Labor Rejected Democrats for Supporting Free Trade, Ignoring Middle Class

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

So-called “free trade.” Jobs for the middle class. GOP attention to both, and not just by Donald Trump. Those are key reasons the Democratic Party lost key hunks of the labor vote, and not just in 2016, a panel of progressives and unionists says.

And the way to get those voters back is to stress kitchen-table economic issues that not only unite all wings of the party, but appeal to those workers and their families who feel left behind, added one of the speakers, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.

The group, convened by the Women’s National Democratic Club in D.C., also included Thea Lee, a longtime top AFL-CIO analyst and staffer who now heads the Economic Policy Institute, Jared Bernstein, former top economist for EPI and for Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, and Daniel Loveless, the business manager for Steamfitters Local 602 in Maryland.

The session’s backdrop is the looming 2018 election, when most governors and state legislators will seek re-election. It’s also an off-year election and in the last two off-years, 2010 and 2014, worker-friendly candidates, most of them Democrats, got wiped out.

The backdrop also includes Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss to GOPer Donald Trump in 2016. In the key swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania which Trump took, union families and voters were a big reason. Exit polls showed Trump and Clinton split their votes 50-50. In Ohio, he won 52 percent.

Shuler spent the first part of her remarks laying one issue to rest: That Clinton lost the labor vote. Trump “only did four percentage points better than” 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney did against Democratic President Barack Obama. “But Clinton did nine points worse.”

Trade was a key reason, Shuler said. In so many words, union members and pro-union voters did not forget then-President Bill Clinton jammed the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress in 1993 over labor’s outspoken opposition and predictions of huge job losses, which have since occurred. Workers held NAFTA against Hillary Clinton.

So when Hillary Clinton sought the White House, unionists were leery of her campaign conversion to skepticism about a subsequent business-written trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As Obama’s Secretary of State, she backed the TPP.

“It’s not hard to see the connection,” Shuler said. Clinton’s doubts on “free trade” and the TPP were “seen as late and as political pandering.”

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AFT Cuts Ties to Wells Fargo over Bank’s Support for Gun Lobby.

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Putting its money where its mouth is, the American Federation of Teachers has dumped its ties with Wells Fargo Bank and its program to offer lower-cost mortgages to teachers and staffers because of the big bank’s strong ties to and its funding of the National Rifle Association.

At the same time AFT released a report detailing how top investment firms – including firms that manage teachers’ pension money – are either dumping gun company stocks from their portfolios or using the power of the purse to force the companies into moves to curb gun access, end the availability of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and introduce measures to curb individual gun deadliness.

Union President Randi Weingarten announced the move against Wells Fargo and unveiled the report on April 19. The report is available on the union’s website.

The next day, AFT members and state and local officers, joined by their colleagues from the National Education Association (NEA) and the School Administrators (AFSA), staged the latest in a series of campaigns nationwide seeking stronger gun control measures, banning guns in schools, and denouncing the NRA, the powerful “gun lobby.”

Tens of thousands of students, teachers, staffers and administrators, walked out of schools seeking safety measures.  April 20 was the 19th anniversary of the school massacre in Columbine, Colo.

A count of students killed in fatal shootings in K-12 schools, plus the Virginia Tech massacre, yields 216 dead from Columbine through the Feb. 14 massacre of 14 students, two teachers and the school’s athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Just before the national walkout on April 20, a student at Forest High School in Ocala, Fla., shot another student, wounding the 17-year-old in the ankle.

Forest High students barricaded themselves in classrooms, stacking desks and chairs against doors and told CNN they could hear students in other classrooms crying.

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Service Sector Women Reveal Harassment on the Job

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

What do AFA President Sara Nelson and a woman hotel bartender from Chicago have in common?  Three things: They’re both women, they’re union members and they’ve both been sexually harassed – or have learned about it – on the job.

And that brought Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and Roushaunda, a bartender at a Chicago hotel and member of Unite Here Local 1 – who declined to give her last name for fear of retribution – to tell lawmakers on March 20 about conditions on their jobs. Several other women joined them.

While the #MeToo movement has come in a big way to Capitol Hill and around the country, exposing harassers and rapers ranging from prominent politicians to movie moguls to media personalities to Olympic trainers, most featured women have been in white-collar jobs. But the witnesses told the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues the problem is more pervasive – and insidious – in service-sector jobs, especially low-paying ones.

“I’ll never forget one incident when I was waiting on a table of four men,” dressed in business suits, in an upscale Chicago restaurant, said Roushaunda, now an activist with her local in its successful citywide campaign for an anti-harassment ordinance.

