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Oil Contracts Collapse Putting Pressure On Stocks

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The price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil product hit a historic level on Monday as it posted its worse loss on record. According to MarketWatch, “the May contracts made history by settling in negative territory for the first time ever.”

The platform was so broken that sellers were paying buyers to take the contracts off of their hands. So, Monday, April 20, 2020, will go down in history as the day that the price of oil broke down.

The futures industry is a very risky but popular business. The fact that its movements can impact the direction of the stock market, makes it a key indicator of economic activity at home and abroad. In a recent report, Pvmreports.com suggested that the activity in the oil futures proved that the market was broken.

I read in an essay where it said, “Even though perceptions and expectations are powerful ingredients in the formation of oil prices, (Monday’s) price crash must have taken place in some kind of parallel universe.”

For those who are not familiar with how oil futures work, “The Motley Fool,” an on-line stock advisory group, defines the product as, “contracts in which buyers and sellers of oil coordinate and agree to deliver specific amounts of physical crude oil on a given date in the future. “

The benchmark futures contract for crude oil in the U.S. involves West Texas Intermediate, which produces a particular grade of oil that has fairly low density and sulfur content that makes it relatively easy to refine. It has historically traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and therefore many traders refer to the contracts as NYMEX WTI crude oil futures.

Trading is also common globally for what are called Brent crude oil futures, which involve a different grade of oil found in the North Sea off the European continent.

While some speculate that Russia and Saudi Arabia conspired to artificially bring down oil prices in order to disrupt the U.S. stronghold on oil exports, it is clear that the pandemic has had an effect: When people stay home, oil use simply goes down.

So, for Wall Street traders, “Bizarro World” was in full effect on Monday. Even if that date isn’t marked in the future as a day of financial infamy, it will certainly be the topic of discussion in a lot of business schools.

One of my colleagues, Harbo Jensen, who is an MIT graduate and retired oil company executive, described the event in simple terms to help lay-people like myself understand what happened.

“You are now seeing the financial paper traders struggling to get out of contract under which they would need to take actual delivery of oil in May at Cushing, Okla.,” Jensen said.

“Clearly, these guys want to find a buyer for their paper contract because they really don’t want that real ‘wet’ barrel of oil….these paper barrel traders would not know what to do with a barrel of real oil if they had to pick it up, so they’re willing to pay someone, say $15-$20 to take it off their hands. Hence, the negative price.

“If there is anyone who thinks that this pandemic in which we live is not real, they should just look at the standstill that we are seeing in the oil markets. It seems surreal that global economies have been shut down by this virus, and if you do not believe it, let’s see how low the price reveals itself at the pump. We may be able to keep our tanks full, but we will be all dressed up with nowhere to go.”

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Activism

40 MLK Freedom Center Students Study Myth of 1st Thanksgiving, Role of Gratitude in Civil Rights and Social Change

Yolo County’s Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation members partnered with the Oakland-based Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center for its annual ‘Days of Gratitude’ this Thanksgiving weekend in Guinda, CA. From November 26-28, students from the San Francisco Bay Area, Yolo County, Sacramento and Kent and Tacoma, Washington, spent time with Yocha Dehe Language and History Associate, Dillon McKay and Cultural Resources Manager Laverne Bill to learn about the importance of Native Sovereignty and the role of cultural values in American democracy.

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Dillon McKay (in tan shirt wearing blue mask), Laverne Bill (in Blue shirt with abalone shell necklace), Martin Luther King Jr, Freedom Center Executive Director Dr. Roy D. Wilson (in black jacket and blue mask) with Freedom Center students.
Dillon McKay (in tan shirt wearing blue mask), Laverne Bill (in Blue shirt with abalone shell necklace), Martin Luther King Jr, Freedom Center Executive Director Dr. Roy D. Wilson (in black jacket and blue mask) with Freedom Center students.

3-Day Intensive with members of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation called Days of Gratitude

By Scott Horton, communications manager for the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center

While many Americans took a long weekend after enjoying a day and a meal with family and friends, 40 high school students got together to dig deep into understanding the myth of the Thanksgiving story and learn the truth about Native American history and culture from members of Yolo County’s Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

Yocha Dehe members partnered with the Oakland-based Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center for its annual ‘Days of Gratitude’ this Thanksgiving weekend in Guinda, CA. From November 26-28, students from the San Francisco Bay Area, Yolo County, Sacramento and Kent and Tacoma, Washington, spent time with Yocha Dehe Language and History Associate, Dillon McKay and Cultural Resources Manager Laverne Bill to learn about the importance of Native Sovereignty and the role of cultural values in American democracy.

McKay and Bill spoke to the group about many aspects of Yocha Dehe culture, including preservation of its language and oral history, governance, dance, food and agriculture, cultural resources/archaeological sites and the roles of tribal members in community.

