Supporters call for solidarity with arrested Egyptian shipyard workers

The fate of 26 Egyptian shipyard workers facing trial by a military court remains in limbo.

In May, the workers, employed by the Alexandria Shipyard Company, were charged with inciting a strike. Eight remain in jail, 12 have so far managed to avoid arrest, and six were released on bail.

The military court trying the workers on October 18 again postponed a verdict in their case. If convicted the workers could be sentenced for up to three years in prison.

The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services, an Egyptian workers center, is urging people to support the jailed workers by signing and sending an electronic message of solidarity.

The Alexandria Shipyard, which builds and repairs ships for the Egyptian navy and for private companies, is owned by the Egyptian Ministry of Defense but is still considered a privately operated business.

In 2015, Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, an army general, announced a plan to expand and modernize the shipyard, but said that in order to do so, shipyard labor costs would need to be lowered.

A year later, the shipyard’s management announced that the workers’ allowances for the month of Ramadan would be cut.

Representatives of the workers and their union on May 23 tried to meet with management to discuss the announced pay cut but were rebuffed.

Frustrated by management’s intransigence and the worsening economic conditions in Egypt, the workers held a sit-in.

During the sit-in, workers formulated a list of demands that included a pay raise to keep up with the country’s rising cost of living, payment of past due profit-sharing bonuses that hadn’t been paid in four years, better access to health care, more company investment in equipment and repairs that would make their work safer, and re-opening parts of the shipyard that had been shut down.

In response, the company called in the military police who evicted those participating in the sit-in. The company then locked out the shipyard’s 2400 workers.

Twenty-six of the workers were ordered to appear before military prosecutors for interrogation. Fourteen who did were arrested and held in a military prison.

Supporters of the arrested workers argue that because the shipyard is considered a private business, it is illegal for the workers to be tried in military courts, which provide few rights for the accused.

The military court hearing the cases was supposed to issue a verdict on October 18, but for the fifth time since June postponed its verdict.

In October, five of those arrested were finally allowed to go free on bail after they signed letters of resignation from the shipyard.

“This is an exceptional trial against civilian workers,” said Mohamed Awwad, a defense lawyer to Mada Masr, an independent online newspaper. “Many of them were employed at the company before it came under the administration of the Ministry of Defense.”

The Ministry of Defense bought the Alexandria Shipyard in 2003 when the government began privatizing many of its public assets.

The ministry has extensive business interests other than the shipyard, including ten companies involved in a wide range of business activities such as construction and agriculture. The ministry also owns 25 factories that produce military and civilian equipment, military weapons, and consumer goods such as electronics and sports equipment.

Some of these factories are joint ventures with international private businesses.

According to Egypt Solidarity, a workers and human rights organization, the charges against the shipyard workers need to be seen as part of wider counterattack by the military “aimed at reversing the democratic gains of the 2011 Revolution” and implementing austerity programs.

The government appears to be proposing austerity programs in order to attract loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

In December, the World Bank agreed to lend Egypt $3 billion, and in August the IMF agreed to lend Egypt another $12 billion on condition that the government increase its foreign reserves by $6 billion.

The IMF and World Bank also want Egypt to implement a value added tax on commodities and reduce fuel subsidies that people receive.

According Egypt Solidarity, the only way to oppose the austerity programs and the attacks on democracy won by the 2011 revolution is through acts of solidarity.

“Unity and solidarity are our only weapons in confronting tyranny and exploitation,” reads a statement by Egypt Solidarity.

Harvard workers win big!

Harvard University dining hall workers voted 583 to 1 to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement.

The ratification vote ends a three-week strike by members of UNITE HERE Local 26.

“We achieved every goal, without exception, with no concessions to Harvard,” said Local 26 President Brian Lang to the Boston Globe.

The new collective bargaining agreement guarantees that full-time dining hall workers will be paid at least $35,000 a year and protects workers from rising health care costs.

During the three-week strike, the workers resolve and courage inspired students and others to take their own actions to support the workers and their strike.

When negotiations between Local 26 and Harvard began, the union had two priorities–win a guaranteed wage of $35,000 for full-time employees and hold the line on health care cost increases that Harvard was proposing.

Many of Harvard’s dining hall workers don’t work for long stretches of the year because most university dining halls are closed during the summer and winter breaks.

That means that workers have to endure long stretches of time when they have no income.

To make matters worse, dining hall workers can’t draw unemployment compensation when they’re laid off because Harvard is a non-profit organization and is not required to make unemployment insurance contributions.

The higher out-of-pocket health care costs that Harvard was seeking would make the dining hall workers’ financial situation even more precarious and make health care less accessible.

In an Op Ed column that appeared in the New York Times, Rosa Rivera, a 17-year Harvard dining hall worker, explained how increased co-pays proposed by Harvard would affect her and other strikers.

Rivera recently canceled a doctor’s appointment to have a spot on a lung checked for cancer. She did so because her daughter failed a hearing test and will need surgery to correct the problem, and if Harvard raised co-pays as it proposed, Rivera wouldn’t be able to afford both procedures.

For Rivera, the new collective bargaining agreement won by the strike means that she will have one less hard choice to make.

But before the strike began, one hard choice that Rivera and other dining hall workers had to make was whether to go on strike if they didn’t get a fair contract.

There was no guarantee that the sacrifices that they would make during the three-week strike would pay off.

