Leo W. Gerard Archive

The Soul of a Union Man

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

I was raised in a company house in a company town where the miners had to buy their own oilers – that is, rubber coveralls – drill bits and other tools at the company store.

That company, Inco Limited, the world’s leading producer of nickel for most of the 20th century, controlled the town of Sudbury, Ontario, but never succeeded in owning the souls of the men and women who lived and worked there.

That’s because these were union men and women, self-possessed, a little rowdy and well aware that puny pleas from individual workers fall on deaf corporate ears.

As I prepare to retire in a couple of days, 54 years after starting work as a copper puncher at the Inco smelter, the relationship between massive, multi-national corporations and workers is different.

Unions represent a much smaller percentage of workers now, so few that some don’t even know what a labor organization is – or what organized labor can accomplish. That is the result of deliberate, decades-long attacks on unions by corporations and the rich. They intend to own not only workers’ time and production but their very souls.

I’d like to tell you the story of Inco because it illustrates the arc of labor union ascendance and attenuation over the past 72 years since I was born in Sudbury. 

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China and America: The Struggle for Independence

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

China and America: The Struggle for Independence

The United States is number one. First to secure independence from a colonial overlord, it boasts the freest speech, the best junk food, and the largest economy. And, frankly, its citizens like it that way. Being free and number one defines Americans.

That standing, however, is at risk.

China is ascendant. Deliberately and strategically, China is moving toward becoming the world’s largest economy.  It would be one thing if that occurred naturally. But key to China’s rise is fraud, including violation of international laws, norms and standards.

That’s what President Donald Trump confronts when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping Saturday in Japan at the annual Group of 20 summit. The Trump administration has imposed tariffs and sought to curb China’s rogue practices. U.S. trade negotiators have stood strong in the face of withering criticism. And that’s exactly right. America needs a tough, enforceable agreement, or China is going to own America. And being owned is not being free.

Three examples – trains, telephones, and steel – explain the threat.

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NAFTA Old and New: Deals by the Rich for the Rich

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

The new NAFTA must contain language under which Mexico would actively protect its workers' right to organize into independent unions, negotiate labor agreements and strike when necessary. Image by Yevhenii Dubinko on Getty Images

Mick Mulvaney, a millionaire who is President Trump’s acting chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, awarded himself another job last week: spokesman for labor.

Referring to the proposed new NAFTA, he told the Wall Street Journal, “We know that labor supports it.”

That, right there, is the problem with NAFTA, old and new. One percenters like Mulvaney, self-dealing corporate honchos and fancy-pants corporate lobbyists negotiated the deals. Those fat cats claimed they spoke for labor. But when they opened their mouths, only the word profit emerged.

They didn’t give a damn about jobs or wages or workers’ welfare. The ravages NAFTA inflicted on the non-rich prove that. The proposed new NAFTA is barely different. Mulvaney, though he tried to usurp labor’s voice, is far from labor’s mouthpiece. Labor speaks for itself. And it is railing against NAFTA, old and new.

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New Leadership for USW

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As many of you have heard by now, I’ve announced my decision to retire as USW International President, effective July 15, 2019. Fighting alongside all of you has been my privilege for more than 50 years. Our shared mission to improve the lives of all working people will always be my guiding light, as well as the enduring purpose of our union.
But now it’s time for other activists to take up the mantle of leadership.
In my decades as a local union activist, union staff, District Director, National Director of Canada, Secretary-Treasurer and finally International President, our union has grown and changed.
Our great union has welcomed new members in new sectors. We’ve weathered difficult negotiations, and we’ve taken our fights on many issues important to our members to our nations’ capitals.
We developed key partnerships with international allies, including forming the first global union, Workers Uniting. And our union was one of the founders of the Blue Green Alliance (BGA) and the Centre for Research in Occupational Health and Safety (CROSH).
We took on big, multinational corporations, we beat back unfair trade deals, and we made our workplaces safer.
My work with the union is not ending. Over the course of my career I was deeply touched to be awarded honorary degrees from three Canadian universities in recognition of our union’s important work: Laurentian University, Brock University and the University of Guelph. Now, I intend to remain active in the labor community, and I’ll always fight on the side of workers’ rights.
However, I also intend to step back, to enjoy my retirement and spend more time with my wife and family.
As union brothers and sisters, we’ve stood together through good and bad. I now ask you to join me in supporting the next step in our union’s future.
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Leo W. Gerard Announces Retirement; VP Tom Conway to Replace Him

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH (PAI) – Making official what he had unofficially disclosed in prior interviews, United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard announced this week that he will retire as head of the largest manufacturing union in North America in mid-July. Vice President Tom Conway will succeed him.

