Momentive workers vote for agreement that ends their strike

After being on strike for 105 days, Momentive workers in Waterford, New York on February 14 voted to accept a new collective bargaining agreement.

Members of IUE-CWA Local 81539, which represents production workers at the chemical plant that makes silicon products, voted 317 to 211 to ratify the new agreement; members of its sister local 81380, which represents lab workers, voted 61 to 0 to ratify.

Dennis Trainor, vice president of District 1 of the Communication Workers of America who helped negotiate the agreement, said that the new contract was a “substantial  improvement” over the company’s take-it-or-leave-it original offer that caused the strike.

Nevertheless, workers at the union office for the contract vote were in a somber mood.

The new contract provides two raises–a 2 percent raise effective in June and another 2 percent raise effective a year later–, a $2000 signing bonus, reduced health care benefits, fewer vacation days, and it eliminates retiree health care insurance for workers who retire this year and onward.

The agreement that ended the strike leaves intact the firings of 27 union members for strike-related activities.

Members of locals 81359 and 81380 went on strike when Momentive, owned by one of the world’s largest private equity companies Apollo Global Management, offered the workers a new collective bargaining agreement with a laundry list of concessions, givebacks, and takeaways.

Since Apollo bought Momentive in 2006, workers have endured a series of pay cuts and benefit reductions.

When Apollo made its latest concession laden contract offer, it left workers with no choice but to vote to authorize and carry out a strike.

During the strike, Apollo brought in replacement workers to maintain some semblance of productive activity.

During the strike, Momentive was cited by New York’s environmental protection agency for health and safety violations that endangered the surrounding communities. The union attributed the health and safety problems to errors caused by the replacement workers.

The sight of these replacement workers undermining the workers’ fight to maintain their benefits and decent standard of living and the threats to the health safety of their neighbors, families, and friends caused by the inexperienced replacement workers did not sit well with strikers.

Some workers were justifiably enraged by the replacement workers’ actions.

When they expressed their anger at the company and at the replacement workers themselves, the company fired them.

When the workers return to work on Friday, those fired during the strike will still be out of a job.

The new agreement establishes an arbitration process that allows for a review of the terminations and possible reinstatement of those who were fired.

Fifteen of those fired, were accused of vandalism. They will have their firings reviewed by an independent arbitrator appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who mediated the end of the strike.

Returning workers were also miffed by the fact that some replacement workers will remain on the job during a transition period and by the company’s requirement that striking workers attend a two-day training workshop on the company’s code of conduct and safety.

Many of the strikers are long-time Momentive employees with years of experience handling the plant’s dangerous chemicals and operating the plant’s equipment They are more than capable of leading the safety classes that they will be attending.

During the strike, some workers who voted for President Trump hoped that he would intervene to help end the strike.

But those hopes faded when they learned that one of Trump’s new economic advisers would be Steve Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, another one of the world’s largest private equity companies that until last summer owned a stake in Momentive. Schwarzman is the new chairman of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

AT&T workers demonstrate solidarity to oppose company greed

Three groups of AT&T union workers joined together on February 11 to denounce AT&T’s greed, express their frustration with AT&T’s lack of concern about its workers, and to demand a fair contract.

AT&T  Mobility Orange Contract workers in 35 states, AT&T wireline workers in California and Nevada, and AT&T DirecTV workers rallied for fair contracts at AT&T wireless retail stores and call centers in 36 cities throughout the US. They are members of the Communication Workers of America (CWA).

The three groups are involved in three separate collective bargaining negotiations, and union members are frustrated with the company’s lack of respect for its frontline workers.

“AT&T is underestimating the deep frustration wireless retail, call center, and field workers are feeling right now with its decisions to squeeze workers and customers, especially as the company just reported more than $13 billion in annual profits,” said Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District 1. “Nationwide, AT&T workers’ resolve to win has never been stronger, and when telecom workers commit to winning a fair contract, they don’t back down.”

AT&T Mobility Orange Contract wireless technicians, customer service representative, and retail store employees began negotiating in January.

