April 25, 2013 War on Workers News

Teamsters fight worker misclassification in NY

Teamster Nation
New York Teamsters are going all out to support legislation that will crack down on non-union cheats like FedEx Ground that  misclassify their workers as independent contractors.

Companies in New York and across the country save millions of dollars a year by avoiding their responsibilities to paying into workers’ compensation and unemployment funds.

During a Teamster advocacy day in Albany last week, our brothers and sisters met with state lawmakers to urge them to back SB 4589 and AB 5237, two identical bills introduced earlier this year in both chambers of the state Legislature. The measures would prevent the misclassification of commercial goods transportation services employees and bring added protections to thousands of workers statewide. A legislative memo detailing AB 5237 explains the size of the problem …
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Hundreds of Chicago fast-food, retail workers strike today

Teamster Nation
Today Chicago became the second city to experience a massive one-day strike by low-wage fast-food and retail workers who want better pay and a union.

Color Lines reports:

The walk-out is part of an accelerating trend of labor actions by low-wage, non-union workers at some of the country’s largest corporate chains stores and restaurants.

The Fight for 15 campaign, named for its target wage hike, has been organizing workers for months to pull off today’s strike. Organizers expect employees of downtown Chicago chains including McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Sears and Victoria’s Secret to join the action.

The Chicago strike comes on the heels the recent Black Friday Walmart worker actions and several similar walk-outs by New York City fast food workers in November and again earlier this month. Fast food and retail workers are often paid the minimum wage—$8.25 in Illinois—and many say their employers refuse to schedule them for enough hours.

“At the end of the day, it feels like I’ve done all of this to help everyone else, to help the store, help the managers, help the customers, but it doesn’t feel like anyone is looking out for me.” Macy’s employee Krystal Maxie-Collins told Josh Eidelson of Salon, who broke news of the strike last night. Eidelson writes:

Maxie-Collins, a mother of four who works part-time for the state minimum wage of $8.25 plus a commission, said she had initially been hesitant about the strike because of the risk of retaliation. But “what we are fighting for, the reason for doing it, kind of overrode the fear of doing it.” “Usually the things that are worth it,” she added, “you have to sacrifice for.”

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How Corporations Use Offshore Havens to Avoid Paying Their Taxes

AFL-CIO Now
Current laws in the United States allow corporations to use offshore havens to avoid paying their taxes and, if it’s up to many in Washington, the problem will only grow larger, particularly if the so-called “territorial” tax system is passed. The details of the use of such tax havens were discussed in a conference call with Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ).

Current tax laws encourage the offshoring of America’s jobs, manufacturing and profit centers, which has led to the hollowing out of the middle class, manufacturing and much of the country, according to Dave Johnson of CAF. Changes in the tax code in recent decades have led to a series of dangerous statistics for America’s working families:

  • Corporate tax revenues as a share of GDP are at near historically low levels.
  • In 2009, the U.S. share of GDP made up of corporate tax revenues was only 1.7%.
  • The top corporate tax rate in 1970 was 52.8%, now it is 35% (although the effective rate is much lower).
  • The United States has the third-lowest effective corporate tax burden in the world.
  • Corporate taxation as a share of total tax revenue was 26.4% in 1950 and was down to 7.4% in 2010.
  • Personal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes were 51.4% of total tax revenue in 1950, now they are up to 83.4%.

Congress is now proposing lowering corporate taxes even more and even, possibly, eliminating taxes on earnings reported as having been earned outside the country.
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Rock ‘n roll Teamster brothers star in hit TV show, ‘The Voice’

Teamster Nation

Colton and Zach Swon, known as “The Swon Brothers” on NBC’s hit series “The Voice,” recognize that their success didn’t happen without help.

“No matter how great you are, without friends it doesn’t work,” said Zach Swon, 28, in a recent interview. The Swon Brothers should know about teamwork.

Their father, Kelly Swon, is the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 516 in Muscogee, Okla. Teamsters there are already supporting the Swon Brothers in the competition, but they need your support if they’re going to win.

“The Voice” is a singing competition/reality show that airs on Monday and Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. (EST) on NBC. It’s one of the most-watched shows on television, but the Swon Brothers need your help in spreading the word that they’re not only talented singers—they’re also the children of a Teamster principal officer who drove a UPS truck in Oklahoma for 25 years.
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NPR Picks Up Report on Texas’ Underground Construction Economy Where $4/Hour Is Commonplace

We Party Patriots
In Texas, construction is a $54 billion industry that employs one in every 13 workers. Though thriving on the surface, Texas construction workers face increasingly dangerous conditions and are frequently improperly paid.  Of the more than one million construction workers in the state, nearly half are undocumented and employee misclassification is commonplace.  But with the assistance of groups like the Workers Defense Project (WDP) , many of these undocumented workers have a new voice against the employers that exploit them.

Cristina Tzintzun, Executive Director of the workers’ rights group recently told NPR that “Ninety percent of the people who come to our organization have come because they’ve been robbed of their wages.”

