Prior to the election in November, we communicated to the public about the importance of voting and supporting candidates who are friends of labor. Unfortunately, the political environment shifted and took many of our labor-endorsed candidates out of office.
We are now forced to deal with upcoming legislation in the state of Indiana that will be on the offensive to weaken labor unions and make them irrelevant in the workplace and in social and political arenas. As reported last month in the papers, Republican Wes Culver of Goshen has already introduced a misleading and intentionally misnamed "right-to-work" bill in the Indiana House of Representatives.
The first and long sitting president of the AFL-CIO, Samuel Gompers, in the late 1800's once said: "What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make childhood more happy and bright."
These values still hold true today and pretty much sums up why we, as labor organizations, support the Monroe County referendum to support our schools. On October 14, 12 local labor organizations held a press conference to announce their support for the upcoming vote on the school funding referendum. We stand by and need to help our community through the support of our schools, support of our teachers and support of our kids.
The debate on the City of Bloomington's decision to boycott businesses in Arizona due to its new immigration law is democracy in action. However, the arguments from people who say they will go out of their way and support Arizona in defiance of Bloomington's decision, like children rebelling against their parents, have missed the opportunity to logically discuss and pinpoint the real culprit -- businesses that employ undocumented workers.
In the immigration discussions, I have barely heard a word about the responsibilities of businesses and employers when they hire workers.
Until the federal government makes some movement on new immigration policy, we have to deal with what is in front of us. As long as undocumented workers can accept jobs with employers who face little scrutiny or oversight by the federal government in their hiring policies, they will continue to seek and find work.
With all of the fear spewing from the conservative Right about hope and change destroying this country, we have seen little to back up their claim over the last year. Wall Street and the financial industries have received billions, while homeowners lose their homes and file for bankruptcy. The military-industrial complex continues to grow while being fed regular doses of cash.
Health care reform proposals went from a universal, single-payer system down to a public option to expanding Medicare for those 55 and older to nothing. However, as the debate comes to a close, health care reform may lead to people forced to buy insurance, or face a financial penalty, and being taxed if fortunate enough to have medical coverage!
Now, the playing field for working people has became more uneven with the ruling by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Overturning a precedent set over 60 years ago, the decision found that corporations, nonprofit organizations and labor unions no longer would be restricted from utilizing their own funds to create and run ad campaigns for the purpose of supporting or defeating candidates.
It was another great day in Bloomington on Oct. 21 when the Bloomington City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance that will start addressing issues important to workers, respectable contractors and the taxpayers. A "thank you" goes out to all of our Bloomington representatives.
After working with Mayor Mark Kruzan, city attorney Kevin Robling and assistant Mike Rouker, City Council members Andy Ruff and Isabel Piedmont-Smith co-sponsored the Responsible Bidder Ordinance (RBO 09-18) and promoted its enactment. Bloomington has taken the lead again among Indiana cities and passed another important social policy for the betterment of the community.
The propaganda, misconceptions, and outright lies that prevailed during the first round of debates in Congress surrounding the Employee Free Choice Act (ECFA) fail to compare to the rhetoric spewing out of the people and organizations that are against health-care reform. Now that Congress has placed the ECFA on the back burner, the health care debate has taken a life of its own for some who separate those who are "patriotic" and believers in "democracy" and those who supposedly aren't.
The best option, a single-payer health-care plan as proposed under H.R. 676, would continue to provide a choice of doctors and health-care providers without any exclusions or limitations from the private sector. This is very different from a system where the government employs doctors and hospitals under "socialized medicine" and is often confused by ignorance or intent when opponents try to scare us and demonize Single Payer.
The Bloomington Chamber of Commerce has followed the position taken by the Indiana and national Chambers of Commerce by publicly opposing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The EFCA is a piece of federal labor legislation aimed at rebalancing the power between workers and their employers in the workplace. EFCA would restore workers' rights lost due to unfair rulings by hostile Labor Board appointments, illegal tactics utilized by employers and the fact there is little incentive for following the law because penalties are effectively non-existent.
The Chamber's position that it is worried about how the new law would affect employees is comical. I never realized the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce was the voice for working people. I would have more respect for that proposition if they would come clean and say the obvious; they are concerned that they might lose the ability to circumvent the law. Let's remember what it states in Section 1 of the National Labor Relations Act and see how it compares to the real world as we see it today:
The time is now for workers to voice their concerns and relay the message that we are serious. Labor has plenty of catching up to do after eight years of anti-worker and anti-union policies under the Bush administration. It's almost overwhelming. However, in no certain terms should the fact that the Obama administration has assumed office lead us to believe things are going to be okay any time soon.
Let's review for a second. Under Bush, millions of newly defined "supervisory" workers lost their legal right to receive overtime pay; employers openly fired and intimidated workers trying to organize collectively; prevailing wage laws were rescinded; and millions of other workers lost their status as covered "employees" (temporary and disabled workers) under labor law cases as decided by the National Labor Relations Board.
Agencies established to assist and protect workers had their funding slashed and personnel cut (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Mining and Health Administration and the Department of Labor); factory closings continued as trade agreements expanded and outsourcing flourished; millions went without or lost health care; and pensions and retirement funds vanished. The list can go on for a few more pages, but I'll stop.
After years of knowing the Indiana Unemployment Insurance Fund was headed toward a financial crisis, Indiana legislators waited until the last minute to develop a plan to deal with a potentially bankrupt system. For 16 of the last 18 years, the fund has taken in less money in taxes than it has paid out in benefits.
In 2001 the trust fund had a $1.6 billion surplus, and a deal was struck through which businesses were given an unsustainable tax cut. This essentially created an unfunded liability for employers and relinquished their responsibility as taxpaying entities. No wonder our governor was able to promote Indiana as a location where companies could find a "good business" environment.
The Unemployment Trust Fund officially went broke at the end of November 2008. As of March 11, the state has so far borrowed $534 million from the federal government to pay unemployment claims. If there is no consensus on a solution for solvency among our legislators by next year, the federal government has the authority to step in and take over control of the unemployment fund.
However, even that threat hasn't created much movement on serious reform, and it just may be the solution we need.
More media attention than usual has been devoted to labor law and the potential for some badly needed changes since Barack Obama's election. During his campaign, Obama publicly supported the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
But some in the business community have gone on the offensive to condemn changes in labor law as if the world was going to end if the EFCA passed in Congress.
The NLRA was passed in 1935 and gave workers the right to self-organization and protection if they desired to organize collectively to address workplace issues with their employers. It was a response to the effects of industrial strife and workplace disruptions of interstate commerce.
When employees believed they were being treated as commodities instead of as a people, strikes ensued, costing the economy, workers and employers much needed financial resources during the Great Depression.