Yesterday was a good day for union carpenters across New England. Amazingly, all of the Council’s endorsed candidates won election. Obama swept the six states, including winning swing-state New Hampshire by a larger-than-expected margin. In the critical races -- Warren in Massachusetts, Murphy in Connecticut, Hassan/Kuster/Shea-Porter in New Hampshire, King in Maine, Cicilline in Rhode Island – our picks were all winners!!
There is no doubt in my mind that some of the credit for these outcomes belongs to all of you and our members. We worked as hard as we ever have in an election season. We used all the tools available to us – new and old techniques – to educate and mobilize our members. And they responded. Door knocking, phone banks, rallies, visibilities, robo-dials, tele-Town Halls. We had a good story to tell…and we told it well and often.
But it’s important to keep a clear-eyed perspective on where we stand the morning after Election Day 2012. In many ways, we “held serve”. We helped fend off the right wing Republican assault on the middle class. There should be a clear message to the nation’s anti-union forces that their philosophy is not welcome, that the voters do not buy an agenda that favors the wealthy over working families. Yet we still have a divided Congress; we still have a Republican Party that attacks unions. We have some new articulate champions but we also have some old foes. Paul Ryan is still chair of the House Budget Committee and there are no signs yet that the House leadership is prepared to move forward in terms of solving our country’s problems as opposed to scoring political points.
So, as much as all of us deserve to take a deep breath and feel a justified sense of pride in our efforts, we will need to remain vigilant. The economy will not fix itself; it will require more federal and state action to invest in jobs and people. And it will require our continued involvement. Our members need to work; that’s why we endorsed the candidates who understood that the best social program is a job.
Thank you all for your efforts these past weeks and months. It was worth it. Congratulations.
New England Regional Council of Carpenters
More than 50 members, representing ten local union affiliates of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, gathered in Salem and Pelham, New Hampshire Saturday to knock on some doors. Members canvassed in support of President Barack Obama, Gubernatorial candidate Maggie Hassan and Annie Kuster, Second District candidate for United States House of Representatives. They visited with both union carpenters and members of the general public for several hours.
More than 75 carpenter stewards in Connecticut from Locals 24, 43 and 210 gathered last night to talk about upcoming elections in the state that could have a significant impact both locally and nationally. A United States Senate race between Congressman Chris Murphy and second-time candidate Linda McMahon of the WWE wrestling company is one of a handful of races in the country that could tilt the balance of power in the Senate. Members are also active in other races in the state.
After discussing issues of importance to union carpenters, the conversation turned to getting as many members active as possible. Stewards returned to jobsites today armed with information and schedules. The information is to educate fellow carpenters about the issues and the candidates, the schedules were for events at which members will reach out to even more members. Between now and Election Day on November 6, members will be participating in phone banks to contact registered members and talk to them about the importance of the election to their families, our union, the economy and the construction industry.
Members interested in participating in scheduled activity should contact their Local Union hall for dates and times.
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama gave a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. The full text of the speech is available here on the Washington Post’s site. It’s worth reading at least a bit of it because it’s widely believed it contains the major themes Obama plans to feature in his re-election bid next year. That should be good news for most Americans.
The speech references President Teddy Roosevelt, who not coincidentally gave a significant speech in Osawatomie himself, and compares some of the philosophies and battles Roosevelt took on when he was president to current day issues to which Obama seems to be rededicating his efforts. The speech references both Tea Party and Occupy movements, taking advantage of the change in the national political dialogue perhaps begun by the former and energized by the later. The themes and principles Obama espouses and recalls from Roosevelt will sound familiar to most union members, making it that much more meaningful that they are coming from the President of the United States.
In the second edition of White House White Board, Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, looks back at the President’s record on the economy through the perspective of the last three years in private sector employment.
"Here’s the bottom line: when President Obama came into office in January of 2009, we were in the middle of the worst economic crisis this country has seen since the Great Depression. Through the Recovery Act, tax credits for working families and small businesses, and investments in the industries of the future, we are getting back on the right track. We went from losing nearly 800,000 jobs in a single month as the President came into office to our ninth straight month of private sector job growth last month. We still have a lot of work to do. Times are still tough for millions of Americans who are out of work, and we’re not going to rest until those folks can find a job. "
At a Town Hall meeting in Iowa Tuesday, President Barack Obama was asked a question about supporting unions and responded strongly and clearly:
"I've said this before publicly and I'll say it again, I make no apologies for it. I am a pro-union guy.
