Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Latinos to Obama: enough promises, we want action!...

As President Obama shifts into campaign mode in preparation for the 2012 presidential election, one element of his base, Latino voters, are increasingly voicing their disappointment with the President. Today in six cities around the country members of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) and Presente.org organized a series of protests to expressing their opposition to the so called “Secure Communities” (S-COMM) program which encourages local law enforcement to act as extensions of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).


In Chicago members of both organizations presented a letter to staff at Obama’s national campaign headquarters calling on the President to end the program.

Immigrant rights activists argue that the poorly named Secure Communities program actually creates insecurity in immigrant communities as undocumented immigrants are afraid to report crimes to the police out of fear that they will be reported to immigration agents.

Opposition to the S-COMM program is just one element of a growing disenchantment of Latino’s with President Obama’s record on immigration issues. At the heart of their frustration is the increased number of deportations carried out by ICE under Obama’s leadership. The Obama administration has deported over 1 million people in little more than two years, a historically high number and a massive increase over the Bush Administration.

In response to increased criticism of the President for not passing immigration reform legislation during his over two years in office, the Obama administration has pointed the finger at the Republican dominated House which is sure to block any legislation which seeks to aid undocumented immigrants. But immigrant rights activist point out that the President can take executive action to end deportations and programs like S-COMM.

Immigrant rights activists want the President to hear their message, that Latino voters are tired of pro-immigrant rhetoric and promises that is not backed up with pro-immigrant policies.

For my 60 sec. segment on this topic on today’s Free Speech Radio News broadcast, see the following link…

http://fsrn.org/audio/headlines-tuesday-august-16-2011/8976

There will be much more extensive coverage on next Monday’s episode of Labor Express Radio.

For photos from today’s rally, see the following link…

Here is a good article on the topic on Huffington Post…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/latinos-to-obama-dont-cou_n_928732.html


Friday, August 12, 2011

NALACC calls on President Obama to end the "Secure Communities" program...

The National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC), is calling on President Obama to ended the so called "Secure Communities" program which actually leads to insecurity and fear in immigrant communities. They further call on Obama to end his massive program of deportations. Please see below for more and sign on to the online petition. And please join us for a protest here in Chicago next Tuesday, August 16th at 11:00 AM at the Chicago Cultural Center, 79 E. Washington to march to Obama's campaign HQ...


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Secure Communities Brings Insecurity: Latino Immigrant Communities Reject President Obama’s Deportation Scheme

The ill-conceived program known as “Secure Communities” has been harmful to community & police relations and it should end once and for all

Chicago, IL – On Friday, August 5, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, announced its decision to unilaterally move forward with the national implementation of the ill-conceived program known as "Secured Communities" or "S-Comm." The alleged purpose of this program is to deport immigrant criminal offenders who reside unlawfully in the U.S. However, it has mainly served to deport individuals whose only infraction is to live in this country without a visa. In most cases, these foreign nationals (primarily from Mexico and Central American and Caribbean countries) are deported for violating the U.S. immigration law, which is known to be broken, obsolete and inhumane.

To read the full press release, please click here

Take Action NOW!

NALACC will join the following national actions and encourages allies to do the same.

Presente.org and its allies are planning to collect and deliver thousands of petitions tObamaProtest 3o the Obama Administration demanding an end the S-Comm program at 11 am on Tuesday, August 16th at the national headquarters of the Obama for America campaign office in Chicago and are also asking allies to organize similar deliveries in other cities that same Tuesday, the 16th.

For more information contact Carlos Roa, at carlos@presente.org or (305) 744-1951.

Also, please sign the petition asking Obama to end the S-Comm program immediately! To see petition click on the following link:

http://act.presente.org/sign/s-comm



The National Day Laborer Organizing Network along with STOP-INSECURE-COMUNITIES (1) other groups, including NALACC member organizations such as Centro Presente, plan to mobilize actions during the following ICE community hearings.

For more information contact Sarahi Uribe at sarahi@ndlon.org

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NALACC aspires to become an entity recognized for its ability to articulate the challenges faced by transnational immigrant communities, as well as viable solutions to those challenges.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Honeywell lockout ends with some wins, but painful concessions...


On Tuesday, a slim majority of the members of Steelworkers Local 7-669 in Metropolis Illinois voted to ratify a new contract laden with major concessions. The union did win on some key issues including retiree health care, current workers pensions and overtime pay. But the hosts of concessions they agreed to will certainly be painful for the membership.

It has been a great pleasure to get to know the members of Local 7-669 over the past year. Working with the Local to tell their story has been a highlight of my many years of labor activism. In particular I have been inspired by Local 7-669 militants like Stephen Lech, John Paul Smith, Luckie Atkinson, Christian Musselman and others who where transformed by this experience over the past year. None were seasoned union activists when this fight started, but in the course of this experience they have become some of the most spirited and creative union militants I know. And I expect this is not the end to the fight in Metropolis. I will certainly been in touch with the local to follow their still unfolding saga.

I had not had a chance to post my full unedited version of the report I wrote after my visit to Metropolis on June 25th, so I post that here now. Following that are links to my most recent update on the situation which was published on Labor Notes’ website on Friday. Monday's episode of Labor Express Radio will carry a further update including an interview with Stephen Lech...

