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5/31/2005

Mine safety enforcer is fired

Source: Louisville Courier-Journal

Resisit Oppression Editor's Note: The following is story is part of our continued coverage of the controversial firing of a state mine-safety prosecuter whom was allegedly fired because of Kentucky's Governor caving to pressure from coal operators.

The Fletcher administration has fired Tony Oppegard, a state lawyer who prosecuted mining safety cases and is credited by organized labor and others with improving safety enforcement.

Oppegard, 54, said he was given no reason for his immediate dismissal.
(More >>>)

Fighting for union, Utah miners picket Co-Op mine

Source: The Militant

"Come and join us,” Co-Op miners and their supporters called out to drivers in passing cars and coal trucks, as the unionists picketed May 22 at the road that leads to the Co-Op mine near this town. The picketing miners said they had just learned that a boss at the mine had been calling a few of the Co-Op miners and offering to rehire them. The miners have been involved in a 20-month-long battle with C.W. Mining, the company that owns Co-Op, to win representation by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). (MORE >>>)

Indiana University Labor Studies Under Attack

Source: Labor Start

Just this week, six employees of the Indiana University Division of Labor Studies were terminated: three faculty among them. The reason given was a budgetary crunch resulting from legislative cuts in our funding and university demands for increasing income annually. As you may know, a Republican governor and Republican control of both houses of the state legislature have made Indiana a very union unfriendly state. Public sector unions were thrown out of government agencies, a right to work law threatens on the horizon, and now the labor studies program has come under the knife. (MORE >>>)

Ky. Governor Haunted by Personnel Probe

Source: New York Times/AP

In a letter to state workers during his 2003 campaign, Republican Ernie Fletcher pledged to end the ''good old boy politics'' that prevailed during 32 years of Democratic governors. Easier said than done, critics claim. Fletcher now finds his administration at the center of an investigation into exactly the kind of political tinkering with state employment that he criticized. (MORE >>>)

Bill would give Mass. nation's top base wage

Source: Boston Business Journal

Massachusetts would have the highest minimum wage in the nation under a proposal backed by 50 state legislators and organized labor to boost it 22 percent by 2007. (MORE >>>)

5/27/2005

Mine Workers Blasts Firing of Kentucky Department of Mine Safety and Licensing General Counsel Oppegard

Source: UMWA

Governor Fletcher "bowing to pressure from coal operators," Roberts says
United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts said today that, "the firing of Tony Oppegard from his position as General Counsel for the Kentucky Department of Mine Safety and Licensing is a tremendous blow to the safety of miners throughout Kentucky.


"Tony's relentless pursuit of coal operators who flout the law and ignore even basic safety procedures meant that Kentucky coal miners could, for a time, go to work with a reasonable expectation of coming home again safely," Roberts said. "With this irresponsible action, Governor Fletcher has bowed to pressure from the coal operators who poured money into his campaign, and put Kentucky coal miners on notice that they do not have a friend in Frankfort any longer.

"Tony's expertise in mine safety issues is unmatched," Roberts said. "He has brought several actions against renegade coal operators that have resulted in safer mines throughout Kentucky. Several more serious cases are pending," Roberts continued. "Now we must ask: what will happen to those cases? Will they be swept under the rug now that the coal operators are back in charge of the state's main coal mining safety enforcement arm?

"Miners at UMWA mines will continue to have the safety and health protections of their UMWA contract," Roberts said, "and we will continue to be vigilant about enforcement of those protections. But God help those miners at non-union mines in Kentucky, because now no one else will."

Auto Workers union endorses John Sweeney for president of AFL-CIO

Source: UAW

United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger today announced the UAW has endorsed John Sweeney for re-election as president of the AFL-CIO.

“Throughout his life, John Sweeney has fought with courage and conviction on behalf of workers and their unions.” said Gettelfinger. “As AFL-CIO president, John Sweeney has been unafraid to try new strategies and approaches for strengthening the labor movement. He is a leader who listens to and respects the concerns and ideas of the AFL-CIO’s member unions, and he has actively encouraged a lively, open and much-needed debate on the future of the labor movement.

“During this debate, President Sweeney has focused squarely on issues and on doing what’s in the best interest of workers and their families, refusing to be drawn into divisive personal squabbles. He believes in reaching out and bringing people together, not driving them apart,” Gettelfinger continued.

“The UAW has supported important reform proposals within the AFL-CIO to help create a stronger and more effective labor federation,” Gettelfinger said. “And while different unions approach the challenges we face from different perspectives, we believe it’s important to focus on what unites us.

“We are united in demanding an end to the human rights abuses in American workplaces which deny millions of people a free choice about whether to join a union. We are united in our belief that working families must have an effective voice in the political process. We are united in recognizing that today’s global economy demands a global labor movement that can fight for workplace democracy and rising living standards for all workers, no matter where they live. John Sweeney is a leader on all these issues; that’s why our union is proud to support him for re-election,” said Gettelfinger.

Activist launches mayoral run, vows to get tough with unions

Source: San Diego Union Tribune

Taxpayer activist Richard Rider announced his bid for San Diego mayor yesterday, portraying himself as the only candidate with the mettle to talk tough to City Hall's labor unions.

Attributing much of San Diego's fiscal woes to excessive worker salaries and benefits, Rider, a local Libertarian Party leader, said he will "bring the unions to the negotiating table," but not with "persuasion" or "gentle talk." (MORE >>>)

5/26/2005

Los Angeles and Hartford Workers Expand Consumer Boycott

Source: Teamsters

Teamster members in Los Angeles and Hartford, Connecticut began spreading the word about a boycott of Coca-Cola products today. Targeting consumers at Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs, Teamsters began handing out fliers asking for a boycott of all Coca-Cola products including Coca-Cola, Dasani water, Dr. Pepper and Sprite.

“We’re on strike until we get a good health care plan from Coca-Cola Enterprises,” said Chris Roos, principal officer of Teamsters Local 1035 in Hartford, Connecticut. “The lack of product is making an impact on all the stores.”

Nearly 2,000 Teamsters who work at Coca-Cola bottling plants and distribution centers in Los Angeles and Hartford have been on strike since early Monday morning. The center of the issue is health care payments. Over the past several weeks, Teamster negotiators have sought agreements with Coca-Cola management on affordable health care for their members.

“We will not have our members pay high costs for health care while Coca-Cola still gives out fat consulting agreements to executives who no longer work for the company,” said Jack Cipriani, Director of the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Conference. “Our members are loyal, hard working people who deserve excellent health care and good wages. We are here to fight for them.”

Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States and Canada.

5/25/2005

USW Condemns Continental Tire’s Termination of Health Benefits

Source: USW

MAYFIELD, Ky.—The United Steelworkers (USW) and its Local 665 today condemned Continental Tire North America’s termination of health insurance benefits for close to 200 laid-off employees and their families as a blatant violation of the Company’s collective bargaining agreement with the Union. These members are currently laid off due to the Company’s closure of tire making operations at its Mayfield, Ky., facility. They are entitled to continued health insurance benefits as a result of contractual protections promised by the Company in an agreement with the USW and Local 665.

“We are outraged at this obvious violation of our members’ rights under the contract,” stated John Sellers, Executive Vice-President of the USW’s Rubber and Plastics Industry Conference. “The fact that these families are currently laid off once again illustrates Continental Tire’s lack of a conscience and lack of respect for people.”

The contract at the Mayfield facility requires the Company to continue health insurance for at least three months and up to 12 months while a member is laid off from work.

Terry Beane, President of USW Local 665 asserts, “This action by Continental establishes a new low in my 28 years of service. The Company first announces a shutdown of the plant, laying off these people. The Company is now trying to argue it was not a shutdown in an attempt to deny our members from receiving benefits if the plant shuts down. Now they kick our people while they are laid off. This is the worst of corporate behavior. We will fight this action all the way to Continental’s corporate headquarters in Germany if necessary.” Until this issue is resolved these workers and their families will have no medical benefits or prescription drug coverage.

John Sellers further stated, “We have protested the Company’s action under the contractual grievance procedure. If the Company refuses to resolve the dispute, the USW will take the legal steps necessary to reverse this indignity. We will not let this Company get away with harming these good people and urge the Company to restore these benefits immediately.”

5/24/2005

WAL-MART APOLOGIZES FOR AD

Wal-Mart is apologizing for approving a full-page ad equating a proposed Arizona zoning ordinance with a Nazi book burning. The ad in the May 8 Arizona Daily Sun included a 1933 photo of people throwing books onto a pyre in Berlin. The ad compared a Flagstaff, Ariz., proposal to restrict Wal-Mart from expanding a local store to the government limiting what books people could read. Complaints by the Arizona Anti-Defamation League, members of Congress and the United Food and Commercial Workers about the ad triggered Wal-Mart’s apology.

TIME TO BOOST MINIMUM WAGE

Source: AFL-CIO

New minimum wage legislation would increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in three steps over 26 months. The minimum wage has been $5.15 an hour since 1997. The legislation (no bill numbers have been assigned) was introduced May 18 by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). Republican leaders and the Bush administration have blocked meaningful minimum wage increases repeatedly in the past several years, most recently in March.

5/23/2005

Wake-Up Wal-Mart Statement on Maryland Governor Ehrlich's Veto

Source: Wake Up Wal-Mart

"Governor Ehrlich's veto of the "Fair Share Health Care" bill today sends a clear message to all of Maryland - you and your families should pay for Wal-Mart’s health care, not Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart's exploitation of public health programs, like Medicaid, is morally bankrupt. There are 4 corporations with more than 10,000 employees in Maryland, but Wal-Mart is the only one who fails to pay its fair share for health care.

With over $10 billion in profits, Wal-Mart should be embarrassed by how little it spends on health care in Maryland and across the nation. But instead of being ashamed, Wal-Mart sees its abuse of taxpayers as a badge of honor and even threatens to hold Maryland jobs hostage which is all but extortion.

We can only hope Wal-Mart's act of greed and arrogance will be a wake-up call to taxpayers and citizens that Wal-Mart would rather abuse the system than do what is right.”

Company Wants Workers to Pay Larger Portion of Health Care

Source: Teamsters

Teamsters at Coca-Cola bottling and distribution facilities in Hartford, Connecticut and the Los Angeles area went on strike as of 6:00 a.m. EDT today. The workers are striking over the breakdown of current contract negotiations and Coke's continuing push to have workers pay more for their healthcare benefits.

"Instead of investing in the people who work hard every day to produce, package and distribute Coke products, both Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) have dug deep into corporate funds to reward poor-performing executives on their way out the door," said Jack Cipriani, Director of the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Conference.

Last year Summerfield Johnston, a former CCE CEO and Chairman of the Board received health care coverage for life for himself and his children and a consulting contract worth $600,000 a year.

"We want Coke to continue to be one of the more successful soft drinks in America. Our members don't deserve to be saddled with increased health care costs while executives at Coke are still doled out expensive perks," Cipriani said. "This is the beginning of a long, hot summer."

5/20/2005

Filibusters for Democracy Spreading Across Maine and Nationwide

Source: FilibusterFrist.com

The Filibuster for Democracy movement is spreading rapidly across the country from its nexus at Princeton University as students, faculty, and concerned citizens demonstrate their opposition to the “nuclear option.” As of today, mock filibusters in support of the filibuster have taken place or are ongoing at thirty campuses nation-wide, with at least six more slated to begin within the week, at a time when most colleges and universities are out of session.

Maine is on the forefront of nationwide campus activism against the "nuclear option," with filibusters at the University of Maine-Orono, the University of Southern Maine in Portland, and Bates College, and also in downtown Portland. The list has been growing minute by minute, and filibuster protests are in the planning stages in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Vermont, and more states.

At Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, a filibuster has now passed its 24-hour mark, braving rain and darkness. The college president, Elaine Tuttle Hansen, participated yesterday afternoon. “The filibuster participants hope to raise awareness about the filibuster, Senator Frist's attack on its Constitutional legitimacy, and the dire consequences for our democracy if the Senate were to approve the ‘nuclear option,’” said student organizer Nick Violi.

A list of campuses and states with filibusters is appended to this release. Asterisks mark the small number of campuses where plans are confirmed for within the week, but events have not yet taken place.

Further information on these filibusters, including contact information for their student organizers, is available at FilibusterFrist.com.

Campuses: American University, Amherst College*, Bates College, Boston College, Boston University, Carleton College, Cornell University, Dickinson College, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Howard University, Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Northeastern University, Ohio State University, Princeton University, Stanford University in California, Trinity University, Tufts University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Maine at Orono*, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor*, University of Nebraska at Lincoln*, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern Maine at Portland*, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Texas at Austin, Vassar College, Washington State University*, Wellesley College, Western Kentucky University, Wichita State University in Kansas, Yale University.

