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Vol. 75/No. 11      March 21, 2011

On the Picket Line

Washington, D.C. nurses strike:
‘We need this kind of unity’

WASHINGTON, D.C.—“It’s wonderful that we are here together,” said Judith Hayes, a dialysis nurse who has worked at the Washington Hospital Center (WHC) for 11 years. “We need this kind of unity if we’re going to win.” She was one of hundreds of nurses picketing outside WHC, the region’s largest hospital, March 4 as part of a one-day strike.

The nurses, members of National Nurses United (NNU), are protesting the hospital’s refusal to back off concession demands in wages, benefits, and staffing. The union represents some 1,600 nurses. According to chief shop steward Stephen Frum, 95 percent of the workers at the hospital complex are women and 30 percent of the strikers are immigrants.

Representatives of other unions—from the Laborers’ International Union to the Teamsters to the NFL Players Association—joined the picket line for a noontime rally at which AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka was the featured speaker. The constant blare of horns from passing trucks and cars drew roars and cheers from picketers, as did speakers’ calls for solidarity with public workers under attack in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

“The hospital has been so ugly,” said Geri Lee, a labor and delivery nurse with 32 years at WHC. “They have brought in 600 scab nurses to try to keep the hospital running.” Lee, a shop steward, recently won her job back after nearly a year. She and several other nurses were fired last winter after being unable to report for work when a massive snowstorm paralyzed transportation in the D.C. area for days.

The union decided to keep the picket lines up for five days after the hospital told nurses they would be locked out for four days after the strike. WHS claims they have to keep replacement nurses working for a minimum of 60 hours once they are brought in. The nurses’ contract expired in April 2010.

—Susan LaMont

Los Angeles: Nurses walk out
one day over job conditions

LOS ANGELES—More than 1,000 union nurses organized a 24-hour walkout at Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center on March 2. Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers marched in front of the hospital in red T-shirts carrying picket signs that said, “Kaiser = Union-Busting” and “Patients Before Profits.” The action marked the first time in 20 years that the nurses struck.

“We have been trying to negotiate a contract with Kaiser for over a year,” explained Kimberly Tubbs, a nurse in recovery. “They are stonewalling and their attitude is one of disrespect for the actual quality of care we provide day in and day out.”

“The situation is urgent,” said nurse Patricia Tamayo. “The staffing ratio is not being upheld hospital-wide. It decreases the quality of care and it’s unsafe.” At the intensive care unit where she works “it makes a big difference if the ratio is one nurse to three or four patients or one nurse to two patients. This is what it is supposed to be,” she said. “If we can get better conditions, it will strengthen everyone.”

—Arlene Rubinstein

N.Y.: Building workers in Bronx
reject contract, authorize strike

NEW YORK—Building workers in the Bronx, organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, voted to reject a contract offer by the Bronx Realty Advisory Board and on February 23 authorized a strike. The current contract expires March 15 and covers 3,000 workers at more than 1,000 residential buildings. According to SEIU Local 32BJ, the outstanding issues include health care and retirement benefits.

“I voted yes [to strike] for my family and for the families of all working people,” said Bronx doorman Darryl Mosley. “I feel like we’re being pushed out of the city with the rising cost of rents, mortgages, groceries, the subway, gas, you name it.”

The union plans a rally March 10. Building workers from Flatbush Gardens in Brooklyn plan to participate as part of their ongoing fight for a contract They have been locked out since November 29 after opposing the bosses’ demand for a 30 percent pay cut.

Flatbush Gardens workers also participated in a February 16 rally of building workers and Local 32BJ members at Linwood Park Co-op Apartments in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The workers were protesting the refusal of Linwood Park owners to agree to the contract that Local 32BJ negotiated with other northern New Jersey apartment employers.

— Mike Fitzsimmons

Montreal newspaper workers
accept settlement, return to work

MONTREAL—After a 10-hour meeting February 26, unionists at the Journal de Montreal voted by 64 percent to accept the settlement proposed by mediator Jean Poirier ending the lockout that began Jan. 24, 2009. Under the new contract only 62 of the 253 union members employed by the media company Quebecor will return to work.

In October members of the STIJM (Union of News Workers at the Journal de Montreal), which is affiliated to the CSN, one of Quebec’s labor federations, rejected by 89 percent an offer that would have had only 52 of them return. CSN had organized a boycott of the Journal de Montreal. The newspaper continued to publish throughout the lockout.

STIJM president Raynald Leblanc, who worked for 20 years as a photographer, told the Montreal Gazette: “It’s clearly a defeat, but I think people are relieved that the conflict is finally over.”

—Beverly Bernardo
Related articles:
Union actions spread, labor solidarity grows
Wisconsin workers, farmers lead way
All out for rallies in Wisconsin, other states!
The ‘Militant’—A voice for workers to defend our unions
Rallies across the U.S. defend rights of unions
Trade unions: their past, present, and future
3,000 protest antiunion legislation in Ohio
UK action protests government austerity  
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