Return to Metropolis

On June 28th, the lockout of the 228 workers at the Honeywell uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Illinois entered its second year. A year is a long time to be locked-out. The strain on the workers and the community was evident as soon as I arrived in town. The signs declaring support for the locked-out members of Steelworkers Local 7-669 were less numerous than during my visit last September, though it appears that the community remains largely united behind the workers’ cause. My first conversation with Local 7-669 Executive Board member and leading activist Stephen Lech shortly after my arrival also revealed that even members of the Local are growing frustrated as the lockout wears on. “Monday’s union meeting was rough”, explained Lech. A few members of the Local questioned the reason for holding a rally the weekend before the one year mark, concerned that the event might be seen as a celebration of a situation that has made life very difficult for many. But there are small victories that members of Local 7-669 should feel proud to celebrate. The union’s corporate campaign has raised the stakes for the company and management has backed off some of its more egregious contract demands. As the lock-out drags on, the surrounding community’s fears about the danger of an accident at this highly toxic facility continue to grow.

The Road Warriors
The company’s efforts to gradually return to full production and the workers’ inability to prevent this, is at the heart of many Local member’s frustration with what they see as a lack of progress in resolving the lockout. Seeing few options to disrupt production locally, union activists have taken to the road, traveling from coast to coast in an effort to raise the stakes for Honeywell in a corporate campaign. The first stop was a visit to Honeywell corporate headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey for the company’s annual shareholders meeting in April. The union did not come with a specific shareholder resolution in mind, but hoped that the its presence at the meeting would both raise awareness among other shareholders of the situation in Metropolis and embarrass Honeywell CEO David Cote.

Most of the members of the Local are shareholders and with the combined holdings of the Steelworkers International, the workers own some roughly one hundred thousand shares of company stock. Despite this, company security did its best to deny the union members access to the meeting. They were particularly incensed by Local 7-669 member Steve Allan as he had come to the meeting wearing a Tyvek jump suit with the slogan “Honeywell - Toxic for Workers” painted on the back. When asked to remove it, he explained, “would you rather I wear this or nothing, there’s nothing else on underneath this thing.” Only when a Steelworkers International representative threatened to contact the Securities and Exchange Commission to inform them of the irregularities and call for a redo of the shareholders meeting, did security relent. In the end, the twenty or so union members in the meeting made up nearly half of the meeting’s entire attendance. Union members where virtually the only attendees to offer any questions during the meeting, which lasted less than 20 minutes.

Presented with the opportunity to vote on a 54% raise for Cote (bringing his total compensation up to $20 million), Stephen Lech came to the mike to ask Cote if it was fair that he receive a raise while 228 workers in Metropolis were locked out of their jobs. Cote replied, “I think it's fair all the way around.” For Luckie Atkinson, union member and one of the most active road warriors, it was proof that “he’s just a different type of person, people who are super rich have a different opinion than a working man. They think is all perfectly great that they get more money and they think its perfectly fair that they take away benefits from the working man, and woman, and retirees’ health care to give them more money.” Atkinson also asked why as an appointee to President Obama’s deficit commission, Cote prided himself as a job creator. “Is locking-out 228 workers creating jobs?” Cote refused to answer. It is not the first time Atkinson and Cote have sparred in public. When Cote showed up to the plant in Metropolis in 2008 to complain that the plant wasn’t profitable, Atkinson asked Cote if that wasn’t his own fault and whether he should be the one fired. When the time came, all the worker-shareholders voted against Cote’s raise. But in the end the resolution passed by over 99%. The workers’ hundred thousand shares were a mere drop in the bucket to the massive shares held by banks and other major investment entities, most of whom were not even present at the meeting.

Perhaps even more significant was the union’s efforts on the other side of the continent. In April the Local was contacted by immigrant rights activists in Los Angles who were working to oppose a bid by Honeywell to manage one of the city’s waste water treatment plants. The immigrant rights groups oppose the contract as it is being made by a Honeywell division in Arizona. Arizona-based businesses are being boycotted in response to the extreme anti-immigrant laws passed in that state last year. Javier Gonzalez of the California organization The Sound Strike, a coalition of artists that works to uphold the Arizona Boycott, started researching Honeywell when they became aware that their Arizona division was pursuing a contract with the City of Los Angeles. Javier contacted Local 7-669 when he learned of the lockout and encouraged the union to send representatives to Los Angeles to add their voice to those opposing the contract. In Los Angeles, Luckie Atkinson talked with the Mayor’s office, Eric Garcetti President of the Los Angeles City Council, and other members of the City Council. Atkinson also convinced Los Angeles union locals and labor bodies to call on the City to oppose the contract. So far the union’s efforts have brought success. The $106 million contract is on-hold, and union members have been told it is unlikely to move forward as long as the workers are locked-out.

The workers even journeyed across the Atlantic in an effort to raise the profile of the lockout and put pressure on the company. The Local was instrumental in organizing a “Honeywell Council” over the last several months, a body that brings together not only Honeywell workers from a variety of unions across the country, but even internationally. The Steelworkers feel that by communicating their experiences at Honeywell with other Honeywell workers at hundreds of facilities around the globe, all Honeywell workers will be better prepared when dealing with management. One of the first results of these efforts was an invitation to speak to the German and the European Honeywell Works Councils in May. Stephen Lech and John Paul Smith both traveled to Belgium and Germany to meet with workers from across Europe. Honeywell was so angered by Lech and Smith’s presence in Belgium that the company arranged to have them banned from the premises of the hotel where the European Honeywell Works Council met. But the European workers quickly arranged an event at a nearby location and all of the worker members of the Works Council attended.

