Brazil in crisis as truck drivers strike

A strike by Brazil’s truck drivers has brought the nation’s economy to a standstill.

Striking truckers have been blockading the country’s highways since Monday causing food and fuel shortages in cities.

The strike has caused key industries such as auto manufacturing and meat processing to shut down.

The lack of transportation has caused supplies of sugar, one of the country’s leading export items, to dry up at ports.

Airlines have had to cancel flights because some airports don’t have enough jet fuel.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer had hoped to resolve the crisis brought on by the strike by agreeing to a deal with unions representing the truck drivers, but as the truckers’ strike entered its fifth day on Friday, the deal apparently did not sit well with many truckers.

The truckers are striking because of the rising prices of diesel, which has made it difficult for them to meet expenses and have enough left over to support their families.

Temer on Thursday agreed to eliminate taxes on diesel and reduce diesel prices by 10 percent at the pump in hopes that truckers would return to work.

But the price reductions promised by Temer would last only for one month.

Because it was only a temporary reprieve, Abcam, the truckers’ largest union, rejected the deal, and instead of returning to work, strikers on Friday closed more highways. On Friday, 521 highways were blockaded by strikers up from 402 on Thursday.

When it appeared that the temporary concessions that Temer was willing to make wouldn’t get the striking truckers back to work, Temer said that he would use the armed forces to break the strike.

After Temer threatened to use the army, Abcam urged its members to return to work.

At this writing, it’s not clear whether the truckers will heed Abcam’s call to return to work.

The increase in fuel prices that caused the strike, began two years ago when Temer became acting President while the sitting President Dilma Rousseff was defending herself against impeachment proceedings.

One of Temer’s first acts was to appoint Pedro Parente as CEO of Petrobras, the national oil company in which the government owns a majority share.

Prior to Parente’s appointment, Petrobras subsidized fuel prices for truckers and other Brazilian consumers.

But Parente with the blessing of Temer and the country’s investor class ended that practice and let fuel prices rise to market levels.

Over the last two years, Brazil’s fuel prices doubled.

Increased fuel prices hurt consumers especially truck drivers whose livelihoods depend on the price they pay for fuel.

But Petrobras shareholders reaped a bounty from Parente’s and Temer’s decision. The value of Petrobras stock increased from $3 a share in 2015 to more than $12.70 a share by May 2018.

During 2018, fuel price increases have been especially steep. Bloomberg reports that diesel prices have increased by 50 percent in 2018.

Most recently, the Brazilian currency, the real, has lost value in relation to the dollar.

The currency’s devaluation plus the increases in the global price of oil caused Petrobras to recently increase diesel prices by 16 percent and then by another 17 percent.

It was the latest steep increases in the price of diesel that set off the strike.

The truckers’ strike has led Fitch’s Rating, Inc., one of the world’s big three credit rating services, to become concerned about the strike’s impact on the national economy.

“The truckers’ strike has elevated concerns about the ability of Brazilian corporates to maintain just-in-time supply chains, as well as to export products in key sectors, such as agriculture,” Fitch said.

 

 

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UC service workers strike to fight inequality

Saying that their fight against rising inequality will continue, 20,000 University of California (UC) workers ended their three-day strike and returned to work on May 10.

The strike was called by the workers’ union AFSCME Local 3299 after university management announced that it was breaking off negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement with the union and unilaterally imposing new terms of employment on 9000 service workers at ten UC campuses and five medical centers across the state.

Under the new terms, UC service workers, the lowest paid of all UC employees will pay more for health care coverage, wait five years longer to retire, not receive a pay raise commiserate with the high cost of living in California, and continue to face the threat of losing their jobs to outsourcing.

The decision to impose its terms on low-wage service workers comes shortly after a report commissioned by Local 3299 found that inequality at UC is prevalent and increasing.

“A taxpayer supported public university system is not the place where we should expect to see exploding wage gaps, blacks disappearing from the workforce, and an opportunity ladder that seems to prize white males above all others, but that is precisely what is happening at UC—and the trends appear to be getting worse, not better,” said Owen Li co-author of the report titled “Pioneering Inequality: Income, Racial and Gender Inequality at the University of California.

