Want to Build the Middle Class?
Make Sure Workers Can Easily Form and Join Unions
We've all seen the charts. As union membership rates go down, so goes the middle class and people's ability to bargain for living wages and a voice on the job.
David Madland and Karla Walter from the Center for American Progress (CAP) say, in Top 6 Policies to Help the Middle Class that Won’t Cost Taxpayers a Penny, that strengthening people's ability to organize unions and to bargain collectively will go a long way in rebuilding the middle class.
If unionization rates increased by 10 percentage points—to roughly the level that they were in 1980—the typical middle-class household, unionized or not, would earn $1,501 more per year, according to research conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Madland and Walter suggest the following to ensure workers can form unions:
- The National Labor Relations Board should help put an end to needless election delays and modernize the union election process.
- Congress should pass comprehensive labor-law reform that establishes a fair process for workers to decide on union representation that expands coverage so that more workers are provided the right to organize; establishes meaningful penalties and remedies for workers who are fired or discriminated against for exercising their right to organize; and includes measures to promote productive bargaining between workers and companies.
- Congress should also make the right to join a union a civil right. This would give workers who are discriminated against in exercising their right to organize a private right to sue, just as workers have a right to sue if they face other forms of workplace discrimination.
Other fixes to boost the middle class include raising the minimum wage, allowing workers to earn paid sick leave and lowering monthly housing costs by providing homeowners with principal forgiveness. Read the rest on CAP's website.
Hundreds of Working Families Converge on Capitol, Demand Legislators Stand Up for Taxpayers by Ending $700M Corporate Gravy Train Giveaway
SB 434 (Hill) Reforms Wasteful Enterprise Zone Program, Requires Tax Dollars Be Tied to Job Creation
Sacramento, CA — Hundreds of California working families rallied at the stae Capitol to demand that legislators stand up for taxpayers by fixing the wasteful Enterprise Zone (EZ) tax break for mega-corporations like Walmart and McDonalds that fails to produce new jobs. Rally attendees called the EZ program and other unaccountable corporate tax giveaways the “corporate gravy train.” The workers and their unions back reforms that would put the EZ program and other special corporate tax carve-outs to the “jobs test” so taxpayers are sure the dollars invested in these programs create the jobs that are promised.
“Taxpayers are sending $700 million per year straight into the pockets of corporate executives without seeing good jobs created in return,” said Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the California Labor Federation. “It’s time for serious reform of the wasteful enterprise zone program. Every single legislator in California needs to understand that either they’re standing on the side of taxpayers who demand our money is spent wisely, or they’re in the pockets of the special interest lobbyists and CEOs riding the corporate gravy train.”
EZs were originally intended to create jobs in economically distressed areas but they have long since deviated from their purpose to become a tax giveaway to the largest corporations in the state. An overwhelming 61 percent of enterprise zone tax breaks were claimed by corporations with over $1 billion in assets, according to the Franchise Tax Board.
Each year, the state gives away $700 million in EZ tax credits to big, profitable corporations, but doesn’t require that a single new job be produced for that investment of taxpayer dollars. Employers can get tax breaks for simply hiring an employee into an existing position, not growing a new job. To make matters worse, the program encourages unscrupulous companies to eliminate good jobs, pack up and move to another part of the state, and get a fat tax bonus for hiring workers at low wages.
The Public Policy Institute of California released a study in 2009 finding that Enterprise Zones have "no statistically significant effect on either employment levels or employment growth rates." In addition, the California Legislative Analyst's Office has issued several reports concluding that Enterprise Zones do not create jobs, finding the program is "expensive and not strongly effective."
"The Enterprise Program has evolved into a handout for large corporations without creating new jobs," said Sen. Jerry Hill (D – San Mateo). "In a survey conducted by the state, nearly half of businesses report that the EZ hiring credit "never" or "rarely" influenced their hiring decisions. The program has shifted away from its mission to help small businesses create jobs in underserved parts of the state and now nearly all of the tax credits (91 percent) are claimed by corporations with assets of $10 million or more. Corporations with less than $1 million in assets claimed only 1 percent of Enterprise Zone tax credits."
Hill has authored SB 434, legislation that would bring accountability and transparency to the EZ program. The California Labor Federation and a coalition of partners including the California Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union - California, the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, and Western Center on Law and Poverty, have come together to support SB 434’s commonsense reforms to make the enterprise zone program transparent and accountable to taxpayers. These reforms will:
- Expose which corporations are driving the train and where they money goes. The EZ program is a prime example of how corporate lobbyists can write secret tax giveaways into tax code and shield the identities of the companies taking our tax dollars. That’s a recipe for fraud and abuse. SB 434 would create a public database of companies that get EZ tax breaks and how many jobs were created so the Legislature can evaluate performance.
- Put the brakes on waste. Under the SB 434, employers could only claim a credit for net new job creation in the state, ending the wasteful boondoggle that allowed companies to get fat breaks without creating good jobs.
- Reward companies that create good jobs. SB 434’s reforms include wage standards that will ensure that taxpayer dollars are directed to the creation of middle-class jobs instead of instead of rewarding low-wage corporations like Wal-Mart.
Pulaski remarked that the effort to reform the Enterprise Zone program is part of a larger, long-term effort on the part of workers and their unions to fix the tax code so that it reflects the interests of middle-class Californians, not the special interests of corporate CEOs and their lobbyists.
“Our campaign has a simple principle: Every single corporate tax break must be put to the jobs test. Either these tax breaks create good jobs, or we reform or eliminate them,” he said. “Big corporations have had a free ride on our dime for too long. It’s time to derail the corporate gravy train.”
Ryan Budget Highlights House Republicans' Extreme Demands
It's back. The Ryan–GOP budget that gives seniors "coupons" to pay for health care and guts Medicaid and public investment to enrich millionaires and billionaires was once again proposed by the House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) today.
Less than six months ago, voters rejected the Ryan–Romney agenda of more prosperity for the super wealthy at the expense of the rest of America's working families, yet Ryan can't seem to resist this austerity plan. And this time, the Ryan–GOP budget is "on steroids."
