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Eight Holiday Gifts American Workers Need

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

It’s that time of the year – the most wonderful time of the year, the hap-happiest season of all. There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and utility repair workers out in the snow.

It’s great, all right. You know what would make it better, though? Eight Hanukkah days of gifts for workers. Maybe a stocking stuffed with presents for those who labor 52 weeks a year, without a paid sick day, pension benefits or employer-sponsored health insurance. 

For those stumped by this proposition, I’ve made a list. I’ve checked it twice. On it are eight gifts that would convert workers’ blue, blue, blue, blue Christmases to white.

  • Tonka Trucks. For the adults who drive the real backhoes, excavators, bulldozers, motor graders, pavers, and concrete trucks, who build the massive tires on which giant trucks roll, who refine the oil to make the gasoline that powers those vehicles, who forge the steel and smelt the aluminum to construct those trucks – for all of those workers – Congress must pass a $2 trillion infrastructure bill. That’s right, $2 trillion. That’s what the American Society of Civil Engineers recommends spending over 10 years to clean the nation’s drinking water, update harbors and airports, repair crumbling roads and bridges, and secure dams and levees. The civil engineers know. They’re the ones who design these vital assets. And they’ve given the nation a D grade for their condition since 1998. Infrastructure investment would improve citizens’ safety, ease commerce and create millions of good, family-supporting jobs
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Workers Petition Congress: Protect Our Pensions

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

The total number of workers at risk is 1.2 million. In my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), 100,000 are threatened. Daryl A. Bugbee of Olivet, Mich., is one of them. He wrote Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions on Aug. 8:

“I am the father of a special needs child who will always need assistance. Without my pension, I will not be able to help meet his needs.”

Workers like Daryl count on that money. Most didn’t earn enough to invest in stocks or a 401(k) for retirement. The pension was everything.

Now, they’re vulnerable because 8 percent of multiemployer pensions are collapsing. This is not the workers’ fault. Often, it’s not even the employers’ fault. It’s because of economic forces that couldn’t be predicted and Congressional decisions to deregulate Wall Street and ignore trade violations.

Now, these workers are justifiably looking to Congress for help. Daryl pleaded, “I am writing to urge you to take action needed to restore the failing pension plans.”

Congress could help. It moved in that direction by establishing the Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions. The committee set a deadline of Nov. 30 to recommend a solution. But after researching for a year and conducting five hearings, the committee appears paralyzed. That’s no help to Daryl and 1.2 million other working and retired people facing financial crisis.

“Please adopt legislation that would protect our benefits,” Daryl implored.

Legislation was introduced last year that would protect the pensions. It’s called the Butch Lewis Act. It would enable the Treasury Department to sell bonds to finance long-term low-interest loans to the troubled pension plans. That’s what Daryl and the 300 other USW members who wrote the Joint Select Committee this year want. Or something similar. They won’t nitpick. They’re scared.

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A Challenge to the Freshmen – and Freshwomen – Democrats

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

In his victory speech on election night, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb said he would always remember the union members who helped him defeat two Republican incumbents in one year.

“Side by side with us at each step of the way were men and women of organized labor. . .  I will never forget that. I will never forget that. Thank you,” he told a cheering crowd overflowing a ballroom at the Hilton DoubleTree, 20 miles north of Pittsburgh.

In his first contest last spring, in a district that went for President Donald Trump by nearly 20 points and that had elected a Republican to the House for 15 years, Lamb received massive support in the form of door knocking and phone banking from members of the labor union I lead, the United Steelworkers, and from several others, including the Service Employees International Union.

Lamb recalled that help when he listed his priorities on his website. They include, he wrote, “protecting Social Security and Medicare as well as fighting for good jobs and strong unions.” And he spoke with pride of his connection to labor at his victory party, “These unions have fought for decades for wages, benefits, working conditions, basic dignity and social justice. . . . You have brought me into your ranks to fight with you. . . I am proud to be right there with you.”

Unfortunately, he’s an exception. Far too many so-called representatives of the people forget the working men and women who volunteered their valuable time to canvass and call and convince for them. They respond only to the demands of CEOs and Wall Street fat cats. Captured by big money, they neglect their roots, renege on their promises, obstruct organized labor.

That’s how workers get crushed with crappy trade deals like NAFTA. That’s how anti-union legislation gets passed. That’s how OSHA is underfunded and the minimum wage is emaciated.

