SEIU office vandalized

Revolutionary anarchists dis establishment union

On May 23, some anonymous actors left acid on a window of the SEIU union office on Mission St in Santa Cruz, and spray painted the walls red and black with anarchy signs and revolutionary slogans:

"Solidarid@d Puerto Rico" SEIU is currently engaged in trying to break and control a nation-wide teachers' strike against the puppet government of Puerto Rico, a US colony.

This is a perfect example of the role unions inevitably play in co-opting, selling out, and even crushing real strikes and revolutionary upsurges. For more documentation of this treachery, visit pr.indymedia.org en espanol, or simply search the internet for "puerto rico teachers."

"Support the janitors" on strike in San Jose, "not the union" that will order them back to work for a few dollars. May you never have to clean up after technocrats (the "little Eichmanns" of America) again. In this vein, we support the University of California service workers who will be striking on the 4th and 5th of June (unfortunately represented by AFSCME), and encourage them to "wildcat" strike when the two-day strike proves unsatisfactory. May you never have to clean up after and take care of drunken frat boys and sorority girls again.

"Hang the bosses by the guts of the bureaucrats!"

P.S. We forgot to add, fuck you city councilmember Tony Madrigal, and "professor of negotiaton" Bill Monning too. There's no such thing as a working class politician, and we would hate them even if there were.


On your Marx, set, go for global unions

Internationalism a hallmark of Marxism

Australia's oldest union is in talks with its British and US counterparts about the possibility of establishing the first international union since the 1930s. The Australian Workers Union has had preliminary talks with Britain's biggest union, UNITE, and the US United Steelworkers with the aim of establishing a body that could deal with the global movement of labour.

As business routinely moves between countries, unions believe they must follow the trend. "The globalisation of capital is the biggest challenge we face," the national secretary of the AWU, Paul Howes, told the Herald. "So we have to meet it with the globalisation of labour organising."

Mr Howes predicts a formal merger between the AWU and fraternal unions in Britain and North America is about a decade away. But his talks put the AWU on track to creating the biggest organisation of labour since the Industrial Workers of the World receded as a force in the late 1930s.

The US-based Service Employees International Union, which has 1.9 million members, has also been trying to build a global membership among health-care, security and public sector workers.

Mr Howes said he had recently met Derek Simpson, the joint general secretary of UNITE, to discuss extending the AWU's strategic alliance with the Steelworkers to include the British organisation.

Mr Howes said the AWU had already formed an alliance with the Steelworkers, the National Confederation of Metalworkers in Brazil, Amicus in Britain, the United Mineworkers in South Africa and aluminium workers in Russia to bargain internationally with the aluminium giant, Alcoa.


Union gets parents to cancel school savings

Mayor formerly represented janitors union

One would think high school custodians would keep front hallways and entrances to the newly renovated building clean on nights when the Haverhill (MA) mayor and School Committee are meeting there. But apparently that's not the case, and it may end up costing the custodians a few jobs.

Mayor James Fiorentini wants the School Department to use leftover money from two vacant custodial positions to hire a private cleaning company to clean the high school at night. He made the proposal at a recent School Committee meeting held at the high school.

On his way into the building, he said he noticed it was dirty in several prominent locations, including the main entrance, a side entrance that leads to the auditorium and in hallways.

Other School Committee members agreed the custodians are doing a poor job keeping the high school and other buildings clean.

"I'm disgusted by how some of the classrooms look," School Committee President Kerry Fitzgerald said. "These buildings should not be dirty, especially in places that are seen regularly by the public like the high school auditorium."

Superintendent Raleigh Buchanan said he is open to doing anything to keep the high school clean. He said he forwarded the mayor's proposal to school lawyers to draw up requests for proposals from private cleaning companies.

When the documents are ready, he said he will bring them to the School Committee to see if it wants to go forward.

There is between $20,000 and $30,000 available for each of the vacant custodial positions, the superintendent said.

Fitzgerald said she would like the district to consider using a model similar to the one used at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School and in Danvers public schools. At those schools, maintenance workers are used during the day to keep buildings in shape and cleaning crews are brought in at night, she said.

In 2005, the School Committee considered privatizing the entire custodial operation. But the controversial measure failed 5 to 2 after several private companies bid for the job. Many parents and teachers turned out to help the custodians block the privatization proposal.

