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Union bug

 Have you ever heard of the term “Union Bug”? It’s something you have probably seen a thousand times but really never noticed it. It could be on t-shirts, envelopes, banners, buttons, campaign items, bumper stickers, brochures, business cards, letterhead and several other printed items.

 The invention of the union bug/label concept is attributed to the Carpenter’s Eight-Hour League in San Francisco, California which adopted a stamp in 1869 for use on products produced by factories employing men on the eight- (as opposed to ten-) hour day.  In 1874, that city's unionized cigar-making workers created a similar "white labor" label to differentiate their cigars from those made by poorly-paid, non-unionized Chinese workers.

The concept of the union label was a tool for harnessing support from fellow working-class consumers for unionization.
 Bugs usually appear discreetly at the corner of a back page or at the bottom of a title page.... The most common union bug is that of the Allied Printing Trades. 

 It signifies that all aspects of the work, from typesetting to finishing, were performed by union labor. This bug contains several important pieces of information. The lower arc contains the geographic region, which may be a city ("New York") or a broader area ("Northern California").

Coupled with that location is a shop name or number. The number is permanently assigned when
the shop is organized.
 Some of the purposes of the union label are:It is a protection against anti- or non-union shops that might otherwise profess union working conditions.It can be part of a public-relations campaign to induce customers to buy union-made products.It is a sign of good workmanship and quality standards.It is badge of union prestige to attract new members.

 If you turn to the last page of this postmark you should see the tiny union bug proudly displayed. Now that you know what it is and what it looks like, look around and see what else you have that has the Union bug, you may be surprised.  

Jason Stevens Tour 1 Union Steward

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Danish Brewery Workers Strike

Over New Drinking Rules

 

Hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers at Danish brewer Carlsberg halted work for five days in April to protest a company decision to limit beer drinking at work to lunch breaks.

          Under the Copenhagen-based company’s old policy, workers were free to help themselves to beer from coolers and refrigerators at any time during the workday. But as of April 1, workers at the world’s fourth-largest brewery were allowed to drink beer in the canteen only during lunch breaks.

          Dennis Onsvig, a union representative, told the Copenhagen Post the strike was about more than just drinking on the job.

          “We’ve actually stopped working because Carlsberg’s management violated the bargaining agreement by making a policy change without our input,” he said. “There was no dialogue over the issue at all, and that’s just not good enough.”

          Workers returned to the job after management agreed to sit down with the union and look at the policy.

 

 

Another View:

 

Let Wall Street Execs Leave

 

by Jim Hightower

 

“Oh my, oh my,” chittered the chicken littles of Wall Street when the public demanded cuts in their obscene pay packages. “The sky is falling,” they cried, flocking to Washington to save their pay.

          Wall Street’s preening executives insisted that the lynchpin of America’s entire financial system was their own multimillion-dollar salaries, bonuses, stock options, and perks. Cut their money, they threatened, and they would flee to greener pastures, taking with them the expertise needed to repair the financial system.

          This was a ludicrous claim, since there’s not a huge job market for failed bankers demanding rich rations and constant stroking. Nonetheless, skittish Washington officials backed off, and the pampered bankers of Wall Street are again feeding on multimillion-dollar pay packages. Still, one wonders, would they have actually fled if Washington had stood up to them?

          One who did take a stand was Kenneth Feinberg, a special regulator brought in to set the pay of top executives in five financial and automobile companies that got multiple bailouts from us. He has cut their pay by 77 percent since 2008. Yet, the vast majority of them stayed on the job, with only 15 percent choosing to look elsewhere or retire.

          Why? First, even with their paychecks whacked by three-fourths, the top execs are still drawing an average of $1.6 million a year – enough to make ends meet, even for a corporate big shot. But, second, it turns out that not every executive is a greed machine motivated only by money. Such human factors as personal pride and a sense of loyalty (both to their companies and their country) made them want to stay and help fix America’s economic wreck.

          So let’s stop pampering the chicken littles of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and other firms. They’ve got nowhere to go, and even if some leave, others can do the job.

 

–Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated radio commentator and the bestselling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.  For more information visit www.jimhightower.com.

 

Signs of Recovery Offer a Ray

Of Hope to Jobless Millions

 

The nation appeared to be climbing out of the Great Recession as winter turned into spring, but economists agreed it could be years before millions of jobless workers have any meaningful cause to celebrate.

          More than 8 million people were laid off during the recession, and the economy lost so many jobs that there are now more than five workers in line looking for each one that’s available.  Adding in part-timers and people who’ve given up looking, the actual jobless rate is in the range of 26 million.

