When it comes to economic competitiveness Utah ranks number one out of all fifty states. In an index created by the American Legislative Exchange Council Colorado, Arizona, Virginia, and South Dakota all join their fellow Western state in the top five. At the bottom are the northeastern states of New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont and New York. Utah closed a $1 billion budget gap without raising taxes.
By Doug Cunningham
Bringing the Olympics to Chicago would be a huge boost to employment and would inject major money into the local economy. Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon says the whole Chicagoland community would benefit.
[Gannon]: “Full employment of our building and construction trades, numerous job opportunities for our transportation folks and our logistics folks, folks in our hospitality industry, the security industry. I think there’s enormous opportunity for us to grow our workforce here in Chicago to do the jobs that are gonna be coming with the Olympic Games if we’re able to secure them to the city of Chicago.”
Does the Employee Free Choice Act go far enough? One labor activist doesn’t think so. Jesse Russell reports:
The Employee Free Choice Act is intended to give workers more rights in the workplace when it comes to choosing representation. Bill Fletcher author of the book Solidarity Divided, doesn’t think the act goes far enough to protecting those rights:
[Fletcher1]: The legislation should have been focused less on card check and voting and more on completely eliminating the employer from any role at all in the workers right to choose a union.
Fletcher says employees are under pressure from their employer.
Contracts can’t be broken. We learned that lesson well over the past few days when AIG honchos swore that despite being bailed out by $173 billion in taxpayer funds, they couldn’t break the sacrosanct contractual bond that guaranteed billions in bonuses to the same top executives who brought the insurance giant to its knees.
But we also were taught another lesson in these months of financial chaos: Contacts can’t be changed—unless they involve unionized autoworkers.
Tim Rutten at the Los Angeles Times really hits the mark today when he writes:
What we’re essentially being asked to believe is that employment contracts involving hardworking men and women on Detroit’s assembly lines are somehow less legally binding—less “sacred” in the current rhetorical argot—than those protecting a bunch of cowboy securities traders living in Connecticut. [snip]
For years, the smart guys on Wall Street have convinced a growing number of Americans that organized labor is an impediment to economic progress, an unacceptable “cost” in a globalized system of production, a quaint social fossil from the era of mills and smokestacks. If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the current crisis, however, it’s that when the chips are down, organized labor is a far more responsible social actor than the snatch-and-run characters who fancy themselves financiers.
Who re-negotiated their contracts in the face of a taxpayer bailout? Not AIG CEOs. It was the autoworkers who agreed to put their middle-class wages on the line to help out the struggling industry. So far, not one AIG CEO has stepped up to the plate to return that $1 million or so bonus. (AIG bigwigs aren’t alone in soaking up taxpayer money for personal fun—a video clip here by Brave New Films lists more CEOs on the taxpayer dole and urges people to take action on March 19.)
When General Motors (GM) and Chrysler asked for government support in December, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) pushed a pay cut amendment in the Senate that called for slicing the autoworkers’ wages to those paid to nonunionized workers. So, Bob, your fans are waiting breathlessly to hear you call for AIG billionaires to give back their bonuses. Or, as a columnist in Corker’s home state puts it:
Paging Bob Corker! Explanation please! [snip]
So, to make sure I have this right, we can give $185 billion to AIG and we have to uphold their employment contracts with 80 people, but we can’t give 1/5th that amount to General Motors unless they abrogate their employment contracts with 100,000 workers.
Yes, taxpayers own 80 percent of AIG. But we can’t seem to stop AIG execs from getting bonuses. After all, AIG CEO Edward Liddy and the company’s apologists argue, AIG knew it needed to keep its people. The implication here is that financial wizards who run a global company into the ground are more valuable than the blue-collar men and women who aren’t paid seven-figure salaries and whose jobs involve creating tangible products like, say, automobiles. Meanwhile, AIG bonus information so far includes:
- $200 million in bonuses.
- 73 AIG employees receiving bonuses of $1 million each, almost all of the employees…responsible for creating the exotic derivatives that caused AIG’s near collapse.
- Some of those receiving the bonuses are not U.S. citizens.
A CNN poll released today shows the American public increasingly fearful that the nation’s economic downturn will mirror the Depression. Asked whether Depression-era circumstances could reign in the next 12 months, 45 percent of those polled reported that was likely. That’s an increase from 38 percent who responded in the same fashion in December.
