Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Analysis: What if unions are needed, but not wanted?

By Mark Gruenberg

SILVER SPRING, Md. (PAI)--In all the discussion at the two-day AFL-CIO-hosted conference on organizing worldwide, there was at least one big topic that went almost unmentioned: What do you, an organizer, do if you see that workers need the union ….but they don’t?

That dilemma confronts many union activists, especially as they try to organize white-collar and service workers in the United States, in areas such as computer programming and information technology.

But with one exception, and that only obliquely, the dilemma wasn’t touched on during the Dec. 10-11 confab at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md.

Organizing the unorganized is inevitably going to run up against workers who don’t want unions, but need them, to protect job security and against management’s arbitrary firings, nepotism, favoritism and sudden decisions that disrupt family lives.

Often--but not always--such management actions lead to organizing drives. Just ask the Bakery Workers: Arbitrary shift changes, disrupting family life, were one fuse that lit their successful drive (with international help) at Dannon Yogurt’s Ohio plant.

But only C. LeRoy Trotman of the Barbados Workers Union, who chairs an International Labour Organization working group, discussed the dilemma, briefly.

“There is worker indifference to what we do. If you can’t get workers’ support, you can’t lobby the Minister of Labour and you can’t get action at the local level,” he said during the 3 minutes he was allowed for remarks.

But why is there such indifference? In an interview with Press Associates Union News Service, Trotman described conditions in Barbados and other developing nations, which sound suspiciously like what the U.S. went through in the last decades of the 20th century, after World War II. At the start of the postwar era, U.S. unions represented more than one-third of all private-sector workers. Now that’s down to 7.4%.

“Worker indifference comes from a combination of things,” Trotman explained. “One is the significantly increased level of higher education, and employment of that education to provide people with jobs where working conditions and remuneration (pay) are being adjusted individually” rather than by union contracts.

As a result, the now-white-collar workers in Barbados and other developing nations “become less dependent on a trade union’s capacity to engage employers” on their behalf, Trotman elaborated. “We created the environment that led to our decline.”

Sound familiar? That’s what happened here, sociologists say.

Unions also suffer with those new white-collar workers because they do not emphasize that their lobbying and political achievements help all workers, said Trotman. Literally, in so many words, unions aren’t reminding the white-collar workers that it was union political action that brought you the weekend, as the phrase goes.

White-collar and service workers, in the U.S., in Barbados and elsewhere, “do not see the trade union’s role--of helping the disadvantaged and of securing their (white collar workers’) jobs against arbitrary dismissals.”

So what can the union movement do to wake the workers up and make them realize they need unions? Trotman has one set of ideas. The AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees is working on another.

Trotman’s idea is to remind the white-collar and apathetic workers that while they may be well-off, their friends, relatives and neighbors aren’t. He would appeal to their concern for their fellow human beings and those other workers’ families, as well as to their concern about their society as a whole. That calls for much more education.

DPE asked Jim Grossfeld, a veteran union activist and Newspaper Guild member, to interview white-collar and professional workers about unions.

His report pins down several causes for their lack of interest, prime among them the view that unions just concentrate on bread-and-butter wages-and-pensions issues--and those workers, already at high pay levels, aren’t as concerned about cash.

What they are concerned about includes workplace standards and procedures that let them learn and grow on the job, advancing to higher positions. In short, they want unions to talk about maintaining and enhancing conditions of being a professional.

That in turn led DPE to try to fashion new-style organizing themes for its member unions, revolving around quality-of-workplace issues, ahead of--but not instead of--wages and benefits. They include bargaining for more workplace professional training, use of advanced processes, and agitating for guaranteed advancement opportunities.

Whether such campaigns will succeed at an IBM or a Silicon Valley high tech firm is anyone’s guess. But it’s at least one way to try to overcome the apathy.

Monday, December 3, 2007

New pact ends strike for Broadway stagehands

NEW YORK (PAI)--After three days of round-the-clock bargaining, Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 1 won a new contract for Broadway stagehands on Nov. 28 from New York’s theatrical producers, ending a 19-day strike.

Details of the new pact were not disclosed pending a membership vote on the contract. The producers wanted to cut the numbers of stagehands who do things like shift scenery, lights, sound systems and props, install sets and keep shows running smoothly. The local resisted the cuts, and noted stagehands lacked raises for years.

News reports said the tradeoff was there could be some job cuts in each production in return for higher raises than the 3.5% hike the producers’ league initially offered for each year of the 5-year pact.

After the talks succeeded, IATSE Local 1 President James J. Claffey Jr. told hundreds of stagehands gathered in midtown Manhattan that “You represented yourselves and your families and your union proud.” Local 1 Business Manager Kevin McGarty called the pact “equitable for everyone involved.”

But while one performing arts union settled with its producers, another conflict may widen. The Writers Guild of America’s strike against Hollywood and New York TV and movie studios shows no signs of ending.

And writers for CBS News in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are planning to strike on Dec. 10, WBBM-TV, Chicago’s CBS affiliate reported. Democratic presidential hopefuls, scheduled to debate in Los Angeles in a forum broadcast by CBS, pulled out and the debate was canceled.

The CBS writers have been forced to strike because they’ve toiled without a contract for more than two years and because CBS is demanding a 2-tier pay system and the unlimited right to combine union and non-union shops.

Bush names 3 to deal with 6,000 Amtrak workers

WASHINGTON (PAI)--Anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush has named a Presidential Emergency Board, as allowed by law, to resolve the long struggle for a contract covering 6,000 Amtrak workers and their unions. The unions have not had a pact with the nation’s passenger railroad for 8 years.

Bush’s Nov. 28 decision is in line with his actions in other transportation-related disputes. Airline and railroad workers are governed not by the National Labor Relations Act, but by the older Railway Labor Act, which lets the president step in and name such boards--and halting lockouts by carriers or strikes that the firms force workers into.

Such lockouts and strikes can occur only after the National Mediation Board, the agency which oversees transportation labor-management bargaining, releases both sides to take their own actions. NMB did so at Amtrak in November. But Bush’s action stops a potential strike scheduled for Dec. 1. He named boards in airline struggles, too.

Rail unions generally welcomed the board, as a way to finally force Amtrak to accept a contract after all the years of futility--and 8 years of no general raises.

“We look forward to presenting a coordinated position to the Presidential Emergency Board in an effort to obtain a recommendation of a fair and equitable settlement for employees who have helped Amtrak achieve unprecedented ridership and revenue levels,” said W. Dan Pickett, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and chair of the Passenger Rail Labor Bargaining Coalition.