The union says that the company during negotiations has failed to address key concerns of its workers. Subsequently, 93 percent of the union members voted last week to authorize a strike.

“Americans are fed up with giant corporations like AT&T that make record profits but ask workers to do more with less and choose to offshore and outsource jobs,” said Nicole Popis, an AT&T wireless call center worker from Illinois.  “I’ve watched our staff shrink from 200 employees down to 130. I’m a single mother and my son’s about to graduate. I voted yes to authorize a strike because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to show AT&T we’re serious–the company must address these issues and bargain a fair contract.”

Since 2011, AT&T has cut 8,000 call center jobs and moved these jobs to other countries. At 60 percent of its retail stores, the company has outsourced good paying union jobs to private contractors who pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits.

The company is also seeking to increase health insurance premiums for long-term employees and to deny pension benefits for new hires.

Retail store workers want the company to increase their commissions, and all wireless workers want a fair wage increase that recognizes the vital role they play in making the company’s robust profits possible.

Orange Contract Mobility workers were poised to go on strike when their current collective bargaining agreement expired on February 11, but  on the eve of the strike deadline, the two sides agreed to continue bargaining.

While the bargaining continues, the existing collective bargaining agreement remains in effect. The union can still strike after it gives the company a notice of its intention to strike 72 hours before the strike begins.

“The union and company remain very far apart on all issues important to our members,”reads a message from the union’s Bargaining Team to union members. “The Bargaining Team is not here to settle, we are here to fight, and we feel energized by all the mobilization we see across the Orange Contract footprint. AT&T is greedy and their proposals are unfair and appalling.”

AT&T wireline workers in California and Nevada who maintain and repair telecommunications infrastructure and install and repair telecommunications equipment in homes have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement since April.

In addition to being frustrated with AT&T’s lack of responsiveness at the bargaining table, union workers are concerned that AT&T isn’t investing enough in its telecommunications infrastructure.

The consequences of this lack of investment were exposed in January when severe storms hit the West Coast.

According to the union, storm related outages increased by 350 percent during the January storms because the company’s telecommunications  infrastructure was too old. Workers are concerned that outages will be even worse when the next storm hits.

In addition to not investing in infrastructure, union members charge the company with not investing in its workers.

Union members are seeking improvements to their health care benefit, a benefit that was shaped in 2009 while the company was feeling the after shock of the Great Recession. As a result, worker health care costs have increased substantially. For some members, increased health care costs have resulted in stagnant or lower take home pay.

Wireline workers also want a decent pay increase. The union reports that during the last five years, company productivity increased 25 percent, but pay increased only 17 percent.

“The company’s priorities are backwards . . . because the frontline, which is the employees in the call centers, the technicians in the manholes, (and) in the houses, are the ones (who the company) gets (its) profits from,” said Armando Zepeda, an AT&T Premises Technician.

Last year, 95 percent of AT&T’s California and Nevada wireline workers authorized a strike, but the union and company have continued to negotiate.

Like their wireless counterparts, wireline workers could go on strike after giving the company a 72-hour notice.

If both groups go on strike at the same time, AT&T could be facing a strike by 38,000 of its workers.

AT&T DirectTV workers in CWA District 9 are also negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

They joined CWA last year, and this will be their first contract. Bargaining began on February 8.

In September, CWA reached an agreement on a first contract for 2100 DirectTV workers in the Southeast and Midwest.

That contract provides for the same wage progression schedules in contracts covering CWA members at AT&T in those regions.  Those DirecTV workers also will receive wage increases every six month until they achieve the top of the wage progression scale.

The tentative agreement also provides for health care coverage; disability, savings and pension benefits, a grievance and arbitration process, and coverage under the national transfer plan, among other benefits.

Taxi workers strike to show opposition to anti-Muslim executive order

Members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) on January 28 staged a strike at the Kennedy International Airport in New York City to show solidarity with the people being detained at the airport because of President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the US.

“Today (taxi) drivers are joining the protests at JFK Airport in support of all those who are currently being detained at the airport because of Trump’s unconstitutional order,” reads a statement issued by NYTWA, a 19,000 member, AFL-CIO affiliated union.

