Chicago Teachers Union demands that the state fund education and social services

At 6:30 A.M. on April 1, Chicago teachers arrived at their schools to walk picket lines and begin a one-day unfair labor practices strike called by the Chicago Teachers Union.

The strikers were demanding that the state provide adequate funding for public education and social services and that city leaders use public funds for public services such as education rather than for lining the pockets of well-connected bankers and businessmen.

“This is an unfair labor practices strike,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, during an interview with television station WTTW. “This is a call for funding the schools and social services in the state appropriately.”

Lewis explained that the union’s April 1 action was supported by other unions, especially those whose members provide social services, and 45 community organizations.

The one thing that all these groups have in common is that a current budget impasse initiated by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who wants to cut funding for education and social service, is  diminishing their ability to provide much needed public services.

“The governor has completely shutdown the budget process until he gets what he wants,” said Lewis. “The General Assembly did its job and passed a budget that he didn’t like.”

Now we have a budget impasse that hurts all public services, continued Lewis.

During the strike, CTU held solidarity actions with other unions and community groups affected by the state’s budget impasse.

In the morning, CTU members rallied at an Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services office to demand that the state fund the program.

CTU members and supporters also rallied at Chicago State University to support state funding for higher education.

Prior to the rally at Chicago State, CTU members picketed McCormick Place, a luxury hotel that received $55 million in tax abatements from Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program.

The unfair labor strike comes at a time when CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. They have been negotiating since last summer.

The main stumbling block to reaching a fair contract has been CPS’ budget deficit, which the union says was self-inflicted.

Years ago, CPS entered into risky financial deals with banks such as the Bank of America. As a result of those deals, the school district is now paying unanticipated financing fees worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The union wants the city to sue these banks to recover fees that the union contends were the result of predatory lending practices and fraud.

The city has also diverted city revenue from public education and social services to programs like TIF, which mainly enrich those who are already rich.

One of the results of misspending is that teachers and others who work for Chicago Public Schools are now being asked to work longer and harder for less money.

Last year, CPS increased the number of hours that educators and other staff must stay on the job.

In its negotiations with the union, CPS made an offer that included proposals that would have cut compensation for teachers and other staff.

CPS wanted to end its 7 percent pick up payment to its staff’s pension fund and increase employees’ health care costs. The district also threatened to layoff 5000 teachers and other staff members.

When CTU’s bargaining team rejected CPS’ offer, the district threatened to go ahead with its plan to end the 7 percent pension pick up payment. The district backed off its threat to layoff 5000, but said that 1000 teachers and staff members could lose their jobs.

After CTU announced in March that the union’s House of Delegates had voted to hold an unfair labor strike on April 1, CPS canceled its plan to stop pension pick up payments in April, but it did lay off 34 union members.

Currently, the negotiations are in the fact finding phase in which both sides submit reports on issues under negotiations to an independent fact finder.

While the April 1 strike was not related to contract negotiations, CPS filed charges with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board contending that it was, which made the strike illegal. CPS also sought an injunction barring future strikes while negotiations are in progress.

“We disagree (that the strike was illegal),” said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin in a statement about CPS’ charges. “The Supreme Court 60 years ago authorized unfair labor practice strikes under the National Labor Relations Action, and we believe teachers have those rights. This was a one-day job action. Their charges were filed after the fact and they seek to enjoin us from doing something we have no intention of doing again. We call on CPS to join us in fighting for more revenue for schools.”

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UC service workers strike for safe staffing levels and respect

AFSCME Local 3299 members at nine University of California campuses and five hospitals on November 20 held a one-day unfair labor practices strike to protest UC’s intimidation of workers and UC’s lack of concern for the safety of its patients, students, and workers.

“Yesterday was an historic moment of solidarity for all who share in the moral obligation to make UC facilities safer places to live, learn, heal and thrive,” said Kathryn Lybarger, Local 3299’s president on the day after the strike. “From Berkeley to San Diego, it was clear that Californians understand the importance of addressing the unlawful harassment of those who have challenged UC’s neglect on issues of safety for workers, patients and students.”

The strike partially shut down UC campuses and interrupted non-emergency services at UC hospitals. UC graduate teaching assistants who belong to UAW Local 2865 staged a sympathy strike in support of Local 3299. UC members of  UPTE-CWA 9119, AFT-UC, and the California Nurses Association participated in support rallies for the strikers.

UC tried to prevent some Local 3299 members from participating in the strike, but a judge ruled against UC’s request for an injunction.

“Our members have both the legal right and moral responsibility to stand up for the safety of the students and patients we serve,” said Lybarger. “By attempting to silence workers, UC hasn’t just repeatedly broken the law–it has willfully endangered all who come to UC to learn, to heal, and to build a better life for their families.”

