Firefighters Turn on Obama, IAFF Shocks Political World.

Apr 27, 2011 4:10pm
Source: Mary Bottari

 

 

 

 

Remember when the fight broke out in Wisconsin over the right to collectively bargain and President Obama and a phalanx of national democratic leaders spread out across the country fighting for the rights of American workers

Right, we don’t remember that either.

As unions battled for their very existence, the thunderous silence from Washington, D.C. did not go unnoticed by working families fighting for their livelihoods or by powerful political players. At least one organization has decided to hold a few of their former friends accountable. 

The International Association of Fire Fighters announced yesterday it would no longer be giving money to federal candidates. Rather, the 300,000-member union said it would put its energy and resources into the fight at the state level over collective bargaining. 

Wake Up Call for Democrats

The announcement sent a shock wave through the Washington Democratic establishment, because in recent years the union has given much more to Democrats than Republicans. It donated $1.9 million to Democratic candidates in national elections during the 2010 campaign cycle and only $408,000 to Republicans.
But union president Harold A. Schaitberger said he was turning off the tap. He told the New York Times: “We’re tired that our friends have not been willing to stand up and fight back on our behalf with the same ferocity, the same commitment that our enemies have in trying to destroy our members’ rights,” he said. “Quite frankly, our enemies are trying to kill us as a labor movement and union trying to represent workers and help the middle class.”
“Not only are extremist Republicans trying to destroy us — too few Democrats are standing up and fighting for us,” the union said in its announcement.

Take No Prisoners

The union’s endorsement has been prized by politicians across the political spectrum since the September 11, 2001 attacks elevated the heroic efforts of fire fighters in the public eye. In an effort to get federal legislation passed that that would require states to grant public-safety employees, including police, firefighters and EMTs, the right to collectively bargain, the union has stepped up its federal spending and has embraced a series of Democratic presidential candidates including Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama.
But their agenda in Congress has stalled. Even when Democrats controlled both houses, the fire fighters could not get their priority bill pass the Senate’s cloture rules in the final days of the 2010 lame-duck session.

While the fire fighters applauded the courage of the “Wisconsin 14,” the 14 State Senators who fled the state to block a vote on Governor Scott Walker’s collective bargaining bill, they are much less enthused by their friends at the federal level.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Ed Shultz, Schaitberger said that Democrats at the federal level need to stand up and fight. “They need to have a collective voice, they need to do what the opposition has done. The opposition has been very focused, organized, orchestrated. Their message is very clear. They have their sights on the attack and they are willing to take no prisoners. We need our Democratic friends in Congress to have a unified voice, step up and fight back with us,” said Schaitberger.

“Not Politics as Usual Anymore”

Here in Wisconsin where the fightback began, Joe Conway, the head of IAFF Local 311 applauded  Schaitberger’s “bold move.”  “This is not politics as usual anymore.  We are under attack in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida. If unions don’t survive, there won’t be any money for any candidate in the future.”
Conway said the union spent $50,000 in independent expenditures in the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court race and is now gearing up for the fight when one third of the Wisconsin State Senate is thrown into recall races over the summer. This decision at the national level would mean “more money for these local races in Wisconsin.”
“The Republicans have done a great job convincing people that whatever economic problems they are having in their life, they can blame on public unions,” says Conway. “But the truth is — and every study shows this — that unions bring up everyone’s wages, they improve everyone’s economic status. We have to win all of these state fights, not just for ourselves but for everyone.”

********

The Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy has been reporting live on developments from Wisconsin at [http://www.prwatch.org/ PRWatch.org.]

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Big Brothers: Thought Control at Koch

 

Published on The Nation (http://www.thenation.com)

Big Brothers: Thought Control at Koch

Mark Ames and Mike Elk | April 20, 2011

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

The Nation

obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State [1]—which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UCLA law professor Katherine Stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”

The election packet starts with a letter from Robertson dated October 4, 2010. It read: “As Koch company employees, we have a lot at stake in the upcoming election. Each of us is likely to be affected by the outcome on Nov. 2. That is why, for the first time ever, we are mailing our newest edition of Discovery and several other helpful items to the home address of every U.S. employee” [emphasis added].

