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Rail workers score big safety win in California

By Mark Gruenberg - People's World, August 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Rail workers scored a big safety win in California on August 21 as state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill mandating two-person crews on all freight trains.

The measure, pushed by the Teamsters and their California affiliates, the Rail Division of SMART - the former United Transportation Union - and the state labor federation, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., who is expected to sign it.

Rail unions nationwide have been pushing for the two-person crews while the rail carriers have been pushing for just one, an engineer. Several months ago, the head of one carrier, the Burlington Northern, advocated crewless freights.

The unionists told lawmakers presence of a second crew member would cut down on horrific crashes such as the one that obliterated downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, two years ago. Then, a runaway oil train crashed and exploded, killing 47 people. That train had only an engineer. There has been a string of similar U.S. accidents since, especially of oil-carrying trains. Recent oil train accidents were near Galena, Ill., Lynchburg, Va., and in West Virginia.

The proposed California statute requires trains and light engines carrying freight within the nation's largest state - home to one of every eight Americans - to be operated with "an adequate crew size," reported Railroad Workers United, a coalition of rank-and-file rail workers from SMART, the Teamsters and other unions.

The minimum adequate crew size, the bill says, is two. Railroads that break the law would face fines and other penalties from the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission supported the bill, SB730.

Strawberry Jam

By Frank Bardacke - Stansbury Forum, August 12, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In April, 1993 Cesar Chavez died. In October, 1995, John Sweeney became the President of the AFL-CIO. Although the Arturo Rodriguez-led UFW was a minor supporter of Sweeney at the convention that elected him, nothing connected Cesar’s death to Sweeney’s election. But without the conjunction of those two events, there would have been no UFW/AFL-CIO strawberry campaign. Its very existence was rooted in happenstance. That should not surprise anyone interested in politics. Machiavelli claimed that half of politics was luck, or as he called it, fortuna. In the case of the strawberry campaign, at first it seemed like good luck, but by the end, for those who hoped for UFW and AFL-CIO renewal, it was surely bad.

In her eulogy at Cesar’s funeral, Dolores Huerta declared that Cesar died so that the UFW might live. It is a dubious claim—there is no indication of a Chavez suicide—but her meaning was not lost on many of the mourners. Under Cesar’s direction, the UFW had backed off organizing farm workers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had lost most of its contracts by the mid-80s, and was, at the time of his death, no longer a force in the fields but rather a cross between a farm worker advocacy group and a mid-sized family business. As long as Chavez was alive that was not likely to change. Once he was gone, the UFW was free to make an effort to get back in the fields again.

They began, as they had to, by trying to improve their reputation among undocumented workers. Originally a union of mostly Mexican-American grape pickers, they had officially opposed “illegals” in the fields before 1975, championing the use of the Border Patrol against them and even setting up their own patrol on the Arizona border for a few months in 1974. That policy changed in 1975 with the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), which made all farm workers, including the undocumented, eligible to vote in farm worker elections. But the changed policy never completely undid the original damage, and since the leadership of the union in the early 1990s continued to be Mexican-American and there were, by then, few Mexican farm workers left in the union, the UFW was considered by many farm workers, a “pocho” (slang used by Mexicans to describe Mexican-Americans) organization.

Thus, the UFW’s first step back into the fields was to take a leadership role against Proposition 187, the 1994 California initiative that denied State benefits to the undocumented and their children. Having made their new sympathy for the undocumented clear, the union won a new contract in the Central Valley roses, fought a victorious campaign in the mushrooms, and even signed a vegetable contract with their old nemesis, Bruce Church Inc. (although on close inspection the contract seemed to cover only a small percentage of Bruce Church workers). In 1995, the UFW leadership was lathered up, in the starting gate, and ready to race.

John Sweeney was also ready to go. Having won the AFL-CIO presidency with a rousing pledge to replace the conservative ways of the old bureaucracy with a new aggressive campaign to organize the unorganized, he was looking for an easy early victory. The UFW seemed to promise one. Relying on Rodriguez’s account of UFW popularity in the fields, and with no alternative assessment available, he went all in, put other organizing on hold, and committed his troops to what promised to be an opening victory for the New Voice coalition. As Gilbert Mireles, author of a pretty good (but also the only) book on the campaign, puts it: “It was almost inconceivable [to the strategists at the top] that workers would not be in favor of the union.”

The Politics of California’s Water System

By Will Parrish - Counter Punch, July 31, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In a decision bursting with symbolism, the California State Water Resources Control Board recently announced its intention to draw down the main water supply reservoir for a the half million people who live just outside of the state capital to only 12% of capacity by September 30.

