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After Worker Strike Threat, East Bay Regional Park District Raises Wages

By Zack Haber - Medium, September 1, 2021

Following threats of a worker strike over labor day weekend, the around 600 workers with the East Bay Regional Park District came to a tentative agreement with the district’s board and management on Tuesday that raises salaries, putting all workers at or just above median wages for such similar jobs in the region.

“I’m feeling not only elated and exhilarated but also really tired,” said Sergio Huerta, a park supervisor and fire fighter who has worked with the district for over 30 years. “I’m really proud of the work that we’ve all done.”

Starting about eight months ago, workers had been negotiating with the district through their union, AFSCME 2428, to raise salaries. Huerta said the struggle was hard and long, adding 12–16 extra hours to his work week. During a press conference on Tuesday, a naturalist with the district named Melissa Fowlks said “getting to fair equitable compensation has been a mountain of a struggle.” But park workers felt they had much to gain, because their previous contract had them making a lower salary than they felt was fair.

“I love my job, but I don’t want to have to choose between my job and providing for my family,” said Pia Loft in an interview several days before workers announced their win. “I want respect and I want fair pay.”

Loft is an educator with the district who is raising two children.

While parks workers fulfill a vast array of jobs to maintain and improve the park and its community including education, fire fighting, life guarding, and accounting, almost all park workers take home a lower salary than those doing similar jobs in the area. According to a report Ralph Andersen & Associates released in 2019 that analyzed the salaries of 37 different park positions, 34 of these positions make less than the median salary for similar jobs in the region and seven make over 20% less than the regional median salary. On average, parks workers make 10% less than the median regional income.

Workers say the low salaries cause people to leave the district which has resulted in vacancies in over 40 positions. Loft said if these positions were filled, visitors would likely see an improvement in park services including cleaner bathrooms, visitor centers that are open longer hours, and more educational and volunteer opportunities. Huerta keeps hearing stories about workers leaving the district because of the low salaries. One of Huerta’s close friends recently told him he is leaving the district for a better paying job.

“It hurts because these are really good people who are dedicated to their work,” he said.

Redefining Work to Save the Planet

By Jared Spears - The Progressive, August 30, 2021

All summer, fed-up employees across the United States have been refusing to work. From frustrated food service employees to exhausted factory line workers, they are banding together to push back against punishing schedules, precarious conditions and unresponsive management.

Despite these workers being lauded as “essential” at the onset of the pandemic, major news outlets have been more interested in billionaires’ private space-race than in covering, say, Western farm pickers’ petition to OSHA for extreme-heat protections or the Teamsters’ drive to unionize Amazon workers nationwide. 

Meanwhile, the urgency of climate change is only growing more intense. And, with so many workers across the country struggling against subsistence wages and conditions, the prospect of organizing a society-wide response to meet the emissions reductions outlined in the latest IPCC report still seems far off. We upended our lives during the pandemic, but our response to what we know is happening to the planet has remained business-as-usual. 

Government can and should assume a much larger role, coordinating industries and reshaping markets to address our urgent threats while guaranteeing better, more humane and socially beneficial work for all. This is precisely why the demand for a Green New Deal was never limited to energy transition alone: it was also tied to quality of life issues such as raising the minimum wage and providing universal health care access.

The term evokes a broader realignment between labor, government and the private sector — as occurred during the Great Depression — that would unleash the nation’s untapped potential. If our red-hot summer of wildfires, heatwaves and labor confrontations underscores anything, it’s to drive home the wisdom of the Green New Deal. 

Mexico’s Only Independent Farmworker Union Struggles On Despite Obstacles

By James Daria - Labor Notes, August 30, 2021

In 2015, tens of thousands of poor, mostly indigenous migrant farmworkers (or jornaleros) went on strike in Mexico, blockading the transpeninsular highway that connects agricultural production in the valley of San Quintín, Baja California, with distributors across the border in the United States. These workers produce crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, and berries for U.S. and world markets—under conditions they decry as “modern slavery.”

