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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Workers Left Behind In Trump’s ‘Booming’ Economy

Americans are not happy, and for good reason: They continue to suffer financial stress caused by decades of flat income. And every time they make the slightest peep of complaint about a system rigged against them, the rich and powerful tell them to shut up because it is all their fault.

One percenters instruct them to work harder, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop bellyaching. Just get a second college degree, a second skill, a second job. Just send the spouse to work, downsize, take a staycation instead of a real vacation. Or don’t take one at all, just work harder and longer and better.

The barrage of blaming has persuaded; workers believe they deserve censure. And that’s a big part of the reason they’re unhappy. If only, they think, they could work harder and longer and better, they would get ahead. They bear the shame. They don’t blame the system: the Supreme Court, the Congress, the president. And yet, it is the system, the American system, that has conspired to crush them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, unemployment is low and the stock market is high. But skyrocketing stocks benefit only the top 10 percent of wealthy Americans who own 84 percent of stocks. And while more people are employed now than during the Great Recession, the vast majority of Americans haven’t had a real raise since 1979.

It’s bad out there for American workers. Last month, their ranking dropped for the third year running in the World Happiness Report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a UN initiative.

These sad statistics reinforce those in a report released two years ago by two university professors. Reviewing data from the General Social Survey, administered routinely nationally, the professors found Americans’ assessment of their own happiness and family finances has, unambiguously, declined in recent years.

That means stress. Forty percent of workers say they don’t have $400 for an unexpected expense. Twenty percent can’t pay all of their monthly bills. More than a quarter of adults skipped needed medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it. A quarter of adults have no retirement savings.

If only Americans would work harder. And longer. And better.

Despite right-wing attempts to pound that into Americans’ heads, it’s not the solution. Americans clearly are working harder and longer and better. The solution is to change the system, which is stacked against workers.

Workers are bearing on their backs tax breaks that benefited only the rich and corporations. They’re bearing overtime pay rules and minimum wage rates that haven’t been updated in more than a decade. They’re weighted down by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hobbled unionization efforts and kneecapped workers’ rights to file class-action lawsuits. They’re struggling under U.S. Department of Labor rules defining them as independent contractors instead of staff members. They live in fear as corporations threaten to offshore their jobs—with the assistance of federal tax breaks.

Last year, the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court handed a win to corporatists trying to obliterate workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and conditions. The court ruled that public sector workers who choose not to join unions don’t have to pay a small fee to cover the cost of services that federal law requires the unions provide to them. This bankrupts labor unions. And there’s no doubt that right-wingers are gunning for private sector unions next.

This kind of relentless attack on labor unions since 1945 has withered membership. As it shrank, wages for both union and nonunion workers did too.

Also last year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can deny workers access to class-action arbitration. This compels workers, whom corporations forced to sign agreements to arbitrate rather than litigate, into individual arbitration cases, for which each worker must hire his or her own lawyer. Then, just last week, the right-wing majority on the court further curtailed workers’ rights to class-action suits.

In a minority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the court in recent years has routinely deployed the law to deny to employees and consumers “effective relief against powerful economic entities.”

No matter how hard Americans work, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court has hobbled them in an already lopsided contest with gigantic corporations.

The administrative branch is no better. Just last week, the Trump Labor Department issued an advisory that workers for a gig-economy company are independent contractors, not employees. As a result, the workers, who clean homes after getting assignments on an app, will not qualify for federal minimum wage (low as it is) or overtime pay. Also, the corporation will not have to pay Social Security taxes for them. Though the decision was specific to one company, experts say it will affect the designation for other gig workers, such as drivers for Uber and Lyft.

Also, the Labor Department has proposed a stingy increase in the overtime pay threshold—that is, the salary amount under which corporations must pay workers time and a half for overtime. The current threshold of $23,660 has not been raised since 2004. The Obama administration had proposed doubling it to $47,476. But now, the Trump Labor Department has cut that back to $35,308. That means 8.2 million workers who would have benefited from the larger salary cap now will not be eligible for mandatory overtime pay.

It doesn’t matter how hard they work; they aren’t going to get the time-and-a-half pay they deserve.

Just like the administration and the Supreme Court, right-wingers in Congress grovel before corporations and the rich. Look at the tax break they gave one percenters in 2017. Corporations got the biggest cut in history, their rate sledgehammered down from 35 percent to 21 percent. The rich reap by far the largest benefit from those tax cuts through 2027, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. And by then, 53 percent of Americans—that is, workers, not rich people—will pay more than they did in 2017because tax breaks for workers expire.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers predicted the corporate tax cut would put an extra $4,000 in every worker’s pocket. They swore that corporations would use some of their tax cut money to hand out raises and bonuses to workers. That never happened. Workers got a measly 6 percent of corporations’ tax savings. In the first quarter after the tax cut took effect, workers on average received a big fat extra $6.21 in their paychecks, for an annual total of a whopping $233. Corporations spent their tax breaks on stock buybacks, a record $1 trillion worth, raising stock prices, which put more money in the pockets of rich CEOs and shareholders.

That’s continuing this year. Workers are never going to see that $4,000.

No wonder they’re unhappy. The system is working against them.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

IMAGE: Workers on the assembly line replace the back covers of 32-inch television sets at Element Electronics in Winnsboro, South Carolina, REUTERS/Chris Keane/File Photo

Only For The Rich: Why Republicans Want To Destroy ACA

This week, Attorney General William Barr, a Republican, announced that his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, just hadn’t gone far enough when he asked a federal judge to kill the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions—that is, stuff like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Barr told an appeals court that he does not want it to merely murder that one provision but, instead, will insist that it massacre the ACA’s entire 1,990 pages—death to every clause protecting patients from insurance company abuses, every portion devoted to containing costs, every phrase extending health care to the nation’s young adults and working poor.

It is essential, Barr contends, that the court rip insurance from 21 million people covered by the ACA health insurance marketplaces and Medicaid expansion; that the court deny insurance to 2 million young adults covered by their parents’ plans; that the court foreclose substance abuse treatment to 800,000 Americans suffering opioid addiction.

It is critical, Barr insists, to deprive the ACA’s guarantee of medical insurance access to 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions and to increase medication and premium costs for 60 million senior citizens on Medicare. Also, of course, Barr says, the court must restore the medical insurance caps that bankrupted and killed Americans who suffered diseases that are expensive to treat, like cancer, or whose babies were born prematurely requiring costly long-term care.

Barr is not an outlier. He is the face of a Republican Party that has done everything in its power to rob Americans of ACA benefits every minute of the nine years that the law has existed. GOP governors have vetoed the ACA extension of Medicaid, denying insurance to millions of low-income working people. When the U.S. House was controlled by the GOP, it voted more than 50 times to repeal all or parts of the ACA. Twenty GOP state attorneys general asked a federal judge to overturn the law after Congress zeroed out its tax penalties for people who refuse to get insurance.

