CLEVELAND - Three weeks into a hard-fought strike, hundreds of Red Cross workers rallied at the agency's headquarters here March 7 to show their determination to win and reject attempts to break their unity.
The 250 members of Teamsters Local 507, who collect blood and run mobile units in 19 northern Ohio counties, walked out Feb. 14 after nine months of futile negotiations. Union officials and strikers said they were forced to strike because of the agency's demand for a much inferior health insurance plan and its refusal to address staffing problems that endanger donor safety and the integrity of the blood supply.
This stance has caused strikes in 14 other Red Cross regions in the past year, Al Mixon, the local's principal officer, said.
This includes a three-week strike by the Health Professional and Allied Employees in the Penn-Jersey region. Renee Conyers, co-president of that local, voiced her solidarity with the fight here as she brought a $2,000 contribution and urged the strikers to "stay strong and stay long." She called the agency's health care proposal "a bunch of crap."
Other strikes over the same issues are now looming at Red Cross regions centered in Toledo, Detroit and Lansing, Mich. Aside from the Teamsters, Auto Workers, Service Employees, Office and Professional Workers and Food and Commercial Workers unions represent employees at these locations.
To counter agency rumors and threats to terminate workers who don't cross the picket line for scheduled training sessions, the local held a vote March 2 on whether to continue the strike. In a secret ballot the workers voted 185 to 5 to stay out.
"We became more of a family because of that vote," Mixon said.
"We started this together and we will end it together," said Safeyyah Edwards, a blood collection specialist with 10 years service.
She said the agency's health plan forces pregnant workers to pay a $1,500 deductible for childbirth plus 20% co-pay for all bills. "We cannot afford that," she said to loud cheers.
"Enough is enough," she said. "We are fighting for donor safety, respect from supervisors and more staffing."
Gary Tiboni, president of Teamsters Joint Council 41, said the 25 locals in the council "will do everything possible financially to help you stay out until we win this thing."
Mixon said family services are available to the workers, who receive a minimal strike pay and face hardships due to cut off medical coverage.
Representatives of other unions and community groups also voiced their support for the strikers. They included Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, Debbie Kline, director of Cleveland Jobs With Justice, Frank Hornick of the Service Employees, and Curt Hess of the Communications Workers.
"When one union is down, all unions are down," said William Nix, a former Teamster and current president of the Amalgamated Transit Union. "I'm here because one day we'll need you."
"We are making an impact," Mixon said, as the strikers prepared to march around the Red Cross headquarters. "Red Cross is a billion-dollar corporation. They are trying to separate us but nothing is equal to the power of the people. We have strength in numbers. We are fighting for our families and we are going to win!"
Donations to support the strikers can be sent to Teamsters Local 507, 5425 Warner Rd., Suite #7, Cleveland OH 44125. Be sure to mention the contribution is for the Red Cross strike. Information on the strike is also available at the Teamsters Local 507 Facebook page.
Retired Teamster Rick Vacha has made and collected a number of dramatic videos of the strike including a rally with Congressman Dennis Kucinich which can be seen at YouTube.
Photo: Al Mixon, leader of Teamsters Local 507, at the Red Cross strike rally. Rick Nagin/PW