Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trade, Timber, and Termination: Worker Struggles in California's Gold Country

Photos courtesy of Sue Jennings-Johnson

By Michael Israel and David Roddy

On August 23, 2012, sawmill workers in Martell, California, declared a strike against the owners of the SierraPine Ampine particleboard plant. Martell is the commercial and industrial pivot of Amador County, a strip of foothills between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe characterized by Black Oak, Ponderosa Pine, and Republican candidate lawn signs. The region had not seen a significant strike in years.

The workers and their union, Lumber and Sawmill local 2927, had previously been in the process of negotiation with the company since late May. The cooperative connotation from calling this three-month period a “negotiation,” however, is misleading. Management mostly ignored proposals from the union, and were relentless in their demand for cuts in benefits, wages, and increased mandatory overtime.

In their last contract pitch, the company surprised everyone by asking for more concessions than they had in earlier contract proposals, further signifying no interest in compromise. The proposal included a 2% wage cut, no wage increases for the following four years (the entire length of the contract), the loss of two holidays, an increase in hours required for one to qualify for vacation, the loss of a bonus week of vacation pay for one-third of the work force, and changes to the worker’s Healthcare Trust. The company also requested for the ability to call in outside contractors as opposed to calling in qualified laid off employees, the right to hire from any source regardless of whether they are qualified or not, for Supervisors to assume jobs held by the wage worker, and finally, they proposed the ability to request unrestricted mandatory overtime from any worker.

Union president Tony Garcia explained the situation to reporters:
“The contract was open as of May 31st. We started meeting with the company in late April. We had a series of meetings with them; two in April, two in June, two in August. We worked under the current agreement until we could come to a new agreement… We couldn’t make it anywhere with them. As of our last meeting in August, they gave use their last best and final and told us we could go vote it and they would implement it on the 27th either way. It was a take it or leave it. We voted it on Wednesday and it was 52 to 6 NOs. We went back to work Thursday and our representatives contacted their representatives and asked if there were more negotiations to be had. We couldn’t get anywhere, they had nothing for us. And here we are.”

One of the strikers told us that on the morning of August 24, the entire workforce of the plant, in the first instance of all the factory's departments uniting, walked out.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lumber and Sawmill Workers in Amador County on Strike

Coverageof the strike from the Sacramento Bee.

Please call the highlighted number on this handbill to urge a fair contract with Sierra Pine's workers.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Agenda 21 in the News Again

In the Mountain Democrat AND

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Journal of a Mother Lode and L.A. Resident Arrested at Occupy L.A.: Post 2

By John Pulskamp

On Sunday November 27 it appeared that LAPD would raid the encampment that night. Mayor Villaraigosa, although he had initially supported Occupy Los Angeles and the encampment, had made statements that the park would be cleared that night. I had been in Amador County for Thanksgiving, but left at noon on the 27th to drive back to southern California. Holiday traffic resulted in my not getting to City Hall until 11:15 p.m. A couple of thousand Occupy Los Angeles supporters filled the camp and surrounding streets making it impossible for LAPD to move on the camp without it getting very ugly. Eventually LAPD withdrew after clearing the streets, but without attacking the camp. Thanks to the presence of all those supporters, the park was held against the 12:01 a.m. deadline that had been announced by the mayor.

I was in Solidarity Park through the night and most of Monday, the next day. On Monday the crowds were not as large as they had been the night before, but there were still quite a few people there, and the police did not attack. I had not had any sleep since early Sunday morning, so Monday evening I went back to my home in the San Fernando Valley and got about five hours sleep.

Late in the day of Tuesday, November 29 I returned to City Hall. There was a particular tent we had decided to symbolically protect from being removed. We formed concentric circles around the tent and sat down. Various reports of the numbers of Occupiers in the circles range from 50, 75, and up to 100. I was in the innermost circle right against the tent. Those in the circles locked arms and sat peacefully.

Line of LAPD squad cars.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in the event the police were to come in. I have seen LAPD dish out some pretty heave “street justice” on other occasions. I didn’t think it likely that they would use gas or pepper spray, mostly because of all the bad press resulting from the police use of pepper spray at U.C. Davis just a few days earlier, but I wasn’t sure. Someone from the Occupy Los Angeles supply tent gave me a bandana soaked in vinegar, which I was told would help in the event of pepper spray. I was also given some earplugs because there was concern that the police might use loud, damaging sound to force disbursement.
I was not wearing a watch so I am not sure of the times of anything that happened that night. It was sometime around midnight I think when the police began the attack. There was lots of noise, and protesters were chanting. Because of the noise, the chanting, and the earplugs I couldn’t make out clearly what was being said, but there had suddenly been a lot of yelling and people running in various directions. With that I assumed the police were moving in, and in short order that was confirmed, as we were quickly surrounded by a hoard of police in riot gear with some pointing weapons at us.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Journal of a Mother Lode and L.A. Resident Arrested at Occupy L.A.: Post 1

John Pulskamp.
By John Pulskamp

My family has been in Los Angeles since just after the Civil War, but in the 1970s my youngest sister’s in-laws bought a business in Amador County and my two youngest sisters and their husbands moved to Amador County to help with the business. Later, I think because my mother wanted to be near her daughters, my parents built a nice home in Sutter Creek and moved there.

