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Leo W Gerard: American Workers Seek Enforcement, Not Protection

American workers have made a simple request of politicians for decades: stop the trade violations that kill American manufacturers and jobs.

Art by dzejdi, Getty Images

American factories and workers are willing to compete. They are able to compete. But the playing field must be level. American workers and employers can’t win when their rival is not a company but a country. U.S. manufacturers and unions have filed untold numbers of cases against trade law violators, and they almost always win. As a result, the United States now has 28 separate tariffs on a variety of Chinese steel products, and in January it filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization about China’s aluminum policies.

But China and other countries continue to violate and circumvent the rules. So now, President Donald Trump is contemplating invoking a section of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to ensure America can produce its own steel and aluminum for national security. Badmouthing this effort as protectionism are importers and 1 percenters. They’ve tried to characterize American workers and their employers as crybabies seeking protection. But no one is asking for protection.  American workers and manufacturers want trade law enforcement to establish fair competition and ensure national security interests.

Those who have been screaming “protectionism” like banshees since Trump announced that his administration would investigate whether to impose tariffs or restrictions on imports of aluminum and steel for national security contend free trade enriches all countries involved. But what they don’t say is who gets that money. In the United States, it has all gone to the already filthy rich.

Sure, the price of paper and furniture is cheaper at Walmart, but that’s pretty meaningless to the North Carolina furniture builders who lost their jobs when their factories moved to China and the Maine paper workers who lost their jobs when their mills closed because of underpriced, government-subsidized Chinese imports.

And it’s not just individuals. Free trade has devastated hundreds and hundreds of small American towns that depended on that now-closed factory or mill to employ the populace and pay municipal taxes.

Workers at the Century Aluminum Co. plant in Hawesville, Ky., know that well. They’ve watched their region deteriorate as the nearby Whirlpool factory moved to Mexico, costing 1,100 workers their jobs. Cheap unfairly traded Russian imports put a local steel mill out of business. Underpriced Chinese imports closed down the area’s furniture factories. And a glut of subsidized Chinese aluminum on the international market shuttered an Alcoa smelter in nearby Indiana last year, costing 600 workers their jobs.

Still threatened is the Century Aluminum smelter, the last left in the United States that makes the specialty metal needed to protect soldiers in Army Humvees from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Twice over the past five years, Century has issued notices to its workers in Hawesville that it would close permanently. Luckily for the town of 1,000 residents, Century has been able to reverse course on both occasions. Still, it has furloughed more than 300 workers and scrapped unused machinery for cash. It is one of only five smelters still operating in the United States, just two of which are running at full capacity. That is down from 23 smelters 24 years ago.

Sometimes a town that loses a major employer gets a new one. But all too often it’s just not enough. When Ormet Corp. closed its smelter in Hannibal, Ohio, in 2013, more than 600 workers lost their jobs. Now a power plant is planned. But it will employ only about 20.

American aluminum and steel workers are highly skilled. The plants where they work – or once worked – are efficient and emit far less pollution than their Chinese counterparts. All things being equal, they should be able to compete. But all things aren’t equal.

Many foreign competitors receive aid from their governments that is banned under trade rules they agreed to abide by. This includes free loans from state-owned banks, free land from local governments and state-subsidized raw materials.

Because of such blatant and outrageous trade law violations, U.S. Steel last year asked the government to stop all imports of Chinese steel. In its petition, U.S. Steel described in detail Chinese officials stealing trade secrets and Chinese companies engaging in a practice called trans-shipping, which is sending steel through a third country where it is falsely marked as originating to illegally duck tariffs.

U.S. Steel was one of five companies, including a specialty steel firm and an aluminum corporation, that the Chinese government cyber attacked. The U.S. government has criminally charged five Chinese military officials with economic espionage for breaking into U.S. Steel computers and swiping information on company strategies.

Soon after the Chinese cyber-attack, one of the country’s largest steel firms, Baosteel, used U.S. Steel trade secrets to produce specialty metal for the car industry, then exported some of it to the United States, in direct competition with U.S. Steel.

This pattern of cheating certainly has not stopped. Within recent days, it was announced that a Chinese state-owned bank was giving a $2.9 billion bailout to the largest aluminum producer in the world, China Hongqiao, which is staggering after allegations of fraud.

