‘Union protection’ takes on new meaning

Five hundred workers who make Trojan brand condoms at Church & Dwight Co. in Richmond, Va., rejected a fierce anti-union campaign and voted 277-177 for the International Association of Machinists union Nov. 23 in an NLRB supervised election.

The company required workers to attend twice weekly “captive audience meetings,” the IAM reported.

Key issues were rising health care costs, the absence of pay raises and unilateral changes to longstanding vacation policy.

Stanford strike

In the first coordinated labor action by hospital and university workers at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., hundreds of service workers held a one-day strike Dec. 12, highlighting family health coverage, wages, job security and retirement benefits.

“Instead of respecting us, Stanford treats us like second-class employees,” said Jesus Andrade, a hospital worker who chairs the Hospital Bargaining Team. “We are striking for 24 hours with the outlook that Stanford returns to the table with a more serious approach.”

Among the strikers were custodians and maintenance personnel, food service workers, and nursing, operating room and lab assistants. SEIU Local 715, which represents the 2,600 service workers, said 90 percent honored the strike.

A contract extension for Stanford Hospital workers expired Nov. 13, while the university workers are in negotiations on a contract re-opener.

Student allies of the workers, organized by the Stanford Labor Action Coalition started the day at 5 a.m. at the house of Stanford President John Hennessey for a “wake-up” call in support of the campus workers.

CBTU gathers hurricane relief

The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists stepped up to the Katrina relief challenge by raising nearly $60,000 for hurricane survivors, its president, William Lucy, announced Nov. 15. Much of the money went to buy dormitory supplies for 400 displaced New Orleans students who are temporarily attending classes at Howard University. “Aiding distressed communities is what union folk do regularly without fanfare,” said Lucy.

Lucy also demanded that President Bush reinstate affirmative action requirements for contractors “whose Gulf Coast profits come directly from the American taxpayers’ pocket.”

New support for HR 676

AFSCME District Council 5, representing over 40,000 workers across the state of Minnesota, has endorsed HR 676. The bill, introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr., would guarantee universal health care coverage by expanding and improving Medicare to cover everyone. The council vowed to “make what is morally right for our nation into what is also politically possible.”

Two states south, in Cape Girardeau, Mo., the Southeast Missouri Building and Construction Trades Council became the second such council to endorse the bill, which now has 56 co-sponsors in Congress.

Miners organize

Also in Missouri, mine workers kicked off an organizing drive at a rally and march in downtown St. Louis, where Peabody Energy Corp., the world’s biggest coal company, has its corporate headquarters.

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said that 20 years ago the union represented about 80 percent of Peabody’s workers, but today the number is about one-third of its 7,900 workers. Peabody closed mines in nearby Indiana and Illinois, Roberts charged, and later came back to the area with a nonunion subsidiary.

The union is demanding that Peabody drop its vicious anti-union tactics and honor the “fundamental union right” to form a union. The UMWA is seeking agreement to a card check procedure that will by-pass the National Labor Relations Board, which typically gives employers the opportunity to use stalling and intimidation to block workers’ free choice.

John Cox, a Peabody miner from Indiana, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he attended the rally “because we need a union to represent us. We have no rights whatsoever.” Peabody spokesman Vic Svec told reporters the company was in full support of the workers’ right to not be in a union.

Class struggle heats up

Strikes by U.S. workers are on the upswing, reports none other than the Wall Street Journal. It cites 231 work stoppages initiated through the end of August, compared with 202 over the same period last year. At least some of the strikes are getting results too. Eighteen thousand machinists at Boeing Corp. were able to turn back attacks on their health care package after a hard-fought four-week strike.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org). Marilyn Bechtel contributed.