Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for January, 2017

This week in the war on workers: Union membership keeps dropping in 2016

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
There’s bad news and … well, there’s bad news. Union density continued its long decline in 2016:

In 2016, the share of workers who were members of a union decreased 0.4 percentage point to 10.7 percent, continuing a downward trend that has occurred since at least the early 1980s, when directly comparable data became available[.]

It’s not just the union membership rate, it’s also the raw numbers:

In addition to a 0.4 percentage-point drop in membership rate, there were also 240,000 less union workers in 2016 than in 2015[.]

And that’s before Donald Trump gets his hands on things. Although plenty of other Republicans and their corporate bosses have been at work on this for years.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Five Groups of Americans Who’ll Get Shafted Under Trump’s Hiring Freeze

Monday, January 30th, 2017

RichardEskowDonald Trump, in what’s been hyped as an “unprecedented” move, has instituted a freeze on the hiring of federal employees. Hyperbole aside (it’s hardly unprecedented, since Ronald Reagan did the same thing on his first day in office), one thing is already clear: this will hurt a lot of people.

Trump’s order exempts military personnel, along with any position that a department or agency head “deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” That offers a fair degree of latitude when it comes to filling positions in certain areas.

But Trump’s appointees aren’t likely to ask for “national security or public safety” exemptions for the many government jobs that help people in ways Republicans despise. So who stands to lose the most under this hiring freeze?

1. Social Security Recipients

Trump and his advisors seem to have had Social Security in mind when they included this language:

“This hiring freeze applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding …” (Emphasis mine.)

While there may be other reasons for this verbiage, it effectively targets Social Security, which is entirely self-funded through the contributions of working Americans and their employers.

Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit. It has very low administrative overhead and is remarkably cost-efficient when compared to pension programs in the private sector.

That hasn’t prevented Republicans in Congress from taking a meat cleaver to Social Security’s administrative budget. That has led to increased delays in processing disability applications, longer travel times for recipients as more offices are closed, and longer wait times on the phone and in person.

Social Security pays benefits to retired Americans, disabled Americans, veterans, and children – all of whom will be hurt by these cuts.

2. Working People

The Department of Labor, especially the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), ensures that working Americans are safe on the job. It’s a huge task: Nearly 2.9 million Americans were injured on the job in 2015, according to OSHA data, and another 145,000 experienced a work-related illness. 4,836 people died from work-related injuries in 2016. (These numbers count only reported injuries, illnesses, and deaths; not all are reported.)

OSHA’s employees study injury and illness patterns, communicate safety practices and rules, and inspect workplaces to make sure that the rules are being followed. This hiring freeze will lead to fewer such studies, communications, and inspections. That means working Americans will pay a price — in injury, illness, and death.

3. Veterans

Some 500,000 veterans have waited more than a month to receive medical care from the Veterans Administration. Nevertheless, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer confirmed that Trump’s hiring freeze will affect thousands of open positions at the VA, including positions for doctors and nurses. The nation’s veterans will pay for this freeze, in prolonged illness, injury, and pain – or worse.

Vets will pay in another way, too. Vets make up roughly one-third of the federal workforce, which means they will be disproportionately harmed by this hiring freeze. So will women and minorities, both of whom have a significant presence among federal workers – greater than in the workforce as a whole.

4. Small Businesses and Workers All Across the Country

Contrary to what many people believe, federal employees are work in offices all across the country. The goods and services purchased by each federal worker provide jobs and growth for their local economies. Cuts in the federal workforce will therefore cause economic damage all of the states where federal jobs are located.

According to the latest report on the subject from the Office of Management and Budget, states with the largest numbers of Federal employees are: California, with 150,000 jobs; Virginia, with 143,000 jobs; Washington DC, with 133,000 jobs; and, Texas, with 130,000 jobs.

That’s right: Texas.

Other states with large numbers of Federal employees include Maryland, Florida, and Georgia.

Demand for goods and services will fall with the federal workforce. So will demand for workers, which means that wages will rise more slowly (if at all). This hiring freeze will affect small businesses and working people in states like Texas and all across the country.

5. Everybody Else.

The “public safety” argument could also be used to exempt employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from the hiring freeze. But Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, a longtime foe of environmental regulation who has sided with some genuinely noxious polluters, to run the EPA.

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times. “In 13 of those cases,” the New York Times reports, “the co-parties included companies that had contributed money to Mr. Pruitt or to Pruitt-affiliated political campaign committees.”

In other words, Pruitt is dirty. It’s unlikely he’ll seek a “public safety” exemption for the inspectors that identify industrial polluters and bring them to justice. So another group that will suffer under this freeze, without getting too cute about it, is pretty much anybody who drinks water or breathes air. That covers just about everybody.

And that’s just the beginning.

This is not an all-inclusive list. We’ve left out tourists, for example, who’ll pay the price for staffing cuts at the nation’s monuments and national parks. But the overall impact of Trump’s hiring freeze is clear: it shows a reckless disregard for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people.