Ryan and the Republican leadership are demanding outrageously lower tax rates for Wall Street and the wealthiest 2%—and they want to pay for them by voucherizing Medicare (giving seniors essentially "coupons"), cutting Medicaid benefits, increasing Medicare premiums for middle-income beneficiaries (means testing) and essential services that working people depend on.
The Ryan–GOP budget would cut spending by $5.7 trillion—devastating programs like child nutrition, cancer research and transportation and shrinking government to the size it was in the 1950s.
The Ryan GOP Budget would increase tax subsidies for corporations that send jobs overseas, lower taxes for the wealthiest people and lower the corporate income tax rate.The cuts in the GOP budget would slow down our economic growth and kill hundreds of thousands of jobs just as our economy is trying to turn the corner. This same kind of austerity is what led to Europe’s slow growth and shrinking economy. Instead of calling for the sensible repeal of the sequester, Ryan would double down on harmful cuts to lifelines that build up the middle class.
For Medicare, the Ryan–GOP budget does nothing to address rising costs across the board. Rather, it ends Medicare as we know it and replaces it with a voucher (coupon), forcing seniors into an inadequate private market to fend for themselves. Health care costs, not benefits, are the real culprit here. But the Ryan–GOP budget does nothing to control health care costs. Instead it simply asks seniors to pay more.
Medicare leads private plans in controlling costs and helps bring down health care costs for everyone. Medicare is the foundation of our health care system, and it is the most efficient program available to insure seniors.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement:
"Our economy is still in a fragile state of recovery and we’ve seen that previous cuts to state and local services and jobs have prevented us from recovering faster. The last thing we need is more austerity that would cost jobs and stunt America’s future. We reject these so called “balanced” approaches that increase inequality and shift even more of the burden to those who can least afford it. We call for an immediate repeal of the across the board sequester cuts and urge lawmakers to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts."
Working families are calling on Congress to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts (i.e., raising the retirement age and the "chained" CPI), repeal the sequester and close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest 2%.
Fewer employers today provide defined-benefit pensions for their workers—and among those that do, many are offering “defined-contribution” (like 401[k]s) rather than traditional “defined-benefit” pension plans.
That’s why Social Security insurance is essential for millions of retirees. Nearly two-thirds of retirees count on Social Security for half or more of their retirement income and for more than three in 10, Social Security is 90 percent or more of their income. It is a safety net that keeps retirees out of poverty.
It’s also important to figure out what you will need to retire. Talking a look at how much Social Security will provide, whether you have another form of pension and how much you spend are all components in determining when you can retire.
For decades, workers achieved retirement security because their retirement income flowed from a combination of employer-provided pensions, Social Security and personal savings. But the recession has exposed the severe deficiencies in our retirement system. We need to develop a new way to provide workers with lifetime retirement security beyond Social Security.
Keep Predators Off the California Environmental Quality Act
A growing coalition of labor unions, environmental groups and tribes made clear that protecting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), our state’s landmark environmental protection law, is essential to California’s future.
Wealthy developers and corporate special interests have attacked CEQA as a hindrance to job creation, and are pushing to “reform” (i.e. gut) the law. But the facts just don’t support their claims. At an event [held] on the steps of the Capitol that morning, the Labor Management Cooperation Trust released a report that finds that since CEQA became law in 1970, California’s manufacturing output, construction activity, per capita GDP and housing (relative to population) all grew as fast or faster than the other 49 states.
The reality is that for more than 40 years, CEQA has been a firewall for California communities, protecting our environment and workplaces from big corporations and developers trying to make a quick profit at the expense of our health and safety. CEQA’s protections help grow our economy and create a cleaner, more sustainable environment for the future.
State Senator Noreen Evans:
“CEQA’s history proves that we can have the nation’s leading environmental and community protection laws and still realize growth and profits that equally benefit our bottom line. California is home to some of the most innovative and sustainable technologies in the world, and CEQA is proof positive that environmental protection works.”
The event was heavily attended by unions and other worker advocates who noted that workers’ rights and environmental protections go hand in hand.
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski:
“Dirty air and water puts workers’ health directly at risk. For workers in industries like construction and agriculture, these risks are pronounced. CEQA gives all workers and communities a voice. CEQA protects us from pollution. It makes our workplaces safer. It makes our communities cleaner. The California labor movement rejects any effort to weaken this landmark law.”
State Building and Construction Trades Council President Robbie Hunter said rolling back CEQA would be a disaster, noting that when deregulation inevitably fails, it’s everyday workers –- not big businesses –- who are left picking up the tab:
“California working families have had enough of big businesses trying to deregulate the laws that protect [us]. From the deregulation of the electric grid that literally left us in the dark, to the deregulation of Wall Street that left hundreds of thousands of Californians homeless and unemployed, we cannot afford another experiment in deregulation. CEQA is working to give California communities a voice in development, and it’s working to keep our members safe on the job site.”
The coalition defending CEQA sent a clear message today — if corporate special interests continue to push for weakening our environmental laws, those efforts would be met with stiff opposition.
According to Ann Notthoff, California Advocacy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“It’s great to be here today, shoulder to shoulder with our partners in the labor movement and with tribal leaders. The breadth of this coalition in itself shows how important protecting CEQA is across the board in California — it’s both important for our environment and it’s important for jobs.”
New Reports Allege Widespread Human Rights Abuses in Temporary Worker Recruitment System
Rosales said he paid about $500 in recruitment, visa and passport processing, lodging and transportation fees. He never saw that money again. Once in the United States, he was forced by the fair company to work weeks that frequently totaled more than 72 hours. His rate of pay worked out to about $3.75 per hour. He also lived in trailers with dozens of other people. The living facilities had no air conditioning, dirty bathrooms and lacked kitchens.
The work and living experience Rosales dealt with is far from unique. Recently a story broke about McDonald's temporary workers with J-1 visas at franchisee locations in Pennsylvania who worked under similar poor conditions. According to a report by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, workers who come to the United States for temporary jobs under the H-2 visa program widely report similar problems from a wide array of employers. The H-2 visa program has a number of flaws that unscrupulous employers and recruiters readily exploit. Among the key problems:
- Despite the fact that recruitment fees are illegal in both Mexico and the United States, it is standard for recruiters to charge workers an average of $590 for travel, visa and recruitment costs and rarely are these fees reimbursed. More than half of all migrant workers report paying the fees.
