Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Vote on Union

By Arbaz M Khan - Industrial Worker, July 14, 2021

Update: According to OVEC, a majority of workers voted to certify the union!

Recently, the fight for a union at Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition shifted gears from collective direct action to the ballot box, as workers voted on whether or not to certify their union, which is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World. Following almost five months of demanding that management voluntarily recognize their union — which included a one-day strike on Earth Day, April 22 — workers at the nonprofit organization finished casting votes in a union election managed by the National Labor Relations Board on July 9. 

Workers at OVEC publicly announced their intention to unionize in March. Besides voluntary recognition from management, their demands included a standardized pay scale, equitable discipline policy and the right to union representation at any meeting where matters affecting pay, hours, benefits, advancement or layoffs are discussed. Voluntary recognition would entail management agreeing to negotiate with the union, but OVEC’s board of directors have thus far withheld it — instead suspending, then terminating, OVEC’s former director of organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, allegedly for his involvement in the union. 

“I was fired less than two weeks after my third child was born — and management knew,” says Muckian-Bates. “I don’t think they cared about how their actions affected me or my family. I sent management a picture of my son and demanded some humanity from them — anything at all — but they refused and haven’t been in contact with me since.”

OVEC workers’ Earth Day strike was spurred in part by Muckian-Bates’ dismissal. Despite the reprisal from management, he remains a staunch supporter of the union and looks forward to the election results.

“My commitment to the OVEC Union has not waned,” he says. “I’ve been inspired by the work that my fellow workers do everyday and how they’ve stuck it out despite the retaliations. They’re truly some of the best organizers I’ve met, and it’s a level of commitment you don’t often come across.”

“Management could have recognized the union in March, kept on their current staff levels, and we could have already begun negotiating some of the necessary changes we think are needed to keep OVEC going,” he continues. “But we know that we’ll win the election, and we want management to be ready to negotiate with us fairly and in good faith once that’s done.”

It’s the hottest week in Portland history and the boss still won’t fix the AC

By CF Ivanovic - (In)Action (Substack), June 24, 2021

The following account, by an IWW member, illustrates just how much climate and the environment are significant workplace issues, and how they will become increasingly relevant to point-of-production, workplace organizing:

An extreme heat wave is sweeping the Northwest right now. Some weather forecasts predict we will see the hottest day in Portland history this weekend with temperatures hitting 110 degrees Fahrenheit. And the climate doomer in all of us is collectively sharing, “hottest day in Portland history, so far.” Yea it fucking sucks. With even more neighbors out on the street, even with a small safety net of the city setting up a few “cooling shelters” for the unhoused, people in all likelihood are going to die.

For those in houses and apartments, most of which without AC, we will deem it too hot to cook, which for restaurant workers it means expect an all day dinner rush baby. Hunched over that pipping hot flat top, AC busted, but thank god the boss was kind enough to plug in a box fan pointed at your feet—or if you’re lucky he’ll let you prop it up on a chair so it’s aimed at your back. Same legal minimum break times being squeezed as short as possible. Hell, maybe your boss is woke and reminded you to drink water. Don’t worry if you’re getting woozy there’s a 33.3% chance you pass out on the sandwich wrapping line instead of the grill or fryer. 

Again, I’m filled with righteous anger. A little voice in the back of my head that wants to shout to my co-workers, “we don’t have to fucking do this.” And how can we? Then I remember it’s the 23rd and rent is due in a week, and I remember there’s an infinite number of excuses and legitimate fears we place in front of us. And that my righteous anger has worked to dissuade those fears in my co-workers about as well as firing a squirt gun at the sun. 

“I want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how we came together and fought back against the Hooters corporation. But right now I’m hot, agitated, and in no way feeling sentimental. Here I want to share a story about some of the stuff that we tried that didn’t work when things first started heating up.”

When I started working at Little Big Burger in 2017 it was a super hot summer[1]. A friend of mine got me the job when they were hiring at the start of the summer and I figured getting minimum wage+tips was better than 10 cents above minimum wage operating rides at an amusement park. It was my first restaurant job. Somehow it felt more dangerous working on that narrow line with a clogged grease trap and no slip mats than operating a 40+ year old spinning metal puke machine. It was barely a month in when my friend told me, “hey there’s a union at this other burger joint in town, we flip burgers, why can’t we have that here?” Perhaps not the most “by the books” organizing conversation, as he showed me the Burgerville Workers Union facebook page, but he was my friend. Nuff said for me. Shit needed to change, and we couldn’t do it alone. We reached out to the union and started trying to talk to our co-workers. 

