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Leo W Gerard: NAFTA Negotiators Send Corporate Whiners Back to Swamp

Photo by Gerenme on Getty Images

Giant corporations, loyal to coin and faithless to country, staged a public display of blubbering in the run up to this week’s fourth round of negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Whaa, whaaa, whaaaa, groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sniveled into the swamp from which they crawled to conduct their press conferences. President Trump isn’t doing what corporations want, they wailed.

The President’s trade priorities, which he repeatedly stated on the campaign trail, do not include groveling to the whims and whining of corporations or their toady, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. President Trump said he would create good, American jobs. To do that, he wants more stuff made in America and less stuff made in factories off-shored by greed-motivated American corporations.

“We’ve reached a critical moment,” Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue sobbed this week. “The Chamber has had no choice but to ring the alarm bells.”

He said it, by the way, from Mexico City, where the Chamber, which calls itself the U.S. Chamber, had gone to scheme with Mexican government officials to subvert the NAFTA negotiation goals of the U.S. government.

Chamber Vice President John G. Murphy, meanwhile, was carping from the place the President calls the swamp, “So we’re urging the administration to recalibrate its approach and stop and listen to the business community, the agriculture community, the people who actually engage in trade.”

That is the crux of it, right there. The president had failed to place corporate profits over American workers.

Really, what Murphy and Donohue were saying is that the President should ignore the hundreds of thousands of Americans who lost their jobs because of NAFTA and concentrate instead on the profits to be made by wealthy CEOs and shareholders. Those are the guys who uprooted American factories and transplanted them in Mexico, where corporations can more easily exploit both workers and the environment.

United Technologies (UT) is a good example. UT had two perfectly profitable factories in Indiana where American workers manufactured Carrier gas furnaces and electronic controls. UT decided, however, that it could make even more money if it moved the factories to Monterrey, Mexico.

After Vice President Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana, handed UT $7 million of the state’s tax dollars, the corporation agreed to keep some of the Carrier jobs in the United States, but in the end, it moved all 700 electronic controls jobs to Mexico and 632 of the furnace jobs.

In Mexico, UT can pay its new workers a dime for every dollar in wages earned by its skilled American workers in Indiana. U.S. corporations like UT that transplant factories and kick their American workers to the curb pocket the difference in wages.

NAFTA, which encourages this kind of move, doesn’t benefit Mexican workers either. The poverty rate in Mexico is 52.3 percent, virtually the same as it was in 1994, when NAFTA took effect. Wages there rose just 2.3 percent. Economic development in Mexico has fallen behind that of most other Latin American countries.

But, whaa, whaaa, whaaaa, the Chamber of Commerce cries about the President’s intention to keep his campaign promise to build a trade wall to stop corporations from sneaking across the border.

Emily Davis, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, gave the Chamber a good smack upside the head after Donohue and Murphy told the President that he should stop listening to workers and do exactly what the Chamber and corporations tell him to do.

Here’s what Davis said: “The president has been clear that NAFTA has been a disaster for many Americans, and achieving his objectives requires substantial change. These changes, of course, will be opposed by entrenched Washington lobbyists and trade associations. We have always understood that draining the swamp would be controversial in Washington.”

The Wall Street Journal explained the problem for the likes of Donohue and Murphy. The newspaper quoted an outside trade adviser to the administration. He said that the administration wants to “create more uncertainty and reluctance for U.S. businesses to invest in Mexico. . . They want to change the decision making around outsourcing and the offshoring of investment.”

The U.S. negotiators, for example, want to weaken, or maybe even eliminate, the NAFTA-created Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. Corporations love this thing. It’s a secret court presided over by corporate lawyers where corporations can sue countries for passing laws that CEOs claim take a bite out of profits.

So, for example, a corporation could claim that a U.S. safety regulation prohibiting a cancer-causing chemical in plastic baby bottles diminishes expected future profits from its Mexican chemical factory. The corporate lawyers acting as judges in the secret NAFTA court can order the United States to compensate the corporation.  And, to top it off, the amount that the secret court can order taxpayers to hand over to corporations is unlimited.

The secret court reduces risk for corporations moving American factories to Mexico, where they might not have the same confidence that they would in American courts to protect their property rights.

Eliminating or curbing the secret court would reverse one of the NAFTA incentives for corporations to transfer manufacturing to Mexico. The administration wants to change several other aspects of NAFTA for the same result.

For example, it wants the government to be able to insist that more of what it buys be made in the United States. That would mean U.S. tax dollars would create more jobs in the United States. That discourages offshoring because the government is a super consumer.

The administration also wants a higher percentage of a product, such as a car, to be made in the United States, or at least in one of the three partner countries, for it to attain NAFTA duty-free status.  Right now, it’s 62.5 percent. The administration is talking about 85 percent, which would deter offshoring to Asian countries.

The administration is also demanding labor rights for Mexican workers. Enabling them to form real, worker-run labor unions would raise their wages, and, as a result, make transplanting U.S. factories in Mexico less profitable.

Murphy told the administration that it should do none of this. It should, he said, follow the administration’s own guidelines and “do no harm.”

Basically, big corporations and the Chamber want no change to NAFTA. They’re fine with all harm falling on U.S. workers’ shoulders ­ – 800,000 of whom lost their jobs because of NAFTA. And that doesn’t include the 1,600 lost at Rexnord and the two United Technologies factories in Indiana this year.

President Trump isn’t fine with that outcome, however. And that’s why his spokesperson at the Office of U.S. Trade Representative told the Chamber this week to waddle back down to the swamp and shut up.

Berry Craig: Put A Little ‘Ludd’ In Your Life

The Battle Between Progress And Technology That Leaves Workers Without A Job

By BERRY CRAIG, AFT Local 1360

This senior citizen has a hard time figuring out computerized, check-yourself-in airport kiosks.

Like Blanche DuBois, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” So, I’m grateful to nice folks who are still around to check me in the old way.

“Thank you so very much,” I gushed with profound appreciation to the woman who sped my wife and me to our homeward flight from London’s Heathrow airport last summer. (I’m pretty sure she belonged to the UNITE union.)

