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Economy Adds 80,000 Jobs, Jobless Rate Drops to 9%

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Image: Mike HallThe U.S. economy added just 80,000 jobs in October and the nation’s unemployment rate dipped slightly to 9 percent, down from September’s 9.1 percent, according to the latest figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The nation’s economy needs 130,00-150,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with the influx of new workers.

The report comes a day after Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work rebuilding the nation’s crumbling highways, bridges and roads and just a few weeks after they killed legislation that would have put  400,000 teachers and first responders back to work  or allowed them to stayon the job.

Jobs for state and local public employees contunue to fall with 24,000 losing their jobs last month.

Some 14 million workers remain unemployed, but a total of some 26 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have stopped looking for work. The number of long-term jobless (more than 27 weeks) was 5.9 million or 42.4 percent of the total jobless.

Yesterday, legislation was introduced to reauthorize federal unemployment insurance programs for 2012. Nearly two million out-of-work Americans will be cut off from federal unemployment insurance in January alone, unless Congress renews the programs before they expire on December 31, according to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).  More than six million U.S. workers could face premature cut-off over the course of 2012.

Click here for the full BLS report.

This blog post originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on November 4, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.


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America Wants to Work Week of Action Spotlights Rising Call for Jobs

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Image: Mike HallMike Matthews, president of the Kanawha Valley (W.Va.) Labor Council, knows why more and more people are taking to the streets and speaking out against Big Banks, Wall Street and congressional Republicans who are standing in the way of job creation.

Everybody’s frustrated, especially when you don’t have work.

Wednesday in Charleston, union and community activists marched and rallied as part of the AFL-CIO’s America Wants to Work National Week of Action to promote a real jobs agenda. See more from WSAZ-TV.

In Fort Collins, Colo., several dozen gathered to highlight one of the most effective and quick ways put Americans back to work—rebuilding the infrastructure, including the states’ 128 bridges that are rated in poor condition. Says Colorado AFL-CIO Executive Director Mike Cerbo:

America is still suffering from the worst job crisis since the Great Depression, yet our infrastructure is still crumbling—we can put people back to work tomorrow.

In Eau Claire, Wis., union members and student and community activists held a wake for the death of good jobs. They also expressed support for the Occupy Wall Street movement that is growing across the nation. Mark Slepica told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram:

I just want to show solidarity for the movement that’s beginning all across the U.S. It’s not just a Wall Street thing. It’s not just a big cities thing. I hope that people see that their neighbors are part of this.

This afternoon in Boston, union members from the Greater Boston Labor Council are joining in solidarity with the Occupy Boston protesters in Dewey Square to demand that Congress act to create jobs and financial institutions invest some of the trillions they are sitting on into job creation.

In Baltimore tonight, hundreds of working families are expected to attend a townhall forum on joblessness and its devastating impact on the local economy and on communities of color.  The town hall is sponsored by the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO Unions in coalition with the NAACP, BUILD and Ministerial Alliance.

The National Week of Action runs through Oct. 16. Click here to find an America Wants to Work action near you. You also can sign an America Wants to Work petition to Congress here. Follow the action on Twitter with the hashtag #want2work. Find an Occupy Wall Street event near you here. You can share Occupy Wall Street events on Facebook here.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on October 13, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.



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Support Grows for Striking Verizon Workers’ Fight for Middle-Class Jobs

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Image: Mike HallThe huge crowd outside the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C., Saturday wasn’t there for a basketball game or concert. They came to tell Verizon to stop its attack on middle-class jobs.

The Verizon Center demonstration and dozens and dozens of other actions at Verizon worksites and Verizon Wireless stores are part of the growing support for the 45,000 Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Electrical Workers (IBEW) members forced on strike by Verizon Aug. 6.

Photo credit: Scott ReynoldsThe company, with $32.5 billion in revenue in the past three years, is demanding $1 billion in concessions from workers, which amounts to $20,000 per Verizon worker per year. While talks resumed last week, those demands remain on the table. Says CWA Communications Director Candice Johnson:

If wealthy companies like Verizon can continue to cut working families’ pay and benefits, we will never have an economic recovery in this country. This is a fight for all middle-class working families.

Verizon’s demands include outsourcing jobs overseas, gutting pension security, eliminating benefits for workers injured on the job, eliminating job security, slashing paid sick leave and raising health care costs.