Such government-subsidized Chinese aluminum and steel flooding the international market and depressing prices kills American jobs. Bob Prusak, president of Magnitude 7 Metals, put it this way, “My company just purchased an aluminum producer that was in bankruptcy. We’re trying to restart that facility. It is impossible for us to do that if other companies receive seemingly endless subsidies or benefits from markets protected through tariff and non-tariff barriers.”

That aluminum smelter is in New Madrid, Mo., and was owned by Noranda. At one point, Noranda employed 900 workers there. Its closure last year threatens to destroy the town of 3,000, located in what is already among the poorest parts of the state.

Enforcement of international trade law – not protectionism – could help Magnitude 7 Metals restore those jobs and save the area from devastation. Enforcement would help ensure that the United States can produce the specialty aluminum that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said is essential for production of F-35 fighter jets. Enforcement would help ensure that the United States can continue to produce the steel used in transformers crucial to electrical transmission. Only one domestic steel mill remains capable of forging that steel.

No American aluminum smelter or steel mill can remain in business just supplying the military. It must operate in a viable commercial environment. For that to happen, international trade rules must be enforced. A good first step in that direction would be imposing Trade Expansion Act penalties that are as strong as American defense must be.

VA Union Calls on Senate to ‘Work on Fixing, Not Dismantling Veterans’ Healthcare’

AFGE applauds efforts to increase hiring, but finds that proposed legislation falls short of what’s needed

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to address proposed legislation aimed at improving veterans’ access to care. With 49,000 vacancies at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide and a growing veteran population, AFGE cautioned lawmakers that some of the proposals under consideration may lead to the dismantling of the VA healthcare system and undermine the VA’s efforts to hire desperately needed staff.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 250,000 working people at the VA, submitted written testimony to the hearing, “Pending Health Care Legislation,” that addresses the positive and negative bills that will alter the future of the VA.

AFGE’s comments focused on several bills that will increase the hiring and access to care for veterans at the only healthcare system tailored to their unique needs. In addition, the union’s statement raised concerns about proposals that would vastly expand the use of non-VA care to such an extreme as to threaten the world-class healthcare system’s long-term survival.

In its comments on S. 1325, the Better Workforce for Veterans Act from Senators Jon Tester and Jerry Moran from Montana and Kansas respectively, AFGE supported provisions aimed at improvement of management and human resources practices. But, the union expressed concern about the adverse impact of new hiring authorities on promotion opportunities for current employees. AFGE also questioned a bill provision to use expensive Public Health Service medical officers who lack the expertise and stability of VA’s own workforce, and another that tries to fix VA police recruitment and retention problems without affording them much needed law enforcement officer status.

“We support new legislation that will allow for the VA to fill the glaring number of open positions at the agency,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “Veterans want the VA. Veterans need the VA. They have said time and again that they don’t want to be forced out into the private sector with longer wait times, less access to care, and medical professionals ill-equipped to handle their unique needs,” he added.

In their testimony, AFGE also highlighted several proposals for reforming current programs that provide non-VA care.  “AFGE strongly opposes the Veterans Choice Act of 2017,” from Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, AFGE said in its testimony. Adding, “This bill would vastly increase the use of non-VA care through a massive expansion of the Choice Program. Like the Concerned Veterans of America plan that was soundly rejected by the Commission on Care, this bill would erode the critical core of the VA health care system and put such an enormous financial strain on it threatens its very survival.”

In contrast, AFGE praised the Improving Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2017 from Sen. Tester. The union lauded the legislator’s efforts to modernize VA services, lay the foundation for VA-run integrated networks, and keep the VA as the primary provider and coordinator of VA care. AFGE said these provisions protect “the critical resources that the VA must retain in order to keep its promise to veterans”

“Veterans have overwhelmingly said that they want Congress to work on fixing, not dismantling veterans’ healthcare, and Sen. Isakson’s bill does nothing of the sort,” said Cox. “We believe that the Improving Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2017 is a much better approach – albeit with its own faults – to providing veterans options outside of the VA if they so choose.

“Ultimately, AFGE will stand with veterans who make up one-third of workers at the VA, and the millions that use it to receive world-class medical treatment. It’s been proven time and again that the VA is the best option for those who have borne the battle, and we’ll never stop fighting to make it the best that it can be,” said Cox.

Governor And Union Fail To Reach Agreement Leaving NH State Employees Without A Contract

The New Hampshire State Employees Association (SEIU1984) and the State of New Hampshire have failed to reach a contract agreement and workers are now working without a contract.

As of now the NHLN does not have any details on the negotiations other that what the SEA said in this brief statement issued on June 30, the last day of the fiscal year for the state of NH.