          One reason that there are so few jobs available, according to labor economists: those workers who still have jobs are putting in more hours and producing more than ever for fear of ending up in the unemployment line in the still-shaky economy.  So, employers are getting more work done by fewer workers and don’t see the need to spend money on hiring additional people.

          The official unemployment rate didn’t budge from 9.7 percent over the first three months of the year, but at least it was down from last October’s Great Recession high of 10.1 percent.

          On the positive side, some new jobs were being created.  Nonfarm payrolls expanded by 162,000 in March, the most for any month in two years.  Most of the new jobs were in the private sector, while nearly 48,000 came because the Census Bureau needed temporary workers to complete its once-a-decade count of the population.

          Even with these job advances, though, the harsh reality is that some 150,000 new jobs a month are needed just to keep pace with the growth in the labor force.  And it will take the creation of 11 million jobs just to get the nation back to pre-recession employment levels.

 

 

Another View:

 

The 'End' of the Great Recession: Hold the Celebration

 

By Lawrence Mishel

 

Many American workers see little reason to be optimistic about the nation’s economic outlook, and for entirely understandable reasons.  The Dow may be breaking 11,000, but the unemployment rate is hovering near 10 per cent. Worse, we could still have very high unemployment two years from now.

          There are a few factors that underpin this dour outlook.

          First, we need to create around 100,000 jobs each month just so that unemployment does not rise as the population grows and more people seek work. To put a serious dent in the unemployment rate, we’d need to create 300,000 jobs each month. In March, the economy added roughly 160,000 jobs. Compared with this time last year, when the economy was shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs each month, that’s a big improvement. But it’s not good enough.

          Second, companies didn’t just lay people off during the recession — they also cut the hours of the employees who stayed on their payrolls. So as business picks back up, the first thing they’ll do is restore those hours. That will be a welcome improvement for their employees, but only then will companies start hiring. And the aggregate drop in work hours since the recession began has been significantly larger than the drop in jobs.

          Third, the labor market is in worse shape than even the official 9.7 per cent unemployment rate indicates. The unemployment rate does not include people who want a job but have not actively looked for one recently. Nor does it include part-time workers who want full-time work. This broader measure of underemployment stands at about 17 percent. It’s significantly higher for black and Hispanic workers.

          The upshot of all this is not pretty. By the end of 2012 — more than two years from now — there is a very real chance that unemployment could still be 8 per cent or higher. To guard against this unacceptable outcome, Congress should pass job creation legislation, starting with a bill sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., that would create 1 million jobs in local communities around the country.

 

—The writer is president of the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

Court Sides With OSHA

On Worker Safety Rules

 

A federal appeals court has upheld the power of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to determine how to draft and uphold workplace safety rules.  The decision marked a major win for workers, thousands of whom die on the job every year.

          The court ruling stemmed from a case in 2003 in which a contractor in Houston hired 11 immigrant workers to strip asbestos from a building but neither trained the workers nor provided them with respirators to protect them from the dangerous substance.

          A city inspector visiting the job site ordered the work to stopped, but the contractor, Eric Ho, coerced the workers into staying on the job, working at night behind locked gates.

          OSHA ultimately cited Ho 11 times for not training each worker and another 11 for not providing each with a respirator.

          The Bush administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission overturned the majority of the citations, saying Ho could only be cited once on the training violation and once on the safety equipment violation.  This had the effect of cutting Ho’s fines by about 95 percent.                            OSHA officials rewrote the rules to avoid another such episode, but the National Association of Home Builders sued, claiming OSHA didn’t have the authority to say that employers could be cited for each worker left unprotected.  Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that OSHA has such authority and sided with the agency in the case.

          AFL-CIO General Counsel Lynn Rhinehart says the decision makes clear that if an employer doesn’t protect its workers, “the employer can get cited for each worker it doesn’t protect. This is a really important principle that will help ensure that workers get the protection they need to be safe on the job.”

 

 

More than 40,000 USPS Jobs

Threatened by Delivery Plans

 

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is moving ahead with plans to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, a scheme bitterly fought by postal unions concerned about job losses and declining service to the public. In a report filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Postal Service said moving to five-day delivery could cut an estimated 40,158 full-time positions.

          National Association of Letter Carriers President Frederic V. Rolando said the move would cost 50,000 to 80,000 jobs “in the middle of a jobs crisis.”  The Postal Service employs approximately 600,000 people.

          According to the report, the Postal Service wants to implement the shorter delivery week no later than Sept. 30, 2011.  It said the move would save the postal service about $3 billion annually, nearly all of it by dumping city and rural letter carrier positions.

