Tentative Deal Reached in Oil Strike

The United Steelworkers (USW) have reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract with Shell Oil Co., the union announced Thursday. The deal will serve as a pattern agreement for the rest of the industry. USW members at several refineries struck on Feb. 1, and the strike grew to include about 7,000 workers at 15 sites across the country.

USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock told the Los Angeles Times:

We are hopeful that with the settlement of the national pattern agreement, this will push both parties at the local level to reach agreement quicker on their local issues.

Workers are expected to remain on the picket lines until local issues are resolved and the ratification process begins. Overall, some 30,000 USW members work at 65 refineries and hundreds of pipelines, terminals, petrochemical plants and other facilities.

USW President Leo W. Gerard said:

We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership. There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.

Safety issues were central to the negotiations. In the past five years, 27 workers have been killed and hundreds more seriously injured. The proposed agreement calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility. Daily maintenance and repair work in the plants was another critical issue that, too, was addressed.

The tentative contract contains language that addresses worker fatigue, which is tied to accidents, and the use of contractors versus unionized labor. It also safeguards gains made in previous contracts and raises wages.

Read more from the USW.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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USW Oil Workers Expand Strike, Cite Safety Concerns

Photo via USW Facebook page

Oil workers at three more refineries and a chemical plant joined the United Steelworkers’ (USW’s) unfair labor practice strike against the oil industry over the weekend. With workers and plant safety a major concern, USW President Leo W. Gerard said:

The industry’s refusal to meaningfully address safety issues through good faith bargaining gave us no other option but to expand our work stoppage.

Some 1,350 workers are employed at the four facilities, bringing the number of striking workers to about 6,550 at 14 and the chemical plant.

The new strike sites are the Motiva Enterprises refinery in Port Arthur, Texas—a 50-50 joint venture between Shell Oil Co. (American subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell) and Saudi Refining Inc. (subsidiary of Saudi Aramco)—Motiva’s two Louisiana refineries in Convent and Norco, as well as the Shell chemical plant in Norco.

The union is bargaining for new labor agreements to cover some 30,000 workers throughout the oil industry at 65 refineries and hundreds of pipelines, terminals, petrochemical plants and other facilities.

USW Vice President Thomas Conway says:

We’re committed to reaching a settlement that works for both parties. But adequate staffing levels, worker fatigue and other important safety issues must be addressed.

The issue of refinery safety was reinforced last week with an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, Calif., earlier this week that injured four workers and shook homes for miles around.

Click here to sign a petition to oil industry management and federal, state and local officials supporting the striking workers in their efforts to secure a fair contract that will protect the health and safety of workers and communities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Collective Action Pays Off, Just Look at These 24 Hours

Collective Action Pays Off, Just Look at These 24 Hours

In 24 hours starting late Wednesday, workers who have been standing together in collective action scored three major victories.  Walmart workers got a raise, Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Communications Workers of America (CWA) members settled their strike with FairPoint, and United Steelworkers made safety at oil refinery plants a national issue.

Says AFL-CIO Communications Director Eric Hauser:

One 24-hour period shows how much progress can be made when workers come together to speak with one voice. Collective action must be at the heart of the growing discussion about raising wages.  Only when workers pool their power can they make progress that benefits not just union members but all workers and entire communities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Walmart Wouldn’t Make a Dime Without Its Workers

Walmart Wouldn't Make a Dime Without Its Workers

A group of Walmart associates marched today from the AFL-CIO to the Washington, D.C., Walton Family Foundation’s offices to deliver more than 15,000 signatures from workers asking Walmart to pay $15 an hour and provide full-time hours.

Shouts of “We’re fired up! Can’t take it no more!” rang out as the workers and hundreds of supporters and allies marched down I Street and made their way to the foundation offices. Before the workers attempted to deliver the petitions, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reminded everyone that Walmart, which rakes in billions every year, wouldn’t make a dime without its workers, yet pays wages so low that many of its workers need to rely on public assistance and food stamps to get by.

One Walmart worker, Isaiah, shared heartbreaking stories of seeing co-workers cry in the Walmart break room when they found out their hours had been cut, making it impossible to provide for their families.

When the workers got inside the office, the building manager claimed no one from the Walton Family Foundation was working today (um, OK) and said they couldn’t call the office because they didn’t know the number. “We’ll be back,” shouted the determined workers, including Bene’t Holmes who was leading some of the chants. Holmes said they weren’t going to leave the petition with the front desk and promised this is not the last time they would attempt to hand deliver those signatures.

Following the demonstration outside the office, 15 Walmart workers and supporters sat down in a cross section of the street in front of Walmart heir Alice Walton’s condo and took arrest. See some aerial views from the action below:

The workers were accompanied by union members and allies from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), AFSCME, AFT, Jobs with Justice, UNITE HERE, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), UAW, United Steelworkers (USW), the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and many others. 

