News briefs

Two-day strike by Asbestos Workers results in new pact

A two-day strike April 29-30 by Asbestos Workers Local 36 resulted in a new contract that provides wage and benefits increases over the next three years.

About 210 members of the Portland-based local walked out after their dealings with the Western Insulation Contractors Association stalled. The association, which represents a half-dozen owners, initially wanted cuts of $8 an hour, then argued for a wage freeze. At one point in negotiations the employer group sought to take a portion of employee contributions into a retirement health plan and put the money on the check as a guise for a wage increase, said Local 36 Business Agent/Organizer Walt Caudle.

Workers responded with a strike - their first in more than 10 years.

The new three-year pact, which was ratified by a vote of 63-22, provides for wage increases of 50 cents an hour in each of the next three years, a $2.15 boost in health and welfare contributions over three years, and increases in two pension plans of 10 cents each, for each of the next three years, for a total of 60 cents over three years.

Caudle said the total package amounts to $4.62 an hour over the life of the agreement. The rising cost of health care insurance was the biggest issue during the negotiations, he said.

Journey-level asbestos workers now make $28.49 an hour in wages and another $9.43 an hour in health and welfare benefits.

Local 36 is signatory with another 20 contractors, who will be in compliance with the contract negotiated by the Western Insulation Contractors Association.

Harvard students stop in Portland on behalf of janitors

This spring, to publicize a union victory that resulted from a sit-in by university students, two students and two janitors from Harvard University are visiting over 30 college campuses across the United States. They bring with them "Occupation," a documentary about the campaign, narrated by Ben Affleck. [Affleck starred in Good Will Hunting, a film about a Harvard janitor.]

On April 28, the group made a stop at the headquarters of Portland-based Service Employees Local 49, which represents area janitors.

Building on the momentum of the anti-sweatshop movement, a student campaign for a university "living wage" policy began at Harvard in the fall of 1998. Harvard is the nation's oldest and wealthiest university, but when the students started getting involved, it was paying janitors less than $10 an hour, and most of them could not afford co-payments to enroll in the employer-paid health coverage.

The student-led campaign to bring up wages among janitors climaxed in April 2001 with a takeover and 21-day occupation of the university president's office. About 30 students took part in the occupation; at the end, the university agreed to a moratorium on further outsourcing and promised to form a committee to develop a living wage policy. That committee met, and eight months later recommended wage increases; a reduction in health insurance co-payments; and a "parity wage" policy so that subcontracted workers make the same as Harvard employees doing the same work.

In January and February, SEIU Local 254 negotiated with student support a contract for 750 janitors that provides for fully-paid family health insurance; wage increases to $14 an hour by 2005; and parity for in-house and contract janitors.

Students faced expulsion for their part in the sit-in, but filmmaker Maple Razsa said they didn't take the threat seriously. In the end they faced only minor sanctions. Now they hope to inspire similar campaigns at colleges nationwide.

May 17, 2002 issue

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