“You’re welcome,” she smiled and replied. “One day I won’t be here. They want to get rid of us.”

She meant those kiosks would eliminate her job. Millions of people worldwide have already lost jobs to the kind of “progress” the kiosks represent.

As we headed for the gate, I thought of the Luddites, 19th-century English textile mill workers who wrecked machines that were taking their jobs. Factory owners equated mechanization with “progress” — meaning more profit for them. The workers’ supposed leader was Ned Ludd, hence the movement’s name.

Today, “Luddite” is a slam for somebody like me who dares suggest that “technology” is not necessarily synonymous with “progress.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like my PC a lot better than my ancient Royal manual typewriter I used in college going on 50 years ago. Nor am I proposing a Luddite solution to stanch the bleeding of jobs to technology.

I’m with my union brother, David Nickell. He says society needs to redefine its notion of “progress” to ensure that technology serves all of us, rather than enriching just the few.

“We’ve got to start asking ourselves, ‘How can we use technology to bring us the kind of world in which everybody has a job and a place?”” argued David, who teaches sociology and philosophy at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.

David is the campus representative for AFT Local 1360, this old history teacher’s union office before he retired.

David, like me, is a lifelong resident of rural western Kentucky. We’re fans of Wendell Berry, the famous Bluegrass State writer, environmental activist and social critic.

“Wendell Berry wrote that we are creating a surplus population, with no role for them in society,” David said.

Berry meant farmers and farm workers. The same applies to blue- and white-collar workers who’ve lost–and are still losing–livelihoods to “progress.”

Added David: “I ask my students, ‘How many of you believe in progress? Every one of them holds up a hand. Then I ask, ‘What are we progressing toward?’”

Silence follows, he said.

David said the self-service check-in gizmos–common at U.S. airports, too–symbolize our seemingly insatiable demand for convenience at almost any cost.

“Somebody said the new American credo is ‘Give me convenience or give me death,’” he said.

Anyway, 19th-factory owners and managers on both sides of the Atlantic welcomed machines as profit enhancers.

Absent unions, factory and mill hands toiled long hours at low pay in jobs that threatened, and often claimed, lives and limbs. Most employers saw their employees as mere means to economic ends. They commonly fired workers as soon as they found machines to replace them.

Stateside and in Europe, self-check-out kiosks are also supplanting staffers at supermarkets and other big stores. Automatic answering devices have mostly replaced human telephone operators, too.

After I’m able to run the press-here-for-this-or-that gauntlet and finally reach a real person, I say, “Thank you for being there. Your company needs to hire more people to answer the phones. They need jobs; machines don’t.”

David also noted that many people are uncritically hailing computerized, self-driving cars and trucks as more examples of “progress.”

“With centralized computers with artificial intelligence, the computer can learn from what one truck encounters and instantly reroute all other trucks,” he said.

“The gains in efficiency will be tremendous, but how many truck and delivery drivers will be replaced?  This is one of the last good paying jobs that does not require a college degree, or any specialized training beyond a commercial driver’s license.”

Self-driving taxi cabs are also on the way.

In any event, David said there’s a big difference between finding meaningful work and merely “having a job.”

He explained, “The alienation of the worker has now become so expected that it seems extremist even to point it out.  If the technologies were used properly, they would replace the alienating, tedious, and back breaking jobs, and not the people.”

David recalled his dismay at hearing a Kentucky governor say “’the purpose of higher education is to meet the needs of business and industry.’

“I thought to myself, ‘Business and industry are supposed to succeed, or fail, based on whether they can meet the needs of the people.’”

To feed the greed of wealthy wool and cotton mill owners in the early 1800s, the British parliament, whose members were all rich and powerful men, passed laws to crush the Luddite movement. They also sent redcoat soldiers to shoot or arrest them; several Luddite leaders were hanged, imprisoned or transported to penal colonies in Australia.

In his maiden speech in the House of Lords, George Gordon, Lord Byron, the famous poet, defended the Luddites. While he “condemned” and “deplored” Luddite violence, he warned, “It cannot be denied that they have arisen from circumstances of the most unparalleled distress: the perseverance of these miserable men in their proceedings, tends to prove that nothing but absolute want could have driven a large, and once honest and industrious, body of the people, into the commission of excesses so hazardous to themselves, their families, and the community.”

So, more than a century later, is it “Time to reconsider the Luddites?” asked the headline on a 2014 story in the online U.S. edition of The Guardian, a British newspaper. The author, Robert Skidelsky, based his story on MIT research which showed that over the last 30 years, the share of wages in our national income has been shrinking.

Professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee said that during this “second machine age,” computer technology has pushed deeper “into the service sector, taking over jobs for which the human factor and ‘cognitive functions’ were hitherto deemed indispensable.”

At the airport, most of the old-fashioned check-in desks were unstaffed. So we had to stand in line–“queue” in the local lingo. But there were queues for the kiosks, too.

Not counting queuing time, the friendly staffer at the still open desk had us on our way about as quickly as the kiosk users were checking themselves in and heading for their flights.

Skidelsky, a professor of political economy at Warwick (England) University, pointed to Wal Mart and Amazon as “prime examples of new technology driving down workers’ wages. Because computer programs and humans are close substitutes for such jobs, and given the predictable improvement in computing power, there seems to be no technical obstacle to the redundancy of workers across much of the service economy.”

He acknowledged that “there will still be activities that require human skills, and these skills can be improved. But it is broadly true that the more computers can do, the less humans need to do. The prospect of the ‘abridgment of labour’ should fill us with hope rather than foreboding. But, in our kind of society, there are no mechanisms for converting redundancy into leisure.”

Skidelsky recalled the Luddites. “They claimed that because machines were cheaper than labour, their introduction would depress wages. They argued the case for skill against cheapness. The most thoughtful of them understood that consumption depends on real income, and that depressing real income destroys businesses. Above all, they understood that the solution to the problems created by machines would not be found in laissez-faire nostrums.”