The 3-person board hears testimony from both sides during a 1-month cooling-off period. It then can take another month to craft a settlement that eventually can bind both unions and management, unless they agree on their own.

The union coalition also includes the Train Dispatchers, the Maintenance of Way Employees/Teamsters Rail Conference and the Firemen and Oilers/Service Employees. Other unions bargaining with Amtrak are the Electrical Workers, the Transport Workers, the Machinists, and their Transportation Communications International Union sector.

“For too long, the more than 1,100 IBEW members working at Amtrak have been without a contract, while management has refused to budge an inch on certain vital issues,” said IBEW Railroad Department Director Bill Bohne. “Our goal is to achieve full retroactive wage settlements. Likewise, we stand firm in opposition to Amtrak’s long list of radical concessionary work rule demands,” added TWU President James Little.

“The status quo remains in effect, we can’t strike and Amtrak can take no action,” IBEW said. “Our coalition is in the process of preparing our presentation for the PEB.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Many mines not inspected, Labor Dept., concedes

WASHINGTON (PAI)--The Bush government’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, charged with overseeing job safety conditions at the nation’s coal mines, did not undertake all four of the yearly required inspections at 107 of the 731--or one-seventh--of them, a new audit says.

The audit was released late in the afternoon of Friday Nov. 16 by the Labor Department’s Inspector General, in an attempt to downplay its coverage. The audit said MSHA failed to do all the inspections due to short-staffing and that agency “management did not place adequate emphasis on ensuring the inspections were completed and the reported completion rate was accurate.

“Specifically, the number of inspectors assigned to the 11 Coal Mine Safety & Health districts was not commensurate with the mine activity at the districts, and management’s monitoring of inspection completions was not effective,” the IG added.

“Missed or incomplete inspections place miners at risk because hazardous conditions in the mines may not be identified and corrected,” the IG said flatly.

The critical report received added emphasis after two fatal explosions and collapses at Utah’s Crandall Canyon mine killed six miners and three rescuers, including an MSHA inspector. The IG is continuing a separate probe of MSHA’s role at Crandall Canyon. That includes why MSHA approved the company’s faulty plan to mine the pillars of coal that supported the mine’s roof.

The audit echoes longtime criticisms of the agency by the United Mine Workers. UMW President Cecil Roberts has repeatedly said MSHA administrators under the GOP Bush regime disregard safety issues in deference to mine owners and operators.

But the Inspector General said MSHA’s problems are widespread. “Because inspection deficiencies identified in our audit were caused by weaknesses in policies and procedures, it is likely similar problems existed in all 11 CMS&H districts,” it adds.

“In fact, MSHA found similar inspection and supervisory oversight problems during internal reviews of three fatal underground mining accidents at the Sago, Aracoma, and Darby mines,” last year, the IG noted. The Sago blast, in early January, killed 12 miners, started a year in which coal mine fatalities rose dramatically and led to passage of new, tougher mine safety legislation.

The IG also said MSHA “could not provide adequate assurance” that all the critical inspections of various components of a coal mine, including mine owners’ plans for removing coal, were done each time an MSHA inspector visited a mine.

“Our review of 21 inspections of active mines disclosed that for the 68 selected inspection activities we tested, 15 percent were not documented as having been performed because management did not require inspectors to document all critical inspection activities performed.” Crandall Canyon was inspected the required seven times between Oct. 1, 2005 and the explosion this past August, but “16 percent of the 68 selected critical inspection activities tested for the 7 inspections were not documented as actually having been performed.”

In one case, the Crandall Canyon inspector certified he evaluated the mine’s roof control plan four months before actually inspecting the roof, the IG said. Pillars of coal, which were being mined at the owner’s orders, gave way during the first explosion and buried the six miners.

The IG sent seven recommendations for improvements to MSHA, but the agency’s chief, an appointee of anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush, did not agree with all of them.

One recommendation said the MSHA administrator “should ensure inspection resources are commensurate with the mining activity in the coal districts.” MSHA replied that it is hiring and training 270 more inspectors.

The IG also called for effective monitoring of “inspection completions,” said the agency should develop policies and procedures to “calculate the regular safety and health inspection completion rate, and ensuring the inspection data used is correct.”

Another recommendation is that “all critical inspection activities are documented as performed, or (as) not applicable at the mines being inspected.” And the IG said MSHA field office supervisors should “certify inspections are thorough and complete.

“In response, DOL’s Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health disagreed with the accuracy and presentation of some of the audit results and questioned the audit methodology for assessing the thoroughness of inspections. He stated that limited enforcement time should be placed primarily on identifying and abating hazards rather than documentation and paperwork,” the Inspector General noted.

“The assistant secretary did not agree to document when a critical inspection activity was not applicable at a mine. As an alternative, he suggested adding a disclaimer statement to reports. He did not directly address our recommendation to require field office supervisors to certify inspections are thorough before being counted as complete.” The IG called the “disclaimer statement” inadequate.

AFL-CIO supports ‘cap-and-trade’ energy

WASHINGTON (PAI)--The AFL-CIO is supporting the “cap-and-trade” bipartisan energy conservation bill now pending in Congress (S. 2191) but wants improvements, Industrial Unions Council Executive Director Bob Baugh says.

Baugh told the Senate Environment Committee on Nov. 13 the cap-and-trade system needs some tweaking. The system lets industries, in future years, that pollute less sell pollution “credits” to those firms that need them. The cap-and-trade system’s objective, along with the goal of the bill’s other energy conservation measures, is to cut U.S. carbon emissions by 70 percent by the year 2050, to combat global warming.

Baugh said the cap-and-trade system should not be totally unregulated, but should be regulated so that industries cannot just “bank” credits and not use them. He also supported the bill’s tax incentives--as pushed by the Apollo Alliance, created by the Steel Workers--for producing energy-efficient products, such as hybrid cars. But that should not come at a cost of U.S. jobs, he warned.

“S. 2191 can serve a dual purpose: Environmental protection and economic development…It is in the national interest to assure the investment dollars generated by this legislation are reinvested in our domestic economy. We urge the committee to direct the Climate Change Credit Corporation that "the financial resources of the corporation shall be dedicated to domestic investments,” Baugh said.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Marchers hit NLRB rulings by Bush-named majority

By Mark Gruenberg
Press Associates, Inc.

