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GOP-Majority Labor Board Books Independent Contractor Dodge

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Trump-named GOP National Labor Relations Board majority has given a boost to employers’ “independent contractor” dodge – and that’s bad news for millions of workers, union and non-union.

By a 3-1 party-line vote in a case involving 89 Dallas-Fort Worth Airport SuperShuttle drivers who wanted to unionize with Amalgamated Transit Local 1338, board Republicans upheld and expanded employers’ rights to misclassify workers as independent contractors.

The board’s Jan. 25 decision reversed a 2015 Obama-era NLRB decision curbing the abuses. Independent contractors have no worker rights, including no right to organize, under U.S. labor law.

Their employers also escape paying the company’s share of Social Security and Medicare withholding taxes, workers comp and unemployment insurance, with the workers having to pay those sums plus their own shares of those taxes.

That gives venal, vicious and cost-cutting employers, seeking to undercut their competitors – including their union competitors -- an edge, too. By forcing workers to be “independent contractors,” they can drive down their labor costs.

That especially hurts minorities, the poor and women, the National Employment Law Project says.

“Contracted work is an often-overlooked driver of eroding labor standards, rising income and wealth inequality, persistent structural racism and occupational segregation, and the shifting of power away from workers and toward corporations,” it explains.

“Many industries in which people of color are overrepresented — sectors like janitorial, landscaping, security guards, home care, and others — are characterized by the widespread use of independent contractors. These contracted jobs offer no social insurance protections or even a minimum wage.”

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed out in papers and reports over the last several years that the “independent contractor” dodge drives down pay and benefits for other workers, even “employees” who can unionize under labor law. That’s because bosses can force those workers to take lower pay and fewer benefits, or else become independent contractors, too.

None of this was in the NLRB’s GOP majority ruling, written by new board chairman John Ring. His decision instead followed a goal, set by the NLRB’s new General Counsel – its top enforcement officer – to reverse every pro-worker ruling of the Obama-era NLRB.

“The shared ride industry is an extension of the taxicab industry and this factor should be afforded significant weight,” Ring wrote. “SuperShuttle franchisees are free from control by SuperShuttle in most significant respects in day-to-day performance of their work.”

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Democrats Try to Stop Eviction of Unpaid Federal Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

With landlords preparing eviction notices for unpaid federal workers – and their families – from rental housing and banks scheming to repossess their cars for unpaid loans, Senate Democrats are trying to stop the pain.

The legislation by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, drew support from 24 other Democrats, including Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Two top union leaders who represent federal workers, Tony Reardon of the Treasury Employees (NTEU) and Paul Shearon of the Professional and Technical Employees (IFPTE), strongly support it.

The legislation may not come up for a vote in January, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., allowed two votes on measures to end GOP President Donald Trump’s month-long lockout/shutdown of federal workers and their agencies.

Egged on by right-wing radio talk show hosts, House Republicans and his own staff, Trump shut several Cabinet departments and related agencies at midnight Dec. 21 after agreeing to, and then welshing on, a measure to keep them open through the rest of this fiscal year.

Instead, Trump demanded lawmakers give him $5.7 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border before he’d reopen the government.

Trump sent some 350,000 workers home without pay and forced 450,000 others, including federal fire fighters, airport screeners and IRS workers, to toil without pay since then.

It’s those workers, minus two paychecks now, who are facing eviction, auto repossession, ruined credit and other problems because they have no money to pay bills. These are the workers who Schatz, Schumer and the other Democrats are trying to help.

"Amidst another push to open the government, I am fighting with my colleagues for necessary financial protections for impacted federal workers during this shutdown and for workers of any future shutdown, because no federal public servant should have their financial well-being held hostage by a president unwilling to simply open the government in the middle of a debate," Schumer said. 

"While the president and Senate Republicans struggle to get their act together, real people are suffering,” said Schatz. “Right now, thousands of federal workers and their families are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet. It’s absolutely unacceptable. Our bill will protect federal workers and make sure they aren’t harmed because of a political stunt.”


