On the picket line

Colorado teachers rally at the Capitol in Denver, April 27.

Historic strike victory for Colorado teachers

A momentous, 900-strong teachers’ strike in an already historic year for teachers’ strikes ended May 13 with a win. Teachers targeted the Pueblo City Schools District 60 (D60) Board of Education with demands for a 2 percent retroactive pay increase, better benefits and step increases for paraprofessionals. Last year Pueblo annual teacher pay averaged $47,617 — not only below average teacher pay in Colorado ($52,728), but national averages as well ($59,660). (Denver Post, May 7)

After a neutral, third-party factfinder recommended a raise, the teachers and the Pueblo Teachers Association rejected an initial, nonretroactive offer by the D60 Board and struck on May 5. In an interview with NBC News, teachers spoke of crumbing infrastructure and classrooms without computers. Chants of “Education is our right, that is why we have to fight!” rang out at rallies. Pueblo high school teacher Julie Cain said that though Colorado is a wealthy state, it’s one of the most starved for education funding, allotting only $822 million annually.

After a week of striking, the teachers voted 495 to 62 to accept a two-year agreement with the 2 percent retroactive increase, better health care benefits and full pay for three strike days. They raised as inspiration the solidarity they felt from epic teacher strikes and walkouts in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.

Chicago Tribune workers unionize

Contrary to the 171-year history of the anti-union Chicago Tribune, owner Tronc agreed on May 6 to cooperate with its newsroom workers after 85 percent signed cards to be represented by the Chicago Tribune Guild, an affiliate of The News Guild-Communication Workers. The CTG will have three bargaining units: Tribune workers, staff at six regional papers, and the design and production studio. (ABC7Chicago, May 6)

This amazing turnaround happened very quickly after an April 12 article in the Tribune announced that its newsroom staff had organzied to win regular raises, advancement opportunities, better parental leave policies, a more diverse newsroom and a voice in the newsroom. One reporter stated that the workers had experienced downsizing and erratic corporate practices causing “chaos.” According to its website, the CTG is now in a “status quo” period, so that Tronc “cannot unilaterally alter any work conditions without first negotiating with our bargaining units.” Though TNG-CWA lawyers say they’ve never seen such quick recognition of a union, CTG believes Tronc bosses didn’t want to “waste time and money” contesting a union election. (chicagotribuneguild.com, May 6) Way to go CTG! Stay tuned.

#TimesUp for sexual harassment in the sky

More than 3,500 flight attendants from 29 U.S. airlines participated in a survey between Feb. 27 and March 26 of this year, with 68 percent reporting sexual harassment during their career. One in three experienced verbal abuse — from nasty to crude — while one in five reported physical abuse — from groping to humping. Only 7 percent had reported abuse to the airline.

“The time when flight attendants were objectified in airline marketing and people joked about ‘coffee, tea or me’ needs to be permanently grounded. #TimesUp for the industry to put an end to its sexist past,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-Communication Workers, which conducted the survey. One of the primary reasons, Nelson stressed, is that flight attendants are first responders, whose authority is undermined in emergencies if “they are belittled and harassed.” The union is calling for the entire industry “to step up to combat harassment and recognize the impact it has on safety,” while also demanding adequate staffing levels that protect both workers and passengers. (afacwa.org, May 10)

Support Maria Isabel Vasquez regulation to prevent heat illness

The United Farm Workers is asking for help in remembering Maria Isabel Vasquez, a migrant worker from Oaxaca, Mexico, who was two months pregnant when she died of heat exhaustion in 2008. May 14 marked the 10th anniversary of her death while tying grape vines in nearly 100-degree heat at West Coast Farms east of Stockton, Calif. The workers said the strict foreman didn’t allow them a long enough break to get a drink from a water cooler 10 minutes away. (NPR, June 8, 2008) Weeks after her death, her aunt, uncle and fiancé organized a four-day pilgrimage to the state capitol in Sacramento and eventually helped pass the Heat Illness Prevention Regulation. Now, the UFW is asking you to sign a petition to rename the HIPR the “Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez Heat Illness Prevention Regulation.” Help memorialize a fallen young worker; enshrine her name into law:

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