          Union President Rolando noted that any change must be approved by Congress and in fact it is not a “done deal.”

 

 

Biden Tells Trades Leaders

Obama is Fighting for Workers

 

Vice President Joe Biden told some 3,000 delegates to the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) legislative conference in Washington that the Obama administration’s economic and jobs policies are beginning to take root.

          The administration, Biden told the friendly crowd, is “waging a war to get you back where you belong – not just for your sake but for the sake of the middle class, because if you do not grow, the middle class will not grow.”

          He said the nation must lead the world in education, in energy, in health care and more. But “without a growing middle class our ability to lead to the 21st century is diminished,” he said.

          In a fleeting reference to the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to gain union representation, Biden declared: “We want to make sure you can sign up for a union just like you sign up to vote.”  The line drew cheers from the crowd, but the vice president offered no follow-up on what the administration is doing to get the proposal back on track.

          Biden was introduced by BCTD President Mark Ayers, who opened the three-day April gathering with the declaration that putting building tradesmen and women back to work “is our number one priority.” Unemployment in the trades is around 25 percent.

          Ayers also slammed the “poisonous and reprehensible behaviors of Wall Street and eight years of an administration that had hopes of eradicating unions. Together they have torn a gaping hole in the financial fabric of our nation and our very existence as the stalwarts of the middle class.”

          While apparently agreeing with Biden’s view that recovery is underway, Ayers said it “will be neither painless nor short term.”  He pointed to a variety of measures under consideration on  Capitol Hill that could boost the economy and construction jobs, but are being stalled by the Republican “just say ‘No’” strategy.

          One example, he said: “a balanced energy and climate bill that will generate tens of thousands of construction jobs for our members now and in the future is languishing in the Senate.”

 

 

Women, 78 Cents; Men, $1.00

 

April 20 marked catchup day for women’s pay –  the day on which women workers completed the nearly 16 months of work that brought them up to what men were paid in just 12.

          Put another way, for every dollar men made last year, women made just 78 cents, so it takes women more than a year and one-quarter to make what men earn in just one year.

          According to the most recent data available (2008) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wages of full-time, year-round workers that year stood at $35,745 for women and $46,367 for men.

          The average woman loses $700,000 in pay due to gender discrimination in her lifetime, according to advocates of the Paycheck Fairness Act, approved by the House in 2009 but still awaiting action in the Senate.

          To mark the occasion Pres. Obama declared April 20 National Pay Equity Day, declaring:

          “The collective action of businesses, community organizations, and individuals is necessary to ensure that every woman receives just treatment and compensation.  I call upon American men and women, and all employers, to acknowledge the injustice of wage discrimination and to commit themselves to equal pay for equal work.”

 

$18 Billion Jobless Benefits Bill

Aids Long-Term Unemployed

 

President Obama in mid-April signed an $18 billion bill extending unemployment insurance to hundreds of thousands of workers who have exhausted their state benefits.

          Obama was able to sign the bill only after Senate Democrats put an end to yet another Republican filibuster.  Ultimately only three Republicans voted along with the Democrats to approve the bill.

          The measure came as a welcome relief to hundreds of thousands of people who had run through their state-paid benefits.  The bill allowed them to reapply for long-term unemployment benefits and receive those checks retroactively.

          Obama thanked Congress for passing the temporary extension, saying it was critical to help struggling families make ends meet.

          “Millions of Americans who lost their jobs in this economic crisis depend on unemployment and health insurance benefits to get by as they look for work and get themselves back on their feet,” Obama said in a statement. “But as I requested in my budget, I urge Congress to move quickly to extend these benefits through the end of this year.”

          The bill provides up to 99 weekly unemployment checks averaging $335 to people whose 26 weeks of state-paid benefits have run out. It’s a temporary extension through June 2 that gives House and Senate Democrats time to iron out a measure to fund the program through the end of the year.

          Democrats said it was the wrong tactic for Republicans to take a stand on the deficit after voting for tax cuts, wars and a new Medicare drug benefit without paying for them.

          “They seem to have discovered fiscal responsibility when it comes time to extend unemployment benefits but not when it came to paying for tax cuts for the rich and the Iraq war,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.

 

 

Cheap Shot

 

A big company offered $50 for each money-saving idea submitted by its employees. First prize went to the employee who suggested the award be cut to $25.

 

 

AFL-CIO, Other Major Groups

Endorse Local Jobs Measure

 

The AFL-CIO has endorsed the Local Jobs for America Act, a proposal that the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee says will create or save more than 675,000 local community jobs and more than 250,000 education jobs.

