closed since the walkout began.

“After the six were arrested, six platoons of MAT [riot police] invaded the plant and there they remain,” Sofia Roditi, an activist in the union’s Women’s Support Committee, told the Militant. Thousands of strike supporters who had gathered at the plant that evening were attacked and tear-gassed by the riot cops.

“This decision was necessary given the situation,” Roditi said. “The union judged that we should not let our forces gradually dwindle and lose the ability to act in a united way.”

“The strike was rescinded on the condition that we go in Monday morning, without the MAT and are escorted by people who solidarize with us,” she said. “Then a new fight will begin.”

—Maria Plessa
and Natasha Terlexis

Related articles:
Solidarity event marks year in fight against American Crystal’s lockout
‘Through fight, we’ve learned what a union is for’
Cab drivers in Miami slam cop assault, arrest of coworker  
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