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   Vol. 70/No. 47           December 11, 2006  
On the Picket Line
Northwest ramp workers protest
contracting out of union jobs


MINNEAPOLIS—Baggage handlers at Northwest Airlines here took part in on-the-job actions during some of the busiest travel days of the year to discuss and protest the company’s announcement that it will contract out the airplane lavatory, water service, and cleaning jobs in mid-December. The airline’s move would lead to the loss of 30 full-time union jobs. The International Association of Machinists (IAM), which represents ground workers and customer service agents, already accepted a concessionary contract earlier in 2006 in which wages, benefits, and jobs were cut.

On November 20 some 100 ground workers gathered during the evening shift, and 250 met during the day shift the next day, workers reported. At both meetings IAM District 143 president Steve Gordon stated the union’s opposition to the contracting out of the union jobs.

On November 22, 300 day shift workers gathered on the ramp near an airplane gate to support lavatory and water servicers, who were told by the union shop committee to refuse to service aircraft in protest of the company plan to replace them in December.

Shortly after that action began, Northwest bosses and local union shop committee members asked workers to return to their work locations. Despite repeated requests, the workers all sat down on the ground or on equipment. They dispersed after 35 minutes with the understanding that company officials would meet with union representatives the next day to discuss the issue and that ramp workers were to gather at the same location at 9:00 a.m. to press their demands.

On November 23, union shop committee members announced that Northwest had refused to meet to discuss the issue and threatened to discipline any workers who gathered, and that airport security would be called to arrest those participating in any action. The planned union event was cancelled. The same day Northwest introduced nonunion lavatory and water servicers as well as aircraft cleaners on the ramp.

The conflict goes back to a 2005 strike against Northwest Airlines by mechanics and cleaners represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. As part of their strike-breaking moves, the company temporarily gave cleaning work previous done by AMFA members to members of the IAM, whose leadership did not support the strike.

The company claims the recent settlement of the AMFA dispute allowed it to shift the jobs to a nonunion contractor. It said the displaced IAM members will be moved to other jobs.

—Tom Fiske  
Day laborers in N.Y. town
win antidiscrimination victory

A federal judge ruled November 20 that day laborers faced discriminatory treatment by officials in Mamaroneck, New York. Judge Colleen McMahon cited town practices of police harassment of the workers, the closing of a hiring site, and the fining of contractors who approached laborers seeking a job. She gave each side 10 days to come up with solutions to this situation. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by day laborers in April against the village of Mamaroneck, located 23 miles northeast of New York City.

This ruling “send a very clear message…that day laborers have rights and that municipal governments that ignore those rights will be held responsible,” Cesar Perales, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the workers in the lawsuit, told the New York Times.

The court decision is the third legal victory for immigrant day laborers in recent months. Earlier in November officials in Freehold, New Jersey, were forced to let laborers seek work in public places without being fined. In May, a judge ordered the city of Redondo Beach, California, to halt police arrests of day laborers seeking work on public streets.

—Brian Williams  
Poland: 23 coal miners killed
in methane gas explosion

Twenty-three coal miners were killed November 23 in Ruda Slaska, Poland, in a methane gas explosion more than two-thirds of a mile below the surface at the Halemba mine in the southern part of the country. This brings the death toll for 2006 to 43 miners in Poland. The coal miners had been sent to retrieve equipment from a shaft closed in March because of very high gas concentrations. The Halemba coal mine, which is one of the oldest running mines in Poland, had been in operation since 1957. A gas explosion at this mine killed 19 workers in 1990.

—Brian Williams
Related articles:
Texas janitors win their first union pact
After walkout, meatpackers press fight against firings
Machinists strike Arizona missile plant
Coal miners bring solidarity to Alabama Goodyear picket  
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