          The bill, developed with a bipartisan group of mayors, county officials and others, would provide local communities with $75 billion over two years to hold off planned cuts or to hire back laid-off workers who provide local services.

          The legislation, H.R. 4812,  also provides $24 billion to help states support 250,000 education jobs, along with funding to put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain, rehire and hire firefighters.

          Declared a letter signed by the AFL-CIO and some 300 other national and state organizations: “We need bold congressional action in order to put Americans back to work and prevent more layoffs and cuts in crucial services. The Local Jobs for America Act will not only provide employment for hundreds of thousands of jobless workers, it will create and save jobs for workers who are providing services that our communities badly need.”

 

 

10% Raises, No ‘Significant’ Benefit

Cuts for 30,000 in New York City

 

A last-minute deal in New York City will bring raises of nearly 10 percent and no “significant” cuts in benefits for some 30,000 doormen, porters, janitors and building superintendents, labor and management announced April 21.

          The workers’ union, Service Employees Local 32BJ, negotiated the deal with the owners of more than 3,200 city apartment buildings.  The settlement ended the threat of a strike, the first since a 12-day walkout in 1991.

          The new deal calls for salary increases of $15 a week in each of the first two years, $22 a week in the third and $23 a week in the fourth. By contract’s end, the average pay of the workers will be about $44,000 a year. In exchange for the raises, the union agreed to try to help the owners find ways to reduce the cost of providing the workers’ health benefits by $70 million annually starting in 2012.

          Union President Mike Fishman told reporters the final details of the contract were worked out in the last half hour of the talks. “We fought hard and won wage increases in a very tough economy, and maintained fully employer-paid family health care for thousands of hard-working people in one of the most expensive cities in the world,” Fishman said.

          The members were represented by a bargaining team of about 60 people, led by Fishman. The owners had a committee of about a dozen led by Howard Rothschild, president of the employer group Realty Advisory Board for Labor Relations

          A union spokesman said that prior to the settlement the average union member was earning about $40,000 a year, or about $20 an hour, and receives medical and dental care for themselves and their families, as well as 10 paid sick days, vacation and pensions.

         

 

100-hour Weeks, No Overtime Pay

Bring $3.9 Million Judgement

 

The U.S. Department of Labor has obtained a $3.9 million judgment against a New Jersey gas station chain that required some workers to put in as many as 100 hours a week, didn’t pay overtime, then deducted two hours’ pay a day for brief or non-existent breaks.

          Raceway Petroleum and Nicholas Kambitsis are being required to pay $3.9 million in unpaid overtime wages and liquidated damages to more than 700 of their former and current employees, predominantly gas attendants. Raceway Petroleum Inc., which operates throughout Central and Southern New Jersey, and owner Kambitsis will also pay $100,000 in civil money penalties.

          “This action underscores our commitment to pursuing all available legal means to ensure workers receive their proper wages,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “The Labor Department will not tolerate employers who violate the rights of workers and attempt to circumvent the law.”

          More than twenty-five witnesses testified during three weeks of trial before a jury in the United States District Court, District of New Jersey.  The consent judgment resolves a lawsuit filed by the department in 2006.

          The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage as well as one and one-half times their regular rates of pay for hours worked over 40 per week. Additionally, the law requires that accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment be maintained. The federal minimum wage for covered, nonexempt employees is $7.25 per hour.

 

 

Administration Moves Ahead

To Kill Anti-Union Scheme

 

The Obama administration is a step closer to killing off a George W. Bush-era scheme that reimburses federal contractors for their expenses in waging anti-union campaigns.

          Under that program, bitterly attacked by labor when first put in place, federal contractors are able to use taxpayer dollars to hire union-busting consulting firms, produce anti-union materials, pay the wages of workers forced to attend anti-union meetings, and the like.

          The U.S. Chamber of Commerce complained that the Obama administration’s proposal to disallow this activity interferes with employers’ “rights to communicate with their employees.”

          Union advocates declared that position nonsense, pointing out that businesses can and do communicate with their workers all they want — but shouldn’t be doing it with taxpayer dollars.

          The administration’s proposal to end the practice was published in the Federal Register.  The public has until June 14 to comment, after which a formal rule will be put in place.

 

 

Dim Outlook on Wages

 

Private sector employees shouldn’t expect much in the way of wage increases in the coming months, according to an analysis by the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA).

          The private publisher said wage expectations have been falling for two years now.  “Any time you have an unemployment rate near 10 percent,” said economic consultant Kathryn Kobe, “there’s still a lot of excess labor capacity.”

