By Andrew Stewart - RIFuture.org, November 3, 2015
It is called the oldest line of work in the world and yet it is consistently denied legitimacy. But here in Rhode Island, where prostitution was legal from 1980 until 2009, some local sex workers are re-asserting their agency by organizing a labor union.
“You see women get raped, you see women get murdered,” said Madeira Darling, an organizer, whose name has been changed in this story to protect her identity. “Criminalization itself is violence. It means women can’t seek protection either from the law or from one another. Occasionally you will get guys who think they are in love with you stalking you. And police will often blame sex workers for violence even if they aren’t in criminalized industries.”
Madeira began work as an exotic dancer at age 19 in New York before becoming a dominatrix and relocating to Rhode Island, labor she continues to perform here. She and several of her colleagues are working towards something radically inclusive: the creation of a statewide sex worker labor union.
Interested in creating a truly industrial union, the group is open to allowing all sex workers join her in the effort, reaching out to strippers, escorts, camera/phone workers, porn stars, strip club bouncers, bar workers, masseurs/masseuses, actors, directors, and crew in adult films, and any other laborer in the industry, including the internet workers. As of this point she has contacted four other workers, but hopes that publicizing this effort my grow the ranks.
By Admin - Liverpool IWW, November 4, 2015
Liverpool IWW condemns the council’s proposed “Public Space Protection Order”, under which the homeless could be fined up to £1,000 for the ‘crime’ of begging. We call on the people of Liverpool to show their opposition, by demonstrating at St Luke’s bombed out church a week on Saturday (14th November) from 12 noon, and signing the Change.org petition, which already had nearly 7,000 signatures at the time of going to press.
It is shocking that we find ourselves in a position where we need to argue for the right of homeless people not to be fined for their poverty, but thanks to greedy mayor Joe Anderson this is exactly the situation we are in. No-one begs for the fun of it. People beg out of desperation, because our society has badly let them down. £1,000 would be a huge amount of money for any working class person, but for a homeless person it is almost unimaginable, and could never be paid.
If Liverpool Labour wanted people to stop begging, they would stop implementing policies which massively increase poverty in our city. Instead, they aim to criminalise deprivation, in order to create a corporate paradise in Liverpool One, the Central ‘Business Improvement District’, and beyond. While Joe Anderson claims that his hands are tied by the Tory government when he makes spending cuts, it is his anti-homeless crusade which really shows what kind of man he is. Not content with using the police to starve homeless people out of a former bank a few months back, he now seeks to use crushing fines to force homeless people out of the city where they may well have family and friends.
Tough Norway Dockers Stand Their Ground
The dockers are tough. They continue their fight in Norway’s longest industrial conflict for 70 years and will soon have been in dispute for two years. However, this autumn has thrown up some positives.
Read the Norwegian version of this article
For several weeks now it has been clear that the new majority in the council in Tromsø supports the dockers’ right to work in the city’s port. An agreement between the Labour Party, the Socialist Left Party and the Red Party clearly states that international law must be respected and should apply in Tromsø: “the parties in this alliance will ensure that ILO 137, the dockers’ convention, is adhered to”. A great boost for the dockers and a clear message to port employers, not least to the Harbour Master and the police in the city.
The photo above is from one of the 19 dockers’ marches that took place in Oslo throughout the autumn.
Now agreements between the four parties in Oslo have also been published and the message here is equally clear. The newly elected council leader in Olso, Raymond Johansen, has categorically stated that ILO 137 will be followed in the port of Oslo. Even more apparent is the message contained in the agreement between Red and the three parties within the council, the Labour party, the Green party and the Socialist Left party: “These parties are in agreement that the port of Oslo shall follow ILO Convention 137. These parties will not see the port of Oslo become a corporation.”
In Oslo, it is vital that the current members of the port authority are replaced with those who will work in line with the new political majority in Oslo. The current director, Bernt Stilluf Karlsen, who has for many years been working to get rid of the dockers, must be removed. We are in total agreement with the Vice Chair of the Oslo dockers’ union, Tommy Torgersen, who is demanding a new director in the port of Oslo.
What is happening in Tromsø and Oslo is a positive sign for dockers across Norway and perhaps will inspire work in other cities to change port policy in the same way.
The fact that Fellesforbundet, Norway’s largest general union in the private sector, donated 500,000 kroner to the dockers’ fight at their annual conference in October is another incredibly positive sign. Combined with the court judgement in August that confirmed that ILO Convention 137 still applies to the loading and unloading of ships in Norwegian ports, gives hope that this fight will bear fruit. Not forgetting either the unanimous motion passed by representatives at the Norwegian Transport Workers Federation that outlined a strategy for taking the struggle in Norwegian ports to the next level.
All of this points to a positive autumn for the dockers. The odds have swung in the dockers’ favour, strengthening belief that this fight can be won. But there is still a long way to go before the NHO (Norwegian Employers’ Association) sees sense and signs the necessary agreements. Perhaps the most difficult nut to crack is in Mosjøen, where the 17 dockers there have been illegally locked out of their workplace since May last year.
The conflicts in Norwegian ports are linked and there is little chance of solving them individually. If this does happen, it could lead very quickly to some dockers losing out and being forced to join the ranks of the unemployed. That is not acceptable.
