Are Unions An ‘Us’ Or A ‘Them’?

Divide and conquer works. When you face a strong enemy it’s always a good strategy to find ways to break them apart into smaller units that can be fought separately. A state initiative to gut California’s public-employee pension and healthcare benefits is trying to do just that.

A well-funded campaign is underway (again) to take advantage of the state’s constitutional amendment initiative process, this time to place a proposition called the “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016” on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would require that voters approve any pension and health benefits in contracts for new teachers, nurses, police and other government employees as well as any pension enhancements for existing employees.

This initiative follows a pattern well-known to California public-interest advocates. Ballot initiatives must receive 585,407 signatures to qualify, and corporate/billionaire-funded initiatives hire paid signature gatherers to get this done. Then they launch a well-funded, deceit-filled campaign to scare voters.

Similar anti-pension campaign have been, are and will be underway in states and municipalities across the country.

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Unions Are A Big Part Making The Economy Work For The 99 Percent

A Friday panel at Netroots Nation in Phoenix, “Unions as the Answer to the Defining Issue of our Time,” made the point that empowering unions is about more than just the workers having a path to the middle class; it is about strengthening the entire economy.

The panel was moderated by Seema Nanda, deputy chief of staff to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. On the panel were Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Frank Piccioli, President of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2960 with the City of Phoenix and Arizona EMS Workers United; Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, and Naomi Walker, who serves as an assistant to the president of AFSCME.

The panel’s description set the stage:

It’s no accident that corporate-backed politicians have been on the attack against unions. They know what we have known for a long time: joining a union is one of the best ways to un-rig the system and level the playing field for all workers. After decades of these attacks, wages are dropping, inequality is rising – and women, communities of color, and the millennial generation still face especially steep hurdles in today’s economy. The system is rigged. This panel will explore what the labor movement is doing to reverse these trends and what challenges lie ahead. There’s no doubt that strong unions are a key part of the solution to income inequality, the only question is how workers will organize a winning movement in the face of corporate-funded attacks.

Neera Tanden described how all income gains in the economy have been going to the top. One third of the stagnation and decline in wages in men is due to the decline of unions – down to 11 percent of the total workforce and less than 7 percent of the private-sector workforce. This is a challenge for the economy writ large, a challenge for families, people struggling with stagnant wages and rising costs. Other countries have figured this out. Unionization rates of up to 40 percent in countries like Canada and Australia allow people to have wage gains. In hard times, not just workers bear all the risk.

Grijalva said that with the decline of unions comes a decline in income, wages, working conditions and the overall political landscape. We see rising income inequality, wage disparity, and a continuing widening of that disparity. The decline is not the result of attrition; it has been a deliberate, long-run effort by corporate America and in some instances government to strip away the ability of unions to organize. As they began to strip it away, power shifted to ownership, to corporate America. Now we see the effect.

The Progressive Caucus and allies in the labor movement have begun to draw symbolic but important lines around raising wages and the push for executive orders to stop wage theft and encourage collective bargaining.

But the central thing, these symbolic victories set a tone, then when workers get opportunity, gains are made. There is work in the federal area with executive orders, but passing legislation in Congress now that is pro-union is near to impossible.

Corporations should be rewarded for how they pay employees, keep jobs in the nation, don’t send profits overseas. We need a corporate responsibility agenda.

Naomi Walker said that we need unions in order to solve structural problems in our economy. The people who benefit from rigged systems, the corporations, are fighting unions because labor unions provide a counterbalance. That’s why they are trying so hard to eliminate unions and collective bargaining. The public sector has been able to maintain a decent level of representation, so that’s why they are going after public sector workers and unions.

Frank Piccioli represents Phoenix city employees. We need unions to protect the middle class, he said, so workers who sacrifice, work very head, can share gains. And these gains extend to their families.

When Piccioli was a kid, his father was a New York City firefighter. One day, his father was driving on a bridge when he saw a car on fire. He got out of his car and pulled two people out of the burning vehicle. When he went to get the third, the car exploded and he was injured. The city tried to deny him benefits because he was off duty and not wearing his protective gear. The only venue through which he could appeal that decision was through the union. Everyone who works hard deserves basic benefits, to know they are protected.

Naomi Walker said that unions provided a path to the middle class for women and people of color. The current right-wing trashing of government is code for women and people of color filling government jobs and clients for services government workers provide. People of color workers and women lost wages at higher rates after recession as result of these right-wing attacks.