          In the coming months, according to BNA, the pace of wage growth for workers in the private sector is expected to remain at or below 2009’s increase of 1.4 percent.  That was the smallest 12-month rise on record since at least 1979.

          The survey did not compare anticipated wage increases in union vs. nonunion settings.

 

 

Oregon Bans Credit History Bias

 

Oregon has barred employers from looking at a worker’s credit history when making decisions about hiring, firing, promotion or pay.

          The new state law, signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski March 29 and to take effect July 1, provides exceptions for public safety agencies, financial institutions and other places where credit problems could be a legitimate issue.  Violations of the law would be an unlawful employment practice.

 

Crunched By the Numbers

 

I was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital after my wife had gone into labor and the nurse walked out and said to the man sitting next to me, “Congratulations sir, you’re the new father of twins!”

          The man replied, “How about that, I work for the Doublemint Chewing Gum company.”

          About an hour later, the same nurse entered the waiting room and announced that Mr. Smith’s wife has just had triplets. Mr. Smith stood up and said, “Well, how do you like that, I work for the 3M Company.”

          The gentleman that was sitting next to me then got up and started to leave. When I asked him why he was leaving, he remarked, “I think I need a breath of fresh air, I work for 7-UP.”

 

 

29 Workers Dead, But Don’t Worry:

Company Stock Was Not Harmed

 

Twenty-nine coal miners died in the worst mining disaster in decades, but don’t you worry about it: Massey Energy Co. stock should be just fine, says Wall Street.

          Here’s a Fox News report a few days after the mine explosion on the thinking of S&P Equity Research, to which investors look for a heads-up on where they can make a buck:

          “Massey Energy on Monday drew an upgrade to buy from hold at S&P Equity Research, while analysts cut their 2010 earnings estimate by 7 cents a share to $2.55 a share on production losses and costs following an explosion that killed 29 miners.

          “We believe that the financial impact of the Upper Big Branch mine tragedy to Massey Energy will be immaterial,” S&P said in a note to clients. “Our opinion is based on our analysis of industry mining accidents, Massey’s indemnification to litigation via insurance, and our belief that the company has ample capacity to mitigate most of the 1.6 million tons of production that was expected to be sold from Upper Big Branch.”

          Whew, that’s good news indeed: Massey has insurance, and they can make up the lost production.

          Safety has been an ongoing issue at Massey, where, unionists charge, worker survival has always taken a back seat to profit.

          Last year, Massey boss Don Blankenship proclaimed it was “very difficult” to obey “nonsensical” safety rules. In 2001, he said he “doesn’t pay much attention to the (safety) violation count.” A few years later he issued a memo to employees telling them to ignore any order – including safety – except to “run coal” because “coal pays the bills.”  Mine safety regulations, he added, were “as silly as global warming.”

          AFL-CIO President and one-time coal miner Richard Trumka said the disaster was “the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct.”

          The deaths occurred at Massey’s nonunion Upper Big Branch mine about 30 miles south of Charleston, W. Va.  Federal safety officials said the mine had a history of violations for not properly ventilating highly combustible methane gas.

 

 

 

End Run Around Republicans

Puts NLRB Back in Business

 

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is back in business.

          For more than two years, Republican maneuvering had kept the five-member board at only two, effectively crippling its ability to function.  But Pres. Obama did an end run around the Senate during its Easter recess and slipped two more Democrats into place.

          The two are former union attorneys: Craig Becker, who most recently worked for the Service Employees union, and Mark G. Pearce, who represented a variety of unions while in private practice in the Buffalo, N.Y. area.

          Becker and Pearce received recess appointments, in which a president can fill some appointive vacancies in the absence of the Senate.  Bitter Republican opposition in that chamber, egged on by business interests, had kept the Senate majority from voting on the two despite their having been okayed by the appropriate Senate panel.

          Obama also wants to appoint a fifth panel member, Republican Brian E. Hayes, a former management attorney, but the president did not use the recess appointment privilege in this case.

          The appointments mean the NLRB will have a Democratic majority for the first time since December 2001.  The new appointments will expire when the Senate ends its 2011 session.

          The board had been limping along with just two members, Chair Wilma B. Liebman, a Democrat, and Peter C. Schaumberger, a Republican.  As a result there are hundreds of backlogged cases and about 70 cases the two determined couldn’t or shouldn’t be resolved by just the two of them.

          The labor movement had offered strong support for the two newest members and applauded Obama’s move.  Declared AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: “America’s working women and men have been waiting for National Labor Relations Board appointments for too long.”

