Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘USW’

Honeywell Plant Freezes Summer Vacations

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Mike ElkAt a time of year when many workers are taking family vacations, uranium workers at Honeywell’s plant in Metropolis, Ill. won’t have that option. On July 27, the company announced a vacation freeze. United Steelworkers Local 7-669, which represents workers at the plant, claims that the decision is just another salvo in a three-year-long battle by Honeywell to bust the union.

Honeywell is currently in the process of rehiring several hundred operations workers at the uranium plant who were laid off in July of 2012 when the plant shut down for earthquake-safety improvements requested by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Earlier this year, Honeywell began slowly rehiring the laid-off workers—both hourly union employees and non-union salary employees—to restart the plant. Now all but 21 of the 200 union employees have been rehired as the plant moves toward full operationality. But instead of rehiring the final 21 union workers, Honeywell is proceeding short-staffed and calling in workers on their days off to make up the gap.

In order to put pressure on the company to rehire the 21 laid-off union members, some union employees are refusing to work any overtime (and passing up the time-and-half pay). In response, Honeywell announced that because of the staffing shortage, no workers can take a vacation this summer.

In a July 27, 2013 email to employees, Honeywell Metropolis Operating Manager Jim Pritchett wrote:

Effective immediately, all vacations are cancelled and no further vacations are to be granted in operations including individuals’ days—that includes all hourly and salaried staff. The purpose is to assure we are staffed to support operations and to continue to get the remaining units on line so we can support our customers. … I am disappointed it has gotten to this but we have no choice due to employees not responding to call ins and taking care of their responsibilities…. This vacation freeze will be lifted as soon as the business needs of the plant are being effectively met by people coming when they are called.

The union speculates that Honeywell has an ulterior motive for not hiring the remaining 21 workers: It doesn’t want to rehire Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech. Under the union contract, Honeywell is obligated to rehire all of the laid-off union employees according to a mutually agreed upon list developed according to workers’ qualifications and seniority. The next person on the list is Lech.

“It’s directly targeting me for my work as union president,” says Lech, who thinks that Honeywell is trying to send a message about the length that the company is willing to go to crush the union.

The union says that instead of following the list, Honeywell has told the final 21 workers that they must compete against outside applicants and reapply for their jobs as if they were new hires directly off the street.

“It’s a violation of the contract,” Lech says. “How can Honeywell do it? Well, Honeywell does whatever they want.”

“It will take six months before the case even gets before an arbitrator and another six months before the arbitrator rules,” he says.

Workers are refusing overtime in the hopes that they can resolve the issue sooner. Many were planning family vacations and were outraged by the vacation moratorium.

“It’s a morally bankrupt company that punishes their employees for staffing shortages it created out of spite,” reads a text message to Working In These Times by one Honeywell employee who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being fired. “Two years ago we took their lousy contract and they’re still kicking us.”

Honeywell did not respond to request for comment for this piece.

Lech says that despite being laid off, he is undeterred from his work for the union.

“This absolutely will not stop me from doing my job,” says Lech. “Heck, I got more time than ever to work as union president.”

This article originally appeared on Working In These Times on August 12, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.

"This is Not Just a Steelworker Issue"