All of this is blatantly mean-spirited because the GOP never produced a plan to replace the ACA health insurance guarantees. In medical terms, it is the opposite of the physician mission to heal. It is Republican machination to harm.

People who drive a Mercedes, spend half a million bucks to get their children into high-status universities and lull away weekends at $3 million Nantucket beach homes will always have health care. The price is irrelevant to them. Even if denied insurance, they can afford chemotherapy, or the monthly bill for insulin or the cost of a leg broken in a sail-boating accident.

For everyone else, for coal miners and code writers, for registered nurses and Starbucks baristas, for Amazon warehouse workers and independent truck drivers, health insurance is vital. Workers, whether low-income or middle class, don’t have hundreds of thousands sitting around for a heart transplant or repeated cancer treatments or neonatal care.

Before the ACA, health insurance corporations took advantage of this situation. They raised premiums at twice the rate of inflation. They refused to insure sick people—the people who desperately need insurance, people with inherited conditions and chronic illnesses. Even some employer-based insurance plans excluded coverage for certain medical conditions. Insurers dropped coverage when people got sick. They capped coverage—so that if $1 million or $2 million—or some other random amount—was spent to save the preemie’s life in the first 18 months, the still-fragile baby was uninsured after that.

Uninsured people died of treatable conditions because they couldn’t afford care. Inadequate insurance bankrupted families. Americans worried incessantly about whether they would be able to afford to maintain their insurance or whether an illness would cost them their coverage.

The ACA cured many of these problems in addition to lowering the rate at which the cost of health insurance rose. As it accomplished those things, it became more popular. Its approval rating rose from around 40 percent initially to 51 percent now. That’s not great, but it sure as hell is better than the way people felt about insurance before the ACA.

The position of Republicans, however, is that some people just don’t deserve health insurance. It’s similar to saying some children just don’t deserve an education. Or some families just don’t deserve to have a fire department respond to a blaze at their home.

Republicans’ first effort to thwart the ACA was a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that most of the law complied but that the federal government could not force states to expand Medicaid. Under the ACA, the federal government initially paid 100 percent, and later 90 percent, of what it cost states to extend Medicaid coverage to people who earned up to 138 percent of the federal poverty threshold, which is about $17,000 for an individual or $35,000 for a family of four.

As a result, Republican governors and lawmakers denied Medicaid to millions of eligible low-income working people and their families. Some Republican governors went so far as to defy the will of the people of their states. In Maine, for example, voters approved expanding Medicaid in 2017 in a binding referendum by 59-to-41 percent after the Republican governor five times vetoed Medicaid expansion proposals. Even after the referendum and a court decision ordering expansion, the Republican governor refused to do it. Not until a Democrat took the governor’s seat this year did it happen. Similarly, Virginia and Kansas got Medicaid extensions only after they elected Democratic governors.

In Idaho and Utah, just like Maine, Republicans are defying the will of the people in their states who passed referendums to extend Medicaid. In Idaho, the Republican-controlled House decided to require those to whom Medicaid would be extended to buy insurance on the ACA exchanges instead. The Republican-controlled legislature in Utah voted to expand Medicaid only to people earning up to 100 percent of the poverty threshold, instead of 138 percent, and, at the same time, demanded that the federal government reimburse Utah at the 90 percent rate as if the state had properly expanded Medicaid.

In addition, in Idaho, the GOP-controlled House voted to require Medicaid recipients to prove they are working to qualify. Arkansas was the first state where Republicans imposed this demand, and quickly 18,000 residents lost their insurance, either because they didn’t report work or failed to follow complicated rules, which include providing an email address in a state where less than half of residents of some counties have internet access.

Fourteen other states have imposed work requirements or want to, but a federal judge this week told Arkansas and Kentucky to stop it.

They probably will appeal—at the same time Republican Attorney General Barr is trying to blow up the entire health care law. The message is clear: to Republicans, health care is a right only for the rich; the rest can suffer and die. The GOP Hippocratic oath is: Do vast harm.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

How Billionaire ‘Conservatives’ Use Hate To Divide America

The union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), believes in unity, that “all working men and women, regardless of creed, color or nationality” are eligible for membership.

That was the guiding principle of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) when it formed in 1937.

I return to that statement in times like these, times when terrorists shoot up mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 worshipers; a synagogue in the USW’s hometown of Pittsburgh, killing 11; an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine; a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, killing six; a nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 mostly young gay people.

The USW membership eligibility statement is an assertion of inclusion. All working men and women qualify. They can all join. They can all attend local union meetings at which members call each other “brother” and “sister.” This practice creates artificial, but crucial, bonds between them. This solidarity gives the group strength when facing off against massive multinational corporations and demanding decent pay and dignified working conditions.

To erode that solidarity, some billionaire hedge fund owners and multinational CEOs work to divide workers. These wealthy .01 percenters separate people by cultivating hate. Some are the same billionaire sugar daddies of alt-right hate sites like Breitbart and more conventional hate media outlets like Fox News. Investigative journalist Jane Mayer wrote a book about their efforts titled Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

This hate-mongering sets workaday people against each other. That weakens them politically. And it contributes to false-fear–provoked violence.

Look, the labor movement is far from perfect. A couple of decades ago, African-American USW members had to sue steel corporations and the union to secure equal opportunity. Clearly, we haven’t always lived up to our principles. But the goal of brotherhood and sisterhood among all workers is a noble one that must be strived for. We all sweat together to support ourselves and our families. We all come to each other’s aid when a fellow worker’s home burns down or child falls ill. We stand shoulder to shoulder to demand a just portion of the profits created by our labor.

Exclusion is self-defeating, whether workers belong to a labor union or not. Because every man and woman is needed on deck, we can’t let billionaire hate purveyors like the Mercers and Murdochs split us, in our workplaces or in our communities.

Robert Mercer, 72, who made his billions as a hedge fund manager, is a major funder—more than $10 million—of Breitbart, the website once run by former White House aide Stephen Bannon. This is what the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization devoted to monitoring and exposing domestic hate groups and extremists, wrote about the site:

“In April of 2016, the SPLC documented Breitbart’s embrace of extremist ideas and racist tropes such as black-on-white crime and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Further analyses showed how under executive chair Stephen Bannon, Breitbart’s comment section became a safe space for anti-Semitic language.”

Bannon specifically told Mother Jones magazine that Breitbart was the platform for the alt-right, which has lifted anti-Semitic and white supremacist voices.

At the same time, the Mercers, Robert and his daughter Rebekah, were giving millions to right-wing anti-union groups through the Mercer Family Foundation. These include the virulent anti-union Heartland Institute ($6.68 million), Heritage Foundation ($2 million), CATO Institute ($1.2 million) and Manhattan Institute for Policy Research ($2.18 million).

It includes the Center for Union Facts ($900,000), a secretive group for corporations and wealthy individuals who oppose unions and who are willing to fund its lies about labor organizations, and the Freedom Partners Action Fund ($2.5 million), which, in turn, has given millions to anti-union groups like the National Right to Work Committee. And the Mercer Foundation gave $100,000 to the State Policy Network, the umbrella group for 100 state-level organizations devoted to destroying labor organizations.