(And that’s not even counting his plan to end the Affordable Care Act. Physicians Steffie Woolhandler and David Emmelstein estimate that this will result in 43,000 deaths every year. And they’re not Democratic partisans or ACA apologists; they’ve been fighting for single-payer healthcare for years.)

Given these implications – and the thousands of jobs affected at the VA alone – it was surprising to read, in Politico, that “Trump’s move, by itself, doesn’t actually do much.”

That’s true, in one way. The 10,000 to 20,000 jobs affected by this freeze pale in comparison to the federal government’s total workforce of 2.2 million.

But Trump’s just getting started. His memo instructs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a broader long-term plan for reducing the federal workforce through attrition. And Trump’s choice for that job, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, is a far-right Republican who’s been fighting to cut the federal government for years.

This freeze is a bad idea, but there will be more where this came from.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on January 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

What the BLS Union Numbers Don't Tell You About People Organizing and Collective Action

Friday, January 27th, 2017

There are millions of working people who want and need a union but who are being prevented from forming one by their employer. And instead of penalizing bad actors, our outdated labor laws have made union avoidance nothing more than the cost of doing business. This must change.

“The truth is, collective action in America is stronger than ever,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “We’ve seen the source of our power in defeating the TPP, even when most people told us we couldn’t. We’ve seen it in successfully raising wages at the state and local levels against great political odds.”

http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/Working-People-Give-a-Bold-Union-Yes-in-Las-Vegas

We see this desire for collective action every day from coast to coast, in industries far and wide. Below, we have detailed just a sampling of amazing organizing wins and what happens when people come together to make changes on the job:

Working people at Verizon who went on strike last year made huge gains, including getting a raise and adding 1,300 new call center jobs on the East Coast.

In August, members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA at United Airlines voted to ratify a new contract, which provides immediate economic gains, sets a new industry standard and ensures flight attendants can achieve the benefits of a fully integrated airline. The five-year agreement includes double-digit pay increases, enhances job security provisions, maintains and improves health care, protects retirement and increases flexibility.

Also in the month of August, working people at eight Zara locations in New York chose to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW. Zara is owned by Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer, and the company did not oppose the union drive. More than 1,000 employees now will be represented by RWDSU/UFCW Local 1102. RWDSU/UFCW represents workers at such retail stores as Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, and supermarkets, drugstores and car washes.

Hotel workers in Las Vegas took on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and won a fair contract with their union Culinary Workers Union Local 226 after a high-profile fight in 2016. Watch the video to hear Celia Vargas’ story about what it was like to work at the Trump hotel without a contract.

Also in Las Vegas, working people at the Boulder Station Hotel & Casino voted “union yes!” “It is very simple: We voted for the union because we want to have a union at Boulder Station,” said Rodrigo Solano, a cook at the casino, which opened in 1994. “After all these years of fighting to make our jobs better, it is time for management to listen to us: We want to have fair wages and good health benefits like tens of thousands of other casino workers in Las Vegas.”

In Cleveland, teachers won a historic union charter school organizing victory when educators and support staff at the University of Cleveland Preparatory School joined the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the AFT to address high turnover and improve education for their students.

Working people who are members of AFSCME saw a net gain of 12,000 new members added to their ranks. AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement:

“AFSCME has made a commitment to getting back to organizing basics, building power at the grassroots level and hearing the unique concerns of every public service worker in one-on-one conversations…. So even in the face of an anti-labor onslaught, despite efforts to manipulate laws against working people, it’s clear that organizing works.”

In Baltimore, more than 1,400 working people at BG&E gained a union voice with IBEW. And in Memphis, Tennessee, a “right to work” state, hundreds of working people at Electrolux voted to join IBEW.

By a nearly 3-to-1 margin, Columbia graduate student employees voted  yes for their union—the UAW—in an NLRB election. Many of the 3,500 student workers who will be represented say they chose the union to bargain on their behalf for better health care, benefits for dependents, payment procedures, housing opportunities and grievance procedures. Students who work as teaching and research assistants won the right to join a union after an August ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. Columbia University is challenging the election results, and critics have called the appeal baseless.

In California, after four years of instability and threats of hospital closures or major cuts in patient services, registered nurses voted to approve a new contract covering nearly 1,500 RNs at four former Daughters of Charity hospitals in Los Angeles and the Bay area.

And in the growing digital media field, more than 90% of 70 digital journalists at Fusion Media Group voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East. WGAE also represents several hundred digital journalists at Salon Media, The Huffington Post and ThinkProgress.

Trumka said in a statement today:

“Even though collective action remains strong, we recognize that the labor movement has challenges. The biggest challenges have been put in place by corporations and their hired politicians who have been at the throats of workers for years. The ugly truth is, because of these attacks, we live in a country where working people are constantly denied our right – our constitutional right – to join a union in the first place. With the way the deck is currently stacked, it’s a miracle that brave workers continue to find new ways to organize and that today’s numbers aren’t even worse. But we also recognize our own challenges. We must be a better movement for a changing workforce. We must adapt our structures to fit the needs of today’s workers. We must not be afraid to challenge ourselves to better serve working families. And we know we will succeed because we are committed to doing just that, inspired by the spirit we see in working people every day from coast to coast, in industries far and wide.”

