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Hawaii Tribune-Herald Workers Face Cancellation Of Their Labor Contract – 12/24/09 Hawaii newspaper workers are running out of options as paper cancels contract. Jesse Russell reports: Hawaii Newspaper Guild Local 39117 has been holding informational pickets this week outside of the offices of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. The workers were told that the contract that expired in 2002 would not be extended and the contract would be canceled. The contract cancellation opens up two options for both sides, the workers can strike or the paper can implement a lock out. It has been eight years since the workers have received a wage increase.

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United Steel Workers Spend Christmas Still On Strike At Vale Inco – 12/24/09 By Doug Cunningham [Leo Gerard Chant]: “No contract, no peace!” read more

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National Nurses United Says Senate Bill Solidifies Status Quo – Push For Real Reform Will Continue – 12/24/09 By Doug Cunningham [Jean Ross]: “Right now as far as making health care a basic human right there’s nothing in that that indicates that’s how we feel as Americans. We’ve solidified the fact that we’re gonna go for some time with an industry that puts profit before patients. And that’s what we’ve got.” read more

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Lie of the Year: ‘Death Panel’ Attack on Health Care Reform This year, opponents of health care reform hit new lows in promoting misleading, inaccurate or flat-out dishonest information. The worst of these lies was the scam that health care reform would create “death panels” whose members would judge whether to end seniors’ lives. The website PolitiFact called the death-panel myth the “Lie of the Year,” and the watchdog group Media Matters named its originator, Betsy McCaughey, as “Health Care Misinformer of the Year.”  The vicious, absurd fairy tale of “death panels” got its start in July, when McCaughey, a former New York lieutenant governor, claimed on the air that, in a reformed health care system, seniors would be mandated to attend counseling sessions where they’d be told how and when to end their lives. Despite being entirely invented, the claim spread rapidly—first among right-wing pundits and talk show hosts, then among anti-reform elected officials and finally bubbling up into mainstream press reports.  It was former Alaska governor and onetime vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin who really pushed the lie into the wider debate. In a post on her Facebook page, Palin—never noted for her adherence to the facts or her policy expertise—introduced the phrase “death panels” in an attack on health care reform. It was a deliberate, groundless scare tactic meant to create anxiety about health care reform, and the term “death panel” spread to the floor of the U.S. Congress and the front pages of newspapers.  The “death panel” myth was at the heart of the loud and angry disruptions at town hall meetings over the summer, as extremists armed with disinformation (and sometimes organized by corporate-funded front groups) tried to scare lawmakers away from passing health care reform. Union members helped fight back—with reasoned arguments and civility—against the campaign of lies and noise, and set the nation back on the path to health care reform.  It’s also worth mentioning PolitiFact’s runners-up for “Lie of the Year”:  Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck claimed that John Holdren, President Obama’s top science adviser, “has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population.” Orly Taitz claimed that a birth certificate showed that President Obama was born in Kenya.  Against opposition this hostile to the truth, we need to fight even harder.  For some great, comprehensive examinations of how the death panel smear emerged and spread, check out PolitiFact and Media Matters.

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Labor History Now Part of Wisconsin Public Education Standards In this cross-post from the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA), Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based columnist, highlights the successful effort of Wisconsin unionists to make labor history part of the state’s model public education standards and highlights the need for action to ensure similar laws are passed elsewhere. Despite the importance of unions in our lives, our schools pay only slight attention to their importance—or even to their existence. Little is done in the classroom to overcome the negative view of organized labor held by many Americans; little done to explain the true nature of organized labor. There have been many attempts to remedy that situation, none more promising than the steps taken recently in Wisconsin with enactment of a law that makes the teaching of labor history and collective bargaining part of the state¹s model standards for social studies classes in the state¹s public schools. The law does not mandate the teaching of labor history and collective bargaining, as its sponsors had wanted. But it amounts to just about the same thing by requiring the state superintendent of public instruction to make the subjects part of the state’s educational standards and to provide schools and teachers assistance in teaching labor subjects. The Wisconsin Labor History Society, the state AFL-CIO and other labor and educational groups worked a dozen years to finally win enactment of the law, the first such state law anywhere. But the History Society fully expects other states to follow Wisconsin’s example. The importance of including labor history in the classroom was underscored effectively in the latest issue of the American Federation of Teachers journal, American Educator. “With the key protections for workers that unions have gained under attack,” said a journal article, “there is a greater need for the next generation to understand the real role of working men and women in building the nation and making it a better place.” James Green, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, explains that, in studying labor, students learn important lessons—above all “the contributions that generations of union activists have made to building a nation and democratizing and humanizing its often brutal workplaces.” Fred Glass, communications director of the California Federation of Teachers, provides an ideal primer for students studying labor. His summary is an excellent guide to what they should know about labor—a guide to what we should all know. Said Glass: Some people interpret the decline of organized labor as if unions belong to the past, and have no role to play in the global economy of the 21st century. They point to the numbers and say that workers are choosing not to join unions anymore. The real picture is more complex and contradicts this view. Most workers would prefer to belong to unions if they could. But many are being prevented from joining, rather than choosing not to join. Glass concludes: Unions remain the best guarantee of economic protection and political advocacy for workers. But as unions shrink, fewer people know what unions are, and do. And fewer remember what unions have to do with the prosperity of working people. That’s what our schools should be teaching, and presumably what they’ll be teaching in Wisconsin shortly, thanks to the new law there. If we¹re fortunate, more states will soon follow suit.

