Category Archives: Workers Testify

The Fight is Still On!

(A message to a Left Forum panel about working class organizing)

By Chris

birdsI’ve been working full time in the blue collar sector for over 30 years. I have over 20 years in the transportation industry and another 6 on a factory floor, with a few other jobs during my first few years in the labor force.

From early on I started to hear and experience the same grievances and issues coming from coworkers and most other working people I would encounter. It became a recurring theme: low/stagnant wages, forced overtime, not enough time off, unsafe working conditions, and the inability to work and retire with dignity. And I’ve experienced these as well.

On top of that, I’ve watched companies and lawmakers systematically take back what working people have fought so hard for in the past

In the mid-‘90s I became a member of Teamsters and quickly learned I could do something to help. Even if small, it was something. I learned that the fight was still on. That awareness has never left me, and it’s why I continue to do what I can to fight for working class interests.

If anyone is here as a protester or activist for the sake of being a protester or activist, or to gain some notoriety, or to make yourself feel good, we don’t need you!! If you came here to have your picture taken with Michael Moore….go home!! We have no use for anyone who’s here to make a name for themselves or rub elbows with someone they may think has fame. This is real. Our struggle as working people is real and we’re losing ground every day. We need help…. real help to stop the bleeding and reverse the tide.

It seems that many people have given up on the idea that we, the working class, will lead this struggle to end our exploitation. If not the working class, then who? Protesters? Activists? Academics? We can use all the help we can get, but none of the above are facing the kind of exploitation that working people are facing today. We’re still here and we’re losing ground rapidly. 100+ years of struggle and we’re moving backwards! How can that be?

Many of today’s working people are growing frustrated with the state of the unions, corrupt leadership, dwindling membership, lack of participation and the general loss of power that we once fought so hard for. That’s not to say that the labor unions don’t have their place. I’m a union member and still believe we play an important role on the road to emancipation. But many working people are seeking an alternative, some way to go beyond what today’s unions are able to accomplish. There must be an alternative, otherwise we stagnate in our current state… working hard and getting nowhere!

About a year and a half ago I was involved with trying to organize a terminal at Con-way Freight. This move was inspired by a single terminal in Laredo, TX who blindsided the company and voted for union representation.

Over the course of the next several months two other terminals voted for representation. The threat of a large scale organizing movement had corporate running scared. They issued a video to each terminal practically begging for another chance. They claimed that they now heard us, and they were willing to address our issues – as long as we stopped our organizing campaign.

We received substantial raises, changes to our disciplinary policies, and local management were instructed to back off. It was quite an achievement for just a threat. Unfortunately, even though some organizing efforts continue, for the most part they have come to a halt. Many of the workers decided to give the company another chance, and within a year Con-way Freight was sold to XPO Logistics, the second largest LTL carrier in the country.

But this experience convinced me that if we are able to make such drastic changes from a mere threat, imagine what we could do if truly organized!! We can go far beyond winning a few temporary concessions from one company or another. That’s why it’s so important that we as a class, the working class, must organize together on a large scale. By organizing, and remaining militant, and autonomous, not letting anyone use us for some other agenda, we can achieve the power necessary to free ourselves from the exploitation we face every day. Only we, the working people, can do this for ourselves.

I want to say something about why I prefer the phrase “working people” instead of “workers.” To me the word “worker” has a similar feel as the word “slave.” A “good worker” is an obedient wage slave. It’s a condition we want to free ourselves from. In most cases, the one who achieves the “good worker” status is usually the person who out-preforms their coworkers. The ones who conform, and blindly do what they’re told. The ones whose loyalty favors the company rather than their coworkers. The sad part is many working people buy into this and wear it a badge of honor. This is how companies divide their work force. By pitting us against each other: you didn’t stay an extra 3 hours so somehow you must be weak or not dedicated.

I do good work but I’m rarely called a “good worker,” for which I’m glad. I’m usually considered more of a troublemaker. There was a time workers were feared. That needs to be restored!!! WE are the ones generating 100s of millions even billions of dollars for a chosen few. A company can operate without a CEO or COO, but it cannot operate without a work force!! We hold all the cards!!!

Worker Testifies: Overnight Stocker at Walmart

Andy Vidual works full-time graveyard at Walmart as a stocker, filling shelves in the xxxxxxxxxxxxxx section. He has worked at Walmart for the past three years and he makes $13.25/hour, which includes a $1/hour graveyard premium.

