From Press Associates Archive

Lawmakers Push to Enact Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Safety Workers

Once again, lawmakers are pushing legislation to force all states to mandate collective bargaining rights for public safety workers – police, fire fighters, EMTs and their colleagues.

But if past is prologue, the measure will pass the Democratic-run House, as it has on occasion ever since the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks – and fall victim to a Senate GOP filibuster. Or Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., won’t bring it up at all.

That's what happened the first time the fire fighters campaigned for it, in late 2001-2002, just after the attacks, when the collapsing World Trade Center killed 343 New York fire fighters trying to rescue people there, plus their priest. Senators praised their sacrifice, then killed the bill.

The measure, sponsored this time by Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., would tell those states that if their public safety workers unionize, on the state, county or city levels, those workers have the mandated right to collectively bargain over working conditions.

Right now, 20 states ban such bargaining, even where the workers are unionized. The prime offenders are two big right-to-work GOP-run states, Texas and North Carolina. The Carolina ban is so broad that a decade ago, the AFL-CIO lodged a formal complaint with the International Labour Organization over the Tar Heel State’s restrictions.

In late April, the AFL-CIO formally endorsed this year’s legislation, HR1154, in a letter to lawmakers from Legislative Director Bill Samuel. The measure has 59 cosponsors.

“The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act historically received widespread bipartisan support,” Samuel wrote. “In the 111th Congress, the bill passed the House 314-97, with a majority of each party in favor. The bill would guarantee the right to form a union and bargain over wages, hours and working conditions, with binding arbitration to resolve disputes.”

“It would, however, prohibit strikes or lockouts. Consistent with these minimum standards, the legislation would give states wide flexibility to write and administer their own laws.”

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Trumka: Democratic-run U.S. House ‘has stood on the side of workers’

The new Democratic-run U.S. House “has stood on the side of workers” on issues ranging from defending federal workers to opposing job-losing “free trade” pacts to pro-worker labor law reform, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says.

As a matter of fact, he added in a wide-ranging Q-&-A hosted by the Economic Club of Washington, the only current exception is the “Green New Deal,” and that’s “because we weren’t part of the process” or at the table when its backers drafted it, he said.

But the Democrats’ other big ideas, including wide-ranging electoral reform and Medicare For All – which Trumka predicted would come incrementally, starting with lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 50 – get labor’s support, he said.

Trumka gave his evaluation of those issues, and many others, in the hour-plus discussion on April 23 with the club’s president, and a follow up short session with reporters.

His evaluation comes as Congress considers many worker-oriented issues. Among them: Trade pacts, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour – “and a union” Trumka emphasized – and rewriting labor law to making it easier for workers to organize and defend themselves. Trumka predicted states’ minimum wage hikes will push Congress to yield on that raise.

But it also comes as the ruling Democrats wrestle with how to respond to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s devastating report about Russian manipulation of the 2016 presidential election, in favor of GOP nominee Donald Trump, and the Trump campaign’s subsequent contacts with the Russians and use of their information.

Neither Trumka nor his questioners raised the issue, and particularly whether the Democrats should impeach Trump for obstruction of justice in his constant attempts to derail Mueller’s probe, get witnesses to lie and to fire Mueller and, earlier, FBI Director James Comey.

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New Labor College Launched in St. Paul

After months of planning, a small group of labor leaders, activists and scholars opened a new labor college in St. Paul, Minn., inspired by the belief that working people can build the labor movement of the future, in part, by looking to the past.

Classes began April 12 at the New Brookwood Labor College. It’s modeled after a school for labor organizers that operated from 1921-1937 in Katonah, N.Y. That college attracted over 600 students, who went on to lead major union and civil rights campaigns across the country in the decades to come.

That school’s lifespan was brief, said Robyn Gulley, a co-founder of New Brookwood and local labor and human rights organizer. But its impact was great.

“It’s hard to read a book about labor history without coming across Brookwood Labor College,” Gulley said. “Brookwood left behind a tremendous legacy. And it was coed, it was racially diverse, it was ethnically diverse at a time when that was basically unheard of.”

Notable Brookwood alumni, according to Wikipedia, included Walter, Roy and Sophie Reuther of the UAW, Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray, activist for women’s rights and civil rights and the first African-American female Episcopal priest and civil rights activist Ella Bajer.

“One sign of Brookwood's influence is just how much it changed American labor unions. Many of Brookwood's beliefs—mass unionization, unionization of skilled and semi-skilled workers, an end to gender and racial discrimination, support for social insurance programs—were later adopted by mainstream labor,” the Wikipedia citation adds.

Brookwood’s brand of inclusiveness and forward thinking hasn’t lost its relevance in an era of intense cultural and political divides in the U.S. And the gaps between rich and working people have widened back to the bloated levels of the 1920’s, when the original Brookwood began educating organizers.

If ever there were a time for a reboot, labor historian Peter Rachleff said, this is it.

