Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Another Boot Drops

It's been a rough year and a half for workers. Unemployment figures continue at double digits and each week more are added to the list. That means, among other things, that employers have an additional bit of leverage when it comes to their employees and at least some of them have taken full advantage. The latest bit of evidence of that came in an article in the L.A. Times dealing with the borax mine in Boron, California. Boron is a small town in Kern County about fifty miles or so from the Mojave Desert and has essentially been a company town since borax was discovered there about 70 years ago.

The mine, the second largest open mine in the U.S., was initially owned by U.S. Borax, the company which is famous for the "Twenty Mule Team" logo of the '50's and 60's. It has since been acquired by Rio Tinto, an international corporation now "based" in London but which is actually an Australian mining company, one of the biggest in the world. Apparently that corporation isn't happy with their profits, so they've engaged in a little "proactive" response during the latest contract negotiations with the union which represents the workers.

...Citing a 25% loss in its share of the global market, mining company Rio Tinto has spent the last five months trying and mostly failing to extract concessions from the union, including changes in the cherished seniority system.

The company now has threatened to lock out its roughly 600 hourly employees and bus in replacements as early as this morning.

Workers say it's all a thinly veiled attempt to break the union. ...

Rio Tinto employs some 720 people in Boron, paying $12 to $35 an hour. The London-based mining giant operates on five continents and reported $2.5 billion in net earnings for the first half of 2009, down 65% from the same period in 2008.
[Emphasis added]

The company showed a multi-billion dollar profit during the opening of an extremely rough period in the world economy, but it wasn't big enough, so the company expected the workers to give back some hard won concessions. While the article published later in the day than the one I saw this morning doesn't detail just what is involved, this morning's facts included not just seniority issues, but the right to hire non-union employees and to pay them less (thereby creating a two-tier system), to downgrade health care benefits so that only 80% is covered by the company, and to lower wage increases.

If the union doesn't play ball on this, the company will lock the workers out and bus in scabs. Those scabs won't be hard to find, not when unemployment in California is over 12%, and who can blame them too much? They're unemployed, have families and mortgages, and need a job. And a small town in Kern County, California will die, because what has sustained it for decades has decided that the coupon-cutters are more important than anything else in the world.

And that's what unfettered and unregulated capitalism is all about.

May God forgive those who believe that is the way of the world, because I certainly cannot.

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