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Worker Wisdom in a Changing Climate: Al Marshall - SEIU 1021, Oakland Chapter President

Interview and Image by Brooke Anderson - Climate Workers, November 13, 2015, reprinted by permission.

On September 21st, hundreds of people packed the Oakland City Hall to oppose developer Phil Tagami’s proposal to build a coal export terminal in Oakland. Among them were dozens of union members whose locals were opposing coal as anti-union, a major source of carbon emissions, and a risk to public health in working class neighborhoods through which coal trains would pass and deposit toxic coal dust. One of those union members was Al Marshall, SEIU 1021 City of Oakland Chapter President, who told the council that coal dust would only exacerbate his son’s asthma. We later interviewed Al. Here’s his story.

Brooke Anderson, Climate Workers: Thanks for talking to me, Al. You’re a union member. How did you get involved in the union?

Al Marshall, SEIU 1021: I’ve worked as a construction inspector for the City of Oakland for 15 years, and a city employee for 26 years total. One day I showed up to a union meeting, learned that our contract was being violated and that other people were frustrated too. I’ve been involved in the union ever since. I was elected City of Oakland Chapter President two years ago.

BA: So you live in Oakland then?

AM: I used to live in Oakland. But I lost my family home as a result of the furloughs during the financial crisis. My wife was laid off with reinstatement rights up to three years. She was called back with 45 days left, but by that time, the damage had been done. We now live on the other side of the tube in Alameda.

BA: You recently spoke against coal at Oakland City Council. Why do you oppose coal?

AM: My son DeVon is 7. He’s had asthma since he was 1.5 years old. He also has bad allergies. Most nights we have to hook him up to a ventilator to breathe. It’s a 20 minute process, and I lay there with him to help him find a breathing pattern that will calm his cough. As a parent, having a child with asthma is hell. It means many sleepless nights.

Depending on how hot it is and which way the wind is blowing, what’s in the atmosphere triggers my son’s allergies and asthma. So to me, it doesn’t make any sense to transport coal through Oakland. And if we know coal will cause health problems here, why we would send it elsewhere? We are the gatekeeper to the planet. What we do has impacts on the other side of the planet and vice versa. We are all responsible.

BA: At the hearing, we heard the coal lobbyists say we need coal because it will bring jobs.

AM: I find it interesting that all these people are coming out of the woodwork now to say how it important it is to have coal in Oakland to bring jobs. There is enough other things to put on that Army Base to bring good paying jobs to those who need them. We don’t need coal for that. It’s the people who are financially well off who have the money to push coal on the less fortunate neighborhoods. They don’t have to worry about it because they don’t live here. But if they did, they would oppose coal too.

BA: Any last words for the coal industry?

AM: We all have a duty here while we are here on earth. We need to recognize what our calling is and do our best to serve whatever that calling is in the amount of time that we have here. We need to preserve something for those who come after us. It’s called passing the baton, and we have to make sure the baton doesn’t get dropped.

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for Support for Oil Strikers

By Joe Uehline - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 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 IWW is not affiliated with the Labor Network for Sustainability.

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for Support for Oil Strikers The Labor Network for Sustainability today called for environmentalists and other allies of organized labor to support oil refinery workers who went on strike this week.

Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of LNS, said, “Oil refinery workers are in the front line of protecting our communities against the environmental hazards of the oil industry. Their skill and experience is critical for preventing devastating explosions, spills, and releases. The oil companies ar

e creating conditions that make it impossible for refinery workers to protect us. Their strike is about making conditions that are safe and healthy for workers and communities. They deserve the support of environmentalists and everyone concerned about the rights and wellbeing of working people.”

Oil producers have slashed spending because of the falling price of oil. The result has been devastating for workers on the job. According to Steelworkers International Vice-President Gary Beevers, head of the Steelworkers National Oil Bargaining Program, “This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire,” Beevers added.

