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Leo W Gerard: “Do No Harm” Still Hurts

Photo of locked gate at closed steel mill by Getty Images.

Promises were made.

And workers believed candidate Donald Trump when he pledged to stop corporations from exporting American factories. Workers cast votes based on Trump swearing he would end the trade cheating that kills American jobs.

This week, though, workers got bad news from Washington, D.C. President Trump proposed virtually eliminating funding for a Labor Department bureau that helps prevent U.S. workers from having to compete with forced and child labor overseas. In addition, the administration issued only vague objectives for renegotiating the job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

When NAFTA has cost at least 900,000 Americans their jobs, vague is unacceptable. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his first rule in negotiations for a new NAFTA would be to “do no harm.” That’s not good enough. That’s the status quo, and promises were made. The first rule should be to “do substantial good.”

Substantial good would start with clear, firm goals for renegotiating NAFTA. That would include returning those 900,000 jobs to the United States. That would include restoring the jobs the United States continues to lose, like the 350 that disappeared this year when Rexnord closed its Indianapolis ball bearing factory and moved production to Mexico. And like the 632 jobs at Carrier in Indianapolis that will begin vanishing this week when the first layoff notices are issued because the heating and air conditioning manufacturer shifted some production to Mexico.

In Monterrey, where both Rexnord and Carrier moved jobs, the minimum wage is $3.90 a day. Not an hour. It’s $3.90 a day. There is no way for American workers to compete with that. What they were looking for from the NAFTA renegotiation goals is some help.

Instead, they got pabulum. Yes, there’s a whole section on labor, and it says the labor provisions should be in the main document, not in a side agreement. But the fuzzy language doesn’t provide much hope for workers like those who just lost their jobs at Carrier and Rexnord.

It says, for example, that NAFTA countries should have laws regarding minimum wage, hours of work and occupational health and safety. That’s great. But Mexico has a minimum wage. It’s one so low that, as former presidential candidate Ross Perot would say, it sucks American factories right across Rio Grande.

The NAFTA negotiation targets don’t say that the minimum wage should be a living wage or specify how it would be policed to prevent forced and child labor.

Within the U.S. Department of Labor, there’s a section called the Bureau of International Labor Affairs that monitors compliance with labor provisions in international trade agreements and pays for programs to reduce child and forced labor internationally. The intent is to prevent American manufacturing workers earning family-supporting wages from competing with third world children paid with bread and blankets.

The administration has, however, said it wants to gut that program, cutting its funding by 80 percent. In addition to workers, American food and clothing corporations have objected. Nate Herman, a senior vice president for the American Apparel and Footwear Association, told the Washington Post that without the bureau’s efforts, “you’re saying, basically, that it’s okay for forced labor and child labor to run rampant, which undercuts our own labor force.”

Without specific protections in NAFTA and without even the Bureau of International Labor Affairs programs, U.S. workers are subjected to a no-win competition with exploited foreign workers. The Americans end up unemployed, like those at Carrier and Rexnord. The foreign workers continue to be abused.

Promises were made to American workers. They need to be kept. Big league, not halfway.

For example, the solution to Carrier, owned by United Technologies, moving out of Indiana was a half measure.

United Technologies spared about 700 jobs at the Indianapolis Carrier plant only after Vice President Mike Pence, then governor of the state, handed the corporation $7 million. None of the 700 jobs at the other United Technologies plant in Indiana was saved. All of those went to Mexico.

That’s not what Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail. At a rally in Indianapolis last spring, he pledged: “Here’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to call me, and they are going to say, ‘Mr. President, Carrier has decided to stay in Indiana . . . One hundred percent. It’s not like we have an 80 percent chance of keeping them or a 95 percent. 100 percent.”

But then, it was President-elect Trump who called Carrier. And it wasn’t 100 percent. It wasn’t even 80 percent. And, to make matters worse, United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes said that the millions he’d promised to invest in the plant would be spent on automation, further reducing jobs.

This is, according to the Trump administration, Made in America Week. It began at the White House Monday with a showcase of products produced in every American state, from fire trucks to door hinges. But to really revive American manufacturing, the administration must keep its campaign promises. And that means strong language in a renegotiated NAFTA and strong enforcement of other international trade deals and trade laws.

“No harm” is not enough for the administration that promised to cure the injury that international trade inflicted on workers.

Leo W Gerard: Stop China’s Stealth Invasion

A country claiming the greatest military on earth can’t be without some things. Steel is an obvious one.

