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Another shutdown at Port of Oakland

Current News - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 19:26

Another shutdown at Port of Oakland
By Thomas Lee on March 11, 2015 1:02 PM

Despite a tentative labor agreement to end a dispute that brought chaos to West Coast ports, the international container terminal at the Port of Oakland once again shut down Wednesday, a port official confirmed to The Chronicle.

Photo By SFC/Michael Macor
Cargo ships filled with containers are lined up along the docks at the Port of Oakland after a pact with the Longshoreman’s Union has been reached, as seen in Oakland, Calif. on Sat. Feb. 21, 2015. (SFC/Michael Macor)
The official reason behind the closure was a “staffing dispute” between workers and port operators, said Port of Oakland communications director Mike Zampa. He did not offer further details.

The closure impacted the staging and gate areas at the facility, where truck drivers drop off and pick up cargo from container ships.

Last month, under pressure from U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, negotiators from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association in San Francisco reached a tentative deal on a new five year contract.

The nine-month dispute between the union and the association snarled traffic at major ports like Long Beach, Seattle, San Diego and Oakland due to similar “staffing disputes,” prompting business leaders and politicians to complain to the White House and Congress.

In response, President Obama dispatched Perez to help the two sides reach an agreement and end an embarrassing spat that threatened to slow America’s economic recovery.

Despite the settlement, the union offered no firm timetable for its members to ratify the contract. Union delegates will meet March 30 to April 3 to review the proposal and then decide whether or not recommend workers approve it.

Even if workers sign off on the contract, analysts say ports will still face a tough time clearing the log jam.

“Delays and uncertainty will continue to plague the ports in the short term and when the current deal expires,” according to market research firm IBISWorld. “Goods will continue to sit on docks or ships for prolonged periods. Shippers with time-sensitive cargo, including perishable items, will incur the highest costs from persistent holdups.”

Tags: ilwuPort Oakland
Categories: Labor News

IWW Montreal Occupies Quebec's Minister of Family and Seniors' office building

IWW - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 16:26

On Monday, March 9th, the Industrial Worker of the World Union - Montreal (IWW / SITT), as well as several citizens, occupied Quebec's Minister of Family and Seniors' office building. This action is part of the movement against austerity measures and in our campaign for a social strike on May 1, 2015.

Today, many workers are directly confronted with the effects of budget cuts to health services, to municipal employees, to firemen and firewomen, to postal workers, to students, to workers in the private sector... Yet, resistance is organizing itself everywhere. We will not let different governments (whether conservative or liberal) and the bosses impose their anti-social measures on us. The time of a minority enriching itself on the back of an impoverished majority is finished.against austerity measures and in our campaign for a social strike on May 1, 2015.

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Categories: Unions

Panamanian longshore workers join the ILWU

Current News - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 12:58

Panamanian longshore workers join the ILWU
• MARCH 3, 2015 4:27 PM

Building solidarity: ILWU President Bob McEllrath led a solidarity delegation to Panama in September 2011, part of an ongoing effort to support maritime workers there. Dockworkers in this photo have since changed their union’s name to SINTRAPORSPA, affiliated with the ILWU Panama Canal Division and won a fouryear
contract in December that will improve pay and working conditions at Panama Ports – a subsidiary of the powerful Hong Kong-based Hutchinson Port Holdings.
Panama City, Panama – You see a lot of parked taxis in the parking lot at the Panama Ports terminal here. They’re not waiting to give rides to longshoremen. Dockworkers themselves are the drivers.

Longshore wages in Panama are so low that after a shift driving a crane, a longshoreman has to put in another shift driving a taxi, just to survive.

At Panama Ports, however, this situation has begun to change. In December the union signed an historic new contract with raises totaling more than 27% over the next four years.

One factor that made this agreement possible was support from the ILWU International Union. Because of it the Panamanian union SINTRAPORSPA, the Union of Workers at Panama Ports has decided to become the newest member of the ILWU’s Panama Canal Division. “Because we affiliated with the ILWU, things have changed,” says Alberto Ochoa, SINTRAPORSPA’s Secretary General. “Now our relationship with the company is more equal. We have greater strength at work, and our contract shows it.”

The Panama Canal Pilots, ILWU International President Bob McEllrath and Vice-President Ray Familathe began coordinating the latest affiliation agreement with Panama’s longshore workers belonging to SINTRAPORSPA.

ILWU President Bob McEllrath collaborated closely with Familathe to implement their vision of growing the Panama Division. McEllrath and Familathe traveled to Panama with fluent Spanish- speaker Greg Mitre, President of the Southern California Pensioners’ Group, to build union-to-union relationships.

“Our union is committed to defending the rights of all workers, and the Panama Division is the result of that commitment,” McEllrath says Panama Division growth

When the Panama Division was established in 2012, ILWU President Bob McEllrath explained, “With so many employers now going global, it’s critical for workers around the globe to join forces and work together.”

The division has now grown much larger, to include 2580 Panama Ports longshore workers. The symbol of the ILWU has also been updated. It used to be a map of North America with a picture of Hawaii, showing the union’s strength in U.S. and Canadian ports and in the islands. The symbol now includes a new element – a map of Panama.

According to Capt. Rainiero Salas, the Panama Canal Pilots’ Union secretary general, “The Panama Division is growing as workers see what we can gain by working together, and it’s not going to stop here.”

The new Panama Ports longshore contract didn’t come easily. Panama Ports is a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based corporation Hutchinson Port Holdings Limited (HPH).

There was a “yellow” or company union at the terminal there for many years. Ochoa and other independent minded workers had a long history of trying to change it. Finally they organized SINTRAPORSPA. They collected over 2000 signatures on a petition for recognition, and asked for a government-administered election to certify the union as workers’ bargaining representative.

Dockworkers knew how many votes they had lined up, and challenged the transparency of the election. The Ministry of Labor claimed that 1500 workers had cast ballots against SINTRAPORSPA. The President of Panama himself, Juan Carlos Varela, is a partner in the law firm used by Panama Ports, that specializes in helping company management fight unions.

“When we went to the ministry to protest the crooked election, they did everything they could to stop us,” recalls Ramiro Cortez, another SINTRAPORSPA leader. “Nevertheless, it was obvious that we had the support of the great majority of the workers, including those who belonged to the company union.”

Ochoa and Cortez made an appeal to the ILWU, and Familathe and Mitre flew to Panama City and met with the Minister of Labor, Luis Ernesto Carles Rudy. They brought with them a letter signed by six U.S. Congress members, asking for a transparent process.

The government agreed to rerun the election, and in a fair vote SINTRAPORSPA won overwhelmingly. “The support from the ILWU was very effective in meeting with the Minister of Labor, and getting the second union election,” Cortez says. “The Panamanian authorities were never concerned about how they conducted themselves with us before that. Powerful companies, with the money at their disposal, got whatever that money could buy.”

The impact of that support was also felt in the subsequent contract negotiations, which only took a month to reach an agreement. In one meeting the company executive president even told union negotiators that he was “very concerned” at the union’s growing relationship with the ILWU. The contract itself is now the first agreement between an ILWU affiliate and Panama Ports a subsidiary of Hutchinson Port Holdings.

Danger & low pay

That agreement will have a big impact on the lives of longshoremen and their families in two areas especially – economics and safety. In Panama they call longshore pay “hunger wages.” Workers’ families live below the government’s own poverty line, and some families literally go hungry.

“That’s one reason why the company had to constantly hire new workers,” Cortez says. “Most people who got jobs here were just working while they were actually looking for better jobs somewhere else.” An agreement that raises wages therefore helps to stabilize the workforce, which can make the terminal more productive.

It also impacts safety. “Many accidents in the port could have been avoided if the workers weren’t so exhausted,” he explains. “They go in at 7AM, and leave at 8PM, and then go and drive or do some other job.”

The port does have a high accident rate, and two workers were killed a month apart at the end of last year. But the contract is also changing how safety issues are handled. In one accident, a crane lifting a container hit a six-high stack of boxes that were being stored on the dock, right next to the ship. As they fell, one hit a 22-year-old man who’d been working less than a month.

Cortez was called by the workers, and on arrival met with the crane operator who was in shock and crying, and stopped managers from interrogating him until he got representation and counseling. Then Cortez and other union leaders met with management and viewed the video of the accident. They told the company that all workers were traumatized by what happened, and should be sent home. If not, the union itself would shut down the terminal, they said. In the end, management sent the shift home with pay for the day.

When Cortez announced the agreement to the workers, they applauded. “I could have been elected president of the republic that day,” he says. “It had never happened before.”

When Familathe and Mitre explained how similar events are handled in Los Angeles, Cortez said he wanted to come and see for himself. The new union contract establishes five committees, the most important of which is safety. The union then created three new positions, and appointed a high-voltage technician to serve as secretary of the safety committee.

“The challenge is now to implement the contract and ensure that the company abides by it, so that the workers actually benefit from it,” President Ochoa emphasizes. “Before the company did what it pleased, and changed the hours, overtime, days off, and wages, whenever it wanted. Now they know we’re not on our own, by ourselves.

They didn’t look on our relationship with the ILWU with friendly eyes, because they knew you would back us up. Companies don’t want real unions because we open the eyes of the workers, and we can win respect.”

Opportunities to grow

Ochoa has another vision as well – that the Panama Division will expand. “Unions in the ports and the Canal should get together so that we can speak with one voice, and get better benefits and respect for the workers,” he says. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to realize this dream.”

It may not be so far off. The same day Familathe and Mitre concluded the affiliation process for SINTRAPORSPA they also drove across the isthmus to meet with the union for dockers in Colon on the Atlantic, the Union of Workers at the Manzanillo International Terminal. The MIT terminal is operated by SSA Marine.

Workers told the ILWU leaders that crane operators work 8-hour days, for six days straight. For that, their pay starts at $854 a month. Here also the workers rebelled against a former union leadership they viewed as too close to the company, and elected a new slate a few months ago. “They see the improvements SINTRAPORSPA was able to make, and they want the same thing,” said Familathe.

Goals for the future

The ILWU in Panama represents the interests of workers by advocating progressive policies on wages, trade and labor rights, while effectively defending workers on the job every day. The Panama Division is supporting pilots in their fight to ensure that the huge ships that pass through the Canal every day are operated safely.