The NHO is a tough adversary. They are the ones masterminding a strategy to destroy the dockers. This is why the NHO must change direction and pull back from their offensive to rid themselves of the dockers. I haven’t forgotten Holship in Drammen (where not even one box was unloaded during the boycott), who are members of the Bedriftsforbundet (another employers’ organisation, not NHO). Neither have I forgotten the Turkish company, Yilport, who are an ‘unorganised’ business (meaning that they are not a member of the national employer’s association and, therefore, not part of the national bargaining structures), who took over the container terminal in Oslo on 1st February this year. We also need to find a solution for the continuing fights in these port companies.
But…it is the NHO who is the ideological driving force behind the move to get rid of the dockers and their collective bargaining agreements. It is the NHO who is leading the way with social dumping and union busting.
All of this means that the dockers’ fight rumbles on. In March/April next year, the collective bargaining negotiations begin. All the agreements are to play for. It is up to the NHO to provide a solution before then or gamble on the battles lines being drawn even deeper during next year’s negotiations.
SOLIDARITY WITH THE DOCKERS!
English translation: Jessica Fenn SamuelsenTags: Norway Dockersunion busting
Railroad Safety - Workers, Community & the Environment
Published on Oct 26, 2015
Motivated by the need to prevent dangerous and toxic railroad accidents, railroad workers, environmental and community activists met on Sept. 19, 2015 in Chicago for a conference organized by Railroad Workers United. A recurring topic was the 2013 railroad disaster in Lac-Megantic, Canada involving what is known as a "bomb train" of oil tanker cars that wiped out a significant part of that community. That doomed train in fact went through Chicago on its way to Lac-Megantic.
This video demonstrates how squeezing increased productivity from rail workers produces negative effects that extend into the community and environment, in addition to the problem of exploiting workers.
After years of debating with management, retired locomotive engineer Fritz Edler concluded: "We demanded that they produce the evidence that you could do these [work] schedules and have it not be unsafe. And what they would do is stand up in the room and say 'fatigue is not a safety factor'. This is why we can't have this discussion just inside the railroad. We can't do that because they would never say that out in public."
Interviews and speakers featured: Ron Kaminkow, General Secretary of RWU; Dr. Lora Chamberlain, Chicago Oil by Rail; Jeff Kurtz, former BLET Iowa State Legislative Chair; Rozalinda Borcila, Artist, Compass; Ed Michael, RWU; Fritz Edler, BLET Div. 482 Local Chair (ret.); Vince Hardt, Chicagoland Oil by Rail.Tags: railroad safetyRWU
A Railroad Safety Technology Was Available Decades Ago
By RON NIXONNOV. 3, 2015
An Amtrak Acela Express train in Old Saybrook, Conn., in May. According to the Association of American Railroads, a trade group, the industry has spent nearly $6 billion so far to install safety technology.CreditMichael Appleton for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — In 1981, while traveling on a corporate jet, Richard M. Bressler, the chairman of the Burlington Northern Railroad, hit on an idea: What if the technology used by airlines to track the location of planes and help prevent accidents was applied to the rail industry?
Mr. Bressler, an engineer by training and a former airline executive, directed a small group of his employees to come up with a similar system for the railroads. The result was a safety system called the Advanced Railroad Electronics System, or ARES, which was soon placed on several trains on a section of track in Minnesota. The system, among other safety features, allowed dispatchers to stop trains automatically if the engineer exceeded speed limits.
But after five years in operation, the project was abruptly shut down in 1993. The company cited the system’s expense and resistance from many managers who did not see how the benefits outweighed the cost of the technology. It calculated that it would have cost about $350 million to install the monitoring hardware and software on the railroad’s entire system, equal to about $580 million today.
On Thursday, President Obama signed a bill giving railroads an additional three years to install a more automated safety technology called positive train control on 60,000 miles of track. Congress passed the measure, which extended a Dec. 31 deadline, after industry executives and some lawmakers said the delays were the result, in part, of an “unproven and untested” safety system.
But internal corporate documents, independent studies and interviews with former Burlington Northern officials show that nearly 30 years ago, the industry had developed a technology that accomplished many of the functions of the modern train safety system.
Since 2004, about 77 deaths and more than 1,400 injuries could have been prevented if railroads had installed a system like positive train control, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. That includes an Amtrak train derailment that killed eight people and injured hundreds more in Philadelphia in May.
“No one is talking about putting a man on the moon or on Mars,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said in an interview. “We’re talking about a technology that was in place in the 1980s, and the failure to implement it is costing lives.”
The ARES system was rudimentary compared with the system the railroad industry is trying to install today, federal regulators say. Also, the older system was tested on only a few hundred miles of track with just a few trains, the regulators said, so it is not known how it would have worked in high-traffic areas like Chicago. Nevertheless, safety experts say the system proved that a technology to stop trains from colliding was feasible.
“We would have a much safer railroad system today” if the railroad companies had agreed to develop the system, said James T. Hall, who was chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1994 to 2001.
According to the Association of American Railroads, a trade group, the industry has spent nearly $6 billion to install the safety technology and will spend $4 billion more. The association said that after years of pushing for a delay — spending millions on lobbying and campaign contributions — all of its members were committed to installing the technology on their rail systems.
The association declined to comment on the ARES system, referring questions to the company, now called Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The railroad declined to comment.
