Monday, May 10, 2010

Still Locked Out

Back in February, I posted on the lock-out at the Rio Tinto borax mine in Boron, California. Well, three months later, the union workers are still locked out and the mine owners are still busing in "temporary workers." The Los Angeles Times has a follow-up article which examines just what the lock-out is doing to the union workers and to the small desert town in which they live.

Three months after a labor dispute led the world's second-largest borax mine to lock out 570 workers in this small Kern County town, the effects are being felt far and wide. Businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Families are trying to make ends meet without paychecks and health insurance. There appears to be little hope for a quick settlement. ...

Rio Tinto Minerals, the British-Australian conglomerate that operates the mile-wide strip mine, says it has lost 25% of the worldwide borax market and business must adjust to survive.

The company offered workers a new contract that included a 2% annual raise, a $4,000 signing bonus and an early-retirement package. In return, they demanded wholesale changes in the seniority system, the creation of more non-union jobs and the right to make some full-time jobs part time.

Over five months of talks, workers refused to accept certain proposals, especially those dealing with seniority.

Rio Tinto may have lost a segment of the market, but the corporation's bottom line was still healthy last year. Very healthy. Apparently the profits weren't as high as the company wanted so it went after the union, figuring if they could bust the union out of the picture, they wouldn't have to pay as much in wages and benefits. The easiest way to do that was to go after the seniority rules and to push for the right to hire non-union workers.

Seniority is the sticking point, and the union refuses to cave on that issue, and it is right to do so. Those who've been with the company the longest generally earn more than the newest employees. Protecting seniority means protecting wages and benefits for all of the employees, especially those who intend to stay with the company. It keeps those who have been well-trained around to help newer employees learn their jobs and how to do those jobs efficiently and safely. It stops the company from laying off the most experienced and, yes, most expensive employees so that it can hire new workers willing to work for less, not an unusual situation during periods of high unemployment.

What's at play here is some old-fashioned union busting, and the company hasn't done a very good job at hiding that fact. Three months in and not only the union workers are having difficulty scraping by. Local businesses are about to fold as well. The entire town is affected economically during the worst possible time. But the chaps in London just don't care. Multinationals never do, as we've witnessed time and again, especially in the last several months in West Virginia and the Gulf of Mexico.

After plunging most of the planet into an economic disaster, our owners are looking for the next, best way to make money. In Boron, apparently that way is on the back of workers.

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Blogger PurpleGirl said...

The way to insure (more) profits is always on the backs of the workers and paying them less. We should be grateful for what they deign to offer us, even if it's crumbs.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous kcbill13 said...

Rio Tinto, along with all of the other extractive industries, has just been levied with a "super profits" tax in Australia to force them to leave more on the table for the Australian community.

They are screaming like stuck pigs at the moment, along with all of the other miners. I found the post informative of what these people really are all about, just squeeze a little bit more profit here, a little more there, and they care not a whit for their workers.

6:27 PM  

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