Teamsters Call for Defeat of Fast Track and TPP

by James P. Hoffa

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[Ed. note:  Leaders of the U.S. labor movement are unanimously opposed to the passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Along with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and CWA President Larry Cohen, IBT General President James Hoffa has been a vocal critic of anti-worker “trade legislation.”  Even though even a united labor movement by itself may not be able to prevail against the unholy alliance of President Obama, the mainstream Republican and Democratic party leaderships, and the Business Roundtable and America Chamber of Commerce, a large and diverse coalition of progressive political movements, citizens’ action, religious and environmental groups has been mobilizing alongside organize labor to oppose Fast Track and the TPP]

The 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has for years been shrouded in mystery. But last night, WikiLeaks gave U.S. workers a real gift when it pulled back the curtain on a portion of the proposed trade deal that shows what a boondoggle the agreement would be for big business.

Language included in the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) chapter of the TPP would grant new rights to companies to challenge limitations and exceptions to copyrights, patents and other intellectual property. That means corporations could sue the U.S. or other countries included in the deal if they didn’t like their laws. Such challenges would be handled by an unaccountable international arbitration forum. And taxpayers would end up paying the tab if the private sector wins.

Companies are already challenging governments around the globe when they feel elected officials are holding down their profit margins. Tobacco giant Philip Morris, for instance, is currently appealing Uruguay’s regulation of advertising on cigarette packages because it believes the nation’s rules are tamping down on sales in that South American country. But the TPP language would make it worse.

Trade experts agree the ISDS provisions would be very bad news for the public. “With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that would undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

An analysis of the ISDS text by Public Citizen shows, among other things:

  • Foreign investors would be allowed to challenge new policies that apply to both domestic and international corporations on the grounds that they undermine foreign investors’ “expectations” of how they should be treated.
  • The amount that an ISDS tribunal would order a government to pay to a foreign investor as compensation would be based on the “expected future profits.”
  • There are no new safeguards that limit ISDS tribunals’ discretion to create even broader interpretations of governments’ obligations to foreign investors and order compensation on that basis.

In short, the ISDS language shows that based on this TPP chapter alone, the average worker is going to get screwed. The provisions will give corporations the ability to do an end-around on U.S. laws they don’t like. How is that fair? What about the rights of the American people? What about democracy?

Mind you, this doesn’t even address how Americans will be hammered by the other 28 chapters included in this Pacific Rim trade deal. But we already know they will. We’ve seen what NAFTA has done; we’ve seen what the recent U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement has done. Those two deals together have led to more than a million lost U.S. jobs.

Previous leaks have also let us know that lower wages, unsafe food and products, lessened environmental standards and reduced access to affordable medicines will result if the TPP becomes a reality. It’s why the Teamsters and our numerous allies have taken a stand against this terrible trade agreement. And it’s why we can’t let up now.

Want to stop this from happening? Let your members of Congress know you oppose fast-track trade authority. Forcing Capitol Hill to debate this agreement in the open on its merits is the only way hard-working Americans will be able to get a full picture of what the TPP will do. And it’s the best opportunity we have to halt TPP in its tracks.

James P, Hoffa is General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  His statement is reblogged from the Huffington Post with the permission of the IBT.

Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and Why Unions are Needed

by Duane E. Campbell

On March 31, 2015, Eleven states and numerous cities will hold holidays celebrating labor and Latino leader Cesar Chavez. ChavezConferences, marches and celebrations will occur in numerous cities and particularly in rural areas of the nation. A recent film Cesar Chavez: An American Hero, starring Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta presents important parts of this union story.

The current UFW leadership, as well as former UFW leaders and current DSA Honorary Chairs Eliseo Medina and Dolores Huerta are recognized leaders in the ongoing efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform in the nation.