In their headlong embrace of technology as a boon to their bottom lines, business and industry owners would do well to remember that jobless workers can’t afford to buy the products made by the computers, robots and machines that replaced them.

For sure, unemployed airport ground staff won’t have the wherewithal to fly the friendly skies.

 

Rights and Democracy Decries Trump’s Executive Actions On Healthcare

Trump’s  Executive Order, Ending of Cost Sharing Reductions, and Roll Back of No-cost Contraception Will Rob Millions of Their Health Care

With the recent defeat of Graham Cassidy and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal efforts that preceded, we thought the battle to save our health care was won.

Unfortunately, yesterday President Trump demonstrated unequivocally that this battle is far from over—he is directly attacking women, the middle class, and the poor in his effort to strip millions more from having necessary access to health care in order to provide tax breaks for the wealthy and powerful.

Rights & Democracy stands in opposition to Trump and the GOP Congressional leadership’s inhumane and immoral attack on the health care of hundreds of thousands of Granite Staters and millions of Americans. We stand in support of our members of Congress (see Sen. Maggie Hassan’s statement and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s statement) in their resistance to these proposals and we call on Governor Chris Sununu to do the same.

Last night the President announced that he will end Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments that lower costs for more than 6 million people who buy coverage on the exchange. Uncertainty about the future of these CSRs is key reason that many insurers are substantially hiking their rates for 2018—some by more than 20 percent. Some insurers have also left the market. Even Republicans are worried about how this decision will drive up costs and leave millions uninsured.

In addition to the elimination of CSR payments, Trump issued a new executive order that allows health association plans to sell watered down health coverage that doesn’t meet current standards under the ACA. This executive order includes provisions like those in the ACA repeal bills that were roundly rejected earlier in the year by both lawmakers and the public. Trump’s order loosens up rules for insurance companies so that they can go back to refusing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, charging them more for their coverage, and selling bogus plans that don’t even include essential health benefits like maternity care, mental health and prescription drugs that are required for plans sold in the ACA marketplaces. These plans could even have lifetime and annual benefit caps.

Waiving ACA protections means these plans can cherry pick young, healthy consumers and pull them out of the existing individual health insurance market, leading to a market dominated by older and sicker people. That means that rates will skyrocket, insurers will flee, and, ultimately, the entire private health insurance market could collapse.

Finally, the Trump Administration has launched a full on assault on women’s reproductive health with a sweeping new rule that eliminates free contraceptive coverage based on any religious or “moral” objections from the employer. This is a significant departure from the existing law, which allowed exemptions for religious employers like churches and Catholic hospitals only. Under the new rule, any employer, not just religious ones, can deny coverage for birth control based on their own personal religious beliefs or “moral” objections.

Through the ACA, employers were required to include no-cost birth control coverage in their health insurance plans. More than 55 million women have access to birth control without co-payments because of that guarantee – saving them $1.4 billion in 2013 alone. But now these 55 million women could lose access to free contraception if their bosses decide they suddenly have a “moral” objection to paying for it. As a result, millions of American women and families could be left without affordable birth control.

The eliminations of CSR payments, the executive order on health association plans, and the new rule denying contraceptive coverage to millions of women, all make it clear: Trump doesn’t care about the will of the people who have rejected the Republican agenda for health care over the past several months.

Instead of listening to Americans, Trump is charging full-steam ahead with his stated goal of ACA repeal through a political campaign to sabotage the ACA by forcing premium increases, creating instability in the market, actively interfering with the ability of consumers to sign up for coverage, and rolling back the no-cost birth control for 55 million women.

When coupled with the Republican budget proposal working its way through Congress now—which includes massive cuts to Medicaid and further privatizes Medicare—Trump’s sabotage would mean the destruction of our health system as we know it. We will return to the days when being sick could bar you from coverage. We will return to the days when being a woman meant discrimination in the health care system. And we will see Medicaid and Medicare—two programs essential to the quality of life of millions of Americans—irreversibly transformed leading to access and lower quality care.

And what does Trump and his GOP backers in Congress gain from robbing millions of their health care? Huge tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Sen Rand Paul Submits National Right To Work Bill (Again) As A Fundraising Ploy

Paul fund-raises on his ‘right to work’ bill, rates a zero on
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights report card

Image by Stump Source FLIKR CC

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Rand Paul is all in for “right to work,” but he knows his national RTW bill is going nowhere.

Kentucky’s tea party-tilting junior senator never figured it would. He knows hogs will fly before the legislation winds up on the desk of President Trump, a fellow RTW fan.

Paul is clued in to the fact that the Democrats can filibuster the measure to death.

But passing the bill wasn’t Paul’s point. Putting his John Hancock on the legislation was.

Paul’s uber-conservative, well-heeled, union-despising donors are as crazy about RTW as he is. Paul proposed the bill to give himself a chance to burnish his anti-union creds with his bankrollers.

Koch Industries is the pseudo-populist Paul’s third largest contributor, according to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. The National Right to Work Committee piled $7,500 into Paul’s campaign coffers.

Charles and David Koch and other kleptocrats have also extended their largess to pro-RTW Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Bluegrass State’s senior senator.

Paul and McConnell realize that GOP-majority state legislatures are where RTW laws get passed. They were on Cloud Ten–the one above Nine–last January when the Republican-run Kentucky General Assembly approved a RTW bill at warp speed; GOP Gov. Matt Bevin lost no time in signing it.

Kentucky unions have filed suit to overturn the bill.

More than just union members understand that RTW laws are among the oldest union-busting tools around. “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work,’” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. cautioned in 1961. “It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”

Added King: “Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”

Also in 1961, King warned that “the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth [italics mine].”

Last year, every Republican in the House and Senate got an “F” on a congressional report card issued by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, George F. Curry wrote in the Daytona, Fla., Times.

The LCCHR is an umbrella organization with more than 200 member groups. It graded all lawmakers on how they voted on legislation important to the civil and human rights community, explained Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine.

Paul rated a zero.