As a result, the airport’s usually bustling taxi stand was vacant during the Saturday night strike.

“Drivers stand in solidarity with refugees and immigrants coming to America in search of peace and safety and with those simply trying return to their homes here in America after being abroad. We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this cruel and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry,” continues the statement.

In addition to standing in solidarity with people denied entry, NYTWA also criticized the executive order itself, which singled out Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

“As an organization whose membership is largely Muslim, a workforce that’s almost universally immigrant, and a working-class movement that is rooted in the defense of the oppressed, we say no to this inhumane and unconstitutional ban,” said NYTWA.

NYTWA also was concerned about the effect that President Trump’s executive order would have on immigrants and Muslims who make a living by driving taxis and other passenger vehicles, which is already a dangerous job.

According to NYTWA, professional drivers are 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers.

Trump’s executive order increases this risk, said NYTWA, because at the heart of the order is an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant message that may encourage those who already harbor these sentiments to act on them.

“We know all to well that when government programs sanction outright Islamophobia and the rhetoric is spewed from the bully pulpit, hate crimes increase and drivers suffer,” said NYTWA.

The union went on to say that Trump’s executive order puts non-Muslim members at risk too.

“Our Sikh and other non-Muslim brown and black members also suffer from anti-Muslim violence,” reads the statement.

After word got out that union taxi drivers were on strike at JFK, Uber informed customers that it was suspending surge pricing at JFK.

That move backfired. Many customers interpreted Uber’s message as strike breaking, which led to a spontaneous online boycott.

On Twitter #DeleteUber popped up creating a public relations problem for the ride share company.

Uber tried to halt the damage by issuing a statement apologizing and telling the public that it had not intended to engage in strike breaking.

After the public show of support for its strike, NYTWA issued another statement thanking those who stood in solidarity with the union and its strike against bigotry and criticized Uber for its cooperation with the Trump administration.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is one of President Trump’s economic advisers.

The union also criticized Uber for its role in turning full-time, good paying jobs into part-time, low-wage work.

“Let’s hold Uber and every single corporation accountable for its greed-at-all-cost complicity in (Trump’s) inhumane policy and every such policy that follows. And let’s equally hold them accountable for the politics of impoverishment,” concluded the union.

“We won’t back down”; the fight for $15 gets bolder

A wave of militant action rolled across the US on November 29 disrupting business as usual as low-wage workers told the nation that they weren’t backing down from their fight to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Strikes, acts of civil disobedience, and other protests involving thousands of people took place in 340 cities.

Despite the US government’s turn to the extreme right in the November election, supporters of the November 29 day of action said that they would escalate their fight to raise wages and stop looming attacks on the working class.

“We are also protesting to reject the politics of divisiveness that tears America apart by race, religion, ethnicity and gender,” said Betty Douglas, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis. “And we won’t back down until the economy is fixed for all workers and we win justice for all people in our nation.”

In Chicago, 500 workers at O’Hare Airport walked off the job in an unfair labor strike.

The strikers carried signs reading, “Fight for $15 and a union.”

The strikers included janitors, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and other low-wage service providers.

The workers said that they were striking to protest intimidation by their employers who are trying to stop the workers from organizing a union.

After the walkout, workers gathered at an O’Hare terminal to rally for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to join a union.

Low-wage workers at 20 other US airports joined in protests to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage.

In New York, demonstrators sat down in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway shutting down traffic during the morning rush hour.

“We are here today because we face retaliation in our stores for the gains we’ve made in our pay and our continued effort to fight for better jobs,” said Jorel Ware, a McDonald’s worker to the New York Daily News. “I’m ready to face arrest and put my own safety and freedom on the line.”

“We are here to send a message loud and clear to our employers that we won’t back down,” said Jahnay Tucker, a Chipotle worker. “We are going to keep fighting for the good jobs we deserve.”

According to the Daily News, more than two dozen protesters were arrested for their part in the sit-in.

The protesters were joined by Uber and Lyft drivers, who have been fighting for union recognition.

