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HULL, Quebec - About 1,500 telephone operators and technicians on strike at Bell Canada rallied here April 28 outside the annual shareholders meeting. The 9,500 members of the Union of Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) in Ontario and Quebec have been on strike since April 9 for job security and benefits. A tentative agreement between Bell Canada and CEP officials was announced May 10. Workers were voting on the proposal over the following week.
Bell recently signed an agreement with the U.S. company Excell Global Services to create a joint company, Nordia, which would take over the operations presently performed by the operators. Although Bell claims telephone operators will work for the new company, Ann Jones, Cindy Kiezel, Janet Brown, and Linda Govia - telephone operators in the Toronto area - explained this isn't the case. "In the package that [the company wants you] to sign, there is no guarantee of the new jobs," one of them declared. "They're offering us no union, no benefits, no nothing, no seniority!" The demonstration was important because "it's good to come together like this, to have that kind of camaraderie," another striker added.
The operators are demanding decent compensation for their jobs. Hundreds of unionists attended the meeting; several raised their demands. Operators presented a petition signed by more than 50,000 Bell clients threatening to leave if the company proceeded with the sale.
There are 2,300 operators, about 95 percent of them women. The rest of the strikers are technicians, a similar percentage of whom are men. The CEP had just won a landmark pay equity battle with Bell, which included millions of dollars in back-pay for the operators.
Militant correspondents asked Montreal technicians Fernando DeSilva and Richard Hamel why they were on strike. "It was necessary," DeSilva said. "The company's game is to play one against the other. They offered the technicians slightly better benefits, at the same time they cut the operators' jobs. Bell Canada's strategy is to break up the company into several smaller companies."
On the bus to the event was a group of strikers who worked together to come up with a list of subsidiaries or independent companies that Bell had either set up or sold off to do the jobs that unionized workers at Bell had done up to 1988. The list included Actimedia, which handles the Yellow Pages. Several workers from Actimedia participated in the April 28 demonstration.
Workers came out from all over Ontario and Quebec. Paul Kennedy, a technician at Belleville, said, "Provincial barriers don't matter. Workers in Quebec are the same as us. It's cut, cut, and cut."
Striker Patrick Robertson, a technician from Montreal, added, "Bell has always told us that the stakes are to be competitive. They've always based their arguments with us on that. But this time we say shove it!"
Hertz car rental strikers return to work in Newark
NEWARK, New Jersey - Members of Teamsters Local 723 settled their strike against Hertz car rental agency here April 23. More than 100 Teamsters, including cleaners, mechanics, and reservation agents, walked off the job March 19 over wages, lack of a pension plan, and dignity. Workers turned down two contract offers before accepting the third.
The contract includes wage increases and the union is providing a new pension plan. Hertz will now provide shoes for Teamsters who work outside. But the company has refused matching pension funds and retroactive pay, despite the fact that workers here were without a contract for two years.
Stephen Williams, a member of Teamsters Local 723, reported the reaction of workers to the agreement was mixed, though most came back feeling more united and stronger.
Williams explained the diversified workforce made the strike stronger. "They [the company] didn't think we would go on strike. They thought we were too poor. They didn't think the Latinos would go. [The company] said, `They have 15 children and no papers.' But they were wrong." Williams also added that of all the workers the Latino strikers most often showed up at the picket lines.
Detroit Edison workers protest harassment
Detroit - Chanting "Racism, sexism have got to go. Detroit Edison, we say, `No!'" some 50 Detroit Edison workers and others picketed the company's shareholders meeting here April 28.
On Dec. 30, 1998, 12 power plant workers filed a class- action lawsuit against the state's largest utility company. Detroit Edison currently has five major class action lawsuits pending for sex harassment, and gender, race, and age discrimination. More than 40 percent of the 8,400 employees in the company today are actively involved in these cases. In July 1998 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the company guilty of sex discrimination practices and fined Detroit Edison $500,000.
Examples of harassment at Edison include pornographic drawings, demeaning sexually explicit terms, and a racist cartoon of a man hanging from a noose that was posted on the locker of a Black worker January 4.
Pamela Haddad, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said her supervisor told her he "couldn't give me my full raise because he had to take care of the men in the department."
The protest was called by Alicia Prez-Banuet, Michigan Conference president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and other groups. The 12 current plaintiffs have organized themselves into the Coalition for a Better Work Environment to reach out for support and endorsement. A public forum organized on March 27 attracted about 250 people.
L.A. airport workers rally for union, protest lockout
LOS ANGELES - Some 400 workers and supporters marched here on April 30 as part of the ongoing effort to organize the Los Angeles International Airport workers with a focus on Argenbright Security. Argenbright is the airport's largest contract employer of baggage screeners, wheel chair assistants, and baggage handlers - with more than 800 employees. In recent months, hundreds of airport workers, organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union, have won new contracts - some for the first time, others with significant wage and benefits gains.
On April 29 about 45 Argenbright workers carried out a job action and walked off the job for two hours to protest the company's unjust practices, which include threatening and intimidating workers from joining the union. SEIU official Blanca Gallegos told La Opinion that Argenbright suspended the workers indefinitely. They made an unconditional offer to return to work but were locked out by management.
"Respect at LAX," and "Argenbright, no - Union, yes!" chanted the protesters the next day. Delegations of workers and union officials from other unions participated - including the Teamsters, United Auto Workers, Steelworkers, Communication Workers, retired groups, and the construction trades.
Ana Lima, an airport worker with eight years, told the Militant, "This is a fight for justice for all workers."
Another emergency protest and spirited march of 200 people was held May 4 at the airport demanding the reinstatement of the locked-out workers. It included several dozen Argenbright workers, delegations of other union officials, members of the Flight Attendants union at United, and a group of the recently organized home-care workers who are also members of SEIU.
Argenbright worker Sonia Ramirez added, "We have to keep fighting and not give up. Argenbright broke the law, we are not alone, we have support."
Annette Kouri, a member of the United Steelworkers of America in Montreal; Ellie García, a member of the United Transportation Union in New York; Marty Ressler, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876 in Detroit; and Mark Friedman, a member of the International Association of Machinists in Los Angeles, contributed to this article.
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