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Right to Work on a Hot Planet

By Kate Aronoff - New Republic, January 25, 2021

By 1961, Charles Koch had stacked up three engineering degrees and was back home in Wichita, Kansas, to join the family business of oil refining, pipelines, and manufacturing. His father, Fred, was at the time attempting to tackle a different sort of engineering challenge: how to get unions, Communists, and big government off his back. The Nazi sympathizer Koch patriarch fought against unions in Kansas, and when the John Birch Society convened its inaugural meeting in 1958—initially composed exclusively of National Association of Manufacturers members—he enthusiastically attended as a co-founder. According to a 1961 Washington Post profile of Koch’s white supremacist conspiracy-theory club, “leadership of the Birch Society overlaps heavily with the leadership of the organizations that successfully campaigned in 1958 for a right to work amendment to the State’s Constitution.” Fred died in 1967, but Charles eagerly put his education to work carrying on his family’s 60-year war against collective bargaining rights and that pesky concept known as representative democracy. When it comes to right to work, especially, labor and climate campaigners quite literally share a common enemy. 

If those two groups have found it difficult to join forces, their adversaries are elegantly streamlined. During the Obama administration, Koch Industries trained its fossil fuel empire on the twin goals of turning legislatures red and pushing through deceptively named right-to-work statutes, all the while finding time to help kill federal climate legislation. Though no state had enacted right-to-work rules since Oklahoma in 2001, five have taken them up since 2012. This most recent push has focused on sapping public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights, in particular, like the bill that led thousands of union members to peacefully occupy Wisconsin’s capitol dome in 2011. 

That some of the most high-profile targets of anti-labor measures have been swing states with strong union legacies—namely, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan—is no coincidence. As E.J. Dionne pointed out after Michigan enacted its right-to-work measures in 2013, Obama had won 66 percent of the state’s union households a year earlier. He won the state overall by just 1 percent. In 2018, the right’s biggest win against unions came with the decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which made right to work the national standard for public-sector workers. The crux of that case was AFSCME member Mark Janus’s argument—in a case supported enthusiastically by Koch networks—that being forced to pay agency fees—which cover the costs of union representation and contract negotiation—violated his free speech. This was a major blow to unions’ capacity to extract gains from employers, weakening labor’s power overall. That’s the whole point.

For Charles Koch and other captains of industry, the calculation behind crushing unions isn’t complicated: Weaker unions mean a weaker opposition to right-wing policies, including the sort of regressive climate and energy measures they’ve helped push around the country through the American Legislative Exchange Council. The right’s general project of minority rule—whether in weakening small-d democratic institutions like unions, gerrymandering congressional districts, or suppressing votes—is incompatible with climate action and democracy itself. Big business has long understood this. 

Teamsters at Marathon’s St. Paul Park refinery strike over safety

By Staff - Union Advocate, January 21, 2021

Operations and maintenance workers at Marathon Petroleum’s refinery in St. Paul Park went on strike today. Members of Teamsters Local 120 say they are taking a stand not just for good jobs, but also for the safety of their community.

At issue in the dispute is management’s ability to replace union members with workers from lowest-bidder subcontractors, including firms from outside Minnesota.

“We want a contract that protects jobs where the money goes back into our communities, jobs for people who have an interest in the safety of our community,” Local 120 Business Agent Scott Kroona said. “If somebody comes in from Texas or Indiana, which is what the company wants, their money goes back to Texas or Indiana. And they don’t care about St. Paul Park.”

Local 120 represents nearly 200 workers at the Marathon refinery.

Picket lines went up at each of the facility’s gates at 5 p.m., and they will stay up around the clock indefinitely, Kroona said.

With Teamsters outside, it raises the question of who’s doing the work inside the refinery. Kroona said he expected the company to bring in replacement workers.

“I have to believe they are not as skilled or well-trained as the workers we have in there,” he said. “And when you’ve got petroleum products under high temperatures and high pressure, every job is dangerous. I don’t care how minor a job you’d call it.”

As proof, the union pointed to an April 2018 explosion at the Husky refinery in Superior, Wis., which resulted in worker injuries and residential evacuations in the area. Contractors working in the refinery at the time later sued the company.

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.

This Former Coal Miner’s Perspective on Climate Change

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, September 19, 2017

I do not subscribe to the labels being thrown out these days. I do not consider myself an environmentalist, a liberal, nor do I consider myself a conservative either. I am an Appalachian family man who cares about his kids more than the coal companies do.

I’m not naive enough to believe that companies who seek a profit from extracting coal, oil, or natural gas, tell us the truth. Instead, they stretch the truth beyond its limits to protect their investments and bottom lines. We see it every day, and miner’s face it when they are injured and seek compensation to continue feeding their families.

Being Appalachian, I also know that many politicians and charitable organizations who have come to “help” us over the years have used our poverty and suffering to gain votes and donations. It is a problem that continues to occur, and after nearly a century’s worth of exploitation from outside entities, it is no wonder we have trust issues.

People are just trying to survive day to day, and when you are just trying to survive, it is difficult to see issues as more than black and white. We don’t have time to ask questions and research answers outside of the information we receive from the most influential people in our lives—friends, family, and sadly, employers.

When it comes to climate change, people rationalize their opinions based on how it affects them. For those of us in Appalachia, the way climate change is affecting us is almost always perceived through the “War on Coal.” Surprisingly, no one seems keen enough to try to navigate around that communications framework with any amount of credibility.

Tesla Workers File Charges with National Labor Board as Battle with Elon Musk Intensifies

By David Dayen - American Prospect, April 20, 2017 (article copublished by Capital & Main)

Workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, electric car factory have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing the company of illegal surveillance, coercion, intimidation, and prevention of worker communications. The employees, who have been attempting to organize the approximately 7,000 workers at the plant through the United Auto Workers, claim that Tesla violated multiple sections of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the right to unionize.

“I know my rights, and I know that we acted within them,” said Jonathan Galescu, a body repair technician. Galescu and his colleagues have previously cited low pay, hazardous work conditions, and a culture of intimidation as motivations to unionize the plant.

On February 10, several Tesla employees passed out flyers to their colleagues during a shift change. The literature featured a blog post from Medium written by Jose Moran, a Tesla production associate on the body-line. Moran’s post was the first public acknowledgment that some workers at Tesla were interested in organizing a union.

According to the NLRB complaint obtained by Capital & Main, managers at Tesla “conduct[ed] surveillance” on the workers who passed out the literature, and those who received the flyers. A month later, on March 23, Tesla management held a meeting, telling workers “they were not allowed to pass out any literature unless it was pre-approved by the Employer,” the complaint reads.

“We should have the right to distribute information to our co-workers without intimidation,” said Michael Sanchez, who works on door panels at the factory and has joined the unionizing effort. “You can’t fix problems if you’re not allowed to talk about them.”

Employees also object in the complaint to a confidentiality agreement presented last November, which vowed consequences (including “loss of employment” and “possible criminal prosecution”) for speaking publicly or to the media regarding “everything that you work on, learn about, or observe in your work about Tesla”—including wages and working conditions. Confidentiality agreements are common in auto factories to protect trade secrets, but Tesla’s was so far-reaching that five members of the California legislature wrote to the company, warning that the agreement violated protected employee activity.

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