Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How the Country Has Come to Find Itself in the Current Ecomomic Mess

By Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers Union

As the Senate moves to consider the wholly inadequate stimulus package passed by the House -- zip for the jobless, no increase in food stamps, squat for the nation's crumbling infrastructure -- it's useful to consider how the country has come to find itself in the current economic mess.

Part of the reason we need a "fiscal stimulus package" under what President Bush continues to claim is a strong economy is the bad behavior of a government operating in cahoots with corporate America over the past 30 years. This shameless cabal has given us a reckless stock market, a sub prime mortgage crisis that is taking down homeowners while threatening banks and insurers, health care and gasoline costs flaming out of control, an endless war that violates international law and savages the budget, rising unemployment and income inequality, and the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs that is undermining real wages.

This, as New York Times financial reporter David Cay Johnston points out in his new bestseller, Free Lunch, is not the America of FDR. It is not the America that nurtured a middle class from the time of the New Deal with Social Security, employer-paid health insurance and defined benefit pensions, and, later, low-cost college educations. This is not the America of investing tax revenue in programs to benefit the majority, like the U.S. interstate highway system, and in regulation to benefit the majority, like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (a chicken coop now being "guarded" by a fox formerly employed by the corporate-dominated U.S. Chamber of Commerce).

That America is gone. Ronald Reagan got on his high horse, cracked his whip and told those little doggies to move along. Since then, income disparity in this country has grown so that in 2005, Johnston reports in Free Lunch, if you consider all income, the 300,000 wealthiest men, women and children, the top one tenth of one percent, made more money than all the other 150 million Americans put together.

This concentration of income at the top does not occur in places like Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia. It does, however, in places like Brazil, Mexico and Russia, Johnston points out.

And what makes it happen is government rules. Your government's rules. The government that is supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people.

In Free Lunch, Johnston explains how this happens, "When an executive shortchanges the pension plan, making his company appear to be more profitable, he inflates the value of the company stock and therefore his stock options. When the pension later fails and the workers get less than what they were due, or the taxpayers have to make up the part of the shortfall guaranteed by the government's Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), the executives get a free lunch. Our economy is riddled with these subsidies, many of which are intentionally subtle and hard to detect."

The book also explains how George W. Bush managed to use millions in Texans' tax dollars to make his fortune on the purchase and sale of the Rangers baseball team, and then call a white-tie audience, he referred to as " my base" at a fund raiser at a Waldorf-Astoria dinner in 2000, the "haves and have mores."

This isn't how most citizens imagine their tax dollars are going to be used -- to fatten the pockets of the wealthy. But here's the problem: The wealthy purchase the services of lobbyists and put lots of money into lawmakers' campaign coffers. By contrast, the average citizen may send the Congressman an e-mail once in a two-year term.

Under Reaganomics, money was supposed to trickle down to the workers. What trickled down was broken promises, closed factories, collapsed pension funds, withdrawn health care, and foreclosed homes. Reagan asked if we were better off than we were four years earlier.

Now, as Johnston points out, we should be asking: are we better off 30 years later? The answer is a thundering NO.

And the solution is not a piddling $150 billion fiscal stimulus package that helps those who don't need it much and provides no help at all to those who need it most.

For quick infusion of cash into the economy, a stimulus package must extend unemployment benefits and increase food stamps. In addition to being moral measures to help the most needy, these ideas were endorsed by the Congressional Budget Office as among the best ways to immediately stimulate the economy.

Beyond extending the length of time that unemployment benefits are given, the amount should be increased by at least $50 a week. Eligibility for the program should be expanded as well.

In addition, a payroll tax rebate would provide more effective relief to those most in need. This would target the very low income taxpayer. And it would provide a stark contrast -- though not a counterbalance because they'd never be large enough -- to those massive tax cuts Bush and the Republican Congress gave to the richest Americans at the outset of his Administration.