Today, our contract expires.

After months of bargaining, all Gov. Sununu can say is, “no.”

On June 28, 2017, our bargaining team met with the state for one last attempt in securing a contract. However, Gov. Sununu has shut the master bargaining team down at every turn – refusing any wage increases and responding with outrageous demands in return.

Wage increases? “No.” Keeping health care cost-saving incentives? “No.” The master bargaining team is even facing opposition in changing the capitalization of certain letters in the contract. Gov. Sununu’s team keeps saying “no.”

The governor and his team have made it clear they have no intention of working together to better the working conditions of state employees. They’re refusing to do anything to aid in recruitment and retention, dismissing improved standards for part-time workers, and threatening to end aspects of our preventive health care – even though it’s mutually beneficial. They’re willing to threaten the health and safety of state employees just to “get a win” for the governor.

We thought our top elected official would eventually work with us. We believed he had his employees’ best interests at heart. Our master bargaining team has worked tirelessly for over 10 months to develop a contract that benefits both state employees and the people they serve. We’re disappointed this administration doesn’t see the value in the individuals who keep this state running.

When it comes to helping real people—the people he depends on—Gov. Sununu’s favorite word is no.

The Governor had no problems cutting taxes in the State’s budget but his team is rejecting the idea of giving the people who actually do the work for the state a slight pay raise as unthinkable.

Our state employees deserve better than this. They deserve to be treated with respect and be allowed to bargain for fair wages and benefits.  If our state can afford to give tax breaks to the wealthy, then they damn well should be able to pay our state workers better.

Trump’s Repeal Of Beryllium Protections Puts Tens Of Thousands Of Workers At Risk

Once again the Trump administration is using their power to steamroll workers and the health protections those workers have fought and died for.  This week, they announced they want to roll back the proposed OSHA rule on Beryllium exposure.

“More working people will die if the Trump administration rolls back OSHA’s beryllium rule,” said AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka. “It also will mark the first time in history for the government to roll back worker safety protections against a cancer-causing toxin. The entire labor movement will work together to fight any proposal that takes away standards that keep us safe at work.”

(Tweet from RoseAnn DeMoro, President of the National Nurses United.)

“Once again, the Trump administration’s Labor Department is taking us backwards and undermining the core principle that no worker should have to sacrifice his or her life for a job,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project.  “Today, at the behest of corporate special interests, the Labor Department issued a proposed rule to loosen health protections for workers exposed to the chemical beryllium.”

Beryllium is a toxic metal known to cause fatal diseases such as chronic beryllium disease of the lungs and lung cancer, even when very low levels are inhaled.

“No matter where they work, U.S. workers deserve protection from exposure to hazardous – and potentially lethal – toxic materials,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “The proposal announced today by the U.S. Department of Labor to weaken standards that limit exposure to beryllium for shipyard and construction workers is a step backwards.”

The proposal would eliminate the “ancillary provisions” of the beryllium rule that would have extended specific new protections to construction and shipyard workers, including exposure assessments, personal protective equipment, medical surveillance and protected work areas. These provisions were included in OSHA’s rule in response to pressure from labor unions and public health groups, including Public Citizen.

“Like other beryllium-exposed workers, construction and shipyard workers deserve to go to work without risking their lives,” said Dr. Sammy Almashat, researcher for Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “By eliminating lifesaving protections for workers in these specified industries, the Trump administration is recklessly putting corporate interests above workers’ lives.”

“It is well documented that shipyard and construction workers can be exposed to beryllium.  They need the same protections as other workers – including monitoring and assessing exposure to potential harm and taking steps to eliminate hazards which can lead to life-threatening diseases,” said Martinez.

In a rulemaking process that lasted more than a decade, OSHA asked stakeholders to comment on whether its final beryllium rule should extend protections to workers in the construction and shipyard industries. After careful consideration, the agency determined that it needed to cover these workers with a lower permissible exposure limit of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air. That limit is preserved in today’s proposal. But the agency also recognized the need to mandate specific protections for construction and shipyard workers. These ancillary provisions have been revoked in the administration’s proposal.

“To protect workers, consistent with its legal authority, OSHA set the lowest exposure standards that were technologically and economically feasible. But because beryllium is highly toxic, the Labor Department knew that workers could still get sick at these exposure limits. So it put into place additional protections—such as medical surveillance of workers near but below the exposure limit—to ensure that any diseases were caught at the early stages. The Labor Department initially projected that these additional protections would save 96 lives per year and prevent 46 new cases of disease,” explained Owens.

