Around California, unions are ready for action in the New Year.

Bay Area grocery workers are slated to resume talks Jan. 6 with Safeway and other grocery giants. Their contract, covering 30,000 members in nine Bay Area UFCW locals, expired Sept. 11; the latest extension ends Jan. 15.

On Dec. 16, UFCW members and supporters fanned out to 54 area Safeways, where they collected over 6,000 boycott pledge cards. More than 80,000 area customers have pledged to boycott Safeway if necessary.

Sacramento-area grocery workers reached a tentative settlement just before the holidays after five months of talks for a new contract covering some 20,000 workers. Details have not yet been made public, but UFCW Local 588 President Jack Loveall told members the local was able to defeat corporate pressure for employee-paid health care premiums and for two-tier structuring of wages and health benefits.

In southern California, seven grocery workers, members of UFCW Local 1442, joined with one union official and a picket line supporter in filing suit Dec. 30 against Hermosa Beach police officers, the cities of Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach, and some Hermosa Beach officials, for federal civil rights violations and police harassment.

The suit stems from an incident during the earlier five-month grocery workers’ strike. It alleges that police threatened workers and protesters as they urged people not to enter a Hermosa Beach Vons supermarket, and that some protesters were physically abused and removed from a police station when they tried to file complaints. The suit, which seeks damages of $1 million to $1.5 million for seven of the protesters, charges “a common plan” to deprive protesters of free speech rights and pursuit of “fair labor conditions and standards.”

Health care workers: The SEIU national leadership and California locals 250 and 399 have announced that elections within the locals have approved a new constitution uniting them in a new statewide union with over 130,000 members. The new “SEIU United Health Care Workers – West” is determined to fight for quality patient care and to help lead the national movement against profit-driven corporate health care.

“This is the beginning of a brand new chapter in the book of American labor,” said SEIU International President Andy Stern. “Health care for working families is in crisis across the country, and it’s up to health care workers on the front lines to lead the way.”

School workers: Hundreds of Oakland students, teachers, parents and community members gathered at Oakland Technical High School Dec. 15 to protest plans of state-appointed school district trustee Randolph Ward to close seven schools, reorganize others as “internal charters,” and cut back services including libraries and counselors. Meanwhile, teachers represented by the Oakland Education Association, working without a contract since summer, are battling cutback demands in their contract talks.

Alameda County Central Labor Council head Judy Goff told the crowd Oakland schools have been underfunded for many years, and called the teachers and other school workers “heroes” for their support of the students. The proposed cuts would mean “the district gets to wipe its hands of responsibility for the students,” she said, “while the Bush administration gains from union-busting.”

San Francisco hotel workers back on the job during a two-month cooling off period that expires Jan. 23, joined religious leaders from various faiths for a pre-holiday vigil in the city’s Union Square shopping district Dec. 21, to emphasize the urgency of upholding health care in their new contract.

Just before Christmas, the 14 premier hotels proposed to keep employee contributions at $10 per month, but said cost increases above 10 to 12 percent would force a cut in benefits or result in worker co-payments. Unite Here Local 2 President Mike Casey said the proposal represented “some movement,” but “not enough to get us close to an agreement.” New talks are slated for Jan. 6.

On Dec. 18, East Bay hotel workers and supporters from other unions and the community rallied for 12 hours at Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel and Spa to point out that this was the third holiday season 250 food and beverage workers have been struggling for a fair contract while 100 spa workers have been fighting for union recognition.
Joe Hancock and Kelly McConnell contributed to this story.