The visit has not yet resulted in any shop floor or other types of direct actions on the part of European workers. But European unions who represent Honeywell workers, many of whom have contract negotiations coming later this year, have sent letters to David Cote expressing their solidarity with the workers in Metropolis. Communications are ongoing between Local 7-669 and the European unions. If nothing else, the statements of solidarity have helped raise the spirits of the Steelworkers. According to Stephen Lech, every letter the Local receives from Europe really inspires the members to keep fighting. “It was truly building international solidarity. That kind of solidarity, you can’t replace that, you can’t buy that and Honeywell can’t take it away. This small fight that Honeywell picked, now they’ve woken the sleeping dragon. Somewhere in an office in Honeywell’s corporate headquarters where they were looking at a best case scenario and a worst case scenario, we are going down the road now of the worst case scenario where all the workers are united. They are all in communication.”

Progress in Negotiations
The members of Local 7-669 feel their corporate campaign efforts have already paid off with significant progress in negotiations. The company has abandoned its plan to eliminate retiree health care coverage, one of the contract concessions most firmly opposed by the union. Management has also backed down on their demand that the union concede to the elimination of seniority rights. The company has backed off some of its efforts to contract out as much as 25% of the workforce, though some contracting out issues are still unresolved. Increases in health care premiums have not been eliminated, but have been reduced. Of the remaining issues in negotiations, the one that I heard most often mentioned by the workers was the company’s proposal to end defined benefit pensions for new employees. Instead new employees would be offered what the workers refer to as a “2% and out” plan or a defined equity plan. The company has backed off its demand that current workers give up their defined benefit pension plan, but if the company gets its way, new hires would receive a fraction of the retirement benefits that current workers receive. According to Stephen Lech, “we figured a worker would get about $30,000 in a lump sum at retirement after 30 years of service. Not acceptable, as far as I'm concerned.” The Local recognizes that two-tier benefits packages are a poison pill for an organized workplace. Another major stumbling block is how the company wants to pay overtime. Under the company’s plan, workers could be asked to work well over 8 hours, even as much as 16 hours without receiving time-and-a-half.

Ever Present Danger
While the lockout drags on, the danger to the entire community of a poorly managed, incredibly dangerous nuclear fuel/chemical plant becomes increasingly apparent. Their have been two accidents at the facility in the past year. On September 5th, shortly after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had allowed the plant to return to full production with the new, inexperienced replacement workers (as reported in my previous article in the October edition of Labor Notes), an explosion caused by the accidental mixing of hydrogen and fluorine by scabs in the plant resulted in an explosion that could be heard for a mile. On December 22nd, an even more dangerous release of hydrogen fluoride gas (HF) set off alarms at the facility and activated the plant’s emergency response system. According to Atkinson, by the company’s own admission, if there was a substantial release of HF at the plant, 125,000 people in 25 mile radius could be killed by the toxic gas. Luckily for the replacement workers in the plant, the locked-out workers on the picket line, and the thousands that live within close proximity to the facility, neither incident resulted in any reported injuries and the environmental contaminants were allegedly contained within company grounds. But the deficient practices at the plant that led to these incidents have caught regulators’ attention.

In November, Honeywell was cited by the NRC for “illegally coaching and assisting its replacement workers on the exams” that had convinced the NRC to allow the plant to resume full production in September. In March, Honeywell pleaded guilty in federal district court to knowingly storing hazardous radioactive waste improperly at the Metropolis site without the required permit, and paid $11.8 million in fines. According to Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Honeywell’s “illegal storage practices put employees at risk of exposure to radioactive and hazardous materials.” On June 22, OSHA cited Honeywell with 17 serious safety violations and issued the company a $119,000 fine. OSHA defines “serious” violations as situations with “substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result.” The OSHA fine came after Honeywell management had refused OSHA access to the Metropolis facility on several occasions over the past year.

In addition, the union has organized in the community to oppose Honeywell’s plan to cover over a toxic waste site on the property with dirt. By law Honeywell was mandated to clean up the toxic waste dump by 2020. The company recently announced that their solution is simply, in Atkinson’s words “to cover up the site with dirt and grow flowers on it.” The union doesn’t think that’s is enough and has organized people to oppose the plan. The union has highlighted some of these concerns in a report they released in January entitled “Communities at Risk”, which is available on the Local’s website, usw7-669.com. As far as Atkinson is concerned, all of this is just proof that Honeywell’s management “really don’t care about the people in this community. This community is where I was born and raised for 48 years and 80% of my family live here. Most of my family live right near Metropolis. So if they were to have a catastrophic release of one of these tanks, that could potentially kill almost everyone in my family.”