The media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 88, is a slightly older version of Robert Mercer. He made his feelings about labor unions clear 30 years ago when he moved his London newspaper operations overnight to a barbed-wire–enclosed bunker in the neighborhood of Wapping and told unions he’d fire all workers who did not immediately transfer to the new building and use its new technology. When the print unions resisted, Murdoch fired 5,500 printers.

He also served on the board of directors of the anti-union CATO Institute. Murdoch, who is worth about $20 billion, is listed as chairman and president of a Murdoch Foundation, but it has no assets and has made no grants in more than a decade.

On Fox News, the television network controlled by Murdoch, numerous commentators, including the currently suspended Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro, are openly hostile to labor unions and are viciously anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for advertisers to boycott Fox News unless it fires Carlson and Pirro.

A former senior vice president at Murdoch’s News Corp, Joseph Azam, told National Public Radio this week he left his job in 2017 over the network’s coverage of Muslims, immigrants and race. The NPR story says, “the rhetoric coming from some of his corporate colleagues sickened him: Muslims derided as threats or less than human; immigrants depicted as invaders, dirty or criminal; African-Americans presented as menacing; Jewish figures characterized as playing roles in insidious conspiracies.”

Last weekend, a Muslim news producer, Rashna Farrukh, announced that she quit Fox’s corporate cousin, Sky News Australia, over its coverage of Muslims on the days after the massacre at the two Christchurch mosques. She wrote this in a post for ABC News:

“I compromised my values and beliefs to stand idly by as I watched commentators and pundits instill more and more fear into their viewers. I stood on the other side of the studio doors while they slammed every minority group in the country—mine included—increasing polarization and paranoia among their viewers.”

Billionaires such as Murdoch and Mercer wield immense power. Organizations they stealth-fund are dedicated to dividing and conquering workers. They’re dangerous because they breed, broadcast and promote hate.

The only way to deal with them is with solidarity. Workers must have each other’s backs. They must see each other as brothers and sisters. Their guiding principle must be that all working men and women, regardless of creed, color, nationality or sexual orientation are welcome.

Leo W. Gerard is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

IMAGE: Hedge-fund billionaire, anti-union ideologue, and Breitbart financier Robert Mercer.

 

Rigged College Admissions: Just One Aspect Of Rampant Social Inequity

The children of working stiffs learned a brutal lesson this week as federal prosecutors criminally charged rich people with buying admission to elite universities for their less-than-stellar children.

The lesson is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how smart or talented you are, a dumb, lazy rich kid is going to beat you.

It’s crucial that everyone who is not a wealthy movie star, hedge fund executive, or corporate CEO—that is, 99 percent of all Americans—sees this college admissions scandal for what it really is: a microcosm of the larger, corrupt system that works against working people, squashing their chances for advancement.

This system is the reason that rich people and corporations got massive tax breaks last year while the 99 percent got paltry ones. It is the reason the federal minimum wage and the overtime threshold are stuck at poverty levels. It is the reason labor unions have dwindled over the past four decades.

This system is the reason we cannot have nice things. Despite all that land-of-equal-opportunity crap, the rich ensure that only they can have nice things, starting with what they can buy legally and illegally for their children and rising through what they can buy legally and illegally from politicians who make the rules that withdraw money from the pockets of working people and deposit it into the bulging bank accounts of the fabulously rich.

When the mastermind of the elite university admissions scheme, William Singer, pleaded guilty this week, he exposed the launching pad available to the well-heeled to guarantee that their children will be well-heeled. Even after the wealthy pay for their heirs to attend prohibitively expensive private preparatory academies, their grades, test scores and extracurricular activities may not add up to enough to gain them entrance to Ivy League universities, from which a degree virtually assures an overpaid position on Wall Street, and with it, another generation of wealth accumulation.

Singer admitted he developed a work-around for the wealthy. The indictment revealed that, through Singer, parents handed between $15,000 and $75,000 to college entrance exam administrators to fabricate top-notch test scores for low-achieving offspring.

That lower amount—$15,000—paid by the rich to pad SAT and ACT scores is a good example. It’s a figure of trifling import to a one-percenter. It is, however, the entire year’s earnings of a parent working full-time at the federal $7.25 minimum wage. That parent may have a child who received a perfect SAT score—without cheating—who has earned straight As, even in advanced placement classes, who excelled in soccer and served as class president. But that child of a minimum-wage worker won’t get into Harvard because the rich kid took his place with falsified test scores and faked athletic achievements.

And the rich kid and his parents have the means to ensure that members of the next generation of the family have the same opportunity to cheat their way into a top college. They have the money to buy just the right politicians, something that the perverse Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court facilitated. The right-wing court ruled that rich people and corporations could give unlimited money to elect politicians of their choice.

Politicians chosen by the wealthy won’t support labor unions, minimum wage increases or higher overtime thresholds. They won’t cultivate opportunity for the 99 percent. They won’t require corporations to treat workers as humans with dignity.

Politicians chosen by the rich have passed legislation in state after state intended to bankrupt labor unions, the very organizations that were so crucial to creating the middle class in America. Under the legislation, labor unions are forbidden to collect small fees from people who choose not to join. This weakens unions because they are required by federal regulations to provide services for all those who labor in a unionized workplace, whether they join the union or not. So what these politicians are doing is requiring unions to represent nonmembers for free. It has devastated labor organizations in some places, including Wisconsin. The result is lower wages and worse benefits for all workers because higher union-bargained pay pulls up all incomes in a region.

The logic here is simple: less for workers, more for fat cats.

And, of course, politicians chosen by rich people will not raise the minimum wage. The federal minimum has remained at a painfully low $7.25 for a decade. Now, it’s a poverty wage. It means a person who works full-time cannot support himself, and certainly can’t provide for a family. In Washington, D.C., and other expensive cities, some full-time minimum-wage workers are homeless. The substandard minimum wage pulls down all wages.

Similarly, politicians chosen by the rich will not significantly increase the $23,660 overtime threshold under which all workers must be paid time-and-a-half for hours beyond 40 in a week. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, now chair of the Democratic National Committee, proposed in 2016 doubling the threshold to $47,476, which would have enabled an additional 4 million workers to qualify for overtime pay.

Often these are workers given fancy titles like assistant night manager and paid $24,000 a year so that their fast-food restaurant bosses can require them to work 50, 60, even 70 hours a week for no extra pay at all.

For these families, the overtime pay would be extremely meaningful—in ways that are incomprehensible to families that can dish out $15,000 to $75,000 to cheat on the SAT.

