Bosses plan to try and use scabs... Electrical workers strike in Hawaii

One of the few things that the bullies who currently run things fear is the word "Strike!" and even more than that, the reality of a strike of workers who have been pushed around for too long. Whether it is the players of the National Football League (whose Green Bay Packers recently supported the Madison Wisconsin protests against the fascist policies of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker) or Chicago teachers (who set an example for striking from the late 1960s through the late 1980s, until the union leadership declared "peace" with the bosses and slowly sold out every right the teachers had won over more than a quarter century), striking and labor unity and militancy are the last thing bosses want.

Above, a classic Chicago Teachers Union sticker used during the strikes of the 1970s and 1980s when Chicago teachers won most of their contractual gains through striking and militancy. Scabs were encouraged during every strike by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago's corporate leaders, and the Chicago Board of Education, but with each passing strike the number of scabs decreased (from more than 30 percent in the early 1970s at many schools to fewer than five percent by the time of the 19-day strike in 1987). During the 1960s and 1970s, Chicago teachers did not have collective bargaining rights and went on strike four times anyway — in 1969, 1971, 1973, and 1975. There was also a strike led by FTBs (full time basis substitute teachers) in 1968, directed mainly against racism in Chicago's method of certifying teachers, which excluded the majority of black teachers from ever getting fully certified and tenured, under the claim that Chicago had to maintain "standards" and hold teachers "accountable." So, beginning today Substance will try and cover strikes across the USA (and at some points, elsewhere as well) to remind our readers that striking is often the only power workers have, and that winning our rights will require more than eloquence and talking points. There are many things to note in the following article, but here are three. One, the strike was precipitated by the refusal of the CEO of the electric company to meet with union negotiators. Sound like a familiar example of CEO arrogance? Second, the company is demanding givebacks from the workers. Third, the company is planning to try and operate with scabs (of late called "replacement workers" in the jargon of the New Age).

Lately, as historical amnesia has set in, some people (even some union leaders) have expressed the opinion that non-union workers who take away union work from union workers are not scabs — just friends who needed jobs. In Chicago, the majority of scabs today are charter school teachers working in non-union charter schools whose students were recruited from union public schools, often by devious and dishonest means.

Here is a current example, from Hawaii:

HECO workers strike on Oahu, Big Isle and Maui County, By Star-Advertiser staff, Honolulu Star Advertiser, POSTED: 03:11 p.m. HST, Mar 04, 2011

A strike today by the union that represents the majority of Hawaiian Electric Co.'s workforce will slow efforts to restore power to about 8,000 customers still without electricity on Oahu, the company said.

IBEW Local 1260 members walked off the job on Oahu, the Big Island and in Maui County at about 3:30 p.m. after contract talks reached a stalemate.

The strike comes as the utility is working to restore power to homes and businesses on Oahu as a result of a severe storm.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie released a statement tonight encouraging both sides to keep talking.

"I have spoken with leaders of Hawaiian Electric Co. and the union. My thought is that they can set aside their respective positions during this emergency situation until the public's safety is taken care of," the governor said. "The most important thing right now is restoring electric services for residents and ensuring their health and security then resume negotiations."

When asked what effect the strike will have on the effort to restore power, HECO senior vice president Robbie Alm said, "It's going to be slow."

Alm spoke at a 5 p.m. news conference. He said the company and union held talks today on a new contract. When the talks ended, the union walked off the job, Alm said. He added that there is no schedule to return to the table, but the company is ready to do so at any time.

Stanford Ito, IBEW strike captain, said workers did not plan to go on strike on such a busy day for the company and its workers. He said the strike came today because HECO president and CEO Richard Rosenblum would not meet with their negotiating team.

"It's just circumstance. It wasn't like a strategic plan to say 'yeah, we're going to strike now because the power lines are down.'

"It's because (Rosenblum) doesn't want to negotiate. If he cared about this contract and us not walking out, he would be here but they said he was off-island," said Ito, a HECO substation technician.

About two dozen union workers hit the picket lines about 4:30 p.m. at the HECO facility between Archer Lane and Ward Avenue in Kakaako.

Jason Sampang, a cable splicer, was among those walking the picket line fronting One Archer Lane, one of the entrances to HECO's Ward Avenue baseyard.

He said picketers were to be at the downtown HECO headquarters, all three power plants on Oahu — Honolulu, Kahe, and Waiau — and all three baseyards at Ward, Koolau, and Waiau, 24 hours a day.

"We're only asking them to be fair," Sampang said. "They don't even want to meet with us."

"I hope it don't last long," he continued. "I hope we end this in good faith, peacefully and quickly.

"Nobody wants to go on strike. We love our jobs. We just got to stick together," he said.

Police were on hand to help direct traffic.

HECO said as part of its planning it has trained nonunion employees to "step in and operate our electric systems to provide our customers with the safe, reliable electric service they expect and deserve."

"We are disappointed that the union has chosen to take this action, especially since there are still thousands of customers without power following the severe weather that hit overnight," HECO officials said in a news release.

"We have been working to arrive at an agreement that balances the interests of our employees and our customers, and are willing to continue to negotiate," HECO said.

Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were at the union's Honolulu headquarters this afternoon picking up signs to take to the picket line. The white signs had black lettering with the name of the union and its logo.

The IBEW represents about 1,280 workers — roughly 54 percent of the company's employees — at HECO on Oahu, at Maui Electric Co., and at Hawaii Electric Light Co. on the Big Island. Those workers perform a range of jobs, including power plant operations, line work, meter reading and customer service.

Jason Cosma, who works on utility poles for HECO on Oahu, said he was scheduled to work until midnight but walked off the job in support of the union. He said he was fighting to preserve benefits such as sick leave and retirement that the company wants to take away.

"We're not asking for more money. It's just respecting what we had," he said. He said striking was the last resort after talks were unproductive since the contract ended in October.

"It's the last thing we all wanted," he said. "We tried for a long time to avoid this."

Kauai is not affected by the strike because the electricity service there is provided by the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

Maui County officials said that they had "taken every precaution to prepare for the potential of a MECO strike."

Keith Regan, the county's managing director, has instructed all departments to test their generators and to have all fuel tanks topped off and ready for operation in the unlikely event of a disruption in service, according to a county statement.

"We hope that both sides can resolve their differences quickly," said Mayor Alan Arakawa. "In the meantime, the county will take all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our citizens."

Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator Quince Mento said Hawaii Electric Light Co. has informed the county that it has more than 100 management personnel to take over operations for striking workers.

"They will do their best to take care of operations," Mento said.

The county's emergency first responders, including police, fire and civil defense, are equipped with back-up generators.

The county's Department of Water Supply is also equipped with back-up power for its pumps in case of an emergency. Also most local radio stations also have back-up generators, Mento said.

Fortunately, the Big Island's weather forecast is not as bad as Oahu's, Mento said.


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