On the picket line
Struggle over employment benefits for striking workers in N.Y. state
On Feb. 6, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill granting unemployment benefits for workers who have been on strike for two weeks.
But that didn’t help the 3,400 General Motors workers in Buffalo, Lockport and Rochester who were on strike from Sept. 15 to Oct. 25.
An Oct. 10 Payday Report article exposed that Cuomo was sitting on a bill the NewYork State Legislature passed in June making unemployment available to striking workers after one week. The United Auto Workers lobbied vigorously for it due to the impending strike. But major industries countered against it. The only conclusion — then and now — Cuomo sided with the bosses.
The expose was picked up by the Oct. 11 Albany Times-Union, which quoted Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi who called the newsletter “a piece of garbage” that “is not worth the server storage it’s taking up.” But such trash talk only led to the Oct. 12 New York Daily News heaping pressure on Cuomo to do the right thing and put his pro-labor talk into action.
After Cuomo finally signed the bill, New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento commented: “This is a huge victory for unionized workers who until now had to endure an incredible hardship by waiting seven weeks to claim unemployment benefits.” (Payday Report, Feb. 7) Kudos to Mike Elk for writing the whistle-blowing article.
L.A. teacher strike helps end racist random searches of students
A year ago, one of many demands of the Los Angeles teachers’ strike was ending random searches of mostly Black and Brown students. Before the strike the United Teachers Los Angeles had teamed up with Students Deserve and the American Civil Liberties Union to launch the Students Not Suspects campaign, which organized forums and protested at school board meetings about why searches weren’t making schools safe.
By the time the teachers walked back in, they had won a partial victory against the racist practice, which was started 30 years ago with the goal of keeping weapons out, but mainly terrorized and victimized students. The district agreed to a pilot program: 14 schools would opt out immediately, with 14 more two years later.
But strike momentum spread. Last May, after a school board seat opened up, a union ally won. In June, the board voted to end the searches at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
25,000 grocery workers to take strike vote in D.C. area
Local 400 of the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have been negotiating with owners of Giant and Safeway for the past five months, and they’re no nearer to a worker-friendly contract. (OTPL, Feb. 6) Both multimillion-dollar companies are playing the austerity game — trying to force the workers to accept horrible contract terms. The bosses want to freeze pay for new workers in Washington, D.C., and Maryland at minimum wage for the next three years, keep part-timers hired after Oct. 30, 2013, at a 24 hours a week (so they’re ineligible for benefits) and set top-of-scale increases far below those in other states. They also want to cut their health care contributions, forcing workers to pay large increases for weekly premiums. They’re also waffling on their promise of secure pension benefits, with plans for future cuts.
But Local 400 is fighting back. They called a press conference and rally on Feb. 19 in D.C. to announce they will take a strike vote if they can’t reach an acceptable contract by a date to be announced at the rally. if members vote to strike, more than 25,000 workers at hundreds of stores in the greater D.C. area will walk out. (ufcw400.org, Feb. 12) Stay tuned.
Strike threat works for St. Louis janitors
Some 2,100 janitors, members of Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1 in St. Louis, announced Feb. 10 that they’d won a three-year contract with raises and new benefits, including protected categories of gender identity and expression. Thanks to months of advocacy, civil disobedience and the threat of a strike, the majority Black and Brown workers focused their struggle on economic and racial equity. The average wage increase is 14 percent, bringing hourly pay from $10.50 an hour to $11.97. With these the highest raises janitors have ever seen, it’s estimated they will add $15.3 million to the local economy. SEIU union rep Nick Desideri applauded the workers who “came together, showed their strength in the street, and won their strongest contract ever because of it.” (St. Louis American, Feb. 13)