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FILM: Local Organizations Team up to Show "Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience"

East Michigan Environmental Action Council - Mon, 08/19/2030 - 7:02pm
What: Film screening of "Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience" with Question and Answer session to follow afterwards

When: September 6th, 2013

Time: 8PM

Where: Cass Corridor Commons
             4605 Cass Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48201

East Michigan Environmental Action Council, 5E, Heru, and the American Indian Health and Family Services invite you to the film screening of, Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience, on September 6th, 2013. The showing will take place in the D. Blair Theater of The Cass Corridor Commons.

Focusing on the lives and experiences of the Native/Indigenous community in the Midwest, Our Fires Still Burn is a one hour documentary that works to dispel the myth that American Indians have disappeared from the United States. The narrative that Native and Indigenous peoples no longer exist in the US has been perpetrated in many forms since the beginning of colonization in the US, with perhaps the most famous example being the book (and movie), The Last of the Mohicans. The narrative usually argues something along the lines that because Native peoples are now dead (or are actively dying), we need non-Native peoples to "save and recover" (read; loot) Native artifacts (very often including actual bones of human beings). Another strand of the narrative argues that names like Washington Red Skins are actually compliments that honor long dead tribes rather than the offensive insults that Native/Indigenous peoples say they are.

Our Fires Still Burns argues that the narrative that Native/Indigenous peoples are dead is harmful in that it invisibilizes and makes unnecessary the voices of the very much alive Native/Indigenous community. But as Our Fire Still Burns shows, Native and Indigenous peoples continue to persist, heal from the past, confront the challenges of today, keep their culture alive, and make great contributions to society.

The film viewing of Our Fires Still Burn will appeal to native and non-Native alike, and will be followed by a question and answer session featuring many of the people appearing in the film, as well as film director Audrey Geyer.  Ms. Geyer is an independent video producer and director whose programs have been broadcasted locally and nationally on PBS. She is the founder and current executive director of Visions, an independent video production company local in Metro Detroit. Visions work focuses on creating documentaries that tell the stories of communities that are underrepresented in mainstream media.

As East Michigan Environmental Action Council co-director, Diana Copeland says, the most important thing to do right now in light of various attacks on marginalized communities in Detroit is to build community responses to those attacks, "Conversations that happen where we can begin to get to know each other are essential and will only make our communities stronger."
Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Arizona’s Sheriff Joe disbands controversial immigration raid squad

NNIRR - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 4:00pm
Story Type:  Article Story Author:  The Associated Press Story Publisher:  New York Daily News

An Arizona sheriff known for crackdowns on people living in the country illegally is giving up his last major foothold in immigration enforcement efforts that won him popularity among voters but gradually were reined in by Washington and the courts.

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Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Statement on Shumlin Protest Imagery

VWC - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 1:43pm

We would like to offer our deepest apologies for the use of imagery at the Statehouse action yesterday. The spontaneus protest brought out a lot of universal healthcare supporters who felt deeply betrayed and frustrated. The cardboard cut-out of the Governor was meant as a reference to the story Pinocchio in which the nose extended with each hypocritical statement Shumlin made during the Wednesday Dec. 17th press conference. We realize now this image comes off as reminiscent of anti-semitic propaganda. The Vermont Workers’ Center stands against anti-semitism, and all forms of oppression and discrimination. We apologize for the use of this image.

Categories: Grassroots Newswire

RELEASE: Vermont residents burn healthcare bills, rally at statehouse denouncing Governor’s failure to act on universal healthcare

VWC - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 5:39pm

For Immediate Release: December 18 2014

Contact: Keith Brunner, 802-363-9615

Vermont residents burn healthcare bills, rally at statehouse and Green Mountain Care Board denouncing Governor’s failure to act on universal healthcare

Montpelier -- Today, over 100 supporters of the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign rallied and burned their medical bills in front of the Vermont statehouse, denouncing Governor Shumlin for abandoning his support for universal, publicly financed healthcare [1].  One by one, residents told stories about not getting the care they need or about healthcare debt, then lit their bills on fire.

“Time and again I’m forced to choose whether to meet my medical needs or pay other bills,” said Stauch Blaise, a resident of Randolph, Vermont. “Just last week I had to forgo care for my foot because of my deductible and co-pays. Governor Shumlin has burned all of us by bailing on universal healthcare, and now it’s time for the legislature to assume leadership and follow through with Act 48.”