CWA filed unfair labor practice charges against Verizon Aug. 12 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), charging the company with refusal to bargain in good faith.

Union workers and community allies are joining striking CWA and IBEW members on the picket lines. Barbara Smith of CWA Local 1109 In Brooklyn, N.Y., told Labor Notes that when Verizon Wireless pickets are up:

pedestrians stop and thank us because they understand that this fight is about more than Verizon.

While Verizon is demanding that workers take home less, it paid its top five executives more than $258 million over the past four years, including $80.8 million for its former CEO Ivan Seidenberg. Friday night, more than 500 CWA, IBEW members and their allies held a candlelight vigil outside Seidenberg’ West Nyack, N.Y., home.

They carried a coffin to symbolize the death of the middle class. CWA Local 1101 member Ron Canterino, told reporters:

The middle class is dying here, and we’re here to be together as one class, one people—whether it’s union or nonunion working people.

Here are some other actions you can take to support the strikers:

  • Find a local picket line to support here.
  • Download leaflets here.
  • “Like” the strikers on Facebook here and change your Facebook and/or Twitter profile picture in solidarity here.
  • Click here to demand that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam value employees’ work and share his corporation’s success with those who make it possible.
  • Click here for a list of picket sites in the New York and New Jersey area. `
  • Click here to sign and Tweet an act.ly petition demanding Verizon drop its outrageous concessionary demands.
  • To Tweet about the strike, use the hashtag #verizonstrike and feel free to direct to @VZLaborfacts.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Blog on August 15, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.


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Republican FAA Shutdown Costs 4,000 Jobs, Threatens 90,000

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Image: Mike HallWhen Republican House leaders forced a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week, they not only forced the layoff of 4,000 FAA workers, they also put at risk nearly 90,000 construction jobs at airports around the country.

FAA funding expired after midnight Friday because Republicans blocked temporary funding in an effort to overturn a new rule making union elections among rail and airline workers more democratic.

With a long-term FAA funding bill stalled, Congress could have passed temporary spending authority, as it has 20 times in the past without controversy. But  like their tactics on debt ceiling negotiations, Republicans  are demanding their way at any cost.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called on Republicans “to stop playing ideological games” and to:

get down to the serious business of creating jobs, instead of laying off FAA aviation experts and tens of thousands of construction workers, who are already experiencing close to 20 percent unemployment rates nationally. Adding insult to injury, just as the government reaches its debt limit, this disruption of the FAA means that aviation taxes—totaling up to $200 million a week—that normally fund our aviation infrastructure may instead end up in the airlines’ pockets.

Says AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Edward Wytkind:

Here we go again. House Republican leaders are playing political games at the expense of vital services and thousands of good jobs….Unfortunately in this game there are no winners. Republican leaders are holding hostage a simple funding extension of vital air safety programs, forcing furloughs on 4,000 FAA employees, jeopardizing thousands of construction jobs as airport projects are at risk and even sticking it to rural America by threatening their air service.

The FAA partial shutdown means no one is collecting the tax on airline tickets, costing the federal government $200 million a week.

It also means airport improvement construction jobs will be lost in every state and FAA aviation experts furloughed in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In Florida, for example, a total of 3,088 jobs are shut down or at risk, in Illinois it’s 3,286 and in Ohio it’s 1,358.

The laid off FAA workers include engineers, scientists, research analysts, administrative assistants, computer specialists, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists and community planners.

Says AFSCME President Gerald McEntee:

FAA employees should not have their livelihoods jeopardized because a few politicians want to play political games.  The FAA employees we represent are hardworking public servants who are committed to maintaining what is undeniably the most efficient aviation system in the world.  Congress should pass a short-term extension at once and recommit themselves to passing a long-term bill that does not take away the rights of working men and women.

The union election rule in question, adopted last year by the National Mediation Board (NMB), says air and rail union elections should be decided by a majority of votes cast. Previously, each worker who did not cast a vote in an air or rail  representation election was automatically counted as a “No” vote. If the old rule were applied to Congress, not a single sitting member would have been elected.

Larry Cohen, Communications Workers of America (CWA) president, says:

It’s a sad day when extremists would rather shut down the FAA and force the layoff of thousands of workers than allow airline workers to vote in a union election under the same standards used in every other American election.

This blog originally appeared in Afl-CioNow Blog on July 25, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.