ARES was modeled after an air traffic control system then newly developed by Rockwell International for Boeing 757 and 767 jets.
In an interview, Mr. Bressler, 72, now retired and living in the Seattle area, said he had read about the system in a magazine. After finishing the article, he sent a note to senior managers asking, “Any application to locomotives?”
To oversee the project, the company hired Steve Ditmeyer, a former Federal Railroad Administration official.
“I was just there a few weeks, and the note from Mr. Bressler landed on my desk,” Mr. Ditmeyer recalled in an interview. Some months later, after seeing a Jan. 22, 1982, advertisement in The Wall Street Journal promoting Rockwell’s “21st-century avionics for the new generation of jetliners,” he contacted the company.
“I just wrote to them out of the blue,” said Mr. Ditmeyer, who is now a transportation consultant in Virginia and an adjunct professor in the Railway Management Certificate Program at Michigan State University. The company agreed to give it a try.
The resulting system was installed over a 250-mile stretch of track in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range in 1987 and ran as a demonstration project from 1988 to 1992. Seventeen trains hauling coal, grain and taconite ore were fitted with the technology.
Initially, engineers were skeptical, Mr. Ditmeyer said. “We told the engineers not to stop at a signal, don’t touch the breaks or the throttle,” he said. “It worked as advertised. The train would come to a halt. We did that in numerous locations on the track, and the result was always the same.”
After testing the system for several years, Burlington Northern sent a locomotive fitted with the technology to Washington, D.C., to show federal regulators and lawmakers. Federal transportation agencies liked the technology and urged railroads to adopt it. But, with the exception of Amtrak, few supported it.
After Mr. Bressler left Burlington Northern to run a spinoff, interest in the project waned. Other managers at the railroad did not share his enthusiasm for the project.
A 1990 Harvard Business School study of the ARES program showed that managers were sharply divided over its merits. “ARES seems to be technology in search of a problem,” one senior manager told the Harvard researchers.
The system suffered a deathblow when other railroads failed to buy in. Ultimately, managers at Burlington Northern decided that they did not want to go it alone — would it give the company a competitive advantage or disadvantage? — and killed the project in 1993, after spending more than $15 million on it.
Fifteen years later, in 2008, after a commuter train crashed in California, killing 25 and injuring 135, Congress mandated the use of train safety technology to prevent further accidents.
A new report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the vast majority of railroads would not meet the Dec. 31 deadline.
Mr. Bressler said he believed industry opposition in the past had been a factor.
“It’s appalling that things are still done so haphazardly. I think it’s borderline criminal,” he said. “If a system like the one we developed had been used on the Amtrak train in the May accident, it would have shut down the engine and saved lives.”
Follow the New York Times’s politics and Washington coverage on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the First Draft politics newsletter.Tags: Rail safety
Teamsters expand Labor actions at ports of LA/LB
The Teamsters Union has expanded labor actions from its on-going strike at Pacific 9 Transportation to include three other harbor trucking companies serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to Barb Maynard, spokeswoman for the Teamsters Port Division.
The companies are:
* XPO Logistics
* Intermodal Bridge Transport
* Gold Point Transportation
Harbor truck drivers are protesting that they are employees and have been misclassified as independent contractors.
Philip Sanfield, spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles told AJOT, “There have been pickets at numerous terminals at the Port this week and in some cases terminals are turning away trucks from companies being picketed by the Teamsters.”
Overall “the impact has been peaceful with picketers being respectful under the watchful eyes of Port police,” he added.
The Teamsters issued a press release on October 30th explaining that:
On Monday, Oct. 26, port truck drivers began their eighth “Unfair Labor Practice” strike at the twin ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach. The striking drivers included drivers employed by Pacific 9 Transportation (Pac 9), who have been on an indefinite strike since July this year for 15 straight weeks, and those employed by global giant XPO Logistics
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, drivers from Intermodal Bridge Transport (IBT) began their second Unfair Labor Practice strike after delivering a petition for improved working conditions, recognition as employees, and to be represented by the Teamsters.
On Thursday, Oct. 29, port drivers employed by Gold Point Transportation, which is owned by 3Plus Logistics Co., went on strike to protest misclassification. They are picketing at the company yard as well as at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. 3Plus Logistics also owns Harbor Express, Inc.
Maynard told AJOT that workers are filing new claims with the California Labor Commissioner’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement charging that they are misclassified. The new claims are “adding to momentum that drivers and also warehouse workers are being robbed of wages and benefits when they are misclassified as independent contractors when they are in fact employees.”
If these new claims are upheld, she said, they could result in millions of dollars of payments by companies to workers.
Maynard said that the Teamsters are also supporting the strike of 40 workers at the California Cartage Warehouse in Wilmington, California. Maynard said the company does warehouse work for Amazon and that its effort here is to “expand our focus on the supply chain that begins with harbor trucking and spreads to warehousing for Amazon in Wilmington with the eventual goal of labor actions at warehouses in Riverside and San Bernardino counties in the Inland Empire.” Many imported containers are trucked from the two ports to these warehouses for sorting and transloading onto trucks for transport to final destinations in California and Nevada.
Maynard said California Cartage is located on Port of Los Angeles property and is subject to City of Los Angeles Living Wage law.