- The terms of employment, including wages, work and living conditions, are often misrepresented by recruiters.
- More than half of workers surveyed did not receive a copy of their job contract.
- Because the H-2 visa process is so complicated, it totally lacks in transparency and is difficult for complaints to be filed or enforced.
- One out of every 10 workers reported paying a recruitment fee for a job that didn't even exist.
- Migrant workers have scant information about their rights and are at an increased risk of being abused or defrauded.
- Government oversight over the recruitment process is very weak.
- Many workers go into debt in order to pay their recruitment fees. They often have to take out loans with high interest rates and have to use their homes as collateral. Such loans can be used to force workers into forced labor, debt servitude or human trafficking.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also found widespread evidence that migrant workers who come to the United States are systematically exploited by American employers.
What’s So Great About Unions?
Let’s be honest. Sometimes, outside of election campaign seasons, even progressives wonder what’s so great about unions. Sure, we had a role to play before job safety laws, the eight-hour day, Social Security and civil rights laws were passed. But today?
Even our friends aren’t immune to the relentless attacks on unions from the right and the stereotypes that come with them: union thugs, lazy workers, relics of the past, self-absorbed, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Most of you know that as union strength has declined over the past three or so decades, so has the middle class. That's because unions are just regular working people who come together to balance power with employers and bargain for better living and working standards. And when unions are weakened by corporate and right-wing politicians, all working people feel the squeeze.
But there’s probably a lot about what unions do that’s less familiar. Like that we run one of the largest worker training programs in this country. That innovative work by union members fuels today’s green technology. And that we supply a great deal of the man- and woman-power as well as the funding for community service programs, from running food drives to disaster recovery and winning health care benefits for people who don’t belong to unions.
These aren’t things we do to win political elections—they’re things we do because they represent our values. So we’ve created a new online feature that shows examples of working people and their union values in motion “@Work.” I hope you’ll visit it at www.aflcio.org/atwork—and until you do, here are some examples:
- UAW members are leading the way in creating more fuel-efficient cars. At Johnson Controls, they are manufacturing absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries that allow your car to shut down its big energy users while idling, but keep your lights and radio on and easily restart your car when you take your foot off the brake pedal.
- AFT partners with the First Book program to provide new books to under-served children. Teachers are making sure that students from any background have the tools they need to succeed in school.
- The Domestic Workers United grassroots organization in New York created the Park Slope Education Project to inform local domestic workers of their rights under state and federal laws and to help responsible employers understand how to comply with the laws and be good bosses.
- Helmets to Hardhats helps train and place military veterans in civilian careers—including construction jobs rebuilding the World Trade Center.
- The United Steelworkers helped carwash workers in Los Angeles get the health care they need and deserve.
- Taxi drivers in New York City, despite being exempt from most labor laws because they are considered "independent" contractors, organized and formed the National Taxi Workers Alliance. They’ve won increased take-home pay and expanded access to health care.
Union membership in California rose by 100,000 in 2012
To explain the contrast between the trend in California and the United States as a whole—where union membership dropped last year by 400,000—Semuels turned to some credible sources, including Steve Smith of the state labor federation who cited “an appetite among these low-wage workers to try to get a collective voice to give themselves opportunity and a middle-class lifestyle.”
Quoting Smith and others, Semuels finds that, “After working hard to get here, many Latino immigrants demand respect in the workplace and are more willing to join unions in a tough economic environment, organizers say.”
True enough: Immigrant workers have been particularly important for unions in California and Latino organizing has helped reignite the state’s labor movement. But that’s only part of the story.
Many California unions, allied with progressive groups up and down the state, have dedicated enormous resources to community and economic organizing. This has influenced California’s political culture. Union-friendly city councils, boards, commissions, a democratic legislature and statewide office holders produce a relatively pro-worker political and economic atmosphere.
Though employer resistance to unions can be as fierce in California as in other states, there is also a growing sense that a cooperative relationship with labor can be good business (note the expedited permitting for the construction of downtown L.A.’s Farmers Field).
California unions were ahead of the curve in recognizing the power of Latino workers and voters and then led other states in building diverse constituencies around progressive economic development strategies. The number of “living wage” districts around the state testifies to that.
There is no pro-union state in the United States. But California (with 18.4 percent of the workforce unionized) may be pointed in that direction.
Despite its failure to offer context, the Los Angeles Times piece draws the same conclusion.
“Labor’s more optimistic proponents say that California could serve as a blueprint for unions across the country as they seek to stem membership declines,” writes Semuels. “The trend comes amid forecasts that the Latino population in the United States is likely to double in two decades.”
How to Avoid Taxing the Wrong People
by Robert Reich
Brace yourself. In coming weeks you’ll hear there’s no serious alternative to cutting Social Security and Medicare, raising taxes on [the] middle class and decimating what’s left of the federal government’s discretionary spending on everything from education and job training to highways and basic research.
“We” must make these sacrifices, it will be said, in order to deal with our mushrooming budget deficit and cumulative debt.
But most of the people who are making this argument are very wealthy or are sponsored by the very wealthy: Wall Street moguls like Pete Peterson and his “Fix the Debt” brigade, the Business Roundtable, well-appointed think tanks and policy centers along the Potomac, members of the Simpson-Bowles commission.
These regressive sentiments are packaged in a mythology that [says] Americans have been living beyond our means: We’ve been unwilling to pay for what we want government to do for us, and we are now reaching the day of reckoning.
The truth is most Americans have not been living beyond their means. The problem is their means haven’t been keeping up with the growth of the economy — which is why most of us need better education, infrastructure, and healthcare, and stronger safety nets.
The real median wage is only slightly higher now than it was 30 years ago, even though the economy is twice as large.