"The old proposal to privatize the custodial operation would have saved $500,000 to $1 million, but it was voted down," Fitzgerald said, noting that Fiorentini opposed it. As a lawyer, Fiorentini represented the custodial union before he was elected mayor.

Messages left for the high school custodians on their school phone were not returned. High School Principal Bernard Nangle also did not return a phone message.


Voters weigh City construction overpayments

Monumental cost savings would add up

Supporters of Proposition D, Carlsbad's charter city ballot measure on the June 3 ballot, say it will give the city freedom to control its destiny. "It will prove to be a landmark decision for the city of Carlsbad," said Councilman Mark Packard, who has pushed for months to get the proposition on the ballot.

But labor union backers say Prop. D and similar measures in other California communities are underhanded attempts to get out of state wage requirements. Under these requirements, cities typically pay union-scale rates on municipal construction jobs.

Because some charter cities "don't maintain the prevailing wage provision, at the end of the day that's going to affect a lot of construction workers and their families," said Tom Lemmon, business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council.

Carlsbad is now a "general law" city, meaning it is bound by the state's laws on everything from how it awards its construction contracts to when it will host municipal elections. By contrast, a charter city can make its own rules for those things. Vista and San Marcos are already charter cities.

A charter city can't refuse to follow state public meeting laws or traffic regulations, but it could set its own election standards and create its own process for handling construction contracts.

"It's really transferring as much authority as possible from state decision-makers to local decision-makers," said city management analyst Rob Houston.

Changing the bid process

Carlsbad's proposed charter is a three-page, somewhat broadly worded document that doesn't provide details on the changes that would occur if voters approved it. That would be addressed via individual city ordinances passed later by the City Council, city staff members said.

"There's that whole, very upfront process to change things," Houston said. "It can't just be done behind the scenes."

City Council members have indicated that they're keenly interested in changing the municipal contracting process if Prop. D passes. The city has a number of large construction projects in the planning stages, including an emergency services training center and a public works facility.

Packard said he has heard that Carlsbad could save anywhere from 10 to 20 percent on its construction projects by changing its bid-handling process. The city has estimated that it has some $500 million worth of jobs in the pipeline between now and "buildout" ---- the point when the city's developable land is covered, he said.

"Even on the low side --- 10 percent ---- that's $50 million (in savings)," Packard added.

California has 109 charter cities. They include Vista, which became a charter city last year; Del Mar, San Marcos and the city of San Diego.

"I think it's good for the community," Vista Mayor Morris Vance said. "It gives us a feeling of more independence as a community."

Going to court

As a charter city, Vista is no longer required to take the rock-bottom, lowest bidder on a construction project, and that's been a huge benefit to the city, said Robin Putnam, Vista's community projects director.

Instead, it can make its choice in part based on a contractor's experience with similar projects, she said. That helps it avoid the endless change orders ---- contractor-made requests to increase expenses ---- that sometimes occur when a city goes with the lowest bidder, she said.

However, Vista's experience with its new charter hasn't been problem-free.

It was sued by the parent organization for the local construction trades council last month, and the case is working its way through the court system.

Lemmon, the local trades council manager, said his organization isn't opposing all charter city proposals, only the ones that fail to spell out whether they will commit to paying prevailing wage rates on construction contracts. For example, he said, Del Mar is a charter city but has agreed to follow the state requirement.

While the construction trades council has opposed Prop. D, the Carlsbad unit of the League of Women Voters and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association have both come out in support of the measure.

The league believes that the measure could result in "increased efficiency, effectiveness and innovation," board member Tina Schmidt wrote in an e-mail.

"This 'home rule' proposal is an opportunity for increased ability to save local taxpayers' money (on Carlsbad's) capital projects, such as the Alga Norte Park and the new police/fire training facility," she wrote.


Most don't support 'prevailing wage'

Politicians normally favor special union-protections

A prevailing wage proposal would cost Mankato (MN) at least $860,000 in 2009 and is opposed by the majority of contractors that returned a city survey, according to a 37-page city staff report on the issue. The Mankato City Council is scheduled to discuss the prevailing wage Tuesday at a work session meeting. There will be no vote taken.