States: California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan*, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington*

5/19/2005

Preserving the Blair Mountain Battlefield

Source: UMWA

Statement of United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts Regarding Preserving the Blair Mountain Battlefield.

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts issued the following statement today regarding efforts to preserve the Blair Mountain Battlefield:

"The events that took place on Blair Mountain are an important part of the history of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and coal miners throughout Appalachia. Blair Mountain also stands as a pivotal event in American history, where working men and women stood up to the lawless coal barons of the early 20th century and their private armies and fought for their rights as AmericansBand indeed, the rights of working families all over the world.

"The UMWA has always believed the Blair Mountain battle site should be preserved, and I began publicly calling for it back in the 1980's. We believe a monument should be erected at the site explaining what happened there, and that the road running through the site should be renamed Blizzard Highway, in honor of Bill Blizzard, the miners leader at Blair Mountain. We support preserving the land immediately around the battle site, because we believe its important for future generations to stand on that ground, and understand the importance of what happened there.

"This is also a personal issue for me and thousands of others from coal mining families who have relatives and ancestors who fought at Blair Mountain. What they did is a source of pride and inspiration to our families, and helps give us the strength to carry on their fight for justice. We will never forget it, nor should America."

5/18/2005

Teamsters to Closely Monitor Acquisition to Insure Members' Jobs are Protected

Source: Teamsters

Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said today that the Teamsters Union will closely monitor UPS’ purchase of trucking company Overnite Corporation to make sure members’ jobs are not adversely impacted by the purchase.

“The company has informed the union that Overnite will operate separately from UPS’ package-delivery operations and that the purchase will not affect any Teamster jobs, including feeder work performed by Teamster members,” Hoffa said. “However, we will carefully evaluate the deal and make sure that every Teamster job is protected.”

This morning, UPS’ Vice President for Labor Relations Jim Maloney notified Ken Hall, Director of the Teamsters’ Parcel and Small Package Division, about the proposed acquisition. The deal is expected to close during the third quarter of this year, and will require regulatory approvals and the approval of Overnite's shareholders.

“If this purchase helps UPS to continue to successfully compete in the global marketplace in the long run, it will increase our members’ job security,” Hall said. “We have been assured that this purchase will not affect bargaining unit work, but we will evaluate the purchase and work to ensure that it doesn’t. I will work closely with General President Hoffa and our local union leaders to make sure our members’ interests are protected.”

Overnite workers represented by the Teamsters led an unfair labor practices strike against the company from October 1999 until October 2002.

"Significant numbers of Overnite workers have repeatedly voted in favor of Teamsters representation, but their democratic aspirations were ignored by their company which refused to recognize the Union and bargain in good faith. We are hopeful that UPS' long history as a company with Teamster representation will create new opportunities for Overnite workers to achieve their goals in the workplace," said Hoffa.

Will Your Pizza Be Delivered By a Union Member?

Source: PMQ

As unions begin to focus on new industries, organizing efforts are reaching more diverse and surprising industries. Approximately four years ago, a group of disgruntled pizza delivery drivers met through an Internet chat room. They decided they needed a union to protect their interests. They approached, but were rejected by the United Steelworkers. However, they would not be deterred, and as a result they formed the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers (APDD), a Tennessee-based union which primarily operates on the Internet. The union claims to have 700 members in 46 states, but has yet to win its first union campaign. (MORE >>>)

5/13/2005

STOP THE WAL-MART NAZI AD NOW!

Source: Wake Up Wal-Mart Campaign

WakeUpWalmart.com, America’s campaign to change Wal-Mart, sent a letter today to Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart demanding Wal-Mart immediately and publicly condemn and end their financial support for a group in Arizona running newspaper ads using Nazi images to depict their opposition.

The letter from Paul Blank, WakeUpWalmart.com’s campaign director states, “It is frighteningly un-American to use Nazi images in an attempt to demonize those who oppose Wal-Mart and the negative effects this company has had on our communities and the nation.”

The letter continues, “You (Lee Scott) must publicly condemn this group and you should offer a public apology on behalf of Wal-Mart making clear you would never support - directly or indirectly - a media campaign that uses Nazi imagery.”

Currently, there is a local ballot initiative in Flagstaff, Arizona (Prop. 100). The initiative, sponsored by Wal-Mart, seeks to overturn a local ordinance approved by lawmakers to protect Flagstaff’s communities. The Wal-Mart backed campaign group called Protect Flagstaff ran an ad recently depicting Nazi images in an attempt to demean and smear those who are standing up for Flagstaff’s communities.

According to recent campaign finance reports, Wal-Mart has contributed $280,700 to Protect Flagstaff. When asked by the Arizona Sun if Protect Flagstaff would stop running the ads, the group’s consultant stated the ads will continue because they “make people think.”

“There is never, ever, a justification for any group to use the evil imageries of Nazis to push a political or corporate agenda,” said Paul Blank, WakeupWalmart.com campaign Director.

Click here to take action and stop the Wal-Mart Nazi Ad

WakeUpWalmart.com, the campaign to change Wal-Mart, is backed by the UFCW. Since the groups launch, on April 5th, over 50,000 concerned citizens have joined the growing effort.

Coca-Cola Teamsters Unite for a Fight

Source: Teamsters

Bottler’s Plan to Attack Health Care Sparks Union Response

In an emergency meeting called this week in Las Vegas by the Teamsters Brewery & Soft Drink Workers’ Conference, locals representing more than 18,000 Coca-Cola workers across the United States and Canada pledged their commitment to protect health care for Teamster families.

Collective bargaining agreements covering roughly 5,000 Coca-Cola workers employed by the Coca-Cola Company [NYSE: KO] and its largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises, (CCE) [NYSE: CCE] expire this year in California, Washington, Michigan, Connecticut and Illinois.

“Of all of the mistakes and miscalculations Coca-Cola and its bottler have made in the past decade, underestimating these workers’ commitment to health care could prove to be the most costly,” said Jack Cipriani, Eastern Region Vice President for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Director of the Brewery and Soft Drink Workers’ Conference.

CCE is the world's largest marketer, distributor, and producer of bottle and can liquid nonalcoholic refreshment. It sells approximately 80 percent of the Coca-Cola Company's bottle and can volume in North America. While CCE’s stock performance has been meager, its board of directors rewarded outgoing executives with millions of dollars in benefits including lifetime health coverage for its former CEO.

