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Vol. 78/No. 25      July 14, 2014

On the Picket Line

Long Island Rail Road workers rally against concession contract
NEW YORK — More than 2,000 workers rallied in the parking lot of the Long Island Rail Road train station in Massapequa, New York, June 21 against the concessions demanded by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in its contract dispute with more than 5,000 railroad workers. The unionists voted to authorize a strike July 20 after working without a contract since 2010.

In addition to Long Island Rail Road workers, 50 workers from the Metro North railroad participated. Other contingents included teachers, meatpackers, sheet metal workers and Teamsters.

MTA bosses began their offensive with a demand that workers would not accept — a contract with no wage raises. Two federal mediation boards recommended the two sides settle for a 17 percent raise over six years, which would be offset by the introduction of medical insurance premiums amounting to 2 percent of wages.

At a June 24 press conference MTA officials revealed that new hires were their main target. In exchange for a 17 percent raise over seven years, the company announced it wanted to impose second-tier conditions for all future employees. This included doubling the length of time before reaching the top wage rate, paying 4 percent of income for medical insurance and making pension fund payments for the duration of employment. Current employees pay into the pension fund for their first 10 years.

“It’s so unfair because we are the front line,” a conductor of 12 years who didn’t want her name used, told the Militant at Penn Station June 28. “They get all the credit for on-time performance. But we’re the ones who do the work and this is the thanks we get. We’re OK with paying into health insurance, but what they’re doing to new hires is horrible. There are passengers that support us. I went to the rally. It was awesome.’”

— Deborah Liatos

Philadelphia rail workers strike over pay, cuts in health care
PHILADELPHIA — On Saturday, June 14 at midnight, 450 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers shut down 13 regional rail lines that carry thousands of commuters in the area here. The unionists were forced out on strike after the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority imposed rates of pay not agreed to by the unions.

IBEW and BLET members have been without a contract for four years.

Workers are fighting for retroactive pay raises, against cuts to health benefits and for parity in pensions with members of Transportation Workers Union Local 234, which organizes about 5,000 bus, subway and trolley operators at SEPTA. TWU members have also been working without a contract since mid-March.

The Roberts Yard picket line of about 35 members from both striking unions also included an officer from the Machinists union whose members did not cross. R.G. Dickson, BLET Local 71 chairman and working engineer, gave a pep talk, and four members of the TWU, including TWU Local 234 Vice President Daryl Mack, stopped by.

One of the picketers was Juanita Hill, 42, an engineer for eight years. She said she works a six-day workweek, but only gets paid time and a half for four hours. If she works a five-day week, she has a 12-hour shift. “When I wanted to go to my son’s graduation, I had to apply for a vacation day two months in advance,” she said. “I looked around and realized my kids had grown up without me being able to be with them very much.”

About 10 percent of BLET members are women, said Hill. She spoke about having to use an outhouse with no water and having to walk down the tracks in the dark because there are no bathrooms on the trains. “It’s very dangerous and not sanitary,” she said.

“They didn’t hire enough workers in 1983, and they don’t hire enough now,” John Horvey, who was on the picket line during the last strike in 1983, said. “They’ve never had enough workers.”

“I have to take a whole vacation day to get my teeth cleaned,” another striker, Heather, said. “That’s ridiculous!”

Under the National Railway Act the president can order workers back to work for a 240-day cooling-off period. In the face of the demonstration of union power by these rail workers that is exactly what Barack Obama did before the day was out.

— George Chalmers, member of TWU Local 234

Rail workers’ strike in Sweden pushes back concessions
STOCKHOLM — After a 16-day strike members of the Swedish Union for Service and Communications (Seko) forced Oresundstagen commuter train bosses to back off from a number of concession demands.

In March, train operator Veolia Transport gave 250 regular workers notice that they would be fired from their jobs — and then rehired on hourly contracts at lower wages with no pension or sick pay. Negotiations between the union and the bosses organization Almega led nowhere and on June 2, the workers walked off the job.

Oresundstagen transports 80,000 passengers daily in the south of Sweden, to Copenhagen, Denmark, and on express trains to Stockholm.

The strike won broad support as union members picketed train stations. Fourteen other national unions in Sweden planned sympathy strikes and protest actions. Support came from rail unions in Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Belgium.

The new contract raises wages for hourly workers to the average wage for each job category. When they are called in at less than 48 hours notice, workers will get an extra 6 percent pay. Part-time jobs and employees paid by the hour will be limited to 5 percent of the production hours at Oresundstagen.

— Lars Erlandsson

Meatpackers in Ontario approve contract as bosses drop wage cuts
HAMILTON, Ontario — Some 900 meatpackers at Fearman’s Pork Inc. in Burlington, Ontario, scored a victory June 7 when they voted by 81 percent to accept a contract after bosses there, in face of a looming strike, withdrew their demands for cuts in wages and benefits.

At a May 24 meeting the union negotiating committee reported that bosses at Fearman’s, the largest cut and kill pork processing plant in eastern Canada, declared they wouldn’t give an inch on their contract demands. The workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, replied by rejecting the proposal with a vote of 98.6 percent and informed the company that the next step would be a strike vote.

The new five-year pact includes wage increases totaling $1.80. In addition, 14 job classifications have received wage raises of between $1 and $2 per hour. An attendance bonus of $1 per hour was maintained and the much-hated “washroom swipe” was removed from the contract — which deducted every minute workers used the washroom from their paychecks.

“It’s good for us now,” said Leo Balthazar, who works in the kill department. “We can earn from $15 to $20 an hour in wages.”

This contract fight took place while the hog industry in Canada is undergoing major changes. On May 6, Quality Meats, a large pork processing plant in Toronto and Fearman’s main competitor, went bankrupt, throwing 700 meatpackers out of work. Fearman’s then scooped up the resulting excess hogs on the market and has now jacked up the workweek to 50 hours, processing 9,000 hogs per shift with a line speed of 1,100 hogs per hour. This expansion in production forced Fearman’s to hire new workers, many of whom are young. Even though the new workers are still on probation, they joined the fight and attended both union meetings.

— Rosemary Ray, worker in cut department at Fearman’s Pork

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