Our union would go on to win a number of amazing changes. Safety concerns, like a non-slip map, a replacement AC system, managers required to go up on the roof to unclog the vent, getting managers to stop calling the cops on homeless people. And, bread and butter policy changes, like schedules that come out two weeks in advance (instead of 1-2 Days in advance) and getting paid sick leave instead of being forced to work sick or fear getting fired. All of this we won by sticking up for each other, building trust over time, co-writing petitions, and regular ass restaurant workers standing together and marching on our corporate bosses. I want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how we came together and fought back against the Hooters corporation[2]. But right now I’m hot, agitated, and in no way feeling sentimental. Here I want to share a story about some of the stuff that we tried that didn’t work when things first started heating up.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Stand Firm Despite Management Offensive

By staff - IWW, June 14, 2021

HUNTINGTON, WV — While public concern for urgent action on the environment remains high, one of West Virginia’s most prestigious environmental organizations, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), is poised to miss crucial organizing opportunities this summer as it enters into the fourth month of a brutal dispute over their employee’s right to unionize.

In March 2021, workers of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition organized with majority support as the OVEC Union (OVECU) under the IWW, requesting voluntary recognition.

Despite majority support among the members of OVEC’s Board of Directors for a positive and good faith engagement with staff, the organization has chosen to fight tooth and nail. With Mike Sullivan at the helm of the Board, and Tonya Adkins & Vivian Stockman in Co-Direction, OVEC has chosen to effectively whittle down its capacity to organize as it suspends, fires, and threatens its staff into submission.

Upon learning of the union drive, OVEC management immediately launched an internal hunt for instigators, placing their Director of Organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, on suspension. While the organization claimed that Brendan was a supervisor and consequently not entitled to participate in union activity, OVEC was unable to convince the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which ruled that Brendan was to be included in the bargaining unit at a formal hearing earlier this month.

Upon learning of their loss at the NLRB, OVEC management opted to double down by terminating their Director of Organizing as well as their Project Coordinator, Dustin White. While Brendan’s suspension and termination is bad enough — arriving as it does mere days following the birth of a new child — Dustin’s termination is especially egregious given his unimpeachable credentials in the environmental movement.

Heralding from 11 generations of working class ancestry in the so called “coal fields” of Southern West Virginia, and family ties to the UMWA including a great grandfather who fought at Blair Mountain, Dustin became involved in the environmental movement as a volunteer with OVEC around 2007 before joining the staff in 2012. Dustin has lobbied on both the state and federal levels on numerous issues leading to important legal changes. Recognized with an award by OVEC, Dustin has testified before Congress, conducted ground tours with Congressional representatives, held numerous meetings with state and federal agencies, and worked with the United Nations and Human Rights Watch for reports on the conditions in Appalachia. Having been featured in media locally, nationally, and internationally, including a recent feature in a National Geographic series, just prior to his termination Dustin conducted two tours with German Public Broadcasting and independent filmmakers.

In a move that demonstrates tremendous integrity and honor, non profit organizations working on environmental issues, such as the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action have moved to suspend their partnerships with OVEC, sending a comradely but firm signal that the organization will be welcome back into the fold when it returns to good standing with their employees.

An NLRB election is presently taking place and votes will be counted on July 9.

The IWW stands ready to reduce tensions, and negotiate a lasting agreement with OVEC that will enable them to return to their important work.

Suds and Socialism Forum: Workers and the Environment

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition’s Earth Day Strike

By Cal Colgan - Industrial Worker, May 4, 2021

The nonprofit industry in the U.S. has seen an upswing of organizing drives in the past few years, with a growing number of the industry’s workers viewing unionization as the best way to ensure that the NGOs for which they work live up to their progressive ideals. Few of the mainstream labor unions that are leading this organizing wave, however, have bothered to reach out to nonprofit workers in West Virginia. The staff at a small environmental justice nonprofit are hoping that their example of organizing with the Industrial Workers of the World can inspire other nonprofit workers in the Mountain State. 

Workers at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) staged a one-day strike this past Earth Day, April 22, to demand that their Board of Directors voluntarily recognize their union, known as the OVEC Union. The staff publicly announced their decision to organize with the IWW on March 4. The workers said the backlash they have received from some of OVEC’s board members is what sparked them to strike. 

Dustin White, OVEC’s Project Coordinator, said that the workers’ decision to unionize started as a series of conversations between the workers about the organization’s future.

“We knew that in a few years we may be expanding our staff and we would have a new executive director and, honoring the values we have as an organization, a union seemed like the logical next step in the progress of our organization and work,” he said.

White also noted that West Virginians’ experience with federal and state governments’ attacks on progressive values inspired the OVEC workers to reflect on issues around equity and diversity within their organization.  “A union was the logical next step into creating a stronger OVEC to create an even more equitable workplace than we already had, not just for us, but for any and all new staff.”