See more tweets here and some photos from a similar action in New York City today:

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Pittsburgh Adjunct Faculty Votes to Join USW

Pittsburgh Adjunct Faculty Votes to Join USW

Part-time professors at Pittsburgh’s Point Park University have voted to join the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers (AFA-USW). The votes were counted this morning by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The educators filed a petition with the NLRB in April and a mail ballot election was held for the 314 eligible instructors. The Point Park faculty are the second group of adjuncts to vote to join AFA-USW, after Duquesne University faculty voted for the union in the spring of 2012. The Point Park instructors cited similar issues as the Duquesne faculty, including stagnating wages, lack of benefits, little job security and inadequate office space and other tools to provide students with quality education.

USW President Leo W. Gerard called upon the college to engage the adjuncts fairly:

The adjunct instructors have spoken very clearly with this vote. Now it’s time for the Point Park administration to work with them to craft a fair collective bargaining agreement that provides the faculty with the benefits and basic protections that all workers deserve.

Sharon Brady, who has taught theater arts at Point Park for more than a decade, echoed Gerard:

I am looking forward to working with the administration, with the support of the USW, to enhance both the adjuncts’ experience and their effectiveness for the students they serve.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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GOP Denies Workers’ Rights to Unionize

The following is a guest post from Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers. It originally appeared on The Huffington Post

The GOP is all about freedom—for corporations, that is. Republicans believe, for example, that business should be free from the kind of government regulation that would prevent chemical companies from spewing poison into West Virginia drinking water.

When it comes to freedom for workers, though, the GOP is all about squelching that. Republicans believe workers should not be free to form labor unions, that they should not enjoy freedom of association, that they should be denied their right to collective action.

Usually, the GOP explains this as picking sides. In one corner, the corporation sits whining that it doesn’t want unions pressuring executives to more equitably share the fruits of workers’ labor. In the other corner, workers assert they have the right to organize and demand better pay and treatment. In this match up, Republicans always bet on the deep-pocketed corporation. When there’s no fight, when both executives and workers want a union, Republicans still oppose workers’ rights. That’s because organized labor has always stood for everything the GOP hates: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and the 40-hour workweek. Republicans denounce workers exercising their right to concerted action, at the workplace and in Washington.

Volkswagen is the perfect example. Republicans are blasting VW (actually criticizing a corporation!) because VW is [not opposing] an attempt by the UAW to organize the German automaker’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant.

VW wants to establish works councils at its Chattanooga plant, similar to those it has in Germany. In Europe, these groups of white- and blue-collar workers collaborate on issues such as plant rules, work hours and vacations. In VW’s experience, cooperating with employees through these councils increases productivity and profitability.

Because the councils discuss labor issues such as work hours, VW and the UAW have determined that to legally establish them in Chattanooga, the plant must be unionized.

This is intolerable to the GOP. Two of Tennessee’s most powerful Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, insist they know how to run an auto company better than VW. Despite this successful international auto company’s actual business experience with works councils, these GOP politicians say that they know what’s best, that they just know unionization won’t be good for VW.

A union-hating group, the National Right to Work (For Less) Committee, traveled to Chattanooga from its headquarters near Washington, D.C., with a carpetbag full of cash for legal challenges to the unionization effort. And GOP crank Grover Norquist sent his Washington, D.C.-based organized labor-hating group, Center for Worker Freedom (To Work For Less), to Tennessee to thwart the Chattanooga workers’ right to unionize.

VW objected to the interference. CEO of VW Chattanooga Frank Fischer asked the outside agitators to stop, saying, “Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”

They ignored him—disregarding a CEO, a figure before whom Republicans typically grovel! That is how much Republicans hate unions.

They refuse to believe what VW is saying, that works councils are valuable management tools, despite evidence that the model already succeeds in the United States.

Just last month, the Jobs with Justice Education Fund released a study titled, “Improving Government Through Labor-Management Collaboration and Employee Ingenuity.” The research shows that government saved millions and improved service when it established collaborative working relationships with unionized public workers.

For example, the report says, such collaboration helped the Federal Aviation Administration save millions when it installed new technology at air traffic control centers. A division of the Navy that designs and builds ships used labor-management councils to improve productivity and quality.

Similarly, Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast and blog, wrote in The New York Times last week about a cooperative relationship between Harley-Davidson and the two unions that represent workers at its York, Pa., assembly plant. They are the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and my union, the United Steelworkers (USW).

Before Wall Street crashed the economy, inefficiency was part of the all-American motorcycle company’s charm, Davidson wrote. But during the great recession, high costs and slow turnaround threatened to bankrupt the icon. Harley rejected the paths of too many predecessor manufacturers—robots, union-busting and off-shoring. Instead, it chose to actively cooperate with its highly paid, exceedingly skilled and deeply devoted workers and redesign its plant to increase productivity. Workers accepted layoffs and pay freezes to save the company.