When the strike began, Harvard took a hard line toward the strikers. The administration refused to budge on the contract offer that the dining hall workers had already rejected.

The university administration appeared to be counting on the possibility that the workers’ resolve would weaken after they missed a few paychecks.

But the workers remained united and took the offensive.

On October 14, workers demonstrated their resolve by staging a sit-in at Harvard Square. Their act of civil disobedience resulted in the arrest of nine workers.

The civil disobedience and subsequent arrests put the university on the defensive and galvanized support for the  workers among students, faculty, and the community.

Students and faculty signed support petitions, the Boston city council passed a unanimous resolution supporting the strike, and the Boston Globe wrote an editorial supporting the workers.

A week later on October 22, 1000 people including union members and their supporters marched from Harvard to the Cambridge City Hall in a steady rain to demand a fair contract for the dining hall workers.

That march led to an even more important show of support Monday, October 24 when hundreds of students walked out of their classes and occupied the school’s administration building demanding a fair contract for the workers.

By this time, it was clear that the Harvard administration was isolated and its choices were limited.

It could continue to resist the workers’ demands and face more disruptions and unwanted publicity or meet the workers’ demands, which could be done at a reasonable cost to the university.

On Tuesday, Lang announced that the union and Harvard had reached a tentative agreement and declared victory.

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative agreement with Harvard University that our Bargaining Committee believes addresses all of the concerns of our more than 700 members on strike,” said Lang in statement issued by the union. “Our strike will continue until all members on strike have a chance to review the agreement and vote to ratify.”

After the members ratified the new contract by a near unanimous vote on Wednesday, Lang had another message for members: “We will see the Harvard community back at work Thursday!”

XPO workers resist anti-union campaign; vote to join Teamsters

XPO Logistics workers in Illinois and Connecticut resisted an intense anti-union campaign and voted in two separate elections to join the Teamsters.

“This is all about us workers standing up to this corporate bully and demanding fair wages, affordable health insurance and an end to the mistreatment,” said Ted Furman an XPO employee at the company’s North Haven, Connecticut warehouse. “XPO’s CEO, Bradley Jacobs, had the audacity to come to our warehouse and tell us we don’t need a union, and then he returned just a couple of days before the election. Well, Mr. Jacobs, we are now proud Teamster members!”

The North Haven warehouse workers on October 13 voted 72-49 to join the Teamsters and became XPO’s first warehouse workers in the US to unionize.

On the same day, XPO drivers in Aurora, Illinois also voted to join Teamsters Local 179.

“Our victory is important to all of us because we have seen how XPO operates since taking over Con-way Freight,” said Cliff Phillips, a driver in Aurora. “XPO is treating us unfairly, denying us any voice on the job and just seems interested in the bottom line. But now we will fight back as Teamsters!”

XPO Logistics is one of the world’s largest transportation and logistics companies. It operates businesses in every link of the supply chain all over the world.

It has been on a buying binge as it tries to capture more of the transportation and logistics market. In 2015, it purchased Con-way Freight, where the Teamsters were conducting an organizing drive.

After the purchase, XPO continued and expanded the anti-union efforts initiated by Con-way.

In Aurora, XPO spent money on a union avoidance company to keep its Aurora site union free.

On the days before the Aurora union vote was taken, consultants from the union avoidance company hopped into the cabs of freight trucks and gave drivers lecutures on the right to work for less by remaining union free.

XPO has used other tactics to prevent workers from joining a union.

In Laredo, Texas, workers at what then was Con-way voted in 2014 to join the Teamsters.

Instead of bargaining with the union, the company went to court to overturn the election.

When XPO bought Con-way, XPO could have withdrawn the challenge and recognized the workers’ union, but the company chose not to.

Unfortunately for XPO, a federal judge in September denied XPO’s request to set aside the Laredo election results.

“The company has tried to do everything to delay and frustrate the workers, but for over two years they have remained strong and united in their fight for a more secure future and a voice on the job,” said Frank Perkins, president of Local 657.

Tyson Johnson, director of the Teamsters Freight Division, urged XPO to halt further efforts to nullify the union vote.

“We demand that the company gets serious about negotiating a contract in Laredo. These workers have waited far too long,” said Johnson.

Shortly after the union victories in Connecticut and Illinois, the Teamsters took advantage of the momentum generated by the pro-union vote and conducted a mass leafletting of XPO work sites.

“The national campaign continues to gain momentum (as). . .workers have realized that the new XPO, which is highly unionized in Europe, needs to be a union employer here in the US, too,” said a posting on the Teamsters XPO Facebook page.

The next union election will take place at an XPO site in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania where 52 drivers will vote on whether to join the Teamsters.

Ryan Janato, an XPO driver in Aurora had a message for the King of Prussia drivers and other XPO workers who want a union voice on the job.

“They said it couldn’t be done. We did it; you can’t be scared of these guys. The union busters come in; they did what they tried to do. It didn’t work. We made a better future for our families and co-workers, and you can do it too. Just believe in your local,” said Janato.

Jim Beam workers: Our strike was more about time than money

A week-long strike at two Jim Beam distilleries in Kentucky came to an end when workers on October 21 voted to accept a tentative agreement negotiated by their union.

The strike was about more than money. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 111 D wanted to curb the company’s excessive overtime, which made it difficult for them to have a normal life outside of work. They also wanted more respect from the company.