ArturoUFW President Arturo Rodriquez says, “We urge Republicans to abandon their political games that hurt millions of hard-working, taxpaying immigrants and their families, and help us finish the job by passing legislation such as the comprehensive reform bill that was approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote in June 2013,” Rodriguez said.  Similar compromise proposals, negotiated by the UFW and the nation’s major agricultural employer associations, have passed the U.S. Senate multiple times over the last decade. The same proposal has won majority support in the House of Representatives, even though House GOP leaders have refused to permit a vote on the measure. “The UFW will not rest until the President’s deferred relief is enacted and a permanent immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, is signed into law.” www.UFW.org Continue reading

A Smart Strategy to Defeat ‘Right to Work’

by Rand Wilson

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Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. “Just Cause for All” campaigns should be part of the strategy. Photo: Glenn Schmidt.

Wisconsin is now the 25th state to adopt a so-called “right-to-work” law, which allows workers to benefit from collective bargaining without having to pay for it.

It joins Michigan and Indiana, which both adopted right to work in 2012. Similar initiatives, or variants, are spreading to Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia—and the National Right to Work Committee and the American Legislative Exchange Council probably have a well-developed list of additional targets.

Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. To defeat it, the first step is committing to fight back, rather than resigning ourselves to what some say is inevitable.

Everyone’s Interests

We’ll have to go beyond what we’ve mostly been saying so far, which is that right to work is “unfair” or “wrong.”

That argument certainly works for most union households and many of our community allies. But the real challenge is to convince a much broader public that a strong (and fairly-funded) labor movement is in their interest and worth preserving. Clearly most Americans aren’t yet convinced.

Many unions over the last few years have undertaken important campaigns along these lines. For example, teachers unions have positioned themselves as defenders of quality public education. Refinery workers have struck for public safety.

Nurses and health care unions have fought for safe staffing to improve the quality of care. And most notably, the Service Employees (SEIU) and others have waged the “Fight for $15” for fast food and other low-wage workers.

In its own way, each union is working hard to be a champion of the entire working class. Yet with the exception of SEIU’s Fight for $15, each is essentially focused on the issues of its core constituency at work. This still limits the public’s perception of labor.

Supporters of right to work cynically play on the resentment many workers feel about their declining standard of living. Absent a union contract, the vast majority have few, if any, ways to address it. To most, organizing looks impossible and politics looks broken.

Workers’ understandable frustration is fertile ground for the far right, which promises to improve the business climate and create more jobs by stripping union members of their power.

Thus, when we anticipate right to work’s next targets, the best defense should be a good offense—one that clearly positions labor as a force for the good of all workers.

‘Just Cause for All’

Here’s one approach that would put labor on the offensive: an initiative for a new law providing all workers with due process rights to challenge unjust discipline and discharge, “Just Cause for All.”

Such a law would take aim at the “at-will” employment standard covering most non-union workers in the U.S. At-will employees can be fired for any reason and at any time—without just cause.

While such a major expansion of workers’ rights as Just Cause for All would be unlikely to pass in most state legislatures—Montana did it in 1987, but it’s still the only one—it could become law in states that allow ballot initiatives.

A well-orchestrated attack on the at-will employment standard would force the extreme, anti-worker, and big business interests who back right to work to respond. If nothing else, imagine how competing initiatives would force a debate. On one side, extending due process protections and increased job security to all workers: a real right-to-work bill. On the other side, taking away fair share contributions for collective bargaining.

This strategy isn’t untested. When the Coors beer dynasty backed a right-to-work ballot initiative in Colorado in 2008, labor collected signatures for a counter-initiative, “Allowable Reasons for Employee Discharge or Suspension,” which would have overturned at-will employment. (Labor also supported a proposal that would have provided affordable health insurance to all employees and a measure to allow workers injured on the job to sue for damages in state courts.)

Fearing that the just cause proposal might pass, centrist business people offered a deal. In exchange for labor withdrawing its proposal, they provided financial support and manpower that helped labor defeat right to work in Colorado. (For more on this story, read “The 2008 Defeat of Right to Work in Colorado: Is it the End of Section 14(b)?” Raymond L. Hogler, Labor Law Journal, Spring 2009.)

While it’s unfortunate that the labor initiative didn’t go before Colorado voters, the result was still encouraging—and instructive. By championing the interests of all workers, labor split business and blunted the right-to-work effort.

To win back “fair-share” participation in the three new right-to-work states and stop further attacks, we’ll need well-planned campaigns that include grassroots mobilization, direct action, paid and earned media, and focused electoral work.

