Oklahoma lawmakers look at tax hike to avert a teachers’ strike

FILE PHOTO: The Oklahoma State Capitol is seen in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S. on September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz/File Photo

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – Oklahoma’s Senate could begin deliberations as early as Tuesday on the Republican-dominated legislature’s first major tax increase in a quarter century to secure funds for raising the pay of teachers, who are threatening to walk off the job next week.

The measure, which would raise about $450 million to fund increased pay for teachers, school staff and state workers, passed the House late Monday by a 79-19 vote. But the money may not be enough to satisfy the demands of Oklahoma’s teachers, who rank among the worst paid in the United States.

Low teacher pay became a national focus after educators in West Virginia, whose pay is slightly higher than in Oklahoma, ended a nine-day strike this month that closed schools statewide, after officials approved a 5 percent pay raise for all state workers.

“April 2 is still on,” the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest union for teachers, said referring to the date when it is threatening to shut schools statewide unless funding for a raise was in place.

The Oklahoma union, which has about 40,000 members, has said it is seeking a $10,000 pay increase over three years for teachers and a $5,000 raise for support personnel.

“Our ask is still our ask,” it said in a statement released after the House vote.

Speaking on House floor on Monday, Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, a Republican, said the measure that passed the House could support a $5,000 pay raise for a beginning teacher and a nearly $8,000 raise for a teacher with 25 years of experience.

The bill calls for raising the production oilfield tax rate to 5 percent on new and existing oil and gas wells and increasing taxes on other items including gasoline, diesel fuel and cigarettes.

According to National Education Association estimates for 2016, Oklahoma ranked 48th, followed by Mississippi at 49 and South Dakota at 50, in terms of average U.S. classroom teacher salary.

Oklahoma secondary school teachers had an annual mean wage of $42,460 as of May 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In every state neighboring Oklahoma, teachers earned more, and in neighboring Texas, the mean wage was about 30 percent higher, according to Bureau of Labor figures.

For the past few years, Oklahoma has battled budget deficits stemming from the 2014 collapse in oil prices that hit its large energy industry and slammed state revenue.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Police fire teargas as strikes challenge Macron across France

Protestors light flares as they attend a demonstration during a national day of strike against reforms in Marseille, France, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

By Ingrid Melander and Caroline Pailliez

PARIS (Reuters) – Police scuffled with protesters in Paris and fired teargas and water cannon in the western city of Nantes as strikes broke out across France on Thursday in a challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms.

Passengers walk on a platform at the Gare du Nord railway station during a nationwide rail workers protest against plans to reform the state-run rail service, in Paris, France March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Passengers walk on a platform at the Gare du Nord railway station during a nationwide rail workers protest against plans to reform the state-run rail service, in Paris, France March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Train conductors, teachers and air traffic controllers walked out to join more than 150 mostly peaceful marches in cities and towns – the first time public sector workers have joined rail staff in protests since Macron came to office in May.

“It’s a real mess,” said Didier Samba, who missed his morning commuter train to the suburbs and had more than an hour’s wait for the next at Paris’ Gare du Nord station.

Sixty percent of fast trains, 75 percent of inter-city trains and 30 percent of flights to and from Paris airports were canceled because of the strike.

About 13 percent of teachers walked off the job, the education ministry said, closing many primary schools. Electricity generation dropped by more than three gigawatts, the equivalent of three nuclear reactors, as those workers joined the strike, stoking government fears that the work stoppages could spread.

Public sector workers are angry with plans to cut the public sector headcount by 120,000 by 2022, including via voluntary redundancies, and about the introduction of merit-based pay.

Railway workers are worried by government plans to scrap job-for-life guarantees, automatic annual pay rises and generous early retirement.

“Discontent and worry are spreading very quickly,” said Jean-Marc Canon of UGFF-CGT, one of the largest unions.

While rail workers have planned a three-month rolling strike starting April 3, public sector workers have no plans yet for further action, but they will meet next week to consider it.

“Let me tell you that public sector workers are very mobilized,” Laurent Berger, the head of France’s largest union, the CFDT, told RTL radio.

Protestors attend a demonstration during a national day of strike against reforms in Marseille, France, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Protestors attend a demonstration during a national day of strike against reforms in Marseille, France, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

PARADOX

Opinion polls show a paradox: a majority of voters back the strike but an even bigger majority back the reforms, including cutting the number of public sector workers and introducing merit-based pay.