Documented Or Undocumented, Immigrants Are Human Beings And Deserve Care And Respect

Protestors at an anti-Trump rally (FLIKR CC Alisdare Hickson)

by Carol Backus and Eva Castillo Turgeon

Last Sunday’s editorial headline about police practices when encountering undocumented immigrants is deeply offensive to people of faith and good will across the Granite State. While we agree with the editor’s assertion, “State and local police should not be stopping people based on skin color or foreign accent,” we are troubled by language elsewhere in the editorial that dehumanizes immigrants.

Human beings are not fish or game to be caught and released. We are not domestic animals to be penned in barns. Actions, not people, can be illegal. To label immigrants as illegal is an attempt to dehumanize them. When people are dehumanized, they are easily targeted as undeserving of respect and basic human rights. Labeling people negatively may be unintentional, but it is nonetheless harmful.

People who are unable to produce citizenship papers are human beings and deserve the same care and respect as members of the Union Leader editorial board and staff or the authors of this op-ed.

A person may be in New Hampshire without documents for a variety of reasons: they may have overstayed a tourist visa; they may have jumped off a merchant ship; they may have crossed a border without stopping at a check point; they may be a victim of human trafficking; their abusive spouse may have taken their documents; they may have an expired student visa; or for any number of other reasons. Unless we know a person’s story, we don’t know why they are here without documents. When we know their story, we can decide whether they have committed an illegal act, and if so, whether it was justified.

The process for sorting out these situations must be humane. A humane attitude on the part of police and the larger community will lead to resolution of policies affecting the millions of people who live in the U.S. without documents. We at the Granite State Organizing Project, a New Hampshire faith-based community organization, laud the efforts of state and local police departments to clarify their roles regarding immigrants.

As a matter of public safety, it is crucial for everyone in our communities to feel safe reporting a crime, calling for help on the roadside, escaping from an abusive spouse, or cooperating with the police on community projects. As so many of our immigrant neighbors come from mixed status families (e.g. a parent without documents, children who are citizens, etc.) it is very important for everyone to know that casual contact with local police will not result in the catastrophic family separations we have been reading about in the news.

Decisions of local police departments not to act as enforcement agents on immigration issues that do not involve serious misdemeanors or felonies seems to us reasonable and a wise use of resources. We hope that the state police will also develop wise and humane policies.

Wise policies will also recognize that immigration has always strengthened our country. Wise policies will be good for our state’s economy as we seek to find workers that our employers tell us are needed to fill job vacancies.

Except for a handful of Native Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants. First came the European colonists who were undocumented from the perspective of the people already living here. After its establishment as a colony of Great Britain and later as a state, New Hampshire benefitted from waves of immigration as French-speaking, Irish, Italian, Greek and other immigrants came to live here. Each wave experienced its share of conflict as those longer settled resented the newcomers. With time New Hampshire gained the gift of diversity that resulted from this immigration.

Now we find ourselves with undocumented people living in our midst. Many of them have been here for years and even decades, living as quietly as they can, trying to keep their families together. Our challenge is not how to deport them, but how to offer a path for their legal integration into the social, economic, and civic fabric of our state. If we undertake this, New Hampshire and its citizens will not be diminished, but will grow stronger.

 

Carol is President of the Executive Committee of the Granite State Organizing Project and Eva is First Vice President.

Leo W Gerard: Unfair Trade, Uncertainty Killing American Aluminum and Steel

Kameen Thompson, president of the USW local union at ArcelorMittal’s Conshohocken mill

Kameen Thompson started his workday Sept. 15 thinking that his employer, ArcelorMittal in Conshohocken, Pa., the largest supplier of armored plate to the U.S. military, might hire some workers to reduce a recent spate of overtime.

Just hours later, though, he discovered the absolute opposite was true.

ArcelorMittal announced that, within a year, it would idle the mill that stretches half a mile along the Schuylkill River. Company officials broke the bad news to Kameen, president of the United Steelworkers (USW) local union at Conshohocken, and Ron Davis, the grievance chair, at a meeting where the two union officers had hoped to hear about hiring.

ArcelorMittal wouldn’t say when it would begin the layoffs or how many workers would lose their jobs or which mill departments would go dark. The worst part for everyone now is the uncertainty, Kameen told me last week.

“If ArcelorMittal said they would shut down on a date certain, everybody could move on to something else or prepare. Right now, we are in limbo. We have a lot of guys with a lot of time, but they’re still not old enough to retire. The only thing we can do is ride it out. But the uncertainty is very, very hard on them. It’s difficult not knowing who and what departments are affected and how long we are going to run,” Kameen said.

Uncertainty from Washington, D.C., is a major contributor to the idling of the plant. ArcelorMittal and every other aluminum and steel producer in America are in limbo as they wait for a decision on import restrictions that could preserve U.S. capacity to produce defense materials – like the light armored plate that’s Conshohocken’s specialty ­– and to build and repair crucial infrastructure, like roads, bridges and utilities.

Initially, the Trump administration promised a determination in June. But June came and went. As the months dragged on, imports surged. That threatens the viability of mills like Conshohocken. Then, just last week, administration officials said they would do nothing until after Congress passes tax legislation.That compounded uncertainty.

The Conshohocken mill may not survive the delay. Kameen, Ron and the 203 other workers there could lose their jobs because Congress dawdles or fails to act on taxes. America could lose its domestic capacity to quickly produce large quantities of high-quality light-gauge plate for armor.

After work at other, non-union jobs, Kameen began at Conshohocken at the age of 25. He finally had a position that provided good wages and benefits. “That gave me an opportunity to plan for a future and build a family,” he explained.

Ron, the mill’s training coordinator, is 45 and has worked at the plant for 22 years. “This was my first true job that I could sustain a family with,” Ron told me.

He has five children ranging in age from five to 26. He needs a good job with good benefits. He knows jobs like the one he has at the mill are rare, but he’s not giving in to gloominess. “I am just trying to stay positive,” he said. “That is all I can do right now.”

