West Coast dockers contract victory – teachers strike in Seattle

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LAST Friday, May 22nd, the dockworkers union of all 29 US West Coast ports voted overwhelmingly to ratify a tentative contract agreement reached in February with employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) voted 82% in favour of approving the new 5-year agreement that will expire on July 1st, 2019. The previous contract was ratified in 2008 with a vote of 75% in favour.

Voting results were certified today by the ILWU’s Coast Balloting Committee, which was chosen by Coast Longshore Caucus delegates elected from each of the 29 West Coast ports.

‘The negotiations for this contract were some of the longest and most difficult in our recent history,’ said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath.

‘Membership unity and hard work by the Negotiating Committee made this fair outcome possible,’ he added.

The new agreement provides approximately 20,000 good-paying jobs in 29 West Coast port communities.

The contract will maintain excellent health benefits, improve wages, pensions and job safety protections; limit outsourcing of jobs and provide an improved system for resolving job disputes.

The opposing parties that were represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, also voted in favour of this deal last Tuesday.

Both sides reached a settlement with the help of Thomas Perez, who serves as federal mediator and US Labour Secretary.

This conflict between the two sides may turn out to be very hazardous to the US economy. For this purpose, Perez was made an emissary of President Barack Obama and sent to California.

Perez worked under great political pressure, but managed to make a settlement between the two sides. This conflict may cause loss of billions of dollars to the economy.

There was a lot tension between the two sides during negotiation period. The traffic at ports was noticeably affected and it was affecting the economy of US.

West Coast Ports handle around 70% of the imports from the whole world mainly Asia. The slowdowns in US economy and trade were blamed by each side on the other; this was done to put pressure on the opponent.

Perez said: ‘The gridlock was most keenly felt at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two busiest container-cargo hubs in the United States.’

• Meanwhile, teachers in Washington state are holding rolling strikes over pay.

Thousands of teachers marched and rallied through downtown Seattle last Tuesday as part of a one-day strike to encourage Washington lawmakers to put more money into the state education budget.

The march marked the largest teacher strike so far in the state of Washington this year, with more than 6,000 teachers and support staff partaking in the strike.

They are hoping parents will call their lawmakers to tell them to find the money to pay for smaller classes, teacher raises and other public school needs.

Teachers in Seattle, Issaquah and Mercer Island took last Tuesday off work. Thousands of them came to downtown Seattle for the march, gathering at the base of the Space Needle at the Seattle Centre before marching toward Westlake Centre.

Participants held signs, demanding that state lawmakers meet the Washington State Supreme Court mandate to fully fund public schools.

Meghan Schusger, a Seattle elementary school teacher, said: ‘I think it’s getting through to people. I just hope it’s getting through to the legislature.’

Participants wore red in solidarity, and said they were not only marching for themselves, but for their students.

Robert Murphy, a maths teacher at Franklin High School, said: ‘I’ve got 160 students tomorrow, I want them to have help.’

The march came to a halt for a rally at Westlake Centre. Teachers, parents, politicians and supporters of the cause took the stage and called for lawmakers to do their job.

‘You don’t deserve an 11% increase, because you’re not doing your job,’ Tisha Held, a mother of a student at Orca K-8, said of politicians in Olympia.

She added that politicians need to resolve their issues and think about the students, including her daughter.

Held said: ‘Her education is very important to me, and I am willing to pay taxes or levies if they use it properly and continue to support my daughter’s future.’

State teachers’ union, the Washington Education Association (WEA) said nearly 60 teacher union have held or plan to hold their own one-day walkouts.

Teachers in more than a dozen districts had protests planned for later that week, including Everett, Mukilteo and Bellevue. Teachers haven’t received a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in six years.

They are scheduled to receive a 3 per cent COLA increase spread across two years, but will not receive any increase in health care funding, which means ‘teachers will take home less money next year as health care costs rise,’ the Washington Education Association, said in a statement, adding that ‘legislators are in line to get 11 percent raises’.

Teachers also took actionlast month. Lakewood, Stanwood-Camano and Arlington were the first school districts to walk out on April 22nd, followed by Bellingham, Blaine, Conway, Ferndale, Mount Vernon and Anacortes on April 24th, the WEA said.

