Friday, April 12, 2013

Pipeline workers walk picket line, poultry workers struggle, and longshoremen win contract

Here's the latest Labor South roundup--from pipeline workers in Mississippi and poultry workers along the border South to longshoremen on the East and Gulf coasts.

Picketing at the pipeline

Brian Anderson said he and the other pipeline workers on the picket line in Columbia, Miss., have a simple message.

“We’re protesting lower scale wages and no benefits. We look after worker benefits. We are not radicals, not going to smash heads or sabotage or anything like that. … What we are trying to do is educate the public that they are getting an inferior job.”

A welder from Longville, La.,  Anderson is a member of Pipeliners Local 798, which is protesting the Kinder Morgan company’s decision to award the non-union Loutex company a contract to build a pipeline in and beyond the Marion County area in south Mississippi near the Louisiana border.

Kinder Morgan is based in Houston, Texas, and Loutex is based in Joaquin, Texas.

The picket site is in Columbia, county seat of Marion County, and involves anywhere from 15 to 60 workers a day. Overall 300 workers are involved in the protest, which has been going on for the past couple of weeks, Anderson said.

Attempts by Labor South to get company comments regarding the picket were unsuccessful. However, Kinder Morgan representative Allen Fore told WDAM-TV in Columbia that the company awarded the project to Loutex because it offered the best and most competitive bid.

That bid was based on low-wage, low-benefits labor and other factors that may end up making the project more expensive, Anderson said.

“The costs on a nonunion contractor is higher than a union contract,” Anderson said. “We go in there and do the job. At the end of the job, the gas companies will give them (non-union companies) more money to get the job completed, and the cost of non-union goes on up. It takes them longer, and you don’t have the same kind of quality.”

Poultry workers beware

One of Labor South’s best friends, labor writer Bruce Vail, says poultry processors Perdue and Tyson are outsourcing jobs and seeking nonunion contractors in the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia area. The United Food and Commercial Workers, however, are on the scene and holding “the giant processing companies accountable for driving down living standards.”

It’s just the latest assault on poultry workers, many of whom still endure “stretch-out” conditions on the assembly line much like workers did in the 1920s. The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center recently released a study detailing the resulting health problems plaguing poultry workers in Alabama.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, working hand-in-hand with industry leaders, is scheduled this month to implement new regulations allowing poultry companies to increase the speed on the processing lines. Also in the works are plans to remove hundreds of federal inspectors from those same lines. Here we have a clear case of the USDA aiding companies at the expense of workers and consumers.

The good news in the poultry industry, however, came last summer when 1,200 workers at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Russellville, Ala., joined the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The victory capped one of the largest organizing drives in Alabama over the past 10 years, and it came after a bitter fight with the company.

Dockworkers ratify contract

Longshoremen earlier this year threatened a strike that would stretch along the East Coast into the Gulf Coast if they didn’t get a fair contract from the U.S. Maritime Alliance. Well, they got their contract.

Nearly seven months after their previous contract expired, the alliance and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) announced this week ratification of a six-year contract that will raise wages, provide protections for workers displaced by technology, and limit nonunion subcontracting and outsourcing.

ILA members voted this week by a wide margin to approve the contract. The alliance, which consists of port associations, carriers, and direct employers, is expected to vote to ratify within the next few days.

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