State of the Union by Tom Szymanski

July 17, 2007

The Fourth of July celebration in Bloomington once again focused on a parade that celebrated our country’s independence. In addition to the fire trucks, politicians and music, this year’s parade included an entry called “Bloomington Labor Unions and Working Families,” which marched in solidarity under one banner.

For the first time in recent memory, working people in Bloomington had representation for a holiday created by the struggles of artisans and craftsmen seeking freedom from the autocratic rule of the English upper class.

The revolution came on the heels of, and through the support of, working people tired of being pushed around by ruling elites and their soldier patsies.

June 5, 2007

Immigration reform has made its way into the political debate once again as Congress debates new adjustments to visas and worker amnesty. And employers with farm workers, hotel employees, construction workers and engineers have problems with some aspect of the bill because it doesn't satisfy their particular selfish needs.

According to the agricultural industry, the proposed McCain-Kennedy Immigration Reform Bill would allow immigrant workers easy routes to leave their current employment and seek higher-paying jobs elsewhere, for example, in construction.

The result, they say, would be a labor shortage and higher consumer prices.

May 8, 2007

We assume government is there to protect and serve the community. It's easy to do because we take for granted some of the protective services it provides.

Government restaurant inspectors protect us from food contamination at local restaurants. They provide us with monthly reports on the cleanliness of the facilities they visit.

And the state mandates drivers pass a test to ensure they are not hazards to the driving public.

But what about your safety at home or where you shop or conduct business transactions? In particular, what about the safety issues prevalent in electrical work for residential and commercial customers?

March 25, 2007

State of the Union

The Iraq war continues to decimate the lives of thousands of innocent people. Working class and low-income people try to find a life without fear of imminent death and destruction awaiting them around the corner. These aren't just American soldiers, but the Iraqi civilians who are trying to put back their lives since the war started four years ago.

Before Saddam Hussein came to power and eliminated a historically vigorous trade union movement, unions were important players in the economic arena, supporting workers' rights in countering corporate and government influence.

Since the U.S. military invaded Iraq and the Bush administration's hand-picked corporate leaders took control of industry, the labor movement in Iraq has been reborn, but it is facing the same fights we find right here in America. Workers struggle to find jobs, to keep the jobs they now have from being privatized and to find ways to improve their economic standing under the assault of corporate monarchy.

Believe it or not, even under the stress of war and uncertainty, workers are fighting back and putting life back into the Iraq labor movement.

February 25, 2007

State of the Union

Who is protecting the non-union workers? The workers who receive their paychecks late, who are short-changed what's due them, who suffer from employers' bounced checks and those who are responsible for medical bills because mandatory Workers' Compensation Insurance was ignored?

What about company "401K savings plans" that accept paycheck deductions that cannot be withdrawn later because of "special rules" adopted by the company's owner? Who is verifying there aren't illegal deductions on employee paychecks for company expenses like gas, materials and safety equipment?

No one, that's who! Many times workers will be unaware of the creative accounting techniques developed by cheating employers, or the workers may know they are getting screwed but won't complain fearing reprisal or termination.

Believe me, especially in construction, it happens, and it happens often!

February 11, 2007

State of the Union

On Saturday, Jan. 27, members of the Bloomington community rallied before the IU basketball game to call attention to the university's plan to outsource good-paying jobs to private companies.

It was a cold and windy day, but workers, union members, church members and citizens concerned about keeping quality jobs in the community marched to the game and handed out leaflets and secured hundreds of signatures on petitions denouncing job outsourcing.

The power of people coming together to question, make their voices heard and fight for justice was displayed through an outpouring of passion and commitment. At least 200 community residents participated in educating the public about the potential loss of quality jobs that pay good wages, provide health care and support working families.

December 3, 2006

State of the Union

It's the time of year again when we must decide how to spread Christmas cheer among family and friends. If shopping, an ingrained American custom confused as being a part of the Christmas spirit, is going to be part of your holiday activities, I hope you will think about the people who made those items you will be handing out and their working conditions.

Finding an organization or company that employs workers under fair working conditions should be given preference if we are doing the right thing at Christmas time. The basis for the holiday is to spread goodwill across the world and take care of those in need.

So how can shoppers be oblivious to where their gifts are coming from when the act of giving a gift is supposed to be a gesture of goodwill? Shouldn't funneling your money to an entity that is being responsible to its workers be a gesture of goodwill also?

October 7, 2006

Here we go again. For those colleagues, family and friends who care about the upcoming elections, morality, patriotism and war are the focal points in their debates.

There is no critique, no challenge and no debate about labor issues. The economic security and well-being of our families once again is taking a back seat, as the elected leaders dictate when and how they want to talk about "their" issues.

Potential voters are apathetic, turned off and tired of hearing the same mantras over and over again. We hear about lowering taxes, no new taxes, cutting waste in Washington, protecting the future of our children and having a strong military each and every election.

These are important, but it doesn't change, so please stop it already! Why can't we get down to the issues that matter: jobs, health care, fair pay, decent benefits and a secure retirement?

September 10, 2006

State of the Union

A horrible accident recently occurred that injured five workers at the new Wal-Mart store on the west side of Bloomington. Three suffered burns over the majority of their bodies after a piece of equipment used to pull wires through conduits was thrown into an energized high voltage switch gear and caused an electric arc. When the short circuit exploded, it sent a powerful arc of electrical energy outside the switch gear and burned everything in its path.

Once again, another high price has been paid because billion-dollar Wal-Mart is unyielding in its quest to save on the bottom line. This time it involved people's lives.

Sure, LaSalle General Contractors out of Michigan hired Electromation from Muncie to do the electrical work, but I would think Wal-Mart had enough clout to mandate that the store be built safely using qualified electrical workers. As Electromation's employees were spread too thin constructing other stores and became further and further behind schedule, they hired additional manpower from numerous temporary employment agencies.

August 27, 2006

State of the Union

"One day of revolt — not rest! A day not ordained by the bragging spokesmen of institutions holding the world of labor in bondage.

"A day on which labor makes its own laws and has the power to execute them! All without the consent or approval of those who oppress and rule.

"A day on which in tremendous force the unity of the army of toilers is arrayed against the powers that today hold sway over the destinies of the people of all nations.

"A day of protest against oppression and tyranny, against ignorance and war of any kind.

"A day on which to begin to enjoy eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will."

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