“Rather than lavishing millions on country club dues and other extravagant fringe benefits for outgoing executives, CCE should invest in the health and well-being of the workers who make Coca-Cola the number one selling soft drink in America,” said David Laughton, Secretary-Treasurer of the Teamsters’ Brewery & Soft Drink Workers’ Conference and former Coca-Cola driver. “This company has no shame. They will give lifetime health coverage for a departed CEO while gutting the medical plans for their workforce.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hard working men and women throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Keep Retirement Age As Is

Source: UMWA

Editorial by UMWA President Cecil Roberts published in the May 9, 2005 USA Today:

"Keep Retirement Age As Is" Keep Retirement Age As Is"
By Cecil E. Roberts International President, United Mine Workers of America


The idea that raising the age for collecting full Social Security benefits to age 70 or even older should be part of a comprehensive solution to "fixing" Social Security begs two questions: Is Social Security really in trouble? And if it is, what's the best way to solve the problem?

Let's be clear: There is no "crisis" right now in our Social Security system. None.

There is also no question that the system must be strengthened over the long term to deal with funding challenges it will face several decades from now.


America's coal miners do physically demanding and dangerous work. They've given 35, 40, even 45 years of their lives and their health to energizing this nation. Forcing them to continue their toil even longer in exchange for the benefits they've already earned would be a travesty of the highest order. The same can be said for health care workers, steelworkers and other working Americans who work in difficult, exhausting jobs.

The notion of raising the retirement age is especially galling in light of recent proposals to cut Social Security benefits for middle-income Americans by as much as 40%. Taken together, these two proposals send a message to working Americans that, "We're going to make you work longer to collect fewer benefits." This is the kind of twisted logic we've unfortunately come to expect from those in power who shamelessly advocate the transfer of wealth from the working poor and middle classes to the rich.

Our nation has run up huge deficits and borrowed hundreds of billions from the Social Security surplus to pay for tax cuts for the richest Americans-money that could have instead been used to shore up Social Security for the long term. And now middle-income workers are being asked to work years longer and accept far less in benefits. Where's the fairness in that?

Raising the retirement age as part of a solution to Social Security's financial ills is an unnecessary and mean-spirited step when several more reasonable and fair solutions exist-starting with significantly raising the annual earnings cap on an individual's contributions.

Solving Social Security's financial problems on the aging backs of hard-working Americans is just wrong. It's time Congress looked at commonsense solutions that benefit working families, not harm them.

A Michigan auto parts maker demands medical records of employees

A Michigan auto parts maker demands medical records of employees:

Hourly employees at Delphi Corp. who refuse to sign waivers releasing their medical records could lose vacation days or pay as part of a new, stricter policy adopted in April to combat absenteeism.

The Troy-based auto parts maker's crackdown on no-shows, which has roiled workers and local union officials, comes as Detroit's struggling automakers and auto parts suppliers redouble efforts to lower operating costs.

5/12/2005

Airline workers pensions terminated

A ruling Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago by Judge Eugene Wedoff allows bankrupt UAL, which owns the nation's second-largest airline, to terminate its defined-benefit pension plans, saving the company billions of dollars and giving it a huge competitive advantage. With that in mind, experts said, ailing carriers such as Delta and USAirways may try to cancel their own pension plans to keep their fares competitive.

www.reformbankruptcylaws.com

5/11/2005

Economists on China: Silence of the Scams

Source: Dave Lindorff, ILCA Associate Member

Conservative economists worship the market, but don’t like to talk about China, where state control over capital allocation and rigid controls on currency exchange rates have produced a record rate of economic growth.

Economists, particularly economists on the right, love to sound off about the alleged wonders of the market.

There is one area, however, where they are remarkably silent, and that is China.

If free markets are the sine qua non of success, and the heavy hand of government is fatally stifling of progress and development, how to explain the astonishing decades of seemingly endless 8 and 9 percent annual growth rates that China has experienced over the last two decades?

Sure, you could say China is experimenting with capitalism, but anyone who has been to China, or invested in China (I spent six years living in China and Hong Kong and reported extensively on its business, politics and economy for Business Week and other publications) knows that most of the big decisions about what gets invested and where are made by politicians--and by that I mean Communist Party authoritarians--in Beijing and the provinces.

The allocation of capital by the state banking system is done almost exclusively on the basis of personal connections or "guanxi." Even the flood of foreign capital into the country gets largely invested where party officials and their network of friends and family want it to go (most foreign investors have to establish a joint-venture relationship with some Chinese enterprise, which normally ends up being a link to the Communist government authorities).

The state has also steered well clear of free trade. Import duties on foreign goods remain extortionate, and the currency remains firmly pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Despite this heavy hand of government and politics, China's economy has been growing at a blistering pace now for over a generation, defying both gravity and the repeated predictions of doom from China watchers (myself included, I might add). Over the past decade, entire cities, like Shanghai's Pudong district, have sprung up out of the mud and dust. Entire interstate highway systems and urban ring roads have been built and stuffed full of traffic. Dams on a scale not seen since Aswan or the heyday of the New Deal have been built. People have gotten fabulously rich. Others--especially urban dwellers--have seen their incomes soar. Even in the countryside, hundreds of millions have seen their lives improve economically as relatives who have moved to the city to take construction jobs and other work send home money.
Of course, there is a terrible downside to all this growth. Pollution threatens the wellbeing of almost everyone, destroying cropland and waterways, making urban air unbreathable and the aquifer--if it isn't simply drained--undrinkable. Public institutions like schools, colleges, performing arts groups, etc., are being defunded and killed off. And progress towards a more just and free society is put on hold as people grab at any opportunity to make money, and those who can't are left behind.

Now I'm not going to advocate China’s development model. I think freedom and protection of the most vulnerable in a society are two fundamental values that need to be given top priority in any society, and both get short shrift in the Peoples Republic of China. But that said, China astonishing economic growth has shown that the prescribed model pushed on the developing world by the U.S. and its agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund--open markets, free trade, a freely convertible currency, openness to foreign investment, and no budget deficits--is a crock. Indeed, I’d have to say that the downsides in China, grievous and upsetting as they are, are for the most part less obscene than the horrors and misery inflicted on environment and the poor by the unfettered capitalism forced on most developing nations.
Most of those countries that have had those policies forced on them have watched their economies tank, their populations become impoverished, and their currencies collapse.
Meanwhile, China is hailed as an economic miracle and as the next economic superpower.

5/10/2005

Workers Tell Congress: ‘Yes to Good Jobs, No to CAFTA’

Source: AFL-CIO

More than 1,000 workers from the United States and the Dominican Republic joined union leaders and members of Congress to tell Capitol Hill lawmakers: “Yes to good jobs, No to CAFTA (
Central American Free Trade Agreement).”