In Memphis, about 100 people sat in at a McDonald’s near downtown and then began to march toward Interstate 240.

Thinking that the protesters were going to block traffic on the freeway, Memphis police blocked their march.

A stand off ensued that lasted several hours. “It’s a free street,” shouted the protesters to the police blocking their way.

In Minneapolis, 250 people gathered in the street in front of a McDonald’s at Nicollet Avenue and 24th Street where they blocked traffic. Twenty-one people were arrested.

Protesters then moved to a Kohl’s store in the Eden Prairie shopping center.

Janitors who work for Kohl’s have been organizing to fight for a Responsible Contractors Policy that would require janitorial service contractors providing services at Kohl’s to pay a decent wage, provide benefits, and allow workers to join a union of their choice.

“We’ve had a lot of support; it’s crazy,” said Stephanie Gasca of Centro Trabajadores Unido en Lucha (Workers Center United in Struggle), which has helped the janitors organize, to the Star Tribune. “We’ve been involved in this movement for almost two years. It’s time to pass $15 an hour now.”

In Las Vegas, Fight for $15 supporters marched through the Las Vegas Strip in the evening to a McDonald’s where six people sat down to block traffic and were arrested.

“We’re here to say, no matter who is in the White House, we’re going to keep fighting for $15,” said Laura Martin of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which helped organize the action.

These are just a few of the actions that took place all over the US. Hundreds of people were arrested and thousands participated in street actions and strikes.

Those who took part in what organizers called “A Day of Disruption,” pointed to the gains that the Fight for $15 has accomplished in four years.

Since the first fast food workers walked off the job in 2012 to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage, 22 million minimum wage workers have gotten or will get a pay increase because the states or cities where they live enacted minimum wage increases.

In New York and California alone, 10 million workers will be lifted out of poverty because the two states increased their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In November, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington voted to increase their states minimum wage. In Washington, the minimum wage will increase to $13.50 by 2020, and in the other states, it will increase to $12 an hour by 2020.

Organizers of the November 29 actions said that their fight will continue until all who work are paid a living wage that keeps them out of poverty.

Thousands of French women strike for equal pay

Thousands of women in France walked out of work early on November 7 to protest the pay gap between men and women.

Women began their strike at 4:34 p.m.

The time that the walkout began is symbolic.

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, women in France are paid 15.1 percent less than men for comparable work. To look at another way, for 15.1 percent of the year, women are working without getting paid. That period without pay begins at 4:34 p.m. on November 7 and ends at Midnight on January 1, 2017.

“As of 4:34p.m. [and 7 seconds] on November 7, women will be working ‘for free’, reads a statement on the website of  Les Glorieuses, the feminist newsletter that called for the strike. “We call on women, men, unions and feminist organizations to join the movement. . . and to hold events and protests in order to make income inequality a central political issue. By tackling this subject, we’re showing that the gender pay gap is not just a ‘woman’s issue’.”

The strike call was heeded by a larger number than its organizers expected.

“I’m extremely happy that a lot of people took up this issue and made time to show their support,” said Rebecca Amsellem co-founder of Les Glorieuses to the Guardian. “It’s good that we are thinking about women’s rights outside of Women’s Day.”

Amsellem added that she didn’t want to wait for 170 years to equalize pay between men and women.

Amsellem’s comment about waiting 170 years to achieve pay equality is a reference to a recent report by the World Economic Forum that estimates that at the current rate of progress, it will take 170 years to close the pay gap between men and women.

The report entitled Global Gender Gap Report is produced annually and attempts to measure the global progress toward eliminating gender inequality in four areas: educational attainment, health and survival, economic opportunity and political empowerment.

According to the Forum, “progress towards (pay) parity. . .  has slowed dramatically with the (pay) gap – which stands at 59 percent (worldwide) – now larger than at any point since 2008.”

The French strike for pay parity was inspired by a similar action that took place in Iceland on October 24.

On that day at 2:38 p.m., women in Iceland walked off the job because the 14 percent pay gap in Iceland means that from 2:38 p.m. until the end of the work day, women are working without getting paid.

