Sherwin Alumina Lockout in Second Year

by Mike Elk

SherwinLaborDayPhoto

Ed. note: On October 11,2014, Sherwin Alumina locked out 450 USW Local 235A members at their plant in Gregory, Texas. The lockout came after 235A members overwhelmingly rejected the company’s demands for major cuts in pension and health care benefits for members and retirees, as well as reductions in overtime pay.  The lockout is now continuing into its 15th month

Sherwin Alumina is owned by Glencore, a highly profitable Swiss commodities giant that is the 10th largest corporation in the world, with net income of $4.6 billion in 2013.

Glencore is a company set up by billionaire financier Marc Rich, who was eventually brought to terms by the USW after a lengthy lockout at the Ravenswood aluminum plant in West Virginia.  Rich, then a fugitive from American justice, was notoriously pardoned by Bill Clinton in the last days of his Presidency.

This article was originally written by labor reporter Mike Elk for Politico in July 2015, but did not appear then because of a labor dispute between Politico management and Mike Elk, who was active in the effort by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA Local 32035) to organize POLITICO.

As one with extensive experience in the global labor movement, I regard Mike Elk’s July article as an excellent case study of the difficult realities of campaigning for international labor solidarity.

December 15, 2015

This morning, I found myself wanting to cry as I spoke on the phone to a United Steelworkers staffer about an ugly lockout of 450 at Sherwin Alumna lockout that has gone on for 14 months.  As a labor reporter, I have dealt with PTSD as a result of the suicides, divorces, and bar room brawls that happen during lockouts.  It’s just so awful what happens to people during lockouts and the media even the so called “left media” rarely pay proper attention to them.

Continue reading

What Happened to the Labor Party?

And, Why Should We Care?

In the 1990s, hundreds of US labor activists came together to form the Labor Party. The initiative was the brainchild of Tony Mazzocchi, the passionate leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (which, after two mergers, is today part of the United Steelworkers).

Mazzocchi held true to the dream of an independent political party rooted in the labor movement over which working people would have ownership. He was fond of saying: “The bosses have two parties. We need one of our own.”

Dereck Siedman interviews Marc Dudzic:

 Historically, labor has been committed to the Democrats, and Mazzocchi recognized a problem here: unions won’t abandon the Democrats for a labor party that can’t promise victory and may be an electoral spoiler. But at the same time, it would be impossible to build a labor party that could compete electorally if it didn’t have the support of unions. What was the Labor Party’s strategy for confronting this dilemma?

Mark Dudzic:

Our party-building model was premised on the understanding that you cannot have a party of labor that does not have at the table a substantial portion of the actually-existing labor movement. The Labor Party had to start with the assurance that it wouldn’t play spoiler politics and that it would focus on building the critical mass necessary for serious electoral intervention. Continue reading

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Undemocratic Job-Killing Trade Scheme

by Leo Gerard

No Fast Track
Free traders in Congress formally proposed last week that lawmakers relax, put their feet up and neglect the rigor of legislative review for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade scheme.

The TPP is a secret deal among 12 Pacific Rim nations that was covertly negotiated by unelected officials and corporate bosses. It’s so clandestine that lawmakers elected to represent the American people were refused access to the deliberations. It would expand secret trade tribunals that corporations use to sue governments over democratically established laws and win compensation from taxpayers.

The Congressional free traders want to Fast Track authorization of the TPP. Fast Track enables Congress to abdicate its constitutionally mandated duty to regulate international trade. Instead of scrutinizing, amending and improving proposed trade deals, lawmakers use Fast Track to gloss over the specifics and simply vote yea or nay on the entire package as presented. With elected officials excluded from the talks, details of the treaty deliberately shrouded in secrecy and free traders demanding lawmakers ignore the deal’s effects on constituents, this process condemns democracy.

As usual, the free traders say, don’t worry, the TPP is gonna be great, just great! Trust us, they say.