And, finally, the program needs to invest in a plan to Rebuild America, something akin to Roosevelt's WPA program. The effects of this may take longer to realize. But the damage done to this economy didn't occur overnight either. And the long-term needs of this country's infrastructure are real, as the collapse of the I-35W Bridge into the Mississippi in Minneapolis last August illustrated so horribly. Fixing the nation's bridges, roads, dams, sewers and other municipal buildings and facilities would provide jobs and enduring benefits to the great majority of Americans, not to mention radically reducing energy consumption by retrofitting the nation's publicly-owned buildings.

Better yet, commit to a decade-long investment in renewable energy development that will give meaningful work to millions while addressing the growing hazard of global warming.

If oil companies making the biggest profits in the history of the planet weren't getting "free lunches" in the form of multi-billion-dollar tax breaks, such progressive policies might provide the sort of stimulus that an all-too-timid Congress seems unwilling to consider.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jill Long Thompson for Indiana

On Friday, January 25, 2008, the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees Chapter 30-18 composed of union retirees of the Northern Indiana Public Service Company unanimously endorsed Jill Long Thompson for Governor of Indiana.

During her many years in public life, Jill Long Thompson has built an impressive record as a fighter for working families and as an advocate for responsive, responsible government. Inspired to politics as a youth, Long Thompson served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana's 4th Congressional District from 1989 to 1995. Long Thompson spent more than five years as U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001.

In Congress, Long Thompson compiled a pragmatic voting record by opposing all new tax increases while protecting investments in education, Medicare, and Social Security. Long Thompson also served as Vice Chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, a Democratic policy organization.

Long Thompson's first election to Congress in 1989 made national headlines because Indiana's 4th Congressional District was considered a "safe" Republican seat once held by then Vice President Dan Quayle. Long Thompson, then known as Jill Long, easily won re-election in 1990 and 1992 despite being a top Republican target for defeat.

As Under Secretary of Agriculture for rural development, Long Thompson managed 7,000 employees and a $10 billion budget, which funded rural housing, cooperative, water/waste, and business programs. Among her accomplishments as Under Secretary were reforming the single-family loan program, helping create thousands of jobs in economically challenged communities, and improving the efficiency of the Department.

Jill Long Thompson, 54, grew up on the family farm outside of Larwill in Whitley County. She lives with her husband Don Thompson, a commercial airline pilot, in Marshall County on a farm near Argos. Most recently, Long Thompson served as CEO and Senior Fellow at the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.

Jill Long Thompson was the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned an M.B.A. (1978) and Ph.D (1984) in Business from Indiana University, and a B.S. in Business from Valparaiso University (1974).

After leaving Congress in early 1995 and before becoming Under Secretary of Agriculture, Long Thompson served as a Fellow at the Institute of Politics in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Prior to her election to Congress, Long Thompson was an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Valparaiso University, an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University/Purdue University-Fort Wayne, and a lecturer at Indiana University in Bloomington.

She also served as the Mark E. Johnston Chair of Entrepreneurship at Manchester College and as Adjunct Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University South Bend.

We need a Governor who will stand up for working families and retirees once again. Jill has a proven track record of doing just that, and I'm very pleased to be able to make this announcement.

Another NIPSCO NiSource Blunder

The NIPSCO NiSource Runaround


Pay death benefits in a timely manner.

What do you think a death benefit is for, anyway?

Is this another job you’ve outsourced to Costa Rica?

Pay the lousy death benefits!

Learn to have a little empathy or compassion for crying out loud.

You know the one I'm referring to.

Pay it quick cause I'm pissed!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

NIPSCO safety

January 24, 2008

On January 23, 2008, a call out took place in the Gary LOA at midnight, for a hit 34kv pole on 5th Ave., east of Tennessee St. along the South Shore Railroad right-of-way. Three spans of static wire (Copper weld 3 #8’s) and one span of 34 kv conductor (336.9 mcm) were down, the pole was not broken. The South Shore equipment attached to the pole consisted of a #6 copper 2300 volt DC signal conductor, and a 1500 volt DC main conductor. Three spans of the #6 copper 2300 volt South Shore conductor were on the ground. The 1500 volt conductor was intact.

The original repair crew consisted of six members, four journeymen and two apprentices. Another journeyman and an apprentice joined in later. The South Shore repair crew was already on-site when the NIPSCO crew arrived, and they informed the NIPSCO crew that the South Shore lines were cleared.