OSHA was right to safeguard these workers in its final rule, Public Citizen maintains. According to the agency, beryllium threatens 62,000 workers. OSHA’s own inspection data show that 70 percent of the 11,500 construction and shipyard workers who come into contact with beryllium while performing open-air abrasive blasting are, in fact, exposed to airborne beryllium that can result in debilitating lifelong illnesses and early deaths.

“If this proposal to weaken the beryllium rule goes into effect, construction and shipyard workers will die and be permanently disabled as a result,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The final beryllium rule issued at the end of the Obama administration must be reinstated immediately.”

Leo W Gerard: Subjugation in Steel

Image of USW member at EVRAZ North America by Steven Dietz

One cost of freedom is steel. To remain independent, America must maintain its own vibrant steel industry.

Steel is essential to make munitions, armor plate, aircraft carriers, submarines and fighter jets, as well as the roads and bridges on which these armaments are transported, the electrical grid that powers the factories where they are produced, the municipal water systems that supply manufacturers, even the computers that aid industrial innovation.

If America imports that steel, it becomes a vassal to the producing countries. It would be victim to the whims of countries that certainly don’t have America’s interests in mind when they act. In the case of China, the attempt to subjugate is deliberate. Beijing intentionally overproduces, repeatedly promises to cut back while it actually increases capacity, then exports its excess, state-subsidized steel at below-market costs. This slashes the international price, which, in turn, bankrupts steelmakers in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Spain and elsewhere. Then, China dominates.

To his credit, President Donald Trump has said America can’t be great without the ability to make its own steel. He ordered the Commerce Department to investigate the extent to which steel imports threaten national security. Commerce officials are scheduled to brief Senate committees on the inquiry today. That’s because they’re being second guessed by a handful of federal officials, exporters and corporations whose only concern is profit, not patriotism. To protect national security, American steel and family-supporting jobs, the administration must stand strong against foreign unfair trade in steel that kills American jobs and creates American dependency.

Imports already take more than a quarter of the U.S. steel market. They rose in May by 2.6 percent, seizing a 27 percent market share. That is dangerous. America can’t rely on unfairly traded foreign steel as it tries to expand manufacturing jobs or when it faces foreign threats. Defense needs are the basis of the administration inquiry, called a Section 232 investigation under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

National security relies on dependable, modern transportation and utility systems as well as armaments. To produce defense materials, factories need supplies to arrive routinely and electricity to flow consistently. Steel is just as crucial for roads, bridges, airports and utilities as it is for armor plate.

Some importers are pressuring Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross not to recommend imposing limits or tariffs on steel imports, asserting that the only consideration should be price. They contend that if China, South Korea, Japan and Turkey subsidize their steel production, which lowers the cost of exports, then American builders should benefit – no matter how much that damages national security or destroys steelworkers’ family-supporting jobs. Their preoccupation with profit at their country’s expense should disqualify them from consideration.

To be clear, American steel companies and my union, the United Steelworkers, have tried repeatedly to resolve the problem of trade cheating through normal channels – filing trade enforcement cases against the violators. But the United States has refused to take currency manipulation by countries like China into account. And every time an American company wins an enforcement case against a trade law violator and tariffs are imposed on a particular type of steel import, China and other cheaters begin subsidizing a different type of steel and exporting that.

American companies  have won dozens of cases – welded stainless steel pressure pipe, rebar, line pipe, oil country tubular goods, wire rod, corrosion-resistant steel, hot-rolled steel, cold-rolled steel, cut-to-length plate, grain-oriented electrical steel. But in every case, countries like China and South Korea find a way to circumvent the rulings by subsidizing some new steel product and exporting that or by trans-shipping – sending the product to another country first to make it look like the steel originated there to evade the tariffs.

American steel producers and steelworkers can compete successfully against any counterpart in the world, but they can’t win a contest against a country.

The USW and American producers are looking for a broader solution now, something that will prevent cheating and circumvention across-the-board. And they have good reason to believe they can count on Commerce Secretary Ross. This is a guy who knows the industry and has a track record of saving steel mills and jobs.

At the turn of the century, as recession and the Asian financial crisis pushed more than 30 U.S. steel companies into bankruptcy, Secretary Ross bought a half dozen failing steel firms and restored them to solvency.

