Category: Free Speech Zone

Workers Petition Congress: Protect Our Pensions

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW International President

The total number of workers at risk is 1.2 million. In my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), 100,000 are threatened. Daryl A. Bugbee of Olivet, Mich., is one of them. He wrote Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions on Aug. 8:

“I am the father of a special needs child who will always need assistance. Without my pension, I will not be able to help meet his needs.”

Workers like Daryl count on that money. Most didn’t earn enough to invest in stocks or a 401(k) for retirement. The pension was everything.

Now, they’re vulnerable because 8 percent of multiemployer pensions are collapsing. This is not the workers’ fault. Often, it’s not even the employers’ fault. It’s because of economic forces that couldn’t be predicted and Congressional decisions to deregulate Wall Street and ignore trade violations.

Now, these workers are justifiably looking to Congress for help. Daryl pleaded, “I am writing to urge you to take action needed to restore the failing pension plans.”

Congress could help. It moved in that direction by establishing the Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions. The committee set a deadline of Nov. 30 to recommend a solution. But after researching for a year and conducting five hearings, the committee appears paralyzed. That’s no help to Daryl and 1.2 million other working and retired people facing financial crisis.

“Please adopt legislation that would protect our benefits,” Daryl implored.

Legislation was introduced last year that would protect the pensions. It’s called the Butch Lewis Act. It would enable the Treasury Department to sell bonds to finance long-term low-interest loans to the troubled pension plans. That’s what Daryl and the 300 other USW members who wrote the Joint Select Committee this year want. Or something similar. They won’t nitpick. They’re scared.

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The Disappearing Deficit

When President Obama took office, the U.S. budget deficit was $1.4 trillion dollars.  In 2013, it was less than $680 billion.  In 2014, it’s projected to be about $514 billion.

And here’s more good news.  Revenues taken in by the federal government are expected to increase by 9 percent in 2014 to $3 trillion, while spending will increase by only 2.6 percent.

The increase in federal revenues is due to a few factors.  First, some tax cuts for businesses are set to expire.  Second, the Social Security payroll tax will also run out in 2014.  Finally, the overall economy is expected to continue to improve, thereby also providing an uptick in revenue.

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Playing Politics with People's Lives

Given the somewhat troubled relationship between the Republican Party at large and its Tea Party subset, this report from Talking Points Memo is disconcerting.

"When a moderator for a recent Georgia Republican primary debate asked candidates by a show of hands whether they would vote to extend benefits for the thousands of American workers who have been stuck with long-term unemployment, the question was met with an awkward pause.

At the Mayor's Day Senate Forum in Atlanta earlier in the week, none of the six candidates raised their hands in favor of extending benefits, but when the opposite question would ask -- who would vote against such a proposal -- all six candidates raised their hands. Rep. Paul Broun's (R-GA) arm shot up the fastest.

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No, You Can’t Scare Me, NCAA!

To the tune of Union Maid:

College athletes, swift and strong, have been exploited long. They’ve been used up, and cast aside, Been working for a song.

But, there is a College Team, that has a noble dream. For just reward, for efforts long, And dedication keen.

So they fight to organize, under laws long recognized. To, in good faith, negotiate, And, their rights exercise.

NCAA? You can’t scare me, I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union. Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die.

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He Can’t Be Serious

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a crusader not only for racial equality but also for economic justice.  Those efforts were inextricably intertwined for the civil rights iconic leader.  For instance, the 1963 March on Washington was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  In the last year of his life, King directed most of his energy into the Poor People’s Campaign, an organization dedicated to advocating for economic justice.

Economic inequality, including racially-stratified inequality, has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. President Barack Obama has even referred to inequality as the defining challenge of our time.  Compare Dr. King’s and President Obama’s stance on economic inequality to this bit of lunacy.

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A True Emergency

As with food stamps, so with Emergency Unemployment Compensation or EUC.

It’s been estimated that for every dollar paid out as food stamps, about $1.73 goes back into the U.S. economy.  By way of extrapolating, let’s apply that same ratio – 1:1.73 – to Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

The national average for weekly EUC benefits is about $300.00.  So we can assume, based on that figure and the ratio above, that for every such single weekly payment, about $519.00 returns to circulation.

