By Doug Cunningham
A global investor group has sent letters to S&P 100 companies asking them how they ensure rights for their U.S. workers. The international coalition of major institutional investors manage $757 billion across the global economy. Steve Heim of Boston Common Asset management says the Employee Free Choice Act is highlighting the need to better understand a company’s position and workplace policies regarding unions. The investors group says it recognizes that constructive and positive labor relations are critical to a company’s long-term success.
Consumer confidence surged by its highest rate in six years during May. Jesse Russell reports.
According to the monthly report from the Conference Board the “sentiment index” increased to 54.9, much higher than the projected increase to 42.6. The Conference Board creates the index by surveying 5,000 U.S. households. Consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased from 15.7 percent to 23.1 percent.
By Doug Cunningham
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is trying to use bankruptcy to throw out union contracts and withdraw from the Teamsters Central States pension fund. Teamsters Local 638 Business Agent Bob Moore says the union has cooperated by giving up millions of dollars in concessions, but draws the line at pensions.
[Moore]: “That’s the issue that we hope to succeed on and we’d like everybody to maintain their pension benefits.”
The Star-Tribune is filing an 1113 motion in bankruptcy court in New York City asking the judge to allow the company to throw out its union contracts. The
By Doug Cunningham
United Steel Workers Vice President Tom Conway says the collapse of the U.S. auto industry is directly linked to decades of trade policies that shipped U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas to cheap labor markets while allowing a flood of imports into the U.S. market. Conway says workers have been ill-served by the philosophy of serving Wall Street and multi-national corporations in the name of globalization and free trade.
[Conway]: “Two decades or so of this continual off-shoring and pandering to the Wall Street monied interests need to come to an end. It’s a system that’s broken.”
Joe Sanna, a member of the Electrical Workers (IBEW) and president of the Pennsylvania State Electrical Workers Association, has a great op-ed in the Somerset County Daily American about why it’s not just individual workers who need the Employee Free Choice Act. Indeed, a level playing field and broad prosperity are necessary for everyone, writes Sanna.
“In this moment of crisis, we have no choice but to come together on a level playing field to get this economy working again.
This economy has gone asunder in large part because a wealthy few were allowed to play by a different set of rules than the rest of us for far too long. And the problem was clear long before the pain became this severe.”
As Sanna notes, worker productivity has gone up, but those workers haven’t seen that turn into real wage gains. They’re not getting their share, and as they’ve gone into debt to keep up, the prosperity they’ve built has been turned into speculative bubbles and gambled away. That doesn’t help anyone in the economy.
Stagnant wages and tightening family budgets have severely restricted the average worker’s buying power. Small businesses across the country are hurting because workers simply cannot afford to buy the very products that they’re creating. Consumer confidence has plummeted by huge percentages over the last year.
We won’t be able to rebuild the middle class if working people don’t have the freedom to form and join unions.
True wealth isn’t built on top of credit cards and reckless speculation. It takes the dedicated efforts of working people and responsible business owners to achieve any real long-term sustainability. That’s what the American Dream has always been about, and it’s time for us to make that dream a reality once more.
Read the whole op-ed here. It’s a vital statement about what our economy needs.
Behind all the hype and technical jargon surrounding the nation’s banking and mortgage crises, the bottom line comes down to answering this question: Does the nation want to spend its resources on rich bank stockholders or on roads, bridges, schools and other necessary projects?
Speaking during a workshop at the America’s Future Now conference this morning, several members of a panel on the banking crisis said the financial system is broken and that the Obama administration’s plan to fix it doesn’t address the scope of the problem. The three-day conference is sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future.
The administration is holding its breath, hoping big banks will recover the value of some of their assets over time if taxpayers bail them out over the short haul, said Damon Silvers, vice chairman of the Congressional Oversight Panel.
It is dangerous to be underwater and holding your breath and not being able to reach the surface.
The money we already have spent to bail out banks could have been used for other projects that would have helped communities by stopping foreclosures, rebuilding our infrastructure and putting people back to work, Silvers said. Instead, he said, the money has gone to the banks’ stock holders, most of whom are in the top 5 percent of the nation’s wealthiest people.
There are multiple problems with the current approach of bailouts, panelists said. One big problem is that money that was supposed to go to providing credit to homeowners facing foreclosure or small businesses that create jobs and buy supplies in local communities is not going to them.
Matt Stoller, an aide to Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), described the experience of a woman in Orlando who paid $200,000 for her home, only to see it drop in value to $60,000. Rather than let her refinance the house and pay the $60,000 mortgage, which she can afford, the bank is selling the house and forcing her out. Stoller says:
Ordinary people are not seeing the benefits of the billions of dollars [given to bail out banks]. That money is not coming into the credit markets.
Nomi Pins, a former managing director of Goldman Sachs, said part of the problem is the inability to tell how deep the trouble in the banking system runs because the same people who created the mess are still running the banks.
As Silvers put it, it’s like asking a child how big a mess he made when he spilled the milk and cookies. The child will answer “not big.” But the reality is different.