As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says, “These outrageous bonuses are yet another example of an economy that has become fundamentally imbalanced.”
All of the power is concentrated in the hands of the very few at the very top and the gap between CEOs’ and workers’ pay continues to grow. That is why we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
Passing the Employee Free Choice Act will allow workers to have a voice at work, lift their standard of living and build stronger communities as well as stronger families.
A Gallup poll released in recent days found 53 percent of the U.S. public supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress last week. Why? Because we need a stronger middle class. One with contracts that are sacrosanct.
Trade experts from throughout the Americas say U.S. trade policies must be completely revised and existing agreements renegotiated and agree with the Obama administration’s proposal to renegotiate part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that allowed unsafe Mexican trucks to drive on U.S. highways.
In a forum hosted by the International Labor Rights Forum, the Global Policy Network and the Economic Policy Institute, trade union leaders from the United States, Mexico, Central America and Colombia said that existing and proposed trade agreements have failed to live up to their promise and have actually made things worse.
Patricia Juan Pineda, counsel for the FAT, Mexico’s independent union federation, told the forum:
During the negotiation of NAFTA, critics claimed that many small businesses that maintain most of Mexico’s employment, would close and that the agreement would create lower salaries and unstable work conditions. Fifteen years later, many of the criticisms have become a reality.
A big problem with NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is that neither protects workers’ rights. Bama Athreya, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, said:
Twenty-five years of experience promoting labor rights conditions in trade agreements has shown us that we need better ways to measure progress and better tools to hold governments accountable for protecting workers’ rights.
Omar Salazar Alvarado, executive director of ASEPROLA, a Costa Rica-based labor rights advocacy organization, added:
It’s a major mistake to believe that labor rights are protected under CAFTA. The intention was always to protect trade and investments and not labor rights. Today we have the possibility to correct this mistake.
Participants in the forum also called on the U.S. government to drop consideration of a proposed trade agreement with Colombia. Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, president of Sintraminercol, Colombia’s coal miners’ union and a human rights activist, puts it this way:
If the U.S. and Canadian governments approve the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, they would be legitimizing the crimes against Colombian labor leaders, crimes that occur on average once every three days. Those that are responsible are basically the corporations and the governments, the same groups that would be the first to benefit from the agreement.
Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for union members. The Colombian government has not vigorously investigated or prosecuted the killing of trade union members. At the current pace of investigations and trials, it would take 37 years to prosecute the backlog of cases. And the caseload is growing—the rate of killings, which had fallen for a few years, jumped sharply last year by 25 percent.
Meanwhile, as part of the omnibus fiscal year 2009 appropriations bill, Congress banned unsafe Mexican trucks on U.S. highways. The Bush administration ignored a congressional ban on Mexican trucks operating beyond the 25-mile commercial zone around the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Transportation Department’s inspector general reported on Feb. 6 that despite repeated assurances that the federal inspectors would “check every truck, every time” it crossed the border, the Transportation Department couldn’t determine whether such inspections had occurred.
Teamsters President James Hoffa says the “driving public is put at risk when trucks from Mexico that don’t meet U.S. standards are allowed to roam our highways.
The Mexican government has not held up their end of the bargain to meet U.S. standards. Mexican trucks are unsafe and Mexican drivers are not required to meet the same criteria that American drivers must meet to earn a commercial driver’s license. It’s long past time to close the border to these unguided missiles.
Mexico is planning to increase duties on $2.4 billion of U.S. exports of commodities like wheat, beans, beef, and rice in retaliation for the truck ban. Jane Winebrenner writes in the Daily Labor Report the Obama White House has asked for new legislation to create a new trucking project that meets the concerns of Congress and the union movement.
The expansion of Mexican trucking in the United States was negotiated under the 1994 NAFTA.
The current economic downturn is the worst since the Great Depression and has led to more job loss than the previous two recessions. Just as in the 1930s, today’s economic crisis was triggered by a banking failure created in large part by financial degregulation. Both jobs and a stronger financial system must be addressed to prevent future problems, say two union leaders key to solving the crisis.
In a recent interview with National Public Radio (NPR), AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, a member of President Obama’s White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board, pointed out that the current recession is worse than the recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s when it comes to job losses. Says Trumka:
This recession began in December of 2007, and we’ve already lost more jobs as a percentage of total employment than in the entire ‘73 or ‘80-’81 recessions.
