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Turkey: The stories and faces of those who lost their lives in Ankara

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 10/12/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Bianet
Categories: Labor News

Unions Wait 36 Hours to Bargain, BART a No Show

We Make BART Work [ATU 1555] - Sun, 10/11/2015 - 23:44
Plans move forward for Monday strike

Negotiators for the two unions representing the majority of BART workers announced this evening that they are walking out of negotiations after 40 hours without a single new economic proposal from agents representing BART’s elected Board of Directors.

The negotiating teams for both unions waited in the bargaining room all day Saturday at the request of the mediator assigned to oversee bargaining, but management negotiators never showed up.  Similar stalling on BART’s part took place on Friday as well.

“BART management is engaging in what is called ‘surface bargaining,’” said Josie Mooney, spokesperson for SEIU 1021. “They’re trying to appear in public like they are working to keep the trains running, but they’re doing nothing to respond to good-faith offers by BART workers aimed at avoiding a strike.”

BART workers and the public were hoping for smoother labor  negotiations, with the system now projecting an average surplus of $125 million per year over the next ten years.  BART has refused to present a certified budget for negotiators to work with throughout the process, and seem to have no intention of doing so.

“These past three months were never about contract negotiations for BART, they were about politics,” says Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union. “The people of the Bay Area deserve better. They – and we – will have to bear the brunt of BART’s political charade. All we’ve asked for is a fair wage and a safe work environment.”



Members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 1555 are available for interviews.

Antonette Bryant
President and Business Agent
510-763-1555 x12
(cell) 925-565-8118

Chris Finn
Recording Secretary

BART on the upswing, workers left behind

Fact sheet on BART rising revenue, ridership and stagnant wages for BART workers Contact information

132 Ninth St. Suite 100
Oakland, CA 94607

Phone: 1-800-559-2625
Fax: 510-763-1436

Media Requests

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 1555 are available for interviews and comment.


Categories: Labor News, Unions

Indonesia: Inside the world of gulf state slavery

Labourstart.org News - Sun, 10/11/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Daily Beast
Categories: Labor News

Turkey: A first-person account of the Ankara attack

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 10/10/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: DISK
Categories: Labor News

Turkey: General Strike and Mourning for Ankara Massacre

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 10/10/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: DISK
Categories: Labor News

Turkey: Call for a General Strike from progressive labor confederations and organizations

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 10/10/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Sendika
Categories: Labor News

Labor for Bernie

IBU - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 17:51
In These Times · http://www.inthesetimes.com August 12, 2015 Union Members Seem To Want Bernie Sanders Over Hillary Clinton. Will Labor Leadership Follow Them?   BY Mario Vasquez Sen.
Categories: Unions

Korean ‘Story of Pulmuone Drivers’

Current News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 17:15

Korean ‘Story of Pulmuone Drivers’

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
October 2 at 12:27am ·
KPTU-TruckSol members are in their 29th day of striking against the food goods company Pulmuone, who is engaging in union repression and not living up to past agreements. Pulmuone drivers are only asking for safe working conditions and basic rights!

Show your solidarity in the following ways:

1. Watch the videos ‘Story of Pulmuone Drivers’ (Be sure to click ‘like’ and leave a message of support!)
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaCsBHXn8S8
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch

2. Make sure other people see these videos by spreading them on social media.

3. Boycott Pulmuone (in U.S., Japan and China, as well as Korea)

4. Take a solidarity picture with attached sign and post it to your and Pulmuone’s social media. (Or leave a message of support)
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pulmuonelove
- Twitter: @pulmuonelove
- Blog: http://blog.pulmuone.com/
Please also post copies of pictures here!

