Striking workers converge on Red Cross headquarters

mixon

CLEVELAND - With walkouts looming in two more regions, striking Northern Ohio Red Cross workers brought their anger and frustration to the agency's National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., March 19.

Riding all night in buses, 150 blood technicians and mobile unit operators, members of Teamsters Local 507, held a spirited rally in a nearby park and marched to the offices of the giant charity where they picketed with boisterous non-stop chants throughout the lunch hour.

The 250 workers in the nation's largest Red Cross region walked out Feb. 14 after nine months of futile talks for a new contract.  The strike, affecting 19 northern Ohio counties, occurred as the agency insisted on reduced health care benefits, heavier workloads and conditions the union says threaten the safety of donors, employees and the blood supply.

"They're trying to erode our living standards.  They want you to take ten to fifteen thousand dollars in cuts," Al Mixon, Principal Officer of the local told the cheering crowd.  "I can't recommend that."

Red Cross, he said, is "wants to turn all of you into part-time workers."

Mixon pointed to last year's appointment of virulently anti-union Walmart CEO William Simon to the 22-member Red Cross Board of Governors as evidence for the agency's union-busting policies.  As with other major national charities, the ARC board is dominated by former and current executives of giant corporations and Wall St. Banks.

"They are the 1 percent," Mixon said.  "We are 99 percenters. They are trying to turn this into a Third World country."

Solidarity with the strikers was voiced by representatives of the District of Columbia Teamsters, the United Steelworkers (representing Red Cross workers in Georgia) and DC Jobs With Justice.  Mike Parker, Principal Officer of Teamsters Local 580 representing Red Cross workers in Lansing, Michigan, announced to loud applause that a walkout would begin March 30 in that region.

"We're going to shut these people down," he said.  "We're going to kill Red Cross greed with Teamster justice!"

The Lansing strike is set to begin a few days after Red Cross workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, in Toledo plan to walk out March 27.

While Red Cross demands cuts in wages and benefits, its employees have been outraged at massive increases in pay to top executives, especially the more than $1 million salary of CEO Gail McGovern, who is also the agency's board.

"Gail McGovern, You Can't Hide - We Can See Your Greedy Side!" the pickets chanted as employees walked in and out of the headquarters.

"ARC Is Unfair - All We Want Is Our Fair Share!" they continued, adding "ARC Rich And Rude - We Don't Like Your Attitude!"

Wearing t-shirts reading "Red Cross - Cold Blooded," the strikers handed headquarters' employees green bills labeled "$496 Gail McGovern Bucks" representing the CEO's hourly wage.  "Donate Your Blood - I Need Another Lexus," the bills read.

"We Won't Bleed For Red Cross Greed!" the pickets chanted.

Angela Hereford, an irrepressible young African-American phlebotomist with a powerful voice, led the chants.  Prior to being a medical technician, she had been a cheerleader in High School and Junior High in Sandusky.

Candace Billups, a blood collection worker for 13 years, said Red Cross has cut back on employee health plans and benefits while doubling premiums. 

"We now have only two choices with $100 premium each pay and no vision or dental," she said.  "We want the Teamster health plan that includes medical, vision and dental and is cheaper."

Joanna Wilcox, the driver and blood technician in a mobile unit, said she must work 10-hour days with only one 15-minute break.

Like the other strikers she defiantly wore a floppy monkey pin in response to a statement allegedly made to a monthly employee meeting by Carolyn Kean, the Cleveland office's Senior Director of Collections, that she "could train monkeys to do your job."

Kean did not return calls for a comment to the People's World.

Click here to view videos of the labor action. Photo: Al Mixon with sign. Rick Nagin/PW