Photo is of Ron Davis, grievance chair for the USW local union at ArcelorMittal’s Conshohocken mill

Both Ron and Kameen are frustrated by the Trump administration’s failure to penalize the foreign producers whose illegal trade practices have killed steel and aluminum jobs, closed mills across the country and threatened America’s domestic capability to produce metals essential to construction of critical infrastructure and vital to the defense department to safeguard the country.

Since the Trump administration launched the national security probes into steel and aluminum imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act in April, imports have risen significantly. Steel imports are up 21 percent over last year. Countries like China, fearing impending penalties for predatory and illegal trade practices, dumped more than ever.

The administration has nine months to complete the Section 232 investigation. It could be January before the results are announced. Then the president has another three months to decide what to do. Instead of the two months the administration initially promised, the whole process could take a year.

A year could be too long for mills like Conshohocken.

“It doesn’t take that long to investigate this,” Kameen said. “We are losing jobs. They are dropping like flies. The administration needs to act now to prevent these unfair imports from killing more American jobs.”

Because of unfair and illegal imports since 2000, particularly from China, U.S. steel mills idled sections or closed, cutting the nation’s capacity to produce by 17 million tons a year and throwing 48,000 steelworkers out of jobs.

Now, there is only one surviving U.S. mill capable of producing grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES)required for electrical transmission.

The same decline occurred in aluminum, only it happened even faster. The number of U.S. smelters dropped from 14 in 2011 to five last year. That is the loss of thousands more good, family-supporting jobs. It happened because China expanded its overcapacity to produce cheap, state-subsidized aluminum, depressing the global price by 46 percent in just eight years.

Now, there is only one surviving U.S. smelter capable of producing the high-purity aluminum essential to fighter jets like the F-35 and other military vehicles.

While ArcelorMittal may contend that it can manufacture military-grade steel plate at its other U.S. mills, the loss of Conshohocken would mean a dangerous decline in U.S. capacity.

Capacity is crucial in emergencies. An example occurred in 2007 when U.S. military deaths were rising in Iraq and Afghanistan. In response, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered a 15-fold increase in production of mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. That meant the number produced each month had to rise from 82 to more than 1,100. The Conshohocken plant produced much of the steel needed to achieve the goal.

Without that mill, the nation’s ability to gear up in such an emergency is compromised.  Two weeks ago, 10 retired generals wrote President Trump warning: “America’s increasing reliance on imported steel and aluminum from potentially hostile or uncooperative foreign governments, or via uncertain supply routes, jeopardizes our national security.”

They also said of the Section 232 investigation, “Prompt action is necessary before it is too late.”

When Kameen started at the mill 11 years ago, he felt good about the work. Conshohocken was making a lot of armor for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that gave him the sense that he was doing something for his country.

Now, he’s concerned for his local union members, whose average age is 50.

As their president, Kameen, who is only 37, feels responsible to help each of them through the uncertainty and the difficulties ahead. “My members are looking at me for answers and leadership,” he told me. “So if I don’t stay strong and lead, then I’m the wrong man for the job.”

Every steelworker and aluminum worker in America is looking to President Trump for that kind of leadership. Their uncertainty could be relieved if the administration would announce the results of the Section 232 investigation now and act immediately to ensure the United States has the domestic ability to produce essential metals.

Leo W Gerard: Canadian Mounties to the Rescue of American Workers

The Canadian Royal Mounties have offered to ride to the rescue of beleaguered American workers.

It doesn’t sound right. Americans perceive themselves to be the heroes. They are, after all, the country whose intervention won World War II, the country whose symbol, the Statue of Liberty, lifts her lamp to light the way, as the poem at the statue’s base says, for the yearning masses and wretched refuse, for the homeless and tempest-tossed.

America loves the underdog and champions the little guy. The United States is doing that, for example, by demanding in the negotiations to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Mexico raise its miserable work standards and wages. Now, though, here comes Canada, the third party in the NAFTA triad, insisting that the United States fortify its workers’ collective bargaining rights. That’s the Mounties to the rescue of downtrodden U.S. workers.

This NAFTA demand from the Great White North arrives amid relentless attacks on labor rights in the United States, declining union membership and stagnant wages. To prevent Mexico’s poverty wages from sucking U.S. factories south of the border, the United States is insisting that Mexico eliminate company-controlled fake labor unions. Similarly, to prevent the United States and Mexico from luring Canadian companies away, Canada is stipulating that the United States eliminate laws that empower corporations and weaken workers.

The most infamous of these laws is referred to, bogusly, as right-to-work. Really, it’s right-to-bankrupt labor unions and right-to-cut workers’ pay. These laws forbid corporations and labor unions from negotiating collective bargaining agreements that require payments in lieu of dues from workers who choose not to join the union. These payments, which are typically less than full dues, cover the costs that unions incur to bargain contracts and pursue worker grievances.

Lawmakers that pass right-to-bankrupt legislation know that federal law requires labor unions to represent everyone in their unit at a workplace, even if those employees don’t join the union and don’t make any payments. These dues-shirkers still get the higher wages and better benefits guaranteed in the labor contract. And they still get the labor union to advocate for them, even hire lawyers for them, if they want to file grievances against the company.

The allure of getting something for nothing, a sham created by right-wing politicians who prostrate themselves to corporations, ultimately can bankrupt unions forced to serve freeloaders. Which is exactly what the right-wingers and corporations want. It’s much easier for corporations to ignore the feeble pleas of individual workers for better pay and safer working conditions than to negotiate with unions that wield the power of concerted action.

Canada is particularly sensitive about America’s right-to-bankrupt laws because they’ve now crept up to the border. Among the handful of states that in recent years joined the right-to-bankrupt gang are Wisconsin and Michigan, both at the doorstep of a highly industrial region in Ontario, Canada.

So now, the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan can whisper in the ears of CEOs, “Come south, and we’ll help you break the unions. Instead of paying union wages, you can take all that money as profit and get yourself even fatter pay packages and bonuses!”