Women in Iceland have been taking this action for 11 years now.

That action has its roots in a strike that took place 41 years ago.

On October 24, 1975, 90 percent of the women in Iceland took part in a strike to show the importance of the work they do.

Five years later Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected Iceland’s and Europe’s first female president.

Finnbogadottir told the BBC that she would not have been president if it hadn’t been for the strike that took place five years earlier.

Alix Heuer, another co-founder of Les Glorieusestold France 24 that she wanted the November 7 strike in France to be another watershed moment for equal rights and that more actions will be taken make equal pay a priority on the country’s political.

Heuer has been gathering signatures on an online petition, and told France 24 that, “Our goal is to take the petition to Laurence Rossignol [French minister of families, children and women’s rights] by Monday at the latest to demand equal pay.”

Momentive workers strike against more concession demands

Striking workers stood their ground as a busload of temporary replacement workers inched through the strikers’ picket line at the Momentive Performance Materials chemical plant in Waterford, New York, 11 miles northeast of Albany.

More than 600 workers, members of IUE-CWA Local 81359, began their strike at noon on November 2 after negotiations between the union and company broke down.

As soon as the strike began, Momentive started busing in strike breakers.

The fact that Momentive would try to keep production going at a chemical plant where complicated machinery and an intricate piping system process tons of quartz and silicon  was an ominous sight to John Ryan.

Ryan, a 26-year Momentive worker, told the Waterford Daily Gazette that the use of untrained, inexperienced workers posed a threat to the community at large.

“They just brought replacement workers in,” said Ryan to the Gazette as the bus finally made it through the gate. “It shows how very little they care about the community of Waterford and the workers. Just a couple years ago [the site] blew two people up. They were in the hospital and almost died. If it wasn’t for our workers who did the brigade work to save their lives and get them to the hospital, they’d be dead. They bring these guys in here and put Waterford in jeopardy. They’re going to be running equipment that they can barely run when we’re in there. . . . Well, it shows how little they care about us and the community of Waterford. They just care about their pockets.”

Momentive is a chemical company that makes silicon and quartz products used in sealants, adhesives, caulk, semiconductors, and consumer electronics.

The strike began after workers rejected a company proposal that would have severely cut their health care and pension benefits.

This wasn’t the first time that Momentive demanded concessions from its workers.

The company’s concessionary demands began shortly after Apollo Global Management, one of the world’s largest private equity companies, bought General Electric’s advanced materials plant in Waterford in 2006 and renamed it Momentive.

To finance the deal, Apollo borrowed $3.8 billion strapping its new company with more than $4 billion in debt.

About the same time that Apollo bought Momentive, it was purchasing other companies. For example, Apollo bought Claire’s Stores for $3.1 billion in 2007. In 2008, it and another private equity firm, bought what is now called Caesars Entertainment for $8 billion.

Apollo borrowed heavily to make these and other purchases, and the companies that Apollo purchased were responsible for repaying Apollo’s heavy debt load.

As Apollo was loading up its newly purchased companies with large amounts of debt, the Great Recession and financial crisis hit.

The financial losses caused by a weak economy and the high debt load with which Apollo saddled its new companies put their survival at risk.

At Momentive, workers paid the price for Apollo’s debt-fueled buying spree.

More than 400 Momentive workers at its Waterford plant were told in 2008 that their pay was being cut.

The pay cuts were drastic. Kat Aaron, a reporter for the Investigative Reporting Workshop reported that one veteran worker saw his pay drop from $29.11 an hour to $17 an hour.

The pay cuts also fell most heavily on workers who had worked for Momentive for a long time.

The union filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, and in 2010 won back pay of thousands of dollars for those affected by the wage cuts.

However, a new collective bargaining agreement ratified by the membership in 2010 re-instituted the pay cuts.

In 2014, still struggling under its heavy debt load, Momentive filed for bankruptcy.

The company’s weak financial situation and its bankruptcy filing made it difficult for the union to regain the workers’ lost wages.

