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Solidarity with strikers at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California

By Workers' Voice, East Bay - Socialist Resurgence, March 28, 2022

On March 23, members of Workers’ Voice went out to support striking refinery workers at the Chevron facility in Richmond, Calif. This strike is taking place in the wake of the United Steel Workers’ national oil pattern bargaining agreement with the oil companies, which covers some 30,000 workers at refineries and chemical plants across the country. The pattern bargaining agreement now only covers those 30,000 USW-organized oil and chemical workers whose contract expired this year on Feb. 1, which union locals had to ratify.

In Richmond, over 500 oil workers represented by USW Local 5 rejected the tentative agreement, as it was insufficient to meet their needs. They are thus striking over wages, hours, and other workplace issues, including being forced to work during the peak of the COVID pandemic. They have set up 24-hour pickets, with six-hour shifts. The union has created a solidarity fund and will cover basic expenses of workers who can’t pay their mortgage or get health care or food costs covered.

When we visited, the workers were picketing in shifts of a few dozen workers in front of the refinery gate, keeping up an optimistic mood of camaraderie and humor on a chilly, foggy day.

Many of the drivers of vehicles passing by the picket line honked their horns in support. However, a bothersome Richmond cop and one or two surly truckers wanting to drive into the facility—which the workers were trying to block—attempted, unsuccessfully, to dampen the positive atmosphere.

The grievances of the workers relate to wages and to other grievances as well. They need a raise to keep up with cost of living increases, especially in the brutally expensive Bay Area. They’re also confronting increased health-care costs. A worker told us that their new health-care plan would barely be covered by the wage increase of 2.5% currently on offer. This increase would also not keep up with inflation, which was 7% last year alone. Shopping for groceries is much more expensive now, workers we talked to said. In fact, they added, everything is more expensive.

Workers also talked about a manager who got a 10 percent raise to move up from Los Angeles. This upset workers because that manager is already making a good salary. Moreover, Chevron recently reported billions in profits, the most since 2014; but the boss always says there’s no money for workers.

But workers say they’re not just striking about money.

On The Line In The Fight For Justice: USW 5 Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers Strike

By Steve Zeltser - The Valley Labor Report - March 28, 2022

USW Local 5 striking Richmond Chevron refinery workers rallied with community members and supporters on March 28 2022 in front of the plant. Operators talked about the attack on health and safety conditions, 30% increases in healthcare costs and increasing stress, dangerous long hours and rotating shifts. Last year Chevron made $15.6 billion but obviously that is not enough for the company. Community and labor supporters also talked about health issues for workers and the community and the ongoing efforts that have been made to keep the plant safe.

The strike which included 500 union members started on Monday March 25, 2022 after the company according to workers continued to demand concessions and even wanted to negotiate away health and safety inspectors to keep the plant safe. In 2012, a major explosion nearly killed a fireman. The company managers even though they knew of a serious leak refused to shut he plant down to protect their profits according to workers. It also heavily contaminated the community which is still facing flaring and other dangerous practices by the company.

Additional media:

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 9: We Deserve Nothing Less

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 7: Buying Us Out

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 5: Asthma Club

Bay Area Transit Workers Organize for Hazard Pay, Build toward Contract Campaigns

By Elana Kessler and Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, January 21, 2022

Oakland transit worker Connie McFarland drove home after a long shift last July 28 and logged onto Zoom for a board meeting of her employer, AC Transit. She joined a chorus of 40 workers and riders who held up the start of the agenda with nearly two hours of public comment.

Their demand: hazard pay for frontline transit workers.

Bus operator Sultana Adams, an assistant shop steward with Transit (ATU) Local 192, described the trauma of an assault by a rider who spat in her face. McFarland told the board, “We really would like to have some form of appreciation that’s more than lip service.”

By coming together around this popular demand, Bay Area transit workers built power across unions in the lead-up to their contract campaigns and fought to improve transit for their riders.

After Worker Strike Threat, East Bay Regional Park District Raises Wages

By Zack Haber - Medium, September 1, 2021

Following threats of a worker strike over labor day weekend, the around 600 workers with the East Bay Regional Park District came to a tentative agreement with the district’s board and management on Tuesday that raises salaries, putting all workers at or just above median wages for such similar jobs in the region.

“I’m feeling not only elated and exhilarated but also really tired,” said Sergio Huerta, a park supervisor and fire fighter who has worked with the district for over 30 years. “I’m really proud of the work that we’ve all done.”

Starting about eight months ago, workers had been negotiating with the district through their union, AFSCME 2428, to raise salaries. Huerta said the struggle was hard and long, adding 12–16 extra hours to his work week. During a press conference on Tuesday, a naturalist with the district named Melissa Fowlks said “getting to fair equitable compensation has been a mountain of a struggle.” But park workers felt they had much to gain, because their previous contract had them making a lower salary than they felt was fair.