Tanden pointed out that the clearest thing we can do for the economy is strengthen unions, give people power to bargain for higher wages. Unions are the way in which workers have been able to address the things that are driving wages down.

Our economy is 70 percent consumption. When unions are weakened, wages lag, consumption drags, so growth drags. Unions do not kill jobs; they create jobs and drive the economy.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Will TPP Kill The Post Office?

Corporations are notorious for sneaking things into laws and regulations before the public can find out and rally to stop it. And we know from the conservative Supreme Court arguments against the Affordable Care Act that even what amounts to a typo can be used to change the obvious meaning and intent of a law.

These are reasons we need to see the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership before Congress votes to preapprove it with fast track trade promotion authority (TPA). They are pushing what is literally a pig in a poke on us. We the People need to open that bag and have a good, long look inside before fast track buys the TPP pig in our name.

Negotiated in secret by corporate representatives, it is probable that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is loaded with things the big corporations have snuck in. We already know from leaks that TPP contains provisions allowing companies to sue our government in “corporate courts” if they feel a law or regulation is cutting into their profits. What else is in there?

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Foreign Companies Use Trade Agreements To Attack US Law. I’m Not Making This Up.

President Obama says progressives who warn that trade laws let corporations overrule U.S. law are “making this stuff up.” Two attacks on U.S. laws and regulations are underway right now, illustrating how the “corporate courts” provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would open our country up to attacks from foreign corporations.

“They’re making this stuff up.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, legal scholars and others have been sounding the alarm about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that have leaked to the public from the secret TPP negotiations. They are warning that the ISDS provisions, as the New York Times put it, “would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment ‘expectations’ and hurt their business, according to a classified document.”

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Obama’s Anti-Populist Attack On Warren On Trade

As the Senate begins consideration today of the “fast track” trade promotion authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama says that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is expressing concerns because she is “a politician.”

The president’s statement demeaning what Warren (D-Mass.) is saying as just what politicians say makes it seem that he thinks that listening to constituents and doing that they want (a.k.a. “representative democracy”) is a bad thing. But Warren and almost every other Democrat have come to understand that trade agreements that send American jobs out of the country – and the fast track process that is used to push them through – have become core issues that could trigger severe public reaction. This Fast Track vote is politically the third-rail equivalent of the 2002 vote to authorize Bush to invade Iraq.

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Senate Fast Track Vote Tuesday – Where Is Clinton?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled the voting process for trade promotion authority, commonly known as “fast track,” to begin as early as Tuesday. If passed, fast track prohibits the Congress from amending trade agreements no matter what problems might show up, requires these agreements to be voted on within 90 days, limits the debate Congress is allowed and prohibits filibusters.

Passing fast track will essentially pre-approve the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement before the public gets a chance to know what is in it, as well as future trade deals regardless of who is president or what the rigged, corporate-dominated negotiating process produces.

With a vote coming as soon as Tuesday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has not yet spoken out for or against fast track.

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Obama To Visit Nike To Promote TPP. Wait, NIKE? Really?

President Obama is scheduled to visit Nike’s Oregon headquarters on Friday to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yes, Nike – a company that grew to billions by outsourcing jobs to overseas sweatshops, a company that sets up P.O.-box subsidiaries in tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes, a company that uses threats to extort tax breaks from its “home” state.

Phil Knight, head of Nike, is now worth $23 billion because America’s trade policies encourage companies like Nike to create and move jobs outside of the U.S. The 23rd-richest American is one more symbol of the kind of inequality that results from outsourcing enabled and encouraged by these trade policies. Workers here lose (or never get) jobs; workers there are paid squat; a few people become vastly, unimaginably wealthy.

Meanwhile Massachusetts-based New Balance struggles to manufacture its athletic footwear in the U.S. TPP will remove tariffs on imported Vietnamese and Malaysian shoes, benefiting Nike and wiping out New Balance’s efforts to maintain its manufacturing here.

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Trade Deficit = Slower Economy = Fewer Jobs = Baltimore

Free Trade at Last, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil BendibKhalil Bendib/OtherWords

If you make things and sell them, you do better over time than if you borrow to buy things. If you send jobs and factories out of the country, you end up with devastated cities like Baltimore.

