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Showdown in Chicago: Thousands Protest Bankers

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Image: Seth MichalsMore than 5,000 people are packing the streets of downtown Chicago this morning, chanting, marching and rallying against Big Bankers and financial institutions that have taken taxpayer money and are using it to give big bonuses to CEOs and to lobby against financial reforms that would ensure they don’t go back on the public dole.

The crowd is marching to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, site of the American Bankers Association meeting, to protest the banking industry’s greed and irresponsibility that crippled our economy, leaving millions of workers behind.

Photo by SEIU
Photo by SEIU

After the house of cards they built collapsed, bankers and the financial industry took $700 billion in taxpayer funds for a bailout. But rather than reform their failed practices, they want to go back to business as usual—with the chance of again precipitating another financial collapse and need for taxpayer bailout in coming years.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who is joining union members and allies at today’s events, has a clear message to bankers: You work for us.

Business as usual is over. We are shutting it down. You work for us—not the other way around. Your job is to be stewards of our savings, to put and keep working families in homes, to lend the money companies need to create jobs. And you have failed. You’ve turned the American economy into your own private casino, gambling away our financial future with our money, and driving us to the brink of a second Great Depression—then sticking out your hand for taxpayers to bail you out.

Praising Barack Obama’s administration for trying to stop the out-of-control bonuses paid to executives at bailed-out banks, Trumka says we need to go further by setting tough new rules so that the financial industry can’t run our economy into the ground again.

Trumka calls for four key principles to be part of any financial reform:

  • A new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to monitor banks and credit card companies and prevent abuses.
  • Reform the Federal Reserve Board or create an agency capable of stopping systemic risk.
  • More transparency so that hedge funds, derivatives and private equity markets can have real oversight.
  • Reform of corporate governance and executive compensation to make the finance industry work on behalf of the real economy, not vice versa.

This shouldn’t be a moment, Trumka says, where we pretend we can go back to the old broken economy that benefited only a few at the expense of everyone else.

Our economy has been all but destroyed. We have to build a whole new one, based on good jobs, not on bad debt; with America investing in and exporting technology and world-class products, not financial crisis; where hard work is rewarded, not colossal failure; where workers have a real voice because they have the freedom to have a union if they want one; and where all of us have the health care we need.

Appearing on the local Fox affiliate this morning, Trumka said it’s an outrage the financial industry took billions in taxpayer dollars, yet uses its resources to lobby against regulations to prevent a crisis like this from happening again:

The bankers who took all the risk and now are doing everything that they can to block reform so that it doesn’t happen again. Now that’s the problem. They want to do the same things over and over again, and they want us to pay the price again.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on October 27, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.


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Maine Union Members Tell Snowe to Support a Public Option, and More Health Care News

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Image: Seth Michals
Photo by Joe Kekeris/AFL-CIO

When Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) suggested she would block health care reform if it included a public option, Maine workers took action: The Maine AFL-CIO put its convention on hold so attendees could call her and tell her that a public option is essential to make reform work. (Recent polls in Maine suggest Mainers strongly support a public option.)

Here are some of the latest developments in the fight for real health care reform:

  • Momentum is building for a public option in final bills being crafted in the U.S. Senate and the House. This is a critical time to contact your senators and representatives.
  • Big companies like Wal-Mart are lobbying hard to exempt the coverage they provide from health care reform. That would leave tens of millions of workers stuck in the same high-cost, no-guarantee system we have today.

    Union members in Arkansas and across the country are telling their senators to support real health care reform.
  • 55 members of Congress who oppose giving America the choice of a public option are actually getting government-administered health care through Medicare.
  • Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, writes in today’s San Antonio Express-News that the insurance companies are trying to stay in charge of our health care, but working families can’t afford the status quo.
  • Mark Froemke, president of Minnesota’s Northern Valley Labor Council, has a great op-ed today in the Grand Forks Herald that lays out the stakes on health care:

If Congress fails to enact reform, things won’t just stay the same-they’ll get worse…unless we enact changes now, those who manage to keep their coverage will pay an even heftier price over the next 10 years.

As it stands, insurance companies have a stranglehold on our health care system, driving up costs and coming between middle-class Americans and the care they need.

  • Minnesota union members rallied for heath care this week in Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester.
  • Union members in Louisiana and Arkansas also are rallying and reaching out to their Senators to demand health care reform that works.
  • Yet another insurance company is playing with numbers, seeking to scare people about health care reform. This time it’s WellPoint fudging the facts and leaving out critical information. Check out this great chart from Think Progress that shows how the insurance companies are fighting reform.
  • The Center for American Progress Action Fund has a great new report out today detailing insurance company’s tactics to hide vital information about denying coverage.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on October 23, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.


