Mark Gruenberg Archive

UFCW, Public Citizen Sue to Stop Dangerous Slaughterhouse Rules

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The United Food and Commercial Workers and three of its Minnesota locals, who represent workers at slaughterhouses, and the pro-worker Public Citizen activist group filed suit against a GOP Trump administration rule that could in effect return the nation’s pork production to conditions found in The Jungle more than a century ago.

The case, filed by UFCW and its Locals 2, 410 and 663 on Oct. 7 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, says the new inspection regime – or lack of it – that Trump’s Agriculture Department wants to impose endangers both safety of workers on the job and the nation’s health, by leaving pork carcasses open to bacterial hazards.

Trump’s Agriculture Department promulgated the final rule in the last several weeks and officially published it on Oct. 1. Deep in its text, it says the rule will add $87 million to the profits of the nation’s agribusiness pork processors.

But it would do so, the suit and the unions retort, at the expense of worker health and safety – particularly repetitive motion injuries – and consumer health, by letting diseased pork carcasses go by on the production line with no oversight from federal inspectors. They’d only get to look at the hogs before the carcasses enter the line and after they come off.

In between, the suit says, untrained plant employees -- i.e. managers ordered to speed through as many hogs as possible to increase production and profits – would eye carcasses.

Trump’s pork processing rule is yet another instance of his pro-plutocratic GOP administration caving to the wishes of the corporate class. The pork processors have been agitating for years for no speed limits on pork processing lines. They also lobbied for fewer, or no, federal inspectors to yank off diseased hogs. They got their wish in Trump’s rule.

In both senses, those conditions harken back to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, published in 1905. It exposed dangerous conditions – both to workers and consumers – in pork slaughterhouses of Chicago’s stockyards, the “Hog Butcher to the World.”

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Twin Cities home health care workers win unpaid overtime

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

It took almost five years to wend its way through state agencies and courts, but home health care workers who toil for the Twin Cities-based Baywood Home Care agency will share $350,000 from the firm for unpaid overtime.

The win came from the Minnesota Supreme Court on Sept. 18, in a case brought on the workers’ behalf by the state Department of Labor, the St. Paul Union Advocate reported.

The department investigated a complaint, filed in 2014, that the agency was violating the state Fair Labor Standards Act, which  mandates time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked over 48 per week.

The federal FLSA mandates overtime pay for all hours worked over 40 per week, but it doesn’t cover home health care workers. Minnesota’s does. Responding to evidence presented by the Service Employees, the Obama-era federal Labor Department brought home health care workers nationwide under the federal FLSA, for one year, until home health care interests got federal courts to toss that rule out.

Baywood broke the state law, the state agency told the state court, by working its employees for 24 hours at a time, but not every day. They were paid set daily rates regardless of how long they worked each week.

The state court said the daily rates are no substitute for overtime pay. When the home health care workers toiled more than 48 hours a week each, the workers were entitled to time-and-half pay “regardless of how the worker was compensated” before hitting that weekly limit.

Not paying the workers overtime is a form of wage theft, which costs Minnesota workers alone $22 million statewide every year, estimates show.

“All Minnesotans deserve to be paid every dollar they are owed for the work they perform,” state Labor Commissioner Nancy Leppink said in a statement after the court’s decision. The court also ordered the firm to pay the state agency $350,000 in damages.

“Too many workers are not being paid their full wages. With this decision, these employees are now one step closer to being correctly compensated for their work and for the harm they experienced,” she added.


Unions oppose discrimination against LGBTQ+ people

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The nation’s largest unions and the nation’s largest labor federation both back outlawing employer discrimination against lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender people – a ban bosses are challenging in top cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.

And the Oct. 8 argument over whether bosses can discriminate against LGBTQ people – including firing them – solely because of their sexual orientation or gender preference isn’t the only big-ticket civil rights case the justices will hear in the next six weeks.

The other will come up in early November, as Comcast challenges the wide-ranging ban on discrimination written into the Reconstruction Era’s 1866 Civil Rights Act and its famous Section 1981, which lets individuals and firms sue against business racism.

And in both instances, the GOP Donald Trump administration is arguing on the other side, for discrimination.

Both issues are important for the future of civil rights and human rights in the United States, which have been frequently under attack by Trump, right-wing Republicans and their ideological think tanks and, in the Section 1981 case, the corporate class.

The tangle over LGBTQ job discrimination will hit the High Court the day after it starts its 2019-20 term. Four separate lawsuits, consolidated into one long hearing, will force the justices to consider whether employers can discriminate against LGBTQ people.

That’s illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban, in its famous Title VII, on employment discrimination based on sex, according to the AFL-CIO, both big teachers’ unions, and a combined brief from the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and Jobs With Justice – along with other allies of LGBTQ people.

Title VII also bans discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.

The Section 1981 case will come up in November. It outlaws racial discrimination by businesses in making contracts.

Until now, courts inserted one big caveat into Section 1981 cases: What’s called a “but for” clause, meaning that “but for” specific circumstances – namely that but for the fact that the person hurt was African-American – the discrimination would not have occurred.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco took away even that caveat and ruled the 1866 law means what it says and that victims only need to show race was “a factor” – not the factor – to get their day in court after firms didn’t do business with them.

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Federal workers protest Trump anti-union edicts

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Culminating several days of in-person lobbying, but continuing a defense that’s been going since Donald Trump’s first day in office, federal worker unions, their congressional allies and other union leaders took their campaign against the GOP president’s edicts to Congress.

The mass rally of several thousand people on Capitol Hill on Sept. 24 drew attention to Trump’s anti-worker actions, from curbs on union representation for all two million federal workers down to sudden declarations that 900 of the lowest-paid disabled workers in the Portland, Ore., Veterans Administration hospital would be laid off – with two weeks’ notice.

Led by the Government Employees (AFGE) and the Treasury Employees (NTEU), unions and workers lobbied for legislation to stop Trump‘s edicts in their tracks in the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

The Democratic-run House has agreed. The GOP-run Senate is another matter, though one speaker, Sen. Chris Von Hollen, D-Md., promised the crowd he would push the ban on Trump’s edicts through. Whether and when he, and other Senate Democrats, can succeed is up in the air.

The point of the rally was to get them to do so. “Talk is cheap. Let’s get to work,” AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre said. “Something is happening in America,” federation President Richard Trumka declared before challenging Trump: “Bring it on!”

Typical support came from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio: “You can’t say you love your country and you love workers and then attack unions.”

Trump’s edicts throw federal worker unions out of their small offices in federal buildings; yank away their computers, phones and fax machines; curb due process rights for federal workers; make it easier for bosses to fire workers for no reason at all, and even tell union stewards that when they defend federal workers, they must do so on their own time and on their own dime.

