Category: From the USW International President

Amazon – and 56 Other Corporations – Took Your Tax Dollars

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Bernie Sanders, castigator of the one percent, is a millionaire now. So are Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Big whoop. There’s a crucial difference between these candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and the super wealthy – particularly 60 gigantic, massively profitable U.S. corporations. The candidates faithfully pay federal taxes. The corporations don’t.

That’s right. Sixty profitable corporations paid no federal taxes in 2018, twice the number that typically paid nothing in the years before the 2017 tax breaks took effect. In fact, it’s worse than that. Fifty-seven of these corporations demanded rebates from the government – which means taxpayers like you and me paid them to exist. These are corporations on the dole. They claim to hate socialism if it means Medicare for All, but they sure as hell love socialism when it’s welfare for them.

Sanders, Harris, Warren and other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination paid their taxes because they are patriots. Most working Americans pay a fair share to support their country. True citizens pay so that their nation can thrive. They pay so that the United States can afford to educate its citizens, pave its roads, operate its courts, care for its vulnerable and sustain its military. They pay because they understand they have a duty to the country that nurtured them, that protects them and that they love.

But too many U.S. corporations, which the U.S. Supreme Court has anointed with human rights, refuse to acknowledge their concomitant obligations. Corporations and the super wealthy pushed hard for the tax breaks Republicans bestowed on them in 2017. Fat cats paid untold tens of millions to dark money groups that served as cash cows for GOP candidates who, once elected, shepherded those tax breaks.

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Hard Knocks Turned Alison McIntosh Collectivist

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Alison McIntosh learned early that life is a little easier with help from friends. Her first professional job reinforced that notion. And now, as a University of Pittsburgh graduate student, she is asking her co-workers to embrace collectivism.

McIntosh, who is working toward a Ph.D. in critical and cultural studies, is urging her fellow teaching assistants, graduate student researchers, and teaching fellows – 2,000 of them altogether – to vote next week to join the United Steelworkers (USW) union. “We have more power collectively. We must work together and across the board,” she told me.

Though she knew little about unions before she started talking to organizers at Pitt, her life experiences compelled her to embrace the idea that if Pitt’s fragmented bunch of graduate researchers and teachers pulled together, their joint voice would be strong enough to persuade the university to make their lives a little easier. 

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Grad Students as Steelworkers

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Grad Students as Steelworkers
University of Pittsburgh Graduate Student Kim Garrett

The moniker “steelworker” generally evokes images of hulking mill buildings, steel-toed boots, and molten metal, not ivory towers, doctoral dissertations, and university research. But next week, 2,000 graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh will vote on whether to become members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

The USW has evolved since it was forged in 1942. Now its members build tires, smelt aluminum, make paper, refine oil, produce iPhone glass, serve as physicians, pharmacists and nurses, and teach university classes in the United States and Canada.

A blue collar is not required to be a USW member. All that’s necessary is a sense of belonging to a team of co-workers who believe they all benefit from banding together to jointly seek better wages and working conditions from their employer.

It’s not just the USW either. Other labor unions also have been organizing white-collar workers in record numbers. College instructors, full- and part-time, and grad student teachers and researchers have joined the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association but also the United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union.

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Republicans on Health Care: Do Vast Harm

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

This week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, a Republican, announced that his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, just hadn’t gone far enough when he asked a federal judge to kill the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, that is, stuff like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. 

Barr told an appeals court that he does not want it to merely murder that one provision but, instead, will insist that it massacre the ACA’s entire 1,990 pages  – death to every clause protecting patients from insurance company abuses, every portion devoted to containing costs, every phrase extending health care to the nation’s young adults and working poor.

It is essential, Barr contends, that the court rip insurance from 21 million people covered by the ACA health insurance marketplaces and Medicaid expansion; that the court deny insurance to 2 million young adults covered by their parents’ plans, that the court foreclose substance abuse treatment to 800,000 Americans suffering opioid addiction.

It is critical, Barr insists, to deprive the ACA’s guarantee of medical insurance access to 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions and to increase medication and premium costs for 60 million senior citizens on Medicare. Also, of course, Barr says, the court must restore the medical insurance caps that bankrupted and killed Americans who suffered diseases that are expensive to treat, like cancer, or whose babies were born prematurely requiring costly long-term care. 

Barr is not an outlier. He is the face of a Republican Party that has done everything in its power to rob Americans of ACA benefits every minute of the nine years that the law has existed. GOP governors have vetoed the ACA extension of Medicaid, denying insurance to millions of low-income working people. When the U.S. House was controlled by the GOP, it voted more than 50 times to repeal all or parts of the ACA. Twenty GOP state attorneys general asked a federal judge to overturn the law after Congress zeroed out its tax penalties for people who refuse to get insurance.