The council was approached in February by a union representative who asked the city to consider instituting a prevailing wage, which is already mandated on state-funded projects.

The prevailing wage is set by the state and represents the wage paid to most workers.

City staff investigated the concept and sent a survey to 92 contractors.

Of the 59 returned surveys, 54 percent opposed the prevailing wage, 38 percent supported it and 8 percent weren’t sure.

City staff concluded the proposal would cost, at minimum, between $860,000 and $987,000 in increased construction and enforcement costs.

The report was inconclusive on whether or not the prevailing wage results in higher-quality work as contended by unions.

In the city’s experience, a “quality contractor equals quality work. There are quality union and nonunion contractors.”


Analyst defends privatization

In his column, “Texas’ privatizing quagmire,” about the contracting of state health and human services functions, John Young concedes “Sometimes government is a problem.” He adds, “Privatizing ... can be even worse,” pointing to eligibility determination for programs such as Medicaid and food stamps as one of those failures.

That view is narrow and ignores the repeated failures of state workers to fulfill the most basic obligations to those they are supposed to be serving.

Recently, the Houston Chronicle reported that more than 800 state workers were fired from state school facilities used to care for mentally ill and developmentally disabled since 2004. In 2007 alone, the Department of Family and Protective Services investigated 3,500 allegations of abuse.

The Chronicle notes that “about 51 percent of the confirmed incidents involved sexual abuse of residents [and] 31 percent involved physical abuse.”

In 2007, juvenile inmates under the care of the Texas Youth Commission filed more than 750 complaints of sexual misconduct against TYC officers. The Dallas Morning News last year reported that complaints alleged offenses ranging from inappropriate flirting and suggestive letters to the rape and sodomy of inmates.

It was also reported that “administrators were warned repeatedly of suspicious behavior by two high-ranking staffers, but those warnings were dismissed or covered up.”

The Texas State Employees Union adopts a no-comment policy on the recent state- school firings, while eagerly engaging a grass-roots campaign to “defeat privatization, downsizing and other attacks on workers and public services.” Perfect.

Even when it is shown that state workers are sexually abusing the children in their care and children have died on the watch of CPS, these very same state workers must be defended if “quality services” are to continue to be provided to Texans.

The fundamental problem with the public sector is that the supposed prerogatives of the bureaucrat are placed above the clear needs of program beneficiaries and often to the detriment of the taxpayer. State workers may occasionally be fired, but ultimately the same systems and management structures remain in place.

Adherence to the law and ethical practices must never be tethered to pay scales, otherwise good conduct is always up for sale.

The private sector, on the other hand, has an incentive to perform well because profit and reputation are at stake.

After repeated episodes in which state workers have failed to do their job, the case for further outsourcing is stronger than ever. Paying state workers more money and expecting them to do a better job is a false promise to taxpayers and the people served by government programs. The accountability and performance targets of the private sector are needed to improve the delivery of government services and provide value for taxpayers.

- Tom Aldred is a policy analyst with the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.


Puerto Rico's teacher rebellion

Socialist unionists discuss strikes, privatization

Some 250 teachers and education activists gathered in Los Angeles in April at the eighth Trinational Conference to Defend Public Education. For three days, representatives from several cities in the U.S., plus Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico plotted a response to the creep of privatization into our schools.

In conversations, speeches and workshops, teachers detailed the many facets of what neoliberal education policies look like in different locations--for example, the gutting of the public education system in New Orleans. There were also the faces of the fightback--teachers from British Colombia, Puerto Rico and Oaxaca brought the stories of strikes that can help point the way forward for everyone.

During the conference, Gillian Russom and Sarah Knopp interviewed participants to share some of their lessons with SocialistWorker.org readers. The interviews will run in a series over the next week.

This first installment features an interview with Rafael Feliciano Hernández, president of the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico. Teachers on the island struck earlier this year to try to win collective bargaining rights; oppose Law 45, which makes it illegal for teachers to strike; stop the transformation of Puerto Rican schools into charters; and stand up to reprisals against teachers who were organizing.

Series: Teachers roundtable

Teachers and education activists gathered at the Trinational Conference to Defend Public Education to document the different aspects of the neoliberal attack on public education and take stock of the lessons of the struggle against it. In this series of interviews, teachers from across North America and the Caribbean shared their experiences.

