[Marxism] Navajos strike coal companies -- bosses' ethnocentrism and racism hit skids fast

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Sun Feb 8 04:25:34 MST 2004


Navajos strike coal companies at 4 Corners -- bosses' ethnocentrism and
racism hit skids fast

"And he noted the workers learned during negotiations that BHP management
predicted that the union would never strike because Navajos are "soft."

That statement by management threw the issue of respect for Navajo people
and their culture on the negotiating table, he said.

Peterman said, "The union welcomes fair negotiations, not management
dictating to us, treating us like children. We thought we were done with the
BIA mentality of 'boss Indians around.' They (management) thought they could
give us anything and we'd take it."

Note by Hunter Bear:

If the bosses talk, even for a little while, their basic ignorance and
venality always give you helpful arrows.

Native Americans generally make damn good union people -- and this is
certainly true of the Navajo [and the closely related Apaches].   Many in
both groups were/are copper workers -- and stalwarts of militant unionism
[Mine Mill and Smelter Workers in the old days and then United Steelworkers]
in Arizona and New Mexico.  Navajos have been fighting the coal companies
on- and off-res for decades -- often through UMWA.  Mohawks and other
Iroquois in high steel have been tough union fighters for a century --
mostly  in the Iron Workers [International Association of Bridge,
Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers].  And there are
countless other examples.

>From the Navajo Times - February 5 2004
Thursday, February 5, 2004
Window Rock, Arizona

Strikers hope to recover losses from past years

By Marley Shebala
The Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK - The first union strike at BHP Billiton near Farmington started
at midnight on Sunday.

Ron Peterman, president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local
953, said on Tuesday that about 438 surface coal miners from three of BHP's
four coal mines went on strike after their three-year contract with BHP
expired.

The three mines are Navajo, San Juan and La Plata. The Navajo Mine provides
coal to the Four Corner Power Plant.

Peterman said 90 percent of the miners are Navajo.

Peterman said the union has been in negotiations for the past three months
over another three-year contract with BHP.

He said the workers asked for an increase in their wages, pension plan and
health benefits.

Peterman, who has worked for BHP for 11 years, said the company is trying to
take away the workers' health benefits.

He said the health benefits include $500 a year for traditional native
healing and the miners asked for an increase to at least pay for a Yei Bi
Chei.

The Yei Bi Chei is an elaborate nine-day Navajo ceremony that is held in the
winter and costs thousands of dollars.

Peterman said the workers negotiated contracts with BHP for the past 25
years and accepted the company's minimum offer of 15 to 20 cents an hour
wage increases.

He said retirement benefits are so low that when a worker retires, he or she
is forced to work at a minimum wage job to make ends meet.

Peterman said the union's negotiating team has decided that it's time to
recover what the workers have lost in the past 25 years.

He added, "It's not our intent to put the company out of business. We want
to work."

He said he couldn't give a fixed amount on what the workers are asking
because that would be showing bad faith during negotiations.

The membership rejected the company's proposal because it didn't meet their
need to support their families, said Peterman.

And he noted the workers learned during negotiations that BHP management
predicted that the union would never strike because Navajos are "soft."

That statement by management threw the issue of respect for Navajo people
and their culture on the negotiating table, he said.

Peterman said, "The union welcomes fair negotiations, not management
dictating to us, treating us like children. We thought we were done with the
BIA mentality of 'boss Indians around.' They (management) thought they could
give us anything and we'd take it."

Council Delegate George Arthur (Burnham/San Juan/Nenahnezad) said on Tuesday
that a federal mediator was at Tuesday's negotiations at the BHP office in
Farmington.

Arthur, who was visiting the picket lines, said he talked with the miners
and it appeared to him that their No. 1 priority was respect from
management, which includes foremen, for the work they do.

"Some of these crews say they work their butts off which makes management
look good and they get the recognition and bonuses," he said.

Arthur said the workers feel it's only fair that they receive a share of the
recognition and bonuses, which includes upward mobility.

He said he supports their position and encourages them to stand for what
they believe is fair compensation for the work they perform.

Arthur said he hopes BHP resolves the issues of the workers as quickly as
possible to avoid a long drawn out strike.

He said he is also concerned about the company busing in workers to replace
the striking surface miners.

Peterman said management is bringing in salaried employees to replace the
workers because it's the surface miners who load the coal that is supplied
to PNM.

Arthur said he met with Vice President Frank Dayish Jr. on Monday and asked
to have labor compliance officers observe the negotiations, monitor the
picket lines and ensure that the management is complying with Navajo
preference laws.

BHP, in a Monday press release, stated that management was unable to agree
to terms with Local 953.

BHP human resources manager Jim Mik stated, "The terms of the offer made to
the union would maintain surface employees' status as among the highest paid
workers in San Juan County and equal to or better than other surface coal
miners in the region."

Mik stated that BHP would continue to work with the union to resolve the
current impasse.

He also stated that since underground mine workers at the San Juan Mine have
a separate contract that was settled last year, coal deliveries to the San
Juan Generating Station will not be interrupted.

He also stated that management employees will continue supplying coal to the
Four Corners Power Plant.

The Navajo Times contacted Mik on Tuesday but Mik declined to do an
interview.

According to BHP's Monday press release, the New Mexico BHP employs about
900 and produces about 15 million tons of coal annually.

The combined payroll of BHP's New Mexico operation is $63 million a year,
which generated about $112 million in taxes and royalties in 2003 to local,
state, tribal and federal governments.


HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR]
www.hunterbear.org


When you cut to the bone  and cut away the college degrees, academic and
other titles, published books and articles, ours is essentially a working
class and Indian family.  We consistently join unions  -- and we always
support them with the greatest vigor.


It's critical to always keep fighting -- and to always remember that, if one
lives with grace, he/she should be prepared to die with grace.






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