All of this is blatantly mean spirited because the GOP never produced a plan to replace the ACA health insurance guarantees. In medical terms, it is the opposite of the physician mission to heal. It is Republican machination to harm.

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Solidarity Against Hate

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Solidarity Against Hate
New Zealanders' hate-defying symbol

The union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), believes in unity, that “all working men and women, regardless of creed, color or nationality” are eligible for membership.

That was the guiding principle of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) when it formed in 1937.

I return to that statement in times like these, times when terrorists shoot up mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 worshipers; a synagogue in the USW’s hometown of Pittsburgh, killing 11; an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine; a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, killing six; a nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 mostly young gay people.

The USW membership eligibility statement is an assertion of inclusion. All working men and women qualify. They can all join. They can all attend local union meetings at which members call each other “brother” and “sister.” This practice creates artificial, but crucial, bonds between them. This solidarity gives the group strength when facing off against massive multinational corporations and demanding decent pay and dignified working conditions.

To erode that solidarity, some billionaire hedge fund owners and multinational CEOs work to divide workers. These wealthy .01 percenters separate people by cultivating hate. Some are the same billionaire sugar daddies of alt-right hate sites like Breitbart and more conventional hate sites like Fox News. Investigative journalist Jane Mayer wrote a book about their efforts titled, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.”

This hate mongering sets work-a-day people against each other. That weakens them politically. And it contributes to false-fear provoked violence.

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The Big Cheat

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

The Big Cheat
Yale’s official motto “Light and Truth” on its Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall. Prosecutors this week shone light on the truth that the rich bought admission to Ivy League schools. Photo by Getty Images

The children of working stiffs learned a brutal lesson this week as federal prosecutors criminally charged rich people with buying admission to elite universities for their less-than-stellar children.

The lesson is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how smart or talented you are, a dumb, lazy rich kid is going to beat you.

It’s crucial that everyone who is not a wealthy movie star, hedge fund executive, or corporate CEO – that is, 99 percent of all Americans – see this college admissions scandal for what it really is: a microcosm of the larger, corrupt system that works against working people, squashing their chances for advancement.

This system is the reason that rich people and corporations got massive tax breaks last year while the 99 percent got paltry ones. It’s the reason the federal minimum wage and the overtime threshold are stuck at poverty levels. It is the reason labor unions have dwindled over the past four decades.

This system is the reason we cannot have nice things. Despite all that land-of-equal-opportunity crap, the rich ensure that only they can have nice things, starting with what they can buy legally and illegally for their children and rising through what they can buy legally and illegally from politicians who make the rules that withdraw money from the pockets of working people and deposit it into the bulging bank accounts of the fabulously rich.

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Rabble Rousing for Righteous Retirement

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Rallying for retiree security are, from left, Ray Scherer, who works at Etched Metals in Ohio; Mike Miller, a financial officer for USW Local Union 1-243 in Ohio; Ben Trusnik, recording secretary for Local 1-243; Joe Pickering, past president of Local 1-243, and Mark Minor, president of Local 1-243.

Standing out among the bald pates and grey hairs crowding into a Congressional hearing room Thursday morning with “Protect our Pensions” stickers will be 26-year-old Ben Trusnik.

The son, grandson and great-grandson of labor union members, Ben will travel to Washington, D.C., from his home in Bedford, Ohio, to speak for the men and women he works with at Etched Metals Co. He will join other union activists in speaking for workers who are afraid that after laboring 40 or 50 years, they won’t be able to retire because the multiemployer pension plan they depended on is nearly insolvent.

He’ll be there for the guy who retired from Etched Metals a little over two years ago whose wife has been ill for a long time. When visiting his former co-workers at the plant, this guy talks about the bills piling up from medical treatments, doctors and medications. Insurance doesn’t cover it all. “He is pretty worried,” Trusnik says, about losing his pension and with it, the ability to pay.

Actuaries project that 130 multiemployer pensions, that is plans in which several companies participate, will run out of money over the next 20 years. Even though that number is less than 10 percent of all multiemployer pension plans, their impending insolvency threatens the entire multiemployer pension warranty program of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

The PBGC is the program created by Congress in 1974 to step in when pension plans fail. Using payments from pension plans, the PBGC provides benefits to about 1.5 million people in failed multiemployer and single-employer plans. The payments pensions make to the PBGC are essentially insurance premiums. The PBGC does not receive tax dollars.

The PBGC anticipates that its multiemployer program will go bust by 2025, but that could occur sooner if several of the larger threatened multiemployer plans fail quickly. Implosion of the PBGC multiemployer guaranty program would have devastating consequences for everyone who currently receives benefits from it and for everyone whose multiemployer pension is weak. The 130 vulnerable multiemployer plans cover 1.3 million people. 