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Republican NLRB Threats Part of Bigger War on Workers

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The Republican “outrage” machine has been operating in high-dudgeon mode since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against the Boeing Co. in April.

But as David Madland of the Center for American Progress Action Fund points out, the manufactured Boeing outrage is “part of a long-running, highly orchestrated right-wing campaign against workers and their unions that has now reached a fevered pitch.”

This is not, of course, the conservative movement’s first attempt to prevent the Obama administration from trying to protect workers’ basic rights to join a union and collectively bargain.

Earlier this year, Madland writes, 176 House Republicans (75 percent of the caucus) voted to eliminate all funding for the NLRB and while that failed to pass, a continuing resolution previously passed by the House included a $50 million reduction in the NLRB’s budget and would have forced NLRB staff members to be furloughed for 55 days, causing a backlog of cases to pile up.

Madland points out that congressional Republicans also are fighting to overturn the National Mediation Board’s (NMB’s) new rule that says air and rail union elections should be decided like any other election—including congressional elections—by a majority of votes cast. Previously each worker who did not cast a vote in a representation election was automatically counted as a “No” vote.

Senate Republicans also attempted to attach an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that would have blocked workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from voting to join a union. Madland writes these congressional actions are in addition to the state attacks on workers’ rights being waged in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states. He says the attacks on the NLRB over the Boeing case are part of the:

conservative movement’s campaign to weaken workers’ rights. Sadly, conservatives have shown they want to eliminate laws protecting workers’ rights to join a union and collectively bargain, and when they can’t get rid of the law, they seek to prevent its enforcement.

Click here for his full article.

Keep in mind that when the NLRB issues a complaint, it’s only the first step in a long process of determining whether the company violated the law, a process in which Boeing will have ample opportunity to present its side of the case.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on May 18, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.


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Walker Scales Hypocrisy Summit with Worker ‘Recognition’ Awards

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Image: Mike HallSome might call it gall, others might say chutzpah.  I’m leaning toward calling it two-faced with several words preceding it that got me into a lot of trouble with my mother when I was a kid.

But whatever you decide to call Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s announcement that he has launched a series of state employee recognition awards rewards just weeks after his long and bitter fight to eliminate their collective bargaining rights, it’s hypocrisy at its worst. (Speaking of hypocrisy, check this out from Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich.)

Walker’s action comes just days after he appointed the partner in a union-busting Milwaukee law firm as the new commissioner and chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC). That’s the state body that decides disputes between state workers and management and now with Wisconsin workers’ rights eroded is even more important.

First the “coveted” awards and then a word about the new labor commish.

Walker says that his new State Employee Recognition awards program is his way of saying “thanks” for the hard work and dedication of state workers and to “highlight the most outstanding employees with recognition. ” Walker’s sincerity just oozes out of that quote. Brings the word “smarmy” to mind, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, Walker’s new WERC chair, James R. Scott, comes to his post straight from the law firm Linder & Marsack S.C. which tells prospective clients:

Since our founding, we have aggressively represented our non-represented clients in pursuit of their goal to maintain a non-union status in furtherance of these goals.

Read more from Judd Lounsbury at the Uppity Wisconsin blog, including cases where Scott “specifically fought against government workers.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 12, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.


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Fair Pay Act Would Bring Equal Pay for Equal Work

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Image: Mike HallYesterday, equal rights advocates marked Equal Pay Day to remind the nation that women are paid  just 80 cents for every dollar men earn, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the Fair Pay Act of 2011 that would ensure that employers provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

Harkin says that discrimination accounts for much of the pay gap and there are too many loopholes and barriers to effective enforcement of existing laws. “We need to strengthen penalties and give women the tools they need to confront discrimination.”

At the same time, we must recognize that the problem of unequal pay goes beyond insidious discrimination. As a nation, we unjustly devalue jobs traditionally performed by women, even when they require comparable skills to jobs traditionally performed by men.

Millions of jobs dominated by women such as social workers, teachers, child care workers and nurses are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility and working conditions to similar jobs dominated by men says Harkin:

But the female-dominated jobs pay significantly less. This is inexplicable. Why is a housekeeper worth less than a janitor? Why is a parking meter reader worth less than an electrical meter reader? Why is a social worker worth less than a probation officer?

Commentator Debbie Hines writes on OpEdNews.com today:

Women’s salaries are outpaced by men almost everywhere from the highest paying occupation to the lowest paying occupations. Everywhere from doctors and lawyers to cashiers and lesser positions, women earn less than their male counterparts.

