On the picket line

Nurses strike to demand Ebola preparedness

Nurses in at least 14 states and the District of Columbia plan a national day of action on Nov. 12 to demand better patient care and Ebola preparedness. “Every RN is one patient away from being exposed to Ebola. The message nurses are being given across the nation is that they are expendable,” said National Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro at a press conference on Oct. 30. “You don’t ask the nurses to put their lives on the line and then not protect them.” Among the NNU’s demands are prophylactic equipment, including full-body hazardous material suits and training in minimizing the risk of transmission. The union also calls on President Barack Obama to invoke executive authority to mandate a countrywide protocol for dealing with Ebola outbreaks.

Strike threat wins Philly transit workers a better contract

After almost a year of unsuccessful contract negotiations with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority management, members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 voted unanimously on Oct. 26 to authorize a strike. That was the workers’ response to a paltry SEPTA offer that would cap workers’ pension benefits at one-third of what management pensions are worth; increase workers’ wages at a rate of less than 1 percent per year (barely keeping pace with inflation, while management receives annual raises of 5 percent or more); and force workers to pay on average an additional $2,600 in health care premiums a year. Union members rightly accused SEPTA management of “classism” and treating workers as “second-class.”

With more than 5,000 unionized workers mobilized to strike, SEPTA management began taking workers’ demands seriously. Management’s next offer increased worker pension payouts and set workers’ wages to increase by 5 percent. Local 234 reports that members ratified the contract by “record margins.” Further negotiations over pension reform and health care premiums have been put off until this contract expires in two years. The union says that will be “the optimum time for a transit strike,” should it be necessary. (twulocal234.net, Nov. 7)

Washington Post workers oppose wage, benefit cuts

Workers and supporters of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, including a marching band, staged a symbolic picket line outside the Washington Post on Oct. 28. The protest was in response to new Post owner and billionaire Jeff Bezos’ attack on union jobs and fair wages. Bezos, who also owns Amazon.com, bought the paper in October 2013 when the company’s pension fund boasted a surplus of $50 million, allowing workers to retire with ample pensions and health care plans. New management proposals would result in a freeze on pension benefits, massive cuts to 401(k) contributions and wage cuts from 17 to 39 percent. Valerie Strauss, a longtime worker at the Post, said: “It is unfortunate that our new corporate employers, like other corporate employers around the country, think it is okay to rob workers of job security and retirement benefits. That’s not really a good business practice.” (Washington Post, Oct. 29)

Howard U. staff protest to protect union jobs

Maintenance workers, community members and students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., held a rally Oct. 27 to protest the administration’s plan to replace union workers, represented by Service Employees 32BJ, with third-party contractors. As many as 200 carpenters, electricians, plumbers, cleaners and other workers could lose their jobs and benefits if the privatization plan goes through. As one of the top historically Black universities in the U.S., Howard represents a shot at a better life for students and working people of color, providing full-time workers free health care and free tuition for family members. The administration’s plan would not only deny the workers their jobs and benefits, but would destroy that legacy. (dclabor.org, Oct. 27)

— Matty Starrdust and Sue Davis