Strikes are back in style but greed is still fashionable among the rich

Strikes have been in the news recently, as more workers have had enough of being exploited but powerful private equity investors continue to display characteristics of greedy predators intent on sucking the life out of America’s economy.

Nearly 10,000 Fred Meyers and QFC workers went on strike Friday morning demanding better pay and benefits from Oregon’s largest grocery chain store.

The strike could last through Christmas if a deal isn’t met with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555. The union represents about 30,000 grocery store workers in Oregon.

A week before Christmas, union workers at Erie Strayer that had been on strike for more than two months, will be back to work on Monday. Local 851 Ironworkers and United Steel Workers Local 31-99 walked off the job on October 4th after negotiations broke down as they were fighting for fair wages and benefits.

“This win is a testament to the power of worker solidarity and that the best protection and future for workers everywhere is with a union contract made for workers and by workers,” said .

Three coffee shops in Massachusetts have recognized a union of workers that is affiliated with New England Joint Board UNITE HERE, the collective bargaining agent representing people employed in the textile, garment, manufacturing, warehousing, laundry, human service, and hospitality industries in New England and New York.

“We carry the tradition of organizing workers in traditionally low-wage industries, bringing them and their families into well-paying middle-class jobs,” said a union spokesperson. “Our members work in cafeterias, factories, retail stores, distribution centers, industrial laundries, offices, group homes, casinos, and mills. We are proud of our heritage and of our current status as an evolving union fighting for the rights of all workers.”

In coastal Orange County, south of Los Angeles, 400 sanitation workers went on strike on December 9 against Republic Services, the second-largest waste management firm in the US. The workers, members of International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Local 396, had voted by a large majority in favor of a strike on November 23.

Kellogg Company announced that it has reached a tentative agreement for a five-year labor contract with the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union and the four local unions representing 1,400 employees at its U.S. cereal plants in Battle Creek, Mich., Lancaster, Penn., Memphis, Tenn. and Omaha, Neb.

Kellogg’s workers, who have been on strike since their contract expired on Oct. 5, at a rally in Michigan criticized the deal and suggested that the strike could last even longer.

“It’s a Trojan horse that’s been given to us that’s going to allow us to basically harm ourselves down the road,” said Trevor Bidelman, a mechanical technician at the Battle Creek plant and the president of the local union. Union members will vote over the next few days. Results are expected Tuesday.

As an Alabama coal miners’ strike neared its eight-month mark, a Tuscaloosa County judge took the unusual step of prohibiting union workers from picketing outside their employer’s properties. The order was a rare incursion by a local court into a private-sector strike—an activity protected under federal labor law for nearly a century.

The United Mine Workers of America, which represents workers at Warrior Met Coal Inc., called the move unconstitutional, saying it violated their federal rights in addition to the First Amendment.

The temporary restraining order “continues the State of Alabama’s assault on the rights and freedoms of working families that has been the government’s hallmark during this strike,” said United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts.

The 261-day labor action by Alabama’s Warrior Met Coal is the longest strike in the history of Alabama.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown recently called for the company to begin meaningful negotiations and return workers’ pay and benefits, but greed is running rampant.

Liz Shuler, president of AFL-CIO, explained that in 2015 the Alabama mine’s former owner, Water Energy filed for bankruptcy and a group of private equity firms, led by New York-based Apollo Global Management, bought the Alabama mine. 

Those private equity investors extracted hundreds of millions of dollars in special cash dividends and sold their shares to public multinational investment management corporations like BlackRock, which now owns 13 percent of the company’s stock.

“Consider for a moment that the Wall Street bankers who are calling the shots at Warrior Met took $1.4 billion in workers’ concessions out of Alabama communities and sent it up to New York to line their pockets,” said Roberts. “And then sucked another $750 million from the company’s revenues almost immediately after Warrior Met emerged from bankruptcy.”

“Consider also that for the last several months, Alabama State Police have been working on the public’s dime to escort out-of-state strikebreakers who have been brought in to take Alabama taxpayers’ jobs,” said Roberts. “Where is the sense in that? We have seen no protest or investigation by our state’s leaders about this clear misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Employers faced with a strike, or a possible strike,

While the world and the global economy continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, private equity firms have taken advantage of the flood of cheap debt to buy companies at a record pace and bleed debt-funded profits from companies they currently own.

“In the first half of 2021, private equity firms had their busiest six months ever, announcing 6,300 deals worth $513 billion,” Baker said. “These private equity firms have no shortage of resources. Former Apollo CEO Leon Black made at least $225 million last year and has a net worth of more than $10 billion. Black stepped down earlier this year after an investigation found that he’d paid $158 million in fees to Jeffrey Epstein.”

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