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Letters to the editor for Dec. 26, 2014

Open letter to LIUNA and fellow workers

The following is an open letter to my union and other workers on the issue of export terminals, such as that being proposed for Port Westward:

In joining forces with avowed union enemies to lobby for export projects, like coal, bitumen/oil terminals and pipelines, which would create some short-term, but very few long-term local jobs, I strongly feel we’re selling ourselves out, along with every worker in America.

The propositions stand to benefit billionaires like the Koch brothers and other members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which, as you know, are behind state-by-state attacks on workers’ rights via campaigns like the “right to work” bill recently pushed in Oregon (see http://www.alecexposed.org/ for more information).

Export proponents Arch Coal Inc. and Peabody Energy, both ALEC members, were featured in Northwest Labor Press last summer for shifting pensions worth over $1.3 billion — owed to some 20,000 beneficiaries — to a shell company, and then bankrupting it and leaving retirees destitute. This “success” opened the door for Detroit to become the first city to declare bankruptcy and default on pensions.

Scrutiny showed this to be an ALEC “model” scheme. Supporting companies which commit such crimes against dedicated workers is unacceptable for anyone who purports to be part of a labor movement.

According to Greg Palast, an investigative reporter for the BBC, the Koch brothers stand to save about $26 per barrel by bringing in the oil from the Keystone XL Pipeline instead of from Venezuela. The Kochs’ Houston refineries are designed to refine only the high-carbon tar sands oil available from those sources and cannot even process the lighter Texas crude. The price of $26 per barrel would add up to a lot more ammo in their union-busting arsenal.

Should those proposals succeed, then when our job’s over, coal will continue to be extracted from public lands, with mainly non-union miners and huge federal subsidies — at the taxpayers’ expense — in obscenely higher quantities than today, then carted though our neighborhoods alongside explosive tankers hauling fracked oil. Tar sands oil will keep flowing into Koch Industries Inc. refineries. And while it will not keep us working, it will continue to profit enemies of labor, including fueling their next campaigns, as it’s shipped to Asia, providing cheap fuel for deathtrap factories where subsistence workers slave at jobs outsourced from living-wage employment in America.

Indeed, as industrial and other jobs are replaced with government-subsidized resource extraction and privatization schemes across the board, from fossil fuels and lumber to such basic staples as water and social services, we can see in our mirror a third-world nation.

In my humble opinion, as a member of Laborers’ International Union of North America, pursuing these proposals rather than insisting on cleaner, more labor-friendly energy and transmission projects is suicide. Are we truly willing to follow the short-term carrot on a stick, like an ass to the slaughter? To feed ourselves willingly to those who would destroy us? Or do enough of us still have the conscience, guts and faith to stand up with those who’ve struggled at such cost to give us rights as workers?

Tim Norgren

Member, Laborers Local 320

Stevenson, Wash.

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