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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.”

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.

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.

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.

Corporate net zero goals: solution or deception?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 16, 2021

Climate change superstar Mark Carney set off a media flurry in a video interview with Bloomberg Live on February 10, in which he claimed that Brookfield Asset Management is a “net zero” company because its renewables investments offset emissions from its other holdings. Carney reflects a new trend of corporate aspirational statements, for example: Jeff Bezos’ corporate network The Climate Pledge claimed in February that 53 companies across 18 industries have committed to working toward net-zero carbon in their worldwide businesses, most by 2050. Recent high profile examples include Royal Dutch Shell , Canada’s TD Bank  and Bank of Montreal, and FedEx , which on March 5 announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 as well as an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its delivery fleet and $100 million to fund a new research centre for carbon capture at Yale University.

Will these corporate goals help to reach the Paris Agreement target? Many recent articles are skeptical, labelling them “sham”, “greenwash”, and “deception” which seeks to protect the status quo. Some examples:

The climate crisis can’t be solved by carbon accounting tricks” (The Guardian, March 3) which offers a concise explanation of why “Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.”

Global oil companies have committed to ‘net zero’ emissions. It’s a sham” by Tzeporah Berman and Nathan Taft (The Guardian, March 3) – which instead advocates for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Call the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Net-Zero Bluff” by Kate Aronoff in New Republic. She writes: “This isn’t the old denialism oil companies funded decades ago. … Instead of casting doubt on whether the climate is changing, this new messaging strategy casts doubt on the obvious answer to what should be done about it: i.e., rapidly scaling down production….. For now, it’s one part creative accounting and many parts a P.R. strategy of waving around shiny objects like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.”

Can the market save the planet? FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying” in the Washington Post , which quotes Yale Professor Paul Sabin, warning that “carbon capture research also should not become an excuse for doubling down on fossil fuel consumption, or delaying urgently needed policies to move away from fossil fuel consumption, including the electrification of transportation.”

Sunrise Movement Staff Form Union with Communications Workers of America

By Zoe PiSierra - Sunrise Movement, December 15, 2020

With Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) Serving as Sunrise Movement’s Third-party Validator, More than 95% of Staff Vote in Support of Forming Union with CWA Local 1180;

Sunrise Workers Take Important Step Towards Stronger and More Accessible Workplace with Recognition and Support from Management;

Sunrise Movement Becomes Latest Nonprofit to Organize, with Less than 5% of Nonprofit Workers in Unions Nationally

WASHINGTON - Today, workers with Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement organization advocating to stop climate change and create millions of American jobs, voted to form a union with Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1180 in New York. More than 95% of Sunrise Movement staff members voted in support of forming a union with CWA, and management has agreed to recognize the staff union.

In a virtual meeting today with Sunrise Movement staff and management, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) verified the union vote count as Sunrise’s third-party validator, announcing support from 79 out of 82 workers.

“As a youth-led grassroots organization dedicated to climate justice and bringing millions of living-wage jobs to the American workforce, forming a union was a clear step of action for us at Sunrise, and one that we believe embodies our movement’s values and will guide its growth,” said Gabbi Pierce, Internal Communications Coordinator at Sunrise Movement and member of CWA Local 1180. “We know that workplaces are stronger when workers have a voice and are empowered through unionization, and we are thankful for the recognition of our union by Sunrise management, who has supported our organizing efforts from the start. This is a huge step for our movement in our fight against climate change, and for nonprofit organizations everywhere which are increasingly advocating in support of worker rights.”

“The organizing efforts by Sunrise workers show that unions are essential in creating a foundation for a strong, equitable environment that elevates the voices of all workers,” said Senator Markey. “I’m proud of these passionate young people who embody the true value of unions in the strongest traditions of the labor movement and are stepping out as advocates for workers’ rights and good American jobs. Their dedication to empowering their team with strong support from management sets an important precedent for our country's workplaces.”

Sunrise Movement Allegedly Fires Employee for Union Activity

By Lia Russell - Strike Wave, July 10, 2020

Note: This story has been updated to include comment from the employer and to clarify that retaliation is alleged.

An employee for the progressive climate change organization Sunrise Movement has told Strikewave that they were fired for organizing a union and that they have filed an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). 

Akshai Singh, whose pronouns are they/them, is a regional organizer based in Cleveland for Sunrise Movement. They said that the organization fired them on July 10 after their manager had told them they failed to meet performance standards.

“I was let go based on not being up to standards,” Singh said. “In reality, I was fired, not laid off. It was clear based on the other employees I talked to, that they were completely unaware of this.” 

Singh alleges their firing was retaliation for their role in organizing Sunrise Movement staff with help from the Chicago and Regional Midwest Board of Workers United (CMRJB). 

They said that they had not spoken to their manager in a month and a half, after they had been given a performance improvement plan during their three-month evaluation.

Singh filed an unfair labor practice with the NLRB after their alleged firing, arguing that they had been punished for union activity. Federal labor law prohibits employers from discriminating or relating against an employee for supporting a union or engaging in union activity. 

“I [felt] like there was a lot of instances where it was clear I supported collective action at the workplace,” Singh said. “Looking back, it’s clear I was being tracked very closely and isolated on the job.” 

Because they were fired, not laid off, Singh says they’re not eligible for unemployment insurance. 

They said that Sunrise offered them one month’s severance pay and has agreed to continue their healthcare benefits, something they’re grateful for as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. However, Singh said that Sunrise did not extend those same benefits to their now-former domestic partner, despite it being “standard practice in non-profits” to do so. 

