A new editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlights the recent revelations about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its influence on state legislators. In particular, the editorial takes umbrage at a proposed loyalty oath for ALEC members that would have required them to place the extremist pro-corporate organization above the needs of constituents and the state and national constitutions:
Last week, British newspaper the Guardian published a series of stories based on secret ALEC documents obtained by reporters. Among the most insidious items was a loyalty oath the organization has proposed for the state chairs of its legislative members.
It reads: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”
Imagine that, a Republican like state Sen. Ed Emery of Lamar, a man who claims to be a constitutional conservative, putting ALEC first, over his voters, over his oath to the state, over the very constitution he claims to value.
Mr. Emery, the current ALEC chair in Missouri, is already demonstrating his loyalty, filing an ALEC-inspired bill to erase teacher tenure in the state.
The former ALEC-chairman for Missouri, current Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, is doing his part, as well, supporting anti-union right-to-work legislation for 2014 even while pushing through special session legislation intending to lure thousands of union Boeing jobs to the state.
The editorial takes a strong stance against the influence of ALEC on the state:
Missouri voters should consider such front organizations as offensive to democracy.
Mr. Emery and his ilk can believe what they want, but they should play no part in allowing corporations to hide their agendas, and their lobbying expenses, by pretending to be something they are not. The proof is in ALEC’s actions, which, as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank outlined, hid itself behind closed doors in a meeting last week in the nation’s capital, pushing reporters away while claiming they had nothing to hide.
No, ALEC exists solely to hide. To hide money. To hide agendas. To hide its hijacking of democracy.
Read the full editorial.
Tags: aflcio, ALEC, Missouri, Right to Work, Rights At Work, Saint Louis, Tim Jones, voting rights
Extremist pro-corporate Republicans in Missouri are getting an early start on attacking the rights of working families by pre-filing a “right to work” for less bill for the 2014 legislative session. While there undoubtedly will be similar attacks in other states in 2014, Missouri is the first state to take formal steps to strip working families of their rights.
This isn’t the first time that “right to work” legislation very similar to model bills created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been proposed in the state—similar legislation was proposed earlier this year and in 2011. Peter Kinder, the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, spoke in favor of the legislation at an ALEC conference in August.
The We Are Missouri coalition is leading the opposition to the legislation. Through a press release, several members of the coalition explained why the legislation was wrong for Missouri.
Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO:
Missouri’s elected leaders should work together to create jobs here in our state. While it isn’t a surprise that extremist politicians would instead file a ‘right to work’ bill on the first day of session, it is shameful that they would make this unnecessary and confusing bill their first priority for 2014. It is time for our elected officials to work together to create good jobs and safe work places instead of trying to micromanage relationships between businesses and their employees.
Bobby Dicken, a utility line crew foreman from Poplar Bluff:
It is simple—“right to work” bills are wrong for Missouri. It’s a corporate power grab that’s in the best interests of CEOs—not our state. Studies have shown that ‘right to work’ means less jobs, lower wages and more dangerous workplaces. I’m disappointed that [Southeast Missouri] area state Rep. Donna Lichtenegger and Speaker Tim Jones seem to be more concerned with doing the bidding of special interest groups like ALEC instead of helping middle-class Missouri families.
Vicki Hurt, who works for the Missouri Children’s Division in Branson:
This bill won’t create a single job. These unnecessary attacks on working people hurt our middle-class families, harm our public schools and put our safety at risk. ‘Right to work’ is a divisive partisan political issue meant to punish labor unions that puts our everyday heroes in danger.
Tell Missouri legislators: we need more jobs, not fewer rights.
Tags: aflcio, Missouri, paycheck deception, Right to Work, Rights At Work
After nearly a year of protests, rallies, marches and court battles demanding “Fairness at Patriot,” a settlement has been reached that will help cover future health care benefits for the retired coal miners affected by the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal.