The only people whose means have soared are at the very top, because they’ve received almost all the gains from growth. Over the last three decades, the top one percent’s share of the nation’s income has doubled; the top one-tenth of [the] one percent’s share, tripled. The richest one-tenth of one percent is now earning as much as the bottom 120 million Americans put together.
Wealth has become even more concentrated than income (income is a stream of money, wealth is the pool into which it flows).
The richest one percent now own more than 35 percent of all of the nation’s household wealth, and 38 percent of the nation’s financial assets – including stocks and pension funds.
Think about this: The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together. The six Walmart heirs have more wealth than bottom 33 million American families combined.
So why are we even contemplating cutting programs the middle class and poor depend on, and raising their taxes?
We should tax the vast accumulations of wealth now in the hands of a relative few.
To the extent they have any wealth at all, most Americans have it in their homes – whose prices have stopped falling in most of the country but are still down almost 30 percent from their 2006 peak.
Yet homes are subject to the only major tax on wealth — property taxes.
Yale Professor Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott have proposed a two percent surtax on the wealth of the richest one-half of one percent of Americans owning more than $7.2 million of assets.
They figure it would generate $70 billion a year, or $750 billion over the decade. That’s more than the fiscal cliff deal raises from high-income Americans.
Together, the two sets of taxes on the wealthy — tax increases contained in the fiscal cliff agreement, and a wealth tax such as Ackerman and Alstott have proposed — would just about equal the spending cuts the White House has already agreed to, totaling $1.5 trillion (or $1.7 trillion including interest savings).
That seems about right.
(Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Reposted from his website with permission.)
Help Spread the News About the Good Work Union Members Do Every Day
We're fighting back against the negative stories the national news media is putting out about our movement by establishing a Message Movers team—folks who are willing to push back against biased stories about unions through social media and email.
Can you join in? You're a powerful voice in making sure that the great work of the union movement is being spread far and wide.
We've been hearing from our AFL-CIO Now blog readers we need to keep pushing back against the negative stereotypes of union members. Sign up to be a message mover and part of our action team.
The Advantages of Shooting in California
California is famous for several reasons. In the last fifty years, the state has spawned two presidents. It is far and away the most populous state in the union, and it is also the ninth largest economy in the world, besting India and Canada. Every year, tens of millions of international and domestic visitors come to California. Many of the visitor come as tourists who come to the Golden State to explore the vast beaches in the south, the beautiful bay in the middle or the largess of the redwoods in the north.
But if California is famous for anything, it’s for being America’s film industry capital. The Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee is one of the world’s most recognizable brands. Yet many filmgoers don’t realize that the number of films shot in California has dramatically decreased over the past decade. Why? Mostly financial reasons. According to Harvey Weinstein, Miramax saved roughly $40 million while filming “Cold Mountain” in Romania. Unfortunately, productions often go where they can be made for less.
Economically speaking, California does offer some pretty nifty incentives. Producers of a feature film looking to shoot in California can now apply for a 20 percent tax credit, as long as the budget for the film falls between $1 million and $75 million. Certain television productions are also allowed access to this same tax credit. A miniseries or television movie in production is eligible to receive the tax credit so long as the budget of the project is above $500,000. An established television show that has shot its previous seasons outside of the state can move its production over to California and earn a 25% tax credit. Finally, independent films can earn a transferable 25% tax credit, so long as they fall within the budgetary requirements.
But there are reasons outside of economics to film in California. Despite the fact that film productions have been running away from their supposed home, every single day talented newcomers arrive in Los Angeles area with fervent hopes of becoming a star. Even though Connecticut offers some pretty outstanding incentives for filming, performers don’t flock to Hartford with dreams of making it big. Even these days, the industry’s talent pool is largely concentrated in cities like New York and Los Angeles. When creating a film, our deep bench of talented actors and crew members is without parallel.
Productions can leave and they are leaving, every day. But California is still the home of the movies for a majority of international filmgoers. There’s no reason it shouldn’t stay that way.
Some of the most vocal opponents of the move to change U.S. Senate rules, including a proposal to help unblock Senate gridlock by ending the “silent filibuster” and actually forcing filibustering senators to take to the floor and talk if they want to block legislation, are lobbyists who profit from Senate dysfunction.
The Nation’s Lee Fang outlines how Republican-led filibusters and “silent holds” on nominations have resulted in some Big Business windfalls for corporations that just happened to be large contributors to the senators’ campaigns.
Top Five Legislative Victories for Workers in 2012
Protecting Families from Foreclosures. This year, California became the first state to enact reforms that ban the practice of foreclosing on a family seeking a loan modification (AB278, SB900). These bills also increased penalties for “robo-signing,” or the filing of false mortgage documents, and required banks to create a single point of contact for those seeking a loan modification.
Winning improvements for injured workers. California’s injured workers have suffered under slashed benefits and delayed medical treatment under Schwarzenegger reforms. Comprehensive workers compensation reform enacted this year (1) increases benefits for injured workers system-wide by $860 million or 30%, (2) cuts down delays in medical treatment, and (3) stabilizes the insurance market by removing inefficiencies and excess profiteering from the system. SB 863 earned strong bipartisan support and was based on Labor-management negotiations.
Building the High Speed Rail. As with any bold project, the voices of doom and decline said the high speed rail couldn’t be built. This year, the Legislature approved the needed state bond fund appropriations to draw down over $3 billion in federal funds to start this needed project. The high speed rail will not only build needed infrastructure, it will also create 200,000 new good jobs in construction, maintenance, and operations.
Protecting Good Jobs. Governor Brown signed significant bills to protect good jobs. AB 1855 (Torres) supports warehouse workers by prohibiting labor contracts in the warehouse industry that cause downward pressure on worker wages and conditions. AB 2508 (Bonilla) stops the outsourcing of state benefit call center jobs by requiring that the work is done in California. SB 829 (Rubio) prohibits charter cities from banning project labor agreements and AB 1565 (Fuentes) extends prequalification standards to school construction.
