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International Labor Leaders, MOCs Call for Strong Labor Protections in NAFTA Renegotiation

(Washington, D.C.) — At a summit and press conference hosted by the AFL-CIO, labor leaders from the U.S., Mexico and Canada, as well as members of Congress discussed a tri-national strategy to influence the NAFTA ​ renegotiation process to ensure that effective, targeted rules to ​raise​ wages and improve​ labor standards in all three countries are included.

“I want to be clear: the enemy of American workers is not Mexican workers. It’s not Canadian workers, and it’s not even corporations,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. ”The enemy of American workers is a broken system of trade that rewards corporate greed at our expense. NAFTA is the single greatest example of this broken system. It’s an economic disaster that must be fixed.”

“It’s time for our political leaders to keep the promises that were made and not bow to the special interests and free trade ideologues,” said USW President Leo W. Gerard.

“Teamsters in the U.S. are mobilized against the spread of so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws in the states because they depress wages by undercutting union power,” said Teamsters Union General President James P. Hoffa. “I applaud the Canadians for making this a trade issue. We agree that these laws incentivize employers to relocate from Canadian provinces that don’t allow ‘free-riders’. I urge the Canadian negotiators to hold their ground on their progressive labor text and for the U.S. negotiators to take this issue seriously.”

“NAFTA’s biggest problem is Mexico’s industrial policy of suppressed wages through the lack of rights for workers,” said Rep. Sandy Levin (MI). “Ensuring labor rights in Mexico will help workers there climb out of poverty, while protecting American jobs from a race to the bottom. This effort to harmonize upwards, to the mutual benefit of workers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, must be the top priority for the renegotiation of NAFTA.”

“NAFTA continues to erode the incomes of working people and to drive the outsourcing of good paying jobs to Mexico, where corporations can more easily exploit workers,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT). “The greatest economic challenge of our times is that people are in jobs that do not pay them enough money to live on. Unless the new NAFTA includes fully enforceable rules that address the labor abuses in Mexico and levels the playing field, then workers across North America will continue to lose while corporations reap record profits.”

“President Trump campaigned for a trade agenda to benefit American workers. And the Canadian government continues to promote its ‘progressive’ trade agenda,” said USW National Director for Canada Ken Neumann. “But words are just that. What we need is real action to ensure that trade agreements benefit working people and not just corporate elites.”

“Canadian Teamsters, like our sisters and brothers in the United States, know that a renegotiated NAFTA must include an ambitious new labour chapter that will protect workers’ rights and act a model for future trade agreements,” said Teamsters Canada President François Laporte. “We support Canada’s labour proposal, and we want to emphasize that enforcement is essential. New rights under NAFTA won’t be worth much without trade sanctions to back them up.”

The fourth round of NAFTA talks are taking place in the DC Metro area through October 17.

Trinational Coalition Demands ISDS Be Removed From New NAFTA Proposal

As Battle Over NAFTA Investor Protections Heats Up, Trinational Coalition Delivers 400,000 Petitions Demanding Elimination of Corporate Rights and Tribunals

Investor-State Dispute Settlement Becomes Key Measure of Whether NAFTA Renegotiations Will Benefit Working People or Expand Corporate Power 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Growing public opposition to the expansive corporate privileges at the heart of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took center stage as the fourth round of NAFTA talks began today in Washington, D.C. U.S., Mexican and Canadian civil society organizations delivered more than 400,000 petitions demanding that NAFTA’s expansive corporate rights and protections and Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) be eliminated during renegotiations.

“If you want to know how trade deals like NAFTA have been rigged against working people and our communities, all you need to do is to look at the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process,” said Chris Shelton, president, Communications Workers of America.

“Americans want trade deals that will add new protections for our environment, create American jobs and raising wages, not another corporate giveaway by a phony populist like Trump, said CREDO political director Murshed Zaheed. “If Trump doesn’t use NAFTA renegotiation to eliminate the Investor State Dispute Settlement provision it will further expose his administration as craven crony capitalists masquerading as faux populists.”

“The Teamsters are North America’s supply chain union. With members in long-haul trucking and freight rail, air, at ports and in warehouses, as well as members in manufacturing and food processing, this union has a big stake in trade policy reform,” said Jim Hoffa, general president, Teamsters. “We will be monitoring the modernization of a flawed and failed NAFTA, and fighting to make sure that the new NAFTA works for working families.”

