- The New GM Emerges With Thousands Fewer Jobs, $50B In Government Money
- Rich Trumka Pledges New Ideas. Energy And Determination To Reunify Labor In Campaign For AFL-CIO President
- World Cup Stadium Construction Hits Labor Snag As Workers Seek better Wages
- Businesses With Federal Contracts Face New Immigration Status Verification Rule
Last week saw the lowest number of newly unemployed file for jobless benefits since January of this year. Still, even with less people losing jobs, the number of unemployed workers continuing to file for benefits increased to a record-high. Unemployment currently stands at 9.5 percent nationwide and is projected to cross the double digit mark by the end of the year.
Businesses that are granted federal contracts will need to verify workers have legal immigration status. According to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, businesses will need to use the government’s “e-Verify” system. Homeland Security dropped a “no-match” rule that required employers to fire workers who had mismatched Social Security information.
Construction of stadiums in advance of South Africa hosting the World Cup has come to a halt as workers demand better wages. Jesse Russell reports:
In June 2010 South Africa will be hosting the World Cup and in advance of those games the country needs to build stadiums and rail stations. Roughly 70,000 workers involved in those projects have been on strike for two days demanding a 13 percent pay increase. Employers are offering the workers 10.4 percent. The construction is currently scheduled to be completed by mid-December and a prolonged labor confrontation could delay the project. It is the first time the African continent has won the opportunity to host the World Cup.
Rich Trumka Pledges New Ideas. Energy And Determination To Reunify Labor In Campaign For AFL-CIO President – 07/10/09
By Doug Cunningham
Rich Trumka is formally in the running to become the next AFL-CIO President. He is unopposed for the post. Trumka, a former President of the United Mine Workers of America, says he has great hope for the future, based on a determination to reunify labor and restore worker bargaining power. Trumka says he and his slate are committed to bringing new ideas and new energy to the helm of the AFL-CIO. Running with Trumka are Arlene Holt-Baker as Executive Vice-President and the IBEW’s Liz Shuler as Secetary-Treasurer. Trumka pledged a vigorous AFL-CIO that will be more tran
By Doug Cunningham
GM is emerging as a new company today with $50 billion in government money, having shed huge debts and liabilities in a 38-day fast-tracked bankruptcy. The last legal hurdle to the reorganization was overcome Thursday when a New York judge refused to stay GM’s assets sale. The federal government will own 60 percent of the new company while a UAW run retiree health care trust will own 17.5 percent. The union is paying a huge price to help GM renew itself – having given up tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in cash payments to the retiree health care trust and future wage and benefits concessions.
|Protest against health insurers need to have both a
union and community face—like this march both against foreclosures and for the Employee Free Choice Act earlier in March in Lynn, Mass.
The peasants are filing their pitchforks to a fine point in anticipation of an attack on the palace—and the target of their ire is not what we might have intended. At this critical moment in the health care debate, more than a few working folk are taking a suspicious look at the health care reform efforts of Senate Democrats, President Obama—and their own unions. A headline in my local newspaper, the Lynn Item, helped stir the tempest: “Obama Open to Taxing Benefits to Fund Reform.”
If any of these Democratic Senators vote for this, they’ll be out in 2010, and it will be used against Obama….[Y]ou’re taxing the middle class.
Teamsters President James Hoffa calls taxing health care benefits “the poison pill that will kill reform.” The Laborers have attack ads at the ready. And Donna Smith, an organizer and legislative representative for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) notes that insurance companies continue discriminatory rates for older workers and ongoing rescissions of benefits—that is, targeting people with more than 1,400 medical conditions for “opposition research” investigations so their benefits can be cut off. “Ugly stuff,” she puts it. (At a health care forum in Lynn, Mass., last week, Rep. John Tierney reported that in congressional hearings he asked every insurance company if they would stop these viscous targeted rescissions—each one said “No.”)
During the New Deal, when President Roosevelt proposed raising taxes on the wealthy, Boston department store tycoon Edward Filene commented:
Why shouldn’t the American people take half my money from me? I took all of it from them.
I am not sure where such broad-minded CEOs disappeared to, but they certainly are in short supply today.
Instead, we have leaders like Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. Discussing taxing workers’ health care benefits, he commented:
We shouldn’t be subsidizing high end health insurance policies that drive up inflation in health insurance.
I guess he missed the national unity memo.
Grassley provides an important revelation. People who have given up wages to pay for their health care—as workers like me at General Electric Co. (GE) have done again and again—and who are already paying thousands of dollars for their health insurance in contributions, co-pays, etc., are actually the problem! Who knew? I invite Grassley to Lynn to explain this to the family of the IUE-CWA Local 201 retiree who pulled his own teeth with a pair of pliers since he lost dental and vision care when he turned 65.
Funding health care reform has always been the fulcrum of the contest. The insurance companies, hospitals and drug companies become advocates of “reform” if and when it simply means a massive transfer of public funds into their hands. The American Hospital Association and American Health Care Plans spokespersons reneged on the promises to reduce costs they had announced at a much-hyped appearance with President Obama and SEIU’s hapless Andy Stern—just three days earlier! (Hey, “voluntary” controls worked with the banks and OSHA, right?)
