Economic Report: Twenty Percent Of U.S. Home Mortgage Holders Owe More Than Homes Are Worth – 05/19/09
A recent study suggests 20 percent of U.S. homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth. The result, according to an article this weekend in the Wall Street Journal is more homeowners “underwater” making it difficult to refinance, sell their homes, or take advantage of lower interest rates. According to zillow.com 20.4 million borrowers were “underwater in the first quarter, up 4.1 million just one quarter prior.
Belfast Visteon Sitdowners Win Better Deal As Auto Sector Turmoil Ripples Around The Globe – 05/19/09
The growing crisis of the auto sector is having ripple effects around the globe. Jesse Russell reports:
Workers who occupied their former factory for seven weeks walked out on Monday with one bitter sweet victory under their belts, but another battle on the horizon. More than 200 former workers at a Visteon car parts plant in Belfast have been occupying the plant since they were told the plant would be closed seven weeks ago. The workers demanded a better redundancy deal from the company before they would leave the plant. The Belfast plant was one of three closed in the UK with workers being given less than an hour’s notice that they were out of jobs. The workers accepted a better plan and on Monday left the plant two-by-two and led by a bagpiper. The next fight will be to secure their pensions.
By Doug Cunningham
The Obama administration is not requiring GM to maximize U.S. jobs, despite having enormous leverage over the company – and despite President Obama’s pledge to save or create millions of jobs. The United Auto Workers union is telling members of Congress that to qualify for any more assistance, GM ought to have to maximize the number of U.S. jobs. The union objects to GM’s plan to increase cars imported from China, Mexico and other low-wage countries to be sold in the U.S. Auto workers will join the United Steelworkers on Capitol Hill today to drive home the message to Congress that the U.S. auto industry and U.S. manufacturing in general needs to be renewed with increases U.S. production and U.S. manufacturing jobs. GM is wiping out 21,000 U.S. jobs as it uses tax dollars to restructure the company. In addition to slashing those jobs, GM will reduce imports from its Canadian and European operations while increasing the number of vehicles brought in from low-wage countries.
Unlike workers in 21 of the richest nations in the world, U.S. workers have no guaranteed paid sick leave to care for themselves or a family member who is ill.
Although union members can bargain for paid sick leave and some firms offer paid leave, nearly half of private-sector workers in this country have no paid sick days. Low-income workers fare even worse—76 percent have no paid sick leave. Overall, 57 million private-sector workers have no paid sick days, and 94 million cannot use their paid sick leave to care for an ailing child.
Today in the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, which would require employers with 15 or more employees to allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick leave days a year to take care of themselves or a family member. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is expected to reintroduce the Senate version of the bill later this week.
Big Business vows to fight the legislation as hard as when its was introduced during the Bush administration. But this time, they don’t have a presidential veto pen in their vest pocket to guarantee the bill’s defeat. President Obama supports paid sick leave for workers. As DeLauro told the New York Times:
The last eight years, you kept clawing and scratching and didn’t get anywhere, but we have a real opportunity now. There’s something wrong when people have to choose between their jobs and taking care of themselves or their families when someone is sick.
Last month as the H1N1 (swine flu) virus was spreading, health officials urged workers to stay home if symptoms showed up that could indicate an H1N1 virus. But millions must report to work or risk losing their jobs. Says Kennedy:
Everyone is at risk when the people who serve our food, clean our offices and care for our elderly can’t take time off and get well.
A report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows the United States lags far behind other developed nations in providing paid time off for workers to care for themselves or sick family members. Jody Heymann, who authored the study for the CEPR, says:
The lack of paid sick days puts Americans at substantially greater risk of contagious diseases—from the flu, which kills thousands annually, to diarrheal disease, respiratory infections and the threat of new diseases like the H1N1 flu virus.
The economic costs of a serious flu outbreak are potentially enormous. We can’t afford to wait any longer before providing American workers with paid sick days.
Click here for the full report from CEPR.
As we noted last week, Dick Cheney did workers everywhere a favor by lending his massive unpopularity to the campaign against the freedom to form unions. You couldn’t pick a better symbol of the enemies of the Employee Free Choice Act than a discredited multimillionaire Bush administration villain.