Image from Getty Images

In the age of drones, aluminum is another. Aluminum is essential for flying machines like the F-35 joint strike fighter and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, for armor plating on army vehicles and naval vessels and for countless infrastructure projects including bridges and roads.

Obviously, then, for the United States to retain top ranking, it must protect its aluminum industry. That industry, though, is under a two-pronged stealth attack from China. For more than a decade, the Chinese have ramped up their own aluminum production and dumped the excess on the world market, depressing prices and bankrupting Western producers. Now, a corrupt Chinese company that is under investigation by three U.S. agencies is trying to buy an American aluminum firm. To ensure national security, that must be stopped. America can’t be beholden to China for aluminum.

In 2000, China produced only 11 percent of the world’s aluminum. Now it’s more than 50 percent. Just between 2010 and 2015, China doubled production, even as demand for aluminum within the country slowed. Chinese companies continued to ramp up because they received massive government subsidies, including cheap power, loans and raw materials. That kept Chinese workers employed but created stockpiles of aluminum. So China exported the excess, overwhelming the world market and driving down prices.

This shattered the U.S. industry. In 2000, 23 aluminum smelters operated in the United States. Now there are only five, with just two at full capacity. Thousands of American aluminum workers lost their good, family-supporting jobs in just the past three years.

Aluminum producers filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Commerce about the illegal subsidies and about Chinese companies dumping products in the United States at prices below production costs. And in 2011, the department penalized Chinese extrusion producers, including one called China Zhongwang, with tariffs as high as 374.15 percent.

With that added cost, China Zhongwang’s U.S. sales plunged. Zhongwang, the world’s second-largest producer of aluminum extrusions, then schemed to dodge the sanctions, leading to criminal and civil investigations of possible smuggling, conspiracy and wire fraud. The Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department are all scrutinizing Zhongwang.

Zhongwang and associates are accused of shipping nearly 1 million tons of aluminum to Mexico with the intent of then sending it across the border tariff-free under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, as if it had been manufactured in Mexico. Shortly after the aluminum trade association discovered this massive stash, amounting to 6 percent of the world’s aluminum inventory, much of it was whisked away to Vietnam, another country notorious for involvement in what is called transshipment, that is, concealing commodities’ country of origin to evade tariffs.

In addition, the U.S. Aluminum Extruders Council accused Zhongwang and companion companies of another plot to skirt tariffs. Firms associated with Liu Zhongtian, a Chinese billionaire who controls Zhongwang, shipped thousands of tons of pallets made of aluminum extrusions to a factory in a Philadelphia suburb.

These “pallets,” which weighed more than three times American-made aluminum pallets, escaped tariffs specific to extrusions because, supposedly, they were pallets. Pallets, typically though, are designed to be light to reduce shipping costs.

Company officials contended the heavyweight pallets made from extrusions were to be sold as pallets, not dismantled or melted for other uses. Shortly after the Wall Street Journal began asking questions about them, though, they disappeared. Just like the $2 billion worth of aluminum in Mexico.

The Commerce Department wasn’t fooled by this sleight of hand. In November, it announced that the pallets were an attempt to circumvent the 2011 tariffs on extrusions.

Even while Zhongwang remains under investigation, it announced plans to buy American aluminum company Aleris for $2.3 billion from a private equity firm. Aleris, with 14 plants around the world, makes rolled aluminum for a variety of industries, including aerospace and automotive, and significantly, armor plate for the U.S. military.

The U.S. military cannot be dependent on a Chinese-owned company to outfit American armored vehicles or meet other critical needs. In November, a dozen U.S. senators asked Obama’s treasury secretary to block the deal because it would “directly undermine our national security, including by jeopardizing the U.S. manufacturing base for sensitive technologies.” My union, the United Steelworkers (USW), which has 950 members employed at Aleris, also has repeatedly protested the proposed sale, including in a letter sent last week to new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

It would be far too easy for Zhongwang to appropriate Aleris’ trade secrets, then run the company into the ground, further cementing China’s illegally-subsidized domination of the world aluminum market. Zhongwang could also exploit Aleris operations to circumvent U.S. tariffs. Based on past performance, that would be no surprise.

The U.S. government has taken important steps toward protecting the crucial American aluminum industry. Before he left office in January, former President Obama launched a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization against the Chinese government over its subsidies to the aluminum industry.