‘Our members feel strongly that the time is now to get something done and, the lack of progress in Olympia is unacceptable,’ said Randy Davis, Marysville Education Association president.

‘We expect the Legislature to fully fund smaller class sizes in every grade level as required by voter-approved I-1351, and we need the state to fund competitive, professional salaries and benefits so we can continue attracting and keeping qualified, caring teachers for our kids.’

At an hour-long rally in Olympia in April, Governor. Jay Inslee, House Speaker Frank Chopp and other politicians spoke about efforts to improve education in Washington.

Inslee, a Democrat and the son of a teacher, called fixing the public education system ‘the paramount duty of the state of Washington’.

l Low wages at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna are pushing employees into economic instability, increasing risks to public health and causing patient safety concerns, according to a new report from the trade union representing service and technical workers at the two hospitals.

More than two dozen local hospital workers crowded into a meeting room at the Central Labour Council building in Eureka last Thursday night to hear reps from the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) present the report, titled ‘Uncompensated Care: How St. Joseph’s Low Wages Leave Caregivers Behind.’

Van Nguyen, a San Francisco-based research analyst for NUHW, sat at the front of the room and presented a PowerPoint slideshow, outlining the report in broad strokes while providing a long list of numbers and graphs. All the statistics were designed to bolster the report’s central thesis.

‘This study,’ Nguyen said, ‘finds that despite being the largest private sector employer in Humboldt County, St. Joseph has not upheld its responsibility to pay its workers sustainable wages.’

The non-profit St. Joseph Health System operates both St. Joe’s and Redwood Memorial. The two hospitals employ roughly 1,400 people in Humboldt County, and NUHW represents more than 400 of those, according to union rep Charlie Ridgell. The union is currently in contract negotiations with administrators.

According to the report, caregivers at the hospital make as little as $10.90 per hour, just $1.90 above the minimum wage, and the median hourly wage among service workers is less than $13 per hour, making for an annual income of less than $27,000. That’s not far above the poverty line of $23,850 for a family of four.

With salaries this low, the report says, workers find themselves relying on taxpayer-funded safety net programs like MediCal and food stamps. In effect, this means that St. Joseph Health is taking advantage of taxpayer-funded subsidies, said Nguyen.

The report compared the starting wages for various service and technical positions at the local hospitals to the starting wages for those same positions at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Sonoma County and Mercy Medical Centre in Shasta County.

Later in the meeting, several hospital workers stood up to give their own personal stories. Christi Hawkins, a registered nurse at St. Joe’s, said that while she has no trouble providing for her son, it’s difficult to hear service workers in the break room fret over paying their bills.

‘It’s not justice, and they’re not treated with dignity,’ Hawkins said. ‘That’s why I became a nurse; that’s why I chose St. Joe’s: so I could serve our most vulnerable, our most fragile.

‘And if my teammates are worried and overworked, then we’re failing – completely. We’re failing them; we’re failing our community; we’re failing our society at large.’

Barbara Fields, a 65-year-old nurse’s aide, said she’s worked in St. Joe’s progressive care unit for the past eight years.

‘I chose to work there because of the high level of care for patients,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have chosen to work there if I didn’t like my job. I don’t like my job anymore. There’s no support. It’s not a friendly place to work.’

Fields went on to describe 16-hour shifts in which she’s sometimes the only aide for as many as 40 patients at a time.

‘I cannot give my quality care,’ she said. ‘It really bothers me. I don’t get support from my boss or the hospital. The dignity is not there any longer.’

The union’s report features testimonials from other employees, including a single mother of three who, after a decade at St. Joe’s, still makes $12.50 an hour and relies on MediCal and subsidised housing.

Can the health system afford to pay employees more? The report argues yes, pointing to six-digit executive salaries and profits of nearly $100 million from January 2010 through December 2014.

‘In 2013 (St. Joseph Health-Eureka’s) profit margin from operations was 6.8 per cent and (Redwood Memorial Hospital’s) was 14.9 per cent, far exceeding the statewide average of 2.6 per cent for all California hospitals,’ the report says.

Nguyen argued that the non-profit St. Joseph Health System is letting the community down, saying, ‘It is both an economic imperative and a moral responsibility for them to pay sustainable wages to their employees.’