On the picket line

Workers Memorial Day, April 28

Workers Memorial Day, celebrated internationally on April 28 since 1984, has taken on heart-wrenching importance this year with two devastating work-related accidents making global headlines at the end of April. In a small town near Waco, Texas, 14 people were killed and 160 injured when a fertilizer plant exploded on April 17. The plant, which was last inspected in 1985, was widely known to be hazardous. Then on April 24, on the other side of the world in a suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh, 377 people (and counting) died and hundreds were injured when a high-rise containing many garment factories collapsed. Of the 3,100 who worked there, hundreds have still not been accounted for as of April 29. Also in the wee hours of April 24, a transit maintenance worker in Queens, N.Y., lost his footing, fell and was crushed by an oncoming subway train.

“Accidental” deaths and millions of debilitating, on-the-job injuries, which happen daily worldwide, expose a devastating price that workers are forced to pay for the bosses’ lust for profits. Even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was set up in the U.S. in 1970 to promote decent working conditions, its budget has been so severely cut that at present staffing levels it would take OSHA 129 years to inspect every workplace in the country. And OSHA’s power to enforce even minimal safety and health regulations is equally limited. That’s why all working and oppressed people the world over need to unite and fight to end the scourge of capitalism and reorganize society so that every aspect of life on the planet is valued and cherished.

Legal Services NYC staff strikes to protest contract

Some 200 union workers at Legal Services NYC, members of the Legal Services Staff Association, United Auto Workers Local 2320, held a half-day strike April 22 to protest draconian proposed contract changes. Among the stiff concessions in the LSNYC board’s three-year contract offer are no cost-of-living raises, givebacks of two years’ seniority, sizable increases in the cost of health care coverage, cuts in LSNYC contributions to the pension plan, and reduced sick and annual leave. In an open letter to the board posted on its Facebook page April 29, LSSA contends that “there is no financial necessity for the benefit reductions demanded by management’s team.” Meanwhile, the LSNYC board has refused to address a management-to-staff ratio where only half of LSNYC’s budget pays for front-line staff. LSSA members, who include all nonmanagement staff, from secretaries, process servers and social workers to attorneys, serve low-income NYC families and the elderly in all civil legal matters. An April 25 LSSA press release noted that the giveback demands are similar to those that led to the 2011 Verizon and the 2012 Con Edison strikes. LSSA will vote on the final contract offer on May 15. Stay tuned.

Locked-out sugar beet workers’ cautionary tale

After a 21-month lockout, 55 percent of the sugar beet workers, represented by the Bakery and Confectionery union Local 167G, voted on April 13 to accept a concession-riddled contract by the country’s largest beet sugar producer, American Crystal Sugar. The workers had voted the contract down five times since July 2011. American Crystal will now be able to dismantle seniority, redefine which workers are entitled to full benefits and make workers pay 20 percent of their health care costs (they previously paid nothing). The 13 percent pay increases workers will receive over the four-year contract will be more than wiped out by rising health care costs. An April 15 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribute noted that during the lockout, Crystal’s profits decreased significantly and there were two accidents where replacement workers were severely wounded. Even though the lockout imposed huge sacrifices on the 1,300 workers and their families at three plants in Minnesota and two mills in North Dakota, the union remains. While this is a cautionary tale of what the 1% want to do to all workers, WW salutes the sisters and brothers in Local 167G for their heroic stance against Crystal Sugar’s union-busting attack.