“The Port of Los Angeles is aware that the Teamsters have been in discussions with (Los Angeles) Mayor Garcetti and if there is any issue here, then the Port will take direction from the Mayor,” Sanfield told AJOT.
In an October 29th press release the union said that misclassification is widespread, “Spanning employees in the janitorial, e-commerce, entertainment, home care, construction, port truck driving industries. These workers are not only robbed of basic workplace protections like the right to minimum wage, overtime pay, and a safe and healthful workplace, but they are also being cheated out of such rudimentary workplace benefits as unemployment compensation when they are laid off; workers’ compensation when they are injured on the job; and the right to form a union and have a voice on the job.”Tags: teamstersPort LA
India: Tea popular drink in the world after water, but tea leaves are still picked by poor, nearly enslaved worker
Hillary Clinton gets ILA union endorsement and boost from Mayor Joe Riley "Charleston ILA president Kenny Riley said the backing for Clinton is based on her support of labor and because she recognizes the mission of protecting American trade in the world.
Hillary Clinton gets ILA union endorsement and boost from Mayor Joe Riley
"Charleston ILA president Kenny Riley said the backing for Clinton is based on her support of labor and because she recognizes the mission of protecting American trade in the world."
Schuyler Kropf Email @skropf47
Oct 31 2015 12:28 pm Oct 31 6:09 pm
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley introduces Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, Saturday at the International Longshoremen’s Association Hall in Charleston. PAUL ZOELLER/STAFF
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton accepted the national endorsement of the country’s biggest dockworkers union Saturday morning in Charleston, saying organized labor protects all facets of American workers, including those among the middle class in South Carolina.
To stay up-to-date on South Carolina politics, go to palmettopolitics.comor download the Palmetto Politics app for iOS or Android.
“You hear all the time, South Carolina doesn’t need unions,” she said, referring to the stance repeatedly pledged by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
“You still have a lot of poor people in South Carolina,” Clinton said.
She also thanked Mayor Joe Riley for throwing his support her way. His endorsement came after Riley’s first choice on the Democratic side, Vice President Joe Biden, opted not to run.
“If there is an undergirding characteristic of Hillary Clinton, it’s that she is a fighter,” Riley said, adding that he expected to hear the sound of the White House “glass ceiling” being shattered this time next year.
During her 45-minute address, Clinton stuck to her common themes of wage growth, protecting civil rights, gun control and bringing down health care costs.
She also made it known she would be her own brand.
“I am focused on the economy,” she said. “I am not running for my husband’s third term or Barack Obama’s third term,” she told the crowd of about 300 supporters.
The 65,000-member International Longshoremen’s Association union announced its support earlier this week but had agreed to formalize and present the endorsement during Clinton’s address Saturday at the Charleston stevedore hall. Her “concern for working Americans has been loud and clear,” ILA national president Harold Daggett said in his endorsement message.
Charleston ILA president Kenny Riley said the backing for Clinton is based on her support of labor and because she recognizes the mission of protecting American trade in the world.
“I think she understands the importance of national security and the importance of the U.S. maritime fleet,” he said.
The ILA union is the most visible on South Carolina’s coast. Local 1422 has 800 members and another 1,300 apprentice members.
South Carolina had the second lowest union membership rate in the nation in 2014, 2.2 percent of the labor force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at (843) 937-5551.Tags: ILAClintonKen Riley
OSHA, A Captured Agency: The Airlines, Trucking And OSHA With Fired OSHA Investigator Darrell Whitman
Has OSHA become a captured agency by the companies it is supposed to regulate? Former Federal OSHA investigator and lawyer Darrell Whitman looks at how the agency has stood up to the biggest companies in the airline and trucking industry. He also talks about how the industry controls the agency so it will not hold them accountable to OSHA and health and safety regulations and the affects of privatization and outsourcing of Federal jobs by privateers.
He looks at FedEx, Lockheed and other companies that are flagrantly violating the health and safety rights of workers and also threatening the health and safety of the public.
This interview was done in February 2015. On May 5, 2015 Whitman was fired by the Agency management and he and the whistleblowers he was trying to defend after receiving merit recommendations are still fighting for justice.
For more information:
Production of Labor Video Project
ILA endorses Clinton, will host event for her in Charleston
JOC Staff | Oct 27, 2015 2:39PM EDT
The International Longshoremen’s Association has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and will host the Democratic presidential frontrunner at a rally Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina.
ILA President Harold Daggett said the union’s executive council unanimously endorsed Clinton. He praised her record as U.S. senator from New York and as secretary of state, and said her “concern for working Americans has been loud and clear.”
“The International Longshoremen’s Association will work very hard and employ our many resources to help you become our next president,” Daggett said in a letter to Clinton.
Clinton will meet ILA officials including Kenneth Riley, president of ILA Local 1422 in Charleston at a campaign event at the Local 1422 union hall. Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley also will be on hand.
South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary, set for Feb. 27, will be among the first in the nation.Tags: ILAHillary Clinton
Michigan Transit Workers Fight To Prevent City Bus System From Eliminating Their Pensions
WEDNESDAY, OCT 28, 2015, 4:24 PM
Michigan Transit Workers Fight To Prevent City Bus System From Eliminating Their Pensions
BY JEFF SMITH
In recent years, Grand Rapids, Michigan has gained a reputation as a leader in environmental sustainability, with numerous LEED-certified buildings, an increased number of bicycle paths and an improved public bus system with new routes and more frequent stops after voters approved a recent transit millage.