Cracking Down on the Underground Economy. The 2012 budget contained a $2 million dollar augmentation for the Labor Commissioner for misclassification enforcement as well as new funding to enforce prevailing wage laws. Governor Brown signed AB 1744 which helps protect temporary workers by requiring that their paystubs break down wage rate and hours worked by assignment and giving them client names and addresses. He also signed AB 1675, which establishes new civil penalties for unlicensed farm labor contractors, and AB 1794, which targets construction contractors who underreport workers to cheat on workers compensation coverage.
Made in the U.S.
Scroll down to see a list of American made goods & services, union made
We'll All Miss Unions When They're Gone
Unionists have never enjoyed true security in America. During the early nineteenth century, they got hauled into court for “conspiring to restrain trade.” In the heyday of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, they got accused of fomenting violence and revolution. During the first decade of the Cold War, they had to purge their ranks of radical activists or be slammed as “soft on Communism.” Since the 1970s, they have been condemned as a greedy and privileged “special interest”—even as their numbers and political clout keep dropping.
Now they have to figure out how to turn back a fresh wave of conservative laws, such as the one enacted this week in Michigan, which aim to make existing unions too poor and powerless to affect conditions in all but a few workplaces. The very term “right to work” puts labor on the defensive in a culture which cherishes individual liberty. If unions are to come back, they will have to respond persuasively to the question: What exactly have they done for this country?
The answer begins but doesn’t end with economics. When unions signed contracts with many of the biggest corporations in the land from the 1930s to the 1950s, even workers in most non-union firms got a boost in wages from their employers, who were willing to share more of their profits in order to prevent having to negotiate away any of their authority. But collective bargaining was and remains a much better deal. In 2011, full-time union workers earned a median weekly wage $209 higher than their non-union counterparts. If sustained over the course of a thirty-year career, that difference would amount to more than $325,000.
Morever, the advantages of a unionized workplace have always transcended the size of one’s paycheck. Among the things that separate a good job from a lousy one are elements which organized labor struggled over decades to win: protection for health and safety and fair compensation for accidents on the job, free or affordable medical insurance and regular vacations, a procedure for handling grievances and an eight-hour day.
The practice of seniority, which foes of unions claim just favors the old and slow over the young and efficient, replaced an arbitrary system that once enabled employers or their foremen to fire anyone at any time and without cause. When the principle of “last hired, first fired” was first written into contracts in the late 1930s, it did result in disproportionate layoffs of female and non-white workers. Yet, inevitably, over time, it helped veteran employees of both genders and all races, and younger members, with an eye on the future, embraced it too.
The good that unions have done also stretches beyond the workplace itself. Indeed, the reason that generations of conservatives have tried to weaken or destroy labor’s power is because they detested its grander political vision. The first unions that emerged in the antebellum era advocated free public education for all and an immediate end to slavery. During the early twentieth century, the reformist AFL backed the public ownership of streetcars, railroads, and electrical power while the revolutionary IWW endorsed woman suffrage and welcomed members of all races—at a time when segregation was the rule in nearly every other American institution. Later, in the 1960s, the AFL-CIO devoted some of its budget and a good chunk of its political capital to help push the Civil Rights bill, the Voting Rights Act, and Medicare and Medicaid through Congress. Once hostile to undocumented immigrants, unions now try to organize them whenever possible and lobby for a path to legalization.
Motivating all these stands is the belief that valuing democracy requires extending it from polling booths to factories, offices, supermarkets, schoolhouses, and neighborhoods. Of course, some union leaders have been egregious hypocrites in this regard; CIO head John L. Lewis did much to bring “industrial democracy” to auto plants and steel mill, but, in his own Mine Workers union, he tolerated no challenge to his dictatorial control. Yet most unions, then and now, routinely go about practicing something unique in American life: They give millions of workers a voice and a measure of control in the place where they spend a majority of their waking hours and which is, for many, the most significant facet of their identity and self-worth.
In Out of This Furnace, an autobiographical novel, published in 1941, by the Slovak-American writer Thomas Bell, there appears a description of the men who came to organize steel-workers in the company town of Braddock, Pennsylvania:
"They were outspoken, fearlessly so, as though they had never learned to glance around and see who might be listening before they spoke…They assumed that there was one law for the rich and one for the poor, and that it was the same law; and they talked about newspapers and radio chains and law courts and legislative bodies as though these things could be used for the benefit of ordinary people as well as against them…For lack of a handier label, [we] thought of them simply as good C.I.O. men."
Seventy years later, in a society where employers and pro-corporate politicians increasingly get their way, labor men and women have to learn how to revive that spirit—in practice as well as rhetoric. Although their fellow Americans may not realize it, they will miss the unions if they vanish.
Michael Kazin’s latest book is American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is co-editor of Dissent.
Don't Cut Medicare Benefits—Tackle Drug Prices
As the approach of the so-called "Fiscal Cliff" nears, many advocates nationwide are making this message clear: Medicare benefit cuts are not an option. In a letter to the president and Congress, AARP states, "As we move forward, it is clear that older Americans want the focus of the debate to be on reducing overall health costs and not simply targeting Medicare and Medicaid for budget cuts." Just days after the election, a collective of the largest and most powerful progressive voices ran a Washington Post advertisement to the president and Congress that included, "No cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security benefits or shifting costs to beneficiaries or the states," as one of five guiding principles for reducing the federal deficit. Medicare Rights Center joined 146 national organizations in support of this very same message.
No Cuts to Medicare Benefits Means No Cost Shifting
What do we mean by no Medicare benefit cuts? Of course, we mean just that—there should be no cuts to the benefits that people with Medicare need in order to access the health care they need. But we also mean that we should not increase the cost of health care for the 49 million seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare. Many of the most discussed Medicare proposals would create savings for the federal government merely by shifting added health care costs onto people with Medicare and thereby forcing them to pay more for less.
One such proposal would raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. One analysis demonstrates that two-thirds (66 percent) of 65- and 66-year-olds would pay more for health coverage if the Medicare eligibility age was increased in this way. Additionally, employers and states would all pay more to cover 65- and 66-year-olds without access to Medicare. In short, raising the Medicare age of eligibility is an across the board benefit cut paid for by people with Medicare, employers and states. Only the federal government saves.
