Trumka Named to Obama Economic Advisory Panel
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, front left, during this week’s Capitol Hill rally for the Employee Free Choice Act.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka has been named to the new economic advisory panel that will serve as President Obama’s team of experts.
In announcing creation of the panel last year, Obama said the group will prevent policy from being made in an echo chamber in Washington.
Trumka will join a who’s who list of top economists, corporate executives and academics. The White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which is modeled after the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board used by President Eisenhower in the 1950s, will be chaired by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker.
The economic advisory board is part of an overall push by the Obama White House to ensure that repairing—and strengthening—the nation’s economy remains at the top of the administration’s agenda. In December, Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) was named economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. Bernstein is a passionate advocate for raising the incomes of America’s working middle class.
Trumka, who was re-elected to a fourth term as Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO in 2005, led the creation of the AFL-CIO Capital Stewardship Program in 1997 to promote the retirement security of America’s working families. AFL-CIO member unions sponsor pension and benefit plans with more than $400 billion in assets and are a major force in the global capital markets.
Under Trumka’s leadership, the AFL-CIO Capital Stewardship Program promotes corporate governance reform, investment manager accountability, pro-worker investment strategies, international pension fund cooperation and trustee education and support.
In recent days, Obama also announced creation of a White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families to develop and coordinate policies to rebuild the nation’s middle class and lift the poor out of poverty. Workers can submit stories and ideas about how the economy has affected them and ideas on changing it. (The task force website is: www.strongmiddleclass.gov/ )
Other members of the 15-member economic advisory board include:
Laura D’Andrea Tyson, dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley.
Roger Ferguson Jr., president and chief executive of TIAA-CREF and a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Robert Wolf, chairman and chief executive of UBS Group.
Charles Phillips, president of Oracle Corp.
David Swensen, chief investment officer at Yale University.
Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of General Electric.
Penny Pritzker, chairman and founder of Pritzker Realty Group.
See the full list here.
Obama Overturns Bush Exec. Order on Project Labor Agreements
The men and women in the nation’s building and construction trades won a major victory today when President Obama signed an executive order overturning the Bush administration’s ban on project labor agreements (PLAs) on federal and federally funded construction.
The ban was one of the first orders signed by former President George W. Bush when he took office in 2001. Mark H. Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD), praised Obama’s action, saying:
The Bush anti-PLA executive order was exactly the type of special interest-driven politics and policy that American voters rejected overwhelmingly last November.
We acknowledge and praise this executive order as being one of the first steps in ushering in a new, more pragmatic and value-conscious approach to governing.
Project labor agreements generally set wages and establish work rules and methods of settling grievances on large multi-contractor construction projects. For more than 70 years before the Bush order, project labor agreements benefited communities, employers and workers by ensuring fair wages and benefits and on-time completion of projects. Ayers says project labor agreements
provide maximum benefit to construction users; union and non-union workers; union and non-union contractors; lenders and insurance companies; and taxpayers. They are frequently negotiated to address a wide range of local and social needs, including the assurance of hiring of local residents, and outreach programs designed to offer local residents the opportunity for a career in the skilled trades.
Today’s action follows Obama’s three executive orders last week that reversed a trio of Bush-era orders governing the way federal contractors deal with union workers. The new orders:
Require federal service contractors to offer jobs to current workers when contracts change.
Reverse a Bush order requiring federal contractors to post notice that workers can limit financial support of unions serving as their exclusive bargaining representatives.
Prevent federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenses meant to influence workers deciding whether to form a union and engage in collective bargaining.
After eight years, we are indeed seeing change in Washington.
Republican Double Standard for Labor Secretary
Senate Republicans are continuing the same partisan, roadblock political games that voters said they’d had enough of in November.
This time their stubborn gamesmanship threatens the working families across the country: They are trying to derail President Obama’s economic recovery plan and block his pick of Hilda Solis as secretary of labor.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says: “Enough is enough.”
We cannot continue to fiddle as the economy burns. It is urgent for the American people to have an aggressive, emergency economic recovery plan that will put people back to work and keep families in their homes, and a strong Department of Labor.
Today we learned the nation lost nearly jobs 600,000 last month—the worst job loss since 1974—bringing the total job loss since the recession began 14 months ago to 3.5 million. The unemployment rate worsened from 7.2 percent to 7.6 percent in January. Says Sweeney:
But even as the economy crumbles around us, Senate opponents are continuing to block the confirmation of the Secretary of Labor and trying to cut crucial aid—particularly the funds for state and local governments—from the economic recovery plan for partisan and ideological reasons.
Enough is enough. Senate Republicans can’t just oppose a Secretary of Labor because she supports working Americans and favors curbing excessive corporate power. They need to stop obstructing and confirm Rep. Solis now.
Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee postponed a scheduled confirmation vote the Solis nomination. Obama announced his choice of Solis in December, and the committee held a hearing on the nomination Jan. 9. On top of that, when Republican panel members weren’t satisfied, she answered 15 sets of their written questions.
Some Republican senators, and their echo chamber of right-wing talk radio and conservative blogs, are attacking Solis over the Employee Free Choice Act, which she co-sponsored in the House. Republican senators have even suggested that if confirmed Solis should be barred from advocating for the restoration of workers’ rights to form a union and bargain for a better life, as the bill provides.
Writing in American Prospect, Harold Meyerson says that when Republican senators ask that Solis recuse herself from discussions about the Employee Free Choice Act, it’s like
asking Robert Gates not to advocate for the armed forces, or Judd Gregg not to champion American business, or President Obama’s environmental picks not to support stricter fuel-efficiency standards. But then, Republicans’ opposition to unions is close to clinically pathological.
Solis’s support for [the Employee Free Choice Act] isn’t exactly a secret. She co-sponsored the bill when it passed the House in 2007. Nor is she deviating from administration policy in backing it, since Obama pledged to support the bill during his presidential campaign.
Ironically—actually hypocritically—the same Republican senators didn’t mind former President Bush’s labor secretary, Elaine Chao, shutting workers and their unions out of the Labor Department for eight years. They even cheered. She went so far as to write guest editorials against the bill
Now, these senators have their knockers knickers in a knot because a secretary of labor might actually listen to labor and support workers’ rights. How dare she!
Solis, says Sweeney,
understands that working men and women deserve the freedom to choose whether to form a union without employer interference….The core mission of the Department of Labor is to defend the basic rights of workers in our nation’s workplaces, and the essential qualification of any Secretary of Labor is a demonstrated commitment to that core mission.
Battle for Civil Rights Similar to Today’s Fight for Workers’ Rights
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger says there are parallels between the congressional battles in the 1950s and 1960s over civil rights legislation and today’s fight over workers’ rights and the Employee Free Choice Act.
In a column in the Detroit News, Gettelfinger writes:
Time and again, civil rights measures were passed by a majority in the U.S. House and supported by a majority in the U.S. Senate—only to be defeated by a filibuster used by a minority of senators.
The effort to stop social progress was led by Dixiecrats—Southern Democrats who stood for the privileged elite against the will of a majority of the American people. Today, their spiritual heirs have changed political parties, but they still reward the fortunate few who hold wealth and power and trample the needs of everyone else.
Like civil rights legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, has won majorities in the House and Senate and is backed by the president. But a minority of Republican senators will use the same civil rights-era filibuster tactics to block the bill. Asks Gettelfinger:
Is the fight to expand workplace rights truly a part of America’s civil rights heritage? Martin Luther King certainly thought so. In the last days of his life, he traveled to Memphis to support a strike by municipal sanitation workers.
The only way to win better conditions was to empower men and women to organize their workplaces. “The labor movement,” he said, “was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress…and above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life.”
Click here to read the entire column.
California Workers March for Employee Free Choice
The national grassroots campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act continued yesterday in Los Angeles, as hundreds of workers joined a citywide march calling for the quick passage of the bill to protect the freedom of workers to form unions and bargain.
Braving heavy rain, workers from more than 40 unions started at 10 a.m. at the L.A. County Federation of Labor office and set off on a 10-mile march across the city. Along the way, they visited a carwash where workers have been fighting for economic justice, as well as a local high school. The march ended at 5 p.m. outside the West Los Angeles Federal Building.
Maria Elana Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the county labor federation, was interviewed on the Los Angeles public radio station and said the economic crisis made the need for labor law reform even more pressing.
We don’t buy the idea that in a bad economy, workers shouldn’t have the right to bargain with employers for good wages and benefits. We believe we’ve got to be in from the beginning in rebuilding America, rebuilding the economy.
The effort to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and give workers the freedom to form unions faces strong opposition from the corporate interests who fear workers’ bargaining power. The voices and participation of workers all across the country will be necessary to pass the Act and make the economy work for everyone again.
Ground Zero Workers Still Suffer from Lung Problems
A new study finds nearly one-quarter of a sample of firefighters and other first responders and construction workers exposed to the toxic mix of chemicals and debris at Ground Zero during 9/11 rescue and recovery operations continue to suffer from persistent lung problems.
The continuing study by the Mount Sinai Medical Center’s medical monitoring program examined the workers between 2004 and 2007, repeating exams conducted between the middle of 2002 and 2004. Slightly more than 24 percent had abnormal lung function and limited lung capacity, compared with 28 percent in the first study.
The study’s co-author, Dr. Jacqueline Moline, told HealthDay News that the rate of the lung damage is much higher than found in the general population and 2.5 times higher than found in smokers. Moline said:
These tests confirm what we’ve seen clinically: People are sick, they’re short of breath. They used to run miles a day; now they can barely run the length of a football field.
