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New Labor College Launched in St. Paul

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

After months of planning, a small group of labor leaders, activists and scholars opened a new labor college in St. Paul, Minn., inspired by the belief that working people can build the labor movement of the future, in part, by looking to the past.

Classes began April 12 at the New Brookwood Labor College. It’s modeled after a school for labor organizers that operated from 1921-1937 in Katonah, N.Y. That college attracted over 600 students, who went on to lead major union and civil rights campaigns across the country in the decades to come.

That school’s lifespan was brief, said Robyn Gulley, a co-founder of New Brookwood and local labor and human rights organizer. But its impact was great.

“It’s hard to read a book about labor history without coming across Brookwood Labor College,” Gulley said. “Brookwood left behind a tremendous legacy. And it was coed, it was racially diverse, it was ethnically diverse at a time when that was basically unheard of.”

Notable Brookwood alumni, according to Wikipedia, included Walter, Roy and Sophie Reuther of the UAW, Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray, activist for women’s rights and civil rights and the first African-American female Episcopal priest and civil rights activist Ella Bajer.

“One sign of Brookwood's influence is just how much it changed American labor unions. Many of Brookwood's beliefs—mass unionization, unionization of skilled and semi-skilled workers, an end to gender and racial discrimination, support for social insurance programs—were later adopted by mainstream labor,” the Wikipedia citation adds.

Brookwood’s brand of inclusiveness and forward thinking hasn’t lost its relevance in an era of intense cultural and political divides in the U.S. And the gaps between rich and working people have widened back to the bloated levels of the 1920’s, when the original Brookwood began educating organizers.

If ever there were a time for a reboot, labor historian Peter Rachleff said, this is it.

“The Brookwood Labor College came along at a time when the labor movement needed critical thinking – how to organize when traditional forms of work (skilled manual labor) were being challenged by assembly lines and scientific management; how to organize a workforce that was increasingly diverse by race, gender and ethnicity; how to organize when corporate management was dead-set against negotiating with unions; how to organize when employers were able to use laws and court decisions to undercut workers’ rights,” Rachleff said.

“Does this sound familiar?”

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Dem Presidential Hopefuls Address Building Trades Unionists

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

It’s called, in political parlance, “a cattle call.”

The phrase refers to what happens when presidential hopefuls parade their positions, one by one, before a group, large or small.

And that’s what nine Democrats – John Hickenlooper, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tim Ryan, Terry McAuliffe, Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Eric Swalwell, in that order – did before 3,000 construction workers at the April 10 session of North America’s Building Trades Unions’ legislative conference in D.C.

All supported pro-worker and particularly pro-building trades causes, recognizing the activists represent three million unionists, many of whom will vote in next year’s presidential primaries and caucuses.

But overriding the specifics was the fact that tens of thousands of construction workers in 2016 defected to GOP nominee Donald Trump, especially in the key Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where his narrow popular vote wins gave him Electoral College victory.

Several hopefuls acknowledged it, reminding the delegates Trump had broken his key promise to the building trades: A comprehensive plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, railroads, airports and other infrastructure.

Trump has yet to send a plan to Congress. Warren noted he lies when he talks about $1 trillion for infrastructure. Trump’s talking points produce only a $200 million plan, she said.

All the hopefuls endorsed Project Labor Agreements, where unions and contractors agree on union representation for workers in return for a set of work rules and grievance procedures to cover problems on the job. And the PLAs also set specific budgets for the projects.

Another cause, which all backed and which the unionists also took to Congress, is preserving the Davis-Bacon Act and its requirement that contractors pay prevailing wages on federally funded construction. Cut-rate contractors and their GOP allies have campaigned for years to eliminate Davis-Bacon, thus driving workers’ wages down.

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Worker’s Story Starts Pushing Major Labor Law Reform through House

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Every day Cynthia Harper went to work for two years, from early 2015 to early 2017, at the Fuyao Glass America plant in Moraine, Ohio, she wondered if she’d come home alive.

She didn’t have such worries, she told lawmakers, when she toiled at that then-unionized GM bus and truck assembly plant for the prior 14 years. That plant, she said, had a health and safety committee, regular consultations on safety issues and the union contract protected workers who spoke up.