The Canal Authority has launched a huge expansion project, building new locks capable of handling giant post- Panamax container ships carrying up to 13,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). The pilots union has criticized the government for not working closely with the union in designing the work rules and procedures for safely handling these larger ships in the new locks. It is especially concerned over a new unilateral government directive that for the first time seeks to have ships pass each other in the narrow, but widened, Culebra Cut. Previously, ships traveling in opposite directions have waited, so that only one ship at a time traverses the cut.

In October Capt. Salas spoke out publicly. “It seems very odd that the most experienced people moving ships through this highly important system have been completely ignored by its governing authority,” he charged.

“At Panama Canal Pilots (PCP), our most critical mission is ship safety, yet we’ve not been consulted.” Panamanian port and maritime unions are also concerned at the government’s efforts to decertify the union for the tugboat captains in the canal. They fear that the same legal technicalities could be used to attack the representation rights of other unions as well. That could undermine longshore unions just as they are at the point where they are changing the basic living standards of workers.

“Our main objective as a union was to make a difference in the economic status of our members, especially those who earned least, the longshoremen,”

Ochoa declares. “I’m not saying that what we’ve been able to achieve in this new contract will give us a wage that will pay for everything. But it’s a lot better than what we had before. And our responsibility as a union is to keep struggling to win better conditions, especially economic ones.”

– David Bacon

Tags: Panama longshoremenilwu
Categories: Labor News

West Virginia Rallies against 'Right to Work'

Teamsters for a Democratic Union - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 11:21
Alexandra BradburyLabor NotesMarch 11, 2015View the original piece

Four thousand union activists rallied in Charleston, West Virginia, March 7 against “right to work.” (Click here to see more photos from the rally.)

Local and national labor leaders also spoke against other threats on the agenda of the state’s Republican-controlled legislature: charter schools, mine safety rollbacks, and changes to the prevailing-wage law.

Click here to read more at Labor Notes.


Issues: Labor Movement
Categories: Labor News, Unions

Israel: Histadrut readies general strike in the south as election looms

Labourstart.org News - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Jerusalem Post
Categories: Labor News

United Airlines Tries Scapegoating Pilots for Safety Problems

Current News - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 10:17

United Airlines Tries Scapegoating Pilots for Safety Problems


United Airlines Tries Scapegoating Pilots for Safety Problems
By Carl Finamore

A memo United Airlines leaked to the February 25 Wall Street Journal was presented as a “brutally honest” rebuke of its pilots, blaming their “lack of attention” to rules and regulations for the airline’s recent safety lapses.

But the public lashing looks like a diversionary move by United to head off criticism after a federal probe of the company has received much recent attention. The carrier is accused of scheduling special flights for David Samson, former chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, himself under investigation for his role in the “Bridgegate” scandal (where New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and others allegedly engineered traffic jams to punish political enemies.)

If United realized it was offering flights “to curry favor with a public official, then United’s in the soup—it’s a bribe,” former federal prosecutor and Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo told Bloomberg Business.

Whatever United’s motives, union officers from Chicago-based Council 12 of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) were shocked, calling the letter “duplicitous” and even “offensive.” They fired back with a “brutally honest” safety examination of their own.

Council 12 officers see a pattern of “threats, intimidation, and outright bullying” against those who raise safety considerations that conflict with on-time performance or the flight schedule.

“In today’s culture, management uses safety as a weapon against us,” the pilots’ letter said. “We are threatened and intimidated when we make good sound judgments.” Their letter was packed with specific examples. (see a letter from a pilot member of Local 12 which contains the full letter from Council 12 leaders)

Collaboration or Confrontation

Before the 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, safety discussions at United were traditionally handled through well-established channels of collaboration between management and union committees that involve pilots, mechanics, engineers, and ground employees.

Not this time. In the memo, United management chastised pilots for two aircraft that came “in close proximity to terrain” and another plane that landed with low fuel “after a deviation from a routing.”

Pilots were treated to a condescending lecture, reminding them that “we are professional aviators with the common goal of flying our passengers and crew from point A to point B SAFELY.”

Council 12 officers consider the public callout an affront to the 12,000 United Airlines pilots who fly 5,055 flights a day to 373 airports across six continents.

They say it’s clear United's leaked memo was for public consumption because these admonishments were already delivered to pilots through an internal company bulletin.

Perhaps the most outrageous assertion in management's memo is that “every pilot must be willing to speak up if safety is in question.” When they do speak up, Council 12 union leaders say, pilots are harassed.

For example, a whole flight crew was recently ordered to leave its aircraft because the captain was taking too long to cautiously accommodate a passenger who was suspected of being infected with Ebola.

Management’s assistant chief pilot, who was on the aircraft, gave an ultimatum: “go now, or get your belongings and leave the aircraft.” The whole crew was indeed forced off the aircraft.

In another recent example, a captain who had less than 100 hours on the aircraft objected to being ordered to fly as a relief first officer. He said he didn’t feel safe flying.

The responses from United’s chief pilot were “your safety concern is not legitimate and I reject it,” and “you are putting your head in a noose if you don’t take the flight.”

In another case, a captain determined that an aircraft couldn’t be safely operated with a deferred-maintenance auxiliary power unit. This was an international flight, covering hostile terrain. The pilot asked for the unit to be repaired.

The O'Hare airport chief pilot called the ALPA pilot at his hotel room to berate him for that decision.

Anti-Union Swagger

These and other examples of the company’s dismissive attitude provided by Council 12 leaders are well known to pilots. That’s why ALPA has consistently called for more extensive training based on “safety, the science of flight and the law” and for less pressure to adhere to “economics and schedule.”

In fact, the union has been raising these concerns to the National Transportation Safety Board, appearing before a Congressional hearing and appealing to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—especially since the problematic merger of United and Continental Airlines when Continental management’s anti-union swagger first began to dominate the “New United Airlines.”

Continental’s top brass are heirs of the notoriously anti-employee Frank Lorenzo management style of the 1980s. Lorenzo and his successors ultimately bankrupted and destroyed the airline by mishandling assets, raiding the pensions and wages of employees, and provoking several strikes.

Lorenzo’s reign was so contentious that the Department of Transportation declared him unfit to operate an airline, a decision the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld in 1994.

As a result of this history, United’s new management team from Continental is far more inclined to act alone, without collaboration from those who could act as both safety partners and watchdogs—for example, the ALPA safety committee.
Now that United has fired the first shot by opening up a public discussion, pilots can begin informing the public too. It’s likely the dialogue will only increase support for pilots who stand up for our safety.

United Started It

Passengers are already disenchanted with management, voting United the “worst-service award” pretty consistently. People will probably be even less tolerant of an airline that disregards pilot safety suggestions considered too costly, when they learn its CEO boasts to investors of doubling profits in 2014 and increasing the stock price from $3.17 in 2009 to $73.62 in 2015.

United also recently made clear that, despite the dramatic drop in fuel prices, there will be no reduction in fares, no elimination of added fees, and no additional frequencies scheduled to ease passenger complaints about crowded, stuffy cabins.

This combination shouldn’t win its executives any fans. However, as a result of disclosures by pilots and others, we can expect more public interest and expert scrutiny of flight safety.

To hear these reports about United Airlines “is very troubling,” John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told me in a phone interview. “And I have been communicating with employees from two other airlines who raise similar issues.”

For example, Goglia said, “a senior airline pilot was fired by Ryanair for raising safety concerns.” The airline is planning to sue him for defaming the company by raising these concerns on TV.

And it’s not only pilots who are raising the alarms. Southwest Airlines just settled a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a mechanic who alleged that he’d been disciplined for finding and reporting two cracks in the fuselage of a Boeing 737-700 while performing a routine maintenance check.

Fortunately, Goglia said, Southwest Airlines agreed “to remove the disciplinary action from the mechanic’s file and to pay him $35,000 in legal fees.”
Goglia, a respected authority on airline safety, believes the situation so serious that the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation should be looking into it. “I think it is beyond the ability for individual FAA inspectors to adequately investigate,” he said.

Carl Finamore is former president of Air Transport Employees Local Lodge 1781, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. He is a retired SFO baggage handler for United and a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com.

Tags: UALpilotshealth and safety
Categories: Labor News

Update on Canadian National Railway Oil Train Disaster Near Gogama, Ontario

Railroaded's Blog - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 09:42

As more information becomes available on the March 7 derailment of a Canadian National Railway oil train near Gogama, north of Sudbury, Ontario, it appears it is among CN’s worst oil train derailments (Sudbury Northern LifeCBC News 1CBC News 2Investor CentralToronto Star).

The number of tank cars loaded with crude oil that derailed about 3 km from Gogama has now risen to 38. A total of 94 tank cars was loaded with synthetic crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands region. At least 5 tank cars full of oil plunged into the Makami River which is part of the Mattagami River system. Investigators were unable to get close to the accident site due to the intensity of the massive fires that burned furiously, but it appears that firefighters have just put out the last of the fires which were essentially left to burn out. It is not clear whether air quality and drinking water advisories announced shortly following the derailment are still in effect.

Track damage is so severe that a 460-metre temporary bypass around the wreckage site is under construction. The bridge across the river is seriously damaged, perhaps beyond repair. The derailment has cut off all rail traffic between Winnipeg and Toronto; CN’s mainline tracks remain closed for an undetermined period of time.

Although it is too early to determine how much crude oil spilled, the environmental damage is bound to be significant. Oil has spilled into the Mattagami River system, including Minisinakwa Lake. Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada said, “Long after this initial spotlight fades away, we’ll still see impacts in the local ecosystems.” Some crude will end up in the soil, some in the water, and the crude that burned “will deposit toxins in the area which will eventually get into the ecosystem”, Stewart said. Particularly concerning is the fact that much of the spilled oil has made its way into the Mattagami River water system. 3 sets of booms have been placed in the river in an attempt to contain some of the spilled oil, but very little oil is ever recovered from spills, said Environmental Defence spokesperson Adam Scott. “Companies will talk about cleanups but, in reality, the cleanup is only of a small percentage of the oil spilled. In a case like this, it could be crude oil submerged into the river, into the soil. There is a good chance that there will be crude permanently in the environment in the region in some way”. There is no restoring the ecosystems to their original health he said. “So until something dramatic is done, we’re going to see this continuing over and over again”, Scott continued. Companies assure people that they have spill response plans in place, “but when your spill response plan is to let it burn for days, that’s kind of scary”, said Stewart.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno has publicly called for a coordinated response from Canadian National Railway, the federal government and the Ontario government, following the second major CN train derailment, oil spill and fires near the Mattagami First Nation in 3 weeks that has threatened the community’s air and water quality. On February 14, another CN train loaded with crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands derailed in the Mattagami First Nation’s traditional territory, only about 37 km from the March 7 derailment site. That accident saw 29 of 100 tank cars loaded with crude oil fall off the tracks and 7 cars burned for almost a week. Over 1 million litres of crude oil was spilled, but the extent of environmental damage from that derailment has not yet been disclosed. The Mattagami First Nation is concerned about the impacts of the 2 spills and fires on the animals they hunt, fish and trap.

