On the picket line

Steelworkers on strike in West Virginia

When bosses at Constellium Aluminum refused to budge from a lousy five-year contract, the workers, represented by Steelworkers Local 5668, went on strike Aug. 5. The slogan on the union website is “United we bargain, divided we beg.” (fort-unity.sctp.us) Solidarity with the strikers was alive and kicking at the Aug. 23 rally at the local’s union hall in Ravenswood, W.Va. Not only did other unions respond with signs, but they brought food and checks. The West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers donated $5,000. A benefit concert is planned for Sept. 8. (wsaz.com, Aug. 23) Y’all come!

Crystal Sugar employees ‘ready to work’

What happens when a company locks out experienced workers and hires unskilled replacements? Productivity takes a nose dive, production costs soar and profits tank. That’s what’s happened since Aug. 1, 2011, when American Crystal Sugar Co., a cooperative with 3,000 members — farmers who grow sugar beets in North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota — locked out its skilled workforce of 1,300 workers, represented by Bakery union (BCTGM) Local 167G. On Aug. 29, Local 167G President John Riskey announced that given this year’s bumper crop of sugar beets, the union has drafted a “Ready to Work Plan” to put its skilled workers back in the plants and help the farmers salvage their 500,000-acre harvest. He stressed that unless skilled workers are on the job this fall, Crystal Sugar’s profits could fall even further below the rest of the industry. After American Sugar CEO Dave Berg called the union workers and their contract a “cancerous tumor” at a meeting in November 2011, it’s clear that his agenda is to bust the union. But will the coop members, who have a big investment in this year’s crop, go along with that? Or will they tell Berg to resume negotiations to ensure this year’s profits? Stay tuned. (AFL-CIO blog, Aug. 29)

Surprise: D.C. workers get paid for furlough

When the District of Columbia ended 2011 with an unanticipated budget surplus, instead of a projected gap, the D.C. city council voted to do the right thing and reimburse 22,000 city workers for the days they were furloughed last year. (A combination of more efficient management and an unexpected rise in revenues led to the surplus.) The workers, who were forced to make significant sacrifices when they worked a number of days without pay last year, began seeing their back pay in checks issued the week of Aug. 20. “The welfare of the city is reflected in the welfare of its workers,” noted George T. Johnson, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 20. (Union City, online newsletter of the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, Aug. 24)

It’s official: Majority of new jobs pay low wages

A new study by the National Employment Law Project reported that 58 percent of new jobs since early 2010 were in the lowest-wage category, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, though they only accounted for 21 percent of job losses between the beginning of 2008 and 2010. The highest-wage jobs, whose median hourly wages range from $21.14 to $54.55, stayed relatively the same — 19 percent lost during the recession compared to 20 percent gained since. However, the middle tier, including jobs in construction, manufacturing and information, showed the greatest percentage of job losses at 60 percent, but only 22 percent of job growth. “The overarching message here is we don’t just have a jobs deficit; we have a ‘good jobs’ deficit,” said Annette Bernhardt, author of the NELP report. (New York Times, Aug. 31) That’s no surprise to WW readers. Fred Goldstein published “Low-Wage Capitalism” in 20o8, a Marxist analysis of how end-stage, high-tech capitalism leads inevitably to lower wages. These new statistics back that up.

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