“The Brookwood Labor College came along at a time when the labor movement needed critical thinking – how to organize when traditional forms of work (skilled manual labor) were being challenged by assembly lines and scientific management; how to organize a workforce that was increasingly diverse by race, gender and ethnicity; how to organize when corporate management was dead-set against negotiating with unions; how to organize when employers were able to use laws and court decisions to undercut workers’ rights,” Rachleff said.

“Does this sound familiar?”

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Airport Screeners Still Shorted Pay for Work During Shutdown

Some 1,000 of the nation’s 40,000-plus airport screeners, among the lowest-paid federal workers -- whose morale is also at rock bottom, surveys show -- “haven’t received the bulk of their back pay” from when they had to toil during GOP President Donald Trump’s 5-week partial government shutdown.

The screeners, officially known as Transportation Security Officers, complained to their union, the Government Employees (AFGE). It in turn had to raise the issue with their employer, the Homeland Security Department, says AFGE President J. David Cox

Cox discussed the screeners’ situation in a brief March 13 interview during the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in New Orleans. The screeners were among the almost 420,000 federal workers whom Trump forced to toil without pay during the shutdown, which started at midnight Dec. 21. He locked another 380,000 or so workers out.

Forcing the screeners to toil without back pay, and leaving them wondering how they would feed their families and pay the rent, may have driven one Orlando Airport screener, depressed over the situation, to commit suicide, his AFGE local president said.

Trump shut down nine Cabinet Departments, including Homeland Security, in his unsuccessful campaign to force Congress to yield to his demand for $5.7 billion for his Mexican Wall, which foes call both racist and ineffective.

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Top Public Sector Union Leaders See Gains, New Initiatives, After Janus

The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling against public sector unions, has, in union membership terms, turned out to be a dud so far. At least that’s what top leaders of the nation’s four biggest public-sector unions say.

And their added big message is that “unions are vehicles for workers’ voices, not the voices themselves” as Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten put it.

Presidents Weingarten, Lee Saunders of AFSCME and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees, and Vice President Becky Pringle of the National Education Association discussed how to bring that message to workers in an impromptu press conference with the small group of reporters covering the Future of Unions conference, earlier in February.

Overhanging the sessions was that while more than one-third of public-sector workers – Teachers, Fire Fighters, nurses, EMTs and others – are unionized, only 10.5 percent of all workers are union members. That includes just 6.4 percent of private sector workers.

So the radical right, Republicans and big business foes of workers and unions, having trashed private sector unions, trained their sights on the public sector. Their aim, as one top right-wing honcho admitted in 2017, was to kill unions by taking their money away. “Defund the left,” he called it.

Their vehicle was the Janus vs AFSCME District Council 31 lawsuit, a trumped-up case the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year. And the tribunal’s 5-man Republican-named majority, voting on ideological lines, took their bait.

Reversing a 1975 precedent, the justices ruled every state and local public-sector worker in the U.S. – all 6.2 million of them – would be a potential “free rider,” able to use unions’ services without paying one red cent for them, contract or no contract.

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Nuke Plant Shutdown is Model for Move to Renewable Energy

California’s planned shutdown of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025 can provide a model for creating clean energy jobs while helping fossil fuel plant workers through the transition, the business manager of the union that represents the plant workers says.

Tom Dalzell, business manager for Electrical Workers Local 1245, explained what happened in a blog posted by the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center on Nov. 30. The blog was one of several follow-ups to an earlier conference on what labor’s role in battling climate change should be, particularly in the Golden State.

Union leaders are divided on what labor’s role should be in the climate change debate. Unions that represent fossil fuel workers, notably the United Mine Workers and some building trades unions, argue – correctly -- that conversion away from those fuels has cost their members jobs and left them with no alternatives.

Other unions, led by the BlueGreen Alliance, the Steelworkers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United and others, contend the labor movement must campaign for measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming.

They also contend that plant closures as a result of conversion from fossil fuels must be accompanied by retraining for the workers, especially for unionized high-paying jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar and wind power structures and erecting other facilities to store such new energy.

Dalzell says what happened at Diablo Canyon can provide a model for that course. “A fundamental premise should be that workers must not be made to pay the price,” he said.

Negotiations on how to deal with the coming closure “were possible because everyone involved, even those who had been enemies for over three decades, put down their swords long enough to chart a path worth taking together,” Dalzell said. His local represents 500 high-skilled high-tech workers. 

A prior, abrupt nuke plant closure – throwing hundreds out of jobs – made clear that advance planning for Diablo Canyon’s shutdown was absolutely necessary. So both sides got to work.

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GOP-dominated Labor Board majority uses ‘joint employer’ rule to restrict picketing

The Trump-named Republican majority of the National Labor Relations Board has apparently used its rewritten “joint employer” rule to restrict union picketing, an analyst and attorney for the non-partisan Century Foundation says.

If their decision stands, the “result would be far-reaching restrictions on picketing that limit the ability of unions to put public pressure on management,” notes Foundation fellow Moshe Marvit.

The union hurt in the 4-year-old picketing case, Service Employees Local 87 of San Francisco, isn’t taking it lying down. The NLRB panel that ruled for the two joint employers and against the workers, the union and the community organization that aided them had only the board’s three GOP members.

