7 Reasons Mark Begich Is a Candidate Who Cares About Working Families

Photo courtesy Bernard Pollack on Flickr

It’s an election year, and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote for candidates who support policies that protect or expand our rights, raise wages and work for an economy that benefits everyone, not just the wealthy few. We’re going to focus our spotlight on some of the key candidates who care about working families, and one of those candidates is Mark Begich, who is running for U.S. Senate in Alaska.

1. Begich wants to continue growing the Alaska economy and create more good jobs by investing in infrastructure. Begich said, “My top priority is growing Alaska’s economy by creating good jobs right now for Alaskans and investing in critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports and harbors to help create jobs. I secured more than $1 billion to build and fix Alaska’s infrastructure, to create new jobs and expand our economy.”

2. He voted to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. [S. 2223, Vote 117, 4/30/14]

3. He also voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill to ensure that working women receive equal pay for equal work. [S. 2199, Vote 103, 4/9/14]

4. He has consistently defended the rights of working families and earned a lifetime AFL-CIO voting record of 98% from his tenure in Congress.

5. He has worked to bring jobs back home from overseas and to penalize businesses that outsource America’s jobs. [S. 3816, Vote 242, 9/23/10]

6. While many in Congress have called for cuts to programs like Social Security, Begich supports increasing benefits. “When you tell seniors, ‘We want to make sure your dollars rise as your costs do,’ there is automatic excitement because they recognize we understand what they’re going through….Are we for or against helping seniors have a dignified life in their later years? I’m for that.” [The Washington Post, 3/24/14]

7. As a member of both the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, he has pushed for increased funding for the Veterans Affairs (VA) and for innovative programs to provide better access to care and to attract more qualified individuals to work in VA health facilities across the nation. “There are few more important responsibilities we have as a nation than to give proper care to those who have sacrificed so much for us. Since day one in the Senate, I have been fighting to make sure Alaska’s veterans—especially those off the road system in rural villages—receive adequate health care. We have made incredible progress. But we are not done and we cannot ignore the devastating and unacceptable situation happening at VA centers in the rest of the country. Alaska’s first‐in‐the‐nation system is working and it should serve as a model for the rest of the country.” [Alaska Business Monthly, 5/29/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Musicians Satirize Lionsgate’s Offshoring Practices in ‘Right Here at the Top’

Musicians Satirize Lionsgate's Offshoring Practices in 'Right Here at the Top'

Members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) wrote a song satirizing the film company Lions Gate Entertainment (Lionsgate) for placing profits ahead of people by outsourcing jobs in the production of its movies. AFM is calling on Lionsgate to stop offshoring musicians’ jobs and live up to the standards maintained by other movie companies.

The song says: “We’re outsourcing workers, we don’t want to stop. We’re concentrating profits right here at the top!” CEO Jon Feltheimer is being paid $66.3 million in total compensation in 2014, 400% more than he was paid in 2013. The company has received $82 million this year while continuing to send musicians’ jobs overseas.

Listen to the song now:

The song was composed by Clifford J. Tasner and recorded by AFM members. Learn more at listenupnow.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Five Reasons Walmart’s New ‘Commitment’ to American Manufacturing is Nonsense

Walmart is hosting a manufacturing summit in Denver this week as part of its new program to supposedly invest in products made in America for its stores across the country. The retailer is claiming its new plan will invest $250 billion over the next decade and create 1 million jobs. We’re not buying it.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addressed Walmart’s summit and announcement:

But workers will not benefit from a Walmart-ification of our manufacturing sector. Jobs in the Walmart model won’t restore America’s middle class or build shared prosperity given the company’s obsession with low labor costs and undermining American labor standards. And the company’s ‘commitment’ to American manufacturing is meaningless unless it actually increases the proportion of its products that are American-made.

Here are five reasons why Walmart’s plan is nonsense:

1. The whole thing is misleading. When you dig deeper, you find that all Walmart is doing is counting the company’s natural growth as “new” investment. If the company maintains its current percentages of U.S.-sourced goods and continues to grow at the same rate as it has the last three years, $262 billion will be spent on U.S.-made goods anyway without Walmart making any changes or doing anything new. Doing a little less than what you’ve been doing and calling it “progress” isn’t exactly admirable.

2. As Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing notes, Walmart’s altruism doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny:

…in some cases—the economics now favor “reshoring” of work back to the U.S., due to an emerging domestic energy cost advantage, rising wages in Asia, and wage stagnation in the U.S. (which Walmart might know something about). And don’t forget to consider the challenges that come from outsourcing: supply chain disruption, quality and inventory control issues, intellectual property theft, and high shipping costs.

