Our Hope for Change is Still Not Fulfilled

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

After significant compromise with the recalcitrant Republicans who want to continue to give the wealthy tax advantages while cutting significant social programs, President Obama has finally taken a stand on debt ceiling negotiations. However, in labor, wildlife management, and the environment he is still compromising rather than coming out forcefully for the principles he and the working class believes.

 The Republican presidential candidates have torn into the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a recent decision supporting organized labor. Mitt Romney claimed President Obama packed the NLRB with “union stooges.” Newt Gingrich wants Congress to remove all NLRB funds and President Obama to stop the NLRB actions. Tim Pawlenty called the decision “preposterous.” Michele Bachman not only said the NLRB is “way out of bounds,” but declared if she were president she would appoint “free-market conservatives who believe in job growth,” thus making the NLRB a political arm of her beliefs rather than the independent agency that was created to protect workers from management exploitation.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who isn’t a presidential candidate but is strongly anti-union, declared the decision “is nothing more than a political favor for the unions who are supporting President Obama’s re-election campaign.” Other Republican senators have claimed they will block the nomination of NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon to a permanent post.

 At issue is an NLRB decision that Boeing violated federal law by trying to stop a production line in its Seattle-area plant that manufactures the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and opening a new facility in South Carolina, an anti-union “right-to-work” state. The NLRB agreed with a complaint filed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) that Boeing’s decisions was retaliation for the actions of the Seattle workers. In both public and internal memos, Boeing stated it didn’t wish to deal with unionized workers in Seattle. The NLRB suit is currently in federal court.

 At a recent press conference, President Obama sidestepped support for both the NLRB and unions by claiming, “I don’t know all the facts,” and that he didn’t wish to interfere in the process. However, he did state that corporations “need to have the freedom to relocate . . . . and if they’re choosing to relocate here in the United States, that’s a good thing.”

 When Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he promised to support the working class. If there was a picket line, or if the workers were being threatened, he promised to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk side by side with them.

 That has not happened. He never spoke out in defense of the workers in Seattle during their two year fight against Boeing, nor after they filed their complaint in April. Nor has the President given support to the millions of of citizens in several states where conservative governors and legislatures have launched campaigns to break unions, while giving special benefits to the business and executive classes.

 Giving Mr. Obama the widest possible excuse, perhaps the Secret Service declared it would be dangerous for a president to be in a crowd of protestors, no matter how peaceful it is.

 But, there is no excuse for President Obama’s weak record on environmental and wildlife protection, something he placed high on his list as a candidate, but failed to defend as president.

 Strong words as a candidate turned to “compromise” and then near-abandonment when confronted by extremists who refuse to read or understand any of thousands of studies about the effects of global warming.

 To please the oil lobby, the same one that dominated the previous administration, President Obama approved deep-water drilling – just weeks before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf coast. And then, months after the disaster approved continued deep water drilling.

 His wildlife management policies, while based on good intentions, are not something he has rolled upon his sleeves to fight for.

 Confronted by the cattle industry lobby, which believes 10,000 wild horses and burros are threats to the existence of more than 92 million cattle, President Obama has virtually abandoned protection of the few wild horses and burros left in the country.

 And now his Department of the Interior is about to allow Wyoming to begin the wanton killing of gray wolves, including pups in dens, outside of Yellowstone national park. 

The plan yields to extremists who see wolves as threats to cattle. But, numerous research studies show that wolves seldom attack cattle. And, when they do, the government pays the rancher, even if the steer is new born or headed to a slaughterhouse the next day. But the cattle industry is as dominant in American politics as is the NRA.

 And that leaves hunters. Wolves cull the weakest animals from the herd. And that’s the problem. There are only 5,000 wolves in the continental United States. But a few million hunters see the wolf as competitors for 20 million deer, 250,000 moose, or any animal that can be killed and then mounted as a trophy in someone’s den.

 Although the mean-spirited and uncompromising vindictiveness of the ultra-right has blocked much progress, it is the President’s own actions in labor, environment, and wildlife that have deteriorated into compromise and retreat. His inability to defend the principles he believes and campaigned for threatens any chance he will be remembered as a great president.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues journalist. His current book, Before the First Snow, looks at an energy company that lures citizen consent because of jobs in a depressed economy, but which may threaten health, safety, and environment.]

 

 

 

Our Hope for Change is Still Not Fulfilled

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

After significant compromise with the recalcitrant Republicans who want to continue to give the wealthy tax advantages while cutting significant social programs, President Obama has finally taken a stand on debt ceiling negotiations. However, in labor, wildlife management, and the environment he is still compromising rather than coming out forcefully for the principles he and the working class believes.

 The Republican presidential candidates have torn into the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a recent decision supporting organized labor. Mitt Romney claimed President Obama packed the NLRB with “union stooges.” Newt Gingrich wants Congress to remove all NLRB funds and President Obama to stop the NLRB actions. Tim Pawlenty called the decision “preposterous.” Michele Bachman not only said the NLRB is “way out of bounds,” but declared if she were president she would appoint “free-market conservatives who believe in job growth,” thus making the NLRB a political arm of her beliefs rather than the independent agency that was created to protect workers from management exploitation.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who isn’t a presidential candidate but is strongly anti-union, declared the decision “is nothing more than a political favor for the unions who are supporting President Obama’s re-election campaign.” Other Republican senators have claimed they will block the nomination of NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon to a permanent post.