U.S. officials are expected to table a proposal on the controversial NAFTA investment chapter during this week’s negotiations. NAFTA’s investor protections and ISDS make it less risky and expensive for corporations to outsource jobs and empower them to attack domestic policies that protect public health and the environment by going before tribunals of three corporate lawyers who can order unlimited compensation to be paid to the corporations by taxpayers.

Last month, more than 100 small business leaders sent a letter calling for elimination of ISDS in NAFTA. Organizations representing U.S. state legislatures and state attorneys general and hundreds of prominent economics and law professors also have declared opposition to ISDS, as has a group of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has warned about the threat of ISDS. But corporate interests are scrambling to defend the controversial regime they use to attack domestic laws and raid taxpayer funds.

While just 50 known ISDS cases were launched in the first three decades of this shadow legal system, corporations have launched more than 50 claims in each of the past six years. More than $392 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations to date after NAFTA ISDS attacks on oil, gas, water and timber policies, toxics bans, health and safety measures, and more. More than $36 billion in NAFTA ISDS attacks are pending.

“People from the Yukon to the Yucatan are united in demanding an end to NAFTA’s corporate privileges that promote job outsourcing, lower wages and attacks on health safeguards,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “A NAFTA replacement deal that benefits people and the planet cannot grant corporations powers to skirt our laws and courts and demand unlimited taxpayer compensation from tribunals of corporate lawyers.”

“NAFTA is strewn with handouts to corporate polluters that must be eliminated, starting with the free pass for chronic job offshorers to attack air, water, and climate protections in tribunals of corporate lawyers,” said Ben Beachy, director of Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program. “Any NAFTA replacement must stop protecting multinational corporations and start protecting the workers and communities across North America who have endured decades of damage under this raw deal.”

“ISDS makes big corporations feel safer moving jobs around the globe to wherever workers are the most exploited and environmental regulations are the weakest, and it also puts democratically-enacted public interest laws in jeopardy both at home and abroad,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign. “While many changes are needed to make a NAFTA replacement deal work for working families and the planet, if trade negotiators maintain ISDS, we’ll know the NAFTA renegotiation has been hijacked by special interests intent on preserving corporate power.”

“ISDS effectively usurps democratic governance, and makes it impossible for elected governments to create policy that benefits ordinary citizens without the threat of a corporate lawsuit,” said Carli Stevenson, campaigner, Demand Progress. “As we fight to preserve the free and open internet in the United States, we stand with activists worldwide against attempts by any corporation to use trade agreements to make their profits sacrosanct and act against the interests of citizens, workers, and consumers. ISDS should not be a part of any trade agreement.”

“ISDS empowers mega-corporations to attack democratic values, human rights, and environmental protections and force governments to award their corruption and greed with unlimited payments of our tax dollars,” said Matt Nelson, Executive Director of Presente Action. “The reality is clear, forces pushing the ISDS have no loyalty to their governments or the people, only to their pipedreams to rule our public institutions like their own private castles.”

“Investor-State Dispute Settlement puts power in the hands of international tribunal that do not have the best interests of workers, public health, and the environment, but rather benefit corporations looking to make a profit or gain more power,” said Patrick Carolan, executive director, Franciscan Action Network. “This is not in line with Catholic Social Teaching and Franciscan values which emphasizes the need for just and fair laws for all people.”

“Big Pharma is already demanding more extensive provisions on intellectual property in NAFTA to extend their market monopolies on medicines even longer. At the same time, it’s also pushing to expand NAFTA’s investment chapter to include intellectual property claims. This would mean pharmaceutical giants could use the system of closed-door tribunals to try to overturn important, long-standing features of a country’s laws on patents or other aspects of intellectual property, in pursuit of yet more profits for the one of the most profitable industries in the world, said Richard Elliott, executive director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Walmart Buys Back $20 Billion In Company Stock Instead Of Raising Wages

Walmart announced a $20 Billion stock buyback yesterday.

From Business Insider: Walmart is using the oldest trick in the book to boost its stock price

$20 Billion is a whole lot of money.