The federal recognition of the National Independent Democratic Union of Agricultural Workers (Sindicato Independiente Nacional Democrático de Jornaleros Agrícolas, or SINDJA) was one of the few concrete achievements of negotiations between workers, growers, and state and federal governments.

The union—Mexico’s only independent farmworker union—has carried on in the years since, though it’s fighting an uphill battle. SINDJA has yet to achieve a collective bargaining agreement with the local growers and multinational corporations that operate in the valley.

This July, SINDJA elected a new executive committee, which could mark an important turning point for farmworkers in Mexico. Abelina Ramírez Ruiz, the new general secretary, began her involvement with the union by organizing around the multiple forms of violence suffered by migrant farmworker women. This includes issues of gender inequality, harassment, and sexual assault in the fields as well as domestic violence in the home.

Even as the migrant farmworker workforce becomes increasingly female, women continue to struggle to gain equality in both migrant and labor justice movements. Local social movements, community groups, and labor organizations have been largely male-dominated spaces where the voices of women are marginalized. The farmworker strike of 2015 was a watershed moment as female leaders emerged to challenge the gender hierarchies inherent in previous organizing efforts.

In another hopeful development, the Mexican government has agreed to work towards more transparent and democratic labor relations. Recent labor reforms stipulate that all collective bargaining agreements must be renegotiated by 2023 by means of democratic elections where workers decide their union representation. That’s thanks to reforms implemented by Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as well as pressure by U.S.-based unions in negotiating important labor provisions into the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the successor to NAFTA. This could potentially offer unions like SINDJA a more favorable environment for organizing.

One Million Rounds: The Battle of Blair Mountain

By Vince Ceraso - The Socialist, August 29, 2021

When you think of violent labor disputes, which come to mind? For some, it may be the infamous 1886 Haymarket Affair, 1912 Lawrence textile strike (famously known as Bread & Roses), 1894 Pullman Strike, or something as modern as the 1991 Justice for Janitors police riot. But not many will recall the Battle of Blair Mountain, a week-long civil war that took place in West Virginia during the late summer of 1921. Some 13,000 mineworkers took on 3,000 law enforcement officials, military personnel, and the usual local scabs. Rather than take oppression sitting down, these miners put on their hard hats and geared up for war. However, despite the numbers, the miners suffered a crushing defeat and what resulted was the near collapse of the United Mineworkers of America. But how did it all begin?

In the spring of 1912, West Virginian mineworkers, who all lived in small towns near their respective coal fields, attempted to negotiate contracts with the mining companies to give them higher pay raises and union dues that would be automatic. As you might expect, negotiations fell through, resulting in 7,500 workers going on strike throughout West Virginia. Even local supporters who were not mineworkers joined in. This caught the unwanted attention of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, a private police force that was called to the task of using brutality, fear, and intimidation to break up strikes. To really send the message, the agents began evicting miners from their homes, for unionizing with the UMWA.

Eventually, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, co-founder of the revolutionary Industrial Workers of the World, joined the strikers, but was later arrested for her involvement in the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912. In the early months of the year-long said strike, the miners issued their own declaration of war against the West Virginian government. Several instances of guerilla-style conflicts began to explode in Kanawha County, WV. Things got so bad that WV Governor William E. Glasscock placed the region under martial law. After a year of bloody combat, more than 50 people were reported dead. The Paint Creek-Creek Cabin strike was the beginning of a 9-year labor conflict, now famously referred to as the West Virginia Mine Wars.

Fast-forward to 1920. The Baldwin-Felts agents were at it again, ransacking homes and evicting miners and their families at the Pocahontas Coalfield in the town of Matewan in Mingo County, West Virginia. This time around, they came face to face with Sid Hatfield, the Matewan police chief and beloved labor organizer. Unlike the vast majority of cops in West Virginia, Chief Hatfield was very outspokenly pro-union, using his position of authority to protect striking workers. He confronted the Baldwin-Felts agents and threatened to arrest them, prompting the agents to brag about their own arrest warrants against Hatfield.