In 2013, Grand Rapids was named the city with the best mid-size transportation system in the country, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Last year, The Rapid, as the city’s bus system is known, finished an upgraded bus garage facility that also garnered LEED certification status.
Pretty impressive. But for the drivers behind the wheel of this top-of-the-line fleet, not all is well: Grand Rapids bus drivers are without a signed union contract, because city officials want to cut their pension funds. One Rapid board member has called the current pension system a “terrible plan” and claims the board wants to “do better” for drivers, the board claims the pension fund is $2.6 million in the red. The drivers disagree.
Over the past few months the Amalgamated Transit Union of Grand Rapids (ATUGR Local 836) has been confronting the local transit authority (The Rapid), its board members and elected officials from Grand Rapids and surrounding communities, many of which contribute taxes to the bus system.
Last week, I spoke with some of the rank-and-file bus drivers for The Rapid as they prepared for another action in defense of their pensions. Peter Ricketson, a member of ATUGR Local 836, told me, “The Rapid wants to get rid of the Defined Benefit Plan because they believe it is in peril. We don’t think that is the case. Even if it was in peril, they should allow us to chip in 20 cents an hour in addition to the $1.00 an hour [The Rapid] already chips in from our wages. They will not agree to this or any other amount.”
The ATUGR has proposed to put an additional amount into the Defined Benefit Plan, because they believe this plan is stronger than the Defined Contribution Plan, which doesn’t have a strong track record nationally and is less stable. Despite the drivers' offer to pay for the plan, they say The Rapid is refusing to allow them to do so.
“They are saying they want us to accept a Defined Contribution Plan or nothing. It’s like having a conversation with my three-year-old,” Ricketson adds. “This is not a negotiation, it is a strong-arm tactic. In fact, we would simply call it union busting.”
I followed the drivers to East Grand Rapids, one of the wealthiest parts of the city, where they planned to pass out flyers in Amna Seibold’s neighborhood. Seibold is both the mayor of East Grand Rapids and a member of the Rapid’s board. She has been a vocal opponent of the ATUGR’s pension plan.
The drivers went to Seibold’s house first to share a flyer and engage the Rapid board member. She answered the door but was not interested in having a conversation with the bus drivers; instead, Seibold acted in what the drivers say was a very condescending manner, then accused them of being unwilling to negotiate their contract. After leaving Seibold’s house, the drivers passed out the flyer in her neighborhood.
The drivers’ literature accused Rapid management of three things:
• They raised bus fares by 16%, making it as expensive to ride a bus here as it is in L.A.
• They are cutting retirement security for bus workers, including those near retirement.
• They then turned around and raised The Rapid CEO’s salary to $203,000!
Seibold has characterized pensions as an “antiquated system” of retirement security in the past.
Calling pensions “antiquated” is harsh, but it fits within the larger project of imposing austerity measures in Michigan. In 2013, Michigan became a “right-to-work” state, when Gov. Rick Snyder rammed through legislation just before the holiday recess at the end of 2012.
In 2011, when Snyder began his first round of austerity measures in Michigan, he visited Grand Rapids to announce the plan, since the city was already a model for implementing such anti-worker/anti-public policies. Grand Rapids had for years been downsizing public staff, cutting worker benefits and pensions and privatizing public services. Snyder made conditions for “revenue sharing” (when the state gives back tax money to individual communities), which called for cities throughout Michigan to institute similar austerity policies.
This is the context in which The Rapid’s management decided not to negotiate with ATUGR Local 836. Todd Brogan, Field Mobilization Specialist with the national Amalgamated Transit Union, characterized The Rapid’s actions as not only a form of union busting, but a kind of disaster capitalism.
“They created a crisis that didn’t exist, with the hope that you can sway public opinion to support the further erosion of the public sector,” he says.
So far, that strategy hasn’t work. The ATUGR has not only mobilized its members to attend Rapid board meetings, but has also organized bus riders, other unions in West Michigan and other supporters who are angry that their bus fare has increased while the CEO of The Rapid, Peter Varga, has received a raise of $4,000 and the bus drivers are being attacked. Activists from Grand Valley State University’s United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) chapter recently organized a flashmob in support of the ATUGR and marched with bus drivers during the annual art spectacle known as ArtPrize.
In recent months, ATUGR members and their allies have filled public meetings demanding the transit authority return to the negotiating table in good faith. Bus drivers on their own time began handing out informational flyers at the city’s central bus station to inform the public about their contract negotiations—only to have The Rapid threaten to have workers fired for passing out leaflets. The ATUGR took Rapid management to court, where a judge decided in their favor, saying that they were being denied their first amendment rights.
The campaign in Grand Rapids to defend workers rights and protect pensions has even garnered the support of Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who released a statement in support of the campaign.
Grand Rapids has an astonishing high poverty rate of 26%, far higher than the national average, which makes maintaining these middle class jobs and benefits more important than ever. When you raise the fares by 16% in the same meeting that you give the CEO a $4,000 a year raise, there’s a problem. You are taking from the working people of Grand Rapids to give more to the wealthy. This is making inequality in Grand Rapids worse.