The Fair Pay Act would also require employers to publicly disclose their job categories and their pay scales, without requiring specific information on individual workers. Under current law women who believe they are the victim of pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and endure a drawn-out legal discovery process to find out whether they make less than the man working beside them.

It took Lilly Ledbetter nearly 20 years before she discovered she was being paid less than men doing the same job and was able to file suit. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against her in 2007, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that helps level the playing field for victims of wage discrimination that President Obama signed in 2009. Says Harkin:

On this Equal Pay Day, let us make sure that what happened to Lilly never happens again by recommitting to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and make equal pay for equal work a reality

Click here for more information on the Fair Pay Act.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 12, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.


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MSHA Says Massey Blast Shows Need for Tougher Safety Laws

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Image: Mike HallAs we approach Tuesday, April 5, the first anniversary of the deadly blast at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine that killed 29 coal miners, the nation’s top mine safety official today called for tougher laws and bigger penalties for safety violators.

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief Joe Main today told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee:

No mine operator should be risking the lives of its miners by cutting corners on health and safety. For those operators who do knowingly engage in such practices, we need to send a message that their actions will not be tolerated.

Main also called for stronger protections for miners who speak out about unsafe practices and conditions.

Miners know best the conditions in their mine. But miners are afraid to speak out because they fear they’ll lose their jobs.

He also said a full report on the blast is several months away, but MSHA will hold a public briefing in June. After the Upper Big Branch explosion, MSHA has increased its enforcement efforts, created new mine safety screening procedures and conduced 228 “impact” inspections at mines with poor safety records or other warning signs of problems.

He said the new screening procedures were put in place after officials discovered that a computer error had allowed Upper Big Branch to evade heightened scrutiny despite the pattern of violations system that is supposed to identify mines with continuing safety violations. Main urged Congress give MSHA more authority to shut down problem mines.

Legislation is still needed to fully protect our nation’s miners. This committee has never subscribed to the myth that mining fatalities are an inevitable aspect of the business. I am asking you to again stand up for miners and pass new and needed mine safety legislation.

Click here for his full testimony and a video of the entire hearing.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This blog originally appeared in blog.aflcio.org on March 31, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.


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Radiation in the Homeland: Honeywell’s Guilty Plea Shows Importance of Unions

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mike elkAttention is now turned to the radiation being released in Japan following the massive earthquake there this month. Unfortunately, Americans don’t have to look abroad to discover this kind of frightening scenario: This month, defense contractor Honeywell pleaded guilty to releasing radioactive material into the community of Metropolis, Ill. The episode shows, once again, the importance of a unionized workforce for providing for the safety of workers.

Honeywell International Inc. pleaded guilty two weeks ago in federal court “to one felony offense for knowingly storing hazardous radioactive waste without a permit in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).” The waste was stored in such a way that large quantities of radioactive KOH mud were leaching into the water stream of the nearby Ohio River. Honeywell was fined $11.8 million by the federal government.

At the Honeywell uranium facility, air emissions from the UF6 conversion process are scrubbed with potassium hydroxide (KOH) prior to being released into the atmosphere. As a result of this process, a type of radioactive mud settles on the scrubbers which have to be released. This material, called “KOH mud,” was stored in drums in the open air behind the uranium plant in Metropolis. According to Mitch Lagerstorm, a former Honeywell environmental safety officer at the Metropolis plant, from there it leaked into the Ohio River, which runs next to the plant. (The EPA did not find the radioactive waste leaked into the river, however.)

Last year, crosses were placed near the entrance to Honeywell's uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., to represent past employees who died of cancer. Workers represented by the United Steelworkers continue to be locked-out by the corporation.   (Stephanie S. Cordle/Post-Dispatch)
Last year, crosses were placed near the entrance to Honeywell's uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., to represent past employees who died of cancer. Workers represented by the United Steelworkers continue to be locked-out by the corporation. (Stephanie S. Cordle/Post-Dispatch)

Honeywell knew that because the pH of KOH mud generated at the facility was greater than or equal to 12.5, it is classified as corrosive hazardous waste. Honeywell thus illegally stored radioactive material, and by doing so threatened the long-term health of the nearby community.