That has led the government, which overhauled labor laws last year and is crafting a series of other reforms to unemployment insurance and training, to say it will stand by its plans, while keeping a close eye on protests.

On Tuesday, following a retirees’ march, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government would change tack for the poorest 100,000 out of 7 million pensioners concerned by a tax hike, in a sign that a government that prides itself on being firm on reforms can make exceptions.

“What we need to avoid is that all the grievances fuse together, as was the case in 1995,” a government official said, referring to France’s biggest strike in decades, which forced the government at the time to withdraw reforms after striking public and private sector workers received huge popular support.

“The situation is very different from 1995. At the time there was a big discrepancy with what the government had promised during the elections and what they eventually did.”

Government officials may also have in mind the fact that the May 1968 revolt that convulsed France started 50 years ago, with a student protest at Nanterre university which few at the time expected to trigger unrest that blocked France for weeks.

Police fired teargas and water cannon at a group of hooded protesters who were hurling stones at them in Nantes.

The rest of the morning rally in Nantes was peaceful, with protesters marching behind a banner that read “All together against austerity, let’s defend public services.”

In Paris, police reported scuffles with young protesters ahead of rallies in the city, with a few shop windows damaged.

(Additional reporting by Richard Lough, Bate Felix and Julie Carriat in Paris and Guillaume Frouin in Nantes; Graphic by Leigh Thomas; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Andrew Heavens)

Brazil protesters, police clash in first general strike in decades

Riot police officers are seen as a bus burns during clashes between demonstrators and riot police in a protest against President Michel Temer's proposed reform of Brazil's social security system, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

By Brad Brooks and Anthony Boadle

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian protesters torched buses, clashed with police in several cities and marched on President Michel Temer’s Sao Paulo residence on Friday amid the nation’s first general strike in more than two decades.

Unions called the strike to voice anger over Temer’s efforts to push austerity measures through congress, bills that would weaken labor laws and trim a generous pension system.

The blackened hulls of at least eight burned commuter buses littered central Rio de Janeiro as police launched rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets at masked protesters.

Despite the protests, Temer and members of his center-right government denounced the strike as a failure. They said that the unions’ targeting of public transport meant that people who wanted to go to work were unable to.

Unions said the strike was a success and pointed to adherence by millions of workers in key sectors like automakers, petroleum, schools and even banking. Strikes hit all 26 states and the Federal District.

“It is important for us to send a message to the government that the country is watching what they are doing, taking away workers’ rights,” said Marco Clemente, head of the 4,000-member radio and TV workers union in Brasilia, leading a picket line outside the headquarters of state broadcaster EBC.

Temer, who was in Brasilia, denounced the violence used by some protesters. He said in an emailed statement that “small groups” had blocked the population from using public transport and said that “work toward the modernization of national legislation will continue.”

Brazil’s last general strike took place in 1996, in protests over privatizations and labor reforms under former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Despite Friday’s action, many analysts said the strike would have little immediate impact on the president’s austerity push, and that the bills are still expected to pass given Temer’s continued support among lawmakers.

BRAZILIANS ANGRY AT REFORMS

Temer’s reforms have deeply angered many Brazilians and he is weighed down by a 10 percent approval rating for his government.

He took over last year when former leader Dilma Rousseff, whom Temer served as vice president, was impeached for breaking budgetary rules. Her supporters denounced the act as a ‘coup’ orchestrated by Temer and his allies in a bid to derail a sweeping corruption investigation.

“This is not a government that was elected with these proposals,” said Bernard Costa, a 27-year-old medical student protesting in Sao Paulo. “These reforms are showing people that this government has is neither legitimate nor representative.”

“Shameless government” read one placard waved by one of a group of protesters who gathered outside Temer’s family home in Sao Paulo. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Nearly one-third of Temer’s ministers and several congressional leaders are under investigation in Brazil’s largest political graft scheme yet uncovered. It revolves around kickbacks from construction companies in return for winning lucrative projects at state-run oil company Petrobras <PETR4.SA>.

Temer has proposed a minimum age for retirement, which would compel many employees to work longer to receive a pension and reduce payouts in a country were many workers retire with full benefits in their 50s.

The lower house of Congress approved a bill this week to weaken labor laws by relaxing restrictions on outsourcing and temporary contracts, further inflaming union resistance.

The government argues that economic reforms are needed to pull Brazil out of its worst recession on record, cut a huge budget deficit, reduce record unemployment and modernize the economy.

