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Solidarity with Railroad Workers

Ukrainian Miners Win Their Wartime Strike, but Victory Looks Short-Lived

By Kateryna Semchuk - Open Democracy, October 21, 2022

On 6 October, Ukraine’s energy ministry dismissed Trotsko following pressure from a delegation of strikers that visited the energy minister twice. But some workers at the mine and the union representative fear this is not the end of their struggle against what they allege is a continuous corrupt attempt to take control of the mine.

“This is not a victory. Victory is when we mine an extra 1,000 tonnes of coal. This [whole situation] was a misunderstanding,” said Volodymyr Yurkiv, the mine’s previous director, who during the strike period was demoted to chief engineer. In the month of strike action, the mine could have earned five million hryvnias (£110,000), Yurkiv added.

Workers at Mine No. 9 have been fighting to keep Yurkiv – who was reinstated as director by the ministry on 8 October after Trotsko was dismissed – in office, as they say they are completely satisfied with his management. But Mykhailo Volynets, a Ukrainian MP who is also chair of the Independent Trade Union of Ukrainian Miners, is among those who think Yurkiv could be dismissed once again. He told openDemocracy that the latest events “are not the end of this story”.

“It will happen again,” Volynets said, claiming the energy ministry will try to appoint a new director at mine No. 9 for a third time. Volynets believes there are still corrupt insiders at Ukraine’s energy ministry, claiming the recent new managerial appointments have been made on behalf of the smotriashchiy.

'A Huge Deal': Major Rail Union Rejects White House-Brokered Contract Proposal

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, October 10, 2022

Maintenance workers voted against the tentative agreement reached last month and said without a fair contract, a work stoppage could begin as early at November 19.

A union representing railroad maintenance and construction workers on Monday announced that its members have rejected the tentative agreement reached last month between unions and rail carriers, putting pressure on the carriers to offer a better deal to workers in order to avoid a nationwide strike in the coming weeks.

Reporting a turnout of 11,845 members, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) said that 6,646 people had voted against ratifying the agreement and 5,100 had supported the deal, which was brokered last month with the help of the Biden administration's Presidential Emergency Board. Ninety-nine ballots were returned blank or were voided due to user errors.

The tentative agreement reached last month would include one additional paid day off and permit workers to take unpaid days to receive medical care without being penalized by carriers' strict attendance policies—two key concessions from the companies, as railroad workers' unions had expressed deep dissatisfaction with attendance rules and a lack of any paid sick time.

The deal also would include a 24% pay raise between 2020 and 2024 and would freeze workers' monthly contributions for their healthcare plans.

After the tentative agreement was reached on September 15, the railroad sector's unions agreed not to strike as workers across the industry voted on the deal.

Now, said the BMWED—the nation's third-largest rail workers' union and a division of the Teamsters—on Monday, a work stoppage could begin as early as November 19, depending on the upcoming votes by other unions.

Weyerhaeuser strike enters fifth week

By Don McIntosh and Colin Staub - Northwest Labor Press, October 7, 2022

Weyerhaeuser mills and log yards across the Northwest have been silent more than four weeks now as the lumber giant faces off against its own workers.

At four sawmills, two log export facilities, two statewide log truck operations, and seven logging camps, 1,100 Weyerhaeuser workers have been on strike since Sept. 13 over a basic union principle, fairness. Weyerhaeuser, after reporting record profits of $2.6 billion last year, proposed that its workers make concessions: accept wages that lose ground to inflation, and start paying a share of health insurance premiums. Weyerhaeuser is one of the rare employers that pays the entire health insurance premium, a benefit that used to be standard, and workers think if they give that up, it may never get better.

Northwest Weyerhaeuser workers already agreed to concessions in their most recent contract, including a two-tier set-up which terminated the pension for new hires. Workers both old and new now say they regret that. They also agreed to allow the company to leave the union-sponsored health and welfare trust, and they say the health insurance benefits that replaced it aren’t as good.

They’re dead set against making concessions again.

On the picket line at the Longview lumber mill, strikers were clear-eyed about what’s at stake.

After 18 Months, Striking Warrior Met Miners and Families Hold the Line

By Ericka Wills - Labor Notes, October 7, 2022

A somber bell toll broke the silence outside the West Brookwood Church in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The white-gloved hand of Larry Spencer, International Vice President of Mine Workers (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the Miners’ Memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud.

