Workers Struggles: The Americas

Latin America

Salvadoran city workers strike over supply and equipment shortages, harassment

In El Salvador, some 300 workers in the Municipal Workers of Santa Ana Syndicate (SITRAMSA) walked off the job June 13 to pressure the municipal government to provide uniforms, equipment and tools necessary for solid waste collection. The workers also complain of harassment.

The workers have been asking for the supplies since the last administration with no result. SIMTRASA secretary José Armando Linares Ponce told reporters, “The administration will give out uniforms and equipment in March, and what month are we in now? We don’t have uniforms, we don’t have boots, we have vehicles in bad condition, and we have harassment of workers.”

Linares Ponce said that if the authorities do not produce the needed items, “we will intensify all this. Right now it’s only one area, urban cleaning, but at once it’s going to incorporate potholes, heavy machinery, public wires, stadiums, terminals…”

Truckers block Peruvian border crossings to protest fines

Truckers from five South American countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru—began an indefinite strike and blockade of Peruvian border crossings June 15. The truckers took the action to demand the cancellation of fines imposed by Peruvian customs from 2007 to 2012.

The truckers blocked traffic except for emergency vehicles and those carrying babies and disabled people. Pedestrians were able to walk across the border.

The president of the National Transport Confederation of Chile (CNTC), Sergio Pérez, told reporters that the blockade was motivated by “a tax that the Peruvian government established unilaterally, and as the truckers didn’t pay them off, they kept accumulating and today fines of up to 100 million dollars have piled up.” He added that “it is a tax, absolutely abusive, that has nothing to do with current international agreements.”

Protests by Bolivian teachers against labor instability

Teachers in Bolivian cities and the countryside held protests against labor instability last week. In La Paz, the La Paz Urban Educators held pickets and began hunger strikes on June 16 in front of the Education Social Services office. The teachers protested a regulation allowing graduates with technical bachelor degrees to teach at Alternative Education Centers (CEAs). Spokespeople for the organization claim that the use of lower-degreed teachers at the CEAs—which provide basic adult education and technical training—will put fully-credentialed teachers at risk.

Urban Educators executive secretary Severo Apaza called the regulation “an open provocation to the teaching profession; they want to reduce the regulations of the salary scale and gradually declare a professional free-for-all.”

Likewise, rural teachers engaged in protests against the failure of the Education Ministry to address their list of demands. The National Confederation of Teachers of Rural Education of Bolivia held a picket and hunger strike at its headquarters on the same day. Among the demands are the reduction of the 30 hours of work without pay, bonuses for work in distant areas, and the assignment of urban services for educational institutions in rural areas that are close enough to urban areas.

Both organizations expressed their plans to join a one-day strike June 20 called by the Bolivian Workers Central in support of workers fired from the state textile manufacturer Enatex.

24-hour strike by Uruguayan public health workers to demand fulfillment of agreement

The Public Health Functionaries Federation of Uruguay and the Uruguayan Health Federation held a 24-hour strike as well as a protest June 25 in front of the Public Health Ministry. They were joined by members of the FOEB bottling workers and COFE state workers federations.

Private industry workers struck for seven hours, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The workers marched to the Public Health Ministry headquarters, where they demanded that the administration comply with the collective agreement signed last October. The agreement was to set up courses for training of health workers with the goal of improving health care.

The workers also protested against cuts in the health care budget, the use of contract labor and the state of social security.

Argentine teachers union accepts pay offer, ends 50-day strike

A strike by teachers in Argentina’s southern Santa Cruz province was called off on June 16 at a provincial congress of the Santa Cruz Educators Association (ADOSAC). The congress accepted a pay raise offer of 25 percent to be phased in during September and October.

ADOSAC has held limited strikes of from 24 to 96 hours since March, bringing the number of schooldays missed to 51. The provincial governor, Alicia Kirchner, had threatened to dock the teachers’ pay, calling the days on strike “irretrievable.” According to an ADOSAC statement, negotiations will continue over salaries, as well as benefits, classifications, evaluations, the recovery of the lost days, “putting an end to state intervention,” and setting a date for the next parity talks.

The teachers were scheduled to resume classes on June 24.

Trinidadian landfill workers protest nonpayment of back wages

Workers at the Solid Waste Management Company Limited Beetham Landfill near Port-of-Spain, Trinidad locked the entrance and formed a human barricade June 13. The workers were venting their frustration over the nonpayment of back wages dating back to 2011. Dozens of garbage trucks were unable to enter the landfill, slowing traffic along the highway leading to the capital.

Not receiving back pay wasn’t all that workers were angry about. One worker told Newsday reporters that the payment should be tax-free, since inflation has eaten up the value of the payments. “Gas alone gone up by 30 percent…when you go to the grocery, things have gone up by $10 and over. The value of the money at zero [so] to suffer a 25 percent tax is really harsh on workers,” said trucker Jason Thomas.

They were also angered that management has ignored their repeated pleas for the payments, with Public Utilities Minister Ancil Antoine canceling a meeting with the industrial, General and Sanitation Workers Union (IGSWU) earlier this year and neglecting to respond to IGSWU correspondence. Antoine claimed that though he didn’t meet individually with the IGSWU, “I met with the group of trade unions and they were represented.” He also reiterated an earlier statement that “the money would be paid by June month-end.” He sloughed off the union’s statement that it would intensify protests if they could not meet with him: “Do I have new information to give them? Because June month-end hasn’t arrived yet.”

The United States

Minnesota warehouse workers honor picket lines set up by Maryland US Food workers

Teamsters at a US Foods warehouse in Plymouth, Minnesota honored picket lines set up June 8 by workers on strike at a warehouse near Baltimore, Maryland as a series of rolling strikes have now sparked sympathy actions in eight states. The Baltimore unfair labor practices strike was touched off by the company’s demand for $8 million in concessions from the 190 drivers and warehouse workers.

US Foods, the second largest food distributor in the United States, wants to slash wages and benefits amounting to an average annual loss of $40,000 per worker for the 190 employees at the Baltimore facility. The company has combined its demands with a threat to close the facility and transfer jobs to non-union facilities in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

On the same day that workers honored the picket line in Minnesota, the company announced it reached a settlement with Teamsters Local 570, which represents only the warehouse workers at the Baltimore facility. That contract simply provides a severance package for the workers as the company maintains its plan to shutter the Maryland warehouse. Drivers, represented by Teamsters Local 355 continue to strike and the union says it will continue with its plan for additional rolling strikes.

The Teamsters represent only 4,300 of the 25,000 US Foods workers in plants across 48 states. The company was purchased by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and a second private equity firm in 2007 and it currently carries some $4.7 million in debt.


Ontario hospital workers headed for strike action

Thirty food-service workers at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) are facing possible strike action in the coming days after contract negotiations reached an impasse last week.

The workers are employed by the Canadian division of the multinational giant Compass Group who cut their wages in half to just above minimum wage when they took over their contract. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) represents workers at the hospital and negotiators say they are only asking for a small wage increase of around $19 a week and some improvements in working conditions.

The union says that a strike is a very real possibility if negotiations do not progress, although talks are scheduled to continue this week.