Then those governors will make American workers pay for the move with shocking tax breaks for corporations, like the $3 billion Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker promised electronics manufacturer Foxconn to locate a factory there. That’s $1 million in tax money for each of the 3,000 jobs that Foxconn said would be the minimum it would create with the $10 billion project.

Right-wing lawmakers like Walker and U.S. CEOs have been union busting for decades. And it’s been successful.  In the heyday of unions in the 1950s and 1960s, nearly 30 percent of all U.S. workers belonged. Wage rates rose as productivity did. And they climbed consistently. Then, one wage-earner could support a middle-class family.

That’s not true anymore. For decades now, as union membership waned, wages stagnated for the middle class and poor, and compensation for CEOs skyrocketed. And this occurred even while productivity rose. By January of 2016, the most recent date for which the statistics are available, union membership had declined to 10.7 percent. The number of workers in unions dropped by nearly a quarter million from the previous year.

This is despite the fact that union workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and employer-paid health insurance. The median weekly earnings for non-union workers in 2016 was $802. For union members, it was $1,004.

It’s not that labor unions don’t work. It’s that right-wing U.S. politicians are working against them. They pass legislation and regulations that make it hard for unions to represent workers.

It’s very different for unions in Canada. For example, union membership in Canada is growing, not dwindling like in the United States. In Canada, 31.8 percent of workers were represented by union in 2015, up 0.3 percentage points from 2014. That is higher than the all-time peak in the United States.

And it’s because Canadian legislation encourages unionization to counterbalance powerful corporations. In some Canadian provinces, for example, corporations are prohibited from hiring replacements when workers strike; striking workers are permitted to picket the companies that sell to and buy from their employer; labor agreements must contain “successorship” rights requiring a corporation that buys the employer to recognize the union and abide by its labor agreement; and employers must submit to binding arbitration if they fail to come to a first labor agreement with a newly formed union within a specific amount of time.

The second round of negotiations to rewrite NAFTA ended in Mexico this week. The third is scheduled for later this month in Canada. That’s a good opportunity for the northernmost member of the NAFTA triad to showcase its labor laws and explain why they are crucial to defending worker rights and raising wages.

Getting language protecting workers’ union rights into NAFTA is not enough, however. The trade deal must also contain penalties for countries that fail to meet the standards. This could be, for example, border adjustment taxes on exports from recalcitrant countries.

Canada’s nearly 20,000 Royal Canadian Mounted Police only recently filed papers to unionize. That occurred after the Canadian Supreme Court overturned a 1960s era federal law that barred them from organizing.

Canada’s Supreme Court said the law violated the Mounties’ freedom of association, a right guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution. Now, Canada is riding to the rescue of U.S. and Mexican workers’ freedom of association by demanding the new NAFTA include specific protections for collective bargaining.

Working on Labor Day to Recover from Harvey

Watching helplessly as flood waters rose was not an option for Brandon Parker. This Texas refinery worker and member of the United Steelworkers (USW) union has a jacked-up Suburban and a friend with a boat. There was no way he was going to let family members, neighbors or strangers drown.

Like Brandon, many union members couldn’t sit still through the storm. One drove her high-riding pickup truck two hours to find baby formula for co-workers rescued from their roof with a newborn. Another used his pickup truck to rescue people whose cars got caught in fast-moving water.

These are among the many workers across Texas and across the United States whose sense of community drove them to respond to the crisis created by Hurricane Harvey.

Brandon’s most harrowing rescues occurred on Sunday, Aug. 27, when he joined the citizens armada, the flotilla of boats owned by civilians who drafted themselves to serve as first responders when the catastrophic size of the emergency overwhelmed professionals.

The crew on Brandon’s boat was all union. His longtime friend, Kenneth Yates, a member of Plumbers Local Union 68 in Houston, owned the Bay Stealth craft. Yates’ stepfather, Robert Young, a retired member of the American Federation of Teachers, joined them on the expedition through engulfed Dickinson, Texas.

A home in Dickinson, Texas, on Aug. 27 as seen from Brandon Parker’s rescue boat.

The crew on Brandon’s boat was all union. His longtime friend, Kenneth Yates, a member of Plumbers Local Union 68 in Houston, owned the Bay Stealth craft. Yates’ stepfather, Robert Young, a retired member of the American Federation of Teachers, joined them on the expedition through engulfed Dickinson, Texas.

They launched the boat into deep water on Interstate 45. Bands of storm clouds pelted them with rain, paused, then resumed. The flood water was about six feet deep, not quite over the front door of most homes they passed. The current was strong, making it hard to maneuver the boat.

Kenneth Yates and Robert Young on Yates’ Bay Stealth boat in Dickinson, Texas, on Aug. 27 as they set out to rescue people.

At one point, Brandon saw – just two inches below the water’s surface – an iron fence topped by arrow-shaped finials. He quickly shoved the boat away with an oar, preventing the metal points from puncturing the hull and sinking the craft. They were lucky. They saw rescue boats that were flipped over and one wrapped around a light pole. Ultimately, though, both the hull and propeller of Kenneth Yates’ boat were damaged from striking unseen underwater objects.

They picked up nine people. One family came from a second-story deck. They climbed down the deck’s steps and got into the boat. Another group was on the second story of an apartment building and descended its exterior staircase to the boat.

This was before evacuation was ordered, and Brandon was frightened for the people who chose to remain in their homes. He said he urged everyone he saw to leave while they could but many refused. “Because all the professional resources were being used, it might be hours before they could be rescued in an emergency,” Brandon told me last week.

When it got dark, Brandon, Kenneth and Robert went home. They didn’t have lights on the boat, so it wasn’t safe to continue.

Brandon wasn’t done though. That night, a family in his neighborhood needed to get out of their house after water had risen four feet inside. It was a young boy, a friend of Brandon’s 11-year-old son, and the boy’s uncle. Brandon drove as close as he could to the house, then got a guy in a boat to go in and bring them out to where the car was.

Brandon’s neighborhood in League City, Texas, on Aug. 29.

