Workers Struggles: The Americas

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Latin America

Argentine air traffic controllers hold partial stoppage of flights

About a hundred flights by Aerolineas Argentinas were delayed February 18 by air traffic controllers in the Association of Technicians and Employees of Protection and Safety of Air Navigation (ATEPSA). An ATEPSA statement said that the controllers “will progressively resume the legitimate measures of union action that will include the suspension of takeoff authorizations for commercial flights, cargo and aviation in general throughout the national territory.”

Most of the flights were domestic departures from the Jorge Newbery and Ezeiza airports and others from the nation’s interior, and most delays were no more than two hours. The primary triggers for the action were demands for more personnel and salary improvements.

Chilean trash collectors federation calls a strike over wage, contract, health and safety demands

On February 18, the Association of Federations of Garbage Collectors and Urban Cleaning of Chile announced a strike beginning February 21. The walkout is a response to the failure of the government to comply with agreements reached in 2020 and 2021 with the Undersecretary of Labor and the Undersecretary of Administrative Regional Development to enforce minimum wage levels and guarantee the fulfillment of contracts.

The statement claimed that a proposal “to work on a legal modification, in order to establish minimum remuneration floors, in such a way that all the country’s municipalities have similar rules to consider in the bidding processes” was not fulfilled. It also accused the Undersecretary of Labor of reneging on a signed promise to give the sector a legal identity “which gives us adequate protection and recognition of rights in terms of safety and health at work.”

The statement also denounced the fact that, despite working throughout the pandemic, “there has been no financial compensation for the workers who, day by day, have worked responsibly during these two years.” It noted the lack of facilities to access PCR tests and the fact that sanitation workers run higher than average risks of exposure in explaining the necessity for the strike call.

Mexican university workers strike over inadequate wage offer

Administrative workers at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos (UAEM) voted to strike February 15, the day after contract talks broke down between their union, STAUAEM, and the rectory. The main issue is the administration’s 3.5 percent raise offer, which is claimed as all it can afford, but which workers see as an effective paycut in view of soaring inflation. The workers are demanding a 10 percent increase.

STAUAEM, which has 1,500 members, announced that it had shut down over 90 academic units, but it was willing to resume talks while the walkout was in force. Another union, the Independent UAEM Academic Workers Union, remained in negotiations but said that it would likely walk out as well since management made the same proposal to its negotiating team.

Striking workers marched to the Plaza de Armas, where they issued a request to the state government to intervene. They pointed out that receptionists, janitors, chaperones, gardeners, office assistants and sports assistants are paid below the already abysmal minimum wage. They also complained of not being provided with proper protective clothing and equipment against COVID-19.

STAUAEM reported a February 16 incident, “where several individuals appeared in a motor vehicle carrying long weapons and intimidated our colleagues in complying with their guards due to the STAUAEM strike,” and denounced the Jonacatepec Public Ministry for refusing to act on the complaint and investigate.

Trinidad and Tobago: Cement workers continue protests for unpaid wages

For the past six weeks, former and present workers for Trinidad Cement Ltd. (TCL) have held twice weekly protests outside the company’s Claxton Bay compound to demand money owed them. The protesting workers are demanding that TCL deliver cost-of-living allowances, profit sharing and 10 years backpay.

The protesters include casual, permanent and retired workers, some of whom participated in a 2012 90-day strike in which the union, the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), ended after signing an agreement with TCL promising that casual and permanent workers would pay the monies owed. Not only have workers not been paid, but some died while waiting.

The OWTU and TCL resumed meetings for February 15, but the workers say they will continue the protests until there is resolution.

Teachers union in Buenos Aires calls strike for salary raise

Argentina’s Ademys teachers union announced February 18 its intent to carry out strike action on February 21 in Buenos Aires’s elementary schools. The decision was reached in an assembly, which declared conditions were not adequate for the start of the school year.

Wages are the paramount point of contention behind the strike, according to Ademys Press Secretary Marisabel Grau, who criticized the city’s chief of government Horacio Rodríguez Larreta for offering “absolutely no percentage increase” to teachers as inflation soars.

Other unresolved issues include access to positions impeded by online procedures that “are being very irregular and are being suspended almost every day because the platforms do not work” and lack of transparency in the process. Grau also noted that infrastructure problems and overcrowding—with some high school classrooms having up to 40 students—are pressing concerns.