Demonstrators then entered the statehouse and ascended to the Governor’s office on the second floor.  With a crowd surrounding her, Burlington resident Kate Kanelstein symbolically delivered a platter of toast to the Governor, stating “Governor Shumlin, If you burn us, the people who’ve stood behind your leadership on healthcare year after year, you should understand that your political career is toast.”  

The crowd then marched to the Green Mountain Care Board meeting, which today was planning on hearing a proposal from the Shumlin administration on covered health services and cost-sharing in the new universal system.  The Governor did not show up, but dozens of people did, entering the room while singing, and interrupting the proceedings by asking the board if they would follow through with Act 48 despite Governor Shumlin’s unilateral decision to pull the plug on universal healthcare.

Sierra Klotz, who's studying to be a healthcare provider, called on the Green Mountain Care Board to “move forward with a universal single-payer healthcare system,” while participant after participant reiterated that healthcare is a human right, and the government has an obligation to ensure that right is met by providing universal care to all Vermont residents in an equitable way.

Supporters of the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign will once again return to the statehouse on January 8th for a rally and mass action, calling on the Legislature to assume a leadership role in moving forward with a universal, publicly financed healthcare system for Vermont.

**Photos available by request.**

###

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1] Yesterday, Governor Shumlin unilaterally announced he would cease to move forward on universal healthcare for Vermont -- See the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign’s response here: http://www.workerscenter.org/news/release-healthcare-human-right-campaign-responds-shumlin-s-failure-act-universal-healthcare

Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Rights, Justice & Dignity on International Migrants Day

NNIRR - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 3:43pm
Story Type:  Blog Story Author:  NNIRR

Today, on December 18, International Migrants Day, we are joining with migrants, rights advocates and allies in supp

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Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Tucson police no longer enforcing Arizona's immigration status checks

NNIRR - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 3:41pm
Story Type:  Article Story Publisher:  Fox News Latino

Tucson police said Wednesday they will no longer fully enforce the state's landmark immigration law that requires local police to check the immigration status of people they encounter while enforcing other laws.

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Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Immigration News Today: Sarah Saldaña's Confirmation as New ICE Director Met With Praise From Immigration, Legal Advocates

NNIRR - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 3:00am
Story Type:  Article Story Author:  Michael Oleaga Story Publisher:  Latin Post

The U.S.

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Categories: Grassroots Newswire

RELEASE: Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign responds to Shumlin’s failure to act on universal healthcare

VWC - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 5:02pm

For Immediate Release: December 17 2014

Contact: Keith Brunner, 802.363.9615, keith@workerscenter.org

Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign responds to Shumlin’s failure to act on universal healthcare

Today the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign released the following statement in response to Governor Shumlin’s failure to move forward with universal, publicly financed healthcare in Vermont. Tomorrow, Healthcare Is a Human Right supporters will be at the Vermont statehouse at 12pm for a rally and creative photo opportunity denouncing the Governor’s failure to act.  

Statement by the Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign:

“The Healthcare Is a Human Right (HCHR) Campaign expresses its deep disappointment in the failure of Governor Shumlin to act on the will of the people of Vermont to ensure universal, publicly financed healthcare in our state. This inaction is a slap in the face of many thousands of Vermont residents who suffer from poor health and financial hardship in the private insurance market that sells healthcare as a commodity to those who can afford it. The HCHR Campaign reminds the Governor that healthcare is a human right, and that our government has an obligation to ensure that right. Our government also has a responsibility to enact state law, and Act 48, passed in 2011, clearly requires Vermont to take actions to provide healthcare as a public good to all residents by 2017.

We all currently pay for our hodgepodge healthcare system  - we just don’t pay in a way that leads to giving people access to care. Moving to a different financing mechanism has nothing to do with raising new money. Vermont’s businesses currently pay 80% of all private insurance premiums. Most of these businesses are large employers; they pay the lion share of health insurance. Individuals who fall sick also pay a big chunk - through roughly $800 million in out-of-pocket costs. The Governor’s task at hand was to shift private payments to a more equitable, public financing mechanism. His task was not to find new money.

The HCHR Campaign does not believe that the Governor showed sufficient commitment to identifying alternative public financing mechanisms for a service that is already being paid for by all of us. Over the past three years the Administration developed its financing ideas - the same ideas the Governor now claims make public financing impossible - behind closed doors, without public participation or broader input from the many experts in universal healthcare financing, but in close consultation with a select group of businesses. The Governor missed the deadline set by Act 48 to submit a financing plan in early 2013, thus failing to meet its obligations under the law. The proposals the Governor has presented now are not based on the principle of equity. By shielding big businesses from continuing their payments for healthcare at the current level, the governor made his financing plan both inequitable and unviable.  An equitable financing plan would have shown a clear path to sufficient and sustainable funding by maintaining big businesses current payments for healthcare costs and thus avoiding a cost-shift to small businesses and individuals.