Over the years, the circumstances of what happened next have been debated, but according to official court transcripts published in David Alan Corbin’s Gun Thugs, Rednecks & Radicals: A Documentary History of the West Virginia Mine Wars, an eyewitness testified that Cabell Testerman, the mayor of Matewan, said outright that the detectives’ warrants were “bogus,” triggering an angry Albert Felts, one of the heads of the Baldwin-Felts agency, to pull a firearm from his briefcase and shoot the mayor, who died of his wounds minutes later. Immediately after, Hatfield began firing, and a firefight between him and the agents ensued. When the dust settled, one miner, an innocent bystander, seven Baldwin-Felts agents and Mayor Testerman lay dead, while several other townsfolk were wounded in the crossfire.

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 Want Their $1.1 Billion Back

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, August 10, 2021

History repeated itself as hundreds of miners spilled out of buses in June and July to leaflet the Manhattan offices of asset manager BlackRock, the largest shareholder in the mining company Warrior Met Coal.

Some had traveled from the pine woods of Brookwood, Alabama, where 1,100 coal miners have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 1. Others came in solidarity from the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania and the hollows of West Virginia and Ohio.


Ninety-year-old retired Ohio miner Jay Kolenc was retracing his own steps from 1974, when Kentucky miners came to fight Wall Street in the strike behind the film Harlan County USA. “Coal miners have always had to fight for everything they’ve ever had,” Kolenc said. Photo: Luis Feliz Leon.

Among them was 90-year-old retired Ohio miner Jay Kolenc, in a wheelchair at the picket line—retracing his own steps from five decades ago. It was 1974 when Kentucky miners and their supporters came to fight Wall Street in the strike behind the film Harlan County USA.

“Coal miners have always had to fight for everything they’ve ever had,” Kolenc said. “Since 1890, when we first started, nobody’s ever handed us anything. So we’re not about to lay our tools down now.”

The longest that miners ever went on strike was for 10 months in 1989 against the Pittston Coal Company in West Virginia, defending hard-won health care benefits and pension rights. Some 3,000 miners got arrested in that strike. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who passed away on August 5, was president of the Mine Workers (UMWA) at the time.

In Manhattan, mixed in the sea of camouflage T-shirts outside BlackRock was a smattering of red and blue shirts—retail, grocery, stage, and telecom workers. The miners and supporters circled the inner perimeter of four police barricades, chanting “Warrior Met Coal ain’t got no soul!” and whooping it up.

Postal and sanitation trucks honked in solidarity. “You’re in New York City,” Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts told the crowd. “When somebody comes by driving a trash truck, they’re in a union. Chances are, somebody comes along with a broom in their hand, they’re in a union.”

It states that every corner of the planet is already being affected and it could get far worse if the remaining slim chance to stop heating over 1.5C is not immediately grasped.

As well as making clear the damage that climate change is doing and will do to the planet, the report makes it clear that the climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities.

The 42 page summary of the report has been agreed, line-by-line, by every government on the planet.

Center for Biological Diversity Recognizes Employee Union After Card Check: Workers For Biological Diversity Joins Communications Workers of America

By Beth Allen, Communications Workers of America, Ross Middlemiss, Workers for Biological Diversity, and Jean Su, Center for Biological Diversity - Center for Biological Diversity, August 6, 2021

The Center for Biological Diversity recognized its new employee union today following a union card count showing that 68% of the eligible workers support joining the union.

Workers at the national conservation organization announced the formation of Workers for Biological Diversity/CWA in mid-June, in partnership with Communications Workers of America Local 9415. Center leadership pledged to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of workers signed cards supporting union membership.

The new union includes paralegals and lawyers, organizers, media specialists, scientists, membership, development and IT staff. Today’s count was verified by Elizabeth Bunn, national policy director at the Labor Network for Sustainability.