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New Report : Employers ‘Gaming’ Guest Worker Programs       Alexis Spencer Notabartolo, researcher for the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE), writes about a new report, which calls for reform of the nation’s H-1B guest worker program. The introduction of major comprehensive immigration reform legislation last week has rekindled the debate over our nation’s immigration policy. One of the key flashpoints in the debate is the guest worker system. These programs are overly complicated, lack accountability and have lax tracking enforcement, according to a new report by DPE. The report shows employers who use the H-1B visa guest worker program are abusing the system, claiming false labor shortages to import workers who are then intimidated and often forced  to work for low pay. “Gaming the System: Guest Worker Visa Programs and Professional and Technical Workers in the U.S.” also draws on previously unavailable U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reports. Click here to download the report. None of the guest worker programs, including H-1B, protects the rights of domestic or guest workers, the report says. The guest workers who are hired to fill labor shortages in certain fields often are mistreated and exploited by unscrupulous recruiters and employers. The report shows that H-1B guest workers—many of whom work in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics and education fields—often are not paid a fair wage for their work, which helps pull down wages for everyone in those professions. The report cites a congressionally mandated study released by the National Research Council, which found that “the current size of the H-1B workforce relative to the overall number of IT (information technology) professionals is large enough to keep wages from rising as fast as might be expected in a tight labor market. ” The Research Council goes on to say that if a genuine labor shortage existed, IT wages would have risen dramatically in ways they have not. In addition, unemployment rates in these fields have increased significantly over the past year, with engineers reaching their highest unemployment rate since at least 1972. Graduation rates also indicate that the United States is producing enough graduates to meet the employment needs of the industry. “Gaming the System” calls for Congress to direct the Government Accountability Office to undertake a systematic study of H-1B visa holders. Congress also should adopt the framework laid out by former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall and the Economic Policy Institute into any immigration reform initiatives. This framework has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and Change to Win and has five key elements: An independent commission to monitor industry trends and labor needs for future immigration. The commission, which would be established in two stages, would improve the way labor market shortages are measured and put in place procedures to efficiently adjust foreign labor flows to employers’ needs, while protecting domestic and foreign labor standards. A secure and effective worker authorization mechanism. Rational operation and control of the border. Provisions for a clear  pathway to citizenship for undocumented persons. Improvement, not expansion, of temporary worker programs, limited to temporary or seasonal, not permanent, jobs.

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Copenhagen’s Legacy: Future in the Balance Roger Toussaint, international vice president and director of strategic planning of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), sent us a final report from the climate change talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, where 40 U.S. union members were part of a 400-member global union movement delegation led by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Read our previous blogs on the climate talks here.  The success or failure of climate change negotiations in Copenhagen is being weighed by the world based on the final outcome of the talks that ended Dec. 18. We hoped for a signed treaty with emission targets, a timetable, a commitment from both developing and developed countries to take action to curb their greenhouse gas, as well as ways to measure each country’s progress.  Rather than a firm agreement with these elements, the legacy of Copenhagen will be a pathway to getting us there in 2010 in Mexico City, if not before. However, our success should not be measured by this alone. While negotiations did not result in a next-generation climate treaty, the process included some notable steps forward.  In particular, the global labor movement leaves Copenhagen having made remarkable progress in advancing our concerns and influencing the climate crisis discussion.  For one, labor’s participation in climate negotiations is unprecedented. We were clearly and visibly at the table with 350 labor delegates from around the world converging in Copenhagen. The 40 U.S. union leaders and other representatives came from such unions as TWU, ATU, AFT, CWA, Utility Workers, IBEW, Mine Workers and Boilermakers.  Compare this with a total of 80 delegates who participated in climate negotiations in Bali in 2007. There is no doubt our presence resulted in the delegation’s successful introduction of “just transition” language in the preamble of the draft treaty to ensure there is a “just transition of the workforce that creates decent work and quality jobs.” This level of participation also clearly signals U.S. labor’s recognition of the importance of the climate crisis on its membership, regardless of industrial sector, and its desire to engage and ensure that a new low-carbon economy will both benefit and protect working people. The emergency is at our doorstep, and it has become an issue we, as a movement, can no longer afford to ignore—whether we represent members in the transportation sector, service sector, building trades or energy-intensive industries.  We clearly need full protections for workers who are negatively affected by climate policies in accordance with the principle of just transition. Who is better positioned than the labor movement to advocate such protections on behalf of working men and women in the United States and around the world?  What we also need are science-based carbon dioxide emission targets that can generate a massive increase of green jobs in public mass transit, renewable energy, green manufacturing, energy-efficient construction and building retrofits. Only ambitious targets will generate the necessary massive infusion of public financing to generate green jobs and provide training for members displaced by climate change policies, as well as a strong political signal to private investors who are sitting on the sidelines waiting to invest in an economy at the beginning of its lifespan.  Our future is in the balance. This re-engineering of the economy will occur with or without labor’s willing participation.  How decisively we move in this direction will determine our ability to effectively compete with our global competitors already traveling down this path, in particular China. Asia is already outspending the United States by 3-1 in clean-tech investments. In the short term, the best we can hope for is that taking ambitious action now will enable us to catch up.

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