Latino workers fight for a union after being locked out

A group of Latino workers in a suburb south of Chicago continue to fight for their right to join a union even though their employer has locked them out.

Their struggle began in October when 70 workers at National Pasteurized Egg (NPE)/Michael Foods of Lansing, Illinois walked off the job to protest sexual harassment, unequal pay, poor safety conditions, and work shifts that can last as long as 27 hours.

After the walkout, the workers signed union authorization cards expressing an interest in joining United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881.

They returned to work, but two weeks later were locked out by the company, which hired workers through a temporary agency to replace them.

NPE/Michael Foods operates a regional egg processing plant that before the lockout employed about 140 workers at its facility in Lansing.

NPE became NPE/Michael Foods in September, when NPE was  acquired by Post Holding, the third largest cereal company in the US that makes a number of familiar brand name cereals such as Cocoa Pebbles, Shredded Wheat, Raisin Bran, and Grape Nuts.

Post has been expanding and in 2014 purchased Michael Foods, a producer of egg and other food products.

In September 2016, Post purchased NPE, which produces cage-free and hard-boiled eggs at three plants including the one in Lansing, and combined it with Michael Foods.

Post reported net sales of $5 billion during its fiscal year 2016 and an operating profit of $545.7 million.

The walkout by NPE/Michael Foods workers in Lansing began October 17 about six weeks after Post announced its acquisition of NPE.

The workers who walked off the job returned to work on October 22, but on November 7 when they showed up for work, the company informed them that they were being replaced by temporary workers hired through NEXUS, a temporary staffing agency operating out of Hammond, Indiana.

The company also hired a security company called AFIMAC, which assists companies manage strikes and high risk employee terminations.

Despite being locked out, the workers continued to fight for the right to join a union.

They filed for a union representation election.

On November 17, 100 locked out workers rallied at the NPE/Michael Foods processing facility in Lansing.

The rally took place on the day before the union election was to be held.

The election took place, but the results are pending because the company challenged 107 of the votes.

Jorge Mujica of Arise Chicago, a faith labor worker center that has been supporting the NPE/ Michael Foods workers, said that the unofficial vote count was 115 yes votes for the union and 23 no votes.

Local 881 has filed charges against NPE/Michael Foods for retaliating against the workers and interfering with their right to join a union to improve their working conditions.

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Honeywell workers reject company’s latest offer

After enduring a lockout that has lasted six months, workers at two Honeywell plants in South Bend, Indiana and Green Island, New York, on November 12 rejected the company’s latest contract proposal.

“We’ve been out here for too long to cave for something like this,” said Tom Simpson, a member of UAW Local 9 to the South Bend Tribune.

The lockout began in May when members of Local 9 in South Bend and UAW Local 1508 in Green Island rejected Honeywell’s contract proposal that would have raised health care premiums, raised health care deductibles by as much as 400 percent, frozen pensions, stopped company pension contributions, and given the company complete control of the workers’ health care plan, which meant that the company could impose more benefit reductions without bargaining with the union.

“We’ve got a lot of people that relied on the quality insurance they had,” said Adam Clevenger to Workers Independent News. “And what they want to offer now is gonna just put a burden on those people and what they’ve worked for all these years.”

In its latest proposal to end the lockout, the company offered to limit premium increases to 15 percent per year for the next five years and make contributions to workers’ health savings accounts to offset some of the higher premium costs.

But Honeywell’s proposal still included major reductions to the workers’ health care and pension benefits.

Honeywell is hardly a struggling company that can ill afford to provide quality health care and retirement security to its workers.

It ranks 75th on Fortune’s list of the world’s 500 largest companies.

It employs about 350 production workers at its South Bend and Green Island facilities, where it produces wheels, brakes, and fuel systems for commercial and military aircraft.

But it  is a highly diversified company that owns manufacturing facilities all over the US and the world that produce consumer products, automation and control systems, and other aerospace products.

It even owns a uranium processing plant in Metropolis, Illinois.

It also is a very rich company. According to Bloomberg, with $9.1 billion in cash on hand, “Honeywell International, Inc. has more cash than almost every one of its peers.”

Only General Electric and Boeing have more.

