AFL-CIO Web Blog
News for working families
Updated: 1 year 41 weeks ago
General Electric (GE) records show that it pays far, far less in taxes than us ordinary taxpayers. So much for the claim that corporate taxes are too high.
GE’s Securities and Exchange Commission 10-K filing for 2011 reveals that the company paid at most 2.3 percent of its $81.2 billion in U.S. pretax profits in federal income taxes during the past the past 10 years.
Last year when it was revealed that GE paid no federal income taxes in 2010 and in fact enjoyed $3 billion in net tax benefits, a company spokesman said:
GE did not pay U.S. federal taxes last year because we did not owe any… [but] our 2011 tax rate is slated to return to more normal levels with GE Capital’s recovery.
An examination of its 10-K filing shows that in 2011, GE’s effective federal income tax rate was only 11.3 percent, less than a third the official 35 percent corporate tax rate, according to Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ). Says CTJ Director Bob McIntyre:
I don’t think most Americans would consider 11.3 percent, not to mention GE’s long-term effective rate of 2.3 percent, to be “normal.” But for GE, taxes are something to be avoided rather than paid.
Read more from CTJ here.
GE is one of 280 profitable Fortune 500 companies profiled in “Corporate Taxpayers and Corporate Tax Dodgers, 2008-2010.” The report shows GE is one of 30 major U.S. corporations that paid zero—or less—in federal income taxes in the past three years. The full report, a joint project of CTJ and Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) is at http://ctj.org/corporatetaxdodgers/.
The Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Facebook, the social network with more than 800 million users across the globe, are working together to bring new jobs to North Carolina.
With business and membership booming, Facebook is building sprawling new computer data centers in Rutherford County. Even though the Tarheel State has the lowest union density in the country, that didn’t stop Facebook from choosing the IBEW to work on the project, valuing the quality and training that comes with a union work force.
The job is now creating hundreds of construction jobs in a struggling part of the American South and bringing new members into the union—changing the lives of N.C. working families for the better.
Check out this video (above).
The former director of security at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine was sentenced to three years in federal prison for lying to federal agents and destroying documents sought by investigators looking into the deadly blast that killed 29 in 2010.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin had sought a 25-year sentence for Hughie Elbert Stover but said after the sentencing:
Three years for a man who is 60 years old is a long time. We wanted to send a very clear message and we have done that.
Ken Ward of The Charleston Gazette writes that the charges against Stover
focused on his role in a Massey practice of warning workers underground of impending safety inspections, a routine occurrence that federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigators now say played a major role in the disaster.
Last week, Gary May, former superintendent at the Upper Big Branch mine, was charged with conspiracy to violate federal money safety laws. He is the third former Massey official to face criminal charges related the explosion.
All trade unions in India united around a common agenda and staged a general strike Tuesday demanding workers’ rights and economic justice.
The Indian newspaper The Hindu reports that the solidarity of the more than 5,000 unions representing millions of members affiliated to India’s trade confederations centers around demands which seek:
strict enforcement of all basic labor laws without any exception or exemption and stringent punitive measures for violation; a universal social security cover for unorganized sector workers without any restriction and creation of a National Social Security Fund.
India’s union memberss represent the nation’s full political spectrum and Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress says the government’s economic policies:
have undermined the interests of workers to such an extent that trade unions representing the Left, Right and Centrist parties have been forced to come together. Such unity was not witnessed even during or after the Emergency.
For 21 months in 1975 to 1977, the Indian government declared a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties and elections.
When working people come together in political action and successfully fight to elect lawmakers who back working families, they are at least guaranteed someone who will listen to their concerns. But in too many cases corporate money has propelled politicians like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett to office where they turn a deaf ear to working people.
In this cross-post from Working America’s Main Street blog, Ruth Oditt shows that even the loss of thousands of jobs and the economic devastation of communities isn’t enough to move Corbett to act, let alone listen.
Marcus Hook is a town teetering on the edge of destruction. Last year, Sunoco Oil announced that it would shut down its refinery in Marcus Hook. This refinery has employed residents for generations; it provides a tax base for the community, and directly funds part of the school district. As horrible as it is, I wish this were an isolated event; but Sunoco is also closing its south Philadelphia refinery, and ConocoPhillips is closing one in nearby Trainer, Pa. In total, 2,500 Pennsylvanians will be laid off, and thousands more will see their livelihoods affected as more residents struggle with unemployment and the tax base disappears.
Throughout the last six months, elected officials across the political spectrum have joined together to help find a buyer for these refineries and save the community. There has been one notable exception: Governor Tom Corbett (R). Our governor has refused to attend important meetings with stakeholders, speak to the press about the issue, or even meet with the workers facing layoffs. We were heading out to Marcus Hook that day to collect letters from the community demanding that the governor help save their jobs.
As we rode out to Marcus Hook I kept finding myself distracted. It must have been the factory town, with the factory closing, that drew my mind back. I couldn’t help thinking of my own hometown.
