Profiles in Labor: OUR Walmart

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OUR Walmart protesters in Bentonville Arkansas in 2011. Flickr

Wal-Mart has never been very friendly to the idea of organized labor, quite the opposite.  Their activities to thwart organized labor in the workplace can be traced even as far back as when Sam Walton was still running the show in the 1970s, when Walton opposed a Retail Clerks Union organizing in the workplace by hiring a union-buster to “educate” workers on the negative impacts of unions.   This attitude still sticks with the company today,

A new organization that hopes to give workers a bigger and better voice has been doing more than just ruffling a few feathers lately.  Organization United For Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) was formed in June 2011 and has since been making their presence known by driving corporate Walmart crazy.  How so you ask?  By organizing protests at over 100 Walmart locations across the country on Black Friday, one of the busiest retail sales days of the year.  People like Cindy Murray, one of the key organizers behind OUR Walmart, stood up to the corporate giant that day to fight for better wages, more full-time jobs, and more respect.

OUR Walmart, established by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), is not a union.  Efforts to unionize the workplace in Walmart have failed numerous times in the past.  The original organizers behind OUR Walmart knew that, in order to be successful, they must do something different.  Although backed in moral support and sometimes financially by UFCW, OUR Walmart puts the faces of workers out front and adds a human element to their cause.  In the first act of defiance, OUR Walmart had close to 100 associates travel to Walmart headquarters to make their cause known.

They wrote a 12-point declaration that asked for wages and benefits that ensured no associate would have to rely on government assistance. They also called for dependable schedules, expanded health-care coverage, and the freedom to speak up without facing retaliation (Bloomberg Business Week)

OUR Walmart’s goal is not unionization in the workplace, which makes it an awkward situation for Walmart to deal with.  Now, Walmart has been forced to come out in opposition to employee activism as well as union organizing.  OUR Walmart‘s mission instead is to “ensure that every Associate, regardless of his or her title, age, race, or sex, is respected at Walmart. We join together to offer strength and support in addressing the challenges that arise in our stores and our company everyday.”

The most recent protest by OUR Walmart occurred last week.  Thousands of people in 15 cities came out to protest Walmart’s recent crackdown on similar activism in the workplace:

In addition to OUR Walmart’s core demands, the protesters turned out to insist that Wal-Mart rescind the verbal and written warnings issued to some 60 OUR Walmart members who were part of a prolonged strike this June and reinstate 20 strikers who were fired. (In These Times)

This protest was in response to Walmart firing 20 OUR Walmart members and disciplining 50 others in June of this year.  The question that obviously lingers behind activism such as this is whether or not the real change the organization (in this case OUR Walmart) Is seeking will be achieved?  There is certainly no doubt that the fight will rage on between Walmart and any type of organization that seeks a better wage or quality of life for its employees and carries any trace of organized labor. OUR Walmart is certainly not without the help of a union, but they are doing things differently.  Walmart would not have fired 20 of their members if they thought the organization was insignificant, and that is reason enough to give their movement credibility.

Russia’s Blurred Lines With Syria

From Stijn Vogels on Flickr

From Stijn Vogels on Flickr

Take a second to get the mental image of a Vladimir Putin and Robin Thicke out of your head.  I hate to make the reference to such an obnoxious song, but the correlation of terms is too good to pass up.  Russia does indeed have some “blurred lines” with Syria, especially in regard to where their loyalty lies.

Russia and the United States have been in an awkward situation for awhile, especially with Edward Snowden and boycotting the Olympics.  Obama deciding not to attend a summit in Moscow last month did not help the already troubled relationship between the two countries.  Ever since the notion of chemical weapons use in Syria escalated in late-August, Russia has seemed to be more inclined to support any measure that the U.S. is against.  In this, a military strike on Syria.   President Putin himself has been very vocal about not buying into the idea that Syria used chemical weapons:

“I am convinced that it (the chemical attack) is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want to win the support of powerful members of the international arena, especially the United States,” Putin said.