“I walked up to the table to take their order. One of them asked me for my name. When I brought the drinks to their table, he slapped me on the rear end and said ‘Thank you.’ It was such a violation. I was shocked he thought he could get away with it. I told him ‘Don’t ever do that again.’”

But she couldn’t report the harassment to her supervisor, Roushaunda told the lawmakers. The slap occurred in her first months on the job, she didn’t have union protection – yet – and she feared getting fired. She needed the money.

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DOL Did Not Survey Bosses About Grabbing Worker Tips

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Trump administration Labor Department did not survey the “quantitative” impact of letting bosses grab workers’ tips before yanking the Obama adminis-tration rule designed to prevent such wage theft, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta admitted.

And he won’t reinstate the ban on tip theft, either, he told lawmakers on March 6.

Instead, Acosta wants to replace the ban with a rule that, congressional Democrats and worker advocates say, would allow the tip theft.

The pro-tip theft rule is one of many anti-worker actions agencies imposed since Trump took over. But it’s drawn particular flak because DOL didn’t run the numbers on its impact, and because it would harm low-wage workers, especially working women. The pro-tip theft rule is also a key cause of the anti-worker National Restaurant Association.

Acosta said DOL did a “qualitative” survey on tip theft, but he won’t release it. While DOL didn’t run the numbers on the tip theft, the Economic Policy Institute, using federal data, did, in mid-January. It reported if Trump’s rule takes effect, the average tipped worker could lose a minimum of $1,000 yearly – and tipped workers are among those who can least afford such losses.

EPI’s analysis showed tipped workers would lose a minimum of $5.8 billion yearly due to employers pocketing the tips, and – in a worse-case scenario listed in one chart -- $13 billion. And working women would suffer 80 percent of the losses. Lawmakers cited both figures while questioning Acosta at the March 6 hearing on DOL’s budget.

"DOL has masked the fact this rule would be a windfall to restaurant owners and other employers — out of the pockets of tipped workers — by making it sound as if this rule is about tip pooling. Of course, once employers have full control of tips, one of the things they could do with those tips is distribute them to ‘back of the house’ workers like dishwashers and cooks.”

But Acosta’s replacement rule “does not require employers to distribute the tips, so employers would be no more likely to share tips with back-of-the-house workers than they would be to make any other choice about what to do with a business windfall,” EPI commented. They could use the tip money to “make capital improvements, to increase executive pay, or to line their own pockets.”


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NLRB’S Joint Employer Rule on Again after GOP Board Member’s Vote Tossed

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The National Labor Relations Board’s on-again off-again rule holding joint employers – the corporate headquarters of a chain – and its individual franchises jointly responsible for obeying or breaking labor law is on again.

That’s because the board had to toss out its decision last year reversing the Obama-era rule after Trump-named GOP board member William Emanuel, formerly a management-side labor lawyer from Los Angeles, voted illegally in the case, NLRB’s Inspector General ruled.

That left the three remaining three members of the NLRB, two Democrats and the sole Republican, no choice but to dump their old decision. They did so on Feb. 26.

It also left House Democrats calling for a hearing on Emanuel’s illegal vote, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate Labor Committee, denouncing Emanuel’s “conflict of interest,” praising the board’s reversal and reiterating every NLRB member “should be squarely focused on ensuring workers’ rights are fairly upheld.”

But Murray did not demand a hearing on Emanuel, yet. A call to her office asking what she would specifically do about his conflict of interest was not returned.

Meanwhile the ruling House Republicans urged their Senate counterparts to approve an already-passed bill outlawing the NLRB’s old joint employer decision.

The joint employer ruling could affect millions of workers in chains such as Motel 6, McDonald’s, Burger King and the like. That’s because workers trying to either unionize or bargain can be bounced, without the joint employer rule, from pillar – corporate headquarters -- to post – the local franchise.


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Agency fees and the future of the union movement hit the Supreme Court

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

“Agency fees,” paid by non-union public workers whom unions represent in many states, hit the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 26. But what was really at stake was the future of the union movement. “You’re basically arguing, ‘Do away with unions,’” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the attorney for the union foes who brought the case, William Messenger of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund. 

As the justices heard the case inside the court’s white-marbled hall, unionists made themselves heard outside. More than 1,000 demonstrated for worker rights on the plaza outside the building. And they drew support from pro-choice, civil rights and community allies. A much smaller group supported the right to work crowd. The case is the most important labor case to hit the High Court in decades, said attorneys for both the union and the state of Illinois, whose law lets AFSCME collect the agency fees from the non-members. 

