On the picket line

Twin Cities janitors win gains

After rallying tremendous community, faith-based, labor and political support, more than 4,000 janitors in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., will vote on major gains in a new three-year contract negotiated on Feb. 23. Service Employees Local 26 representatives were able to save thousands of full-time jobs. The contract includes wage increases of $1.20 over the contract; employer-based, affordable health-care coverage; one additional sick day; and a grievance process to address issues like workload.

As part of the union campaign for a livable contract, a long list of prominent supporters sent a joint letter Feb. 19 to U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and Target, where the janitors work, urging them to support workers’ demands. This victory begins Minnesota AFL-CIO’s “Unlock Our Future” week, which will push for better working conditions throughout the state. (seiumn.org, Feb. 24)

Will Boeing engineers, tech workers strike?

The Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace began on Feb. 22 surveying its 23,000 members at Boeing, who include 7,400 technical workers, about what terms “they must have to approve a contract.” The survey followed a rare split vote on Boeing’s “best and final” contract on Feb. 19. Just over half the engineers voted to accept it, while nearly two-thirds of the tech workers voted to strike.

The central issue is pensions, with Boeing trying to switch from a traditional pension to a 401(k) plan for new hires.This new plan, stresses SPEEA, would drastically reduce pension benefits for future workers. “Our members are very talented people who work in an industry that generates a tremendous amount of wealth,” Ray Goforth, SPEEA’s executive director, told the Seattle Times. “The Boeing Co. is making record profits. These are the people who generate those record profits and they should be compensated accordingly.” (Feb. 21)

The week of Feb. 11 SPEEA filed an unfair labor practice suit with the National Labor Relations Board. It charged Boeing with banning employees from passing out union leaflets at the Everett, Wash., plant and requiring workers to attend mandatory meetings about the proposed contract. (Tacoma News Tribune, Feb. 15)

Pressing for minimum wage hikes

Members of Raise Maryland, a labor-community coalition seeking to raise the state minimum wage, invited Maryland Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen T. Snyder to “spend a day as a minimum-wage worker” on Feb. 7. Service Employees 1199 member and Baltimore cook Ditanya Rosebud stressed at the rally outside the COC office, “Working people shouldn’t have to choose between bus fare and paying a bill. These people should walk a day in our shoes.” Predictably, Snyder, who earns at least $170,000 a year and opposes the raise, ignored Rosebud’s invitation.

The bill currently under discussion would raise the state minimum from $7.25 to $10 an hour by 2015 and thereafter be raised in line with the cost of living. (Union City, online newsletter of Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, Feb. 21) Meanwhile, the “Minnesota deserves a raise” campaign kicked off Feb. 25. It aims to raise that state’s minimum wage to $10.55 over the next two years, with subsequent raises tied to the rate of inflation. Though the current state minimum is $6.15, most low-wage workers qualify for the federal minimum of $7.25. (mnaflcio.org)

Support Calif. Walmart warehouse workers

For two weeks last September and early October, warehouse workers who move Walmart merchandise at a major shipping center in Southern California went on strike. They then held more protests around so-called Black Friday in late November.

In early January, the state of California ordered Quetico, a temp agency that employs more than 800 workers, mostly Latinos/as, to pay $1.3 million in back wages. But the company, which has a contract with Walmart to run the warehouse, is appealing the decision and demanding the workers withdraw their complaints.

In an unprecedented move, a judge added Walmart itself as a defendant in the federal class action lawsuit. Walmart does not employ warehouse workers — instead it hires temp agencies to hire the workers in an ostensible attempt to avoid responsibility for low wages and poor working conditions.

The workers, organized through Warehouse Workers United, are calling for support; sign their petition at warehouseworkersunited.org.