Most people with Medicare are in no position to pay more for their health care. Half of people with Medicare live on annual incomes of $22,000 or less—just under 200% of the federal poverty level. And half have $53,000 or less in personal savings. Health care costs are a significant expense for Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of income. Medicare households spend 15 percent of their total expenses on health care compared to 5 percent among non-Medicare households.
For Oliver, a Medicare beneficiary who called our helpline from Atlanta, Medicare already costs too much. Oliver lives on $1,400 per month or $17,000 per year, almost entirely from Social Security benefits. His heart condition recently worsened and now Oliver's out-of-pocket costs amount to more than $300 per month— over 20 percent of his monthly income. Oliver's income is too high to qualify for public assistance to help with these costs. So, he relies on community programs—like a local transportation service to doctor's appointments—to make ends meet. Some months, Oliver skips his heart medications to pay for other bills, like his rent or electricity.
Oliver is not alone. The average Medicare household spends $4,500 on health care each year. Costs increase with age and health care needs. In the past five years of life, the average person with Medicare spends almost $37,000 on health care—just over two times Oliver's income. Nearly half of Americans die with less than $10,000 in the bank; with little savings to his name, Oliver could be among them.
Eliminate Wasteful Spending and Build on What Works
Instead of shifting more costs to people like Oliver, policymakers should look to solutions designed to lower rising health care costs. Solutions that make the health care system more efficient and eliminate wasteful spending mean big savings for the Medicare program. For example, allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies in the Medicare program is one deficit reduction option that would eliminate significant waste in the health care system.
The federal government already negotiates with pharmaceutical companies for drug rebates in the Medicaid program. Up until the creation of Medicare Part D— Medicare prescription drug coverage offered by private plans—these Medicaid rebates applied to those dually eligible for the Medicare and Medicaid program. A 2011 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that the cost of the top 100 drugs for dually eligible beneficiaries was 30 percent higher under Medicare than it would have been were Medicaid rebates still applicable.
If we restore these rebates for dually eligible beneficiaries and other low-income Medicare beneficiaries, the federal government would save up to $135 billion over 10 years. If we allow the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices for all 32 million beneficiaries with a Part D drug plan, the government could save up to $156 billion over 10 years.
Eliminating wasteful spending by the federal government on prescription drugs may not solve all of Oliver's problems, but his struggle to afford high health care costs and still make ends meet, a reality shared by millions of other people with Medicare, poses a critical question—so long as the federal government grossly overpays pharmaceutical companies for drugs, what is the justification for balancing the deficit on the backs of people with Medicare? Instead of shifting costs to people with Medicare, we should be talking about cutting wasteful spending so that we can invest in expanding programs that help those with low-incomes afford Medicare. Let's have that conversation, so that Oliver can get the health care he needs.
We Have to Protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
As working families all over the country celebrated President Obama's re-election, we also began mobilizing to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts.
Working families need more economic security, not less. But some legislators and their friends on Wall Street are set on reaching a “grand bargain” during the post-election "lame-duck" session of Congress that would cut the benefits that we and our children will depend on. They want to cut our Social Security COLAs, raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare and cut Medicaid, which could force families into bankruptcy when a loved one needs long-term care. Why? They say it’s to reduce the deficit, but that’s obviously not true. If they were serious about reducing the deficit, they would not be insisting on extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans.
What should Congress do? The most important two things are:
1. Congress should let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.
2. Congress must make no cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.
Sign the petition: www.aflcio.org/ProtectOurFuture.
Call your members of Congress now at 888-659-9401.
Across the country Nov. 8, working people are joining events to spread this message. Find one near you: http://local.americawantstowork.org/protectourfuture.
We need to send a clear message why we must protect the promise of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
LEARN ABOUT THE IATSE "PAC" FUND
The Stand Up, Fight Back campaign has been launched as a way for the IATSE to stand up to the recent attacks on our members from anti-worker politicians. The IATSE believes that we must stand up to these attacks and ramp up our voice in politics through waging this campaign. The mission of the Stand Up, Fight Back campaign is to increase IATSE-PAC contributions and the IATSE’s commitment to fighting politicians and policies that do not benefit our members.
The IATSE, along with every other union and guild across the country, has come under recent attacks. Everywhere from Madison, Wisconsin to Washington, DC, anti-worker politicians are trying to silence the voices of American workers by taking away their collective bargaining rights, stripping their healthcare coverage, and doing away with defined pension plans.
WHO CAN GIVE TO IATSE-PAC?
Members and employees of the IATSE and IATSE local unions (and their families), who reside in the United States, may contribute to the IATSE-PAC.
Why am I being asked to contribute to PAC?
Over the last couple of months, attacks on labor unions have accelerated into an all-out assault on workers across the country. In many states, American workers have been blamed for the financial crises and have been the chief target of many state budget cuts despite corporations reporting record profits. The momentum began with Wisconsin, but is now continuing in New Hampshire, Florida, Maine, and Ohio. In Washington, Congress is making major decisions that affect IATSE workers nationwide, concerning issues such as digital theft, the funding of Medicare, and collective bargaining. Giving to PAC allows us to fight for legislation that benefits IATSE (digital theft) and against legislation that hurts working men and women (funding of Medicare, and collective bargaining).
I already pay dues, why should I contribute to PAC?
Federal law prohibits the use of union dues from being used for political purposes, so in order to participate in the political process and have a greater voice on issues impacting you as a member of the IATSE, and become part of the IATSE’s Stand Up, Fight Back campaign, you have to voluntarily give to the IATSE-PAC.
What do I get for enrolling in the IATSE-PAC contribution program?
By joining at the Activist’s Level ($10/month), you will receive an IATSE-PAC lapel pin. If you join at the Leader’s Level ($20/month), you will receive an IATSE-PAC t-shirt. If you join at the President’s Level ($40/month), you will receive an IATSE-PAC cap. Contribution amounts are suggestions only and you may contribute more or less than these suggested amounts.
If you wish pay by credit or debit card, fill out the “Voucher for Credit/Debit Deductions” card, which will automatically deduct a monthly contribution in an amount designated by you.