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Make America Vote

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Make America Vote
Art by WeArt on Getty Images

The voter turnout last Tuesday was historic – the highest in half a century, nearly half of the eligible electorate participated, an amazing number for a midterm.

The United States Election Project estimates turnout at 49.2 percent. How high would it have risen sans voter suppression – 55 percent, 60 percent?

Who might have won without the strangulation of some voters’ voices? Would Democrat Stacey Abrams have trounced Georgia Republican Brian Kemp, who acted both as candidate for governor and militant for suppression?

Like all disenfranchisers, Kemp did everything he could to choose his voters, making sure to disqualify electors likely to support his opponent’s effort to become the state’s first African American woman governor. That’s right. He targeted Black voters.

Kemp and his vote-stifling cohorts are upending the goal of a representative democracy. In a democratic republic, voters choose their representatives – not the other way around. Republicans are defiling America’s promise of self-governance by erecting obstacles to the ballot. To be great, America must clear the path to the polls, perhaps even mandating voting like Australia. There, turnout is more than 90 percent. 

The founding fathers created a country on the premise of self-governance, that each American was a citizen endowed with the right to self-determination. Those revolutionaries fought a war over their declaration that Americans were not subjects bound by whims of a monarch. Still, it took nearly another century and another war for Black Americans to gain freedom from enslavement. Even then, African American men only nominally gained the right to vote. And American women wouldn’t get the franchise for another half a century.

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China Grabs 3.4 Million American Jobs

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Everything is great, right? Unemployment is the lowest in half a century. The economy is churning out a high GDP. Home values are rising rapidly again. Inflation remains low.

Still, the stock market has been crashing in recent weeks. Investors don’t like President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. It makes them nervous.

Nervous. They have no idea. Since 2001, when the United States agreed to allow China into the World Trade Organization, U.S. workers have been nervous every day. Twenty-four hours a day. Three hundred and sixty-five days a year. They fear losing their jobs to China. And rightly so. A study by the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released this week shows the growth in the U.S. trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2017 cost 3.4 million American workers their jobs. (Photo is of Lisa Crissman at the Flabeg factory that laid her and 100 other workers off in 2012 when it closed and moved auto mirror manufacturing to China and Brazil.Photo by Steve Dietz, UnionPix, www.unionpix.com)

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Americans Want a Manufacturing Overhaul and They Want It Now

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Lately it feels as if the United States is anything but united. From climate change to universal health care, from Kanye West to the validity of pumpkin spice, Americans seem divided over every issue under the sun.

But a new survey reveals there is at least one thing on which the majority of this country agrees.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) recently conducted a poll of 1,200 general election voters and found that most Americans, even across party lines, believe that U.S. manufacturing is critical to maintaining national security. They also believe workers deserve better wages and countries that cheat or side-step trade commitments should be held accountable.

Last month, the Department of Defense issued a report confirming that what American voters believe is right – U.S. manufacturing is crucial to national security. The report says that the department currently relies on China and other potential rival countries for essential materials to produce everything from steel armor plate to lithium ion batteries.

“The ability of the military to surge in response to an emergency depends on our nation’s ability to produce needed parts and systems, healthy and secure supply chains, and a skilled U.S. workforce,” the report states. “Not only is the manufacturing sector the backbone of U.S. military technical advantage, but also a major contributor to the U.S. economy.”

Both the AAM survey and the Defense Department’s conclusions prove the labor movement was right when it advocated for years for robust yet strategic policies to support domestic manufacturing. Programs reinforcing manufacturing are popular, but more importantly, they are vital to America’s basic survival.

Manufacturing is an economic generator. Every new manufacturing job supports 3.6 jobs in other sectors. Manufacturing also accounts for 60 percent of the country’s exports and 12 percent of its GDP, according to the Defense report.

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Stealth Coup by the Rich

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Democracy is tough for 1 percenters.

They’ve got all that money but, hypothetically, no more voting power than their chauffeur or yacht captain or nanny.

In this one-person, one-vote democracy, though, they’ve got a plan to fix all that for themselves. They’re paying for it. And they’re accomplishing it, even though that means stripping voting rights from non-rich minority groups. Their goal is to make America more of a one-dollar, one-vote plutocracy.

Their scheme is deeply offensive to democratic ideals. In a perfect democracy, each citizen possesses the same power of self-governance as all other individuals, no matter how poor or rich, no matter their religion or skin color, no matter their country of origin or ancestry.