The union executive board approved the changes – including retirements of Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson and two more vice presidents, plus promotion of other people, including two top women, to take their seats – as well as a transition plan.

“The decision to announce these changes together will ensure that a capable and experienced group of trade union leaders will hit the ground running as a team,” Gerard said after the board adopted the transition resolution. “It will also pave the way so that the union continues to be on solid footing and that the transition is seamless and serves the best interest of our membership.” 

Conway, who will succeed Gerard, has been the union’s international vice president for administration since 2005. Starting as a millwright at Bethlehem Steel in 1978, Conway rose to be a staff representative and eventually secretary of the union’s Basic Steel Conference. He chaired major sector bargaining in steel, mining, aluminum, tires, rubber, oil, and other manufacturing. He was also a big part of USW’s trade enforcement and manufacturing revitalization campaigns.

Gerard, an Ontario native, started his union career at age 18 while working at a precious metals mine and smelter in Sudbury. He rose to local, regional and national posts over 50-plus years. The board elected him president in 2001, following the late George Becker. 

Mixing brains, street smarts, a talent for organizing and activism, and the ability to build alliances with other unionists in the United States and abroad, Gerard made the USW a force to be reckoned with.

He jump-started the USW’s political activism with its Rapid Response teams, in ways that other unions have since replicated. Under Gerard’s leadership, the USW filed and won a record number of cases seeking tariffs to punish unfair trade practices that threatened the jobs of USW members.

Building on past work by Becker and former USW President Lynn Williams, the USW under Gerard’s leadership joined with the Sierra Club to create the BlueGreen Alliance. The alliance, which now includes as members nearly every major national environmental group and many other labor unions, advocates for massive reindustrialization, construction of factories to produce green energy components, such as solar panels and wind turbines, unionizing workers and gaining for them good wages and benefits.

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Beware Billionaires Bearing Gifts

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

There’s a new Koch organization in town. Instead of trying to buy politicians to do the bidding of billionaires, as Charles and David Koch have historically done, this foundation will support community groups trying to cure the miseries of eons – everything from poverty to addiction.

And they’ve got some street cred, having successfully worked with renowned liberal Van Jones to secure legislation to reduce mass incarceration. Billionaire Charles Koch says the mission is this: “We must stand together to help every person rise.”

That is some good stuff, right there. It’s what labor unions have always preached – workers must stand together to gain the collective power essential to pull every one of them up. It works, too. In the middle of the last century, collective bargaining created the great American middle class.

There’s an important difference, though, between the work of labor unions and billionaire-funded organizations. Labor unions are created and controlled by workers. Billionaire-funded organizations are beholden to billionaires.

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The PRO Act: Pathway to Power for Workers

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Photo by Fibonacci Blue on FlickrAbigail Disney, granddaughter of the co-founder of the Walt Disney Co., called out the family business’ current CEO last month for making what’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth pretty darn miserable for its workers.

All of the company profits shouldn’t be going into executives’ pockets, she said in a Washington Post column. The workers whose labor makes those profits should not live in abject poverty.

This is what labor leaders have said for two centuries. But Disney executives and bank executives and oil company executives don’t play well with others. They won’t give workers more unless workers force them to. And the only way to do that is with collective bargaining – that is, the power of concerted action.

The United States recognized this in the 1930s and gave Americans the right to organize labor unions under the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA). The increase in unionization encouraged by the law significantly diminished income inequality over the next forty years. American workers prospered as a result of having a voice in the workplace.

But right-wing politicians, at the beck and call of CEOs, have chiseled large chunks out of labor organizing rights, diminishing unions and breeding vast economic disparities.

The decline in union density accounts for one-third of the rise in income inequality among men and one-fifth among women, Economic Policy Institute researchers found.

The solution, of course, is the same as it was in 1935. In order to restore balance to an astronomically uneven economy, Congress must restore workers’ power to organize. Democrats took a first step last week toward accomplishing that when they introduced the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in the U.S. House and Senate. It would give back to workers the power they need to demand their fair share of the profits created by the sweat of their brows.

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Better Insurance Begets Better Life

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Better Insurance Begets Better Life

Last month, in a Pittsburgh parking lot following a conference on type one diabetes, three women stood crying. Two of them, mother and teen aged daughter, had just handed a stranger, 25-year-old Michelle, three shopping bags full of insulin pump supplies.

Michelle was overwhelmed. She knew they were meeting that day so that the mother and daughter could give her medical provisions she needed to stay alive, but she had not realized it would be thousands of dollars worth until she saw those bags.

“We didn’t know how big of a deal it was until she started crying,” the teenager, Elizabeth, said later.

