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Key Lawmaker, Unions, Discussing Ways To Fund Infrastructure

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Richard Neal isn’t waiting for Donald Trump to act to repair and upgrade U.S. infrastructure.

The Massachusetts Democrat, who this year took over the chair of the key tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, has been meeting with colleagues, union leaders and even some businesses to figure out where to find funds for that objective.

Their aim: Garner enough money, from raising the federal gas tax and elsewhere, to repair crumbling highways, replace broken bridges, upgrade aging subways and airports, modernize the electric grid and install new water lines instead of relying on 100-year-old mains, among other projects.

And the unionists are going to lobby federal lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, for whatever new funds are needed, several leaders pledged this week.

They won’t have much trouble making their case. On the morning of an outdoor Capitol Hill press conference on the push, May 15, one participant, Rep. Michael Bost, R-Mo., found out that “I-44 westbound in my district” north of St. Louis “was closed when they found a 6-inch crack” in road’s superstructure.

“It’s a safety issue,” the former firefighter added. “How would you like to have your house on fire and have the truck hook up to a hydrant, and the water main serving it breaks?”

Neal’s discussions, with members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and with the 85-member House Labor and Working Families Caucus, come as once again lawmakers prepare to tackle the problems of U.S. infrastructure – problems that are so acute that the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the country a D+ grade on the issue.

 

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Infrastructure Advocates Warn Against Using Projects to Repeat Past Racial, Class Divisions

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Running east-west through the middle of the Little Rock, Ark., metro area, Interstate 630 divides Arkansas’ capital city from its top suburb in more ways than one.

Not only does the federally funded freeway split Little Rock on the south from North Little Rock on the north, but it also splits the whiter, richer north side of the metro area, from the poorer, black and brown south side.

That segregation’s intentional. And that’s common, from Detroit’s Eight Mile Road to Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway to New York City’s Robert Moses building bridges low enough so that city buses, carrying blacks, couldn’t drive under them on the way to the Big Apple’s beaches.

And that’s what advocates of pumping billions of new federal dollars U.S. highways, railroads, subways and airports want to prevent from happening again.

Studies show that from Baltimore to Detroit, from Little Rock to Chicago, highways – and, before them, railroads – were deliberately sited by governments and built by either governments or companies to maintain or extend racial and class segregation. And there were unusual twists like Moses’ anti-bus bridges, too.

And while an airport site might be neutral racially, flight paths the planes follow nationwide in takeoffs or landings are another matter, speakers at a May 13 infrastructure symposium said. Guess who suffers the most plane noise from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport? Hint, unless you’re on the North Shore late on summer evenings, it’s not ultra-ritzy Kenilworth.

And federally funded expressways not only split the races, but often, especially after the advent of mass suburbanization following World War II, permitted “white flight” from central cities, studies show.

So Chicago’s monstrous Dan Ryan Expressway not only separates whites from blacks on the South Side, deliberately, but lets other whites drive out of the Loop at night to the south and southwest suburbs.

Former Obama-era Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott and Teachers President Randi Weingarten don’t want to see a rerun of all that.

 

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Volkswagen Gets NLRB to Throw Legal Delay into New UAW Organizing Drive at Chattanooga

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Even as Volkswagen keeps saying it’s officially neutral, its bosses convinced the National Labor Relations Board to throw a legal delay into the United Auto Workers’ new organizing drive at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.

In response, the union has dropped the labor law-breaking – formally called unfair labor practices – charges it filed against VW in an ongoing dispute over whether the company must recognize UAW’s recognition win by Local 42 in the small unit of 160 unionized VW skilled trades workers there.

That withdrawal knocks the props out from under the company’s maneuver, opening the way for a vote among all 1,700 Chattanooga workers, the union told the NLRB on May 9. The board, now dominated by Trump-named members, however, has yet to agree.

On May 3, by a 2-1 party-line vote, the NLRB sided with VW and delayed the vote.

The legal maneuvering marks UAW’s second attempt to organize all the Chattanooga workers in one of only two VW non-union plants worldwide. The other is in China.

