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Vol. 78/No. 29      August 11, 2014

On the Picket Line
Meatpackers in Colorado push back concessions
GREELEY, Colo. — Workers at the JBS beef slaughterhouse here, which employs about 3,000 workers, voted 97 percent to approve a new contract July 22. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 had worked without a contract during 10 months of stalled negotiations, but bosses backed off concession demands after workers voted in late June to authorize a strike.

The strike vote, which took place a couple weeks after a worker died on the job, passed by 99 percent.

“They thought we were weak but we stuck together,” said Steven Baca, 46, who has worked seven years in the hide department. “We won even though we didn’t get everything we wanted.”

More than 20 different languages are spoken in the plant; many workers are immigrants from Myanmar, Somalia, Latin America and Nepal. Eight years ago, 262 workers at the slaughterhouse were arrested in an immigration raid that targeted six meatpacking plants across the country.

“It doesn’t matter where we are from. If we are not all united, they will work us like donkeys,” said Antonio, who did not want to give his last name.

“The strike vote moved the company on a number of issues,” said Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7.

The union refused to accept JBS’s contract demands, which would have doubled workers’ health care costs and allowed bosses to change their health care plan at will.

The approved contract includes “affordable health insurance … guaranteed for the life of the contract,” according to a press release from UFCW Local 7. Details have not been released.

The agreement stipulates a $1.80 hourly pay raise over the five-year agreement, including 60 cents the first year, paid retroactively to the contract expiration date of Sept. 29, 2013, according to a union press release. In addition, 21 specific jobs will be classified at higher pay grades.

Several workers spoke to the Militant about working conditions in the plant.

“There are daily injuries that are not reported,” said Basilio Chaires, 50, who has worked 12 years in the plant, noting that many safety issues are not addressed in the new contract.

Ralph Horner, 54, was killed while working at the JBS plant June 10. He was killed after being trapped in a conveyer belt while working the night shift. Workers say they have asked, but have not been given information on his death. Representatives of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration say they are investigating.

—Jacquie Henderson and John Parry

San Francisco transit workers ratify new contract after sickout
SAN FRANCISCO — One month after a sickout that tied up bus, light-rail and cable car service here, members of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A ratified a contract July 14, in a 634-485 vote. The three-year pact with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency covers 2,000 workers.

After voting 96 percent to reject a previous contract proposal, hundreds of workers called in sick June 2-4, shutting down most of the railway service.

The contract imposes a new employee contribution to the pension plan of 7.5 percent of wages. But instead of being effective immediately, as stipulation in the rejected contract, it will be implemented in stages over three years. Dropped from the approved contract was the company’s demand that newer employees pay an extra 5 percent toward the pensions fund.

“We didn’t make any progress on this until Muni stopped” operating during the sickout, said driver German Marroquin. “Then they started to consider the drivers’ position.”

Previously new hires reached full pay — about $29 an hour — after 19 months. The new contract changed this to five years.

“It’s wrong. It’s unfair,” said Reggie Jones, a Muni driver for 14 years. “The new hires work the same routes and pick up the same people. Why should they get paid less?”

— Jeff Powers

NZ casino workers protest contracting out jobs
AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Some 60 workers picketed at the SkyCity Casino complex here July 18 to protest moves to contract out the jobs of nearly 100 cleaners. The complex includes two hotels and 23 bars and restaurants. Two unions, Unite and the Service and Food Workers Union, organize one-third of the complex’s 3,000 workers.

Unite member Tina Barnet, who works on the gaming floor, said that outsourcing cleaners’ jobs is a threat to all SkyCity workers.

Workers in the butchery department, which services restaurants in the complex, are fighting similar outsourcing attempts, said Jose Aquilino, a butcher and member of the Service and Food Workers Union.

Contractors who take over the cleaning are required to meet the current contract terms, said Lynette Blacklaws, an organizer for the Service and Food Workers Union, but they expect contractors would start slashing hours and targeting workers for disciplinary action.

“Seven hundred sixty workers signed a petition protesting the company’s moves to contract out the cleaners’ jobs,” said Unite organizer John Crocker.

— Annalucia Vermunt

Tentative contract announced on Long Island Rail Road
NEW YORK — Officials of unions representing workers at the Long Island Rail Road and Metropolitan Transit Authority officers announced a tentative agreement July 17, three days before a strike deadline set by the unions. Some 300,000 people ride the LIRR daily.

Local newspapers including the New York Post and the Daily News backed the rail bosses with anti-union editorials calling workers “the best paid in the nation,” making $60,000 a year plus $30,000 in overtime pay.

On July 16 Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the unions and MTA to resume negotiations to avoid “Long Islanders from being held hostage by a strike.” A deal with eight unions in the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation coalition representing 5,400 workers was reached the next day.

The proposed contract includes a 17 percent wage hike spread over 6.5 years. MTA had proposed the increase over seven years and union officials had proposed six. Instead of MTA’s public stance that new hires not reach full pay for 12 years — double the current six — the two sides agreed on eight years. All workers will start paying 2 percent of wages for medical insurance. MTA had been demanding new hires pay 4 percent. They will also pay more into the pension fund.

“They say it’s inevitable that we have to pay for the medical. Why is it inevitable?” said a worker at the train cleaning facility in Queens, who did not want his name used. “They make it seem like we’re the ones bleeding the railroad because we need health care. But our wages aren’t keeping up with inflation.”

Chris Robles, a conductor with seven years seniority, said the deal is “pretty fair. I like the whole thing.”

“The MTA threw us under the bus the way they described us as ‘greedy, lazy and overpaid,’” said Kevin, a conductor who did not want his last name used.

“The reason there is so much overtime is because crew cuts mean that we do the work of two to three workers,” he said. “I often work seven days a week.”

“When it concerns safety, it’s always about money,” Kevin said. “The track from Speonk to Montauk on the LIRR is ‘dark territory’ with 150-year-old technology.”

Union members will vote on the contract by August 15.

— Dan Fein

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Postal workers defeat anti-union scheme to contract jobs to Staples
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