The Mine Workers (UMWA) yesterday announced that it had reached a global settlement with Peabody Energy and Patriot that will provide more than $400 million to fund retiree health care costs through the Patriot Retirees Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA). Peabody will pay $310 million over four years while Patriot will provide the remainder through payments and production-based royalties.
UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts said:
This is a significant amount of money that will help maintain health care for thousands of retirees who earned those benefits though years of labor in America’s coal mines. This settlement will also help Patriot emerge from bankruptcy and continue to provide jobs for our members and thousands of others in West Virginia and Kentucky.
Patriot Coal was spun off from Peabody in 2007, and Peabody transferred the health care and other obligations of the former Peabody miners and retirees to Patriot. Patriot filed for bankruptcy in July 2012. In August, the UMWA reached a settlement with Patriot that restored many of the wage and benefit cuts Patriot instituted as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.
As part of the recent settlement, the union agreed to halt its months-long public relations and direct action effort related to Peabody in St. Louis and elsewhere regarding the effects of the Patriot Coal bankruptcy. Miners and their allies had held several huge marches and rallies at Peabody’s St. Louis headquarters and elsewhere.
Several thousand of Patriot retirees worked for Magnum Coal, a subsidiary of Arch Coal that Patriot acquired in 2008. Arch Coal, like Peabody, was accused of ducking its health care and other obligations of those miners by transferring them to the subsidiary. Arch Coal has yet to settle with the union, and Roberts said:
Arch still can step up and meet its obligation to these retirees. We will continue to encourage them to do so in the coming days.
Roberts said while the settlement with Peabody and Patriot is significant, it does not provide the level of funding needed to maintain health care for these retirees forever.
That is why we are continuing our efforts to pass bipartisan legislation in Congress that will put these retirees under the Coal Act, meaning their long-term health care benefits would be secured at no additional cost to taxpayers.
H.R. 2918, introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), has 24 co-sponsors from both parties; and S. 468, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), has six co-sponsors.
Photo by Missouri AFL-CIO on Facebook
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: Health Care, mineworkers, Missouri, patriot coal, pension, secure retirement, West Virginia
Johnny Zuagar just wants to go back to work. It’s been 72 hours since he’s been locked out of his job at the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Md., and he’s scared.
“I don’t know what bills to pay,” says Zuagar, who has two young children. “I’m afraid I might lose my house. I don’t know how it got to this.”
Zuagar and 800,000 federal workers all over the United States are locked out of their jobs because of the House Republican government shutdown. While most people think that the shutdown is focused on Washington, D.C., the reality is that about 85% of federal workers don’t work in the Washington area. In fact, the D.C. metro area is only the fourth largest concentration of federal workers (see a map of where federal workers are). Here are 12 examples of workers, some of whom are still working, are going without paychecks because of the irresponsible House Republican shutdown.
1. Washington, D.C., Capitol Police: The officers who responded to the tragic incidentnear the U.S. Capitol on Thursday are currently working without pay. Whenever the shutdown ends, they’ll receive pay for time worked, but they don’t know when their next check will arrive.
2. Wyoming Nuclear Missile Support Staff: More than 1,000 support staff at a base that houses Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles were furloughed. While people who directly work in national security-related jobs stayed working, others, like map technician Thomas Sweeney, were sent home. The absence of Sweeney and others isn’t as benign as some members of Congress would have you believe: “As for civilians who work for the (Defense Department) and support our national security, furloughs and pay freezes are equally serious and threatening to our national security, especially at a time of war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said.
3. Florida Air Safety: Jennifer Martin is a member of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) and computer specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration in Melbourne, Fla. Martin develops and maintains software applications to monitor equipment like air-to-ground and ground-to-ground communications and surveillance. She and her co-workers, who include aviation safety inspectors, are dedicated federal employees who want to return to their jobs where they can “serve the nation, and provide for our families.” Martin says while they are locked out of their jobs, the safety of flying public may be at risk.