UAW’s campaign to unionize Chattanooga, and a similar effort at Nissan’s plant in Mississippi, is part of the union’s drive to break through into foreign “transplant” auto factories in the traditionally and culturally union-hostile South.

In turn, the UAW drive is also part of organized labor’s wider focus on organizing the unorganized in the growing, but anti-union, region. Tennessee was 5.1% unionized and Tennessee was 5.5% unionized last year, federal calculations show.

Both U.S. and foreign automakers have been erecting plants in states of the old Confederacy in barely concealed gambits to avoid unions. And when UAW and other unions try to organize such plants, bosses play off white workers against their African-American colleagues in a time-tested “divide and conquer” campaign.

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Lawmakers Push to Enact Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Safety Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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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Six Dem Hopefuls Push Workers' Rights at Las Vegas Forum

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Six Democratic presidential hopefuls, vying for workers’ support in the 2020 primaries, pushed hard for workers’ rights at an all-day forum in Las Vegas April 27.

For five of them – Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and former Gov. John Hickenlooper (Colo.) – workers’ issues such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and strengthening the right to organize were front and center.

The sixth, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary under Democratic President Barack Obama, endorsed workers’ rights, too. But he made “right to housing” his top issue, having toured Las Vegas’ underground viaducts where homeless people sleep.

The six are among 21 Democrats, so far, vying for the nomination to take on anti-labor GOP incumbent Donald Trump next year. Support from organized labor is a key to their bids.

But there is a contrast between groups of unionized workers. One wing, predominantly minority, female, or both, has been organized by the Service Employees – co-sponsors of the Las Vegas event – and unions such as the Teachers, AFSCME and National Nurses United.

The other wing is still predominantly white male. Other candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, are appealing to them. One influential union representing that group, the Fire Fighters, endorsed Biden on April 29, while warning against the Democrats’ moving too far to the left.

And Biden picked up that endorsement while speaking at a Teamsters union hall in the key swing state of Pennsylvania.

But both wings agree on some key issues, especially labor law reform.

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SEIU Challenges Trump Ban on Payroll Deductions for Home Care Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Service Employees will legally challenge what they term a “racist” Trump administration ban on payroll deductions approved by home care workers, most of them African-American women and Latinas.

The ban, announced May 1 by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) – which is headed by an acolyte of GOP Vice President Mike Pence – says there may be no deductions from the workers’ paychecks for “third parties.”

That means home care workers, whether covered by union contracts or working for other employers, won’t have dues or anything else – from bus pass subsidies to health insurance premiums -- deducted, as of July 1.

The ban would affect thousands of workers, notably those SEIU and other unions organized among the nation’s 800,000-plus home care workers. The home care workers are already among the lowest-paid workers in the U.S., but unionized home care workers earn substantially more.

“Trump administration to home care workers: Here’s your poverty-level wage. Now let us tell you how to spend it,” the union headlined its announcement of their planned lawsuit against Trump’s CMMS and its anti-deductions rule.

“Women who care for seniors and people with disabilities will challenge Trump administration’s racist rule in court and defend their choice to stick together in their union,” SEIU added.

“The rule wrongly targets independent provider home care workers who, without a union, are faced with a physically and emotionally demanding job with a median wage of just $10.49 an hour, no healthcare, no paid sick time and no benefits,” the union said.

The Trump administration’s CMMS rule never mentions the words “union” or “dues” or “checkoff,” a reading of it shows. It just says the workers cannot authorize diverting part of their paychecks to unnamed “third parties.” CMMS said it received several thousand comments on the rule, but didn’t characterize them or recognize opposition from workers and unions.

SEIU says that “diversion” is just a right-wing dodge.

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

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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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Dem Leaders Dubious about New NAFTA Labor Rules

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The ruling Democrats on a key congressional committee on trade issues are dubious – at best – about the labor provisions of GOP President Donald Trump’s new NAFTA. And they’re letting Trump’s U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, know it. 

Not only that, but the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee doesn’t like the so-called free trade pact’s environmental safeguards either.