Sure, a few people get rich from that, but 99 percent of us get poorer. How hard is it to see that?

You may have heard that gross domestic product growth was dismal in the last quarter. You may have heard that there were riots in Baltimore. You may not have heard that these are both at least partly caused by our enormous, humongous and continuing trade deficit.

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Death To Pensions – Video

From AFSCME:

ENRON BILLIONAIRE ARNOLD HAS A PROBLEM WITH LIBRARIANS’ PENSIONS
Former Enron trader and hedge fund billionaire John Arnold is launching a multimillion dollar national PR campaign attacking the hard-earned pensions of public sector workers. Arnold has already quietly poured tens of millions of dollars into his efforts to persuade politicians to reduce middle class retirement security and now it looks like he may really just be getting started.

How TPP Increases Corporate Power vs. Government – And Us

Power is the ability to control, to tell what to do, to get your way. Corporations have a lot of power over working people in our country now, and they might be about to get a lot more.

The proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) tell us that it will have unprecedented “progressive” protections for the rights of working people, the environment, even wildlife. So there is likely to be flowery-sounding language in TPP, just as President Obama says.

What matters is whether there will be clear and guaranteed enforceability of those words.

Enforcement Matters

Rules are great; enforcement is greater. Without enforcement, a rule may as well not exist – especially when everyone knows there is not enforcement.

We see rules with no enforcement all around us. Here’s an obvious example. Right now several obvious presidential candidates say they aren’t candidates so they can get around rules about contribution limits to their campaigns and coordination with super PACs. The Federal Election Commission is not enforcing the rules that say candidates can’t do this. These candidates know there is no enforcement and thus continue to violate the rules.

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A Look At The Fast Track Bill Shows It’s The Wrong Thing To Do

The “fast track” trade promotion authority bill has been introduced in the Senate. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to … regulate commerce with foreign nations.” But under fast track, Congress relinquishes that power and agrees to pass trade bills brought to them by the executive branch in a very short time frame with little debate and without making any changes should any problems present themselves.

Though it was announced that this year’s fast track bill was the result of a “deal” between Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) the 2015 bill is nearly identical to the 2014 bill that died in Congress without support for a vote. See this side-by-side comparison from Rep. Sander Levin of the House Ways and Means Committee. It is unclear from this comparison why the “negotiations” between Hatch and Wyden took so long, and what Wyden got that enabled him to put his name on it, enabling the bill to be sold as “bipartisan.”

Fast Track Sets Aside Normal Procedure

Congress does not set aside normal procedure, debate, the ability to fix problems that turn up and agree to vote within 90 days except for trade agreements – even though trade agreements have now proven to have such a tremendous and often detrimental effect on our economy, jobs, wages and inequality. Where did the idea to do this come from? According to Public Citizen, this unusual procedure was “initially created by President Richard Nixon to get around public debate and congressional oversight.”

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The Fast Track Fight Begins In The Senate

The final fight to stop fast track begins this week. The new trade promotion authority (“fast track”) bill could be released in the Senate at any moment. (It might be out by the time you read this.)

Hatch and Wyden Poised to Introduce Bill

With literally zero reporting from the national TV networks and a virtual news blackout at most newspapers around the country, at least Politico sets the stage for insiders in their report, “Trade fight looms as Congress returns“:

Senate Finance Committee leaders Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden appear poised to introduce a “fast track” trade promotion authority bill along with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. But months of closed-door negotiations were continuing on Friday, congressional aides said.

The power, largely embraced by Republicans, pits many congressional Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and potentially Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting Charles Schumer, against the White House.

The measure would allow President Barack Obama to submit free trade agreements to Congress for straight up or down votes without any amendments. It’s seen as key to completing his signature 12-country trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.

Fast track is, in essence, congressional pre-approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. With fast track Congress agrees to give up its much of constitutional duty to define negotiating objectives, carefully deliberate and debate, and fix problems that might turn up. With fast track rendering Congress unable to fix flaws, even if any problems do turn up that might seriously hurt the country or our economy, a vote on the trade agreement will occur under the enormous pressure of the media blasting, “surely they won’t just kill the whole thing over a few problems.”

The idea is that allowing Congress (democratic government) to “meddle” will get in the way and keep other (non-democratic) countries from “making their best offers.” Congress is considering this pre-approval of TPP and future trade agreements even though the national news media is not reporting on fast track or TPP, and Congress and the public haven’t yet even seen the agreement (never mind had time to analyze it and consider its ramifications).