“Joining the labor movement makes the Center for Biological Diversity an even stronger advocate for threatened communities, wildlife and wild places. At this pivotal moment for our planet, we’re standing with workers against big polluters and other powerful interests,” the Workers for Biological Diversity Organizing Committee said. “We’re stronger when we band together. And we want to thank our partners at the Communications Workers of America for helping us elevate and amplify our work.”

“Since the Center’s beginning, we’ve stood alongside the labor movement to fight pollution, dangerous working conditions and corporate attacks on the environment, human health and the climate,” said Jean Su, a member of the Center’s Executive Conservation Team. “Such collaboration is more important than ever as we face a climate emergency and the need to shift from a dirty economy to one with good-paying, unionized renewable energy jobs. We support and empower every person who works at the Center, and we look forward to partnering with Workers for Biological Diversity as we continue this vital work for all people and the planet.”

The Center’s new union is part of a growing unionization trend among workers at environmental and other nonprofit organizations, including the Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, 350.org, Defenders of Wildlife, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We are very pleased to welcome these new members to CWA Local 9415,” said Decovan “Coby” Rhem, president of CWA Local 9415. “As a local union that has long worked to join our movement with those working in progressive nonprofits to create systemic changes, we see the Workers for Biological Diversity/CWA as an important addition to our CWA family, in particularly strengthening our commitment to supporting the work of environmental justice and to oppose climate change.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is based in Tucson, Ariz. and has offices throughout the country and in Mexico. Its conservation programs include Endangered Species, Environmental Health, Oceans, Public Lands, Carnivore Conservation, Urban Wildlands, Population and Sustainability, International, Energy Justice, Environmental Equity and Justice, Government Affairs and the Climate Law Institute.

1,100 Union Miners in Alabama Are Now in Their Fifth Month on Strike

By Nora De La Cour - Jacobin, August 6, 2021

Although coal-mining jobs comprise a rapidly shrinking share of the US economy, they became potent symbolic fodder during the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns. Candidates from both major parties devoted considerable airtime to the subject, with varying degrees of success. And yet, as 1,100 metallurgical coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama, entered their fifth month on strike earlier this week, the political establishment remained conspicuously silent.

The miners, represented by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), first hit the picket lines on April 1 after contract talks broke down with their employer, Warrior Met Coal. Last week they took their protest to Wall Street, where they gathered outside the headquarters of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and Warrior Met’s most powerful shareholder.

The miners, who extract the coking coal used to make steel, contend that BlackRock is wresting profits from their community with little regard for workers’ well-being.

Warrior Met Coal, Inc., was formed to purchase the remains of Walter Energy after the company declared bankruptcy in 2016. Bankruptcy court proceedings, which tend to value company assets over workers’ well-being, established that Walter Energy’s holdings would be sold “free and clear,” meaning Warrior Met need not honor the commitments its predecessor had made to miners and their union. In a bid to keep the mines open and save the pensions and health coverage of retirees, UMWA members in Brookwood accepted a subpar contract mandating excruciating sacrifices.

Coal mining is one of the most physically hazardous professions in the United States, with high rates of life-altering injuries and diseases like silicosis and black lung. Unionized miners have fought hard for premium health insurance to alleviate the physical toll of their work. Under the contract with Warrior Met, miners saw their 100 percent coverage downgraded to an 80/20 system with massive out-of-pocket costs for members. Pay was slashed by between $6 and $8 dollars per hour, bringing it well below the industry standard for unionized miners. Hard-earned pensions were replaced with shabby 401Ks.

Warrior Met’s scheduling and firing practices became increasingly draconian even as workers’ ability to earn overtime pay was gutted. Miners were expected to work shifts as long as sixteen hours, for as many as seven days a week. “You could be scheduled seven, ten, twenty days straight,” says Haeden Wright, president of the auxiliary for two striking UMWA locals.

Read the entire article here.

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