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SHAWINIGAN, Quebec - After five months on strike against the paper company Abitibi-Consolidated, the 4,500 members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) at 10 mills in Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland rejected the company's latest contract offer by a vote of 97.4 percent at union meetings organized the last week of October. The company was proposing a six year contract with only a 10.5 percent wage increase over the life of the contract, with a $1,000 signing bonus. According to the Montreal daily La Presse, a union spokesperson said that the CEP would not accept a contract longer than four years. The company also wants to run production 365 days a year with only Christmas day being voluntary.
At the Shawinigan picket line, strikers have decorated a Christmas tree to show how long they are ready to stay out in order to win their demands. Luc Poulin at the Grand-Mere mill echoed this sentiment: "After four months on strike, we're not going back without winning something."
Abitibi-Consolidated has other mills in Canada, the United States, and Europe that are still producing, but the struck mills represent 30 percent of its newsprint capacity and 66 percent of its higher quality paper production. The company announced losses of Can$57 million (Can$1 = US$0.65) for the third quarter, which ended September 30. Striker Denis Turgeon commented, "Now that the company is losing money, maybe they'll get serious." But the company continues to acquire new mills, the latest being a newsprint mill in Arizona belonging to Stone Container Corp.
ABC TV workers locked out after one-day strike
NEW YORK - Some 2,700 members of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET-CWA), part of the Communications Workers of America, went on a one-day unfair labor practice strike against ABC Inc. November 2. Hundreds turned out to staff picket lines set up in front of the television network's offices in Manhattan.
They have been working without a contract since March 31, 1997. The stumbling block in negotiations is ABC's refusal to provide the union with information on a new health plan they want workers to accept to replace their existing medical insurance. The union has stated that if ABC does not want to provide information on the new plan, they are willing to stay with their present plan.
ABC, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co., responded by locking out the workers the next day at its offices and studios in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. ABC stated that they will not allow the workers back to work unless NABET promises to give the company warning of future strikes. Tom Donahue, a spokesman for the union, said, "That would require us to waive our rights as a labor union."
In response to the company lockout, union members continue to picket, replacing placards for the unfair labor practice strike with those stating, "Locked Out! Disney/ABC unfair to union workers!"
The workers on the picket line have received solidarity since the lockout began. Construction workers, who have been protesting the New York city government's contracting out of work, brought their huge rat balloon to the picket in front of the ABC building. According to pickets, members of the Transport Workers Union, CWA members from Bell Atlantic, and Teamsters have joined the picket lines as well.
"NABET-CWA supported us when we were on strike in August 1997. Now we're standing strong with them in their struggle with Disney/ABC," said Howie Redman, president of Teamsters Local 804 at UPS (United Parcel Service).
In Hollywood, California, hundreds of NABET-CWA members and their supporters marched and rallied November 7 to protest the lookout. Other protests took place that day, including the Michigan AFL/CIO's protesting the use of nonunion scab camera crews by ABC television in its broadcast of the University of Michigan vs. Penn State football game. Similar picketing was scheduled for Ohio State, Florida State, Stanford, and San Diego State, all sites of ABC College Football broadcasts.
Several ABC newscasters have brought hot food and drink to workers on the picket lines, and actors Whoopi Goldberg and Tony Bennett canceled appearances because of the strike.
Poultry workers walk out over pay cuts in Quebec
JOLIETTE, Quebec - Members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions at two poultry plants owned by Olymel-Flamingo in Quebec went on strike October 28. They oppose the company's attempt to slash Can$2.50 per hour off their wages. They also denounce working conditions in the plants. The CNTU is the second-biggest trade union federation in Quebec.
Two days into the strike the company announced its decision to shut down the Joliette plant January 31. The plant employs 265 workers. The other plant, in Berthierville, employs 300 workers. "Íd rather find another job at $10 than working here at $12.50 under these horrible working conditions," said Francois Joli, who works at the Joliette plant. The Joliette plant kills 8,500 chickens per hour. Workers on the picket line described how they suffer from tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other repetitive motion injuries.