Local 3299 members, who provide an array of services to UC patients and students, have been bargaining with UC for 18 months. One of their priorities has been safe staffing levels to reduce accidents and other safety problems on campuses and at the hospitals.

“We have one person doing three jobs,” said Andrea Whaley, a UC Davis hospital operating room assistant to the Sacramento Bee. “That’s not safe for patients. Everybody here appreciates their job. It’s not about that. It’s about patient safety and worker safety.”

UC while giving 3 percent raises to its executives and other high paid staff has sought concessions from its low-paid service workers and ignored the union’s safety concerns.

In May, Local 3299 members held their first unfair labor practices strike.

According to a complaint issued by the California Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), UC tried to intimidate workers from joining the legally sanctioned strike and continued to harass Local 3299 members after the strike concluded.

During the summer UC imposed its contract terms on Local 3299 members at UC hospitals and then in September did the same to Local 3299 members on UC campuses.

After former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano became president of the UC System, she sought to restart negotiations with Local 3299.

But UC continues to ignore its workers’ safe staffing concerns and continues to harass union activists who speak up for safety on the job, which prompted the November 20 walkout.

According to Lybarger, the union has agreed to many of UC’s demands including its demands for higher employee pension and health care contributions, but said Lybarger in an op-ed piece in the Daily Bruin, “We simply won’t compromise on the safety of the people we serve.”

Lybarger also noted that lack of safe staffing levels has caused an increase in the number of on-the-job injuries. “The absence of safe staffing levels is causing one in ten service workers to get hurt on the job, a figure that’s nearly 20 percent higher than it was in 2009,” said Lybarger.

UC has also been negotiating new contracts with its nurses and professional and technical employees.

Just days before the strike began, UC reached a tentative agreement with 12,000 registered nurses who belong to the California Nurses Association. The agreement includes a substantial pay raise and contract language that protects vacation and sick time and maintains retiree health care benefits for current employees, issues for which Local 3299 continues to bargain.

“We congratulate our colleagues in the California Nurses Association on reaching a fair contract agreement with the University of California,” said Lybarger after the tentative agreement was announced. “We would hope that UC will afford other bargaining units—including the service workers and patient care technical workers represented by AFSCME 3299—a similar spirit of dignity and respect.”

Lybarger also noted that “UC has failed to offer AFSCME any substantive proposals on safe staffing, nor any proposals on wages that are commensurate with what it has given to other UC employees.”

“They have been tone deaf at the table about safety and staffing,” said Lybarger to CBS Los Angeles. “This is about money for them. This is about safety for us.”

UC workers take strike vote to stop pay cuts and employer intimidation

AFSCME Local 3299  announced that 96 percent of its members voted to authorize another unfair labor practices strike against the University of California, which imposed a pay and benefits cut on 21,000 Local 3299 members at UC’s ten campuses and five medical centers.

In September the California Public Employment Board issued a complaint against UC for intimidating workers before, during, and after a previous unfair labor practices strike.

“Our membership stands united for a workplace that is free of illegal intimidation against employees who stand up for the safety of the students and patients they serve,” said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “We believe UC should be held accountable for their serial law breaking.”

The results of the strike authorization vote, which took place between October 28 and 30 were announced on November 1. .

In July, UC imposed terms of a new contract on 13,000 patient care technical workers at UC’s five medical centers who belong to Local 3299. The imposed terms froze pay for four years and increased worker pension contributions and health care premiums, which in effect reduced workers’ take home pay. The imposed terms also reduced future retiree health care benefits for some workers, added another tier of pension benefits, and did not address safe staffing level concerns raised by workers.

In September, UC did the same thing to 8,000 maintenance, landscaping, custodial, and food service workers at UC’ s ten academic campuses.

Lybarger said that UC’s cuts fall hardest on workers who can least afford them. Average pay for the affected workers at the 10 UC campuses is $35,000 a year and if their UC wages were their only income, 99 percent of them would be eligible for some form of public assistance.

During a UC Regents meeting, Local 3299 members described what it was like to live on the wages that UC pays.

“I’ve been working full time at UC for 33 years,” said Eugene Stokes, a 53 year-old senior building maintenance worker at UC Berkeley. “I work another job to try and make ends meet, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to retire. Yesterday, I had to choose between paying the mortgage, or helping my daughter with her tuition. On other days, that choice is between medicine and food.”

While UC is demanding sacrifices from its lowest paid workers, it continues to lavish its highest paid staff with excessive salaries and benefits.

According to Local 3299, nearly 700 of UC’s executives and other highly paid staff have salaries higher than the President of the United States and this year received a 3 percent pay raise.

