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Vol. 77/No. 35      October 7, 2013

On the Picket Line

Solidarity rally backs Wash.
Machinists on strike 6 months

AUBURN, Wash. — Members of Machinists Local 79 hosted a barbecue and solidarity rally outside the Belshaw Adamatic plant here for 62 workers on strike since March 25 against the bakery and doughnut equipment manufacturer in a contract dispute over wages, pensions, health care benefits and speedup.

“For the first time in several months, the company initiated negotiations,” Cliff LaPlant, the chief shop steward at Belshaw Adamatic, told the Militant when he attended and spoke at a strike rally of berry pickers fighting for a contract in Burlington, Sept. 14.

“The original stance of the company was to fire most of the workers and hire replacements to take their place. We told them our stance was for any settlement, 62 went out and 62 have to go back.

“In the negotiations, which started Sept. 5, Belshaw Adamatic agreed that all the strikers would be brought back with a negotiated agreement,” said LaPlant. Even though this was an improvement, on Sept. 11 the local voted 48-5 to reject the company’s latest offer.

“Our main concern was the question of job security,” LaPlant said. “We did not want to go back into the plant and then be subject to layoffs. We proposed to them a work-share agreement where we would accept a reduction of hours for workers but no layoffs. They did not agree to this.”

The company did not return calls requesting comment.

— Edwin Fruit

Calif. owner-operators sign up
for Port Truckers Association

OAKLAND, Calif. — Truckers who are leading an effort to organize port drivers here announced Sept. 13 that during the first couple weeks of the effort, more than 400 drivers have signed up to form the Port Truckers Association. The announcement was made during a meeting of about 80 truckers at Shoreline Park where the next steps were discussed and decided.

The move to organize the owner-operator truckers began in earnest following a two-day protest Aug. 19-20 when drivers picketed the new “mega-terminal” of SSA Marine and other terminals at the port here, forcing a partial shutdown of the Port of Oakland, the fifth busiest container port in the U.S.

Dockworkers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union honored the drivers’ picket line.

The truckers demand compensation for excessive delays when picking up or dropping off freight, as well as for mandatory and costly emission standards upgrades on their trucks. They also seek an extension of an impending deadline for having rig models no older than 2007.

In response to the truckers’ protests and organizing efforts, Port of Oakland officials are holding weekly meetings to discuss 13 issues — including transport rates, emission fees and regulations, payment for long waits to load and unload, restrooms and “respect.” In addition to truckers’ and port representatives, participants include representatives from trucking companies, port terminal management and the ILWU.

Owner-operator drivers told the Militant that the rates they are paid have not gone up for more than a decade, while the costs of owning, maintaining and operating a truck have increased dramatically.

At a lunch truck nearby, Walter Solano, who works directly for a trucking company, told the Militant he backed the protests of the owner-operators. “They show we have power!” he said.

— Joel Britton

Colombia coal miners end strike
after gov’t back-to-work order

Workers at Drummond Co.’s open pit coal mines and port in northern Colombia ended a 52-day strike after they were ordered back to work by the Ministry of Labor Sept. 14. Workers were demanding a 9 percent wage increase, better sick pay and improved job safety and job security.

“The labor inspectors appeared and ordered us to remove the seals and go back to work,” Alberto Solano Cordero, a machine operator and leader of the Sintraminergética trade union, said by phone from Cesar department Sept. 20. The union, the company and the Ministry of Labor seal the entrances to work areas during strikes, Cordero said, “to make sure no one enters or leaves.”

Alabama-based Drummond is the second-largest coal company in Colombia and employs 5,000 workers directly and as many as 7,000 more through contractors.

Sintraminergética, which is affiliated to the CUT trade union federation, is the largest union in the mine. Officials of two smaller unions, Agretritrenes and Sintradrummond, collaborated with the company and the government to pressure workers to vote for arbitration, Solano said.

“Supervisors visited younger workers at home and told them that if they didn’t vote they would lose their jobs,” Solano said. “When strikers returned to their jobs, Drummond already cut back the size of food portions provided for meals.”

The Sintraminergética union has faced a long history of violent attacks and threats. In 2001 three union leaders at Drummond were murdered by rightist paramilitaries that union officials say were tied to the company. This year shots were fired at union delegate Rubén Morrón Guerrero while he was in a taxi May 28, on the eve of negotiations.

“During the negotiations we were bombarded with text messages demanding we accept the company’s proposals or we would be killed,” Solano said.

Sintraminergética Secretary General Ever Causado told the Militant from Barranquilla Sept. 20 that the union is appealing the order forcing Drummond employees back to work. “What’s at stake here is the right to strike,” he said.

The same day some 10,000 construction workers at Colombia’s largest oil refinery went on strike, demanding a 43 percent wage increase.

— Seth Galinsky

Related articles:
Garment workers fill streets in Bangladesh
Demand double minimum wage, job safety
Wash. berry pickers fight for dignity, wages, union
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