On the day Davidson visited the plant, one worker solved several production problems, saving Harley millions of dollars. Millions. The turnaround earned Harley an Industry Week Best Plants award last year. Davidson noted that while fewer than 10 percent of American manufacturing workers are unionized, more than 30 percent of the finalists for the Industry Week award are.

The Jobs with Justice report says the cooperative examples it uncovered demonstrated “the power of partnerships that, if adopted by comparable agencies and unions, will help transform antagonistic, outmoded and inefficient labor relations models.”

But Republicans Norquist, Haslam and Corker are doing their darndest to make sure that can’t happen at VW in Chattanooga.

There, Matt Patterson, who heads a Norquist puppet group opposing the UAW, explained to The New York Times the real reason the Republicans are fighting the UAW: “Unions are very political, the UAW is one of the most political. If they help elect politicians who pass huge government programs, that requires taxes.”

There it is. The truth about the GOP’s opposition to unions. Republicans hate that unions are organizations of workers who traditionally have fought to ensure that their government serves workers with programs like Social Security and Medicare, programs that Americans love and that they’re willing to pay taxes to support.

This week, 1,600 VW assembly workers will vote on whether to be represented by the UAW. They have the right to self-determination without GOP carpetbagger interference.

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How Union Members Saved Harley-Davidson

What do you do when your world-famous brand is so smashed by the recession that your stock price falls from $75 to $8? What do you do when your manufacturing plant has a culture that leads to high rates of absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays? What do you do when your product takes 18 months to get into the hands of the customers who want it?

Generally, you go out of business.

Unless, that is, your workforce is unionized and they become aware of the problems you face and they decide to be part of the solution. That’s the story of Harley-Davidson, as told by Adam Davidson of the New York Times. Members of the Machinists (IAM) and United Steelworkers (USW) who work for the motorcycle manufacturer are paid living wages compared to manufacturing workers in many parts of the world, but officials at the company never considered moving their factories out of the United States. Their image and customer base are blue-collar Americans who want their hogs made in America by highly skilled labor.

Davidson writes:

Harley tore down the existing plant and built a new one. Unlike most factories I’ve seen lately, the new plant in York [Pa.,] has people everywhere. There are no robots on the main assembly line (they have various peripheral jobs); instead, hundreds of workers, operating in teams of five or six, manually build each motorcycle. This seemed like an expensive way of doing business, but Magee said that experienced, skilled workers, unlike robots, can constantly adjust to new information. The York plant makes four basic styles of motorcycle, but each has an array of customizable options. There are around 1,200 different configurations, and a new bike starts its way through the production line every 80 seconds. Virtually each one is unique, and workers have no idea what’s coming 80 seconds later. Surprisingly, robots can’t adjust on the fly like that.

Skilled union workers were able to do a job that was too complicated for machines to do and produce a product that revived the iconic brand. While Davidson was at the York plant, he saw a worker fix an assembly problem that literally saved the company more than a million dollars. That kind of worker innovation and cooperation, teamed with a company that is committed to doing things the right way has paid off. Harley-Davidson has gained back almost all of the stock value it lost and bikes get to customers in just a few weeks now. Costs have been cut by $100 million at the York factory, which recently won an IndustryWeek Best Plants award, the industry equivalent of a Grammy. The average worker at the York location has been there 18 years and they are extremely devoted to Harley.

No question that this is a model that other companies should be paying attention to, particularly if they want to be able to weather tough economic times.

Photo by Harley-Davidson on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Winner and Loser of the Week

In a new weekly feature, we’ll be taking a look at the winners and losers of the week in the struggle for the rights of working families. The winner will be the person or organization that goes above and beyond to expand or protect the rights of working families, while the loser will be whoever went above and beyond to limit or deny those rights.

Winner of the Week: Kain Colter and the Northwestern University Football Players

College athletes, who balance a full-time school load with intense athletic workouts are some of the hardest-working people in the United States. Yet the NCAA says it has no responsibility to protect them from potentially deadly injuries, such as concussions, and allows players to lose educational opportunities if they get injured. Colter and a number of his teammates are standing up and saying they deserve better and are attempting to organize a union that would address these and other concerns.

Loser of the Week: Uintah, Utah, Elementary School District Official

A Utah elementary school district official apparently thought the best way to deal with parents who hadn’t given their kids enough lunch money was to order cafeteria workers to give those kids lunches and then take them away and throw them in the trash in front of everyone. Taking food away from children is bad enough, but doing it in a publicly humiliating way is truly despicable. Poverty and hunger matter in the classroom.

Photo by Northwestern Wildcats on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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