Lake Folsom on the American River - the main water source for Roseville, Folsom, and other Sacramento suburbs - will plummet to 120,000 acre-feet by that date, according to a forecast by the water board, which announced the plan at an unusually lively Sacramento workshop on 24th June.

The artificial lake will therefore be only months away from turning into a dreaded 'dead pool', a state in which a reservoir becomes so low it cannot drain by gravity through a dam's outlet.

Such an outcome would leave area residents scrambling for water - if recent predictions of an El Niño weather pattern fizzle and rain fails to appear later in 2015. If that were to happen, then Folsom could be a harbinger for the rest of California.

Indeed, as the American West lurches through its fourth summer of an historic drought, numerous major reservoirs are at or near historic lows relative to the time of year. New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, which was only 16% full as of last week, appears likely to meet the same fate as Folsom this year.

A study by UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2008, three before the current drought began, warned that the nation's largest reservoir, Nevada's Lake Mead (which supplies much of Southern California), has a 50-50 chance of running dry by 2021.

Natural diasaster or human mismanagement?

So far, a consensus of state and federal officials is that this state of emergency has come to pass due to a natural disaster beyond their control. Water board member Steven Moore has called the drought "our Hurricane Sandy".

In April, after Jerry Brown stood on a Sierra summit barren of snow and announced the state's first-ever mandatory water restrictions, an official press release from the governor's office asserted that for "more than two years, the state's experts have been managing water resources to ensure that the state survives this drought and is better prepared for the next one."

But according to critics, the opposite is true. The main reason California's reservoirs have plummeted to nearly cataclysmic lows, they say, is that federal and state water managers sent enormous quantities of water in recent years to senior water rights holders, especially water districts that supply agribusinesses in the dry San Joaquin Valley.

More ESA "protection" for the Klamath Basin's Irrigation Elite

By Felice Pace - KlamBlog, July 22, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Klamath Falls Herald and News got the headline just right: House passes Walden’s plan to help protect Klamath Project water users (emphasis added). The article goes on to report that "the proposal would confer applicant status on those irrigators, ensuring that they are included in Endangered Species Act consultations that could affect operations of the water project they rely upon." Republican Congressman Greg Walden was able to add the provision to the "Western Water and American Food Security Act" which passed the House with "bipartisan support". The legislation now goes to the U.S. Senate.

Walden's effort to "protect" federal irrigators from the Endangered Species Act implements one of the main objectives of the KBRA Water Deal: to provide "relief" to Klamath Project Irrigators from requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act. That relief will also come in the form of wink-and-nod approval of Habitat Conservation Plans that KlamBlog predicts will remove ESA constraints on irrigation within the sprawling federal irrigation project. KlamBlog has previously written in depth about what we call the KBRA's "wink-and-nod" approach to implementing the ESA. The newer Upper Basin Comprehensive Agreement extends the same ESA "relief" to irrigation interests above Upper Klamath Lake.   

In the news report Walden states that the provision he championed formalizes what is already the practice: the US Bureau of Reclamation  routinely involved organizations representing irrigators in consultations with the US Fish & Wildlife and National Matrine Fisheries Services. Those consultations focus on impacts the 200,000 acre irrigation project has on Kuptu, Tsuam and Achvuun (Shortnose and Lost River Suckers and Coho salmon).

Walden's move may be in response to an investigation being conducted by the Department of Interior.  A former employee has alleged that Reclamation misspent funds which were appropriated to benefit fish and wildlife in order to pay for private growers to pump groundwater for irrigation. Involving a private entity in agency-to-agency government consultations may violate rules designed to protect such consultations from private interest influence. That may be why Walden is pushing the provision now, that is, to legalize what is otherwise an illegal practice. Whether it is legal or not, commercial interests should not be part of ESA consultations which by law are supposed to be based on the best available science and the scientific opinions of expert agencies.

Of course Reclamation does not include all those to whom it supplies water in those ESA consultations. Instead, the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), which is controlled by a handful of large and powerful growers, is given a seat at the table while smaller irrigators are left outside.

And what about the tribes, fishermen and others who have a vital interest in how Klamath River water is managed? Why doesn't Mr. Walden want to give them a seat at the ESA consultation table too? With so many of us dependent on Klamath River water, why is just one interest singled out for special treatment with respect to those ESA consultations?

Senate Bill 4 Regs Will Expand Fracking in California

By Dan Bacher - IndyBay, July 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Governor Jerry Brown administration, known for its subservience to Big Oil, is gearing up for a massive expansion of fracking and other extreme oil drilling techniques that will contaminate California's groundwater supplies, pollute rivers and streams, and devastate coastal ecosystems, including so-called "marine protected areas" implemented under his helm.

