Social Security has a Union Label. The 1935 passage of the original Social Security act was preceded by long-term labor movement activism. Every subsequent improvement and extension of social security protection was moved forward by labor movement action. Protections for disabled workers, Medicare and Medicaid, all part of the Social Security program, were the result of pressure from the labor movement and its allies in government and beyond.
The important role of Labor in social progress was acclaimed by President Obama, who said: “It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label.” But progressive achievements are not invulnerable to attack.
In 2016, Social Security is under attack again. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has sought large reductions in Social Security programs throughout his career in Congress. The upcoming election could threaten these programs if Ryan and his allies win big and maintain Congressional majorities.
Donald Trump, the likely GOP presidential candidate, called Social Security a Ponzi scheme in 2000 and has since indicated that for political reasons he cannot criticize it. His plan for supporting Social Security relies on projected corporate tax cuts to spark the economy, trickle-down economics in other words. His fiscal policy would actually result in a huge budget deficit requiring cuts in all federal programs.
Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO endorsed candidate for the presidency, has pledged to protect and improve benefits under the Social Security program. Democrats have countered Republican criticism of Social Security’s solvency with proposals like raising its revenue by raising the income cap on contributions.
Unfortunately, the assault on the middle class and workers’ rights has many sides. The extension of right-to-work laws remains a Republican goal. Trump, told South Carolina Radio Network, “I love the right to work.”
With all of this in mind, union voters should remember all of the ways in which our country has been improved by the labor movement’s progressive agenda, social progress proudly displaying the Union Label.
The split decision in the Friedrich’s case, an unveiled attack on public unions by rightwing opponents to collective bargaining, produced a stalemate which leaves those rights as they were. In the event that the Supreme Court cannot reach a decision, the lower court ruling stands. Therefore, public unions can continue to represent their members and to collect dues to meet union expenses.
The absence of the late Justice Antonin Scalia from the Supreme Court was the key to this quasi-victory. To maintain public employee bargaining rights and to keep public employee unions strong, a progressive replacement for Scalia on the Supreme Court is needed. Undoubtedly, the anti-union element will try again to reverse earlier decisions affirming these rights. To make the victory secure, a more progressive Supreme Court is needed.
Hence, the importance of November’s presidential election. The next president will name judges to federal courts at every level. And who knows, maybe President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia will eventually be seated. If not, the Supreme Court seat and all it implies for union rights will be hugely important in 2017.
Finally, kudos to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and the Obama administration for the new union persuader rule that requires the identification of consultants hired by companies to defeat union organizing campaigns. Such activities should be known to employees.
The Obama administration, friendly to unions, their members and potential members, produced the persuader rule. An unfriendly administration could reverse it. One more indication of the presidential election’s importance. ■
If health care is a human right, then clean water is no less so. The two are closely intertwined.
Yet, from Flint, Michigan, to Hoosick Falls, New York, to Fresno, California and hundreds more cities and towns nationally, water supplies are polluted and dangerous. The resultant harm to health in children and adults is well documented. Yet, it takes a health and safety catastrophe, such as occurred in Flint’s lead poisoning of children, to bring more than handwringing.
In other cities and towns, inadequate water supply systems threaten to cause health problems, raise the cost of water to homeowners and waste vast quantities of water through deteriorating antiquated pipes. One example of this problem is Washington, DC, which still utilizes some wooden water pipes and suffers significant water waste.
What can be done. If we recognize the criticality of clean water and the means to provide it, why are we not doing more to resolve the problem. This part of our infrastructure, if repaired or replaced, would bring immediate benefits to health, job growth and property values.
Members of the UA in Flint are working to help homeowners whose pipes have been damaged by the bad water a misguided emergency manager inflicted upon the city. These members should be honored for their public service, but the installation of faucets and filters is only a temporary band aid. The city of Flint will need to replace its aged lead and galvanized pipes that lead the water to area homes. Main lines will need to be replaced. An issue that extends far beyond the city of Flint and the state of Michigan.
