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Unusual Alliance Rallies Against Kaiser

by Karen Dorn Steele and Hannelore Sudermann, Staff writers
Spokesman Review, October 5, 1999

Labor, environmental groups team up to target Maxxam Inc.

"Have you heard the one about the Steelworker and the environmentalist? Lots of companies wish we were joking."

That full-page ad in Monday's New York Times announces an unconventional alliance of labor and environmental groups -- with hundreds of thousands of potential members.

No. 1 corporate target of the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment: Maxxam Inc., the company that controls 63 percent of Kaiser Aluminum.

The group will fight unethical corporate practices such as the Kaiser lockout of nearly 3,000 union members, its founders said Monday in a San Francisco news conference.

It also will participate in the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle next month, where debates over threats to workers and the environment from globalization are expected to be intense.

The $15,000 newspaper ad campaign was paid for by the United Steelworkers of America and by Earth Island Institute and Friends of the Earth founder David Brower, the internationally known "Archdruid" or dean of modern American environmentalism.

The new alliance links two generations: the 87-year-old Brower and a younger group of union organizers, including David Foster, the 51-year-old lead negotiator for locked-out Steelworkers in the Kaiser negotiations.

"This alliance is long overdue. I've spent my 25 years in the labor movement trying to create this," Foster said.

Brower used part of a recent $400,000 environmental prize from Japan to help launch the alliance's ad campaign, he said Monday.

"This will be a conscience for corporations and politicians that have lost theirs. I'm delighted that Charles Hurwitz brought us together. It won't please him, but it pleases us," Brower said.

Hurwitz is the CEO of Maxxam, the Houston company embroiled in controversies over clearcutting California redwoods and locking out union workers in Spokane, Tacoma, Ohio and Louisiana.

The labor-green alliance was born a year ago in California and energized further at Maxxam's annual stockholder meeting outside Houston in May.

The allies forged the "Houston Principles," guidelines for corporate behavior. They've been signed by 120 leading environmentalists and more than 100 union leaders.

The alliance is an "extraordinary marriage of convenience" doomed to fail, said Maxxam spokesman Josh Reiss.

"A lot of Steelworkers are going to besurprised that their leadership has allied itself with eco-terrorists bent on job destruction," Reiss said.

A Kaiser spokesman also called the alliance counterproductive.

"It's unfortunate that the union leadership is spending so much time on these efforts rather than sitting down at the bargaining table and trying to reach an agreement," said Scott Lamb in Houston.

The new marriage won't end with the resolution of the Kaiser impasse and will become a leverage for corporate reform, Foster said.

A locked-out Kaiser Aluminum worker from Spokane has helped launch the alliance. Steelworker Don Kegley has been in Humboldt County, Calif., training for months to be an environmentalist and trade activist.

"It all really feels like one fight," said the burly Steelworker. "It feels like something that's long overdue."

Kegley said he expects the WTO meeting in Seattle to be "the biggest thing since Woodstock." WTO trade policies are "bad for Americans," he said.

On Saturday at a rally for the Steelworkers who have been out of their Kaiser jobs for a year, Kegley and an environmentalist named Felony held a sham wedding to announce the alliance. Kegley wore a hard hat and Felony, a white wedding dress with foliage pinned to the front.

The "green steel" alliance won't mean job losses for union members, Foster said. Steelworkers have worked previously with industry officials on Clean Air Act-mandated improvements in coke ovens that led directly to preservation of several thousand jobs, he said.

"When environmentalists and labor sit down and agree on a good environmental policy, the end result is jobs, not job loss," he said.

Karen Dorn Steele and Hannelore Sudermann, Staff writers
Unusual Alliance Rallies Against Kaiser
Spokesman Review, October 5, 1999

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