Leo W. Gerard

President’s Perspective

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

NAFTA Old and New: Deals by the Rich for the Rich

The new NAFTA must contain language under which Mexico would actively protect its workers' right to organize into independent unions, negotiate labor agreements and strike when necessary. Image by Yevhenii Dubinko on Getty Images

Mick Mulvaney, a millionaire who is President Trump’s acting chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, awarded himself another job last week: spokesman for labor.

Referring to the proposed new NAFTA, he told the Wall Street Journal, “We know that labor supports it.”

That, right there, is the problem with NAFTA, old and new. One percenters like Mulvaney, self-dealing corporate honchos and fancy-pants corporate lobbyists negotiated the deals. Those fat cats claimed they spoke for labor. But when they opened their mouths, only the word profit emerged.

They didn’t give a damn about jobs or wages or workers’ welfare. The ravages NAFTA inflicted on the non-rich prove that. The proposed new NAFTA is barely different. Mulvaney, though he tried to usurp labor’s voice, is far from labor’s mouthpiece. Labor speaks for itself. And it is railing against NAFTA, old and new.

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GOP congressman voted for tax cuts, now says America is too indebted to pay for appropriations bill

Josh Israel

Josh Israel Senior Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) voted against a bill last week that would fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for the next year.

His reasoning? He says the measure included “support of taxpayer-funded abortions” — which it does not — and that he does not believe the nation can afford that, after tax cuts he voted for massively expanded the budget deficit.

Smucker is a longtime opponent of abortion rights. In his bi-weekly newsletter — delivered Sunday and tweeted out on Monday — the second-term congressman explained his objection in a section called “In Defense of the Unborn.”

“Last week, the House Democrats offered a spending package (H.R. 2740) that will spend billions more than our current budget caps allow—including in support of taxpayer-funded abortions,” he wrote.

“Our nation is more than $20 trillion in debt, and longstanding policy has been to separate abortion from healthcare funding. The bill would overturn these provisions and would also undermine other critical protections for the lives of the unborn. I couldn’t support these provisions and opposed the bill.”

Smucker included a link to a floor speech from Friday in which he railed against the provisions.

While the bill, which cleared the House, would continue limited funding for fetal tissue research and would lift a gag order by President Donald Trump for family planning providers who mention abortion, it does not actually provide any funding for abortions.

“Hyde Amendment” prohibitions also were included in the bill, which would make it harder for poor women and gender minorities to access abortions.

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The Frontlines of the Health Care Fight in Western Pennsylvania

Savannah Kinsey Healthcare Rights Committee Coordinator, Put People First! PA

Editor’s note: Savannah Kinsey presented this testimony during a House Budget Committee on Poverty in America on June 19, 2019. The hearing was part of a series of events in Washington, D.C. organized by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to highlight the campaign’s Poor People’s Moral Budget.

I am 22 years old, a member of the LGBTQ community, and I am from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which is a town of about 20,000 people in Western Pennsylvania. The population of Johnstown is about 77 percent white, 14 percent African American, and 4 percent Latino.

I graduated from Greater Johnstown High in 2014. And even though I graduated, everyday life is still very challenging. This is because the school system is very flawed and doesn’t teach the real history of this country. Education should teach all of us to hear and understand everyone’s differences, and backgrounds that they have come from.

Johnstown used to be a booming steel mill town. But once the mills closed, it went downhill. If you’ve heard of my town at all, it’s probably because of our opioid problem. I’ve known a few people who’ve died, including my friend Nycki.

She was poor, like a lot of people in Johnstown. In fact, Johnstown has the highest poverty rate of any town in the state. Thirty-eight percent of all people and 63 percent of people under 18 are living below the official poverty line.

Nycki turned to drugs and that led to going in and out of jail. She never got the treatment she needed. When she overdosed two years ago, she left behind a four-year-old daughter. Nycki was just 26 years old.

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How The Super-Rich Avoid Paying Their Share

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We have a great deal of statistical data, in America today, about the economic circumstances of Americans who live in poverty. We know far less, by contrast, about Americans who live amid great wealth. And much of what we do know, suggests a revealing new study, turns out to be wrong.

America’s wealthiest, this new study details, almost certainly hold substantially greater personal fortunes than our standard analyses of the nation’s distribution of wealth indicate.

What are these conventional analyses not taking into account? A simple reality of our deeply unequal age: Extravagantly wealthy people cheat on their taxes. Regularly. Extravagantly, too. Our super rich are stashing vast chunks of their personal fortunes in offshore tax havens, generating billions annually in new income that — to their governments — goes unseen and untaxed.

Just how enormous has this tax evasion by the super rich become? University of California-Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman and his Scandinavian colleagues Annette Alstadsæter and Niels Johannesen calculate — in a just-published American Economic Review paper — that offshore tax havens are enabling our world’s richest 0.01 percent to evade 25 percent of the income taxes they ought to be paying.

