Leo W. Gerard

President’s Perspective

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Speak Loudly and Carry a Big Aluminum Bat

During this very month last year, aluminum smelters across the United States were closing, one after another. It was as if they produced something useless, not a commodity crucial to everything from beverage cans to fighter jets.

In January of 2016, Alcoa closed its Wenatchee Works in Washington State, costing 428 workers their jobs, sending 428 families into panic, slashing tax revenue counted on by the town of Wenatchee and the school district and devastating local businesses that no longer saw customers from the region’s highest-paying manufacturer.

That same month, Alcoa announced it would permanently close its Warrick Operations in Evansville, Ind., then the largest smelter in the country, employing 600 workers, within three months.

Then, Noranda Aluminum fell. It laid off more than half of the 850 workers at its New Madrid, Mo., smelter in January, filed for bankruptcy in February and closed in March. The smelter was a family-supporting employer in a low-income region, and when it stopped operating, the New Madrid County School District didn’t get tax payments it was expecting.

This devastation to workers, families, communities and corporations occurred even after Ormet had shuttered a smelter in Ohio in 2013, destroying 700 jobs, and Alcoa announced in 2015 that Massena East, in New York, closed since 2014, would never reopen, costing 332 jobs. 

It all happened as demand for aluminum in the United States increased.

That doesn’t make sense until China’s role in this disaster is explained.

That role is the reason the Obama administration filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week. In this case, the President must ignore the old adage about speaking softly. To preserve a vital American manufacturing capability against predatory conduct by a foreign power, the administration must speak loudly and carry a big aluminum bat. 

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Republican congressman sneaks away from constituents demanding health care answers

Zack Ford Editor, Think Progress LGBT

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) tweeted Friday that he was excited to return home to Colorado this weekend, but things didn’t go very well when he got there.

On Saturday, his open meeting to chat with constituents at the Aurora Central Library was overwhelmed by votersparticularly concerned about the fate of their health care if the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) is repealed — a plan Coffman supports — without a replacement put in place. Rather than meet with most of them or even address them, he left the event via a back door and escaped in a waiting vehicle.

Among those who never got the chance to speak with Coffman was Berthie Ruoff. She told 9news, “I am potentially going to lose my health insurance. I’ve had a preexisting condition. I’ve had breast cancer. What’s going to happen to me? My spouse who had health insurance passed away. What do I do? You know, what am I supposed to do?” One of the hallmarks of the ACA was its provision that insurance carriers could no longer deny coverage to applicants because of pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, and cancer — as many did prior to the law’s passage.

It’s not clear that Coffman would have had a satisfying answer for her. This week, he co-authored an op-ed in The Denver Post with his fellow Republican congressmen from Colorado defending their support for repealing the ACA. Addressing the argument that people could lose their coverage and not find new plans because of pre-existing conditions, the lawmakers promised a Republican plan that “envisions” expanding protections that existed before the ACA, such as privacy protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But such protections only help those who change but maintain insurance coverage, not those who lose it and have to start a new plan, meaning they would do nothing to help Ruoff or others like her if their coverage should end because of the law’s repeal.

Coffman’s event, his first since June, was supposed to run from 2 to 3:30 and allow for one-on-one conversations with constituents. Because of the turnout, he met with them four at a time, ultimately speaking with only about 70 people and leaving far more waiting. He also left before the event was even supposed to end, sneaking out around 3:24.

According to his chief of staff, Ben Stein, the event was not intended to be a town hall. “Unfortunately, we only reserved the room at the Aurora Central Library for 90 minutes, which is usually plenty of time to see everyone,” he said in a statement. “For those who were unable to see the Congressman today we apologize. These constituents are invited to attend upcoming meeting opportunities and we will block more time so that he can hear from more of his constituents.”

Coffman has issued no personal statement addressing his early departure or the health care concerns so many of his constituents were there to discuss with him. Despite vague assurances from many Republican members of Congress, no ACA replacement plans have yet been shared with the public even though repeal votes are already underway.

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OSHA To Start Rulemaking On Preventing Workplace Violence

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will begin the process of investigation and rule-writing on a proposed rule to force firms – particularly in health care – to take measures against workplace violence.

OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels made the announcement during a day-long hearing on Jan. 10 the issue by an agency advisory council.

His statement responds to a petition the National Nurses United filed six months ago, and support from other unions and professional health care organizations. Michaels repeated his promise in a letter to NNU Health and Safety Director Bonnie Castillo.

While NNU and other unions hailed Michaels’ statement, there are several catches. One is that it came on his last day in office, and another is that the incoming Republican Trump administration could easily stop the investigation and rule-writing in its tracks.

The AFL-CIO doesn’t think they’ll do that, a spokeswoman said. “It’s factually based and evidence based, so it’ll be hard to ignore,” she added. “This is a very severe issue and a problem that is growing.”

