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North Carolina

Workers tell UNC: Down with Censorship, Up with Collective Bargaining

by Kosta Harlan |
September 16, 2007
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Man talking in bullhorn.
Research Technician and UE 150 member Manzoor Cheema at the press conference condemning UNC's censorship of information on collective bargaining. (Fight Back! News)
Students on front a banner.
Members of Students for a Democratic Society and Student Action with Workers chanted "Down with censorship, Up with collective bargaining!", held signs and spoke in solidarity with UE 150 and the campus and city workers of Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill, NC - Campus and city workers, union organizers and students held a press conference at the university here, Sept. 13, to denounce University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill administration’s censorship of an article on collective bargaining. In June, an article that described the growing statewide movement for collective bargaining rights was cut from the University Gazette, an official publication distributed to all UNC workers. The North Carolina Public Sector Workers Union, UE Local 150, organized the press conference to demand the article be published.

Manzoor Cheema, a research technician at UNC and UE 150 member, said, “We need to put the pressure on Chancellor Moeser and the UNC Board of Governors. This censored article needs to be published immediately. Collective bargaining is a basic workers’ and human right and North Carolina is violating that right.”

UE 150, along with members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Student Action with Workers, demanded that UNC publish the censored article, issue a formal apology, and adopt a policy of non-interference in union organizing on campus. SDS member Tamara Tal said, “We call on students to join in this struggle against the blatant denial of workers’ rights. These workers drive our buses, clean our dorms and feed us everyday. This university works because they do. We as students need to support the workers in their internationally undisputed right to collective bargaining.”

North Carolina and Virginia are the only states in the U.S. that have laws denying public sector workers the right to collectively bargain with their employers. The North Carolina law, General Statute 95-98, was passed in the 1950s and is a holdover from the racist Jim Crow era. It was designed to hold down the growing trade union movement among African American workers, at a time when over half the public sector workers in the state were Black. Earlier this year the International Labor Organization found North Carolina in violation of international law because of the statute.

Ashaki Binta, coordinator for UE’s International Worker Justice Campaign, explained at the press conference, “We have a bill pending, House Bill 1583, to repeal this statute. We call on UNC to support that and to sit down across the table with workers in Chapel Hill to negotiate on the basic issues affecting their lives.”

The North Carolina legislature will take up the bill to repeal G.S. 95-98 in the summer of 2008. UE 150, along with the North Carolina NAACP and many other progressive organizations, is leading a major state-wide campaign to raise public support and put pressure on the politicians to repeal the statute.

Cheema explained, “We know what it’s going to take. We need a grassroots movement to empower rank-and-file workers and build community support to abolish General Statute 95-98.”

He continued, “Here at UNC, outreach to students can help shift the balance of power in our favor. Students should understand the pain and troubles of workers. UNC is a good school and they have many classes on labor rights and poverty issues - but students need to go beyond textbooks and see the reality for workers on this campus.”

In the coming weeks, UE 150 will continue to build up momentum by holding a town hall meeting to address the issue of collective bargaining in North Carolina and the struggle to repeal G.S. 95-98.