Before the strike began, workers rejected two company proposals, one on October 10 by a vote of 201 to 19 and the other on October 13 by a vote of 174-46.

As the workers prepared to strike on October 14, Local 111 D President Janelle Mudd explained what motivated them to do so.

“While there are numerous reasons for this decision, the main issues we wish to resolve reflect the family values and heritage upon which the Jim Beam brand is based,” said Mudd. “We seek a better work/life balance. We strive to protect our positions and seniority so as to ensure our future. We want management changes that will improve safety and quality. And, we need a contract in which all language is clear and concise to avoid future misinterpretations.”

Members of the union walking the picket line were more specific about why they were on strike.

“Some of us are working 60, 80 plus hours a week, sometimes for seven days a week,” said Troy Frazier, a processing operator for a video made about the strike. ”

“We’re trying to get our lives back, trying to get a fair contract,” said Jim Tucker, another process operator. “When you go to work, you never know when you’re going home. My (work) time is (supposed to be) 7:30 to 4:00. I come in early a lot around 5:30. I’m there ’til 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00. When you go to work you never know when you’ll get to go home.”

“We don’t have any time with our family lives. You come home (after work), eat, go to bed. . . . (The strike) is more about time; money is not the issue,” said Trevor Coulter, also a processing operator.

The final version of the collective bargaining agreement that won approval by a vote of 204-19 is a two-year deal that requires the company to add and train more full-time staff, so that the grueling amount of overtime can be cut back.

But workers will still be working long shifts until at least until July. The company says that it needs that time to hire and train new workers who can take the heavy load off those already on the job.

The final version also includes a cap on temporary employees that the company can hire. Workers on the picket line said that instead of hiring workers at full pay, the company relied too heavily on low-paid temporary workers.

In addition, the new contract eliminates a two-tiered wage structure that allowed the company to pay new workers less.

Workers also wanted management to respect the seniority system, and they wanted a contract with the duties and responsibilities of management and employees clearly spelled out.

According to Mudd, the “(the company) really addressed everything that we asked them to,” in the new contract.

Jim Beam workers are the latest group of workers fighting for more control of their time.

Last year oil workers in the US went on strike over safety and scheduling issues.

Like the Jim Beam workers, oil workers wanted to end excessive overtime and scheduling practices that resulted in 12-hour days with few and sometimes no off days.

Flight attendants last year rejected a contract offer from Southwest Airlines because the company wanted the new contract to contain language that would change scheduling practices that flight attendants said would impinge on their time away from work.

Angelo Young writing for Salon reports that time, especially having enough free time away from work, has once again become an important issue for workers.

Whether it’s high-paid workers like those at Jim Beam or low-wage workers like those at Walmart or McDonald’s, workers need sufficient time away from work to rest, recuperate, enjoy their family and friends, and be active in the community, writes Young citing experts in the field.

Healthy families, volunteer work that helps create successful communities, and the emotional and physical well being of workers who want fulfilling lives outside of work “all depend on people having free time,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations to Young.

Chicago teachers move closer to ratifying new collective bargaining agreement

Chicago teachers took another step toward ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) when the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted on October 19 to endorse a tentative agreement.

The tentative agreement now goes to the 27,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) for a ratification vote that will be held on October 27 and 28.

The union and CPS reached an agreement on the eve of a strike.

After reaching an agreement on October 10, CTU President said, “We’re very pleased with the agreement” but also noted that the agreement isn’t perfect.

The bargaining over a new collective bargaining agreement began in 2015 as CPS was in the midst of a budget crisis. Over the last two years, the school district’s budget has been cut by $300 million.

Members of CTU worked all of the 2015-2016 without a contract as negotiations bogged down because the school district insisted on steep concessions from its teachers and other education workers.

As the beginning of the school year drew near, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to intimidate teachers into accepting CPS’ concession-laden contract proposal.

Claypool told the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune that CTU members had a choice: they either had to accept concession or accept further cuts to classroom resources that would hurt their students.

Mayor Emanuel backed up his handpicked leader at CPS by telling the media that the teachers had to make choice between one of the two alternatives.

In response, CTU called for a vote on whether to authorize a strike if a fair contract could not be reached. Ninety-five percent of the membership voted to authorize a strike.

The union, which has spent the last five years building a base of support among parents, students, and the community, said that if the union had to strike, the strike wouldn’t just be about better pay, it would be about better education.

Negotiations continued as the October 11 strike deadline drew near, but a strike appeared to be imminent.

On October 10, union members picked up picket signs and prepared to strike the next day.

But that evening, CPS offered a new proposal that included an additional $87.5 million that would come from a surplus in Mayor Emanuel’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund.

TIF is a program that diverts property taxes in areas of the city targeted for redevelopment into a fund used to subsidize private development in those areas.

The offer to use the TIF surplus did not come out of thin air. The union, city council members, and parents had been urging the mayor for more than a year to invest more TIF money in public education.

The extra TIF money and savings resulting from the tentative agreement will significantly increase resources for Chicago’s classrooms.

For example, the district agreed to hire assistants for kindergarten through second grade teachers whose classes have 32 or more students.

The district will also spend more money on after school programs, counselling, and medical services for students.

Special education teachers, counselors, and other service providers will be able to spend more time teaching and providing services and less time on paper work, and elementary teachers will have more time to prepare lessons.

In addition, the agreement capped the number of charter schools that could operate in the district.

The tentative agreement also contains some economic gains for teachers and other union members.