Tags: Korean drivers
Categories: Labor News

Turkey: Death toll climbs to 97 after blasts in capital

Labourstart.org News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Guardian
Categories: Labor News

Turkey: Trade unionists' hearts with victims of Ankara blast

Labourstart.org News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: ETUC
Categories: Labor News

Turkey: ITUC Condemns Terrorist Atrocity

Labourstart.org News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: ITUC
Categories: Labor News

Turkey: At least 30 killed in bomb attacks at union peace rally in Ankara

Labourstart.org News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Hurriyet
Categories: Labor News

Turkey: PSI condemns brutal bomb attacks

Labourstart.org News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: PSI
Categories: Labor News

Federal officials will assume responsibility for DC Metro safety

Current News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 16:45

Federal officials will assume responsibility for DC Metro safety

Passengers walk toward a train at Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro station. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
By Lori Aratani and Paul Duggan October 9 at 6:24 PM
Metro will become the first U.S. subway system placed under direct federal supervision for safety lapses under a plan announced late Friday by Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Day-to-day operations would continue under the auspices of Metro, but Federal Transit Administration officials could intervene when safety concerns arise. Officials could conduct surprise inspections and issue directives to Metro to immediately address safety problems in the system.

[Foxx’s letter to NTSB]

“This increased oversight means that FTA will now directly enforce and investigate the safety oversight of [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] Metrorail,” Foxx wrote in a letter responding an urgent recommendation issued last week by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB, which is currently investigating a smoke incident that killed one person in January, had previously recommended that Foxx shift the responsibility for safety oversight to the Federal Railroad Administration, another agency within DOT with more experience and a larger staff. The shift also would have subjected Metro to stricter safety rules and tougher sanctions for violations.

But a spokeswoman for Foxx said the secretary rejected that recommendation, which would require Congressional action, saying it “. . .would unnecessarily complicate and delay safety improvements that WMATA workers and riders deserve.”

Instead, Foxx wrote on Friday: “We believe this approach accomplishes the same goals as the NTSB’s urgent recommendations, albeit with greater speed and within the responsible agency.”

Foxx also said that Metro must move quickly to hire a new general manager. The transit agency has been without permanent leadership since January, when Richard Sarles retired. Efforts to hire a permanent leader have been bogged down by in-fighting among board members.

“The urgency of having accountable leadership at the helm of WMATA cannot be overstated,” Foxx wrote.

[NTSB calls for tougher oversight of Metro]

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who has been outspoken about Metro’s failures, said the safety of the transit system must continue to be a top priority. He said he remains concerned about FTA’s ability to oversee safety at Metro.

“I look forward to learning more about Secretary Foxx’s proposal to ramp up FTA’s safety oversight of the Metrorail system, but remain concerned that immediate, effective oversight not be victim to bureaucracy,” he said. “Metro needs robust safety oversight today. And to perform that oversight, we need an agency with the team and the regulatory tools to do the job today. According to the NTSB, that agency is the FRA and not the FTA. “

Connolly echoed Foxx’s concern about the leadership void at Metro.

“I also applaud and appreciate Secretary Foxx’s acknowledgment of the urgent need for Metro to hire a new General Manager,” he said. “Frankly, that is the single best thing that can be done right now to ensure the safe and reliable operation of the Metro system.”

Tags: DC Metro Safety
Categories: Labor News

Class Struggle at Air France

Current News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 09:08

Class Struggle at Air France
OCTOBER 9, 2015
Class Struggle at Air France

On Monday, about 100 employees stormed an Air France management and union official meeting that was discussing dramatic job cuts. As the negotiations had been making no progress, the staff became angry, and tussled with some company officials. Two Air France executives had their shirts torn off. Xavier Broseta, the airline’s head of human resources, escaped the scene by climbing a chain-link fence, bare-chested, while Pierre Plissonnier, the head of long-haul flights, was escorted away by security guards with his suit and shirt in tatters.

The spectacular images were shown around the world and provoked dismay and outcry in the media. Protesters were presented as a “mob”. Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister, declared that he was “scandalised” by the “unacceptable violence”. He unequivocally backed Air France management, still a partially state-owned company. Emmanuel Macron, the finance minister, tweeted that the violence was “irresponsible” and “nothing can replace social dialogue”. Fearing a media backlash, most trade unions condemned the violence.

Air France management are planning to cut 2,900 jobs in the next two years. The rationale is to reduce costs to compete with low-cost companies. Several weeks of “negotiations” have proved fruitless because Air France management have set conditions which are impossible for the unions to accept. The company demands from their pilots that they work an extra 200 hours a year for the same salary; several routes will be closed; and 400 pilots will be made redundant. To defeat the well-organised pilot union is only the first part of the attack against workers’ rights. Then the hostesses and stewards will be asked to work more for the same pay and will get fewer resting days, and the cabin crews will be downsized.