  • It’s equal to almost $8,700 per full-time Walmart employee.[i]
  • It’s more than three times what taxpayers spend each year on health care, food stamps and other forms of public assistance for Walmart employees.[ii]
  • It’s 50% more than Walmart’s total profits last year.[iii]
  • It’s equal to about half of the company’s total long-term debt.[iv]

And Walmart directors have decided to spend all that money buying back shares of their own corporation’s stock.  Which doesn’t really do anything other than condense corporate ownership.

2005 photo of the Rev. Billy Talen leading the “Stop Shopping Choir”
by J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald Creative Commons license via Flickr

So rather than paying better wages to employees, or allowing more employees access to the company’s health insurance, or hiring more employees, or even just paying off corporate debt… Walmart directors want to spend $20 billion on reducing the number of shares of stock.

It’s all a question of priorities.  And condensing corporate ownership has been one of Walmart’s priorities for at least a decade.  Walmart has “repurchased” almost 30% of its shares since 2005.[v]

While taxpayers have been paying billions of dollars each year in public assistance to Walmart employees.

While Walmart employees have had to ask for public assistance, just to make ends meet for their families.

As the “Fight for Fifteen” movement[vi] continues, it’s worth asking:

If Walmart can afford $20 billion for more stock buybacks, why isn’t it already paying better wages to employees?

————

[i] https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/WMT/profile?p=WMT
[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/04/15/report-walmart-workers-cost-taxpayers-6-2-billion-in-public-assistance/
[iii] “net income” https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/WMT/financials?p=WMT
[iv] https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/WMT/balance-sheet?p=WMT
[v] http://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/WMT/shares-outstanding/wal-mart-stores-shares-outstanding-history
[vi] http://fortune.com/2016/06/11/walmart-minimum-wage-study/

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.

More Must Be Done To Help Americans In Puerto Rico

Leaders with the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, are calling on President Trump and Congress to expedite the pace of recovery efforts to the 3.5 million American citizens in hurricane-battered Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In an open letter to President Trump and members of Congress, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. and Fifth District National Vice President Everett Kelley said residents on the islands “desperately need our help.”

“Failing to treat this disaster with the same sense of urgency you displayed when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma battered the mainland just weeks earlier is indefensible,” the letter states.

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall, most residents still lack essentials like running water, food, and electricity.

“Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are being treated like second-class citizens,” President Cox said. “There’s no excuse for it taking this long to get aid and relief to people who desperately need our help. While President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico is a welcome show of support, residents need immediate action, not just rhetoric. Congress and the White House need to step up the recovery efforts at once.”

AFGE represents more than 5,000 federal employees who work in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They have been working around the clock to continue serving the public, even as they face their own personal tragedies and losses.

“Thousands of federal workers who call these islands home are looking to their government for help, and the silence is deafening,” said NVP Kelley, whose district includes both islands. “They’re working under extraordinarily difficult circumstances to deliver care and assistance to our citizens in need. Help cannot come fast enough.”

Tomorrow, labor unions and United Airlines will be sending hundreds of skilled volunteers to assist in Puerto Rico.

In a joint letter, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan called on President Trump to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra after the islands were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Citing in their letter the remoteness of the islands and reports that residents have been “without running water, power, gasoline or communications for more than a week,” the senators wrote to President Trump to request that sufficient aid and relief personnel be sent to the islands as soon as possible.

“The residents of Vieques and Culebra are U.S. citizens, and no fellow citizen should be left clamoring for help,'” the senators wrote.  “They need help now, and we urge that you provide them with sufficient aid and assistance without further delay.”

The Senators also expressed concern about the superfund site on Vieques and the potential health risks posed by the heavy metals and toxic chemicals left on the island after decades of military exercises by the U.S. Navy.  “We share the concern of residents that the hazardous waste may further contaminate the island and water supplies, and ultimately threaten the health of local residents,” the senators wrote.  “Additionally, the superfund site contains unexploded bombs and live ammunition that could be washed into the sea, posing long-term health and safety risks.”

The full text of the Senators’ letter can be found here.

