Connecticut PWW Friends honor workers with Newsmaker Awards

Newly organized union members, activists and community leaders gathered in New Haven on Sunday May 4 to celebrate the annual presentation of Peoples Weekly World Newsmaker Awards for International Workers Day. Two thousand dealers at Foxwoods Casino who won union representation with UAW Region 9A and workers at New England Linen who won representation with UNITE HERE received the awards and a pledge that the community will continue to stand by them.

The workers were warmly applauded as they came forward to tell their stories and express appreciation for the solidarity. Both groups of workers faced legal challenges, highlighting the importance of the Employee Free Choice Act as an issue in the 2008 elections.

After a two-year drive, workers at New England Linen voted ‘yes’ for the union in February in a card check election. But their union was not certified. The Dana rule, initiated under the Bush administration, requires a second secret ballot election if 30 percent of workers sign a petition within 45 days.

On April 23, the workers emerged even stronger, and voted overwhelmingly 80 percent for the union. Company tactics to stop the union included selective raises given to some workers, and rumors that workers would lose eligibility for rent assistance.

The workers told the crowd to loud applause that they stuck with the union to achieve better health and safety conditions, medical insurance and the right to respect and dignity.

Dealers at Foxwoods told of their determination to win union recognition despite many obstacles including constant camera surveillance. Their overwhelming victory was upheld by the Courts after the company challenged the election on the basis that the casino is owned by the Mashentucket Pequot sovereign nation. The company is continuing to appeal.

The union dealers said they could not have won without all the support they received, and told of many improvements they have already won in their workplace. MGM is opening a new facility at Foxwoods this month, hoping to keep out the union. A statewide rally in solidarity with the casino workers will be held on Sunday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL CIO, said all of labor stands by these two groups of courageous workers, and called for support of the one million signature campaign for changing labor laws with the Employee Free Choice Act.

Greeting the rise of activism throughout the country, reflected at the event, Olsen urged those present to continue to make their message heard. Calling for an end to divisions and labeling he emphasized the need to join together to make a change in the country.

Shirl Wilkins, of New Growth Praise Center, spoke of her trip to Philadelphia to get out the vote for Barak Obama with the Change to Win unions. Her mother participated in door knocking for the first time, and said it is a turning point in her life. “I’m new at this, and I have a lot to learn,” Wilkins said, “but what I do know is that we must continue to come together and be united.”

In a call to action, Connecticut Communist Party chair Joelle Fishman emphasized that workers right to organize is key because collectively working people can change the politics of our country.

“This is a time of awakening, a time of great promise,” she said. “The corporate media is doing all it can to spread division and poison and bust things up….As a people we have to keep our eyes on the prize, and not give in to provocations, especially racism, which is used as a cover for right-wing, anti-worker policies that hurt us all.”

While putting dollars and checks into the collection buckets for the Peoples Weekly World fund drive totaling $3,000, everyone joined in chants adapted from the May 1st immigrant workers unity march in New Haven. “Who’s got the power? – we’ve got the power! What kind of power? Workers’ power” and Si Se Puede, Yes We Can.

The event opened with a slide show presentation “May Day Around the World” and closed out with a piano jazz selection by a worker from New England Linen. It was a great day for celebration.