On July 1, anti-fracking, environmental and watchdog groups responded to the release of final fracking regulations developed under Senate Bill 4, pointing out that the rules promote more fracking and pollution of water supplies in the drought-plagued state.

Senate Bill 4, the green light for fracking bill, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 20, 2013. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the California League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund and other corporate "environmental" NGOs provided green cover for the odious legislation. They backed the bill until the very last minute when they finally decided to withdraw support because of amendments from the Western States Petroleum Association and other Big Oil interests that further weakened the already weak legislation.

In a statement, Food and Water Watch said, "Today the Brown Administration finalized regulations on fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques that will allow oil and gas companies to continue to conduct these techniques at the expense of California’s water, air, agriculture and public health."

Feds Find Gaping Holes in CALOSHA Safety Net; Serious Enforcement and Inspection Failures Put California Workers at Risk

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, July 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — The, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the worker health and safety program in California for falling below minimum performance standards in response to a complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the state
Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) must upgrade its enforcement and inspection programs or face a variety of federal sanctions.

In a letter to PEER dated June 26, 2015, OSHA Area Director David Shiraishi upheld the bulk of the “Complaint about State Program Administration” that PEER filed in February 2014. In its review, OSHA found that Cal/OSHA:

  • Fails to conduct an adequate number of inspections in dangerous workplaces and fails to follow its own policy of doing follow-up inspections on serious violators;
  • Does not issue citations in a timely manner, thus delaying hazard abatement and prolonging dangerous conditions. OSHA found the “amount of time Cal/OSHA takes to issue citations is 69% longer than OSHA for safety inspections and 33% longer for health inspections”; and
  • Takes too long to respond to worker complaints of unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Cal/OSHA “averaged almost working four days to initiate investigations for complaints alleging serious hazards” with one serious complaint sitting 106 days. For non-serious complaints, Cal/OSHA averaged more than two weeks before inspecting with one case sitting 300 days.

The OSHA letter contains recommendations for how Cal/OSHA can remedy the identified failures while concluding that “the State Plan is required to remedy these deficiencies.” Like California, nearly half the states are funded by OSHA to operate their own state plans which, by law, must be at least as effective as the federal program. This finding means that California is not meeting that minimum threshold.

Capital Blight: California's Water Crisis Began Over a Century Ago

[Draft] By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

California Nurses, Teachers Oppose Phillips 66 Oil Train Project

Press Release - California Nurses Association, June 15, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“What should be the top priority, student and school staff safety, or oil company profits? We hope that the elected officials of San Luis Obispo County believe that their first responsibility is to the health and well-being of students and families that go to school and live near the railroad tracks,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

The CFT vote followed last weekend’s decision by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association to oppose the Phillips 66 oil train project.

“Educators are very concerned about dangerous oil trains running past California schools. Hundreds of California schools are located near current and future oil train routes,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “Educators and parents can help stop these Phillips 66 oil trains by encouraging local officials in San Luis Obispo County to put student and community safety first and not issue Phillips 66 a permit for their oil train project.”

The 85,000-member California Nurses Association, which sent a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project last November, is pleased to join forces with the teaching profession in California on this important health and safety issue.

“Nurses are thrilled to know that teachers also are strongly opposed to the Phillips 66 oil train project. The Phillip 66 oil trains present significant and unacceptable risks to the health and safety of our communities throughout California and beyond, due to toxic emissions and the potential for a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire,” stated Amber Wiehl, RN at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

“Our most vulnerable populations are particularly at risk,” said Wiehl. “Children and infants are at greater risk due to their still-developing lungs and respiratory systems. The elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer all face greater risks than the general public. As the mother of a child who has been hospitalized with respiratory issues, these concerns hit especially close to home.

“To protect our children and our communities, we must stop the oil trains, ” added Wiehl.

Phillips 66 wants to begin running mile-long oil trains five days each week carrying tar sands oil from Canada to its refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County. Phillips 66 needs a building permit from San Luis Obispo County officials to build a rail yard at the refinery to accept these trains.

Nurses, teachers, and other California residents oppose the project and the issuance of a building permit by SLO County both for increased asthma risks from diesel train air pollution but also because of the risk of a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire from this hazardous cargo.

The Department of Transportation estimates that there will be ten oil train derailments each year based on the increasing number of crude oil trains in the United States and Canada. July 6 is the two-year anniversary of the catastrophic derailment in Quebec that leveled the downtown of Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people.