That does not mean that oil companies lack the money to provide safe and decent working conditions. Refiners’ shares on the Standard & Poor’s 500 have more than doubled since the beginning of 2012. According to LNS Executive Director Uehlein, “It is critical that environmentalists support the rights and needs of working people, just as it is essential that workers support the need for a clean, healthy environment. As we work to protect the earth from climate change, it is particularly important that we advocate for the needs of workers in fossil fuel industries whose wellbeing must not be sacrificed to the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability (www.labor4sustainability.org) is dedicated to engaging trade unionists, workers, and their allies to support economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Contact: Joe Uehlein, Labor Network for Sustainability: joeuehlein@mac.com

Meet the L.A. Household Worker Taking On the Toxic Cleaning Industry

Article and Image by Brooke Anderson - In These Times, September 6, 2017

In 2016, after more than a decade of intense struggle, a statewide coalition of domestic workers won a landmark Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in California. The legislation establishes overtime pay for some of the lowest paid and most exploited workers in California’s massive economy.

Now this scrappy but increasingly influential coalition of mostly first-generation Latina and Filipina immigrant women is taking on the powerful consumer cleaning product industry that is poisoning their bodies, children, air, water and soil.

Like many of the women who mop floors and scrub toilets in other people’s homes, when María first started cleaning, she developed a nasty rash and cough, among other ailments. Now she’s one of the leading organizers behind an effort to require that the consumer cleaning product industry include ingredient lists so housecleaners can identify health risks.

While people have made and cleaned homes for tens of thousands of years using natural cleansers and disinfectants—from vinegar and citrus fruit peels to rosemary and thyme—the production of synthetic chemicals skyrocketed after World War II. Of the at least 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States today, tens of thousands have never been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. Studies show that our bodies—including our breastmilk—are awash in these chemicals, leading to a host of health issues like asthma and cancer. Now, women like María are fighting back.

While in Los Angeles, Calif., I sat down with María, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, in light of recent immigration attacks and the many reprisals workers face for speaking out.

NUMSA condemns Eskom in Bloemfontein for exposing workers to unsafe working conditions

By Phakamile Hlubi-Majola - NUMSA, February 12, 2018

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) condemns the management of Eskom in Bloemfontein for exposing workers to unsafe working conditions. On Friday our members picketed outside Eskom’s Customer Network Centre (CNC) to hand over a memorandum of demands. One of the key demands is the immediate re-instatement of a female senior store worker to the Eskom Centre. The store worker is anemic and contracted aluminum poisoning whilst working at Eskom’s (CNC). Her doctors have advised that she should not be working at the CNC because the aluminum is making her sick. As a result she was temporarily placed at the Eskom Centre and her condition improved. But the management team have ignored this advice from her doctor. They have refused to pay her salary for January and are victimizing her through a disciplinary process. They insist she must return to the CNC or she will be dismissed.

We condemn this blatant disregard for a workers health and safety. We must remind Eskom that last year another one of their employees, Thembisile Yende was killed at the workplace. She too had been exposed to an unsafe working environment. When she complained to her seniors at the plant about her conditions, they ignored her. She was strangled to death and her body was found locked in her office at the Substation where she worked. Her colleague David Ngwenya, has been arrested and charged for her murder.

It seems Eskom is not interested in ensuring that workers are protected and their safety is guaranteed. The victimization of this worker must cease immediately! Furthermore we demand that she be re-instated to the Eskom Centre where she was working. Our memorandum of demands also details a list of grievances which our members have against the firm.

Nova Scotia’s Dirty Secret: The Tale of a Toxic Mill and The Book Its Owners Don't Want You to Read

By Jimmy Thomson - DeSmog.Ca, February 9, 2017

Lighthouse Beach, a white sand crescent on the north coast of Nova Scotia, was once considered the jewel of the region. People would flock there from New Glasgow and Pictou on summer weekends, visiting the lobster bar and swimming in the clear waters of the Northumberland Strait.