As we’ve noted, even Republican insiders realize the widely loathed former vice president isn’t doing them any favors by keeping a high public profile of late.
But Cheney isn’t the only Cheney getting involved in the fight against workers’ freedom to bargain: His daughter, Mary Cheney, works for “Navigators Global,” a high-priced consulting firm whose clients include “Workplace,” one of the many deceptively named, well-funded corporate front groups behind the disinformation campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act. The work of the misnamed coalition is paid for by such champions of the health and safety workers as Wal-Mart and the Associated Builders and Contractors. (Check out how the consulting firm’s website brags about using “branding” to counteract their corporate funders’ weakness at the grassroots level.)
As the bill gets closer and closer to passage, the line-up of anti-worker, pro-corporate hacks is likely to get louder and better-funded. The law would restore balance to the economy, and that’s causing real panic to spread among Employee Free Choice opponents.
A few examples just in the past few days: The fine folks at Media Matters and Media Matters Action Network are keeping a close eye on the anti-Employee Free Choice smears and falsehoods coming out of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Randel Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And Ken Silverstein, writing at Harper’s Magazine, has a great exposé of mega-slime lobbyist and union-basher Rick Berman and how he and his allies are raking in corporate cash while acting as anti-Employee Free Choice commentators.
But a Washington full of Cheneys (eew) can’t change the fact that there’s real momentum out there for labor law that gives workers, not their bosses, the choice about how to form a union. Corporate lobbies and CEOs can dump millions into consultants and ads and shake their little fists, but America’s workers can and will win this fight.
General Motors Corp.—which has received some $15.6 billion in federal bailout funds and is asking for another $11.6 billion—plans to use some of that taxpayer money to close 16 U.S. manufacturing plants and increase the number of vehicles made in Mexico, China, Korea and Japan for sale in the United States.
The UAW is asking its members and supporters to send a message to President Obama and to the auto task force that will have to approve GM’s restructuring plan, asking both to
stand up for the interests of American workers and retirees.
GM has until the end of May to submit its restructuring plans and is in negotiations with the UAW, the auto task force, bond holders, lenders and others with a stake in the company’s future.
In an e-mail message today to its activists network, the UAW says GM’s plans would cost 21,000 UAW jobs plus tens of thousands of additional jobs at auto suppliers, dealers and other businesses. Says the UAW message:
We need President Obama and his auto task force to stand up for the interests of American workers and retirees in the restructuring negotiations.
Tell him to insist that GM must change its restructuring plan. If GM is going to receive government assistance to facilitate its restructuring, along with the tremendous sacrifices by UAW active and retired members, it should be required to maintain the maximum number of jobs in the U.S. instead of outsourcing more production to foreign countries.
You can click here for the White House website and to send a message to the president urging him to ensure that GM’s restructuring plan maintains U.S. jobs.
|Workers across the world, like these in South Korea, are opposed to trade deals that do not protect workers’ rights.|
Like the other provisions in U.S. trade agreements, the rules governing U.S. investment abroad and foreign investment in this country unfairly favor those with the capital while giving short shrift to workers and the environment.
Testifying before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade last week, AFL-CIO Policy Director Thea Lee said the investment provisions in U.S. trade agreements are out of balance, protecting investors’ rights, but not requiring investors to take responsibility to protect workers’ rights and the environment.
U.S. investors invested $333 billion in other countries in 2007 and $318 billion in 2008, more than any other country. The United States also was the largest recipient of foreign investment with $238 billion invested in 2007 and $325 billion in 2008.
Such huge numbers show clearly that trade and investment issues are “enormously important to America’s working families—impacting our jobs, our wages, our unions and the government regulations we count on to keep our communities healthy and to safeguard our rights,” Lee says.
These rules also affect workers and the environment in other countries, so our ultimate goal is to reform these rules in a way that strengthens democratic procedures, improves transparency, and protects workers and the environment both here and abroad.