The unions took Trump to court, won in district court – and lost in the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. on Sept. 25. In an unsigned order, the judges declined to hear the case.

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Senate Republicans approve corporatist Scalia as Labor Secretary

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Talk about greasing the skids for a Trumpite: The GOP-run Senate committee that deals with workers’ issues OKd Donald Trump’s nomination of right-wing corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia as by a 12-11 party-line vote on Sept. 24. The full Senate followed, also totally on party lines, 53-44 on Sept. 26.

The lickety-split confirmation process for Scalia, son of the late right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justice, came over strenuous objections from both the panel’s Democrats and workers and their allies. Nevertheless, he will be in the Secretary’s chair.

“We’ve seen this awful nominee for the Secretary of Labor’s job who spent his career busting unions,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told a nearby outdoor rally of workers protesting Trump’s edicts against federal workers and their unions.

But corporate interests from A to Z supported Scalia, who previously made a name by leading business lobbying to kill the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ergonomic rules and for defending Seaworld, whose killer whale drowned its female trainer.

And Scalia was also Walmart’s lawyer when the monster vicious anti-worker retailer sued to overturn a Maryland law a decade ago saying that any firm with more than 10,000 workers in the state had to devote at least 8% of payroll to health insurance for its workers. Two of the only three – including unionized Safeway stores – did so. Walmart didn’t. Scalia and Walmart won in court.

“Last week’s hearing confirmed my worst fears,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the panel’s top Democrat. “Scalia will be a yes-man for President Trump’s anti-worker agenda, not a champion for working families, that he will let companies off the hook, not hold them account-able, that . . . he will be a Secretary of Corporate Interests, not a Secretary of Labor.”

Scalia “dodged seemingly every opportunity to take a strong stand as a champion for the workers and families the Department of Labor serves,” she added. But “he didn’t shy away from defending his record helping corporate clients hack away at the rules meant to protect workers and families or hesitate to praise President Trump and the so-called ‘virtually unprecedented benefits’ workers are seeing under this administration’s anti-worker agenda.”

“He has fought against workers seeking the wages they were cheated out of, people with disabilities seeking a job opportunity, employees seeking a safer work environment, families seeking reliable advice as they plan for retirement, and even survivors seeking justice for workplace harassment and assault. In other words, the very people we need the Secretary of Labor to fight for,” Murray said.                             

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House panel approves pro-worker labor law rewrite

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

By a party-line 26-21 vote after an all-day work session, the Democratic-run House Education and Labor Committee passed the Protect the Right to Organize (Pro) Act, the most-comprehensive pro-worker rewrite of U.S. labor law in decades. All the Democrats voted for it and all the Republicans voted against it.

The measure, co-written by top lawmakers and union legislative representatives, would restore many of the freedoms and protections workers gained under the original National Labor Relations Act of 1935.

The Pro Act, formally titled HR2474, is also expected to pass the Democratic-run House, though the exact date for debate has not been set. The Republican-run Senate is another matter. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., lumps it with other House-approved measures – including federal elections reform – as “socialism.”

And corporate contributors to congressional Republicans can be expected to mount a large and expensive lobbying campaign against it, just as they spent millions of dollars a decade ago to destroy an attempt to rewrite labor law with legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Pro Act would undo much of the damage done to worker rights by the GOP-passed Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, court decisions, NLRB rulings and other Republican-crafted legislation.

It would also counter a key assumption of the NLRA: That bosses break labor law unintentionally, so penalties should be light.

Eighty-four years of experience shows that’s wrong. The Pro Act recognizes that with high fines for labor law breaking – including fines directed at CEOs and boards of directors, immediate restoration of illegally fired workers to their jobs, and swift court injunctions.

And the Pro Act would remedy two big problems in labor law. The GOP created one in the Taft-Hartley law. It legalized the process under which workers may enjoy the benefits of union membership without joining or paying dues.

The Pro Act would stop employers from constant anti-union harangues in mandatory captive audience meetings and “would ban what I would call ‘right to freeload’ laws,” Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., a former AFL-CIO deputy organizing director, said.

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DOL Nominee Scalia Promises to Enforce Labor Law, But Ducks Policy Commitments

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

When it comes to enforcing the nation’s labor laws, Eugene Scalia promises to do so. But when it comes to policy recommendations, or to increasing the troops – federal job safety and health inspectors, for example -- needed for such enforcement, GOP President Donald Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary sang quite a different tune.

It was, frequently, answering questions from Democratic senators on Sept. 19, a variation of “let me look at that” or “I’ll get back to you” or “I need to consult” stakeholders or “I want to look at the case” or “it needs to be a top priority for policymakers” in the future.

He even used that last phrase when tackling one of the most-urgent current issues: The fate of approximately 100 financially imperiled multi-employer pension plans, whose assets and payouts were sunk by the financier-caused Great Recession a decade ago. A million workers and retirees are in peril.

On that issue and others, Scalia pledged to enforce the law. He never pledged to change it, or to lobby Trump for policies, people and money needed to enforce it.

Despite the ducking, bobbing and weaving, Scalia is on a fast track to sit in the Labor Secretary’s corner office. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, scene of his confirmation hearing that day, will vote on the nomination on Sept. 24. None of its GOP members voiced any qualms about the management-side labor lawyer.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., has abolished the filibuster for Cabinet nominees, meaning unless all 45 Senate Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents can coax four Republicans to join them, 55-year-old lawyer-lobbyist Scalia will head DOL.

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GM intransigence forces 49,000 UAW members to strike

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

General Motors intransigence on reversing financial hits workers took during and after 2008 Great Recession forced 49,200 Auto Workers toiling for the largest Detroit-based car company to strike at midnight Sept. 15. The firm retaliated by yanking their health insurance, dumping the cost on UAW.

The old pacts between the Detroit 3 – GM, Ford and FiatChrysler – expired the day before, but the union kept talking, and workers kept toiling, at the other two car companies.

At GM plants nationwide, they walked off at the end of the four-to-midnight shift. GM “refuses to give even an inch” in last-minute weekend bargaining, union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said.

GM disputed that, saying it offered raises, a signing bonus and proposed to reopen – at some unspecified future time – two of the six U.S. auto plants it closed this year, one in Detroit and a partial reopening of another in Lordstown, Ohio. GM shifted their machines and jobs to Mexico.

It also announced on Sept. 17 that it would not pay health insurance any more for the workers. UAW stepped in and said it would, using its strike fund.

“Taking our health care is sickening,” the union said in introducing a video about Laura Prater, a hospitalized GM worker in Springhill, Tenn., who woke up the morning of Sept. 17 worrying about how she would pay the bill, rather than how she would get well after surgery.