Other demands include security improvements; appropriate COVID-19-related protocols and delivery of N95 masks to teachers and students; provision of materials and furniture; more school construction; restitution of teaching classifications and discipline boards; and filling of vacancies.

United States

Louisiana school bus drivers launch sickout over low compensation

Some 60 school bus drivers for Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish school district called in sick on February 11 as students got out of class, protesting the district’s refusal to adequately compensate workers. The sickout caught the drivers union, the St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees, off guard, with union President Brant Osborn telling Superintendent Frank Jabbia, “This was not sanctioned by the federation. And it was not. We didn’t even know.”

Jabbia fumed at the inability of the union to contain the action in a robocall to parents. “I want everyone to know that we have a collective bargaining agreement with our union, the St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees. And Article 18 of that agreement prohibits sickouts, work stoppages or strikes because we know that this will directly impact students and families.”

There are some 400 school bus drivers for the district, and they own their own vehicles, which require substantial maintenance. According to the Times-Picayune, drivers have called the district’s proposals for a pay increase as “insultingly low.”

A district proposal to provide a $1,000 stopgap payment to mollify drivers was declared unacceptable. Drivers reported that the replacement of a pair of tires alone costs $950.

Teachers in Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania, set February 28 strike date

The union representing teachers for the Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania, school district announced last week a February 28 strike date as negotiations over health care benefits and wages have stalled contract talks. The district and the Pleasant Valley Education Association (PVEA) are scheduled for another bargaining session on February 25 to try to come to terms before teachers walk out.

The school board is proposing a four-year contract with a wage freeze in the first year. The district is also focusing its attack on slashing health care benefits for teachers, citing district budget constraints. The Pocono Record quoted board solicitor Mark Fitzgerald lashing out at teachers, declaring, “[I]t’s becoming clear that the association doesn’t fully appreciate the significant financial issues that are facing the district, potentially in the long term,” and “[w]e have to get revenue somewhere to fund the contract—and some of that will come with modifications with regard to health benefits.”

The district is attempting to foist factfinding and nonbinding arbitration onto the teachers. Teachers have little appetite for further delays, with negotiations having continued since January 2021 and the old contract having expired last June. Drew Dymond, PVSE president, said, “It’s another stall tactic to drag this out even longer and not have a resolution. We’re looking for a resolution to this as quickly as possible.”

Minnesota health care tech workers vote to authorize strike

Medical workers at the Minnesota Epilepsy Group (MEG) for the metro region of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, announced a unanimous vote February 17, authorizing the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to declare a five-day strike. Over 60 MEG technicians were incensed when the company offered annual pay increases of 0.6 percent over the course of a three-year contract.

The EEG technicians, electroencephalographic professionals who operate equipment to monitor and assess brain abnormalities, are suffering understaffing and coping with the pandemic like other health care workers. But they have not received even a modicum of compensation that other health care workers have received.

Besides wages, retirement benefits are also proving to be a bone of contention. The SEIU has not set a strike date, which by law cannot take effect without first going through a 10-day cooling off period. The Minnesota Epilepsy Group is considered one of the largest and most comprehensive epilepsy centers in the United States, specializing in seizures and epilepsy.


Oakville, Ontario bus drivers strike

On February 17, 180 bus drivers struck Oakville Transit after rejecting a tentative contract recommended to them by the leadership of Unifor Local 1256. The workers’ rejection of the proposed deal is part and parcel of a growing rebellion among workers in Canada and internationally against their own union leadership’s “sweetheart” negotiations with company officials.

Workers reported that the rejected deal did not meet their demands for a wage raise that would keep drivers ahead of the spiking inflation rate, now surpassing 5 percent a year. Bus drivers have served the city’s ridership for two years since the beginning of the pandemic and are demanding more paid sick days to protect passengers, co-workers and themselves. In addition, top pay is required as more and more drivers are pushed to extend their working week due to staff shortages created by the pandemic.

Workers are also demanding increased benefits for casual employees, who receive virtually no coverage. Finally, the strikers are demanding increased safety procedures. Attacks and threats to drivers have increased as disputes with passengers spike, often associated with arguments over public health procedures or fares. Just last week, a bus driver in nearby Toronto was seriously injured after being stabbed whilst at the wheel of his bus. The previous week another Toronto driver was stabbed whilst on his way to his depot. In Oakville, current city procedures can often allow a passenger who has committed an assault to remain on the bus with the driver and other passengers.