Wednesday, December 21, 2005

New York Transit Workers Strike

The 34,000 members of the Tranport Workers Union are on illegal strike in New York, under the most difficult of conditions.

Remember two tier pensions? Workers of the Metropolitan Transit System were faced with the demand of management that they agree to a retirement age of 62 for all new starters, compared to 55 for current staff.

Strike action for these workers is illegal in New York state under the Taylor Law. As a result the union is being fined $1 million dollars a day. It does not have the support of its international union. Yet the membership appears solid at the time of writing.

Below we publish an article on the dispute. To read up to date news you can visit the union's web site at:

Juan Gonzalez: Arrogance of the MTA made strike a certainty

Dec. 21-Willie Casiano and his fellow union members tried to keep warm over a trash-can fire yesterday morning while they walked the picket line outside the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's sprawling train-overhaul shop at 207th St. in Inwood.

Down at City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg was blasting the members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 as greedy, as thugs and criminals for daring to walk off the job for a decent contract, for creating massive inconvenience to subway and bus riders.

There is, of course, never a good time for any strike.

The timing was especially tough for Casiano, who landed his mechanic's job at the MTA after the 1980 transit strike.

On Monday, his doctor broke the news that the cancer in Casiano's spine had spread to his lung. He's already endured months of grueling chemotherapy. Now he faces applying to the MTA for disability.

What happened to this sick worker and to so many other employees at the MTA is as much the reason for this strike as a wage increase, pension or health care benefit.

"Ever since I started missing work for chemo treatments, my supervisor's been accusing me of chronic sick-leave abuse," Casiano said.

Nelson Rivera, shop chairman for the 300 mechanics and car cleaners at 207th St., says Casiano is not the only worker penalized for illness. Another mechanic with 30 years on the job recently had a heart operation.

"When the guy came back to work, the MTA demoted him to security guard instead of giving him light duties," Rivera said. "Since then, he's been disciplined twice and is now facing a possible dismissal in 30 days."

Local 100 President Roger Toussaint has repeatedly complained that the MTA issued a phenomenal 15,000 disciplinary actions against his members last year.

When so many workers are being punished and harassed daily by management, something is deeply wrong with the people at the top of that agency.

"We've been fed up with the MTA and wanted a strike for years," Rivera said. "But until Roger got elected, no union leader dared to stand up to management."

All across this city, workers who have no pensions and who must pay huge premiums for health insurance hear about transit workers fighting to preserve pensions at 55 and employer-paid health insurance. They fall prey to the Bloomberg line of "greedy workers."

Have the rest of us been beaten down, exploited and abused for so long by our own employers that we will allow transit workers who dare to defend their standard of living to be painted as thugs?

To hear Bloomberg talk, the Taylor Law came down with the Ten Commandments - and wasn't a modern concoction by politicians to curb the power and influence of our city's municipal unions.

The mayor apparently wants Toussaint and the TWU to accept a two-tier pension system. Then he can get all the municipal unions to follow suit and accept a weak new pension tier in their next contracts.

Even then-Mayor Ed Koch, who presided over the 1980 strike, later admitted in his autobiography how worried he was that then-Gov. Hugh Carey and Richard Ravitch, the MTA chairman at the time, would set a pattern in their contract with the TWU that other city workers would want.

But Koch at least had the courage to act like a leader, not a bully. He went to the talks being conducted and urged round-the-clock negotiations.

Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki stay far away from the talks, but behind the scenes they order their messenger, Peter Kalikow, not to give any more ground to Toussaint and the workers.

Tragically, there was no need for this strike. Not with a $1 billion surplus at the MTA. The agency's arrogant managers figured they could keep abusing their workers forever. They figured wrong.

For Casiano and his fellow transit workers, no matter what happens, no matter how much they end up paying in fines, the MTA and the leaders of this city will never treat them the same way again.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Tube Cleaners demand £6.70 an hour

The RMT organised a demonstration outside the headquarters of Transport for London to demand a minimum wage of £6.70 an hour for London Underground cleaners. Below we reproduce an RMT press release.

The RMT Cleaners’ Charter demands an immediate minimum pay rate of £6.70 an hour for cleaners working on London Underground contracts – and the union is urging Mayor Ken Livingstone and TfL to support the demand that no Tube employer should pay less.

“The Mayor quite rightly says that no-one can survive in London on wages less than £6.70 an hour, but there are more than 2,000 cleaners working on London Underground getting far less than that,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

“Research indicates that 90 percent of cleaners working on London Underground are paid less than £5.51 an hour, and that nearly 40 per cent get no more than the rock-bottom minimum wage of £5.05, while their employers are raking in millions. That is disgraceful.

“Contractors like ISS, Blue Diamond and GBM are making fat profits on Tube contracts and they are paying poverty wages to staff who work long, hard hours in difficult conditions.

“The Tube infrastructure companies are making £2 million a week out of their PPP contracts, yet they are happy to sub-contract cleaning work to companies who have raised the shameful art of exploitation to new levels.

“Eight out of ten Tube cleaners get no annual pay rise, half have never had a pay rise, more than 70 per cent are not in a pension scheme, and 60 per cent get no company sick-pay

“The time has come to put an end to these shabby practices, and today we will be handing in a letter to TfL Commissioner Bob Kiley urging him to join us in winning dignity and respect at work for London Underground cleaners.

“That means a £6.70 minimum hourly rate now, an annual pay rise, decent pensions, free Tube travel, proper overtime pay, fair sick pay and at least 20 days’ holiday,” Bob Crow said.

