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Retirees Occupy Century Aluminum

7:46 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

On Dec. 18, a dozen retirees, men and women in their 60s, 70s, even 80s, began occupying a median strip along Route 33 in front of the closed Century Aluminum smelter in Ravenswood, W.Va. In tents and under tarps, a small group stays overnight, despite hypertension, arthritis and other old age ailments. One has suffered a stroke.

These vulnerable people expose themselves to weather extremes although some have no health insurance at all. Century cancelled it. That’s why they’re occupying Century.

The retirees labored their entire lives for wages and pensions comparably lower than those of other aluminum workers. They did it believing they made those sacrifices in exchange for good, lifelong health coverage. Over the past two years, however, Century evicted them, about 540 retirees altogether, from the insurance plan.

The betrayal burns. Executives at Century, corporate 1 percenters, committed the same sort of treachery that is being condemned by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators representing the victimized 99 percent across the country. Thus the retirees adopted the grandchildren’s protest tactic of encampment.

Century shuttered the 50-year-old Ravenswood smelter in February of 2009, throwing 651 workers out of jobs. Century, headquartered in Monterey, Calif., didn’t go bankrupt though. It still operates aluminum plants in Kentucky, South Carolina and Iceland. And it didn’t immediately cancel promised insurance for retirees.

Nine months after the shutdown, it announced it would terminate as of June 1, 2010 health benefits for retirees eligible for Medicare. Then on Nov. 1, 2010, Century told its retirees who weren’t yet eligible for Medicare that it would stop paying for their coverage as of Jan. 1, 2011.

This revoking of earned benefits isn’t an isolated incident or a fluke. It is part of a pattern documented by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter Ellen E. Schultz in her new book “Retirement Heist.” The subtitle is, “How companies plunder and profit from the nest eggs of American workers.

She describes in gory detail how corporations raided worker pension accounts, siphoning off surpluses that would be needed later to prop up plans damaged by the Wall Street collapse. She provides detailed accounts of executives gouging the funds to pay for their own exorbitant retirement packages. She tells of corporate executives ending retiree health insurance and freezing pensions but deceptively calling the changes improvements, so that CEOs could pump up company profits with money that had been pledged to workers.

While breaking promises to workers and violating contracts, these CEO 1 percenters falsely portrayed themselves as beleaguered champions of workers, valiantly attempting to preserve underfunded pensions. Like Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino saving himself while abandoning passengers on his sinking cruise ship, the captains of industry padded their own pockets with pension and health care funds intended for retirees, then deserted the workers. Schultz describes the CEO scams this way in the book: Read the rest of this entry →

Murdoch: News Corp. Too Big to Know

7:24 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Rupert

Rupert

The Bush administration told taxpayers to hand over hundreds of billions of their hard-earned dollars to bail out Wall Street banks because the financial institutions were too big to fail. Now, Rupert Murdoch, owner of politically powerful publications and broadcast stations, claims his News Corp. is too big to know.

Murdoch, who’s in the news industry, essentially a business based on knowing and knowing first, told an investigating committee of the British Parliament this week that he’s a know-nothing. The CEO of News Corp., owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, said he was clueless about the phone hacking and other illegality endemic at his company. News Corp., he said, was just too big for him to keep track of its criminal activity. Others were to blame, he blathered. Others are responsible. But not him, not the guy in charge. Here’s what he said:

“I feel that people I trusted — I don’t know who, on what level — have let me down, and I think they have behaved disgracefully, and it’s for them to pay.”

Basically, he said, he deserves the profits that his underlings make for him by bribing police officers and hacking phone lines. But if his underlings do something wrong —like bribing police and hacking phones — he can’t be held accountable because News Corp. is too big for him to know. He claims he certainly would not be behaving disgracefully as CEO for failing to know. And he’s saying he certainly shouldn’t have to pay for his underlings’ bad behavior on his watch. No, the way it works is he gets paid. No matter what.

Brilliant, as the Brits would say. Read the rest of this entry →

The Gift America Needs Most: Manufacturing

10:07 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

In Columbus Ohio, a 5-year-old girl jumped onto Santa’s lap last month and asked if he could give her dad a job as an elf.

Mike Smith, who works the Santa station at the Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, asked why, the Wall Street Journal reported. The little girl in the Dora-the-Explorer sweat shirt responded:

“Because my daddy’s out of work, and we’re about to lose our house.”

Happy Holidays America.

The gift this country needs most this holiday season is an economy built on a solid foundation, one that will provide middle class, family-supporting jobs now and into the future.