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Union Membership Declined Slightly in 2018

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Union membership declined slightly from 2017 to 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Using calculations from the Current Population Survey – a scientifically selected rolling sample of 60,000 households – BLS calculated there were 14.744 million union members last year, down 73,000 from the year before. Union density in 2018 was 10.5 percent.

Anticipating the numbers, the AFL-CIO vigorously countered by citing union victories last year and this: The 30,000 teachers forced to strike in Los Angeles this week.

“Here’s what the numbers alone won’t tell you: 2018 was one of the most substantial years for collective action in American history,” federation spokesman Josh Goldstein said.

Besides the L.A. teachers, he cited Unite Here workers “taking on Marriott” – and winning – over the issue of low-paying jobs and Google workers walking out worldwide over issues of sexual harassment and a voice on the job. The Google workers are not unionized.

And while Goldstein didn’t say so, BLS added another union edge: Pay. And pay equity. The median union worker earned $1,051 weekly last year, compared to $860 for the median non-unionist. The median is the point where half of workers are above and half below.

Median weekly earnings for union men were $1,123, $175 ahead of non-union men ($948). Median weekly earnings for union women were $968, 86 percent of the earnings of union men.

Median weekly earnings for union women last year were $20 more than those of non-union men, and $234 more than the median for non-union women. Non-union women earned 80.5 percent of what non-union men did.

Goldstein also cited unions’ record – and successful – political activism, including election of a pro-worker majority in the U.S. House and of 950 unionists who won political office in November, from Gov. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., an Education Minnesota member on down to a Teamster win in a rural county commissioner’s seat in rural North Carolina.

All of that contrasts with BLS’ numbers.

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Democrats Unveil $15-an-hour Minimum Wage Bill

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Backed by dozens of low-wage workers clad in white “$15 and a union” sweatshirts, a united phalanx of top congressional Democrats, plus Bernie Sanders, formally unveiled legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.

With support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and more than 180 House Democrats – including active union members Mark Pocan of Wisconsin (Painters) and David Norcross of New Jersey (IBEW), who both spoke – the bill is expected to sail through the new Democratic-run House. The only question there is when.

After that is another matter.

“We are coming together to recognize fundamental concerns of American working families,” Pelosi told a Jan. 16 rally and press conference. “The minimum wage is no longer a living wage” as it was 50 years ago, added Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Raising the minimum wage would benefit an estimated 40 million workers directly and millions more indirectly, the lawmakers said. It was one of the key planks touted by many of the progressive Democrats elected in the November sweep which returned the House to Democratic control.

Most minimum wage hike beneficiaries are working women, minorities or both and – contrary to one Republican and right-wing lie – fewer than 10 percent are teenagers. And 85 percent of child care workers earn less than $15 hourly, Sanders said.

“When we put money in the pockets of American workers, they spend it, benefiting Main Street, too,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., new chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, which will work on the legislation.

Cynthia Lowe, a working single mom at a KFC fast-food eatery in Memphis, spoke for those 40 million workers who would benefit.

“Eight years ago, my first job in fast food paid $6.55 an hour. Now it’s $7.50. Many times, I sit in the store after working hours because I have no choice” but to wait for her kids’ school to end and can’t afford child care. She also struggles to pay for other basic needs.

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Nuke Plant Shutdown is Model for Move to Renewable Energy

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

California’s planned shutdown of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025 can provide a model for creating clean energy jobs while helping fossil fuel plant workers through the transition, the business manager of the union that represents the plant workers says.

Tom Dalzell, business manager for Electrical Workers Local 1245, explained what happened in a blog posted by the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center on Nov. 30. The blog was one of several follow-ups to an earlier conference on what labor’s role in battling climate change should be, particularly in the Golden State.

