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businesses (which cannot use this private justice mechanism), not good for citizens (who may see popular policies withdrawn by governments in order to avoid adverse judgments) and not good for rule of law (which is undermined by the separate parallel system for foreign investors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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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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We Have A Plan To Make Health Insurance Easy To Understand

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We all worked incredibly hard to pass health care reform in 2009 and 2010, and we’re proud to now see millions of Americans accessing high quality, affordable health insurance–many of them for the first time.

But some things haven’t changed. For many Americans, navigating their health insurance is just as complex and frustrating as it was before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. At Working America, we wanted to make sure that information and support before, during, and after enrollment was available to out more than 3 million members–and anyone else who needed it.

That’s why we created Working America Health Care.

By enrolling through Working America Health Care, you have access to licensed professionals that can connect you to almost all the health plan options on the Health Insurance Marketplace (aka Healthcare.gov). But for no additional cost, you also have access to hundreds of benefits available through our partners at Union Plus, including dental and vision discounts.

Most importantly, when you enroll in the Marketplace through Working America Health Care, you have access to a personal Health Advocate: a real person you can call to help navigate the complexities of your health insurance. For no additional cost.

Enrolling through us also makes you a member of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO and the fastest growing organization for working families. Since our creation in 2003, we’ve successfully helped raised the wages of millions of workers, passed paid sick days laws and other worker protections, and helped elect dozens of pro-worker local, state, and federal candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Mark Dayton, and Jeff Merkley.

And yes, this program is open to anyone who does not have a union on the job. That includes folks who are freelancers, unemployed, and retired too.

Want to find out more? Visit our website at workingamericahealthcare.org or call 855-698-2479. We’ll also answer as many questions as possible in the comments.

Bonus: Check out Amy Lynn Smith’s great coverage of Working America Health Care on Eclectablog!

Originally posted on DailyKos

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Republican Lawmakers Fight for Last-Minute Gift to Big Banks

If Republican lawmakers have their way, one of the final acts of the 113th Congress will be to make it easier for big banks to gamble with taxpayers’ money.

As Congress negotiates a last-minute deal to fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown on Dec. 11, it appears likely that a last-minute trade-off will roll back a provision of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act aimed at limiting bank bail-outs.

The provision, “Section 716,” requires banks that trade some of the riskiest types of financial products to conduct the activity in subsidiaries separate from the portion of the bank that is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

A group of pro-reform senators sent a letter to Senate budget negotiators late last week urging them to leave the controversial provision intact. The letter, signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) states, “Section 716 of the Act was a key component of the financial reforms. We urge you to oppose inclusion of provisions modifying or repealing this reform in any funding legislation.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blasted the efforts to roll back derivatives regulation, calling it “reckless.” She said:

Middle-class families are still paying a heavy price for the decisions to weaken the financial cops, leaving Wall Street free to load up on risk. Congress should not chip away at important reforms that protect taxpayers and make our economy safer.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Give Responsible Student Loan Borrowers a Chance

Student loan borrowers are trying to do the responsible thing by paying off their loans but are being punished with high interest rates.

When you take out a mortgage or car loan, you can refinance the loan to get a better interest rate. With student loans, however, you’re stuck with the interest rate set by Congress, even though that rate is high enough to produce massive profit beyond the costs of operating the student loan program. And that’s just not fair.

The student loan refinance bill, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would allow 25 million student loan borrowers to refinance the interest rates of their student loans, and those extra savings will go a long way in this economy where unemployment is still too high and wages aren’t rising fast enough.

The Senate this week is poised to take a vote on Warren’s student loan bill (S. 2432). Unfortunately, the last time the bill came up for a vote, Senate Republicans chose to stand with their wealthy campaign contributors over tens of millions of students and their families.

Thankfully, Senate Republicans will have one more chance to change their minds.

Call your senators today at 1-855-712-9375 and tell them to pass S. 2432 so student loan borrowers will no longer be punished with high interest rates. 

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The CEO of Goldman Sachs Just Admitted Inequality Is A Problem. Here Are Three Ways He Can Help.

Lloyd Blankfein is CEO of Goldman Sachs, one of the most largest and most notorious investment banks, with $915 billion in assets.

During his appearance on CBS “This Morning,” Blankfein argued that massive income inequality is “a very destabilizing thing.”

Not only does income inequality slow growth, Blankfein said, it also contributes to political divisiveness:

Income inequality is a very destabilizing thing in the country, a very polarizing thing in the country. In other words, it’s responsible for the divisions in the country. Those divisions could get wider. If you can’t legislate, you can’t deal with problems. If you can’t deal with problems, you can’t drive growth, and you can’t drive the success of the country.

But he also said something else. When the show’s host pointed out that many people are speaking out against income inequality but fewer are taking action, the bank CEO agreed. “Yes, full stop. If there was a lever to pull and a button to push, we would pull it and push it.”

