THE NEW YORK BUS STRIKE GOES ON says ATU leader

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‘AS I HAVE said from the beginning, the best way for this strike to end is with Local 1181, Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s bus companies in one room, talking candidly and in good faith,’ Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) president Michael Cordiello said in a statement on Friday.

He added: ‘Until that happens, the strike goes on.’

Cordiello was responding to an announcement by the Bloomberg administration that negotiations in the then ten-day-old New York City school bus strike will resume this week at Gracie Mansion.

ATU Local 1181 warned that it was unlikely to end the strike unless the Bloomberg administration reversed course and agreed to take part in the talks.

While the city made the official mayoral residence available, only the union and the private bus companies that employ the drivers were sitting down to negotiate yesterday.

ATU Local 1181 officials demonstrated outside New York’s City Hall on Thursday, 23 January, to demand that Mayor Michael Bloomberg meet with school bus drivers and matrons to settle their ongoing strike for job protection.

The workers have been on strike since 16 January over a threat to their wages and benefits by the City’s proposal not to include Employee Protection Provisions (EPPs) in its new busing contracts which will come into effect by September 2013.

Parent groups, unions, and other supporters have stood in solidarity with the striking drivers and matrons.

The matrons, who are trained in such skills as CPR, and drivers work for private bus companies but for nearly 50 years, the City has included an EPP in all school bus company contracts.

The workers believe that the EPP is directly linked to the safety and security of New York’s children by ensuring that the most qualified, skilled and experienced school bus crews remain on the job.

Larry Hanley, ATU international president, said: ‘Our bus drivers and matrons are experienced and skilled at taking care of our young children and those with special needs on their journeys to and from school each day.

‘Yet these workers are facing an assault on the foundation of decent wages, decent health care and decent retirement standards.

‘The mayor needs to meet with us urgently to thrash out a resolution to this dispute.’

On 16 January, the union launched a television and radio advertisement campaign under the slogan ‘Tell Mayor Bloomberg kids come first’.

Meanwhile, in federal agency Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) charges filed last week, twenty-five workers allege that they were regularly locked indoors while cleaning Target stores in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul.

‘At 11 at night, I would ring the doorbell to get let in, and then from there, we would be locked in the store all night, until 7 am when they opened the store,’ said Honorio Hernandez, who cleaned Target stores for three years before leaving a year ago for other work.

‘I was scared that something would happen, and I wouldn’t be able to get out of the store…. But I never complained about it because I was scared that I would lose my job.’

Hernandez has worked for all three of the janitorial contractors named in the OSHA complaints: Carlson Building Maintenance, Prestige Maintenance USA and Diversified Maintenance Systems.

Currently unemployed, Hernandez is an activist with the Minnesota labour group that organised the complaints, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL).

Target spokesperson Molly Snyder said the company has not been informed of an OSHA complaint.

She claimed: ‘At Target, we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethical business practices and we expect our vendors to do the same.’

She added: ‘We take allegations of inappropriate working conditions seriously and complete a thorough external audit of every housekeeping vendor on an annual basis.’

While the cleaning workers are legally employed by Target’s contractors, CTUL charges that Target management has been well aware that they’re being locked inside its stores.

Hernandez said that there was generally a single manager on site during his shift, and those managers were employees of Target, not of the contractors.

He added that in an emergency, workers would have needed to get the manager to unlock a door and let them out of the building, and ‘you can’t necessarily find them very easily’ within the store.

Asked whether Target has a corporate policy regarding whether workers can be locked inside its stores overnight, Snyder said, ‘All individuals who are in Target stores after hours receive information on Target’s standard safety protocol which includes the locations and use of clearly marked fire exits and doors, which allow them to exit the building any time.’

Hernandez, like several workers who filed the OSHA charges, said he never received such information.

Hernandez said that none of the three contractors ever offered him an explanation for why workers were locked inside during the graveyard shift.

He said he and his co-workers often discussed it, but ‘there were so few of us at the store, we were worried that if we spoke up, they could just fire all of us.’

Hernandez insisted: ‘All of the doors were locked. We couldn’t leave. I don’t know why they would do that.’

He added that the contractors also paid ‘very low’ wages, and never provided safety training regarding the chemicals they were working with.

Target is the country’s second-largest discount retailer, behind Walmart.

Organisers have charged that the two companies squeeze their labour costs, and their workers, in much the same way.

‘People ask what the difference between Walmart and Target is,’ a United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union organiser told Corpwatch’s Kari Lyderson in 2006. ‘Nothing, except that Walmart is six times bigger.’

Walmart has also faced criticism over locking overnight shift workers within its stores.

In a 2004 interview, Michael Rodriguez, a Walmart worker said that after his ankle was crushed in a work accident, it took an hour before someone let him out of the store.

A Walmart spokesperson said that, at the discretion of local managers, ‘doors are locked to protect associates and the store from intruders.’

Walmart said that workers could use fire exits to escape in an emergency. Rodriguez said he didn’t, because management had insisted that workers who used the fire exit when there wasn’t a fire would be sacked.

Target is entirely non-union in the United States. The UFCW, the main union backing the Walmart retail workers group OUR Walmart, filed for a union election in 2011 at a Target store in Long Island.

The UFCW lost that election following an anti-union campaign which the union alleged included illegal threats and bribes by management.

The OSHA complaints are one component of a two-year-old CTUL campaign to change conditions for retail cleaning workers in Minneapolis and St Paul.

CTUL organiser Veronica Mendez said that the effort ‘is now really coming to a head at Target.’

CTUL is collaborating with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which currently represents janitors in nearby office buildings, in hopes of winning union recognition for their counterparts in stores like Target.

With current SEIU members in office buildings on the verge of a potential strike, Veronica said those efforts, which have so far included lawsuits and demonstrations, are likely to escalate within the next month.

Minnesota janitors and security officers set a strike vote at a rally last Thursday, their union reported at the weekend.

For janitors and security officers in Minneapolis, members of SEIU Local 26, a raise would help bring them above the poverty line.

It would allow them to pay for basic necessities, including groceries, school, rent or mortgage.

And they’re prepared to fight for themselves, their fellow workers, and their families in order to achieve those things.

As the next step in their fight for a living wage and affordable health care, members of Local 26 held a rally in downtown Minneapolis last Thursday after contract bargaining came to a standstill.

At the rally a strike petition was circulated, with a strike vote scheduled for February 9th.