Propping up the securities of the nation’s largest banks is bad policy, Pins said, because taxpayers have no way of knowing how much those securities are worth. She explained how bankers don’t know the value of the securities until someone makes an offer for them on the open market. So we can’t definitively determine the value of many of the banks’ assets.
If someone wants to pay 50 cents on the dollar, then it’s worth 50 cents.
Pins, now a fellow at the public policy institute Demos and author of It Takes A Pillage, said the real culprit is the idea that the banking system should continue to exist as it is. The reality is that having banks big enough to take down the economy if they fail is not good for the country. We need to break up the banks into manageable parts and toughen oversight and regulation, she said.
Silvers, who also is associate general counsel for the AFL-CIO, said the global financial system must be overhauled with comprehensive regulation, hewed to the theme he hit on in March at the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Finance Initiative:
All forms of money management in global markets ought to be under a regulatory scheme. Not just systematically significant ones, all of them. Otherwise, we ought to just basically admit that we don’t have regulated markets.
Economist Robert Johnson says real change in the banking system will only come from public pressure.
When we have bankers saying we can’t afford roads, bridges and schools, but we can afford to bail them out, we have a problem.
He likened the bankers to be-bop jazz musicians who played a very complicated music form to prevent other artists from copying and stealing their work. While the musicians created artistic masterpieces that enriched the world, the bankers are creating complex financial packages to protect their money at the public’s expense, he said.
Economist Robert Kuttner agreed, saying real change in the system will not come from the politicians; it will come from the demands of the American people for fairness and accountability.
Kuttner pointed out that Congress and the Obama administration are beginning to hear the public’s complaints and are making some moves in the right directions. He praised the passage and signing of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, which among other things, creates an investigative commission, the Financial Markets Commission. The panel has a sweeping mandate, including subpoena powers, to investigate all the causes of the collapse.
But in the end, Kuttner said, it will be the American people who force the necessary changes in the banking system by creating political pressure that will force the White House and Congress to make real reforms in the financial system.
Politics is just as important as economics in this battle.
At the three-day America’s Future Now! conference going on now in Washington, D.C., many workshops are focused on empowering people and building a stronger, fairer economy, and few issues are more critical to those goals than the Employee Free Choice Act and restoring workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life.
At a session this morning on the Employee Free Choice Act, some of the people most involved in the fight to pass the bill discussed why we need it and how we’re going to make it happen.
Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the leadership in the Senate is strongly behind the bill and he won’t back down on giving real freedom to workers who want a union, making sure workers can get a first contract and that there are meaningful penalties to violations of workers’ freedom.
If senators refuse to compromise, if they refuse to come to the table in good faith, I will take the original bill to the floor and demand an up-or-down vote. We will see where everyone stands, and working people can vote accordingly.
Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), talked about the 1930s, when the expansion of collective bargaining helped rebuild the economy by giving workers a stake in the economy. We need to give workers that power again, he said:
You will never revive this economy or the buying power of American workers unless American workers have a seat at the table, a voice, the ability to collectively bargain.
Cohen told the story of Sara Steffens, a prize-winning journalist who, with her co-workers, faced massive employer intimidation while trying to form a union. The United States is nearly unique among industrial democracies in the world because here workers like Steffens face a management veto and management abuses over what should be their choice to form a union. CEOs and corporate lobbyists are spending tens of millions of dollars, Cohen said, to block the Employee Free Choice Act and keep their control over the process. That’s why we need a strong and united progressive front behind this bill, Cohen said:
We need to say to every senator, which side are you on? Are you on the side of Sara Steffens, or are you on the side of the Chamber of Commerce, making the same arguments they made in 1935? Some people are saying this isn’t the time, but this is exactly the time. It’s the time to rebuild the middle class.
Former Rep. David Bonior, chairman of American Rights at Work, said there needs to be a tie between the union movement and the broader progressive community, because we have common goals: making sure people have health care, fair wages, safety in the workplace and dignity and power in their own lives. We have the ability to change this country in a fundamental way, Bonior said. He offered a strong case that the Employee Free Choice Act is at the heart of the change our country needs.
We will pass the Employee Free Choice Act. We will do it. This is a struggle that’s been going on for decades and the injustice of it is ringing out.
We’ve watched our economy take a nosedive. It’s obvious that CEOs and corporations have gone too far, and everyone is paying a price. Those who have been calling the shots the last eight years, they put profits ahead of people—now they have the nerve to say that progressive policies will hurt the economy, as if they were experts?
Bonior said that you strengthen the economy from the bottom up, by giving workers, not their bosses, the choice about forming a union.
If you work hard, you should get a decent wage. If you get sick, you should have decent health care. If you put in a lifetime of work, you should get a pension. That’s the American dream. There’s no history of a strong middle class without collective bargaining…the Employee Free Choice Act will empower people.
Bonior said that over the past decade, 90 percent of wage growth went to the top 10 percent of earners, 59 percent of growth went to only 1 percent of earners—and a staggering 34 percent of wage growth went to the very top 0.1 percent of earners. That hurts the economy, and it’s a striking contrast to the fairer, more balanced wage growth when workers had a real choice to form a union. It’s due directly to the relentless attacks against workers who are trying to form unions, he said.
