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How Georgia Voters Aim To Transform America’s Future

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Vermeshia Slay burns up the phone lines these days, encouraging Georgia voters to join the burgeoning grassroots movement to transform America's future.

After delivering a crucial victory for Joe Biden in November, Slay and millions of other change-hungry Georgia voters set their sights on something even bigger.

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You Can Help — Or Hurt — The Frontline Workers Protecting Our Health

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Chad Longpre Shepersky repeatedly took COVID-19 tests—and waited on pins and needles for results each time—during a coronavirus outbreak at Guardian Angels Health and Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing, Minnesota.

Longpre Shepersky, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), never contracted the virus. But he watched in agony as dozens of his patients and coworkers fell ill and fought for their lives.

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How Donald Trump Threatens The Retirement Of Every American Worker

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Tom Michels worked 31 years at LTV's iron ore mine in northern Minnesota—and had already started making retirement plans—when the company's bankruptcy wiped out his job and most of his hard-earned pension.

Michels took a series of odd jobs to make ends meet until he became eligible for the Social Security benefits that now enable the 71-year-old to buy food, cover health care costs and even travel a little with his wife, Vicky.

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‘There Was No Plan’: Trump’s Hollow Promise To Save Manufacturing

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Bob Kemper recalls the hope Donald Trump intentionally stirred in 2016 by pledging to revive manufacturing and keep factories busy producing steel, aluminum and other materials for a major infrastructure overhaul.

Kemper knows that seductive rhetoric won over many Americans, including some of his co-workers at U.S. Steel's Great Lakes Works in Michigan.

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How A Dire Shortage Of Poll Workers Threatens Our Democracy

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Kristi Serwin knows that Americans clamoring for social justice and decent treatment of working people can correct the nation's course only with a fair, accessible election.

But she's also observed the nation's dire shortages of poll workers result in long lines and force the closure of polling places around the country, depressing the voter turnout needed to drive change.

Serwin refuses to let that plight befall her Ohio community, so she signed up to serve on a precinct election board, ensuring her neighbors have convenient access to the ballot box on November 3.

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Attack On Mail Ballots Is Desperate Attempt To Undermine Democracy

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Joel Buchanan's stomach turned when he watched poll workers deny ballots to Latinx voters ostensibly because the names and addresses on their driver's licenses didn't match those on election records.

And his blood boiled when election officials closed polling stations in poor neighborhoods, deliberately disenfranchising citizens unable to travel to other communities to cast their ballots.

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‘I Don’t Trust Him’: How Trump Abandoned Workers When They Needed Him Most

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Kenny Overstreet scrounges every penny—and even sells the eggs his chickens lay—to make ends meet after Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) furloughed him and hundreds of other workers at its Jackson, Alabama, site.

Before the COVID-19 recession struck, the 61-year-old saved a little whenever he could for the retirement he planned to take in a couple of years.

But now, he scrimps to pay monthly bills and prays PCA calls him back to work before he blows through the nest egg he spent decades building.

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For A Fairer Economy, America Needs A Stronger Labor Movement

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Thrown out of work by the COVID-19 recession, hundreds of thousands of unemployed North Carolina residents now risk losing their lights and air-conditioning as well.

Because their wages failed to both cover regular expenses and let them save for emergencies, these workers had no financial cushion to soften the blow of sudden unemployment.

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Without Rigorous Enforcement, Improving NAFTA Means Nothing

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When thugs gunned down Óscar Ontiveros Martínez in May, they did more than silence a promising figure in Mexico's beleaguered labor movement.

The 29-year-old's killing sent a warning to anyone still thinking about organizing the mine where Ontiveros once helped to lead a strike.

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How Trump’s Failures Turned Dallas Into A Virus Hotspot

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Dallas skyrocketed, Lou Luckhardt worried about his colleagues and the public they serve.

Luckhardt, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9487, needs disposable coveralls, coronavirus testing and other aid to protect the hundreds of city and county workers who perform essential public services.

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How To Keep Public Workers Safe As America Emerges From Lockdown

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Steve Scarpa began fishing antibacterial wipes, socks, and even T-shirts out of the sewers in Groton, Connecticut.