End Game
Despite the apparent success of the corporate campaign, the question that remains is whether it is enough to force Honeywell to abandon its demands for serious concessions. The workers are well aware that they have not been able to stop production. A multi-billion dollar corporation like Honeywell can make that “one day longer” an awful hard goal to achieve. Some of the members of the Local I talked with said they have contemplated forms of civil disobedience like blocking the plant gates to try to halt production, but they feel the costs of such actions would be too high and would not make much difference. Hanging over the union’s head is an injunction issued last fall which provides strict requirements and limitations to the union’s activity on the picket line. The judge who issued the injunction has threatened fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars for even the smallest infractions. Fines of that amount would completely decimate the Local’s treasury. “The International would bail us out no question,” says Stephen Lech “but it wouldn’t accomplish anything anyhow.” Given that the facility falls under special Department of Homeland Security protections, interference with production could result in charges brought against the union from the federal government. This despite the fact that it is the union that has repeatedly contacted Janet Napolitano to point out that the company’s methods of storage of hazardous waste are the biggest national security threat on the premises. They also fear that such actions might cost them public support they feel has been key in their struggle. And they argue that even acts of civil disobedience are unlikely to stop production for more than short periods of time. Besides, according to Local President Darrell Lillie, despite the company’s claims to the contrary, “production can’t be more than 40% currently.” Friendly sources inside the plant, and the workers own knowledge of what they should see coming in and out of the plant gates, tell them that the unskilled scabs still can’t produce the quantities of product that skilled workers are able to produce. “They keep falling further and further behind with their orders,” states Lillie. The constant investigations by the EPA, OSHA and the NRC have also contributed to reduced production. Lillie thinks this may be just as important a reason as the corporate campaign for the company’s willingness to concede on some of their demands at the negotiating table.

The union’s strategy is to continue to go after similar contracts with local and state governments around the country as they did in Los Angeles. They also continue to work with regulators like the NRC, EPA and OSHA to bring maximum pressure to bear on a company that they feel is being dangerously mismanaged by their replacements. And they will continue to pursue CEO Cote around the country and even around the world. In Lillie’s words “We want Cote to think of us every morning when he wakes up and every night before he goes to bed and all day long.” “We have already won on some of the stuff that most concerned us in the contract, and I am confident we are going to win this thing. I think will be back in before the fall,” argues Lech, whose militant optimism is infectious. Despite the strains that the lock out has clearly brought on members of the Local, for now that optimism seems to continue to inspire Local 7-669 to continue the fight. “We haven’t put together a celebration rally because we don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it’s going to be one heck of a party.”

For a more recent update, including details on the new contract, see the following article on the Labor Notes website...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

End is near for Honeywell Lockout...

My next piece on the Honeywell lockout in Metropolis Illinois was due to come out in next month's edition of Labor Notes. But earlier this week a tentative settlement was reached. So here is the updated version online...

Elements of Victory Emerge as Uranium Lockout Nears End

Jerry Mead-Lucero
| July 21, 2011


After more than a year outside the gates, the lockout at the Honeywell uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Illinois, looks to end. Details of the July 19 settlement were scant.

Members will consider the deal this week and union leaders will take questions Monday. A vote could take place next week—unless members reject the deal outright.

For the rest go here...

http://labornotes.org/2011/07/elements-victory-emerge-uranium-lockout-nears-end

Monday, July 4, 2011

Today's Labor Express Radio program is up on the web...

Last Saturday, the locked-out Steelworkers of Local 7-669 in Metropolis Illinois held a rally marking one year since the 228 workers at the Honeywell Uranium Processing plant were locked-out. And on today's program I will bring you an update of the efforts of the Steelworkers to bring the lock-out to a close. This will be part 1 of a multi-episode update. Definitely some interesting, inspiring and disturbing stuff that you want to stay tuned for.

On today's program will also get an update on the struggle over La Casita in the Pilsen neighborhood. We will hear from Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey about new Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's attack on teachers in Chicago. We will hear from nurses about cuts to the Cook County hospital system. And we will hear from labor journalist Mike Elk about a boycott of the Huffington Post...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Return to Metropolis...


I traveled down to the far southern tip of Illinois last weekend to participate in a rally marking 1 year since members of Steel workers local 7-669 have been locked out at the Honeywell uranium conversion plant. Tomorrow's episode of Labor Express Radio will be part 1 of a multi-episode update on the lock-out. Next month's edition of Labor Notes will also include an article on recent developments in the lock-out. As a teaser and to provide some context for those not aware of the situation, I thought I would post the full version of my reflections on my visit to Metropolis last September. This piece was edit for publication in Labor Notes October edition and in the November edition of News and Letters, but I have not previously posted the full version...

The Men of Steel Locked-Out in the Home of the Man of Steel

Metropolis - Labor Land:

As you approach the tiny town of Metropolis it is abundantly clear, as much as 25 miles out, that this is union friendly territory. It’s at that point that you begin to see the lawn signs declaring “Proud Supporter of USW Local 7-669”. The signs only become more numerous the closer you get to town, competing with and perhaps even outnumbering the signs supporting this or that candidate for county sheriff. It is perhaps not surprising given 3 of the 4 major employers in town are union, the only non-union facility being the lowest paid place to work around, the Harrah’s Riverboat Casino. Much of the rest of the workforce outside of these 4 major employers are union construction workers, carpenters, plumbers, pipe fitters and other members of the trades. Metropolis is without a doubt a blue collar town.

Metropolis is known by the few tourist that pass thorough as the place with the larger than life Superman statue outside city hall. In the 1970’s, town officials hoped to build a Superman themed amusement park in town. In the end the only thing that ever came of those plans was the statue. But the 6,000 plus residents of Metropolis know well that their town should be more famous for the Honeywell International Inc. plant that sits right on the outskirts of town. The Honeywell plant is the only uranium conversion plant in the United States and one of just a handful around the entire globe. The plant produces UF6 a fuel used to power nuclear power plants around the world. The milled uranium product that comes from the mines, know as yellow cake, is transformed at Honeywell in to UF6 gas in a 4 step process that involves some of the most dangerous chemicals know to man. It is not kryptonite that the workers at Honeywell and the residents of the town need fear, instead its radiation poisoning and sever burns from hydrofluoric acid, a major component of the production process.