          The Republican stalling tactic on Obama appointments – he’d been trying to get them approved since last July – is not limited to the NLRB.  The president has roughly 75 nominees awaiting Senate approval, but Republicans there are throwing procedural roadblocks in the way of nearly all of them.

 

 

Obama Clears Way for Federal

Project Labor Agreements

 

The Obama administration in late April issued a rule that will allow federal agencies to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on large-scale public construction projects.

          PLAs are pre-hire agreements that establish the terms and conditions of employment for a specific project.  They’re generally known for producing “on time, on budget” results.

          Mark Ayers, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, welcomed the administration’s action, noting that PLAs “have proven over and over that they are a valuable, market-based tool that ensures superior jobsite management, project efficiencies, and workforce productivity and development.”

          He ridiculed claims by those who oppose these agreements as subscribing to a “race to the bottom” mentality, where success is predicated on the ability to assemble a “low-wage, easily exploitable workforce.”

          Ayers noted that many “cost-conscious and profit-oriented private corporations,” including Disney, Toyota, Southern Company, ENG Energy and Constellation Energy, have embraced the benefits of PLAs.

          The federal construction projects involved are those with a total cost to the government of $25 million or more. The Obama Executive Order allowing the PLAs encourages their use but does not mandate them: “Executive agencies may, on a project-by-project basis, require the use of a project labor agreement by a contractor where use of such an agreement will ... advance the Federal Government’s interest in achieving economy and efficiency in Federal procurement.”

          The government cannot compel a contractor to enter into an agreement with any particular labor organization and the Order does not explicitly exclude non-union contractors from competition.

 

 

Labor, Community Activists

Rally for Taxes on Speculators

 

Labor and community activists rallied in 40 cities across the country on April 15 – Tax Day – to highlight the need for good jobs and outline ways to pay for them, including taxes on Wall Street speculators.

          At a Washington, D.C. news conference AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and others called on President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to embrace a proposed Financial Speculation Tax and on Congress to move swiftly for its enactment.

          The tax is described by supporters as a small levy on financial short-term transactions.  Its advocates say it would curb excessive speculation by big banks while having minimal impact on long-term investors.

          According to Jobs With Justice, the primary organizer of the April 15 demonstrations, this is how unfair the U.S. tax system has become:

        Two-thirds of U.S. corporations paid no U.S. income tax between 1998 and 2005.  “Corporations like ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart find ways to evade taxes and get taxpayer money to pick up their tab.”

        Wall Street speculators are rewarding themselves with record pay and bonuses and spend millions lobbying against financial regulations – subsidized in their lobbying by the tax payments of average Americans.

        Tax rates on millionaires keep dropping.  Specifically, households with incomes over $1 million paid income tax equal to 22.1 percent of their adjusted gross income in 2007. This is down from 23.4 percent in 2004, and down  from 30.8 percent in 1996.

        The income gap between the richest 10 percent of Americans and the rest of us has been widening for 30 years.  The top 10 percent took 30-35 per cent of total national income from the early 1940s to the earl 1980s; today it is in the 45-50 percent range.

 

 

Court Gives Green Flag to Huge

Sex-Bias Suit Against Wal-Mart

 

A federal appeals court has given the go-ahead to a class action sex discrimination suit by as many as 1 million women who have worked at Wal-Mart since 2001.  The case could eventually include as many as 2.5 million plaintiffs and cost Wal-Mart billions of dollars in back pay and damages, the womens’ lawyers say.

          The suit is the biggest employment discrimination case in the nation’s history.

          The notoriously anti-union Wal-Mart is accused of paying women on salary and those earning hourly wages less than men for the same jobs and giving them fewer promotions.

          While 65 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly employees were women, only 33 percent of the company’s managers were, records show.

          The lawsuit was filed in 2001 by six women.

          Experts hired by attorney Brad Seligman said research of Wal-Mart’s salary and personnel data on a regional basis showed that women were paid less than men in every region and the pay disparity existed in most job categories. It also took women longer to enter management than men. 

          Company lawyers say there’s no pay disparity between the sexes at most of its stores and managers make subjective salary and promotion decisions at the store level. Forcing the company to defend those decisions on a group basis was a denial of Wal-Mart’s right to due process, they argued.

          The ruling was the third time a court has said women can sue Wal-Mart as a group.

          Class status makes it easier for the group to finance the litigation than if the women proceeded individually. It also gives the women more leverage to negotiate a settlement. A federal judge decided in 2004 that the experiences of the six original plaintiffs may be common to other current and former workers and certified the case as a class action.