WASHINGTON -- Chanting and waving signs--and promising they'd be back again before November 2008--more than 1,000 unionists marched Nov. 15 on the National Labor Relations Board headquarters in Washington, protesting a slew of anti-worker rulings by its 3-person majority installed by anti-worker GOPPresident George W. Bush.

The protest, organized by the AFL-CIO, drew unionists, religious allies, a wide range of supporters and sympathetic honks from D.C. drivers, cabbies and truckers all along the parade route. The Washington protest was one of more than 25 nationwide, including in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Workers carried yellow umbrellas with the word "Shame" emblazoned in red, and signs with a closed door for the NLRB. Change to Win signs echoed Bush's praise of his emergency director in Hurricane Katrina, saying "You're doing a good job, Battista!" referring to Bush-named NLRB chair Robert Battista, a management-side labor lawyer.

Chants included "What's disgusting? Union-busting!" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho! Bush's board has got to go!"

"We're here because the Bush NLRB has made broken labor law even worse," declared Voice@Work Director Fred Azcarate before the marchers started off from AFL-CIO headquarters for the half-mile parade.

"This is not the NLRB. This is George Bush's board. This is Dick Cheney's board. This is the Chamber of Commerce's board. This is the National Association of Manufacturers' board. And it sure as hell ain't the Labor Board!” declared Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts.

The marchers protested 61 NLRB decisions, virtually all by party-line 3-2 votes, starting in late September and continuing, that stripped away many workers' rights. They included rulings making it easier to oust unions through what are called "decertification petitions” -- rulings making it harder for workers illegally fired for pro-union work to get back pay, and rulings making it easier for firms to break labor law.

Other NLRB rulings the unionists protested weakened the already weak right to strike, opened the door to retaliatory lawsuits by companies, let employers get away with illegal threats to workers, and let employers evade the law's mandate that they must bargain with the union once it is certified to represent the workers.

The stream of anti-worker rulings is so bad that last month, the AFL-CIO formally filed a complaint about the NLRB with the International Labour Organization. The marchers said the board is so bad it should be shut down.

Speakers at the march, led by Roberts and Metropolitan Washington Central Labor Council President Jocelyn Williams, also made it clear the real solution to Bush's board will come next November--at the ballot box.

Roberts talked about "a midnight train" that took former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and "his big fat Radical Right Wing ass" and shipped him out of office. "That train's about to run again and we're going to put George Bush and Dick Cheney and this whole Right Wing crowd on it and ship them out of Washington, D.C.," he declared.

And harking back to the Old Testament, Roberts, a preacher, called Bush "Pharaoh." He said "Moses didn't wait for a fax" to confront the Egyptian ruler
and workers would continue to confront the Bush board.

"We're going to take back our country," he added.

"We march on the NLRB but the enemy is not the NLRB, but a party right across Lafayette Park," said Williams, gesturing towards the White House, Bush's residence, two blocks away from the AFL-CIO headquarters where the protest began. "It's been taken over by a bunch of squatters, and in November 2008, we can deliver them a piece of paper that says: 'This is an ejection notice.'"

The Rev. Ron Stief, organizing director for Faith in Public Life, said the marchers "know who to give thanks for" in the holiday season, including unions,
organizers, civil rights groups, and religious groups "who stand between us and this (NLRB) behavior.

"And we know who the turkey is," Stief added, to laughter.

Unions in the march included AFL-CIO members, such as the Communications Workers, The Newspaper Guild/CWA, the American Federation of Teachers, the Seafarers, the Machinists, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFSCME, and AFGE. Change to Win unions marching included the Laborers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Service Employees and the Teamsters.

Members of two independent unions, the National Education Association and the United Electrical Workers, also marched. So did representatives from the Coalition of Labor Union Women.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Producers’ intransigence forces writers strike

NEW YORK and LOS ANGELES (PAI)--Intransigence among producers over sharing revenue from DVD and Internet broadcast of films and TV shows forced is to blame to more than 12,000 members of the Los Angeles-based Writers Guild of America and thousands more in New York-based WGA-East to strike, starting last Monday, Nov. 5.

And while the strike initially forced talk shows--such as “Tonight” with Jay Leno, who delivered baked goods to picketers in L.A.--off the air, news programs may soon join them. Writers at CBS News in New York, Washington, Chicago and L.A. plan to vote Nov. 15 on a work stoppage, the WGA-East reported.

The key issue was refusal by the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers--the bosses--to share revenue from DVD sales and Internet rebroadcasts of scripted TV programs and movies that the writers created.

Right now, the writers get little or no revenue from the rebroadcasts, even though those DVD sales and Internet showings are piling up money for the shows’ and movies’ producers and studios.

The writers quickly picked up support from one prominent union leader, as Service Employees President Andy Stern joined their picket line in New York on Nov. 8.

Prominent show business personalities, who are also unionists, offered support. Besides Leno, they included Tina Fey, author of the NBC prime-time sit-com “30 Rock,” and “Saturday Night Live” star Seth Meyers. Before his show went into reruns, David Letterman, on the air, denounced the producers as “cowards, cutthroats and weasels.”

Other celebrities who've publicly supported the strikers included John Stewart, Robin Williams, Ray Romano and Tim Robbins.

In Los Angeles, the head writer of Fox’s weekly “Talk Show With Spike Feresten,” Tom Johnson, was hit by a driver of a Honda Element who threatened to run over any picketer who got in his way, witnesses said.

As might be expected, Fox, the network run by right wing mogul Rupert Murdoch, said it would try to dodge the strike by airing more so-called “reality programming,” such as “American Idol.” The other networks indicated they had taped some sit-coms before the strike began, but supplies were expected to run out by the end of the year.

Over Hare's opposition, House passes Peru free-trade pact bill

By Mark Gruenberg

WASHINGTON (PAI)--Over the objections of freshman Democrats elected on “fair trade, not free trade” platforms, such as U.S. Rep. Phil Hare of Rock Island, the Democratic-run House passed legislation on Nov. 8 to implement the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. The vote was 285-132.

Democrats opposed the Peru measure by a 116-109 margin, while Republicans supported it, 176-16. Eight lawmakers from each party did not vote. House presidential hopefuls split three ways: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) opposed it, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) supported it and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) was absent.

The AFL-CIO took a mixed position on the Peru pact. Policy Director Thea Lee praised its insertion of labor rights--even the weak ones from the International Labour Organization--into its text, but said that wasn’t good enough for federation backing.

But she also said the federation is dead set against two other looming “free trade” pacts, with South Korea and Colombia and would lobby hard against them. Its objections to the Peru pact “set a marker” for the future. The Korean pact would hurt U.S. auto workers. The Colombian pact ignores that nation’s murderous--literally--record of assassination of unionists. Neither pact includes labor rights in its text.

And AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney warned after the House vote that passage of the Peru pact bill “should in no way be read as paving the way for these or any future agreements.” He called the Peru pact “far from perfect,” and criticized many sections--including letting firms that get government contracts export those jobs.

The Peru pact bill is expected to sail through the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said. Anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush negotiated the Peru pact and sent the legislation implementing it to Congress under the old “fast track” rules, barring any changes. But, earlier this year, Democratic leaders convinced Peruvian President Alan Garcia to rework the pact to insert ILO workers’ rights standards into its text. Otherwise, they told him, the Peru pact would fail.

The leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), voted for the bill.

Lee told Baucus’ panel in September that improvements in the Peru pact did not go far enough. Among its many problems: “Private investors should not be granted the right to sue governments over public health, environmental, or labor regulations that might be construed as direct or indirect expropriation, or an action equivalent to expropriation. This… gives individual corporations undue rights with respect to
overturning legitimate actions of elected national governments,” she said.

And the Peru pact bill does not let federal, state and local governments restrict provision of government services to domestic firms. That would let companies that win
government work--such as processing payments--outsource them overseas.

Several freshmen were more outspoken against the Peru pact legislation.

“The proposed Peru FTA would replicate--and in some instances expand on--many of the most devastating provisions of the flawed NAFTA-CAFTA model,” said Hare, a former UNITE HERE shop steward at a clothing plant in Rock Island. “Despite ‘fixes,’ the Peru FTA is nothing but a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Both Hare and Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) predicted Bush would not enforce the pact’s worker protection provisions.

“We can choose to give big business another win or we can choose to stand with middle class families,” Hare continued. “Congress can choose to expand the failed NAFTA-CAFTA model to Peru or we can choose to pursue a new trade policy. I for one cannot go back to my district and explain that I voted for another bad trade deal that in all likelihood will result in more job loss.

“I cannot in good conscience face the 1,600 Maytag workers who lost their jobs” in Galesburg, Ill., when Maytag shut a profitable plant to move to Mexico “and tell them that I voted to continue the hemorrhaging.”

Hare and Sutton voted against the Peru pact.

“If something no longer works, you develop a new product that fits your needs and allows to you move forward,” said Sutton, who represents Akron. “That's what we need to do with our trade policies. But unfortunately, that's not what is happening here.”

“Some are pleading that this is an historic breakthrough and oh, how I wish that that were so,” she continued. “But it is not. And saying it is does not make it so.

“Current trade policies are not working, despite the same past promises made. We see this in the reality of a nearly $1 trillion trade deficit, tainted imported food and products, currency manipulation, illegal subsidies, off-shored jobs and devastated families and communities,” she stated.

And the Peru pact would actually “impose lighter sanctions” for labor law-breaking in the South American country “than current trade law requires,” Sutton said, citing a Columbia University trade law specialist who has worked with the AFL-CIO.

“We could develop a new model that address these issues and puts workers and businesses in a position to compete on a level playing field and truly raises the standard of living for those in other nations. But unfortunately the Peru FTA fails to do this,” Sutton said.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Coalition will not pick health care plan: Stern

By Mark Gruenberg
WASHINGTON (PAI)--A coalition of three influential but divergent groups on Nov. 1 added a powerful fourth member on to its push for putting universal health care on the national agenda, but won't pick a single health care plan to promote, says the sole union leader among the four, Service Employees president Andy Stern.

Instead, he told Press Associates union news service that Divided We Fail will keep pushing principles for universal affordable health care so the issue will be the top domestic priority in next year’s election--and so Congress and the next president must tackle the issue, under political pressure to achieve that goal, and with backing to do so.

Stern spoke after a press conference introducing the new fourth member of the coalition, the National Federation of Independent Business. It joins SEIU, the American Association of Retired Persons and the Business Roundtable.

NFIB has been a key member of the Radical Right that has governed the country since the advent of GOP control of Congress, from 1995-2006 and the anti-worker regime of GOP President George W. Bush. The right, including Bush and NFIB, has had a health care philosophy--as unions and their allies put it--of “you’re on your own.”

But NFIB spokeswoman Stephanie Cathcart said afterwards that her group’s members “have been telling its leaders for 25 years that providing health care was their #1 problem” and urging it to do something positive to help them solve the dilemma. The new president, Todd Stottlemyer, listened, and joined Divided We Fail, she said.

But Divided We Fail has decided, unlike the Democratic presidential hopefuls, not to hammer out a specific plan, Stern said. It would become just a forgotten sheaf of paper, he explained. Most GOP hopefuls have yet to be specific on health care.

What Divided We Fail wants to do--and has started discussing--is push health care to the forefront of the electoral discussion and try to set up a debate on the issue between the Democratic and Republican nominees, once the parties settle on them.

“You would hope by the time we elect someone” next November “there would be a mandate to do something on the #1 domestic issue,” Stern told the press conference.

“We’re coming together. Now the politicians need to come together,” said AARP CEO William Novelli, a GOP operative whose ad agency created the infamous lying “Harry and Louise” ad campaign that helped sink health care reorganization in 1994.

“The objective is universal access to quality health care,” Stottlemyer said, changing NFIB’s previous stand. Stern called it “the big news, since NFIB has historically been the most conservative” on health care issues.

How to get to universal coverage will be left to the future, though, Stern said in the interview.

“We pre-agreed on the principles” of affordable universal quality health care without burdening future generations with high costs, emphasis on wellness efforts and prevention and giving people choices in long-term care, he explained. Other parts of the Divided We Fail platform deal with retirement security and savings incentives.

“But we would get ourselves in trouble if we tried to do specifics, as the AFL-CIO has gotten in trouble,” Stern elaborated. The federation, which SEIU is no longer part of, recently launched its own massive campaign to make affordable universal health care the top domestic issue from now through the election. But it, too, has not chosen a specific plan to back. That will occur afterward, says campaign chair Heather Booth.

But the hopes of both Stern’s group and the AFL-CIO hinge on the outcome of the election, since the Democratic hopefuls have offered specific plans while the GOP by and large has stuck with Bush’s scheme to dump health care costs on workers and their families. Several of the Republicans, however, are beginning to think of health care as a national problem requiring a national solution, Stern pointed out.

“This election has got to be about health care and the war. The Democrats’ starting place and the Republicans’ starting place, on both issues, are very different,” he commented. “Our role in SEIU from now until then will be giving people information on where the candidates stand.”`

But it’s up to the hopefuls--not Divided We Fail--to fill in the blanks, he reiterated.

“They have to come as close to a piece of legislation as possible, so that we won’t wait for a year after they take office--and so that we have a constituency really ready to push it,” Stern concluded.

House defies Bush veto threat, expands program to help workers who lose jobs to imports

By Press Associates, Inc.
WASHINGTON --Defying yet another veto threat by anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush, the Democratic-run House mustered a bipartisan 264-157 vote on Oct. 31 to extend and expand Trade Adjustment Assistance, the program that helps workers who lose their jobs to subsidized foreign imports.

But that was not the only piece of trade news that day. In something of a setback for workers, the House Ways and Means Committee, which votes on legislation implementing trade pacts--but which cannot change their texts to include workers’ rights--approved Bush’s so-called “free trade” pact with Peru, 39-0.

The TAA program was first created in 1962 to help push trade pacts through Congress. But it now applies only to industrial workers who directly lose their jobs to subsidized foreign imports--and even then, only after the Labor Department agrees. As a result, TAA helps far fewer workers than it should.

The new version (HR 3920) doubles trade adjustment assistance’s authorized budget. It also extends TAA to service sector and public sector workers who lose their jobs to trade or offshoring. Those provisions cheered AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney--and led Bush’s Office of Management and Budget to hit the ceiling.

“The Trade and Globalization Assistance Act provides a critical safety net for the millions of workers who lose their jobs every year due to off-shoring and increased imports. Our nation has lost 3 million family-supporting manufacturing jobs on Bush’s watch alone. Flawed trade policy continues to send manufacturing and service sector jobs overseas. Working men and women need assistance of TAA more than ever,” Sweeney said.

“A veto would show trade-displaced workers and communities just where Bush’s priorities lie--with the giant corporate multi-nationals,” he added.

Bush’s OMB had a different take. “The administration strongly opposes H.R. 3920 in its current form because it fails to include essential reforms” to make the program “more flexible.” Instead, Bush’s agency charged Congress “converts TAA from a trade-related program to a universal income-support and training program. Accordingly, if this bill were presented to the president in its current form, the president’s senior advisors would recommend he veto the bill (their emphasis).”

OMB also called the extension of TAA to public sector and private service workers “inappropriate and unworkable.” And the Bush regime denounced a provision saying that state-named “merit workers”--not outsourced workers overseas--must run retraining programs for workers who lose their jobs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Calif. Officials, not Bush, lead in fire disaster: head of Fire fighters

ENSCONDIDO, Calif. (PAI)--California officials showed leadership helping hundreds of thousands of San Diego-area residents forced to flee their homes during the state’s week-long fire disaster, says Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger, but GOP President George W. Bush didn’t.

In a press conference in Escondido during the fires, which raged the week of October 21, Schaitberger --whose members are among those state and federal fire fighters battling the blazes -- said the state’s fire fighters arrived two days after their start to help the local crews.

At least 10 people have been killed and 65 injured, including at least 40 firefighters, news reports said. At least a million residents were temporarily evacuated.

Schaitberger also made the comparison between California’s response and those of Gulf Coast officials during Hurricane Katrina, as well as Bush’s response to both disasters. Bush flunked both, said Schaitberger.

“The response by California has been outstanding, far better than the response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast. California clearly learned some valuable lessons with the 2003 wildfires and has been better prepared to respond this time. While residents in and around New Orleans continue to struggle because of the botched response to Katrina, California has a better chance to fully recover because the state quickly and methodically responded to this natural disaster,” he said.

Bush is another matter. He tried--again--to cut funds for fire fighters from the federal budget, but Congress turned him down, again. And that’s consistent with the president’s overall attitude, Schaitberger added.

“This president has failed fire fighters by seeking to slash funding they need to protect our communities,” and to eliminate a fire fighter recruitment and training program entirely. “He is demonstrating with the wildfire disaster in California, as he did in response to Hurricane Katrina, that he is satisfied with showing his face at the height of a disaster, rather than preparing for it beforehand,” the union leader added.

California did not get a totally free pass from the IAFF, though. Schaitberger recommended that it “needs to keep fire fighters with Cal Fire on duty all year, rather than rely on a seasonal force. While the wildfires may be seasonal, the need for a well-trained, year-round, fulltime fire department is evident. With resources already running thin in many communities, fire fighters were being deployed to fight the wildfires, leaving their own cities and communities at serious risk.”

Senate defeats attempt to increase funds for Bush’s anti-union Labor office

WASHINGTON (PAI)--By a 47-46 vote, the Senate on Oct. 22 defeated a GOP attempt to increase money for a Bush Labor Department agency whose mission is to pursue alleged union financial wrongdoing.

The vote came on an amendment by Radical Right Wing Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to the money bill for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services for the year that started Oct. 1. Senators later passed the bill.

The Democratic-run Senate Appropriations Committee, like its House counterpart, cut the funds that anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush requested for the so-called Office of Labor-Management Standards, from $47 million last fiscal year to $45 million this year. That would still leave OLMS with a one-third increase, or more, since Bush took office, even as other DOL investigation and enforcement funds have been slashed across the board.

Sessions not only wanted to restore the $2 million, but wanted to add $3 million more for OLMS, bringing the total to $50.737 million. He lost.

The story is not over yet. Bush has threatened to veto the entire money bill because congressional Democrats have added funds for other programs, including education aid, Labor Department enforcement in other areas, and health programs.

Overall, the bill contains about $10 billion more than the money Bush sought for the current fiscal year. And the House and Senate have to agree on one version, eliminating their differences, before it goes to the president.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SEIU, Bricklayers split on Edwards, Clinton

From Press Associates, Inc.
and wire-service reports

Virtually absent from national news coverage, the Service Employees International Union last week decided not to endorse a presidential candidate, leaving the decision up to local and state councils. But within days -- on the day that the international union gave permission to do so -- 10 councils of them did decide, as former U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) was endorsed by the likes of California and Iowa SEIU organizations.

"I have proudly stood with them on the front lines of the fight for working Americans for years,” Edwards said in a prepared statement, “and I am honored to earn their support today."

Edwards also received the endorsements of SEIU state councils in Michigan, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia, altogether representing more than 930,000 workers in the 10 states.

Edwards has trailed rival Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York in national polls, but is close in Iowa. A recent Des Moines Register poll put Clinton at 29 percent, Edwards at 23 percent and Obama at 22 percent.

