On the picket line

Retired miners fight for health, pension benefits

It may have been April 1, but 10,000 United Mine Workers’ retirees and their supporters were not fooling around when they rallied at the Charleston, W.Va., Civic Center that day. They were united in support of UMWA’s Fairness at Patriot campaign, which is fighting to preserve retirement and health benefits owed to thousands of Patriot Coal miners. As part of the bankruptcy proceeding that Patriot filed in March, the company requested the judge throw out its contract with the UMWA. The workers predicted in 2007, when Patriot was spun off from Peabody Energy, that it was “purposely designed to fail.” Roger Sharps, who retired in 2007, told his fellow miners at the time that “we was going to get screwed over.” Appealing to the crowd, which included other unionists and state and federal politicians, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka denounced “vulture capitalism” as well as “corporate rip-offs and bonus culture and against Wall Street cheats” and urged everyone to join the fight for dignity and fairness for all workers. Stating, “It’s time for the working class of this country to stand up,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts led a march to Patriot’s office, where he and 15 other union and religious leaders were arrested trying to enter the building. (State Journal, April 1) Stay tuned.

Paid sick day bill in NYC — finally!

It’s taken three years of organizing, months of petitioning and a threatened revolt by members of the New York City Council to pressure Speaker Christine Quinn to get behind a bill guaranteeing paid sick days for a million low-wage workers. After opening her campaign for mayor on March 10, Quinn moved swiftly to squelch mounting criticism from her opponents and women leaders alike, who had wanted a bill that covered more workers and would start immediately. As the bill now stands, beginning April 1, 2014, all NYC businesses with 20 or more employees will have to provide five paid sick days per year, which workers can use for themselves or to care for a sick child. Six months later, businesses with 15 or more employees will have to provide the benefit. Smaller businesses will have to provide five days of unpaid sick leave annually. Though the billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has vowed to veto the bill, the Council can easily override it. (New York Times, March 29) Passage of this bill will give the country’s paid sick day movement a real boost. The U.S. lags far behind 145 countries that already guarantee paid sick days for all workers.

Students demand rights for Adidas workers

United Students Against Sweatshops, with chapters on 150 U.S. campuses, is campaigning to make Adidas end its superexploitation of the workers who produce its athletic shoes and equipment in Indonesia and El Salvador. USAS points out that Adidas, by contracting with locally owned factories, reaps huge profits by paying the workers poverty wages, providing no benefits or job security and banning unions. Already nine universities have cut ties with Adidas, and groups like the Brown University Student Labor Alliance are organizing to boost that number. Adidas refuses to tell local factory owners to respect workers’ rights. Meanwhile, Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer banked $3.4 million in 2012. USAS has adopted the slogan: “Adidas, stop blaming others for your sweatshop supply chain and guarantee safe, decent jobs to the people who make your products.” To sign the petition supporting this struggle, visit badidas.com.

Machinists strike to restore pay, benefits

Members of Machinists Local 1441, who work at Unarco Materials Handling in Springfield, Tenn., were told they had to make concessions in 2009 when the company was floundering. The workers “made big sacrifices that included cuts to pay, pensions and health coverage,” said Local 1441 business representative, Mike Lee. Now the company is making big profits. However, it has chosen, following the anti-worker lead of corporate giants like Caterpillar, not to restore pay and benefit cuts in its latest contract offer, which Local 1441 described as “low and outside.” No wonder the workers went on strike April 2. (goiam.org, April 2) Power yields nothing without a struggle.