Chief Walter Naveau of the Mattagami First Nation said his community no longer feels safe. “People in the community were feeling the effects of the toxins in the air – respiratory problems, they could feel it in their chests and their breathing.” He said he could not trust the public statements being made by CN which attempted to allay the concerns local residents had about air quality. He added his community is also concerned that the river flows into the community’s main spawning grounds for fish, in addition to habitat for other wildlife.

Local Gogama residents are also concerned about the impacts of these latest CN derailments in their community. Dawn Simoneau, a life-long resident of Gogama, said her 2 daughters have been asking questions about the derailment, “Like ‘Are the fish going to be okay?’ and they are concerned as well”. Gerry Talbot, Secretary of the Local Services Board, said there is some question whether new federal rail safety regulations go far enough. He said Gogama community members want answers from CN and the federal government as to why the derailments are happening. He is also concerned about not being informed by CN what’s in the rail cars passing through his community. “Hey guys, we’ve got to do something about this. You know, these people don’t need to go through this amount of stress. I can handle other kinds of stress, but this is getting a little too close to home…Well it certainly brings it home because of the Lac-Megantic tragedy. You got one that’s two kilometres away and you see the flames, you see the smoke, yeah, holy mackeral, is the next one right in Gogama?”, said Talbot.

The March 7 derailment is the fifth reported CN derailment in Ontario so far in 2015. The Ontario provincial government is concerned about the number of CN derailments. Glenn Thibeault, Liberal MPP for Sudbury and parliamentary assistant to Ontario’s environment minister, said, “The federal government, responsible for rail safety, must do more to protect our communities and the environment. The rail cars involved are new models, compliant with the latest federal regulations. Yet they still failed to prevent this incident.” Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said in a recent statement that he “will be contacting Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, CN and CP this week to reiterate our government’s serious concerns with respect to ensuring our railways are safe.” The NDP MPP who represents Gogama, France Gélinas, said the recent derailments have shaken the area and made residents “nervous” about the railway…“and we need to have substantive changes so that people in Gogama and throughout the northeast can feel safe again.”

Following the 2 CN derailments near Gogama in 3 weeks, federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says she has made her concerns known to Canadian National Railway. She has asked CN about their inspections and activities in the area. “It does make you think and it makes you wonder…operationally, that they have to make sure what they’re doing is exactly correct…That’s a lot of cars and that’s too many derailments, in my opinion, in a short period of time”, said Raitt.

Canadian National Railways’ most recent derailments, spills and fires have certainly heightened the debate about rail safety in Canada. Read CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for more information about CN derailments in Canada and the United States. See this link for more information on the hazards of shipping oil by rail.

Filed under: shipping oil by rail
Categories: Labor News

China: “Factory girls” have grown up—and are going on strike

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Quartz
Categories: Labor News

PSR Fleet Memo for February 28 2015

IBU - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 16:03
Categories: Unions

In New Exam for Cabbies, Knowledge of Streets Takes a Back Seat

Current News - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 09:55

In New Exam for Cabbies, Knowledge of Streets Takes a Back Seat

AJ Gogia has curtailed geography lessons while teaching at AJ Yellow Taxi Tutors in Queens.CreditChristopher Gregory for The New York Times

The trip from Kennedy Airport to La Guardia is a straight shot on the Van Wyck Expressway, with a little jog on the Grand Central Parkway at the end. Canal Street may be the shortest route from the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan Bridge, but traffic can make it feel like the longest. And all even-numbered, one-way streets in Manhattan run west-to-east, except for the handful that do not.

Knowing how to get around the five boroughs of New York City — understanding not just the geography, but the nuances of timing and the endless exceptions to every rule — is part of driving a yellow cab here. And as part of their training, New York cabbies have long had to face a rigorous set of geography questions on the 80-question test they must pass to get a license. Landmarks and popular destinations were on the test, but so were less familiar streets and alternate routes. It was not quite “The Knowledge,” the test London cabbies spend years preparing for, but even drivers from the city found it daunting.

Now those questions have disappeared, happily for future test-takers, perhaps not so much for those who will be riding in the back seats. As of the past few weeks, the only geography that remains is in 10 questions that involve navigating the city with a map.

Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which administers the test, said technology was a big reason. Test questions can cover more safety issues and less geography, now that drivers can navigate the city with the help of global positioning devices. He called it a “practical modernization” of the commission’s educational curriculum, a “catching up to the times.”

But some taxi industry experts see another motivation, one arising from a growing threat to the industry.

In recent years, online car services like Uber and Lyft have taken hold in New York City, as they have elsewhere, and those services require neither a hack license, nor that their drivers be tested by the city on geography. The appeal of driving a yellow cab has apparently diminished. The numbers of drivers seeking to climb behind the wheel has dwindled over the past year, according to the owners of taxi fleets, despite the city’s reports that the number of hack licenses has remained constant.

Eliminating the geography questions, some argue, could encourage more aspiring cabbies to apply. Indeed, pass rates have increased up to 20 percent in recent weeks.

While Mr. Fromberg called the culling of the geography questions a “small modification,” critics, including perhaps the toughest critics of all, passengers, say it will result in some drivers starting out behind the wheel knowing less about New York than the tourist in the back seat equipped with a guidebook and a smartphone.

“If I got into a cab and the driver didn’t know where Penn Station was, that’d be ridiculous,” said Carolyn Baker, a lifelong New Yorker who has been taking cabs for more than 50 years. “I mean, would you hire a chef who never fried an egg?”

Continue reading the main story
As for relying on online maps, she said, “I don’t want the driver using GPS while they are driving and put my life at risk.” (Using a GPS device when a cab is not standing or parked is currently prohibited.)


Stanley Wissak is more worried by a lack of drivers than a lack of geographic knowledge.CreditChristopher Gregory for The New York Times
Stanley Wissak, 87, an owner and dispatcher for 55 Stan, a large yellow-cab company in Long Island City, Queens, said he was more worried by a lack of drivers than a lack of geographic knowledge, because, “with GPS, you don’t need to know where anything is anymore.” He said new drivers have been difficult to find in recent months, and many shifts had been left unfilled.

Asked if he would prefer a driver who used a GPS unit or one with a good grasp of city geography, Mr. Wissak looked at several cabs sitting idle in his lot and said, “Right now, I’d take them both.”

Some instructors for the cab-driving test are also alarmed. “I think it’s stupid that a New York City cabdriver can get his hack license without knowing where the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building is,” said Efim Vitomsky, who runs a taxi training institute at Kingsborough Community College.

Another instructor, A J Gogia, has curtailed the lively geography lessons at his Queens school, A J Yellow Taxi Tutors, during which he would spend days drilling students on locations of major Manhattan destinations as well as obscure streets in Queens.

“I told them, ‘You don’t need it anymore,’ ” Mr. Gogia said. “If you don’t know where something is, tell the passenger, ‘The T.L.C. never tested me on it, so it’s not my problem.’ ” The new test is much easier, Mr. Gogia said, because students can simply study the city’s manual of rules.

Mr. Fromberg called the criticism a “very unfair characterization,” explaining that the remaining 10 map-reading questions were a good assessment of a driver’s geographical know-how.

The commission, he said, is developing a new training and licensing curriculum with more emphasis on safety, accessibility and customer service. Training centers would be instructed to teach GPS navigation, he said, and a revamped test could include geography questions. “The chance that a licensed cabdriver is not going to know where major tourist attractions are is slim to none,” Mr. Fromberg said.

Half of the 80-question test, 30 questions on English-language proficiency and the 10 on map reading, is unchanged. Of the remaining 40, up to 25 questions may have covered geography, Mr. Gogia said, with the remainder covering rules. Now they all pertain to rules and regulations, students who have taken the rest in recent weeks said.


New York cabbies have long had to face a rigorous set of geography questions on the test they must pass to get a license. CreditChristopher Gregory for The New York Times

Mr. Fromberg said geography never accounted for a majority of the 40 multiple-choice questions, but declined to characterize the mix, because he said it fluctuated constantly.

The commission requires new applicants to take a defensive driving course and register at one of several privately operated taxi-driver schools, which offer either a 24- or 80-hour class, depending on how much preparation a student requires. Students must then pass a test, given on Friday mornings at several school locations in the city.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
While some recent applicants said they had a decent working knowledge of the city’s layout, one aspiring driver who took the test on Friday said he had found it easy despite his complete lack of driving experience in New York City. Asked if he could pilot a cab to prominent Manhattan locations such as Penn Station, Times Square or Grand Central Terminal, the applicant, a recent immigrant from Bangladesh now living in Briarwood, Queens, said, “Absolutely not.” He asked that his name be withheld because he feared angering the taxi commission.

“Honestly, I don’t know how to drive there,” he said. “I’d need the passenger to tell me, or I would have to use the GPS.”

Kimberly Kendall, who runs a taxi training institute at LaGuardia Community College, said the school has stopped teaching geography and no longer offers the 80-hour course, which many nonnative New Yorkers opted for, largely to learn geography.

Mario Chauka, 33, of Corona, Queens, who works for Lyft, said that in the 10 years he has been driving livery cars in New York City, the difficulty of the hack license exam had been a reason not to take it.

“I always thought that being a yellow cab, you have to be a professional, but I think I’d even know more than a new driver starting out now,” he said.

Seth Goldman, 55, a Brooklyn native with 30 years of experience in a yellow cab, was skeptical about leaving drivers to navigate by GPS, which he refuses to use.

“You can’t lower the bar so much that new drivers don’t know where they’re going,” he said. “When you don’t know the city, it’s a big disadvantage. If this means new drivers aren’t going to know where Radio City Music Hall is, that’s unforgivable.”