Putin, in an uncharacteristic yet likely insincere statement, said that President Obama needs to consider his Nobel Laureate status and think about all the civilians that could be impacted by the decision to strike.

Today however, Russia’s foreign minister announced intentions to push for Syria to give up their chemical weapon arsenal in order to avoid an impending conflict with the United States.  Solidarity with the U.S.? Fear of obligation to get involved? Probably not the first, but Russia has apparently acknowledged that Syria does indeed have chemical weapons even if they still deny that they have been used.

This broaches a genuine question of where Russia’s allegiance stands.  Its highly unlikely that this is an act of support for the United States government’s intent to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.  Thoughts?

Weekly Environmental Round-Up: Frackquake and “White” Water Rafting

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From Billb1961 on flickr

Frack-Quake

There has been a recent boom in the natural gas industry, and a lot of it is attributed to a controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).  To get you up to speed, fracking involves injecting water, sand, chemicals, etc. into the ground to fracture rock, generally marcellus shale, in order to free up natural gas and allow it to be extracted more easily and quickly.

Fracking has been linked to several things including groundwater contamination, drinking water contamination, and more recently…Earthquakes.

Prior to 2011, Youngstown Ohio had never experienced any type of seismic activity that amounted to an earthquake.  However, an injection well that pumped fracking wastewater from projects in Pennsylvania came to the area in December 2010.  Youngstown experienced 109 individual earthquakes in the year that followed, including one that recorded a 3.9 magnitude.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources was quick to deny the idea that the injection site was the cause of the quakes after the largest one in 2011.

However, a recent study released by the Journal of Geophysical Research has shown otherwise.  Columbia University seismologist Wong-Young Kim conducted the study that places a causal link between the injection sites and earthquakes.

“We conclude that the recent earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio were induced by the fluid injection at a deep injection well due to increased pore pressure along the preexisting subsurface faults located close to the wellbore,” Kim wrote in the paper.

(Source: Grist.)

It is important to note that the Northstar injection site at the center of the quake controversy was placed over a fault and the study indicates that the pressure from the wastewater injection ruptured the fault.  However, had the injections not been occuring, a rupture would not have occurred.

(The full text of Kim’s journal article can be found here)

West Virginia “White” Water

Whitewater rafting is one of West Virginia’s biggest tourism attractions for the summer, and can be a great way to experience the beauty of the state.  But there is a different kind of whitewater flowing through the streams of Boone County.  Over 2,000 gallons of a dust suppressant called DT-50-D spilled into the stream, turning it a cloudy-white color.

A Patriot Coal subsidiary was responsible for the leak and “vacuums” will be used to suck out the chemical.  Just another way Patriot is giving back to the community….

(Image of stream can be found here)

An Open Letter to President Obama Regarding Syria

Dear President Obama,

My 8th grade special topics class posed the question of whether or not we should invade Iraq, back when the subject was up for debate before the actual invasion.  Being that I was in 8th grade, my knowledge of the intricacies of war and politics was minimal at best.  However, somehow I knew it was wrong to go to war with Iraq.  This was when I learned what the word “imminent” meant.  Brian Williams used the word “imminent” when describing the likelihood of invading Iraq.  I asked my mother what that word meant.  With a concerned look on her face she replied, “it means soon, happening soon…It means we are going to war.”

You ran a very successful campaign in 2008, and again in 2012.  One of the primary vehicles behind 2008 was the ideal spread across the country that there would be “hope” and “change” with an Obama White House.  One of the biggest reasons I voted for you was because I felt like you would be the polar-opposite of George W. Bush.  Where Bush created problems, you would create solutions.  Where Bush created war, you might create peace.

Peace in the Middle East was something that many optimistic people thought might get addressed by your administration.  I was instilled with hope after your election because I thought you could restore integrity and respect to the office of President, and to the United States.  I actually thought it was possible, in a sense, to bring some peace to the Middle East.  A military strike with Syria would put the final nail in the coffin to this already dying dream.

