Weekly Workers’ Round-Up: Sodexo & French Oil Strikes, Unions Get Out Vote & Miners’ Aftermath

Alexandra Markowski

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Sodexo workers strike at hospitals, schools nationwide

Despite the global financial crisis, Sodexo Inc. cleared $1 billion in profits last year, making the food service giant one of the most profitable in the world. But despite that huge profit margin, Sodexo workers earn as little as $8.27/hour, a wage low enough to qualify for food stamps. In response to rock bottom earnings and insufficient beneifts, Sodexo workers across the country have been speaking out and going on strike.

Over the last two weeks, workers have made public declarations nationwide: Lehigh Valley Hospitals in Allentown, Penn.; Morehouse College in Atlanta; Tulane University in New Orleans; Ohio State University; and Highland Park Public Schools in Highland Park, New Jersey.

Just this week, picketing workers at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said the company has intimidated employees who have been working with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as the organization has tried to unionize Sodexo employees nationwide. SEIU worked with Sodexo employees in organizing many of their recent public demonstrations.

Watch the video above for more info on the Sodexo story and the workers’ progress.

Labor spending $100M to get out the vote

Labor unions are organizing tens of thousands of activists nationwide to reach out to union members and counteract dissatisfaction with Obama’s democratic leadership. Union households have been a staple for Democrats in the past (Obama drew support from 60% of union households in 2008), but as workers haven’t reaped many of the benefits they expected in the last two years, union members have become increasingly apathetic about Democrats.

A challenge of enthusiasm exists for the left, as the economy remains poor, issues important to workers are stalled in Congress and Republicans seem more energized than ever. Worker disenchantment with the Democratic Party has become apparent: In Michigan, Republican Gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder leads Democrat Virg Benero among union members, while in Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pat Toomey won the endorsement of a police union over Democrat Joe Setsak.

Unions plan to spend about $100 million before the Nov. 2 election to counter these trends. They are targeting nearly 100 House races, 18 Senate seats and 14 gubernatorial races. Nationwide, through campaign walks, house calls, mailings, phone calls and work site outreach, union officials have already contacted half of their approximately 17.5 million members.

Read more about the union push to calm laborers’ concerns and move union democrats to the polls here.

French refinery strike over pensions affects mass transit

Ten of France’s 12 oil refineries stopped production Friday, while union workers from all 12 refineries took part in the fourth day of the workers’ strike over government pension reforms. By the end of the week, even high-school students were getting involved in the effort, with disturbances reported at 342 schools nationwide.

Meanwhile, consumers lined up at gas stations to stock up on fuel, in case of a rupture in the nation’s supply. The strike could have a direct effect on Paris’s two primary airports, Orly and Charles de Gaulle, both of which are supplied by a pipeline from refineries that went on-strike Friday. Orly reported having fuel to last for 17 days; Charles de Gaulle is said to have at least enough fuel to last the weekend.

Other transportation suffered slightly due to the strike. Local buses and trains were operating, though only half the high-speed TGV trains were running on Friday.

The pension reforms in question have passed the lower house of Parliament and are now waiting for Senate approval. French workers were particularly angry about plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the government has no plans to change this provision despite public disapproval.

Read more about the French pension debate here.

What’s next for Chilean miners?

According to BBC News on Friday, all of the 33 rescued Chilean miners have been released from the hospital. The world watched the 22-hour rescue operation on Tuesday and Wednesday, as these men escaped from their two-month isolation underground.

National Public Radio (NPR) reports that the government doctors treating the rescued miners are surprised at how well they’ve been doing. Three of the men had dental issues, one had an eye problem, one suffered from vertigo, one had pneumonia and one was experiencing psychological trauma. The majority, however, were said to be in relatively good condition.

So what comes next? Hopefully not work for the miners, and especially not mining. According to NPR and other media sources, the men made a pact underground that they won’t work again if they can avoid it. They promised to share any profits they made from the accident to help them all reach this goal. So far, the miners have received offers from individuals and businesses all over the world, from trips to employment opportunities to movie offers and book deals. A Chilean millionaire has set up accounts for each of the men, depositing $10,000 into each and opening up the accounts so that other businesses can contribute as well.

And the miners will likely receive additional compensation as lawsuits emerge between their families, the San Esteban Mining Company and the Chilean government. The families are suing because there was no escape route in the mine, rendering the conditions unsafe and contributing to the two-month struggle underground.

Listen to NPR’s interview with reporter Annie Murphy for more on the aftermath of the Chilean mine crisis.

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Alexandra Markowski is a former In These Times editorial intern.
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