The school district wanted to eliminate the 7 percent pick up, an extra pension contribution that the school district makes on behalf of each CTU member. The tentative agreement keeps the 7 percent pension pick up intact for current staff, but eliminates it for staff hired after January 1, 2017.

In lieu of the pick up, new staff will receive a 7 percent increase in base salary split over two years.

The school district also agreed to restore step and lane pay increases, which compensate teachers for years of service. The district stopped paying these increases last year.

The district also agreed to a 4.5 percent cost of living raise for the last two years of the agreement.

Teachers laid off at the end of the year will be eligible fill vacant positions. If no positions are available, laid off teachers can teach as a substitute with full pay and benefits for one year.

The agreement also includes incentive payments for eligible teachers to retire at the end of the current school year; although in order to get the incentive, at least 1500 teachers must retire at the end of the school year.

The House of Delegates voted 358 to 130 to endorse the tentative agreement. The margin of those voting yes over those voting was substantial; nevertheless, the number of no votes showed that there was significant opposition to the agreement.

During the delegates’ meeting, special education teachers and counselors expressed disappointment that the agreement did not include a cap on special education class sizes.

Others criticized the agreement for excluding new hires from receiving the 7 percent pension pick up.

Lewis said that much of the dissent could be traced to a feeling among teachers that CPS could not be trusted to carry out its responsibilities laid out in the tentative agreement.

That distrust is not unwarranted. Soon after CTU won a strike and a new collective bargaining agreement in 2012, CPS began cutting its budget, laying off teachers, and closing schools.

But Lewis said that she thinks the agreement will be ratified.

“I think there’s enough in this tentative agreement that will appeal to the overwhelming majority of members,” said Lewis.

Feds thwart terrorist plot against immigrant workers

Federal agents on October 15 arrested three white men in Kansas and charged them with plotting a terrorist attack against Somali immigrant workers.

The immigrants, most of whom are Muslim, live in an apartment complex located in the western Kansas town of Garden City. Many of them work at a nearby Tyson Foods meat packing plant.

According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal complaint, the three men “conspired with each other and with others to use weapons of mass destruction” to blow up the apartment complex where the immigrants live.

The complaint states that Chris Wayne Allen, Patrick Eugene Stein, and Gavin Wayne Wright planned to load four vehicles with explosives and detonate the bombs close to the apartment complex.

The explosives that they planned to use were similar to those used by Timothy McVeigh in 1995 to blow up a federal office building in Oklahoma City.

The alleged terrorists planned to detonate the explosion on November 9, the day after Election Day.

They are members of an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim militia group called the Crusaders.

The complaint states that the alleged co-conspirators “have routinely expressed their hatred for Muslims, individuals of Somali descent, and immigrants. They chose the target based on their hatred of those groups, their perception that these groups represent a threat to American society, a desire to inspire other militia groups, and a desire to ‘wake people up’.”

In addition to their plan to blow up the apartment complex, members of the group also talked about taking action against churches and people who have helped the Somalis settle in Garden City.

The Somalis who live in the targeted apartment complex are refugees from a county that has been in the midst of a bloody civil war for years.

They moved to the US because their lives were in danger in Somalia.

Once they settled in Garden City, many of the apartment residents, who number about 120, went to work at the Tyson meat packing house.

As well as Somalis, Tyson has hired immigrant workers from other African countries, Vietnam, Burma, Malaysia, Mexico, and South America to work at its Garden City packing house.

For 150 years, US employers have relied heavily on immigrants to perform the country’s most arduous, dangerous, low-paying work. Tyson, the largest food processor in the world with annual sales of $40 billion, is part of this long tradition.

The work on Tyson killing floors and processing plants is hard, dangerous, and low paying.

According to Hunter Ogletree, an organizer with the Western North Carolina Workers Center who helps Tyson workers at its poultry processing plant in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Tyson “reported 51 amputations or hospitalizations (at its food processing plants) to OSHA” during 2015 and the early part of 2016.

“Among all companies in the US, Tyson reported the fourth highest number of these serious incidents,” continued Ogletree.

Tyson was recently fined $263,000 by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration for safety violations at its poultry processing plant in Center, Texas.

The fine was the result of a safety inspection that took place after a Tyson workers had his thumb amputated after it was caught in a conveyor belt.

The pay at Tyson for processing food is also low.

In 2015, Tyson announced that it was raising pay at its poultry processing plants. The Wall Street Journal reports that after the pay increase went into effect, a production workers who worked for Tyson for a year would be making $12 an hour.

Work at Tyson’s meat packing plants like the one in Garden City appears to pay better.

An NPR report from 2013 said that workers’ pay at the Garden City plant averaged $13.50 an hour, but the report stated that many of these workers still rely on food stamps and reduced-price school lunches to make ends meet for their families.

The day after the arrests, The Wichita Eagle reports that, the immigrant workers and others who live in and near the targeted apartment complex gathered together to hear a briefing from the Garden City police Chief Michael Utz.

Utz tried to reassure them that the police and citizens of Garden City would protect them.

But when he spoke of the alleged terrorists’ motives, his words sounded ominous.

“The only answer I can give you about why this happened is that they wanted to attack your religious beliefs,” said Utz.

Allina nurses ratify new contract, return to work

Allina Health nurses in the Minneapolis-St Paul area returned to work after ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement.

The ratification vote ended a five-week strike by the nurses.