But instead of using a pittance of its pile of cash to maintain quality health care and retirement security for its workers in South Bend and Green Island, Honeywell is looking for other ways to spend its money.

It recently announced that it was raising its annual investor dividend by 12 percent..

It is also about to go on a buying spree. Bloomberg reported in March that Honeywell was planning to spend $10 billion to buy other companies.

In a report to investors, Honeywell said that it had already spent $2.5 billion on new acquisitions and $1.9 billion to repurchase stock from investors.

Meanwhile, its workers in South Bend and Green Island have endured a six-month lockout over what amounts to a tiny fraction of the company’s cash stash.

Unprecedented lockout of faculty at LIU Brooklyn

Faculty members at Long Island University Brooklyn were locked out on September 2 by the school’s President Kimberly Cline five days before classes are to resume for the fall semester.

Long Island University (LIU) is a private university with two main campuses: one in Brooklyn and the other in suburban Nassau County.

Cline announced the lockout during ongoing contract negotiations with the Long Island University Federation of Faculty (LIUFF), which represents the university’s faculty and adjunct faculty members. The old collective bargaining agreement expired on September 1.

“This unprecedented, hostile action by the administration was taken while the faculty union. . . continued to negotiate its contract in good faith,” said Emily Drabinski, secretary of LIUFF.

“The administration has taken an unprecedented act of aggression and hostility against our faculty and students by preemptively locking the faculty out of coming to work effective Friday, September 2nd at midnight” said Jessica Rosenberg, president of LIUFF after the lockout was announced.

Negotiations have been ongoing since the spring. LIUFF has been seeking raises for both faculty and adjunct faculty that will bring them closer to parity with their academic counterparts at LIU Post, the LIU campus in Nassau County.

“Almost 50 percent of Brooklyn full-time faculty makes less than our counterparts at Post at rank level,” Rosenberg said to Seawanhakathe student newspaper at LIU Brooklyn, last spring.

The administration on the other hand wants to maintain the pay gap between LIU’s two campuses and wring concessions from the faculty.

If the administration’s concession demands make it into the final collective bargaining agreement, adjuncts would be especially hard hit.

The administration is proposing workload changes that could result in fewer teaching hours for many adjuncts, which according to Drabinski would result “in a 25 percent cut in earning potential.”

The administration also wants to stop contributing to the Adjunct Benefits Trust Fund, used by adjuncts to purchase health insurance, and stop seniority payments, used by some adjuncts to make contributions to the pension plan.

In addition to concessions, the administration wants a collective bargaining agreement that establishes a two-tiered benefit system in which the university contributes less pension money for new hires and limits their options for health insurance.

The new pay scale proposed by the administration would lower pay for newly hired adjunct faculty by hundreds of dollars as well.

Rather than bargaining over these issues, the administration wants to force faculty members to accept the terms of an agreement that it dictates.

To do so, the administration has tried to turn students against faculty by telling the students that a fair contract for faculty will result in higher tuition for students, whose tuition is already high.

This threat sounds a bit disingenuous. In April President Cline was bragging to the student newspaper that the university is on solid financial footing with assets of more than $36 million and an endowment of more than $135 million.

LIU also told students that by not accepting the administration’s terms, faculty members were disregarding students and their education.

The administration then showed how much regard it had for its students by locking out their teachers and hiring ill-prepared replacement teachers. In addition, it is forcing administration employees to teach classes during the lockout.

Faculty also have been the target of threats. In letters and messages, faculty were told that unless they accepted the administration’s dictates, their health insurance would be canceled.

Despite the administration’s campaign to force capitulation, LIUFF has said that it will continue to fight for a fair collective bargaining agreement.

“We are continuing to negotiate on Labor Day and continuing to stand up for all faculty and, as importantly, for our students,” said Drabinski.  “The negotiating team will not capitulate to an egregious and onerous contract, and we will not let the administration divide the faculty and attack our freedom and autonomy to teach and create.”

LIUFF has called for a solidarity demonstration at the LIU Brooklyn campus on September 7, the opening day of classes, and is urging people to send letters of solidarity to LIU Brooklyn’s administration.

