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Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Workers Stand Firm Despite Management Offensive

By staff - IWW, June 14, 2021

HUNTINGTON, WV — While public concern for urgent action on the environment remains high, one of West Virginia’s most prestigious environmental organizations, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), is poised to miss crucial organizing opportunities this summer as it enters into the fourth month of a brutal dispute over their employee’s right to unionize.

In March 2021, workers of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition organized with majority support as the OVEC Union (OVECU) under the IWW, requesting voluntary recognition.

Despite majority support among the members of OVEC’s Board of Directors for a positive and good faith engagement with staff, the organization has chosen to fight tooth and nail. With Mike Sullivan at the helm of the Board, and Tonya Adkins & Vivian Stockman in Co-Direction, OVEC has chosen to effectively whittle down its capacity to organize as it suspends, fires, and threatens its staff into submission.

Upon learning of the union drive, OVEC management immediately launched an internal hunt for instigators, placing their Director of Organizing, Brendan Muckian-Bates, on suspension. While the organization claimed that Brendan was a supervisor and consequently not entitled to participate in union activity, OVEC was unable to convince the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which ruled that Brendan was to be included in the bargaining unit at a formal hearing earlier this month.

Upon learning of their loss at the NLRB, OVEC management opted to double down by terminating their Director of Organizing as well as their Project Coordinator, Dustin White. While Brendan’s suspension and termination is bad enough — arriving as it does mere days following the birth of a new child — Dustin’s termination is especially egregious given his unimpeachable credentials in the environmental movement.

Heralding from 11 generations of working class ancestry in the so called “coal fields” of Southern West Virginia, and family ties to the UMWA including a great grandfather who fought at Blair Mountain, Dustin became involved in the environmental movement as a volunteer with OVEC around 2007 before joining the staff in 2012. Dustin has lobbied on both the state and federal levels on numerous issues leading to important legal changes. Recognized with an award by OVEC, Dustin has testified before Congress, conducted ground tours with Congressional representatives, held numerous meetings with state and federal agencies, and worked with the United Nations and Human Rights Watch for reports on the conditions in Appalachia. Having been featured in media locally, nationally, and internationally, including a recent feature in a National Geographic series, just prior to his termination Dustin conducted two tours with German Public Broadcasting and independent filmmakers.

In a move that demonstrates tremendous integrity and honor, non profit organizations working on environmental issues, such as the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action have moved to suspend their partnerships with OVEC, sending a comradely but firm signal that the organization will be welcome back into the fold when it returns to good standing with their employees.

An NLRB election is presently taking place and votes will be counted on July 9.

The IWW stands ready to reduce tensions, and negotiate a lasting agreement with OVEC that will enable them to return to their important work.

They Wanted to Keep Working; Exxon-Mobil Locked Them Out: Facing deunionization efforts and the existential threat of climate change, oil refiners in Beaumont, Texas, seek a fair contract

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, May 24, 2021

The lockout began May 1, known in most parts of the world as International Workers’ Day. In a matter of hours, the ExxonMobil Corporation escorted 650 oil refiners in Beaumont, Texas, off the job, replacing experienced members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13 – 243 with temporary workers in an effort to force a vote on Exxon’s latest contract proposal. USW maintains the proposal violates basic principles of seniority, and more than three weeks after the union members were marched out of their facility, they remain locked out.

“We would have rather kept everyone working until we reached an agreement,” Bryan Gross, a staff representative for USW, tells In These Times. ​“That was our goal.”

Because strikes and lockouts are often measures taken under more dire circumstances, either when bargaining has completely stalled or is being conducted in bad faith, USW proposed a one-year contract extension. But Exxon rejected the offer, holding out for huge changes to contractual language regarding seniority, safety and layoffs. ​“It’s a control issue,” Gross adds. ​“Exxon wants control.”

As the oil industry attempts to deskill (and ultimately deunionize) its labor force, refinery workers like those in Beaumont find themselves under siege. Not only is their industry buckling beneath the weight of a global health crisis, but climate change has come to threaten their very livelihoods. Many workers remain skeptical of existing plans for a just transition.

Tesla Found Guilty of Unionbusting

By Kris LaGrange - UComm Blog, March 26, 2021

2018, Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” That tweet began an investigation into the company by the NLRB into union-busting at the company.

Now three years later, the board has found that Musk not only violated federal labor law with that tweet but that he also illegally fired an employee, Richard Ortiz for protected union activity. Ortiz was part of a campaign called “Fair Future at Tesla” which is an ongoing campaign by the UAW to organize the electric car company.

In their decision, the NLRB found that Musk’s tweet went above a typical statement that the company wants to stay union-free and was seen as threatening. This was exacerbated by the fact that Tesla considers communications from Musk, who founded the company, as official company communications. It is illegal to threaten to take away pay or benefits from workers if they are found to be organizing a union.