The Governor’s misguided decision was a completely unnecessary result of a failed policy calculation that he pursued without democratic input. Without formally repealing Act 48 and without a democratic process of deliberation, the Governor’s unilateral decision is completely inexcusable and unacceptable. A decision of this magnitude requires the voices of the people of Vermont to be heard.

The many thousands of people that are active in the HCHR Campaign will not acquiesce to this undemocratic decision. The people of Vermont do not have the time to wait on a Governor who has consistently broken his promises. The HCHR Campaign will keep on fighting for our right to healthcare, and we call on our legislators to join us in this fight and move forward with an equitable, public financing plan for universal healthcare in our state.”

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NOTES FOR EDITORS

1] Click here for the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign's proposal to finance GMC: http://www.workerscenter.org/sites/default/files/gmcfinancingplan-vwcproposalfinal.pdf 

Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Supreme Court says Arizona must issue driver's licenses to immigrants

NNIRR - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 2:56pm
Story Type:  Article Story Author:  David Savage Story Publisher:  Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court decided Wednesday that Arizona must offer driver's licenses to young immigrants who entered the country illegally as children but were later shielded from deportation by President Obama.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices turned down an emergency appeal from outgoing Gov. Jan Brewer, who argued that the state had the right to decide who gets a driver's license.

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Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Recipes for Justice Flash Sale, Dec 17 & 18

NNIRR - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 2:10pm
Story Type:  Blog Story Author:  NNIRR

Flash Sale!

Order today and tomorrow, Dec. 17 & 18

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Categories: Grassroots Newswire

This Stops Today! DRUM and CAAAV Rally in Queens Against Police Violence on Black Communities

CAAAV - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 3:33pm


In an effort to engage immigrant and refugee communities on the systemic police violence on Black communities, folks from CAAAV, DRUM, Adhikaar, Sunset Park CopWatch, Jackson Heights CopWatch, Nodutdol, Min Kwon Center, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Justice Committee, War Resisters League, and BAYAN-USA, took over Rego Park Center Mall.

25 folks did a people’s mic inside Burlington Coat Factory with the statement: “We are here in solidarity with Eric Garner and all Black lives subject to police violence. We call for police demilitarization, federal charges on Dan Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner, and the removal of NYPD Commissioner Bratton. We stand with Black trans communities, Black women and men targeted by police violence and the policing of bodies. This Stop Today!”

Customers and employees joined us in the people’s mic and chanting! Then, 80 folks took the corner of 63rd and Queens Blvd. to rally and pass out flyers in English, Spanish, and Chinese. At the end, the rally marched over to Junction Blvd. and held Junction for a few minutes. #ThisStopsToday #BlackLivesMatter

For photos, check out our facebook photo album. For video, check out Mansee Kong‘s video here and Kyoko Takenaka‘s video here.

Statement from Angela Zhuo, Youth Leader at CAAAV’s Asian Youth in Action

” Hi, my name is Angela. I’m with CAAAV; we are a pan-Asian organization that works around police violence. As Asians and immigrants, we know the racicsm we face isn’t the same as the struggles that Black communities go through.

But Asian communities are working in solidarity to end racism, not just for us but for all. The police have been using their power excessively. We must unite against our common enemy. Join a community organization, go to an action, tell your friends. Every little thing helps. Together we can show them our power. Together we can police brutality.”

Statement from Fahd Ahmed, Director of DRUM- Desis Rising Up & Moving

“As Immigrant communities we know

That we stand on the shoulders of the struggles of black communities Despite laying the foundation for our rights in this country Black communities still remain the most brutalized We are here to say That black lives matter All black lives matter Black children Black women Black men Our Black queer families Our Black trans families Thank you to the people of Ferguson Thank you to the youth in the streets Thank you for leading the way Thank you for showing that we can’t go quietly into the night No more business as usual In the words of our brother eric garner This stops today! This stops today! This stops today!”

Statement from Candice Sering, Gabriela NY and Bayan USA

“My name is Candice Sering here on behalf of GAB NY and Bayan USA. The Filipino community stands in solidarity with the Black community in the struggle for justice and liberation. We understand that it is our duty to band together in the struggle to fight against the oppressive state represented by the NYPD. We may not experience the same consistent oppression as the Black community but if we don’t take action, our complacency perpetuates this systemic racist system. Our Asian elder was beaten by NYPD uptown, and our Asian sister was left in the street with a broken jaw after falling out of an LAPD car. But we know we don’t need to wait for it to affect our individual community. We will continue to fight alongside our Black brothers and sisters and shut it down till we get justice!