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on January 26, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.
Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at AFL-CIO.

Trump’s war on EPA regulations will kill jobs and a lot of people

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

romm_joe_bio

In his first days in office, President Donald Trump has launched a major effort to hurt job growth, stifle innovation, and make Americans sicker and less productive. How? By waging war on regulations, particularly those designed to protect the environment.

Trump ran on a pledge to kill regulations, and focused much of his wrath on EPA climate rules such as the Clean Power Plan. Upon assuming office, he put in place a “freeze” on all federal regulations; told business leaders “we’re going to be cutting regulation massively” by 75 percent or “maybe more”; and told car company executives that environmental regulations are “out of control.”

Yet, contrary to popular myth, regulations such as clean air and water standards do not have a net negative impact on job growth. Indeed, studies have found that the exact type of regulations Trump is targeting actually spur innovation and competitiveness.

 
Total jobs created by recent 2-term Presidents. CREDIT: Bureau of Labor Statistics via CNNMoney.

As Bureau of Labor Statistics data make clear (above chart), the recent two-term presidents who were in favor of regulation, especially environmental regulation (Obama and Clinton) created vastly more net jobs than the anti-regulation Presidents (Reagan and George W. Bush). “Businesses have added jobs at a nearly 2.5 times faster rate under Democrats than under Republicans, on average,” the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee reported in June.

The multiple economic benefits of regulations are well documented. First, EPA regulations make companies invest money to reduce some of the damage that results from their operation— such as polluting the air or water. That investment directly creates jobs, which generally cancel out any jobs lost by the cost imposed on the polluters.

Second, the reduction in harm itself boosts growth—cleaner air, for instance, means fewer sick days lost to asthma or cardiopulmonary illness. Here, for instance, are the health and mortality benefits of EPA Clean Air Act programs since 1990 aimed at reducing fine particles and ozone levels:

Health and mortality improvement from EPA clean air regulations since 1990, according to peer-reviewed research. Via EPA website (for now).

EPA particulate regulations (PM2.5) alone are now saving some 200,000 lives a year. And the benefits to the economy of these health improvements are enormous. The loss in economic output due to restricted activity, sickness, and death is enormous.

Indeed, the 2016 “Draft Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations” by the Office of Management and Budget found that over the previous 10 years, EPA’s air regulations cost the economy $41 to $48 billion (in 2014$) while providing benefits worth $172 to $668 billion.

The same report found that Energy Department efficiency standards—which Trump has also frozen—cost the economy $7.5 to $10.6 billion but provided $19 to $32.6 billion in savings. And it found that the joint EPA and Transportation Department “rules pertaining to the control of greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources and improved vehicle fuel economy” had costs of $9.5 to $18 billion and benefits worth $35 to $64 billion.

Third, beyond those direct costs and benefits, environmental regulations spur innovation. This was the key notion that Harvard Business School professor and competitiveness guru Michael Porter first suggested in the 1990s. Subsequent reviews of the economic literature on the so-called “Porter Hypothesis” confirmed he was right. Indeed, the most recent studies confirm Porter’s broader theory that “stricter regulation enhances business performance.”

It’s worth noting that a comprehensive peer-reviewed analysis of the performance of the U.S. economy in the past six decades found that “growth in total factor productivity was much faster under Democrats (1.89 percent versus 0.84 percent for Republicans).” So if anyone’s policies are hurting productivity, it would appear to be the GOP’s.

Finally, in the coming decades, the ever-worsening reality of climate change will ensure that the primary new manufacturing jobs will be green and sustainable. In 2010, the New York Times reported “in the energy sector alone, the deployment of new technologies, like wind and solar power, has the potential to support 20 million jobs by 2030 and trillions of dollars in revenue, analysts estimate.

Let meA bus moves past solar and wind farms in northwestern China. Beijing is using the kind of investments and regulations President Trump opposes to become the world leader in this fast-growing source of new jobs. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan.

The Paris climate deal—unanimously agreed upon by 190 nations in December 2015—means that the potential revenues generated for cleantech in the coming decades will be measured in the tens of trillions of dollars.

This potential is quickly becoming a reality. Other countries, especially China, have used regulations and investment to become leaders in clean energy technologies like solar and wind. And now China is using the same strategy with batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) to capture what is projected to be an EV market of more than 37 million in 2025.

But Trump intends to kill the very policies and regulations that would give the U.S. a piece of what is becoming the largest collection of new job-creating industries.

So, tragically, Trump’s war on regulations will not only kill countless U.S. jobs, it will kill a lot of people.