Congress is holding hearings on the agreement, which is President George W. Bush’s top trade priority. If approved, CAFTA would extend the negative economic impacts and environmental damage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the Dominican Republic and five Central American countries.

“I’ve seen what NAFTA did. That’s why we have to fight so hard against CAFTA,” says Shon Jones, former president of USW Local 4-0836 (formerly a PACE International Union local) in Orange, Texas. At a May 10 Capitol Hill press conference held in conjunction with the rally, Jones described how the 2003 relocation to Mexico of one of the town’s major manufacturing employers, A. Schulman, a supplier of plastic resins, devastated the town and destroyed hundreds of lives. His best friend, who lost his job at the plant and was unable to find full-time work, made ends meet by building houses. Last month, his friend died of a heart attack at age 41.

“NAFTA took his job. If he hadn’t lost his job, his wife and two children wouldn’t be left with no money and no health insurance,” Jones says.

“The Bush administration and their corporate buddies want to take their version of the race to the bottom to the Dominican Republic and Central America with a new corporate bill of rights,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka told the crowd. “Under CAFTA, mega-corporations get all the breaks by breaking the backs of workers.” UNITE HERE President Bruce Raynor and USW President Leo Gerard also spoke at the rally. USW is the merged union of the Steelworkers and PACE.



The rally and press conference culminated the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council (IUC) Conference May 9–10 in Washington, D.C., where nearly 1,300 workers from 12 unions met to address health care costs, the Bush administration’s scheme to privatize Social Security and the nation’s decline in manufacturing jobs—a decline that in no small part has resulted from bad trade deals such as CAFTA. After the rally, the IUC members met with their senators and representatives to push for bold new initiatives to create good jobs.

The rally also kicked off a weeklong “CAFTA––We Don’t Hafta” tour by workers from the United States, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala. The May 10–18 tour, which coincides with visits of Central American presidents to the White House, will travel from Washington, D.C., to New York City and San Antonio. In each city, working families will take part in forums to discuss how free trade deals, such as CAFTA, bring down workplace standards and destroy economic development while lining the pockets of multinational corporations.

Before heading to Capitol Hill, the IUC conference delegates heard two Dominican union leaders, Rafael Abreu of the General Workers’ Central and Ignacio Hernandez, secretary general of the Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers in the Dominican Republic, describe how workers are denied their rights, including the freedom to form a union, and how CAFTA would make the situation worse. Participants also heard from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson and Trumka, who chairs the IUC.

“The multinational corporations want to manufacture goods in Central American sweatshops, exploit the workers down there and pay them a pittance, then ship the goods back up here and sell them to us at a huge profit,” Chavez-Thompson told conference delegates. “CAFTA is not a battle between U.S. workers and Central American workers. Our sisters and brothers down there would get trampled by CAFTA just as much as we would.”

Meanwhile, the nation continues to lose manufacturing jobs. Last week the U.S. Department of Labor’s
Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the loss of another 6,000 manufacturing jobs in April. Manufacturing employment fell to 14.3 million in March 2005 due to a combination of soaring health care costs and misguided trade policies that encourage employers to export jobs.

Manufacturing job losses account for virtually all private-sector net jobs lost in the United States since President George W. Bush took office. Unionized manufacturing jobs have been hit especially hard, falling from 28 percent of all manufacturing jobs in 1983 to only 13 percent in 2004.

5/09/2005

U of L honors Labor Secretary Elaine Chao...why???

One would expect that when public buildings are named in honor of some individual it is because the person being recognized has accomplished a great deed or excelled in their field of work to such a degree they stand out above their peers. That is what one would expect, but in today’s political environment where control, money and PR mean everything, that is not what happens. For example, take the decision by U of L’s Board of Trustees to name a new library auditorium addition for Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

In explaining why U of L made its decision, U of L President Ramsey said, Chao “is very positive in her comments about the University when she speaks publicly, and her husband is one of the most senior senators in the U.S. Senate” and she “frequently attends sporting, cultural and social events that the University sponsors.” [Courier-Journal, April 24, 2005] So, Chao says good things about U of L, goes to some basketball games and is married to Mitch McConnell. Ah ha! Now I get it, it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Chao is worth is a worthy Secretary of Labor.

In fact, Chao’s record as Labor Secretary is anything but exemplary. Consider the following:
Chao’s first act as Labor Secretary was to scuttle pending ergonomics regulations that were ten years in the making and would have protected millions of workers from exposure to repetitive motion injuries.


Chao used an opportunity to address international union presidents to berate, criticize and accuse organized labor of corruption. Based on her remarks and record, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has called Chao the worst Secretary of Labor in history.

Chao supported Bush’s rescission of Clinton’s Executive Order on Project Labor Agreements on federal construction projects.

Chao has championed the rollback of the Fair Labor Standards Act that will result in millions of working losing eligibility for overtime pay.

Chao’s Labor Department has cut several important training and education grants formally awarded to organizations with ties to organized labor and moved them to profit making corporations with ties to McConnell and other important senators.

Chao named David Lauriski to head the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration where Lauriski alienated the United Mine Workers and racked up one of the poorest mine safety enforcement records in history.

Chao and Lauriski waited until after the fall election to release a long-awaited report that found that federal mine inspectors miss “systematic” safety problems that cause accidents and fatalities.

While millions of workers remain unemployed, millions of jobs are going overseas, millions of workers are without health care, millions are losing their retirement savings, millions are exposed to unsafe working conditions, millions less are eligible for overtime, Elaine Chao and her Department of anti-Labor have focused on making unions file additional unnecessary reports, rolled back longstanding worker protections, and ignored the pressing concerns of millions of American workers.

U of L’s decision to name the library auditorium addition for Elaine Chao is a slap in the face of America’s working men and women and only shows how far U of L’s trustees will go to curry favor with Mitch McConnell.

Wal-Mart Exec’s Comments Slap in the Face for U.S. Workers




In a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers whose living depends on their jobs in America’s textile industry, an executive at Wal-Mart, which imported some $12 billion in merchandise from China in 2002, says Chinese imports are not jeopardizing American textile jobs—they’ve already gone overseas.

“The only apparel that’s left in the U.S. is sweatshops in Chinatown,” Wal-Mart’s procurement chief, Andrew Tsuei, said during an interview last year with the Los Angeles Times. Tsuei heads global procurement for Wal-Mart, which imports nearly 10 percent of all Chinese goods sold in the United States. China is Wal-Mart’s biggest trading partner.

