Leo W. Gerard

President’s Perspective

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

The Soul of a Union Man

I was raised in a company house in a company town where the miners had to buy their own oilers – that is, rubber coveralls – drill bits and other tools at the company store.

That company, Inco Limited, the world’s leading producer of nickel for most of the 20th century, controlled the town of Sudbury, Ontario, but never succeeded in owning the souls of the men and women who lived and worked there.

That’s because these were union men and women, self-possessed, a little rowdy and well aware that puny pleas from individual workers fall on deaf corporate ears.

As I prepare to retire in a couple of days, 54 years after starting work as a copper puncher at the Inco smelter, the relationship between massive, multi-national corporations and workers is different.

Unions represent a much smaller percentage of workers now, so few that some don’t even know what a labor organization is – or what organized labor can accomplish. That is the result of deliberate, decades-long attacks on unions by corporations and the rich. They intend to own not only workers’ time and production but their very souls.

I’d like to tell you the story of Inco because it illustrates the arc of labor union ascendance and attenuation over the past 72 years since I was born in Sudbury. 

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Michigan Rep. Andy Levin Lauds Retiring USW President Gerard

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., has an unusual retirement gift for departing Steelworkers President Leo Gerard: No new NAFTA without strong and enforceable worker rights in all three of its countries: The U.S., Canada and especially Mexico.

Of course, Levin knows Gerard better than almost any other lawmaker does: After a long career as an union organizer, capped by a stint as deputy AFL-CIO Organizing Director, the first-termer from Michigan succeeded his pro-worker father Sandy in the U.S. House.

Gerard, president of USW starting in 2001, retired effective July 15, which led Levin to laud him that day in a short House floor speech. Levin called Gerard “a great leader of workers throughout North America and, indeed, the world. Leo rose through the ranks and was a dynamic leader of the Steelworkers for 40 years, and he was president for the last 18 years. He led on so many issues.”

“He was a fierce negotiator for his members, but he was also a leader for all workers. For example, he brought the environmental movement and the labor movement together to tackle tough issues about keeping our water and air clean for everyone and for future generations, while protecting our jobs.”

“But one thing I think stands out. I want to pledge to Leo Gerard on his retirement that we are not going to pass a replacement NAFTA unless it honors the workers of Mexico, Canada, and the United States.  What a great champion for workers in North America. I assure Leo we are going to carry on his work. God bless him.”

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Key Panel Oks Multi-Employer Pensions Rescue Bill

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

At a hearing packed with hundreds of workers, lawmakers on the key committee handling pension issues approved  legislation to establish federal loans for troubled multi-employer pension plans.

The measure, HR397, named for Ohio unionist Butch Lewis, who died of a stroke four years ago, would set up a bureau in the Treasury Department to judge applications from the troubled plans. Lewis’s multi-employer plan went broke, and his widow’s pension payout collapsed.

Those plans which can show federal loans would be used to both become solvent and to keep benefits level for current retirees – or their families and survivors – would get the loan funds, repayable after 30 years. The money would come from selling U.S. Treasury bonds.

“We are in the homestretch” of passing HR397, Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said at an outdoor press conference an hour before the July 12 House Ways and Means Committee work session on it. “This is a battle for dignity and for keeping the promises made” to millions of workers. But workers “have to walk the halls” to ensure it passes, he warned.

The multi-employer pension plan problem now affects more than 100 plans serving one million retirees and survivors. Multi-employer plans cover 10 million people overall. They’re common in industries such as trucking, bakeries and confectionery firms, construction, food processing and coal mining.

Joint labor-management boards run the plans, with all employers contributing to the workers’ pensions.

But corporate consolidations, bankruptcies and the plummet in pension values during the 2008 Great Recession put multi-employer plans into the “red zone” of financial danger, where they could go broke within months or years.

The Mine Workers’ two pension plans, which the federal government virtually chartered 72 years ago, are in the most-immediate danger. The biggest threat is the Teamsters’ giant Central and Southern States pension plan.

And the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) fund to cover takeovers of broke multi-employer plans – which would pay out far less than what was promised to workers by their multi-employer plans – is running out of cash, too. The result is huge benefit cuts for workers, like Butch Lewis, who sacrificed pay hikes for a decent pension, his widow, Rita, said.

 

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Rand Paul blocks funding bill for 9/11 victims over hypocritical budget concerns

Zack Ford Editor, Think Progress LGBT

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked an attempt by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Wednesday to fast-track a bill that would extend compensation for victims of the September 11th attacks.

Paul expressed concerns that Gillibrand’s attempt to pass the measure using unanimous consent — meaning a bill is approved so long as no senator objects — did not take into consideration the need to offset that funding elsewhere.

