Lost Ground :The Decertification in the Chino Mine

Weeden Nichols

20em

20em (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, the workers of the Chino open-pit copper mine east of Bayard in Grant County, New Mexico, voted to decertify United Steelworkers Local 9424-3, successor to International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 890. During the period 1950-1952 workers of an Empire Zinc underground mine north of Bayard struck due to unsafe working conditions and oppressive and discriminatory practices by the company. Management practices had created the greatest hardship for the Hispanic workers and their families, and it was the Hispanic workers who led the strike. When the men were removed from the picket line as a result of a court order, the women took over. Not only did the striking workers endure economic hardship to win justice, there was physical danger involved. Collective action won from Empire Zinc improved pay and working conditions, which never could have been won by a single worker opposing Big Business. The strike was immortalized by the film “Salt of the Earth,” which was made in 1954 by filmmakers who had been blacklisted during the Joseph McCarthy era.

The Empire Zinc mine workers of Local 890 lived at Santa Rita, which no longer exists. Santa Rita has long since been removed for expansion of the Chino open-pit mine.

I initially over-reacted to the news of decertification in thinking that individual and institutional memory must have been lacking regarding what had been won, and at what cost. It may have been that United Steelworkers Local 9424-3 had insufficient institutional memory of the sacrifices and risks endured by their predecessors in Local 890. It may have been that the present workers are too young to have personal memory, and that there were an insufficient number of persons who themselves remembered. (Insufficiency could obtain in two forms – insufficiency of numbers or insufficiency of current passion – most likely a combination of the two. Perhaps also the present workers inferred, because “the company” paid bonuses to workers in non-union mines, that they too would receive bonuses if they decertified the union. Perhaps very few involved in the decision had ever seen the film “Salt of the Earth.” Also involved in my initial reaction was a jumping to a conclusion that decertification had been inadequately resisted. I do not know that to be so, and on further thought, I believe it cannot be so. I can mentally place myself in the back of the union hall and hear in my mind some really impassioned speeches in favor of sustaining certification. Continue reading

Unite Here Campaign Takes Flight at Baltimore-Washington Airport

by Bruce Vail

On December 6, workers rallied outside of Prospect Capital Corporation, which owns the company that handles most of the concessions at Baltimore-Washington Airport. (Unite Here)

On December 6, workers rallied outside of Prospect Capital Corporation, which owns the company that handles most of the concessions at Baltimore-Washington Airport. (Unite Here)

During President Barack Obama’s December 4 speech about income inequality to the Center for American Progress, he named “airport workers” among the many Americans who struggle with low wages and long hours. It’s unlikely that Obama was aiming his shout-out at union campaigners at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)—but given their recent flurry of activity, maybe he should have been.

At BWI, Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers throughout the United States and Canada, is ramping up its organizing campaign to a critical stage. The campaign focuses on food and service workers in the airport, most of whom would easily match Obama’s description of Americans who “work their tails off” at poverty level wages.

Yaseen Abdul-Malik is one of those BWI workers. Now 28, he was first recruited by the Baltimore-based Unite Here Local 7 two years ago, when organizing at BWI was largely clandestine. Now, he’s become a public face for airport employees—and he says he’s trying to “break the shackles of fear” that hold many of them back from demanding the better wages and working conditions they deserve. Continue reading

Volkswagen Isn’t Fighting Unionization—But Leaked Docs Show Right-Wing Groups Are

By Mike Elk

Anti-union conservatives are worried that if the UAW successfully organizes Volkwagen's Tennessee plant, it will create a domino effect in the South. Here, protesters lift a sign supporting a UAW organizing campaign at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. (Photo from United Auto Workers on Facebook)

Anti-union conservatives are worried that if the UAW successfully organizes Volkwagen’s Tennessee plant, it will create a domino effect in the South. Here, protesters lift a sign supporting a UAW organizing campaign at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. (Photo from United Auto Workers on Facebook)

After Volkswagen issued a letter in September saying the company would not oppose an attempt by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to unionize its 1,600-worker Chattanooga, Tenn., facility, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was flabbergasted.

“For management to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief,” Corker, who campaigned heavily for the plant’s construction during his tenure as mayor of Chattanooga, told the Associated Press. “They will become the object of many business school studies—and I’m a little worried could become a laughingstock in many ways—if they inflict this wound.”

Corker isn’t the only right-winger out to halt UAW’s campaign. In the absence of any overt anti-union offensive by Volkswagen, conservative political operatives worried about the UAW getting a foothold in the South have stepped into the fray.