So far 13 California city councils, 12 school boards, 5 counties and one fire district in the potential blast zone of the Phillips 66 oil train route have written letters to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the oil train project. The term “blast zone” refers to the two-mile-wide area along an oil train route corresponding to the Department of Transportation’s potential evacuation zone and area of concern for crude oil train derailments.

In San Luis Obispo County, both the city council of San Luis Obispo and the Lucia Mar teachers association have written letters opposing the project.

The Final Environmental Impact Report is expected in the coming months, followed by a vote of the County Planning Commission, then a vote of the County Board of Supervisors. More than 20,000 public comments from individuals and organizations throughout California have been received by the SLO County Planning Commission opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project.

It's Not the End of the World, But a Chance to Confront the Climate Crisis: The Politics of the California Drought

By Arun Gupta - CounterPunch, June 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As if in compensation for a historic drought, California is being deluged by expressions of grim satisfaction that it is finally getting its comeuppance for environmental sins. Judgement was especially swift after California Gov. Jerry Brown imposed a 25 percent reduction in water usage for urban areas. The media asked if this is “The End of California?”, as well as declaring “So Long, California,” and “Dust Bowl 2.0.” One historian of California told the New York Times, “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here.”

The conceit is nature is punishing humanity in the form of climate-change induced disaster. Except climate change does not appear to be the primary culprit of what is California’s most severe drought in the last 1,200 years. Scientists say the rainfall is “anomalously low—yet not unprecedented.” What’s making the drought exceptionally harsh is the added effect of a warming planet, which is drying out the soil. However, climate change is not a one-way cause and effect. For example, the entire Southwest will be afflicted with more frequent, intense and longer-lasting droughts, but California’s Northern Sierra Nevada watershed “may become wetter and … somewhat less drought-prone” over time.

Like the weather, climate change does not respect borders. The crisis may be most visible in California as reservoirs evaporate and lawns brown, but, as some point out, “this drought is America’s.” As such, the tendency to condemn California tells us more about U.S. society than the natural world. Believing the mega-drought signals the end of California is a form of secular end times.

The mainstream media, while sensationalistic, are more measured than the outlandish predictions found in the conspiratorial corners of the Internet: “California’s food supply to collapse,” “California economy at risk of collapse,” “housing collapse, municipal bankruptcies and a mass exodus of climate refugees.”

Much of the reaction is a mishmash of Christianity and pop culture that’s distinctly American. There is the puritanical disapproval of California’s hedonism. The idea of a cataclysmic rupture draws as much from Hollywood as it does from religious and political thought. Some also believe there will be tribulations, a staple of Sunday sermons and science fiction alike: Everyone who enjoyed the Edenic fruits of California will be thrown into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and our salvation lies in returning to our eco-communal roots.

The problem with this thinking is imagining the apocalypse to be a singular event rather than a process. The apocalypse is already upon us; we just don’t notice it from our privileged perches. The effect of extreme weather is relatively modest over a continent-sized nation of 319 million. Record floods, hurricanes, and wildfires are caused as much by habitat loss, sprawl, and environmental mismanagement as by a destabilized climate. Add in invasive species, pollution, and deforestation, and this explains why the sixth great mass extinction in Earth’s history is now underway. But because the natural world we depend on is evermore synthetic and managed, we don’t experience this loss in our daily lives. Plus even if we mustered the effort to dial back global warming, there are at least seven other ecological crises degrading the biosphere.

Governor Jerry Brown Thinks "Pipes" Will be More Popular than "Tunnels"

By Dan Bacher - Indybay, June 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In 1982, Jerry Brown called his unpopular scheme to divert more water to corporate agribusiness and Southern California water agencies the "peripheral canal." The voters of the state overwhelmingly rejected the canal proposal in the November election.

After Brown was inaugurated for his third term as Governor in 2011, he described the reincarnated "conveyance" plan proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) as the Delta "tunnels."

Now the Governor, in his fourth term, wants to change the name of the widely-opposed project to "pipes."

In addressing Sacramento business leaders at the 90th Annual "Sacramento Host Breakfast" on May 28, Governor Jerry Brown said that he is now going to call the Delta tunnels, "pipes," because pipes are more popular.

"Instead of a tunnel, were going to call it a pipe. That seems to be more popular," he said to laughter from the crowd, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Apparently, Brown has been not watching the media coverage of the massive Santa Barbara oil spill. The disaster is the result of a rupture in one of these “ever-popular” pipes, owned by the Plains All-American Pipeline corporation, on May 19 off Refugio State Beach. The "pipe" concept is so "popular" off Santa Barbara now that a "Stand In The Sand" protest yesterday drew over 500 people!

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