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May 7, 2008

Why They (And You) Need A Union

-- by Dave Johnson

Yesterday I wrote about the security guards who are striking at Kaiser Permanente because their contractor-employer is engaging in illegal tactics while trying to block them from forming a union. The guards work for Inter-Con Security Inc., which is contracted by Kaiser to provide security services.

You can read articles with details about what happened with the strike yesterday here and here. (There is close to zero coverage of this strike in newspapers. But you wouldn't expect a corporate-owned media to provide information about labor, now would you?)

Please visit the site Stand for Security for background and details about the security guards' fight to form a union.

While this strike is about violations of workers' rights, there are very good reasons for their three-year effort to form a union.

In Oregon, the state just north of California, Kaiser Permanente security guards are employed by Kaiser, not by a contractor. They are unionized and here is a short chart of just some of the difference this makes.

In-House Union (ILWU)
Kaiser Security Officers
Inter-Con Officers at Kaiser
Wages$15 - $18 per hour
(Oregon has a much lower
cost of living)
As little as $10.40 per hour
Raises$.70 - $1.45/hour annually,

depending on seniority

(Guaranteed in writing!)
No schedule, no guarantee
Free Family Health CareYESNO
Health Insurance Elegibility20 hours worked“Full-time”, which for many

officers means 1-2 years of

working 40 hours a week before

qualifying for health insurance.
Bereavement Pay3 days paid time offnone
Sick Leave1.6 hours per pay period

(Time accrues)
Jury DutyPaid off as needednone
Grievance ProcedureYESnone
Shift Differential$.90/hour evenings
$1.25/hour nights

This chart is an example of the difference that a union makes. The column on the left -- the one with better pay, health care, sick days, pension and other benefits -- is the workers who are in a union. The column on the right is these security guards. So this is why these security guards have been fighting for three years to join a union. The employer, Inter-Con Security won't even give sick days! For people working in hospitals! What are these workers supposed to do? And they won't even pay when the workers have jury duty! (Shouldn't a company be concerned about the greater public good, like a court system that works?)

But this chart is also representative of other workplaces, showing the difference that forming a union can make for other workers. How else are workers going to get back their rights, get health care, get pensions, and get paid? If you see a better idea out there, please let us all know because this strike and the things happening to these security guards shows that it is very very difficult to form a union. In today's environment where workers are afraid of employers moving their jobs overseas - or even just laying them off and telling everyone else to work harder - and then giving their pay out as raises to the executives and multi-million-dollar bonuses to the CEO, this is a very brave action to take.

On top of that, the Republican government has stacked the labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board to side with the big corporations. So it is even harder to form a union than ever. Which is, of course, why wages are stagnating and CEO pay is off the charts.

This is why these workers are striking -- to demand that their civil rights be honored and to demand that their right to form a union be honored. These security guards are placing everything on the line -- and doing this for all of us. If they win this fight, all of us are a step further toward our rights being honored, and toward our own jobs paying more and giving benefits.

I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike. sfs-234x60-animated-v2.gif

Posted by Dave Johnson at May 7, 2008 8:20 AM

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