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Striking Alabama coal miners protest corporate greed at NYC BlackRock headquarters

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

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

Coal Miners Strike in Alabama: 'Warrior Met Coal Ain't Got No Soul!'

By Nora De La Cour - Common Dreams, June 28, 2021

On June 22, Alabama coal miners represented by the United Mine Workers of America picketed BlackRock, State Street Global Advisors, and Renaissance Technologies—the investment firms who finance and reap the profits from their employer, Warrior Met Coal.

Just as Amazon workers were concluding their disastrous union election in Bessemer, about 1,100 metallurgical coal miners were voting to strike Warrior Met Coal in nearby Brookwood, Alabama. The miners say Warrior Met and the New York hedge funds backing it have failed to follow through on their end of an agreement made five years ago.

Warrior Met Coal, Inc, was formed to purchase the assets of Walter Energy after that company was declared bankrupt in 2016. The sale terms stipulated that Walter Energy's remains would be purchased "free and clear," meaning Warrior Met was not obligated to employ Walter Energy's miners or recognize their union. Warrior Met agreed to retain the miners and honor their representation if they signed a subpar contract mandating excruciating sacrifices. These included hefty cuts to pay and benefits paired with inhumane scheduling and firing policies. "You could be scheduled 7, 10, 20 days straight," says Haeden Wright, president of the auxiliary for two striking UMWA locals.

Workers saw their hard-earned pensions swapped out for threadbare 401Ks. They lost much of their ability to earn overtime pay, all but three holidays off with their families, and 30 minutes of paid lunch time (lunch is eaten deep underground near dangerous methane gas and coal and silica dust). They could take three days off if a loved one died, but under Warrior Met's "four strike" policy a fourth day off would result in termination. Pay was slashed by between $6-$8 an hour, bringing it well below the industry standard for unionized miners. Health insurance was cut from 100% coverage to an 80/20 system with massive out-of-pocket costs—no small concern in one of the most physically hazardous professions, with high rates of life-altering injuries and 10% of workers suffering from black lung

Warrior Met assured the miners that if they accepted these losses, they would be taken care of in the next contract. So they endured the squeeze and delivered Warrior Met from its financial hardship, producing "ungodly amounts of coal" and billions in profit for the company and its investors. When contract negotiations began this spring, however, Warrior Met reneged on its promise, refusing to bargain in good faith. 

From Black Lung to BlackRock: Striking Alabama Coal Miners Protest Wall St. Financiers of Warrior Met

Kim Kelly interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González - Democracy Now, June 22, 2021

More than a thousand coal miners at Warrior Met Coal are now in the third month of their strike in the right-to-work state of Alabama. The miners walked off the job on April 1 after their union, the United Mine Workers of America, called the first strike to hit the state’s coal mining industry in four decades. Workers are fighting for improvements to wages and benefits after they agreed to drastic cutbacks in 2016, when Warrior Met Coal took control of the mines after the previous company went bankrupt. Today a group of striking mine workers traveled from Alabama to Wall Street to protest the investment firms backing Warrior Met. “These are the companies that fund Warrior Met and allow Warrior Met to pay their executives millions of dollars a year, while the miners, the workers themselves who are creating that value, are struggling to get by on sometimes as little as $22 an hour,” says labor journalist and organizer Kim Kelly.

Conservative Talking Heads Love Coal Miners—Until They Go on Strike

By Jacob Morrison - Jacobin and Labor Notes[1], May 17, 2021

A supposed defense of coal miners, their families, their way of life, and their culture has been front and center of the Republican agenda ever since the push for decarbonization began. It was a key part of the Right’s pushback against Obama and his “war on coal.” Hillary Clinton faced tremendous pushback for her awful statement on the 2016 campaign trail that she was going to “put a lot of coal miners out of business.”[1] In contrast, Trump said, “we’re going to put these coal miners back to work,” even bizarrely donning a hard hat in coal country at one point.

Many leftists have long argued that this faux-populist rhetoric was empty. Of course this advocacy ostensibly on behalf of coal miners was really only ever meant to help coal bosses.

Miners Walk Out

The last seven weeks confirms it: Republicans’ rhetoric is all a ruse. Why? Because since April 1, eleven hundred coal miners at Warrior Met coal mine have been on strike — first over unfair labor practices, then for a fair contract.