The main areas of struggle in Andy’s workplace are:
• A dick for a boss
• Work pace [excerpted below]
• Low wages [excerpted below]
• Scheduling

[Below are excerpts from the whole interview, which can be viewed in full by clicking here: Workers Struggle-Sudbury, November 2015 Newsletter]

WORK PACE

Andy: We’re expected as overnight stockers to do 50 boxes an hour. I’m not worried about myself, I know I do well over that…. I know there are employees that don’t make that number, and that’s why they’re on his bad side. But if I have a week without this dick boss, I’m not concerned about those numbers, I’m concerned about how the stuff looks on the shelf, and not how fast I get it out….

Rachael: How big is a box?

Andy: The main aisle that I work is the xxxxxxxxxxxxxx aisle. If I have a case of xxxxxxxxxxxxxx… that’s one [box]. It sits… on top of a tray of 12, so basically for that product, all I do is cut off the plastic, move my stuff back that’s already on the shelf and put that case there on the shelf, so that’s a quick one. But say if… somebody in another aisle that has another [case] of 12 boxes of cereal, that [box can be a different size]. All cases are a minute… and five. That’s the company standard, not just this one boss’s or this one store’s standard…. The company did a big study on it… a number of stores… and said, “Yep, your average should be one minute and five seconds per [box].”

Rachael: Capitalists are always trying to speed up work to try to get more out of their workers, and so, from a militant’s perspective, it’s actually proper for the worker to resist that pressure that the capitalist is always putting on them… especially if you notice other workers around you can’t keep that pace…. It supports them if you keep your pace slower. Now, it’s going back to the exact same point that you made earlier, which was: you want to stay in their good graces. So you have to balance that somehow, staying on the good side, but also supporting your other workers, because if they struggle to get the 50 boxes and you’re doing 70, you’re going to get used.

Andy: Oh, I’m totally getting used.

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Interview with Postal Worker Phil Marsh

Phil Marsh is a militant postal worker with Canada Post with nineteen years seniority. Postal workers have a militant history and are currently unionized with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). Phil has organized for years with the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP). He and a small group of militant postal workers are currently working to rule against Canada Post. In a short period of time, they have accumulated over 2000 hours of overtime against the corporation.

The main areas of struggle in Phil’s workplace are:
    • Fighting the ongoing attack on postal workers
    • Higher than average injuries
    • Capitulation of union

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A Brief Note to Workers Starting to Organize

By Lowlander
October 2015

(The author is a truck driver in the U.S. with union organizing experience)

Go to the website of NLRB (National Labor Relations Board: www.nlrb.gov) and read about what rights you have and what the company can and can’t do.

You need to keep a low profile until you can get a good sized group. These companies can be real scumbags!!!

It’s very unwise to use your own name or come out openly in the beginning. Martyrdom doesn’t work well in these situations. You need to keep your head down, do as much off company property as possible, and watch who you talk to. Send out feelers first. You won’t do any good if you get walked out of the gate. By feelers I mean drop a hint, see who can be trusted and who can’t.

And lastly, this shit can become like espionage. It takes time and patience learning who can be trusted.

It’s pretty important. If a company gets wind of something like that before you have a majority (or close) they could easily make an example out of you. They don’t play fair!

If they don’t see it coming, it’s that much better!!!!

That said, there is no reward without risk.

 

Worker Testifies: Food Production (USA)

by Paul Sumner

[Name of worker and company are changed to protect his job].

foodIllo1cropped

Illustration by Paul Sumner

“This is actually a classic don’t give a fuck about workers story. I work in front of three 6 ft grills that have had the regulators taken out so instead of only 500 degrees, they hit 700 degrees. There is only a 5hp motor running the beleaguered exhaust hoods. It’s in this environment that I grill 1,500-2,000 lbs of chicken every night. Most of the kitchen workers are people like myself who used to be line cooks and chefs. Everyone is somewhat disgruntled.”

***

I work as a wage slave for a food distribution company called XYZ. Years ago I used to order from them when I was the head chef at a restaurant.

A few years ago this company expanded and started producing microwaveable meals, so they installed all sorts of cooking equipment into a warehouse built for refrigeration, insulated walls, no windows. There are steam convection ovens, kettles, tilt-skillets, three large fryelators and my area, which is three six foot grills side by side, by side. These grills are only supposed to reach 500 degrees, but the safety regulators have been removed allowing them to reach 700 degrees. All the cooking equipment is crowded into the middle of the plant. It is surrounded by areas that are refrigerated for food storage, prep, assembly and packing.

The cooking equipment is crowded under exhaust fans that only have a 5 hp motor to run them. The fresh air intake is located on the hot tar roof unshielded from the sun. My shift starts at 1 pm and goes until 10 pm, unless it’s slow and they can get us out early to save wages.

