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Vol. 76/No. 33      September 10, 2012

On the Picket Line

Washington Teamsters
end 3-month strike

KENT, Wash.—Teamsters Local 117 members voted 33-22 Aug. 16 to accept a contract with the Davis Wire Company here. The workers had been on strike since May 21 over pay, benefits, safety and working conditions.

Prior to the strike, a typical work schedule was 12 days on and two off. Some worked 12-hour shifts and some worked more than 60 days straight without a day off. Amputated fingers and other injuries were not uncommon.

“When you step back and look at what happened I think this strike was a success,” Robert Bruner, a shop steward, told the Militant. “We got a wage increase, a break room, which we never had before, and now we get to take breaks and lunches. The only drawback was that we had to accept the retention of eight scabs working in the plant for six months.”

Bruner said the original company offer included no wage increases over a five-year period plus increases in payments for medical benefits.

Workers are still prosecuting a lawsuit against the company for unpaid breaks. “If we win that suit workers can get back pay for up to three years,” Bruner added.

“We got a 2 percent pay increase but it is offset by the increase in what we pay for medical benefits,” Teddy Thomas, who has worked at the plant nine years, said in an interview.

“We won some things and we lost some,” Syd Coe told the Militant, explaining one of the biggest gains was the increased solidarity workers would take back to the shop floor. “We built a solidarity city with each other and we were unified against the company.”

“I’m not happy that the scabs are left in the plant and that some workers may not be called back,” said Tarik Ahmed, who has worked in the plant for 10 years and is originally from Iraqi Kurdistan. “The union contract at the company’s other plant in Irwindale, Calif., expires in October. If we had held out a few more weeks, I think we could have gotten more.”

“I couldn’t have been prouder to be with my fellow Teamsters on the picket lines,” said Derald Owen in a phone interview. He said he decided not to return to work after the strike because of unsafe working conditions.

—Edwin Fruit

NY Con Ed workers approve
contract after 4-week lockout

NEW YORK—Utility Workers Union Local 1-2 announced Aug. 15 that Con Edison workers had voted 93 percent in favor of accepting a new contract with the electric utility.

Some 8,000 union members locked out by Con Ed for nearly a month went back to work July 26 in a deal brokered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The company kept electricity flowing with about 5,000 supervisory personnel.

The contract includes two-tier pensions. Current employees are guaranteed no changes in their defined benefits pension plan before July 2037. New hires will be offered a “cash balance” plan, which does not guarantee pension amounts.

The contract also includes an increase in medical insurance and a roughly 11 percent wage increase over the life of the four-year pact. Workers say the wage raise will not cover the higher health insurance costs.

“I think the lower pension for the new hires was inevitable,” Mike Lombardo, 41, told the Militant, on his way into work prior to the vote. “That’s the way all these companies are going.”

During the lockout Con Ed workers organized boisterous picket lines and took part in labor rallies, wining support from working people across the city.

“I think we could’ve held up a little, maybe gotten a little better deal,” said Fred Scott.

“I wished we had an agreement that didn’t include a different pension for the new hires,” Frank Rodriguez told the Militant after the contract was approved. “Going through what we were going through and getting support opened my eyes. It showed us we weren’t alone in the fight. It made me more of a unionist.”

—Deborah Liatos and Seth Galinsky

S. Carolina dockworkers
fight union-busting probe

CHARLESTON, S.C.—Some 150 members of the International Longshoremen’s Association picketed here Aug. 20 to protest the loading of munitions without ILA workers. Portus Stevedoring, which handles military cargo for the U.S. Marines in Jacksonville, Fla., is transporting workers to load at the Port of Charleston.

ILA members from ports in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina took part in the action, along with members of the Masters, Mates, and Pilots union, who operate tugboats.

“This work has always been done by the ILA,” Ken Riley, president of both ILA Local 1422 here and of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, told the Militant. He said that issues at stake include safety, working conditions, benefits and wages.

Chris May, vice president of Portus Stevedoring, told the Journal of Commerce, a transport industry publication, that the company has contracted with the Marines to handle its cargo at Jacksonville and that the contract allows them to follow the work.

Riley said the ILA learned workers contracted by Portus, members of the International Union of Operating Engineers, were to travel with the ship from Jacksonville where it had taken on commercial cargo and would stay aboard while they load it in Charleston.

“The idea that these workers are being housed on the ship says a lot about the conditions they are working under,” said Ron Just, a dockworker in Charleston for 12 years.

George Eberhardt, a retired member of United Auto Workers Local 5841, who worked at Mack Truck, joined the picket line. Asked why a retired autoworker had come to the protest, he responded, “It’s on my sign!” The sign read, “Unions won’t go away!”

—Sam Manuel

California farmworkers demand
company implement wage raises

MANTECA, Calif.—With their red eagle United Farm Workers flags waving, dozens of farmworkers lined the road outside the headquarters of Ace Tomato here Aug. 21 demanding the company implement a contract.

“We’re out here because we need a raise!” said Joel Pérez, who has worked for Ace Tomato for two years. After working for two hours in the morning, Pérez and a dozen other workers walked out of the fields to join the protest.

“I’m here to support the Ace workers because I know the abuses and injustices we confront from the contractors, supervisors and bosses,” said another protester, Leopoldo Gonzalez, who has worked for various growers in the Manteca area.

The effort to win a union contract at Ace Tomato began in 1989 when the majority of workers voted to join the United Farm Workers. For all these years, the company has refused to bargain. In March, the UFW petitioned the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board, seeking mandatory mediation. On June 28, under union pressure, the mediator drew up a contract proposal that included wage increases. In July, the ALRB ordered the company to implement it. This order is now tied up in court.

“All these tomato companies are the same until we, the workers, start fighting for better conditions on the job, better pay and benefits,” said José Sánchez Orrea who has worked at Ace Tomato for six years, and before that for eight years with Pacific Triple E where 800 workers recently won a contract with increased wages and benefits.

—Gerardo Sánchez and Betsey Stone

Quebec workers strike
adhesive maker Mapei

LAVAL, Quebec—“They don’t respect the union,” said Armand, one of 115 workers on strike here against adhesive manufacturer Mapei, as he was walking the picket line Aug. 6. The strikers, members of the Union of Workers in Ceramic and other Products (SSPCA), have been on strike since May 4.

Mapei has 59 plants spread over five continents. Workers here say they feel the company is out to break the union.

Local President Eric Caron described the last two years in the plant. “The company harassed us constantly. They ridiculed the collective agreement.” Mapei started ignoring seniority. They cut two minutes off each break and three minutes off the lunch break.

The company has used the courts to secure a number of injunctions limiting location and duration of pickets. Some production is being carried out through scab labor, according to strikers.

Daytime picketing continues Monday to Friday at 2900 Francis-Hughes, Laval.

—Annette Kouri

Related articles:
Miners’ strike in South Africa continues after police massacre
Milwaukee strikers fight for union: ‘No justice, no pizza’
Protest firing of pro-union workers on immigration pretext
Ravenswood, W.Va., strikers: ‘One day longer’  
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