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Staff at Anti-Mountaintop Removal Nonprofit Coal River Mountain Watch Unionize with IWW

By Maxim Baru - IWW.ORG, September 7, 2021

Workers fighting destruction of communities & environment by mountaintop removal mining in WV join expanding non-profit labor union

NAOMA, West Virginia — The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is excited to announce that workers at the Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) have organized with unanimous support under the banner of the IWW.

As of September 7, the IWW has asked for and received voluntary recognition from CRMW management.

Employees at CRMW join their colleagues at Holler Health Justice and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in the widening slate of nonprofits unionized with the IWWs West Virginia Branch.

Coal River Mountain Watch is a grassroots organization created in 1998 in response to the fear and frustration of people living near or downstream from enormous mountaintop removal sites. From humble beginnings as a small group of volunteers working to organize Southern WV residents to fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, CRMW become a major force in opposition to mountaintop removal.

As an organization that stands for human rights in mountain communities and against community destruction by the coal industry – in recognizing their staff’s union – the CRMW can now proudly boast that their values align with their practice.

“I’m beyond proud to be in a union now, and I’m beyond proud to work for an organization that values my rights as a worker,” said Coal River Mountain Watch staff member Junior Walk, adding “Here’s to a brighter future for West Virginia and the brave souls who try to make it a better place to live.”

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a labor union representing nearly 9,000 workers across North America. Established in 1905, the IWW is known for its high standards of democracy, transparency, multi-nationalism, and active use of the right to strike.

Coal River Mountain Watch Workers Anticipate Union Recognition

By Christian Prince - Industrial Worker, August 18, 2021

In late July, workers at Coal River Mountain Watch in Naoma, West Virginia, requested voluntary union recognition from the environmental nonprofit organization’s board of directors. They anticipate full recognition of the Coal River Mountain Watch Union, organized with the Industrial Workers of the World, by month’s end.

The campaign to unionize CRMW is being led by Junior Walker, a longtime employee. CRMW workers had considered forming a union previously, but only committed after witnessing the campaign at another West Virginia-based environmental nonprofit, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, which is also organized with the IWW. Workers at OVEC, a larger nonprofit that has collaborated with CRMW in the past, faced significant resistance to union recognition from both management and their board of directors. Walker began speaking with the West Virginia branch of the IWW, which is supporting both campaigns, about unionizing CRMW in solidarity in March. 

Last month, CRMW workers submitted their request for voluntary union recognition to management with no resistance. Workers are now awaiting formal consent from the board of directors, who meet only every few months, thereby slowing the process. Regardless, Walker says that workers have received every indication that the CRMW Union will be recognized by the end of August.

Walker emphasizes that managers at CRMW are “about as good as they come.” Workers are seeking the right of union representation to preserve their current working conditions and, as mentioned, to express solidarity with organizing efforts at allied organizations, like OVEC.

On a personal level, Walker describes the CRMW Union as carrying on a family legacy. His grandfather was a longtime member of the United Mine Workers of America and went on strike against Massey Energy, the first non-union coal company in the area, in the 1980s. Massey was also the parent company of a subsidiary that is now seeking a permit for mountaintop removal mining, which CRMW opposes due to its devastation of mountainside biodiversity and release of carcinogenic blasting dust.

“The fact that I now have a union card in my pocket makes me really proud,” says Walker. “This is the first time I’ve been in a union in my life.”

Are you interested in forming a union at your workplace? Contact the IWW today!

Long Hours, Sleepless Nights: Nonprofit Workers Unionize in the Appalachian Coalfields

By Caitlin Myers - Strike Wave, August 13, 2021

Nonprofit workers can be a self-abnegating bunch. As a sector tasked with solving the world’s ills in ways the state can’t or won’t, from filling gaps in social services and campaigning for environmental justice to running charities and educational programs to ostensibly end poverty, nonprofits can induce in their workers a sense of moral obligation not to complain. After all, almost everyone else is worse off, right? 

That sense of obligation kept the staff of one West Virginia environmental nonprofit quiet for many years. As paid community organizers for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), their principal duty was to organizational members, with whom they fought against mountaintop removal coal mining, natural gas development, and petrochemical buildout through lobbying, direct action, and sustained campaign work. In coalitions such as the Alliance for Appalachia and Reimagine Appalachia, OVEC organizers have contributed to policy proposals and lobbying efforts designed to bring the region an explicitly pro-labor, ecologically sustainable economic transition away from coal.