Three Deaths After 1,000-Foot Fall in Miami Are Latest of More Than 130 Tower Fatalities

“Reckless Actions” by Employers Have Cost Scores of Lives, Say Local and
National Safety Groups

Investigation Underway; Tower King Cited for 5 Previous “Serious” Safety Violations

MIAMI – Local and national safety advocacy groups said today that the tragic deaths of three workers after a fall from a 1,000-foot television tower in Miami on September 27th show the need for rigorous enforcement of safety laws and regulations – especially in the communications tower industry.

Since 2003, more than 130 workers have lost their lives working on communication towers. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says this loss of life is entirely preventable if employers follow the law and proper safety procedures.

“Our prayers are with the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy,” said Jeanette Smith, executive director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, a founding member of the South Florida Council on Occupational Safety and Health (South Florida COSH). “We will remember Brachton Barber, Benito Rodriguez and Marcus Goffena and honor their lives by insisting on the highest safety standards for all workers.”

Tower King, the company that hired Barber, Rodriguez and Goffena to replace a television antennae high above Miami, has been cited on five previous occasions in 2008 and 2011 for “serious” safety violations by OSHA.

OSHA is now investigating last week’s deaths in Miami.

“These fatalities in Miami are the most recent needless deaths in an industry where reckless actions by employers have cost the lives of scores of workers,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH.) “We need answers and a full investigation – including an analysis of steps the employer took – or failed to take – to provide a fall protection system and to assess the structural integrity of the tower and related equipment.”

“We know from experience that in almost all cases, workplace fatalities can be prevented,” said Goldstein-Gelb. “It’s crucial that employers be held accountable for safety program lapses. Workers who die on their job and their families deserve no less – and workers who face similar risks in the future must be protected.”

Since 2003, 132 workers have fallen to their deaths while working on communication towers, according to WirelessEstimator.com, an industry website.

In 2014, following an “alarming increase in worker deaths” due to falls from communication towers OSHA sent a memorandum to employers, stating, “every single one of these tragedies was preventable.” The agency reminded employers of their responsibility under federal safety laws to provide proper training and fall protection systems to anyone working on communications towers.

In 2012, PBS Frontline and ProPublica cooperated on an investigation featuring the high incidence of fatalities on communication towers. Investigators found that major cell phone companies, installing new towers to meet expanding demand for cell service, used “a complex web of subcontracting” to “avoid scrutiny” of deadly, preventable events that have cost workers their lives.

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.

Workers on Janus: A Political Effort to Further Rig the Rules Against Working People

In a rigged economy, workers say the freedom to come together in strong unions is more important than ever

WASHINGTON — The following statement was issued by members and leaders of AFSCME, AFT, NEA, and SEIU – the nation’s four largest public sector unions – in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to grant Certiorari in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31:

The Janus case is a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people. The billionaire CEOs and corporate interests behind this case, and the politicians who do their bidding, have teamed up to deliver yet another attack on working people by striking at the freedom to come together in strong unions. The forces behind this case know that by joining together in strong unions, working people are able to win the power and voice they need to level the economic and political playing field. However, the people behind this case simply do not believe that working people deserve the same freedoms they have: to negotiate a fair return on their work.

This case started with an overt political attempt by the billionaire governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, to attack public service workers through the courts. And, in a letter to supporters detailed in The Guardian, the CEO of the corporate-backed State Policy Network (SPN) reveals the true intent of a nationwide campaign of which Janus is a part: to strike a ‘mortal blow’ and ‘defund and defang’ America’s unions. The merits of the case are clear. Since 1977, Abood has effectively governed labor relations between public sector employees and employers, allowing employers and employees the freedom to determine labor policies that best serve the public. When reviewing the legal merits of this case, it is clear that this attempt to manipulate the court against working people should be rejected.

“This case is yet another example of corporate interests using their power and influence to launch a political attack on working people and rig the rules of the economy in their own favor. When working people are able to join strong unions, they have the strength in numbers they need to fight for the freedoms they deserve, like access to quality health care, retirement security and time off work to care for a loved one. The merits of the case, and 40 years of Supreme Court precedent and sound law, are on our side. We look forward to the Supreme Court honoring its earlier rulings.” – Lee Saunders, President, AFSCME

“My work as a Child Protection Investigator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is vital to the safety of our state’s most vulnerable children and families. This court case is yet another political attack on the freedom of my colleagues and I to speak up to ensure that we can safely and adequately manage our caseloads, which reflects our commitment to safety and public service to our communities.” – Stephen Mittons, AFSCME Council 31 member, Child Protection Investigator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

“Unions are all about fighting for and caring about people—and in the public sector that includes those we represent and those we protect and teach in communities across America. Yet corporations, wealthy interests and politicians have manufactured Janus as part of their long and coordinated war against unions. Their goal is to further weaken workers’ freedom to join together in a union, to further diminish workers’ clout.

