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AFL-CIO Outlines a Debt Reduction Plan that Would Actually Work

4:56 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

AFL-CIO Headquarters

AFL-CIO Headquarters by samirluther

Here we are in mid-September with 10 weeks of the “Super-committee” drama ahead of us. We’ll be waiting to see the posturing, the demands, the breath holding, the capitulations and, most likely, the intransigence of the Republicans forcing this whole exercise into failure.

The really sad part is that there is a plan out there which would actually reduce the debt by more than the 1.2 trillion this committee is charged with. That plan was laid out by the AFL-CIO and it does not require cuts to Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid.

The Hill is reporting that the venerable union has sent around a plan that outlines where trillions in deficit reduction savings could be found. If the real goal, as both Republicans and Democrats claim, is to reduce our national debt and get our people working then these are the ideas that should be discussed before we talk about cutting Social Security (which does nothing to add to our debt) or military retirement benefits.

The proposals run the gamut and they are pretty much what you would expect from a Labor Union; establish the public option as way to control costs for health care by competition with a plan that does not put profit first. Allow Medicaid to negotiate drug costs with pharmaceutical companies (why the hell we have not done this yet is a national shame) and allow the re-importation of prescription drugs from other countries. The AFL-CIO estimates that these three measures would save a total of $299 billion over the next ten years. As they say, that ain’t hay.

But that is not all the plan suggests. There are tax revenue ideas that make sense and are perfectly compatible with economic growth. The plan includes a changing the tax code so that capital gains are taxed at a rate just like income, a millionaires surtax, and the big Kahuna a small financial transaction tax on all trades on our stock markets. These measures are estimated by the union to provide, $168 billion, $400 billion and a $1 trillion dollars respectively over the next decade. That is more than the “Super-committee” is looking for in one fell swoop!
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Republicans Vow to Stop Union Election Rule Changes

4:38 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Union Thug

Union Thug by LizaWasHere

So it is the day after Labor Day and what are the Republicans doing as they return to Washington? Why trying to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from creating a new rule that would make it easier and faster to hold a vote on forming a union, of course.

The Hill is reporting this morning that Republican lawmakers want to block a newly proposed rule which would take away a few of the barriers that are currently used by business to slow and stymie the process of even getting to a vote on the formation of a union.

The issue here is not whether a group of workers can form a union but how they go about getting to the vote to see if they have enough support for such a move or not. The new rules would allow for the electronic filing of petitions, would force management at the company in question to provide a list of all the workers who will be voting, including their home phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and would move the appeals process from pre-vote to post-vote.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am the grandson and nephew of Union members, I grew up in Michigan in a UAW extended family and am the son of a Labor Law attorney, so I am going to be pro-labor. All that said I am having a hard time finding what is so objectionable about these changes.

One supposes that it is because preventing months or years of delay by companies as they produce more and more black propaganda and pressure against the idea of collective bargaining will make it more likely that workers will see the benefits of banding together. But that is not how it is being framed by the Chamber of Commerce and Republicans.

The often clueless House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, has sent around a memo including this change as part of ‘the 10 most harmful regulations proposed by the Obama administration’.
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Upper Big Branch Disaster: Massey Kept Two Sets Of Safety Books!

5:22 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Glace Bay Coal Mine Tour

Glace Bay Coal Mine Tour by Bobcatnorth

I am going to start today by asking for a little leeway in my post. You see my uncles and cousins have been and are coal miners in West Virginia. To keep my father out of the mines his mother moved the entire family to Michigan when he was an early teen. So when we talk about the (probably) criminal acts of the Massey Energy company I tend to be a little less than objective.

Let’s lay out the facts, shall we? Massey was known for its obsessive focus on production above all else. This obsession came directly from the CEO, Don Blankenship. After he managed to break the union at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine he immediately increased the production quota’s by 70% and moved from three 8 hour shifts to two 12 hour ones.

The saying around the mine about workers was “A man is like a tool. If it gets bent or broken, get rid of it and get a new one”. That is the kind of depraved disregard for workers that is the hall mark of mine run by Don Blankenship.

It is not even close to an isolated incident. Blankenship, who had no background in mining, but was a finance and accounting trained guy, was also the one that wrote the now infamous memo in 1995 saying:

If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers, or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal.”