That present would not be another version of Monopoly for Wall Street wannabees. It would not be Barbie-goes-to-the-mall-credit-cards for youngsters in families already maxed out on their plastic and their mortgages.

The metaphorical gift our economy could really use is an Erector set – a strong steel construction kit from which the intrepid manufacture airplanes, automobiles, robots on motorized tracks, backhoes, helicopters, skyscrapers, cranes, even working Ferris wheels.

That’s because, most of all, this economy needs manufacturing. Enthralled by the glitz, glamour and bogus bonuses of Wall Street, we’ve allowed multinationals to export our grit and grimy factories overseas. Factories that made clothing, sports shoes, large appliances, tire, glass and so much more in big and small U.S. towns and transferred to China and Indonesia and India, lured not just by cheap labor, but also by lavish government subsidies and absent environmental regulations.

Manufacturing, the basis of any strong economy, has continuously declined as a percentage of the U.S. gross domestic product since its World War II peak, when it was 28.3 percent. Its new low is less than half of that — 12 percent.

Here’s the most obvious difference between an economy based on manufacturing and one based on Wall Street: You can hold the handlebars of Harley-Davidson in your hands, but just try grasping a derivative.

The paper traders on Wall Street bundle mortgages into exotic financial instruments called derivatives, sell those, buy pseudo-insurance to secure them, then engage in legal betting on whether the “instruments” will soar or fail. This kind of activity caused the financial collapse in 2008. Frankly, beyond being incredibly risky, these transactions don’t create true wealth; they just generate big bonuses.

In manufacturing, an entrepreneur takes raw material and adds energy, ingenuity, tools and labor to create a product – like steel. That has real value and can be sold on the market to someone who needs it to combine with other materials to make finished merchandise like motorcycles or refrigerators. And those manufactured items are durable and valuable.

In the process of manufacturing, many people are employed – to get the raw materials, whether it’s limestone or iron or trees, to transport it to a factory, to generate electricity to run the factory, to transform the raw material at the factory, to deliver the product to the buyer, to pave the roads and build the bridges and repair the railroads necessary for all that transportation, to design the highways and factories and overpasses, to feed all the workers lunch.

Tragically, the Great Recession caused by Wall Street has hit manufacturing hard. While unemployment is at a 25-year high of 10 percent, the unemployment in manufacturing has run a couple of percentage points higher than that. More than 2.1 million manufacturing workers have been thrown out of their jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

These workers are the parents of children in Dora-the-Explorer sweat shirts who are asking Santa for elf jobs.

These are the workers who have cut back on doctor visits or medical treatments – although almost half are suffering from depression or anxiety, a New York Times/CBS poll of unemployed adults showed.

These are the workers who told the pollsters that the frustration and stress of unemployment has provoked conflicts and arguments with family and friends.

These are the workers who have lost their homes or have been threatened with eviction or foreclosure, who have difficulty paying bills and have resorted to borrowing money from friends and relatives. These are the workers profiled by Anne Hull of the Washington Post in a story that began by describing desperate laid off Warren, Ohio residents in a pawn shop:

“At campaign time, they are celebrated as the people who built America. Now they just want to know how much they can get for a wedding band.”

These are workers selling their precious keepsakes to survive 15 percent unemployment in an area along the Mahoning River that once was the world’s fifth-largest steel producer – until it lost 50,000 of those family-supporting manufacturing jobs and another 11,500 middle-class jobs at the Lordstown General Motors plant all in a decade.

These workers could be holding good, steady factory jobs if the United States had implemented a manufacturing strategy, the way China, Japan, Germany, even The Netherlands did long ago.

Just last week, the Obama administration offered a gift to all those who believe in manufacturing. It is that strategy for America. Its formal name is the White House Plan to Revitalize American Manufacturing.

For that five year old girl in the Dora the Explorer sweat shirt. For her furloughed father and her family. For the future of this country, let’s give ourselves the gift of a future constructed on a solid economic foundation. Let’s implement that plan to revitalize American manufacturing immediately. Millions of unemployed workers can’t wait.

Business Council Honors Vale CEO for Clipping Workers, Wacking Towns

11:44 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

A business group is honoring Roger Agnelli, the CEO of Vale, one of the largest mining companies in the world, which, coincidentally, is in the midst of its longest ever labor dispute. The award is for exceptional accomplishments in corporate social responsibility.

The Business Council for International Understanding will give Agnelli the Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Citizenship Award, feting him for his corporate behavior five months after he provoked the strike by more than 3,000 miners, mill workers and smelters in my hometown of Sudbury and neighboring Port Colborne, Canada.

