THIS WEEK IN LABOR

Union love

Kenneth Hill, a member of the Boilermakers Local 693, got married to Sonja McGruffin on the picket line outside the main gate of Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard, March 23, in Pascagoula, Miss. The wedding party and guest list was made up of fellow strikers, Black and white, who watched as Kenneth and Sonja exchanged vows.

Hill works as a welder at the shipyard. The couple wanted to get married, but couldn’t afford the expenses. So other strikers donated the tux, food and money to pay for the ceremony. Hill says his wedding on the picket line symbolizes the solidarity of the unions.

The Boilermakers is one of 15 unions representing nearly 8,000 workers who shut the plant down March 17 when they walked off the job after the company offered only a meager salary increase that would be wiped out by proposed hikes in health insurance co-payments. Half the workers in the shipyard still live in trailers after almost all of them lost either a home or a car when Hurricane Katrina swept through the area almost two years ago. Hill was among thousands of workers, many of whom worked in deep floodwaters, who protected equipment in the plant as the storm ravaged the area. The price of a gallon of milk in Pascagoula is now almost $5 and housing costs have doubled since the storm.

For a glimpse of the picket line wedding, visit www.pww.org.

Las Vegas workers demand piece of the action

Thousands of members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 rallied for a new contract for casino workers on the Las Vegas strip on March 23.

Proving once again labor’s strengthened muscle in the arena of electoral politics, they were joined by Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Christopher Dodd (Conn.), and Gov. Bill Richards (D-N.M.). Fifty thousand members of the culinary union are covered by collective bargaining agreements that expire on May 31.

“Our members have come from across the country and around the world because of the opportunity available in Las Vegas,” said Don Taylor, secretary treasurer of the culinary union. “The workers who keep this great city and resort going are entitled to a decent life for themselves and their families.”

AFL-CIO condemns raids on Iraqi unions

Workers trying to organize are apparently as much or even more of a threat than “terrorists,” as far as the Bush administration is concerned.

“On behalf of the 10 million working men and women of the AFL-CIO, I am writing to express my grave concern regarding reports of an armed raid by American soldiers on the headquarters of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW),” wrote AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in a letter to Robert Gates, secretary of defense, last week.

The GFIW reported that U.S. soldiers arrived at their offices on Al Rashid Street in Baghdad on Feb. 23 and arrested the security guards. “The soldiers then entered their office with force,” Sweeney wrote, “leaving broken furniture and equipment in their wake and confiscating computers and fax machines. At no time did the soldiers offer any form of explanation to the GFIW.”

The letter also condemned a prior U.S. raid Feb. 19 on the Baghdad offices of the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate.

The AFL-CIO president demanded that the Defense Department investigate both raids “which violate the rights of Iraqi workers to form and operate free and independent trade unions and undermine our country’s support for democracy in Iraq.”

— John Wojcik (thewritergdr @ europe.com)

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