|ONLINE VERSION||SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2001|
|News In Brief|
To maintain a "safe and decent standard of living" in 1999, a two-parent, two-child family needed an average annual income of $33,511, nearly twice that year’s federal poverty line, according to a study released July 24. The study, Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families, by the Economic Policy Institute, found 29 percent of families with one to three children younger than 12 cannot afford basic necessities. That is two-and-a-half times more families than those that fall below the official federal poverty line. For a copy of the report, go online to www.epinet.org.
Americans are working more hours than workers elsewhere in the industrialized world and have the highest productivity rates, according to the International Labor Organization. The average U.S. worker put in 1,978 hours in 2000, nearly one week more on the job than they did a decade earlier. In contrast, hours of workers in Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom have declined. ILO economist Jeff Johnson, who spearheaded the study, said that the only two countries where people worked more are South Korea and the Czech Republic. The report is scheduled for release at the ILO Global Employment Forum on November 1-3.
CEOs Cash In
The nation’s top corporate executives continue to enjoy substantial pay hikes while Wall Street slides and workers face the biggest job cuts in a decade, according to a study by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy. "Never over these [last eight] years, however, has there been such a blatant pattern of CEOs benefiting at the expense of their workers as the year 2000," says the report, entitled Executive Excess 2001: Lay-offs, Tax Rebates and the Gender Gap, Eighth Annual CEO Compensation Survey. To read the report, go online to www.ips-dc.org.
"Injustice" Marred Florida Vote
A report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission concluded that Florida’s 2000 presidential election was marred by "injustice, inepitude and inefficiency," and that minority voters, especially African Americans, were affected by the problems most frequently. The commission cited an "overzealous" effort by officials to purge voter lists and said minority voters were less likely to have access to modern voting machines. African American voters, who make up 11 percent of the state’s electorate, accounted for 54 percent of the votes rejected. Their votes were rejected at about 10 times the rate of white voters. "The disenfranchisement was not isolated or episodic," the commission reported. President George W. Bush was credited with a 537-vote margin over former Vice President Al Gore in Florida, which provided Bush’s electoral vote edge.
Bush’s Scare Tactics
A new report from President George W. Bush’s Social Security privatization commission — stacked with financial industry and corporate executives, anti-government ideologues and retired politicians — uses scare tactics and half-truths to alarm the public unnecessarily about the country’s most effective family support program and lay the groundwork for private accounts, critics charge. In a draft report released July 19, the commission painted a "disingenuous and inflammatory critique of the program," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "If any doubts remain about how zealously President Bush’s Social Security privatization commission would prosecute its case against Social Security and for privatized individual investment accounts, the draft report will dispel them," Sweeney said. The commission deliberately resorted to "scare tactics to persuade women and minority workers, in particular, that the program is failing them," Sweeney said. In what may come as a shock to working families, the commission said neither workers nor retirees have legal ownership of their Social Security benefits. "Instead, what they have is a political promise that can be changed at any time, by any amount, for any reason," the commission wrote in a preface to the report. The commission was due to issue final recommendations in September after this JOURNAL went to print. For more information on the commission’s dirty work, see the article "Shortchanging the Next Generation" in this JOURNAL.
Dipping Into Social Security
Meanwhile, a new Congressional Budget Office report shows that the nation’s budget surplus has shriveled under the Bush administration to the point where President George W. Bush will be forced to raid the Social Security surplus for $9 billion before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The surplus has shrunk by some 45 percent since Congress passed Bush’s millionaire tax cut in the spring. "Responsible policymakers have said for months that this reckless, short-sighted tax cut would leave little or no money for the priorities that most Americans share, such as investing in education or health care," said AFT President Sandra Feldman, who chairs the AFL-CIO social policy committee.