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Teamsters AFSCME, Retirees Slam GOP Plan to Hand Tax Breaks to Rich

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The House Republicans’ tax cut for the rich drew slams from the nation’s largest union for public workers and a top retiree group, thanks to elimination of deductions that would help fund government services and help seniors pay their medical bills.

The Alliance for Retired Americans, AFSCME and the Teamsters joined a growing chorus of criticism of the tax plan. Meanwhile, an alliance of more than 400 groups spread over 20 states mobilized to pressure lawmakers to defeat it (see separate story).

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, whose tax panel will start work on the measure on November 6, released it after GOP lawmakers crafted it behind closed doors. The GOP Trump administration strongly supports it and claims it will help middle-class people save several thousand dollars each through an increased personal exemption. But House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., later trumpeted savings of $1,148.

AFSCME and ARA said it will have the exact opposite effect, because the increased personal exemption does little to offset the rising medical costs seniors shoulder which are now partially deductible, or state and local taxes, which are fully deductible.

“Exacerbating the problems they are creating, the House and the Trump administration would no longer allow Americans, including retirees, to deduct their medical expenses, including nursing home costs or out of pocket medical or dental expenses from their taxes,” ARA Executive Director David Blank said.

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Building Trades Seek $4 Billion Annually for Infrastructure

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The U.S. needs to spend $4 billion yearly, four times as much as the Trump administration requested, for infrastructure repairs, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions said.

And that’s what the unions will lobby for, added NABTU President Sean McGarvey. And there must be “a dedicated funding source,” including an increased federal gasoline tax, to provide the money, he contended.

McGarvey and construction union presidents James Callahan of the Operating Engineers, Robert Martinez of the Machinists and Lonnie Stephenson of the Electrical Workers made the case for more money at an Oct. 23 press conference during the AFL-CIO Convention in St. Louis.

Despite the recovery from the Great Recession, the U.S. still has great unmet infrastructure needs, the four said. They include old water pipes, underground utilities which break down, cracking and decaying roads and a creaky electrical grid.

“We’re concerned about the funding, but also with the underground subsystems,” Callahan said. They’re “the sewers, the electrical lines and what’s below the roads. That’s why we’re trying to get a permanent (fiscal) ‘lockbox,’ both for funding structures and for hiring enough people.”

Repairing all that via a federal infrastructure law would put and keep even more construction workers on the job. 

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Unions Urge Action to Stop GOP Tax Scam

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Communications Workers President Chris Shelton warned workers and their allies to act now against a planned Republican tax hike on the middle class.

“You may hear from Trump that it’s ‘tax reform.’ I want to caution you: That’s the usual bullshit,” the blunt former telephone lineman told union activists in an Oct. 26 conference call.

“What is being proposed is a tax cut for millionaires and billionaires,” Shelton said. “Donald Trump and the GOP leadership want to get this massive giveaway to their Wall Street friends through by the end of the year.

“This is another phase in the ongoing fight for decades to shift more and more of the wealth to the elites and away from the rest of us.”

Labor must mobilize through protests, call-ins swamping lawmakers’ switchboards, constant visits to congressional offices and educating the public on the real impact of the tax cut, Shelton said. His union is already preparing materials to educate voters about how it would hurt them.

Congress’ GOP leaders plan to roll out a tax legislation on Nov. 1 that would cost $1.5 trillion over a decade. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., aims to pass it by Thanksgiving.

The tax bill would cut top tax rates for the rich, but raise tax rates – from 10 percent to 12 percent – for those who earn the least. And it would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.

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Michigan State Panel Opens Way For Cancelling Contracts Covering State Workers

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Another day, another way to put the screws to Michigan's union members.

On September 20, the Michigan Civil Service Commission (MCSC), over the vehement protests of state employee unions, gave the state the authority to override collective bargaining contracts for state employees during financial emergencies.

The commission also gave government managers ultimate authority for how employees receive overtime, are reassigned after layoffs, while reducing the issues upon which they're allowed to bargain.

The worker “reforms” are the most significant since the state legislature adopted right-to-work laws for public and private workers in 2012.  The Michigan push for so-called RTW laws is part of a national campaign by the right wing, its business backers and their GOP handmaidens to emasculate and destroy workers and unions, especially public worker unions.

This time, it was a ruling by the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which voted 3-1 to approve the new language, covering the state's nearly 50,000 employees. The three supporters were Republican-appointed.

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