In short, he argued, funding shouldn’t be distributed to 9/11 first responders without a discussion about where the money was coming from — concerns that didn’t stop him from voting for President Donald Trump’s massive tax cuts for the rich back in 2017.

“It has long been my feeling that we need to address our massive debt in this country,” Paul said in voicing his objection on Wednesday. “Any new spending that we are approaching — any new program that’s going to have the longevity of 70, 80 years — should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable. We need to at the very least have this debate.”

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How Congress Can Address Climate Change, Create Jobs and Support U.S. Manufacturers

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis – a special Congressional panel established in 2019 with the mandate of exploring ways to address climate change – held a hearing on Tuesday that caught our eye.

Now, astute readers of this blog know that the Alliance for American Manufacturing is supportive of efforts to clean up our environment.

We think manufacturers can and should do their part to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and thankfully many already are stepping up to the plate. And we’ve also sounded the alarm about the link between trade and climate change, pointing out that when we depend countries like China for products big and small, we essentially are importing our pollution.

But anyway, back to the hearing, which examined how heavy-duty public transportation impacts the environment.

We were excited to see that Ryan Popple, the president and CEO of zero-emission battery-electric bus maker Proterra, Inc., was among the panelists. Founded in Colorado in 2004, Proterra is now headquartered in Silicon Valley and manufactures its buses at factories in the City of Industry, Calif., and Greenville, S.C. Proterra employs more than 500 people, and has made buses for communities in 36 states, the District of Columbia and even two Canadian provinces.

Proterra is an example of an American manufacturer that is tackling a problem head-on, working to reduce carbon emissions while also supporting job growth and local economic development. But that’s not what got our attention.

What did were the opening remarks from ranking member Garrett Graves. The Louisiana Republican echoed Chair Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who said America “can lead the world with well-paying jobs as we transition to clean energy.”

And Graves also pointed out what we shouldn’t be doing:

“We had hearings in the transportation committee, where I also serve, where BYD, a Chinese bus manufacturer, was coming in -- and it appears to be a state-owned enterprise -- coming in and knocking out domestic bus manufacturers, and being subsidized by the Chinese government. Coming in and assembling buses in California, in some of our own communities, only to undercut price, knock out domestic production of those same types of vehicles, therefore giving China an advantage.”

AAM President Scott Paul testified at that hearing, and he noted that BYD’s business model is to assemble its buses in the United States, but heavily rely on imported parts and components. (Compare that to Proterra, which sources more than 75 percent of its materials in the United States, supporting jobs up and down the transportation supply chain.)

BYD now has set its sights on dominating world auto sales by 2025, which as Scott Paul noted “would threaten over 5,600 parts suppliers spread across the nation, employing 871,000 workers, the very heart of American Manufacturing.”

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House Acts to Block Federal Funding for Rail Cars Built by Chinese State-Owned Companies

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch

Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch Digital Media Director, Alliance for American Manufacturing

A big step in the right direction.

The House of Representatives on Friday passed the annual spending bill for the Defense Department, and the legislation included language to block federal transit dollars from being spent on electric rail cars made by Chinese state-owned companies.

The provision included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the House prohibits federal tax dollars from being used to award a contract or subcontract for the procurement of rail cars to be used in public transportation by state-owned or controlled companies from non-market economies like China.  

Although the NDAA passed on party lines, this specific legislation enjoyed bipartisan support, as it was originally sponsored by Reps. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Kay Granger (R-Texas), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Randy Weber (R-Texas) and John Garamendi (D-Calif.).

The NDAA now heads to conference with the Senate, which previously passed its version of the defense authorization bill that included a similar provision that applied to both rail and buses. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) served as the original sponsors of the Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act in that chamber.

Here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, we encourage lawmakers to put forth a final NDAA conference report that includes the Senate version of this provision, as it applies to both types of public transit.

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Union Matters

Raise the Wage!

From the AFL-CIO

It’s been a decade since the federal minimum wage was increased—the longest period in American history without an increase. In that time, the cost of living has increased and working families have struggled to make ends meet. The Raise the Wage Act would finally bring the federal minimum wage up to $15 an hour.

The House of Representatives is voting tomorrow on the Raise the Wage Act, and we need to make sure lawmakers know where workers stand. Will you show your support and ask your friends to call their representatives?

One in 9 workers in the U.S. is in poverty—even when working full time and year-round. Passing the Raise the Wage Act as it stands would empower working families in need and build an economy that works for everyone.

Share our #RaisetheWage message on social media right now.

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The Richest Fantasy

The Richest Fantasy