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Kavanaugh’s Disdain for Worker Safety Disqualifies Him

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

In his statement to Congress this week during his confirmation hearing, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said his mother taught him that judges must always stand in the shoes of others.

Though hardly original or deeply inspirational, it’s not bad advice. The problem is that Kavanaugh never chooses steel-toed work boots. In every case involving workers, Kavanaugh has put himself instead in the wingtips of CEOs. He is a man born to wealth and privilege who attended Georgetown Preparatory, one of the most expensive private high schools in the country, with annual tuition of nearly $57,000, followed by a similarly exclusive Ivy League college education.

The vast majority of Americans cannot conceive of paying $228,000 to get a kid through high school. Kavanaugh’s opinions illustrate that he has no idea how to relate to them, and, in fact, doesn’t care to try to understand people with grit under their fingernails. That makes him, as a Supreme Court justice, dangerous to working people.

The case that perfectly illustrates Kavanaugh’s carelessness toward workers and obsequiousness toward corporations is SeaWorld v. U.S. Secretary of Labor Tomas Perez. Kavanaugh authored the dissent. Writing for the majority was Judge Judith W. Rogers, joined by Merrick Garland, Chief Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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Labor Day: 24 Hours When Workers Are Human

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Labor Day: 24 Hours When Workers Are Human
By Getty Images

Labor Day recognizes the humanity of workers. It commemorates their year-long efforts with time off dedicated relaxation, family, friends, and barbeques.

There’s no holiday for robots, raw materials, or the energy that animates the machines of manufacturing. Because, of course, they’re not human.

Somehow, though, business schools and the corporate executives they spit out have lumped workers together with robots and raw materials as “inputs,” as if laborers aren’t human. That makes it easier for CEOs in ungodly profitable corporations to deny workers raises. U.S. CEOs and shareholders can seize for themselves all the gains produced by faceless inputs.

And that’s what they’ve done. Republicans gave corporations a massive tax break this year with the promise that executives would share those gains with workers, to the tune of $4,000 to $9,000 raises each. The U.S. Commerce Department reported last week that after-tax corporate profits rose 16.1 percent in the second quarter, the largest year-over-year rise in six years. But corporations didn’t use that money for raises. Instead they bought back record amounts of their own stock, boosting the market to all-time highs, making the rich richer, while workers’ wages actually declined when inflation was factored in. This has been going on for decades, with workers’ wages flat since 1973.

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Corporations Owe Americans More

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

The stock market is effervescent. Unemployment seems inexorably descendent. On financial news shows, someone always is singing, “Happy Days are Here Again.”

But the chorus isn’t so cheery on factory floors. There are no Happy Days at the Harley plant to be shuttered in Kansas City, destroying 800 jobs as the corporation spends its big fat tax break on stock buy-backs instead. There’s no joy at a Kimberly-Clark plant in Wisconsin where hundreds learned in January that the corporation would use its tax break to cover the cost of closing their factory – and eight others.

In fact, there’s bitterness among blue collar workers whose wages have flat-lined for decades, then declined in May and June, even as CEO compensation skyrocketed 17.6 percent last year.

Happy Days? Only for the already rich – for stockholders and CEOs and trust fund babies. For the rest, every day still is a struggle. That’s the way it has worked in the United States for the past several decades. But it didn’t before that. And it doesn’t have to now. Citizens have the right, and arguably the responsibility, to change the rules under which corporations operate. Doing that would alter outcomes for American workers, give them more say in corporate governance, raise their pay and reduce offshoring.

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Union Matters

Even Super Good Times Sometimes Stop Rolling

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

India’s self-styled “King of the Good Times,” the Kingfisher beer and airline baron Vijay Mallya, seems to be in store for lots of not-so-good times. This past September, a local court ordered the sale of the super yacht Mallya had abandoned in Malta — complete with 40 crewmembers — after his arrest in London on fraud and money-laundering charges. Earlier this month, another court ruling awarded the abandoned crew almost $1 million in back pay. Mallya is now fighting extradition to India. The cells in India’s Mumbai Central Prison, he’s complained to British authorities, lack natural light. The 62-year-old is also tweeting regularly that he’s not getting “fair treatment” from politicians and the media. Mallya’s yacht, meanwhile, has begun a new life as a charter boat renting for $850,000 per week.

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Who Really Pays for Tax Cuts?

Who Really Pays for Tax Cuts?