Saturday, January 13, 2007

On the picket line

Published Jan 13, 2007 7:56 AM

Rights for mall workers

The Service Employees International Union landed a precedent-setting win when it signed an agreement Dec. 18 with two of the largest shopping mall owners. Simon Property Group Inc., the largest U.S. mall owner, and Westfield Group, one of the largest real estate owners in the world, agreed to work only with contractors that meet specific employee standards.

The contract, the first in the shopping mall industry, will raise the wages of and offer affordable health insurance to approximately 5,000 janitors, security guards and other workers at 373 malls around the country. This reverses an outsourcing trend where companies bid contracts to the cheapest supplier, regardless of how they treat their workers, noted Stephen Lerner, director of SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign. (Business Week, Dec. 18)

In the last few months of 2006, more than 10,000 service workers of all backgrounds won higher pay, health insurance and/or the right to vote to form a union. These include 5,300 janitors in Houston, 5,000 security staff in Los Angeles and more than 1,000 janitors and security staff at major universities such as Harvard and the University of Miami. (SEIU press release, Dec. 18)

‘No worker is illegal’ campaign

Rank-and-file members of SEIU in California have launched a “No worker is illegal” campaign. They initiated the protest last fall to pressure SEIU leaders to stop supporting reactionary immigrant bills. The issue is on the agenda at SEIU’s International Executive Board meeting later in January.

Spearheaded by Local 790 in San Francisco, the campaign opposes the McCain-Kennedy bill, which would further militarize the U.S./Mexican border, level sanctions against employers who hire undocumented workers and establish a federal so-called “guest worker” program which does not offer a path to citizenship. One such 2006 program was so discriminatory that the Southern Poverty Law Center sued a contractor and won back wages for hundreds of Latin American immigrants. (Workers World, Dec. 28)

“How are we supposed to organize workplaces with these kinds of laws?” asked Renee Saucedo, a leader of the campaign. (Labor Notes, January 2007)

To support this important rank-and-file initiative before the January meeting, sign the petition at

Newspaper workers sign contracts

In December members of The Newspaper Guild-CWA and other unions in Boston, Honolulu, Philadelphia, and San Jose signed bitterly fought contracts with more concessions than gains.

“These were tough, tough fights, and the contracts aren’t pretty, but neither is the industry right now,” said Linda Foley, TNG-CWA president, in a Dec. 22 press release.

The release explained: “Newspapers across the country have cut 34,000 jobs in the last five years and have announced thousands more cuts in the past few months. Although some papers are struggling financially, even highly profitable newspapers are slashing jobs, wages and benefits in the race for corporate profit.”

Wisconsin day-care workers win union

The overwhelming majority of the 7,000 licensed child care providers in Wisconsin signed cards to join AFSCME/Child Care Providers Together last fall. The union was certified on Oct. 30.

“Providers joined together because they want to have a voice in the policies that affect their profession,” said Gerald McEntee, president of AFSCME. Support came from workers in metro, suburban, and rural areas across the state and included English-, Spanish- and Hmong-speaking providers. The union will focus on developing leaders charged with setting up a negotiation process.

“Considering the onslaught of W-2 and the smashing of unions/living wage jobs in Wisconsin, which hit women the hardest, especially in Milwaukee where the largest percentage of Black, Latina and Hmong women live, this will help them immensely,” local labor activist Bryan G. Pfeifer told Workers World. “This will also help many poor white women in rural areas.”

AFSCME/Child Care Providers Together is part of a national movement to organize child care professionals, who have been considered self-employed independent contractors because they work at home. Similar campaigns have been successful in Iowa and Oregon and are underway in California, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. AFSCME represents more than 150,000 family child care providers, day-care center workers, Head Start teachers and early childhood employees.

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