I’m not from anywhere all that special to the rest of the world. Just one of those small factory towns in Ohio; one of the many with no factories left. I remembered the guy I dated just after high school that worked at one of the plants. I remembered hearing that he’d moved away after the shut down, and being glad for him. I remembered being just 18, looking for a job just to make ends meet while I started off at college. I remember competing with laid off factory workers for a position at a service station. I remember moving away, because I couldn’t find enough work to pay the bills. I remember those who didn’t; some have kids, and others have moved back in with their parents. Most of them still haven’t found full time jobs. One way or another, they manage to feed their own kids.
I knew what today would be. The men would have those expressions—the ones that say, “I have to figure out how to make this work, but I don’t think there is a way anymore.” The women usually look sad, and scared. Everyone is angry.
I knew what would come next from what happened in my town. Families couldn’t keep their houses. Some young workers moved away and some moved back in. The rising crime rate, desolate downtown streets, and closed up shop fronts follow quickly. The children don’t have safe schools, or the activities they need to learn to be the leaders the town needs. The playgrounds start to rust.
I was right. Everyone I met had the grim sadness I expected. Some were vehement, angry, and ready to act. Some were scared, and quiet; a sense of hopelessness hung about them. Resignation reflected in their eyes as they glanced over their shoulders to the dead end of the street where you can still see the light from the burn off of the oil refinery, for now.
No one was too busy to write a letter to the governor about this. One after another the heartbreaking stories poured onto the pages. Christine said “Dear Governor Corbett…our families, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren depend on us to provide for them.” She knew what a lasting impact this time would have on her town. Jay said simply “Dear Governor …I believe you need to stand up.” Theresa started her letter by saying that she is “struggling as it is.” Each face, each voice bracing for the impact of the work that their governor has not done for them.
I was prepared for all of this. I have seen these things before. They always make me sad, and so, I fight to make things better where I can, with what small voice I have alone, and with a lot of organizing. Still, I wasn’t prepared.
As the night drew to a close, I met a kindly woman with a quiet about her. She had an injured leg which caused her trouble while standing at the door, so she invited me in promptly and sent her grandson to get me some tea. I glanced around, saw three happy dogs, a younger and an older child, a neat, but lived in home. I sipped the tea while she told me about choosing to move to Marcus Hook because it was such a fine place to raise a family. The tea was sweet tea, and tasted just like the kind my mother made. I was reminded of home now more than ever. She told a few stories about friends and family, the older child was an 18 year old student at the local high school. They both were writing letters to the Governor when the older woman’s head popped up and she broke the quiet asking very plainly “What’s going to happen for the kids?” My mind raced back to all of my friends who had moved away, or stayed, and all of the choices they should never have had to face. I couldn’t bring myself to answer her.
Just then, the younger girl piped up. She was not subtle. She told of kids who were 11 and 12 smoking cigarettes outside the classroom windows, and how when she was that age she was only thinking about soccer practice, but that funding has already been cut. She said that she knew the pizza shop was closing, and that none of her friends could find jobs. She also said she knew it was all going to get worse. I knew she wasn’t wrong.
As I finished my tea and they finished their letters, the older woman, Ellen, didn’t say a thing. She looked at me, and her eyes got very sad. My tea was done, and so were their letters, so Ellen showed me to the door. As my hand stretched out for the doorknob, she said, quietly, “The mayor would be glad to know about your work. His house is that one there. He’s a nice man. You should visit him.” With that, I stepped out the door, took a deep breath, composed myself, and went to see the mayor.
The faces I had seen this evening shared a certain intensity as soon as I brought up Sunoco. The face of this man, the mayor, was intense before I said anything at all. He looked profoundly exhausted. When we spoke, his voice quavered, showing the same exhaustion. He was, as Ellen had suggested, heartened to know of the work we were doing. Mostly though, he was tired. I invited him to write a letter and his eyes lifted under heavy lids to catch mine as he said that he has met with President Obama three times about this, but that Governor Corbett hasn’t had time to see him once. “Do you think it will work?” I struggled to find the words to answer. He finally obliged me. When I glanced at the letter later the second line caught my eye: “maybe this time you will…accept my offer for a meeting”
We pay our legislators, and our senators, and our governors. Their paychecks always arrive on time. The job they are doing to earn these checks is to represent the people, to act in our best interest. There are going to be a lot of folks In Marcus Hook whose paychecks won’t arrive on time or at all. They will be performing the tasks they are paid to do until they are asked to leave. Dear Governor Corbett, can you say the same?
A new agency, announced yesterday by President Obama, to crack down on unfair trade practices by countries such as China, is “a step in the right direction” says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
In a tweet—follow Trumka on Twitter at @RichardTrumka—he says the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center:
…will strengthen & coordinate enforcement of U.S. trade laws—a goal that unfortunately was ignored by the previous admin.
Obama says the new agency will “bring the full resources of the federal government to bear on investigations…to counter any unfair trading practices around the world, including by countries like China.”
The AFL-CIO if the ITEC is going to be effective in combatting unfair trade, it must have the tools to carry out a strong and thorough enforcement of U.S. trade laws. Those include adequate funding, subpoena power and coordination with the Department of Labor, which helps administer labor rights obligations in our trade agreements.
Importantly, the ITEC must also have the ability to compel cooperation of U.S.-based businesses when the trade cases would protect American workers and jobs.