The vote came two days after the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA)  and Allina reached a tentative agreement on October 11.

The two sides announced the agreement after a 17-hour negotiating session held in the home of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

Gov. Dayton brought the two sides together and urged them to reach an agreement a week after nurses rejected a proposal Allina to end the strike.

“This contract represents compromise and strength by the nurses,” said Rose Roach, MNA’s executive director. “While it’s nowhere near what nurses deserve, they can hold their heads high. They can rest easy knowing they won a “no diminishment” clause, so even though they are moving to the corporate health insurance plans, they have assurance that the value of their benefits won’t be reduced in any future cost-cutting scheme.”

When contract talks began in February, Allina sought to shift nurses away from their low-cost, high-quality union sponsored health care plan and into its corporate plan.

Penny Wheeler, Allina’s CEO, said that doing so would save the company $10,000,000.

The savings would be generated by shifting health care costs from the company to the nurses.

The Kaiser Family Foundation compared the union’s two most popular plans with the company’s most popular plan.

Depending on which of the two union plans a nurse is enrolled, insurance pays either 91 percent and 96 percent of the yearly costs that a typical person would incur. Under the corporate plan, a typical person pays 87 percent of the yearly costs.

Before the strike began, nurses agreed to the shift but wanted it done gradually and wanted Allina to compensate them for the money they would lose when they shifted to the corporate plan.

The final agreement, which is similar to the agreement that nurses rejected a week earlier, gives nurses five years to shift their health care coverage to the corporate plan.

When they do so, Allina will contribute money to a health reimbursement or savings account.

The company also agreed that during this time, corporate plan benefits will not be diminished.

There were other issues that led to the strike. Concerns about under staffing were just as important to the nurses as their health care plan.

Nurses argued that staffing shortages were putting the health and lives of their patients as risk. They wanted the company to agree to safe nurse to patient staffing ratios.

The ratified agreement takes some small steps toward addressing the under staffing problem.

Under terms of the new agreement, Allina agreed to examine the conditions under which charge nurses are assigned a patient load.

Charge nurses are registered nurses who perform supervisory work. They oversee admissions and discharges, assign duties to other nurses and staff, assist other nurses and staff, and perform administrative tasks such as ordering and monitoring prescription medicine.

Charge nurses usually care for patients too.

Nurses are hoping that a closer examination of how charge nurses are assigned patient care will lead to more appropriate nurse to patient ratios for all nurses.

“The nurses sacrificed their livelihoods and their families’ security to win improvements to patient care through a staffing procedure that will examine and review the impact of charge nurses having patient assignments,”said Mary Turner, MNA’s president and an RN at Allina’s North Memorial Medical Center. “The issue of safe staffing is far greater than one job classification, which is why nurses focused from day one on negotiating staffing ratios.”

The new contract also includes safety improvements. For example, Allina agreed to hire security guards that would be present in its emergency rooms around the clock.

While the nurses voted to end the strike, they remain wary of Allina and its motives.

“To Allina we say: as a member-run union, the nurses make the decisions (about ending the strike),” said Roach. “Rest assured, this isn’t the last time you will hear nurses speak out. The wounds inflicted on the nurses since February will not heal overnight. Nurses have continually felt disrespected and devalued. Nurses are determined to keep speaking up for their patients and their profession as they return to the bedside. I hope Allina will listen and work to re-establish trust with the nurses and ensure maximum patient safety and care.”

Washington farmworkers vote yes for a union

Farmworkers in the state of Washington have voted to join a union.

In a secret ballot election held on September 12, workers at the Sakuma Brothers Farms in Burlington, Washington voted to join Familas Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ).

“This win is a win for all farmworkers,” said Ramon Torres, president of FUJ. “Now we will be getting ready for a union contract negotiation process.”

Sakuma Brothers Farms is a vertically integrated agribusiness that among other things is a large scale producer of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries on its farms in Washington.

Sakuma sells its berries to Driscoll’s, a global agribusiness that distributes berries to markets all over the world.

The workers at the farm in Burlington are immigrants from Mexico. Most are Triqui and Mixteco indigenous peoples from the state of Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico.

Three years ago they formed FUJ and began organizing to fight for better pay, better working conditions, and better housing in the dilapidated labor camps where many of the workers live while picking berries.

A wage theft suit initiated by FUJ won an $850,000 settlement in which Sakuma agreed to pay workers for unpaid wages.

FUJ’s organizing also won increased wage rates for workers.

However, Sakuma refused to recognize FUJ as the workers’ union and refused to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

To win union recognition, FUJ called for a boycott of berries produced at Sakuma Farms. The main target of the boycott was Driscoll’s, Sakuma’s primary distributor.

Supporters of the boycott established solidarity boycott committees primarily in cities along the West Coast. The committees urged stores such as Costco and Whole Foods to stop selling Driscoll’s berries.

In another act of solidarity, members of the International Longhore Workers Union in July refused to load Driscoll’s berries onto a ship in the Port of Seattle.

In the summer of 2016 when the berry picking season began, things began to heat up in the fields.

On July 20, 200 workers walked off the job in a blueberry field to protest wage rates and the limited number of hours they were allowed to work.

They went back to work the next day without the issues being resolved.

Another walkout took place on August 9 when workers objected to a management decision to lower the blueberry wage rate in a particular field from $0.60 a pound to $0.56 a pound.