 At issue is an NLRB decision that Boeing violated federal law by trying to stop a production line in its Seattle-area plant that manufactures the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and opening a new facility in South Carolina, an anti-union “right-to-work” state. The NLRB agreed with a complaint filed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) that Boeing’s decisions was retaliation for the actions of the Seattle workers. In both public and internal memos, Boeing stated it didn’t wish to deal with unionized workers in Seattle. The NLRB suit is currently in federal court.

 At a recent press conference, President Obama sidestepped support for both the NLRB and unions by claiming, “I don’t know all the facts,” and that he didn’t wish to interfere in the process. However, he did state that corporations “need to have the freedom to relocate . . . . and if they’re choosing to relocate here in the United States, that’s a good thing.”

 When Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he promised to support the working class. If there was a picket line, or if the workers were being threatened, he promised to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk side by side with them.

 That has not happened. He never spoke out in defense of the workers in Seattle during their two year fight against Boeing, nor after they filed their complaint in April. Nor has the President given support to the millions of of citizens in several states where conservative governors and legislatures have launched campaigns to break unions, while giving special benefits to the business and executive classes.

 Giving Mr. Obama the widest possible excuse, perhaps the Secret Service declared it would be dangerous for a president to be in a crowd of protestors, no matter how peaceful it is.

 But, there is no excuse for President Obama’s weak record on environmental and wildlife protection, something he placed high on his list as a candidate, but failed to defend as president.

 Strong words as a candidate turned to “compromise” and then near-abandonment when confronted by extremists who refuse to read or understand any of thousands of studies about the effects of global warming.

 To please the oil lobby, the same one that dominated the previous administration, President Obama approved deep-water drilling – just weeks before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf coast. And then, months after the disaster approved continued deep water drilling.

 His wildlife management policies, while based on good intentions, are not something he has rolled upon his sleeves to fight for.

 Confronted by the cattle industry lobby, which believes 10,000 wild horses and burros are threats to the existence of more than 92 million cattle, President Obama has virtually abandoned protection of the few wild horses and burros left in the country.

 And now his Department of the Interior is about to allow Wyoming to begin the wanton killing of gray wolves, including pups in dens, outside of Yellowstone national park. 

The plan yields to extremists who see wolves as threats to cattle. But, numerous research studies show that wolves seldom attack cattle. And, when they do, the government pays the rancher, even if the steer is new born or headed to a slaughterhouse the next day. But the cattle industry is as dominant in American politics as is the NRA.

 And that leaves hunters. Wolves cull the weakest animals from the herd. And that’s the problem. There are only 5,000 wolves in the continental United States. But a few million hunters see the wolf as competitors for 20 million deer, 250,000 moose, or any animal that can be killed and then mounted as a trophy in someone’s den.

 Although the mean-spirited and uncompromising vindictiveness of the ultra-right has blocked much progress, it is the President’s own actions in labor, environment, and wildlife that have deteriorated into compromise and retreat. His inability to defend the principles he believes and campaigned for threatens any chance he will be remembered as a great president.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues journalist. His current book, Before the First Snow, looks at an energy company that lures citizen consent because of jobs in a depressed economy, but which may threaten health, safety, and environment.]

 

 

 

Ironically, Anti-Union Republicans Need Unions

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            There are a lot of ironies in the Wisconsin fight between the Republican-dominated legislature and the working class.

            On Tuesday, Feb. 22, the State Senate unanimously passed a resolution to honor the Green Bay Packers for winning the Super Bowl. Every one of the players is a member of a union.

            Of course, only the 19 Republicans in the chamber voted for the resolution; the 14 Democratic senators, co-sponsors of the resolution, were in Illinois. They were in the neighboring state because newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker, supported by Big Business, the Tea Party, and far-right conservatives, had ordered the unionized state police to bring every Democratic senator into the capitol in order to assure a quorum. Needing one more member, the Senate couldn't pass any fiscal legislation.

            Walker and the legislature thought they could ram through a union-busting measure, disguising it under a cloak of balancing the state budget. All they needed were 20 senators—19 Republicans and, for that elusive quorum, one Democrat, even if he or she voted against the bill. The only reason the state had a deficit, they lied, was because of union wages and benefits.

            The unions had already said they would accept what amounts to an 8 percent cut. But, Walker, acting more like a caricature of a Fat Cat Boss, refused to negotiate. His demands, if put into law, would essentially "gut" public worker unions.

            For two weeks, beginning Feb. 14, thousands of government workers and their supporters came to Madison to defend unions and collective bargaining. At its peak, more than 70,000 were in the streets of the state's larger cities. One of those protestors was all-pro cornerback Charles Woodson, the Packers' co-captain, one of those honored by the Legislature. Woodson, strong in his condemnation of the governor and Legislature, said he was honored "to stand together with working families of Wisconsin and organized labor [who were] under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work."