Fast-food corporations, including CKE, owner of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, opposed the proposed overtime threshold increase. The CEO of CKE at the time, Andrew F. Puzder, worth $45 million, wrote an essay condemning the increase and explaining how millions of low-paid workers with fancy titles should love to work extra time without extra pay because it gave all of them the opportunity to work their way to the top like one guy at CKE did one time.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobby group for rich corporations, filed suit against the increase and scuttled it. So now it hasn’t increased in 15 years.

A new labor secretary last week offered a much stingier increase. Alexander Acosta proposed $35,308 as the threshold. Only about 1 million additional workers would benefit if the number were that low. And instead of automatic increases every three years, the Labor Department would consider whether to raise it only every four years, no guarantees.

This is not good policy for working people. It is, however, great policy for rich people, who, as a result, keep more of the profits produced by the labor of underpaid people.

It means continuing the cycle of one percent staying rich and 99 percent denied opportunity. And that means the wealthy can continue to bribe university officials to admit their unqualified scion.

There’s no reason to take heart from the fact that prosecutors stymied one specific college admission scam. It is illegal to pay an SAT proctor to alter test scores. It is not illegal, though, to buy a science lab for Harvard or a humanities building for Yale with the hope that the family name prominently engraved on the edifice will sway admission officers when they see the same moniker on a college application.

It’s no shock college admissions are rigged for the rich. The whole economic system is rigged by the rich. Until working people change that, their opportunities and those of their children will continue to diminish.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

With Massive Tax Breaks, Corporate Chiefs Are Behaving Like Con Men

Apple CEO Tim Cook announced this week that the company would repatriate $252 billion, give or take a few billion, then create some American jobs and invest in America – for a change.

This is a result of the massive tax cut Congressional Republicans awarded corporations like Apple that were hoarding trillions in profits overseas.

Corporate lobbyists told Congress to lower the tax rate on those overseas caches or companies like Apple wouldn’t pay a cent of the taxes they owed on those profits. Congress complied. That is highly productive corporate extortion.

As a result, Apple’s announcement that it would invest some of the repatriated profits in U.S. operations is tainted. Also sullied are the boasts by other corporations that they’ll use small parts of their annual tax savings to pay workers one-time bonuses and tiny wage increases – only to turn around and lay off thousands of workers.

 The corporate extortion and maltreatment of workers defy the advice that BlackRock CEO Laurence D. Fink offered the CEOs of the world’s largest companies in a letter delivered Jan. 16. Fink’s words carry some weight since his firm is the largest investor in the world with more than $6 trillion. The letter described as flawed the CEO-favored philosophy of shareholder capitalism, under which corporations shirk responsibility to everyone but shareholders.

Fink said stakeholder capitalism, under which corporations are accountable to employees, customers and communities, as well as shareholders, is a more effective long-term strategy. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society,” he counseled.

But CEOs at the likes of Apple, AT&T and AFLAC don’t want to hear that. These executives want their corporations to be considered people for the legal perks. But they don’t want their firms to assume humans’ citizenship obligations. These CEOs are trying to make Americans think corporations should get good citizenship awards because a handful of the nation’s 30 million employers are paying bonuses to workers from the gargantuan tax breaks that Congress gave them.

But it’s a con. The bonuses are fine, but they’re one-time events and trivial compared to the bountiful and permanent tax breaks corporations reaped from their years of lobbying Republicans.

In addition, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors said that slashing the corporate tax rate would boost the average American’s wages between $4,000 and $9,000 a year. A one-time bonus of $1,000 doesn’t get close to that.

Apple, for example, held $252 billion in profits off shore, refusing for years to pay the 35 percent corporate tax rate that would be required to return it to the United States. Now, however, Republicans in Congress have slashed the rate corporations will have to pay on overseas profits to 15 percent. Republicans also cut the rate that corporations must pay on U.S. profits to 21 percent, giving firms like Apple that moved work offshore a better deal than corporations that remained exclusively American.

It means Apple will pay only $38 billion in taxes on its overseas profits and get to keep $43 billion that it otherwise would have owed the federal government. For actual-human American citizens, as opposed to corporate-humans like Apple, that means the federal government will have $43 billion less for important services like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, opioid addiction treatment, federal school funding for special-needs children, adoption services for foster kids and workplace safety inspections.

Cook tried to sound like a Boy Scout in a statement about bringing the money home: “We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible.” But if the corporation really had a deep sense of responsibility to the United States, it would have paid the taxes it owed and not moved all of its manufacturing off shore.

 But, hey, Apple will invest its ill-gotten gains in the United States, right? Well, maybe not so much.

Apple, which had more money stashed overseas than any other American corporation, projected that its direct impact on the U.S. economy over the next five years would be more than $350 billion, but the New York Times determined, based on Apple’s past spending and projections, that its investment would be only about $37 billion more than what Apple would be expected to spend over that time in the United States. That’s good. But it’s not $350 billion in new dollars. It’s a con.

Apple says its investment will include a new headquarters and 20,000 new hires. And that’s great too. But it pales before Amazon, which had 10 percent of what Apple did overseas.  Long before any tax break, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos promised a second headquarters and 50,000 new high-paid positions.

BlackRock CEO Fink told Apple’s Cook and other large company CEOs this week that they have a duty to explain to investors and shareholders what they will do with the extra cash that the Republican tax break will afford them and how they’ll use it to create long-term value.

Fink, whose investment firm is looking for sustainable, enduring growth, not illusory, short-term profits, warned, “Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders. It will succumb to short-term pressures to distribute earnings, and, in the process, sacrifice investments in employee development, innovation, and capital expenditures that are necessary for long-term growth.”

But the vast majority of executives who announced they’d share the bounty of the Republican tax breaks with their employees didn’t explain how they’d spend their windfalls or offer workers long-term value.

The conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, which supported tax breaks for the rich and corporations, compiled a list of about 125 companies that announced their workers would benefit this year from some portion of the corporate tax break.

The overwhelming majority of these are one-time bonuses. It’s true that the average worker will appreciate an extra $200 to $1,000. But none of the companies promised that $1,000 would arrive in workers’ paychecks every year, even though corporations will enjoy the tax breaks every year.

Some firms, mostly banks, said they would increase the wages of their lowest-paid workers to $15 an hour. That bank workers, responsible for the correct calculation of savings and withdraws and for safekeeping depositors’ life savings, are making starvation wages of less than $15 an hour, is frightening.

In addition, the list of financial institutions includes big ones like Wells Fargo, Capital One and PNC Financial, all of which pay their CEOs more than $12 million a year, raising the question of why those fat cats made sure they got the big bucks but never got around to paying the workers who handle the money a living wage.

Other big names that have announced one-time bonuses or pathetic wage increases are Walmart, AT&T, Comcast, Boeing and AFLAC. Again, it’s great any time additional money finds its way into the pockets of those whose labor creates corporate profits. But all of these companies were involved in a massive public relations con.

Comcast and AT&T announced $1,000 bonuses, then laid off workers. Comcast dumped 500 and AT&T dumped thousands.