4. Missouri Mortgage Assistance for Rural Homeowners: Nicole Starr, a single mother of three, was locked out from her job helping low-income rural homeowners pay their mortgages. She says she’s very proud of the job she has helping people. “Now I’m in the same position as the people I help,” she says. “I feel like I am watching our community fall apart.”
5. New York Toxic Waste Cleanup: The Environmental Protection Agency was scheduled to begin the process of helping residents near the Eighteen Mile Creek Superfund site move to homes that are uncontaminated with asbestos, PCBs, lead and chromium—hazards they currently live with—but the shutdown has stopped the process. The local community involvement coordinator Mike Basile says he doesn’t know when things will move forward. “I don’t know. I can’t find out because it’s so chaotic today.”
6. Montana Native American Programs: Leaders of the Crow Tribe laid off hundreds of workers who perform home health care for the elderly and people with disabilities, bus service for rural areas and other projects. “It’s going to get hard,” says Shar Simpson, who leads the Crow’s home health care program. “We’re already taking calls from people saying, ‘Who’s going to take care of my mom? Who’s going to take care of my dad?’”
7. Illinois Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Agencies: The state’s Department of Human Services has enough money to fund WIC for about two weeks, after that, it won’t be able to afford to buy baby formula that it provides to more than 600 single mothers.
8. Idaho Missing Woman Search: Jo Elliott-Blakeslee, 63, was missing at Craters of the Moon National Monument and the search was temporarily called off after furloughs set in. Law prohibits federal government employees from volunteering for the search, since it would be unfunded work, so the remaining monument staff are trying to recruit capable volunteers from outside their office.
9. National Labor Relations Board: Lynn Rhinehart, general counsel of the AFL-CIO, says the NLRB, the government agency that helps protect workers’ rights, cannot process unfair labor practice charges or hold elections. There are no hearings taking place when employers violate workers’ rights. And workers who were scheduled to vote in elections about getting a union on the job are having those elections pushed off. “Basically,” says Rhinehart, “there is no labor law right now.”
10. South Dakota National Guard: The majority of the National Guard employees in South Dakota have been laid off, which spokesman Maj. Anthony Deiss says will hurt their ability to maintain vehicles, aircraft, and other equipment, and could impact training for regular guard members.
11. California air disaster investigations: The National Transportation Safety Board suspended its investigation into the crash of a private jet in Santa Monica that killed four people.
12. Minnesota Social Security Offices: Offices are closed and residents like Jeff Williams can’t get new or replacement Social Security cards or proof of income letters. “I can’t shut down and not take care of this little one,” he says, referring to his daughter. “I mean, they’re the government. They’re supposed to be taking care of us.”
Listen to a rally today from outside the U.S. Capitol, where locked-out workers tell Congress they want to get back to work, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addresses House Republican irresponsibility:
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, California, DC, Florida, idaho, Illinois, Jobs, Missouri, montana, New York, NLRB, Richard Trumka, shutdown, South Dakota
On Wednesday, the Missouri Senate considered overriding Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of Senate Bill 29, the paycheck deception bill, which would put unnecessary restrictions on union members’ voice in the political process. After 35 minutes of debate, the motion to override failed 22-11, with Sen. Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau) joining a unanimous Democratic caucus. Sen. Gary Romine (R-Farmington) was absent from the vote.
This is the end of a long journey for the paycheck deception bill in Missouri. In March, Democrats in the Senate lead a 7-hour filibuster of the bill before Republicans cut off debate to pass it. Different versions of the bill with various exemptions bounced around between the state House and Senate.
The debate over the bill was strange. Democratic senators including Gina Walsh (D-Bellafontaine) and Paul LeVota (D-Independence) addressed question after question to supporters of the bill, including the primary sponsor Sen. Dan Brown (R-Rolla), which never got answered. The supporters of SB 29 seemed unaware and uninterested in the fact that union members can already opt out of political contributions. Progress Missouri extensively reported SB 29’s similarity to an ALEC model bill, and the wide overlap between ALEC members and SB 29 supporters.