 

This post appeared originally in Think Progress on January 25, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Joe Romm is a Fellow at American Progress and is the founding editor of Climate Progress, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called “the indispensable blog” and Time magazine named one of the 25 “Best Blogs of 2010.” In 2009, Rolling Stone put Romm #88 on its list of 100 “people who are reinventing America.” Time named him a “Hero of the Environment? and “The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger.” Romm was acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997, where he oversaw $1 billion in R&D, demonstration, and deployment of low-carbon technology. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

 

This MLK Day, I marched for justice at Newark Airport

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I participated in an incredibly moving procession of airport workers like myself. We were joined by clergy and elected officials on our march through Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport.

I clean United Airlines planes for a contractor called PrimeFlight Aviation Services. Yet I’m paid so little that it’s a struggle to survive.

At one point, I was homeless because I did not have enough money to pay my rent.

I now have a home, but I am afraid I could lose it if my hours are cut.

That’s why we marched on Monday.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has the power to call for higher wages, and we have been working for years to do just that. But the Port Authority rejected the plan that would have brought parity across the Hudson River. Now we at Newark airport are getting left behind. New York airport workers just received their first raise, as part of the gradual plan towards $15 that they won last year.

I work just as hard as New York airport workers but I make less money.

It can be demoralizing, but I know that New Jersey airport workers are not second class citizens.

Airport workers are rising together and calling for change. We won’t stop fighting until we get what we deserve: a living wage, real benefits and respect.

This article was originally printed on SEIU.org in January 2017 .  Reprinted with permission.

Benyamin Marte cleans United Airlines planes at Newark Airport.

How the American Postal Workers Union Scored One of its Biggest Wins Ever

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Members of one of the largest labor unions for post office workers are celebrating the success of a three-year campaign to roll back a commercial alliance between the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and office supplies retailer Staples that threatened a major advance in the privatization of the national mail system. Coming just before the accession of Donald Trump to the White House, the victory marks one of the most successful corporate campaigns by any labor union during the Obama era.

The success also marks the rejuvenation of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) under the leadership of Mark Dimondstein. First elected as president in 2013, Dimondstein promised union members a more aggressive attack on USPS privatization initiatives and a more progressive union overall. He delivered on those promises with the Staples campaign, and stood out in 2016 as one of the few union leaders to back insurgent Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the White House.

APWU President President Mark Dimondstein

In an interview with In These Times, the union leader credits the success of the campaign to the thousands of hours of unpaid volunteer work by union members, and also to impressive demonstrations of solidarity by other unions, particularly teachers unions. Launched in 2014, the campaign gained early momentum, he says, and landed some of its most effective blows in mid-2014 and early 2015. Over the course of 2016, executives at USPS and Staples were in a slow retreat and formally caved in a letter to the union announcing the cancellation of the privatization effort earlier this month.

Union members were immediately galvanized in opposition when the USPS-Staples deal was announced as a “pilot program” in 2013. The pilot called for Staples to open “postal counters” in its existing retail stores where most standard post office services would be available. Such counters would be introduced in a number of select test markets, and gradually expanded to more than 1,000 Staples outlets nationwide. The workers at these counters would be non-union Staples employees, effectively replacing APWU members.

“It was obvious from the start that they were not being honest about the intentions of this program. If these Staples outlets were successful, then the next step would have been to close the regular post offices in those markets, and eliminate the union workers. It was a backdoor privatization. Our members are not stupid, and they saw it for what it was right from the beginning,” Dimondstein says.

The first order of business for the corporate campaign against USPS-Staples was to energize other unions, Diamondstein says, and this ultimately proved critical. Oher postal unions—notably the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union—were eager partners, he reports. Their call for a national boycott of Staples was endorsed by AFL-CIO in June 2014.

But the act of solidarity that carried the most powerful punch was the decision by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) to support the boycott. According to Dimondstein, “There are 3 or 4 million teachers in this country, and in a lot of cities and towns the teachers are given the power to go out and buy school supplies. For Staples, these are customers who come back year after year. This is market power that has real meaning to corporations like Staples.”

 AFT President Randi Weingarten even encouraged the APWU to stage a public demonstration against Staples at the same time as the AFT’s 2014 convention in Los Angeles. Weingarten personally led a large group of teachers from the convention to an APWU rally, held at the Staples Center sports arena, and delivered a fiery speech in support of the postal workers. She backed up the rhetoric, according to Dimondstein, with active efforts to get AFT affiliates to back the boycott nationwide.

“It was at that moment,” that the balance of power shifted in favor of the union, says Dimondstein. Other elements of the corporate campaign—public demonstrations, a legal attack at the National Labor Relations Board, nationwide publicity efforts, etc.—were beginning have an effect, but the teachers’ efforts seemed to pull it all together in the public mind, the union leader says.

Even so, it would take massive overreach by the corporate managers of Staples to drive a final stake through the heart of the USPS-Staples deal. In February 2015, Staples announced it would buy retail competitor Office Depot in a deal valued at $6.3 billion. But the combination of the two large office supply retailers raised obvious anti-trust issues. (A similar merger was blocked in 1997 by the Federal Trade Commission.)