But when Momentive emerged from bankruptcy in 2014, workers’ health care and pension benefits were still intact.

Now, two years later, Momentive wants to shift workers to a high deductible health plan and eliminate the workers’ pension plan for new hires, which puts all workers’ pensions at risk.

Two days after the strike began, Momentive made another offer in hopes of ending the strike.

Details of that offer are not available.

Union members voted on the offer on Sunday, November 6 and Monday, November 7. The offer was rejected by a vote of 476 to 190.

Union says management forced strike by Philadelphia transit workers

A strike by 4700 Philadelphia transit worker that began November 1 has shut down the city’s bus, trolley, and subway service operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA).

The strike was authorized by a unanimous vote of Transport Workers Union Local 234 members on October 16.

Willie Brown, president of Local 234, blamed the strike on management’s refusal to address worker concerns about pay, benefits, and safety.

“Despite months of constructive and innovative proposals from our side of the table, management has refused to budge on key issues, including safety issues that would save lives and not cost SEPTA a dime,” said Brown in a statement about the strike.

Since negotiations began in July, union negotiators have offered proposals that would lead to a fair agreement benefiting both parties, but management has insisted on worker concessions.

When negotiations on economic issues stalled, the union tried to keep them going by proposing safety improvements that wouldn’t cost SEPTA any money.

But according to a union newsletter to members, SEPTA “refused to address non-economic issues affecting operator and public safety. Some of the issues involve contractual provisions the union wants enforced, but SEPTA managers think they can ignore the contract and do as they please.”

One of the non-economic issues that union members wanted addressed is safety problems created by operator fatigue on the job.

Currently, management can schedule a bus, trolley, or subway operator to work after an operator has had as little as nine hours of rest.

Many operators must wake up early in the morning to begin their routes, and some, if not most, work split shifts that can extend their workday up to 12 to 15 hours. Others work late into the night.

Nine hours of downtime is hardly enough rest to refresh operators, whose job requires constant awareness and concentration and who are responsible for the safety of hundreds of thousands of riders a day.

Management’s refusal to negotiate economic issues has also rankled union members.

Management’s position on pension reform has been especially perplexing.

One year ago, SEPTA management raised pensions for themselves by an average of $600 a month.

But when union members proposed changes to the contract that would raise their pensions by a much lesser amount, management claimed that pension increases were out of the question because there wasn’t enough money in the pension fund.

Management is also seeking to increase workers’ cost for health care coverage.

The Philadelphia inquirer reports that SEPTA’s health care proposal would increase worker premium contribution from $552 a year to more than $6000 a year if workers want to maintain their current coverage for their families.

In addition SEPTA is proposing 340 percent to 520 percent co-pay increases for prescription medicine.

Under SEPTA’s proposal, co-pays for generic prescriptions increase from $5 to $22, preferred brands increase from $10 to $62, and non-preferred brands increase from $20 to $106.

SEPTA is also proposing a 5.5 percent wage increase over the five years of the contract with no immediate wage increase.

SEPTA’s proposed wage increase isn’t enough to keep up with the increased cost of living, and the higher out-0f-pocket health care expenses that workers would pay mean that most workers would be taking home less money than they are now.

Before the strike began, Brown urged city and state leaders to pressure the SEPTA Board of Directors to negotiate a fair contract, but SEPTA held firm on its concession demands.

“The (union’s) leadership met with politicians at every level of government in the hope that progressive minded political leaders will press the Republicans in control of the SEPTA board to come to their senses, particularly Pat Deon, the strike happy chairman of the SEPTA Board,” reported Brown to Local 234 members.  “It’s important to remember that Deon led the infamous attack on our members in 1998, causing a 40-day strike, the second longest in the Local’s history.

On the eve of the strike, US Representative Bob Brady, a Democrat, tried to broker an agreement but to no avail.

Brady was concerned that the strike could stretch through to Election Day making it difficult for voters who rely on public transportation to go to the polls.

SEPTA announced that if the strike appears to be lasting through Election Day, it will seek an injunction to force workers back to work.