Walmart pulled the same trick. It boasted of bonuses ranging from $200 to $1,000 and raises for its lowest-paid workers to $11 an hour. That’s still not a living wage and was done only to keep up with Target, which announced in September a base wage of $11. And Walmart topped it off with layoffs. About 11,000 former Walmart workers won’t be around to get those raises.

AFLAC said it would place a one-time contribution of $500 in workers’ 401(k) accounts amid allegations in lawsuits that it lied to applicants about the pay they would receive and failed to give workers commissions they had earned.

Boeing got in on the good publicity by saying it would spend $300 billion on workers, but its workers will see no new money. Instead of raises or bonuses, Boeing will spend the money on worker training, upgrading its factories and matching workers’ donations to charities – for which, of course, it can claim another tax break.

Clearly, none of these con men CEOs actually care about their workers. Maybe, however, they will care about what activist investor BlackRock thinks. And its CEO has made it clear he believes good corporate governance takes into consideration worker, community and environmental needs.

GOP Goes For Win On Taxes, Consequences Be Damned

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

An entire year of legislative defeats has grated on the GOP.

Their promised Affordable Care Act repeal failed – again and again and again. Their Muslim ban was, well, banned by the courts. And now, in the waning days of November, their infrastructure bill, big beautiful border wall and brand new NAFTA are all missing.

Republicans have lost so much, they’re downright desperate for a win. And that’s why they’re pushing a tax scam supported by a mere 25 percent of Americans, according to the latest Quinnipiac Poll.

They’ve just got to rack up a win, consequences and American workers be damned. They’re so desperate that GOP Sen. Bob Corker, a self-described deficit hawk, agreed in committee Tuesday to send the bill to the floor for a vote after he got promises for changes. What he wants is cancellation of the bill’s tax breaks if they don’t stimulate economic expansion as Republicans say they will. The GOP keeps swearing the cuts will cause growth despite the fact that the Bush tax breaks didn’t and despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the cuts will add $1.44 trillion to the deficit.

Some deficit hawk. But, hey, anything for a win.

Republicans are so desperate that they’re shoving this scam through what is supposed to be a deliberative process without any of that deliberation – without, for example, routine hearings or assessment by the Treasury Department or Joint Committee on Taxation. So there’s no bipartisan government evaluation of the GOP assertion that the tax breaks will generate economic growth sufficient to account for the massive revenue losses they’ll cause.

Americans hate this scam for good reason. And they do hate it. The latest Harvard-Harris survey showed 54 percent oppose it and the same percent say the scam is likely to hurt them financially. They know a swindle when they see one.

But Republicans feel like they’ve got to have a win. No matter what. Poor people, working people, old people be damned.

And damned they are by the GOP scam.

The GOP bill delivers massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. The House version, for example, eliminates the estate tax. This is charged only on estates worth $5.49 million or more. So only the richest of the rich, the top 0.2 percent pay. And among the tiny number nationwide that owe estate tax in 2017, the average effective rate paid is less than 17 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center. That’s because the rich employ experts to exploit loopholes so they never pay the official rate of 40 percent.

In addition to generating essential funds for the federal government for more than a century, this tax prevents America from reverting into a kingdom dominated by royal dynasties whose pampered scions thrive by the merit of their grandfathers rather than by the sweat of their brows. This was the system Americans fought a revolution to escape.

But Republicans are voting to bring it back. Anything for a win.

Their scam also bestows on corporations the privilege of paying zero U.S. taxes on the profits of their foreign factories. So instead of the current 35 percent, or the new, low 20 percent rate that Republicans plan to award companies in their tax scam, corporations will pay nothing at all if they move manufacturing from Iowa to India or from Idaho to Mexico.

This will kill American manufacturing and American jobs. Factories will flee even faster to low-wage, high-pollution countries like China where Republicans will absolve them from paying any U.S. income taxes at all! Those Michigan and Ohio auto parts factories – gone. Those Pennsylvania and Illinois steel mills – gone. Those family-supporting jobs – shipped overseas by Republican tax policy.

Republicans are appeasing fat-cat CEOs and shareholders to get themselves a win on taxes. Family-supporting jobs be damned.

The fattest of those cats, the richest 1 percent, rake in 62 percent of the benefits of this tax con by 2027.  Many in the middle class will get tax cuts in the first few years too, but by 2027, their rates rise back up. At that time, this GOP tax fraud would stick 87 million families making less than $200,000 a year with tax increases.

But by then, by 2027, many of those Republicans will have left Congress to become overpaid lobbyists – the kind now demanding income redistribution from the pockets of the poor and middle class up and into the treasure chests of the wealthiest. The tax scam seems like a win for Republicans now, and secure job offers from lobby firms later.

The CBO has estimated that those tax breaks in the Senate GOP bill will dig a $1.44 trillion deficit over 10 years. This hole will be dredged by the party that spent 8 years while President Barack Obama was in office decrying anything that would increase the deficit by a penny. But policy consistency be damned. Anything for a win.

To keep the deficit “down” to $1.4 trillion, Republicans slash and burn programs vital to workers and the elderly like Medicare and the tax credit for student loans.  Democrats have estimated the tax scam will slash $470 billion from Medicare over 10 years. The CBO has estimated those cuts will start next year with $25 billion.

Worse though, is the real potential for Republicans to contend by year five or six, as their tax cuts for the rich and corporations gin up government debt, that programs workers cherish like Social Security and Medicaid must be gutted as well.

So what looks like a Republican win in 2017 could be a tragic loss to American workers by 2027.

Ok. The American people get it. Republicans have had a rough year. They are aching for a win. But doing the wrong thing just to do something is not a win. It’s a scam perpetrated on American workers.

 

Leo W. Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers union. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. Follow him on Twitter @USWBlogger.

 

How Canadian Mounties Will Come To The Rescue Of American Workers

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

The Canadian Royal Mounties have offered to ride to the rescue of beleaguered American workers.

It doesn’t sound right. Americans perceive themselves to be the heroes. They are, after all, the country whose intervention won World War II, the country whose symbol, the Statue of Liberty, lifts her lamp to light the way, as the poem at the statue’s base says, for the yearning masses and wretched refuse, for the homeless and tempest-tossed.

America loves the underdog and champions the little guy. The United States is doing that, for example, by demanding in the negotiations to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Mexico raise its miserable work standards and wages. Now, though, here comes Canada, the third party in the NAFTA triad, insisting that the United States fortify its workers’ collective bargaining rights. That’s the Mounties to the rescue of downtrodden U.S. workers.

This NAFTA demand from the Great White North arrives amid relentless attacks on labor rights in the United States, declining union membership and stagnant wages. To prevent Mexico’s poverty wages from sucking U.S. factories south of the border, the United States is insisting that Mexico eliminate company-controlled fake labor unions. Similarly, to prevent the United States and Mexico from luring Canadian companies away, Canada is stipulating that the United States eliminate laws that empower corporations and weaken workers.