Elizabeth and her mother, Nichole, had the extra supplies partly because they have exceptional health insurance coverage. They could get for a few dollars what it had cost Michelle $6,000 to buy the year before. Increasing numbers of Americans like Michelle are confronted with fear and debts because their employers are dumping on them skyrocketing pharmaceutical, health care and insurance costs.

The big difference between the two young women with diabetes, Elizabeth and Michelle, is that Michelle’s father, whose health insurance covers her for another few months, is not a union member and Elizabeth’s father is.

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American Workers Are Not Happy

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Americans are not happy. And for good reason. They continue to suffer financial stress caused by decades of flat income. And every time they make the slightest peep of complaint about a system rigged against them, the rich and powerful tell them to shut up because it is all their fault.

One percenters instruct them to work harder, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop bellyaching. Just get a second college degree, a second skill, a second job. Just send the spouse to work, downsize, take a staycation instead of a real vacation. Or don’t take one at all, just work harder and longer and better.

The barrage of blaming has persuaded; workers believe they deserve censure. And that’s a big part of the reason they’re unhappy. If only, they think, they could work harder and longer and better, they would get ahead. They bear the shame. They don’t blame the system: the Supreme Court, the Congress, the President. And yet, it is the system, the American system, that has conspired to crush them.

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Honoring a Victim’s Memory on Workers’ Memorial Day

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Honoring a Victim’s Memory on Workers’ Memorial Day

Last year, on Halloween just before midnight, Frank Leasure left work at American Standard in Salem, Ohio. To get to his car in the employee lot, he had to walk across two sets of Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. He waited in frigid, driving rain for a westbound train to pass, then began to cross, only to be struck by an eastbound train that he apparently did not see or hear.

Frank Leasure, 62, of Carrollton, Ohio, Army veteran, husband, father and grandfather, was one of 19 members of the union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), who died on the job between last Workers’ Memorial Day and this one. Workers’ Memorial Day is observed annually on April 28 to commemorate those who lost their lives at work. In 2017, the most recent year for which national statistics are available, 5,147 workers died on the job, an average of 14 every day.

The USW is devoted to reducing those numbers. One way it does that is disseminating information about how specific workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities occur and how to prevent them. Another is establishing labor-management health and safety committees to continuously analyze workplace risks and reduce them. In the case of Frank Leasure, both occurred.

Unfortunately, at the same time, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reduced its workplace safety inspectors to the lowest level in its 48-year history, diminishing its capacity to investigate workplace deaths, illnesses and injuries. And it reversed a rule that would have provided more information about workplace dangers nationally. It decided to stop requiring large employers to electronically report injury and illness data. OSHA still requires employers to document this information, but they don’t have to tell anyone.

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Amazon – and 56 Other Corporations – Took Your Tax Dollars

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Bernie Sanders, castigator of the one percent, is a millionaire now. So are Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Big whoop. There’s a crucial difference between these candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and the super wealthy – particularly 60 gigantic, massively profitable U.S. corporations. The candidates faithfully pay federal taxes. The corporations don’t.

That’s right. Sixty profitable corporations paid no federal taxes in 2018, twice the number that typically paid nothing in the years before the 2017 tax breaks took effect. In fact, it’s worse than that. Fifty-seven of these corporations demanded rebates from the government – which means taxpayers like you and me paid them to exist. These are corporations on the dole. They claim to hate socialism if it means Medicare for All, but they sure as hell love socialism when it’s welfare for them.

Sanders, Harris, Warren and other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination paid their taxes because they are patriots. Most working Americans pay a fair share to support their country. True citizens pay so that their nation can thrive. They pay so that the United States can afford to educate its citizens, pave its roads, operate its courts, care for its vulnerable and sustain its military. They pay because they understand they have a duty to the country that nurtured them, that protects them and that they love.

But too many U.S. corporations, which the U.S. Supreme Court has anointed with human rights, refuse to acknowledge their concomitant obligations. Corporations and the super wealthy pushed hard for the tax breaks Republicans bestowed on them in 2017. Fat cats paid untold tens of millions to dark money groups that served as cash cows for GOP candidates who, once elected, shepherded those tax breaks.

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Hard Knocks Turned Alison McIntosh Collectivist

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Alison McIntosh learned early that life is a little easier with help from friends. Her first professional job reinforced that notion. And now, as a University of Pittsburgh graduate student, she is asking her co-workers to embrace collectivism.

McIntosh, who is working toward a Ph.D. in critical and cultural studies, is urging her fellow teaching assistants, graduate student researchers, and teaching fellows – 2,000 of them altogether – to vote next week to join the United Steelworkers (USW) union. “We have more power collectively. We must work together and across the board,” she told me.