As many as 100,000 first responders—firefighters, paramedics, rescue and recovery workers—were exposed to the stew of chemicals and other toxic substances in the rubble of the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Mount Sinai’s monitoring program has examined and treated some 26,000 responders, and the two lung function studies involved more than 3,100 people exposed to the toxic debris.
While Mount Sinai has examined many of the first responders and workers, the former Bush administration refused to create or support a permanent monitoring, research and health care program for Ground Zero workers. The Bush White House delayed and blocked efforts and cut funding for health care related to the 9/11 cleanup.
The patients in the Mount Sinai study all scored below normal on pulmonary function tests; they suffer from ailments ranging from asthma to reactive airway disease and shortness of breath, Moline said.
These are problems we’re seeing five or six or seven years after the towers fell. Many of these folks are going to have long-term problems, and their lung function won’t return to normal.
She said researchers may never know which component of the toxic brew of dust and smoke—including pulverized glass and concrete, asbestos, lead and burning jet fuel—hurt the lungs of those who responded to the emergency.
At the time of the Ground Zero events, the Bush administration sought to cover up the toxic and chemical hazards workers faced and assured New Yorkers the air in proximity to the World Trade Center debris was safe.
The study appears in the February edition of the medical journal CHEST.
Buy American Opponents: Un-American
What do Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have in common?
They both oppose provisions in the economic recovery package that would ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on products that are made in America-to the maximum extent possible. The Buy America provision survived the recent Senate debate, despite attempts to kill it by someone who consistently wraps himself in the American flag: Sen. John McCain.
In the words of United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable “want to give American tax dollars to foreign manufacturers to create jobs overseas.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to spend the tax dollars of unemployed Americans to create jobs in China and Indonesia, Korea and India. The 15 business groups sent a letter to Congress opposing provisions added to the recovery package that would strengthen existing laws requiring government agencies to buy American steel and other products when building public works projects with tax dollars.
In the House, the Buy America provision, sponsored by Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), required stimulus projects to give a preference to American-made steel and iron with certain exceptions. A Senate committee made it even stronger-Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) extended the Buy America provisions to include “manufactured goods.” An amendment introduced last night by Sens. Dorgan, Brown and Baucus clarifies that the Buy America provisions in the recovery bill will be applied in a manner consistent with U.S. international trade obligations.
In a discussion last night on PBS with John Bruton, European Union ambassador to the United States, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka successfully put in perspective the European protests against Buy America, listing some of the ways Europe protects its own industries and pointing out that
this is a stimulus package to get the American economy going. Now we’re going to spend almost $1 trillion, and we won’t get our economy going unless we actually spend that money here and create jobs here. It’s American taxpayers saying we want to spend our money to get American jobs and the economy going.
On Facebook, a group set up in support of Buy America-Spend American Tax Dollars on American Companies-is fielding attacks on the provision. The trolls making noise are in a minority. Recent polls show 86 percent of Americans support the Buy America provisions-including 79 percent of Republicans.
On Jan. 29, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) released results of a national survey of more than 1,000 adults showing that the vast majority-86 percent-supported the Buy America provisions for stimulus projects.
Yet, as David Sirota notes, the corporate campaign against Buy America is gaining steam. One of its scare tactics is to assert that “by restricting the use of foreign-made materials and goods, these provisions could precipitate retaliation from other countries.”
Economist Dean Baker puts this “trade war” red herring in its place, asking:
Why would our trading partners start a trade war over a bill that increases demand for their exports? That’s right, the stimulus bill will increase demand for imports, including for imported steel. The bill will lead to more growth, which will increase demand for all products, including imported steel. That will be the case even if we have barriers that limit the use of imported steel for a small part of the stimulus. So, will our trading partners start a trade war because we are buying more of their products?
Buying American goods with U.S. taxpayer dollars is a no-brainer. So, if fears of a “trade war” aren’t the real reason for opposing Buy America, what is?
Baker has the answer:
“Free traders” could not care less about free trade. They don’t like policies that favor ordinary workers, like those in the steel industry. On the other hand, they are very happy when the government intervenes to help the rich, as was the case with the Wall Street bailout.
And that’s un-American.
TV Signals Tuned in Until June
Good news regarding the transition to digital television. The House this week joined the Senate in approving a delay for the switch from analog to digital transmission, and President Obama has said he will sign the bill.
The action will move from Feb. 17 to June 12 the date when households without cable or satellite can access television without a special converter box.
As former President Bush left office, financing for the government’s coupon program, meant to subsidize the cost of converter boxes, had temporarily run out, placing millions of households on a waiting list.
600,000 Jobs Lost: How Bad Does It Have to Get for Republicans to Act?