Bonior closed with a strong message for President Barack Obama and his economic team:
It is not good enough to go back to what we had, because what we had did not work and is not just and we will not stand enough.
We all have a stake in empowering more workers to have unions.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, said that the Employee Free Choice Act is a critical step in history.
The election of Obama is a testament to the long history of the civil rights movement and the progressive coalition—we haven’t won everything yet, Henderson said, but we look at real changes like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court and it’s striking to think how much things have changed. But we need the Employee Free Choice Act as well, said Henderson.
It’s not just about what unions do for individuals—although that’s critical—but what they do for communities, Henderson said.
We support it because it’s fair, because it’s the right thing to do, because it will transform this country. We need to turn up the heat to make sure that Congress deals with the fundamental needs of American workers.
Harkin, like Henderson, said the changes in Washington since the election are obvious—with a president, Barack Obama, who co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in the Senate, and a strong secretary of labor, Hilda Solis. The next change we need is to give workers the bargaining rights they need.
The American people know the economy is broken, and they know the best bet for strengthening the middle class is giving them the right to organize. And the best way to do that is through the Employee Free Choice Act.
Workers need an easy way to say, “Yes, I want a union,” without being harassed, without being intimidated, without being fired.
A coalition of progressive groups representing more than 30 million people, is set to build support for health care reform legislation that includes a public health insurance plan option and to battle the private health insurance industry’s deep-pocketed campaign to block a public plan option.
The coalition, which made the announcement yesterday at the America’s Future Now! conference in Washington, D.C., will focus on grassroots organizing around the nation to build public and congressional support—and apply pressure to Congress—to include a public plan option.
A public insurance plan option for workers and families who either have private insurance coverage or no coverage at all is one of the AFL-CIO’s key health care reform principles. It has been vigorously attacked by the private insurance industry and most congressional Republicans.
Dr. Howard Dean, former Vermont governor, said the election of President Obama, growing congressional majorities and a stronger progressive movement will play a key a role in winning real health care reform.
Over the past few years, we have worked together to build a progressive infrastructure and a movement that helped to elect President Obama and begin to undo the damage of the last eight years. But it was just the beginning. As the health care reform debate makes clear, America needs a strong progressive movement; now is not the time to become complacent.
The coalition includes the AFL-CIO, Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), Campaign for America’s Future, Change to Win, Children’s Defense Fund, MoveOn and civil rights, women’s community, faith and youth groups.
Mary Rickles, spokesperson for Dean’s group, Democracy for America, told Politico:
We’re drawing a line in the sand that any legislation passed has to include a public plan. Americans deserve to choose between a public option and for-profit insurance companies.
Says HCAN national campaign manager Richard Kirsch:
We have the momentum for real change, and with the commitment of the president and Democratic leadership in Congress, we know we can be stronger and louder than the special interests who make money off the status quo and would have any reform continue to put their profits before people’s health.
The support for including a public health plan option is growing. Last week, 27 U.S. senators sponsored a resolution demanding a public health insurance option be included in health care reform legislation. In an April letter to President Obama and Senate and House leaders, four prominent House caucuses urged that health care reform include a public plan option in health care reform legislation.
Dean says working families’ needs should be at the center of health care reform, the private insurance industry’s profits.
Americans should be the ones to choose. If they like their current, private insurance, they can keep it. If they aren’t satisfied, they should be able to choose a public plan. Respect Americans’ ability to decide.
Sunday, the group Conservatives for Patients’ Rights—the extremists trying to sink President Obama’s health care reform efforts—bought 30 minutes of Sunday morning network talk show airtime for a so-called documentary.
In reality, it was a paid infomercial featuring “horror stories” about the Canadian and British health care systems and warning us the U.S. government is about to take over health care here. The production values may have been high, but the truth factor was zilch.
Of course, that should not come as too much of a surprise when the well-paid hack behind the outfit is Rick Scott, who has a $5 million stake in the group’s drive to derail health care reform, according to the Washington Post.
Our friends at Think Progress have struck back with their own video—and a detailed fact sheet—highlighting Scott’s history with Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America and his effort to take down health care reform.
Scott who, according to Think Progress, was forced to resign following a scandal-plagued tenure at Columbia/HCA,
is actually credited with transforming the American health care system into the profit-above-all-else culture that is currently plaguing America.
Rick Scott is not only known for his efforts to build the “McDonald’s” of the health care industry, but his company was also forced to pay a $1.7 billion fraud settlement, the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history, for systematically stealing from taxpayers.
Scott’s attack on health care reform is just part of an increasingly desperate effort by extremist and conservative groups and segments of the health care and private, for-profit health insurance industries to preserve their profits and control. The Think Progress video poses this question.
Now that we know what his vision for our health care system looks like, the question is—will the public buy what Rick Scott is selling? Will we let him block efforts to provide access to all Americans, and give more choice and stability to those who already have health care? Or will we let Rick Scott impose his profits-at-all-costs vision of health care on America once again—and do nothing to fix the high costs and instability that are causing hardship for millions of hard-working Americans?
Click here for the video and fact sheet.