I have filled out my PAC card, what do I do with it?
If you have filled out a Credit/Debit Card Deduction Card, please give one copy of the card to your Local and send one copy to:
1430 Broadway, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10018
Contact: Deborah Reid
What happens to my PAC card after I submit it to the IATSE General Office?
Because your PAC cards contain sensitive information, the IATSE-PAC will record the data in a secure manner at the IATSE General Office.
Where will my contribution go?
The IATSE- PAC is explicitly non-partisan and its funds are intended to support issues and candidates who have and will stand with workers on matters important to IATSE. By extension, the IATSE-PAC will also be used to fund campaigns against politicians that have consistently stood against IATSE and its issues.
I want to help advertise the IATSE-PAC in my work place. Where can I get the proper materials for that?
In this PAC section, you can download information that you can use when talking to fellow IATSE members about joining PAC, in addition to information on alternate methods of mobilizing your members. Flyers for joining PAC and more information about the issues and policies that you care about most can be posted at your worksite depending on employer rules.
How much should I contribute?
While there are suggested giving levels of $10 a month (Activist’s Club), $20 a month (Leader’s Club), and $40 a month (President’s Club), these contribution amounts are suggestions only, and you may contribute more or less than the suggested amounts. A person's contribution to the IATSE-PAC may not exceed $5,000.00 per year. Contributors must be United States citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States. The IATSE-PAC may not accept contributions from corporate accounts.
Is my contribution tax deductible?
No, political contributions to PACs are not tax deductible.
What if I do not want to give to IATSE-PAC?
All contributions to the IATSE-PAC are voluntary. The amount contributed, or the decision not to contribute, will not be the basis for the IATSE or any of its locals to benefit or disadvantage the member or his/her family. Neither the IATSE nor any of its locals will retaliate against a member for deciding not to contribute, or based upon the amount of the contribution.
The following are the rules for solicitations for contributions to the PAC.
These rules must be displayed, posted, or otherwise noted whenever
contributions are solicited as noted above.
The signing of an authorization card and the making of contributions to the IATSE-PAC are not conditions of membership in the union nor of employment with the Company and you may refuse to do so without fear of reprisal.
You are making a contribution to fund-raising efforts sponsored by the IATSE-PAC and the IATSE- PAC will use your contributions for political purposes, including but not limited to, the making of contributions to or expenditures on behalf of candidates for federal office, and addressing political issues of public importance.
Federal law requires the IATSE-PAC to use its best efforts to collect and report the name, mailing address, occupation and the name of employer of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in a calendar year.
Contributions or gifts to the IATSE-PAC are not deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes.
Any contribution guideline is merely a suggestion and you may contribute more, less or nothing at all without favor or disadvantage from IATSE.
The IATSE-PAC is unable to accept monies from Canadian members of the IATSE.
Members of the IATSE locals, and their families, may contribute to the IATSE-PAC. All contributions to the IATSE-PAC are voluntary, and are not tax-deductible.
How to make a contribution:
California Labor Launches ‘Zombie Loopholes’ Website to Highlight Budget-Killing Corporate Tax Breaks
Online Campaign Details Billions California Wastes Yearly That Should Go To Funding Essential Services
(Sacramento) – The California Labor Federation today launched a new website and social media campaign to highlight the devastating impact that budget-killing corporate tax breaks are having on our state. www.ZombieLoopholes.com brings a number of wasteful corporate tax breaks that are bleeding our state of billions each year out of the shadows so the public is aware that they’re contributing to deep budget cuts to school funding, services for seniors and public safety.
The effort to raise awareness about zombie loopholes will include a social media campaign and online petition that will be delivered to California legislators. The website and social media outreach renew the California Labor Federation’s call for the legislature to conduct a thorough review of corporate tax breaks -- eliminating those that are not benefitting the state’s economy -- before any additional cuts are made to services.
“While, fortunately, it doesn’t appear a ‘zombie apocalypse’ is anywhere on the horizon, zombie loopholes pose a very real and immediate threat to schools, public safety and other essential services our families and communities rely upon,” California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said. “This new site brings the zombies out of the shadows so the public can see for themselves how much the state is wasting each year on ineffective corporate tax breaks.”
The site highlights four “zombie loopholes” and the related revenue those loopholes are ripping from the state that could instead go to closing our budget gap and funding education, services for those with disabilities and other vital programs. The site’s “survival guide” offers an emergency plan for the legislature to deal with these zombie loopholes.
On ZombieLoopholes.com, each tax break has been assigned a “kill capacity” equal to the amount of revenue it’s draining the state that could be used for vital programs and services:
- Elective Single Sales Tax Zombie Loophole
Kill Capacity: $1 billion for schools, public safety and essential services
- Oil Severance Tax Zombie Loophole
Kill Capacity: $2 billion for schools, public safety and essential services
- Change-of-Ownership Zombie Loophole
Kill Capacity: $2 billion divided between local government and schools
- Enterprise Zone (EZ) Zombie Loophole
Kill Capacity: Quality, good-paying jobs and $500 million a year for schools, public safety and essential services
The loopholes highlighted on the site were recently identified in a report by California Tax Reform Association Executive Director Lenny Goldberg, which found that wasteful corporate tax breaks are costing the state more $6 billion per year.
“Our state doesn’t have to be entombed in perpetual budget crises,” Pulaski said. “Zombies may not be real, but the choices the state has to balance the budget are. We can either continue allowing these zombie loopholes to drain the life out of our state’s economy, or we can eradicate them now and begin investing in California’s future.”
New Report Identifies Billions in Wasteful Corporate Tax Breaks State Could Use to Close Budget Gap
View the report at
(Sacramento) -- A new report released today by the California Tax Reform Association identified more than $6 billion in wasteful corporate tax loopholes and dodges that are bleeding the state of much-needed revenue that should be used to help close the budget deficit and prevent cuts to vital services.
Report author Lenny Goldberg said corporate tax breaks, many of which were put into place as part of backroom deals in previous budget negotiations, represent egregious examples of waste, fraud and abuse in our tax code.