Alexandre de Juniac, the Air France-KLM chief executive, has announced that the company would go ahead with the cuts and redundancies regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. De Juniac is even by Anglo-American business standards a patron voyou (rogue boss). In a jaw-dropping talk he gave in front of businesspeople in December 2014 , he condemned the 35-hour working week (a popular reform among salaried workers in France), questioned whether there should be a legal retirement age at all, and wondered whether the ban on underage workers should not be lifted. Worst of all, he found it amusing to share with the audience a conversation he had with his Qatar Airways counterpart. The latter confided to him that there could never be any strikes in Qatar as pilots would be sent to jail. This is a rather chilling story when one knows that cost reductions are implemented in order to compete with Gulf rivals.

Under these circumstances, it is no surprise that the workforce are fed up and combative: their basic working conditions and underlying rights are under attack. The airline workers have embraced the roots of French trade unionism: anarcho-syndicalism (syndicalisme means trade union in French). In the late 19th century, it was a workers’ movement that advocated direct action by the working class. This type of trade unionism was anti-parliamentarian, as professional politicians could not be trusted to represent the interests of the working people (this included social democratic parties). It remained an influential force amongst workers until the first world war. In the 1890s, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) – then and still today the main French union – promoted this type of direct action (notably the general strike) and “revolutionary unionism”, organising its members around Fédération des Bourses du Travail (Labour Exchanges).

Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of Force Ouvrière (Workers’ Strength), declared that “you can fight a management without being violent. This is not part of our traditions.” But does he really know the traditions of French syndicalism in the first place? It is ironic that the tearing of a couple of shirts and of a suit should provoke an international outcry when hardly anyone points to the symbolic violence of Air France management. Why would the media and some of our politicians not hold Air France management to account for their assault on the lives of thousands of people? There is a wealth of academic literature showing that unemployment or poor working conditions can lead to poverty, depression, divorce, suicide and the destruction of entire families.

This is not free violence on the part of the strikers: people genuinely fear for their future and the future of their families. The attack on the Air France workforce should be placed in the wider context of the constant undermining of workers’ rights under the François Hollande presidency. When workers start holding managers hostage, or “boss-napping”, they do not do it for fun or because they are a “violent mob”. They do it as a last resort to draw attention to their desperate cause.

Philippe Marlière is a Professor of French and European Politics at University College London (UK). Twitter: @PhMarliere

More articles by:PHILIPPE MARLIÈRE

Tags: Air FranceClass Struggle
Categories: Labor News

While Teamsters retirees’ pensions to be halved: IBT Pres Hoffa MIA

Current News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 06:23

While Teamsters retirees’ pensions to be halved: IBT Pres Hoffa MIA

Retired truck driver Jerry Deaton, 69, says every time he received his monthly Teamsters pension check, he would get the chills and worry how much money he could lose in the future given all the rumors.

On Monday, he got the answer he dreaded: His pension could be slashed by roughly half.

His $2,700-a-month pension is targeted to be cut to around $1,317 a month as of July 1, 2016, as part of a massive proposed rescue of the troubled Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.

“It doesn’t leave you with much options,” said Deaton, who lives in Osseo in Hillsdale County. “I’ll be 70 years old in December. Who’s going to hire a 70-year-old truck driver?”

The giant Central States Pension Fund — which has $17.3 billion in net assets — covers more than 250 union locals with more than 400,000 participants who live in 37 states. Currently, the fund said it pays a pension benefit to more than 220,000 retirees nationwide and about 115,500 retirees across the U.S. face reductions now.

Retirees started receiving letters in the past week that detail how they would individually be impacted by a proposed pension rescue plan.

In Michigan, the fund said it covers 24,205 current retirees — and 13,179 now face benefit reductions.

The rescue is designed to save the pension fund. But retirees say the rescue could sink their budgets.

Most everyday retirees typically wouldn’t worry about risks to pension checks. But the risks are going up for some. The City of Detroit’s retirees took cuts to their pensions as part of the city’s historic Chapter 9 bankruptcy. And federal legislation passed in late 2014 changed the rules for reducing pensions regarding plans that covered groups of employers.