Technically he is correct. There is not a lever or a button. But there are very clear policy solutions that would go a long way toward alleviating the destabilizing force of income inequality:

The financial transaction tax. Also called the “Robin Hood tax,” the FTT is a small fee on stock and bond trades, derivative contracts, and swaps of other complex Wall Street instruments. It would amount to about $0.0003 per dollar, or $18 a year for the median 401(k) holder, but would produce an estimated $352 billion in revenue over 10 years. That extra revenue could be used to pay for things Congress claims we can’t afford: renewing unemployment insurance, restoring cuts to SNAP, investments in infrastructure, and assistance to state and local governments who have been forced to layoff thousands. To folks like Blankfein, who has a $2 million salary and tens of millions more in bonuses, the FTT would feel like a blip.

Raise the minimum wage. This is one you’re familiar with. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10, as proposed in the Harkin-Miller bill filibustered by Senate Republicans, would raise the wages of 27.8 million workers, grow GDP by about $22 billion, and create roughly 85,000 net new jobs. As one of the world’s most powerful bankers, Blankfein support for raising the minimum wage–and his refusal to support politicians who oppose it–would have a huge impact.

Stop attacking the CFPB. The banking lobby, of which Goldman Sachs is a large part, viciously opposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2010 (as detailed by author and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in her bestselling book). But since its creation, the CFPB has recouped millions of dollars for consumers from mortgage, credit card, and banking companies that were skirting or outright breaking the law. Oftentimes, the offending companies are directly scams at the most vulnerable Americans: debtors, students, veterans, low-income families and families of color. Forget outright support–if Blankfein called off his lobbying team from attacking and attempting to weaken the CFPB, the Bureau’s future and its ability to recoup losses for consumers would be more secure.

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Why Sen. Warren’s Refinance Bill Is a Big Deal

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill today to allow borrowers to refinance their outstanding student loan debt. The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act is an excellent step toward easing the crushing $1.2 trillion student loan debt borne by graduates and reducing barriers to higher education for working families. Average college seniors in 2012 had a balance of $30,000 facing them as they graduated. Many borrowers find themselves making payments well after the end of the standard 10-year repayment period.

Unlike most forms of debt, student loans cannot be refinanced; the borrower is locked into an interest rate from the day he or she signs the promissory note—usually as a teenager—until the debt is paid in full. And unlike most forms of debt, borrowers are unable to take advantage of lower interest rates to reduce their monthly payments and total amount of interest paid.

The question we should be asking is why the government works so hard to carefully regulate growth with variable interest rates while allowing this massive pool of government-backed loans to remain at a fixed rate, trapping millions of workers in debt and unable to buy homes and cars?

Here’s one answer: The government is profiting from the federal student loan program. It’s raking in billions of dollars every year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2025, $127 billion in profit will be made off the backs of working families paying interest on student loans. In fact, some Republican members in the House have proposed student loan revenues be used to pay down the deficit. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that those same politicians lobbied successfully to tie student loans to market rates (which will make students loans more difficult to pay off as the economy improves). And these are the same politicians who fight to preserve massive corporate tax subsidies that make it more profitable for companies to send jobs overseas. Simply put, they are using the debt peonage of students to pay for billion-dollar corporate giveaways.

Corporations don’t need help from America’s taxpayers to boost their record profits. Fittingly, the Warren refinance bill addresses a major part of the tax giveaway to the wealthy and powerful by implementing the “Buffett Rule” to pay for the reduced profits. Under the Buffett Rule, many of the tax loopholes that let millionaire and billionaire CEOs reduce their taxes to almost nothing would be closed, requiring them to pay tax rates at least as high as their secretaries.

For student loan borrowers, though, it’s a different story. Unemployment, especially for young workers, remains unacceptably high at 10.6% for 20- to 24-year-olds. Wages are stagnant—and for young workers, wages are falling in relation to the rest of the population. Our struggling economy is producing mostly low-paying service-sector jobs that offer no room for growth. In fact, 42% of those earning the minimum wage have some college education, and 8% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Congress’ decision to favor corporations over students is appalling. The Warren refinancing bill helps to undo some of the damage this decision has done to students and working families. Allowing borrowers to refinance their student loans puts them one step closer toward achieving the American Dream: They’ll be able to put a down payment on a home, fund their retirement and fund their own children’s education.

Along with increased funding on instruction and student services in order to lower the actual cost for public two- and four-year colleges and technical schools, the Warren refinance bill is a terrific step toward a comprehensive policy to make post-secondary education and training available to those who want it.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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These Three Best-Sellers Could Be the Primer for a Much-Needed Economic Overhaul

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In the midst of a national debate on economic inequality, three books that speak to the ever widening class divide in this country have landed in the top five of Amazon’s best-seller list.

Thomas Piketty’s widely successful book, Capital in the 21st Century, comes in at number one, which is hardly surprising considering the splash it’s made since its release. You’ve probably heard of it, but if you haven’t here’s a quick reference guide.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s memoir, A Fighting Chance, lands at number three, and Michael Lewis’ Flash Boy: A Wall Street Revolt, a book about Wall Street bankers turned morally obligated revolutionaries, comes in at number five on the list.

For Americans at least, the timing of these books is impeccable.