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14 Senators Urge Unemployment Extension

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Image: Seth Michals
Photo by Joe Kekeris/AFL-CIO

More than 1 million people hurt by the bad economy are at risk of losing their unemployment insurance by the end of the year. During the toughest economic crisis in more than a generation, 7,000 people every day are seeing their UI expiring—and it’s due to the petty obstructionism of two senators who are blocking the needed extension of UI benefits.

This afternoon, 14 senators from across the country joined together to urge swift passage of a UI extension, to give workers access to the system they’ve paid into and to keep families and communities economically secure. With unemployment officially at 9.8 percent and an estimated 26 million out of work or discouraged, we can’t wait any longer to extend UI.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that the obstruction of desperately needed assistance to struggling families must end:

We can stand together now, pass this vital piece of legislation, and provide families with the means to stay in their homes and pay the bills as they look for work in these extraordinarily turbulent times. Slow-walking these benefits doesn’t just hurt individuals and families; it is bad for businesses and the broader economy. Helping people stay afloat is not a partisan issue—it is an urgent national issue that demands action now.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said that UI extension is necessary to prevent even further weakening of our economy:

The unemployment extension bill before the Senate is a great bill—one that will stimulate the economy and help unemployed workers across the country struggling to get back on their feet. Helping people who are about to lose a lifeline is the essence of what we do as public servants—that is why this delay is so disappointing. I ask those members who are holding up this urgent legislation for political purposes to do the right thing and pass this extension immediately.

The pending bill in the Senate would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks, or 20 weeks in states with especially high unemployment. Unemployment benefits allow workers looking for jobs to continue to support their families and local businesses, providing a needed economic boost. Unfortunately, efforts to pass this bill have been blocked twice by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Click here to tell the Senate it’s time to pass an extension of UI benefits.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on October 20, 2009.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.


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The Employee Free Choice Act: From 2003 to Today

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Members of Congress soon will cast votes that show us where they stand on the Employee Free Choice Act. As key senators engage in negotiations over the bill, supporters of workers’ freedom to form unions aren’t backing down on three key principles:

* Workers need to have a real choice to form a union and bargain for a better life, free from intimidation.

* We have to stop the endless delays and make sure workers can get a fair first contract.

* There have to be real penalties for violating the law.

Over the past few months, opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act have more than once declared the bill dead, but in fact we’re still working hard to to ensure labor law reform happens this year. We’ve come along way from where we were several years ago.

 

Here’s a timeline from 2003, when the AFL-CIO Executive Council offered a resolution in support of labor law reform, to yesterday’s seating of Sen. Al Franken, whose first move was to co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act.

…legal reform that protects the free and fair choice of employees to form a union without interference from management and enables more workers to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining.

  • Nov. 21, 2003: Rep. George Miller introduces H.R. 3169, the Employee Free Choice Act, in the House. Sen. Edward Kennedy introduces the same bill as S. 1925 in the Senate. Both were denied a committee vote by the Republican majority.
  • Dec. 10, 2003: Tens of thousands of union members, elected officials, religious leaders and community activists across the nation took part in more than 90 events in 72 cities, united by one message: Workers’ rights are human rights. The nationwide mobilization is the first in a series of annual actions in support of the Employee Free Choice Act held on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
  • April 19, 2005: Miller introduces the Employee Free Choice Act as H.R. 1696 in the House and Kennedy introduces it as S. 842 in the Senate. Again, both bills are blocked by the Republican majority and don’t receive a committee vote.
  • Dec. 10, 2005: Thousands of union members rally across the country in support of the workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain to commemorate International Human Rights Day.
  • Nov. 7, 2006: In the 2006 congressional elections, the union movement makes big strides in electing pro-working family, pro-Employee Free Choice Act candidates, with new pro-worker majorities in both the House and Senate.
  • Dec. 8-9, 2006: The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act takes center stage at the AFL-CIO Organizing Summit.
  • Feb 5, 2007: Miller introduces H.R. 800, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007, in the House.
  • March 29, 2007: Kennedy introduces S. 1041, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007 in the Senate.
  • March 1, 2007: U.S. House passes the Employee Free Choice Act in a 241-185 vote.
  • June 26, 2007: U.S. Senate votes 51-48 for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow it to be considered for a simple majority vote on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, 60 votes were required for cloture (agreement to vote on a bill), so a Republican minority in the Senate was able to block consideration of the bill.
  • March 4, 2008: The union movement kicks off the Million Member Mobilization campaign to gather support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Nov. 4, 2008: Despite a desperate multi-million dollar corporate campaign against pro-worker candidates, the union movement wages its most successful-ever political mobilization campaign, helping to elect even more working-family friendly lawmakers to the House and Senate and Barack Obama, a Senate co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, to the White House.
  • Feb. 4, 2009: Union members and allies deliver some of the 1.5 million signatures they’ve gathered in support of the Employee Free Choice Act to Capitol Hill—exceeding the goals of the Million Member Mobilization campaign.
  • March 10, 2009: Employee Free Choice Act introduced in the House (as H.R. 1409), with 225 co-sponsors, and as S. 560 in the Senate, with 41 co-sponsors.

