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Sunday Labor Column: If You’re A Union Member Still Sitting On Your Couch – You Better Get Up And Get Into The Game Because This Was One Hell Of A Week For Organized Labor Right Here In Western New York, As Well As Across The Nation

Published Sunday, April 3, 2011 1:30 pm
by Tom Campbell/Editor-Publisher

If you’re a Union Member and you’re still sitting or lying down on your couch – you had better get up off it - and quickly.  You need to get into the game because this past week was one hell of a week for Organized Labor, Union Members - and for that matter, all Working People - right here in Western New York, as well as across New York State and the Nation.  And if you don’t think things are that bad or that the attacks on Labor and Workers’ Rights are just going to fade away, that couch you’re either sitting on or laying down on just might become a thing of the past in the not too distant future if the Republicans and the wealthy get their way.  And if you don’t think it’s as bad or as serious as it is or can be, then think again: 

  • First up, this from alternet.org - a story headlined: Buried Provision In House GOP Bill Would Cut Off Food Stamps To Entire Families If One Member Strikes (available at www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/538423/buried_provision_in_house_gop_bill_would_cut_off_food_stamps_to_entire_families_if_one_member_strikes/): All around the country, Right-Wing Legislators are asking Middle Class Americans to pay for budget deficits caused mainly by a recession caused by Wall Street.  They’re attacking Workers’ Collective Bargaining Rights, which has provoked a huge Main Street Movement to fight back.  Now, a group of House Republicans is launching a new stealth attack against Union Workers by introducing H.R. 1135, which is designed to “provide information on total spending on means-tested welfare programs, to provide additional work requirements and to provide an overall spending limit on means-tested welfare programs.”  Much of the bill is based upon verifying that those who receive Food Stamps Benefits are meeting the Federal Requirements for doing so.  However, one section that is buried deep within the bill adds a startling new requirement: if passed, the bill would actually cut off all food stamp benefits to any family where one adult member is engaging in a strike against an employer: Striking Workers Ineligible – Now withstanding any other provision of the law, no member of a family unit shall participate in the Food Stamp Program at any time that any able-bodied work eligible adult member of such household is on strike as defined in the Labor Management Relations Act, because of a Labor Dispute (other than a lockout).  The bill also includes a provision that would exempt households from losing eligibility, “if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such family unit shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household.”  Removing entire families from eligibility while a single adult family member is striking would have a chilling effect on workers who are considering going on strike for better wages, benefits, or working conditions — something that’s especially alarming in light of the fact that Unions are one of the fundamental building blocks of the Middle Class that allow people to earn wages that keep them off food stamps.  With a record 42 million Americans on food stamps during these poor economic times, it appears that the right is simply looking for more ways to hurt Working-Class Americans.
  • Then how about the State of Ohio, which followed the lead of the State of Wisconsin and voted to do away with Collective Bargaining Rights for 350,000 Public Employees!  Said American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Gerald McEntee:  “This bill is a reprehensible attack on the Middle Class and the rights of Ohio’s Workers.  It undermines our basic American values by attacking the right of Ohio Workers to have a ‘Voice On The Job.’”  As we all know, several other States with Republican governors across the Nation are looking and moving forward on doing the same.
  • In Albany, protestors who urged New York Lawmakers to restore massive cuts made to Education and Social Service Programs were reportedly locked out of Executive Chambers by Republicans, who sought to silence their opposition to the State’s New Budget and shut down their push for continuance of the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax,” which could be used to help close a $10 billion budget deficit and restore those needed Education and Social Service Programs.  Frank Mauro, who serves as Executive Director of the Albany-based Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), and who recently addressed area Labor Leaders at the Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation’s (WNYALF) Annual Meeting, had served up an array of sobering facts and figures: “There’s been a misrepresentation of the economic situation and a demonization of Public Employees and Teachers.  New York is doing better than much of the Nation.  We are ranked as the second (State) with total personal growth.  You would never know that by what the governor is saying.  We have great wealth and great poverty.  In 2009, the Poverty Rate was fifteen-point-eight-percent.  There’s a lot of work ahead of us to restore a fair tax system and build a case for it.”
  • Last week, the State Appeals Court has ruled, unbelievably, that Buffalo Firefighters, Police Officers and Teachers are not due the salary step increases they had lost during a 38-month-long wage freeze that was instituted by the City’s Control Board.  While City Officials called it a “big win,” Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) President Phil Rumore called it “Union-busting.”  And where “the hell did the City of Buffalo Schools get the $75 million it acknowledged it had put aside to fight the Union’s lawsuit?,” asked one reader who commented on The Buffalo News’ report.  It’s a good question.  Rather than sitting down and working with the Unions, the City decided to fight it out in court and instead pay lawyers gobs and gobs of money.  City Officials should have decided to sit down and negotiate a fair and equitable agreement, which more than likely would have been worked out and one where both sides would have received mutual benefit.  But no – it was better for the City and the School District to battle it out in court and roll the dice on spending that $75 million on lawyers, instead of Teachers.  “I’m hard-pressed to say that I’ve ever seen anything like this before,” BTF President Rumore tells WNYLaborToday.com.  “I believe there was an agenda.  This is a big blow to our members and they are frustrated and angry.  Now the City is looking to move around two-hundred of our Teachers.  It just doesn’t make sense.”  
  • And as Working People get ready to pay their taxes, word came that both General Electric and Bank of America are not paying theirs.  According to a report published on www.publicintelligence.net: After another money-losing year, Bank of America got the upper hand with Uncle Sam in 2010.  The Charlotte-based bank had no Federal Income Tax Expense for a second straight year and actually reported a tax “benefit” of nearly $1 billion.  Also, the bank’s billions in accumulated losses could reduce its taxes in future years, a tax expert said.  Meanwhile, General Electric, the Nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.  The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.  Its American tax bill?  Nothing.  In fact, GE claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.  At the same time, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt reportedly saw his compensation double.  Now GE is expected to ask 15,000 of their Unionized Workers to make major concessions in wages and benefits.  Adding insult to injury, Immelt is chair of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.  So - what's wrong with this picture?  Should Immelt be leading the Obama Administration's effort to create jobs?  Great Friends of Labor those Democrats are turning out to be, huh?  When is someone, such as President Obama, going to make a very public and high-profile stand with Labor? The outcry on the Social Network Facebook from individual Union Members is growing while the silence from the White House, other than from Vice President Joe Biden, is deafening…
  • And this from the Alliance of Retired Americans: No Payday Worries For CEOs - According to The Wall Street Journal, bonuses for CEO’s at 50 major corporations increased by a median of 30.5% in the past year, the biggest gain in at least three years.  The largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, doubled the total compensation of its CEO despite the 19,000 employees the company is expected to lay off.  “While Americans of all ages continue to struggle to put food on the table and pay their bills, there’s never been a better time – or country – to be the CEO of a big corporation,” said Ruben Burks, Alliance Secretary-Treasurer.  “This makes talk of cutting Social Security or Medicare all the more outrageous.” 
  • Back here in Western New York, local families of Flight 3407 were given a body blow to the mid-section courtesy of the Republican Party in Washington as their long-term fight for reforms in the Aviation Industry – including an array of tighter and improved regulations on training and safety – was derailed by Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Bill Shuster, who apparently was listening more to Aviation Industry Lobbyists than to the families who lost loved ones in the Clarence crash.  As reported in The Buffalo News: The vote was a big win for the National Air Transportation Association and other industry groups that supported Shuster’s effort.  Now Republican Candidate Jane Corwin, the multi-millionaire who has seeks to replace the disgraced Chris Lee in Congress and who is running local campaign commercials that proudly state she’s standing up for Working People – is apparently bringing in a major anti-Worker/Anti Worker blowhard to Western New York for an extremely expensive fundraiser: House Speaker John Boehner.  An incensed Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan released the following statement: “After the House vote that spat in the face of the families of Flight 3407 by weakening our hard-fought aviation reforms, it is insulting that Jane Corwin has invited Speaker John Boehner, leader of the Republican-led House, to fundraise for her in the very community that endured the heartbreak of this tragedy.  While I am not surprised that an Albany politician has called on a Washington politician to come to her aid, I call on the Corwin campaign to retract this invitation immediately.”  The question is, What the hell is Corwin thinking?  Worse yet, how insensitive is this?  In the end, it’s just another millionaire that doesn’t need a job that pays around $150k a year.  It’s all about the influence, baby.  But heck, she’s for Working People… right?

