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.
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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