"Our unions helped build our middle class. We take for granted so much stuff -- minimum wage laws, 40-hour work week, overtime, child labor laws. Those things wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for unions fighting for those rights. So even if you're not a member of a union, you've got to be appreciative of what unions have done.
"Now, a lot of things that we do don't get a lot of notice. We don't always generate headlines. But a lot of things that we're doing have to do with how is the Department of Labor operating to make sure that workplace safety rules are enforced; to make sure that if the federal government is helping to finance a program, that we've got a project labor agreement in place that assures that people are paid a decent wage and they're getting a fair deal. Who am I appointing to the National Labor Relations Board, so that when a union tries to organize, it doesn't take five years before you can even get a ruling, and then it turns out that the ruling somehow conveniently always is against the union.
"So there are a lot of things that we've been doing administratively to try to make sure that people just get the fair chance to organize.
"Now, look, some people don't want unions, and that's great. If you feel that you can look after your own interests, I respect that. But what we -- but one of the things that we stand for as Americans is the freedom to decide I'm going to join with my brothers and sisters at that workplace to try to get a better deal -- not through force, not through coercion, but just by us agreeing to bargain. And we just want to make sure that there's a level playing field in that process. That's something that I strongly believe in, and it's part of the American tradition.
"And sometimes people say, well, unions are what's making us not competitive. Well, that's just not true. Unions are only, at this point in the private sector, probably less than 10 percent of the economy. So the notion that somehow that's what is creating competition with other countries that pay lower wages, that's not the case. The fact of the matter is that is what's going to help us become competitive is if we've got middle-class workers making middle-class wages with middle-class benefits, who can then go out and shop, and support a family, and buy a new car and pay their mortgage, which will create more business opportunities and maintain America as the greatest market on Earth. And if we do that, then we're going to be successful."
If you think the Obama administration isn’t doing enough for unions and workers in the United States, you might want to take a look at The Nation. Esther Kaplan has an informative piece on Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and the work she and her team are doing to reinvigorate the department.
“During the Bush years, the Department of Labor became a cautionary tale about what happens when foxes are asked to guard the henhouse. But since California Congresswoman Hilda Solis became labor secretary last winter, she has brought on board a team of lifelong advocates for working people--some of whom come from the ranks of organized labor--and has hired hundreds of new investigators and enforcers.
President Obama calls Solis part of his economic team, but the truth is she's not part of the daily huddle at the White House with Summers and Geithner and Orszag. She's tapped instead as a lead voice in the "jobs, jobs, jobs" choir, advocating for Obama's latest stimulus package. She has tiptoed into the realm of financial regulation, organizing a joint hearing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on the abysmal performance of target date retirement funds during the market crash, and she doles out hundreds of millions of dollars in job training funds, a decent chunk of which she has used to shape policy by channeling it to green industries. But Solis understands that her real influence lies in her power to enforce the nation's labor laws--the primary mission of the DoL. It's a role she embraced with relish at her swearing-in, where she announced with a grin, "To those who have for too long abused workers, put them in harm's way, denied them fair pay, let me be clear: there is a new sheriff in town."
Solis and her team are using techniques and personell that have been tested and succeeded on state levels, such as the crackdown on employee misclassification that was wildly successful in New York. The piece is an interesting look at the difference with a change of attitude.
The House of Representatives’ vote to pass a Senate version of health care reform will lead to a dramatic change for many Americans, even some union members covered by one of the funds in New England.
The following information is provided by The Segal Company, a consulting company that works with benefit funds throughout the country, including carpenter union funds in New England. For even more information, visit this page.
Significant portions of the bill will not take effect right away—and some may still be modified—but there are some important changes that will benefit members and go into effect within the next year, such as:
• No lifetime benefit limits and only limited annual benefit limits • Coverage for dependent children up to age 26, as long as they do not have access to other employer-sponsored health coverage (the reconciliation bill also assures that this coverage can be provided on a tax-free basis) • No preexisting conditions for children under age 19 • No rescission of health coverage, except in cases of fraud (primarily an individual insurance policy issue)
Other items that are immediately effective include a Medicare Part D provision that provides that beneficiaries who are in a Prescription Drug Plan and who reach the doughnut hole in 2010 would receive a one-time $250 rebate, as well as a reinsurance program for pre-Medicare retirees (discussed below)
Additional reforms would be effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014, including a ban on waiting periods over 90 days.