So SEIU General Counsel Nicole Berner and Local 87’s lawyers appealed the panel’s August 28 decision to the full board in late October.

The board’s administrative law judge ruled in 2015 that Rafael Ortiz, owner of OJS, one of the two joint employers of janitors at 55 Hawthorne Street in downtown San Francisco, illegally fired four janitors for participating in informational picketing there.

The picket signs said “this is not a strike” but asked prime tenants of the building, including KGO Radio, to intervene and demand building owners deal with sexual harassment by Ortiz. Preferred Building Services manages 55 Hawthorne for its owners, but contracted the janitorial services to Ortiz’s company. The two were joint employers of the janitors.

After a second round of picketing – and after Ortiz used pretexts to fire the four janitors – Preferred “terminated its contract” with OJS and all the janitors were let go. Local 87, the janitors and a pro-Latino community group all complained to the board’s regional office.

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Union Leaders, Jewish Labor Committee Blame Reckless Political Rhetoric for Bomb Threats and Squirrel Hill and Louisville Shootings

Two union leaders, D. Taylor of Unite Here and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees, plus the Jewish Labor Committee, faulted top U.S. political leaders, implicitly or explicitly, for fomenting the environment that led to the anti-Semitic synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh and other recent acts of hate.

Other union leaders, including Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the presidents of both her Pennsylvania state affiliate and her Pittsburgh local, the Pennsylvania state AFL-CIO, and Communications Workers President Chris Shelton – who grew up in the Bronx, which has a large Jewish population – also voiced outrage.  

Other recent terrorist acts included a gunman, unable to enter an African-American church in Louisville, Kent., going to a nearby store and shooting down two African-American shoppers, and the 14 pipe bombs, sent by a devoted and demented follower of GOP President Donald Trump to prominent Democrats he has slammed, slandered and sneered at by name, plus the Cable News Network.

But it was Robert Bowers’ hatred of Jews and massacre of 11 worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue, by after postings on social media that he was going to act, that drew the most recent outrage. That included Taylor blaming Trump by name for fostering the hate that leads to such terrorism.

Trump said he will visit Pittsburgh Tuesday – even though leaders of the city’s Jewish community sent an open letter to the White House Monday asking him to stay away. They also posted it online, and 35,000+ other people have signed it.

“Anti-Semitism is not something new,” said Taylor. “Sadly, there has been an increase in incidents of anti-Semitism in this country recently. We all remember the images of neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Va., and the president’s moral equivalency in the face of that. Unite Here members oppose anti-Semitism in every form.”

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Workers Rack Up Big Win In Missouri, Smashing Right-to-Work by Huge Margin

Workers racked up a big win in Missouri on August 7, smashing the right-wing’s campaign for a so-called “right to work” law in the Show Me State by more than a 2-to-1 ratio.

With all precincts reporting, there were 937,241 “no” votes -- against RTW -- and only 452,075 “yes” votes. The result killed the RTW law the heavily right-wing Republican Missouri legislature passed and then-GOP Gov. Eric Greitens signed last year.

Indications RTW was going down the drain came very early after the polls closed at 8 pm, CDT. Just 45 minutes later, National Public Radio’s blog reported anti-RTW sweeps in two pro-GOP counties, Franklin County, outside St. Louis – a 3-to-1 RTW loss – and Lafayette County, outside Kansas City.

There, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump won by 7,000 votes two years ago and RTW lost on August 7 by 3,000.

“This goes way beyond the labor movement,” an elated Mike Louis, president of the state AFL-CIO, told Press Associates Union News Service in a telephone interview from the jam-packed election celebration.

“This has been a great victory of a coalition to pout the middle class back the way it was – and not be a class where people work in poverty while a few people get richer and richer.”

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Lawmakers Accelerate Push for Medicare-for-All

With union backing, a group of 66 House Democrats – and counting – accelerated the congressional push for Medicare For All by forming a caucus to hold study sessions, answer colleagues’ questions and issue papers on aspects of the cause.

Backed by representatives of National Nurses United and with a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees/Teamsters in the crowd, Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Keith Ellison, DFL-Minn., Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., unveiled the group at a sun-splashed press conference July 19 on the U.S. Capitol lawn.

The object of the caucus is to not only answer questions about single-payer govern-ment-run health care for everyone, but also to campaign for the legislation to create it, HR676 in the House and a companion bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt.

Those measures would replace the U.S.’s current, private jury-rigged high cost health care “system” with federally run health care, eliminating the health insurance industry and other for-profit aspects of health care. “Profit must have no place in health care,” Jayapal said.


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Labor Rejected Democrats for Supporting Free Trade, Ignoring Middle Class

So-called “free trade.” Jobs for the middle class. GOP attention to both, and not just by Donald Trump. Those are key reasons the Democratic Party lost key hunks of the labor vote, and not just in 2016, a panel of progressives and unionists says.

And the way to get those voters back is to stress kitchen-table economic issues that not only unite all wings of the party, but appeal to those workers and their families who feel left behind, added one of the speakers, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.

