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.