Effort is needed on a State and Federal level. The richest country on the planet should not fail to provide its citizens a necessity of life, clean water. It is disgraceful that so much of our water is no better than that found in less developed countries and equally bad that we are wasting so much water through inefficiency.
The time to repair and rebuild the water infrastructure is now. But, instead of repairing our water infrastructure, states and cities across the U.S. are selling their water and wastewater services to the highest bidder. These for-profit companies falsely claim to run the public utilities better, cheaper and more efficiently. Privatization of public services causes costs to increase, and quality of service to decline. We can and should do better. Americans everywhere need clean drinking water.
Some of our afﬁliates are using their union label to gin up business. The Bakery, Tobacco, Confectionery and Grain Millers Union has its label on baked goods, for example.
The Painters union maintains a digital database of its business managers to encourage individuals and companies to employ its unionized workforce.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has an online resource of materials made by its members too.
And there are many other organizations doing similar things. We would like to learn of more such promotional activities.
At the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, a resolution submitted by the UL&STD called for contract negotiations to seek agreement on placing the union label on products and services. We would like to hear from unions that have been successful in doing so.
In fact, technology offers additional means to identify union-made wares; bar codes and scans, which are readable on many devices, could make identiﬁcation easy.
The UL&STD website links to union websites that list union-made goods and services. We also promote them in the Label Letter and in social media. We look forward to adding more such products and services and the union programs designed to promote them to our own campaigns.
President Obama has Fast Track Authority legislation in hand this will empower him to rush the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal, through Congress to an up or down vote. And other trade deals lurk nearby. But he can disprove Lord Acton’s aphorism, absolute power in this case, need not corrupt the legislative process. He has the power, yet he can refuse to use it.
Don’t sign the fast track legislation, President Obama.
It’s an unlikely scenario, but let’s consider its virtues. If President Obama does not sign the Fast Track Authority legislation, he reserves the right to do so later. By refusing to sign it, he retains the support of progressives, labor, environmentalists, consumer protection groups and more. Sign it and watch the coalition that elected him dissolve. If his only concern is personal, his legacy, he may not care. If he cares about the Democratic party, he should think twice. As for his legacy, wait and see as it pertains to jobs and the middle class.
He claims that TPP is good for the U.S. economy, including workers. His claim flies in the face of history. Millions of jobs were lost under NAFTA, the WTO and other similar trade deals, for example, under the Korea agreement, Korean auto exports to the U.S. have soared to more than 1.3 million cars annually while the U.S. auto exports to Korea are a paltry 38,000 a year.
An implicit acknowledgement of the high cost trade pacts exact in jobs is the administration’s side deal with Republicans to pass a watered-down, underfunded Trade Adjustment Assistance measure. TAA is supposed to aid workers dislocated, that is jobless, as a result of free trade. Its effectiveness at full funding is questionable. This trade adjustment assistance bill has been drastically cut by $150 million.
President Obama claims that if we don’t write the rules of international trade then China will. So be it. What is the difference between rotten rules written here or written elsewhere? One positive difference is that we don’t have to adhere to Chinese rules and can protest them freely. American rules will be the law of our land, but may not be honored or enforced abroad.
President Obama should know that unfair trade deals with countries whose standard of living is far below ours do not promote competitiveness. They promote outsourcing and greater income inequality. Our manufacturing sector has been severely impacted. The new deal will add to the harm and spread it further among service workers.
Income inequality supposedly concerns him. He can demonstrate this concern by refusing to sign the Fast Track measure and by participating in a full, open, transparent and honest debate about the Trans Pacific Partnership.
We note that 58 nations can already bid on an equal basis for federal government contracts. The federal practice is used as cover for governments at every level in the U.S. to do the same. TPP will add four more countries to the 58. No one knows how laws that promote buying American-made products will be upheld against foreign complaints of restraint of trade. No one knows whether laws calling for assigning a portion of government business to minority-owned or women-owned companies will be exempt, or whether they will be subject to foreign protests, too.
All these issues and more deserve a full debate leading to an improved trade agreement.
President Obama can advance the causes he espouses by refraining from signing onto Fast Track and allowing Congress to perform its job thoroughly.
Union Label and Service Trades Department