In their decision, the NLRB ordered Tesla to offer Ortiz his job back and compensate him for lost earnings, benefits, and any adverse tax consequences that resulted from his firing. Tesla is also required to revise their confidentiality agreements that are given to employees to take out a section that bars workers from speaking to the media without explicit written permission from the company. National labor law “protects employees when they speak with the media about working conditions, labor disputes, or other terms and conditions of employment,” the NLRB noted.

The NLRB is also requiring Tesla to post notices nationwide and hold meetings at their main US car plant in Fremont to inform workers of their protected rights. At these meetings, Musk or a “board agent” in the presence of Musk, will have to read the notice to workers, including security guards, managers, and supervisors.

The decision from the NLRB was largely in line with a similar decision against Tesla by an administrative judge in September of 2019. Tesla decided to fight the administrative judge’s decision and bring it all the way to the full board.

“This is a great victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organize in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favor of employers like Tesla who have no qualms about violating the law,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, Director of the UAW Organizing Department. “While we celebrate the justice in today’s ruling, it nevertheless highlights the substantial flaws in US labor law. Here is a company that clearly broke the law and yet it is three years down the road before these workers achieved a modicum of justice.”

A Just Transition to a Fair and Sustainable Society or Healthy Green Growth?

By Cynthia Kaufman - Common Courage, February 18, 2021

The main goal of Norwegian economist Per Espen Stoknes’ new book, Tomorrow's Economy: A Guide to Creating Healthy Green Growth, is to offer the concept of healthy green growth as an alternative to simple GDP growth. Stoknes teaches in a business school, and the economic tools he creates around this concept will probably be very helpful for businesses wanting to measure if, as they create profit, they are also creating environmental and social wellbeing. But for those of us working to shift how we think about the economics of wellbeing, this book is a step backwards in an already rich conversation.

Mainstream economists insist that the way to measure the health of an economy is in growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or how much is bought and sold within an economy. Stoknes by proposing a better form of growth is engaging with the mainstream of Economics, hoping to move it in a direction that takes human and ecological wellbeing into account, while still maintaining the core of its approach.

There are many economists doing work to shift the discipline more significantly away from a focus on growth. They have produced an impressive body of literature that this book would have done well to take more seriously. These economists are developing tools and conceptual frameworks for increasing human wellbeing while maximizing ecological health. Much of that work takes seriously the devastating impacts current trajectory has on the poor in the Global South and on poor and racially marginalized communities in the Global North. In her book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Kate Raworth uses the image of a doughnut to talk about the twin problems of alleviating poverty and staying within the world’s ecological limits to outline the “sweet spot” of what an economy needs to aim at achieving. Raworth is joined by many people doing important work in this area such as Amartya Sen, Juliet Schor, Robert Bullard, Michael Pollan, and Clair Brown.

Does working from home weaken the working class?

By Blue Bird Beta - New Syndicalist, September 16, 2020

This piece came about from conversations within IWW Cymru, and we hope that it kicks off discussion in the wider labour movement. A quick note, while many forms of labour take place at home, such as unemployed and unpaid caring, in this piece “work from home” is used to refer to employed and “self-employed” workers who carry out computer-based work, or former office work.

For many years, workers have been told that flexible hours and working from home are impossible demands. But as companies have been forced to adapt to lock-down this perceived common sense has been shattered. This presents a range of possibilities and opportunities for workers who seek more autonomy in how and where they work.

However, trade unions have yet to examine the enormous challenges that arise when people work from home. Despite surface appearances, it is not quite as liberating as we might think. If not organised by and for the workers, working from home could actually make our conditions worse. This mode of work challenges our typical methods of workplace organising, and it could weaken the working class in some fundamental ways.

Sunrise Movement Allegedly Fires Employee for Union Activity

By Lia Russell - Strike Wave, July 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truck Driver Misclassification: Climate, Labor and Environmental Justice Impacts

By Sam Appel and Carol Zabin - New Economics Foundation, August 2019

The next great challenge for California climate policy lies in the transportation sector. Vehicles account for fully 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions in California, the most of any economic sector in our state, and consistent and significant reductions in vehicle emissions remain elusive.

In the transportation sector, commercial trucking is a critical focus area for climate policy. Heavy-duty vehicles emit a fifth of all transportation-related greenhouse gases. They also produce toxic air pollutants that significantly increase risk of cancer and other severe health challenges for California residents, particularly in low-income communities of color.

To meet these challenges, California has passed and continues to develop new policies designed to accelerate the adoption of low- and zero-emissions vehicles in the commercial trucking subsector. These policies set increasingly stringent emissions standards for commercial trucks over time and provide incentives to buy down the cost of new vehicles and retrofits in advance of these mandates.

