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(en) Strike #2 - Citywide Grievance Procedure Implemented by Montpelier Retail and Ser vice Sector Workers

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 18 Sep 2004 09:27:52 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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Montpelier, Vermont - On wednesday June 30th over 80 people
gathered in city hall to attend a public forum on the wages and
working conditions workers of Montpelier’s service sector.
Organized by the Montpelier Downtown Workers’ Union (UE
Local 221) and The Vermont Workers’ Center and endorsed by
Washington and Orange County Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO)
and the United, Electrical and Radio Machine Workers of America
(UE), this well attended event provided a space for downtown
workers to speak up about the conditions of their workplaces and the
need to organize for democracy on the job and a voice at work.

For a little over a year workers in downtown Montpelier have been
organizing a citywide union of all retail and service sector workers. To
date the Montpelier Downtown Workers Union has established
contracts in two shops, The Savoy Theater & Downstairs Video and
The Mountain Cafe. Additionally the union has dues paying members
in well over a dozen shops in downtown Montpelier and has printed a
monthly newsletter, “The Downtown Workers’ Journal,”
for area workers since March of this year.

While a ‘listening panel’ of various community members and
local politicians sat in the backdrop during the public forum, over 15
current and former workers from all around downtown provided
moving, tragic and sometimes comical testimony on their working
conditions, wages and lives. While many different concerns and
issues were raised, some issues such as lack of affordable housing,
health care, childcare and the absence of having anyway to resolve
grievances or deal with unfair firings stood as primary concerns
among the workers speaking out.

Rounding off the event was a brief presentation by several workers
from the MDWU on the newly established citywide grievance
procedure. Of all it’s recent developments it is this one project of
the union that seems to hold the most potential for success and
empowerment of area workers. Under the citywide grievance
procedure, four downtown workers (Kristen Warner of Mountain
Cafe, Jesse Rosado of J Morgan’s Steakhouse, Ellen Thompson
also of J Morgan’s and Sean Damon of Brooks Pharmacy) have
assumed the role of shop steward for different sections of downtown
Montpelier. These stewards will represent any downtown worker,
union member and non-union member alike, in any grievances they
might have with their boss. Already this citywide grievance procedure
has seen success in several disputes.

Shaws Workers’ Suspension Suspended!

At Shaws supermarket (a subsidiary of the multi-national
Albertsons), a worker, Jane Ketchum, was sent home from work and
was taken off the schedule indefinitely for wearing an anti-Bush
button on her uniform. While other workers were allowed to wear
pins that implied support for current administration’s war in Iraq,
Jane was singled out for punishment for expressing her political
beliefs. Downtown steward Ellen Thompson, paid a visit to
Shaw’s and when management refused to meet with her she
wrote out an official request for information concerning the
suspension and official company policy and pinned it to the
manager’s door. A few hours later the head manager, Philip Oak,
called Jane to let her know all of her hours had been restored (note:
Jane has since left Shaws in hopes of finding a better job).

Mountain Cafe Cooks Backed Up By Union

At the recently unionized Mountain Cafe, the owners sprung some
bad news on all three cooks, when they announced that all of their
hours and pay would be cut due to the finances of the shop. After a
short and curt conversation the cooks left the cafe and
communication completely broke down between them and the
present owners, Chu Sipka and Brett Rosen.

The cooks for months had been carrying a disproportionate burden in
making sure that the daily operations of the business were carried out.
Include the tension generated by having all of your hours cut and Its
no surprise why communication completely broke down between the
cooks and management. Walking down the street the cooks ran into
two downtown union stewards Kristen Warner and Sean Damon and
let them know of the situation.