Given the toxic substances they deal with on a daily bases, it is not surprising that some 42 workers have died of various cancers and another 27 have contracted a form of cancer in recent years. The federal government has recognized the dangers of working in this industry with the establishment of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which provides funds to help effected workers deal with their health care costs. A number of workers told me when they first came to work at Honeywell they were warned that this job could take 10 years off their lives, though Honeywell publicly denies there is any connection between their production process and the aliments suffered by the workers. A few workers have received server hydrofluoric acid burns while working at the plant, including Bill Klinghammer, a former president of the Local who received burns to his face that required hospitalization and left scars. For this reason, it is not surprising that workers balked when Honeywell management demanded the elimination of retire health care and increases in premiums, co-pays and deductibles that would have cost current employee’s thousands of dollars a year during contract negotiations which began late last Spring.

Contentious Contract Negotiations:

Retired members of Steelworkers Local 7-669 will tell you that in previous years, relations between the workers and management had generally been positive. The last major labor dispute at the plant dates back to 1974 when the workers struck and won substantial improvements in their contracts which continued over the next couple decades. Workers noticed a marked change in the demeanor of management in recent years. The 2007 contract negotiations were more contentious than in the past. But as the June 2010 contract expiration date loomed, it became clear that management was going to take a harder-line against the plants workforce than ever before.

Honeywell’s last and final offer asked the workers to except a practical elimination of the current seniority system. Management demanded the right to contract out as many as 54 jobs in the plant, nearly a quarter of the current workforce and potential eliminating the entire maintenance department. The proposal included the replacement of the worker’s defined benefit pension plan with a lump sum payment plan that workers figured would amount to less than $60,000 after 30 years of service. But perhaps most concerning of all, was the proposal to substantial increase worker’s health care premiums, co-pays and deductibles by thousands of dollars annually and the complete elimination of retire health care. Interestingly, the wage proposal the company offered was 3% higher than what the union had asked for. The Union had actually agreed to a wage freeze over the life of the contract. According to Darrell Lillie, President of Steelworkers Local 7-669, “It was a contract we just couldn’t accept…and they knew we couldn’t accept it.”

The workers increasingly sensed that Honeywell wanted the union to strike. But the negotiating team, while publicly doing everything they could to make it look to the company that a strike was possible, was leery of taking such action. A strike at USEC in 2003, a nuclear power plant across the river in Paducah Kentucky, which purchases product from Honeywell, had lasted 5 months with minimal gains in the eventual contract. And everyone in Metropolis remembers the Missouri Portland Cement Co. strike of 1984 in nearby Joppa, Illinois which ended in violence and all the workers losing their jobs. Perhaps even more importantly, as retiree Doc Greer explains, it is not like 1974. “In the 70’s jobs were plentiful…now days there not.” When the union announced their willingness to continue to report for work past their contract expiration date, in the hopes of reaching a settlement, the company seemed frustrated. Negotiations continued for seven more days with no movement and on June 28th, the company took a move the workers had not fully expected, the company locked-out its union workforce.

Using a Lock-out to Play the Market:

Though the lock-out came as something of a shock, it wasn’t whole unexpected. The company had already brought in possible replacement workers hired by the Shaw Group, weeks before the lock-out, to observe how the workers performed their jobs. As soon as the company locked-out the Steelworkers, they brought in over 200 Shaw replacements. Given fears that the scab workers would not be welcome in town, a likelihood confirmed in my conversations with local business owners, they are bussed in every day from where they are housed, some 40 miles away at an old lake side resort that had all been shut down until its was transformed into what the union workers call “scab city”. The replacement workers are offered catered meals at work and at the resort, so they can avoid all contact with the angry residents of Metropolis.

Members of the union tried to calculate the costs the company was racking up in housing, feeding and bussing replacement workers into the plant, who were reportedly receiving wages substantial in excess of what the union workers normally receive. There were the costs of the new security personnel that the company hired to surveil workers on the picket line. And management was also paying salaried employees for extra time, as much as 80 hours a week, to keep the plant minimally functional. Despite all this, because the replacement workers lacked the specialized training necessary to operate a nuclear fuel processing plant safely, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had prevented the company from performing the final two steps of the production process, meaning the plant was unable to produce any saleable product. It was hard for Local 7-669 to understand why the company was willing to go to such expense in carrying out the lock-out. But than they developed a theory.

Members of the local began researching the company’s contracts with their customers. In reviewing these contracts they discovered a “force majeure” clause in the contracts which included a strike or lock-out as a cause that could allow Honeywell to break the contracts. According to the union, many of the long-term contracts the company was obligated to fulfill had locked in a price of $5 to $6 per Kilogram, while the current market price for UF6 is closer to $11 or $12 per Kilogram. Could Honeywell be using the lock-out to void its low price contracts in order to demand a higher price once the labor dispute ended? Members of the union have communicated with a reporter for the industry publication Uranium Intelligence Weekly who they claim has confirmed that their theory has plausibility. The reporter has not been available for comment on this story.