It also had high health and safety standards. Fuyao Glass didn’t. And after Fuyao illegally fired Harper for her union activism in 2017 – thus chilling her colleagues and defeating the UAW’s organizing drive just days later – co-worker Ricky Patterson was crushed to death last March 20, caught between a mis-driven forklift and 2,097 pounds of industrial glass.

The contrast between working conditions at the unionized GM plant and the non-union Fuyao plant which succeeded it in the same building, and also Fuyao’s retaliation against her, brought Harper to Washington on March 26 to testify for comprehensive labor law reform.

Unionization, witnesses told lawmakers, not only improves wages and benefits, but more importantly, gives workers a voice and leverage on the job, including on health and safety. And it even benefits non-union workers.

As Washington University of St. Louis sociology professor Jake Rosenfeld put it, when a non-union plant is next to a union plant, the non-union plant raises wages and improves benefits “to try to keep the union out.”

Harper and Rosenfeld and pro-worker labor lawyer Devki Kirk spoke up strongly for enactment of a pro-worker rewrite of the nation’s extremely weak 84-year-old National Labor Relations Act. Harper told the House Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee members her retaliatory firing is a frequent boss response to organizing drives.

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GM Plant Closures May Force Strike

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

General Motors’ closure of big plants in Michigan, Ohio and Maryland, may force its workers, represented by the United Auto Workers, to strike. It’s already forced the UAW to go to court to try to stop the firm.

Even GOP President Donald Trump has noticed. He’s slamming GM for closing its big plant in Lordstown, Ohio. Though UAW is defending the Lordstown workers and demanding GM keep the plant open, Trump tweeted UAW’s local president “to get his act together.”

Local 1112 President David Green replied he had written two letters to Trump to try to get him to intervene with GM about the Lordstown shutdown, and got no response.

GM set off the conflict when it announced the closures late last year, despite the huge boost in profits it got from the 2017 Trump-GOP corporate tax cut. GM turned almost $12 billion in profits in the U.S. in calendar 2018.  The first closure, Lordstown, was March 6.

The closures affect 14,000 UAW-member workers and thousands more in the company’s supply chain. 

Trump used return of factory jobs as a major campaign theme in the key Great Lakes states he won in 2016. His theme drew hundreds of thousands of unionist votes in those key states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio – where his narrow wins gave him their electoral votes, and the White House.

GM justified these closings by saying the plants produced small cars consumers no longer want to buy, and parts for them. It claims consumers want large sport utility vehicles.

But the closure announcement, without any consultation with the union, violates the UAW’s contract with GM, the largest of the “Detroit 3” automakers. That led UAW to vote, at a special convention during the week of March 11, to increase strike benefits by $75 weekly, or 37.5 percent. It also filed the lawsuit.

“Tell GM: We invested in you. Now it’s your turn to invest in us!” the headline on UAW’s anti-closure section of its website declares. “Help us save American jobs & stop GM's cuts.”

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Wall Street Pressured GM to Close Plants

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Wall Street pressure, particularly from rich and secretive hedge funds and their managers, prompted the General Motors plant closures that will throw at least 14,000 United Auto Worker members – and countless other workers in GM’s supply chain – out of jobs, a new report says.

The report, commissioned by the Teachers (AFT) is from the non-profit Hedge Clippers campaign, an organization dedicated to investigating, exposing and reining in the hedge funders’ financial machinations.

It added the moneyed interests have been pressuring GM ever since 2013, after the “new GM” returned to profitability following the Democratic Obama administration’s rescue of GM and FiatChrysler from collapse, bankruptcy and closure due to the financier- and GOP-caused Great Recession.

The pressure has come in the form of financiers’ threatened takeovers accompanying demands that GM send profits to stockholders and stock buybacks, rather than investing to modernize its factories. The recent plant closures are just the latest symptom of company yielding to the capitalists, the report adds.

AFT commissioned the report because its members, too, will suffer from the closures. That’s because when the company closes the four plants – two in Michigan and one in Baltimore after the one in Lordstown, Ohio – tax revenues, from both personal income taxes and, more importantly, property taxes, will decline.

And property taxes provide most of the revenue for local school districts, AFT President Randi Weingarten explained. She cited Lordstown, which closed March 6, as the example. Some 1,400 workers, toiling at making the Chevy Cruze on the one remaining production line, lost their jobs. Several years ago, the plant employed 4,600 in three lines.