“These powerful interests want to gut one of the last remaining checks on their control—a strong and united labor movement that fights for equity and opportunity for all, not just the privileged few. And under the guise of the First Amendment, they want to overturn a 40-year precedent that’s been reaffirmed numerous times. In other words, this would be a radical departure from well-established law. We believe that after resolving a similar case last year, the Supreme Court erred in granting cert in Janus, and that the trumped-up underpinnings of the plaintiff’s argument will rapidly become clear before the full bench.” – Randi Weingarten, President, AFT

“My union just went through a lengthy contract fight in Philadelphia. We had to fight hard to protect our students’ basic needs, such as having at least one nurse and counselor in each school and ensuring that kids had necessary textbooks and materials. And we had to fight back against the district’s desire to eliminate class sizes and get lead testing for the school’s water fountains. Most people assume that the union only fights for teachers’ rights, when in reality, most of our contract is there to protect the basic rights and needs of our students. Those rights are at grave risk in Janus.” – Jeff Price, AFT Local 3 member, Teacher at Central High School, School District of Philadelphia.

“For decades corporate CEO’s and the wealthy have fought to enrich themselves at the expense of the rights and pocket books of working people, and that harms families in communities across the country. As the nation’s largest union, we know this fight will not only impact the lives of educators, but it also impacts the families of the children we educate. We won’t back down from this fight and we will always stand up to support working people, our students and the communities we serve.” – Lily Eskelsen García, President, NEA

“More and more, the economy is working against working people, including the families whose children I teach. My union gives me a voice and a seat at the table to advocate for my students, my colleagues, and my community.” – Sonya Shpilyuk, NEA member, High School English teacher, Montgomery County, MD

The anti-worker extremists behind this case want to divide working people, make it harder to pool our resources, and limit our collective power. But SEIU members won’t let any court case stand in our way of sticking together for good jobs and strong communities.” – Mary Kay Henry, President, SEIU

“By sticking together in our union, we’ve lifted the wage floor to a $15 minimum wage, protected and expanded health care benefits for our families, and won more funding for our schools. Together, we’ll continue to fight to ensure all students have the support and services they need to succeed in school. That’s why the extremists are attacking us, to stop our progress. But we plan to stick together no matter what and keep standing up for quality public services.” – Edna Logan, SEIU Local 99 member, Custodian at Esteban Torres School, Los Angeles Unified School District.

SCOTUS Is on the Verge of Decimating Public-Sector Unions—But Workers Can Still Fight Back

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By DBKING CC

BY SHAUN RICHMAN, at In These Times

On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus vs. AFSCME, the case that will likely turn the entire public sector labor movement into a “right-to-work” zone. Like a lazy Hollywood remake, the case has all the big money behind it that last year’s Friedrichs v. CTA did, with none of the creativity.

In Friedrichs, the plaintiffs argued that interactions between public sector unions and government employers are inherently political. Therefore, the argument went, mandatory agency fees to reimburse the union for the expenses of representation and bargaining were forced political speech, violating employees’ purported First Amendment right to not pay dues.

The case ended in a 4-4 deadlock in March 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who had appeared poised to vote against the unions’ interests.

Much like Friedrichs, the Janus case has rocketed through the federal courts. The National Right to Work Foundation, which represents the plaintiffs, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case in early June. All briefs will likely be submitted by mid-January 2018, meaning SCOTUS could hold hearings almost exactly a year to the date that the Court last heard the same arguments.

The defendants may argue for procedural delays, which could potentially kick the decision into the following court term in 2018-2019. And it’s possible that in the meantime Justice Anthony Kennedy could die of a heart attack, or Sam Alito could forget to look both ways while crossing First St. and get run over by a bus. And the Democrats might take back the Senate next year, preventing the Trump administration from naming any more conservatives to the Court.