Because of his experience, Secretary Ross can be trusted to know the difference between China and Canada. American steelworkers and steel producers aren’t looking for blatant protectionism. American firms and Canadian companies have relationships in which steel from Canton, Ohio, may travel to St. Catherines, Ontario, where it is converted into engine blocks that are then shipped back across the border to Detroit, Mich., for installation in cars. Canada doesn’t illegally subsidize its steel industry or manipulate its currency. Only countries like China, Russia, South Korea and others that flagrantly violate international trade rules should be subject to the Section 232 sanctions.

Secretary Ross experienced the hell of 30 steel bankruptcies. He knows just how bad it can be for workers, companies and the country. With President Trump at his back, Secretary Ross now is key to ensuring American steel doesn’t descend back into that hell and that America remains steel independent.

EPA Union Blasts Pruitt Over Budget Testimony

AFGE says Administration’s proposed budget will hurt community health across the country

WASHINGTON – In response to today’s testimony from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about the proposed budget for the agency in 2018, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. issued the following statement:

“More than 40 years ago, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live on. It was a critical moment as local and state governments didn’t — and still do not — have the capacity, incentive, or resources to address issues like cross-state pollution. And for the last four decades, working people at the EPA have dedicated their lives to fulfilling the agency’s mission, and protecting community health in this country.

“It is absolutely outrageous to me that Administrator Pruitt supports a 31 percent cut to the EPA. It’s the only agency that keeps America’s air clean and drinking water safe. How can he think that reducing more than 20 percent of the agency’s workforce, cutting essential programs, and rolling back regulations will help citizens of this country?

“Administrator Pruitt and the President want the American people to think that these cuts – and the rollbacks of life-saving regulations – are good for our country. They’re not. Study after study has proven that regulations put forth by the EPA have saved lives and money, and have actually spurred innovation and created jobs.

“For example, the Office of Management and Budget found that from 2000 – 2010, regulations cost between $44 – $66 billion annually. Comparatively, those very same regulations had an annual benefit ranging up to $651 billion.

“Working people at the EPA take no sides when it comes to politics. They only want to follow through on their agency’s mission. They’ve dedicated their careers to making sure we all have air and water that is free of dangerous pollutants.

“If we want to continue to protect generations of Americans from air- and water-borne illnesses, we must fight against the President’s 2018 budget, and save the EPA.”

With New NAFTA Recommendations, Labor Leaders Outline ‘Bold, Necessary’ Changes to Trade

During a teleconference on Monday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, joined by USW President Leo Girard and CWA President Christopher Shelton, announced the AFL-CIO’s comprehensive recommendations for reworking NAFTA to benefit working people. Pointing to staggering job losses and flat wage growth, Trumka minced no words in calling current U.S. trade policy “a bipartisan disaster,” with NAFTA being a particularly egregious failure.

Donald Trump has been highly critical of NAFTA in the past, constantly decrying it on the campaign trail and appealing to the millions of working people whose livelihoods have been affected by the deal. “It’s no secret working people voted for Trump,” said Shelton, “largely because of the promises he made [on NAFTA].” Now that he is in office, labor leaders expect him to make good on those promises to rework the deal, or face the consequences.

If [the new deal] further rigs the rules for the wealthiest few, we will fight him,” Trumka warned. “And if he breaks his promise, workers will never forget it.”

In addition to the recommendations outlined by the AFL-CIO, Edward Wytkind, President of Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, released a statement calling for stronger protections for the transportation workforce, including prohibiting bus and truck traffic from Mexico that violates U.S. safety rules and requiring participating nations to make minimum investments in infrastructure.

Our trade agreements should be designed to put money in the pockets of America’s working families, not large, multi-national corporations or foreign governments,” said Wytkind.

However, leaders have made clear that the goal of this new framework is not to pit workers in different countries against each other. When asked whether there was a middle ground for protecting both U.S. and Mexican workers, Trumka answered, “Mexican and Canadian workers are not our enemy. It’s the trade agreements that are our enemy.”

Both Girard and Shelton agreed that trade agreements should not put workers against each other. Girard said in a closing statement,“It’s not one country’s workers against another’s, it’s all workers rising together.”  Shelton advocated for policies that raise wages and encourage collective bargaining specifically in Mexico.

One thing is certain: a few small tweaks will not fix NAFTA. The recommendations put forth by labor leaders are far-reaching, comprehensive and necessary in order to protect working people from further devastation. And labor leaders have made clear that they will not sit quietly if the administration’s changes are insufficient.

