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Washington, D.C., labor stands strong

Teamsters still on strike, nurses may go out

The economic crisis continues unabated for the working class, bringing the natural antagonisms between workers and capitalists into sharp focus. At times of lost profits the boss class turns even more savagely against the workers, using the threat of unemployment to lower wages and cut benefits, threatening to turn back the results of years of struggle.

In the Washington, D.C., area, members of Teamsters Local 639 have been on strike since April 26, after their last contract with Daycon Products, a manufacturer and distributor of cleaning and janitorial supplies, expired Jan. 31. Negotiations, which began in November 2009, broke down over management’s insistence on an unequal wage scale that, according to the Teamsters Local 355 Web site, “effectively keeps new workers at poverty-level wages.”

The months-long strike has created significant hardship for the Daycon workers. According to one of the striking workers, Lynette Burton, “They have cut off my health care, frozen my retirement fund and are attempting to block my access to unemployment.” Daycon has hired scab drivers to replace the striking Teamsters.

Nonetheless, the Daycon workers have kept up the fight. The local’s business agent, Doug Webber, told the Washington Afro-American, “Daycon is taking advantage of the recession, thinking they shouldn’t have to provide salary increases. [The strike is] about dignity and respect … we’re looking for equal pay for equal work, including a three-year catch-up for new hires.”

Accordingly, pickets at Daycon’s Upper Marlboro, Md., facility have continued around the clock for the duration of the strike, while workers reach out to members of the community and Daycon customers to build support, sometimes following scab drivers on “ambulatory pickets” to create awareness of their strike.

Two legal victories

Daycon’s Teamsters may still be on the line, but they have won two important legal victories. On June 1, charges filed by Daycon with the National Labor Relations Board—the company accused the workers of bargaining in bad faith—against the union were dismissed. Consequently, on July 6, Local 639 won a significant victory when the NLRB charged Daycon with improperly declaring an impasse in negotiations and unilaterally imposing new conditions on the workers in April, essentially forcing them to strike.

Another strike may be brewing in the District. Over June 25 and 26, nurses at the Washington Hospital Center voted overwhelmingly against the latest proposal by hospital management, making the prospect of a strike more likely. The 1,600 WHC nurses, members of Nurses United of the National Capital Region, have been working without a contract since June 19. Earlier in the same week, over 1,300 signed a “no confidence petition” against management.

Nurses United is on the verge of joining other nursing and health care unions in using their ability, as the productive force of society, to bring production to a halt if necessary, to win or preserve important gains for themselves as workers. Large, often militant work actions by nurses have been carried out across the United States in recent years. In June Minnesota workers carried out the largest nurses’ strike in U.S. history.

Nurses reject take-back contract proposal

The nurses in this case rejected the contract proposal by management because it included terms that would cut benefits and compensation standards, especially for veteran workers, and continue to under-staff all WHC departments. Nurses United has stated that it will continue to fight for “safer patient care, for increased staffing, and to retain our well-deserved benefits.” WHC, which is managed by MedStar, has admitted that it is financially healthy.

Among WHC’s latest anti-worker transgressions were the summary firings of 18 nurses who failed to report to work during record snowfalls in February. Despite total accumulations of over five feet in some areas and widespread closures of public transit, management held the fired nurses responsible for failing to report, even issuing threatening statements in contradiction of its own policies regarding absences.

On July 3, Nurses United posted on its website a negotiation bulletin that read, “We do not want [to] strike, but we will if we have to. … We are united in our belief that nurses deserve what they have worked and struggled so hard to achieve.” The bulletin includes notice of strike preparations, advising members to continue to save money and make suitable arrangements for a work stoppage, while outlining upcoming activities by union leadership.

Nurses United has successfully struck twice before, in 1978 and 2000. Negotiations are scheduled to resume July 13. Until then, as the union noted in its negotiations bulletin, workers should “Stay Strong! Stay United!! Stay Tuned!!!”

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