Leo W. Gerard

President’s Perspective

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Coming Soon: American Made Battle of the Heavyweights

Virtually every time President-elect Donald Trump performs in cities across America on his thank you tour, he mentions, to grand applause, his preference for Made in America.

He describes his plan to create jobs with a federal infrastructure spending project – that is improvements to the likes of crumbling roads, bridges, waterlines and airports – and then says, “We will have two simple rules when it comes to this massive rebuilding effort. Buy American and hire American.”

That American-job-creating, buy-American thing is supported by 71 percent of the American public. But it is a smack in the face to GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who just made it clear in the Water Resources Development Act that he’s fine with creating slave-wage iron-and-steel-making jobs in China with U.S. tax dollars so long as a few fat-cat iron-and-steel importers make a profit on the deal.

So, clearly, there’s a battle brewing between the President-elect and the Speaker of the House. This is the President-elect who has repeatedly promised the working class men and women who elected him that he’d support Buy American provisions in federal law to create jobs for them. And it’s a GOP Speaker who wants to ship taxpayer-financed work overseas and let the working class wait a couple more decades to just possibly feel a tiny pinch of trickle down from the largess of filthy rich iron and steel importers. This, also, is a clash between a New York real estate titan who won the presidency and a Wisconsin lawmaker who lost the vice presidency. 

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Restoring Trust After Our “Free Trade” Charade Ends

Stan Sorscher

Stan Sorscher Labor Representative, Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace

The 2016 elections threw a bucket of cold water into the face of free-trade orthodoxy. It’s no surprise that voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere are deeply discouraged by decades of failed promises of boon from establishment leaders. The real surprise is, what took us so long?

We need a new approach to globalization that does as much for workers and the environment as it does for global investors.

Everyone I know wants trade and globalization. However, we have managed globalization badly.

Our failed “neoliberal” approach has been to manage globalization through trade deals, written by and for the interests of global companies. The neoliberal vision is a fully integrated global economy, where national identities are blurred, shareholder interests have top priority, public interests are devalued, and gains go almost entirely to investors.

Nothing in trade theory or history says global economic integration is a good idea.

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Treasury OKs First Pension Benefit Cuts by Financially Troubled Multi-Employer Plan

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The U.S. Treasury, acting under a controversial law approved in a lame-duck congressional session in 2014, has approved the first benefit cuts for current retirees and survivors who depend on a financially troubled multi-employer pension plan.

But the cuts, affecting almost 1,000 pensioners and their families at Ironworkers Local 17 in Cleveland, will take effect only if a majority of the plan’s 1,995 beneficiaries vote for them in this month’s election. Ballots are due at the union office by Jan. 20. The catch is that any recipient – retiree or survivor – who doesn’t vote will be counted as a “yes” vote for the cuts.

And the second catch, the pension plan trustees point out, in their letter to the retirees on Local 17’s website, is the alternative: The plan will go broke by 2024. Then their pensions would depend on a federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which would cut the payouts, predicted to average 20 percent under the trustees’ proposal, even more.

The 2014 law lets boards of financially failing multi-employer pension plans seek Treasury OK to cut current benefits for retirees and their families in order to keep the plans alive and solvent for future retirees. The controversial law has nationwide impact.

Multi-employer pension plans cover an estimated 10 million workers, including Ironworkers, grocery workers, Teamsters and more. Hundreds of thousands of retirees and survivors – estimates vary -- are in financially failing plans.

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Kentucky Republicans assault unions and wages in first act of the year

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Last year, Republican Matt Bevin won the governorship of Kentucky, taking over from Democrat Steve Beshear. Then, in November, Republicans took full control of the state legislature after they gained their first majority in Kentucky’s state house in almost a century.

And the very first things the Republican majority did with its power this past weekend were to pass a so-called “right-to-work” law, which will likely weaken unions’ finances, and repeal a prevailing wage law that ensures government contractors pay decently.