AFT represents Lordstown’s public school teachers. Many have relatives who were employed at the plant. “The closure could decimate the community’s tax base—Lordstown’s two schools currently receive about $800,000 a year in property tax revenue. With the plant idle, the property could be devalued, drastically affecting funding,” AFT said in a statement.

“The report exposes how GM’s decision to close Lordstown and shutter two other North American assembly plants and component factories followed a 4-year bid by hedge fund managers to squeeze company profits.” The report names the hedge funds and their five managers, who collectively raked in billions from all their deals.

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Airport Screeners Still Shorted Pay for Work During Shutdown

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Some 1,000 of the nation’s 40,000-plus airport screeners, among the lowest-paid federal workers -- whose morale is also at rock bottom, surveys show -- “haven’t received the bulk of their back pay” from when they had to toil during GOP President Donald Trump’s 5-week partial government shutdown.

The screeners, officially known as Transportation Security Officers, complained to their union, the Government Employees (AFGE). It in turn had to raise the issue with their employer, the Homeland Security Department, says AFGE President J. David Cox

Cox discussed the screeners’ situation in a brief March 13 interview during the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in New Orleans. The screeners were among the almost 420,000 federal workers whom Trump forced to toil without pay during the shutdown, which started at midnight Dec. 21. He locked another 380,000 or so workers out.

Forcing the screeners to toil without back pay, and leaving them wondering how they would feed their families and pay the rent, may have driven one Orlando Airport screener, depressed over the situation, to commit suicide, his AFGE local president said.

Trump shut down nine Cabinet Departments, including Homeland Security, in his unsuccessful campaign to force Congress to yield to his demand for $5.7 billion for his Mexican Wall, which foes call both racist and ineffective.

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Illinois Raises Minimum Wage to $15 Hourly By 2025

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Once again, Illinois shows what a difference a positive election outcome makes for workers: The very first law the new pro-worker and Democratic-controlled state government approved raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 hourly by 2025.

The measure, signed by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Feb. 19, raises the minimum from its current $8.25 hourly, enacted in 2010. It also makes Illinois yet another state that’s tired of waiting on the feds to raise the U.S. minimum. That’s been $7.25 hourly for a decade.

And the Illinois minimum wage hike marks yet another reversal from the bitter 4-year anti-worker anti-union reign of Pritzker’s right-wing predecessor, Republican Bruce Rauner.

The GOPer spent his years trying to destroy Illinois public worker unions, opposing minimum wage increases – even for underpaid teachers – and trying to impose a big business/radical right agenda on the Land of Lincoln.

In the process, Rauner drove state finances into the ditch, as the Democratic-controlled legislature passed budgets, which he’d veto because they lacked his union-busting schemes.

State agencies and colleges and the people and students they serve, suffered.

Illinois voters kept the Democratic majorities last fall, and Pritzker, with workers enthusiastically backing him, clobbered Rauner. The minimum wage hike is the first result. The State Senate approved it (SB1) 39-18 and the Assembly agreed, 69-47.

“Workers who deserve to live a better life are working but remaining in poverty,” the measure’s chief sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, told the Senate Labor Committee.

Business, resigned to the fact that lawmakers and Pritzker were going to raise the wage, tried to split the state: A high minimum for Chicago, lower for its suburbs, and still lower for downstate. They failed. But small businesses will get a tax credit to help offset the impact of the minimum wage hike on their profits.

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Witnesses Campaign for Equal Pay Bill

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

For the first time in a decade, legislation to put teeth into the nation’s 56-year-old equal pay law appears headed for real debate, votes and passage by the Democratic-run U.S. House.

How far it gets beyond that is up to forces beyond the control of its congressional backers. Foes include congressional Republicans – who run the White House and the U.S. Senate – and, as might be expected, the corporate class, led by the Chamber of Commerce.

That prospect didn’t faze the three lawmakers and representatives of women’s groups who campaigned for the measure, the Paycheck Fairness Act, at a congressional hearing.

By giving workers more power to discuss wages, banning company retaliation, really slamming law-breakers legally and disclosing pay data in broad categories – thus shaming discriminatory employers while putting a powerful tool in workers’ hands – the advocates said the measure would help shrink the huge pay gap where working women trail working men.