Thousands of U.S. textile workers have lost their jobs in recent years: The number of domestic garment and textile jobs has dropped from some 850,000 in 2000 to 593,000 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile,
Wal-Mart is the single largest importer of foreign-produced goods in the United States, according to World Trade Magazine and the majority of its private-label clothing is manufactured in at least 48 countries around the world—almost none in the United States.

The company says its inventory of products made in China was expected to hit $18 billion last year, the second consecutive year the inventory grew by more than 20 percent. More than 70 percent of the products sold at Wal-Mart are made in China, according to the China Business Weekly.

“Wal-Mart is as ignorant as it is evil,” says Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, which represents textile workers. “Mr. Tsuei’s statement is an insult to the thousands of our members who make everything from military uniforms to men’s tailored clothing to women’s apparel. There are, unfortunately, sweatshops in the U.S. and the main reason is the Wal-Mart business model that is driving down wages and living standards.”

Last year, the United States ran a record $162 billion trade deficit with China, the largest-ever with any country, eclipsing the record $124 billion deficit with China in 2003. Such a huge trade deficit
undercuts domestic manufacturing and destroys good U.S. jobs because the nation is importing, on a large scale, products that had been produced domestically.

More than 80 percent of the 6,000 factories in Wal-Mart’s worldwide database of suppliers are in China. If Wal-Mart was a separate nation, it would rank as China’s fifth-largest export market, ahead of Germany and Britain.

Source: AFL-CIO

Peabody Energy Shareholders Approve AFL-CIO Corporate Governance Reform Resolution

Shareholders of Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU) adopted a corporate governance reform proposal offered by the AFL- CIO by a vote of 71 percent at the company's annual shareholders meeting today in Clayton, Missouri. The AFL-CIO resolution urged the annual election of the company's board of directors.

"We are gratified by the tremendous showing of support from the Peabody Energy shareholders for our reform proposal," said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka. "We urge the company to act expeditiously to declassify the board of directors and hold annual elections for all board members.

"Two other labor-sponsored resolutions also obtained significant shareholder support. A proposal sponsored by the Amalgamated Bank LongView MidCap 400 Index Fund urged the Board to adopt a policy that independent directors constitute two-thirds of the Board. That resolution obtained 43 percent of the vote, up from 23 percent when the proposal was considered at last year's annual meeting.

Another proposal sponsored by the Sheet Metal Workers' National Pension Fund urged the Board to take the necessary steps to require that directors be elected by the affirmative vote of a majority of votes cast at an annual meeting of shareholders. That proposal obtained 37 percent of the vote."The significant vote that all three of these proposals obtained demonstrates significant shareholder concern about the need for Peabody Energy to enact corporate governance reforms," said Trumka. "We look forward to Peabody Energy making demonstrable moves toward greater accountability."


Source: AFL-CIO

5/06/2005

Unions Fight Bush Administration Efforts to Attack Family Medical Leave

Legislation guaranteeing workers at least seven paid sick days per year backed by the union movement and proposed by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) would save employers, workers and taxpayers more than $8 billion per year, according to a new report by the Institute for Women’s Policy research (IWPR).

Kennedy and DeLauro reintroduced the Healthy Families Act April 27. Meanwhile, the Bush Labor Department is drafting proposed changes to federal
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations—and refuses to reveal details of the new rules. In an April 27 Capitol Hill press conference to introduce the Healthy Families Act, Kennedy said he expects the Labor Department’s rules will “emasculate the FMLA....Their efforts are to undermine it.”

The Kennedy–DeLauro bill would require employers with 15 or more employees to give full-time workers at least seven days of paid sick leave per year to recover from illnesses, for routine medical appointments or to care for sick family members. Part-time employees who work at least 20 hours per week also would be eligible for paid sick leave on a pro-rated basis, according to a summary of the bill. Workers who request three days of sick leave in a row could be required to obtain certification from a doctor.


Source: AFL-CIO

Bush Adm. cries foul against labor

The Labor Department warns organized labor not to use pension money to lobby against George's Social Security Agenda.

5/05/2005

AFL-CIO to Urge Peabody Energy Shareholders to Enact Governance Reforms at Annual Meeting

The AFL-CIO will urge Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU - News) shareholders to adopt three corporate governance reforms at the company's annual shareholders meeting on Friday, May 6 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Clayton, Missouri.

"The retirement security of America's working families depends in part on companies like Peabody Energy having good corporate governance," explained AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka. "As Peabody Energy shareholders, through their retirement savings, working families deserve a more accountable company."

The AFL-CIO has proposed a shareholder resolution to "declassify" the board of directors. Peabody Energy's current framework divides the board into three classes, with approximately one-third of all directors elected annually to three-year terms. The labor federation's resolution points out that by limiting shareholders' ability to vote annually on each director, stockholders are prevented from registering their views on the performance of the board collectively and on each director individually.

The lack of accountability of the current three-year terms was highlighted by the recent appointment of Peabody Energy executive Gregory Boyce to the board of directors and as Chairman of the board's Executive Committee. Mr. Boyce is slated to become company CEO next year. Shareholders will not have an opportunity to approve Boyce's position on the Board until the 2006 Annual General Meeting, a full 15 months after he assumes his responsibilities on the Board.

"Director elections are the primary avenue for shareholders to hold management accountable and influence crucial corporate governance polices," said Trumka. "Peabody Energy's current framework for election of directors needs to be changed."

The AFL-CIO is also supporting two additional reforms. A proposal sponsored by the Amalgamated Bank LongView MidCap 400 Index Fund urges the Board to adopt a policy that independent directors constitute two-thirds of the Board. Another proposal sponsored by the Sheet Metal Workers' National Pension Fund urges the Board to take the necessary steps to require that directors be elected by the affirmative vote of a majority of votes cast at an annual meeting of shareholders.

"These proposals will heighten director responsiveness to shareholder concerns, enhance our company's corporate governance, increase management accountability to shareholders and contribute to long-term shareholder performance," said Trumka.

Source: AFL-CIO

5/03/2005

DHL contractors join Teamsters

Truck drivers at six independent DHL contractors voted last month to join the Teamsters. In Miami, 66 workers at three locations—D&P Express, M&P Express and Miramar—voted overwhelmingly April 22 for Local 769. In Northern Virginia, 66 drivers at VMW Transportation, Powell Transportation and Ditto Transportation voted for Local 639. Meanwhile, more than 30 truck drivers at Sonepar Northeast Electric in Canton, Mass., voted recently for Local 25.