No to Corporate Outlaws
One of President Bush’s first actions was to suspend temporarily "responsible contractor" rules that took into account a corporation’s record of complying with laws, including civil rights and workers’ rights laws, before awarding government contracts. A broad coalition of groups, including the AFL-CIO, is mobilizing to tell the government those rules should not be permanently repealed. "Making compliance with the law part of the test for being a responsible contractor reinforces to companies the importance of making sure they are operating in conformance with our laws. It also helps ensure that the government is awarding contracts to the most responsible, ethical, trustworthy companies," AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson told a meeting of the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council June 18. FARC was accepting comments on the responsible contractor rules until July 6.
By a 58-41 margin, the U.S. Senate defeated an attempt to include a taxpayer-funded, private school voucher scheme in its education bill. AFT President Sandra Feldman said in the effort to improve the nation’s public schools, Congress should focus on programs that work, such as class size reduction, and not divert "precious time and resources on unproven voucher schemes." The Senate passed the education bill June 14 and it went to conference with a version passed by the House.
Got Equal Pay?
Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) joined union leaders and representatives of dozens of women’s groups June 12 in a rally to urge passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act (S 77 and HR 781), which would toughen penalties for employers who pay women less than men for the same job in violation of the Equal Pay Act. "I’ve gone on the AFL-CIO’s website (www.aflcio.org/women) and they have a calculator that estimates projected loss of earnings for women ... as high as $888,000 — that’s outrageous!" Kelly Thomas, a student at Norfolk State University, said at the rally.
Mobilizing for Prescription Drugs
Union activists and leaders are taking the Medicare prescription drug fight to thousands of worksites, while members of the newly-launched 2.5 million-member Alliance for Retired Americans are spreading the word to the public and to politicians. The champion of the millionaire tax cut, President George W. Bush, has proposed a sham drug benefit that would help only a handful of seniors and funnel money to private insurance companies instead of operating through Medicare. Union members began worksite leafleting early in June and continued throughout the month. Fliers calling on Congress to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit are available at www.aflcio.org/workingfamiliestoolkit. Alliance members staged demonstrations in several cities demanding Medicare prescription drug coverage and lobbied lawmakers during the congressional recess. Winning prescription drug coverage under Medicare is the Alliance’s top-legislative priority.
DOL Can Run, But Not Hide
In Chicago, hundreds of union, community, student and faith activists joined injured workers to protest the second of three sham forums held by the U.S. Department of Labor on such workplace ergonomic injuries as carpal tunnel syndrome. The July 20 rally — like the July 16 demonstration prior to a forum in suburban Washington, DC — slammed the Labor Department’s decision to stack the witness list in favor of Big Business interests while excluding such groups as the National Academy of Sciences and more than 100 workers who requested to testify. Workplace safety experts accuse the Bush administration of using the forums to deflect criticism from its March scuttling of a standard to protect workers against the workplace injuries.
OK Is Not OK
On June 18, 200 union activists picketed a $2,500-a-plate fundraiser at a Washington, DC hotel, planned to raise money for the Sept. 25 Right to Work for Less Oklahoma ballot initiative. Some 60 anti-union corporate executives and lobbyists attended the event, which was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK). Protestors included Rep. Major Owens (D-NY) who walked the line and Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI) who stopped to wave a CWA protest sign before attending another function at the hotel.
‘Keep Your Word’
One year after candidate George W. Bush promised to "safeguard American markets against unfair practices like dumping," a coalition of the Steelworkers and steel companies are calling on the president to keep his word. In newspaper ads in cities Bush visited in May, the Stand Up for Steel Coalition highlighted the continued illegal dumping of cheap foreign steel that has pushed major steel companies into bankruptcy and cost more than 23,000 good U.S. jobs. More than 1,500 Steelworkers joined USWA President Leo Gerard, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley (D) and members of the Maryland congressional delegation May 23 for a Stand Up for Steel town hall summit in Sparrows Point, Maryland. The rally was designed to buoy support for HR 808, the Steel Revitalization Act, which would place a five-year limit on steel imports and set up funds to save the steel industry. Meanwhile, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has requested that the U.S. Senate investigate unfair steel exports by the European Union, Japan, South Korea and others.