The most infamous of these laws is referred to, bogusly, as right-to-work. Really, it’s right-to-bankrupt labor unions and right-to-cut workers’ pay. These laws forbid corporations and labor unions from negotiating collective bargaining agreements that require payments in lieu of dues from workers who choose not to join the union. These payments, which are typically less than full dues, cover the costs that unions incur to bargain contracts and pursue worker grievances.

Lawmakers that pass right-to-bankrupt legislation know that federal law requires labor unions to represent everyone in their unit at a workplace, even if those employees don’t join the union and don’t make any payments. These dues-shirkers still get the higher wages and better benefits guaranteed in the labor contract. And they still get the labor union to advocate for them, even hire lawyers for them, if they want to file grievances against the company.

The allure of getting something for nothing, a sham created by right-wing politicians who prostrate themselves to corporations, ultimately can bankrupt unions forced to serve freeloaders. Which is exactly what the right-wingers and corporations want. It’s much easier for corporations to ignore the feeble pleas of individual workers for better pay and safer working conditions than to negotiate with unions that wield the power of concerted action.

Canada is particularly sensitive about America’s right-to-bankrupt laws because they’ve now crept up to the border. Among the handful of states that in recent years joined the right-to-bankrupt gang are Wisconsin and Michigan, both at the doorstep of a highly industrial region in Ontario, Canada.

So now, the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan can whisper in the ears of CEOs, “Come south, and we’ll help you break the unions. Instead of paying union wages, you can take all that money as profit and get yourself even fatter pay packages and bonuses!”

Then those governors will make American workers pay for the move with shocking tax breaks for corporations, like the $3 billion Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker promised electronics manufacturer Foxconn to locate a factory there. That’s $1 million in tax money for each of the 3,000 jobs that Foxconn said would be the minimum it would create with the $10 billion project.

Right-wing lawmakers like Walker and U.S. CEOs have been union busting for decades. And it’s been successful.  In the heyday of unions in the 1950s and 1960s, nearly 30 percent of all U.S. workers belonged. Wage rates rose as productivity did. And they climbed consistently. Then, one wage-earner could support a middle-class family.

That’s not true anymore. For decades now, as union membership waned, wages stagnated for the middle class and poor, and compensation for CEOs skyrocketed. And this occurred even while productivity rose. By January of 2016, the most recent date for which the statistics are available, union membership had declined to 10.7 percent. The number of workers in unions dropped by nearly a quarter million from the previous year.

This is despite the fact that union workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and employer-paid health insurance. The median weekly earnings for non-union workers in 2016 was $802. For union members, it was $1,004.

It’s not that labor unions don’t work. It’s that right-wing U.S. politicians are working against them. They pass legislation and regulations that make it hard for unions to represent workers.

It’s very different for unions in Canada. For example, union membership in Canada is growing, not dwindling like in the United States. In Canada, 31.8 percent of workers were represented by union in 2015, up 0.3 percentage points from 2014. That is higher than the all-time peak in the United States.

And it’s because Canadian legislation encourages unionization to counterbalance powerful corporations. In some Canadian provinces, for example, corporations are prohibited from hiring replacements when workers strike; striking workers are permitted to picket the companies that sell to and buy from their employer; labor agreements must contain “successorship” rights requiring a corporation that buys the employer to recognize the union and abide by its labor agreement; and employers must submit to binding arbitration if they fail to come to a first labor agreement with a newly formed union within a specific amount of time.

The second round of negotiations to rewrite NAFTA ended in Mexico this week. The third is scheduled for later this month in Canada. That’s a good opportunity for the northernmost member of the NAFTA triad to showcase its labor laws and explain why they are crucial to defending worker rights and raising wages.

Getting language protecting workers’ union rights into NAFTA is not enough, however. The trade deal must also contain penalties for countries that fail to meet the standards. This could be, for example, border adjustment taxes on exports from recalcitrant countries.

Canada’s 20,000 Royal Canadian Mounted Police only recently filed papers to unionize. That occurred after the Canadian Supreme Court overturned a 1960s era federal law that barred them from organizing.

Canada’s Supreme Court said the law violated the Mounties’ freedom of association, a right guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution. Now, Canada is riding to the rescue of U.S. and Mexican workers’ freedom of association by demanding the new NAFTA include specific protections for collective bargaining.

Leo W. Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers union. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. Follow him on Twitter @USWBlogger.

 

Another GOP Tax Plan For Millionaires

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

 

As he ran for office, Donald Trump repeatedly reminded audiences that he was “really, really rich,” but assured voters that as president he would be a working man’s champion, a blue-collar Superman.

He said he would stop corporations from offshoring manufacturing jobs with a border adjustment tax on imports. He would end trade cheating and declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. He would launch within his first 100 days a $1 trillion infrastructure improvement program to create millions of jobs fixing the nation’s airports, bridges and roads.

Trump’s record of promise-keeping to America’s working men and women in his first 100 days is this: So far, no good. The tax plan, well, the one-page tax that the administration released last week is symbolic. While it would slash federal levies on fat cats and corporations, administration officials refused to say it would help the middle class at all. And it containsno border adjustment tax.

The tax plan rewards the captains of industry, the captains of Wall Street, the captains of real estate, like, well, like Trump himself. But the middle class, not so fast. The poor, not at all. Someone needs to tell Donald Trump that banksters and real estate tycoons sporting navy golf polos aren’t blue-collar workers. The tax scheme, like so many of Trump’s other pledges to workers, is a stab in the back of that indigo shirt.

On the campaign trail, Trump said rich people like him should pay more in taxes. Yet, the tax plan he offered last week would cut his taxes – by tens of millions a year. That’s because it would eliminate the alternative minimum tax. This is a levy intended to require billionaires like Trump to pay at least something after subtracting their multitude of special-rich-people deductions.

Trump has refused to release his tax returns – the first American president to keep them secret since Gerald Ford, who provided summaries. But Trump’s 2005 return, uncovered in part by a newspaper, shows that he had to pay $31 million as a result of the alternative minimum tax.

Trump’s plan also calls for eliminating the estate tax. That is paid only by people who inherit more than $5.5 million – as Trump’s children will. And it calls for cutting by more than half, to 15 percent, the tax paid by entities called pass-through corporations. Trump’s attorneys indicated in his presidential financial disclosures that his approximately 500 businesses are almost all pass-throughs.

Trump will be hobnobbing with his country club buddies in benefitting from this break. A 2015 study by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research found that the top 1 percent gets 69 percent of pass-through income.

Right now, a worker can’t get in on that low 15 percent tax rate unless reporting income below $37,950. But doctors and lawyers and investment bankers would get that special discount rate, no matter how much they make, as long as they pay a few bucks to establish a pass-through corporation. Trump’s plan would allow a lawyer paid $1 million a year to cut his taxes by $180,000 by setting up a pass-through.

Certainly, with all of those perks going to the nation’s most wealthy, Trump’s tax men would assure workers that they will benefit too.