And it also could be part of a package that could help cut U.S. poverty and income inequality, they testified. Other sections of that package include raising the minimum wage, enacting paid family leave and, as one new female Democrat from Michigan reminded everyone, strengthening worker rights.

Federal data show the median pay for a working woman nationwide is 80 cents for every dollar a working man in the same or similar jobs, with the same qualifications, earns. The ratios are even worse for African-American (61 cents), Latinas (53 cents) and Native American women (58 cents). The median is where half the workers are under that figure and half above.

Though witnesses didn’t say so, union women are the exception to that dismal picture. The median weekly pay for unionized working women is 92 cents per union working man’s dollar. Working union women also out-earn every other group of workers, male and female, except unionized men.

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Anti-Union Raid Hits Portland

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Think right-wing anti-union raids are past? Not so, even in progressive Portland, Ore. The Northwest Labor Press reported vandals trashed the city’s office of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an independent union known for its recent organizing wins in Portland and the Twin Cities among fast-food workers.

Vandals smashed a window that sported a Black Lives Matter sign and spray-painted slogans on the IWW office walls, including “Smash Communism.” The vandalism during the night of Jan. 23-24 came four days after local “Patriot Prayer’ members tried to break up a meeting at a nearby restaurant with anti-Muslim taunts and confrontations with pedestrians.

Politically and financially, the vandalism backfired. IWW member Effie Baum told the paper neighbors and backers dropped by with food, flowers and donations. Painters and Glazers unionists repaired the damage. The Northwest Oregon Labor Council condemned the raid as “an attack on all unions.” A go-fund-me page to pay for the repairs raised $5,666, far above its $2,000 target. The extra cash will pay for enhanced security and a wheelchair ramp.

Top Public Sector Union Leaders See Gains, New Initiatives, After Janus

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling against public sector unions, has, in union membership terms, turned out to be a dud so far. At least that’s what top leaders of the nation’s four biggest public-sector unions say.

And their added big message is that “unions are vehicles for workers’ voices, not the voices themselves” as Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten put it.

Presidents Weingarten, Lee Saunders of AFSCME and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees, and Vice President Becky Pringle of the National Education Association discussed how to bring that message to workers in an impromptu press conference with the small group of reporters covering the Future of Unions conference, earlier in February.

Overhanging the sessions was that while more than one-third of public-sector workers – Teachers, Fire Fighters, nurses, EMTs and others – are unionized, only 10.5 percent of all workers are union members. That includes just 6.4 percent of private sector workers.

So the radical right, Republicans and big business foes of workers and unions, having trashed private sector unions, trained their sights on the public sector. Their aim, as one top right-wing honcho admitted in 2017, was to kill unions by taking their money away. “Defund the left,” he called it.

Their vehicle was the Janus vs AFSCME District Council 31 lawsuit, a trumped-up case the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year. And the tribunal’s 5-man Republican-named majority, voting on ideological lines, took their bait.

Reversing a 1975 precedent, the justices ruled every state and local public-sector worker in the U.S. – all 6.2 million of them – would be a potential “free rider,” able to use unions’ services without paying one red cent for them, contract or no contract.

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A Moral Imperative

A Moral Imperative

Union Matters

Fighting to Fix the New NAFTA

From the AFL-CIO

For the better part of a generation, our global trading system has been rigged to enrich corporations at the expense of working people—and no deal has done more damage than NAFTA. We are hungry for a North American trade deal that lifts wages and improves livelihoods. The new NAFTA, also known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), as proposed falls short, and that’s why America’s working families will keep fighting to fix it.

Here are three reasons why the labor movement opposes the new NAFTA:

  1. There is nothing in the current deal to fix the outsourcing of good-paying American jobs to Mexico and other low-wage countries. 851,000 U.S. jobs were lost already due to NAFTA.
  2. Unless Mexico finishes and implements full labor reform and stronger rules and enforcements are added to the NAFTA text, Mexico’s workers will continue to face wages as low as $2 per hour or less and receive no protection from threats and violence when trying to unionize.
  3. Monopoly rights for Big Pharma would keep drug prices sky high, and new rules would undermine protections such as workplace safety.
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