These miners have sacrificed for the company to bring it into solvency following a bankruptcy in 2015, when they accepted a contract with major concessions including a $6/hour pay cut, frequent seven-day workweeks, a loss of their guaranteed paid lunch break, and overtime compensation. They did their part, and now the company is solvent. In fact, two of the last five years saw record-breaking coal production, and the company’s CEO now has a record-breaking annual compensation of $4 million. But Warrior Met Coal did not hold up their end of the bargain.

First, they negotiated in such bad faith without any concrete proposals that workers were forced to go on an unfair labor practices strike. This forced the company to the table, but with an offer that workers found insulting, including up to $1.50/hour raise over five years.

The workers rejected this offer overwhelmingly, with an overwhelming majority of the miners voting against its ratification and opting to continue the strike.

To add insult to injury, while they were on strike, the company filed a complaint against the workers in an attempt to suppress their speech by limiting their ability to picket. The courts, as they have so often throughout American labor history, gladly cooperated, first limiting picket lines to six people per entrance, and then allowing the union a whole ten people per entrance. All the while, the miners have faced intimidation from the cops, who falsely tell them they are not allowed to walk on their picket lines. Meanwhile, the company buses in scabs to undercut them.

Southern Struggles in Transit During Covid-19: Safe Jobs Save Lives Campaign

By various - Southern Workers Assembly, July 12, 2020

Transit workers, particularly in the public sector, have been on the frontlines of struggle in the midst of both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprising. Numerous successful job actions, work stoppages, and strikes have been held by workers in Birmingham, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia, among many other cities throughout the South and the U.S.

These struggles have largely elevated health and safety demands for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), better sanitizing of buses and transit centers, and social distancing - for transit workers and passengers alike - alongside calls for hazard pay. Many frontline essential workers rely on public transit to get to and from their jobs, a reality that has been reflected in many of the fights that have broken out in transit during this period.

Because of the failure of reactionary state governments that have capitulated to the demands of capital and other right-wing forces who have called for a quick return to business as usual, alongside the woefully inadequate for profit healthcare system in this country, COVID-19 cases are once again spiking across the U.S. and particularly in the South.

In April, the Southern Workers Assembly launched the Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign to advance the organization of workers at the workplace and to build solidarity formations such as local workers assemblies, particularly in light of the many struggles breaking out in response to the crisis and a system that values profit above all else. The SWA views the development of this type of organization as critical to confront the two pandemics facing workers, particularly Black workers - COVID-19 and racism.

What can all workers learn from the struggles waged by transit workers during this period? How can we continue to build a regional Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign, alongside the formation of workers unity council and workers assemblies? Join us for the discussion that will take up these and other questions.

Gulf South for a Green New Deal Policy Platform

By Colette Pichon Battle, et. al. - Gulf South Rising, Spring 2019

The Gulf South is uniquely positioned to be a national leader in the movement for a Green New Deal. With the climate crisis accelerating faster than even most scientific predictions, deep investment in Gulf South frontline communities will yield an opportunity for this region to be a global leader in equitable approaches to a socio-economic transformation that builds wealth and sustainability for the nation and the world.

Gulf South for a Green New Deal is a multi-state effort to address the impact of the global climate crisis on some of the most unique communities in the US. In May 2019, more than 800 advocates, farmers, fisherfolk, and community leaders from across the Gulf South gathered in New Orleans around a shared vision to advance regional sustainability in the face of the global climate crisis.

The creation of the Gulf South for a Green New Deal (GS4GND) Policy Platform was a six-month process anchored by the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP). Using techniques from the People’s Movement Assembly Process, GCCLP facilitated a five-state process of formalizing frontline voices. Through a broader regional organizing effort, over 100 original signatories are listed herein. Additional signatories will be updated quarterly.

This document is a collective assertion that the Gulf South must be included in the development of national policy. This platform is not a comprehensive policy vision, but rather a starting point and living tool of regional alignment and broad organizing in the Gulf South. The principles, goals, and strategies of this Policy Platform are offered to address what a Green New Deal must look like to be successful in the Gulf South.

We offer this document as a step towards climate justice, self-determination, and dignity for all people everywhere.

As goes the South, so goes the nation.

Prison Drinking Water and Wastewater Pollution Threaten Environmental Safety Nationwide

By John E. Dannenberg - Prison Legal News, November 15, 2017

Aging infrastructure concerns are not limited to America's highways, bridges and dams. Today, crumbling, overcrowded prisons and jails nationwide are bursting at the seams -- literally -- leaking environmentally dangerous effluents not just inside prisons, but also into local rivers, water tables and community water supplies. Because prisons are inherently detested and ignored institutions, the hidden menace of pollution from them has stayed below the radar. In this report, PLN exposes the magnitude and extent of the problem from data collected over the past several years from seventeen states.