In short, we’ve pursued this critical legislative since Bush ran the nation along with a Republican Senate majority in Congress, until today, when our nationwide political mobilization resulted in the election of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and appointment of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, all of whom expressed support for the bill.

As the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff noted at a Netroots Nation event last month, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. But the opposition is well-funded and aggressive, and the broad coalition supporting the Employee Free Choice Act will need to fight harder than ever to make sure we get labor law reform that helps workers:

We started this six years ago, and I thought it was going to be a 20-year fight. We’ve accomplished so much in the face of such attacks, and all the money they’ve been able to spend has not been able to break it.

The campaign is vibrant and active, and all the forces of corporate America can’t stop it—and they’ve tried everything in their playbook.

Seth Michaels: Seth D. Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.

This article was originally posted at the AFL-CIO Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.


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Business Professors: Employee Free Choice Act Good for the Economy

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Two top business experts have taken to the pages of Business Week to make the case for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Paul Adler, a professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, and Donald Palmer, an associate dean and professor at the University of California-Davis, say corporate hostility to the Employee Free Choice Act and to workers’ freedom to form unions is short-sighted because communities with well-paid workers have economic advantages for business.

Adler and Palmer cite training, job satisfaction and the healthy communities that come from economically secure workers as reasons why businesses benefit when their employees can form unions and bargain.

They write in the op-ed:

When unions raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers, this increases savings and reduces income inequality, which has beneficial effects on a nation’s economic growth and investment, not to mention its health and social cohesion.

Adler and Palmer say the inability of workers to form unions has real consequences, not only for individual workers but also for communities and the entire economy. The failure to allow workers the freedom to bargain has put us in a “low-performing state,” they say:

Once unions are radically weakened, as they have been in the U.S. over the past few decades—and in no small measure as a result of the business community’s hostility—a race to the bottom starts. The whole economy slides to a lower-level equilibrium where workers earn less and have less influence in the workplace, where firms pay less for labor but get less qualified and less committed workers, and, where, as a result, society gets less output from its available resources.

Adler and Palmer say passing the Employee Free Choice Act will “secure a better future”—not only for today’s workforce, but also for tomorrow’s businesses and workers. They authors are among dozens of business and management scholars who share this view.

Read the op-ed here.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the coordinator of the AFL-CIO’s presidential candidate website, Working Families Vote 2008. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. Seth spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe—but the battles of U.S. politics are even more entertaining.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on June 26, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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Corporate Hypocrisy on Bargaining Highlights Need for Employee Free Choice

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The misleading attacks by Big Business on the Employee Free Choice Act now are aimed at the provision that would guarantee that workers can get a fair first contract. Their scare tactics are not only misleading, they’re hypocritical.

Right now, workers lack a legal means to ensure they get a fair first contract. Recent research shows that even after workers successfully win a union and the ability to bargain, they’re too often blocked from getting a fair first contract. Fifty-two percent of workers don’t have a contract a full year after the election, and 37 percent don’t have a first contract two years after the election. For too many workers, the promise of the freedom to bargain is out of reach because the law doesn’t offer them any help.

The Employee Free Choice Act provides a process to help first-time bargainers to reach an agreement, through mediation and, for issues the parties are unable to resolve on their own, arbitration. The reason we need first-contract arbitration is to create an incentive for companies to bargain voluntarily with their workers.

According to research from American Rights at Work, the record of first-contract arbitration provisions in the public sector and in Canada show that disputes rarely reach the arbitration stage; in most cases, the process works to help workers and their employers reach a contract on their own.

Yet corporations are increasing their negative attacks on this provision even though they frequently require consumers to commit to arbitration.

Supporters of the freedom to form unions are hitting this corporate disinformation campaign directly, in the field, online and in the press. American Rights at Work is taking on corporate hypocrisy with a new print ad running today in key newspapers. The ad demonstrates how corporations are attacking the idea of arbitration when it involves their employees—while supporting arbitration in a variety of areas where it benefits them.

As the new ad notes, corporations prefer to use arbitration in consumer disputes, personal injury claims, home construction contracts, nursing home injuries and conflicts related to real estate, credit cards and banking.

Business trade groups even wrote to Congress last year saying arbitration is an “efficient, effective” way to resolve disputes, reported The New York Times, and companies put arbitration provisions into 75 percent of consumer contracts.

So, if corporations want to require arbitration in so many other instances, why are they so afraid of the possibility of arbitration—only after months of negotiations—over a first contract for their employees?

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the coordinator of the AFL-CIO’s presidential candidate website, Working Families Vote 2008. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. Seth spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe—but the battles of U.S. politics are even more entertaining.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO Blog on June 11, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.


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