3. Walmart is the biggest importer in the United States and it has been increasing how much it imports every year. The company now imports 2.5 times as much as it did in 2002. Walmart should make a solid commitment to cut back on its growth in  imports, after decades of massive increases, to create a real net gain for American workers.

4. Walmart is off to a rocky start helping create U.S. manufacturing jobs. In the first year of the new plan, Walmart created only 2,000 new jobs, putting it way behind schedule toward reaching that goal of 1 million new jobs.

5. As the largest private employer in the nation, Walmart should start with itself to create real change for America. At the rate Walmart workers are paid, they won’t be buying many U.S.-made products or imports. Walmart must invest more in its own workforce if it wants a “buy American” strategy to succeed.

Walmart cashiers make, on average, less than $25,000 a year. An April 2014 study by Americans for Tax Fairness estimated that subsidies and tax breaks for Walmart and the Walton family cost taxpayers approximately $7.8 billion per year, including about $6.2 billion in assistance to Walmart workers due to low wages and inadequate benefits.

Trumka concluded:

This initiative seems like an attempt to change the conversation from the need for Walmart to improve jobs for its 1.4 million retail workers in the United States. If Walmart is truly committed to rebuilding the American middle class, it can start with its own workers, most of whom make less than $25,000/year and struggle to make ends meet.

Walmart should use its two-day summit to prove the company is committed to real and substantive change and an end to corporate whitewashing.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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A Brief History of Why We Still Have Tax Breaks for Companies That Ship Jobs Overseas

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There was a lot going on in the news last week, so no one would blame most Americans for missing a key vote in the U.S. Senate.

On July 30, 42 Senators, 41 of them Republican, filibustered a bill called the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would have ended tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and eased the tax burden for companies who wanted to bring jobs back to the United States.

Let’s be clear about this. They filibustered the bill, meaning they didn’t even allow it to go to a full debate. They didn’t allow it to reach an “up or down vote,” where it would’ve only needed a simple majority of 50 votes to pass.

The filibuster started as a last ditch, emergency maneuver where a Senator could stand up and talk for hours upon hours to keep a vote from happening. The only way to stop the speech was a vote of 60 present Senators. But since 2008, Senate Republicans–under the direction of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)–have used the filibuster to block everything from economic stimulus to reauthorizing longstanding funding. Basically nothing can move without reaching that 60 vote threshold.

These filibusters and “cloture votes” have become so common in the last 6 years, barely anyone in Washington acknowledges how wildly ridiculous they are. The media, eager not to blame any party or individual in particular, still publish headlines like “bill fails 59-41″ without mentioning that there were 59 YES votes, and that a 41 vote minority oddly had the power to stop the bill in its tracks.

Last November, Democrats lead by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) successfully ended the use of the filibuster only for certain votes; specifically, votes on presidential appointments like judges (but not Supreme Court judges) and key government officials. Sen. McConnell and his allies howled, as if this had come out of nowhere and they hadn’t abused the filibuster for 6 years. The media pushed this as a big event, leading many Americans to believe the filibuster had ended outright.

Oh no. It’s very much alive. And 2014 has seen its fair share: renewing unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage, and much more.

So why fight so hard to preserve tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas? Steelworkers President Leo Gerard documents some of the reasons given:

Some Republican Senators stomped their feet and demanded continued subsidies for offshoring of jobs unless the entire tax code was overhauled, a feat that seems, well, somewhat unlikely from this record-breaking, do-nothing, Republican-thwarted Congress.

In other words: we don’t want to change the tax code until we change the whole tax code all at once. That’s not typically how things get done.

Other Republicans protested the cost. It’s true that over a decade, the change from tax breaks for offshorers to tax breaks for onshorers was projected by the Joint Committee on Taxation to cost $214 million. That’s million, not billion. And it’s over a decade, so $21.4 million a year.

Is that too high a price tag? Well…

That’s not chump change, but for comparison purposes, the state of Tennessee gave Volkswagen $165.8 millionthis year to expand its Chattanooga assembly plant. In 2008, Tennessee gave VW $577 million to build the factory in the state. That’s more than $742 million from one state to one company over six years, or, to put it another way, $123 million a year. That’s nearly six times the annual national cost of the Bring Jobs Home Act…there’s something deeply wrong with forcing Tennessee taxpayers to spend hundreds of millions to bring jobs to their state, and, at the same time, subsidize corporations moving jobs out of the state and the country.