Black lives matter! Black power! Black self determination! Smash white supremacy! Long live international solidarity!”
Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Local 279 Members Return to Work at Weir Valves

UE - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:58pm
16 December, 2014UE Northeast Region President Peter Knowlton addresses the December 13 solidarity rally. (Photo by Jason Gallant.)Ipswich, MA

After more than three weeks on strike, the members of UE Local 279 at Weir Valves and Controls returned to work today, Tuesday December 16, under the terms of the most recent “last, best and final offer” from the company, and a return to work agreement that was negotiated by the union and company on Monday. The members voted unanimously on Friday, December 12 to return to work under these terms, but at this point no contract is in place yet. The following is a statement that the local posted on its Facebook page on Saturday – the day they also hosted a spirited solidarity rally on the Weir picket line with members of other UE locals and other unions in the North Shore area.

“Our strike is coming to an end as it achieved its main goals-- prevention of temps taking our laid-off members' jobs, preventing favoritism in overtime distribution, and controlling increases to our healthcare costs. Our men are making an unconditional return to work Tuesday with that victory, but without a contract while we wrap up some of the peripheral issues then we can hopefully ratify our contract in short order.

“The company illegally declared impasse and imposed its final offer (which dropped/settled the issues above which triggered the strike), so we still have to deal with that issue as well as some outstanding grievances that were in process during the strike. While we hope and expect the company will want to settle these issues and conclude a contract, we put nothing past them. If they commit another Unfair Labor Practice prior to ratification, we have no problem walking out again on that basis. Stay tuned, we will continue to provide updates leading up to and after contract ratification.

“The brothers of UE Local 279 are in good spirits and proud of their success in defending their contractual rights, and very thankful to all the UE locals, other labor organizations, family members, and others who supported them on this strike. We will personally thank each and every one of you by name in short order. We also want to thank the people whose names we don't necessarily know but who refused to cross our picket lines. The vast majority of contractors and truck drivers turned around as soon as they realized we were on strike... most were non-union but understood the fight their fellow working men were waging. Also big up to the temps who told the company to their face, in spite of their pleading to come to work, that they wouldn't scab. We may never know your names but your actions will always be remembered.

“To our brothers and sisters at FairPoint still on strike, we voted today that upon contract ratification to pay forward some the generous donations to our strike fund in hopes it will sustain you onward to your own victory. We're all in this together. We may be folding up our own picket lines but we'll be showing up to yours soon enough.”
 

Categories: Grassroots Newswire

VT Digger Profile of Healthcare is a Human Right leader Alissa Carberry on cost sharing

VWC - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 10:40am
TOO MUCH COST SHARING IN HEALTH EXCHANGE, ADVOCATES SAY DEC. 10 2014, 6:07 PM 38 COMMENTSShare on facebookShare on redditShare on emailShare on print8 

Alissa Carberry, 24, is an early childhood educator working at a nonprofit in Burlington’s Old North End. She has type 1 diabetes and employer-sponsored health insurance from Vermont Health Connect.

Carberry said she has become active with Vermont’s Health Care is a Human Right campaign because she can’t keep up with the cost of managing her condition.

 

Alissa Carberry, who has type 1 diabetes, is working Vermont’s Health Care is a Human Right campaign because her Vermont Health Connect plan leaves her with too many bills. Courtesy photo

“I’m lucky that my work does cover my premiums, but the deductibles and copays are simply outrageous,” Carberry said, speaking at a recent news conference in Burlington.

 

Managing her diabetes means that she needs health care services much more frequently than the average person. Her first bill this year was $2,100, she said. Carberry makes less than $30,000 per year and is working to pay down four years of student loan debt.

“It is simply not possible for me to pay all of my bills,” she said.

Her first three months of insulin pump supplies cost her $642 this year, after insurance, she said. She pays another $20 per month for strips to test her blood sugar and $50 dollars a month for insulin.

“So, if you’re doing the math, it adds up quickly,” she said.
“These are the measures my doctor asks me to take to make a plan to grow old in good health.”

Her doctor also advises her to see a dentist and optometrist regularly. But her silver plan doesn’t cover those services and it’s not something she can pay for on her own.

“I’m struggling to make ends meet and take care of my health. As a person in my mid-20s, this should not be an issue that I have to face,” Carberry said.

