On the picket line: Education workers in three states & gig drivers in LA

Adjunct professors win union in Florida

Service Employees’ Faculty Forward campaign won a landmark unionization drive March 27 at Miami-Dade College. With more than 2,800 adjuncts voting to unionize, it became the largest adjunct union in the country. In 2017, more than 81 percent of M-DC’s professors were adjuncts, averaging only $22,000 a year with no health care. The education workers are fighting for their lives as the college faces increasing budget cuts. Over the last decade, 13 percent of Florida’s higher education budget was cut.

Ximena Barrientos, an adjunct professor of earth sciences, said the union is “saying enough is enough. We’re tired of watching our students go to food banks because tuition keeps rising. I’m tired of worrying about bill collectors when I should be worried about lesson plans. By standing up with one voice, we can demand the investment we need for our students and colleagues throughout Florida.”

In less than two years in the “right-to-work” (for less) state of Florida, more than 9,000 adjuncts — more than half the adjuncts in the Florida College System! — unionized at four colleges. Now SEIU Faculty Forward is hoping to use the M-DC win to help organize the other three colleges in the system. (paydayreport.com, March 27)

Grad student employees strike at UI Chicago

Graduate student employees at the University of Illinois at Chicago went on strike March 19 after more than a year of contract negotiations. Leaders of the Graduate Employees Organization, representing more than 1,500 workers, voted to strike indefinitely when 99.5 percent of members voted in February.

“Despite being highly educated professionals providing skilled labor for a multibillion-dollar institution, UIC grad workers live on the edge of poverty,” GEO leaders said in a statement. “Grad workers’ low pay, high fees, and often precarious employment negatively impacts their academic progress, professional development, and overall health, which only undermines UIC’s educational and research mission.”

Graduate employees’ minimum salary is $18,065 for two semesters of 20-hour workweeks. They also receive the equivalent of $13,502 in tuition and fee waivers. While UIC offers an 11.5 percent increase in minimum pay over three years, GEO seeks a 24 percent increase, plus tuition waivers.

“There’s nothing left once you make your tuition payment. There’s no money for food, rent,” said Mari Miller, who studies industrial design. “If I didn’t have a partner who makes enough to support me, I wouldn’t be able to live.” (Chicago Tribune, March 20)

A March 30 geoweb bulletin about the 28th bargaining session reported: “The administration told us they still will not consider waiving, capping, or freezing fees, except to offset the planned $50-per-semester increase to the General Fee with a matching increase to the campus minimum wage next year only. They also didn’t offer us any new proposal on wages or healthcare.” (uic-geo.net) La lucha continua!

Ohio education workers strike for fairness

Since March 22, 84 workers represented by the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, AFSCME Local 390, have been walking the picket line for job justice. The diverse mix of teacher’s aides, secretaries, bus drivers and cooks have been laboring at Claymont City Schools without a contract for 22 months. (afscme.org, March 27) The school district retaliated by hiring replacement workers — in defiance of a 1967 anti-strikebreaker ordinance — and a security team. The union is still waiting for the board to return to negotiations. (Times Reporter, March 28)

The workers want an annual raise of 3.5 percent retroactive to July 1, 2017, as well as better insurance and job fairness. Local 390 President Jim Maxwell said, “We provide critical services to the students at Claymont City Schools and we should have the decent wages and benefits that reflect that hard work and dedication.” Education workers are leading the class struggle today!

Gig drivers strike LA “rideshare” companies  

Hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers in Los Angeles held a 25-hour strike March 25 outside Uber offices in Redondo Beach to protest wage cuts and working conditions, said advocacy group Rideshare Drivers United. Uber’s recent announcement of a 25 percent cut in drivers’ pay per mile in LA and parts of Orange County triggered the walkout. Drivers for both companies say having to pay to maintain their vehicles makes it difficult to earn enough to live on.

“I’m currently homeless,” Sinakhone Keodara, who lives in the car he rents from Lyft, told NBC News. “I don’t make enough to get out of my situation, but I can’t walk away from Lyft. I’m trapped in an endless cycle.” (March 25)

The RDU is calling for minimum pay that matches New York City’s new rule: rideshare drivers are paid a $28-an-hour salary before expenses. (Lyft and Juno are currently challenging that in court.) Drivers also want “the right to organize without retaliation,” says RDU.

The strike comes after Uber was recently ordered to pay a $20 million settlement to California and Massachusetts drivers. One unidentified expert told NBC News that “was actually ‘a win’ for the company in part because it doesn’t have to classify its workers as employees.” Keodara answered: “I’m drowning in this gig economy. We should be getting overtime and benefits and at least minimum-wage pay.”

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