U.S. trade deals give foreign investors substantial rights and advantages not available to domestic investors, adds Lee. She cites recent experiences with the investment chapter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as an example of companies using international trade tribunals to get around the democratic process to try and knock down U.S. regulations that allegedly hurt their bottom line.
Under NAFTA, if investors feel their ability to make profit has been compromised by a regulatory change, they are empowered under the trade agreement to seek compensation directly from the trading partner country.
Lee told the subcommittee other key areas of concern for the AFL-CIO, with regard to current investment provisions, include:
- Failure to distinguish between legitimate regulatory action by governments and “indirect expropriation”—or seizure of an investor’s property. Lee says: “In our view, governments should not be expected to compensate corporations—domestic or foreign—for the imposition of legitimate government regulation in the public interest, to protect public health, the environment, or workers’ rights, among other things.”
- Weak labor and environmental protections. Current trade and investment agreements include phrases like each side “shall strive to ensure” workers’ rights and the environment are protected. Those provisions need to be significantly strengthened, says Lee.
Lee summed up the view of the AFL-CIO union movement with a quote from a 2004 letter to the State Department sent jointly by the AFL-CIO, the Center for International Environmental Law, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, the National Wildlife Federation, Oxfam America and the Sierra Club.
We believe that expansion of investment can and must be made compatible with the protection of the public interest in the United States and overseas.
You can read the full text of the letter here.
Congress is “committed to passing the Employee Free Choice Act” and President Obama is “ready to sign it into law,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today told more than 3,000 union members and leaders from 13 unions at the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) in Washington, D.C.
According to The Hill blog, Pelosi told delegates to the BCTD’s 2009 Legislative Conference:
Our work in Congress is based on two truths: America’s economy is only as strong as America’s middle class; America’s middle class is only as strong as America’s unions.
Other prominent administration officials and congressional leaders set to address the conference include Vice President Joe Biden (via videotape), Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
This morning, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the Obama administration will work closely with workers and their unions to ensure the nation’s job safety laws, wage protections and workers’ rights are enforced. She drew a roar from the crowd when she told delegates,
You can rest assured, there is a new sheriff in town.
Also, Ed Schultz, progressive radio talker and host of the MSNBC’s The Ed Show, will speak to the delegates tomorrow about media coverage of working families and the union movement. In addition, Schultz plans to feature the conference and the work of the BCTD on an upcoming show.
An Ed Shultz film crew will accompany union leaders and members tomorrow when they visit their representatives and senators on Capitol Hill to press for key working family issues, including:
- The Employee Free Choice Act;
- The Davis-Bacon Act, the federal prevailing wage law that ensures contractors on state projects don’t exploit workers by paying low wages to win state contracts;
- Health care reform;
- Clean energy/climate change legislation; and
- Immigration reform.
BCTD conference participants will attend workshops on legislative issues and political action before heading to Capitol Hill.
We will bring you more on the conference this week, and click here for BCTD’s daily video updates.
Billy Mason, a Virginia factory worker, is one of the thousands of workers who has suffered unfair treatment while trying to exercise the freedom to form a union and bargain for a better life.
Imagine a football game between one team with cleats, helmets and shoulder pads playing another that doesn’t have any equipment at all. It’s not only that companies have all kinds of advantages, but also that workers are so vulnerable to abuse. The Employee Free Choice Act will help even the playing field.
I’ve been through two organizing campaigns, and I hope my experience will explain why we desperately need this legislation.
Mason explains how he and his co-workers at a Hampton manufacturing plant got overwhelming support to form a union to bargain for better benefits and fair wages. However, management took full advantage of its power to launch a vicious anti-union campaign, holding mandatory meetings and threatening employees. Despite winning the support of two-thirds of workers at the plant during the petition drive, the workers hoping to form a union lost the election. After the election, Mason was illegally suspended by his company, like so many other workers trying to exercise their basic freedoms.
There’s a saying that workers can either bargain collectively or beg individually. I’m scared that because of the economy, workers will be less likely to stand up individually. They’ll believe they’re lucky to have a job, and they’ll accept whatever corporations throw at them. With the economy teetering on the edge, this is the time to empower workers.