This is bigger than trade itself; it’s about the system of democracy,” said Trumka. “We’re gonna fight and fight hard so that workers can have a fair shot.”

Leo W Gerard: Trump Offers Fool’s Gold to Fund Infrastructure

Image from USW / Getty

Donald Trump surrounds himself in gold. The signs on Trump buildings shimmer in it. His penthouse in New York is gilded in it.

He claims now to have found the alchemy to conjure $1 trillion in infrastructure gold. He plans to put up a mere $200 billion in federal funds and stir it together with $800 billion in private investment and state dollars.

That is fool’s gold. A falsely-funded infrastructure program is a massive broken promise. America needs real improvements to roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, water systems and railways. That requires a commitment of real tax dollars, not the relinquishment of America’s public assets to profit-seeking private Wall Street entities. Americans should not be charged twice for maintenance of the public good, once through tax breaks to investors and again in outrageous tolls and fees the investors charge.

On Wednesday, standing on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Trump reiterated the pledge he made repeatedly on the campaign trail to put $1 trillion into infrastructure. He said “restoring America” is a promise that Washington, D.C., has broken. “It has not been kept, but we are going to keep it,” he said.

“Taxpayers deserve the best results for their investment,” he said, “and I will be sure that is what they get.” But the plan to turn over public assets to private corporations for tax-supported investment is gold only for the 1 percent who can afford to invest.

The Wall Street Journal reported last fall that to raise the private funds, Trump planned to give massive tax breaks of 82 percent of equity to investors that help pay for infrastructure repair. For citizens, that’s a crappy deal – giving Wall Street control over public assets in addition to being forced to fork over the taxes that rich investors will not pay.

That financial alchemy creates poison, not gold.

In addition, there is no profit in many types of infrastructure that need repair, like schools and hospitals. A corporation can’t collect tolls from children entering their elementary school each morning.

Despite Trump’s promise in Cincinnati that he would take care of rural areas, there’s no profit in many crucial infrastructure projects in such regions. Investors won’t pay for a highway needed to connect two isolated towns in West Virginia.

And the profit in some projects is highly questionable. Several corporations that have bought or built toll roads have filed for bankruptcy. This includes highways in Texas, California, Indiana and Alabama.

In other cases, the profits reaped are outrageous. After Chicago sold its 36,000 parking meters to Morgan Stanley, the Wall Street bank doubled the parking rates and charged the city tens of millions annually for meters Chicago took out of service for street repairs, mass transit stops and safety. A city inspector general report on the deal says Chicago under-priced the meters by nearly $1 billion when former Mayor Richard M. Daley signed the 75-year contract in 2008. The bank is expected to make back its $1.15 billion investment by 2020, giving it 60 more years to rake in pure profit on the backs of Chicago taxpayers who paid to install the meters and who feed them daily.

That’s gold for Morgan Stanley, grief for taxpayers.

Another part of Trump’s financing plan is to shift infrastructure costs to states and towns. This also cheats too many citizens. Sure, some places high on the hog like Silicon Valley might be able to afford that. But too many will be left out.

That’s because large numbers of cities and states are facing fiscal crises. Chicago sold its parking meters to fill a budget shortfall. In Oklahoma, where there’s a $900 million budget gap, schools are so underfunded that 96 of the state’s 513 districts have reduced the school week to four days and another 44 may be forced to do that in the fall. The state has shuttered rural hospitals, overcrowded its prisons and limited state troopers to 100 miles of driving a day.

In Kansas, with a $1.1 billion budget deficit, the state Supreme Court just ordered the legislature to properly pay for its schools. The court said Kansas’ under-funding meant inadequate education in basic reading and math for students in one fourth of its public schools. The state shortchanged half of the state’s black students and a third of its Hispanic pupils.

Illinois hasn’t had a budget for two years. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times. It has accrued $14.5 billion in unpaid bills. As a result, more than 1,500 public university and community college workers have been laid off and untold numbers of social service agencies have closed or severely curtailed services.

Other states, including Connecticut, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, face massive pension shortfalls after years of failing to properly pay into the funds.

These places aren’t going to be able to jump up and take on the federal government’s responsibility to invest in infrastructure.

Even the $200 billion that the Trump administration is saying the federal government will provide is in question. It’s in the budget Trump submitted to Congress, but also in that budget is $206 billion in cuts to existing infrastructure programs, including those conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Army Corps of Engineers. That’s the very Corps of Engineers that would pay for the river lock and dam projects that Trump complained Wednesday in Cincinnati were grossly underfunded, causing costly breakdowns.