As of this writing, the drivers’ organizing appeared to be paying off: The Rapid has agreed to come back to the bargaining table. Drivers I spoke to were optimistic but cautious. Many say they care not only about their jobs, but about the strength of the public transit system in West Michigan. Many of the rank-and-file workers say they helped to get the word out about the 2014 transit millage and feel a sense of pride in making a successful case to voters to support an increase public money for the greater Grand Rapids bus system.
ATUGR President RiChard Jackson said this campaign has galvanized the bus drivers union and created greater solidarity with other unions and community groups from West Michigan. “We are not just in this battle to fight, but to win,” Jackson says. “My union and my workers truly believe that."
Jeff Smith is the founder of the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy.
Railroads lay off hundreds and close routes in Appalachia
By Jeff Lusanne
29 October 2015
In the rugged, mountainous region of Central Appalachia—covering West Virginia, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, and Western Virginia—many towns and cities exist because of a particular industry. Sometimes, the name of a town itself shows this: for example, Alloy, WV, where a silicon metal alloy plant is located on the banks of the Kanawha River. Countless towns were built around coal mines, many have which have faded away as mines closed, or become shells of their former prosperity. Indeed, Prosperity, WV is a place, located near the high-quality coal in Raleigh County.
The railroads, built through the challenging terrain of the Appalachian region to transport its valuable resources to domestic and international markets, created railroad towns. The sorting of traffic, maintenance of track and equipment, and administrative tasks created hundreds of jobs in cities across the region.
In the last two months, mass layoffs of railroad workers in response to falling coal traffic have called into question the fate of several towns that are inextricably linked to the railroad industry, where generations of workers have been employed by railroads.
The most severe blow was the sudden October 15 announcement by CSX Railroad that it was effectively ending operations in Erwin, Tennessee, a yard and maintenance base on a major route through the area. Employees of the railroad in Erwin heard the news in the morning at the beginning of their shifts, and then some spent their shift assembling all the equipment in the yard into the last train to leave town. When it did, 300 workers lost their jobs.
On October 20, CSX announced another 180 layoffs of yard and maintenance in Corbin, Kentucky, another major regional terminal. Due to declining coal traffic, the railroad closed the locomotive terminal and car shop, where workers inspect and maintain equipment. A hundred employees will remain and the terminal will stay open.
In both Corbin and Erwin, CSX stated that workers have the option of moving for work outside of the area—which could mean hundreds of miles away. An engineer wrote in the Erwin Record that with the last shift of crews, the conversation was “Where you going, Nashville? Birmingham? Etowah? Tampa?.” Followed by the “It’s been good working with you,” then “the handshakes, the hugs, the misty eyes, the turns and walks away.”
The positions of engineers, conductors, maintainers, and repairman were skilled operating or mechanical jobs with wages that are not commonly available elsewhere in the region, and their loss will have a devastating impact on the local economy and the workers affected.
The same malaise—the loss of better-paying industrial jobs that were the root of communities in central Appalachia—has progressed further along this October in West Virginia, as Norfolk Southern Railroad reduces operations. On October 1, it suspended operations between Mullens, WV and Princeton, WV, ending over a century of continuous operations over the route.
After rumors of job loss, the railroad claimed that all employees would be able to find work nearby, but in Mullens, the damage has been done gradually. Both Mullens and Princeton originally had maintenance facilities and yards where hundreds of workers were employed by the Virginian Railway, which built a railroad from the Kanawha River Valley in central West Virginia to a port in Suffolk, VA. That railroad was merged into the giant coal-hauler Norfolk and Western in 1959, which gradually closed facilities and consolidated operations.
Successor Norfolk Southern, one of the four largest railroads in the country, laid off 73 employees in the region in 2014, including 20 in Mullens. The suspension of operations east of the town inevitably leads to less work for maintainers and other workers, and could lead to further reductions.
In 1960, before the railroad layoffs in a railroad town began, the population of Mullens was 3,544. Today, it is estimated to be lower than 1,500 people. Like so many Appalachian towns, the change is visible in the abandoned downtowns, closed stores and schools, and tragic state of some homes.
The layoffs at railroads follow over a year of mass layoffs in the mining industry in Western Virginia and Kentucky, where thousands of workers have lost their jobs. In August, West Virginia recorded an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, the worst in the nation and more than 2 percentage points higher than the national average. Simultaneously, government services have been slashed.
Coal production in Appalachia has been declining for years, with cyclical fluctuations depending on market conditions, but in the last year a combination of circumstances have caused dramatic drops in production. In West Virginia, the second-largest producer in the country, coal production fell 15 percent over the past year.
The coal industry has been waging a campaign against what it claims is the Obama Administration’s “War on Coal,” referring to stricter Environmental Protection Agency emission standards at power plants. Those restrictions have, in part, caused several dozen units of older power plants across the northeast and southeast to shut down, as the cost of adding new technology to units that are already 50-75 years old was deemed too high by the utility companies.
At the same time, many power plants have switched to natural gas as a cheaper fuel, as it has fallen enormously in price over the past several years. In Appalachia, the production of “thermal coal” for energy production has sharply fallen in response. Appalachian thermal coal is also not cost-competitive with Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming or Illinois Basin coal, which both are strip-mined with far less labor. These sources are cheap enough that some southeastern power plants receive it by rail instead of Appalachian coal, despite the much greater distance.