The APWU jumped into action to oppose the merger, mobilizing other potential opponents and meeting with anti-trust regulators at the trade commission.

“Our research team did a just fantastic job. It’s hard for me to see how the merger could possibly have ever been approved after looking at their work,” Dimondstein says.

Sure enough, the trade commission ruled against the Staples-Office Depot deal, embarrassing Staples CEO Ronald Sargent and later costing him his job. The company was also forced to pay Office Depot about $250 million in a “break-up fee” for the failed merger, Dimondstein says.

“We opposed the merger and that put us squarely on the side of the consumer. As a union, we always want to be on the side of the consumer and that drives a lot what we do,” the APWU leader says.

Asked about the cost of the campaign, Dimondstein declines to answer directly. He insists, however, that the union spent less than $5 million and much of the cost was borne by unpaid volunteers from the membership.

“We were willing to spend whatever it took. But it doesn’t take as much as you’d think when you have a united membership willing to pitch in. We put in substantial resources, but our feeling [is] that this is precisely the kind of thing that union dues are for,” he says.

If the campaign presents a single overriding lesson, then it is the importance of labor union solidarity, Dimondstein concludes. Within USPS, there are multiple unions so “it is always divide and conquer with them.” But APWU was able to spearhead an effective coalition with other unions and also enlist the AFL-CIO in the boycott.

“The staying power of our own members is really what carried us and our allies forward,” Dimondstein says. “They had the confidence that workers can win—and will win.”

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on January 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Momentive Workers Strike As Trump’s “Jobs Forum” Pick Cuts Wages

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

More than 700 Momentive Performance Materials chemical plant workers in Waterford, NY have been on strike since November 2. The Albany Times Union explains why, in a report about the striking Waterford chemical plant,

Workers rejected a contract offer that would cut vacation time, reduce 401(k) benefits, increase health insurance costs and slice retiree health insurance and other benefits. The union had approved earlier cuts in pay and benefits in contracts with Momentive in 2010 and 2013, but workers said a third consecutive contract to cut benefits for workers and retirees, some of whom have ongoing health problems linked to years of working with toxic chemicals, is unfair.

Pay cuts, benefit cuts, cutting retiree’s pensions… The workers’ standard of living has been driven down since the company was bought by a hedge fund in 2006 including complete elimination of healthcare and life insurance for retirees. Some wages have been slashed up to 50% and jobs have been outsourced to intimidate remaining workers.

So they are on strike.

Trump’s Promise

In his inaugural address Friday President Trump said that “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.”

One person ripping the wealth from the middle class is Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone Group — and Chair of Trump’s new “Strategic and Policy Forum.” BloombergPolitics explains,

“This forum brings together CEOs and business leaders who know what it takes to create jobs and drive economic growth,” Trump said in a statement issued by Blackstone. “My administration is committed to drawing on private sector expertise and cutting the government red tape that is holding back our businesses from hiring, innovating, and expanding right here in America.”

Trump’s “jobs forum” pick Schwarzman is one of the owners of the Momentive Performance Materials chemical plant where the workers are on strike — because of the pay cuts and cuts in health care and retiree benefits that is ripping their wealth from them and redistributing it to a few extremely wealthy people at the top.

The Albany Times Union report, titled, Trump key economic adviser has stake in Momentive’s striking Waterford chemical plant, explains,

Outside the Momentive chemical plant, striking workers huddled in the cold around burn barrels have raised a symbol of their corporate owners: An inflatable caricature of a cigar-smoking pig with wads of cash flowing out of its jacket pockets.

But actual ownership of Momentive Performance Materials — sold to a New York City-based hedge fund a decade ago by General Electric Co. — is a corporate web that includes six billionaires on the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s 400 richest people, including a man named this month by President-elect Donald Trump as his chief job creation adviser.

Stephen Schwarzman, founder and CEO of the Blackstone Group, will have Trump’s ear on economic and tax policy as head of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a group of more than a dozen captains of industry, including former GE CEO Jack Welch.

… With an estimated net worth of $11 billion, Schwarzman is ranked 45th richest on the Forbes 400 list for 2016. His New York City-based firm currently holds about $361 billion in assets, making it the largest hedge fund in the world. The 69-year-old has estates in East Hampton, Saint-Tropez in the French Riviera, a beachfront villa in Jamaica, and a luxury Park Avenue apartment in New York City that was once home to John D. Rockefeller.

How rich is Schwarzman? See Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman Makes $250 Million In Five Days As Blackstone Posts Big Numbers.

Will Trump Keep His Promise?

Trump promised that he is going to restore the middle class. But Trump’s “jobs” pick is helping destroy the middle class at places like Momentive. From the Albany Times Union report,

“I would pray to God that Donald Trump would reconsider what he is doing and have a talk with some of these people, especially Mr. Schwarzman, about what is going on here in Waterford,” said Dominick Patrignani, Local 81359 president. “We are extremely concerned with the loss of jobs, and this guy is supposed to be the new czar of job creation and growth.”

