Leo W. Gerard

President’s Perspective

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

Billionaire Wolves in Workers’ Clothing

Billionaire Wolves in Workers’ Clothing

Hundred millionaire Bruce Rauner just couldn’t wait to tell Illinois state workers that the U.S. Supreme Court had given them what he considered a gift.

Within hours of the court’s ruling in the Janus case last week, Rauner, the Republican governor of Illinois, emailed state workers to tell them the decision meant they no longer needed to pay either dues or fair share fees to their labor union but the union would still be required to represent them.

What a deal! Free service! And it was brought to them by Rauner! The governor had filed the lawsuit that led to the Janus decision. When a court tossed him as plaintiff, the right-wing foundations whose billionaire donors paid for the lawsuit drummed up replacement plaintiffs including Mark Janus. He’s an Illinois child support worker who refused to join the union and pay dues and who didn’t even want to pay the smaller fair share fee of $45 a month charged to non-members to cover the union’s costs of bargaining for them.

It was that fee that the Supreme Court said government workers had a free speech right not to pay. The court said unions do not have a corresponding free speech right to refuse to represent non-members.

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Watch Out Workers, Here Comes Brett Kavanaugh

Andrew Strom,
Associate General Counsel, SEIU

In 2010, a trainer at SeaWorld drowned when the killer whale she was working with during a performance “grabbed her and pulled her off the platform into the pool, refusing to release her.”  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the incident and issued citations to SeaWorld for willfully exposing trainers to the recognized hazards of drowning or injury while working with killer whales during performances.  An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) upheld the citation, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission agreed, and two out of three judges on the D.C. Circuit denied SeaWorld’s petition for review.  But Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, dissented, arguing that OSHA lacked authority to “paternalistically decide” that the trainer needed to be protected from the whale.  If the Senate confirms Kavanaugh’s nomination, we can expect repeated instances where he will similarly insist that the agencies that Congress created to protect workers and the general public somehow overstepped their authority.

Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970.  In 1977, a unanimous Supreme Court explained that the law was passed because Congress concluded “that work-related deaths and injuries had become a ‘drastic’ national problem.”  The law requires employers to provide employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” to workers.  Despite the “unqualified and absolute” language in the statute, over the years, the courts have interpreted the law to apply only where “a feasible means to eliminate or materially reduce the hazard exist[s].”

In the SeaWorld case, there was substantial evidence that SeaWorld knew that its killer whales posed serious risks to trainers.  In fact, the same whale that was involved in the 2010 incident had previously killed another trainer at a different marine park.  There was also evidence in the record of other dangerous incidents involving other killer whales at SeaWorld (e.g. in 2006 a killer whale had pulled a trainer underwater and repeatedly submerged him for 10 minutes). The ALJ had also found that OSHA’s proposed means of abating the hazard – maintaining a minimum distance from the killer whale or imposing a physical barrier between the killer whale and the trainer – was feasible, and in fact, had already been implemented by SeaWorld.

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Facebook’s $6,000 donation to Nunes throws its self-proclaimed neutrality into question

Addy Baird

Addy Baird Reporter, Think Progress

Facebook has donated thousands of dollars in recent months to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), one of the leading congressional voices fighting Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential presidential obstruction.

In a tweet Monday morning, social bookmarking site Pinboard noted the social media giant — which is intertwined with the Russia investigation over its failure to prevent fake Russian troll accounts from spreading disinformation during the 2016 election — had reportedly made a $1,000 donation to the Devin Nunes Campaign Committee on June 29.

Facebook has donated a total of $6,000 to Nunes’ committee for the general election cycle in 2018.

Nunes is one of the members of Congress most skeptical of the Russia investigation. Most recently, he criticized Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian officials charged with hacking the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee servers, as well as the email accounts of Hillary Clinton campaign staffers, calling the indictment “ridiculous.”

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U.S. Trade Deals Mean Justice for Some, Not Justice for All

Celeste Drake

Celeste Drake Trade and Globalization Policy Specialist, AFL-CIO

2017 was another banner year of justice for sale, reveals the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s annual review of investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) cases. What’s the report say? It reveals lots of new ways global investors are undermining democracy in private tribunals.

What’s ISDS? It’s a private justice system. ISDS means any investor—usually a corporation, but sometimes an individual, who buys property in a foreign country, from a hectare of land to stocks and bonds—can use this private justice system to sue host countries over laws, regulations and court decisions that may affect the investor’s current or future profits.

ISDS means justice for some, rather than justice for all. Those with the means to become international wheeler-dealers can access ISDS. The rest of us have to rely on public courts—the same ones that investors say are “inadequate” to handle their needs. That’s not fair, and that’s not right.

In 2017, 65 new known cases were filed, for a total of 855 known ISDS cases. Some cases are secret, so we’ll never really know how many cases have been filed.

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Union Matters

Home Health Care Workers Under Attack

By Bethany Swanson
USW Intern

Home health care workers have important but difficult jobs that require them to work long hours and chaotic schedules to care for the country’s rapidly growing elder population.

Instead of protecting these workers, the vast majority of whom are women and people of color, the current administration plans to make it harder for them to belong to unions, stifling their best chance for improving working conditions and wages.

The anti-union measure would roll back an Obama-era rule that allows home care workers, whose services are paid for through Medicaid, to choose to have their union dues deducted directly from their paychecks.

The goal of the rule, like the recent Janus decision and other anti-union campaigns, is to starve unions out of existence, so they can no longer protect their members.

Home health care workers bathe, dress, feed and monitor the health of the sick and elderly, but they often cannot afford to provide for their own families.

On average, they make little more than $10 an hour and more than half rely on some sort of public assistance. Most receive few or no benefits, even though home care workers and other direct care workers have some of the highest injury rates of any occupation.

That’s why many home care workers have turned to labor unions.

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The Dirty Truth about Janus

The Dirty Truth about Janus