The OVEC Union workers said they chose to organize with the West Virginia IWW General Membership Branch both because of the union’s willingness to help them immediately and because of the IWW’s history of organizing some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged workers in the working class.

Bristol Earth Strike: Action for Earth Day

By Earth Strike UK - Bristol Earth Strike, April 21, 2021

What is Earth Day?

Earth Day was started on 22nd April 1970 and has continued annually since then. Each year, on 22nd April, a wide range of events take place globally with the aims of enacting transformative changes to tackle environmental crises and build a sustainable future.

Why is this important?

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned us that we must cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, and reach carbon neutrality by 2050, or we risk the planet heating beyond 1.5 degrees. If we fail to curb our carbon emissions and the average global temperature continues to increase, we risk triggering a climate breakdown that we will have no hope of stopping, causing global devastation.

Despite this stark warning by the scientific community, many governments and employers continue to act as if there were no crisis at all.

To bring about the change needed will require holding all sectors of the global economy accountable for their role in the environmental crisis and calling for bold, creative, and impactful solutions. This will require action at all levels, and we as workers have a part to play in ensuring a global just transition, the sustainability of our workplaces, and the compliance of our industries with scientific climate targets.

Regardless of how important you feel the Climate and Ecological emergency is, changes to the economy to address these issues are already happening. We feel it is important that Workers are fully involved in how these changes happen so that they can secure the rights and livelihoods of themselves and future generations.

Pipelines, Pandemics and Capital’s Death Cult: A Green Syndicalist View

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, March 29, 2021

We can see this within any industry, within any capitalist enterprise. It is perhaps most clearly apparent, in an unadorned fashion, in extractives industries like mining, logging, or oil, where the consumption of nature (as resources) for profit leaves ecosystems ruined, where workers are forced to labor in dangerous, often deadly, conditions, and where it is all is carried out through direct dispossession, invasion, and occupation of Indigenous lands and through processes of mass killing, even genocide. And when it is all done, little remains except the traces of profit that have been extracted and taken elsewhere.

These intersections have come to the forefront with particular clarity under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The death cult of capital on full display in all its variety of ways.

Class Power can Remake Society: Remembering Australia’s "Green Ban” Movement

By Ben Purtill - Organizing Work, March 24, 2021

Ben Purtill recounts when building laborers in Australia stopped work, first over wages and working conditions, and then to protect the environment, among other “social” causes. Image: Jack Mundey, Building Labourers’ Federation members and local residents at a Green Ban demonstration, 1973.

Jack Mundey, who died aged 90 in May 2020, first made his name as the union leader associated with one of the most inspiring moments of class struggle of the last 50 years: Australia’s green ban movement. As a secretary of the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) from 1968, Mundey — a member, then president, of the Australian Communist Party (CPA) – was widely credited with coining the term “green ban” to describe a form of strike action undertaken in defense of environmental causes. Members of the NSW BLF also downed tools in defense of the gay community, indigenous Australians, and feminists, at a time when these causes were far from the mainstream of Australian society.

Reviled and vilified at the time, Mundey received a State Memorial Service in March 2021. Attended by the great and the good of Sydney, Mundey was hailed as a savior of the city — a renegade who broke with the base concerns of economistic trade unionism to focus on more refined issues than wages or workplace conditions, while prefiguring a social liberalism the nation would only begin to embrace decades later, and a green politics that it has yet to.

While the perceived content of Mundey’s unionism now sits quite comfortably with liberal — even conservative — values and principles, the form of unionism pursued by the NSW BLF at their peak in the early 1970s would undoubtedly be condemned were it revived today. Militant, democratic and regarded as quasi-syndicalist by critics and supporters alike, the story of the Mundey and the NSW BLF is one of both the power of the rank and file and the limits of leadership, no matter how left-wing.

Black Bans, Green Bans and everything in between

Most historical accounts suggest the green ban movement for which Mundey is best remembered began in 1971 at Kelly’s Bush, an area of parkland in Sydney’s affluent Hunter’s Hill suburb. A group of local women contacted the BLF having exhausted all conventional means of halting the development of the area by construction firm AV Jennings. With luxury houses set to be built on what was the last remaining patch of native bush in the suburb, the BLF called a community meeting attended by over 600 local residents and announced a ban, meaning no work would take place on the site. Unions had been using the term “black ban” to designate disputes aimed at an economic end, for example a wage increase, but since this action was being taken to defend the environment, “green ban” was decided to be more appropriate.

