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West Virginia Steelworkers Accuse Manchin Of 'Turning His Back' On Them

Ed Barnette long ago realized that affordable child care and paid sick leave, among other resources, would be essential to helping West Virginians build better lives and save what’s left of the middle class.

He just never expected that when America was finally on the cusp of providing these essentials, West Virginia’s Democratic senator would join pro-corporate Republicans in blocking the way.

But that’s exactly what happened. In thwarting the Build Back Better legislation, Senator Joe Manchin turned his back on the working families whose support catapulted him to power in the first place.

“It’s almost like he forgot where his roots are,” fumed Barnette, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5668, which represents hundreds of workers at the Constellium plant in Ravenswood, West Virginia. “He comes from a blue-collar state. When you say ‘West Virginia,’ the first thing you picture is a worker with a hard hat.”

“Surely, he won’t do it,” Barnette recalled saying to himself in the days before Manchin decided to withhold his vote and block the bill. “He did, and I just thought, ‘Damn it! You’re supposed to be working for us.’”

Barnette rejoiced last fall when Congress passed a historic, $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Like other states, West Virginia urgently needs improvements to its roads and bridges, schools and airports, energy systems, locks and dams, and communications networks.

But Barnette understands that the infrastructure legislation will have the biggest impact—and create the greatest number of manufacturing and construction jobs—only in conjunction with the $2 trillion Build Back Better bill.

Build Back Better would provide access to affordable child care and pave the way for more parents, especially more single parents, to enter the workforce. It would ensure workers receive up to four weeks of paid family medical leave, so they could battle life’s challenges while continuing to support their families.

And it would provide universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds, putting all of America’s children on the road to productive lives.

“It will do nothing but help the working people and middle class of West Virginia,” said Barnette, citing West Virginia’s high poverty rate and population loss.

Just as important, Build Back Better would boost funding at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), positioning the agency to better address safety risks workers face every day as well as crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other enhancements, the additional resources would enable the agency to hire more inspectors so the agency can investigate additional complaints, develop new safety standards and save lives.

Build Back Better also would increase the penalties that employers face for violations, making them more likely to address hazards proactively. The current low penalties merely encourage corporations to risk workers’ lives.

“I definitely think we need a stronger OSHA,” Barnette said. “It’s the difference between life and death with some employers.”

In addition, the legislation would incentivize the development of emerging industries, like clean energy and electric vehicle production, that would help to revitalize American manufacturing, create good-paying jobs and better position the nation to lead the world economy.

Whether it’s assembling electric vehicles, making batteries or manufacturing the components for solar panels, West Virginia has union workers with the work ethic and enthusiasm to get these industries up and running, noted Dallas Elswick, a former chemical worker and USW member from Nitro, West Virginia.

"The union workers made this country,” Elswick said. “Everybody knows that. And there’s a need for development here. There’s a big need.”

The House passed Build Back Better in November. The bill needed the support of all 48 Democrats and two Independents to pass the Senate, so President Joe Biden and congressional leaders worked tirelessly to get Manchin on board.

Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate majority leader, repeatedly spoke with him. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked with him, too.

Biden spoke with Manchin by phone and had him over to the White House. Biden also went so far as to host Manchin at his Delaware home to talk through the transformative nature of the bill, even though the legislation’s potential to level the playing field for working Americans is clear for all to see.

He abandoned single parents, unable to afford child care, to poverty. He threw seniors, struggling to pay for prescriptions and health care, under the bus. He slammed the door on workers eager for new industries and jobs.

Barnette and Elswick are among millions in West Virginia and around the country calling on Manchin to do the right thing and embrace Build Back Better.

“We may not get an opportunity to do this ever again,” Elswick said of the sweeping changes offered by Build Back Better. “For him to do what he did is unbelievable.”

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.T

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Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Kimberly Delbrune-Mitter, a cardiac nurse, cares deeply about her patients and remains steadfast in her desire to help them, even as COVID-19 spreads across America.

What plagues her about the new disease isn’t that she might encounter it. It’s the lack of guidance, vital information that would help her balance quality care and her own health.

Medical professionals looking to the Trump administration for leadership will hear nothing but a resounding silence.

Instead, people on the front lines have to fight for their own health and safety even while they care for their patients.

A group of labor unions, including the United Steelworkers (USW), sent Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia a petition on March 6 demanding that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implement an emergency safety standard to protect health care workers, first responders and others at risk of contracting the virus on the job.

The unions and the workers they represent want OSHA to specify the types of equipment employers must provide and the procedures they must follow to keep workers safe.