For the first few hours I am there it is horrible! All the ovens are going, chicken is being fried, sauces are simmering in the massive kettles, fish is being fried in the tilt skillets and chicken is being grilled. The grilling is supposed to be a three-man operation. One guy wheels a tub with approx. 170 lbs. of marinated chicken, placing the pieces on the grill. One guy flips the chicken and another picks it up and puts it on a sheet tray to go onto an oven rack so it can be cooked to USDA standards.

The smoke from this grill is heavy and it stays trapped by the oily heat from the frying on either side. The exhaust hoods cannot pull it out adequately. There are two clocks with thermometers, both on the cooler ends of the kitchen. On one of the hottest days of the summer they read 99, so it’s safe to assume the temp in front of the grill to be 120-130. No one that doesn’t have to be in front of the grill comes near it!

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Interviews with Workers

Read full interviews at links below:

Sue Vival: Storefront clerk of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Sue Vival has been a storefront clerk at Eat Local Sudbury (ELS) for over a year. Her hourly wage is $13 per hour. She has also struggled to find work in her field as a farm worker which is forcing her to consider owning a farm.

The main struggles in Sue’s workplace/field are:
     • Precarious, low and unpaid work
     • Risk of injury

Ronnie Boisvert: drywall taper of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Ronnie Boisvert is a drywall taper with nearly ten years’ experience. He’s worked for many employers as well as for himself. Ronnie recently returned to Sudbury after a few years living in Elliot Lake with his partner, Elizabeth Sorrell, who also participated in this interview. They’ve been organizing in our community since they returned in the spring. For our local online community, Ronnie is also known as Blungey McGrues on Facebook.

The main struggles in Ronnie’s field of work are:
    • Getting paid
    • Wear and tear on his body

Carmen Emery: school bus driver of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Carmen Emery is a school bus driver for Leuschen Transportation with over thirteen years driving experience. The wage at Leuschen is $16.21 per hour for the first three hours of the run. After three hours, the hourly wage decreases to $14 per hour. If the drivers run late for any reason – traffic, trains, construction, accidents, poor road conditions, waiting for transfers, student management, vehicle breakdowns, waiting for a replacement bus – they are not paid for their extra time on the road.

The main areas of struggle in Carmen’s workplace are:
    • Low wages / unpaid work
    • Working conditions
    • Wear and tear on her body from driving

Paul Therrien: miner of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

Paul Therrien is a miner for Vale with over twenty years of experience working underground. He’s unionized with Steelworkers Local 6500. We’re not going to go into any further detail regarding his work in order to protect his identity.

The main areas of struggle in Paul’s mine are:
• Recuperation of union
• Recuperation of health and safety generally, and diesel particulates specifically

Andy Vidual, overnight stocker of Sudbudy, Ontario, Canada

Andy Vidual works full-time graveyard at Walmart as a stocker, filling shelves in the xxxxxxxxxxxxxx section. He has worked at Walmart for the past three years and he makes $13.25/hour, which includes a $1/hour graveyard premium.

The main areas of struggle in Andy’s workplace are:
• A dick for a boss
• Work pace
• Low wages
• Scheduling

“Everything you see around you came here on a truck.”

Lowlander is a truck driver for Con-Way Freight. A conversation between him and an organizer for Workers Struggle was partly by talking and partly by text. It took place over several days.

Excerpts:

L: A major problem in the trucking industry is the pay structure. Personally, I would ONLY work by the hour but that’s becoming harder and harder to find. Unfortunately many are forced to take jobs that pay by the mile or by the load. Even worse are the companies that pay a flat rate per day. This causes a dangerous situation on the roads because the driver feels the faster he or she goes the more money they’ll make.

FMCSA [Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] hours of service rules, often referred to as HOS, encourage this. A driver can legally drive for 11 hours in a 24 hour period or be “on duty” for 14 hours. They are only required to take 10 hours off and that starts from the time you clock out and ends at the time you clock back in. They wind up working almost 2/3 of a day.

WS: So a major point of struggle then is for an hourly wage high enough so people don’t have to work more than 40 hrs…is that what drivers want?

L: Absolutely. And to be compensated accordingly for extra time worked. Many drivers out there feel they need to work to the point of exhaustion just to make a living. That creates a dangerous situation not to mention a miserable existence.

If you’re paid by the mile or load and you’re sitting in traffic or on line to enter the port you’re not getting paid. Almost any downtime is unpaid.

If you get a chance search fluctuating overtime or Chinese overtime. This is another doosey I’ve come across since I’ve moved south. When it was first explained to me I thought, surely this HAS to be illegal. Apparently it’s not!!!