For opponents of the deal—unions, environmentalists, human rights groups and Congressional progressives—there’s no trusting free traders. That’s because they’ve proven to be nothing but flimflam men. Deals they’ve peddled previously, like NAFTA, CAFTA and KORUS, have not, in fact, been great. They’ve dramatically increased the nation’s trade deficit, prompted corporations to ship manufacturing offshore, cost millions of American workers their jobs and suppressed wages.

President Barack Obama, who is pushing the TPP, admits opponents are right to be wary. During a meeting recently with small business executives, he conceded, “Trade deals have not always been good for American manufacturing. … There have been times where because the trade deal was one way, American workers didn’t benefit and somebody else did.”

Even so, he too sought trust, adding: “Well, we intend to change that.”

There’s no trust when 32 percent of American steel mill production is idled and more than 6,000 steelworkers are laid off or warned of impending furloughs because of unchecked imports of illegally subsidized steel from China.

The AFL-CIO, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, the United Steelworkers and others have pleaded with the administration for years to provide relief from China’s price-distorting currency manipulation. The administration responded with inaction.

There’s no trust when free traders promised workers that NAFTA would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, but as it turned out, those jobs were poverty-wage positions in Mexico created when American manufacturers took advantage of NAFTA provisions to close American factories and move them across the border.

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch examined the effect of NAFTA and wrote in a report issued in February of 2014, “Twenty years later, the grand projections and promises made by NAFTA’s proponents remain unfulfilled. Many outcomes are exactly the opposite of what was promised.”

The most devastating upside-down outcome is jobs. The Global Trade Watch report notes that more than 845,000 U.S. workers qualified for Trade Adjustment Assistance after having lost their jobs as a result of imports from Canada or Mexico or relocation of U.S. factories there. It’s extremely difficult to qualify for Trade Adjustment Assistance, so this number probably understates the total job losses significantly.

In addition, when workers who lost jobs landed new ones, they got paid less, with the average reduction greater than 20 percent.

KORUS is the same sad story. Free traders pledged three years ago that the deal with South Korea would produce tons more exports that would, of course, create lots of new American jobs. Instead, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea grew 84 percent, excluding the value of foreign-made goods that pass unaltered through the United States on their way to Korea.

Calculating with the trade-to-jobs formula that free traders used when they were promoting KORUS, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea translates into the loss of nearly 85,000 U.S. jobs—in just three years.

This does not engender trust.

Still, free traders now are huckstering the TPP with promises of job gains. They’re not fooling everybody, though, with their claim that it will create 650,000 jobs. In January, the Washington Post fact checker gave this promise its highest liar-liar-pants-on-fire rating of four Pinocchios.

Using the free traders’ own method of calculating, the Post determined TPP would create no new jobs. That would be a fabulous result after the track record of these trade pacts causing massive job losses. Fantastical probably is a better descriptor, though, for a no-job-loss outcome.

But don’t worry, the free traders say, TPP will include Trade Adjustment Assistance to help workers thrown out of jobs by offshored factories and employers bankrupted as a result of dirt-cheap imports produced by exploited workers in countries without pollution controls. Trust us, the free traders say, displaced workers can use tax dollars to train for brand new jobs that pay 20 percent less!

Based on broken promises, Americans don’t like free trade schemes. So free traders in Congress, like Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, are trying to fast track Fast Track before the public notices. The New York Times explained this: “Both the Finance and Ways and Means committees will formally draft the legislation next week in hopes of getting it to final votes before a wave of opposition can sweep it away.” The Times quotes Hatch saying about the rush to legislate: “If we don’t act now, we will lose our opportunity.”

Earlier former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk explained why the administration refused to disclose the contents of the TPP, a task that Wikileaks took on instead. Kirk told Reuters that telling the publicwhat the deal contains would make passage impossible.

Concealing potentially job-killing trade schemes from the American public thwarts democracy. Rushing unpopular legislation through Congress before American citizens have an opportunity to review it and tell their elected representatives how they feel about it obstructs democracy.

