Pay Discrimination OK by McCain

This is a crosspost from AFL-CIO Now Blog.

So it seems Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) thinks it's just fine if women workers can almost never get redress for pay inequities they suffer on the job.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed to vote on a bill that would have enabled women who are paid less than their co-workers doing the same job to challenge the inequity. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama took time from their campaigns to vote for the Fair Pay Restoration Act.

McCain didn't show up. But he did make it a point to say that had he bothered to vote (McCain has cast the fewest votes in the Senate of any senator not seriously ill), he would have opposed it.

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SEIU Janitors Win Another One, Steelworkers Turn Up the Heat on CEO Keegan

There's mixed news on the labor front.  Ensuring labor survives and thrives is number seven on the list of rules to build a progressive America.  And on that note, SEIU janitors won another impressive victory.

Simon Property Group said it signed an "agreement in principle" with the Service Employees International Union aimed at improving work standards for more than 3,000 subcontracted janitors at Simon shopping centers across the country, including over 150 in the Indianapolis area.

"We want to ensure all our properties have labor peace. We want to make sure people are treated fairly," John Rulli, chief operating officer of operating properties for Simon, said today.

A delegation of Indianapolis clergy, working on behalf of the service union, met with Rulli this morning at Simon's Indianapolis headquarters to thank Simon for signing the agreement.

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Other local companies that have agreed are health benefits company WellPoint Inc., real estate developers Duke Realty Corp. and Kite Realty Group, and drug maker Eli Lilly and Co., according to Interfaith Worker Justice, a Chicago group that is organizing clergy support of the effort.

The alliance between local clergy and working class union members is an intriguing and important piece of the puzzle.

Meanwhile, the United Steelworkers are still fighting their horrible mediocre marketing-driven CEO Robert Keegan to ensure that he follows through on his company's promises.  A few years ago, workers took wage and benefits freezes to help Goodyear through financial hardship.  In return, apparently, Keegan broke his promises to employees and is now cutting job and health benefit cuts after the company returned to profitability.  Rather than negotiating, of course, Keegan borrowed a billion from the capital markets to see his company through the strike, throwing in a bonus to his executives even as he ruined labor relations and put his company on a fiscally unsound footing.  This is of course typical Republican management by greed and sacrificing other peoples' families.  Anyway, this time it turns out that Keegan is also hurting the troops.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday urged Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and the United Steelworkers to work out a deal for about 200 striking workers in Topeka to return to work making tires for the military.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said the military needs the tires for its Humvees, the workhorse vehicle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"My recommendation is to immediately allow the 200 United Steelworkers at the Goodyear facility in Topeka, Kan., to return to work," Hunter said in a letter to Goodyear and the union, which represents Goodyear employees.

"Production levels have been reduced by approximately 35 percent, creating a shortage within the military," Hunter said.

About 12,000 Goodyear workers in the United States and Canada went on strike Oct. 5. In September, the company received a $17.7 million contract for Humvee tires.

The union in November told the company it would return to negotiations only if the Akron, Ohio-based company was willing to drop plans to close plants and cut health care.

The company's Topeka facility is its only plant producing Humvee tires and is accustomed to working around the clock with 1,600 employees. Nearly 1,400 have been on strike.

Goodyear, the world's third largest tire maker, has been using salaried workers and temporary hires to produce the tires in Topeka. Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey declined to confirm production levels since the strike.

That's Duncan Hunter, Republican, who is calling on Goodyear to resume production of tires.  Let's see what happens in a Democratic Congress, and pressure on greedy monsters like Keegan who like to commit economic violence to thousands of working class families during the holiday and jeopardize troop lives increases.  Oh, and by the way, strikes are immensely difficult and stressful periods for families, made doubly so by the holidays.  Join in their day of action if you can.

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Stand With the United Steelworkers

Cross-posted from Blue Jersey

For working families, to be on strike is scary and exhausting under any circumstances. It is even harder during the holidays -- especially for parents who want to give their kids the best memories they possibly can. But sometimes working people have to do what working people have to do, and the employees of Goodyear tires are doing just that.

And that's why I'm standing in solidarity with the United Steelworkers (USW) this Saturday for a National Day of Action, where we and others will hand out leaflets at 127 stores across the country that sell Goodyear tires.

The Dec. 16 action will highlight the key issues in the strike, issues that matter to every working person: retirement benefits and job security. Some 15,000 USW members were forced out on strike Oct. 5 after the company refused to budge on its demand to close its Tyler, Texas, plant. In addition, Goodyear wants to abandon its obligation to provide health care benefits for retirees by making a one-time payment to a fund that would provide inferior benefits.

The action also will point out how workers came to Goodyear's aid several years ago by taking wage and benefit freezes when the company experienced financial hardship. Now that Goodyear is making a profit, Goodyear is walking away from its promises of job-never mind the company achieved profitability in part through workers' givebacks.

The Tyler closing, affecting 1,100 workers, would be Goodyear's third U.S. plant to shut down in four years. At the same time, the giant tire maker is increasing tire imports from factories in countries such as China that pay workers 42 cents an hour. In the past two years alone, Goodyear has invested $18 million in a plant in China and is increasing production there to 5.3 million tires a year.

There are five places to take action in New Jersey: here and here in Cherry Hill, Edison, Englewood, and Paramus. If you're not from Jersey, find an event near you.

Amid all the hustle and bustle of the season, do something small to espouse good will toward working families.

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On Benedict Arnold CEOs

Jordan Barab has an excellent post at FDL explaining the significance of the janitor's strike.  SEIU has situated itself as a fast growing union because it is unionizing fast-growing service industries that cannot be exported.  There's another strike going on around the country against Goodyear that represents the flip side of what SEIU is doing.  The United Steelworkers is trying to protect good-paying jobs from large economic forces and bad faith management.

Here's the simple story.  Goodyear is shutting down a factory and moving production offshore while cutting pension benefits to retirees, even though it promised to do neither in 2003 when its workforce agreed to accept wage, pension, and health care concessions.  The company isn't doing particularly well, though it is profitable.  Part of its core business is reducing costs, and the executives see a big cost sink in the form of what they perceive as overpaid American workers.  It has borrowed $1B to make it through the strike; indeed breaking strikers in America might at this point be considered Goodyear's core competency.

Goodyear spokesman Keith Price said the new debt offering "is an indicator of investor confidence in our ability to manage our way through the remaining period of the strike. We are ramping up production using salaried and temporary workers and increasing imports from our international operations to ensure we can serve our customers."

The problem isn't that Goodyear needs to reduce costs; that's a function of globalization and bad policy choices (more on that later).  The problem is that Goodyear just gave multimillion dollar bonuses to executives and broke a good faith agreement with its labor force.  The CEO of the company, Robert Keegan, does not have an easy set of choices, but he has made the one that shows himself to be nothing more than a moral traitor.  Keegan is a father of two, a Bush-donor, and a strong supporter of the Ohio Republican Party.  He's asking middle class workers to sacrifice their livelihood so he can lie to them and get rich, a form of economic violence that should not go unnoted.  He's a very bad man, though not unusual as such in the spoiled and coddled executive suites of what was once a reasonably ethical corporate America.

The two strikes we've seen are two sides of the same coin.  Both the lowly paid janitors and the laid off Goodyear workers are part of a large group of poor and increasingly insecure workers.  Keegan on the other hand is part of a small group of dominant, stateless, rich, and unaccountable global elites.  This class is composed of CEOs, billionaires, financiers, celebrities, and the tax attorneys and luxury purveyors that cater to them.  It is a dangerous group that pays no taxes and lives in a different legal and physical world with separate schools, food, drink, laws, and medical possibilities.  I had an argument with my family last night about globalization and this class of individuals, and tried unsuccessfully to point out that it is our country's policy choices that lead to this situation.  Our tax code is built to coddle these people and their children, our energy policy is designed to force American dependency on energy sources owned by these elites, and our media reinforces the selfish values these people purvey.  Robert Keegan is one of these people.

We have to come to grips with the Keegan's of the world, and figure out how to embarrass them into moral behavior and tax them into responsibility.  There's no other way forward.  We must also begin to change the policy choices that lead to outsourcing, excess speculation, and excessive energy use, three problems that are tied together in a fundamental knot.  The way globalization happens is not inevitable, we do have choices, and these choices are not just at the margins.  The janitors in Houston have proved that.  So has Robert Keegan, in taking bonuses as he tries to destroy thousands of families that are not his.  And so have the banks that underwrote the billion dollar bond issue to help Keegan, and the Tom Friedman's of the world that pretend that there are no choices except the death of the middle class.  The United Steelworkers are also fighting, working to preserve the livelihood of their members.  

I'm going to continue watching the convulsions of the labor movement, as I expect more turmoil in the wake of these elections and the successful janitor's strike.  A different America is making itself known, and it is one the Keegan's of the world would prefer stay out of their gated communities and mansions.

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