State of the Union by Tom Szymanski

June 27, 2010

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.

January 24, 2010

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.

November 15, 2009

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.

June 14, 2009

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:

April 19, 2009

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.

April 5, 2009

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.

December 14, 2008

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.

September 7, 2008

Tired of global corporations using the old divide-and-conquer tactic, one of labor's largest unions, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), recently joined forces with the largest labor union in the United Kingdom and Ireland to form Workers Uniting. The new union will utilize the combined power of more than 3.2 million members to confront and challenge capital's quest to lower labor standards and increase competition between workers in plants located across oceans.

We aren't the only ones facing job loss, outsourcing and lower standards of living. It's happening across the world thanks to corporate greed and the race to the bottom. Workers everywhere are struggling to hang onto decent wages, pensions and affordable health care. Corporations have a global labor pool these days and want us to fight each other for the scraps offered by global employers. We can't continue to let this happen.

The USWA and the UK's Unite the Union delegates approved the merger to become the first global labor organization to directly represent workers. Workers Uniting is not just an umbrella organization representing the interests of various national and international unions but a top-down and bottom-up member organization with members from different countries. Leadership and representatives are accountable to their memberships and expected to justify their actions to local unions.

January 13, 2008

Construction is a complicated business. From planning and development through the final touches on a new facility, numerous factors play roles in ensuring a job finishes safely, on time and on budget. When the job is finished, the customer expects all of the electrical and mechanical systems to be installed properly and work as designed.

Customers, such as school boards, city governments or private business owners, are paying for architects, engineers, construction managers and quality materials to construct their buildings. Many times, conscientious customers will consider only the most qualified and reputable providers to perform their construction services. This is a responsible and respectable position to take, especially when dealing with taxpayers’ money that more often than not runs into the millions.

However, sometimes lost in the shuffle is a customer’s confidence in the quality, skill and training of the available workforce. From making an incorrect assumption that all construction workers are trained the same (if at all) to never having been informed about the importance of finding highly skilled workers, customers must be educated about the vast differences among the labor pool of construction workers.

December 5, 2007

“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.”
- Che Guevara


Question: When is it going to stop? Answer: When you want it to stop. I hate to be so negative during the holiday season, but when are people going to get angry enough to put an end to the ridiculous state of affairs we live in today?

Is it that difficult to shut off the television, stop worshipping professional athletes and get involved? We hear it everyday – people complaining, people whining and people crying, yet they have never make any attempt to change the problem. What will it take for people to become frustrated enough that they demand and act for change?

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