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National Van
Strike Settled


At National Van ...
'Not one step backward — Never give up!'
'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 York’s 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.


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 York’s 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 metropolitan edition!

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 company’s 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.

UE News - 01/99

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