In March, the Commerce Department began investigating complaints that Beijing illegally subsidized aluminum foil shipped to the United States by 230 Chinese companies.

Last month, the Trump administration initiated an inquiry into the effect of aluminum imports on U.S. national security, which could lead to tariffs or import restrictions. But it’s not Canada or some other allied country causing the problem. It’s China.

And just last week, the Senate confirmed Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative. He has railed against America’s comatose response to abusive Chinese trade practices that have bankrupted American industries and killed American jobs. That includes dirty tricks like creating pallets out of extrusions and transshipping from Mexico and Vietnam.

Lighthizer assured the Senate he intended to firmly enforce trade law. That’s good because he must stop China’s stealth invasion before it overcomes the entire U.S. aluminum industry.

Preventing Workplace Violence: National COSH and Local Groups Join Call for OSHA Standard for Health Care and Social Service Workers

NCOSH 300X250San Diego – In solidarity with labor unions representing millions of American workers, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NHCOSH) and other local COSH organizations have endorsed petitions calling for a comprehensive federal standard to prevent workplace violence in the health care and social assistance sectors.

“With an issue like workplace violence, it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, how can you stop a person who wants to hurt somebody?’” said Jessica Martinez, acting executive director of National COSH. “But that’s just wrong and ignores documented best practices. If you address issues like adequate staffing and lines of communication, worksite security, proper training and safety protocols, there’s no question you can reduce the risks faced by health care and social service workers.”

Workplace violence is a problem across all sectors of the economy. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than two million workers each year report that they are victims of violent incidents on the job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported more than 400 workplace homicides in 2014, making homicide the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States.

Health care and social service workers are among those most at risk. Fifty-two percent of victims of workplace violence, according to the BLS, are health care and social service workers.

On July 12, a coalition of unions filed petitions with the U.S. Department of Labor, calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a “comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard to protect all workers in healthcare and social service settings.” The coalition of labor unions includes the AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Government Employees; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Service Employees International Union; the United Steelworkers and National Nurses United.

“Like other on-the-job hazards, workplace violence can be prevented – in health care, social services and in other sectors” said National COSH Senior Organizer Peter Dooley. “To be effective, a workplace violence prevention standard must be part of a comprehensive, systems approach to workplace safety, with workers involved in every step of the process.  That includes evaluating risks, assessing remedies, reporting incidents without fear of retaliation, and design of rigorous training.”

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels, National COSH and local COSH groups point to the proven effectiveness of prevention programs. “A comprehensive workplace violence prevention program,” the letter states, “reduced rates of assault at Veterans Health Administration hospitals between 2004 and 2009.”  The letter also notes that the states of California and Minnesota have recently passed legislation requiring health care employers to implement workplace violence prevention programs.

In addition to National COSH, local groups signing on to yesterday’s letter include:

  • Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health (ConnectiCOSH)
  • Fe y Justicia Worker Center (Houston COSH)
  • Maine Labor Group on Health
  • Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH)
  • Mid-State Education and Service Foundation
  • New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NHCOSH)
  • New Jersey Work Environment Council (NJWEC)
  • New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH)
  • NorthEast New York Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NENYCOSH)
  • Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (RICOSH)
  • South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice
  • Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH)
  • Western Massachusetts Coalition for Workplace Safety and Health (WesternMassCOSH)
  • Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH)
  • Worksafe

Yesterday’s letter to Secretary Perez and Assistant Secretary Michaels is available here.

* * *

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org.  Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

Leo W Gerard: Lacie Little — You’re Un-Fired

Nurse Lacie LittleLacie Little won back last week everything Indiana University Health Inc. took from her – except her job. Her beloved nursing job.

She got back wages and a formal public statement by the hospital corporation saying that it removed the firing from her work record. So she’s un-fired.

But she’s not rehired. The hospital behemoth refused to consider restoring Lacie to her nursing job for seven years, long enough, it hopes, to prevent her from helping form a union there. Despite everything that has happened to her, Lacie hasn’t given up that goal. Now, she’s working for my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), trying to organize nurses.

Indiana University (IU) Health fired Lacie on March 30, three days after she began trying to persuade her fellow nurses to unionize. Lacie wanted her co-workers to join together to collectively bargain with IU Health for the same reason many nurses want to negotiate with their hospitals. They love their profession; they’re devoted to their patients, and they want to help their hospitals be the best that they can be.