“The company’s decision was made without any warning to the UAW, leaving more than 48,000 members and their families at risk of being suddenly uninsured,” the union said.

Prater’s Local 2164 union president, Jack Bowers, called GM’s decision pretty bad.  I mean, traditionally, they’ve not done that (paid the insurance costs),” Bowers told WKU, a public radio station. “We’ve got people out there that need insulin. That’s a lot of money for anybody. I think it’s kind of wrong. That’s the nicest word I can think of right now.”

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Trump Labor Board Appointees Rule Against Workers Unfairly Labeled Independent Contractors

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Trump-named GOP majority on the National Labor Relations Board “celebrated” Labor Day a few days before the actual date – by giving bosses, not workers, another gift-wrapped ruling.

By a 3-1 vote on Aug. 29, over the strong dissent of sole Democrat Lauren McFerran, the majority declared that just because the boss arbitrarily declares workers are “independent contractors” does not mean the boss automatically breaks labor law.

The ruling is important for the nation’s workers, especially when the so-called “gig economy” is growing. Firms in that sector, such as AirBnB and the ride-sharing firms Uber and Lyft, arbitrarily declare their workers “independent contractors.”

When workers are “independent contractors” under labor law, unions can’t organize them. The boss also doesn’t have to pay workers comp, Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes or money to cover unemployment benefits.

If a worker is an “employee” under labor law, the law covers the worker. And that includes the right to organize, as well as Social Security, Medicare, workers’ comp and jobless benefits payments by the firm for all the covered workers.

The board majority used a case involving Jeannie Edge, a driver for Velox Express, Inc., a transporter of medical specimens from Arkansas and western Tennessee to a lab. Velox arbitrarily called all its drivers “independent contractors.”

The drivers complained they were really employees, since Velox controlled everything about the job, except for ordering them to buy their own vehicles. Edge spoke for the group and Velox fired her in retaliation three years ago.

The board used the case to discuss the whole independent contractor dodge. The AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the Plumbers and Pipefitters and the Carpenters all filed briefs backing Edge. So did the National Employment Law Project. The Chamber of Commerce, other corporate lobbies and one right-wing ideological group sided with Velox.

The NLRB’s administrative law judge found Velox broke the law by arbitrarily classifying all the drivers as contractors and by firing Edge. The judge ordered her reinstated with back pay and ordered Velox to post a we-won’t-do-it-again notice. The board majority agreed with the judge. It said the drivers are really employees – but that the arbitrary decision to call them contractors does not, by itself, automatically break labor law. 

“The board has never previously found an employer’s misclassification of its employees as independent contractors standing alone, is a per se violation of the (National Labor Relations) Act.” the board’s GOP majority, led by Chairman John Ring, said. “An employer does not violate the act by misclassifying its employees as independent contractors.”

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UMW President Talks Climate Change and Politics

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Never let it be said that Cecil Roberts met a written speech he really likes.

Instead, the veteran United Mine Workers president produced a detailed, free-form and interesting discourse on climate change, politics and coal’s future at a talk to a crowd of reporters, plus UMWA members and retirees at Washington’s National Press Club. His 13-page prepared speech? Uh…he used a few phrases.

Roberts is really a preacher, not a button-down president. He likes to rev up crowds, and he got applause during his remarks. But also got his points in during the September 4 NPC Newsmaker session. Among them, few of which were laughing matters:

  • The Mine Workers aren’t against coping with climate change. They know it’s occurring, and they know the U.S. must do something about it.

But miners have two big domestic problems with the Green New Deal. One is its utopian goal of no U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, by 2050. That’s not doable without developing clean coal technology to scrub carbon out of power plant emissions, Roberts says.

Otherwise “you’ll never – write that down – solve climate change,” he ordered.

UMWA advocated carbon scrubbing for years, but the last legislative effort, in 2009, was filibustered. And abolition puts former coal miners who became natural gas pipeline builders out of jobs.

“We never denied climate change. But how we deal with it is the question…and we want to be part of the discussion.”

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Rail Workers, Citizens Oppose Hazardous Trump Proposal

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Remember the Lac-Megantic rail disaster in Quebec six years ago? Donald Trump apparently doesn’t, but rail workers, citizens and lawmakers concerned about the danger of a natural gas explosion do – and that’s one big reason they’re trying to stop a Trump scheme to ship liquified natural gas by rail in its tracks, literally.

At issue is a plan from Trump’s Transportation Department, specifically from its Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), to let miles-long trains of tank cars filled with liquified natural gas roll through towns and cities.

In an executive order, Trump told DOT on April 10 to draft a rule to let those LNG tank-car trains roll. Liquified natural gas usually goes long distances by pipelines. So does crude oil, but it went by train in Lac-Megantic. Disaster ensued.

On July 6, 2013, a 72-car oil train’s brakes failed and it started to roll seven miles downhill from the siding where it was parked until it crashed, derailed, exploded, and blew up downtown Lac-Megantic. The center of town was destroyed and 47 people died.

Liquified natural gas, also known as methane, is more dangerous, Railroad Workers United – an organization of rank-and-file union freight rail workers nationally – told the PHMSA. So did most of the 2,947 comments on the Trump scheme, which one transportation publication said Trump promulgated at the behest of energy companies and the railroads.

So did Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., whose district is crisscrossed by rail freight lines. DeFazio called Trump’s LNG shipment scheme “beyond absurd.”

After Trump’s executive order, where he compared LNG to “cryogenic” cold liquids, PHMSA put out a 23-page draft environmental assessment advocating giving a waiver to Energy Transport Solutions, LLC, a natural gas company, to let six 100-LNG-tank-car trains roll. The tank car train routes were not specified. 

The kindest word the rail workers, the citizens and the lawmakers could find to describe the environmental assessment – which is not a full-blown environmental impact statement the government usually requires for major projects -- was “inadequate.”

The unionists told PHMSA that “rail shipments of LNG would pose dramatic health, safety, and environmental risks to railroad workers and com-munities across the United States.”

“LNG train derailments could cause fires and ex-plosions, property damage, mass injuries and fatalities -- impacts that are largely ignored in PHMSA’s cursory 23-page analysis.”

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Construction Unions Protest Trump Admin's New Apprenticeship Rules

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

New Trump Labor Department apprenticeship rules, opening training for building trades jobs to cut-rate non-union firms and their bosses – while threatening quality training and building standards – are “like the fox guarding the henhouse,” a veteran construction union apprenticeship trainer says.

But workers and unions concerned over the Trump DOL scheme don’t have much time left to object. Deadline for comments is August 26, the Laborers report.  Comments can be filed, via building trades unions, at

At the behest of the corporate class, and particularly non-union construction companies, the Trump DOL wants to establish new certification requirements for Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) that put the cut-rate contractors and their lobby in charge of crafting new non-registered apprenticeship programs with minimal government oversight.

