Workers to shareholders: Sherwin Alumina lockout is bad for business

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.

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One Baltimore United proposes plan to heal the wounds caused by the death of Freddy Gray

A coalition of community, faith, and labor groups in Baltimore has proposed an economic recovery plan that the coalition says is designed “to heal Baltimore in wake of riots and protest triggered by the death of Freddy Gray.”

At a media conference held on May 4, speakers from One Baltimore United said that Baltimore’s economic recovery from years of decline has bypassed many of the city’s residence, who still live in or near poverty.

They said that the riots following Gray’s death were the result of built up rage stemming from the lack of good paying jobs, decent housing, and the lack of respect for black lives.

Gray, a young black man, died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody, and the police would not explain how he died.

“Martin Luther King said a riot ‘is the language of the unheard’. He said America had failed to hear the economic plight of black America,” said Ty Hullinger, president of Interfaith Workers Justice of Maryland, one of the groups belonging to One Baltimore United.  “If we want to see change, we need city and state leaders to make a real commitment to creating more good jobs and working with community partners to make change that benefits us all.”

One Baltimore United used the media conference to put forward a four point plan for addressing the problems that caused the riot.

  1. Justice for Freddy Gray, Anthony Anderson, and all victims of police brutality
  2. Development projects that receive public subsidies and tax breaks should be required to pay a living wage with benefits and hire locally
  3. Affordable housing should become a city priority and residents should be involved in its planning
  4. Social services and public education should be fully funded

At one time, Baltimore was a thriving manufacturing and shipping center. Like other cities in the US, its black residents faced discrimination because of racism, but at least there were decent paying union jobs available that helped many escape poverty.

But those jobs melted away as corporations in search of lower labor costs and higher profits moved to places where labor was cheaper.

When those good paying jobs dried up, Baltimore went into decline.

In an attempt to reverse the decline city leaders, began offering tax breaks and subsidies to lure business back to Baltimore.

And it worked–at least, for some.

Baltimore is no longer a poor city. Last year, it added $1.3 billion in property wealth as the result of development projects.

However, the benefits of the city’s resurgence did not trickle down.

More than 24 percent of the city’s residents continue to live below the federal poverty line.

The city’s unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, well above the national rate of 5.5 percent.

For black youth ages 20 to 24, the unemployment rate is a staggering 37 percent.

The good paying jobs available in old Baltimore have failed to return to the new Baltimore, but the new development strategy has been a boon to corporations like the owners of the Marriott hotels.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the city of Baltimore agreed to a deal that allows the owners of the luxury Marriott East Harbor Waterfront hotel to pay property taxes of $1 a year for the next 25 years.

In another deal, the owners of the luxury Zenith apartments received a tax abatement for 15 years that allows them to pay just 15 percent of the property taxes that they would owe without the abatement.

These deals have had a perverse impact on the funding of local schools.

The increased property wealth should have resulted in more funding for public schools; instead, it may result in a cut in state funding for education.

The state funding formula for local school districts is based on property wealth. School districts with a lot of property wealth receive less state funding, presumably because the higher property wealth should translate into more local revenue for education.

Because of Baltimore’s increased property wealth, the state has proposed reducing its funding for Baltimore schools by $35 million.

The city, however, doesn’t have the money to offset impending state cuts because it has been so generous with tax cuts and other subsidies for corporations.

For One Baltimore United, which describes itself as, “a coalition of community, faith and labor partners standing together (to)demand that city leadership put Baltimore families first,” the city’s current development plan can’t possibly create the kind of shared wealth that could heal Baltimore’s wounds.

“We must resolve this crisis with reconciliation, with a new and greater commitment to secure economic justice for all of Baltimore,” said Michael Coleman, a leader of United Workers, another member of One Baltimore United. “There will be reaction and backlash when what is needed is for all of us to take a step towards each other and come to terms with the crisis of inequality that has brought our city to this moment.”

Hunger strike at Tufts to save janitors jobs

Five students at Tufts University in Massachusetts have been on a hunger strike since May 3.

The students are supporting 35 school janitors who are being laid off.

The hungers strikers, who belong to the Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), are demanding that Tufts stop the proposed layoffs.

“Our decision to hunger strike and occupy space on campus is in solidarity with the janitors’ calls for no cuts,” said Nicole Joseph an organizer with the TLC.”This culmination comes from a long history of Tufts treating workers poorly. We have decided to pursue this drastic action to make Tufts administrators’ priorities align with the rest of the Tufts community, given that all previous efforts from workers and students have been silenced and ignored.”

The Tufts administration recently announced that 35 part-time janitorial positions will be cut for budgetary reasons.

The janitors work for DTZ, a private company that provides janitorial services for Tufts.

The Tufts administration said that the layoffs at the school, which has an endowment worth $1.6 billion, are the result of budget constraints and the school’s desire to keep education affordable.

“We take seriously our responsibility to control tuition costs and offer financial aid that allows us to admit outstanding students from all socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Kim Thuler, Tuft’s director of public relations.

Thuler went on to say that the administration is looking for other ways to lower administrative expenses.

Lorena Arita, one of the janitors whose job is being eliminated, had a different take on the impact that the layoffs will have on making higher education affordable.

“To be cut, to be fired, will create big problems economically,” said Arita, whose son is attending college elsewhere, to the Somerville Journal. “I have payments of my son’s university that I couldn’t continue making.”

