Two Springfield Labor Rallies Set for Feb. 26

Sodexo food service workers are asking the public to attend a rally for justice on February 26 at 1 p.m. at 1295 State Street in Springfield. The workers plan to speak at the rally about "poverty wage jobs at multi-national corporation Sodexo," said Sodexo worker Noemi Nunez.

Sodexo provides food service, janitorial, and laundry services. It has about 120,000 employees in North America. Sodexo's 2009 profits were up 8 percent from the year before to more than $1 billion.

Photo: Springfield Janitors Fight for Justice

Janitors in Springfield and community supporters on February 18 visited management at the MassMutual Center to ask the company to recognize the janitors' union. Managers refused to meet with the workers, but accepted a letter. The company has not yet responded to the workers' request.

"We will continue the fight until we get justice," said Jesse Martin of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615.

Springfield Janitors' Rally Is Feb. 18

Janitors in Springfield are asking the public to attend a rally for justice on February 18 at 2:30 p.m. at the corner of Main and Court streets in Springfield. The rally had been planned for February 16 but was postponed due to a snow storm. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615 – the Justice for Janitors campaign – has organized a majority of the employees of Global Spectrum Corporation at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The MassMutual Center is owned by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

Springfield Grocery Workers' Protest Is Feb. 1

Thousands of grocery workers throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut -- members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local Unions 1445, 328, 371, 1459, and 919 -- are bargaining with their employer, Stop & Shop, for a fair contract. Their current contract expires on February 20.

“Stop & Shop is taking an adversarial and confrontational position by placing advertisements in local newspapers, announcing that they are hiring temporary replacement workers,” said Rick Brown of UFCW Local 1459 in Springfield.

Talking With Local Homeless People

I met Steve Cuoco last May as he sat on the sidewalk outside Thorne’s Marketplace, eating out of a Chef Boyardee can. His sign that read “homeless vet” leaned against a coffee cup full of coins, imploring people to part with any spare change floating around their pockets. He suspected many ignore him because “they think I’m just a derelict trying to get crack money.”

Springfield Hospital Fires Union Activists

A Springfield hospital fired two nurses last month because they supported an effort to form a union at the hospital, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA). The nurses had both worked for Baystate Medical Center for many years. “We have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board,” said MNA spokesman David Schildmeier. If the NLRB rules in favor of the union, the hospital will be required to re-hire the nurses and pay them the wages they would have received if they had not been fired.

Chicopee School Bus Drivers Win Raises With Union

School bus drivers in Chicopee, Massachusetts, approved a union contract last month that will bring their wages to more than $24 an hour by the end of the five-year agreement. Chicopee is a suburb of Springfield. “Considering the current economy, this was a major victory,” said Dan Clifford, secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 1459, the drivers’ union.

Northampton Living Wage Vote Is Dec. 3

On December 3, the Northampton city council will vote on a living wage proposal. At its November 19 meeting, the council in a unanimous vote gave preliminary approval to the non-binding resolution. If it passes, the measure will set $11.90 an hour as the minimum wage necessary to support a full-time worker. The wage will be adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation.

A Variety of Ways to Help the Homeless, and to End Homelessness

If you or anyone you know is homeless or hungry, call Bennie Johnson. He will house, clothe and feed anyone who shows up at his modest apartment. “Thirty Gatehouse Road, Apartment 308, Amherst, Massachusetts. Come by anytime,” he told me during our first encounter.

Many nights, one or two people stay with him, other times more.

“I’ve had this place full,” he said.

Bennie also cooks huge dinners on a regular basis. On a recent Wednesday, he prepared Southern fried chicken, fish, omelets, and finger foods for about 30 people.

A Local Healthcare Story

Sherry Fortin sat leaning against a mailbox outside Pinocchio’s in downtown Northampton, knitting a winter hat. On the sidewalk lay her finished products: several hats and scarves, which cost $20, mittens, which cost $15, and bracelets, a bargain at only $1.

A colorful sign advertised her wares: “I have diabetes and need medication. $1 donation for a bracelet. I can knit anything you want, and will take orders.”