Union Updates

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Dancing, new U.S. rep rock SEIU fest

‘SPRING FLING’: On hand for the April 27 event were Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues and from left, city of Lawrence municipal unit members Carlos Morel, Pedro Ayala and Pablo Garcia.

‘SPRING FLING’: On hand for the April 27 event were Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues and from left, city of Lawrence municipal unit members Carlos Morel, Pedro Ayala and Pablo Garcia.

The SEIU “Spring Fling” was a hopping success as more than 150 SEIU members drawn from around the state got together to promote unity and have some fun. Good food was followed by music and dancing.

“It’s exactly what we wanted to accomplish,” said Harris Gruman, executive director of the SEIU-Massachusetts State Council. The event was sponsored by the council, SEIU Community Action and Locals 888, 1199, 509 and 32BJ. “All the locals were represented,” he added.

The April 27 event put a spotlight on SEIU caucuses – which are a way for union members with similar backgrounds and interests to get together. They include the African-American (AFRAM), Haitian, Latino, Lavender, Asian/Pacific Islander, Women’s and Climate Justice caucuses.

Local 888 leader Lorna Heron, an Eastern Region board member for AFRAM, gave a short presentation on the caucus (see related article). Overall, caucuses can serve as an entry point into union activities and help members become leaders.

Rookie U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley was the featured speaker.

For more information on SEIU caucuses, visit: https://www.seiu.org/members.

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MassDefenders elect leaders

PITCHING IN: Local 888 was on the picket line in Medford with then-striking supermarket workers in Medford. From right, the new chapter chair of the MassDefenders, Rachel Scotch, Daniel Werner and Local 888 organizer D.J. Cronin, wearing a Sox cap.

PITCHING IN: Local 888 was on the picket line in Medford with then-striking supermarket workers in Medford. From right, the new chapter chair of the MassDefenders, Rachel Scotch, Daniel Werner and Local 888 organizer D.J. Cronin, wearing a Sox cap.

“It feels great,” said Rachel Scotch, after getting elected as president of the MassDefenders chapter. “The next step is to move things forward so we’re officially recognized as a union.”

The MassDefenders renewed their campaign for collective bargaining rights starting in December by holding meetings around the state, gathering nominations and then holding the vote that made Scotch president. In addition to her, there are now 16 officers and executive board members for the budding Local 888 chapter. The roughly 750 lawyers, investigators and social service advocates and administrative staff in the state agency want to unite in Local 888 and bargain collectively. But a loophole in state law denies them this basic human right.

This month, representatives of the Mass-Defenders testified at the State House on behalf of a bill that would officially authorize the union.

The workers want to join a union, and the bill has enough support among lawmakers to pass. Last legislative session, a bill to fix this loophole never made it out of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. In fact, the MassDefenders’ campaign has already netted significant raises for employees of the Committee for Public Counsel Services — the bureaucratic name for the state’s public defenders.

Without a labor contract, however, there is no guarantee of any raises looking ahead to the future, said Scotch, who has worked at the agency for nine years. “There’s no way that people can plan their lives.” One result is high turnover at the agency.

Scotch urges Local 888 and other union members to contact their legislators in support of the legislation. For more information, visit the Local 888 website: http://www.seiu888.org/massdefenders/

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Emerson marks anniversary

Dennis Levine

DENNIS LEVINE

Local 888 members at Emerson College marked May Day with a rally that celebrated the demonstration last year that jump-started negotiations with the administration and led to the chapter’s first contract.

Pelton agreed to join the negotiations. At that point, talks had dragged on for 21 months.“May Day 2018 is when we held a rally outside the main administrative building at Emerson and got the president of the college, Lee Pelton, to come downstairs and talk to us,” said Dennis Levine, now chapter chair. Local 888 members, joined by student and community supporters, presented the college’s president with a petition demanding the school give the staff a fair contract.

“With Pelton at the next meeting, we were able to mostly finalize an agreement that we could put before the members to vote on,” Levine added.

The four-year pact guarantees across-the-board raises of 14.5 percent over the life of the contract, new commuter benefits, strong “just cause” job protections and a sick bank.

The contract covers about 170 clerical, technical and professional employees at Emerson College who perform a variety of jobs critical to the success of the college.

For more on Local 888’s upcoming Higher Ed Labor Summit, see www.facebook.com/events/454296101974670/

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Workplace deaths are memorialized

PAYING RESPECTS: Al Vega of MassCOSH speaks at Workers’ Memorial Day in Boston.

PAYING RESPECTS: Al Vega of MassCOSH speaks at Workers’ Memorial Day in Boston.