If those criteria are met, the nation’s trading partners will get the message that the United States will no longer ignore violations of existing and future trade agreements. As Trumka tweets:
Bottom line for ITEC is potential, if strengthened, to stop unfair trade tactics that have devastated our communities and cost us jobs.
Nearly 47 years ago, civil rights activists of different races, ages and walks of life were attacked by armed officers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., as they marched for racial justice. This day became known as Bloody Sunday.
This Sunday, AFL-CIO union members, civil rights, community and faith activists will begin a five-day re-enactment of the historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Ala., civil rights march. The march will focus attention on new attacks on voting rights, immigrants, workers’ rights and education.
If you can’t be there in person, you can be there online. Click here to sign a pledge of solidarity with the marchers and tell us why you are joining the virtual march. Your comments will be shared with the marchers on the ground so they know there are tens of thousands standing with them.
As AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker says, “The onslaught of coordinated attacks on workers’ rights, voting rights, public education and immigration reform is an affront to our democracy.”
Click here to join the march.
Some Georgia lawmakers want to make legitimate union picketing and other common protest activities felonies that not only could result in one-year jail terms but up to $10,000 in fines.
The bill, S.B. 469, would clamp down on free speech and workers’ rights in several ways. First, it would outlaw picketing outside the home of a CEO or other top company officials, such as rallying outside the home of a sweatshop owner.
It also would allow businesses to ask a judge to halt the protests outside of a business. If the judge orders a halt and the picketing continues, the union members or protesters from other groups could each be slapped with a $1,000 fine.
In addition, any union or organization that “continues to sponsor or assist in the prohibited activity” would be subject to a $10,000 fine. Businesses that think they suffered damage from the picketing could ask for a cut of that cash.
If, for example, protesters staged a sit-in, such as union and Occupy Atlanta demonstrators did recently at a downtown AT&T building to protest the elimination of 700 jobs, they not only could be charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, but with conspiracy to commit criminal trespass—a felony that carries a one-year jail term and a $10,000 fine.
Ben Speight, organizing director of Teamsters Local 728 in Atlanta, told Thomas Wheatley at the blog Creative Loafing:
It’s one thing to violate our constitutional rights. It’s another thing to so blatantly violate our human rights….Every single thing that [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] was arrested for involved actions that were peaceful civil disobedience, including criminal trespass. This will take us back 80 years to the point where there were no legal unions and where working people and poor folks had no organized voice to express themselves in the political and social arena.
Read more here.
We’ve got great news! Tomorrow we are launching a new AFL-CIO website and blog with a fresh, clean look and streamlined navigation and search functions that will enable you to find what you need more efficiently across the website and blog.
One of the key goals of our new site is to make it easier for you to upload photos, videos and events so we can highlight the great work of union members and our allies. There are many options for interactivity across the site and new ways to take action and get involved in your community.
The AFL-CIO Now blog will have many interactive features as well, including the ability to comment by logging in with social media accounts. If you are a current commenter on the AFL-CIO Now blog, you will need to register again to comment. By logging in with social media accounts, you can:
We’re sorry for the inconvenience of registering to comment again, but we think you’ll like the new look and the improved features of the website and blog.
We hope the new site and blog will help us build an even bigger community of activists and encourage you to be part of creating a vibrant online community.
Please send us your comments and suggestions along the way.
And join us tomorrow for the launch of the new AFL-CIO online community!
Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer, who came to address the young workers in Boston, said the young leaders at the conference were inspiring.
They are exactly what the AFL-CIO young worker program is all about – young leaders taking an active role in strengthening and building our unions and connecting with their broader community. I applaud them and their visionary leaders who support them.
Shuler has been a champion of the AFL-CIO Next Up Young Worker Program across the nation. She realizes the importance of training our younger members to be future leaders in order to strengthen and maintain the labor movement.
Tyrek Lee, the youngest vice president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and a vice president in his own union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, told his union story to the young workers at ‘Organizing our Future.’
Ten years ago when I was working at Boston Medical Center, I was anti-union, but my union leadership mentored me and kept developing my leadership so that just a few short years later, I am an elected leader in our union. I am excited to be part of the Greater Boston Labor Council Futures Committee because I realize that healthcare workers cannot this fight alone. We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this movement for social and economic justice. An injury to one is an injury to all.
“As young workers, we are learning from the successes of those who came before us to build a transformative new labor movement for a 21st century economy and workforce. Young workers were inspiring each other and learning from one another –we all felt the energy building up throughout the
Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman, and Greater Boston Labor Council President Lou Mandarini, and Greater Boston Labor Council Executive Secretary Treasurer Richard Rogers also addressed the young workers.
Six months ago, Tropical Storm Irene battered New York’s Hudson Valley and historic flooding devastated communities like Schoharie, leaving hundreds of homes destroyed or severely damaged.
But Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) members have been helping Schoharie’s residents reclaim their homes. In a unique program, IUPAT apprentices and journeymen members are putting up sheet rock and painting damaged homes in the town. Says IUPAT’s Lee Eck:
We’ve incorporated our apprenticeship program into helping the recovery effort in Schoharie in an effort to help get these people’s lives back together. Our apprentices are getting real life training and these people get their house put back together.
Click here for report on the program from YNN.com.