Leaked documents obtained by In These Times, as well as interviews with a veteran anti-union consultant, indicate that a conservative group, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, appears to be pumping hundred of thousands of dollars into media and grassroots organizing in an effort to stop the union drive. In addition, the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation helped four anti-union workers in October file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Volkswagen was forcing a union on them. Continue reading

Why Port Truckers Are Striking: 12-Hour Shifts, Noxious Fumes and $12.90 Paychecks

By Sarah Jaffe

Jaffe_port_truckers_Los_Angeles

On Nov. 18,. 2013, striking Los Angeles port truckers try to deliver a letter to management.

“We are on strike today to have respect and dignity at work,” says Walter Melendez, one of approximately 40 Los Angeles port truck drivers who walked off the job at 5a.m. morning in protest of alleged unfair labor practices. The strikes featured the rolling “ambulatory pickets” that the truckers have excelled at—chasing down trucks as they leave the port and setting up picket lines in front of them.

Melendez works for California’s Green Fleet Systems, a company that moves freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to nearby distribution hubs. The drivers have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging that the company retaliated against them for pushing forward with a drive to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The push continues even as, according to Melendez, the company does its best to intimidate workers: pulling them into one-on-one meetings to dissuade them from unionizing, and even following and photographing them engaging in organizing activities outside work. Melendez believes that more Green Fleet drivers would have joined the strike this morning, had they not been deterred by these tactics. Continue reading

The National Labor Relations Board Is Back at Full Throttle

By Bruce Vail

vail_griffin_NLRB_counsel_615_298

Before vote, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), pictured here at a preschool visit in Iowa, praised nominee Richard Griffin for his extensive knowledge of labor law. (Phil Roeder / Flickr / Creative Commons)

(Nov 1) On Tuesday October 29, the U.S. Senate took the final measure to restore the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to full strength with its approval of Richard F. Griffin Jr. as general counsel. Though Griffin’s start date has yet to be determined, his instatement marks the last step in the board’s resumption of its role as the principal agency of the federal government for settling labor-management disputes in the private sector. Given Griffin’s long history as a union lawyer, his confirmation also signifies a rare victory for organized labor on Captol Hill.

The Senate action brings to a close a nearly two-year struggle between the White House and Senate Republicans over nominations to the labor board. The partisan bitterness—which is likely to continue—was reflected in Tuesday’s 55-44 vote, in which Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only Republican to back Griffin’s appointment.

Griffin’s nomination will likely go down in NLRB history as one of the most unusual, not so much for his official actions but for the partisan rancor and legal maneuvering that accompanied his selection. Continue reading

SCOTUS and the Uncertain Future of Organized Labor

English: United States Supreme Court building ...

(June 27) This has been a blockbuster week for the Supreme Court to say the least. With DOMA, Proposition 8, Title VII, and affirmative action decisions dominating the coverage, few have taken note of the Supreme Court’s move on Monday to grant review to a set of cases that could strike a severe blow to private sector union organizing.

The first case, Noel Canning, challenges the ability of the President to make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board when the Senate has technically kept itself in session. Due to GOP obstruction in the Senate, the NLRB has for years struggled to maintain a three-member quorum. The Supreme Court held in New Process Steel that, absent such a quorum, the NLRB cannot legally rule on cases brought before it. If the Supreme Court decides that the President’s recess appointments to the NLRB are unlawful, the NLRB will become basically non-functional for as long as Senate Republicans continue to deny the NLRB a quorum by blocking new appointments to the agency. In a world with a non-functional NLRB, private sector unions will find themselves with nowhere to turn when employers illegally coerce, intimidate, and otherwise unlawfully obstruct organizing campaigns. Continue reading

What Are ‘Micro-Unions,’ and Why Is Big Business So Upset About Them?

By Bruce Vail

Conservatives have created the myth of the ‘micro-union’ in a direct attack on worker organizing around the country.

Legislation was introduced in Congress late last week that will, in the words of one of its prominent supporters, rein in government officials who are now encouraging “swarms of micro-unions” to descend on non-union employers for the purpose on “annihilating companies through a death of a thousand cuts.”

Such lurid language has helped put the bill on the fast track in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where the legislation has already been scheduled for a hearing next week before the Education and the Workforce Committee. Most observers expect it will receive quick approval there on its way to easy passage by the full House. Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,243 other followers