Kentucky was the last of the Southern states that hadn’t gone right-to-work, but after Bevin signed the bill on Saturday, it now joins the rest — becoming the 27th state in the country to pass such a law.

Right-to-work laws create what critics call a free rider problem. Normally, all workers in a unionized workplace must pay dues to the union given that it’s bargaining on their behalf. But right-to-work laws allow people to opt out of dues, even if they’re still being represented, which means they can benefit from union negotiations over wages and working conditions but don’t have to give any money to support these efforts.

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Koch Astroturf Army Cheers Union Busting in Kentucky

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari The Center for Media and Democracy/ALEC Exposed

On the first day that the Kentucky legislature got underway with a newly elected Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican governor, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity group blew the whistle and legislators jumped to do their bidding.

This week, the Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover rammed through the legislature three bills to break the back of unions and lower wages for highly-skilled construction workers.

It was bare-knuckled partisan politics. "We can pretty much do whatever we want now!" crowed GOP Kentucky Rep. Jim DeCesare behind closed doors.

You have only to look at Trump's narrow victory in Rust Belt states to understand why the GOP is desperate to get rid of the Democratic Party's boots on the ground.

Trump won by narrow margins in Wisconsin and Michigan and took Indiana. These are three states where unions -- the only organized voice for working families able to stand up against CEOs and corporate elites -- were crushed by right-wing governors after Obama won them in 2008.

In Wisconsin, union membership is down an estimated 133,000 since Governor Scott Walker destroyed a 50 year tradition of peaceful collective bargaining for higher wages. Trumps margin of victory? Less than 30,000.

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Working-Class Nostalgia

Tim Strangleman

Tim Strangleman Professor, University of Kent

The first time I presented a paper at an academic conference, I was accused of being nostalgic. My mistake, as my fellow academic pointed out, was that in my bid to find some value in working-class occupational cultures I was guilty of backward looking romanticism. It wasn’t meant to be constructive criticism, but over the years I’ve developed a longstanding interest in the idea of nostalgia which is often attached to working-class life.

So I’ve been especially interested in the ways that political developments on both sides of the Atlantic have involved nostalgia as the backward-looking voters supported Brexit in the UK and Trump in the US.  We may see more of this in France, with support for Le Pen later this year. Charges of nostalgia in these situations refer to a whole range of stances and attitudes, from the more benign sentiments of those who want a return to full industrial employment or desire a greater sense of community to those who more darkly ‘want their country back’, which too often is code for freedom to discriminate. Looking beyond recent elections, we can to detect a backward-looking trend in television, in programmes such as Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Endeavour, or the new Netflix series, The Crown.  In politics and popular culture, many seem to be happiest when living in the past.

However, by using the term nostalgia as a catchall criticism we often miss the complexity and nuance involved, and class often has a big part to play here. Those who study nostalgia note that it almost always tells us more about attitudes toward the present than views of the past. It is precisely because people feel unsettled about their current unstable situation and unknowable future that they seek solace in the comfort of the past. Scholars also point out that nostalgia is very rarely ‘simple’ in the sense that people want to live in the past. They are almost always critical, even reflective, about both the present and the past, and they find something of value in that past that may have been lost.

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Union Matters

The Majority of Non-Union Professionals Support Unionization

Even as the overall rate of union membership decreases each year, the same cannot be said for actual support of unions even among those who don’t wear a blue collar.

A recent national survey sponsored by the AFL-CIO’s Department of Professional Employees (DPE) found that the majority of non-union professionals support the idea of union representation in their workplaces.

The survey was conducted in October 2016, and poll takers interviewed 1,004 professional employees who are not currently represented by a labor union.  Over half of these workers said that they would support a union in their workplace and that union representation would improve their salaries as well as their health and retirement benefits.

Well, hot damn! Workers want to be treated with dignity? You don’t say!

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While You Were Sleeping...

While You Were Sleeping...