Not really. When asked on ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week whether the middle class would pay more under the plan, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I can’t make any guarantees.”

And the director of Trump’s National Economic Council, Gary D. Cohn, could not say how much of a break – if any – a middle-income American would get under the plan.

If it’s not absolutely clear who Trump’s tax plan would benefit, there’s also this from George Callas, the senior tax counsel for the Speaker of the House. Callas wants a permanent break for corporations, saying of a temporary one:

“It would not alter business decisions. It would not cause anyone to build a factory. It would just be dropping cash out of helicopters on corporate headquarters for a couple of years.”

Lots of small towns in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania – towns that suffered when corporations offshored factories, towns that voted for Trump – would really benefit from cash dropping out of helicopters for a couple of years.

But that’s not Trump’s plan.

Trump’s money men, Mnuchin and Cohn, said slashing levies on the wealthy will pay for itself because giving the rich more cash will spur economic growth. So, no need to worry about Trump’s tax cuts ballooning the national debt, they assured.

This is called the Laffer Curve. Really.

Economist Arthur Laffer, an adviser to Trump, explained to the Washington Post last week that it works like this: “When you think about cutting that corporate rate, let’s say, from 35 to 15, that’s not going to cost you any money.”

He convinced the likes of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush this hocus-pocus would work. And now, he has bamboozled Trump.

Both Reagan and Bush cut taxes. Both also left the country with larger deficits and uneven economic growth. Reagan raised taxes several times after his initial 1981 cut. Bush gave the country the Great Recession.

Laffer still insists his curve works, contending, “It’s a no-brainer.”

No. It’s voodoo economics. That’s what George H.W. Bush called it.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group that advocates fiscal restraint, estimated that Trump’s Laffer tax plan could reduce federal revenue by $3 trillion to $7 trillion over a decade. The economy would need to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent to make that proposal self-financing.

It grew at a pathetic 0.7 percent during Trump’s first quarter in office. In President Obama’s last quarter, the fourth of 2016, it increased at 2.1 percent. To rise at 4.5 percent would be phenomenal. Maybe paranormal.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, put it this way: “It seems the administration is using economic growth like magic beans: the cheap solution to all our problems.”

Ronald Reagan, who like Trump was adored by blue-collar workers, promised that benefits from his massive tax cuts for the rich would trickle down to the rest. That never worked. But now Trump is taking advice from the same Svengali and promoting the same flim-flam plan.

Those heartland workers can’t tolerate another hit. But it’s not just taxes. The health insurance proposal Trump is pushing would cost many low- and middle-income workers thousands of dollars more a year. Trump has proposed eliminating the Chemical Safety Board, which prevents workplace deaths. He delayed rules protecting workers from deadly silica and beryllium. He signed a law ending a requirement that large federal contractors disclose and correct serious safety violations. Trump has no federal infrastructure plan and reneged on naming China a currency manipulator.

These are all the actions of a president protecting the captains of commerce, not one championing blue-collar workers.

 

Leo W. Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers union. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. Follow him on Twitter @USWBlogger.

 
This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

The Price For Killing Workers Must Be Prison

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Every 12 days, a member of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), or one of their non-union co-workers, is killed on the job. Every 12 days. And it’s been that way for years.

These are horrible deaths. Workers are crushed by massive machinery. They drown in vats of chemicals. They’re poisoned by toxic gas, burned by molten metal. The company pays a meaningless fine. Nothing changes. And another worker is killed 11 days later.

Of course, it’s not just members of the USW. Nationally, at all workplaces, one employee is killed on the job every other hour. Twelve a day.

These are not all accidents. Too many are foreseeable, preventable, avoidable tragedies. With the approach of April 28, Workers Memorial Day 2017, the USW is seeking in America what workers in Canada have to prevent these deaths. That is a law holding supervisors and corporate officials criminally accountable and exacting serious prison sentences when workers die on the job.

Corporations can take precautions to avert workplace deaths. Too often they don’t. That’s because managers know if workers are killed, it’s very likely the only penalty will be a small fine. To them, it’s just another cost of doing business, a cost infinitely lower than that paid by the dead workers and their families.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the incident that led Canada to establish federal corporate criminal accountability. It was the 1992 Westray coal mine disaster that killed 26 workers. The Plymouth, Nova Scotia, miners had sought help from the United Steelworkers to organize, in part because of deplorable conditions the company refused to remedy, including accumulation of explosive coal dust and methane gas.

Nova Scotia empanelled a commission to investigate. Its report, titled The Westray Story: A Predictable Path to Disaster, condemns the mine owner, Curragh Resources Inc., for placing production – that is profits – before safety.

The report says Curragh “displayed a certain disdain for safety and appeared to regard safety-conscious workers as wimps.” In fact, Curragh openly thwarted safety requirements. For example, the investigators found, “Methane detection equipment at Westray was illegally foiled in the interests of production.”

The calamity occurred because Curragh callously disregarded its duty to safeguard workers, the investigators said. “The fundamental and basic responsibility for the safe operation of an underground coal mine, and indeed of any industrial undertaking, rests clearly with management,” the report says.

The USW pressed for criminal charges, and prosecutors indicted mine managers. But the case failed because weak laws did not hold supervisors accountable for wantonly endangering workers.

The Steelworkers responded by demanding new legislation, a federal law that would prevent managers from escaping liability for killing workers. It took a decade, but the law, called the Westray Act, passed in 2003. Under it, bosses face unlimited fines and life sentences in prison if their recklessness causes a worker death.

Over the past 13 years, since the law took effect in 2004, prosecutors have rarely used it. Though thousands of workers have died, not one manager has gone to jail.

The first supervisor charged under the Westray Act escaped a prison sentence when he agreed to plead guilty under a provincial law and pay a $50,000 fine. This was the penalty for a trench collapse in 2005 that killed a worker. There are many methods to prevent the common problem of trench cave-ins, but bosses routinely send workers into the holes without protection.

In 2008, the company Transpavé in Quebec was charged under the Westray Law after a packing machine crushed one of its workers to death. There was a criminal conviction and $100,000 fine. But no one was jailed.

In another case, a landscape contractor was criminally convicted in 2010 for a worker’s death, but the court permitted the contractor to serve the two-year sentence at home with curfews and community service.

Soon, however, prison may become more than a theoretical possibility. A Toronto project manager was sentenced last year to three and a half years in prison for permitting workers to board a swing stage, which is a scaffold that was suspended from an apartment building roof, without connecting their chest harnesses to safety lines. The scaffold collapsed, and four workers plummeted 13 stories to their deaths. A fifth worker survived the fall with severe injuries. Another worker, who had clicked onto a safety line, was unscathed.

Before the project began, the manager took a safety course in which the life-and-death consequences of unfailingly utilizing safety lines was emphasized.

The manager described asking the site foreman, as the foreman and the workers climbed onto the scaffold at the end of the work day on Dec. 24, 2009, why there were not enough safety lines for all of the workers. When the foreman told him not to worry about it, the project manager, who was in charge of the job, did nothing. Seconds later, the scaffold floor split in half, dumping the foreman and four other men without safety lines to the ground.