Eventually, the bill passed both houses, but with far below the support needed to override a veto. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, calling it “unnecessary,” a simple argument that the bill’s supporters never directly refuted. Their failure to give any reason for the bill, other than political retribution and marching orders from ALEC, was reflected in today’s vote.
“With his veto, Governor Nixon stood up for the basic rights of Missouri’s everyday heroes – and bipartisan opposition to this unfair bill in the House and Senate means SB 29 will not become law,” said Hugh McVey, President of the Missouri AFL-CIO. “Although wealthy corporate special interest groups pushed for this paycheck deception bill that would take away the voice of teachers, nurses, social workers and other middle class Missourians, with bipartisan opposition the veto override fell short.”
We hope the failure of SB 29, along with the failure to advance a so-called “right to work” bill, will be a wake up call to Missouri politicians that Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike want more jobs, not fewer rights for workers.
“Politicians in Jefferson City need to start working on job creation instead of making it more difficult for me to do my job,” said John White, a developmental assistant from Sikeston. “As a union member, I voluntarily contribute to giving a voice to all workers, and I don’t need extremist legislators to get in the way of my freedom to make that decision. Plain and simple, these extremist proposals would do nothing but impede my rights as a worker.”
Tags: ALEC, Corporate Accountability, Missouri, paycheck deception, Rights At Work
In a victory for some 3,100 retired Mine Workers (UMWA) members and a setback for Peabody Energy and its attempt to duck its health care obligations, a U.S. Court of Appeals’ bankruptcy appellate panel todayreversed a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed Peabody to shed its responsibilities.
The retirees worked for Heritage Coal before Peabody spun it off to Patriot Coal. The UMWA says Peabody created Patriot solely for the purpose of ducking health care and other obligations for miners and retirees.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts says the court’s ruling was:
A bright ray of good news in what has been a long, dreary period for the retirees, their dependents and widows who have been desperately worried about what’s going to happen to their health care.
The union has been engaged in a Fairness at Patriot campaign to win justice and protect the pensions and health care for the workers and retirees at Patriot and to hold Peabody accountable to its obligations. Says Roberts:
Peabody has spent years trying to get rid of its obligations to the thousands of retirees who made it the richest coal company in the world. This decision foils part of that plan. And it makes us even more determined to keep fighting to make sure the company lives up to its entire obligation to these miners.
UMWA members at Patriot Coal operations in West Virginia and Kentucky last week ratified a settlement the union reached with the company that makes significant improvements in terms and conditions of employment over a federal bankruptcy judge’s order from last May. But says Roberts:
We are now able to turn our full attention to securing the lifetime health care benefits Peabody and Arch Minerals [which also was involved in the creation of Patriot] promised these retirees. If those companies thought our public effort to highlight their poor corporate citizenship was over, they will quickly find out otherwise. We’re moving into a new phase of that effort, and soon. We fully intend to hold Peabody and Arch accountable.
Visit Fairness at Patriot for more detailed information on the struggle.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: Corporate Accountability, Health Care, Kentucky, Missouri, Retirement, West Virginia
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts were among 30 arrested at a rally in West Virginia Tuesday while protesting Patriot Coal’s attempts to abandon its commitments to retirees, most of whom worked for Peabody Energy and Arch Coal before those companies created Patriot. Roberts and others say Patriot specifically was created to fail so the original companies could eliminate retiree health care and pension costs.
Before the arrests, Roberts headlined a group of speakers with a rousing message:
We’re standing for those afflicted with black lung. We’re standing with those who are in hospice care taking their last breath with their priests and ministers and families all around them. We’re standing with those who have cancer. We’re standing with the afflicted because the Bible tells us, ‘Honor your mother and your father.’ [...]
Holt Baker underlined the AFL-CIO’s support for miners in the Patriot fight. Of the steady rain that came down throughout the rally, she said: “That is just the tears of the righteous trying to wash away the injustice of Patriot Coal.”