Overcasts are a safety measure that keeps air flowing correctly in the mines to avoid the build up of methane and coal dust. Both of these contaminates are highly combustible and are major hazards of coal mining. Basically Blankenship was telling his mine managers that they should ignore the safety recommendations of his engineers and just “run coal”.
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Charles Krauthammer Takes a Swipe At Labor And Dems

5:26 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

labor at the table - Rivera Court

labor at the table - Rivera Court

Ugh I don’t even know why I bother to read the Washington Post editorial page. Maybe it is the boost it gives my morning by raising my blood pressure, but in any case I exposed my tender brain-cells the thoughts of Charles Krauthammer this morning.

Chucky has a piece in the WaPo with the title of “The union owned Democrats” the first thing I thought when I read it was “I wish!”. This is a tired old meme from a tired old man. The idea that everything the Democrats do on issues of workplace rules or safety is somehow motivated by the fact that unions overwhelmingly support Democrats.

It could not possibly be because the funders of the Republican party have been wanting to dismantle the counterbalancing force of organized labor for, well, ever. One of the reasons that Ronald Regan has been sainted if not deified by the Republican Party is that he broke the Air Traffic Controllers union and set the DOJ on other unions looking for mafia ties and corruption. It was the start of the major decline of the Labor movement in this country.

What has Krauthammer’s undies in a twist? A couple of things; first off there is the NLRB’s decision to take Boeing to court over the union busting attempt they made by building a factory in South Carolina, which is a right to work state. To be clear (since everyone including Chucky misses this point) it is not about the fact that Boeing decided to build a new plant in a management friendly state, it is their intentions in doing so. You can build wherever you like, but if you do it with the intention of busting your union at your primary facilities, that is illegal.

He also rails against the saving of the Auto Industry by the Obama administration. Take a look:

In 2009, Obama pushed through a federally run, questionably legal, bankruptcy for the auto companies that robbed first-in-line creditors in order to bail out the United Auto Workers.

You know, the successful saving of our domestic auto industry did have some benefits for UAW workers. But they also took on a lot of liability to help out with that. They are now funding the health care that was promised by GM and Chrysler to employees who worked their entire lives on the factory floor. The UAW did it because it would help to reduce the costs of the companies and save jobs, but it was not like they were not taking over an obligation that was the auto companies. It is and was a big blow to the financial health of the UAW, but it was the right thing to do.

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NLRB Takes Boeing To Court For Union Busting

5:27 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Union Thug

Union Thug by LizaWasHere

In another example of disaster capitalism, the Boeing company decided in 2009, at the height of the devastating loss of jobs in this country, to build a new plant to produce the “Dreamliner” aircraft. That sounds like it should be good news, no? Well, according to the NLRB, it was a union-busting move.

Instead of building the plant in Washington State where most of the Boeing aircrafts have been built for decades, Boeing decided to locate its new plant in South Carolina. SC is a so-called “right to work” state with not much labor movement to speak of. Which allows Boeing to hire non-union employees to staff the plant.

The crux of this dispute:  Was Boeing’s decision just a case of the company building a plant where they are assured there will be less union activity, and thus less chance that strikes that would delay the production of the 787’s?  Or was it done to weaken the power of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union representing 25,000 Boeing workers?

This lead to a dispute before the National Labor Relations Board, and now the Board is bringing suit against Boeing for unfair labor practices.

From McClatchy:

Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, said the Boeing case is similar to a string of NLRB actions going back decades in which the labor agency charged companies with shifting jobs from union to non-organized workers.

“The heart of the NLRB case (against Boeing) is that opening the South Carolina plant was done for purposes of intimidating the Washington employees from striking again or from being unduly aggressive in their wage demands,” Fisk said

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Dying For Grid Iron Glory, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy And Dave Duerson

5:54 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Ponderosa Football Helmets

Ponderosa Football Helmets by ljoshua, on Flickr

We talk about sports figures as heroes, but generally I don’t find them to be that heroic. Sure the big stars make a lot of money, all of them make considerably more than the median income in this country, and yeah they are on the TV machine a lot but does that make then heroic? Not usually.