IU Health Inc. believed it knew what was best for the bottom line of the hospital system – and that wasn’t a nurses union. So like many employers, it took action to squash the nascent effort by employees to gain a voice at work by organizing. Firing workers for trying to form a union is illegal. But institutions – even ones supposedly dedicated to restoring health or to Catholic theology – do it all the time anyway because the penalties are so very paltry and the fear instilled is so very profound.

Corporations know they can stall an organizing campaign with just the threat of firing. Duquesne University in Pittsburgh recently used this tactic in a startling way. It included in a pleading to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) a threat to refuse to rehire for future semesters two adjunct professors who had testified at an NLRB hearing about efforts to organize at Duquesne, which holds itself out as a religious institution. One of the adjuncts described Duquesne’s written threat as bone chilling.

Lacie felt both unnerved and betrayed when the hospital corporation fired her. Her partner was five months pregnant with their second child. She had responsibilities, and the termination left her unsure how she would fulfill them. She could not believe the hospital system she so loved had done this to her.

The doctors and nurses and staff at Indiana University Health endeared themselves to Lacie when her grandfather, Robert Little, was hospitalized at Methodist, an IU institution, just after she graduated from high school. He was admitted to the cardiovascular critical care unit, where Lacie would later work.

Robert Little was having trouble breathing. To distract him, the nurses joked with him. They held his gargantuan hands. The doctor took the time to find out about Robert Little as a person. The physician learned that Robert Little was a union bricklayer who had worked hard all his life and who continued chopping wood as he fell increasingly ill in his 70s. Robert Little would not be happy bedridden, tube invaded, machine dependent.

At that time, Lacie’s mother was a nurse at IU Health. She had worked in its bone marrow transplant unit in the very early days when many patients did not survive. Lacie says her mother taught her an important lesson about that:

“She told me that taking care of someone in their last days and hours of life is an honor. You usher them out. And you can make it a great experience or an awful experience. You can truly take care of the patient and the family. I feel Methodist really did that for my family, took the time to get to know my grandfather and explain things to us. They were able to let him die with dignity. He was clean and warm and not in pain and had his family around him. Everyone has to die. It might as well be in a good way.”

Lacie started work at IU Health when she was just 19 years old. She earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and biology. Then, while working as a secretary for the hospital system, she returned to college get her nursing degree. She says she learned: “Nursing is caring for people. Great nurses care for their patients. They don’t just take care of them.”

In 2009, she launched her nursing career in the cardiovascular critical care unit where her grandfather had died. Every day, she challenged herself to care for her patients like they were her grandfather.

The stories she tells show that she reveled in accomplishing that. She talks about caring for an older farmer who had been injured in a tractor accident. At one point as he began to get better, he kept motioning toward his face. Still connected to a breathing tube, he could not talk. She knew he was trying to ask for a shave. Lacie recounts:

“I got some hot water and put some wash cloths in there. I sat him in a reclining chair and leaned him back and said, ‘here we are at the barber shop’ and gave him a really good shave. He kept touching his face and giving me thumbs up. The shave wasn’t necessary to get him better, but we had fixed all of the acute things, and this was important for helping him feel better. We have to do some things to help them feel good mentally.”

When Lacie began in nursing, the hospital system enabled nurses to help patients feel better. But that changed.

In the fall of 2013, the hospital corporation laid off 800 workers, including Lacie’s mother, who had worked there 25 years. At about the same time, IU Health instituted a management method described as “going lean.” What that meant to Lacie was that the hospital system had the best doctors and nurses and staff but was setting them up to fail at meeting goals like treating their patients like their grandfathers.

“They wanted us to do more with less. And they would say that. Everything was about cost, cost, cost. But we care about patients over profits,” she said. It meant there was rarely time to give a farmer a shave.

Lacie says nurses began talking about being in moral distress, “People were leaving the hospital and going home and crying because they felt they did not take good care of their patients.” They did all the basics. They gave patients all of the medications but had no time to talk to them like they were human beings. “If you are not spoken to, you feel like a specimen, not a person,” Lacie explains. Feeling like a specimen does not help heal.

That’s when the union talk started.  Because her father and grandfather were union men, Lacie said family experience had taught her that unions could put workers in a position to get CEOs to listen. “I knew unions were a way to stack up enough people so they were on a level playing field with the CEO,” she said.

Earlier this year, the IU nurses chose the USW to help them organize and began holding informational meetings, three a day, twice a week. Lots of nurses attended. They discussed problems at work and how organizing could be a solution. “People were encouraged because they wanted to do something, not just talk about it,” Lacie says.