Scarpa, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9411 and a member of the city's wastewater treatment crew, said residents went into "mad hysteria cleaning mode" and simply flushed potentially contaminated objects down the toilet.

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Why New Infrastructure Is A National Imperative

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Rich Carmona spent decades upgrading his 1970s ranch home in Midland, Michigan.

He lovingly installed new flooring and doors and remodeled the bathrooms. After finishing the kitchen 18 months ago, he finally had the house the way he liked it.

Then the 96-year-old Edenville Dam failed amid heavy rains May 19, unleashing a torrent of water that drowned roads, swept some houses off of their foundations and left others, including Carmona's, in ruins.

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Why We Can’t Afford To Let The Postal Service Go Down

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute

Bill Boone was a fresh-faced 23-year-old in 1952 when he cast his first ballot for U.S. president, while proudly serving aboard an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea.

The U.S. Postal Service carried that vote untold miles to the election board in Boone's hometown of Benton, Arkansas, and he's considered "the mail" an essential part of life ever since.

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How Labor Secretary Scalia Failed America’s Endangered Workers

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute

Thousands of workers across America begged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate when their employers failed to take steps to protect them from COVID-19. They reported a lack of face masks, gloves, soap and hand sanitizer. They warned of having to share desks and stand right next to one another on production lines, despite the need for social distancing to slow the spread of the disease. They put their faith in OSHA and waited for the agency to come to their aid.

But help never came.

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Federal Agencies Are Failing Front-Line Health Workers

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.

Do Business Leaders Still Believe ‘Greed Is Good’?

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Gordon Gekko found religion this week. Gekko, the lead in the 1987 movie “Wall Street” about capitalism gone corruptly amok, is most famous for his phrase: “greed is good.”

On Monday, real-world Gekkos—181 corporate CEOs who belong to the Business Roundtable—signed a pledge saying they think greed isn’t so good, after all.

Instead of bowing at the altar of larger corporate profits to hand out to executives and shareholders, these CEOs declared that corporations must demonstrate some reverence for other stakeholders as well: workers, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment.

If corporations actually devoted themselves to achieving this goal, it would be a return to the decades of the 20th century between 1930 and 1970 when many corporations did, in fact, abide by these values. The American middle class was more robust then, as pay rose in tandem with productivity. Unions held a stronger position in the economy. And the disparity between CEO and worker pay was dramatically smaller. But believing the country will revert to those economic times without force is naïve. The Roundtable’s announcement is nothing but a stunt.

Though the 181 Roundtable CEOs signed the stakeholder capitalism document, practicing the principles is an entirely different thing. And not even every member of the Business Roundtable came around and endorsed the document. The “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” says those who did sign “share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.” They underlined the word all. And they wrote in the present tense, as if they were already operating their corporations this way.

That, frankly, is ridiculous.

Take, for example, these signers of the document: Amazon, General Motors, Duke Energy, Chevron and Honeywell. In 2018, they not only paid no taxes, they demanded taxpayers give them money.

Or take these signers: PfizerJohnson & Johnson, and McKesson. They all face lawsuits alleging they contributed to the opioid crisis that still kills 40 Americans every day.

Or how about signatory National Gypsum, one of four companies that agreed to pay $190 million to settle a price fixing case?

And there’s signer Duke Energy, which paid $102 million in fines and restitution after pleading guilty to polluting 70 miles of the Dan River.

Among the participants is General Motors, which benefited from the U.S. taxpayer bailout, and is now shutting down two American factories and plans to close three more in North America and lay off a total of 14,000 workers even as it expands production in Mexico. And there’s United Technologies, which depends on taxpayer dollars as a massive defense contractor, but which closed a plant in Indiana and partially closed another, Carrier, and sent the work to Mexico.

Also on the list of signatories is Bank of AmericaCitigroupMorgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, all of which required bailout money from American taxpayers. JPMorgan Chase is led by Jamie Dimon, chairman of the Business Roundtable and evangelist for the corporate focus change.