The strike had a large impact on auto production in Sao Paulo, which concentrates the bulk of the industry in Brazil.

General Motors Co <GM.N>, Ford Motor Co <F.N>, Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG <DAIGn.DE> all halted production, according to company officials, unions and market analysts. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV <FCHA.MI>, the No. 1 car seller Brazil, said it was operating normally.

Union officials said most workers at state-run oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA <PETR4.SA>, known as Petrobras, joined the strike, but the company said the stoppage had no significant impact on output. Iron ore miner Vale SA <VALE5.SA> said the strike did not affect its operations.

The 24-hour strike started after midnight on Friday, ahead of a long weekend with Labor Day on Monday.

The benchmark Bovespa stock index <.BVSP> was up nearly 1 percent while the nation’s currency, the real <BRBY> <BRL=>, was little changed as investors assessed the impact of the strike.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janiero and Brad Haynes, Alberto Alerigi, Roberto Samora and Guillermo Parra-Bernal in Sao Paulo; Editing by Daniel Flynn, W Simon, Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)

Oil prices jump 2 percent after U.S. launches missile strike in Syria

Crude oil storage tanks are seen from above at the Cushing oil hub, appearing to run out of space to contain a historic supply glut that hammered prices, in Cushing, Oklahoma,

By Henning Gloystein

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices surged more than 2 percent on Friday after the United States launched dozens of cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria.

U.S President Donald Trump said he had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airfield from which a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched earlier this week, declaring he acted in America’s “national security interest” against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After tepid trading before the news, Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil, jumped to $56.08 per barrel before easing to be up 1.6 percent at $55.75 per barrel at 0310 GMT.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures also climbed by over 2 percent, to a high of $52.94 a barrel before receding to be up 1.8 percent at $52.61.

Both benchmarks hit their highest levels since early March.

The strikes rattled global markets. While oil prices surged as traders priced in what has in the past been called a Middle East risk premium, and safe-haven products like gold jumped, stock markets and the U.S. dollar slumped.

“The U.S cruise missile strikes have seen crude oil jump over two percent in a straight line,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

Halley said the strikes had potentially big implications for oil markets.

“What will be the response of Iran and Russia, two of the world’s largest oil producers and staunch allies of the Assad regime?… We will have to wait for these answers as the day moves on,” he said.

U.S. officials said the military had fired 59 cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase controlled by Assad’s forces, in response to a poison gas attack on Tuesday in a rebel-held area.

Officials said the United States had informed Russia ahead of the strikes. The strikes did not target sections of the Syrian base where Russian forces were believed to be present.

(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Richard Pullin)

Some U.S. schools to close Wednesday as women request day off to protest

(Reuters) – At least two U.S. school districts have announced plans to close on Wednesday in anticipation of staff shortages for the nationwide “Day Without A Woman” strike.

The one-day protest, which is being held in conjunction with International Women’s Day, is intended to draw attention to the plight of women in the workplace who on average are paid less than men.

The protest is already affecting dozens of schools, which are heavily staffed by women. The strike organizers include some of the planners of the Jan. 21 women’s march on Washington and other U.S. cities.

In Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., Superintendent of Schools Alvin Crawley said classes for the entire district, which serves more than 15,000 students, would be canceled on Wednesday after 300 teachers and other staff members asked to have the day off.

“The decision is based solely on our ability to provide sufficient staff to cover all our classrooms, and the impact of high staff absenteeism on student safety and delivery of instruction,” Crawley said in an announcement.

Also canceling classes for the day are Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina, where officials anticipated that 400 to 2,000 staffers would not show up for work. The district, which encompasses 21 schools, said absences on a typical day number around 100 staffers, or 5 percent of its workforce.

The school district stressed that the decision to close was based on student safety and was not meant as a political statement.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)

UPS air maintenance workers vote 98 percent to authorize strike

United Parcel Service aircraft are loaded with package containers at the UPS Worldport All Points International Hub in Louisville, Kentucky,

By Nick Carey

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Air maintenance workers at United Parcel Service Inc have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against the world’s largest package delivery company as contract talks remained deadlocked over health-care benefits, the workers’ union said on Monday.

Teamsters Local 2727 said 98 percent of those who took part in a mail-in ballot voted to authorize strike action. Eighty percent of the local’s 1,200 members participated in the ballot.

Contract talks have been ongoing for three years. If they remain deadlocked Monday, union representatives say they will begin the process that could lead to a strike within 60 days.