With today’s unemployment report showing nearly 600,000 jobs lost in January—worsening the U.S. unemployment rate from 7.2 percent to 7.6 percent—will obstructionist Republicans in Congress finally move the economic recovery bill?
“Last month’s losses mark the first time since records began in 1939 that job cuts exceeded half a million in three consecutive months.”
While the official unemployment rate of 7.6 percent is really bad, the unofficial rate—which includes underemployed workers and those who have become too discouraged to look for work—is 13.8 percent. Some 21.5 million workers are either unemployed, working part time for economic reasons or dropping out of the labor force because they can’t find work.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that service industries, which include banks, insurance companies, restaurants and retailers, lost 279,000 jobs. Retail payrolls decreased by 45,100, after a decline of 82,700 in December. Financial firms reduced payrolls by 42,000, after a 27,000 decrease the prior month.
At bottom, the problem is simple: There are far fewer jobs than workers. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute shows there is one job for every four workers. That means jobs need to be created. And that means Congress has to act immediately to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which will create or save 3 million jobs.
The jobs report shows the U.S. economy has shed 3.6 million jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007, with almost half of them lost in the last three months. EPI economist Heidi Shierholz puts that figure in perspective:
Since the start of the recession, the U.S. economy has shed more jobs than the total population of Chicago.
How bad do the job numbers have to get before many Republicans in Congress stop holding up the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act? They seem to have forgotten that the America people voted them out of office—big time—because the public wants what Republicans oppose: fundamentally sound programs like job training.
No joke. The Republican mouthpiece, The National Review, is blasting the $4 billion in the recovery program for job training, calling it an “outrage.” (Other items in the recovery package the magazine highlights as “outrages” are Pell Grants for college—higher education should only be for those wealthy enough to afford it, after all—and federal child care block grants because, well, just because children don’t deserve care. Or something like that. Can’t quite get into a mindset that cuts programs for kids.)
President Obama warned this week that
a failure to act and to act now will turn crisis into catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession.
He’s right. Republicans in Congress need to stop playing games and pass the recovery act to get America back to work.
World Social Forum: Making Young People at Home in Union Movement
Gladys Cisneros was an AFL-CIO youth representative at the ninth World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil.
Brian Finnegan and Gladys Cisneros gave us this update from the ninth World Social Forum held in Brazil from Jan. 27-Feb. 1.
On the opening day of workshops at the World Social Forum, U.S. youth labor activists from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center and the United Steelworkers (USW) joined the youth commission of Brazil’s chemical workers confederation (CNQ-CUT) in a discussion of young worker participation in the labor movement. Carlos Jimenez from Jobs with Justice was also present at the workshop.
The debate also dealt with the current financial crisis, since young workers are especially vulnerable to layoffs, and other measures that employers take to reduce costs.
Brazilian youth labor activists from the chemical sector discussed workplace organization, youth-specific collective bargaining concerns and promoting innovative union structures to encourage youth leadership. They also argued for the need to bridge the digital divide and use new media and information technology to build national movements and maintain communication between workers in different countries.
The CNQ-CUT presented the results of a recent survey of young workers developed in partnership with the Solidarity Center. Participants also discussed other CNQ-CUT programs with the Solidarity Center that support networks of unions at chemical multinationals like Dow and BASF.
CNQ-CUT is a leader in youth participation in Brazil’s labor movement. Brazil’s CUT has approved structural reforms that will create a national youth secretary who will hold a seat on CUT National Executive Committee beginning after the next CUT national convention in August 2009. CUT has already created union structures and institutional rules to improve gender and racial equality within the country’s labor movement.
Gladys Cisneros, AFL-CIO representative to the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas Youth Committee, gave a broad overview of the economic situation and future of young workers in the United States. She also discussed various efforts by the union movement to mobilize and engage young workers and activists, and described the alliances between labor and community and student organizations.
Patrick Young of the USW described transformations in the United States and the global economy that affect young workers, giving a personal account of growing up in the Rust Belt. Young stressed the need to develop social movement unionism so that labor can broaden its appeal and relevance to young people who are no longer likely to find unionized industrial jobs.
Rebecca Cooper, also of the USW, outlined some USW initiatives to increase its visibility and presence among young workers. These include the USW’s Associate Member Program, designed to provide a place in the labor movement for all, whether or not they are represented by a workplace union.
Cooper noted that many young people cite the environment as their top concern. The USW’s Blue Green Alliance represents an important step to build connections between the labor and environmental movements, whose interests are no longer being seen as divergent but mutual in this time of economic and environmental crisis.
Many young trade unionists stood in sweltering heat in a packed room for three hours during the forum. They listened to U.S. and Brazilian speakers and asked many of their own urgent questions about how to rebuild the international labor movement with high levels of participation by young workers and produce profound changes in the way unions work with the broader community to create a sustainable future with decent jobs.