Which is it going to be? Jobs and good wages for working people or, as Trump himself put it, ripping the wealth of our middle class from their homes and then redistributing it to a very few billionaires — like Trump’s “jobs” pick?

Whose side will Trump prove to be on? Momentive’s workers will tell you that Trump is off to a very bad start at meeting his promise.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on January 20, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

Worker advocates are getting under labor nominee Andy Puzder's thin, thin skin

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Donald Trump proposes to put fast food CEO Andy Puzder in charge of the Department of Labor, where he could bring his program of wage theft, automation, and sexism to workers nationwide. Unions and worker advocacy groups are not so enthusiastic about this proposal, and one of the ways they’ve tried to register their concern is by tweeting at Puzder. This has revealed something new, interesting, and pathetic about the wealthy, powerful, outspoken political nominee: he has incredibly thin skin. Puzder has been steadily blocking his critics on Twitter:

The Hardees and Carl’s Jr. CEO has blocked the Twitter accounts of at least five labor advocacy groups. This week, he even blocked one of the country’s most prominent union leaders, Mary Kay Henry of the 2-million member Service Employees International Union.

“Yes, the Twitter news is true. A sentence I can’t believe I’m writing,” an SEIU spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday evening. The union is the second-largest in the country, and has been the main backer of the Fight For $15 movement to raise wages in the fast food industry.

As a veteran fast food leader opposed to wage hikes, Puzder’s beef with Henry and the SEIU seems clear. But he’s handing out the blocks more liberally than that. The cabinet nominee has also blocked the National Employment Law Project, the Economic Policy Institute, MoveOn.org, the Fight for $15, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — all organizations that advocate on behalf of workers, especially low-wage workers and workers of color.

These groups are sober, policy-focused, and polite. As NELP’s Judy Conti told Buzzfeed, “We’re not name-calling. There are no ad hominem attacks.” But Puzder apparently can’t even face being tweeted at about New York Times coverage of himself, at least if it’s a progressive think tank doing the tweeting.

Just think: a labor secretary who doesn’t want to hear from pro-worker groups.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Trump’s Treasury secretary pick claims the unemployment rate is ‘not real’

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, claimed during his confirmation hearing on Thursday that the unemployment rate is “not real” and that “the average American worker has gone nowhere.”

In response to a line of questioning by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) about what he would do to protect voters from another recession, Mnuchin claimed that he has traveled with the president and understands why Trump was elected.

“The unemployment rate is not real,” he said. “The average American worker has gone nowhere, and president-elect is committed, as am I, as his economic adviser, to work for the American people and grow the American economy so that the average American worker does better.”

On the campaign trail, Trump also repeatedly claimed that the unemployment rate is a “phony number,” and that the real rate could actually be close to 42 percent.

But Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the co-founder of a major lending bank, should know better. Calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate is the percentage of the total labor force that is unemployed but actively seeking employment. The number is a critical indicator of how the economy is doing and is widely used by economists. The number is respected by both Democrats and Republicans as a valid indicator of job growth. The BLS has calculated the rate the same way since the 1940s, and its methods do not change from one administration to the next.

The rate has also fallen by more than one-third since President Obama took office, dropping last month to just 4.6 percent?—?the lowest level since August 2007.

Despite the (real) numbers, a recent poll found that 53 percent of Republicans believe that the unemployment rate has risen under Obama. More than a third of all Americans think its worse now than when Obama took office.

Some believe that there’s a better measure to track unemployment. That statistic, called the U-6, tracks everyone who is out of work, people not looking but who want work, and those unable to find full-time employment. That number is higher?—?currently it hovers over 9 percent. But Mnuchin made no mention of this statistic being a better indicator of job growth, and it’s not clear he would give any credence to any labor statistic as Treasury Secretary.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on January 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Kira Lerner is a Political Reporter at ThinkProgress. Contact her: klerner@thinkprogress.org

DOJ: To Address “Defective” Accountability System, Chicago Must Renegotiate Police Union Contracts

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Now we know what the Department of Justice (DOJ) found in Chicago after a 13-month investigation of the Chicago Police Department: a “defective” police accountability system whose failures are tied to public distrust in police and Chicago’s murder spike. Among the roadblocks to reform noted in the report were police collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), including the three agreements for police supervisors, currently in negotiations, and the contract for rank-and-file cops, which expires on June 30.

The DOJ report, released Friday, “found reasonable cause to believe that CPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the deficiencies in CPD’s training, supervision, accountability, and other systems have contributed to that pattern or practice.”

The report continues:

We found that officers engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits, and that these foot pursuits too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone—including unarmed individuals. We found that officers shoot at vehicles without justification and in contradiction to CPD policy. We found …that officers exhibit poor discipline when discharging their weapons and engage in tactics that endanger themselves and public safety, including failing to await backup when they safely could and should; using unsound tactics in approaching vehicles; and using their own vehicles in a manner that is dangerous.