That’s the kind of magical thinking we’re left with, because the conservative majority on the Supreme Court is clearly determined to tilt the power of the country in favor of big business and against unions for at least a generation, and they care little about how just or fair their decisions appear to the public.

“Right to work” laws, currently on the books in 27 states, strip the requirement that union members pay union dues. Unions claim this creates a “free rider” problem, allowing workers to enjoy the benefits of union membership without contributing a dime. This deprives unions of crucial funding, but also—and this is no small consideration for the right-wing—every union family that drops their membership becomes one less door that union members can knock come election season.

Most national unions have been preparing for this eventuality since the first time the Roberts court took up the issue of public sector union fees in 2014’s Harris Vs. Quinncase. (If you’re keeping score, yes, the conservative justices on the Supreme Court have spent three years in a row trying to break the backs of unions).

Much of this preparation has focused on making sure that unions have a shop steward in every department and that every new hire is asked by a living breathing human being to actually join the union. But, as I wrote earlier this month, the bigger threat once workers have the right to evade union fees is the direct mail and phone-banking campaign that is already being run by Koch Brother-funded “think tanks” to encourage workers to drop their union membership and “give yourself a raise.”

As I wrote then, “The slick ‘give yourself a raise’ pamphlets will do the most damage in places where members think of the union as simply a headquarters building downtown. … But where members are involved in formulating demands and participating in protest actions, they find the true value and power of being in a union. That power—the power of an active and involved membership—is what the right-wing most fears, and is doing everything in its power to stop.”

There is a certain irony in conservatives applying the First Amendment to collective bargaining, a principle that conservative jurists have studiously avoided for two centuries. If every interaction that a union has with the government is a matter of speech, then we have a stronger argument for instituting a Bill of Rights for labor to protect workers and their right to demand fair treatment on the job.

Unions are already oppressively regulated. They are told by the National Labor Relations Board whom they can picket, when they may march and what they might say on a flyer. And they face steep fines if they disobey. Workers are forced to attend endless hours of anti-union presentations before a union election with no right to respond or boycott.

If every interaction the government has with a union is a matter of political speech—as a ruling in favor of Janus would imply—unions must respond by forcefully arguing that the rules of the system have been unfairly holding workers back, violating of our rights to free speech, due process and equal protection.

(Republished with permission from In These Times.)

TTD Urges Senate Commerce Committee to Exempt Commercial Vehicles from New Self-Driving Car Bill

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On Wednesday, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) President Larry Willis urged the Senate Commerce Committee to exempt commercial vehicles from a new driverless car bill after they held an open hearing on the matter.

While Willis thanked the committee for providing the hearing, he also cautioned against “moving too hastily and putting millions of jobs and lives at risk.”

With millions of Americans employed in commercial driving jobs, Congress would be foolish not to heed Willis’ warning. Automation could revolutionize commercial driving in a way that benefits both employers and working people, but only if applied thoughtfully and regulated deliberately. Anything less will violently disrupt one of the largest employment sectors in the country, putting millions out of work at a time when many families are still recovering from the Great Recession and the economy is still fragile.

We need only look around the country for examples of what happens when industries collapse. We have seen the devastation of closed mines and relocated factories, and the communities that suffer when working people lose their livelihoods. The upending of the commercial driving industry would have the same effect, but on a grand scale.

Commercial drivers are integral members of communities across America, in big cities and small towns, red and blue states. Rushing through new legislation without considering the effects on the commercial driving workforce will not just rattle one community; it will rattle the entire country. It is a dangerous game, one that will not be played out on the floor of Congress but in households from from Boston to Boise, from Los Angeles to Louisiana. Willis’ calls for care and caution are not protectionism, as some might argue, but a call to reason.

The Senate Commerce Committee has an imperative to work in the best interest of the American people, and until there has been a full dialogue between industry leaders, working people and lawmakers, new legislation concerning commercial vehicles and driverless technology will prove to be irresponsibly inadequate. Congress ought to reexamine the issue once the implications are clear, but until then Larry Willis and TTD are right: for the sake of working people and the economy, commercial vehicles must be exempt from its driverless car bill. The threat of disrupting the commercial driving industry is currently too great, and too unknown, to risk.

 

 

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