In March, Lacie and several other nurses began asking co-workers if they were willing to sign a card petitioning for an election that would determine whether they could form a union.

Lacie was careful to do this only while she was on lunch and other breaks. She cautioned co-workers not to sign unless they too were on a break. She chatted with on-duty nurses but did not take their signatures. Even so, on her third day of doing this, IU Health Inc. officials accused her of accepting signatures from nurses who were on duty.

The hospital corporation suspended her, then fired her just days later. “I was dumbfounded,” she says, “I felt betrayed because I had given my loyalty to IU Health.”  She had worked there a decade.

Not long after the hospital system terminated Lacie, the state Health Department issued a report saying the hospital was short staffed and that it adversely affected patient care.

The USW hired Lacie immediately after the firing, but the termination imperiled renewal of her nursing license. She knew if she fought the hospital corporation through the NLRB process and the courts, she would win.  But that could take years. And she’d be unable to work as a nurse in the meantime.

So she took the settlement deal. It requires IU Health Inc. to post notices at its hospitals saying that it had rescinded Lacie’s firing and discipline against her and that federal law forbids the hospital corporation from threatening, interrogating, surveilling, disciplining, suspending or firing anyone for attempting to form a union.

Lacie’s firing steeled the commitment of some, who started a Facebook meme saying, “I’ve got a Little fight in me.” But for many others, the firing had the effect the hospital corporation intended.  Nurses were fearful, and turnout at union meetings declined.

Studies show the number of illegal firings of union activists increasing and the number of union members in the United States dwindling. Workers like Lacie need legislation to stop it. This time last year U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) introduced the Employee Empowerment Act, which would do just that. It could be called Lacie’s Law. But that wouldn’t be fair to the thousands of other workers who suffered as a result of the same illegal corporate union-busting practice.

Lacie insisted on a provision in the agreement allowing her to apply to return to IU Health in seven years because, she said, “I still love the IU Health nurses and doctors and staff.”

USW Applauds Pittsburgh City Council for Saying ‘No’ to Fast-Track Trade Bill

Pittsburg City Council says No to Fast Track

Pittsburg City Council says No to Fast Track

PITTSBURGH  — The United Steelworkers (USW) released the following statements today from USW International President Leo W. Gerard and USW District 10 Director Bob McAuliffe in response to the Pittsburgh City Council’s “Will of Council” resolution against the proposed “fast track” trade bill in Congress.

Statement from USW International President Leo W. Gerard:

“Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and her colleagues on the Pittsburgh City Council are to be commended for their vote today. They’ve done the right thing in standing up for American workers and rejecting the plan for Fast Track trade promotion authority.

“Fast Track is not only unnecessary, it is undemocratic. It fails to allow for sufficient debate or amendment, and doesn’t provide the transparency and accountability the American people should expect from their government.

“Simply put, we don’t need Fast Track. What we need instead is a complete overhaul of our trade practices and priorities. We need stronger rules that support American workers and American manufacturing, and we need to enforce those rules fairly and consistently. We need to stop forcing our own citizens to lose their jobs before we can win a trade case.

“Rather than pursuing policies like Fast Track that will lead us into another bad trade deal, our leaders should concentrate on changing our current system in a way that will support American workers.”

Statement from USW District 10 Director Bob McAuliffe:

“This vote is a reminder that for workers, the question of fair trade is not an international or national issue, it is local. Trade is an issue that affects our ability to provide for our families, to retire with dignity and to ensure a better life for our children and our grandchildren. That is why we say ‘no’ to Fast Track.

“Last year, we marked the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Looking back, it was very clear that NAFTA was a bad deal for American workers and American industry. We lost thousands of factories and millions of good, family-supporting jobs. Pennsylvania alone has lost 314,000 manufacturing jobs since NAFTA. The last thing we need is more of the same, yet that is exactly what Fast Track would give us.”

USW District 10 includes more than 40,000 USW members in Pennsylvania. The USW is the largest industrial union in North America, representing workers in a range of industries including metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, oil refining, health care, security, hotels, and municipal governments and agencies.

USW Reaches Tentative Agreement with Oil Industry; Agreement with Shell Sets Pattern for Industry

(Pittsburgh) – The United Steelworkers (USW) announced today that it has reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract with Shell Oil as a pattern agreement for the rest of the industry.  The agreement accomplishes the major goals as directed by the USW’s oil conference in October of last year, and has been approved by union’s lead negotiators and National Oil Bargaining Policy (NOBP) Committee.