Obama announced he had the endorsements from two SEIU state councils, his home state of Illinois and neighboring Indiana, which represent 170,000 workers.

Meanwhile, Clinton racked up another labor-union endorsement, from the Bricklayers.

The board of the 100,000-member Bricklayers said it unanimously voted for Clinton after a statistically valid poll of its members.

“After years of an administration that turned its back on working families, we need a president whose priorities are our priorities,” said Bricklayers President John Flynn.

The Bricklayers join the Machinists and the Letter Carriers in backing Clinton, along with the smaller United Transportation Union.

Edwards also has the Steel Workers, the Carpenters and Mine Workers.

"This election will decide whether we finally achieve comprehensive, affordable health care for everyone, whether we bring economic security and fairness to working people, whether we bring our sons and daughters home from a civil war in Iraq, and whether working people finally have the freedom to form unions without intimidation," said SEIU President Andy Stern.

“Given the importance of this election, we are encouraging members and leaders to act on their passion for the candidates and get involved on a statewide basis," he added.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Over dissent from Illinois, teachers endorse Clinton

WASHINGTON (PAI) -- Another big union, the million-plus-member American Federation of Teachers, has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for the Democratic presidential nomination, the union and Clinton announced October 3.

The decision, by AFT’s 41-member executive board in Washington, was split. Clinton had strong backing from the United Federation of Teachers -- AFT’s New York affiliate and biggest local. AFT’s oldest local, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers advocated the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The Teachers’ decision continues the pattern of unions supporting separate Democratic presidential hopefuls. The Teachers join the Letter Carriers, the Machinists and the Transportation Communications Union in backing Clinton. The Steel Workers, Mine Workers and the Carpenters -- a non-AFL-CIO union – all back former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). The Fire Fighters back Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).

No international union backs Obama, yet. The AFL-CIO needs votes of unions representing two-thirds of its 10 million members to issue a federation-wide endorsement -- an unlikely prospect before the February 5 round of 25 primaries.

“Our members have told us they want a leader they can trust to strengthen public education, increase access to healthcare, promote common-sense economic priorities and secure America’s place in the world,” said AFT President Edward J. McElroy after the endorsement. “Hillary Clinton is that leader.”

Clinton in turn promised to improve and strengthen our public schools, provide support for teachers, “and ensuring our education system is able to meet the needs of the global economy and that we have common-sense laws that make that possible.”

She also reiterated her support for access to universal affordable quality health insurance and promised to sign the Employee Free Choice Act, the labor-backed legislation designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining.

AFT said it took seven months to get data and ideas from its members on “their issues of concern and the candidate they believed would best address those concerns.” That included a “You Decide” web page, which has logged 50,000 visits. The board also held local and regional meetings on the issues and candidates.

Seven of the Democrats -- all but Mike Gravel -- who answered AFT’s questionnaire and were later interviewed individually by the council were considered. No Republican hopefuls answered the questionnaire and thus were not considered.

But the Illinoisans dissented. CTU, in its own House of Delegates meeting the evening of October 3, endorsed Obama for the February 5 presidential primary, promising to activate its 32,000 members in the metro area for the Illinoisan.

CTU President Marilyn Stewart, an AFT board member who championed Obama and then -- when that failed -- neutrality, called him “Illinois’ favorite son and a good friend of teachers, paraprofessionals and labor.” She told her delegates that “we want to show him our appreciation and support.”

The IFT is holding meetings statewide before its own decision in December, spokeswoman Gail Purkey said from state headquarters in Springfield.

“We respect the process they (AFT) went through and this will be a topic of discussion,” she added.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Voters see ‘American Dream’ failing, hope for unions to help

CHICAGO (PAI)--Some 70% of voters surveyed see “the American Dream” of good jobs, a secure retirement, access to quality health care and a better future for their kids, is failing, a new poll says. Even more than that strongly believe unions can play a role in restoring it. And voters say both political parties are ducking the issue.

Pollster Celinda Lake’s survey of 800 voters, for Change to Win, was released at the union federation’s convention in Chicago on September 25. Her survey has an error margin of plus or minus 1.5%. Restoring the dream was a theme of the convention.

“These are core issues of an emerging progressive majority that will have a profound effect on the 2008 elections,” Lake’s covering memo to CTW said. “In a significant shift from the politics of the last two decades, voters see a strong role for government, particularly the next president, to take action to ensure the survival of the American Dream,” it adds.

And voters “see a significant role for unions and believe workers joining together is an effective way to keep the American Dream alive,” Lake’s memo pointed out.

Lake’s latest survey agrees with attitudes she found in two previous polls on the issue for CTW, but the percentage saying the dream is failing is up and intensity about the future is at an all-time high, she said. And the politicians aren’t listening.

“Swing voters are especially mixed, with 39% not seeing either party really addressing the issues they care about. Democrats do have an advantage over Republicans with swing voters (33%-13%) and among all registered voters (40%-18%). But there are still a significant number of registered voters who are up for grabs.”

By and large, poll respondents again blame corporations, greedy CEOs and a government that serves them for the decline. CTW Chair Anna Burger, speaking at the press conference where Lake released her results, said “greed is out of control for people who have power.” Burger said: “I believe there has been a huge effort to prohibit workers from having their voices heard and to impose a decline in standards of living.”

Two-thirds of Lake’s respondents said if the next president takes the issue seriously, the president would make “a lot” or “some” difference in restoring the dream. But they’re even more confident unions could help.

“95% of voters believe unions can help workers with the #1 American Dream issue, having a job that pays enough to support a family,” the survey says. Almost as many--86%--call it “very important” the next president support the right of workers to organize.

What do you do when presidential hopefuls all sound the same?

By Mark Gruenberg
Press Associates
(CHICAGO)--As they listened to the top three Democratic presidential hopefuls at their convention in Chicago, the 1,000 Change to Win delegates jammed into the biggest ballroom of the Hilton Hotel faced a question all unionists are wrestling with in this accelerated presidential primary season: What do you do when they all sound the same?

For if one point stands out in the remarks by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), it’s how they agree with each other and with unionists on issues ranging from the right to organize to labor rights in so-called free trade treaties to health care reform to you name it.

The same can be said of the other four Democrats, whom Change to Win has eliminated from its consideration. One top Service Employees officer told PAI that Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.), Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) are out because they barely register in opinion polls and among CTW members. Like the top three, those four agree with workers on the issues.

So what’s an unionist to do?