The group, convened by the Women’s National Democratic Club in D.C., also included Thea Lee, a longtime top AFL-CIO analyst and staffer who now heads the Economic Policy Institute, Jared Bernstein, former top economist for EPI and for Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, and Daniel Loveless, the business manager for Steamfitters Local 602 in Maryland.

The session’s backdrop is the looming 2018 election, when most governors and state legislators will seek re-election. It’s also an off-year election and in the last two off-years, 2010 and 2014, worker-friendly candidates, most of them Democrats, got wiped out.

The backdrop also includes Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss to GOPer Donald Trump in 2016. In the key swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania which Trump took, union families and voters were a big reason. Exit polls showed Trump and Clinton split their votes 50-50. In Ohio, he won 52 percent.

Shuler spent the first part of her remarks laying one issue to rest: That Clinton lost the labor vote. Trump “only did four percentage points better than” 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney did against Democratic President Barack Obama. “But Clinton did nine points worse.”

Trade was a key reason, Shuler said. In so many words, union members and pro-union voters did not forget then-President Bill Clinton jammed the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress in 1993 over labor’s outspoken opposition and predictions of huge job losses, which have since occurred. Workers held NAFTA against Hillary Clinton.

So when Hillary Clinton sought the White House, unionists were leery of her campaign conversion to skepticism about a subsequent business-written trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As Obama’s Secretary of State, she backed the TPP.

“It’s not hard to see the connection,” Shuler said. Clinton’s doubts on “free trade” and the TPP were “seen as late and as political pandering.”

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AFT Cuts Ties to Wells Fargo over Bank’s Support for Gun Lobby.

Putting its money where its mouth is, the American Federation of Teachers has dumped its ties with Wells Fargo Bank and its program to offer lower-cost mortgages to teachers and staffers because of the big bank’s strong ties to and its funding of the National Rifle Association.

At the same time AFT released a report detailing how top investment firms – including firms that manage teachers’ pension money – are either dumping gun company stocks from their portfolios or using the power of the purse to force the companies into moves to curb gun access, end the availability of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and introduce measures to curb individual gun deadliness.

Union President Randi Weingarten announced the move against Wells Fargo and unveiled the report on April 19. The report is available on the union’s website.

The next day, AFT members and state and local officers, joined by their colleagues from the National Education Association (NEA) and the School Administrators (AFSA), staged the latest in a series of campaigns nationwide seeking stronger gun control measures, banning guns in schools, and denouncing the NRA, the powerful “gun lobby.”

Tens of thousands of students, teachers, staffers and administrators, walked out of schools seeking safety measures.  April 20 was the 19th anniversary of the school massacre in Columbine, Colo.

A count of students killed in fatal shootings in K-12 schools, plus the Virginia Tech massacre, yields 216 dead from Columbine through the Feb. 14 massacre of 14 students, two teachers and the school’s athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Just before the national walkout on April 20, a student at Forest High School in Ocala, Fla., shot another student, wounding the 17-year-old in the ankle.

Forest High students barricaded themselves in classrooms, stacking desks and chairs against doors and told CNN they could hear students in other classrooms crying.

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Service Sector Women Reveal Harassment on the Job

What do AFA President Sara Nelson and a woman hotel bartender from Chicago have in common?  Three things: They’re both women, they’re union members and they’ve both been sexually harassed – or have learned about it – on the job.

And that brought Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and Roushaunda, a bartender at a Chicago hotel and member of Unite Here Local 1 – who declined to give her last name for fear of retribution – to tell lawmakers on March 20 about conditions on their jobs. Several other women joined them.

While the #MeToo movement has come in a big way to Capitol Hill and around the country, exposing harassers and rapers ranging from prominent politicians to movie moguls to media personalities to Olympic trainers, most featured women have been in white-collar jobs. But the witnesses told the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues the problem is more pervasive – and insidious – in service-sector jobs, especially low-paying ones.

“I’ll never forget one incident when I was waiting on a table of four men,” dressed in business suits, in an upscale Chicago restaurant, said Roushaunda, now an activist with her local in its successful citywide campaign for an anti-harassment ordinance.

“I walked up to the table to take their order. One of them asked me for my name. When I brought the drinks to their table, he slapped me on the rear end and said ‘Thank you.’ It was such a violation. I was shocked he thought he could get away with it. I told him ‘Don’t ever do that again.’”

But she couldn’t report the harassment to her supervisor, Roushaunda told the lawmakers. The slap occurred in her first months on the job, she didn’t have union protection – yet – and she feared getting fired. She needed the money.

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DOL Did Not Survey Bosses About Grabbing Worker Tips

The Trump administration Labor Department did not survey the “quantitative” impact of letting bosses grab workers’ tips before yanking the Obama adminis-tration rule designed to prevent such wage theft, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta admitted.

And he won’t reinstate the ban on tip theft, either, he told lawmakers on March 6.

Instead, Acosta wants to replace the ban with a rule that, congressional Democrats and worker advocates say, would allow the tip theft.