Blocking the Bring Jobs Home Act and giving halfhearted excuses is bad enough. The other half of the injustice is how they blocked it, and how filibusters of much-needed legislation happen so often that it gets buried at the bottom of the weekly news.

Photo of Senator Mitch McConnell by Gage Skidmore

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Let’s Call ‘Corporate Inversion’ for What It Is: A Gaping, Unpatriotic Tax Loophole

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post

In 2004, Congress enacted a law to prevent “corporate inversions” in which corporations reincorporate in a foreign country to avoid paying U.S. taxes, but a gaping loophole allows corporations to get around this law by merging with a foreign company.

Simply put, it allows corporations to avoid paying taxes when they “renounce their U.S. citizenship” and change their corporate address to a foreign country.

In recent months, several large corporations have announced plans to exploit this loophole, with minimal change in their business operations, to avoid paying taxes. This wave of “corporate inversions” threatens to hollow out the U.S. corporate income tax base.

One striking example is Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, which may use an upcoming acquisition to become a foreign company in order to dodge more than $4 billion in taxes over five years. Walgreens is talking about abandoning America despite its reliance on the U.S. government — and U.S. taxpayers — for a quarter of its revenue paid for by the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

It’s time for Congress to close the loophole and end this outrageous practice.

Last week, I was encouraged to see Congress finally begin to hold hearings and to hear President Barack Obama double down on his support. Under the president’s leadership, the administration is taking the right approach and has proposed solutions to the problem.

This week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in the Washington Post was right to suggest Congress make this legislation retroactive to May 2014, so corporations have notice that any transactions taking place after that date will not allow them to dodge taxes.

“This inversion loophole must be plugged,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) recently said, and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) have both proposed legislation to plug it.

This is exactly the momentum we need to close the loophole once and for all.

The real problem is that many of these so-called “U.S.” corporations want to keep dictating our economic policies and dominating our politics, yet they have less and less loyalty to the people who actually live and work in America. They want to keep benefiting from all the things our government does for them so they can make profits — our legal system to protect their investments and patents, our education and training system to train their workers, our transportation system to get their products to market, our federally sponsored research, our military — but they want the rest of us to front their share of the bill.
Sixty years ago corporations paid one-third of federal revenues, but today they pay only one-tenth. Now they say even that’s too much. Corporate profits are at their highest ever and wage growth is near its lowest in half a century, but still these corporations are not satisfied. They want more. They want Congress to cut their income tax rate, even though many of the largest corporations get away with paying little or no taxes for years. They want Congress to eliminate taxes on the factories they ship overseas, even though an existing loophole already allows them to lower their tax bill when they outsource jobs. And if we don’t give these corporations what they want, they threaten to renounce their citizenship and stop paying U.S. taxes altogether.
We need to start demanding a little more patriotism from these corporations. If they want to keep benefiting from everything our great country has to offer, they need to start showing a little more loyalty to the people who live and work in America. And they need to stop threatening to desert the United States and stop paying their taxes altogether unless America gives in to their demands.

Follow Richard Trumka on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RichardTrumka

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You Know What Doesn’t Work So Well? Private Prisons

The myth put forth by private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group that private prisons are cheaper than public prisons is shattered by a new report from In the Public Interest, thus undercutting the primary rationale for prison privatization efforts across the country. When pushing for contracts with the many states that use private prisons, these corporations claim they are the better option because they can run prisons more cheaply than the government can. But this report not only dispels that idea, it highlights some of the less-than-savory activities the corporations engage in because of the perverse incentives created by these contracts.

The report details several methods through which private prison companies mislead governments and the public about their supposed cost savings, particularly hiding costs of private prisons, inflating public prison costs, benefiting from mandated occupancy minimums and delaying cost increases until after contracts are signed.

Numerous studies have shown that private prisons are more expensive than their publicly run counterparts. The report details a series of meta-analyses of individual studies conducted on the comparative costs between public and private prisons, and all of them found that cost savings, at best, were minimal for private prisons—in many cases, private prisons were more expensive. One of the few studies that showed private prisons to be more cost-effective was funded by the prison companies and is currently the subject of an ethics inquiry at Temple University. A close examination of many of the states that have invested heavily in prison privatization has shown the failure of the “private prisons are cheaper” idea:

  • Arizona: The state found private prisons can cost up to $1,600 per prisoner per year, despite private prisons often only housing the healthiest prisoners.
  • Florida: Three separate multiyear studies found the majority of the private prisons in the state failed to meet the legally mandated 7% cost savings, while half of the private prisons failed to save any money at all.
  • Georgia: In 2011, private prisons cost the state $45.81 per prisoner per day, compared with $44.51 per prisoner per day in publicly run prisons.
  • Hawaii: The state found the projected savings of using private prison contractors were based on bed capacity rather than the actual number of people incarcerated and that indirect administration costs were not included.
  • New Mexico: Over a five-year period, the state saw its annual spending on private prisons increase by 57% while the prisoner population only increased 21%. A significant portion of the increase was because of automatic price increases included in contracts with the private prison corporations.
  • Ohio: The state expected the private operation of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution would save the state $2.4 million a year, but it has turned out to instead cost the state $380,000 to $700,000 a year.

