Water is a Human Right

If health care is a human right, then clean water is no less so. The two are closely intertwined.

Yet, from Flint, Michigan, to Hoosick Falls, New York, to Fresno, California and hundreds more cities and towns nationally, water supplies are polluted and dangerous. The resultant harm to health in children and adults is well documented. Yet, it takes a health and safety catastrophe, such as occurred in Flint’s lead poisoning of children, to bring more than handwringing.

In other cities and towns, inadequate water supply systems threaten to cause health problems, raise the cost of water to homeowners and waste vast quantities of water through deteriorating antiquated pipes. One example of this problem is Washington, DC, which still utilizes some wooden water pipes and suffers significant water waste.
What can be done. If we recognize the criticality of clean water and the means to provide it, why are we not doing more to resolve the problem. This part of our infrastructure, if repaired or replaced, would bring immediate benefits to health, job growth and  property values.

Members of the UA in Flint are working to help homeowners whose pipes have been damaged by the bad water a misguided emergency manager inflicted upon the city. These members should be honored for their public service, but the installation of faucets and filters is only a temporary band aid. The city of Flint will need to replace its aged lead and galvanized pipes that lead the water to area homes. Main lines will need to be replaced. An issue that extends far beyond the city of Flint and the state of Michigan.

Effort is needed on a State and Federal level. The richest country on the planet should not fail to provide its citizens a necessity of life, clean water. It is disgraceful that so much of our water is no better than that found in  less developed countries and equally bad that we are wasting so much water through inefficiency.

The time to repair and rebuild the water infrastructure is now. But, instead of repairing our water infrastructure, states and cities across the U.S. are selling their water and wastewater services to the highest bidder. These for-profit companies falsely claim to run the public utilities better, cheaper and more efficiently. Privatization of public services causes costs to increase, and quality of service to decline. We can and should do better. Americans everywhere need clean drinking water.

The Union Label Means Business

Some of our affiliates are using their union label to gin up business. The Bakery, Tobacco, Confectionery and Grain Millers Union has its label on baked goods, for example.

The Painters union maintains a digital database of its business managers to encourage individuals and companies to employ its unionized workforce.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has an online resource of materials made by its members too.
And there are many other organizations doing similar things. We would like to learn of more such promotional activities.

At the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, a resolution submitted by the UL&STD called for contract negotiations to seek agreement on placing the union label on products and services. We would like to hear from unions that have been successful in doing so.

In fact, technology offers additional means to identify union-made wares; bar codes and scans, which are readable on many devices, could make identification easy.

The UL&STD website links to union websites that list union-made goods and services. We also promote them in the Label Letter and in social media. We look forward to adding more such products and services and the union programs designed to promote them to our own campaigns.

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 unions, who choose to move our jobs overseas. We must honor boycotts and picket lines and we need to help our brothers and sisters who are looking to organize a union in their workplace.

Just as important, we have to call for policies at every level of government that do the same. Our government should buy American products and services the same way foreign nations patronize theirs. Our government should fight for the rights of workers seeking a collective voice in their workplace.

We must remind everyone that we strengthened the United States and we built its middle class.

We face a challenge and an opportunity this year to support both union-made goods and services and expand the ideals of unionism to all Americans. This Labor Day buy union and shop union.

Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.

— Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor

 

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 aid workers dislocated, that is jobless, as a result of free trade. Its effectiveness at full funding is questionable. This trade adjustment assistance bill has been drastically cut by $150 million.

President Obama claims that if we don’t write the rules of international trade then China will. So be it. What is the difference between rotten rules written here or written elsewhere? One positive difference is that we don’t have to adhere to Chinese rules and can protest them freely. American rules will be the law of our land, but may not be honored or enforced abroad.

President Obama should know that unfair trade deals with countries whose standard of living is far below ours do not promote competitiveness. They promote outsourcing and greater income inequality. Our manufacturing sector has been severely impacted. The new deal will add to the harm and spread it further among service workers.

Income inequality supposedly concerns him. He can demonstrate this concern by refusing to sign the Fast Track measure and by participating in a full, open, transparent and honest debate about the Trans Pacific Partnership.

We note that 58 nations can already bid on an equal basis for federal government contracts. The federal practice is used as cover for governments at every level in the U.S. to do the same. TPP will add four more countries to the 58. No one knows how laws that promote buying American-made products will be upheld against foreign complaints of restraint of trade. No one knows whether laws calling for assigning a portion of government business to minority-owned or women-owned companies will be exempt, or whether they will be subject to foreign protests, too.

All these issues and more deserve a full debate leading to an improved trade agreement.

President Obama can advance the causes he espouses by refraining from signing onto Fast Track and allowing Congress to perform its job thoroughly.

In Solidarity,

Richard Kline,
President
Union Label and Service Trades Department

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 to work. Or, the Volkswagen workers in Tennessee who, bullied by politicians, didn’t give up on their dream of forming a union.

There is a long history of workers rising up to fight back against the injustices placed upon them. As labor leaders and union members our job is not done here. It has only just begun. In our local unions across the country, there are 21st century labor heroes blazing a new path. Let’s take a moment this holiday weekend to remember those heroes that came before us. Or perhaps march side-by-side with our next generation of Labor heroes who may be fighting for safer conditions in our factories, equal pay for women, minimum wage laws, or progress in our work places.

Union Label Week, September 1-7, 2014

From Labor Day, Monday, September 1, through Sunday September 7, 2014 American labor will observe Union Label Week—the time traditionally set aside for union families and all consumers to make a special effort to support good jobs by looking for union-made goods and union-produced services when they shop.

So please join with us during Union Label Week to celebrate the skills of union workers and honor the work they do by looking for union-made goods and services.

 

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 Pacific Partnership. In other words, a demand for an up or down vote with no amendments admissible in Congress, which one recalls is a legislative body of some prominence and power. Congress can and should refuse to restore fast track authority which officially expired in 1997.

President Obama could have opened up about the TPP and told the American public what was at stake. Vague assurances and vapid promises from the White House or the US Trade Representative are unpersuasive. If corporations are going to be elevated to the status of sovereign nations workers and their unions need to be on an equal footing with corporations.

If the Obama administration were really concerned about the middle class, American jobs and American manufacturing, it would look elsewhere than race-to-the-bottom trade agreements.

Here’s an idea for the administration. Resurrect the Employee Free Choice Act to which it gave lip service some years back. A fight to make unionizing fairer for workers might give some relevance to an administration entering lame duck status ahead of schedule.

 

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