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Vol. 77/No. 1      January 14, 2013

On the Picket Line

Israel: Nurses win pay hike,
cellphone workers fight for union

A 17-day strike by 28,000 nurses at hospitals and clinics in Israel ended Dec. 20 after the Finance Ministry agreed to a monthly 1,400 shekel increase ($375) in the base wage, spread over the next four and a half years.

“This means that the percentage increase is higher for junior nurses than for those with more seniority,” Uri Fleischmann, director general of the Israel Nurses Union, told the Militant in a phone interview from Tel Aviv.

The government also agreed to expand nursing schools and grant more scholarships to nursing students.

Making sure that nurses at the bottom of the pay scale got as big a wage increase as those at the top should attract more workers to take up nursing and help alleviate a shortage of nurses, Fleischmann said, one of the main goals of the strike.

There are 58,360 nurses in Israel, a rate of about 4.76 nurses per 1,000 people. In the U.S. there are 10.8 per 1,000.

While most nurses in Israel are Jewish, nursing is one of the main occupations of Palestinian women who work. There were banners in both Hebrew and Arabic at many strike support rallies.

“We don’t really care whether workers are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim,” Fleischmann said. “We are very happy that all the nurses joined in a unified struggle and happy with their accomplishment.”

Meanwhile, 800 workers at privately owned Pelephone Communications Ltd., one of the top three cellphone companies in Israel, went on strike Dec. 10 after the company refused to recognize or negotiate with the Histadrut union federation.

“Under Israeli law, after you get the signature of one-third of the workers the company is supposed to recognize the union,” Haim Sahar, a worker in the sales department, told the Militant. “We have 1,833 signatures out of 4,000 workers. But instead of talking with us, the CEO has started a war against the workers.” Among those who joined the union are technicians who fix cellphones, software engineers, warehouse workers and customer service representatives.

The average wage at the company is about 5,500 to 6,500 shekels a month, Sahar said. “Child care is 2,500 shekels. How can you live on that?” Job security is also a key issue, he said, in the face of possible mergers with other companies.

“One hundred percent of the Arab workers at the call center in Umm al-Fahm joined the strike,” he noted. “Now the company is saying they might shut down the center because it’s a security risk. How can it be a security risk?

“We want to get recognized as a union. That is a basic human right,” Sahar said. “It’s only a matter of time.”

Workers at other cellphone companies have been contacting the strikers, saying they want help getting a union where they work.

Pelephone did not return calls requesting comment.

—Seth Galinsky

Rally backs Miami Teamsters
on strike against BlueLinx

MIAMI—“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Stover’s got to go!” chanted striking members of Teamsters Local 769 and their supporters at a Dec. 19 rally here outside BlueLinx, a distributor of construction materials and building products. Stover is the warehouse manager. About 60 people walked the picket line at a rally called by the South Florida AFL-CIO.

The strikers include three drivers and six warehouse workers. They walked off the job after their union rep was thrown off company property Nov. 30 while the union and company were in contract negotiations. Two other workers have crossed the picket line. BlueLinx has also hired temporary workers and has brought in full-time workers from their nonunion North Carolina facility.

“We all have families and all have mortgages. But being on strike is about fighting for what you believe in. It’s about fighting for what your rights are,” shop steward Henry Ku told the Militant.

Jose Albo, a Teamster who works for Avis Budget rental car company near the airport, attended and comes by the picket line regularly. “I come to support my brothers,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to need some help.”

—Tom Baumann

Teamsters in Washington state
strike United Natural Foods

SEATTLE—Nearly 100 members of Teamsters Local 117 and their supporters rallied outside Whole Foods here Dec. 19, asking customers to show solidarity with 163 warehouse workers and drivers on strike at the United Natural Foods Inc. facility in Auburn by not purchasing products delivered by the organic food distributor.

The union first struck Dec. 10-12 over UNFI’s refusal to negotiate a new contract. The previous pact expired Feb. 29, 2012, and had been extended through the end of August.

The workers agreed to go back to work on a good faith basis after the three-day strike. But when union members reported for their shift, bosses informed the union that 72 workers on night shift had been terminated. On Dec. 13, everyone then walked off the job, refusing to work until the fired workers were reinstated.

“We won’t go back until the 72 workers are given their jobs back,” Brenda Wiest, an organizer for Local 117, told the Militant.

According to the International Labor Rights Forum in Washington, D.C., UNFI “has engaged in serious violations of workers’ rights of association at its Moreno Valley [Calif.] and Auburn facilities.” A report by the group accuses managers of threatening violence against and firing of workers involved in a unionization effort at the California facility where the Teamsters lost an election last May.

The report also says that at its Auburn facility UNFI began hiring nonunion contract workers in May through Roadlink, a temporary agency.

UNFI is now using temporary workers as scab labor and its other facilities to maintain shipments normally supplied through the Auburn warehouse.

Five drivers have crossed the picket lines, Dottie Dunthorn, one of 45 drivers at the Auburn plant, told the Militant.

On the picket line Dec. 27 in Auburn, Gary Watkins said the strike has helped forge solidarity among workers, who come from the U.S., Philippines, Ukraine, Panama, Vietnam and Pacific Islands. “The company has increased from 12 to 20 the number of orders per hour that are required of workers. And if you are a smoker, you have to pay an additional $650 a year for insurance,” he said.

Strikers received 700 pounds of food donated by Occupy Seattle, according to Michelle Woodrow, a Local 117 staff person. Workers for City of Pacific, also members of Teamsters Local 117, brought firewood for the burn barrels to the picket line Dec. 27.

The company has not returned phone calls requesting comment.

—Edwin Fruit

Related articles:
Dock workers’ union suspends threat of strike, talks continue
Bosses agree to shelve some concession demands
Northwest longshore workers in contract fight
Solidarity with longshore workers coast to coast  
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