The holdings of this wealthiest one-hundredth of 1 percent, the three researchers relate, make up about 50 percent of the overall assets parked in tax havens. The super rich are using these havens, add Zucman and his colleagues, to conceal about 40 percent of their total personal fortunes.

The most recent Federal Reserve Board figures on U.S. inequality, released this past March, put the top 1 percent’s share of American personal wealth at 32 percent, up from 23 percent in 1989. Other estimates place the top 1 percent share closer to 40 percent. But with the new calculations from Zucman and his colleagues, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s Matthew Gardner reflects, even this 40 percent estimate could well be a distinctly “low-ball number.”

But can we trust the numbers from the Zucman team? After all, how could a mere trio of researchers unearth hidden fortunes that the super rich spend big bucks to keep hidden? These three particular researchers had some unconventional assistance.

Over recent years, whistleblowers at some of the private banks and legal firms that cater to wealthy tax evaders — remember the “Panama Papers”? — have exposed vast stores of financial records that document the daily nitty-gritty of tax-evading transactions. The Zucman team tapped these records.

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The Black Working Class Was Hit Especially Hard by Factory Job Loss and Industrial Flight

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

If you’ve visited the Internet sometime over the past two-and-a-half years, you almost certainly have come across a diner story.

You know the one. A reporter from a big fancy news outlet with its headquarters in New York City or D.C. flies out to a working-class town in Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania or maybe even Wisconsin and stops at the local diner — or maybe a sports bar. There, the reporter talks to people over pancakes and coffee or chicken wings and beer about their political opinions and why they think Donald Trump got elected president, then files a story and immediately flies home.

There were so many of these stories in recent years — full disclosure: we shared them and even are featured in some — that predictably there was pushback. One of the criticisms is that these pieces aim to figure out the white working-class voter but leave out the voices of people of color who also live in these places.

While some folks have taken pains to capture diverse voices — Chris Arnade comes to mind — there are examples where this criticism is valid. Slate was among the outlets that critiqued The New York Times for visiting Youngstown, Ohio, but failing to capture the voices of the majority-minority city, which is 43 percent black.

And Slate went a step further, sending reporter Henry Grabar to Buckeye State to get the perspective of “the people in Youngstown, Ohio that the national media usually ignores.” Grabar’s report highlights the unique struggles that the black community in Youngstown has faced over the past several decades, writing that whatever “went wrong for the white working class here went even worse for their black counterparts.”

It’s not just Youngstown. Back in 2016, Gerald D. Taylor — himself a Youngstown native! — highlighted some of these issues in the report Unmade in America: Industrial Flight and the Decline of Black Communities. As Taylor notes, manufacturing in the mid-20th century allowed many black families the opportunity to begin to build a nest egg, own their own homes and move into the middle class.

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Across the Border: Teaching Service-Learning as Labor Activism

Michelle Fazio Associate Professor, University of North Carolina

Summer is already in full swing and with that comes the promise of fresh, local produce available at community-supported agricultural (CSA) farms and farmers’ markets. North Carolina, ranked as the leading producer of tobacco and sweet potatoes according to the USDA, has long held the position of being one of the highest-producing and diversified agricultural leaders in the U.S. Many of my students who live in the rural Southeast region of the state come from farming backgrounds themselves and, as a result, have a strong understanding of what it takes to run a family farm.

However, my students, like most consumers, are far less familiar with the realities of the over 150,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents who labor each year on these farms, contributing to billions of dollars in North Carolina’s economy. These individuals—both H-2A (temporary agricultural workers) and undocumented immigrants—remain invisible to most and are the second lowest paid workers nationwide, making on average $11,000 per year. Without access to overtime, sick leave, workers’ compensation, or the ability to fight wage discrimination, farmworkers have the fewest workers’ rights in the nation, yet, as we know, their labor hand-picking food feeds the world.

Farm work is dangerous work. According to Charles D. Thompson, Jr. and Melinda F. Wiggins, farmworkers suffer from many job-related illnesses due to prolonged exposure to sun, heat, and pesticides and often have limited access to drinking water in the fields. Unsanitary living conditions, including inadequate toilet facilities, also result in multiple occupational hazards that range from dermatitis and Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS) to respiratory illness and repetitive work injuries. Farmworkers are also extremely isolated from other communities and face food insecurity, lack access to pre-natal care or health care for children, and suffer from depression.

These matters were exacerbated by the devastation caused by last fall’s Hurricane Florence, which flooded the Southeastern corridor for weeks. As NPR reported, fear over Trump’s anti-immigration policies and inflammatory rhetoric frightened farmworkers away from seeking much-needed food and medical assistance. The severe flooding left many out of work and in need of shelter, but workers were either unable to leave their camps because of their remote location or did not qualify for assistance. Fortunately, local non-profit agencies devoted to promoting migrant farmworker justice, such as the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry (EFwM) and Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), answered the call and provided bottled water and other supplies. They also initiated a fund-raising campaign to support the rebuilding of homes and additional services for the workers and their families.

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Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder