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Federal Workers Back House Bill Providing 3.1% Pay Raises

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Federal worker unions are praising proposed House legislation that would give all 2 million U.S. government workers a 3.1% general raise on Jan. 1. President Donald Trump declared he’d give them zero.

Not only that, but Trump wanted to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management – in essence the government’s human resources department – and transfer its functions to an unaccountable political appointee within the White House. The House legislation would bar  that scheme.

Killing OPM would have been a long step back to the old spoils system of the 19th century and just what Trump and his anti-worker, right-wing ideological backers in and out of the White House wanted, said J. David Cox, president of the Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal workers union.

But the Democratic-run House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government subcommittee bounced Trump’s anti-OPM plan. Lawmakers inserted a flat ban on the “reckless and potentially dangerous” idea, Cox said. Then, in their June 3 late-afternoon work session, the subcommittee unanimously passed the legislation providing raises.

Both Trump moves that the panel discarded are part of his ideological war against workers, especially federal workers, and their unions. The war also includes Trump’s executive orders evicting unions from their small spaces within federal office buildings, seizure of phones, fax machines and computers that union representatives used to help protect workers, and forcing the reps to do so on their own time and on their own dime.

Trump also barred the feds from communicating with lawmakers.

A federal judge in D.C. overturned most Trump moves last year as both unconstitutional and violating federal law governing union-management relations. But several Trump political appointees, notably the Secretaries of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs, are following Trump’s orders – and defying the judge.

The Democratic-run House panel appears to be coming to the workers’ defense.

 

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AFGE: Trump Plan to Trash Govt. Personnel Agency Would Politicize Civil Service

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Republican President Donald Trump’s plan to abolish the government’s central personnel agency and put most of its authority in the hands of unaccountable White House aides would politicize the U.S. civil service, the head of the largest federal workers union says.

And Government Employees President (AFGE) J. David Cox’s warning got a sympathetic hearing from majority Democrats on the House Government Operations subcommittee on May 21. Panel Republicans gave Trump tepid support, at best.

"The plan to abolish OPM is reckless, ill-conceived, and potentially dangerous,” Cox testified. “It is potentially dangerous because without a separate personnel agency, there is no formal institutional structure to protect and defend the apolitical civil service from an administration intent on politicization.”

Trump wants to abolish the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is in effect the government’s HR department, overseeing its two million workers. He would split its duties between the Executive Office of the President -- within the White House -- and the General Services Administration, which manages federal buildings, furniture and supplies.

The new personnel chief would be a White House staffer, unaccountable to Congress, workers, unions or the public for trashing federal workers.

Trump’s scheme, previously hinted at in his budgets, is in line with the hard-right anti-worker ideology and actions of both the right-wing president and his extremist anti-worker advisors, many of them drawn from the notorious Heritage Foundation. Cox noted Trump drew it up without consulting anyone else – including workers and unions -- outside his inner circle.

Besides freezing federal workers’ pay and demanding mass cuts, Trump infamously locked out almost 400,000 federal workers for seven weeks, and forced another 400,000 to toil without pay.

Disregarding the suffering he caused to the feds, their families and their communities, Trump used the lockout in a vain effort to force Congress to kowtow to his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall at the Mexican border. 

One unpaid Transportation Security Officer – an airport screener – depressed because he couldn’t feed his family or pay his bills, jumped to his death from the eighth floor of the Tampa Airport’s interior hotel.

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House Panels Threaten Subpoenas Over Trump Effort to Trash Affordable Care Act

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Upset by the GOP Trump Justice Department’s decision to use federal courts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, the Democratic chairs of five House com-mittees, including the Education and Labor Committee, are threatening to issue subpoenas to both DOJ and the White House counsel to see whether Trump ordered the move.

The letters are the lawmakers’ second attempt to get such records from White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Attorney General William Barr. Neither sent anything by the original April 22 deadline.