Both of the state’s U.S. senators sent letters of support for the rally and the retired workers. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) said:
Today’s rally should remind us all of people like Shirley Inman, who left a good-paying job in Chicago for a mining job at home in West Virginia, with the promise of a lifetime pension and health care benefits. Now, after years of on-the-job injuries and a courageous fight with cancer, that promise is gone. This is an unconscionable outcome for Shirley and the thousands of miners and their families who gave of themselves to the mining industry for decades on end. It’s heartbreaking and shameful, and I won’t stand for it.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D) added:
Our miners worked their fingers to the bone every single day to provide the fuel that powers America, and these companies made a promise to them—a promise they earned and deserved.
Watch video of today’s rally at the Mine Workers’ UStream channel.
Last week, hundreds of Australian workers rallied on behalf of their U.S. brothers and sisters. The West Virginia legislature also got involved in the story, with the House of Delegates passing a resolution supporting the retirees and calling on Patriot to honor its commitments. Roberts said he was pleased with the legislature’s action. “It shows that the support for our struggle for justice is growing and broadening, and that these coal companies’ concept of ‘business as usual’ will not be tolerated in West Virginia.”
A concurrent resolution was introduced in the Senate, but didn’t emerge from committee before the legislature adjourned.
For more details on the specifics of the Patriot story, Roberts wrote an op-ed explaining the situation and Fairness at Patriot produced the following video:
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, coal, Corporate Accountability, Jobs, Missouri, pensions, Retirement Security, Rights At Work, West Virginia
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon just issued a veto to Senate Bill 29, a bill placing additional burdens on union members who want to make their voices heard in our political system.
Senate Bill 29, also known as the “paycheck deception” bill, would have made it more difficult for union members to deduct dues from their paychecks, and for those dues to be used toward advocacy. The requirements contained in this bill are not expected from corporations, CEO’s, or any other entity that wants to make a political contribution.
SB 29 is also an ALEC copycat bill, with similar versions passed in Washington, Alabama, Arizona, and elsewhere. These laws are promoted with the sole intent of weakening unions and silencing the voices of workers.
“With today’s veto, Governor Nixon stood up for the basic rights of Missouri’s everyday heroes – the people who work every day to keep our state working. Nurses, teachers, police officers and countless other middle class Missourians would have lost their voice on the job if this unfair and dangerous paycheck deception bill were to become law,” said Hugh McVey, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO.
This issue doesn’t only affect union workers. Members of Working America, alongside members from the faith community, sent hundreds of messages to legislators asking them to oppose paycheck deception.
“Paycheck deception won’t help educate Missouri’s children – but it will make it tougher for teachers to advocate for manageable class sizes,” wrote Fr. Steve Robeson of St. John’s Catholic Church in Imperial, MO, “It won’t create any jobs, but it will make it more difficult for hardworking public employees to do their jobs. We all deserve better.”
SB 29 was promoted by extremist Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, but it met opposition from both sides of the aisle. In the Senate, the bill was rammed through after a six-hour filibuster. In the House, the bill passed narrowly with every Democrat and 13 Republicans voting against it.
One of the Republicans to vote against the paycheck deception bill was Rep. Anne Zerr of St. Charles, seen here reading letters written to her by Working America members. Because of your activism, anti-worker forces in Missouri don’t have the votes needed to override Gov. Nixon’s veto. It just goes to show that when we take action, workers win.
Top image via Missouri AFL-CIO on Facebook.
Tags: Corporate Accountability, Missouri, paycheck deception, Rights At Work
On Tuesday, negotiators from Patriot Coal walked out of talks with the Mine Workers (UMWA), leaving thousands of retirees in danger of losing their health care. The company also canceled talks scheduled through next week, UMWA reports via press release. UMWA President Cecil Roberts reported that the company and the union were only about $30 million to $35 million apart. Meanwhile, hundreds of high-paid executives at the company will be receiving about $25 million in bonuses.