A Town Terrified:

Meanwhile the residents of Metropolis are living in fear. The toxic substances processed at Honeywell are a danger not only to Honeywell’s workforce but to the entire town and even the region. Doc Greer, a retired Honeywell worker and former president of the local told me that when he was asked by the company to attend a meeting at which the dangers of a release of hydrofluoric acid (HF) was discussed that he was told… “if they lost a whole HF tank…you would actually wipe out the whole city of Metropolis” and “for 25 miles actually people would have trouble breathing.” “And you could smell HF for a hundred miles...from here to Clarksville Tennessee or nearly to St. Louis…you’d be able to smell HF.” Fear for the safety of the town is not unwarranted. Twice in the past, once in the 1960’s and again in December of 2003, their have been accidentally releases of HF at the plant. In the 2003 incident, 75 homes had to be evacuated and hundreds more were instructed to “shelter in place” which means to shut all windows and turn off any climate control systems that might bring outside air into the home. Honeywell is currently being investigated by the EPA over problems with the company’s handling of toxic sludge, a waste product of the production process.

In my conversations with area residents the fear of a major accident at the plant, now staffed with replacement workers with little experience or training in running the facility, was foremost on their minds. According to Jerry Baird, the owner of Diamond Lil’s, a nearby diner…. “…they need to get the trained professional union men back in there so this community can be safe…I think it is very important that anybody that fools with chemicals, uranium, or any type of chemical of that nature needs to be professionally trained and these guys are not that’s in there now.” Greg Henry worked for a short time at the plant before becoming the owner of L & W Tire and Exhaust. He knows from the time he worked that “…you need trained people in there to run that place, you really do, because it could be very dangerous.”

The town’s fears were nearly realized the Sunday before Labor Day. The NRC had decided to reverse its position on limiting the company too the first two steps of the production process. On Saturday Sept. 5th, the company attempted to resume full production. But on Sunday afternoon the ground shook under the feet of the workers on the picket line as a loud boom was heard for miles around. Conversations between workers on line and NRC officials later in the day confirmed exactly what the workers expected, that in their attempts to bring the plant back on-line, the company had not been careful about moisture collected in the equipment in the fluorine plant and as a result they blew up one of the fluorine scrubbers. A Honeywell press release called the incident “a noise” and nothing to worry about. But the state police were called to the scene after a flood of 911 calls came in reporting an explosion. Luckily there were no reported injuries or releases of toxic gas in this case.

Preparing for a Fight:

The lock-out may have been a bit of a surprise to Local 7-669 and the negotiating team may have wanted to avoid a strike, but the union was preparing for the possibility of a labor action for months prior to the lock-out. A key element of these preparations was the creation of Contract Action Teams. The Steelworkers International trained ten of the local’s members in how to build solidarity and prepare the local’s membership for a worst case scenario through the “Building Power Program.” The Contract Action Team or CAT team was quick to act when the company’s propaganda effort picked up as negotiations wore on. Management begin distributing in the plant “fact sheets” entitled “Just the Facts”. The content of these flyers attempt to convince workers that they were overpaid, had unaffordable benefits and that they had to accept concessions if the wished to keep their jobs. Almost immediately the union countered this effort with their own “Just Some More Facts” which was styled to be nearly identical to the flyers distributed by the company. Stephen Lech, one of the members of the CAT team explained that “they looked so much a like that even the managers would get confused about which one was which”. But the union’s fact sheets demolished the arguments put forward in “Just the Facts.” For instance “they had pointed that their health care expenses had doubled in ten years… we realized that our portion had tripled in the same amount time. And so we started to point facts like that out on these documents…there were foremen that were trying to figure out where these where coming from because most of the time the same day they put those out we were prepared with 250 copies of our own…and we wanted management to see these.”

At one point Honeywell attempted to create dissension within the families of union members. A mailing went out addressed to the family members of employees arguing that the union members were being unreasonable and that they needed to make concessions or potentially loss their jobs. The union countered once again sending out a mailing along with the actual contract proposal that explained in detail why the union could not accept the contract. The mailing included a self addressed, stamped postcard addressed to plant manager Larry Smith asking that their household be removed from the company’s mailing list. Within days, postcards were flooding into Smith’s office. After the lock-out had begun, members of the union went on the offensive. They sent out their own mailing to all the neighbors of a number of the plants top managers informing their neighbors of the hardship that these managers were attempting to impose on the workers at Honeywell.

The local also made other preparations like stocking a food pantry and stocking up on school supplies and baby care items for the handful of expectant mothers among the worker’s families. These preparations not only served to offer relief in the event of a labor action, but sent a psychological message to management that the local was not going to give-up without a fight. One of the membership, Rachel Spence, even established a support group for spouses of the workers to help deal with the potential strain a strike or lock-out might have on the member’s families. But according to many of the workers I talked to, the advice and training offered by the International had the most impact on how the negotiating committee operates. In the past, the committee carried out negotiations largely behind closed doors, only consulting with the membership when they had reached an agreement with management. According to Darrell Lillie, “now everything is done out in the open.” Their seems to be near unanimous agreement among the workers that this has been a key element of their strong sense of solidarity and willingness to carry out this fight as long as necessary.

Stephen Lech has also referred to the Troublemakers Hand Book as an indispensable resource in helping the local prepare for what the company might through at them and how to counter attack. In particular, it helped make Lech wary of attempts by the company to push a two-tiered wage and benefit structures or pit current employees against retires.