When he was hired, Dustin White was thrilled to be able to dedicate his life to the fight against strip mining, and like many organizers, built a deep and complex network of relationships in communities like the one that raised him. But, he says, paid organizing is time-consuming, travel-intensive, and deeply emotional work, and he found it draining to a degree he felt management simply didn’t understand. 

“Self care ended up being work, too,” said White. As a result of long-term issues with burnout, he and others on staff privately reached out to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the winter, and hoped to go public on Earth Day. 

“I have had long work hours, sleepless nights, countless hours on the road, hundreds of blisters on my feet, and more during my time with OVEC,” White wrote in a letter to the staff and board. “Time after time I have been told that we trust and support each other and our board of directors would always have our back.” 

A staff member spilled the beans early, though. According to White, management was incensed, and after months of vitriol he and fellow staffer Brendan Muckian Bates were fired. White was fired allegedly for violating the organizational handbook’s civility rules, and Bates for organizing as a manager. Both were prominent in the union effort, though, and believe management’s goal was to discourage others involved in the unionization effort. White had experienced a series of health problems; Bates was a new father. But the lesson from this historically pro-labor organization was this: unions are great for coal miners, but you don’t need one. You have it easy. 

Voodoo Doughnut Workers Hold National Day of Action

By Shawn Kinnaman - Industrial Worker, August 11, 2021

Our changing climate is increasingly becoming a workplace issue. because these workers engaged in strike action to protest being forced to work in the extreme heat which hit the Pacific Northwest in Summer of 2021, as this article details:

Workers at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland held a national day of action on July 29 to protest against the allegedly illegal firing of staff and to demand better working conditions. The workers, unionized as Doughnut Workers United with the Industrial Workers of the World, were supported by IWW branches in Portland, Eugene, Austin, Houston, Orlando and Los Angeles, who organized actions outside of local outlets of the Portland-based doughnut chain.

The workplace organizing campaign at Voodoo Doughnut goes back several years. Workers tell Mark Medina, an organizer with the Portland IWW who is supporting the campaign, that they earn minimum wage, receive little respect from management, and feel they are at all times close to being demoted or let go altogether. They have also complained of being harassed and even assaulted when leaving the store. During one robbery, an assailant jumped over the counter and threatened staff with a hatchet. Despite the danger, management refused to hire security until pressured to do so by the union.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further deteriorated working conditions at Voodoo Doughnut. Forty workers were initially laid off, with only three being reinstated. Workers allege that management chose to rehire the minimum number of workers necessary for the company to qualify for pandemic-related relief funds from the federal government and that pro-union workers were intentionally excluded. Workers have also had to procure their own personal protective equipment, which management inexplicably asked them to discard, promising replacements but never delivering.

More recently, workers at Voodoo Doughnut were forced to contend with a heatwave that swept through the region from late June to mid July. Management refused workers’ request to close the shop due to inadequate climate control, forcing them to stage a two walk-out involving nearly the entire staff.

Hoping to address these grievances, Voodoo Doughnut workers organized the recent national day of action across six US cities. Workers have asked supporters to amplify this effort across social media and to contribute to a strike and hardship fund organized by the union. Together, Medina believes that workers and their supporters can show management that the union means business.

“We outnumber them,” he says.

Are you interested in organizing a union at your workplace? Contact the IWW today!

Striking Alabama coal miners protest corporate greed at NYC BlackRock headquarters

By Jaisal Noor - The Real News Network, July 28, 2021

Striking Alabama coal miner Mike Wright says workers at Warrior Met Coal are taking their calls for fair pay and benefits to the NYC headquarters of their company's biggest investor: BlackRock.

Iranian Oil Workers Organize the Country’s Biggest Strikes since the Iranian Revolution

By Maryam Alaniz and Salvador Soler - Left Voice, July 15, 2021

For almost a month, Iranian oil workers, along with workers in other industries, have organized demonstrations and wildcat strikes in response to a dire economic and health crisis accentuated by U.S. sanctions.