The pro-tip theft rule is one of many anti-worker actions agencies imposed since Trump took over. But it’s drawn particular flak because DOL didn’t run the numbers on its impact, and because it would harm low-wage workers, especially working women. The pro-tip theft rule is also a key cause of the anti-worker National Restaurant Association.

Acosta said DOL did a “qualitative” survey on tip theft, but he won’t release it. While DOL didn’t run the numbers on the tip theft, the Economic Policy Institute, using federal data, did, in mid-January. It reported if Trump’s rule takes effect, the average tipped worker could lose a minimum of $1,000 yearly – and tipped workers are among those who can least afford such losses.

EPI’s analysis showed tipped workers would lose a minimum of $5.8 billion yearly due to employers pocketing the tips, and – in a worse-case scenario listed in one chart -- $13 billion. And working women would suffer 80 percent of the losses. Lawmakers cited both figures while questioning Acosta at the March 6 hearing on DOL’s budget.

"DOL has masked the fact this rule would be a windfall to restaurant owners and other employers — out of the pockets of tipped workers — by making it sound as if this rule is about tip pooling. Of course, once employers have full control of tips, one of the things they could do with those tips is distribute them to ‘back of the house’ workers like dishwashers and cooks.”

But Acosta’s replacement rule “does not require employers to distribute the tips, so employers would be no more likely to share tips with back-of-the-house workers than they would be to make any other choice about what to do with a business windfall,” EPI commented. They could use the tip money to “make capital improvements, to increase executive pay, or to line their own pockets.”


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NLRB’S Joint Employer Rule on Again after GOP Board Member’s Vote Tossed

The National Labor Relations Board’s on-again off-again rule holding joint employers – the corporate headquarters of a chain – and its individual franchises jointly responsible for obeying or breaking labor law is on again.

That’s because the board had to toss out its decision last year reversing the Obama-era rule after Trump-named GOP board member William Emanuel, formerly a management-side labor lawyer from Los Angeles, voted illegally in the case, NLRB’s Inspector General ruled.

That left the three remaining three members of the NLRB, two Democrats and the sole Republican, no choice but to dump their old decision. They did so on Feb. 26.

It also left House Democrats calling for a hearing on Emanuel’s illegal vote, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate Labor Committee, denouncing Emanuel’s “conflict of interest,” praising the board’s reversal and reiterating every NLRB member “should be squarely focused on ensuring workers’ rights are fairly upheld.”

But Murray did not demand a hearing on Emanuel, yet. A call to her office asking what she would specifically do about his conflict of interest was not returned.

Meanwhile the ruling House Republicans urged their Senate counterparts to approve an already-passed bill outlawing the NLRB’s old joint employer decision.

The joint employer ruling could affect millions of workers in chains such as Motel 6, McDonald’s, Burger King and the like. That’s because workers trying to either unionize or bargain can be bounced, without the joint employer rule, from pillar – corporate headquarters -- to post – the local franchise.


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Agency fees and the future of the union movement hit the Supreme Court

“Agency fees,” paid by non-union public workers whom unions represent in many states, hit the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 26. But what was really at stake was the future of the union movement. “You’re basically arguing, ‘Do away with unions,’” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the attorney for the union foes who brought the case, William Messenger of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund. 

As the justices heard the case inside the court’s white-marbled hall, unionists made themselves heard outside. More than 1,000 demonstrated for worker rights on the plaza outside the building. And they drew support from pro-choice, civil rights and community allies. A much smaller group supported the right to work crowd. The case is the most important labor case to hit the High Court in decades, said attorneys for both the union and the state of Illinois, whose law lets AFSCME collect the agency fees from the non-members. 

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Teamsters AFSCME, Retirees Slam GOP Plan to Hand Tax Breaks to Rich

The House Republicans’ tax cut for the rich drew slams from the nation’s largest union for public workers and a top retiree group, thanks to elimination of deductions that would help fund government services and help seniors pay their medical bills.

The Alliance for Retired Americans, AFSCME and the Teamsters joined a growing chorus of criticism of the tax plan. Meanwhile, an alliance of more than 400 groups spread over 20 states mobilized to pressure lawmakers to defeat it (see separate story).

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, whose tax panel will start work on the measure on November 6, released it after GOP lawmakers crafted it behind closed doors. The GOP Trump administration strongly supports it and claims it will help middle-class people save several thousand dollars each through an increased personal exemption. But House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., later trumpeted savings of $1,148.

AFSCME and ARA said it will have the exact opposite effect, because the increased personal exemption does little to offset the rising medical costs seniors shoulder which are now partially deductible, or state and local taxes, which are fully deductible.

“Exacerbating the problems they are creating, the House and the Trump administration would no longer allow Americans, including retirees, to deduct their medical expenses, including nursing home costs or out of pocket medical or dental expenses from their taxes,” ARA Executive Director David Blank said.

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Building Trades Seek $4 Billion Annually for Infrastructure

The U.S. needs to spend $4 billion yearly, four times as much as the Trump administration requested, for infrastructure repairs, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions said.

And that’s what the unions will lobby for, added NABTU President Sean McGarvey. And there must be “a dedicated funding source,” including an increased federal gasoline tax, to provide the money, he contended.

