AFL-CIO, CLC Denounce ‘Corporate Power Grabs’ Like ISDS in Trade Deals

On Monday, the AFL-CIO and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) reaffirmed their “cross-border cooperation in the struggle for people and planet-centered trade,” especially in three pending trade deals that would grant corporations “extraordinary legal rights” and power over each nation’s legal system.

The three pending trade deals are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The “most egregious” provision in the trade deals that the two labor federations say must be changed is the investor-to-state dispute settlement, or ISDS.

ISDS provides extraordinary legal rights to foreign investors so that they can seek taxpayer reimbursement for losses to expected profits from laws, regulations, administrative decisions or virtually any other government measure. The rights protected go far beyond traditional property rights and its private tribunals are staffed not by professional jurists sworn to promote the public interest, but by for-profit attorneys, many of whom represent investors when they are not sitting in judgment.

ISDS allows the foreign property owner to skip domestic courts, administrative procedures, city hall hearings and the like (all the processes that home-grown property owners use) and sue the host-country government before a panel of private “arbitrators” (like judges, arbitrators have the power to make decisions in cases, but they are not democratically elected or appointed, and they are not subject to stringent conflict of interest rules). Not only that, but the foreign property owners don’t lose access to the domestic U.S. processes—they can “double dip” to get what they want.

In their statement, the AFL-CIO and CLC said:

Such extreme rights to challenge democracy are not good for domestic businesses (which cannot use this private justice mechanism), not good for citizens (who may see popular policies withdrawn by governments in order to avoid adverse judgments) and not good for rule of law (which is undermined by the separate parallel system for foreign investors only).

The two labor groups also said they “ will not cease in our efforts to promote good jobs, rising wages, strong social safety nets, state-of-the-art public services and infrastructure, and an end to corporate power grabs like ISDS in all pending trade and investment agreements.”

Read the full AFL-CIO/CLC statement here. Download a fact sheet on these “corporate courts” and share it with a friend or family member. Read Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) take on ISDS.

You can help stop ISDS by joining our fight against Fast Track. Sign a petition to tell Congress to oppose Fast Track!

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Indiana’s New Anti-LGBTQ Law ‘Condones Discrimination’

The Indiana legislature passed and Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a bill last week that critics, from human and civil rights groups to corporate CEOs to professional athletes, say opens the door to legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.

In a statement, Indiana State AFL-CIO President Brett Voorhies said the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) “condones discrimination against our own citizens.”

Throughout its long history, organized labor has always fought for education, fair wages, safe workplaces and equality. That is why, on behalf of the 300,000 working Hoosiers and the more than 800 local unions affiliated with the Indiana AFL-CIO, we call on the Indiana General Assembly to repeal the discriminatory RFRA or pass the ‘Fairness for All Hoosiers Act’ immediately.

Read his full statement here.

In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote about legislation such as Indiana’s “rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.” He added:

Our message, to people around the country and around the world, is this: Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination.

Former NBA star and current basketball analyst Charles Barkley said:

Discrimination in any form is unacceptable to me. As long as anti-gay legislation exists in any state, I strongly believe big events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl should not be held in those states’ cities.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders announced today that the union will move its 2015 Women’s Conference in October out of Indianapolis “as a direct result of Gov. Mike Pence last week signing into law a bill that legalizes discrimination.” Said Saunders:

This un-American law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights. It is an embarrassment and cannot be tolerated. The 1.6 million members of AFSCME cannot in good conscience make such a sizable financial investment in Indiana knowing that women and men in that state are deliberately being targeted for discrimination.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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T-Mobile Guilty of Violating Labor Law Workers’ Rights, NLRB Judge Rules

A judge at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) yesterday found T-Mobile U.S. guilty of engaging in nationwide labor law violations against workers. The unprecedented ruling comes after a rare move last year by the NLRB consolidating multiple complaints against T-Mobile U.S. for illegal actions and policies in Albuquerque, N.M.; Wichita, Kan.; Charleston, S.C., and New York City.

At issue were illegal corporate nationwide policies that block workers from organizing or even talking to each other about problems at work. Workers throughout the T-Mobile U.S. system were subjected to and effectively silenced by these illegal policies; the judge’s order to rescind them covers 40,000 workers.

Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen said:

This decision exposes the deliberate campaign by T-Mobile U.S. management to break the law systematically and on a nationwide scale, blocking workers from exercising their right to organize and bargain collectively. This behavior can only be changed by a nationwide remedy to restore workers’ rights. Deutsche Telekom, the principal owner of T-Mobile U.S., has claimed that its U.S. subsidiary follows the law. Now we have the official word: T-Mobile U.S. is a lawbreaker. Bonn, the headquarters of DT, no longer can hide behind the false statements made by T-Mobile U.S. executives. These behaviors would be almost unimaginable in Germany or any other democracy in the world.

The decision by NLRB Judge Christine Dibble focused on T-Mobile U.S.’s illegal employment policies and restrictions that prohibited workers from discussing wages with each other or criticizing working conditions or seeking out assistance to blow the whistle on unlawful behavior.

The decision finds that the corporate policies “would chill employees in the exercise of their…rights” or would be construed “as restricting [an employee’s] rights to engage in protected concerted activities, including unionizing efforts.”

Judge Dibble found that T-Mobile U.S.’s Wage and Hour Complaint Procedure, for example, “tends to inhibit employees from banding together.” She writes that the corporate procedure’s requirement that an employee notify management of a wage issue first, “in combination with the threat of discipline for failing to adhere to the rule, would ‘reasonably tend to inhibit employees from bringing wage-related complaints to, and seeking redress from, entities other than the Respondent, and restrains the employees’…rights to engage in concerted activities for collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

Carolina Figueroa, a T-Mobile U.S. call center worker from Albuquerque, said:

We are happy and relieved. We are finally being heard. My co-workers and I at T-Mobile U.S. will have the right to speak out against unfair treatment and should not be muzzled or retaliated against—and with today’s decision, the company has to declare this to all of its employees nationwide.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Tentative Deal Reached in Oil Strike

The United Steelworkers (USW) have reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract with Shell Oil Co., the union announced Thursday. The deal will serve as a pattern agreement for the rest of the industry. USW members at several refineries struck on Feb. 1, and the strike grew to include about 7,000 workers at 15 sites across the country.

USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock told the Los Angeles Times:

We are hopeful that with the settlement of the national pattern agreement, this will push both parties at the local level to reach agreement quicker on their local issues.

Workers are expected to remain on the picket lines until local issues are resolved and the ratification process begins. Overall, some 30,000 USW members work at 65 refineries and hundreds of pipelines, terminals, petrochemical plants and other facilities.

USW President Leo W. Gerard said:

We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership. There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.

Safety issues were central to the negotiations. In the past five years, 27 workers have been killed and hundreds more seriously injured. The proposed agreement calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility. Daily maintenance and repair work in the plants was another critical issue that, too, was addressed.

The tentative contract contains language that addresses worker fatigue, which is tied to accidents, and the use of contractors versus unionized labor. It also safeguards gains made in previous contracts and raises wages.

Read more from the USW.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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What’s ISDS in the TPP? Very Scary!

If anyone needs more evidence why the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement shouldn’t be rushed through Congress on the “Fast Track,” which does not allow any amendments or improvements in the deal—just a take-it-or-leave-it, yes-or-no vote—read Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) column in today’s Washington Post.

While it’s pretty much a given that big corporations—not working people—have been the winners in free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and Central America Free Trade Agreement over the years, Warren exposes a frightening tool in the TPP that gives corporations unimaginable power over the United States’ legal system. Here’s how she describes the “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS, provision.

ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and to potentially pick up huge payouts from taxpayers—without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require America’s taxpayers to cough up millions—and even billions—of dollars in damages.

But that’s not the worst of it, she writes. The panel of arbitrators wouldn’t employ independent judges. Nope.

Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?

We know how that would turn out.

Here’s an example of how ISDS works, but keep in mind only international investors—by and large big corporations—get to use the special tribunals:

So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.

As Warren points out, ISDS is not a partisan issue: “Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal.”  For all of us.

Click here to read her full column.