            There are more ironies.

            Thousands of anti-union voices have cried out that they don't need unions. However, even the most rabid anti-union reactionary has benefitted from labor's push for a 40 hour work week, overtime, better working conditions, the enactment of rigorous child labor laws, and basic benefits, including vacation time and sick leave.

            Unions also led the push to create the National Labor Relations Board, which gives further worker protections, while restricting excesses, both by unions and employers; and the Davis–Bacon Act, which requires all private contractors on federal projects to pay wages equivalent to what union workers would earn, even if their own companies are not unionized. The "prevailing doctrine" has led to better wages and employee training in the construction industry, according to labor historian Rosemary Brasch.

            Unions were primarily responsible for creating the rise of the middle class, thus elevating the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. With weaker unions, says economist Richard Freeman, "the U.S. will be slower in developing policies to help the disadvantaged and poor . . . and to protect consumers, workers, and shareholders from business crime and dishonesty." All social programs, according to writer/activist Harvey Wasserman "can trace their roots to union activism, as can the protection of our civil liberties." Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shalen of the University of California, because there is "less turnover, better worker communication, better working conditions, and a better-educated workforce."  Further, merely the threat of unionization at a company usually leads to improved work conditions as employers, using extraordinary means to impose anti-union bias into their companies, nevertheless, will improve the lives of their workers solely to avoid collective bargaining and union benefits.

            Anti-union rhetoric also leads people to believe that the generous health benefits that governments give to unionized workers has led to the current financial problems, all of which are absorbed by the taxpayers. But, the truth reveals another irony. Better health benefits actually result in lower costs to the taxpayers. Most of the 50 million uninsured are members of working families, and have lower incomes, making them eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), funded by taxpayers. Unable to pay even the co-insurance costs, low-income workers usually use medical facilities only when there are critical problems, thus jeopardizing their own health, and resulting in less productivity and more long term care, all paid by public programs. Uninsured patients also pay more for health care, and are more likely to stay impoverished because of health costs, according to recent studies by the Kaiser Foundation on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Medicaid payments in 2008 were about $204 billion.

            And in the ultimate irony, Rush Limbaugh, who called union workers "bottom-feeding freeloaders," Glenn Beck, who miraculously linked trade unionism with Communists, socialists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the United Nations, and numerous other conservative commentators are all members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), an AFL-CIO union.

 

[Next Week: Lies and the truth in Wisconsin. Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist. He has been a member of several unions, including The Newspaper Guild, Communications Workers of America, International Association of Machinists, the United Auto Workers, the Association of State College and University Faculty, and three in the entertainment industry. You may contact Dr. Brasch at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

Obama Backs Away from Recess Appointments . . . For Now

The White House released a short statement from the President late on Thursday following action by the Senate to confirm — by unanimous consent — twenty-seven executive nominees before leaving for the President's Day recess.

Today, the United States Senate confirmed 27 of my high-level nominees, many of whom had been awaiting a vote for months.

At the beginning of the week, a staggering 63 nominees had been stalled in the Senate because one or more senators placed a hold on their nomination. In most cases, these holds have had nothing to do with the nominee’s qualifications or even political views, and these nominees have already received broad, bipartisan support in the committee process.

Instead, many holds were motivated by a desire to leverage projects for a Senator’s state or simply to frustrate progress. It is precisely these kinds of tactics that enrage the American people.

And so on Tuesday, I told Senator McConnell that if Republican senators did not release these holds, I would exercise my authority to fill critically-needed positions in the federal government temporarily through the use of recess appointments. This is a rare but not unprecedented step that many other presidents have taken. Since that meeting, I am gratified that Republican senators have responded by releasing many of these holds and allowing 29 nominees to receive a vote in the Senate.

While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess. If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.

The 27 confirmed today form part of the over 60 executive nominations that had been placed on hold by one of more Senators. Earlier this week, Republicans blocked the confirmation of Craig Becker, a labor lawyer, to a seat on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has been operating with only two of its five members for a few years.

The White House statement seems to signal that the President will not use a recess appointment to appoint Craig Becker to the NLRB. The President did reserve his right to use his recess appointment authority in the future if the Senate does act on his nominees.

The list of the confirmed nominees is below the fold.

There's more...

Former NLRB Examiner: We Need Employee Free Choice

Ask Shannon Hilt, who's seen our broken system for forming unions firsthand, and she'll tell you that there's no question: Workers need the Employee Free Choice Act.

Hilt spent three years as a field examiner for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), overseeing the elections process and investigating unfair practices. She says the system we have now, one in which companies, not workers, have all the power, isn't free, it isn't fair and doesn't protect workers.

Writing in the Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera, Hilt explains how her years of experience as an NLRB field examiner have convinced her that we need fundamental labor law reform that gives workers, not their bosses, the ability to decide how they form a union and bargain.

There's more...

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