The proposed industry-backed rule is a direct attack on union Registered Apprenticeship Programs, which provide rigorous skills and safety training and must meet strict requirements set and enforced by DOL.

“We need to make sure the (Trump) administration does not allow low quality industry apprenticeship programs, called IRAPs, in the construction industry. IRAPs would open the door to unskilled workers — not only lowering apprenticeship pay but your wages and benefits as well,” the Laborers warn.

Trump’s rule would provide contractors with another means to steer workers away from union membership, telling workers they don’t need to be a union member to receive training.

Right now, the nation’s construction unions run more than 1,600 training programs, all DOL-certified, providing top-tier training and letting thousands of apprentices earn while they learn. That relieves apprentices of massive college student debt and lets them step right into well-paying union construction jobs when they graduate. The jobs include health care coverage and retirement benefits.

By contrast, the non-union contractors whom Trump would put in charge of training new workers offer low pay, no benefits, no pensions and no job security, either.

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Weingarten to Walmart: 'Stop Selling Guns or We'll Stop Shopping There'

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Having had it up to here with gun-caused carnage, including at the nation’s schools, Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten has a blunt message for the nation’s biggest retailer: Walmart: Stop selling guns or we’ll stop shopping there.

That bombshell is just before the end of a letter Weingarten sent August 7 to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. He has yet to reply.

“Walmart has millions of customers and they all should feel safe while shopping,” Weingarten wrote after a gunman, armed with a semi-automatic weapon, entered the Walmart in El Paso, Texas and slaughtered 22 people, most of them Hispanic.

The gunman previously posted an anti-Mexican internet screed and used phrases associated with GOP President Donald Trump, but Weingarten didn’t mention Trump in her letter. Instead, she unveiled her warning to Walmart:

“If you choose to act, it could change our national conversation in an instant. And if Walmart continues to provide funding to lawmakers who are standing in the way of gun reforms, teachers and students should reconsider doing their back-to-school shopping at your stores.” Even without anti-gun laws, Weingarten urged Walmart “to be part of the solution.”

That solution should not only include a total gun ban in Walmart, but withdrawal of Walmart campaign contributions to the notorious gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, she said. Weingarten noted five of the top current congressional recipients of gun lobby money also got dollars from Walmart’s campaign committee, its owners and its executives., run by the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics – which tallies, annotates and explains campaign contributions, reports the top 20 gun money recipients are incumbent GOP senators, ranging from Mitt Romney of Utah ($13.64 million, including spending slamming his opponent) to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky ($1.27 million, again including money against his foe).

Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, president of the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, have been part of a national crusade for tougher gun controls – bans on semi-automatic weapons, universal background checks, “red flag” laws and more – ever since the Valentine’s Day 2018 of 14 students and three AFT member-teachers by a semi-automatic-wielding shooter at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

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Unions, EPI Back Warren Bill to Crack Down on Private Equity Funds

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

So-called “private equity” investment funds, one of the worst manifestations of anti-worker corrupt corporate capitalism, left Madelyn Garcia and her co-workers without jobs. And she came to Washington in August to help launch legislation to curb their robberies.

Garcia, you see, spent 30 years at a Toys R Us store in Boynton Beach, Fla. She rose to store manager and made sure it was profitable and workers had decent jobs and pay. But a fund swooped in, bought the chain, stripped it of assets, shuttered her store and the rest of the chain – and left Garcia and thousands of other Toys R Us workers out on the street.

If they hadn’t raised public hell, Garcia says, they wouldn’t have even gotten severance pay.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wants to put a stop to such financial robbery of workers for profit. So Garcia, now a member of a financial reform group, joined unions – notably The News Guild -- workers and the Economic Policy Institute in lining up behind Warren’s legislation, the Stop Wall Street Looting Act, to do so.

"I put 30 years of my life into Toys 'R' Us and built my store into a beloved part of my community. Wall Street profiteers threw that love and value away when they bled Toys 'R' Us dry for profit,” Garcia told a D.C. press conference in early August.

“If we hadn't spoken out, they would have left tens of thousands of us on the street without the severance and respect we had earned. This bill is about giving working people a better chance to stand up to billionaire predators and fight for our jobs, our livelihoods, and our dignity. This bill is what standing up for working people looks like."

Warren’s measure would protect some 5.8 million workers whose 35,000 firms are now owned or controlled by private equity funds, EPI President Thea Lee said in her think tank’s detailed analysis of the rapacious investors. That doesn’t count Toys R Us, now dead thanks to the funds’ avarice.

Warren’s bill is part of her continuing campaign against corporate greed and the “rigged economy” against workers she constantly discusses on the campaign trail as she marshals support for her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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Labor Wins Big in Nevada

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Elections have consequences. In Nevada, it’s led to a different type of sweep: From 0-for-20 to 20-for-20 on labor-backed legislation in the state capital.

And it helps that 19 of the 63 state lawmakers (30%) are unionists, a record, and that new Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, son of an Auto Worker from Milwaukee, knows who put him in office. It also helps that the Silver State’s legislature is the first ever in U.S. history to be majority-female.

The win in Nevada was one of many nationwide in 2018. Other victories included putting union members, both Teachers, in governors’ chairs in Minnesota (Tim Walz) and Michigan (Gretchen Whitmer) and ousting rabid anti-worker anti-union GOP governors Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Bruce Rauner in Illinois in favor of pro-worker Democratic nominees.

But Nevada stood out because the GOP governor stood in the way, even after workers and their allies gained clout in Carson City, in the 2016 election. Nevada also stood out because, with a rabidly anti-worker administration in Washington, D.C., unions and workers find themselves increasingly turning to the states for support and for progressive policies.

“The tens of thousands of phone calls and doors knocked are what we have to do across the country to elect pro-union candidates,” Sisolak told the Communications Workers convention, meeting in Las Vegas.

Members of Unite Here, the Communications Workers, AFSCME and the Teamsters led the 2018 Nevada sweep. Unite Here’s largest local, in Las Vegas, has more than 50,000 members alone, concentrated in the hotels and casinos in the burgeoning Las Vegas casino-hotel Strip.

It took a lot of effort to produce those wins and create that new climate, CWA Local 9413 President Liz Henderson, who is also Nevada AFL-CIO president, told the 2,000 delegates.

Fifty unions joined together in the mass mobilization, putting 2,500 volunteers on the streets. The volunteers knocked on half a million doors and held 125,000 one-on-one conversations. The numbers rose two years later. Union turnout was so huge that in 2018 that 17% of early ballots were from union members, and one-fifth of all Clark County (Las Vegas) voters were unionists.