Later in the day, two of the cooks decided they wanted some help
from the downtown workers’ union to file a grievance with the
bosses. One cook Joseph Jones simply wanted $200 dollars, as an
apologetic gesture, from management, which the owners agreed to
immediately. However, cook, Dustin Byerly who has one kid and
another on the way couldn’t afford to just walk away and
requested union help in negotiating the future terms of his

Rather than rushing to a haphazard compromise, stewards Damon
and Warner took time to dialogue with management. At first the
owners were wary of rehiring Dustin and completely unwilling to
provide Dustin with back pay for days he had lost due to the conflict.
However after two days of several hour long meetings the owners
agreed to provide Dustin with his job, back pay and made several
other good faith accommodations. “I don’t know where I
would have been if the union hadn’t been there for me,”
Dustin Byerly said.

Julio’s Bartender Defended

In early July, Julio’s bartender, Shona Reiter sat down with
Julio’s owner Jane Edwards to explain that she had been very ill
lately and was seriously concerned about her health While Shona
didn’t want to loose her position, she wanted to be up front with
Jane that she might need time off to deal with her health. After the
meeting, Shona was given a day off. Later in that evening, Shona had
another conversation with Jane in which she was informed that she
had been permanently replaced.

Shona was a dependable and well liked employee of over two years,
and she was now left to figure that she had been fired. “I told Jane
that I would get back to her about my health condition, but for the
time being I was not asking to quit, and then all of my shifts get taken
away. I feel like only certain parts of what I was saying was being
heard,” Shona said.

Downtown Union Steward Kristen Warner stepped in to advocate for
Shona, seeking financial compensation for lost shifts, a written letter
of reference reflecting her strong work performance, and posting a
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) notice from the VT Department
of Labor & Industry so all employees would know they were eligible
to take time off to deal with health problems.

In a meeting with owner Jane Edwards, union steward Warner
explained that, knowingly or unknowingly, Jane had violated the
FMLA and besides that it just wasn’t tolerable to let someone go
when they request medical leave. It was made clear that Shona, with
the union’s backing, was not seeking to escalate the situation and
was in the hopes of resolving it at the lowest possible level. However,
if Shona wanted, the union was prepared to pursue the grievance and
would be persistent in ensuring a just resolution, even if it meant
bringing in community delegations or the downtown union’s
Workers’ Defense Squad, the direct action wing of the union
made up of rank and file workers from the Montpelier Downtown
Workers Union and other area unions. After a long session of
listening and responding, Jane agreed to the written letter of reference
and to posting a note to her employees in relationship to the FMLA.
Jane made the offer of giving Shona 2 day time bartending slots
which Shona took even though they’re not the best shifts for
getting tips. To make up for lost income, Shona has applied for
unemployment, seeking back wages. Jane has agreed to comply with
the process to ensure that Shona also receives unemployment
compensation for the two regular shifts that Shona has lost to the
worker that replaced her in the schedule. Shona reports that Jane has
been following through with her end of the bargain to help her out
with unemployment.

Being a retired airline flight attendant of 30 years with Association of
Flight Attendants which represented her at United Airlines and
represents over 50,000 airline flight crew worldwide Shona had never,
until Julio’s, worked without the protection of a union. She states
that she realizes how important union representation can be, “We
as workers are so alone without a union, we’re like sitting ducks.
It’s so easy to take your security for granted. The union is a
win-win situation.”

The Montpelier Downtown Workers’ Union Arrives

After months of tireless organizing through fall, winter and spring it
seems as if the efforts of the workers of the Montpelier Downtown
Workers’ Union are finally starting to bear fruit through the
citywide grievance procedure. Downtown steward Sean Damon had
this to say on the matter, “ I’ve worked in retail and service
jobs most of my working life, and around the country, there's nothing
like what were building in Montpelier to protect and defend clerks,
servers, cashiers and dishwashers here. After months of trial and
error, this steward system is what we've needed to defend workers
around the city. I feel like we’ve arrived.”

By Luther Blisset
Green Mountain Anarchist Collective (NEFAC - VERMONT)

This article is from the second issue of "Strike!"

Strike! is a tabloid newspaper covering the ever important struggles of
working people in the Northeast and across the world. From
community and workplace resistance, to the fights against racism and
sexism as well as international turmoil, the struggles that rock your
world are brought to you here with a fresh anarchist-communist

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