“We are going to seek resolution,” says Rosenberg. “That’s our charge, and that’s what we’re trying to do. But we’re not going to allow ourselves to be bullied and intimidated by an administration that has shown no respect for the work that we do.”

ATI’s illegal lockout ends after union members ratify new contract

Members of the United Steelworkers (USW) at 12 Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI) plants in six states ratified by a five to one margin a new collective bargaining agreement.

The ratification vote ends a six-month lockout that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said was illegal.

The workers will return to work on March 13.

The NLRB on February 12 issued a complaint charging ATI with illegally locking out its 2200 union workers.

Ten days after the NLRB ruling, the company and USW reached a tentative agreement that members ratified on March 1.

“(The agreement) doesn’t solve all our problems, but it’s definitely a victory for the union considering what the company wanted to do to us,” said Walt Hill, a USW Local 1196 member and the union’s contract coordinator to the Pittsburgh Tribune.

When bargaining began last spring, ATI, one of the world’s leading producers of specialty steel and other metal products, proposed a list of 145 concessions that USW said would “cost workers thousands of dollars a year and erode decades of collective bargaining gains.”

After months of bargaining, the union pared down the list of concessions, but on August 6, ATI presented its last, best, and final offer to USW negotiators and issued an ultimatum: Present the offer to your members by August 10 and recommend ratification.

The company’s offer still contained a long list of concessions including a two-tiered wage system that would lower wages for new workers, new, much higher health care costs, the removal of restrictions on outsourcing work, changes to the grievance procedure, and the elimination of retiree health care.

As a result, the union refused the company’s ultimatum.

On August 15, the company locked out its workers. The lockout affected ATI plants in Western Pennsylvania; Albany, Oregon; Lockport, New York; Louisville, Ohio; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Waterbury, Connecticut.

Evidence suggests that ATI had been planning the lockout for some time. Before the lockout began, the company began hiring replacement workers and extra security guards.

After being locked out, ATI’s workers took up their positions on picket lines outside of the company’s factories and stayed there even as winter set in and temperatures fell below freezing.

Meanwhile, USW filed unfair labor practices charges against ATI.

In December, the NLRB informed the union that it would file an unfair labor practices complaint against ATI for initiating an illegal lockout and for bad faith bargaining before and during the lockout.

“In all my years as a negotiator, I have never seen a company engage in such obvious bad-faith bargaining,” said USW’s lead negotiator International Vice President Tom Conway after the NLRB informed the union of its intentions.

Nearly two months later, the board filed its complaint and scheduled a May hearing with an administrative judge.

Had the complaint been heard and had the judge concurred that ATI’s lockout was illegal, the company would have had to compensate workers for their lost wages, benefits, and other losses resulting from the lockout.

After workers ratified the agreement, the NLRB dropped its complaint against ATI.

When bargaining on the new agreement began, the union was facing some difficult circumstances.

The decline in oil prices and the subsequent cutbacks in oil exploration had weakened the demand for products that ATI sold to the oil and gas industry, its second biggest customer.

Sales to the industry had declined by 34 percent.

Furthermore, worldwide overproduction and a resulting glut, reduced demand for its flat-rolled metal products by 60 percent.

As a result, the company’s net income for the past two years has been negative.

Entering negotiations, ATI was looking to reduce labor costs and used the temporary lack of demand for it products as an excuse.

While the company was telling workers that business was bad and they needed to accept concessions, it was telling a different story to investors.

According to the company’s 2014 annual report, the company’s future was bright, a quick turnaround was on the horizon, and the company would be profitable again soon, perhaps as  early as 2016.

The collective bargaining agreement that the two sides finally negotiated does provide ATI with some opportunities for lowering its labor costs.

ATI will be able to reduce its pension liabilities because new hires will no longer be eligible for the union workers’ defined benefit pension, and the workers’ health insurance plan will  no longer pay 100 percent of health care expenses after deductibles are paid.

The new health insurance plan covers 90 percent of the costs and workers will pay the rest until reaching the maximum for out-of-pocket expenses–$15oo for individuals and $3000 for families.

But workers will now be eligible for quarterly profit-sharing bonuses, a feature that the union was able to restore after the company succeeded in eliminating them in a previous collective bargaining agreement.