As the report notes:

To maximize returns for their investors, for-profit prison companies have perverse incentives to cut costs in vital areas such as security personnel, medical care and programming, threatening the health and safety of prisoners and staff.

There are several different reasons that savings fail to materialize. CCA and other companies explicitly seek to increase their profits by changing the details of previously signed contracts. They do this by raising the per diem rates the state pays for each prisoner or by requiring occupancy rates of 90% or higher or the state pays for the empty cells in order to reach the required level. Private prison companies cherry pick their inmates and refuse to house more expensive prisoners. Many contracts exclude those higher-cost prisoners, such as those in maximum security, on death row, female prisoners or prisoners that have serious medical or mental health conditions. Companies also make their costs look lower by inflating the cost of public incarceration when making their sales pitch. They can do this by leaving out overhead costs in their prisons, not including costs the state has to pay in either public or private scenarios in the private prison cost but keeping them in the public prison cost calculation, and leaving out the additional costs of overseeing and monitoring private prisons that the state must engage in if it properly oversees its contractors.

At its national convention last year, the AFL-CIO came out in opposition to the privatization of prisons and the profit motive being used to increase incarceration.

Read the full report.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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9 Reasons Why We’re Giving a ‘Thumbs Down’ to the Ryan Budget

Liz Lemon, 30 Rock

House Republican leaders passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget this week by a vote of 219 to 205, with no Democrats voting in favor. The Ryan budget is chock full of so many terrible ideas that it’s hard to single out the biggest stinkers, but here goes.

1. Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age from 65 to 67.  Not only would raising the eligibility age shift costs to 65- and 66-year-olds and to seniors who still qualify for Medicare benefits, but it would actually *increase* overall costs throughout the health care system. Worst. Idea. Ever.

2. Giving Corporations More Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Jobs. The Ryan budget calls for a “territorial tax system,” which would eliminate U.S. taxes on the offshore profits of companies that send jobs overseas. Second worst idea ever.

3. Costing 4 Million Jobs. And that’s only in two years! According to the Economic Policy Institute, the Ryan budget would cost 1.1 million jobs in 2015 and 3 million jobs in 2016. Millions more jobs would be lost in subsequent years.

4. Giving Millionaires a $200,000 Tax Cut. The Ryan budget would cut the top marginal income tax rate from 39.6% to 25%, giving people who make more than $1 million per year tax cuts averaging between $200,000 and $330,000.

5. Turning Medicare into a Voucher Program. The Ryan budget once again proposes to end the Medicare guarantee, which would raise premiums for seniors who choose traditional Medicare and leave traditional Medicare to “wither on the vine” as private plans capture the healthiest seniors.

6. Gutting Education. The Ryan budget would slash funding for kindergarten to 12th grade education by$89 billion and higher education by $260 billion over 10 years, making college less affordable and increasingstudent indebtedness by $47 billion.

7. Gutting Investment in Transportation. The Ryan budget would slash transportation investments by$52 billion in 2015, costing jobs and making America less competitive.

8. Gutting Medicaid. The Ryan budget would cut Medicaid funding by $732 billion over 10 years by turning Medicaid into a block grant program. It would further cut Medicaid funding by repealing the Affordable Care Act, for a total cut to Medicaid of some $1.5 trillion.

9. Slashing Tax Rates for Profitable Corporations. The Ryan budget would slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%, squandering $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in tax revenue over 10 years.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Latest Republican Plan to Outsource Jobs

House Republicans are proposing another enormous tax break for corporations to outsource jobs. The latest Republican outsourcing plan is very similar to the one promoted by former Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential campaign, which President Barack Obama said would cost 800,000 jobs.

The outsourcing plan was included in a “tax reform” proposal unveiled recently by the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

Poll after poll shows America’s working families strongly oppose tax breaks for outsourcing that already exist under current law. This is hardly surprising, since between 1999 and 2010, U.S. corporations eliminated 1 million jobs in the United States while creating 3 million jobs overseas.