Tags: taxi workerstech
Categories: Labor News

Global: Gender pay gap will not close for 70 years at current rate, says UN

Labourstart.org News - Sun, 03/08/2015 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Guardian
Categories: Labor News

IWW Greece Supports Hunger Strike

IWW - Sun, 03/08/2015 - 16:36

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Greece support and countersigned the demands of political detainees that went on hunger strike:

1. Abolition of the Anti terrorist Law Α’,article 187, Law 2001 (criminal organization).
2. Abolition of the Anti terrorist Law B’, article 187A, Law 2004 (terrorist organizations).
3. Abolition of the “hoodie law” (acts committed with concealed physical characteristics).
4. Abolition of the legal framework for type C prisons
5. The immediate release from prison of Savvas Xiros (convicted for his participation in the R.O. 17 November) on health grounds.
6. Against the criminalization of political and social relations

Solidarity is our strength

Athens 5th of March
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) - Greece
IU 610 & 613

Categories: Unions

International Working Women's Day: Portrait of Penny Pixler, Feminist and Wobbly

IWW - Sun, 03/08/2015 - 16:13

By Patrick Murfin, March Industrial Worker

I was stunned and flattered when Nicki Meier asked me to profile my old friend and Fellow Worker Penny Pixler for this special Women’s Issue of the Industrial Worker. I was a bit intimidated too. I haven’t been asked to contribute to the paper I once helped edit for over three decades, and I fretted how some might respond to a man profiling one of the leading Wobbly women of the last 40 some odd years. Mostly I fretted about how to paint a human portrait that transcended biography or a hagiographic obituary. I started and stopped half a dozen times.

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Categories: Unions

Syria: On International Women’s Day, let’s not forget the women of Syria

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 03/07/2015 - 16:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Equal Times
Categories: Labor News

3/8 SF On International Women’s Day Solidarity With The Korean Mothers of Sewol Ferry Disaster

Current News - Sat, 03/07/2015 - 10:52

3/8 SF On International Women’s Day Solidarity With The Korean Mothers of Sewol Ferry Disaster

Video showing and Mothers of Sewol Ferry Disaster speaking
Hong YoungMi & Park HaeYong will be speaking about their struggle for justice.

March 8 (Sunday), 2015

7:30 PM

ILWU Local 34 Hall

801 2nd St. Next To AT&T Stadium

(Wheelshair accessible)
Parking Available - parking lot at the cor- ner of King St. and 2nd.
(Donation requested)

On April 16, 2014 the Sewol Ferry, which was traveling to JeJu Island capsized and 295 people died with most of them being children. Seven are still unaccounted for. The families were initially told that all had been saved and the Park government has prevented getting the truth about the causes of the accident and why it took place. They even arrested a reporter who was investigating the disaster. The Korean Coast Guard refused to even get involved in helping to save the passengers and the government is refusing to lift the ferry and salvage for further investigation.

The mothers and families of the survivors have launched an international campaign for justice and set up a website called Sewol Truth. Nine bodies are still unaccounted for.

As people in Korea have learned the deregulation of the maritime industry and the use of part time temporary workers is very much connected to the incident. Even the captain was a contract worker and the companies owner was a big supporter of the Korean Park government and was allowed to violate health and safety protections by overload- ing the boat and failure to have proper health and safety training for the crew. The systemic corruption that has been exposed is not unique but more and more common in not only Korea but also the United States as it pushed agreements like TPP and the Korea US Trade Agreement. Health and safety in maritime, nuclear industry, railways and airlines is a growing danger in Korea, the US and around the world.
ill be coming to the bay area to get their story out and also to link up with working people here who are fighting for justice and hu- man rights.

Join Hong YoungMi & Park HaeYong who will speak out on their struggle.

There will also be solidarity statements by
Brenda Barros, SEIU 1021 SF General Hospital Chapter Chair
Darrell Whitman, OSHA Lawyer and Whistleblower Who Is Defending Whistleblowers

Please join us for a video screening and report from the mothers.

There will also be a press conference at the San Francisco Korean Consulate, 3500 Clay St. in San Francisco on Monday March 9, 2015 at 2:00 PM by families and supporters of the Sewol Families. Please support the Mothers who will be speaking out. In the past the Korean consulate has mobilized retired military staff and right wingers from speaking out.

Endorsed By:

Sesamo Group, Dokebi Me Seol Support Committee, Sewol Family Support Committee, WorkWeek KPFA, United Public Workers For Action, No Nukes Action Committee, Transport Workers Solidarity Committee

For information (415) 282-1908 www.sewoltruth.com, www.upwa.info

Safety Regulation Still Lagging 100 Days After Korean Ferry Disaster
24 July 2014
by Se-Woong Koo

“Wait a second, I just saw this in the back, it’s a life vest made in 1994. This is the situation on the ship. Power is cut off and we really don’t know what to do. The coastal police are apparently almost here, and I want to live.”

Made on a cell phone by a student victim whose desire to live didn’t stop him from losing his life, a previously unreleased recording has illustrated the stark reality of the poor safety onboard the Sewol, a ferry that sunk off the coast of southwest Korea on 16 April 2014.

A man holds up a sign that reads “Pass the special legislation” at a 19 July event in downtown Seoul where passers-by were asked to sign a petition in support of the victims’ families.

(Photo/Se-Woong Koo)
This Thursday, 24 July 2014, marks the 100th day anniversary of the disaster where some 294 people died – 10 bodies are still unaccounted for.

But given a discernible lack of progress in the investigation of the accident’s cause and the rescue operation’s failures, the families of the victims have been protesting in front of the country’s National Assembly since 12 July to demand the speedy passing of a legislation that would allow a special committee to carry out a full assessment and indict those found responsible.

The final day of the National Assembly’s regular summer session on 17 July failed to see the passage of the much debated legislation.

At the heart of the disagreement is the ruling Saenuri Party’s refusal to heed the families’ request and grant the committee full investigative authority including the power to seize evidence and arrest suspects.

Coupled with the mysterious death of Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive boss of the company that operated the Sewol, the stalled legislation has received criticism as a sign of the state’s inability to seriously tackle problems in public and occupational safety.

Korea is beset by industrial accidents. According to a study conducted by the state statistics agency (KOSIS), in 2008 Korea had an industrial fatality rate of 18.0 per 100,000 persons, higher than those of Russia (10.9) and Mexico (10.0).
That number tapered only slightly in 2009 (15.7) and 2010 (15.5).

By the government’s own admission 2,422 Koreans died from industrial accidents in 2010 alone, and the 2013 figure of 1,929 deaths, while a decrease, still accorded the country the dubious honor of having the highest rate of worker fatalities among OECD member states.

Under President Park Geun-hye’s watch, accidents large and small have taken place with an alarming frequency. Notably on 31 August 2013 three trains collided in the southeastern hub of Daegu, injuring more than 20 people.

On 17 February 2014 the roof of a resort in the town of Kyungju collapsed from the weight of accumulated snow, killing 10 and injuring 125, mostly university students on a school retreat.

Meanwhile, the construction of a 555 metre-tall tower by the Lotte Group in southeastern Seoul has resulted since last year in two deaths and five injuries as well as a small fire and falling debris onto the nearby area.

The company has also been accused of causing sinkholes in the neighborhood with the building’s excessive weight.

On the manufacturing front, Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s largest shipbuilder, reported eight deaths and four injuries at its work sites in March and April of this year alone.
Hyundai Steel, a sister company to Hyundai Heavy Industries, saw eight die and another eight injured last year.


Experts argue that to improve public and occupational safety the state must first address the underlying problem of cost-cutting by industries.

But for Jun Hyoung-Bae, professor of law at Kangwon University and a specialist in occupational safety and labour rights, the problem is deeply rooted: “Korea’s industrial sector is heavily dependent on manufacturing and construction, which are prone to accidents to begin with.

“Second, to remain competitive, Korean companies cut costs associated with production so that it can make similar products compared to those made overseas but at a much lower cost and therefore at a lower price. The idea is that if they followed every safety regulation they wouldn’t be able to compete.”

The subway system is another area where excessive cost-cutting in safety enforcement and hiring has been blamed for causing accidents. This spring Seoul alone has seen three subway accidents, with the worst case, on the heavily trafficked Line 2, leading to 238 injuries.
The Seoul Subway Labor Union (SSLU) contends that the Sewol sinking has not brought about any meaningful change in the management’s attitude toward safety issues.

In a public statement, the SSLU noted: “While turning a blind eye to deficient manpower on the ground, [the management] has simply sent a pile of documents ordering inspection. There is no sign that the system of operation that emphasises performance and results over safety inspection will ever be touched.”

Various accidents have mounted while the Sewol legislation stalls.

On 17 July a fire broke out on the Busan city subway network, forcing some 500 passengers to evacuate and halting operation for 40 minutes.

That same day, a helicopter carrying five firemen on the way back from the ongoing Sewol search operation crashed in a densely populated area of Gwangju, killing all five onboard.