That kind of budgeting is bad alchemy. That’s not $1 trillion in infrastructure gold.

Trump said Wednesday, “We will build because our people want to build and because we need them to build. We will build because our prosperity demands it. We will build because that is how we make America great again.”

That sounds wonderful. But to build, projects must be properly paid for. And so far, the Trump administration has offered only pyrite.

Leo W Gerard: Workers Want A Green Economy, Not A Black Environment

The BlueGreen Alliance

To justify withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord, President Trump said during his press conference yesterday, “I was elected to represent the city of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

From terrible experience, Pittsburghers know about pollution.

Before Pittsburgh’s renaissance, the streetlights Downtown frequently glowed at noon to illuminate sidewalks through the darkness of smoke and soot belched from mills. White collar office workers changed grimy shirts midday. To the west 130 miles, the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned – several times.

Pollution sickened and killed. It triggered asthma and aggravated emphysema. In Donora, just south of Pittsburgh, an air inversion in 1948 trapped smog in the Monongahela River valley.  Poisonous steel mill and zinc plant emissions mixed with fog and formed a yellow earth-bound cloud so dense that driving was impossible. Within days, 20 people were dead. Within a month, another 50 of the town’s 14,000 residents succumbed.

Some viewed pollution as a blessing, a harbinger of jobs. Air that tasted of sulfur signified paychecks. For most, though, pollution was a curse. It meant scrubbing the grime off stoops daily. It meant children wheezing and gasping for air. It meant early death.

The preventable deaths are why my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), has fought against pollution for decades, long before scientists conclusively linked it to global climate change. That connection made combatting pollution even more urgent. It crystalized our obligation to save the planet for posterity. Signing the Paris Climate Accord last year committed the United States to preserving what we all share, the water and the air, for our children and their children. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement moves the United States, and the world, back in time to rivers so toxic they burn and air so noxious it poisons. Trump’s retreat makes America deadly again.

Don’t get me wrong. The USW supports job creation. But the union believes clean air pays; clear water provides work. Engineers design smokestack scrubbers, skilled mechanics construct them and still other workers install them. Additional workers install insulation and solar panels. Untold thousands labor to make the steel and other parts for wind turbine blades, towers and nacelles, fabricate the structures and erect them. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord diminishes these jobs and dispatches the innovators and manufacturers of clean technologies overseas where countries that continue to participate in the climate change agreement will nurture and grow them.

Eleven years ago, the USW joined with the Sierra Cub to form the BlueGreen Alliance because USW members believe Americans deserve both a clean environment and good jobs. The USW believes Americans must have both. Or, in the end, they will have neither.

The Alliance, which now includes more than a dozen unions and environmental groups, has collaborated with industry leaders to find solutions to climate change in ways that create high -quality jobs.

It’s an easy sell to many corporate leaders. Shortly after the election last fall, hundreds of companies and investors, including the likes of Nike and Starbucks, signed a letter asking Trump to abandon his campaign rhetoric about withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

In April, more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, including giants Google, BP and Shell, also wrote Trump urging against reneging on nation’s climate commitment. They said that because the agreement requires action by all countries, it reduces the risk of competitive imbalances for U.S. companies that comply with environmental regulations.

More recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook told Trump that disavowing the accord would injure U.S. business, the economy and the environment. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told Trump that if he turned his back on the accord, Musk would resign from two White House advisory boards.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, also urged Trump to keep the United States’ commitments under the 195-nation pact, rather than joining Syria as an outlier. Syria and Nicaragua are the only non-signatory countries, but Nicaragua declined to sign because its leaders felt the accord was not strong enough.

The streetlights never switch on at noon in Pittsburgh anymore. The Cuyahoga River now supports fish that live only in clean water. Donora’s sole reminder of those dark days in October of 1948 is a Smog Museum.

But the United States remains the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter. It has an obligation to lead the world in combating climate change. Great leaders don’t shirk responsibility.

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 6-2-17: NH Budget, Edelblut-Croydon Bill, And Voting Rights

Bow, NH – June 2, 2017

Thursday, June 1, was a gorgeous day, easily the best weather we have had here in NH for some time. Clear skies by afternoon, warming temperatures, and no rain! In Representatives Hall in the NH State House, however, it proved to be a much drearier and depressing day, although not terribly surprising. On the final day to act on Senate bills, the Republican majority flexed their muscle and demonstrated anew that elections matter. Remember this, when your friends and co-workers tell you next year they are not bothering to vote because “it just doesn’t matter.” It does, and yesterday’s votes in the House prove it.

