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

Alexandra Markowski

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.

Alexan­dra Markows­ki is a for­mer In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern.
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