However there is one ex-player that I can say without reservation was heroic and heroic in the extreme. Dave Duerson killed himself on the 17th of February this year. He shot himself in the chest to and in his suicide note said “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”

You see Mr. Duerson was pretty sure that he had what is called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. It is a brain condition that has been mostly associated with boxers but is becoming more and more common in ex-NFL players as well.

CTE is a degenerative brain condition with loss of memory, head aches and a general slide into dementia. Mr. Duerson knew a lot about this condition as he had spent the last several years advocating about to Congress and working to help ex-players who had the condition. One of the biggest challenges with CTE is diagnosis, as there is no test short of looking at the actual brain to confirm it. The study of Mr. Duerson’s brain showed that he did indeed have CTE.

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Water Cooler – No Matter What, Threats Of Political Violence Are Unacceptable

5:07 pm in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Threat level update

Threat level update by opacity, on Flickr

There have been some troubling events in the last couple of days and I feel compelled to talk about them because they relate to issues that I have covered in various posts and Water Coolers. In the last week there has been death threats to 15 Wisconsin Republican Senators over their votes in the collective bargaining stripping bill.

There have also been threats to the Mackinac Center in Michigan. The Center recently got some press for filing Freedom of Information Act requests of the entire labor studies department at the University of Michigan and other professors at Wayne State and Michigan State.

Unlike the Wisconsin case there is no suspect and no one arrested at this point. It is kind of annoying for me to have to say this, since I don’t want to think that the Left would ever stoop to this kind of tactic, whereas I am always willing to believe the worst of the Howler Monkey’s of the Right, but this is unacceptable for anyone, ever.

Let me be really clear, I am not pointing a finger at anyone on the FDL family of sites. One of the things that will always get a post or a comment pulled for moderation is threats of or advocating of violence.

Politics is often heated, hell at a site where we mostly agree on goals we can get pretty damned heated amongst ourselves. Any time there is a move towards violence it is bad for a democracy. I think that we can all agree that our democracy has enough problems without adding a growing culture that accepts change by violence as a viable means of political change.

The young woman who made the threats admitted to doing it when confronted by the police. 26 year old Katharine Windels was angry and overly emotional. She said in her interview that she never intended to follow through on the threat she made, yet she made a very scary threat.

In part her e-mails to the State Senators read:

“Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your families will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks”

That is not the kind of thing that is acceptable, even in the heat of a fight where one side seems to be breaking the rules and laws of the State. I know this is remedial for everyone reading it but it is never, ever going to be acceptable to try to intimidate politicians or political groups with violence. Even the mere threat does damage that is hard to correct to our discourse. Anyone one doing it, no matter their political beliefs is anathema to me and should be to anyone involved in politics in any fashion.

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When What You Study Makes You A Political Target, Labor Edition

5:33 am in banality of evil by Bill Egnor

labor at the table - Rivera Court

labor at the table - Rivera Court by dfb, on Flickr

At what point does your work make you a target for political harassment? As a blogger I get a small amount of hate mail and a moderate amount of harassing mail (the two are different, one you can see the person foaming at the mouth, the other you can see their grin at wasting your time), but that is kind of par for the course.

However a troubling trend has started from the Right with regards to State University professors. They are nominally State employees, so the Right as begun to use Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to look at all of the e-mails of professors.

It all started with Ken “the Cooch” Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of Virginia, talking about going after a climate science researcher in the totally discredited “climate gate” incident. Since then there have been FOIA requests of a William Cronon of University of Wisconsin in connection with the illegal and unethical actions of the Republicans and Gov. Walker in that state.

Now it is spreading. Talking Points Memo first reported and now the New York Times is picking up the story of several conservative groups in Michigan who are asking for a wide swath of e-mails from three professors from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.

The group is called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. It is one of a network of state based conservative groups that is associated with the uber conservative Heritage Foundation, with donors like the Koch Brothers and the Walton family of the Wal-Mart fortune.

From the TMP article:

But where those requests were relatively narrow — looking for emails surrounding a specific incident or specific plans for a strike — the FOIAs sent to state university labor studies faculty are quite broad. The parameters for the request, from a version of the FOIA obtained by TPM and confirmed by Mackinac, cover emails that mention:

“Scott Walker”; “Wisconsin”; “Madison”; “Maddow”; Any other emails dealing with the collective bargaining situation in Wisconsin.