About 10 million Americans participate in pension plans that cover groups of companies, such as those in trucking, entertainment, mining, construction and retailing.

The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 allows deep-in-the-red pension plans — those that would be insolvent within 15 years without intervention — to take the drastic step and slash pension checks of current retirees. Disabled and older retirees do have more protections.

Shortly after the law was passed, experts said the troubled Central States Pension Fund, based in Illinois, was the most likely candidate to make drastic cuts under the new rules.

Other retirees in troubled multiemployer plans are watching because this rescue plan could end up being a model to copy elsewhere.

The Central States Pension Fund’s own checkered history means it is not exactly a sympathetic character in the labor movement’s fight to hold on to pensions for retirees. The fund was ripe with corruption. In the early 1960s, the fund lent money to Las Vegas casinos. In 1982, the fund ended up under a federal consent decree, which had the fund being run by Wall Street firms and monitored by the U.S. Labor Department. Even in 2004, many raised concerns about a possible failure of the fund.

Under the new law, the Central States Pension Fund submitted its proposed rescue plan to the U.S. Treasury on Sept. 25. The Treasury has up to 225 days to review the proposed rescue. If Treasury approves the plan, participants would be able to vote on whether the plan should be implemented.

James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, has written a letter to the Central States leadership arguing that such cuts should not be made. Hoffa acknowledged he has no authority over the operations of the Central States fund.

Hoffa wants Congress to pass a “Keep Our Pension Promises Act.” He maintains that the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act unfairly shifts the consequences of unfunded pension liabilities to retirees and participants.

Yet others argue that a Central States insolvency would destroy the multiemployer portion of the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The federal insurance program for single-employer pensions is not in jeopardy as a result of this issue, experts said.

The Central States fund pays out $3.46 for every $1 taken in, according to an overview statement from the fund. That means the fund is paying out $2 billion more than it takes in every year through employer contributions, according to the fund.

Even so, individual retirees are struggling to figure out how they’re going to keep up with their own bills — heating, phone, even some mortgages — with such deep cuts.

“People are absolutely furious. People can’t believe it — 50%? Fifty?” said Maurice Curran, 71, of Livonia.

Curran, who retired 10 years ago, used to drive a truck for Spartan Stores in Plymouth. His pension now is $3,000 a month but is set to be cut July 1.

“I’ll lose $1,500 a month — $18,000 a year,” Curran said. “This is draconian. The Teamsters are not bankrupt.”

Fred Bora, 69, who lives in Comins in northern Michigan, said his potential cut would be about 60% and drive his monthly pension down to about $1,288 a month. His pension can face a deeper cut because the company where he worked went out of business in the Great Recession.

“I worked 30 years and they promised me a pension. How can they take it away?” Bora said.

Right now, Bora said he and his wife, Katherine, 80, have two mortgages. They pay about $800 a month on their retirement home.

“Eight-hundred dollars — that’s almost my full pension check” after the cuts, Bora said.

But the couple, who have been married for 21 years, plan to sell the retirement home and move to a less-expensive home in Riverview near Detroit because Katherine doesn’t like living away from the metro area.

Retirees say such cuts won’t just hit them personally, adding that they’re likely to spend far less in their communities at supermarkets, restaurants and even in their donations to charities.

“If you take $1,300 away from me each and every month, it’s going to have a big impact on how I would live,” Deaton said. “It’s not just going to affect me personally.”