Just Cause for All campaigns should be part of the strategy. Even if we lose, campaigns for due process and job security for all will help shift the debate on right to work, leave the labor movement stronger—and make labor and its allies once again the champions of the “99%.”

Rand Wilson is policy and communications director at SEIU Local 888 in Boston.  This Viewpoint is reposted from Labor Notes with permission of the author.

Striking Oil Workers Emerge Victorious Thanks in Part to Green Group Solidarity

by Kate Aronoff

Due, in part, to the environmental concerns posed by unsafe refineries, strikers quickly gained the support of green groups. (Photo: USW Oil Workers)

Yesterday afternoon, the United Steelworkers reached a tentative contract agreement with negotiators from Shell Oil Co., which has represented Chevron, ExxonMobil and other oil companies affected by the union’s now nearly six-week strike. Even as the strike continues in many workplaces, yesterday’s victory is the hard-won result of careful organizing and some promising collaboration.

Beginning on February 1 — after a particularly contentious round of negotiations — an estimated 3,800 workers kicked off a strike action across nine refineries in Texas, California, Kentucky and Washington. As of Thursday’s truce, the strike had grown to include 7,000 workers across 15 refineries, petrochemical and cogeneration plants, including the nation’s largest refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. In total, the United Steelworkers, or USW, represents 30,000 members, and holds leverage over an impressive 64 percent of the United States’ refining capacity.

United Steelworkers’ spokeswoman Lynne Hancock says that she hopes the past several weeks’ events will serve as a sign to oil companies “that we are serious when we bring up issues … that they come from the membership.”

Although the oil workers brought demands around wages and benefits, union negotiators’ central demands were for safer working conditions and a scale-back in companies’ hiring of non-union, often temporary workers. Chiefly, Hancock said, health and safety concerns were “key in this round of bargaining.” Long hours, scant safety regulations and lax training requirements — the oil workers argued — have contributed to workplace environments harmful to not only employees, but the communities surrounding the plants and refineries where they work.

While the four-year contract — covering wages, benefits, working conditions, and health and safety measures — received unanimous support from the rank-and-file National Oil Bargaining Policy Committee, the end of the strike remains contingent on plant locals’ negotiations with management over “local concerns,” such as seniority and vacation time. Because the national agreement has yet to be approved by either USW locals or international leadership, the union is not yet discussing the details of the pending contract. Hancock, however, said that she does not “anticipate there being any problems with it getting ratified at local union bargaining tables.”

A press release by the USW yesterday stated that the proposed contract includes “calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility,” as well as “daily maintenance and repair work in the plants,” yearly wage increases, a joint review of plant staffing needs, and an agreement that hiring plans be developed “in conjunction with recruitment and training programs.” Negotiators had rejected seven previous contract proposals from Shell before Thursday’s agreement.

In addition to the strike, workers took part in an ongoing series of rallies and guerrilla film screenings at refineries and corporate headquarters. One delegation of workers traveled to Europe to garner international support for their actions; alongside the British union UNITE and Divest London, oil workers demonstrated outside a speech by Shell CEO Ben van Buerden in the British capital. USW Local 675 in Torrance, Calif., took a particularly creative route, delivering a pile of horse manure to ExxonMobil offices in response to the company’s failure to respond to inquiries about the health impacts of a mid-February refinery explosion that left four workers injured.

Due, in part, to the environmental concerns posed by unsafe refineries, strikers quickly gained the support of green groups, including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Sierra Club and Communities for a Better Environment in the Bay Area, which walked the picket line with workers at a Tesoro refinery in Martinez, Calif. Joe Uehlein, a long-time unionist and executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, urged fellow environmentalists to support USW workers in a statement released at the strike’s onset.

“As we work to protect the earth from climate change,” he said, “it is particularly important that we advocate for the needs of workers in fossil fuel industries whose well-being must not be sacrificed to the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Hancock echoed this sentiment, noting, “The workers are like canaries in the mine … They can see what’s going on and what happens before something tragic happens.” She also saw environmental groups’ support as a major boon to the strike. “It is encouraging to other unions to see that working with environmental groups helps you in your bargaining strength and in improving the work situation for the workers,” Hancock told me. Notably, the United Steelworkers were a founding member of the Blue Green Alliance, which seeks to unite “America’s largest labor unions and its most influential environmental organizations,” according to the group’s website.