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Unpaid Miners Block Train

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Never piss off a coal miner, especially if you haven’t paid him for weeks – and then try to ship the last load of coal he dug out of the mountains.

That’s what Blackjewel Co. learned on July 30 in Harlan County, Ky. When the firm loaded the coal on train cars, the unpaid miners marched out to the tracks and sat down.

As of Aug, 2, they were still there. They vow to stay. They’re blocking a CSX coal train, at times forming a human chain to make sure it doesn’t move.

One miner wrote a sign in black marker on a used cardboard pizza box: "No pay we stay."

The miners are non-union, but that didn’t stop them from taking “protected concerted action,” in federal labor law’s language, to stand up for themselves. In this case, of course, it’s to stand up and get paid in one of the poorest regions of Appalachia.

The sit down is nothing new in Harlan County. It’s been the scene of bitter battles for years, as coal company bosses warred – often literally – against workers standing up for themselves.

The Blackjewel workers have had to stand up again, and most of the town of Cumberland, population 2,200, is supporting them one way or another since the sit down on the tracks started. A Chinese restaurant is sending over free meals, and people are bringing donations of food, blankets and tents for shelter from frequent thunderstorms. There are port-a-potties, too.

Blackjewel had been losing money. Its sudden bankruptcy filing on July 1 was disclosed by a pro-worker foundation. The company stopped paying the 400 Harlan County miners and at least 700 others at its other mines in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

The first paychecks that arrived in July, for work performed during the last half of June, bounced. The miners never got others. By the end of the month, the Harlan County contingent had had it, especially when they learned about the CSX coal train – with their coal in it. Their mine was padlocked, too.


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Jobless Rate Unchanged at 3.7 Percent

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The U.S. unemployment rate stayed at 3.7% in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. In a separate survey, businesses claimed to create 148,000 new jobs that month, while governments added 16,000, with 11,700 of them, seasonally adjusted, in local schools.

The number of unemployed was 6.063 million, up 88,000 from June, BLS said. But add together the jobless, those who toil part-time when they really want full-time work and people so discouraged they’ve dropped out of the job market, and you get one of every 14 workers.

“Wage growth continues to fall short of what we’d expect in an economy that has had historically low unemployment,” tweeted Economic Policy Institute analyst Elise Gould after BLS reported wages grew at a 3.2% annual rate. “The unemployment rate has been at (or below) 4% for the past 17 months” and economists believe such a tight labor market should prompt businesses to compete for scarce workers by offering better pay. They aren’t.

Factories added 16,000 jobs, to 12.864 million in July, with the sole big gain in cars and parts (+7,200). Other gains and losses were small. Some 472,000 factory workers (3%) were jobless.

At the height of construction season, firms claimed to add only 4,000 jobs in July, to 7.505 million. That left 386,000 jobless building trades workers (3.8%), 53,000 more than in last July. And union leaders say the official stats understate joblessness there, as a worker who toils for one day during the survey week is counted as working all month. That’s often not the case in construction.

As usual, the lowest-paying service occupations led the way in job creation, the separate survey reported. Of the 133,000 jobs service firms claimed to create in July, 30,400 were in health care, 20,400 were in individual and family social services and day care, and 15,400 were in bars and restaurants. The number of jobless government workers rose by 72,000 in one year, to 816,000 (3.9%). Government now has more jobless workers than any other consolidated category.  


House Passes Bill to Protect Multi-employer Pension Plans

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

With strong union backing, the Democratic-run U.S. House passed a bill, HR397, to help financially ailing multi-employer pension plans. The 264-169 vote saw 29 Republicans defy the party line and vote for the workers and retirees, joining all 235 Democrats. But for Sam Ball and other disabled and ill retired coal miners, in his case stricken with black lung and barely able to walk, it may not be enough.

That’s because the measure would help two financially ailing miners’ pension plans only until 2020 – and there are so few contributing coal companies (one) active miners per retiree (also one) and so many retirees (30) for each plan – that both will run out of money before then.

And that leaves Ball, a retired coal miner from far Southwestern Virginia, part of the heart of the Appalachian coal country, broke, along with 1,200 other retirees or widows his former coal firm employer left behind, he told a House Energy subcommittee that deals with coal mine issues on July 24, the same day the House approved the wider bill.

“I have second-stage black lung in both lungs, but have been turned down for federal black lung benefits because the government says the coal dust has not yet crystallized in my lungs and I am not disabled enough to get those benefits yet,” Ball explained.  “My lung doctor says there is no reason I should be denied benefits, but the truth is what has happened to me is not unusual.

“Most people I know with black lung are denied benefits. I can tell you that I cannot walk across my yard without stopping, I do not have the breath for any activities, I sleep with an oxygen tube in my nose at night and I need a sleeping supplement to deal with that.”

After taxes, Ball’s pension from the Mine Workers is $475 a month, under a pension plan the government set up for UMWA members in 1947, the same year it set up the health care plan for retirees who gave their lives – and their health – toiling in dangerous underground mines.

A $5 per ton tax on coal, paid by the coal companies, funds the pension and health care plans. The pension fund and health care fund were fully funded until the 2008 Great Recession wiped out their assets and sent most of the coal companies into bankruptcy, where they could shed their pensions and health care, Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts explained.

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Organizing Precariat Workers Presents Problems

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Unions worldwide face problems organizing workers due to “dismemberment of full-time employment” by firms from Silicon Valley and elsewhere creating the new “gig economy,” an anthropologist who recently finished a comprehensive book on it says.

Mary Gray brought that message and her book, Ghost Work, co-authored with a colleague from India, to the AFL-CIO’s “Ideas@Work” seminar on July 24. But – other than legislation in California empowering workers to organize and extending other rights – there are few solutions yet.

Grey and her colleague interviewed workers in the new economy of Silicon Valley in California and the Pacific Northwest, plus southern India, home now to dozens of call centers and other enterprises transferred from the U.S. The transfers occur because the firms can take advantage of low Indian wages and lax environmental laws.

But individual workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, also do much of the ghost work. They’re arbitrarily classified as “independent contractors” under U.S. labor law, and deprived of all rights. California’s AB5 reclassifies them as “employees” with the right to organize and other protections.

The problem unions face in organizing such ghost workers “is that our policies were built around assembly lines,” where organizers could find the workers to talk with, Gray explained.  The ghost workers aren’t on assembly lines. And nobody knows exactly how many of them there are, because reliable methods of counting them haven’t been developed.

The non-assembly line problem isn’t new, though. Even when Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act, “there were doctors, lawyers and other professionals” who were – and are – virtually still unorganized and unorganizable.

