- CWA Workers At AT&T Authorize A Strike In Pursuit Of “Quality Contract”
- Chrysler Threatens To Leave Canada In Contract Talks With Canadian Auto Workers
- Economic Evidence Is Clear – Unions Don’t Hurt The Economy
- USW President Leo Gerard Calls For Rebuilding America “Clean & Green”
- Economic Report: One In Five U.S. Workers Have No Health Insurance
According to a new study nearly one in five U.S. workers are uninsured. That’s an increase from fewer than one in seven since the mid-199s. The numbers come from a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which discovered that 26.9 million workers were uninsured by the middle of the current decade up six million from the mid-1990s when the number was 20.7 million.
By Doug Cunningham
United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard testified Tuesday before the U.S. House Trade Subcommittee and called for a national commitment to rebuild America clean and green. Gerard says climate change is the challenge of our generation and America must lead the effort. Gerard says the development of green manufacturing should be the centerpiece of the U.S. effort.
By Doug Cunningham
[Bivens]: “Unionized firms do not fail ay any higher rates than non-union firms.”
Economic Policy Institute economist Josh Bivens. Bivens says economic research is clear – increased unionization does not hurt employment or the economy.
[Bivens2]: “The state of the art academic research – examining the causal effects of unionization of firms – and it finds out that there is no causal effect. They do not go out of business or grow more slowly in terms of employment than their non-union peers.”
A new report from the University of Michigan’s John Dinardo clearly debunks the big business argument that more unionization causes more unemployment or more frequent business failures.
The battle between Canadian Auto Workers and Chrysler continues to heat up. Jesse Russell reports:
With Chrysler placing the threat of pulling out of Canada on the table talks continued Tuesday between the U.S. car company and the union representing workers. The Canadian Auto Workers recently reached a deal with General Motors that would save the company $1 billion in pension and health care payments. The CAW wants Chrysler to stick to that deal, but Chrysler is demanding more givebacks from workers. The company told a parliamentary committee it would shutter Canadian production plants if the country doesn’t offer aid and the autoworkers don’t offer further concessions.
As a contract between workers represented by the Communications Workers of America and AT&T heads for expiration on April 4 little progress is being made at the bargaining table. On Monday the workers gave the CWA bargaining committee the power to call a strike if the company fails to accept a “quality contract.” 88 percent of the 125,000 workers represented by the union approved the strike option. Any action needs to be approved by the CWA executive committee.
Even though he was a sponsor of the original Employee Free Choice Act in 2003, supported the bill again in 2005 and voted against a Republican filibuster of it in 2007, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced today that he would support a filibuster this year in an attempt to block the legislation from coming to a Senate floor vote.
Specter made a statement today about the failures of America’s labor laws—failures that make the Employee Free Choice Act necessary—but he also advanced falsehoods spread by corporate front groups. The statement shows that he’s listening not to his constituents, but to the big-money interests who are hoping to prevent workers from exercising their basic freedom to form unions and bargain.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says that while Specter’s cave-in to corporate lobbyists is disappointing, it won’t blunt the momentum behind this critical bill to protect worker’s freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life.
Today’s announcement by Sen. Specter—a sponsor of the original Employee Free Choice Act who voted for cloture in 2007—is frankly a disappointment and a rebuke to working people, to his own constituents in Pennsylvania and working families around the country.
The fact is the Employee Free Choice Act has more support than ever—large majorities in both houses of Congress, the president and vice president, 73 percent of the public. We will continue to work with Democrats and a number of Republicans to create common-sense solutions to the decades of corporate power.
We do not plan to let a hardball campaign from Big Business derail the Employee Free Choice Act or the dreams of workers.
There are deep flaws in our labor laws, as Sen. Specter acknowledged today. The freedom to join together and bargain with employers for fair wages and better benefits is critical to rebuilding our middle class—and now is exactly the time to do it, as we begin to revive our economy in a way that works for everyone. In the coming weeks, we will be escalating our campaign and finding the best ways forward to a balanced, strong economy.
Darryl Thayer, a member of the Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 292 in Minneapolis, hardly received a visionary’s welcome when he addressed the Minnesota legislature in 1968 about the need to develop solar energy and wean the state from fossil fuel-based sources. Worse yet, says Thayer, many of my fellow workers “thought I was nuts.”