The economy is instable at best, income inequality is at an all-time high and we’re still grappling with a changing financial landscape in what used to be considered the richest country in the world.

Part of Piketty’s success is in his ability to capitalize on all of that, painting a rather grim picture of worldwide inequality that will only get worse before it gets better and will likely resemble a dark corner of 19th century Europe, pre revolution.

Still, that’s nothing new. The Internet is saturated with loud cries of gross economic inequality and questions as to why the middle class has yet to revolt.

But Piketty gives readers pertinent data, an almost exhaustive amount, to back up his claims. His book points fingers at those responsible and backs up claims through research and data instead of theory.

Simply put, Piketty proves that the rich are in fact getting richer and, despite claims from the wealthiest one percent and economic conservatives, that money isn’t reaching regular, everyday people who need it the most.

The results of Capital in the 21st Century has everyone from economic policy makers to middle class Americans talking, and wondering why “they haven’t gotten a raise in years,” according to an interesting article in Time magazine.

Similarly, Warren’s memoir aims to inspire readers. Details her life as an awkward girl from Oklahoma with a dream to help make America, especially those in the middle, a better place is a great soundtrack to the country’s current state on dissatisfaction.

Hopefully these books provide proof positive that we’re moving in the right direction, pushing to raise the minimum wage while beginning to close the income gap so that we don’t find ourselves in some 19th century dystopian version of America.

Photo courtesy of gargantuen via Flickr.

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12 Elizabeth Warren Quotes to Prepare You for Her Appearance at the AFL-CIO on May 2

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will be appearing at the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on May 2 to promote her new book, A Fighting Chance, which chronicles her inspiring life story. From her working-class roots in Oklahoma to her successful 2012 campaign to replace incumbent Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R), Warren tells the passionate story of what drives her to fight for working people. Here are 12 key quotes from her that show why she is a champion of the 99%.

1. “There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory….Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”—September 2011

2. “People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here is the painful part, they’re right. The system is rigged.”—September 2012

3. “Hardworking men and women who are busting their tails in full-time jobs shouldn’t be left in poverty.”—August 2013

4. “Look around. Oil companies guzzle down the billions in profits. Billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, and Wall Street CEOs, the same ones that direct our economy and destroyed millions of jobs still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone here have a problem with that?”—September 2012

5. “It is critical that the American people, and not just their financial institutions, be represented at the negotiating table.”—Summer 2009

6. “Americans are fighters. We’re tough, resourceful and creative, and if we have the chance to fight on a level playing field, where everyone pays a fair share and everyone has a real shot, then no one—no one can stop us.”—September 2012

7. “And that’s how we build the economy of the future. An economy with more jobs and less debt, we root it in fairness. We grow it with opportunity. And we build it together.”—September 2012

8. “I understand the frustration, I share their frustration with what’s going on, that right now Washington is wired to work well for those on Wall Street who can hire lobbyists and lawyers and it doesn’t work very well for the rest of us.”—October 2011

9. “If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail….Evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night.”—March 2013

10. “Corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.”—September 2012

11. “If there had been a Financial Product Safety Commission in place 10 years ago, the current financial crisis would have been averted.”—Summer 2009

12. “Nobody’s safe. Health insurance? That didn’t protect 1 million Americans who were financially ruined by illness or medical bills last year.”—February 2005

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Put a Stop to This: Bad Credit? No Job for You!

Today’s jobless workers face new discriminatory barriers to finding work in a broken economy. Some employers won’t consider out-of-work applicants for job openings. And more and more employers run credit checks, leaving long-term jobless workers, who have likely fallen far behind in their bills and seen their credit scores tank, on the streets.

Today Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill to stop employers from requiring prospective employees to disclose their credit history or disqualifying applicants based on a poor credit rating. Says Warren:

Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness—let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills.

Even as the economy is slowly turning around, the recession and financial crisis continue to take a toll on working families. Many of whom are hardworking, bill-paying people who have seen the credit ratings damaged when they or a family member lost a job or a small business and saw the value of their homes plummet. Savings evaporate and payments get missed. Says Warren:

Most people recognize that bad credit means they will have trouble borrowing money or they will pay more to borrow. But many don’t realize that a damaged credit rating also can block access to a job.

While at one time it was common belief that a credit history could provide insight into a perspective employee’s character, Warren says that recent research has shown that an individual’s credit rating has little or no correlation with his ability to succeed at work. A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected personal crisis or economic downturn than a reflection of someone’s abilities.

She also says, “This is one more way the game is rigged against the middle class.”

A rich person who loses a job or gets divorced or faces a family illness is unlikely to suffer from a drop in his or her credit rating. But for millions of hardworking families, hard personal blow translates into a hard financial blow that will show up for years in a credit report.

People shouldn’t be denied the chance to compete for jobs because of credit reports that bear no relationship to job performance and that, according to recent reports, are often riddled with inaccuracies. Click here to become a citizen co-sponsor of The Equal Employment for All Act.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced the bill in the House late last year.

Photo via U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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