The main sticking point has been healthcare benefits. The Teamsters say UPS is demanding major concessions, including a massive spike in retiree contributions for health-care costs.

“UPS wants huge concessions and our members are not willing to take them,” Local 2727 President Tim Boyle said. “We’re not asking for anything we don’t already have and this demonstrates our members are willing to strike.”The air maintenance staff work at hubs around the United States, with more than one-third in Louisville, Kentucky, which is UPS’ main hub.

A strike could ground UPS’ airplanes, affecting packages shipped by air. While it would not halt all deliveries, it would be a major disruption.

The air maintenance workers are governed by the U.S. Railway Labor Act, which only permits strikes after negotiations and mediation have failed.

If talks remain deadlocked Monday, the Teamsters say they will ask the federal mediator overseeing negotiations to release the union from the bargaining table. If there is no resolution after a 30-day cooling-off period, a board appointed by the president would have to rule on a strike, which would take up to 30 days.

A strike would be highly unlikely during UPS’ crucial holiday peak season this year. But it could go before the presidential board before President Barack Obama leaves office in January.

Kevin Gawlik, an air mechanic for 20 years who works at a UPS air hub in Rockford, Illinois, voted to strike. He said the work is tough and can result in health problems, including hearing loss from working around jet engines.

“That’s why I’m willing to walk out and strike to keep my benefits,” Gawlik, 49, said.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

UK government condemns ‘irresponsible’ English five day doctor strike

Britain's Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives to attend a cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain

The government says the new arrangements are part of its plan to bring in a safer and fuller seven-day health service, but the doctors say it will result in them working longer hours at anti-social times, putting patients at risk.

“The way to resolve those differences is to sit round the table to talk, it is cooperation and dialogue, it is not confrontation and strikes. That is why I think this action is totally irresponsible,” Hunt told BBC Radio.

He said around 100,000 operations could be canceled as a result of the action.

In May, the BMA and the government reached a deal to end the standoff but its members then voted to reject the new terms and conditions.

The BMA said concerns focus on the impact the contract will have on part-time workers and those who work the most weekends.

“This is not a situation junior doctors wanted to find themselves in … but in forcing through a contract that junior doctors have rejected and which they don’t believe is good for their patients or themselves, the government has left them with no other choice,” BMA junior doctor committee chair Ellen McCourt said in a statement.

There are some 55,000 junior doctors in England, about a third of the medical workforce. NHS services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are managed separately from England.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan)

More than a million Indian workers to go on strike Friday

An employee walks out of the State Bank of India main branch in Mumbai, India,

By Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – More than a million Indian workers in banking, telecoms and other sectors will go on strike on Friday, seeking higher wages and to protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s labor reforms and a plan to close some loss-making firms.

Trade unions including the All India Trade Unions Congress and Centre of Indian Trade Unions rejected a government appeal on Tuesday to call off the strike, saying it failed to address their demands.

Since taking charge in May 2014, Modi has implemented a raft of economic reforms and is trying to ease labor laws to attract foreign investment and make it easier to do business in the country.

The government aims to raise 560 billion rupees ($8.35 billion) through privatization this fiscal year, and shut down some companies. Losses at 77 state-run companies exceeded $4 billion in the last fiscal year.

Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Trade Unions, said there had not been any “tangible proactive steps” by the government to address union demands such as a rollback of privatization in sectors like defense and railways, and an increase in minimum wages.

He said the strike would go on despite Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s promise on Tuesday that the government would release state employees’ bonuses for the last two years, and increase minimum wages for unskilled laborers.

The unions also oppose a government directive to state-run pension funds to put more money into stock markets.

Another major union, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, which is loosely affiliated with the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, is not joining the strike.

Some workers at Coal India Ltd  are due to join the strike but company officials said they did not expect any shortfall in supplies for power companies as there was an oversupply of the fuel.

($1 = 67.0300 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by)

Rubbish piles up in Paris as pre-euro soccer protests go on

Rubbish piled up on streets in parts of Paris and other French cities on Wednesday as strikes and pickets by waste treatment workers

By Brian Love and Lucien Libert

PARIS (Reuters) – Rubbish piled up on streets in parts of Paris and other French cities on Wednesday as strikes and pickets by waste treatment workers took a toll in the country which hosts the Euro 2016 soccer tournament from Friday.