We touched on a vital February report put together by WDP and other organizations including the Texas Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) that outlines the conditions Texas construction workers face.  Wages of as little as $4 an hour, substandard safety conditions and unchecked misclassification that leaves the government on the hook for dubious employer behavior are the norm.
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Washington State May Push Workers Into Health Exchanges, Costing U.S. Government Millions

Huffington Post
In a quest to save money, political leaders in Washington state are exploring a proposal that would shift some government workers out of their current health plans and onto the insurance exchange developed under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Lawmakers believe the change, which could affect thousands of part-time state employees and education workers, would save the state $120 million over the next two years. It would consequently push more health care costs onto the federal government because many of the low-income workers would likely qualify for federal subsidies.

Washington state appears to be the first major government to seriously explore the possibility of pushing public employees into the exchange, but it probably won’t be the last. Rick Johnson, who advises state and local governments on health care policy at the New York-based consulting firm Segal Company, said he expects it will be an option some state and local governments will explore in the years to come.
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Unions protest awards for GOP lawmakers who passed right-to-work

Lansing State Journal
A building trades group’s effort to recognize two Republican lawmakers for helping to enact right-to-work legsislation sparked a protest Wednesday outside a hotel.

About 75 union workers rallied outside the Lansing Radisson as the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan honored Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and Sen. Pat Colbeck, R-Canton, with “legislator of the year” awardsfor their roles in spearheading the legislation, which prohibits mandatory union dues as a condition of employment.

Union workers, such as 26-year-old Brenton Grove, protested the ABC event in opposition to right-to-work and Republican lawmakers’ latest attempts to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law.

“They’re trying to lower wages and benefits, which will profit them more and it attacks us workers,” said Grove, an electrician from Jackson and a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 252 in Ann Arbor.
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“The Retirement Gamble” Facing Us All

PBS
If you’ve been watching any commercial television lately, you are well aware that the financial services industry is very busy running expensive ads imploring us to worry about our retirement futures. Open a new account today, they say.

They are not wrong that we should be doing something: America is facing a retirement crisis. One in three Americans has no retirement savings at all. One in two reports that they can’t save enough. On top of that, we are living longer, and health care costs, as we all know, are increasing.

But, as I found when investigating the retirement planning and mutual funds industries in The Retirement Gamble, which airs tonight on FRONTLINE, those advertisements are imploring us to start saving for one simple reason. Retirement is big business — and very profitable. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more we save into the industry’s financial products, the more money they make in fees and commissions trading our hard-earned cash. And as long as they don’t run away with our money or invest it in a Ponzi scheme, they have little in the way of accountability to us when something goes wrong. And even then it can be hard to fight back.
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Corporate Donations and the S.E.C.

The New York Times, editorial
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that triggered an avalanche of corporate political spending also contained a proposal for greater public disclosure from corporations that would prefer to write their checks in the shadows. Transparency, the court advised, would let voters decide for themselves “whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

Since that 2010 decision, corporate and Republican opposition has snuffed out Congressional attempts to require donor transparency and accountability. All the more compelling then that the Securities and Exchange Commission, following an impressive petition campaign, is considering a regulation mandating that publicly traded corporations disclose all their political donations to their shareholders.

Corporate donations are not the full sum of the dark money universe, but forcing publicly traded corporations into the sunlight would be an enormous step toward facing the threat of political corruption posed by stealth donations.
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The Shadow Lobbyist

The New York Times
There has been a quiet upheaval in the lobbying industry.

On the surface, the firms that represent thousands of businesses, trade associations and special interests are taking a beating.

In practice, however, the lobbying industry is moving below the radar. More than $3 billion is still spent annually, more of which is not being publicly disclosed. Corporate America is relying on new tactics to shape the legislative outcomes it wants.

The adoption of innovative practices by the influence industry, combined with legal reporting requirements that are full of loopholes, have created misleading indicators which suggest that there has been a decline in the clout of the lobbying sector.

In fact, lobbying techniques have evolved so as to elude the regulations that implement the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act.
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Just Four Lawmakers Show Up To Congressional Hearing On Long-Term Unemployment

Think Progress
With the nation’s unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, members of Congress are fond of saying that they are focused on nothing but jobs. And yet, when Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) scheduled a Joint Economic Committee hearing on one of the biggest jobs-related crises facing the United States, just four of the committee’s 20 members bothered to show up.

When Klobuchar’s hearing on long-term unemployment began at 10:30 Wednesday morning, she was the only member in attendance. She was later joined by three other members, though not a single one of the committee’s 10 Republican members managed to attend, as National Journal’s Niraj Chokshi reports …
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Congressman Finally Takes Action To Remove Needless Requirement Bankrupting The Postal Service

Think Progress
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has introduced legislation to try to save the US Postal Service from its incipient bankruptcy, and he is asking for the public to help him pass it.

DeFazio’s bill would repeal the needless requirement — one no other business or entity must face — that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years’ worth of employee health benefits. That requirement has hugely contributed to the USPS defaulting for the first and then second time in its history last year. Analysis from 2012 estimated that the USPS would have a $1.5 billion surplus without the benefit requirement.