Was neoliberalism the real cause of the Korea Sewol tragedy?
most of the Sewol’s crew members were irregular workers, with even the captain serving on a one-year contract - giving him the title of captain without any real authority.
“Under these working conditions, it’s difficult to develop any sense of devotion to or responsibility for the boat,”
Posted on : May.2,2014 21:26 KSTModified on : May.2,2014 22:57 KST

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Han Byung-chul, professor at the Berlin University of the Arts
Korean-German philosopher argues that neoliberalism has eroded trust and regulations, making accidents and selfishness more common
By Cho Ki-weon, staff reporter
“The real killer isn’t the captain. It’s neoliberalism.”
The Korean-German philosopher Han Byung-chul, a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts and author of “Fatigue Society,” published a piece in the Apr. 26 edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine describing the sinking of the Sewol ferry as a tragic outcome of the dehumanization caused by neoliberalism.
Han’s book “Fatigue Society” caused something of a sensation in South Korea, with its characterization of modern society as a “performance society” where people work themselves to death or exhaustion without being forced to do so.
In the recent piece titled “The Ship Is Us,” Han writes that the ferry accident “cannot be blamed on a lack of attention from the sailors, a lack of professionalism, or the special circumstances of South Korea.”
“This tragedy is a metaphor for modern society,” he concludes.
Noting that President Park Geun-hye recently described the captain of the ship as a “murderer,” Han observes, “The person who should be first to bear responsibility for the Sewol tragedy is [Park’s predecessor] Lee Myung-bak, the person who pushed the country’s neoliberal policies.”
Han notes that as recently as 2009, a passenger ship was only allowed to operate for 20 years after it was built. That period was extended to 30 years under Lee, who pushed “business-friendly” policies while serving as President from 2008 to 2013.
“These policies and their focus on business performance have greatly increased the risk of accidents,” he concludes.
Han also takes note of the fact that most of the Sewol’s crew members were irregular workers, with even the captain serving on a one-year contract - giving him the title of captain without any real authority.
“Under these working conditions, it’s difficult to develop any sense of devotion to or responsibility for the boat,” Han says. “When an accident occurs, your first action is to save yourself. Looking back on this tragedy, one could call it an example of structural violence.”
Han also points out the sharp decrease in the number of regular workers in South Korea as a result of the neoliberal policies introduced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.
“As a result of neoliberalism, South Korean’s social climate became very harsh and inhumane. Everyone only thinks of his or her own survival,” he writes.
He also observes how South Korean politicians made sure to visit the scene of the tragedy to draw attention to themselves, including President Park Geun-hye, who drew criticism for a picture she took with a five-year-old girl who survived the tragedy.
According to Han, the days of captains staying on deck to the last - like Edward J. Smith, the captain who went down with the Titanic in 1912 - are a thing of the past, not just in South Korea but in other societies as well. It was no coincidence, he writes, that the captain of the Italian luxury liner Costa Concordia chose to the flee the ship first when it sank in 2012.
“Today’s society is a ‘survival society,’ where everyone is just trying to make sure they survive,” he writes.
Quoting the German economist Alexander Rustow - the person who coined the term “neoliberalism” - Han says that neoliberalism makes societies inhumane.
“Neoliberalism alienates people. In that sense, the Sewol is like a microcosm of neoliberalism,” he observes.
Having sacrificed trust, modern society is trying to replace it with transparency and control, Han writes. This echoes the conclusions of his 2012 book “Transparency Society,” in which he writes, “Transparency gives rise to forced adaptation, and in that sense contributes to stabilizing the ruling system.”
Han’s argument is that trust is the glue that holds the members of a society together and makes it stable; when trust disappears, the society depends instead on transparency and control.
“When people in a society think only of their own interests and lose a sense of community consciousness, corruption occurs,” he writes. “Transparency and control may succeed in preventing corruption, but they cannot restore common sense or trust.”

Lessons from Sewol tragedy not learned

A capsized fishing boat is lifted out of the water in Saemangeum, North Jeolla Province, Saturday. / Yonhap

By Kim Se-jeong

Two workers who were supposed to be on duty at the water gate control center on the Saemangeum seawall failed to warn a fishing boat that was approaching the seawall. The two were eating dinner together at a nearby restaurant at the time of the incident, police said Sunday.

The behavior of the workers was reminiscent of officials stationed at the Jindo Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) who allegedly neglected their duties when the Sewol ferry sank in April, killing more than 300 passengers.

According to Gunsan Coast Guard in North Jeolla Province, a 3.2-ton fishing vessel named Taeyang was engulfed by water near a floodgate at the seawall at 7:13 p.m. on Friday. Three fishermen, including two East Timorese ― De Jesus Alcino, 25, and Da Coast Mendes Marcelino, 26 ― are still missing, while three others were rescued.

While the floodgates are open, vessels are supposed to stay at least three kilometers away from the seawall. The two workers were supposed to warn the boat stay distant, but they were dining at a restaurant at the time, according to the Coast Guard.

Shin Byung-su from Gunsan Coast Guard said that the two were questioned on Saturday.

"We will decide whether to seek arrest warrants for them after our investigation is over," Shin said.

He added the vessel did not violate any time schedule.

The Saemangeum Project Office releases in advance a floodgate operation schedule every week, and Friday evening was not included on the timetable.

"There are times when we have to open floodgates unexpectedly. The water levels have quickly risen in recent days due to heavy rainfall last week, and we had to open it," Hwang In-hyuk, one of the two floodgate control center workers, explained as to why it was not included in the schedule. The floodgates had been opened since 3 p.m. that day.

Completed in 2006, the 33.9-kilometer-long Saemangeum seawall ― the world's longest man-made dyke ― has 18 floodgates. The control office opens and closes the floodgates to maintain the water level within the seawall.

This is not the first accident caused by the negligence of the water gate control center.

Seven years ago, the floodgates were also opened unexpectedly and one fishing boat was overwhelmed, killing one fisherman.

To many, Friday's incident is almost identical to the Sewol ferry disaster in terms of how it happened.

"They are the same in that the negligent behavior of the officers caused the tragedies," said Kim Hyung-dong, 33, said.

On April 16, the passenger ferry carrying 476 onboard capsized in waters off Jindo in South Jeolla Province, killing more than 300 people, mostly high school students from Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.

After the Sewol tragedy, the prosecution indicted 13 officials at the Jindo Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) for negligence in carrying out their duties of monitoring the Sewol ferry and gathering information about the drifting ferry after it began to list and go off course.

The VTS allegedly let one of the two officers assigned to the vessel traffic control go off to take a nap and leave the office during working hours. The VTS is also accused of removing CCTVs from the monitoring room and deleting parts of the video file. A trial date has been set for Aug. 29th.

Grieving families of Sewol ferry victims want independent South Korean probe

Hundreds of people marched in Seoul last month at a hundred days’ memorial protest marking April’s Sewol ferry disaster, in which 304 people died and 10 are still missing. (Shin Woong-jae/For The Washington Post)
By Anna Fifield August 5 at 5:58 PM
SEOUL — Kim Yung-oh is not exactly sure how much weight he has lost. But when he undoes his belt buckle, his pants bunch around his concave belly. Twenty pounds, he estimates.

Kim, whose 16-year-old daughter was one of 304 people who died when the Sewol ferry sank in April, will on Wednesday enter the 24th day of a hunger strike — staged on Gwanghwamun Plaza, a wide median strip along a central Seoul boulevard that leads toward the presidential Blue House.

The plaza is also where Pope Francis will celebrate an open-air Mass next week — and Kim is vowing to stay put.

“No matter what, I want to stay here and appeal to the pope,” Kim said weakly during an interview on an elevated platform under a tent on the plaza, part of a protest against perceived government obfuscation over the cause of the ferry disaster.

The pope is scheduled to meet with the Sewol families during his visit, but in Daejeon, a city about 100 miles south of Seoul. Nonetheless, protesters know they have some leverage over President Park Geun-hye’s administration as it prepares for the pontiff’s arrival.

Kim Young-oh, a father of one of victims lost his daughter, Kim Yu-min, and has been on a hunger strike for 23 days straight. (Shin Woong-jae/For The Washington Post)
The April 16 capsizing of the Sewol — an overloaded ferry transporting an estimated 476 people and far too many containers from the mainland to the southern island of Jeju — remains an active tragedy in South Korea.

Ten passengers have still not been found, and Seoul’s City Hall remains a carefully tended memorial — complete with funereal chrysanthemums — to the victims, the vast majority of whom were students from one high school.

‘We want to know how our children died’
On Gwanghwamun Plaza, a few blocks from City Hall, Kim sits on his platform, alongside tents designated for victims’ families, religious figures and other supporters. On Tuesday, a group of Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks and Protestant ministers joined Kim in his hunger strike for the day. Supporters handed out free cups of fresh iced coffee to passersby while a TV screen played footage from video shot inside the ferry, by students unaware of the fate about to befall them.

“We want to know how our children died. That’s all,” said Park Yung-woo, a math teacher whose daughter drowned.

The families are urging the country’s president to set up a special investigative panel with a greater proportion of members appointed by victims’ kin than by the government. But, more important, they also want the panel to have the authority to subpoena information it needs and prosecute people it suspects of wrongdoing.

“The parents want truth from the government,” said Won Jae-min, a lawyer who has been helping the families. “We are asking for an independent body of inspectors to look into this case, and we are demanding the government to give them special legal powers so they are able to investigate.”

Park and her ruling Saenuri Party had vowed to establish an independent commission, and the main opposition party had agreed in principle. But they are divided on the details. The deadlock led to the cancellation of hearings scheduled for this week.

The families are calling for the special panel to be established becausePark’s administration is widely accused of bungling its response to the tragedy and not being sufficiently forthcoming with the facts. That has led to rumors of government complicity and a cover-up.

An ongoing criminal investigation has shown that dangerous modifications were made to the ferry — including the addition of an extra floor — and that the ballast water meant to counterweigh the cargo had been emptied out, so as not to alert regulators to the changes.

Adding fuel to the suspicions, authorities took almost six weeks to identify a body they now think is that of Yoo Byung-eun, the 73-year-old owner of the Sewol ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine, who had been on the run since the sinking.

The decomposed body was found June 12 just two miles from one of Yoo’s houses. Even though the deceased was dressed in designer clothing, police said they initially thought it was a homeless person until DNA tests indicated in late July that it was Yoo.

People wondered why it took so long to identify a man who was the subject of the largest manhunt in South Korean history.

Willing to die for his cause
Park, whose approval rating has slumped since the disaster, criticized police and prosecutors Tuesday for their missteps, noting that they continued searching for Yoo even after the body was found.

“The bungled manhunt resulted in the waste of national resources and severely undermined public confidence in the government,” she said during a cabinet meeting, the Yonhap news agency reported.

At the protest site Tuesday, families handed out pamphlets bearing a photo of a moist-eyed Park expressing remorse for the ferry sinking. The headline read: “Were the president’s tears just lies?” Volunteers urged people to sign a petition calling on the administration to establish the independent inquiry commission.

Throughout, Kim sat on his platform in the sweltering heat, nodding at well-wishers who stopped to bow to him.

A sign on a bib he was wearing marked the number of days he had been fasting and carried an appeal: “Madam President, please bury me next to my love Yu-min if this powerless dad falls and dies.”

“I feel ready to die for this,” Kim said, sitting cross-legged on a gray pillow, his thin wrists resting on his knees. “I feel so sorry that I couldn’t save my daughter that day and that I can’t do anything to bring her back.”

Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.

Korean Protests including by KCTU intensify over Sewol failures caused by deregulation and privatization
Protests intensify over Sewol failures

Published : 2014-05-25 21:03
Updated : 2014-05-25 21:43
Despite President Park Geun-hye’s repeated apologies and drastic reform proposals, a growing number of people are participating in protests against the government’s failures during the Sewol ferry disaster.