Stop Fast Track
Working families are mobilizing to stop Fast Track legislation that would allow President George W. Bush and his corporate allies to establish special rules for considering trade agreements in Congress. In July the House began considering Bush’s request for authority to railroad through Congress, without debate or change, such trade agreements as the Free Trade area of the Americas which would expand the flawed North American Free Trade Agreement to the entire hemisphere. On June 26 AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney issued the following statement: "The Graham-Murkowski fast track bill announced today does nothing to advance the debate over how to expand trade policy in a way that is fair and balanced. At a time when there needs to be more dialogue on this issue — not less — the Graham-Murkowski approach will further polarize the discussion. In many respects, the proposed legislation is weaker on the issue of workers’ rights than similar provisions in the 1988 Fast Track bill. The AFL-CIO urges Senators to reject this bill as a starting point for discussions on fast track. Trade agreements should not serve only the interests of big corporations. Workers’ rights and the environment must be incorporated into our trade agreements and made enforceable through sanctions. We look forward to working with our allies in the environmental, human rights, family farm, religious, consumer and development communities to shape a trade policy that does just that." AFL-CIO Fast Track Bus Tours were scheduled for the second and third weeks of September in the states of Alabama, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The purpose of the tours is to mobilize and energize union leadership, rank-and-file union members and coalition allies to make unprecedented telephone calls to members of Congress district offices to ensure they vote NO when the Fast Track vote comes up on the House floor sometime in September.
The world union movement presented a set of principles to eliminate racism at the World Conference Against Racism, which opened in South Africa at the end of August. The principles include strong stands against discrimination based on race, gender, disability or immigrant status and were developed through a series of regional meetings of members of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, including the AFL-CIO. AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer William Lucy led the AFL-CIO delegation to the conference.
Guatemala Decision Slammed
The Bush administration’s decision to allow Guatemala to continue receiving special trade benefits despite serious workers’ rights violations has been criticized severely by rights groups. The controversy stems from a 1999 labor dispute involving Del Monte banana workers and union leaders who were violently intimidated by armed thugs, including being kidnapped and forced to renounce a strike over the radio, according to the U.S. Labor/Education in the Americas Project. The United States then put Guatemala’s special trade privileges granted under the Caribbean Basin Initiative and General System of Preferences on probation and ordered a review of its labor record. In May, the U.S. trade representative announced that some labor code reforms passed by the country’s congress were sufficient to lift the probation. In Guatemala, "those who violate workers’ rights and commit violence with impunity are no doubt slapping each other on the back," said U.S. LEAP Executive Director Stephen Coats.
Union Leaders Attacked
On July 18, nonunion workers, allegedly instigated by management, physically attacked and threatened the lives of female leaders of new unions at the Choishin and Cimetextiles factories in Guatemala that make clothes for the Liz Claiborne label, according to the workers’ rights group STITCH. Activists are asked to urge support of Claiborne’s code of conduct and Guatemalan labor law. Contact Paul Charron, Claiborne chairman and CEO, at Liz Claiborne Inc., 1441 Broadway, New York, NY 10018; phone: 212-354-4900; fax: 212-626-3416. Also contact the Guatemalan ambassador to the United States, Dr. Ariel Rivera-Irias, at the Guatemalan Embassy, 2220 R St., NW, Washington, DC 20008; phone: 202-745-4952; fax: 202-745-1908. For more information about the campaign, go online to www.usleap.org.
Citing the deaths of 37 elementary school students in China March 6, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) called for the U.S. Labor Department and U.S. Customs Service to investigate whether fireworks and other products are made with forced child labor. The students were killed while assembling firecrackers. Miller was joined at a press conference in late June by Chinese human rights activist Harry Wu, who said, "America cannot in good conscience celebrate its own freedom every Fourth of July with products that might be denying Chinese schoolchildren their own freedom."
