On the picket line

Baltimore longshore workers strike

Hundreds of members of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333 voted to strike Oct. 16 over such local contract issues as workplace safety. Earlier this year, the ILA signed a six-year contract with the United States Maritime Alliance that generally covers East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, but local work rules, pensions and ­port-specific issues require a separate contract with local industry groups like the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore. Three other ILA locals had already signed local contracts, but honored Local 333’s picket lines.

The Oct. 18 Baltimore Sun reported that the port is one of the “region’s big economic engines,” employing about 15,000 people directly and affecting tens of thousands of jobs statewide. It called the port “the nation’s No. 1 vehicle handler,” with rules for autos covered by the local contract. No wonder the strike got the bosses’ attention. An arbitrator arrived on Oct. 18, when a 90-day cooling-off period was instituted, which Local 333 agreed to. The Sun noted the two sides were “making progress” with the arbitrator.

Puget Sound , Wash., area ­grocery workers vote to strike

More than 30,000 workers at four major grocery chains — Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer and Albertsons — in the Puget Sound area voted to go on strike Oct. 21. The three unions representing them — Food and Commercial Workers union Local 21, UFCW Local 367 and Teamsters Local 38 — have been negotiating for six months, but the chains haven’t budged from their “austerity” offer. They are demanding no wage increase and massive cutbacks in the contract, including no time and a half on holidays, no 10 cents above minimum wage guarantee, and no health care coverage for anyone working less than 30 hours a week. (The Stand, Oct. 18)

Mine Workers win battle for retiree health care

It took nearly a year of protests, arrests, rallies, marches and court battles for the Mine Workers union to win benefits their members had already earned: retiree health care. The settlement announced Oct. 9 establishes a $400 million fund that will provide health care benefits to 23,000 UMWA retirees, dependents and surviving spouses, which Peabody Energy and Arch Coal agreed to when they set up Patriot Coal five years ago. However, the UMWA has maintained that Patriot was set up to fail, so it could claim bankruptcy, which it did in 2012, in order to shed these benefits. While UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts called the settlement “significant,” he noted that “it does not provide the level of funding needed to maintain health care for these retirees forever.” That is why the union is lobbying for federal legislation that will guarantee lifetime benefits. (blog.aflcio.org, Oct. 10)

Walmart workers strike in Hialeah, Fla.

About 80 workers at the Walmart in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., walked off the job as the store opened on Oct. 18, reported Salon that day. This is the first work stoppage since 20 workers were fired and 70 workers disciplined after an extended strike in June at Walmart headquarters in Arkansas. The workers are protesting “abuse and discrimination” by managers, as well as insufficient hours. For instance, Jose Bello, who has worked there for four years, is only assigned 29 hours a week, which is not enough to support a family. OUR Walmart, a labor group closely tied to the UFCW, has organized civil disobedience protests since last year. This year, it’s again calling a national strike on “Black Friday,” the major shopping day after the so-called “Thanksgiving” holiday.

Protests at NYC fast food restaurants

On Oct. 15, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which represents tomato pickers in Florida, protested “old fashioned exploitation” at Wendy’s. The CIW is demanding that the chain adopt its Fair Food Program, giving pickers a penny more a bushel, which has been shown to improve wages. Already McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway, among other chains, have signed on, as well as grocery chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Chanting “One penny more!” about 200 protesters marched from Union Square to the Wendy’s on 14th Street.

On Oct. 16, a group of mostly youth of color, joined by some fast-food workers, led a brief occupation of a Burger King in lower Manhattan. Then they held a rally outside where they explained why the workers are demanding “$15 an hour and a union.”