“We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.”

Safety issues were central to the negotiations, and the proposed agreement calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility. Daily maintenance and repair work in the plants was another critical issue that, too, was addressed.

“The new agreement calls for joint review on the local level of future, craft worker staffing- needs,” said USW International Vice President Tom Conway. “Included are hiring plans to be developed in conjunction with recruitment and training programs.”

The tentative agreement calls for yearly wages increases as well as maintaining the current health care plan cost-sharing ratio.

“Preserving “retrogression” clauses in our agreements was also an objective established by our policy conference and we accomplished that, too,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, who oversees the union’s oil sector. “There was no way we could turn our backs to the accomplishments of prior contract negotiations.”

The next step in the bargaining process is for the company to put the terms of the settlement agreement on all of the Shell and Motiva bargaining tables. Our expectation is that other employers will offer the same terms at their local bargaining tables.

The local unions will then review the employers’ proposals with Vice President Beevers. Approved settlement agreements are then submitted to the local membership for explanation and ratification votes.

The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed among industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, plus the service and public sectors. For more information: http://www.usw.org

Northwestern Football Players Make History In Union Election


CAPA - logo

Northwestern football players made history today when they became the first college athletes to cast a vote about whether or not to be represented by a union. This vote comes one month after National Labor Relations Board Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr ruled that Northwestern football players meet the definition of employee and have the right to unionize.

Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern Wildcats (Wiki-Commons)

Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who led the effort to unionize the Northwestern football team, stated, “I’m proud of what the Northwestern football team has accomplished. They are giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering current and future college athletes. We’re one step closer to a world where college athletes are not stuck with sports related medical bills, do not lose their scholarships when they are injured, are not subject to unnecessary brain trauma and are given better opportunities to complete their degree.”

CAPA President Ramogi Huma stated, “Today is special because college athletes exercised their rights under labor laws, rights the NCAA has fought hard to deny them. Today’s vote clearly demonstrates that amateurism is a myth and that college athletes are employees. The NCAA cannot vacate this moment in history and its implications for the future.”

CAPA is supported by the United Steelworkers Union, which is paying the legal fees incurred by CAPA in asserting the legal rights of football players in the NLRB proceeding at Northwestern.

Steelworkers logo USWUSW International President Leo W. Gerard said that players and organizers from the College Athletes Players Association should be proud of the commitment and solidarity that brought unionization of college athletes to the attention of millions and created a national discussion about the need for players’ voices to be heard.

“The NCAA and its member institutions have no doubt benefitted from the work of generations of college athletes for over 100 years without consideration for the very real sacrifices they are expected to make,” Gerard said. “With today’s historic vote, these brave and dedicated football players have guaranteed that college athletes’ voices will be heard louder and more clearly than ever.”

Gerard said players should not lose their scholarships due to injury and that their medical expenses must be covered by insurance provided by either the schools or the NCAA.

“The NCAA will surely fight to retain the stranglehold of control it has enjoyed since 1906 over the industry that has enriched the organization and certain large institutions to the tune of billions of dollars in yearly revenue generated in ticket sales and television contracts,” Gerard said, “but the message of today’s vote – that athletes deserve a voice at the table when bureaucrats are making decisions that will change their lives – is undeniable.”

“The game has forever changed,” Gerard said, “and now the athletes will have a say in how the rules are rewritten.”

“These courageous NCAA football players are making history today – not simply by casting a vote, but by highlighting a much-needed national debate,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Whatever the outcome of today’s vote, the AFL-CIO and the American labor movement will stand with these athletes every step of the way – for fairness and a voice at work.”

“I believe athletic unions will ultimately push our entire university system toward justice and equality,” added Trumka.  “College athletes work their hearts out, put everything on the line and generate millions upon millions of dollars in revenue. These players want some impact on the institutions that affect them so strongly, and they should have it.”

How important was it that President Obama worked to save the auto industry?

This election has been about many things and most importantly jobs.  The Right likes to say we have been “40+ months with unemployment above 8%”.  At the same time Left says that “we have seen 30 consecutive months of job growth”.   Technically they are both correct, however I believe it is the number of jobs gained that is really the important part.  Since President Obama took office the US has gained 4.6 million private sector jobs.