“As we gather this evening for our service, it is appropriate that we remember in the past twelve months over 2021 and 2022 there has been tremendous heartache as the result of mining accidents across this country,” Thomas Wilson, a retired UMWA staff representative, announced from the podium. “Twelve coal miners’ lives have been snuffed out—also, 19 metal and non-metal miners—for a total of 31 fallen miners since we last gathered.”

The annual Miners’ Memorial Service commemorates not only those who left for work in the mines over the past year never to come home again; it also honors the 13 men who died in a series of explosions in Jim Walter Resources Mine No. 5 in Brookwood on September 23, 2001. Standing on the front lawn of the church in the shadows of mine tipples, families reminisced about gathering at the same location on that fateful day in September when they anxiously waited to hear if their loved ones had survived the blasts.

In 2001, the No. 5 mine was owned by Walter Energy. Today it is part of Warrior Met Coal, the company at the center of the UMWA’s 550-day strike, the longest and largest ongoing strike in the United States. As strikers, families, and community members gathered to remember the fallen miners, all were reminded that what is at stake in the Warrior Met strike is, literally, life and death.

Living Wages on a Living Planet!

By staff - Just Transition Partnership, October 6, 2022

JUST TRANSITION PARTNERSHIP STATEMENT ON CLIMATE JUSTICE, THE COST OF LIVING AND INDUSTRIAL DISPUTES

Soaring inflation has workers facing a real terms pay cut on top of years of stagnating wages. After a summer of heatwaves and drought, we are heading into a winter where millions won’t be able to afford to heat their homes.

Yet, as poverty and climate breakdown impact upon millions of people, the energy companies driving both crises are raking in massive profits. Workers are striking to defend wages and services while climate campaigners are stepping up their actions against profiteering companies. Both confront government policies which disregard the concerns of climate, environment and workers.

The solutions to these crises are the same:

We need a just transition that includes massive sustainable investment in renewable energy and provides secure work, affordable publicly-owned energy and protection from the volatility of energy markets – with plans to plough profits into renewables and high quality services using both taxation and legal duties on private companies; all delivered by well-paid, skilled and secure workforce.

These things won’t happen without workers in their trade unions organising to defend their wages, their jobs, their future and their rights through the power of collective bargaining. The workers’ movement and the climate justice movement need to build our collective power if we are to defend our future. That is why climate justice solidarity with workers on strike is growing and trade unions are backing urgent action for a Just Transition.

We’re Fighting for Our Future:

• living wages based on cost of living pay rises now

• cheap, accessible and clean energy

• green jobs

• a safe planet to live on

RWU Urges Operating Crafts to "Vote No!" Defeat the Tentative Agreement

By Railroad Workers United - Railroad Workers United, October 5, 2022

Based upon feedback from working railroaders of the operating crafts, the Steering Committee of Railroad Workers United (RWU) voted Wednesday 10/5/22 to urge members of the operating crafts to vote down the Tentative Agreement (TA) when they receive their ballots in the coming weeks.

In the face of overwhelming opposition from union members to the Presidential Emergency Board #250 recommendations - of all crafts and all unions, of all age groups and seniority - in September, RWU had previously stated our Opposition to any Tentative Agreement based upon the PEB #250.

Because there is a consensus on the RWU Steering Committee that the proposed operating crafts' TA is in fact not dissimilar to the PEB, we believe that workers have very little to lose by voting NO. And if the rail carriers and the rail unions cannot do better at the bargaining table by December 7, then rail workers would and should be free to exercise their right to strike, fulfilling their desire to do so as expressed by the membership last summer.

Below, please read the Original 12 Points as to why any TA based on the PEB should be rejected. And then read the additional 10 Reasons to Reject the TA proposed for the operating crafts. If you agree with any or all of the points listed, then please Vote NO. Finally, make sure to read the flyer: So We Vote Down the TA ... Then What? As the great rail union organizer and working-class leader Eugene V. Debs famously stated more than 100 years ago, “I’s rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”

Railroad workers still have reservations about the tentative agreement—strike still possible

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, October 3, 2022

On Sept. 15, railroad union members reached a tentative agreement with railroad companies, narrowly avoiding a strike intended to protest poor working conditions and an inflexible, demanding attendance policy. After a full day of negotiations, in which President Joe Biden even called in to support the workers’ demands for better working conditions and sick time off without retaliation, the nation breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that they had dodged the strike and its inevitable economic consequences. However, now workers have had a chance to read through the tentative agreement, some say there were too many concessions made, and a strike could still be possible. In the interim, the unions are enforcing a strike injunction, dragging out the voting past the midterm elections.