There had been plans for a twice-daily train that would carry visitors between the seaside, a hotel and a local yacht club. Dreams began of a destination national park. But all of these plans were choked off by the introduction of a giant pulp and paper mill in 1967 that literally transformed a large part of Pictou Landing into a toxic dump.

You can smell it usually before you can see it: clouds of sulphur belching from the Abercrombie Point Pulp and Paper Mill smokestacks. For decades, the plant pumped contaminated water into the strait, using Boat Harbour, once an idyllic tidal lagoon used for fishing and clam digging, as a settling pond for highly toxic effluent.

It was also once my family’s home.

My family settled over 200 years ago in this piece of Mi’kmaq First Nation territory, eventually transferring their own property into government care for — as they were told — protection for future generations.

Waves now roll in on Lighthouse Beach dark brown and foamy, the colour of Guinness, where I — like so many other kids in the area — learned to swim and sail.

The story of Pictou Landing is one of desperation, of corruption and incompetence. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when Canadian journalist and anthropologist Joan Baxter tried to tell it, old forces of power moved in to silence her. The mill’s owners tried to banish Baxter and her book The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest from local bookstores.

Of course, that backfired in spectacular fashion: The Mill sold out two printings and became the best-selling book in Nova Scotia Chapters and Coles book stores the month it was released.

I reached Baxter at her home in Nova Scotia to talk about The Mill, the stories that were told to hide industry’s impacts from locals and the fight against years of environmental racism and degradation still plaguing the region to this day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NUMSA repeats the call for Sibanye to shut down for the sake of worker safety

By Phakamile Hlubi-Majola - NUMSA, February 8, 2018

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is deeply saddened by news that two workers have died at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Kloof operation in Gauteng. According to the mining house a ‘fall of ground’ incident which the company claims may have been the result of a seismic incident caused the accident. The accident occurred at Sibanye’s Ikamva 4 Shaft‚ Kloof Operations in Glenharvie in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

This is the second incident affecting workers safety this month at Sibanye mine. Last week‚ more than 950 employees were left stranded underground at one of its mines in the Free State when a severe storm resulted in electricity supply being cut, trapping the workers underground. To date Sibanye has not properly explained why its generators failed to kick in. This delay meant that the miners were trapped underground for more than12 hours while attempts were made to rescue them.

It is important to note that these deaths are happening as the global elites in the mining industry are gathered at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, to discuss more ways to exploit workers and pillage the country of its natural resources. The death toll in the South African mining industry remains shockingly high, with at least 81 people killed in 2017 alone. It is a reflection of the industry’s attitude towards the life of an African worker. They continue to shamelessly pursue profits before the well-being of workers. But the Department of Mineral Resources has allowed mining companies to act with impunity when it comes to mining safety.

NUMSA sends its deepest condolences to the families of the workers who lost their lives in this horrific incident. Last week we called for a shut-down of operations at Sibanye in the Free State until workers safety could be guaranteed, but we were ignored by the DMR. We repeat the call that Sibanye-Stillwater should not be allowed to operate until the safety of workers can be guaranteed. We demand a full and detailed investigation into the cause of the accident. It seems evident to us that Sibanye is not taking enough care to guarantee the safety of workers underground.

What in the World is going on at CSX and Amtrak?

By John Paul Wright - Railroad Workers United, February 7, 2018

The latest round of tragic incidents at CSX and AMTRAK is causing a number of news outlets to reach out to Railroad Workers United to gain a rank & file worker perspective. In the past few months, RWU has been contacted by The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and several other news outlets, including a business journal that is based in none other than CSX’s hometown of Jacksonville, FL.

The Voice of the Working Railroader is what is Needed

The questions are wide ranging, understandably well intentioned, and urgent. The common complaint from the journalists that we have talked to is that they lack the perspective from union officials and working railroaders. Many of the journalists report that the company press agents as well as the unions are only willing to release broad generalized statements that offer no real content that would help them with their investigative reporting. RWU hopes to engage rank and file workers in the discussion, providing the media and the general public with the invaluable “inside” perspective that only working railroaders can provide.