The answer can be twofold: One is to look for differences around the edges. Obama’s health care plan, for example, covers only kids, not adults. Edwards says Clinton would discuss health care with the drug and health insurance lobbies, which have caused the health care problem in the first place. And that’s just one issue.

The other, brought up by an AFSCME delegate after its political activists’ confab earlier this year, is to try to gauge the electability of each hopeful. It may be fine in your gut to agree with a Dodd or an Edwards or a Kucinich on health care or the war in Iraq if you’re a liberal or progressive, he said. But can they appeal to the whole U.S. and win?

Conversely, is Clinton so polarizing that she automatically turns off half the country, as polls now show? And on the other hand, she’s been through 15 years of hell from the GOP and the Radical Right, which never accepted that her husband was elected president, even before the right’s takeover of Congress in the 1994 election.

Unlike the others--and Clinton makes this point on the campaign trail--she knows how to hit back, and is tough enough to do so. She realizes the other side will stop at literally nothing to lie, cheat, steal and scheme to keep power for its ideological agenda.

In short, Clinton may be a polarizer but may also be the only one hard enough and skilled enough to repel expected attacks--attacks like the libels, courtesy the Bush regime and the Radical Right, that brought down Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2000 GOP primaries and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the 2004 Democratic nominee.

We can’t measure electability, which nobody specifically raised in Chicago, but we can measure those differences around the edges on the issues. Here are some:

* Health care. In addition to pointing out that his program and Clinton’s cover everyone, Edwards also said how he would pay the expected $90 billion-plus cost: Repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. He criticized Clinton for taking money from the lobbyists. When former President Bill Clinton listened to lobbyists, “We didn’t get health care, we got NAFTA and CAFTA,” Edwards said of the anti-worker trade treaties.

Obama said his health care plan--drafted without the lobbyists--covers kids only because its other aspects would make health insurance “available and affordable” to all adults. He stated his plan would “cut an average family’s premiums by $2500 a year.” He also would ban private equity firms that buy health care facilities--such as the sale of the Manor Care nursing home chain--from cutting health care workers to pay for deals.

Clinton said she learned from her failed health care plan of 1993-94 that voters do not want government-run health care. She, like Edwards, would require everyone to buy health insurance. Edwards has subsidies for the poor. All three rejected universal, single-payer, government-run health care--eliminating insurers, their premiums, profits, overhead and denial of coverage--that Kucinich advocates. Obama did not say how he would pay for his plan. Clinton said hers is paid for by cutting administrative spending.

* Worker rights. All three top contenders promised, again, to sign the Employee Free Choice Act, the labor-backed bill designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing drives and bargaining over first contracts. They differed on what they would do to help enact it.

Both Obama and Edwards promised to walk picket lines even after they enter the White House, with Edwards adding he would “stand on the White House lawn” and explain the importance of unions to preserving and expanding the U.S. middle class--including non-union workers. He also said he would take that message to hostile groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, arguing that it’s in their best interests, too. If a lawmaker opposed the bill, Edwards threatened to campaign for it in the district.

Clinton said she’d use the bully pulpit of the presidency to convince the country about the need to protect worker rights by passing the Employee Free Choice Act. That would include town hall meetings, other forums, speeches and similar methods.

Obama went beyond the Employee Free Choice Act, reminding the crowd of another worker right: To be treated under the law as a worker with rights, not an “independent contractor” without them. The Illinoisan told the group he recently co-authored legislation to close the tax loophole that lets firms call workers “independent contractors,” thus escaping payroll taxes, Medicare taxes and workers’ comp payments. Clinton’s not on the independent contractors bill; Edwards is no longer in the Senate.

Edwards went beyond EFCA, too. “Nobody--nobody--should be able to walk through a picket line and take your job away from you,” he declared, in a statement to outlaw permanent striker replacements. That got him a big roar and rhythmic clapping.

* Experience. Clinton argued she has the experience to take on the Washington lobbies, and the Republicans, and beat them on issues ranging from health care to trade to worker rights. She cited her previous 1993-94 health care fight and her lessons from that battle. “While they will have a seat at the table, we’ll make sure they’re not making the decisions,” Clinton said of the health care lobbies.

Clinton became senator in 2001, and also served eight years as First Lady, after a career of activism in Arkansas. She doesn’t say so on the hustings, but that included sitting on the board of the state’s--and the world’s--largest corporation, Wal-Mart.

Edwards and Obama tried to turn experience on its head. “I might not have the experience Washington likes, but I’ve got the experience America needs,” said Obama, who became an U.S. senator in 2005, following service in the Illinois legislature. “If you want real change, you have to change your politics as well. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and have a change,” he added.

Edwards also decried Washington expertise. His sole elected office was one 6-year Senate term. Washington experience brings Washington lobbyists, and they--Edwards said--are what’s wrong with the system. That’s where he used his health care-vs.-NAFTA line. Neither Edwards nor Obama take campaign contributions from lobbyists; Clinton does.

* Trade. All three candidates said future trade treaties, unlike NAFTA and CAFTA, must include enforceable provisions for workers’ rights. Unlike Kucinich, they would not dump the pacts. In past speeches, they called for fixing them instead.

“The first question for any trade pact should be: ‘Is it good for American jobs?’” Edwards said. On a specific trade issue left over from NAFTA, he added: “We need a president who will stand strongly against Mexican trucks coming across our border” and roaming all U.S. roads. They’re not safe,” and they undercut the Teamsters’ organizing drive among port truck drivers, he said. IBT leads the safety-first campaign against Mexican trucks.

Change To Win votes 10-cent assessment for politics

CHICAGO (PAI)--The seven-union Change to Win federation has set future plans for strategic organizing campaigns and approved a 10-cent-per-capita assessment for politics for the 2007-2008 election cycle, CTW Chair Anna Burger said.
In a press conference here September 25 after the federation’s day-and-a-half convention closed, Burger also said CTW’s Strategic Organizing Center would step up its services to the member unions, training organizers, coordinating campaigns and marshaling financial resources, among other things.
The political assessment was a new move, given CTW’s prior emphasis on organizing rather than politics--the point which led the seven unions to split from the AFL-CIO in 2005. The seven felt the older labor federation put too much emphasis, relatively, on politics.
The new emphasis means in some states, CTW is setting up its own statewide political/organizing operations, while in others its unions’ locals signed “Solidarity Charters” with AFL-CIO state federations and central labor councils for joint operations.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Unions win in Massachusetts

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts just signed legislation giving the state's workers the right to organize as union members with 'card check.'