Assuming the lawmakers’ May 13 follow-up letter produces no substantive response by May 24, “we will have no choice but to consider alternative means of compliance,” the chairmen warned. That’s legalese for “issuing a subpoena.”

The latest letter follows yet another instance of Trump refusal to follow the U.S. Constitution and the oversight responsibilities it assigns to Congress.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., sent the identical letters to Cipollone and Barr.

The five committees have good reason to subpoena the ACA communication records. The Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Education and Labor Committees basically wrote the ACA in 2009-10.

The Judiciary Committee would decide whether to impeach Trump. Calls for doing so increased in the week of May 20, after more Trump stonewalling. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. joined Dems in saying Trump is impeachable.

The letters also came just before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in D.C. ordered Trump’s accounting firm to turn over his financial records to the Oversight Committee. Mehta’s May 20 ruling was the first in what will be a raft of such decisions on Trump resistance to congressional oversight. Nadler says that’s illegal, too.

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Prominent Dems Introduce Bill Banning Forced Arbitration

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Prominent congressional Democrats, including chair of the relevant House committee and eight presidential hopefuls, want to negate the Supreme Court’s ruling that mandates company-friendly forced arbitration that overrides workers’ rights.

The Restoring Justice For Workers Act, unveiled by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would reverse the High Court majority’s decision last year that the Arbitration Act of 1925 overrides the National Labor Relations Act, approved 10 years later.

The ruling by the 5-man GOP-named majority effectively banned workers from going to court when their employment contracts – mostly by individuals with firms, but sometimes by unions with firms – mandate the two sides submit all disputes one by one to arbitrators.

Sending arguments to arbitrators winds up in company wins more than 90% of the time, judicial data and other studies show. And arbitration clauses not only override labor law, but the court’s majority ruled, can ban its use altogether. Their ruling also closes off class action suits. 

“The bill would overrule Epic Systems v. Lewis, which allowed employers to continue to require workers to sign forced arbitration clauses,” a summary from Scott’s panel says.

“Arbitration clauses prevent workers from banding together to enforce their legal rights and are often buried in the fine print of employment contracts, meaning many workers are not aware they waived their rights. Use of forced arbitration clauses that block workers’ access to the courts has led to widespread non-enforcement of workers’ rights, including their right to minimum wage, overtime, and to a workplace free of discrimination and sexual harassment.”

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Infrastructure Push Starts, But Hits Roadblock: Dollars

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The U.S. needs $2 trillion to bring its crumbling roads, creaky railroads, aging airports, 100-year-old water pipes and crowded subways up to snuff. It needs $2.5 trillion more to get ahead of the game and build projects to handle people, business and growth in the 21st century, studies calculate.

But whether it will get the cash, much of it from the federal government, and spend it, is largely up to one man: GOP President Donald Trump.

 If he says “yes” to raising money for construction, legislation to rebuild the U.S. infrastructure measure goes through Capitol Hill lickety-split, with Democratic, Republican, labor and business support, the speakers at a May 13 conference declared.

If he doesn’t, it doesn’t go through at all.

That was the conclusion, both implicitly and explicitly, of many speakers at the half-day confab to kick off the 7th annual National Infrastructure Week. The week will see more than 100 events elsewhere nationwide and lobbying by unions, businesses and state and county officials on Capitol Hill. A 52-group coalition, including the AFL-CIO and building trades unions, is sponsoring it.

“We need a major infusion by the federal government to do a massive infrastructure rebuild and build out,” which would also produce tens of thousands of well-paying construction jobs, said Sean McGarvey, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, and one of three union speakers at the D.C. confab.

And those jobs, which, once young people complete apprenticeships – without heavy college debt and with just a high school diploma along with the specialized training building trades provide – would pay each of them $60,000-$80,000 and provide a road into the middle class, added McGarvey.

“If we can do a massive infrastructure bill with the president, we’ll lift hundreds of thousands of people into the middle class,” he stated.