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
berry craigShowing solidarity with our union brothers and sisters is a great way for us to ring in the New Year, says Jim Key, vice president at large of Steelworkers Local 550 in Paducah, Ky.
Key, also his local’s legislative and political chairman, is asking union members and union supporters nationwide to take a minute to put their John Hancock on a White House cyber-petition against corporations that file for bankruptcy “to circumvent their liabilities for workers’ pensions and post-retirement health care benefits.”
The link to the petition is http://wh.gov/Reqy.
Added Key: “The stark reality is that many unions will likely be facing the same thing in the very near future.”
The future is now, says Chris MacLarion, vice president of USW Local 9477 in Baltimore. One of his members, Eric Schindler, started the petition, using their former employer, RG Steel, as an example of corporate greed run amok.
The petition, addressed to the Obama administration, explains that in March 2011, RG Steel, LLC, entered into a contract with the USW. But in June 2012, the company filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.
While in bankruptcy proceedings, RG Steel asked to be permitted to pay $20 million in bonuses to 10 “key managers” to help the company “secure a buyer,” the petition also says. “…After the buyer was named these managers were to be paid their salaries and other monies” including funds to purchase health insurance.
“Meanwhile the 2000+ Union workers were laid off and unemployed,” the petition says. “Their medical benefits were stopped September 1 of 2012. Unfortunately the insurance provider was issued an order to stop paying claims two weeks before the end date.” Union members also lost “other monies promised in the contract that was voided.”
The petition urges, “stop companies from rewarding bad behavior. Make them abide by the contract.”
MacLarion says his local represented about 1,850 USW members in RG’s Baltimore mill — the former Sparrow’s Point Bethlehem Steel works — and approximately 150 more in amalgamated units that serviced the factory.
“RG Steel’s demise has left all of them without jobs, while the management group made a grab at $20 million in bonuses,” he said. “While that grab at the money proved futile, as the judge rejected their attempt, they nonetheless were able to secure another set of bonuses and pay under a second motion.”
Added MacLarion: “While this was a much smaller amount it is still appalling that the same people that ran the company into the ground were able to take payments of three-quarters of $1 million. That money would have been better served paying the medical bills that our members were stuck holding the tab for.”
MacLarion says he and the members of his union liken the RG Steel bonus grab to paying the captain of the Titanic a bonus for hitting the iceberg while managing to keep his ship afloat for almost three hours afterwards.
MacLarion says RG’s actions also devastated USW members in the company’s Warren, Ohio, and Wheeling, W.Va., mills.  “They were part of the bankruptcy. All in all, I’d say roughly 5,000- plus USW members lost out in the RG Steel bankruptcy.”
Meanwhile, Key has gained the support of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, which represents AFL-CIO affiliated unions in the Bluegrass State’s 13 westernmost counties. Key is a recently-elected council trustee.
“We all need to sign this petition,” said Jeff Wiggins, council president and president of Steelworkers Local 9447 in nearby Calvert City, Ky. “This is not just a Steelworker issue. This is an issue that affects all union members, retirees and members still working, and our families.
“It’s happening all over the country. You work hard for a company all of your life, retire with dignity and the company ends up trying to cheat you of what should be rightfully yours. It’s greed, pure and simple.”
This article was originally posted by Union Review on January 10, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Berry Craig is recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.

China Drops Some Wind Power Subsidies After USW Complaint

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Image: James ParksHere’s some good news on the trade front: U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk announced today that China has ended certain wind power equipment subsidies that gave its companies an unfair advantage in the global market.

The action came after the United Steelworkers (USW) filed a Section 301 trade complaint last October charging that China’s government uses hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, performance requirements, preferential practices and other illegal trade activities to dominate the renewable energy market.

The subsidies take the form of grants to Chinese wind turbine manufacturers that agreed to use key parts and components made in China rather than purchasing imports. The size of the individual grants range between $6.7 million and $22.5 million, according to the USTR.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

Today’s news is a significant move in the right direction.  But much more must still be done to enforce our trade laws consistently and create good jobs here at home…  We must work to end unfair trade practices, including currency manipulation, export subsidies and the suppression of workers’ rights both here and abroad.

USW President Leo Gerard said in a statement that the union’s complaint and the Obama administration’s pursuit of the complaint brought China’s government to the table with a commitment to end this program. He adds:

That’s good news for our members, U.S. companies and American workers. It needs to be followed up with continued vigilance to ensure the Chinese keep their commitments.

America’s workers and our nation face many more clear World Trade Organization (WTO) violations of obligations by China’s government, Gerard said.

With this first green technology issue behind us, we encourage the administration to continue to work to level the playing field for clean technology companies and American workers to grow sustained employment and good job opportunities.

Read Kirk’s announcement here , Gerard’s full statement here and Trumka’s statement here.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO blog on June 7, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

Assert Yourself, America; Don't be an Illegal Trade Victim

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Leo GerardLong-suffering victim is hardly the American image. Paul Revere, Mother Jones, John Glenn, Martin Luther King Jr. — those are American icons. Bold, wry, justice-seeking.

So how is it that America finds herself in the position of schoolyard patsy, woe-is-me casualty of China’s illegal trade practices that are destroying U.S. renewable energy manufacturing and foreclosing an energy-independent future?

Come on, America. Show some of that confident pioneer spirit. Stand up for yourself. Tell China that America isn’t going to hand over its lunch money anymore; international trade law will be enforced now.

That’s the demand the United Steelworkers (USW) union made this week when it filed a 5,800-page suit detailing how China violates a wide variety of World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations.

The case, now in the hands of the U.S. Trade Representative, shows how China uses illegal land grants, prohibited low-interest loans and other outlawed measures to pump up its renewable energy industries and facilitate export of those products at artificially low prices to places like the United States and Europe.

