|The News Line: Feature
Monday, 6 August 2018
US janitors announce historic contract victory!
SEIU Local 1 janitors in Detroit, Michigan, joined by supporters and elected officials, have announced their historic contract victory which includes raises to $15 dollars per hour in year three of their four-year contract.
|SEIU members at Dulles International Airport marching against the sacking of three colleagues by airport contractor Huntleigh
Their win is the first in the energetic movement to build One Detroit: a city in which all working people —white, black and brown— enjoy the benefits of the downtown resurgence with the higher wages they need to support their loved ones and the communities they live in.
Despite a booming downtown economy, many workers who keep Detroit’s buildings clean are struggling to get by, with some being paid as little as $9.45 per hour. The average pay for janitors is so low that many must rely on public assistance just to make ends meet.
This victory changes that, says the union, and while the fight for One Detroit starts with higher wages for hardworking janitors, it also includes $15 and union rights for fast food workers, security officers, airport workers and more. Local 1 Detroit Metropolitan Airport Janitor Jasmine Hall said: ‘This new contract means a better future for myself, my children and my community. ‘But our fight for One Detroit isn’t over – we won’t stop until security officers, airport workers, arena workers, fast food workers and more can support their families with a $15 wage and good union jobs.’
Meanwhile, Dulles International Airport, Washington, airport workers standing with sacked immigrant women, held a rally last week. SEIU said: ‘It’s around noon at the Marriott Hotel next to Dulles International Airport (IAD). ‘Bus after bus pulls in front of the ballroom and rapidly gets filled.
‘Hundreds of workers; Black, brown, white; immigrants and native born; union members and soon-to-be members who work for airline services contractor Huntleigh USA are mad as hell and ready to let the irresponsible contractor and the airlines that tolerate it know that we are committed to stand by what''s fair.
‘Three immigrant women, from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone with families to take care of have been unjustly fired by Huntleigh. ‘Two worked as wheelchair agents and one as a customer service agent, all three are vital to keeping the airport running. ‘Although many passengers are unaware that wheelchair agents rely on tips, their jobs are in fact classified as tipped positions.
‘Supervisors fired the wheelchair agents for allegedly soliciting tips, an absurd response that can have dire consequences for vulnerable, low-wage workers.
‘However, SEIU members are fighting back, just as we always have and will always do. We are committed to get Isata, Manju and Asnakech back their jobs. And we are not alone in this fight for justice. ‘United Food and Commerce Workers (UFCW) and UNITE HERE members joined in solidarity.
‘Religious leaders leading the Poor People’s Campaign have our backs. Immigrant rights groups such as Casa de Maryland are all in defending immigrant workers’ dignity. ‘Delegates Kerrie Delaney (D-67) and Lee Carter (D-50), recently elected to the Virginia Legislature, made clear their support for workers and good union jobs for all.
‘When the rally approached IAD terminal 1, passengers’ phones turned to the hundreds of protesters carrying big posters of the sacked workers. ‘Our demands will continue resonating in the airport by hundreds of working people in a myriad of accents until all airport workers are treated with the dignity working people deserve; starting with re-hiring Isata, Manju and Asnakech!’
• Vermont’s striking nurses want a raise for non-union workers too.
When 1,800 nurses and technical staff struck for better wages July 12-13 at the state’s second-largest employer, the University of Vermont Medical Centre, the people of Burlington came out in force to back them up. Neurology nurse Maggie Belensz said: ‘We had policemen and firefighters and UPS drivers pulling over and shaking our hands’ on the picket line. ‘We had pizza places dropping off dozens of pizzas, giving out free ice cream.’
And when a thousand people marched from the hospital through Burlington’s downtown, ‘we had standing ovations from people eating their dinners,’ she added. ‘It was a moving experience.’ One reason for such wide support: these hospital workers aren’t just demanding a raise themselves.
They’re also calling for a $15 minimum wage for their non-union co-workers, such as those who answer the phones, mop the floors, cook the food, and help patients to the bathroom.
Restructuring in 2011 created the University of Vermont Health Network, an association of six hospitals, a visiting nurse association, and various clinics spread across the state and reaching into upstate New York. But this University of Vermont Medical Centre (UVM) is the crown jewel, the state’s only Level I trauma centre. It gets the network’s sickest and hardest-to-treat patients.
Funnelling those patients to UVM Medical Centre is a good thing, says surgical and paediatric intensive-care nurse Jason Winston, who has worked there a decade.
‘However, because the job has changed, we need the tools to do the job,’ he said. ‘We need more staff, and wages that allow us to recruit and retain.’ Instead, the hospital has a perennial nurse shortage. Winston said UVM doesn’t even match the wages at Champlain Valley Hospital, 30 miles away in Plattsburgh, New York – where the cost of living is much lower.
And Champlain Valley sends its highest-need patients to UVM for specialised care.
A bargaining survey of nurses and technical staff revealed that wages were a major concern – but with a twist. Members didn’t just want to boost their own wages. They wanted a raise for the non-union secretaries and support staff, too.
The Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals represents less than a quarter of the hospital’s workforce. The Vermont legislature passed a $15 minimum wage in May, but the governor vetoed it.
Nurses knew that UVM Medical Centre had the funds to raise its own minimum wage to $15 – and the union had the will to fight for it. While the union can’t officially negotiate wages for titles not covered in the contract, there is a provision that states that the hospital ‘shall provide sufficient ancillary staff so as to ensure that such duties do not fall to bargaining unit employees.’
Chronic short-staffing should be addressed by raising wages to attract and retain support staff, says the union. The union hosted a community rally in May focused on the low-wage licensed nursing attendants (LNAs), who start at under $13 an hour.
Neurology nurse Maggie Belensz said: ‘LNAs are essential to our work. They’re taking patients’ vital signs, they’re helping to reposition patients to prevent bed sores, they help toileting patients. They’re our right-hand man.’ But, she adds: ‘More so than nurses even, LNAs are constantly short-staffed. Then we have nurses doing LNA duties, on top of the nursing workload.’
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