In the reduction of coal traffic, what has gone unmentioned by coal companies—or CSX in its press release for mass layoffs—is the impact of global economic downtown on mining. Aside from thermal coal, Appalachia produces huge volumes of high quality “met coal” which is used in steelmaking and sells for a much higher price than thermal coal. When coal mining began in the region, railroads were set up to take met coal north to the Great Lakes for shipment to steel mills, and east to the ports of Norfolk, VA, and Baltimore, MD for export abroad.
That flow of coal has continued with large fluctuations to the present day. In 2009, the global recession caused met coal production to drop to 6.5 million short tons, as the price tumbled. But by 2011, the massive demand for met coal for steel production in China caused global prices to triple and American exports rose to 20.2 million short tons. At this time, the big producers went on a merger spree and expanded production, taking on huge debt. Now, prices have plummeted to their lowest since 2004, production has fallen, and many coal giants have collapsed with it. Alpha Natural Resources, the second-largest producer in America and a big producer of met coal, is one of several coal companies that has filed for bankruptcy this year.
Continuing a long trend, the layoffs in mining and railroads will further increase the grinding poverty that is present throughout Appalachia, as tax revenues plummet, mining companies eradicate pension and health care obligations of former workers, and entire towns lose their major employers.
In an October 14 conference call to investment analysts, Cindy Sanborn, CSX executive vice president and chief operating officer, said that “everything is on the table” in regard to further cutbacks in the Appalachian region, adding that both facilities and routes were up for closure. This continues decades of closures and cutbacks by railroads to please investors.
CSX’s exit from Erwin, TN was combined with the suspension of operations over 20 miles of trackage, which severed the line as a continuous route to the southeast. This is perhaps one of the most egregious cost-cutting measures in the present-day rail industry, as the route is the most geographically direct route for the coal, agricultural and industrial traffic from the midwest to the southeast. Daily trains of coal, of grain, and mixed merchandise will now have to travel hundreds of miles out of their way to reach destinations, which CSX absurdly describes in its press release as “efficiently rerouted.”
Some of this traffic will now move east to Richmond, Virginia, then South into the Carolinas. On that busy route, which has dozens of freight and passenger trains, CSX ripped out hundreds of miles of second main track in the 1980s to save money, which also substantially reduced capacity. More recently, the state of North Carolina used public money to expand some of that infrastructure to help improve the performance of public passenger trains—capacity CSX will now take for its “efficiently rerouted” freight trains.
Amazon cuts back on price, delivery times by cheating workers, lawsuit says-More Profits For Billionaires
Amazon cuts back on price, delivery times by cheating workers, lawsuit says-More Profits For Billionaires
Amazon aims to reduce its traditional two-day delivery to less than two hours, and has expanded its Prime Now delivery service to more than 15 major U.S. cities in less than a year. Above, an Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy, Calif. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Chris KirkhamContact Reporter
Taree Truong wore a uniform bearing Amazon's logo, signed into an Amazon tracking device and was told by Amazon dispatchers to make deliveries for its new Prime Now courier service across far-flung parts of Orange County.
During one trip at rush hour, Truong said she was expected to drive from Amazon's Irvine warehouse to Lake Forest, then Mission Viejo, back to Irvine and on to Newport Beach — all within two hours.
"Everything we did was under their control," said Truong, of Garden Grove. "They're telling us where we need to go, how to deliver these packages to customers and how to interact with those customers when we're there."
Yet Truong and other drivers for Amazon Prime Now weren't considered employees of Amazon or Scoobeez, its contracted courier company. Instead, they were treated as independent contractors — making them ineligible for overtime pay, mileage reimbursement, workers' compensation and other protections given to employees under state and federal law.
She's one of four former Prime Now drivers who sued the company and its contractor in state court this week, alleging that Amazon is achieving speed and affordability only by cheating workers.
SIGN UP for the free California Inc. business newsletter >>
Amazon aims to reduce its traditional two-day delivery to less than two hours, and has expanded its Prime Now delivery service to more than 15 major U.S. cities in less than a year.
A quest to rule the universe? Amazon's Jeff Bezos expands his rocket plans
Using strategically located warehouses, the Internet retail giant promises near-instant gratification for customers who want cheap paper towels, snacks or toys. But the quest for brutal efficiency often falls on Amazon workers, according to the lawsuit.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation, and company representatives did not respond to additional questions on whether Prime Now drivers in other parts of the country are also classified as contractors. Scoobeez did not respond to requests for comment.
The suit is the latest battleground in the employee-vs.-contractor debate that has raged over the last year. High-flying start-ups such as Uber, Lyft and Handy also face challenges from workers who say the companies are profiting by paying less in labor costs. The companies, in turn, have argued that workers benefit from more flexible schedules and are free to pursue other gigs.
While Silicon Valley start-ups have attracted outsized public attention, much of the debate centers on industries where work is performed off-site: maintenance, IT installation and delivery driving.
Although drivers are paid $11 an hour, the suit contends that many are in reality receiving less than California's $9 minimum wage after factoring in expenses such as gas, tolls and maintenance.
If drivers arrived even one minute outside the required two-hour delivery window, they could be disciplined or fired, the plaintiffs allege. Lawyers for the four named plaintiffs are seeking class-action status in the suit.