When the agreement was first reached, rail workers like Michael Paul Lindsey, who had been opposed to the Presidential Emergency Board agreement, said they were all still in the dark—union leaders had reached a decision without workers actually knowing what was agreed upon. Once the agreement language was finally released at the beginning of the week of Sept. 19, workers were not happy.

“The TA additions are worse than the PEB,” tweeted Ross Grooters, a Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union member. “I don’t need questions answered. I need for all of us to VOTE NO!”

Many of the workers were concerned that the unpopular Automated Bid Scheduling was renegotiated back into the agreement in exchange for “voluntary off days.” The scheduling system threatens to reduce yard workers’ schedules to constantly on-call, just like engineers and conductors. 

Mark Burrows, a locomotive engineer in the industry from 1974 until he retired in 2016, said that railroad carriers and union representatives made concessions at the last minute. While the tentative agreement includes a provision that workers should not be penalized for going to the doctor, workers will only be allowed to go Tuesday through Thursday and must give 30 days advance notice. If they fulfill those conditions, points and merits will not be taken off.

“The idea that we should be celebrating that … I don’t know if that’s much to celebrate,” Burrows said. 

According to Burrows, the agreement also mentions that people who work on call will have extra days off, but that will be negotiated locally through different carriers and terminals. 

“As usual with a lot of these national agreements, they put things in that are kind of vague and gray and leave it open to be fine-tuned with respective carriers,” Burrows said. “In terms of their working conditions, their quality of life on and off the job, I’m going to say this is a token concession, and many see it in the same way. It’s going to be far from sufficient to satisfy most rail workers’ grievances.”

Burrows also said that part of the reason the agreement was successful was because it promised two days off. However, the fine print specified it as only 48 hours off, robbing workers of a conventional 60-hour weekend

Rail worker schedules are usually unpredictable, leading to canceled plans and sometimes waiting around the phone to get called for a job. The lack of predictability and consideration for their personal lives is at the forefront of the workers’ demands and is the primary reason why a growing number of railroad workers have left the industry. Over the last six years, 45,000 workers have left, accounting for nearly 29% of the industry.

Birkenhead RMT members stage 48 hour strike at Ørsted wind farm base

By Helen Wilkie - Birkenhead News, September 26, 2022

On Saturday (24 September) workers at the Ørsted site in Kings Wharf, Birkenhead, completed the first of two 48-hour strikes over a 3.5% pay offer from the Danish company, which in April this year reported profits of £664 million.

The riverfront site employs 19 highly skilled technicians, all of whom completed their apprenticeships locally or with the armed forces. Two crew boats, Braver and Boarder sail from Seacombe to the Burbo Bank wind farms every day to ensure the turbines are maintained and remain operational.

In addition to the pay dispute, the 96 nationwide RMT members are unhappy that management walked away from talks to sign a collective bargaining agreement at the last minute, and instead entered into an agreement with a different union with no workplace presence.

In a separate trade dispute with Ørsted Energy, RMT members have also voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over the victimisation of a fellow worker at the Barrow in Furness site.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, “The obscene profits being made at Orsted show that this dispute could be settled if the company sat down with the union and negotiated in good faith. 

“Instead, they are trying to shut out the RMT and our members will not stand for it.

“Orsted workers take pride in the vital work they do but they will not be made poorer by a company that could give them a cost of living pay rise tomorrow.”

A second round of strike action will commence on Friday 30 September.

Ørsted have been approached for comment.

Ukrainian Coal Miners Defy National Protest Ban to Go on Strike

By Kateryna Semchuk and Thomas Rowley - Open Democracy, September 14, 2022

Miners and management at a state-owned coal operation in western Ukraine have called a strike over what they say is an attempt to seize control of the mine.

The strike action at Mine No. 9 in the town of Novovolynsk continues the first major workers’ protest in Ukraine since Russia’s 24 February invasion and the Ukrainian government’s announcement of martial law, which forbids all protests.

Last month, the miners prevented a new director from taking up his post, citing his alleged link to an embezzlement scandal at another coal mine in the region.

They also claimed that his appointment had been made on the say-so of local smotriashchiy – a term for the Ukrainian coal sector’s network of corrupt unofficial overseers. That director denied any wrongdoing and stated he was not under investigation.

Now, they say, efforts to take control of the mine have reached a new level and the miners have gone on strike to protect their jobs and working conditions.

They describe a stark sequence of events. On 9 September, a new manager arrived at Mine No. 9 with a lawyer and a dozen private security guards.

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