Contact Susan Tompor: 313-222-8876 or stompor@freepress.com

Tags: IBTPensions
Categories: Labor News

Teamsters pension fund to slash benefits for 400,000 retirees

Current News - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 05:56

Teamsters pension fund to slash benefits for 400,000 retirees
By Andre Damon
9 October 2015
The Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund, one of the largest retirement funds in the country, has sent letters to over 400,000 beneficiaries announcing that they will lose thousands of dollars in retirement benefits. Many current retirees will see their benefits slashed by 50 percent or more.
The plan to cut benefits for active and retired truck drivers, package handlers and other workers is the opening shot of an assault on multi-employer pension funds spearheaded by the Obama administration in coordination with major corporations and the trade unions. It marks a major escalation in the corporate-government drive to gut the pension benefits of both public- and private-sector workers across the US economy.
Up to one million beneficiaries of multi-employer pension funds stand to have their pension benefits slashed under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, which establishes a framework for slashing benefits that had previously been guaranteed under federal law.
While the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO and other unions have recently made statements claiming to oppose the pension cuts, they have worked for years behind the scenes to allow their corporate “partners” to short-change pension funds, and major unions, including the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and North America’s Building Trades Unions, endorsed the 2014 bipartisan bill providing a legal fig leaf for the assault on multi-employer pension benefits.
The bill, moreover, was based on a proposal drafted in 2013 by the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans and signed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
A multi-employer pension plan is defined by the government as “a collectively bargained plan maintained by more than one employer, usually within the same or related industries, and a labor union.” Such plans were created to allow unionized workers to receive a secure retirement even if they switched employers within a single industry.
Multi-employer pension funds, like pension funds more broadly, have for decades been starved of contributions by the corporations that are obligated to finance them. As a result, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which guarantees the funds against default, posted a record deficit of $ 61.7 billion in 2014 and has warned that it will run out of money within the next ten years.
These massive pension funds, largely controlled by the unions, have long provided a lucrative source of income for union officials. The fund’s executive director, Thomas Nyhan, received a $662,060 salary in 2013.
The pension funds are an integral part of the business operations run by the pro-company organizations that falsely claim to represent the interests of the workers who are compelled to pay dues to union officials. Faced with the prospect of these funds becoming insolvent, the union executives who control them have conspired with the corporations and the government to place the burden squarely on the backs of the workers by imposing brutal cuts in their benefits.
The passage of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 and its implementation by the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund exemplify the conflict between the financial interests of the official unions and the economic and social interests of the working class.
The drive to slash the benefits of workers and retirees covered by multi-employer pension funds follows in the wake of the Detroit bankruptcy, which set a precedent for overturning legal protections for the pensions of public-sector workers.
But the proposed Teamsters fund cuts are both deeper and broader. While Detroit’s pension cuts affected 30,000 workers and entailed a 4.5 percent reduction in base rates, plus the termination of cost-of-living adjustments, the Teamsters fund cuts will, in their initial round, affect hundreds of thousands of retirees and entail an average benefit reduction of 23 percent.
Given the fact that the average annual payout to the plan’s beneficiaries is $15,000, already hopelessly inadequate to maintain a decent retirement, the proposed cuts will mean an average reduction of over $3,000 per year, or a collective annual cut of $1.4 billion.
This is just the beginning. The White House claims that 10 percent of the 10 million recipients of multi-employer pension benefits are in plans that are “significantly” underfunded, putting up to 1 million households at risk of having their pensions slashed under the terms of the 2014 act.
The attack on multi-employer pension funds is part of a broader drive to dismantle pensions in the United States, including campaigns underway in Illinois, California and other states to cut the constitutionally-protected pension benefits of public-sector workers, as well as the drive by the auto, steel and mining industries to curtail the benefits of current workers and expand the share of the workforce receiving “second-tier” pay and benefits.
This attack is being coordinated at the highest level by the Obama administration, which gave its explicit assent to the cutting of workers’ pensions in the Detroit bankruptcy and has made slashing multi-employer pension benefits a major priority.
In June, the White House announced the appointment of longtime Washington fixer Kenneth Feinberg to oversee cuts to multi-employer pensions. As the “pay tsar” for the Obama administration’s bank bailout, Feinberg rubber-stamped six- and seven-figure bonuses handed out to executives at Wall Street firms that received billions of taxpayer dollars. He will continue his role as Wall Street bag man in his new job overseeing the gutting of pension benefits.
While the proposals to cut benefits will be put to a vote among beneficiaries, these votes will be meaningless, as Feinberg will have unilateral authority to overrule any vote in opposition to benefit cuts.

Tags: teamstersPensions
Categories: Labor News

33 Workers Dead After U.S. Cargo Ship Lost at Sea. Could It Have Been Prevented?

Current News - Thu, 10/08/2015 - 19:15

33 Workers Dead After U.S. Cargo Ship Lost at Sea. Could It Have Been Prevented?
THURSDAY, OCT 8, 2015, 4:05 PM
33 Workers Dead After U.S. Cargo Ship Lost at Sea. Could It Have Been Prevented?