Tough Times Organizing Street Canvassers

By Gavin McAllister - Organizing Work, December 5, 2019

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organized the Seattle office of Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. (GCI) from July 2017 to August 2018. GCI is a company neck-deep in the “nonprofit industrial complex”: it is a fundraising company that contracts with nonprofit organizations to provide high-volume small donor funds. Their business model consists of selling canvassing shifts to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and Doctors Without Borders. The worker’s job is to stand on a public street wearing the nonprofit’s uniform, flag down passersby, and try to convince them to donate to the nonprofit. GCI would then also collect the donor’s contact information and sell it to third party organizations, primarily the Democratic Party.

The union drive began when disgruntled workers approached the Seattle IWW General Membership Branch (GMB) in 2017. Through the course of the campaign, the union grew from a small committee to a wall-to-wall solidarity union. The drive ended on a difficult note when the employer closed the shop and fled the state in August 2018 to avoid having the union in the workplace. All 15 workers, including me, were laid off.

The campaign ultimately taught the Seattle IWW a few important lessons about the nuts and bolts of organizing in this type of workplace. We learned that it is absolutely possible to organize a fighting union at a small, high-turnover workplace. However, we underestimated how far the bosses would be willing to go to keep a union out, and we overestimated what the Labor Relations Board could do for us.

Progressives in the Streets, Union-busters in the Sheets

By Marianne Garneau - Organizing Work, November 22, 2019

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen multiple headlines about social justice advocacy groups and other progressive nonprofits resisting their workers’ attempts to organize. The tactics range from hiring anti-union law firms and holding “captive audience” staff meetings challenging the need for a union, to ruthless responses like mass layoffs.

Basically, we’re witnessing the same anti-union playbook that we’re used to in the corporate or for-profit sector, applied within organizations that claim to have a mandate to actively fight for good. These organizations will even tout their support for unions and partnerships with them, and yet having one in-house, representing their own workers, is apparently intolerable.

We’ve said before on this site that a boss is a boss is a boss. Managers want to control wages and workflow, and any pushback against that will unleash a power struggle. But it’s worth digging into the particular form this takes at nonprofits: why workers at these ostensibly progressive institutions feel the need to organize, and why they face so much resistance.

This isn’t just about calling out the hypocrisy of so-called progressives. It’s about preparing nonprofit sector workers, who are often young and idealistic and inexperienced at asserting their rights, for what they might face from these employers, and inoculating them against the bosses’ attempts to convince them they don’t need or deserve a union.

Workers go to work for these organizations thinking they can do good, and assuming they will be treated well by employers committed to social justice. But it turns out that good treatment for workers is not a matter of philosophical commitment to progressive political values, but a matter of how power is distributed in the workplace.

Extractivism and Resistance in North Africa

By Hamza Hamouchene - Transnational Institute, October 2019

Extractivism as a mode of accumulation and appropriation in North Africa was structured through colonialism in the 19th century to respond to the demands of the metropolitan centres. This accumulation and appropriation pattern is based on commodification of nature and privatisation of natural resources, which resulted in serious environmental depredation. Accumulation by dispossession has reaffirmed the role of Northern African countries as exporters of nature and suppliers of natural resources – such as oil and gas- and primary commodities heavily dependent on water and land, such as agricultural commodities. This role entrenches North Africa’s subordinate insertion into the global capitalist economy, maintaining relations of imperialist domination and neo-colonial hierarchies.

The neo-colonial character of North African extractivism reflects the international division of labour and the international division of nature. It is revealed in largescale oil and gas extraction in Algeria and Tunisia; phosphate mining in Tunisia and Morocco; precious ore mining - silver, gold, and manganese - in Morocco; and water-intensive agribusiness farming paired with tourism in Morocco and Tunisia. This plays an important role in the ecological crisis in North Africa, which finds its clear expression in acute environmental degradation, land exhaustion and loss of soil fertility, water poverty, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and disease, as well as effects of global warming such as desertification, recurrent heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels.

Concurrent with this dynamic of dispossession of land and resources, new forms of dependency and domination are created. The (re)-primarisation of the economy (the deepened reliance on the export of primary commodities) is often accompanied by a loss of food sovereignty as a rentier system reinforces food dependency by relying on food imports, as in the case of Algeria; and/or as land, water and other resources are increasingly mobilised in the service of export-led cash crop agribusiness, as in Tunisia and Morocco. Extractivism finds itself mired in serious tensions, which generates protests and resistance. This paper documents some of these tensions and struggles by analysing activist grassroots work, including the participation in alternative regional conferences and ‘International Solidarity Caravans’ where representative of grassroots organisations, social movements and peasant communities met and travelled together to sites of socio-environmental injustices, providing a space to strategise together and offer effective solidarity to their respective struggles.

The rural working poor and the unemployed in Northern Africa are the most impacted by the multidimensional crisis. Comprising small-scale farmers, near-landless rural workers, fisherfolks and the unemployed, the movements emerging in the five case studies presented here are resisting the looting of their subsoil resources, the despoliation of their lands, pervasive environmental destruction and the loss of livelihoods. The paper asks the following questions: should we see these protests, uprisings and movements as mainly environmental, or are these fundamentally anti-systemic – anti-capitalist, antiimperialist, decolonial and counter-hegemonic protests? Are these circumstantial episodes of resistance, or do they rather represent the latest development in the historical trajectory of class struggle against the latest capitalist offensive in North Africa? The paper presents an assessment of the nature of these movements which grapple with tensions and contradictions that face them.

Read the report (PDF).

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