Dillon emphasized that, “Our cultures may be diverse, but we share values. We all have one thing in common: we all want to make this a better place.”

Bill added, “We’re no longer living in a world where we are isolated from each other based on our color or our culture—we’re are evolving from that–and people need to understand each other. Your family and your community raised you to be who you are and to express yourself through your culture and heritage.”

The Freedom Center’s dynamic ‘Days of Gratitude’ course accomplishes three significant goals. First, students, staff and community members study the history of “Thanksgiving,” deconstructing false narratives. Secondly, the group studies Native Sovereignty and self-government. Thirdly, participants dig deep into the psychological, political, economic and cultural value of gratitude and particularly its fundamental role in the Civil Rights Movement and in making positive social change.

“We are honored, humbled and deeply grateful to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and to Dillon McKay and Laverne Bill,” said Dr. Roy Wilson, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center. “They generously shared their cultures, histories, traditions and explained the concept of native sovereignty and self-governance. We have much to learn as a democracy from their generational examples of sovereignty, community and civic engagement.”

In addition to spending November 26 with McKay and Bill, the students and staff studied the role of gratitude as a fundamental principle of self-transformation, and civic engagement as part of traditions of nonviolent social change and civil rights.

For more information about the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, visit www.mlkfreedomcenter.org.

Scott Horton is the communications manager for the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.

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Activism

With Union Contract OK’d, Moe’s Books Workers Get Improved Wages, Benefits 

Despite some mixed feelings from workers about the owner’s reactions to the union, both workers and ownership expressed optimism about what they think the Moe’s Books union can do for the future of the four-story store with over 200,000 mostly used books. “If customers see the positive impact of shopping at independently owned stores that do all they can to support their workers,” said Moe’s Books owner, Doris Moskowitz, “then this agreement will only make Moe’s Books’ future stronger.”

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Moe’s Books Union members Phoebe Wong (left), Owen Hill (center), and Bradley Skaught (right) pose inside the Berkeley bookstore on November 30. Photo by Zack Haber.
Moe’s Books Union members Phoebe Wong (left), Owen Hill (center), and Bradley Skaught (right) pose inside the Berkeley bookstore on November 30. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Workers at Moe’s Books in Berkeley agreed to their first union contract with store ownership on November 23. The agreement has given them a $20 minimum wage, dental insurance, more paid vacation days, a new procedure for filing grievances, and job security protections.

“I think this is a good, solid contract, and a good starting point for improving worker/owner relations,” said Owen Hill, who’s worked at Moe’s for about 35 years. “I wish we had this 10 years ago, but better late than never.”

Moe’s Books owner, Doris Moskowitz, told this publication she’s happy with the contract as well.

“I feel great about the agreement,” said Moskowitz. “Supporting our workers is part of Moe’s 60-year legacy, and we are proud to continue in that tradition.”

In early March about 95% of eligible Moe’s workers agreed to form a union by joining with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The move was part of a growth in bookstore unionization spurred by COVID-related issues.

Workers at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle and Bookshop Santa Cruz each formed unions in 2020. This year, bookstore unionization has expanded as workers at Printed Matter in New York City formed a union in October, while workers at three different Half Price Books locations in Minnesota are awaiting election results in mid-December to certify their unions.

Immediately after its formation, Moskowitz recognized Moe’s Books Union, but she had mixed feelings about it. In early April, she told Berkeleyside she “deeply respected” the workers’ decision to unionize but that the move had also left her “very sad and confused.” Following initial negotiations related to COVID safety measures, the union and Moskowitz began its first contract negotiations. In total, both sides came to 35 agreements during 16 bargaining sessions over eight months.

“The bargaining process was long, tiresome, and sometimes tense,” said Hill. “But mostly people were respectful and tried to come to an understanding.”

According to Bruce Valde, an organizer with the IWW who works with Moe’s Books Union, the eight months it took to agree to the contract was comparatively quick. In his experience, it usually takes workers and ownership a year to a year-and-a-half to agree to a first union contract. Valde called Moskowitz’s choice to immediately recognize the union “wise” and lauded the workers’ collaboration in clearly stating their requests.

“I think the workers diligence in actually forming our positions was excellent,” said Valde.

Since the new contract has passed, all union members will soon be getting a 10% raise in their salaries, or a $20 an hour wage if the 10% bump doesn’t already exceed that wage.

They’ll also get a 3% wage increase during the second and third year of the contract.

Additionally, the contract has stipulations related to respecting employees’ gender and gender expression. Harassment violations now specifically include ownership or management commenting in an ostracizing manner on workers’ gender expression, including clothing choices or hairstyles, or not making a concerted effort to correctly use workers’ pronouns.