The U.S. aids renewable energy industries, like solar cell and wind turbine manufacturers, but no where near the extent that China does. And the American aid lawfully goes to renewable manufacturers that produce for domestic consumption. China, by contrast, illegally subsidizes industries that export, a strategy that kills off competition.

The USW recognizes and appreciates that trade with China has lifted millions there out of poverty. But truly fair trade would benefit workers in both China and the United States. And that is what the USW is demanding.

The USW is far from alone in accusing China of violations. New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher described them in a story Sept. 8, titled “On Clean Energy, China Skirts Rules.” It ends with this quote from Zhao Feng, general manger of Hunan Sunzone Optoelectronics, a two-year-old solar panel manufacturer that exports nearly 95 percent of its products to Europe and is opening offices in three U.S. cities to push into the American market:

“Who wins this clean energy race really depends on how much support the government gives.”

The U.S. isn’t providing support that violates WTO regulations. China is. And it’s hundreds of billions — $216 billion from China’s stimulus package, another $184 billion to be spent through 2020, $172 million in research and development over the past four years.

Bradsher’s story details illegal aid given Sunzone and says that it’s common, not exceptional. It includes China turning over land to Sunzone for a third of the market price and government-controlled banks granting Sunzone low-interest loans that the provincial government helps Sunzone repay.

In addition, the USW suit notes that China, which accounts for 93 percent of the world’s production of so-called rare earth materials like dysprosium and terbium essential for green energy technology, has severely restricted their export. That practice, illegal under WTO rules, forces some foreign companies to move manufacturing to China to get access.

And when corporations move, China routinely – and illegally — mandates they transfer technology to Chinese partners, which often means U.S.-tax-dollar-supported research and development benefits China.

That is one reason China rose to first in the world in clean energy so quickly. China now leads globally in producing solar panels. It doubled its wind power capacity in one year – 2009. Worldwide, Chinese manufacturers supply at least half of all hydropower projects and fabricate 75 percent of all compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, BP shut down its solar panel manufacturing plant in Maryland this year and Evergreen Solar of Marlboro, Mass., plans to close its American plant, eliminating 300 U.S. jobs. Both are moving manufacturing to China.

Germany’s Solar World still manufactures in Europe and the United States, and its chief executive, Frank A. Asbeck, told Bradsher the German solar industry association is investigating whether to file a suit of its own to try to stop China’s illegal practices:

“China is cordoning off its own solar market to fend off international competition while arming its industry with a bottomless pile of subsidies and boundless lines of credit.”

The Times story also says China’s “aggressive government policies” are designed to ensure “Chinese energy security.”

China’s illegal aggression to secure its energy independence and dominate world production of green technology threatens the energy security of the United States.

America turned to renewables not just to diminish climate change but also to reduce dependence on foreign oil, an addiction that has entangled the U.S. in costly and bloody wars.

If the United States can’t build its own renewable energy products, it will forfeit the next generation high technology industry and good manufacturing jobs, and it will remain dangerously beholden to foreign nations for energy.

China agreed to follow international regulations when it joined the World Trade Organization. This pledge was crucial because China’s economy is government-controlled, very different from the free market economies of the United States and most Western nations.

Faced with blatant rule-flouting that has cost USW members their jobs and threatens to cost their children high-technology manufacturing of the future, the USW is demanding the American government put a stop to it.

That is how a true American acts. Americans have a sense of justice. They follow the rules and expect trading partners to do the same. When they don’t, Americans do something about it.

For the Strength of Rosie the Riveter: Make It in America

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Leo GerardRosie the Riveter defiantly rolls up her blue work shirt to show off a brawny bicep. She’s a symbol of American strength.

She worked in a manufacturing job, one of millions that constructed the defense machine that won World War II for the Allies. She said, “We can do it.” And America did.

Now, however, shuttered U.S. factories and off-shored manufacturing are sapping American strength. The nation has lost more than 40,000 manufacturing plants and one-third of its manufacturing jobs, nearly six million, over the past dozen years. China is on the verge of overtaking the U.S. in manufacturing output. And Americans know it. Late in April, 58 percent of 1,000 likely voters told pollsters they believed America’s economy no longer led the world.

They also told pollsters they supported enacting a national manufacturing policy to promote resurgence of domestic production — a return to the days of a robust Rosie the Riveter and a country that could secure its independence with dynamic manufacturing capability.

