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Vol. 75/No. 33      September 19, 2011

On the Picket Line

Illinois miners press fight for
representation by UMWA

BENTON, Ill.—Three months after their union election victory, coal miners at Peabody Energy’s Willow Lake mine were in court here defending their union vote from the company’s legal maneuvering.

The hearing, which began August 29, will take up the company’s appeal of the union election and rule on a petition by the National Labor Relations Board to order Peabody to recognize the union—United Mine Workers of America Local 5929—and negotiate a contract.

In May, 51 percent of 425 miners at Willow Lake, about 40 miles southeast of here, voted to join the UMWA. Until April the miners had been working under a four-year agreement between Big Ridge Company, a Peabody Energy subsidiary, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers Union.

In his opening arguments NLRB attorney Patrick Myers detailed Peabody’s violations of the National Labor Relations Act. These included threats of the mine’s closure; the firing of Wade Waller, a well-known union activist; and the company’s refusal to recognize and bargain with the union.

UMWA attorney Art Traynor pointed out that “when the miners’ elected leadership decided that affiliation with the UMWA might give them a better chance to negotiate a new contract, the miners didn’t oppose that decision. In fact 93 percent of them signed authorization cards to make it happen.”

The company told workers that “they’d get raises if they voted against the union and they’d lose their jobs if they voted it in,” said Traynor. “Management told employees they’d close the mine if they went UMWA, and then buttressed those threats with an endless barrage of videos and other propaganda.”

Company attorney Timothy Garnett accused the local officers of trying to dupe miners by producing a fraudulent document, engaging in a “campaign of terror,” and misrepresentation. He accused an NLRB attorney of misconduct and Waller of threatening to run over a fellow worker with a piece of mine equipment.

—John Hawkins

Brooklyn rally backs apartment
workers at Flatbush Gardens

BROOKLYN, N.Y., August 31—More than 250 people rallied at the Flatbush Gardens apartment complex today to support 70 locked-out workers who clean and maintain the 59-building facility. Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ members have been picketing here since November 29 when the company locked them out.

“Everything is looking up,” is the assessment of Lucien Clarke, 46, who has worked as an electrician at Flatbush Gardens for 23 years. “Unions are supporting each other. This country was built by the working class, but the owners only want to cut, cut, cut.”

Speakers included union officials from different unions, including the Communications Workers of America, one of two unions recently on strike against Verizon. A 32BJ member on strike against Dayton Park apartments in Far Rockaway, Queens, also spoke and invited protesters to their solidarity rally in September.

Flatbush Gardens workers have received solidarity from tenants and neighborhood residents.

“We are trying to organize a rent strike for two reasons,” explained Cathy Tuite, an actress and member of the tenants’ association. “One, to pressure the landlord to end the lockout and agree to a fair contract and, two, to press the landlord to make needed repairs. I went through last winter with no heat or hot water. I don’t want to do that again.”

Participants at the rally bought 30 copies of the Militant and one subscription.

—Dan Fein

Teachers in Illinois town strike
over mandatory drug testing

GLASFORD, Ill.—Members of the Illini Bluffs Federation of Teachers approved a contract after an eight-day strike over a proposal for mandatory drug testing for the 58 teachers in this town of 1,104.

The strike began August 17, the first day of school. In response, the Illini Bluffs School District began interviewing for replacement teachers.

“I called the school and told them I wasn’t going to send my kids across the picket line,” resident Cathy Clauson told the Militant. “I’m a strong union person. I was raised union.”

Signs saying, “We support our teachers” are on many lawns throughout the town.

On August 23 some 300 teachers and community members held a rally here to support the strike. Members of local unions took part, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, United Auto Workers Local 974, and Labor Council of West Central Illinois.

According to the Peoria Journal Star, teachers ratified a three-year contract August 28 that includes voluntary drug testing with cause and mandatory testing for teachers hired after August 15.

—Alyson Kennedy

Foreign student interns strike
at Hershey’s warehouse in Pa.

PALMYRA, Pa.—Four hundred foreign students who paid thousands of dollars for a summer internship in the U.S. went out on strike August 17 at a Hershey Chocolate warehouse here.

The students—from China, Turkey, eastern Europe, Nigeria, and Ukraine—hung signs outside windows in the plant and then marched out to protest working conditions and low wages. They received support from representatives of the state AFL-CIO, SEIU, and the National Guestworker Alliance.

The interns are in the country on J-1 temporary visas for cultural and educational exchange programs approved by the U.S. State Department.

“The tipping point was when we found out about the rent,” Nigerian student Godwin Egobi told the Militant.

The students, paid $7.25 to $8.35 per hour to package and load boxes of Reese’s Cups and Kit-Kat bars, were charged $400 per month to live in company housing. After rent and other internship-related fees, they took home an average $90 per week.

As the company has brought in low-cost “intern” labor, the warehouse has been laying off hundreds of workers.

After protesting for two days in Hershey, the students sent representatives to labor rallies in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

In Philadelphia August 19 they spoke to 1,000 workers at a Verizon strike rally and organized their own rally at the Constitution Center.

“We want justice,” Andre, a student from eastern Europe, told the crowd. He explained their demand is “raise wages and give jobs to local people.”

The students said one way they had learned English in Hershey was coming up with the protest slogans they used in their strike.

—Osborne Hart

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