The DOJ noted that CPD uses force against blacks almost ten times more than against whites and called on the city to tackle serious systemic deficiencies whose consequences disproportionately impact black and Latino communities. In a release following the report, Black Lives Matter Chicago called for “the immediate reopening of all closed police shooting investigations within the last four years.”

The report was released a week before the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, whose incoming administration is expected to lean less on the 1994 civil rights laws that enables the feds to compel reforms of local police departments when they find a pattern or practice of constitutional violations. The law allows for agreements between cities and the feds known as consent decrees, which are filed in and enforceable by federal courts, in comparison to less stringent measures, such as technical assistance letters or memorandums of agreement.

The findings come as no surprise, says Ed Yohnka of ACLU Illinois. “What it really did is confirm what residents in Chicago have known for years, which is the system itself for policing is simply broken,” he said.

The report also affirms a critique offered last April by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task force: Union contracts are a major piece of the police reform puzzle in Chicago.

Contracts as roadblocks

Any perceived attack on public employee contracts and labor protections can raise hackles, especially in a heavily Democratic state like Illinois. Yet activists, policing experts and politicians have increasingly targeted the FOP contracts as a fundamental barrier to police reform and demanded that certain provisions be stripped in the next round of negotiations.

In April, the accountability task force found that police contracts institutionalize the code of silence in the police department that shield cops from accountability. “The collective bargaining agreements between the police unions and the City have essentially turned the code of silence into official policy,” the task force report read.

Friday’s DOJ report echoed many of the criticisms of police union contracts raised in the task force report. The DOJ highlighted the myriad ways the agreements hinder how police are monitored, investigated and disciplined for misconduct. People issuing complaints against the police, for instance, must sign sworn affidavits under threat of perjury. Legal experts have said such rules intimidate victims of misconduct and discourage reporting.

Here’s a list of other CBA provisions that the feds said hamper investigations of police misconduct and should be change:.

  • The contracts allow officers accused of misconduct or involved in shootings to delay interviews.
  • The agreements mandate disclosure of a complainant’s identity to an accused officer before questioning, which is problematic because many complainants fear police retaliation.
  • The agreements limit investigations into misconduct complaints filed more than five years after an incident, and requires the destruction of most disciplinary records older than five years.

“The City fails to conduct any investigation of nearly half of police misconduct complaints,” the report said. “In order to address these ignored cases, the City must modify its own policies, and work with the unions to address certain CBA provisions, and in the meantime, it must aggressively investigate all complaints to the extent authorized under these contracts.”

The DOJ report called the city’s failure to investigate so many complaints a major blow to police accountability, saying, “these are all lost opportunities to identify misconduct, training deficiencies, and problematic trends, and to hold officers and CPD accountable when misconduct occurs.”

The city also shares some of the blame for rarely using override provisions in the contracts that would help investigators circumvent the affidavit step, said the report. The report said DOJ staff interviewed investigators with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), which investigates allegations of police misconduct along with CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA), and that they relayed that using overrides is not encouraged at IPRA. The DOJ also alleged that IPRA fails to provide training on how to use the process.  “Not surprisingly,” said the report, “this override provision was used only 17 times in the last five years.”

However, the override option contained in the contract is still problematic, according to the report. For investigators with IPRA or BIA to use the override, they have to obtain an affidavit from the other agency’s director verifying that he or she has reviewed “objective verifiable evidence” and concluded an investigation should ensue. “Not only does this process undermine the independence of IPRA, and create an additional procedural barrier to investigating misconduct, but requiring that objective verifiable evidence exists before an investigation can be undertaken puts the cart before the horse,” said the report.

The report also notes that the provision to destroy records after five years “not only may impair the investigation of older misconduct, but also deprives CPD of important discipline and personnel documentation that will assist in monitoring historical patterns of misconduct.” Similarly, the CBAs prevent CPD’s Behavioral Intervention System and Personnel Concerns Program, both programs meant to flag problem officers, from considering misconduct allegations older than five years and limits how “not sustained” complaints (how complaints are classified when investigators claim allegations can’t be proven true or false) are used to determine if an officer should be placed in the programs.

The DOJ also recommended changes to the “command channel review” process, outlined in the union contract and embedded in department policy, that allows various supervisors above an officer to review and comment on disciplinary decisions. The process undermines accountability, said the DOJ report.  The DOJ agreed with the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force that the process “provides a platform for members who are potentially sympathetic to the accused officer to advocate to reduce or eliminate discipline.”

“We recommended to the City during the course of this investigation that it modify the CCR process, and instead have discipline decided at a disciplinary conference headed by a single individual whose decision is reviewed directly by the Superintendent,” said the report, which named the command channel review as one of numerous factors undermining police accountability in Chicago.