“Infrastructure is an amazing virtuous circle where you’re creating middle-class jobs and making things” – roads, bridges, airports, subways – “people need. So why are we not actually getting it done?”  Teachers President Randi Weingarten asked rhetorically during her panel discussion.

 

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Key Lawmaker, Unions, Discussing Ways To Fund Infrastructure

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Richard Neal isn’t waiting for Donald Trump to act to repair and upgrade U.S. infrastructure.

The Massachusetts Democrat, who this year took over the chair of the key tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, has been meeting with colleagues, union leaders and even some businesses to figure out where to find funds for that objective.

Their aim: Garner enough money, from raising the federal gas tax and elsewhere, to repair crumbling highways, replace broken bridges, upgrade aging subways and airports, modernize the electric grid and install new water lines instead of relying on 100-year-old mains, among other projects.

And the unionists are going to lobby federal lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, for whatever new funds are needed, several leaders pledged this week.

They won’t have much trouble making their case. On the morning of an outdoor Capitol Hill press conference on the push, May 15, one participant, Rep. Michael Bost, R-Mo., found out that “I-44 westbound in my district” north of St. Louis “was closed when they found a 6-inch crack” in road’s superstructure.

“It’s a safety issue,” the former firefighter added. “How would you like to have your house on fire and have the truck hook up to a hydrant, and the water main serving it breaks?”

Neal’s discussions, with members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and with the 85-member House Labor and Working Families Caucus, come as once again lawmakers prepare to tackle the problems of U.S. infrastructure – problems that are so acute that the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the country a D+ grade on the issue.

 

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Infrastructure Advocates Warn Against Using Projects to Repeat Past Racial, Class Divisions

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Running east-west through the middle of the Little Rock, Ark., metro area, Interstate 630 divides Arkansas’ capital city from its top suburb in more ways than one.

Not only does the federally funded freeway split Little Rock on the south from North Little Rock on the north, but it also splits the whiter, richer north side of the metro area, from the poorer, black and brown south side.

That segregation’s intentional. And that’s common, from Detroit’s Eight Mile Road to Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway to New York City’s Robert Moses building bridges low enough so that city buses, carrying blacks, couldn’t drive under them on the way to the Big Apple’s beaches.

And that’s what advocates of pumping billions of new federal dollars U.S. highways, railroads, subways and airports want to prevent from happening again.

Studies show that from Baltimore to Detroit, from Little Rock to Chicago, highways – and, before them, railroads – were deliberately sited by governments and built by either governments or companies to maintain or extend racial and class segregation. And there were unusual twists like Moses’ anti-bus bridges, too.

And while an airport site might be neutral racially, flight paths the planes follow nationwide in takeoffs or landings are another matter, speakers at a May 13 infrastructure symposium said. Guess who suffers the most plane noise from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport? Hint, unless you’re on the North Shore late on summer evenings, it’s not ultra-ritzy Kenilworth.

And federally funded expressways not only split the races, but often, especially after the advent of mass suburbanization following World War II, permitted “white flight” from central cities, studies show.

So Chicago’s monstrous Dan Ryan Expressway not only separates whites from blacks on the South Side, deliberately, but lets other whites drive out of the Loop at night to the south and southwest suburbs.

Former Obama-era Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott and Teachers President Randi Weingarten don’t want to see a rerun of all that.

 

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Volkswagen Gets NLRB to Throw Legal Delay into New UAW Organizing Drive at Chattanooga

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Even as Volkswagen keeps saying it’s officially neutral, its bosses convinced the National Labor Relations Board to throw a legal delay into the United Auto Workers’ new organizing drive at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.

In response, the union has dropped the labor law-breaking – formally called unfair labor practices – charges it filed against VW in an ongoing dispute over whether the company must recognize UAW’s recognition win by Local 42 in the small unit of 160 unionized VW skilled trades workers there.

That withdrawal knocks the props out from under the company’s maneuver, opening the way for a vote among all 1,700 Chattanooga workers, the union told the NLRB on May 9. The board, now dominated by Trump-named members, however, has yet to agree.