Workplace violence is a particular problem in health care, the AFL-CIO, the Steelworkers, the Teamsters, AFSCME, the Communications Workers and the Service Employees told the agency when they supported NNU’s petition for the rule-making.

“Voluntary measures” by employers “are inadequate,” they said. Health care and social service workers suffered 52 percent of all workplace violence injuries in 2014, the latest federal data available show. They’re twice as likely as other workers to be violence victims.


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Thousands of women will go on strike to protest Trump’s inauguration

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

The election made Ann want to do something big and bold.

As a working mother who is also a first-generation Muslim immigrant — and who declined to give her full name for fear of President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to create a Muslim registry — she has much to be concerned about. “The recent election and just all the negative commentary and hateful remarks around immigration, immigrants, and Muslims and people of color really has impacted me,” she said. “All the rhetoric around taking away women’s reproductive freedoms, even such basic freedoms as access to contraception, the thought of not having that is frightening.”

“Even the thought of the Muslim registry…the thought of registering my child, it gives me goosebumps even just saying it,” she added.

So on January 20 and 21, inauguration weekend, she will not just be joining a March in Seattle that’s affiliated with the Women’s March on Washington. She is also committed to going on strike.

While she works in health care and says she can’t leave her patients for a day, she’s going to go on strike from all the unpaid labor she does. For those two days, she plans to refuse to do all the housework and will step back from primary parenting for her four-year-old daughter, leaving it to her partner.

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Obama: Right to Unionize Must Be Part of New Social Compact

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The right to unionize must be part of a “new social compact” that reduces income inequality and restores hope, President Barack Obama says.

That right was one of several ways to help the nation continue to move forward, Obama told tens of thousands of people gathered in Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center for his farewell address, after eight years in the Oval Office.

The Chicago speech is not the first time Obama endorsed the right to unionize, free of employer harassment, intimidation, interference and labor law-breaking. He also did so on the campaign trail while seeking re-election in 2012, and at the AFL-CIO Convention in 2009, after his first election. He won both with organized labor’s strong support.

But union leaders said, privately and sometimes publically, that Obama never followed through by pushing the cause, labor’s top legislative goal. In his Chicago speech, the president is leaving the task for achieving workers’ rights to the future. But he said it must be done.

“Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class, and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class,” the president explained.

“That’s the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic idea. While the top 1 percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many of our families in inner cities and in rural counties have been left behind.

“The laid-off factory worker, the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills. Convinced that the game is fixed against them. That their government only serves the interest of the powerful. That’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.

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Republicans, Here’s Your Way Out Of the Obamacare Vise

Bill Scher

Bill Scher Online Editor, Campaign for America's Future

The Republicans are in a jam. For the last six years, they’ve pledged to repeal Obamacare, but haven’t figured out a plan for replacing it. They are ideologically opposed to government involvement, but they know that taking away the health insurance of 20 million people is politically disastrous. They rail against high premiums, but they know taking away the individual mandate — and taking out younger, healthier customers from the risk pool — would only make premiums go even higher.

But there is a way out. It requires Republicans to prioritize maintaining political power over sticking with ideological principles. But after swallowing Trump on trade, Russia and politically pressuring individual corporations, that should not be a problem.

The solution is three-fold. One, encourage holdout Republican governors to expand Medicaid. Two, increase Obamacare subsidies. Three, call it Trumpcare.

Why would Republicans ever swerve left to improve Obamacare? First and foremost, it would directly benefit Trump voters. Second, Obama, once out of office, can no longer politically benefit; there’s no reason to withhold health care out of spite. Three, Trump would accept it — deep down, he’s always been a single-payer guy.

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Union Matters

Eliminate Closed Primaries

Hugh J. Campbell

Hugh J. Campbell Son of a steelworker, Philadelphia, Pa.

Our political parties left to their exclusionary desires get to set the agendas which all American voters must live with during the general election process. Is there little wonder that the United States has such low voter turnout rates and low trust in Congress? One antidote to the stranglehold the political parties have over Democracy is to open the primaries. Please click the petition Incoming Chairs of the DNC & RNC: Open the Primaries, NOW!

A patchwork of restrictive registration rules prevented 26.3 million independent voters from participating in the Presidential Primaries/Caucuses in 2016. The same restrictive rules prevented millions more registered Democrats and Republicans from voting for the candidate of their choice. Voters from New York to Arizona, whose tax dollars fund the primary process -- were denied the right to fully participate. It’s not hard to understand why voter turnout has hit a 20-year low, and 70% of all Americans now support open primaries.

By signing the petition Incoming Chairs of the DNC & RNC: Open the Primaries, NOW! you are sending a message to new DNC and RNC Chairs to break with the likes of Debbie Wasserman Schultz who was the poster-chair for closed primaries in every state!

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While You Were Sleeping...

While You Were Sleeping...