"They knew exactly where we were every single minute," said Cynthia Miller, one of the named plaintiffs in the suit, who also delivered packages in Orange County. "We were told when to take a lunch, when we get there, when we get to leave."
Truong said dispatchers often weren't familiar with the geography and unique traffic conditions of Southern California, putting drivers under immense pressure to fulfill orders during the afternoon rush hour.
"They don't factor in the time of day, they don't factor in the different locations," Truong said. "There's just no way you can get on the 405 at that time of day and make it."
Former Amazon Prime Now drivers said Scoobeez was only one of several courier contractors in Southern California. The service is offered in many major markets across the country, including New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Austin, Texas — and the company has promised more expansion in coming months.
Federal and state authorities in recent years have stepped up scrutiny of companies that misclassify employees as independent contractors, noting the loss of revenue in the form of payroll taxes, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation funds. The National Employment Law Project, a Washington advocacy group, has estimated that employers can save up to 30% of payroll costs by treating workers as contractors.
A 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that misclassification of employees cost the federal government $2.72 billion in annual revenue.
Experts said Amazon's drive to offer low prices and customer convenience is clashing with the limits of employment law.
"There is a tension between the interests of consumers getting everything they want at the lowest possible price, and the interests of workers getting decent wages and enjoying the protections of the law," said Cynthia Estlund, an employment law professor at New York University Law School.
Although the law can be murky on who should be classified as an employer or an independent contractor, the U.S. Department of Labor this year issued a memo to clarify some points.
One of the biggest considerations has to do with the "economic dependence" of the worker on any particular employer. For example, if a worker has multiple clients and employees of his or her own, that worker is more likely to be considered an independent contractor.
But if a worker only takes assignments from one company, and that company exercises control over every step of the work performed, the worker should be considered an employee, according to the department's guidance.
Ultimately that is the critical challenge for a company such as Amazon, experts said: Keeping customers happy requires tight supervision of those carrying out the work.
"This is a perfect model for Amazon, but unfortunately I think there are these other things on the regulatory and compliance side that have to be worked out," said Nick Vyas, program director of USC's Center for Global Supply Chain Management.
Shifting to an employee-based model, he said, could ultimately "drive up their cost structure" and "really tip over the whole model."
Beth Ross, the lead attorney in the Amazon lawsuit, won a $227.5-million settlement this year with FedEx Ground in a similar case involving California delivery drivers who were classified as independent contractors.
"These are people who are in no way, shape or form in business for themselves," Ross said. "This is not debatable. These are people who fill out a job application, get hired and are given a work schedule."Amazon independent contractorsDrivers
Labor friction escalates between California IBT port truckers, shippers
By Steve Gorman
October 28, 2015 5:04 AM
President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labour union James P. Hoffa speaks at a news …
By Steve Gorman
LONG BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) - Long-simmering labor tensions between Southern California port truckers and shipping companies they accuse of wage theft escalated on Tuesday as a group of drivers demanded recognition as full-fledged employees and petitioned to join the Teamsters union.
The action, according to the Teamsters, was taken by at least 50 drivers who work for New Jersey-based Intermodal Bridge Transport (IBT) hauling freight to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest cargo hub in America.
Teamsters officials said it marked an incremental but unprecedented effort in which workers treated by management as contractors had for the first time mustered a majority of their ranks to simultaneously seek employee status and union representation.
James Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, marked the occasion by appearing with a phalanx of union executives and picketers for a waterfront rally outside a marine terminal in Long Beach.
"You have the support of the 1.4 million Teamster members," he said, surrounded by union activists carrying signs that read: "Wage theft stops here" and "We are all employees".
President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labour union James P. Hoffa speaks at a news …
Management rebuffed the drivers' demands, prompting petitioning workers - a majority of the company's 80-plus labor force in Los Angeles - to go on strike, the union said. Officials at IBT, a division of Chinese global shipping giant COSCO, were not immediately available for comment.
The IBT truckers joined scores of other drivers already picketing two other port-based trucking companies - Pacific 9 Transportation and XPO Logistics - likewise targeted by the Teamsters.
Although the striking drivers account for just a fraction of 13,600 tractor-trailer rigs registered to serve the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the dispute has implications for hundreds of companies and thousands of workers in Southern California.
The port drivers accuse management of engaging in wage theft by illegally classifying them as contractors and deducting truck-leasing charges, repair costs and other expenses from their paychecks.
Many truckers thus end up earning less than minimum wage, leaving a typical driver short-changed by some $60,000 a year, according to the Teamsters.
Their grievances have been affirmed in dozens of federal and state labor enforcement decisions and at least one court ruling, but the Teamsters say most of the companies have dug in their heels by seeking to appeal the rulings.
The Teamsters have managed to obtain union contracts for about 500 drivers through "labor peace" agreements with several trucking companies at the ports. But the IBT drivers were the first group of misclassified workers in which a majority had petitioned for union representation from inside the company, Teamsters officials said.
Teamster organizers said picketing would be expanded on Wednesday to a major warehouse operated by the California Cartage Company, where hundreds of workers hired at low wages through a staffing agency unload cargo for big retailers such as Amazon.com and Lowe's Companies.
(By Steve Gorman)Tags: Labor friction escalates between California IBT port truckersShippers