Call for Global Action
Trade unions from around the world are joining together for a Global Unions’ Day of Action November 9, the opening day of the World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar. The Day of Action will "mark the unwillingness of trade unions to accept the negative effects that globalization is imposing on workers around the world," said Bill Jordan, general secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The announcement of the November action came as activists from around the world marched and protested during the G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy in July, against a global economy that benefits the rich at workers’ expense. Italian police killed one protester and injured hundreds of others in a crackdown against legal, peaceful demonstrations. The leaders of the world’s richest nations, including President George W. Bush, continued to ignore the concerns of working people, including a proposal by AFL-CIO President Sweeney that the leaders reduce the U.S. dollar’s value to avoid a global recession.
A Union Strawberry
The United Farm Workers is asking consumers to help the union by purchasing Coastal Berry brand strawberries. On March 8, the UFW reached an historic milestone by signing a three-year contract with Coastal, the largest strawberry grower in the United States.
7 Days in June
For the third year, 7 Days in June, brought together thousands of union activists and their community allies with workers trying to win a voice on the job by shining a spotlight on the tactics employers use to thwart workers’ efforts to achieve dignity and respect. Activists were so energized they continued mobilizing even after the official 7 days in June ended June 16. From coast to coast, in small towns and big cities, thousands of activists rallied, marched, held hearings, rode on justice buses and more — all to shine a light on the struggles workers face when they try to form unions. In Portland, Oregon, Delta Air Lines workers organizing with the Flight attendants won an important victory when union leaders convinced airport officials to recognize free speech rights for organizing. In Las Vegas, more than 125 clergy, community and union members released "The Book of Shame," a list of employers accused of violating workers’ rights to organize unions. New York City and Houston activists boarded their justice buses to visit sites where workers are organizing. At the U.S. Capitol, 10 members of the House of Representatives spoke out in favor of organizing campaigns in their districts. Union activists in Cleveland held a breakfast for 14 area mayors who wanted to learn more about organizing in their region. Augmenting live rallies and events this year was an online "e-campaign" to make working families’ voices heard by Delta Air Lines, Verizon and Tyson Foods companies interfering with workers’ rights.
Justice for Janitors Day
Union, community and religious activists marched, fasted and rallied on June 15, Justice for Janitors Day, calling on Congress and the president to reform unfair immigration laws and demanding that employers provide workers with decent wages and health insurance. June 15 marks the 11th anniversary of the police riot in Century City, when Los Angeles police beat striking janitors. "Real immigration reform must provide legal status to hard-working, tax-paying immigrants in this country," said SEIU President Andrew L. Stern. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and several other Congressmen attended the kickoff for the National Fast for Justice in front of the U.S. Capitol. Immigrants from more than a dozen nations took part in the 24-hour fast and vigil in Washington, D.C. Events were also held in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York City, Baltimore and more than a dozen other cities. Meanwhile, "Bread and Roses," the movie that depicts the struggle of janitors in Los Angeles to form a union, opened June 1. To see the movie’s trailer, photos of the actors, artwork and more, visit www.justiceforjanitors.org and SEIU’s website, www.seiu.org/sciu_ads, where you can download materials to help promote the film.
Tens of thousands of union members, their families and friends marked Labor Day with picnics, parades and other events, including rallies to protect workers’ and environmental rights throughout the world by defeating President Bush’s call for Fast Track trade authority. Activities ranged from a march for social justice in Burlington, Vermont to an amateur stock race with local union leaders in Louisville, Kentucky to more than 800 Labor in the Pulpits worship services in more than 140 cities. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was the guest preacher at the Washington National Cathedral and spoke at a Labor Day mass honoring immigrant workers in Los Angeles that was also attended by union presidents Terrence O’Sullivan of the Laborers, Andrew Stern of SEIU and John Wilhelm of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson spoke at three Sunday masses in Phoenix, Arizona.