On the picket line

New England janitors make gains

After voting to strike on Sept. 22 due to unfair labor practices, the 14,000 janitors in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, represented by Service Employees Local 615, negotiated a decent four-year contract on Oct. 1.

Heading the list of gains is that full-time work will increase 200 percent over the last contract, with all newly constructed large buildings in the Boston metro area to be staffed full time. Wages in the Boston area will increase to $17.85 by 2016, an 11.9 percent increase; in other areas raises will be 12.4 to 13 percent. Probationary periods for workers when buildings change cleaning contractors were eliminated, and for the first time a grievance process will allow janitors to stop excessive workloads.

Noting that the workers were supported by their communities as well as labor and faith leaders, union negotiator Silvia Clarke said, “We won this agreement by standing united and fighting for what was just.” (seiu.org, Oct. 1)

American Airlines agents to vote

After a 15-year fight for a union voice, 10,000 passenger service agents at American Airlines will finally be able to vote for a union, a court ruled Oct. 3. The airline, which filed for bankruptcy nearly a year ago, has used dirty tricks, including expensive litigation, to try to stop the agents from exercising their rights. In April, the airline even refused to give the Communication Workers union the names and addresses of employees so they could receive ballots.

“This [ruling is] a big step toward being able to negotiate instead of having [management] dictate terms to us,” said Janet Elston, a 28-year veteran at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. “It’s been grueling … but it will be worth it once we have an election.” (CWA newsletter, Oct. 4)

Boycott American Crystal Sugar products

A nationwide consumer boycott of American Crystal Sugar products was announced by the AFL-CIO on Oct. 2 to protest the 14-month lockout of 1,300 sugar beet workers in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa. The boycott is set to begin Oct. 15, but could be called off if management resumes bargaining in good faith.

Though the processor has offered a 17 percent pay increase over five years, the workers, represented by Bakery union (BCTGM) Local 167G, object to steep concessions jeopardizing seniority and job security. (AP, Oct. 2)

Chipotle signs Fair Food agreement

Chipotle Mexican Grill became the 11th major corporation to sign the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food agreement on Oct. 4. Enforcing a strict code of conduct to aid Florida’s tomato pickers, the agreement includes health and safety guarantees, a complaint resolution system, worker-to-worker education, and a raise of a penny a pound paid by corporate tomato purchasers. That translates into an increase in workers’ wages from about $10,000 a year to about $17,000. Chipotle, with more than 1,000 restaurants nationwide, joins such fast food chains as McDonald’s and Burger King and such grocers as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

The CIW has been waging the first farmworker-led campaign since 2001. “Farmworkers are finally recognized as true partners — every bit as vital as farmers, chefs, and restaurants — in bringing ‘good food’ to our tables,” CIW spokesperson Gerardo Reyes told Ft. Myers News-Press. (Oct. 4)

Food workers organize in NYC

The New York branch of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, ­supported by 99 Pickets and other labor activists, has set up picket lines all over town:

• After ROC-United released a report detailing the exploitative practices of the Darden chain (the largest full-service dining company in the world), ROC-NY held yet another picket at Darden’s midtown Capital Grille on Oct. 3.

• Not daunted when the landlord of the building at 63rd St. and Second Ave. closed the Hot and Crusty store there after a summer of intense protest by immigrant workers, ROC-NY has set up rotating protests at various Hot and Crusty locations around Manhattan. Picketers reported “great support” at the
78th and Broadway store on Sept. 24.

• Brooklyn’s Golden Farm market continues to be picketed to pressure owner Sonny Kim to honor a court order; he must pay workers back pay (he shorted workers’ minimum wage paychecks!) and let them hold a union election.

• Kudos to ROC-NY for its Sept. 24 victory at celebrity chef Mario Batali’s pricey Del Posto restaurant. Thirty-one workers are due to receive $1.15 million in back wages as well as paid sick days and vacation time.

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