On the picket line

Memphis sanitation workers finally get their due

Fourteen still-living Black workers who made history with the “I am a man” Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968 — in which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played a decisive role before he was murdered — are finally getting their just rewards. After nearly 50 years, the city of Memphis is forking over a much-deserved $50,000 grant to each worker.

Represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the workers went on strike over low pay and bad working conditions after a malfunctioning garbage truck fatally crushed workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker on Feb. 1, 1968. Though the sanitation workers settled the strike by accepting Social Security benefits instead of a pension, the pension has since proved to be the better option. One of four strikers still working, 85-year-old Elmore Nickelberry, summed it up: “We should have had this a long time ago.” African-American pastor LaSimba Gray Jr. raised the demand for a grant to the mayor over a year ago. (USA Today, July 6)

NY Times workers walk out to save jobs

The classic divide-and-conquer labor strategy of the the Sulzberger family-owned New York Times was exposed June 28 when hundreds of workers walked out during a 30-minute “coffee break” to protest management’s austerity plan to restructure the paper’s editing process and eliminate half of the 100 jobs in the editing department. The Times claims it wants to cut the editing staff to free up money to hire more reporters.

While the walkout was called by the editing staff, it was joined by workers from other floors — represented by the News Guild of New York, Communications Workers Local 31003 — who walked out of the building together. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” tweeted a Times employee. “Each floor of the NYT newsroom is full of folks walking out in solidarity [against] the coming layoffs.”

During the past 18 months, management has called the editing staff’s work “low-value” and compared it to “dogs urinating on fire hydrants.” Meanwhile these editors — who ensure the quality and accuracy of articles by checking facts and sources; correcting confusing, misleading and inaccurate information; and catching grammatical and spelling errors — have been tested, inspected and forced to endure futile experiments as management tried to make the editing staff do more with less. The final insult was being told they would have to reapply and interview for jobs.

In a letter to management, the copy editors made a simple request: “We only ask that you not treat us like a diseased population that must be rounded up, inspected and expelled.” The letter noted: ”Cutting us down to 50-55 editors from more than 100, and expecting the same level of quality, is dumbfoundingly unrealistic.”

Times reporters sent their own letter critical of the editors’ treatment to management. Calling the copy editors “their ‘safety net’ who save them and the Times from countless errors large and small,” they added: “Your plan adds insult to injury by requiring many longtime, highly skilled employees to apply and interview for a greatly diminished number of jobs in sessions that were instantly dubbed ‘death panels’ in the newsroom. Requiring them to dance for their supper sends a clear message to them, and to us, that the respect we have shown The Times will not be reciprocated.”

The News Guild has the backing of the NYC Labor Council. (Left Labor Reporter, July 3) The Council represents 1.3 million workers in 300 local unions from every trade and occupation, both public and private sector, in the NYC economy.

Beer drivers strike on Long Island, N.Y.

Some 130 drivers and warehouse workers for beer distributor Clare Rose on Long Island, N.Y., have been on strike for almost three months. The workers, represented by Teamsters Local 812, went out April 23 to protest management’s “draconian” offer: a 30 percent pay cut and an end to pensions. The family-owned distributor of Budweiser, Heineken and craft beers to bars, delis and grocery stores on Long Island immediately brought in “permanent replacement workers” on April 25. The local responded by filing an unfair labor practices suit with the National Labor Relations Board.

Meanwhile, local businesses are boycotting scab deliveries, and the union’s strategy to push Anheuser-Busch to motivate the greedy company to the negotiating table has worked. Local 812 postponed a June 23 rally outside Busch’s Newark, N.J., brewery after Clare Rose agreed to reopen negotiations with a professional mediator. (In These Times, June 28)