Here’s how the House Republican plan would promote even more outsourcing: it would allow outsourcers to pay almost no U.S. taxes on their overseas profits when they send jobs overseas. To be precise, outsourcers would be taxed at a rate of 1.25% on most offshore profits. Obviously, if outsourcers can pay taxes at a lower rate when they send jobs overseas, they’re going to have more of an incentive to outsource.

Here’s how Obama described this terrible idea during the 2012 campaign:

“There’s a new study out by nonpartisan economists that says Gov. Romney’s economic plan would in fact create 800,000 jobs. There’s only one problem: The jobs wouldn’t be in America. They’d be in other countries. By eliminating taxes on corporations’ foreign income, Gov. Romney’s plan would actually encourage companies to shift more of their operations to foreign tax havens, creating 800,000 jobs in those other countries.”

The technical name for this idea is a “territorial tax system.” Why is it called “territorial”? Because the United States would only tax American corporations on their profits within the “territory” of the United States, not on their profits overseas.

A “territorial tax system” is a terrible idea for lots of reasons. As Obama explained during the 2012 campaign, it would encourage job creation abroad instead of at home, lowering U.S. wages in the process and opening up opportunities for multinational corporations to avoid paying their taxes by playing accounting games to pretend their domestic profits are earned in foreign tax havens.

Camp claims several features of his plan would keep multinational corporations from avoiding their taxes.  However, as Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) explains, “[I]t is impossible to believe they would work since his overall proposal would dramatically increase rewards for any American corporation that can make its U.S. profits appear to be earned in offshore tax havens.”

Unfortunately, the Republican outsourcing plan has not gotten all the bad press it deserves. Why not? Partly because it has been competing for attention with all the other problems with the House Republican “tax reform” proposal. For example, the proposal would increase the deficit over the long term.

In February 2014, the AFL-CIO took a strong position against a “territorial tax system,” arguing that it would increase the tax incentive for shifting jobs and profits overseas. Instead, the AFL-CIO called for the elimination of all—not just some—of the existing tax incentives for outsourcing. What does this mean in practical terms? It means taxing offshore profits no differently than domestic profits—that is, taxing both kinds of profits at the same rate and at the same time.  Legislation that eliminates all tax incentives for outsourcing would generate $583 billion over 10 years, and this is the benchmark by which any international tax reform proposal should be measured.

Although prospects for the House Republican “tax reform” proposal are uncertain, the idea of a “territorial tax system” has wide support among Republicans in Congress, was recently endorsed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and has attracted interest from some Democrats as well. It would be very dangerous to allow this terrible idea to pick up steam.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Company Turns to IBEW and Brings Jobs Back from China

Neutex Advanced Energy Group, a Houston-based maker of LED lights, light bulbs and fixtures, brought its core manufacturing operation from China back to the United States last year and turned to the Electrical Workers (IBEW) to staff its facility.

Paul Puente, assistant business manager of IBEW Local 716, approached John Higgins, president and CEO of Neutex, to discuss his needs and concerns and how they could work together.Higgins agreed to make the facility an IBEW union shop, and the Electrical Workers agreed to provide training for its workers and help the company market its union-made products. Neutex will employ 250 to 300 IBEW members in its 15,000-square-foot facility.

“The partnership with the IBEW, it’s giving us credibility when we’re growing in leaps and bounds,” says Higgins. “We should be able to bring this [to the United States] and still be able to make a much better quality product, in better time and help our middle class.”

This post originally appeared on AFL-CIO’s @Work site. Read more @Work stories here

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Working Coloradans Mobilize to Hold Rep. Mike Coffman Accountable for Privatization Efforts

Working America members will be launching the “Rep. MikeCoffman: Who Do You Work For?” campaign to educate their fellow Coloradans about the representative’s radical legislative agenda to privatize programs like Social Security and Medicaid, and most recently, his efforts to privatize the work of the Department of Defense.

“Rep. Coffman seems to feel that it’s more important to give tax breaks to corporations and focus on unnecessary privatization than try to bring jobs to his district,” said Working America State Director Kevin Pape. “He’s not looking out for Coloradans, and it’s time we let constituents know who he really works for.”

During the campaign, members will be collecting petition signatures fromCoffman’s constituents telling him that they do not support his privatization efforts and will hold a public event for petition delivery. They will also be hosting media events and submitting letters to the editor educating Coloradans about Coffman’s attempts to sell off public assets and shift tax dollars to the huge corporations that funded his campaign.

Working America has more than 125,000 members in the state of Colorado.

For updates, follow @WorkingAmerica on Twitter.

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