At the same time, workers in another blueberry field were being paid $0.77 a pound.

After walking off the job, the blueberry pickers marched to a blackberry field and urged workers there to join the walkout.

Management tried to stop the blueberry workers from talking to the blackberry workers and even threatened to call the police.

After intense discussions between the two sides, management agreed to sit down and talk with representatives from the workers, and the two sides reached an agreement.

The company agreed to raise the wage rate in the blueberry field where the walk out took place to $0.65 per pound if the workers agreed to return to work.

Despite the victory, workers were frustrated by this and other ad hoc agreements with the company. They wanted something in writing that would guarantee fair treatment. In short, they wanted a contract.

Three weeks later, FUJ called for another walkout and urged community supporters to join workers on the picket lines.

When workers in blueberry fields began walking off the job on August 27, they were cheered on by FUJ members and supporters who had gathered on a picket line.

Those who walked out and their supporters marched to other fields and urged more workers to join the strike.

“We don’t walk out of the field because we just feel like it,” said Tomas Ramon, a member of the FUJ coordinating committee. “This is the only way that Sakuma listens to our demands for pay that is fair for our labor. That is why we need a union contract, so we can work and not to be calling for work stoppages in order to get a fair wage.”

After the walkout, Sakuma’s management sat down with leaders of FUJ for more talks. As a result, the two sides agreed to hold a secret-ballot union representation election on September 12 in which farmworkers would vote on whether to join FUJ.

In return, FUJ agreed to end the boycott.

During most of the organizing drive, Sakuma’s management contended that only a small percentage of farmworkers supported FUJ.

But when the ballots were counted, 77 percent voted to join FUJ.

“We want to thank all our supporters that helped made this victory happen,” said Felimon Pineda, vice president of FUJ. “We are looking forward to a new and productive relationship with Sakuma.”

Dining hall workers strike Harvard

Harvard University students may soon be eating frozen dinners instead of fresh food prepared by the university’s dining hall workers because the workers have gone on strike.

The strike began October 5 when the workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 26 and Harvard could not reach an agreement on a fair contract.

Before the strike, workers reported that Harvard University Dining Services had stockpiled frozen dinners to feed students during the strike. When the Harvard Crimson queried the university’s administration about the stockpiling, a university spokesperson declined to comment.

The strike began about three weeks after the old contract expired.

About 750 dining hall workers have joined the strike and have been picketing and rallying on campus.

Union members, many of whom are laid off for extended periods during the summer and winter break months, want a guaranteed salary of $35,000 a year.

Harvard, which raised $7 billion in its most recent fund raising campaign and has an endowment of $35.7 billion, the largest university endowment in the world, says it can’t afford the pay raise and it wants dining hall workers to pay more of their health care costs.

“All the money they have, and they still want to squeeze every bit out of us,” said Anabela Pappas, a dining hall worker at an October 5 rally supporting the strike,. “You greedy people. This (the strike) is what you caused, not us. We didn’t want to be here.”

An analysis of Harvard’s health care proposal prepared by four Harvard Medical School students finds that “For nearly all dining (hall) workers, Harvard’s proposed heal!h plan is considered unaffordable under state government guidelines.”

Most workers would pay $233 a month in premiums to cover their families, and Harvard wants workers to pay higher co-pays for doctor visits, prescriptions, tests, and procedures.

The analysis points out that some low-income dining hall workers would be eligible for co-pay reimbursements under Harvard’s proposal, but in order to get the reimbursement, the workers must pay the co-pay up front and file a claim for reimbursement.

Harvard (proposed health care) plans . . . have more expensive out-of-pocket costs than plans on the Massachusetts (health care) exchange, and the design threatens the financial stability of low-income workers,” concludes the analysis.

Workers are concerned that the new out-of-pocket expenses will make health care less accessible for themselves and their families.

Gene VanBuren, a dining hall worker told the Christian Science Monitor that the main reason he went on strike was to get a better health insurance deal. “We work hard every day, and they try to shorten our hours and increase our workload, and now they want to take our health insurance,” said VanBuren to the Monitor.

Negotiations between the union and Harvard also failed to resolve issues regarding workers’ pay.

Harvard rightly argues that the average dining hall worker wage of $21.89 an hour is well above wages of workers in the area who do comparable work.

But the workers say that the hourly wage that they are paid isn’t enough because many are laid off without pay during the three-month summer break and the month-long winter break, and they are not eligible to draw unemployment insurance during the breaks because the university is a non-profit organization.

Even if you are making $21.89 an hour, living without an income for four months out of the year in the Boston/Cambridge area where Harvard is located would be difficult.  According to the Harvard International Office, “the cost of living in the Boston/Cambridge area is among the highest in the United States.”

At (Harvard), the richest university in the world, no worker that is here and that is ready to work should be making less than $35,000 a year,” said Michael Kramer, a negotiator for Local 26 at a rally supporting the strikers.

The strike has won widespread support on campus.

The Undergraduate Council has voted to support the strike, the editorial board of the Crimson, the student newspaper, endorsed the strike, and so have a number of graduate student groups including the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW.

“HGSU-UAW stands in solidarity with (the dining hall workers)  because all of Harvard’s employees deserve a sustainable standard of living,” reads a statement of support on the union’s Facebook page.

HGSU is also urging members to sign a solidarity petition in support of the workers.