For most Koch employees, the “helpful items” included a list of Koch-approved candidates, which was presented on a separate page labeled “Elect to Prosper.” A brief introduction to the list reads: “The following candidates in your state are supported by Koch companies and KOCHPAC, the political action committee for Koch companies. We believe these candidates will best advance policies supporting economic freedom.”

What the Kochs mean by “economic freedom” is explained on the next page. As the mailer makes clear, Koch Industries tailored its election propaganda to the state level, rather than focusing on national elections. Of the nineteen candidates that Koch Industries recommended in its Washington State list, sixteen were Republicans. The three Democratic candidates approved by the Kochs included two members of the “Roadkill Caucus,” Washington’s version of the conservative Blue Dogs.

Only two of the nineteen races on the list were for national office, and in both cases Koch Industries backed Tea Party–friendly Republicans: Dino Rossi, an antilabor candidate, who lost to incumbent Democratic Senator Patty Murray; and Jaime Herrera-Beutler, who ran in the Republican primary as a moderate, but who came out recently as a Tea Party radical, much to her constituency’s surprise.

After guiding employees on how they should vote, the mailer devoted the rest of the material to the sort of indoctrination one would expect from an old John Birch Society pamphlet (the Koch Brothers’ father, Fred Koch, was a founding member of the JBS). It offers an apocalyptic vision of the company’s free-market struggle for liberty against the totalitarian forces of European Union bureaucrats and deficit-spending statists.

The newsletter begins with an unsigned editorial preaching familiar Tea Party themes, repackaged as Koch Industry corporate philosophy:

For more than 40 years, Koch Industries has openly and consistently supported the principles of economic freedom and market-based policies. Unfortunately, these values and principled point of view are now being strongly opposed by many politicians (and their media allies) who favor ever-increasing government…. Even worse, recent government actions are threatening to bankrupt the country…. And the facts are that the overwhelming majority of the American people will be much worse off if government overspending is allowed to bankrupt the country.

Further into the company newsletter is an article headlined “What’s a Business to Do?” It portrays corporate titans like the Kochs as freedom-fighting underdogs, modern-day Sakharovs and Mandelas targeted for repression by Big Government statists: “Citizens who are openly critical of the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels or the out-of-control government of the United States are being shouted down by politicians, government officials and their media and other allies.”

In this scenario, Big Government wants to muzzle the Kochs before they can spread their message to the people. That message comes down to preaching the benefits of lower wages:

If the government insists that someone should be paid $50 per hour in wages and benefits, but that person only creates $30 worth of value, no one will prosper for long…. Anything that undermines the mobility of labor, such as policies that make it more expensive and difficult to change where people are employed, also increases unemployment…. Similar policies that distort the labor market—such as minimum wage laws and mandated benefits—contribute to unemployment.

Easily the strangest and most disturbing article of all comes from the head of Koch Industries himself, Charles Koch, who offers an election-season history lesson to his employees. Koch’s essay sets out to rank the best and worst US presidents in terms of their economic policies. Charles—who with his brother David is worth $44 billion, putting them fifth on the 2010 Forbes 400 list—warns his readers that his history lesson may surprise them. And to his credit, Koch doesn’t disappoint.

Koch glorifies Warren G. Harding and his successor Calvin Coolidge for producing “one of the most prosperous [eras] in U.S. history.” Koch explains that what made Harding great was his insistence on “cutting taxes, reducing the national debt and cutting the federal budget,” all policies that Congressional Republicans are proposing in today’s budget negotiations. What made Harding so great, in other words, is what made radical Republican candidates so great in November 2010.

Koch’s pick for worst president is Herbert Hoover, whom he accuses of undermining “economic freedom” and thus precipitating the Great Depression. “Under Hoover,” he writes, “federal spending roughly doubled and personal income tax rates jumped from 25 percent to 63 percent. He raised corporate taxes, too, and doubled the estate tax. Hoover also pressured business leaders to keep wages artificially high, contributing to massive unemployment.”

According to most historians, the Harding and Coolidge administrations’ free-market romp was one of the key factors that led to the Great Depression. Their time in office was marked by obscene corruption, racial violence, unionbusting, feudal wealth inequalities and, shortly thereafter, the total collapse of the American economy.