Students, parents with small children and even foreign nationals took part in massive demonstrations in central Seoul on Saturday to commemorate the victims of the sunken ferry and to urge Cheong Wa Dae to take responsibility for its failed operation to save those onboard the sunken ferry Sewol.

About 30,000 people held a candlelight vigil this week, according to Park Sung-sik, spokesman of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, while the police say the rally had about 8,000. KCTU is one of two labor umbrella groups here that organized the weekend rally. The Korean National Police Agency said it had dispatched about 13,000 riot police.

Protesters march in central Seoul on Saturday calling on Cheong Wa Dae to take responsibility over the government’s failed rescue mission for passengers of the sunken ferry Sewol. (Yonhap)

“The number of rally participants has steadily grown to around 30,000 a week. Unlike other rallies, we see a growing number of young kids with parents joining the rally,” Park said.

“We are going to hold rallies every Saturday and will share the plans online and on social media,” he added.

The weekend demonstration was filled with protesters wearing masks and black T-shirts that carried angry words directed at the government and the media. Many were holding pickets reading, “What did you do during the golden time?” and “We demand an independent probe into Sewol.” Students and parents of the victims shed tears and denounced the government’s poor initial response.

“Stop saying that you have failed to protect us,” a girl said on the platform.

Some protesters clashed with the police later in the evening as they attempted to head toward Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential office, some blocks away from the Cheonggye Plaza where the rally was held.

The protesters claimed about 2,000 people marched toward the Blue House to urge President Park to step down, but soon collided with police who were blocking the entire street toward the office, they said. The police ordered the protesters to disperse. But as they refused to do so, the riot police forced them onto the sidewalk, saying what they were doing was illegal, they said.

During the collision, one protester was injured and transported to a hospital nearby. The police also took about 30 protesters on charges of using violence against the police. They were taken to four different police stations and are being questioned. The list of protesters taken by the police included KCTU officials and high school students. The police said some of them had been released.

Young KBS journalists decry their network’s sinking
Posted on : May.8,2014 11:48 KST

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Coverage of Sewol sinking was misleading and shielded the president, say junior reporters calling for debate
By Lee Jung-gook, staff reporter
Young reporters at the KBS network put out a statement calling for a “big debate” with news bureau executives and reporters to reflect on coverage of the Sewol ferry sinking.
The reporters, who represent all members of KBS’s 38th to 40th recruiting classes and have been at the network for less than three years, were responding to the ongoing controversy over inaccurate and misleading reporting on the tragedy.
The statement, titled “We reflect on KBS’s sinking journalism standards,” was released on the afternoon of May 7 by 55 KBS reporters and photojournalists.
“We wish to propose a big debate with the news bureau chief, the newsroom director, and all the journalists who took part in covering the Sewol tragedy to reflect on the way it has been reported on,” it read.
“We intend to keep ‘reflecting’ with our more experienced colleagues until the news bureau leadership responds sincerely,” the reporters added.
Earlier that morning, ten of the reporters posted messages on the network’s internal online bulletin board calling for reflection on the “shameless reporting of the network in charge of disaster coverage.”
Blasting the network’s coverage of a visit by President Park Geun-hye, one reporter wrote, “The report on the President’s first visit to Jindo left out everything that the family members were saying at Jindo Gymnasium. The harsh voices disappeared, and all that went out was the President‘s voice and her basking in applause.”
“When the President paid condolences at the Ansan memorial, the coverage was edited in a way that led viewers to believe a mourner was the grandmother of one of the missing passengers,” the reporter added as an example of misleading reporting.
Critics have been lambasting KBS for repeated reports on the “emotional security services” Park has been receiving.
A second reporter asked, “Does it fit with KBS’s reason for being for it to be a broadcast van parroting things without content, or to copy what it says in the morning news?”
A third reporter wrote, “I’m afraid to even wear a jacket with the KBS logo at Paengmok Port. My first thought is how I’m going to avoid being glared at and rebuked by the public.”
The messages were later deleted by the network, sources reported.
The same day, the KBS office of the National Union of Media Workers put out its own statement criticizing the network.
“We can no longer bear to watch KBS as it sinks,” the statement said before calling on network president Gil Hwan-young, news bureau director Im Chang-geon, and news room chief Kim Si-gon to “apologize to the public and step down right now.”
“With the newer employees taking action, a lot of the veteran journalists are saying, ‘We can’t just sit here and do nothing,‘” said a member of the union on condition of anonymity.
On the night of May 7, the KBS newsroom made an official response, “We are listening to the young reporters’ various opinions and plan to hold a debate if needed. We will revise the standards of reporting on accidents and disasters after gathering reporters’ opinions.”

Korea Confronts Tendency to Overlook Safety as Toll in Ferry Sinking Grows-Gov Health And Safey Oversight Controlled By Capitalists

A temporary morgue in Jindo, set up to identify victims of the sunken ferry Sewol. As of Tuesday night, the death toll had risen to 121, but 181 were still missing. CreditUriel Sinai for The New York Times

JINDO, South Korea — As Navy divers recovered the bodies of dozens of teenagers drowned waiting for a rescue of their doomed ferry, South Korea has begun a national bout of hand-wringing over the country’s tendency to overlook safety precautions in its quest for economic success.

With a mounting list of errors that appeared to have contributed to the disaster, maritime experts, the news media and regular citizens venting their anger on social media have begun to question what they describe as inadequate safety precautions and often lax regulation of businesses.

On Tuesday, an opposition lawmaker released data showing that the ship was carrying three times its recommended maximum cargo, though it remained unclear if that could have helped destabilize it.

Arrests of 4 More Crew Members Sought in Korean Ferry SinkingAPRIL 21, 2014
In addition, President Park Geun-hye, who has been withering in her criticism of the crew, has also argued that cozy relations between regulators and shippers may have contributed to the catastrophe, one of South Korea’s worst in peacetime. The prime minister cited specific problems that might have been addressed by better regulation, including suspicions that renovations to add more sleeping cabins made the ship top-heavy and more likely to keel over.


The mother of one of the missing passengers from the ferry shows the photo of her daughter to another relative of the missing. Most of the missing are students from Danwon High School.CreditJean Chung for The New York Times
The country’s top newspapers reflected the growing sense of anger, and shock, over what they suggested was a lack of proper oversight. “Are we a safe society or a third-rate people?” read one editorial headline in the newspaper Joong-Ang. And the daily newspaper Dong-A ran an editorial titled “Cry Korea,” in which it argued that Ms. Park should live up to her campaign promise to run an “administration of safety.”

For years, South Koreans called their country “a land of disasters” after a lack of regulation or a cavalier attitude toward safety, or both, were at least partly blamed for a string of accidents.

In 1993, an Asiana Airlines jet slammed into a hill not far from the site of the ferry accident, killing 68 people aboard. Later that year, an overloaded ferry sank, killing 292. In 1994, a bridge collapsed in Seoul, killing 32. In 1995, about 100 died in a gas explosion, and roughly 500 in the collapse of a department store in Seoul that was weakened after the owner violated building safety codes by adding a swimming pool at the top. Two years later, a Korean Air jet crashed in Guam, killing 228.

With no large-scale disaster reported since arson caused a subway fire that killed 192 people in 2003, South Korea appeared to have put its curse behind it — and the country appeared to be moving past its culture of “ppali ppali,” or “hurry hurry,” loosely translated as a tendency to justify cutting corners to get work finished quickly.

Now, many Koreans are expressing shame at how far their country still needs to go to address safety concerns, adding to the grief and anger that has gripped the country since the accident last Wednesday.

On Tuesday, anger at the crew’s apparent missteps in the evacuation only grew as investigators said the crew was not even the first to notify the authorities that the ship was in trouble. The first call, they said, came from a high school student who called the police.

“Save us! We’re on a ship and I think it’s sinking,” the student is quoted as saying, according to the South Korean national news agency, Yonhap. The boy is among the missing.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 150, but 152 were still missing.

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Analysts said the ferry accident appeared to be a reminder that South Korea did not shed its easy acceptance of loose regulatory enforcement even as it became a high-tech economic powerhouse flooding the world markets with Samsung smartphones. The culture of lax enforcement is such a given, experts say, that government officials consider working in public safety a second-rate job.

In South Korea, more than 31,000 people, including 3,000 students, die every year in accidents, accounting for 12.8 percent of the country’s total annual deaths, the highest rate among major developed nations.

Those episodes include everything from car accidents to fires, and it is unclear how much can be attributed to a lack of focus on safety. But there is a general acknowledgment in hypercompetitive South Korea that success is often measured by how quickly and cheaply a job is done, and that spending too much time and resources trying to follow rules is sometimes seen as losing a competitive edge.

“The country has grown so rapidly that a lot of shortcuts have been made, so that it’s waiting for an accident to happen,” said Tom Coyner, a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea and the author of “Doing Business in Korea.”

Kim Chang-je, a professor of navigation science at Korea Maritime and Ocean University, said the complaints appeared to be true of the ferry business. “We have the safety regulations and systems that were similar to global norms,” he said. “But they are not properly enforced.”

He and other experts pointed out a host of issues they said undermined safety on the ferry, including that the crew had several contract workers, who might have been less familiar with the ship than a regular crew.

Investigators have also said the decision by the company that owned the ferry, Cheonghaejin Marine Company, to add more sleeping cabins probably undermined the ship’s ability to regain its balance after tilting.

The Korea Register of Shipping approved the change to the ship’s design after advising Cheonghaejin Marine to carry less cargo and more ballast water to compensate for the loss of stability. But on Tuesday, Kim Young-rok, an opposition lawmaker, said that when the ship left Incheon, it carried 3,608 tons of cargo, three times the recommended maximum. The company’s audit data showed it has depended increasingly upon cargo to compensate for declining passenger revenues.

Prosecutors were investigating whether the ferry carried enough ballast water to accommodate the extra cargo. One of the two first mates arrested on Tuesday told reporters that when he tried to right the ship after tilting, the ballast “didn’t work.”

Prosecutors raided Korea Register’s headquarters on Tuesday and barred the head of Cheonghaejin Marine, as well as the company’s family owners, from leaving the country.

It has also become clear that the captain most likely violated national navigational guidelines when he left the ship in the control of the least experienced ship’s mate through a waterway notorious for its rapid currents. The guidelines stipulate a captain should be in control in busy or dangerous waters.