Elizabeth Boomer of the AFL-CIO International Affairs Department sends us this.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell), which pits a Nigerian plaintiff, Esther Kiobel, against Anglo-Dutch oil and energy giant Shell.
While the case does not specifically deal with labor rights abuses, the AFL-CIO has filed a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief in support of the Nigerian plaintiffs. In its brief, the AFL-CIO affirms its strong belief that corporations, which are given many rights and privileges under the law, should also be held responsible when they are party to wrongful acts, whether those acts occur in the United States or abroad.
Kiobel and the other plaintiffs in the case hail from the rural Ogoni community in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Their protests against decades-long destruction of their economic and environmental livelihoods by the oil industry led to violent reprisals at the hands of that industry and the Nigerian authorities in the early 1990s—culminating in a sham trial and the execution of the Ogoni author and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other community leaders (including Kiobel’s husband) in 1995. Shell was the main oil operator in the Ogoni community for many years. The case will test whether Kiobel and other members of the Ogoni community can seek compensation for human rights abuses alleged to have been committed by Shell in collusion with Nigerian authorities.
The stark dichotomy between the litigants is hard to overlook. Ms. Kiobel hails from an economically shattered community. The defendants represent a company that posted a $28.6 billion profit in 2011.
The case, involving two non-American litigants, has precedent-setting potential and was brought to U.S. federal courts under a somewhat overlooked law enacted by Congress in 1789 known as the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). While the Supreme Court upheld certain applications of the law in 2004 and U.S. courts have found that individuals can be held accountable for violations of international law, at stake today in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum is whether corporations can be held liable by foreign plaintiffs for wrongs committed in violation of the law of nations.
In Nigeria, natural resources-based economic development and the brutal treatment of the Ogonis is part of an all-too-common trend on the continent. With a new scramble afoot for Africa’s natural resources, Nigeria remains a cautionary case for governments, particularly in Africa, which seek to hitch their economic and social development to natural resource wealth. The Solidarity Center, an international non-profit organization allied with the AFL-CIO, has long-standing programs with union partners in Nigeria.
Click here for more on labor rights in Nigeria.
Marco Trbovich, vice president at Tricomm Associates, sends us this.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed led a presentation on his city’s initiative to retrofit a wide range of commercial, public and residential buildings in a 400-block area of downtown that proved the highlight of a gathering of investors, pension fund managers, business, labor and community leaders at Heartland Capital Strategies’ first Responsible Investment Forum.
The forum, sponsored in collaboration with the Blue Green Alliance, addressed the need for greater alternative investments to sustain the real economy, an investment arena largely abandoned by Wall Street.
In contrast, the responsible investment specialists attending the forum were characterized by Heartland Managing Director Thomas Croft as “a community interested in forging a new alternative path for responsible investment in manufacturing, community development and clean economy growth,” an approach that Heartland brands as “doing well by doing good.”
Mayor Reed urged forum attendees to consider investing in the Better Buildings Challenge, the city’s retrofitting initiative to create a more sustainable economy, improved air and water quality and job growth..
“Capital goes where it is needed and stays where it is well cared for,” he told the gathering. Aided by staff of the Better Buildings Challenge and the Emerald Cities Collaborative, the Mayor provided a comprehensive presentation on how investments in the project would be managed to minimize risk.
Many of the participants in Heartland’s one-day forum committed to further conversations to discuss possible investments in the Atlanta project, which hopes to put many of city’s 57,000 unemployed union tradesmen to work in the massive undertaking.
Financing a Sustainable Economy
The Atlanta forum was the first of four being sponsored by Heartland Capital Strategies in conjunction with the Blue Green Alliance’s Good Jobs, Green Jobs regional conferences. Inspired by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), Heartland promotes investments and projects essential for revitalizing America’s productive economy and community prosperity.
Heartland’s commitment to Responsible Investment is based on the United Nations ESG principles, which call for investors’ attention to Environmental concerns, Social well being, including respect for labor rights, and the character of corporate Governance, as well in addition to rates of return.
Throughout the day, forum presenters shared innovative ideas on how responsible pension investors and fund managers could maintain high rates of return while directing alternative investments toward domestic job creation in energy, manufacturing, housing and infrastructure, clear social benefits that derive from Responsible investment.
Craig Overmyer, Managing Director of Hopewell Ventures, cited the complex challenges facing efforts to fund innovative alternative investments that stimulate job growth. He characterized sustainability as creating “an eco system that keeps going,” which requires the considerable task of identifying gaps in the market and finding solutions for that gap.
“You have to identify a problem and the constituents so that you cover all your bases before the decision on the investment arises. You have to match returns of competitors and then you must lead by finding other constituent leaders” willing to advocate for ESG principles.
To overcome the fits and starts in regulatory and tax policy that hinder alternative investment, he added, “We need a national energy policy to establish continuity and consistency in policy and regulation.”
Jennifer Von Bismarck, President of Towpath Renewables added that the current U.S. map of states with Renewable Portfolio Standards “looks like 29 different countries, which she said made it especially difficult for pension funds in particular to the long-term viability and return on potential investments.