Workers will also receive a $1 an hour increase in their base pay, and the company will pay another $0.50 an hour to the Voluntary Employee Benefits Account that funds the retiree health care benefit.

The company will pay a modest signing bonus and agreed to contract language saying that it will not eliminate jobs by outsourcing them.

Western Pennsylvania ATI workers interviewed by the Pittsburgh Tribune said that the final agreement was better than they expected.

“Overall, it’s not a bad contract,” said Kirby DeCroo to the Tribune. “It’s (better) than what they were trying to jam down our throats.”

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.

In the face of another lockout, longshore union members are urged to stay strong and united

As employers prepared to lock out West Coast longshore workers for the second time, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath accused the Pacific Maritime Association of spreading misinformation to divide union members and incite public resentment against the workers..

The ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), a consortium of international shipping corporations, port terminal operators, and stevedore companies, have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that covers longshore work at West Coast ports in the US.

PMA has accused the union of conducting work slowdowns to gain leverage in the negotiations.

On Wednesday when the two sides were scheduled to resume negotiations, PMA announced that it would shut down West Coast port operations for four days–first on Thursday, February 12 and again on February 14 through February 16.

PMA’s aim appears to be using work stoppages to create dissatisfaction among rank and file union members in hopes that they will pressure union negotiators to accept a new collective bargaining agreement on PMA’s terms.

McEllrath said that staying strong and united was the key to winning a fair contract.

“Nobody divides the ILWU,” said McEllrath. “We’re going to win this fight; we’re going to win this battle, but there’s only one way to do it and that’s to stick together and stay strong and united.”

PMA previously locked out longshore workers on February 7 and February 8.

Before doing so PMA issued a statement blaming longshore workers for their own lockout.

In the statement PMA misrepresented longshore workers wages in order to suggest that they were overpaid. That misrepresentation led some media outlets to report that longshore workers make as much as $1100 a day.

Such reporting is ridiculous, but what is true is that longshore workers make good wages and have excellent benefits.

According to the ILWU, the hourly wage for longshore workers is between $26 and $41 dollars an hour. The union also says that while many longshore workers don’t work the entire 2000 hours that constitutes a normal work year, the typical pay for an experienced ILWU member is $83,000 a year.

The ILWU also points out that longshore work is dangerous and that longshore workers fatality rates are higher than those for police and firefighters.

The good wages enjoyed by longshore workers aren’t the result of employer generosity, as PMA would have the public believe; instead, they’re the result of 75 years of hard fought victories by ILWU members.

Before the ILWU was organized in 1934, longshore work was temporary, low-wage, and extremely dangerous. Work was controled by company agents who often demanded bribes in exchange for work.

It took a bloody ILWU strike in 1934 that closed West Coast ports to get employers to recognize the ILWU.

Among other things, the strike forced employers to accept a union demand that work be distributed fairly through a union operated hiring hall, which ended the corrupt hiring system favored by employers.

Over the years, ILWU members have succeeded in winning some control over the pace of work, improved job safety, and good pay and benefits. But it took many collective job actions to win these improvements.

The PMA in 2002 used a lockout in order to weaken the ILWU, but the tactic backfired when the lockout stopped the flow of imported goods and threatened to damage the national economy.

The lockout resulted in a return to work order issued by the federal government and pressure on the PMA to reach an agreement.

Embolden by increased corporate power over the last 13 years, PMA has dusted off the lockout and given it a new twist–this lockout is temporary and called randomly so that it doesn’t completely shut down port traffic but does affect the wages that workers take home.

But the temporary lockouts are starting to cause trouble for businesses in the imported goods supply chain.

“The PMA can only cut back on work so much before total gridlock results and then a total lockout could happen,” reports the Journal of Commerce (JOC).

If a total lockout does happen, it would trigger a return to work order like the one issued in 2002.

“West Coast ports would then face 80 days (the cooling off period required when such back to work orders are issued) of continued ILWU slowdowns, and at the end of the cooling-of period, nothing would have changed,” reports the JOC.

In the meantime, McEllrath said that union negotiators are prepared to bargain until a fair contract is achieved and said that he hopes PMA is ready to do the same.

He also criticized PMA for its divisive tactics and told ILWU members to stay strong and united and “don’t listen to PMA bullshit.”