We are very disappointed by this action. We had made significant progress toward reaching an agreement that provided a workable alternative to the severe terms Patriot asked for last spring and that were approved by the bankruptcy court in St. Louis. The union had agreed to more than $400 million in savings for the company over the life of the current contract, which gives them the money they say they need to survive. But that still wasn’t enough for them.
UMWA said the company is moving ahead with the implementation of terms and conditions approved by a judge, which means that Patriot will cut off the current health care system for more than 23,000 retirees, their dependents and surviving spouses. The old system will be replaced with a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association that only has guaranteed funding of $15 million, plus a royalty payment of 20 cents per ton of coal produced, which is projected to raise another $5 million a year. UMWA also will be given 35% ownership in Patriot Coal, which they can sell after the value of the company—that’s in bankruptcy—is established. Current retiree health care costs are about $5 million a month.
Patriot also will be able to deny all retiree health care benefits to 40% of currently active workers who have already worked enough years to earn those benefits. The company also can reduce pay, benefits and paid time off for active workers.
Roberts said UMWA will not give up the fight to make sure Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, the companies that the UMWA argues set Patriot up specifically to fail to dump employee health care costs, take responsibility:
We are not letting them off the hook. We are airing a new round of television spots that feature the voices of the victims of their scheme. Thousands of us will be back in front of Peabody’s offices next week, and more events are planned in St. Louis and throughout the coalfields in the coming months. No matter what the events of the next few weeks may bring, this struggle is a long, long way from being over.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Photo by United Mine Workers of America on Facebook
Tags: aflcio, coal, Corporate Accountability, miners, Missouri, Rights At Work
Missouri’s Tea Party House Speaker Tim Jones might as well have put on a leather jacket and black sunglasses and intoned “I’ll be back.”
The Speaker is making sure his colleagues in the legislature know that he intends to make banning fair bargains – also known as “right to work” – a priority in 2014. This past session, despite the efforts of some extremist legislators, no such bill made it to the floor.
But it’s not as if this session didn’t have its share of attacks on workers’ rights. After a drawn-out fight, both the Missouri House and Senate passed paycheck deception and changes to prevailing wage legislation. Both bills weaken the ability of workers to advocate for better wages and benefits at the workplace.
Speaker Jones said early on that he considers paycheck deception, which makes it harder for unions to collect dues, a stepping stone to “the ultimate goal of right to work.”
Working America, along with allies like the Missouri AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Jobs with Justice, and Progress Missouri, mobilized in opposition to these attacks. Hundreds of emails and calls flooded Jefferson City, with Missourians asking why the legislature had launched an assault on workers’ rights instead of focusing on creating jobs. And in each vote held on anti-worker bills, more and more Republicans broke with Speaker Jones.
Gov. Jay Nixon has said he opposes so-called “right to work” and would presumably veto it if it arrived on his desk. Speaker Jones and his corporate-backed allies are looking into other options, which could include pushing the issue to a 2014 referendum. Missouri voters rejected “right to work” when it came to the ballot in 1978.
Another option being pursued by Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) would be to pass fair bargaining bans in each Missouri county, one by one. She is researching this option “with her personal lawyer.”
No matter how it comes, Missouri extremists will be switching up the language they use. They believe “freedom to work” will work better than “right to work.”
Rehder said she’s made national contacts and done a significant amount of research into “freedom to work,” which she said is an alternative and suggested phrase for “right to work.”
“’Right to work’ has been beat up on so much,” she explained.
No matter what you call it, facts are facts. In states where fair bargaining bans – or “right to work” or “freedom to work” laws – have been passed, wages are lower, fewer people have health insurance, poverty is higher, less money is spent on education, and more workers suffer workplace injuries and fatalities.
Democratic Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) doesn’t think that this issue will fly in Missouri, this year or the next:
“I think our state has shown that blue collar, working class folks support issues that help blue collar, working class folks,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think “right to work” shows that support for those workers. “The fact that those [labor reform bills] can gain the majority of the votes in the chamber is concerning in and of itself.”
Tags: Jobs, Missouri, prevailing wage, Right to Work, Rights At Work, speaker tim jones