Download a fact sheet on these “corporate courts” and share it with a friend or family member.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Executive Council Creates Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice

“America’s legacy of racism and racial injustice has been and continues to be a fundamental obstacle to workers’ efforts to act together to build better lives for all of us,” says the AFL-CIO Executive Council in a statement announcing the creation of a Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice.

The statement, released today at the council’s winter meeting in Atlanta, acknowledges “an ugly history of racism in our own movement” and adds:

Yet at the same time the labor movement has a proud history of standing for racial and economic justice. When we have embraced our better selves we have always emerged stronger in every sense. And whenever we have succumbed to the temptation to see some working people as better than others, we have always ended up weaker.

Pointing to today’s dramatically increasing economic inequality, decreasing union density and growing instability for the majority of Americans, the council says, “The need for all workers to strengthen common interests in achieving economic justice is clear.”

At the same time our different experiences organized around race, gender identity, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation often challenge and complicate this shared experience. If we are to succeed as a movement, the full range of working peoples’ voices must be heard in the internal processes of our movement. To be able to stand together we have to understand where all of us are coming from.

The council points to the unemployment rate for African Americans—10.3%, more than twice as high as that for whites—the criminal justice system and educational inequities that are large parts of a “world divided in many ways by color lines.”

At the same time working people share a common experience of falling wages and rising economic insecurity. To build a different, better economy we need power that can only come from unity and unity has to begin with having all our voices be heard, on all sides of those color lines. We have to start by acknowledging our own shortcomings and honestly addressing issues that are faced by the communities in which our members live—both the problems and the solutions. We have to find a way to see with each other’s eyes and address the facts and realities.

The Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice will:

  • Facilitate a broad conversation with local labor leaders around racial and economic disparities and institutional biases, and identify ways to become more inclusive as the new entrants to the labor force diversify;
  • Engage in six to eight labor discussions around the country, with local labor leaders, constituency groups and young workers addressing racial and economic issues impacting the labor movement and offering recommendations for change; and
  • Attempt to create a safe, structured and constructive opportunity for local union leaders to discuss issues pertaining to the persistence of racial injustice today in the workforce and in their communities, and to ensure that the voices of all working people in the labor movement are heard.

Read the full AFL-CIO Executive Council statement here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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White House Moves to Close Retirement Advice Loophole

The Obama administration today took the first step to close a loophole in the rules that govern Wall Street brokers and financial firms that provide retirement investment advice. That loophole can drain away thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars of hard-earned savings from a single retirement account.

The “Retirement Advice Loophole“ allows Wall Street brokers and financial firms with major conflicts of interest to provide investment advice that serves their own interests instead of what’s best for their clients. Obama ordered the U.S. Department of Labor to submit a proposed rule to strengthen financial advisers’ fiduciary responsibilities and crack down on these practices.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the new rules are “long overdue” and a “good first step.” Under current rules, he said, Wall Street firms can “create and distribute investment products to elevate a financial adviser’s paycheck over the best interests of workers and retirees.”

For example, they can sell financial products that pay large commissions but hurt their clients with unnecessary fees, poor returns or excessive risks. Millions of Americans are affected by this loophole every year without even knowing it, and it is draining away their retirement savings.

Right now, some advisers are required to put their customers’ interests first while others are not—and it is often extremely difficult for workers and retirees to know which type of adviser they are dealing with.

“Americans are worried about having a secure retirement, especially as they face increasingly complicated choices about how to save and invest their hard-earned dollars,” said Trumka.

When they turn to professional financial advisers to help navigate their complex choices, they should be able to have confidence that the advice they get is in their best interest—and not driven by sales commissions and high fees that can deplete their retirement accounts like a slow leak in a tire.

Of course, Wall Street and the financial industry are adamantly opposed to reforming the rules. Two years ago, they lobbied hard for a House bill aimed at derailing any new Labor Department investment advice rule, and surely they will be spending big money to do the same thing in 2015.

Read Trumka’s full statement here and be sure to visit SaveOurRetirement.com to learn more and find out how you can help close the “Retirement Advice Loophole.”