“But now there’s been this notable quiet shift to information services work” worldwide. That makes organizing problems even worse, as many workers toil one by one, out of their homes, when they feel like it and on their own, Gray explained. “Much of that work is done in supply chains” for larger firms.

Their employment is precarious, though. “Nobody has a sense of where their paycheck is coming from,” Gray noted.

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Nurses, Neighbors Protest Johns Hopkins Hospital Practices

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore may have a world-class reputation for medical research and care, but it’s anything but world-class in the way it treats its nurses and its neighbors.

And that contrast between reputation and reality brought almost 1,000 people to a mass demonstration in front of Hopkins’ original building, now its administrative offices, northeast of Baltimore’s downtown in 95-degree heat and humidity on July 20.

“Their cause is our cause,” Metro Baltimore AFL-CIO President Jermaine Jones told the crowd, which included members of AFSCME, the Auto Workers, the Letter Carriers, the Communications Workers, the Service Employees, Unite Here, the Government Employees, the Teachers (AFT), the Food and Commercial Workers and the Electrical Workers.

Led by National Nurses United and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, the crowd demanded Hopkins stop waging all-out union-busting against NNU. Hopkins nurses want their union “so they can advocate for their patients,” NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, an RN from California, said. NNU members from New York, Philadelphia and D.C. also showed up in solidarity.

Speakers also demanded Hopkins stop using nasty collection agencies and low-road tactics to grab money from its low-income former patients – 85% of them African-American – for small unpaid medical bills.

“We are here to take a stand for what’s right,” declared Castillo. “We want to send a message to Hopkins management: People before profits.”

Hopkins’s 1,500 nurses approached NNU last year about joining the union, fed up with low pay, immense overtime, short-staffing which caused constant turnover and, most importantly, harms to care for patients the hospital serves.

“We do the best we can, but we could do a better job if conditions were better,” nurse Derek Jannarone told Press Associates Union News Service.

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UAW to Detroit Three: Invest Record Profits in Workers

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

New United Auto Workers President Gary Jones kicked off bargaining with the “Detroit 3” car companies by saying that after years of worker sacrifices, followed by record profits at GM, Ford and FiatChrysler, it’s time for the firms to invest in their workers.

The talks, which started July 15, featured almost-identical remarks by Jones to the leaders of the car firms, except that he slammed GM for moving production to Mexico and told all three, but FiatChrysler in particular, that the eight-year progression from part-time work to the top of the pay scale must end.

That progression is common to all three car companies and it’s the biggest problem the UAW members at the firms discuss with union reps off the plant floor.

Jones repeated that message, including UAW’s determination to convert more part-timers to full-time employment, to all three firms. The union represents the 158,000 workers at the three car companies, which combined for $15 billion in net profits last year.

“We’re seeing record profit for our American companies, but it’s sad to say those gains aren’t really translating to our members,” Jones told the execs of all three firms. “Despite record profits, we’ve been watching a race to the bottom over the past several years for working men and women in this country.”

That “race” includes GM’s closure of plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland and shipment of the jobs to Mexico, he pointedly noted. One union goal is to get the firm to reopen those plants to make more in-demand vehicles, not keep them closed and offer the workers GM jobs elsewhere.

The firm offers “cuts in benefits, retirement security in jeopardy, job loss, wage loss, more and more temporary workers, shipping our jobs to Mexico and China. And outsourcing our good General Motors jobs to other companies paying lower wages in the United States,” Jones said.

“So, what I want to say today and what I want GM’s leadership to hear is: With this year’s negotiations, we will halt that race to the bottom,” Jones said. He repeated those lines to FiatChrysler and Ford execs, just changing firms. “We will protect this workforce, their jobs and their way of life.”

Relations between the car companies and the UAW have a nationwide impact. Car companies – both the Detroit 3 and foreign “transplants” – plus parts suppliers account for one of every 20 U.S. jobs. And those workers in turn support millions more in their communities.

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Trump Nominates Late Justice Scalia's Son as Labor Secretary

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

GOP President Donald Trump has nominated right-wing lawyer Antonin – whoops, Eugene -- Scalia to be Secretary of Labor. If confirmed, he would succeed Alexander Acosta, who was forced to resign.

Eugene Scalia is best-identified as a son of the late and conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia. But Eugene Scalia’s spent his career advocating big business causes and cases, both before and after a brief temporary stint as DOL’s Solicitor, its top attorney.

“He’s as bad as his dad,” one pro-worker labor lawyer said of Eugene Scalia. “This guy will be full steam ahead” on pro-business deregulation. Top Trump officials dressed down Acosta as too slow on that cause.

Right-wingers hail Scalia, according to several legal analyses, as the “father” of killing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ergonomics rule. “Under the proposed rule, employers’ obligations would be triggered by ‘symptoms’ of musculoskeletal disorders, which OSHA defines to include ‘pain,’ ‘numbness’ and ‘tingling,’” Scalia wrote.

Then, Scalia claimed, firms must decide if the jobs are “reasonably likely” to be ergonomically hazardous. “If they are, employers are to implement draconian abatement measures, such as reducing assembly line speeds and redesigning equipment, until the ‘hazard’ is gone.”

“This vague and subjective rule would afford little benefit to workers because it is based on thoroughly unreliable science.”

His views were symbolized in an Op-Ed he authored for the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 5, 2000, entitled “Gore, Unions invite OSHA to your home.”

Scalia denounced OSHA’s “advisory” that It start to inspect and if necessary regulate home offices. He then charged the agency might force employers to pay for home improvements to make such home offices safer.

Several media report Scalia is a favorite of Trump’s evangelical right base, and that Trump got to know Scalia well when considering successors to the seat left vacant when Scalia’s father died.

And when the Maryland enacted legislation in 2006 ordering firms that employed at least 10,000 workers in the state to spend at least 8% of payroll on health insurance for their workers, Scalia was the lawyer who shot it down in the state’s top court. He spoke for the law’s target, notorious anti-worker pinchpenny Walmart.


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Court Panel Upholds Trump's Anti-Worker Orders

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Top unions representing federal workers are pondering their next moves after a three-judge panel of the key federal appeals court involved upheld GOP President Donald Trump’s anti-union, anti-worker executive orders.

The practical effect of the 3-0 vote on July 16 by judges of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. – whose judges decide most cases involving federal agencies – is to reinstate Trump’s edicts, for now, at all federal agencies. A lower court judge had overturned them almost a year ago.

Trump’s chiefs at the departments of Education and Veterans Affairs defied the lower court and implemented Trump’s anti-worker ukases anyway.

Trump’s executive orders are part of his, and the GOP’s, constant war on workers in general and the two million federal workers – most of them women, people of color, or both – in particular.

