'Not one step backward Never give up!'
Local 404 members employed by National Van Equipment Co., in Long Island
City, Queens, returned to work on Jan. 19 after a 18-day strike for health care insurance
and dignity on the job. These union members, all of whom are immigrants, walked back
together wearing UE t-shirts bearing a Spanish motto that translates "not one step
backward, never give up!"
National Van workers began negotiations on Dec. 2, 1998 looking for a
decent wage increase and health insurance in their third UE contract. The company owner
demanded mandatory overtime on holidays and burdensome contract language on work stoppages
and was uninterested in health insurance.
On Jan. 2, union members voted unanimously to strike.
From the beginning, the company used New Yorks restrictions on
picketing to its advantage. Workers were restricted to a bullpen away from the plant
entrance. After the first week, when not one person crossed the non-picket line, the
company insisted that the strikers be moved farther away to the other side of the
broad, four-lane street. Still, strikers yelled out to trucks and scabs.
NO SHELTER LOTS OF SUPPORT
Police would not allow strikers chairs, umbrellas or tents, despite the
severe storms of early January. There could be no placards draped on cars or the
barricade, no card-playing and no barbecue.
An advertisement placed in New Yorks widest-circulation Spanish
newspaper, el diario an ad which failed to mention that a labor dispute was
underway produced job applicants during the second week of the strike. When the
union complained about this disservice to the community, el dario sent out a
reporter and photographer and put the National Van strike on the front page of its
A Jobs with Justice delegation came to the plant on Jan. 15 and attempted
to present the owner with a letter urging a fair settlement signed by 15 New York
political, religious and community leaders. The owner refused to accept the letter, and
called the police.
Negotiations resumed on the morning of Jan. 18; in four hours the two
sides reached a tentative agreement and a strike settlement that removes all
strikebreaking "replacement" workers and returns all strikers to their jobs.
The new contract introduces a $800 medical reimbursement program the first
year; $200 to be paid immediately and the remaining $600 to be paid as medical expenses
occur or on a monthly basis for the remainder of the calendar year. In the second year,
the contract calls for a $900 medical reimbursement to be paid in equal monthly
installments. A medical and drug plan is introduced in the third year, with a $15
co-payment and company contributions of up to $175 a month. The companys
contribution goes up to $180 per month in the fourth year.
The company agrees to maintain the same level of contribution if a less
expensive plan is agreed to by the parties.
The agreement adds a new paid holiday and raises wages by a total of 35
cents an hour.
Serving on the negotiating committee were Ariel Medina, Maribel
Fuentes, Ana Acosta and Esteban Ramirez. They were assisted by UE Field Org. Cris
Costello. UE General Counsel Polly Halfkenny assisted in discussions with the
New York Police Dept.