LOS ANGELES - Coordinated demonstrations were held at airports in Seattle and Spokane, Washington; Los Angeles; and Portland, Oregon, September 3 to support more than 3,000 customer service and reservations workers in their contract fight at Alaska Airlines. Contract talks between the airline and members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) have been on and off since early this year.
A central demand is for higher wages. Alaska workers are paid 30-50 percent below the industry average, and their wages have dropped 25 percent since 1985. A union brochure distributed to passengers in Los Angeles points out that "many employees qualify for public assistance and food stamps...but that company profits have been over $200 million in the last two years."
Pickets chanted slogans all day, and hundreds of passing cars, buses, and trucks honked in solidarity.
As part of management's campaign to intimidate the unionists, they fired six workers for allegedly organizing a sick-out on April 16. On that day 28 Alaska flights were canceled; the airline claims more than 330 employees called in sick.
The all-day picket line in front of the Alaska Airlines ticket counter here drew 115 Alaska workers from Los Angeles, Burbank, Orange County, and Ontario airports. A dozen other IAM members from Northwest, Hudson General, US Airways, and TWA joined the picket, as did airport workers from the Service Employees International Union involved in efforts to organize Argenbright airport and ground service workers.
Dru Secrist from Orange County was one of 22 workers, out of a workforce of 32, who came to picket. He told the Militant, "We are fighting for money, after having had a 25 percent pay cut since 1985, and for more than $15 an hour after decades of seniority. The union is asking for the industry average." He added, "We should not sign any contract unless the six fired workers get their jobs back with back pay."
Christine Carey pointed out, "pay only goes up in pennies. After two years here I'm only making 30 cents an hour more."
David Edwards said, "We should stand up for a working wage and not be so submissive. I am really excited about this picket; it's the best thing we've done."
Ontario gold miners wage hard-fought strike
TORONTO - Gold miners in Red Lake, a small mining community in northwestern Ontario, are into their fourth year on strike against Goldcorp Inc. The strike by members of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 950 began June 23, 1996, and is the longest gold-mining strike in Canadian history.
In a phone interview August 4, Dwight Globush, a millwright who has worked in the mine for 22 years and is also president of the local, said the strike was provoked by the attitude of Goldcorp's chairman and majority shareholder, Robert McEwen. "We've had a union contract at the mine since the mid-1960s," said Globush, "but McEwen decided he wanted to rewrite our contract, saying he thought our standard of living was too high."
Miners rejected McEwen's new contract offer, which proposed a 40-hour work week but did not specify over which days or weeks the 40 hours would be worked. The company demanded an end to shift premium payments as well. Miners at Goldcorp are paid Can$3 (US$2) less an hour than the industry average, said Globush. The company also wanted to weaken layoff and recall rights, as well as institute "security measures" that would include strip searches of miners.
Of the 187 miners who began the strike, 102 remain on the picket line. The others have found other jobs but remain strike supporters and donate their strike pay to the local, Globush said. Four miners have crossed the picket line. The strikers also face an injunction limiting four pickets to each gate.
The strikers are receiving regular cash donations from other USWA locals, including large regular donations from the two largest USWA locals in Ontario: copper miners from Local 6500 in Sudbury and basic steelworkers from Local 1005 in Hamilton.
Globush said the local's membership includes four women and a number of Native Indians. The Native Friendship Centre in Red Lake has organized food drives for the strike and a Strikers' Wives' Action Group has organized solidarity marches in the town.
On June 2, several striking miners made the 1,600-mile drive to Toronto to participate in a demonstration organized by the USWA Toronto Area Council outside Goldcorp's annual meeting of shareholders. Several miners went into the meeting, including Nancy Hutchinson, who attempted to explain the issues in the strike.
In 1995, a year before the strike began, Goldcorp claimed to have discovered a large vein of higher-grade ore below the mine. After the strike began, McEwen closed the mine and hired scabs to begin drilling and developing the new seam.
McEwen claims the richness of the new ore find, combined with the installation of more modern mining technology, will make the new seam one of the lowest-cost mines in the world, capable of producing 240,000 ounces of gold a year at a cash- cost of US$87 an ounce. According to Goldcorp, when the strike began the company's cost of production was US$360 per ounce.
Production is expected to begin on the new seam in August 2000. McEwen said at the June 2 shareholders' meeting that production "could start without a settlement" unless the "unionized work force will share our vision of the future."
The business pages of Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, have carried several articles encouraging investors to buy Goldcorp stock. The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce reports that the company's stock value has risen 9.5 percent in the last year and rates the company as an "extremely attractive investment."
Michigan auto parts workers fight lockout
STERLING HEIGHTS, Michigan - Nine weeks into their strike and they see no quick resolution. That's the way members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 417 described what began as a lockout at A. G. Simpson here.
On June 16, as the workers gathered to vote on the company's second wage offer, management locked the gate.
John Vassallo, a six-year millwright, described some of the issues. "The workforce is down to 206 from 500. Many of us have been laid off in the past; some are still on the callback list. Now management wants to install a new automatic line that can put out twice as much as the two existing lines with even fewer workers."
A.G. Simpson makes chrome- plated bumpers for Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. The corporation is based in Canada with three plants in the United States. Strikers say the company had succeeded in getting a 30-day extension from the union on a two-year contract that expired June 1.
When supporters of the Militant first visited the line, more than a dozen Sterling Heights cops - infamous for their brutal, public treatment of the Detroit News and Free Press strikers in 1995 - had the line surrounded, dressed in riot gear. Today, though plant production is at a standstill, cops patrolling the area continue to harass pickets and their supporters.
At first a large hand-painted sheet, staked out at the intersection of Mound Road and Sterling, announced their struggle and spelled out the union's demands. Now yard signs clustered at the main intersection replace the sheet-sized banner, which the city of Sterling Heights has ordered them to remove.
Mark Friedman, a member of IAM Local 2785 in Los Angeles;
Rosemary Ray, a member of USWA Local 5338 in Toronto; and
Willie Reid, a member of the UAW in Detroit, contributed to
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