Democrats in Congress heard that message. They’ve created a program called “Make It in America.” They plan to pass a series of bills to create an environment in which both Americans and American manufacturers make it. “We want everybody to make it in America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as she described the plan to 2,000 bloggers and progressive activists at Netroots Nation 2010 last week in Las Vegas.

After all the support America has given the financial sector – estimated to total more than $4 trillion – it’s time for Congress to invest in the productive sector, the one that creates jobs, real wealth and American power.

“We must stop the erosion of our manufacturing base, our industrial base, our technological base,” the Speaker told Netroots Nation, “It is a national security issue to do so, if we had no other justification,” she said, adding that there are, of course, plenty of other reasons.

She said the strategy is to pass “one bill after another” supporting American manufacturing. The House started last week with two, one to ease American industries’ access to raw materials and parts and another to improve specialized workforce training.

In addition, Speaker Pelosi said, House leaders want to address currency manipulation – the deliberate undervaluing of currency to make a country’s exports artificially cheap and imports into that country artificially expensive. Currency manipulation by China, for example, is believed by both conservative and liberal economists to be adding as much as 40 cents to every dollar of the cost of U.S. products exported to China and discounting Chinese goods sold in the U.S. by 40 cents on every dollar.

“There is a strong interest in our caucus in holding China accountable for manipulation of currency. That would make a tremendous difference in our trade because currency manipulation is really a subsidy to their exports to America – an unfair advantage,” the Speaker said at Netroots Nation.

Other bills Speaker Pelosi hopes to pass soon include $5 billion in tax credits for domestic manufacturers that produce components for alternative energy and a requirement that foreign manufacturers keep at least one worker stationed in the U.S. so the company can be officially served with court papers. Also, there’s a bill by Illinois Congressman Daniel Lipinski that would require each U.S. president to produce a manufacturing strategy in the second year of office and to review progress annually.

The survey that prompted Democrats to create the “Make It in America” program was commissioned by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman and Republican pollster Whit Ayres. They found that likely voters believed creating manufacturing jobs was more important than reducing the federal deficit and more important than cutting government spending.

The survey also showed strong support for policies requiring the government to buy American-made goods. Similarly, it showed the Democrats, Independents and Republicans surveyed felt the quality of products manufactured in American exceeded those made in China, Japan, India and Germany.

Americans now even prefer U.S.-made cars: An Associated Press-GfK Poll in April showed 38 percent of Americans favor U.S. vehicles. Asian brands got 33 percent.

Chrysler takes advantage of that sentiment in its commercial for the new Grand Cherokee. The words are chilling:

“The things that make us American are the things we make,” it begins.

“This has always been a nation of builders, craftsmen, men and women for whom straight stitches and clean welds were matters of personal pride. They made the skyscrapers and the cotton gins, colt revolvers, Jeep 4-by-4s,” the ad continues.

“These things make us who we are,” the narrator says. Yes. The things Americans make, make the country strong.

To the sound of a sledge hammer pounding a railroad spike, the narrator goes on to describe the reborn Grand Cherokee, “This, our newest son, was imagined, drawn, craved, stamped, hewn and forged here, in America. It is well-made and it is designed to work. This was once a country that made things, beautiful things, and so it is again.”

Well, not quite. Chrysler may make a terrific Grand Cherokee in Michigan. But American manufacturing needs some help. And with unemployment stuck at 9.5 percent, so do the American people. “Make it in America” is that aid. The AAM poll showed 85 percent of those who said the U.S. had lost economic leadership believed America could regain it.

Americans believe we can still do it.

***

Make sure Congress acts. Join the One Nation Working Together march on Washington Oct. 2 to demand good jobs, as well as Wall Street and immigration reform.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

A Second Disaster Coming to the Gulf? Hazards Abound for Cleanup Workers

Friday, July 30th, 2010

enku ideJason Anderson, one of 11 workers killed during April’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, had warned his family that BP was pushing speed-up and straying from safety protocols.

Without a union to take his concerns to, Jason turned to his wife, Shelly. “Everything seemed to be pressing to Jason, about getting things in order, in case something happened,” Shelly confessed during an NBC interview.

Today, 27,000 workers in the BP-run Gulf cleanup effort may still be in danger. Some are falling sick, and the long-term effects of chemical exposure for workers and residents are yet unknown.

Workers lack power on the job to demand better safety enforcement. They fear company retaliation if they speak out and are wary of government regulators who have kept BP in the driver’s seat.

