On the picket line

Struggle to save retiree benefits for W.Va. mine workers

On June 11, Patriot Coal called off talks with the Mine Workers union over funding of retiree health care and pension benefits for 23,000 retirees, their dependents and surviving spouses. The UMWA predicted five years ago, when Peabody Energy and Arch Coal created Patriot Coal, that it was set up to fail so the company could claim bankruptcy. It did so in 2012 to shed the cost of these benefits. Now the UWMA, joined by AFL-CIO and other union supporters, nationally and internationally, is fighting back. At a rally of more than 5,000 in Fairmont, W.Va., on July 9 — the 14th protest in this ongoing struggle — United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard pointed out that “every union is threatened if Patriot gets away with shedding legacy costs and breaking promises.” (Associated Press, July 10) AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker announced that the AFL-CIO is “standing for those afflicted with black lung … who are in hospice care taking their last breath … who have cancer.” She and UMWA President Cecil Roberts were among 30 people arrested for “illegal assembly.” W.Va. politicians also sent solidarity statements. The week before, Australian mine workers rallied to support the UMWA, and the W. Va. House of Delegates passed a resolution calling on Patriot to honor its commitments. Because this fightback has national repercussions, it’s vital that the UMWA gather widespread support for this economic justice struggle. Stay tuned. (blog.aflcio.org, July 9)

Low-wage federal workers stage one-day strikes

“The federal government is by far the largest employer of poverty-wage jobs in the country, with many of its contracted workers struggling to survive on minimum wage, or even less,” read a July 2 statement by Good Jobs Nation, which is organizing these 2 million mostly immigrant workers. “Now, to make matters worse, some of these contractors are stealing our wages.” According to GJN, federally contracted food court workers at the Ronald Reagan Building alone are now owed more than $1 million. No wonder those workers and others at the Air and Space Museum and the American History Museum in Washington, D.C., staged one-day strikes on July 2 and 11, respectively. One of the museum workers owed stolen wages is Ana Hernandez, a single mother of five. Hernandez testified that after nine years she only makes $8 an hour, which is less than the D.C. $8.25 minimum wage. One of GJN’s many tactics, besides filing a complaint with the Labor Department on behalf of the food court workers, is to pressure President Obama to use his executive powers to require all federal contractors to pay a living wage and respect workers’ rights. La lucha continúa. (Union City, online newsletter of the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, July 3 and 12)

Legal Services wins 40-day strike

Legal Services NYC blinked after the Legal Services Staff Association, United Auto Workers Local 2320, conducted a strong, well-organized 40-day strike in New York. Though management originally demanded severe cuts in health care coverage and retirement benefits, they totally capitulated. The 270 workers ratified a contract on June 24 that maintains health care and retirement benefits and wins expanded parental leave and a nondiscrimination policy covering gender identity and expression, no layoffs until June 2014 and layoff equality protection. The last point was critical, since management had threatened to cut legal staff while beefing up management. This proves strike power is alive and kicking! (lssa2320.org, June 24)

UNITE HERE & Hyatt Hotels reach nat’l agreement

After a four-year dispute over union representation, wages, health care and pension benefits, and working conditions for mostly immigrant women workers, UNITE HERE and Hyatt Hotels announced a national agreement on July 1. Once the 5,000 Hyatt workers in San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles and Chicago ratify contracts, which will run until 2018, they will receive retroactive wage increases going back to 2009, which will raise their take-home pay by about 4 percent a year. They will also collect quality health care and pension benefits. In exchange, after the contracts are ratified, UH agreed to drop its global boycott of Hyatt. That was just one of many creative tactics the union used to press — and win — its just demands. (unitehere.org, July 1)

Univ. of Calif. techs holds one-day strike

On July 1, the day after their contract expired with the University of California system, the University Professional and Technical Employees, Communication Workers Local 9119, joined with other unions in the 44,000-member strong Union Coalition in a one-day protest for fair pay and retirement security. The university intends to impose a two-tier retirement system, covering both pensions and health care, on workers who don’t have union representation and is offering zero wage increases for all UC tech workers. (cwa-union.org, July 11)

Nat’l protests target ‘chained’ CPI cut to Social Security

On July 2, in dozens of cities spanning the country, members of the Alliance for Retired Americans, other senior advocates, community and faith allies formed human chains outside lawmakers’ offices and federal buildings to protest cuts in Social Security and other federal benefits that a proposed “chained” CPI would bring. The proposal would reduce cost-of-living adjustments that prevent benefits from keeping up with inflation. If instituted, someone retiring at age 65 would lose nearly $5,000 in benefits by age 75. If he or she lived until 95, the loss would exceed $28,000. “We’re smart enough to see the lie/So don’t you chain our CPI!” chanted advocates from Albuquerque, N.M., to Richmond, Va. (blog.aflcio.org, July 2)