“I love my job, but I don’t want to have to choose between my job and providing for my family,” said Pia Loft in an interview several days before workers announced their win. “I want respect and I want fair pay.”

Loft is an educator with the district who is raising two children.

While parks workers fulfill a vast array of jobs to maintain and improve the park and its community including education, fire fighting, life guarding, and accounting, almost all park workers take home a lower salary than those doing similar jobs in the area. According to a report Ralph Andersen & Associates released in 2019 that analyzed the salaries of 37 different park positions, 34 of these positions make less than the median salary for similar jobs in the region and seven make over 20% less than the regional median salary. On average, parks workers make 10% less than the median regional income.

Workers say the low salaries cause people to leave the district which has resulted in vacancies in over 40 positions. Loft said if these positions were filled, visitors would likely see an improvement in park services including cleaner bathrooms, visitor centers that are open longer hours, and more educational and volunteer opportunities. Huerta keeps hearing stories about workers leaving the district because of the low salaries. One of Huerta’s close friends recently told him he is leaving the district for a better paying job.

“It hurts because these are really good people who are dedicated to their work,” he said.

Grieving Transit Local Has Been Leading Fights for Safety and Service Restoration

By Staff - Labor Notes, May 28, 2021

We join the whole labor movement in mourning the nine brothers and sisters from Transit (ATU) Local 265 and SEIU Local 521 who were killed on May 26 in a mass shooting at a workplace union meeting.

At an emotional candlelight vigil last night at San Jose city hall, Local 265 President John Courtney—who was meeting with members when the shooting broke out—told the crowd: “Hold each other, love each other, hug each other. Kiss each other when you get home from the end of the day. We’re all we’ve got.

“These aren’t names to us. These are people we know, and we love, and we’ve seen every single day of our working lives, and it really, really hurts down to the very core of our souls. So please, ATU, let’s do what we do and stand with each other, for each other, by each other.”

Nationally it’s the third workplace shooting in two months, which is unusually high.

This particular local has been important in waging fights on behalf of transit workers and riders across the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The union fought with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to restore fare-free rear-door boarding in January, when Covid cases were spiking in San Jose. Rank-and-file bus drivers forced management’s hand when they started planning to stop boarding at the front door whether the agency agreed or not.

After that victory, Courtney said his union’s 1,500 members had “seen with their own eyes how important it is to be unified within our union, and to have the support of other unions and the community to win what we need.”

That victory inspired a bigger current campaign that has united six Bay Area transit locals with their riders to fight for the immediate release of $1.7 billion in transit rescue funds. Courtney told Labor Notes after a May 6 rally, “It means a lot that the community has our back.”

Bay Area Transit Workers and Riders Demand to Unlock $1.7 Billion Already Earmarked for Jobs and Bus Service

Who is hiding $2b in Bay Area transit rescue funds?

By Annie Lloyd and Joty Dhaliwal - East Bay Majority, May 4, 2021

As vaccinations increase and California reopens, local governments and boards will be responsible for their jurisdiction’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The $1.9 trillion COVID relief spending package President Biden signed into law on March 11 provides a crucial lifeline for this recovery, but there is a hitch: State and local implementation is required to “turn on the money hose” to deliver jobs and vital services to struggling working-class communities of color. 

Before federal dollars can have their intended impacts on the ground, city, county and state governments—and in some cases, obscure unelected boards—must decide how and when to spend those funds. 

In the Bay Area, one of the obscure unelected boards managing the money is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). MTC now stands between the $1.7 billion in ARP funding for public transportation in the Bay Area and the local transit agencies it oversees—all of which desperately need the money to restore service and jobs. 

Rather than spending to recover from the crisis, which is the whole point of a stimulus package, MTC’s aim is to hold back as much of the ARP funds as it can for a future “rainy day,” by refusing to allocate the money in time for transit agencies to put it into their budgets for the ‘21-’22 fiscal year. Instead, they intend to allocate most of the funds at the end of July, weeks after the July 1 budget deadline. 

MTC is sinking a unique opportunity to accomplish a true recovery. Instead, they are playing into their own pessimistic outlook for public transit. In fact, MTC’s draft Plan Bay Area 2050 projects that pre-pandemic transit service will not be restored until 2035. 

As riders (including students returning to school) return to transit, they will find continuing low levels of service, long wait times, and overcrowded buses. Those with other options will abandon transit. And unemployed workers who might otherwise have access to a flood of openings for good-paying union jobs as operators and mechanics will be left to drive for Uber and Lyft. 

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