Week Of Action

The AFL-CIO is organizing a “Week of Action Against Fast Tracking Trade Deals.”

On Wednesday at 11 am in Washington D.C.’s Upper Senate Park, more than 600 union members will rally at an event organized by the United Steelworkers (USW) on Capitol Hill. The rally will feature Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), USW President Leo Gerard, AFL-CIO Executive VP Tefere Gebre, AFGE President J. David Cox, National Association of Letter Carriers President Fred Rolando, American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, and Sierra Club National Campaign Director Debbie Sease.

On Saturday, the AFL-CIO and its member unions are organizing over 50 events throughout the country in conjunction with hundreds of events planned as part of the global day of action in over a dozen countries.

Click here to find an event or to organize an event.

A Monday story in The Hill, “Labor unions ramp up opposition to Obama trade agenda,” has more on the Week of Action:

Lawmakers, labor union leaders and their members will hold a rally Wednesday on Capitol Hill and follow that up with 50 grassroots events around the country and in more than a dozen countries on Saturday as part of the weeklong effort. …

The efforts include letter-writing campaigns, phone calls, petitions and door-knocks.

Meanwhile CREDO and other organizations are petitioning to ask presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to lead the opposition to fast track and TPP.

Don’t Trade Our Future Demonstration April 20

There will also be a “Don’t Trade Our Future” demonstration on April 20, the final day of the Populism2015 Conference in Washington, which is sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), National People’s Action (NPA), USAction and the Alliance for a Just Society. People will assemble at 11:30 a.m. at AFL-CIO headquarters at 815 16th Street NW, and will march first to the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and then to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. They are urging Congress to vote down fast track.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), columnist Jim Hightower and Communication Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen will address the demonstration.

Public Against More Job-Killing Trade Agreements

As the fast track fight enters the Congress, polls show that politicians will take a great risk by voting for fast track or TPP legislation. For example, one recent poll shows one senator’s vote for fast track could bring a primary opponent. The Huffington Post reported in February in, “Secretive Trade Deal Could Pose Problems At Home For Ron Wyden,”

“Half of the Oregon voters polled said they would be less likely to vote for Wyden in 2016 if he joins Republicans to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal between the United States and countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as fast-track authority, which Obama is seeking in order to get TPP and other trade deals through Congress without amendments or filibusters.”

Other polling shows that public sentiment against trade deals and fast track is strong. One poll in January 2014 shows the breadth of public opposition,

By more than two to one, voters say they oppose (62%) rather than favor passage of fast-track negotiating authority for the TPP deal. Among those with a strong opinion, the ratio climbs to more than three to one (43% strongly opposed, just 12% strongly favorable). Demographically, opposition is very broad, with no more than one-third of voters in any region of the country or in any age cohort favoring fast track. Sixty percent (60%) of voters with household incomes under $50,000 oppose fast track, as do 65% of those with incomes over $100,000.

… Republicans overwhelmingly oppose giving fast-track authority to the president (8% in favor, 87% opposed), as do independents (20%-66%), while a narrow majority (52%) of Democrats are in favor (35% opposed).

People believe our trade agreements destroy jobs and lower wages. In a September 2014 Pew Poll, Americans say “trade” generally is good, but only 20 percent say it creates jobs while 50 percent say it destroys jobs, and 17 percent say it raises wages while 45 percent say it lowers wages.

This can have election consequences. In an April 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll a plurality of Americans said they would support “a candidate who says that free trade with other countries will mainly be negative for America because it will cause the loss of U.S. jobs to other countries, which will hurt wages and jobs here.”

Resources

So it appears that the battle will be in the Senate this week. Here are some resources to visit.

The Stop Fast Track coalition website, stopfasttrack.org.

Expose the TPP.

Flush the TPP!

Stop TPP.

CWA’s TPP info.

10 Ways the TPP Would Hurt U.S. Working Families

Global Trade Watch.

Eyes on Trade and 50 Reasons We Cannot Afford the TPP.

Real Progressive Coalition for American Jobs. (“Every U.S. labor union and almost 600 environmental, consumer, faith, family farm, civil rights, seniors, LGBT and other civil society organizations opposed Fast Track. This is the REAL Progressive Coalition for American Jobs.”)

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.