The ferry also had no extra captain, as ships often do when they are on long overnight voyages so the two can take turns in the bridge, experts said.

Experts say they suspect some of the problems with the ship resulted from lax enforcement of safety standards made possible by ties among the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, the Korea Shipping Association and shipping companies.

The shipping association is a lobby for shipping companies and is financed by them. But it is also charged with inspecting ships for safety measures, such as a proper and balanced stowage of cargo. In addition, many senior officials from the ministry — which is supposed to oversee the association’s enforcement — also join the association after they retire.

“We will never be able to expect safety regulations to be properly enforced until the shipping association becomes independent,” said Jung Yun-chul, another maritime safety expert at Korea Maritime and Ocean University.

In an editorial on Monday, The Chosun Ilbo, the nation’s largest newspaper, summed up the sense that with more care for safety, the calamity might have been avoided.

“In Korea, people who insist on abiding by basic rules are often considered annoying or inflexible, while those who are adept at dodging them are seen as smart,” it said. “But the country is full of such smart people, and the result has been catastrophic.”

Park Geun-hye administration only pays lip service to safety while in reality being completely apathetic about the issue-The heartbreaking lack of attention to safety
The heartbreaking lack of attention to safety

Posted on : Apr.18,2014 11:18 KSTModified on : Apr.19,2014 13:14 KST

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In the second day of efforts to rescue the people who are missing after the sinking of the Sewol, there has unfortunately been no progress. It is heartbreaking to see the ferry, upside down in the cold water along with around 280 missing passengers with only part of the prow sticking above the surface, not only for the families of the missing but for the entire Korean public. Words fail to describe how horrible this situation is. Nevertheless, the government must never give up hope, sparing no effort in the rescue work.
While tragic, the sinking of the ferry was avoidable. The direct cause of the accident has yet to be determined, but the facts that have come to light and the testimony provided by the survivors makes it clear that this was a stereotypical man-made disaster resulting from Korean society’s indifference to safety concerns. More specifically, evidence is surfacing that shows the total inadequacy of the government’s initial response to the accident.
In a disaster such as the sinking of a passenger ship, the first response is of the utmost importance, since each minute, each second, can make the difference in saving lives. If the government had at least had a disaster response system in place, it would have been possible to deploy the rescue equipment and personnel in a rapid and organized fashion, accounting for all foreseeable contingencies.
But the government did not take the crisis seriously in the early stages and thus failed to move quickly to begin rescue operations. It claimed that it had activated a joint public-private response system involving the military and based in the Central Office of Disaster Safety Measures, part of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, but these claims has yet to be verified.
The government’s pathetic inability to respond to accidents is also reflected in its failure to even grasp the basic situation twelve hours after receiving word of the accident. The figures provided by the Central Office about the number of passengers on the Sewol, the number of rescue workers, and the number of missing persons changed throughout the day, adding to the confusion. On the evening of the accident, after a string of contradictory reports about the rescue work, the public witnessed the disgusting spectacle of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration and the Coast Guard both trying to avoid responsibility for the rescue work.
The government’s clumsy response was also evident in the comments made by President Park Geun-hye. The Blue House reported that, just after the accident occurred, Park worriedly instructed the relevant ministries to ensure that not a single life be lost. It also explained that Park paid a personal visit to the Central Office when the situation took a turn for the worse around 5 pm, about eight hours after the accident. During this visit, the Blue House said, Park asked the second vice minister of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration why it was so hard to find the high school students if they were wearing life jackets. These remarks demonstrate that Park had not been accurately briefed on the basic situation on the ground or had failed to understand the situation. The passengers had not been able to put on life jackets at the time of the accident, and most of the missing were trapped inside their chambers in the capsized ship - facts that anyone could have picked up from simply watching the coverage on TV.

Tags: Sewol Ferry Disasterhealth and safetyprivatizationderegulation
Categories: Labor News

Major Canadian National Railway Derailment and Fire North of Sudbury – Updated (2)

Railroaded's Blog - Sat, 03/07/2015 - 10:44

It’s almost impossible to keep track of the number of reported Canadian National Railway derailments. Early this morning, another CN derailment occurred in northern Ontario, this time about 100 km north of Sudbury and about 3 km from Gogama (CTV NewsSudbury Northern LifeToronto StarSudbury Northern Life [2]). 30 to 40 tank cars loaded with crude oil fell off CN’s mainline tracks, at least 5 caught fire, and others tumbled into the Mattagami River. The media were initially told that only 10 cars had derailed. Today’s derailment is only 37 km from the site of another CN oil train derailment on February 14, 2015.

Residents in nearby Gogama have been told to stay indoors, and Mattagami First Nations members have been told to avoid drinking water from the community source because an undisclosed volume of crude oil has spilled into the adjacent waterway. The local health unit has advised people who take water directly from Minisinakwa Lake, or from wells supplied by the river, not to use that water for drinking or cooking until further notice. The local fire department recommended anybody with breathing problems to stay indoors until further notice because particles in the smoke might be dangerous. A section of the main highway connecting Timmins with southern Ontario has been closed. An emergency response plan has been activated with local officials. The extent of environmental damage has not yet been determined; however, booms have been deployed in an attempt to contain the spilled oil in local waterways.

The CN train was transporting crude oil from Alberta to eastern Canada. Via Rail has cancelled travel along the mainline.

CN confirmed the oil was being shipped in tank cars built to the newer CPC-1232 standard which have enhancements that were supposed to make them less vulnerable to puncture. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada has already indicated the newer tank car model has performed similarly during derailments to the older DOT-111 tank car model and is really no safer. The newer model tank cars have also punctured in several other recent derailments.

The Gogama Village Inn owner said, “It’s frightening and nerve-wracking, especially after what happened in Quebec. People here are on pins and needles. The tracks run right through town…I’m sure that there’s going to be a lot of talk afterward that this shouldn’t be in the middle of our town…I’d have them move the track right out of town.”

This most recent derailment, is the fifth CN derailment reported so far in Ontario in 2015. On March 5, 16 CN tank cars loaded with crude oil or gasoline residue derailed east of Hornepayne. 29 tank cars loaded with crude oil derailed February 14 near Timmins and 7 cars burned for almost a week. On January 31, 2 CN cars derailed in Richmond Hill – 1 was loaded with hazardous sulphuric acid and 1 was carrying steel. 4 CN grain cars fell off the tracks inside a Thunder Bay rail yard on January 9, damaging the track.

Rounding out the number of CN derailments reported so far in 2015, are 3 in Alberta (1 near Conklin, 1 in Jasper, 1 near Jarrow); 1 in downtown Winnipeg; 1 in the Mont-Joli region of Quebec; 1 in Butler County, Pennsylvania; and 1 northwest of Duluth, Minnesota.

Read CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for hundreds of examples of additional CN derailments in Canada and the United States. It’s important to note that CN does not report all of its derailments. See this link for more information on the many hazards associated with shipping oil and other dangerous goods by rail.

Filed under: Derailment, shipping oil by rail
Categories: Labor News

Boston Jury Rules Not Guilty in sham trial of USW school bus union leader!

Current News - Sat, 03/07/2015 - 09:38

Boston Jury Rules Not Guilty in sham trial of USW school bus union leader!
March 5 2015: Boston Jury Rules Not Guilty in sham trial of USW school bus union leader!
In 10 Minutes, Jury Returns Not-Guilty Verdict
Commonwealth’s Case Exposed
as a Fraudulent Anti-Union Frame-Up

The campaign to rehire four Boston school bus drivers, illegally fired by the union-busting Veolia Corporation, got a shot in the arm on Thursday when a jury took only ten minutes to acquit union leader Steve Kirschbaum of all charges brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The ten-minute verdict was the result of an eight-month peoples’ mobilization that included six pack-the-court rallies; national call-in days to both the district attorney and the mayor; and weekly busyard rallies organized by the local. Peoples’ lawyers Barry Wilson and John Pavlos skillfully and passionately tore the frame-up apart and successfully turned the tables, putting the union-busters on trial.

School bus drivers and community supporters of the union packed the court for three days, transforming the inside of the courthouse into a de facto union hall. During lunch breaks the drivers held militant picket lines outside the building, with placards saying “Drop the Charges” and “No Contract, No Work”!

Dorchester District Courthouse became ground zero for the political movement, as Brock Satter with the Mass Mobilization Against Police Violence, as well as Sandra Macintosh of the Coalition for Equal Quality Education and former City Councilmember Chuck Turner all showed up to support the union. City Councilmember Charles Yancey gave updates to the overflow crowd outside the courtroom, and for two of the three trial days, I-93 protester Tsung attended.

Herculano Fecteau of the Boston Teachers Union showed up, as did Tony Van Der Meer of the Africana Studies Department at UMass. The verdict was a victory not only for this political, social union – which not only fights for its members but marches with the Black Lives Matter movement, resolutely defends LGBTQ rights and marches for Palestine – but a victory for the movement as well.

And it was a defeat for the union-busters, Boston’s 1%, and the city’s entrenched racist forces who want to re-segregate public education.

From the moment the four bogus charges were filed against Kirschbaum in July 2014, it was clear that they were part of the union-busting campaign being waged against the local – a campaign that included the November 2013 firing of Kirschbaum as well as three other union leaders.

When a June 30, 2014 rally of hundreds of school bus drivers – held to demand the rehiring of the four — ended with an indoor rally in the drivers’ breakroom, Veolia managers provided false statements to the Commonwealth to make it look like they had been attacked by Kirschbaum and that the premises had been violently entered.

The charges were totally made-up but serious: three were felonies, initially including breaking and entering to commit a felony; malicious destruction of property; assault and battery with a dangerous weapon; and trespassing.

The evidence was so obviously manufactured that in October the first two charges were dismissed by the judge. On Thursday, a working class jury of six – including two union members — “dismissed” the remaining two charges with a not-guilty verdict in record time.

In fact, it was Veolia and its co-conspirators who were put on trial as witness testimony and Kirschbaum’s legal team showed that the events in question had everything to do with the fact that the contract was expiring that day at midnight – and that, in violation of the contract, Veolia had attempted to prevent the union from holding a meeting.

In October 2013, the notorious union-busting company fired four of the union leaders – including Grievance Chair Kirschbaum, Recording Secretary Andre Francois, Steward Garry Murchison and Vice President Steve Gillis – after locking out the workers and falsely claiming that the union had conducted a “wildcat strike.”

