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Vol. 75/No. 46      December 19, 2011

On the Picket Line

NY: Thousands of unionists
march for jobs, against cutbacks

NEW YORK—Amidst chants of “They say cutback, we say fightback,” several thousand working people marched down Broadway here Dec. 1 in a protest called by the New York City Central Labor Council titled “For jobs and economic fairness.”

Leading the action were members of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ. Earlier that day thousands of office cleaners and commercial building workers, members of the union, voted to authorize a strike when their current contract expires on Dec. 31. The Realty Advisory Board is demanding the workers accept a two-tier wage system for new hires and other cuts.

“We have to defend our rights,” Veronica McGinley, 39, an office cleaner in Manhattan and member of Local 32BJ, told the Militant on the march. “They want to take back our union, our benefits. We must not let them take anything from us and will continue fighting and support other unions as well.”

“The bosses want to cut back on everything, including medical and pensions,” said Sandra Green, 55, who’s been cleaning buildings in Manhattan for the past 15 years. “We don’t want to do that. We want a good contract.”

At the action, Cordelia Montes, 21, a student a Baruch College in Manhattan condemned the recent decision by City University of New York trustees to raise tuition. “We all come out of school with debt that we must pay for most of our lives,” she told the Militant, adding that she had participated in campus protests days earlier.

—Brian Williams

California licorice workers strike
over pension, health plans

UNION CITY, Calif.—Workers opposed to company plans to reduce their health and pension agreements at American Licorice Company went on strike at midnight Dec. 5.

“Everything’s quiet. There’s no production,” José Leon told the Militant as he picketed the plant with dozens of other workers. Leon has worked at the candy factory for 21 years.

Members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 125 voted to authorize the strike two weeks ago when contract talks came to an impasse. After the vote, the company organized daily meetings to push its “final offer.”

On the eve of the strike, supervisors urged unionists to sign a paper withdrawing from the union. “With you or without you, we are going to run the plant,” they threatened, according to Local 125 Vice President Rene Castillo.

The workforce has been cut back over the last several years while production has increased. “When I was hired 13 years ago, there were over 600 people in the bargaining unit,” maintenance mechanic Victor Nguyen said. Now the union has 178 members. “If they get rid of the union, the people will lose everything.”

New machinery with a robotic picker has sped up the production line and eliminated jobs, according to production worker Evangelina Reyinoso. “We know they are making money because they are forcing us to work overtime,” said Jesús Flores, a cook with 20 years at the plant.

—Eric Simpson

Machinists reject company pact,
strike Polar Tank in Minnesota

OPOLE, Minn.—After rejecting the company’s proposed five-year contract by 86 percent, 350 members of International Association of Machinists Local 165 voted by a similar margin to strike against Polar Tank Trailer Dec. 1. Polar Tank is the largest manufacturer of tanks in the United States.

After the strike vote, workers began organizing picket lines in this small town of less than 100 people.

“This is the worst contract I’ve seen in my 23 years working here,” Donald Yurczyk, who works in final assembly, told the Militant while picketing in front of the plant. “There are no pluses for us in this contract, all minuses.”

Yurczyk gave a couple of examples of what he meant. The proposed contract included language allowing outsourcing of jobs and replacement of workers without regard to seniority. Another concession, said Yurczyk, is the twofold increase in health insurance costs.

A company statement said the proposed contract was “the premier compensation package in the industry.”

In an effort to build unity for the strike, the union is organizing a mass picket on Dec. 5.

—Frank Forrestal

Boston: Verizon workers speak
out in fight for new contract

BOSTON—“We need to mobilize again,” said Bob Shine, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who has worked as a technician for 14 years at Verizon. He was speaking in the discussion period at a “Speak Out for Verizon Workers” program here November 29.

Some 40 people attended the event at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. Organized by Jobs for Justice, the meeting was called to build support for the IBEW and Communications Workers of America who had ended their two-week strike against Verizon last August.

Forty-five thousand Verizon workers on the East Coast from New England to Virginia went on strike August 7 to defend wages, pensions, medical care and union rights won in past battles. The unions agreed to go back to work when Verizon offered to renew negotiations on key contract issues.

But since that time “there is no bargaining going on,” said Bryan Lindgrin, an IBEW member, at the meeting.

Ken Carrusso, a member of IBEW and picket captain during the recent strike, began his remarks by saying he wanted “to thank the people who came out to the picket line” during the strike. “We can’t accept what they want to give us or we won’t be here anymore.”

“We go back to work and we get nothing,” pointed out Sumner Delaney, a 21-year veteran at Verizon and treasurer of CWA Local 1400.

—Ted Leonard

Related articles:
Ohio Steelworkers fight lockout by Cooper Tire
Reject bosses’ concession contract
Dozens of unions organize rally to support locked-out sugar workers
New Zealand: Locked-out meat workers win support
Shut out of terminal, ILWU prepares protest of first ship
2 million public workers join 1-day strike in U.K.
Back workers’ lockout battles, strikes  
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