No trade treaty, no matter how great free traders cross-their-hearts-and-hope-to-die it will be, is worth damning Americans’ cherished democracy.
Leo Gerard is the President of the United Steelworkers international union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18.  Numerous USW locals were among the 2009 organizations that signed a letter to Congress as part of the Citizen’s Trade Campaign demanding Fast Track and the TPP be rejected.

Gerard’s statement is reposted from the Working In These Times blog.

Support the USW Strikers !

We support the USW unfair labor practices strike against big oil companies

Petition by James P. Thompson

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/we-support-the-usw-strike?source=mo&id=109686-22927824-YUOthAx

To be delivered to Ben van Beurden, CEO, Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company

We support the unfair labor practice strike by steelworkers at the refineries in Texas City, Texas, and across the country. Their struggle is the struggle of working people in this country and around the world. We all want safe refineries and safe communities.

Editor note: STEELWORKERS AND ROYAL DUTCH SHELL COME TO TENTATIVE AGREEMENT: The United Steelworkers and Royal Dutch Shell reached a tentative four-year contract that includes wage increases and “improvement” on worker safety issues like fatigue and refinery maintenance.

We don’t want any more workers to die. That’s why the United Steelworkers union is taking on the richest, most powerful industry in the world by fighting to secure a fair contract that will protect the health and safety of workers and communities. The oil industry’s greed and bad-faith bargaining have stalled efforts to improve conditions in its workplaces. The industry has refused to address serious health and safety issues that have already killed thousands of workers over the years.

We support the efforts of the USW union to improve the working conditions of the striking refinery workers. Jobs in refineries are dangerous and require a high level of skill. As we know from the BP disaster, mistakes can cause catastrophes for the surrounding communities and the environment.

These workers deserve to be treated fairly. Failure to bargain fairly in these negotiations will only reflect the oil industry’s lack of regard for the workers and the communities in which its enterprises are located.

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

Maryland’s Keystone Pipeline Lite Reignites Green vs. Blue Fight

By Bruce Vail

Fracking operation in ND. Photo  wikipedia creative commons

Fracking operation in ND. Photo wikipedia creative commons

BALTIMORE—The continuing drama of organized labor’s conflict with the environmental movement, especially notable in the controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline project, is readying for another round as a coalition of green groups launches a campaign to stop the proposed construction of a Maryland natural gas export terminal linked to increased fracking in the region.

The fight in Maryland was put into motion last year, when Richmond, Va.-based energy giant Dominion Resources Inc. suggested converting its existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal at Cove Point in Lusby, Md., to a much larger export terminal.  According to Dominion, the rapid expansion of natural gas production inside the United States in recent years has all but eliminated the need to import LNG—by contrast, market demand to export the gas to places like India and Japan is expected to rise dramatically.

Dominion therefore proposed spending some $3.8 billion to modify the Cove Point terminal with construction of a new liquefaction plant, electricity-generating station and related facilities to handle the LNG exports. The U.S. Department of Energy gave its qualified approval for the project last month. Continue reading

Honeywell Plant Freezes Summer Vacations

By Mike Elk

Honeywell workers gather in front of the plant in Metropolis, Ill. (Photo from the Support for Metropolis, IL Honeywell Workers Facebook page)

Honeywell workers gather in front of the plant in Metropolis, Ill. (Photo from the Support for Metropolis, IL Honeywell Workers Facebook page)

At a time of year when many workers are taking family vacations, uranium workers at Honeywell’s plant in Metropolis, Ill. won’t have that option. On July 27, the company announced a vacation freeze. United Steelworkers Local 7-669, which represents workers at the plant, claims that the decision is just another salvo in a three-year-long battle by Honeywell to bust the union.