For hospitals, this could mean providing doctors, nurses and others with the most advanced face masks on the market. It could mean minimizing the number of people who enter a patient’s room, screening workers for sickness at the start of their shifts or providing staff members with a vaccine when one becomes available.

So far, they’ve received no response.

While the Trump administration fiddles, hundreds of health care workers already are quarantined because of possible exposure to COVID-19, and many others have questions about how to do their jobs without contracting the disease.

“Do we need to wear eye shields? Do we need hair caps? Do we need gowns?” asked Delbrune-Mitter, president of USW Local 9620, which represents about 500 nurses in New Jersey.

Right now, each hospital, clinic and doctor’s office is largely free to take whatever precautions it wants. At some hospitals, nurses cite a lack of personal protective equipment like face masks and say their employers haven’t even told them how to identify patients who might have the disease.

If large numbers of health care workers get sick or quarantined, the whole treatment system could collapse.

When severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) struck Toronto in 2003, health care professionals became the biggest victims, making up 45 percent of those infected. A doctor and two nurses died. The city’s hospitals were so poorly prepared for infection control that they became breeding grounds for the disease, the very places where most people contracted it.

Clearly communicated safety precautions for COVID-19 will prevent a similar catastrophe limiting medical personnel on the job at a time they’re crucially needed.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time health care workers had to lead OSHA to provide commonsense protections in the face of a deadly disease.

HIV struck seemingly out of nowhere more than 30 years ago, battering patients’ immune systems before killing them. Unsure how it spread and fearful of the future, health care workers risked their own lives to treat the victims.

Research soon showed that HIV is spread through an infected person’s blood. Health care workers risked infection when they accidentally got stuck by a needle or when a patient’s blood got into a cut or scrape. Other serious diseases like hepatitis B are spread the same way, and workers demanded that OSHA set standards so they would remain safe on the job.

OSHA implemented those measures, known as the bloodborne pathogens standard, in 1991 and revised them several years later.

Workers made this happen.

Among other provisions, the standard requires that needles be equipped with safety devices that cover or retract them immediately after use.

Employers must provide gloves and other personal protective equipment to workers, decontaminate surfaces any time they’re touched by blood or other fluids, and track accidental needle sticks. Needles and other sharp objects must be discarded in puncture-proof containers. These provisions protect patients as well as health care workers.

Some hospitals opposed the bloodborne pathogen rules because they didn’t want to shell out a few extra bucks to keep workers safe.

But the standard’s effectiveness cannot be denied. Since it was implemented, HIV and hepatitis B infections among health care workers plummeted.

Even after OSHA imposed the standard, health care workers continued fighting to make their workplaces safer.

At Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital New Brunswick in New Jersey, that meant looking for new ways to further reduce the accidental needle sticks that can transmit HIV and hepatitis.

Nurses represented by USW Local 4-200 tested various syringes, lancets and IV insertion tips, then began using the ones they considered least likely to cause accidental sticks. Between 2010 and 2014, the hospital reduced needlestick injuries by 70 percent, an achievement that won the nurses recognition in a national health care journal.

These kinds of safety measures are the result of workers’ and unions’ relentless fight for health and safety.

The USW and other unions began pressuring OSHA for an infectious disease standard long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.

Their demand for infectious disease controls goes back years, amid outbreaks of other diseases, including SARS in 2003 and the H1N1 flu in 2009, that exposed the nation’s lack of readiness for epidemics.

OSHA’s top officials finally put an infectious disease standard on their to-do list. Then Donald Trump, an enemy of industry regulation and worker safety, took office. OSHA suddenly put infectious disease control on the back burner.

That delay now haunts the nation. The federal government and health care organizations are as poorly prepared for an epidemic as workers knew they’d be.

Delbrune-Mitter said the lack of clear safety direction from federal officials leads some staff members to mine TV and the internet for information.

“We don’t really know what’s true,” she said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

How Trump’s Trade Policies Failed American Workers

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute

Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “great negotiator” and author of The Art of the Deal, promised to use his bargaining skills to help the American worker.

Trump vowed to rewrite trade deals, stanch the offshoring of U.S. jobs and reinvigorate American manufacturing.

His behavior tells a different story. Both of the trade deals he produced so far—the original United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the “phase one” agreement with China—failed American workers.

Bad trade deals cost millions of American jobs. Trump’s brand of deal-making won’t bring them back.

Make no mistake, Trump inherited real trade problems. For more than 20 years, politicians of both parties failed to fix a broken system.

