Union Label Week is September 7-13

Labor Day falls on September 7, 2015, this year, and is also the day in history when the United States got its nickname Uncle Sam. “Uncle Sam” is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson (1766-1854) stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers began referring to the grub as “Uncle Sam’s.” The local newspaper picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. federal government. Labor Day made its mark in U.S. history around the same time 70 years later, evolving, much like Uncle Sam, into a national symbol. While, Uncle Sam is the personification of the U.S. and is generally regarded as a patriotic symbol, Labor Day symbolizes the power of the U.S. worker and the hard work undertaken to achieve the eight-hour day, a 40-hour work week, a fair wage, and a path to the middle class. Both are a tribute to our nation in their own way and while Uncle Sam is a product directly of war, there were countless battles fought to achieve Labor Day. We can’t forget those hard fought battles. We must honor the promise of a better future long sought by our founding union brothers and sisters. This Labor Day, we must resolve to look for the Union Label, to seek providers of union services in hotels and restaurants and post offices. And we must take action, like they did, to fight back against the employers who would destroy our...

President Obama, Don’t Sign Trade Promotion Authority

President Obama has Fast Track Authority legislation in hand this will empower him to rush the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal, through Congress to an up or down vote. And other trade deals lurk nearby. But he can disprove Lord Acton’s aphorism, absolute power in this case, need not corrupt the legislative process. He has the power, yet he can refuse to use it. Don’t sign the fast track legislation, President Obama. It’s an unlikely scenario, but let’s consider its virtues. If President Obama does not sign the Fast Track Authority legislation, he reserves the right to do so later. By refusing to sign it, he retains the support of progressives, labor, environmentalists, consumer protection groups and more. Sign it and watch the coalition that elected him dissolve. If his only concern is personal, his legacy, he may not care. If he cares about the Democratic party, he should think twice. As for his legacy, wait and see as it pertains to jobs and the middle class. He claims that TPP is good for the U.S. economy, including workers. His claim flies in the face of history. Millions of jobs were lost under NAFTA, the WTO and other similar trade deals, for example, under the Korea agreement, Korean auto exports to the U.S. have soared to more than 1.3 million cars annually while the U.S. auto exports to Korea are a paltry 38,000 a year. An implicit acknowledgement of the high cost trade pacts exact in jobs is the administration’s side deal with Republicans to pass a watered-down, underfunded Trade Adjustment Assistance measure. TAA is supposed to...

Remembering Our Labor Heroes this Labor Day

By Rich Kline, Union Label and Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO Ah, Labor Day. Picnics and parades, sales and vacations, what more could one ask for to celebrate the end of summer. Only, that isn’t what Labor Day is about. Labor Day, which originated in the late 19th century is the “workingman’s holiday.” It should be a time to honor the American workers and remember those who came before us and forged a path to prosperity. A time to remember those brave soles who fought for fair wages and working conditions during a time fraught violence and oppression. In 1883 railroad workers fought back against the Pullman Railroad Car Company and under the leadership of American Railway Union President Eugene Debs, who called for a full-scale national strike after Pullman cut wages by 25 percent, froze transportation at twenty railroads in 27 states. More than 30 people died and Debs was arrested in Chicago when federal troops intervened and broke the strike. That event or the one led by a New York City carpenter named Peter McGuire, where in 1882, after working many long hours under poor conditions, McGuire rallied 100,000 workers to go on strike. These events are the ones we should strive to remember this Labor Day. We don’t even have to look that far back in history to find examples of the bravery of workers fighting back in America. More recently we can look at Kellogg workers who were locked out of their jobs for nine-months. Faced with financial uncertainty the workers held strong and were vindicated by a federal judge last month and allowed to return...

Trans Pacific Partnership: Threat to Jobs and Quality of American Life

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) threatens more than American jobs, its full impact could undermine the quality of life for all Americans. This free trade agreement, if signed by the US, will undermine food safety, Wall Street regulation, Buy American requirements for government spending, and give corporations equal rights with the sovereignty of nations under the emerging “investor state” doctrine. TPP is comprised of 29 chapters covering the environment, food and drug safety, intellectual property, financial regulation, telecommunications and much more. Yet, details are sketchy, dependent upon Wikileaks and whistleblowers. If any national laws among any of the participating nations is challenged by one or more corporations under the investor state doctrine, corporate interests could prevail. No wonder this massive deal is a big secret, kept from the hundreds of millions of people it will affect. Which countries are negotiating this Free Trade Agreement? Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam are at the table and China is reputed to be interested in joining them. Perhaps it is a mistake to say that the countries are negotiating. The negotiations are in secret, open only to corporations, their lobbyists and agents, who are officially called “trade advisors.”‘ Civic groups, unions, common citizens are excluded, as are members of Congress. We only know what they tell us. And we are only told that a lot of jobs and good fortune will flow from this massive agreement. Just like NAFTA. In his State of the Union address, President Obama threw in one subtle but major demand: a renewed request for Fast Track Authority on the Trans...

Pritzker Nomination to Commerce Secretary Delivers Stinging Slap to Labor Movement

Penny Pritzker’s nomination by President Obama to serve as Secretary of Commerce is a slap in the face to the Labor Movement. Maybe the stinging blow will serve as a wakeup to the Administration’s hypocritical stand on labor issues. Penny  Pritzker is a billionaire heir to the Pritzker family fortunes and businesses which include the Hyatt Hotels.  Check the AFL-CIO Boycotts on our website.  You will find that UNITE/HERE is conducting a global against them. Some Republicans are inveighing against Pritzker because of her tax avoidance, offshore assets,  and connection to a major bank failure related to subprime lending. Of course, the Republicans are only too happy to thwart the ambition of Obama’s chief fundraiser. Nevertheless, the Pritzker record contains enough disquieting information to provoke bipartisan concern. As for the Labor Movement, when the potential  Secretary of Commerce comes from a corporation with an anti-union bias (she sits on the Pritzker board of directors) danger signs rise up. Why is an Administration that we helped elect two times presenting her nomination? Why is an Administration that promised to keep K Street lobbyists and big bucks donor out of policy-making now breaking its promise? Maybe with the second election out the way, the Obama Administration can do what it wants. Actually, if you look back , Pritzker was nearly nominated by Obama for the same post in 2008. She pulled her name because of the scandals and a reluctance to come clean about them. Hyatt Hotels are on the AFL-CIO Boycott List for the gamut of anti-worker, anti-union offenses. At the least, Penny Pritzker, the Obama Administration’s nominee for Secretary...

Competitive Asian FTAs Might Impact Worker Protections

The Obama administration is pushing for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with 11 Asian nations not including China. Meanwhile, the  ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations is pushing its own regional FTA and would include Australia, China, Japan, India, South Korea, and New Zealand. This potentially could be the largest FTA ever. The geopolitical aspects of this situation are daunting as they affect trade, security and diplomacy in many ways. The US has frequently promised its own citizens rewards from Free Trade that proved illusory at best and a swindle at worst. With the competition to win a deal pressing on US negotiators, we should adamantly demand that workers’ rights and safety along with specified union rights not be tossed aside or diminished. Selling a deal to other nations should not be at the expense of American working people. We have seen FTAs before. We know what to expect if the concerns of working people here and abroad are secondary to those of corporations. President Obama has lots of political capital following his reelection. It would be a shame to spend it on a trade deal that seeks to out-do the competition in ignoring workers’...

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