BP carries a history of putting profit before worker safety. A 2005 refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 and injured another 108 workers. The Chemical Safety Board investigation resulted in a 341-page report stating that BP knew of “significant safety problems at the Texas City refinery and at 34 other BP business units around the world” months before the explosion.

One internal BP memo made a cost-benefit analysis of types of housing construction on site in terms of the children’s story “The Three Little Pigs.” “Brick” houses—blast-resistant ones—might save a few “piggies,” but was it worth the initial investment?

BP decided not, costing several workers’ lives. Federal officials found more than 700 safety violations at Texas City and fined BP more than $87 million in 2009, but the corporation has refused to pay.

BP NO EXCEPTION

According to the Steelworkers union, the oil industry saw 13 fires that caused 19 deaths and 25 injuries during April and May alone, including Deepwater Horizon. Oil refineries across the U.S. averaged a fire each week.

Jim Savage, local president at a south Philadelphia refinery, sits on the USW’s national refinery bargaining council. Savage said BP is no exception. Safety violations are rampant in the industry, especially in the hectic final 12 hours before production starts up—the same period when the Deepwater disaster took place.

The Steelworkers requested in early July that the oil giants reopen bargaining over health and safety, after they turned aside the union’s proposals in negotiations last year. The oil firms have refused.

CLEANUP RISKS

Now workers in the cleanup effort face similar challenges to those Jason Anderson and his 10 slain co-workers woke up to each morning. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy analyst Hugh Kaufman says workers are being exposed to a “toxic soup,” and face dangers like those in the Exxon Valdez, Love Canal, and 9/11 cleanups.

The 1989 Exxon Valdez experience should have taught us about the health fallouts of working with oil and chemical cleaners, but tests to determine long-term effects on those workers were never done, by either the company or OSHA. It appears they have faced health problems far beyond any warnings given by company or government officials while the work was going on.

Veterans of that cleanup, such as supervisor Merle Savage, reported coming down with the same flu-like symptoms during their work that Gulf cleanup workers are now experiencing. Savage, along with an estimated 3,000 cleanup workers, has lived 20 years with chronic respiratory illness and neurological damage.

A 2002 study from a Spanish oil spill showed that cleanup workers and community members have increased risk of cancer and that workers with long-term exposure to crude oil can face permanent DNA damage.

So far, Louisiana has records of 128 cleanup workers becoming sick with flu-like symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, and headaches, after exposure to chemicals on the job. BP recorded 21 short hospitalizations. When seven workers from different boats were hospitalized with chemical exposure symptoms, BP executives dismissed the illnesses as food poisoning.

BP bosses have told workers to report to BP clinics only and not to visit public hospitals, where their numbers can be recorded by the state.

Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has said that without the benefit of studies, or even knowing the chemical makeup of the Corexit 9500 dispersant (which its manufacturer calls a “trade secret”), scientific opinion is divided on long-term health impacts to the region.

Workers in the Gulf are not receiving proper training or equipment, says Mark Catlin, an occupational hygienist who was sent to the Exxon Valdez site by the Laborers union.

EQUIPMENT LACKING

BP has said it will provide workers with respirators and proper training if necessary, but the company has yet to deem the situation a health risk for workers. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) provided respirators to some workers directly, but BP forbade them to use them.

One rationale behind banning respirators is that they could increase the likelihood of heat-related illnesses, but Kindra Arnsen, an outspoken wife of a sick fisherman turned cleanup worker, points out that many workers are fishermen accustomed to the Gulf heat who can work safely given enough hydration and time for breaks.

Workers who question the safety of their assignments, choose to wear their own safety equipment, or speak out about the risks are threatened with losing their jobs, according to Arnsen and LEAN’s executive director Marylee Orr.

Arnsen has also spoken out in fear for her community of Venice, Louisiana. She describes illnesses and rashes her young children and husband have suffered since the explosion and cleanup and says there are days when officials tell residents to stay indoors.

PR POWER

The Center for Research on Globalization has speculated that banning respirators and other protective gear for workers is part of BP’s public relations campaign to control how bad the disaster looks. This follows a pattern of threatening reporters who get too close to the hardest-hit areas, blocking media access to workers, exaggerating claims of mitigation of the spill’s impact, and using dispersants that make much of the oil invisible.

Both the EPA and OSHA have criticized BP’s safety plan, which allows workers without respirators to stay in an area when air pollutants are high, doesn’t evacuate workers when conditions become unsafe, and contains no upper limits of exposure to carcinogenic gases found in crude oil.

