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We Got Lots Going On

I’m home under the weather and the brain isn’t sparking any flames right now. But as always, there’s lots going on in the union movement of importance to working people. So…I’m going to borrow a page from Jordan Barab who served the FDL labor spot so well before me and offer a few highlights from the past week.

Global Warming Heats up Blue Green Alliance. Saying that “global warming has transformed the issue of pollution into the ultimate health and safety issue,” United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard called for more stringent regulation of carbon emissions and trade to address the global climate crisis.

Speaking to the North American Labor Conference on Climate Crisis at Cornell University last week, Gerard said:

Labor, environmental and human rights standards are at the core of our vision for making the global economy work for workers. They should become the new gold standard for how nations trade with each other.

Last year, the USW joined with the Sierra Club to form the Blue Green Alliance, a partnership committed to mobilizing public support for policies that create good jobs, a cleaner environment and a safer world. The Blue Green Alliance is urging U.S. trade rule reforms to end the illegal trade in the forest products industry, where environmental degradation is rampant, especially in Asia.

Josh Wolf Honored on World Press Freedom Day. Online journalist Josh Wolf received the Herbert Block Freedom Award at the annual Freedom Fund Awards banquet sponsored by The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA). Wolf spent more than seven months in a federal detention center for refusing to turn over a protest video to authorities. His time in jail set a record for a journalist refusing to comply with a subpoena. Wolf’s video shows footage of the 2005 G-8 Summit in San Francisco’s Mission District, during which a police officer suffered a fractured skull. He had shown parts of the video on his website, www.joshwolf.net/blog, but authorities wanted it all, in addition to his testimony.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, held on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, TNG-CWA President Linda Foley summed it up nicely:

Josh Wolf spent 226 days in jail upholding the principle that journalists should not be investigators for the government.

Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman received the union’s 2006 Heywood Broun Award for their Hartford Courant series, “Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight,” in which they revealed that senior military officials have sent troops into combat despite clear evidence of bipolar disorder, depression, suicidal episodes and post traumatic stress disorder. The Broun award is named for the first president of The Newspaper Guild.

Medic, Medic, Our Bottom Line is Hurting. A couple months back, I noted here how Resurrection Health Care is strongly opposing its employees efforts to form a union with the public-sector union, AFSCME. The Catholic-owned health care facility pays CEO Joseph Toomey millions of dollars, while housekeepers start off at $8 per hour and staff pay nearly $200 a month for family health coverage.

Now, looks like the failure of Resurrection’s management to deal fairly with its workers is hurting the company’s bottom line. The bond-rating firm Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Resurrection’s debt rating, saying that among the company’s challenges, a protracted corporate labor campaign continues to distract management’s attention and consume financial resources.

What could improve the rating, according to Moody’s?

Resolution of labor campaign.

Verizon Shareholders Calling the Shots. Workers and shareholders let Verizon know they want a major shift in the way the company operates as more than 1,250 people rallied outside the Verizon meeting in Pittsburgh last week. The rally included hundreds from the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Electrical Workers (IBEW), United Steelworkers (USW) and scores more from nearly 30 international unions. Union members scored a victory when a shareholder vote in favor of giving shareholders an annual vote on pay packages of top executives was determined too close to call.

Shareholders also voted in the largest numbers ever for three proposals submitted by the AFL-CIO. In one of them, 46 percent voted for the “Golden Parachutes” proposal, which would close substantial loopholes in Verizon’s policy on retirement packages. Verizon’s current policy allows shareholders to vote on severance agreements that exceed 2.99 times base salary plus bonus, but does not include retirement benefits, stock awards or tax reimbursements in the calculation. The proposal would encourage Verizon to eliminate the perverse incentive created when executives look forward to a windfall if they fail to provide good leadership for the company.

1.8 Million U.S. Jobs Lost to Trade with China. The U.S. trade deficit with China has soared since the Bush administration took office—the nation ran a $233 billion trade deficit with China last year, and this year’s first-quarter $46.4 billion deficit is twice as large as in the same period last year. A report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) last week quantified the human cost of this trade deficit. The U.S. trade deficit with China between 1997 and 2006 has displaced production that could have supported 2,166,000 U.S. jobs. Most of these jobs (1.8 million) have been lost since China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Contrary to the predictions of its supporters, China’s entry into the WTO has failed to reduce its trade surplus with the United States or increase overall U.S. employment, according to the report, “Costly Trade with China.” Specifically,

[b]etween 1997 and 2001, growing trade deficits displaced an average of 101,000 jobs per year, or slightly more than the total employment in Manchester, New Hampshire. Since China entered the WTO in 2001, job losses increased to an average of 441,000 per year—more than the total employment in greater Dayton, Ohio.

At the same time EPI released the data, USA Today reported Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insisted that a Bush administration initiative he heads is spurring China to quicken its economic reforms. According to Paulson:

We’ve made a lot of progress.

Thousands of Colombia Unionists Dead but Bush Wants to Trade. Trade is a big issue right now because of several pending deals the Bush administration wants to shove through Congress. None of them include safeguards for workers’ rights on the job or protections for the environment. One such deal, a bilateral agreement with Colombia, got a bit of attention last week when Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe came to Washington, D.C. Some of us in the union movement met Uribe with protests as he arrived, and nine demonstrators laid on the sidewalk in body bags to dramatize the violence against innocent people in Colombia. Among those innocent people are trade unionists, with nearly 2,300 union leaders and members murdered since 1991—400 trade unionists killed since Uribe took office in 2002. Such details have not, of course, deterred the Bush administration from pushing for a trade deal with that country. Instead, Bush submitted the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to Congress in time to be considered under its Fast Track trade-promotion authority, which expires June 30. Fast Track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, was narrowly passed by the Republican Congress in 2002. The law allows the president to negotiate trade deals but prevents Congress from improving or rejecting harmful provisions by allowing only “yes” or “no” votes on such trade packages.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The union movement is highlighting the millions of Asian Pacific American workers who are toiling and struggling in the fields, behind cash registers, on assembly lines and on shop floors to make a better life for themselves and their families. Gloria Caoile, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), an AFL-CIO constituency group, says generations of Asian Pacific American workers have fought for justice in this country:

From the days of organizing in the sugar plantations of Hawaii, the canneries of Alaska, the agricultural fields of California and now organizing in the garment shops of New York, the hospitals of Chicago, the hotels, restaurants and taxis of Las Vegas, we honor our Asian Pacific American brothers and sisters who keep alive union ideals of fighting for social justice and economic opportunities.

As part of the observance, Journey for Justice, 223 years of APA Labor History in the Puget Sound, is on display in the lobby of AFL-CIO building in Washington, D.C. The APALA’s Seattle chapter and the Evergreen State College produced the exhibit.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by.

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Tula Connell

Tula Connell

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