The RMT Cleaners’ Charter
Fair pay and conditions for cleaners on London Underground

Cleaners on the Underground deserve:
A minimum rate of £6.70 per hour, increasing to an eventual £10 per hour
An annual increase in pay
A simple career path
A decent pension
Free travel on the Tube
An additional payment for late night or weekend work
Dignity and respect at work
Clean mess rooms
Regular provision of uniform
20 days basic annual leave plus 8 bank holidays
A fair sick-pay scheme

Key findings of November 2005 Queen Mary, University of London research into low-paid employment In London

The research team interviewed low-paid workers in four sectors of the London economy: contract cleaning on London Underground (81 workers interviewed), hospitality work, home care and the food processing industry. The report was part-funded by the Greater London Authority.

The report found that 90% of the total interviewees were recent migrants.

Specifically in contract cleaning on the Underground they found:
An ethnic profile of 39% from Nigeria, 19% from Ghana, 15% from Eastern Europe
3 main employers ISS, Blue Diamond and GBM as well as 10 smaller employers
37% of workers were paid the National Minimum Wage
90% earned less than £5.51 an hour
83% of workers had no annual pay rise and one in every two had never had a pay rise
60% of cleaners who responded do not receive any more than statutory sick pay
46% of cleaners routinely worked overtime, putting in anything up to 16 hours a week and 86% of cleaners did not receive a higher rate of pay for overtime work
73% lost income if they took time off to attend emergencies
73% claimed they did not receive other benefits from employers such as maternity and paternity leave
71% did not contribute to a company pension scheme
14% of workers took no paid holidays
Some workers were made to pay for their own training before starting the job
Others had to pay a deposit of £130 for a fire safety card
Cleaners also had to pay for their own Travelcards in order to be able to move on the Underground whilst at work and then ask the employer for a reimbursement

One worker stated that he lost four hours worth of wages if he was 30 minutes late. Inadequate facilities were frequently mentioned with one respondent saying “We can’t use the mess room because there are rats in there”, another described their room as “dark and dingy”. One station had no rest room at all and staff had no option but to sit on the train platform to eat their lunch even in the winter months.

Inadequate clothing was another source of discomfort; one said “We haven’t had any new uniforms for two years. In summer we are still wearing thick jumpers in the sweltering heat. They had to give us proper work shoes because so many people were falling over, but no new trousers or t-shirts
Many said that their employers showed no concern for their welfare and typical comments were “they ignore our advice about working conditions” or “they treat us like animals”.

Cleaning Company & Infraco Profits


Global Parent Company ISS Group trading update for the period January – September 2005 measured against the same period in the previous year shows: -

16% increase in revenue to £3bn (converted from Danish Kroner)
20% increase in operating profit to £170.9m (converted from Danish Kroner)
No details are provided in this report for ISS UK, but the First Quarter report (January - March 2005) reveals that ISS UK delivered 14% of Group revenue at £132m (converted from Danish Kroner). Although the figure is not listed, we might assume that ISS UK also provides 14% of the Group’s net profit for the same period, which would be equivalent to over £4m.

ISS Group was bought for over £2bn by Goldman Sachs and EQT Partners earlier this year.

Blue Diamond

“Blue Diamond Services Ltd has won a ‘seven figure’ three-year contract from Metronet Rail to clean its 92 District, East London and Metropolitan Line stations.” Reported in RBI 17th November 2005
November 2004 Times reported that the Company’s turnover was £35m

In the same report it was also claimed that BD staff are paid above the industry average, Chief Executive Harvey Alexander said, “It’s easier to manage a well-paid, well-trained workforce than one that is underpaid and under motivated.”

Reported in The Independent on Sunday in August 2004, Mr Alexander said, “And that’s what our business is about, really – staff. If the workers do a great job, BD is doing a great job – which in turn lead to more contracts. So we want to keep our employees… we want people to be proud of working for BD and wearing its name on their sleeve.” The article claimed that BD pays 20% over the going rate as well as providing comprehensive training and a smart uniform.

GBM Support Services

Interviewed in May 2005, Director of Operations Frank Fitzgerald said, “Our only asset is our people – our operators, supervisors and managers”
GBM has been working towards Investors in People
Latest financial return for the 12mths to 31st December 2004

GBM turnover has increased every year since 1997 including by 4% in 2004 to £28.3m
Pre-tax profit increased by 12.3% to £2m in 2004
Profit margin in 2004 of 7.22%. The profit margin has not dipped below 5.7% since 2000
Post-tax profit increased by 26.7% to £1.5m in 2004
Highest paid director in 2004 received £127,000

Tube Lines

Directors’ Report and Accounts for the year ended 31st March 2005 and reported in The Times 18th August 2005:

45% increase in turnover to £864m
37% increase in profit before taxation to £57m
18% increase in the remuneration package for Chief Executive Terry Morgan to £534,000
During the year Tube Lines shareholders also received a payment of £27.5m after refinancing its £1.8bn debt facilities.

Early Day Motion tabled in the House of Commons
Living Wage for London Underground Cleaners

That this House believes the 2012 Olympic Games should allow London to demonstrate it is a city for social justice; is therefore concerned at the recent Queen Mary, University of London report which found that cleaners working on London Underground exist on poverty wages, do not receive annual pay rises, and are often required to pay for their own training; condemns cleaning sub contractors such as ISS and Blue Diamond for employing staff on such shameful conditions; and supports the RMT campaign for social justice for London Underground cleaners which includes a minimum rate of £6.70 an hour.