There are thousands of Vermonters like her who don’t get the care they need or do so at the expense of good food, housing or education, Carberry said.

Deb Richter, a physician, said coverage through Vermont Health Connect leaves her patients who have chronic medical needs with expenses they struggle to afford.

Gold plans are the second-most generous on the exchange and cover between 78 percent and 82 percent of medical costs. Carberry’s silver plan covers 70 percent of her costs.

A plan that covers 80 percent of costs is the lowest value plan Green Mountain Care can offer, and sources with knowledge of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s forthcoming benefit proposal have suggested it will fall in the range of a gold plan.

“In my view, the gold plan’s out-of-pocket costs are still too high,” Richter said.

Carberry and the Health Care is a Human Right campaign are urging the governor to offer a plan for health care reform through which coverage is paid for by progressive taxes and Vermonters pay nothing out-of-pocket at the point of service.

Shumlin administration officials have indicated that Green Mountain Care, as the publicly financed program is known, will likely involve some amount of cost sharing. Not including any deductibles or copays would greatly increase the program’s cost.

Richter argues that cost sharing penalizes people like Carberry who have medical conditions that require regular care.

Like activists from the Health Care is a Human Right campaign, she said medical services should be treated as a public good.

“We don’t charge people whose houses burn down more money to cover the fire department,” Richter said.

 

http://vtdigger.org/2014/12/10/much-cost-sharing-health-exchange-advocates-say/

Categories: Grassroots Newswire

UN urges EU to take refugees despite anti-migrant protests

NNIRR - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 3:00am
Story Type:  Article Story Publisher:  RT

Refugees arriving in Europe from war-torn Syria asking for asylum are putting an additional burden for the EU, whose economy is in crisis and where xenophobia is on the rise.

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Categories: Grassroots Newswire

OpEd: FairPoint worker speaks out for universal healthcare

VWC - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 1:28pm

This OpEd by Kris White, is a mother and FairPoint worker from Grand Isle, has so far been published in the Rutland Herald, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, and Vermont Digger.

I am writing this letter to ask my neighbors, in this season of giving, to join us as we stand up to corporate greed, demand dignified, meaningful work and make a case for health care as a human right.

My name is Kris White and I live in Grand Isle. I am a mother, a Fairpoint worker and a steward in my union, Communication Workers of America Local 1400, which along with our sister union, IBEW Local 2326, is striking against a shameful anti-human trend in this country that puts profits over people.

The majority of FairPoint stock is owned by five Wall Street hedge funds. Angelo, Gordon & Co. is the single largest shareholding hedge fund with 20 percent of outstanding stock. These firms have no interest in maintaining and improving a quality communications company. They are in business to make massive profits. Fairpoint does not have to pay those investors by stripping the retired and active employees of the jobs and benefits we have invested our lives in earning. They are choosing to do so.Their goal was to get us to agree to changes that would increase their profits by $600 million per year or force a strike. We know this because they have been unwilling to negotiate. They came to the bargaining table with one proposal and have not entertained a single compromise.

They have frozen retiree pensions and ended their health care. To active employees they’ve made proposals that we simply can’t afford. In an attempt to break our spirit, our health and our union and show us who has the power, they have forced a strike. However, we remain unmoved by their greedy tactics and stand united. Our solidarity against their disgusting disregard for family and community is our power.

They proposed raising out-of-pocket health care costs between $400 and $1,200 per month. We make good wages, but not enough to add this expense to our family budgets. This is in addition to proposals that would allow the company to outsource our work. Fairpoint wants to eliminate good jobs in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. They want to replace long-term, skilled workers. We can’t allow them to become the Wal-Mart of telecommunications.

In large part, we are striking because of the outrageous increases proposed to our health plans even though we knew that one month into the strike we’d all lose our health care. For those of us with chronic health conditions this is a difficult situation. I am a type I diabetic and my daughter has asthma. Both conditions require ongoing treatment and supplies. This is costly. In other words, our costs are going up at precisely the same time as our family income takes a serious hit. This can’t be sustained. It is the kind of dynamic our Wall Street owners expect and count on to starve and freeze us out.

I believe that health care is a human right and this experience has strengthened my resolve to fight for a system that works for our communities. It is outrageous that greedy corporations hold so much leverage over our families simply to increase profits for billionaires. If we all had health care by virtue of residency rather than based on where we work, or how much money we have, we would eliminate this power dynamic that is ruining what so many of us have worked so hard for.

