WORKERS in Ohio have spoken out about their struggle earlier this year which saw them go from being unrepresented temporary agency workers to direct employees and members of the auto workers’ union UAW.
All 60 workers at an Ohio auto parts plant were temps – until they threatened to strike. On the eve of their strike deadline, their employer agreed to recognise the union and make them all direct employees. The workers at Detroit Chassis, which opened last year, assemble axles for F-650 and F-750 trucks for Ford’s nearby Ohio Assembly Plant.
They make $9.50 to $11.50 an hour, and until April they were employed by the temp agency Callos. In April they demanded union recognition and voted to walk out.
Detroit Chassis caved in on the eve of their strike deadline, agreeing to recognise the union and make them all direct employees.
According to UAW, a strike at this plant could have halted production at the Ford factory within a day. ‘I love doing my job,’ said Philadonna Wade, who has worked at the plant for eleven months. ‘But it’s very physical. It’s exhausting. You’re flipping these heavy axles so that the axle’s upright, and then you have to hoist the axles.
‘My feet and legs kill me every night, and then my lower back and arms, shoulders, neck. Mostly my lower half of my body kills me. You think about it: “How long am I going to be able to do this job?”’
Workers on the night shift did spontaneously walk out earlier in April. It happened after management tried to force them to work well past the time their shift was supposed to end – on a Saturday night, their sixth workday that week.
‘Our supervisor had promised us we were going to get off after nine hours,’ Wade said, ‘but he wanted to keep us till 4:30 in the morning.’ They’d been working since 5:30 p.m. The workers simply refused. ‘We left at two in the morning,’ Wade said. ‘We were just beat. We were like, “There’s no way they can fire all of us.” A lot of people wanted to go out and go to a bar or something. Me, I just wanted to go home and finish folding my clothes.’
The typical schedule is supposed to be four ten-hour days, Monday to Thursday, with occasional mandatory overtime on Friday. But that was not the reality. Some weeks, workers could barely get enough hours. In April, the problem was the opposite – too much overtime. Workers were forced to come in on Saturdays.
‘It’s so crazy to not have a planned schedule,’ said Wade, a single mother with four kids. Pay is so low that she qualifies for food stamps and other public assistance. My daughter, she wants to do gymnastics, and I can’t afford it,’ she said. ‘(My kids) wanted to sign up for after-school, but I don’t have the money for that.’
Now maybe she will. The new union’s next step is campaigning for a first contract.
l Connecticut’s largest health care workers union took to the airwaves last week to protest against ongoing state employee layoffs.
The commercial launched by SEIU, New England 1199 and airing on Connecticut stations and the internet, features a woman, identified as Jenny, who is living with cerebral palsy. In the 30-second spot, Jenny, who ‘speaks’ using a computer that reads her eye signals, makes a direct appeal to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to restore her state-appointed speech pathologist, identified only as ‘Mallory.’
‘My name is Jenny,’ she says to open the ad. ‘I was born with cerebral palsy. This computer is the only way I can communicate. Mallory is the only worker employed by the state of Connecticut who knew how to customise this computer so my voice can be heard. On May 3, Mallory was laid off. Governor, please bring back Mallory and all of the laid-off state workers. We need them.’
Malloy and the legislature built big savings in salary accounts across most state agencies into the $19.76 billion budget adopted last May for the fiscal year that began July 1. Officials cut spending more than $800 million below the level needed to maintain current services to craft a plan that does not increase taxes.
More than 250 of the speech pathologists and communications therapists New England 1199 represents at the Department of Developmental Services have received layoff notices. Many rallied against the layoffs outside the Capitol earlier this week.
‘There is a tremendous human cost to these layoffs, and we ask that the governor bring back the laid off workers,’ said SEIU 1199 spokesperson Jennifer Schneider.
‘People with disabilities rely on these workers to be able to communicate. By laying off these workers we have taken their voice away.’ Connecticut is trying to make do with its smallest workforce ‘in several generations’ the governor has admitted.
•A former anaesthesiologist for US healthcare privateer, Kaiser Permanente, who worked at the Sunnyside Medical Centre in Clackamas, Oregon, has filed a $9 million lawsuit against Kaiser Permanente, alleging his employment was terminated after he repeatedly complained about the adverse impact of cost-cutting measures on patient safety.
In the suit, anaesthesiologist Erick Franck alleges Kaiser mandated anaesthesiologists to reduce the amount of anti-anxiety medications administered to surgery patients to speed post-surgery wake times and expedite the discharge process. In addition to other claims, the suit expresses particular concern for pediatric patients.
The suit states, ‘As a result of these policies, Dr. Franck became increasingly concerned that his pediatric patients were having their IVs (intravenous catheter) pulled too soon after arrival in the recovery room while they were still crying with pain.’
• The Seattle City Council voted last Monday to put Initiative 124 to a referendum. The initiative would require hotels to provide workers with panic buttons, health-insurance assistance and other protections. Backed by hotel-workers union UNITE HERE! Local 8, I-124 qualified earlier this month after campaigners collected more than 20,000 signatures.
According to the Yes on 124 campaign, Seattle’s hotel industry employs as many as 7,500 low-wage workers. That number is growing because several new hotel projects are under way and the city’s economy is booming. The hospitality industry has not adequately provided for the safety and security of hotel employees,’ I-124 says.
‘Due to the unique nature of hotel work, hotel employees are subjected to a risk of harassment and violence on the job. Unregulated workloads result in injury rates for hotel housekeepers that are higher than those of coal miners.
‘At the same time, hospitality employees have the lowest rate of access to employer-offered health insurance of any industry in the state… and face unaffordable monthly premiums for family healthcare.’
I-124 says a vast majority of Seattle hotel workers are women, immigrants and people of colour. It says their problems at work ‘exacerbate existing structural inequities experienced by these groups.’