The decision to shut down the plant "looks like a strategy for the negotiations," said Denis Ayotte, reflecting a common assessment among pickets here.
Workers plan to fight this decision, pointing to the fact that poultry plants in Quebec are functioning close to full capacity. "If they do shut down the plant it will be difficult for us because we wouldn't get severance pay," said Clarice Lajeunesse, who has been working there for 45 years. "And we don't have a pension fund," she noted. Approximately 40 percent of workers are women.
Workers are planning to reach out for solidarity from workers at a third poultry plant owned by Olymel-Flamingo in St- Damase, east of Montreal, where the company has transferred some of the production from the struck plants. The 250 workers at the St. Damase plant are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Striker Robert Pichette explained workers at another poultry plant in St-Damase, owned by the Dorchester company, went on strike when the company demanded a take-back of Can$1 an hour. The company has since offered a $350 lump sum for the first year and small hourly increases for the second and third years. The workers rejected this offer.
Olymel-Flamingo is owned by the Coopérative fédérée du Québec. Several workers on the picket line pointed out that the cooperative is controlled by rich farmers, and its decisions harm smaller poultry producers, who are dictated the price for their chickens and the conditions for production.
Atlanta: grocery workers win strike at Kroger
ATLANTA - More than 500 union members won a two-day strike against Kroger grocery stores here. Kroger sold its two warehouses in Atlanta to CSI and Ruan Transportation Management Systems. The new owners, who were scheduled to take over November 15, told the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), who represent truck drivers and warehouse workers, their union contracts with Kroger would not be recognized. Present employees were told they could apply for a job with the new owners, loosing seniority.
The Teamsters set up picket lines at both the Bouldercrest facility and the East Point warehouse November 3. UFCW members, who work at the East Point facility, picketed there.
No union members crossed the picket lines. The company was unsuccessful in getting an injunction to limit picketing, although there were plenty of cops on hand to help store managers drive trucks through the picket lines.
On November 5 the new owners agreed to a five-year contract with the unions, with seniority intact. Workers got no severance pay from Kroger's, but received a $2,000 signing bonus, and all those who were not yet at top pay were bumped up to top pay. A two-tier pay scale stays in effect, with new hires beginning at 80 percent of top wages.
Nursing home strikers rally over staff cuts
LOWELL, Massachusetts -"We are going to fight you to the end!" shouted a woman striker, member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 285, picketing the Glenwood Convalescent Home here October 24.
Pickets and rallies were held at both nursing homes that members of the SEIU are striking in Lowell and Boston.
After their shift change, the strikers in Lowell boarded a bus and drove down to the Oakwood Care Center in Boston to picket at its 6-8 p.m. shift change. There were 50 pickets in Lowell and close to 75 in Boston.
Joanna McKee, a Lowell striker with 14 years at Glenwood, said, "We're out here over a moral issue. We couldn't continue to condone the way SunRise is running this home because we'd be hurting the patients.
"We had to go out. In one week, we had 35 unfilled slots. On one third shift, there were three nurses aides for 101 patients. We've been too quiet as a labor movement."
A SunRise home in Lawrence made front-page news in Massachusetts over the weekend when it was discovered a 24-year- old patient, comatose for five years, was five months pregnant. Strikers pointed to this as an effect of the cost-cutting, short-staffing policy of SunRise.
Toward the end of the shift change in Boston, pickets and local supporters confronted four vans taking replacement workers out of the Oakwood home.
The strikers surrounded them, slapping the sides with strike placards and shouting "scabs!' as the vans slowly inched their way up the residential street.
Neighbors began coming out of their houses as the action took on an almost festive mood, with strikers, most of them women, running down the block after the vans, yelling, blowing whistles, and setting off wails with the bullhorns.
Joanne Pritchard, a member of the United Steelworkers of America in Montreal; Nancy Rosenstock, member of the International Association of Machinists in New York; Michel Dugré, member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees in Montreal; Dan Fein, member of the United Food and Commercial Workers in Atlanta; and M.J. Rahn in Boston contributed to this column.
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