U.S. Labor News Roundup
Week of May 20, 2013
Hospital Workers Strike, Demand Safer Staffing, Pensions
On. May 21, 13,000 workers at seven University of California hospitals began a two-day strike to protect their pensions and improve patient care.
The strikers, members of AFSCME Local 3299, are patient care technical workers, such as surgical and lab technicians.
Seven thousand service workers in the same local—such as housekeepers and cafeteria workers—struck in sympathy. And a different union, with 3,400 other UC hospital employees including social workers and pharmacists, jumped into the action with a one-day sympathy strike.
The union claims cost-cutting is endangering care. Management eliminated 300 jobs at one hospital. “UC hospitals don’t meet basic industry standards, especially on staffing,” said Local President Kathryn Lybarger
Management wants to create a two-tier pension system for workers, while executives get yearly pensions of as much as $300,000.
The union wants a voice in staffing and patient care matters. “Our demand is to have staffing committees with a neutral arbitrator,” Lybarger said.
Months ago, AFSCME 3299 members created a Patient Protection Task Force to outline safety precautions in case of a strike, including emergency call lists and contingency plans. Management refused to cooperate.
But 447 essential workers such as respiratory therapists in intensive care were told by the union to remain in the hospitals while the strike went on.
UPS: Largest Private-Sector Contract, Profitable Employer, Weak Deal
The Teamsters and UPS reached agreement on a five-year contract April 25. It will increase health care costs for 140,000 Teamsters, let the company continue with harassment, and maintain a permanent underclass of part-timers, at a company that is making nearly $5 billion in profits a year. Wage increases will be below inflation.
When UPS put health care on the table, the union set up rallies to change the subject from the company’s terrible harassment and overtime to “no way we pay for health care.” The problem was that the rallying cry was defensive, rather than offensive.
One word was never mentioned by the union leadership: “strike.” It was never an option for them.
The reform caucus Teamsters for a Democratic Union is finding widespread anger about the health care givebacks. In Philadelphia, workers have printed up “Vote No” T-shirts. A “Vote No on the UPS Contract” Facebook page is drawing a crowd.
Detroiters Demand Right to Stay in Their Homes
Detroit Eviction Defense has been working with homeowners to save their foreclosed-on homes for a year and a half. Over the last four years, Detroit has suffered from 70,000 foreclosures, with a population of only 700,000 people. Sixty-five percent of these houses are vacant, which blights and destabilizes neighborhoods.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the nicknames of mortgage corporations that the federal government took over in 2008, at the beginning of the economic crisis. They have the power to reduce the principal on a mortgage and halt foreclosures. But instead Fannie and Freddie encourage banks to refuse to modify mortgages. Families are then evicted. The houses sit empty, targets for being stripped. That—and arson—is the usual fate of empty houses in Detroit.
The government’s loyalty seems to be to the banks that caused the economic crisis in the first place.
Detroit Eviction Defense, a coalition that grew out of Occupy Detroit, gets support from the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO, the UAW International, and UAW Local 600. Members have raised money, turned out to defend homes from eviction, come out to marches and rallies, and supported homeowners by packing courtrooms.
Many of the homeowners fighting eviction are union members and retirees.