Alabama

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been ignoring complaints of wastewater pollution from its prisons since 1991. Back then, the problem was limited to leaking sewage from the St. Clair prison. Although the Alabama Legislature promised to provide the $2.3 million needed to build a new wastewater treatment plant that would match St. Clair's vastly expanded population, no money has been appropriated.

Today, the problem has grown statewide and includes pollution from ADOC's Draper, Elmore, Fountain/Holman, Limestone prisons and the Farcquhar Cattle Ranch and Red Eagle Honor Farm. The problem has drawn the ire of the private watchdog group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) and of the state Attorney General (AG), both of whom have filed lawsuits against ADOC. The AG's office claims ADOC is violating the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act (Act) by dumping raw sewage into Little Canoe Creek, from which it flows into the Coosa River. The AG has demanded that ADOC fix the problems and pay fines for the damage they have caused. All parties acknowledge that the problems stem from ADOC's doubling of its population to 28,000, while the wastewater treatment facilities were designed for less than half that number.

The environmental damage is huge. ADOC is pumping extremely high levels of toxic ammonia, fecal coliform, viruses, and parasites into local streams and rivers. When raw sewage hits clean water, it sucks up the available dissolved oxygen to aid decomposition. But in so doing, it asphyxiates aquatic plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.
Telltale disaster signs include rising water temperatures and the appearance of algae blooms. The pollution renders public waterways unfit for human recreation as well.

BWR notes in its suit that Donaldson State Prison has committed 1,060 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1999, dumping raw sewage into Big Branch and Valley creeks, and thence into the Black Warrior River. BWR seeks fines for the violations, which could range from $100 to $25,000 each. Peak overflows were documented at 808,000 gallons in just one day, which isn't surprising for a wastewater treatment plant designed to handle a maximum of 270,000 gallons per day. Donaldson, designed to hold only 990 prisoners, has 1,500 today.

One path to reformation was found in turning over wastewater treatment to privately-run local community water treatment districts. Donaldson came into compliance with its wastewater permit after contracting with Alabama Utility Services in 2005. Limestone and other ADOC prisons are now seeking privatization solutions.

Critical Gulf: The Vital importance of ending new fossil fuel leases in the Gulf of Mexico

By various - Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Bold Louisiana, August 2016

As this report was going to press, a massive storm caused unprecedented flooding in Louisiana, destroying tens of thousands of homes and killing at least 11 people. Thousands of others were forced to evacuate. This is exactly the kind of extreme weather projected to become more severe on the Gulf Coast as the climate crisis intensifies.

And that’s what this report is about: the necessity of a rapid and just transition to clean energy to reduce this terrifying threat to the Gulf Coast. We must begin by stopping new fossil fuel leasing in the Gulf of Mexico to prevent offshore drilling and fracking that could ultimately contribute nearly 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to global warming.

“Climate change is never going to announce itself by name. But this is what we should expect it to look like,” was the first line of a New York Times story about the flood. Indeed climate scientists and meteorologists are linking the Louisiana deluge to a series of extreme floods caused by climate change in the United States over the past two years.

The link between burning fossil fuels and heavy rains is clear and direct. Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases, which warms our atmosphere. “As the atmosphere warms, so does the ocean,” climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe explained in a recent Facebook post about the Louisiana flooding. “Evaporation speeds up, making more water available for a storm to pick up and dump as it sweeps through.”

The National Weather Service in New Orleans measured record levels of moisture in the air during this storm. More than two feet of rain fell on Baton Rouge and southern Louisiana in under 48 hours, sending most of the region’s rivers over their banks on Aug. 17 and flooding thousands of homes. That deluge was the result of a low-pressure storm system that stalled off the coast and kept sucking more moisture from the unusually warm Gulf waters, which will only grow warmer over time.

It’s high time the communities of the Gulf Coast cease to be treated as sacrifice zones. They deserve environmental justice and a clean energy future. Turning away from fossil fuel extraction in the Gulf will allow them to weather future storms, help end our dangerous collective reliance on fossil fuels, and dramatically reduce hazards for future generations.

Read the report (PDF).

Promises! Promises! Promises!