A nationwide strike by Iranian oil and gas workers on fixed-term contracts — which started a day after the June 18 Iranian presidential elections — has spread to 112 oil, gas, and petrochemical companies in at least eight of the provinces that house Iran’s main oil and gas centers. The strikes are the biggest workers’ protest since the oil workers’ strikes in late 1978, which brought the U.S.-backed shah’s regime to its knees.

The widespread demonstrations underscore the growing economic pressures placed on a country that is living under crippling U.S. sanctions and that is facing a fifth wave of the pandemic. In the past month more than 120,000 mostly temporary and contract workers have taken part in the strike. They have refused to work and joined rallies and hunger strikes outside Iran’s strategic refineries and power plants.

These workers’ demands include an increase in wages as inflation rises, wages that are paid on time, and back pay. Many workers complain that they haven’t been paid in months. The workers are also demanding better working conditions, improved health and safety standards, and freedom of association and protest. Their main demands, however, are to end contract employment, to ban the firing of workers, to reinstate the 700 protesting workers who were recently fired, and to abolish special economic zones, which allow employers to skirt labor protections.

The workers have also called for independent organizations of the working class across all sectors of labor. Since independent unions are not recognized in Iran, the wildcat strike action is coordinated by strike committees, including the Council for Organizing Contract Oil Workers’ Protests, which organizes 41,000 contract workers in the oil industry. The workers, mainly contracted scaffolders, fitters, welders, and electricians, have announced that they will not return to work unless their demands are met.

The growth of strikes by oil and petrochemical workers — the beating heart of the country’s economy and the clerical government’s main source of foreign exchange — has led many to believe that these strikes could become a turning point in the history of workers’ protests and strikes against the ayatollahs’ regime, installed more than four decades ago.

The expansion of these strikes, which recently grew to include the militant workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Factory, can have a rapid and paralyzing effect in all parts of the country, bringing solidarity from other industrial branches in the face of the country’s deep economic crisis, caused not only by the U.S. imperialist blockade but also by the repressive regime, which represents the interests of Iran’s ruling elite.

Though the Iranian regime is known to crack down hard on protesters, workers are now entering the national scene more prominently and using methods like wildcat strikes. As a result, the use of conventional methods of repression is thrown into question. Furthermore, dissatisfied workers in the energy sector represent a threat of a much higher, given that hydrocarbons are the government’s main economic artery and that petroleum workers have played a historic role in the country’s politics.

At the same time, the rapid spread of workers’ strikes across Iran, coinciding with the election of a new government in Iran, has made it more likely that strikes will spread to other sectors of labor and trade unions. This further complicates the unstable situation in the Middle East, where a revolting sector of working youth has played an active and important role on the streets in recent years and has been joined by an increasingly dynamic labor movement, like the Iranian one, that is gaining experience in struggle and organization.

The current strike in many ways continues a monthlong wave of strike action by more than 10,000 workers that took place in the South Pars oil and gas fields last summer. The 2020 strike action forced employers to improve wages and living conditions, but one year later, as the social crisis in Iran has deepened and a new administration is preparing to take power, the strikes have expanded in both scope and scale.

Read the rest here.

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.”

Power, Workers, and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Tara Olivetree (Ehrcke) - Midnight Sun, July 12, 2021

Power

Who has more power than Shell Oil? This is one of the first questions a climate activist should ask themselves, because without finding an answer, we can’t win.

The power of the fossil fuel industry is massive. Fossil fuel companies are worth at least $18 trillion in stock equity, which represents about a quarter of total global stock markets. These vast resources and their outsized share of the world economy allow the industry to continually assert their interests, no matter the destruction this entails. They do so through any means available, of which there are many.

The notorious work of Exxon in first understanding, and then deeply misrepresenting, the science on climate change is one example. After generously funding its own climate research, and being told explicitly in 1977 that global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels was likely to lead to a two- to three-degree increase in global temperatures, Exxon embarked on an industry-wide quest to promote doubt in the science. This lengthy “fake news” campaign cost millions of dollars, and arguably set back the climate movement by decades.

However, the power of the fossil fuel industry goes well beyond the manipulation of global public thought. From the time of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the history of modern capitalism has been replete with wars fought over fossil fuels. These have served to maintain strategic interests and, just as importantly, the profits of fossil fuel companies. A map of twentieth-century imperial conquest would show the disproportionate number of wars waged in the Middle East, where the world’s largest and cheapest oil deposits lie. As Alan Greenspan, a former chair of the US Federal Reserve, stated about one of these wars: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

How, then, do we go about exerting equivalent force, in order to dismantle the fossil fuel industry within the limited timeline outlined by scientists, while at the same time building an equitable, habitable, and just society?

