Our E tū delegates Mele Peaua and Nirmala Devi have taken a message of global solidarity to delegates at two key events in the United States this year.
“Inspiring!” is how Nirmala, a delegate at LSG Sky Chefs in Auckland, describes her trip in August to Dallas, where she joined striking LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet airline workers who are fighting for a union contract with healthcare and a living wage.
Nirmala spent time with the picketers and spoke to other delegates from across the US.
“I was so impressed, I gained a lot of experience, especially on the picket line. What they want, they stood up for,” she says. The workers earn less than $14 an hour. “Such low rates!” she says.
Speaking to about 200 delegates, who met in support of the workers, Nirmala shared E tū’s story of our successful court case against LSG Sky Chefs, which forced the company to abandon its long-term use of labour hire workers, who earned less than their permanently employed work mates.
“That was fantastic,” Nirmala says. “There was a lot of interest in that case, because they’re all in the same boat. We all have the same common issues, so the question is, how can we build strength in our industries?”
Hutt Valley cleaning delegate Mele Peaua also shared her story of member activism with delegates at UNI Global’s conference in Chicago in October, marking 20 years of its Property Services sector, which covers cleaners and security guards.
Mele received a standing ovation for her speech that focussed on the E tū contract cleaners’ fight for the Living Wage and Fair Pay Agreements, to help workers in industries like cleaning where contracting drives down wages and often means cuts in hours for workers.
“At the end of the day, the cleaners are the ones where they are chopping, chopping, chopping,” she says. Mele also spoke about the impact of her and her husband’s long working hours to make ends meet and the effect on their family life.
“I said, we work all those long hours. I come in, he goes out. I never see him. We’ve missed time with our kids and I said at conference, I regret that because I was never there for them.”
Mele and Nirmala also learned how bad it can get for other workers globally. Mele spent time with delegates from Africa where workers earn as little as $200 a month.
Both women agree building strength in their industries is critical to winning better pay and conditions, and for Mele, Fair Pay Agreements to alleviate the cleaning industry’s low pay rates.
“We have to really stand up for ourselves,” Nirmala says, “and be strong and confident, and then we can all get there. I was really impressed by what they’re doing there in Dallas.” Echoing the chants and placards of the Dallas workers, she says “one job should be enough!”