A shipwreck near Kalotaritissa, Greece. (Philippe Leroyer / Flickr)

Search and rescue teams officially gave up hope yesterday after a failed five-day effort to locate 33 cargo ship workers lost at sea in the waters near the Bahamas. The sailors and other shipboard workers are presumed dead in the wreck of the U.S.-flagged commercial vessel El Faro, which disappeared October 1 in the high winds and heavy seas of Hurricane Joaquin.

The last voyage of the El Faro has already taken on the air of maritime mystery. U.S. Coast Guard teams were not only unable to locate any survivors, but are not even sure about the current location of the ship. U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor stated officials believe it sank near its last reported position about 35 miles northeast of Crooked Island, the Bahamas, but the precise location has yet to be identified.

Among the lost seafarers are 28 members of the regular crew, all American citizens, and five Polish nationals, who had been hired as a temporary “riding gang” to do special maintenance work. They departed Jacksonville, Florida, September 29 for a regularly scheduled voyage to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Another mystery has already been suggested by some family and friends of the crew: Were the deaths preventable?

The answer, according to the daughter of the Frank Hamm, who steered the ship, is yes. As reported in the New York Times, daughter Destiny Sparrow complains that the shipping company has not explained why the ship went to sea even though it was well understood that a dangerous storm was approaching. “That’s what I did not like! That makes no sense to me at all,” she said.

Sparrow’s concerns have been repeated by other family members who have been gathering all week at the Jacksonville hiring hall of the Seafarers International Union (SIU), the labor union that represented most of the American crew members Local television reports have conveyed the anguish of these relatives as they awaited news of the search at the SIU hall, but they have also revealed flashes of dismay and anger as some have wondered aloud whether the deaths may have been the result of carelessness or inattention from the shipping company.

Officials of the shipping company, TOTE Maritime, have already attempted to deflect these questions. In a press conference earlier this week, TOTE President and CEO Philip Greene told reporters that Captain David Wilkinson was not under any pressure to sail into dangerous waters. The company intends to cooperate fully with the investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and by the Coast Guard—which, according to reports, has not yet begun its investigation but typically convenes a “Marine Board of Investigation” in cases involving multiple deaths.

Questions are also being raised about the seaworthiness of the El Faro, which the U.S.C.G. reports had lost engine power shortly before its disappearance.

NTSB and Coast Guard investigators ought to devote serious attention to the advanced age of the ship, and how that contributed to the loss, says Robert Frump, a former investigative reporter and author of Until the Sea Shall Free Them, a book on marine safety. The El Faro was constructed in 1975, he notes, meaning that it is 15 to 20 years beyond its expected commercial life span. Although there is nothing illegal (or even unusual) about operating older vessels, he says, there is good reason to worry about the safety of older ships. His book, for example, focuses on the 1983 sinking of the 39-year-old Marine Electric, an incident in which 31 seafarers died.

The similarities between the Marine Electric and El Faro, are striking, Frump continues. Both ships were operated by well-known, reputable ship owners with otherwise good safety records. Both were operated principally in U.S. waters under the provisions of the Jones Act, a maritime law that prohibits foreign ships from carrying cargo between U.S. ports. And both vessels were overaged as a result of commercial pressures on ship operators to squeeze additional economic life out of Jones Act ships, he says. And both suffered catastrophic accidents with major loss of life.

“The problem with old ships, of course, is that they are about as safe as old trucks. You can own an old pick-up truck and take really good care of it and you can run it around town every once in a while, and it looks great. But it is an old system and it is old equipment. It breaks down. And it usually breaks down when you don’t expect it,” he tells In These Times.

“There is a reason that United Parcel Service and FedEx don’t operate 40-year-old trucks on their routes. They are unreliable, they break down a lot,” he says.

Representatives of SIU and of American Maritime Officers, the union that represented the captain, mates and engineers on the El Faro, have made no comment on the safety issues being raised.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA's Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper's New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Tags: seamanSIU
Categories: Labor News


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