“Harvard is the richest university in the world, yet it consistently fails to look out for its lowest-paid and hardest-working employees,” reads the petition. “The money required to maintain workers’ current health-care plans and ensure a sustainable annual income is inconsequential to the University but of utmost consequence to workers.”

Striking Allina nurses reject contract offer

Striking Allina Health nurses on October 3 voted to reject the company’s latest contract offer.

The nurses, members of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), have been on strike since September 5.

With their health insurance set to expire, the company thought that if it repackaged an old contract offer, the nurses might be willing to break ranks and return to work.

But the nurses said, “no thank you.”

“We felt that although some progress was made in negotiations with Allina, it wasn’t enough progress,” said Angela Becchette, an RN and negotiating team member.

Allina Health owns a string of hospitals and clinics in the Minneapolis-St.Paul. It employs 4800 nurses at its health care facilities and 4200 of them have been on strike for a month.

With the assistance of a federal mediator, negotiations between the union and Allina have continued during the strike.

On September 29, Allina made a contract offer that it thought would get nurses back to work.

But the new offer didn’t address the nurses’ main concerns–health care insurance and staffing.

The MNA negotiating team presented the company’s offer latest to members for a vote without making a recommendation.

Rose Roach, MNA executive director, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the nurses vote on Allina’s offer was “a resounding” no.

The secret-ballot election took place on October 3.

“Each of (the  nurses) voted with their conscience, and with their patients and their families in mind,” said Roach to the Star Tribune.

Allina’s stubborn stance on its health care proposal is one of the main reasons that nurses rejected the company’s offer.

Since negotiations began last spring, Allina has insisted that nurses give up their union sponsored low-cost, high-quality health insurance and enroll in its high-deductible corporate health care plan.

MNA proposed a compromise that would lead to the gradual transfer of nurses from the union’s plan to the corporate plan and would compensate nurses for the money they would lose by transferring to the corporate plan.

In its latest offer the company continued to insist that nurses bear the financial burden of the transfer.

“Nurses felt that the (company’s latest) proposal took more away from nurses than it offered,” said Becchetti, explaining why nurses rejected the company offer.  “Nurses said they would end their affordable health care plans in the year 2020, but they haven’t been adequately compensated for it.”

Allina’s response to nurses’ concerns about under staffing also underwhelmed the nurses.

Speaking on Minnesota Public Radio, Becchetti said that Allina’s hospital floors are continually understaffed, putting patients’ health and lives at risk.

For the striking nurses, understaffing and the risks it poses to patients is even more important than health care insurance.

“We need more resources on the floor” because our patients’ lives are on the line, said Becchetti.

But the company offered only to study staffing issues.

Another concern of the nurses is safety. Nursing involves heavy lifting, exposure to contagious diseases,  and dealing from time to time with unruly, uncooperative, and violent patients.

In the latest round of negotiations, nurses and the company managed to make some progress on safety issues. Allina agreed to keep a full-time security guard in the emergency room and implement face-to-face workplace safety training.

For some reason Allina has been reluctant to reach a fair agreement with the nurses.

MNA has reached agreements with other hospitals in the area that did not include health care cuts like those proposed by Allina.

Allina could have had the same deal, but instead, it chose to spend millions to hire replacement workers during the strike.

There’s no way to know how much prolonging the strike is costing Allina, but MPR News reports a seven-day nurses strike last June cost Allina an extra $20 million.

Allina may be willing to suffer short-term losses in order to assure creditors that it can control its workers.

Allina, which describes itself as a non-profit health care company, has taken on $880 million in debt.

Some of that debt has been used to buy Health Catalyst, a for-profit health technology company, Regina Medical Center, a hospital, nursing home complex in Hastings, Courage Center, a company that provides rehabilitation services in Minneapolis, and a county hospital in Faribault, Minnesota.

Perhaps, Allina needs to convince its lenders that it can control its workforce and keep labor costs down, so that it can pay its debts in full and on time. And  maybe even borrow some more money.

Polish women strike to protect women’s health

Update: The Polish Parliament on October 6 voted 352-58 to scrap the anti-abortion bill that sparked a one-day strike by Polish women.

The ruling Justice and Law party, which had supported the bill “backtracked because it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest,” said Ewa Kopacz, a former prime minister and now an MP for the Liberal party to the Guardian.

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An estimated 6 million Polish women didn’t show up for work on Monday, October 3.

They were taking part in a national strike to oppose a new abortion law that the country’s parliament is considering.

On what strike organizers called Black Monday, strike supporters wore black to express a day of mourning for those who will face needless deaths if the proposed law is enacted.

One protester interviewed by BBC said that the proposed law amounts to a death sentence if it passes.

“(Supporters of the  proposal) want to introduce an anti-abortion law which will mean in many cases, women will be sentenced to death,” she said. “It will take away the sense of security they have, the treatment options available when pregnancy puts their lives or health in danger.”

Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. The country bans abortion except when the life of the expectant mother is at risk, there is the risk of serious and irreversible damage to the fetus, or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

The proposed law would remove these exemptions. It would also criminalize the act of abortion. Women who seek an abortion could be imprisoned for up to five years, and doctors who are perceived to have helped terminate a fetus would also be punished.

Amnesty International called the proposed law “a dangerous step backward for women and girls in Poland.”

“(The proposed law) will inevitably place women’s health at risk, and put doctors in impossible situations,” writes Anna Błuś for Amnesty International. “With no clear guidelines about how close to death a woman or a girl must be for performing an abortion for medical reasons to be lawful, the onus will be on doctors to delay for as long as possible.”