Rafael Feliciano Hernández
Puerto Rico's teacher rebellion

HOW DID you build up to the strike?

THIS WASN'T the first time on strike for the Teachers' Federation. In 1993, we had a one-day strike against charter schools. It was a big defeat that led to the demoralization of militants. The corruption and anti-democratic practices inside the union became extreme.

But between 2003 and 2008, we have radically transformed a union that had been a conservative force in the Puerto Rican labor movement. The student rebellion contributed to the teacher rebellion. The students put up a banner, and their resistance was transmitted to the level of the teachers.

In 2004, we disaffiliated from the American Federation of Teachers because their colonial relationship to us was impeding the development of our struggle.

From that point on, we had many short strikes around specific demands to improve education. They were all illegal. We had delegates' meetings of hundreds of teachers. The existence of political groups in the teachers' union facilitated the process. We had open debate in which everyone could expound their point of view, and this neutralized the agents of the state within the union.

Rafael Feliciano Hernández (Sarah Knopp | SW)Rafael Feliciano Hernández (Sarah Knopp | SW)

We set the date of the strike for February 21. It was seen as a scandal that the teachers were talking about this. There were 1,300 representatives at our delegates' assembly meeting, and we voted to strike by 1,200 to 15.

Some 20,000 teachers supported the strike; 8,000 of them were on the picket line. During the strike, thousands of publications were produced, which created a great level of discussion. It was led from the bottom up. Leadership from the top kills the capacity to struggle.

HOW DID teachers feel about the illegality of the strike?

IT IS important to say that the immense majority of teachers had never before participated in strikes or work stoppages. They had to overcome fears, threats and pressure that management and its allies used to paralyze the strikers. This occurred in the context of the repressive Law 45, which prohibits strikes and criminalizes all actions that imply the interruption of labor in public agencies.

What else to read

Many of the issues discussed at the Trinational Conference and in these interviews are taken up in a paper written by Steve Miller and Jack Gerson, "The Corporate Surge Against Public Schools."

For a more general look at the imposition of neoliberal economic policies, read Naomi Klein's most recent book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Jonathan Kozol has written numerous books exposing unequal conditions in U.S. schools, including Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools and The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.

Kozol's interview in the International Socialist Review, "Change can't come without protest," takes up the issues in his books, plus the question of education activism.

The state made it a conflict between the FMPR and the state. All the media were against us. They were joined by both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, which didn't have links with the communities or specific struggles.

The SEIU intervened with the Association of Teachers. Dennis Rivera and Roberto Pagán, among others, pressured the governor not to enter into agreements with the FMPR. This paralyzed the possibility of negotiation at the height of the struggle.

We didn't win our central demand, which was a collective bargaining agreement. We did win a raise, and the promise of a future raise, as well as an agreement that there will be no charter schools in Puerto Rico.

We also developed a new layer of leaders and militants: 8,000 teachers who no longer just talk about struggle because they've done it. They speak from a class perspective. It's not just a matter of dollars and cents. The strike process is an emancipatory and decolonizing experience. We gained a lot: the union and the country are not the same.

Would we have been able to do all this without the political groups within the union, which made the connections with what's happening in the world, with the war, with the gap between rich and poor? I think no. The workers would have been too constricted by the bosses' vision of the world.

DO YOU think the strike was a victory?

When we ended the strike, I was so happy, because there were no repression and reprisals. People were ecstatic. Other people asked me, 'Why are you so happy? We didn't win collective bargaining.'

But for us, the strike was an act of liberation. A high percentage of the 26,000 teachers fought actively. The only way to do this was to be democratic. We all decided to go out, and we all decided to go back.


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NY Times sides with SEIU strikers

Even Barack Obama can't resolve labor dispute

After three wearying months of walking the picket line, 220 nursing home workers at the Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation and Care Center in the west Bronx have had plenty of time to sharpen their message. Members of the Service Employees International Union say the Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation and Care Center in the Bronx stopped paying for their health insurance.

“Health care workers like us should have health care coverage,” said Jacqueline Simono, who has worked for 10 years at the six-story, 400-bed nursing home.