That is how Brandon started rescuing people – with his car, which would end up with damage to the steering system, differentials and wheel bearings from driving in high water. He first put his car into service Saturday night, Aug. 26. He was headed home from his brother-in-law’s house where he’d watched boxer Floyd Mayweather defeat Conor McGregor. Rain was pouring down and lightning flashing. He saw people walking along the swamped road, drenched.

Some had lost their cars in the rising water. Some had parked, afraid to drive further. Brandon picked up about a dozen in his high-riding, 1990 Suburban and drove them to their homes, most to the neighborhood where his brother-in-law lived.

By Sunday, Aug. 27, the roof of Brandon’s house in League City, Texas, was leaking, and he and his wife and three children had taken in flooded out in-laws. Still, he told his wife that he wanted to go out and help people. “She wasn’t too happy, but she understood that I needed to do that,” Brandon recounted. “I have been in situations where people have helped me. Why wouldn’t I go and help other people?”

That morning, he drove to a neighborhood in hard-hit Dickinson, where nearly every house was flooded. He found hurricane refugees walking through deep water carrying plastic garbage bags of belongings over their heads. This is dangerous because people can step in the wrong place and suddenly slip under water. That’s because there were deep ditches on both sides of the road and floods push manhole covers off.

He piled people into his Suburban and drove them to a bar that was still on dry ground. Other volunteers ferried them to shelters from there.

The 1990 Suburban Brandon Parker used to rescue people.

On Monday, Aug. 28, Brandon drove his truck through high water to get to a donation center in Galveston. He picked up cases of water, food, toiletries and other supplies. He distributed them in his neighborhood because many elderly residents had refused to leave their homes. “I went door to door giving out water and food. A lot of people turned me down. They said they didn’t want to take what others needed.”

The supplies were crucial because even when people with high vehicles like Brandon could get out, they found stores closed and gas stations out of fuel. Brandon continued checking on his neighbors and handing out provisions through Wednesday, when water started receding and he had to go to work at the LyondellBasell refinery in Houston.

Like Brandon, Felicia Weir of Santa Fe, Texas, is a USW refinery worker with a high-riding truck. Even after her home flooded, she drove for hours on Wednesday, backing up constantly to circumvent flood-closed roads, to get baby formula and clothes for a couple who had been plucked from their rooftop with an infant granddaughter and two other young grand kids.

Felicia Weir of Santa Fe, Texas, with supplies to distribute from her union hall.

Marcos Velez, a USW staff member from Pasadena, Texas, drove his pickup truck through flood waters to rescue a refinery worker whose car was inundated by three feet of fast moving water in Baytown, Texas, as he tried to drive to his job before dawn. Then Velez turned around and, despite blinding rain, rescued another dozen people whose cars were bobbing in the fast-rising water in that same neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Texas AFL-CIO set up a charitable organization, the Texas Workers Relief Fund to aid working families, and local unions from across the country began donating. The National Nurses United Registered Nurse Response Network, an organization of volunteer unionized nurses, deployed its first unit to Houston on Thursday. Three Texas USW local unions handed out food and water to first responders and the public.

These efforts won’t stop when the rain does. This Labor Day, workers from across the country will be volunteering. They’ll be helping victims of Hurricane Harvey recover. And they’ll continue donating their services for months.

Leo W Gerard: No More Trickle-Down Trade Deals

Free trade be damned.

People don’t need any more free trade. They need jobs. And not just any jobs. They need good jobs with living wages and decent benefits.

That’s what negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico must prioritize as they begin talks this week to rewrite the reviled and failed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Negotiators must focus on improving the lives of people, not boosting the profits of corporations.

NAFTA betrayed the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico because it was based on the same servility to the rich that trickle-down economics was. Under trickle-down, the wealthy and corporations got the biggest, fattest tax cuts. Everyone else supposedly was to benefit somehow someday.  A microscopic pinch of the immense monetary gift granted to the high and mighty was supposed to magically appear in everyone else’s pockets. It never did.

And that’s the problem with NAFTA. Its negotiators placed corporations on a pedestal, awarding them rights and privileges that no human, no labor organization, no environmental group got. Again, the wrong-headed idea was that if corporations made big bucks, some of the benefits would trickle down to workers. That never happened.

NAFTA was great for corporations. It provided incentives for them to move to the lowest-wage, lowest-environmental regulation location – that being Mexico. Profits, dividends and CEO pay all rose as corporations like United Technologies uprooted profitable American factories – like its Carrier plant in Indiana – and moved them to Mexico. There, dirt-poor wages and lack of environmental regulation provide even higher profits, dividends and CEO pay.

Workers in none of the three NAFTA signatory countries saw any benefits. Wages in the United Statesand Canada stagnated.  In Mexico, wages are actually lower than before NAFTA. The poverty rate in Mexico is almost exactly the same as it was in the mid-1990s, before NAFTA took effect.

NAFTA ensured there was no wall between the United States and Mexico for corporations to scale. Humans get stopped at the border, but not corporations. United Technologies faced no barriers this year when shipped manufacturing from Indiana to Mexico. It was the same for Rexnord, which closed its ball bearing plant in Indianapolis this year and sent it across the border to Mexico, no problem.

As the United States’ trade deficit with both Canada and Mexico skyrocketed in the 20 years after NAFTA took effect in 1994, the United States lost 881,700 jobs. That figure is three years old, so it does not include United Technologies and Rexnord moving 1,600 Indiana jobs to Mexico. Since NAFTA, more than 60,000 factories closed in the United States.

Clearly part of the lure is wages. While a manufacturer may pay $20 an hour in the United States, it’ll only pay $20 a day in Mexico, where the average manufacturing wage is $2.49 an  hour. Labor organizations there are almost always completely controlled by corporate employers, rather than by the workers. So securing raises is nearly impossible.

And while many formerly American manufacturers moved just across the border to special industrial areas, overall job growth in Mexico was not significant. That is because subsidized corn exported from the United States bankrupted huge numbers of small Mexican farmers and many corporations have moved their factories again, this time from Mexico to even lower-wage China and other south Asian countries.