Dr. Romuald Debski, a gynecologist who works and teaches at a Warsaw hospital explained to the Polish media how the proposed law puts women at risk.

“(Under the proposed law) whoever causes the death of the unborn child is punishable by imprisonment up to three years,” said Debski. “If I have a patient with pre-eclampsia, who is 32 weeks pregnant, I will have to let her and her child die. I have to, because if I perform a caesarean section and the child dies, I may go to prison for three years, because the child was premature.”

To make matters worse, women who have miscarriages would also be investigated.

At the rallies held around the country to support the strike, women held up images of coat hangers, the symbol for underground abortions that resulted in the deaths of many women and girls until abortions were legalized.

Rallies supporting the strike took place in all of Poland’s major cities and in some smaller cities. Thousands attended the rallies.

Even more supported the strike by staying away from work.

The Guardian reports that in Czestochova, the most Catholic city in Poland, the city government reported that 60 percent of its women workers did not report for work on the day of the strike.

The Washington Post reports that the strike’s organizers estimated that 6 million workers stayed away from work on Black Monday to support the strike.

The proposed law has very little support. A recent Ipsos poll found that only 11 percent of those surveyed supported the proposed law.

The proposed law was submitted to Parliament by Ordo Iuris, a legal organization with ties to the Catholic Church, and the Stop Abortions coalition.

The ruling Justice and Law party and the Catholic Church support the proposed law, which the Parliament on September 23 referred to committee for study and further consideration.

Organizers of the strike said that they hope the Black Monday strike will galvanize women to and their supporters to be more assertive in challenging those who use religious zealotry as an excuse to put the lives of women at risk.

“A lot of women and girls in this country have felt that they don’t have any power, that they are not equal, that they don’t have the right to an opinion,” said Magda Staroszczyk, a strike coordinator to the Guardian. “This is a chance for us to be seen, and to be heard.”

UNITE HERE Calls for boycott of Trump’s businesses

After marching into the clubhouse of the Trump National Golf Course in Los Angeles on September 27, members of UNITE HERE announced at the ritzy venue that the union was calling for a boycott of all businesses owned by Donald Trump and all businesses in which he has invested.

Two days later and four hundred miles up the road, UNITE HERE members in San Francisco rallied at the Bank of America building at 555 Californina Street.

“Trump is co-owner of 555 California St in San Francisco’s Financial District,” said a message on UNITE HERE’s Boycott Trump Facebook page. “We urge you to not patronize this Trump-related business until Trump Las Vegas complies with its obligation under federal law.”

The boycott stems from Trump’s refusal to negotiate a first contract with UNITE HERE’s Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas.

Housekeepers, bar workers, kitchen staff, and other workers at Trump International Hotel in December 2015 voted to join Local 226 in a union representation election.

Instead of negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement after the workers voted to unionize as required by law, the hotel’s management used appeals to the National Labor relations Board to avoid negotiating with the workers.

After the NLRB dismissed the appeals, management continued to stonewall the workers.

The stonewalling tactics led UNITE HERE to call for the boycott.

“Enough is enough,” said UNITE HERE President D. Taylor. “While Donald Trump waged an indefensible anti-worker and anti-immigrant presidential campaign, the workers at his Las Vegas hotel fought for dignity and respect in their workplace. They voted to unionize, they won, and now the law says Trump must negotiate.”

The workers’ union election victory was a long, hard-fought struggle. The organizing campaign began in 2014, and the workers had to overcome an aggressive anti-union campaign by management.

The hotel’s management hired the union avoidance firm Seyforth Shaw to fight the workers’ union drive.

During the almost two years that it took to secure a union election victory, workers endured threats, intimidation, a physical assault, and illegal surveillance.

Management implemented policies that prohibited free speech on the job to keep workers from talking about a union.

Some workers were suspended for wearing their union buttons to work, and some were fired for supporting the union.

The union managed to get the suspensions and firings reversed and back pay for those who were forced off their jobs.

While the organizing campaign was going on, the National Labor Relations Board filed three unfair labor practices complaints against Trump’s management.

After the workers won their union election, Trump’s management appealed and asked the NLRB to throw out the results.

Finally in July 2016, the NLRB dismissed Trump’s appeal, ruling that the appeal lacked merit.

Despite their lack of success at nullifying the results of the election, Trump’s hotel management continues to refuse to bargain with the union.

Having a union and a fair contract is crucial for the workers who have fought so long and hard for dignity and respect.

The Trump hotel is one of the few non-union hotels in Las Vegas. Trump Hotel workers in Las Vegas make $3.00 an hour less than their union counterparts. They also pay as much as $260 a month for health insurance. Union hotel workers don’t pay anything.

“We’re not second class workers,” said Eleuteria Blanco, a guestroom attendant at the Trump Hotel as she explained why she is continuing to fight for a good contract that will bring her up to the same level as the other 57,000 hotel workers who belong to Local 226.

Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Local 226’s secretary treasurer urged other workers and anybody who believes in fair play for workers to stand with the Trump Hotel workers.

“After a disgraceful anti-union campaign against their own workers, the hotel still refuses to negotiate with their employees,” said Arguello-Kline, “We call on allies and workers to stand in solidarity in a national boycott until Donald Trump, the ‘Great Negotiator,’ comes to the table.”