His war includes a pay freeze, a target of getting rid of 10% of all federal workers, arbitrary moves of agencies out of D.C. – giving workers a sudden choice of move or quit, and abolishing the government’s personnel system to reinstitute the graft-ridden corrupt spoils system of the Gilded Age.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest and lead union in the case, and the other unions could still try to stop Trump by going to the full appeals court and then the U.S. Supreme Court. AFGE President J. David Cox called the judges’ ruling “terrible” and said it upholds Trump’s “union-busting.” He vowed his union would “use every tool available” to fight it.

The judges said the unions followed the wrong path in the first place, by taking the case to U.S. District Court, where Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled for them almost a year ago. She said Trump’s edicts violated federal worker-management law and, because they prevented workers from contacting Congress, the U.S. Constitution, too.

The appeals panel said Jackson shouldn’t have heard the case in the first place. It ruled federal worker-management relations law orders them to take their complaint to the Federal Labor Relations Authority – the federal government’s equivalent of the National Labor Relations Board – first. If they lost there, the unions could then go straight to appeals court.

“Within constitutional bounds, Congress decides what cases the federal courts have jurisdiction to consider,” the judges said. “Congress may preclude district court jurisdiction by establishing an alternative statutory scheme for administrative and judicial review.”

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Amazon Warehouse Workers Strike

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The eyes of the world were on Shakopee, Minn., on July 15, where 30-50 workers at the vast Amazon fulfillment center staged a one-day strike to protest working conditions. The workers’ picket line was joined by a throng of supporters from the local labor movement and other community supporters.

Semi-trailer trucks trying to enter or leave the Amazon property were forced to wait until the 200-plus picketers moved to the sides of the entrances to let them pass. A few truck drivers chose to not cross the picket line and drove away.

Planned by Amazon workers organizing with the Awood Center, the action came on Amazon’s much-hyped “Prime Day,” a day of discounts to encourage shoppers to buy something from the online retailer. A Facebook meme countered: “I don’t know who needs to hear this… but you don’t need anything from Amazon today.”

The low prices and quick delivery from Amazon come at a high cost to the workers at a fast-paced Amazon fulfillment center, the crowd learned from workers, many of whom wore t-shirts proclaiming, “We are Humans, Not Robots!”

“We are striking… because we are humans — we are not robots,” said Sahro Sharif, the emcee of the rally on the picket line, who has worked for a year at Amazon’s Shakopee fulfillment center as an order picker. “We are tired of Amazon workers being hurt on the job… Keeping up with increased workloads is just too much.”

Injured Amazon worker Meg Brady reported how the fast-paced demands of the work took a toll on her health and her co-workers. When she started working at Amazon 18 months ago, she said, she was part of a group of 70 new staff. Only five people from that group remained, Brady reported. Some people left injured, some couldn’t keep up with the required work pace, some couldn’t bear the stress, quitting because staying “just wasn’t worth it any longer.”

Brady stayed, she said, “to make it better for me and all my co-workers.” She explained: “If you want to see change, you just don’t go — you stay and you fight… Amazon can do better. Amazon must do better. Management demands the best from their workers. Now we want their best.”

The crowd also heard from Weston Fribley, an Amazon software engineer from Seattle who is an activist with Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. He read a few of what he said were 100 support letters collected in one day from Amazon tech workers in Seattle. “We stand with you,” Fribley said. “Thank you for having the courage to do this.”

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Michigan Rep. Andy Levin Lauds Retiring USW President Gerard

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., has an unusual retirement gift for departing Steelworkers President Leo Gerard: No new NAFTA without strong and enforceable worker rights in all three of its countries: The U.S., Canada and especially Mexico.

Of course, Levin knows Gerard better than almost any other lawmaker does: After a long career as an union organizer, capped by a stint as deputy AFL-CIO Organizing Director, the first-termer from Michigan succeeded his pro-worker father Sandy in the U.S. House.

Gerard, president of USW starting in 2001, retired effective July 15, which led Levin to laud him that day in a short House floor speech. Levin called Gerard “a great leader of workers throughout North America and, indeed, the world. Leo rose through the ranks and was a dynamic leader of the Steelworkers for 40 years, and he was president for the last 18 years. He led on so many issues.”

“He was a fierce negotiator for his members, but he was also a leader for all workers. For example, he brought the environmental movement and the labor movement together to tackle tough issues about keeping our water and air clean for everyone and for future generations, while protecting our jobs.”

“But one thing I think stands out. I want to pledge to Leo Gerard on his retirement that we are not going to pass a replacement NAFTA unless it honors the workers of Mexico, Canada, and the United States.  What a great champion for workers in North America. I assure Leo we are going to carry on his work. God bless him.”


Key Panel Oks Multi-Employer Pensions Rescue Bill

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

At a hearing packed with hundreds of workers, lawmakers on the key committee handling pension issues approved  legislation to establish federal loans for troubled multi-employer pension plans.

The measure, HR397, named for Ohio unionist Butch Lewis, who died of a stroke four years ago, would set up a bureau in the Treasury Department to judge applications from the troubled plans. Lewis’s multi-employer plan went broke, and his widow’s pension payout collapsed.

Those plans which can show federal loans would be used to both become solvent and to keep benefits level for current retirees – or their families and survivors – would get the loan funds, repayable after 30 years. The money would come from selling U.S. Treasury bonds.

“We are in the homestretch” of passing HR397, Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said at an outdoor press conference an hour before the July 12 House Ways and Means Committee work session on it. “This is a battle for dignity and for keeping the promises made” to millions of workers. But workers “have to walk the halls” to ensure it passes, he warned.

The multi-employer pension plan problem now affects more than 100 plans serving one million retirees and survivors. Multi-employer plans cover 10 million people overall. They’re common in industries such as trucking, bakeries and confectionery firms, construction, food processing and coal mining.

Joint labor-management boards run the plans, with all employers contributing to the workers’ pensions.

But corporate consolidations, bankruptcies and the plummet in pension values during the 2008 Great Recession put multi-employer plans into the “red zone” of financial danger, where they could go broke within months or years.

The Mine Workers’ two pension plans, which the federal government virtually chartered 72 years ago, are in the most-immediate danger. The biggest threat is the Teamsters’ giant Central and Southern States pension plan.

And the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) fund to cover takeovers of broke multi-employer plans – which would pay out far less than what was promised to workers by their multi-employer plans – is running out of cash, too. The result is huge benefit cuts for workers, like Butch Lewis, who sacrificed pay hikes for a decent pension, his widow, Rita, said.


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Pregnant 17-year-old’s death may lead to federal law protecting workers from excessive heat

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Just over 11 years ago, on May 14, 2008, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, after toiling in excessive heat for three straight days picking grapes and hauling huge crates of them in the farm fields near Lodi, Calif., collapsed.