Union leaders are divided on what labor’s role should be in the climate change debate. Unions that represent fossil fuel workers, notably the United Mine Workers and some building trades unions, argue – correctly -- that conversion away from those fuels has cost their members jobs and left them with no alternatives.

Other unions, led by the BlueGreen Alliance, the Steelworkers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United and others, contend the labor movement must campaign for measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming.

They also contend that plant closures as a result of conversion from fossil fuels must be accompanied by retraining for the workers, especially for unionized high-paying jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar and wind power structures and erecting other facilities to store such new energy.

Dalzell says what happened at Diablo Canyon can provide a model for that course. “A fundamental premise should be that workers must not be made to pay the price,” he said.

Negotiations on how to deal with the coming closure “were possible because everyone involved, even those who had been enemies for over three decades, put down their swords long enough to chart a path worth taking together,” Dalzell said. His local represents 500 high-skilled high-tech workers. 

A prior, abrupt nuke plant closure – throwing hundreds out of jobs – made clear that advance planning for Diablo Canyon’s shutdown was absolutely necessary. So both sides got to work.

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Trump Shutdown Threat Risks 600,000 paychecks

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Republican President Donald Trump’s televised “temper tantrum” threat to partially shut down the federal government unless Congress caves and gives him $5 billion to build his Mexican Wall risks 600,000 jobs and pay raises for all two million federal workers, their unions report.

So unions are working with lawmakers to try to overcome Trump, which may not be easy. But Trump’s foes, including the unions, have the public on their side, twitter and other electronic media show.

Trump uttered his threat in his confrontation against Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in their first Oval Office meeting in more than a year.

Facing the reality that the incoming Democratic-run House, where Pelosi presumably will be Speaker, will not give him any wall money at all, Trump engaged in what Schumer called “a temper tantrum,” demanding all $5 billion now. Trump originally demanded Mexico pay for the wall. Mexico, and its leaders across the ideological spectrum, adamantly said no.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security! I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down,” Trump yelled at the two lawmakers as the cameras rolled.

And he didn’t change his stand after throwing cameras and reporters out of the Oval Office following the meeting’s first 17 minutes, which were televised.

“This temper tantrum will not get him his wall and will hurt a lot of people,” Schumer said after their session ended. Congress has offered just over $1 billion for improving U.S.-Mexican border security, none of it for Trump’s “great big, beautiful wall.”

"Don’t characterize the strength that I bring” to the funding fight, Pelosi retorted to Trump, referring to the incoming House Democratic majority and its refusal to fund Trump’s Mexican Wall.

The Dems’ stands at the Dec. 11 confab drew positive responses on twitter and other electronic media, except from die-hard Trumpites.

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GM Job Cuts, Plant Closures Betray Workers, Contracts

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

When GOP President Donald Trump and Congress’ ruling Republicans jammed through the $1.2 trillion tax cut for corporations and the rich almost exactly a year ago, they promised it would put money in taxpayers’ pockets while prompting firms – with the money they would get -- to create or repatriate thousands of new U.S. jobs.

“At last, our country finally has a tax system that is pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-family, and pro-American,” Trump said in late July, celebrating the 6-month anniversary of his tax cut.

Somebody tell that to the unionized workers at General Motors. They got hit, on Nov. 26, with firings at five U.S. plants, plus a big one in Oshawa, Ont. At least 5,600 workers will be let go, most of them in the U.S., but also including 2,500 in Oshawa. So will another 7,000 middle managers and white-collar non-union workers. GM set no timetable for the firings.

GM’s decision drew outrage from the Auto Workers, who represent those unionized employees, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, both D-Ohio. The first of the five U.S. plants reportedly to close, costing 1,600 workers their jobs, is in Lordstown, Ohio.

The Oshawa workers didn’t wait around to see who would get canned or when, especially since Canadians didn’t benefit from Trump’s tax cut, though GM did. The Oshawa workers put down their tools and walked off the production line at 9 am Eastern time, when the news came through. Their president said GM plays by its own rules, so his union can, too.

