Labor Briefing

By BILL ONASCH

“Without Their Brain and Muscle Not a Single Wheel Can Turn”—For six days, beginning on Nov. 1, over 4700 Philadelphia transit workers, members of Transport Workers Union Local 234, shut down bus, trolley, and subway lines normally carrying more than 900,000 passengers daily.

While more than a dozen items remained unresolved at the strike deadline, it was no surprise the most contentious were pensions and health insurance. The SEPTA employer was demanding more than $120 a month in additional worker contributions for a new inferior health plan.

Commuter railroad lines were generally allowed to run during the strike. However, on the first day of the walk out, the strikers picketed the train yards and were able to shut down several lines before management obtained a court injunction to halt the action.

The union charged that SEPTA refused to seriously negotiate, instead seeking a court injunction to break the strike on grounds that it might prevent some from voting in the Nov. 8 election. With the anxious participation of several Democratic Party politicians in the negotiations, an agreement was forged at 5 a.m. on Nov. 7. Workers will receive a raise in wages totaling 10.5% over the next five years, and pensions for retirees will increase from 12.8% to 15.2% depending on the number of years of service. But health-care contributions will increase from 1% of workers’ pay to 2.5% by 2019. Despite strong opposition within the union to reject the pact, members voted 1982 to 760 to approve it on Nov. 18.

A Different Health Issue—Workday Minnesota reports, “The University of Minnesota is unjustly disciplining employees who take time off when they are sick, the union representing U food service and maintenance workers says. Joined by other U employees and allies, they held a demonstration Tuesday outside the administration building on the Minneapolis campus.

“‘This is a public health issue that employees who are sick are being forced to work in cafeterias and other areas where they come into contact with students and other staff,’ said Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.”

• Looking for Quitters—According to the Albany Times-Union, “As a strike looms at the Momentive chemical plant, the company has mailed its 700 unionized workers a five-page guide on how to quit the union…IUE-CWA Local 81359 President Dom Patrignani said, ‘The company is absolutely desperate in their efforts … certifications and knowledge needed to safely operate a chemical facility of this magnitude comes with years of training and experience, which the management team lacks. This proves they need our workers more than ever.’”

If you have a labor story appropriate for this column please contact billonasch@kclabor.org