It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve come across in 30+ years of working and I’ve only ever seen it in the southern “right to work” states.

[WS looked it up. It’s a way to comply with rules to pay time-and-a-half while robbing workers of part of what’s due to them. Overtime is calculated by dividing the weekly salary by the number of hours worked, basing half time pay on that number. So the more hours one works, the lower the rate of overtime pay is.]

WS: Does it apply where you work?

L: No way!!! That would never fly in the LTL [Less than Truck Load freight] industry.

WS: It’s unbelievable.

L: It is!!! Most drivers can’t even figure out how to calculate their pay checks so it’s confusing. It’s a pretty simple formula but designed to confuse.

WS: And designed to be a lower rate the longer they work.

L: Exactly!!! The so called over time equates to half time of the adjusted hourly rate. A real SCAM!!! I don’t think anyone wants to work more hours for a lower rate of pay.

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Worker Testifies: Miner (Sudbury, ON)

The Interview

Saul Idarity works for Vale as a miner. He is unionized with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6500. With twenty-five years seniority, he’s done it all: drilled, blasted, mucked and bolted – but he has worked right at the face, on the jumbo, for more than twenty of those years working underground.

The jumbo drill represents a technological “advancement” which reduced the number of workers needed and transitioned miners to working alone underground, while simultaneously boosting production and profits significantly. Late last year, Saul was injured while working close to the face. We cannot describe the injury in any detail in order to protect his identity but he was working alone at the time and all of his emergency equipment failed, including his man down button. If it were not for the arrival of another worker sometime later, on an unrelated matter, Saul is not sure he would have made it out alive.

We interviewed Saul in June, and despite his WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) claim having been approved several months previous, he had yet to receive any money.

The main areas of struggle in Saul’s workplace are:
• Production over safety as culmination of anti-worker culture
• Recovery from his injury, post trauma and accessing benefits
• Recuperation of union

Production over safety

Saul perceives Vale’s corporate culture as aggressively anti-worker compared to that of Inco, especially when it comes to safety. “The change of it all is Inco was Canadian. And they were willing to work. And it’s a give take. We gave, they took. They gave, we took. Never seen the way it is now. It’s a dog eat dog world….Unfortunately, they sold the country out and now the workers and people that live here pay for it….Before I got injured, you were pushed to the brink of fatigue and I worked right at the bottom, it was hot and everything. They want more, more, more. We get it. It’s what pays the bills, but when is it enough?”

“A lot of guys aren’t saying nothing ‘cause they’re scared, but there’s lots of close calls – lots….Nobody wants to say anything and it’s unfortunate. They preach: you have to report near misses and everything, but as soon as you do, they crucify you….You’re considered a shit disturber….Don’t forget, every time there’s an incident or a minor dressing or a medical, the company’s – their statistics, they’re charged. They were livid when the doctor put me off ’cause I went from a medical leave to a lost time.”
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firestone strike

Robert Allen

July 2015

 

every action, or inaction, is political in a degree.

What we thought was happening was far from what was really happening, literally.

A world apart, in fact.

 

“free will is for the lower classes – the ruling class acts out of necessity.”

– Adam Kotsko, religious scholar Shimer College

 

but what if we chose to ape them? as if we too, knew the actual stakes?

free will being all about choices – made before it’s too late!

we got a video in the mail; “there is an ongoing need to operate this equipment”

detailing the wages and benefits – it was for the wives, to push their striker husbands back to work

the hubris enraged us – but who were “we”?

 

a set of workers, right wing talk radio listeners, born again Christians, African Americans from the ‘hood, poor white trash, Vietnamese immigrants, old patriotic men who “fought for freedom Over There”, guys who finally started buying Japanese cars once they began making them “over here”, it did not matter…

we knew the company was our enemy

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Worker Testifies: Waste Management, Sudbury ON (Canada)

The Interview:

Al Ternative works at Waste Management, a garbage and recycling collection contractor, in residential collection. There are approximately 40 workers working for this company in Sudbury. The workers for the garbage collection and recycling collection departments of this company are represented by two different unions.  There are approximately 30 workers in Al’s bargaining unit with LIUNA (Labourers’ International Union of North America), including labourers (pitchers), drivers, and mechanics.

Al started as a temporary pitcher in 2010 at $11 per hour. With the completion of his DZ training, he became full time in 2011, which bumped his hourly rate up by $7. He now makes $18.73 an hour, which is lower than other municipalities, and lower than what our own city workers earn. Waste Management workers do not have their daily hours of work guaranteed. They can only work until the work runs out every day, and they work under constant surveillance.