  • So where are all those Friends of Labor in Albany when it comes to publicly supporting the continuance of the so-called “Millionaires’ Tax” that would raise $5 billion to help plug New York State’s $10 billion deficit, instead of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to lay off thousands of State Employees?  And where are all those Friends of Labor in Albany when it comes to supporting collection of billions of dollars in Stock Transfer Taxes that are forgiven to Wall Street, which by last count must be forever blessed when it comes to taxpayer-funded bailouts and millions more in CEO bonuses and no taxes (see Bank of America and General Electric)?

 

Like I said - what a week it was 

Well now that we’ve outlined all the good news that’s recently taken place, the most important question that needs to be asked – right now - is this:  Are you either pissed off enough and/or convinced enough to get off that couch and get involved?

If you are, here’s what you need to do, for starters:

  • If you’re a Union Member – you need to reach out to your Union and ask what you can do, and you need to start attending your Union’s regular meetings. 
  • You need to get out and participate in the public rallies that are being held locally to send those in Albany and Washington that you aren’t going to sit idly by on your couch and allow this to happen to Working People. 
  • You need to make a personal commitment and hop on a bus and travel to places like Albany, New York City and Washington and participate with those who have made the same commitment to get the point across and make a stand. 
  • You need to write letters, send e-mails and make personal telephone calls to the offices of these Local, County, State and Nationally-Elected Lawmakers who are having a very tough time these days deciding on which side the fence they should be sitting – as well as exactly who they should be representing. 
  • And you need to take this anger and frustrating and turn it into something positive – fighting for the survival of the Middle and Working Class.

And after you’ve done that – you need to do more. 

Make no mistake about it, the Republican Party and the wealthy have declared war on Working People.  And they have an arsenal of weapons and influences they’ve unleashed to once and for all squash the Labor Movement and remove the last remaining firewall between the wealthy and the Middle/Working Class in this country.

CWA (Communications Workers of America) District 1 Political Director Bob Master, who also addressed area Labor Leaders at that recent WNYALF meeting, summed it all up:

We have no choice but to make sure those in the Union Movement ‘really’ understand what’s at stake in this struggleWhile I do believe the tide is turning, we must all understand what we have to do.  We all need to understand that a crime is happening in Albany when you cut Teachers, cut compensation for Public Employees and cut vital Social Services for the neediest in this State and have a Democratic governor insisting we have to do it without taxing the rich.  It’s a crime to recast a divided society of Public Employees against taxpayers.”

So, what are you going to do?

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