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On the picket line

Published Jan 19, 2008 10:52 AM

WGA strike developments

In early January two movie companies and one television company—United Artists, Weinstein Co. and David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants—signed agreements with the Writers Guild of America. That created the first crack in the wall erected by the Hollywood producers (AMPTP), who have refused to negotiate with the WGA since early December. The WGA has filed a complaint against the AMPTP for failure to bargain in good faith. (blog.aflcio.org)

Ever since Nov. 5, more than 12,500 WGA members in Hollywood and New York City have picketed to publicize their demands for a fair share of revenue from Internet and electronic media sales of their work. The biggest club they hold is that the award season has begun, and award shows need writers. Case in point: the Golden Globe awards were totally sidelined on Jan. 13. A ho-hum press conference was held, instead of the usual glitzy celebration, after the Screen Actors Guild announced its members would not cross a picket line.

The big question: Will the producers come to the table in time for the Oscars to proceed on Feb. 24? The WGA is asking supporters to sign a petition, which already has 65,000 signatures, addressed to the AMPTP. Go to www.petitiononline.com/WGA to show solidarity with the striking writers.

Ever since Jay Leno, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert returned to their late-night posts without agreements in early January, their shows have been picketed. The entire faculty of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations sent a letter of solidarity to WGA when one of its professors appeared on Stewart’s “Daily Show.”

In a related development, 500 CBS News employees represented by WGA finally negotiated a decent contract Jan. 9 after voting to strike. All workers will receive a 3.5 percent raise both this year and next. CBS had tried to impose a two-tier system with workers at the national network receiving a 3 percent raise in contrast to a 2 percent raise for writers at several local stations.

In another development, the Directors Guild began negotiations with the AMPTP on Jan. 12, involving some of the same issues as those of the WGA. The directors’ contract expires on June 30, as does that of the Screen Actors Guild.

Starbucks’ anti-union efforts exposed

On Jan. 8 the Wall Street Journal received a series of e-mails written by Starbucks managers detailing the company’s anti-union campaign. Since 2004 managers had covertly monitored Internet chat rooms and eavesdropped on party conversations to identify employees spearheading an organizing drive.

Starbucks’ workers (called baristas), who number 150,000, have been trying to win union representation by the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World. A lawsuit is currently pending in a New York City court. The WSJ notes that “the e-mails could prove embarrassing because they show managers using various methods to identify pro-union employees.” Organize the unorganized!

S.F. letter carriers: Rebuild New Orleans

By unanimous vote on Jan. 9, Branch 214 of the Letter Carriers union, which represents 2,500 workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, adopted a resolution calling for a federally funded public works program like the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The resolution, which stipulates that workers should be paid prevailing wages and have the right to organize, also calls for the right of return for evacuees and an end to state repression, racial profiling and police brutality. The resolution was modeled after one adopted by the Central Labor Council of Alameda County in November.

IRS rules against FedEx

On Dec. 21, FedEx was ordered to pay the government $319 million for falsely classifying 15,000 FedEx Ground workers in 2002 as independent contractors instead of as employees. This is good news for the Teamsters, which has been carrying on an organizing drive among these workers. The union estimates that FedEx might eventually have to cough up more than $1 billion once penalties for subsequent years are assessed. (New York Times, Dec. 23)

Worker’s art at NYC Transit Museum

A show of inspiring watercolors painted by track worker Marvin Franklin, who was killed on the job in April 2007, was unveiled Dec. 18 at the New York City Transit Museum. In a fitting tribute to Franklin, Roger Toussaint, president of Transit Workers Local 100, said, “Marvin’s work shows the other side of transit workers. Not only do we lead full and productive lives on the job, but we do so off the job as well.” (The Chief-Leader, Dec. 28)

Since Franklin’s death and that of Daniel Boggs, who was killed on the job five days before Franklin, Local 100 has worked with NYC Transit to improve track safety. In December a joint task force issued more than 60 recommendations for new work protocols.