Though she knew little about unions before she started talking to organizers at Pitt, her life experiences compelled her to embrace the idea that if Pitt’s fragmented bunch of graduate researchers and teachers pulled together, their joint voice would be strong enough to persuade the university to make their lives a little easier. 

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Grad Students as Steelworkers

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Grad Students as Steelworkers

The moniker “steelworker” generally evokes images of hulking mill buildings, steel-toed boots, and molten metal, not ivory towers, doctoral dissertations, and university research. But next week, 2,000 graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh will vote on whether to become members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

The USW has evolved since it was forged in 1942. Now its members build tires, smelt aluminum, make paper, refine oil, produce iPhone glass, serve as physicians, pharmacists and nurses, and teach university classes in the United States and Canada.

A blue collar is not required to be a USW member. All that’s necessary is a sense of belonging to a team of co-workers who believe they all benefit from banding together to jointly seek better wages and working conditions from their employer.

It’s not just the USW either. Other labor unions also have been organizing white-collar workers in record numbers. College instructors, full- and part-time, and grad student teachers and researchers have joined the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association but also the United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union.

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Republicans on Health Care: Do Vast Harm

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

This week, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, a Republican, announced that his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, just hadn’t gone far enough when he asked a federal judge to kill the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, that is, stuff like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. 

Barr told an appeals court that he does not want it to merely murder that one provision but, instead, will insist that it massacre the ACA’s entire 1,990 pages  – death to every clause protecting patients from insurance company abuses, every portion devoted to containing costs, every phrase extending health care to the nation’s young adults and working poor.

It is essential, Barr contends, that the court rip insurance from 21 million people covered by the ACA health insurance marketplaces and Medicaid expansion; that the court deny insurance to 2 million young adults covered by their parents’ plans, that the court foreclose substance abuse treatment to 800,000 Americans suffering opioid addiction.

It is critical, Barr insists, to deprive the ACA’s guarantee of medical insurance access to 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions and to increase medication and premium costs for 60 million senior citizens on Medicare. Also, of course, Barr says, the court must restore the medical insurance caps that bankrupted and killed Americans who suffered diseases that are expensive to treat, like cancer, or whose babies were born prematurely requiring costly long-term care. 

Barr is not an outlier. He is the face of a Republican Party that has done everything in its power to rob Americans of ACA benefits every minute of the nine years that the law has existed. GOP governors have vetoed the ACA extension of Medicaid, denying insurance to millions of low-income working people. When the U.S. House was controlled by the GOP, it voted more than 50 times to repeal all or parts of the ACA. Twenty GOP state attorneys general asked a federal judge to overturn the law after Congress zeroed out its tax penalties for people who refuse to get insurance.

All of this is blatantly mean spirited because the GOP never produced a plan to replace the ACA health insurance guarantees. In medical terms, it is the opposite of the physician mission to heal. It is Republican machination to harm.

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Solidarity Against Hate

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Solidarity Against Hate

The union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), believes in unity, that “all working men and women, regardless of creed, color or nationality” are eligible for membership.

That was the guiding principle of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) when it formed in 1937.

I return to that statement in times like these, times when terrorists shoot up mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 worshipers; a synagogue in the USW’s hometown of Pittsburgh, killing 11; an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine; a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, killing six; a nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 mostly young gay people.

The USW membership eligibility statement is an assertion of inclusion. All working men and women qualify. They can all join. They can all attend local union meetings at which members call each other “brother” and “sister.” This practice creates artificial, but crucial, bonds between them. This solidarity gives the group strength when facing off against massive multinational corporations and demanding decent pay and dignified working conditions.

To erode that solidarity, some billionaire hedge fund owners and multinational CEOs work to divide workers. These wealthy .01 percenters separate people by cultivating hate. Some are the same billionaire sugar daddies of alt-right hate sites like Breitbart and more conventional hate sites like Fox News. Investigative journalist Jane Mayer wrote a book about their efforts titled, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.”

This hate mongering sets work-a-day people against each other. That weakens them politically. And it contributes to false-fear provoked violence.

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The Big Cheat

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

The Big Cheat

The children of working stiffs learned a brutal lesson this week as federal prosecutors criminally charged rich people with buying admission to elite universities for their less-than-stellar children.

The lesson is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how smart or talented you are, a dumb, lazy rich kid is going to beat you.

It’s crucial that everyone who is not a wealthy movie star, hedge fund executive, or corporate CEO – that is, 99 percent of all Americans – see this college admissions scandal for what it really is: a microcosm of the larger, corrupt system that works against working people, squashing their chances for advancement.