This report analyzes a major barrier to successful implementation of new clean truck standards: the common trucking industry practice of classifying (and often misclassifying) truck drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Contracting out truck driving shifts the costs of truck ownership and operation from trucking companies to individual truck drivers. Contract truck drivers, particularly misclassified contractors, earn low incomes and face high capital costs. While regulatory compliance costs for large trucking firms represent a small percent of total revenue, contract truck drivers face compliance expenses far in excess of their yearly income. Under the contractor business model, truck drivers least equipped financially to buy and maintain clean vehicles bear the financial burden of attaining the state’s climate goals in this sector.

This report describes the fundamental misalignment of the contractor business model in trucking with California’s climate goals. The report proceeds by discussing:

  • California’s policies to reduce heavy-duty truck emissions.
  • The environmental, public health, and environmental justice impacts of non-compliance with emissions standards.
  • The nature of the contractor business model, evidence of the widespread misclassification of independent contractors, and the consequent low incomes of truck drivers.
  • The direct link between low road industry practices and the failure to meet emissions standards.
  • Policy principles that can address the climate, economic justice, and environmental justice challenges in the commercial trucking industry.

Currently, the low road labor practice of misclassifying workers in the trucking industry undermines climate action by shifting the costs of emission reductions to the most economically vulnerable actors in the industry: contract truck drivers. Because drivers are unequipped to meet emissions standards, communities impacted by truck pollution continue to suffer the effects. With the correct policy levers in place, California policymakers have an opportunity to support a trucking industry that complies with climate policy and that upholds employment and labor laws for California workers.

Read the report (PDF).

Internationalising the Green New Deal: Strategies for Pan-European Coordination

By Daniel Aldana Cohen, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, and Thea Riofrancos - Common Wealth, 2019

Climate politics are today bursting to life like never before. For four decades, market fundamentalists in the United States and United Kingdom have blocked ambitious efforts to deal with the climate crisis. But now, the neoliberal hegemony is crumbling, while popular climate mobilisations grow stronger every month. There has never been a better moment to transform politics and attack the climate emergency.

When the climate crisis first emerged into public consciousness in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were consolidating a neoliberal doctrine that banished the most powerful tools to confront global heating— public investment and collective action.

Instead, neoliberals sought to free markets from democratically imposed constraints and the power of mass mobilisation. Thatcher insisted that there was no alternative to letting corporations run roughshod over people and planet alike in the name of profit. Soon, New Democrats and New Labour agreed. While the leaders of the third way spoke often of climate change, their actual policies let fossil capital keep drilling and burning. Afraid to intervene aggressively in markets, they did far too little to build a clean energy alternative.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 and the left revival that exploded in its wake laid bare the failures of the neoliberal project. An alternative political economic project is now emerging—and not a moment too soon. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, keeping global warming below catastrophic levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” In other words: public investment and collective action.

Fortunately, movements on both sides of the Atlantic have been building strength to mount this kind of alternative to market fundamentalism. On the heels of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign breathed new life into the American left and its electoral prospects. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, spurred by a vibrant grassroots mobilisation, gives those of us in the U.S. hope: if New Labour could give way to Corbynism, surely Clintonism can give way to the left wing of the Democratic party. In the U.K., drawing on tactics from the Sanders campaign, Momentum has developed a new model of mass mobilisation to transform a fossilised political party. It’s restoring the dream that formal politics can be a means for genuinely democratic political organising. In turn, U.S. leftists are learning from Momentum’s innovations.

The vision of the Green New Deal that has taken shape in the United States in the past few months is in many ways a culmination of the U.S. left’s revival. The Green New Deal’s modest ambition is to do all that this moment requires: decarbonise the economy as quickly as humanly possible by investing massively to electrify everything, while bringing prodigious amounts of renewable power online; all this would be done in a way that dismantles inequalities of race, class and gender. The Green New Deal would transform the energy and food systems and the broader political economy of which they are a part.

Read the report (PDF).

Declaration From The Regional Encounter For The Defense Of Our Territories: Oaxaca, Mexico

By Anonymous Contributor - It's Going Down, December 8, 2017

On the 6th of December, this year, we met in the community of Morro Mazatán, Municipality of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, as the Agrarian Authorities and representatives of the communities of: San Miguel Chongos, Guadalupe Victoria, Santa María Zapotitlán, San José Chiltepec, Santa Lucía Mecaltepec, Santa María Candelaria, San Pedro Sosoltepec and San Pedro Tepalcatepec, all members of the Asamblea del Pueblo Chontal para la Defensa del Territorio [Chontal People’s Assembly for the Defense of the Territory]; as well as representatives of Morro Mazatán, Santa Gertrudis Miramar, Tilzapote, San Pablo Mitla, Tlacolula de Matamoros, Rincón Bamba, Asamblea de Comuneros de Unión Hidalgo [Comuneros’ Assembly of Unión Hidalgo], Colectivo Matzá [Matzá Collective] from the community of San Miguel Chimalapa, and Tequio Jurídico AC [Collective Legal Work Civil Association], to advance the “Regional Encounter for the Defense of Our Territories,” with the goal of informing each other and articulating ourselves for our own defense in the face of megaprojects that dispossess us and extractive projects, among them, mining and Special Economic Zones.