Forty-one years later, the legislature has a green energy task force. Now Thayer, a 53-year member, who teaches solar classes at Local 292’s apprenticeship training center, is a hero to folks like Ray Zeran. He’s one of 600 unemployed IBEW members who are looking to benefit from billions of dollars of state funds and federal stimulus money focused on renewable energy projects.
In February, Zeran, who graduated from his five-year apprenticeship last July, joined 150 IBEW members from across Minnesota for a lobbying day in St. Paul, where renewable energy was a main focus. “I participated because I realized—early on in my electrical career—that just showing up at work every day is not enough,” says Zeran, who needs one more installation to become certified as a solar specialist.
Local 292’s training center, which features one of the nation’s best solar labs and its own solar system, has a waiting list for students. But the local isn’t taking an exclusive approach to training. Jim Nimlos, Local 292’s training director, and his counterpart at Local 343, Andy Toft, developed a student exchange between 343’s wind turbine training and 292’s solar curriculum.
While Minnesota may appear to be an improbable generator of sun power, Nimlos says the state sits on a latitude similar to Germany, where solar power is well-developed and Minnesota’s lower temperatures keep panels operating at maximum efficiency. And the state’s clear skies make it competitive with Jacksonville, Fla., San Francisco and Houston, he says.
IBEW participates in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities project, which targets 25 metropolitan areas for sun power development. Thayer—who earned a bachelor’s in physics more than 13 years ago working as a journeyman electrician and has nearly completed his master’s in engineering—has written a curriculum for the project. Fully half of all certified Minnesota solar installers are Local 292 members.
While Local 292 focuses on solar power, the use of wind power has been expanding rapidly in southern Minnesota, where Local 343 is located. The local is completing a 60-foot climbing tower for practicing high-voltage safety, climbing and rescue procedures on turbines in conjunction with a national wind power curriculum. Toft, who sets a priority on making IBEW-organized contractors more competitive in wind projects, expects to see 1,700 towers erected over the next few years.
The training programs are part of the IBEW Minnesota State Council’s efforts to promote new training and encourage grassroots political activism to set high standards for renewable energy workers. Those efforts are returning results that could reach far into the future.
The legislature’s green jobs task force was already considering more than 20 bills—including bond measures for public projects on green energy—before Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus package. The state has some of the strongest environmental and energy laws in the nation—including a mandate that one-quarter of Minnesota’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2025.
The IBEW supports state legislation to include more money to cover the labor costs of relocating existing power lines to make way for new highway and rail projects that will be financed by the federal stimulus. IBEW locals are gearing up to provide labor from new needs. A state bill supported by environmentalists provides that one-half of all new parking facilities include outlets to charge electric vehicles.
State Sen. Ellen Anderson, who co-chairs the green jobs task force, recently reported that investing in the new non-fossil fuel technologies will result in 70,000 new or retained jobs. Minnesota will receive $9 billion in tax cuts and new federal aid through the stimulus package.
In a state that mandates the licensing of electricians, the IBEW is challenging the perception that solar and wind energy require entirely new careers. Local 292 business representative Dan McConnell, who meets with community college educators who are setting up renewable energy training, says he asks them “what will happen to students who are only trained in renewable energy installations if the bubble bursts in any specific sector.”
McConnell proposes to educators and legislators that the demand for solar workers be filled by journeymen and apprentice electricians who receive supplementary training in how to properly design and angle panels and calculate their efficiency.
Solar panels are live when they come out of the box. Safety should not be taken for granted. [Better-trained workers] are far more recession-proof than workers trained exclusively on renewable installations.
There’s noise now in Washington that policy makers are considering paying for health care reform, in part, by taxing health care benefits workers receive through employer-provided health coverage. Such an ill-conceived plan not only represents a big a tax hike for workers and their employers, but carries serious and hidden costs, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
In “Not-So-Easy Money: Taxing Health Care Benefits Comes with Costs,” Elise Gould, EPI’s director of health care policy research, warns
we should proceed with extreme caution before moving to cap or eliminate this tax exclusion.
