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The Indignity of Work Without Pay

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

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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Kavanaugh’s Disdain for Worker Safety Disqualifies Him

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

In his statement to Congress this week during his confirmation hearing, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said his mother taught him that judges must always stand in the shoes of others.

Though hardly original or deeply inspirational, it’s not bad advice. The problem is that Kavanaugh never chooses steel-toed work boots. In every case involving workers, Kavanaugh has put himself instead in the wingtips of CEOs. He is a man born to wealth and privilege who attended Georgetown Preparatory, one of the most expensive private high schools in the country, with annual tuition of nearly $57,000, followed by a similarly exclusive Ivy League college education.

The vast majority of Americans cannot conceive of paying $228,000 to get a kid through high school. Kavanaugh’s opinions illustrate that he has no idea how to relate to them, and, in fact, doesn’t care to try to understand people with grit under their fingernails. That makes him, as a Supreme Court justice, dangerous to working people.

The case that perfectly illustrates Kavanaugh’s carelessness toward workers and obsequiousness toward corporations is SeaWorld v. U.S. Secretary of Labor Tomas Perez. Kavanaugh authored the dissent. Writing for the majority was Judge Judith W. Rogers, joined by Merrick Garland, Chief Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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Embracing a Legacy

Embracing a Legacy

Union Matters

No Money for Pensions, But Plenty for Parties

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Private equity work has been sweet for Marc Leder, the numero uno at Sun Capital Partners. He’s parlayed his takeovers of troubled firms into a fortune big enough to make him a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in basketball and the New Jersey Devils in hockey. New York’s tabloids, meanwhile, have come to dub the hard-partying Leder “the Hugh Hefner of the Hamptons.” The secret to his success? Private-equity firms, notes Center for Economic and Policy Research economist Eileen Appelbaum, plunder assets from the companies they buy, then send them into bankruptcy to sidestep their obligations to workers. Over the past decade alone, Sun Capital has bankrupted five firms and left their pension funds $280 million short. Leder, for his part, claims that the “vast majority” of Sun Capital deals have been successful. And he only parties hearty, the private-equity kingpin adds, 25 nights a year.

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