On May 3, by a 2-1 party-line vote, the NLRB sided with VW and delayed the vote.

The legal maneuvering marks UAW’s second attempt to organize all the Chattanooga workers in one of only two VW non-union plants worldwide. The other is in China.

UAW’s campaign to unionize Chattanooga, and a similar effort at Nissan’s plant in Mississippi, is part of the union’s drive to break through into foreign “transplant” auto factories in the traditionally and culturally union-hostile South.

In turn, the UAW drive is also part of organized labor’s wider focus on organizing the unorganized in the growing, but anti-union, region. Tennessee was 5.1% unionized and Tennessee was 5.5% unionized last year, federal calculations show.

Both U.S. and foreign automakers have been erecting plants in states of the old Confederacy in barely concealed gambits to avoid unions. And when UAW and other unions try to organize such plants, bosses play off white workers against their African-American colleagues in a time-tested “divide and conquer” campaign.

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Lawmakers Push to Enact Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Safety Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Once again, lawmakers are pushing legislation to force all states to mandate collective bargaining rights for public safety workers – police, fire fighters, EMTs and their colleagues.

But if past is prologue, the measure will pass the Democratic-run House, as it has on occasion ever since the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks – and fall victim to a Senate GOP filibuster. Or Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., won’t bring it up at all.

That's what happened the first time the fire fighters campaigned for it, in late 2001-2002, just after the attacks, when the collapsing World Trade Center killed 343 New York fire fighters trying to rescue people there, plus their priest. Senators praised their sacrifice, then killed the bill.

The measure, sponsored this time by Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., would tell those states that if their public safety workers unionize, on the state, county or city levels, those workers have the mandated right to collectively bargain over working conditions.

Right now, 20 states ban such bargaining, even where the workers are unionized. The prime offenders are two big right-to-work GOP-run states, Texas and North Carolina. The Carolina ban is so broad that a decade ago, the AFL-CIO lodged a formal complaint with the International Labour Organization over the Tar Heel State’s restrictions.

In late April, the AFL-CIO formally endorsed this year’s legislation, HR1154, in a letter to lawmakers from Legislative Director Bill Samuel. The measure has 59 cosponsors.

“The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act historically received widespread bipartisan support,” Samuel wrote. “In the 111th Congress, the bill passed the House 314-97, with a majority of each party in favor. The bill would guarantee the right to form a union and bargain over wages, hours and working conditions, with binding arbitration to resolve disputes.”

“It would, however, prohibit strikes or lockouts. Consistent with these minimum standards, the legislation would give states wide flexibility to write and administer their own laws.”

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Six Dem Hopefuls Push Workers' Rights at Las Vegas Forum

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Six Democratic presidential hopefuls, vying for workers’ support in the 2020 primaries, pushed hard for workers’ rights at an all-day forum in Las Vegas April 27.

For five of them – Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and former Gov. John Hickenlooper (Colo.) – workers’ issues such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and strengthening the right to organize were front and center.

The sixth, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary under Democratic President Barack Obama, endorsed workers’ rights, too. But he made “right to housing” his top issue, having toured Las Vegas’ underground viaducts where homeless people sleep.

The six are among 21 Democrats, so far, vying for the nomination to take on anti-labor GOP incumbent Donald Trump next year. Support from organized labor is a key to their bids.

But there is a contrast between groups of unionized workers. One wing, predominantly minority, female, or both, has been organized by the Service Employees – co-sponsors of the Las Vegas event – and unions such as the Teachers, AFSCME and National Nurses United.

The other wing is still predominantly white male. Other candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, are appealing to them. One influential union representing that group, the Fire Fighters, endorsed Biden on April 29, while warning against the Democrats’ moving too far to the left.

And Biden picked up that endorsement while speaking at a Teamsters union hall in the key swing state of Pennsylvania.

But both wings agree on some key issues, especially labor law reform.

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Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder