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Chicago Couriers Union takes action downtown, Part 1

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007 - At 11am, the Chicago Couriers Union (IWW, IU540) rolled up to 135 South LaSalle Street (between Monroe and Adams) with, signs, fliers, and union flags for a spirited 3-hour informational picket against the security policies of the building, which is managed by Jones Lang LaSalle. Last fall, union members had written letters and had over 100 bike messengers sign a petition, in hopes of having the policy changed and to have a messenger center installed, only to be given the run-around by building management.

In this and many other buildings downtown, messengers must endure humiliating and time-consuming security procedures to simply do their jobs: entering through a loading dock, leaving their bags (as if they're criminals), and waiting for a freight elevator (rather than just taking passenger elevators through the lobby), and often taking abuse from security guards. Forcing messengers into this mess can take 15-20 minutes, costs customers money, costs messengers money, results in a loss of productivity across the industry, and is just plain Not Cool with most bikers working downtown, who are paid on commission per delivery.

Two messengers held the picket for its duration, and several fellow messengers, plus a member of the local IWW General Membership Branch, spent time holding signs and handing out fliers to fellow workers, employees in the building, and other passersby. The picket covered the front and back entrances, plus both entrances of the alley leading into the loading dock. Hundreds of fliers were distributed, containing information about the grievance.

Many fellow messengers who had deliveries in the building were given fliers and had a very supportive and appreciative response to the union action. There was also strong support from workers inside the building, many of whom have been or will be laid off from LaSalle Bank as a result of their buyout.

"What did they do this time?" quipped one disgruntled LaSalle Bank worker. Another worker, having been laid off last October, said of the picket, "I'm not surprised!"

During the action, union members were photographed and harassed by building security. A mysterious man snapped some photos without speaking to the picketers, and a representative of LaSalle Bank called the police, claiming that the picket was blocking the front entrance, despite the fact that messengers were standing on the opposite side of the sidewalk. (The police car rolled up…and kept going.)

Greg Prather, the person in charge of the security policy, emerged briefly to listen to a CCU member. He repeated the same lines from last fall about how he was working on improving the situation and promised action. But the CCU knows that bosses don't take action on their own, which is why the union escalated their tactics: from letters to petitions to a picket.

The CCU, like any union, succeeds and fails in proportion to the commitment of its participants. Despite the strong support from many messengers, there remain many messengers who are either apathetic or hostile to the union. The big challenge now is for active unionists to stick to their guns and attract membership through listening and responding to messengers' grievances, giving everyone a voice in the union, and other acts of solidarity within the messenger community.

The CCU plans further action at the building, in addition to other campaigns and projects. Stay tuned!