Please join us as we stand up against corporate greed and protect good jobs in Northern New England. Come out to a picket line. Express your solidarity. Consider making a holiday gift to our strike fund. Join us as we call for the creation of a health care system that treats all people fairly and equitably. Come to a major march and rally at the Statehouse on Jan. 8 to demand health care as a human right. Our fight is for everyone, for all families and for the health of our communities.

Categories: Grassroots Newswire

Building 12, Erie GE: Young Worker Militancy in the 1970s

UE - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 11:52am
15 December, 2014by Al Hart

At a November 1968 class for stewards and local officers in Latrobe, PA, James Matles, one of UE’s founding officers and then secretary-treasurer, talked about how the youth rebellion of the 1960s was beginning to affect industry and unions. “The young people in the shops are involved in a revolt of their own, which is growing day by day… The young worker doesn’t give a damn for the company’s shop rules and he drives the foremen crazy. He comes to work when he feels like it and quits the job at the drop of a hat…” Matles described how young workers were voting down contract settlements and voting out old union officers. While the leaders of most national unions saw this trend as dangerous, and some UE local leaders felt threatened by the youth revolt, to Matles it was a welcome development. “If we combine the experience of the oldtimers with the militancy of the young, we will have an unbeatable combination,” he said.

Nowhere in UE did the young worker rebellion have more impact than in Building 12 at the Erie GE plant, where workers built transit rail cars in the 1970s. With federal subsidies, in 1970 GE expanded Building 12 from a small warehouse into sprawling factory, and then hired a workforce mostly in their 20s. There were as many as 1,800 of them at one time, around 1,000 for much of the nine-year history of Transit. Many of them were recently-returned veterans of the Vietnam War. GE set up Building 12 with the idea of paying lower wages than what UE members were paid to manufacture locomotives and other products elsewhere in the huge Erie plant, and of managing the workforce more autocratically.

But the young workers GE hired for the new Transit business had very different ideas. Together, in the first three years of Building 12’s operation, they not only essentially taught themselves how to build transit cars, but also built a workplace culture that combined youthful rebellion with old-fashion union solidarity. They devised creative new tactics of their own, and made use of the tools provided to them by the UE-GE National Contract – the right to strike over grievances, the right to work or not work overtime – and the seniority, wages, and working conditions won by Local 506 members over the preceding 35 years.

The heart of Building 12 and the center of worker militancy was the assembly floor. There, in nine work stations and on four lines of railroad track that stretched the length of the building, workers transformed the empty stainless steel shells of rail cars into beautiful high-tech vehicles that would rapidly transport countless thousands of commuters, in comfort and safety and with energy efficiency, from their suburban homes to the urban center and back home, every day for many years. A transit car is an extremely complex machine, and UE members built them from scratch, installing insulation, wheel trucks, traction motors, electrical controls, the pantograph that draws electric power from cables above the tracks, thousands of feet of wiring, piping, plumbing, airbrake systems, heating and air conditioning, communications systems, windows, doors, flooring, lighting and seating.

The shining rail cars built in Building 12 supplied transit systems in the Northeast, including the New Haven Line of the Metro North Railroad that connects Connecticut with Manhattan; the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) in the Philadelphia region; and commuter rail lines then run by the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad for the State of New Jersey.

I worked at Erie GE from 1973 to 1986 in various buildings, including two stints in Building 12 in the late 1970s. But I wasn’t in the building in the early years, when the battles were fought that made Building 12 such a good place to work. So two days before Thankgiving, I met with six GE retirees who were among the young militants who shook things up in Building 12 in the early ‘70s. It was a productive session of remembering the good old days.

(Left to right: Phil Fish, Tom Trost, Harry Bland, Mel Knauff, John Majewski and Joe Caspar)

Joe Caspar was hired into Building 12 in 1972 at age 22, right out of the military. He worked in Transit until a big layoff in 1976. He worked in a variety of other buildings at GE until he retired in 2009. Phil Fish, another Vietnam vet, was also hired in 1972 into Building 12. He later worked in Building 10 locomotive assembly and various other buildings. He was a union steward at Station 6 and says of his time in Building 12, “It was great to be there but it was a struggle the entire time.” Phil also retired in 2009.

Harry Bland started in the summer of 1972 at age 20, “just a kid.” Laid off in 1975 or 76, he transferred to jobs elsewhere in the Erie plant and made it back to Building 12 later in the decade to work on last order, rebuilding Amtrak Metroliners. He retired from GE at the end of 2012 with 40½ years of service. “I used to complain, but looking back I really appreciate the jobs I had in 12.”