The PBGC does not pay full pensions to retirees, but something is better than zip, especially because pensions are deferred compensation. They’re earned for each hour worked. They’re not gifts like fancy engraved retirement clocks. Union workers often trade wage hikes for pension increases in contract negotiations. They sacrifice immediate gratification for the security of a good pension later. But if the PBGC’s multiemployer program fails, then the workers it covers would get virtually nothing.

When Congress created the PBGC, it made a commitment to working men and women that they would not lose their pension benefits through no fault of their own. It must stand true to that obligation now.

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Gritty Trade Negotiations

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Gritty Trade Negotiations
Robert Lighthizer by Flickr

It took grit to get this far. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer explained that to Congress yesterday.

So, he said, no one in the administration is backing down now.

They’ve managed to confront Beijing, a trade renegade, and do it with a powerful tool that previous negotiators lacked – tariffs. They launched the penalties last spring with charges on all imported steel and aluminum, then increased the pain with levies specifically on $50 billion in Chinese imports in July, followed by duties on $200 billion in Chinese imports in September.

China retaliated, particularly with tariffs on agricultural goods. Some American businesses, farmers and workers suffered. And they complained. But the tariffs brought China to the table to discuss its violations – abuses that have damaged American industries and destroyed millions of American jobs for nearly two decades.

Lighthizer told Congress yesterday he doesn’t have a deal yet, but he’s made progress. None of it would be possible, he said, without the leverage of the tariffs and the grit of the administration to stick with them through tough times.

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China: An Abusive Trade Partner

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

In this week when love relationships are celebrated and commemorated, the trade relationship between China and America should be denounced as destructive and exploitive.

China’s deliberate trade violations are draining America’s strength. Beijing is to America what Delilah was to Samson.

Top U.S. trade officials are in China this week in high-stakes negotiations to curb China’s illegal trade practices and restore American vigor. They are scheduled to meet Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. They’re talking tough, which is appropriate since no previous agreement and no previous penalties have even dinged China’s free-market-defying trade regime. But then, President Trump let slip earlier this week that he would consider postponing a tariff increase scheduled for March 1 if no deal is reached. Delay means nothing but additional strength shorn from America.

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More Billionaire Presidential Candidates: A Bitter Pill

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

More Billionaire Presidential Candidates: A Bitter Pill
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and soda tax sponsor Michael Bloomberg, both billionaires, prescribe political bitter pills to force down the throats of the 99 percent.

Billionaires are pretty damn sure they know what’s best for you. No more taxes on the rich and none of that Medicare-for-all is what’s best for you, according to two billionaires toying with seeking the presidency.

Or, maybe, that’s what’s best for them.

One of those billionaires, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, called Medicare-for-all un-American. Actually, the only thing that makes Medicare-for-all un-American is the fact America is the only First World country that fails to provide universal health insurance.

Schultz and Michael Bloomberg, the other billionaire who thinks he should be president, revealed themselves as out-of-touch, private-jet-riding, multi-mansion-owning, gold-leaf-latte-sippers by condemning lawmakers who have proposed raising taxes on the nation’s most obscenely rich.

Bloomberg said, for example, “We need a healthy economy and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about our system.”

No? It’s not embarrassing that 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency expense? It’s not humiliating that in the richest country in the world federal workers couldn’t afford their insulin during the government shutdown because their low pay forces them to live paycheck to paycheck? It causes no discomfort that 5 million Americans are stuck in part-time jobs when they need 40 hours? Or that so many more are trapped in precarious or contract work without security or benefits, when they need, you know, security and benefits? It’s not shameful that the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 3.2 million in the first year of billionaire Donald Trump’s presidency?

Well, the Americans who are demeaned and degraded by our system, the D.C. cafeteria workers who make so little they live in cars, the people who can only dream of affording a $5 Schultz latte don’t need or want billionaires telling them how to run their lives or how to fix the system that has rendered so many so desperate. They’ve got their own ideas.

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Union Matters

Higher Taxes & Broken Promises

From the AFL-CIO

While many Americans are frustrated by smaller refunds this Tax Day, major corporations like AT&T are celebrating billions in massive giveaways, courtesy of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  

The tax bill, which was signed into law in 2017, dramatically cut the corporate rate tax from 35% to 21%. This led AT&T’s CEO to vow that the company would create at least 7,000 jobs.

Instead, AT&T has eliminated more than 12,000 jobs since the law took effect.

At the same time, the corporation’s annual report shows the company increased executive pay and suggests that after refunds, it paid no cash income taxes in 2018.

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A Moral Imperative

A Moral Imperative