“As our committee prepares to consider the renegotiated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, we write to express our concerns regarding whether the new agreement will lead to meaningful and lasting labor reform in Mexico,” the Democrats, led by Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., wrote.

“Our question also stems from the fact that congressional Democrats concerned with whether trade agreement labor provisions will be meaningful have always been required to take a leap of faith: Vote first and hope to see changes later.  This time needs to be different,” they warned.

Their April 11 letter followed a hearing days before, featuring five union officials, plus Thea Lee of the Economic Policy Institute, outlining – in detail – holes in the proposed trade pact’s labor provisions, and particularly in enforcement of its worker rights section.

Unlike the current 26-year-old NAFTA, worker rights are in the text of the new pact, formally called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). But those rights comply with weak International Labour Organization standards, and could still allow rampant worker exploitation in Mexico, especially given Mexico’s terrible record on worker rights, company-controlled unions and outright repression.

U.S.-based multinational corporations have seized on Mexico’s weak labor and environmental laws, low pay, lax enforcement and overall repression to move everything from call centers to car production to Oreo cookie baking to Mexico. Those moves fulfilled labor’s prediction of massive U.S. job losses to Mexico after NAFTA.

The George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations pushed legislation implementing NAFTA over strenuous organized labor opposition. Under federal trade law, the Ways and Means Committee must consider – and cannot change – any such legislation, which both houses of Congress must then vote on.

That prospect has led labor to launch a campaign critical of the new NAFTA.

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New Labor College Launched in St. Paul

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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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Dem Presidential Hopefuls Address Building Trades Unionists

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

It’s called, in political parlance, “a cattle call.”

The phrase refers to what happens when presidential hopefuls parade their positions, one by one, before a group, large or small.

And that’s what nine Democrats – John Hickenlooper, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tim Ryan, Terry McAuliffe, Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Eric Swalwell, in that order – did before 3,000 construction workers at the April 10 session of North America’s Building Trades Unions’ legislative conference in D.C.

All supported pro-worker and particularly pro-building trades causes, recognizing the activists represent three million unionists, many of whom will vote in next year’s presidential primaries and caucuses.

But overriding the specifics was the fact that tens of thousands of construction workers in 2016 defected to GOP nominee Donald Trump, especially in the key Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where his narrow popular vote wins gave him Electoral College victory.

Several hopefuls acknowledged it, reminding the delegates Trump had broken his key promise to the building trades: A comprehensive plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, railroads, airports and other infrastructure.

Trump has yet to send a plan to Congress. Warren noted he lies when he talks about $1 trillion for infrastructure. Trump’s talking points produce only a $200 million plan, she said.

All the hopefuls endorsed Project Labor Agreements, where unions and contractors agree on union representation for workers in return for a set of work rules and grievance procedures to cover problems on the job. And the PLAs also set specific budgets for the projects.

Another cause, which all backed and which the unionists also took to Congress, is preserving the Davis-Bacon Act and its requirement that contractors pay prevailing wages on federally funded construction. Cut-rate contractors and their GOP allies have campaigned for years to eliminate Davis-Bacon, thus driving workers’ wages down.

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Union Matters

#BuildForTomorrow

From the AFL-CIO

It’s Infrastructure Week, a time to call on our elected leaders to rebuild and modernize America’s crumbling infrastructure.

This year’s Infrastructure Week comes at a time when 79% of voters say investing in America’s infrastructure is a top priority.

Here is what inaction is costing us:

Inaction is costing Americans an average of $3,000 every year.

It’s time to tell Washington to stop delaying. Take action and fix our infrastructure. Learn more at Infrastructure Week.

 “We cannot and will not tolerate more inaction. The future prosperity of working families and our communities across America is at stake, as is our national commitment to the simple but powerful idea that when we invest in the nation’s infrastructure, our economy expands and working people thrive.” —2017 AFL-CIO Convention Resolution 7: Reviving Our Communities and Putting Millions to Work Rebuilding the Country

 

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Every Worker's Right

Every Worker's Right