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Dozens of retired workers and strikers joined the picket line October 11 at the Kenworth truck assembly plant in Ste. Therese, Quebec, to demand decent pensions.
Participants filled the entrance to the struck plant, making it harder for police to carry out their daily routine of pushing picketers back and opening space for vehicles to cross the picket lines.
The plant gate action was preceded by a press conference at the hall of the striking union, Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 728. Dozens of retired workers and strikers were on hand as union officials condemned Kenworth's attempt to roll back pensions.
Kenworth is offering a pension increase of $2 per month per year of service in each year of a three year contract. The union wants a $5-per-month increase each year and it wants to lower the age at which a worker can take a retirement without a financial penalty. Presently, it is 62 years.
The company wants to eliminate the gain won by the union six years ago whereby retirees receive 50 percent of the increase in pension payments that workers get.
"For us it's a form of compensation for increases in the cost of living," explained retired worker Jacques Tremblay at the October 11 rally. "Robots are sent to the scrap heap when their work is finished. It's not the same for us. Our lives continue and the company should respect that," Tremblay said.
"The more improvements we make to the pensions, the more jobs will open up for young people," said striking worker Fernand Lapensée. He has worked at Kenworth for 27 years.
Kenworth says the union has no business negotiating on behalf of some 175 retired workers. The union announced at the press conference that it is encouraging retirees to become involved in the strike. Union president Yvan Bourgeois said they are encouraged to join the picket line and attend union meetings. They will have the right to vote at meetings.
The company and union last met September 10. In separate meetings on October 2, office and factory workers voted by 90 percent to continue the strike. A key factor in the votes was the company's demand to place its arbitrary work rules into a new collective agreement.
N.Y. garment workers win a new contract
Members of Local 966 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ratified a new contract with Hedaya Home Fashions on September 28 that contained no givebacks. The workers struck Hedaya, a Brooklyn towel manufacturer, for two weeks when the boss demanded they take cuts in wages and paid holidays.
The workers' average hourly pay is $5.16, with no health benefits. They won a $.90 pay raise for all employees and kept all their sick time in the three-year contract. They also succeeded in keeping the probation for new employees at two months.
At a rally September 28, Victoria Martinez, a worker with 22 years at the company, described the strike as a victory. All the workers in the plant walked out, effectively stopping production.
Kmart workers rally, fight for temp workers
Some 150 members of Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) Local 2603 at Kmart held a solidarity rally October 5 outside the company entrance in Greensboro, North Carolina. The rally included representatives from Teamsters Local 391 and the Letter Carriers union in Greensboro. The president of the tobacco workers union at the Lorillard cigarette plant also spoke at the event.
The workers in the union are waging a campaign to force the company to hire temporary workers at the warehouse as permanent employees. Unionists held meetings with the temporary workers explaining that they wanted to defend the temps and improve their situation by including them as part of the bargaining unit.
Many of the temporary workers, who include several Mexicans, are treated unfairly and often find the company has shorted them on their paychecks. Joan Paltrineri, a Kmart worker and the Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor, told the crowd at the October 5 rally how she and other workers verified that the company had cheated a Mexican co-worker. "The company came back to us and said it's none of our business," she said.
"I was one of those Norell workers, a temp, when I started," Ron McNeil told the rally. "We can't turn our backs on the Mexican workers - I know I can't," he concluded.
Monica Jones, member of CAW Local 728 on strike at Kenworth in Ste. Therese; Nancy Rosenstock, member of the International Association of Machinists in Brooklyn; and M.J. Rahn, member of UNITE Local 2603 in Greensboro, contributed to this column.
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