* * *

Legal experts say that this kind of corporate-sponsored propagandizing has been almost unheard-of in America since the passage of New Deal–era laws like the National Labor Relations Act, which codified restrictions on political activism and pressure in the workplace. NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher, director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law, told The Nation in an e-mail interview that such overt politicking to employees is still rare. “I am not aware of it happening with many employers,” he wrote.

According to UCLA’s Stone, although Citizens United frees Koch Industries and other corporations to propagandize their employees with their political preferences, the same doesn’t hold true for unions—at least not in the workplace. “If a union wanted to hand out political materials in the workplace not directly relevant to the workers’ interests—such as providing a list of candidates to support in the elections—the employer has the right to ban that material,” says Stone. “They could even prohibit its distribution on lunch breaks or after shifts, because by law it’s the company’s private property.”

Stone points to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1915, Coppage v. Kansas, which protected employers’ right to draw up contracts forbidding employees from joining unions. Justice William Day’s dissent in that case pointed out that if the state was ready to enforce the employers’ contractual bans on union activity, then it was opening the way for the state to enforce employers’ legal right to control their employees’ political and ideological activities:

Would it be beyond a legitimate exercise of the police power to provide that an employee should not be required to agree, as a condition of employment, to forgo affiliation with a particular political party, or the support of a particular candidate for office? It seems to me that these questions answer themselves.

With Citizens United, it seems, the country is heading back to the days of court-enforced corporatocracy. Already, workers at a Koch subsidiary in Portland, Oregon, are complaining about being subjected to political and ideological propaganda. Employees at Georgia-Pacific warehouses in Portland say the company encourages them to read Charles Koch’s The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company and to attend ideological seminars in which Koch management preaches their bosses’ “market-based management” philosophy.

Travis McKinney, an employee at a Portland Georgia-Pacific distribution center, says, “They drill into your head things like ‘The 10 Guiding Principles of Koch Industries.’ They even stamp the ten principles on your time card.”

McKinney, a fourth-generation employee of Georgia-Pacific, says relations have sharply deteriorated since Koch Industries bought the company in late 2005. He and fellow employees at three Georgia-Pacific distribution centers are locked in a yearlong contract battle with the new Koch Industries management. Workers there, members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific (an affiliate of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) recently voted unanimously to reject management’s contract and voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if management continues to try to impose cuts in benefits and job security in the new contracts.

Political propagandizing is a heated issue in Oregon, which passed SB-519 in the summer of 2009, a bill placing restrictions on corporations’ ability to coerce employees to attend political meetings and vote the way the corporation tells them to vote. In late December 2009—just before SB-519 was to go into effect—the US Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit with Associated Oregon Industries to block the bill from becoming law. A similar bill in Wisconsin was struck down in November in a federal court. However, the Chamber’s lawsuit in Oregon was thrown out in May 2010 by US District Court Judge Michael Mosman on procedural grounds, leaving open the possibility that it could still be struck down.

In the meantime, workers across the country should start preparing for a future workplace environment in which political proselytizing is the new normal.

Source URL:

http://www.thenation.com/article/160062/big-brothers-thought-control-koch

Links:
[1] http://www.thenation.com/article/160064/koch-industries-2010-election-packet

Union Alert!

Hello everyone. Located on the sidebar is a “blogroll” which just means links. I put the links to our major unions located around the state & the country. Check through them from time to time because each unions website is full of good info. For instance, I checked CWA’s website just now & found this posted on their front page;
 
Wed, 04/20/2011 – 10:12am

Statement on Meeting with Sweeney and Oliver

To: All CWA Members
From: Hetty Rosenstein, NJ Director

You may have seen a Star Ledger article about a meeting between Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Oliver regarding healthcare.

I was present at the meeting as CWA’s representative.

Sweeney and Oliver met with the unions at the State AFL-CIO in order to attempt to persuade us that we should support a legislated healthcare proposal.

CWA and other unions rejected this and made it clear that healthcare is collectively bargained and that we want to bargain a contract with the governor.

This meeting was to be an off the record meeting with these political leaders, but the fact that there was a meeting and possible details of it was “leaked” to the Star Ledger.  A reporter was waiting at the door as we left the meeting!  Because it was an off the record meeting, none of the union leaders confirmed anything to the Star Ledger.  Unfortunately, that made this meeting appear to have more substance that it did.