The main areas of struggle in Al’s workplace are:
         •  Hours of work
         • Company surveillance
         • Dealing with the City
         • Union struggles

Hours of work

Waste Management workers are scheduled from 6:30 am – 4:30 pm, 4 days per week, but they have to leave work without pay as soon as their work is done for the day. So they’re only paid as long as the company can provide work, not for the hours that the company scheduled them for. For Al, Fridays in particular are a struggle to make hours because he doesn’t have a set run for that day. “Going home at noon on a Friday is nice, but, it doesn’t pay the bills…It’s great if you do the whole full days. But like recently, because it’s winter, spring’s not here yet, people haven’t been cleaning their yards yet, it’s been really – like this month and last month, especially a few weeks after Christmas, coming close to February and beginning of March, that’s a slow period for us. There’s not much work. I mean, unless I make work for myself, and it’s very hard to do with GPS in our trucks. That’s a new thing in our trucks.”

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Worker Testifies: Truck Driver, Sudbury ON (Canada)

the interview

Otto Nommy is a truck driver for a large local transportation company, which he did not want to name. He’s been working for this company for two years. He hauls cement powder to a mine in Timmins, with a stop in Birch Island, and back, every working day. That trip is 600 miles and takes him 12 hours to complete. His workplace is not organized. Otto’s work is solitary and he struggles with exhaustion, isolation and domination by corporate media.

The main areas of struggle in Otto’s workplace are:
        • Work schedule
        • Wage theft
        • Cutbacks
        • Safety issues
        • Traffic issues
        • Domination by corporate media

Work schedule

Otto struggles with his work schedule a great deal. He feels confused about the rules around how much he should drive and how much he is allowed to rest. He feels it is almost impossible to maintain his work schedule. He’s tired all the time. “You have no life other than work, if you wanna pay your bills….I’m beat after my shifts. I come home and if it’s snowing, I got a four wheel drive now, I don’t even care. I used to shovel, I got a snow blower, but I don’t care now, I just drive in over the snow. I’m too pooped out. I’m gonna be sixty in a couple years and I don’t have that kind of – I’m pooped out. I come home and sleep my days off.”

Otto’s boss told him he’s only allowed ten hours per day to himself. “He goes, ‘Well, you know you only have eight hours to yourself; like ten hours you have to yourself. Eight hours you sleep, and then an hour to get up and an hour to go to bed; you’re basically allowed ten hours to yourself every day, the rest you’re supposed to be working.’”

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Worker Testifies: Laundry Worker, Sudbury ON (Canada)

The interview:

Milly Tancy has worked for over ten years in Sudbury Hospital Services as a laundry worker. In February of 2013, fifty percent of the workers in her department were laid off due to the loss of a major contract. Milly just barely kept her job. Down from 120, there are now approximately 60 workers left in her bargaining unit, which is unionized with CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees).

Management maintains a high supervisor to worker ratio in this workplace, approximately 1 for every 10 workers. Milly reports, “They try and keep talking to a minimum. If there’s too much of it, they try and stop it by telling you to get back to work.” Milly agrees that this tactic makes it difficult for workers to build unity and militancy, which represents one of the many struggles workers face in General Laundry.

The main areas of struggle in Milly’s workplace are:
        • Defending against repetitive strain injury
        • Defending against cutbacks
        • Union limiting struggle to what is acceptable to employer
        • Union bureaucracy

Defending against repetitive strain injury

-Milly reports a high rate of injury in her department due to highly repetitive tasks and despite the fact that workers rotate jobs often. There are two job rotations which alternate monthly: Ware Wash and Soil Sort. In Ware Wash there are five positions. Positions one to four rotate every two hours, so each position is worked once per day. The fifth position rotates daily. In Soil Sort there are four positions which rotate every fifteen minutes due to the heightened level of intensity of tasks at those workstations. In this year alone, there have been three cases of workers requiring carpal tunnel surgery, two of them for both wrists.

According to Milly, the light duty protocol for injured workers is also problematic:

“Light duty requires you to stand in front of a table that comes up to about here on you (indicates waist height). You’ve got to reach forward, grab facecloths, fold and stack them. So, with a shoulder injury, you’re on light duty doing repetitive work, not resting the muscle or joint, holding your arms up. When I injured my shoulder, I did that job day in, day out, eight hours a day, for five months.”

It’s difficult to understand why light duty has less diversity of tasks than regular duty. It seems to be a disincentive for reporting injuries because the nature of this work is so physical and hard on the body.

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