Kathy Lybarger, president of Local 3299, said that the union had been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with UC that it hoped would begin to address the growing trend toward inequality identified in the report, but UC abruptly ended the negotiations.

“Instead of joining us in the effort to arrest these trends, UC has insisted on deepening them—leaving workers no option but to strike,” Lybarger said.

Among other things, the report finds that:

  • Between 2005 and 2015, the ratio between average salaries of UC’s top executives and other UC employees increased from 7:1 to 9:1.
  • Starting pay for women and people of color averages as much as 21 percent less than white males and
  • UC’s outsourcing has led to a 37 percent decline in the number of African American workers at UC.

Outsourcing is the biggest driver of inequality at UC, Lybarger said.

An audit conducted by the state last year found that UC’s propensity to outsource more of its work to private companies has hit low-wage career employees the hardest.

Their jobs have been outsourced to private contractors that pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits than UC.

When the impact of its privatization efforts were called to the attention of UC President Janet Napolitano, she instituted policies that required outsourcing companies to pay a minimum wage, but according to a state’s audit, UC has been lax at enforcing its own policy.

While Napolitano has been driving down wages by outsourcing away jobs, she has been much more generous in the way that she treats her immediate staff.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that another state audit found that salaries for employees who directly work for her “are significantly higher than those of comparable state employees.”

These favored employees during the years audited also received an additional $21.6 million worth of perks that included contributions to their supplemental retirement accounts and stays at expensive hotels while travelling on UC business.

While Napolitano’s closest associates were being treated to extra perks, UC’s service workers, who include custodians, grounds keepers, security guards, and other service staff, have had to scramble to keep their livelihoods intact.

Some UC workers like Juan Donto, a groundskeeper at UC Santa Barbara, must work multiple jobs to support their families.

Donto, who works three jobs, said that having to work so much to meet his expenses has made it hard for him to spend any time with his children.

“It’s not right that the UC is known for its upstanding reputation when their workers have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet,” Donto said. “It’s not right that Latinos and African Americans are making at least 20 percent less than their white co-workers. I ask you, why does it take an African American woman six years to make the (starting) salary of a white man?”

Strike in Connecticut averted as lawmakers raise pay for home care workers

After the Connecticut state Senate voted to increase the pay of workers who provide home care services to people with disabilities, the workers’ union called off a strike that was scheduled to begin Monday morning.

The Senate vote sends the pay raise legislation to Gov. Daniel Malloy, who said he will sign the bill.

Connecticut’s home care workers provide personal care services to people living in group homes and to people in day programs. They haven’t had a pay raise in ten years.

Low pay and the lack of raises have made it difficult to maintain essential services needed by people with disabilities

“Our clients are like family and we are willing to fight to make sure they get the proper funding they deserve,” said  Kim Ackerman, a home care worker, explaining why she was ready to strike.

Connecticut home care workers like Ackerman are members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NE.

The union called for the strike after its efforts to increase funding for home care services stalled in the legislature.

The state provides funding used to pay private companies that hire workers to provide the care.

For the last ten years, the funding for these services has remained flat.

The union had been working with the governor and lawmakers to find a way to increase funding, but it took the possibility of a strike to focus lawmaker attention on this problem.

The union had originally planned to begin the strike on April 18, but a plea by Gov. Malloy led to a postponement.

When lawmakers dithered about increasing funding, the union announced that the strike would begin on May 7.

About a week before the strike was to begin, the state’s Office of Policy Management Secretary Ben Barnes proposed legislation that would raise home care workers’ pay to a minimum of $14.75 an hour effective January 1, 2019.

Barnes’ proposal included a one-time 5 percent raise for workers who already earn $14.75 an hour.

The state House of Representatives approved the proposal about a week ago, and the Senate concurred over the weekend.

The long overdue raise will provide some relief to workers and to their employers.

Before passage of the funding bill, Jennifer Schneider, a spokesperson for SEIU 1199NE, said that under funding home care services had created a crisis in the state.

“When privatized group homes and programs are shuttering and workers are forced to work 80 hours a week just to make ends meet, something has to change,” Schneider said.”