“Today, UC is being transformed into a symbol of the widening income gap that is condemning growing numbers of Americans to a life of poverty,” said Lybarger. “Taking from UC’s lowest paid, full time workers in order to line the pockets of UC executives is not just an attack on collective bargaining—it’s an assault on basic morality.”

In May, workers at UC medical centers tried to put a stop to this growing level of inequality by voting for and participating in a two-day unfair labor practices strike.

UC, according to the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), retaliated with threats and coercion.

The PERB in a complaint issued in September charged UC with using threats to dissuade workers from participating in the legal strike, threatening workers with adverse action during the strike, and punishing workers who participated in the strike.

In September, UC imposed the same pay cut and benefit reductions on Local 3299 members at UC academic campuses, which led union members to vote for another unfair labor practices strike.

The strike was postponed when UC’s chief negotiator requested that bargaining between the two sides resume and told the union that UC had a new proposal on retirement, wages, and other issues.

Local 3299 responded that the union was willing to restart talks but noted that UC had done nothing to address the intimidation and coercion charges described in the PERB complaint, which led the union to call for the most recent strike vote.

Meanwhile, members of the University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119 and the California Nurses Association who work for UC held a statewide Unity Day on November 1.

Members of the two unions are facing the same take aways imposed on Local 3299 members.

During Unity Day, UPTE and CNA members will staff information tables at work locations throughout the state, answer questions about the bargaining that is currently underway, and urge members to sign a strike pledge.

“UC is holding wage increases hostage to try to get us to give up on our retirement benefits,” reads the opening sentence of the strike pledge. “Despite four years of budget increases at UC, $500 million in profits at the med centers, and executives making more than ever, UC negotiators want to turn back the clock decades, with historic cuts to our retirement. This is a priority crisis, not a budget crisis.”

Walmart workers arrested protesting low wages, lack of respect

Police in Washington DC on August 22 arrested 12 people participating in a sit-in at Walmart’s local headquarters. Most of those arrested were current or former Walmart workers like Brandon Garrett of Baker Louisiana, who recently was fired after participating in a legal unfair labor practices strike against the retail giant.

The non-violent action in Washington, organized by Making Change at Walmart and Organization United for Respect at Walmart, was a protest against Walmart’s firing and disciplining of 70 workers who have participated in legal unfair labor practices strikes. It was also a protest against the substandard wages paid by Walmart.

The two groups have demanded that by Labor Day Walmart reinstate the fired workers and start paying a living wage or face intensified non-violent actions.

Garrett and other Walmart workers went on strike in May and travelled to Walmart’s global headquarters in Arkansas to urge shareholders and executives to stop the intimidation and harassment of company workers speaking out for change on the job.

Because the workers struck over intimidation and harassment, it was an unfair labor practices strike. Those participating in unfair labor practices strike under law cannot be fired if they return to work unconditionally, which Garrett and the others did.

But when Garrett returned to work, Walmart fired him.

Garrett, who dropped out of college to support an ailing mother, in an email message to supporters said that after going to work for Walmart, he found that the store did not pay a living wage.

“We were constantly understaffed and stretched thin,” added Garrett. “Worst of all, we were treated with such a lack of respect they made you feel like you weren’t even a human being.”

Garrett like other Walmart workers is the victim of Walmart’s business strategy that continuously looks for ways to lower labor costs.

As a result of this strategy, Walmart wages are well below the retail industry average. The average hourly wage for a Walmart sales clerk is $8.23 an hour; the industry average is $10.35.

But the store’s workers aren’t the only ones affected by Walmart’s successful race to the bottom.

Walmart employs 1.2 million people, most of whom work in low paying jobs. As the New York Times recently reported, the low wages paid by Walmart and its competitors have become a major drag on the economy.

Low wages lead to under consumption, and under consumption leads to a stagnant economy.

Walmart’s low-wage strategy has even had an impact on the store’s recent performance.

For the second quarter in a row, Walmart reported a decline in same-store revenue, a key metric that analysts use to judge retail companies’ performances. Walmart same-store revenue in the second quarter declined 0.3 percent, forcing the company to lower its earnings per-share estimate.

Walmart wasn’t the only retailer to report bad numbers in the second quarter. The Times reports that retailers like Walmart and Kohls that cater to low-wage customers and pay low wages themselves reported across the board sluggish sales in the second quarter.

Ken Perkins, whose company Retail Metrics tracks the performance of retailers, blamed the sluggish sales on the fact that customers of these stores only have enough money to buy the bare essentials.

