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Bucking trend, garment workers win union victory

While union membership is at historically low levels, with organizing campaigns mired in an increasingly hostile legal terrain, workers at a Northwest Side garment plant won union representation in a swift victory last week.

One factor was the support of a local group that helped pioneer the worker center movement, which utiliizes community organizing strategies to assist low-income and immigrant workers with workplace issues.

Workers at Artistic Stitches Inc., joined by leaders from Arise Chicago, will discuss the significance of their victory at a media event Thursday, January 31 at 12:45 p.m. outside their plant at 2639 W. Grand.

The mainly Latino packers and machine operators voted last week to join Workers United, a union with roots in historical garment and textile industry unions that’s affiliated with SEIU.

Stitches workers contacted Arise after they staged a spontaneous walkout to protest working on Thanksgiving without holiday pay, said organizer Jorge Mujica.  He explained their protections from retaliatory firings under labor law.

But when they started discussing their problems in the workplace,”there were so many different issues that we could never solve them one by one,” Mujica said. “It would take months, years.”  He told them, “You guys need a union.”

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Chicago finance company tied to wage theft

Progress Illinois reports on support from local unions — including Republic Windows workers — for employees laid off at a Pennsylvania hospital who travelled to Chicago last week.

Like Republic workers, employees of Commonwealth Medical Center are claiming they didn’t get the advance warning of a workplace shutdown required by law.  But Commonwealth workers didn’t even get their final paycheck.  They’re still owed for their last three weeks of work.

Insult was added to injury when a bankruptcy judge approved continuing payment of hospital executives for “close-out operations.”

The workers’ union, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, blames Chicago-based Bridge Financial Group, the hospital’s chief creditor, for “concocting” the payment plan, the Beaver County Times reported.

Joined by local SEIU members and Republic workers, Commonwealth employees rallied Friday outside the Sears Tower, where Bridge has its offices.

A union representative and several workers were denied entry to Bridge’s offices, and company officials turned down requests for a meeting, according to the Times.

“We don’t think that bankruptcy should be used as an excuse not to pay employees for work they’ve already performed,” a union official told WPXI of Pittsburgh.

Former Chicago activist Carl Davidson, who has relocated to western Pennsylvania (where he grew up), calls it what it is: “wage theft.”

Union Offers Candidate Trainings

On issues like affordable housing and a living wage, the Chicago City Council has shown a growing independence from mayoral influence – and with federal prosecutions shaking a citywide patronage network which had supplanted ward organizations, that trend could grow. That could boost the significance of next year’s municipal elections.

One early sign: interest is high in free grassroots training sessions for potential aldermanic candidates being held by the Illinois Council of the Service Employees International Union, said executive director Jerry Morrison.

“We want to encourage the broadest possible participation” in the city election coming up in February 2007, Morrison said, noting that voter and candidate participation has dropped steadily in recent elections.

The union has reached out to community groups and Local School Council members as well as incumbent elected officials, and expects each session to be full, he said

“There will be people with all kinds of agendas” at the trainings, Morrison said. “There will probably be incumbents and challengers in the same sessions. It should be interesting.”

The day-long trainings cover campaign planning, fundraising, and communications. They take place Saturday, July 15 at Olive Harvey College, 10001 S. Woodlawn; Saturday, July 22 at Wilbur Wright College, 4300 N. Narragansett; and Saturday, July 29 at UNITE HERE, 333 S. Ashland.

There is no registration fee but pre-registration is required. Registration information is at 312-850-1706.

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