Catlin, the occupational hygienist, says the protocol seems to be written in a way that allows BP to continue operating under conditions that, in other settings, would halt work.

Fishery industry organizations have joined with environmental groups to demand respirators and other safety equipment and training for workers. The coalition has launched bpmakesmesick.com, aimed at pressuring the Obama administration to better enforce health codes during the cleanup.

About The Author: Enku Ide is an intern with Labor Notes from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  He has been an active member of United Students Against Sweatshops, the Student Farmworker Allinace, Amnesty International and Solidarity.  He has also been active in struggles for LGBTQI liberation.

U.S. Politicians Deny the Obvious Injury; U.S. Manufacturing Bleeds

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Leo GerardIn the film, “Monte Python and the Holy Grail,” King Arthur severs both of the Black Knight’s arms during a sword fight, but the Black Knight attempts to battle on.

The king admonishes him: “You’ve got no arms left.”

The knight refutes that: “Yes I have.”

“Look,” at the obvious, the king tells him.

“Just a flesh wound,” retorts the knight, who clearly is suffering a state of denial.

Similarly, in the trade clash between China and America, the Asian giant has gravely wounded the United States. China knows it. U.S. voters of all political stripes know it. But too many American politicians, like the Black Knight, are in denial.

Their deliberate blindness, and resulting inaction, has enabled China to continue devaluing its currency, the Renminbi, against the dollar, a practice that makes its exports artificially cheap in U.S. markets and U.S. exports to China wrongfully overpriced. China announced just before the G-20 summit in Toronto that it would allow the value of the Renminbi to float up on world markets – and then permitted the currency that is undervalued by as much as 40 percent against the dollar to rise an underwhelming one half of one percent.

Political inaction also has facilitated China’s flouting of international trade rules forbidding government subsidies to manufacturers. The Chinese subsidies result in falsely low-priced Chinese goods flooding U.S. markets and submerging U.S. manufacturers.

Main Street Americans see the obvious. They said so in a poll conducted late in April by The Mellman Group for the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). The likely voters – who identified themselves as Republican, Democrat, Tea Party and Independent – said Washington must focus on manufacturing because it is crucial to America’s economic strength. Large majorities said the U.S. should strengthen domestic manufacturing and develop a national manufacturing policy.

Unfortunately, too many politicians who loll in the rarefied world of Washington, D.C. — so far from Main Street, so very far from an actual factory — don’t see it. So they’ve failed to solve the problems.

A report issued this week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) details the trade difficulties encountered by one American industry – paper manufacturers. Its struggles mirror those that have maimed many other U.S. manufacturers, including pipe mills and tire plants.

The report, “No Paper Tiger: Subsidies to China’s Paper Industry from 2002-09,” notes that in 2008, China overtook the United States to become the world’s largest producer of paper and paper products. This score by China is the solid evidence for the gut feeling Americans expressed in the Mellman poll for AAM. A significant majority told the pollsters they believed the U.S. had lost to China the position of world’s strongest economy.

Americans didn’t need a report to spell out for them what their families and neighborhoods had suffered over the past decade. They’d experienced the closing of more than 10 percent of U.S. manufacturing plants in their communities from 2001 to 2009 – a loss of 42,404 factories. In the paper industry alone, 159,000 of their relatives and neighbors lost their jobs as paper mills closed or cut production during the seven-year period covered by the “No Paper Tiger” study.

A woman from Los Angeles told the Mellman pollsters that this relentless loss of manufacturing capability enfeebles America: “When you consume more than you produce, you become dependent, and we are consuming more from other countries than producing our own. . .truly we have become weak and in order to strengthen the economy, I think we need to produce more.”

The U.S. will, however, continue to produce less, the “No Paper Tiger” report makes clear, if Washington doesn’t act against predators violating international regulations. The report explains that China’s government granted at least $33 billion in subsidies to paper manufacturers to accomplish the country’s rapid rise to global leader in paper production.

In its central government-controlled economy, China gives paper companies money and breaks, much of which is improper under international trade regulations. For example, some paper companies get “loans” that they don’t have to repay. The government provides tax breaks, artificially low-priced electricity and underpriced raw materials. This explains how Chinese paper companies increased capacity by an average of 26 percent every year since 2004 even as prices for paper fell internationally and costs for raw materials for paper production in China rose steeply.