Ups and Downs of Investing Responsibly
Landon Butler, who founded the $5 billion Multi-Employer Property Trust (MEPT) in 1982, offered a compelling overview of the explosive growth in construction investment trusts, financed by construction union pensions, since passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
While working as President Carter’s deputy chief of staff, Butler said he gained a great respect for collective bargaining’s role in securing pension savings that represent a substantial source of investment capital for nourishing the nation’s job growth and retirement security.
“Somehow the social component has gotten lost in the process over the years,” he concluded, “at a time when there is a desperate need for jobs. We’re not sensing that [pension] trustees are looking at job creation, despite the substantial record of pension fund investments in creating them.” He allowed, however, that “trustees are shell shocked because of the downturn.”
Scott Woolsey, Managing Director of the Labor-Management Fund Advisors, added that trustees are not even recognizing the ancillary jobs that projects governed by ESG principles create. “it’s all ‘returns, returns, returns.’”
Innovative Leadership Crucial
Ted Chandler, Chief Operating Officer of the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust, noted that public funds have much less focus on targeted investment than in the 1990s, offering that “layers of gatekeepers” preempt focus on the ESG principles. Gatekeepers, such as investment consultants, “identify with the management perspective,” he said. “The real issue is leadership by trustees of pension funds in setting the agenda for investments.”
“Some consultants get it,” explained Mark Austin, Managing Director of North Sky Capital, “though they’re in the minority. Many consultants clearly don’t understand all the specific concerns of trustees. They’re focused on return without an understanding of all the other issues trustees have in their laps.”
Dan Givens, a pension administrator for the Miami Firefighters union, asserted that “trustee education is the whole deal, getting our people to get comfortable with their decisions, “ a daunting challenge, he averred, as the tenure of trustees in Florida is only three to five years, “so there’s little continuity.”
Trustee Training Crucial
The call for more substantial, ongoing training to strengthen trustees’ leadership role in advocating for ESG principles was voiced repeatedly throughout the forum. “One of our missions [in the International Association of Firefighters] is to educate trustees,” Givens said. ”You have to have a platform for them to make the case for socially responsible investments. Build it and they will come.”
Bob Eason, former Vice President of the Savannah, Georgia local of the International Longshoremen, added that “it all gets back to education, and trustee education is now entirely captured by Wall Street. “ e
Deborah Nisson, Vice President of ULLICO added that fund managers need to understand that “public-private partnerships is not a four-letter word.” For the long-term nature of funds, she concluded, we need to educate trustees on the value to their constituents and the real economyh of including ESG principles in their considerations. Unions need to make the investment in staff and training.”
Arne Bjorkelo, standing second from left, and fellow IBEW electricians are pictured at the Inglett and Stubbs compound at Kandahar Airfield.
This is a cross-post by David Groves from The Stand.
For Arne Bjorkelo of Seattle, “Support Our Troops” means a lot more than a bumper sticker. It means living and working in the most grueling, dangerous conditions to make sure American soldiers are as safe and comfortable as possible.
Bjorkelo, a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46, and his fellow IBEW electricians from across the United States are doing electrical repair work at U.S.- and NATO-occupied camps in Afghanistan.
“We are proud and grateful to support our troops, doing what we can to make their lives safer and more tolerable,” Bjorkelo told The Stand. (He is a regular reader.) “We ensure that electrical installations on the most remote locations are safe. Often, we are the difference between showers and no showers in this most harsh environment.”
Three years ago, military contractor KBR—a former Halliburton subsidiary—was called out for endangering U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with faulty electrical power systems installed by unqualified workers at U.S. bases. At least one military investigator believed KBR’s reckless endangerment of U.S. troops merited criminal changes.
At the time, Pentagon officials estimated that at least 18 troops had been electrocuted—many due to faulty wiring and improper grounding. The Defense Contract Management Agency documented 231 shock incidents from September 2006 through July 2008 alone and concluded that KBR “failed to meet the basic requirements to identify life-threatening conditions on tanks, water pumps, electrical outlets and electrical panels.”
It’s the job of Bjorkelo and other IBEW electricians—like Tony Johnson of Birmingham, Ala., Claude Brusseau of Burlington, Vt., Tovar Camp of Atlanta and Bill Mlnarik of Green Bay, Wis.—to clean that mess up. They do electrical inspection and repair of U.S. occupied camps throughout Afghanistan.
On Monday, a suicide car bomber at the gates of Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan killed nine people. Also destroyed was much of what Bjorkelo and his colleagues had installed over the past month.
It’s dangerous and grueling work, but it’s being done with pride by union members eager to protect American soldiers.
“We are proud of our union affiliation and have an entire workforce in theater made up of IBEW members,” Bjorkelo said. “Members work in the most remote areas under grueling conditions, including knee-deep in snow and in 115-degree heat.”
He says the best way to ensure that qualified electricians are serving U.S. troops in the Middle East is to “require UNION affiliation” and to hire “tradesmen with the consistent training that the JATC provides. It is awesome to be recognized, IBEW and a NECA contractor working together!”
It’s not much of a shock that lies are popping up in the Republican presidential nomination race. But in Michigan, Mitt Romney is telling one whopper of lie about the UAW, the auto bailout that saved two of the nation’s Big 3 car manufacturers and President Obama.