This recession could have been much worse.  Just imagine another 3 million workers on the streets.  That is what could have happened if President Obama would have “let Detroit go bankrupt” as Mitt Romney suggested.

President Obama is still being criticized by some for ‘bailing out’ the big three American auto makers.  However what did this stimulus do for the auto industry?

  • It saved more than 1 million American jobs and $96 billion in personal income
  • 233,000 jobs have been added in the auto industry since June 2009
    —the most growth in a decade.
  • GM is once again the top-selling automaker in the world
    —posting its largest-ever annual profit in 2011.
  • GM is investing $2 billion in upgrading 17 of its plants

The steelworkers would have been one of the hardest hit unions if Detroit went bankrupt.    At the beginning of the recession smaller manufacturing plants like Dana Auto Parts were the first to feel the pain.  Laying off hundreds of workers due to the decline in sales.

The video below tells the story of how the town of Fort Wayne Indiana was crumbling with the loss of their manufacturing plant that employed over 2000 workers at one time.  Then as President Obama promised to help the struggling auto makers, things suddenly turned around.

The auto industry loans saved over 350,000 jobs for Steelworkers across the country just like the workers at Dana Auto Parts in Fort Wayne.

“Saving the auto industry is symbolic of saving American manufacturing”
— Leo W. Gerard President USW

We need more investment in America now.  We need to get out there and hit the streets for President Obama.  President Obama has a jobs plan, the American Jobs Act, which has yet to be voted on.  His plan to save the auto industry worked so well that GM is once again the number one car manufacturer and has the capital to reinvest in new plants. Then I ask why would we not let the American Jobs Act do its part?

Rebuilding American Manufacturing is the key to making our national economy strong again.

End the Delays Deadly to Workers, by Leo W Gerard (USW International President)

USW International President

By Leo W. Gerard
USW International President

Wear black on Saturday. It is Workers’ Memorial Day, a time devoted to commemorating those killed on the job.

A month later, on soldiers’ Memorial Day, the nation will recognize those who sacrificed their lives for American ideals, for a nation’s freedom. That ultimate gift is given in most cases valiantly and voluntarily. No one, however, volunteers to sacrifice their life for corporate profit. Every day in workplaces across this country, the lives of 12 workers are taken, not given.

The shield Congress erected in 1970 to protect workers – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – is mutilated from relentless attacks by corporations and their battering ram — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The delays in OSHA rule-making that corporate carping achieves cost workers their lives. Congress must intervene to restore OSHA’s power to act swiftly.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailed the delays in a report issued last week titled, “Multiple Challenges Lengthen OSHA’s Standard Setting.” The GAO found it takes OSHA longer than seven years to issue a new standard. In one case, it was 19 years. And it’s getting worse. It took 70 percent longer to finalize standards in the 1990s than it did in the 1980s, and another 30 percent longer in the 2000s.

The GAO determined that this was a result of increasing demands on OSHA. These occurred as corporations sued to stop enforcement and new mandates for review of proposed rules were stacked on top of existing ones. The GAO said defenders of the delays argue that the layers of obligations balance worker protections with employer costs.

So the very corporations and Chamber of Commerce that constantly deride government red tape demand it for this special case — to delay implementation of rules to protect workers. And this is their justification: Corporate profits trump worker lives.

There’s no doubt that the rules OSHA implements actually save lives. Members of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), are alive today because of OSHA’s lockout/tagout rule. The GAO noted this in its report.

The lockout/tagout standard, established in 1989, requires corporations to install devices and adopt procedures that prevent workers from accidently switching on big machines while co-workers are cleaning or repairing them. The GAO wrote about this rule:

“In a 2000 review, OSHA attributed a 55 percent reduction in machinery-related fatalities at 10 steel-producing companies between 1990 and 1997 to the provisions in this standard.”

The quicker such a regulation is implemented, the more worker lives saved. But now, for OSHA, “quick” is anything less than seven years and nine months. For standards limiting exposure to some highly-toxic substances, including silica and beryllium, exposed workers have waited much longer than seven years. OSHA has been working on a silica standard for 15 years and a new beryllium standard for 12.

Beryllium is so dangerous that no safe level has ever been established. It causes a devastating lung disorder called chronic beryllium disease (CBD). It is so hazardous that office workers in factories where it’s used and family members of workers who handle it can be struck down by tiny particles carried on shoes or pant cuffs. This year, my union and Materion Brush, the only U.S. producer of pure beryllium metal, recommended a new standard that is 90 percent lower than the current limit.

