Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, January 1, 2005
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by Bill Onasch, webmaster,

CNA Shows the Way On Disaster Relief
To the best of my knowledge, the California Nurses Association–which now organizes throughout the country through the National Nurses Organizing Committee–was the only national union body in the USA who interrupted their holiday break to step up to the plate in relief efforts for tsunami victims. Their approach should be exemplary. They have established a link with their opposite number in Ceylon/Sri Lanka–one of the hardest hit countries. The Public Services Nurses Union, representing RNs in the largest public hospitals in that country, immediately organized relief teams who are responding to emergency needs in the shelters set up south of the capital city of Colombo. In addition to raising money urgently needed for these efforts CNA is also enlisting volunteer nurses to go pitch in with care-giving for the victims. You can learn more, including how to help, by clicking here.

Another worthy relief effort is Oxfam’s project of providing much-needed water and sanitation work in Indonesia–perhaps the hardest hit of all. Americans can support this work by clicking here. Those of you in other countries can go to Oxfam International’s site.

Libris Now Ex--A Sequel to the Wrath?
John Steinbeck found much of the material for his outstanding depression era novels and short stories around his home town of Salinas, California. He once wrote, "After I had written the Grapes of Wrath and it had been to a large extent read and sometimes burned, the librarians at the Salinas Public Library, who had known my folks, remarked that is was lucky my parents were dead so that they did not have to suffer this shame." Nevertheless, he helped finance a first-class public library for that small city. One of its branches bears Steinbeck’s name. Roughly 1,900 people visit on an average day.

Come April 1 (no foolin’) the entire Salinas library system will be closed, windows shuttered with plywood. It seems this city at the heart of what they modestly call the "Valley of the World" is broke. Because of cutbacks in state financing, combined with Salinas's rapid growth and rising health care costs, the city had to pare 8 million dollars from its budget in the last year and faces an additional 8 million reduction in a 60 million budget for the 2005-6 fiscal year.

Today’s equivalent of the "Okie" migrant workers Steinbeck wrote of–Latino immigrants–find the libraries valuable in learning English and also use its Internet connections to keep in touch with families back home. But the same class of growers and bankers who vilified Steinbeck during his life time will be shedding no tears over this loss to the community. Nothing good for them ever came out of a library.

Most of their counterparts around the country take the same view. According to an April study by the American Library Association, libraries in 41 states absorbed more than 50 million dollars in financing cuts in the last year, and more than 1,100 libraries have reduced operating hours or trimmed their staffs.

Worker Rights I
Teamsters Local 556 members at the Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. plant in Wallula, Washington have been working without a contract since May. The main hold-up was a company-orchestrated decertification challenge. This is S.O.P. for the fowl company that’s now, because of acquisitions of IBP and some smaller companies, a major player in red meats as well.

After a tough fight, the union prevailed 708-657 in an April election supervised by regional labor board representatives. The company challenged the result. In June an NLRB attorney rejected the appeal. But boss persistence paid off when a couple of weeks ago a three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., ruled that "union stewards improperly talked to workers as they lined up to vote." These zealous guardians of worker rights have ordered a new election. In the meantime contract bargaining remains consigned to Taft-Hartley purgatory.

Worker Rights II
I want to thank Jim DeMaegt for sending me information about an important worker rights legal battle he is party to. Nine people who picketed a Hermosa Beach Vons store during the nearly five-month grocery workers strike and lockout have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit contending they were threatened and harassed by police.

The lawsuit, which also alleges two picketers were falsely arrested and one was pushed to the ground at the Hermosa Beach police station, was filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Seven members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1442, a union official and a supporter of the strike were named plaintiffs in the suit.

The court action stems from the activities of the picketers and police from Jan. 11 to March 1 at the Vons store at 715 Pier Ave. Pickets were set up outside Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons stores throughout Southern California from Oct. 11, 2003, until March 1 in a dispute largely over the cost of medical benefits.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants "engaged in a common plan" to deprive the picketers of their free speech rights and pursuit of "fair labor conditions and standards."

In Remembrance
As we begin a new year I want to salute once more some working class leaders who passed away in 2004: Bob Mattingly, Asher Harer, Victor Reuther, Dorothea Breitman, and Livio Maitan. I learned much from them and will miss them greatly.

Piggy-Back In KC
A reminder to those of you in the Kansas City area: there will be a lunch/meeting of KC Labor Against the War, Saturday, January 8, Noon, at 2113 Erie, North Kansas City. After that meeting adjourns, approximately 1:30, a meeting of the Kansas City Labor Party will convene at the same location. More information from the Event Calendar can be obtained by clicking here.

New Newsletter Format
This column, and other updates from time to time, is sent out to the KC Labor mailing list. We are now using Intellicontact to format and manage our lists. One advantage of this web-based method is that I will be able to easily send out mailings to the list when I have to go on the road.

Are We being Too Forward?
The new opt-in e-mail list format doesn’t allow me to simply tack on folks not on the list bcc. Some of you will have received this column as a forwarded mailing. This clumsy process can be avoided by signing up for the list by clicking here.

That’s all for this week.

Regards to all–and Happy New Year!