The request covers all faculty emails from “January 1, 2011 to March 25, 2011.”

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Water Cooler – Wisconsin Republicans Go Nuclear

6:02 pm in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Mushroom Cloud Explosion from Nuclear Testing

Mushroom Cloud Explosion from Nuclear Testing by EpicFireworks, on Flickr

This is the third draft of this post, mainly because the first one was all capital letters and obscene language and the second was just obscene language. Now I think I can write about this is a more readable manner.

As you may know the scum sucking Republicans of the Wisconsin legislature pulled what can be best described as the Nuclear Option in their stand off over the union busting legislation pushed by Koch Brothers pony-boy Gov. Scott Walker.

In a stunning move they moved the legislation to conference committee, without passing a bill in the Senate. There they stripped all the monetary aspects from the bill, and then voted to it out of the conference committee. This allowed the 19 Republicans in the Senate to have quorum and vote on the measure. Which they did 18-1.

Now it will go to the State Assembly where it is guaranteed to pass. All along these supposed “public servants’ had been claiming that they had to do this because it was critical for monetary reasons, now they have put their massive hypocrisy on display by passing the bill as a non-monetary one.

This is what the Republican Party stands for, not just in Wisconsin but nationally. For those who say that there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans I give you yet another example of exactly how wrong that is.

Where do we go from here? Well I have strong hopes that the Unions in Wisconsin walk out. If you are not recognized then the only choice that is left is to deprive those who will not negotiate with you of the fruits of your labor.

It is not like poll after poll has not shown that what the Republicans have done is against the will of the people of Wisconsin. They need to continue with the recall efforts and make it clear to every elected official there that when you overreach like this, when you thwart the will of the people like this your political career is over.

This fight is not over. It is time for all of us to stand up for the rights of Labor. We all benefit from the work the unions have done. The weekend, the 40 hour work week, paid actions (for those of us that have them), health care all these things are commonly offered because Labor has bargained for them.

Tonight the Republicans think that they have won, they are going brag and strut. Let them, because this kind of thing is the last straw for a middle class that has been used and abused time and time again. Stand with Wisconsin workers, Stand with Labor in Solidarity.

That is what is on my mind tonight, how about yours Firedogs? The floor is yours.

It’s Not Just Union Busting, It’s Failing To Honor Contracts

6:55 am in banality of evil, Economy by Bill Egnor


CONTRACT by Steve Snodgrass, on Flickr

The Randites and most Conservatives will go on the whole live long day about the sanctity of a contract. They will tell you how it is of critical importance that people be allowed to freely enter into any kind of agreement and be completely and totally bound by the contents therein.

The reason they like this is that most contracts are made with a vast difference in power and that it lets the party with the most money and power put limits on the party with less. Take cell phone agreements. You probably know (or maybe you don’t) that when you sign up with a phone company you’re generally giving up the right to sue them over any complaint you might have.

With your contract you’re agreeing to have any dispute mediated and in the state of the companies choice, usually with their choice of mediation company. This not only gives them a lot more control but almost guarantees that they will prevail if you want to act up cranky about them screwing you over.

However there is something in the recent State labor disputes that has been overlooked. Gov. Walker and others are saying that it is the pensions of the Unions and their need to fund them that is part of why the States are in a budget whole. You see most public employees have a lower salary than they would in the private sector, because they have negotiated a pension.

It is akin to having your boss take a certain amount of money out every month and put it in a 401K. What is different is that there is defined benefit for taking less pay now. CEO’s of major corporations do this all the time, but they don’t call it a pension plan they call it deferred compensation.

The idea of paying less and then paying a pension is a good one for states as long as they do what they are supposed to do and fund the pension plans. The problem is that because it is a long term issue every time Republicans take the State Houses they cut taxes, without thinking about what it will do to the pension obligations they have. Or maybe they are aware of the obligations and just don’t care.

Funding a pension fund has been an obligation for a long time, it is a bill just like any other, but it has not been treated that way. The way it should work is that if your fund it under then you have to raise taxes to cover it, just as you would have to raise taxes to cover salaries.
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