When you were a candidate running for the U.S. Senate in Illinois in 2002, you spoke very openly about the war in Iraq:

“I don’t oppose all wars…[w]hat I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war….[w]hat I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income.”

If you thought Iraq was rash, maybe you should take a look at your response to Syria.  Within literally days of confirming that Syria used chemical weapons, you mentioned intentions of a military strike.

I know its been a long time since 2002, but maybe a more recent statement will draw your memory.  Your DNC acceptance speech in 2008 was very eloquent, and included this statement:

I will restore our moral standing so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

What happened?  Where did we go between 2008 and now?  Have we just tossed out the notion of having a moral standing?  Is a moral standing really accomplished by invading other countries who have not posed an immediate threat to the United States?  Why has collateral damage become an issue on the back-burner?  I get that a lot has happened in 5 years, but you haven’t exactly been a very dove-like President.  In fact, you have adopted more of a hawkish attitude with the authorization of drone strikes.

The American people long to live lives of peace, and peace means at home AND abroad.  I am 23 years old.  We have been at war  for the majority of my life.  I long to one day know what it feels like to live in a country where we are not bombing, invading, or re-building another country.

Mr. President, I have cousins who live in Syria.  Cousins who I have never met before.  I don’t even know their names.  All I have been told is that we have distant cousins who live there.  Maybe they have since moved away.  But  I want to meet them one day.  I hope I can.  Please don’t bomb their home.  I understand your concerns with Syria’s oppressive regime, but lets act like adults and not children.  Because the Syrian people need some adult leadership, and the U.S. does too.

Respectfully Submitted,

-CC

Perspectives on Syria

From Maggie Osama on Flickr

From Maggie Osama on Flickr

America needs to take a deep breath and a bath. The US government has reacted to Syria like a kid reacts to a cool box at the store with a vast array of colors on it. They jump at first sight and immediately decide they want it. But if they pay closer attention to that box, they would realize its just prunes and nothing exciting.

The United States could very easily be on the brink of war, and it is still completely unclear whether or not we will launch a military strike on Syria.  I could be writing this now, and this time next week there be missiles detonated in Damascus.  Its scary to think about.

In a climate very different from 2003 before the Iraq invasion, many people are opposed to the military strike in Syria. Here is a collection of snippets from various different WordPress users expressing their concern for Syria, their people, and the future.

From 90degrees2theleft

What is happening in Syria is a civil war. No attacks or confrontations have occurred, yet, with neighboring countries, but by the US getting involved in what up to know has been a bloody and even unfair regional war – a civil war – it will turn into an international war that could easily evolve into WWIII.

From elena.teresa.ann

i admit i look at syria and i wring my hands and cry silently because i. just. don’t. know.  i want assad to be stopped, but at what cost? i just. don’t. know.

From Politicswestchesterview (14 questions for U.S. Congress)

How many Syrians are you comfortable with killing and wounding in a US attack?

Is it your belief that the US and its allies have never used chemical weapons* or sold them to others who have used them?

Will you vote for funds to eventually rebuild US embassies and other US-related buildings in the Middle East if they are destroyed, and to compensate any US victims or their survivors?

From Sagittarius Dolly

I think those chemical attacks were an abomination and whoever was responsible for those attacks should be held accountable. But I think this should be done through the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, not the United States. Especially since it’s likely that the U.S. would be doing this totally alone.

From Energeopolitics

I think the idea of launching a few days of air strikes will salve the conscience of many of our leaders, but will likely be ineffective at anything other than a public relations sense

From C.S. Burks, Esq.

So we’re not going to war ‘in the classic sense’, we’re just going to lob cruise missiles into Syria.

I guess it doesn’t matter that lobbing the aforementioned cruise missiles will be aiding Al-Qaeda-backed rebels.