 

In addition to working long hours, some personal care workers have been forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

The union estimates that 35 percent of its members receive some form of public assistance.

 

 

The problems faced by Connecticut’s home care workers and the people served by them are not unique.

In fact there is a crisis of care all over the US.

For instance, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that in Minnesota the number of unfilled personal home care positions has “skyrocketed” from 2,038 in 2012 to 7,766 in 2017.

As a result, some people with disabilities have been forced to live in nursing homes rather than in less restrictive settings.

The Star Tribune blames the dearth of personal care workers on the job’s low pay, which the newspaper says is on average between $12 and $13 an hour.

The $12 to $13 an hour that Minnesota personal care workers are paid is actually a well above the national average.

According to PHI, a policy and advocacy organization, the average pay for a home care provider nationally is $10.11 an hour, which adjusted for inflation is $0.10 less than it was in 2005.

Low pay means a high level of poverty for home care workers who are overwhelmingly female and people of color, continues PHI. “24 percent of home workers live in households below the federal poverty line, compared to 9 percent of all US workers.”

Low pay is driving many qualified workers away from home care work and into jobs that pay more.

Unfortunately, this exodus is coming at a time when there is a growing need for these services.

In its report on home care needs, PHI says that demographic changes in the coming years will create a greater need for home care workers.

PHI estimates that by 2024 more than 633,000 new home care jobs will be created, but low pay will mean that many of these jobs will go unfilled.

“If the home care workforce is to grow, jobs will need to be more competitive, offering
higher wages and improved working conditions,” concludes the PHI report.

Grad workers strike, urge Columbia’s leaders to follow the law and negotiate

Graduate workers at Columbia University in New York City are on strike.

Instead of teaching classes, conducting research, and grading papers, teaching and research assistants, members of the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110 (GWC), on Tuesday morning walked off the job.

After the strike began, about 1000 graduate workers gathered on campus for a rally. They carried signs reading, “Bargain Now, “UAW on strike,” “Pro-Union=Anti Sexual Harassment,” and others.

The rally was briefly interrupted by about two dozen construction workers wearing their hard hats and marching toward the rally chanting, “union, union, union. . .”

The show of solidarity, organized by New York City’s building trades unions, surprised the graduate workers, but they quickly responded by cheering their supporters, blowing whistles, and joining the chants.

For that moment, the chant of “union, union, union. . .” created an unlikely bond between the hardhats and the student workers.

The graduate workers blamed the strike on Columbia’s administration, which for 17 months has refused to recognize the results of a union election that the union won 1602 to 623.

“We work hard and are dedicated to the core principles of this University, but we have had enough,” said Olga Brudastova, a teaching assistant at Columbia’s civil engineering and engineering mechanics department. . . “As long as they refuse to respect our legal rights, we will take action to take our power back.”

The organizing effort among Columbia’s teaching and research assistants goes back for years, but a breakthrough happened in the summer of 2016 when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that graduate workers at private universities had the right to join a union and bargain collectively.

That ruling led to a December 2016 union vote at Columbia in which 70 percent voted for the union.

Despite the overwhelming support for the union, Columbia’s administration led by President Lee Bollinger refused to recognize the union and challenged the vote.

In December 2017, the NLRB ruled against Columbia’s administration finding that “the Employer has failed to carry its burden,” noting that Columbia’s challenge was based on weak evidence in an election in which the margin of victory was 979 votes.

“In these circumstances, we find no reasonable doubt as to the fairness and validity of the election,” stated the board in its decision.

Despite this rebuke, President Bollinger continued to ignore the union’s demand that the administration begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

After repeated attempts to make Bollinger follow the law and bargain with the union, last week GWC took a strike vote in which 93 percent voted to authorize a strike if the administration refused to bargain.

After the strike vote, the union sent a letter to Columbia’s administration announcing that union members would strike on April 24 unless the administration agreed to come to the bargaining table.

President Bollinger sent a last minute message to graduate workers warning them, not to go on strike.

However, when the administration failed to respond to the union’s demand by the deadline, the 3000 members of GWC walked off the job.