Honeywell is currently in the process of rehiring several hundred operations workers at the uranium plant who were laid off in July of 2012 when the plant shut down for earthquake-safety improvements requested by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Earlier this year, Honeywell began slowly rehiring the laid-off workers—both hourly union employees and non-union salary employees—to restart the plant. Now all but 21 of the 200 union employees have been rehired as the plant moves toward full operationality. But instead of rehiring the final 21 union workers, Honeywell is proceeding short-staffed and calling in workers on their days off to make up the gap. Continue reading

Can Unions and Cooperatives Join Forces? An Interview With United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard

by Amy B. Dean

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard talks to Amy Dean about the challenges and opportunities of a new labor model: the union co-op.

Leo Geard, USW President

Leo Geard, USW President

As the economic crisis festers for many long-term unemployed and underemployed people, the idea of worker-owned and worker-run cooperatives has become ever more appealing as a possible pathway toward an economy that works for everyone. Theorists such as Gar Alperovitz have argued for the importance of cooperatives in providing a nuts-and-bolts alternative to dominant methods of economic production: They offer an example of a different way of doing business that people can see and experience in their own lives.

As someone who loves to see organized labor on the move in any form, I am interested in the role that unions can play in promoting co-ops – and I have been excited to see the United Steelworkers take an especially proactive role in bolstering the cooperative movement. I spoke with Steelworkers President Leo Gerard about how union/co-op hybrids could change the experience of work for those who clock in every day and about the depth of vision it will take to make union co-ops a serious part of the American economy. Continue reading

Colombian Unionists Targeted: Can Three Assassins Get a Government to do Their Dirty Deeds?

By Fred Hirsch  (fredhirsch@cruzio.com)

English: Poster against Coca-Cola for their ki...

English: Poster against Coca-Cola for their killing of unionists in Colombia, Fête de l’Humanité 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Colombian government is preparing to throw two union leaders to the mercy of paramilitary terrorists on the testimony of three murderers.

William Mendoza is President of the Food and Beverage Workers Union (Sinaltrainal) in Barrancabermeja, Santander in north central Colombia.  Juan Carlos Galvis is on the union’s

National Executive Board and President of the Santander branch of the CUT, the nation’s’ main labor federation.  I met them both when I was sent to Colombia by my local Union, Plumbers and Fitters Union, Local 393, on a labor delegation inquiring into the violence against trade unionists in 2002.

Colombia is internationally recognized as the most lethal nation in the world for trade unionists. More unionists are killed there than anywhere else in the world. William and Juan Carlos both live and work in Barrancabermeja, the location of the largest oil refinery in Colombia, on the shore of the Magdalena River.  Barranca, as the city is commonly called, is visibly under the authority of the Army, Navy and local police.  The locals, however recognize that the paramiltary death squads have firm political control.  Juan Carlos has stated, “The Paras do whatever they want here in Barranca…They have the political power. They have the economic power.”  It is essentially, he says, “a totalitarian agenda.”  William defines the totalitarian agenda as “A regime in which the common denominator will be terror, hunger and misery for the people so that the rich can become even richer.”

Both Juan Carlos and William  represent the workers in Barranca’s Coca Cola plant.  They have been targeted with death threats since 2001.  They, and others like them are labeled “subversives” by the paramilitaries, linked falsely to the guerilla movement, and are labeled  “military targets.”

William told me that the violence against Sinaltrainal is based in Coke’s determination to force the union out of its bottling plants:  “They want to impose casual labor, part-time labor, and drive down our wages and working conditions.” Continue reading

China’s Unfair Trade Puts U.S. Jobs at Risk

by Mike Hall, Jan 31, 2012. AFL-CIO

More than 1.6 million American jobs in the nation’s auto supply chain are at risk unless China’s illegal trade practices are curtailed, according to three new reports released today. In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard said:

China is cheating unmercifully in this sector and we are saying to China—and asking our government to stand up to China and say—“enough is enough.” It is time to enforce our trade policies.

Two reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and one from Stewart and Stewart, a law firm that has won cases challenging China’s unfair trade practices, detail China’s persistent and growing violations of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and outline plans by China’s government to use these same tactics to boost their auto parts exports even further. Continue reading