It’s just great that 181 of America’s richest CEOs attained civic enlightenment. But their statement on the purpose of corporations came with absolutely no concomitant announcements of change.

Jamie Dimon could have led the way easily. He could, for example, end the bank’s exorbitant overdraft fees, which can rise to $102 a day. These fees, generally squeezed out of the bank’s poorest account holders, rake in $2 billion a year for JPMorgan Chase.

Dimon could raise the wages of the bank’s workers, which seems a natural after U.S. Rep. Katie Porter grilled him at a congressional hearing about a JPMorgan Chase worker paid so little that she runs a $567 deficit each month.

“I’m wholly sympathetic,” Dimon told Rep. Porter about the worker’s plight.

“She’s short $567, what would you suggest she do?” the lawmaker asked.

“I don’t know, I’d have to think about that,” Dimon said.

That was in April. The CEO who pulled down $31 million last year has had four months to think about it. How long does it take to figure out that tellers might be able to cover their bills if CEO pay had not grown 940 percent since 1978 while worker pay rose only a paltry 12 percent? How long does it take to figure out that the solution is for Dimon to slash his own pay and increase that of tellers?

Similarly, on the very day that the Business Roundtable released the corporate pledge that featured Boeing CEO Dennis A. Muilenburg’s name, federal investigators determined there was sufficient merit to pursue nine unfair labor practice charges against the corporation.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) represents Boeing workers in Washington and Oregon, and workers there receive family-supportive wages and benefits.

But Boeing has fought its South Carolina workers’ attempts to unionize. A group of about 176 technicians in South Carolina voted last year to join the IAM, but Boeing is trying to overturn that election and now faces charges that it illegally fired five workers in retaliation for their support of the union.

If Muilenburg, whose compensation last year was $30 million, really believes Boeing’s workers are among the stakeholders to which the corporation has a “fundamental commitment,” he could have ended this dispute before the unfair labor practice charges were filed by rehiring the fired workers, recognizing the IAM and bargaining in good faith with the union.

Jotting down a bunch of words on paper with absolutely no accountability for implementing them is a lot easier than complying with mandates from Congress.

And right now, Congress is striking fear in the hearts of these CEOs. That’s part of what prompted this lovefest with customers and communities and employees. This Business Roundtable document was a preemptive strike intended to prevent Congress from actually requiring decent corporate citizenship. Legislation to place workers on the boards of directors of large corporations has been introduced, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown sponsored legislation to give workers $1 for every $1 million corporations spend on stock buybacks, a maneuver that greatly benefits shareholders. If Brown’s proposal had been law last year, it would have put $20,000 in the bank accounts of every JPMorgan Chase worker.

CEOs can feel that cold breeze on their necks. Winter is coming, and not just in the form of legislation. There may be a downturn or possibly a recession on the horizon. And workers are restless already. They didn’t benefit from that giant tax break corporations demanded and got, the tax break that ballooned the national debt and deficit. Workers’ wages have been virtually flat for decades, while the rich continually got richer and richer. Young people are staggering under the burden of college debt and low-paid work, and they’ve told pollsters they want real change.

A whole crew of candidates for the Democratic nomination for president have offered programs to support labor unions and control corporate greed. They range from proposals to strengthen collective bargaining to those prohibiting corporations from buying back their stock unless they meet conditions like paying all workers at least $15 an hour and limiting executive compensation.

The Business Roundtable has gone back and forth on the duties of a corporation ever since University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman asserted in 1970 that despite the fact that society grants corporations benefits like limited legal liability for shareholders, corporations have absolutely no responsibilities to society.

Friedman wrote, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” The Roundtable embraced this greed is good philosophy is 1997, stating, “the principal objective of a business enterprise is to generate economic returns to its owners.”

Now, according to the Roundtable’s announcement on Monday, CEOs have experienced another conversion and plan a revival of 1950s corporate values. That assertion without action just doesn’t cut it. Real transformation is essential. And that will only happen if laws change to enable unions to grow and flourish again and bring about real change for working Americans because Gekko and his ilk still believe in their cold black heart of hearts that greed is good.

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

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.