Locked out union members at the Sherwin Alumina refinery near Corpus Christi, Texas traveled to Switzerland to tell shareholders of the company that owns Sherwin that the seven-month lockout is hurting the company’s bottom line and that action needs to be taken to end the lockout.
The locked out workers, who belong to United Steelworkers Local 235A, were part of an international labor delegation, who were on hand when Glencore, Sherwin’s owner, held its annual stockholders meeting in Zug, Switzerland on May 7.
The labor delegation, consisting of union members from, Australia, Colombia, South Africa, and the US, passed out flyers to shareholders entering the meeting.
Locked out Sherwin Alumina workers also went into the auditorium where the meeting was being held to explain the impact that the lockout was having on Glencore, an international mining, manufacturing, and trading corporations that ranks tenth among the Fortune 500’s largest global corporations.
“The loss of production (at Sherwin caused by the lockout) has cost the company over $40 million in lost revenue,” said Rey Herrera, vice president of Local 235A, to the shareholders.
The action in Switzerland on behalf of the locked out Sherwin Alumina workers was part of a campaign to make shareholders aware of abuses committed by Glencore and the company’s like Sherwin Alumina that Glencore owns.
According to a media release by IndustriAll, an international labor federation that organized the shareholder demonstration in Switzerland, “Trade union issues dominated the meeting, and it was impossible for (Glencore) to continue sweeping them under the carpet. Some shareholders, unaware of the violations. left the meeting outraged.”
“Even the CEO (of Glencore) considered that there are legitimate issues being raised and committed to go back and talk to people on the ground. One way or another these issue have to be resolved,” said Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director of mining.
In addition to the ill-conceived Sherwin lockout, Glencore and its subsidiaries were accused of destroying the environment of indigenous people in Colombia and brutalizing union members at its Colombian coal mines; replacing union coal miners with low-wage temporary workers in Australia; and eliminating more than 1,500 jobs at a South African coal mine after promising in 2013 when Glencore bought the mine that it would not lay off workers.
“Glencore claims to respect communities, collective bargaining, and the right of employees to freely choose a union, but IndustriAll has testimonies from affiliates, in over 14 countries of the consistent brutality and disrespect of workers rights throughout it’s operations,” said Mpufane.
Glencore’s lack of respect for collective bargaining looms large in the Sherwin Alumina lockout.
Sherwin, which refines bauxite into alumina, the main ingredient in the production of aluminum, was a profitable company in 2014 when its collective bargaining agreement with Local 235A came up for renewal.
Despite its profitability, Sherwin pressed hard for concessions including a change to overtime rules that would result in a big pay cut, much higher health care costs for workers, a pension freeze, and the elimination of promised health care benefits for retirees.
Union members rejected these concessions but agreed to continue bargaining in order to resolve the outstanding issues.
Sherwin management, however, called off the negotiations and ordered a lockout.
Seven months into the lockout, union members have said that they are willing to return to the bargaining table, but Sherwin continues to shun the collective bargaining process.
“Over the past seven months, we have repeatedly offered to return to work while we continue to bargain a new contract that is fair to both the company and its workers,” said Herrera.”We have always been ready, willing and able to continue to work. The company has refused these offers and continues to keep us out of work.”
After meeting with Glencore officials in Switzerland, Herrera said that there were some hopeful signs, but he also expressed skepticism about the company’s intentions.
“They claimed they would make an effort to talk to us, but what they say and what they do are two different things,” said Herrera.