          Wal-Mart said it would contest the Appeal’s Court’s 6-5 decision.  It could take the Supreme Court months to decide whether to hear the appeal.

PRC Report Finds Excessive Postage Discounts

APWU Web News Article 027-2010, March 20, 2010

Confirming charges the APWU has made for more than a decade, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) concluded on March 29 that the Postal Service grants excessive postage discounts to large mailers. The USPS suffered a loss of $3.8 billion in Fiscal Year 2009.

The PRC’s Annual Compliance Determination (ACD) [PDF] identified 30 types of worksharing discounts that exceed USPS savings when work is performed by large mailers. According to a March 29 press release [PDF], the Postal Service demonstrated that “special circumstances” justify the discounts in only 17 instances.

Noting that federal law says that workshare discounts may not exceed “avoided costs,” the PRC concluded that “the appropriate action is for the Postal Service to align the discounts with the avoided costs” when it files its next request for a general rate increase.

The APWU is exploring options to help expedite the process of bringing postage discounts into conformity with the law.

Echoing APWU Concerns Echoing APWU Concerns

The PRC findings echo concerns that the APWU has raised regarding the discounts offered to large mailers. “We are pleased the PRC has verified our claims: Postage discounts to large mailers are excessive,” said APWU President William Burrus. “They rob the Postal Service of needed revenue, and undermine the mission of the USPS to provide universal service at uniform rates.”

The PRC report also confirms another important APWU contention, that the general “policies and objectives” of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act do not modify the clear statutory requirements of the law governing workshare discounts. The report notes that the APWU argued “that the language of section 3622(e) is ‘clear and mandatory,’ requiring the Commission to ensure that discounts do not exceed avoided costs unless one of the exceptions within the section is met.”

In addition to postal deficits for FY 2009 created by worksharing, the report also attributed losses to mail volume declines caused by the recession and the requirement that the USPS pay more than $5 billion annually to pre-fund retiree health benefits.

“The USPS business model is based on the premise that discounts for large mailers increases volume,” Burrus said, noting that the most recent findings by the PRC further show that despite disproportionate increases in discounts, mail volume has not increased.

“Furthermore,” Burrus said, “Congress and the American public should be made aware that excessive discounts for large mailers shift costs to individuals and small business mailers.”

 

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Obama Budget Promises Strong Support for USPS

APWU Web News Article 010-2010, Feb. 5, 2010

The Obama administration’s 2011 budget [excerpt - PDF] calls for a continuation of six-day mail delivery and says the White House “will work with the Postal Service, its employee unions, the Congress, and other stakeholders to make sure the Postal Service has the tools and authorities it needs to remain viable as a pillar of the American economy and a vital public resource through the current crisis and over the long haul.” The budget proposal notes that the USPS “faces a serious financial crisis due to unprecedented reductions in mail volume.”

The 2011 budget does not include proposals similar to those advanced in 2010 by the Office of Management and Budget that would have increased postal employees’ share of contributions to healthcare or life insurance coverage.


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Obama: Postal Privatization a ‘Bad Idea’

APWU Web News Article 009-2010, Feb. 5, 2010

President Obama said in an interview posted on YouTube on Feb. 1 that privatization of the USPS would be a “bad idea.” He made the comment during a round of quick answers to questions posed by citizens.

When asked if he would consider allowing the private sector to buy and run troubled federal agencies such as the Postal Service, Obama said privatization is a “bad idea most of the time.”

Regarding the Postal Service, he said, “Everybody would love to have that high-end part of the business,” such as business-to-business delivery. But private companies would not want responsibility for the other services that the Postal Service provides, such as delivering a postcard to a remote area.

The USPS provides universal service, the president said, and private companies would not.

Watch the White House interview with President Obama here.

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A Stunning Announcement:
OIG Says USPS Overpaid
Federal Government $75 Billion

Burrus Update 03-2010, Jan. 20, 2010

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has issued a stunning announcement [PDF]:
The USPS has been overcharged $75 billion in contributions to the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) pension fund.

After an in-depth investigation, the OIG has concluded that an inequitable system for computing the Postal Service’s CSRS pension responsibility has caused the dramatic overpayment. The OIG study [PDF] was conducted in conjunction with the Hay Group, a well-known economic consulting firm.

The funding error follows two previous findings that the Postal Service had been required to overfund its pension obligations. In 2002 it was determined that the Postal Service was on track to overfund CSRS by $78 billion, and in 2003 the USPS was overcharged $27 billion for CSRS military service credits. The earlier overpayments were corrected by legislation adopted in 2003 and 2006, respectively.