The prosecutor said the manager’s failure to stop the scaffolding from descending with unsecured workers demonstrated “wanton and reckless disregard for the lives and safety of the workers.” The judge said the manager’s position conferred on him the responsibility for safeguarding the workers and that his conduct constituted criminal negligence under the terms of the Westray Law.

The manager has appealed the sentence. The worker who connected himself to the lifeline said the manager asked him that day to lie about what happened because, the manager told him, “I have a family.”  Of course, that ignores completely the families of the dead men.

It is what far too many bosses and CEOs do. They believe their lives are precious and workers’ are not. That’s why so many supervisors defy worker safety rules.

In most U.S. workplace deaths, the company suffers nothing more than a fine. Last year, for example, an Everett, Washington State, landscape company paid $100,000 for the death of a 19-year-old worker crushed in an auger on his second day on the job. His father, Alan Hogue, told The Seattle Times, “It’s just a drop in the bucket. It’s like fining me $10 for shooting a neighbor.” The state cited the company for 16 serious and willful safety violations.

Federal criminal penalties for killing a worker in the United States are so low that they are insulting. The maximum sentence under OSHA is six months; under MSHA, one year. Prosecutors almost never bring such cases, since the penalties are so low and the burden of proof so high.

U.S. supervisors have gone to jail under state criminal laws, though it’s rare. A New York construction foreman was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced in 2016 to at least 1 year behind bars for sending a 22-year-old worker into an unsecured trench and for failing to stop work when an engineer warned it was too dangerous. The trench collapsed minutes later.

In a similar case, the owner of a Fremont, Calif., construction company and his project manager were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison after a trench collapsed on a worker. The January 2012 incident occurred three days after a building inspector ordered work to stop because the excavation lacked shoring. The manager ignored the order.

“These men, the workers, were treated like their lives didn’t matter,” Deputy District Attorney Bud Porter told a reporter at the time of conviction.

The only way to make workers’ lives matter is to make prison a real possibility for CEOs and supervisors. Lethal greed must be tempered by frightening ramifications. Fines are no threat.  Only prison is. America needs its own Westray Law and aggressive enforcement.

Leo W. Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers union. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. Follow him on Twitter @USWBlogger.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Trump’s Budget Endangers Those It Claims To Help The Most

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

After the president issued a budget last week slashing and burning environmental, labor and educational programs, the guy responsible for the thing, Mick Mulvaney, contended those financial massacres are the heart’s desire of the “steelworker in Ohio, the coal-mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit.”

Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, asserted that members of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), coal miners and urban parents are eager to kill off Public Broadcasting’s Big Bird, to drink lead-laden water, to breathe cough-inducing air and to work among life-threatening dangers.

This illustrates a complete lack of knowledge of the working and living conditions of huge swaths of Americans. Big Bird and Mr. Rogers are way more popular than Congress. Americans would much rather pay their freight than the wages of politicians. Americans are horrified by the poisoned water in Flint, Mich., and are willing to invest in an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would prevent such health hazards. And steelworkers and coal miners have seen dismemberment and death on the job and don’t want the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) eliminated or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decimated.

Americans balk at a budget that renders them less safe in their homes and workplaces.

The entire function of the CSB, which Mulvaney claims Americans want abolished, is worker and public safety. It investigates catastrophic incidents and recommends changes to prevent recurrence. It doesn’t fine corporations or revoke licenses. It advocates for safety. Its annual budget is $11 million. Not billion, $11 million.

Many incidents the CSB investigates are calamities. In 2005, a Texas City refinery, then owned by BP, exploded. The blast killed 15 workers and injured 180. Many of those killed were receiving training in trailers located near the unit that detonated. The CSB recommended refiners conduct instruction as far as possible away from dangerous processes, and the industry has largely complied.

It’s not just workers injured in these incidents.  More than 15,000 Richmond, Calif., residents sought medical treatment for breathing problems, chest pain, sore throats and headaches after an Aug. 6, 2012 fire at a Chevron refinery sent toxic smoke billowing for 10 miles. Residents sheltered in place, but the smoke still seeped into buildings. Among the many recommendations CSB made after investigating this incident was that refineries replace pipes made of a material susceptible to corrosion, which again, the industry has tried to do.

After a 2015 explosion at an ExxonMobil Corp. refinery in Torrance, Calif., that injured two workers, the CSB found a much deadlier incident had been narrowly averted. Large pieces of debris from the blast that had the force of a 1.7 magnitude earthquake had nearly struck a tank containing thousands of pounds of deadly hydrofluoric acid. The explosion rained chemical ash around the plant for two miles. Release of the acid into the atmosphere could have chemically burned or killed everything living in that area.

The residents of Texas City, Torrance and Richmond don’t want the administration to evaporate the CSB. Nor do workers at refineries and chemical plants. And neither do refinery owners.

“I don’t think anyone in the industry wants to see the Chemical Safety Board be abolished,” Stephen Brown, a vice president with Tesoro Corp., told Bloomberg.

This endorsement of the CSB came from an executive of a corporation that the agency concluded in 2014 conducted deficient oversight of its Anacortes, Wash., refinery, continuing to operate it with severely cracked and degraded equipment to the point where an explosion occurred on April 2, 2010, killing seven workers.

The cost of an incident like the one at Anacortes could be more than $100 million, by the time the corporation pays fines, victim compensation and reconstruction fees. That’s more than nine times the annual budget of the CSB. And the money doesn’t erase victims’ pain.

Mike Wright, director of the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Department, explained how crucial the CSB is to workers and community members:

“Its recommendations have certainly made the industry safer and helped prevent major chemical accidents. The CSB’s work has saved the lives of workers in chemical plants and oil refineries, residents who could be caught in a toxic cloud, even students in high school chemistry labs.”

The CSB was created in 1990 as part of the Clean Air Act, and that might be its Achilles heel. The agency suffering the hugest hack in the Mulvaney budget is the EPA. It would lose nearly a third of its funding.

A big reason for that is the administration’s rejection of science showing the human impact on climate change.

“Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward – we’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that,” Mulvaney said.

Even though the administration wants to cut 13 percent of the Education Department budget and eliminate Public Broadcasting, which is dedicated to education, Steelworkers have long been smart enough to know that saving the environment generates jobs. That is why the USW joined with the Sierra Club in 2006 to create the BlueGreen Alliance, which promotes creation of good, green jobs manufacturing and installing the likes of wind turbines and solar panels.

When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer introduced Mulvaney to reporters last week, he said, “The President’s budget blueprint keeps his promise to put America’s security first.”

The budget blueprint does not do that. A less educated public is an insecure public. Americans sickened by polluted air and water are weak and vulnerable. Workers threatened by explosions and fires on the job are unsafe. As are their communities. This budget fails at placing America’s security first.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.