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OAKLAND, California - More than 1,000 members of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) Local 10 shut down the Port of Oakland July 6-7 by refusing to load and unload cargo. The work stoppage in the country's fourth-largest port, which ended July 8, coincided with a slowdown by members of the ILWU at shipping terminals in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Workers at the Oakland port were demanding a signalman be added to the crews to ensure safety. The bosses refused to hire an extra worker under each crane to keep track of cargo container movements on the docks.
The action takes place as 10,000 West Coast members of the ILWU who work for 90 U.S. and international shipping operators continue their fight for a contract. The ILWU's 1996 contract expired July 1. The union is negotiating for better wages, pension benefits, and job security.
Since mid-May the ILWU has been negotiating a contract with the San Francisco-based Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents the owners at ports all along the West Coast. The ports include Seattle and Tacoma in Washington State; Portland, Oregon; and Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, California, with a projected $300 billion worth of cargo moving in and out.
New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. in Fremont is the single-largest importer through the Port of Oakland, bringing "just-in-time" parts from Nagoya City, Japan, to California's only auto plant.
Georgia carpenters strike for dignity, overtime pay
GAINESVILLE, Georgia - "Stop Slavery" and "Does Dr. Lowell Treat Animals Better than his Workers?" were among the signs carried at a June 19 rally by 20 striking construction workers and their supporters. The strike began June 3 after contract negotiations broke down between the newly-organized members of Carpenters Local 225 and Universal Concrete Walls (UCW), owned by V.C. Lowell, a local veterinarian. UCW builds private homes in the wealthy, expanding north Atlanta suburbs.
Strikers Francisco Morales, José García, and Andrés Espinoza explained they are fighting for a range of demands and for basic dignity on the job. They said workers receive no medical coverage, get no breaks during the workday, and neither bathrooms nor water are provided at their worksites.
Another burning issue for workers is safety on the job and receiving proper medical treatment for injuries. García said he knew of three workers who had been injured, taken to the hospital by a boss who filled out the paperwork in English, and then began receiving bills for medical expenses at their homes. They were unable to get further treatment without paying the bills, but when they went to the boss to demand the company pay, all three were fired.
Workers are shouted at and are humiliated on the job, said García. "All the boss needs is a whip to complete the picture of slavery."
Morales said the workers finally decided to form a union after a worker was injured when hit on the head and was taken to the hospital to receive stitches. The boss still hasn't paid for this treatment, said Morales. And when the worker demanded that he be taken back to the doctor for follow-up care, "He was told by a boss, `Don't you have toenail clippers?' to take out the stitches."
Workers are also angered by the company's refusal to pay for overtime work. They work up to 70 or 80 hours per week, but receive a 40-hour check. Then they get a monthly check marked "bonus" pay, which never indicates the rate of pay or number of hours worked.
The company has a 10-year history of hiring immigrants, continued Morales. All 20 of the strikers are from Mexico. "I've seen the abuse of many contractors. Then we started talking about what we face. These contractors try to take advantage of us, thinking immigrants wouldn't speak up. But we saw an ad by the union in a Spanish-language paper, and we called it up." On May 14 the workers voted 20- 0 to join the Carpenters union.
The company has hired replacement workers. But the workers on strike remain solid, with none crossing the picket line
Strikers attended and spoke at a June 24 meeting on the Right to Organize sponsored by the Atlanta Central Labor Council, along with other unionists in the area. Strikers received a standing ovation from the 250 people in attendance, and more than $1,100 was contributed to their food bank.
Titan Tire strikers rally in Quincy, Illinois
QUINCY, Illinois - A busload of Titan Tire strikers, members of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 164 in Des Moines, Iowa, joined with other supporters for a day of protests and a picnic here July 10.
The 670 Titan Tire workers in Des Moines began their strike in May 1998 against forced overtime, two-tier wages, and for pension and health-care benefits for retirees. In September 1998, 500 members of USWA Local 303L joined the fight against Titan at its plant in Natchez, Mississippi.