This system is the reason that rich people and corporations got massive tax breaks last year while the 99 percent got paltry ones. It’s the reason the federal minimum wage and the overtime threshold are stuck at poverty levels. It is the reason labor unions have dwindled over the past four decades.

This system is the reason we cannot have nice things. Despite all that land-of-equal-opportunity crap, the rich ensure that only they can have nice things, starting with what they can buy legally and illegally for their children and rising through what they can buy legally and illegally from politicians who make the rules that withdraw money from the pockets of working people and deposit it into the bulging bank accounts of the fabulously rich.

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Rabble Rousing for Righteous Retirement

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Rallying for retiree security are, from left, Ray Scherer, who works at Etched Metals in Ohio; Mike Miller, a financial officer for USW Local Union 1-243 in Ohio; Ben Trusnik, recording secretary for Local 1-243; Joe Pickering, past president of Local 1-243, and Mark Minor, president of Local 1-243.

Standing out among the bald pates and grey hairs crowding into a Congressional hearing room Thursday morning with “Protect our Pensions” stickers will be 26-year-old Ben Trusnik.

The son, grandson and great-grandson of labor union members, Ben will travel to Washington, D.C., from his home in Bedford, Ohio, to speak for the men and women he works with at Etched Metals Co. He will join other union activists in speaking for workers who are afraid that after laboring 40 or 50 years, they won’t be able to retire because the multiemployer pension plan they depended on is nearly insolvent.

He’ll be there for the guy who retired from Etched Metals a little over two years ago whose wife has been ill for a long time. When visiting his former co-workers at the plant, this guy talks about the bills piling up from medical treatments, doctors and medications. Insurance doesn’t cover it all. “He is pretty worried,” Trusnik says, about losing his pension and with it, the ability to pay.

Actuaries project that 130 multiemployer pensions, that is plans in which several companies participate, will run out of money over the next 20 years. Even though that number is less than 10 percent of all multiemployer pension plans, their impending insolvency threatens the entire multiemployer pension warranty program of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

The PBGC is the program created by Congress in 1974 to step in when pension plans fail. Using payments from pension plans, the PBGC provides benefits to about 1.5 million people in failed multiemployer and single-employer plans. The payments pensions make to the PBGC are essentially insurance premiums. The PBGC does not receive tax dollars.

The PBGC anticipates that its multiemployer program will go bust by 2025, but that could occur sooner if several of the larger threatened multiemployer plans fail quickly. Implosion of the PBGC multiemployer guaranty program would have devastating consequences for everyone who currently receives benefits from it and for everyone whose multiemployer pension is weak. The 130 vulnerable multiemployer plans cover 1.3 million people. 

The PBGC does not pay full pensions to retirees, but something is better than zip, especially because pensions are deferred compensation. They’re earned for each hour worked. They’re not gifts like fancy engraved retirement clocks. Union workers often trade wage hikes for pension increases in contract negotiations. They sacrifice immediate gratification for the security of a good pension later. But if the PBGC’s multiemployer program fails, then the workers it covers would get virtually nothing.

When Congress created the PBGC, it made a commitment to working men and women that they would not lose their pension benefits through no fault of their own. It must stand true to that obligation now.

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Gritty Trade Negotiations

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Gritty Trade Negotiations

It took grit to get this far. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer explained that to Congress yesterday.

So, he said, no one in the administration is backing down now.

They’ve managed to confront Beijing, a trade renegade, and do it with a powerful tool that previous negotiators lacked – tariffs. They launched the penalties last spring with charges on all imported steel and aluminum, then increased the pain with levies specifically on $50 billion in Chinese imports in July, followed by duties on $200 billion in Chinese imports in September.

China retaliated, particularly with tariffs on agricultural goods. Some American businesses, farmers and workers suffered. And they complained. But the tariffs brought China to the table to discuss its violations – abuses that have damaged American industries and destroyed millions of American jobs for nearly two decades.

Lighthizer told Congress yesterday he doesn’t have a deal yet, but he’s made progress. None of it would be possible, he said, without the leverage of the tariffs and the grit of the administration to stick with them through tough times.

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China: An Abusive Trade Partner

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

In this week when love relationships are celebrated and commemorated, the trade relationship between China and America should be denounced as destructive and exploitive.

China’s deliberate trade violations are draining America’s strength. Beijing is to America what Delilah was to Samson.

Top U.S. trade officials are in China this week in high-stakes negotiations to curb China’s illegal trade practices and restore American vigor. They are scheduled to meet Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. They’re talking tough, which is appropriate since no previous agreement and no previous penalties have even dinged China’s free-market-defying trade regime. But then, President Trump let slip earlier this week that he would consider postponing a tariff increase scheduled for March 1 if no deal is reached. Delay means nothing but additional strength shorn from America.