Not at all true, according to PolitiFact.Com’s Truth-O Meter. The UAW does not own any stock in either company. The independent health care trust for UAW beneficiaries did receive stock in Chrysler and GM as part of the auto industry rescue. But as Politifact.com says:
What tips Romney’s claim even further from reality is the fact that the union itself does not own any GM or Chrysler stock. The trust that manages health benefits for retirees is the stockholder, and it is independent from the UAW. It is not a majority shareholder in either company, nor does it have a vote on the board.
All the experts we talked to agreed that Romney’s statement is just flat wrong. Our ruling: False.
This morning, Obama answered back, speaking to the UAW legislative conference in Washington D.C., the President said there were two choices as the economy was in a free fall in early 2009 and as the “heartbeat of American manufacturing was flat lining.” The government could invest in the auto rescue or:
The other option we had was to do nothing, and allow these companies to fail. In fact, some politicians said we should. Some even said we should “let Detroit go bankrupt.”
And you know why I knew this rescue would succeed? It wasn’t because of anything the government did. It wasn’t just because of anything management did. It was because I believed in you. I placed my bet on American workers. And I’d make that same bet again any day of the week. Because three years later, that bet is paying off for America. Three years later, the American auto industry is back.
United Steelworkers (USW) Local 207L members ratified by a 2-to-1 margin a new five-year contract with Cooper Tire and Rubber Company The vote ends a three-month lockout at the company’s Findlay, Ohio tire plant.
USW Local 207L President Rodney Nelson says:
We are proud to have remained united and delivered a fair contract, despite Cooper’s best attempts to divide us.
The workers were locked out by Cooper on Nov. 28, despite the union’s good-faith offer to continue working under the terms of the previous agreement while negotiations toward a new one proceeded, says USW District 1 Director Dave McCall.
Cooper needs to acknowledge that its loyal, productive and efficient USW workforce is the company’s most valuable asset in Findlay and treat them with the respect and dignity they have earned. For many years, Cooper was a good example of how workers and management could work together toward common goals and the greater good of the community.
Click here to read more from the USW.
Several Cooper Tire workers and Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers (BCTGM) locked out by American Crystal Sugar just ended a 1,000 mile Journey for Justice. The group traveled from American Crystal offices near Fargo, N.D., to Cooper Tire’s headquarters in Findlay.
The journey highlighted the corporate greed that marks their lockouts, and the growing drive by corporate CEOs to drive down wages and benefits to pad their own pockets. Says Teresa Brown, a 12-year Cooper employee:
We set out to spread the message that we must stand together to make a difference, and we sent that message loud and clear. Our fight and the fight for justice for thousands of other workers continues every day.
Adds Becki Jacobson, a 30-year American Crystal worker from Moorhead, Minn.:
The support we’ve received over the last five days has strengthened my resolve to keep up our fight for a fair contract.
Read more at the Journey for Justice blog here.
Donna Gratehouse, who blogs at Democratic Diva and elsewhere on all things Arizona, sends us this.
Republican Arizona state Rep. Michelle Ugenti, who represents an affluent district in Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, drew quite a bit of attention and criticism on Monday when she flippantly remarked, ”welcome to life” to Arizona college students protesting a bill she sponsored that would require them to contribute a minimum $2,000 per year to their annual tuition at state universities. Students would have to make the contribution regardless of financial need, scholarship eligibility or military veteran status. Students on athletic scholarships would be exempted (make of that what you will). Conservative legislators defended the move by claiming that state college students (the non-athlete ones, anyway) need to have “more skin in the game.”
Rep. Ugenti’s bio on the Arizona Legislature website says:
As a native Arizonan, I have a lot of pride in our beautiful state. I have lived here my entire life, and I graduated from Arizona State University in 2003 with a degree in Business Administration. While I was a student at ASU I played on the rugby team.
I don’t know if Ugenti was on a scholarship for playing rugby, but I do know that when she attended ASU, the tuition there was the second lowest in the nation for in-state students. Tuition at Arizona’s state
After college I worked as a successful commercial real estate agent for Marcus & Millichap and then Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty. Through my work, I was able to hone my skills in complex financial contracts and I worked with numerous principles on their real estate portfolios. I was proud to be known as a tough and non-compromising negotiator while still being highly committed to the needs of my clients.
It’s “principals,” not “principles,” but I won’t hold that against Ugenti’s fine professors at ASU. I only wish she might show a fraction of commitment to understanding the struggles of young people striving to attain an education and livelihood today that she did to the needs of her wealthy real estate clients.
Welcome to life, Rep. Michelle Ugenti. Many of your constituents in Arizona haven’t had it as good as you’ve had it.
This is a cross- from Chaz Bolte at the We Party Patriots blog.
As states like Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, and New York are looking to raise the minimum wage, they are meeting opposition from well-funded political groups who seek to increase corporate profit. Despite the swath of misinformation painting the minimum wage is a “job killer,” John Stoher of The American Prospect points out that the minimum wage is not even growing at the speed of inflation:
The federal minimum for an hourly wage was $3.35 in 1982 and now it’s $7.25, up 120 percent. Inflation, meanwhile, has climbed during that period by 135 percent.