Locked out Sherwin Alumina workers receive international support

Representatives from unions all over the world on December 10 gathered in the streets of London outside the annual investors’ day meeting of Glencore to protest the lockout of 450 workers at the Glencore-owned Sherwin Alumina refinery near Corpus Christi, Texas.

Glencore is a multinational mining, manufacturing, and trading corporation based in Switzerland and the UK. It’s Sherwin Alumina operation refines bauxite into alumina, a key ingredient in the manufacturing of aluminum.

“This is a company that makes huge profits off the backs of its workers and tries to bully those workers into accepting less and less,” said Jessie Green of the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 235A, who attended the London demonstration as a representative of the locked out workers. “It’s corporate greed – pure and simple – and unless we stand up to it, it will only get worse.”

Local 235A is the locked out workers’ union and Green is a member of the local’s negotiating team.

The workers were locked out in October after they rejected the company’s contract proposal that if accepted would have reduced take home pay by changing the way overtime is defined, increased worker health care costs, and taken the first step toward eliminating the workers’ pension.

The London demonstration was organized by the Glencore global network, an international coalition of unions representing Glencore workers.

The demonstration was also protesting Glencore’s disregard for worker safety and other abusive practices toward its workers.

“We are especially alarmed about safety issues. In the United States, the Sherwin Alumina plant already had an injury rate twice the national average, and now inexperienced replacement workers operate the facility. It is a reckless approach which could have catastrophic consequences for the workers,” said Glen Mpufane, director of mining for IndustriALL, an international confederation of unions in the mining and manufacturing industries. “We are calling on Glencore to resolve labor and community conflicts extending around the world, including Africa, Asia, Australia, Latin America and North America.”

Glencore professes to be a good corporate citizen that respects its workers, but at a November meeting of the Glencore global network, union members from the company’s mines said that worker abuse at these mines is common.

“In Peru and Colombia, the safety and health situation of workers was particularly disturbing, with reports of how injuries to workers are commonplace with Glencore refusing to work with trade unions to address these issues,” reads a report from the meeting. “In addition, it was found that the wholesale use of sub-contracting and precarious employment by Glencore at its global operations was a major contributing factor to the alarming statistics on safety and health.”

Workers also reported other problems such as Glencore’s refusal to pay standard severance payments to South African miners about to lose their jobs at the company’s Koornfotein coal mine in Mpumalanga and the eviction of miners from company housing in Collinsville, Australia after the company refused to re-hire the miners.

In Columbia, Glencore allowed a  paramilitary group to bivouac and train on its property. The group was linked to the murder of some trade unionists.

At Glencore’s Sherwin Alumina plant in Texas, the locked out workers and their families are facing some hard times, especially now that the holidays season is here and the workers haven’t received a paycheck since October.

But unlike its locked out workers, a cash shortage is not one of Glencore’s problems.

In fact, the opposite is true. It’s biggest problem appears to be figuring out what to do with is excess cash.

In August, Glencore announced that it would use some of its excess cash to repurchase stock from its shareholders.

The buy back will be quite to boon to its shareholders because Glencore plans to repurchase $1 billion worth of outstanding stock. So far, according to Bloomberg, the buy back is 65 percent complete.

Glencore is also looking for other ways to spend its bountiful surplus of cash. Bloomberg reports that Glencore is interested in buying its chief rival Rio Tinto, an Australia-based mining corporation that also does business all over the world.

Such a merger would create a $150 billion international corporate behemoth that extracts raw materials from the earth, manufactures some of the raw materials into commodities, and uses some items that it mines and manufactures to speculate in the global commodities market.

Glencore, however, doesn’t appear to be interested in sharing any of its excess cash with its Sherwin Alumina workers.

Earlier this month, the two sides resumed negotiations, but they broke off because as one USW official put it, the company insisted on retaining its “unreasonable and unnecessary demands for deep cuts in pay and benefits.”

“This is a highly profitable company, and the market for its product is improving,” said Ben Lilienfeld, USW District 13 sub-director. “There is simply no reason – other than greed – for Sherwin (and its parent Glencore) to continue to keep its doors locked on these workers. It is bad for the workers, their families, and our entire community.”