And in a nod to the support and help of organized labor in passage of the bill, the governor

signed the bill at the celebration of the state AFL-CIO's 50th convention.

I'm guessing the state's union members who worked hard to elect a worker-friendly governor will now rejoice.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Is there a sense of community?

Is there a sense of community? Are unions the last bastion of "all for one?"

Watched a John Stossel television special on health care the other week. To make the point that 'national' health care doesn't work, a woman from Canada kept praising the U.S. health care system because we have 'choice.' When questioned about the cost the woman also kept repeating something like, I don't care, I got better.

Granted we all have a sense of self preservation, but it was obvious from her remarks her intent was to convey that she had the financial ability to buy the best health care and frankly she was willing to move to the front of the line.

Okay, it's fine for her to purchase health care as a commodity, but somehow as vital to life itself as health care will always be, you'd think the richest country in the history of the world could guarantee at least basic care to everyone.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Top Dem hopefuls face off in Chicago this week

From Press Associates, Inc.

CHICAGO -- Organized labor will see some lively action in Chicago on September 24-25, thanks to both Change to Win and the AFL-CIO.

Change to Win will feature the top Democratic presidential hopefuls--at the very least, Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.)--appearing on September 25 before the 6-million-member federation’s second-ever convention, at the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue.

The other fireworks will come that same morning when AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff debates labor law--and company law-breaking--against union busting lawyer Michael Flaherty of the notorious firm Jackson Lewis.

The two will joust over the Employee Free Choice Act and how it would help level the playing field for workers against bosses--and their union-busting lawyers--at the John Marshall College of Law in the downtown Chicago’s Loop.

The Chicago presidential hopefuls’ appearances before the CTW convention follow closely after their speeches to thousands of union activists at two CTW member union political conferences: The Laborers in Chicago and the Service Employees in Washington, both in mid-September.

Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan said after his union’s conference there would not be any immediate endorsement, but SEIU sang a different tune.

Union President Andy Stern and his board invited staffers from three of the seven Democratic hopefuls--Edwards, Obama and Clinton--back for more discussions after five hopefuls spoke to 2,000 delegates in D.C. on September 17-18. And Stern said an endorsement from the 1.6-million member union, CTW’s largest, could come during the CTW convention.

An SEIU spokeswoman said the other Democrats were not invited back “because they failed to meet some of our criteria” along the way to an endorsement. She did not specify which ones flunked which standards. Two of the seven, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), did not speak to the SEIU conference in D.C. Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) did.

All seven, however, spent an entire day with a rank-and-file SEIU member on the job, as the union demanded, earlier during the campaign. And at least three of them--Obama, Edwards and Clinton--released comprehensive health care overhaul plans.

In a recent blog, Stern said those days on the job were a key to his union’s decision. He told the candidates that when they went out to spend a day each with the workers “those same people you see out working for change--those are the ones you have to go talk to. And when you do, don’t talk to them about Democrat or Republican.

“Talk to them about what you will do about health care. About restoring the freedom to form a union without interference from your boss. About bringing our young people home from Iraq, giving them the services they will need, and putting the money being wasted over there to work in our local communities.”

Stern concluded, in his address to the conference, that “2008 is our chance to elect a president who we don’t have to lobby or beg as if making work pay was some type of special interest--and who knows in their gut that what’s good for workers and unions is good for America.”

The hopefuls struck similar themes when they addressed the Laborers activists in Chicago, just before the SEIU conclave in D.C.

"There will be no invisible Americans when I am president," Clinton stated. She also said she had the toughness to take on the lobbies on health care and to beat the GOP, having borne battle scars from her first health care fight in 1993-94 and from the constant GOP attacks against her husband’s administration.

Edwards declared he wants "to be the president who is responsible for the greatest union growth in America,” adding that "I want you to know I'll be with you when crunch time comes.”

But he also took several shots at Clinton, including her health care plan, noting not only that she failed to pass it 13 years ago but that she has not cut ties with lobbyists on that or any other issue. Edwards has made denunciations of Washington special interests a key campaign theme, added to his strong support for workers.

"We didn't get universal health care, but we got the North American Free Trade Agreement," Edwards said of the controversial jobs-losing ‘free trade’ pact that President Clinton pushed through over labor’s opposition. "We need universal health care. We didn't need NAFTA."

And as for health care, he added: "I don't believe you can sit down with lobbyists, take their money and cut a deal. If you defended the system that defeated health care, I don't think you can be the president who brings health care.”

One other CTW union, the Carpenters, has already endorsed Edwards. The Carpenters were notable in 2004 for being the only union to stay “neutral” all year.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Has he no shame?

Has he no shame?
President Bush yesterday commented on his opposition to the SCHIP program that both the proposed increase in income limits and total funding level represents the first step toward government health care.
Spoken like a person who has never had to worry about access to health care. Let's face it, for President Bush the only health care concern he has ever worried about is finding the time to visit the doctor's office. Cost has never entered the decision.
Somehow President Bush can't understand that a family of three which makes $60,000 a year in New Jersey is not living 'high on the hog.' Why? He has never ever lived a working person's lifestyle.
When the next election rolls around remember when you cast your vote which candidate has lived your life and shares your experiences.
Regardless of political party.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Proud of working class roots

So many 'famous' people act as if the world revolves around them. Why? because it often does. Celebrity in the United States has become a ticket to self-absorbed overindulgence.
I truly admire and feel proud to have Jim Thome hail from central Illinois. Why? He represents all that's good about working class values. His family raised him right.
So often the media's portrayal of working people centers on some sort of conflict. While his dad, under the shadow of a son who is truly a superstar, famously remains a 'regular guy' from the working class, the entire family acts with dignity.
Jim Thome has raised massive amounts of money for charity. I am proud to have been a very small part when I played guitar one year at his annual fund raising effort for Children's Hospital.
I'd vote Jim Thome into both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Human Hall of Fame.

1/3 of the World's Workers are Poor and jobless

A web-site I visit often posted the following (www.laboreducator.org):
"An International Labor Organization (ILO) report reveals that one in three workers in the world is either unemployed or earns less than the equivalent of $2 a day. The ILO report, which was released on Labor Day, shows 195.7 million people are unemployed and nearly 1.3 billion people earn less than $2 a day per family member.
"The ILO estimates that half of all working people worldwide work for jobs that carry a higher risk of being unprotected, without health care or retirement security and without a voice at work."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Questions from a Worker Who Reads

By Bertolt Brecht

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the name of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished.
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song,
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years' War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.