Titan corporate headquarters are located in Quincy, along with the large Titan Wheel plant, which the USWA is working to unionize along with other Titan plants in Clinton, Tennessee, and Brownsville, Texas. At the union picnic held on the banks of the Mississippi River, several Titan Wheel workers came to meet the Des Moines strikers. A number of Local 303L fighters, and other unionists from the Quincy area were there as well.
The main action was a boisterous march through Spring Lake Estates, a posh neighborhood on the outskirts of town and home to Sheri Holley, a Titan corporate lawyer and sister of Titan owner Maurice Taylor, Jr. Both Taylor and Holley have become notorious among strikers and their supporters for rude and deceitful attacks on the unionists in the media.
After an hour police arrived and an Adams County sheriff's deputy conferred with Holley, then attempted to set up one of the protesters by claiming that his keys were stolen from inside his vehicle.
The deputy grew hysterical and demanded the return of his keys. While a number of strikers stepped in to deny the theft of the keys, others stood close by filming the confrontation. Eventually another cop stepped in, overruling the deputy, and allowed the protest to wrap up without interference.
Other activities to build support for the fight include a "road warrior" team that has been visiting Titan tire dealers throughout the Midwest to tell the union's story.
Contract negotiations between the two union locals and the company resumed in late June.
Teamsters fight lockout, win solidarity at Nestle
LATHROP, California - Seventy members of Teamsters Local 601 have been staffing picket lines and winning support since the Nestle Corp. in Lathrop locked them out May 25. Picket signs saying "Nestle Unfair Lockout" along the road in front of the facility are easy to see from Interstate Highway 5. Two large signs in front of the facility's main gate say "Scab Entrance." Truckers and others driving down the highway honk in support of the locked-out unionists as they drive by.
"It feels nice that other people support you. Every honk feels good. I know when there's a honk, the plant manager can hear it inside," said Shawna Eichelberger, a young worker who has been at the plant for nine months. She is one of the three locked-out workers fired by the company for "behavior on the picket line."
Many workers stated that they would not go back to work without the three fired workers.
"It wasn't fair what they did to us, shutting the doors without us having a chance to vote. I was on strike for eight years at Diamond Walnut," said Minnie Chávez, referring to the ongoing strike by the Teamsters union against that area company.
"I will have two years working at Nestle's this November," Chávez continued, "A lot of people show they're supporting us, they're on our side. They [the company] hire people, put them up in a hotel, give them free food, pay them."
One worker from Teamsters Local 439, Paul Martínez, who works at a Safeway distribution center in nearby Tracy, comes to the picket line every day after work. Martinez has at times come to the picket line with up to 20 of his co- workers. Members of the United Steelworkers of America who are fighting Kaiser Aluminum's lock-out against its union workforce have also been to the picket line at Nestle three times. Some truck drivers refuse to cross the picket line.
A major concern of the locked-out workers in the negotiations for the new contract, which expired May 15, is the elimination of the position of pull pack operator. Pull pack operators make $16.60/hour. Nestle wants to shift the work onto the Class A drivers and Class B order pullers, who make $13.30 and $12.05 per hour.
The union is also fighting for company contributions to the pension fund based on all hours worked per week, including overtime, not just based on 40 hours per week; for an increase in the per-hour pension contribution amount; and for wage increases.
"In the first days of the lock-out replacement workers got out of their cars and on the third day they got out with baseball bats and attacked the locked-out workers. Lawsuits have been filed against the company because we hold the company responsible," said Local 601 secretary-treasurer Lucio Reyes. Two of the pickets were hospitalized. Since then at least one of the assailants has been arrested and charged in one of the attacks.
One measure the pickets have taken since the attack is making sure there is an adequate number of pickets, especially at night. Nestle attorneys have gotten temporary restraining orders limiting pickets to six per entrance gate.
Deborah Liatos, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 101 in San Francisco; Mike Italie, a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees in Atlanta; Ray Parsons, a member of USWA Local 310 in Des Moines; and Walter Blades in San Francisco contributed to this column.
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