Edelblut-Croydon Bill   Over the course of seven hours, the Republicans in the House used their superior numbers to force through a number of objectionable bills. Headlining the parade were two bills which have garnered much attention here in this bulletin. SB 8, often termed the Croydon or the Edelblut bill, passed on what was nearly a straightforward party-line vote, and later in the day, the same party-line vote (with a few exceptions) led to passage of SB 3, the voter suppression bill. With regards to SB 8, proponents argued this was simply about giving students the best educational opportunities. What they never addressed were the glaring inequities, whereby private schools may now receive public funding but are under no requirement to accept all students. Those with special educational needs may continue to be excluded, as well as any other categories of students the school determines are not eligible for enrollment. In addition, the accountability of such schools is virtually non-existent, and the myriad requirements imposed on public schools by these same legislators are simply not applicable to private schools. Whether this legislation will withstand the inevitable court challenges remains to be seen, but what we witnessed yesterday was a major step forward towards privatization of public education, all done in the name of “choice.” The unanswered question of course is “Choice for whom?” Are such opportunities equally afforded to all? Can local districts take over the State’s responsibility to determine just what is an “adequate education?” These and many other serious questions remain.

Bad Day for Voting Rights   The second major piece of legislation was SB 3, which passed the House a bit later in the day. The debate was “full and robust,” according to one Republican speaker, with proponents denying that voter registration would be reduced by creating lengthy new forms for same-day registrants and threatening to send State, County or local officials to confirm your claimed domicile. Once again, they could not bring forward a single definitive example of voter fraud, but instead, resorted to citing how many voters in NH might also be registered to vote in another state. No surprise there—voter lists are only purged every few years, and when people move and register to vote in their new place of residence, they rarely inform voting officials in their previous town and state that they have moved. Think about it—when you last moved and registered to vote in your new town or city, weren’t you now registered in two places, at least for a year or two? But then, SB 3 would do nothing to solve this problem. In fact, SB 3 would require those who live in a domicile where they are not on the lease or mortgage to get proof of residence from the landlord or someone they live with, meaning their ability to vote is now dependent upon cooperation of a third party. Sound fair? Finally, in the most telling moment regarding SB 3, after the Republican majority passed the bill and characterized the debate as “full and robust,” that same majority refused to print the text of the debate in the permanent journal of the House, likely out of a concern that the resulting legal record would come back to haunt them in the future court cases and litigation that is certain to follow. Why give the courts the opportunity to determine legislative intent, when the proclaimed problems to be solved are either fictional or admittedly unresolved by the legislation?

Full-Day Kindergarten Funding   Finally, late in the day there was one bright spot, whereby a bipartisan majority soundly endorsed funding for full-day kindergarten. Now let’s be clear—this is still not full funding for full-day kindergarten. Instead of 50% funding at the paltry sum the State claims as covering an “adequate education,” this legislation moves the funding to just over 75% funding, meaning more monies flowing to towns, cities and school districts, but still not full funding. But, you take what you can get, and in this case, that meant also accepting provisions for legalizing keno in New Hampshire. Without the keno provision, the kindergarten funding would not pass, even though the two items are not related, so even many long-time opponents of casinos and expanded gambling swallowed hard and voted for the bill. Keno puts the kindergarten funding back into the Senate and eventually, a likely committee of conference to iron out House/Senate differences. If keno disappears from the final version of the bill, so be it, but at least increased funding for full-day kindergarten is still alive and kicking.

Budget Next Steps  The House will meet again next week for a brief session but both House and Senate are now really focused upon committees of conference to iron out differences on specific pieces of legislation, including the budget passed two days ago by the Senate. That budget uses conservative revenue estimates to justify limiting spending increases, although monies were found to increase funding for charter schools (no such increases for public schools) and for funding a full-time publicist/spokesperson for Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut. The House will undoubtedly non-concur with the Senate’s budget next week on June 8, which means differences will be resolved in a committee of conference composed of select Senators and Representatives. If they could only smoke cigars in the State House or Legislative Office Building then we could truly say the budget will be worked out in a “smoke-filled room.”   Instead, the air will be clearer, but the results will still be murky.
In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

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