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More Billionaire Presidential Candidates: A Bitter Pill

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

More Billionaire Presidential Candidates: A Bitter Pill

Billionaires are pretty damn sure they know what’s best for you. No more taxes on the rich and none of that Medicare-for-all is what’s best for you, according to two billionaires toying with seeking the presidency.

Or, maybe, that’s what’s best for them.

One of those billionaires, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, called Medicare-for-all un-American. Actually, the only thing that makes Medicare-for-all un-American is the fact America is the only First World country that fails to provide universal health insurance.

Schultz and Michael Bloomberg, the other billionaire who thinks he should be president, revealed themselves as out-of-touch, private-jet-riding, multi-mansion-owning, gold-leaf-latte-sippers by condemning lawmakers who have proposed raising taxes on the nation’s most obscenely rich.

Bloomberg said, for example, “We need a healthy economy and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about our system.”

No? It’s not embarrassing that 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency expense? It’s not humiliating that in the richest country in the world federal workers couldn’t afford their insulin during the government shutdown because their low pay forces them to live paycheck to paycheck? It causes no discomfort that 5 million Americans are stuck in part-time jobs when they need 40 hours? Or that so many more are trapped in precarious or contract work without security or benefits, when they need, you know, security and benefits? It’s not shameful that the number of Americans without health insurance increased by 3.2 million in the first year of billionaire Donald Trump’s presidency?

Well, the Americans who are demeaned and degraded by our system, the D.C. cafeteria workers who make so little they live in cars, the people who can only dream of affording a $5 Schultz latte don’t need or want billionaires telling them how to run their lives or how to fix the system that has rendered so many so desperate. They’ve got their own ideas.

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When Federal Workers Were Locked Out, Where Were those Right to Work Groups?

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Thousands of federal employees protested at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., this week, holding aloft empty plates during 33 minutes of silence – one minute for each day of the government shutdown. Some plates carried the message, “Will work for pay.”

Unions representing the 800,000 federal workers who were either locked out or forced to work without pay organized the demonstration. It was supported by the federation of labor unions, the AFL-CIO, and many other unions including the Teamsters, Unite Here and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Since the day in December that President Trump shut down the government, the unions representing government workers, including the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, supported their members by organizing public protests across the country, establishing food banks, and filing lawsuits to reopen government.

These are the organizations – unions – that reactionary far-right groups have spent the last seven months urging workers to quit. “Get out now that you can,” the right wingers calling themselves right-to-work patrons told public sector employees in YouTube videos, Facebook ads, Tweets, telephone calls and door-to-door solicitations. They spent millions trying to kill the unions that buttressed laid off federal workers. So where were those right-to-work groups during the shutdown? Where was the National Right to Work (RTW) Foundation when hundreds of thousands of federal workers were locked out of their jobs and really wanted the right to work – with pay?

Nobody’s heard a peep from them.

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The Indignity of Work Without Pay

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

In the midst of the longest government shutdown in history, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown this week launched a “Dignity of Work” listening tour.

The Democratic senator who just won reelection by nearly seven points in the red state of Ohio explained the concept to reporters: “Dignity of work means hard work should pay off for everyone, no matter who you are or what kind of work you do. . . dignity of work is a value that unites us all.

Well, maybe not everyone. Forty percent of conservative Republicans view the government shutdown as inconsequential. That is, 40 percent of conservative Republicans believe that furloughing 380,000 federal workers and giving them no idea when they might see another paycheck is no problem. That is, 40 percent of conservative Republicans say that ordering another 420,000 federal employees to work without pay is nothing. Forty percent of conservative Republicans say that the farmers and students and potential homebuyers who can’t get loans because of the shutdown are no big deal; the restaurants and shops suffering because their usual government employee customers aren’t showing up are meaningless; the thousands of government contract workers laid off with no hope of recouping lost paychecks are trivial collateral damage.

That repudiates the dignity of work. It disrespects government workers and the services they perform for Americans. It also disrespects the workers routinely helped by government employees, from farmers to factory laborers, who now are denied the government services they need.

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Tax Dollars Can Buy Happiness

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Corporatists castigated two lawmakers in recent weeks for daring to offer economic Xanax prescriptions to cure rampant American economic anxiety.

 “Stupid,” is what they branded new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as she became the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. House.

“Unlikeable” is what they excoriated U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren with as she began exploring a run for the presidency.

Right-wingers and one percenters had to crush Ocasio-Cortez, Warren and others whose ideas promote dignified jobs with living wages, universal health insurance, affordable access to pre-K and college degrees and a national sense of social cohesiveness. 

