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Vol. 77/33      September 23, 2013

On the Picket Line

Fast-food workers in Atlanta
join actions for $15 and union

ATLANTA — Picket lines and rallies starting at 6 a.m. took place outside several fast-food chains here Aug. 29, as part of demonstrations in some 60 cities across the country pressing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and unionization. The first such actions began last November in New York. This is the first time rallies have taken place in Atlanta.

“We are now speaking up for ourselves and we’ll do this over and over again until we get our $15,” said Frederick Hambrick, 51, who has worked at Church’s Chicken for 15 years and makes $8.25 an hour.

“Sometimes it gets real rough,” Calvin Strong, 50, a worker from TJ’s Sandwiches, told the Militant at the early morning rally. Strong, who has worked in fast food for 20 years, is paid $8.50 an hour. “When it gets slow, they cut the hours,” he said.

There are 77,248 fast-food workers in Atlanta. Their median wage is $8.59 per hour, according to Atlanta Jobs with Justice, one of the organizers of the demonstrations.

Outside a downtown Burger King some 100 protesters, including about a dozen fast-food workers, gathered for an afternoon rally chanting, “Hold the burgers, hold the fries, make our wages super-size” and “Low pay is not OK.” A number of workers passing by joined in.

—Janice Lynn

Quebec: Locked-out worker
hit with car on picket line

Gilles Lavigne, a 64-year-old worker locked out by Kronos, a chemical manufacturer at Varennes near Montreal, was seriously injured when the driver of a SUV ran him over Aug. 22 as he was participating in a union picket line in front of Robert Transport, the main trucking company used by Kronos.

Lavigne suffered serious injuries to his face and foot. The driver of the SUV, an employee of Robert Transport, has been charged with assault with a weapon.

François Morin, a spokesperson for the union at Kronos, said Robert Transport “continues to collaborate with the activities of an employer who treats us with contempt.”

“We deplore that the demonstrators have come to disrupt the work of our employees in an effort to provoke difficult situations and settle the conflict between them and their employer,” said a statement released by Robert Transport officials.

The 320 Kronos workers, members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), were locked out June 13 after they rejected concessions demanded by the bosses by 93 percent. Company demands included outsourcing 100 jobs and cuts to the pension plan.

—Joe Young

After 4-month lockout, Ontario
Steelworkers vote for contract

MONTREAL — The four-month lockout by U.S. Steel Corp. of 1,000 workers at its Lake Erie Works in Nanticoke, Ontario, ended Aug. 30 when union members voted 57 percent to accept a revised contract offer. Some 79 percent of the workforce, members of United Steelworkers Local 8782, cast ballots.

The lockout, the second in three years, began April 28 after workers voted down by 70 percent the bosses’ concession demands. In a second vote imposed on the union July 31, unionists rejected the company’s so-called “final offer” by a similar margin.

One key reason was opposition to U.S. Steel’s demand to eliminate contract language protecting workers against contracting out union jobs.

While the approved five-year contract contains a number of concessions, the company backed off from its demand for the right to contract out workers’ jobs, as well as a move to gut the seniority system in plant job postings. The bosses also dropped a demand for increased copayments for prescription drugs.

Workers will receive no wage raise and terms of the cost-of-living allowance were weakened. Vacation time has been cut back and workers’ health care costs increased.

“I feel this offer addressed a lot of the issues we were trying to maintain in our contract, but the COLA issue fell short of what we anticipated,” John Swart, a desulf operator who pours iron into 230-ton ladles, told the Militant. “I felt for that reason we should have turned it down in order to renegotiate the COLA.”

“The contract cost us vacations and the COLA, which were big issues,” said millwright Graham Hartwell. “We didn’t keep everything, but the company didn’t get as much as they wanted.”

U.S. Steel did not respond to a Militant request for comment.

— John Steele and Joe Young

UK bakery workers strike
against temp agency contracts

WIGAN, England — More than 200 workers at the Hovis bakery here went out on a seven-day strike Aug. 28 against the introduction of workers employed by temporary agencies on “zero-hour” contracts, which give no guarantee of hours or pay each week.

“Hovis made 26 workers redundant [laid off] in April,” Geoff Atkinson, organizing secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union and spokesperson for the strikers, told the Militant. “And 48 hours after the last one left, agency workers on zero-hour contracts were brought into the plant. The company is using this to cut hours and pay.”

The union had agreed to a reduction in hours and wages. But then Hovis reneged on its promise not to replace workers under full contract with agency staff. Two further weeklong strikes are planned during September.

“Using agency is widespread across the food industry and nothing unusual,” Premier Foods, the owner of Hovis bakeries, said to the online website just-food Aug. 22.

More than 1 million workers in the United Kingdom are estimated to work on zero-hour contracts. Many will be among the estimated 1.4 million agency workers out of a 29 million strong U.K. workforce. Use of these contracts has mushroomed in recent years, while real wages have fallen — down 5.5 percent since 2010 alone.

“It really cheered me up when I saw these workers going on strike, it’s the first time in a generation I see workers standing up like that,” John Bibby, who was a shop steward at the plant 25 years ago, told Militant distributors when they met him Aug. 31 going door to door near the plant. “I am really proud that someone is fighting the zero-hour contracts. I hope that all unions in the country will back them up!”

The assault on the bakery workers in Wigan comes in the wake of Premier Foods’ closure of three other bakeries following a decline in bread sales and rising wheat prices resulting from a U.S. drought and a poor harvest in the U.K. Much of the work from the closed bakeries is expected to come to Wigan.

— Caroline Bellamy

Related articles:
Cambodia garment workers fight for wages, safety, union
West Coast longshore union disaffiliates from AFL-CIO
Cannon: ‘All modern strikes require political direction’
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