China’s rule-violating subsidies and deliberate currency devaluation explain the low price of Chinese paper. Labor costs don’t account for it. That’s because labor is such a tiny percentage of the price of paper – in both the U.S. and China. In China, it’s 4 percent of production cost; in the U.S. it’s 8 percent.

By contrast, Chinese paper manufacturers confront expensive problems that the American industry does not. In China, obtaining raw materials for paper making is complicated and costly because the country has among the smallest forestry resources in the world per capita. In addition, the “No Paper Tiger” report says, the Chinese industry is relatively inefficient. In the U.S., the paper industry is highly efficient and has easy access to abundant natural resources.

The U.S., a market economy, simply does not routinely prop up manufacturers the way China does.

The “No Paper Tiger” report says that if nothing changes, U.S. paper manufacturers will continue to lose money, close mills and bleed jobs. The U.S. could be reduced to serving as nothing more than the supplier of raw materials for Chinese paper production, as if America were an undeveloped third world country incapable of manufacturing on its own.

China’s subsidization of its paper manufacturers isn’t unique. It supports many of its industries. Chinese government intervention in the market accounts for a significant portion of the manufacturing loss in America. That loss diminishes American security.

America is losing her arms. Denying it doesn’t help.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

American Wind Turbines Sound Like Freedom

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Leo GerardThe sound that American wind turbines produce as their giant, breeze-propelled blades whip around is a distinctive: Neh-neh-neh-neh-neh-neh.

The anticipation is that those energy-generating, whirling arms would create a whooshing sound. And maybe they do in some countries. But here, in America, they echo the almost melodic taunt of a schoolyard victor — Neh-neh-neh-neh-neh-neh: You can’t get me.

That’s because American wind turbines are the manifestation of freedom from foreign oil. The more American wind turbines, the fewer barrels of oil America must import to meet its energy needs. And American-built wind turbines help propel the nation out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression by generating good-paying American jobs.

President Obama talked about the ugly results of the nation’s refusal to solve its dependency problem – its guzzling of 20 percent of the world’s oil while controlling less than two percent of the world’s reserves. America’s combination of oil addiction and lack of adequate oil resources enslaves the nation to foreign sources, often foreign sources hostile to America. A generation ago, former President Jimmy Carter warned of the consequences of this abusive relationship as Iran held 52 Americans hostages and long lines formed at gasoline stations during a season of shortages.

Carter installed on the White House roof a symbol of the solution — solar panels. His successor there, Ronald Reagan, pulled them down. And the nation went on its merry way forgetting the once-empty gasoline stations and ignoring its ever-increasing foreign dependency – even as the Exxon Valdez mucked Prince William Sound two months after Reagan left office.

Here’s what Obama said about that wasted opportunity:

“And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked – not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.”

The explosion of the Deep Water Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the deaths of 11 workers, the uncontrolled gushing of more than 50,000 barrels of oil a day into the sea, and the mucking of brown pelicans and four states’ coastlines have given Obama the ability to take up Carter’s righteous clean energy campaign. And Obama accepted the challenge:

“The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.”

The president noted that wind turbines are being built in retrofitted factories that were once abandoned right here in America. That happened in Pennsylvania. The wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa converted defunct mills into centers for wind turbine construction. And it cooperated with the United Steelworkers (USW) to provide good-paying union jobs.

That is the potential President Obama sees – independence from foreign sources and resurgence of America’s economy. It is the potential that the USW and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) pictured when they agreed earlier this month to work together to accelerate development and deployment of wind energy production in the U.S.

Like the Steelworkers, the national trade association of America’s wind industry believes the U.S. must move toward renewable energy sources and must construct them itself. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio explained it simply when the USW and AWEA announced their partnership:

“We can’t replace our dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on Chinese-made wind turbines. It’s critical that American manufacturers have the resources to develop and deploy wind energy components. Clean energy will help America regain its leadership in manufacturing. We need to ensure American workers and manufacturers are building the clean energy components that will be used around the world.”

Obama called on Americans to “seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels.” But like any rehab program, success won’t come easily. Oil companies will continue to lobby against it. Swayed by their money, some politicians will oppose the legislation essential to encourage it.

But symbolic solar panels must remain on the White House roof this time. Renewable energy, as Obama said, enables America to shape its own destiny

The President urged the nation to free itself from its oil dependency now:

“As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs – but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment.”

This is the time for wind turbines. For solar. For hydro. This is the moment to hear increasing numbers of rotor blades whipping up the sound of independence.