Profits at the 10 largest public ally traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent between 2000 and 2007. And they intend to keep them climbing.
The “Massachusetts Plan,” which was condemned by the AFL-CIO when it was first passed, fits the “feed-the beast” mold. To say, as the sole union defenders of the Mass Plan in the state suggest, that the “Mass Plan does some good things but it just didn’t deal with costs” is like saying poison ivy is a pretty plant if it wasn’t poison. The Mass Plan is collapsing of its own financial weight. Its cost has doubled in two years to $1.3 billion. Debate here now centers on whether to eliminate dental care or eliminate coverage for certain groups of legal immigrants.
Which brings us back to the gathering peasants. There are three distinct groups of union members girding for revenge if the Republicans and conservative Democrats manage to cow Obama into taxing health care benefits. First are the single-payer advocates, who have argued from Day One that the only way to “reform” is to start by fighting for the best solution, not start from a dense compromise that will inevitably be moved toward the health care millionaires in the interest of “bipartisanship.”
Second are the conservative union members who have told me from the beginning that the inevitable outcome of the union campaign will be the “guv’mint” taxing the working stiff to pay for insurance for poor people. This is a successful formula right-wingers are using to drive a wedge between “working people” and “the poor.” The crisis of legitimacy of the government will worsen, the right-wingers will be the beneficiaries. Rush Limbaugh and the Fox crowd are drooling.
Finally, there is the large middle group that is just starting to pay attention—and they are focused on the Obama Taxing Our Benefits headlines mentioned above. A member of the Local 201 Legislative Committee who is talking one on one with our members, gathering letters to legislators on health care reform, reports the best motivator is: “Tell them not to tax our benefits!”
Comments by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offer some hope. On July 7, he ordered Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill. There is still time to avert a train wreck before it takes us all down. First of all, the focus needs to be on the health care pimps, and it has to be harsh. SEIU’s “Enemies of Change” campaign, which includes targeting banks, is a good model.
Second, we need street actions, protests at the headquarters of insurance associations, corporate drug hustlers and hospital barons. The face of these protests must include both union and nonunion people. Otherwise we open ourselves to the right-wingers assault and present ourselves as a selfish “special interest.”
What we have been doing so far focuses on lobbying elected representatives, who are not the best public face of the problem (although, yes, that work needs to be done).
Finally, we need to spell out our bottom line. “We don’t want to let them say ‘Big Labor’ killed health care reform since they didn’t want to pay their share,” I’m told. But a timid response leads with our chin.
The key is to get out front with our position now. I recently spoke to Lynn United for Change, the local Obama Organizing America group. I told them straight up:
If the President signs a law that taxes our benefits, my members won’t vote for him again.
This was a group created to elect Obama, and they had no problem with my presentation. But we can’t start explaining this in September, when the wreck may be upon us. We have to say, right now, that we will kill any effort to tax our benefits as yet another transfer from our pockets to the health care profiteers. Or for that matter, we’ll kill any so-called reform that does not introduce what the union movement has called a “robust public plan,” in the unlikely event that such a plan survives Congress. Since the Blue Dogs and New Democrats in the House, with a total of 131 members, already have explicitly opposed any public plan that might actually work, it’s hard to see where the votes for this “robust” plan are going to come from. We are a movement of negotiators—and we need to understand our own bottom lines.
It is understandable the president is calling on all parties to come to the table. He ran on a platform of bringing people together, ending petty political bickering, and so on. But that’s not our problem. I’d prefer a slogan of “No More Blood to the Vampires!” than “Kumbaya.”
Sure, we’ll kill health care reform, if it is no better or even worse than what we have now. If we don’t, keep an eye out for the folks with the pitchforks.
For a union movement shunned and disrespected for so long, it’s a breath of fresh air to have the ear of the president. We testify at all the key committees. Our opinions are solicited. A seat at the table is most welcome. But out in the fields, the peasants are taking a look at what’s on the plate. And it isn’t pretty.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka this morning announced his candidacy for president of the AFL-CIO to succeed the retiring John Sweeney. Trumka has served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 1995.
At a rally that drew several hundred supporters at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., Trumka also introduced his running mates. Joining Trumka on the ticket are Liz Shuler, executive assistant to the Electrical Workers (IBEW) President Edwin Hill, for secretary-treasurer and incumbent AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker for re-election. This marks the first time two women have run for the AFL-CIO’s top offices.
No other candidates for the top three leadership positions have announced. Earlier this year, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced he was retiring when his fourth term as president expires in September. Delegates to the AFL-CIO’s 26th Constitutional Convention meeting in Pittsburgh Sept. 13-17 will elect the AFL-CIO’s new officers.
In a joint statement, Trumka, Shuler and Holt Baker note that the labor movement “faces tremendous challenges,” including an unregulated global economy, labor laws that favor employers over workers and a political system in which the wealthy wield far too much influence.