Mel Knauff, better known as Cap, started in Building 12 in 1972 at age 22. “I’d been working in Building 17 running a punch press and a shear,” where he was hired after serving in Vietnam. He transferred into 12 after a layoff in Building 17. “I stayed there pretty much from beginning to end, was a steward most of the time, and raised hell.” Knauff was a good friend of Craig Engel, the first chief steward in Building 12 who played a big role in building a strong union there. Engel died on Easter Morning 2014 at age 68. 

John Majewski was hired by GE at age 17, “31 days before the 1969 strike,” into Building 63, Speed Variator. “I was on the picket line” during the 102-day national strike of GE workers. “When Transit started, in ’70 or ’71, I got a job in there. I had a year and a half service, so I was a kid. I started there on the first New Haven car, the building was empty. In ’79 I moved over to Building 10 and spent the rest of my career over there.” Tom Trost was hired at age 19 in 1972 and worked in Transit until 1978. After that he worked in Buildings 2, 6, 7 and 18-Control, retiring with 41½ years service.

STRIKING FOR PAY AND JUSTICE

Building 12 workers went on strike several times, especially in the early years. In the first big strike, which lasted a few days in March 1974, the core issue was pay, although there was an accumulation of other grievances. Tom Trost says, “We wanted to have the same pay rate as Building 10,” where workers assembled locomotives. “So of course we thumped the ground a little bit and we got madder and madder and finally we took a walk.”

Workers in Building 12 were paid dayrate (straight hourly pay) at comparatively low rates. The strike was solid in Building 12, and the obvious willingness of workers to take more action convinced the company to bargain. Within the next couple of months the officers of Local 506 negotiated what the Local 506 Union News called “a stop-gap or temporary” incentive pay plan, and further talks followed to finalize a pay system similar to that in Building 10.

Under the group incentive pay in Building 10, on top of their base pay, a group of workers were paid incentive rates (or “prices”) to complete a set of tasks. Workers on “group piecework” pool this incentive pay, which reflects the teamwork needed to build a locomotive or transit car.

But the group incentive system in 12 remained somewhat makeshift, with room for negotiation between work groups and their bosses over how some tasks would be paid. Trost recalled that “the upper stations” – the beginning of the assembly process – weren’t paid as well as the lower stations, because workers with more direct control over shipping the product had more leverage. Majewski agreed. “I was the timekeeper (the worker who kept track of hours and pay for the group) on the shipping crew. I wouldn’t say we held them hostage,” but he remembered a manager, desperate to get some cars completed and shipped by the end of the month, asking him what it would take. “I said we’re not making any money, double our prices and we’ll get the cars out, and then we’ll talk after that. So he agreed to double the prices.”

Workers put in a lot of overtime voluntarily, but Trost recalled a walkout over the company trying to impose 12-hour days. “We said no, you can’t do that, it’s 8 hour days.” He added, “There was always some sort of problems there that we found a way to have a strike. Some people were being treated better than others.”

“If they disciplined someone unfairly,” said Majewski, “we would be united and we would all go. If we thought something was really unfair, we would all walk out. I would say that happened four to six times.” To Phil Fish, “That was the one good thing about working there. They always talk about Building 10 having a good strong union, and trust me, they did.” But Fish thinks Building 12 workers were even more militant, in part because they were young and had less to lose, and they knew there were other decent-paying unionized manufacturing jobs available in Erie. “That was one of the advantages we had at that time that people don’t have today.” But he fears that some workers today, “don’t realize that if they don’t stand up to the company for what they think is right, they’re never going to get their due.”

“I could never understand,” said Joe Caspar, an incident a couple of years ago when, he said, the company ignored seniority in moving people from one building to another. At the time he said to workers he knew, “How can you let that go? Seniority’s got to mean something, it always meant something to us, even though we had none back then.”

I also spoke to Mary Stewart Flowers, a retired Local 618 officer who was hired in Building 12 in 1973 as a Local 506 members. “They were strong, they were together, especially within each work station. Plus, with the group piecework, you have to work together and instead of being supervised the group is managing itself.” Comparing Building 12 in those days to her later work experiences at GE, she said, “It just seemed to be more together. There was more solidarity. I think the unionism was much stronger back then.”

CREATIVE RESISTANCE

Trost recalled an attempt by the company to monitor the workers with color-coded bump caps. As a safety measure, everyone on the assembly floor wore light plastic helmets called bump caps. These were especially needed by employees who worked under the cars. The company decided to have workers in each area wear a different color cap, so bosses could easily spot a worker away from his or her assigned work station. “Mel and I were working third shift, and Engel says, ‘We have an assignment tonight. There’s boxes on the receiving dock with these bump caps, we’re going to put them on a cart to send them to Building 10, and they’re going to put them in locomotives that are going to India.’ So we put all these boxes on a flatbed, I don’t know where they went from there.” The union’s backup plan, said Fish, was for everyone to swap their new bump caps with workers from other stations, “so they wouldn’t know who was wearing what.” The company dropped the plan to color code people’s headgear.