The newest overfunding debacle, if corrected, would more than offset the Postal Service’s deficit from Fiscal Year 2009 and the expected shortfalls in FY 2010 and 2011. The doomsday predictors of the imminent demise of the Postal Service must now find a new rationale for their efforts to dismantle postal services.

The cry for a new business model and legislative relief ring hollow when USPS financial difficulties could be fully resolved by returning to the Postal Service the overpayments made to date. Realigning the network, reducing employee compensation and benefits, and transferring the cost of universal service to individual mailers can now be exposed for the fraudulent exercises they represent. Instead, we can engage in a meaningful dialogue about the future of hard-copy communication and the role of postal services in the 21st century — without the looming threat of bankruptcy.

This report is good news for a beleaguered government service. USPS service standards and productivity have remained at high levels; the economy is recovering, and the black cloud of fiscal insolvency could be removed. All parties in the postal community who wish to be of assistance must join in an effort to correct the inequity and relieve the Postal Service of the unjustified funding requirement.

In the meantime, we can take a deep breath and stop the momentum for another round of harmful postal “reform.” And after the attrition of 115,000 APWU-represented positions since 2002, we would appreciate a public recognition that our members have contributed their share.

William Burrus
President

 

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Three States Threaten to Sue FedEx

Over 'Independent Contractor' Ruse

 

Three U.S. states have announced plans to sue package delivery giant FedEx Corp. for violating labor laws by illegally classifying drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

          As unions have pointed out for years, the classification allows FedEx to avoid workers’ compensation costs and ignore anti-discrimination laws and wage and hour protections.  It also throws roadblocks in the way of drivers who want to unionize.

          The attorneys general of New York, New Jersey and Montana said the company has caused a “serious injustice” to more than 1,000 drivers in the three states.

          Even as the company is claiming the drivers are not employees, it subjects them to strict work rules, down to the color of their socks, and to thousands of dollars of expenses to buy or lease trucks and use company uniforms and scanners. The company controls the hours they work, how they dress and when they drive their own trucks.

          In addition, the states said FedEx’s actions deprive them of tax payments and result in unfair competition.  FedEx is second in the private sector package delivery business only to United Parcel Service, a unionized company.

          The Teamsters praised the threat of action against FedEx. “FedEx Ground can’t get away with being a bully anymore, hiding behind its army of lobbyists to avoid responsibilities to workers and to American taxpayers,” said union president Jim Hoffa. “This is an issue of fairness. The laws of this country apply to everyone.”

          The union said FedEx Ground is currently the subject of investigations by 30 other states over its misclassification scheme. Also, more than 45 class-action lawsuits have been filed against the company in state and federal courts over the issue.

          Misclassification of employees not only cheats workers, but leads to the loss of federal income and employment tax revenue, the union noted. It is estimated that more than $4.7 billion in federal income is lost due to this practice. At the state level, misclassifying 1 percent of workers results in an average of $198 million lost annually to state unemployment insurance fund

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Unemployment Continues to Rise,

As Do Claims of Recession’s End

 

The nation’s unemployment rate continued its steady creep upward as 2009 was winding down, but concern for the jobless appeared to be taking a back seat to Wall Street joy over rising stock prices and economists’ declarations that the Great Recession has ended.

          Despite all the upbeat rhetoric, however, the fact remained that if laid-off workers who have settled for part-time work or have given up looking for new jobs are included, the unemployment rate rose to 17 percent in September – roughly 26 million people.  For every six workers looking for a job, only one was there to be found.

          The “official” unemployment rate in September was 9.8 percent.

          Some economists were calling it a “jobless recovery.”  The unemployed were calling it more of the same.

          AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said things would be even worse if not for the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  But, he said, Obama and Congress should extend jobless benefits and give more help to budget-constrained states and cities and put more money into job-creating infrastructure and green jobs.

          For the average person, insistence by economists that the recession had ended did not compute with the numbers being reported.  Manufacturing was down and consumers were still holding down their spending, either because they didn’t have anything to spend or because they were afraid of losing their jobs.

          Even temporary help agencies were cutting jobs.

          Meanwhile, the stock market was rising, the financial industry was back to its old tricks of giving multi-million-dollar bonuses to its bigshots, and big corporations were rewarding their top executives as if nothing had changed over the past year.

          There was general agreement that the official unemployment rate would top 10 percent by the end of the year, and some analysts said it could be well into next year before things started to improve for the workforce.

          The Senate was considering legislation in October to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks, or 20 weeks in states with especially high unemployment, but progress on the plan was being blocked by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).