Source: Teamsters

MORE BACK EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT

A little more than a week after the introduction of the Employee Free Choice Act, the legislation has 36 co-sponsors in the Senate and 148 in the House. The bipartisan bill would reform the nation’s basic labor laws by requiring employers to recognize the union after a majority of workers signs cards authorizing union representation, known as majority sign-up. It also would provide mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes and establish stronger penalties for violation of the rights of workers seeking to form unions or negotiate first contracts.

Source: AFL-CIO

5/02/2005

Wake Up Wal-Mart Campaign



I can't say enough about the Wake-Up Wal-Mart Campaign and website. If you haven't checked it out yet, by all means what are you waiting for?
www.wakeupwalmart.com

Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world with over $10 billion in profits. Yet, Wal-Mart lowers our wages, ships our jobs overseas, and shifts their health care costs onto American taxpayers. We believe it's time for Wal-Mart to Wake Up.

The Wake-Up Wal-Mart campaign is a grassroots movement of Americans who believe by joining together in common purpose we can change Wal-Mart and build a better America. Sign up and take action NOW!

USF Dugan Workers in St. Louis Join Union

Fed up with being treated unfairly by management, drivers and dockworkers at USF Dugan in St. Louis voted 51-37 on April 29 to join Local 600. There are 100 workers in the bargaining unit.

Office and clerical workers at the St. Louis terminal voted 5-3 the same day to join Local 688. All eight workers in the bargaining unit voted.

The drivers and dockworkers in St. Louis join their coworkers at Dugan terminals in Memphis, Cincinnati and Mobile, Alabama, who joined the Teamsters last year.

The most important campaign issue for workers was their desire to receive strong representation, the kind that only the Teamsters can provide.

“The workers got tired of being abused,” said Dan McKay, President of the Maryland Heights, Missouri-based Local 600. “The company doesn’t recognize seniority. Workers were being fired for frivolous reasons—minor accidents.

They also saw the strong representation that Teamsters working for USF Holland were receiving.”

The company waged an anti-worker, anti-union campaign, but workers remained united.

“They know the only way to have a brighter future is to receive strong representation,” McKay said. “The company told lie after lie, but the workers stayed on course.”

In the office and clerical victory, workers are concerned about job security, being treated fairly and improved health insurance, noted Steve Johnson, an organizer with Local 688, based in St. Louis.

UFCW Statement Regarding Wal-Mart Whistleblower

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 27, 2005
Please contact: Paul Blank 202-466-1503

Statement by Bill McDonough, Executive Vice President, UFCW

Wal-Mart demonstrated its true colors with its firing of Jared Bowen who blew the whistle on the company’s “union project.” That Mr. Bowen has asked the U.S. Attorney for protection as a federal whistleblower demonstrates the fear Wal-Mart instills in employees who use what the company calls the "Open Door" policy-and employees call the "Out the Door" policy. Treating workers fairly and with respect is not a choice-it’s the right thing to do.


Time after time, on issues of child labor, gender equality, protecting a workers’ democratic right to organize, and now, defending a worker’s right to report wrongdoing, Wal-Mart has chosen the wrong path. It’s time for Wal-Mart to wake up and do the right thing.

Bushies want to destroy Public Broadcasting

The Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is aggressively pressing public television to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias, prompting some public broadcasting leaders - including the chief executive of PBS - to object that his actions pose a threat to editorial independence.

The power-hungry-elitists seem to want to crush anything that stands in their way and offers an alternative to the lies of Fox News.

5/01/2005

"LOVE MOM, NOT WAL-MART"

Members of Congress, AFL-CIO, and UFCW Sign Mother's Day Card Asking Wal-Mart to End Discrimination Against Women

Washington DC - Today, on Capitol Hill, five distinguished Members of Congress - Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Rep. George Miller, Rep. Linda Sanchez, Rep. Hilda Solis, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky - joined with Linda Chavez-Thompson, Executive Vice-President of the AFL-CIO, a plaintiff in the Wal-Mart gender discrimination lawsuit, and former Miss America Carolyn Sapp to pledge their support for the "Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart" campaign.

The "Love Mom, not Wal-Mart" campaign, the latest initiative by WakeUpWalmart.com, unveiled the "Mother of all Mother's Day" card. The card is an enormous 8 foot by 8 foot Mother's Day card, a symbol of how large Wal-Mart's discrimination problem is, calling on CEO Lee Scott to stop ignoring Wal-Mart's record of discrimination and start doing the right thing for all our Moms and all women.

As sign of their support for the "Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart" campaign, Rep. DeLauro, Rep. Miller, Rep. Sanchez, Rep. Solis, and Rep. Schakowsky, former Miss America Carolyn Sapp, and Linda Chavez-Thompson signed the "Mother of all Mother's Day" card. The card reads, "Dear Lee Scott, It's time for Wal-Mart to honor and respect all women. This Mother's Day, Wal-Mart should stop discriminating against women. Happy Mother's Day, WakeUpWalmart.com."

"We are so pleased that these well-respected leaders have joined America's campaign to change Wal-Mart," said Paul Blank, WakeUpWalmart.com Campaign Director. "We can only hope that this Mother's day, on behalf of all mothers and women across America, Wal-Mart will finally do the right thing and end its discrimination of its women workers."

As part of the "Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart" campaign, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro released a dear colleague letter for other Congressional members to sign calling for a Congressional review of Wal-Mart's wage statistics. The letter reads, "We would ask Wal-Mart to disclose its wage statistics for congressional review, including any documents submitted to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."

The "Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart" is kicking off a two-week effort, including blog ads and on-the-ground organizing, to ask all Americans to sign the "Mother's Day Pledge" promising not to buy their Mother's Day gift at Wal-Mart this year until Wal-Mart finally ends its discrimination against women workers. Already, thousands of Americans have signed the pledge.

"How can America's richest company and largest employer of women discriminate against more than 1.5 million of its women workers, many of them Moms? It is time for Wal-Mart to wake up and stop treating its female employees and their families like second class citizens." added Susan Phillips, Director of Women's Outreach for WakeUpWalMart.com.

The "Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart" campaign highlights Wal-Mart's terrible record of discriminating against its women workers. Wal-Mart is currently involved in a gender discrimination lawsuit covering more than 1.5 million women. The case is the largest class action lawsuit in U.S. history. The suit documents Wal-Mart's systematic discrimination against women for lower pay and unequal promotion. In fact, in a recent study, women made-up 72% of Wal-Mart's hourly workforce, but accounted for only 33% of managers and only 15% of store managers. In addition, women earned from 5% to 15% less than men for the exact same work. This equates to nearly 40 cents less per hour for female hourly workers or nearly $5,000 less per year for female managers.