 

There are others, though, that do support a strike on Syria

From High Plains Blogger

I still believe a strike must occur. Barack Obama drew that “red line” when he said using the chemicals would violate all “international norms.” The president reportedly is considering a limited strike aimed solely at military targets. Whether our forces can pull this off without inflicting civilian casualties remains to be seen.

From Joe Refano’s Big Mouth

It is undeniable now that The Assad regime has used poison SARIN gas against their own people.  Regardless of your political affiliation,  it is obvious and most imperative,  that the USA respond in no uncertain terms against this shameful atrocity.

 

What are the pros and cons of each? Where do you stand?  The debate needs to happen.  This is a critical time in our nation.

Island in the Sky: Big Coal Disrespects the Dead

This article originally published on Raging Chicken Press

An “island in the sky” may sound like a nice, tropical vacation spot, but in West Virginia it carries a whole different meaning. The Jarrell family cemetery used to sit atop one of Appalachia’s many pristine and beautiful mountains. The cemetery hasn’t moved, but the mountains have. Situated in the center of a surface mining site, the hillside around the cemetery has been blasted away, leaving the Jarrell’s with quite literally an “island in the sky” plot of land.

For years, the Jarrell family has had to fight tooth-and-nail against the coal companies whose mountaintop removal mining operations kept creeping closer to their cemetery. If it wasn’t insulting enough to have to fight to preserve the graves of their ancestors, the family cannot even visit the cemetery without putting in a request with the mine’s safety coordinator. But the Jarrell family has had enough.

The Jarrells recently filed suit against Alpha Natural Resources for coming within 30 feet of their ancestors’ graves, which the family claims violates state law and a pre-arranged agreement with Alpha for a 100-foot buffer zone boundary. One of the family members even claimed that Alpha went so far as to mine underneath the graves. The family is suing for damages associated with negligence, grave desecration, and infliction of emotional distress by Alpha’s mining operations.

If it comes as a surprise that a large coal-producing company like Alpha is desperately trying to take control of the Jarrell’s plot of land, consider the current situation that many coal companies are facing. Massey Energy, once the fourth largest producer of coal in the country, was bought by Alpha in 2011 after a horrendous mine disaster. Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy in July of this year and was accompanied with a battled by theUnited Mine Workers of America over employee pensions. With the struggles facing the coal companies, it is no surprise that entities like Alpha will morally bankrupt themselves for a quick dollar. Exploitation of people for profit is not unfamiliar territory.

When individuals fight big coal, they are waging a David and Goliath battle. The Jarrell family may be at a disadvantage, but they’re fighting for both themselves and to preserve the honor of their ancestors. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the term coined for their plot of land, island in the sky, is also a John Wayne movie. John Wayne was faced with keeping his men alive after they were forced to land their supply planes in icy conditions and await rescue. With the odds stacked against them, they are able to survive. The Jarrells are faced with comparable conditions. Fighting a coal company that runs one of the largest surface mining operations is almost like being stranded out in sub-zero temperatures. Most people wouldn’t even try. But most people don’t have everything to fight for.

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Photo: Maria Gunmen. Flier courtesy SouthWings.org.  Used with permission

Real Justices of Genius: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Today, we salute you Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  This past Saturday, Justice Ginsburg officiated between Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser and economist John Roberts.

Its been a long time coming.  The civil rights movements in this country have been slow to start, hard fought, and arduous journeys.  Arguably the biggest civil rights movement of the current generation is equality for same-sex couples.  Same-sex marriage needs no introduction, because its been at the forefront of major litigation, court decisions, and news headlines for the past few years.  Fewer and fewer people are coming out in opposition to same-sex marriage, because society is starting to change.  

Justice Ginsburg is seen as an ardent supporter of same-sex marriages.  She realizes not just that its a logical fallacy to prohibit same-sex marriages, but that it is a fundamental right for people to be able to love each other. 

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg said. (Washington Post)

For the Justice’s unfettered support of civil rights and human rights, we tip our hats and our glass to her tonight. 

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