There are a number of competing answers to this question. 

The Sydney “Green Bans” Show How We Can Transform Our Cities

By Kurt Iveson - Jacobin, July 10, 2021

In the 1970s, trade unions in Sydney began imposing “green bans” on property developments that were going to cause social and ecological harm. The movement should be an inspiration for challenges to the power of big business everywhere.

Fifty years ago, in June 1971, the New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers Federation (NSWBLF) voted to ban construction of a luxury housing development in the Sydney harborside suburb of Hunters Hill. Their bulldozer-driving comrades in the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association followed suit. The goal was to protect Kelly’s Bush, one of the last undeveloped areas of bushland on Sydney Harbour.

Over time, the tactic they used came to be known as a “green ban,” distinguishing it from a more conventional “black ban.” While trade unions imposed the latter in disputes over wages and conditions, green bans blocked construction on projects that were environmentally or socially destructive, or that threatened sites with heritage value.

The Kelly’s Bush green ban resulted from an unlikely alliance. Hunters Hill was a wealthy suburb, and most residents had little to do with the workers’ movement. Earlier that month, however, the Battlers for Kelly’s Bush — a resident action group — held a meeting of over six hundred people. It called on the unions to protect the bushland.

The NSWBLF was militant, proudly working-class, and maligned by respectable opinion. It was led by socialists and communists. Yet the union found common cause with the middle-class Battlers for Kelly’s Bush.

NSWBLF secretary Jack Mundey explained the union’s decision in a 1973 interview:

What is the good of fighting to improve wages and conditions if we are going to choke to death in polluted and planless cities? We are fighting for a shorter working week. If we get it, we still have to live in these cities. So “quality of life” should not just become a cliché. It should become a meaningful thing, and the workers should be concerned about every aspect of life — not just their working conditions.

Developer AVJennings attempted to circumvent the green ban by using nonunion labor. The NSWBLF hit back. Union members employed at another Jennings site sent a telegram to the developer’s head office: “If you attempt to build on Kelly’s Bush, even if there is the loss of one tree, this half-completed building will remain so forever, as a monument to Kelly’s Bush.”

The NSWBLF executive backed up their members’ threat. In August, AVJennings shelved their development plans. Kelly’s Bush remains untouched to this day.

Read the rest here.

Volvo truck workers on strike

By Lee Wengraf - Tempest, June 29, 2021

At Volvo Trucks North America in Dublin, Virginia, picket lines stretch along Cougar Trail Road at the entrances to the 300-acre New River Valley assembly plant. Around 2,900 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2069 have been on strike since June 7 in this small town in the southwestern corner of the state near the West Virginia border. It’s their second strike this year. Just two months ago in April, workers walked out for two weeks after voting down a tentative agreement by a whopping 91 percent. The union went back to the table and again the membership turned down the deal, this time by a 90 percent margin, a resounding rejection.

At stake in the agreement are critical issues around the two-tier wage structure, work schedule and overtime, health and safety, and employee and retiree healthcare benefits, among others. The company claims they’ve offered “significant economic improvements for all UAW-represented workers,” but in reality the proposed 12 percent raise over six years falls well below the current rate of inflation. The latest agreement also calls for higher copays and out-of-pocket expenses from employees, including a doubling of the out-of-pocket maximum over the life of the contract. The last contract amounted to hundreds of dollars of added costs for retirees per month, according to a striker family member. The company hasn’t tried to sugarcoat these givebacks, stating bluntly on their website, “The hard truth is that there’s likely not a company left in the United States that can guarantee its people – hourly or salaried – that they won’t have to worry about retiree health care costs, even after 30 or more years of work.”

The union is fighting to abolish a two-tier wage system introduced in previous contracts. Although Volvo claims it will get rid of the tiers “over a reasonable time frame,” members 
with two years or fewer seniority still wouldn’t reach top pay over the life of the contract. The company is also pushing to change the work schedule to four 10-hour shifts, a move that would cut into overtime pay. Finally, the rejected agreement removed the union’s right to strike at the end of the proposed six-year deal in 2027.

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