There are approximately 1.3 million folks who, as of December 28, lost EUC.  That means that not just $519.00, but a whopping $674 million is removed from our still-slightly-shaky economy every week.

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A Populist, Progressive Budget

More than a year ago, the Progressive Caucus in the U. S. House put together what they dubbed The People’s Budget.  Here, you can read that budget in its entirety.

Some of its original provisions have become moot (i.e., those involving bringing troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan), but the budget retains these and other consequential planks:

1.      Eliminate the deficit by targeting its main drivers: the causes and effects of the recent recession.

2.      Train teachers and restores schools; rebuild roads and bridges and ensure that users help pay for them

3.      Invest in job creation, clean energy and broadband infrastructure, housing and R&D programs

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Corporate Tax Breaks: Dead Wrong

Leo Toribio

Leo Toribio Pittsburgh, Pa.

An article by Laurence Kotlikoff in the NYT suggests that income taxes for corporations should be abolished and that would produce more jobs.

The author claims to have developed a computer model that demonstrates his claim. But this wouldn't be the first time when a computer model was dead wrong! In fact, as more than one commenter noted, as corporate tax rates declined, so did employment. That clearly points to a problem with the model. Was Professor Kotlikoff's model created by the same people who created Healthcare.gov?

Corporate income taxes are paid only on profits, not on every dollar of revenue. One way for a corporation to cut its income taxes would be to hire more workers, which would reduce its profits, ergo, reduce its income taxes.

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Push-back to Pope Francis’ Illustrate Need for TPP and TAFTA Transparency

Hugh J. Campbell

Hugh J. Campbell Philadelphia, Pa., son of a Steelworker

CNBC’s report, Pope's sharp words make a wealthy donor hesitate, highlights the pontiff’s criticism of what he calls "an economy of exclusion and inequality," blaming ideologies that "defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation."

Defense of the marketplace was an aim of the Confidential Memorandum: Attack of American Free Enterprise System sent by Lewis Powell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Powell listed the pulpit as among the perfectly respectable elements of society attacking the marketplace. His August ,1971 memorandum was keep secret until long after  Powell was confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, not unlike the secrecy surrounding the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).

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Second Bill of Rights

In his Second Bill of Rights  in 1944, Franklin Roosevelt opined that citizens have a basic right to employment that pays a living wage; freedom from unfair competition and monopolies; decent housing; basic medical care; adequate education, and Social Security.

How much of this has been accomplished?

  1. Employment that pays a living wage: Sorta, kinda.  Current efforts to raise the federal and some states’ minimum wage offer hope here.
  2. Freedom from unfair competition: Not so much.  According to the United Mine Workers, NAFTA is largely seen as a failure by organized labor because jobs have decreased instead of increasing as promised.
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Union Matters

A Just, Inclusive and Sustainable Economy

From the AFL-CIO

This week, labor leaders from across the country descended on New Orleans to map out the path ahead for our movement. From trade and public education to equal pay and paid leave to back pay for federal contract workers and bargaining power for all, the AFL-CIO Executive Council tackled the issues that will define working people’s fight for economic justice in 2019 and beyond.

Sending waves through Washington yesterday, the Executive Council’s most notable decision was its announcement that, “if the administration insists on a premature vote on the new NAFTA in its current form, we will have no choice but to oppose it.” Here are a few highlights from the statement:

  • Trade policy must be judged by whether it leads to a just, inclusive and sustainable economy....By that measure, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has driven the outsourcing of so many good jobs, has been a catastrophic failure. More than 850,000 U.S. jobs were shipped overseas under NAFTA between 1993 and 2013.
  • By design, NAFTA distorted power relationships in favor of global employers over workers, weakened worker bargaining power and encouraged the de-industrialization of the U.S. economy.
  • After a quarter-century of this race to the bottom, workers in all three NAFTA countries find it more difficult to form unions and negotiate collective bargaining agreements.
  • The NAFTA renegotiation requires strong labor rights provisions and strong enforcement provisions that as of today are not yet in the agreement.
  • The current effort by the business community to pass the new NAFTA is premature, and if it continues, we will be forced to mobilize to defeat it, just as we mobilized to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All

New NAFTA Must Create an Economy for All