OAKLAND, Calif. — After 90 days on the picket line, with Kaiser management still refusing to budge on its insulting concession demands, the 700 stationary engineers on strike at 24 Northern California hospitals ended their strike Dec. 18. Officials of the IUOE Stationary Engineers Local 39 told Kaiser the engineers would return to work unconditionally while negotiations continue.
“It’s bittersweet,” stationary engineer Richard Souza told Militant worker-correspondent Eric Simpson. “We didn’t win, but we stayed together and kept the union to fight another day. Even if you are close to retiring, you have to fight for the next generation.”
When Simpson joined pickets barbecuing outside Kaiser’s corporate headquarters on the last day of the strike, the bond forged among strikers on the picket line was evident. “No one crossed the picket line,” striker David Goldsberry said. “That’s a win for the union.”
There was no vote by the membership on the decision to return to work. At the Oakland Kaiser hospital picket tent, the reaction was mixed, with many expressing relief that the strike was over. While negotiations continue, engineers receive the same pay as under the old contract.
“At first I thought maybe we’d be out a week,” engineer Mohammad Yousafzai told the Militant. “Now I realize Kaiser doesn’t care about us or the patients.”
When the strikers returned to work they received a warm welcome from their fellow hospital workers, along with a huge backlog of broken equipment.
The strikers faced an almost total news blackout by the bosses’ press. “Working-class media, that’s what we need,” San Leandro striker Nelson Ocampo told members of the Socialist Workers Party when they brought copies of the Militant to the pickets.
In November, thousands of nurses and other hospital employees took part in sympathy strikes in support of Local 39. “It’s not about one group or union but the entire workforce being together,” said Mark Sutherland, a stalwart on the picket line in Oakland.