Surveys find that nearly two-thirds of Americans want the minimum wage to be at least 10 dollars. Historically, raises in the minimum wage never lead to unemployment and small businesses are not affected. So where does such fierce opposition to it come from? Enter the Employment Policies Institute, a corporate-backed spreader of misinformation and propaganda that rakes in the money every time the minimum wage issue enters the political debate (this is not to be confused with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank we often cite as legitimate).
John Stoher looked at the corporate spin machine that is the Economic Policies Institute in his article:
One of the most active in the propaganda industry has been the Employment Policies Institute, a so-called think-tank in Washington that serves as a front for Richard Berman & Co., a lobbying firm for major corporations in the fast-food, alcohol, and tobacco industries. The Employment Policies Institute studies essentially say: Raising the minimum wage hurts minimum-wage earners. We know, we know. That sounds counter-intuitive, but trust us. We’re the experts.
Recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver co-authored an op-ed in the New York Daily News making the demand-side case that New York City is expensive to live in and that minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation.
Fortunately for Berman, he has allies among politicians, reporters, and lobbyists to counter arguments favoring an increase in the minimum wage. In New York, State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos warned the bill could be a “job killer rather than a job promoter.” In Connecticut, the National Federation of Independent Business reacted to news that the state’s General Assembly looked to raise the wage from $8.50 to $9.75 over two years, then index it to the rate of inflation. Local Director Andrew Markowski said a wage hike would hurt “the working poor—the people whom the advocates want to help.” The editors of the New York Post allowed a recent report to cite a study by the Employment Policies Institute showing the minimum wage “razes jobs” without revealing the Institutes’s corporate ties. The report’s lone qualification came in the form of an opposing claim that the Institute “is a front group for the restaurant and hospitality industry.” Even so, it stated unequivocally later on that studies supporting a wage hike were “union-backed.”
To John or Jane Q. Public, the obvious solution would be for these corporations to stop paying millions of dollars to suppress wages and instead use that saved money to shell out the extra few cents for their workers every week. But that goes against the inherent nature of the war on workers. It is not enough to simply impede progress, you must push your workers into poverty if you want total control of them.
Berman’s propaganda doesn’t stop at anti-worker and anti-union speak, as Stoher points out:
Berman takes millions from his clients and funnels the money through 15 “nonprofits,” according to CREW. They in turn generate reams of misinformation to distract the public from issues like drunk driving, childhood obesity, second-hand smoke and animal rights. The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch says Berman works “in the shadows for decades while pocketing millions from unpopular industries for his work thwarting public interest legislation.” If the Employment Policies Institute were truly a think-tank, truth would matter.
The truth does not matter, not in modern politics. Politicians have to shorten their messaging to fit the news cycle and by the time it is edited, the truth is lying on the cutting room floor. Still, there are a select few politicians able to see through the illegitimate think tankers who are currently fighting for what’s right by workers. They are battling for wage standards in their states. Here is an overview of the minimum wage fight across the fruited plains.
In New Jersey, lawmakers are looking to raise the minimum wage to $8.50. They are looking out for more than restaurant employees as they shed light on other industries that get paid the minimum wage as well:
Many minimum-wage workers are in jobs we may not assume to be minimum-wage occupations, such as contracted workers at airports who handle our luggage, process tickets and clean airplanes. Or home health aides and office workers.
Most are not that young. Of the 40,000 in New Jersey who earn minimum wage, more than half are 25 or older. More than a third are at least 45.
New Jersey lawmakers are also factoring into the equation the increased tax revenue and economic stimulus that would come from a raise in the wage floor:
When we raise the wage floor, pay also tends to increase a little for other low-wage workers. Some of the thousands of New Jerseyans now paid 25 cents or 50 cents more than the proposed new minimum of $8.50 an hour also may see an increase if the minimum wage is raised.
Second, increasing the minimum wage may lead to fewer people needing government assistance for housing, food and health care. That would benefit taxpayers.
The third and broadest benefit would go to our economy. Low-wage workers — unlike high-paid executives — have to spend every dollar they get to cover their families’ essential expenses. The current rate of $7.25 comes to $15,080 a year. That is below poverty level for a family of three, and is not nearly enough in our expensive state to meet basic needs for food, housing, clothing and transportation.
In Iowa, a Senate sub-committee is exploring the benefits of raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour. However, the leader of the the sub-committee has admitted the bill is unlikely to be passed this year because of a lack of support among Republicans who are sticking to the anti-worker agenda their campaign contributors are demanding. Using the same arguments as others, many are poopooing the idea despite the obvious help it could provide lower and middle class workers:
Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, the bill’s sponsor, said anyone currently earning the hourly minimum is making a little more than $14,000 a year, which is not enough to live on.
However, business representatives and Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, argued that a state-mandated increase would be detrimental to Iowa’s economic recovery, and would hit young people particularly hard.
“I don’t think there’s any proof that the minimum wage makes businesses go under,” Courtney said.
The argument that raising the minimum wage would hurt younger Americans has been proven to be faulty at best, while many lawmakers argue it would actually help them:
Courtney and Charlie Wishman of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, refuted that claim, saying most minimum-wage earners are aged 20 years or older and often are single parents, minorities or college students.