The report claimed that these failures of the city’s accountability systems contributes to distrust of police and erodes the relationship between communities and law enforcement, which in turn makes it harder for police to solve murders and other crimes.

The FOP’s response

On Friday, minutes before the report was released, FOP President Dean Angelo issued a press release decrying the 13-month  investigation as “lightening speed.” The release expressed concerns that the DOJ rushed the report ahead of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration:

In all practicality, to have completed this investigation in LESS than one year’s time brings to surface several concerns: the main one being timeliness. Completing an investigation into the 12,000 member Chicago Police Department, and in a City with over 2 million citizens in less than one year clearly brings to light that the outgoing DOJ wanted to issue a report before the new Administration takes over on January 20, 2017. What also remains to be seen is whether or not the Report might be considered compromised, or incomplete as a result of rushing to get it out before the Presidential Inauguration. Everyone who reads this document should be as concerned about the timeliness of this Report as the FOP.

Attempts to reach Angelo after the report was released were unsuccessful. But in past interviews with In These Times, Angelo has insisted that the DOJ probe could be a boon for the union, whose members could benefit from better training and equipment as part of reforms. But he has defended the “Police Bill of Rights” section in the union contract, which contains the affidavit rule and heavily influences misconduct investigations. Angelo has said such protections are necessary to discourage frivolous complaints and unfair interrogation techniques that could endanger cops’ jobs.

The DOJ probe was sparked by the killing of a black teen named Laquan McDonald, who was walking away from police when officer Jason Van Dyke shot him 16 times. In November 2015, the release of a video the city fought to keep under wraps spurred public outcry, mass protests and calls for federal intervention. The incident also put the FOP under increased scrutiny and accusations that the union uses its influence to protect bad cops at all costs. A supposed account from numerous cops at the scene of the shooting, relayed through an FOP spokesman, turned out to be false. And the FOP hired Van Dyke as a janitor after he was suspended without pay. Amid this increased visibility for the FOP, the FOP’s contract with the city was thrust into the spotlight like never before.

In the aftermath of the McDonald video, calls for contract changes rang out from city hall, propelled by allegations from activists and politicians that the agreement makes it hard to conduct effective investigations of police misconduct and sets the bar too high for flagging or firing cops like Van Dyke whose encounters with civilians had already led to several lawsuit settlements and more than 20 complaints before he killed McDonald. The CPD is currently trying to fire Van Dyke, who is facing trial on murder charges. CPD is also trying to fire other cops who allegedly lied about the shooting—but the FOP is trying to block their dismissal.

The Chicago Urban League, an organization that has advocated for African Americans since 1916, took aim at the FOP in a statement released Friday.

“We know that reactions to this report will vary from anger and disgust to, unfortunately, but quite probably, repudiation from the Fraternal Order of Police,” said the statement. “But the Chicago Urban League believes that the report must be viewed as a milestone. It is verification of the worst of what we’ve been and continue to be, but offers a viable path to what we want to become.”

Negotiations ahead

NBC News reports that the city has already begun negotiations over reform measures, which a judge will oversee. What’s less clear is how Trump’s administration will enforce those measures. Yohnka said the city needs a sustained reform effort with independent oversight, and that signing a consent decree before Trump gets keys to the White House would help ensure that.

“With the political instability, what they’d be better off doing is signing a consent decree—and doing it by next week,” Yohnka said.

Trump’s nominee to replace Lynch as U.S. attorney general and lead the DOJ, Jeff Sessions, has sent strong signals that he isn’t a fan of consent decrees. He said at a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the DOJ probes undermine the public’s respect for cops. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong, and those individuals need to be prosecuted,” Sessions said.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s statement acknowledged the city has a lot of work to do, he touted reform measures his administration has already initiated, including an updated use of force policy, training initiatives and plans for a new independent civilian agency that would investigate allegations of police misconduct. He also acknowledged—and sought to dispel—fears that the reforms will lack teeth without backing from the next presidential administration.

“As we move forward, there are questions about what the next administration in Washington will do, but we know with certainty what we will do in the City of Chicago,” Emanuel said. “We will continue on the path of reform because that is the path to progress.”

Early Friday evening, activists with Black Lives Matter Chicago help a press conference with relatives of Rekia Boyd, Ronald Johnson and other Chicagoans killed by police officers. Activist Kofi Ademola led the press conference, which was captured on video and posted by DNAinfo Chicago, and blasted the mayor’s reforms as hollow, including a new civilian oversight agency that Ademola said still leaves too much power in the hands of city officials and the FOP.

Ademola also accused the mayor of trying to coverup the McDonald killing, and cast doubt on the prospect of Emanuel and the city steering Chicago toward serious reform without federal enforcement.

“The so-called reforms they have been making since the investigation are empty and hollow and ceremonious at best,” Ademola said. “We know that they don’t want community control of the police.”

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on January 14, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Adeshina Emmanuel is an independent Chicago-based journalist and an Ida B. Wells Fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. He is a former reporter for DNAinfo Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reporter.

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