The protests were part of a wave of demonstrations and work stoppages led by the hardline CGT union against government plans to reform labor law to make hiring and firing easier and help lower the jobless rate from 10 percent.

Police removed blockades at some of the major incineration and rubbish collection depots around the capital but to little effect because workers inside the premises subsequently walked off work, the CGT said.

Despite signs that broader strike action is running out of steam, train services were disrupted for the eighth day running.

The SNCF state railway company said less than 10 percent of workers were on strike, considerably fewer than last week, with three out of four high-speed TGV trains running and six out of 10 slower inter-city connections.

Working to defuse the conflict, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament the state could take over all or part of an SNCF debt of 50 billion euros ($57 billion), possibly hiving it off into a sinking fund to be paid down gradually.

The CGT was holding workplace meetings to decide whether to call off the rail strike.

As millions of foreign visitors and soccer fans prepared for the month-long tournament that kicks off on Friday evening, CGT activists also disrupted a pre-championship publicity event at Paris’s Gare du Nord train station.

About 200 protesters mobbed the station as a locomotive carrying the Euro soccer trophy arrived, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. Riot police protected the trophy.

Separately, the minister in charge of drafting the contested labor law, Myriam El Khomri, condemned a dawn protest outside her Paris home in which she said about 30 demonstrators yelled hostile statements through a megaphone.

Valls has refused to scrap the labor reform but, on top of the debt pledge, has agreed to protect existing rest and shift time quotas for workers in SNCF reorganization talks.

Pilots at Air France are also planning to strike over pay curbs from June 11 to 14.

“The (rail) strike is incomprehensible and the one planned by pilots is every bit as incomprehensible when France is about to start the Euros,” Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said.

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert and Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Paul Taylor)

France hit by rail strike, demo by weary police

A police car burns during a demonstration against police violence and against French labour law reform in Paris

By Brian Love

PARIS (Reuters) – Strikes by French railway and port workers halved train services and prompted cancellation of ferry links to Britain on Wednesday as labor unions sought to force President Francois Hollande’s government into retreat on labor law reforms.

After weeks of protests in which hundreds of their number have been hurt, police held a rally of their own to vent frustration over the stresses of near daily clashes with violent youths on the fringes of the anti-reform movement.

As they did so, a crowd chanting “police everywhere, justice nowhere” surrounded a police patrol car, which went up in flames after the police officers inside fled the scene, a few hundred meters from where their colleagues were rallying.

The public prosecutor’s office said after the incident it was opening an inquiry into attempted homicide.

Wednesday’s rail strikes, set to run until Friday morning, reduced high-speed and inter-city services by 40 to 50 percent, also heavily disrupting local and suburban commuter lines, the SNCF state railway company said.

Strike turnout, the SNCF said, was about 15 percent, lower than in previous stoppages.

Brittany Ferries announced mass cancellations of connections between Britain and northern France, where port workers joined the industrial action.

Truckers maintained blockades set up on Tuesday in a bid to strangle deliveries in and out of fuel and food distribution depots.

At issue is one of Hollande’s flagship reforms a year from a presidential election – law changes designed to make it easier for employers to hire and fire staff and to opt out of cumbersome national rules in favor of in-house accords on pay.

Hollande says the change will encourage firms to recruit and combat an unemployment rate that has remained above 10 percent.

The 61-year-old leader has said he will not consider running for re-election if he fails to make inroads against joblessness. Critics say the reform will totally undermine the standards of protection enshrined for decades in national labor law.

“ANTI-COP HATRED”

The plan, which pollsters say is opposed by three in four French people, has provoked weeks of often violent protests.

It has also increased pressure on police who were already stretched by extra duties following last November’s deadly militant Islamist attacks on France and are also gearing up for the Euro 2016 soccer tournament that kicks off on June 10.

Condemning what it described as mounting “anti-cop hatred”, the Alliance police union called for Wednesday’s rally in the Place de la Republique, a central Paris square that has seen regular skirmishes in past weeks between riot police and youths hurling petrol bombs and paving stones.

Paris police chief Michel Cadot banned a counter-protest by a group that accuses the police of brutality.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve defended the police and said 350 of them had been injured in standoffs that had produced 1,300 arrests in just two months.

Further strikes and protests are planned for the rest of the week in what labor unions, along with a youth protest movement called Nuit Debout or Night Rising, hope will prove a big enough show of force to make Hollande reconsider.

(Additional reporting by Gerard Bon; Editing by Andrew Callus and Gareth Jones)