The NIPSCO crew was informed that because of the heavy volume of commuter traffic, they would have to clear off the South Shore right-of-way from 4:30 am until 7:10 am. This would allow South Shore trains to travel safely through the work area.

After the 7:10 am train passed through the work area, the NIPSCO crew pulled in the new static conductor, using stringing blocks at the pole locations. A NIPSCO lineman was attempting to “land” the new static conductor tail into the back-to-back dead-end shoe when a ball of fire was created. At various contact points along the three spans, the new static conductor was in contact with the South Shore cantenary wire (1500 volts) and several electrical contacts occurred. All of the linemen working with the static conductor were wearing their rubber gloves.

The on-site South Shore supervisor continued to believe that both South Shore lines were cleared and de-energized. This was verified through his dispatcher. The South Shore supervisor told the NIPSCO crew that the contact was nothing more than five miles of static induced electricity. Eventually, a South Shore lineman performed a voltage test on the 1500 volt line and determined that it was energized.

It was later determined that switching equipment at the South Shore substation had failed. It must be noted that the South Shore crew did not ground their lines. At various times, NIPSCO linemen throughout the territory work on the South Shore right-of-way. Please keep this incident in mind as a safety reminder!
Source: Local 12775

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Iraq War

Number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq prior to President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech in 2003

Number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq as of January 3, 2008

Number of U.S. troops wounded in Iraq prior to "Mission Accomplished" speech in 2003

Number of U.S. troops wounded in Iraq as of January 2, 2008

Number of Iraqi deaths after the U.S. invasion

Source: "Iraq Coalition Casualty Count." January 3, 2008; Just Foreign Policy. "Iraqi Deaths Due to U.S. Invasion." January 3, 2008.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Out of Irack and into Iran

Toxic Toys Rally

It's time that our legislators wake up to the fact that lousy trade deals are killing our children. Those who don't wake up and do something about it, will soon bite the dust because we all deserve better.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Stop Importing Toxic Products

Thousands of Steelworkers. One hundred congressional offices. One union. One day.

Today, January 16, members of the United Steelworkers and its allies will take its “Stop Toxic Imports” campaign to the nation’s policymakers. In this National Day of Action, the union will demand that Congress take immediate action to protect Americans from the dangerous threat posed by the millions of lead-laced toys and other unsafe products infiltrating our country.

The USW will be joined by dozens of allied community, environmental and health organizations from across the country, as well as the AFL-CIO and other labor groups.

“The massive toy recalls this holiday season drew attention to the much larger problem of the countless dangerous imports – tires, toothpaste, fake drugs, pet food – making their way on to U.S. store shelves,” said USW President Leo W. Gerard, who has spearheaded the USW “Protect Our Kids – Stop Toxic Imports” campaign. “People are starting to realize that we’re paying the price for cheap, imported goods so corporations can make bigger profits. It’s time for our policymakers to fix this broken trade system, repair our regulatory agencies and protect our jobs and families.”

The USW is calling for support for the U.S. Food and Product Responsibility Act, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and in the House by Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind. This legislation would safeguard Americans against toxic food and products by shifting the responsibility on to the backs of the companies producing the goods and the importers importing them.
The USW is not alone in demanding change. Check out this “Sound Off” video where consumers give policymakers a piece of their minds when it comes to the toxic trade crisis.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

We're in Good Hands with the next generation

While in Dubuque, Iowa, helping our union with the John Edwards campaign, Jessie DuBois (right) was our Coordinator. Jessie is a “Casual” employee for the USW, but she did a great job of directing us all.

Kaitlin DeCero, (left) was an intern at the USW International in Pittsburgh last year. Kaitlin came to Dubuque during her Christmas break and was a natural when it came to phone calling and door knocking. She is a Labor Studies student at Indiana University.

Kaitlin is from Munster, Indiana, and Jessie is from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Both of these young people gave me assurance that our Great Union will be around for a very long time.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year from Dubuque

After a long day of door knocking and phone calling in Dubuque, Iowa, Steelworkers, SOAR members, and friends of labor, take time out to ring in the new year.