By Sue Davis
Published Feb 9, 2007 9:39 AM
Janitors win family health care
Twin Cities—The threat of a strike helped 4,200 janitors who clean the airport and corporate offices in Minneapolis and St. Paul negotiate a contract in the wee hours of Feb. 5 that includes family health care coverage. Up to now only 14 members could afford such coverage.
After their contract expired on Dec. 31, members of Service Employees’ Local 26, who are part of the union’s national Justice for Janitors campaign, voted to strike on Jan. 13. On Jan. 30, more than 200 members flooded the skyways linking major buildings in Minneapolis with a sea of purple T-shirts to publicize their struggle for affordable coverage.
Thanks to a visible community struggle over the last six months, the workers, 70 percent of whom are Latin@ immigrants, won support from more than 100 local clergy and public officials, include the mayor of St. Paul.
The head of the local Teamsters union vowed that his members would not cross Local 26 picket lines.
“I think it’s shameful that workers have to threaten a strike in order to get their basic needs met. These workers are fighting the fight for all workers,” said Bill McCarthy, president of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council, AFL-CIO, at www.workdayminnesota.org. (Jan. 30)
In another Justice for Janitors struggle, this time in Florida, more than 300 Haitian and Latin@ groundskeepers, janitors, bus drivers and maintenance workers at Nova Southeastern University became the third group of university workers in less than a year to win union representation.
A SEIU press release noted that this “effectively creates a new standard for contract workers in South Florida.”
Women office workers: Fight to protect pensions
What do you do when the boss’s final contract offer would cut pensions for your union of mostly older women office workers? And you know the company already signed contracts with all its other unions protecting pensions of their mostly male members. First you vote down the offer, and then you picket.
The 120 members of OPEIU Local 35 were so angry about this obvious discrimination against women they rejected the offer on Jan. 16 and picketed Miller Brewing in Milwaukee on Jan. 25. The local has been negotiating a new contract for months with South African Brewery, which owns Miller.
“The company’s pension demand is like asking our members to throw away two or more decades of dedicated and dependable labor,” said Judy Burnick, Local 35 business manager, in a Jan. 25 union media release.
With a workforce overwhelmingly made up of women over 50 years of age, with 20 or more years on the job, most local members are within five to 10 years of retirement.
The union release noted: “With revenues in excess of $15.3 billion and profits in excess of $2.9 billion, SAB/Miller can well afford to meet their retirement obligations to these female workers.”
LGBT organizations demand: Raise minimum wage
Noting that low-wage jobs and stagnant pay are issues affecting many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) communities, Nancy Wohlforth, co-president of Pride at Work, AFL-CIO, sent a letter Jan. 17 to the Senate urging passage of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 signed by eleven LGBT organizations.
To read this precedent-setting statement and a list of signing organizations, go to www.prideatwork.org.
The Senate passed one version of the bill on Feb. 1 with $8.3 million tax breaks for small businesses, while the House of Representatives passed a bill on Jan. 10 without tax breaks. The bill, raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour in small increments to $7.25 an hour by 2009, is the first raise for low-wage workers in eleven years. But first the two houses of Congress must agree on one bill.
What’s not widely known is that not having one bill is holding up the annual—that’s right, annual—Congressional pay hike. A raise of 1.7 percent of the current lawmakers’ salary of $165,200—$2,760—is projected for this year. And Republicans and Democrats are quibbling over when to make their raise effective. If the minimum wage bill passes soon, the date the lawmakers’ raise becomes effective is June 1, 2007. (New York Times, Jan. 30)
Why make low-wage workers wait two years for their sorely needed raise? Such obvious inequality is truly obscene when you consider that it will take someone earning $7.25 an hour 381 hours, or nearly 48 workdays or 10 weeks, to earn the same $2,760.
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