That’s because in capitalist America, there are summer homes and pleasure boats for the wealthy, but no rest for the weary and worried. The rich and corporations get massive tax breaks, and the 99 percent, well, they get stagnant wages, growing bills and constant angst. How can families afford health care? How can they pay the rising cost of daycare? How can 20 somethings ever afford a home while paying off extortive college loans? Will the elderly avert the indignity of meals made of cat food as corporations eliminate pensions? Worry. Worry. Worry. So many are so miserable in the richest country in the world. 

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Eight Holiday Gifts American Workers Need

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

It’s that time of the year – the most wonderful time of the year, the hap-happiest season of all. There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and utility repair workers out in the snow.

It’s great, all right. You know what would make it better, though? Eight Hanukkah days of gifts for workers. Maybe a stocking stuffed with presents for those who labor 52 weeks a year, without a paid sick day, pension benefits or employer-sponsored health insurance. 

For those stumped by this proposition, I’ve made a list. I’ve checked it twice. On it are eight gifts that would convert workers’ blue, blue, blue, blue Christmases to white.

  • Tonka Trucks. For the adults who drive the real backhoes, excavators, bulldozers, motor graders, pavers, and concrete trucks, who build the massive tires on which giant trucks roll, who refine the oil to make the gasoline that powers those vehicles, who forge the steel and smelt the aluminum to construct those trucks – for all of those workers – Congress must pass a $2 trillion infrastructure bill. That’s right, $2 trillion. That’s what the American Society of Civil Engineers recommends spending over 10 years to clean the nation’s drinking water, update harbors and airports, repair crumbling roads and bridges, and secure dams and levees. The civil engineers know. They’re the ones who design these vital assets. And they’ve given the nation a D grade for their condition since 1998. Infrastructure investment would improve citizens’ safety, ease commerce and create millions of good, family-supporting jobs
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Workers Petition Congress: Protect Our Pensions

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

The total number of workers at risk is 1.2 million. In my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), 100,000 are threatened. Daryl A. Bugbee of Olivet, Mich., is one of them. He wrote Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions on Aug. 8:

“I am the father of a special needs child who will always need assistance. Without my pension, I will not be able to help meet his needs.”

Workers like Daryl count on that money. Most didn’t earn enough to invest in stocks or a 401(k) for retirement. The pension was everything.

Now, they’re vulnerable because 8 percent of multiemployer pensions are collapsing. This is not the workers’ fault. Often, it’s not even the employers’ fault. It’s because of economic forces that couldn’t be predicted and Congressional decisions to deregulate Wall Street and ignore trade violations.

Now, these workers are justifiably looking to Congress for help. Daryl pleaded, “I am writing to urge you to take action needed to restore the failing pension plans.”

Congress could help. It moved in that direction by establishing the Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions. The committee set a deadline of Nov. 30 to recommend a solution. But after researching for a year and conducting five hearings, the committee appears paralyzed. That’s no help to Daryl and 1.2 million other working and retired people facing financial crisis.

“Please adopt legislation that would protect our benefits,” Daryl implored.

Legislation was introduced last year that would protect the pensions. It’s called the Butch Lewis Act. It would enable the Treasury Department to sell bonds to finance long-term low-interest loans to the troubled pension plans. That’s what Daryl and the 300 other USW members who wrote the Joint Select Committee this year want. Or something similar. They won’t nitpick. They’re scared.

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A Challenge to the Freshmen – and Freshwomen – Democrats

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

In his victory speech on election night, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb said he would always remember the union members who helped him defeat two Republican incumbents in one year.

“Side by side with us at each step of the way were men and women of organized labor. . .  I will never forget that. I will never forget that. Thank you,” he told a cheering crowd overflowing a ballroom at the Hilton DoubleTree, 20 miles north of Pittsburgh.

In his first contest last spring, in a district that went for President Donald Trump by nearly 20 points and that had elected a Republican to the House for 15 years, Lamb received massive support in the form of door knocking and phone banking from members of the labor union I lead, the United Steelworkers, and from several others, including the Service Employees International Union.

Lamb recalled that help when he listed his priorities on his website. They include, he wrote, “protecting Social Security and Medicare as well as fighting for good jobs and strong unions.” And he spoke with pride of his connection to labor at his victory party, “These unions have fought for decades for wages, benefits, working conditions, basic dignity and social justice. . . . You have brought me into your ranks to fight with you. . . I am proud to be right there with you.”

Unfortunately, he’s an exception. Far too many so-called representatives of the people forget the working men and women who volunteered their valuable time to canvass and call and convince for them. They respond only to the demands of CEOs and Wall Street fat cats. Captured by big money, they neglect their roots, renege on their promises, obstruct organized labor.