That, however, followed years of obstruction by industry officials. This is typical of corporations fighting standards that will save lives but cost money. They strangle proposed standards by suing and by entangling them in red tape. The lawsuits, the GAO report says, mean OSHA must provide extraordinary levels of proof. And the suits have restrained OSHA from using its full powers to protect workers.

For example, theoretically, OSHA has authority to issue emergency temporary standards. OSHA hasn’t done that in 29 years, despite 23 requests from workers or health officials. That’s because of industry lawsuits. In the 13 years from the agency’s creation until 1984, OSHA used the authority nine times, but five of those orders were invalidated or frozen by industry lawsuits.

One of the nine was for asbestos. In 1983, OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard lowering the exposure limit for this cancer-causing material. Using mathematical projections from long-term epidemiological studies, OSHA estimated that the six-month-long emergency rule would prevent at least 80 eventual asbestos-related deaths.

The industry sued to stop implementation of the emergency standard, and a judge killed the OSHA effort. The court contended the agency’s projection was inadequate to establish grave risk. And it said if OSHA intended to use such estimates, then a new standard based on them should not be enforced until after public notice and comment.

That would delay implementation of a lower exposure standard, which, when dealing with toxic substances like asbestos and beryllium, costs lives. But industry won. And who knows how many workers suffered early deaths across the country.

Last Workers’ Memorial Day, Robert Stubblefield, 66, a member of my union, was killed on the job at Republic Special Metals in Ohio.

Over the next 12 months, 34 more Steelworkers died, one every 10 days. They made glass, tires, cement, aluminum and steel. They refined oil and mined potash, platinum and palladium. They logged forests and constructed earthmovers.

They produced the products that build North America. They should not die for that. No worker should die for a job.

Traditionally, Memorial Day is the first day of the season when women wear white — white shoes, white purses, white hats.

On Workers Memorial Day, Saturday, April 28, wear black for the workers who perished on the job last year. Hold loved ones close and hope that the delays imposed on OSHA won’t cause for another worker’s family the suffering endured by Robert Stubblefield’s widow, five children and nine grandchildren.


Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger

United Steelworkers End Lockout

The NH Labor News would like to congratulate the Steel Workers at Cooper Tire on ratifying their new agreement.  This is just another example of workers using their collective voice and being heard.  Hopefully the end of this lockout will also lead to an end of the Crystal Sugar lockout in Minnesota.

More information, contact: Tony Montana, USW – 412-562-2592

PITTSBURGH – The United Steelworkers (USW) today said that members of Local 207L have ratified a five-year contract with Cooper Tire and Rubber Company (NYSE:CTB), ending a three-month lockout at the company’s Findlay, Ohio tire plant.

The new contract was ratified with approximately 66% of the 948 ballots cast.

“Our brothers and sisters have once again made their voices heard,” said USW Local 207L President Rodney Nelson. “As a committee, we are proud to have remained united and delivered a fair contract, despite Cooper’s best attempts to divide us.”

USW District 1 Director Dave McCall praised the members of Local 207L for their solidarity and determination after being illegally locked out by Cooper on Nov. 28, 2011, despite the union’s good faith offer to continue working under the terms of the previous agreement while negotiations toward a new one proceeded.

“Cooper needs to acknowledge that its loyal, productive and efficient USW workforce is the company’s most valuable asset in Findlay and treat them with the respect and dignity they have earned,” McCall said. “For many years, Cooper was a good example of how workers and management could work together toward common goals and the greater good of the community.”

McCall said that the company’s standing has undeniably changed and that the union’s battle for justice in Findlay has not ended.

“Breaking federal labor laws, importing a temporary replacement workforce and demanding unfair and unreasonable wage and benefit cuts instead of negotiating in good faith are not the actions of a responsible corporate citizen,” McCall said.

The USW filed unfair labor practice charges against Cooper with Region 8 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) shortly after the lockout began that if upheld may trigger a back pay liability for the time the NLRB determines the lockout illegal.

“We look forward to an answer from the NLRB on those charges,” McCall said. “Cooper will not escape accountability for its actions.”

The USW represents about 850,000 working men and women in the United States and Canada in a wide variety of industries, ranging from glass making to mining, paper, steel, tire and rubber and other manufacturing environments to the public sector, service and health care industries.

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Steelworkers Ratify Agreement with Cooper Tire, Ending Lockout

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