McGarvey and construction union presidents James Callahan of the Operating Engineers, Robert Martinez of the Machinists and Lonnie Stephenson of the Electrical Workers made the case for more money at an Oct. 23 press conference during the AFL-CIO Convention in St. Louis.

Despite the recovery from the Great Recession, the U.S. still has great unmet infrastructure needs, the four said. They include old water pipes, underground utilities which break down, cracking and decaying roads and a creaky electrical grid.

“We’re concerned about the funding, but also with the underground subsystems,” Callahan said. They’re “the sewers, the electrical lines and what’s below the roads. That’s why we’re trying to get a permanent (fiscal) ‘lockbox,’ both for funding structures and for hiring enough people.”

Repairing all that via a federal infrastructure law would put and keep even more construction workers on the job. 

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Unions Urge Action to Stop GOP Tax Scam

Communications Workers President Chris Shelton warned workers and their allies to act now against a planned Republican tax hike on the middle class.

“You may hear from Trump that it’s ‘tax reform.’ I want to caution you: That’s the usual bullshit,” the blunt former telephone lineman told union activists in an Oct. 26 conference call.

“What is being proposed is a tax cut for millionaires and billionaires,” Shelton said. “Donald Trump and the GOP leadership want to get this massive giveaway to their Wall Street friends through by the end of the year.

“This is another phase in the ongoing fight for decades to shift more and more of the wealth to the elites and away from the rest of us.”

Labor must mobilize through protests, call-ins swamping lawmakers’ switchboards, constant visits to congressional offices and educating the public on the real impact of the tax cut, Shelton said. His union is already preparing materials to educate voters about how it would hurt them.

Congress’ GOP leaders plan to roll out a tax legislation on Nov. 1 that would cost $1.5 trillion over a decade. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., aims to pass it by Thanksgiving.

The tax bill would cut top tax rates for the rich, but raise tax rates – from 10 percent to 12 percent – for those who earn the least. And it would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.

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Michigan State Panel Opens Way For Cancelling Contracts Covering State Workers

Another day, another way to put the screws to Michigan's union members.

On September 20, the Michigan Civil Service Commission (MCSC), over the vehement protests of state employee unions, gave the state the authority to override collective bargaining contracts for state employees during financial emergencies.

The commission also gave government managers ultimate authority for how employees receive overtime, are reassigned after layoffs, while reducing the issues upon which they're allowed to bargain.

The worker “reforms” are the most significant since the state legislature adopted right-to-work laws for public and private workers in 2012.  The Michigan push for so-called RTW laws is part of a national campaign by the right wing, its business backers and their GOP handmaidens to emasculate and destroy workers and unions, especially public worker unions.

This time, it was a ruling by the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which voted 3-1 to approve the new language, covering the state's nearly 50,000 employees. The three supporters were Republican-appointed.

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Redistricting Case Could Profoundly Impact U.S. Democracy

David Sobelsohn Supreme Court Correspondent, Press Associates

A case argued before the Supreme Court October 3, Gill v. Whitford, could have profound ramifications not only for American workers, but for the future of American democracy.

In 2011, for the first time in over 40 years, Wisconsin Republicans controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. Armed with the 2010 census, sophisticated metrics, and the latest computers, the Republicans -- in secret -- set about redrawing legislative district lines.  

They rejected one map after another as too balanced, too fair to Democrats.  Finally, by packing most Democratic voters into just a few districts, and by scattering other Democrats into majority-Republican districts, the Republicans drew the most partisan map possible.

It worked. In the 2012 election, though most Wisconsin voters voted for Democratic candidates for the State Assembly, Republicans seized 60 of its 99 seats.

Republican legislative domination had a calamitous effect on workers’ rights. In 2015, the Wisconsin legislature enacted so-called “right to work” legislation, letting union nonmembers use union services -- collective bargaining and grievance settlement -- without paying for them, denying unions money they need for just such services.  

Then, in 2017, the legislature prohibited Wisconsin local governments from requiring their contractors to hire union workers, banning Project Labor Agreements on taxpayer-funded construction.  

Predictably, Wisconsin unions have suffered a precipitous drop in membership, to
8.1 percent of the state’s workforce -- a drop of 40 percent in just ten years. Membership
dues have fallen nearly 50 percent.

How could the U.S. Constitution permit this?  

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Trump Administration Decision to Side with Corporations Injures Workers’ Ability to Seek Redress

The Trump administration’s Justice Department’s decision to side with employers in saying mandatory arbitration overrides federal labor law hurts millions of workers, the top employment lawyer at the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute says.

And if the employers, and Trump’s government, win, employers will be freer than ever to use “private contracts to eviscerate the public rights Congress protected in the National Labor Relations Act,” EPI counsel Celine McNicholas adds.

McNicholas published a long analysis of the case, Murphy Oil v NLRB, even before the Justice Department revised its prior brief sent to the U.S. Supreme Court on mandatory arbitration. DOJ now sides with the employers. The justices will hear Murphy Oil on October 3.