The not-guilty verdict — which has so thoroughly discredited the version of events put forward by Veolia managers — can only help the campaign to rehire the four. Those in the Boston establishment who were holding their breath over this trial and hoping to see one of the union’s leaders convicted are now facing a renewed, fighting union that is not afraid to take things to the next level.

Those who know this local also know that its members intend to fight not only to rehire the four but to deepen the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle against racism; stop the school closings announced by Mayor Walsh; defend public school transportation by keeping middle school students off the subway and on school buses; and defend the righteous I-93 protesters and their First Amendment rights.

Victory for Boston school bus drivers union
By Workers World staff March 6, 2015
Kirschbaum acquitted as frame-up collapses

Steve Kirschbaum, outside Dorchester, Mass., courthouse, where he was acquitted of all charges on March 5.
WW photo: Liz Green
Dorchester, Mass. — The campaign to rehire and win justice for four Boston school-bus drivers, illegally fired by the notorious union-busting Veolia Corp., got a big shot in the arm on March 5. After only only ten minutes of deliberation, a jury voted unanimously to acquit union leader Steve Kirschbaum of all charges brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In October of 2013, the notorious union-busting company Veolia, hired by the city to operate school transportation, fired four of the union leaders — Grievance Chair Kirschbaum, Recording Secretary Andre Francois, Steward Garry Murchison and Vice President Steve Gillis — after locking out the workers and falsely claiming that the union had conducted a “wildcat strike.”

The frame-up charges were brought after a June 30, 2014, rally of hundreds of school bus drivers was held to demand the rehiring of the four. The action ended with an indoor rally in the drivers’ break room. Veolia managers provided false statements to the Commonwealth to make it look like they had been attacked by Kirschbaum and that the premises had been violently entered.

The charges, while totally made up, were serious. They initially included three felonies: breaking and entering to commit a felony; malicious destruction of property; assault and battery with a dangerous weapon; and trespassing.

The courtroom victory was the result of an eight-month people’s mobilization that included six pack-the-court rallies; national call-in days to both the district attorney and the mayor; and weekly bus yard rallies organized by the local. People’s lawyers Barry Wilson and John Pavlos skillfully and passionately tore the frame-up apart and successfully turned the tables on Veolia and the political establishment, putting the union busters on trial.

School bus drivers and community supporters of the union packed the court for three days, transforming the inside of the courthouse into a de facto union hall. During lunch breaks, the drivers held militant picket lines outside the building with placards saying “Drop the Charges” and “No Contract, No Work”!

Dorchester District Courthouse truly became the gathering place for the political movement, as Brock Satter, with the Mass Mobilization Against Police Violence; Sandra Macintosh, of the Coalition for Equal Quality Education; Chuck Turner, former city councilmember; Herculano Fecteau, with the Boston Teachers Union; Tony Van Der Meer, of the Africana Studies Department at UMass; and Moonanum James, co-leader of the United American Indians of New England all showed up to support the union.

City Councilmember Charles Yancey gave updates to the overflow crowd outside the courtroom, and for two of the three trial days, I-93 protester Tsung attended. Tsung was part of a demonstration in January that blockaded the interstate highway, where a number of activists were arrested, in solidarity with “Black Lives Matter.”

The verdict was not just a victory for this political, social union — which fights for its members and also marches with the Black Lives Matter movement; resolutely defends lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights; and stands with Palestine — but a victory for the movement as well.

Union busters pushed back

What happened in court was a defeat for the union busters, a setback for Boston’s 1% and a blow to the city’s entrenched racist forces, who want to resegregate public education.

From the moment the four bogus charges were filed against Kirschbaum in July 2014, it was clear that they were part of the union-busting campaign being waged against the local – a campaign exemplified by the November 2013 firing of Kirschbaum and the three other union leaders.

The evidence was so obviously manufactured that in October the judge dismissed the first two charges. On March 5, a working class jury of six—including two union members — took almost no time to put the remaining two charges to rest with a “not-guilty” verdict.

In fact, it was Veolia and its co-conspirators in the city administration who were put on trial. Witness testimony and Kirschbaum’s legal team showed that the events in question and the illegal firings that prompted the June 30 rally had everything to do with the fact that the contract was expiring that day at midnight — and that, in violation of the contract, Veolia had attempted to prevent the union from holding a meeting.

The not-guilty verdict — which has so thoroughly discredited the version of events put forward by Veolia managers — can only help the campaign to rehire the four. Those in the Boston establishment who were holding their breath over this trial and hoping to see one of the union’s leaders convicted are now facing a renewed, re-energized, fighting, militant union that is not afraid to take things to the next level.

Those who know this local also know that its members intend to fight, not only to rehire the four, but also to deepen the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle against racism; to stop the school closings announced by Mayor Walsh; to defend public school transportation by keeping middle school students off the subway and on school buses; and to defend the righteous I-93 protesters and their First Amendment rights.

Tags: Boston Bus Drivers
Categories: Labor News

A Third Blast on Oil Trains Stirs Scrutiny

Current News - Sat, 03/07/2015 - 08:30

A Third Blast on Oil Trains Stirs Scrutiny

A train carrying crude oil derailed near Galena, Ill., this week. Two other such accidents have occurred in the last month. CreditMike Burley/Telegraph Herald, via Associated Press

For the third time in less than a month, a train carrying flammable crude oil has derailed and burst into flames, prompting questions over whether stricter measures being considered to ensure their safety will be enough.

All three accidents involved a newer generation of tank cars that are supposed to be sturdier and safer than older models.

Those cars will be upgraded as part of a new federal standard that is being phased in this year and will take effect in 2017. The new standard will require thicker steel shielding and better thermal protections, and will have to be fitted with more crash-resistant valves. Older models, mostly built before 2011, that cannot be refitted with those features will have to be retired from use with hazardous materials.

But some lawmakers and safety experts are worried the new measures might prove inadequate.


Another derailment in Mount Carbon, W. Va., last month. All three accidents involved a newer generation of tank cars that are supposed to be sturdier and safer than older models.CreditSteven Wayne Rotsch/Office of the Governor of West Virginia, via Associated Press
The most recent accident took place on Thursday in a rural area of northern Illinois, south of Galena. Two of its cars ruptured and burst into flames after a BNSF train loaded with crude from North Dakota derailed.

BNSF is still investigating the cause of the accident, according to a spokesman, Michael Trevino.

But even before that accident, lawmakers at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday were pressuring regulators to act more aggressively.

“We are not moving fast enough,” Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington State, told Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, referring to the adoption of new tank car standards. She said that she planned to introduce a bill calling for stricter tank car standards than the ones currently contemplated by the Transportation Department.

The new tank cars for oil and ethanol should have thicker hulls, she said, adding that older cars should be phased out more quickly than is currently being considered. The Department of Transportation’s new rules are expected to be completed in May.

Mr. Foxx responded that there was a “high level of urgency” to imposing the new rule on tanker cars, but was not specific on a date when the new regulations would be adopted.

The recent accidents — which also occurred in West Virginia and Ontario — are the latest in a series of derailments that have accompanied the booming business of carrying crude oil by rails from North Dakota in recent years.

Oil production has surged there, reaching about 1.2 million barrels a day. Most of that oil relies on trains, not pipelines, to reach refineries on the East and West Coasts, as well as the Gulf Coast.

As a result, hundreds of mile-long oil trains crisscross the nation each week, though the exact number is not made public by rail companies. It is unclear if derailments on oil trains occur at a higher rate than on trains hauling different cargo, like grain or coal.

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Some experts say that the accidents are adding to the pressure on an industry that, at least for now, has little choice but to ship the oil on trains.

Kevin Book, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners, said that fewer gallons of crude oil spilled over all last year than in 2013, but that they were spilled from a greater number of incidents and in a larger number of states.

“That puts more lawmakers on the spot to respond to constituent concerns,” he said.

And a chilling projection by the Department of Transportation last month forecast that trains hauling oil or ethanol would derail on average 10 times a year over the next two decades, according to a recent report by The Associated Press.

Making matters worse, crude oil from the Bakken formation is laden with gas particles that make it more flammable than other grades of oil.

Bakken oil is prized by refiners because it can easily be turned it into gasoline or jet fuel. It is those properties, though, that make the oil more prone to bursting into flames in the event of a crash. There are no federal rules on what oil producers should do to stabilize the oil before shipping by rail.

Oil producers, in response, have said those concerns are misplaced. Stripping out those gases — commonly known as vapor pressure — from the oil before shipment would increase production costs but would not make the oil safer, they say.

The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent investigative agency, has recently identified the hazards of oil trains as one of its top 10 safety concerns this year.

The safety board has called on rail companies to reduce the hazards of carrying such flammable material on rails, for instance by selecting routes that reduce the amount of hazardous material that travels through populated areas.

“Safety, however, has not kept pace with the sheer demand and vigor of the market, potentially placing many who live amid the complex rail network in danger,” Christopher A. Hart, the safety board’s acting chairman, said in a statement last month.

Thursday’s accident followed what has become a familiar pattern: A mile-long train loaded with crude derailed while churning through a rural area, puncturing cars and igniting its cargo.

The fire and plumes of smoke could be seen for miles, according to several news reports. No injuries were reported.

The accident occurred on a major rail line by the Mississippi River that handles a high level of oil train traffic. Six cars derailed, according to local officials, and at least two burst into flames. All but two of the BNSF train’s 105 cars were carrying crude oil. The other two were buffer cars filled with sand.

The cars that derailed were known as CPC-1232s, the latest generation of tank cars that was built since 2011. Last month, a CSX train with 109 tank cars of oil derailed in Fayette County, W.Va., erupting into flames and leaking oil for several days. This followed another explosion, in Ontario, that involved a 100-car train, where 29 cars derailed. Both trains were traveling under the speed limit.

The hazards of carrying flammable material in the older generation of tank cars, known as DOT-111, were known for years.

Those risks became apparent after a runaway oil train caused a deadly blast in Canada that killed 47 people in July 2013. Since then, American and Canadian regulators have sought to improve standards and phase out the older models.

But to Mr. McCown, the former federal regulator, the push to improve tanker cars is only part of the solution.

“We haven’t focused on the real issue here,” he said. “If the cars stayed on the rail tracks, we wouldn’t have these discussions.”

Tags: train safety
Categories: Labor News


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