 

 

The union called the strike “a showdown between the Academic 1 percent of deans and administrators and the 99 percent of younger academic workers.”

“We work long hours for Columbia, and most of us take home less than $30,000 a year while securing millions in grants and research funding,” Brudastova said. “We want a union because we want real recourse when faced with sexual harassment or assault, and progress on issues like late pay, dilapidated lab facilities, and benefits.”

While graduate workers struggle to make ends meet, administrators at Columbia like Bollinger, who likes to burnish his credentials as a liberal champion of the poor, are doing much better.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Bollinger’s annual compensation of $4.6 million makes him the highest paid chief executive among his peers at private universities in the US.

The union said that the strike will last until April 30, the last day of classes, unless the administration agrees to come to the bargaining table.

While the strike is scheduled to end in a week, members of the union said that they are ready to take further action if Columbia’s administration continues to flout the law.

“This is only the beginning,” said Ian Bradley-Perrin, a PhD candidate in public health. “If Columbia continues to refuse to bargain with us, they should expect us to strike again. We love our work and our students, but we need the security of a contract to move forward. We won a democratic election that was certified by the federal government, and the law is clear. It’s time for Columbia to come to the table.”

A solidarity fund has been set up to support striking graduate workers.

 

Striking Idaho miners stand firm

Striking Idaho miners on March 17 marked the one-year anniversary of their strike with a solidarity march and rally.

Miners at the Lucky Friday silver mine in Mullan, Idaho and their supporters chanted “Mullan is a union town. We won’t let you shut it down!” as they marched from the town center to the Lucky Friday picket line.

The mine is owned by Hecla Mining, a precious metals mining company that operates mines in Alaska, Mexico, and Canada as well as the one in Idaho.

Members of  United Steelworkers Local 5114 began their unfair labor practices strike on March 13, 2017 after the company attempted to unilaterally implement changes to the collective bargaining agreement.

The company’s attempt came after more than a year of  negotiations with the union on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Among the changes demanded by Hecla, were concessions, some of which, workers said, will make their jobs less safe.

Work in underground silver mines like the Lucky Friday is dangerous.

A mixture of heavy equipment, high temperatures, brittle rock, and unstable dust make for a volatile work environment.

“When things go wrong (in the mine), you usually don’t get a second chance,” said Louis Elam, a Local 5114 member to the Spokane Spokeman-Review during the solidarity march.

In 2011, an explosion at the Lucky Friday killed one miner.

“They pay you for your diligence and safety,” continued Elam. “These are talented people who know how to work the rock.”

A key element in keeping the mine safe is the seniority system that miners and the company agreed to more than 35 years ago.

The seniority system allows senior miners to select their crews. The system, according to union members, enhances safety because it builds crew cohesion and communication.

It also has resulted in record-setting production levels.

But the company thinks that the seniority system gives miners too much control over their jobs and wants to end it.

The company’s concession demands also included changing procedures for recalling workers after layoffs, increasing workers’ health care costs, moving work out of the mine, and reducing miners’ bonuses.

Before the strike began, the company tried to bully workers into accepting the company’s demands and once the strike began, it tried to intimidate them into returning to work.

The union filed unfair labor practice charges against the company, and some of the charges were recently resolved.

As a result of a settlement between the company and the National Labor Relations Board, Hecla mailed letters to union members telling them that the company will no longer engage in the unfair labor practices listed in the letter.

Among other things, Hecla said that it will not threaten employees with “negative consequences” if they support the strike; it will not promise benefits to those who abandon the strike; and it will allow workers to take accrued vacation as either a lump sum payment or earned vacation time.

The letter also said that the company will bargain in good faith with the union and will not unilaterally implement changes to the collective bargaining agreement.

Prior to receiving the letter, Local 5114 members had a chance to vote on whether to continue the strike.

In a secret ballot election held on March 7, workers voted 123-51 to reject a proposal to submit the outstanding negotiating issues to arbitration and instead to continue the strike and to continue negotiating with the company.

“Our members have spoken,” said Dave Roose Local 5114 unit chairman to the Shoshone News Press after the vote. “We have played the game, jumped through the hoops, and everyone has had the chance to vote. We have chosen to remain on strike rather than let someone else decide our future.”