Workers at three firms, Murphy Oil and its 1,000 gas stations, Epic Systems and the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, all sued as classes saying their firms illegally denied them overtime pay. The National Labor Relations Board sided with the workers, and threw out mandatory arbitration of their complaints, but the firms went to court, and lower courts split.

Until now, the department defended the NLRB, which has regularly thrown out mandatory arbitration agreements bosses force workers to sign as conditions of employment.

The pacts force workers to take all disputes with bosses – including disputes covered by labor law, such as over wages and working conditions – to mandatory arbitration, and to give up their rights to sue under labor law if they lose. Bosses win most arbitration cases.

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Sanders and Co. Unveil Medicare-for-All Bill in Washington

In what was billed as a press conference but was really a campaign rally, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., formally introduced his Medicare for All legislation on Sept. 12.

But in an indication of the changed political optics of the measure, which would establish single-payer government-run national health insurance, Sanders and his supporters from National Nurses United – whose members provided a big share of the standing-room only crowd in a large Senate hearing room -- aren’t lone wolves on the issue anymore.

Medicare for All has been a top NNU cause for years, and Sanders’ long championship of it led them to be the first union to endorse his Democratic presidential bid. Some 21 unions strongly pull for Medicare for All, including the Steelworkers and the Amalgamated Transit Union. The AFL-CIO recently strongly endorsed it as a prime health care option, not just a future distant goal.

“We have been working across the country for many years to bring to life a more humane health care system,” said Melissa Johnson-Camacho, the NNU member and oncology registered nurse from Northern California who flew in to speak at Sanders’ event.

“We want one based on patient needs, not pain and profit. I am here to advocate for my patients,” she declared. A cancer diagnosis now, even with enactment of the Affordable Care Act seven years ago, means not just pain and suffering, but still, for many, financial ruin, said Johnson-Camacho, who treats cancer patients.

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New Report Shows No Link Between Corporate Tax Cuts and Job Creation

Advocates of huge corporate tax cuts contend such incentives to “job creators” leads to higher employment, but a new report, investigating past tax cuts’ impact and subsequent job outcomes, reveals that’s wrong.

Instead, Sam Pizzigati and Sarah Anderson, co-editors of at the Institute for Policy Studies, discovered through public records that more than half of the big firms they studied – 48 out of 92 -- which already pay taxes at low rates, actually cut jobs.

Their 32-page report directly contradicts claims by business lobbies and congressional Republicans, all the way back to the Reagan administration and its infamous Laffer Curve.

The two probed the finances and job creation records of 92 Standard and Poors top 500 firms whose tax rates would be as low or lower than the 15 percent corporate rate GOP President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., want to enact.

“These findings beg an obvious question: If these tax-dodging firms are not creating jobs, what are these firms doing with all their proceeds from tax avoidance? Available numbers do make plain that tax-dodging firms are routinely funneling more money into the pockets of their top executives than other big firms,” the two write.

“Our corporate executive class has spent recent years framing corporate ‘tax relief’ as a clear benefit for workers. In fact, lower corporate tax rates benefit only top executives. Our national debate over corporate tax rates should focus on ensuring the corporations these executives run pay their full and fair tax share.”

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Democratic Leaders Promise to Block National Right-to-Work (For Less) Bill

The Democrats’ top two congressional leaders have told the Teamsters that they will do everything possible to block a proposed so-called “national right to work” bill from passing the GOP-run Congress.

But while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made that pledge, she can do little to halt the legislation, authored by right-wing anti-worker and anti-Hispanic Rep. Peter King, R-Iowa.

The story is different with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Backed by his 46-member Democratic Caucus, plus two independents – Maine’s Angus King and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders – who usually support Democratic positions, Schumer controls enough votes to sustain a filibuster. They can thus talk RTW to death.

Right-to-work, which workers and their allies call “right to work for less,” has been a key business and right wing cause for more than 70 years, but now it’s only allowed state-by-state, under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which emasculated U.S. labor law.

King wants to nationalize RTW. Other national Republicans agree. They would let non-union members covered by union contracts use union services – bargaining and grievances – without paying one red cent for them. That robs unions of needed money to defend all workers.

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Labor Leaders Seek Stronger Protections in New NAFTA

Interrupting a parade of corporate witnesses and lobbyists, union representatives outlined tough and enforceable pro-worker standards for a “new NAFTA” before a special trade panel studying the issue.

AFL-CIO representative Thea Lee, Machinists Chief of Staff Owen Hernstadt and Teamsters Legislative Representative Mike Dolan told the International Trade Commission that, as Lee put it, the current NAFTA “has provided tremendous benefits to CEOs and wealthy corporations, but has not benefited working people.”

“Too much emphasis has been given to theoretically small net gains” from the current NAFTA, “and too little to the disruptions” to workers and communities from the controversial, jobs-losing U.S.-Mexico-Canada “free trade” pact, said Lee, a trade and economics specialist who will soon formally retire from a top AFL-CIO job.

Lee, Owen and Hernstadt spoke on June 28, the second of three days of the “new NAFTA” hearings. United Auto Workers Legislative Director Josh Nassar spoke the next day (see separate story). The panel is gathering data for negotiators to use in talks with Mexico and Canada on a new pact to replace the 23-year-old agreement.