“There is a certain segment of the population that is faring well in this economy and have seen their net worth rise sharply with stock and housing market gains,” said  Perkins to the Times. “Then there is the much larger segment of Americans that are working in low-wage jobs, part-time jobs, that are struggling to make ends meet, and are living paycheck to paycheck. They are not spending beyond necessities.”

Walmart’s low wages and lack of benefits also mean that the public is picking up Walmart’s tab for health care and other human services.

A report released in June by the Democratic staff of the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce finds that a single 300-person Walmart supercenter in Wisconsin costs state and local taxpayers $905,542 a year in Medicaid expenses alone.

“While employers like Wal-Mart seek to reap significant profits through the depression of labor costs, the social costs of this low-wage strategy are externalized,” concludes the report entitled The Low-Wage Drag on Our Economy: Wal-Mart’s Low Wages and Their Effect on Taxpayers and Economic Growth. “Low wages not only harm workers and their families — they cost taxpayers.”

That’s why Garrett is urging Walmart employees, other low wage employees, and everyone else affected by Walmart’s low-wage strategy to take a stand for justice at Walmart.

“It’s time to draw a line in the sand,” said Garrett. “Let’s send Walmart a clear message: If you fail to act by Labor Day, actions will intensify around the country.”

Teamster unfair labor practices strike spreads

An ufair labor practices strike by Republic/Allied Waste landfill workers in Youngstown, Ohio spread to five other Republic facilities in Ohio cities on April 15. Meanwhile in McDonough, Georgia another group of Republic workers began their own unfair labor practices strike.

“I’m on strike because I’m sick of this $8 billion company breaking the law to intimidate and bully us,” said Darrell Zeh, a Youngstown landfill worker and member of Teamsters Local 377. “We’re the ones who work every day to make them all that money. I’ve picketed now in three other cities, and the support has been overwhelming. Everyone seems to be fed up with this corporation’s greed.”

Members of Teamster Local 377 who work at Republic’s Youngstown landfill have been on strike since March 27. The striking workers and the company failed to reach an agreement on a new contract in October, but negotiations continued until the company began unilaterally implementing more than 50 new work rules, which prompted the walkout.

The strike in Youngstown is the latest skirmish between Republic and the Teamsters as the company seeks to lower worker health care and pension benefits and worsen working conditions one local at a time..

More than 2,000 Republic workers across the country are currently working without contracts. In Evansville, Indiana, Republic locked out its workers for six weeks last summer in an attempt to force concessions. In Mobile, Alabama, the company forced a strike by refusing to honor a binding contract. Republic workers in Memphis, staged a three-day unfair labor practices strike in January to protest the company’s refusal to pay safety bonuses and other contract violations.

“Republic has been bullying its workers by locking them out of their jobs without pay, withholding paychecks, and demanding contract concessions — even though the company makes hundreds of millions in profits each year,” said Ken Hall, Teamsters international general secretary-treasurer.

Teamsters have relied on solidarity to resist company bullying.

After the Youngstown landfill workers went on strike, they set up a picket line at another Youngstown Republic facility not on strike. Drivers and mechanics at the facility, who also belong to Local  377, refused to cross the pickets and stayed off work for about a week until the strikers moved their pickets to another location.

When Local 377 members showed up at a Republic facility is Evansville, Indiana, members of Teamsters Local 215, who remembered last summer’s lockout, refused to cross the picket.

From Evansville, the strikers moved to California where solidarity strikes at seven Republic facilities temporarily disrupted services.

The company and the Youngstown landfill workers returned to the bargaining table on April 8, but little progress has been made prompting Local 377 to send pickets today to Republic hauling yards in Youngstown, Columbus, Canton, Cleveland, and Elyria.

“When I started talking to my colleagues from other cities, we realized that Republic treats workers this way everywhere,” said Paul Auxer, a Republic driver in Columbus and Teamster Local 284 member. “We’ll be out as long as we need to be. When Round 2 comes–if it comes to that–we’ll be out here again supporting our brothers and sisters however it’s needed.”

As it negotiates new contracts with different Teamster locals, one of Republic’s common goals is to force locals to withdraw from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. In Youngstown and other locations, the company has proposed replacing the workers defined pension benefit administered by the Central States Pension Fund with a 401(k) plan that would cost the company less money.

Republic says that replacing the defined benefit plan with a 401(k) plan will be a better deal for the workers because the Central States Pension Fund is facing financial challenges. According to the Wall Street Journal, “investment losses and hard times for trucking companies that pay into the Central States Pension Fund have sapped the fund of money it uses to pay promised benefits.”

The Teamsters acknowledge that the pension fund is facing challenges, but steps have been taken to shore it up and withdrawing more employer contributions as Republic proposes will undermine these efforts.