A Waiting Game:

Given the Local’s theory that the company’s primary reason for the lock-out is the force majeure clause of their contracts with their customers, many of the workers hope that the 90 days required by the clause being meet by the end of September, that the next negotiation session, scheduled for Oct. 11th will result in some movement in negotiations. Regardless, the Local say’s they will continue this fight as long as it takes. The workers seemed convinced that the given the uniqueness of their specialized skills and experience that the company will find it ultimately impossible to replace them permanently. And federal labor law forbids permanent replacements in the case of a lock-out. But as the conflict wears on, the company is slowly bringing production back online. As of Friday, Sept. 10th, the company had restarted production with the NRC’s blessing. In the meantime, the well being and perhaps the continued existence of a small Illinois town on the Ohio River is endangered.

For pictures from my visit last September, see the following link...

https://picasaweb.google.com/jerrymeadlucero/SteelworkersLockedOutInMetropolisIL?authuser=0&feat=directlink

For pictures from my visit last weekend, see the following link...

https://picasaweb.google.com/jerrymeadlucero/MetropolisRallyJune252011?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCODp3LGB8LXxpwE&feat=directlink

For the version of this report that appeared in the October edition of Labor Notes, see the following link...

http://labornotes.org/2010/09/locked-out-illinois-uranium-processing-plant-steelworkers-and-community-wait-nervously

For the version of this report that appeared in the November edition of News and Letters, see the following link...

http://www.newsandletters.org/issues/2010/Nov-Dec/HoneyNovDec_10.asp


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Night 1 of the re-newed 24-7 occupation of La Casita...


On Wednesday morning the police, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) security and construction crews showed up a La Casita, the field house on the grounds of Whittier Dual Language Academy in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest side. As the construction workers setup up fencing that blocked access to La Casita from three sides, the police tried to prevent Whittier moms from entering La Casita. True to form, the moms ignored the police and marched right past. Soon after word was sent to the majority of Whittier Parents Committee members who were at that moment supporting the teachers at a rally at a school board meeting downtown. Suspicions are high that CPS was deliberate in their choice to show up with a demolition team on the very morning that La Casita would be least defended. But once again, CPS underestimated the Whittier moms and their determination to defend their community center.

Things had been heating up for a couple weeks. Ever since CPS announced its intentions to build the library, not in La Casita as requested by the Parents Committee, but instead inside the school building, taking over a special needs classroom for the purpose. CPS has largely broken off communication with the Parents Committee, and refused to answer their questions about what would happen to the special needs students who were losing their classroom. The Whittier parents also question CPS’ use of the funds that were originally intended for renovation of La Casita. It appears that some $18,000 of the over $500,000 raised through the parents activism, was used to pay an architectural firm, for a walk through at Whittier that resulted in the recommendation to use the special needs classroom for the library. The Whittier parents point out that they arranged for the pro-bono work of an architecture firm who have put forward a impressive plan for the renovation of La Casita that the parents claim will be paid for with the funds they helped raise.

Over the course of the day, the parents uncovered a document from CPS verifying that CPS had contracted on May 31st to have a company demolish La Casita and move forward with plans to create a soccer field for use of a neighboring Catholic high school. It appears that CPS has clearly violated ever aspect of the agreement reached with the parents committee after there 43 day occupation of La Casita last Fall. With the threat of demolition once again hang over their heads, a 24-7 occupation of La Casita has recommenced. As of 3:45 AM as I write this, a crew of supporters is well into their first over night shift. Outside a man in a vehicle seems to be keeping close tabs on who enters and who leaves La Casita. It is unclear whether he is with the police or with CPS security, but the message seems clear - the minute La Casita is no longer defend, the demolition team will be mobilized to move in.

I appeal to all of you who have been inspired by the bold, militant struggle of the Whittier Parents committee over the last year, to join the fight once again. Maintaining a 24-7 occupation is no easy feat. Your time, your energy, your support is desperately needed. You can find out more at...

www.saveourcenter.com

But more importantly come down to La Casita. Anytime, day or night, and lend your support... 1900 W. 23rd St.

La Lucha Continua

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

La Casita under threat! Press Conference tonight 7:30 PM...


I have received a urgent request from the Whittier Parents Committee. The police tried to prevent access to La Casita today and a fence has been constructed around two of three entrance to the school grounds. It appears as if an attempted demolition might be imminent.

The Whittier Parent's Committee is calling on all allies to show up at La Casita tonight. They need as many people as possible there to possible prevent demolition.

Here is the statement from their Facebook page...
UPDATE: PRESS CONFERENCE @ 7:30PM TODAY. PLEASE COME THROUGH! We need as much support as possible. More info will be available at the press conference

And...

UPDATE: Call Alderman Solis NOW @ 773.523.4100 to make sure the TIF money allocated for Whittier is used for the renovation of La Casita as he committed to. Solis stated the following during a meeting at La Casita on October 21, 2010 “the money from this district’s [Pilsen Corridor] Tax Increment Financing that would have been used to demolish the community center will be used to renovate it.”

For more info see their Facebook page...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Statement of solidarity with Cuban workers...

This months edition of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the IWW carried a powerful statement of solidarity with the workers of Cuba, as they now face not only repression at the hands of a Stalinist state apparatus but also "economic reforms" which will likely mean an even greater lowering of living standards for some in a country in which outside free health care and education, living standards are already precariously low. Unfortunately the Industrial Worker is no longer available online, but the statement, issued by a long list of supporting unions and anarchist groups around the globe was available on one of the anarchist websites...