While the union members unanimously agreed to the contract and Moskowitz told this publication “I feel like it is a win-win” situation, workers claimed along the way that the owner wasn’t always respectful of the union. In late September, union members and supporters held an informational picket at the store to support their demand for the $20 minimum wage that was eventually granted, but also to share information with the public about how they thought the owners were practicing “union busting.”

Around this time, the union filed unfair labor practice claims to the National Labor Relations Board, one of which was related to their accusation that Moskowitz was offering promotions for the sole purpose of removing people from the union by placing them in management positions.

Barry Bloom, who works as a book shipper, claimed Moskowitz asked him if he’d agree to be the supervisor of the shipping department, a position that would prevent him from joining in the union. He was the only member of the shipping department at the time, and she didn’t offer him a raise.

“My immediate reaction was to wonder ‘who would I be supervising?’” Bloom said. “I pretty much instantly saw it as a union-busting tactic.”

Moskowitz denied the accusation of union busting, saying, at the time “We have not made any job offer or offers of promotions in order to encourage any employee to break from their support of the union.”

Soon after agreeing to the new contract, Moskowitz taped a statement to the front window of the store, expressing that she was proud of the contract and Moe’s openness to organized labor. The statement, which was posted to Moe’s instagram and Facebook accounts, also encouraged other businesses, specifically large bookstores, to allow workplace organizing.

“If a small, independent used-book seller can accomplish this while keeping the doors open during a global pandemic,” the statement reads, “there is no reason for more lucrative companies to claim labor organizing will shut down their business or harm their employees.”

Two days after the statement appeared on Moe’s books social media sites, Moe’s Books union’s Twitter account put up a post stating “There’s a little revisionist history going on over at the boss’s social media site.”

While largely happy with the contract, Moe’s Books worker Phoebe Wong told this publication she’s uncomfortable with the owners’ actions immediately following its ratification.

“I’m really pleased and so proud of the work everyone put into doing the contract,” said Phoebe Wong. “But it’s been a long fight. And, to be honest, it makes me a little queasy to see ownership touting pride because it seems pretty dishonest considering the pushback we got.”

Despite some mixed feelings from workers about the owner’s reactions to the union, both workers and ownership expressed optimism about what they think the Moe’s Books union can do for the future of the four-story store with over 200,000 mostly used books.

“If customers see the positive impact of shopping at independently owned stores that do all they can to support their workers,” said Moskowitz, “then this agreement will only make Moe’s Books’ future stronger.”

“Moe’s now offers good wages, good benefits, and job protection,” said Hill. “I think we have a lot to offer to workers, and that we will be able to employ top quality people. I don’t think I’m being too dramatic when I say that the union saved the business.”

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Bay Area

Ready to Travel? Get the REAL ID!  

The California DMV suggests changing your driver’s license or identification card to a REAL ID as federal laws will soon make it necessary to have either a passport, REAL ID, or other federally accepted forms of ID to board local flights and enter federal buildings.

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DMV Administrator Carrie Stanton. Photo courtesy of the author.
DMV Administrator Carrie Stanton. Photo courtesy of the author.

By Carrie Stanton, Regional Administrator (Region 2, Bay Area) of the California Department of Motor Vehicles

The holidays are here and families are excited to get together and celebrate for the first time in over a year. Amid the pandemic, we’ve missed far too many Sunday and holiday dinners that have been a tradition for many families for generations.

For our community, family dinner is about creating memories. For those families who will be traveling this holiday season, I encourage you to consider adding a REAL ID upgrade to your checklist when making your travel plans.

The California DMV suggests changing your driver’s license or identification card to a REAL ID as federal laws will soon make it necessary to have either a passport, REAL ID, or other federally accepted forms of ID to board local flights and enter federal buildings.

While getting a REAL ID isn’t required, it does make it easier to continue using your driver’s license to board a local flight or visit loved ones on military bases. To help make this change, the California DMV is offering free upgrades to people who renewed their license or ID card between March 2020 and July 2021 from now until Dec. 31, 2021.

Protecting the health, safety and security of our communities is what’s important and the REAL ID provides an extra layer of protection when traveling. Applying is easy and can be started safely online at CaliforniaREALID.org. Complete your application, upload the required forms, and plan your DMV office visit to finish. Don’t forget your documents and confirmation code– they will be needed for your visit.

Whether you are applying for a first-time California driver’s license or identification card or are up for renewal, a REAL ID may be the best option, especially if you plan to travel soon. Get back to creating those memories with your family. With shorter wait periods and an easy application process, now is the perfect time to start your REAL ID application so you’re ready to go when the time is right.

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, many things in our lives are changing. In our community, many have started businesses, changed their lifestyles for the better and found new passions in life. Whatever is helping you get through these rough times is also playing a part in figuring out our new normal. Make the REAL ID part of that new normal.

Carrie Stanton is Regional Administrator (Region 2, Bay Area) of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

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