CSX Background to Disaster

Before Mantle Ridge and their CEO, superstar Hunter Harrison hedged their way into CSX, employees had already been through several recent rounds of harsh top down management changes, decreed under Cindy Sanborn’s leadership. Union safety programs that were working with management were abolished. Company safety councils were implemented with no input from or involvement with union safety coordinators. Rules violations that were historically not a disciplined offense were now considered major rules infractions.

Very strict rules were put into place that were designed to address safety, especially rules pertaining to switching operations. Draconian attendance policies were put into place. Employees needing to mark off to visit the doctor were being disciplined due to the inhumane nature of these new policies. Seniority rosters were being dovetailed, causing workers to qualify at locations far from their home terminals, being forced to qualify upwards for thirty days or more on their own time (i.e., no paycheck) with no reimbursement for lodging.

Drop ALL the Charges NOW! Rail Safety Requires No Scapegoating

By staff - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January 29, 2018

On Feb 5, 2018, Canadian railroaders Tom Harding and Richard Labrie are ordered back to court to face addition federal charges, even after being acquitted in a 3 month frame up trial related to the Lac-Mégantic oil train wreck of 2013.

Set up to fail!  Every danger was put in place by out-of-control railroad managers and policy makers, while the government looked away. None of those dangers was created on July 6, 2013. They were all in place long before that and part of a system and a culture of recklessness.  But no owners or top manager decision makers are ever going to face trial.  They are actually free and running trains around the world right this minute.

The continued targeting of Harding and Labrie is part of the ongoing attempt by the Canadian government to save face and divert attention away from worldwide calls for a real investigation of who set up the dangerous factors that killed 47 and destroyed the downtown.

The charges now being prosecuted under the Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act are part of an ominous recent move to criminalize workplace rules which has been a long time goal of employers who wish to shift all liability onto their work forces.  They also represent a significant abuse of power by the government in this case, since a jury has already acquitted the two.

The essence of why real rail safety requires that the Canadian government must drop ALL the Charges NOW.

Canada rail workers win fight against frame-up

By John Steele - The Militant, February 5, 2018

The rail bosses and federal government were handed a stinging defeat when the three-and-a-half-month frame-up trial of locomotive engineer Tom Harding and train traffic controller Richard Labrie, both members of United Steelworkers Local 1976, and low-level former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway manager Jean Demaitre, ended here Jan. 19. The 12-member jury declared the three former employees “not guilty” on all counts from the July 2013 derailment and explosion of a 72-car runaway oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

Harding, the main target of the frame-up, was also acquitted on two lesser charges. The jury announced the verdict to a packed courtroom on the ninth day of deliberations.

“I am very happy with the verdict,” retired worker and Lac-Mégantic resident Jean Clusiault, told the media at the courthouse. Clusiault’s 24-year-old daughter, Kathy, was one of those killed at the Musi-Café near the tracks when the train derailed and exploded. “They treated these people horribly, like killers,” he said, referring to the three framed up men. “They broke their lives.”

Many people from Lac-Mégantic attended the trial. Clusiault was there every court day. When reporters asked him who he thought was guilty, he pulled a rumpled piece of paper from his pocket and started reading a list of high company officials, beginning with former CEO Edward Burkhardt.

“This is a victory for workers,” Gilbert Carette, a former Quebec highway maintenance department worker, told the Militant. “This tragedy, caused by company negligence and government deregulation of the rail industry, was placed on the shoulders of innocent workers.”

Carette is active in the Citizens and Groups Coalition for Rail Safety in Lac-Mégantic, which has been fighting for the federal and Quebec governments to build a railway bypass around the town.

“The Citizens Coalition,” said spokesperson Robert Bellefleur in a post-verdict press release, “has always insisted that the three employees were ordinary actors in a business scheme planned at high management levels to ensure maximum benefits for top company officials and shareholders of the oil and railway companies involved.”

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