From the 1970s on our family started spending more and more time in Amador County. Our Thanksgiving Day’s calibrations were always held there, and after my parents moved to Sutter Creek our Christmases were celebrated in their home in Sutter Creek. During summer vacations from school various of our sons would work at Lake Amador as “boat boys” or helping around the grounds and cafĂ© at the lake. One of our sons decided he wanted to stay in Amador County and finish high school there. He stayed, and he and his family still live in Ione. Our second daughter and our oldest granddaughter live in Sacramento.

Calaveras County.
Several of our sons are planning on opening a restaurant in Jackson, and I expect that when that happens a few more of the boys will move up north.

With more and more of my family leaving southern California and establishing themselves in the Mother Lode area, and the fact that the San Fernando Valley, where I’ve lived since 1951, has become so crowded I decided to move north as well. My wife and I own a few acres in Calaveras County just south of Lake Camanche, and I am slowly getting it fixed up to meet my wife’s requirements for a place to live. I spend about half of my time there in Calaveras County and the other half in the San Fernando Valley. In recent months I’ve been spending a little more time in Calaveras than in southern California. Hopefully, in the not too distant future my wife and I will be fully moved in there.

I suppose I’ve always held a sort of a populist outlook on the economy and politics in our country, over the past several decades it seems to me that the average people, the workers and small business owners, have been increasingly getting the short end of the stick. When I first heard of the Occupy Wall Street movement I wasn’t sure if it was going anywhere, or if it might turn out to just be a flash in the pan. It did sound like they were raising the right questions, though. So I began to pay a little more attention.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Take on the SOPA/PIPA Blackouts

By Nick Robinson-Berry

This was truly an impressive day for the American mainstream media. For once, in an incredible breath of fresh air, a decent amount of air time was dedicated to a story that truly, clearly matters to the average American: the protest movement against SOPA/PIPA. For the first time in 6 months, I tuned in to watch the morning news and was not absolutely inundated by story after story of what color tie Mitt Romney was wearing. I didn't hear much about the garbage that was spewed from the pit that is Newt Gingrich's mouth. My liberties did not feel too infringed upon after the short time I spent listening to whatever nonsense Rick Santorum felt inspired to talk about. Instead, I was treated to the first instance of actual headline news I've seen in a good, long while.

It wasn't just the headlines on the television that caught my attention today. Many media outlets on the web were awash with reporting on the controversial bills, what they meant, how they worked, as well as who supported them and who was vehemently against them. If you happened to visit one of the top 100 most popular websites today, there was a very good chance you stumbled upon some kind of banner, some kind of image, or even just a large, black screen, upon which there was a plea to act, speak or demonstrate; just do something besides sitting on your butt in front of a screen waiting for something to happen. There was a public outcry today the likes of which the Occupy Wall Street movement would die for 15 minutes of. There was public unity on both sides of the political spectrum. It seems when it comes to freedom of speech and opposition to censorship, we do not stand divided; we stand as Americans.

Today is a day I am proud of my country, if not for the freedom we so desperately cling to, then for the people who have finally taken the time to stand for themselves. Be certain, however, that this is not a self-fueled fire. Today was a spark on the hides of many American citizens, some of whom desperately needed it, but it will be all for naught should we resort back to the terminal complacency we've been wallowing in for the past 10 years. Our freedoms are fragile, so fragile as to be subject to elimination by the simplest stroke of a pen. As long as they are only written on paper and not demonstrated by action, we can never and will never be a truly liberated society.

If you haven't contacted your representatives already, please do so. If you haven't made even the smallest attempt to educate others about the threats to their freedoms, please do so. If you haven't ruffled a few feathers or stirred the waters today, please, do so. Before it's too late for any of us.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Punk community rallies to fight poverty featured in the Ledger Dispatch

Punk community rallies to fight poverty | Ledger Dispatch

You do need to register to read the entire article. Nevertheless, it's a fair piece.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Ground We Walk On: A History of the IWW in the Mother Lode and the Jackson Socialistic Circle (Post 3)

Malicious Miners and Pernicious Pinkertons
By David Roddy

Note: this is the second post in a series on the Haywood, Moyer, and Pettiboone trial.
Famed Pinkerton private detective James McParland.
To fully understand the union movement in the California gold mines after the 1903 strike, one must first travel eastward to Idaho, where politics inescapably hung around the investigation of the assassination of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg in late December, 1905. State prosecutors focused on charging the leaders of the Western Federation of Miners with conspiracy to commit the bombing that took his life. Idaho Governor Frank Gooding telegraphed the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to lead the investigation.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012