In 2011, Health Flexible Spending Arrangements, Health Reimbursement Arrangements, and Health Savings Accounts can only reimburse participants for over-the-counter drugs with a prescription written by their health care provider.
Last week, the Obama Adminstration released the first annual report from its Middle Class Task Force. The group, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, was established with the goals of * Expanding education and lifelong training opportunities * Improving work and family balance * Restoring labor standards, including workplace safety * Helping to protect middle-class and working-family incomes * Protecting retirement security
Working with eight cabinet secretaries and the directors of four Executive Branch agencies, the Task Force has worked to identify challenges facing the existing middle class and future access to education and worker development that have helped grow the middle class.
Top-to-bottom reviews of policies and services were supplemented by meetings and comment periods to solicit the concerns of workers, businesses and leaders of industries that support the middle class.
“The goal of this Task Force has been clear from the start - to make sure the middle class emerges from this recession able to grow stronger and more secure than before it began,” said Vice President Biden. “We’ve spent the past year traveling the country talking about the economic challenges facing the middle class. As a result, the initiatives we lay out in this report offer specific solutions to improve the quality-of-life for middle class families everywhere.”
Leading up to the State of the Union address last night, there was some good economic news on the economy told by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. No, money for construction projects are not falling from the sky. It will still take some time for an economic recovery to fully reach the construction industry.
But there are some important sings that an economic turnaround has been sharper and quicker than some feared. Talk of a "double-dip" recession or second Great American Depression have disappeared. And economists from both sides of the political spectrum are starting to talk about the success of the Recovery Act (the "Stimulus Bill").
The following question and answer is taken from a transcript of a Town Hall meeting President Barack Obama had at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa, California on March 18, 2009.
Q I'm President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the umbrella organization for construction unions. I would like to thank you for your leadership on the stimulus package, and particularly for trying to get construction workers back to work.
But during the last eight years, the administration chose not to enforce the Davis-Bacon requirements, chose not to enforce wage and hour conditions, and many thousands of workers were denied the wages that they were legally entitled to. What can your administration do to make sure that people get the wages that they're entitled to in this terrible economic downturn?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I have already said that we are going to promote Davis-Bacon. We think it is important that unions have the opportunity to organize themselves. (Applause.)
Now, you know, sometimes, you know, the business press says, oh, that's anti-business. And whenever I hear that I'm always reminded of what Henry Ford said when he first started building the Model T -- and he was paying his workers really well. And somebody asked him, they said, why are you paying your workers so well? He said, well, if I don't pay them well, they won't be able to buy a car.
Think about that. Part of the problem that we've had with our economy over the last decade at least is that -- well, there are a number of problems. Number one, it turns out that a huge amount of the growth that was claimed was in the financial services industry. And now we find out that a bunch of that stuff was just a paper growth that wasn't real and vanished as soon as somebody pulled the curtain.
Another part of the problem with our economy and the way it was growing was that wages and incomes for ordinary working families were flat for the entire decade. Now, I don't need to tell you this because you've experienced it in your own lives. You're -- just barely kept up with inflation while people at the very top -- and look, I'll be honest with you, because I'm now in that category -- we were seeing all the benefits.
So when I say that we should make it easier for unions to organize and observe Davis-Bacon, all I'm trying to do is to restore some balance to our economy so that middle-class families who are working hard -- (applause) -- they're not on welfare, they're going to their jobs every day, they're doing the right thing by their kids -- they should be able to save, buy a home, go on a vacation once in a while. You know, they should be able to save for retirement, send their kids to college.
That's not too much to ask for; that's the American Dream. And the only way we get there is if we have bottom-up economic growth instead of top-down economic growth. (Applause.) And that's why -- that's why the debate about this budget is so important.
President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Labor will finally get a vote on Tuesday. Congresswoman Hilda Solis' nomination has been pending while Democrats try to figure out if Republican opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act is strong enough to maintain a filibuster on her vote.
Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the nomination, moving it out of committee an allowing it to be scheduled for a Senate floor vote. Without a Republican filibuster, Democrats have more than enough votes to give final approval to Solis for the Cabinet position.
President Barack Obama yesterday reversed another Bush administration policy by issuing an Executive Order lifting a prohibition on the use of Project Labor Agreements on Federal construction projects and encouraging departments to use PLAs on projects valued at more than $25 million. The order specifically cites problems that may occur on large-scale construction projects when a structure for ensuring a steady supply of labor is not present, and when there is no formal process for resolving disputes, which are more common on sites with multiple employers on large sites.
The order stated, in part: "The use of a project labor agreement may prevent these problems from developing by providing structure and stability to large-scale construction projects, thereby promoting the efficient and expeditious completion of Federal construction contracts. Accordingly, it is the policy of the Federal Government to encourage executive agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements in connection with large-scale construction projects in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal procurement."
Project Labor Agreements had been used by the Federal Government for years before George W. Bush issued an Executive Order prohibiting their use. Though anti-union advocates lobbied hard for that move, private companies and state governments continued to use the agreements to establish fair standards and procedures for managing projects.
The Executive Order also directs the Office of Management and Budget to study and make recommendations on broader use of PLAs "with respect to both construction projects undertaken under Federal contracts and construction projects receiving Federal financial assistance."
Globe Columnist Scot Lehigh wrote a column today on the dilemma facing the Obama administration over the Employee Free Choice Act. It's at the top of labor's legislative wish list and Obama spoke in favor of it during the campaign. But businesses are ready to fight to the death to keep it from passing.
The business lobby is using the argument that workers should have a secret ballot process and that EFCA eliminates that. Unions say workers will still have access to a secret ballot and that workers have no hope if they don't have greater protection and an easier path to unions.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, firms are forbidden from firing employees or threatening job losses or plant closure in their attempts to influence the election. Nor are they allowed to grill employees about their union sympathies or activities.
Problem: A strictly remedial law, the National Labor Relations Act lacks any real penalties to punish violators. If it has wrongly fired people, a company can be required to rehire them, with back pay and interest. For other violations, the most that can happen is that the business gets slapped with a cease-and-desist order, requiring it to discontinue the unfair labor practice and to post a notice that it's done so.
That lack of penalties can encourage abuse, for this simple reason.
Solis won her seat by defeating an incumbent Democrat in significant part due to her support from unions. Her father was a Shop Steward for the Teamsters in Mexico and her mother worked on an assembly line. As a State Representative in California she was a strong advocate for raising the minimum wage.
No surprise the list includes misclassification of workers as independent contractors. Louis cites the need for the various agencies to step up enforcement and correct punishments that currently include little more than just paying back stolen wages.
United Brotherhood Of Carpenters Endorses Obama Wednesday August 20, 6:37 pm ET
WASHINGTON, Aug. 20--Leaders from throughout the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners today unanimously endorsed Barack Obama for president. "On all the fundamental issues that affect the lives and well-being of our members, the choice of candidates in this election is clear," said UBC General President Douglas J. McCarron in announcing the endorsement, the first the union has made in a presidential contest since 2000.
"More than 10 years ago our union undertook a comprehensive program of change in order to meet the needs of our members and the industry. It was difficult but necessary, and the results of that work are clear. Our union is growing and our members are enjoying the benefits of that growth.
"It is time that our country takes the same steps to change direction and address the serious problems that affect all working men and women. This administration leaves behind a staggering debt, a legacy of unfair trade deals, and a crumbling infrastructure that will cripple our ability to compete economically.
"We believe that Barack Obama recognizes the necessity for fundamental change in our nation's policies," McCarron said at the close of a meeting of union leadership in Washington, D.C.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters represents some 550,000 workers in the construction and forest products industries, including large memberships in key swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Nevada.
“For more than 120 years, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners has worked to ensure that hard work is rewarded with the opportunity to thrive and build a better life. But after eight years of an administration that has rewarded wealth instead of work, and with John McCain promising four more years of those polices, that dream is in danger. The UBC shares my conviction that we need to come together to make sure that the America Dream lives on for our childre n, and I’m thrilled that they will be standing with me in this critical election,” said Senator Barack Obama.