“Every year we raise college tuition. To me this is the greatest thing we could do for young people so they can afford college,” said Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, who joined Courtney in supporting the bill. “This is not going to put anybody out of business and I think it’s the right thing to do.”
In Connecticut, House Speaker Chris Donovan, who is running for Congress, wants to raise the state’s minimum wage of $8.25/hour to $9 this year, $9.75 next year and then tie it to the Consumer Price Index from there on out. Despite predictable Republican opposition, many in the state are rallying around the claim that such a move would help low-income families struggling to make ends meet:
Proponents for the minimum wage increase argue it is currently too low to serve as a livable wage while critics claim raising it hurts employers and stifles economic growth. According to Minimum Wage.org, the average full-time minimum wage earner in Connecticut working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earns $66 per day, $330 per week, and $17,160 a year, which after taxes is roughly $15,380 or very close to the national poverty line of $14,570 per year. This is insufficient to support one person in Connecticut, let alone a family whose sole breadwinner is a minimum wage worker.
Academic research debunks the notion that increasing Connecticut’s minimum wage to $9.75 will impede economic growth. In fact, two key studies over the past two years provide definitive and compelling evidence about the effect of raising the minimum wage.
The first study published in November 2010 in the Review of Economics and Statistics by economists Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich reveals that increasing the minimum wage during a recession or periods of high unemployment has no adverse effect on employment or economic growth.
In the second study, published in April 2011 in the journal Industrial Relations, Syliva Allegretto, Arindrajit Dube and T. William Lester found minimum wage increases had no negative affect on teen employment levels or hours worked. These findings support earlier economic studies showing that employment slightly increases rather than declines when the minimum wage is raised.
In the Empire State, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500 is fighting for the state to raise its minimum wage. The union covers employees that would be most affected by the raise as many are adults who have families to support. From the Long Island Press:
Bruce W. Both, President of UFCW Local 1500 stated: “Neither a strong economy nor the American dream can be built on a wage of $7.25 an hour. We must realize New York State cannot overcome its economic challenges in a sustainable way if at the very foundation of its economy are workers living below the poverty line. We must support common sense economic principles and a strong minimum wage is at the top of that list. It is unfortunate that it has taken Albany so long to address this vital issue but our Union looks forward to working with Governor Cuomo, Speaker Silver and members of the New York State Senate to get over one million New Yorkers the raise they so desperately need.”
Anthony Speelman, UFCW Local 1500 Secretary-Treasurer, added that he is amazed at the money spent fighting against minimum wage adjustments:
It is amazing how much money corporations will spend from their own pockets to make sure no additional money goes into their workers pockets. It is appalling that the voice opposing the minimum wage increase will come from those making ten, twenty even fifty times what those on minimum wage make in a year. Any business that can only survive and profit by paying their workers poverty wages should either rethink their business model or consider another line if work. Regardless, their voices of greed will be drowned out by the voices of need.
To begin 2012, eight states raised the minimum wage, indicating that Speelman’s enthusiasm about the power of “the voices of need” may be spot on. Regardless, he and his counterparts will have to fight on, as long as there are Economic Policies Institutes out there to try to beat them back.
More than a dozen students at the University of Virginia are the 11th day of a hunger strike organized by the Living Wage at UVA campaign. The students are demanding a living wage, safer working conditions and better job security for university and university contracted workers, some of whom make just $7.25 an hour.
One of the hunger strikers is Cavalier football player Joseph Williams who, in an essay on why he is taking part in the hunger strike, writes:
On a personal level, this cause is one that hits very close to home. As one of four children supported by a single mother, I have experienced many periods of economic hardship in my life. Growing up, I moved over 30 times—including various stays in homeless shelters, the homes of family friends, and church basements. As a result of these experiences, I know firsthand what the economic struggle is like for many of these underpaid workers.
He says he and the other hunger strikers have, “chosen to take up this cause and give a voice to the many University employees who often cannot speak up for fear of retaliation from the administration.”
But as Dave Zirin writes on The Nation, Williams is taking an unusual stance for a major college athlete.
Rare are the times when an NCAA football player at a Division 1 Bowl Championship Series eligible school stands up for issues related to social justice. The reasons for this silence are manifold. From their legal and organizational powerlessness as “student-athletes,” to the annual renewal needed for their scholarships, to just the sheer amount of time players are asked to invest in their teams along with their isolation from the broader campus, silence is often the easiest option.
On this week’s episode of “Brotherhood Outdoors,” Jesse Mondragon, a member of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 564 in Richwood, Texas, heads to Montana’s Northern Rockies for a whitetail deer hunt in Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park.
Mondragon, who earned a Bronze Star in the Persian Gulf War, works for Dow Chemical as a chemical process operator and serves military veterans’ representative for this company and union brothers and sisters.
The show airs on the Sportsman Channel at 8 p.m. EST and PST March 1–and every Thursday.
The award-winning “Brotherhood Outdoors,” Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s (USA‘s) hunting and fishing series pairs union members with renowned outdoorsman Tom Ackerman for a guided hunting or fishing trip in North America or the opportunity to show off their skills by taking Ackerman to their own favorite hunting or fishing sites.
You can click here to apply to be a guest on “Brotherhood Outdoors.”
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