The pregnant 90-pound girl was earning money there to send back to her poverty-stricken family in Oaxaca, Mexico, says retired United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez. There was no water spigot for her to drink from, no shelter to retreat to when temperatures soared into the 90s and above, and no shade in the fields, even when she had time for lunch. She often didn’t. 

Jimenez paid for her devotion with her life. And, this July 11, her death came to mean something on Capitol Hill.

“She fell to the ground because of the heat,” Rodriguez told Press Associates Union News Service the day before a House hearing on a bill to try to prevent future heat deaths among farm workers, roofers, construction workers, highway crew workers and any other worker forced to toil under the hot summer sun.

“The foreman left her on the ground, then put her in the back of a hot flatbed truck,” Rodriguez continued. The foreman first planned to take Jimenez home, but her fiancée finally convinced him to take her to a nearby clinic instead. It was too late.

“She died the next day. Her body temperature was over 100 degrees. The doctors told us her organs were cooked,” Rodriguez said.

Jimenez died even though California, after lobbying by the Farm Workers and a long campaign by then-State Sen. Judy Chu (D), had the nation’s first-ever regulations on the books, since 2005, ordering growers and all other employers to protect workers against heat-related injuries and deaths.

Firms could protect the workers by such simple measures as providing shade, water, shelter and even cooling scarves workers could use to sponge their necks and hands – measures demonstrated at a July 10 outdoor press conference in D.C.’s sunny 90-degree heat.

But the farm labor contractor who brought Jimenez to those fields broke the state’s protective rules. The contractor later lost its license, but not before Jimenez’s death led UFW into another long campaign to enforce the regulations, including a 6-day march from Lodi to Sacramento, and a lawsuit.


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Communications Workers Launch Anti-Offshoring Offensive

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Communications Workers are launching a summer-long offensive to convince Congress to move against corporate off-shoring of U.S. jobs, especially call center jobs.

In a mass conference call with activists on July 9, union President Chris Shelton urged them to lobby lawmakers – and to get other union members to do so – for two pieces of legislation.

Shelton wants unionists to text “no offshoring” to the phone link 69866, which would go to Congress. He also wants them to recruit five colleagues each to do the same thing. And unionists should sign CWA’s on-line anti-offshoring petition.

And then on August 21, the union will sponsor a National Day of Action on the issue, tackling lawmakers at home during the congressional recess, and calling in to their offices – all to push against offshoring and for two pieces of legislation to cramp it.

One would order firms – such as airlines, stores, banks and big distributors like Amazon – to order their call center responders to tell customers where they are physically located, and give customers the option of demanding and getting their call transferred to a U.S.-based center. That bill has been kicking around prior GOP-run Congresses, unsuccessfully.

The other, which the union is drafting in conjunction with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would repeal a huge tax break that encourages firms to offshore U.S. jobs. The break was in the GOP-passed 2017 $1.2 trillion tax cut for big businesses and the rich.

That tax break particularly rubs CWA the wrong way, since one of the nation’s biggest telecoms, AT&T – which is unionized with CWA except for its call centers – announced call center moves to Mexico just around the time solons OKd the tax cut.  That cost thousands of U.S. workers jobs, especially in rural areas with few alternatives.

“We are under attack by Wall Street and corporations and their political puppets – destroying our jobs, destroying communities and destroying our lives,” Shelton said.

“We need to stop this offshoring of good union jobs and of all jobs,” he declared. “We’ve heard a lot of promises from politicians” that they would do so, he added. “But once they get elected, they only make the same situation worse.”


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Illinois Democrats Approve Slate of Pro-Labor Laws

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

What a difference election success makes.

The Democratic-run Illinois legislature – its pro-worker majority strengthened by last fall’s results – and new Democratic pro-worker Gov. J.B. Pritzker teamed up to enact what the St. Louis Labor Tribune called “a barrage” of pro-labor laws.

And that’s quite a contrast to the prior four years, when right-wing anti-worker anti-union GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner spent his tenure trying to destroy workers and unions, battling the lawmakers and refusing to sign a budget unless it included his anti-worker and union-busting schemes.

As a result, the ex-hedge fund mogul ran state finances into the ditch. Illinois’ bond rating under Rauner headed for “junk” status, increasing state interest costs – and costs to taxpayers.

By contrast, not only did Pritzker and the lawmakers pass a balanced budget and on time to meet the July 1 deadline, but they enacted the state’s first infrastructure plan in a decade, banned local “right to work” laws, and approved a plethora of other pro-employee measures.

The $48 billion Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan, along with legalizing casino gambling in more areas, will create “hundreds of thousands of jobs and bring economic development to Illinois,” state AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said at the signing ceremony.

And in a final rebuke to Rauner, Pritzker and AFSCME District Council 31, which represents approximately 40,000 state and local workers all over the Land of Lincoln, signed and ratified a new contract. Rauner had spent his term literally trying to destroy the union. He failed.

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N.Y. Grants Farm Workers Labor Rights

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

To cheers from farm workers, their advocates and the state AFL-CIO, New York joined California enacting a wide-ranging law giving farm workers labor rights. The legislation passed in late June.

“Farm workers are finally getting basic labor rights including the right to organize a union, a mandatory day of rest, and the right to overtime pay. Organizing rights include absolute employer neutrality and binding interest arbitration,” said state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento.

New York’s new law also sets up a state farm worker wage board to set both minimum wages and to mandate overtime pay for farm workers, said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero.

“Tens of thousands of lives will improve immediately and future generations of farm workers will also benefit for years to come,” Cilento said.  

“Today is the culmination of a decades-long fight centered upon one simple premise: That farmworkers deserve fairness, equality and justice. Today, justice was finally served.”

The New York legislation is important because – despite its image as an urban state – New York has a large agricultural industry, from the Hudson Valley on upstate. And many of its farms, such as in Orange County’s nationally known “black dirt” onion-growing country, depend on migrant farm workers.

Those workers, like other farm workers nationwide, are historically exploited by growers and sometimes by overseers who bring them to farms up and down the East Coast, including New York.

After lobbying by the United Farm Workers several decades ago, California established its own Agricultural Labor Relations Board to regulate wages, working conditions and the right of farm workers in the nation’s largest agricultural state to unionize. UFW and other unions lobbied for similar protections in the Empire State.

On the state level, New York and California fill a gap in federal labor law. It does not cover farm workers, a relic of when FDR needed Southern racist senators’ votes to help pass the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The Southerners’ price was to exclude occupations that were majority-African American, such as housekeepers and domestic workers, and majority-Latino, such as farm workers.


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