That’s how workers get crushed with crappy trade deals like NAFTA. That’s how anti-union legislation gets passed. That’s how OSHA is underfunded and the minimum wage is emaciated.

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Make America Vote

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Make America Vote

The voter turnout last Tuesday was historic – the highest in half a century, nearly half of the eligible electorate participated, an amazing number for a midterm.

The United States Election Project estimates turnout at 49.2 percent. How high would it have risen sans voter suppression – 55 percent, 60 percent?

Who might have won without the strangulation of some voters’ voices? Would Democrat Stacey Abrams have trounced Georgia Republican Brian Kemp, who acted both as candidate for governor and militant for suppression?

Like all disenfranchisers, Kemp did everything he could to choose his voters, making sure to disqualify electors likely to support his opponent’s effort to become the state’s first African American woman governor. That’s right. He targeted Black voters.

Kemp and his vote-stifling cohorts are upending the goal of a representative democracy. In a democratic republic, voters choose their representatives – not the other way around. Republicans are defiling America’s promise of self-governance by erecting obstacles to the ballot. To be great, America must clear the path to the polls, perhaps even mandating voting like Australia. There, turnout is more than 90 percent. 

The founding fathers created a country on the premise of self-governance, that each American was a citizen endowed with the right to self-determination. Those revolutionaries fought a war over their declaration that Americans were not subjects bound by whims of a monarch. Still, it took nearly another century and another war for Black Americans to gain freedom from enslavement. Even then, African American men only nominally gained the right to vote. And American women wouldn’t get the franchise for another half a century.

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China Grabs 3.4 Million American Jobs

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Everything is great, right? Unemployment is the lowest in half a century. The economy is churning out a high GDP. Home values are rising rapidly again. Inflation remains low.

Still, the stock market has been crashing in recent weeks. Investors don’t like President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. It makes them nervous.

Nervous. They have no idea. Since 2001, when the United States agreed to allow China into the World Trade Organization, U.S. workers have been nervous every day. Twenty-four hours a day. Three hundred and sixty-five days a year. They fear losing their jobs to China. And rightly so. A study by the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released this week shows the growth in the U.S. trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2017 cost 3.4 million American workers their jobs. (Photo is of Lisa Crissman at the Flabeg factory that laid her and 100 other workers off in 2012 when it closed and moved auto mirror manufacturing to China and Brazil.Photo by Steve Dietz, UnionPix, www.unionpix.com)

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Americans Want a Manufacturing Overhaul and They Want It Now

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Lately it feels as if the United States is anything but united. From climate change to universal health care, from Kanye West to the validity of pumpkin spice, Americans seem divided over every issue under the sun.

But a new survey reveals there is at least one thing on which the majority of this country agrees.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) recently conducted a poll of 1,200 general election voters and found that most Americans, even across party lines, believe that U.S. manufacturing is critical to maintaining national security. They also believe workers deserve better wages and countries that cheat or side-step trade commitments should be held accountable.

Last month, the Department of Defense issued a report confirming that what American voters believe is right – U.S. manufacturing is crucial to national security. The report says that the department currently relies on China and other potential rival countries for essential materials to produce everything from steel armor plate to lithium ion batteries.

“The ability of the military to surge in response to an emergency depends on our nation’s ability to produce needed parts and systems, healthy and secure supply chains, and a skilled U.S. workforce,” the report states. “Not only is the manufacturing sector the backbone of U.S. military technical advantage, but also a major contributor to the U.S. economy.”

Both the AAM survey and the Defense Department’s conclusions prove the labor movement was right when it advocated for years for robust yet strategic policies to support domestic manufacturing. Programs reinforcing manufacturing are popular, but more importantly, they are vital to America’s basic survival.

Manufacturing is an economic generator. Every new manufacturing job supports 3.6 jobs in other sectors. Manufacturing also accounts for 60 percent of the country’s exports and 12 percent of its GDP, according to the Defense report.

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Stealth Coup by the Rich

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Democracy is tough for 1 percenters.

They’ve got all that money but, hypothetically, no more voting power than their chauffeur or yacht captain or nanny.

In this one-person, one-vote democracy, though, they’ve got a plan to fix all that for themselves. They’re paying for it. And they’re accomplishing it, even though that means stripping voting rights from non-rich minority groups. Their goal is to make America more of a one-dollar, one-vote plutocracy.

Their scheme is deeply offensive to democratic ideals. In a perfect democracy, each citizen possesses the same power of self-governance as all other individuals, no matter how poor or rich, no matter their religion or skin color, no matter their country of origin or ancestry.

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