Corporations exploited trade agreements to shift family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to MexicoChina and other countries that pay workers low wages and deny them the protection of labor unions. They made boatloads of money offshoring jobs, but in the process, they robbed U.S. workers of their livelihoods and hollowed out countless American communities, decimating their tax bases and exposing them to epidemics of crime and opioids.

Cheating compounded the job losses. China subsidizes its industries, manipulates its currency and then floods global markets with cheaply priced goods, severely damaging U.S. manufacturing in steel, aluminum, paper, furniture, glass and other products.

“Work just started to dwindle,” recalled Bill Curtis, who eventually lost his cloth-cutting job at a Lenoir, North Carolina, furniture factory swept under by cheap Chinese imports.

Trump made fair trade—and standing up to cheaters—a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign.

He railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which empowered corporations to shift more than one million manufacturing jobs to Mexico. He excoriated China for illegal trading practices that siphoned off more than three million American jobs, and he vowed to stop the bleeding.

The labor movement was prepared to work with him to achieve its long-sought goals. But as president, he let workers down. America needs a comprehensive trade solution, but Trump’s policy lacks vision.

The omission of enforceable labor standards in the original NAFTA enabled U.S. corporations to move manufacturing jobs south of the border and take advantage of Mexican workers.

Mexican workers make a few dollars an hour, much less than their U.S. counterparts, and they lack the protection of real labor unions. Companies make deals with protection unions to muzzle complaints about wages and dangerous working conditions. Workers have no voice, and U.S. corporations get rich gaming this system.

But Trump’s version of the USMCA also lacked specific mechanisms to enforce labor standards. Because he failed to deliver, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress stepped into the breach and did the hard work of fixing the deal so that it provides real protections for workers and jobs in all three countries covered by the agreement.

Congressional Democrats traveled to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to visit a Goodyear plant that pays some workers less than $2 an hour, exposed them to hazardous conditions and fired dozens who dared to strike. Goodyear, which laid off workers in Virginia and Alabama while operating the low-cost Mexican plant, refused to let the Congress members through the door.

But the visit showed the importance of incorporating worker protections into the USMCA. Prominent Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. refused to pass the legislation until it represented a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Under the revised version of the USMCA, Mexico must follow through with promised labor reforms, such as giving workers the right to organize, or face enforcement actions. When Mexican workers join unions, their wages will rise, giving U.S. employers less incentive to relocate jobs.

In addition, the revised version makes it easier for the U.S. to initiate complaints against Mexican companies for trade violations, provides for multinational inspections of Mexican factories and gives the U.S. the authority to impose significant penalties and ultimately to block violators’ goods.

That’s real enforcement.

Congress passed the revised version of the USMCA, not Trump’s toothless version. The deal is far from perfect, but it’s a significant improvement over NAFTA.

Trump’s failure to follow through on labor standards in the USMCA showed his murky strategy on trade. His use of tariffs does, too.

In 2018, he slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on the whole world—alienating global trading partners—when the right approach would have been a strong, surgical strike against China’s dumping. While the tariffs had some positive effects, they’re no substitute for big-picture fixes Trump has yet to deliver.

On January 15, Trump unveiled “phase one” of a new trade deal with China. It’s little more than window dressing and an effort to defuse bilateral tensions during an election year.

The deal removes some tariffs on Chinese goods and theoretically commits China to purchasing $200 billion in pork, jets, energy and other U.S. products. It gives new market access to U.S. financial firms, allowing Wall Street to line its pockets. But it does nothing to address job loss.

The U.S. lost 3.7 million jobs to China since 2001, 700,000 of them during Trump’s presidency, and the trade deficit actually increased during the first two years of his term.

The loss of American jobs is no accident. It’s part of China’s policy to destabilize competitors and boost its own power.

China subsidizes its industries, giving companies raw materials, land and cash. Then the companies sell their products abroad at prices that U.S. companies—lacking government handouts—can’t match.

In addition, China allows its industries to overproduce and flood global markets, further driving down prices with gluts of steel, aluminum and other products. And it artificially depresses the value of its currency to encourage still more overseas sales.

These are the major problems that U.S. trade policy must address, but Trump’s phase-one deal doesn’t resolve any of them.

Instead, before announcing the phase one agreement, he backpedaled. He rescinded China’s designation as a currency manipulator.

Now, just like they did with the USMCA, labor unions and Democratic members of Congress must be ready to wade in and demand improvements to the China deal.

More jobs will disappear unless Trump pursues a cohesive trade strategy that prioritizes the American worker. Now, he’s just helping to perpetuate the broken system he bitterly criticized.