The latest government figures show that in 2007, 70 percent of the 253 million people with health insurance received at least some of their coverage through employers. Currently, the money spent on providing health care coverage is tax deductible to the employer and the employee is not taxed on it.
Workers who get their health care coverage through employment, and the employers who provide it, already have seen years of their costs climbing and their coverage shrinking through higher premiums, bigger co-pays, larger deductibles and more exclusions in coverage.
On top of that, workers’ paychecks have stagnated as they have given up pay raises to funnel those funds to cover the higher health care costs and maintain coverage.
UAW Legislative Director Alan Reuther recently told The New York Times that proposals to tax health care benefits
would represent a tax increase on working families. They would undermine good health care coverage.
Not only are the proposals a tax hike on workers, but, says Gould, they also could accelerate the decline in employer-provided coverage.
The current policy of excluding health benefits from taxation provides employers with an incentive to offer health insurance to their workforce. When large groups of workers (and their families) sign-up for health insurance through employers, “risk pools” are formed. The key to these risk pools is that people are not grouped according to their health, creating a viable and stable insurance pool.
Taxing health insurance benefits would encourage the young and healthy to opt out of these pools; upon their exit, premiums would likely rise for those remaining.
Consequently, a policy that taxes health benefits would likely accelerate the substantial erosion in employer-sponsored insurance that has occurred since 2000 and thus cause more people to lose insurance coverage altogether.
Those pushing the health care tax also claim it would reduce health care costs by discouraging workers from so-called “wasteful” health care spending and steering them away from more comprehensive, quality coverage to lower-cost, more bare-bones coverage. Says Gould:
…taxing high-priced health coverage will heavily burden two groups: workers in small firms and workers in employer pools with higher health risks, such as those with a high percentage of older workers.
Small businesses are paying high premiums for the insurance they provide to their employees not because the plans are especially lavish, but because they have high administrative costs and include too few employees to constitute the broader risk pool that would qualify them for lower premiums.
Employees whose characteristics cause them to be classified as higher risks make them more expensive to insure. Adding a tax on top of the cost of premiums they and their employers pay will likely drive more of them into the ranks of the uninsured.
Some of the nation’s top historians have signed a petition asking Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and protect the freedom to form unions and bargain.
Organized by University of Washington historian Michael Honey, who is president of the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA), the petition includes the signatures of 100 historians from around the country. They’ve looked at our nation’s historical record and say that it’s clear we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
Writing on behalf of these 100 historians, Honey makes a strong argument about what the lessons of history can teach us about our current economic straits and the need for workers’ freedom to bargain as a tool to help set our economy on the right track by addressing the long-term imbalances in power between workers and management.
From historical perspective the reason is simple: both democracy and our economy needs labor law reform.
The last Great Depression occurred when unions declined to almost nothing in the 1920s. Republicans cut taxes on the rich and removed many of the regulations of the Progressive era, which in turn allowed bankers and corporations to make sky-high profits. The housing and stock market boomed, and the rich got richer. That led to the crash of 1929.
Because labor was not organized, it had almost no restraining influence on government, leading to a vast divide between the rich and the working class. Sound familiar?
History may not repeat itself exactly, but as Honey notes, there are a lot of similarities between our current situation and the 1930s. In fact, opponents of workers’ freedom to form unions are using scarily similar language, as the Labornerd blog points out. LaborNerd provides a list of anti-worker, anti-union quotes and asks readers to determine which quote comes from the 2000s and which is from the 1930s.
So when corporate front groups try to make the argument that an economic crisis is the wrong time to protect workers’ freedom to bargain for a better life, we should remember it’s the same broken record from the 1930s. As Honey says, empowering workers to form unions and bargain is critical to ensuring a strong, sustainable recovery.
In 1935, the Wagner Act made it easier for workers to organize, establishing the right to freedom of association and speech on the job without employer intimidation or interference. The rise of unions paved the way to the Social Security Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and many of the government safety nets we rely upon today.
Because unions gained in strength, workers increased their wages and their buying power. When the economy came out of its stupor during the rapid industrialization of World War II, unions became widespread. The result was the rise of the largest middle class in world history.
The support of these historians is an important contribution to the fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. You can download a full list of the 100 historians who have signed on to this petition here.