By the time EPA special agents raided the facility in April 2009, there were nearly 7,500 drums of illegally stored radioactive mud on site. As a result of the crackdown, Honeywell is being forced to store the radioactive mud in a way that is not harmful to the local community. Workers played a key role in making sure that mud wasn’t stored radioactively.

Over the years, workers notified Honeywell of the problem on many occasions. At a town hall meeting in 2007, John Jacobs, a union employee, confronted Honeywell CEO David Cote about the matter in person. An upset David Cote quickly ended the meeting when several workers said if something wasn’t done, they would notify the company. Workers later did play a role in blowing the whistle on the lockout.

Many in the union feel that this particular incident led to Cote’s desire to lockout union workers and attempt to bust the union at Honeywell.

This could explain why Cote has spent $60 million to keep the workers locked out, when it would only cost $20 million over the course of their contract to provide what the workers wanted. Cote might not want to have a unionized workforce at his uranium plant that could report potential safety violations to the authorities.

This week, as we watch events unfold in Japan and observe the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, it’s important we remember the role that unions have in preventing tragic accidents. Labor must make the argument that it’s in the public best interest for workers to have the freedom, through unions, to hold employers accountable.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Based in Washington D.C., he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times as well as Alternet, The Nation, The Atlantic and The American Prospect.

This blog originally appeared In These Times on March 22, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.


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Attack on Middle-Class Jobs, Workers Is Nationwide

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Image: Mike HallThe incredible response and mobilizations against the coordinated attacks on workers’ rights and middle-class jobs in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana have grabbed most of the media spotlight during the past few weeks.

But there are other serious assaults under way in dozens of states, pushed by corporate CEOs and their Republican puppets. Perhaps flying lowest under the radar is one of the most drastic measures, one that even its own supporters blatantly call Michigan’s “financial martial law.”

The so-called emergency managers bill would allow Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to declare a “financial emergency” in a city or school district and appoint a manager with broad powers, including the ability to fire local elected officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets, eliminate services—and even eliminate whole cities or school districts without any public input, according to the Michigan Messenger.

Last week, more than 1,500 people jammed the Lansing Capitol building to protest the bill during the state Senate’s debate. Ken Bower, a United Steelworker (USW) Local 2-21 member from Escanaba, Mich., said:

I’m here to tell the governor that he has to stop this attack on working-class citizens. Removing the people that we put into office without any check or balance is completely undemocratic.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) warns that that the bill:

empowers this financial czar with the governor’s approval to force a municipality into bankruptcy, a power that will surely be used to extract further concessions from hardworking public-sector workers.

Different versions of the bill have passed the state Senate and House and final action is expected early this week.usw_photo_wp

In a related note from Michigan, if there is any question what side Snyder stands on—CEOs’ or working people’s—his budget and tax proposals show he is firmly camped out with his corporate friends. Pat Garofalo at Think Progress points out:

Snyder has proposed ending his state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, cutting a $600 per child tax credit, and reducing credits for seniors, while also cutting funding for school districts by eight to ten percent. At the same time, as the Michigan League for Human Services found, the state’s business taxes would be reduced by nearly $2 billion, or 86 percent.

Elsewhere:

  • So-called right to work bills have been introduced in more than a dozen states, including Indiana (temporarily off the table), Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania with Republican legislatures and governors.
  • Paycheck deception bills that would silence workers’ voices in the election process have been or soon will be introduced in nearly two dozen states, including 15 where Republicans control the legislature and hold the governor’s office, including Florida where the bill was approved by a Senate committee this morning.
  • Prevailing wage laws protect communities and workers from unscrupulous contractors low-balling bids on taxpayer-funded construction projects by setting wage rates to the local or prevailing standard. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), with the support of construction industry CEOs, vows to eliminate Ohio’s prevailing wage law, and legislation has been or will soon be introduced in 19 states, including  nine with dual Republican control.
  • In 22 states—12 with Republican governors and legislatures—moves are under way to eliminate Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) that would hurt communities, workers and small businesses by lowering wages.
  • Public school teachers and employees are fighting back against assaults in more than a dozen states, including some so-called “education reform” proposals that are thinly veiled attacks on teachers’ rights and privatization schemes.
  • Bills attacking immigrant workers’ rights and immigrant children’s education, including many patterned after Arizona’s anti-immigrant law passed last year, have been or will soon be introduced in some 30 states, half of which are Republican controlled.

This blog originally appeared in blog.aflcio.org on March 14, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.


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