The "Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart" campaign is part of WakeUpWalmart.com, a growing grassroots campaign calling on Wal-Mart to change. As part of the Mother's Day campaign, supporters can sign the Mother's Day pledge and send the pledge to their friends. Supporters will also be able to send Mother's day e-cards, purchase discounted flowers and download a volunteer action toolkit which contains a fact sheet and flyer detailing Wal-Mart's record of gender discrimination.

AFL-CIO may have to lay off 25% of workforce

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said in a teleconference with reporters Thursday that the organization is facing financial troubles and may have to lay off 25 percent of its workforce, according to the Washington Post. (MORE >>>)

Worker re-training to be provided in partnership with UMWA Career Centers

The release of up to $675,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor for worker retraining services for West Virginia miners who lost their jobs when Horizon Natural Resources, Inc. declared bankruptcy is "a good first step toward helping these hard-working people rebuild their lives," United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts said today.

"Our members at Horizon lost their jobs, lost their health care benefits, and lost their sense of security when Horizon declared bankruptcy and a judge wiped away all they had worked for their whole lives," Roberts said. "And although this grant from the Department of Labor (DOL) will provide some help to them as they seek other employment-and we appreciate it very much-the fact remains that they should never have been put in this position in the first place."

"The best solution for the Horizon miners and other American coal miners is for Congress to pass legislation that reaffirms the supremacy of the Coal Act in bankruptcy cases," Roberts said, "so that bankruptcy judges can't wipe away our nation's repeated promises of health care for retired coal miners and their widows."

The first $225,000 of the National Emergency Grant, announced by the DOL on April 8, has now been transferred to the West Virginia Development Office (WVDO). The UMWA Career Centers will partner with the WVDO in recruiting, training and placing displaced Horizon miners in West Virginia beginning May 1, 2005. Roberts called on the Department of Labor to quickly release additional funds to aid the displaced Horizon workers in the midwest, as the UMWA requested in its initial National Emergency Grant application last November.

"Training through the UMWA Career Centers will help these miners to once again lead productive lives and provide for their families," Roberts said. "These miners are part of the UMWA family, and we don't forget our family members. We want to do the best we can to help them now, and into the future."

Source: UMWA

This is a Promise That Must Be Kept

UMWA President Cecil Roberts editorial published in the April 25, 2005 Charleston Daily Mail

This is a Promise That Must Be Kept
The AML Fund and Retired Miners' Health Care

By Cecil E. Roberts, President, United Mine Workers of America

The Daily Mail's editorial of April 18 ("Reclamation must be first") deriding the use of interest money from the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program to help fund health care for retired miners and their widows can only be seen as one of two things: either a shocking ignorance of the facts with respect to the decades-old federal government responsibility for this program, or a deliberate attempt to mislead the Daily Mail's readers about the use of the AML Fund and the interest it earns.

Just so everyone understands what the issues are, let's review the facts about health care for retired miners and their widows:

In 1946, President Harry Truman witnessed the signing of a contract between the federal government and the UMWA that promised coal miners and their surviving spouses would receive health care after they retired. This was some small compensation for the tremendous loss of life and limb miners suffered as they provided the fuel for America's basic industries, heat for millions of American families, and energy for the vast majority of America's homes and businesses.

In 1990, Elizabeth Dole, then Secretary of Labor under President George H.W. Bush and current Senator from North Carolina, established a commission that looked into the government's responsibility for retired miners' and widows' health care. The commission determined that "retired miners are entitled to the health care benefits that were promised and guaranteed them, and that such commitments must be honored."

In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed the Coal Act with bipartisan support, and President George H.W. Bush signed it. The Act established the UMWA Combined Benefit Fund (CBF) for the oldest retirees and designated interest from the AML Fund as one source of financing.
However, many more coal companies have gone out of business since that time. That, coupled with the skyrocketing costs of health care over the last decade, has meant that the contributions from current coal companies required under the Coal Act are not adequate to provide the promised benefits to retired miners and their widows.


Now let's look at some facts about the AML Fund that the Daily Mail chose to ignore:

Congress created the AML Fund in 1978. It didn't authorize the AML Fund to accrue interest until the early 1990s. Shortly thereafter, Congress allocated that interest to pay for the promised health care of retired miners and widows.

Congress historically has not appropriated the amounts that are collected each year in AML fees, which is why the AML Fund assets have grown. This is not something that occurred after the Coal Act was passed, but has been the case since the program's inception.

Congress recognized in passing the Coal Act that keeping promises to abandoned coal miners was equally as important as cleaning up abandoned mine lands. It chose to use interest on the AML Fund because it believed that fees collected from the coal industry were an appropriate source of funds to pay for coal industry retirees.

Congress has stepped up and delivered on America's promise to its coal miners. Were these "bail-outs," as the Daily Mail would have us believe? Not hardly. They were a fulfillment of a nearly 60-year-old promise by our government. The UMWA appreciates that we still have a government that keeps its promises.

And unlike the Daily Mail, we recognize that our government has made an effort to find a solution to the continuing problem of funding retired miners' health care. The Daily Mail offers no alternative to this critical program that has pumped billions of dollars into the economies of West Virginia and surrounding states. Should we just cut it off, and let the tens of thousands of retired miners and widows-who have believed their government's promise for years-fend for themselves?

The result of that will be an even greater burden on our society as these senior citizens, most with debilitating diseases and taking multiple prescription drugs, turn to even more costly forms of public assistance for their health care. Or, they will just simply die.

The Daily Mail terms the Coal Act a "bailout" and an example of "bait-and-switch financing." The only bait-and-switch that has occurred is that coal miners were promised lifetime retiree health benefits, only to find in their twilight years that promise was in jeopardy of being broken. Congress stepped in to enact the Coal Act to ensure that the promise was kept. Rather than carping about the Coal Act, the Daily Mail ought to be singing the praises of a law that helps thousands of West Virginia citizens and provides a critical underpinning for medical care for everyone in the coal fields, not just retired coal miners and their widows.

Indeed, rather than pandering for union votes, as the Daily Mail suggests, Reps. Cubin, Rahall, and all the other Representatives and Senators who support the current legislation are once again doing the right thing and responding to the urgent needs of their constituents. That's called democracy, and it's good to see it in action.

Source: UMWA