But DeFazio recognizes that facts alone will not influence his colleagues to take up and pass the legislation, so he has also turned to the White House’s petition platform, We The People, to petition President Obama to take a stand against the health benefit requirement.
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Steelworkers Disgusted by Caterpillar CEO’s Shameful 2012 Cash Grab

NH Labor News
The United Steelworkers (USW) today denounced Caterpillar Inc. CEO Douglas Oberhelman’s 32 percent compensation increase from $16.9 million in 2011 to $22.4 million in 2012 as shameful and unwarranted.

USW District 2 Director Michael Bolton said that rewarding Oberholman’s  job performance by boosting his already lavish compensation by nearly one-third in 2012, despite lower than expected earnings, sends a dangerous message to other CEOs that lining their pockets at the expense of their workers is somehow acceptable.

“In 2012, Caterpillar Inc. put 700 people out of work by shutting down its Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ont. after locking out its workers when they rejected a 50 percent wage cut; then the company bullied almost 800 workers into major wage and benefit concessions after a three-month labor dispute in Joliet, Ill.,” Bolton said.
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Right to Work Could Cost Him His Job as Democrats Are Tied With Rick Snyder

Politicus USA
A poll by EPIC/MRA has found that Rick Snyder will be facing a battle for reelection. Snyder has seen his approval rating plummet, and two unknown Democrats are tied with him in the poll.

The latest EPIC/MRA poll revealed that Gov. Snyder’s declining political fortunes can be partially tied to his ramming through of right to work legislation. The governor’s personal favorability rating before right to work was 55%. Since December, it has fallen to 42%. Snyder now has a net (-20) job approval rating in the state. Gov. Snyder has a 38% positive job approval rating, and 58% negative job approval rating.

The signs of an anybody but Snyder feeling among the voters can be seen in the fact that two relatively unknown Democrats are tied with Snyder in the poll.
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Steve Kush, New Mexico GOP Official, Calls 19-Year-Old Labor Advocate ‘A Radical B*tch’

Huffington Post
Steve Kush, the executive director of the Bernalillo County Republican Party in New Mexico, called a 19-year-old Working America volunteer a “radical bitch” on Twitter Tuesday night after she testified before the county commission in favor of raising the minimum wage.

“Nice hat Working America chick but damn you are a radical bitch,” Kush tweeted.

Working America, a labor movement advocacy group, sent several members to the county meeting on Tuesday to advocate for a measure that would increase the county’s minimum wage. As the organization’s state director, Chelsey Evans, stood in line to testify on the proposal, Kush disparaged her on his Facebook page.

“Uh oh,” he wrote, “another Working America chick…nice boots…I know she makes more than min wage.” He later added in the comments, “she was hot enough to almost make me register democrat.”
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Reeling elsewhere, labor poised for Minn. gains

Post-Bulletin
Sitting side by side before state lawmakers, Minnesota Orchestra horn player Brian Jensen and third-generation sugar worker Becki Jacobson couldn’t have come from much different worlds. But they had something in common: both had gone through lengthy labor lockouts, and both were asking the state to make unemployment benefits considerably more generous.

In most states, where costs are still being cut, the proposal would be out of the question. But in Minnesota, it’s just one in a raft of union-friendly bills moving through the Legislature, giving union workers the prospect of big victories even as their brethren are reeling elsewhere.

As economic changes batter organized labor nationwide, eroding its membership and political power, Minnesota has emerged as one of the few places where unions are faring well.
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USDA Ruffles Feathers With New Poultry Inspection Policy

Mother Jones
The Obama administration is on the verge of dramatically scaling back the US Department of Agriculture’s oversight of the nation’s largest chicken and turkey slaughterhouses—while also allowing companies to speed up their kill lines.

Currently, each factory-scale slaughterhouse has four USDA inspectors overseeing kill lines churning out up to 140 birds every minute. Under the USDA’s new plan, a single federal inspector would oversee lines killing as many as 175 birds per minute. That would mean there are three fewer inspectors for a production line running 25 percent faster. (The line rates at turkey slaughterhouses are, for obvious reasons, slower, but would also be sped up under the new rules).

After the idea was floated last year, it was met by massive pushback from food safety and worker advocates, who argued that the combination of more speed and fewer inspectors would lead to dangerous conditions for both consumers and workers.
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House Majority Leader’s Quest to Soften G.O.P.’s Image Hits a Wall Within

The New York Times
Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, has been trying for months to remake the image of the Republican Party, from one of uncompromising conservatism to something kinder and gentler.

It isn’t working so well.

On Wednesday, Republican leaders abruptly shelved one of the centerpieces of Mr. Cantor’s “Making Life Work” agenda — a bill to extend insurance coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions — in the face of a conservative revolt. Last month, legislation to streamline worker retraining programs barely squeaked through. In May, Republican leaders will try again with legislation, pitched as family-friendly, to allow employers to offer comp time or “flex time” instead of overtime. But it has little prospect for Senate passage.
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