Local 888 leaders joined a somber crowd at the State House for Workers’ Memorial Day. The event honored workers in Massachusetts who have lost their lives while simply doing their jobs — and paid tribute to the families who have lost loved ones.

“We stand with you,” said Al Vega from the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, a Local 888 partner organization. “We’re going to fight to make sure that the state’s workplaces are safe for everyone.”

“A key goal for our union is making sure workplaces are safe for our members,” said Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues. She praised a new state law, which took effect this year, that makes federal health and safety regulations the minimum standard for all public employees.

The Boston event, sponsored by MassCOSH, featured speakers from labor unions and community groups. It was this coalition that spearheaded passage of the new law, — which puts the onus on employers to make sure workplaces meet federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations

“Without the OSHA standards, public employees have lacked much-needed protections,” said Rodrigues. A workshop at the Local 888 convention last October put a spotlight on the state law.

According to a report from MassCOSH and the state AFL-CIO, 59 workers lost their lives while on the job in 2018. Another 10 firefighters died from workplace-related diseases. The report adds that those who are at a higher risk of workplace injury, such as in construction, are also at a higher risk of opioid misuse. For example, Massachusetts construction workers die from opioid overdoses at a rate six times that for other industries.

That’s why MassCOSH is taking a closer look at opioids in the workplace — and taking action, said the coalition’s executive director, Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. This includes working with labor unions to educate workers on addiction.

MassCOSH has helped develop “a peer-led, workplace educational curriculum to reduce workplace injury and opioid misuse” with the help of a University of Massachusetts Lowell center, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Teamsters Local 25 and Ironworkers Local 7.

For more info on the new state law that covers public sector workers, visit: https://www.mass.gov/workplace-safety-and-health-program-wshp. For more on MassCOSH, visit: http://www.masscosh.org/.

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AFRAM Mass. comes together

LORNA HERON

LORNA HERON

Local 888 member Lorna Heron talked up the SEIU African-American Caucus (AFRAM) while at the statewide SEIU “Spring Fling” in April. Heron, who works at Boston’s Commission on Affairs of the Elderly, is an Eastern Region board member for AFRAM.

“People ask the question: Can anyone join AFRAM?” said Heron. “The answers is: yes. But the caucus is for us, about us and run by us – by and for the members.”

She praised the Massachusetts State Council for working to support the caucuses. And she urged people to join them.

Heron said the recent AFRAM conference in Baltimore was a great success. A key part of that, she said, came about because “for three years we have been fighting as one to get AFRAM Massachusetts to come together.”

The national AFRAM mission statement says that its members “engage to promote social, economic and political justice.” For more info on SEIU AFRAM Massachusetts, visit www.facebook.com/groups/503070166868170/.

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‘We can’t afford to be apathetic’

AYANNA PRESSLEY

AYANNA PRESSLEY

“The work of this union is just so important,” said U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley “Yes, it can be tiring to have to organize for basic human rights and dignity — and to have to do it again and again and again. But you have to do it. We can’t afford to be tired and apathetic and cynical.” The new congresswoman spoke at the statewide SEIU “Spring Fling.”

Pressley spoke at the statewide SEIU “Spring Fling,” held in Quincy. Pressley emphasized that her worldview was informed, in part, from working for six years in hotels. She said she learned from her co-workers the economic challenges often faced by blue-collar workers and people of color.

One of her first actions when she took office this January was to co-sponsor legislation that would have provided back pay for the thousands of furloughed federal contract workers who went without a paycheck during the partial government shutdown triggered by the president. “Trump held U.S. families and federal workers hostage,” she added.

Federal workers who went without pay during the shutdown generally collected back pay when the crisis ended. Not so for contract workers — many of them janitors, security personnel and food service workers, she said, adding that these people should get paid, too.

In general, the role of the federal government is to serve the people, said Pressley, a former Boston city councilor. “And I pledge to you I will never forget to serve the people.”

For more about Pressley, see https://pressley.house.gov/media.

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Coming Attractions

Coming up

PROMOTING POLITICAL PARTICIPATION: Wed., May 15, 1 to 2:30 p.m., Massachusetts State House hearing room, Boston.

‘FROM COORS TO CALIFORNIA: David Sickler and the New Working Class’ is the focus of a Local 888-sponsored event featuring Sickler, one of the most successful union organizers in the country. Wed., May 15, 5 to 6:30 p.m., at SEIU Local 32BJ, 26 West St., Boston. For more info, www.facebook.com/events/2913917238651877/.

HIGHER ED LABOR SUMMIT: SEIU Local 888 to host; learn about others’ experiences. Sat., June 15, 9 a.m., Local 32BJ offices, 26 West St., Boston. Call 617-241-3317 for more info or email iadelman@seiu888.org.

