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Vol. 78/No. 34      September 29, 2014

On the Picket Line
Illinois mechanics strike for union contract
EAST DUNDEE, Ill. — Some 25 union supporters joined an expanded picket line here Sept. 5 to back nine auto mechanics on strike at Al Piemonte Chevrolet. In March the mechanics voted 9-2 to join International Association of Machinists Local 701. They went on strike July 9.

“The company fired a senior mechanic for no other reason than he was earning top pay,” said striker Andrew Kuehl. “We did not want to be next, so we called the union to get some job security.”

The main issue in the strike, the mechanics said, is medical insurance and pensions. They want the same benefits as workers at Ford and Nissan dealerships, also owned by Piemonte. According to strikers, Piemonte Chevrolet refused to budge on the company’s proposal for a 50 percent health insurance co-pay and a substandard inadequate pension plan.

The dealership has kept the shop running with the two who voted not to join the union and several new hires.

“So far today we have turned away eight potential customers,” said striker Damian Iskra. “The company got a temporary restraining order, starting today, limiting us to two pickets in the entranceway.”

“I support workers in struggle every chance I get,” said Ed Hanson, vice president of the Elgin Association of Firefighters, one of several officials from other unions, including the Laborers’ International Union, at the picket.

Al Piemonte Chevrolet has not responded to a request to comment.

— Dan Fein

New York airport workers hold ‘lunch-in’ for union, wage raise
NEW YORK — Airport workers fighting for a union, higher wages and better work conditions held a “lunch-in” in the lobby of the building housing the offices of Aviation Safeguards in Kew Gardens, Queens, Sept. 10. Workers from JFK and LaGuardia airports, joined by other members and staff of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ and other union supporters, followed the commands of “Move in. Keep exits clear. Sit down. Pull out your sandwich. Eat lunch.” Between bites protesters chanted their demands. The protest centered on the need for a decent break room for Aviation Safeguards workers at JFK.

“It’s not just about pay,” said Shareeka Elliott, who works for Airway Cleaners at JFK. “Our humanity is being disrespected.”

The union is on a campaign to organize 12,000 airport workers who are employed by subcontractors at JFK and LaGuardia.

— Candace Wagner

Illinois lamp workers win pay raise after 3-day strike
DES PLAINES, Ill. — Workers at lamp manufacturer Juno Lighting here won pay raises and a new contract Sept. 6 after a three-day strike. The agreement includes wage increases of 45 cents per hour for each of the first two years and 50 cents in 2016. The company withdrew its demand to make workers pay higher health insurance premiums.

“We broke them in three days. In the end we got what we wanted,” said Gabriel Mendez, 25, who works in the shipping department. “The company tried to divide us by giving the shippers another 25 cent increase per hour. In the end we all got the same increase.” The walkout involved 360 of the plant’s 400 workers.

The workers, members of SEIU Workers United Local 2565, approved the contract by a secret ballot vote held at the picket line.

Strikers said the company’s first offer of 30 cents an hour was rejected overwhelmingly. Workers are paid anywhere from $8.25 to $20 an hour.

Before the vote more than 100 strikers and their families gathered at the picket line, grilling hot dogs and listening to Mexican music, while the union negotiating committee met with company representatives inside the plant.

“About 20 co-workers didn’t support the strike and stayed working. This plant is 95 percent Latino and 80 percent women,” Catalina Villaseñor, who has worked at the plant for more than 20 years, told the Militant. “We stuck together and stayed strong.”

— Alyson Kennedy

Canada teachers strike over wages and class size
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Some 41,000 teachers have been on strike across the province since mid-June, two weeks before the end of the school year. Public schools, which were scheduled to reopen Sept. 2, are still closed.

Teachers went on strike to demand higher wages and smaller class sizes. The British Columbia government says that teachers have no right to negotiate over class size.

Since 2002, nearly 2,500 special education teachers, counselors, teacher-librarians and other school workers have been cut. British Columbia schools have the fewest teachers per student in the country and they earn less than in Ontario and Alberta. The British Columbia Federation of Teachers is asking for an 8 percent increase over five years, while the government is offering 7 percent over six.

Thousands of teachers and their supporters, including parents, students and other unions, rallied here Sept. 5 and across the province days earlier to demand that the government accept the federation’s proposals for binding arbitration to end the strike, which the government has called “a nonstarter.”

Dave Gagnon, a support staff worker at Windsor House School, carried a sign that read, “We need to support teachers because breaking unions won’t stop with teachers.” He said that Canadian Union of Public Employees members who work as school support staff are respecting the teachers’ picket lines.

— Steve Penner, Ned Dmytryshyn and Mike Barker

Thousands in China strike Apple parts plant for bonus, cake
About 16,000 workers at two subsidiaries of Taiwanese Apple supplier Wintek in Dongguan city in south China’s Guangdong province went on strike Sept. 9-10 to protest cuts in holiday benefits.

Workers walked out at the Dongguan Masstop Liquid Crystal Display plant after bosses denied them a promised $114 bonus and a box of mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday celebrated the day before. The company instead slashed the workers’ cash bonus to $16 and gave them a chicken leg and a banana.

The plant is the world’s largest producer of LCD flat screens, including for Apple’s new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch.

“There are 10,000 of us in that factory, so when we stop work, nobody anywhere in the world gets their screen,” plant worker Cai Shen told reporters.

The strikers blocked roads outside the factory, reported Chinese news agency Xinhua. After a couple of hours cops forced them inside the plant, but they didn’t resume work, reported Radio Free Asia, a U.S. government-funded news agency.

The following day the strike was joined by 8,000 workers at Wintek (China) Technology Ltd., another Apple subsidiary in Dongguan. The cops detained at least 11 strikers, according to Radio Free Asia.

“Workers may have misunderstood,” a Wintek representative told the South China Morning Post Sept. 10. “Masstop would only hand out bonuses if the company is making profit this year.”

The strikers returned to work Sept. 11 after company executives promised to cut their own salaries by 10 to 30 percent, according to Xinhua.

— Brian Williams

North London care workers strike against pay cut
BARNET, North London — Dozens of UNISON-organized care workers at the Flower Lane Autism Service and Rosa Morrison center, both run by Your Choice Barnet, have begun a series of two-day strikes and other actions to protest a 9.5 percent pay cut. Barnet Council, the local government that owns Your Choice, is on a drive to turn a profit on the centers, where workers care for people with physical or learning disabilities.

“In today’s climate, you can’t afford this pay cut,” said Flower Lane worker Sharon Harrison. “Just the rent means you would have to move out of London.”

“People with autism need consistency, daily plans, routine,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a business, but simply a service for people who need it.”

During the first walkout Sept. 8-9, workers outside Flower Lane handed out leaflets on their fight. Passing drivers honked in support. A woman whose son goes to Flower Lane brought tea and coffee for the strikers. A busload of striking care workers from Care UK in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, joined a solidarity rally Sept. 9.

Thirty workers have taken redundancy (voluntary layoff) since attacks on conditions began 18 months ago. Workers said that Your Choice has replaced them with temp workers, who are paid less and don’t have guaranteed hours.

“People have lost the concept of what a union is,” said Doug Lloyd, a Your Choice worker. “The union is the members. If we start using it, we can be strong.”

— Ögmundur Jónsson

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