Local 5114 members are looking to make it clear that the March 17 solidarity march was not just a one-time event and that they are ready to continue their fight for a fair contract.

On the local’s Facebook page, Roose announced that beginning March 23, “every Friday will be designated Black Friday” and encouraged members, family, and supporters to wear black “in remembrance of all the union members that have given their lives on picket lines and (as) a show of solidarity!!”

April 2 public employee strike looming in Oklahoma

April 2 could be momentous day for Oklahoma teachers and state employees.

The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), on March 8 announced that unless state lawmakers provide for a “significant raise” for teachers and school support employees and restore the funding cut from the state’s education budget, there will be a statewide closure of public schools on April 2.

“Teachers and support professionals of Oklahoma are angry and frustrated with the legislature for not doing its job,” said Alicia Priest, president of OEA. “We have tried several different paths to improve education funding, but none have worked. If the legislature cannot properly fund education and core state services by the legal deadline
of April 1, we are prepared to close schools and stay at the Capitol until it gets done.”

Two days later, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) board of directors voted to develop a work stoppage action plan for state employees. The work stoppage would take place on April 2.

“State employees in all 77 counties are fed up with state leaders who will not act to address state employee pay that is 25 percent below the private sector,” reads a statement issued by OPEA. “They are also tired of politicians who will not vote to raise revenue so core services can be sufficiently funded.”

The state’s failure to adequately fund core services such as education, public health, human services, law enforcement, etc. is the result of an extended shortage of revenue.

The revenue shortage is the result of generous tax breaks given to the oil and gas industry and the absence of other reliable and stable revenue sources.

While being stingy when it comes to funding the state’s core services, Oklahoma lawmakers have been almost philanthropic when it comes to lavishing tax breaks on the oil and gas industry.

US News reports that “Oklahoma has cut educational spending drastically in recent years while granting some of the most generous tax breaks in the country to oil and gas companies.”

The result of this generosity was a steep drop in state revenue even when oil production was booming.

Reuters reports that while oil and gas production boomed, “Oklahoma’s generous tax breaks for horizontal drilling resulted in declining revenue from production taxes,” which according to Reuters cost the state about $800 million in lost revenue between 2008 and 2014.

These tax breaks had been temporary, but in 2014, lawmakers voted to make them permanent.

In doing so, they continued to subsidize the oil and gas industry at the expense of core state services.

In 2017, the Guardian reported that Oklahoma’s lack of funding for public services made it resemble “a failed state” in which “the contract between citizens and public institutions breaks down.”

The Guardian describes a number of failures of the state to provide basic services including its lack of funding for programs that serve Oklahoma residents with mental disabilities. This lack of funding has resulted in a ten-year waiting period for some of these services.

In addition to short-changing its residents, Oklahoma has also been short-changing workers who provide state services. Oklahoma state employees haven’t had a pay raise in nearly 10 years.

And it’s no better for the state’s public school teachers whose average pay is the worst among all states in the US.

Priest said that as result of the low pay, Oklahoma teachers are leaving the state for better paying jobs in Texas and Arkansas.

Oklahoma’s failure to fund education has resulted in larger class sizes, reduced after-school programs, and cuts to other vital education services.

The lack of education funding also has caused nearly 100 of Oklahoma’s 513 school districts to reduce their school week to four days.

Teachers and state employees have been vocal advocates for improving the state’s core services, but lawmakers have ignored them.

Nevertheless, these advocates have persisted and what we’re seeing in Oklahoma, said Priest, is a “grassroots movement” that will no longer stand by and watch while state core services continue to crumble.

“Being last in the country in teacher pay and at the bottom of per pupil funding cannot be our vision for Oklahoma,” Priest said. “Our teacher shortage has reached catastrophic levels. . . We have thousands of full‐time support professionals who live below the poverty line. These people are vital to the day‐to‐day operations of our schools and play a significant role in our students’ lives.”

“We have found we cannot cut our way to prosperity,” continued Priest. “Our health care system is cutting services to our most at-risk populations. That includes children who are also our students.”