Another attempt by the company to monitor individual workers was recalled by Fish. He was summoned to the office of General Foreman Dave Wescott, and when he saw three other foremen in the room, he immediately asked for his chief steward. Wescott refused his request for union representation, and then told him, “I want an individual record of everything you do for the entire day.” Fish observes, “We knew this was going to come, that eventually they’d want to monitor and find out who the slackers are. But that’s not the way it works on group piecework.”

Fish replied to the boss that he couldn’t answer him until he consulted with his chief steward. Wescott pressed for an answer whether or not he would do as he was told, and Fish repeated, “I don’t know.” Wescott then screamed that he was fired and called the guards to escort him off the property. Fish went straight to the union hall, “and an hour later, I’m back in the building, and I didn’t lose any time or anything. But that was their first attempt to get us to knuckle under to intimidation. It didn’t take very long for the word to spread, and people’s reaction was, ‘If he’s gone, we’re all gone.’ So they dropped that idea real quick.”

“It was sad that the whole plant didn’t follow our lead,” said John Majewski, remembering that most of the other buildings did not join Building 12’s grievance strikes. (An exception was Building 63, which struck in sympathy with Building 12 through the persistance of its stewards.) “They thought we were young punks and dope smokers,” said Harry Bland. Majewski added, “They thought we were just young radical kids and they didn’t want to ruffle any feathers in their building, even though we were all the same union.” He added that while Building 12 had 1,000 members or more, in the plant as a whole there were are many as 17,000 workers during the 1970s.

Fish blames the conservatism of the local union leadership of that time for the lack of plantwide solidarity, but he also thinks that the long strike in 1969-70 drained some militancy out of workers who went through that. “I think a lot of the guys who went through the ’69 strike and had five or 10 years service or more, didn’t want to go through anything like that again.”

THE LEGACY OF TRANSIT

“Remember when we got hired there,” asked John Majeski, “they said this is the future, the country’s going to go rapid transit, high-speed rail. You’re going to retire out of this building. Well nine years later we watched them close the doors.”

After it was underbid by Bombardier in 1976 to build transit cars for MARTA (the Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Authority), GE stopped competing for orders to manufacture new cars. By 1980, when the Metroliner rebuild work was done, GE shut down the Transit business.

Betsy Potter, a retired former officer of UE Local 618, the salary workers union, worked in the blueprint office of Building 12 in the ‘70s. She was hired in 1972 at age 20, was the last person laid off from Building 12, and she too looks back fondly on her years there. “The bonds we created through UE lasted through our entire careers at General Electric. When Building 12 closed, I thought it was the biggest mistake they made.” She said GE, “should have gone after Baltimore,” which was about to purchase transit cars. “We were all tooled, and we were building beautiful cars.” She says the New York subway system was also on the verge of replacing much of its fleet. “GE should have stayed in transit cars.” 

The transit business meant jobs for UE members outside Building 12. The electrical controls and traction motors were made in Buildings 2, 6 and 18 of the Erie GE plant; the airbrake components were made by members of Local 610 in Wilmerding, PA, and the seats were made by UE Local 1114 members at Coach & Car in Chicago.  

But rather than stay in the transit business, GE paved over the railroad tracks and converted Building 12 for other uses. The building today employs about 300 workers building radiator cabs and main cabs for locomotives and working on off-highway vehicle motors (OHV).

In waves of layoffs, bumping and transfers that followed the end of each order, Building 12 workers were dispersed throughout the plant. “We were everywhere, and that changed the whole union,” says Mel Knauff, spreading the Building 12 culture of unity and militancy. In 1977 and the early '80s the local elected new, more progressive leadership, which encouraged more involvement of young members. In those years the local strengthened its commitment to rank-and-file democracy and solidarity among all members. In 1986, through the local constitution’s trial procedure, the members even removed five executive board members because they went on a trip to Japan with the company in violation of a membership vote – a powerful affirmation that the members run this union.

Those changes are the legacy of what young workers did in Building 12 in the ‘70s. The lesson of those years for today, for Young Activists and all UE members, is that when the energy, creativity and rebelliousness of young workers is channeled into rank-and-file unionism, good things happen.

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