Carpe diem.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

Congress Hears Demands for Health Care Reform in Town Hall Meetings

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Members of Congress met in town hall sessions Thursday with constituents who were on Capitol Hill to rally and demand health care reform. Read dispatches from some of the meetings.

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Ohio Weighs In

After the rally, more than 250 activists from Ohio met at the Columbus Club at Union Station to plan for an afternoon of lobbying and hear from members of Congress about health care reform.

“Nothing is more important to me than ensuring that President Obama passes health care reform.”

The session was introduced by Tim Burga of the Ohio AFL-CIO, who decried the “free market run amok” in the current health care system and affirmed that we must have a serious public health insurance option.

He introduced Hattie Wilkins, who made one of the most moving speeches of the event.

Her situation illustrates the deep problems working families have with the way the current system operates. Hattie is a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) union who worked for 35 years for Brentwood Originals, a pillow factory in Youngstown, Ohio. The USW struck Brentwood Originals in 2008, and more than three-quarters of the workforce has been laid off. She was fired because of her strong support for the union, Hattie said. She has been collecting $887 a month in unemployment since then. She has COBRA coverage, and now pays $275 per month—31 percent of earnings from unemployment—for her health insurance. She pays another $450 per month for her mortgage payment, leaving her only $162 each month for food, utilities, transportation and all her other expenses. Now her unemployment payments are ending and she doesn’t know what she is going to do.

At 58 years of age, Hattie is searching for another job at places like McDonald’s but has to compete with applicants much younger than she is. She gave us her cell phone number, though she wasn’t sure how much longer she would have it. Hattie came to Washington, D.C., to participate in the rally and make sure her elected representatives heard her voice on this critical issue.

Sen. Arlen Specter says health care is a right.

The Latest on Pennsylvania Town Hall

Sen. Specter has arrived, and compliments the crowd on its tenacity and commitment. Specter says he agrees that health care is a right and believes health care legislation will pass and will include a public option component. Of course, in a room full of union members, the Employee Free Choice Act came up. Specter says he is working hard to find an answer for early union certification and gaining first contracts.

Pennsylvania Update

The folks at Capitol City Brewing Co. are waiting for Sen. Arlen Specter to arrive. We hear reports he’s been at the White House.

From the North Carolina Meeting

Sen. Kay Hagan just arrived. She says the fight for health care reform is the “most important thing going on in our country.” Everyone in America must have health care coverage, she says, and patients with pre-existing conditions should be able to get health insurance.

About a public health insurance option plan, Hagan says some critics are getting caught up in nuance about language used in the debate. “I don’t care what you call it as long as it provides affordability accessibility and covers pre-existing conditions,” she says. We’d heard earlier reports that her staff told union leaders Hagan believes if health care reform passes, it will include a public option. The senator herself did not specifically say she supports the public option.

I think the key is if you have health insurance, you keep it. We don’t want to dismantle what exists.

More Pennsylvania Town Hall

Rep. Sestak arrived and talked about his daughter’s brain tumor and his health care plan to help keep her alive. Everybody deserves health care for themselves and their families, as well, he said. Sestak says his support for health care reform is “payback” to the country that provided health care for him and his family when he was in the Navy.

Everybody must be covered under health care reform, according to Sestak, and a public health insurance plan must be an option.

Nothing is more important to me than ensuring that President Obama passes health care reform.

Pennsylvania Town Hall

Hundreds of union members from Pennsylvania have packed a hall just a block from the U.S. Capitol to hear from their elected officials on the status of real health care reform. As they wait for Sen. Arlen Specter (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D) to appear, the chanting is in full force:

Congress, This is our demand. The option of a public plan.

What do we want? HEALTH CARE!

When do we want it? NOW!

Congress, This is our demand, the option of a public plan!

We are waiting for Specter and Sestak so we can spring that on them.

Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D) did not attend. A staff member is delivering her talking points.

Health care reform that guarantees quality, affordable health care reform must be passed.

We must ensure that patients’ choices are protected.

Maryland Town Hall

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. John Sarbanes and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer speak to hundreds of Maryland workers and all support public option.

Rep. Blumenauer at Town Hall on Small Business

At a town hall focused on small business issues this morning at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) advocated a public insurance option plan, guaranteed coverage and a “pay or play” system that would require businesses to provide health care coverage for their employees or pay into a fund. These reforms would level the playing field and reduce cost burdens on small businesses, he said.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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