Priest went on to say that school districts across the state are preparing to close on April 2 but that a school closure is not OEA’s goal.

“Properly funding education and our state’s core services is the goal,” Priest said.

Frontier Communication workers strike for job security and improved customer service

Workers at Frontier Communications in West Virginia are on strike.

The 1400 striking Frontier workers are members if the Communication Workers of America (CWA). They walked off their jobs on March 4 because they want their new collective bargaining agreement to include job security protections for all union members.

Union members also want Frontier to keep promises that it made to customers when it acquired the state’s telecommunications system from Verizon in 2010.

“Frontier promised West Virginians that they would continue to provide the high quality service that is critical for families and businesses across the state,” said Ed Mooney, vice president of Communications Workers (CWA) of America District 2-13. “Instead, what we have seen is a sharp increase in customer complaints that has coincided with job cuts. There are simply not enough employees to get the job done.”

The CWA bargaining team began negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with Frontier ten months ago.

After nearly a year of bargaining, the company was willing to guarantee job protections for 85 percent of union members, but the union wanted job protections for all members.

Union members say that job protections and quality services go hand in hand.

Frontier acquired West Virginia’s telecommunication system from Verizon in 2010 and at the time promised to invest in the state’s local workforce and its telecommunication system.

But instead, the company eliminated 500 good-paying, middle class jobs, a 27.5 percent reduction in its workforce.

Half of those job cuts have come since January 2017.

In December, about the same time that Frontier learned that it would be getting a substantial tax cut, the company announced its plan to eliminate 50 more jobs.

While Frontier has been eliminating good-paying union jobs, the work load has not declined, and the company is using lower-paid non-union contractors to pick up the slack.

As the company relies more on inexperienced contractors, customer service complaints have increased substantially.

The union’s review of informal customer service complaints filed with the West Virginia Public Service Commission found that complaints against Frontier increased by 69 percent between 2014 and 2017 going from 639 in 2014 to 1072 in 2017.

“”Customers are waiting way too long to have their problems resolved, and too often we’re back fixing the same problems over and over again,” said John Bailey, president of CWA Local 2276 in Bluefield. “Frontier is leaving West Virginia behind. The network has been neglected and there are just not enough experienced, well-trained workers left to handle the service requests.”

Since the strike began, Frontier has been trying to maintain service by importing out-of-state contractors to serve as replacement workers.

One of the out-of-state contractors was detained by police after he brandished a gun at striking workers as they walked their picket line.

Despite the actions of one disgruntled contractor, striking Frontier workers have been receiving widespread support locally and throughout the US.

During a recess on the final day of the state Legislature’s session, a busload of Democratic lawmakers joined a Charleston picket line of  striking Frontier workers.

Earlier in the week, Frontier received a letter from Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission.

In his letter, Carper wrote that he was disappointed with Frontier.

When Frontier began operating West Virginia, wrote Carper, it made promises to the community, but the company “failed to live up to its promises.”

Carper requested a meeting with company officials “to discuss this work stoppage and offer my assistance to resolve it.”

In addition to these elected officials, other unions and union members from all over the US are supporting striking Frontier workers.

During the first week of the strike, members of International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 10, SEIU Virginia Local 512, CWA Local 2201, CWA locals from Virginia and Maryland, and UAW locals joined Frontier picket lines.

United Food and Commercial Workers locals 1776 and 23 whose members live and work in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia sent a letter pledging support for the striking workers and their customers.

A number of unions including CWA locals all over the country and United Mine Workers of America locals 1924, 1620, and 1332 from the Navajo Nation posted messages of support on Facebook.

And union members and other supporters from all over the country have been making contributions to the strikers’ Solidarity Fund, which helps striking workers meet the financial responsibilities during the strike.

In  a statement issued on March 9, Mooney said that Frontier, which has already agreed to job security protections for 85 percent of its union employees, could end the strike by extending the same protections to just 200 more of its union workers.

“We are asking them to make a commitment on job security for 200 of their employees to close this deal,” Mooney said. “They have no problem making a commitment to 200 scabs, many of them from out of state, in order to try to undermine our strike. Why not commit to their own employees, some of whom have been with the company for 40 years or more?”