GM decided to close the auto production plants in Oshawa, Lordstown and Hamtramck, Mich. (1,500 jobs).  It’s also closing a propulsion plant in Baltimore and transmission plants in Brownstown and Warren. Mich. Job cuts for those three were unavailable. 

CEO Mary Barra said GM needed to close those plants as it shifts more towards hiring highly skilled workers to produce electric and self-driving vehicles. But other workers, in Mexico and China, will make gasoline-powered autos the plants now produce for the U.S. market. Those models – including the Chevy Blazer and the Cadillac GT6 – will be discontinued here at the end of 2019, Barra said.

And Barra said the closures will save GM $6 billion by 2020, three-fourths of it in capital spending. That also defies Trump’s prediction his tax cut would prompt more capital spending by firms. Trump, in a White House meeting, rebuked Barra face to face. 

But it’s her $6 billion savings forecast that pissed off the UAW.

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Teamsters Note Good and Bad Points of New NAFTA

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Trump administration’s “New NAFTA” contains many pro-worker improvements, but still has some remaining holes in worker protections, including the need to eliminate the last remaining vestige of the pro-corporate secret trade courts, Teamsters Legislative Director Mike Dolan says.

But at the same time, the pro-worker provisions are so many and varied that Dolan praised the U.S.-Canada-Mexico pact as “a new paradigm” for future U.S. trade deals.

And it was good enough for workers that Dolan gave a proverbial chuckle at the Chamber of Commerce’s “frustration” over the new NAFTA’s pro-worker sections before asking: “Has the Chamber ever opposed a ‘free trade’ deal?”

“Their concerns about the new NAFTA, and their opposition to aspects of the renegotiations the labor movement has historically called for, are auspicious from our perspective. The worm turns and a new model for future FTAs emerges,” Dolan said.

Dolan was one of two pro-worker witnesses to discuss the pact, which GOP President Donald Trump reached with Canada and Mexico – the Canadians and Mexicans would say “jammed down our throats” – earlier this year. Dolan and AFL-CIO Trade Specialist Celeste Drake spoke during the U.S. International Trade Commission hearings on it on Nov. 15-16

The USITC heard Drake, Dolan and the other witnesses, all representing corporate interests – including the Chamber – in preparation for a report on the trade pact’s impact ITC must send to Trump, and probably Congress, next year. USITC has set no date for its report.

Dolan called the new NAFTA “a historic rebalancing” of the benefits and costs of trade, not between the three countries, but for workers as opposed to bosses and investment elites.

But the new NAFTA doesn’t quite go all the way to get the union’s wholehearted endorsement, which would be its first ever of a free trade pact, Dolan said.

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AFL-CIO Withholds Support for New NAFTA

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The “new NAFTA” the GOP Trump administration negotiated – Mexico and Canada would say Trump jammed it down their throats – has unknown enforcement strength. And that could negate its better-than-the-old-NAFTA worker rights provisions, the AFL-CIO says.

After all, “unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on,” the fed formally told the federal government.

For that reason and more, the AFL-CIO “is reserving judgement” on the pact right now, its trade specialist, Celeste Drake, told the U.S. International Trade Commission in November.

And unless the new NAFTA becomes stronger and pro-worker, she warned, the jobs drain the current NAFTA has caused over 25 years – a drain which the Economic Policy Institute now calculates at 851,700 factory jobs – will continue.

The ITC, which normally rules on tariff cases and unfair trade complaints, also prepares reports for the president and Congress on the impact of wide-ranging “free trade” pacts between the U.S. and various nations. The impacts it forecasts are both economy-wide and on specific sectors, such as auto trade. The ITC has yet to set a date for reporting to Trump on the new NAFTA’s impact.

The commission’s findings could become part of next year’s trade pact debate on Capitol Hill, where both houses of Congress – including what will be a Democratic-run U.S. House – must pass legislation to implement the new NAFTA, though not the pact itself, by majority votes.