This recession also affects jobs in more industries than previous downturns, Trumka adds.
You have manufacturing jobs, you have construction jobs—all of those are similar, but you also have a lot of white-collar jobs that are going this time that weren’t as bad in those past recessions.
Click here to hear the full NPR interview.
One troubling similarity between the current recession and the Great Depression is that both began with a banking crisis. In the NPR interview, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says:
It was the financial crisis and the collapse of banks and other institutions in late 1930 and early 1931 that made the Great Depression “great.” And so we must have a commitment to stabilize our banking system to prevent the failures of any large systemically critical firms.
Trumka says it isn’t just the banking system that has failed. It is a deregulated financial system that has failed.
We came out of the Great Depression with the knowledge that a strong middle class America and a regulated banking system was the correct approach to correcting the corse of the economy. When we began deregulating the banking system and ignoring the health and growth of America’s middle class, we started down the slippery slope again.
Testifying before the House Financial Services Committee yesterday, AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Damon Silvers laid out strategies the union movement sees as the most effective for saving the banking industry. Silvers told the House panel:
Systemic crises in financial markets harm working people. Damaged credit systems destroy jobs rather than create them. Pension funds with investments in panicked markets see their assets deteriorate. And the resulting instability undermines business’ ability to plan and obtain financing for new investments—undermining the long-term growth and competitiveness of employers and setting the stage for future job losses.
You can read Silvers’ testimony here.
Since 2006, the AFL-CIO has urged Congress to act to reregulate shadow financial markets and address systemic risk. The Congressional Oversight Panel, of which Silvers is a member, has made several recommendations to prevent future banking crises, recommendations which the AFL-CIO supports:
- There should be a body charged with monitoring sources of systemic risk in the financial system. The AFL-CIO believes the regulation should be the responsibility of a coordinating body of regulators, led by the chairman of the Federal Reserve. This body should have its own staff, resources and expertise to monitor systemic risk in institutions and products throughout the financial markets.
- The new regulatory body should be fully accountable and transparent to the public. We should not identify specific institutions in advance as too big to fail, but rather have a framework where larger banks are required to keep more capital on hand and pay more on insurance funds on a percentage basis than smaller firms.
- Systemic risk regulation cannot be a substitute for routine disclosure, accountability, safety and soundness, and consumer protection regulation of financial institutions and financial markets.
- Effective protection against systemic risk requires that the shadow capital markets—institutions like hedge funds and products like credit derivatives—must not only be subject to oversight but must also be brought within a framework of routine capital market regulation by agencies like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
- We must create a global regulatory floor for financial markets.
It’s only been a week since the Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in Congress, but working men and women around the country have packed in a lot of activity in support of this critical bill.
Last Thursday in Green Bay, members of Wisconsin’s UAW Local 1102 held an event to speak with union members and allies about their efforts to form a union and the pressure they faced from management, ranging from frequent mandatory anti-union meetings and anti-union materials stuffed into their pay envelopes to outright illegal firings. Despite the harassment, delays and scare tactics from management, they managed to win their election, but workers shouldn’t have to go through a campaign of intimidation and pressure from their bosses in order to form a union. Check out the series of videos in which these workers discuss the challenges facing those who are trying to exercise their freedom to form unions and bargain.
In Arkansas, workers held a vigil outside the state Capitol on Monday night to encourage elected leaders to support the Employee Free Choice Act.
Meanwhile, grassroots activity to reach out to Congress hasn’t let up. Letter-writing lunches and phone bank events are taking place around the country, including Montana, Wisconsin, Nebraska and other states whose senators will have key votes on the Employee Free Choice Act.
Marilyn Kruger, a member of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1293 in Lincoln, Neb., talks about why she’s contacting her members of Congress in support of the freedom to form a union:
I believe it will help restore the middle class and give workers a voice. It’s a good thing for working people.
Maine’s Portland Press Herald recently featured a column by Republican state Rep. James Campbell and Penni Theirault, a union member who also owns a small business. They say it’s “essential” to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
…Commonsense solutions should be used to create good jobs that can support a family and put money back into our economy.
Historically, no institution has been as effective at improving the quality of life for working families as membership in a union.
Meanwhile, Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney co-authored a column in the Anchorage Daily News, the state’s largest newspaper, making the case for the Employee Free Choice Act, and Nebraska AFL-CIO President Ken Mass was interviewed yesterday by the Nebraska Netroots blog.