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UNION SOLIDARITY

Chelsea Soldiers Home union leader Elmer Arriaza (third from right) joined the Stop and Shop picket line in Everett with striking members of UFCW Local 1445. The strike, which began on April 11, was very successful because members stuck together, other unions like the Teamsters honored their picket lines and their customers shopped elsewhere. More than 700 Local 1445 members voted on April 24 to accept the new contract.

Chelsea Soldiers Home union leader Elmer Arriaza (third from right) joined the Stop and Shop picket line in Everett with striking members of UFCW Local 1445.  The strike, which began on April 11, was very successful because members stuck together, other unions like the Teamsters honored their picket lines and their customers shopped elsewhere. More than 700 Local 1445 members voted on April 24 to accept the new contract.

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Cafeteria workers fight to save jobs

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues speaks as Groton-Dunstable school cafeteria workers rally to save their jobs and benefits.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues speaks as Groton-Dunstable school cafeteria workers rally to save their jobs and benefits.

Groton-Dunstable school cafeteria workers united in Local 888 rallied April 10 to protest a proposal to cut costs by slashing benefits. The cafeteria workers and their supporters, including parents and students, then packed a meeting where the board discussed the outsourcing plan.

“I’m pretty angry that, after 15 years of working for the district, I and my co-workers are having to fight to keep our jobs and benefits,” said Dorynda Auth, a leader of the Local 888 cafeteria workers chapter.

The Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee’s proposal is to have Whitsons Culinary Group take over the food service operation — with the key goal being slashing the benefits of 23 school workers.

Auth, who gets health insurance through her job, said that the cafeteria staff’s turnover is low – except for those working less than 4 hours a day. They get no benefits.

The district’s proposal “sends a message that people don’t matter, money does,” said Michael Shea, a parent of Groton schoolchildren and a teacher in nearby Chelmsford. “Outsourcing is not innovative thinking; a corporation like Whitsons only cares about one thing: profits.”

“I care about the children, and I understand their health issues,” said Karen Nardone, a 10-year Groton-Dunstable cafeteria worker. She talked about making sure a boy who had an allergy to peanuts was served the proper food. “That boy should feel safe when he comes to school; these children deserve quality service,” said Nardone.

“My daughter has severe peanut allergies,” Eric McKenzie, a Groton-Dunstable parent, told the school board. “One safe place for her is the school cafeteria.” McKenzie added that one cafeteria worker actually calls him up to make sure new products will be safe for his daughter.

“The cafeteria workers are our neighbors — they’re part of the community,” McKenzie said.

“I’m really heartbroken that I have to be here tonight,” added Groton-Dunstable parent Valerie Edwards. “We shouldn’t have to be fighting for these women’s jobs.” She vowed to write emails to local officials telling them: “These people’s jobs should stay, and the food quality they provide should stay.”

“You should know that we will keep fighting to preserve these workers jobs,” Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues told the school board. “They are people who live in the community, and they deserve to keep their jobs.”

The committee aims to save a pittance at best — perhaps $70,000 in the first year, $90,000 in the third year of the contract — by eliminating health care benefits for most of the workers. A school district report on outsourcing said that, “benefits constitute a significant net cost for the program.”

Altogether the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District has 2,771 students and goes from elementary grades through high school. The current Local 888 contract runs out June 30.

For its part, Whitsons has been hit with harsh criticism and even legal action. It is the same vendor that the Boston Public Schools got rid of less than two years ago after complaints from parents and health advocates about poor quality and bad-tasting food.

In addition, Whitsons was forced to pay $1.6 million to settle with the state of New York amid accusations the company overcharged school districts in violation of contracts as well as state and federal regulations.

For more information on Whitsons Culinary Group, see http://www.seiu888.org/cafe/. Also:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/07/17/bps-chooses-new-school-food-vendor/jXHQVowa4zIzdwaPu72b7H/story.html

https://www.masslive.com/news/2017/12/head_of_kitchens_at_longmeadow.html

https://libn.com/2011/10/05/whitsons-pays-1-6m-to-settle-school-lunch-overcharges/

https://brookline.wickedlocal.com/news/20181211/brookline-school-lunches-become-target-of-complaints-and-declining-sales

Is privatization a threat where you work? To get resources and tips on how to fight privatization, email rwilson@seiu888.org.

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Plan threatens members’ benefits

UNHEALTHY CHOICE: Local 888 members prepare to protest the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee’s recipe for saving money: Outsourcing the cafeteria service to an outfit with a reputation for serving bad-tasting food.

FOOD FIGHT: Local 888’s Steve James, Angela Gagne, Dorynda Auth, attorney John Magner, Karen Nardone, Leslie Colt, and organizer Neal O’Brien, front, protest the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee’s outsourcing recipe.

The Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee is looking to cut costs by slashing the benefits of the cafeteria workers through outsourcing. Local 888 members are not giving up without a fight.

About 25 members and their supporters filled the audience at the March 27 School Committee meeting wearing Local 888 T-shirts. Members gave the committee a piece of their mind — and tempers flared.

The committee aims to save a pittance at best — perhaps $70,000 in the first year, $90,000 in the third year of the contract — by eliminating health care benefits for most of the workers.

School Committee member Marlena Gilbert sent an email saying she was “concerned about the stress of the unknown for the café staff.”

“If the School Committee is really concerned about our well-being, then why are they outsourcing our jobs?” said cafeteria worker Dorynda Auth.

The current Local 888 contract runs out June 30. The School Committee is considering outsourcing the cafeteria operation to Whitsons Culinary Group.

However, Whitsons is the same vendor that the Boston Public Schools got rid of less than two years ago after complaints from parents and health advocates about poor quality and bad-tasting food. Whitsons has run into similar problems in Brookline. “It’s the worst food,” said one food-service worker, “I would not feed it to my cat.”

The company has been mired in other controversies as well. As reported by MassLive.com, the head cook at Longmeadow High School was fired for alleged sexual harassment less than two years ago. The accuser and another worker said that when complaints had been made about the cook previously, those who voiced their grievances had been fired.

In addition, Whitsons was forced to pay $1.6 million to settle with the state of New York amid accusations the company overcharged school districts in violation of contracts as well as state and federal regulations.

Altogether the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District has 2,771 students and goes from elementary grades through high school.

A school district report found that, “Benefit costs could be reduced by as much as $90,000” by outsourcing the cafeteria. It also said that the school district “does not seem to be unhappy with the quality of its food service operation, but benefits constitute a significant net cost for the program.”

The Lowell Sun reported in May 2014 that a Groton-Dunstable Educators Association member read the School Committee a prepared statement — slamming the talk of privatizing cafeteria and maintenance duties. The statement noted that the changes would be made as part of the district’s attempt to save money after the schools needed millions of dollars to plug a budget hole in fiscal year 2015.

That situation was solved when Groton and Dunstable residents OK’d the needed increase in funding. Of course, saving some tens of thousands of dollars by eliminating workers’ benefits would not have gone far — even if it worked — toward plugging a budgetary hole of millions of dollars.

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SEIU fest to feature fun, opportunities, U.S. rep

SEIU unity, good food and fun are at the top of the agenda for the “Spring Fling” set for April 27. Also: Music and dancing.

“It’s a great way for our members from around the state to have a chance to meet each other, socialize and have some fun,” said Brenda Rodrigues, president of Local 888.

A special guest speaker will be new U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley. The former Boston City Council member has hit the ground running, emboldening Democrats around the country.

The event will put a spotlight on SEIU caucuses – which are a way for union members with similar backgrounds and interests to get together, build lasting bonds and address issues affecting their communities. They include the African American (AFRAM), Latino, Lavender, Asian/Pacific and Women’s caucuses. SEIU caucuses can serve as an entry point into union activities and help members become leaders.

The statewide SEIU “Spring Fling” is set for Sat., April 27, 4 to 8 p.m., at the SEIU 1199 Union Hall, 108 Myrtle St., Quincy.

The event is sponsored by the SEIU Massachusetts State Council, SEIU Community Action and Locals 888, 1199, 509 and 32BJ.

To RSVP, visit https://bit.ly/2SbhnwY

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Rejuvenated Billerica set for bargaining

Local 888 members have stepped up to fill the void after the longtime Billerica chapter chair, Donna Hansen, announced at a recent union meeting that she was stepping down. The administrative and professional unit’s contract runs out June 30.

“My goal is to fight for the 30 other people in our union,” said the new chapter leader, building inspector David Lenzie. “And it’s great to see a couple younger people get involved – members who can continue our union tradition on into the future.”

Since taking on Lenzie’s former chapter post of secretary, Joe D’Angelo has already taken part in stewards’ training sponsored by Local 888. The rejuvenated chapter has a complete slate of officers, with Ken Buffum as vice president, Steve Robertson as treasurer and Mike Haines as steward (a post that had been vacant for some time).

The chapter’s leaders and the town administrator have since met to set ground rules for bargaining, with the first official session set for May. One thing that could influence the negotiations: The town just did a study of workers’ salary and benefits by job classification to see how they compare to those in similar positions in other towns. Lenzie said he wants to help those in positions that are underpaid while still taking care of the membership as a whole.

How should your chapter’s leadership roles be structured? Email myunion@SEIU888.org or contact your staff organizer for some guidelines.

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