Those talks, unlike negotiations that produced the current NAFTA, must be open and aboveboard, said Lee. Plus, each NAFTA country must “demonstrate it adopted and enforced international labor law standards before an agreement goes into place,” added Hernstadt.

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Labor Leaders Protest Labor Department Elimination of Reporting Rule

The Teamsters and the AFL-CIO are protesting the latest Republican Labor Department plan to roll back a pro-worker regulation, the June 9 announcement that DOL would weaken its recent “persuader rule.”

That rule, unveiled in March 2016, would force “persuaders” – more-commonly known as union-busters – to disclose in more detail and more often how much they spend and which companies they work for.

Unions and their allies lobbied the Obama administration DOL to tighten the “persuader rule” to make it like the detailed disclosures DOL now requires from unions. Court rulings weakened it so much that the “persuaders” could literally get away with just about anything.

In so many words, persuaders did not have to disclose their actions and spending to DOL, unless they had “direct contact” with workers, not when they “advise” bosses on how to stop organizing drives.  Under Obama, DOL agreed to extend disclosure to cover “indirect contact” through employers, eliminating  “the advice exemption” from persuaders’ reports.

That would have tightened up the persuader rule – and forced the union busters to reveal their activities. But just after last November’s election, a GOP-named federal judge in rural Texas, at the behest of the right wing National Federation of Independent Business, stopped the persuader rule change in its tracks with a nationwide injunction.

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GOP Congressmen Propose Bill Trashing Labor Law, Workers’ Rights

Maybe it was only just a matter of time, but Congress’ ruling Republicans, not content with picking off workers’ rights one by one, are launching a concerted effort to trash federal labor law – and workers’ rights – wholesale.

Leaders are Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the #4 Republican on the ideologically polarized House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., both from deep-red, union-hostile states. Roe frequently authors anti-worker and anti-union measures.

If they succeed, Roe, Isakson and their colleagues would accomplish the most-comprehensive – but worst, from workers’ point of view – rewrite of the National Labor Relations Act since the GOP-run Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over Democratic President Harry S Truman’s veto in 1947.  Taft-Hartley gutted many NLRA protections.

Isakson’s bill deals with one issue: He would outlaw what the GOP calls “micro-unions,” where a 2011 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling lets unions organize groups of workers within a plant, in lieu of the whole plant. He has Republican leadership support.

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Trump Budget Proposes 18 Percent Worker Cut at NLRB

Republican President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the year starting Oct. 1 proposes cutting workers at the National Labor Relations Board by 18 percent, detailed figures show. The reduction would be from 1,596 workers in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, to 1,320 in the following year.

If the GOP-run Congress agrees, the board’s budget would also decline slightly, from $274 million this fiscal year, to $258 million in fiscal 2018. The board oversees and rules on labor-management conflicts from the private sector, except for railroads and airlines.

The budget blueprint also says the Trump administration wants to ban the board from instituting a rule to permit electronic voting in union representation elections. Workers and their allies have been pushing for electronic voting to take advantage of new technology and to lessen the potential for boss’ intimidation at voting sites.

The budget did not justify the deep cut in NLRB workers, other than to forecast the agency’s caseload would decline. It also did not specify which workers would be let go.

But the budget predicts the board would handle 19,809 labor law-breaking – formally called unfair labor practices – cases in the new fiscal year, some 1,500 fewer complaints than this year. ULP complaints and cases account for the overwhelming majority of NLRB actions.

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AFL-CIO, Allies Disappointed in Trump’s NAFTA Renegotiation Letter

Republican President Donald Trump’s formal letter notifying lawmakers that he intends to renegotiate NAFTA, the jobs-losing 23-year-old U.S.-Mexico-Canada “free trade” pact, doesn’t go far enough, the AFL-CIO and its allies say.

In particular, any new NAFTA must ensure Mexico not only lives up to international labor rights standards, but raises its wages to livable levels, congressional Democrats said.

The Economic Policy Institute calculates the trade pact cost up to a million U.S. industrial jobs since its enactment. On the campaign trail last year, Trump called NAFTA “a disaster,” but his letter says a lot less, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka notes.

“A good outcome is far from guaranteed” from the new bargaining, Trumka explained. “While the president has called NAFTA the worst trade deal in history, his administration has given conflicting signals as to its priorities, raising the prospect that some of NAFTA’s most problematic elements could remain intact.

In a new NAFTA, “we must elevate and effectively enforce workers’ rights and environmental standards, eliminate excessive corporate privileges, prioritize good jobs and safeguard democracy. This is the standard we will use to judge any renegotiation...We will continue to fight to fix a trade deal that wreaked havoc on working families.”

The Democrats concentrated on Mexico’s low wages, its failure to live up to universal labor standards, and the impact on U.S. factory workers. They’ll also focus on “who is involved in the negotiations,” and they want to kill its secret pro-corporate trade courts, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. NAFTA benefited multinationals, who exercised huge influence on it.

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