In our analysis, our territories find themselves at risk under a capitalist system which in our country began to deepen in the 90s with the reconfiguration of the state’s legal framework. This included reforms to constitutional article 27, the mining law, the foreign investment law, and the entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, generating legal conditions favoring national and international businesses that seek to impose neo-extractivist projects such as mining, wind energy projects, hydroelectric dams, high-tension towers, Special Economic Zones, tourist projects and as a consequence the militarization and paramilitarization of the territory.

In this encounter we listened to the experiences of regional organization processes from San Pablo Mitla and Tlacolula de Matamoros, who are defending their territory in the face of the installation/relocation of a military zone by the federal government through the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), the state government, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Municipal Presidents of San Pablo Mitla and Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Thanks to citizen organization, they have suspended this project; however, they remain attentive before new threats to reactivate the project utilizing a real estate company on land in Tlacolula. The residents also denounced the mining concessions in the district of Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Likewise, we listened to the experiences of the Chontal People’s Assembly for the Defense of the Territory, who have organized to defend themselves faced with the imposition of the mining concession Zapotitlán 1 granted to the companies Zalamera SA de CV and Minaurum Gold by the Ministry of the Economy. It would strip 5,413 hectares [13,375 acres] from six Chontal communities in the high region.

In this encounter, the representatives of the communities of Tilzapote and San Francisco Cozoaltepec, Municipality of Santa María Tonameca, denounced the supposed small proprietors Pedro Martínez Araiza and Domitila Guzmán Olivera. The community doesn’t know these people, who are trying to take away their territory under the argument that they are executing a resolution of the Unitary Agrarian Tribunal that recognizes them as the owners of 300 hectares [741 acres] where the village sits, in so doing, displacing them from their community. The Agrarian Ombudsman’s office, the Ministry of Agrarian, Territorial, and Urban Development, the National Agrarian Register, and the aforementioned Unitary Agrarian Tribunal Number 21 are among those responsible for this situation, putting the pueblo—composed of 70 families—at risk. These government institutions and small proprietors threaten the inhabitants with the loss of 300 hectares, which spans the entirety of their territory, and the neglect of their personal defense. [Translator’s note: read more about this situation here, and there is a video in Spanish here.]

Those representing the Matzá Collective from the community of San Miguel Chimalapa denounced the fact that their 134,000 hectare [331,000 acre] communal territory has been pierced by a series of landgrabs characterized by agrarian conflicts with the state of Chiapas and mining concessions, which span 7,200 hectares [18,000 acres] of communal lands. The companies involved are Zalamera, Minaurum Gold, and Gol Cooper, and their projects would put at risk the Espíritu Santo, Zacatepec, and Ostuta rivers, on which the lives of the Zoques, Binniza, and Ikoots peoples depend.

The representative of the Comuneros’ Assembly of Unión Hidalgo denounced the illegality of the contracts on common lands signed by wind energy companies like France Electric and EDEMEX with supposed small proprietors. The Unitary Agrarian Tribunal of Tuxtepec does not acknowledge the experts’ reports offered by the agrarian community, and validates these contracts.

Shock Doctrine Implemented in Oaxaca After Earthquake

By Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F. - It's Going Down, November 28, 2017

Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine, argues that the economic policies of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics have gained importance in countries with free market models not because they are popular, but rather because through the impacts of disasters or contingencies on the psychology of society, in the face of commotion and confusion, unpopular reforms can be put into place.

It has been little more than a month since September 7, when the strongest earthquake of the last 100 years in Mexico hit, at 8.2 on the Richter scale. The landscape in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the region most affected, is still one of devastation. The city of Juchitán de Zaragoza resembles a ghost town. Wherever you look, there is debris or damaged buildings. The police and military still roam the streets, heavily armed.

The earth has not stopped shaking. Strange sounds emanate from the depths of the sea on the shores of Oaxaca. It is possible to feel tremors every hour. Mexico’s National Seismological Service has registered more than 6,000 aftershocks, in addition to a second earthquake with a Richter scale reading of 7.2 that happened on September 19 and devastated several sites in Mexico City, where 369 deaths have counted as of the October 4.

Official data from the government of Oaxaca state that the earthquake affected 120,000 people in 41 municipalities, as well as 60,600 homes, of which 20,664 were destroyed and 39,956 had partial damage. Its infrastructure, drinking water, and drainage networks are damaged. The local economy has been hit. Garbage is piling up in the streets. There is concern about a possible health crisis.

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