At the same time, we have historic opportunity, with a president and Congress we elected, to overcome these challenges. Our most important task is to make sure our economy creates jobs. And we are keenly aware that we must look within our movement for answers about how we can create full employment, organize workers and make sure workers prosper in the 21st century.
Before being elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in 1995, the same year Sweeney took the helm of the AFL-CIO, Trumka served as president of the Mine Workers (UMWA) from 1982 to 1995. He is a third-generation coal miner and graduate of Pennsylvania State University and holds a law degree from Villanova University Law School.
Shuler is the highest-ranking women in the IBEW and has served as Hill’s top assistant since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.
Holt Baker has served as AFL-CIO executive vice president since September 2007. The longtime AFSCME member and leader came to the federation in 1995 as executive assistant to Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson, who was the first woman to become a top AFL-CIO officer. Holt Baker was AFSCME’s international union area director in California from the late 1980s to 1995 and also worked as an organizer and international representative.
Junemann has served as IFPTE president since 2003. He also served three terms as the union’s secretary-treasurer, IFPTE Midwest area vice president from 1986 to 1994 and president of IFPTE Local 92 in Milwaukee. At his website, Junemann states that
Coming from a decentralized, member-driven union, I am well aware of the gains that can be made by building the power of the local unions while reinforcing the strength that can be realized when differing sectors work in solidarity. That same model can work with our national federation as it sets its sights on building the power of its affiliates and reinforces the need for grassroots support across various fields of employment.
This Saturday, Arkansas workers, civil rights activists, faith leaders and union members will come together across Arkansas in support of workers’ freedom to form unions.
Workers and their allies will ask Arkansas’ two senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, to help pass the Employee Free Choice Act and restore the freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker will be on hand for a march across Little Rock, starting at Central High School at 1 p.m. After the march, they’ll rally and hold a catfish fry at the Arkansas Education Association.
In addition to the main rally in Little Rock, workers and religious leaders will rally in the morning in Pine Bluff, Texarkana and Fort Smith, bringing the message of support for workers all across the state.
As the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff explains at the Huffington Post, the voices of faith leaders and civil rights leaders will be an essential part of this event.
Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 opened the doors to greater freedoms for African Americans, the Employee Free Choice Act will open the door for workers to freely form unions and bargain collectively….
Led by Arkansas ministers, the assembled hundreds will march to the State Capitol area for another rally featuring local faith leaders such as Rev. Steve Copley and local elected leaders in an even louder call for Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act.
Union leaders taking part in the day of events will include President Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers (USW), President Edwin Hill of the Electrical Workers (IBEW), Co-President Deborah Burger, RN, of the California Nurses Association (CNA) and Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Rechenbach of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
It’s a critical time in the struggle for workers’ freedom to form unions and Saturday’s rally will send a clear message: It’s time to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and make the economy work for everyone again.
Thousands of longshore workers, truck drivers and other workers at ports across the nation are out of work, not because of a staggering economy, but because they are caught up in a backlogged, inefficient and often inaccurate screening process for background security checks.
According to a new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the federal Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) post-Sept. 11 port worker background checks have put thousands of otherwise qualified and experienced port workers on the streets instead of the docks until they gain their security clearance.
The report is the first evaluation of the worker protections in TSA’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). It finds that thousands of workers—disproportionately African American and Latino men—have had to wait an average of seven months while their applications are reviewed, leaving them unable to work and support their families in the midst of a devastating recession.
According to the report, “A Scorecard on the Post-9/11 Port Worker Background Checks,” more than 10,000 workers had lost their jobs while awaiting TSA approval of their TWIC cards after the April 14 compliance deadline passed. Laura Moskowitz, a NELP attorney who led the study, says:
Due to serious problems with the FBI’s records, insufficient staffing and poor TSA screening protocols, there have been major processing delays for workers at ports, which means that large numbers of hard-working families are being left out in the cold at the worst possible time.
To be approved for access to the ports, applicants are subject to criminal background checks using the FBI’s database, immigration status and other security checks. However, the report notes that 50 percent of the FBI’s rap sheets are incomplete or out of date. Contrary to the federal law, TSA denies credentials in an overly broad range of cases such as open arrests, even if they have been dismissed or addressed.
When a worker is denied a security clearance and decides to appeal, Moskowitz says:
TSA and the FBI put the entire burden on the worker to collect the necessary information to clear their records and navigate the process all on their own, which then leaves thousands of workers falling through the cracks of the TWIC program.
It also finds that while worker protections in the program’s appeal process take far too long, eventually almost all workers win their credential cards on appeal. More than 24,000 workers, largely African American and Latinos, were able to keep their jobs with the help of the special protections for workers who are initially denied a credential card based on their record.
The report offers a series of recommendations for TWIC reform, including expediting the cases of workers who have been shut out of the ports, tracking down missing FBI information before issuing denials, adopting strict timeframes for processing applications and better handling of applications from foreign-born workers.
Click here for a look at the full report.