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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USW Oil Workers Expand Strike, Cite Safety Concerns

Photo via USW Facebook page

Oil workers at three more refineries and a chemical plant joined the United Steelworkers’ (USW’s) unfair labor practice strike against the oil industry over the weekend. With workers and plant safety a major concern, USW President Leo W. Gerard said:

The industry’s refusal to meaningfully address safety issues through good faith bargaining gave us no other option but to expand our work stoppage.

Some 1,350 workers are employed at the four facilities, bringing the number of striking workers to about 6,550 at 14 and the chemical plant.

The new strike sites are the Motiva Enterprises refinery in Port Arthur, Texas—a 50-50 joint venture between Shell Oil Co. (American subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell) and Saudi Refining Inc. (subsidiary of Saudi Aramco)—Motiva’s two Louisiana refineries in Convent and Norco, as well as the Shell chemical plant in Norco.

The union is bargaining for new labor agreements to cover some 30,000 workers throughout the oil industry at 65 refineries and hundreds of pipelines, terminals, petrochemical plants and other facilities.

USW Vice President Thomas Conway says:

We’re committed to reaching a settlement that works for both parties. But adequate staffing levels, worker fatigue and other important safety issues must be addressed.

The issue of refinery safety was reinforced last week with an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, Calif., earlier this week that injured four workers and shook homes for miles around.

Click here to sign a petition to oil industry management and federal, state and local officials supporting the striking workers in their efforts to secure a fair contract that will protect the health and safety of workers and communities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Collective Action Pays Off, Just Look at These 24 Hours

Collective Action Pays Off, Just Look at These 24 Hours

In 24 hours starting late Wednesday, workers who have been standing together in collective action scored three major victories.  Walmart workers got a raise, Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Communications Workers of America (CWA) members settled their strike with FairPoint, and United Steelworkers made safety at oil refinery plants a national issue.

Says AFL-CIO Communications Director Eric Hauser:

One 24-hour period shows how much progress can be made when workers come together to speak with one voice. Collective action must be at the heart of the growing discussion about raising wages.  Only when workers pool their power can they make progress that benefits not just union members but all workers and entire communities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Healthy Families Act Would Let Workers Earn Paid Sick Days

There are at least 43 million U.S. workers who cannot earn a single paid sick day and have to decide between losing wages or even risking their jobs to take care of their own illness or a sick family member. On Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act that would give workers the opportunity to earn up to seven paid sick days they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members.

In related news (see below), the Philadelphia City Council passed a new paid sick days law on Thursday.

Responding to the Healthy Families Act, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said:

Too many people are still being forced to choose between getting a paycheck and taking care of a loved one. Let’s pass the Healthy Families Act and make sure no worker has to make that choice again.

Nationally more than four in 10 private-sector workers and 81% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. A 2014 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that Latinos and those who make less than $20,000 a year are the workers least likely to have paid sick days. Only 47% of Latino workers get paid sick days.

Even worse, less than 28% of workers who make under $20,000 a year have paid sick days and many of those are food service workers, and only 24% of food preparation and service workers have access to paid sick days, despite the fact that most health departments recommend that these workers not go to work sick. Said Debra L. Ness, president of National Partnership for Women & Families:

The Healthy Families Act is about allowing moms to stay home to care for children with strep, without having their pay docked. It’s about adult sons being able to miss a day of work to take an aging parent for medical tests, without losing their jobs. It’s about child care and nursing home staff being able to stay home when they have the flu, instead of infecting the people they care for. It’s about restaurant workers not being forced to report to work, and handle food, when they are infectious. It’s about being able to see a doctor for an eye infection before it becomes severe. It’s about common sense, public health and family economic security. It’s about dignity.

There also is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave and paid sick days legislation. Twenty jurisdictions across the country now have paid sick days standards in place.

The new Philadelphia paid sick leave will require employers with 10 or more employees to allow their full-time and part-time workers to accrue at least five days of paid sick leave a year. Marianne Bellasorte of the group Pathways PA said:

We are the 17th city to pass paid sick days. So far, there have been no bad reports, nothing has gone wrong. Businesses are thriving, workers are thriving. There’s no reason to believe Philadelphia will be any different.

California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have state-paid sick day laws.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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