That’s just great for rich investors and fat cat CEOs. It’s been horrible for workers in Mexico, Canada and the United States. What has trickled down has been toxic – lost jobs, stagnant wages and worry.

The difference in the way NAFTA treats corporations and workers is stark. Corporations get special perks in the main NAFTA document. The rights of workers are dealt with in an addendum. They’re an afterthought.

NAFTA gives corporations an extraordinary privilege. They can sue governments for what they contend are “lost profits” if they don’t like regulations or legislation. They don’t have to present their cases to real judges in open court, either. They get to go before a tribunal of corporate lawyers whose decision cannot be appealed by the governments ordered to pay unlimited billions of tax dollars to the corporations. Corporations can force governments to pay if lawmakers protect citizens by, for example, banning a neurotoxin or limiting sale of dangerous products.

There’s no counterpart for workers. NAFTA provides no way for the Carrier workers laid off in Indianapolis by United Technologies to sue. The workers can’t ask three hand-picked worker-jurists in a secret court for income lost because the corporation moved to Mexico to make even bigger profits on the backs of underpaid workers there. There’s no way for Mexican workers to sue when a corporation endangers worker health with pollution or when a company-controlled labor organization pushes down wages.

In fact, NAFTA’s labor addendum bows to corporations before even mentioning workers. The addendum’s preamble says the NAFTA signatories resolved to expand markets for goods and services and to enhance corporate competitiveness globally. Then, after that, the preamble says a goal is to create new jobs, improve working conditions and living standards, and protect “basic” workers’ rights.

Change, Cost and Compassion — Selling Medicare For All

By Brad Bannon

Republicans have been as quiet as church mice on healthcare reform since the latest version of what I call “Trump(Doesn’t)Care” crashed and burned in the Senate. President Trump will try to kill ObamaCare by executive fiat while the president’s addled allies in Congress bumble their way into their next half-baked scheme to produce tax cuts for the rich and misery for working families.

Democratic initiative trumps GOP inertia. No one could accuse Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of being asleep at the switch while Trump golfs and Senate Majority Leader Mitch O’Connell enjoys his summer vacation. Sanders is using the summer congressional work session to work at building support for his universal health proposal, Medicare for All.

The GOP is great at killing laws but bad at giving birth to them. The late great Democratic Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, used to say, “A jackass can kick a barn down but it takes a carpenter to build one.”

A hidden winner in the battle between ObamaCare and TrumpCare has been Medicare for All. Since the bitter cage match between Affordable Care Act and the efforts to repeal and replace it erupted, support for universal healthcare has exploded.

Last March an Associated Press national survey indicated that there was roughly an even split (52 percent agree while 47 percent disagree) between Americans who believed that the federal government had a responsibility to provide healthcare coverage to everyone and people who didn’t think the feds had that obligation.

In a new AP poll, support for universal coverage had increased so much there is now a large majority (62 percent to 37 percent) of Americans who believe the federal government has the responsibility to guarantee health insurance for all Americans.

Democrats would lose a great chance to fundamentally reform the broken healthcare system and the party’s establishment if we aren’t bold. Here are the best arguments progressives must make to provide Medicare for all.

First, the need for fundamental change. The healthcare system, like a lot of other systems in the United States, is a mess. Is it any wonder that only 1 in 4 (27 percent-Gallup Poll) Americans think the country is headed in the right direction?

Trump rode the wave of anger and hostility towards the status quo into the White House. But TrumpCare hurts the people who supported Trump. A bold remedy for fundamental change in the ailing healthcare system would help position the Democratic Party as the party of change and reform and help win back working families who jumped ship in 2016 to support the GOP presidential candidate.

The U.S. spends more money per capita for healthcare than any country in the world and gets little in return. Inflationary medical costs are jobs killers. Millions of Americans are in danger of bankruptcy to pay for medical care for serious injuries and infirmities. Meanwhile insurance companies are reaping enormous profits and their CEOs are paid exorbitant salaries.

The second argument for Medicare for All is the need to reduce costs. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that U.S. spending for healthcare in 2016 was $9,024 per person. The average spending for all developed nations was only $3,620.

According to OECD, the average life expectancy for Americans has increased by nine years since 1960. In Japan, life expectancy has risen by fifteen years. The average increase for developed nations is eleven. The mortality rate for American men without a high school education — the Trump base — has decreased.

The best way to lower healthcare costs is to take private insurance companies and their highly paid CEOs out of the equation. In 2015, Cigna CEO David Cordani made $49 million and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolino made nearly $28 million. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who is responsible for Medicare, makes $199,700 per year.

Economist Thomas Frank recently pointed out in the New York Times that Medicare administrative costs are only 2 percent. Administrative costs for private insurance companies are about 6 times higher.

Lastly, there is the argument for compassion. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.”

Even if ObamaCare survives, there still will be 26 million Americans who do not have health insurance coverage. If some version of TrumpCare replaces the Affordable Care Act, another 15 to 26 million people will join the ranks of the uninsured. Neither program adequately addresses the problems millions of other Americans have in paying rising premiums for coverage.

TrumpCare is hard hearted and mean spirited. Republicans didn’t plan to fail, they just failed to plan for a reasonable alternative to ACA for people who need coverage.

The GOP wants to cut Medicare. We should build on Medicare as a foundation to build a better system. The Sanders’ Medicare for All plan is the best way to fundamentally clean up the mess. We already have universal coverage for the seniors and the disabled. Even though Medicare is socialism for seniors, anytime the GOP tries to get rid of it, the effort crashes in flames.

Medicare is a popular program with a long track record of success. The Kaiser family Foundation asked Americans how they felt about giving all Americans access to Medicare and found that a large majority (57 percent to 38 percent) people favored the idea.

The blood feud between Republicans and Democrats over healthcare reform this year in Congress is just a skirmish; not the decisive battle in the health reform war. The path to real healthcare reform is a long and winding road that doesn’t end at the intersection of ObamaCare and TrumpCare.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. (There is no relation to Trump adviser Stephen Bannon). He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics. Contact him at brad@bannoncr.com

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