Category: From Press Associates

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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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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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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Airport Screeners Still Shorted Pay for Work During Shutdown

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

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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Union Matters

America’s Wealthy: Ever Eager to Pay Their Taxes!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why do many of the wealthiest people in America oppose a “wealth tax,” an annual levy on grand fortune? Could their distaste reflect a simple reluctance to pay their fair tax share? Oh no, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon recently told the Business Roundtable: “I know a lot of wealthy people who would be happy to pay more in taxes; they just think it’ll be wasted and be given to interest groups and stuff like that.” Could Dimon have in mind the interest group he knows best, Wall Street? In the 2008 financial crisis, federal bailouts kept the banking industry from imploding. JPMorgan alone, notes the ProPublica Bailout Tracker, collected $25 billion worth of federal largesse, an act of generosity that’s helped Dimon lock down a $1.5-billion personal fortune. Under the Elizabeth Warren wealth tax plan, Dimon would pay an annual 3 percent tax on that much net worth. Fortunes between $1 billion and $2.5 billion would face a 5 percent annual tax under the Bernie Sanders plan.

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No Such Thing as Good Greed

No Such Thing as Good Greed