Statement in support of Cuban Anti-Authoritarian/Horizontalist organizers, workers, activists, artists, musicians y mas in Cuba. Scroll down to see current list of endorsements and the original statement in Spanish.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

The Communist Party of Cuba's VI Congress has just closed with an endorsement of the liberal reforms (“to each according to his labors”) promised in the realm of the economy: but along with these come cuts in social services and an increased presence for military and for technocrats in the machinery of government, with a reduction in the presence of intellectuals and workers.

In terms of rhetoric and deeds alike, efficiency, control and discipline replace equality, solidarity and partnership. Against this backdrop we have indications of a crackdown in the cultural realm, heralding yet another set-back to Cubans' exercise of their fundamental freedoms. Performing artists find their names blackened by cultural officials-turned-censors engaged in frantic campaigns, the length and breadth of the country peddling false rumors and spurious accusations. A prestigious Cultural Theory Center finds its facilities and equipment being sabotaged again by “thieves” who forget to take anything and whom the authorities cannot seem to identify and punish. Poets and community activists are visited by police personnel who threaten to haul them before the courts as “counter-revolutionaries” and to leave them to the mercy of the “people's wrath”, thereby demonstrating that said wrath is not “of the people” nor independent of the powers that be who direct it.

Damage to social property, defamation and physical and psychological bullying (and violence) are not only offenses punishable under legal codes the world over – Cuba included – they are also considered acts of State Terrorism. For decades, the Cuban people gave their best efforts to their children and to the world in order to build up a fairer country with universal and high quality culture, health and education despite the irrational and begrudging bureaucracy that always depicted the people's gains as its own creations. Are the repressiveness and lying of such “apprentice Stalins” to go down in History as the features by which the Cuban process is to be remembered, rather than the day to day heroism of the Cuban people? This is not justice...

For the rest see the following link...


Thursday, May 26, 2011

More craziness from Arizona...

Another Latino dies in a strange home invasion incident, this time by the Police...

On May 5 at around 9:30 a.m., several teams of Pima County, Ariz., police officers from at least four different police agencies armed with SWAT gear and an armored personnel carrier raided at least four homes as part of what at the time was described as an investigation into alleged marijuana trafficking. One of those homes belonged to 26-year-old Jose Guerena and his wife, Vanessa Guerena. The couple's 4-year-old son was also in the house at the time. Their 6-year-old son was at school...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Greenpeace Scales Polluting Smokestack at Fisk Plant in Pilsen...


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 24, 2011

Greenpeace activists climb deadly smokestack at Fisk coal plant in Chicago
Activists call on Edison International to “Quit Coal” and shut down Fisk and Crawford

CHICAGO— Before dawn, a team of eight Greenpeace activists climbed the 450 foot smokestack at the Fisk power plant in Chicago. From the stack, they demanded that the operators shut down the dirty, dangerous Fisk and Crawford coal plants.

The Fisk and Crawford plants – operated by Edison International subsidiary Midwest Generation are among the oldest in the United States. More people live in range of these plants than any other coal plant in America; nearly one in four Chicagoans live in a three mile radius of one or both plants.

Coal fired power plants kill between 13,000 and 34,000 people a year--as many as one person every 15 minutes. That staggering figure includes the 42 Chicagoans who die as a result of pollution from Fisk and Crawford, including residents in the severely affected communities of Pilsen (near the Fisk plant) and Little Village (near the Crawford plant). According to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, residents are at risk for heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illness because of pollution from these plants.

“As a Chicago resident, I know that we must shut this plant down—to make our air cleaner, our communities safer, and to stop the effects of global warming. All across America, companies like Edison International are poisoning communities with their coal plants—and people like us are fighting to have those communities voices heard. We’re going to stay up here until Edison International hears our message,” said Kelly Mitchell, one of the activists who climbed Fisk’s stack.

In addition to the toxic pollution, coal fired power plants are the biggest single source of global warming pollution in the United States, which will cause sea level rise and extreme weather, as well as droughts and lower crop yields. Together, Fisk and Crawford generate about 18 times the emissions of O’Hare airport’s ground operations and equal two-thirds of the CO2 emissions generated by all modes of transportation in Chicago.

Leila Mendez, a resident of the Pilsen community affected by this plant said, “We’re fighting for our lives. This plant has a significant impact on the health of our communities and our children. These plants don’t power Chicago; the profits go out of state, and we get stuck with the pollution. It’s time to stand up to Edison International and demand more for our future.”

Earlier this spring, the Chicago City Council failed to vote on the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, which would have forced the plants to clean up or shut down.
“Chicago is facing a serious challenge,” says Chicago-based community activist Edyta Sitko. “Will the Council lead the country by quitting coal and standing up to corporate polluters? Or will it be the last major American city with two dirty coal plants within its borders? “

The EPA is holding a hearing in Chicago today on a rule that will place a limit on the amount of mercury and other poisons coal plants are allowed to emit.

More updates will follow later today.

###

On twitter: follow #quitcoal and @greenpeaceusa for updates
On the web, read Kelly’s live blog at: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/quit-coal-chicago

Photos available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/greenpeaceusa09/sets/72157626758322756/
(high resolution images upon request)
Video available at: http://comms.greenpeaceusa.org/20110523_Chicago/
This is an ftp link. Right click on video file to begin download (this is not a streaming video link).