In August, the nursing home stopped paying the workers’ health insurance premiums, and as a result, their coverage was cut off. That, the workers say, was the main reason they went on strike on Feb. 20.

The workers, members of 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, say they are expecting the National Labor Relations Board to give them some good news soon to help end the strike.

A labor board official said on Friday that the board’s Manhattan office would issue a formal complaint on Tuesday or Wednesday accusing Kingsbridge Heights of illegally spying on the workers, refusing to execute a contract with the union and failing to pay $2 million into the health and benefits fund.

Dan Ratner, a lawyer for the union, said the labor board’s insistence that the nursing home and 1199 have a contract will pressure the home’s owner to end the dispute so that the strikers can resume work. Union officials say that 1199 accepted the nursing home’s last contract offer and that a contract should therefore be in force — despite what they said was an effort by the nursing home’s owner, Helen Sieger, to walk away from a deal.

In a statement, Mrs. Sieger said that the strike was illegal and that 1199, a Manhattan-based local of the Service Employees International Union, had manipulated the 220 workers into walking out.

“The facility is appalled by all the lies that the 1199 union is broadcasting,” she said.

She said it was not the nursing home’s fault that health coverage was cut off, adding that the home, at 3400 Cannon Place, had sought to reach an agreement on an interim contract.

Mr. Ratner disagreed. “She refused to pay the appropriate premiums, and when that happens, insurance is cut off,” he said. “Money was no problem for her. The home had $5.2 million in profits in 2006.”

The union has sought to bring maximum pressure against the nursing home’s owner. It got legislators to ask the State Health Department to investigate whether Kingsbridge Heights mishandled Medicaid funds.

It had Senator Barack Obama give a pep talk, via a conference call, to the strikers. “You’re not just representing yourselves, you’re representing a lot of people out there who are struggling,” he told them.

The union has issued a report asserting that the death rate at the home has more than tripled since the strike began. It has also publicized instances when families moved or wanted to move patients after the walkout.

Meiling Viera sought to transfer her grandmother from the home because, she said, after replacement workers were hired, “the care isn’t what it used to be.” She said that after the strike started, her grandmother suffered a bed sore, lost weight and was often wet when she visited. But Ms. Viera ended up not moving her. Mrs. Sieger said Kingsbridge Heights “continues to provide the highest level of care to its residents.” She added that the Health Department had not found any deficiencies in care since the strike began.

Ms. Simono, a therapeutic recreation worker at Kingsbridge Heights, has spent day after day picketing. “It’s frustrating, the long days, weeks, months,” she said. “But we’re hanging tough.”

She remains angry that the nursing home stopped paying for the workers’ health insurance.

“It’s really devastating to be working for a health institution and waking up one morning and your health benefits are cut off,” she said.

She says she has asthma, as does her 4-year-old daughter, Amber. Because she has been without health insurance since November, she has not taken Amber to the pediatrician since then, she said. Moreover, she added, she has tried far more than usual to avoid an asthma attack.

Another longtime worker at Kingsbridge Heights, Audrey Smith-Campbell, was not so lucky. After health coverage was cut off, Ms. Smith-Campbell, who had worked at Kingsbridge Heights for 29 years as a certified nursing assistant, stopped paying $600 a month for asthma medication, according to her relatives.

On May 12, she had a severe asthma attack, and the next day Ms. Smith-Campbell went into cardiac arrest.

Ms. Smith-Campbell’s daughter, Yvonne Young, blamed Mrs. Sieger for her mother’s death. “The strike brought on the stress, which brought on the attack,” Ms. Young said

Mrs. Sieger accused 1199 of “using this woman’s death to gain support.” “This shameless act screams of desperation and guilt,” she said.

The union has been so upset with Mrs. Sieger that it has petitioned the Health Department to appoint a temporary receiver to run Kingsbridge Heights

In another unusual move, 1199 has asked the labor board to declare that the union and Mrs. Sieger do indeed have a contract. The union said the two sides had settled on all the terms of a contract except for Mrs. Sieger’s request to use a different arbitrator.

The union said that it officially accepted the offer in March and that its acceptance created an enforceable contract.

Mrs. Sieger said the strike resulted not from a dispute over health coverage, but from one over who the arbitrator would be.


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