Over forty green bans followed until 1974, when the NSW BLF was deregistered as a union, resulting in billions of dollars worth of development being prevented in Sydney; the tactic was also deployed in other towns and cities across Australia, most notably Melbourne. All green bans were declared in a similar manner as a point of principle: the union did not decide to initiate a ban, local residents did so through a public meeting. If it was decided that a site would not be developed, BLF members would not work on it. In following this tactic, large areas of the historic centre of Sydney were saved from development, and the union joined alliances with an unlikely range of characters: early environmentalists, heritage campaigners, and middle-class homeowners.

The NSW BLF also applied the tactic to other causes and concerns, for example the expulsion of a gay student from Macquarie University, the demolition of houses occupied by indigenous Australians in the Redfern suburb of inner-city Sydney, and the right of two women academics to teach a women’s studies course. In each case, the campaigns were won. More broadly still, the BLF campaigned against apartheid South Africa and the war in Vietnam. As union secretary of the NSW branch during this period, Mundey is now typically remembered as the brainchild of this movement, even earning him a speaking slot at the United Nations Conference on the Built Environment, but it reflected much wider changes occurring both within the Australian left and among rank and file union members.

Green Syndicalism in the Arctic

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, March 30, 2021

On February 4, 2021, a group of Inuit hunters set up a blockade of the Mary River iron ore mine on North Baffin Island. The mine is operated by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation and has been extracting iron ore since 2015. Mine operations are carried out on lands owned by the Inuit.

Blockade organizers arrived from communities at Pond Inlet, Igloolik and Arctic Bay over concerns that Inuit harvesting rights are imperiled by the company's plans to expand the mine and associated operations. Solidarity demonstrations have been held in Pond Inlet, Iqaluit, Igloolik, Naujaat, and Taloyoak. In -30C degree temperatures.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation is seeking to double its annual mining output to 12 million metric tonnes. This would also see the corporation build a railway and increase shipping traffic through its port at Milne Inlet. These expansions would threaten land and marine wildlife along with food sources essential to Inuit people. The waters surrounding the port are an important habitat for narwhal and seals in the Canadian Arctic. The expansion also threatens caribou and ptarmigans.

A fly-in location, Inuit blockaders shut down the mine’s airstrip and trucking road, closing off access to and from the site for over a week. Notably this has meant that 700 workers have been stranded at the mine site and food, supply and worker change flights have been suspended. Workers have been on site for at least 21 days.

This could, obviously, have posed points of contention, even hostility, between workers and blockaders. Certainly, the company tried to stoke these tensions in its efforts to go ahead with mining operations. In a letter filed with the Nunavut Court of Justice on February 7, Baffinland told the protesters that their blockade is against federal and territorial law, and the Nunavut Agreement. In classic divide and conquer fashion, the company asserted: “You are causing significant harm by blocking a food supply and keeping people from returning to their families.” The company has also gotten the RCMP involved.

Yet an important development occurred a week into the blockade, and after the company’s court theatrics, as stranded workers issued a powerful statement of solidarity with Inuit people and communities and the blockaders specifically. The open letter is signed by a “sizeable minority” of Mary River mine workers currently stranded at the mine site (with 700 workers it represents a sizeable number). They have remained anonymous due to threats of firing leveled against them by the company. In their letter they assert that they recognize the Inuit, not the company, as “rightful custodians of the land.”

The letter represents a significant statement of green syndicalism. One that should be read, circulated, and discussed. It is reproduced in full here.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Staff Joins the IWW

By Staff - Industrial Workers of the World, March 16, 2021

HUNTINGTON, West Virginia — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is excited to announce that workers of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) have recently organized with majority support as the OVEC Union (OVECU) under the IWW. As of March 4, OVECU has submitted a request for voluntary recognition to the OVEC Board of Directors. OVECU is excited to begin the process of negotiating their contract. Their key demands include a standardized pay scale, an equitable discipline policy, and the right to union representation at any meeting wherein matters affecting staff pay, hours, benefits, advancement, or layoffs may be discussed or voted on.

The workers of OVEC decided to unionize to honor their organizational values of empowerment and justice. OVEC’s mission to organize for environmental justice is informed by the belief that Appalachians — and all workers, everywhere — benefit from the right to union representation in their place of employment regardless of current working conditions. OVECU believes it is particularly important for employees to have union support during times of transition with administration, board, and staff, and is eager to move forward collaboratively with members of the board and administration as the 34-year-old organization grows and changes.

“Having a union is a logical next step in supporting our organization as our organization continues to support our communities. Unionizing only strengthens our commitment to the vital work we do at the crossroads of environmental, social, and labor justice,” said OVEC Project Coordinator Dustin White.

OVECU is asking for you to endorse their unionization efforts by calling 304-522-0246 and leaving a message of congratulations and support, or dropping a note at info@ohvec.org.

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Union is committed to protecting and preserving the quality of work conditions for employees of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

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