The position we took in the meeting is the same position our union has taken with Governor Christie and is the position we are taking before the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) in the Unfair Labor Practice we are filing this week against the Christie Administration.

Healthcare is negotiable and legislating it makes it illegal for us to bargain and is a backdoor approach to destroying collective bargaining in New Jersey.   We have said this to our members, to the Legislature, to the Governor, to the press.

We have a proposal and we want to bargain.

USW Rally at Honeywell with Illinois Workers

 

SOLIDARITY ALERT
About 230 of our Illinois brothers and sisters from USW Local 7-669 have been locked out of their jobs since June of last year. During this time, their employer, Morristown based Honeywell, has demanded drastic cuts to their pensions, health care, and work rules. Join us next week as we rally with our Illinois brothers and sisters in New Jersey against Honeywell’s egregious behavior.
Date:Monday, April 25, 2011
 

Time:9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
 

Place:Honeywell Global Headquarters
101 Columbia Road
Morristown, NJ 07960

Workers at the Metropolis, Illinois facility process millions of pounds of highly hazardous acids and uranium hexafluoride. Under these conditions, proper training and safety regulations are essential. Despite this fact, Honeywell has hired untrained replacement workers, jeopardizing not only these workers lives, but the lives of people in the community.
This example of corporate greed and negligence is reprehensible. When a New Jersey based company propagates such practices, we will stand with our union brothers and sisters to demand justice.
Union members will travel hundreds of miles from Illinois to rally at Honeywell Global Headquarters in our state. Please join us so we can give these workers a warm New Jersey welcome and remind Honeywell that an assault on one of us is an assault on all of us.
In Unity,

Charles Wowkanech, President
Laurel Brennan, Secretary-Treasurer

Please take a moment to tell-a-friend about the New Jersey State AFL-CIO E-Activist Network. Remember that you can get the latest news on the state labor movement at www.njaflcio.org. If you would like to stop receiving updates you may unsubscribe at any time.

Increased Attacks on Private Sector Workers Show that Public Employees are Not an Exclusive Target

 

Increased Attacks on Private Sector Workers Show that Public Employees are Not an Exclusive Target

Posted by Lee on April 6, 2011 — 11:03am

Attacks on workers at private firm, Armstrong World Industries Inc., show that the nationwide assault on workers is not limited to just public employees. And as political attacks on public employees and unions in general continue to mount, more private businesses are seizing on the anti-union climate as an opportunity to impose unfair concessions and force workers to pay more.

Armstrong World Industries, a leading provider of flooring products and ceiling systems, has six U.S. plants, employing 1,500 workers. At a manufacturing facility in West Virginia, the Teamsters represent workers who are being asked to accept drastic increases in the cost of health care. Despite the fact that Armstrong’s health care costs have decreased by about 21% since 2007, management is demanding the following changes to health care:

Double premium costs for family health care coverage

Reduced prescription plan coverage

A 50% increase in deductibles

Additionally, the company has proposed to eliminate the defined benefit pension for newly hired employees.

These workers have consistently been willing to take on reasonable cost saving measures when the company faces legitimate financial concerns. But this should work both ways, and when health care costs go down, workers should share in the savings, not be asked to pay more.

Governors like Chris Christie, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and John Kasich in Ohio are performing the political equivalent of a basketball alley-oop but, this political play is troubling to watch. By weakening and scapegoating unions, these governors are positioning companies, like Armstrong, to score big concessions at the bargaining table. It may take an instant replay, to see it clearly, but the tag team effort between right wing politicians and corporate America is unmistakable.

The fact is that public employees are not the only target of CEOs and their political allies. Workers all around the country are being asked to do more for less. It doesn’t matter if Armstrong’s or other company’s health care costs go down, if they can squeeze their workers for money, they will.

Corporations are doing what they do best: capitalizing on what they see as a financial opportunity. Unemployment is high and jobs are scarce; employers realize that under these circumstances they can make their workers pay more without worrying about workers quitting or fighting back. Furthermore, the latter option of workers fighting back is becoming even harder as unions are portrayed as scapegoats.

It is time for all workers to stand up together for jobs that afford workers the basic necessities of life because all people who work full time and play by the rules have the right to a middle class life in America.