By Joe Womack - Bridge the Gulf, October 6, 2014

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.

Back in the 60's I could always tell when election time was near. First, city equipment would show up to clean the streets and clear out vacant lots. Then the politician would make an appearance at the Elks and buy a round of drinks for everyone in the place. The next day he would sponsor a chicken and fish fry for the community. At the height of the community outing he would make a speech. That speech would always promise everything but deliver nothing.

One thing I have learned over time is numbers never lie. During the late 1960's through the mid-1970's there existed a large governmental project to widen and deepen the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which stretches 234 miles to connect the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee River in Alabama. It was a multi-million dollar project that most Northern politicians considered a waste of government money. However, the Southern politicians banned together and yelled “jobs, jobs, jobs!” They argued that completion of this project would mean jobs for years to come for Alabama and Tennessee residents. They said that this project would take business away from the Mississippi River and barges would run up and down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway 24/7/365. In addition, they said that Mobile would be the “New Atlanta. That the completion of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway project would do for Mobile the same thing that the completion of the International Atlanta Airport did for the economy of Atlanta, when it turned Atlanta into the "economic hub of the south".

At that time I was in college in Virginia and upon graduation spent time in the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia near Washington, D.C. For six years living near the nation’s capital, I followed the national debate about the Tenneessee-Tombigbee Waterway. When my active duty period ended, I listed three places I wanted to live, all in the South: Mobile, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; and Huntsville, Alabama, in that order. Mobile was at the top of the list because it was home and also because I believed promises made by politicians from my hometown. I listed Atlanta next because Atlanta was becoming the place to be. Good jobs, good people and good fun. Huntsville was next because I had friends there and they all had good jobs. NASA had moved there and so had Hughes and Boeing Aircraft Companies as well as other Fortune 500 Companies. I arrived back in Mobile on a Friday. I spent the entire weekend partying with my high school friends and learned that a position was available with the company that my best friend was employed with. He told me to give him one day to talk to personnel, put on a suit and tie and come for an interview on Tuesday. I did and went to work on Wednesday. That job and company had nothing to do with the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The plant had been constructed years before the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway had begun. The jobs promised from the Waterway did not materialize for my community.

It became a running joke that the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway was “the biggest man-made fishing hole in the United States”. Today, there are places along the waterway where you can barely get one barge through, let along barges traveling in opposite directions. The Mississippi River is still considered the waterway of choice for barges traveling north to south and vice-versa. Politicians that pushed that project through got their rewards and are now living the “life of Riley” in retirement. Construction jobs were available during the 10-year project, however those jobs all went away with the completion of the project. A project considered to be a job creator must create jobs that are sustainable years after project completion.

Dispersant illness robbing a once strong local generation of work, economic security

By Charles Digges - Bellona, September 4, 2014

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.

NEW ORLEANS/BAYOU LABATRA, Alabama – Lamont Moore’s short dreadlocks and mammoth fists make a shot glass of his coffee mug in the well of his knot-knuckled hand as he leans back to ponder a question, shying vampirically from the light bellowing into the Waffle House on Alabama State Road 39.

Adjusting his Terminator shades with his other meaty mitt, he radiates the impression of a retired prizefighter tired of talking to the media.

But Moore, 34, is fatigued for other reasons. He can’t climb a flight of stairs without having to sit down and catch his wind. He pinches the bridge of his nose against the swirling hurricane of a debilitating migraine. He’s chosen not to join the rest of us in breakfast because of stomach pain. And he can’t read the menu anyway – the sunlight is too much for his eyes.

lamar

Lamar Moore, who cleaned beaches in Alabama during the Deepwater Horizon spill. (Charles Digges/Bellona)

Even the sunglasses that he fashioned out of welder’s goggles don’t help. Most of the time, he says, he bumbling around in a whiteout.

He finally breaks the silence, rubbing a cyst the size of cherry on his jaw that’s been there since he worked the beaches of Dauphin Island, Alabama to help cleanup the oil of the Deepwater Horizon spill. “I’m really sorry, but what did you ask?”

The memory loss is part of the overall symptomology of Corexit poisoning, or “BP syndrome,” as it’s sometimes referred to by Dr. Michael Robichaux, one of the few Gulf area physicians to treat and document the symptoms of poisoning by crude and Corexit, the oil dispersant that BP dumped 1.84 million gallons of to hide the effects of its 4.9 million barrel blowout in the Gulf of Mexico’s Macondo well.

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