The strikers now include 450 Vale nickel and copper workers from Voisey’s Bay, also represented by my union, the United Steelworkers (USW).

Vale is the Brazilian-based corporation that boasted $13.2 billion in profits last year and reported third-quarter, after-tax earnings of $1.7 billion this year, more than double its second quarter haul. Vale is a highly-profitable corporation demanding workers take concessions. For example, it wants deep cuts to pay supplements workers get only when nickel prices are high.

Cash flush even during the worldwide recession, Vale has engaged in a buying spree for mines and properties worldwide. In 2008, it announced it would spend $2 billion on electrical projects, mostly coal-fired, and by year end reached agreement to spend $300 million on Colombian coal assets. It got permission from the Brazilian government this year to buy iron ore mines for $750 million. It spent $17.8 billion in 2006 for Inco’s nickel mines and smelters in Canada, and as metal prices rose, earned nearly as much from them over the next two years as Inco had in the previous 10. Still, Agnelli insisted the very Canadian workers whose labor helped Vale make that money take cuts to their income – causing the strike.

Workers and their families have struggled since the strike. The towns in Ontario and Newfoundland have suffered as well because many mining supply and service companies temporarily closed, idling untold additional workers. Kari Cusack, a member of Families Supporting the Strikers, talked about it early in November before a family day on the picket line in Sudbury. She told a local newspaper reporter:

“We see Vale’s attack on Local 6500 as an attack on our entire community, and we want to do our part to fight back against corporate greed.”

The Business Council for International Understanding chose that corporate social responsibility to reward.

In Brazil, Agnelli has shown off some of that corporate social responsibility as well. In September, the government fined Vale $20 million for failing to comply with an antitrust order. Last year, Agnelli secured a court injunction in an attempt to block protestors from the country’s largest social activist group, the Landless Rural Workers Movement, rather than negotiate with those complaining that the company’s iron furnaces were polluting their village and that a hydroelectric dam in which Vale is a partner was flooding their homes. Also last year, Brazil’s Office of the Environment fined Vale $3 million for illegal sale of wood.

Workers from Canada and Vale Brazil demonstrated together in August in front of the multi-national’s Rio de Janeiro headquarters. They served pieces of a giant cake commemorating the 30th day of the USW strike in Ontario. There the Canadian workers learned that Agnelli had forced its Brazilian workers to accept a defined contribution pension plan. Now Agnelli is trying to force the Canadians take the same inferior plan.

The International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the Botswana Power Corporation Workers Union (BCPWU) and others from around the world have written Agnelli expressing outrage about the strike. Bohithetswe Lentswe, BCPWU General Secretary, wrote:

“We have every reason to believe that Vale is trying to destroy its strongest collective bargaining agreement for the purpose of setting a precedent to weaken other collective bargaining agreements throughout the world. Vale is also attempting to export its anti-worker, anti-union practices in Brazil to the rest of the world.”

Of course. That’s what great CEOs do, as the Business Council for International Understanding will proclaim at its Dec. 3 dinner in the Waldorf=Astoria, New York City. With the cheapest tickets going for $1,000, it’s likely none of those $29-an-hour Vale workers will get a seat. But Agnelli, who is one of six Vale executives who together pulled down $33 million last year, could effortlessly drop $100,000 for an “underwriting level” table of 10 at his award dinner.

Perhaps there the Business Council for International Understanding will detail its reasons for selecting Agnelli for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Citizenship Award. It only profiles Vale and Agnelli on its web page, without, for example, providing the kind of insight into Agnelli’s personality that Antonio Regalado did for the Wall Street Journal in 2008 in a story:

“Current and former Vale executives say Mr. Agnelli can be hard on subordinates. Some of them cite what they say is an autocratic style and a table-pounding temper. . . . In internal company surveys, employees complain frequently that they are under too much pressure . . . Marco Dalpozzo, Vale’s head of human resources, doesn’t deny that Mr. Agnelli can be rough on people, “He’s a tough guy,” he says.”

Again: of course. That’s what business groups prize – executives with table-pounding tempers.

The Business Council is, however, a group that claims it was started by the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower and named its prize for him. It’s not clear, though, that the business values of the current council and Agnelli resemble those of President Eisenhower. For example, here’s what the President wrote in November, 1954:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt. . ., a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

To let the Business Council know the ways in which you think this award for Agnelli will increase its goal of International Understanding, call 212-490-0460 in New York, 202-595-2668 in Washington or 44-207-225-3561 in London.

LabourStart has created a web page so you can easily write a personal note directly to Agnelli. It’s here. It enables you to quickly drop Agnelli a little note telling him just how much you think he deserves this honor.