On the picket line

Sign NYC transit workers’ petition

A massive turnout of New York City transit workers and their supporters on Oct. 29, the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, put the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on notice that the workers plan to fight for a raise in their new contract, even if the MTA isn’t offering one. “We’re not gonna settle for a contract that puts us behind the 8 ball. We’re willing to stand up for and defend our jobs and our families,” said Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelson at the rally. (twulocal100.org)

What makes the MTA’s no-raise position really galling is that it announced in September that it had “found” savings of $2 billion over the next four years — but nary a penny for the workers, whose contract expired on Jan. 15, 2012.

Local 100 points out proudly that its members were the ones who got New York City running again after Hurricane Sandy. Now the union is appealing for help during contract talks: “We lifted New York after the storm. Now Transit Workers need a lift from New Yorkers.” Show the MTA you support the workers by signing the petition on twulocal100.org.

Metro D.C. area leads the way
in raising minimum wage

Three recent votes put the Metro Washington, D.C., area on the leading edge of efforts to raise the minimum wage from the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. The Montgomery County Council in Maryland voted Nov. 26 to establish a county minimum that would raise the rate to $11.50 by 2017, while the nearby Prince George County Council OK’d the same increase the next day.

On Dec. 3, the D.C. City Council unanimously approved a bill that would raise the minimum wage there to $11.50 by 2016. That bill also included indexing future increases to the Consumer Price Index, a provision that was stripped from the other bills.

Metro Washington AFL-CIO Council President Joslyn Williams called this a “victory” but noted: “We have to keep fighting not just for a raise in the minimum wage, but a living wage for all those [who work] in this city.” The D.C. Council also approved a bill extending paid sick days to restaurant workers. (dclabor.org, Dec. 2 and 4)

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that an hourly minimum wage of $10.10 would lift a family of three out of poverty. (Dec. 4)

NYU grad students regain right
to union representation

About 1,250 graduate students at New York University will vote Dec. 10-11 to be represented by United Auto Workers Local 2110. Holding the vote, which was announced in a joint agreement by Local 2110 and NYU on Nov. 26, has been a hard-fought struggle since 2005.

Local 2110 won wage increases of nearly 40 percent when it first represented NYU grad students in 2000. But in 2004, President Bush appointees to the National Labor Relations Board ruled that grad students at private universities were not eligible for union representation, so NYU refused to renew the contract in 2005. Though Local 2110 conducted a valiant strike then, with support from students, faculty and staff workers, NYU wouldn’t budge.

Now grad student teaching assistants and some but not all research assistants will be eligible to vote. (The status of 275 RAs in the hard sciences is currently “unresolved.”) NYU agreed not to influence the election, so a contract is likely by the end of the year.

In a joint statement, the UAW and NYU expressed confidence that the agreement would “improve the graduate-student experience” and “prove once again that bargaining for graduate employees can be effective in a private university.” (chronicle.com, Nov. 27) May this agreement spark organizing on other private campuses!

Immigrant janitors march for raises,
rights in Minneapolis

Members of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, who clean the offices of major corporations like Target in downtown Minneapolis, staged their third walkout in 2013 on Nov. 29, so-called “Black Friday.” While picketing Target’s flagship store beginning at 5:30 a.m., the immigrant workers, who are hired by contractors, demanded that Target support their right to be paid a living wage for a fair day’s work and to organize a union without fear of retaliation.

The workers complain that over the past three years hourly wages have gone down from $10 or $12 to $8, while workloads have increased. During its 24-hour unfair labor practices strike, the retail janitors later joined other low-wage workers for a “March for an End to Poverty Wages in Minnesota” at the state Capitol in St. Paul. (ctul.net)

AFGE Local 17 organizing recognized

Rarely is union organizing praised, but that’s what happened when the National Veterans Affairs Council of the American Federation of Government Employees recognized Local 17, which represents workers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. NVAC said Local 17 “helped make a very positive difference” in the NVAC, which represents more than 200,000 VA employees.

Local 17 President Bill Preston accepted the award “in recognition of our local’s organizing and union building, which has resulted in an unprecedented 102.67 percent increase in membership over the past three years, a sign of strength that has not gone unnoticed by management.” Way to go, Local 17! (dclabor.org, Nov. 27)