All that led Drake, along with Teamsters Legislative Director Mike Dolan, to testify before the ITC on Nov. 15. They were the only worker representatives among a parade of business lobbyists to appear at the two days of hearings (see separate Dolan story).

Drake, however, did not take the position, which some delegates at the Auto Workers convention earlier this year, demanded: Dumping NAFTA entirely, with no replacement.

Trump made a big deal about writing worker rights into the new NAFTA’s text. That’s unlike the 25-year-old so-called “free trade” NAFTA his pact would replace. And he demanded higher Mexican workers’ wages and got them, at least for part of the Mexican workforce that toils in “transplant” auto plants the Detroit 3 carmakers erected south of the border.

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New Trump-Named Regime Guts Workers’ Rights, Refuses to Sign VA Contract

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The new Trump-installed regime atop the Department of Veterans Affairs is illegally gutting workers’ rights there – rights guaranteed by laws covering federal workers – and refusing to sign a new contract with one of the agency’s two main unions, those unions report.

As a result, more than 100,000 workers face denial of their workplace rights while the Trump government executes arbitrary actions against them, the Government Employees (AFGE) and National Nurses United (NNU) add. And there’s no contract covering 11,000 NNU-represented RNs.

The administration’s actions against the VA workers specifically come against the backdrop of its larger anti-federal worker union crusade.

That crusade includes a Trump freeze on workers’ pay, attempted imposition of pro-management executive orders – since overturned in court – orders to agencies to submit “management plans” with significant pay and personnel cuts and overall GOP denigration of the nation’s two million federal workers.

And it includes the so-called “Mission Act,” which Trump signed in March, designed to make it easier for VA bosses to fire workers – by curbing appeal rights – while letting VA outsource more care to private providers who do not know veterans and their ills. That outsourcing is a key right-wing goal.

Trump’s Office of Personnel Management also denied workers use of “official time” to handle grievances and complaints, contrary to federal labor law, and threw the unions out of their small offices within agency buildings. Shop stewards must now defend workers on their own time and on their own dime. And a federal arbitrator overturned another OPM action, which killed opportunities for workers to improve their performance.


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Broad Support for Billionaire Tax

Broad Support for Billionaire Tax

Union Matters

The Call for a General Strike

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

It’s been only a few weeks since Labor pushed back against the longest, most punishing government shutdown in recent history, but sadly, over the jubilant cheers of victory, the ominous drumbeats of Congress warring in the trenches could be heard again, leaving 800,00 AFGE members pondering if they’ll be furloughed once more.

President Trump’s decided that the ‘Wall to Nowhere’ will be the hill to die on in this inane battle of attrition, government workers livelihoods be damned.  Keeping this in mind, the ominous question should be how much longer will it be before Trump and the entitled imperialists of D.C. realpolitik turn their sights towards millions of American workers, over 40% of whom, according to CBS News data, are one missed paycheck away from poverty?

As we suffer under the grim reality of decades long wage stagnation, no calls for a realistic minimum wage increase to keep the One Percent’s vulture bankers from our doors, nor a social program of Medicare For All, easing the burden of burgeoning medical costs overrunning the populous meager discretionary incomes, the powers that be seem more than willing to shutter government again, leaving scores unemployed, airport safety and security in perilous shape and costing the taxpayers $3 billion to do so.

And while Congress apparently shows no guilt spending an inconceivable $1.45 trillion dollars for 2018/19, to voluntarily spill blood in every conceivable corner of the globe promoting crony capitalism, strong armed acquisition of natural resources and the continuation of imperialistic follies, the long suffering American worker is left sifting through the rubble, limping through countless miles of crumbling infrastructure, closed factories, failing schools, bankrupting college loan payments, mass shootings and scores of broken dreams, leading to shortened life expectancy, drug overdoses and suicides.

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