“If California had a normal government, billions in loopholes would be closed,” Goldberg said. “There is overwhelming public support for closing loopholes before cutting vital programs. Hopefully the Republicans will listen to the will of the majority of Californians and end these abuses in the tax system before harming schools and services.”
In response to the report, the California Labor Federation called on the legislature to do a thorough review of every corporate tax break that currently does not include a sunset provision prior to making any of the cuts proposed in the Governor’s May Budget Revise. Many of the state’s corporate tax breaks lack any transparency or accountability, meaning taxpayers have no idea if the breaks are serving their intended purpose of boosting the economy or creating jobs.
“We simply cannot continue to dole out massive tax breaks to the wealthy and well-connected at a time when the state is asking Californians to sacrifice essential funding for schools, public safety, health care and services for our most vulnerable,” said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski. “Taxpayers deserve to know whether these giveaways are producing any positive benefit to our state. If they’re not, they should be immediately abolished and those funds should go to services all Californians value.”
The report singles out a number of tax breaks and dodges that would provide immediate help in closing the deficit, if abolished.
Among the report’s findings:
- Eliminating the “elective” tax loophole, which benefits out-of-state corporations, would increase revenue by $1 billion per year. Assembly Speaker John Perez currently has a proposal to use that revenue to lower college tuition through his Middle Class Scholarship bill.
- Adopting an oil severance tax would produce $2 billion a year. Big oil companies are making record profits and raising gas prices on Californians while avoiding taxes. California is the only state in the country, and the only place in the world, that fails to tax oil production.
- A change-of-ownership loophole allows big corporations to avoid paying property taxes based on current value, draining the state and local governments of $2 billion a year and putting other businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
- A maze of other loopholes and tax dodges are costing the state $2 billion a year, including the failed enterprise zone tax credits which subsidizes the elimination of good-paying jobs by giving businesses an incentive to move to different locations and hire replacement workers, often at lower wages.
“Our tax code needs to reflect the interests of middle-class Californians, not the special interests of corporate CEOs and their lobbyists,” Pulaski said. “If working and middle-class people are going to take a hit in tough times, it shouldn't be to pay for tax breaks for millionaires and big companies that ship our jobs overseas.”
How you can influence legislation on
Govenor Brown's desk
If you are motivated to encourage Governor Brown to either sign or veto pending legislative action, click here. The link will take you to a page on the Govenor's web site. There you can click "pro" or "con" and you can also write a brief message.
Made in the U.S.
Where to find American, union made, clothes, goods and services
Ever wonder where to buy American made clothing made in American union shops? Check out these sites:
You'll be surprised to find that the prices are competitive with clothing made elsewhere in the world. You can also get discount coupons from
as well as many other offers only available to union members!
As you prepare to head to the grocery store to pick up your holiday dinner ingredients, double check your shopping list to make sure your fixin's are all union made in America. Check out some highlights from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor's resource site, Labor 411. Here are some of the best union-made eats and tools from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), Machinists (IAM), United Steelworkers (USW) and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
Del Monte Blue Diamond Almonds—BCTGM
Foster Poultry Farms—UFCW
Ocean Spray Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce—IAM
Birds Eye vegetables—UFCW
Betty Crocker Specialty Potatoes—BCTGM
Pillsbury crescent rolls, frozen and bake rolls/breads—BCTGM
Pillsbury pie crusts—BCTGM
Stroehmann bakery products (for stuffing)—BCTGM
Sara Lee pumpkin, apple pie—BCTGM
Mother’s Kitchen pies and cakes—BCTGM
Kellogg's Corn Flakes (to top those sweet potato casseroles)—BCTGM
Quaker Oats (for apple crisp)—BCTGM
What are some of your favorite union-made Thanksgiving ingredients? Log in and comment below.
Search more union-made food from Labor 411.
What could be more “Made in America” than a good old USA vacation that’s union-made, too?
Here are some tips from Union Plus:
Check out the Union Plus Travel Center—the travel and entertainment section offers exclusive discounts for union members. The website also features hotels, airlines and rail service available in the region you'll be visiting. If you're taking a road trip, make sure it's in a union-made car. See the UAW union-made vehicle list here. To find a union hotel, visit the Hotel Workers Rising guide here.
If you are headed to a major theme park, many are staffed by union members, including the 36,000 members of 18 unions at the Disney Parks in Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla. On top of that, several offer discounts through Union Plus, click here. Actors' Equity (AEA) recently concluded a master agreement covering cast members working in smaller theme parks.
AFSCME represents thousands of municipal workers at city and state parks and zoos. U.S. Interior Department workers who staff federal parks and monuments are also union-represented—by NFFE, an affiliate of the Machinists (IAM). AFGE represents many employees who build exhibits, conduct research and maintain the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
If you’re going to visit the Los Angeles area, check out Labor 411, a directory of union hotels, entertainment venues and other union-represented Southern California businesses from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
American made wireless home media player
When we set out to highlight American-made products, services and jobs this week, we never thought Google would be among companies making the list. Yet today’s New York Times reports that the tech giant is creating its latest hot item, the Nexus Q wireless home media player, in the United States.
The Nexus Q, which links a TV or home sound system to the Internet cloud to play video and audio content, contains almost all American-made parts. The engineers who led the effort to build the device, which is based on the same microprocessor used in Android smartphones and contains seven printed circuit boards, found the maker of the zinc metal base in the Midwest and a supplier for the molded plastic components in Southern California.
Rather than a one-off, Google’s move may start a trend. From the Times:
…the project will be closely watched by other electronics companies.
As the Times notes, “it has become accepted wisdom that consumer electronics products can no longer be made in the United States.” But now:
The companies who are investing in technology in the U.S.A. are more nimble and agile,” said Drew Greenblatt, president and owner of Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore, which continues to manufacture in the United States by relying on automation technologies. “Parts are made quicker, and the quality is better.”
So how many U.S. jobs does Google's move mean?
The company declined to say how many people were employed at the plant, which can run as many as three shifts each day. However, during a brief tour, made with the understanding that the exact location would not be disclosed, it was clear that hundreds of workers were involved in making the Q.