The fight for the United Steelworkers is far from over, but the last six weeks have proven a galvanizing force for the union’s membership. Just coming off conference calls with locals around the country, Hancock observed “a lot of energy [among workers], and the motivation to stay involved and support the locals that are still having trouble on local issues.”

As collective bargaining comes under fresh attack by Republicans in Illinois and Wisconsin, the oil workers’ victory this week might be one of the month’s most hopeful headlines — especially with regards to organized labor. Amid dropping oil prices and divestment campaigners, fossil fuel companies, now more than ever, are on the defensive. Given thenot-so-secret ties between fossil fuel magnates and the GOP, ties between unions and green groups built during the strike could well have just bolstered the foundation for one of history’s most powerful — and necessary — alliances.

Kate Aronoff is a History major at Swarthmore College active in the climate justice movement, including Swarthmore Mountain Justice‘s campaign to divest the college’s endowment from fossil fuels. She currently serves as a Board Member for the Responsible Endowments Coalition. Find her on Twitter @KateAronoff.

China’s “factory girls” have grown up—and are going on strike

Originally posted on Quartz:

GUANGZHOU, China—Yang Liyan, a 30-year-old migrant worker, says she has cried twice in the past year. Once was when she was having her first meal in jail, and again after she was released and talking to her co-workers about her ordeal over dinner.

Yang was waiting for a scheduled meeting with the management of the Xinsheng Shoe Factory in the industrial metropolis of Guangzhou on Nov. 3, 2014, when she was thrown into the back of a police van. A total of 14 workers, including Yang and several other women, had gathered on behalf of 114 co-workers to fight for the severance pay they said they were owed after a three-month strike. They were arrested for “sabotaging production and business operations” (破坏生产经营), and in Yang’s case, jailed for 25 days.

When the police asked her to sign her name on paperwork calling her a suspect, Yang said she refused: “I’m…

View original 1,495 more words

Support the USW Strikers !

We support the USW unfair labor practices strike against big oil companies

Petition by James P. Thompson

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/we-support-the-usw-strike?source=mo&id=109686-22927824-YUOthAx

To be delivered to Ben van Beurden, CEO, Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company

We support the unfair labor practice strike by steelworkers at the refineries in Texas City, Texas, and across the country. Their struggle is the struggle of working people in this country and around the world. We all want safe refineries and safe communities.

Editor note: STEELWORKERS AND ROYAL DUTCH SHELL COME TO TENTATIVE AGREEMENT: The United Steelworkers and Royal Dutch Shell reached a tentative four-year contract that includes wage increases and “improvement” on worker safety issues like fatigue and refinery maintenance.

We don’t want any more workers to die. That’s why the United Steelworkers union is taking on the richest, most powerful industry in the world by fighting to secure a fair contract that will protect the health and safety of workers and communities. The oil industry’s greed and bad-faith bargaining have stalled efforts to improve conditions in its workplaces. The industry has refused to address serious health and safety issues that have already killed thousands of workers over the years.

We support the efforts of the USW union to improve the working conditions of the striking refinery workers. Jobs in refineries are dangerous and require a high level of skill. As we know from the BP disaster, mistakes can cause catastrophes for the surrounding communities and the environment.

These workers deserve to be treated fairly. Failure to bargain fairly in these negotiations will only reflect the oil industry’s lack of regard for the workers and the communities in which its enterprises are located.

Scott Walker Signs Right to Break Unions Law

by Laura Clawson

Surprising no one, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an anti-union law Monday that, during his re-election campaign, he’d repeatedly said he wasn’t interested in passing:
In his gubernatorial re-election bid last fall, Walker also downplayed the possibility of such a measure passing.
Walker said in September he was “not supporting it in this (2015) session.”

“We’re not going to do anything with right-to-work,” Walker told The New York Times in October.

Fitzgerald announced he would be introducing the legislation on Feb. 20 and Walker said he would sign it that same day. Continue reading

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