Tufts is located in Medford and Somerville, Massachusets.

The Somerville City Council, which passed a resolution supporting the janitors, suggested another way of keeping higher education affordable.

According to the City Council’s resolution, instead of making low-wage workers bear the cost, Tuft’s administration should rein in the over sized salaries of some of its top executives.

The resolution noted that Tuft’s president Anthony Monaco in 2012, the latest year for which salary information is available, was paid $705,728 for the year.

Other top administrators had salaries of at least $500,000 and ten had salaries of at least $300,000.

The most recent post on the Tufts Labor Coalition’s Facebook page said that the hunger strikers are beginning to feel the effects of not eating for two days but their resolve is still strong.

Supporters of the hunger strike have pitched tents around the five and are occupying space near the administration building.

“Our hunger strike is basically our last resort,” said Arismer Angeles, one of the students on strike. “Other actions that we’ve tried to perform on campus have yielded little to no results and this is our last chance we think before the semester ends and these cuts happened.

“The students at Tufts University who are calling for the preservation of essential jobs on their campus deserve enormous credit taking initiative on this critical economic justice issue,” said Roxanna Rivera, vice-president of the janitors’ union, SEIU 32BJ. “The Tufts Labor Coalition is an inspiring, student-led effort that for years has been working to defend workers’ rights in campus. They recognize how much the workers at Tufts contribute to the campus community and the world beyond its gates. The students who chose bold action and engaged in a hunger strike deserve our unconditional support and respect.

“The hunger strikers should know that 32BJ SEIU janitors appreciate the students’ courage.  SEIU 32Bj hopes for quick end to the hunger strike and a just outcome for the whole Tufts community.”

May Day demonstrators demand justice

May Day demonstrations around the world this year had many themes. The demand for justice was the thread that linked them together.

Here’s a brief summary of a few of those demonstrations.

In Turkey, young people, workers, and other opponents of the country’s president Tayyip Erdogan marched to Taksim Square, the site of an Occupy-like protest  in 2013 that set off strikes and demonstrations across the country that gave voice to those opposing Erdogan’s authoritarian drift.

President Erdogan had banned this year’s May Day demonstration in Taksim Square, and when marchers arrived at Taksim, police fired water cannons and rubber bullets to prevent them from entering the square. More than 100 May Day demonstrators were arrested.

The banning of public protest like the May Day demonstration is yet another example of Erdogan’s willingness to use state power to stifle dissent.

The government in April banned a nationwide strike of metal workers, the third time in the last year that the government has intervened on the side of employers to prevent workers from striking.

Late last year, authorities arrested 30 journalists who were writing about corruption in the Erdogan regime.

In Swaziland, King  Mswatii banned the independent labor federation TUCOSWA from participating in the country’s official May Day celebration.

TUCOSWA has been fighting to increase the minimum wage.

TUCOSWA had planned to hold its own May Day demonstration, but the police threatened to disrupt it, causing the union to cancel its demonstration.

In South Korea, tens of thousands of people turned out for two May Day demonstrations called by the country’s two labor federations, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU).

A week earlier, more than 250,000 workers took part in a general strike called to protest the government’s proposal to restructure the labor market.

The government’s proposals will make it easier to lay off workers and will increase the number of workers working in low-paid, temporary jobs.

The strikers also were opposing the government’s plans to lower pension benefits for government workers.

At the May Day rally, union leaders vowed that strikes will continue if the government continues to pursue its plans to make jobs less secure.

“We must move forward more forcefully to ensure basic labor rights for all workers, to prevent the public servants’ pension system from being changed for the worse, to crush fake normalization of public corporations, to get to the bottom of the Sewol tragedy (the ferry boat accident that killed hundreds of passengers and workers), to repeal the worthless enforcement decree of the special Sewol Law, and to fix the political corruption brought to light by the Sung Wan-jong scandal,” said Han Sang-gyun, president of KCTU at the KCTU May Day demonstration.

In Montreal, dozens of demonstrations were held all over the city to oppose austerity measures proposed by Quebec’s provincial parliament.

The day began when demonstrators blocked the entrance to the National Bank and World Trade Center.

“We’re targeting banks today to send a clear message that banks, even though they’re very profitable, pay less tax than many others in the private sector,” said Joël Pedneault, a spokesperson for the Coalition Against Cuts and Fees to the Montreal Gazette. “We can go and get some money there in order to not introduce austerity measures.”

Teachers also walked off the job to protest proposed cuts to education.

In Oakland, members of ILWU Local 10 closed down the Port of Oakland for eight hours to protest the police killings of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and other young men of color.

“When I’m not a union member, not at work I’m still a community member,” said Stacey Rodgers, a Local 10 member to KQED as she explained why she was participating in the May Day demonstration. “And this affects all of us in the community. Particularly the black and brown communities and the majority of longshoremen are minorities.”

In Seattle and New York, demonstrations for immigrant rights converged with Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

The New York demonstration was organized by the May 1 Coalition, an immigrant rights group.

In New York, May Day demonstrators marched through Manhattan. One of the signs carried read, “Equal Rights for All Workers, Stop the Raids and Deportations.” Another read, “May Day for Freddy Gray.

“This year’s (May Day) event is dedicated to the struggle against police terror given the deep crisis for black and Latino youth,” said Teresa Gutierrez, co-coordinator of the May 1st Coalition to CBS New York.